Karin walked into my office today and handed me a small blue tube-box with sparkly blue ribbon tied around it and said, “I wanted your book to be published.”
Karin is one of my biggest supporters, as far as my writing is concerned. We’ve talked at length about my book, tentatively titled, “The Teacher”. She’s only seen what I’ve posted here on this blog, plus one additional chapter. She’s chomping at the bit to read more and I get no small amount of pleasure out of tormenting her by dangling tidbits in front of her but not letting her see the rest.
It is thanks to Karin and people she knows, who know people, that I am going to be attending he writers workshop/class/group/thingy in February that I hope will give me greater insight into my writing ability, this book and the industry in general. I’m treating this workshop (or whatever it is) as a step in the process to publication. I hope that turns out to be true.
Anyway, Karin is a huge supporter and she wants to see my book published, which led her here.
I opened the blue tube-box with sparkly blue ribbon tied around it and turned it on end. It’s contents slid into the palm of my hand, wrapped in simple tissue.
It’s a Christmas tree decoration, about the size of a matchbook, with a cover page (I guess it has to be titled The Teacher, now!) and the first sentence of my book printed inside, and it is bound, hard cover. I love it!
And it gave us an idea. Somewhat accidentally, I began work on my second novel, (I know, go figure!) yesterday. Perhaps, I can get one of these ornaments made for every book I write.
What do you think? Will “The Man With Too Many Names” fit on one of those teeny tiny pages? 🙂
Some people say that Holiday’s like Christmas are all about giving. “‘Tis better to give than to receive,” and all that hooey. I have very mixed feelings about the gift giving holidays. I want to get presents. Let’s be honest, don’t we all? I think anyone who says, “I don’t care about receiving presents. I just like giving things to people and watching their faces light up when they open the package,” is lying through their artificially whitened teeth. (I don’t know why the teeth are artificially whitened, that’s just the first thing that came to mind and we’re going to go with it.)
I like to GET presents, but I HATE to give them. I do. It’s not because I’m stingy or selfish. I’m not. I do like to give people presents that they genuinely enjoy and appreciate. There is a commercial that keeps playing on the radio right now: I think it’s for Roku (Obviously not a very good commercial because I had to try six different spellings, “Orocu, Orokoo, Arocu, arocoo, etc.” before I actually found ROKU with no O or A in front of it.) The commercial says something about knowing the different between genuine appreciation and fake appreciation when you give a gift. I? I get the fake appreciation most of the time.
I don’t usually try to give people gifts that will blow them away. I don’t make any sort of effort to surprise people, because I suck at it. I ask people “What do you want?” and then if I can afford it, I give it to them. If I can’t afford it, I ask, “What else?” I hate it when they tell me, “I don’t know.”
I’m just not very good at gift giving. I suck at gift giving and I come by it naturally. Observe:
One year, when I was about fifteen, my mother decided, seemingly on the spur of the moment, that she was going to give us something for Christmas. She ran out on Christmas Eve, in search of some kind of gifts for her children. The next morning, after we had our traditional Pillsbury cinnamon roll breakfast, we each opened a small package with our name on it. Each package contained one embroidered dish towel and one pot holder… with Santa Claus on them. Again… I WAS FIFTEEN.
Last year my mother sent me a green t-shirt with a giant Grinch face screen printed on it. She couldn’t have known by looking at the shirt that the dastardly smiling mouth on the shirt only serves to highlight my much maligned and despised gut. I also don’t appreciate being referred to as “The Grinch”, which is what she calls me when she’s not calling me Scrooge. I never have and never will wear the shirt out of the house.
Last week I received a text from my mother:
“I’ve ordered you some Christmas goodies from Harry & David. Don’t know when they’ll arrive but be on the lookout.”
By chance I came home that night to a box on my front steps. I opened it up and found a metal tin inside with three different flavors of Moose Munch. If you don’t already know, this is Muse Munch:
And these are my teeth:
Give or take a few months and a different color rubber band.
I texted her, “This is some awfully mean stuff to send a guy with braces. 😉 Good thing they’re coming off soon. :-)”
“I completely forgot about the braces!” she told me.
I answered, “It’s OK. They’ll be off in a few weeks. That stuff will certainly keep. Thanks for sending it. Should be tasty.”
She asked, “Did you get both boxes?” I told her I only got one. “The other one will be a little more braces-friendly, I think.”
The next day a second box appeared on my steps. “This box has air holes…” I texted to her. “Did you send me a puppy?” This box had six pears, a small bag of mixed nuts and a block of cheese. (See the picture of my mouth above.) I’m not particularly fond of fresh pears, though I don’t know if it’s realistic to expect that she ought to have known that.
It’s clear my mother doesn’t know how to give good gifts, though certainly she means well. I wrote yesterday about all the pressure, expectations, and demands on holidays and this is just part of it.
I’ve been thinking, these last several days, about gifts and how I feel about them. There was a time when I bought into the addage, “It’s the thought that counts” only, I don’t think I believe it anymore.
I’m fully prepared for the one person who actually comments on my blog with any regularity (and the one person who just has to talk to me in person about it because she’ll explode if she puts her thoughts down on the blog instead of – or maybe in addition to – talking to me about it in person) to give me all kinds of grief over this, and that’s okay, but just hear me out.
I have so much stuff. Way too much stuff really. I don’t need more stuff. And I’m beginning to feel like gifts for the sake of gifts? are just stuff. It’s stuff I can’t throw away, or give away or return, because if the giver catches wind that I got rid of his gift so that it won’t be just stuff, the giver will get his feelings hurt. The thing is, if the giver gave me a good gift, then it wouldn’t be just stuff it would be something of value, something I might treasure and therefore, would not get rid of it. I’m coming to a point where I feel like, if I don’t need, or didn’t already really want, the item the giver is giving me, it’s actually a burdon. And because I feel this way, I feel very ambivilant about giving gifts because I don’t want my gifts to be seen that way, and so I’m just adding to the pressure on myself to give good gifts so that they won’t be just stuff and I’m no good at it.
If you’re like me, though, you buy yourself all the affordable things that you need or really want and it’s the things that you can’t afford that you really want someone to give you, only they can’t really afford it either and so there’s nothing for them to give you because you’ve already bought all the things that people can afford that you want. It’s a vicious cycle.
I’m not sure, now, where this post was going to go, though I’m certain it was a very different direction. What I do know, now, though, is…
I think that’s what I’m going to do from now on.
If everyone who was going to give me a gift, just gave me money instead, maybe I could pool all that money together and spend it on something I really wanted, like an iPad or a new television instead of a box of pears and a — Well, I don’t know what else, because I really only expect to get one other gift and I have no idea what it will be… probably Glee DVDs.
Apparently, Michelle was going to buy me a new printer since the one I had doens’t work with my new-ish computer… But I bought myself one on Saturday so now she has to come up with something else. Way to go, me! But in “me’s” defense, Michelle stood right there and watched it happen and didn’t say anything until we got back to her house with it. She could have stopped me.
OH! I know where I was going with all that!
I’ve been struggling for the last several days with the idea of gratitude and appreciation vs. expectations and dissappointment.
When I opened the box of Moose Munch, I was dissapointed that my mother sent me what amounts to caramel corn and chocolate chips. (You Moose Munch enthusiast can just back-off. I’ve never had it and I can’t eat it for at least another two weeks and probably six.) It’s food. She sent me food for Christmas. I can afford to buy my own food so this didn’t fill a need. A quick glance at the Harry & David website tells me she probably spent close to $30.00 on this caramel corn and chocolate chips. Plus she sent the pears and cheese. Another $40.00? At least it is food and will go away. It’s not just stuff.
On the other hand, there were lots of years when she didn’t give me anything.
So I can’t help but wonder… Am I making too much out of this? Is it really “the thought that counts”? Am I just ungrateful? Is it my own fault for having too high expectations when I find out someone sent me anything at all?
Then again, it occurs to me that since I can’t remember any of the gifts I did get when I was a kid, and more often than not, I can’t remember a few months later what I gave anyone or what anyone gave to me… Maybe it is the thought that counts…
The truth is, I’m feeling simultaneously grateful and dissapointed, I just would like to open a package and just be delighted by what I find. But the fact that I feel grateful and dissapointed at the same time is soemthing in itself. I’m certainly not accustomed to the ability to acknowledge two contradictory feelings at the same time.
By the way, the pears are awesome, much to my surprise.
Like pretty much everyone else lately, I’ve been thinking about Christmas and holiday spirit and gifts and so on.
Growing up in a Christian family, I was always tought that Christmas is about celebrating Jesus; “Jesus is the reason for the season” and all that. I don’t exactly dispute that, it’s just that, growing up in a Christian family, I always felt like Jesus should be celebrated all the time and “Jesus is the reason for every season”. I don’t need a special day to remember Jesus. I remember Jesus every day.
Christmas was usually a bad holiday for my family. My parents split up when I was two yeas old and when I was a really little kid, everybody thought I was lucky – and I kind of did too – because I got to have two Christmases. I remember huge holiday events at my dad’s house in Cincinnati, Ohio where I lived until just before my 9th birthday (in Cincinnati, not my dad’s house.) My brother and sister and I would go to my father’s house for the week leading up to Christmas. My father’s wife’s oldest son worked for a local establishment called Swallen’s. Swallen’s was a “department store” of sorts though it was more along the lines of a Walmart Superstore. Their tag line was “Anything you want, everything you need, you’ll find it at Swallen’s” and it was pretty much true. The location where this pseudo relative worked had everything I could think of (except automobiles) right down to a boat dealership and a lumber yard across the street from the main store that had housewares, electronics, clothes, groceries, you name it. The store offered employees and their “families” a 20% discount so we did all our Christmas shopping there.
On Christmas Eve, we would have a big gifting extravaganza. I remember one year specifically. My father was renting this enormous house on hundreds of acres of land. The living room was on the back corner of the house, with a screened in porch off the back. On the inside wall of the room was an enormous fireplace and on the outside wall was a gigantic bay window-type floor to ceiling protrusion where the Christmas Tree was set up. Santa had been very generous that year and there were so many presents under and around and behind and for several feet in front of that tree, I, at about six years old, was beside myself with anticipation.
The Swallen’s employed pseudo sibling was fond of trick gift wrapping and I remember that year he gave two gifts that completely stumped the crowd. He gave my sister a small stuffed bear, but to wrap it, he bought a large flat box of Puff’s tissues and carefully opened the end, removed most of the tissues, and stuffed the bear in underneath the top layer before sealing the end with glue so it looked unopened. My sister later admitted that she was almost in tears at the idea that this person had given her a box of tissues for Christmas until he told her to open it and she discovered the real gift inside.
He had also given my father an axe for Christmas, but the way it was wrapped it seemed certain he had gifted my father with a guitar. It was only after the outer layer of paper was removed and my father discovered a layer of cardboard and another layer of paper that we realized he was up to his tricks again.
Ironically, I do not remember a single gift that I received that year at my father’s house. I suspect it was a lot of clothes, mostly second-hand and garage sale purchases, I’m sure, and all to be kept at my father’s house (my mother wouldn’t let us bring clothes to my dad’s house because they always came back dirty, she said.)
There were seven of us in this party and by the time we finished unwrapping all the gifts, we were swimming in a waist-high sea of wrapping paper. I have vivid memories, which I’m certain in my older and wiser years are not real, of us shuffling that sea of paper, with our feet, into the now roaring fireplace. Surely that would have resulted in burning the house down, but that’s how I remember it nonetheless.
With all the paper burned and all our gifts put away it was off to bed and up early for the long, cold drive back to my mother’s house on the other side of town.
My father, at that time, drove a beat up old Ford Maverick he didn’t even own, comprised of spare parts from two different Maverick’s left on the property he rented. It was an ugly amalgamation of baby blue and lime green side panels with rusted out floor boards and it ran on scavenged parts held together with chewing gum and desperation. There were holes in the floor we had to actively keep our feet out of as we watched the roadway fly by beneath us.
That Christmas morning was bitterly cold, the temperatures having dropped to below zero, and an ice storm had passed through overnight. After 14 years in California, I can’t even conceive of sub-zero temperatures and ice storms anymore. I remember sitting in the back seat of that beat up old Maverick with my sister, huddled together and teeth chattering like… Well, like this:
My oder brother sat in the front passenger seat next to my dad, and at some point I remember my father becoming concerned about my sister’s and my feet becoming frost-bitten and so he told my brother to wrap his scarf around our feet and rub them to keep them warm… Well warm enough. I didn’t really feel like we were that bad off, but my brother, who I sort of hated and who resented if not hated me, was being forced to do something nice for me so I wasn’t about to speak up.
Eventually, we were back at my mother’s house and we walked in to another bright Christmas Tree, overflowing with gifts. It was the early 80’s and my mother worked for a tech company that still gave out Christmas bonuses. While we were at our dad’s house she had been out shopping up a storm making it a very exciting Christmas for us kids. I remember anxiously looking through all the gifts, wondering which ones had my name on them and my mother telling us we couldn’t open any presents until after we ate the big breakfast she had prepared for us.
I don’t particularly remember any of the presents she got for us either, interestingly.
A couple of years later, my mother and siblings and I moved from Cincinnati to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where we never had another good Christmas, ever. My parents unofficial custody agreement when we moved was different, depending on who did the telling. They began to fight over who we should spend the holidays with. My father felt that he should get us for Christmas, since we lived 900 miles away and he hardly ever got to see us (he had a point.) My mother felt like it wasn’t fair to her that he should get us for every holiday (she had a point.) At some point they decided that we should decide… We, their 9, 12 and 14-year-old children, should decide who we were going to spend our Christmases with, placing us in the unenviable position of having to disappoint and hurt one of our parents.
We always stayed with our mother, quite possibly for no reason other than the fact that if we chose our father we would be subjected to her pouting and guilt tripping for the weeks leading up to his arrival to whisk us away and if we chose our mother, we’d never see his pouting and feeling sorry for himself. This is just one of many examples of us being responsible for our mother’s feelings and behavior.
I don’t know when Christmas bonuses went out of style, but my mother never received one after we moved to Oklahoma (and I’ve never received one at all.) Christmas became harder as she had three teenage children to support and no extra money to spend on gifts. Before long, we had chosen to stay home with our mother who couldn’t afford to do anything for us and so, in spite of having chosen to stay with her so that she wouldn’t pout and guilt trip us for leaving, she pouted anyway, because she couldn’t afford to do anything special.
Come to think of it, it wasn’t until this time that my mother really started pushing the “celebrating Jesus’s birthday” angle. I think I always resented it because it felt more like a justification, or at least an excuse for why it was okay that we didn’t have gifts at Christmas. It felt disingenuous because it was new and contrived, just something to soothe the ache; whether it was her ache or our own, I do not know.
I grew to hate Christmas. All the holly jolly and the cheer, the incessant Christmas music everywhere you go, the pressure to be happy and “feel the holiday spirit”, all the togetherness and FUCKING HAPPY PEOPLE!!! And most of those fucking happy people? Aren’t!! They just act like they are because it’s what people expect of them. I hated the season, the build up, the antics and attitudes, and I just couldn’t wait for it to all be over! My mother took to calling me Scrooge, because she thought it was funny to make a literary reference and a dig at her most sensitive child, all at the same time.
So naturally, I worked for three years in retail, because where else should a Scrooge work during the holidays, than AT THE MALL!!!
I had enough. Not just of the holidays but of the family togetherness and the expectations and demands and general atmosphere of my life. I moved away… As far away as I could get, without crossing a body of water. I spent my first Christmas with another family, because that’s what you’re supposed to do… apparently. Because being alone on Christmas is somehow shameful and pathetic. I spent the afternoon with a family I didn’t really know, in an environment I didn’t really enjoy and watching as they all exchanged gifts and I had nothing to give and received nothing in return. They were perfectly lovely to me and I’m still friendly with that family today, but I came to realize that Christmas is a time for family togetherness.
The first two years after my first niece was born, I went back to Tulsa for Christmas. I stayed with my mother and visited with friends and spent time with my family… and experienced all the same old strife and resentment and pressure and bitterness and general sucky, sucky time. The second year, my mother was completely unreasonable, and when I stood up for myself, she acted as if she was going to hit me. I vowed then and there never to spend another Christmas with my current family again.
I realized, Christmas is a time for Family togetherness, as long as the family is your own family and you can stand to be around them. I spend Christmas alone now and I’m content to do it. Sure I’d like to spend it with people, but I’d like to spend it with the right people and at this point, I haven’t found the right people. I’d like to spend my Christmases with my Ross, Rachel, Phoebe, Monica and Joey. (I left out Chandler, because several people have told me that I remind them of Chandler – or at least my sense of humor does. Could I be any more different?)
Deb asked me at our least session how I felt going into the holidays. Our next session won’t be until after Christmas and she just wanted to know how I was doing with the looming occasion. I told her I’m fine. And I meant it. I am. Yes, spending the holiday alone is a bummer, but I’m used to it, more importantly I’m fully aware of the fact that I choose it. If I was going to spend my holidays with other people, I would want it to be like the friends on Friends. A bunch of people who are like me either in that they don’t have family locally, or they do not want to spend this time with their family if they do. Until I find those people – Deb referred to them as my “chosen family” – I will spend it on my own and be perfectly content to do so.
Watch this video from my favorite Christmas movie. Don’t worry, it’ll open in a separate window. I tried to embed it but the person who posted this set it up so it couldn’t be embedded and it was the only clip I could find with the crucial line in it. If you don’t have much time, skip ahead and watch from 3:03 to about 3:30. (Thanks a lot, Christmas Dave for ruining the flow of my blog post.)
Go over to YouTube and watch the clip. Go ahead. I’ll wait. I’ll be here when you get back.
Finished? Great. Now allow me to branch off into a seemingly completely unrelated topic, only to loop it all back around in then end…
I’ve got a bit of seemingly minimal crap going on in my life. But of course, “a bit” of seemingly minimal crap can pile on and amount to one big pile of smelly, unpleasant… stress.
The apartment I have lived in for the last four years has only one built-in source of heat. It’s a small, gas-burning fireplace with asbestos (probably not asbestos) logs that glow when hot to make it look like they’re on fire. The flame itself only resembles a smoulder and offers no ambiance to my apartment. The fireplace gets pretty hot right where it is and according to “them” is supposed to be sufficient to heat my whole apartment. In reality, it s about 85 degrees at the fireplace and about 65 degrees 8 feet away. Plus, the fir place puts off an obnoxious odor that gives me a headache. I choose not to use the fireplace and in the meantime, it is freezing in my apartment.
Yesterday I went to the Orthodontist for what was supposed to be my take-my-braces-off appointment. Last month, the younger Dr. Tinloy (it’s a father and son practice) told me to pay close attention to my teeth over the next month and see if there was anything else I felt needed to be corrected and this month we’d talk about taking the braces off. Realizing that literal perfection is not a possibility at my age, without extraction and implants, I’m pretty happy with the way my teeth look these days, but I did notice that the back teeth on the bottom are not in-line with the rest of my teeth. I didn’t know if it really mattered, or if it was worthwhile (or even possible) to try to correct, but I didn’t want to look back on this experience in a couple of years and wish I had stuck it out and gotten those last two teeth straightened out. When I pointed this out to the older Dr. Tinloy yesterday, he agreed that it could be done and even said he did think it was worthwhile. So here I sit with braces still on my teeth and in some respects tighter than they’ve ever been. I’m aware that after only one year and nearly finished I’m better off than most and my threshold for pain is pretty high so I haven’t had a lot of discomfort, but they’re a hassle and I’m ready to have them off. In the end though, I chose to continue with the process and finish what I started.
Some time in the last month or so, some ne’er-do-wells managed to sneak some contraptions into the self-service check stands at several of the local Lucky’s grocery stores. These contraptions record and somehow transmitted or conveyed the information from customer’s credit cards to the ne’er-do-wells who have been using the information fraudulently and causing a lot of trouble and heartache for the owners of those cards and the banks they’re attached to. Sadly, I frequent two of those Lucky’s grocery stores and while, fortunately, I have not been a victim of any identity theft, or bank fraud, my bank, proactively, decided to cancel my debit card because I shopped at those stores. They sent a replacement, which I received yesterday, but for several days I was without access to my money…
This was not as much of a hardship as it could have been, because, well… I really don’t have any money. I have $38.00 in the bank until payday which is this Friday. I need to do Christmas shopping (soon, since most of my gifts are going out of state) and I have bills that are coming due soon, but for the moment, I’m OK, financially speaking. Still $38.00 isn’t much and I would certainly prefer to have more money just hanging around… I suppose we could all say that, though, no matter how much we actually have “hanging around.”
For a few weeks, ever since the very sniffly, coughy, non-hand-washy DMV worker, I’ve been struggling with cold-like symptoms. First it was a couple of weeks of running nose and sniffles. Then just as that was dwindling away, I started coughing… TWO. WEEKS. LATER. The cough has persisted. It’s not constant, though it is a nuisance. It’s not productive and despite my best efforts it’s not offering any kind of relief to the irritation that causes it in the first place. While I have not been short of breath, I have had a hard time getting a full, deep breath and when I try, it just makes me cough some more. Also, after nearly three weeks of coughing, I have muscular pain in my chest and back when I cough. Monday, I finally broke down and called my health care provider. I wasn’t sure there was any point in me going in – I don’t go to the doctor for the common cold… though maybe I should. After a conversation with an “Advice Nurse” it was determined that I could probably make do with a “phone appointment” and a little while later, I spoke with a doctor who, after discussing my symptoms said, “it sounds like you’ve got bronchitis” and proceeded to put in three prescriptions for me; two inhalers and one bottle of pills. Now, what I’m about to say is going to sound really ungrateful, so let me just specify that I KNOW I’m luckier than many people when it comes to health care coverage and yet, even for me, an employee of my healthcare provider, costs have gone up. Everything is relative and compared to the coverage I used to have – $5.00 for prescriptions and $0.00 for everything else – the increased expenses suck.
Remember that my ATM/Debit card was cancelled and I did not have access to the $38.00 in the bank. I happened to have very full jars of change on my dresser which I took to a coinstar machine and cashed in. It gave me enough cash that I should have been able to get through this week without any fears of running out of lunch money. My three prescriptions on Monday night cost me $45.00 and I had to pay another $1.00 for parking. I had $49.00 cash in my pocket. Suddenly, I didn’t have any more money for the week.
Monday, I reminded K of a task she needed to complete for me this week. It’s a task that will take her all of 20 minutes to complete and normally she wouldn’t have to do it right now, but she’s on vacation next week and I’m taking another two weeks stay-cation starting at Christmas. What she needs to do for me needs to be done and announced before I go on vacation, therefore, she needs to do it this week. Her response? “See this is why I asked you last week if there was anything else I owed you.” After thinking of a number of less friendly things to say, I simply said, “You’re welcome,” and left it at that. I chose not to make her attitude, my problem.
Yesterday, I had about an hour and a half between my Orthodontist appointment and my bi-weekly appointment with Deb and while I was at home I had a thought that caught me a little by surprise and when I expressed the thought to Deb, “With all this stuff going on, I’m not stressed out about it. I’m doing just fine,” I got a mental picture of The Grinch in the scene above…
To paraphrase a little bit, “I’ve got all this crap going on, and I’m fine. What is the DEAL?!?!?”
So, I finished the first draft of my novel on the day after Thanksgiving. Many, MANY moons ago, I printed out a hard copy of what I had already done (less than half the finished work) and started editing those pages. I got through ten chapters before I put that down and didn’t look at it again. Eventually, I went back to writing with a renewed vigor and determination (and another round of NaNoWriMo to motivate me.) Since I finished the first draft I decided to go back through those old edits and update the soft copy before I did anything else. Interestingly, many of those edits had already been done in the soft copy, which tells me, not only that I did them during some other burst of editing, but also that I was on the right track since I thought the same thing more than once.
I finished that last week.
Today, I have before me a completed, fully printed, hard copy of the book; 416 pages, 208 sheets of paper. And you know what? For the first time, it looks real. All double spaced and Times New Roman-y, just the way an agent/editor/publisher wants it. It feels kinda strange… Good! But strange…
My next step is to go through the hard copy, with a red pen, and hopefully a clear, unbiased mind and edit it again. I know there are sections that need work. I know that there will be rewrites to be made, but I’m pretty excited about this process all the same.
I’m officially signed up to participate in a writers workshop, starting in February. There will be real, published, accomplished authors in this group. To say that I feel out of my depth and a bit self-conscious would be an understatement. But the leader of the workshop, a published author herself, has already given me very positive feedback on the few pages I sent her last week and I can’t wait to hear more (even if some of it is constructive criticism and not accolades… accolades would be nicer though…) 😉