Note: upon initial return from a wonderful trip that included both wedding and honeymoon, my mind was swimming with thoughts of both extreme love & gratitude and relentless albeit minor regrets and it occurred to me that perhaps the best way of putting calm into the equation was to just write - write it all out - and let those who choose to read it into my chaotic psyche. However, I am acutely aware that since then, with the posting of photos and other various communication, it is very possible I am verging on a dreaded overkill of the subject of our wedding. I post this anyway, wanting to be clear that I understand that some of you may never want to hear the words ‘Jen and Martin’s N’awlins Nuptials’ again. And I don't blame you one damn bit.
Well over a year ago now, my now-betrothed Martin and I ventured forward on a crazy whim of planning a wedding in a city we’d never been to but had always wanted to visit. We were in the midst of our latest HBO obsession, this time with Treme - a show about the historic New Orlean’s neighbourhood largely inhabited by artists and musicians, post-Katrina, that had us riled up to move forward on a visit. We’d get emotional from time to time, watching the scenes of frenetic musicianship shot so beautifully, so real. In the middle of one Sunday evening viewing, I threw out the idea of tying the knot there and after connecting with a party planner through a friend of a friend of a very dear friend originally from the south, the ball was rolling and there seemed to be no turning back.
I found the year of planning the various details to be very consuming. It was ominous: a major life event organized remotely; discussed over emails and a few phone calls. Devra, said party planner, was born and raised in the Crescent City, and had recently returned to her hometown after 20+ years in Manhattan. She was instantly a kindred spirit and her enthusiasm for the city and its culture and ability to give visitors a once-in-a-lifetime experience had us sure we’d made the right decision. She was comforting and helpful, always. But being a true Gemini, I yinged and yanged between wanting to strategize every moment down to the dots on the i’s & the crosses of the t’s, and wanting to relinquish my neurosis and all the details to the universe, which in those peaceful moments I felt sure would provide. I also struggled with the idea that this had to be THAT major of a life event - it was just one day, one party, after all. I didn’t want to worry about matching colors or cake toppers. I fancied myself the anti-bride - footloose and fancy-free, striving to create an atmosphere of light and love on a budget, knowing it all was a privilege, that the stress and worries were nothing more than “champaign problems”.
It turned out the destination-wedding-planning secret sauce was a balanced blend of both being an anal-retentive nutbar who woke up at all hours of the night thinking about invitation fonts and wedding website content AND a loose-y goose-y nutbar who painfully procrastinated the focus on major marital elements, electing instead to design and sell t-shirts based on our Music Is Love theme, or to delve further into projects at work than I might have normally. As RSVPs slowly trickled in, I couldn’t shake an immense feeling of responsibility for those committing to the journey south. Could they really afford this trip right now...could anyone? Are they coming because they feel obligated or because they had also long awaited a trip to the Big Easy and we were opening up an opportunity for which they could do so? Would it all be worth it for them, in the end? Never really shaking these underlying nagging thoughts, bit by bit, in baby steps, Martin and I chipped away at an event we hoped would be worthy of the effort and attendance of our guests. As venues became confirmed, menus selected, bands booked and airline tickets purchased, we found ourselves more frequently anticipating the celebration with child-like excitement instead of panic... Oh, but then returning to the notion that this was just. one. day. in... our entire collective lives! - why all the fuss? Then returning to butterflies! The daydreams of sweet jazz sounds hovering over the heads of people we loved, they with their dancing shoes and bright smiles on! Then back to pure, sweat-inducing panic! You see where this is going: my true Gemini dichotomy on overdrive.
Anyway, September came, as it was bound to do: one month away, much to our disbelief. And with that month came the sort of events that make the whole thing really real. Really. The bridal shower: an exquisitely executed tea party at which elaborate hats were donned while those closest to me helped to coordinate the most wonderful surprise of a lifetime: the presence of my mom, all the way from Nova Scotia! The stagette: a full day of deliberately-Jen events leading to a flapper-themed boat cruise of the Georgia Straight on a breathtaking evening with an army of gorgeous and brilliant women, and ending in a dance party that saw the sun rise, complete with the projection of silent black and white movies to the sounds of spinning vinyl! For Martin, his brothas travelled all the way up the Coquihalla for a wilderness weekend that was also deliberately-him and after which his stomach hurt from the epic, endless laughs. All of this, for us!, and at an expense and with such beautiful thoughtfulness that again riddled me with both guilt AND gratitude. To say it was lovingly overwhelming is much more than an understatement.
Said army of gorgeous and brilliant women, flapper-ed all up and blowing my mind!
Finally, it was time to board a plane and GO! After an epic last-minute crafting and packing marathon, we felt ready and surprisingly accomplished. Programs-in-the-form-of-fans: check! Table-name signs: check! Passports and itinerary: check! An early morning YVR drop-off by my bestie, and we’re off! Devra picked us up at MSY in stunning Louisiana-hospitality fashion: a big gift basket full of beads and Saints gear, books on where to eat and what to do, pork cracklings and pralines, and popped a bottle of champaign in the airport parking lot. With paper cups of bubbly in hand, she toured us around a warm New Orleans evening, pointing out old family homes and regaling us with excellent stories of past people and parties and so on. It felt, for me, like a non-sensical homecoming of sorts. As we neared the French Quarter, the bubbly doing its job well, I felt utterly at peace with this destination. To be there was, in one word: kick-ass.
That was Tuesday, and the following days leading up to Saturday’s affair were indeed filled with Music Is Love inspired moments - dance floors full of friends and family who were honoring New Orleans in the finest fashion. Every instance of seeing the face of one of our guests for the first time on Louisiana soil was epic for me, dream-like. The evenings were spent skipping in and out of Frenchman Street or Bywater district establishments, seeing faces we’d watched on Treme on stage in front of us, our jaws dropping and our hips swaying with the magic of it all. We’d been told this would be the case, but to live it with a congregation of loved ones was beyond anything I can find words for.
These late NOLA nights led to less than robust mornings and afternoons. My fierce intention to balance the hopes of a wanting tourist with the duties of a host and other wedding-planning logistics started to fray the smug feeling of preparedness I’d left Vancouver with and the peacefulness that had washed over me on the first evening there. My mind consistently wandered back to the nagging few to-do items remaining - and an over-achieving voice inside became loudly accusatory that nothing we’d done was good enough. This sounds so awful. But I include this, mostly for the people who were there to know that their generous offers to help, their calming words, their hugs and expressions of joy, about where they were and why, were all at once greatly appreciated yet in direct competition with an overwhelming fixation. It was challenging, yet somehow oddly exhilarating.
I won’t pretend otherwise: for many of the years leading up to our engagement, and for the 2 years following it, I had very vivid fantasies about how the big day would go. I would be 20 pounds lighter. I’d have a perfect summer glow. In a peaceful dressing room, I would look my dear mom, sisters and every one of the precious women closest to me in the eye and describe to them the significant piece of real estate they held in my heart. Nearing the rows of guests, I’d hold my dad’s hand and he would cry and then I would. I’d look down each row and smile serenely in the direction of every beautiful soul present. I’d then turn my big ol’ love gaze straight on to Martin, my man, and I wouldn’t break it until that damn knot was tied. As friends who are like family to us gorgeously played a re-worked version of the beautiful Neil Young song, Journey Through the Past, and delivered readings of powerful, poignant words, and then bore witness to it all, I'd hold back tears that represented a monsoon of gratitude for their friendship. You see, I wanted nothing more than to be a vision of grace and attentiveness, calm and present.
In reality, the non-Hollywood version of the moments leading up to the ceremony saw none of those daydreams realized, at least not how I’d expected! It was the hottest day we’d seen so far in N’awlins, and my face was slowly melting. I was snappy, not gentle. I had tan lines. I looked exhausted. In a haze of heat and nervousness, I floated above my body, I think, and instead of loving, direct glances, I rocked a dear-in-the-headlights expression throughout an unusual and comical ceremony.
There. In the interest of authenticity and full disclosure, I’ve shared with you, poor reader, what I’d imagined and hoped, even though it embarrasses me. Up there, last paragraph, damn right, I said it: the nitty-gritty of how it really was. The “anti-bride” envisioned perfection and didn’t get it. How very ironic!
I now suspend chronology to share with you some key words of two wise women to contextualize what truly happens at this point, when it wasn’t just as you had pictured, when your nerves and your anal retentiveness dominate. Rewind just short of 24 hours: the night-before mingler at a funky restaurant in the Bywater called Elizabeth’s. People were meeting or seeing each other for the first time, our first official event, and I suspect that deer-in-headlights visage had already begun at this point. Having not yet had a proper sit-down about photography expectations, Martin and I found a few quiet moments away from the party with the brilliant husband and wife team we were lucky to have there, capturing it all. I’d already apologized about how scattered I was, and their next words really, really resonated. First, Riley described how they’d had to sedate themselves the morning of their wedding! Instant calming effect - we were not the only ones confused with the power of these distracting feelings, nor the only ones considering self-medicating! Then Meghan said, “Wait. The moment the ceremony ends, and you’re pronounced husband and wife, it’s like this bubble just pops.” I didn’t even have to ask, ‘What bubble?’ - Oh, I knew! Let’s return back to the face-melting, hazy ceremony and there it was! BURST. At this moment, layers upon layers of the kind of anxiety that breeds control-freakiness, dots on i’s, crosses on t’s, snapping at innocents just trying to help: they cracked wide open, fell apart from each other, and I spent the next several hours shaking them off of me! (No, it wasn’t instantaneous - THAT would’ve been too easy. But it happened. Just as Meghan said it would. Sigh.)
The bubble bursting.
Riley Smith Photographer
Now, rewind about 11 months. Out for dinner, answering wedding planning questions from friends, I was expressing the need I felt to find a venue that would be special, would honor the expense people had incurred to go all that way. Martin had wanted to find some grungy establishment with a blues band, and, well, so did I! But there was no way in hell I’d have survived the stress of knowing what it took for everyone to be there only for them to end up in a dive bar...I knew they’d find that on their own time, anyway, no doubt. (And didn’t we, though?!) In an attempt to mitigate my groaning that we could never actually afford what was suitable, my friend Anna said this and I’ll never forget it: “Jen. Some people get married in old, florescent-lit halls with fold up tables, and they have the. best. time. EVER. Regardless of the surroundings, the spirit of a wedding is like nothing else - it carries the whole thing.” And maybe I’m naive; while not wanting to diminish how absolutely lucky we were to be able to unite in such a perfectly dream-like environment as the French Quarter, I think we could have whisked that parade of celebration to anywhere on earth and it would have filled my soul up in the same way it did then and there. Don’t get me wrong: it was very New Orleans and the vibe, the aesthetic, the sounds, the people - they’re all incomparable and highly special. But OUR people, our guests, our champions - they showed UP. I mean they. SHOWED. UP! They were melting in the heat too, they must have been!, but they reveled like all-stars! They shuffled, they waved hankies, they got down! They hooted, they hollered, they hugged us and loved us. Those words about that spirit - they couldn’t have been more true! Even some of the most cynical people we know seemed to get into it, the spirit. With the inspired sounds of the Paulin Brothers filling the air, leading us to food and drinks and dancing, Marty and I gripped each other’s hands and were able to quietly hear each other feel relief and pure perfect happiness in the midst of the noise and chaos. Those were, by a country mile, the greatest moments of my life, and I believe his too.
The Paulin Brothers, leading our way
Riley Smith Photographer
We made it to the dinner and dancing venue - a place right in the French Market, on the banks of the Mississippi River, brilliantly found by Devra for the right price. The room looked incredible, she had done an absolutely amazing job with a tight budget - it was actually beyond anything I could have imagined, given that I hadn’t wanted to obsess over place settings but still wanted the space to be warm and inviting and conducive to fun-loving. I mentioned that the bubble popping debris took a few hours to completely shake away, and it’s true, but not without the generous help of the cream of the crop: the button on my dress fell off, and a few angels fixed that; there didn’t seem to me to be enough food - my all-time absolute worst nightmare in ANY soiree situation - and Devra fixed that and all other small issues that arose with the venue. And it was then, surrounded by the greatest people on earth, I remembered - these were indeed champaign problems. What really mattered was playing out all around me, and finally I was present in it. I was married to my beloved, the kindest, greatest friend I’ve ever known! People who love us and who make our lives so much better were all around us, and those who weren’t sent indication that they were thinking of us from afar. We had food to eat, homes to return to, blessings abounding. The signs of tiredness around my eyes were remnants of recent nights filled with some of the most fun I’d ever had! The little things then were properly in perspective. Over dinner, thoughtfully crafted speeches filled our eyes and our hearts. Every one of them heard there that night came from such beautiful places through beautiful mouths (with the added bonus of speeches that didn’t get to be formally delivered that night, but were later with equally brimming effect). Our parents and siblings said things that we will carry with us forever. For me in particular, the mere memory of my dad opening the words from he and my mom with, 'For us, it's not the parents who make the children...' still wells me up. Astoundingly heartwarming offerings in lieu of conventional speeches blew our minds: the preparation of an audio piece about the story of Jen and Martin, ordered up by two of our dearest friends, produced by an old friend of theirs who works for the CBC (and if you know me, you know just how thrilling that is to me!) who'd interviewed us separately months before, as we each nervously sipped libations and speculated on the end result (click here to listen, I cry every time!), as well as the stunning delivery by another dear friend of a poem, commissioned for the occasion by a poet for hire on Frenchman Street just days before (click here to read, I cry every time!). Old shoulders to lean on, Old trees to stand under, Old jokes to tell. Oh my god. EVERY time.
It was then our turn to face everyone and say something other than our vows, and miraculously for the first time in my entire, disastrous public speaking career, I was able to say something with solid certainty, and without a shaky-voice-to-the-extreme, (while stealing partially from a friend’s speech from a few years back): that after ten years together, it is true that maybe we hadn’t needed to do all that planning or go through all the formalities - after all, we’d known we’d found our soul mates and had been perfectly happy in that knowing for some time without a certificate confirming it (with moments, of course - as I confessed above, I have not been entirely immune to daydreams and fantasy). But, the opportunity to celebrate with every one of those people who have shaped our lives up until that moment, and hopefully for many more, is one we would never, ever, ever take for granted. I said, and meant, that we will, with all our hearts, appreciate the memories from that day, that trip, that congregation forever. And ever.
Okay, enough. I’ll try to wrap up this gross verbosity now.
With cups and bellies full, chairs were kicked aside for a growing dance floor. People picked up and spun around. Heels off, hair up. Hugs. Laughs. Horns. Mighty pipes. Wigs donned, beads wrapped, hearts and cameras snapping it all up for eternity. THIS. This is what mattered. At one point, I thought my heart might burst.
We finished up our time in New Orleans with intoxicated relief. Go Saints! Who Dat! We toured cemeteries, learned, shed more tears in the Ninth Ward. We were emotional in the cab to the airport. Without a doubt, we will return to the Big Easy some day. Martin will try to keep me in check as I entertain dreams of owning a home there, spending winters. It certainly won’t be the same without that same wedding-going crew in tow. Hell, it won’t be the same now that that crew came and went! But it will call our names until we return. It is now a part of us.
Lovely friends put up a dollar bill in our honour at the Apple Barrel - a Frenchman Street joint whose patrons say if you post one, you must return within one year to make sure it's still there. Sweet.
Bookend note: now, I’m acutely aware that this is no longer a blog post. It’s a self-serving short novel essay expelling a crazy-surplus from my brain, and if you’ve made it this far, you’re a trooper. It clues the few people left who don’t know (if they even exist) into just how coo-coo I am! And is at times painfully corny. I started and stopped about a thousand times, but needed to just DO IT! and put out there for cathartic reasons - having not realized until it was all over how greatly the anticipation of it all had all defined my reality, or me, even, for a year and a half. I am allowing myself to make it public as it is the one time in my life I may ever be given this corny, coo-coo free pass! Should I attempt future blogging, it will be with a sincere intention of increased conciseness and modesty. The end.