Review of The Great, Wide World Part 1

The prompt: Write a review of your life as if it were a movie or a book.

The Great, Wide World: Part 1 is, at heart, an existential story of self definition.  The protagonist is not as iconic as Holden Caulfield, but then she is not as petulant either.  What makes her tale unique is that unlike many journeymen protagonists, she has a clear mission from the start–live life as a story.

She is half successful and half not.  Her misadventures consist of years of passivity and an acceptance of the status quo which can only be described as irritating.  When she makes a career decision to teach in her early twenties, she spends several years floundering in admin assistant jobs.  When one of those jobs shows her gallingly disrespected, our heroine doesn’t stand up for herself, she lies down and takes it–until she gets fired.  Everyone wanted to see a scene where she stands up for herself, but instead she lets things continue on other people’s terms, and that is where she fails as a heroine.  Heroes are meant to be in control of their decisions, if nothing else, no matter how misguided those decisions may be.  Romeo may declare himself ‘Fortune’s fool’ but he’s the one who draws the sword on Tybalt.  The protagonist often leaves her weapons of defense and attack safely sheathed, leaving the audience hungry for more conflict and less whinging. Continue reading

Dum dum dee dum…

I have been putting off choosing my wedding processional for a long time, I think because I can’t have my dream of a trumpet player and tympani player.  The fiance thinks this is a needless expense, and when you think about it, he has a point.  We’d be shelling out probably several hundred pounds just to have someone play a grand total of ten minutes of music.  Not exactly worth it, especially when we decided to go for the expensive option for our honeymoon and get one of those villas on stilts over the water.  We’ll probably enjoy that much more.

I actually really like church organs, and if we were getting married in NYC the organist at my church is a fabulous musician and would probably be very helpful in selecting music.  The organist at the tiny English church where I’m getting married only does “Here Comes the Bride” and “The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba,” apparently.  And presumably Mendelssohn to exit.

I don’t mind Mendelssohn.  It’s pretty good for weddings, and appropriately dramatic.  But I hate that Wagner march.  It’s always sounded like a dirge to me.  My future mother-in-law likes the tradition of it, but I just can’t do it.  In all my vague girlish wedding plans, I knew one thing for certain–I would not be having Wagner’s Bridal Chorus.  I think that’s part of my problem with it–not only do I not really like the tune, but there’s nothing about it that says ‘me,’ it just says ‘woman in white marching down aisle.’  And music has always been an intensely personal expression for me.  This is the same reason I have nixed Pachelbel’s Canon, which I truly love, because it’s always in weddings.

What’s more, the type of music I really revel in is perfect for weddings.  I am a huge sucker for movie soundtracks, and all their dramatic swells.  I always have been.  I do like other kinds of music, but more often than not, that’s what I’m listening to on my iPod.  Most of the time this is slightly embarrassing.  When people ask who your favorite musician is, I feel like a popular music star is the appropriate answer if you don’t want to get weird looks.  Certainly this was true back in 8th grade when I was liking Rod Stewart (early 90’s easy listening Rod Stewart) and everyone else was listening to Snow and Kris Kross and Wrexx n Effect (Check baby check baby 1234…I am ashamed to have listened to that song).

I have developed a taste for popular music of all genres, and when we sat down with the DJ to pick songs for the wedding I was happily calling out Rhianna and Lady Gaga and Jay-Z.  (Which is the better New York song–“New York, New York,” or “Empire State of Mind”?  Discuss.)  But I still have a deep and abiding love for Howard Shore, John Williams, Hans Zimmer, and this is where I get to let that fly.

The song I really want to march in to is the theme to Jurassic Park.  Specifically track 7 on the CD, “Welcome to Jurassic Park.”  I got the soundtrack for my birthday when I turned 15 from a girl who turned out to be one of my best friends and bridesmaids, and I used to lie in bed listening to that music and daydreaming about the future, about the fabulous lives we were all going to lead.  It’s all very epic.  In case you’ve forgotten, it goes like this.

It would be nice to have this in homage to my past self, and to my fiance, who found that movie so life changing he dabbled with being a geneticist, but unfortunately I think the only reaction it will get is “Is she marching in to dinosaur music?”

There is of course a bevy of classical music to choose from.  I’ve always loved Appalachian Spring by Copeland.  And there’s the Prince of Denmark’s march, which is not only very bridey, but also makes me think of a favorite Prince of Denmark of mine, although Wikipedia says that it’s not actually about Hamlet.  Wikipedia also tells me that it was used at Charles and Diana’s wedding, and let’s face it–nothing is cheesier than an American getting married in England trying to imitate a royal wedding.  Even unwittingly.

The other problem with choosing classical music on a recording is that the feeling is lost.  Classical music is really stirring, but more when it’s performed live, and the swell of the music fills your ears.  So this brings me back to the Entrance of the Queen of Sheba, which, upon listening, is actually a pretty cool piece.

So the conundrum is this–do I put my most personal choices on display and let people comment on the dinosaur music and the fact that I made them listen to a bit of Les Miserables before my entrance?  Or do I go with the live music, which is a beautiful, but safe choice?

Declines with regret

Here’s the thing about weddings further than a car ride from where people live.  You find out what you really mean to people.

When I planned my wedding in England, I had a lot of reasons, mostly boiling down to I could have an amazing wedding for half the cost of something in New York.  This turned out to be true.  There are no fifteenth century Guild Halls in all of America.  And in New York an open bar is de rigeur, but an open bar is something the fiance is dead set against.  But really, it’s about the fact that there’s nowhere in the NYC metropolitan area that Shakespeare performed in, or the ruins of a medieval cathedral to take pictures in.

Obviously I dreamed of my wedding.  What girl doesn’t?  I envisioned my dress, and the food, but that picture changed a bunch of times.  What I always thought was that it’s the one chance in life to gather all your loved ones around you and have them celebrate with you.  This was the one thing I fantasized about most of all.  I thought of elopements with horror–who could do that, and why, when you could have such a lovely celebration?

I knew when I planned to get married in England that would be sacrificing some guests.  Flying across an ocean is a huge ask, and I know that.  But I thought, I know some people who like to travel.  Maybe they’ll show.  (They didn’t).  Then I thought, surely some of my family will show up.  I have an Uncle who’s a world traveller.  He’ll definitely come.  (He just cancelled.)  A friend of mine is going to be in Paris up through the wedding weekend.  England is a very short hop from there, one I’ve made several times.  (The timings didn’t work out). And so it was with virtually every guest.  There’s work, or babies, or something, so that now if we split the church into sides I will have my parents sitting in the pews and, if I’m very lucky, four other guests.  I’m not feeling very lucky though.  When I told people I was getting married in England, quite a few people responded with enthusiasm.  Several said maybe, which is a fair statement to make, but lots said yes, made plans.  A friend who said “I wouldn’t miss it” posted his reply as “declines with regret” and added only “Sorry!”

I’m not bridezilla enough to think that everyone should come.  I was just hoping for a representative or two from the States.  But as it happens, nearly everyone I know has things that are more important, insurmountably so.  Perhaps you readers out there think me incredibly selfish and myopic.  Really, you might say, can’t you see that other people have lives? But…these are all people who I would have been there for.  And one or two representatives would have made up for all the other nos.  But when virtually nobody can come, that’s harsh.  When people miss your goodbye parties without so much as an explanation, I start to feel like I never grew out of my sixth grade self after all, that people are still turning away from me when I walk towards them.  Because this is a wedding, one of the five most important days of my whole life, and nobody can be bothered.

The saddest thing about The Great Gatsby is the end, when Gatsby dies and at the funeral for the most popular man on Long Island, no one shows up, not even the girl he once loved and who once loved him.  That is when you see that his greatness is all smoke and mirrors.  I thought that if I were willing to do such extravagant things for people, they would feel the same, or at least one or two of them would.

Turns out this is not so.  Or rather, on a much smaller scale than I thought.  It is true that the majority of my bridesmaids are coming from across the Atlantic.  It is also true that I’m lucky enough to have eight bridesmaids, eight women who I can say are that close to me.  They’ve all found a way, despite money woes and new jobs and babies and boyfriends who didn’t want to revisit England when they were just there a year ago.  A friend from high school surprised me by saying she was going to come.

Maybe it’s impossible to gather so many people who would do that much for you.  Maybe not everyone has a super close family.  My friend had a very small wedding in New York, as she was from Texas and he was from Germany.  She said to me the beauty of it was that only the people who really wanted to be there came.  On the one hand, that stings a bit because I thought more people would really want to be there.  On the other, I am grateful for those that are coming, that found a way to make this happen even though for them it’s a monumental ask.

My British maid of honor was musing today that she didn’t know if she could collect even five people to cross the Atlantic for her.  I am supremely lucky in that regard.  And I think I have to remember–not everyone is an adventurous spirit.  Presented with such an invitation, I would say it was an excuse to travel, and make a trip out of it.  While one of my bridesmaids is doing this, I have to understand that rare is the person who would.  And maybe what I need to understand is the difference between acquaintances, friends, good friends.

My college roommate and I talked about that a lot, how relationships spiral outwards like the rings of water from a stone thrown into a pond.  The closest rings are most sharply defined, and small–only a few people are near this intense epicenter.  They fade as they spread out.  Because I was a lonely child, I made the mistake of thinking that everyone who befriended me crowded into that little, closest circle.  I seemed to think it was–the nearest two or three circles, then a huge gap, then vague acquaintances.  But there are stages in between that I’m missing. People can be good friends, respect and esteem me, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to spend thousands to cross the world to go to my wedding–particularly if they’re not the adventurous type.

And I should be fair–there are a number of “We would come, but you happened to pick a really inconvenient weekend!”  People are going off to college, or can’t take vacation from work in the summer.  I don’t necessarily like such circumstances, but it would also be unjust to read in them a message of how people feel about me.  Most of the time.

So the fact that I have ten or so people who would is pretty impressive.  And I have to remember–it’s not about who’s not there on the wedding day, but who is.  Which is what the fiance reminds me–there’s only one person he really cares about being there, and the rest is just so much icing.  And that person has promised not to mash cake into my face.

Really, that’s the point of marriage, isn’t it?  To know that you’ll always have someone by your side, someone you’ll go through everything with.  Someone you’ll cross the Atlantic for a dozen times over.  That person isn’t in a ring, they’re a stone bound to your stone.  And if you’re lucky, you’ll make an even bigger splash than you did alone.

Therefore, I feel like Gatsby, but I’m not like him.  It’s easy to paint myself as this tragic, lonely figure, who sees no return for everything (s)he puts out there.  But people are showing up for me, and the person I love is promising forever, not flaking out and running off with a d**k like Tom Buchanan.  I would call that a happy ending.

 

**As a post script, I should say that some of this was written just after someone I thought was coming for sure canceled.  Some of it was written just now, a week later.  I thought I’d keep the extreme stuff for contrast.

Upgrading

This is the beginning of a post I started and found in my drafts folder:

Everyone who has ever used a computer (or at least a PC) has gotten that message that x software has an upgrade available.  I hate that message, and postpone upgrading as long as possible.  I wonder what the upgrade is going to offer me when I already have a perfectly functional piece of software.  I think it’s part of me being a Taurean and not liking change.

I approached relationships in the same way. When I got into a new one recently, I didn’t expect it to be that much different from the old one.  I mean, new face and hopefully good times, but same general pattern.  I was not aware that I was in for a serious upgrade.

The rest of the post was supposed to be about how much more awesome my new relationship was compared to my old one.  In brief: very much more.  My last relationship was full of drudgery and depression, and though I clung on with all my strength, there was very little to cling on to, and he just disengaged.  Needless to say, things are very different when you’re both in love.  Nobody disengages, and you’re a lot happier to be with each other.

I rather like the idea of this post–it is an interesting reflection on how far I’ve come and how much happier I am, and rather hopeful, I think, that things can get better.  I admit I didn’t think they would.  I thought what I experienced was simply how you get treated–not true!

But as I went back to add, I realized all the details I thought I would bring up, comparisons which were so fresh and specific in October, have faded away in February.  I also found another post where I was planning to write to my ex via the blogosphere and tell him all the angry stuff I never did because we tried to be friends for awhile after (and failed).  But again, I find myself stumped as to what I would say.  I’m simply not angry enough to write that letter anymore.

My last (and only other) relationship haunted me like a shadow for years.  It ended surprisingly and badly, and killed my confidence in a lot of ways.  I would constantly draw from it and think about it.  What went wrong?  What was wrong with me?  How could I stop that from happening again?  Why couldn’t he love me?  Why was the next girl he met ‘the one’?  I exorcised my feelings for the guy in a healthy amount of time, but there was so much unresolved, so little closure that I still felt it at the dawn of my new relationship.

Now, though, that time seems very far away indeed, a distant and irrelevant past.  I can’t recall why it made me upset.  If I think about it really hard, I can sort of remember some details.  But they don’t seem important anymore.  I’m happy.  I’m getting married.  Ten years ago no longer matters–I was a kid then anyway.

Surprisingly, I find myself in a place where all that heartache doesn’t matter anymore.  My ex pops up every so often under the ‘people you may know’ banner on Facebook.  I think to myself ‘Why yes, I do know him.’  I even find myself half curious about what he’s up to.  But in the end it doesn’t matter.  In one of my other favorite books, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Johnny Nolan breaks up with a girl by saying “You go your way, and I’ll go mine.”  That’s what we’ve done.  He’s somewhere, doing…something chemistry related.  I’m leading a good life.  We’re not part of each other anymore.

So in the end, I’ve gone beyond a software upgrade.  I’ve gone for a whole new operating system, and it’s so shiny and efficient that I forgot all the bugs of the old one, or even how it operated.  Does anyone even remember Windows 3.1?  Exactly.

And that, my friends, is what they call closure.

Magical bling bling

So I’ve noticed that the majority of conversations when you get engaged go like this:

Person X:  Hey, how was your break?

Me:  Really good, actually.  I got engaged.  *smile and coy blush*

Person X: Oh my god, congratulations!  (If I know them well enough, hug)  Let me see the ring!

Seriously, everyone asks to see the ring.  This strikes me as oddly acquisitive.  I mean, I love my ring (more on that in a minute) but I’m much happier to have the fiance. It just seems like an odd tradition to go flashing jewelry around. Besides which, I don’t really see the point of having a giant rock on my finger.  Years ago, I read an article in Glamour from the guy’s point of view, and the columnists was writing about how he found huge rocks a waste of money, and he would rather have a down payment on a beach house.  I read that and thought–I would like to have a beach house too!  At the same time though, I definitely didn’t want a ring from Wal-Mart either.  My family thought I was being a snob, but honestly, if you can pay for an engagement ring along with some beef jerky and hemherroid cream, then that officially kills romance.  I wanted my ring to have a story.

My ring is extremely special.  Every time I look at my left hand, it makes me smile–and not just a little smile either, a big, goofy grin.  It’s very subtle, though, and not very showy.  I know a woman at work who has a glacier on her finger, the stereotype of engagement rings, and therefore what I imagine people are expecting to see.  Several people have looked at my ring and go “Oh…that’s…pretty.”  At which point I usually want to tell them to fuck off, I didn’t get in this for jewelry, but instead I patiently/ happily explain the story of the ring, which is awesome.

Leading up to Christmas, the (then) bf told me in no uncertain terms not to expect a ring.  He even told me he was buying me a small present, but I should not get excited about it, because it’s not what I think it is.  I believed him, but then thought it over and wondered.  Maybe he was fooling me?  But maybe not.  But he likes to tease…  Finally Rooty, our official matchmaker, decided to do some investigating, and she came back with a report that he is very traditional, that he doesn’t believe in proposing until you’ve known each other a year.  That put a proposal back to April at the earliest, or if he was going with first physical contact, over the summer.  I admit to a little sweep of disappointment at this thought.  But I told myself that I would enjoy his visit, that a proposal would come when it came and it was more important to enjoy my time with him.  I was glad I found out early so I could get my disappointment out of the way.

He really wasn’t planning to propose.  While he was thinking about it, and planning when and how–one romantic idea was that when I visited him in February, he would book a seat on the flight back and show up next to me and pop the question.  But in the end, he was driving down to Heathrow on Christmas Day and he wondered to himself, “If I know I’m going to do this, why put it off?”  He decided that it seemed silly to delay happiness for some randomly prescribed reason.  So when he arrived at the airport, he went to the Tiffany’s in Terminal 3 and bought a ring.

With this story, my ring could have come out of a Cracker Jack box and I would still think it gorgeous.  But there are a lot of reasons to love my ring:

  • It’s subtly beautiful.  It’s got a diamond inset, so it’s not a flashy solitaire, but the diamond is gorgeous–it’s always catching the light in a hundred different ways.  I totally get mesmerized by it.
  • It’s really comfortable.  It never scratches me and it fits just right, therefore I never have to take it off.  I find the perfect fit rather symbolic for the marriage.
  • Speaking of symbolism, it’s from the airport.  I call it my duty free ring, and the fiance jokes that he got 300 cigarettes and two bottles of Jack Daniels along with it.  That’s a good line, but also, I find it immensely fitting that in a long distance relationship, my engagement ring comes from the airport.
  • It’s got a really romantic story, one that I can pass down to my children and love regaling to anyone who will sit still and listen (or read–thanks!).
  • It comes from the most classic of engagement ring stores, Tiffany’s.  No denture paste bought along with the ring here.  It may be a bit snobbish of me, but I like that the store it comes from is a little special too.  And yes, I saved the box.
  • The fiance loves it.  He was so proud of picking it that it was clear he put a lot of thought into it and really cared about how it.  That I find very touching, and it makes the ring even more dear.

So all said, my ring is perfect.  Maybe that’s not immediately apparent to others, but it is to me, and that’s the only important thing.

A New Hope

So it turns out that 2011 was my last year of singledom.  I had no idea.

A year ago, at the dawn of 2011, I didn’t know the fiance existed on this planet.  Now I’m going to marry him.  The change stuns me, quite frankly, because after so many years where nothing happened, everything happened all at once, and suddenly I can legitimately buy bridal magazines and have a vested interest in Say Yes to the Dress.

I had to drop the fiance off at the airport the other night, and that sucked, but as we were sitting in JFK’s Terminal 4, we realized that we really only have three more goodbyes, and then we get to be together for always.  And when I feel lonely (or every so often just because), I look down at my left hand and squeal to myself, “I’m getting married!”

But–I am hereby making a promise to the blogiverse.  I’m never going to become what Bridget Jones would call a ‘smug married.’    I still remember that decade of singledom and how much it sucked.  Possibly the worst part was the single v. couple line, the envy I often felt, the wondering why it couldn’t be me too, or why every guy I seemed to meet was already in a relationship.  Was there a memo to pair off Noah’s Ark style and I missed it?

Last night I went out to dinner with some old friends, one of whom I hadn’t seen in awhile.  My friend Robyn asked him what was new, and made a point of saying not just in relationships.  She went on to say how much she hated that, when all people ask about is relationships, as if that’s the only newsworthy thing in a person’s life.  While that is certainly the juiciest gossip, as my friend pointed out, it is hardly the end all and be all.

So I am reminding myself that I have a life outside my engagement, and that people don’t want to talk about wedding dresses all the time.  Everyone has been really sweet whenever I do talk about it, which I really appreciate.  Still, I’m not going to forget what it was like to be single.  Those are my ‘roots’ as it were.  That decade of singledom shaped me in a lot of ways, some for the better, some for the worse.  But those years led me to here, and my engagement.

That said, I hope people also take heart from my story.  When I first got back from my whirlwind month of romance in August, I went to Robyn’s birthday party and I was talking to one of her friends who I know.  She said to me ‘you give me so much hope, that this all just happened so suddenly.’  True story!  Seriously–I was the worst single person in the world.  I moaned and cried and did very little in actuality.  I got some crushes on some dudes in deeply committed relationships.  I went on some dates with a Swede who was the worst kisser in the world and insisted on kissing me in public, and another guy who was the blandest guy in the world.  I tried eHarmony, Match.com, OK Cupid, all with almost no success.

I was seriously about to give up hope.  I started having ‘what if’ daydreams, planning what I would do if I never got married, wondering how I would cope for singledom forever and never having a family.  When other people would helpfully try to suggest that someone was out there for me, I would respond with ‘But what if he’s on the other side of the world and I never get to meet him?’

As it happens, he was on the other side of the world, but I did get to meet him.  And I would say he was well worth the wait.

So the moral of the story is–there really is someone out there.  There may not be plenty of fish in the sea, as it were (a phrase the fiance particularly reviled in his days of singledom), but if you wait and watch, you can catch your fish.  And really, all you need is one.

Auld Lang Syne, or rather, to the days ahead

Tonight I was watching the Sex and the City movie, because hey, it’s Saturday night and nothing’s on tv, and nothing is a touchstone for girls everywhere like SATC.  One of my favorite scenes in the movie is the New Year’s Eve one, where Carrie races downtown to be with Miranda so that neither has to be alone on New Year’s.  Having spent a lonely New Year’s or two in my life and knowing it’s pretty much the most depressing thing on the planet, this scene always makes me tear up.

I think New Year’s is definitely the worst time to be alone.  I don’t mean single–I’ve had some great single New Years.  I mean actually alone, solitary, with no one around.  If you haven’t done it, I don’t advise it.  The rest of the world is partying as hard as it can–to paraphrase the New Year’s Eve trailer (my apologies), “People who don’t go out all year suddenly become Kanye.”  On top of that, New Year’s is a pretty narcissistic holiday.  There’s no present swapping or time with family.  The tradition is to list resolutions, think about the self, reflect inward.  Which is all well and good, but it also means that if you’re alone, you’re really stuck with yourself.  Maybe I’m talking big here, because I’ve never had cause to be alone on other holidays.  But that one year I spent by myself sticks out as terminally depressing.  Oddly I can’t remember if it was 2007-08 or 2008-09.  Since then, though, I’ve made it a point to go out somewhere, usually with my old hs friend.  Last year I got sick from alcohol for the first time ever (a deadly combination of lots of champagne and cheese).

This year, things will be very different.  This year I’m with the bf.  He’s here for visit number two.  Of course, living in New Year’s Central, when we thought about spending New Year’s together, his first idea was Times Square.  I told him that he could not drag my dead body to Times Square because I had no desire to stand in a giant crowd, freeze my butt off, and not be able to pee for something like seven hours.  After some debate (he doesn’t give in easy that one), he finally conceded under the condition that one year we would rent a hotel room overlooking Times Square to watch the ball drop, which I am all for.

That still left us at a bit of a loss for this year, though.  Which you may say is ridiculous, given that we’re in New York City which never goes to sleep anyway and gets super hyper on New Year’s Eve, like when they give those tiny pageant freaks 10,000 pixie stix on Toddlers and Tiaras.  The problem with NY for me, though, is that I’m spoiled for choice, and I’m never v. good at making my mind up or finding things.  So we were discussing it today, and as he’s not much of a New Year’s person (see reasons above, from the boy side), we’re probably going to end up staying in.  For a bit we were going to visit friends in Westchester, but they got a scary sickness from their child, which is the worst kind of cold virus known to man.  So it’s 11:07, the house is quiet, and it’s just the two of us and a bottle of champagne and the cats.

There is a big difference though, between staying in alone and staying in with the person you love.  What was lonely becomes cozy.  I’m actually getting excited about the idea, because I’ve never had an intimate New Year.  And being a ceremonial kind of gal, I love the symbolism of it.  It will be the two of us closing off the old year and starting the new one together.  And we are starting off 2012 in a big way.  I’m typing this with a ring on my finger.  Apparently my last post did not scare him off.  We’re really Harry and Charlotte!

I love the song “Auld Lang Syne.”  Ok, it’s a bit cliche, but it’s honestly pretty, and I love the nostalgia that it carries.  I’ve always been a big one for celebrating my past and commemorating everything, so you could even say it’s my theme song.  Now single me is in the past, and I think she’s gone for good, but I’m not sure I want to celebrate her, or commemorate her.  She was lonely in a very powerful way, and that loneliness took her over.  She couldn’t find joy for people who were getting married or thought about babies because she was so afraid that was something she’d never get to see.  But she’s becoming a ghost now, someone I barely remember who feels far removed from me.  And in other ways, she was pretty brave, and although she hid sometimes, she did some cool stuff, and she found out a lot about who she was and what she wanted.  She taught me to recognize the love of my life when he came across my path, and she never let me get afraid enough to shy away.

So this New Year’s I’m not going to raise a glass to days gone by.  I’m going to toast the future.  2012 is a bright star on the horizon.  The Mayan calendar signals a great world shift in 2012, and they were certainly right for me.  Get me into the New Year so we can celebrate together and start heading towards the rest of our lives.