Thinking A Lot About The Alot (And Memes In General)

Do you know The Cut’s column, I Think About This a Lot? It’s pretty fun, I enjoy it. They describe it below the byline as “a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.” I’m telling you, good stuff. Now I am bad at memes, having been a thirty-something-year-old in the body of a ten-year-old and exponentially aging up. I just don’t understand what makes a meme a meme. What are the confines of a meme? How is that video a meme? I yearn for the simpler days of lolcats and classic, easily identifiable memes like “One does not simply…” from Lord of the Rings. See? I have the urge to contextualize the joke. I was NOT MADE FOR THIS.

I spent much of my life being the sort of person who was not included in inside jokes and as a result I despised them. Perhaps this is why I always (unnecessarily) explain humor.

My husband Will always accuses me of killing jokes. He’s very thorough. He gets this odd, wobbly smile on his face and talks with illustrating gestures. “You’re like…Lenny, from Of Mice and Men,” he says, and I start squirming. “You, like…pet the puppy, but you love it so much you’re crushing it slowly.” He ruffles my hair, beaming with love and slight pity. “Best of intentions.” This is one comparison.

Another, more gleefully, is, “You’re the Jack the Ripper of jokes!” We both think Jack the Ripper was actually a woman, probably the wife of a surgeon, with access to medical tools. So he’s suggesting that I’ve stalked these jokes in the dead of night and disemboweled them, systematically ripping out their uteri. I’m not funny, in and of myself, but I do things that other people find funny. Perhaps I am driven mad by hysterical jealousy; suppose I am obsessed with a wild and vengeful urge to lay bare and exposed the jokes’ funniness. Lenny, holding up the dead puppy, going, “This is how it works!” and George, with Will’s face, responding, “The puppy worked just fine with all its bones not smashed.”

A third, less creative, paints me as some merciless monster with blood dripping down my face from the spine I have just ripped out of a helpless joke, undoubtedly with my teeth–possibly still in my teeth.

I JUST WANT EVERYONE TO FEEL INCLUDED. For example, in fifth grade, I did not know that “cut the cheese” indicated farting. Don’t look at me like that. Yes, I am homely and pathetic, and I lived under a rock. During a science experiment that literally involved a piece of cheese being cut and squished (I have no idea what we were doing, and if anyone I went to elementary school with does recall, please drop me a line), I, attempting to be helpful, worked on the cheese squishing portion of the procedure. Minutes later, someone on my team asked, “Who cut the cheese?” (you can see where this is going). I was a very small, awkward, gawky-looking ten-year-old, with an unfortunate haircut and giant glasses. I often wore corduroy pants, and turtlenecks, and this particular, bright blue quilted windbreaker that I really liked. My instinctive dress code was frumpy-business-casual from birth. I obligingly said, “Me. I did it.” Hysterical laughter ensued over the Silent But Deadly fart someone else had emitted, which I had not yet even noticed, wafting through the air. I am no longer ashamed of farting and will happily admit when I am now the culprit, but I assure you, on this particular occasion, I was not at fault. No one liked me and I hated to give them genuine fodder to support that, so I was doubly upset and probably sulked for the entire rest of the lesson. Excluded. Shamed. Perpetually lonely. I think this is My Root as to why I rip the spines out of innocent jokes. See. I can reference pop culture. That was spiteful. I’m sorry.

When I was in grad school, twenty-five years old in actuality (so about fifty-something, in mannerisms), Will was working for a web platform as a content writer. As a fifty-something-year-old curmudgeon illiterate in the mysterious ways of the internet, I barely know what that means. One day he came home and told me he had pitched a YouTube series that would be called, “Unfunny Girlfriend Tells Jokes,” which would just be me, earnestly telling him jokes, preferably famous ones like, “How do you know that an elephant has been in your fridge?” The correct answer, apparently, is, “Footprints in the butter.”

BUT, in this wildly successful YouTube series, I would say something like, “And it’s funny because obviously an elephant would never fit in your fridge. A baby, maybe, if you had a very large fridge, but you’d know if one was there, because it would probably break the shelf. Can you imagine how small an elephant would have to be, to leave footprints in your butter? Hilarious!”

His boss loved it, but fortunately the pilot never aired and my dignity was preserved, left to be destroyed on my own terms.

For the purposes of this essay, I googled, “what is a meme?” because, as previously established, I am a person whose internal age does not match her literal one, one who apparently googles questions sometimes when sick in bed on Monday nights. And occasionally at other times. The reliable-enough bastion of verbosity,, was there for me. I have humbly copied and condensed the results to:

noun: meme; plural noun: memes

  • a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc., that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users.

This is good. This is helpful. I can work within these parameters. There are still problems, of course, such as what other people find funny—which I find utterly mystifying—and what constitutes “slight variations,” but I can work with this. Let’s try.

One meme I do love is, “Clean all the things!” from Allie Brosh’s phenomenal web comic, Hyperbole and a Half. Again, easily identifiable. It’s probably the most well-known meme from the comic (am I doing this right? This talking about memes?), and my second-favorite from Brosh’s work.

Earlier this evening I was googling “the cut I think about this,” because I find it amusing and I was looking for inspiration. And maybe an email to submit to, if I found inspiration and thus something to write about that I think about a lot. And again, my googling habits are shameful.

Then this happened.

Google alot typo

Let’s analyze this screenshot together. Three things come immediately to mind.

  1. Google has predicted “alot” as the end of that phrase, but has definitely found the column that I’m looking for, which means that most people also looking for this column have mistyped its title.
  2. Google has red-lined my correctly typed version of the title, which means that the mistyping has happened so much that Google thinks that’s actually the title.
  3. I managed to restrain myself from clicking, “Report inappropriate predictions,” which I think is a pretty significant accomplishment, given the above lunacy.

A fourth: I’ve found inspiration. I have a topic for I Think About This a Lot. It’s the alot.

The alot is my favorite creation of Allie Brosh’s. Can I call it a meme? It’s a gentle-hearted creature apparently gifted at swimming that looks kind of like the love child of a woolly mammoth and…something else, to me, although Brosh lovingly describes it as looking “like a cross between a bear, a yak and a pug.”

To which I say, “Sure,” and also, “Where’s your Oxford comma, ma’am?” I’m twenty-six now, but last year was tough, so I’m inwardly a ripe old eighty-five, and feisty.

But the alot is a wonderful, practical creature. It has many skills and at least two important purposes. It gives the neurotic grammarian something nice to envision when assaulted by egregious typos or careless errors, and it teaches students how to never make those egregious typos or careless errors again. I mean look at it. It’s adorable! Would you forget a face like that?

Exhibit A:

care about this alot

Exhibit B:


Exhibit C:


I think about the alot a lot. Absently, when I’m on the subway; triumphantly, when I encounter it in print. One of my greatest failures as a fifth grade teacher was that I did not plaster the wall above my desk with pictures of it. My students, many of them reluctant writers but technological savants, far more gifted at the art of interpreting memes than myself, might have liked it! Maybe emboldened by their understanding of our inside joke, they would have confidently written about frequency, or multiples, in their creative writing projects, looking to these variations on a humorous image, shared frequently online, and now posted above their young and hip teacher’s desk for confirmation.

Yeah, it’s definitely a meme…



The Brunch Question

I leaned around the office door and checked at 1:30, but the info session was still going. I reviewed the questionnaire I was given when the students and their families showed up. This was to be my last interview of my senior interviewer career, and I was as calm as I could be—which is to say, fidgety with nervous energy. I loved that job: getting to know prospective Sarah Lawrence students and answering their questions about life and studying at the College. I loved dressing up for work, wearing my snazzy etched nametag, carrying a clipboard into the interviews so I could scrawl mysterious notes on lined paper and refer back to the questionnaire with pizzazz. It felt so important. It definitely sounded more prestigious than it was: senior, of course, meant senior in college. I was not, as it sounded, an Interviewer who was highly experienced or at least had stuck around for some time, thus warranting the modifier, “senior.” The very nice office with the tidy desk and lovely, leaded windows was definitely not mine.

I was a real thirteen-going-on-thirty; from my very first job working in a Harry Potter-themed shop in Los Angeles called Whimsic Alley, I’ve always been preoccupied with work, whatever I determine my work to be. Schoolwork, writing, selling wands and Hogwarts sweaters—anything can become my work. As my sister-in-law once said, “It’s not even fun to make fun of you, you’re just so earnest.”

But, it swiftly became clear that taking everything so seriously made me, in addition to a solid student and excellent employee, a stressful person. I was an efficient communicator once relationships were built, but in the precious first minutes of those interviews, I became acutely aware of how awkward I felt—and probably was. Communicating information clearly and efficiently is an important skill in the workplace, but so is putting people at ease, an area in which I have never been gifted. Perhaps it was because I am never at ease, but making these students comfortable was a real challenge. Some of them had charisma, and were probably running the show, but others made me seem like a social savant. One girl read aloud a list of her hobbies from notes that she brought into the interview, because she was so nervous. My heart went out to her. I would never—but I would definitely think about it in a moment of panic.

Early into my interviewing career, I picked the brains of the few other seniors who had gotten a head start, living on campus over the summer and getting three full months of practice giving interviews before I toddled back to school at the end of August. They were so comfortable, so smooth. They had the most genuine smiles, well-timed chuckles, thoughtful and well-organized questions! It was simply riveting! I had so much to learn. Kindly, they shared with me some tips and ideas about how to guide my interviewees, and I tried my best absorb all the details.

Which brings us to the brunch question. You’ve definitely encountered it, maybe framed around a different meal. Dinner parties were the thing of past eras, and today’s youth and hip of all ages are preoccupied with brunch. Add dinner parties to the list of things we Millenials are probably killing; I’m sure they’ll return to being in vogue in x number of years, just like napkins, diamonds, and Applebee’s. “Retro,” they’ll say. “Nostalgia,” they’ll smile. “Ironic,” they’ll approve with a raised eyebrow and inclination of the jaw, because everyone knows it’s not cool to actually care about anything.

Here’s how I word it: If you could choose any three people, living or dead, fictional or real, to invite to brunch, who would you choose and why? It’s a perfect interview question, or a silly ice breaker to get to know someone. I highly recommend it and there are several ways to modify it.

There are really two tactics you can take, and so the first thing you learn about a person comes through their choice of tactic. Do they just pick three people they think are cool, with whom they’d like to break bread? Or do they consider the potential interactions of their fellow diners with each other, beyond just picking people they’d like to meet. It’s very revealing. I always like it when people go above and beyond, think about how the guests would get along (or despise each other). For example, I think it would be be fascinating to dine with millionaire matchmaker Patti Stanger, and Jane Austen. Can you imagine? Patti in short leather shorts and cerulean stilettos, saying something about non-negotiables! Patti takes a call from a client during the meal and yells at him about being a “lazy lion,” and outrageously mixes metaphors, telling him to go deeper, “and get under the hood of the car.” Jane, bewildered but bemused, understanding perfectly why some of Patti’s clients’ parents help Patti vet potential dates for their children, both of them finding shared ground in Patti’s rule that you don’t move in with someone before you get a ring. Throw in someone like Nora Ephron to make a third, and BOOM. Brunch in New York, at somewhere like Russ & Daughters, perfect conversation, absolute hilarity, best meal you’ve ever had.

The other tactic, of course, is to choose three people you find interesting—remember, you don’t have to like them, you just have to find them interesting—without thinking about how they would interact. Emily Bronte, Nikola Tesla, Marilyn Monroe. Huh. See what I mean? I’d love to be openly hostile to James Franco for an hour and abruptly ignore him for large swaths of time in order to fangirl Roxane Gay and literally anyone else, but I would feel terrible for exposing Roxane and literally anyone else to James Franco for an hour. And anyway, that’s not the point of the question.

It’s hard to get to know people when you’re anxious. It’s also hard to let yourself be known, especially when you fall into the awful, spiraling rut of hating yourself for not talking, talking, hating what you said, and going back to hating yourself for not talking. In high school, I had an impossibly cool friend, M., one of those people who you can’t figure why they like you because they walk through the world so differently from you. In an Irish pub on Wilshire Blvd., I used the tiles on the tabletop to allocate appropriate percentages of anxiety I felt to various topics that consumed my thinking. She was bemused. “Yeah, I don’t really worry about anything like that,” she said, cheerfully eating French fries. Later, she shared with me the following piece of advice: Plan your day (and social engagements) around meals. They give you structure; you can’t get trapped with anyone for too long—but you can, of course, continue to hang out with someone after if you want to. She was the sort of person who could navigate any crowd, someone who would probably give a different, fascinating answer to the brunch question on any given day of the week, because she could get along with anyone and could make interesting conversation with anyone. Exhibit A: blithering me, gesturing at tables.

I couldn’t afford my interviewees the luxury of a meal to bookend our time together, but the brunch question at least brought food and company into play. Sometimes, balking, the students would ask for an example, and I’d fumble through my picks of the day. I’ve since refined them to a tight trio of my personal and literary heroes, with alternates* on deck, should I be feeling dangerously spontaneous!

  1. Anne Carson: mysterious Canadian poet and translator.

FUN FACT: When I was working at Strand, my friend K. got to help her husband Robert find a book. Not sure how his marriage to her came up in conversation, but I made an alarmed sound something like “hruhgk,” (think a hiccup, but…more awkward) when he told me about it. In all actuality, I would probably run away if she showed up; the prospect of actually being face to fact with her would probably make me nauseous—if she disapproved of me, what would I be? In this inverting way, I am an Icarus to her sun. I would never try to get too close to the sun that she is; I do not need close proximity to be improved by her glow.

  1. Rebecca Solnit: my fellow Californian, a cultural historian and essayist. Unlike Anne Carson, I sadly cannot connect myself to her via six degrees of separation, but I think I would feel equally ill with excitement if she showed up one day and was like, “Hey Anna, let’s talk about any one of our mutual interests! Feminism? Photography? Social and political trouble and space? Virginia Woolf?” Speaking of…
  2. Virginia Woolf, the grand high bitch herself, who needs no introduction, especially if you’ve ever talked to me.

They would all make me nervous, but I’d choose them anyway. I flatter myself to think that Anne Carson and Rebecca Solnit would probably feign interest in me just to get through the conversation, until they realized how much they had to talk about, and promptly forgot I was there, but it’s recently occurred to me that I don’t think Virginia Woolf would like me. Not that I’ve always thought she would (unsurprisingly, I’ve always thought of myself as sort of below her level of interest), but most of my writing these days is of the very meandering, self-centered sort she despised in “The Decay of Essay Writing,” (1905). I mean, let’s be real, I don’t know if any of these goddesses would like me, but I love them. If anyone called me the intellectual love child of any possible permutation, or even compared me to any one of them, I would die of happiness. To be perfectly clear, I would take this potential brunch so seriously that my particles would probably vibrate into flame with anxiety and singe themselves out of existence. And if I managed to stay extant, I would probably say one stupid thing and then nothing else at all for fear that they would hate me forever. I would become invisible, a delighted, silent witness to this great meeting of minds. I think that’s just as telling as my choices, to get back to the original purpose of the question, and it tells us something I already know.

The brunch question is a valuable tool in its joint abilities to amuse and expose. It’s silly. Potentially lighthearted, while revealing. In learning to ask it, I became a better interviewer; I often didn’t even need it, just with the knowledge that I had it waiting to fall back upon. I’ll have to remember, if I ever meet Anne or Rebecca, and whenever I casually meet respected Woolf scholars, the lengths a little levity can take you. Those students with their Indiana Joneses, Ben Franklins, Salvador Dalis, Margaret Thatchers, George Harrisons, and Greek goddesses (someone once, dazzlingly, threw out Artemis as a second invitee), got it, either before I did or after.


*ALTERNATES: Sara Ahmed, Maggie Nelson, Jeanette Winterson, in no particular order.

On Natural Disasters and Their “Tranquil Spectators”

I was always a tremendous nerd, a literary nerd. One strange, science-y topic stood outlier: I was obsessed with natural disasters in very quiet but specific ways. Earthquakes were one thing; I was retrospectively very proud of myself for having slept through the 1994 Northridge earthquake, at the tender age of almost three. Volcanos were another. I read and re-read this one children’s history book about Pompeii, practically until it fell apart. I had a mesmerizing and terrifying recurring dream, about standing at the edge of the ocean and watching a mountain belch smoke and lava, which became the water and encroached toward me, creeping two steps forward, and one step back, like the tide. The dream was always silent, like an old movie, but illuminated in the red-gold light of lava. I would be frightened but unmoving, and I think several times, the lava waves crashed over me. If I was burnt, it didn’t register.

Dreams aside, not that they ever are—volcanos. They’re amazing, in the sense that awesome means something awe-inspiring. They are these otherworldly giants breathing alongside us, dormant for years, then extinct, like dinosaurs but better because they don’t lose their shape. People who are more educated than I can reconstruct what dinosaurs might have looked like from the blueprints of their bones, but they might be wrong about the details. Any third-grader, bespectacled or not, can look at a mountain and see its sheer size, and raw shape. I had a book about Pompeii that I read over and over again; I spent cumulatively, several hours in the small, I guess geology-themed subsection of my elementary school’s library, over the course of many brief visits (we never had enough time). At camp, my favorite song was about Mt. St. Helens, a volcano in Washington, whose 1980 eruption was, I believe, unexpectedly intense. Why this song was having a resurgence in popularity at a Jewish summer camp in California, in the early 2000s, I will never know. Many questions.

In college I took this brilliant course called Green Romanticism, one of those classes that’s so inspiring that everything I did was underwhelming. I often have this experience—when I am most excited about the ideas being discussed and most want to impress the people with whom I am discussing them, I am kind of an idiot. My research for the course was something that has stuck with me and continues to be a “research interest” when I am trying to pretend that I still belong in academia: the imagination of (natural) disasters—to borrow and modify a phrase from Susan Sontag—in literature. Which is to ask, what role did real life natural disasters pose in the shaping of literature, and what do those pieces of literature reflect about how people perceived natural disasters? I studied two particular events: an earthquake in 1755 that wiped out most of the city of Lisbon and large swaths of surrounding Portugal, Spain, and Morocco, and the year 1816—more the time rather the event—the rather violent eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia, a stratovolcano, or composite volcano, so extreme that it sent the northern hemisphere into a volcanic winter. 1816: “the year without a summer,” or “eighteen hundred and froze-to-death,” which is a little less quippy, but I believe was actually said, around the time.

1816 is perhaps best known in the literary world not for crop failure and subsequent food riots (which certainly did happen), but as the beginning of science-fiction as we know it. Villa Diodati, Lake Geneva, Switzerland—you may have heard the story, and if you haven’t, it’s amazing—George Gordon, better known as Lord Byron, his doctor friend John Polidori, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (soon to be Shelley), and Claire Claremont, Mary’s step-sister, all vacationing alongside each other. It was sheer debauchery. Mary seems to have been of soundest mind, recording a lot of useful information about the weather, how cold it was, how often it rained, and this gem: “the laden clouds made the darkness almost as deep as that of midnight; but in the west an unusually brilliant and fiery redness occupied an opening in the vapours…” Otherworldly!

[This was also when the painter J. M. W. Turner started revolutionizing landscapes and produced a series of very beautiful, very moody, sort of apocalyptic red sunsets. Definitely creative but maybe less creative than we think—if that’s what the sky actually looked like.]

Sailing, horseback riding, wine-drinking, drug-taking, writing. After a vivid nightmare, Mary Shelley had the idea for Frankenstein. Byron produced several poems, including one appropriately called, “Darkness,” which opens with an image of the sun extinguished and the world frozen. Polidori wrote a short vampire story that would go on to influence Dracula, and Percy worked on whatever he was working on. Claire got pregnant.

In my opinion, Frankenstein was the highlight of the summer (apologies to Claire and Allegra, her daughter). The text asks a lot of powerful questions about life and responsibility, complicated by technology. Victor is god-like, yet not. He brings the creature to life, and is then disgusted by him; he abandons his creation and spends a lot of time being ill and feeling sorry for himself. There’s a lot of talk about fate, destiny, the power of nature, and the ramifications of humankind interfering with nature. Hold on to these ideas and go back in time with me to 1755.

The Great Lisbon Earthquake would have been between an 8.5 and a 9.0 on the modern Richter scale; it killed over 75,000 people and started a fire that raged for several days. While the Romantics were unaware of Tambora’s eruption and thus why the weather was so awful, the earthquake in Lisbon was difficult to miss. Influential poet and essayist François-Marie Arouet, more commonly known as Voltaire, wrote a cheerful text called “Poem on the Lisbon Disaster; Or an Examination of the Axiom, ‘All is Well.’” We all know someone who ardently espouses the belief that “EVERYTHING’S FINE,” when everything is decidedly not fine, probably because they hope that if they will it, it will be. We all know that person; we hate that person. That person is exactly the sort of folk that Voltaire couldn’t stand in the wake of the quake (sorry, couldn’t resist). He questioned their certainty in “the great eternal cause, that knows all things,” and wrote:

“God holds the chain: is not himself enchained;
By his indulgent choice is all arranged;
Implacable he’s not, but free and just.
Why suffer we, then, under one so just?”

If God is just, how could he do this to us?

It’s a question that has been asked a thousand times or more throughout history and chronicled in literature; I’m not going to ask it again now.

Voltaire pointed out, “All peoples, trembling at the hand of God, / Have sought the source of evil in the world,” highlighting a cross-cultural trend, wherein people have interpreted natural disasters as moral damnation, a punishment for humankind’s behavior. I want to jest, How self-centered! that over time, we’ve obsessed over this idea—particularly in the 1700s and 1800s, when these events really had very little to do with us. Post-industrial humankind has a little more to answer for, not unlike Victor Frankenstein.

American philosopher Susan Neiman writes, in Evil in Modern Thought (2002), that “[Natural disasters] inhabit the borders of human meaning. We want to understand just so much about them as might help us gain control.” The Great Lisbon Earthquake was a remarkable event because it created a demand for less theological, more intellectual discussions of disaster; it was actually the first earthquake studied for its impact across a large area. Neiman’s point would ring very truly to Voltaire, who was actually doing something quite radical in questioning the idea that natural disasters are our deserved punishment by a higher power. If natural disasters are not the result of human actions, people are “absolved of responsibility not only for causing or compensating them but even for thinking about them, except in pragmatic and technological terms.”

What a dangerous, yet accurate observation. People turn to faith when they feel powerless, but they also use God’s will or a more general idea of karma to shift blame.

Just at the end of August, Ken Storey, a professor from the University of Tampa, lost his job for opining that Hurricane Harvey is the karmic result of Texas’ tendency to vote Republican, writing that Texans “need to do more to stop the evil their state pushes.” Voltaire could have been writing today:

“Tranquil spectators of your brothers’ wreck,
Unmoved by this repellant dance of death,
Who calmly seek the reason of such storms,
Let them but lash your own security;
Your tears will mingle freely with the flood.”

I find it especially cutting to equate Storey, who must be feeling really moronic right now, what with Hurricane Irma approaching Florida, with Voltaire’s “tranquil spectators.” He apparently wrote that Floridians who voted red also would deserve some kind of karma; the University of Tampa added, apologetically, in an email sent out to students and faculty that, “As Floridians, we are well aware of the destruction and suffering associated with tropical weather,” which would dovetail nicely with Voltaire’s description of “your brothers’ wreck.”

Proving more salaciously that Twitter really is the foreground of people saying ridiculous things, Ann Coulter wrote in the same week: “I don’t believe Hurricane Harvey is God’s punishment for Houston electing a lesbian mayor. But that is more credible than ‘climate change.’” I say: would that lesbians had such influence over the weather; undoubtedly though, they would use such power for good.

Scientists, who do truly “seek the reason of such storms,” as Voltaire put it, were paying attention. They knew that Harvey was going to happen; they knew it would be unprecedented in its scope and extremity. Certainly, the Gulf coast has always been victim to hurricanes and flooding, as far as we know, but Harvey follows an increase in rainstorms and flooding in the Houston area over the past several years, and is now the heaviest rainstorm in US history. Climate change may not have caused it, but it certainly has exacerbated the severity, and it’s alarming to think of how this pattern is just going to continue, especially as 45 has stacked the EPA with oil tycoons and recently slashed some of Obama’s standards on building new infrastructure…just important little things like evaluating the potential impact of climate change and rising ocean levels.

There’s something powerful to consider in how we’ve shifted yet not really moved from Voltaire’s day. The Coulters and Storeys are still setting blame (or result, I suppose) on moral action, yet our real culpability is largely unaccepted. The earth has always been a powerful, moving force; life originating in so-called primordial soup, Pangaea breaking apart in the Mesozoic area and giving us tectonic plates as we know them. It’s not that our actions are causing natural disasters, simply that industrialization, pollution, and global warming are making these disasters worse.

Our knowledge of science manages to demystify disasters, a small advantage we have over Voltaire, Byron, and the Shelleys, but 2017 will appear on the timeline of major natural disasters, and whatever knowledge we have is no comfort. On the same day that all five living former Presidents of the United States banded together in launching, “One America Appeal,” a joint fundraising effort for Harvey relief efforts, the news is reporting that Hurricane Irma, which has already devastated several Caribbean islands and set a record for the Atlantic, of maintaining 185 mph winds for over 24 hours, will hit Florida as a Category 4 hurricane, just recently downgraded in the last few hours.

Writing about the Great Lisbon Earthquake, Neiman draws another point relevant to our time: “The consciousness that emerged after Lisbon was an attempt at maturity. If Enlightenment is the courage to think for oneself, it’s also the courage to assume responsibility for the world into which one is thrown.” People were forced to reconsider the world, to question how they had previously viewed it—something only some of us are doing now. Neiman continues, “Every time we make the judgment this ought not to have happened, we are stepping onto a path that leads straight to the problem of evil,” and this is not so much a historical problem as a moral one. It is our fault that the severity of these storms has increased so drastically; it is now our responsibility to care for our planet and its citizens, those near and far from us, in the wake of disaster. We must not be the “tranquil spectators” Voltaire loathed in 1755. The facts of global warming have been around long enough; that warning, to not stand by as others suffer, has been around for much longer.

How Do Beach Girls Do It?

Every year, my husband Will and one of his friends from high school go on a road trip or a mini-vacation. They are similar in their adventurousness, something I am not; they enjoy vigorous activities like whitewater rafting, zip-lining, driving fast in expensive rental muscle cars, and eating barbecque and raw fish. This year, they decide to return to one of their favorite vacation locales, and after hearing about it for years, I somehow, despite being unemployed (and therefore not deserving of going on vacation—more on this later), was coerced into agreed to accompany them.

I had a bit of a breakdown after I finished my Master’s in May. The stress of the past year caught up to me, and I crashed, overwhelmed with feelings of worthlessness and incompetence. This vacation would be an opportunity to put myself back together. Time to actually do things I want to do, like read and write and enjoy myself. Time to repave precarious neural pathways and imagine new ways of being. Going to the beach? WHY THE FUCK NOT.

You should know, I am bad at vacationing and decidedly NOT a beach girl. I have what I consider to be a healthy suspicion of beaches, owing, no doubt, to having nearly drowned twice in my early childhood—and once, almost being swept away by particularly aggressive gusts of wind at a beach. My badness at beaches is historic, chronicled in photographs. Perhaps the most iconic image of my childhood is a photo of me on a beach, with wild, curly hair and giant bifocals, wearing too many layers–one of which is a bright quilted windbreaker–and clutching a book about tropical fish.

Even my mother who “can’t swim,” the way I “can’t ride a bike,” enjoys beaches to a certain extent—she just doesn’t go in the water. My mom can swim and I can ride a bike, technically—we just aren’t confident in and don’t enjoy these respective activities. And we are utterly disinterested in changing these qualities of ourselves. Imagine us both as gawky birds, although catlike in behavior. We both wear glasses, have similar mannerisms, and will say some of the same bewilderingly frumpy expressions, like “Everything in moderation,” and “Hope springs eternal,” both of which I have been earnestly spouting since the tender age of eight or nine. My mom is better at vacationing than I am. When on vacation, she enjoys spas and tolerates her teas and coffees with full-fat milk. She occasionally treats herself to real bacon instead of extra crispy turkey bacon, which she normally allows herself on Sundays. She owns a lot of sandals, which she actually wears, both when on and not on vacation. I despise sandals and people I don’t know who wear them.

I haven’t been on a proper vacation in several years. When Will and I got married, we didn’t even go on a real honeymoon—we were, at the time, living in Nashville, Tennessee, and got a nice AirBnB in New York when we went for Thanksgiving. We gorged ourselves on sushi and did a little shopping; my most extravagant purchase was a black hooded sweatshirt with an upside-down Nike logo and the phrase “JUST DON’T” in gold glitter. I have trouble with the concept of vacation, which mostly stems from a lifetime of anxiety and double depression. I am neurotic and self-hating, and tend to believe that I don’t deserve to have a good time. To complicate that already hectic matter, what sounds fun to other people often sounds nightmarish to me. Exhibit A: BEACHES. Other examples: horror movies, paint-balling, driving in fast cars.

I really don’t know how beach girls do it. They thrive in the natural environment wherein I am perhaps most uncomfortable. They are graceful; I am ungainly. They are like magnificent otters joyfully bathing in a bucket, and I am like several cats thrown into a bathtub, bug-eyed and yowling. You must know what I mean when I say, “beach girls.” There are many varieties of this joyful creature. Some of them are young and some of them are old. They have bodies of all shapes, colors, and sizes. Some are loungers, reclining like sandy royalty and baking in the sun on fluffy towels; others are athletes, spiking volleyballs, catching Frisbees, bounding into the waves in wet suits with surf boards. Some bare their bodies, and others cover up. They are all beach girls. All goddesses. They share open minds and hearts. They wear flip flops. They ENJOY getting saltwater in their eyes and sand between their toes. I am no such creature. I would go to embarrassing lengths to avoid these circumstances.

Over time, my healthy suspicion of beaches has turned into not just distrust, but ardent dislike. While I do actually like swimming in warmer and more enclosed bodies of water, and I enjoy baths more than most things, the ocean is not my friend. I have, at various points in life, conceded potential bias and attempted new ways of engaging with the sea: body surfing (disaster), sand-castle making (devastating), etc., but I get too edgy. My uncle Phil once warned me as a kid never to turn my back on the ocean (and I’ve never forgotten that). The ocean is powerful, demanding of genuine respect. It feels your distrust and tugs away the sand beneath your feet, twines through your ankles like a thousand streaming cats that flick you with their tails and grace you with their presence, to gain your trust, and then bite you.


We drive in two cars for three hours to get to the beach. Everything is carefully planned. We are going to Montauk, the easternmost point of the United States, a unique biome, a magical place where in winter, it snows on the beach.

Ominously, there is a parking-related problem when we arrive. There are no metered lots, apparently, for miles, and you have to have a local parking permit to park by the beach. All beaches? No, this beach. Well why don’t we go to another beach. This beach is THE BEST. Well all beaches are pretty nice; we don’t need the best. Yes, we do, why would we want to go anywhere else?

Remarkably, I am so delighted to be on vacation that all I want is a chance to stretch my legs and maybe a nice pastry in a bit. I don’t care what beach we go to (or honestly, if we even make it to the beach at all on the first day), so I am sort of bemused by Will’s mounting anxiety. It is so rare that I am the calm one. “Anna, you don’t get it,” he says tersely, over the phone, “I’ve been driving this car around for an hour, trying to find parking. I just need to get in the water. I want to feel the sea on my skin.”


Will illegally parks Dany’s rental car and pays an obscene sum for me to park by her surf instructor’s establishment, despite my protestations.

I arrive perhaps twenty minutes after this fact, my heart sinking like a stone into the pit of my stomach—which it normally does, upon arrival at a beach. But this time, it is…RAINING. In all of the time I have spent running through different worst case scenarios and convincing myself of their inevitability, I have not considered this possibility. THIS IS APPALLING. Audacious. How dare these circumstances cross paths! It’s not even heavy, real, significant rain; that, I would welcome, as it might deter the most ambitious of beachgoers, driving them away to make sandy messes of their cars and showers upon return to their homes. This is spitting, inconvenient rain, rain that is nagging you for attention but has nothing really, to say.

Dany is somewhere out at sea and Will, unfazed by the rain, is happily stripping off his t-shirt, socks, and shoes. He wore his swim trunks on the drive up and is not wasting any time. He is also relentless and charming in his efforts to cajole me into the water. At first, I am resolute in my refusal. I am adamantly still wearing the jeans I drove in, which I generously rolled up to the calf. That is the extent of the commitment I made this morning to getting into the water, and I fully intend to stick by it. Especially now that the sky is literally yawning drool and dribbling spit upon me. But finally, I cave. I roll the legs of my jeans once more, and venture forth.

The cats in me shriek when the cold rushes over my toes and ankles. Water recedes and returns, icy, polluted, higher than I am anticipating, based on the first rush. I yelp and Will laughs at me, not unkindly, squeezing my hand and urging me forward. A wave crashes against me, and I bail, rushing back to crumple on our towels, wet jeans clinging unpleasantly to my knees. My huge glasses are peppered with raindrops, and both my shirt and the zip-up I appropriately wore (as it is COLD) are thoroughly damp. Too damp to wipe my glasses. How monstrously uncivilized.

I use one of the towels to cover my face. “Anna!” Will shouts from the water. I reluctantly emerge from beneath the towel and fix him with what I hope is a wrathful stare. Beach girls flit in and out of my field of vision, practical beach girls, their long salty hair expertly whipped up in messy buns and elegant ponytails, their lithe bodies likely warmer than mine in their sleek wetsuits. I sit there for an impossibly long time, fingers swollen and skin smarting from the barometric changes, sweaty yet wet, undignified, ridiculous, clumsy.

“WILL,” I yelp, when he emerges from the water to kindly check on me. “THERE’S WATER EVERYWHERE. IT’S COMING FROM THE GROUND AND IT’S COMING FROM THE SKY.” After a moment I add, “AND IT’S ENCROACHING,” with a fervent wave of my arm, indicating the factually encroaching tide, as if he hasn’t noticed. “That is how the ocean works!” He says, chuckling adorably. Fuck him for being adorable.  The diffused light makes his skin seem slightly translucent, freckles delicate, cheeks pink with energy.

I seethe like the waves, although they are far more picturesque. I am so physically uncomfortable. I somehow have sand in my mouth and this injustice must be noted. Will musses my wet hair and says, “You look like you need windshield wipers,” sweeping his fingers towards my glasses like so.


He’s so happy though, and all he wants is for me to enjoy this. He’s like a puppy, all paws in the sand and a beaming smile. He returns to the water and I resolve to try impersonating a beach girl. At least, in the rain, I cannot be the swimming type. I attempt to rig a tent out of one of the towels, so I can read my book beneath it. This fails miserably, the air so swollen with moisture that my fingers indent the pages, even smear some of the ink. The book returns to the safety of my bag. I bury my feet in the sand, as an ostrich would her head. If you can’t see me, I don’t exist to be preyed upon. Lions can’t hunt me; the sea cannot swallow me whole.

I am suddenly struck by the sand around me, which has taken on the most curious texture. I play arenologist for a moment, considering how it is gently packed down, damp, firm to sit on, but delicately dotted, like sandy pointillism. Like lace, almost. I probably alarm the frolicking beach girls as I practically press my nose into the sand, observing this phenomenon. It’s beautiful.

I take out my writer notebook, where I scribble down inane gibberish from time to time that is later entertaining to interpret, and try to jot down some notes about the beauty of the sand. Ink smears wildly, like watercolors, but I fill a few pages and lie back, exhilarated. Then I realize, my head has missed the towel and my hair is definitely now full of sand. Whatever. I watch the waves crash and trundle forward, foam fingers like a filigree of lace, briefly and faintly decorating the sand. Hey, I wrote something!

The air smells amazing.

When I close my eyes, the sound of the water fills my whole body. It’s cleansing. Primordial. It occurs to me why Montauk’s tagline is “the end,” as in, of the world. Forward is only water—for a few thousand miles. I let the sand creep into my hair and clothes and go somewhere else in my mind.

When Will finally emerges from the water, I can only be described as giddy. I’m bouncing off the proverbial walls, starving, delighted, willing to come back tomorrow. Where did this come from? Who am I? I practically skip in the sand as we make our way back to the car. Will laughs. “You’re like a supercut of all those videos of cats being surprised by cucumbers,” he says, not at all wrong. “BUT HAPPY.” I amend.


In anticipation of BEACH TIME DAY TWO we resolve to get up extra early so that Will and Dany can go to the gym in our strange hotel before we grab a quick breakfast, douse ourselves in sunscreen, and go. This does not happen as planned, surprising everyone but me. We rouse at the bracing hour of ten-thirty, and I have an admittedly lovely time sitting on the little patio adjacent to our room and reading (We Are Never Meeting in Real Life – Samantha Irby – loving it), while they do whatever it is people do at gyms.

While a good night’s sleep has sobered me, and I’m definitely dreading the beach again, I must confess that the day is exquisite. It’s how people always describe Los Angeles—only less polluted. Seventy-three and sunny, just enough of a breeze, no humidity. The air smells amazing. I might actually wear shorts over a bathing suit. I’ll step in a little, and if I’m feeling truly adventurous I might actually take off the shorts. If I had a motto, it would be Life on the mild side, but vacation is going to my head. This is me, living dangerously.

I haven’t owned a bathing suit in a long time, and I’ve never owned a nice one. I strode into a fancy boutique on the Lower East Side to get this one, earnestly explaining to the impossibly chic girls who worked there that I wanted a sexy-but-not-too-sexy black one-piece and would not compromise, did they know what I meant? They did not. The first six suggestions volleyed back and forth from “positively prudish” to “as seen on Sports Illustrated” and mostly were not the right size. Finally, we struck gold; scalloped edges, low back, a nice sort of cross-hatched texture. Now, in the hotel room, I put it on and swiftly add several layers of clothes. In the flattering mirror of the boutique’s dressing room, it didn’t seem like a balancing act of all boobs or all ass, and I am now predicting frequent twitchy fidgeting to adjust if I dare take off my shorts. When we get to the beach. We’re going back to the beach. My throat closes up with dismay. How can I get out of this? Are we really going to spend the whole day there?

When we finally get into the car, I am literally cornered in the backseat.

I try to reason with Will and Dany. What am I supposed to do on a beach, if I’m not going into the waters just waiting to claim my life? Socialize? Absolutely not. I hate strangers and small talk is THE WORST. There is no point in making small talk with someone if you can’t also talk deeply, so it’s a waste of time when you have to make it. I reject eating at the beach and submit to you the problem of SAND. To quote Anakin Skywalker in the atrocious second prequel to the Star Wars movies, “It’s rough and coarse and irritating, and it gets everywhere.” ESPECIALLY IN YOUR FOOD ANAKIN, AM I NOT WRONG? When you study the inactive action of tanning, there’s the sun to consider, and your options are getting burnt to a lobster-red crisp (CANCER) or liberally applying chemicals to your skin (CANCER, DIFFERENTLY). Also if I were tan, people might actually think I like being from Los Angeles. I abhor Los Angeles. I consider it the height of all compliments when people think I’ve come from elsewhere, with a regionally different personality, like the Pacific Northwest. I giggle and blush like these comment are the sexiest of flirtation; they are, incidentally, a great way for strangers to endear themselves to me. Maybe, after, I’ll consider making small talk.

But really what else do people do at the beach? They do heinous athletic things like run six casual miles or play beach volleyball, in the sand. What the hell do I look like to you, some confident, sporty goddess with a name like Emily or Claire, my hair neat in a practical ponytail, wearing the kind of bikini top I would admire but never dare to wear, with short-shorts from my college basketball days, barefoot, with pedicured toes?

We arrive at the beach, this time, in one car. Will and Dany have decided—to hell with the parking, so what if we get a ticket. We go back to the beach from yesterday, Ditch Plains. I am not fond of or attached to the white Dodge Challenger Dany rented, but nevertheless I screech about how we should just go somewhere else. What if we get ticketed!? Or towed!? What if we inconvenience people!? We park maybe-illegally, just outside of the lot, either intelligently or like assholes. They streamline for the sand, and I waddle unhappily behind them.

Objectively, I am ready. I have three books and am armed with striped beach towels. I have snacks, and a large bottle of water. I have my journal. There’s a pen. I am as ready as I’ll ever be. We set out the beach towels. Because it is not raining today and thus the sand is not packed down, I notice immediately that the weave on the terrycloth is so loose it’s letting sand through. My forced smile wavers faintly. No matter, this is fine.

They tease me, but do not force me to enter the water solely because, although the perfect weather would belie it, there is a serious tropical storm out of sight beyond the coast. The beach has been red-flagged, swim at your own risk. Emboldened by the presence of swimming locals of all ages, and his natural tendencies as an Aries, Will throws off his shirt and charges in. Dany, in her swimming shorts and tankini top, is right on his heels. They look so happy. I sneak up behind them and take some cute pictures, before retreating to the safety of the disappointingly permeable towels. Practical beach girls and a surprising number of children and dogs dance around. Will, for whom greeting dogs seems to be a biological imperative, is immediately out of the water, dripping salt and petting dogs. They are all sea dogs; the literal dogs, dogs of the sea, and Will possessing the bliss and purity of a dog, deriving strength and power from the salt in his beard. A true beach boy if ever I’ve seen one.

The dogs are somehow even happier than Will. They waggle their butts and dig in the sand, bound around woofing joyfully. Dogs are more beach girls than me, I think resentfully, as one streams past me, sniffing at my hand but not pausing to say hello. They have beach girl wisdom and unflappability. And they can sense things, right? I appraise the waves, into which one of the dogs and Will are both happily crashing.

It is stunningly beautiful today.

Everyone’s been telling us today would be horrible and rainy, because of the storm off the coast. It does seem miraculous, how we’ve been gifted with perfect weather.

I might as well—right?

I approach the sea. The sea is unconcerned. Where the tide comes in, the sand sticks to itself, not to my skin. My toes tingle. Fuck it, I think, and then I scream when the water races over my toes. IT IS COLD. What the hell? It’s SUMMER. Will whoops at the sight of me, arms crossed, shoulders hunched, each hand grabbing the alternate elbow. A series of cats are swarming in my mind, all mewling, fuck fuck fuck. “Come on!” Will urges. “You’ve got to go under!”


“You’ll be fine!” He manages not to laugh at my incredulous look. “You won’t be cold when you put your head under.”

“Absolutely not,” I shrill. I know a lie when I hear it, but I am frozen helplessly. The water rushes over my knees. Something curious and sinister happens beneath my feet. I am accustomed to the phenomenon of the tide pulling sand out from behind one’s heels as the tide rolls out and back in. It usually stops after the heels, so that the arches of my feet are still supported by sand. I wobble, toes trying to grip sand fruitlessly as the ocean mercilessly pulls it back: heel, arch, ball of the foot all in one sweeping movement.

“Come on, honey pie, come on.” Will lurches forward and I inch with him. The water hits my hips and I gasp at the cold. My feet are mildly warmer than the rest of me by now, but not by much. I drop his hand and clutch at my shoulders. Then I scream, as a large wave collapses under an even larger wave, and knocks me back several paces. “MAYBE I SHOULD GET OUT NOW,” I shout, but Will and Dany can’t hear me, having glided under the wave and thus not lost as much ground. We squabble as a number of smaller waves smack against our thighs in quick succession, and I have almost broken Uncle Phil’s cardinal rule (NEVER TURN YOUR BACK ON THE OCEAN) when a wave is upon us, so behemoth, that I am forced to do as the beach girls do, trust the water, turning, diving, letting it carry me back to shore. Somehow, despite closing my eyes and mouth in a timely fashion, they are both smarting with polluted saltwater when I surface. “RIGHT,” I shriek. “ENOUGH OF THAT.” I stagger backwards to the beach, facing the water. NOT TODAY, SATAN.

“Anna!” Will is disappointed. “Come on!”

“NO WAY.” I bellow. “I went in. Promise fulfilled. Enough for me. EVERYTHING IN MODERATION.”

I’m feeling a lot more warmly toward the subpar beach towels at this point, so I lie back on one of them and cover my legs with another, using my book to block the sun from my face. Every now and then, I look up, and watch Will and Dany, those ridiculous sops, demonstrating insanity by repeating the same stupid audacity again and again, diving under waves, letting the fierce tide pull them an impressive distance down the beach to my left, and periodically clambering out so they can run back up to the right, past me, and jumping back in again.

After several hours, we are all possessed of fierce hunger. Together we walk back towards the car, and I grumble like an endearing curmudgeon about sand and sunburns. “OW, FUuck.” I drop my voice mid-expletive at the sight of practical beach children with their slightly older practical beach cousins or siblings. I’ve never felt so much like an ineffectual city girl. I’ve stepped on a rock. The following, absurd conversation ensues.

DANY: Where are your flip-flops?

(It sounds extra silly because 1. The thought of me with flip-flops, and 2. She has a very posh accent.)

ME: I don’t have any! I don’t believe in them.

DANY: What? How can you not believe in them? It’s not like they’re a religion.

ME: In L.A., they are.

That settles the matter, and I continue to swear under my breath as we approach the car to ruin its interior with sand. Will seems to feel bad. It’s taken him long enough. “Poor cat,” he says, rubbing my shoulder. “Got dunked in a bathtub against her will.”

“I’m having a great time,” I say aggressively, and we all stop as we realize it’s true. “I’m having a great time.” I repeat, trying out the flavor of this idea in my mouth and in my mind. The manic energy of the day before sets back in. “The air smells AMAZING,” I declare a few minutes later from the cramped backseat of the Challenger. I later make a comment about being even happier back on dry land.

“Honey, the beach is not the water. The beach is dry land.” Will chides me gently.

“No it’s not, it’s definitely DAMP LAND.” I fire back. I feel hilarious, as in I’m being funny, not people are laughing at me, which is how it usually is when I say something and people laugh. I can’t stop beaming.


We go to the beach one last time before we leave. This time, I know what to do. One of the beach towels did not dry properly and has been lost to the vile smell of mildew. We mourn it briefly and dispose of it without ceremony. It’s early, but we’re not alone on the beach.

Today, no one pressures me to get in the water. Dany has gone off for another surf lesson, and I finish my book from the remaining beach towels while Will communes with the water one last time. I recognize what I’m feeling as relaxed. I’m not even worried about us leaving on time. We’ll get there when we get there. I feel like…not myself. A self I’ve never been, or if I have, I’ve forgotten.

“So, do you like beaches now?” Will asks.

“Uh, no.” He’s dripping on me, interpreting my lack of stress for tacit consent to be dripped upon. I swat at him. Beach boys and their arrogance. “I tolerate beaches. This one is fine. We’re leaving today.”

“We are. So when do you want to come back?”

Old me would have said NEVER. Damn beaches, those sandy death traps. But this new me holds off on responding. She’ll entertain Will’s romantic descriptions of watching snow fall on the beach from the warmth and safety of a heated room, driving out to the lighthouse to watch snow fall there from the warmth and safety of a heated car. She loves lighthouses—granted, old me did too, as will every later iteration of me. She’ll think about it.

I know exactly what to say in order to make him groan, to answer without answering and deprive him of the satisfaction that has been the undercurrent of his beach boy superiority. Everything in moderation.

Mother of Dachshunds

One of the many reasons I have never been, and never will be cool is that I love to get excited about, or invested in, things. Caring is the opposite of apathy, and for this hamartia, any chance of social acceptability to others is naught. I am Lisa Simpson in that .gif one can easily find, where Marge is leaning over her solicitously, yet condescendingly, asking, “What’s the matter, sweetie? Is one of your book characters having difficulties?”



In the penultimate episode of the first half of the final season of Game of Thrones, Viserion, one of Daenerys’ three dragons, was casually murdered by the Night King—and later resurrected as a terrifying, blue-eyed, ice dragon. It was insane. It happened so fast, it happened so effortlessly. Of course we should have seen this coming, Cersei and Qyburn devising their monstrous Scorpion contraption and showing us that the dragons could be harmed in the previous episode. I don’t even want to think about this as a plot twist; I feel base helplessness when I think about it. I hear the awful, wretched wail he made and feel a web of tension bloom across my forehead, thinking about how his body sank under the frozen lake.

Honestly it doesn’t matter if you don’t even watch or like the show. Everyone has someone or something they love that much.

My friend Rose bought me a tank top a while ago that says MOTHER OF DACHSHUNDS in the Game of Thrones font. It’s a great fucking tank top. And I am a mother of dachshunds. Like Daenerys’ three dragons, my husband Will and I have three dachshunds. I don’t know if you’ve spent a lot of time with dachshunds yourself. They’re willful, stubborn, intelligent, fierce, loving creatures. They, like dragons, are improbable. Their legs are so short and their bodies are so long, they’re hilarious and they don’t make sense, even though they were bred for specific purposes. Two of our dachshunds, Rollo and Heidi, think they’re people. They often sleep on their backs with their paws folded neatly above the covers, in between us in bed. Or they try and co-opt our pillows when one of us goes to the bathroom. They are deeply insulted to be fed dog food every day, although we spend too much money already on fancy, meaty food for them. They genuinely think every visitor to our home is there for them. They are big sluts and whenever we have an overnight guest, they abandon us for them, making the poor hapless guest (sorry, Mom) think I am special! This dog loves me more than their own parents! Wrong. This dog knows they can get extra cuddles and attention, and maybe even human food or to drink out of a glass.

Rollo is the eldest, and Heidi is the youngest. In the middle is Rory. While I think Rory is dashingly handsome, he is objectively the most awkward looking of the three; he has long spindly legs and GIGANTIC ears that inflate when he’s excited or nervous. He has a little gray on his chin, and gets deep wrinkles across the top of his head when he’s worried. His front feet are turned out and his back feet are turned in. He wags his tail like the velociraptors in Jurassic World. Rory is a rescue. When we got him, he was a few months old and weighed four pounds. He was smaller than a Chipotle burrito, with three parasites and a collapsing lung. Our vet examined him and explained, If you choose not to treat him, he will fall asleep on Thursday night, and not wake up Friday morning. And even if we did decide to treat him, we might fail.

He didn’t have a name for the first week. By the first weekend, I bought him a little green collar and insisted we give him a name. Even if he didn’t make it, I wanted him to know that he had a family and we loved him. And besides, he was starting to think his name was Hello—as that was what we said every time we came into the little room in our then-apartment where he was quarantined. We had to routinely hotbox him in a duffel bag with human grade medicine and a borrowed machine that pumped medicine into his lungs, lent to us by the vet so we could treat him at home.

Because I am a sentimental nerd, I named him after Rory from Doctor Who, the last centurion, who waited a thousand years.

Rory is a skittish little fellow. He wears a yellow coat on our walks that says PLEASE GIVE ME SPACE in big block letters, and it is not a joke. Most of the time, people are very respectful and they get it, and sometimes they say, Me too, buddy!  He needs space at home too. He has a little cave bed that he tucks himself into. He also puts himself to bed around ten every night, huddled up, a neat nose-to-tail crescent under the duvet. When people come over, unlike his big slut siblings, he lurks in corners and skirts around the room. You can’t come to him, you need to wait for him to come to you. When he does, everyone says it’s the most meaningful—he’ll suddenly appear on the couch beside you and rest his head on your knee, or drape himself like a scarf across your shoulders. He’s not a big kisser, but he’ll sniff you very intensely and touch you with his nose. It is love you have earned.

You can see where I am going with this. Rory is a little land dragon with a huge barrel chest and tiny tummy, and dragons are sky pups that bark at the door when the Postmate arrives. I would do anything for this dog. Really for all of them, but Rollo and Heidi are princesses who have never known adversity and I think Rory remembers us willing him to live.

After the previous week’s episode of Game of Thrones, when Daenerys took Drogon to battle and destroyed a lot of the Lannister army, we were out for a walk and I heard someone catcalling. Not to me, but in general. And I imagined myself with long and very braided hair in a fabulous brocaded gown-coat, hissing, “Dracarys!” (or something), and Rory’s big brown eyes lighting up and his little jaw opening, and him spitting a lot of streaming fire. “SMASH! THE! PATRIARCHY!” he would roar. “BURN! THEM! ALL!”

Whether Will and I choose to have human kids or not…whether you think Daenerys will have human kids or not, our families are who we are called to. Sometimes, the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb–I have awesome parents but not everyone does, and Daenerys grew up without hers. The dragons would do anything for Daenerys, and she would do anything for them; our dogs would do anything for us, and I would do anything for them. It’s like those magnets you often see on cars, shaped like a neatly illustrated paw print, and reading, “WHO RESCUED WHO?” After Drogon’s wing was injured, I cuddled my babies close and promised them I would never let anyone hurt them. After watching the most recent episode, I got up from the chair where I had been pretzeled up into a ball of nerves and stress, and went to our habitually unmade bed. I felt the lumps in the duvet until I found Rory, who had, like clockwork, put himself to bed, and cuddled him nose to nose. “If the Night King so much as looks at you,” I muttered. He started awake and licked me.

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NB: In my dog-walking fantasy, Rory TALKS! LIKE! THIS! because that’s how Lily the dachshund talks as a puppy in Steven Rowley’s amazing and heartbreaking book, Lily and the Octopus, and even though Rory is five and definitely very soft-spoken, he looks and feels like a puppy to me, still.