When I hear "The Ring," I think of two things: 1) the scariest movie I've ever seen and still refuse to watch on DVD because HELLO that is way too meta for me and why test the hell and horror gods and risk having nightmares for a decade? and 2) this new, metallic, circular object strangling my finger - at once a symbol of love and commitment (see how pretty they are!?) and a connection to history and tradition.
Through much of our wedding planning, I thought a lot about tradition. In my first lit theory class, we studied the fallacy of tradition - doing things because "this is the way it has always been done." It's a simple way the "rulers" keep the rest of us in check; it's a simple way the "rulers" keep their industries thriving. The professor used weddings as her example - the woman taking the man's name, the giving away of the bride by the father, the need for a lavish ceremony - all ideas that, at once, keep patriarchy going strong and keep the humongous wedding industry afloat. When someone jokingly asked me if I'd take Patty's name, I scoffed; that's just not the way it works, it's not "tradition." We started off wanting to elope, then maybe having a small wedding, but the lure of tradition pulled us into having the typical one. We wanted a wedding day. The wedding band could be used as another example - a mark of ownership and a mark of ownership that just happens to be really, really expensive.
Has it always been this way? Many sources agree that the wedding ring can be traced as far back as ancient Egypt, where lovers created rings out of flowers and reeds found near the Nile. Pretty inexpensive if you ask me. The Egyptians believed in the power of the never-ending circle and believed the "ring finger" had a vein that connected directly to the heart (aww, how romantic). Male Romans used the ring to claim women they sexually desired; some early Middle Eastern men created collapsible rings that only they could put back together - if the women they possessed had taken their ring off, the men would know (okay, not as romantic). As soon as people mastered metallurgy, gold and silver became both a way for men to show they trusted their brides with property and also to demonstrate their wealth. Then there were diamonds and then, during WWII, when men wore bands to remind them of their wives back home, male wedding bands became popular.
In that brief history, a narrative becomes apparent - one that was once rooted in love somehow became one of possession and then became both. The possession part is true to some degree - we don't need to wear a ring, but for many it's a way to claim ownership, to let all the single people of the world know that we are taken. A married man takes off his ring when he walks into a bar and well, you know. Women like to ask other women to see their rings, as though the carat and cut and clarity somehow can measure how much a guy loves you. I can't count how many female strangers have asked Patty to see her ring when I was standing right next to her. I have one too, random lady! See, I am committed!
All facetiousness aside, the whole ring thing for me, at first, was all of the above. I even asked Patty if I could just wear it around a necklace, tucked in my shirt. We all know how that conversation went. When I first tried it on, I reflexively screamed "Oh, F*$$!" in the middle of the jewelry store. I don't like the way it physically feels on my finger. If I want my middle, ring, and pinky fingers to touch near the knuckles I want to have that ability, dammit! But then I remembered something I taught in an introductory fiction class at Sac State a while back, something called "the objective correlative." It was a term popularized by T.S. Eliot and described how writers could use specifics (usually an object) to illustrate something abstract (usually an emotion).
The exercise called to write a scene in which a person is using an object, and in that object the reader must be able to discern who gave that object to them, what the history is, and what emotion the character is feeling. The idea is to "show" and not "tell," to activate the text into scene, to let the reader "experience" the scene instead of being told how to think and how to feel. It's a way in which a writer can get a reader engaged and establish reader trust. This is what the wedding ring is - not a fetish, not a simple symbol, but an objective correlative between Patty and me. It is not only a reminder of our vows (the "text"), but a way to keep us actively engaged in the relationship. Every time I see it, whether I'm in the middle of writing or working or just sitting around, I remember how lucky I am. I'm reminded of needing to "show" and not "tell" my love on a daily basis. I'm reminded to "activate" the vows, to live them and not just say them. It keeps us engaged, it keeps us present. But most importantly, it demolishes tradition. We get to inscribe the ring, we get to tell the story.
And no, the next chapter does not involve babies, but that's another blog for another day...