It’s been an interesting experiment, exploring monthly themed content on APW. When we’re in the weeds of editing, the theme doesn’t often seem that apparent. If something is good content, like Elisabeth’s post What If It’s Not Forever?, we run it, theme be damned. But looking back at a month, you can see the arc of the conversation in the way we couldn’t as day-to-day editors. Last month, Rachel led the conversation by talking about how women are attacked online whenever the seem to have it too good, and how excusing that behavior is just another way of objectifying women and keeping them in their place (this time, enforced by other women). At the end of the month I talked about the goodness that the internet has brought into my life, but how the internet is a fog layer on the real world, and I need unplug from time to time to make sure I dig into that real world goodness. Maddie brought it home with her personal essay about how reading about the good can bring up jealousy and anger, and how she can choose to feed that dark part of herself, or drag it into the light and acknowledge it as human, but damaging.
This month we’re tackling tradition, and if I’ve learned anything, it’s that I have no idea where the conversation is going to take us. To be frank, figuring what I was going to write for this month was a little tricky. All of my best stuff on weddings and tradition is in my book, and those are hands down the bits I’m most proud of. (Chapter Three, for those of you following along at home. I mean, it has a both a brief history of American weddings, and a section called “What Is Etiquette Anyway, and Is It Stuffy?”) Those of you who’ve read the book (or APW for a long time) will know that I’m something of a progressive traditionalist. I think that traditions give our lives meaning and power but are ours to claim and shape. My favorite quote in the book on the subject is from Wedding Graduate and theologian Clare Adama, who says, “The Latin origin of tradition, traditio, means not only to hand on but to hand over, and the meanings of practices such as those within weddings are not rigid, but given on to us to value and interpret in our own contexts.” Or as I say in the same section, “We do ourselves a great disservice when we allow tradition to encompass only the things we are sold, instead of the things that have meaning in our hearts.” In short: you can make it yours, while still making it meaningful (for you, and for your granny).
Which brings me to my love of the nuance of etiquette. How when properly done, etiquette allows us to take care of each other, without reinventing the wheel every damn time. I’m sure we’ll also discuss Miss Manners, because contrary to what you might have been lead to believe, she’s one of the smartest and funniest writers currently at work, and nothing at all like Emily Post. (For the uninitiated, go snap up your copy of Miss Manners’ Guide To Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, which in an embarrassing moment, once made me laugh so hard I started crying on the subway. I clearly will reward myself for navigating a new life stage by picking up Miss Manners’ Guide to Rearing Perfect Children.) We’ll also talk about people sharing your vows on Facebook without your consent. (Though I’ll try not to imagine the fire Miss Manners would rather rightly breathe over that, because it’s terrifying.) And then there are your weddings, traditional, non-traditional, and tradition reclaimed.
At a party this weekend, a longtime wedding photographer (and friend), pulled out his phone to read me a direct quote from his clients, which he’d written down for my appreciation. Their Rabbi said, “It’s not your day. Just do what everyone else wants.” David immediately started laughing so hard he looked like he was going to choke. That guy loves him some bluntness (and some Rabbis). This is the dead opposite of what the wedding industry will tell you, but in some nuanced ways, it’s kind of right (and so relaxing). If you have a good relationship with your parents, and they’ve spent the last thirty years thinking about you every single day…maybe just let your mom use that goddamn florist she wants to use. Etiquette and tradition can rather handily act as a speed bump on the way to self-absorbed wedding hell. Because yes, it’s your wedding, but it’s everyone who loves you’s day (elopements excluded!), and sometimes you just have to pick your battles. Or as I like to think about it: Etiquette. That thing that lets me just follow the rules now and then, not worry about it, and then take a nap (while my mom is calling her beloved florist).
As we turned our lens of tradition to Reclaiming Wife content for this month, I was surprised to realize that the same rules apply there as apply to weddings. This month we’re hosting a multi-part discussion on stay-at-home parenting, work-from-home parenting, and the glories of daycare. As I looked at these essays, I realized that just like with weddings, what’s sold as traditional in motherhood is often anything but. And in exactly the same way, that willful misconstruing of history to fit the cultural narrative causes no end of problems (not to mention bad decisions made out of guilt).
Suffice to say, I’m pretty excited about May. Who knows where the discussion will lead us, but since we’re starting with one of my favorite ideas, I’m pretty sure it’s going to take us somewhere good.