Playing Catchup

I got sick of that WordPress theme, so i switched to the most generic default one available. That ought to motivate me to get off my butt (or on it, really) and design a new one. Ugh, maybe.

I really need to write more often. I feel like nothing much happens in my life and yet there’s so much that i find i ought to have written about when i take a long break.

I saw The Great Gatsby. And then i read it for the second time.
I took my mom to see the movie for Mother’s Day. I read the book in high school but i couldn’t really remember much of anything about it. I think we powered through it in just a few days and i vaguely recall being left scratching my head.

Great Gatsby poster

I really like Baz Luhrman’s movies and his style, and i thought The Great Gatsby was a perfect story for him to tell. Nobody could’ve done a better movie rendition of it, if you ask me. It was spectacular, romantic, tragic, well-cast for the most part (i could’ve done without Toby Maguire, but i just don’t like him much in general), and possibly the most enjoyable movie i’ve seen since The Hobbit (Part 1 of Eleventyhundred). It inspired me to re-read the book, and this time i loved it. Fitzgerald truly was an artist, and it’s such a pleasure to read a book that’s written with so much skill and passion. It’s not the most epic story ever told but it’s just told so well. Truly an American classic.

We went to Decorah for a weekend.
To celebrate our second anniversary and to procure a particularly excellent and rare beer, we drove 3.5 hours each way up to Decorah, Iowa, and spent two nights at a charming bed & breakfast there. Decorah, by the way, is a perfectly beautiful little place. My brother drove an even longer way for the aforementioned beer; he met us at Toppling Goliath on Saturday for the event, which was crowded but well organized and turned out really well for us because Nathan and i got our numbers early enough in the morning (7:20 a.m.!!) that we were able to garner a second bottle each. People were passing around rare beers to sample just for fun, and i had a good time visiting with my family and discovering lovely new beers. After lunch that day we walked out to what is probably Iowa’s only waterfall, and it was a very pretty sight to see. (Photos courtesy of Nathan.)

Kentucky Brunch Brand Stout by Toppling Goliath
Kentucky Brunch Brand Stout by Toppling Goliath

Did you know that Iowa has a waterfall?!
Did you know that Iowa has a waterfall?!

Nathan went to Seattle for a long weekend
And i was kind of lonely i missed the poop out of him. This was the longest we’d been apart since probably our second date, and being without him was totally alien and wrong to me. I went out Friday evening with a couple of girlfriends and then i was mostly at home working on a logo for a family member the rest of the weekend, but i went to my grandpa’s house for a couple hours of people time both evenings. I do not like living alone one bit, even with a dog. Does that mean i’m actually an extrovert? I prefer to be around people for at least 2/3 of every day (working alone at home wasn’t so bad).

I got stressed out about food and then remembered Michael Pollan.
All the low-fat / gluten-free / low-calorie / paleo / clean / vegan / sugarphobic / locavore / sustainable / organic / good calories, bad calories / moderation / best-body / health-obsessed food talk that pops up seemingly everywhere was starting to make me feel guilty every time i put something in my mouth, and so i bought In Defense of Food and have started reading that to try to get back to a place where food is not a tool or an enemy or a sin but above all things a pleasure. And even reading this is kind of wearying, because it says a lot of the same stuff that Nourishing Traditions and Why We Get Fat say about how the Western diet is terrible for people’s health (yeah, duh), but i think the difference will come in the latter half of the book where Pollan presents an eater’s manifesto. Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. And as long as you can tell the difference between actual food and laboratory-created foodlike substances, that’s all he says you really need to do. No worrying. I’ve hardly ever worried about food in my life except for when i was a vegetarian, and i don’t plan to allow it to become a habit.

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The Gastronomy of Marriage

The Gastronomy of Marriage: A Memoir of Food and LoveThe Gastronomy of Marriage: A Memoir of Food and Love by Michelle Maisto Last week i finished up a little book called The Gastronomy of Marriage by Michelle Maisto. I thought it sounded intriguing because it’s about a couple who are planning their wedding and enjoy cooking together, much like me and Nathan. Yeah, it’s a memoir and i don’t much like memoirs, i reasoned, but i enjoyed Committed so maybe i’ll enjoy this, too.

I didn’t.

It’s mercifully short and padded with recipes, which i thought was a nice touch since most of the book is a description of cooking this or that meal. Maisto attempts to use these meals as an illustration of a transformation she undergoes while being engaged, but there is absolutely no soul to the book. She describes starting to resent cooking when it becomes her “job” in the house. Her mother – mercilessly – always told Michelle that marrying her father and becoming a housewife was a mistake, and Maisto seems to be deathly afraid of repeating her mother’s mistakes (just like every other feminist i’ve been reading lately). But in the end she realizes that she has always loved cooking and still does and is not in fact being oppressed because she finds herself in the kitchen on a daily basis. Duh.

There’s just no passion in the writing. And her fiance sounds like a royal pain in the ass, by the way. Not that Maisto complains about him, ever. She doesn’t seem to actually realize that he is, in fact, a pain in the ass. There’s no humor in the book, nothing really sentimental or moving is said, and i took nothing away from it except for a reinforced notion that young women are actually afraid of doing more than fifty percent of the housework now for any reason, even if they enjoy it. She doesn’t have a meal planned. She throws out a few ideas. Her fiance whines. They finally settle on something. She cooks. They eat and are satisfied. This happens repeatedly, and this is pretty much all that happens. And the story ends days before the wedding. I DIDN’T EVEN GET TO HEAR ABOUT THE WEDDING. The only aspect of wedding planning she seems to enjoy is choosing the food; even her description of dress shopping is excruciatingly dull. I mean, come on – this is your wedding. Have a little fun, for God’s sake.

Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress

Hypocrite in a Pouffy White DressMy dear friend Kelly gave me a copy of Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress by Susan Gilman for my birthday, and earlier this week I finally finished it. The subtitle of the book is Tales of Growing Up Groovy and Clueless; it’s a series of stories that span Gilman’s life from her earliest memories to her early adulthood in the ’90s. She’s a feminist Jew who grew up in New York, went to college to become a writer, suffered the divorce of her parents as an adult and wound up in D.C. after a stint working for a Congresswoman on Capitol Hill. I found all of the stories to be entertaining, but the one that gives the book its title was – of course – the most interesting one in my mind.

What it refers to, perhaps obviously, is a wedding dress. When Gilman and her fiancĂ© become engaged, they decide to buck tradition and do things their own way. By and by they find that even if all you want is a DJ and a few guests you still have to have a place to put them and something to feed them, and in spite of themselves they become absorbed in the process of planning the whole affair. But the one thing Susan absolutely won’t have is the traditional wedding dress. As a feminist, she protested Fashion Week in college and wore clothes of a unique punk/vintage style, avoiding conformity to gender roles and societal expectations. Why dress up like some sort of storybook fantasy character to begin a life with a man who has to love you for who you are at your least glamorous? Marriage is a very real, quotidian thing and shouldn’t be treated as though it were some fairy tale. “Let’s face it. I’m neither royalty nor a virgin,” Gilman writes. “In a traditional wedding gown, I’d just be a hypocrite in a pouffy white dress.”

But at her friends’ urging, Gilman goes to a bridal shop and tries on a few dresses just in case. What she finds is a dress that makes her feel gorgeous and a whole new perspective on fashion’s role in feminism. She writes:

Every woman should have this experience – and not only if or when she gets married. Every woman should see herself looking uniquely breathtaking in something tailored to celebrate her body, so that she is better able to appreciate her own beauty and better equipped to withstand the ideals of our narrow-waisted, narrow-minded culture.

At the beginning of the chapter i felt like a bad feminist for not sharing her total aversion to all things traditional in the realm of marriage, but by this paragraph I felt vindicated.

I noticed that Gilman had the same sort of attitude toward marriage that Elizabeth Gilbert expressed in Committed, which is this general feeling of disgust with the idea of becoming legally married despite her devotion to her partner. Both women are feminists and feel that marriage is in many ways not good for a woman, partly because she has to sacrifice her ambitions in order to play the role of “wife.”

I’m not really sure what to think of this. My first reaction was to think that these women, along with a lot of other young people I’ve heard express this same view lately, are perhaps just making excuses to cover up the fact that they really aren’t willing to commit 100%. The way I see it, if you’ve already pledged loyalty to your partner, then you stand to lose nothing and gain a few pretty important benefits by getting married. So why do these women feel the need to reason with themselves that marriage is really some sort of rebellion in order to make peace with walking down the aisle? Are they really just that concerned about filling trite, stereotypical gender roles that they let their lives be governed by that fear? Or is a writing career truly hindered somehow by the duties of being a wife? Personally, I think it’s raising children that’s the huge sacrifice, not getting married.

Your thoughts? I’ve re-written the latter half of this post several times now, and I’ve decided to just end it here with a couple of questions and one unsupported statement rather than try to explain myself. The topic is just too vast; i could do a lot of research and write a very large paper on the topic of Whether Marriage is Good For Women. I suppose I shouldn’t criticize anyone for stepping back and really asking themselves if getting married is the right thing for them to do. But I think when the time is right, the answer has to be a very clear and confident YES. Single ladies: do your deliberating now.

Why I Want A Big Wedding

I talked to my dad last night to update him on my progress with the wedding planning (hi Dad!). I wanted to let him know that i have purchased a dress and that plans are coming along nicely. He was enthusiastic and supportive, as always, but there was one thing he had to ask: why would an offbeat sort of girl like me want such a big, traditional wedding anyway?

For the most part i’m a pretty normal American girl; i graduated from public high school and a four-year university, i work my nine-to-five every weekday, i drive an SUV and i eat a largely unrestricted diet. I like shopping for clothes and watching reality TV. I’m an enthusiastic sci-fi fan so one might label me a geek, but any label like that rings more of conformity than anomaly. George Lucas would cheerfully tell you that i’m not the only one who has ever grown to love Star Wars.

Some of the things i’m most passionate about, however, are fairly unpopular and do set me somewhat apart. Indie music, atheism and the desire to remove myself from the gene pool are the big ones that come to mind, although i’d be willing to bet that those things tend to go hand-in-hand in people (i.e. there are probably proportionally a lot more atheists who don’t want babies than Christians who feel the same way). Music aside, this point of view does tend to color the whole world in a slightly different hue for me. I’m a skeptic. I question things. I take the world at face value, and for the most part i’m totally enchanted by it anyway.

So if i see things from such a different point of view, why is this whole materialistic wedding thing still so important to me? What do the gown and the flowers and the cake all have to do with my commitment to my husband-to-be?

First of all, i love my family. I have family all over the country, and a wedding is a great way to get all of them together for an evening. We don’t really do family reunions, so weddings and funerals are the way it happens. This gathering is also a way of officially welcoming Nathan into the family, because to me that’s what marriage essentially is: becoming family. Besides, i want a celebration, and what could possibly make a single day better than gathering all the people i love together to share in the joy? I’m going to need some of my dearest friends to be there, too, and Nathan will of course have his closest friends and relatives there as well. Say, about 100 people.

This necessitates food, because Nathan and i love to feed people and family gatherings are almost never without a meal of some sort. I don’t want to do the cheaper cocktail hour thing; we’re doing dinner. And drinks. And we’re gong to need a dessert, so why not a cake? While we’re at it, let’s make everything look beautiful and taste delicious so that everyone will really enjoy themselves. Food. Flowers. Music. Linens. Candles. That’s probably 75% of the cost of the whole wedding, right there.

More importantly, i’m going to be taking a vow which i want all of those people i love to witnesses. Getting married is practical in its own way, but it’s also symbolic. I’m pledging my love and loyalty to Nathan, and i’m taking it very seriously. I want people to see my sincerity – not because their observation will make me more sincere, but because each of them is a part of my life and i want them to see firsthand this terribly important moment.

And this, of course, necessitates that i wear a really fabulous dress when all of those eyes are falling on me. And my hands can’t just be empty, so i’ll need some beautiful flowers to carry. And petals to walk on, so that i’m not just shuffling across the grass. And [Science!] knows i need professional help with my hair, because i’m absolutely impaired when it comes to hairdos.

I’m a designer. I value aesthetic beauty, and i’m willing to pay other designers to create a visually – and delectably – fantastic day for us. I’m not saying i’m spending top-dollar for everything (otherwise i’d be getting married in some sort of castle, right?) and i highly doubt that “traditional” will be the word people use to describe this wedding after it happens. But to me a wedding should involve plenty of people, food, drink, flowers, candles, music, and one very flattering, stunningly beautiful white dress.

Committed

When i first heard about Elizabeth Gilbert‘s new book Committed i was instantly intrigued, despite the fact that the mere title of her enormous bestseller Eat, Pray, Love has always prevented me from having the least bit of interest in reading it. The new book was described as a sort of sequel to Eat, Pray, Love, taking up where that memoir left off: with Gilbert getting ready to marry for a second time, even though the globe-spanning travels that inspired the first book were themselves prompted by an ugly divorce. The sub-title is, “A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage.” I used to consider myself a pretty big skeptic of marriage, and the review i read also mentioned that the book included a lot of facts and history on the subject of matrimony, so i put myself on the book’s queue at the Des Moines Public Library right away. I was number 36 on the list.

Committed - Elizabeth Gilbert

I waited on that list for at least four months, and i tore through the book in a week and a half once it finally became available to me (about a week and a half ago). Although the citations of her resources are vague at best, Gilbert provides a wealth of information about marriage, so the book reads more like a non-fiction than a memoir (YES, i know memoirs are included in non-fiction, but you know what i mean). I told Nathan that if i were ever to write a book, it might be like this one; a lot of vaguely-cited facts, some probably-less-than-accurate yet educated conclusions drawn from those facts, a few not-too-detailed anecdotes, and a lot of musing.

I loved the book. I’m not a huge fan of modern-day memoirs because frankly i don’t find other people’s lives to be as interesting as they do, generally speaking. But this book is different; it’s more like looking inside Gilbert’s mind as she researches and ponders the topic of marriage and gradually finds a way of looking at it that makes her feel comfortable with getting married again. She isn’t a psychologist or an anthropologist or an expert on (or at) marriage, but she apologizes for all that and the book is what it is. One thing she is certainly good at is getting people of very interesting walks of life to talk about any given topic, and the conversations she has with people in far-away places about marriage are fascinating. She also includes a section about not having babies, and i was particularly interested in what her mommy friends had to say both for and against having children. Some were surprised by how much happiness having children brought them while others told Gilbert that it wasn’t really worth it even though they love their children dearly. And then there are the facts: that even though people think the childless will die alone and miserable, the happiness of people polled at the end of life is not dependent upon whether or not they have children. I found that fact encouraging, and i enjoyed Gilbert’s praises for “The Auntie Brigade.” There are a lot of us childless aunties out there, and we’re important.

The one thing i thought was lacking in this book was a little more intimacy. Gilbert doesn’t go into a lot of detail about her relationships, particularly the one that ended in a nasty, devastating, ugly divorce. What went wrong there, one wonders? One would think that a person who is so skeptical of marriage on account of having been the victim of divorce would analyze that failure thoroughly in her search for peace. The only concrete thing she says about it is that he wanted babies and she didn’t, and that she was twenty-five when they got married. She says that last bit as though it were explanation enough for why the marriage failed. Uh, excuse me?! You really need to clear that one up for me, Elizabeth!

The book is supposed to be a memoir, and it’s ultimately about Elizabeth Gilbert’s search for reassurance that getting married is the right thing for her to do. Personally, i was left biting my lip for her a little bit, because the conclusion she reaches is wobbly at best. She hasn’t analyzed her first marriage and deep down she seems to still hate the whole idea of marriage. It seems to me that in the end she just put a fresh coat of paint on a rotten attitude. But – that’s her problem, i suppose. Maybe this book just doesn’t quite convey the full extent of her mindset. Either way, i really enjoyed the majority of what she had to say.

I don’t think the book really changed my mind about marriage at all – i was already a cautious fan, by which i mean i don’t think marriage is for everyone but i’m pretty sure it’s for me – but it certainly made me think about a few things and informed me of some cool tidbits. Like, for instance, the fact that (statistically speaking) age 25 is the dividing line between marriages that are pretty likely to fail and those that endure. I’ll be 25 and Nathan will be 26 when we get married, so we’re sort of squeaking past that line. We’ve also got the advantages of: being of the same age, ethnicity, economic class and education level; not wanting babies; and having similar jobs. Our disadvantages are: not being strongly religious and not having a huge network of friends.

So, let’s hang out more, okay?