Back to the Coffee Shop

by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

Good friends that you are, I’m trusting that you are willing to listen for one more rant.  Same subject.

Trying to arrive at a balance between wise conserving of the past and brave exploring of new ways has been the task of many generations, depending on how much the culture constricts or encourages its young to try out their creative imaginations.  As mentioned last week, being launched into adult life in the sixties and seventies allowed a lot of exploration and creation.

Re-invention: Can be Wonderful.  Or not.

Some of what emerged was awful.  Artistically, I recall my brother describing a dance group at the University of Brighton (England) where “free form” was encouraged.  The creed of the group disallowed adherence to the basic forms of dance as practiced till then: steps, upon which complex moves are based; patterns repeated in variation; principles of form, line and proportion, understood as timelessly beautiful.  Instead, performances consisted of the troupe making up their moves as they went along.  Likely there were some ideas with which they started, but the aim was to create on the spot, without any predetermined structure.  William was in favour of applying the free form notion but admitted that the result, visually, wasn’t particularly pleasant to look at.  I’ve continued to puzzle over whether that matters, but have pretty well decided that there’s a mathematical reality to the formation of physical beauty, which some creators intuit and others learn, but if you want your work to speak to people, you have to use the language of your culture.

We, as young freethinkers, have had to learn that.  The conservative impulse – referencing myth, history and tradition as guides to what we are choosing – has its very positive side.  But back then, we became wary of those two bulwarks (history and tradition) because we decided they were misused to manipulate us.  Hence, we often threw the baby out with the bathwater.  As many young people do.  But that little old baby holds so many guidelines and clues for us.

Keeping the Connections to Others

Now we re-invent so many structures of our lives as we jettison church, synagogue, places to which we belonged, and with them marriage, baptism, bris, rites of introduction, visitation of the dead, funerals.  All of these ceremonies were part of making a statement to our community that we were part of what mattered to all, in life and death.   There we affirmed our ongoing connection to the community, which was expected to celebrate with us and share our growth.

The new forms are sometimes strikingly appropriate.  A wedding, held outdoors or on the parents’ property, may make very clear the attachment of the young to their beginnings – much as they may be moving beyond those after the wedding.  Sometimes the new forms are inane.  If the people attempting a new format haven’t remembered the point of it all, it can seem silly and hollow.  It takes work and thought to stay real.

Ah, Weddings

For instance, where did the notion of the wedding day being the “most important day of Her life” come from?  That sets the hounds running with ways to re-invent.  It becomes all about the bride.  We recently, at a 50th wedding celebration, saw projected photos of the long-ago service.  The couple was in Portugal, in front of a small cottage – the family home – with the family all around.   People were looking pleased with themselves, a dirt road ran down the side, the white curtains in the windows were fresh, the dog was at the side, and the couple looked as their parents had likely looked.

The aspiration now seems to be to look like Princess Diana or Lady Kate, with the husband standing lamely as part of the decoration.  So for many, the way to avoid the nonsense is to avoid marriage.  Does it matter?  I don’t know.  I’m sorry to see how much we’ve tossed.  I personally like the ideas of marriage.   It’s an open hand to the community of friends, family, neighbours, anyone the couple cares about.   It invites others into the new shared lives and can re-enforce connections.

I do get the desire for integrity and authenticity and if a couple find that a Wedding gets in the way of that for them, I understand their avoidance.  Some of the good tossing of history and tradition has been the effort to dump sexism, racism, homophobia, marginalizing of the disabled – wonderful goals and achievements.

And the Point is…?

I’m suggesting, for all celebrations of life events, that we check out where might be the baby that got thrown out with the dross.  If we’ve chopped off connections to people of whom we’re a part, have we gone too far?



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2 responses to “Back to the Coffee Shop

  1. I think we can only attempt re-invention so far before we realize how hollow our new structures are, and the pendulum swings back (e.g., we now revere the ballet dancers in the National Ballet Company and find their preparation and skill remarkable – worth $100 or more to watch!) But the sadness of meaningless weddings is evident in the rate of divorce – if the wedding meant nothing more than glorified dating, then the break means little as well. And on to the next one. This is something I regret so much for my generation. They’re by and large so dismissive of tradition that they cannot seem to get the connection between why people used to do those things, and why those same things are reinvented are so ragged now.

  2. This comment is the easy way out and covers both Harper and Ford. it explains what they don’t (seem??) to have.


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