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On Laughter and Allie Brosh's Solutions and Other Problems

If there is such a thing as love at first sight, I have probably only experienced it with someone I have never met. That someone is Allie Brosh.

I don't know exactly when I first encountered the great love of my life, but "The Alot is Better Than You at Everything" was published in April 2010, so let's pretend I do remember, and that it was around then. Because, you see, I love the alot. Alot. The alot has hung on my office door in four different jobs. My children have grown up with the alot.

Allie Brosh climbed into my life via her blog Hyperbole and a Half, and her book of the same name is a family favorite. (That nugget of information tells you perhaps too much about my parenting. Alas). After a long silence, Brosh released Solutions and Other Problems in September, and if you missed it, and if you like to feel ALL THE THINGS, you should probably read this book.

Like all of Brosh's work, the new book combines her signature digital art with commentary that can only be described as devastating. That devastation often comes via hilarious observations and descriptions like that granted to "Neighbor Kid." Brosh writes,

I can't leave my apartment unless I figure out how to deal with her. She gets up at 5 in the morning and hangs out directly in front of my door like a bridge troll --- all who wish to pass must answer her riddles, and the only riddle she knows is Do you want to see my room?

All good comedians know that humor is born out of an unexpected take on the familiar, and Brosh is an excellent comedian. As soon as I read this paragraph, I realized I knew this kid. Perhaps we all know this kid. Perhaps we were this kid. Regardless, she is utterly familiar and utterly hysterical. By the time I reached the end of this story, which recurs occasionally throughout the book, I was literally weeping tears of laughter.

This happens to me. When I am really amused, laughing really hard, I can't just chuckle. It is a full body experience, and liquid starts to escape from my face. It doesn't matter what part of my face, and the liquid might take many forms (snot, saliva, tears), but if I'm really laughing, it is going to happen. I think I'm not alone here, and I think it is because the emotional core of joy is strikingly similar to the emotional core of sorrow. Believe me when I tell you no one understands that better than Brosh.

At some point during her long hiatus from the world, Brosh made some brief statements that alluded to the fragility of her mental health. So when Brosh describes her depression (in the chapter titled "Losing"), I was ready. It is still hard, of course, but Brosh does for this discussion the same thing she does with neighbor kid. She makes it utterly real and true and right. For those seeking an understanding of depression, this chapter should be required reading. But then, at the close of that chapter, she indicates we're about to get into "the serious part." And despite her warnings and preparations, I wasn't ready.

The serious part comes on suddenly, and just like that, those tears of laughter are tears of sorrow. Brosh walks into the reality of loss and grief. She sees it and shows it unflinchingly. It is powerful. But please don't think that this book should be taken seriously only because of the serious stuff. To write (and draw!) humor well is just as rare and just as valuable a gift as to speak the truth about pain. Because they come from the same place. We carry the devastatingly sad things in our past into our present, where eventually, things are funny again.

Brosh does the same here. After The Serious Part, she introduces the pile dog, and oh-so-accurately describes the disorienting rage we can feel at inanimate objects, and details the story of how a failed guided meditation led her to increasingly awkward interactions with a stranger, and the reader laughs and laughs and also knows that Allie Brosh is a person who has been broken by things in her life and is doing her best.

Just like all of us.


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