Friday I drove with my writing friend Natalie down to Marietta, Ohio to watch her cousin Andi get surprise-proposed to.
I had never watched anyone get surprise-proposed to before, and I was curious. The proposal was going to take place in a bar during a live band performance. The cousin's long time girlfriend is a bass player in the band, and the plan was that at some point during the show, she'd step down from the stage and ask Andi to marry her.
I like Andi. She's a photographer and the last time I saw her, she let me play dress up in her Hot Tomato studio. Her specialty is boudoir photography and she's known for making all women feel welcome and beautiful. I don't think she advertises much, but word has gotten around, and she has a huge group of loyal clients and friends who flock to Marietta just to hang out with her.
It was a long drive down there. Natalie and I did what we do a lot lately when we get together. Lamented about the horrifying state of the world.
When that got too depressing I told her about the plot of the book I'd just finished reading. Love and Ruin by Paula McLain. It's about the relationship between Ernest Hemingway and his third wife Martha Gellhorn. She was a novelist and war correspondent who covered basically every foreign war from the Spanish Civil War in the 1930's to the US invasion of Panama in 1979.
But annoyingly for Martha Gellhorn, she's mainly just known for being Ernest Hemingway's third wife. For a few years they had an intense bond, writing side by side and traveling to war zones together, hanging out in Cuba and throwing back drinks with friends.
They talked and argued a lot about writing and what the point of it all was. How could you spend time playing around with a story while the world outside was going to ruin? Was it fair to hole up in your house in Cuba when so many other people were suffering?
That's another thing Natalie and I do a lot. Talk and argue about writing and wonder what the point of it all is. Is it okay to care so much about our made-up worlds when the real world is such a mess?
The bar in Marietta was crowded with fans of the band and friends and family of Andi. She was happily clueless about what was going to happen, walking around taking photos, not noticing how many people were grinning and taking photos of her. I was getting excited and nervous for her. Also, I was tired, sipping my drink and trying not to think about the fact that it was close to 11 o'clock and Natalie and I still had a two hour drive home and I'm the frumpy old lady who usually goes to bed by ten.
But the band was great, kind of Mumford & Sons-y and obviously a huge favorite in Marietta. The crowd was singing and clapping along. Girls were dancing with each other. Some of them were dressed up as if they'd just stepped out of the Hot Tomatoes studio.
I had a momentary thought about the world outside. Stories I'd read in the newspaper about children held in for-profit detention centers who are forbidden from hugging their siblings, another mass shooting, the latest dire report on global climate change, the president's scary rambling speech and the cheers of his followers.
But I let that go for the moment when the bass player stepped down from the stage and surprise-proposed to Andi. Martha told Ernest that the point of it all was to go where stories are happening, to talk to people, to bear witness to their experience, to tell the truth.
Andi, of course, said yes.