WRITER MELISSA BRODER
”I tend to dam up my own ocean of sadness and that causes anxiety. I don't know why I remain so afraid of my feelings. I always fear that the sadness is going to drown me. But when I surrender to it, I float." - Melissa Broder
Please introduce yourself and tell us what you do.
I’m a writer. I write all kinds of things: poetry (four collections including Last Sext), essays (the So Sad Today book), novels (The Pisces, which comes out in May 2018, and two others I’m working on now) and some secret TV and film projects.
What causes you to feel melancholic?
Being alive, unrequited love, seeing a stranger’s physical beauty in the street, memory, a man eating soup alone at a diner, the way another person pronounces the word “milk,” hormones, the way human beings treat one another as though we are not all one race, the passing of time, envy, this snack pack my Dad bought for me once, neurochemistry, comparing my insides to other people’s outsides, being part of the problem, missing my Grandmom, Eve.
What does melancholy mean to you personally?
I tend to dam up my own ocean of sadness and that causes anxiety. I don’t know why I remain so afraid of my feelings. I always fear that the sadness is going to drown me. But when I finally surrender to it, I float.
How do your melancholic feelings impact you and your work?
Writing is a way to safely open the dam and let some of the feelings through. It’s a way to control the narrative, when we can’t control the narrative in life. Or, it’s a way to embrace that loss of control – when the work just flows out of you – and say, “Hey, it feels good to be a vessel for words, maybe I can just be a vessel for life, too.”
How do you use this melancholic state to your advantage?
I write to alleviate discomfort. And I’m often uncomfortable.
In what ways has melancholy inspired or affected your work?
I’ve used my obsessive and compulsive tendencies to my advantage in being a prolific creator. I’m never not writing something. It’s just what I do. If I feel a feeling I’m just like “let’s alchemize this.” So the anxiety provides the velocity, impulse, and motivation for my work – but the melancholy provides the humanity, the softer heart.
How do people from your country experience melancholy?
We eat and buy shit.
Do you have any particular favourite songs to listen to when feeling melancholic?
I’ve always found the J Dilla album “Donuts” haunting, because he made it when he was very sick and passed away just three days after it was released. There is a bittersweetness in it, and one song title in particular, “Last Donut of the Night,” sort of sums up the brevity of joy. “Wawa by the Ocean” by Mary Lattimore, “God” by Kendrick Lamar, “On the Level” by Mac DeMarco, “Butterfly Effect” by Travis Scott and “Another Weekend” by Ariel Pink are some songs that came out this year that I find beautiful. “St. Ides Heaven” and “Rose Parade” by Elliot Smith, “Hey Moon” by John Maus, “The Desperate Kingdom of Love” by PJ Harvey and “I Don’t Blame You” by Cat Power are old favorites.
The truth is I tend to mostly avoid melancholic music, because I already have a lot of melancholy inside me. Like, I crave the opposite and feel good when I’m driving around listening to radio jams on Power 106, an LA rap station. If I want to really go in, like to access some peace underneath a heavy feeling, I’ll listen to an ambient playlist I made called “Angels.” It’s got Aphex Twin, Tycho, Jon Hopkins, Stars of the Lid…
Which books have caused a sense of melancholy within you?
So many… Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante, Death in Venice by Thomas Mann, A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter, The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick, Turkish Delight by Jan Wolkers
And finally movies, are there any which make you feel particularly melancholic?
I’d have to say The Piano. But again, like music, I’m not drawn toward melancholic movies, because I’ve already got a lot of that inside me. The movies I watch over and over again are, like, “Harold and Kumar” and “Groundhog Day.”
Illustration by Pelle Sjöden