Help Us Out

In case you hadn’t noticed, I went awhile without writing anything on this here Internet site. Here’s why: After the first couple of posts, the little lady and I realized there wasn’t a whole lot to say that wouldn’t be either totally mundane or way too personal.

But apparently people are still interested in our life. So here’s where you come in: Tell us what you want to hear about. Questions are great. And… Go!

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On Getting Married and Missing Out on the College Experience

A girl from our school’s student magazine came by our apartment the other day to talk about our marriage. She wanted to know, among other things, whether we felt we’d missed out on the College Experience by getting married as undergrads.

She didn’t capitalize College Experience, of course. She was speaking out loud.

Our cat finished college before we did.

We were amused at being placed under the microscope like this because, truth be told, we’re not interesting people. We enjoy playing Chinese checkers, watching VHS tapes and going to bed early.

But because we took the plunge before crossing the stage, we are something of a novelty. The last I heard, we’re going to be featured in the magazine’s Valentine’s issue in a story about campus couples, alongside a homosexual couple and an interracial couple. We live in South Carolina; I guarantee our relationship has not faced as much adversity as either of theirs.

As for the College Experience, maybe we have missed out on a few things. As we discussed in the interview, that really depends on how you define the term.

In the strictest sense, the academic sense, nothing was unusual about our first married semester. We continued taking full course loads, and I pulled a 4.0. We were both working part-time jobs and sending out résumés. I even had room in my schedule for one of those largely impractical but intellectually stimulating classes you always picture yourself taking in college: Spanish film!

So I can speak intelligently about Pedro Almodóvar now, and my wife is a few steps closer to passing her final nursing exam. If that’s what the College Experience means to you, then no, we’re not missing out.

If the reporter’s question referred to the College Experience in the—ahem—extracurricular sense, then I guess we are indeed missing out. But then again, we never did buy into the National Lampoon vision of college.

Then there’s the other sense of the College Experience, in which you and your classmates challenge each other’s notions and push each other to greatness. Having grown up in a football town, I sometimes fantasized that my college years would be spent in coffee shops and bookstores with a lively cadre of philosophy majors and radical political organizers. On a few occasions, I have found myself in such company.

Do I miss out on that by being married? Sometimes.

Truth be told, I’ve had less and less of that type of College Experience as my four years of college have gone by. Nothing is quite like that kaleidoscopic freshman dorm experience, with a Marxist two doors down and an impromptu bluegrass band in the basement. I lost some of that just by moving off campus.

Nowadays, my wife and I do get invited to the occasional house show or art exhibit. But we’re less likely to go. And I’m a lot less likely to stay up late with my friends talking about the Big Questions when I’ve got a wife waiting at home.

We’ve made our decision, though, and we’re content. These past two days in Columbia, snow has kept the school closed, and I’ve been trapped in the apartment with a throbbing headache and a sore throat. We pulled our mattress into the living room to lie down and watch the sleet coat the trees while we took turns reading aloud from a Roald Dahl anthology.

I don’t know about her, but I was sure glad to be married.

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Movies Married People Like

When you are a newlywed, you watch a lot of movies. It’s one of those bland domestic things, like playing house-rules Scrabble or taking long walks through the neighborhood, that you now find novel because they’re with your wife.

But being as we are on a pretty tight budget, we rarely visit the $14-a-ticket movie theater. Instead, most of our movies have come from the public library, which boasts an impressive collection of old, foreign and obscure films — and a few newer ones.

So it’s been hit-or-miss. We’ve seen our fair share of head-scratchers, like Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s transcendentally obtuse Syndromes and a Century. And we’ve sat through some critically acclaimed turds, like Greenberg (Why couldn’t Noah Baumbach have just made The Squid and the Whale 2?).

But there have been winners, too. Here are our favorites so far:

[Moon poster]Moon (2009)

This is classic sci-fi, set in a claustrophobic moon outpost inhabited by a lonely maintenance worker named Sam (Sam Rockwell) and a shifty robot assistant (Kevin Spacey) who acts a lot like HAL in 2001.

Part of what makes it work, I think, is the lived-in feeling of the set and costumes. Sam looks more like a trucker than some intrepid space colonist. He whittles wooden models of his hometown when he’s bored. He hangs fuzzy dice in the moon rover. He’s sort of a hippie.

The film is also immensely sad and loaded with existential weight. Not a great first-date movie, per se, but perfect for sitting on the couch and pretending to be film critics afterward. And I’ll not give away the plot twist, but it makes you awfully glad not to be alone.

[Three Amigos poster]¡Three Amigos! (1986)

I’d just finished reading Steve Martin’s excellent memoir about his standup comedy years, and I needed a dose of clueless-white-man humor. This one was part of a treasure trove of VHS tapes that my wife’s sister had given us after her VCR bit the dust.

While it doesn’t top The Jerk as our all-time favorite Martin vehicle, it hit the spot. The humor is corny as all get-out — I almost rolled on the floor when Chevy Chase’s character asked the villagers of Santo Poco, “Do you have anything here besides Mexican food?” — and the satire is light.

On a side note, I’m waiting for VHS to come back as a trendy format, kind of like vinyl albums. My wife and I enjoy watching previews for old movies that apparently flopped, and Good Will Hunting was made all the more enjoyable by the fact that the top of Matt Damon’s kept warping toward the upper right corner of the screen. All my hipster friends wax faux-nostalgic about the crackles, hisses and “warmth” of old vinyl, so what I want to know is: Where are the tape snobs?

[Super Size Me poster]Super Size Me (2004)

I know, I know. We’re way behind the times on this one. When my wife saw it was streaming for free on Hulu, we decided it was our duty as Americans to watch it.

We’d already seen Food, Inc. and Fast Food Nation, but this one had a far more engaging approach. Food, Inc. was informative, but I thought Michael Pollan did a better job summing up the grossness of the beef industry in his New York Times Magazine piece “Power Steer.” Fast Food Nation succeeded at being both aimless and preachy, a rare combination — perhaps fictionalization was the wrong route to take. It’s a bad sign when you can say Avril Lavigne stole the show.

Super Size Me worked because of its sheer chutzpah. This guy, Morgan Spurlock, put his life (or at least his health) on the line to say something about the chow we’re being fed. My wife is studying to be a nurse, so it struck a nerve as she recalled all the complications she’d seen in the hospitals with overweight, diabetic patients. I’m a journalist with a flair for personal involvement, so I was encouraged by Spurlock’s success.

[Despicable Me poster]Despicable Me (2010)

Usually I’m a Pixar purist when it comes to kids’ movies, but this one won me over. Maybe it was Steve Carell’s diabolical Russian accent (which, coincidentally, sounded exactly like a great storyteller named Boris Timanovsky we had heard on The Moth podcast). Maybe it was all the thinly veiled jabs at Apple fanboy culture. Maybe I’m just a sucker for movies about orphans.

Whatever the case, in a $2 movie theater with scuddy floors and no 3D glasses, we found ourselves getting emotionally invested in the struggles of a washed-up old supervillain who wants to steal the moon.

One day, we will watch this one with our kids, along with Toy Story 3, Up, The Sandlot and, eventually, Stand By Me. Sometimes we talk about these things: What will we want them to watch? What values does a movie like Snow White really teach to a young girl? Will we enforce good taste on our kids, or will we let them watch Shrek the Third?

Kids don’t really understand kids’ movies, anyway. I know I didn’t.

[Home Movie poster]Home Movie (2001)

As with the 1999 cult classic documentary American Movie, you’re never sure whether director Chris Smith wants you to laugh at or sympathize with the people onscreen. Home Movie is an intimate, matter-of-fact look at five unusual houses around America and the people who live in them. Included are a cat-friendly home inhabited by a cat-obsessed older couple, a Louisiana houseboat owned by an alligator wrassler, and a converted missile silo occupied by a husband and wife who are big fans of pan flute music.

It’s like MTV’s Cribs, but with weirdoes instead of celebrities. And yet I caught myself relating to some of these people, like when the couple in the missile silo talked about their home being a castle, or when the houseboat guy showed off the bayou-to-mouth simplicity of his lifestyle.

But what really made sense, and what gave us hope, was that no matter how deranged these people’s ideas of home décor, the couples in the documentary understood each other completely. Sure, it’s a little odd to tell your grown children they can’t stay for Christmas because all the rooms are occupied by cats. Sure, it’s a little creepy to have a concrete launch site in the middle of your subterranean abode. But to them, that’s home. That’s the good life.

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Planning a Wedding on a College Budget

My wife and I recently threw away our pile of bridal magazines.  You know the type from the checkout aisle: pictures of fancy things you can’t afford, lists of impractical tips, and ad after ad featuring stern, frowning women vamping in white dresses.

It’s not that they were useless in planning our wedding.  It’s just that they were good for a laugh, especially when they attempted the obligatory “Planning Your Wedding on a Budget, You Poor Sap” feature.

Both of us being notorious cheapskates, my then-fiancée and I balked at the price tags they put on things like catering, photography and wedding rings.  Our parents had offered to pitch in, but we weren’t about to spend $20,000 in a single day, no matter whose money it was.

So, in the summer of 2010, we set out to tie the knot on a shoestring budget.  Here’s how two college students working for just above minimum wage can (and did) plan the best day of their lives:

1. Get your friends involved. This was easily our number-one money saver.  We attend a huge state school with a lot of liberal-arts students, so we had no shortage of creative friends to ask when it came time to pick our photographer, DJ, singer, pianist, and wedding planner.  In fact, all of those shoes were filled by our close friends and family members, who offered their services either discounted or free.

Of course, this can also go horribly wrong.  It’s important to realize that, just because you support your friend’s dream of becoming the next Elliott Smith, he’s not necessarily your best candidate for wedding singer.  Practice a little discernment.

An old friend offered to DJ at the reception. Another friend took this picture. (photo by Pat Wright)

2. Do it yourself. “Easy for you to say, Mr. Didn’t Have to Address 300 Invitations,” my wife said when I brought this point up to her yesterday.  It’s true, I wasn’t the one teaching myself calligraphy and writing ‘til my hand seized up.

My hypocrisy aside, we discovered we could do a lot of things ourselves rather than pay a professional.  We ordered sunflowers, baby’s breath and ferns from a local wholesale florist, and a bevy of aunts and cousins helped my bride-to-be arrange them on the night before the wedding.  I designed our programs and printed them at home on cardstock.

We found mason jars, hurricane lamps, ribbon, and tulle at craft stores, and we (read: she) created most of the decorations with a little help from a glue gun and a friend’s sewing machine.  After the ceremony, we reused bouquets for centerpieces at the reception.

Yeah, my wife's a genius. (photo by Pat Wright)

3. Go for a smaller diamond. If you’ve done any engagement ring shopping, you know that the most important factors in determining price are the size and quality of the diamond.  So if your fiancée doesn’t require a big ol’ rock — and bear in mind, this is one “if” you must know with absolute certainty before proceeding — then you can go for a smaller diamond and a fancier ring setting.

The setting I saw most often in jewelry stores was the solitaire, where the diamond juts out like an iceberg.  The one I ended up picking took design cues from the Depression era, when folks couldn’t afford 4 carats’ worth of glistening carbon and opted instead for an ornately engraved ring with maybe a half-carat diamond.  It looks a lot like my grandmother’s.  And yes, my wife loves it.

We opted for a smaller diamond in a unique setting. (photo by Pat Wright)

4. Host the wedding and reception in the same place. It might take some logistical finagling to make this happen, but the payoff is twofold: You save money, and you’re less likely to have guests bailing before the reception and leaving you with twelve pounds of leftover asparagus crostini.

We ended up picking a park near our hometown with a conference room and an adjoining kitchen that served as the caterers’ staging area.  We had chairs set up in rows for the ceremony, and as soon as it was over, we had a couple of friends spring into action to clear the dance floor and push the chairs under tables.

With the seats pushed aside, the hall we rented for the ceremony became a combination dance floor-dining room. (photo by Pat Wright)

5. Don’t like it?  Skip it. As we considered the possibility of eating leftover asparagus crostini for a week, we had an epiphany: Hors d’oeuvres suck.  So we didn’t have any.  The reception dinner was pork barbecue with mac ‘n’ cheese and salad.  Best meal we had all week, and certainly a better deal than baked brie én croute.

Remember that nothing is mandatory.  The marriage still counts, even in the absence of chocolate fountains and ice-sculpture swans.

A friend recently pointed out — and I think she was right — that the only people paying attention to the details are the ones planning their own weddings.  Everyone else just wants to see you.

What a day. (photo by Pat Wright)

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Our Vows

We wrote our own vows.

Writing these together, on a long Interstate car ride, was more straightforward than you might imagine.  We made a series of promises to each other, and we intend to keep them.  Here they are:

I, Paul, take you, Kate,

To be my wife.

I promise I will love you faithfully and without condition.

I will bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things.

Your joys will be my joys, and your burdens my burdens.

I will speak with honesty and love; I will regard your faults with grace.

I will pray for you every morning; I will never go to bed angry.

We will always be best friends.

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Why Did We Get Married?

I got married in college.

That is to say, my wife and I are both undergraduates at the University of South Carolina. That is to say, we get a lot of raised eyebrows when we introduce ourselves to classmates.

Few have the courage to ask it outright, but the question is implied: What were we thinking?

Rest assured, the little lady and I did a lot of thinking. We talked it out, argued a bit, cried a few times, and came to the conclusion that we ought to get married in the summer before our senior year.

So now here we are, one month into the married life and two weeks into the fall semester. She’s getting used to the fact that I eat too much cereal. I’m watching old seasons of “Gilmore Girls” with her. We have a kitten together. We’re adjusting.

Maybe you’re in the same spot as we were last year, weighing your options and debating whether to tie the knot pre- or post-grad. I’m not much for giving advice, but I will share our point of view.

Here’s what we were thinking:

1. We were tired of not being married. Believe it or not, we’d been dating for seven-and-a-half years when I finally wised up and proposed. We were one of those rare high-school couples (middle-school couples, actually) that make it across the great divide between home and the college years, and, frankly, the whole dating thing was getting old.

We were tired of living apart, even if our apartments were just down the street from each other. We weren’t one of those trendy Millennial couples who “hook up,” “move in,” or “communicate via text messages.” We kicked it old school.

I’d had my taste of bachelorhood, and I was ready for the next thing. As much as I loved my previous roommates, I’d rather wake up next to my wife than to a thrice-snoozed alarm clock and the smell of Old Spice.

2. We wanted to live for each other. One day my freshman year, an older friend and I were getting lunch together when he asked if my girlfriend and I were tossing the M-word around yet. I was caught a bit off guard, and then he said, “The sooner you get married, the sooner you can start living for someone other than yourself.”

As Christians, we both believe that a self-centered life is a wasted life. I had to admit, most of my days in college were spent seeking my own success or comfort — my career, my physical fitness, my dinner. When I stopped constructing my sentences around the subject “I” and started to ponder “we,” virtues like patience, charity, and forgiveness took on a new light.

I am told that all of this changes again when you have kids.

3. We were financially stable. Thanks to some serious scholarships and a heaping helping of elbow grease, the two of us are on track to finish college debt-free. We aren’t wealthy, but neither are we depending on our parents or a student loan officer to put groceries in the fridge.

This point is usually the clincher when we’re explaining ourselves to doubters. Money — or lack thereof — is one of those harsh realities they warn you about out here in the real world. My wife recently commented that our family budget planning was the most adult conversation she’d ever had.

It also helps that neither of us have extravagant tastes. We cook simple meals at home rather than dining out, and we’ve gotten much of our furniture from hand-me-downs and yard sales.

4. The timing was good for a wedding. We’re both graduating in May of 2011, and conventional wisdom would have us wait ‘til then.

But the main problem with waiting until graduation, aside from the we’d-rather-not-wait-another-year factor, was that my wife is a nursing student. Nursing students finish out their senior year cramming for a hellacious licensing exam called the NCLEX, and we figured that would hardly leave time or mental energy for wedding planning.

In some ways, it’s easier to have a wedding when you’re a student than when you’ve got a career. This summer, we worked at our jobs until a week before the wedding and then called it quits. This left us a week to make last-minute preparations and two weeks to honeymoon before we started classes and new jobs in the fall semester.

5. We were ready for something concrete. This might sound incongruous coming from a male, but I wanted commitment. So did she. We wanted to take each other off the market for good, and we’d thought long and hard about the promises we’d be making.

In college, everything is in flux. You can change your major, remodel your worldview, and cower at the specter of graduating in a recession. Your script is unwritten. But there’s an amazing sense of comfort that comes with knowing the protagonist will have a leading lady.

So, no, we don’t know what comes next. But we’ve got the important parts nailed down.

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