I am not the biggest of birthday fans.
Not that I have anything against the event itself; I’m not bemoaning the idea of adding one more year to the roster. And I’m certainly not against gifts.
I think it comes down to the celebrations.
At work, there’s the well-intentioned, manager-instigated Midafternoon Gathering of Employees to Share Small-Portioned Desserts. Usually cupcakes. There’s the office card to sign, furtively shuttled from employee to employee inside a brightly colored file folder. (I don’t think we use colored file folders for anything but hiding office cards, actually.) To me it comes off very dutiful, instead of delightful.*
* I’m not the only one who feels that way. When I was a manager, I offered my direct reports the alternative of just going out for a nice lunch with me. I had a 100% acceptance rate on that.
For a while the trend was to “decorate” your co-worker’s desk. One year I came in to discover my pod had been festooned with approximately one metric ton of shredded paper.
(By the time other people came into the office that day, I had every shred of it removed and far away from my desk, as the before-and-after above reveals.)
Last year I asked if instead of desserts (which half the office won’t eat anyway) my manager would instead spring for breakfast sandwiches for co-workers who were in by 9 a.m. This year, I’m doing it one step better: I’ll be out of town that entire week.
Well, that sounds a bit more eventful than the reality, which is that my bimonthly client meeting in New York happens to fall on that day. But still. No cupcake gathering.
As a gift to myself, I sprang for a ticket to see Alan Cumming in “Macbeth” — apparently he plays all the roles in this production. I can’t believe that I have never read the Shakespeare play, especially because I graduated with a degree in English lit.
Then again, I attended a liberal arts college that eschewed the Dead White Men’s Canon — so oppressive! — for dedicated whole semesters to:
- Native American writers. (The novels always seemed to be about alcoholism and/or freezing to death.)
- Overlooked female writers.
- A particular form of argument that our Honors English professor as particularly enamored with. (As the subject of one of the required weekly papers, I wrote about why Cindy Crawford was the best of the supermodels.)
- SO MUCH POETRY.
But back to birthdays. The other part of the thing I’m not a fan of is The Big Birthday Dinner: Who’s setting it up? Who should be invited? Which restaurant do you like? (Etc., etc.) For one friend’s dinner I was one of about two dozen people seated at a v-e-r-y long table, which meant really I only had the opportunity to talk with the folks in my little four-plex,** and didn’t get the real quality time that I think you should get at a special event.
** Two of those folks were completely new to me, however, and ended up being delightful new friends. So there’s that.
“Special event.” Unless you’re a cancer survivor, I’m not sure the fact that you’ve managed to stick around another year without a fatal blow is worth the attention of, say, a wedding or a golden anniversary. You have a birthday every year. I’ve had 40 of them. Once you have 40 of something, they tend to not qualify as worth extraordinary celebration.
But that’s just me. Many of my friends love An Event, and the hustle and bustle around a birthday gives them an opportunity to feel appreciated and attended-to. Some people don’t have enough of that in their lives.
Plus, some people really enjoy putting together such events, because it gives them an opportunity to demonstrate thoughtfulness and affection, which we often don’t get to do nowadays. That’s something I can admire. In honor of his partner’s 50th birthday this month, one of my Facebook friends went through and scanned a ton of old photos, then arranged them thematically and has been posting a few shots each day through the years. It’s incredibly entertaining to sift through, and it’s very touching to see such forethought.***
*** And yet it also made me grateful that the first thing I did when I got saddled with a garbage bag full of historic photos of myself (since my mom hadn’t put together a photo album of me, like she had the other kids) was to pick out only the best ones and toss the others. (EDITING!)
Which is to say: If my friends find something they think would make a nice gift, I’m all for that. (In fact, I would actively encourage them to give it to me right away and not wait until my birthday, because I am greedy in that regard.) And if my close friends want to get together for dinner, I’m totally for that. But it’s about quality, not quantity. I’d rather sit down with six people I have a good connection with than have to social-butterfly my way around 60 associates.
|WHAT SAM WORE: 6-15-13|
|The shirt: “The Unstealthiest Ninja” T-shirt from shirt.woot.com.|
|The shorts: Nylon knee-length cargos from Uniqlo, New York|
|The shoes: Sneakers by Skechers, from Last Chance.|