Melissa Broder is all about filling her holes. It’s meant to sound less perverse than it does, though one imagines Broder’s sense of humor could appreciate the sexual connotation as well. One can barely get through a ten-page block of her essay collection So Sad Today (named for the Twitter account that inspired it) without the mention of hole filling. And, by whatever means necessary–sex, the internet, what have you–Broder seeks to stuff these metaphorical vacancies. From the very moment the book begins, opening with the Seneca quote, “For if we could be satisfied with anything, we should have been satisfied long ago,” it’s clear that Broder is seeking out to do the very same thing that Marie Calloway failed at: catharsis through stream of consciousness stylings–parlayed from a social media platform.
For those unfamiliar with what purpose did i serve in your life, a book (though some might argue with this classification) released in 2013 by Calloway, it is a telling addition to the twenty-first century annals of literature in its internet-obsessed slant. Published by Tyrant Books, Calloway’s brand of self-deprecation through Facebook screenshots and Gchat conversations now comes across as an embryonic form of writing through the medium of social media–and subsequently turning the vomit of emotion into a successful book. And, speaking of vomit, Broder has no qualms about mentioning the ways in which she fetishizes the act of throwing up–how it stemmed from the first time she ever felt truly accepted at her worst by her own mother was when she yakked and got taken care of in her most vile state. From thence forward, it became a masturbation fantasy (you know, since it can be a challenge to get people to fulfill this type of sexual desire). More than the act itself, however, vomit is a means to fill spaces and to unclog the orifice that is the mouth. And unclog it Broder does, commencing with her much appreciated railing against parents and their cruel need to have children: “Bringing a child into the world without its consent seems unethical. Leaving the womb just seems insane.”
Yes, it’s true. There ought to be a system in place by now that lends unborn fetuses the option to opt out upon seeing the future that awaits them. Because, most of us, like Broder, felt the following sentiment upon being ejected from Mother’s vag: “Less than twenty-four hours on the planet and I was already trying to fill my many insatiable internal holes with external stuff. I was trying to sate the existential fear of what the fuck is going on in here with milk. I was sucking and sucking, but there wasn’t enough milk. There would never be enough milk. One titty is too many and a thousand are never enough.” So there it is, the establishment of Broder’s constant mention of her holes. The sexual ones come later in the book. Specifically, chapter two, entitled Love in the Time of Chakras, in which she admits, “I’ve had sex with a lot of gross people… enough gross people that I feel like I should have gotten paid for most of them.” And who among most of the women subject to residing in New York City hasn’t? Hence Broder’s numerous hole-filling readers.
Then there’s the matter of addiction–an appetite for everything that’s bad for one in order to mask that everything in life is bad. From alcohol to drugs, Broder did it all, but her real addiction passion was food, as outlined in the chapter, I Want to Be a Whole Person But Really Thin.
The “whole” versus “hole” word pattern and frequency persists throughout the essay collection. The fact that there’s even a chapter with the phrase “filling a hole”–called Love Like You Are Trying to Fill An Insatiable Spiritual Hole With Another Person Who Will Suffocate in There–speaks to Broder’s preoccupation with doing so at any cost, even when it entails enduring inevitable heartache after temporary romantic and sexual bliss.
Help Me Not Be a Human Being is the section that speaks most succinctly to this phenomenon, with real talk sentences that end in “: a love story” heightening the simultaneous absurdity and veracity of common plights like, “When you said you just wanted it to be a one-night thing, I kinda hoped you meant one night over and over and over until we die: a love story” or “I guess you aren’t going to rescue me from my life: a love story” or “I only had sex with you to get you to stop talking about your art: a love story” or “Wish I had a dick too: a love story” or “I never really liked you but everyone else was worse: a love story.”
Her desire to use men–and sometimes women–as a distraction from herself is another Calloway practice, but one she’s better at explaining how to implement in your own life, e.g. “You take a living, breathing human and try to stuff them into the insatiable holes inside you. These holes are in no way shaped like that person (or any person). But you believe that this fantasy person will fill you, because he or she possesses all the imaginary qualities you seek in a lover.” Absolutely, this is how women choose to stop up the fissures of their minds, which always tend to wander toward the manifold ways in which they don’t measure up to anyone’s expectations–least of all their own.
Exploring her post-relationship comedowns, Broder adds, “I have holes in my brain where I want to hide from life. The holes are filled with voices that tell me we were nirvana, over and over. The voices seem like truth to me, because I am an addict and I want being high to be the truth. I don’t know if I will ever fill the holes. But I am trying really hard not to enter them again.” But enter them she does, in other new-fangled fashions. For instance, in Hello 911, I Can’t Stop Time, Broder explores her unwanted attraction to being attractive. Moving to Los Angeles augments this as she grapples with a plastic surgeon calling attention to three distinct lines in her forehead. Though she tries to resist initially, the part of her that still wants to fuck younger men gives in. In the end, she admits, “Physically, the Botox has shaved off a few years. I’m definitely fooling something. Spiritually, however, the Botox has had no positive effects. I still feel fucked a lot. I’m not whole. I’m human.”
Whole holes will probably never be in the cards for Broder, or any of us with a brain that functions beyond a primeval level. Like Broder, we “may never become a completely whole person, but [we] might have a shot at becoming three-fourths of a person. Three-fourths of a person isn’t bad.”
Then again, it isn’t great either. In the chapter Never Getting Over the Fantasy of You is Going Okay, Broder again one-ups Calloway’s presentation of the ways in which women have a tendency (augmented by that term “online presence”) to project their false notions of a man they’ve cyber-stalked into a non-existent being. She defends the concept of “fake love,” questioning, “Is fake love better than real love? Real love is responsibility, compromise, selflessness, being present and all that shit. Fake love is magic, excitement, false hope, infatuation and getting high off the potential that another person is going to save you from yourself.” But, invariably, they’re not. And never will. That’s why we keep fucking, hoping against hope that a yin to our yang will actually materialize.
Going back to the start of it all, perhaps what Broder does best–far better than Calloway ever could–is deflect blame for the actions carried out during our existence, the actions that frequently call into question our dignity. It’s like she says in the first chapter: “So, parents, never condemn us for trying to fill our existential holes, when we are but the fruit of your own vain attempts to fill yours. It’s your fault we’re here to deal with the void in the first place.”