The Austin Chronicle

The Q&A Hole: What's the Best Thing They Got for Christmas?

By Wayne Alan Brenner, January 1, 2014, 11:42am, All Over Creation

Yes: Thing.

Because, sure, it's all about "the reason for the season," whichever holiday you celebrate. Whether it's Christmas or Kwanzaa or Pikamas' Birthday or whatever, yes, it's all about love and hope and goodwill and yadda-yadda-yadda.

But let's just let all that go for a moment, mmmkay?

Let's just go ahead and indulge in a little sweet sweet materialism – and curiosity.

We asked these nine people – creative souls from Austin and beyond – what was the best single material thing they were gifted with, and what was the best they gave, and this is what they told us:

David Jara of Stag Comedy and Master Pancake Theatre: The best present I received was a set of silverware from my girlfriend, because she knows how much I appreciate quality silverware. I got her a chair she liked because it's good for her back.
So … does the prize for Most Boring Response pay out in cash, or in Chronicle ad space?

Kelly-Sue DeConnick, writer, co-creator of Image Comics' Pretty Deadly: I gave Chelsea Cain a forensic facial reconstruction kit and she gave me a decommissioned hand grenade painted pink.

Leslie Bonnell of Stitch Lab: Ron and I hosted a fabulous, decadent, lavish lobster feast on Xmas Eve, (which we call Peacock Day), as is our tradition, for our nearests and dearests. I received a completely age-inappropriate leopard fur Chia hat, which I have wanted for 12 years (back when it could have possibly been more age-appropriate, but I really don't care) by my bestie of 30 years. Chia is a friend and a magic person and I feel tingles and snuggly as a kitten with my hat on. But my dog barks at me because his mama is now also a cat, and he is confused and deeply disturbed by this recent development.

Tim Doyle of Nakatomi Inc: I think the best thing I gave is actually something my wife and I gave to our kids. We gave our son and daughter (ages 4 and 2, respectively) a dollhouse. Not a crazy-ass pink and gilded gender-specific dollhouse, but a fairly neutral house full of little practical, if not slightly IKEA-esque, furniture. Along with it, we gave them a little family set – a Mommy, Daddy, Son, and Daughter that kinda resemble our family. And man-oh-man do they love that thing. Watching them take their little avatars and "play house" in a, uh, playhouse is just about the sweetest dang thing I can think of. I'm not quite sure what Mommy was doing carrying Daddy around, or why Fozzie bear was sleeping in the refrigerator, but hey – no judgments here.

As far as gifts received? My wife got me (and her) a session at iFly, which is an indoor-skydiving place. I've always wanted to do actual skydiving, but having children has made me much less likely to throw myself out of an airplane, oddly.

Rafael Antonio Ruiz, filmmaker: The best thing I gave was "helping fix a loved one's business." The best thing I was given was "not throwing up on Christmas day." For the record, the worst Christmas in my memory. I mean it really really really sucked.

Ken Webster of Hyde Park Theatre: I gave Kathy a Walter Hyatt CD.
And Kathy gave me some wonderful, funny baseball postcards.

Kat Ramzinski, comedian: Well, my mom and dad got me a badass Caboodle – like, straight from the Nineties – and ordered me some Gap Dream that's been discontinued. I think when someone goes out of their way to get you discontinued products, they're letting you know they mean business. The best gift I gave … would have to be the gift of money. You always win with that shit.

Joey Hood, actor: I gave my girlfriend an iPad air.
I was given a really really really really nice robe.

Levi Greenacres, tattoo artist: I have a thing about Christmas music. It upsets a fundamental part of me that takes music a specific kind of serious. Some of this distress comes from working retail jobs where the nightmare of holiday cheer starts around Halloween, and doesn't stop until after the New Year. That used to require an annual high-musical-colonic to endure. Burl Ives has a special place near the top of my Significant List Of Lifetime Horrors for the vomitous night I had gallstones. I took my doped-up first ambulance ride to the hospital in Calaveras County one Christmas Eve, where I was left sitting partially nude for hours in a freezing room listening to a small-town medical community chorus of "Holly Jolly Christmas" while high as a stratocumulus cloud made of morphine.

So I tend to avoid shopping or patronizing any business where I might hear a holiday classic re-rerecorded into a soulless cochlear analgesic, or hipped up into un-singalongability. Add to that a lifetime of modest means, and I end up favoring giving and getting things that someone made and gave some time to, rather than braved a black consumerist psychological operation for – or bought last-minute on the internet in the dark in their underpants from a sense of guilty panic. That kind of gift doesn't mean as much. Unless the gift is that pair of glow-in-the-dark edible britches you've been dying to eat off of the someone in question. But I digest.

The present I gave this year that I am happiest to have given is a painting I did for my special lady friend. She is a novelist, and an important image in her latest book is a tattoo two of the main characters both have, a line of an Elliott Smith song: "The moon is a light bulb breaking." The painting is a light bulb exploding in space, with the text in a circle around it.

I spent some hours painting the detailed bits of it with a Series Seven brush I'd saved up a long time to buy, only to learn seconds after making the purchase that the U.S. now has an import ban on them, because the prized variety of sable that makes them unique is now an endangered species. I harbored a great deal of remorse over this news, and vowed to try and make the best art I could from the hairs of an animal that might be gone from the planet soon.

Since I draw pictures for money now, I hoped that a picture drawn for love, and in support for the invention of someone to whom making words and hearing music are the blood of life would be well received. It was.

The gift I was given that I cherish the most came from this same novelist I am smitten with. In addition to many other costly and generous gifts from her, and our families, she made me the thing nearest and dearest to my heart. My favorite gift to get any to get any time of year, in fact: A mix CD.

In general, a well-made mix CD will reflect a certain amount of attention one has paid to the recipient. To a good friend, lover, or partner it may make reference to a song or songs that have special meaning as the soundtrack to a shared life adventure. I have written about this extensively, organized mix exchanges, honed an obsessive craft of it, and even performed a piece at a story theater show – the one where we met under geographically improbable circumstances in Austin – about a mix CD that I made that changed my life forever.

A person like my gal, who hears this piece performed, knows I am zealously sentimental about music compilations, and frequently in a hirsutely isolated creative fugue, and then goes ahead and makes a mix CD for me anyhow is rare. This is a gift that says, "I took a pair of uranium scissors, and cut a small section of space/time fabric from the universe we are the sole inhabitants of. And from this fabric I sewed, Betsy Ross-style, a new pair of elbow flags for your moth-bitten professorial sportjacket."

Half of the songs on her mix I have never heard, but suspect that our similar musical taste will ensure at least a trio of sincere listenings. Some refer to the growing number of inside jokes we are writing.

The last song on there is the one I'd never heard before meeting her that the title of her book comes from. The story of the first time she heard that song as a college radio DJ is amazing. I don't want to spoil the book or that song's story as it will likely be a public mythology she will clothe herself in soon. For now, it's just between us, and it sounds beautiful.

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