How is a wedding like a crucible, and how is it like an hourglass?
A crucible, for anyone not actively practicing chemistry or alchemy, is a container or a situation in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new.
A wedding is like a crucible because you pour two people into it and they emerge transformed – not as one person, of course, but as a newly married entity.
For the wedding officiant, it can be a little confusing as to where to place all those alchemical elements in order to get the desired transformation. For example, why do the vows tend to come with the ring exchange? Why do some couples choose readings? Why does the kiss come last? That’s when it is helpful to think about the wedding as an hourglass.
In this digital age, I feel compelled to define what an hourglass is. It’s how we used to keep track of time. An hourglass is a glass vessel divided into two compartments by a very narrow waist. Sand pours down from one end of the vial to the other in the space of an hour. (If you happen to still own one, it can be an effective and quiet timekeeper for meditation sessions.)
As you will see in the diagram I’ve created below, the wedding starts with a bunch of scattered elements (aka relatives and friends) arriving together at an agreed-upon place and time. That’s why we officiants start by acknowledging out loud why we are here, “gathered together,” so everyone can start on the same beat.
The rituals and readings slowly funnel everyone’s attention to the key spot, the narrow waist of the hourglass, which is when the crucible effect – the transformation – takes place. After that, we open things back up again, and generally end with a community gathering such as the wedding reception. I’m tinkering with this concept, so for any new officiants, I welcome your comments!
It’s not uncommon for one or both of the wedding couple to have parents who have passed away.
L.R. recently wrote to me and asked if there is an appropriate way to incorporate the memory of deceased parents into the wedding ceremony. She went on to add, “We want this to be a happy moment and I want to be careful not to turn it into a memorial service.” At the same time, as she said, “This is a cherished moment when they should be present and it will give her comfort taking this big step in her life.”
When I thank people for coming to the wedding, after opening the ceremony, I often say, “We also want to acknowledge those important people who are not sitting with us today.” If someone couldn't travel for health or other reasons, or is serving overseas, this is a good time to name them.
Then I say, “And especially, (the deceased person’s name or names). He (or she, or they) ARE here in spirit, and in our hearts.” It is perfectly OK to have a poignant moment in an otherwise cheerful ceremony, and it allows everyone to welcome the memory of those people into the gathering.
As an alternative, the couple could place a photo or two of the parents or loved ones at the sign-in or gift area in the reception. The photos could be happy, so they are easily remembered with joy. Might there be a wedding photo of them?
In some ceremonies, I’ve seen the couple come down the aisle together before the ceremony started, and quietly light a votive candle in front of photos of the deceased parents. No words were spoken; some guests understood and others didn't see it, but it was a sweet and solemn gesture before a joyful occasion.
Finally, if there were particularly characteristic phrases or funny things the parents or loved ones were known for, your couple might like to have some of that woven into your celebrant's address. For example, you could mention that a sense of humor is critical to a long, good marriage (it is!), and thank goodness the bride got a boatload of humor from her dear parents.
I would choose 2-3 possibilities, then try to have an informal chat with your couple to see what sounds most desirable to them. My couples always appreciated knowing about that part long before the big day.
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.
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.
Last Thursday I got one of the most exciting e-mails of my life. "Hello," it began, "I’m an editor with (a wedding magazine) and we’ve decided to feature your book in our review section of the winter/spring issue. . ."
At the fall equinox in 2014, it’s almost hard to remember June of 2012 when I signed the contract with Chronicle Books and sat down to write The Wedding Officiant’s Guide.
I sent my huge, messy draft to Doris Ober late that year. Doris is a meticulous independent editor as well as an excellent author. The rewriting took another nine months, and then I began to polish the story with Lisa Tauber and Dawn Yanagihara, my wonderful editors at Chronicle Books.
Gradually, the book rose out of my hands and flew off to live with the editors, designers, and producers, and I sat alone at my dining room table surrounded by vast silence. The book publishing process moves glacially when you are used to blogging. I countered the loss by creating a wildly improbable publicity scheme for myself and biting my nails.
Special cross-marketing events, national touring, knocking on Martha Stewart’s door. . . none of this has happened yet, and it probably won’t even be approved when I do get my fifteen minutes with the publicist at Chronicle Books. But something happened off of my radar, something marvelous. The publisher sent me a handful of author copies of the actual, adorable little sky-blue paperback, which I wrapped (as you see in the picture above) and mailed to all the people I interviewed for the book. But at the same time, Chronicle sent a bunch of the books (50? 100?) to reviewers and magazines.
Seeds were sown (have I mentioned how cool it is working with Chronicle?) and now I’m seeing tiny green leaves breaking the loamy surface.
Over the past several weeks I’ve identified elements of what, to me, would make up a satisfying Writers Colony, a summer boot camp for the writer who wants to complete a project or two. We’ve touched on the obvious importance of reading and writing, and on more subtle helps from meditation. We’ve looked at writing supports such as physical exercise and hearing other writers talk about their craft.
In addition to these, I recommend field trips to stimulate your brain. Not just your field work, but what Julia Cameron famously calls Artist Dates. You might poke around the shabby antique store in your neighborhood, or get a meal at a hot-dog stand shaped like an orange, or visit the bowling alley. Art museums and galleries, of course! This summer I went beachcombing in North Carolina’s Outer banks. Over several mornings I realized that gathering and sorting shells can become a profoundly insightful editing process, a metaphor learned through my hands and eyes that will inform my future work.
I also mentioned arts and crafts in my first post. Don’t confine yourself to the page, the screen, the black ant trail of letters marching ever onward. Make room for fun, mess, and possibility. If you have any art materials, unearth them and make a space for them. Schedule a late afternoon, or maybe an early morning. You have no art materials? String penne noodles on a length of dental floss and wear it. Or take a page from your newspaper and scribble on it, blacking out all but some random words. Gardening is good, as are origami and sketching. We are experimenting with new ways of seeing.
As I wrap up this series, I look at my two huge writing projects (one, the extroverted task of setting up a publicity strategy for The Wedding Officiant’s Guide, and the other very introspective task of figuring out how to tell the story of the next book) and I am glad to see that I accomplished something; I’ve chipped away at the mountains.
Accountability really helped. My friend, Jennifer, patiently accepts an e-mail from me every Friday afternoon that lists all the micro-actions I took that week. Jennifer is under no obligation to even read what I send. I keep a sticky note on my desktop, add to my list every time I do something, and start the list fresh on Saturday. Somehow this is the accountability that I need.
Have you heard the term “Bookending”? Suppose you have a task you really don’t want to face, for whatever reason. Work it out with a friend that you will call them just before the task and again just after the task. You don’t need to talk much—just check in. It really helps!
Accountability requires some form of community. Ultimately, community is what differentiates a writing retreat from a session at a writing colony. Where is your community? If you don't already have it, you might find some in a writing class, a writing MFA program, a poetry group, a writer's club, a coach, or in multiple online writing spheres.
I hope this Summer Writers Colony series entertained you, and in some way helped your own process. I expect to be called away from the laptop shortly as twin babies make their debut in my family. When I get back, I’ll write about weddings and my experience with publishing The Wedding Officiant’s Guide, as well as some thoughts arising from my spiritual studies.
What writing tasks did you work on this summer?
Earlier this year, I had the honor of officiating at the wedding between a dear friend and colleague, Alison Hotchkiss, and her fiance, Markus Rinderknecht. Everything about that wedding was heartfelt, intimate, and completely romantic.
I met Alison years ago while tagging along to my father's weddings. We have worked together on several occasions. She creates breathtaking events. She is a generous and very brightly shining soul who has managed an incredibly busy business as a destination wedding and events planner. In addition to that, and a good deal of travel, Alison wrote two books that have been extremely helpful to wedding couples: Destination Wedding Planner: The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Wedding from Afar; and All the Essentials Wedding Planner: The Ultimate Tool for Organizing Your Big Day (shown here).
Alison is also one of my fairy godmothers. In early 2012, I met her for a latte at the Caffe Trieste in San Francisco's North Beach. I hesitantly outlined an idea for a book, and not only did she encourage me, but she also insisted I write up the idea which she would share with her editor at Chronicle Books. That conversation changed the course of my life.
A couple of weeks ago, Alison Events production manager Shira Savada, who also knows a whole lot about weddings, kindly interviewed me. Here is my interview on the Alison Events web site, as well as some tips about making your wedding uniquely yours.
Thank you, Ms. Rinderknecht and Ms. Savada!
Here are some thoughts about weddings, writing, and the world. Enjoy.