Ketubot when couples don’t have shared artistic visions

I would normally be out at gay square dancing right now, it being Tuesday evening (it’s really nice; they let straights in to dance), but I’m home nursing a cold so it doesn’t have a chance to turn into bronchitis, so I’m going to tell you about ketubot instead.

Chum R just called, see. She’s getting married to Mr R, and they want a pretty pretty ketubah. Some months ago, I gave them my usual homework: look at other ketubot and see if there’s anything that jumps out at you. Send me pictures of things you both like. This gives us a vocabulary of visual things to get started with while we all work towards designing something you want on your wall while your kids grow up.

So Chum and Mr R have discovered that he likes tree motifs, and she Very Much Doesn’t like tree motifs, and they’re a bit stumped. So to speak.

What we do is this.

Get a handle on what each person likes. What is it Mr R likes about the tree motif, exactly? Is he a botanist? Does he like the wiggly-wavy shapes leaves make? Maybe he likes fractals. Or irregular fractals. Maybe he likes the idea of tree as family. Or maybe he likes the idea of tree as enormous arching biomass. Maybe he likes green. Maybe he likes organic curves.

Why doesn’t Chum like trees? And, just as importantly, what does Chum like? What does she like about what she likes?

Sometimes it’s really hard to break down a feeling into words and ideas. But if you can do it with “I like trees because they are strong, also because I like green and the way the branches do that dividy thing” and “I don’t like trees because they’re overdone and they make me think of bugs and I like steampunk better anyway”, you can probably do it with other things such as FLOWERS or WHAT YOUR MOTHER SAID ABOUT OUR DOREEN AT PESACH THAT TIME.

Maybe we have a solution already. Maybe we can do a design which involves lots of green and has a feel of strong shapes dividing up into complex delicate ones, which overlap and twist around into the kinds of layers of repeating patterns which give the pleasant feeling of visual befuddlement which turns out to be what Chum likes about steampunk because her favourite part of steampunk is mechanical devices.

Maybe we don’t have a solution yet. So now we try to:

Identify some other visuals that both people like. Maybe you both like the teapot, or the shade of green on the bathroom mat, or the china you picked out, or the way the light and shade play together in the railings outside the shul’s windows.

Maybe we can make a ketubah based on some of those visuals instead. You are both extraordinary, complex, exciting people! Your ketubah can express your shared love of cats and the shul’s railings, and Mr R can join a botany club and Chum can take a course in clockmaking.

Or perhaps that conversation will help us learn that if the tree was kind of stylised, with purple leaves, and some rabbits in waistcoats underneath it, both parties would be satisfied. Nay, delighted.

Maybe we still need more steps. Then we:

Identify some things that both people like. You two are proposing to share some decades together. That suggests you like being together. Chances are, you like being together because you have a shared appreciation for some things. The universe is big and contains many beautiful, marvellous, wondrous things. Tell me about some of the ones you both love.

The super thing about this is that it doesn’t have to be visual. You can tell me about how much you both love the High Line Park and I can refer you to my friend Erika who does awesome papercuts and she’ll make you a papercut of the High Line out of solid awesome. (Or I can make you a High Line ketubah, but I wanted to show y’all Erika because wow.)

Back to the point–maybe some of them are visual. I can speak Visual. Visuals go together in my brain and I can think “hmm, they both like Thing1, Thing2, and Thing3. These have some Visual Elements in common. Let me assemble these Elements, free from distracting extraneous trappings, on paper!”

I can’t explain why this works, but it does often result in Good Things. “We thought we had no shared taste in visuals but we both love this” is a phrase I have heard more than once.

I like this situation a lot as a kind of metaphor for handling relationship issues, to be honest. When exploring around a problem (opposite views on trees! secretly thinking steampunk is pathetic!) we can articulate the parts that make us happy as individuals and identify the mutual soul-resonance which is WHY YOU’RE GETTING MARRIED YES and figure out how to express that as common ground and produce something lovely that gives you warm happyfeelings when you have it in your home.


  1. Sarah
    Posted January 12, 2013 at 18:35 | Permalink

    When you make steam punk ketubah doodles or even a real one can you post it? Pretty please?

  2. jen
    Posted January 12, 2013 at 18:46 | Permalink

    Well, for that you really want to track Ariela Housman. Her current website is and you want to check out the one called Toba, but she’s working on a whole line of Geek Ketubot.

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