Gift Giving

Gift Giving is it important? That depends if you like gifts. I do. I don’t need something big or fancy but presents make me feel like someone likes me. And that can’t be all bad. Because most of us want to be liked.

Lewis Hyde in The Gift talks about how important gift giving is in all cultures. It defines how cultures work.

When people give you gifts, in our culture, we feel obligated to give one back. I’ve been shopping for a couple weeks for presents and I’d gotten this lotion for my friend Karen. I hadn’t given it to her yet and then she showed up at my Christmas party with this bottle of my favorite champagne which is Veuve Cliquot. Well, after she laid that champagne on me, I had to go get something better for her. I haven’t quite figured it out yet but by the rule of gifts, I have to get something as good as what she got me, especially considering that Karen and I have been friends for about twenty-five years. But if Karen had gotten me a carnation, I’d be thinking, wow, I’m stomping on it.

The rule of gifts means that you have to try to match whatever other people give you. Around Christmas you have to watch carefully for this sort of gift giving that’s over the top of what you were planning to give. I worry about this with my family as well. My husband is a better gift giver than I am. Or, I’m easier to buy gifts for. That is another possibility. And I like to dwell on that. I am happy with books, art, t shirts, journals, pens, candles, bath supplies, wings, scarves, weird art, games that I will never figure out how to play, hats that I won’t wear, jewelry even if it’s weird, I’m easy to buy gifts for. And he’s not easy. But also, he’s probably more thoughtful. I can really tell that he puts thought into the whole gift giving and I always end up feeling this weird combination of guilt and gratitude that mix up in my head. Because I know this is going to happen, I do this crazy thing every year where as it gets closer, I shop like a demon hoping that I will find some specific thing to buy that will make me feel like a champion gift giver.

What I want to avoid is being like Quoyle’s wife Bunny in The Shipping News. She never shopped for her husband and when she realized it was his birthday, she gave him some eggs from out of the carton he himself had bought earlier that week. She was a lame gift giver. I’m going to avoid being like Bunny.

Gift giving is trippy. It’s about giving but it’s also about showing the other person how smart you are. And how much you care. Good luck with your Christmas shopping.

Published in: on December 17, 2014 at 8:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

Off to the Beach

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Getting ready to go to the beach for a few days to unwind. We’ve done all of our shopping and most of the wrapping so we’re ready to relax a bit before the kids come home for Christmas. The tree is decorated and the house as well. I like to have some breathing space before the end of the year and we’ve been doing this for years. We used to do the beach thing between Christmas and New Year, and we would come back in time to throw a New Year’s Eve Party, but since I started teaching at Nebraska, we changed the beach visit dates.

I like running on the beach and thinking before the end of the year. The beach clears my head, the ocean, the water, the air. For those of you reading this who have not been to California, let me assure you that going to beach in the winter isn’t about swimming and frisking in the sunlight. The sunlight is weak and watery; it eases through the clouds like orange juice leaking from a jug. It only gets up to 70 degrees in the daytime on the beach, and it’s 50 degrees at night so it’s never really warm. It’s always cool and quiet, but we like it like that.

The world is full of many different kinds of people with many different stories. The idea is to find your story. Off to the beach at the end of the week to finish the one I am currently working on.

Published in: on December 16, 2014 at 10:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

California is full of rain

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Because weather is so much in the news these days, people in other parts of the country think that we are all drowning. Or at least that our houses are being washed away to sea. There is always the idea that California is going to fall over a cliff, but this is actually not likely. Even if there were an earthquake, the whole state wouldn’t just become part of the Pacific Ocean.

Today I was speaking with Maxine Hong Kingston who is very much looking forward to the 2015 Retreat at Ghost Ranch.
She mentioned that it’s a bit much how on they keep saying that California hasn’t gotten enough rain to solve the drought problem. Just stop it. It’s raining. That’s good and it’s going to keep raining.

I made the vegetable lasagna today. I am always toying with my recipe. Sometimes more or less spinach. I used to add nutmeg but I don’t do that any more. It’s in a lot of recipes, but it’s just too weird. I went to the gym this morning while the rain poured down and I had to use an umbrella but by the time I came out, the sun was there, trundling through the clouds. Next week there will be more rain.

On Star Trek, when they want to have something happen, but are ambivalent, they take a sneaky approach. In the old Star Trek, they managed the kiss between Kirk and Uhura by setting up a situation where they are being forced to kiss by aliens. In Captain Picard’s Enterprise, there is a love affair between the doctor and Will Riker which is actually between Beverly and an alien, but the alien has been implanted in Will Riker. (Are you lost?) But we do get to see the doctor in a love affair with the first officer which would really not have worked otherwise.

People are always urging us to see other shows but we just stick to Star Trek. Tomorrow, the Christmas party. And then we go to Phoenix for a couple days. We’ll be back in time to finish our end of the year projects with Red Hen and then take off for the beach before Christmas with the family. We always have an amazing time over the holidays because we all get along super well.

Then Mark and I go to Nebraska to teach at the MFA program. A little snow is always a nice change.

Party coming up. Life is writing, family, party and dreaming. And work. The sky is wet here, wet and dreaming.

Published in: on December 12, 2014 at 9:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

Who do we listen to?

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I would argue that we listen to kindness. If we think someone likes us, we can hear what they have to say even if it’s criticism. But if someone is mean, we just assume that whatever they’re saying is b.s. Or at least I do. If I receive a mean email advising me to do this or that better, all I see is mean. The advice just disappears into the paper.

Recently, we received an email telling us what we should do differently with Red Hen but it was a mean spirited email by someone who probably wasn’t a fan of books, let alone of independent publishing. Mark remarked that the author of the email might have some good points. Nice of him to think so, but I couldn’t see it. Fortunately the delete button works pretty well on my laptop. And Mark could have been right, there may have been good points in the murky depths there.

It’s a good thing to keep in mind when you’re communicating if you want to be heard.

Tomorrow we will do the cooking for our Christmas party and the party is Saturday. It’s not going to be a big party, but we’ll have a few friends over maybe 20-30. On Sunday we’re going to Arizona to see friends, I’m really excited about this trip.

The world is large and I have only just begun to feel how complicated it all is. There are more stars in the sky than we can count. The nearest habitable planet is thirteen light years away. I always hoped that we would discover alien life in my lifetime. Aliens might be out there.

Published in: on December 11, 2014 at 11:03 pm  Comments (1)  

Christmas presents

Advice on shopping for Christmas.  If you haven’t done your shopping for Christmas, you should probably get started.  If you wait, the tickets will get worse and worse.  The crowds, the noise, the dirt, they’ll be out of socks at Target and we can’t have that, can we? In case you think you’re good at shopping, I’ve given a few hints below.

Signs you are not a good gift giver:

  1. Your drycleaner gave you a lint roller for the holidays. You are considering re-gifting it.
  2. You are thinking of buying a broom, mop, dust pan or brush for someone.
  3. You think beer is a good gift.
  4. You think any commodity item is a good gift, for example, stamps, gas cards, money, unless it’s to grand children who you don’t know well.
  5. You plan to buy clothing for someone whose size you can only guess.
  6. You’ve thought about buying pots and pans for your wife so she’ll cook more.
  7. You buy presents on Amazon and Ebay while you are supposed to be working.
  8. You buy friends, How to for Dummies books to help them learn more skills.
  9. You buy games for A type personalities who never really play.
  10. You buy books for friends who don’t read, art for friends who like football.

Good ideas when shopping:

  1. Books for those who read.
  2. Flashlights for disaster groupies and preppers.
  3. Japanese knives for the chefs in your life.
  4. Bath supplies for the women who like to relax.
  5. Special coffees for people who never relax.
  6. Chess for thinking philosophical types.
  7. Hiking maps for your sporty types.
  8. Zombie survival books for all your fighting friends.
  9. Jewelry for the fancy girls.
  10. Champagne for everybody else.

Still tired.  Lunch at the Malibu Beach Inn with Petra and Gina who worked so hard to make the anniversary event a wild success. I can’t thank them enough.

From there I drove to Pasadena, two hours of crazy traffic.  Pasadena and the West Side are two different countries.  I went from one country to the other and then home.  My brain is cloudy and the rain is rolling in. The thing to is keep your joys apparent and your sorrows secret. Even when the rain comes.

Published in: on December 9, 2014 at 10:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

Rejoice greatly

Handel’s Messiah sing a long was so great.  We were all such great singers, all two thousand of us and we sang the Hallelujah Chorus three times, that’s how good we were.  We were saying, Yes, Grant! We could be your choir too! It’s the ultimate motivating tool for wanting to support the Chorale having the whole audience on our feet participating in the very art form that makes us subscribers.  They had an organ and a harpsichord.  I was full of joy.

Tomorrow I am turning in my grades, doing Pilates and going to Malibu for lunch.

Other things on my mind:

  1. Big storm coming.
  2. Red Hen Christmas party this weekend.
  3. Finishing the book.
  4. Being tired.
  5. Sleep

We saw the Day the Earth Stood Still tonight. Spoiler alert coming right now if you keep on reading.  Keanu Reeves played a robotic alien who planned to destroy the people to save the planet from our destructive ways, but he changed his mind once he saw how cool we are and listened to Bach and met John Cleese.  What he needed to do was listen to some Jimmy Page and watch Monty Python, then he would have really seen our coolness as humans.

Three things to remember:

If you are nice to aliens zombies, will they still attack you?  Yes.

The best protection from zombies is to own a dog.  Dogs eat zombies.

Zombies prefer stupid people so go to school.

Published in: on December 8, 2014 at 10:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Messiah Sing a long

We are going to shop for Christmas having decided to avoid Amazon this year.  Too many things that we received were not what we expected.  I don’t like the crowds and I hate malls so we’re going to get some sake/Asahi going first to help lubricate the shopping. I’ve never been to Nordstrom, Neimans or any of those fancy stores.  Saks is out of the question and Bergdorf would chuckle if I walked in.  I don’t have department store credit cards except Macys, but I think we’ll do okay.

Tomorrow Mark and I are going to the Messiah at Disney Hall, the sing a long.  Last time no one was singing along and it was a little awkward for me to be the only one standing up and singing with the chorale, but I don’t let little things like embarrassment slow me down from doing what I need to do.  Mark doesn’t know all the words like I do so he can’t participate to the full extent.  I try to sing more loudly in the hopes that people won’t notice that he’s not holding up his end.   It’s going to be great.

Published in: on December 6, 2014 at 2:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

Adventures in Chicago

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As  I landed on the tarmac at O’Hare, my phone rang.  It was the Hilton where I was staying.  They said they had given my room away.  Well they hadn’t given it away, they’d sold it.  I took a cab to the hotel thinking I’d talk my way into a room.  In Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the guy talked his way into a whole suite and he isn’t as cute as me. It was 1 am; it was cold in the Windy City.  I felt sure that they would honor my reservation somehow.  In movies, hotels have special rooms they give to special people.  As it turned out, I am not of those special people.

I was not the only one at the hotel whose room had been sold. Fog and cold weather had planes coming in late to Chicago which is booked for a conference.  This couple was there with their baby girl, they also were turned out into the cold.  The guy explained that at midnight they sell the rooms for more money.

The guy who works at the front desk, Steven, was uniquely unhelpful.  He just said, Good luck.  With a number of calls, I found a room at the Embassy Suites.  When I got there, that room was gone.  They pitched right in and called around the city and then they called a cab and took me to Suissotel where I am now for the same amount I was paying.  This is a four star hotel.  It has my favorite thing in a hotel, really comfortable beds and robes.  I am crazy for the hotel robes.  It feels like I am a queen when I’m sitting in a comfy hotel bed in one of those thick white robes and it reminds me of that great film Beverly Hills Cop where Eddie Murphy stole the hotel robes.  Of course, nobody important in Hollywood goes to the Beverly Hills Hotel any more since the Sultan of Brunei owns it.  The problem with that thinking is that if you investigate the evil corporate ownership of every hotel, restaurant and grocery store in any big city, you’d find that there are a lot of evil corporations you don’t know about.  I’ve done my share of drinking in the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel but I’m fine not going there any more.

At any rate, after this adventure I’m going to get an email confirmation that they are holding my room before each trip.  I would rather not have this happen again even though it all turned out.   I can see the lake shining in the sunlight, and tonight I’ll be back in Los Angeles.   I need to go for a long run tomorrow.  Decorate the tree.

There is dense sunlight in Los Angeles where freeways are suspended above crowded houses, miles of them.  Here in Chicago, the city feels massive, stone and concrete piled together.  And against that, the lake.  If I lived here, I would walk by that lake every day and think about the ships it has swallowed and how it shimmers right now holding liquid light.

Published in: on December 4, 2014 at 8:05 am  Leave a Comment  

Do not constantly talk about your favorite child, it’s annoying

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Me and Molly

Life is always good/crazy at same time.
1. Plane to Chicago is an hour late. I will land at 1 am instead of midnight.
2. Red Hen Press was just awarded $30,000 from the NEA for our publishing program which is—oddly, the most difficult part of the press to fund.
3. I am crazy exhausted. My brain is on another planet and I want it to come back to my body.
4. Red Hen is getting some really exciting staff people.
5. We have a few more things to do like Christmas shopping before I can breathe.
6. We will go to the beach before the end of the year.
7. We have our Christmas party Dec 13th which will be fun.
8. Steve and I are decorating the tree this weekend. He’s hanging the lights.
9. If you are extremely attractive, don’t post a pic of yourself on Facebook, it’s depressing.
10. If you are a parent, and you have one kid you like better than the others, do NOT talk about that person all the time to the other kids. My mother-in-law has one son–her oldest, who she talks about constantly. When she talks about him, I check out our back patio. It’s nice back there. She doesn’t visit often but when she does, she goes on about that one son. I poke my head in the house and she’s still talking about him. And he isn’t richer, a better dad, cooler, better dressed, better looking or more accomplished than either of his siblings. He’s just her favorite. My favorite is the one I married—of course– but I’d be happy to hear about my sister-in-law. Surely she must have some good qualities, something interesting she has done. I bet she’s fascinating but we never hear about her at all. My mother-in-law is coming to our Christmas party, but she usually sits in one area so I’ll be okay and there’s usually 50-60 people there. It’s a fun party. My whole life is one fun party.

Published in: on December 3, 2014 at 6:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

If too many people like it, it’s just not that cool

If too many people like a thing, it’s not worth liking. At least that’s the conventional wisdom. I told someone today that I like Samuel Barber’s “Adagio in Strings,” and he replied, “You and millions of other people.” That got me thinking, he might be right! If you like something too many other people like, it’s simply not worth liking. If you like Pierce Brosnan, so what? If you think the dwarf in Lord of the Rings is cool, that’s kinky.

If you like Bjork or 50 Cent or Tupac, so what? You are just not that cool. If you like some musician who just started to play music the last couple months, you must be super cool.

If you like baseball, millions of others like baseball too. But baseball isn’t considered culturally important. If you like a book, a painting, a piece of music and millions of others do too, then you have weak taste.

Anything that’s really cool, and I mean super cool, there are only about ten people who like it. If you like the Mona Lisa, that makes true art lovers scoff. You like some obscure poet in Wayne, Nebraska, some odd painter in Dutch Harbor, Alaska? Now that’s cool.

Mary Oliver and Billy Collins are the most popular poets in America and for that alone there must be haters.

I want to be cool so I try not to develop a fondness for any book more than ten people have read, any piece of music after five people listen to is just old and tired for me. I’m on the other side of cool. I’m developing a new brand of cool and as for fashion, I’m inventing it as we speak.

Published in: on December 2, 2014 at 9:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

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