When I typed the title of this post, I had to reconsider. Really? Marriage and aesthetic unity? What I mean by aesthetic unity as in what emerges from a strong work of art or a successful theatre production, an attribute of a production’s ruling idea, metaphor, or concept, so that all the choices being made in the various aspects of design, directing, and acting are informed by that ruling idea, metaphor, or concept. (Okay, some people will argue aesthetic unity is passe, certainly not a post-modern value, but I still think it holds…anyway…that’s another post.)
What does aesthetic unity have to do with marriage?
I’ve been married 31 years today. It’s been a wonderful ride, with ups and downs, triumphs and failures, all the variety of feeling and action that you’d expect from a long journey together. Achievements and set-backs, depressions and ecstasies, kids coming and going, families growing and changing and hearts breaking all over the place for reasons best kept private. Moving forward day by day, first Year One, then it stretches into Years Three to Five, facing choices about what it will mean to be us, our togetherness, our love-making, our fighting, and yes, our economics, our possessions–houses and cars and the stuff that hangs on the walls. There’s cooking and travel and parents, and it moves to Years Seven and Nine, the kids arriving just after Dad’s death, and it’s great, mournful, amazing, fun, expensive, and wistful. Then come Years Thirteen, Fourteen, Fifteen, and everyone’s hanging on for dear life because sometimes dear life has to be hung on to in the face of aching, doubt, temptation, more expense, melt-down, and rebuilding. Then more openings and closing of days and weeks, and the Years get to Twenty, then Twenty-Five, and more death stops by, and costs spiral (economic and emotional) and new work shows up, work you hadn’t planned on, and you get to it, all the while watching marriages around you dropping like flies. And then there’s the culture, the moral shifts, the battles in culture that send all your sensibilities reeling as you try and figure out along with the rest of the world what’s true, what’s good, and what’s real, especially about you and the person you’ve been waking up next to for all these years. One thing you know, as all these scenes play out, the ruling metaphors are simple: God, faithfulness, oneness, loyalty, kindness. The shared hand, the look across the pillow, the embrace at the window as the child flies away, the continuing interest in that ever-changing, never-changing face across the corner table in the bar. Commitment, muscles bound together, the ongoing wedding of hope, cynicism, inquiry, faith, questioning, tears, and the simple shared ease of a long, red sunset.
And after 31 years, you think, is it possible that this production is still open, still running, still thriving, still finding the newness of moments, still finding the kind of meaning that holds the world together?
In the middle of all this, you have to know that our aesthetic sensibilities have places of intersection for sure, but by and large, Anjie and I are pretty different. Different enough to make the “opposites attract” idea pretty applicable. Different “tastes”, you might say; I like foreign films and slower, more atmospheric works, and she’s an action girl who likes music with a strong beat. I enjoy jazz and classic rock; she likes country western (though not as much as she used to.) Our relationship to foods and other sensual realities differs as well, but I think what we’ve learned over the years that an emphasis on the common ground can help guide creative choices much the way ruling metaphors or concepts can guide individual choices in a production. Early production meetings (cups of coffee at JoJo’s in Austin, Texas, later Starbucks and the kitchen table) focused on common commitments to God, to kindness, to being for each other, to learning, to admitting to fault when we screwed up, and to actually verbalizing those classic words, “I’m sorry”, “I forgive you”, and “I love you” as often as needed, which is pretty much every day. Humility, warmth, trying as best we can to move in “grace and peace” which has emerged more and more in mind as the thing I wanted all along from life, from family, from that great production called my marriage.
Finally, the idea is that if you look at any one moment of the marriage (or the production), it may not feel like a unified piece of the whole. Sometimes ruling ideas fray, and you lose sight of them, and you veer off into territory that just doesn’t make any sense but you can’t go back, you have to invent on the fly, and hopefully find your back into the center of things. Happens all the time in creative work. Sometimes you think the piece you’re working on isn’t worth pursuing anymore. But then you hang on, and hang on, and finally, days come when you can back up and understand something of how the ruling metaphor or concept was present even when you thought the whole thing was tanking.
Well, it’s pretty clear at this moment in our production that it’s not tanking. Will it rise to the heights of great art, soaring as thrilled audiences are moved to weep and laugh, inspired to go out and take life on one more time? Frankly, that’s not what we’re after. We’re after more of a quiet poem of a life, a corner spot where a few folks can contemplate what love might look like if they decide to give it a shot.
Anyway, I’m not sure my metaphor works, but all I was trying to say is this: you can enjoy a work of art in all it’s parts and/or as a long, beautiful whole. Marriage is much like that. Don’t miss the moments, sculpt them as best you can, holding the ruling idea in mind, body, and heart. And don’t forget to look over the long arc of it all, and enjoy it’s fullness as a whole work. It’s especially helpful to do that when the moments aren’t working as well as you’d like. Sometimes you just forget your lines and stand there until you remember them.
Okay, enough. You get the picture. I’m still in the middle of the production, and my cues take me away from here just now.
The show must go on…loving it. Planning on running for at least another 30 years….
6 Replies to “Marriage and Aesthetic Unity”
Nicely put bro. Congratulations on 31!! I’ve often (lately) taken heart that even in the midst of so many marriages falling around us, as you say, that I’m also surrounded by so many couples who make it all work and celebrate the big numbers (we got to 32 at the end of March)
We, and couples like you, will be among the relative few to celebrate 50 years of marriage in this age. Weird, huh?
Sigh … Thank you Jeff, again. And congrats. Approaching 6, looking forward to 36.
Recommend reading Mikhail Bakhtin. He will bring some unity to your thoughts here. Specifically “Toward Philosophy of the Act and “Art and Answerability”
Recommend reading Mikhail Bakhtin, specifically “Toward a Philosophy of the Act” and “Art and Answerability.”
Hey Jeff, my first time here. Linked from Mike Cope’s plug on FB.
Great post. since my wife and I celebrate #31 next month, I could relate to everything you wrote. Kid’s coming and going, at this point, mostly going (college, graduate school, and marriage). Tough transition, but the way it is supposed to be, and we are enjoying the new phase. Always adding new lines to the “poem of life.”
It is certainly an adventure with a co-author who impacts each chapter of life. Congrats on 31!