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.

When the Tree of Knowledge Bears No Fruit: Pursuing a Life Less Clicked-Through

The library at my college was a brick building with plenty of charm on the outside and plenty of sterile metal on the inside. Metal shelves and metal carts held stacks of worn, discolored, plastic-wrapped books. What the library lacked in charm it made up for in knowledge. Walking through row after row of books, the possibility of vast information locked away in each cloth-bound package would press itself upon me as a tangible force. 

Democracy at Four Feet Tall

This morning I dropped my first grader off in front of our neighborhood elementary school at 8:15 am. I came back to pick him up at noon, right after lunch and loaded him into the car with his 3-year-old and 8-month-old brothers, wedged into our SUV beside the toddler I babysit on Thursdays. I had emailed his teacher the night before to give her the heads up that his education would be taking him outside the classroom walls today; he would be seeing democracy in action.

They Call It Adulting: Choosing to Bridge the Generation Gap

“I want to beg all you who constitute the ‘older generation’ to overlook our shortcomings and to appreciate our virtues. [...] We hold the infinite possibilities of the myriads of new inventions within our grasp. We are in touch with the whole universe. [...] Instead of helping us work out our problems with constructive, sympathetic thinking and acting, you have muddled them for us more hopelessly with destructive public condemnation and denunciation.”

-Ellen Welles Page

A Guide to Millennial Love Languages

Gary Chapman wrote his New York Times-bestselling book The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate in 1995. It’s sold over 10 million copies since its publication. The “love languages” -- which he defined as the means by which human beings express and experience love -- include receiving gifts, physical touch, quality time, words of affirmation, and acts of service. Chapman’s hypothesis is that you can better love a loved one through analyzing and discerning a loved one’s love language. I buy it.

How to Really Be Present

I have a love-hate relationship with social media and the digital world. The majority of my work happens online, and some of my closest friends began as social media buddies. My husband and I reconnected through LinkedIn and flirted via Twitter. When we eloped, we streamed our dive-bar wedding online so our family could be with us, and my maid of honor was a friend I made in the blogosphere. Some of the dearest people in my life are women I met in a Facebook group.

In Defense of Young Love

For years I’ve joked about writing a book called I Kissed Dating Goodbye...And it French Kissed Me Back. I grew up in a conservative evangelical Christian culture in which Joshua Harris’ 1997 I Kissed Dating Goodbye was the sacred text of soul-patched youth ministers everywhere. I can’t summarize Harris’ treatise better than Wikipedia: “The book focuses on Harris' disenchantment with the contemporary secular dating scene.” 

Diction for Harvest: A Poem

Pin down the wind crouching in the ditches
like punctured gutter leaves during rain,

dust to mud to seed to root, sometimes
sun to dead leaves to cracked ground, 

black dirt upturned in metal arms, left
with enough breath to nourish a tender crop, 

As We Live and Tweet: How to Really Be a Social Media Activist

Hopeful activism online is hard. Our words and sentences (even our emoji) can’t accurately capture the complexity of our emotions, our longings, or our dreams. And depending on how it’s communicated, a perspective of hope can come across as naive, ignorant, or even insensitive to the hardship of others. If we’re not indignant, we’re presumed to be indifferent, and if we’re blatantly positive, we must be absolutely nuts. It seems there’s no way to be on the fringe of the political discussion anymore.

Hope Talks: Four Social Media Activists to Friend and Follow

Hope is a transforming power that takes root in the mind and grows into restorative action. It can take the darkness and teach it light. It’s real and potent, and I can totally vibe with that. But we all need help in learning how to cultivate this mindset. We need help believing that there can be joy here and now. So, it’s important to learn from people who are passionate about these same ideas too, people who are actively infusing them into their lives and work--examples, really.

Choosing to Lose: Wendell Berry's Sustainable Activism

One of the defining features of Donald Trump’s rhetoric is its obsession with winning. As Trump made clear on the campaign trail, he subscribes to the (arguably very American) belief that winning brings happiness: “We’re going to win so much, you may even get tired of winning. And you’ll say, ‘Please, please, it’s too much winning, we can’t take it anymore. Mr. President, it’s too much.’ And I’ll say, ‘No it isn’t, we have to keep winning, we have to win more, we’re going to win more.’ We’re going to win so much… You will be so happy.”