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Andrew and I were thrilled to attend the wedding of two of our good friends, Jon and Ellen, early this month. Now, I know all weddings are joyous occasions, no matter the details of the day, and my personal soapbox is that bridal magazines have no right insinuating that your wedding isn’t “original” or “personal” enough if you go the traditional route. You’re marrying your favorite person in the world–isn’t that automatically and irrefutably personal enough? But even with that said, this wedding was something special.

Jon and Ellen are artists, you see, and they’re the cool, down-to-earth type. They like engaging with people and places, meeting the world where it is and creating beauty there. They are also relentlessly creative, finding outlets in paint, cloth, food, music–whatever they can get their hands on. So they convinced their pastor to marry them not in a church but in the middle of the city–in an alley, in fact. And not just any alley. This alley, found just off the corner of Howard and North in Baltimore, is known as a hot-spot for graffiti artists. The walls are covered, and constantly changing (when I took a break outside during the reception, I saw a tag that hadn’t been there during the ceremony an hour before). Some pieces are beautiful, many are tags, some are profane. Jon and Ellen took the very real risk that their wedding ceremony spot would feature some prominently spray-painted dicks, is what I’m saying.

Fortunately, the alley’s artwork seemed occasion-appropriate, for the most part. Maybe the fates smiled, or maybe the groomsmen did a quick sweep shortly before, cans at the ready, just in case. Who can say? But what was so amazing to me was the way the ceremony started to come together, guests standing or sitting, in summer dresses or cutoff shorts (“come as you are” dress codes make for an interestingly mismatched crowd), music I recognized from “Love Actually” playing over the speaker, the groom standing on a black wooden platform, and the bride, just a touch dewy in the August sun, teary and laughing at the same time, walking arm in arm with her father and wearing her lovely, understated but elegant purple dress. It was nothing Bride magazine or theknot.com editors ever talk about, but it made sense. The more traditional readings, the completely unconventional “unity graffiti” they made, taking turns holding the ladder for each other, the laid-back potluck-and-pie reception, all felt right for them, and it was such a breath of fresh air. It was a reminder, too, not to let other people bog me down with their expectations of the right way to do a wedding–or a book of short stories (and possibly some poetry).

I’m now eight weeks away from my wedding and just about eight months from putting out my first book. It’s going to get busy. A lot of people have a lot of expectations. I hope I keep my head straight, I hope everything turns out beautifully, but mostly right now I hope I follow Ellen’s lead in the upcoming wedding season and school year, keeping traditions that sing to me but never afraid to rock an unexpectedly perfect purple dress.