Not Your Average Bridezilla

Up until this point, I’ve only been in two weddings. In neither of them have I had to carry the responsibilities of the maid of honour. Also, in the first one (TheBro’s and Sister-in-Lu’s), I was only back in the country for a day or something before the Blessed Event, and in the second (the Other Jenn’s), I was leaving the next day to take The Youth on a mission trip. But either way, I’d have to say my impression of “Bridezilla” is only second-hand, because both of these brides for whom I “bridesmaided” were gracious and generous and organized and unfrazzled.

That said, like most people, I suspect, I have at least heard the Bridezilla stories. As best I can tell, what distinguishes these soon-to-be-wedded females is a freaked-out, my-way-or-the-highway, domineering quality that reminds all in their wake of nightmares from which one cannot emerge until the wedding is over.

I don’t think I’m exhibiting quite these qualities (though you might want to ask the people around me; I have been rather more irritable of late), but I suspect I am inflicting my own Jenn-brand of nightmare on unsuspecting persons in personal care sorts of jobs.

What I mean is, I’m not all that organized to begin with, and just this week I finally decided that although all I originally wanted for flowers was a handful of daffodils for me and a handful of yellow rose petals for TWCN, maybe I actually would like at least one flower arrangement in the front of the church. And maybe not only Oscar, but I myself, need a haircut. And maybe, given the way my hair’s been looking lately, it would be advisable for me to have it professionally coiffed. And if I’m going to do that, as well as getting my nails professionally done thanks to The Girl Friends, then maybe I should go all the way and buy special under-wedding-dress undergarments and see what can be done about the prolific hair follicles of my legs… You know what I’m saying.

This might have started after I told my Paul last week that I thought Oscar (who won’t even be present at the ceremony) needed a haircut more than I did and that furthermore, was an approximation of the way I was wearing my hair that day an acceptable wedding day hairstyle, because I wasn’t sure I could afford to have someone else do it. My Paul, though highly in favour of getting/keeping me out of debt, said, “Honey, I don’t care how you wear your hair. Do what you like. But it is your only wedding day.”

It was pretty much after that. Yep. I guess I kind of went a little crazy.

First I called the Hairdresser Down the Street to see if she could have one of her girls do an emergency wedding hairstyle. One of them could, but the poor lass has to come in at 8 in the morning, which is definitely before the salon opens. This also means I have to contact Nicole the Magnificent Photographer and let her know that I’m changing the initial getting-ready location for a third time.

Then I Facebooked Bledi-with-Scissors, my favourite atheist hairstylist and asked if he thought he’d have a slot in his schedule to give me a haircut…the very next day. He told me I deserved to look like a hippie for being so last-minute. I told him I was planning on looking like a hippie, but I was still hoping for a haircut. He told me to tell the schedulers to squeeze me in even if he didn’t have a slot. They did. That place costs a bomb, but they are really great in there. Plus, even though I had to duck out of work for an hour to keep the appointment, Bledi keeps me doing my job. He used to get told off by his boss for talking about religion with me at regular conversation decibels when I came in there, but it didn’t stop either of us, so now I think his boss just rolls his eyes and tries not to be around while I’m in there. Yesterday’s haircut chat revolved around Bledi’s asking about the Trinity and my trying to explain it to him. Grandma M says I should charge him for the sermon, and it never really did occur to me that when I’m in there we’re both doing our respective jobs. I’d never ask him to pay me, but maybe we could call it even?

After that it was flowers. I kind of like “knowing people” in various fields, like the Hairdresser Down the Street (who went to Then Church when I was growing up) and Nicole the Magnificent Photographer (with whom I worked at Starbucks in our past lives) and Bledi-with-Scissors (who was a Starbucks customer during that same period). But I didn’t think I knew any florists. Which might be partly why it took me so long to get on the flower thing. It’s not because I wanted someone to cut me a deal (although I rarely turn those down); it’s that in some contexts, I’m quite easily intimidated. Apparently florists are one of those contexts?

Turns out I do know one, though. At least kind of. She’s more a friend of my parents, and when I talked to her on the phone yesterday, I still felt intimidated because honestly, it would be embarrassing even to ask a close friend, never mind someone you only slightly know, “So, um, I know it’s like 3 days away and you have other customers and I want daffodils which are finicky and not usual for arrangements, but hey, what can you do for me?”

Okay, that wasn’t what I said, but it was equally awkward and I could hear her thinking, “Seriously?” She’s a sweet woman, though, and her regard for my parents undoubtedly helps, so she is working on it. Only she might have to substitute something else for daffodils. “You want something really bohemian, right?” she said. “And really springlike?”

Wow. She’s good. Pretty sure she didn’t need this project to be this high maintenance on top of being this late, though.

I decided to take a personal day tomorrow for all my remaining appointments (besides the Saturday morning one, I mean). So what do you think? Bridezilla or not? (Just be careful how you answer. You know. In case it turns out you’re right.)

Excited

Early on in the book Anne of Green Gables, Anne asks Matthew Cuthbert if he’s every experienced anything thrilling. (Or something like that. I cannot quote directly as I am not at home at present and anyway, my copy of said book is packed up for the imminent move to my Paul’s.) Matthew replies that he supposes uncovering those white grubs in the ground kind of gives him a thrill. This is not exactly the answer Anne is looking for, nor the kind of thrill she is talking about.

For a while, every time someone asked me, in regard to my wedding, “So, are you getting excited?” I had a really hard time answering, not because I have or had any qualms about marrying my Paul, but more because it’s come so quickly and there’s so much to do, there hasn’t really been a whole lot of space for emotion. Then a few weeks ago, the two of us went to his (almost mine) town offices to apply for a marriage license. We sat in that little back room filling in paperwork and I suddenly realised I was on the verge of hyperventilating. “I think,” I ventured quietly, “I’m sort of freaking out about this.” Then I looked at him and realised he was even paler than I was. “Pass the paper bag,” he said. We were both reliving and reacting to our own Pasts, and although our reasons for blanching were different, and also although our resolve to pledge our lives to each other wasn’t really shaken, it was still a moment to give us both pause. “Well,” I thought to myself, “I guess I’m excited now. Although I don’t think this is what people meant when they asked.”

Now I can unreservedly say I’m excited, which I guess is probably good, since The Day is a week away. Like–this time next week, I’ll be a married lady and chowing down on salmon at a colonial inn with my husband and our families. Yesterday I dropped off the rest of the payment at said colonial inn, and made the placecards and dropped those off, too. Oscar, even though he’s not in the wedding or coming on the honeymoon, got a haircut. I have a pretty decent trousseau, I think (augmented as recently as Thursday night, thanks to some of my girlfriends and another surprise party). I filled in a change of address form. And there’s Paul. My Paul, who all this is for, pretty much. And I’m happy.

Lent started two days ago. I’m not and never have been a Roman Catholic, but I find the disciplines of fasting useful at times (literal fasting can be kind of sick-making for me, but that’s not usually what I do during Lent), so every year I try to find something to give up. Not this year, though. I’m getting married during Lent. I’ve made a few jokes to my closer friends about giving up abstaining from certain things this year, but other than that–well, Jesus said when the bridegroom’s around, the partiers don’t fast, and even though He was talking about Himself as the bridegroom, He was using an earthly, earthy analogy, descriptive of acceptable cultural behaviour at the time, so I guess I figure while my bridegroom’s around (and still “new,” as it were), I don’t have to fast, either.

All the same . . .

On Wednesday I had an unexpected little blast from The Past. The ultimate effect was to remind me of how much I love my Paul, but the immediate effect was also a blast of guilt. I guess maybe I’m not the only one who regrets how they’ve handled certain things in life, but I’m the only one that can feel guilty about my own. I’ve been told more than once that I over-think things, and so it’s not like this reaction of mine was all that surprising. I was just getting all ready to wallow in the mud of regret to no purpose, when I remembered that it was Ash Wednesday.

On Ash Wednesday the Church is traditionally focused on our individual and corporate sinfulness. Our culture tells us that there is no such thing as sin–or at least, it’s always other people’s. It tells us we need to try to make ourselves feel good about ourselves. Ash Wednesday kind of flies in the face of such thinking. But there’s a kind of austere or sometimes even fierce beauty to Ash Wednesday, and that is that it provides a context in which to be brutally honest with ourselves (and maybe with some others about ourselves) about the fact that we’re just not perfect. The point of that is recognising that I can’t make it on my own–I need a bail out, and the Christian hope, looking across the expanse of Lent toward Easter, is that there has been a bail out. There’s grace. I guess I kind of feel like the aforementioned Past-blast was a severe (and unintended, I suspect) grace, making Lent real to me this year after all. I didn’t wear ashes, but this quote by Lauren Winner (courtesy of a facebook friend) resonates with me:

What ministers with their ashes are offering is a bodily marker of God’s entry into our death. The ashes Cathie will inscribe on my forehead, and I on hers, let me name truths that most days I cannot or will not name — that I have sinned; also, that I have a body, and I am going to die. To walk around all day with a cross on your head is to walk around in a body inscribed with death. It is also, oddly, to walk around inscribed with hope — the hope that comes through Jesus’ having joined us in our mortality.”

Pondering this awareness of sin/need for grace thing suddenly struck me and I realised that I am, in fact, taking up a discipline for Lent–but this one won’t end at Easter. A week from tomorrow, I will pledge my messy, imperfect human life to another messy, imperfect human and he will pledge himself to me. We will throw in our lot with each other in spite of ourselves, because of the hope of the grace of God and of the grace He will grant us through each other through the crazy, hopeful life-discipline of marriage. I guess I’m giving up something for Lent (and beyond) after all. There’s an old phrase in the traditional wedding vows about “forsaking all others,” and although it’s a commitment I’ve wanted to make for years, the fact is, I’ve never yet shut down all other options. Next week, I will be doing that, to enter the freedom and security of faith and commitment. I’m scared. But I’m also excited. In a good way. It’s about the grace.

Guest List Status: It’s Complicated

Come on in! The wedding's fine!

Way back at the beginning, when we weren’t engaged or anything but we were talking about marriage (after my Paul made it clear that he wasn’t interested in marrying anyone for at least another two years, it seems like we talked about getting married–to each other–at least once a week), my Paul and I kind of hypothesised about what we would want a mutual wedding to look like. We didn’t exactly share a compatible vision. Paul, having in a sense “been there, done that” already, wanted something small and quick and soon without a lot of fuss and bother. I? Well, I have a lot of friends and a more or less close-knit extended family, most of whom have invested pretty heavily in my life and have hoped and prayed along with me that I would eventually find a husband. I was having a hard time figuring out who I could possibly leave out.

I suggested we could do what formerly-single staff and long-time volunteers at Then Church do sometimes, which is to extend an open invitation to the wedding ceremony itself, but make admittance to the reception by personal invitation only. I mean, I didn’t want to break the bank, either. I kind of had this dream in my head (like that of the cheap wedding dress) that we could have a pot-luck reception where everyone brought food instead of gifts. But neither of us knew anyone who had ever done that, and my Paul thought the “you can come to the wedding but not the reception” was a little rude and awkward. Which I guess it is, but I’ve also been to some of those weddings and not the receptions, and it didn’t really hurt my feelings or anything. But maybe I’m not everyone. (Oh yeah . . . I’m not!)

After tossing around multiple ideas for a few months, we finally got engaged, and by then we had decided that we were tired of waiting (so much for two years!), so we’d get married as soon as logistically possible, which was March 3rd. But when I posted a single picture on my Facebook wall of my hand with glittery diamonds on the ring finger, and got 135 “likes” and 131 comments on that post alone, I think it started to dawn on my Paul that maybe I really wasn’t making things up when I said I was having a hard time imagining a manageable guest list. I mean–I’ve traveled, and I’ve always been deeply involved in (if not employed by) churches, which, dysfunctional or not generally strive to be a spiritual family. There are at least five churches in my past or present who could “claim” me, not to mention my Paul’s church. So we agreed that, to keep things as simple as possible, we would have the small family-only ceremony he had envisioned in March, and then in June we’d have a big blow-out pot-luck bash outside somewhere, to which we could invite whomever else we wanted. “Family-only” meant his daughter, our parents, our siblings, my two grandmothers and TWCN and Smiley-Guy since they’re little (and will make a great flower girl and ring bearer). Simple parameters. Relatively easy to explain and implement. Lovely.

In hindsight, I don’t know why I thought I’d be exempt from what all other brides go through, which is other people’s authoritative opinions on who should actually be on the guest list. My father (who, having performed probably hundreds of weddings in his pastoral career, would know) says, “There’s always someone. Usually it’s the bride’s mother. Be thankful.” And I am, because my mother has not even made an attempt to touch our guest list. Huzzah for a mother who has, for years, said, “She’s an adult. She can make her own decisions.” Thanks, Mom.

Anyway, although I don’t really begrudge anyone their opinions, my mother’s forbearance does not hold true across the board. One day Pastor Ron’s wife, Mrs. Dona, who can be quite motherly, too, though I don’t know that she and my mom are much alike, sat me down and said, “You know, you are church staff. I think it would be a nice gesture to open your wedding up to the congregation. I’d love to throw a simple reception for you after the ceremony–you wouldn’t have to pay for it. But I really think it’s important for the church to have a part in this significant part of your life.”

She wasn’t wrong, but it didn’t exactly dovetail perfectly with our post-wedding plans, nor does it make it easy to define the parameters of our invites anymore. The long and the short of it now is that we are, sort of accidentally, taking the Then Church approach. The ceremony–well, I guess anyone can come to it if they really want. But we won’t be sticking around long afterwards to chat, because we have our immediate-family-only reception that afternoon, and then my Paul and I are off to Montreal. And then Now Church will throw us a post-wedding reception for us and the congregation the Sunday we get back. And then we’ll still have our reception for our extended family and other good friends in June. It’ll all work out. It just . . . seems to take a lot more explaining these days.

February Showers

I used to get headaches when I was a kid, which now strikes me as somewhat intense, but I didn’t start getting migraines until I lived in London and went through a brief course of “the pill” in an attempt to clear up my problematic cystic acne. It didn’t clear up anything, but it did make me incapable of eating and also set off a series of hormonally-linked migraines which carried on sporadically for quite some time after I gave the medication up as a loss. Then I started taking cancer-prevention meds in 2009 and the migraines have returned with a vengeance. Now, even if I have a normal headache to start with, it ends up as a migraine before it goes away.

I mention all this to explain the agony I was in on Monday morning when I woke up, devoid of the cold-stuffiness I’d been fighting all weekend, but with this odd sort of empty-ache where my recently-taxed sinuses were. When this thing turned into a migraine, it didn’t feel like any I’d ever had before–or at least not like many. It’s not that the pain was worse–it was just . . . different. I have now dubbed this headache a “Jael-headache,” on account of how much it felt like someone was hammering a tent-peg into my head.

The day before, I mentioned to Pastor Ron that if I felt any worse than I did that day, I’d be working from home on Monday, but then I remembered I had a Christian Education Committee meeting Monday night (normally they’re on Tuesdays), and that we hadn’t had one the month before, and that we had a lot of stuff to talk about, so I dragged myself out of the house and ended up in my office, whining on Facebook about how my head hurt, and having a hard time concentrating on writing the script for that musical we’re meant to be doing at the end of the school year. Halfway through the day I emailed Heather-the-Christian-Education-Committee-Chairperson, and told her about the tent-peg in my head and that I’d be in touch about whether or not I was going to show that night after all.

She called me about an hour later, asking if I was okay and trying to find out for sure if I’d be there or going home. “I’ll be there,” I said. She assured me that if I really felt miserable, I should just forget it. They’d cancel it.

I really was feeling miserable, and if I had been feeling even a little better, I might have wondered why she was talking about cancelling just because I couldn’t be there. I mean, I’m the director of Christian Education, but they’ve had meetings without me before. At some point that day or the day before I had had a crazy idea that maybe this rescheduled CE meeting was really going to be a surprise bridal shower, but then I thought that I only thought that because I used to throw surprise birthday parties for my friends in college all the time (O Christian college, where arranging to have your guyfriends jump out of bushes and blindfold and carry off your girlfriends to the prearranged party-point somehow did not seem alarming or sketchy . . . ). I guess I supposed that now that I had outgrown fake kidnappings as an acceptable mode of surprise party, if I were to throw one again, I would just piggyback on meetings that were actually supposed to happen. Anyway, by the time Heather-the-Chair and I were having this conversation, I had pretty much talked myself out of this idea that the meeting was all about me, particularly when I told her I was going to go home and chill and then come back and she told me I could come back in my pajamas if I wanted. But I guess I still thought it was enough about me to come back at all.

When I arrived back at the church, that Jael-headache–which no amount of caffeine and single tablet of Aleve had managed to shift earlier in the day–was mysteriously gone. Well, that was a good thing. I think the people on the CE Committee are great, but I still hate meetings as a rule (a fact I frequently find ironic, given that I work for a church), and I was glad I wasn’t going to have to sit through a high-agenda one with a migraine on top of it.

I was fifteen minutes early, but it looked like the lights were already on in the room where we usually meet, and it looked like there were quite a number of people in there. Our church rents out space to outside focus groups and since it was Monday and not our usual Tuesday night, I figured maybe one of those groups were in there now. I went up the stairs to my office and sat in there for fifteen minutes, kind of reveling in the fact that my head felt peg-less again. Usually if someone else is using our meeting room, the CE women come into my office, but when no one had even peeked in the door by five past the hour, I decided to go downstairs and look. There really was quite a ruckus down there. Had I been right after all . . . ?

I started down the hall to the large room that opens out at the end and there was the smiling face of one of “my” teenagers–the teenager, in fact, who gave me the Nuns Having Fun calendar for Christmas. I began to grin. The closer I got to the room, the bigger my grin got, so that when I finally reached it and everybody yelled “Surprise!!” it was just one big crazy smile all around the room.

I used to rant about bridal showers and baby showers. I said I didn’t like them. I said I didn’t want one. But, kind of like the diamonds on my ring, it turns out that after all, I did. There’s something really amazing about seeing a whole bunch of people of whom you think fondly, all sitting in a room with cake and cookies just to celebrate you. I kind of felt like I should be celebrating them–the youth and the Sunday school kids and the Sunday school teachers and the Confirmation mentors and the Women’s Bible Study members and the Christian Education Committee–instead. It felt strange to be the center of attention–I’d rather sit in the background and make sure things are set up okay so they can all do the things they’ve volunteered to do. All the same, it was awkwardly nice to be celebrated, too. They even spelled Jenn right. I’m so glad I got over my migraine.

 

Evidently the Honeymoon Also Chooses You

I had intended to write some sort of disclaimer stating that if you find the topic of weddings and the preparations there-for to be a) boring, b) painful, c) morally suspect, d) cheesy, you might want to stay away from this blog for a bit, because there are only 21 days until mine and so I guess that’s kind of what’s going to be on my mind for the most part this Month of Luv . . . (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.) But apparently most of you don’t feel any of those ways about weddings, because there were 106 of you over here yesterday reading about my wedding dress, so . . . maybe I don’t need to worry about a drop-off in the Readership after all?

Back in the days when I was leaping in faith to buy wedding dresses before I was even engaged, we were also occasionally throwing the term honeymoon out there. My Paul mentioned Florida at one point, which would have been okay if he were there, but I was really hoping that wouldn’t be where we ended up. He also threw the Azores out in one conversation, which would have been far more up my alley, but I didn’t suppose we’d really do that because of costs. I did look it up, just out of curiosity, and as best I could tell, we would’ve had to take an entire month off to get any enjoyment out of the trip because of how insanely long it takes to get there and back again. Well, maybe two weeks. Whatever–still more time than we needed for a honeymoon if either of us plan on having any other vacation time this year. (Particularly me, as I’ve already been globetrotting this year, as has been observed previously.) After we got engaged, the honeymoon chats got moderately more serious, and when my Paul suggested Montreal, I thought that was a perfect idea. Neither of us has been there, so we can explore it together for the first time, it’s in another country, but we can drive there in about five hours. Excellent! Now we just needed to decide where to stay.

I don’t know if he’d put it quite this way (probably not), but I have a hunch my desire to find a perfect wedding dress for me for under $30 kind of matched my Paul’s desire to have a perfect honeymoon for us at an astonishingly low price, too. We agreed (and even thought of it independently of each other) that we should try to find a vacation condo so we could self-cater instead of eating every meal out, and then we found one that was located really close to downtown and had free parking. The price wasn’t bad either, but Paul said he had this feeling that he should hold off on renting it. “It’s the first weekend of March,” he said. “Who’s going to be going to Montreal in the first week of March?”

I figured we were, so maybe someone else would, but this was his deal and I wasn’t worried about it.

Yesterday, evidently, he had another feeling–this time that he should check on that rental again and . . . what do you know? It was $150 cheaper! Turned out someone had jumped on that deal already, but it also turned out that the landlord had another vacation condo which had until that point been unlisted on account of someone having been using it for the last four months. It just opened up, so the landlord asked if we wanted that one. Since it’s in the same building and has all the same amenities, Paul said yes, and now we’re booked in almost-downtown Montreal for a week, for $500. So I’d say he’s a pretty happy camper. And, since we aren’t actually camping, I am, too!

The Dress Chooses You

I bought my wedding dress about two months before my Paul asked me to marry him. I told him about it about a month after I bought it. I guess he was in one of his analytical moods, during which I think he used to get a little nervous about how well things were going between us despite our divergent . . . well, let’s just call them quirks. “Well that,” he said when I confessed, “is a step of faith!”

Personally, I thought the fact that my confession didn’t completely freak him out and make him run off into the woods we were hiking, never to be seen again, was a pretty good sign. And an indication that if the purchase really were a step of faith, it wasn’t blind faith at any rate.

The early-onset-wedding-dress was maybe partly a function of my new eBaying activities. You know when you open a new profile on a new website, or start a new game on facebook and it becomes kind of an obsession for a few months, or at least a few weeks? (You don’t? Well, shucks . . . ) That’s kind of what happened to me on eBay I guess. I posted a whole bunch of stuff on there (still doing that, by the way. You should buy some) and then, while I was waiting for people to bid on it, I would hop around and see what everyone else was selling.

But I did kind of think I was going to be in the market for a wedding dress soon. I knew I didn’t want to do the traditional “wedding dress shopping” thing; my mom offered to come back from Ireland to help me, which was really nice of her, but I’ve had enough of David’s Bridal in my life (and I’ve only ever been there twice and one of the times was with Sister-in-Lu who found her dress-at-first-sight, too, so it wasn’t that traumatic). Although I love shopping with my mom, I didn’t really think this would be worth the cost of a trip. Plus, I was pretty sure I didn’t want “everybody else’s” wedding dress. I had an American friend in Austria who mail-ordered a white Chadwick’s of Boston dress for her wedding–it fit her perfectly and cost under $40. It wasn’t particularly fancy, but she still looked very pretty and hadn’t broken the bank to do so. Ever since then, I have had this kind of sub-goal to my desire to get married, and that was to have an affordable wedding dress. As a new eBay salesgirl, it occurred to me that that might be just the place to find such a thing.

So I searched . . . well, I searched hippie wedding dresses, if you must know. There were a lot of horrors in that search, and a lot of beauties, but nothing with both a price and a look that wowed me. Along with the inexpensive wedding dress idea I’ve had for years, I’d also had this idea of taking the medieval dress diagram I had used to make myself a costume for the medieval society I’d been in, in college, and making a white version of it, and as I searched the internet for a dress, I started thinking that maybe that was the way to go, actually.

And then one day I ran across two completely different dresses, both of which made me go WOW, with almost equal intensity. One was a vintage 60’s item billed as a “Mad Men bombshell dress” which grew on me the more I looked at it, and one was a vintage 70’s item which looked both hippie and reminiscently medieval. I saw the hippie one first and thought, That’s it!, but then got distracted by the bombshell one and opened an AuctionSniper account in order to bid on it. It was only after that that I found out that one had a fairly significant pink stain on the back (?!) and was probably the wrong length for someone as tall as I am, unless I shortened it to be an intentionally short wedding dress. Still, the lines were gorgeous and, well, maybe a drycleaner could get the stain out? I left the snipe bid in place, partly because both my mother and TheBro really liked that dress. In the meantime (potentially foolishly, if I had really thought about it, but somehow having money in my PayPal account was making me reckless at the time), I put a bid on the hippie dress. I was instantly outbid. I bid slightly higher and was outbid again.Wow at first sight or not, I was not going to get that dress.

The next day I found out my snipe on the Mad Men dress, even though placed three seconds before the item closed, was still not the highest. I was both disappointed and relieved. Well, I thought, obviously that one was not meant to be. And now I don’t have to worry about that problematic stain . . . I looked back at the hippie dress. I did like that dress. But what to do with this person who was constantly outbidding me? I wasn’t going to win. Therefore, I decided, I could place an auction-snipe on that dress, too. I wasn’t going to get it, that was certain, but I was even less likely to if I didn’t try. I put my highest bid at $30 and walked away.

And I won it. For $24, actually. After the fact, I felt the rightness of it–how I had seen that dress first and it had wowed me first and how fitting it was for my personality. I showed my girlfriends pictures. “It’s pretty simple,” I said. “It’s only cotton. But I like it.”

“Oh!” they all said, to a woman, “It’s so you!”

And so it is. Later I found out that the vintage styles my Paul likes are “flapper” styles and that the regular-clothing-style he likes is LL Bean (please no!), but, when he learned that the prematurely-bought wedding dress was 70’s hippie, he looked a little taken aback and then said gamely, “I’m sure it’s lovely. You will look beautiful no matter what you’re wearing.” Unlike my response to my father when he told me I looked nice in junior high, I actually believed him. And so I still think it’s the right dress, that I was supposed to wear, as I walk down the aisle toward the man I’m supposed to marry. And want to.

 

In Transit

My Paul’s brother John, who desperately needs a blog nickname but I haven’t come up with one yet, apparently told Paul over the weekend that the reason I keep traveling as I have this month and last is that I’m “looking for men.” Nice. I hope my Paul tells him I came back a day early. For him. (Paul, not Brother John.)

That’s not to say I didn’t notice some attractive strangers in my travels–I just didn’t feel any need to dwell on them. No–my Paul was undeniably the man in my thoughts all weekend. Just ask Cousin Mary Anne or KS-Christie if you want to know. I did notice other things in my travels, however.

My first flight out to Seattle went, inefficiently, to Las Vegas first. As this is probably (and hopefully) the closest I’ll ever get to Vegas, I was kind of curious to see what it looked like. I had been told in advance that if I looked out the right side of the plane, I’d be able to see “The Strip.” As we were flying in, what I saw was desert. It was very surreal to me–an East Coast-er who, when she travels, goes to other places with water and trees. I thought I could detect some beauty to it, and I couldn’t shake the idea that God is very creative, but at the same time, I knew viscerally that I would never enjoy living in a place like that, and that the kind of beauty that ministers to my soul is of a different sort than the desert variety. (There are, of course, all the wilderness metaphors and the fact that people draw closer to God in metaphorical deserts, but that’s not what I’m talking about right now . . . and anyway, although I believe and agree that that happens and I’m grateful for my own deserts, I’d still prefer not to settle down there.) We missed most of the beauty of the canyons and things, because the entire eastern half of the US seems to have been having a cloudy day that day. The pilot kept saying things like, “Now we’re over Iowa, but you can’t see anything, because of the cloud cover,” though this was not as disappointing as when he said, “And below us is Bryce Canyon, but again, you can’t see it because of the cloud cover.”

When we got to Vegas, though, the sky cleared. Sin City was having a gloriously sunny day. Too bad it’s so ugly. The surrounds sprawled out below us for miles as if someone had forgotten their spring cleaning and before they got back, all their clutter had become covered with dust. As for The Strip–well, I’m sorry if you’re a Vegas fan, and I will admit I didn’t actually get out of the airport to see it close-up, but from an external viewpoint, all I could think was that it looked as if an alien spaceship had hovered over that part of the desert, the aliens had disgorged their lunch, and then flown off again.

My impressions were not improved when I learned that my transfer flight was making a pit-stop in Reno before turning north (finally) and bringing me to Seattle. Reno was much more attractive from the air than Las Vegas. It was smaller, and because the area was hillier, it looked more “nestled” and less sprawly. There were some bodies of water. Also, it meant that Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters, who had gotten into the seats behind me during the transfer in Vegas, were getting off. They had given up any bubble bubble toil and trouble nonsense, but they were abundantly cackly and their speaking (?) voices shrieked right to the center of my I-already-got-up-at-four-this-morning-and-would-just-like-to-sleep brain. They were clearly ready to party their weekend away, and were getting a start on it with endless airplane blood Marys. The hour to Reno felt almost as long as the six hours to Vegas had felt. But it wasn’t, and when we got back in the air again, we were heading to where I actually wanted to be going.

The plane had also emptied out, so I made the dubious choice of a window seat in the exit row. There is usually nothing dubious about this choice, but for some reason this seat on both sides of the airplane were slightly depressed so I spent the next few hours trying not to slide off onto the floor. However, the scenery was back to something even I could consider beautiful, and when we got into the environs of Seattle and the sun was still shining and so was Mount Ranier, enormous and majestic and like no mountain I ever remember seeing before, I decided it had all been worth it.

And . . . if you read my previous two posts, you’ll realise it was. All the same, when it turned out Uncle Dave was too sick for me to visit him, and Cousin Mary Anne and KS-Christie both had to spend their Monday working (what?!), I decided that, much as I loved The Mountain, and even Pike Place Market, I’d rather explore them more fully someday with my Paul, and it was high time I hied myself back to him. So, a day early, I did.

No Way–Really?

No one has read my blog since the Patriots/Giants game started today? You’re kidding!

If the Patriots win, all will be forgiven.

Okay. I wasn’t really expecting my blog to overshadow a national sports event. The astonishing thing to me is that I’m actually almost into this game. I’ve always said its more fun to be a New England fan when not in New England…

The Search for Meaning

“Is this going to be the first time you’ve ever spoken publicly about your writing?” Cousin Mary Anne asked a few weeks ago.

“Well,” I admitted, “to adults it is.” This is true on account of the time I was asked to speak to some children at a local Christian school about the art of writing. The fifth and sixth graders were delightful and engaged, and the junior highers, later, sat there like sullen lumps and laughed at the fact that Mrs Jamaica’s real name was “Mrs Dix.” I’m not really sure why the potential for youthful sniggering at that never occurred to me until the moment that it happened, but it hadn’t. The fifth and sixth grade teachers ended up deciding to read my book to their class in a unit about “other cultures” or something, and then they had the children write me some fan mail (pretty much my first ever), all of which was highly complimentary except for the one letter written by a student who said, “My advice to you if you decide to write another book is to never write another book again. Or at least a different kind.” I’m not sure if that one became my favourite of the letters because it was the most memorable, or because it was so hilarious or because I secretly wonder if the kid was right, but anyway, it is.

KS-Christie picked me up promptly at 7.30 Saturday morning, which was tough because I was trying to recover from a migraine, but I got myself out the door regardless, and since it was the tail end of the migraine, some aspirin and a couple of cups of Seattle coffee helped, and by the time the alumni breakfast (which I got to attend by virtue of being friends with faculty present: i.e. KS-Christie) was over, I was feeling all right. The sun was shining gloriously again and I had a festival folder and a bright red Seattle University canvas bag and a badge that said my name and “Author” underneath it on one of those ribbony-type things that you get for field day events in elementary school. (Well, we did when I was in elementary school. Which was, admittedly, quite some time ago. I’ll bet they don’t even call it elementary school anymore. Or have field days.) Also there was an “Author’s Green Room” with tables and coffee and cinnamon rolls (I missed the cinnamon rolls, but that was because I was full from breakfast) and two really friendly and helpful faculty/staff people hanging out in it to make sure we all went to the right places and did the right thing and also, in my case apparently, to let me know where I could try unusual Washington beers later, if I were so inclined. (Probably that will be Sunday afternoon, with KS-Christie, when I will become likely the only person in Seattle to be cheering in public for the Patriots.)

We went to hear one of the presenting authors talk about “Cruelty and . . . Something,” and it was interesting in a slightly-beyond-me-at-9-o’clock-in-the-morning kind of way, and then we went to hear the poet Mary Oliver. Evidently I should have heard of her before because both Cousin Mary Anne and KS-Christie had copies of her books and were really excited about hearing her, but evidently I have to fly across a continent in order to learn about a poet who poeticises in my own home state. KS-Christie had learned a not very complimentary story about Ms. Oliver the day before, and I think she and Cousin Mary Anne were feeling disillusioned and I was feeling likely-to-be-unimpressed but that didn’t work because in spite of the fact that I often say I don’t really understand poetry and I can’t really write it, her poems were beautiful and astonishing. Plus she writes heart-warming and sad little poems about her “little dog Percy” who was a rescue like Oscar and small and “curly-headed,” too, apparently, so not only did I end up being impressed, but I also felt I could forgive the rather misanthropic story I had heard about the poet the day before.

The rest of the day, for me, was a relaxed sort of “hurry up and wait.” The authors had a choice of various boxed lunch options–I had a chicken gyro sandwich–and I spent the rest of the afternoon pretending to look over my talk but really talking to one of the friendly faculty/staff people about relationships and the aforementioned places to get Washington beer.

When I got to the room in which I would be presenting in time to set up, I still hadn’t fully decided whether I was hoping there would or wouldn’t be people there (besides Cousin Mary Anne and KS-Christie) to listen, but regardless of what I wanted, I was genuinely astonished to see three women walk in in front of me–women who appeared to actually intend to be there to hear what I had to say about displacement.

In the end, there were probably about 35 people in there, which gave the room a not-overstuffed but certainly sufficiently full feeling. KS-Christie introduced me and then I started talking. “I don’t think,” I said, “that people who plan events like this usually take into account that a writer‘s preferred medium is usually not speaking.” A couple of people chuckled, which I took as an encouraging sign, and after that, I turned most of my talk into a discussion. My PowerPoint I had made for the occasion turned out only to loosely fit in with what I actually ended up saying, in the order in which I said it, but I did get all the main points out that I had delineated for you in the previous posts, and the people in the room were wonderfully participatory. They asked good questions and made good points and offered a few stumpers and everyone seemed quite happy with how the event went–even me.

Afterwards I went downstairs to the long table in the atrium and found the spot at it where it said Jennifer Anne Grosser and sat behind the sign. I sat there for what seemed like a very long time, while the two much more popular authors on either side of me had lines of people waiting for them to sign their books. It was rather embarrassing. KS-Christie had me sign her copy of Trees in the Pavement, but that was before all those lines of other people got there.

Then I saw a lady approaching the table. It was kind of hard to notice her at first because of the lines of people waiting for the signatures of authors-who-weren’t-me, but I did recognise her as someone who had attended my presentation. She had been one of the few non-talkers. Then I noticed she had my book in her hands! She made her way through the crowds and came up to the table. “That,” she said, as I signed her book, “was the best, most interactive discussion I was in all day!”

Suddenly I stopped caring about the fact that she was the only person in my line. (Later, a guy bought a copy of my book and had it signed, too, which was a bonus.) It’s lovely to have your cousin and your friend from undergrad tell you you did a great job, but for some reason, in this context, there’s something more (or at least differently) validating about it when a complete stranger comes up to you and says something like that. I could have wished the stack of my books on the university bookstore table had decreased by a little bit, but the fact that a bunch of people and I had just had a really good chat and we’d all left happy and maybe even mildly energised by it was worth a whole lot, too.

Displaced in Seattle

Here I am in sunny Seattle . . . no, seriously, sunny, walk-around-with-your-jacket-unzipped-if-not-off, Seattle, writing about being here for a book festival in which I will talk about writing. Sort of. It’s KS-Christie’s fault that I’m here, but I’ve gotta say Seattle is pulling out all the stops and if I weren’t more in love with my Paul than I just discovered I am with Pike Place Market, I would seriously consider moving here. Except for the fact that this place is far too hip for me and would probably realise that and regurgitate me within a month. Or sooner. Like . . . after I give my presentation at this book fest tomorrow, for example.

Back when I was taking grad classes for the second time (there might be a third time, starting this autumn, but that’s not a foregone conclusion yet), I used to “study” for exams on my blog by blogging about topics and issues about which I was studying. Maybe you remember that. Anyway, it kind of helped–once–so I’m going to try to explain to you what I hope to discuss at 2.15 p.m. PST tomorrow and hopefully it will go better.

The title of my talk, which I came up with months before I really had a clue what I was going to present, except that it needed to tie in with both Trees in the Pavement and the topic of the festival (The Search for Meaning), is “Displacement: Finding Meaning Outside the Comfort Zone.” I love that title. It sounds so . . . title-y. I’m having a hard time feeling as delighted with the content of the presentation, however.

Essentially, my argument runs like this (after I find out what people’s definitions of/associations with the word displacement are): Displacement–which I think can be as extreme as being forcibly moved from one country to another as a war refugee and as mild and run of the mill as consistently feeling like a square peg in a round hole–is what catalyses a person’s search for meaning, and what allows for meaning to be found. I hypothesise that all writers–at least all writers of fiction and probably all poets–feel somewhat displaced and/or misplaced, and that that is why we write. We write in order to draw meaning out of and put meaning into our discomfort. For some of us (not me), the discomfort is legitimate anguish, but all of us at least have stones in our shoes and can’t figure out how they got there but might have a chance if we write about them. (I don’t think I’m going to use the stone-in-the-shoe analogy tomorrow because it doesn’t fit with the “displacement” theme very well, but . . . it kind of works all the same.)

Back when I first moved to London, Auntie Susan suggested I write a story about a refugee child adjusting to life in London. Knowing some of these children in person, and having had a non-refugee but still international childhood myself, fused on paper and turned into Trees in the Pavement. I don’t think I realised until recently how much meaning my own cross-cultural ill-fitting as a child influenced the writing of this book, though I was certainly aware of drawing some personal meaning out of the displacement-experiences of my refugee friends in London who directly inspired the book.

It was also in London that I began the first drafting of Favored One, my sporadically written novel about Miryam the mother of Yeshua. That one was also inspired by a feeling of displacement. I started it as an extended exercise in a version of lectio divina (I might have told you this already), in which I put myself into a biblical narrative as if I were one of the characters. It’s not an attempt to reimagine (or call up) the real Miryam. It’s an attempt to imagine how I would have behaved and responded had I been that Miryam. I began the writing of it just at the time I started feeling like God Himself was telling me to leave London. I didn’t particularly want to leave London and I didn’t know what I was supposed to do next, and when I did leave, it took me at least three years to readjust to life in the US. It occurred to me, as I continued this exercise of identifying with Miryam, that when a person feels they have had an encounter with God, that’s a kind of displacement, too. If you respond to it, you can’t remain the same, and you won’t quite fit in to whatever milieu you were in before. When Jacob of the Hebrew Scriptures encountered God “in person,” his hip literally was displaced. When Miryam was called by Adonai, she acquiesced to being an unwed mother of the Messiah in a society where bearing a child conceived by an unknown father could have gotten her physically stoned to death. The way the Gospels read, you don’t necessarily get the impression that this agreement on Miryam’s part was always entirely consistent. There’s certainly evidence that she didn’t always “get” the meaning of her displacing experience, or of her own son. When she did, it was essentially a pushing through the displacement to God–to seeing His meaning–to finding meaning in Him.

The more I thought about it, the more it began to dawn on me that the entire Christian story is about displacement, too. Everyone in the Bible is displaced in some way or other. Abraham hies himself off to he-doesn’t-know-where. Ruth leaves her family and culture to devote herself to her mother-in-law. Moses has a confusing cross-cultural upbringing and then has to oppose the primary culture in which he was reared in order to lead the people in which he was born to freedom–which was also, to them, a kind of displacement. People are constantly acquiring new names because they don’t fit their old ones after God meets with them. And Jesus? Yeshua? Well, if the Christian story is true, then even God knows what it is to be displaced.

But in His case, it’s like He is a reverse-refugee. He comes to the war-zone. He comes to the place where the violence and the barriers and the heartache and all the things that displace us are. There’s a strange passage in the book of Hebrews which says that Yeshua “learned obedience” by being here, so maybe it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that He learned “meaning,” too—in a different way than He would have known it had he just stayed united to His Father in whatever incorporeal existence God has. It’s like the Bible is one big story of displacement, leading up to the climax of the displaced God, in whom all the smaller stories acquire their ultimate meaning. I believe this displaced God still can provide meaning to the displacement—the results of what’s traditionally (and unpopularly) called sin—that we feel today. There’s someone bigger than us out there who knows just what displacement feels like, and can guide us through it and give our stories meaning. He came, in the end, to be and to bring us home.