Day 16: The Twelve Dancing Princesses, Except With Meth

DUCK: So….

RABBIT: So what?

DUCK: Did the editor in Chennai get back to you or what?

RABBIT: Course she did.

DUCK: Well, why didn’t you say anything? I’ve been on tenterhooks!

RABBIT: (Perplexed) Well, I knew it was coming. She was just biding her time till India was 2-0 up in the series and then she contacted me right away. It’s all fine. Corrections received.

DUCK: Did she actually mention the cricket then?

RABBIT: Pshaw! Of course she didn’t mention it. But we both knew it was there, in the background.

DUCK: Right. (Pause). So what are you doing now then?

RABBIT: Oh, I’m just working on a blog post.

DUCK: A blog post? You have a blog?

RABBIT: (Off-handedly) Yeah, I’ve had it for a while actually.

DUCK: (Hurt) You didn’t tell me about that either!

RABBIT: Well it’s not really your kind of thing.

DUCK: (Stoutly) Why not?

RABBIT: (Vaguely) Oh, I dunno …. There are hardly any pictures, for one thing.

DUCK: What’s it called then?

RABBIT: (Sheepishly, if a rabbit can be said to look sheepish) Notes from the Rabbit-Duck pond.

DUCK: But we live in a hole!

RABBIT: Ummm, it’s a metaphor?

DUCK: For what?

RABBIT: (Airily) Oh, you know, drowning in life’s boundless ocean, that kind of thing.

DUCK: Also, I think you’ll find we’re usually referred to as the Duck-rabbit.

RABBIT: (Testily) Yes, but that’s arbitrary and it’s my blog.

DUCK: (Trying unsuccessfully to peer over rabbit’s shoulder) So what are you writing about now? (Pause) It’s about me, isn’t it?

RABBIT: (Disgustedly) No, it is not about you. Not everything is about you, you know.

DUCK: So your blog is about how it’s not all about me.

RABBIT: Actually, the post I’m working on now is about how I worry that I’m a secret speciesist.

(Pause while Duck processes this information.)

DUCK: You do know that we, the duck-rabbit, are inter-special? Inter-special as in we partake of two species?

RABBIT: Yes, I think that’s exactly where the fear comes from.

DUCK: Come again?

RABBIT: Well, our upbringing was so diverse. Not just duck-rabbits but Gruffalos and hippogriffs and griffins and all the rest. It was a pretty idyllic inter-species community when you think about it.

DUCK: So, then we’re the last creatures in the world who would be speciesist!

RABBIT: Yes, but that’s also precisely why we would also harbor this secret fear that in our deepest darkest recesses, we are. I got thinking about it when I heard Jon Ronson on WTF. He was talking about shame and, more specifically, about how obsessive compulsive people, upon having an intrusive, transgressive thought, the kind of thoughts we all have sometimes, a thought like, “I could easily just throw that baby out of the window”—

DUCK: (Very grave) wait, this is important: have you mentioned these thoughts about babies to anyone else? Be honest, now.

RABBIT: (Disgusted) —that was his example; obviously, that thought has never even fleetingly flickered in my mind. The point is that rather than just letting the thought pass, the obsessive-compulsive becomes tormented by it, because he or she will think, “I’m a good person; how could I have such a terrible thought?” And then Ronson went on to muse about how these self-hating thoughts might manifest themselves in different cultural contexts, and the following observation stayed with me:

“What’s really interesting, I think, is that, in like the Bible belt of America it’s like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve just had this terrible thought, I must be, I must be Satanic, I must have Satan living [inside me]’; in, like, liberal London it’s like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve just had this terrible thought, I must be racist.’”

DUCK: Oh, so you’re actually worried that you’re a secret racist?

RABBIT: No no no no. I’m 100% unequivocally not talking about race. I’m talking solely about species. I’m just observing that what Ronson is saying about race also happens to apply to species.

DUCK: Right.

RABBIT: And the part I find especially compelling is the comparison with the fear of Satan inhabiting one’s soul; my anxiety that I’m a secret speciesist feels similar, I imagine, to all those tormented seventeenth-century Puritans worried about being possessed by Satan. I mean think about Bunyan in Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666), that moment when he says,

“I often found my mind suddenly put upon it to curse and swear, or to speak some grievous thing against God, or Christ His Son, and of the scriptures. Now I thought, surely I am possessed of the devil: at other times, again, I thought I should be bereft of my wits; for instead of lauding and magnifying God the Lord, with others, if I have but heard Him spoken of, presently some most horrible blasphemous thought or other would bolt out of my heart against Him.”

DUCK: I’m having trouble seeing how this relates to speciesism. Give me an example.

RABBIT: (Considers for a moment) All right then. Here, let me whisper.

DUCK: Why?


DUCK: Fine, Fine. (Rabbit speaks in an inaudible voice. Duck listens attentively)

Ha! (Pause) Oof. (Pause) Yikes. Yeah, I don’t think you can make that joke about leatherback turtles.

RABBIT: (Anguished) But that’s not how I meant it. It wasn’t specific to them as a species.

DUCK: Yeah, but, whenever you use the phrase “egg collection,” it just brings up this whole context.

RABBIT: Right, but that was just a joke about turtles in general, albeit one in poor taste, but obviously I wasn’t specifically invoking any particular atrocity, I was speaking more generally.

DUCK: But then what was the other thing you said? About lutes being disgusting?

RABBIT: That was totally taken out of context. I was just doing some research on medieval balladry and came upon a footnote that mentioned that lute strings were made from a sheep’s small intestine and I said aloud to no-one in particular, “Ewww”—

DUCK: Because it’s a female sheep?

RABBIT: What? No. No, I said “Ewww,” as in I made a sound of disgust at the idea of a lute string being made out of a sheep’s small intestine and then someone said, what’s grossing you out? And I said, oh, it’s just about lutes, and then they gave me this look, you know, reproachful, concerned … and then it suddenly came to me … (Trails off)

DUCK: What suddenly came to you?

RABBIT: … that leatherbacks are commonly referred to as lute turtles. And then I started to think, deep down I must have known that. Deep down, maybe I really do think that leatherback turtles are disgusting … Disgusting, reptilian … monsters. Is that what I think in my twisted, shriveled little heart? Perhaps it is. Perhaps under this veneer of civilized, respect-for-all-species rhetoric, I’m just another vile, reptile-hating mammal. (Deep sigh)

DUCK: But you’re not just a mammal, you’re a bird-mammal! And birds don’t hate anything deep down. Trust me. There is no deep down. Also: dude, you need to be less hard on yourself. It was an innocent mistake.

RABBIT: Oh, no, there are no innocent mistakes. At least, that’s what I think when I’m at the bottom of the rabbit-duck pond. (Suddenly cheerful) You see how that works as a metaphor? You sink deeper and deeper until you finally hit the bottom of the rabbit-duck pond. So, anyway, that’s what my blog is about this week. (Turns to her laptop)

DUCK: You know, I’ve just got a bad feeling about this.

RABBIT: About what?

DUCK: About writing about this in your blog …


DUCK: Well, we are coming up for tenure ….


DUCK: Well what if someone on your committee reads this and gets the wrong idea?

RABBIT: Firstly, I don’t have any readers, so that’s not going to happen, and secondly—

DUCK: What, you’ve got no readers at all?

RABBIT: (Resignedly) No. I mean, our little brother said he would read it, but you can’t trust a London-bred Bengali-Scotsman. All he ever reads is Tagore and Robbie Burns while devouring rice and vegetarian haggis washed down by copious amounts of builder’s tea with a gin and tonic for digestive purposes.[1] But I digress. I was about to say that, secondly, what do you mean someone will get the “wrong idea?” What wrong idea?

DUCK: I dunno, the idea that you are a secret speciesist …

RABBIT: But the whole point is that it’s not about me being a secret speciesist, it’s about my fear that I’m a secret speciesist. If I were actually a secret speciesist, why would I write an anguished blog post about my fear that I’m a secret speciesist?

DUCK: I just think the nuance might be lost on some people.

RABBIT: So, what are you saying?

DUCK: I’m saying I think you should wait till after tenure. Either that, or else, I dunno, disguise it in some form so it seems like it’s about something else.

RABBIT: Hmmm. OK. I could do that, I guess. So, maybe I’ll just make it about something like… hmmmmm. (Long pause) I’m trying to think. (Brightly) Oh, I know! It could be about how I worry that I’m a secret uh, what do you call it, uh, oh yes, a necrophiliac!

DUCK: (Brows knitted) A necrophiliac? Ummm. No. No, that’s not what I had in mind at all. In fact, that’s much worse. Try again.

RABBIT: Oh, okay (Pauses). I’ve got it! I worry that I’m a secret drug addict! A meth addict! Yes, I’ll need to do a lot of research, of course, but—

DUCK: —First of all, that makes absolutely no sense. What would that even mean, to harbor the dread that deep down in your soul, you’re a secret meth addict? That makes no kind of sense. (Rabbit can be heard chattering excitedly in the background about how it could be like the twelve dancing princesses except with meth.) OK, I heard that, and I have no fucking clue what that means. Secondly, yeah, you’re not getting it all. I was thinking of something like, “ooh, I’m scared I’m a secret workaholic … or, I’m scared I’m a secret academic-administration-junkie. Something where it’s kind of a humble-brag such that in the guise of expressing your fear about your addiction to it, you’ll actually plant the idea of your diligent and hard-working nature in your assessors’ minds.

RABBIT. That’s clever.

DUCK: [Gazes at Rabbit appraisingly, taking in her floppy ears, unkempt whiskers, twitching nose, and shifty eyes] Nah. Never mind. Just keep the post in the pipeline. Wait till next year.

RABBIT (Crestfallen, imploring) You really think that’s necessary?

DUCK: Yeah, trust me on this one.

RABBIT: (With sullen resignation) Oh, fine.



[1] This exchange reminds the duck-rabbit of a memorable interaction it had with an immigration official at Logan Airport way back in grad school:

IMMIGRATION OFFICER: K—–? (Slowly and deliberately enunciating the duck-rabbit’s Muslim last name) That doesn’t sound like an English name?

DUCK-RABBIT: [Nervously]: No, well it’s not. It’s Indian. My father was Indian.

IMMIGRATION OFFICER: [Incredulously, as if the very idea were preposterous]: Indian?

DUCK-RABBIT: [Babbling] And my mother is Scottish.

IMMIGRATION OFFICER: Indian and Scottish? Whatever will they think of next? [This uttered not in a jolly, “makes you marvel at life’s-rich-tapestry, don’t it?” way, but rather in a tone of unfeigned disgust]

Lest you think I’m mis-remembering here, I assure you that I’m not because it was precisely the peculiarity of the Immigration Officer’s question (which I took to be rhetorical, although it might have been funny, or perhaps deeply unfunny, for me, if I had attempted to answer it) that made it memorable. Because …. Huh? Who are “they” in the immigration officer’s fantasy? Are “they” Dr.-Moreau-style mad scientists who had the lunatic idea of interbreeding Scots and Indians? “We will develop a race whose tortured relationship to Englishness and fondness for atonal music will be unsurpassed! And they’ll do yoga in kilts! (N.B. never place your yoga mat behind a man wearing a kilt who is about to go into a standing split. You’ll be sorry.)


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