“We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.”
— Oscar Wilde
A completely useless thing remains plugged into my wall, bubbling and glimmering with heat and light – though not nearly enough heat to warm my body on a chilly night nor light enough to see the words on the page of some good book. As far as I can tell this thing only consumes energy with no practical point or purpose. It’s just blowing bubbles.
Yet, I must admit I do admire it intensely. Somehow, as impractical as it sounds, this utterly useless thing warms my heart and illuminates the pages of my mind each and every Christmas time.
Truth is, I almost threw it away. I’m moving this December and have started downsizing my accumulated stuff – clothes that don’t fit, boxes and bags with nothing to house, a mattress that hasn’t provided support in years, and stereo speakers too dry-rotted to sound. The old stain-soaked couch must go and the ripped-arm recliner too; the well-worn nightstand, even the dresser with drawers that always droop – everything must go that has worn out its use. I’d like to get this move done by Christmas. The smaller my footprint the better.
As I make small trips to my new residence, carrying a few boxes in my sedan each day, I pass a house on the periphery of the charming suburban neighborhood that has always struck me as uselessly overdone for the holidays, especially at Christmas.
Every year, the homeowner festoons his home with tacky Christmas lights and overpopulates his corner-lot lawn with dozens and dozens of well-lit, dwarf-sized figurines from Santa to elves to reindeer, snowmen, and a nativity scene.
How much time, money, and energy the homeowner must expend erecting these useless displays! Just imagine the power bill or the work hours setting up and taking down this inventory of knickknacks, novelties, and trifles! He might as well be blowing bubbles in the air!
Yet, every Christmas his gaudy Christmas display is there, as people from around the city drive to see the useless display.
What a waste of gas! What a hassle of pointless traffic for the neighbors! What a costly carbon footprint! Doesn’t the homeowner know he’s helping destroy the planet? What a waste of resources! Doesn’t he know there are always more hungry mouths to feed? At best, his display may be justified as a useful boost to quarterly GDP! But that’s not enough! Everyone and everything must forever justify their utility! Else, everything must go!
Yet, a completely useless thing remains plugged into my wall, bubbling and glimmering with heat and light. I couldn’t bring myself to throw it out, though it seems to serve no practical point or purpose. It’s an old ornament, a red and yellow bubble light occupying the socket on my living room wall. Though I have not properly decorated my home for Christmas for years – no outdoor displays, no Christmas tree, no garland, no cinnamon sticks, no gold-gilded pinecones nor stockings hung on the mantle – this one little bubble light remains. It reminds me of Christmases past as a child, when useful things didn’t quite hold the prominence they do today.
The practical mind is a dangerous thing. It only sings of usefulness, else it does not sing. It burns away, cuts down, throws out, economizes, and makes ranks and cold distinctions of worth and meaning without the warmth of sentiment or light of memory.
Indeed, when shrewd prudence comes to rule the mind like a tyrant, it will destroy everything that it deems useless, admiring only itself in its attempts to conscript the entire world as a function of its cold discernment and machine mind. Thus, useful things should never be admired too much. The useful things will come and go. Garbage in, garbage out.
Only a useless thing, like blowing bubbles at Christmas time, should be admired so intensely.
Joey Clark is a native Alabamian and is currently the host of the radio program News and Views on News Talk 93.1 FM WACV out of Montgomery, AL M-F 12 p.m. - 3 p.m. His column appears every Tuesday in 1819 News. To contact Joey for media or speaking appearances as well as any feedback, please email [email protected].
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected].
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