Saturday, May 27, 2006

Why I have been happily unmarried for 12 years

The following is an attempt to explain what is to me an irrational, emotional matter, mainly because several have asked. If you do not want to plod through a long and convoluted exploration of the shadowy recesses of my mind, or if you think you might be offended by a highly unconventional view of a topic many hold sacred, don't read. I'll return to my usual flavor of anecdotes and observations next time I write.

I really have no objection to being married to Scott, at least at this point. Being with Scott is already as permanent a condition as ever this sort of thing ever is, and probably at least as solid as most marriages. No, cold feet isn't it. Marriage probably wouldn't change much besides our tax accounting at this point, anyway. Besides, had we any qualms about commitment, I daresay a [large number of] dollars' worth of jointly purchased Silicon Valley real estate or a shared bathroom drawer might have exposed them by now.

I can't say it's an open relationship, either. I can think of others I'd gladly explore further, were it so. (I've never been one to be focused or decisive, and guys are no exception, frequently to their discomfort.) Scott prefers not to share me, though, and by and large, I've respected that. I've kissed and hugged and cared for a few others since meeting Scott, openly and with his knowledge and (sometimes reluctant) consent, but it has not gone beyond that, and I rather doubt that calling it marriage would change that very much.

If you ask Scott, he'll tell you, only half jokingly, that we're avoiding it because he's certain that as soon as we marry, the next question will be when we're having kids. He no longer panics at my slightest suggestion of "children someday" but only because of the "someday" part. He doesn't think he's a child person, or at least he's not ready. I think I'm up to the task of motherhood, if somewhat nervous at the prospect of pregnancy. (I'm too chicken even to have had my ears pierced.) Moreover, I'm not at a stage where I'd like to give up my career, which I strongly fear it might mean to have children. So there is that. It's just easier to make excuses about not being married than about not having kids.

I would love to say that I reject marriage or weddings on high-minded, ideological grounds. Granted, in the Independent Republic of Me, marriage would have no legal standing whatsoever, according to the principle of separation of church and state. The rights and privileges would be handled contractually and explicitly, if they were wanted, and would be just as available to trusted friends and partners (need I add same-sex?) as to those choosing to call their relationship marriage (which everybody would be permitted to do according to their own beliefs). Still, I have an ideological objection to automobiles but drive one nonetheless as a practical matter.

The real reason, for me, is the wedding. I hate weddings with a passion and a fury I can only partially explain rationally. There is the obvious stuff, the expense and the logistics and the being on stage of it all, but I don't think that's it. My 30-person guest list would undoubtedly mushroom into 200 by the time both our moms got through inviting extended family to the wedding of their eldest children, but if I were planning somebody else's party on that scale, I think I'd probably have a grand time squeezing every extra drop out of the budget and making sure everything materialized neatly and on time. As for being the center of attention, I have been known to enjoy it, under the right circumstances. (Birthdays are not the right circumstances. My mother might have done something worth celebrating on my birthday, but I didn't really.) When I merit the interest and attention of others, I'll seek it out gently and gladly accept it. So I don't think it's a problem of logistics or stage fright.

It's not the bad music, though were I the one in charge, the standard wedding march would not put in an appearance, nor would Pachelbel's Canon. (Look at the sheet music sideways, said my band director. The notes line up.) Scott and I would doubtless have a long and detailed talk with any would-be DJs to eradicate various other sticky, tired tunes from the reception repertoire.

When one friend of mine got married, I saw the backstage view, if you will, of the production. I read library books. The timeline and logistics stuff was fun, really. What had me in tears, and I mean full-on, screaming rage, was the one about the ceremonies. Of course, take out the "obey" stuff. It's passé, and we both take too much pleasure in rebellion and malicious obedience to make a promise like that.

Take out all the religion, too. Scott will squirm for a moment but tolerate it. I'm an atheist. You may worship as you please, but on some deeply personal level, I decline—no, refuse—to participate. I'll show up in places of worship now and then in support of friends. I'll stand, sit, attemptt to) sing, fine. To do something like pray or take communion is to me nothing short of a lie. You'll find me silent or hiding in back for those parts.

Take out the residual symbolism that I don't like. The part about walking down the aisle on my father's arm, to be given away directly into the care of another man. Feminist? Yes, thanks. I have nothing against my dad (save that he's a bit stodgy and I don't much relish the thought of dancing with him while others look on). Gender aside, am I not my own to give, and haven't I given myself long, long ago? So perhaps we'll walk down the aisle together and see how many people even that bit of anti-traditionalism can manage to offend.

Take out the officiant. She's probably not saying anything new, anyway, and accordingly, nobody is listening. Moreover, it is by nobody's authority but my own that I love and live with whom I choose. And I don't need anyone's permission to kiss him but his.

Take away the ring. I have lost the last three, at least, that I've attempted to wear regularly. They don't fit, or if they do fit, they stop fitting when I get hot or cold.

Leave out the audience. My love is not public. It is not secret, but it is not on display for the approval, pressures, scrutiny, ridicule, or respect of others. It is personal, and it is stronger and more deeply nuanced than they can know, than they can share. Even those who have been fortunate enough to know love properly cannot fathom our own special flavor of it.

Leave me my own name. I have worn it too long to give it up. I'm not him, I'm myself. Rebelliously, proudly, obstinately myself. He is here only and only because he allows me to be myself and gives me the space, makes me the space to be myself.

Finally, and emphatically, leave me my identity. Look at a good religious studies text on ritual. Rites of passage strip the participants of identity, in the process of changing it, voluntarily or by coercion. The dress (or lack thereof!) is not the normal wear of the participants, and the words and actions they repeat—repeat!—are not their own. American weddings are primarily symbolic, but other rites of passage range from demeaning to downright injurious and there are echoes of the dehumanizing demands of societies and traditions even in our tamest, most civilized ceremonies. Why are graduates, for instance, not trusted to select their own apparel on what should be their own proud day of independence and personal identity? Brides and grooms have a little more latitude, supposedly, and pending approval of families. Some families would not look askance at swim fins and snorkels, but a good many would nix the notion out of hand. In so doing, they'd (perhaps unwittingly) enforce the purpose of a rite of passage ceremony: to mold the participants to the norms of the community they will be joining.

Personalize it all you like. Choose the colors and the fashions and the favors (another job to prepare the bride for her new roles!) Write parts of the vows, if you think your words are more meaningful than the standard fare. Still, there is nothing innovative, groundbreaking, unique about a wedding. As for me, if you don't like me as I choose to be, leave me alone. I'll gladly return the favor.

We are down to a wedding at its most fundamental, some promises to love and stay together forever, devoid of legal standing, religious meaning, pomp and ceremony, and all the other things we've been living fine without for twelve years.

As for the promises, we have made them long ago, and we make them and keep them every day in our actions, our eyes, our words. No ceremony could satisfactorily symbolize or encapsulate that.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Verbing weirds language

Said one (otherwise bright, articulate) coworker of his own writing, "I don't know to language it any better."

I have one suggestion, if he's interested.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


I met Abraham this evening. He's from Eritrea, originally. It took me longer than I expected to get home, but his smile is contagious and he had some interesting stories to tell.

He has a five-year-old son who is full of energy, and just talking Abraham it is easy to see where his son gets it. Abraham is concerned that his son has so much energy that it will be hard to get him to focus on reading, but he describes the child beginning to read in English and Arabic. Talking to him awhile longer, it is apparent that he mainly wants his son not to have to struggle as he did, to support the family and also learn to read and write at the same time.

He plays with an all Eritrean soccer team here, calling themselves the Red Sea Boys. He proudly sports the team's jersey and told me all about the group's plans for the summer to play against teams from around the world.

Abraham also told me of his work at Pizza Hut. Most of his stories centered around helping people. He let people pay later, who couldn't right away. He said most did pay, but he occasionally paid himself if he thought somebody was in trouble. He also described helping a woman who locked herself out get back into her house through a window. She was expecting an important phone call from her boss and was very relieved to be back inside.

He is a devout and outspoken Muslim, and I suspect that is why he paused for an extra moment when I explained that I had lived with Scott for 12 years but not married him. After a moment to digest the fact, he defended it aloud while explaining how great and how easy a wedding would be.

I think his enthusiasm is as contagious as his smile.

Friday, May 12, 2006

But what do they do?

One vendor I worked with had their mission statement prominently emblazoned upon every business card and catalog, complete with gratuitous quotation marks. Besides being one of the most flaccid, directionless sentences ever, it gives no indication what the company actually does. (They sell fasteners and assorted small hardware.)

Judge for yourself:

"Our commitment is to cause quality, service, teamwork, excellence and leadership to happen which benefits the customer, the company and ourselves."

It makes me wonder how much they paid somebody to compose it.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Master manipulators

Soo and Cosmo are people in motion. I happened upon them in the park a few weeks ago, juggling with their son and some friends, and they invited me to join their informal group. Watching and listening, it is hard to imagine them sitting still for very long.

I arrived the following Sunday morning with a bag containing my three clubs, a selection of hackey sacks and beanbags, and some Lacrosse balls, good for bounce juggling. The three others had dozens of clubs and balls, plus cups and a prop bottle, knives, diabolos, and various other goodies.

They seem to be in practice, to varying degrees, with all of them. As they practiced passing 9 and 10 clubs between three people in various patterns, they talked about rope tricks and rock climbing and martial arts.

Most people think of juggling as throwing and catching more balls, rings, or clubs than one has hands, but in reality, it is the manipulation of any objects for show or fun. Cigar boxes, hats, and unicycles all figure in, and I'd wager that Soo and Cosmo have tried those, too.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

What's my line?

While visiting a classmate at her home, I started talking with her father, Bill. I commented on his baseball cap, black with a Pink Panther character stitched on the front. He told me the following story.

After aging out of a career in the military, Bill, who wasn't too well educated, nor especially physically able in his later years, held a succession of low-end jobs. The baseball cap, he explained, came from Owens Corning, a company that makes glass and fiberglass products. They use the Pink Panther as a mascot.

Bill's job for Owens Corning was to smell samples of air collected at various locations near their facility. If he detected any odors that might prove offensive to the surrounding communities, the company took steps to correct matters.

Small Towns

We drove past the Glenn County Senior Thrift Store on our way out here yesterday. Now, I have nothing against thrift stores. I've found some excellent deals on good stuff. Still, I didn't feel the need to stop at this one.

They had a handful of clothing hanging in the window, mostly baggy housedresses that looked like they came straight off the Glenn County Seniors.