Your semi-quarterly culture survey

A writer for Popular Mechanics, covering a Christmas story to which I was tangentially related, referred to this site some weeks ago as my “now-defunct blog.” I take umbrage. Is summer defunct because it only comes once a year? Is leap year defunct? Is Joe Biden defunct?

I’m merely pacing myself.

As many of you know, I’ve devoted a fair amount of scarce energy to launching Intentional Fathering, a website for fathers who want to develop better habits. It’s also got a blog feature, for those of you who miss my endearing fatherhood tales. There’s posts about a near-death experience for some Woodlief boys, the repeated attempts by my toddlers to break me out of influenza quarantine, and dealing with my kids’ fears about a potential shooter at their school (this one also has a sweet picture of Mister Rogers). I’ve also been writing some fiction, as well as some non-fiction to which I’ll link when it comes online later this month and the next.

Point is: I’m getting things done, so lighten up with the judgment, Popular Mechanics. At least I don’t make you slog through 95 pop-up ads when you read my free stuff.

Now, in case it helps some of you hunkering down in coronavirus quarantine, I’ll offer this thing I do from time to time wherein I tell you about some things I’ve read or listened to that I think you might enjoy:

Dignity. Photographer Chris Arnade ditched his Wall Street investment job to travel across the U.S., talking with people in what he calls “back row” America. You don’t have to agree with all his policy prescriptions to be gripped by the reality that there is a large portion of our prosperous nation being left behind. I appreciated in particular his recognition, despite his own agnosticism, how important faith in God and the Bible is to heroin addicts and hookers, a reality easily overlooked by writers interested in telling a story without really getting to know their subjects. He also lays bare a moral strength among many back row dwellers that shamed me: Often they remain where they are because they’re caring for sick, disabled, and addicted loved ones. It adds insult to injury when we who feel less tied to our dying hometowns look down on them for not improving their positions.

The King in Yellow. Okay, this may not be your cup of tea. But when I learned that this odd collection of short stories published in 1895 was deeply connected to two of my favorite works—Infinite Jest and the first season of True Detective—I had to read it. The first stories are the best, and the idea lurking in the background of a play that drives you insane if you read it has so much potential, but unfortunately it doesn’t pay off the way I’d hoped.

Tom Petty’s Perfect Cup of Coffee. That’s not the actual name of this Rolling Stone article, but it should have been. Best read while sipping a cup of Maxwell House and listening to “Even the Losers.”

Room 20. This podcast series by an investigative journalist trying to unveil the truth about an unidentified patient hospitalized in a vegetative state for 15 years was better than a lot of mysteries, and emotionally gripping to boot.

Hand Tool Rescue. If you’ve got kids underfoot and you need to restore your sanity, this series of videos, featuring mechanics quietly restoring old machinery like hand-crank apple corers and old-time drill presses, is engrossing and soothing at the same time.

Dolly Parton’s America. This is a brilliant idea that might have been ruined, saturated as it is with condescending academics who deploy terms like “extractive capitalism” and “homoeroticism.” But what saves the day is Dolly herself, laughing off silly questions as she opens up to us the heart of her music. A realization by the narrator that Dolly has more in common with the displaced experience of his immigrant father than he does is an especially tender moment.

And finally, two poems I think you’ll like: “Small Kindnesses,” by Danusha Laméris, and Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Modern Declaration.” Go ahead and read them. A little poetry never hurt anyone.


  1. Nichole

    Small Kindnesses is a prescient poem–how much more those small kindnesses mean in the age of quarantine and locked down cities. Thank you for sharing your recommendations, Tony. I always find a couple to follow up on. I’m very interested in Dignity. I’ve been serving on a board of a nonprofit that works with recovering addicts, people with mental health conditions, and inmates returning to society. It’s also one of the few completely peer-run organizations in the nation–meaning all employees and at least 1/2 the board fits into at least one if not all three categories. I’ve learned a lot about how poorly we, as a society, treat the incarcerated, addicts, and those struggling with mental health conditions. We condescend to them and fail to give them dignity. I have a lot to learn, and I want to do better as an ally.

  2. Post

    I’m glad y’all liked that poem. I’ve never been able to write a good poem, but I like to think I can spot one that regular folks appreciate. And Nichole, I love what you’re doing with that non-profit. Another book in this domain I read years ago is called Begging for Change, by Robert Egger, a kitchen manager who went beyond giving restaurant leftovers to the poor to developing programs to give homeless people the skills they need to get jobs in restaurants. He writes about the resistance he got in various cities from people running non-profits that, in his view, are designed to keep the poor dependent, being more about the self-actualization of their managers than actual human improvement.

    And Lore, your wistful comment is noted. More writing coming.

  3. Renee DiFede

    I am just happy when you do write, so I won’t complain. I usually always find something interesting, thoughtful, raw, or inspiring in your writing or what you recommend. And when I don’t, it’s usually because it’s way above my comprehension skills. But that’s OK too.
    Hope you had a meaningful and joyful Resurrection Sunday. As usual, God is Working all things together for good… in the middle of a trying time.

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