Yesterday, the Awl and the Hairpin, two of the most influential blogs on the internet over their near-decade runs (the Awl was founded in 2009; the Hairpin in 2010), announced that they would cease publication at the end of this month. There’s a decent chance you’ve never heard of either site — neither was ever as famous as the larger websites whose mastheads they filled with talent — and, possibly, never read some of the astonishingly good, funny, weird, and groundbreaking work both published. Never fear: Select All asked writers and editors from the Awl and the Hairpin to select, link to, and tell us about their favorite stories.
Rachel Monroe, freelance writer
Author of “The Killer Crush: The Horror of Teen Girls, From Columbiners to Beliebers”
I was trying to figure out if I was allowed to be a writer, and felt as though half the places to write for operated by some secret set of New York rules that no one was letting me in on, and the other half were just not very good. But the Awl was very good! Funny and generous, engaged with the weird corners of the world, and also the boring corners. Always so smart, but not trying to bonk you over the head with its smartness. Self-reflective, but not self-obsessed. So many people contributed to setting that tone, but I particularly think that authors of every bit of good writing should bake a cake and send it to Carrie Frye.
Jay Kang, Vice correspondent
Author of “Who Is the Greatest Diva of the Last 25 Years? We Offer Scientific Proof!”
I very much liked this Jacqui Shine piece about the NYT “Styles” section (so meta; so many levels). It encapsulated so much of what the Awl was about — a place for writers I was unfamiliar with to really stretch out and attack pieces without worrying about institutional expectations or the creeping careerism that infects so many mid-career writers. In true Awl fashion, it was smart, reported, and better than anything I had read on the subject.
Natasha Vargas-Cooper, freelance writer
Author of “The End of the 00s: How to Lose Your Idealism in Under Ten Years”
This is the best piece of sports writing I’ve ever read, Katie Baker.
• Every time Choire Sicha wrote about writing or publishing or quitting your job.
• Anytime Alex Balk wrote about aging and the crushing pressure of life, often described “like a wave.”
• My conversations with Julie Klausner (whom I owe a great apology).
• Matthew Gallaway on art and emotion.
• Mary H.K. Choi on women, sweat, and color.
• Emily Gould on being Emily.
• David Bry on decency.
• Chris Lehmann on money.
• Ken Layne on mystery.
There are countless more, but that’s the solid core of people who will forever have my admiration and loyalty.
Sam Biddle, technology reporter, the Intercept
Author of “Diary of an Unemployed Class of ‘10 Philosophy Major in New York City”
DCist, the first place that ever published something I wrote, was recently killed by a spiteful billionaire. Gawker, the first place that ever paid me to write, suffered the same fate about a year earlier. Now the Awl, the first website that took a chance on publishing me when I was just some dipshit recent college grad (I am now a dipshit 31-year-old) is dead, not directly at the hands of a billionaire, but in part by the stupid, fucked-up publishing ecosystem that tech billionaires have helped build. I guess the lesson here is try to be a billionaire if you can. The Awl’s death sucks for largely the same reason Gawker’s death sucked: There are extremely few places left (maybe none?) that will provide a home for weird, slightly mean, smart, kooky shit online. Aside from so many of your favorite writers got their starts on the Awl or the Hairpin! I have a feeling a lot of people are also thinking, Where are you supposed to find incredible, strong, hilarious writing with no clear SEO advantage or Facebook appeal? Where will all the young writers and new voices go? It’s a good question. The answer is probably: “Nowhere.” Maybe they’ll join the Army? I honestly have no idea where you’re supposed to find writing like Alex Balk’s, constantly pissed off, constantly furious, howling at the internet moon. Everyone is going to pick “Negroni Season” as their favorite Awl post, so instead, I’ll use the fantastic “McRib As Arbitrage” as an example of the Awl’s incredible archive. The things those sites published made me want to be smarter and cooler and better. I’m none of those things now, but it definitely made me want to keep trying. Oh, well. At least we still have the Skimm.
Nicole Cliffe, writer and columnist
Former Hairpin editor and author of “Getting the Body You’ve Always Wanted”
I have to go with a RANDOMLY CHOSEN “Letters to the Editor’s of Women’s Magazines” installment (it’s not that random, I like this one a lot). There are so many versions of Edith Zimmerman, whose approval, along with Choire’s, I will crave until I die, like the time someone caught Gilda Radner rifling through Lorne Michaels’s desk and she said, “I was hoping to find a piece of paper on which he’s written ‘I really like Gilda.’” This is in my top-five Ediths — “dark gonzo bodies and death Edith,” a GREAT Edith. If I tried to do this, it would be too on-the-nose or a message about fatphobia or ageism, and it would never ever be right. It’s perfect. It’s delicious. Peak Hairpin. I love you.
I was just clicking through the MM-HMM tag on the Awl and thinking that the Awl should be legally credited with inventing the following: Exclamation points, funny tags, good rhetorical questions, being oblique but not opaque, lightly overpromising something you have no intention of doing, professional generosity, and saying, “X! What can you do!” Or, at least, the Awl invented those things for me!
I feel a little panicky at the thought of picking one or two things. Because I assume you have already been sent “Negroni Season,” I’m going to go with “A Conspiracy of Hogs: The McRib As Arbitrage,” which did not, as far as I know, launch anyone’s career [editor’s note: It did. See Willy Staley, below], and it’s not an example of either Choire or Balk or Edith’s, like, VOICE, but it is the most I have ever learned about commodities, and it sort of put in mind the old cigarette-prices-in-every-state piece they used to run every year. This line: “Now, take a look at this sloppy chart I’ve taken the liberty of making.”
That’s the Awl, you know? So’s this one: “To this I say: but what about winter?” Charming self-interrogation in a thing about hog futures, that was the Awl. Be less stupid, they said, and it was less stupid, and I even learned a few things about pencils and pork prices and a number of different ways to make jokes, and I got to meet Carrie Frye, not in person, but it’s still pretty good. I was born there. I’m very sad today.
Ben Hart, politics writer, New York Magazine
Author of “I Talked to Some Trump Voters, Too”
I’ll echo many others on this point: When the Awl decided to publish one of my blind pitches a few years ago, it completely changed the course of my writing life. It was a site that, crucially, welcomed essays, lists, and a miscellany of all stripes that didn’t seem like a natural fit anywhere else online. The internet will be a less vibrant place without it, and we can only hope that other sites as welcoming of eccentricity, and as willing to instill young writers with confidence, spring up in its place. One piece from the archives I recall particularly fondly: this pitch-perfect parody of New York Times trends pieces, which is as funny as the day it was published seven years ago.
Cord Jefferson, TV writer
Author of “You’ve Learned Helplessness”
Awl pieces: “A Conspiracy of Hogs: The McRib As Arbitrage”; “Seven Years As a Freelance Writer, or, How to Make Vitamin Soup.” Hairpin pieces: “Getting the Body You’ve Always Wanted”; “The Shape of Emily’s Coffin.”
This is from an email Choire sent me in 2010, after I mentioned how pleasant I found the editing process at the Awl:
I think the one upside to writing here is that we very much trust the writers. Every once in a while we end up in a long edit process … but really I figure, well, people are writing the pieces they want to write! And so they come out good out of the gate, because people want to write them!
That was the key with the Awl: They let writers — frequently novice writers — do the stuff they wanted to do, irrespective of what was happening in the news at the moment, or what would yield the most traffic. You didn’t have to debase yourself or search for “The Awl angle” on Syria. You could just pitch them this dumb or funny or weird or actually really smart idea you had in the shower that morning, and sometimes they’d say yes. And if they did say yes, they would edit your piece with care and respect, rather than just throwing it up online for the commenter wolves to tear at it the way some sites preying on new writers do. Basically, the Awl treated you like a real writer with good ideas even when you yourself weren’t sure you were a real writer with good ideas. I will miss it.
Dayna Evans, writer
Author of “A Day in the Life of the Dopeass Tea Wizard”
I have this bookmarked, and think about this all the time, and this, and this, and Caity Weaver’s “Is Your Man a Scrub?” series, and every single post ever written by Kelly Conaboy, even the Spoon Second column, which I hate, but still love. The Awl and the Hairpin were websites where editors threw things at the wall to see if they stuck. Often that meant throwing young writers at a wall — young writers who wanted to publish truly deranged things — but so many of those young writers stuck, and now they are old writers whom many people read and think are funny and smart. It was so valuable to me when I was getting into professional writing that I was getting paid a negligible amount of money to attempt to make jokes that not even I understood. I needed that negligible amount of money, as it turned out, and I thrived off of the fact that I was getting real responses from real editors. I wasn’t just shouting into the void. Taking a chance on nobodies was what the Awl and the Hairpin did best, and when you look at that list of nobodies the editors took a chance on now, it’s crazy to see how good their instincts were. They were smart websites run by smart people who were curious and compassionate and weird. The levity that both sites provided — now that so much writing on the internet can be dry and self-serious — is what I will miss most.
Jia Tolentino, staff writer, The New Yorker
Former Hairpin editor and author of “Interview With a Virgin”
Emma Carmichael handed me a career in media as casually as a beer when she hired me, without ever having met me (at the time, I lived in Michigan for grad school), as her Hairpin co-editor in the summer of 2013. It was the best, dumbest job. I wrote about music for the first time with this stupid piece about the song “Rude.” The submissions inbox, full of emails from strangers, often felt like getting letters from friends in the mail. Some of my favorites that we ran: this list of fairy tales for the modern-day woman, by Renee Lupica; this personal essay on summer, by Taisia Kitaiskaia (who also wrote advice in the voice of Baba Yaga); and everything by Sarah Miller (I reread her constantly, for a pick-me-up, on edits from a women’s magazine, Upworthy, and David Brooks). Nothing, however, will ever top this piece by Toni Nagy about reverse-basting your boyfriend’s dickhole, an experiment I’ve somehow been forgetting to try for several years.
I tend to hate short items in magazines, the kinds of whimsical snippets editors call “front-of-the-book stuff.” I don’t want to know what kind of face cream Zayn Malik uses or what trivial news item went viral in New Zealand for no good reason. But very short pieces separate writers you love forever after from writers you don’t remember for another second. That’s because it takes real skill and flair to adorn a newsy nothingburger with enough flavorful garnishes that you don’t 100 percent regret clicking through. Ken Layne, Alex Balk, and Choire Sicha were absolute masters of the short but delightful zinger, so much so that I can hardly choose between a million of these:
Also, unlike the editors of pretty much every other publication, Choire Sicha and Alex Balk saw “timely news-driven angles” as annoying and stupid. As far as they were concerned, the presence of some up-to-the-minute excuse for exploring a subject only made a piece less publishable. So what made a piece more publishable? Any subject or element that was archaic, irrelevant, or deeply unfashionable. Assertive digressions. A slight whiff of rage or resentment on the part of the author. You could basically start out writing about one outdated thing and swerve to discuss something even more trivial, as long as you were emotionally invested and you entertained the reader every step of the way. For this reason, half of the stuff the Awl published was utterly uncategorizable, genre-wise. Take this discussion of the pros and cons of having kids between Choire Sicha and Ken Layne (Layne: “Once they arrive, they tend to stay. So that’s worth consideration.” Sicha: “Studies [that I made up] suggest that as much as 99.2% of people being born now will die horribly. Eaten by whales, that kind of thing.” Layne: “It’s entirely plausible that today’s kid who learns composting in preschool will treat the environment with the same bred-into-the-brain respect that Americans used to have for … I don’t know, killing communists.”) I could quote the whole piece. These two are those rare kinds of crazy people you wish lived in your house with you.
Very few outlets publish humor, outside of The New Yorker. And no other site that I can think of, online or otherwise, publishes long, strange, funny, digressive humor the way the Awl did. This includes my favorite humor piece of all time, Sarah Miller’s “Brad and Angie Go to Meet the African Pee Generator Girls.” It’s a masterpiece, and it couldn’t exist anywhere but the Awl.
Reading the Awl and knowing that it’s gone now basically makes you hate every other magazine and website in existence, particularly the kinds that always hop right on top of the latest “issues” or consider themselves “part of the conversation.” Ugh. It makes you hate Twitter and the whole goddamned internet and all human beings everywhere. Reading the Awl made you feel like the whole world was filled with exciting things and smart people, and now that the Awl is gone, it feels like all we have left are boring things and dumb people.
Someone should hand Choire Sicha a giant bag of cash for the Awl and then hand him another bag of cash to run it. Too bad a place like The New Yorker or New York Magazine doesn’t just buy the archives and then hire back its best editors. I know it’s repetitive and self-indulgent to say that this or that indie pub is irreplaceable and unmatched, but the Awl really was magical and exciting and beyond compare. It made us all less stupid. I say that having started my career at Suck.com, the first online home for curmudgeonly weirdos. The Awl was always sharp, being mean-spirited, smart without being pretentious, wide-ranging without feeling incoherent, and unique without feeling calculated or self-conscious. I don’t know how they did it, but it was magical. We need it back.
Jazmine Hughes, associate editor, The New York Times Magazine
Former Hairpin editor and author of “Fishy”
Being plucked to help run the site under genius angel Haley Mlotek changed my life beyond hyperbole or exaggeration; watching her exceptionally tiny hands whip up a site bursting with weirdness and heart, where you didn’t need a big byline or an email introduction to get in front of her, was my purest joy, a formative experience in how to be. The Awl network is widely agreed to be a launching pad for people’s careers (we published Jaya Saxena, Hallie Bateman, Durga Chew-Bose, Hannah Giorgis, Doreen St. Félix, Jamie Lauren Keiles, Monica Heisey); but it was also the champion of fuckin’ insanity, where you could get paid for writing about Horny Jail or literotica that misspelled “cumming” or Danny Devito/Steve Buscemi erotic fan fiction. It was a simpler, hornier time.
Michelle Dean, author of Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion
Author of “Behind the Franzenfreude”
It figures I would pick one of the Awl’s fights, but they tended to be so fun. I loved this Shadow Editors (a semi-regular feature) where Tom Scocca went hard at a piece in n+1 by Mark Greif. It angered the editors of said literary-intellectual-darling magazine, who felt the thing was unduly snarky about one of their prize contributors. But I loved seeing someone replicate the indignant feeling I often had when I read pieces where the dense prose seemed to me to mask sloppy thinking. I still think of “This guy. His editors. Their planet” pretty much every time I read a magazine now. Which admittedly isn’t often, because none of them seem to have the barbed joyfulness of the Awl these days.
David Roth, features editor, Deadspin
Author of “This Is What You Get”
I found the process of picking favorite stories predictably super difficult. I read the website every day for many years, and as a result stuff tends to blur. I looked at my own author page there and found a number of things I absolutely do not recall writing. But in remembering the type of stuff that I liked the most, there, I kept coming back to Maria Bustillos. I wrote some stuff with her — we’d read a book or an article or watch a movie, and then talk about it in the Yakkin’ About format, and Carrie Frye (who is a brilliant editor) would help us make them into readable things — and personally like her a lot, and am biased as a result. But for me, hers was the voice of the website, or of the version of the site that meant the most to me. It’s a hard thing to describe, but you can figure it out from, say, this bit on Alan Greenspan and Ayn Rand — erudite and curious and funny and angry in a way that’s not off-putting, all of it urbane in a way that isn’t high-handed or strained. She’s a magician, and it’s unfair to use her as a baseline for actual normal writers, but the way that she balanced her weapons-grade intelligence with not just respect but affection for the reader just was the way the Awl worked, to me, when it worked best. The voice of the site changed under the editors that followed Choire and Balk — and the other editors did some really cool stuff; I thought this Noah Davis bit was a really cool and illuminating angle on the economics of writing for AND running a website — but that faith in and fellowship with the reader never wavered.
Laura Olin, digital strategist
Author of the Awl’s newsletter, Everything Changes
I loved Balk’s daily posts reminding us that the worst thing is knowing what everyone thinks about anything, everything is terrible and only getting worse, and that if you hate the internet now, just wait awhile. They were never uplifting, of course, but would remind you that you weren’t alone. Sometimes he talked about what it was like when things were better, including the internet, as in this post. “In contrast to the Internet of now, the Internet of a decade back was better, smarter, more interesting and also it didn’t make you want to die all the time.” Even though it didn’t exist yet, the Awl was part of the internet of a decade ago.
Kelly Conaboy, writer
Author of “The Vast Bay Leaf Conspiracy”
Every edition of Edith’s “Letters to the Editors of Women’s Magazines” column made me laugh out loud to the point of tears. I’m highlighting this edition because it’s the first one that comes up when you search “letters to the editors of women’s magazines awl.” I do think of this particular one pretty often, though. “These are my big ol’ TIIIIIIITS.” Hahaha. This column is absolutely one of the best things that has ever been online, and I am jealous of it every second of every day.
I’m so sad that this is not the internet anymore and that now the internet is just shitty garbage.
Also, “Surprise Thanksgiving” is just a really good idea.
The Awl had pretty incredible range. There were deeply serious entries, and there were posts that just existed to serve up a one-liner. My favorite of the serious entries, I think, has to be “The Rape Joke,” by Patricia Lockwood. I think the poem is older than the post itself, but the context is part of why it was so special. This post went up around Rape-Joke-Gate of ’13. I had pissed off a comedian named Sam Morril by asking him about the rape jokes in his set; Lindy West had come into the conversation, first by talking about her experiences as a feminist in comedy, then by posting the tons and tons of rape threats and death threats she got in response. Molly Knefel called out Patton Oswalt. Obviously, it was a giant mess, a ton of guys in comedy were firing back at what they perceived as feminist censorship, the feminists themselves were getting masses of obscene hate mail and trolling, and people’s egos were beyond caught up in it. I still have dudes who hate me because of the Rape Joke Summer of ’13.
It could so easily have descended into screaming and pointless grudge-fucking. And it did, to some extent. But this Lockwood poem — which will just stop your heart; I can’t say enough that’s good about it, so you should just read it — really brought it all back to the central trauma we were discussing, the violation of trust that rape often entails, and how cruel it is to turn that into a cheap joke. They rehumanized something that had become very ideological and abstract. That was my favorite example of how the Awl could participate in a serious discussion; they would always come at it from a new angle, something unexpected that added value and changed the conversation, rather than slapping a clicky headline on a take and monetizing whatever anger or pushback or social-media “THIS”-ing they got off it.
Haley Mlotek, writer and editor
Author of “Free Joan Didion”
My co-editors — Jazmine Hughes, Jaya Saxena, and Alexandra Molotkow — were three of the smartest and funniest people I’ve ever known, and I spent every day just, like, laughing so hard at everything they said, and thinking so much about their writing, and living in constant awe at their taste and their skill. We inherited some incredible writers from previous Hairpins, and kept bringing in more, and they were all so weird and hilarious and smart and then weird again. Everything about that job and that time felt like a prize. We knew it was something rare and precious, and also that anything this good couldn’t last forever. I think we all worked really hard to make the most of it while it was in our care.
Choire and Alex hate displays of emotion, so I will refrain from getting too sentimental, and instead simply say that most good things about my work are the result of Choire sending me DMs that just said “ajknsdfkjasndfkajsdf,” or Alex responding to an email with just “sounds like a post.” They introduced me to some of the worst things about my life — media Twitter, living in New York, Slack, a preference for seltzer brands — and it is a testament to their characters that I will never forgive them and also always consider them two of the best editors and people I know in this whole dumb world.
Maria Bustillos, editor-in-chief of the forthcoming Popula
Author of “Inside David Foster Wallace’s Private Self-Help Library”
December 2009. The movie Avatar made my blood boil, and when I got home I pounded out a rage-filled screed, just randomly, from an overflow of emotion. And then I kind of thought, What if I …
The Awl was then my favorite daytime reading; Choire Sicha and Alex Balk had been my favorite Gawker editors, and in those long-ago days I was an avid commenter. I was quite in awe of their elegance and wit, and was so happy to see that my two favorites had started their own shop.
What could they say, you know, they could say no. And so I sent firstname.lastname@example.org an email containing this screed, with the subject, “I Hated Avatar With the Fire of a Thousand Suns,” and held my breath. The reply came: “Do you want us to publish this?” and I wrote back, “Yes, please,” and that was that. Thank you Choire and Alex, thank you Matt Buchanan and John Herrman and Carrie Frye and David Roth and Elmo Keep and Brent Cox and Abe Sauer and Sarah Miller and too many others to name, for all your beautiful work, for changing my life, for making it beautiful forever.
Vinson Cunningham, staff writer, The New Yorker
Author of “The Flies in Kehinde Wiley’s Milk”
It’s almost impossible to isolate a single best Awl post, but it’s safe to say — so safe that I hesitate to even say it — that something like 90 percent of the standouts were written by Choire Sicha. Still, my favorite long-running feature of the site was Tom Scocca’s column on the weather. Those brief dispatches — a rating of zero to five stars; a few near-purple descriptive sentences — strike me as emblematic of the sneakily earnest, occasionally profound pointlessness that was once the internet’s great promise, and was always the basis of the Awl’s sensibility. Scocca took the temperature and his vantages on clouds, those core ingredients for bad conversation, and made them sort of cool. I sometimes wondered as I read them — in a cubicle somewhere, trying to work up the nerve to pitch the site — whether he was making fun of me for liking the posts, or himself for having written them. This doubles, at least for me, as a description of the experience of loving the site. Unlike the gossip-page-descended snark that was its direct ancestor (think Gawker), or the generation that clipped at its heels, looking for #longform respectability (think Grantland), the Awl never offered any big reason for its own existence, or any real interest in posterity. Maybe our devotion to it made us idiots, but we were idiots together. We’re worse off without it.
Emma Carmichael, former Jezebel editor
Former Hairpin editor and author of “I Was Briefly the Face of an Unemployed Generation”
I’m one of the many people who will write in to say that the Awl is the only reason I have ever had a writing job. Choire responded to a cold pitch I wrote him a few months after graduating college, and the resulting essay helped me get my foot in the door at Deadspin, which got me to Gawker, which got me to the Hairpin, and so on. (There is probably an entire subgenre of Awl/Hairpin career-making pitches that share “under- or unemployment” as their peg — proof, to me, that the sites have always been an aspiring writer’s only real friend.)
Some of my favorite stories from my year-plus editing the Hairpin alongside Jia Tolentino include Sarah Miller’s 2014 Summer Diary (read them all), Roxane Gay’s ode to her UPS man, Jenna Wortham’s ode to female friendships, Rebecca Scherm’s illustrated essay on Erykah Badu, Jessica Ogilvie’s interview with a pregnant Kayden Kross, and of course, Toni Nagy’s guide for reverse-basting her boyfriend’s dickhole. And I am most grateful for every day I got to spend working with and learning from Choire and Balk.
Willy Staley, story editor, The New York Times Magazine
Author of “A Conspiracy of Hogs: McRib As Arbitrage”
A send-up of the “Styles” section’s fixation on the absurd habits and child-rearing philosophies of the wealthy, this actually reads like a snippet of Thomas Pynchon (there’s a Nubian ibex farm in the Catskills run by an Argentinian rabbi flogging something called “The Deuteronomy Diet”), forced into a stentorian, reportorial voice. The attention to detail is remarkable: the cumbersome identification of Facebook (“the popular social networking site”) and the fudged trend-justification in the lede (“like an increasing number of teenagers, [Anna is] teaching her dog to use an iPad”). Now, I don’t know if you know this, but the guy who used to edit the Awl now edits the “Styles” section, which I would say is ironic, but Times Style doesn’t really allow for that usage. Paradoxical?
And this is, in some ways, a spiritual cousin to the above, a concise and surreal encapsulation of the clichéd fixations of the media class, updated to the confessional internet of 2015. Media professionals are solipsistic, but the Awl proved that that trait can be put to hilarious and productive use. While much of the web feels like it’s stuck forever reacting to everything around it, rendering hasty judgment and recriminations, the site felt generative. Sometimes things aren’t good or bad or problematic — they’re just kinda funny.
I listed some favorite stories from my period at the site here, so I’d like to share in this space what drew me to the Awl initially, like so many others: I loved getting to read Alex and Choire. Daily! With new posts up each half-hour! I still don’t know how they managed that (and for a couple of years without paying themselves), but as a reader it was an amazing delight. There are classics like ”How to Cook a Fucking Steak” and “My Baby? My Baby Seems So Smart But I’m Also Scared About My Baby?” but I also have happy reader recollections of ditties like this one, with just the two of them talking about the roast-beef sandwiches they had for lunch.
Dave Bry was another regular contributor to the site during that time; he died last October, and he’s been on my mind a lot with this news. His Public Apology series encapsulates so much about Dave’s voice, the largeheartedness as well as how super funny he could be. I’d point readers who were unfamiliar with the series to this entry, Dear Joel.
Former owner of one percent of the Awl, and its weather reviewer
The outrageous but inevitable result of the announced death of the Awl was a bland pseudo-observation in the New York Times’ write-up: “Many of the writers went on to distinguish themselves.” Some may in fact have gone on to distinguish themselves, by the sad, pinched standards of the New York Times, but what distinguished the Awl was the writing on the Awl, and the chance it gave writers to do what they could not have done anywhere else. Yes, Dave Bry wrote a whole Public Apology book, and Patricia Lockwood is a sensationally well-received memoirist now, but “Dear Bob Mould, I’m sorry for ruining your solo acoustic concert” and “Rape Joke” were not steps on the way up to other, better things; they were destinations. They set their own terms, and they triumphed on them.
What the Awl represented to me was the chance to write exactly what I meant to write, for an audience I trusted to read it. It was the ideal place to discuss the fumbling realities of being a parent — there was a natural harmony between finding my way with the firstborn child and finding my way to write about it, and there’s no better portrait of what his life and my life were like just then than the saga of his solo elevator ride.
And, as one might guess, nothing epitomized the whole project of the Awl for me more than doing the weather reviews. At first I told people they had just arisen spontaneously in an IM chat with Choire, in which I’d straightaway drafted the first one and it had gone right up onto the internet, and the rest was history. It was a while later that Joe MacLeod reminded me that I had originally come up with the idea years and years before — only to forget about it because there was no ready way to make it happen. With the Awl, there was no way to make it stop. At one point, with the number of reviews surely up into the four figures, I learned secondhand that an illustrious and powerful magazine editor hated them; better yet, he specifically hated my photographs of the sky that went with them. Sometimes when I feel like my life or work is pointless, I think about that and I grow happy and serene.
I almost don’t want to single out any of the reviews, because each one stands on its own and they all stand collectively (at what would be immense and unreadable book length by now). But November 7, 2012 was a day that sticks with me: The star ratings were never supposed to be about how “nice” a day it was, but about how the weather performed as weather, with human comfort as only one of the potential considerations. And this was a day that was so hostile to what humans might want that people just surrendered to it, their suffering crossing over into a visible arousal. It was an extraordinary thing to bear witness to.
Now I have to go write another weather review.