I write to you from a tea shop with ample desk space. Cars of all shapes roll in and out of the Asian plaza in Chinatown. This place has fond memories for me—it’s where I spent a lot of time in college whenever we took breaks from studying in search of a good meal and snacks. I’m in Houston for the next few days for the holidays. On the plane home, I carried a tote bag with handmade gifts wrapped in a hodgepodge of spare shirts and sweaters. That was the most sustained care and attention I had given any object lately—making sure it stayed upright going through the security scanner, guarding it between my legs on the plane and gingerly swinging it out of narrow passageways. In the end, the goods made it back mostly intact for me to re-wrap them in more fitting seasonal paper.
One of my favorite things to read during this time of year is the gift guides that various people with very distinctive tastes will deviate from their regularly scheduled programming to release. Sometimes, reviews of products feel more intimate than personal writing, revealing specific everyday preferences and habits of the authors that would never come up in a traditional essay. Robin’s guides always feature a nice variety of high-quality perishables and hand-crafted everyday objects that you can treasure for a lifetime. Laurel’s share friends’ reflections on gift-giving interspersed with one-of-a-kind objects sure to give you a new way of seeing the world. Love other gift guides that I’m missing? Let me know in a reply :)
I’m setting my ambitions high by using those two as my models, but I think that’s the level of care that gift giving deserves. I’ve traditionally been quite bad at giving gifts. If I didn’t know for sure what someone wanted, I would get stuck in a mental dilemma: part of me felt an obligation to give something and another part didn’t want to give something that they would rarely (if ever) use or appreciate. After witnessing some wonderful gifts that friends have given and through years of trial and error, I’ve realized how sacred and intimate gifting is and that it’s a skill that you can actually work on.
Gift-giving requires a careful attention to how people spend their days and their perspective on the world. Understanding what to gift someone also means you understand them more as a person, forming the foundation for a better relationship. It’s also an incredible feeling when you see the gift you’ve given display proudly in their home or used over and over again in their daily lives. When you give a good gift, it’s almost like you’re giving a piece of yourself away, an object (or memory!) that represents the careful attention and care of your bond.
I’m reminded of Leia Chang’s what identities do you choose to wear? that I saw at their Artist Showcase at Gray Area. The piece features handcrafted rings to fit their fingers, composed of a meaningful raw material encased in resin. Wearing the ring automatically activates the wearer’s relationship with that material for that day. When you give a gift that can be interacted with or used, you’re presented with the opportunity to create a similar kind of object for someone, a small reminder of you in their daily lives.
For receiving gifts, I’ve found that you can make it easier for others to give you something that you will definitely enjoy and use. Taylor (of taylor.town) recommends making a public
/wish page (or just regular old public wishlist for those without websites). I’ve started doing this in a private are.na channel that I add to whenever I see something that I want but don’t need from my phone. If you already collect certain kinds of things, you can simply publicize that to those who care about you, and they can always give you something that will fit in your collection.
On one hand, you might think that acts of service are better than piling onto our society’s collective obsession over materialism. On the other hand, objects are precious and grow their own faces, the deeper a bond you form with them. Gifting someone an object that grows to have this kind of relationship with the recipient can be a transformative offering.
- these colorful earplugs that I wear almost every night when I sleep. These have a balance of comfort and sound isolation that are great for a light sleeper. thank you to S for recommending these
- a tiny scale which I use every morning for weighing out my coffee beans for my daily Aeropress. It’s cheap and accurate, which makes it useful for other weight-sensitive projects like mixing epoxy for kintsugi. thank you to someone on the /r/coffee subreddit for recommending these.
- MOGICS bagel universal power strip a tiny universal power strip that also has the benefit of looking like a bagel. thank you to Sb for bringing this on a trip and demonstrating its qualities so well that I immediately ordered one from amazon.
- a good tote. This is going to be a personal choice, but I recommend looking in thrift shops for ones with unique styles, lots of pockets, or interesting color combinations. Don’t waste your money on a tote with a single graphic and a single big pocket. If it’s going to be something you carry around often, find one with some personality. My two go-tos are a Viridian tote made by BAGGU and this one with a million pockets that I thrifted from Buffalo Exchange.
- a gift box
- a website
- madness rack and honey
- making of prince of persia
- a table that refracts light
- casio watch
- kintsugi kit
- ceramics class
Thank you for everyone who is reading this, and welcome to all the new folks (now 567 of you!!). If you’d like to support my independent work, I’d appreciate if you shared anything I’ve made that resonates with someone who you think would enjoy it (and I also have a sponsors page for people to support my independent work and get inside scoops)! Thank you to the 11 people who support me with a monthly sponsorship (welcome to Crystal and James who joined since).