RIP Jeremiah Green

Jeremiah Green died on New Year’s Eve, and he was my favorite drummer of all time. The man could build a house with just a 3/4 time signature. I first heard “Dramamine” in 2004, and then the song crawled into my head and dressed itself in personal overtones that it wore for many years. It’s one of the very best songs I’ve ever discovered, an uneven mantra for uneven times, a hypnagogic elegy for night owls. Not for nothing, it’s a heartbreaking song, if you let it be, which means it’s as close to a “perfect” song as you’ll find, like so many others we each hold dear.

Isaac Brock’s spaghetti Western harmonics get the accolades (and, yes, of course, they’re unbelievably cool), but it’s Jeremiah’s percussion that knits the song together. If you listen to his voice on the drums in that song, you can actually feel the landscape drift past your eyes just outside the window, low-slung American cities fading into the middle distance; you end up somewhere else by song’s end, and, even today, to borrow a phrase, I believe that a car with the gas needle on empty will get you a few more miles down the road if you let Jeremiah’s hi-hat guide the way.

His style was kaleidoscopic. He could be bombastic and rowdy (“Truckers Atlas,” “Exit Does Not Exist,” “Tundra/Desert”) and then he could be coffee-shop chill, all eight-armed bongo jazz (“It’s All Nice on Ice, Alright,” “Sunspots in the House of the Late Scapegoat,” “Trailer Trash”). Jeremiah’s performance, his imprint, is the key to those songs. Style, so says Susan Sontag, is a means of insisting on something. Style is everything. When you find it in an artist, you treasure that connection. Let the music teach you something about yourself.

Even when “Dramamine” comes to an end, structurally, Jeremiah’s drumming somehow continues. Just incredible stuff. The moment ends, as we all know (it has to), but at the same time the moment never ends.

Bow your heads. One of the good guys has passed.

Five years of books

Beginning in January 2018, with inspiration from Sam Allard’s #bookstack, I started recording every book I read. Before long, I realized that this is critical for anyone with a serious reading habit. Books are such an integral part of life that you must develop some sort of anchor for what you’ve read, some sort of foothold in the past that may inform your present. By finally tracking where I’d been, I think I have a better sense of how I went about building the last few chapters of my life. I can see, very clearly, how American Pastoral shaped the way I understand myself in part. (N.B.: I was in a hotel room at the Palmer House in Chicago when I finished American Pastoral, and I was so caught up in Roth’s work that I ran out into the Loop and found a bookstore and bought The Human Stain. This was a pivotal moment.)

Alongside time spent with my family, time spent playing guitar and listening to music and going to shows, time spent writing, time spent playing golf, all of this time spent reading ranks among the most important and meaningful activities in my life. Not only does all this reading inform my own writing, but it tends to shape my own capacities for empathy, patience and generosity. Imagine the level of dedication you need to project a world within a book! It’s a profound source of joy to inhabit an author’s mind while I’m reading a book, and I think there’s a lot to be said about the learned skill of stepping into someone else’s shoes for a while.

It’s also just a great, simple way to unwind. Life is plenty full of distractions and hazards. Sitting down to read at your own pace is something you can control and relish. This is a major lesson I’m hoping to teach our daughter as she grows up. I think the 21st century is already turning out to be relatively more totalitarian in nature, thanks to rising nationalism and the development of artificial intelligence / mass surveillance / digital biometric data tracking / centralized financial instruments / factory farming / CIA psy ops posing as friendly social media / you name it. They can try to burn books (and they are! look around!), but they cannot steal your mind if you don’t let them in.

Anyway, it’s been fun jotting all this stuff down over the years. If you’re not already charting your own reading habit, I highly recommend it.

Looking back, you can see I went pretty heavy on Roth/DeLillo/Pynchon early on. This set a particular tone for me, and I had a habit for a few years of reading a Pynchon novel every December; that fell off in 2021 when I got caught up with Karl Ove Knausgaard and then in 2022 with Denis Johnson. I feel confident that I’ll get around to Gravity’s Rainbow in 2023.

Read the full list after the jump. Asterisks denote personal favorites.

Continue reading “Five years of books”

Big new year’s energy

I really do. I get a big kick out of the new year vibe. While the holiday-as-media-spectacle can be a big pain in the ass and I tend to avoid those $150-ticket galas downtown, I might have to say that New Year’s Eve is a top-five or even top-three holiday. Aside from going to New York City to see Phish (which is adjacent to the holiday’s most outlandish nonsense), I like a chilled out evening at home with my family. I like feeling the year slip away, with the new one coming on like a faint buzz.

And yeah, sure, I’ve got plans for 2023. Looking back on this year, though, I feel like I accomplished most of my major “five-year plan”-type goals. Our first child is here. The MFA is secured. My first book is out in the world. The work that went into my feature on Kevin Keith has surfaced as a blockbuster podcast series produced by none other than Kim Kardashian. I’m down 22 lbs. on the year. For the first time as an adult, I’m debt-free (setting aside the car note and the house). Credit card debt-free, which feels like I can now float through the air if I want to.

My friend asked: “What is the end of the next five years?”

And I don’t know. Another child? A new house? Another 22 lbs. off my frame? Some sort of teaching gig at a university? A published novel? These are all fine goals–and true enough. But it’s hard to say. Time flies, but it also slows down. Five years is shorter than it seems, and it’s also longer than it sounds.

Five years will put me at 39, and no doubt I’ll be doing all sorts of reflective writing on the idea of turning 40. The past five years seem like foundation-building, and I don’t mean to say that in a way that diminishes anything. But back in 2017, I knew I wanted to get my life in order, as they say. I wanted to improve the posture of my life. I was all out of sorts. In August 2017, I met Bridget, and it’s been onward/upward ever since. I feel tethered, somehow, to the spinning universe. And so, with my wife, I’ve set about the work of building a life with joy and meaning and humor and love. That sort of work, which isn’t really “work,” will continue. That’s the whole point. Each day is a new opportunity to develop the plot. There’s no real need to have a plan, only the self-assurance that each day will follow from the last.

Still, a plan is nice. Five years from now? I’ve got thoughts.

For now, though, the next year is enough. I have one big goal that’s not necessary to put into writing just yet, one big goal that I don’t want to speak. Writing this is enough: I want to be here now.

If I can do that again and again and again and again and again in 2023, it’ll be my best year yet.

For now, though, the next day is enough. The next moment.

2022 in books

I think I read fewer books this year than in the past several years, but it’s still a solid list. This one tilts heavily toward fiction, mostly because I graduated from my creative nonfiction MFA program in May and just wanted to get on with some big honking doorstoppers. I like that tilt. It’s been fun to immerse myself in those longer, weirder novels that might otherwise be passed over on the bookshelf. Tree of Smoke, my final book of the year, for instance, sat on my shelf for maybe 10 years before I finally came around to it in a flurry of Denis Johnson reading. Worth the wait!

Of course, this year also marks the birth of our child, Louisa Shea. She has been the wonder of our lives these past six months, and we’ve placed colorful children’s books at the center of her world. She loves when we read to her. She engages with the illustrations, the rhythm of the words, the movement of the pages. It’s amazing to see, and I’m eager to see how her reading grows over her life.

As far as the best stuff I read this year, I’d have to start with Richard Ford’s Frank Bascombe novels. The Sportswriter, Independence Day, The Lay of the Land and Let Me Be Frank With You were unbelievably good. Ford has an excellent eye for the innermost details of a character, for the minute-by-minute thought patterns that construct a life. Frank Bascombe is not the most endearing protagonist of all time, but his earnestness and his self-awareness make for great through-lines in a four-novel set like this. Not for nothing, Independence Day brought home a Pulitzer in 1996.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay, The Goldfinch, Crossroads, A Fan’s Notes, The Shipping News and A Visit from the Goon Squad were my other favorite novels. Each one was mesmerizing. Don’t sleep on Annie Proulx’s writing style in The Shipping News! What a knockout!

On the nonfiction side, easy: To the Linksland, Michael Bamberger’s memoir about caddying in Europe in the early 1990s was a perfect book. For anyone who loves golf, this is a must-read. On Writing was great too; that one was a re-read from my college days. If you think of yourself as a writer, I have no doubt it’s on your bookshelf. It’s a good one to revisit every now and then. And I do want to get a Stephen King book on my 2023 list… I’ve read The Shining, but nothing else. It’s time, I think… Maybe IT?

My next post will be a five-year retrospective of reading. I’ve been recording every book I’ve read since January 2018, and I’m excited to see everything that landed on that list over the years. Aside from a few gems that came before (One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Magus, A Prayer for Owen Meany, White Noise, All the King’s Men), this five-year period contains all the life-expanding books that I’d now consider personal favorites and, to be a bit cloying for a moment, personal friends. More on that soon.

Out of Office by Charlie Warzel, Anne Helen Petersen 

Second Nature by Michael Pollan 

To the Linksland by Michael Bamberger 

Mutations by Sam McPheeters

Bewilderment by Richard Powers

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders

The Best American Essays ed by Kathryn Schulz

The Vietri Project by Nicola DeRobertis-Theye

The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan

The Bogey Man by George Plimpton

This Is Your Mind on Plants by Michael Pollan

The World Played Chess by Robert Dugoni

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen

Serious Face by Jon Mooallem 

The Green Road Home by Michael Bamberger

A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon 

Tinkers by Paul Harding 

Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan 

Let Me Finish by Roger Angell 

The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner

Norwood by Charles Portis 

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx 

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich 

The Sportswriter by Richard Ford 

On Writing by Stephen King 

Independence Day by Richard Ford

Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect by Bob Rotella

The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford 

Let Me Be Frank With You by Richard Ford 

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr 

True Grit by Charles Portis 

End Zone by Don DeLillo 

A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib 

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami 

Essentialism by Greg McKeown 

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt 

Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson 

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson 

Already Dead by Denis Johnson 

Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson


You hear a lot about the need to vary your sentence lengths. Yes, of course. But my No. 1 piece of advice to fellow writers is simply to shorten the fucking things first. Shorten those sentences! We’re drowning in run-ons and clunky junk-drawer punctuation. Stop!

Fleeting marathons

One thing I started doing this year was to focus on a single author’s books for an extended period of time. This began with Richard Ford in June and July; his four Frank Bascombe novels were what I was reading when Louisa was born. It was a top-tier reading experience for me, and Ford’s wry voice on the page will forever be attached to the early, bleary-eyed days of life with Lou. Not for nothing, I think at least two of those books rank among the “Great American Novel” echelon.

Now, it’s onto Denis Johnson to close the year. Jesus’ Son, Train Dreams, Already Dead and, currently, Tree of Smoke. What I like so far about his stuff is that he doesn’t sit in the sentimental or the transcendent for too long. Instead, he merely grazes the veil before pulling back into the dark, malfunctioning American reality we all know so well. You learn pretty quickly as a writer that all the meaningful schlock about life has already been said before, that the deftest move is to reinvent those familiar melodies in a voice that might connect with someone else’s mind. This is, after all, largely what love is: the syncopation of rhythms. Two melodies linking arms in verse. And this is what makes reading such a joy.

So, I’ve loved the madness in Johnson’s work. Reading his voice is good for the winter, I think, like throwing logs on a fire. And I dig his attitude, his posthumous mystique.

“Writing. It’s easy work,” he wrote. “You make your own hours, mess around the house in your pajamas, listening to jazz recordings and sipping coffee while another day makes its escape . . . Bouts of poverty come along, anxiety, shocking debt, but nothing lasts forever. I’ve gone from rags to riches and back again, and more than once. Whatever happens to you, you put it on a page, work it into a shape, cast it in a light. It’s not much different, really, from filming a parade of clouds across the sky and calling it a movie — although it has to be admitted that the clouds can descend, take you up, carry you to all kinds of places, some of them terrible, and you don’t get back where you came from for years and years.”


I’ve noticed in the past week or so, I’ve lost a number of followers on Twitter. This isn’t all that surprising; in the wake of Elon Musk’s acquisition and ascent, people are leaving the platform in droves. That’s fine. I have no plans to leave in some showy, pompous exit. I just… don’t give a shit about the corporate direction of the company. It’s just another fucking company making increasingly self-interested decisions. Social media is a cesspool, and, yes, Musk’s influence and management decisions will probably dial up the more vile aspects of Twitter, but it’s always been, at any given point, a variation on that same cesspool you find anywhere else “on social” these days, where, N.B., most readers are still finding the journalists they end up following. At any rate, Twitter is where I’ve built my most engaged following. (I almost typed “folly” there.)

My more immediate reasoning for not getting the hell out of Dodge is that, whether the users are the product or not (and they are), my approach to Twitter has always been to cultivate my account as a) my own news wire service (inbound media) and b) my own publishing platform (outbound media). Twitter is very effective for those needs.

I look at each of my own tweets the same way I look at any feature I’m submitting to an editor. Twitter, to me, is an act of publishing. It’s very simple. Not to sit atop a high horse here, but I gather that this view isn’t shared across the platform (and maybe that’s the start of the problem). Twitter’s worst tendencies aren’t simply due to its corporate structure or its CEO’s whims; you see the most negative elements of Twitter come out in how other users themselves grasp the platform, in how human nature manifests in 280 characters or less. It’s easy to laugh at the idea of a journalism degree, but those four years gave me a nuanced, detail-rich foundation for how to approach publishing, for how to approach the concept of “audience.” This is not small potatoes, but now everyone and their uncle fancies themselves a publisher with an audience (though they wouldn’t say as much). Disregarding the ethics of journalism or even the emerging field of the ethics of goofball shitposting on an individual level can certainly end up harming the group. Musk has nothing to do with it.

To me, Twitter is a laboratory for the writerly voice. You’ve got constraints in character count, and you’ve got what tends to be a limited but engaged audience. You can really hone your skills as a writer! My stuff has mostly been a mix of earnest journalism, self-promotion (duh) and a stew of irony, satire, non sequitur and tongue-in-cheek schadenfreude with a chip on my shoulder for good measure (hey, I live in Northeast Ohio). This laboratory function is important and helpful and creatively freeing for a writer (or a designer or whatever).

Above all, I’ve written my 20,661 tweets because it’s been fun. It’s a creative outlet, and there are plenty of ways to disregard the more sinister corners of Twitter. This is the same rubric that guides most of my writerly ambitions and career choices: It has to be fun.

Maybe it won’t be fun at all, and very soon, if everyone bails. If, as some have predicted, the trolls multiply and jam up the wire for good. Who knows? (I mean, that will probably happen, at which point Twitter will cease to be fun, and I’ll have my own answer. Maybe even as I write this, I feel the tug toward more direct-publishing platforms, like this here blog I’ve nurtured.)

But, of course, all that aside, the incoming rule of Musk should give any self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist” pause. I consider myself in that crowd, and, these days, it’s a quickly shrinking crowd. I tend to associate myself with (egads) the ideas in the infamous Harper’s letter. This is… not a popular thing, especially on Twitter as it stands today. But I think the ideas shared in that letter are critical to understanding broader shifts in mainstream media, Twitter included.

“The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted,” according to the signatories. “While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.”

What Musk is suggesting is more of a technocratic approach to freedom of speech, some sort of flatlining of content moderation. The principal worry is that hate speech will proliferate. You see this worry manifest among the liberal wings of the audience, those users fearing far-right rhetoric and calls for violence, and, yes, those trolls will probably be let back onto the farm if they’re not there already (I see “The Jews” is trending on Twitter this morning). But what this worry/argument against Musk does in the short-term is redefine “free speech” as “right-wing savagery,” something along those lines. With such a large audience and such a visible position of power, Musk’s free-speech rhetoric is being recast by that very large audience as a paean to MAGA World. Seen through that lens, free speech is bad! Very bad!

You see how this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for those generally on the left, those most vocal journalists/users on Twitter The more we wring our hands over this concept, the more we fall into the trap decried by the Harper’s letter—the trap that suggests a narrowing of public debate and a freewheeling shame-fest over even the most mildly dissenting opinions.

Again, it helps to remember that Twitter—and social media as a hyperobject—is a cesspool of the worst human tendencies already. The problems with Twitter are already hardwired into the platform. Leaving Twitter for apparently greener pastures isn’t the solution to the problem, as inevitable as it may be.

Even as I type this admittedly brief overview of my thoughts on Twitter’s corporate directives du jour, I realize how completely out of my hands these arguments will remain. The train has left the station! Musk’s takeover of Twitter is the very zeitgeist of the early 2020s. And the exodus that follows? It’s all of a piece, all an example of the vanishing marketplace of ideas and of the great homogenization of American media.

Throwing shapes

This happens all the time: Someone asks for something (“Can you toss me the remote?”) and you gently, swiftly, accurately throw it across the room to him or her. More often than not, the item lands precisely in the other person’s hand, right?

It works the other way around: You tend to catch, with ease, any sort of small object that another person throws toward you.

Those things happen even when neither person possesses any natural throwing/catching skills. This isn’t a pair of professional infielders here. This is you and another person we’re talking about.

Now, maybe it sounds like I’m making a lot out of a little, but the point is that this natural no-thought action is a helpful way of looking at the things you’re actually skilled enough to spend time doing. If you sweated over the physics of throwing that remote across the room (beneath the ceiling fan, hitting just the right angle), well, you’d probably fuck it up and break a window. If you don’t think at all and rely solely on the present moment’s will, I bet you’ll hit the target and move on readily with the next thing the day has in store for you.

“Perfectionism” gets you nowhere. Executing a sense of self-trust and self-confidence, however, will deliver you exactly where you want to be.


In what is mostly a melody-driven tune fingerpicked by Oliver Wood on a 1930s Stella parlor guitar, the listener of “Little Bit Sweet” is rewarded with Jano Rix’s cymbal work on the bridge (2:52 – 3:01, with Oliver singing “Then she blinks / the moment’s gone”). That’s the release, the point at which the song lifts off the precipice and floats wingsuitedly toward denouement. The point is that the cymbals make the song.

The cymbals can be anything in your story.

Playing games

It’s not difficult to see that much of the modern experience of life, at least in Western societies, has been gamified to some extent. With the rise of self-conscious digital avatars and social media platforms, most of life’s duties are now filtered through some sort of “account,” one which often involves numbers and an audience. The better your performance (whatever the game may be), the higher your number (friends, U.S. dollars, deadlift weight, etc.), and the greater your audience’s level of engagement.

These are status games, similar to any other competitive game like chess or baseball. The goal is to win, somehow, and the game must be played within a set of constraints. In these games, human freedom is not a meaningful attribute. Justin E.H. Smith writes about this, distinguishing these games from the more abstract and creative sorts of games like peek-a-book or charades.

What games are you playing today?

It’s worth thinking about. Smith writes/warns that machines are only capable of playing the competitive status game, the game with prescribed rules and guardrails. That makes sense on face value, and it’s something to keep in mind as “machine learning,” that vast and vague term, seems to accelerate. As machine learning accelerates, my guess is that competitive status games will proliferate further. Trends we’re seeing with digital avatars and social media platforms will ramp up: Soon, life will be dominated by those games (as if it doesn’t yet feel that way).

But the other type of game is deeply important. James Carse calls them “infinite games,” as opposed to the “finite games” of competition and status. Infinite games are not meant to be won; they are meant to be played forever, meant “for the purpose of continuing the play.”

The complicated experience of life is an infinite game, even in the shadow of death. A machine, I think, cannot understand this. But what do I know?

“Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries,” Carse writes. I read this as two ways of conducting yourself across that apparently finite/infinite experience of life. “Because infinite players prepare themselves to be surprised by the future, they play in complete openness. It is not an openness as in candor, but an openness as in vulnerability. It is not a matter of exposing one’s unchanging identity, the true self that has always been, but a way of exposing one’s ceaseless growth, the dynamic self that has yet to be.”

I don’t think that the two ways of conducting oneself are incompatible; finite and infinite players can get along, and probably must in the course of a workday or in line at the bank. But these are very different visions of an unspooling reality. It’s worth thinking about the distinction of these many games before we get too far along in this century. Finite games may swarm across the land, but infinite players can still find ways of playing their game: The game, after all, is everything.

“Only that which can change can continue: this is the principle by which infinite players live,” Carse writes.