There's No 'Convenient Structure To Life,' Says Allie Brosh

Sep 22, 2020
Originally published on September 23, 2020 3:00 pm

There's this one story, in a new book by comic artist Allie Brosh, where four guys dress a dog in a humiliating costume and parade him down Las Vegas Boulevard — all to celebrate some human's birthday. Needless to say, the dog is confused, and overwhelmed.

Gallery Books

"I think I also relate to how confused they must feel all the time," Brosh says. And when she watches her own pets, she wonders, what the heck goes through their minds?

"My cat, yesterday, he made this guttural sound I'd never heard before in my life — kind of like 'RAUUUUHHHH.' And then he makes a sound like 'trrrrrrl' and comes running downstairs. Nobody knows what to do. I don't know what he's trying to tell me. But somehow we make this little connection with each other, and then it's OK."

Brosh brings these stories to life in her new graphic memoir, Solutions and Other Problems, where she reminisces not just about pets but also about weird childhood friends, painful relationships and devastating loss.


Interview Highlights

On her bug-eyed cartoon avatar

I feel very awkward a lot, and so I want to represent myself with this awkward thing, this thing that doesn't quite look like a person. Maybe it looks like some sort of bug or some sort of alien, because that's how I feel. It helps when I'm trying to communicate how I feel to other people. It helps with setting the context and the tone.

"I feel very awkward a lot, and so I want to represent myself with this awkward thing," says cartoonist Allie Brosh.
Solutions and Other Problems

On zigzagging between zaniness and devastation

So I think that is kind of the way it is in life, how it really goes. There's no, like, convenient structure to life and to the stories that are unfolding in real time. And we can try to package them in these convenient ways, where everything makes perfect sense and this act leads to this act, but I don't think I really wanted to do it that way. I wanted it to be a little bit more of a chaotic but real reflection of how these things actually felt. And the most authentic way I knew how to do that was by just trying to capture it and changes in tone in these ways where it's like, you know, you can have a moment of great hilarity followed by a moment of sorrow or the inverse.

On what needed to happen before she could publish this long-awaited (and long-delayed) new book

So I think the first time that I was going to publish the book — and I was very far along in the process — I think I was at a strange point in my life where I hadn't quite figured out what I wanted to say and who I was. And so I think it was more of just giving myself time to get settled in myself so I could say what I wanted to say more effectively. But there were certain pivotal experiences that I hadn't had yet that turned out to be very, very important for what I was trying to say.

On her sister's death

All right. Warning. I'm probably going to start crying. So there's a saying like, familiarity breeds contempt. What isn't quite so obvious is that the parts that are really special about these relationships that have maybe even been kind of challenging — and I think my sister and I had that kind of relationship — there were fleeting moments where I would realize things like, you know, I'd see something she would post on Facebook and it would make me laugh. And I would have an appreciation for, like, how amazingly funny she is. But I don't think that those things were as clear to me as they are now until I lost her. I think one of the greatest feelings of loss I felt was, I had this realization after, like after it was no longer possible to tell her. And I so deeply wanted to.

Brosh and her sister, who died recently.
Solutions and Other Problems

You know, I think that there are things that she and I really could relate to each other, about more than anybody in the world, that we grew up together, we understand each other's context. When she was horribly depressed and there were conversations we would have where she described just staring at the wall all day because she didn't know what else to do. And I've been there. A few weeks before she died, we had a conversation like that, and I think it was meaningful. I hope it was it felt meaningful for her as well. But I don't know. I think I could have been a better big sister.

On learning how to become friends with yourself

So I think it at some point became necessary, because I think there are a lot of experiences that a person can have that make them feel very unsympathetic toward themselves, in the same way that, you know, the familiarity breeds contempt. Well, like, what's the most familiar thing that anybody has? Themselves! In the same way that I had this relationship with my sister that I didn't realize was so special, I think within ourselves there's that same thing. There's one person in the world who has seen everything that you have ever been through and understands what it felt like. And that person is yourself. And I found tremendous comfort in very dark times from thinking about that, at times where I felt more alone than I can even really describe. There was this one moment where I was, I felt desperately alone and sad and I had the idea to, like, grab my own shoulder with my hand in sort of like a comforting gesture and just say it's OK. And you know what? It felt like a friend doing that.

This story was produced for radio by Elena Burnett and Christopher Intagliata and was adapted for the Web by Petra Mayer.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

There's this one story in a new book by comic artist Allie Brosh where four guys dress a dog in a humiliating costume and parade him down Las Vegas Boulevard, all to celebrate some human's birthday. Needless to say, the dog is confused. Brosh says she can relate to how absurd our world might seem from a pet's point of view when she watches her own pets.

ALLIE BROSH: My cat yesterday - he made this, like, guttural sound that I have never heard before in my life, kind of like (imitating cat yowling).

CHANG: (Laughter) Oh, my God.

BROSH: And then he makes a sound like (imitating cat chirping) and comes...

CHANG: Oh.

BROSH: ...Running downstairs. Nobody knows what to do. Like, I don't know what he's trying to tell me. But somehow, you know, we make this little connection with each other, and then it's OK.

CHANG: Brosh brings these stories to life in her new graphic memoir "Solutions And Other Problems," where she reminisces not just about pets but also about painful relationships and devastating loss. I started by asking her why she draws herself as this bug-eyed stick figure with no nose and only a triangle for hair.

BROSH: I feel very awkward a lot, and so I want to represent myself with this awkward thing, this thing that doesn't quite look like a person. Maybe it looks like some sort of bug or some sort of alien because that's how I feel.

CHANG: Yeah. Well, what's most striking to me about your work beyond the empathy that you convey in these very simple or seemingly simple drawings is that you ricochet between hilarious, zany moments and then these deeply sad moments, like, within pages. We'll be moving through a vignette about how your dog kept dragging horse poop into your house. But then very soon, we start talking about one of the most terrifying health scares in your life. Why do you think you zigzag between what's funny and what's devastating?

BROSH: So I think that is kind of the way it is in life, how it really goes. There's no, like, convenient structure to life and to the stories that are unfolding in real time. And we can try to package them in these convenient ways where everything makes perfect sense and, you know, this act leads to this act. But I don't think I really wanted to do it that way. I wanted it to be a little bit more of a chaotic but real reflection of how these things actually felt. And...

CHANG: One moment, Allie. I have to close the door to my bathroom because suddenly my toilet is emitting a high-pitched squeal...

BROSH: (Laughter).

CHANG: ...Speaking of life unfolding between the hilarious and the serious.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR CLOSING)

BROSH: Would there be any way we could keep that in here?

CHANG: Yeah. I mean, it's illustrating your point perfectly. You're in the middle of a very serious point.

BROSH: Yeah, this was very unfortunate.

CHANG: And I'm like, oh, my God. Why is my toilet screaming (laughter)?

BROSH: We couldn't have purposefully decided for a more perfect thing to happen.

CHANG: No, we could not have. So I'm going to segue now. There was a lot of anticipation for this second book. Like, your last book published seven years ago. Then the publication date for this book got pushed back. What needed to happen for you before you felt like you could send this second book out into the world?

BROSH: So I think the first time that I was going to publish the book - and I was very far along in the process. And I think I was at this strange point in my life where I hadn't quite figured out what I wanted to say and who I was. And so I think it was more just giving myself time to get settled in myself so I could say what I wanted to say more effectively. But there were certain pivotal experiences that I hadn't had yet that turned out to be very, very important for what I was trying to say.

CHANG: Well, in this book, you bring up your sister's death.

BROSH: Yes.

CHANG: She drove in front of a train on New Year's Eve. And I want to talk about something you wrote here. You say, "I don't think either of us understood how much I loved her. It seemed like there'd be enough time to sort it out." What did you mean by that?

BROSH: All right. Warning - I'm probably going to start crying.

CHANG: That's OK.

BROSH: So there's this saying, like, familiarity breeds contempt. What isn't quite so obvious is the parts that are really special about these relationships that have maybe even been kind of challenging. And I think my sister and I had that kind of relationship. And there were fleeting moments where I would realize things like - you know, I'd see something she would post on Facebook. And it would make me laugh, and I would have an appreciation for, like, how amazingly funny she is. But I don't think that those things were as clear to me as they are now until I lost her. (Crying) You know, I think that there are things that I - that she and I really could relate to each other about more than anybody in the world. You know, it's like she was horribly depressed, and there were conversations we would have where she described just staring at the wall all day because she didn't know what else to do. And I've been there. A few weeks before she died, we had a conversation like that, and I think it was meaningful. I hope it was - it felt meaningful for her as well. But I don't know. I think I could have been a better big sister.

CHANG: So much of what you've been talking about with me today is about trying to show more compassion with other people, other creatures around you. But another important element of this book is about showing more compassion to yourself.

BROSH: Yeah.

CHANG: And you say one of the most important friendships you can have is the friendship you have with yourself. You have this whole, in fact, step-by-step guide about how to become friends with yourself. Can you tell me, how did you decide that becoming friends with yourself was crucial?

BROSH: So I think at some point, it became necessary because, you know, I think there are a lot of experiences that a person can have that make them feel very unsympathetic toward themselves. In the same way that I had this relationship with my sister that I didn't realize was so special, I think within ourselves, there's that same thing. You know, there's one person in the world who has seen everything that you have ever been through and understands what it felt like, and that person is yourself. And I found tremendous comfort in very dark times from thinking about that. There was this moment where I was - I felt desperately alone and sad. And I had the idea to, like, grab my own shoulder with my hand and sort of, like, do a comforting gesture...

CHANG: Yeah. Yeah.

BROSH: ...And just say, it's OK. And you know what? It felt like a friend doing that.

CHANG: Allie Brosh - her new book is called "Solutions And Other Problems."

Thank you so much for sharing this time with all of us.

BROSH: Thank you too, Ailsa. This was a very therapeutic conversation for me.

CHANG: For me too.

And if you or someone you know is struggling with depression, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.