THE WASHINGTON POST – Allie Brosh’s 2013 graphic memoir Hyperbole and a Half, focussed on her childhood adventures and her struggles with depression. Based on her blog of the same name, it landed on the top of bestseller lists. She went on tour, signed books until 3am and then disappeared for seven years.
Her second emotionally and physically hefty book (515 pages), Solutions and Other Problems, explains why. Between stories about strange neighbour children and becoming a cat owner, Brosh details in the “serious section” how weeks after her book came out, she had a seven-hour surgery to remove “a fruit salad” of tumours.
They were benign, but the scare shook Brosh deeply. A few months later, her younger sister committed suicide, driving her car in front of a train on New Year’s Eve. Brosh also got divorced, moved to Colorado to be alone, and eventually remarried and moved back to Oregon.
No wonder it took seven years to process all that onto the page.
From her home in Bend, Oregon, Brosh talked to The Washington Post for an hour about publicly sharing terrible life moments, the benefits of a pandemic book tour and all things cats.
A: I wouldn’t say it’s a good feeling, I know it’s hard for people to feel locked in, but I didn’t have any trouble adjusting. I wasn’t really leaving the house before.
A: I feel like cats, that they are having a much different experience of life than people do. My cat, Squirrel, there’s a particular meow he does – it’s a plaintive meow. It sounds so sad, like he’s asking me something. I want to know what it is.
A: I have two. We have a room with a couch and a bunk bed, and I’ve created a kind of fort on the bottom bunk and draped blankets all over the sides to stop light from coming in. I also use my bed upstairs and set up my computer and drawing pad on a wedge pillow.
Then Squirrel will decide he wants my attention – he likes to walk over my keyboard. He did something to [my husband] Kevin’s computer – the keyboard is backlit, and it can flash, and Squirrel turned it on and we couldn’t figure out how to turn the flashing off. We had to get a new computer.
A: When I meet people in real life, “in the wild,” that’s the most common thing people say to me. I’m so glad to hear that, that what I went through – that other people were helped by it? That means a lot to me.
A: The pros are that it allows me to work through things and that process is revelatory for me – it improves my ability to understand and maybe discover something that could be helpful for other people. It’s mutually beneficial, it’s like open-source software. The cons are that there’s stuff that’s hard to describe and talk about, particularly when other people are involved. It’s different when it’s just about me.
A: It’s very strange. Like, with my sister’s funeral, not everyone there knew it was suicide. The article in the paper said she was hit by a train, but that was it. So I didn’t want to hit people with that at her funeral, but then we also couldn’t talk about it.
It’s a special kind of trauma. The death of a loved one to suicide isn’t like regular death. It’s difficult to talk about and deal with in a different way.
I talked to her the week before, and things were pretty bad, but we were talking pretty openly about our struggles with suicidal ideation and we left it like … promise me you won’t do it and then I won’t do it.
I still think about it – did something I said hit her the wrong way? Was it me not coming home for the holidays? I have a million thoughts about what I could have done.
A: That is one comfort to me. I talked openly about that with my parents, trying to explain. When I was suicidal, when I was on the brink, there was no feeling like “if someone would just say this I wouldn’t go through with it.” I was just miserable and didn’t want to be miserable anymore and I suspect it was the same with my sister.
A: This is such a better experience than the first book tour! I barely slept – all the travelling and feeling like you had to be “on” all the time. It was very difficult. Now I can wake up in my own bed and have Zoom conversations. It’s a much more efficient way to interact – like before, I would interact with people, but it always felt rushed. Now I can enjoy the collective experience.