I was inspired by my brilliantly talented friend Kadie over at Design by Kadie to share the inspiration board for my latest and largest project: my wedding. One of the best pieces of advice I got during my planning was to create a mood board and stick to it. That was easier said than done, but having a clear vision of what I wanted made decision-making so much smoother. It helped me funnel my constant influx of disjointed ideas into something that made sense to the friends and family that have been helping me plan. The entire process has been an exercise in figuring out how to make all those creative bursts into a cohesive event. From the beginning, I have been drawn to the mix of the romantic and the industrial: steel beams intertwining with greenery, reclaimed letters leaned against old brick, a flowing white dress in the middle of a warehouse district, and cascading flowers contrasted against concrete.
What I like so much is its unexpectedness. Flowers and concrete don’t typically mix, and it’s rare to see steel and greenery exist side by side. But when you do, there always seems to be something inexplicably delightful about it. It’s usually in an empty warehouses and ashy rooftop or, in our case, an overgrown loading dock. It’s a beauty waiting to be discovered. There’s a sense of endless possibility inherent in these places, because you recognize that what they were isn’t what they could become. Thomas and I don’t think of marriage as redemption. Christ has already done that for us. But we do believe that marriage means a lifetime of helping each other become who God always intended us to be. It means looking at each other now and saying, “I know what you could become. I see the person God is making you into and I want to be a part of it.”
I grew up in a town where the most accessible form of entertainment was exploring old buildings and rooftops. I have spent innumerable hours in these untamed places, and the idea of having a wedding at one excites me in a way I’m not even sure I can describe. To me, these overgrown and forgotten places always felt deeply intimate and delightfully wild and bursting with the potential to transform into something breathtaking. And I guess that’s kind of how it feels to be getting married.
I marry Thomas in a month.
In Which We Have A Pineapple Incident Of Our Own
In the wedding details, you may notice a couple strange motifs turning up over and over: pineapples, paper airplanes, tiny silverware, twitter birds, and various alternative modes of transportation. In the time Thomas and I have been dating, we have made some memories that have morphed, over time, into our own little mythology. I decided to provide a key that decodes some of these symbols so you’ll understand when you see us cutting a pineapple instead of a cake (decision pending) or riding off into married life on a Harley (decision confirmed).
The Pineapple: Thomas and I fell in love over a pineapple. In college, we had a tradition called Late Night Fruit Night. The concept was simple: we would get together late at night and we would eat fruit. It started spontaneously, one night at 2 a.m. Thomas and his roommate had been up late studying and decided to take a break to cut open the whole pineapple they’d inexplicably purchased earlier in the day. Thomas put out the call on Twitter and I was dragged along by that night’s only other attendee. And so a legend was born. Late Night Fruit Night eventually grew to pack his apartment with friends and strangers alike. It spanned every kind of fruit imaginable and morphed through several different spin-off themes: black tie, 90s, prom, Late Night Float Night, etc. And it all started with a pineapple at 2 in the morning.
The Tiny Spoon: Our second date started with dinner. I’d pinned a tiny silver spoon to the collar of my sweater on the way out the door, as an afterthought. At dinner, I slipped it into line with the rest of my silverware and proceeded to try to eat with it with a deadpan expression on my face. Some guys might have stared at me blankly, but Thomas joked along with me seamlessly. It impressed me. We split a calzone and hurled ourselves against a trampoline attached to the side of a building next to the restaurant. We ended the night on a wooden bridge over a river. It was in disrepair but apparently still fully functional, as we found out when a stream of oncoming vehicles interrupted our revelry. We leapt up and sprinted off the bridge, to the shoulder of the road, barely hearing the horns of the cars over our own hysterical laughter. A couple days later, Thomas and I were in his car. I reached down for the CD case on the floorboard of the passenger’s seat and noticed a small gift box. I looked at him in surprise and then opened it. Inside was a tiny silver fork.
The Twitter Bird: Thomas asked me on our first date by leaving a secret message in my room. I was at a Girl Talk concert wearing a pair of harem pants when Thomas snuck into our suite and left a note on my desk. It was in a sealed envelope labeled “1 new message” with the outline of a blue bird. Inside was a note addressed to @lanescotch and signed @thomasharbin, asking me on a date for Monday night. His impressive subterfuge in getting the message to me demanded a similar level of conspiring in my response. It was a Thursday night when I got the envelope. On Friday at noon, Melody and were supposed to leave for a music festival Atlanta, so I commissioned my roommate Victoria’s help in carrying out the plan. With the help of Thomas’ roommate, she slipped into his bedroom while he was in class and hung my response—a construction paper Twitter bird that said #yes—from his ceiling fan. She had arranged it perfectly and was just about to head home when Thomas got back from class. She couldn’t leave without him seeing her, so she made a crunch-time decision and sprinted into Taylor’s bathroom to hide. After the better part of an hour had passed, Thomas still showed no sign of retreating to his room so Victoria could escape. Victoria, knowing she either had to make a break for it, or die in that bathtub, made another crunch-time decision. She brushed herself off and strolled out of Taylor’s bathroom into the living room where the boys were talking. As she passed a gaping Thomas, she gave him a real casual, “Oh, hey!” and walked right out the front door.
The Motorcycle: I was waiting for Thomas to come pick me up for my first date. He was 3 minutes late, and I was standing outside in the courtyard waiting for him to arrive. Victoria was watching for him with her binoculars from our second-story window. I heard her pounding on the window before I even heard the purr of the engine. When I looked out at the street, I saw Thomas pulling up on a motorcycle. I didn’t know Thomas had a motorcycle. I didn’t even know he could ride one. He walked up to me with a grin on his face and handed me a pink helmet. He helped me onto the back of the bike and revved the engine. At the stoplight, I leaned forward and whispered, “You know you need a license for this, right?” He just shrugged playfully. We pulled up to a park, where he whipped out a blanket, picnic dinner, and a dozen misshapen cookies he’d made himself. We sat under a tree in the middle of a circular trail where people were walking their dogs. I had always enjoyed being around Thomas. Usually first dates put a stranglehold on my nerves but our conversation was easy. I was in the middle of telling him a story when a dog came running up to us. Delighted, and also wanting to demonstrate the chemistry I had with children and small animals, I opened my arms to let it adore me, but instead, it swallowed my sandwich in one gulp and ran away.
The Paper Airplane: This one might be spotted tangled in the branches of our wedding invitation. After our first two dates, I came home to a brown paper-wrapped package sitting on my bed. I opened it and, inside, was a calendar with a single date circled in red: September 26th at 9 in the morning. It was marked “Third Date with Thomas.” Our tradition of trading messages back and forth led me to create a collage: a little boy giving a little girl a bouquet of flowers, with a paper airplane flying overhead. It didn’t have any significance to me — it was just an old girl scout patch I had been saving to use for something like this — but, to Thomas, it looked like his big secret had been exposed. He was perplexed, but he didn’t say anything. When he picked me up on the morning of our third date, he handed me a paper airplane. I unfolded it and on the inside it said ‘Close your eyes.’ He drove me, blindfolded, to another undisclosed location and I wondered just how well I knew this guy or if there would be a way to tell my last known coordinates from the text message I sent my mom before we left. He stopped the car, led me through a labyrinth, and help me up and onto something. He took off my blindfold. We were in an airplane.On a day between our first date and our second, we had driven out to the landing strip at night, lay on the still-warm hood of his car and watched airplanes take off. We plotted ways to sneak aboard, charted out the places we’d go, promised that we wouldn’t pack anything but a warm jacket but we never managed to get over the barbed wire fence. He told me he’d been planning our airplane ride since that night on the landing strip.
In Which My Wedding Gets a Mission Statement
I promised Southern Weddings that I would be blogging through this wedding planning process. And almost immediately after I made that promise, I forgot it (ironically, a symptom of wedding planning itself). There was so much else going on! A venue to find. Food to taste. A photographer to book. Musicians to interrogate. Wedding planning arrived at my doorstep, not in neatly-outlined tasks, but in one heaping pile. For the first two weeks, I did nothing but cower in corners, alternating between staring at my to-do list and staring at my engagement ring.
Cornering me there was something that I would begin to refer to as the “huddled masses.” They were a faceless, torch and pitchfork-wielding mob that like to shout indistinguishable judgement and opinions and skepticism into every decision I made. After all, this wasn’t just a dress, it was THE dress. It couldn’t just be a good song, it had to be the BEST song. That kind of pressure becomes too much to handle and I soon found myself entering into panic headstands — an unexpected but not entirely unpleasant reaction to the cascade of anxiety.
Worst of all, I felt my heart moving away from what really mattered. I was preparing for a wedding, not a marriage. So, two weeks in, I stopped. I shut out the hum of the huddled masses and sat down with a blank notebook marked ‘HITCHED’ to get my bearings. Every decision, cost, and project would seem aimless until I figured out where I was going. I sat down and I wrote. Pages and pages of cramped notes and tiny illustrations on what I thought the purpose and picture of a wedding should be. After I spilled everything onto the page, I condensed them down to a couple cohesive points. And then, I did what seemed like the next logical step: I wrote a mission statement.
Mission statement: To rejoice in the love that Thomas & I share now and promise forever, to glorify the Father that lavished that love upon us through His son, and to celebrate with a community that is ready to say, “We will” when we say, “I do.”
Somehow, it brought everything into focus. It was the standard against which I measured every decision. Even the small ones. Will spending thousands of dollars on table linens accomplish our vision for the wedding? Probably not. Should we elope? Nope, tempting as it might be at times, because a huge part of this marriage means making our promises in front of people that know and love us enough to hold us to them. Should I spend dozens of hours hand-crafting invitations when it would be so much simpler to order them? Weirdly, yeah. Because making art is a celebration of the beauty and joy and creation that Thomas and I want our marriage to be filled with. It’s easy to let candleholders and cocktail napkins cloud your mind and distract you from the terrifying, beautiful, profound thing that’s happening.
After two weeks of worrying, my heart was finally calm. I can let things go wrong. I can delight when they go right. I can proclaim the profound joy of having someone who will face life’s joys and sorrows with me. I can sing praises to the God that loved me first. I can bask in the company of friends and family who spend their time and talents to help this day come together. I can swell with affection and disbelief when I see how we are so loved, so well, by so many. That’s what I want my wedding to be about.
In Which We Burst Into Poetry
When we started planning the wedding, we knew we wanted it to be a creative expression of who were are as a couple now, and who we will be as husband and wife. For us, that meant being hands on with all the wedding projects. With the food trucks and overgrown loading dock venue, I wanted to capture the feeling of an outdoor music festival. Thomas and I have an amazing collection of posters from all the shows we’ve been to in Auburn, Opelika, and Waverly and we wanted to make something inspired by those. When our guests open up our wedding invitation, we want to give them the same feeling of excitement and appreciation we get unwrapping a print for the first time.
But, even more than the aesthetic value, we wanted these invitations to communicate something about what marriage means to us. The phrase “At Last” comes from Genesis 2:23, where the Bible begins with a wedding. In The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller writes: “There’s no relationship between human beings that is greater or more important than marriage. In the Bible’s account, God himself officiates the first wedding. And when the man sees the woman, he breaks into poetry and exclaims, ‘At last!’ Everything in the text proclaims that marriage, next to our relationship to God, is the most profound relationship there is.” With each other, we feel like we have found the thing that we were designed to long for, the thing that makes us want to break out in verses of poetry and song and shouts of joy. That’s something worth celebrating.
I really wanted to find a way to make every invitation feel personal and handmade while maintaining the ability to crank out dozens at a time. Although I love handlettering, I knew there was no way I could produce as many as we needed in a realistic time frame.
Luckily, that January, I just started taking a screen printing class through Auburn’s art department. I realized that screen printing offered the perfect solution: each layer of ink is hand-pulled, giving each invitation a handmade feel, but the stenciled screen means you can print as many as you want very quickly. I was able to create two detailed stencil with the lettering and branches. Those two stencils were then exposed on a screen — true to its name, screen printing is done with a very fine silk screen — using a light box and a photosensitive coating. Victoria, a bridesmaid and devoted friend, helped me tear down the paper for eight hours straight (we were allowed two meal breaks). The talented Alex Lazarri helped mix the ink and printed the invites one layer at a time: foliage first, followed by the gold text. In just a few hours, I was holding a bundle of freshly-printed invites in my arms like a newborn baby.
Three months of designing, planning, creating, re-creating, tearing, printing, and multiple trips to the post office resulted in a set of invitations that we were proud to share with our guests. The experience of creating something I love to send to the people that we love really was an incredible one! We hope you like them as much as we do (although we’ll understand if you don’t keep a framed copy of yours by the bedside table like we’re going to).
Breakup Beats: a mixtape by Smokes & Scotch | The only thing better than being in love on Valentine’s day is listening to breakup songs at full volume while wearing lipstick + leather, smoking cigarettes, and peeling out of parking lots in a cloud of dust. After four years, Melody and I have this down to a science. Join us.
Final illustrations for my book on breakups. Still accepting your worst and most ridiculous stories, folks! Also past relationship relics that you have been planning on setting on fire and tossing onto your ex’s doorstep.
In Which He Proposes
It started with a series of lies.
Elaborate ones. Thomas wasn’t comfortable resting in vague excuses and dodged questions. Instead, he crafted a string of startlingly realistic fake Facebook messages, pre-recorded sound bytes of him practicing piano, and fabricated text messages. I had no reason to doubt that he was in Texas, but if I did, he had stores of evidence just waiting to be deployed.
So, when I was waiting for Rebekah to pick me up for dinner, I didn’t have the slightest clue that anyone other than her would be picking me up. I was leaning against a pavillion in the overflow parking lot, hoping that none of the drunkards and youths that frequented that area made eye contact with me, when a car slowed down right in front of me. I readied myself to mean mug the driver. My scowl transformed into wide-eyed surprise when the window rolled down, revealing Thomas. Thomas, who had been in Texas when I’d talk to him twenty minutes earlier on the phone. I blinked hard. He was dressed in a black suit and skinny tie, holding a bouquet. There was a long scratch on the side of his nose.
“Do you need a ride?” Thomas asked.
I paused for a moment, rendered immobile by surprise and disbelief.
“Yes,” I said and got in the car.
I climbed into the passenger’s seat and continued to stare at him, speechless. I put a cautious hand to his cheek, sure he would disappear the moment I touched him. He didn’t. He grinned at me. I asked what happened to his nose and he said, simply: “Bar fight.” I blinked a couple more times.
Finally, I took his face in my hands and said, “Look, Thomas, I’m so happy you’re here. But I’ve had this dream a lot, and I’m not entirely convinced that this is actually you.” I looked at him very seriously. “So, I need you to prove it. Tell me something that only Thomas would know.”
Without missing a beat, he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out an orange-and-blue blindfold. “You remember this old friend?” he asked.
I did. It was the same blindfold that he’d used on our third date, when he’d led me down a flight of stairs, into his car, down some roads, and into an chartered airplane that he had arranged to fly us to Gulf Shores for the day.
“Yes,” I said.
“And you remember what to do with it?” he asked.
“Oh, I remember,” I said, and he stopped the car to tie it over my eyes.
And we drove. He offered me a cup of coffee and shot the breeze, as cool and calm as could be. Meanwhile, I was still dizzy with disbelief and restless with curiosity. Eyes closed tight under the blindfold, I relished the feeling of his warm hand in mine after so many weeks of only seeing it through a computer screen. I sat back and listened to him talk, waiting for the rest of the adventure to unfold.
He stopped the car and helped me out. Being led in a blindfold, even by someone you claim to trust with your life, is one of life’s most humbling experiences. I compared it to a giant version of the game we play on dates where one person closes their eyes and has to hunt for their drink using only their face. I stopped abruptly every few steps, sure that he was planning on letting me topple over a curb so that I could get some scrapes to match his mysterious injury. I tried to shake off the suspicion but I still limited myself to 3-5 steps at a time, so the journey took a while. He coaxed me on until we reached two iron-wrought spiral staircases. We climbed the first one, reached a landing, then climbed a second one until we reached level ground. He lead me down a path and then gently put his hands on my shoulders to turn me around. He reached up and untied the blindfold.
I gasped. The first thing I saw were thousands of lights. We were on a rooftop in Opelika that was blanketed in beautiful, flickering white candles. The treetops that brushed against the roof were covered with twinkling lights. A small fire gave off warmth and a gentle red glow. The effect was breathtaking. The rooftop was overlooking town square, with its beautiful fountain and lanterns, and in the distance I could see the steeple of the church where Thomas and I first met. He took my hands and gave an incredible speech that I loved too much to try to recreate here.
Then, he got down on one knee and said, “Lane Scott Jones: will you marry me?”
They say in moments of high emotion and adrenaline, time moves more slowly. You notice a tremendous amount of sensory information in a matter of seconds. In the few moments between him asking and me giving an answer, I somehow took in the dreamy glow of the rooftop, the golden glimmer shining out from the little black box, the look on his face, and the overwhelming sensation of feeling like everything was exactly how it was always supposed to be - how my heart had always yearned for it to be. My first thought was, “Of course. Of course it’s Thomas; it’s always been Thomas.” My first word was, “Yes.” My second word was “Yes.” In my pure jubilation, I ignored the ring completely and met him on the ground with a kiss. He lifted me into an embrace and we stayed there for a long time.
Finally, he asked, “Do you want to see the ring?” I stepped back and squealed my answer. He slid it onto my ring finger and I marveled at it and what it meant. I looked up at the boy I was going to spend the rest of my life with.
“Would you care to join me for dinner?” he asked, grinning. Behind him was a table for two, draped in his mother’s white tablecloth, and a bottle of wine waiting to be opened. Thomas’s best friend and our waiter for the night appeared at the top of the spiral staircase carrying a basket of bread. We hugged him and celebrated. He spent the evening running from MaFia’s back kitchen and up onto the roof carrying our beautiful entrees, drinks, and desserts. Thomas and I enjoyed a lovely, romantic dinner out on the rooftop. We called our parents. We danced next to the fire to our favorite songs. We talked about the adventures we would have together. He finally revealed that the battle wound on his face had happened during the day’s set-up when he lost a wrestling match with a piece of lattice at Lowe’s. At one point, I had him show me exactly where we had been standing when he proposed because even during dinner, I still couldn’t quite believe it had all happened.
Sitting on a couch in the incredible apartment below, after dinner but before we met all our friends to celebrate, Thomas and I reveled in the glow of everything that had happened. Thomas looked at me. I looked at the ring. It was perfect: thin gold band and teardrop shaped diamond with a point so sharp it could double as a weapon (a requirement that I ask of all my jewelry).
At the same time, we both started to say something. He said, gazing at me with a tenderness I had never seen before, “Lane, I cannot wait to spend the rest of my life with you,” as the exact same moment that I announced, “I am going to kill a man with this ring one day.”
Thomas and I love to document. We have a natural compulsion toward capturing the magnificent and mundane moments of life: whether it’s through words, photography, music, or film. Here’s a highlight reel from the last weekend we spent together, including (but not limited to): a radioactive pond, a duck in peril, a whalebone knife, broken fourth walls, one very unladylike attempt to shove several tortilla chips in my mouth at once. And more!
In Which It’s The Rhythm of a Southbound Train
This song: Southbound Train - Jon Foreman.
Sounds like: The hum of a language I don’t understand at the airport when I land. The sight of Thomas when he found me in the crowd; he was suntanned and grinning from a summer in Spain. How seeing him running toward me felt undeniably like coming home. Taking the slow train from Bilbao to San Sebastian, holding tight to one another in late afternoon light while the Spanish countryside rolled by. How the train took us three hours when a bus would have taken one, but gave us a reason to sit close together, quiet, listening to the rhythm of a southbound train.
Auburn Bucket List, No. 11
11. The Pine Hill Cemetery Lantern Tour. I notice my precious town’s resemblance to Stars Hollow, with all of its full-scale production town square celebrations, on an almost daily basis. But no event quite nails the intersection of earnestness and kitsch like the Pine Hill Cemetery lantern tour. During this event, townspeople come out to play the ghosts of late Auburn legends who are buried there, my favorite of which is “Uncle Billy” who insisted on being buried above ground in his double bed with his slippers underneath. Volunteers dress in period costume and regale visitors with the story of their life and, quaintly, their death. The entire event is delightfully irreverent and innocently absurd, and that makes attendance an absolute necessity before leaving Auburn. And there’s good news! After a year-long slumber, the lantern tours are back for 2013. See you on October 10, ladies and ghouls.
The aforementioned Uncle Billy, portrayed by local townsperson
Auburn Bucket List
I love my city.
When I moved to Alabama from my home state of North Carolina for my freshman year, I had no idea I could love a town the way I love Auburn. I have found so much adventure in the streets, homes, hearts, rooftops and storm drains of this place. Now I’m a senior. Along with every major phase of my life comes some sort of elaborate list, and this one is no exception. I am taking inventory of all the things in Auburn that I need to knock out before graduation in May, along with photos of some precious memories from the past few years. It’s a working draft, but here are a handful of items to start:
Shooting film in abandoned warehouses with Boyfriend
1. Get car washed at Unique Image. I am not the kind of person who regularly details their car. Give me a pine tree-shaped air freshener and an Armorall wipe and I’m good to go. But I have been passing this shop several times a week for the past three years. The exterior is bright purple-and-yellow with racing checks down the side. The windows are mirrored. The cars outside gleam with a radiance that serves as a beacon of hope on the otherwise desolate Opelika road. And there’s a barber shop attached for your convenience. There isn’t a day I pass this place without thinking, ”Now there’s a group of people who are doing their job well — and with impeccable style” (refer back to the shop’s exterior). But, perhaps most compelling, is the inextinguishable belief that Unique Image would serve as the perfect setting for a Step Up 4-style dance battle.
2. Find out what Jason did. According to the bench, things have been going well for Bridget and Jason (not Dufner). But it wasn’t always this way. I don’t want to be the one to drudge up all that unpleasantness from the past, but I have been following this relationship since my freshman year, and that kind of emotional investment deserves answers. What could Jason have done that lead him to think, “What kind of sincere, intimate apology would help me win back the woman I love? I know! I’ll write it on a bus bench.”
Riding bikes in ghost towns with this dreamboat
3. Eat lunch at Whispering Oaks. This is a particularly high-priority item because I have published several reviews of this restaurant but never actually gotten around to eating there. Read the linked review to get an idea of the required dress code and then RSVP to me through text message or long-form letter delivered on horseback.
Home-cooked meals and house guests at Tom’s Cafe
4. Shop like a French woman at the Opelika Farmer’s Market. This summer, my dear friend Whitney directed me to a book called Entre Nous. It details the fascinating intricacies of French lifestyle and culture. This means, of course, that no less that two-thirds of the book was devoted to the preparing, cooking, and eating of sumptuous foods.
I have never had what you would call a “knack” for culinary pursuits, partly because I have lived with only a kitchenette for four years in the unmatched luxury of Auburn’s on-campus housing, and partly because I have developed a inexplicably strong aversion to grocery shopping. The shopping cart with the dead wheel that drags along the fluorescent-lit aisles emitting a deranged screeching sound that makes every trip feel like the beginning of a zombie apocalypse movie. The hours spent wandering around the general area that you know lightbulbs are located without ever being able to find the exact aisle. It all combines to make grocery shopping a pretty unpleasant ordeal.
This book, however, describes the shopping habits of a French woman: an open air market, carrying a hand-woven basket full of fresh-cut flowers, slowly selecting the freshest produce straight from nearby gardens, savoring the process. It’s a very different picture than the one of me ravaging the aisles of Wal-Mart for an undented can of mandarin orange slices. The farmer’s market is a step in the right direction.
@melbellzz at Butch Anthony’s Museum of Wonder
7. Rope swing in Loachapoka
8. Wooden bridge in Notasulga
The view from another wooden bridge in Notusulga
9. Learn how to pronounce ‘Loachapoka’ and ‘Notasulga.’
10. The National Peanut Festival
Inside a rock quarry that looks straight out of the Jurassic age
The Real House Rules of Red Square Agency
I came into my summer internship with high expectations of the incredible educational experience it would be. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about writing press releases, working with clients, meeting deadlines and deciphering copyeditors’ handwriting. What I didn’t expect, however, was a crash course in how to survive in an office environment. Under Red Square’s elegant veneer of mood lighting and exposed brick walls lurks complex labyrinth of unspoken rules and rituals. On my last day, with nothing left to lose (except, maybe, the collection of stolen office supplies in my purse), I’m ready to reveal them.
Rule #1. Every lamp for himself. Red Square is like no work environment I’ve ever been in. For one thing, it is a lot darker than most work environments. It’s actually darker than a lot of underground caverns and black light dance raves, come to think of it. My first couple days on the job I was relegated to a dark corner desk with a single, flickering light bulb. I spent the bulk of my first week trying to figure out when the waterboarding would begin. Like a nocturnal animal, I’ve developed a couple of tricks to adapt to the dark environment. Namely, writing press releases by the glow of my flashlight app.
Rule #2. Survival of the fittest. The people here at Red Square seem so docile until cupcakes are involved. They abandon whatever task is at hand in order to stampede to the break room every time an office memo goes out with mention of “banana muffins.” The effect recalls the buffalo scene in the Lion King, but with more casualties. In my first couple of days at the office, I would wait a respectful amount of time before daintily making my way to the kitchen. By that time, however, all that was left was a couple of crinkled wrappers and a tupperware container that showed signs of having been licked clean. I learned my lesson. These days, you can find me sprinting down the hall the moment I hear the email notification, deploying strategic elbow jabs at anyone who obstructs my path to banana split cupcakes.
Rule #3. Keep Red Square weird. A fun game they liked to play on me when I first arrived here was moving my desk overnight and then forgetting where they put it. I once spent over an hours trying to hunt down my belongings only to find them in an unmarked box in the dark corner of a back hallway (I realize that this is not especially specific because all of the hallways are dark. See Rule #1). Since then, I’ve been keeping a more minimalist approach, knowing that at any moment my belongings could be tossed curbside. This has resulted in a constant jealousy over my office mates’ desk decor. The rule here seems to be: the weirder the decoration, the better. This principle includes, but is not limited to: moustache corkboards, posters demanding that onlookers “TWEET THAT SH!T,” phallic Golden Girls coffee mugs, life sized print-outs of the company’s beloved founder wearing a sombrero, and origami self-portraits.
The inner workings of this office continue to confound me, but I think I’m finally getting the hang of it. At the end of my two months here, I can confidently say that I have learned more than I ever expected to. While my potential employers may marvel at the invaluable professional experience I gained from my summer at Red Square, my future colleagues will gawk at the practiced ease with which I clothesline passersby on my way to the catered lunch. And—for that—I can’t thank them enough.
In Which I’m Like The Taylor Swift Of Creative Non-Fiction
"When you are with someone who doesn’t know yet that they won’t be able to love you back, your eyes go milky. You see life through a new filter. It will seem monumental and ripe with meaning. You will feed on the idea of a future with them. You think they will never go, that things could never return to the way they were before. But they will, and they do. You will sift through the charred remains of what you thought you knew and call them unsalvageable. Every time will feel like the last time. This is how it will go."
My story “Controlled Burn” was published by W.W. Norton after placing as a runner-up in their Writer’s Prize competition. What began as a furious journal entry after being unceremoniously dumped my freshman year of college turned into a full-fledged manifesto of ex-boyfriends past.
You can read it here!
In Which I Don’t Know What I’m Doing
“I grew up in church.” That’s the phrase that starts most of the testimonies I’ve heard. It starts mine, too. I grew up in church. Then comes the part where they breeze past their baptism but I won’t. I remember in exquisite detail the swish of the robe when its edges first hit the water because it’s an exotic feeling to be in a body of water fully clothed. I was surprised at how warm the water in the baptismal was, and how the whole ordeal was over before I even had time to plug my nose. That’s where my story really begins: as a six-year old girl hopping around on one foot on the slippery steps of the baptismal, trying to get the water out of her ear.
What happened next was no one’s fault. Or it was everyone’s. I don’t really know how to explain it except that I could never talk about the sermons we listened to. No one really asked me to until my first boyfriend did. He would ask me what I thought on the car ride to get burritos with our friends after church but what we’d heard never made an impression. I could follow our preacher’s cadence down to the last bullet point, so I would just settle into the gentle rumble of his voice and stop noticed what he was saying. We sang worship songs about a God that loved us and a son but nothing about the story moved me. There was something missing in the details. There was a logical leap that an analytical mind like mine just couldn’t make, and my confusion quickly hardened into skepticism.
I never refused the idea of God altogether. I just had enough questions that it felt okay to cut corners. It felt okay to let my Bible get lost under a stack of used paperback books. It felt okay to drink awful warm beer with boys on my friend’s back porch while her mom was on a business trip in Japan. It felt okay to let a boy (it didn’t really matter which one) lead me upstairs by the hand and onto a bed or couch or rug. It felt okay until I couldn’t feel anything at all.
The biggest part of the problem was that I didn’t see it. I thought I knew everything there was to know about faith. I’d sat through endless acronyms on Powerpoint slides and run a puppet show for the preschoolers. This was it, wasn’t it? What more was there to learn? It was a little bland but, I guessed, that was to be expected.
These were the things I thought then. But that was before I was introduced to the Jesus of the Bible. Back then, the only version I knew was the Jesus on the Powerpoint Slide. The god of Youth Group Lock-Ins.
I received a gold-embossed scholarship offer in the mail from Auburn University before I even knew where the school was. That fall, I packed up my tiny car and drove seven hours to a town where no one would know my name or my youth pastor or about all those late nights spilling warm beer on rugs. I joined a sorority and dropped out. I joined the SGA and stopped attending meetings. I did not join a church. I went to exactly two frat parties and ate late breakfasts in the dining hall on Sundays. And, mostly, I ached. The ache would overcome me walking the long hill back home after classes: a very tactile emptiness, as though my chest was as hollow like a drum. I ached for something that I couldn’t yet identify but knew I had not found.
Then, I met a boy and thought, “This is it.” This must be what I’m aching for. He lived one floor above me freshman year, with a laugh that could make me forget the kickdrum in my chest. I followed him to church. I would have followed him anywhere. I showed up that first morning dressed in black leather when all the other girls were wearing pearls. We were dating within a month and broken up within two.
The ache came back. It returned during the excruciating final weeks before the break-up with a pounding insistence that seemed to repeat, “You are lonely. You are lost. You are empty.” I’d tried to escape it in his truck and bed, tried to let the volume of our romance drown out that refrain. Whatever I am longing for, I thought then, Whatever it is that my soul aches for, I will find it here. He left and I found only more brokenness.
I had exhausted myself trying to hide the emptiness with all these things, and the effect was like festooning a gaping hole in my chest with feathers and beads: unsettling and ineffective. That’s when I found Jesus. It happened the way you fall in love, or asleep: slowly then all at once. I found him, finally, through the haze of what I thought I knew, what I’d learned in children’s books and college classrooms, what my preacher had taught me, what churchgoers and atheists and homeless men had told me about God, everything I’d seen on television and Sunday morning powerpoints; I peeled it all back and finally found the truth waiting there.
The revelation started, as most do, in coffee shops with close friends and thick conversation. The summer after my freshman year, I’d reached out to a friend at church with a simple, groundbreaking admission: “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
That one statement took me nine months of aching to finally utter out loud but when I did, miraculous things began to happen. It marks the point in my life when I laid down everything that I’d been using to fight the immense loneliness. Nametags, make-outs, friends, boyfriends, warm beer, beads and feathers, bible studies and Sunday morning services: none of them could heal me the way I wanted—and desperately needed—to be healed. Over a bowl of oatmeal, in the coffee shop with my friend, I finally saw that.
“I got saved.” That’s another phrase I’ve heard in testimonies before. So many, in fact, that it has lost the effect that it must have had on the people in the audience of the first guy to think it up. In my English classes, we call that a ‘word package,’ which means that a particular combination of words or phrases has been used so frequently that it no longer brings a vivid, concrete image to mind.
Another thing we talk about in my English classes is the weight that some words seem to have. On paper, they might all just be synonyms for ‘tired.’ But, as anyone who has ever been lured by pizza into helping a friend move understands, that there is a very big difference between ‘tired’ and ‘exhausted.’
If you want a word that extends past exhausted, past physical fatigue to an ache goes right down to your soul, you get the word ‘weary.’ The word ‘weary’ conjures up the image of a wind-burnt man, lost in the searing heat of a noon desert, squinting out over the endless miles of dunes ahead and then back into his empty water canister. In that moment over the oatmeal, I realized that I was weary, and that I had been weary for a very long time.
That was the first time I realized that God could be known—really known, not just from powerpoint slides or word packages but from an intimate, first-hand relationship with Him. And, on top of that, that he wanted to know and be known by me. I won’t describe that moment by saying that “I got saved.” I will just say that I was lost in the desert, good as dead, and he rescued me.