Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Gifts for Geeks: SURPRISE!

After a week of threatening to begin our yearly Gifts for Geeks series, here we are at last.

This isn't all capitalism and excess, mind you; no matter how extravagant, materialistic, and entitled we may sound, we understand that not everyone is giving gifts this time of year--whether by choice or by necessity. For those who hope to give and receive, we're here to offer whatever insight we can. For everyone else (and, indeed, for everyone), we're here to share our stories of the more tangible aspects of our favorite fandoms and the lessons we've learned from growing up in a culture of gift-giving.

Our Gifts for Geeks posts this year will follow the kind of question-and-answer format that Alex and I are rather partial to, except with less back-and-forth banter and, we expect, more unrestrained pontification. So, here goes:

When you are the recipient of a gift, do you prefer a surprise, or something you've asked for?

Nathaniel: That sincerely depends on how long the gift-giver has known me, and how well. I think the secret to truly dynamite gift-giving is not just knowing the recipient's personality, but knowing their lifestyle, what they use and display in their home, and how their trends have changed over time. Listening is also key. I'm happy to receive anything off of my wish list, but the gifts that transcend pure materialism are the ones that are especially thoughtful or appropriate coming from a particular person, or the ones that only use the wish list as a starting point.

I estimate that the the average gift-giver at an office party, group function, or family get-together picks out gifts for acquaintances based primarily on the most obvious aspects of the recipient--typically their attire and personality--filling in the gaps in their knowledge with their own personality, or with their perception of what kind of interests a person with that attire and personality might have. It can be really fun to see what kinds of ideas people in such situations come up with. It can also be incredibly awkward, frustrating, and even insulting. In such cases, surprises are welcome, as long as "safe" and "general-interest" are the guiding principles.

Really, it's the extreme ends of the spectrum that I tend to enjoy surprises from the most--the people who know me profoundly well, and the people who still mispronounce my first name. It can be very difficult having friends and family--even reasonably close friends and family--lavish you with gifts that involved any significant amount of guesswork in the selection process (see: Gifts for Geeks: "Safe" Gifts for Befuddled Buyers).

Ultimately, I receive gifts with the same mindset I apply to my everyday life: I like occasional surprises to keep things fresh and interesting, so long as there's a solid foundation of predictability in place.

As a side note, one of the things that's helped me figure out (and remember!) what I do want is a standing wish list. Instead of preparing a new list every time a gift-giving occasion rolls around, I simply keep one massive list on file that contains everything, reasonable and unreasonable, broken into categories, that I possess any interest in having. The list gets updated on a "whenever I think of something to add or remove" basis, or if someone specifically requests it.

This standing wish list has proven invaluable as an aid for my own acquisitions as well as for my holiday benefactors. I can keep track of what seasons I have on DVD of any television shows I'm collecting, and can rifle through the used video game tables at conventions with fewer deliberations over whether such-and-such-a-game is worth owning. I should mention that I also have a separate list entirely for my Dungeons & Dragons miniatures, but by mentioning this, I think I've completely deviated from the topic. Alex, where were we?

Alex: That...got incredibly involved towards the end, there. So much so, in fact, that I've managed to completely forget the question. Hang on a second while I scroll up to read it.

So many words to scroll through...okay. There. Got it.

When it comes to receiving gifts, do I prefer a surprise, or something I've asked for? Well, let me say this. As one of those (insane) comic book fans that I always describe as being impossible to shop for, I am, well, quite difficult to shop for.

I'm not so great at receiving gifts, actually, which makes things even more complicated when trying to buy for me. Getting a gift always makes me feel awkward for some reason. I enjoy giving gifts to others, but the getting of them? I dunno.

Always a little weird. Which probably says something about me and some deep-rooted psychological blah blah blah, I'm sure.

Anyway. Here's a fer example. Take this holiday season. My brother, bless his heart, always wants to get me that perfect gift. See, we've had this thing since we were kids where we try to outdo each other at Christmas, always one-upping the other in terms of gifts.

Over the years, there have been some pretty cool things under the tree.

Recently, though, I've become increasingly difficult to buy stuff for. I think this is mostly due to the fact that, if I want something, I'm just going to buy it for myself when I see it.

There have been two or three occasions in the past month or so where I've told my brother, "There! That! Buy me! It'll be the perfect Christmas gift!" And then, about an hour later I'll send him an email saying to forget about it because I've already bought it.

I think, especially as a comics fan, the things I want are so (so!) specific that it's sometimes harder to tell people what I want. It's just easier to buy it myself and then wait to be surprised with what others get for me.

So, um. I guess that's my preference--to be surprised.

However, as a comics fan, sometimes being surprised can lead to, say, five copies of the (excellent, but really I only need one) The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics, by Denny O'Neil.

Great gift? Sure it was. But after the fifth person bought me one, that shiny happy wore off a little.

Though, I have to say.

Because of the abundance of DC Guides I've accumulated over the years, I was able to make Denny O'Neil laugh a couple years ago when I took a writing class that he was teaching.

So, now that I think about it, maybe they weren't such bad gifts after all...

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