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Zen: Storytelling


Zen: Storytelling | A Practical Wedding

“Cephas,” I said, “what is your theme for this year?”

Cephas: “Er, getting married?”

Me: “Mine is ‘Transition.'”

Cephas, ruefully: “Oh, yours is better than mine!”

Me: “Yeah, that’s ‘cos I thought of my answer before I asked you the question.”

Transition feels a lot like confusion. I don’t know what my weddings will be like. I don’t know where I’ll be living after the weddings. Most of all, I have no idea what being married will be like.

I’ve been having wedding dreams—not distressing ones, not “I showed up at the tea ceremony naked and found myself serving cold overbrewed tea to my boss and my PE teacher from primary school” kinds of dreams. In one dream I’m wearing the wrong wedding dress, a dress I’ve never seen before. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very nice dress. (A champagne ballgown gorgeously embroidered in gold, in case you were wondering.) In the dream I’m not upset to be wearing it. I’m just a bit puzzled. Where did the other one go?

This and other dreams seem to be my brain’s attempts at synthesising everything wedding-related that’s gone into the past year and a half—the wedding inspiration from blogs and magazines, the Excel spreadsheets, the flower consultations, the flight and accommodation bookings—and producing a workable vision of the wedding. Unfortunately, my brain sucks at this. It just doesn’t have a clue.

What I’d like better, and find more useful, is a workable vision of marriage. My brain sucks just as much at this, and it’s had less guidance. (Marriage inspiration would be an interesting thing. I imagine sunshine through a window, a comfortable sofa and a book per person, but presumably it would be different for each couple.) I think it’d be easier if Cephas and I had lived together before, but we didn’t. And it’s not just living together; it’s being a unit—a social and economic unit, bound together by religious sacrament and cultural rites.

All a bit mindboggling. I comfort myself with the thought that even if it doesn’t make sense now, it will make sense in the future, if only because we will fit it all into a framework that makes sense. The wedding is part of that effort—it’s part of one’s lifelong endeavour to impose sense on a bewildering world.

I’ve been thinking a lot about weddings as storytelling. Most people could probably produce a coherent narrative of their lives if asked, even if the narrative is only “nothing much has happened really.” Humans are pattern-seeking machines, and rites of passage are a way that we take the raw material of experience—which is, as they say, really just one damned thing after another—and transmute it into a life. I suppose eventually Cephas and I would have merged into one unit and put each other on our insurance policies and become one another’s first port of call in a storm—it’s happening already—but getting married is a way of outlining that, solidifying it. The wedding is a signal, a programme. It tells us: here’s what happens now.

Of course, to a certain extent it’s up to us to figure out what “what happens now” will consist of. But left to ourselves we might not have got around to it, to doing the work of nailing down what our relationship means and what we want it to mean to ourselves and to everyone else, without the signal, the change in the traffic lights.

A wedding can assist in producing a story of life, and doubtless it will once it’s happened, but I also want a story of the wedding that I can hold in my head now and that’s not happening. At first I was bemused, then I was excited, then I was wary, then I was worried, then I enjoyed it, and then I got bored. Now that we’re two weeks away from the event, I seem to be crying a lot about relatively insignificant things—people always say if that happens you should drill down and find out what serious thing you’re really upset about, but I have drilled down and worryingly I think I really was just upset about that insignificant thing. Imperfect haircuts are upsetting! And that colleague’s brusque email could have done with a smiley!

A series of unconnected emotions and random tears don’t really add up to any sort of decent story. I’m hoping it will all come clear in two weeks. In the meantime, I’ll remember Meg’s advice in the book:

Maybe like me, your life will change hard and fast, in a moment of gritty intensity. Maybe you’ll ride a wave of joy, but at the end just feel like you threw an awesome party, nothing life-changing. Maybe you’ll feel so overwhelmed that you’ll weep for hours. Maybe it will be something totally different and even more unexpected. Whatever you feel, let yourself experience it. It may not be at all what you expected, and that may be a blessing.

See you in a few weeks. Hopefully I’ll have a story to tell.

Photo by: Jessica Schilling (APW Sponsor)

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  • http://minnesota-chic.com PA

    Humans are pattern-seeking machines, and rites of passage are a way that we take the raw material of experience—which is, as they say, really just one damned thing after another—and transmute it into a life.

    …well, I think that’s my mind-bogglingly cool thought for the day–so thank you, Zen!

    I do want to chime in on the emotions thing, too. At a month and a half out, I am simultanously pretty calm about the wedding itself (“it may all go sideways and we’ll end up with soda and sheet-cake instead of a four-course Italian meal and…yeah, that would be totally okay, actually”) and completely freaking out about the concept of marriage (“this is a completely ridiculous idea! What am I doing?!”).* It’s been a hard struggle to believe that “negative” emotions of all kinds, as well as freakouts, are expected and normal – and that maybe I need to cut myself some slack.

    Which is a long way of saying this: it sounds like you’re a bit frustrated about freaking out over tiny things, and I totally get that, but I think that you’re under a huge amount of stress, just floating around in the air, and I hope that the story of email freakouts will be one you can somday tell with a smile to some other young man or woman as they’re freaking out before their wedding.

  • Amy

    This here is perfect and sums me up right at the 32 day mark:
    “At first I was bemused, then I was excited, then I was wary, then I was worried, then I enjoyed it, and then I got bored. Now that we’re two weeks away from the event, I seem to be crying a lot about relatively insignificant things—people always say if that happens you should drill down and find out what serious thing you’re really upset about, but I have drilled down and worryingly I think I really was just upset about that insignificant thing. Imperfect haircuts are upsetting! And that colleague’s brusque email could have done with a smiley!”
    YES! To all of that. At work today, I had this panicky moment of realizing that I had about a month left and so much to do. I made this insanely long list then ran home to lunch and it was there that I gulped a slug of wine and took a deep breath. Thank you for summing that up and making me feel less crazed.

    • Parsley

      Yes, I was totally weepy about totally random things the 2 or so weeks before our wedding. I think, in my case, it was the stress and the not sleeping and the enormity of what we were about to do that combined to bring all of my emotions much closer to the surface and more intense. By the way, one thing I learned is to NOT officiate someone else’s wedding 2 weeks before your own. (I imagine this might be true of other wedding professionals.) All those too close to the surface emotions made it quite difficult!

  • JEM

    Excellent and beautifully written.

  • Megan2

    Me: “Yeah, that’s ‘cos I thought of my answer before I asked you the question.” — HA! That’s good

    I had that dream the other night. I was wearing the right dress, but the people weren’t anyone I had invited. They all looked bored, I was on line for the buffet of one little tray. And there were 17 bartenders who didn’t actually know how to make any drinks. But I was smiling & laughing anyway.

    Great post! We’ve lived together, but I’m really looking forward to the rest of this story. Where things will be the same & where they will be different. When I talk with other people, I tell them about Insurance & making things official. But when I think of it alone, I think of being the point of contact, being the new family, joining lives & bank accounts. (Banks accounts will be rough on me.) It is all mushy, nebulous in my head yet.

  • http://www.whorrak.com/adimatt Adi

    I’m getting married in three weeks and let me tell you–planning a wedding with an anxiety disorder means that I feel Maddie’s stress crying. And then some. Of course, my gown is wrong, the bridesmaid dresses don’t fit, we have no rain plan, we’re finding out whether our offer on a house has been accepted five days before the wedding, and I’m one of several helpers trying to organize support for a woman with stage four cancer, so. I’m crying basically constantly.

    • http://www.whorrak.com/adimatt Adi

      Er, *Zen’s stress crying. See? My brain. It’s mush.

  • KB

    I have two “this”es to this post, the first being that, oh my god, I totally had a “wrong dress” dream the other night and woke up thinking “Wow, I wonder if this means something.” It was something like my mother’s wedding dress (but not actually my mother’s wedding dress) – actually, it was MY dress, but I hadn’t tried it on until 20 minutes before the ceremony and it had a huge high-neck collar and Monty from Say Yes to the Dress Atlanta was there and I asked him to help me fix it and cut away the collar, and he said doubtfully, “I could maybe call somebody?” Weird, right??

    I’m also experiencing the lack of vision about weddings and married life and really how IS it all going to come together and what is it going to look like. On the one hand, it’s kind of nice that I expect things to be largely the same. On the other hand, I wonder if I’m missing a HUGE sign that things will be insanely different and I will, therefore, be unprepared. No suggestions, just commiseration here!

  • Cary

    Glad to hear that dreams about wearing the wrong dress aren’t just confined to me.

    In my dream I spent ages trying to get into the dress then I find it’s the wrong one (it’s something made out of black net not by lovely long white creation, I finally struggle into the right dress only to have my Finance Assistant turn up and demand that I reconcile the receipts from the alternations.

  • Mrs May

    I always think of some professor who quoted someone else in saying:
    Transitions: the past quickly recedes but the future is not yet in sight.
    It’s so true and yet so new each time. It’s hard to enjoy your time and enjoy and dwell in the midst of the transition without itching for it to be done, I find.

  • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.ca/ Sheryl

    “I suppose eventually Cephas and I would have merged into one unit and put each other on our insurance policies and become one another’s first port of call in a storm—it’s happening already—but getting married is a way of outlining that, solidifying it.”

    This really hit home with me, although in an opposite way. My husband and I lived together and started merging our lives before we got married. In the end part of the reason that just getting married already was so important was because we felt that the foundation you’re talking about had already been set in place, but it was very bothersome that we hadn’t formalized that relationship in the eyes of our family and the law. That outline does matter.

  • Ris

    Almost like a transition, but even more precisely – engagement is a liminal state.

    I was in lecture, and my professor mentioned liminalily (um, in relation to the five pillars of Islam, not weddings) and I was like OH MY GOODNESS THAT’S ME. It felt so good to have words to articulate the way I was feeling, that unhinged in-betweeness.