Existential Retail Christmas Post

'Santa' and 'Satan'--just one typo away.

An Existential Retail Christmas

Here’s a great way to tell, if you’re slightly sadistic, whether or not your significant other has spent a good portion of his or her life working retail.

Wait until your bundle of joy is asleep. Creep closer, ever closer, to that cherubic slumbering visage, snuggled up by its pillow. Inhale, softly, and whisper into one shell-like ear:

“Wake up! It’s Christmas!”

Does your beautiful angel awake with a scream or a groan? Does he or she begin weeping, throw the pillow, attempt to hide under the bed? Does he or she mutter, with no provocation, the phrase: “no returns without a receipt?”

Your significant other has spent at least two Christmases in retail.

If your significant other is still working a retail Christmas, engage in this experiment at your own discretion. Ugly things might be said. Ugly things might be done. You might end up spending Christmas single.

You see, Christmas is a merry season in which people shop compulsively, usually at the last minute, for items that may or may not be appreciated by another person (they’re called gifts). These gift things don’t just grow on trees. They’re produced, often somewhere very far away, and are shipped in finite amounts to the retail location at which you’re currently shouting at someone because there are no more blue blenders in stock. That tired looking person who is patiently explaining to you, for what’s probably the fifteenth time today, that the next shipment will be in Monday, and if you really need one there are a few red ones in the back, has little to no control over whether that blender is there or not. The nametag on his or her chest brands him as one of the lowest-paid cogs in a vast grinding machine. Or, if you prefer, that person is an expendable human sacrifice, thrust out in front of you as a distraction tactic from the inexplicable rage you feel as another human pawn piece being slung across the board in a game of the consumerist gods.

Simply put: it isn’t that person’s fault your blue blender isn’t in stock. And, when you send off that email to corporate in a fit of pique, this person will get not only shit from you, but shit from management, where the blame for your absent blender could be more justifiably placed.

So. This Christmas, in the spirit of peace, love, and brotherhood that everyone is supposed to espouse, try not screaming at a sales representative for something that representative can’t control.

If your significant other is the nametagged cog placed in front of angry shoppers on a daily basis in the month of December, here are some tactics you can use to help make his or her Christmas nominally merrier, which in retail terms means ‘make it suck not quite as much’:

1. Don’t complain when the light is on early in the morning.
Your spouse is getting up before dawn to get paid a very small amount of money for making sure rich people have all the rich people things they need. The bathroom light is on because he or she has an existential horror of getting dressed for this day of torment in the dark. Don’t complain if the light wakes you, or the sound of the coffee maker, or the smell of the curling iron heating up. You can go back to sleep. Your life, for the next month, isn’t a raw vortex of mindless purchases. No one wants to be able to answer the question ‘did you get dressed in the dark this morning?’ with a guileless ‘yes’.

2. Buy liquor.
“Merry Christmas! Here’s a fifth of vodka on December 5th, so you can drink to forget.”

3. Do not, DO NOT, play Christmas music at home.
Thanks to the years I spent in big box retail, I now know every single word to ‘Santa Baby’, ‘Feliz Navidad’, and that Mariah Carey pile of bullshit. It’s been five years. I still froth at the mouth whenever a store’s muzak releases one of these little gems of excrement in my vicinity.

4. Let ’em bitch.
Retail Christmas is a horrible, soul-sucking thing. Your partner is working retail, and therefore can’t afford therapy. They do, however, have you. Nod and look sad when the stories begin. It might not mean a lot to you that some old dude patronizingly patted your S.O. on the bottom, but it sure does to them. If the stories become too much to bear–and there will be a lot of stories, so they might–learn to tune out. Sympathetic noises are all you need.

5. Make dinner.
You know what the worst part about coming home after fourteen hours of retail hell and transportation is? It’s making dinner. Why, by nine in the evening, is this not done already? Trust me, she isn’t spending her shift planning a four course meal for the late evening. She’s spending it contemplating the endless void of greed and self-righteousness into which humanity, for one month a year, sinks.

If you can’t cook, invest in some ramen and mac n’ cheese. After all, during Christmas, the body is a mere walking vehicle for information about coupons and return policies. Give it something to sustain it, sit back, and pray the end is in sight so you can have your spouse back.

Long story short: Christmas has become a vaguely symbolic pan-all holiday during which we ostensibly celebrate the birth of a penniless child in a manger by throwing as much money at retail giants as we can. If you want to celebrate in the ancient spirit of the holiday, try honoring the poor, like Jesus did: don’t scream at sales associates. After all, they spend your ‘holiday season’ working like dogs. Because of your need for a ten speed bicycle, many of them won’t get to spend Christmas with their families, or get more than one day off of work. Yes, we’re all sorry you won’t have that toaster oven in time to bring it down to the beach house when your vacation begins on the nineteenth. But somehow, somehow, it’s difficult to feel very sorry for you.

It’s been a while since I’ve done the big box thing, and Christmas still bums me out.

Happy Holidays. I hope you spend them somewhere far away from humanity, admiring the beauty of nature with the people you love most and neither giving nor receiving presents.

Affordable Christmas Gifts for Writers


A NOTE: There are a lot of links in the post. Mostly because, after writing it, I got curious if some of these things actually existed. Lo and behold! Internet magic! You can buy plot dice, an E.E. Cummings tshirt, AND a stupidly expensive fountain pen all in one fell swoop! I don’t necessarily encourage you to buy these things–hell, it’s me, I encourage you to buy as little as possible. Links are included fo’ yo’ edification.

Affordable Christmas Gifts for Writers

We’re coming up on Christmas.

I know, I know. It doesn’t feel like it. But the Santa Seepage has already begun–the craft stores have Christmas endcaps, and Target has its oblique we-know-it’s-not-time-for-this-yet-but-buy-stuff back Christmas wall up, lurking like a hungry red and green shadow behind the current commercialized holiday section, Thanksgiving. For those of us who work retail, the nightmare has already begun. I’m basically getting this post over with early, as resident Grinch.

For those of you who DON’T work retail, and therefore like Christmas, you can start humming ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ under your breath. What’re those lyrics, again? Does anybody actually know the lyrics to Jingle Bell Rock?


I see ‘Christmas lists for writers’ a lot online, but y’know what? A lot of times, they’re things like t-shirts with ‘I’m a Writer’ written on them, which is pretty much useless in the art of writing, except possibly to blot your blood, sweat, and tears on (or, alternatively: if you hit your head pretty hard on something, and forget who wrote all those half-finished stories on your laptop). Or, it has the Hemingwrite on it. Because gadgets. I mean, who doesn’t like expensive gadgets? Who doesn’t like to buy them? Everybody has the money for a twenty dollar coffee mug and a Hemingwrite.

So I wanted to take a minute and give you guys a useful (and, hopefully, slightly more affordable) list of things you can get your pet writer. Here we go:

1) A Coupon Book.

Broke this year? Saving all your money to buy Granny that five-speed blender? It happens, buddy. And, when it happens, the homemade coupon books appear.

However, for your writer, you might want to consider going above and beyond the standard free back rubs and Netflix n’ chill night ideas. Here are a few authorial coupon concepts for you:

1) One FREE night of you telling me all about your novel. I’ll ask questions. I’ll get into it.
2) One FREE night of locking yourself up in your room to write. I will not ask you why dinner isn’t ready. I will not ask you why you aren’t keeping me company.
3) One FREE dinner left obliquely by the door of your room while you’re writing. I won’t complain about making it. I won’t ask you to join me at the table. I know you’re writing.
4) One FREE read-aloud. Read me your story!
5) One FREE accompaniment to the convention/signing of your choice. I’ll stand there next to you and be super supportive, even if I don’t know what’s going on and I had to take the day off work.

2) Services Rendered.

No, not sexual services. You dog, you.

Do you have a skill that might help your writer buddy out? Are you a graphic designer, a photographer, an editor, have a job in marketing, etc? (Even if you’re none of these things, you could always be a beta reader).

If your writer buddy is trying to self publish, or publish through a small indie press, he or she could probably use some help, and they may have been too shy (or too introverted, whatever the popular term du jour is) to ask. So this Christmas, if you’re broke but want to still make somebody smile, offer aid.

3) Kindle Unlimited

Does your writer read a lot? If he or she doesn’t–are you sure he or she is still alive? Poke this person a few times with a stick. Whisper the words ‘Fifty Shades or Grey’ or ‘E.L. James’. If this doesn’t provoke a strong reaction of some variety, your writer friend has passed on, and your Christmas gift should probably be a mourning bouquet and help with the burial.

If your writer friend is still alive and vociferous about Shades, you might want to consider a Kindle Unlimited subscription. KU is a great program on Amazon by which certain ebooks (a lot of solid bestsellers among them) can be ‘borrowed’ for a month. It gives your Kindle-possessing writer the chance to read whatever kind of books, and as many of them, as they please.

A note: Amazon now has a reading app for all smart devices. So, yeah, your writer doesn’t even need to have a Kindle for this one, though it is recommended.

4) Supplies.

Writing isn’t a profession that requires a lot of stuff. You don’t need a two hundred dollar leatherbound notebook to write. You don’t need a pricey fountain pen. And, honestly, if a lot of us had these things, we wouldn’t use them, or probably look at them ever. (PS–if you haven’t reached your ‘humanity is ridiculous’ quota for the day yet, check out that fountain pen link).

But your writer does use something to write. Moleskine notebooks? A tablet? A laptop? You can buy a passel of Moleskines for pretty cheap. A keyboard case for a tablet. Long story short, if you want to buy your writer an actual writing related item, make sure it’s something this person will use. I’d recommend staying away from plot dice and Hemingwrites and clever t-shirts with E.E Cummings jokes on them: these items are more or less useless (unless, of course, your writer has expressed a desire for one of them. For instance, no E.E. Cummings t-shirt for me, but I’d love something with a quote or two on it from A Confederacy of Dunces. Or this Henry Miller Library poster: ohmigod, I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life. I get what they were going for, artsy bastards, but this has to be one of the FUNNIEST accidental truisms ever manufactured about Henry Miller. Look, the gal in the picture is even asleep). 

5) Support.

Did I mention love and encouragement? No? Well, they’re cheap, and in the end they’re the best gift you can give anybody.

Note, I’m not suggesting you give your writer a Christmas card with ‘You Get My Love For Christmas!’ scrawled on it in Sharpie. That’s kind of an asshole move, man. At least make a coupon book, or something. But, nevertheless:

Self and small press publishing is pretty horrible. It’s difficult to build a following, difficult to keep a following once you’ve built it, and almost impossible to make money (at least, in the golden way your writer dreamed of before actually self-publishing). So the best gift, and the best way to keep up the spirit of the season? Be there. Be supportive, be a fan, be a friend. Like stuff on social media. Leave a glowing review of your writerbuddy’s book on Amazon. Help out. For all you know, you might be helping somebody keep their dreams alive.

6) Money.

You have enough to give it to other people? Oh, man. What’s that like?

If you do, money is pretty much appreciated across the board by everybody. And, for your writer buddy, it might be your best option, if they haven’t given you any hints on what else to buy. Money’s such a cheap gift, you say? Really? It’s worth exactly what it’s worth. How the hell can it be ‘cheap’?

Sorry, that expression’s always bothered me. Anyway. Money can buy a writer advertising, listings, a five pound sack of gummy bears. Whatever this writer needs–which is something you might not necessarily know.

Or, if you just can’t bear to be that awesome friend or relative who just gives out money: does this writer go out to a certain coffee shop frequently? Perhaps a gift certificate to that coffee shop. Is there a conference he or she wants to attend out of town? Plane tickets, or a gift certificate to a really good restaurant you know there. Just published a book? A gift certificate for framing, maybe, so that book can go up on the wall where it belongs. An Amazon gift certificate is always awesome, too.

Long story short, give your pet writer a gift just like you’d give a gift to anyone. Listen to that person. What do they say they want? That’s. Um. Probably what you should give them. People don’t usually lie about that stuff.

Last words: just because someone makes a percentage of their income from writing doesn’t mean you have to give them a writing related gift. Maybe what your writer friend really wants is Granny’s five speed blender. In which case: skip the glittery pens and get this person a blender. After all, do you get your architect friends a t-shirt with ‘I’m an Architect’ on it?

See, kids? It ain’t half hard, nor does it have to cost you an arm and a leg.

Writing Wednesday: Retail and Writing

It’s that season again. I won’t say the C-word, because I’m not a big C-word fan. But it’s that time of year.


You know, the time of peace and love and brotherhood. And rampant consumerism.

I work a day job that combines retail and shop work, and this means I’ve got to make sales and do the work for them later. I mention this because it totally wipes me out from December 1st to December 24th. It’s a lot of work. A lot. And do I like it? No. I barely get time to see my family and friends.

But here are three big reasons all this mess helps me with my writing. And, as a lot of you probably work jobs also affected by a C-word rush, I figured it might give you something to think about, too.


Whether or not Aunt Tillie gets the red blender or the blue blender for Christmas might not be a big deal to you, but to somebody else, it’s worth screaming about. Should this person perhaps not have waited until December 23rd to purchase said blender? Indupitably so, Watson. Should they have taken a moment, reflected on the nature of the season, and kindly said hey, it’s okay, I can still rush-order it online? Si. Your mother has no part in this, aside from birthing you however many years ago, and probably shouldn’t have been mentioned in a blendiferous context. We know.

However, people behave as they’re going to behave. Sometimes it’s the wrong way, sometimes it’s the right way. And, when you’re wearing that name tag/apron/polo/whatever it is, you aren’t in any position to tell them how to behave. So what do you do? You deal with it, understand it’s nothing personal. If it’s still tooth-grittingly difficult, try and put yourself in their shoes. Maybe Aunt Tillie has terminal cancer. Maybe this is the last Christmas she’s spending on Earth, and all she wants, for some reason, is a chocolate milkshake made in a blue blender. Maybe our poor invalid Aunt Tillie only said this last night.

If all else fails, go to the back room and bitch about it for a while.

I mention this because empathy is an important quality for a writer to possess. Not only do you need to understand why your characters are doing things, you need to sympathize with them. Even the villians. Everyone’s story, up close, is relatable. And guess what? To themselves, everyone’s a hero in it.


Yes, Mrs. Nozzlebuff. We think the off-cream is a much better shade for your walls than the off-white. No, we don’t think the off-white is ‘too mauve’. It’s off-white. Yes. We’re fairly certain it will go with anything. Except maybe more off-white. Oh, damn. We shouldn’t have said that. Now you’re thinking of the taupe? Well, it’s nice and neutral, taupe. Yes, we’re fairly certain it will go with anything. Brushed aluminum fixtures? Really? Well, we repeat. It’ll go with anything.

We’ve all had that customer who takes forever. Maybe they’re holding up your line at a cash register, maybe they’re keeping you from important work in the back room, maybe your eyes are crossing from looking at the same two paint samples for an hour and a half.

Here’s the thing: you’re getting paid to stand there, just the same as you are to do anything else.

This is one of the hardest lessons in a combined retail/shop sort of job. Though helping Mrs. Nozzlebuff make her paint selection might seem like a pain in the ass, you’re still doing your job. You’re still getting work done. Maybe not as much work as you could get done otherwise, but you can’t rush some people.

Here’s using lesson number one for lesson number two: put yourself in her shoes. I know I for one hate to be rushed. Rushing will make me, purposefully and angrily, take longer to do something, out of sheer bitchy pique. If someone takes two hours, let ’em take two hours. I mean, try and make it a little quicker, by all means. But don’t force a decision on somebody when they aren’t ready to make it.

People who’re slow making these sorts of decisions will be grateful to you for your patience. Most people won’t have had it with them. You might make a customer for life, or a new friend.

And writing is the same way. Write your first draft, second draft, third draft, fiftieth draft. Write as many drafts as it takes for you to be satisfied. If a scene isn’t right, don’t rush it along–slam out a working draft of it and ponder it in the dark watches of the night. The answer will come to you eventually, don’t worry. Don’t throw down your pen because everything isn’t perfect right away. If you do, you’ll sure as hell never finish the story.

Which brings us to:


This one doesn’t get mentioned enough in either context. Knowing your stock–whatever it may be–like the back of your hand gives you the chance to know exactly what works for exactly what person. More options give you an increased range of flexibility in sales and keeps a customer from walking out the door.

In writing, knowing your stock is knowing your options. You should have plans, not only for what your characters say and do, but also for what they didn’t say or do. Each combination of elements creates a different outcome, a different emotional background, a different chain of events. Don’t say some character must do something–say that a character must do something in this set of circumstances. Understand that, if circumstances change, so does that must. If, in a story, your climactic moment involves a character killing his mother, use your writerly inventory to create a chain of events that leads up to it, and not the other way around.

And, bonus number four:


Sometimes, you have to bitch. You’re not supposed to, but you have to.  The key is, make damn sure customers can’t hear you. And make damn sure, DAMN sure, they can’t see it on your face. And go back there, light a cigarette or grab a coffee, and let fly. Your coworkers understand. Hell, they’re probably doing the same thing.

When writing, don’t let the emotions of the day color the emotions of your story. Save the complaints about your boyfriend for your mother, the complaints about your mother for your boyfriend, and the complaints about work for the goddamn stockroom. When you write, you’re creating an artificial environment of sorts. It may be an environment based on your day to day life, but it’s not so based on it that you need to change emotional charge from paragraph to paragraph, depending on how work is going. If you’re in the middle of a happy crowning scene when your grandfather dies, maybe you need to set that scene aside for a while. Or: plaster the mental retail smile on and plough through it. It won’t be as good if you do this–hell, everybody knows the Retail Smile is more like a grimace frozen in time–but it’ll serve you until you listen to item number two and rewrite it later, when you’re in a better mood.

There you go. Hope this helps somebody else who writes while bearing the incredible cross of working straight through this hopped-up overly consumer driven holiday season. You’re probably not getting much writing done right now–I’m not, I’m honestly kind of amazed I had the time to post this in the first place–but it’s something to think about.

Happy holidays, guys. And a note: if you’re the lady screaming about the blue blender somewhere deep in the bowels of a Bed, Bath and Beyond, take a moment, think about item number one, and stop. You’re not making anyone’s season better, including your own, by throwing a tantrum in front of a salesperson.

Now get yourself together and, red blender or blue blender, try to spare some of that peace and love you’ve been vaunting in your Christmas cards.