Friday, July 1, 2016

Vive le différence et la même chose

I bumped into a former colleague of mine at the grocery store a couple weeks back and as we were chatting I mentioned that I was getting married. “It’s going to be pretty non-traditional,” I told him. “The ceremony is going to be out in a park by the woods.” He looked dubious. “That actually sounds pretty traditional these days,” he said. “I’ll be wearing running shoes,” I added quickly. “And so will he. So will most of the guests. Except for the dogs. Dogs will be there too.” He blinked a couple of times and nodded his head, and it occurred to me that describing your wedding to someone is like describing the dream you had last night: nobody in the world cares even remotely as much as about it as you do.

I’m not sure why it was so necessary for me to tell him all that, particularly the details that were meant to show the non-traditionalness of it all. After all, the goal of our wedding wasn’t to be defiantly, flamboyantly, over-the-toppedly unique; it was to get married, and to do so in a way we and our guests would find enjoyable. As our idea of enjoyment does not generally entail getting dressed up and going to a large formal event, we decided on something more fitting: a trail run and a picnic. There isn’t anything especially original about running and picnicking—people do those things all the time; we just happened to do ours following a short legal ceremony and the signing of official documents.

Maybe it was the fact that the former colleague I chatted with exudes an air of nontraditionality himself—he strongly resembles an aging ’70s rockstar and pretty much acts accordingly despite being a tenured English professor with a specialization in 19th century American literature—that I felt I had to emphasize my rejection of conformist activities. Maybe it’s just that I’m part of a culture whose members are endlessly desperate to show how different they are from everyone else. All those TV commercials depicting quirky, rebellious, spectacularly gorgeous people asserting that you, too, could join this awesome group if you purchase said product (irony!); all those facebook memes insisting that the poster—and all who like this post—be their own selves, blaze their own trails, and march to the beat of their own kazoo (more irony!); all those people claiming “The Road Not Taken” as their own personal anthem, never mind that the poem is far more complex—and possibly far less flattering—than you might imagine (so much irony my head’s about to explode!). 

It has got to be exhausting pushing so hard to prove your rejection of sameness, but it’s not nearly as exhausting as having to witness the push on an everyday basis as anyone who is the least bit connected to the world must do. You know about Tiny Houses? See, if you’re “different from everybody else” and you’d rather spend your money on “experiences” instead of “material objects” like everybody else does, then you get a Tiny House. It will be smaller than most walk-in closets but it will have granite countertops and a clawfoot tub. You will be on a TV show that lauds your classiness as well as your free-spiritedness. If you’re poor, you get a trailer. If you’re on a TV show at all, it will be one that makes fun of your accent, your penchant for pork rinds, and the names you chose for your children. Iron makes you strong; irony makes you tired.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the truly unique people of the world are for the most part unsuitable for depiction in TV ads and shows—in fact, they’re probably not people most of us would find at all likable, much less worthy of emulation. What’s more, it’s a privilege to be able to choose uniqueness. I remained unmarried throughout my 20s, 30s, and most of my 40s by choice, which makes me very different from much of the world indeed, yet I was able to do that in part because I had good financial stability and zero maternal instincts. Historically women haven’t always been able to possess the former or admit the latter, but I came of age in a time and place where the gains of feminism have been such that women are starting to think we no longer need feminism. (Get real. We do.) All of this suggests that my “radical” lifestyle and my “nontraditional” wedding are less tributes to my coolness and noncomformity (since those two things tend to be equated, for no logical reason) and more simply something I was lucky enough to experience.

Indeed, I am lucky. After a crazy-quick ceremony (I’d estimated 3 minutes when wrote the script; it ended up being maybe 2 tops), we and our friends took to the trails on a blue-skied, blazing-sunned day. It was hot; I had a hard time keeping up with the rest of the runners, and the husband was a little worried about our dog, whom he let off leash and who promptly disappeared into the trees. There was no need for concern; the dog made it back to the trailhead on her own just fine, and as for me, the husband carried me across-the-threshold-style the last 50 yards of the run. Yes, I realize that this ritual harkens back to a sick, violent time when grooms basically stole their brides from a rival family and so carried them into their new home because they weren’t going in willingly, but come on, you got to admit it’s pretty freakin’ cute. After that we ate barbecue on the lawn while the husband’s daughters regaled us with Aerosmith’s “Dream On”; I got to sing back-up on the chorus. OK, so I chickened out and didn’t go for the high notes, but still, tell me that’s not a perfect day.

And if the idea of a trail-running wedding still seems strange to you, consider that we went to the Grand Canyon as part of our honeymoon. A lot of people have been to the Grand Canyon; this may be one of the least original travel ideas in America, but because I had never been, and I had never heard anyone who had been say anything but “it’s totally worth it,” two days after the wedding we packed up our stuff and headed to the southwest. I suppose if I’d wanted to be original, I’d have picked Madagascar or the Galapagos or Antarctica—it’s winter there, you know, and the cool-and-nonconformist points for that would be astronomical—but I didn’t want to be original; I wanted to see some pretty scenery. That said, we chose the North Rim instead of the far more popular South Rim, and while this meant a very long day of driving it also meant the availability of parking spaces and picnic tables and the ability to walk right up to a railing before a vista and go holy wow without having waited an hour to get there. We also eschewed much-raved-about Zion and Bryce for Canyonlands, which might be one of the least visited National Parks ever and easily the only one of the four NPs we went to where I genuinely felt like I’d left civilization—possibly even left the planet. The quiet was almost as stunning as the view. On every hike we did, we saw more lizards than people (and given that it was scorching hot, even the lizards mostly stayed hidden). Sometimes being “different” is really just being a cranky curmudgeon who hates standing in lines. Moreover, it was all quite magnificent—just as everyone says it is—so sometimes doing what everyone else does ends up being a really good time.

I won’t say that I’m never concerned about proving my originality; obviously there are times, as in that exchange at the grocery store, when for whatever reason it becomes important for me to do things not just differently but deliberately differently—that is, to make sure my defiance of conventions is flaunted far and wide. At the same time, I suppose I’ve come to a point where I make my choices based on a whole lot of other criteria besides whether everyone else is doing it and whether that means I should definitely do the same or loudly announce my rejection thereof. After all, I got married in large part because I wanted to share the same experiences with someone else, and most of those experiences likely will matter only to us, so it’s rather beside the point whether they make us worthy of other people’s admiration at our uniqueness. That said, we were the only people in the RV park in an old moving truck the husband is converting into a camper, and I’m almost certain ours were the only two parrots in said park. Even if the camper lacks granite countertops, it’s worth at least a couple of uniqueness points, wouldn’t you say?