I hate giving gifts. But …

It’s a terrible thing about me I guess but the truth is that the approach of the holiday season fills me with a mortal fear that I will have to give people gifts and I won’t know what to get them and so will get something stupid and it will ruin the relationship forever and cause me to spiral into a suicidal depression in which I will drive the car over a cliff but not actually kill myself only become hugely disfigured and then go through a lifetime of plastic surgeries that will only make me more gruesomely hideous.

It’s also possible that while trying to decide what gift to buy someone I will feel ever more frustrated at my inability to make a simple choice that regular people all over the world are making with apparent ease and this frustration will lead to anger and the anger will lead me to say something inappropriate to the person I am with who up till now thought I was a pretty decent person but will then decide on the basis of my sudden outburst that I am rather unstable and maybe made some bad life choices and henceforth that person will block my calls and unfriend me on Facebook.

Or I will spend way too much money on an inferior product. Or I will get something I think the person will like but which I personally find hideous and when the person opens it in my presence I will be seen to wince and that will telegraph something untrustworthy and suspicious about me, that I don’t really like the thing I claim to believe is really really cute and if I’m lying about that maybe I’m lying about many other things and this relationship, too, will spiral out of control and I will find myself blocked in numerous technological ways from further contact.

These are just a few of the bad things that could happen. This is why I hate giving gifts. But here is something. Here is the thing.

Finishing School Book CoverOur book Finishing School: The Happy Ending to That Writing Project You Can’t Seem to Get Done makes a great gift. I propose it as the solution to all gift-giving problems. And I have somewhat reliable proof, based on real people saying real things without prompting or cash prizes. When we talked about this idea, Danelle and I, when we wrote the proposal and showed it to people, especially but not only people in the worlds of journalism and book publishing but other people too, the thing they said, the overwhelmingly most common thing they said was, “I know somebody I want to give this to.”

So that was something we knew from the very beginning, that this would make a great gift-type book. So naturally we thought the smartest thing to do would be to publish just in time for the gift-giving season. Say, in October, just in time to get the advertising ready and everything geared up for a big push to market this book as a great gift book.
Instead, and surely they had their reasons, our publisher decided to release the book in January 2017. And the launch was kind of a bust for a number of reasons most of which totally having to do with me, which I hope to go into in subsequent posts …

Number One Reason the January 2017 Launch Was Kind of a Bust: I moved to Italy. It was a totally unrelated decision, unrelated to the book, which surprised the bejeezus out of Danelle, my co-writer, and probably caused her to think that she had teamed up with a person who was mildly unstable, a diagnosis that in subsequent interactions I must say has proven to be largely accurate, but be that as it may, the point here is that this is a great gift book that came out at the exact wrong time for a great gift book and I’m setting about to do what I can to rectify that totally innocent error by mounting a major push now, now that it is getting to be just about on the verge of gift-giving season. (Plus you don’t have to tell me how complicated the book business is, or how hard it is as an editor to get your favorite book slotted in the publication date slot you want it slotted in, especially if you are a brilliant but fairly new and young editor who has not yet acquired the superhuman clout and intra-business social capital you will later acquire, so I hold no grudge about this, I totally understand.)
Nonetheless, this is just by way of saying that for the next two months I’m going to be all over this trying to explain to people why this is a great gift book because I really am all about helping people and changing the world.

Detaching from Trump

I want to quickly share one simple response to the shock, fear and heartbreak my friends are feeling in the U.S. as a result of the recent election. I should be working on the novel, or the Finishing School book, but this is important to me.

In my personal quest to let go of attachment, that means all attachment.

I must let go of the illusion of power, the lust for control over people and institutions, the pride of hearing my own viewpoints echoed and praised, the pride of being right, the consoling belief that I am a good person in contrast to these others who are not good people, the delight in winning arguments, the pleasure of voicing scorn wittily and denouncing those whose ideas I despise, those whom I consider harmful, hateful, deluded, dangerous, misguided, those whose anger toward me makes me want to retaliate, those whose words, pointed right at what I hold sacred, make me fearful and protective … in my personal quest to let go of attachment, in my personal quest to accept things as they are, I cannot stop just because this one political event seems outside the category. And I must be most aware of that attachment to things I hold most sacred. The problem is not the quality of the object to which I am attached, but the phenomenon of attachment itself.

In my quest for perspective, I have to ask myself: Have I learned nothing from history, from legions of poets in exile, from war, sackings, raids, genocide, burnings, persecution, mass exile and emigration, have I learned nothing from history about fate? Have I learned nothing from the anarchy of disease, of cancer’s insouciant eeny-miney-mo choice of victims, of the random car crash, the random rain, the random earthquake and flood, the random rise and fall of regimes?

For a long time I have lived like an exile watching from outside the palace gates. I have longed for acceptance and belonging but I have not belonged or been accepted in the way I long for because what I long for is not to be found. I long for love and security like a child, all the time, empty and desperate. I have tried to stuff this big emptiness in my chest with everything the world has to offer but have had to conclude that this big emptiness in my chest is a feature of my being.

Likewise, there is no guarantee that I always get to be on the winning side. Yes, it is bad. But America is not unique. America is not immune to catastrophic political mistakes. There have been rulers before in other countries who were mad, narcissistic, paranoid, deranged, and they have wrecked things and made disasters. And such a thing has now begun. In response, what do I do? I am no activist hero. I am not a political actor. I am no match for this.

If acceptance is the key to all things then I must always watch for the imperious re-emergence of my hunger for power, my lust for recognition, my need to be right, my need for praise. I must remember how all these things are symbolic satisfactions of my basic need for love and security, how, when love and security in my daily life are threatened, I turn toward symbols: solidarity, my side winning.

Meanwhile, we have lost big.

What will keep us safe? How will we best survive?  What do I do?

I wait it out like a bad storm. Are there others, left behind, whom we can rescue? We will see.

If you like, if you’re not safe where you are, and you can swing it, come to Italy. Come to Castiglion Fiorentino. Wait out the storm with us.