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Books

Radical essays beautifulbut sad

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/4/2016 (371 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In 2012, poet Melissa Broder started the @SoSadToday Twitter account, anonymously dispatching 140-characters-or-less missives about anxiety, depression and existential dread. The tweets were unvarnished, vulnerable, darkly funny and spoke truth to the discomfort and pains of being alive. People loved it, likely because they saw themselves in it. Today, @SoSadToday has more than 300,000 followers.

Broder revealed her identity in 2015 via Rolling Stone in advance of the publication of So Sad Today, this collection of personal essays. It’s just 203 pages, but it would be a mistake to think of this book as slight. Yes, Broder writes about the heaviest of issues — anxiety, depression, addiction, an eating disorder, preoccupation with death — but does so in a way that’s unflinchingly honest. It’s a brave book, not necessarily because of what she shares in excruciating detail, but because of how she makes herself vulnerable.

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She’s a gorgeous writer, oscillating easily between blogspeak and artfully rendered prose. It’s insightful, irreverent stuff — essays bear titles such as I Want To Be a Whole Person but Really Thin and Honk If There’s a Committee In Your Head Trying to Kill You.

In I Don’t Feel Bad About My Neck, a wink to the famous Nora Ephron essay, she runs down the list of things she feels bad about: "I feel bad about my struggle, because it is nothing compared to other people’s struggles and yet it still hurts. I feel bad about this essay. I feel bad about this book."

For a while it was trendy for literary types to complain about Girls on the Internet — especially those who got book deals. Those pesky girls, their oversharing, trading intimate details for clicks, shares, likes, validation and attention — how gross, how shameful.

Surely there’s a parallel to be drawn between the moral panic about a girl revealing too much on the Internet and the moral panic about a girl losing her virginity. "Leave a little to the imagination." "Don’t give it away."

Broder needn’t feel bad — writers like her challenge the idea you can’t make art about your life. We need more books like this, not fewer.

And while she incisively captures the restlessness of anxiety and the relentlessness of depression, So Sad Today feels like a radical book because it’s just that: sad. There’s so much in culture telling us to be happy, Facebook memes that tell us happiness is a choice, so choose happy, or that happy girls are the prettiest — a thing Audrey Hepburn may or may not have said. It’s still a radical act to be sad — truly, publicly, openly sad. Because to be sad is to be somehow faulty.

Two poignant essays close So Sad Today: one about Broder’s open marriage to her husband who struggles with chronic illness, and the other called Under The Anxiety is Sadness but Who Would Go Under There? which includes, in part, the rise of @SoSadToday. "I felt popular based on my truth. I began to celebrate this sensitive part of me — the things I thought were the most despicable: my constant need for validation, disappointment, feeling gross and fat and ugly… the more real I was, the more people could relate."

It’s pretty human to want to be heard and acknowledged. For people who are struggling — and feeling bad, or embarrassed, or uncomfortable about that struggle — So Sad Today is a gift.

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and sometime Girl on the Internet.

Read more reviewed by Jen Zoratti.

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