There were numerous sites I could have picked to write about here. Stuff that I've been reading for years, day in day out like the brilliant Morning News, the consistently entertaining Coudal Partners, the almost legendary Robot Wisdom, and the old favourites like Kottke and Plasticbag.
But in the end I picked a site that I've only recently (i.e. in the past six months) started to read regularly: Defective Yeti.
Defective Yeti is not particularly well designed and it doesn't really focus on any of the subjects that generally tend to grab my interest (books, film, design etc). In fact DY doesn't really focus on anything too much. It's just the musings of a man named Matthew Baldwin, a "Pretty Okay Guy" from Seattle, born in 1971 who's married to a woman he calls The Queen and has a young son who is nicknamed The Squirelly (that's him with the box on his head).
And that's about it.
So what makes it so great? Well, for a start Baldwin is a very funny writer with a great eye for the absurd. Take this entry from September this year:
In front a field near my house there is a sign reading "Strawberries / Blackberries / Blueberries: U-Pick."
Oh man, that's the greatest racket in the world. "My dirt made this — pay me." I'm going to buy a wooded tract of land and post a sign reading "Chairs / canoes / homes: U-Bild."
Also near our house is a handwritten sign reading "Will wash windows, $1*" and then, at the bottom, in a tiny scrawl, "* per side" Ha! The Queen thought it was a waste of money to get those fancy Möbius windows installed, but I knew they would eventually pay for themselves.
There are other regular features on the site, like the Bad review revue (sample: Domino: "The movie is trash shot to look like art imitating trash." — Owen Gleiberman, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY ) and boardgame reviews (better than it sounds).
But Baldwin really hits his stride when he's writing about family life and especially his son.
Here's a post from a few days ago:
I brought The Squirrelly to a Halloween party. He saw a child dressed as a pirate and, unpromped, said "Arrrr!"
And another one from May:
Is anyone in the market for some mucous? The Squirrelly is currently producing about three pints a day, and I'd be willing to let it go for a song.
And one from February:
The Squirrelly recently discovered that he can press his mouth into the crook of his elbow, blow vigorously, and generate impressive farting noises. He has been doing this ever since, laughing uproariously after every performance.
Any lingering doubts that this child is mine have now been dispelled.
Yeah it's lightweight. Yes, other people's kids are boring. And yes, there are thousands of cute, lovable kids out there doing 'hilarious' things with their elbows. But Baldwin manages to infuse all this day-to-day stuff with just the right degree of cynicism and warmth to keep it readable and interesting.
Think Ray Romano on the internet... without the smugness... or the millions of dollars.
On October 10 this year Badlwin began a post about his son with a picture of the child staring directly into the camera.
"This is The Squirrelly, looking you in the eye." began the post and then went on to explain that eye contact with The Squirelly is a rare thing because he suffers from 'gaze avoidance', a symptom of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) which the one-year-old had been diagnosed with two weeks previously.
At the hands of a lesser writer this could have turned into a maudlin sob-fest, but Baldwin wrote about the subject clearly and with a degree of humour and self-deprecation that made the piece fascinating to read.
But his "gaze avoidance" tendencies are unmistakable, and he makes very little effort to communicate with others. He knows dozens of words but only uses them for labelling. Show him a banana and he'll say "banana," but if he wants a banana it apparently doesn't occur to him that saying the corresponding word to us might provoke a response. When he is in the company of other toddlers he plays around them rather than with them. And he rarely engages in imitative play...
... It goes without saying that we are anxious about his future, and have lost sleep since receiving the news. But that's when we tend to fret: when he's asleep in his room and we're awake in ours. Or when we are at work and he is at daycare. Or whenever he's not around. When he is around, though, it's almost impossible to worry about him too much. You can't spend any time in the company of this kid and not think that, regardless of the diagnosis, he's going to turn out awesome.
I can honestly say that the last section of the post (which I've reproduced after the jump to save space), is one of the most effecting bits of writing I've read all year, and made me think very hard about the responsibilities of having a family and what it must be like to care for a child (I get married next year so, you know, I think about these thing every now and again).
So click below if you want to read the excerpt, it's the reason I chose Defective Yeti as my personal pick of the web and I think you'll enjoy it.
Defective Yeti can be found at DefectiveYeti.com.
And now, a story.
For about a decade I didn't eat horseradish. My mother served it to my sister and I when we were kids, but I never touched the stuff after I left the nest. It wasn't that I disliked it, but I'm not much of a condiment man and never felt the need to slather it onto to anything.
Fast-forward to my late twenties, when The Queen and I were visiting some friends. I had just finished telling a story and The Queen had launched into one, so I grabbed something to snack on from a nearby plate of appetizers. All of the food that I liked had already been eaten (undoubtedly by me), so I took one of the salmon fillets. And because I wasn't wild about fish, I decided to mask the taste by loading it up with the accompanying horseradish.
I realized it was horseradish that I was putting on my salmon, and I remembered that horseradish was hot. But there were two other factors in play. First, when you get older you often find that the foods you thought were unbearably spicy as a kid are actually rather bland, so I was compensating accordingly. Second, my friends had served us straight horseradish, My mother always given us prepared horseradish, and I was unaware that it came in any other form. Consequentially, I shoved a horrific amount of the stuff into my mouth and started chewing.
At first it wasn't so bad: just the mildly hot flavor that I remembered from my childhood. But then, at some point, I realized that it was getting hotter, and hotter, and hotter. I stopped chewing. I let my mouth hang open. Suddenly the heat doubled, and doubled again. By this point I wasn't even able do the comical "HA-HA-HAAAA!" hand-waving-in-front-of-the-mouth routine — the horseradish was so hot that I was paralyzed, sitting there ossified while my friends laughed at the conclusion to The Queen's story.
As the feeling continued to grow I began to seriously wonder: can I die from this? Can this become so overwhelming that my body goes into shock, and I'll just slump sidewise and perish from the sheer enormity of the sensation?
I've been thinking about this story a lot lately, because I have begun to wonder the same thing about my love for The Squirrelly.