Presence Presents

assume-the-position_fade_whiteI’ve had many years when this time of year was the worst time of the year for me. Especially from 1990 to 1997. Those were the first seven years of my poker-playing career. I went broke in December every year. Around 1993, I noticed the pattern, vowing to be careful when the trees went bare. But it didn’t matter. Winter would come, and I’d run bad for a day or two, and that would make me play bad for a week or two, and ugh, I’d get despondent, desensitized, depressed. I’d keep playing, and I’d keep losing, and I’d beat myself up for playing bad, and I’d fall into a funk that made no sense and had no hope.

Just when it couldn’t get any worse, it did. On came the pressure. The pressure to buy presents for my family. I was supposed to be generous. And I really wanted to. But I had no money. I was supposed to have on a happy face. But I was fucking miserable. Can’t you just leave me alone? I don’t want to play that game now. Please, not now. Don’t march me through that paltry patronizing parade of pomp and presents again. And don’t even tell me I should be grateful. Not again. That was the worst of all. Listening to little speeches about how great it is just to be alive. Go fuck yourself.

Looking back at those woeful holiday seasons from a dozen years later, I think I can see what was really going on. The problem – as it so often is – was the assumptions that ruled my life, my thinking, and my actions. I assumed that Christmas pressure was real. I assumed that my obligations to shop were so important that it was right and proper that my happiness should depend on my ability and willingness to… to what… buy my dad a tie? I assumed that if I bought stuff and wrapped it up, I deserved to be happy. And if I couldn’t, or didn’t, or if I did and I didn’t feel good about it, then that meant I was a pathetic failure and I deserved to be unhappy.

I assumed that my actual worth was somehow related to my financial worth and the subsequent purchasing power it gave me.

I assumed that in order to give, I had to give a thing.

It never occurred to me to question all these bogus assumptions. That’s because I didn’t even know they were there. Do you ever stop and think, “I assume that if I stand in the rain I will get wet?” Of course not. Some assumptions are so imbedded in us that we don’t even think about them. That’s how it was with my assumptions about giving at Christmas. No awareness of them whatsoever. Total blindness. The result was that by putting so much attention on giving things, I was unable to give myself. But of course I couldn’t see that. Like I said, I was blind.

Since then, my vision has improved. The way I see it now is that the most important present I can give is presence. Whether I’m talking on the phone with someone, or emailing, or in the same room, I just need to show up, completely – as in, not be somewhere else, mentally. As it happens, the best gift I can give – full attention – is the least expensive of all.



  • moe Posted December 23, 2009 10:41 am

    So wait. I should return that Jelly of the Month Club membership I got you? 🙂 Merry Christmas Tommy!

  • Lucypher Posted December 23, 2009 12:01 pm

    Often, the best gift you mention above, is one of the most difficult to give – or so it seems to many of us. Your writing has helped me to do better and for that, I thank you.

  • blaargh Posted December 23, 2009 12:19 pm

    What a cop out! I want my frigging tie you cheap bastard!

    Now that I got that off my chest… nice post! Happy holidays to you! (yep, I gave that sentence my undivided attention)

  • bastinptc Posted December 23, 2009 2:01 pm

    This has probably occurred to you before, but your past ambivalence about the expectations put upon you (by you and others) during the holiday season may have assured a bad run. Self-fulfilling in a negative way. We do such things to ourselves.

  • RiverRock55 Posted December 24, 2009 10:17 am

    “Don’t march me through that paltry patronizing parade of pomp and presents again“

    Awesome Sentence! I really related to it and it made me LOL. The alliteration was cool too.

    And for some reasons when I first read “be ready to hand her the hanky“ I thought you were talking about something else… My mind is in the gutter, time to go play some poker..

  • phat mack Posted December 24, 2009 4:42 pm

    Nice entry. I don’t think I have ever booked a win for the month of December, and I have records going back decades. I’ve always chalked it up as some bitter prank of the Poker Gods, but there’s a lot familiar in what you say.

    Merry Christmas

  • Hambone8705 Posted December 25, 2009 3:26 pm

    MERRY CHRISTMAS TOMMY!!! And give a merry christmas to Kathleen for me too.

  • jude Posted December 28, 2009 3:27 pm

    somewhere in here is the unarticulated anger that it was your own choices – lack of presence – that sabotaged your ability to give presents. because there is nothing wrong – and a great deal miraculous- about a good gift: it can be intimate and personal and resonate with being understood/known by the giver, etc.

    feels like you lumped the financial pressure you set up for yourself with the crass compulsory gift giving & never quite touched on how you kept yourself from being able to understand & experience great gifting.

    the compulsory part IS whacked – i am the sister you gave the stationery & bathstuff too, after all – and its roots go deep into childhood & accepting the protocol of love doesn’t speak empty-handed at Chirtmas. losing thread here: i just don’t want you throwin the giftbaby out with the compulsorybathwater. Jo & Mikey both do inspired gifts that represent months of careful thought and/or ebaying – etc…

  • dave smith Posted January 11, 2010 2:53 pm

    I can’t remember what I gave anyone for Christmas or what I received since I was about 10.(I got lincoln logs.)
    I can remember who was there and often exactly what we talked about. For every year since.

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