Archive for the 'gift' Category

In all fairness …

February 12, 2016

A few days ago I received an email addressed to “Home Delivery Subscriber” from The New York Times offering me a Starbucks gift card for $20 as a token of appreciation for our patience while they resolve the home delivery disruptions.  Since I’ve written about those disruptions on this blog, I thought it was only fair to write about this gift card.  I can also report that while neither paper was delivered by 6:30 a.m. this morning, they were both there by 8:30 a.m.  Both used to come well before 6:30, back before all this turmoil began.  So we’ve regained some ground, but overall, the service has been diminished.

With regard to the gift card, I had to remind myself not to look a gift horse in the mouth, because not only don’t I drink coffee, but I have a difficult time with patronizing Starbucks for anything.  I kind of gave up on using them after many unpleasant experiences.  Jordan says it’s mainly that the Starbucks nearest where we live is notably poor in service.  He likes the one in the center of town, and so when I received the email with the gift card, not only did I ask for Jordan’s help in accessing it, but I suggested he take it.  He put it on his Starbucks card.

Like most parents, I like it when somebody does something nice for my children, so from that angle, the gift card token was nice even if it was more in line with my child’s tastes.  And given our financial relationship, I do benefit in some way when Jordan receives Starbucks money on a gift card.  And, to be fair, it was only meant to be a token, not compensation, so there’s no saying it wasn’t helpful enough.

So there we are, enough of us apparently complained enough to get heard by the Senior Vice President for Consumer Marketing at The New York Times and receive something for all the missing and late newspapers.  But it doesn’t make me break out into a smile the way seeing the flock of robins alight in the rosebush in front of the Buddha statue in my backyard.  I think they are eating the rose hips.  There are certainly a lot of these robins.  Some of them also stand in the snow and stretch upwards to reach the food, kind of like the rabbits reaching up to eat the leaves on the bush during the summer.  That sort of treat makes me smile without thinking about it.


Phone call

April 10, 2014

I wrote a post here a few weeks ago about how someone had not listened to me and I eventually expressed my dissatisfaction and we had a falling out.

Well, they called me yesterday.  Their proposed solution is they will be less insistent on having their way in the future.

I told them I appreciated the call.

And that’s probably where I see any improvement in the matter, that they reached out.

Because it does me no great respect to just have me have my way next time (which is their proposal);  I like a collaborative effort, but I want that effort to take me and my wishes into account as much as the other person’s.  Saying we’ll just do it my way doesn’t address that.  It just suggests to me they want something else from me, my business.

Yesterday I had something similar with a family member’s lawyer.

The document the lawyer prepared contained a material mistake, I called it to their attention, they told me I was free to edit the document.  I wanted them to do the editing.

I didn’t find their position respectful, either.  They yelled at me for being persistent, gave me the “I’m wonderful and have done everything right” speech, and threatened to no longer provide service at all.  This is a law firm this family member has used for over 50 years, they’ve been there less than a year.  The net result is that the family member will have a sizable delay before they can receive their sizable refund from the IRS.  We said we would revisit the issue in about two weeks, when the lawyer will be back and I will be back, but there’s an accountant involved (because someone else in the law firm mistakenly told me to have an accountant prepare the tax form at issue, which is not the tax form with the refund, but the accountant is holding everything up until all the returns are finished), so who knows when this will get done.

What do I take from all this?  That people find new and clever ways to protect themselves and make themselves comfortable at other people’s expense, that the very thing you want from them is the very thing they don’t want to do — collaborate respectfully and with consideration.


Putting the elephant together

April 9, 2014

I make reference to the Sufi tale about the blind men and the elephant fairly frequently.  It represents for me a shorthand way to refer to differing perspectives, to refer to our understanding of God and the mystery of the universe, to refer to the need for the human project of sharing.

So when I saw a tea-for-one set with an elephant, I decided to buy it.  It’s a gift for myself for a couple of occasions.

It arrived today with the cup in pieces.

Broken Item

Willy used to glue such things together, but I’m not sure even he could have repaired this one, as there are some very small fragments.

But it makes a great reification of a metaphor, actually it reifies a couple of metaphors and brings them together:  Henri Nouwen’s focus on us as broken vessels, his focus on that cup that we have trouble draining, and the Sufis’ separated parts of the elephant.

We had to send the nytimes store a picture, so that’s how I happen to have one.


Revealing the absence or presence of willingness

March 22, 2014

I was thinking through what purpose a behavioral pattern of mine could possibly serve, and this is what I came up with.

I interact with someone.  Yesterday it was someone making something for me.  We go back and forth on materials and price and design, and then they do something I am not okay with, I protest, I am not heard, we repeat this sequence, I go silent, and then eventually I make my dissatisfaction known more unmistakably.

And then I don’t get compromising even then, I get a speech about the person’s integrity, how they know themselves to be this, that, and the other thing, so their behavior can’t possibly be a contributing factor to my dissatisfaction.

Which explains to me why I went silent during that interval between, on the one hand, protesting, while still trying to work it out, and on the other hand, letting the person know it’s not okay with me, while giving them what they want in the moment and then leaving:  there was nothing I could do that would make the situation work out for both of us.

They turned out, as I think I was surmising, not have willingness to compromise, to work together without friction or excessive self-interest.

Seeing this makes it easier for me to choose whether I want to, as they say, throw good money after bad.

I usually get, in addition to the “It can’t be anything I did, I know myself to be more wonderful than that,” some version of, “It’s your job to rein me in.”

No, it’s not.  It is written nowhere that I know that I have to substitute my energy through feedback for their energy in policing themselves.  It may well be that my unwillingness to take up this cost means the relationship won’t work out, but that’s a separate issue.  It may well be that my expectations are unrealistic, but, again, that goes to whether there will be a relationship, whether there will be subsequent interactions, not whether I am required by some objective standard to behave with them the way they want.  They are free to say and do on their end as they wish, I am free to walk away, instead of pushing back, especially after attempts to gain traction to work things out bilaterally have had no effect.

Yesterday’s episode brought home to me that my sense that the other person is not open to adjustment at their end is not inaccurate, and how the story they tell themselves about themselves makes it so unlikely that that will change.

Sleepy Dog

February 27, 2014

We didn’t see my mother’s brother and his family nearly as much as we saw my father’s sister and her family (and she was married to a close friend of my father’s).  They (my mother’s brother and his family) lived in Florida, my father’s sister’s family on Long Island.

But a gift my Uncle Herbie gave me when I was a toddler was at least as significant to my development as the Tom Lehrer album I just wrote about in my last post.

It was a huge stuffed animal, a large yellow dog with closed eyes and floppy ears.  I named him Sleepy Dog.

I kept him, I gave him to Jonas when Jonas became part of our family, and Sleepy Dog is among Jonas’ collection of stuffed animals stored in the basement.

I loved Sleepy Dog.  He was big enough to hug.  I could even ride him down the stairs, bump, bump, bump.  He was a great comfort when I lost at boardgames, or at anything else.  I went through phases when I brought him into bed with me, but he took up a lot of room, especially because one of his back legs sticks out.  I think he spent as much time in my doll carriage as my baby dolls.

Anyway, Sleepy Dog was also the sort of thing my parents would not have bought for me, and he was a great fit for me.  Thank goodness for extended family.  It’s an interesting phenomenon for me that although my uncle didn’t know me well, he brought me something I really loved.


December 3, 2013

It’s late fall and not really the season for flowers, although there’s an arrangement still sitting on my kitchen table from last week’s holiday festivities.  I mentioned in a news comment I wrote this morning the flower whose head I had to cut off and put directly in water because it was drooping — if David Brooks can talk about the government as the stem to a flower in his column (“The Stem and the Flower” today in the NYTimes), then I’m going to mention my literal experience with bloom and stem last week.  (And quite robust examples of stem and bloom because it was a Gerbera Daisy.  What I ended up doing with it was kind of silly, but it worked;  I put the bloom in a small bowl that happened also to have red petals on the sides of it, albeit painted petals, and then I put the whole thing on the platform of Jordan’s Keurig coffee machine, because it’s black and I liked the way the color contrast looked.)

So then Jordan shows up this afternoon with Chanukah presents for me, and one is an embroidered guest towel that has five lovely tall flowers and the words “Home is where your Mom is” stitched on it.  Prominent stems, on the flowers, done with a chain stitch, petals stitched purple, magenta, and pink on three of the blooms, petals in blue on the other two blooms.  And it’s got pom-pom trim in peacock blue along the bottom edge (maybe they’re the roots?).

So flowers it is, even if it’s autumn.

A continuum

October 22, 2013

Giving a gift, reciprocal giving, profiting, profiteering, behaving greedily, embezzling.

I think these postures all exist on the same continuum.  They have to do with where we draw the line between our self and others with regard to sharing and exchange.

One of the flaws, in my opinion, with many popular forms of conservatism (whether it’s an inherent flaw with conservatism, I haven’t thought through) is that it focuses on the perceived shortcomings of other people.  Conservatives would do well to keep the focus on the self.

The other people are deemed takers, apparently, not makers.

Making may be all well and good, and even necessary and wonderful, but it matters what else is accompanying it.  Once we get beyond reasonable profits, in my list, I think we’ve got a problem.  I think we’ve created a wobble in the spin that will eventually make the system collapse and turn into a different system.

It’s easier, maybe, to see the problem at the level of relationships between individuals.  Relationships with people who take emotional support from another and never provide it, for example, collapse.  The person who has given and not received may collapse or they may figure out what’s happening before they collapse and leave or get the emotional support elsewhere.  Or it may be that friend who always asks for a more tangible favor but never does one in return.  Eventually that relationship founders.  It may be the spouse put through med school who then divorces the spouse who worked to pay the bills.  It could be the kid with the bike who takes the money to buy the sodas at the store a mile away but drinks them all before they get back to the group.

In some way there is exploitation.

At a personal level we probably don’t endorse this kind of behavior, either, whether or not we engage in it.

Why, then, should the same basic dynamic be acceptable or even laudable at the level of the group?  And why should we expect it not to have a negative impact on the functioning of the group as a whole?

Moral codes rail against greed for a reason.

Capitalism without greed I think is a very different beast from capitalism with greed, especially greed that is not even recognized by the people whose behavior is rife with it.  Conservatives, in my opinion, seem to confuse and conflate the two systems, how they work, and whether they are morally defensible.

Betrayal and revisiting the past

October 7, 2013

I came across the piece in the NYTimes on betrayals and lying late in the game yesterday, after the comments had closed.  (It’s called “Great Betrayals” and is written by Anna Fels.)  Which maybe is a good thing, because my experience of having to consider a revisit to the past, in order to revise it in light of later information, was not really about lying.  It was about an abrupt change in a very close relationship on account of our having adopted children with African heritage — a close relative of the person in question insisted that they break with me and my family because of them.

In addition to having feelings of incredulity and hurt to process, I found myself wondering how to look at the twenty-five years of history I had had with this person (from the time I was a child, until well into my thirties).  Did I know them?  Had I ever really known them?  All those long conversations over so many years, over so many cups of tea, I think I thought I did know them and had known them.   But clearly there were other aspects to them which I hadn’t known.  Had I known about them, I don’t think we would have been so close, and certainly I would have been more prepared for the relationship to end over the adoptions, and would have tried for it not to have been so abrupt.

Intimacy premised on incomplete or inaccurate understanding — the flaw in the understanding certainly explains why the intimacy ends.  Does it somehow invalidate the intimacy as it happened?  No, I think the intimacy was real, it was just that the person was an illusion.  Kind of like the concept of “Mama’s Bank Account” (by Kathryn Forbes), you rely on something that is not really there but it benefits you to think it is.

(I know, some people think this is what God is, too, but I actually find God a whole lot more reliable than human beings — if we’re going to use reliability as a measure of existence, for me, humans wouldn’t “exist” first.)

Anyway, I do think the intimacy is real, and in the case in question, that the relationship allowed me to experience a love which I am sure helped me grow into a healthier person than I otherwise would have been.  That, in turn, allowed me to handle my life more easily, including when this relationship ended.

To me, the hard part are the transitions, the beginnings of “moving on,” when there is no obvious next such relationship.  I think I’ve actually tried to replicate this past relationship a number of times since it ended.  They all end similarly, with the person’s commitment to me being much more vulnerable to being sacrificed to other needs than either the person or I realize.

What’s the lesson I’m not learning?  Maybe, as my friend Kelley from high school used to say, “Take what you can when you can and be grateful,”  maybe not to expect relationships to last indefinitely, and maybe to try not to give more than I can comfortably give as a gift.

As to what people might learn from reevaluating a relationship after a lie has been revealed, maybe it’s similar to what I’ve described for this other pattern of surprise and hurt.  And maybe both such kinds of experiences serve as ways of breaking the ties that bind, so that we can move on to new relationships or move on to a life oriented towards something else.

Who’s that talking?

May 3, 2013

What do people mean when they say hear God talking to them?  It’s an interesting question, from many angles.  The NYTimes series by T.M. Luhrmann raises it, the piece addressing it receiving the title “Is That God Talking?”

The column seems to assume that what people are hearing either is “God” as God is commonly conceptualized or it is an artifact of human brain activity.

The spiritual realm is not just God in God’s original form, I don’t think.  There are lots of conduits, in fact that’s really what creation is, I think, a beautiful conglomeration of conduits.  This includes material creation.

The spiritual realm is as multifaceted as the material, I think.  There’s lots of stuff to pick up if one turns on one’s CB radio, so to speak.  Discerning the difference between spam and something helpful is a talent.  I think Paul talks about it in the New Testament.  There are helpful voices who are not God but who are pretty good sources for help and guidance nonetheless.  I think the ultimate source for their help is God’s energy, but I think they are able to provide it in a form more accessible to us and without distorting it with too much of their own dross.

So I think it raises a false dilemma to assume that what people are hearing is somehow either self-generated or God.  I think the real questions are whether it comes from a trustworthy source, whether it is helpful.  That’s part of the process of asking for and receiving help — the challenge, if you will, of not getting a “wrong number.”

Who’s out there?  My experience with people who focus on spiritual pursuits is that while there’s an overlap in a lot of conceptualizations, there’s also a lot of variety.  Many people I know talk about spirit guides or a particular spirit guide who helps them, kind of like a sponsor from a 12 Step program.  Some conceptualize angels.  There are also adolescent spirits who make mischief and there are confused ghosts, some of whom can be quite free and pushy with their advice.

I think we can also tap into great reservoirs of helpful perception through connecting with


I got interrupted as I was writing this this morning.  I came back to it this evening, about twelve hours later.  I don’t want to try to recreate what my idea was or to paste some other ending on what I wrote, but I thought I’d at least explain the abruptness of the cut off.


January 5, 2013

This is about a thought I’ve been aware of for a long time but never really registered with me in my, as mother might put it, gizitsky (gut) — wasn’t a visceral understanding until this morning.  (I take that to mean I wasn’t quite ready to deal with its implications until now.)

I met someone some time ago, very briefly, and it was pretty clear to me that he literally had difficulty thinking when I was in (arm’s length) proximity to him physically.  I dealt with that as best I could, because I really did have something I felt I needed to talk to him about and I didn’t get the chance either talk about it then or to arrange another opportunity to discuss it — I just tried to get across the main idea (I thought): you’re barking up the wrong tree, I could help you find the right one, and I could use your help with something else.  I had thought he had indicated that he was interested in all that.

Leaving aside the content of the conversation I anticipated, I am at this point thinking the real significance of the attempt at conversation was to experience this drowning-out of a mental process.  Because it’s quite analogous to what happens when the ego gets in the way during meditation or some other means of accessing the divine, the forces greater than ourselves, the universe.  I can’t hear my guidance or feel my support when there’s ego-chatter and fear, doubt, and insecurity rattling around inside my mental apparatus.  I need willingness and surrender, great openness to the encounter, a clear channel.

I suspect that I needed to show to this person, and to myself, what it’s like when ego interferes with my interaction with the divine, whether it’s my ego interfering or theirs or even somebody else’s.

Just as they seemed to me to make clear when I met them that they did not want to hear what I had to say then or subsequently, I think I needed to see that I need to be free of their ego-chatter and point of view.

I think a different balance could be struck between us, but I don’t detect any willingness to do that.  So in that case, I need to do the “God is husband to the widow,” or a “woman religious,” approach to the issues in my life, and to do that, I need to interact with God without ego-chatter.

I think this approach has a lot to do with how I was drawn to use the name “Ani” (as in, nun) as a screen name.  When I stopped using it and started using my given name online, I felt I would try to make a go of being more oriented towards social interactions and less with my head up in the clouds, so to speak.  Clearly, what I’m looking for is the balance between the two that works for me, whatever that balance turns out to be.

But what I think this encounter and my experience of not being able to hear was presenting as a lesson to me was that if I am going to have to be on my own, I need to hear without interference, just as this other person wants to hear without interference.  I think it was a way of showing me the source of some of the chatter I need to set aside.  Of course, if I am with someone who has less ego-chatter, I can hear better how to relate to them — which may not be cutting a tie that seems to bind.

In this situation, I can’t hear well and I am also not receiving the resources I need some other way.

I am trying to resolve that untenable position, whether dramatically, by going all-in with one method or the other, or by rearranging the balance between the two some other way, perhaps even by receiving the gift of the chatter’s becoming muted, through something my would-be interlocutor learns to do.