Through indeterminate acts of nature or nurture, some people are born or bred with the insatiable desire to knock themselves out… gifting. To some, if there isn’t sweat when partaking in the sport of gift-giving, then you haven’t combed the aisles or blinded yourself by the LED light of e-commerce long enough.
I first recognized this peculiar mania in myself when at age ten a friend expressed that she pined magazines or candy for her birthday. In a whirlwind of prepubescent energy and dishwashing allowance money, I proceeded to clean out a magazine stand of every teenybopper rag they possessed and fill a paper bag of Ikea proportions with the king sized candy bars that usually eluded me unless my dad took us trick-or-treating in the ritzy neighborhood. While adult retrospection notes that my friend’s dentist probably would have preferred the gift of a couple magazines and one candy bar, child logic dictated that gift recipients should be spoiled to the same degree of rottenness that my family had always reserved for myself and my sister on gift-giving holidays. Even if money was tight, the little Moon sisters always had a staggering array of store-bought, hand-me-down, or homemade gifts to parade through like pint-sized kings every birthday, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter. And besides, buying my friend magazines and candy by the bucketful was way more fun than spending my chore money on yet another Now That’s What I Call Music CD.
Thus, the gift-giving fever took hold and replicated throughout my genetic makeup over the next thirteen years, culminating in last Christmas’s ardent desire to make everyone personally-tailored gift baskets (or gift crates and gift ice buckets in some cases). The overzealous process of analyzing each of my loved ones’ personalities, brainstorming potential gifts, imagining up different themes and titles, and then organizing the baskets themselves proved to be so fun I don’t know why I haven’t started seriously considering a career as a professional basket case.
I know this passion (or outright obsession) is a little eccentric and I know I have to warn newcomers to my close circle about the overbearing nature of my gifting, lest they abandon our friendship or break up with me out of shock (because yes, I can count myself among the very few people on this planet who’ve been dumped solely for excessive gifting). But I assure those of you who are coughing “CRAZY” into your hands, I garner sincere pleasure from the chance to plan a gift for someone I care about, and when I have enough money, the right artistic tools for the task, and time aplenty to make everything just right, manifesting the present I’d long visualized is sheer bliss.
That is, when everything goes right.
To foster such a manic love for crafting or comprising pre-envisioned presents means that the collapse of said plans produces equally strong emotions… in the opposite direction. If anyone was ever to accuse me of bipolar disorder, the accusation would absolutely arise from a Christmas in which most of my loved one’s gifts are executed to a T, but one gift goes horribly wrong. Then all that built up excitement and anticipation I’d been harboring for the gift’s completion storms out as irate despair: a great surging, catastrophic, gift-mania flood that only my sister–or Emily’s External Conscience–has ever had to witness. Fortunately for the sake of my sister and my future risk of stroke, my insane gift-giving schemes don’t often backfire to such calamitous proportions, and if anything goes wrong at all, I’m usually just left to sour internal-monologuing about how I wish I could have afforded a nicer piece of jewelry, or how I wish I’d had more time to make that painting look more professional, or how I really wish I hadn’t developed irreversible writer’s block just before finishing that book seven years in the making that was intended as a giant, surprise anniversary present.
In recent years, however, I’ve added someone to my heart’s Excel sheet of loved ones that God, Allah, and that sneaky, scheming Buddha seem intent on sheltering from my voracious attempts at gift-giving. And that person would be my boyfriend.
When you have a significant other and a major, albeit strange, facet of your personality is a life-fulfilling addiction to assembling gifts, the world suddenly embraces you in a haze of polychromatic zeal. Not only do you suddenly have more holidays for which to indulge in the joy of gifting (such as that day devoted to love that you previously spent commiserating with the first half of Bridget Jones’ Diary or the anniversary that you’re not sure whether to attribute to the first date or the first proclamation of, “What the hell, let’s throw caution to the wind and make this official even though you’re graduating from college and leaving in a month!”), but you also have the opportunity to make any old day a gift-giving day because he dotes on you so much that mere holiday gifting could hardly suffice. Thus, as anyone with a knack for algebraic algorithm could tell you, significant other + gift-giving psychosis = absolute, unadulterated euphoria.
Unless of course, you factor in unforeseen variables that hinder or outright sabotage almost every gift you’ve ever tried to give that special someone. Then absolute, unadulterated euphoria tends to be equal or lesser to sheer panic.
To exemplify this mathematical anomaly, let’s examine the evidence. The first birthday present I ever tried to give my boyfriend should have been thwarted by the hurdles of that summer’s time-consuming 16 hour work days, limited space for artistic production, and the 2,761 miles that separated Oregon from Maryland, but miraculously the whole thing came together, arrived on time, and resulted in perfect orchestration. Until I realized that after just four months of dating, I hadn’t yet warned him that I’m a nutty fanatic prone to over-gifting, and had to suffer the consequences of my omission.
After surfacing from that debacle, I was determined to get things right five months later when Christmas rolled around. My first gift, a week-long trip to his family’s beautiful home in Maryland, was set in motion without a hitch. I reserved my plane ticket well in advance, bought a myriad of warm clothes befitting an actual white Christmas (not that unreliable Portland, Oregon shit), put in my two week’s notice a month in advance, and even booked a seat on my vehicular arch nemesis–a Greyhound bus–because the fifteen hour drive from Baltimore to Savannah would be an hour quicker than the three airport layovers that for some godawful reason decelerated what should have been a two hour flight. Ultimately, the planning was impeccable and I was so excited that the bank account I usually had to empty into my private college’s pocketbook miraculously had the quan to fund my cross-country reunion. This gift was perfect.
Until a friend’s birthday trip to Las Vegas gave me a dose of the flu to rival the scale of New York, New York, and the successive, germ-riddled flights from Vegas to Portland and Portland to Baltimore (first flight I’ve ever puked on!) only aggravated my condition, ensuring a good three weeks of fevered incapacitation. I still pity the unsuspecting Marylanders whose Christmas was sieged upon by my Vegas disease like the boa constrictor’s invasive and carnivorous take-over of Florida.
But even if the biological warfare raging in my lymphatic system dared mar my boyfriend’s Christmas, at least there was the physical gift I’d purchased online a month prior. The physical gift that, come to think of it, hadn’t arrived in the mail in time for my departure to Maryland… In fact, no matter how much I heckled the seller, my purchase didn’t arrive at my Portland address until March, when I was well entrenched in a heap-load of college torture in the city of Savannah. Despite my wonderful boyfriend’s unyielding capacity for forgiveness, I was ready to crumple up Official Gift No. 2 and toss it in the dumpster where failed attempts at happy memories go to die for being both the most contagious and latest Christmas gift it had ever been my mortification to bestow.
Now Nutty Gifting Lady (less-famous cousin of Crazy Cat Lady) was really reeling to get things right. But the curse that catalyzes hyperbolic old wives’ tales had officially set in. “Gift yer man wrong once, shame on ye. Gift yer man wrong twice, shame on he for not tossin’ yer virus-plagued body out into the white Christmas ye ruined. Gift yer man wrong thrice, and it’s gift-giving limbo ye’ve sentenced yerself to fer life, me dearie… Cookie?”
After a one-year anniversary gift I’d assumed wouldn’t count in old wives’ ledgers for having gone only slightly awry (arriving in shambles after the United States Postal Service forgot about that “FRAGILE” stamp I’d requested), it seemed certain: I was cursed to flub my man’s gifts for the rest of eternity. Hence it came as no surprise when the next gift I purchased was charged to my card three times, succeeding my bank account and causing me to reevaluate my choice. Fortunately, the original idea I’d forgone due to sold out tickets suddenly opened up when scalpers began pawning off seats to The Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival featuring Dave Chappelle and Flight of the Conchords. Hadn’t we been re-watching Flight of the Conchords and obsessing over Jemaine and Bret all summer? And didn’t we love comedy!? AND WERE WE NOT ODD AS HELL!!!???
It all seemed too good to be true. Far too good to be true considering my nightmarish track record when it came to doting on my boyfriend. Thus, as the summer wound down and the date of the festival approached, I jealously guarded those tickets with my life, terrified that at any moment they might blow out the window or spontaneously combust, and absolutely petrified by the thought that my scalper tickets were fake and we’d be denied entry after three months of whooping and whinnying in excited anticipation. That would be the cherry on top of my attempted gift-gifting travesty, and it’s certain I’d shrivel up and die of loss of identity right then and there at an irritable security guard’s feet.
Looking back on it now, I really can’t believe that The Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival didn’t explode under the weight of all the old wives’ points I’d racked up for being such a gifting failure. But I guess they’d decided to let me off easy for a change, and the only thing that was truly lamentable about the whole shebang was the abominable bubble font I added to the card.
Fortunately for the more malicious members of the Universal Fate Association (which in this blog entry seems to have witnessed a merger between superstitious wives and a couple vengeful deities), their contracts must have contained only one Let Her Off the Hook clause, and this past Christmas they obviously relished the chance to get back to their scheming.
À la the aforementioned Yuletide Gift Basket Extravaganza, I spent December running around Portland in search of an array of man-things for my boyfriend (tools, Irish whiskey, 2 liter flasks, the likes). The centerpiece of this man-thing assortment was to be a vintage drinking horn that I’d committed to memory months prior when my boyfriend glanced at it and compulsively said, “I want that,” perhaps because it’s Celtic accoutrements appealed to our collectively fervent pride in our Irish ancestry or perhaps because my boyfriend harbors a secret affinity for those Celt-murdering vikings. Either way, so began the drinking horn debacle that’s aptly summed up by a review Amazon repeatedly refused to post until I whittled it down to two measly, inadequate sentences:
I suppose the entire drinking horn fiasco is a lesson never to trust any business that goes by the title The Man Cave (aren’t man caves the dens men retreat to to actively avoid work?). But beyond the opposing concepts of business and men at rest, this experience and the shit storm of unsuccessful gift-givings past has taught me a larger lesson. In the realm of obsessive-compulsions, it’s important to actively practice letting things go astray. While frenetic in its overbearing nature, my gifting isn’t at the top of my obsessive-compulsions list, and as such, I should use its occasional divergence from The Plan as an opportunity to learn to readjust and not set such avid stock in the fate of material presents. After all, gifts are fleeting: physical objects get lost, break, pass from owner to owner, get shelved, and eventually lose their significance, and Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festivals only last one glorious day. So instead of melting into a melodramatic puddle that my sister has to mop into a dustbin every time one of my big present schemes goes amiss, I should work on my ability to ignore imperfection, to learn from and harness the outcomes of mistakes, and to ultimately accept failure, thereby making my relaxation, flexibility, and optimism one of the best and longest-lasting gifts I could possibly give those closest to my heart.
A few years after enjoying the edgiest, most memorable high school Intro to Psychology course in the state of Oregon, I experienced International Baccalaureate Psychology, a class so dull it warrants no description beyond the obligatory kudos to Jesus for equipping me with the company of my friends Nyssa and Michael for vital commiseration. The entertaining pre-IB course was taught by the iconic Cliff Shaw, a man who sported a bald head, red goatee, gauges, and square glasses long before pop culture revived them, who figured effective curriculum entailed reenacting Milgram’s obedience and authority experiment with two voluntary students (to serve as “teacher” and “learner”) and a “shock machine.” While the whole thing turned out to be a ruse that only Shaw and the “learner” were in on, the shocked student’s acting was so Oscar-worthy we thought we were witnessing a lawsuit in the making, and ultimately proved as an entire class that authority overrules morality… or that everyone just wanted to see the class clown get shocked some more. With such a hard act to follow, it’d be a chore for any successive psychology course to garner favor, but IB didn’t even try. Taught by a recent college graduate who seemed to have no interest in either teaching or psychology, IB Psych was an experience that makes it difficult to decide whether my college psychology course, in which I learned nothing new beyond the rate at which your social life declines when assigned two quick-turn-around essays every week for three months, was really all that bad.
One interesting takeaway I can attribute to IB, however, occurred when a classmate discussed treatment of her obsessive-compulsive disorder which, if my memory serves me correctly, involved some sort of stick with multicolored stripes that she was instructed to methodically match with her hands. This oration hearkened back to the Intro course, in which a girl discussed her fixation with touching a certain spot on the wall prior to leaving her room each day, flipping light switches twice, and making sure her shoe laces maintained equal lengths on each side. If these things, among others, weren’t tended to on a regular basis, she would fall prey to panic.
Personally, I have never been formally tested for obsessive-compulsive disorder. My family is averse to doctors and abides by the “wait it out until it becomes dire” creed, demonstrated clearly the time I had pneumonia and desperately needed a prescription for an inhaler three months earlier. Despite the fact that I don’t have a distinctive chicken-scratch signature to officiate it, obsessive-compulsive disorder drives me with the same obviousness that plastic surgery drives Jocelyn “Cat Woman” Wildenstein.
Although Cat Woman’s obsessions clearly trump my own and she may be in dire need of a striped stick, listening to my psychology peers divulge their diagnosed OCD ticks provided an interesting comparison to my own symptoms, which were recurrent, daily necessities even without the professional signature of validity. For example, while living in the animal menagerie that comprised my mom’s old house, my nerves required that I check every single plate, bowl, cup, and utensil for pet hair before eating from it, and if someone served me up a dish without the mandatory inspection, I would literally become sick to my stomach and stare at the meal dismally, wondering how on earth I’d go about eating it without gagging on my neurotic suppositions. When I would write (which was constant habit both pre-IB Essay Onslaught and post), I would be impelled by some force of necessity to scratch things regardless of a nonexistent itch, resulting in scarification that made makeup application an exciting challenge. The contents of my room had to stay immaculately clean, everything had to occupy a permanent spot that it was always returned to, I always needed to push back my cuticles when I was nervous, and work always needed to be completed before I partook in anything else, including eating. If I didn’t perform these and numerous other compulsions with immediacy, they gnawed at my mind until I finally amended the hitch.
My symptoms have actually dissipated quite a bit with age, in part to a personal campaign I enacted a couple years ago, working to relieve myself of the more inhibitory compulsions and miraculously pulling it off. While time and sheer determination have worked wonders, there are some routines I still can’t shake. Everything in my life has to maintain a specific order, and while I no longer color-code my closet, making sure every garment faces the same direction, I still abide by a figurative grid. All my belongings have to be consistently organized in a relative pattern to one another, and if something becomes askew, it has to be fixed. Ovens and stove tops have to be checked twice before leaving the house, I have to sit in the exact same, silent spot to complete any written material, dishes have to be washed immediately after cooking and right before eating, and work has to be completed prior to leisure and meals, unless my willpower can sneak a banana past the obsessive-compulsive beast.
Recently, while enduring an internet crisis over the past couple days, something happened that almost deemed my Beat the Urge campaign moot. My boyfriend introduced me to a compulsion that’s entirely new to me: the drive to beat a game. While this unexpected competitive spirit would generally be ascribed to a spike in testosterone, I fear my fervor may be morphing into fixation before my LED-illuminated eyes. And the game of all things? Candy Crush, an iPhone app I had to commandeer my boyfriend’s iPad to play, and play I have been.
I was never one for dwindling away the hours in front of a game console or plodding away on a cell phone to navigate a centipede through a labyrinth. My dad bought us an X-Box back in middle school and we played Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Jet Set Radio for a couple months before basilisks and gun-wielding cops on the hunt for pesky rollerskating taggers gave me too many heart palpitations and retired the X-Box to DVD duty. Video games further deterred me upon returning home from my first quarter of college to discover my current boyfriend had been inducted into the Call of Duty fetish, morphing him from a peaceful musician into a Gollum-eyed drone, controller permanently at hand to shoot the enemy and attention fixated on the screen no matter how many times you walked naked in front of it.
But that was before the Candy Crush craze. Presented in the whimsical colors of a four-year-old’s wardrobe, Candy Crush is a sugary sweet game with aesthetics not unlike Sugar Rush of Wreck It Ralph fame–sans any large-headed, speed-demon children. In a vein akin to Tetris, Candy Crush is all about aligning like candies in groups of three to complete various tasks, such as clearing away a horde of whipped cream-cover jellies and earning yourself 40,000 points in 60 seconds to save Lemonade Lake from drying up. With so many challenging puzzles and the allure of 440 levels featuring hotspots like the aforementioned yellow puddle, it’s no wonder the game is addictive. Between sketching featured images for the blog and completing a retouching project on my end and covering a script on his, my boyfriend and I spent almost 24 hours a piece trying to beat the onerous level 23, and when I finally did I almost shrieked as loud as thirteen-year-old Emily when she received the movie Holes for her birthday.
Where Candy Crush gets vicious, however, is in it’s ability to lure you in with a guise of varicolored innocence and then capitalize off your obsessive-compulsiveness by making the latter levels all about sheer luck. I felt sure I’d finally weened myself off of it when level 33 produced the revelation that a game was causing me frustration rather than quintessential enjoyment, but the next morning I found my fingers seeking out the iPad they’d previously tossed aside as if acting on their own volition. Perhaps I’ll get lucky, compulsiveness tells me, but logic asserts that it’s time to reenact Operation Quell the Hankering and crush this competitive aggression (that my racquetball coaches always wished I’d display) into a million candy-coated shards.