I was in the beautiful downtown of my beloved city, San Francisco, a few days BEFORE Thanksgiving and it nearly gave me a coronary. Maybe in the light of the OCCUPY movement, the consumerism really pushed me into a catatonic state, or maybe it was my the disbelief and terror regarding the high percentage of Uggs on the hoofs of so many shoppers, but either way, I knew I could not go back down there until well into January. The teeming sidewalks of all of us lining the coffers of those gargantuan banks and all those massive stores grabbed ahold of my ribs like an inmate rattling a cage in a prison riot. I had to get the eff out.
For the record, I am not proclaiming sainthood or any kind of innocence regarding the state of our economy. Supporting cruel cheap labor practices makes things more affordable, and affordable looks pretty good in an expensive city. But after that day I began a practice based on how things could look a little better and actually feel nicer than a red package from the Gap. Even though they did just release some purple legging jeans I feel tempted by, I continue to feel more PTSD from that afternoon than I am tempted by lesbian-hued pants. It’s a close race on glum days when my American shopping mechanism for commerce-as-anti-depressant kicks in, but so far, I’m good.
In my overwhelmed state upon arriving home, I began to compile a list of ideas that would help me avoid this experience for the rest of the holiday season. If you want to stay out of the dizzying shopping fray, off of the inter-nerd “deal” yard, and still give to your loved ones, this list might give you some ideas. My friend Steph reminded me to really think about who you’re giving things to before you give them. For instance, giving your partner lovely local ballroom dancing lessons is a fantastic idea if they have always wanted to learn. However, if YOU have always wanted to learn and they feel like they’d rather carve their wrists open with a butter knife, a better present might be for you to get the lessons for yourself, find a friend who is dying to learn with you, and write your partner a homemade card thanking them for all they do to support you in fulfilling your dreams, and let them know you are going to stop nagging them to do something they don’t want to do and suffer through “In the Mood” (which I love) just to make you happy. You might want to include the vintage Anthrax t-shirt you scored at a metalhead’s estate sale in Marin, assuring them you love them just as they are.
So here we go:
#1: Give your loved one a gift certificate to a local massage therapist. Ask around. People can suggest talented practitioners in the field who will provide relief from pain; relaxation; and heated massage tables. The link above is to Valerie Agnew, who also uses something called a hydrocollator which is this metal thing that heats up liquid packs. The part of your body that is not being massaged gets wrapped up in a hot burrito situation which is AMAZING.
#2: Figure out someone’s least favorite chore and give them a gift certificate stating you’d love to do it for them for a whole week. Thanks, holiday season!
#3: Get your loved ones a gift certificate to their local food Co-op. Who wouldn’t love being treated to healthy groceries while the neighborhood gets supported?
#4: Pay for a month of your person’s gym membership! They can save the money for new spandex!
#5: Give a gift certificate to your local, treasured, and endangered bookstore. They could perhaps choose this store. One of the most beautiful I have ever been lucky enough to wander into: Omnivore Books, curating all things gastronomic. Run by the outstanding Celia Sack.
#6: Offer babysitting evenings to friends with kids so they can have a date. In fact, take the kids away and let the parents have a “stay home” date. Or offer dog/cat sitting services to those with animal family members so they can get away for a weekend. You will be so adored and loved by your intimacy-starved new-parent friends and your animal loving pals who have stockpiled years of resentment about all the places they can’t take Parsnip the Cat.
#7: Take clippings from your plants and root them in your windowsill in a mason jar with water. Once the roots are established, grow one for your people. Find a gorgeous pot at an estate sale.
#8: You know how you have a pile of beautiful things you always want to get framed professionally but then you never get around to it? Get someone a gift certificate to their local framers, instead of Michael’s! I have a Mohammad Ali autograph, a Xylor Jane, a Ginger Robinson, and an original Sarah Cadwallader just waiting. In San Francisco you can start here, at the independently owned shop of Laurian Rhodes and rock guitar and flyer artist legend Sluggo, who, in his Clark Kent incarnation is also known as Doug Cawley.
#9: Make people recordings where you read them your favorite short story. My friend Judith Moman, also the most fun attorney in the nation, used to tell stories on the radio. It is so so so nice to hear the voice of someone you adore reading a story.
#10: Local coffee roaster. No matter how much of a sucker I am for the pink and orange puffy font of Dunkie’s when I’m on the East Coast, for this series, I am still saying go small. Go local. People really love coffee.
#11: I’m trying not to pull a muscle patting myself on the back for this brilliant suggestion. Get your pals a gift certificate to a local video store that covers enough for them to rent every episode of either The Wire or Friday Night Lights. Their lives will be enriched forever in a great way plus your video store owner friends will love you. Omar, Tami Taylor, Tim Riggins, and Bodie will give for so much longer than the Old Navy performance fleece that should be banished from Earth.
#12: Get someone a session at the local ceramic studio, glass studio, or a painting lesson from a local genius. Especially for anyone who still thinks about Patrick and Demi in Ghost.
Personally, I feel a little sad for Demi and Ashton. They looked happy to me and hung out with Bruce. I liked that. Anyhow, I hope they both fare ok in the public eye. I can’t imagine having the world watch me go through a massive break-up. Wow. That was quite a tangent.
#13: Applesauce cake. Crowd pleaser. Directions under the photo.
#14: A year member ship to a local art museum. Feel free to pick from a ton of them. This is one of the best museums I have ever been to.
#15: A recipe book!!! Collect your favorite dishes, write em up and BAM!, make copies for all your beloveds. Here, try this for big-end, and hit your neighborhood print shop to go old skool.
#16: Thank people you’ve been meaning to thank. Priceless.
#17: Create a city/town/neighborhood/house wide scavenger hunt. It is SO FUN!!! Prize? Unfiltered glory. Reams of laughter. Teamwork. Joy. And then everyone ends up having some tea with those tiny sandwich platters.
#18: Design a day trip for a friend. If you live in town, give someone a detailed day out-of-town to follow. Hot Springs! A gorgeous hike! A great campsite! The perfect beach! If you live out-of-town, send someone to the big city for the day! A splendid ramen! A mind blowing art show! A gay bar!
#19: Music. MUSIC, for chrissakes! Sing to someone! Play an instrument to them. As a person who cannot sing or play an instrument, having a song performed, live, right to me would be one of the sweetest, best presents ever. If you are like me and cannot perform such incredible feats, find a small band, or a solo artist, an excellent one, and get someone a CD, thereby helping the person, and the band. Here, try this one.
#20: Make a calendar. You can use self-publishing, collage, or this awesome idea.
#21: Get witchy, man. Give someone a gift of a tarot reading, a psychic, a palm reading. Why not? You’ll keep it physically and fiscally local, if not psychically interglobal, and perhaps provide someone with the exact guidance they were looking for. In San Francisco, you can get in touch with Michelle Tea for holiday tarot openings. And you’ll be incredibly happy about it.
#22: This is NOT a gender specific gift idea, by the way: Men, males, and masculine-identified people can enjoy a fantastic and relaxing MANI/PEDI any time. It’s winter. People’s sandals are locked up, fingers are covered in mittens, and they are stressed the eff out! Get someone a nice treatment to doll up their extremities and relax in a hot foot whirlpool. And if strangers touching someone’s feet creeps your gift receiver out, just wait until they get their forearms rubbed down and fingernails buffed. So. Good. I like this place in SF.
#23: Get an “Eat More Kale” t-shirt from Bo. He is single-handedly making them all, PLUS taking on gay-hating Chik-Fil-A. And if that wasn’t enough, kale is the bomb. Personally, I’m for dino kale all day every day, but I won’t be mad about any kind. Bo is presently so swamped his orders won’t be ready before the whole tree and candelabra situations, but a note saying that something is on the way will be, and that way the holiday season and arrive later in the mail.
#24: Get someone a membership to a CSA. Small farms deliver seasonal produce to a drop off point, if not your door, and you get a box of organic good food to get creative with. It’s like a shopping spree that someone did FOR you. On a friggin’ farm. Here’s where you can find one.
This last suggestion isn’t really for the receiver. It’s for you. It’s for me, too and all of us. And it’s harder than you might think. Or I think it is and maybe that says more about me than anything, but so be it.
#25 Do something generous and kind for someone. And don’t let them find out. And don’t tell anyone you did it. And don’t put yourself in a position where you can see their reaction or fish to find out about it if it is someone you know. Giving gifts is about an exchange, but when the accolades for what a great job you did fall away, and you don’t get to see the joy reflected in the receiver, and there is no validation attached to the act, it becomes about the act itself. Period.
And with that, I wish you a happy and a healthy holiday season, a fantastic wealth of adoration from your people, and a few quiet moments to appreciate the way the lights always look.
Peace out, and peace on earth, man.