Volume 3, Issue 68: Born Alone

"Will you weather, join the cold, come before I die, more aware of it than me?"

Here is a button where you can subscribe to this newsletter now, if you have not previously done so. I do hope that you enjoy it.

An old friend of mine once described what it was like to talk to me in person, and how it contrasted with the experience of reading my writing. He came up with an impressively detailed metaphor that always made me look at him a little differently afterward. He’d been paying closer attention than I’d realized, and he had noticed something that I had not.

Basically, he said, listening to me talk is like watching me be in a room with a series of doors, some of which are locked and some of which are not. My conversational style is not to sit back and ponder the locked/unlocked status of each individual door, to try to make sure I have the right key before I start moving. My conversational style is just to start opening doors. I basically just try every door I can until I find one that’s unlocked. Is this one locked? Yes. How about this one? Yes. This one? Dammit. Let’s try this one. Hey, cool, it’s unlocked. Let’s walk through this one. This can make conversations with me sometimes feel disjointed, even rambling. I do not have the ability to pause until I have the exact right word before speaking, so listening to me talk, as anyone who has listened to me on a podcast knows, is witnessing me rifle through my brain to figure out what I’m trying to say, in real time. This can be exhausting, I have no doubt. I wish I could be like, say, Barack Obama, who is always careful and deliberate about each word he uses, who pauses and holds until he lands on the correct one. (This is one of the very few ways I am not exactly like Barack Obama.) I have no such elegance or precision. Listening to me speak is to see someone flailing around for the right direction, quickly, wildly, until he finally finds the right one.

My writing, though, disguises this whole process. You don’t see the search; you only see the result. All those locked doors, those red herrings, you never see those. You only see the correct door. Every sentence, as I sit down to write it, is a constantly reversing itself, and erasing itself, and starting over. It’s a mess: There’s flour and butter and milk and syrup and just bloody madness splattered all throughout the kitchen. But I’m able to hide that. By the time it gets to you, you don’t see any of that. You just see the end result. You just see a guy casually, confidently walking through a door, like he always knew the right door to walk through, like he always had the key.

I didn’t realize, until my friend said it, that this was how I navigated the world, and what writing does for me. But he’s right. I’m able to edit out all the chaotic, inefficient mess of the real world and just hone in the stuff that matters. Writing allows me to say, finally, exactly what I’m trying to say. It’s how I try to corral the world into something manageable—how I try to get my arms around it. It’s the only way I know to make sense of anything.

**************

This week, we got some good news about How Lucky, which continues to churn its way through the planet one month after being unleashed on an unsuspecting populace. Amazon Books—which, whatever one’s thoughts about Amazon, is run by serious book people; that place did get started selling only books, after all—chose How Lucky as one of its Top 20 Books of 2021 So Far. That’s all books, not just novels, not just books by dopey Midwesterners who still cannot grow a beard. All of them.

There are some heady freaking names on that list. It was very exciting, and an undeniable honor, and it has led to more attention toward the book, which is supposed to be the goal, after all. But I’ve been a little surprised by the most common question I still get asked about How Lucky, one month in: How does this book exist at all? How do you possibly have time to write a novel with everything else you write?

Books are hard to write, for a modicum of reasons, but for me the only real issue is simply one of time management. (Occasionally I’d like to see my family.) As well as How Lucky has gone, I have not yet sold enough books to concentrate solely on writing books, but to be honest, even if I had, I wouldn’t want to stop writing about all the other things I write about. I love writing about baseball, and the larger sports ecosystem, and movies, and politics, and I love writing this newsletter, which is probably the purest distillation of “trying to make sense of the world by writing through it” as I could imagine. I’ve discovered that writing fiction allows me to try out new ideas, and forms, and it lets me get out of my own head and enter someone else’s, in a way that’s exciting and new and sort of limitless. I plan on doing it as long as they will let me. But it is still, at the end of the day, just writing, just me tapping my fingers against this keyboard in a pattern and order that conveys meaning and attempts to communicate ideas to thousands upon thousands of people that I will never meet. I will write something today, and I will write something tomorrow, and I will write something every day until one day all my organs stop working and my body can no longer move to make things because I am dead.

Part of this is an old blogger’s mentality, which isn’t particularly different than an old newspaper mentality: You make something, and when you’re done with that, you make something else, and then you keep making things because there’s a blank white space just sitting there and it’s your job to fill it. Roger Ebert once said the muse visits during the act of creation, not before, which is a fancy way of saying, Shut up and start writing. You’ll figure it out. If what you wrote today is not perfect, do not worry, because you can just write something tomorrow and push it a little farther down the page until it’s gone. (The newspaper version of this is yesterday’s column is today’s birdcage filler.) You have to keep creating things that weren’t there before. Otherwise, jeez, what are we doing here?

People are often asked, in the context of their careers, what their goal is. Where is this all going? But every day, I get to wake up in the morning, sit down at my computer and try to cobble together some order out of a world that violently resists it. This is where I wanted it all to go. If I get to keep doing this, writing about the things that I care about, for a living, until I die, the thing is … that’s the goal. I’m already here. I just have to keep it going.

The world is terrifying and harsh and sometimes unfeeling place, or, at the very least, indifferent to our whims and our thrashings about. To find a place to step back from it, to find some peace and focus and calm, is all anyone could hope for. Some people find it it in friends, or family. Some find it through meditation; some through physical exercise. Some take solace in the simplicity of routine tasks; I have friends who find their Zen in Excel spreadsheets, or home construction, or stacking the meat aisle at a grocery store. Some find it in more perilous places, through the bottle, or drugs, or high-risk behaviors. Some find it through their God; some just binge watch Bravo. I find mine by sitting down, right here, like this, and typing things until, at last, I find that correct door, the one that’s unlocked, and I can walk through it. Sometimes I think finding that place is as close to heaven as we can find in this life. I wish it for you, and for all of us.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.

  1. Jon Rahm Is a Walking Vaccine PSA, New York. Vaccines will not only save your life and the life of people around you, they will save you from costing yourself more than a million dollars in prize money.

  2. Trae Young Is an Incredible Supervillain, GQ. His games are absolute must-sees, even when I want him thrown off a cliff.

  3. Five Sub-.500 Teams That Aren’t Done Yet, MLB.com. Cardinals about to join teams in this designation, sure looks like.

  4. Internet Nostalgia: Susan Boyle, Medium. Has the Internet gotten meaner, or nicer?

  5. The End of Mask Shaming, Medium. We should probably be there now.

  6. Jeff Bezos Isn’t Going Into Space, Medium. He’s just floating around for a few minutes.

  7. Weird Players Who Won the Fan ASG Vote, MLB.com. Look, Rich Aurilia! Shea Hillenbrand!

  8. The Thirty: The Best Player on Every Team Who Has Never Made an All-Star Game, MLB.com. This list is longer because it has been a couple of years since we even had an All-Star Game.

PODCASTS

Grierson & Leitch, we discussed “All Light Everywhere,” “Undine” and “Lords of Dogtown.”

Seeing Red, Bernie and I have noticed that the Cardinals are now very bad.

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, no show this week.

LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK

“A Slice of the Sky,” Justin Davidson, New York. Architecture writing strikes me as the most difficult possible genre of writing. The level and depth of information you have just to get started strikes me as an impossible hill to climb. Justin Davidson does it as well as anyone, in this conflicted rave about the new Billionaire Castle on 53rd Street in Manhattan.

ARBITRARY THINGS RANKED, WITHOUT COMMENT, FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON

National League Teams, Ranked By My Unfounded And Irrational Personal Animus Toward Them, Built On 40 Years Of Slights And Frustrations And Petty Nothingburgers

  1. Cubs

  2. Braves

  3. Reds

  4. Nationals

  5. Giants

  6. Brewers

  7. Dodgers

  8. Mets

  9. Phillies

  10. Padres

  11. Diamondbacks

  12. Rockies

  13. Marlins

  14. Pirates

  15. Cardinals (though not if they keep losing like this)

ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!

I am sorry I have fallen behind on these. I have a lot of bookplates! I will return! They are piling up, but once I get the bookplates done, we’ll get caught up. Write me at:

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO

“Tornadoes,” Drive-By Truckers. That Drive-By Truckers/Jason Isbell show from 2014 that I was telling you about a few weeks ago is finally on Spotify. I cannot recommend it enough.

Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.

We picked the younger son up from his week-long sleepaway camp this week. He handled it better than I did.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Best,
Will

Volume 3, Issue 67: You Satellite

"I've come all this way to hold your hand. I became a calendar while I was waiting."

Here is a button where you can subscribe to this newsletter now, if you have not previously done so. I do hope that you enjoy it.

I was doing a radio interview about How Lucky last week when the reporter, who was doing a good job and had clearly read the book (a rarity, but a totally understandable one; asking someone to read a full book for a 10-minute radio interview is asking a lot, particularly when they have six other interviews coming in the next hour), paused and took on an oddly grave tone.

“So, my last question to you may be a sensitive one,” he said. I inhaled a bit. Do I have anything to hide? What’s my gotcha question? Do they know about the dead drifters? “The culture of baseball is changing, with bat flips and more players feeling more comfortably expressing themselves and showing joy. As a Cardinals fan, that must be incredibly irritating to watch. Does seeing all these players not Playing The Right Way make you feel wronged as a Cardinals fan?”

I think the question was 55 percent joking, and 45 percent serious, which was my cue to answer with a laugh and then affably explain that bat flips are cool and I don’t think old white Cardinals fans are any more reactionary than any other team’s old white fans (which is to say they’re all very reactionary) and that what I consider one of the top five bat flips of all-time came from a Cardinal in the ‘80s and that’s totally true and take it away Tom Lawless.

(Again: That was his second Major League home run. In the World Series! And not only does he flip his bat, he admires every second of it as he walks up the baseline … even though the ball just barely cleared the fence. And you know what? Nobody minded. There were not weeks worth of chat shows debating his sportsmanship. No pitcher throw at his head the next time he batted. No one postgame mentioned it at all. This “old-school” baseball silliness is faux tough-guy nostalgia for a time that never actually existed. Don’t get me started.)

I’ve been trying to pinpoint the exact moment that “Cardinals Fan” became a pejorative. In 2004, Red Sox fans were still praising the Cardinals for opening the doors to Busch Stadium for all the fans who had traveled to St. Louis for Game Four to come in for free to celebrate their World Series title. When the Cardinals improbably won the World Series in 2006, other than Mets fans angry at Carlos Beltran for doing his impersonation of a man trying to avoid a T-Rex on that third strike in the NLCS, I didn’t get a sense that the entire baseball world hated the team. The 2011 World Series was downright thrilling: There was joy and awe when David Freese hit that triple, and then that homer. I don’t even think I’d heard the term “Cardinals Devil Magic” back then.

I wonder if it began in 2012, when they ripped out the hearts of the Washington Nationals with guys like Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso. By then, people were sick of the Cardinals, and this period coincided with that moment when our culture wars began to explode, when everyone began to retreat to their corners to find easy targets to stand in for whatever they hated most about the other side. The Cardinals, with their wide-ranging fanbase that spanned over many rural areas across the Midwest and the South, including the town I grew up in, and their proud embrace of “tradition,” a word that was beginning to slowly grow more sinister in the eyes of many, were a convenient target, and it is definitely worth noting that many Cardinals fans did themselves no favors in this regard, particularly after the Michael Brown shooting in 2014.

It is inevitable that politics and sports are always going to find themselves intertwined: Those who try to pretend otherwise are kidding themselves. (For crying out loud, there’s politics in grousing about bat flips.) But I’ll confess that using a person’s sports fandom as a signifier itself, that if someone likes the Cardinals (or the Red Sox, or the Cowboys, or whoever) means oh, they’re one of those people is a sort of sports determinism that not only doesn’t make sense but takes the fun out of everything. It turns the harmless tribalism of sports—for the next three hours, my team is good, yours is bad, the people who root for my team are my friends, the people who don’t are my enemies—into the ugly, quite-damaging tribalism of the real world. It makes sports as flat as we’ve stupidly made everything else.

But I am dragging myself into the weeds on this needlessly.

Like most sports fans—including my own sons, because they live in this house—my sports fandom was chosen for me before I even understood what sports were. My father took me to my first baseball game, at the old Busch Stadium, in 1982. Ozzie Smith did a backflip while running into the field, Willie McGee hit a triple into the gap, Darrell Porter threw a guy out at second and Bruce Sutter threw a splitter past some chump to win the game. Oh, I saw Fredbird. I was six years old and I was hooked forever.

The idea that any person’s favorite sports team, when they’ve been a fan of them their entire lives, could be any sort of choice at all, let alone some sort of insight into their values and mores, is absurd. There are sports mercenaries out there, whose fandom drifts from team to team, and while I understand this intellectually, I have no idea how they can possibly stay invested emotionally. Being a fan of a team is about history. It’s about feeling the same pain you did in 1984 and 1989 and 2005 as Sister Jean is running havoc all over your basketball team. It’s about watching Kyler Murray quarterback your team when you remember when a punter did it. It’s about having the one through-line of your entire life be a damned sports team.

That’s what being a fan of a team really is. In 30 years, everyone involved with the Cardinals right now will be gone. The players, the owners, the front office staff, maybe even the stadium itself. But I will still be there, and so will my sons, and so will all the other Cardinals fans. They are the only history these teams have. They’re the only thing that sticks. That’s what being a fan is. The Cardinals are my team because they are my team and they will always be my team. They could all go out onto the field wearing shirts saying, “Will Leitch, Specifically And In Particular, Sucks,” and I would still cheer for them. They have followed me wherever I have gone and wherever I will go. Everything outside of it, the “best fans in baseball,” the ebb and flow of public opinion, even the team’s success or (lately) lack of it, none of that matters. It’s all just noise. They’re my team. Your team is your team. That’s what this is. What else in our lives are like that?

The Cardinals are my dad putting me on the back of his motorcycle when I was seven years old, taking the tour-hour trip to Busch and grabbing six-dollar bleacher seats 20 minutes before first pitch. They are me pretending to do Jack Clark’s swing in Little League. They are me reciting all of Jack Buck’s best calls. They are my grandmother watching Albert Pujols hitting a walk-off with my father then going to bed and dying in her sleep. They are my mother going through chemo but still making sure to say goodbye to the old ballpark while they’re building the new one.

They are gathering with Cardinals fans friends in New York City and collectively losing our minds during 2011 Game Six when everyone thought my wife was giving birth. They are going to Busch Stadium with my son for the first time, sitting through a four-hour rain delay and getting to go to every single section of the park, as he giggled and soaked in every last details. They are grousing texts about Mike Shildt bunts, they are the first five minutes of every conversation with my father, they are my son bounding into my room at 6 every morning asking if the Cardinals won. They are nothing larger than those moments, which is to say they are everything.

This week, I am heading to Busch Stadium. I am going with my father. My son and I are going together in August. I have been to Busch Stadium at least once every single year since 1981 … except for 2020, the year of the pandemic, the year everything stopped. This is the longest I have gone without going to Busch Stadium, either Busch Stadium, since I was five years old. I have been all around this world, and I have lived in Mattoon, and Champaign, and Los Angeles, and New York City, and Athens, Georgia. My life changes constantly. My parents no longer live in my hometown; my childhood home sits abandoned and in disrepair. Everything changes, every day. But I can still get back to Busch, and sit with my dad, or my son, and watch the Cardinals, watch my team, with a stadium full of people who care about the same thing that I care about. It’s silly. It’s just sports. But it’s a constant in a world that never stops shifting. It won’t feel like I’m going to a baseball game this week. It will feel like I’m going home.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.

  1. Let’s Try to Have a Good Faith Discussion About Naomi Osaka, New York. They asked me to write on Osaka, and I agreed only if I could do a back-and-forth with myself about an extremely complicated situation. This is the sort of sportswriting I actually love to do the most.

  2. Why Are All These Fans Suddenly Acting So Crazy? New York. A theory: The pandemic!

  3. These Knicks Have Some Linsanity to Them, The New York Times. Well, they did.

  4. In Defense of the Handshake, Medium. I am pro shaking hands, and if I get a chance to shake your hand, I’m going to.

  5. The Ideal All-Star Ballot, MLB.com. Nailed it, this is the only one you need.

  6. Buy, Sell or Hold: Every Team in Baseball, MLB.com. The NL East is such a mess.

  7. This Week in Genre History: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, SYFY Wire. All hail Cuaron.

  8. Internet Nostalgia: Lazy Sunday, Medium. It will shock you how long ago this was.

  9. Your May All-Star Team, MLB.com. I missed Ryan Tepera here, I’ll grant it.

  10. What If This is As Good As It Gets for the Knicks? GQ. It probably is, sad to say.

  11. Emma Stone Movies, Ranked and Updated, Vulture. With Cruella and The Favourite.

  12. Your Most Surreal Images of the Pandemic, Medium. Sometimes you just want to dash one off.

  13. The Thirty: Every Team’s Iron Man, MLB.com. This was a good idea that I’m not sure I quite paid off.

PODCASTS

Grierson & Leitch, we discussed the outstanding “A Quiet Place, Part II,” as well as “Cruella” and “Plan B.”

Seeing Red, Bernie and I are definitely worrying.

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, no show this week.

LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK

“Asking the American people to pay attention to Donald Trump again is inviting political backlash,” John Stoehr, The Editorial Board. This is an excellent daily news analysis newsletter that allows me to keep an eye on what’s going on politically right now without getting buried by it. Very much worth your time.

Also, this is a great piece about a former paratrooper with PTSD who climbs skyscrapers as therapy and is now sitting in jail for it. Here’s his incredible Instagram, by the way.

ARBITRARY THINGS RANKED, WITHOUT COMMENT, FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON

Short Cuts Performances (Using Only the Actors With Names on the Poster)

  1. Chris Penn

  2. Julianne Moore

  3. Lily Tomlin

  4. Tom Waits

  5. Matthew Modine

  6. Robert Downey Jr.

  7. Jack Lemmon

  8. Madeline Stowe

  9. Lily Taylor

  10. Jennifer Jason Leigh

  11. Frances McDormand

  12. Annie Ross

  13. Lori Singer

  14. Peter Gallagher

  15. Andie MacDowell

  16. Fred Ward

  17. Lyle Lovett

  18. Tim Robbins

  19. Anne Archer

  20. Bruce Davison

  21. Buck Henry

  22. Huey Lewis

But they’re all so good.

ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!

I am sorry I have fallen behind on these. I have a lot of bookplates! I will return! Write me at:

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO

“16 Days,” Whiskeytown. One of the great things about Spotify is that I can just spend a couple of days listening to Whiskeytown, then move onto something else, then come back in two years and do the exact same thing.

Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.

This, I believe, is the actual final week of Little League Baseball. William made the All-Star Game. He is wearing his hair long because he’s pitching now and “pitchers have long hair.”

As a former longhair myself, I can very much dig it.

Have a great weekend, all.

Best,
Will

Volume 3, Issue 66: Handshake Drugs

"They were translated poorly, I felt like a clown, I looked like someone I used to know."

Here is a button where you can subscribe to this newsletter now, if you have not previously done so. I do hope that you enjoy it.

On Wednesday night, in Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., a man, during a rain delay, stripped off all his clothes and ran onto the field. We have seen streakers at sporting events before—we, alarmingly, had one at the Super Bowl—but this one had some pleasant variety to it. First off, he was completely naked (usually it’s some sort of man-thong), and he went out there when there was no game going on, which makes it inherently more harmless and thus more comfortably giggled about. But the best part was the ending.

The decision to get inside the tarp roller is wonderful. Decades of movie watching have instilled in us that the best way to escape when being chased is to ferret down a secret tunnel. In this particular case, the secret tunnel was a metal tube that went nowhere, in which the entrance and exit were identical and in fact only a few feet from each other. This maneuver, it turned out, did not extricate him from his predicament.

But what joy he has! What reckless abandon. He wouldn’t do this sort of thing all the time; it’s very out of character for him! But you get a few drinks in him, and wow, isn’t it incredible to be outside, and now we’re all just sitting here for a rain delay, and what a year it has been, and the endorphins get going and it’s been so long since I’ve been around so many people and isn’t the heart pumping really fast and I have all this movement and all this energy and all this tension just waiting to be unleashed, and then I just uncoil and let loose and we’re going streaking!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! hey look there is a metal tube let’s get in it.

After the last year, there is a metric megaton of pent-up tension we have been holding inside of all of us. I believe we are starting to what happens when we release it. It does not come out in drips and drabs. It pours, it gushes, it breaks the dam.

***********************

People are out. I was at a basketball game last night, the first sporting event I’ve attended at full capacity. It didn’t go well for my team, but the crowd was soaring all night, louder, more connected, more vibrating; it felt like everyone could levitate about six inches above their seat. It was exhilarating. The world has not caught up to the fact that everyone is out, that Americans are gliding from this Memorial Day into that Wonderful Summer we’ve been hearing so much about, the one we’ve been girding ourselves up for; if you are traveling, or meeting up with a group of friends, or just trying to get a bite to eat after 9 p.m., I suggest planning ahead accordingly. But that sense of needing to be out, whether it’s going to a club or just going to someone’s place for Game Night, is thick and palpable. You could carve it out of the air and slice it.

But the trauma of the last year still lingers, whatever your trauma was. Nearly 600,000 Americans have been lost to Covid-19 now—I had stopped checking that figure many months ago—and nearly everyone has lost someone they knew. People saw their jobs vanish; children stopped going to school; the world shook and rattled out of control. And even if you were one of the fortunate few who were able to ride this out without any dramatic tangible losses, your life was disrupted and upheaved in every possible way. We’re all coming out a little bit different.

And I think everyone’s blood is still pumping too fast. There are the big things. Passengers are punching people on planes. There are so many shootings—an increased percentage of them seem to involve former workplaces—that it’s tough to even lift your head up to acknowledge them anymore. The political situation is so entrenched with purposeful sabotage that trying to wrap your mind around it feels like hitting yourself in the face with a rock.

But it’s in the little things too. It’s that awkwardness that we haven’t quite shaken, the tone and tempo we haven’t quite gotten quite right; we’re too loud, too fast, too much. It’s tough to get the wattage right. I went out to a bar with a couple friends the other night, and for reasons I did not understand, I found myself having super-strong opinions on everything. It was disorienting, as if I’d left my body and was sitting above the bar, watching me be too dialed up but being unable to stop myself. Little League baseball, the return of handshakes, mask mandates, public schooling, what current players should make the Cardinals Hall of Fame someday (Yadi, Waino, Arenado, Goldy and Carp, maybe Carlos, with a good path for Flaherty, Carlson and maybe Edman), the directorial dipshittery of Zack Snyder, the ideal month to run a half marathon … I suddenly had all these takes. I don’t believe in any of these things that strongly, or at least not as strongly as I surely seemed to while talking about them. But it was as if sitting in this house for the last 14 months, with people who might not care about Little League and handshakes and Zack Snyder as much as I do had me desperate to just expectorate all thoughts on all of them at once. Perhaps this is what social media is for after all.

This feeling, of moving too fast, of not getting the balance right, of us all recovering, together, from what we have gone though, is going to be shaking out all across the country this summer, and likely longer. As much as I would love for this to be a summer of people just sprinting through the sunshine and making out with the strangers, it’s going to be a lot choppier than that.

(This Meat Loaf fan specifically appreciates the song written by the late, great Jim Steinman.)

I’m hoping that, in this period, I can remember my fundamental mantra of the pandemic: People are not at their best right now. It is unreasonable to expect people to come out of this period fully formed, ready to pick up where they left off. We’re sprinting out of our homes so fast that we’re forgetting to open the screen door, and here we are in the streets, all cut up and dirty and feral. We’ll get the proportion right at some point. The rubber band will snap back to its previous form. But for now? We’re all running naked through the streets, and then crawling in a metal tube to hide. Even when this is over, it isn’t over. We’ll get there. Give ourselves some time. Let’s all try to give each other a break.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.

  1. The Thirty: One Great Thing About Every MLB Stadium, MLB.com. This made me want to go to each and every stadium, and immediately.

  2. Internet Nostalgia: Chuck Norris Facts, Medium. How memes turn into real-world action, and fast.

  3. Zack Snyder Movies, Ranked, Vulture. Second straight filmmaker we’ve talked about who, uh, isn’t that good.

  4. Crowds Are Back, New York. Heck, I wanted to hug Phil Mickelson myself, and I don’t even like his dumb sport.

  5. I’ve Started Writing a Weekly Column About the NBA Playoffs for GQ, GQ Magazine. Running every Monday, except for this week.

  6. The Summer of Internet Good Feeling, Medium. This was originally for the NYT, but we’re doing something else instead. I think the “something else” may work out better anyway.

  7. A Day of Zero Covid-19 Cases, Medium. We had one, right here in Athens.

  8. This Week in Genre History: X-Men: Last Stand, SYFY Wire. Uh, Brett Ratner.

  9. Five Teams Who Should Probably Panic, MLB.com. The Blue Jays will fit in Buffalo just fine.

PODCASTS

Grierson & Leitch, we discussed “Army of the Dead,” “The Killing of Two Lovers” and “New Order.”

Seeing Red, Bernie and I are starting to see trouble.

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, talking with Tony, but not Scott.

I also was on my friend John Heilemann’s podcast Hell or High Water this week. It was a fun, wide-ranging conversation.

I also talked on the official podcast of the Columbia University Sports Management Program, which was pleasant and also features bobbleheads.

LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK

“Johnny Knoxville’s Last Rodeo,” Sam Schube, GQ. Sam was my editor on my Jeff Tweedy and Don Hertzfeldt pieces, but if he’s going to write stuff like this, he should stop editing and just write all the time. Holy cow.

ARBITRARY THINGS RANKED, WITHOUT COMMENT, FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON

Georgia Area Sports Teams, By Personal Fandom

  1. Georgia Bulldogs

  2. Atlanta United

  3. Atlanta Dream

  4. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

  5. Atlanta Hawks (except for this week)

  6. Atlanta Falcons

  7. Atlanta Braves

ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!

I am sorry I have fallen behind on these. I have a lot of bookplates! I will return! Write me at:

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO

“She Said,” The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. The first big show at the 40 Watt here in Athens is Jon Spencer and the HITMAKERS, so I’ve been catching up on Jon Spencer because I’d go see a donkey play the piano right now. He’s still not entirely my bag, but there’s some excellent songs, and this is one of them.

Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.

The book is still going well! Bookplates are still coming. If you haven’t gotten one yet, sit tight, I’m working on them. I’ll let you know when I’ve sent them all out so you can let me know if yours didn’t arrive.

School is out down here, and the children are in camp. Here’s how that’s going.

Go get it, son.

Have a great weekend, all.

Best,
Will

Volume 3, Issue 65: Magnetized

"Orchestrate the shallow pink refrigerator drone, carried in the shadows."

Here is a button where you can subscribe to this newsletter now, if you have not previously done so. I do hope that you enjoy it.

We haven’t been able to do this for two years, but you may remember the NCAA Tournament from March, when we had a big pool for readers of this newsletter. (The NCAA Tournament actually ended on the third day of play, thanks to the national menace that is Sister Jean, but they went ahead and finished the rest of the games, just to be official.) There were nearly 900 entries in our pool, but only one winner.

Congratulations to Jon Arnold, the winner of last month's Fourth Annual Will Leitch Newsletter NCAA Pool. (Here is his bracket, and here are the final standings. There was actually a three-way tie, but Jon had the tiebreaker.) It’s pretty cool that Jon won. Jon is a terrific writer and journalist himself, a long-time soccer writer who runs an absolutely indispensable newsletter about CONCACAF and North American soccer called Get CONCACAF’ed.

As is tradition, the winner of the pool gets to dictate a newsletter topic. (He also gets copies of all five of my books.) Here is Jon’s request, in Jon's words:

Write something about the difference between writing non-fiction and fiction. I may be the outlier as a writer in that I've never had any desire to write a novel, even though I love reading them. I know your agent sort of spurred this process on, but, like, was that desire bubbling? And how has it affected your 'craft' actually doing it? Can you separate easily, do you feel your writing on one 'side' permeates into the other?

Good question! And one I’ve been answering a lot while doing press for the book over the last fortnight. So it’s thus one I’m very comfortable answering, albeit in more detail here than on a morning drive-time sports radio station interview. But before I do, thanks to Jon, and congratulations. Seriously, if you care about American soccer at all, and you should, his newsletter is a must-subscribe.

Now, to his assignment:

I’ve actually been trying to get a novel together for about a decade now. The most recent book I wrote before How Lucky—available now at bookstores everywhere and Amazon (where it’s only 16 bucks right now)! bookplates are on their way! I’m not going to beg you to buy it this week, I promise!—was Are We Winning?, a book about baseball and fatherhood and the Midwestern art of non-communication. This was my follow-up to God Save the Fan, or Deadspin: The Book, which had sold well (and was my bestselling book until How Lucky, which has already passed it), and I was looking for it to transition me away from the Deadspin sincere-snark style and into something more expansive and ambitious. Are We Winning? was still about sports, and still had jokes, but it was a first attempt, in book form anyway, to reach for something larger, more emotional—like a comedian trying to play “serious.” The book, which sags in places and still has a little bit of the Deadspin glibness to it but was still my favorite book before How Lucky, was purchased by the editor-in-chief of Hyperion Books, who said, “this is the sort of book I’ve always wanted to publish.” I don’t know if he meant that or not, but I never got to find out, because he left Hyperion about four months before the book was released. This happens often in publishing, and you always have to just cross your fingers and hope the next person cares as much about your book as the one who bought it did. I was not so fortunate in this regard, and, sadly, Are We Winning? just sort of died on the vine. It happens. It’s cool to get to write a book at all.

But that convinced me that if trying to do a bank-shot like that, a “thoughtful” sports book, was a half-measure. The next book was going to be a novel. I’d written a novel before, a young adult novel called Catch that came out in December 2005, when Deadspin was about two months old. I didn’t think of it a young adult novel; I just thought of it as a novel about a young adult, which isn’t exactly the same thing, apparently. I had enjoyed writing Catch—it’s my Mattoon book—and, more to the point, didn’t find it all that terribly difficult, in the vast spectrum of things. I had an excellent editor in Kristen Pettit of Razorbill, who helped me sketch out a clear outline, allowing me to just execute the story: The last 25,000 words of that book, the final third, was actually written in a blitz over a long Memorial Day weekend in 2005. I could do that again! Let’s do a novel!

There were two aborted projects before How Lucky. One, which I got about 30,000 words into back around 2013, was an updated version of Play It Again, Sam, in which a college student attempting to figure out her life and her art consults with a fictionalized version—in a nod to the Humphrey Bogart of that film—of her cinematic hero, who was, uh, Woody Allen. For obvious reasons this project was dropped, and if you ask me about it again, I will pretend I cannot hear you. The second project was inspired by the film Oslo, August 31st, a wonderful, heartbreaking movie about loss and the passage of time. It was going to be about a soldier who return to the United States after fighting in Afghanistan for a decade and discovers just how much he has missed and how much the world and his friends have moved on without him. I didn’t get quite as far with this project, but I spent several months researching it, including extensive interviews with just about every friend I have who served in the military and who have been probably wondering for years now what Will ever did with all those interviews. (I still have them. Sorry. Thank you for your time! Maybe I’ll find a place for them someday. I very much appreciate you reliving your experiences for me so that I could then put them in a shelf somewhere.)

I then settled on How Lucky, though it was called What Light when I started. I had no outline for this book: I just sat down and started writing and hoped I’d end up landing somewhere that made sense. (As mentioned before, I didn’t even tell my agent I was writing a book and just physically handed a printed-out copy of it to him when I was done.) And this is where I finally get around to answering Jon Arnold’s question.

Because I was an able-bodied person writing from the perspective of someone with a disability and a disease, the first thing I did, before writing much of anything, was talk to as many people as possible whose lives had been touched by Spinal Muscular Atrophy (the disorder Daniel has in How Lucky), whether they had it or were a family member of someone who did. And that is the part of writing fiction that is most similar to writing non-fiction: The research. I know it’s fiction, but you still have to get the details right, particularly when doing something as potentially fraught as writing about a disease you do not have. (This review of How Lucky in The Washington Post, by a terrific writer who lost his son to SMA, speaks to the challenges, as well as many other things.) Ironically, people will believe things in non-fiction that they never would in fiction. Roger Ebert once wrote how moviegoers will happily go along with unicorns and space aliens and dragons, but if you get one detail in your movie wrong about their profession, or just have a character make a decision they don’t find believable, they’ll stop watching the movie all together. Fiction almost makes you more diligent about nailing down every detail.

At first, I thought it would be exciting and freeing to write fiction, to be the god of this particular universe. After all: When you write non-fiction stories or, you know, do journalism, you are constrained by the facts of what actually happened; in fiction, you can make the people do whatever you want them to. But in practice it doesn’t work like this at all. In the real world, people do strange, irrational things all the time, and we shrug and accept them as simply part of the human condition. In fiction, however, all the parts have to fit together. Everyone needs consistent motivations, and logical through-lines, or you’ll lose the reader. We demand more rationality and linearity from our fictional characters than our real life human beings. That’s why rewriting is so much harder in fiction than non-fiction. If you change one detail, you have to go around the rest of the book, smacking down the Whack-a-Moles that popped up as a result of that changed detail. Non-fiction allows you to tell the story as it actually went down. Fiction is much more like doing an endless algebra problem, where every variable affects every other variable. Editing fiction is like being in a laboratory, hoping you don’t pour the wrong liquid into the wrong test tube and blow the whole thing to smithereens.

I found this part of the process much, much more enjoyable than I would have thought. I like math, after all: I enjoy identifying problems and then trying to figure out how to solve them. But it’s so much different than non-fiction. Non-fiction, journalism … I’m almost relieved to just get to write about, like, the NFL for a while. At least that’s something that writes its own story, one I just get to chronicle along rather than have to make up on my own entirely.

But I’m going to do another novel, and I think I might want to do a lot more. How Lucky, not even two weeks in yet, has been an undeniable success for everyone involved, and I’m already working on the next project. Back in the day, before the Hyperion disaster, I wanted to write a book every two years. I think I can do that now. I think fiction might just be the way to do it. I get to create worlds, then break them, then fix them, then try to find some order from the remaining pieces. I get to take chaos and attempt to cobble it into something that makes sense. That sounds like what I try to do every day with my work. That sounds like something I might want to do for the rest of my life.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.

  1. The Insurrection Interview We’ve Already Forgotten, Medium. Daniel Hodges sure did escape the collective memory real fast.

  2. Your Most ‘80s Active Players, MLB.com. Little Tommy Edman!

  3. The NBA Is Going to Be Just Fine, New York. Particular when the Knicks win the title, woooooooo.

  4. Albert Pujols Scenarios, Ranked, MLB.com. Most are not good, I’m afraid.

  5. It Is Good to See All Your Faces, Medium. Well, it is.

  6. Internet Nostalgia: JibJab, Medium. The Jay Leno of Online Video Creators.

  7. The Thirty: One Quick Fix For Each Team, MLB.com. Most teams need more than a quick one.

PODCASTS

Grierson & Leitch, we discussed “Those Who Wish Me Dead,” “The Woman in the Window” and “Spiral: From the Book of Saw.”

Seeing Red, Bernie and I talk about a first place team.

People Still Read Books, you should listen to the podcast with me and Grierson talking How Lucky.

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, no show this week.

LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK

“Sinead O’Connor Remembers Things Differently,” Amanda Hess, The New York Times Magazine. This longtime Sinead O’Connor fan loved every word of this.

ARBITRARY THINGS RANKED, WITHOUT COMMENT, FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON

Favorite Knicks Players on This Year’s Roster

  1. Immanuel Quickley

  2. Julius Randle

  3. RJ Barrett

  4. Reggie Bullock

  5. Derrick Rose

  6. Nerlens Noel

  7. Obi Toppin

  8. Alec Burks

  9. Taj Gibson

  10. Mitchell Robinson

  11. Frank Ntilikina

  12. Norvel Pelle

  13. Kevin Knox

  14. A Box of Jagged Rocks

  15. A Donkey Braying in My Face

  16. Memories of 8 a.m. College Lecture Halls

  17. Stubbing My Toe in the Dark

  18. The Pain That Resides Within Us All

  19. Elfrid Payton

ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!

I am sorry I have fallen behind on these. I have a lot of bookplates! I will return! Write me at:

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO

“If I Should Fall From Grace From God,” The Pogues. That Sinead O’Connor story sent me down a Pogues rabbit hole, which was definitely not a bad thing.

Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.

This was very lovely.

Also, happy birthday to this excellent human being.

Have a great weekend, all.

Best,
Will

Volume 3, Issue 64: Hotel Arizona

"I guess all this history is just a mystery to me."

Here is a button where you can subscribe to this newsletter now, if you have not previously done so. I do hope that you enjoy it.

This week, I wrote a piece for MLB.com about the new Major League Baseball rule that, when a game reaches extra innings, a runner is placed on second base to lead off the inning. The purpose of this rule, instituted for the 2020 pandemic season and carried over into 2021, was to shorten games, rest pitchers’ arms and potentially provide add extra excitement. I was very much against this rule when it was instituted, but was ultimately surprised by how much I enjoyed it; I was even pleased when they brought it back for 2021. The rule is not perfect. But I like it, for the reasons explained in the linked article. I know many people, for perfectly understandable reasons, do not feel that way. There are surely some of you who are feeling the hair on the back of your neck stand up just reading this paragraph, who are fist-clinchingly furious at this perceived desecration of the game you love. You should know that I find myself envious of this passion. But only a little.

The pandemic changed us all in ways that will take us years to unravel. They haven’t all been terrible. My sons, who were friendly with each other but also so different that they seemed to occupy different planets entirely before the pandemic, have become best friends now: I have been listening to them play goofball games downstairs together while writing this for an hour now. (“It’s your turn to be the robot maid! Pick that up!” “I Am Sorry I Cannot This Does Not Compute.” “You’re broken!” “Robot Maid Attack!”) My wife’s business, interior design, has exploded during the pandemic; it turns out when people are locked in their homes for a year, they tend to look around and find all sorts of things they’d like to fix.

My thing, my change, I’ve discovered: I now both enjoy my diversions more and care about them less.

I have been writing about sports and entertainment, mostly movies, for more than 20 years now. While I’ve tried to avoid the sort of Sports Shouting analysis that fuels the sports media economy, I’ve had my fair share of takes. [Crash Davis voice] I believe Pete Rose should never be allowed within 100 miles of the Hall of Fame. I believe PEDs are no big deal and, in fact, the Steroid Panic of the early aughts is going to be considered ridiculous by those who look back at it decades from now. I believe Tom Brady, Barry Bonds and LeBron James are the greatest athletes I’ve ever seen. I believe Michael Jordan to be an unlikable jerk (which does not take away from his brilliance and may in fact be its primary source). I believe there’s going to be a major gambling scandal in the next 10 years that we all should have seen coming. I believe Bobby Knight may have personally set sports back 20 years. I believe Albert Pujols should retire a Cardinal.

(I also believe Crash Davis, who remains one of my favorite movie characters ever, would have hated the shift, rejected all advanced analytics, despised the runner-on-second rule and, probably, voted for Trump. He would have gotten vaccinated, though.)

And you should see some of my terrible movie takes! The point is, I’ve always had strong opinions about my diversions and entertainment options, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I would argue having strong takes, deeply held, I’ll-fight-you-to-the-death-if-you-don’t-think-Inside Llewyn Davis-is-the-best-Coen-brothers-movie convictions in the frivolous, ultimately inconsequential world of entertainment is the most healthy place to keep those most stringent, violently unyielding viewpoints. As humans, we need to be open to new experiences, new voices, new perspectives so that we might grow and evolve. But we also need to have dumb things to cling to, just to make us still feel like ourselves. Sports and entertainment is a great outlet for those dumb things. If you truly believe baseball was better in the 1980s and that today’s players lack fundamentals and couldn’t hold up to the stars of your youth, I think you are wrong … but I’d rather you believe that than "kids are lazy and don’t want to work and also back in my day men were men and women were women and that’s all there was to it.” Dumb sports biases and dumb movies biases are harmless.

But what I’ve noticed, post-pandemic (or whatever you want to call this period), is that even those old chestnut polarizing takes and debates … I don’t have the stomach for them anymore. It’s not that I don’t still believe Pete Rose shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame. It’s just that I don’t care that much anymore. Maybe he gets in. Maybe he doesn’t. None of it affects my life, or your life, in the slightest. I mean: Aren’t you just happy to be alive? Aren’t you just grateful to have any of this at all?

I keep bumping my head on that ceiling lately. Seven-inning doubleheaders? Yeah, but isn’t it wonderful to have baseball back? NBA play-in tournament? Cool, more basketball! Fights over college athletics and the Name, Likeness and Image laws? I cannot wait to get back to tailgating again. The Golden Globes has been canceled? I’m going to see a Paul Thomas Anderson movie in the theater this year! I am so excited to return to basic, foundational diversions in my life that the details of them, the little obsessive stuff that only the diehards care about … I can’t get worked up about them anymore. Who cares about Pete Rose when we almost lost baseball? Who cares about awards shows when no one can even go to the movies?

I just can’t sweat the small stuff right now. I’m so eager, after the last 14 months, to embrace all that we’ve lost that, in a way, it doesn’t even matter if what I’m embracing is any good or not. I’m going to love that Fast and Furious movie, watching it on as big a screen as possible, munching on popcorn and having my senses assaulted. I do not think that movie will be good; the last few sure haven’t been. But I’m not going to care. I have, for the time being, lost my ability to be discerning.

This is a positive, I think. Losing what we lost in the pandemic, and now being able to to slowly return to living, has forced me, and I suspect many others, to re-evaluate what they value, what they cherish, what they want to hold closest. And it’s making me look at the familiar through fresh, almost childish eyes. I went to a Cardinals-Marlins game with my son in April, and all of it felt new. The crack of the bat was louder; the grass was greener; the lights popped brighter; the beer tasted colder. I was just so happy to be there. The game ran too long, there were too many strikeouts, the dumb relievers-have-to-face-three-batters rule kept popping up, it wasn’t anything close to perfect. But I didn’t want, or need, perfect. I just was grateful it was happening.

This bliss-out is unusual: It honestly does feel a little bit like being a kid again, seeing everything anew, being in awe that any of this exists in the first place. And it’s destroying all my hot takes. You know how I feel about Pete Rose being in the Hall of Fame right now? I feel weeee I get to watch baseball! That’s how I feel. That’s really the totality of it.

I know this cannot last, and I wouldn’t want it to. A return to normalcy will be just that: A normalcy that becomes the common, a normalcy that I’ll begin to take for granted again, to the point that I start complaining about stuff that doesn’t matter once more. It will feel like a wonderful gift, being irritated by stupid things again. Right now, though? Right now I recognize that this, at this second, actually is a wonderful gift. It doesn’t just feel like one. It’s baseball, and movies, and live music, and dinner with friends, and hugging loved ones, and shaking someone’s hand and looking them in the eye, and going to the grocery store without worrying about anything, and being able to have a regular freaking boring day for once. It will become banal soon. Soon, it won’t be enough. But right now? Right now I’m so blinded by it that all I can see is light.

**************************

HOW LUCKY UPDATE

Well, How Lucky finally came out this week. I made a little promise to myself that I would give you all a break on book stuff once we hit bookstores—you have gone along on this journey with me for months now, and I think you’ve suffered enough—but I figure I should at least let you know how the first week went.

It went great! We received some very kind reviews, from The Washington Post to The Wall Street Journal to the People magazine review above. I also went on “Morning Joe” and got my Room Rated.

The highlight may have been the virtual launch event we did with Kevin Wilson and Avid Bookshop on Wednesday night; I’m reliably informed it will be on YouTube soon. There’s more coming, including an appearance with NPR’s Scott Simon on his show tonight. The key thing, for me, is that people seem to be responding to the book, and that Harper is happy enough with how this is going that they want me to do another one. Which was really the goal all along.

I think you’ve all done enough to this point, but if you wanted to do more—and who am I to stop you?!—if you purchased the book through Amazon, five-star Verified Purchase reviews are extremely helpful. (If you want to mash that five star button on Goodreads too, I won’t stop you.) But you really have done enough. Thank you.

Also, the first batch of bookplates should be coming out next week. There are a lot of them, so bear with me. But I’m signing them as fast as I can! But the key thing this week is that I have had a lot of fun. Weeks like this should be exciting, and I think it’s important to try to remember to enjoy them. I have.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.

  1. States Are Trying to Fix College Sports, But for the Wrong Reasons, New York. Even got an firm Athens connection in this one.

  2. The Extra Innings Rule Is Fine, MLB.com. As I said: This one did get me yelled at a lot. But I mean it! It’s not bad! It’s good!

  3. Possible Landing Spots for Albert Pujols, MLB.com. Who are we kidding, we know there’s only one.

  4. Guy Ritchie Movies, Ranked, Vulture. It was fun to do this about a filmmaker who, uh, isn’t that great.

  5. I Took Over the HarperCollins Twitter Account For An Hour and Tried To Make a Whole Bunch of Jokes. Some of Them Were Good! Twitter. Here’s one I liked:

  6. Internet Nostalgia: The Double Rainbow Guy, Medium. Why mock a guy for loving nature?

  7. I Answered Questions About the Book For My Friend Jay Busbee, Flashlight and a Biscuit. I wrote out the answers, so it counts!

  8. My Room Got Rated! Medium. It did.

  9. MLB Players Who Struggled in the Minors, MLB.com. Including Adam Wainwright.

  10. The Thirty: Players Who Need to Get It Going, MLB.com. Not the AWESOME CARDINALS, though.

PODCASTS

Grierson & Leitch, we discussed “Wrath of Man,” “Here Today” and “Bamboozled.”

Seeing Red, Bernie and I have the big Pujols debate.

People Still Read Books, I talked to Grierson! He interviewed me about “How Lucky.” He is a good interviewer.

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, no show this week.

LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK

“The Battles Within Atlanta United,” Felipe Cardenas, The Athletic. This piece about the dysfunction inside my favorite MLS team is a little inside-baseball, but terrific. (And very worrying for this season-ticket holder.)

ARBITRARY THINGS RANKED, WITHOUT COMMENT, FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON

Georgia 2021 Home Football Games, Ranked by Desirability to Attend (Though I Wouldn’t Miss a One Anyway)

  1. Arkansas

  2. South Carolina

  3. Kentucky

  4. Missouri

  5. UAB

  6. Charleston Southern

ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!

Write me at:

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO

“Howl,” Black Metal Motorcycle Club. One of the few good things about getting old is stumbling across songs that, 10-15 years ago, you listened to constantly but have, as life as piled up on you, since forgotten about. This whole CD was once on repeat in my old Lower East Side apartment. And now I haven’t listened to it in a decade. Still great!

Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.

One lucky reader is getting this edition of How Lucky, which Wynn signed for me at Avid Bookshop here in Athens last week.

The very definition of a collector’s edition.

Have a great weekend, all.

Best,
Will

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