The Martha Stewart Weddings editors are sweet to work with! It was fun to chat with Real Weddings intern Elisha Hahm for her blog about ceremony readings that went live this week. She chose some of my favorite readings. Yes, the Anne Bradstreet poem was written nearly four hundred years ago, and it still sounds like love today.
It turns out that Mrs. Bradstreet was a great-great-ever-so-great aunt of mine.
How do you pick readings for your wedding ceremony? I often ask the couple to give me three adjectives to describe the ceremony they envision. So if a couple agrees on, “theatrical, romantic, and upbeat” or “intimate, simple, and brief,” these provide two very different tones. I listen for the tone that they want, which guides me to the types of readings I might present to them.
Interestingly, children's literature is gaining popularity in weddings. More people are choosing excerpts of the book by Dr. Seuss: Oh, The Places You’ll Go! I've also heard part of The Little Prince, where the fox explains why he loves his rose. And the part about becoming Real from The Velveteen Rabbit. These readings can touch an audience deeply because we might remember reading them as children.
Here's an interesting alternative to the standard reading: A handful of guests can rise and read brief passages, like definitions of marriage, or blessings for the couple. Tell your family members and friends ahead of time to write a line or two and bring it with them. In a wedding between a Jewish groom and his Chinese bride, each of their parents read meaningful proverbs about marriage in either Yiddish or Mandarin.
Yes it’s a dry spring in California. Nonetheless plant and vegetable and tree roots inch along, lengthening as they reach for water and warmth. That word ‘lengthen’ shares a root with the Festival of ‘Lent,’ also occurring now.
The Catholic season of Lent is about removing distractions, sending our own attention and energy inward and downward, a forty-or-so day meditation before we flower into action. Indeed, a radical action is one expressed from our root.
I attended a gathering of about four hundred souls last weekend, a mix of farmers and urbanites, natives and immigrants, scientists, writers, artists, meditators, gardeners, and activists — we filled up a whole school in the town of Point Reyes Station. At the conference, called Mapping a New Geography of Hope, we listened to really thoughtful people getting at the root of things. The planet is heating up. People are acting badly. Others do healing and reparation of wrongs done to our forests, cultures, and oceans, and still others create necessary visions and plans for a good life on a healthy planet with sustainable, balanced systems.
Which gave me the questions to ponder:
· What do I love too much to lose?
· What will I do to protect what I love?
· What does the Earth ask of us? With my own talents, what are my responsibilities?
· What can be gathered from our ancestors, and from local ancestors (for me Silicon Valley and the Bay Area), that will help us heal our land and water?
· How am I letting my attention and body be colonized by corporate interests?
· Why are rhinos, bears, monkeys and sharks being slaughtered to extinction for increased sexual potency?
· How can I, in a nation that uses 30 times the resources of other nations, calm my own consumer desires?
· How can I shape the next chapter of the Silicon Valley / Bay Area story?
In January I went to a silent retreat for the first time.
There I sat on a cushion on a mat, facing some other soul in a room of about sixty, feeling my poor, overstretched knees go numb yet again. How did I get to this wretchedly uncomfortable place? Before coming I could MAYBE meditate for 20 minutes, a few times a week, and had always felt positive that more than a day of silence would be intolerable.
We had been kind of tricked into it, you see. My mother had met a teacher of zen koans in New Mexico, and now he was offering a winter retreat in Santa Rosa. I explored his web site and I'm pretty sure that nowhere on the site were the words, “You will sit thirty minutes, walk fifteen, sit for thirty more, walk fifteen, sit for thirty more, walk for ten, and then have breakfast. Then start the whole thing over from breakfast to lunch, from lunch to dinner, etc.” Had they been there, even a hint, I probably would not have signed up.
But here we were. The first two days were hard, hard, I’m not going to lie. My brain was not used to this and screamed at me all night long with crazy rhymes and bits of music and chatter. But then it got better. By the fifth day I felt stable, spacious, and integrated, the way I used to feel before adolescence. All through the week I noticed the sounds of silence:
6 a.m., many people in a dark library lit by candles. We've all had a sip of green tea and, here and there, stomachs growl.
The shaft of morning light lengthening as it finds its way down the wall.
A barefoot teacher walking very, very slowly across the carpet and bowing to students.
The collective silence of people eating, eyes downcast to preserve everyone’s privacy. In this space, I discovered the miracle of how extraordinary simple food tastes when you are not busy chatting about something to someone.
The warm silence when a morning fills with birdcalls, and then they all cease.
The peace of one's tiny room upstairs, very different from the meditation hall.
Students pondering a koan late at night by the fireplace. Space to hear the cracking and snapping of a lit log.
Within that mysterious palace of silence, my spine grew and my senses sharpened. Gladness grew in my heart. Was it that simple? We carry our breath wherever we go.
I walked into the garden one morning. Across an expanse of brown twigs, the tangy coral of crab apple blossoms shouted out to me.
At the wedding supper or the rehearsal dinner, older married guests are sometimes asked to tell the couple their secret to a long and happy marriage. I have heard many answers, and here are my two favorites.
The secret to a happy marriage is. . . always wear comfortable shoes!
The secret is, go into it with both eyes open. And for the rest of your life, keep one eye shut.
I like the first for its immediate practicality, and the second because it’s a way of saying, “always give your beloved the benefit of the doubt.”
But another practical secret is, learn how to fight. The last thing any engaged couple wants to think about is fighting. But what if you were given the tools to fight fairly, to argue things out in an agreeable fashion so that both of you grew closer together as a team? Wouldn't you want to spend some time thinking about it?
My first husband and I never disagreed. We never fought. At the time I thought it was because we were perfectly aligned, but in retrospect, I stuffed parts of myself away so they wouldn’t upset him, or upset the delicate balance we had attained. When these hidden parts naturally began to assert themselves, the balance between us was severely upset, and he was (rightly) kind of shocked at what was happening. By the time we had our first real disagreement, the marriage had already been burdened with too much assumption, and too much resentment. I didn’t have tools to fight fairly, and neither did he. Everything fell apart and couldn’t be repaired.
While dating my current husband, we chanced on a free workshop in communication as a married couple, and went to it. Boy, am I glad we did.
The workshop presenters worked from this excellent book, Fighting for Your Marriage. This book is easy to read and covers not only conflict but also spirituality, sensuality, and forgiveness. Any couple can make good use of the wisdom of its authors.
My favorite technique from this book is how to give each other time to fully talk without interrupting to blame or problem-solve. The authors actually hand out a piece of linoleum in their workshops so that the Speaker literally “holds the floor,” but we can use anything, such as a pen or a book. After the Speaker is through, s/he hands the floor to the Listener, who then gets a chance to speak. In this kind of discussion, no-one rushes to find a solution until each person has said everything burdening their mind and heart. It is remarkable how much helpful information reveals itself when two people fully articulate a challenging issue.
“When artists and professionals regularly accept responsibility for their actions, they shape deep, rich, and evolving pictures of who they are, pictures that permit them to act consistently with emerging notions of their authentic selves.” Intentional Practice & The Art of Finding Natural Audience: A Framework for Artists and Professionals.
Marc Zegans is a poet in Santa Cruz, California who provides creative development advice to artists, musicians, actors, directors, and other creatively minded professionals such as therapists. He wrote a brilliant, very slender e-book a few years ago and put it on Amazon at such a ridiculously low price that it should already rest in the toolbox of every artist and professional.
I recently re-read it and was reminded of how I want to function as an active, authentic, ethical artist and minister, and where my natural audiences might be. Based on my working session with his book and his penetrating questions, I now know exactly how I will overhaul my website and blog in the next few weeks so that they more accurately reflect who I am.
If you want to know more about Marc and the many creatives and professionals he’s helped, trot on over to www.mycreativedevelopment.com. Or you can catch him live, reading his poetry, at Nomadic Press in Oakland on Saturday, January 24 at 7 p.m.
Meanwhile, here are three of many, many gems from his book:
“Your natural audience isn’t everyone you can pull into the room; it’s the group of people who have a good reason to be there.”
“Intentional practitioners are fiercely committed to being present in their pursuit of socially responsible purposes.”
“Often, we claim that authenticity and integrity demand distance as a rationale to cover our fear of engagement. When such claims are based in fear, there is nothing authentic about them. We are using a ploy to protect ourselves from finding out how good we really are, what we can do when we have resources, and what we will do when we don’t.”
I don’t regret a single moment from my first marriage, which lasted nearly thirteen years. I'm especially grateful for the gift of my daughter from that union. But the marriage we built was riddled with assumptions and problems, and when it was tested, it collapsed in a terribly painful way.
I never expected to fall in love again, but I did. This time, I resolved to do my part differently from the start.
The first marriage’s courtship and engagement period: six weeks. Lots of great conversations in bars, large parties with friends, and many joints shared on the benches in North Beach’s Washington Square.
The second courtship took two years, then an engagement of six months. I was sober. We, too, had great conversations together while walking, in cafes, going on adventures, doing stuff around the house. A friend mentioned a book that turned out to be a pre-wedding gem, because it got us actually talking about us, about stuff that would naturally come up the longer we lived together.
That book is Ten Great Dates Before You Say I Do (Zondervan, 2003). While the authors approached it with a distinctly Christian perspective, the information and process can be valuable to everyone. I’m recommending this book to you.
Many couples do premarital counseling. These talking dates are a way to dive into the same kinds of issues. My betrothed and I went out on ten Thursday night dates after separately doing a page or two of homework.
The homework helped us to sort out our expectations and differences. We talked about where we each came from, our talking style, the ways in which we showed love. (I’m really glad about that last one, because I know that his changing the oil in my car is pretty darned romantic, as is my folding his laundry.)
We talked about really awkward, difficult things like money issues and debts, and sex. We talked about how we’d try to solve problems together, and endure crises and old age together. How we’d handle the housework, our nearly grown children, and our different faiths. Our similar and sometimes very different ideas of fun vacations.
The ten years we’ve been married have slipped by so fast in an atmosphere of trust and enjoyment. Those Thursday dates had a lot to do with it.
A week before the book was to launch, I grew so restless. I paced and fretted. I had completed every task I set out to do for the book. What would the launch look like?
Every day that week I watched the title rise in Amazon ranking from about a millionth place to as high as 131,000. It went down a lot, too! So I stopped watching before it became too stressful a habit.
On December 2, at 12:30 in the morning, I woke up and learned what the launch looked like: Satisfaction. Joy. All alone in the dark, I felt a very steady sense of accomplishment. The book is published and can live on its own in the world.
Later in the day I checked back in with my feelings, over a latte and pear-ginger croissant. Yep, that steady warmth was still there.
That evening I had some dear friends over and we laughed and chatted over lasagne. I opened a couple of tins of blackfish caviar, and a few bottles of
Sofia sparkling wine. That good feeling? Still there.
Promotion on social media is full-time work. Here’s how I’ve gone about it.
I read eight books about promoting books. I underlined and tagged them, and kept a notebook with a page dedicated to each element of the publicity strategy: biography, elevator speech, ideal city-tour plan, etc. Lots of lists.
I repeatedly worked through a 26-page online list that Chronicle Books offers authors as I came up to speed on social media.
Creating physical space
A month ago it was hard to work in my home office. Looking back, no wonder! The space was crowded, especially with things that weren’t actually mine, and at the same time, scattered. The sight of them siphoned my attention from The Wedding Officiant’s Guide. I removed what didn’t belong (including seven bags of books), and sorted what remained to align with one purpose: promoting this book to the best of my ability.
Sorting and listing action items
In the newly calm, airy space, I set up two whiteboards. One tells me what to do. I list tasks for this week, and also incoming ideas. On Friday, the task list is mostly erased, so the incoming list becomes next week’s tasks.
The other whiteboard records the seeds I’ve sown, sprouts to tend, and little miracles. And I list angels, people who have shown extraordinary support in this venture.
My heart is full of gratitude for these publicity angels
Stephanie Wong, my publicist at Chronicle Books who valiantly connects copies with reviewers and pitches with the media. What an amazing Grace.
Jennifer Randolph, my publicity coach. We’re going to an Oprah event and bringing business cards!
Jenny Walicek, who is extending her hand to me from high on the social media learning ladder saying, “Reach up and grab hold, you’ll be fine!”
Cathleen Miller, whose weekly two-pagers and kind words grew my blogging muscles. And whose example of organized book writing is positively inspirational.
The splendid writers and teachers Kate Evans, Mary Reynolds Thompson, and Kyczy Hawk, whose brave examples show that if I take simple steps from a heart-led space, I, too, can become a citizen of their caring, committed, literary world.
One of my heroes will arrive soon in my metropolis. Actually, she is also bringing several of my heroes with her.
This is not a paid announcement; Oprah and her extensive staff have no idea of my existence. But the fact of her coming to what we still call “The Shark Tank” in downtown San Jose—and that I am going to spend an evening and a day as part of the audience--seems so mighty as to be blog-worthy.
I came to Oprah late. You can find all kinds of stories about her success in television: the boundaries her show pushed, her rise through multiple glass ceilings. Not much of a TV watcher at the time, I first found her while sifting through the library’s free magazine box for collage materials. I judged O Magazine to be an excellent source of colorful images and paper (it still is. So is Martha Stewart Living).
Over time, my issues of O magazine grew too full of relevant articles and pithy wisdom to cut up. I bought a subscription. Oprah had already started building an academy for girls in the Gautang province of South Africa; she produced movies; the episode where she dragged a wagon of lost fat onstage was already legend.
She graduated from her TV show and began to tackle the huge issues of running a network. That's when my love affair with her "Super Soul Sunday" program began. I record the shows and dip into them while I make dinner of weekdays.
With the advent of her interviews with people whom I can only describe as "awake," I realized Oprah herself ha become one of my strongest spiritual teachers. She delights in wisdom, refuses to stick to one dogma, and broadcasts what she finds. She's creating and maintaining a world-class interfaith seminary, freely open to anyone with access to a television. I hold her in a category with Joseph Campbell, Carl Sagan, and Dr. Matthew Fox. She walks her talk and puts her money behind these lofty goals. I want to do something good in the world like she does.
My other heroes who might be there: Elizabeth Gilbert, Dr. Deepak Chopra, Iyanla Vanzant, and Rob Bell.
The show is titled “The Life You Want,” and I feel blessed to be already leading one, so I don’t plan to change course radically. But I am drawn to these beautiful souls, and want to absorb as much wisdom I can.
There are certain mistakes that even smart couples might make while planning their wedding. Inadvertently making them can cause no end of anxiety and distress before the wedding and even during it.
For example, if you are planning your wedding, are you absolutely clear as to who financially owns the event? If you and your betrothed are covering the cost completely, you can call all the shots. If someone else, usually one or more set of parents, is footing the bill, you will need to gather all your diplomatic skills and negotiate so that both you and the "event owner" are satisfied with the wedding. This may mean saying, "Aunt Jane, as long as everything is buttercream yellow and I carry roses, I don't care who you invite or what we eat."
Or, "Dad, we are paying for this and it will remain a vegan, gluten-free, and alcohol-free wedding, so just deal with it." Just make sure you get this kind of clarity early in the process. There's no worse wedding guest than a festering family resentment!
In some ways, the wedding ceremony is the smallest physical part of the wedding day. It usually doesn’t go on past 40 minutes (unless a church service is involved), a far smaller allotment of time than the reception, the preparations, or even the picture taking with family. And in terms of financial cost, the ceremony itself is usually tiny compared to such things as feeding all your guests, hiring the band or the florist, or wearing that ultimate dress.
Despite its smallness in proportion, people agree that the wedding ceremony itself is the most magical and sacred few moments of your wedding day. Consider that you arrive at your wedding ceremony as two distinct individuals. The ceremony itself is a crucible for transformation, and after certain words and rituals you will emerge from the other side as two (still distinct) individuals who are joined in the eyes of their community, beginning to walk on the path of one life together.
Somehow, planning the wedding ceremony often gets lost among the shuffle of searching for your venue, tasting cakes, and calling up transportation companies. And that’s why even smart and conscious brides and grooms can easily overlook some important action items. Like setting aside time to think about writing your vows, or whether you even want to. And don't wait until the last minute to choose or book your officiant. Many couples have been unpleasantly shocked to find that officiants are already booked, and have been so for months.
When you don’t clearly think through these issues, a general miasma of anxiety begins to rise up around the wedding which makes planning not so much fun for anyone. Fortunately, you can settle these issues fairly quickly and release a great deal of tension from the planning process.
Here are some thoughts about weddings, writing, and the world. Enjoy.