Here’s All the Stuff I Read in 2017


This is my third annual iteration of this post (you can find 2016’s here and 2015’s here). Like a lot of people, I track all of my reading at Goodreads, a site that I’m still not convinced isn’t an insidious arm of the international literary illuminati, or something.

I read 60 titles in 2017. That’s 14 more than last year and 15 more than the previous year. I should include a disclaimer that a steady stream of graphic novels deceptively inflates the impressiveness of that big ol’ 60.

Here are some stats:

Continue reading


The Reckoning of Jesse Lacey and the Emo Zeitgeist


Photo by: Brennan Schnell / CC 2.0

Jesse Lacey (frontman of Brand New, one of my top two favorite bands) is the latest public figure whose past sexual misconduct has been brought to light. I’ve been thinking a lot about this the past couple days because I admire his songwriting and what I perceived to be a brutally honest brand of authenticity. A deeper exploration of his early work sadly reveals that the writing had always been on the wall. It’s not really a secret that Lacey is a world class asshole, but these revelations about how an entitled rock star took advantage of underage girls shouldn’t have come as a surprise. I’ve thought quite a bit about what it says about me as a fan of his music.

My favorite song when I was in high school was Weezer’s “Across the Sea,” which is about Rivers Cuomo’s longing for a Japanese teenager who has sent him fawning fan mail. The 18-year-old me found this song impressive because Rivers displayed a reckless courage in spilling his guts and laying out his ugly insecurities, impulses, and neuroses for all to see. I saw this as art: the tragedy of our faults and an exploration of the self-loathing that emerges from them.

But as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that albums like Weezer’s Pinkerton (and by extension, songs like Brand New’s “Me vs. Maradona vs. Elvis“) didn’t seek out solutions to the problems laid out. Consequently, the underlying themes of objectification and self-loathing became glorified. The lesson was that it’s okay to harbor unhealthy notions about sex and relationships as long as you acknowledge how miserable all that sexual frustration makes you. It’s never about trying to get better or trying to be better. These messages are toxic nectar for emotionally immature young men struggling to navigate the murky waters of manhood. 

What does it mean to be a man? How does one’s relationship to masculinity impact one’s self-perception? What roles do women play in shaping masculinity? These are questions that rack the minds of hormone-infested young men. When young men lack positive male role models in their lives (and therefore lack guidance for how to navigate adult sexuality), they turn to artists for clarification of how to fit into the greater culture.

This is why critics need to adopt an ethical lens when they analyze work: Artists must be held accountable for what they enter into the cultural record. Josef Stalin liked to think of poets as the engineers of the human soul, which is why he employed so many artists and playwrights in his propaganda machine. Popular culture shapes people. In some ways this is obvious, in others more subtle and insidious; its ubiquity quietly determines the things we value. Artistic fame, for instance, establishes a tacit endorsement of that which begat said fame. When a musicians finds success on the back of a puerile sexual perspective, that perspective becomes further entrenched in our cultural character.

This is not to say art cannot be edgy or provocative. This is merely to say that we need to be cognizant of what sort of art we choose to imbibe. If the goal is to teach young men not to mistreat women, we need to begin with a full audit of all the elements around which young men construct their sexual identity. I wish someone had taken me aside as a young man and taught me lessons I only learned later.

And the first lesson would have been not to listen to people like Jesse Lacey and Rivers Cuomo.

“Kilo Five” Play Reading 9/25 & 9/26 with Theater Alliance in DC


I wrote another short play that’s going to be featured in a couple readings next week. It’s called Kilo Five and it was written using a Theater Alliance prompt:

A mother, a son, and a radio.

Write one 10-minute play, with no more than 3 characters, exploring the relationship between these people and the radio.

I chose amateur (ham) radio rather than commercial music radio and have set it in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. I’m hoping it plays well.

If you’d like to attend either of these readings, I’ve included details below. Each night is free and includes a conversation about the plays and their themes. The other playwrights featured are Avery Collins, Maboud Ebrahimzedah, and Brittany Alyse Willis.

The good folks at Theater Alliance pride themselves on socially conscious, thought-provoking work that fully engages the community in active dialogue. I’m expecting the evenings to be both rich and rewarding.

Monday, Sep 25 at 8pm at the Anacostia Playhouse located at 2020 Shannon Place SE. More info on Facebook.

Tuesday, Sep 26 at 8pm at the Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital located at 921 Pennsylvania Ave SE. More info on Facebook.

Anna and I made a quick cameo appearance in Southern California this past weekend. The purpose of the trip was to attend a wedding in Temecula, but we were fortunate to fit in a few meet-ups with old friends. The food was, as it always is, fantastic.

“Echo in the Mirror” Play Reading in DC 8/30


Photo: Chelsea Grosskopf, 2006

I wrote a short play called “Echo in the Mirror” as part of the Act Out: Fake News! event being held Wed, 8/30 at 8pm at The Pinch in Washington DC.  Here’s the Facebook event page, if that’s something you’re interested in.

The play’s about the merits and failings of how we try to promote and evangelize art, in this case focused more on popular music. It’s about the suffocating effect of a critical society bent on being more entertainment than criticism. So overall a jolly good time.

I’ll upload the latest draft to the New Play Exchange later this week.

The new Brand New album dropped suddenly last week. It’s called Science Fiction and it’s really freaking good. Top tracks for me so far: Same Logic/Teeth, 137, Desert.

Tina Fey’s “sheetcaking” is everything wrong with effete liberalism

Tina Fey channeled apocraphy’s Marie Antoinette last night in an embarrassing and myopic response to the weekend’s events in Charlottesville. In an appearance on a weekday version of Weekend Update, Fey unleashed an amusing torrent of abuse toward the president and his pack of wild hyenas, followed by a bewildering bit in which she more or less told viewers to stop opposing white nationalists who come to their towns. The 6-minute rant also featured Fey stuffing copious amounts of cake into her mouth, the prescribed treatment for an America scared shitless of the president’s emboldening of the alt-right. It’s the most gutless and indulgent call to action imaginable.

This whole #sheetcaking thing is so bad that I hardly know where to begin. Let’s go point-by-point.

1. “Let them eat cake,” she said

I know the concept of privilege is grating for a lot of people and discourse on that topic can be smug and condescending, but holy cow we have to talk about privilege here.

Tina Fey is a world-famous white woman worth approximately $45 million. She decided, without a hint of irony or self-awareness, to tell America to chill out about Nazis while brandishing western society’s most notorious symbol of upper class ignorance. If you were to commission an artist to paint a mural to represent privilege, they couldn’t do much better than to recreate a still of the gorging Fey telling Jews to pretend the Nazis aren’t out there.

2. “Ignore the bullies and they’ll just go away”

The only way Fey could have constructed a more embarrassing unintentional self-parody is if she had finished the segment with a promise that #sheetcaking would ensure peace for our time. History has taught us that taking a passive approach to radical nationalism is a horrible strategy. I can think of no worse advice for when literal Nazis are marching through the streets than “ignore them and hope they’ll go away.” Nazis are a tumor, not a honey bee.

Fey’s greatest sin is that she advocates a passive response to hatred with no consideration of whether it’s an effective strategy. Instead, she endorses #sheetcaking because she’s sad someone died in Charlottesville and doesn’t want to see it happen again. The initial impulse when watching a comedy bit is rarely to dig deep into the comic’s thought process, but take a second to realize what Fey is saying about hands-on activism. She is implying that Heather Heyer and others who took to the streets to face down white nationalists were mistaken to do so. Fey’s logic suggests that counter-protesters in Charlottesville would have been better off staying home and eating dessert than courageously defending a synagogue. Did Heather Heyer die in vain?

It’s obvious Fey didn’t put much thought into the implications of her rhetoric. After all, it’s just comedy right? This is the sort of flaccid counter-argument her defenders will no doubt retreat to: “She’s joking, it’s not meant to be taken seriously.” Bullshit. If Tina Fey is going to take advantage of her platform to tell us how to respond to Charlottesville, she has the moral and ethical obligation to take it seriously.

3. Tina Fey is not your friend

I’m giving Fey a lot of flak here because she deserves it for last night’s display, but please don’t make the mistake of thinking that I’m just some hater. I like her work quite a bit and have nearly always found her to display a clever and original voice. I understand that she is an inspiration to many people, especially in the feminist community. I do not want to be accused of trivializing her many accomplishments.

But Tina Fey is not and should not be your guiding compass.

Tina Fey is a person who creates #content to entertain you. She is a brand. She is not your friend. She is not your queen.

No. Stop.

Just look at how quickly #sheetcaking has propagated across social media. Fey and Lorne Michaels are currently swimming through Scrooge McDuckian pools of money because they know how to preach to the choir. Fey even draws from the terminology of activism by co-opting the word “grassroots” to describe this thing that she knows is about to become a thing.

And don’t pretend that Fey’s idea isn’t going to stick. Check Twitter the next time Neo-Nazis swarm through town and you’ll see people celebrating the occasion with cake and ice cream.

As the header of this post suggests, I find Fey’s faux pas to be another in a tired string of  failures of the liberal elite. I’ve come around to this idea that the Democratic Party is ill-equipped to counter the populist rise of Donald Trump and his ilk. Either the GOP needs to find its moral backbone (not likely) or we need a total and complete upheaval of the Democratic Party’s leadership.

Remember how the troglodytes in the financial sector never faced any consequences for plunging the country into the Great Recession? Well, the dipshits who anointed Hillary Clinton and then didn’t campaign in Michigan (perhaps they were eating cake?) are still running the show in the Democratic Party. In both cases, failures went unpunished and new approaches have been suppressed.

If American neo-fascism continues to swell, the Democratic Party will be partly culpable because leaders like Clinton, Pelosi, Reid, Schumer, and even Obama failed to champion real solutions to the economic and social problems that served as fascist kindling. The answer was to disassociate with Wall Street and healthcare companies that are robbing Americans blind. The current brand of globalism that only enriches the wealthy must be replaced with an internationalist wave that raises all boats. If these do not become key priorities for the Democrats — and the GOP base continues its pivot to Trumpism — then America could be lost.

Where does Tina Fey fit into this? Next to the major political figures, no one defines the optics of the Democratic Party quite like its celebrity members. Hollywood and entertainment types love to flaunt their commitment to social and environmental issues, but when it comes to real hardcore ideas of policy and reform, they wilt. The status celebrities like Fey enjoy within the culture of liberal politics is out of proportion with the value they provide. All they’ve managed to accomplish is to normalize the spurious idea that there are only three prerequisites for being a good liberal: preach love, hate Donald Trump, and act the coward when trouble knocks at the door.

The Next Step After Charlottesville


I haven’t published much of anything on this site in 2017. I’ve been busy; a wedding and honeymoon will do that to you. I’ve also had very little to say, though perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I haven’t figured out how to say it. I think I’m turning a corner.

It’s been a very uncomfortable 7+ months with a president who is equal parts inflammatory and incompetent. We’ve seen the widening rift between the American left and right grow into a daunting chasm. I’ve done most of my riffing on these topics on Twitter, which is admittedly not the best forum for rational and measured thinking. The current mode and tenor of anti-Trump rhetoric feels weaker than it ought to be. It’s neither persuasive to those on the fence nor transformative for those allied to him and his cause. It’s masturbatory virtue signaling. It accomplishes nothing but to make ourselves feel better about ourselves.

Charlottesville feels like a turning point for me. It’s time to work on campaigning with an outward strategy rather than an inward one.

There’s a venom growing within members of our society that cannot be tolerated. Call it white nationalism, the alt-right, white supremacy, neo-nazism — whatever. It stands against everything I am as a person. It stands against everything I believe America is as a country.

There’s a growing grassroots movement that stands in opposition to white nationalism. Its current form is a loose coalition of different people and groups intent on resisting fascism and racism.  It needs to strengthen itself through advocacy, activism, and a determination of why/how it pursues its goals. There’s a sizable gulf between staunch nonviolence and Antifa-style confrontationalism. I believe that nonviolence is the best approach, though the group should be prepared for a fight should self-defense be required.

I’m a big believer in the power of symbols; like-minded people need emblems upon which to strengthen their bond. It can be something striking like the famous Obama “Hope” poster or something simple like a red “Make America Great Again.” I guess you can think of it as branding, but I hate that word so maybe let’s not. Regardless, symbols are color of a movement, they are the motifs that ground a calling in consistency. Luckily enough, the perfect bits of iconography for a nation-wide counter-protest are already sitting right beneath our noses.

The next time white nationalists have a rally, I’d love if the counter-protesters drowned them out with Union Army hymns. They should come dressed in blue. They should wave American and Union Army flags. I think this would be a meaningful and persuasive approach to standing ground against a despicable ideology.

Here’s my rationale: Confederate fetishists love to see themselves as carriers of a torch lit by their southern forebears. Counter-protesters should demonstrate that they (we) too carry the torch of their (our) predecessors: Lincoln’s cause. The Union’s Cause. America’s cause. “As He died to make men holy / let us live to make men free!”

White supremacists seek validation and acceptance from the masses. The best way to deny them this is to employ the power of patriotic symbols to frame white nationalism as counter to American values. There’s nothing more patriotic than waving an American flag in the face of a Nazi. There’s no better way to troll a white supremacist than to blare songs about Sherman’s March to the Sea. There’s no stronger rebuttal of unamerican sentiments than a firm affirmation of what America is all about.

Counter-protesters should 1) refrain from violence unless pressed to defend themselves and 2) work on a campaign to persuade fence-sitters that their cause is the true American one. I find that “the resistance,” as it were, struggles because it has not found for itself anything consistent to rally around. The solution is to take back the concept of American patriotism and embrace our own cultural inheritance: The Union Forever.

Here’s All the Stuff I Read in 2016

bulldog wearing eyeglasses sleeping over a good novel

This is my second iteration of this annual post (you can find 2015’s here). Like a lot of people, I track all of my reading at Goodreads, a site that I’m still not convinced isn’t in the business of selling my secrets to mischevious bedouins, or something like that.

I read 46 titles in 2016. That’s one more than I read the year prior, though my consumption habits had shifted quite a bit. That’s because, in 2016, I discovered that the DC Public Library system has a treasure trove of graphic novels available for borrowing. I was thrilled. I had wanted to further explore this format, especially after having read some of the more seminal works (Maus, Watchmen, Batman: Year One) several years back. I took advantage.

That means quite a few titles out of the 46 on this list are graphic novels. Some may consider that cheating, given that you can power through most graphic novels in a few hours. I have no rebuttal, other than to admit that I rather enjoyed my reading in 2016. I don’t think I read anything I consider an all-time favorite, but it was an all-around solid year regardless. Lot of good books rather than a few great books, and what not.

To summarize my year of reading, here’s a list of all the titles I consumed, plus blurbage. I’ve ranked them in order of enjoyability. I’ve also marked whether I read the hard copy or listed to the audiobook.

This was also the first year in which most of what I read was non-fiction, which is what the kids call “adulting” these days. Continue reading

An old journal


I found an old journal in a box in the closet and have been reading through it the past couple hours. I’m astounded by how the documented experiences (and the person who wrote them) can feel so foreign, like it all occurred several lifetimes ago. I’m also staggered by just how illuminating hindsight can be. So many frustrations, now clarified by distance and time.

I was very troubled once. Things are better now.

In a somewhat related topic, if you were around me from September 2007 to January 2008, holy shit am I sorry.

Thoughts on José Fernández, joy, humanity


The sudden and tragic death of Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez on Sunday has impacted me more than I expected for someone I never knew.

I realize there are plenty of reasons for this: He was young and full of joy; he was a Cuban-American who looked like me and my family; he was an elite athlete destined for greatness; he left a loving mother, abuela, girlfriend, and unborn child. And now he’s gone.

This enthusiasm has been extinguished:


What a gift, to be capable of such unbridled happiness.

There have been plenty of touching tributes to Fernandez these past two days. The one linked at the top of this article is one of the best; Dave Cameron of Fangraphs explains why he hopes his son can grow up to love life as Fernandez did. I recommend it.

Another great one: Grant Brisbee at SB Nation, “Jose Fernandez was pure joy.”

The aforementioned Cameron appeared on the Fangraphs Audio podcast yesterday with host Carson Cistulli to discuss what Fernandez meant to baseball. They expressed their hope that Fernandez’ sense of joyousness represents the future of baseball, replacing the rigid “unwritten rules” culture of the game. I commented on the podcast page, but figured I’d put it up here as well:

Great podcast, guys.

While listening, I thought of Brandon McCarthy’s poignant tweet Sunday:

You get the feeling that there are so many players who wish they could display the enthusiasm Fernandez showed, but for any of a myriad of reasons, can’t. We often forget just how much work and strain goes into becoming a major leaguer. The sacrifices. The training. For a guy like McCarthy, the struggle coming back from injury. Baseball is special to people like McCarthy, but is it fun anymore? It’s their job, after all. The sheen must wane after a while for most.

So I think this is what made Jose special: It’s not so much that he chose to have fun playing Major League Baseball — something so hard that only a thousand people in the world are able to do it — but because we was *capable* of having fun. Something innate, not elected.

A very special case, and a ray of light far too soon extinguished.”

I want to share this tweet below, featuring what is also my favorite photo of Jose Fernandez. I think it demonstrates the incredibly likable person he was.

Anna and I watched the Marlins/Mets game last night. If you missed it, you missed some of the most touching and beautiful human drama I’ve ever seen. Fernandez’ teammates took the field for the first time without him, on the day he was scheduled to pitch, each wearing a jersey with his name and number on the back, and won 7 to 3. Dee Gordon came up to bat in the leadoff spot, took a pitch from the right-handed box while imitating Fernandez’ batting stance, and then hit a monster home run (his first of the year) from the left-handed box. We were speechless. Gordon cried all around the bases and then bawled his way to the dugout. Within, his teammates embraced him one-by-one.

That was just one moment in a very special night. In a show of empathy and brotherhood, the Mets walked out to the middle of the field pre-game to comfort and embrace the Marlins. During the game, several of his teammates imitated Fernandez’ over-the-top dugout celebration. After the victory, the Marlins circled the pitcher’s mound arm-in-arm before leaving their hats on the rubber.

I’m going to get a little sanctimonious here for a second, and I apologize for that, but much of this was happening at the same time as the presidential debate, which I’ve not been shy about decrying as a toxic spectacle.

And it struck me that this baseball game, which was a moving display of human grieving and catharsis, could be happening at the same time that a bloodthirsty nation watched (and hate-watched) a reality show featuring two candidates who more resemble totems of societal rage than anything else. I could put more thought into what this means as a whole (I’ve toyed with an idea that Aristotle would have much preferred the baseball), but I’ll leave it at this: I’m glad I skipped the depravity of #debateculture in favor of a night of humanity.

To an Athlete Dying Young

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears.

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.

Here’s My Summer Reading List

Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line by Michael Gibney

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Magic City by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Germania: In Wayward Pursuit of the Germans and Their History by Simon Winder

The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang

After the Quake by Haruki Murakami

Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford

The Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team by Ben Lindbergh & Sam Miller

Available: A Memoir of Heartbreak, Hookups, Love and Brunch by Matteson Perry