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.