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(Not Too) Much A-Do about Being

A few weeks ago on a quiet Sunday morning, fiancé Steve and I were seated across from each other at my dining table. Having shared a homemade omelet and fruit and still working on our respective cups of coffee and tea, Steve sat with his paper calendar in his lap, his laptop open to email, while I had called up my calendar on my phone and sat with the wedding notebook in front of me. As we compared notes, I made a to-do list on a legal pad: we needed to call X, send a follow up email to Y, compare quotes from Z and Q. We divvied up the duties and decided on a timetable, determining what had to be done before the holidays, what could wait until after.

Once we each had our assignments, I slid my reading glasses off my nose and snapped the frame closed, the muscle memory of the movement recalling something far removed from a leisurely morning lingering over breakfast with my love. I sat back in my chair in consternation.

“What?” Steve asked, closing his calendar.

I sighed. “I know planning a wedding is supposed to be fun, and it mostly is. But it feels like we just spent our morning in a business meeting.” Continue reading

On Gratitude and Gay Marriage

I’m a middle-aged fashion model. According to conventional industry standards, I’m neither tall enough, thin enough, nor young enough to qualify as model material, but that’s one of the main reasons I took on the challenge: I wanted, in my own small way, to expand our narrowly defined ideas of what constitutes “beauty.”

I’m no pro, nor do I aspire to be, but I model fairly regularly with a volunteer organization that promotes diversity in fashion and the fashion industry. Back in June, we did a runway show at a local gay bar and dance club to support the launch of a new LGBTQ magazine. As we dressed backstage before the show, one of the other models, “Kesha,” a stunning African-American woman maybe ten or twelve years younger than me, commented on her wedding planning progress. When I told her I’d recently gotten engaged, too, she said, “Congratulations, girl!” gave me a big hug, and noted, “We need to talk.”

After the fashion show, Kesha and I sat in the club’s bar, drinking wine and sharing nuptial details. Her wedding is slated for this coming spring, so she’d already booked her venue, the Patrick Henry ballroom, and chosen bridesmaids’ dresses, floor-length Tiffany-blue gowns. We talked colors, sharing pics back and forth on our phones: her centerpieces, my vases. She’s planning on two dresses: for the ceremony, a fitted mermaid gown with beading and bling; and for the reception, a mini-dress with a frothy full-length tulle overskirt. As we clicked through pictures, one of us spotted a cat on the other’s phone, so we took a detour into trading pet photos. I’d modeled with Kesha for over a year, but this was the first real conversation we’d had. Weddings, it seems, have a way of bringing people together.

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The Problem of the “Perfect”

When I went in for a dental check-up and cleaning not long ago, my hygienist, “Christina,” told me her daughter had gotten married last spring, right around the time Steve and I had gotten engaged. Since she’d recently planned and carried out a wedding locally, I thought she might be a good resource for vendors, and she was eager to offer advice. In between bite-wing x-rays, I asked about planners and photographers, and she shared a couple of names. By the time she started telling me about her daughter’s venue and describing the day, I was tilted back in the chair, various instruments scraping and splooshing and polishing my teeth, a captive audience unable to speak.

Which was okay, because Christina had plenty to say.

She told me about her daughter’s wedding dress. When they found “the one,” it was a tiny bit over their budget, but she decided it was worth the couple hundred dollar splurge. Then they’d driven to Richmond and spent four times the amount of that splurge on alterations to ensure the dress was “perfect.” “The dress matters so much,” Christina said, as she handed me the suction. A bridal portrait of her daughter sat on a nearby shelf, and the dress was flattering. Still, interviewing multiple cleaners all over town, and stressing out the poor woman they’d selected so much she swore she hadn’t slept the night before she was to press it? It seemed a little extreme.

Then, Christina told me about her daughter’s wedding party, the bridesmaids’ dresses they’d chosen. “I was worried about one of my daughter’s attendants,” she said, lowering her voice confidentially. “You know, worried about her figure.”

I was glad my mouth was already open. What on earth?

“And she’s sort of this shy, quiet type, too, a librarian, so I was worried about whether she’d even have a good time,” she continued.

I blinked rapidly in defense of introverts everywhere.

“But—” Christina turned away to check the x-rays of my mouth splayed across the computer screen behind her. “Her dress looked lovely, and she was fine.” She descended on my mouth again. “In fact, she came up to me at the end of the wedding and said ‘This wedding has ruined all other weddings for me in the future—it was perfect.’ And that—” she paused and pointed the polisher at me “—is what your mother wants to hear.”

I’m thinking: after 45 years, my mother just wants to hear me say I do.

“It wasn’t perfect,” Christina added, a bit wistfully. “But, it was fun.”

Fun is good. Fun is great. It’s not a Broadway production competing for a Tony; it’s a wedding celebration. We say our vows, we have a party, everyone eats, drinks, dances until the shoes come off and the conga line rolls. Legal, fun, and done: those are my criteria.

Don’t get me wrong—I want the flowers to be exquisite, the wedding party to be radiant, my dress to float just-so as I descend the stairs against the backdrop of robin’s-egg-blue sky. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t pictured this or that moment, in this or that ideal way. But aspiring for everything to be “perfect”—a word Christina kept repeating, a standard she seemed to think attainable—is, in my experience, mostly a recipe for trouble.

Christina told me she’d dreamed for months about her daughter’s wedding day. She’d cried imagining that morning, how special sharing the preparations and getting ready together would be. “And then,” she said, “we just ended up fighting.” The plan was for her daughter to text her when she woke up, and mom would go in to snuggle her before they launched into the big day. “Well,” she said, shaking her head at the memory, “by the time she texted, I was already up and doing wedding stuff that had to be done. And somehow I missed the text.”

And that’s the problem of the perfect: too many, too high, too exacting expectations. Not to mention misplaced priorities in pursuit of it. What “wedding stuff” was more important than that snuggle? Then again, attempting to script that kind of “perfect” moment is usually unwise, because no matter what happens, it rarely matches the fantasy.

There is no such thing as “perfect,” not really. There are expectations, and people or events that meet those expectations—or don’t. We have a habit of calling whatever does meet (or exceed) our expectations “perfect”; what doesn’t is a disappointment. But “perfect” is an abstraction, a relative concept, a practical impossibility. “Perfect” is perception, not reality, and acting as if it is a clearly defined, achievable entity is more likely to lead to discontent than delight.

“I learned my lesson,” Christina reassured me—or maybe herself. Later that morning, when she and her daughter were at the salon together getting hair and makeup done, the wedding planner called with an issue. Christina took a deep breath and decided to let go of trying to make the day “perfect.” She referred the call to her husband and went back to enjoying the moment with her daughter.

I’m not sure my hygienist has fully overcome her perfectionist tendencies, but as a recovering perfectionist myself, I know it’s a tough addiction to crack. So whenever I start to worry about some little detail (What if we can’t get the right color daisies?) or some piece I can’t control (What if it’s pouring rain that day?), I remind myself that oftentimes the most memorable moments come from the minor mishaps and unexpected events, the things you couldn’t possibly have planned for but will never forget. I think back to how all the guests at my brother’s wedding were preparing to hum an impromptu wedding march in case the bagpiper, who was delayed, couldn’t make it in time. Or the moment when we realized we didn’t have rose petals readied for the flower girl, and my mother sat down with a basket in her lap and began to pluck petals. My brother knelt down in front of her, took a rose, and went to work.

As we were scheduling my future check-ups, Christina asked about my wedding date.

“September,” I said, happy to be sitting upright once again, my mouth appliance free.

She clicked through her online calendar. “Oh, good,” she said. “That’ll be shortly after a cleaning, so your teeth will look great for pictures.” She turned to me and smiled. “Perfect.”

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Wedding Planning 101: Lessons from Kim and Kanye

I don’t usually follow celebrity gossip, but whenever I visit my hairstylist or the doctor’s office, I enjoy flipping through a cheesy magazine or two. After all, it would be un-American of me not to maintain at least a basic knowledge of the intimate details of vast numbers of people I’ll never meet and rarely respect. While getting my hair done not long ago, I was perusing my stylist’s back-stash of celebrity rags and saw a magazine headline from fall 2013, something along the lines of “Kim leaves wedding planning to Kanye.” Along with most of the rest of the internet, I’ve seen a bit more of Kim Kardashian lately than I ever really needed or wanted to, though truth be told, I only know who she or any of the Kardashians is because their antics get so much press coverage (if coverage is the right word…). Sans cable or satellite, I don’t get E! and have never seen the family’s reality show. In fact, I’m proud to report I had to look up which network even carries it; as further proof of our compatibility, Steve didn’t know either!

The part of the headline that caught my eye was not “Kim” nor “Kanye” (the musician who railed at Taylor Swift for winning a Grammy he thought someone else deserved, yes?). The words I latched onto were, no surprise, “wedding planning.” Steve and I are, relatively speaking, still in the early stages of corralling the vast compendium of activities that innocent-sounding phrase describes, but I continue to feel amazed and overwhelmed at the seemingly infinite reach of this thing called the “wedding industry.”

So, when I read the headline, I had three thoughts, in this order: (1) Wow, there are times when I wish I could hand it all off to Steve. (2) I could never hand it all off to Steve—I’ve waited years to plan my wedding! And finally, (3): Bullshit. Kanye’s idea of wedding planning probably means making a list of extravagant ideas, picking up a phone to hire a wedding planner, and then telling his staff to get busy. Methinks–as I have texted back and forth with my mom about fabric choices, spent hours perusing photographers’ websites, and sent yet another email to our chosen venue, asking, again, when can we, please, sign a contract?—Mr. West’s dreaming up ever more grandiose ideas with nary a worry of how to finance any of them does not count as “planning.”

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This is the Place!

We have a venue! Welcome to the Rooftop Garden at the Center in the Square.

A little backstory: Steve and I started dating in February of 2013, and one evening that May, we headed downtown, as we often did. It was a warm spring night, and after dinner at Table 50, we walked to Billy’s for a cocktail. You know how in every relationship there are those watershed moments, key conversations or experiences when everything seems to shift, either stall out or leap forward? Maybe the martinis were particularly strong, but as we sat at a high-top near the bar, our conversation turned, for the first time, to past relationships. We shared stories of dashed hopes and talked frankly about some of the painful and pivotal events that had led us to where we were. There were a few tears, tightly held hands, kisses of acceptance and promise. When we left Billy’s, my heart felt light and sure. I hadn’t yet told Steve I loved him, but the feeling had taken firm root.

On our way to dinner, we’d seen a number of dressed-up folks, women in evening gowns, men in tuxedos and sharp black suits. The party-goers were too mature for prom, so when we spotted a large white tent on the corner of the market, we’d figured there was a ball or fundraiser going on. By the time we left Billy’s to stroll around and enjoy the weather, the party was in full swing. The tent was lit up, and we  heard the unmistakable sound of my all-time favorite 80s-cover band, Superhold.

People were sitting at round tables scattered under the tent, and more were just outside it, dancing on the parking lot dance floor. Now that it was dark, we could see the atrium of the Center in the Square filled with the festively-dressed folks we’d passed earlier. The party was in celebration of the grand re-opening of the newly remodeled Center, which had been closed for several years for renovations. The spaces that housed Mill Mountain Theatre, the History Museum, the Harrison Museum of African-American Culture, and the Science Museum of Western Virginia had all been redesigned and upgraded; the atrium now featured several aquariums, and there was a new butterfly garden upstairs. Crowning it all was a two-story rooftop garden. Continue reading

Steve with post-it
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Choosing a Venue, 2: If You Liked It, Then You Shoulda Put A Label On It… ?

I love labels. I own a label-maker and love the feeling of clarity and control that comes with designating a spot for a particular set of objects or items, labeling said shelf or drawer or basket, and knowing ever-after exactly where those objects do (or at least should) live. My love of labels actually derives from a tendency toward disorganization, the result of an over-extended brain combined with a bit of laziness: using labels means I only have to think about where to put or find something once, and after that, all I have to do is read the signs. Lest you are picturing an entire house decorated with narrow strips of white tape, I should hasten to add that my labeling is confined to those places where, sans a defined organizational system, contents tend to accumulate, disappear, and/or multiply with mysterious rapidity: the basement, the closet, the craft room.

labels3As much as I find comfort in their conspicuous certainty, however, not everything needs a label. It’s pretty obvious that bookshelves are intended for books, and I can usually remember where I last left, say, the sofa.

What does any of this have to do with wedding venues?  And why is Steve wearing a post-it with “Fiancé” stuck to his chest?  Funny you should ask. Continue reading