Meaningful Life in Tedious Brevity: The Intricate Message of S-Town

Eds. note: The following contains spoilers for the recently released NPR podcast, "S-Town" 

oming from where I do, there was already no doubt in my mind that Woodstock, Alabama was as much of an "S-Town" as John claimed it was at the start of the podcast. Since the election, I’d been trying to educate myself more on the Poor White American, and it seemed as though S-Town was going to dive right into the heart of the “beast” (yes, my Northern bias is showing).

An Open Letter to Social Media

Dear Social Media,

I have a love/hate relationship with you. Let me explain. 

You’ve given me a lot of good things. One of your earliest spawn taught me how to code before I even knew what coding was, because a Myspace profile that didn’t automatically blast a Nelly chart-topper through my visitors’ speakers wasn’t a Myspace profile worth having. 

Dear Future Feminist

Dear future feminist,

I’m writing you this letter because, first of all, I love you. You are my daughter, my sister, my neighbor, and my friend. You are (quite literally) the future of the human race. Secondly, you’re pretty B.A. And if that’s not a thing anymore, then you’re whatever the words for “on fleek,” “woke,” and “lit” are combined. Because you’re a woman, yes, but also because you’re a unique, gifted and vibrant person created on purpose with a purpose.

In Defense of Fantasy

The sky cracks an eyelid and yellow sunbeams flood the surface of the earth. Standing on a hill above my house, the sunlight glitters, yellow gold over a sea of rolling green hills and I breathe in the cold air. It’s Middle Earth all around me and my heart finds the place that is both home and not home, familiar and yet brand new. At times like this, I pity the mortals who have never read about Smaug in all his fearsome glory, who never heard of the Ents, and who walk through the world seeing everything as ordinary, while I stand and breath in magic.

In Defense of Punctuation

Because I like to waste my time, I recently took an “OCD test” from a link on Facebook. I scored 100%. The test confidently explained that I “have a killer eye for spotting the tiniest, most invisible inaccuracies, errors, and mistakes” and that “it’s very important to [me] to correct them.” (It said it’s okay, though--I just need to “give myself a break sometimes.”)

Game Night with the Enneagrams


ZELDA (2) is wearing an apron and is pinballing from kitchen to parlor. She puts finishing touches on decorations and fills up the beverage dispenser with sparkling water.

GARY (6) triple-checks the internal temperatures of the poultry-based finger foods. He hears a car pull into their driveway. 6ARY peeks through the window, straining for a view of the approaching stranger. He fiddles his ironic mustache.

Dear Hiring Manager: An Honest Cover Letter

Dear Hiring Manager,

Hey! Thanks for posting this job that looks interesting. How many of these letters have you received so far? I’m just curious. Am I number 152 or 291? I’ll be honest and say that I do indeed want this job, but then again, I’m guessing all of the other people who have written you say that, too. I promise you I’m telling you the truth, though, and that I actually want to work here

The Life-Giving Fruit of 'Me Too'

Loneliness: the often-ignored, raw feeling in the pit of my stomach; the unreasonable fear when I wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning and my heart beats out a staccato of fear while my night, my day, my life yawns ahead of me, empty and terrifying. Loneliness visits me with tiny needles of disappointment as I scroll through social media and feel left out. It trickles through my brain while I go on with my life and only rarely do I respond with the soul-cry: Please. I don’t want to be alone.

Say No More: Moving Against The Current of PC Culture

It was the morning of November 9, 2016. Like much of America, I couldn’t stop reading and thinking. Despite having gone to bed around 3am, captivated by the television, I had energy to spare. The day became a blur, a constant stream of text messages, email, and links. Everyone, everywhere, seemed to be searching for the answer to the same question: What. Just. Happened? 

In Defense of Paying Attention

This winter is one where the falls of Minnehaha creek have frozen, and on a sun-filled Sunday in January, my fiancé and I slipped and dangled on hand rails, past the don’t enter signs, down the ice-packed steps to the river. The unexpected thaw swarmed the park with tourists, joggers, parents gripping the taut arms of bundled and unsteady toddlers. I was there because of too many days inside my apartment, hiding from an all-too-familiar Minnesota winter, bent over my last semester of undergrad homework. We were all in need of stretched muscles, some tart air in our lungs.

Pour Yourself a Think

“Ashly, you need to get out of your head.”

I stared at my therapist like he was speaking Swahili. Out of my head? Where would I be if I wasn’t in my head? Immediately I conjured up an image of going through life like a zombie, with vacant staring eyes, terrible conversation skills, and absurdly slow reactions.  

7 Mindblowing LaCroix Hacks

My local Whole Foods displays it as a shrine--a literal pyramid of muted pastel 12-packs, magnetic to innocent bystanders and admitted sparkling water addicts alike. I’m no exception. The empty 12-ounce cans decorating my apartment prove I’m just as devoted a LaCroix disciple as any other twenty-something who probably can’t afford novelty drinks to begin with.

Textiquette: An Illustrated Guide

It feels so natural, so right—it’s like we’ve always done it. But text-messaging remains relatively new in the broader history of written language. Texting is social shorthand: personal when we want it to be, impersonal when we need it to be, sarcastic and noncommittal on our bad days, and influential and effective on our best days.

Curiosity and Courage: Craft Care Interview with John Weirick

Publishing is weird. From identifying a target demographic, to pitching yourself and your idea to industry heavyweights, to building social media platforms, to sitting down and doing the writing, itself --- all if it is work, and there are plenty of days that it doesn't come easily, even to the most well-regarded contemporary authors. Self-publishing presents its own list of riddles: How can I market myself without being obnoxious? Is there a way to make my content more appealing to people I don't know? What am I going to do to pay for editors and designers? And the biggest question of all:  How do I know that anyone even wants to read this? What if this is all a waste of time?

Hope, Pixelated: Children's Films for the Culture Critic's Soul

As an English major and former English teacher, I’m pretty attuned to the theme in a story. Whether it’s a book or a movie, I’m almost always composing a literary analysis in my head, and some of the films I’ve been the most thematically moved by have been movies for “kids.” Like kids themselves, I think kids’ movies can more easily remind us of the basic, beautiful truths about being alive.

Cactus Blooms: Preserving Poetic Inspiration in A Digital Desert

The well is dry.

That’s how I felt a few weeks ago. I’d spent a beleaguered couple months consuming everything that crossed my path: tweets, magazine articles, conversations on NPR; everything from inspiration to information to vitriol. Yet no matter how much I’d cram into my mind—another poem, a few more pages, one more scroll through Twitter—I felt empty. I had no reserves from which to draw. As a result, I wasn’t writing well or thinking clearly.

How to Really (Not) Suck at Lent

I suck at Lent.

I first caught whiff of Lent’s existence sometime in prepubescence—the exact source of which I’m unable to recall. I didn’t recognize it as a special season on the Christian calendar, a forty-day period of preparing for Easter with focused fasting, praying, and generous giving. I understood it purely as a game to be played, a gimmick by which to be amused, a gauntlet to be picked up in order to impress myself and others and maybe God by temporarily cutting out (cutting back on, tbh) candy and cussing.