This originally appeared at Writing Boots in December, 2009. —ed.
Materialism gets a bad rap during the holidays. It's "shallow," is the charge, which presumably comes from people who are spiritually robust and intellectually fired up 24/7.
Hey: Many of us feel empty three hours a day, three days a week, three weeks a year or three years a decade. Or, as my favorite English professor told us one day in his Capote-esque southern drawl, "Let's face it. A lot of the time, life is dull."
It's during those times that material things come in handy. Whether I wake up on top of the world or lie in bed trying to remember what it looks like up there, it is good to know that today, for sure:
• I can drink black coffee (on particularly rough mornings, I can pick out my favorite cup with a picture of my old springer spaniel Slim on it).
• I can eat three times. (You have to be pretty morose not to enjoy swallowing food.)
• I can read The New York Times.
• I can read The New York Times in my old leather chair.
• I can drink wine or beer or whiskey or gin.
• I have a motorcycle to ride.
• I can watch Monday Night Football. Even if I don't care about the teams, I can hope they're wearing their "throwback" uniforms, which take me back to sixth grade.
• I have my dad's old watch to wind,
and hundreds of other familiar objects—happy photos, warm refrigerator notes, beloved books and a million other keepsakes from happy times—to run my tired eyes over.
No matter how empty a day begins, my bucket is full of these things—these things that represent spiritual ideas, can help me access useful memories, may give my brain sufficient pleasure to get me thinking aloud again.
And the reason we seem so "materialistic" over the holidays is that this is the time we return to stage the original play that we've been adding acts to all these years, willy-nilly.
And material things are often the props we use, often in clumsy desperation, to try to remember the theme.