Thursday, December 30, 2010


Like the name Alison, Jeffrey (or rather, its older spelling, Geoffrey) was more popular in the Middle Ages, and was borne by such popular luminaries as Geoffrey Plantagenet (Count of Anjou and ancestor of English royalty), Geoffrey (or Godefroy) de Bouillon (leader of the First Crusade), Geoffrey (Gaufridus) of Monmouth (Welsh chronicler), and of course Geoffrey Chaucer. But unlike Alison, its origins are rather obscure. It first appears as a name among the French around 1000 AD, and there are at least four reasonable sources or meanings:

  • Gaiwa-frey, "the peaceful country"

  • Walah-frey, "the peaceful stranger"

  • Gisil-frey, "the pledge of peace"

  • God-frey, "the peace of God"

Any resemblance of these ancient names to "Gallifrey", the ancestral home of the Time Lords, is coincidental. Surely.

It may be that all these names existed independently, and were sort of merged together in people's minds. The only certain thing is the suffix -frey, which meant "peace," "joy," and "beloved," and is related to free, friend, and Frederick.

Spiritually, Jeffrey begins with an edge, a judgement, which gives rise to connection, relationship, and travel. This is then released into freedom, motion, and joy.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Pagan-Friendly Principle

"Where shall we get religion? Beneath the open sky, the sphere of crystal silence surcharged with deity... The midnight earth sends incense up, sweet with the breath of prayer — Go out beneath the naked night and get religion there."

- Sam Walter Foss

Did I happen to mention Jeff and I are Pagan? I have? Oh, good, that will save us the awkward transition. Because what I wanted to talk about today is what we mean when we say we want a "Pagan-friendly" or "fringe faith" wedding.

It's a subject I've been putting off for a little while now, easing into it with discussions everyone can relate to (like fiscal responsibility) and topics that many people can at least agree on, even if Jeff and I take them a bit more seriously than most (like ecocentrism and our responsibility to the earth). But when it comes to our religion, we know that we're a bit further "out there" than most of our family and friends are used to. We're cool with that. In fact, we think diversity is absolutely fascinating and a sure sign of a healthy cultural ecosystem. We like to be light-hearted and joyful about our spiritual lives, to hold them loosely and let them thrive — but that doesn't mean we don't also take our religion seriously. So when it comes to our wedding, we want a ceremony (and reception) that will reflect our spiritual values, beliefs and practices and that will welcome our guests to share those things with us as we celebrate the sacredness and happiness of the day.

This is why I really like the term "fringe faith." Sure, there are plenty of folks these days who treat religion as a kind of "moralistic therapeutic deism," and still others who clamp down on orthodox certainties and stick to the "fundamentals" until they're blue in the face. But for many of us on the more liberal side of the spiritual life, our religions are ways of bringing us both closer to soul and self, and closer to Spirit (or God or the Universe or the Great Mystery, whatever you want to call it). For people like us, religion is all about the liminal and the sublime: those relationships with the Divine that push us beyond our mundane lives, that challenge us to grow and become better human beings, to open to love, compassion, justice, trust, beauty and grace. For us — whether Christian or Pagan, Buddhist or Jewish, agnostic or New Age — faith is all about the fringe. The fringe is where our edges rub up against Spirit, and we discover that we might just be a bit more porous and a bit more blessed than we realized. So when Jeff and I say we want a "fringe faith" wedding, what we mean is that we want to invite the Sacred to the party, too. We want a wedding day that welcomes the mystery of Spirit to work its way through our promise to share our lives together.

In some ways, then, we're lucky to be Pagan. Just like in romance novels and bad poetry, even the most beautiful sentiment can get bogged down by cliché, and when it comes to weddings, "traditional" can sometimes be a killing blow. It can be hard to sense the mystery of the Divine under all that tacky decor and rote ritual. (Okay, am I the only one who shudders at the idea of bridesmaids, or garter tossing? Or that lame moment when you're supposed to waste a perfectly good piece of cake by shoving it into your new spouse's nose, just because somebody somewhere did that once and everybody thought it was hilarious?) So while we're out to have a fun time, and one that family and friends will enjoy and remember for years to come, we're also not feeling all that encumbered by expectations of tradition and decorum. We're Pagan — people are going to expect us to be a little cooky. And that opens us up to the possibility of surprise, creativity, the slightest hint of the exotic, and more than a little bit of poetry.

The funny thing is, sometimes the things that are the closest to you and that you care the most about turn out to be the hardest things to write. I've done barely more than hint in this post about what exactly a "Pagan-friendly" wedding might look like. But rather than bog down this introduction with a lot of theology and spiritual philosophizing, I'll leave that for later. For now, enjoy the suspense! And be sure to stop by again soon!

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Among the Germanic tribes living along the Rhine around the time of the fall of the Roman Empire, the name Adalheidis was a popular one, especially for the daughter or wife of a chief. The name meant "of a noble family", and contained the elements adal "noble, nobility" and heid "kind, sort, type, kin, family, rank" (related to the English suffix -hood, as in knighthood). Adalheidis descended eventually into French and then English as Adelaide (Heidi is a shortened form of that name). It was the name of St. Adelaide, the Queen of Otto the Great of the Holy Roman Empire, and gained a lot of popularity from her. But when it encountered Old French in the 600 or 700's AD, it was shortened to Alice; and from there it became popular in English (and in Irish as Ailís.)

In medieval times, the French, who were particularly fond of this name, gave it a diminutive suffix -on, creating Alison, meaning literally "little Alice". Alison then became a popular name in its own right, and was found throughout England, France and Scotland until the 15th century. At that point — for whatever reason — it fell from favor in England and France. But it remained strong in Scotland, perhaps because the Scots already had a family name Allison or Ellison (of unknown origin, but probably from Yorkshire, and thus Germanic). Then, in the 19th century, Alison's popularity began to spread out from Scotland again, and was picked up across the French and English-speaking world.

Spiritually, the name Alison begins with the same balanced, expansive energy as Alp, alpha, altitude, and alto. The expansion gives way to a brief period of stasis, and then is released in light, increase, and finally grounding.

Monday, December 13, 2010

"For What Binds Us" (Jane Hirshfield)

Ali & Jeff

For What Binds Us

There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,
nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight.
The way things stay so solidly
wherever they've been set down—
and gravity, scientists say, is weak.

And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
more strong
than the simple, untested surface before.
There's a name for it on horses,
when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh,

as all flesh
is proud of its wounds, wears them
as honors given out after battle,
small triumphs pinned to the chest—

And when two people have loved each other
see how it is like a
scar between their bodies,
stronger, darker, and proud;
how the black cord makes of them them a single fabric
that nothing can tear or mend.

Jane Hirshfield, Fooling with Words: A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft by Bill Moyers

Monday, December 06, 2010

"Ocean" (Pablo Neruda)

Sand Heart


Body purer than a wave,
salt that washes the line,
and the luminous bird
flying without roots.

Pablo Neruda (trans. Stephen Mitchell), Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon: Selected Poems

Friday, December 03, 2010

Save the Date!

It's official! Our Save the Date postcards went out in the mail this past Wednesday, and they're already beginning to arrive in happy households across the country!

OFFICIAL Save the Date

Two Outta Three Rating:

Our StD cards get a solid two outta three, being both budget-friendly and Pagan-friendly. A self-designed card, we used one of my own photographs from our trip to the Outer Banks in September during our Fall Wedding Tour 2010. A picture of beach dune sea oats silhouetted against the evening sky, the image reflects two of the on-going themes of the wedding: the balance between complimentary opposites (light and dark, yin and yang, male and female), and the liminality of the threshold. Already fairly inexpensive, we were able to get them half-price during a pre-Christmas sale, courtesy of So... score! Unfortunately, they're not exceptionally earth-friendly or anything, but only sending one to each household, and having a relatively small guest list to begin with, at least we're doing our best to reduce. (Guests — those of you who are truly committed, please feel free to recycle the postcard, or frame it to reuse as lovely wall art to accentuate a fridge, study or powder room!)

But guess what! Since we have this awesome blog here, we don't have to stop at just one Save the Date design. So, thanks to the wonders of the internet, please enjoy a few of the runners-up that we considered before settling on our final design. These are all based on photographs from our trip in September.

Save the Date runner up Save the Date runner up

Sand Heart

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Earth-Friendly Principle

"Your body is as ancient as the clay of the universe from which it is made; and your feet on the ground are a constant connection with the earth. Your feet bring your private clay in touch with the ancient, mother clay from which you first emerged."

- John O'Donohue

Jeff and I are both quite serious in our commitment to this lovely blue-green gem of a planet that we happen to live on — which is probably not surprising, considering we're tree-hugging, dirt-worshipping, long-haired-hippie Druids. We see our embodied existence as human animals weaving our way through this vast, thriving world of flora, fauna, landscapes and ecosystems to be pretty much the best, most sacred thing ever.

But even if we didn't ground our spiritual lives in the, uh... well, the ground, we'd still be planning to have a "green" wedding. Being environmentally friendly is all the rage these days. Okay, honestly, rage is all the rage these days — including rage over the exploitation, rape and destruction of this unique and beautiful ball of rock we call home. It makes my blood boil! And not just because the planet is literally getting hotter.

It seems to me that any sane person, when thinking about formally acknowledging and celebrating her union with her beloved in the eyes of their community, should probably stop and ask herself where that community is going to end up ten, twenty, fifty years down the road if our bad habits and selfish greed continue. In fact, a sane person might have cause to wonder if she shouldn't expand her concept of "community" to include the soil, water, air, trees, plants and animals that create, shape and sustain her human community, and if all these beings and creatures might not have just as big a role to play in lending their support (and joy and celebration) to a marriage based on mutual love and responsibility. Now maybe there aren't that many sane people in the world these days — or maybe there's a screw or two loose in folks who think they need not just their families and the officiant, but the oceans and the winds and the sunlight and the forests to bless their union — but in any case, Jeff and I strive for sanity as best we can.

Which means we're trying to craft a wedding which, like our marriage, will embody our earth-loving, environmentally sustainable values as much as possible. As physical creatures, we participate in the web of interconnection. Our clay arises and takes on form and meaning from the ancient clay of our earth mother, as does that of our children, and their children — it is to this clay that we all eventually return. Jeff and I try live our lives as deeply as we can with this awareness of our relationship to the earth and its ecosystems, our impact on the beings, entities, organisms and landscapes of the natural world... and their impact on us. Like all things in the natural world, relationship is a two-way street. (Or more accurately, an eat-and-be-eaten, give-and-take, inhale-and-exhale kind of thing.)

So what this means in practice is that we're guiding our wedding planning decisions based on the old familiar principle: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

These days, many people like to skip ahead to that last one, invest in some disposable flatware made from a combination of corn and recycled plastics, and call it a day. But Jeff and I are hardcore. Or methodical. Anyway, we like to start at the beginning.

Reduce. Trying to be eco-friendly is a great excuse to cut down on budget costs and unnecessary miscellany, but really the best part is not getting swept away by the Wedding Industrial Complex and buying lots of stuff you don't really want and can't possibly need. Staying grounded in simplicity is a wonderful tribute to the planet, and quite effective in keeping things eco-friendly as well. We already practice this in our everyday lives, weighing each purchasing or lifestyle choice based on whether or not the benefits outweigh the costs (and we mean all the costs, from financial to environmental, to political, social, psychological, ethical and spiritual). As you can imagine, with so many potential costs to worry about, we've found again and again that simpler is better. Sometimes it's a simple walk in the park instead of a night out at the movies. Sometimes it's a simple home-cooked meal (or better yet, a raw vegan salad!) instead of dinner at a restaurant. You get the picture. And we're hoping our wedding will be much the same: the gift of simplicity brings with it the gifts of creativity, flexibility and often the gift of stress-reduction, too. So if there's a wedding tradition that involves elaborate planning and complex execution.... well, we'll probably be giving it a pass.

Reuse. Now I'm not going to commit to getting my dress at a second-hand shop, though I certainly know brides who have.... but my personal goal for wedding planning is to spend as little as possible on one-time-use and wedding-only items. That means that, while the dress might be new, it probably won't be white, and I'll probably wear it again and again over the years of my married life. It means decorations, besides being sparse (see also: reduce), will likely be things we can incorporate into our home decor, or give away as favors to guests who might have use for them. It means we may be asking friends and family if they're willing to lend a hand, or a dinner platter, or a set of beach chairs. It means that we'll be finding creative ways to kill two or three birds with one stone (except, you know, not literally). And it means that, when it comes to the whole "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue" bit — we'll have the "something old, something borrowed" part covered.

Recycle. Yes, our good friend, recycling. Recycling can be so tricky these days, because so much of what we recycle is plastic and, unlike glass and metal, plastic cannot truly be recycled — it can only be "down-cycled" into a less useful form. After only a few rounds of down-cycling, all plastic eventually winds up in the dump. Or, worse, floating in the oceans choking the sea life. So part of our eco-friendly commitment is to avoid, whenever possible, the use of plastics. Anyway, plastic often looks so tacky compared to the elegance of metal, wood and glass. In addition to seeking out non-plastic alternatives for our wedding ceremony and reception, we'll be looking for recycled and recyclable products, and vendors who are committed to earth-friendly practices and heathy recycling habits for their businesses. We'll also be looking into options for both recycling and composting for rubbish from the wedding itself — after all, no matter how "compostable" those disposable plates might be, they won't break down if they're squeezed into layers and layers of a landfill without the necessary aeration or bacteria-and-bug population.

Now, before you go thinking that this wedding is going to be all dull and no fun, remember that for us, being earth-friendly is not only about responsibility, it's also about love. Just as we have an impact on the environment in which we live, that environment also has an impact on us. Recent scientific studies have actually shown that spending time out in the natural world, experiencing the beauty and organic wildness of the earth, has a measurably positive effect on our psychological and physical well-being. And so, the final aspect of our earth-friendly principle is to Get Out of the Way, step aside and allow the earth's inherent beauty and bounty to shine through and inspire the love and awe it so deserves. After all, when we talk about "sustainable living," we don't mean that human beings bear the burden of upholding the weight of existence — we mean that, as human animals, we celebrate our connection and rootedness in the ultimate, self-giving Sustainer: Mother Earth herself.

When we get away from all the buzzing machines, flashing lights and gimmicky plastics of our civilized existence, we discover a chance to realize the truly awesome and amazing nature of the world we share with one another. Jeff and I can't think of a better setting in which to celebrate our love and our community of family and friends, than to share that gift of awe and reverence for the natural with them.

Monday, November 15, 2010

"So You Say" (Mark Strand)

Lilies in the Garden

So You Say

It is all in the mind, you say, and has
nothing to do with happiness. The coming of cold,
the coming of heat, the mind has all the time in the world.
You take my arm and say something will happen,
something unusual for which we are always prepared,
like the sun arriving after a day in Asia,
like the moon departing after a night with us.

Mark Strand, from Selected Poems

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Blood and Water

How to Break a Man

In 2009 I almost had to choose between my fiancée and my children.  

I was recently divorced, and had just met an extraordinary woman; but she lived five hundred miles away.  Ali was in Pittsburgh, and I lived in Massachusetts, near my children, my ex-wife, and her fiancé.  At first I resigned myself to a long-distance relationship, and had little hope that it could become serious and long-term.  But then I found that, completely by coincidence, my ex-wife's fiancé's parents lived in Pittsburgh as well; and this confluence, plus Pittsburgh's lower cost of living, better employment prospects, beautiful mountains and rivers, and moderate climate decided all of us that we should simply move everybody wholesale.  So I went ahead and moved to Pittsburgh.  

But then, when my ex-wife was partway through planning her own move, suddenly things were up in the air again:  her fiancé had a serious job prospect open up in Chicago, an opportunity worth a lot more money.  Everything went on hold while he went to interview after interview, and agonized over the choice for weeks.  Depending on his decision, my children might end up a day's drive away from me.

By this time my relationship with Ali had become very serious indeed.  If my children moved to Chicago, there was no question that I would need to be near them.  But, unless Alison came to Chicago as well, I'd be a broken man.

Fortunately I didn't have to choose:  the job in Chicago didn't work out, and now all of us are living happily in Pittsburgh.  But for me it was a tense time, in which I thought a lot about the different kinds of bonds between people.  

The bond between a parent and young child is extremely strong -- stronger than any other bond in the world, I think; and yet we call it "love", the same word we use for the relationship between, well, "lovers".  In one way, it is not the same kind of thing at all.  In another way, they're very similar.

Let me try to explain...

The Inner Landscape

A central part of my spiritual religious practice is meditation, particularly visualization.  I use a technique common to many religious traditions, in which I relax and concentrate on visualizing natural scenes, cultivating a sort of 'inner landscape'.  In this landscape I work with images and symbols, much as one works with dreams or subconscious symbols in psychoanalysis.  The practice is extremely valuable for me, giving me essential information about my own psychological makeup and inner life, as well as hints of divine intention.  

For example, at one point while I was still married, my ex-wife was involved in a potentially fatal car accident, and for months afterwards I suffered from nearly uncontrollable attacks of fear and panic.  Visualizations of the flights of eagles, meeting with guides and gods, and climbing out of an abyss helped me regain my composure and dig out the roots of the problem.  Later, while I was going through the breakup and separation that led to my divorce, visualizations of crawling up mountains and negotiations with agents of change helped me adopt a healthy emotional attitude, to feel supported and guided through the process.  Even later, visualizations involving Death and fire in water helped me find my emotional footing while I was negotiating a new relationship, a new city, and a new job.

I should make it clear that these visualization meditations are not the same as daydreaming or writing.  It's a creative process, but one in which the subconscious is engaged as directly as possible.  Generally you start with some idea of a setting -- a garden, a beach, a forest -- and once it is firmly established in your imagination, you allow things to happen, or guides to appear, or follow impulses to wander or explore.  The images, guides, and impulses are messages from your subconscious, or even deeper influences.

After exploring my inner landscape for a few years -- its forests, pools, beaches, and mountains -- I began to recognize patterns in its geography.  For example, it had four edges, roughly speaking:  an abyss, a desert, mountains, and the sea; and these four corresponded to the four classical elements:  air, fire, earth, and water.  Near the center, in a place where I usually began my meditations, there was a pair of small hills, each with a temple on top of it; and between them was an amphitheater, a broad open valley and garden.  For me, this area was a sort of axis mundi, a world axis, in which the entire world was reflected and centered.

The Place of Love and the Other

Near one of those temples is a forest which I think of as the Forest of the Branching Paths, a mostly oak and beech forest with paths that cross and branch endlessly.  There are many people wandering in this forest; some are friendly, some are not.  Because of the shadows of the forest, and the tendency of people to wear heavy cloaks and hoods, it is often hard to see who you are talking with, or get a clear idea of their expressions or intent.

I often come to this forest when I want to gain some insight into people in my life.  For many of us, life is a lot like this forest; and I think in some ways the forest represents our physical or social experiences on earth.  In fact, some areas of the forest seem to be especially associated with certain people I know well.

Outside the forest, on the slopes of the hill not far from one of the temples, is an area associated with Alison.  The hillside is green and lush and grassy, and there is a stone Celtic cross standing in the turf.  It's a place you could lie down in and spend the whole day watching the sun and clouds go by.  Once or twice I have come here in meditation to get a clearer sense of what is going on in our relationship.  I feel almost as if this is a place where Alison's inner landscape touches my own; as if it is an area where our minds and hearts meet, in some sense.

Other times, when I reach out to Alison in meditation, I find she is right there with me, wherever I happen to be in the landscape -- as if she and I are not separate people at all, but somehow shadows of each other, or overlapping individuals.

Things are very different, however, when I meditate on my children, or my parents.  When I go into meditation and think of them, my thoughts are drawn to the hills themselves, the twists and turns of the landscape, the patterns of vegetation and temperature.  In some way I feel as if my children and parents determine the very foundational geography of my inner landscape.  They never appear as symbols in meditation, but they are pervasive, integrated into everything.

Blood and Water, Air and Breath, Stone and Bone

I honestly don't know why there's such a difference in the way Alison and my children appear in meditation.  It might be because my children are blood relations; or it might be because I've known my children longer.  And I don't know whether this difference would hold true of everyone, or is just a quirk of my own personal 'landscape'.

But there is a clue here, I think, to why it is we use the same word, 'love', for these relationships that are so profoundly different.  Because whether, in the case of Alison, I am semi-physically linked like a shadow, or, in the case of my children, my paths are constrained by the shape and character of the landscape, these relationships help to define my very sense of self.  My four children are a fact about who I am, just as my partnership with Alison is.  I may change my coat, my haircut, my house, or my job, and that does not change who I think I am.  But a loss of these relationships would break me.

In other words, these relationships are an essential part of the scaffolding upon which I am building my life.  If I lost my children, I know that whole continents in my inner landscape would change (just as, when my marriage ended, a mountain collapsed).  If I lost Alison, the grassy hillside would become bare, and more profoundly, I could not reach out in meditation and find her there beside me and within me, closer than skin.  This, I think, is love, in blood or in water:  living in a landscape that is not yours alone.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Celebrating Family and Ancestry

Last autumn, Alison and I celebrated Samhain (the druidic holiday of family, ancestry, autumn, and so on) with my kids. I put together a bunch of pictures from that time into a little video with some of my favorite music, "The Maids of Michelstown" by the Bothy Band. What could be better than love, fallen leaves, and pumpkins?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Wedding Planning Panic: The Files

I have a confession to make. I think I'm experiencing just a wee bit of Wedding Planning Panic over here. For the past week and a half or so, my mind has drifted back to this blog, as well as the three-month checklist of tasks for September through November that Jeff and I sat down and worked out with my parents (all right, I should say, that I sat down and made into a collection of dazzling PowerPoint slides full of lists and charts and pretty graphics, which I then presented to my parents over a couple of bottles of Guinness and which seemed to go over surprisingly well)... and a little ball of I-Don't-Want-To-Deal-With-This-Right-Now wells up inside of me.

This morning, Jeff got up and got on the road early for his quarterly weeklong business retreat — I've nicknamed it "Geek Camp," but I don't think his coworkers know that. After his car pulled away into the predawn gloom, I lay in bed, my mind dancing through a tiny bit of Panic, trying to remember what exactly we had meant to accomplish in October and if it wasn't too late to just call the whole silly thing off and elope. Really, who needs thousands of dollars spent on a single day? The more money you spend, the more reasons you have to get upset if when things go wrong. The caterer served a main entrée that was a little dry? Ah well, c'est la vie, right? Wait, what? You mean that meal cost as much as a down payment on a house? WTF, caterer? For that much money, my mouth better be drooling and dripping with savory salaciousness. ...Er. No, wait, I don't think that was the word I wanted.

I have a week to myself while Jeff's away, and by the end of that week, it will be the end of October and time to start thinking about the holidays and, in the midst of that, nailing down some Big Decisions about major vendors, while sending out our official Save the Date announcement (if I ever get around to ordering Save the Date cards... which maybe I won't, because maybe I don't feel like it... whatever, if you show up, you show up). Ack!

So what did I do today? I spent the entire day backing up and transferring files on my computer. Procrastinate much? Me?

Am I the only one whose computer is like one of those weird Russian dolls? I swear, one more round of back-ups and the holographic micro-universe that is my computer's hard drive is going to go through a big bang of its own and start producing proto-sentient life-forms. Usually when I go through the process of backing up my files, it's because my ancient, sluggish machine is just about to have its own private little emotional meltdown — and since the idea of losing files brings on a bit of the emo-juices for me, too, I usually don't have the stamina to sort through what I'm transferring. The tides of panic rise. So in everything goes, into one huge Back This Up Now folder that gets spread across a number of burned disks and then, eventually, onto my next computer. Today, I finally cleared the last few files off of my old dinosaur of a desktop (almost six years old — can you believe how ancient!). Of course, what seemed to take up so much space on that old clunker is now sitting on my laptop with so much elbow room you can hear it echo. The last ten years of my life, condensed into one tiny folder.

The problem is, hard drives keep getting bigger, and old files keep seeming smaller and smaller. Inside the folder on my laptop that now reads "Old Desktop Back Up Files" is a folder of my files from graduate school, and inside that is a folder of all my files from the last two years of college. Inside that folder is a folder of files from my first two years of college, those that made the journey from one laptop to the other at the end of my sophomore year.... and of course, inside that folder is a folder containing all the files from my high school home computer. Someday, this laptop will start to go and it'll be time for an upgrade, at which point all the work I've done in the past several years will get swept up — along with that "Old Desktop Back Up Files" folder — and plunked into a new folder. And that doll fits down inside another doll, and another, and another, on and on....

It's an incredibly inefficient and probably very silly process. But whenever I do it, I get all nostalgic. My past in shrinking file sizes, kept alive from one hard drive to another. Slowly, unimportant things get whittled away, but there are still some files I can't bring myself to delete. A few stray mp3 files are left from a CD my best friend made me in high school of all the coolest "punk" music. Journal entries from a creaky old word processor my parents got me in middle school, the files now corrupted most probably beyond any readability. Random pictures of myself — most of them of me squinting past a camera flash into a smudgy mirror or reflective window somewhere — as my hair got longer and longer over the past four years. Family movies and fifty-second clips of people singing birthday songs or playing charades, or seven minutes of nothing but rain pattering on the roof of the garage outside my old apartment. All squeezed into one little folder now: "Old Desktop Back Up Files."

I wonder what it will be like to be married. Life, sometimes, seems like a series of back-ups, where you stop and reevaluate what you're carrying with you, and what you're leaving behind. Not to get all metaphorical or anything. But how many of those songs will I ever really listen to? How many of those old journal entries or half-finished poems will I go back to and read over? The files are so densely packed, thick with redundancy, overlap and abandon — I couldn't ever expect Jeff to go back through it all, for instance, and even if he could, the picture he would get wouldn't be any kind of coherent glimpse into my past, it wouldn't enlighten him about who I am today. The past itself is dense, impenetrable in some ways, like those Russian dolls that get smaller and smaller, one inside the next. All the details of my present life are filled in by the sketchings and half-starts of those old days. But as they say, you can't get here from there.

The wedding will likely be like that, too, someday down the road. Just a jumble of half-remembered images, computer files of pictures and favorite songs and budget checklists and unfinished ceremony scripts, stashed away on a hard drive somewhere. A few lucky pieces might make their way onto archive quality paper, printed and bound and stuffed away to collect dust on a bookshelf, to be pulled out by grandkids or old friends long after we've completely gone out of style.

Yet what the day accomplishes — the promises we make to each other, and how we begin that life — will work its way into the center of things and stay there, rooted. Whatever else happens later, we will carry that along, incorporating it into every shift and move, every time we turn over another year. There is magic in a vow and a ceremony that cannot be reduced to Save-As in a drop-down menu. Those things don't get left behind, even if they're filed away somewhere in the back of your memory, in the darkness of the past where you can't remember the lyrics to that song you played over and over for a year, or the color of the flowers that used to grow in your backyard, or the smell of the laundry room in the college dormitory basement.

That's what I think magic is, in the end. When all the details of the past get lost or corrupted with age, and you sit in the present and know who you are today, know that you are full of history and memory and blood and bone and the smells that, yes, will come flying back to you in a moment of startled breath even when you think you're long past remembering... That is magic, in the here and now, when you can feel the oaths and the promises and the big decisions echoing and jostling for elbow room in your ever-growing heart. Magic is the stuff that stays.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Our word marriage goes back to the Romans, who used the word maritus (of unknown origin) to refer to a married man. Marriage was very different in ancient Roman society. In earliest times, a Roman woman had very few rights; she was under complete control of her father or her husband her entire life. She could only marry with her father's legal consent. Marriage was thought of as a legal institution created for the purpose of having children. There were two types of marriage: cum manu, in which the wife was basically enslaved to the husband, and sine manu, in which the wife remained basically enslaved to her father. Under cum manu, a wife could hold no property, and had essentially the same rights as a daughter of the family (except that her husband could not kill her or sell her, as he could his daughters). Divorce was not difficult, and required little special legal or religious recognition, although it was rare, since the woman would have been left destitute. I am not making this up.

This kind of incredible misogynism is rare among ancient societies, and tended only to exist when one tribe militarily destroyed another (also extremely rare), and enslaved its women. There is no evidence that this is actually how the customs arose in ancient Rome, but the historical record is spotty enough that such an event could have easily been forgotten. In any event it is not beyond the realm of possibility that maritus is derived from the name of Mars, the Roman god of war.

Over time the Romans relaxed their ideas of marriage. By 100 BC, the rights of a woman in marriage were much greater — she could own her own property, and could enter into legal agreements without her husband or father's explicit consent. In fact, by the time of Augustus and Jesus, the institution of marriage had weakened considerably in pagan Rome — divorce, remarriage, adultery, and children outside of wedlock had become quite common, especially among the upper classes, and the emperor Augustus felt it necessary to impose harsh penalties on those who broke their marriage vows. By this time maritus had given rise to the verb maritare, "to marry".

The Germanic tribes who invaded southern Europe, toppled the Roman Empire, and borrowed many words from Latin (including maritare, taken into Old French as marier, and then into English as marry) had a view of marriage similar to many conservative people today: they were strictly monogamous (remarriage and divorce were unknown), avoided sexual activity before marriage, punished adultery and promiscuity severely (particularly the females), and so on. It's extremely interesting to me that these ancient Germanic attitudes, planted in western civilization almost two thousand years ago, have persisted so long, and are now so closely associated with conservative Christianity, despite their pagan origin.

In modern western society, the concept of marriage is undergoing the most profound change it's ever seen. A marriage between a man and a woman who considered themselves equals would have been difficult for a Roman or ancient German to conceive of; and marriage between two men or two women would have been beyond belief. (Homosexual relationships were indeed permitted socially, but never considered 'marriage'.) Western culture often congratulates itself on its technological prowess, its medical advances, and its political freedom, but to my mind, this shift in attitude — this expansion of the idea of marriage to one of equal partnership between any two people — is one of the greatest contributions of modern society to human life and love.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Filling the Seas

It's already Friday again, and I know you lovely readers out there (all three of you) are just dying to know how our Fall Wedding Tour 2010 trip went this past week. The full story and pictures are on their way, but for now I thought it'd be fun to give you a glimpse or two of some of the sights both wonderful and strange that Jeff and I saw during our journeying.

For instance, this odd event that we were privileged to witness from the deck of a ferry crossing between islands....

Apparently, the military sends a boat out on the second-to-last Thursday of every month to refill the oceans and maintain the sea level so that it conforms precisely to their official maps of the coastline and the relative altitudes of surrounding mountain ranges. On the third Tuesday of every month, they send a different boat out to suck up any water that has melted from the glaciers or been dumped by heavy rainstorms (this is especially important during hurricane season). On some months, this means they send a boat out on a Tuesday to suck up the water, and then two days later send another one out to put the water back.

True story.

Monday, September 27, 2010

"Dwelling" (Li-Young Lee)

Lilies in the Garden


As though touching her
might make him known to himself,

as though his hand moving
over her body might find who
he is, as though he lay inside her, a country

his hand's traveling uncovered,
as though such a country arose
continually up out of her
to meet his hand's setting forth and setting forth.

And the places on her body have no names.
And she is what's immense about the night.
And their clothes on the floor are arranged
for forgetfulness.

Li-Young Lee, from Book of My Nights: Poems

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sneak Peak: The Ring

Jeff and I are still on the road, on the blazing trail of the Big Fall Wedding Tour 2010! If all goes well, this little tidbit should automatically post, as we head from the beautiful beaches of the Outer Banks towards Greensboro, NC, where my dashing fiancé will introduce me for the first time to my future mother-in-law. Wish me luck!

In the meantime... I know you've all been waiting for it, so here's a sneak peak at what's coming up soon here at Wedding on the Edge:

The Proposal

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Husband and Wife

For hundreds of years, beginning in the 9th Century, vast swaths of English countryside were colonized and controlled by the Norse — farmers and traders and raiders from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. These settlers were generally descendants of the Vikings that had been attacking the English coast. They spoke Old Norse, a language very closely related to the Old English spoken at that time in England. In fact, the languages were so closely related that they were probably more like dialects. So everyone could understand the Norse invaders perfectly when they raided a town, killed the menfolk, seized the homes and land, and forced the women to marry them.

But the collision of related-but-not-quite-the-same dialects was prone to mixing and confusion. Among the Norse, a free man who owned land and cattle was called a bondi (which literally meant "dweller"); and if he had a home, too, he was called a husbondi (from hus = house). Among the English, such a man was called a wer (which is the same root now found in werewolf); but by the 1300s, such was the influence of Norse on English society, the word wer had all but disappeared.

Meanwhile, the English had two words in common use that meant "wife": wif meant "woman" (usually married; of unknown origin), and husbonde (related to the Norse husbondi) meant "mistress of the house". Perhaps understandably, the Norse called their new wives wif and not husbonde. And so the pair husbondi and wif was established.

Oddly enough, by the 1300s, the word husewif ("house"+"wife") — and thus exactly parallel to husbondi — was becoming common. Around 1600, husbondi and husewif had developed shortened forms hubby and hussy. (As is unfortunately common in many languages, the feminine form gradually developed a more derogatory meaning than the masculine.)

Spiritually husband has energies of caretaking, home-making — more specifically, one whose choices and promises bind him to provide a hearthfire. But wife, perhaps counterintuitively, is not a word of servitude, but of force of will, of selfhood, freedom, and prosperity.

Monday, September 20, 2010

"The Coming of Light" (Mark Strand)

Love Altar, detail

The Coming of Light

Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light.
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine
and tomorrow's dust flares into breath.

Mark Strand, from Selected Poems

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Big Fall Wedding Tour: A Preview

This evening, after Jeff drops the kids off back at their mom's house, he and I will be hitting the road in what I have taken to calling the Big Fall Wedding Tour of 2010.

Our planned journey will take us south through Maryland, North Carolina and Georgia as we hop from campsite to campsite, town to town, in one giant loop that lands us back in Pittsburgh just over a week from today. The purpose of the road trip? Well, first and foremost, to introduce me to Jeff's mother and a few other family members, i.e. my future in-laws.

Yes, you read that right. I am engaged to a man who has as yet never introduced me to his mother. We haven't even spoken on the phone — though I have eavesdropped on their conversations once in a while (by accident, of course!). Now, while I wouldn't recommend getting engaged to a person without first meeting his or her family as the wisest of moves, I'm not too worried about this minor oversight. After all, his mother does live quite a long way away and, from what he's told me, she tends to be the solitary type and doesn't much like to travel, either. Not to mention, this will be his second marriage, so, you know, not as big a deal, right? She's already been through the mother-in-lawing process once before, and Jeff has said on many occasions how she has always been very relaxed and supportive of whatever utterly life-altering choices he's made, including getting married the first time. So all in all, I'm feeling pretty relaxed about the prospect of meeting her. Yes of course I want her to like me and all of that, but she managed to get along Jeff's ex-wife well enough while they were married and I'm like a thousand times more awesome than she was (so I've heard — I don't want you to think I'm being immodest or anything, I'm just reporting what I've been told, here). Anyway, from the stories Jeff tells, his mother seems like the kind of person I'll very much enjoy meeting and getting to know, and his aunt (the one in Maryland who we'll be visiting during the beginning of our Big Fall Wedding Tour trip) has read my blog and seems to think I'll make an excellent wife and daughter-in-law.

(Woah. That was weird. "Excellent wife and daughter-in-law." Typing that almost sent me spinning into a bizarro dimension of space-time where I have a bob hairdo and really enjoy embroidery and diet iced tea. Somehow, that doesn't sound like the kind of conclusion I'd expect someone to draw from reading my blog. Maybe "wise and poetic soul" or "devastating intellect underlying a morose sense of inadequacy" or "politically idealistic with a stubborn streak of macabre aesthetic and a lingering need to please" or something like that. But "excellent wife and daughter-in-law"? Well. I guess there's no accounting for taste.)

Anyway. The second purpose of the trip is to explore some possible venues for the wedding ceremony and reception. Since Jeff's family mostly lives down south, while mine mostly lives here in Pennsylvania, we've been exploring the possibility of finding an in-between place that would make traveling a little easier on everyone. No, we haven't set a date or settled on anything final, but we have been doing a great deal of brainstorming on those very topics. I don't want to give anything away just yet, but I will say this: part of the Big Fall Wedding Tour will be spent in an undisclosed location, getting a feel for the season and its fruits, connecting with the spirits of the land, and petitioning the gods for guidance.

O, what? Did you forget this is a Pagan wedding we're talking about here? You thought all this talk of in-laws and ex-wives and blogging was just so mainstream? Not likely! Besides, we take our duties towards this sacred earth quite seriously in this (soon-to-be-a) family, and that includes doing our research into local, sustainable resources for décor and cuisine, as well as asking permission from the land itself and its other denizens before bustling in and taking over. After all, it's only polite.

We'll be talking more about this whole process and the role it plays in our Pagan spirituality in blog posts to come (as well as letting you know how The Introduction turns out). In the meantime, we have our usual round of poems, pictures and word analyses scheduled to post automatically while we're on the road, with hopefully one post by yours truly sometime in the middle of the week. So stay tuned, and wish us luck!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Zen and the Art of Marriage

I sometimes say I was raised Zen, but that's a shorthand for a more complex truth. I was raised by a spiritual but non-religious mother who was profoundly influenced by Zen teachings. She told me some strange things.

Perhaps in Christian households the children hear, again and again, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." But the Zen teachings of my mother took things a step further: "The others are you."

There is, she told me, again and again, no real boundary between reality and illusion. The world of dreams is as real as the waking world, and just as important. And these people we see walking around, these people we talk with and befriend and fall in love with? They are us, and we are them. There is no real separation between us. In a very true sense, the Self is the greatest illusion of all.

The core teaching of Buddhism is that suffering arises from mistaken beliefs about the nature of the world. Belief that you are a being separate from other people; belief that you have an eternal soul; belief that worldly things like money, possessions, health, travel, etc. can make you truly happy, and so on... These beliefs are false, and they lead to suffering. And they must be let go, released, so that you can see things as they are, and become awakened &mdash enlightened.

Which brings me to marriage.

For Buddhism, marriage is sort of beside the point. There are no prohibitions against it, and also no doctrine that encourages it; it's not held to be a sacred or profane thing. It's a matter for culture and secular society. It's barely mentioned at all in the ancient texts.

However, in modern times, and especially among the emerging Western practitioners of Zen, a more nuanced view is emerging. Marriage is coming to be seen as a kind of practice itself &mdash a way in which two souls can act as each other's teachers as they walk the way of release and awakening.

"In an intense emotional relationship like marriage the experience of the self is stretched. When the self and the other get intermingled, it challenges our sense that our identity is fixed, and when we get hurt it makes the illusion of the self very visible. We can have all of these experiences of the self because love and marriage are the intermingling of emptiness and bliss." &mdash Mark Epstein

Marriage is not easy. To bind oneself to another person is no light matter. It can be seen as a spiritual practice, one much more intense than fasting, or going on pilgrimage. It may even be more powerful than committing oneself to a monastery. Like these other spiritual practices, you are voluntarily restricting your freedom of choice, which is, perhaps, the defining Gift of humanity. But it gives unique rewards: the regular practice of engagement with another person, in the closest, most intimate possible way.

"We are impermanent, we are of the dust of the world, beautiful, but passing. We have no special part of us that is separate from this world. And as part of this world, we are spun out of each other and all things, and so dust motes and the stars are all our family. And this, all taken together, is our true nature, wild, extravagant, precious, boundless, always open. ...

In our relationships we need to hold with open hands, understanding that all things are in flux, and nothing remains the same forever. But as we apply this boundlessness, this openness to our seeing each other, and caring for each other, we quickly discover how powerful and transformative it can be." &mdash James Ishmael Ford

One of the core Buddhist teachings of ethics is the Five Precepts, which can be stated this way:

  1. Do not do harm. Promote health.

  2. Do not steal. Be generous.

  3. Do not engage in sexual misconduct. Promote healthy sexual relationships.

  4. Do not lie. Encourage truth-telling and openness.

  5. Do not cloud the soul with intoxication. Promote clarity of mind and heart.

Living according to these five precepts opens the way toward awakening and releasing the false beliefs that cause suffering. In particular, by not harming others, by being generous, by promoting health (sexual and otherwise), telling only the truth, and seeking clarity, you break down barriers between yourself and other people, and thereby begin to expose the illusion of Self.

"As our practice together matures we discover we can't tell when we're trying, when it follows our acts of will, our concentration, and when it just rises from deep within the soil of the earth, as natural as a green shoot in the spring. At that point we are practicing the great way of equanimity, of joyful abiding. Then our spouse is our principle teacher, and our household is the sangha, the community of wisdom." &mdash James Ishmael Ford

What more intense practice of the Five Percepts could there be than marriage? When you awaken in the morning next to someone; and break your fast with them; when you share your morning and evening labors with them, and go out with them into the larger community, and then return in the evening to hearth again with them, and speak of the day with them, and lie down and dream with them &mdash this is joyful abiding, this is loving kindness, this is generosity and truth and healing and clarity, this is engagement, this is the conscious tracing of the intertwining lacework of Self and Other until all illusion of separation is released.

"And as we come to this place of integration, where our joy in each other is our practice, and our practice is the work of the world, then we have fallen into the great way, and our actions with each other are the saving of the world." &mdash James Ishmael Ford

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bride, Groom, Bridegroom

In ancient Proto Indo European society, a young newly-married woman went to live with her husband's family. She was often put to work doing menial chores (perhaps unsurprising in a patrilineal culture) such as cooking and cleaning; and in fact she was called a bru, "cook" (and yes, that word is related to brew and broth.) The young bru married a dghem, a man. (The word dghem comes from the word for "earth", and is the ancestor of Latin homo "man".)

Later, among the Germanic tribes, she was called the bruthiz, and he was a gumaz. Still later, in Old English, she became the bryd (pronounced roughly "brood"), and he was a guma &mdash or more specifically a brydguma, to distinguish him from all those other gumas out there.

With the influence of the Norse and French invasions, vowels and words across English were vastly changed, and by Shakespeare's time bryd had become bride. Meanwhile another word, grome, "young man", had come into common use (no one is sure how or from where), and it became confused with Old English guma and crowded it out. When the dust settled guma was gone, and grome &mdash now changed to groom &mdash had taken its place next to bride (and, incidentally, in the stables, another place young men were often found in those days).

Spiritually bride is a word of fertility and springtime, bursting forth with energy and motion; but like wed, bride ends with D, the sound of doorways, edges, new beginnings. Groom, while just as full of energy and motion, is more concerned with grounded, earthy work, and the manifestation of growth.

Monday, September 13, 2010

"The Fragrant Wood" (Anonymous)


The Fragrant Wood

My hope, my love we will go
Into the woods, scattering dews,
Where we will behold the salmon, and the ousel in its nest
The deer, and the roebuck calling;

The sweetest bird on the branches singing,
The cuckoo on the top of the green hill;
And death shall never find us
In the bosom of the fragrant wood.

An anonymous poem c. 11th century,
from The Book of Celtic Verse: A Treasury of Poetry, Dreams & Visions (edited by John Matthews)

Friday, September 10, 2010

First Glimpses

My relationship with Jeff began online, a correspondence between two bloggers both interested in spirituality, meditation and politics.

This was the very first picture of himself that he ever sent to me......


...and this was the very first flower he ever gave me.

Stargazer Lily

(Yes, that's right, a digital, clip-art stargazer lily.)

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


Five or six thousand years ago, on the Ukrainian steppe, a group of loosely related tribes of horse herders, numbering perhaps fifty thousand people, lived and worked and loved and died, and as they did so they spoke a language that modern linguists call "Proto Indo European". Over the subsequent millennia, these tribes and their domesticated horses — many of which they trained for warfare and agriculture as well as riding — spread across Europe and Asia, creating a far-flung network of trade, culture, and language. One group moved southeast into India, founding the Vedic culture; and there Proto Indo European gradually changed, as languages do, into Sanskrit, and then Hindi and Urdu. Another group moved to Persia, and their language became Iranian. Another group moved to Greece, and another to Italy, and their languages became Greek and Latin (and, eventually, Italian, French, and Spanish). The group spread over the largest area was the Celts: at one time, Celtic languages — ancestors of modern Irish, Welsh, Scots Gaelic, and others — were spoken from the Black Sea to the Atlantic. And one small group moved up into Scandinavia, where their language became Proto Germanic — the ancestor of Norwegian, Swedish, German, Dutch, and English. Today almost half the people in the world speak a language descended from Proto Indo European.

The Proto Indo Europeans had no writing (or if they did, it hasn't been preserved), so there is no direct evidence of their language. But since the 19th century, linguists have been observing the great similarities between Indo European languages. For example, English has wed, while German has Wette "wager", and Old Frisian had weddia "promise", and Gothic had ga-wadjan "betroth", and Lithuanian has vadouti "redeem a pledge", and Old Norse had ve∂ja "wager", and Latin had vadis "post bail", and so on. The meanings and sounds across all these languages were similar enough that coincidence was impossible: some reason had to be sought. The simplest explanation is that all these languages come from a single source (called "Proto Indo European" simply because it was the protolanguage of many of the languages of India and Europe); and moreover, that the source language had a single word from which all these terms for wedding and promising and wagering are descended.

That word, it seems likely, was wadh, meaning "pledge". It may even have been used for weddings (we know that the Proto Indo Europeans had weddings, because they had words for "wife" and "husband"). When some of the Proto Indo Europeans moved to Scandinavia, they took wadh with them, but over time it changed to wadjan. Shortly thereafter, when a large number of Scandinavians embarked on great migrations to the west, south, and east, one group, called the Angles (because they came from the angle of land where Denmark abuts Germany), traveled to England and brought their language with them; and of course we call that language Old English. wadjan became weddian, but it still meant "pledge, promise, marry".

Over the next fifteen hundred years, England was invaded multiple times by the Norse and the French, and the grammar of Old English was changed and its sounds shifted, and weddian's meaning became focused only on marriage, and it became wed. So when we speak of becoming wed, we are not speaking of a party, or of a man and a woman coming together, or of two families joining, or anything other than this simple thing: a promise.

The history of a word can give insight into its meaning, but so can its sounds. Many cultures (ancient and modern) believe in the spiritual power of sounds and letters; the Jewish and Norse are among the most famous. While not all these cultures agree on the meanings of all the sounds, there is often broad agreement; and quite often this is reflected in our words. As in wed: taken together in this order, the sounds of W, E, and D indicate an act of will, a choice, which begins an initiation. It is a decision to step on a path of unmaking and remaking, a path that ends in a change — an opening — a doorway... an edge.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Budget-Friendly Principle

"One day common people, endowed with common sense, are going to get bored with being inhuman or, rather, with being continually dehumanized by wealth. And they will get rid of it, even if philosophers and producers of the superfluous swear that they are wrong." - Alberto Moravia

Budget-FriendlyIt's not hard to understand why a low-budget wedding appeals to so many people as they contemplate marriage. Apart from all the hype about this being "the most important day of your life" (to which I always respond kindly that I certainly hope my life doesn't peak at twenty-eight), the fact is that most weddings are a step towards married life, family life, and all the dreams, plans and future expenses that those things entail.

Certainly there are a few people — by which I mean, mostly, a few women — who have dreamt of a huge, gorgeous wedding with half the town in attendance since they were children swooning over neighborhood boys and practicing signing their names Mrs. Right surrounded by doodles of hearts and flowers. But for many of us these days, the excess of the "Wedding Industrial Complex" — with all its designer gowns and endless remonstrations against the tacky and the trite — has already gotten old and tiresome long before we start thinking about walking down the aisle ourselves.

The WIC knows this, of course. Browse the wedding-themed section of your local bookstore, and you're bound to find at least a dozen books on how to throw an "elegant wedding under $10,00," or even some brave books proclaiming a do-it-yourself guide to a $5,000-or-less wedding complete with homemade favor ideas and tips on how to drive your kitchen-savvy future mother-in-law crazy trying to self-cater a reception for five-hundred guests. There are probably more books on how to throw an inexpensive wedding than on any other single wedding-related topic. Now, I love books, don't get me wrong. But it seems half these suggestions could land you in a deep hole of abandoned attempts at crafts and cooking, not to mention a bit of strife with your bridal party. And besides, spending money to save money never made much sense to me.

So when it came to thinking about finances, Jeff and I sat down and had a simple but serious discussion. It seemed obvious to us that a low-budget wedding was the way to go, for several reasons. The first was that this would be Jeff's second. And like many previously-married men, all those expenses of the forthcoming family life had, well, already come knocking. It wasn't a question of maybe perhaps possibly saving a little money to someday have maybe a kid or two; Jeff already had four of them. Setting money aside for family expenses absolutely had to take priority over any dream of a large, fancy wedding.

I was okay with that. After all, I'm not exactly the large-and-fancy type. Having worked as a waitress for the past five years, I have come to value a certain financial frugality embodied whole-heartedly in the old saying, "The best things in life are free!" You don't get by on a waitress's income by learning how to make your own applesauce and sew your own hippie skirts. You learn to make ends meet by learning how to prioritize: doing without the cable television and the gas-guzzling automobile and the weekly trips to the shopping mall. Especially if it means you have a bit of cash left over to treat yourself to a pint of organic, fair-trade chocolate ice cream after a particularly rough week at work.

That's right — even if the organic, fair-trade chocolate is a bit more expensive than the regular kind! Because we're not talking about miserly greed here, or an asceticism fed by middle-class guilt. We're talking about priorities: an approach to life and wealth that embraces with gratitude the natural, self-giving fecundity of the earth, an approach that affirms the connection between simplicity, prosperity and generosity not only for ourselves but for everyone who shares this world with us.

So that was how Jeff and I decided to approach the wedding budget. A wedding is, after all, a celebration and affirmation of our partnership and our shared values. One of those shared values is a sense of social justice and its expression in competing economic pressures. We share, too, a certain ambivalence towards the role of consumerism in the modern American life, and a dream that we might someday learn to live more generously and compassionately with our fellow human beings. We strive not only to live simply, but to live beautifully and graciously. So we thought, what better way to celebrate our future life together than to plan our wedding with these same principles in mind?

That, at least, is the idea. As we plunge ahead into wedding planning over the next year, we hope to make choices based on a balance between a modest attitude towards spending, and an appreciation for when things are worth the expense. That might mean we do without some of the more "traditional" wedding expenditures (goodbye, custom-designed, hand-calligraphed embossed silk wedding stationary with matching envelopes!). It definitely means we'll have to get creative in our planning, as we find ways to make our limited budget do double- and triple-duty.

When it comes times for the Big Day, though, we hope to craft an experience that will be simple, beautiful — dare I say, elegant? — and most importantly, memorable and full of joy!

Monday, September 06, 2010

"Lilies" (Mary Oliver)



I have been thinking
about living
like the lilies
that blow in the fields.

They rise and fall
in the wedge of the wind,
and have no shelter
from the tongues of the cattle,

and have no closets or cupboards,
and have no legs.
Still I would like to be
as wonderful

as that old idea.
But if I were a lily
I think I would wait all day
for the green face

of the hummingbird
to touch me.
What I mean is,
could I forget myself

even in those feathery fields?
When van Gogh
preached to the poor
of course he wanted to save someone—

most of all himself.
He wasn't a lily,
and wandering through the bright fields
only gave him more ideas

it would take his life to solve.
I think I will always be lonely
in this world, where the cattle
graze like a black and white river—

where the ravishing lilies
melt, without protest, on their tongues—
where the hummingbird, whenever there is a fuss,
just rises and floats away.

Mary Oliver, from New and Selected Poems: Volume One

Friday, September 03, 2010

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Welcome to the Edge...

This blog is about breaking the rules.

Sounds edgy, doesn't it? Maybe even a bit in-your-face devil-may-care not-if-I-see-you-first in an anarcho-pretentious-punk-rock-cynic kinda way. But that's not what we're about. And we're also not about clichés, as in the cliché, "Love breaks all the rules." Because let's face it, half the time we don't even know what that's supposed to mean, and much of the time it just ain't true.

So when we say that this blog is about breaking the rules, we don't mean thumbing our noses at society or reveling in tacky or tactless self-indulgence. Sure there's a place for that — we appreciate a good nose-thumbing as much as the next guy. But what this blog is mostly about is who we are, why we're in love, and how we plan to celebrate that love with our family and friends. See, not so edgy, right?

But we do live life on the edge. Rules of all kinds set boundaries and thresholds, and life brings us face to face with those liminal spaces just beyond the pale. From a place of civilized safety, we gaze out into the wilds. Life is full of edges.

In many ways, that's how marriage feels to us: a new frontier, a new threshold to cross, a new way of life beckoning. We each as individuals, Jeff and I, have our own interior landscapes — the landscapes of our souls, our psyches, our hearts and our heads — and those landscapes have their well-trodden paths and their bustling social centers, but they also have wildernesses of their own, places strange and fey and as yet unexplored. How can two people commit to loving each other for the rest of their lives, when they're still in the process of discovering who they are?

We think it's possible. Love may not always break all the rules, but it has a way of breaking down boundaries, and overcoming distances. Our relationship began as an online correspondence over more than five hundred miles and three years ago. When it started, Jeff was just an older man with a wife and kids. I was just a young woman full of ambition and heartache. Both of us were bloggers, and Druids, with a penchant for antiauthoritarian peacemaking and a bit of tree-hugging on the side. Two years, one divorce and many quiet nights of solitude later, it had hardly occurred to either of us that a bit of romance was just around the next bend. But life is full of edges. Sometimes it's hard to see what might happen next.

Which is another reason for this blog. Jeff and I are not exactly your typical mainstream bride and groom. We are pacifists, feminists and environmentalists. We are Pagans. And we are, as they say kindly, "creative types." We're a couple of weirdos, and we know it. And while this makes us practically perfect for each other — and quite cute as a couple, I like to think — we also know that we have family members and friends out there wondering, "What exactly is a pacifist, feminist, eco-friendly Pagan wedding going to look like, anyway? I'm not going to have to dance naked around a bonfire under a full moon chanting prayers to Gaia, am I?"

This blog is our answer to those uncertainties. (The short answer is, only if you want to!) We hope it will be a way of reassuring our loved ones, and inviting them into these wilder places on the edges of the normal. Let us begin with a picnic basket and a friendly wave. And who knows, maybe it'll provide a bit of inspiration for other couples out there, too, who want to know how they can plan a low-budget, eco-friendly, fringe-faith love-fest of their own.

If this blog project can offer a bit of guidance and hope, and maybe a laugh or a sigh once in a while, it will have served its purpose well.

That's a pretty good way to start a marriage, we think.

Welcome to Wedding on the Edge.