Friday, December 26, 2014


Well, that's it.  I've been engaged for eight months.  We have a wedding venue and date, a caterer and a photographer and a deejay and invitations.  We booked a honeymoon and a hair salon.  The wedding dress has arrived and it is the correct style, color, and size.  The wedding is in five months, and we are all finished planning it.

Ha ha ha.  That's a joke, of course, as you well know if you have ever yourself planned a wedding.  Of course we aren't finished planning.  Yes, we have all the major elements in place, without any major hiccups or newly-raised concerns.  But it turns out a wedding is a Mandelbrot event of infinite complexity, full of tiny niggling details that upon consideration turn out to be vast universes of decisions and errands and things to do and arrange and plan, and each of those things is its own universe of subthings that open out into their own subsubuniverse of insane recursive never-ending wedding craziness. 

Take, for example, the ketubah.  This is the Jewish wedding contract, and up until very recently it has itself been a subcategory of the "ceremony" component of the wedding.  But the ketubah does need to be ordered - in my case, from a relative who makes very lovely ones for a living - which entails a lot of back and forth about languages (English? Hebrew? Aramaic?) and wording (traditional or egalitarian?) and the spelling of Hebrew names.  And then it needs to be shipped, and we need to make sure that on the day there is a place the principals can go for the signing of it as well as an appropriate pen handy.  And after we sign it, the ketubah will need to be put in some sort of frame or case - something transparent and waterproof and hopefully sturdy - to be brought outside for the ceremony, and after the ceremony the officiant - who is also a friend of my parents' and therefore a guest at the reception - will have to make sure my parents or my fiance and I get ahold of it and put it somewhere safe.  So, that's a few things (about five things, give or take), none of them huge - but that's a few things for the one tiny element of the ketubah.  There are also a few things for the chuppah, and a few things for the glass (or the light bulb? a glass for each of us? a glass for him and a bulb for me? in cloth bags to prevent mess? should we keep the shards for a mezuzah?) traditionally broken to signify the bittersweetness of life, and a few things for the programs, and a few things for the vows (okay, one thing for the vows so far, which is that we need to write them)... and all of this is still just the stuff for the ceremony which is only half an hour out of about 24 hours of stuff.

My initial methodology of coping with the complexity was - okay, well, my initial methodology was blissful ignorance, combined with the firm belief that, as I am a straightforward, rational and down-to-earth person and my fiance is likewise, our wedding would be a simple affair that would require little planning and induce no stress.  I was a freaking idiot.

After I stopped being an idiot (or so much of an idiot, anyway), my initial methodology was to flatten task hierarchies.  I did this by combining several major published to-do lists from wedding websites and books and magazines into one vast calendar, on which - at the appropriate day, according to the lists - I would specify all the tasks.  This led to three issues:
1) Some tasks were specified more than once, if they were included in two different time slots in different calendars.  Not a big deal; I'd simply start dealing with the task the first time it came up and, if it wasn't yet finished, redouble my efforts each time it appeared on the master calendar.  More appearances = more important.
2) Some of the tasks were not fully expanded.  Like, "plan ceremony" might be a single item on one calendar, and on another it might be broken into "write vows" and "find an officiant" and "rent or build a chuppah if necessary" and on another it might be omitted entirely (on the grounds, presumably, that getting married is a trivial component of the modern wedding).  But, okay, I could deal with that too.  When a task came up in the calendar, I would expand it myself and place its subtasks at the correct date, and if I didn't know the subtasks, the first subtask would be research.
3) Some of the calendar dates became a bit... crowded.  Like, six months in advance of one's wedding is apparently a Very Important Milestone and there are a lot of tasks associated with it.  Of course, none of them have to be done on the exact date, so when the time gets closer I can just reallocate most of those tasks to other dates, right?
4) Which brings us to the final issue, not a member of the original tally because I had to be informed of it by my (brave, patient, long-suffering) fiance: my calendar was turning me into a crazy person.  There were just so many things on it, and yet somehow those things were not all the things, and every week a new wedding-related task appeared in my (metaphorical) inbox, and if I ignored it I'd just have two the next week, and what if by the time I went to buy the miniature buckets for the centerpieces they were sold out and it was too late to order more and everything would be ruined forever.

What was that I said about being a rational and down-to-earth person?

My second methodology for dealing, as proposed by my fiance - who is, remember, patient and brave, and who is accepting this entire wedding (distinct from the marriage) in large part as a favor to me - was to simply not do anything I found inconvenient, overwhelming, or too much work.  The idea was meant to be that if something was really important I wouldn't find it too much work, or someone else - e.g. our parents - would be inspired to do it, and if nobody felt like doing it then maybe it didn't need to get done.  Of course this sounded to me like a bad excuse for not doing homework and lasted all of about ten minutes, because the stress of even thinking about blatantly ignoring items on my to-do list was so much greater than the stress of doing them.

The third methodology was to power through my tasks in a rational way: each day I would assign myself one task, a small one if it was a weekday, a large one if it was a weekend.  Then, on each day, I would do the task.  Simple, right?  If the task could not be completed due to factors out of my control, I would double up the following day.  I would not allow myself to procrastinate or linger too long on any task; the sheer force of my to-do list would propel me through them.

I have to admit, this was a pretty good methodology.  I got a lot done over the course of the fall mostly according to this method, although there were still occasional meltdowns and rather frequently all of a week's tasks were piled up on the Sunday evening.  There's something to be said about limiting the amount of time you allow yourself to stew over the perfect beach-themed favor that is neither expensive nor visibly cheap, that is appropriate for all ages, that isn't breakable and won't clutter people's homes.  (The answer, of course, is that no such favor exists.  Fortunately, chocolate does exist, and while not beach-themed, it is very pleasant to consume while sitting on the beach.)  The primary problems with this methodology over the long term are:
1) Maintenance.  It is hard to do a wedding thing every day.  Some weeks it is hard to do any wedding thing at all.  It turns out that I have a whole other life that is not about getting married.
2) Task size.  Some tasks - such as finding a salon - can be done over a period of a couple of days by a determined person.  Others - such as selecting favors - require simply choosing between twenty million equally acceptable options for a trivial component of the event.  But a few tasks are large enough that they require more time and energy than can be devoted to them in one day or even one week.  In our case, the first dance is one of those.  We were able, after only a modest amount of haggling, to select a song, but it turns out the we (he) also need to learn how to dance to it (or at all).  So we are taking dance lessons.  Which is fun, actually, and maybe now I will have a husband who knows how to dance, but it is a thing that cannot be crossed off the list, and it is now generating its own tasklets (e.g. we have to arrange lessons, attend lessons, and practice).
3) Scalability.  Doing one task a day works - in the sense that, if I devote all spare time to wedding planning, I remain on schedule - at the six month mark.  But what about at the three month mark?  The one month mark?  The one week mark?  The task lists at those time scales are enormous; there is more like one task for every hour, and I wasn't actually planning to take a month off work to get married.

This has caused me to adjust the third methodology by adding to it a fourth: periodic controlled burns.  Every few weeks I go through the tasks on the wedding calendar and delete anything that I have miraculously done ahead of schedule (like, we already booked a cake bakery! yay!), we definitely won't need (no attendants means no need to select bridesmaids' dresses) or that clearly aren't going to happen.  As time passes, I think this last item - injecting reality into the process ahead of schedule - will be increasingly important.  If two weeks ahead of the wedding I look at my to-do list for the day and see that I am meant to write an individual hand-written note to every out-of-town guest welcoming them to the wedding, I will probably sigh, grumble, become immensely stressed out, and then do it.  But if I see that now, maybe I can deploy some of my remaining molecules of sanity to delete it before I become even more crazy.

Yes, I am pretty sure it's possible to become even more crazy.  Check back in a couple months for confirmation.

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