Greatest Authors of the 20th Century

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Twentieth century literature was fabulous. It was more than fabulous. It was near perfection. So to choose which 20th century authors stand out as the best of their breed is an almost impossible task. It’s like handing off the golden apple. In a pool of such talent, how could one possibly begin to rank? Well, it’s worth a try. Here goes:

1. James Joyce

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James Joyce was a herald of modern literature and a leading proponent for stream of consciousness writing, a stylistic marker of the 20th century. Perhaps better than any author before or after him, Joyce knew exactly how to make profoundly beautiful the minutia of daily life and he turned that beauty into something timeless and universal. While his literary reputation as an overly esoteric, intellectual powerhouse may hold, what Joyce really offers us are deep, cosmic, and – yep, I’ll say it – simple truths about who we are and always will be. It just happens that he wraps those truths in complex, richly layered literary packages. Don’t listen to your friend who dropped out on Ulysses. Open the package. It’s worth the effort for what you’ll find inside.

2. David Foster Wallace

ImageArguably America’s best contribution to literature, period, David Foster Wallace stands as a titan of the modern age and a literary Charon guiding writers into the next realm – the 21st century. His work embodies the spirit of life in the late 20th century and beyond. It is manic and excessive, restless and ironic. And yet, surprisingly warm, richly self-aware, and controlled. So very controlled. Wallace’s work shows us just how far mankind has to go if we are to reclaim order in our lives. The answer he gives us: very, very far. And yet not far at all.

3. Vladimir Nabokov

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Combining his Russian predecessors’ fascination with depravity, surrealist humor, and stylistic gravitas, Vladimir Nabokov managed to catapult the weight and excellence of 19th century literature into a new age, one filled with strangeness and moral ambiguity. He was prolific, like Tolstoy, and also like Tolstoy he wrote with color, painting exquisite pictures with language. Nabokov was first and foremost a student of language and it shows in his work where words dance and fight with each other all across the page. To this day, the wordplay of Nabokov stands alone as a work of art.

4. Marcel Proust

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The weight of a moment – this was part of Marcel Proust’s gift to literature. And while Proust is most known for his complex, endlessly long sentences, the premise behind his work is actually quite simple. Like Joyce, he used winding stream of consciousness prose to get at the truest, barebones nature of existence. To really understand and appreciate Proust for the wise soul that he was, you’ve got to invest in the long haul. His epic, seven volume novel In Search of Lost Time may not be for the faint of heart, but it is most certainly for those eager to peel back the curtain of life and peek inside.

5. Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald (tie)

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Surely it’s a capital offense to rank Hemingway and Fitzgerald in the same slot on a top twenty countdown of literary heft. “But they’re so different!” “But they offer such independent richness!” “But Hemingway/Fitzgerald is so infinitely better!” I know, I hear you. Still, these equally talented – yes, that’s right –titans of American literature are so indecipherably close in importance it would be unfair to separate them. Hemingway – known most for his short, sweet and to the point stylistic tendencies – and Fitzgerald – with his succinct but symbolically ripe text – both captured a specific period of life with painfully realistic lenses. They were witnesses to the fabrication and dissolution of the American dream. And they captured its delusion vividly with unforgiving and honest prose. They’re very different writers for sure, but of undeniably similar import.

6. Toni Morrison

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While the rest of the 20th century explored the nature of realism, Toni Morrison attacked truth with something else: the supernatural. Yes, her characters were real. And their struggles and thoughts real, too. But there is more to reality and realistic writing than just that. There’s fantasy. There are spirits. There’s the stuff that doesn’t make sense and yet does. Toni Morrison seamlessly wove together the unflinching gaze of modern thinking with the faithful heart of ancient mysticism. The fact that the two fit so perfectly together brought into question the ultimate validity of cold modern thinking and made Morrison’s work eternal.

7. Virginia Woolf

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Like the other Modernists on this list, Virginia Woolf plumbed the depths of the human thought process in search for honesty and meaning. And she found it. But what made her work truly remarkable was its exploration of a hitherto wildly underexplored subject: women. Woolf’s female leads are simultaneously uninhibited (in their streaming thoughts) and imprisoned (beneath oppressive social constructs). It is through her writing that Woolf frees them and the 20th century woman, too.

8. Franz Kafka

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In many ways the 20th century Dostoevsky, Franz Kafka was a German-speaking Jew whose fascination with alienation, oppression, and abuse seem to evoke his role as a member of the Post-WWI, Pre-WWII Jewish community. But Kafka’s work draws from more than that. His style and themes line up nicely with the European school of Existentialism – the philosophical school that questioned the meaninglessness of human life in the midst of a warn-torn century. Kafka’s stories haunt their reader with a special blend of realism and surrealism, warm humor and horror, that can only be deemed Kafkaesque. Kafka died too young to be prolific, but his work has proven nonetheless timeless.

9. Pablo Neruda

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The first author on this list to be known primarily as a poet, Pablo Neruda is one of the most beloved and translated artists of the 20th century. His themes are vast. He is at once a political activist, a sensual lover, and an ancient philosopher contemplating the nature of life, death, and eternity. What discerns Neruda from the other poets is not only the breadth of his work but its wild authenticity. Like every great poet, Neruda brings us along as he roots through human truths. It’s impossible to not enjoy the ride.

10. Roald Dahl

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Few children’s authors are as beloved as Roald Dahl, and there’s no surprise as to why. Dahl’s stories use whimsy and heart to touch upon timeless, rather adult themes like cruelty, injustice, and suppression. He wasn’t afraid to introduce children gently to the unpleasantries of life. In trusting children to bravely face life’s dark parts, he helped them not only to grow up well and good, but to embrace the challenges and tragedies that would come with a spirit of imagination and hope.

11. T.S. Eliot

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Whenever I read “The Waste Land” or “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot, I cannot help but metaphysically gasp. How did one man manage to recreate so hauntingly the emptiness of modernity? His poems provoke quiet terror and a feeling of despair so complete you have to take a shower to wash it off. What makes Eliot so compelling is the undeniable tolling bell of truth that rings in each of his works – and the unhurried, dogged way he rings that bell. Mankind is lost, empty, and isolated. How will we ever get home?

12. Sigmund Freud

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I know, I know: most of his theories are a degree of bonkers only relegated to the severely strange. And we’re no longer even certain of the efficacy of his methods. But there’s a reason his works are still held in the literature – note: not science – sections of countless university libraries. Freud could write. And write he did: volumes upon volumes, analyzing his patients with an eye so adept to symbolism it makes one wonder whether or not he would have had an even greater career as a poet. Freud not only blew our notions of the human mind out of the water, he forced us to look deeply and painfully at our innermost, disturbing truths. Few authors on this list have had such a lasting impact.

13. Kurt Vonnegut

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(Image courtesy TIME Magazine)

Kurt Vonnegut was a student of human nature. He is known for the dry wit and dark humor he used to approach heavy subjects like war, death, and the dissolution of modern society. But while Vonnegut wowed in our collective ridiculousness, irrationality, and lack of control, he also loved us, warts and all. His writing requests that we be more human versions of ourselves, rational and sharp, yet gentle and loving. That’s the way to find fulfillment and to overthrow the meaningless conventions imposed upon us.

14. Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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Okay. It’s happening again. You know, the thing where two totally independent and equally gifted writers get lumped together, destroying their individual life spirit. But hear me out. Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel Garcia Marquez do have quite a bit in common. Both are South American writers who championed the Magic Realism movement of 20th century art. Both worked together closely in their lives, Borges as a mentor to Marquez. And both are men who stare in awe of the profound beauty and limitlessness of existence. Many of the themes that pervade both Borges and Marquez’s works involve identity, love, and the strangeness of reality. And they both tackle these enormous themes with comparable grace and vision. They’re perfectly good writers on their own, and yet so equally good and stylistically similar it seemed impossible to rank them separately.

 15. William Faulkner

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Lonely souls – they pervade Faulkner’s many novels and short stories. As do a slew of hauntingly lost and morally uninhibited characters. But few authors capture the relentlessness of sin and solitude as gracefully as Faulkner, nor with as much compassion. Another stream of consciousness writer, Faulkner’s desire to share the plight of society’s lowest outcasts and bring about their redemption makes him not only one of the century’s best writers, but one of its most hopeful thinkers.

16. Albert Camus

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A leader of the Existentialist movement, Albert Camus used his philosophical conclusions about the emptiness of existence to fuel his writing. In doing so, he created a vision of humanity that was horrifying immoral yet surprisingly generous. Man should not act virtuously because of the demands of religion or society; but neither should he live an unreflective, semi-conscious life. Freedom is the only virtue, and the goal of life must be to preserve it. For everyone. Hey, that doesn’t sound like an empty existence to me …

17. George Orwell

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Few authors captured the tremor reverberating throughout 20th century global politics as masterfully as George Orwell. Power in the hands of the deranged spells disaster for us all. It’s the job of the free thinking man to overturn the stifling rules and demands of society, and in doing so take back the freedom of human civilization. Not exactly light stuff, but Orwell managed these themes with dexterity and one hell of a knack for story-telling.

18. Ralph Ellison

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The 20th century brought with it a world of change for African Americans. The effects of the Civil Rights Movement – which brought hope and inspiration to so many – were tenuous and sluggish, as the struggle for change remained imprisoned in tradition. Ellison explored the consequences of our refusal to evolve. By searching for meaning in the newly empowered yet still repressed black community, he showed how difficult it is to know ourselves when society insists it’s already met us. That’s a truth that transcends race and time.

19. Samuel Beckett

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Life is absurd. Almost unrecognizably absurd. Or at least that’s the conclusion to which Samuel Beckett came. His works persistently question whether or not there is any meaning in this crazy world in which we’ve been weirdly positioned. The answer he comes up with is most frequently a resounding No, but the delivery method of that No is what makes Beckett important.

20. J.R.R. Tolkien

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Imagination, story-telling, and the musicality of language – this makes J.R.R. Tolkien a literary force of nature. Whether or not you dove in to his Lord of the Rings trilogy or fell in love with the adventure of The Hobbit, you cannot deny the man’s ability to create a timeless, lasting mythology. Plus, he invented a language. Actually, several.

So there it is. A list of the best authors of the 20th century.

Agree? Disagree?

I’d love to hear your list!

Haircuts and Hand Grenades

I haven’t gotten a haircut in over three years. Here’s why.

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Hair to a woman is like penis size to a man. It is our Samsonian strength. Our subtle yet visible asset. The only proof needed of our blossoming fertility and mental stability. Beautiful, healthy women have beautiful, healthy hair. But crazy women? Vacant women? Unkempt, defiled and lost women?  Hair is the window to the soul.

Which is why I’m so god awful afraid of these two words: bad haircut.

I’ve gotten one before. Actually, I can think of at least four distinct times. One when I was in high school and a shoulder length bob became an ear lobe pixie. Another when I was a child and my mother insisted that I have bangs and wear hair bows. Some people are made for bangs and hair bows. I am not one of those people. I looked like ET playing dress up.

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(Courtesy Tumblr: http://31.media.tumblr.com/6bb52ab99ce0f99d8e84406d30cb9bd5/tumblr_mi1nwm2BZY1rqfhi2o1_500.gif)

I don’t know why I value a good haircut so much but my overestimation of it has placed me in a catatonic state of inaction. I’m like the Hamlet of haircuts. I will not act until I can prove the chances of my getting a haircut will result in no harm to my well being or the well being of others.

This is why I so rarely get my hair cut.

But I made an appointment for this Thursday, nonetheless.

It’s my first haircut in over three years.

Why? Because it’s time to blow shit up.

The only time I’m ever able to get my hair cut is when I no longer care whether the outcome is beneficial. Only when there is some greater, deeper purpose at hand am I able to muster the strength to climb up into the hydraulic chair and Velcro-strap myself into the black nylon cape that haunts my deepest female insecurities.

My history of haircuts moves in fits and stops. I get it cut short and grow it out long. There is no middle ground. I convince myself that short is the way to be; until it grows long and then that’s the way to be. Screw short. Short sucks.

I grow complacent. I forget about it. I don’t want to dish out the money for something I should really know how to do myself. I can think of a litany of excuses to explain my strange behavior but really it comes down to one fact: I only ever get a haircut when I’m ready to embrace change on a deep, metaphysical level.

I’m not talking about little changes here, like a new job or Brita filter, but big ones. Cataclysmic, perspective altering change. The stuff you look back on in life and say, “Ah, yes. That was the moment I … (conquered my fear/beat the clock of mortality/greeted the emptiness of my existence with a laugh/etc.)

That’s why I’ve had so few haircuts in my life: I’ve had so few instants of spiritual shift that necessitated cut-hair.

The last haircut I got was when my husband and I were dating. It was symbolic. It was to be my coming of age, my rebirth. I had spent years before meeting my husband living in a Plato’s cave, studying the nature of existence and wallowing in my own vast complexity. I read too much Russian literature. I ate too little cookie dough. I made this face far too often:  😡

But when I met my husband, my life became infinitely lighter By the hand he led me from the cave and with it, from a version of myself. It was an ideological shift so profound it scared the shit out of me.

And so I cut my hair.

Now it’s time to do it again.

Why?

Because I’m ready. I’m ready to declare myself that word I refused to declare myself for so many years and for so many reasons: a writer.

I’m ready to throw myself into the pool of public scrutiny and to scrape by on pennies doing freelancing jobs while I build my marketability. I’m ready to write those stories, the blurbs of which I’ve heard swimming through my head for the past twenty years. I’m ready to fail, to put myself back together, and to re-envision my purpose and projectile again and again and again and again. I’m ready to be brave. To be honest. To be myself. And I’m ready to trust my instincts above and beyond all else.

In short, I’m ready to create.

Hence the haircut.

Wish me luck …

Five Reasons You Should Not Give Up*

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Ever feel like giving up? Well you shouldn’t. Here’s why:

1. You are awesome

You are awesome. Period.

How do I know you’re awesome? It’s simple. You are either one of two people.

One, you are someone I already know who is visiting this blog because I’ve invited you to read it. If you’re someone I know who I’ve invited to visit a blog chronicling my inner most thoughts and wildly raw writing then you are an awesome person. Badda bing. Done.

Two, you are someone to whom I have no prior connection who is visiting this blog out of the human impulse to explore the thoughts and words of another human being in hopes that you will find something of depth, meaning, and/or value. Or at the very least, entertainment. The kinds of people who troll the thoughts of strangers in hopes of resonation are always fascinating and thoughtful people themselves. Fascinating and thoughtful = awesome. Ergo, you are awesome.

So don’t give up. Because you’re awesome.

2. You don’t want to give up

What could possibly compel a person to read a blog entry titled, “Five Reasons You Should Not Give Up?” That’s simple: they are a person who does not want to give up.

The sheer fact that you’ve found yourself here, ruminating on these words proves that some small part of you is appealing and reaching for hope. If you wanted to give up, you wouldn’t read this article. It would seem trite and pedantic and hokey and you’d have none of it. It would be fluffy bullshit. You aren’t someone who tolerates fluffy bullshit.

But you’re still reading, aren’t you?

That means to you, this is not fluffy bullshit. It is actually something that resonates or which you desperately want to resonate.

Drumroll … You don’t want to give up.

3. There’s a profound reason why you haven’t already given up

You could have given up a thousand and twelve times already. But you didn’t.

Why didn’t you? Because you weren’t damn well ready to.

And you still aren’t.

There’s a reason you’ve made it this far, my friend. The reason is that something profound and powerful is pulling you towards this seemingly insurmountable “thing” you wish to achieve/accomplish/finish/survive. Trust that profound and powerful force. It’s your god. It’s taken you this far, so quit being a little bitch.

Don’t give up.

4. Karma is a bitch

My husband and I planned on moving to Nashville this summer. I got into grad school down there and we were ready to pick up our lives and make the move.

Because my husband was being such an amazing human being for accommodating my academic pursuits, I thought it would be nice to try and return the favor.

My husband loves country music. Loves. His entire iTunes account is filled with the likes of Brad Paisley, George Strait, and Alan Jackson. I did not know who any of these people were before I met him.

In November, the country music legend George Jones was set to play a show in Nashville. This was to be his last show ever. Fireworks and trumpets blazing. It was his final, final, final farewell tour. Usually when artists say that, I don’t buy it. But George Jones was up in his eighties so, well, maybe it just might be.

For our first year anniversary, I asked our parents to pool in with me and buy my husband tickets to see George Jones. The concert was going to be huge. Everyone and their mother who is anything in country music was set to be there. Garth Brooks was emerging from the cave of retirement to make a special appearance. This was big. And we had tickets right near the stage. Scoring these tickets was one of the highlights of my wifely career to date.

My husband was overjoyed. It gave him something to look forward to when we made the move and it gave me enormous peace of mind to know that he was now officially excited to move thousands of miles away from his friends, family, and career prospects.

We got an email two weeks after buying the tickets.

The concert was cancelled.

George Jones died.

We did not move to Nashville. We got the message.

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Over the past few months we’ve been trying to buy our first home. We found an adorable little nest up in New Hampshire and spent the summer jumping through hoops, making concessions with the sellers and filling out endless VA paperwork to secure our mortgage.

We finished all of the steps Monday. The sellers just told us Tuesday that they had finished with the repairs they agreed to make and the house was ready for final inspection. We were set to close next Friday.

We got a call from our realtor yesterday.

The house burned down.

We are not moving to New Hampshire. We got the message.

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You see, life has a way of teaching us what we refuse to learn ourselves. My husband and I can now clearly see why we should never have considered moving to Nashville, and are in the process of trying to understand why the house in New Hampshire wasn’t a good fit for us.

Maybe we’re weird for looking for some kind of cosmic explanation for these events. But when life kills country music legends and burns down your house, it’s pretty hard not to listen.

You aren’t supposed to give up. (See point #3.) If you give up, there’s a good chance the universe will take vengeance on you. It may kill a music legend. It may burn down your adorable little house. Or it may leave you with an aching feeling of regret that you harbor in the deepest parts of your soul for the rest of your days.

So don’t give up.

The wrath of the universe is mighty. Trust me. Don’t fuck with it.

5. You can always give up later if you want

Remember when you were a kid and you came home from school and turned on the television instantly. And remember how that little voice inside of you said, “Pst, hey, you should probably do your homework, kid.” And remember how you answered with bravado, “Psh, there’s plenty of time! I’ll do it later. Relax inner voice!”

Remember how good that felt?

You can still do that. Right now.

Why quit now when you’re obviously not certain of your decision? (See point #2.)

Why not give it a few days/months/years/lifetimes?

Just do it later. Really. No big deal. Quitting later will not cost you anything except perhaps “wasted” effort. But there really is no such thing as wasted effort. Any effort you place in anything will build up your muscles (spiritual/physical/mental/et al.) and make you a more kick ass version of yourself.

Also, by putting off quitting till later, you will inherit a much lighter sense of regret. You haven’t come to terms with whatever monster-sized challenge you’re grappling with yet. If you had, you’d have quit already. But you haven’t. So don’t quit now.

Procrastinate. It’ll feel good.

It always does.

*Now, if you’re one of those slippery little devils who likes to shift reality in order to suit your masochistic purposes, I’m calling you out right now on your bullshit. Let me officially declare right here that these words of encouragement do not apply to you if what you are considering quitting is something unhealthy for you or just plain crappy (e.g.: smoking, drinking, being in an unloving relationship, lusting after your neighbor’s wife, kidnapping small children in white windowless vans, being a douchebag, not calling your mother back, killing country music legends and burning down adorable little houses, etc.). If these are the kinds of things you’re considering quitting, then ignore all of the above advice and quit right now. You can do it. (See point #1.)

In Defense of Religion

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My husband was in the Marines for four years. When he was nineteen he did a tour of combat in Fallujah, Iraq. He’s told me stories about his time there – the bombs, the room-clearing, the bullets whipping past his head, his loss of hearing for months afterward and his need to be alone for even longer – and I always ask him the same question, “How did you make it out alive?” His eyes glaze over and I can see him withdraw to that place, the place he had to make for himself to separate his memories from his present reality.

“I don’t know.” He says.

“But I’m glad I did.”

He was nineteen.

He finds feathers, my husband. In strange places. We’ll be in the woods, taking the dog for a walk and he’ll pluck something from the ground and twirl it between his fingers.

“Look. A feather.”

At first I thought this habit was cute. How adorable: he likes feathers. A grown man. But lately I’ve begun to think of it as something more profound.

I never pick up feathers when I see them. Actually, I rarely see them. To me they are trash, potentially disease infested refuse. They’re gross. I feel uncomfortable touching the hard tip of the quill where it connects to the bird’s body. I feel like I’m violating its owner somehow. Aviary intimacy is not something I’m comfortable with.

But my husband is different. He’s a feather magnet. It’s like he has some kind of feather-seeking tracking device that pulls him to every shedding bird within a two-mile radius.

We have a collection of feathers in our house. I’m going to frame some of them soon and will be sure to post a picture.

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(Here it is.)

The reason I’m going to frame them is this: my husband survived Fallujah, Iraq when he was nineteen years old and now he picks up feathers and brings them home to show me.

What other reason could I possibly need?

I stopped believing in God when I was twenty-three. I was raised Catholic. It’s a beautiful religion, full of history and tradition if not a bit too much pomp and circumstance. I wrote a letter to my priest when I was twenty-three telling him that I could no longer belong to the church. I’m not sure if that’s the proper protocol. Did I excommunicate myself? Can I do that? In the letter I explained that there were too many discrepancies between my inner voice and the voice of the church. I thanked him for his years of service to me and wished him the best in my former parish.

He never wrote back.

I stopped believing in god because I couldn’t see it (I’m staying gender neutral here and refusing to anthropomorphize), couldn’t feel it and felt utterly duped by the notion of it even existing. To my rational mind, all the stories I was taught growing up about miracles and prayer and salvation started to sound like a record skipping. Didn’t every civilization have these kinds of stories? What kind of merit did they have, then? I suddenly remembered when I was in high school, laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of the Greek gods we learned about in history class. Really? They believed this shit?

My hypocrisy creeped up on me. What made any belief different than those goofy ancient picture books with merman Poseidon, hourglass Venus, and eagle-metamorphosizing Zeus? It wasn’t a question of whose gods were better – Modern Christianity vs. Ancient Mediterranean: cage fight of the centuries! – but rather a question of the entire existence of all of them.

What made any religion more or less worthy of mockery? Weren’t they all really just a bunch of fairy stories wrapped up to conceal deeply meaningful truths? And did we really need the fairy stories to get to those truths? Were there even truths?

I had hit an intellectual snag. It was at this point that I threw out the entire concept of a believable mythology and of god with it. I became an atheist. (“Gasp!” Woman faints, baby cries, dogs howl, ominous thunder crashes.)

I feel it’s important to say that my life has not been more empty, more lost, or more plagued since eliminating the concept of god from it. If anything, I’ve become a stronger, warmer and more guided version of myself. I don’t think any of these are the result of atheism but rather the result of growing older which happened to coincide with atheism. Even so, I’ve got to point out that never once did I burst into flames or crawl on my belly and lament in the darkness. Shadow spirits do not haunt me. (At least I don’t think they do – I suppose if they did they’d probably be pretty sneaky about it.)

My rational conclusion about god still stands.

And yet, the idea of god comes back to me, even so.

Why? Because my husband brings home feathers.

I started seeing a psychic months ago. She’s amazing. We are now more girlfriends than patron and client. Since spending time with her, I’ve begun to question whether or not my five-senses were really an adequate judge of the nature of the universe. I feel this doubt is pretty scientifically sound, too. There are plenty of biology transcending phenomenon that are indiscernible to our meager senses – all you need to understand this is open up a quantum physics text book. That shit’ll blow your hair back.

I couldn’t rationally explain why or how she knew that my purpose in life was to create art and foster dogs, that my deceased grandmother loved with painful ferocity, or that our purchase of a house was going to hit about twelve-thousand snags during Mercury Retrograde – a delightful little peach of a time that, looking back, explains a great deal of life’s chaos.

I know. I hear what you’re saying. I’m a skeptic, too. Just knowing a few things about a person does not prove the existence of some higher metaphysical power. Anyone with the slightest bit of skill or a shit load of luck could have guessed these things about me, about anyone.

But there was more to it than that. There’s always more to it than that.

What was said to me touched me deeply in a profound and lasting way. I couldn’t shake the feeling of elation that stayed with me for days after my first, second and third readings, nor could I ignore the incredible draw pulling me to the world of the metaphysical that has yet to waver. Even if psychics are all a hoax, I was touched. I was compelled. I emerged from my readings as a lighter, freer, more grounded version of myself.

Suddenly, religion started to make sense again.

And it occurred to me: that’s why people do it, that’s why they believe. Not because they can prove it. Shit, they don’t even care! You could scientifically draw out, line by line, a mathematical proof for the non-existence of god and it wouldn’t shake a truly religious person’s faith one itty bit. You wouldn’t even be a fly buzzing in their ear. You know why? Because it doesn’t matter. Belief comes from a place so deep and untouchable that even reason itself cannot overcome it. People only ever believe because they feel – not because their belief was the least ridiculous of the options played out in front of them but because it was the only option, ever. That’s what unites all religious men and women. They’re wild and bold enough to trust in a feeling. Who gives a shit what their respective mythologies say: in their truest, most genuine form, men and women of faith are answering to a stir within the bellies of their souls. Science needs proof to stand on. It needs neatness and tidiness. It needs vacuums and exponents. Religion? It just throws a big FU, somersaulting mid-air with guns blazing. And it lands on its feet every time. Fancy that.

I don’t know how my husband survived Fallujah. Was it some divine protective force? Was it luck? Was it statistical probability? Was it his own cunning made manifest in the months of training he received prior to shipping out? Does it matter? He’s here. And he brings me feathers.

I read online somewhere that Michael the Archangel, the eternal soldier, is known as the patron saint of warriors. He guides and guards them in their darkest hours of battle. There are a few ways a person can tell if he or she is being protected by Michael. One of those ways is that he leaves them feathers.

I’m going to frame those feathers tomorrow. Because I believe in angels, now? Maybe. But more importantly, because my husband brought them home.

Ten Reasons to Love Dogs

Tess.

Tess.

Why do we love dogs? There are oh so many reasons. Here are ten.

1. They are human-like

I read a few years ago in some scientific magazine that neurologists researched the brains of lab rats and conclusively proved that the animal brain, including those of our smiling, hairy, mammalian counterparts, is incapable of emotion. I still remember the sinking feeling in my stomach. Shit. Really? I could’ve sworn …

But it didn’t take long to dismiss the science indefinitely. While I read the article in silence my dog, Tess, gently nudged herself by my side.

I looked at her, this goofy, perpetual love-seeker, staring at me and panting. “You’re totally brain dead, aren’t you?” I thought.

She stared at me, blankly. Panting.

“Do you want to go for a walk?” I asked.

And she smiled. I know it.

That research is bullshit. You know it as well as I. Dogs are capable of happiness, fear, jealousy, sadness, indecision, exuberance and the whole gamut of human emotion, sparing the deeper, complex shades of regret, self-loathing and metaphysical Zen. All you need to know this is sheer observation. And dogs can even suffer under the overwhelming weight of their human-like feelings. Ask an owner whose dog has separation anxiety if you don’t believe me. After seeing thirty seven pairs of shoes and four door frames chewed to dickens, it’s impossible to deny your dog is overwhelmed by something internal, something emotional.

Dogs lend themselves to anthropomorphism. That’s why they’re man’s best friend – they are us, just like us, in their weirdness and warmth.

2. They defy all conventional logic

My dog once watched my husband knock on the table with his fist and flew to the door, barking tremendously to warn us of an intruder.

She hates being looked in the eye but will let you stick your whole finger into her ear.

She is terrified of the broom but will run blissfully into oncoming traffic.

She’s eaten days old cat poop. Three times.

She chews on rocks, is alarmed by her own farts and is god-awful terrified of firecrackers – we’re talking, shaking for hours, hiding under furniture, eyes-of-death afraid. She hates being hugged but loves cuddling, she despises strangers, especially if they are friendly and bring treats, and she eats clumps of hairbrush hair out of the trash. (This often results in interesting pooping sessions. After all, hair doesn’t digest. And I have long hair. Use your imagination.) She rolls around the cat urine spotted sections of our lawn with delicious glory and jubilation. She seems to enjoy this even more after a bath.

Dogs, for their record intelligence and bomb-sniffing, military exploit heroics, are incredibly strange. We’re talking, weird. They’re a bunch of hairy weirdos. No dog is normal and all dogs defy practicality in some way.

Which is strange because they are creatures of nature. Isn’t nature supposed to have its shit together? I mean, I get why humans are weird – but animals are supposed to be our instinctual, divinely-guided counterparts.

And they are. The weird part is that dog instincts are unjustifiably bonkers. I’m sure it makes sense to Mother Nature and their little canine hearts but, really? Is eating dried cat poop ever going to have a positive evolutionary response?

Dogs disprove that nature is organized and singularly purposeful. They reveal just how weird the universe’s sense of humor is. And in doing so, they prove how even more endearing they really are.

3. Their digestive tract is nearly* indestructible

When my husband and I aren’t sure our leftover, slightly funkified and slimy hamburger is still viable, we feed it to our dog. And she likes it. Actually, she loves it.

I’m sure we’re doing the wrong thing when we do that, but this is a creature whose tolerance to bacteria is nearly invincible. She drinks water from rain puddles and dank sewer pipes. She licks her own ass. She ate a used condom from our trash bin. She eats shit, vomit and shitted-out vomit. (See previous note on cat poop, her personal favorite.) And she likes it. All of it. Actually, she loves it.

Her digestion is beyond this world. With no effort at all, her compact, forty-pound frame will digest bacteria that to us would be at worst fatal and at the very least digestively treacherous.

I’m constantly amazed at what my dog can eat, the sheer amount of germy yuckyness that goes into her body every day and comes out in the form of a smooth, relaxed bowel movement.

Yet – and boy, is there a yet – there are some things, some relatively wonderful, loveable things, that would be deadly to her.

Chocolate, for one. What an ungodly state, to be allergic to chocolate. She’s also incapable of eating raisins, artificial sweeteners and onion powder. Which, more than anything, makes me question the designer of such an allergy list. I mean, who decided that her kryptonite will all be contained within the confines of the American kitchen cupboard?

If nothing else, this provides more proof of Mother Nature’s irreverence.

4. They never age emotionally

My dog will never truly be an adult. Ever.

Her insatiable appetite for play will continue through the peaks and valleys of her lifetime, as will her need for constant direction. She’ll never grow out of a good romp in the grass or a solid game of fetch. She’ll never have the need to be independent, or find herself, or invest in a 401k. And I love her for that. She is my eternal child.

Unlike humans, dogs are only mildly affected by the maturity incumbent in parenthood. The goal of a doggie mama is to one day frolic joyfully alongside her pups in an eternal game of tag. She is not their wizened, experienced superior. No, once her pups transcend the short period of life where they are solely dependent on her, she conflates instantly to her own puppy ways as if motherhood were a temp position.

I adore this about dogs. They refuse to become self-righteous, ennobled leaders. Their goal in life is simple and hedonistic. They don’t apologize for it or regret their lack of personal growth. It’s beautiful.

5. They are hilarious. Adorably hilarious.

When my dog is feeling playful, she grabs her toy and shakes it vigorously from side to side in a primal, bone-crunching, lupine gesture. She is clearly trying to impress us with her animalistic potency. But when she does this, one of her ears inevitably turns inside out. It looks so uncomfortable (Ouch!), but she doesn’t even notice. She’ll just stare at us with her loopy, inverted ear, grinning goofily. She doesn’t have time to attend to asymmetry – this is play time, bitches.

That sight has never not made my day.

And when she’s really excited, she runs. Not runs, but charges in a solitary stampede of vigor. She doesn’t run in a line, either: she runs in loops. Around and around at full throttle. She’ll do this for about forty-five seconds, after which she collapses, panting on the grass, and then rolls over as if this behavior is so valiant a belly rub is rightly in order. Sometimes she barks and growls while she runs in circles. Almost like she’s declaring her mission to the world, “Fuck, yes. Run!”

She will capture socks if we leave them on the floor and run around the house trying to prompt us in the chase.

There are so many cute things she does everyday it would be sickening to chronicle them all here. You’ve seen dogs in action. You know what I’m talking about.

The cuteness of dogs is in direct relation to their silliness. Both are infinite.

6. They can fall asleep anywhere within two minutes and thirty seconds

Dogs may be light sleepers, but they go down easy. And unlike humans, their appetite for sleep is limitless. They can get twelve hours of hibernation-level rest, wake up, get a drink of water, and then take a nap on the couch. I remember being amazed by this when we brought Tess home from the shelter. It blew my mind how immediately and endlessly she could sleep. The canine propensity for naps is truly remarkable. Tess does not know what insomnia is, nor does she understand REM cycles. She once fell asleep sitting up on the couch watching television. She’s a rock star of sleep. Get it, girl.

7. They are grateful

While my husband and I are partial to shelter dogs, the truth is, all dogs are grateful deep down. Even the nasty, spoiled, poorly behaved ones. All it takes to see this is a piece of cheese.

A dog will do whatever you want for a piece of cheese. You could demand it climb Mt. Kilimanjaro on its hind legs and it would do it. With zest. You could insist it learn to speak fluent, properly accented French and it would do it. With zest. You could demand it sit, shake, roll over, lay down, play dead, speak and stay and it will do all of it. With zest.

Dogs are not entitled creatures. It’s as if nature has imbued them with an eternal inferiority complex. They are forever grateful for everything lent them, from food to affection to shelter.

My dog refuses to eat dinner until she’s sat down and given her paw. To eat without doing so violates her internal code of doggy ethics.

She will love you for the rest of your life if you take her for a walk. Even if it’s a short walk. Even if it’s only once.

At night when it’s time for bed, we let her snuggle in between us for a few minutes. Her dewy puppy face screams out loud every time, “Thank you for loving me! Gah, you’re the best!”

She’s the most un-greedy creature I’ve yet to meet.

We don’t need this kind of gratitude in order to extend love to our dog, but boy does it make it easier. The amount of thanks we receive makes generosity come easy and love abound.

8. They demand love – even when you have so little left in you to give

The night we got Tess, she threw up four times in the truck on our short ride from New Hampshire to Massachusetts. When we let her in the house, she sat in the kitchen by the door for a solid twelve minutes. Just staring at nothing. When it was time for bed, we invited her up with us to initiate bonding – she refused, adamantly. She even refused to sleep in the little doggie bed we bought her two nights before that was cozily tucked next to our bed. Instead, she sat on the floor next to me and stared. All night. She cried a little bit, too, and let me pat her some, but for the most part she insisted we simply “be,” that we exist together but separate, side by side. By the morning, she and I had begun a special bond. I invited her up on the bed and this time she came right up. We were so excited to see her come so far so quickly.

Then she bit my husband. In the face.

It wasn’t one of those intense, stitch-needing dog bites you see gorily recounted on the news. It was a nip. A “Back the fuck off, or else” kind of gesture that nailed him in the forehead and nose. He had a mark and everything.

Our first reaction was shock – this sweet little dog, cute as a button, had just assaulted us. She violated our trust. She disrespected our kindness.

But then it hit us: she is terrified. Not just scared, but terrified. Of us, of our home, of her life. Everything she knew from the shelter was gone, and although her life was comparatively much better as we could see it, to her it was just awful. All of this newness haunted her. She wasn’t herself.

So we did the only thing we could do: we loved her. Intensely and quietly from a distance. We fed her and spoke to her in kind tones and patter her head when she looked comfortable enough to withstand the gesture. After a month, she was ours.

Tess still becomes that “bad dog” when she’s scared. She once lunged at a friendly group of teenage girls who came over to say hello to her. She’s nipped our neighbor’s children after we insisted they not-come-any-closer and they ignored us. She barks at everyone, especially grown men, and bares her teeth whenever a stranger makes eye contact.

In short, she’s a huge pain in the ass and a great hindrance on our social life.

But we love her. Immensely.

The thing about owning a dog is this: you will never fully understand your propensity for mercy and affection until you do. Like having children, it’s one of those huge, mind-altering experiences that broadens your soul while deepening it.

Dogs need us. There’s something about knowing that that brings out the best in our hearts and summons our greatest kindness. It’s the moments I most dislike my dog that I love her the fiercest. Imagine that.

9. They cuddle with everything and one

Dogs love to cuddle – even the ones that are standoffish and seem uninterested in affection. I can’t even count the times I’ve found Tess nestled up to her favorite squeaky toy, Pink Fluffy. Or the number of times she’s nestled up against a throw pillow. Or the number of times she’s nestled up against a seated body. Or a leg. Or a door frame. Or the console of my car.

You get the idea.

Dogs are cuddlers. They are unashamed affection seekers. Their unabashed search for love makes our human quest for the same seem wildly less embarrassing.

The immortal image of teenage Sally crying in her saddle shoes over Johnny who broke her heart always ends with a warm, uplifting hug from her pillow-shaped dog. There’s a reason for that. The affection dogs seek inspires us not only to endure their cuddling but to accept their cuddling when it’s offered. Love is about vulnerability and dogs insist we learn that. It’s not just that we enjoy our dogs because they cuddle with us, it’s that we enjoy them because we can cuddle right back with them. My dog cuddles with me when she’s scared, and I with her when I’m existentially lost. She hears a clap of thunder, I get rejected from a writing gig. We embrace each other at our lowest moments and find strength in our unity. We hug it out. And soon, everything seems a little bit better.

10. They make you a better version of you

The world is a hard place. We are all taught that in order to be acceptable adults who live happy, healthy lives that we must toughen up, suck it up, and put up with everything that we dislike. There’s undoubtedly truth in this, but in pursuing only this mantra we lose something so necessary, so important to our existence. We lose our softness. Our openness. Our awkwardness. Our vulnerability. I know that’s supposed to be the goal of maturation, but honestly? I like the yucky parts of the human soul.

All of this observing and nurturing the weirdness in my dog has taught me to observe and nurture the weirdness in myself. Life is simply better with more love. We can get this from our furry-friends but what’s even better is that they unwittingly teach us how to get it from ourselves. They mirror in unashamed lights exactly what true heart is: it’s the ability to feel fear and jealousy and sadness and jubilation and trepidation and warmth. It’s the ability to have quirks, to seek love in all instances, and to be grateful for everything.

All of those things that make our dogs awesome actually make us awesome, too. By surrounding ourselves with such raw little creatures, we are inspired to be raw ourselves.

So really, dogs make the world a better place. That’s why we should love them.

Not that you needed any convincing.