Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On Facing the Unknowable

Sometimes I think I spend so much time focusing on the wedding and on building healthy foundations to this wedding because it's all I can do. It's some sort of desperately inadequate insurance policy against our unknowable future. With any luck, we've got another 50+ years together in which we'll celebrate joys and face down terrifying emotional journeys together. We both know that life isn't easy. We've seen illness closeup and watched how it changes families and we know how it can strike suddenly and without mercy. I've seen other friends deal with mourning the loss of their parents, children and partners. We really never know. We hope, and marriage is part of that hope.

I worry sometimes that our marriage won't be strong enough to survive, if things ever get really bad. I already know we can handle bad, but it's the can't-even-mention-it-for-fear-of-stirring-the-devil Bad that I worry about in my darkest moments.  Although we're working so hard on the underpinnings of our relationship, even as we decorate it all in the trappings of white dresses and wedding flowers, I wonder how any relationship survives those sorts of Bad.  I have true and genuine faith in us and how our relationship is built on a foundation of shared values, shared religion/spirituality, shared politics, some shared activities, mutual respect, and a healthy sense of humor about the world. That foundation is absolutely critical, and its our only ballast against the horrors of the sort of soul-crushing Bad that stirs my secret unruly fears.

No one can ever see the future, and so we just stumble on, hopeful and ready to tackle problems as they arise. And 99% of the time, I'm happy to stumble forward, comforted my incredible faith in us. Faith is the only word for it. Faith - not in God, but in Us - is the only thing that that can usually keep that fear of the awful at bay. But, sometimes, the fear of the unmentionably dark Bad creeps in anyhow.  And right now, my fear is centering around babies. Not the fear of having babies, but the fear of being unable to have them, and what that years-long struggle can do to a couple.

As I was reading Offbeat Bride yesterday, Ariel linked to a post on her sister site Offbeat Mama that detailed her years-long challenge with infertility. By the end, I was an emotional wreck. I've had babies on the brain lately. My best friend since age five just had a baby. One of my closest friends from college just got pregnant. A blogland friend just announced her pregnancy. One of my colleagues is about to have his second baby. I'm filled with so much baby-related joy that I could burst, even if it hasn't pushed me to reconsider our three-years-from-now timetable. (Sorry, Mom.) But Ariel's discussion of her five painful years struggling against infertility was a glimpse into how the inability to have a baby can wreak havoc on a life and, I can only imagine, a marriage. It's the sort of Bad I worry about. It feels close and possible and like it's an all-too-real Bad that could snake into our lives and slowly poison love. It feels all the more real because we have friends who are going through this suffering right now, mixed in with the loss of multiple miscarriages. 

They, however, are my inspiration. I cannot begin to fathom their pain or understand their struggles over the last few years, but I've only watched them grow closer. I know they've been ripped apart - individually and as a couple - by their experiences. But I've also marveled at their strength and how their relationship has actually seemed to pull in tight around itself and survive. It's grown harder and less rosy-eyed, perhaps. Their love now carries fragments of their loss. But, somehow, it's remained whole and somehow became stronger where other couples have easily failed.

Their relationship is the reason I know marriage is about so much than just love, even as it's entirely rooted in the fierce love we have for each other. Because it has to be more than just emotion, and yet it needs to rely on something so primal and raw that it can hold us together is we ever need to face down the truly Bad. I need to believe we're one of those couples whose marriage will be forged into something stronger if we ever face down an unmentionable terror. We both have clear examples of this in our parents, but it's different, somehow, seeing it with the patina of age and distance from their initial troubles. With our friends and peers, their struggles are happening in real-time, just as we are preparing to promise our lives together. In sickness and in health. With bonds forged in legal, spiritual, and communal promises. It's terrifying. Marriage and love can't protect us from whatever there is to come, but I'm finding faith in the examples of our friends who have protected their marriage and love despite it all.


Regarding comments for this post - I really have no interest in fertility scare stories about age. It's not the point of this post and it only serves to create more stress on couples who have made their choices as they see fit, oftentimes with full knowledge about the correlation between age and fertility. And, to be clear, the two couples mentioned in this post started trying to conceive well before 30. My mother had me in her late 30s. These Bad things can happen to anyone, anywhere, and are not contingent upon age. And that's the point, more than anything about tips on conception or ideal age.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

When Things Go Wrong

Apparently this wedding horror video went viral back in 2008, but I missed it at the time.



I know, right? Gasp, ack, horror, what a waste of a $1000+ dress and $500 hair and makeup. And yet... while my first response was certainly OMFG horror, my immediately-thereafter response was to giggle uncontrollably. Not at the bride, mind you, but in a shrug-your-shoulders, that's-life, something-ridiculous-is-bound-to-happen-at-my-wedding-too, and I-plan-to-have-a-real-sense-of-humor-about-it way. While I wouldn't wish this on anyone (and especially not at such an important moment of the ceremony), my uncontrollable giggles were a nice little reminder that I will absolutely be able to roll with the punches if all my plans and backup plans and backup backup plans (because I have those too) go to hell.

After my video-related shock, I discovered that this video was actually a viral marketing campaign for a low-budget movie. But it didn't change the direction of my contemplation and the way it made me think about my wedding or how I might respond when something goes wrong.  My hope is uncontrollable giggles, smiles, or a general water-off-the-back approach. Heck, I've ended up in a fountain before, fully clothed and sopping wet, and it's still one of the best travel stories I've ever collected (though that is an entirely different story for a different time). At my heart, I'm a roll with the punches girl. I'm the one who stays weirdly calm and manages medical emergencies, natural disasters, and police incidents with cool and efficient detachment despite my over-analytical neuroticism about most things. I furiously planplanplan my vacations and contingency plans, and then I'm happy to just let things happen, fountain swimming included.

For the wedding, I have a rain plan. We're also considering buying wedding insurance and not just a liability rider on our renter's insurance policy. I know where I'd get takeout pizza if the catering fails us. I am making lists of phone numbers with last minute just-in-case scenarios now, despite the fact that the wedding is nine months away. I am prepared for our wedding. And yet, it will not go as planned. Even without a pool to get knocked into, my hair and makeup will probably end up disastrous by the end of the night and my dress will get dirty around the hem by the time the night is over. Our wedding is bound to be highly imperfect, no matter how much we try to control and plan. And, while I truly hope that our imperfection isn't the falling-into-a-pool sort (which would be particularly disconcerting, considering there are no bodies of water at our venue), I'm not too worried if it's something similar in scope. Because, what's the worse that could happen? A particularly notable story about a wedding disaster and a giggly bride who went for it and changed back into her getting-ready blue jeans, that's what.

Giggles, marriage, and blue jeans don't sound half bad, actually. And if I giggle, I figure the guests will all take a cue and giggle with me. And then we'll have a room full of smiles and people who feel free to get a little crazier with their dancing without worrying about hair, makeup, or dirty hems. And that sounds just about right.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Envy

Over the last few weeks, my wedding emotions went spiraling into a dark vortex of hate. And, if I'm entirely honest, it wasn't simply because of guest list battles, venue frustration, or feeling entirely up in the air about all our plans. No, if I'm being honest, it's because I was getting sadder and sadder about my wedding budget and all the things I can't buy and won't have for the wedding.

Boo hoo, I know. My budget is actually pretty substantial in the grand scheme of the world but, with LA pricing and 150 people, it turns out we're having a pretty bare bones affair. And, because I've been researching venue alternatives like crazy over the last few weeks, I've been feeling exactly how bare those bones really are, especially in comparison with other people's weddings.
  • Other people can afford/are willing to pay for an $8000 room rental at Smog Shoppe and all the additional required staffing and rental needs.
  • Other people can afford/are willing to pay for a gorgeous dress in a breathable material.
  • Other people can afford/are willing to pay for those charming hanging strands of lights that cost $50 per strand plus labor to safely string up.
  • Other people can afford/are willing to pay for succulent design centerpieces instead of fruitless searching on the internet for centerpiece tips.
  • Other people can afford/are willing to pay for caterers and event staff who magically take care of set up and clean up.
  • Other people can afford/are willing to pay for professional hair and makeup.
  • Other people can afford/are willing to pay for handmade rings with ethical sparkle that matches their engagement ring.
  • Other people can afford/are willing to pay for exceedingly pretty and incredibly convenient and hassle-free weddings.
We are not other people. We (okay, I) was crying into our budget excel every time I found a new possible venue and realized how much more bare bones our budget would have to  become to accommodate the alternative (I don't need a wedding dress, do I? We can email invitations and not just save the dates, right?) And we (okay, I) was becoming increasingly resentful about everything we can't or won't have at our wedding.

My envy was truly ugly. When I entered the final quote from our venue into our spreadsheet this morning, I began making some it-would-be-nice updates in non-venue categories. Just to see. And, in "just seeing" the impossible result, I let waves of self pity wash over me. And then, I sensibly cut myself off from budget idiocy and went to explore non-wedding corners of the internet.

I stopped by Get Rich Slowly, my favorite personal finance site, where I felt like J.D's post today was talking directly to me. He wrote about house-envy while walking along a pretty river road in Portland in a way that managed to talk me down from the wedding-envy edge more effectively than any recent recaps of small budget, full-of-love weddings, since those weddings only managed to incite more envy. (bold emphasis mine.) 
"I’ve looked at these homes before, but usually in just a cursory fashion. Today, I really looked at them. And as I looked, I began to covet.

“I want a house like that,” I thought as I passed the new house built from river rock and brick. “Or maybe one like that,” I mused while considering the next lot, which includes a tennis court.
I imagined what it would be like to live in homes like these, homes with arched double-door entries, vaulted ceilings, and wrap-around porches. How much would it cost? (And where would I get the money?) What would this new, wealthier J.D. be like? What would I do? How great would my life be?
But my imagination really took flight when I saw that one of the homes was for sale. I stopped at the top of the driveway to admire all of the gables, the fountain, and the three-car garage. I pictured the other side, which must sit right at the river’s edge...
“Wow,” I thought. “If only I could afford a place like that!”
Yes, J.D. If only. And then what? Would that make you satisfied?
...Suddenly it occurred to me that I didn’t need some fancy dream house. I already have one. I recalled the excitement that Kris and I felt when we first found our current place back in 2004. We thought it was perfect.
...When you feel that aching urge to keep up with the Joneses, when you wake up and realize you’ve begun to succumb to lifestyle inflation, it’s time to pause and take stock of what you have. When you slow down and really appreciate what you already own, you can often slake the thirst for something bigger and better.
Replace "house" with "wedding" and you see where I'm going. We already have a wedding plan I've fallen in love with a thousand times over. And I certainly know that spending more for the pretties that frame our day won't make me any more satisfied in the long-term. And I know that a more expensive wedding won't make my life great in any real way. But sometimes, it's hard to remember my core values and awesome-for-me choices when envy sneaks into your previously innocuous appreciation of expensive houses/weddings. So today I'm taking J.D. advice and slowing down to appreciate what we already have.
  • We have a stunning venue in a place that's emotionally important to us.
  • We have so many loved ones who will be joining us from out of town.
  • We have amazing friends who have offered to bake cakes and make appetizers.
  • I have an amazing ex-makeup-artist friend who has offered to do my makeup as a gift.
  • We have vendors we love, including so many blogger friends with whom I shared this process of wedding planning and marriage.
  • We have plans to make our chuppa in a way that plays homage to meaningful family traditions and beauty.
  • We have a wedding in which we've edited away the fluff, out of sheer necessity, and focused on a day and rituals that matter to us.
  • We have each other.
How about you? What do you have? And what do you hold onto when envy tries to creep in and grab ahold of your heart?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Relief

We have a venue. The non-profit finally moved beyond their fundraiser-focused months and approved our request at their board meeting. We're signing a contract and submitting our deposit asap. As soon as our check clears and the contract is countersigned, I'll give you all an update on the actual location.

We couldn't be happier. We went back to the site again a few weeks ago, just to see if we'd romanticized it and glossed over the DIY challenges and to confirm if everything was truly wheelchair accessible. And it was just how we'd remembered it: imperfectly perfect, and entirely right for us (and wheelchairs.) So we've been holding our breath while halfheartedly researching and visiting venue alternatives around town. None of them felt quite as right, but we were willing to consider them all. And now, we don't need to consider any of them. We just need to get our final paperwork in and get started on the real logistics and planning.

After getting venue confirmation, we spent the next two hours celebrating and starting a monster to-do list. Whereas to-do lists have been horrifically stressful until now, the act of being able to actually define our tasks and timeline is a welcome relief.  Our wedding ideas finally have context and can begin to take on actual direction and shape. Our wedding conversations won't have to hover in that frustrating realm of what-ifs and if-not-that, then-whats.  Our daydreaming has finally become real, and we can actually define the eleven discrete tasks we want accomplish by the end of July and the fifteen more by the end of summer. 

We're getting married on April 3, 2011 in a ceremony that will be witnessed and celebrated by our family and friends. And thanks to this venue, we'll be lucky enough to experience that joy in place that makes our hearts sing too. 

Monday, June 21, 2010

Marriage Is Not About Love

Since falling in love with Jason, I have become a giant sap. If anyone ever caught a glimpse of my private mush and schmoop, I would have to call off the friendship from pure embarrassment. It's like my 26 years of pre-Jason relationship cynicism finally collapsed inward, nothing to sustain them, once these new lovely dovey emotions finally found cracks in the veneer of coolness and fully infiltrated my emotional equilibrium, thereby leaving me happy and content. It's altogether disconcerting.

But that's not why I'm marrying Jason. In fact, I think those feelings of love and contentment are fragile pillars on which to support a life-long relationship. I don't care how strong my love is, when it's faced with piles of poopy diapers and a vomiting sick child and only three hours of sleep, love just isn't going to cut it.  Happy and content probably won't cross my mind in the midst of sleep-addled justgethtisf*ckingoverwithalready resentment and frustration. No. I'm marrying Jason because I know we can handle the poop and vomit of the world together. I know we can figure out how to tackle problems together. I know we're both sensitive enough to allow the other a moment or two of unfettered frustration before we get back to getting things done. And I know everything is easier with him around, and we'll be playing with black humor and bad puns within a few hours as a way to accomplish the uglier tasks on life's to-do list.

Case in point: house construction. Dear lord, the bathroom construction this past week has been miserable and unavoidable, necessitated by our only shower leaking into and rotting the foundation. Taking showers at my parents' house each morning would be irritating enough, but we've also had the pleasure of learning about the unique physical properties of construction dust, which inexplicably manages to seep into every conceivable nook and cranny, even several rooms away from the bathroom epicenter. Our house is gross. I hate coming home and I hate adding an extra 45 minutes onto my already harried day for a shower detour and I hate not having our cats around at night to snuggle on our tummies and bed (they're safe from construction workers at my parents house.) But all of that is a manageable, temporary inconvenience. We've been complaining about the herculean clean up efforts next week and joking that Spring Cleaning came late this year, but it's not a huge problem overall. Fleas, however, are a nasty, horrible, MAJOR inconvenience that prove exactly why temperament and values play a much more major role in marriage than Love. 

Eww, yes, fleas. Which was better than the initial fear that the bites were bedbug-related. They're not, THANK GOD, because bedbugs are horrific in a way I don't even want to think about. But still, discovering fleas when your house is already covered in gross construction dust made me want to simultaneously cry, stand on a (wooden) chair and squeal, shower (which we couldn't do without taking a trip), and get a hotel room.  Fleas are, in a word, disgusting. We have no idea how they infiltrated our apartment, since the cats are indoor cats and arrived sans bloodsucking bugs. But they're here. And, after an evening of heebie jeebie feelings, we got down to just dealing with it.

The process of "just dealing with it" is where I really appreciate Jason and the full depth of this partnership. We can schmoop for hours on end, but it's when we we're covered in sweat, white dust and upholstery feathers (from taking all the sofa pillow cases off) and still in a relatively decent mood that I can truly appreciate just how great this partnership is and how strong our marriage will be. The construction won't be done til next week, but we dealt with thoroughly cleaning every corner of the house so the flea foggers could properly work, knowing that we'll need to scrub everything down again in a few days. We stripped every piece of upholstery in the house and took every bit of clothing down to the laundromat, because our in-unit washing machine wasn't enough for all the fabric. We cleared off every kitchen counter and taped up every cabinet in the house. We sprinkled (supposedly) natural, non-chemical bug powder on every upholstered surface and rubbed in the powder with a brush (given how much I coughed, I'm not sure it was non-toxic). We took our pet goldfish, Jimi Hendrix, out of his aquarium. And then we set off the flea foggers (terribly toxic, but there's no way around it really) and made our escape to my parents house for the next several days.

Sadly, Jimi didn't survive the move. We don't know if it was a problem with the bowl, his water, or if some pesticides somehow got him, but after our utter relief with accomplishing everything flea-cleaning related last night and getting to snuggle with our cats in my parents' guest room, we found the poor fish floating this morning. Jimi was Jason's first pet when he moved to Los Angeles.  I may not have understood Jason's love for this fish (though Jimi was one of the happiest, most active goldfish I've ever met) but I really respected how the fish represented Jason's compassion for the world. (He rescued Jimi from an event centerpiece. The event planner hadn't exactly thought about what to do with the "centerpieces" after the event, and Jason was horrified. Of the four fish he saved, Jimi was the only one to survive. He lived for almost four years!)

So this weekend has been hard. It was a ton of hard, gross physical labor and it was a morning of loss and sadness for a pet who's followed Jason throughout his time in Los Angeles. But this weekend has also been a reminder of why I'm so happy and content in this relationship and why I know marriage is the rightest step we can take together. Marriage is built upon these seven-hour stretches of cleaning up, dealing with utter grossness, and coping with loss. It definitely needs schmooping and private time too, but it's the shared effort and the joint approach to taking care of life's ugly necessities that really ensures an ongoing healthy marriage. Real love is about how a family makes do. Real love is about family, like how my parents opened their home for us (and the cats, now treated with flea medicine) without question. Real love and family is about rolling with punch after punch, and somehow getting by, together.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Eff The Effing It: I Am Not A Cool, Laid Back Bride.

Eff the bachelorette party
Eff the large bridal party and matching dresses
Eff the Saturday night wedding
Eff the fancy invitations
Eff the designer dress
Eff the really chic, sustainable, and super-fabulous venue
Eff the fancy catering and service
Eff the bouquet
Eff the favors
Eff the wedding cake

My ultimate wedding goal is to have an emotionally honest ceremony in a pretty locale, to get boozy with friends, and to dance to great music while looking fabulous. The rest can really go eff off. I'd love nice save the dates and invitations that would thrill my paper snob soul but I'd rather buy nicer beer for our guests. I'd love a pretty succulent bouquet, but I wouldn't choose it over a beautiful ketubah. I'd love a gorgeous designer dress but I'll be happy with special wear-again accessories. And once I made those eff it decisions, I truly decided not to care. It's not worth my time, angst, or money to second guess myself. I'm not shopping at fancy dress stores or custom shops because I'm just going to find a flattering white dress and be done with it. I really can't be bothered anymore.

So I'm willing to eff a whole freaking lot. I really am. But you know what? This wedding matters to me. In fact, it matters to me a whole darn lot. It sometimes weirds me out that I'm spending all this time and brainspace planning a wedding, because I was a happy singleton tomboy who could never really picture the partner or marriage. Five years ago I would have laughed in your face if you'd told me I'd be spending all this time writing and thinking about weddings. But the truth is, I'm still a bit in awe that I found a life partner who's so right for me in all the important ways. I want to honor our promise and commitment with seriousness and celebration. I want a day in which we can bring our families together as we begin to build a new expanded family, together. I want to facilitate joy and solemnity and giddy love. And creating space for that isn't simple. Coordinating family, tempering expectations, and defining meaningful traditions all while grappling with irritating vendors, huge amounts of money, and a shifting relationship is a painfully large challenge. And trying to find creative ways to limit that huge expenditure of money with 150 projected guests is a comically large challenge that's taken a lot of time and effort.

I wonder sometimes why I'm bothering with this challenge at all. In many ways, I think a wedding is simply an important symbolic ritual of marriage, but it's not a reflection on marriage itself. Jason and I feel "married" already, in the sense that we've been committed to the everyday efforts of building a joint life for a while now. So the wedding is icing on the cake. Many of the details (like that cake) can get tossed. Effed, as it were. Because the purpose of this all is a chance to say, "Yes, this matters. And yes, we promise to make it matter."

And that's the part that feels huge to me. It doesn't feel huge in a need-a-fancy-ballroom-reception way. It just feels important in a way I've never experienced before. I've never felt so sure of anything as terrifying as linking my future in with someone else. And I want to honor that hugeness.

And so, the wedding matters. I can feel entirely laid back about save the dates, but I can't feel entirely cool and laid back when the venue plans get tossed up and smashed to pieces and when the guest list feels out of control. I can't feel laid back when our plans get twisted in a way that doesn't feel right for us and our rituals and truths as a couple. And I can't feel cool and laid back when the little moments start adding up and I suddenly lose it in a cathartic scream of frustration. But oh. effing. well. This matters. And it turns out that I'm not cool and laid back about it at all. I'm heartfelt and earnest and I want to honor our marriage honestly. And at this point, I'm ready to rip on anyone and anything that gets in my way.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Guest List Hell

  • Jason's draft invitation list: 145
  • My draft invitation list: 93
  • Total draft invitation list: 238 
  • Current, edited down, invitation list: 202
  • Our (hopeful) venue's capacity and our line-in-the-sand budgetary limit: 150
  • Our backup venue's capacity (and no, we're not going to discuss the budget about that one): 130
  • People who thought this would be easier and smaller since we're paying for the shindig ourselves and presumably that would make family politics easier and guest lists smaller: 1
  • People who clearly underestimated their partner's family size and close friend circles: 1
  • People who are actively worried about the possibility that more than 150 people on the 202 invitation list will accept our invitation, despite a large number of out-of-town guests: 1
  • People who have issues with uncertainty and lack-of-control when it comes to event planning: 1
  • People who are spending far too much time dealing with the other partner's stresscase hysteria: 1
  • People who wish they'd had the opportunity to meet more important people from their partner's guest list so the wedding doesn't feel like a giant meet-and-greet but actually feels like a communal celebration: 2
  • People who are fed up with guest list negotiations: 2

    Tuesday, June 15, 2010

    Different Perspectives on Our First Dance

    As with many things along this wedding planning journey, choosing a song for our first dance has been more fraught than I had anticipated. We don't have "a song." Jason's a musician and worked in the music industry, so we have an entire relationship soundtrack. We have a pile of ticket stubs and mix CDs and memories of countless nights spent discussing music and pop culture music history. We have nights spent belting out classics over Jason's guitar. We have countless picnics and music festivals that have inspired spontaneous dancing, of both the goofy and romantic sort. But we don't have a single definitional or singularly emotional song. We also probably can't have amplified music for our ceremony, meaning our first dance song could be the only song of the evening to represent us, our relationship, and our shared musical tastes all while providing the soundtrack to one of the (supposedly) most romantic moments of our wedding.

    That's a whole lot of pressure for one little song and for two to four long minutes on the dance floor.

    I'm not sure any song can live up to those expectations or needs. And, once I add in Jason and my differing expectations and needs from that song, I'm pretty sure the first dance song pressure collapses in upon itself, leaving nothing but a knot of confused fear and hope.

    Music is so integral to how Jason experiences life. For him, he sees the first song and that first dance as an incredibly personal moment and a way to step into the music - just us together- to experience a romantic moment apart from the insanity of the wedding day. He thinks fondly about friends' first dances and how they've leaned into each other, whispering something private while sharing in this personal song and moment. For him, this first dance is intensely romantic, and the song we choose should reflect that. It should reflect our tastes, yes, but it should also fit the feeling of that romance and mood.

    As for me, I don't see anything romantic about a dance during which 150 pairs of eyes are, kindly but intensely, examining the way we hold each other, the way we dance, and the meaning behind that dang first song. When I think of this song I get nervous, not inspired. I get the feeling that we'll have a much more romantic dancing moment during the last dance, when we're sharing the dance floor with other couples and everyone's a bit too tipsy and tired to train their focus on us and our potentially nervously clumsy feet. Since I can't believe in the romance of the moment, it's therefore important to me that we choose a song that represents something honest about us and how we see love. I don't want anything that hints at soulmate-type BS because marriage and reality is harder than that, but I don't want a song that's depressing either. I want something that recognizes that this relationship takes work but makes both of us better somehow. All while fitting within a musical framework we can dance to. And hopefully not written by an artist who makes me shudder.

    We actually had a song we'd both agreed on, for a while. But, when I started to think about What It All Meant and how nervous I was, my convictions fell apart.  Again, we don't have "a song," but we have bands and concerts that have meant a lot to us. The Death Cab for Cutie concert at the Hollywood Bowl was one of those perfect summer concert evenings. And listening to Jason's vinyl collection while cooking and drinking wine is one of our shared pleasures. During one of those vinyl nights, we were both in just the right mood to properly appreciate and share the Iron and Wine acoustic cover of Such Great Heights by Ben Gibbard's Postal Service collaboration. And, when we read about how Ben Gibbard describes "Such Great Heights" as the first positive love song he ever wrote, inclusive of it's complexities and longings, we both thought to ourselves that we might actually have found "a song."

    But then the doubt crept in. It's four minutes long. Although Jason swears we can edit it somehow, that just feels like four terrifying minutes of eyeballs and discomfort to me. Also, I want to hit Kaiser Permanente, UPS, Target, Ask.com and Grey's Anatomy for all using the original Postal Service song in their commercials. Yes, these companies all licensed the song is because it's an obviously great song, but it has cheapened the song for me, even if I love it when artists can actually earn real money for making great music.  I justified it though, because the Iron and Wine acoustic version has a completely different feel: instead of drawing you in with a perfectly selected and timed cacophony of upbeat sounds, it pulls you in with the intimacy of the stripped down acoustic beauty and subtle complexity of the lyrics. And then, with further research, I found out the Iron and Wine version became a big deal due to the Garden State movie, and I hate Garden State. Fortunately, I'd lived abroad when the movie came out so the film didn't have a chance to ruin a song I love, but it had a chance to solidify the awful connection for everyone else we know who wasn't living abroad.  I'm having a very difficult time getting past what everyone could think about us if they assume we love a song because of Garden State and it's trite attempts at saying something Important about finding yourself and the emptiness of modern 20-something life (or some such crap.)

    Somehow, this first dance song became more than a song. It became a way to impart something important about us to our guests while also creating the backdrop for an important moment for us. And I don't want the song to impart UPS or Garden State, but I also don't want to give a damn about what our guests think about song that we both love and which felt right before I started researching and overanalyzing it.

    And I think, maybe, we're all overanalyzing this first dance song a little bit. It's become one more wedding detail to obsess over because it feels so weighted with importance but, ultimately, it's a song that can't possibly be all things to both partners. We're both different people who want different things from a first dance song to begin with, and that's okay.  There's no way the symbolism will work for us (as a reference to important moments in our relationship, our musical tastes, and with Words that Matter and feel Real yet Romantic) and which will be interpreted with similar symbolism by our guests. And that's okay too. Because ultimately, it's just one dance. One dance of many during that night and throughout our lives. Jason and I didn't have "a song" before the wedding and we may not have one afterwards.

    Instead, we're taking a suggestion from Emilia Jane and we're going to dance to a bunch of songs in our living room and see what feels right. We'll choose songs that fit both our needs well enough and then we'll see how it feels to dance to them. Such Great Heights isn't out of the running, but we need to find out how four minutes actually feels. We'll see how we feel, apart from anyone else's expectations or interpretations and we'll find something that works well enough for us. Because in the end, it will just be us and a song. It's not us and Symbolism. It's not Us and our Relationship. It's not a reflection on our Marriage or Wedding. It's a song we can both agree on and hopefully relax into while in the middle of all the mixed up reality of messy wedding day romance and public performance.

    Friday, June 11, 2010

    For So Cal Locals: Recession Bride Workshop

    One of the most difficult things about wedding planning is that we're suddenly asked to become skilled event planners who can coordinate the logistics of a giant (possibly) multi-day event that's additionally complicated by the emotions of a marriage and family drama. And unfortunately, most of our professional expertise is elsewhere and our time is generally tied up in that profession for about eight to ten working hours, making event planning difficult. Oh, and we're all supposed to do it on a tight budget while trying not to be terrified by that Knot checklist of 572 unfinished items and terribly unhelpful hints. (Hey Knot - you know what would be helpful? A list of venues that weren't described as $$, $$$, and $$$$ and which are all actually $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$.)

    So yeah, this stuff is hard. And if you're anything like me, you'll be lucky to find enough money to scrape together for a Day of Coordinator, let alone a full Wedding Planner. But experienced Wedding Planners are godsends, and I don't mean that lightly, because they actually are professional event planners who already know the town's venue and cost saving secrets and can see the logistical challenges and answers a mile off. But for many of us, planners are an expensive pipe dream, and we're left battling with the Knot (and our mothers.)

    Because of all of that, I'm really excited to help get the word out about Liz Coopersmith's upcoming Recession Bride Workshop. Liz, who planned the Los Angeles wedding of her dreams for $10,000 and gave us a great guest post on planning a $10,000 wedding in Los Angeles, is now offering an afternoon workshop in which you can pick her brain about all sorts of budget saving and sanity saving options. One of the many reasons I love Liz is that she's adamant that you can have the wedding you want on the budget you have, and she'll really show you how at the workshop.

    These workshops are intentionally small, so she can really get a chance to answer your and your partner's specific questions. This isn't general "cut your guest list" advice that makes me want to scream. Liz is here to help you. Bring your budget. Ask your questions. She'll walk through the specifics of how much this wedding stuff actually costs, what are the easiest ways for you to cut back, who has the best deals and discounts in Los Angeles (and you should also be following her blog for weekly deals on Wedding Wise Wednesday ), and she'll talk about the real costs and benefits of DIY (because sometimes DIY can be more expensive and irritating, so you should know that before you, um, buy a sewing machine like I did.)  Also, she's going to have cake and cocktail tastings, along with examples of fabulous lower cost pre-loved dresses.

    Oh, and the best part is how recession friendly the pricing is: $20 per couple. Even better? You can get a $5 discount through next Wednesday, June 16 if you use the code ""WedSaveFive."
     
    June 27
    1:00pm - 3:00pm
    The Event Studio
    2524 W. Magnolia Boulevard
    Burbank, CA  91505

    For more information and to register, visit the registration page at Silver Charm Events.


    This is not a sponsored post. I just really adore Liz and her sane approach to planning and wanted to share information about this opportunity with all of you So Cal locals.

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010

    Dress Shops and Ethics

    There's a lot of talk in this corner of the wedding blogosphere about values-driven weddings. We talk about supporting local shops and economies. We talk about environmental sustainability. We talk about wanting to know and like our vendors, oftentimes prioritizing artist-vendors who have focused their craft on weddings. We talk about the politics of weddings and how to recognize those who can't yet legally marry. We spend endless amounts of energy crafting egalitarian weddings or weddings that otherwise reflect our personal values as partners. We talk about the ethics of spending $X on a wedding (or not) and on developing budgets that reflect our true desires and true limitations.

    Dresses are one of the first emotional battlegrounds in ethical wedding planning. It's one of the first places where our budgets run smack into our aesthetics and values and we're left with some hard choices.
    • We may explore vintage shops because they're more sustainable, cost-effective, and aesthetically pleasing to buy a unique tea-length dress than a current collection Priscilla of Boston tea-length dress.
    • We might consider custom options to support independent designers and have one-of-a-kind, made-to-our-body dresses.
    • We may grapple with loving very expensive dresses and turning to Chinese or Etsy reproductions, since fashion doesn't have effective copyright protection and it feels sooooo excessive to pay for a brand name dress.
    • We may actually explore wedding dress salons, but look for "Bridal Alternatives" or bridesmaid dresses instead.
    • Some of us look into pre-loved dresses at sites like Recycled Bride.
    • Some folks consider J Crew because it initially seems "affordable," but only if you look at their - ha - $400ish options and ignore the $3000 options. Of course, these dresses are usually designer knockoffs made in low-wage factories
    • Department stores may offer more value for simple white dress options (without the blatant knock-off factor), but you're still sending your money to a far-off corporation and dresses that are probably made in factories. 
    • Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters are capitalizing on the popularity of so-called "Anthropologie weddings" and will be entering the wedding dress market within the year with options in the $500-$5000 range, but you're still forgoing the small business owners and killing the local salon economy. And yeah, like most places, you're still paying for overseas labor.
    • UPDATE: I made a few small changes to clarify some valuable points that Thirty-Something Bride and I discussed in the comment section regarding overseas textile and labor practices. Most dress companies, even many high-end couture shops, rely on textiles and labor from elsewhere. There are designer lines that explicitly promote their use of American labor and you should ask, if that's important to your dress values.
    This is hard stuff, especially when many supposedly lower-cost options a) aren't always that low cost and b) mean forgoing local, ethical shops. From Foxy Wedding, who used to own a bridal salon,
    "Most bridal salons are privately owned small businesses whose practices are fair and ethical, deserving a shot at earning your business.
    Why?

    The personal service and investment when working with a small business is unparalleled. I can't tell you how many times I opened when we were closed, gave out my personal mobile number (call anytime), stayed well past closing, and made personal deliveries to customers.  


    Each gown was treated as if it were my own. I was accountable if there were errors, crises, or unhappy customers, and I was proud and delighted when things were perfect.  I stopped at nothing and did everything I could in my power to make my customers happy. I know I am not the only one with that kind of conviction.

    At a small bridal shop, brides are able to choose a gown that will be custom made, with changes and specifications unique to each customer. While garments cannot be purchased off the rack, as at Anthro and J. Crew, they are well worth the wait and your consideration.


    It seems like flawed reasoning to believe you are getting a deal and sticking it to the (bridal) man when dresses will be in the same price range as the local bridal shop and you are actually buying
    from the man. "
    This dress shopping thing is a really hard balancing act. Budgets and ethics and local support are all important issues to consider and publicly discuss. But I've found one question about dresses and ethics sorely lacking in all the mainstream discussions I've come across: the ethics of respect for all women and all body types. And interconnected with that is the fact that the cheaper, designer knockoff mega stores like David's Bridal that incite near-universal "indie" scorn are some of the few places that actually get size acceptance right.

    Although I have no respect for bridal lines that don't carry larger sizes, I understand the challenges for independent shop owners who work with very low margins and yet have to invest upfront in every single $3000+ sample dress on their floor. With this business structure, it's obviously more cost-effective to have only one or two sizes. Or even just one. Yeah, one. I'm not a large girl - anymore - and as I was tying to squeeze myself into the single sample size at a local Bridal Alternative salon it hit me how insane and wrong this dress buying system can be. I generally fit the sample sizes now, but this development is pretty new for me and I'm still really sensitive about size issues. I spent most of my 30 years significantly overweight and was forced into lifestyle changes because of health scares unrelated to my weight.*  But if the wrong time of the month and an indulgent weekend were enough for me to barely fit into one designer's samples, it highlights the fact that there's something wrong with designer lines and a salon system that exclude the majority of women.  For example, one of my girlfriends was told to just hold the dress up against her so she could see how she might look in a larger size.

    What. The. F*ck.

    If 60% of American women are a size 12 or larger, and one third of those are a size 16 or larger, then many salons are very explicitly leaving out a large segment of the shopping public when they don't carry a size 12 or 16 sample, because "plus-size" doesn't fit with their "image" or "branding." And that is complete crap. And we should be talking about this more often when we talk about dress shopping ethics.

    I have a ton of issues with David's Bridal and Alfred Angelo, but I have zero issues with the way they treat women who happen to be larger as respected customers who deserve the full salon and bride experience. Yes, their mega-store inventories are large enough to support multiple sample sizes and their costs are low enough to support multiple dresses because they use synthetic materials and offshore labor, but hell, at least they respect their clientele. My girlfriend finally found a way to feel pretty, respected, and not like an afterthought bride at Alfred Angelo. She could actually try on the dresses and have an "oh my gosh, I'm a bride" moment.

    Even if I don't particularly want the "I'm a bride" moment myself, the thought of being actively excluded from participating in this major societal wedding ritual makes me furious.  So for people on a tight budget who really want the ballgown or sparkle wedding gown experience, I'm no longer going to knock David's Bridal and its ilk. Because at least they treat their customers with human dignity. Their workers are another issue but, for anyone who shops at H&M or Target, we can't really claim moral high ground.

    Like I said, these issues are complicated and those of us who don't fit the broader societal definition of sizist beauty and who don't have enough money for custom dresses don't have many great options. Vintage isn't a great option (darn tiny vintage sizing), pre-loved dresses are hit-or-miss, and J Crew and department stores have the same labor issues and generally only carry wedding dresses online (and only up to size 14ish, most of the time). So I think it's about time to stop with knee-jerk reactions against David's Bridal and the women who choose to shop there. Because we're all dealing with our own specific circumstances, and we all deserve respect for the wedding dress conclusions we've worked through.

    This post has been sitting in draft form for quite a while now. But I was finally inspired to finish it by the launch of Plumage Blog: Fashion and Beauty for the Plus Size Bride. The amazing Khris Cochran, founder of DIY Bride, has finally started a mainstream blog devoted to resources and respect for women of all sizes. Thank goodness, because respect for brides who don't fit the mainstream concept of slender attractiveness has been sorely lacking. I can't believe it's taken this long, and I'm thrilled to see these questions and style options tackled by a thoughtful veteran of the wedding blogging world and a former plus size bride herself.


    *I am absolutely NOT equating weight with health. In my case, it was a few health issues that forced me to really change my diet and focus on specific and consistent strength exercises. But I know a lot of larger people who eat wholesome foods and exercise regularly and whose doctors are thrilled with their blood pressure, cholesterol, insulin levels, and other markers of health. Heavier weights are not incompatible with health. 

    Monday, June 7, 2010

    Foundations

    A slight sense of imbalance left over from a boozy afternoon of board games at our local wine bar
    Face slightly roasted from time spent in the Malibu midday sun
    One cat curled tight on the windowsill, one off chasing invisible prey
    Books scattered over the coffee table
    Scents of sauteed garlic, onion, and fresh farmer's market vegetables filling our home
    Sia's "Some People Have Real Problems" album accompanying the early evening cooking, cleaning, and gardening.
    A small kiss as we pass each other, each lazily focused on the household task at hand. 

    These quiet moments build upon each other, the foundation of our life, be it married or not-quite-yet. Stresses set aside for an afternoon of the simple pleasures of an everyday life. For now, the wedding can wait.

    Friday, June 4, 2010

    Dreamland Venue Sanity Check

    I've spent much of the last 48 hours (yes, 48 hours, because I could barely sleep) alternating between extreme venue/wedding anxiety, freaking out about the budget, and feeling so unbelievably grateful for the support everyone here has been showing us. I've tried to read over sanity-check and wedding graduate posts to hold onto the real wisdom and joy at the heart of our weddings but, from in the middle of this anger, mourning and anxiety, finding the core of our wedding hasn't been all that easy.

    I'm lucky, though, because I have a partner who has an incredible ability to keep me grounded. Apparently even his dreams help keep me grounded, or at least they do when he turns venue nightmares into sanity check reminders.
    "Last night I had my first-ever wedding dream. Our wedding was in this big empty nondescript place that sort of felt like an empty mall food court mixed with an office building.  We had to take an elevator up to the 2nd floor to walk down the aisle.  There were no decorations except for a white runner that spanned the length of the floor.  Yeah, it was weird.  But I was still happy, because I got to marry you and all our friends & family were there." 

    Thursday, June 3, 2010

    Frustration

    Right now, I hate my wedding. I hate how our once perfect-seeming venue is now seeming more and more like it won't work. I hate that I have a list of venue alternatives that I know won't work. I hate how, for a variety of reasons, we have no flexibility on our date (which is problematic if you're starting an alternative venue search). I hate that our guest list is huge and complicated. I hate how our budget isn't nearly enough to find other reasonable venue options in Los Angeles. I hate that the one other reasonable venue I thought I'd found won't call me back either, and it's been weeks now (what is it with these places?! And this one is owned by a nearby city!) I hate how we're constrained in every direction: budget, guest list, date, handicapped accessibility needs, geography, and everything else. I hate that my one non-negotiable (having an outdoor ceremony in a place with an aesthetic soul) is seeming more and more impossible to effectively or cost-effectively manage in Los Angeles.

    But mostly, I hate that I seem to be losing my wedding. This wedding that started out as a compromise between my backyard wedding/campsite retreat desires and Jason's larger wedding desires became something we dreamed up together and somehow fell in love with along the way. I love the setting for it's views and emotional resonance in our lives. I love that it has an indoor-outdoor setup. I love that it feels a bit rustic instead of being immaculately maintained like most stand-alone wedding locations.  I love our taco truck and friend-made dessert buffet dreams. I love our pinata and lawn game plans. I love the feeling I get in my heart when I think of this wedding.

    But as the problems mount, so do my concerns. I'm doubting the ease-of-access between the ceremony and reception area for many of our mobility-impaired guests. I'm doubting the venue itself to hold good on its promises. I'm doubting my own ability to coordinate every last rental, catering option, staffing need, and 10am-midnight timeframe for this production.

    I'm losing my wedding. I haven't found any viable, affordable venue alternatives to take its place, and I've spent more time looking in more obscure corners of the internet than I care to admit. If this venue doesn't work, we'll really have to start from scratch and be ready to compromise away the the charming plans that made us so happy. We might even need to consider not getting married outdoors, for a number of reasons, and I already feel my heart twisting up in pain at the thought of it. We'll probably need to use a preferred or in-house caterer, significantly increasing our costs and losing the taco truck and home-baked buffet. We'll probably lose the lawn games. We'll definitely be paying a lot more for something that probably won't feel nearly as right.

    So right now, I hate my wedding and wish it would just go jump in the lake and let me have a simple backyard party. Unfortunately, I'm left with this mess instead.

    Wednesday, June 2, 2010

    Embrace the Imperfectly Perfect

    Way back when we were just dating and before we'd begun to seriously consider marriage, I read a New York Times trend piece about men hiring photographers to clandestinely capture their proposals. I was entirely put off by the concept of a stranger skulking around for however long the proposal adventure takes, essentially spying on these couples throughout a possibly drawn out surprise and during such an incredibly intimate moment, all in the name of capturing it on film. To me, it felt invasive and crass. There's a magic about a moment like that which photos can never quite capture. Photos are explicitly a means of retelling and sharing, and I was never entirely sure I wanted to fully share my proposal with anyone else.  As for having the photos as a personal memory, while true artists can capture the honesty of an emotional event, it struck me that from-a-distance paparazzi lenses can never properly capture the truth of a moment like a proposal. Trying to do so cheapens it, especially when I imagined the hours-long skulking involved in a proposal photo shoot.

    Jason, on the other hand, thought the idea was somewhat sweet. He respected all the effort, planning and intention in hiring a photographer. He'd seen photos from friends' proposals taken by other friends or family members who were in on the surprise and liked the idea of having photos to help remember the occasion. And, while I could see his point about family and friend snapshots of joy, I still didn't love the idea of sharing such a private experience with others. Luckily, we had this New York Times article to help us learn, early on, about our differing approaches to a someday hypothetical proposal. Accordingly, his own eventual contribution to our process of engagement was private, intimate, heartfelt, and perfectly suited me and us.

    So perhaps this long-held preference for intimacy and privacy colored the following reaction, but when I read last week's post on Style Me Pretty about the Professional Proposal Planning Services, I wanted to break things over the head of the modern wedding industry.  The wedding industry/blog focus on event design and pretty details has finally inspired wedding professionals to expand into providing design, details, planning and logistical implementation of our proposals now too. Silly me, I'd naively assumed our proposals were still just an incredibly personal moment and promise between two people and not a sales opportunity for intrepid event designers. It's still an incredibly personal moment, of course, but now, you can "improve" the moment by developing a "perfect" proposal concept with the professionals, using them to help you find the "perfect" flowers, dinner reservations, hotel, harpist, photographer, and lord knows what else. They can arrive ahead of time at the hotel (or wherever) and set everything up, so all you need to do is arrive with your partner, a ring, and a checkbook.

    Yes, that description was a bit crass. And yes, I absolutely understand the conceptual value in hiring experts who have more knowledge of fancy restaurants and florists to give you advice about places that meet your partner's taste, particularly if you have limited time or your specific knowledge is limited. But there's something that makes me really uncomfortable about subcontracting intimacy and paying to have this "perfection" happen all around you, without you ever needing to fully engage in it. Then again, I'm someone who finds charm in the honest imperfections of the real-world proposal stories I've heard. It's the mistakes and human moments that make the stories salient, like when a friend refused to go on the hike her partner had planned for their proposal spot because of a brushfire warning and he kept trying to cajole her into hiking anyhow (she turned around and walked back to the car). There's something so incredibly touching about all the effort Jason took to plan an entire afternoon and evening of adventures, culminating in an at-home proposal after my inadvertent blurt-out proposal a few months before.

    To me, there's something cold about designed perfection. Yes, I appreciate brilliant aesthetics. And yes, I appreciate when events are executed without complication or worry on the part of the participants. But, while I'm slightly envious of gorgeously designed and executed weddings, I'm also entirely frustrated that so many blogs celebrate the design and execution over the imperfectly perfect, messy, human emotions of our weddings. And now, this misplaced focus on the right flowers and the right setting and the right details and the right event planner and the right photographer has obviously bled outward from weddings into professional proposal planning services and into lord knows what other personal rituals and it all makes me ill.

    This concept of carefully orchestrated details as an indication of how "perfect" your wedding or proposal is misguided and wrong. Yes, wrong. It's wrong and entirely misses the point. Pretty details can enhance honest emotions, and no one wants a logistical disaster to interfere with their weddings or proposals. But this focus on the Pretty and on having a fabulous photographer to capture the exquisite orchestration of details misses the genuine purpose of these important rituals. We participate in these rituals to connect with the people we love, not to provide them with a parade of expensive lovelies. We should hire people, such as capable event planners and coordinators, to help facilitate connection and not to design a stylish facsimile that photographs well.

    Details and design don't preclude honest emotion, but they aren't at the core of weddings or proposals. Weddings are about acknowledging our most intimate emotions and committing to our partners in the presence of our chosen communities. They are inherently public and require some level of coordination to effectively manage the process. So, even if I dislike the ubiquity and expectations of expensive event design concepts on the blogs, I understand the incredible value in hiring experienced event coordinators (if you can afford it.) If they can also coordinate the prettiness, without letting it take center stage in how you experience the wedding and wedding planning process, you've found a true gem of an event coordinator and you should hire them immediately (if you can afford it.) On the other hand, proposals are about celebrating our most intimate moments and emotions together, without the explicit need for coordination or sharing. Proposals are when we can allow space for the joy of "imperfection" when she refuses to go on a hike or he drops the ring because he's nervous or she ends up proposing at on New Years Eve at midnight in the "wrong" bar in the "wrong" part of town. Those are the stories that last long beyond any exquisite floral arrangements.

    Eff perfection. Embrace the raw honesty of your moments, and you won't go wrong, even if you can't afford to hire an event coordinator. And, with respect to proposals, especially if you don't hire one. I'm not sure I could have loved Jason's intricate proposal adventure if I'd found out he'd hired someone to help make it happen. I love it because it was his (and now ours). I love it because we spontaneously stopped at Canter's Deli along the way, which made sense for us but made zero sense from any aesthetic perspective. I love it because his slightly nervous energy and overwhelming love made the evening electric, in a way that planned perfection could never quite have captured.