Melissa Broder’s World is Small and Pathetic: A Conversation With So Sad Today
Melissa Broder, the clinically depressed and anxious internet addicted poet in recovery from drugs and alcohol who obsesses over clothing and crystals, recently wrote a book of essays about those things and more, titled So Sad Today (Grand Central, March 2016). It’s modeled after her wildly popular Twitter account of the same name, which I enjoyed very much.
Broder’s realness and lack of pretense throughout the book are refreshing. Stylistically, the essays feel fun and relatable, including framing devices such as a text conversation between her and her higher self and extended response answers to an online quiz about internet addiction.
Recently I talked to Broder about her book and other things – mostly other things – via Gmail chat.
PART I: ADDICTION + OBSESSION
Jordan: What did you do so far today?
Woke up, chewed nicorette, meditated, went on internet, walked dog in bathrobe and felt weird about it. It’s the best bathrobe in the whole world. It’s a ‘spa robe.’ It’s white and fluffy and huge and it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. So I didn’t want to take it off just to walk the hound but then I was in back alley (we have back alley and front street) and thought I wldnt see anyone, and like somehow 80 ppl walked by.
Lol. One thing I wanted to ask you was about clothes.
Ask me anything. Like on ‘reddit.’
In one thing I read about you it mentioned you wearing an Alexander Wang bag (wearing? using? wearing…?) and in one of the essays in the book you say something about bringing a Prada bag to a police brutality thing…
Yeah I love bags.
…And I have a vague memory of you being like ‘I wish I changed my shirt’ or ‘Is this shirt okay?’ on the way to our reading at the Rap Genius penthouse. I wanted to ask about fashion, or designers, or bags, or whatever…
Yeah it was dress and as soon as I got in car with you guys I was like this is def too short and wrong.
Specifically in context of art, anxiety, [whatever]… Just… Talk about that shit.
I think that clothing or obsessing about appearance or obsessing about acquiring something–that desire or want–can be a great way to mask depression or run from it within oneself. It’s like there’s the big existential terror, the big meaninglessness, but by obsessing about a tangible object you can sort of tether that freefloating not knowing what is going on in terms of existence into a little contained box. It’s a safety valve, something (ephemeral) to look forward to a way to create an identity and feeling of having a border / definition–even though you can’t take any of it with you when you die.
Right now I can talk about it very casually and even judge myself for wanting certain tangible objects. But there have been times in my life where I have been so fucked up on existential terror / meaninglessness that I would have killed to have some minutiae like clothes to obsess about. In those instances I didn’t have the option. It was as though someone had opened a window shade on my consciousness and I was like PLEASE ANYTHING SHUT THIS.
What’s different now, that lets you talk about it casually?
Right now my brain chemistry is in a better place, I would think, and I am in a different place in the cycle of the illness.
What makes clothes an obsession and internet an addiction? I mean for you personally.
I think it’s how far you take it. I can go there with shopping and shit but I keep much firmer boundaries on that whereas internet, like the way I was with drugs and alcohol, I have let myself have a free-for-all.
Is it still working? Like, whatever ‘high’ the internet has given or gives you? Or does it fluctuate, or [other thing]?
Yes, like even at the end of my time with drugs and alcohol they still ‘worked’ the way I needed them to work sometimes. Same with the internet. Sometimes it still gives me the greatest highs. It’s like the pain hasn’t outweighed the highs yet and hopefully it never will. I’m still taking a ‘harm reduction’ model with the internet, i.e. setting boundaries for myself of how much to tweet a day / meditating before tweeting (I always break these boundaries) whereas with drugs and alcohol I found the only solution for me is complete abstinence. Like who the fuck just wants one, or even four, glasses of wine? Or like to take pills and then not take them the next day and the next day. Who is cool with coming down? I don’t understand these people? But with the internet, sometimes I can be chill with like four tweets or one hit of that dopamine for the day.
Can you elaborate on the ‘only tweeting x amount of time per day’ thing as a method of ‘harm reduction’?
Right now these are my boundaries (that I always break):
– No internet 12:30 am – 7:30 am (break most nights)
– 10 min of meditation before touching phone or computer in the morning (usually can do this, except lately with the book stuff I am like a rat to a fucking dopamine cheese bc so much media)
– Connect with a real human being, a real friend, by phone or text and try to do this before tweeting (usually I can do this but if someone else doesn’t initiate it feels like an effort)
– No personal ‘social media’ until noon (I am good at this except with all this book media)
– Tweet from personal account only 2x per day after 7PM (great at this bc of so sad today–part of why I started so sad today anonymously and kept it anonymous was bc it allowed me to binge tweet infinitely bc am ashamed of how much I tweet) (the reason why it’s after 7PM is because if I start tweeting from my personal account I get obsessed and keep looking at the favs and rts so the later in the day I can start with that the better so am not trapped in the hole all day) (the reason why only 2 tweets is bc more than that leads to shame spiral)
– Only tweet from so sad today 8 times a day.
I’m laughing, those are good.
Now that I’m out as so sad today I’m once again embarrassed re: frequency of tweets.
At first I thought you meant like, you had to call a friend right before each tweet. Lol.
Hahaha like a tweet coach, no. But I have had twitter editors
That do what?
Two friends: Ryan Call from HTMLgiant was my first one. Then he had children and actually got a life whereas I didn’t. Next was my friend Tyler Crawford who lives in Montreal. Basically we each would send each other a document of drafts and say which ones were good or shitty or just ok. With Tyler it was like “A Game” or “p good” or “seems ok.” I never did this for so sad today, only for my personal account. So sad today has always been a free for all. A buffet of tweets. My world is small and pathetic.
PART II: CRYSTALS
Read ‘my world is small and pathetic’ like 5x really quickly.
It’s like a mantra!
My world is small and pathetic.
Like fuck positive affirmation. My world is small and pathetic. Self-acceptance is maybe like the best self-love. So fuck that self-love mantra shit.
Have you thought about teaching some heady class somewhere?
MY WORLD IS SMALL AND PATHETIC.
Feel like you mention hippie type shit in the book.
What would I teach? I ‘led’ a guided meditation recently. That felt so good and beautiful and everyone looked like beautiful children to me. But like, I mention my new age past because I think in some ways it is something I evolved out of. Like, for so long I wanted a psychic or a magic crystal or a Buddha figurine or a quote to give me the answer. It’s such a relief to be like: it’s not there!! Recently after many years I’ve gotten back into the crystals game.
Not crystal meth, just crystals. But even that is dangerous and I will tell you why. Here is why crystals might be bad for me:
Ok so I spent my whole early 20s going to psychics and trying to like find the meaning and shit and then eventually I got sober and thru my sober journey have come to discover that the answer isn’t outside me. So I’ve been learning to live as though the answer isn’t outside me for a long time (I mean like it can be outside in terms of people or friends or support systems can be a messenger, but no one person or thing is going to be the THING that FIXES you). So then recently I made this foray into crystals and thought it would be purely beautiful and decorative. But the thing is, I am so not a person who can keep things fun. The things that I feel like will set me free end up imprisoning me. Like one minute I’m talking to a beautiful bohemian woman in a parking lot in Venice about her crystals and I’m like this is so fun and beautiful, just a celebration of the moment. That’s great! But then I start buying more crystals. And then more crystals. And now the new crystals make the old crystals look shitty. And I’m like was that crystal the gateway crystal? And like do I need a crystal for every fucking thing now? Like, no. I don’t want that. I want the power to come from inside me, not some bullshit outside.
So now I have a moratorium on crystals. I’m not allowed to buy anymore.
PART III: INSTAGRAM + J SWIPE
This kid named Kaijunn (5’9, aspiring architect) is SoSadToday on Instagram. Lol. Why don’t you have IG? Or, for the interview, maybe it’ll be phrased something like…(clears throat)…What’s your relationship with other social media platforms, besides Twitter?
Lolsies… I don’t fuxx w Instagram bc everyone has really amazing eyebrows and too many hot ppl and makes me feel bad about self. Also I’m not as much a visual image person as a word person I guess? Tumblr, I Tumblr. I like Tumblr. FB is shithole so I don’t spend a lot of time on there. Twitter is my main bitch and my side bitch and my side side bitch and the others are just like forgettable. Though I’m really into peach!!! jk.
Lol I don’t know what peach is.
It’s like some thing, like ello but not or something idk.
I don’t even know ello…Hey, do you know about Jewish tinder?
It’s like this other thing that doesn’t exist. No tell me more.
Just heard about it last night. It’s just like Tinder, I think called ‘j swipe.’ It’s to find jewish people.
PART IV: SO SAD TODAY, THE BOOK
I cried while reading [essay re husband]. I haven’t cried in a long time. It was fucked.
People told me they cried in the sexting essay, but no one said they cried in that essay.
[Note: The essay about my husband was just published online and now a lot of people told me they cried. http://lithub.com/melissa-broder-thoughts-on-open-marriage-and-illness/ I actually feel relieved, like I don’t have to explain his illness anymore. Like if I’m talking to someone and they ask I can just be like: will send you a link.]
PART V: DEATH
I am more scared of dying than I am of death. If I could live forever, well, idk if I want to live forev (I mean depends what the conditions are) but there are moments in my life I have wanted to freeze and just live in there and it felt unfair not to be able to. Which, in some ways, for me, is what addiction is about. Why can’t it feel like this all the time forev?
Anything I’ve gotten addicted to has been an escape from the pain of living in a skin and mind–a reprieve from ME–but it was not only that. It was a moment of transcendence that I wanted to make laaaaaaaaaaaaast. If something feels good why wouldn’t you want it all the time. Why would you leave? But in trying to recreate that–to not just take it as one beautiful moment (with anything! drugs, alcohol, sex, achievement, validation) is when the problem starts. I don’t know how to let go, because I think this is going to be the thing that saves me from myself. But just bc it does for a minute does not mean it can forever.
That is very sad to me. That a beautiful moment can’t last forever. I just can’t get over that.