The Writers' Room

The Writers' Room
A Geek's Guide to Last-Minute Gifting

Elizabeth Grunewald | 20 Dec 2010 18:00
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Gift-giving is something best done with lots of time on your hands. You need time to consider your giftee: How you know them, what you know about them, and what you want them to get out of the gift. With little to no time left, it's all too simple to fall into the "buy them anything" trap, but that almost always ends poorly.

Last-minute gift givers have begun their yearly scramble, and I've been getting calls from them all week: "What does so-and-so want?" "Hey, you know what's-his-name better than I do..." "Man, I'm so screwed. You have to help me!"

Well, actually, I don't have to help you, but I will.

Just this once.

Think about your intended giftee for a minute, and consider what type of gift a person of that personality would most appreciate. It'll likely boil down into one of four categories:

PRACTICAL
example: Mindy Macready's knives, Kick-Ass

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Mindy Macready could have asked for a puppy for her birthday. (She did, I suppose, but insincerely.) What she really wanted was something stupendous, but imminently practical. Mindy wanted a Benchmade model 42 Balisong butterfly knife. Such a gift would experience regular, if not daily, use in Mindy's life as Hit Girl, and look how happy she was to receive it! Damon Macready's choice of gift showed his daughter he understood her, and appreciated her needs.

People like knowing you know them. It makes them feel important and appreciated, and isn't that what gifts should make people feel? I'm not suggesting you buy people toilet paper or kitchen sponges, but rather consider their daily lives. Perhaps one of those soothing eye mask things for those poor souls who work on the internet, whose eyes do tire so. Think about your recipient's daily life, and what might make it better, cooler, easier, or (preferably) all three. The bonus here is that practical gifts receive more use, and can potentially remind the recipient of your thoughtfulness on a daily basis.

SENTIMENTAL
example: Bruce Wayne's arrowhead, Batman Begins

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I hated Rachel Dawes just as much as anyone else, maybe even more when you factor in my raging jealousy. Knowing that, you know I mean it when I say she can give a mean gift. "Finder keepers" feels pretty cheesy, but giving someone a found gift, saved from your shared childhood, is pretty good. Dawes didn't have much of a choice -- I may worry about what to get people, but I cannot even begin to imagine gift-shopping for Bruce Wayne -- but going the sentimental route is bound to pull on even the tautest heartstrings.

Saccharine sentimentality aside, these types of gifts can transport people through time as efficiently as one can without access to a TARDIS, and they're usually free. Free is the best part! The only downside, if you can call it that, is this is the type of gift best given to those you know well. You could delve into your coworker's past for your office Secret Santa, but it could get a little awkward.

TEMPORAL
example: Kes's parting gift, Star Trek: Voyager

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Selfless giving is a little simpler when you're an ocampan with substantial psionic powers. Telepathy and telekinesis would make lots of things simpler, I guess, but gift-giving has to be one of them. In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "The Gift," Kes's powers begin to have an unsettling sort of destabilizing effect on her body. She snags a shuttle to distance herself from her friends on the crew, then shifts to another plane of existence entirely. As a parting gift, she shoots Voyager not only out of Borg space, but a whopping 9,500 light years away. This is not only a pretty nifty trick, but shaves ten years off of the starship's lengthy voyage home.

You may not be able to give time literally, but you can give of your time easily. Take someone out for coffee. Go old-school, give them a coupon like we all did as kids, good for a movie or a companionable trip to the comic book store or a walk outside, for pete's sake. Distance a factor? Schedule a phone date. Mute? Send a big long email, or Facebook message, or however the kids today communicate. People appreciate your time much more than a trinket you bought just before the stores closed.

JEWELRY
example: that heinous ring from The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.

When all else fails, and the world is falling down around you in a blaze of anxiety, jewelry is always appropriate. This is the least economical choice for last-minute gifting, but get it right and the recipient will seldom be mad.

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(This is an example of "getting it wrong.")

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