A couple of years ago, I had a terrible bout of writer's block that lasted for months. Sitting in a coffee shop surrounded by writers on laptops, intimidated by all the furious typing (though everyone was probably just checking Facebook), I set a mini-goal for the day to write one short piece of comedy. Just a page of something. That's all I felt capable of. I'd just gotten off the phone with my dad, who has a six-year-old son, Bill. Bill appears to have a charmed life, since my dad has spent the three decades since I was six figuring out what actually makes him happy and is in a much better position to be a fun-loving dad than he was in 1986. For fun, I wrote a short letter from Bill to me, discussing just how superior his childhood is to the one I had. And with that, the writer's block lifted. I decided this was my way into my next writing project. I'd use a satirical form to keep things light, implying the sadness, nostalgia, and emotion, rather than hitting them head-on and risking melodrama.
Conveniently, this converged with the fact that I spend a lot of time compulsively observing moments of banal humor, especially ones that arise in moments of deep emotion. Like the 24 hours I spent in a hospital room with my family, waiting for my Grandma Mollie to pass away. The first five hours were spent collectively crying, but as time wore on, the conversation got pretty banal all around. People checked their email. My sister played Candy Crush. And I just kept staring at a container of hummus someone had brought that remained unopened. Everyone did. We were obviously all hungry, but clearly, no one wanted to be the person who admitted they were hungry, because that would make them look like they had no heart. Or something. I don't know. All I know is I was starving and felt guilty about it. Small moments like this just seem so human to me, ironic and painful and funny and nearly impossible to put into words.
Nuclear Family is an epistolary novel that features me trying to put these things into words. It explores various perspectives in a family, with narrators ranging from the grounded (a politically incorrect grandmother) to the absurd (a long-dead ancestor) to the inanimate (the aforementioned container of hummus). All letters are addressed to a girl named Julie who never replies. But she is not spared either: I hope you'll also see how dysfunctional she is in the negative space of how people react to her. And because everything is written in the second person, maybe you'll feel like you are her and she is you. Or something.
With all that said, the below excerpt is a letter from a dog. But it is about what it's like to be a human girl dating in your 20s.
Please forgive my formality in addressing you thusly. We English bloodhounds are exceedingly well bred and hold the fairer sex in the highest esteem, never using a term so crude as "bitch" to refer to those who helped us.
I trust you will agree that we have established a certain familiarity in the five months you have been engaged in a romantic relationship with my master. Night after night, I perch at the foot of Raj's bed as you two partake of the pleasures of the flesh, averting my noble gaze out of respect but unable to ignore the passion you share mere metres from where I lay my head. Your mutual relief in having found one another in this lonely metropolis called the City of Angels is truly heartening. After, as your twin heartbeats slow, I have solemnly absorbed intimate confessions of your deepest secrets: your adolescent body dysmorphia, your consuming anxiety concerning your mother's downward spiral in the wake of her divorce from your father, who may for his part be skipping his prescribed doses of lithium. Likewise, my master has allowed you to glimpse his innermost fear: will his independent rock band fail to transcend in a marketplace already so saturated with musical outfits that combine the instrumentation of nineteen-eighties synth pop with warmer, folk-inspired harmonies in the vein of Jeff Tweedy and Wilco? Never do I allow my eyelids — already so heavy, as is my breed's birthright — to close until you both have dozed off to sleep, his arms curled around your tiny frame, safe in his care as you enter a dreamscape of fantasies that this could last forever.
It is with a leaden heart that I must inform you that Raj would make a completely unsuitable partner for you in the long term.
My concern for your fate is entirely humanistic, specific to my master himself and rooted in the pain of my own devastated dreams of an idyllic life together as man and beast.
I daresay, on the surface I understand his appeal as a companion. Raj's broad shoulders, commanding baritone, and impeccable taste in slim-fitting, subtly tattered corduroy blazers, suggest erudition and refinement, the kind of man who is familiar with varietals of wine you have never even heard of, yet who understands the value of a spontaneous road trip. In dreaming of a life together, one cannot help but envisage fi reside cuddles on a couch in Vermont, a delightfully quirky wedding ceremony scored with original compositions by the groom himself, perhaps a trip to India to meet his extended family, during which you would surely convince his grandmother, whose dying wish is that he marry an Indian woman from their specific caste and village in Gujarat, that she may now rest in peace.
Although the nature of my relationship with Raj is admittedly distinct, I once imagined a version of such companionship myself: snowy walks in the woods, a naughty, secret nonverbal communiqué at dinner parties as he slips me scraps of roast chicken or tilapia under the table, a forever home in his lap. And indeed, in the year after he rescued me, my master found me delightful, commemorating our newfound bond with photographs of me peacefully resting across his knee, which he proudly shared with his entire online community.
As time wore on, however, Raj's true nature as a partner revealed itself. Wholly unprepared was I for the callous brute who now checks his e-mail repeatedly when I need to be exercised, the tormentor who makes me wait for hours for food as he scrolls endlessly through online photographs of glorious meals posted by friends of friends he has only met once, the heartless cur who once became so intoxicated while watching a game of American football that he neglected to let me outside to relieve myself before he retired to his bedroom, leaving me no choice but to soil the living room rug. I fear you are bound for a similar fate. However charming Raj may act in these first few months, these halcyon days filled with the food-truck festivals and Netflix marathons of early courtship, make no mistake: a life as his companion is one of constantly feeling inadequate, far less compelling than the games of virtual Scrabble he plays on the toilet. Sadder still would be to bring a child into this world together, only to find you have victimized an innocent at the hand of his punishing neglect. (I may be remiss in assuming this as a hazard; if so, forgive me. My species does not practice this so-called "pull-out method" to which you have resorted, at Raj's behest, in the bedroom.)
Lest you see these cautionary words as betokening some sort of aristocratic bias on my part, on the basis of Raj's heritage, I should mention that I myself am no stranger to hurtful profiling on the basis of race. Being one-eighth Afghan hound, I have encountered all manner of nasty assumptions in my lifetime, particularly in light of our global political situation. Nay my concern for your fate is entirely humanistic, specific to my master himself and rooted in the pain of my own devastated dreams of an idyllic life together as man and beast.
Should you choose to heed my warning, I will surely miss your company; the two evenings I spent at your apartment while Raj attended his former roommate's bachelor party in Nevada remain two of the happiest in all my life.
Never shall I forget our hours-long hike around the reservoir with your friend Jordana and her enchanting (if unfortunately proportioned) dachshund, nor your thought-provoking meditation on about whether either of you would ever consider freezing your eggs. For whatever my opinion may be worth, I think this is an option worth considering as you await a partner who truly deserves you.
Yours in perpetuity,
Morrissey the bloodhound