Living · Reading · Writing

The Wedding Vow is a Performative Speech Act

In the category of Wonderful Things I Never Thought I’d Do, I officiated at a wedding.

It was on Halloween, or Samhain, or Dia de Los Muertos, or Midterms, depending on your denomination. And it was an utter delight. This is good news, as it was quite stressful for me in the months working up to it. Contrary to popular belief, the ability to stand before a room full of undergrads and talk about how we read myths judiciously is not the same as the ability to enunciate clearly the knitting together of two souls before the people who care about them most in the world.

But I did it. And I am grateful for the honor. And I had such a lovely, lovely time, that of course, I have to write about it.

I was terribly, terribly nervous.

I was enchanted by the ritual of the thing. This couple—former English majors and alumni from my school—wanted some literary reading, a Welsh handfasting, and “whatever medieval badassery” I could come up with.  Hours of careful internet and bookish research convinced me that the formula was easy, but it was all about the details. Such is life.

You need a greeting and a general spiel about marriage and/or love. I got to say my version of “Dearly beloved” and mention that this couple met in a literature class, and that went some way to explaining why I was there, and why I was deploying William Butler Yeats instead of Ecclesiastes.

You need a reading—from a spiritual text typically, but in this case, I read Yeats’s “The White Birds,” and the bride’s uncle read the description of love from Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. (I hadn’t read that before, and holy wow, is it beautiful.)

You need some rings, and some vows to accompany the exchange. (I may have made a cheap Lord of the Rings joke. I hope no one filmed. It was shameless.) And you need some promises you know you can keep. In this iteration, the vows were punctuated by the mothers of the couple binding their hands with  a sash, and when they had spoken their vows, they could literally tie the knot. That was very satisfying.

And then they smooched. That’s important too. It’s all important.

The vows are important; the words are important. The wedding vow is one of very few “performative speech acts” left to us in a literate society. As Westley notes in The Princess Bride, “If you didn’t say it, you didn’t do it.” But the march is also important. The recession of the wedding party, followed by the crowd. The first dance. The toasts. The cake. These are all formalities, all weighty, and all observed with remarkable consistency even at a wedding as funky and cool as a masquerade on Halloween.

Human life is formulaic. Our rituals are too. If we’re honest, our arts are too—music, literature, even visual arts. We bear according to pattern in so many things, from the genes we pass on to our children to our “regular” dishes at our favorite restaurants.

And that’s just fine. Because we find ways to make each step our own, while sharing enough structure to create bonds with others. Now this couple has their wedding story to share. It is uniquely their own, with all the goofy, delightful specifics and also its shared participation in a tradition. And in that lovely way that events turn in to stories, and stories belong to all who live and tell them, I now have a new story too.  

Reading

Beginning Bibliotherapy

Confession:  Last week was horrible.
I don’t really have the energy to blog.  But I thought maybe I could share some books that cheer me up.  You know, a top ten list of my Bibliotherapy favorites?  Here’s what I’ve got.
1. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.  Kids’ books count, y’all, and this one is an absolute delight. Part allegory, part quest, part punster’s dream, this book never fails to make me laugh.  I found it as an adult, actually, reading it to my kids.  But now I recommend it to everyone I can. Like you!  Enjoy.
2. Julio Cortázar’s Blow-Up and Other Stories.  Even though some of these have a dark edge to them, many of them are so surreal that I find myself able to dissociate their tragedy from mine, which is a step to looking more clinically at my own problems and sorting them out.  I particularly recommend “Axolotl,” “The Night Face-Up,” and “Letter to a Young Lady from Paris.”  You won’t regret it.
3. Fairy Tales.  Most will do, but here I’ll recommend a lovely collection of Baba Yaga tales; nothing makes you feel back on your game like overcoming a witch, over and over again.  Baba Yaga: The Wild Witch of the East in Russian Fairy Tales translated by Sibelan Forrester.
4. Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.  These are searing, beautifully written letters, that I discovered in college when I needed them most.  I still return to them, and they never fail to soothe.
5. Poetry by John Keats or W.B Yeats.  Not just because their names visually rhyme.  Because their speak of beauty like a friend, and to read them is to feel connected to that transcendence.
Ok.  5, not 10.  But it’s a start.  Spenser only wrote half of the Faerie Queene too.
But what would you add?  Do you have a book you recommend to make people feel better? Bibliotherapy is becoming a thing, you know, and we need to be ready with our prescriptions.