BuzzFeed editor digs deep into her 'garbage soul' in new book
Scaachi Koul describes One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter as a 'catalogue of misery' but it will strike a chord with so many.
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Scaachi Koul didn’t set out to write One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter. She began working on her personal essay collection two years ago, at age 24, intending the book — which she refers to as “a catalogue of misery” — to be a much lighter read. But when Koul’s editors at Doubleday Canada pushed her to dig deeper into her “garbage soul,” the underlying tenor of the book shifted.
“It’s a lot about loneliness and trying to make a connection, and it’s a lot about how your history informs where you’re going,” Koul says. “I’m happy where it went, but sometimes you do need an editor to tell you that you don’t have to be glib all the time. That was a hard lesson for me.”
Those who follow Koul’s work as an editor at BuzzFeed or on Twitter know that she’s an all-caps force who doesn’t suffer fools or anonymous online trolls gladly.
The sly, cutting sarcasm — and the misery — still reverberate through One Day We’ll All Be Dead, but they’ve been tempered, leaving breathing room for Koul to share more vulnerable observations of her life and her roles as a young woman, a girlfriend, a best pal and a daughter of Indian immigrants. She wrestles with Western beauty standards and ethnic stereotypes, and the horrifying reality of rape and surveillance culture, familiar to any woman who has spent a night at a bar watching her drink in fear of getting roofied.
“It’s much easier to write down an anxiety or a fear you have, but then cut the tension with a joke. There are portions of the book where I didn’t do that. People were telling me sometimes you have to let a moment land,” says Koul, who describes the feeling of releasing the book as being akin to photocopying your diary and handing it over to a gang of junior-high girls.
“As much as my instincts were telling me to say, ‘Here’s a terrible thing that happened, but don’t worry, everything’s fine,’ that’s not always the right move. Writing generally is an exercise in being insecure. Of course, it feels uncomfortable and exposing.”
Koul also didn’t anticipate that her relationship with her family would become the heart of One Day We’ll All Be Dead. Each chapter opens with an email exchange with her father, whose own surly charm will be familiar to anyone who follows Koul on Twitter. Although Koul talks about the specific ways in which she’s inherited her parents’ anxieties and the generational disconnect she feels as a child of immigrants, there’s a universal quality to her interactions with her family that is reminiscent of American humourist and essayist David Sedaris, whose writing she loved from a young age.
“I have to write like they’re already dead, otherwise every essay will come out as very stilted. I’m sure there’s stuff that will make them uncomfortable reading it,” Koul says. “I don’t think my dad wants to read a chapter about my pubic hair, so I won’t recommend it. My mom will read it and she’ll cry, but she’ll get over it.”
One group of readers that Koul isn’t worried about is the legion of online trolls that have been harassing her for the past few years. In One Day We’ll All Be Dead she covers the personal toll the threats have caused, but says she doesn’t expect that they’ll actually make an effort to buy, let alone even pick up her book.
“There’s a fee to enter. With the Internet, you can yell at me and it costs you nothing and so that’s where they live,” she says. “I’m not super-concerned, and honestly at this point, I don’t know what they can say that I haven’t heard already. Do your best. What can you say at this point to take this away from me?”