Sex, Anxiety, and Being Alone : Spending the night with Melissa Broder
A few Octobers ago, I was walking through Strand Bookstore and saw So Sad Today sitting on the new release table. I’d seen the dark cover a few times and passed it by. But this time was different. I felt magnetically drawn to the three pink words that yelled insecurely on the cover. I took it in my hand and I went to the register, no clue what it was about or why it was coming home with me.
For the next two days, I sat in my window, watching rain stream down the glass. I burnt a rose-scented candle and felt at peace with myself for the first time in months. My surroundings were a reflection of the words in the book: things made sense when they came from someone else’s mouth.
So Sad Today is a beautiful, provocative collection of depression, anxiety, sex, love, and overall dread. It’s a self-help collection in the most unconventional of ways. It won’t fix your problems. It won’t really make you feel better. But it will make you feel understood.
Because of my close connection to So Sad Today, I was more than excited when I heard Melissa Broder would be releasing a fiction novel. I was even more excited when I heard this would bring her to Chicago for a reading and signing. Naturally, I bought a ticket the moment I found them.
I went to the talk at Uptown Underground alone. It was something I felt I should do myself. My connection to Broder and her work is personal, so having someone else there, someone who probably wouldn’t understand, felt like it would cause a wall to go up in my reactions.
I hadn’t yet read The Pisces, Broder’s latest Fiction release about a woman who falls in love with a merman, but felt that was part of the appeal. I’d be hearing the book, for the first time, from Broder herself. I’d leave with my own copy and spend the next few days enthralled in its pages, knowing I’d connect with it, too. I was right about all of the above things.
Broder started the talk by reading a section from the book. Her choice was a vivid, bad sex scene. I knew in that moment, and the moments of laughter that followed, that bringing anyone along would have been a huge mistake. It was in that moment I let my guard down and allowed myself to connect with Broder again, this time, over bad sex.
It’s this provocative nature I love about Broder. She’s unapologetic in what she speaks, or so it seems. I knew I had to ask her: How long did it take you to find the courage to be so vulnerable in your work? Her advice was to write as if no one is reading. Write for yourself. Write to live. Then worry about the reactions of those closest to you in the final moments, far after the writing has been done.
In hearing her say this, I realized that’s why I’ve always connected to her work. Broder is so vulnerable in a way that frames her as a little bit crazy. It’s the side we all have within us, the side that bites its tongue. It’s the thoughts no one speaks. The things we fear. It all comes to life in her writing, our fears fighting back, our embarrassments filled with ammunition.
Throughout the talk, I realized how much I like to be alone. I’ve always been an introvert, but that night may have been the first time I actually wanted to be alone in a group of people. It was reflective of the writing I’ve always been doing, writing that flowed out of me without a second thought of who my audience was or if what I was saying made any sense.
It’s something I’m proud to have in common with Broder. Though I may not be as open and provocative, or have as many interesting life adventures, I write for myself before anything else. Writing, for me, is a way to vent. It’s healthier than internalizing my feelings. It’s therapeutic. But my biggest insecurity comes with finding things to write about. There’s always a voice saying “Is this interesting enough?” “Does anyone even care?” The night of the talk I had a moment, a moment that I felt my guard go down and finally take Broder’s advice.
Reading The Pisces was filled with more of those moments. I found myself on a train alone, something I’m hesitant to do with chronic anxiety. I read the book the entire ride, never stopping to think where I was or who was watching. I got lost in the love story, and in all the quiet places, saw reflections of my own life. Though my life is filled with beneficial love, I saw myself in the moments no one thinks to read.
It’s days I feel down, days I feel anxious and alone, I run to Broder’s work. So Sad Today was a collection I always saw myself in. The Pisces is no different. It’s not so much in the larger message of each I find my fears, my joys, my moments, but in the subtle wording and anticlimactic pieces. There is a scrap of me in it all, though it may not be what you’re looking directly at. And that’s the beauty of Melissa Broder. Her willingness to be everything, and everyone, all while being her authentic self.