Friday, December 19, 2003

Happy Holidays!

I didn't write a Christmas letter this year, which troubles me. I always wrote it to get attention; either by my literary skill, humor, or novelty. To remind guys that I had a slight crush on of my existence; to assuage my guilt at having neglected other friends throughout the year. This year I was just too busy at work and by the time I realized that it was time to send cards, it was too late to do a letter. I did design a Christmas Card and send it out; I attach it here for anyone whom I didn't send it to. (I cut down my list this year to 100 people; it's costing me around $125 to do cards and postage!) Heck, here's the one for 2002 as well - much more wordy!
My friend John Folsom is a gifted artist, and I've been doing his website for about a year now. His stuff is wonderfully atmospheric and subtle. He sent his Christmas Card just today, and you really ought to go see his work on his website.

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

You Shouldn't Have

There is a party this week for a girlfriend of mine who just got married. I cannot attend due to a previous engagement, so I brought her gift to the office for someone to take in my place. And I realized, as I waited for the elevator to arrive, that I really hoped that I wouldn't see this friend before I could unload the gift. Because I knew what she would say: "Oh, you shouldn't have!" And you know what? That phrase sickens me. 

Think about it - you've gone to the trouble of picking out a gift; you've taken the time and money to put something together, only to hear the recipient say "you shouldn't have?!" What that really is, is someone protesting that you have made a MISTAKE in getting them a gift, and that on some subconscious level they don't want to be burdened by it; either because:
1) they feel like they don't deserve the loving gesture of a gift
2) they feel guilty that they didn't get anything for you, and resent feeling guilty
3) they feel like they have to pretend they didn't want anything from you for fear of appearing greedy
4) they really don't care for what you've chosen

Passing years have brought clarity to a great many things in my life, and I finally realized why I always hated to hear someone say I shouldn't have gotten them a gift. It takes a great deal of my enjoyment out of giving the gift in the first place, because it implies that I have made a mistake, and I hate making mistakes. Oh, they always say it in a cheerful tone, or with a rueful smile, but as one of my acting teachers observed over and over, "Many a truth is spoken in jest." 

I wonder how many other people get that sinking feeling when they hear this phrase. Now that I've finally recognized how this makes me feel, I'm inclined to start saying in response, "well then, I'll take it back!" I used to LIVE for the chance to see people open presents I'd given them, but the response is often so disappointing. To their credit, I think most people feel like "you shouldn't have" is a self-deprecating expression. But all it does for me is make me feel somewhat rejected. 

So I have some suggestions for a more appropriate response to gifts:
1) If you find yourself saying "You shouldn't have…," immediately follow it up with "…but I'm so glad you did!" That will soften the blow.
2) Come right out with a full-blown "Oh my gosh, you are so sweet/amazing/ thoughtful/inventive/wonderful" instead. Because they are, and your immediate happy response is better than any thank-you note (which you STILL have to send, people!)
3) Be honest. Say "I LOVE presents!" because, really, who doesn't love presents? (excepting one of my friends who feels she doesn't deserve them, and whom I have to trick into accepting them...)
4) If you absolutely hate a gift or don't need it, and know immediately that you want to exchange it, try this: "Oh my gosh, this is perfect! WHEREVER DID YOU FIND THIS?" The information will be happily and enthusiastically given.

Honesty is always the best policy, but take the next step and think about the feelings of the gift-giver and the time, love and money they have expended on your behalf.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Bollywood Ballyhoo

I have found my quality programming. It's called Bollywood Cinema - films made in India. Well, actually, I don't know that I would call all of it "quality", but it is highly addictive. Its complete lack of reality soothes me as nothing else can at present. I wish I could distill it down to a simple description. Some of the more obvious tendencies:
1) they're LONG - averaging 3+ hours each.
2) no matter what the genre, they seem to all contain song and dance
3) no kissing, but lots of hugs and nuzzling each others' faces in the romantic bits
4) vibrant color - especially the women's saris. I want to go to India just to buy fabric...
5) lots of tear-filled eyes, men and women alike. The men cry as easily and unashamedly as women.
6) the rich are SUPER rich, and the middle-class are rich, and the poor have enough to get by in moderate comfort. I have yet to see any slums

7) locations in various European countries, rarely related to the plot. I think the more unbelievable remote locations must indicate a dream state (I doubt the hero and heroine would fly for an afternoon to trapise about Mykonos in a dizzying array of outfits...)
8) lots of melodrama; lovers torn apart by parental disapproval, mostly.
There are laughable elements - one film has a SUPER rich family living in a French Chateau that I KNOW I've seen in pictures from the French countryside... but they pretend it is in India. Mothers and fathers love their children so much they weep frequently over their joys and sorrows. Sons and daughters may resist arranged marriages, but usually go through with them out of love and respect. If a couple starts dating on their own, they might have to deal with some seriously furious parents. Did I mention no on-the-lips kissing? That's a serious line that I have yet to see crossed - that of respect to one's elders and lack of romantic contact.
My description insults, though, by making so many generalities. I wish I could describe how moving these films can be, even to a Western viewer unaccustomed to such Victorian conventions... so Victorian that Louisa May Alcott would be writing screenplays for the Indian cinema had film existed 125 years ago. It takes about 10-15 minutes to get absorbed, but once you've accepted the conventions of the genre as well as its limitations (humor tends toward the slapstick, plot towards soap opera) it can be wholly absorbing.
I think I've finally figured out why these films fascinate me. Firstly, because of the sheer novelty. There's so much visual beauty in these movies; in locations, the actors, the clothing... you rarely get that in contemporary film, except for Baz Luhrman's work. Secondly, the unashamed emotion. Joy and sorrow are so strong in these movies, and perhaps it's not terribly subtle, but it really affects you.

Thirdly, and most importantly, these films move me because they're like my childhood daydreams. I was a serious daydreamer as a child, usually because I was miserable and disappointed and felt rejected. I had my own mental music videos even before MTV came along, and the similarities to Bollywood's song and dance are strong. Life is so often colorless, ugly, and disappointing, and we get so used to dull routine with so few things that really DELIGHT us... Bollywood actually addresses the human longing for adventure, beauty, love and heartfelt emotion: the key elements of fairy tales.
Plus there's some really cute guys in them who dance really well and don't act remotely gay. Although they need to stop featuring Hrithik Roshan's biceps in an array of sleeveless tops...

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Something Clever

I need to write something clever. I desperately need reassurance that I am actually a talented and gifted individual with a knack for writing smart and witty pensees. Yet I lack ideas. No blinding insights of late; no incidents that made me say "dang, I need to write that down!" Nothing that the Sedaris siblings would applaud. 

I did just spend a week on vacation, and it was marked by an utter lack of any productivity. The most I did was to buy a lampshade and fabric to cover it that matches my boudoir. Not that I actually followed through with it - it's still sitting in bags on the table at home. I took an afternoon nap most days, went to the pool a couple of times with the nephews, bought some clothes. Ate a lot of junk, mostly sugary and fried. Towards the end I was getting a bit bored with it - I've learned by now that you have to do SOME work even in the midst of idleness or otherwise it goes sour and you can't enjoy your leisure. So I did go to the gym 4 times, and worked on some computer problems at an organization I help sometimes. 

Now, in my third day back at work, I want to go home and take a nap. Granted, I would like to take a nap most afternoons, but the impulse is particularly strong today, despite the fact that I didn't even have any beers at lunch as I did on Monday and Tuesday. If I were to curl up on the mini-sofa in my office, I would definitely doze off in a minute or less. Yes, I wanna drive on home listening to more of Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix on tape, then fall asleep and doze for a couple of hours, and wake up to a really stellar TV lineup of all my fave shows. 

Maybe that's my problem - lack of quality programming. All of my favorite shows except for The Amazing Race are on hiatus, and many are not even in reruns. I can't wait to get home at night, but then I sit in front of the TiVo for hours until bedtime, and fall asleep feeling unsatisfied and disappointed. I've actually started to just turn off the TV at 9 or 9:30, which is usually an indicator that for a Loner, Life has become Sad and Dreary without the presence of an unacknowledged lover/a small cute child/a dog that has wrecked their apartment but brought a Light into their Existence, Heretofore Unknown. And now that the Light has departed for Parts Yonder, the Loner wonders how they ever lived without that lover/child/dog before. 

Well, considering that there hasn't BEEN a lover/child/dog anywhere near me for...ever, I'm afraid I must chalk my strange restlessness up to a lack of quality programming. Perhaps I should bite the bullet and invest in digital cable, so I can get BBC America and branch into British TV. I do need something to keep me from just eating incessantly in the evenings, and reading doesn't do it for me anymore.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

My Poor Hairdryer

My poor hairdryer died yesterday morning. It was a rather dramatic death… There I was, styling away, and suddenly there was a loud pop, sparks whizzed from the dryer past my face, and then silence and the smell of burnt plastic and wiring. The power cable had apparently twisted itself as far as it could go, and suddenly snapped, breaking the copper wiring. Fortunately I didn’t have it too close to my face when it blew out. But I actually felt rather mournful when I realized it was gone. It wasn’t that it had been a particularly good hairdryer or anything — but that I’d had it for so long. I had been using it off and on for 14 years, and that’s pretty amazing when you think of it. I had bought it on my mom’s credit card when I was 20 and in college, and I remember thinking at the time that it was rather pricey (all of $15 at Service Merchandise!)

In the years since then, $15 has seemed like a minor expenditure. I can easily spend that in a restaurant or at the movies. I have bought curling irons, RevoStylers, flatirons, and various hair care products for about the same amount, used them a few times, and stuffed them in a basket under the sink. I’ve wasted $15 on more things than I care to remember. But that hairdryer… It has gone far and beyond in recouping what I initially paid for it. The value of that battered, smudged gadget was far greater than anything else in the bathroom.

And it has been with me through my twenties and into my thirties, through all my Seasons of Hair and pitiful efforts to fix it in a style that actually looked current and fashionable. I’ve used it with diffusers, round brushes, regular brushes, glitter gel, tinted gel, leave-in conditioner, mousse, you name it. And in the moment of its passing, it gained a historical import and a personality all its own. It had been with me when I still permed my hair, when I tried bangs, when I bobbed it short, when I gave up on hairdryers and it sat forlorn in the basket under the sink while I went au naturel for several years. A year ago I cropped my hair the shortest it’s been since my toddler years, and I picked up my old hairdryer and started using it again. For the first time in my whole life I was absolutely current with the flippy, razor-cut styles of the day.

So when it snapped on me, it felt like I’d actually lost a friend, and I put it down on the counter, patted it, and thanked it for so many years of hot air. I hummed Taps as I wrapped its cord around the handle and carried it to the trash. That Conair 1600 hairdryer had done good service, and now it was gone, and I would have to find another one. It seemed like I shouldn’t replace it so soon; to go right out to Target and buy another one would be disrespectful in the face of so many years of faithful service. Plus I knew that whatever I bought to replace it would not be as sturdy or long-lived, since "they really don’t make them like that anymore," whispers my inner Old Codger. For example, my 2-year-old VCR died a few months ago, while the one I bought after college is still going strong.

But I did go get another one, because, after all, it is just an appliance; just an inanimate object with no soul. There is no room in my life to hold onto a dead appliance just because I’ve had it for so many years and I have some nostalgia for what it has endured with me. Plus I am obsessive about making my hair look as good as I can manage, and I can’t do my current hairstyle without one. Vanity reasserts itself. The Revlon 1875 I purchased to replace it only cost about $20, but the thing seems cheap and lightweight and has this ion switch that supposedly cuts back on the frizzies. The Old Codger within rises up in protest, muttering "we didn’t have no Ion Switches on our hairdryers in my day… didn’t need no Ion Switches…"

But then I am cheered by the hopeful thought that, if this one lasts me 14 years too, I will surely be married by then, and possibly have some kids. It will be with me as my looks begin to fade and my hair continues to thin, and I only use it to keep up appearances, and dry my kids’ hair after their bath, until it dies in its own dramatic accident when one of my children attempts to use it to melt plastic. I won’t name it… I refuse to sink to that level of pitiful personification of a mere gadget… but over time it will become common and everyday and familiar as did its predecessor, and when it dies, I will mourn it too in a corner of my mind. Because sometimes your hairdryer is the only thing you can count on.