Wednesday, May 18, 2005


In Which We Come to The Last Week...

I don't quite recall when this started, but I have a tendency to remember the week leading up to my birthday with far greater clarity than the actual day itself.

It was the week in which I always remembered all the things I had planned to do--but never quite got to--in the year since my last birthday. Which meant that I'd invariably spend some time alternating between trying to rush a project through to completion (finish a treehouse, lose my virginity, start a novel) or, more often, kick myself for not getting on the ball and getting it done during the other 51 weeks I had somehow pissed away.

(Hence my little to-do list freakout of yesterday. Do you have any idea how long that compost pile has been sitting in our driveway? Ask my wife: She'll quote you the time to the minute, I bet.)

It was a big week for clearing the decks, and I suspect this habit came from my mom. When I was a kid, she forced me to clean out my closets, trying on and throwing out old clothes. I went through the toy boxes under my bed, pitching anything broken and creating a pile of toys I had outgrown (These I usually gave away to smaller kids who lived nearby). It ended up being a great anticipation-builder, I can tell you that. I always felt like I was making room for all the great new stuff I was about to get.

(Although, come to think of it, I never got a ton of new stuff for my birthday, unless it was during a birthday party, of which my parents had the tolerance to host exactly two for me in my lifetime. No, on my birthday, I would get four gifts, more or less, and they always fell into specific categories:

The Underwear Gift: This was anything useful or practical--something you actually needed, like socks or new pants or, of course, underwear. It was a bit of a non-gift. I mean, your mom had to get this for you anyway, right? So the only thing gifty about it was that she wrapped it. Ya. Hoo.

The Toy Gift: This was any toy, game or activity kit that you not only NEVER asked for, but often had no idea even existed. It was just something your parents saw in the store and thought you might like. It was the wild card gift, because some years it was something amazingly cool (my first LEGO set) and some years it was a real dud (the Pitch Back baseball device that nearly killed me. More on this another time).

The Book Gift: Always my parents gave books as gifts, and thank God they did. For me, it was usually a Hardy Boys or Three Investigators book I hadn't read, but sometimes it was a stack of comics, and once it was a journal, in which I began to write stories.

The Big Gift: By "big" I don't mean big in size (although sometimes it was), but big as in anticipation. As in build-up. As in the one thing you wanted all year and finally got, or the one stretch-goal item you knew was too expensive or way too fun (read: potentially dangerous) to ask for but you asked for it anyway and your parents actually delivered the goods (I still have the miniature tape recorder and the Swiss Army knife my parents gave me back during my boy-detective days).

Where was I?)

It was also a big week for taking long walks and/or bike rides, and thinking long-range thoughts. When I was younger, it was during these times that I would tally up all the new things I had learned or done during the year. As I got older, I added to the tally the things I'd screwed up royally, and spent a lot of my walks and rides figuring out how not to make the same mistake twice (although often I would). I haven't made time for many of those walks in recent years, but I need to.

And ever since I turned 13, I've tried to make this my Week of Good Deeds. I'd love to say this is a result of my strong moral and religious upbringing, but really it's more a mish-mosh philosophy cobbled together from reading too many comics books (all those do-gooders!) and being, at 13, a little too enamored of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, wherein it is revealed that, as a matter of tradition, hobbits tend to give gifts to others on their birthdays. I don't know why this stuck in my mind. I was--and am--as grabby for gifts on my birthday as the next person. But it's also fun, too, to send gifts and trinkets and stories to unsuspecting people, to ask the neighbor's kid to test some new gadget or video game a vendor has sent me, to pick one aspiring writer out of the slush pile and write her a detailed letter explaining why her story didn't work for us and what she can do to improve her odds the next time. Kind of odd, I guess, but in the could-do-worse category, it scores significantly higher than, say, drinking and whoring, which is what a former coworker of mine treats himself to every year.

If the above sounds self-serving, I should also add that I long ago realized the only reason I do this is so I can feel good about myself. And more importantly, so I can spend the rest of the year being a heartless bastard and not feel guilty about it.

Just a little gift to myself, I guess.

You'll have to excuse me now. I'm off for a long walk.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Whatever the motivation, your approach sounds much better than mine: depression, dreading the day of getting a year older, whining about it, and beating myself up for everything I haven't done in my life. I think women take aging much too seriously - myself included.

I like your way better - and I just might steal it. I'd love to be able to be a heartless bitch without guilt!!!!
Happy upcoming birthday! Maybe this year your big gift will be a wheelbarrow. For that compost. :)
This blog is a gift to those of us who read it. Thanks for this year's gift. And next year's. And next year's...happy birthday, MM.
Happy Birthday!

May the fear of 40, be nowhere in sight.
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