To Ease My Pre-Election Anxiety, I Started Talking To My Dog — Then He Started Talking Back

“DAD! Good news. While you were on Twitter, I unspooled the entire roll of toilet paper.”

There’s a theory roundly feared by astrophysicists, NASA scientists, and government leaders alike called the Kessler Syndrome. It foretells the consequences of a collision in Earth’s lower orbit. It posits that — thanks to the many disused satellites, abandoned launch vehicles, Tesla Roadsters, and discarded hunks of space trash that careen madly around our planet at many thousands of miles-per-hour — were some kind of collision up there to occur, it could trigger an unstoppable cascade of additional collisions. These, over time, would multiply exponentially and come to resemble what the writer Raffi Khatchadourian described as “a maelstrom of sand,” garbage with an agenda, hellbent of incinerating anything that wanders into its path.

This, I think, is a bit what the last few weeks ahead of the 2020 election have felt like: a malevolent storm spewing forth speeding clouds of unprecedentedly bad news like gusts of high-velocity flotsam. Pandemic spike—woosh; presidential contagion—zoom; the increasingly likely prospect of a contested election—pow!

The run-up to the election is always a riot of anxiety. But this year, as we can all agree, it feels different — the storm wilder, the cascade more terrifying. And the anxiety: much, much worse. No doubt, the effects on our mental health have been more profound. NASA worries that the Kessler Syndrome might ruin the space around our planet; well, it’s reasonable to worry right now that 2020 might ruin the space inside our skulls.

A key question on everyone’s mind, then — aside from, hopefully, What can I do to elect Joe Biden? — is this: What can I do to just hold on and not be incinerated?

And that’s why I’m writing. I’m happy to report that I’ve recently discovered a surprising source of mental peace that has proven quite handy as the election steadily approaches: conversations with my dog, Rio.

I discovered I could understand Rio the night of the first presidential debate, when I was wondering aloud whether I might be able to fit my head inside my microwave. Sensing my unease, probably, Rio reared up on his tiny hind legs and, with conviction, said, “Don’t give him the satisfaction.”

I know. It’s crazy. I was shocked at first. (Somehow, my dog can not only make himself understood, but is fucking articulate.) I was also unsettled. Dogs, when they let their guard down, are weird, man, and being able to understand them only makes stark this unavoidable fact.

I’ll admit, however, that as 2020 blusters drunkenly on, obliterating precedents, upending norms, advancing its assault on our sanity, I’ve become glad that I can understand my dog. Dogs may be weird — harborers of habits we wish they’d divorce themselves from — but they’re also wise. With imperturbable unselfconsciousness dogs celebrate what humans on their deathbed invariably agree to be the most important things: relationships; joy; time spent with loved ones. There’s much we can learn from them.

Consider, for example, what in the way of perspective—underneath, perhaps, the many beguiling idiosyncrasies — even just a typical day of conversation between my dog and I reveals.

(Note: as you’ll see, our conversations are pretty one-sided; I’m still not sure Rio really registers what I’m saying to him; but, again, he’s fucking effective at making himself understood to me. And as all dog owners can no doubt understand, it’s what he has to share that really matters.)

Read our conversation here.