Archive for December, 2007
Things I miss.
Being on campus among people who like to talk about poetry and theory.
Having coffee with colleagues turned into friends to talk about poetry and theory and also children, ethics, race, painting, etc.
Going to church during Advent. My work schedule doesn’t allow it.
Having Christmas decorations up. Busy + Grabby baby + leaving for PA in a week= no soft lights or evergreens. Just piles of crap like usual.
Not dampening everyone else’s holiday glow.
I’m thankful that when our power went out no one in the house was hooked up to medical equipment; that when they called me into work because I live the closest I was able to help out, and that the resulting shift-swap solves our child care crisis next Friday; that when I came downstairs yesterday morning and water was streaming in through a hole in the kitchen ceiling onto the refrigerator and there was an inch of water on the floor that nothing was seriously damaged (except for the ceiling, but we rent, and if the landlord thinks a pile of salt on the roof every winter is any kind of solution, why should we care?); that because we lost our child care abruptly this week we could afford for Attic Man and the Snapper to stay in a hotel, where according to the husband the toddler had all sorts of fun with the ice bucket; that the power went out in the group home for only four hours and was back on just as it was getting cold, and that we all got pizza out of the deal; that none of the guys had emergencies during the storm; that when I went back to our house in the morning the dogs were fine and the power was on.
I think I’ll go take a shower for the first time in two days. Boy am I thankful for hot water today!
Preparing the Snapper for a life of materialism
One of the things I hate most about this time of year is the exchange of Christmas lists. They’re just as hard to pull out of people as they are to write; nobody likes asking, “so where’s your list?” and nobody likes remembering what they want and trying not to seem greedy or too specific, and I don’t think anybody likes the feeling that it’s nothing more than putting in orders as you would a catalog. I dislike the whole business.
I hate the consumerism of Christmas, too, and as an avowed but not perfectly-practicing anti-capitalist I’ve been trying to come up with ideas for low-cost, no-cost, fair-trade, tailored-to-the-person gift ideas. I’ve looked in a million and one places and there are these great lists of creative gift ideas, but they all have two problems: 1) they require you to be crafty, which I’m not, and because I’m not the gifts would come out crappy and end up in the trash or the attic; and 2) they are tailored to the people the idea inventors are gifting, and not to the people I’m gifting, so they don’t actually work. Nobody on my list needs or wants a homemade egg timer painted with the “Footprints” poem.
I may have made that last one up. At any rate, I have these two problems, and they crystallized the other night when I was on the phone with my sister into an idea. One of the problems with getting gifts for family members is that very often we’re out of touch with their everyday lives. We have some vague idea of what they liked when we used to live with them 10 or 20 (or more) years ago but not with what they’re like right now. And this is coming from someone who is in regular phone contact with her family members and sees them a couple of times a year at least. So, I thought, why not get back in touch with that dailiness? Why not skip the lists altogether and find out what people really need?
To that end I came up with a list of questions meant to stimulate conversation and to get people to talk about their lives and what they need/want even if they are usually reticent about these types of things. The rule is that you have to forget that they’re questions geared toward figuring out what to get you for Christmas and answer them honestly and with whatever comes into your mind. So the answer to the last question could legitimately be “spending time with my family” as much as it could be “all the chocolate I can get my hands on.” The point is to get someone talking. My questions:
1. What is your typical day like?
2. What do you like to do with your spare time/down time or to relax?
3. What would you do if you had more time or resources?
4. What problems do you have yet to solve?
5. What general needs do you have?
6. What makes you happy?
OK, so I know they look like boring questions. But honest to goodness, at the end of each of these conversations I’ve had so far I’ve been struck with not just an idea for a gift, but for the perfect gift that meets all the above requirements, ethically and financially. I think it works because people can relax and just talk about their lives without the pressure of coming up with a list. I think we all know the feeling of freezing up at the thought of a list.
The best part, if I can be a little mushy here, is that the conversation is a gift itself: it’s you giving undivided attention to the minutae of someone else’s life, and that can feel pretty good. I loved the conversation I had with my sister. It told me a lot about her life and I felt closer to her.
So give it a try! Let me know if it works for you.
Here’s to a less stressful holiday 🙂