TEDx Macatawa: The Perfectly Imperfect

A TEDx Talk.

I was asked to give a TEDx Talk.

These talks bring new ideas to the world, or at least ideas that have been overlooked. The last time I had a new idea, it was defeated in a faculty meeting.

Well, it wasn’t exactly a new idea. Actually it was a very old idea, an ancient idea, and one I’ve continued to promote through retirement and onward. So, what new idea could I come up with? I came up with a chair. TED talkers walk around the stage. I walk my dog, or follow as he sniffs,  a rather uncoordinated, random walk. I am quite good at sitting. It’s how I’ve always done my best work.

TEDx and TED Talks are stunning, flawless, perfect, excellent. I’m very uncomfortable with stunning, flawless, perfect, excellent. When I taught at a nearby college, people were constantly pursuing excellence. Like Charlie our dog doing his sniffing. “There! Nope…. Maybe over There! Nope.”

I never had any idea what in this or any world Excellence was or looked, sounded, tasted or smelled like. But everyone  seemed to know it was there, somewhere. I knew that it was used in conversation: “Like, ya know, that’s excellllent!”

Really? Excellent? When I asked, I was told it meant “doing or making a thing better than most everyone and everything else.” At what cost? And how do you know when you’ve arrived? Merely by measurement?

Only that can be excellent which can be measured? There is a reason standards have lowered from reaching for wisdom or inspiration to spelling all the words correctly. Reaching for perfect measures is the new black.

Not being much of a fan of it, what could I talk about if I couldn’t talk about excellence? This gnawed my bones for a long time before it came: I would talk unexcellently about other things worth pursuing. Or I chose to state the positive: I would suggest that a thing is worth doing even if you don’t do it well.

In fact, most things worth doing have more important reasons for doing them than doing them well. And so I sat in my chair, promoting The Perfectly Imperfect*

I TEDx Talked about the virtue of not focusing on doing things well, or even doing them well at all.

And my microphone fell off my ear.

And I went 34 seconds past my allotted time.

And my chair squeaked.

*The title came from our daughter, who at age 7 said to me when I hung holiday lights up one side of our front door, across the top, and 1/3 of the way down the other side, “Daddy! Let’s leave them up this way. They are perfectly imperfect.”

A Community is Born

This past June The Fetzer Institute hosted a group to spend the week writing, reflecting, being alone, talking with one another, and having daily group conversations about some of the subjects that those at Fetzer are devoted to exploring. We spent the time focusing our conversations, led gently and profoundly by Mark Nepo and Shirley Showalter, on suffering, love, compassion, forgiveness, creativity, and the artist’s responsibility in working with these conditions, each one certainly an integral part of each life.

For two days a film crew was at the Institute to record our responses in a formal setting drawn out from us by the unimposing presence of and questions posed by Mark and Shirley. These “interviews” are now available on The Fetzer Institute website right here. I have a hunch that you will find the insights and “takes” of the participants to be interesting, at times provocative, at times supportive, often unusual, always warm-hearted.

Here you will hear from a master of the Kora, novelists, poets, a world authority on the spiritual nature of the labyrinth, potters, a former NPR death row reporter, a leader of women’s empowerment groups, a concert pianist/composer, writers of children’s books, health activists, and, and, and.

In one little week, we became friends. All of us have been astonished at what Mark and Shirley enabled to happen–to us, for us, with us. We have stayed in contact, celebrating one another, cheering one another on in what we are each trying to do. We became that rarest of organic creations, a community.

Jack on the Interwebs

Hi folks, Julie here. Jack’s been enjoying a flurry of interviews lately. A couple are out on the interwebs. A couple on their way in lovely magazines. We’ll keep you posted. Here are two:

This amazing blog, if you don’t know it already, is one you can fall into and wander in for hours, days, weeks. Amazing gift to writers and artists of all kinds:

http://howapoemhappens.blogspot.com/2010/07/jack-ridl.html

And this one, a former student of Jack’s. A lovely guy. A writer who teaches writing, talking to writers. Again, giving us all wonderful stuff to chew on. (His latest interview of dear Li-Young Lee, is a gem. Really captures him.)

http://www.writersonprocess.com/2010/06/interview-with-a-writer-poet-jack-ridl.html

On Naomi Nye and John Calipari

This is going to be a two-part blog. A celebration!

Part One: Naomi Shihab Nye has just published her anthology Time You Let Me In: 25 Poets Under 25. Nine, count ‘em, nine of the poets are Hope grads. NINE! Extraordinary. Here’s a neat back story.

Two years ago, my sister, mother, and I were at the Final Four in San Antonio, guests of Coach John Calipari, then of Memphis. Naomi lives there. I had called her to see if we could all meet up for a bit. She was, of course, busy with about two hundred National Poetry Month events, but set several aside to spend the morning taking my sister and me on a tour of old San Anton and a wander along the River Walk.

I asked if she had any special projects going. She did one of her delightful dead stops and twirls, “I have the best project going. Greenwillow (her publisher) has asked me to compile an anthology of 25 poets under the age of 25.” She talked about how important it is to have this anthology out there. Then she said, “If you know any terrific ones, tell them to submit their work to me.” I said I’d do that.

After getting back, I contacted a bunch of Hope grads and present students and told them to submit their work to Naomi. Several of them did. It was a blind judging by Naomi so she didn’t know whose poems she was looking at.

After a month or so, I got an email from her. I could hear her cheer-filled voice in the message. She said, “I can’t believe this. About every other poet I select, when I look at who she or he is and where they are from, I discover another Hope poet! “

When anyone asks why I never wanted to go anywhere else to teach, my answer is always the same: I can’t imagine any other place having such an extraordinary number of intelligent, talented, good-hearted, willing-to-learn more students. And to think that this anthology is attending only to those under 25. So many more, the “old timers” are out there.

Who are the students in the anthology? Matthew Baker, Brianne Carpenter, Gray Emerson, Lauren Eriks, Emily Hendren, Jonah Ogles, Allison Rivers, Lauren Stacks, and Anna West. Anna is featured in Naomi’s introduction. Matthew is featured on the back cover. And Naomi writes about Hope grad, poet Lauren Jensen in the introduction. Lauren was 26 and so couldn’t be included, but Naomi loved what Lauren wrote about the idea of this book and quoted her. How about locating this book for your shelves. It’s one to make you happy.

Oh, and you get a bonus because there are actually 26 poets in the collection. Naomi isn’t good at arithmetic.

Blog Post Part II:

And while we’re on the subject of John Calipari–We know a wonderful John Calipari, an overwhelmingly generous man whose thoughtful acts usually go unnoticed and un-noted.

Yesterday, March 30, just a few days after his disappointing (understatement) loss to West Virginia, he visited my mother in her room in assisted living just outside Pittsburgh. He has been devoted to her and her care for years now.

About 15 years ago, he asked my dad to teach him a defense my father had concocted. They were at The Final Four. My father had cancer. He and John spent every free moment together going over this defense. My dad had been a hero of John’s as he was growing up and heading into coaching. After the final game, my mother and dad headed home.

My father took a turn for the worse, was hospitalized and died shortly thereafter. We are sure his last words to my mom were “Betty, when you get home, call John and tell him that in such and such a situation, the guy should stand at a forty-five degree angle.”

The news of my father’s passing hit John very hard. He wanted to do something, but what? He realized how much my mother loved basketball, how it was her life for all those years. So he contacted her and told her that she was to follow along with him now, and that she would always be his guest at any game she could make it to and that she, my sister, and I would be his guests any time a team of his made it to The Final Four. We’ve been to all three his teams have made.

This year, he invited my sister to be his guest on his post game radio show. Can you imagine–10,000 people at Kentucky wait around after the game to watch the broadcast live. John talked a lot about our father, introduced my sister, Betsy, and had her say a few words. She told the crowd that they were “CRAZY!” and they roared!

And then yesterday there was John, sitting on my mom’s bed leaning in to talk with her for an hour as she sat in her chair and wore her Kentucky T-shirt, staff and other patients peeking in the door. Then on he went back into the limelight.

The Waiting Room Reader

Among the many reasons I feel very fortunate to have the next collection, Losing Season, published by CavanKerry Press is their commitment “to broadening the audience for poetry to those who most need it–particularly the under-served and those burdened by emotional and psychological stress (that includes all of us and everyone we know, doesn’t it?).”

Here is a description of their latest project under the leadership of founder/editor Joan Cusack Handler:

“Until now one piece of the dream remained unrealized. That involved bringing poetry to patients in hospital waiting rooms–those barren, lonely places where we are held captive, often for hours, with nothing to distract us but People, Us, and Golf magazines.” With help from the Liana Foundation, an anonymous donor, and The Arnold P. Gold Foundation for Humanism in Medicine, CavanKerry Press has published The Waiting Room Reader: Stories to Keep You Company. Copies of the anthology are now available in various hospitals starting in CK’s home territory of New York and New Jersey. As funding becomes available, they will continue the distribution to hospitals throughout the U.S.

To request copies of The Reader, contact:

joan@cavankerrypress.org
or
sgold@gold-foundationorg

For information about CKPress, you can go to their website at www.cavankerrypress.org
or write
CavanKerry Press
6 Horizon Road
Fort Lee, NJ 07024

Imagine

Here’s an email from former student, Lara Wagner, who is teaching at Loyola U in Chicago. If you teach, you will connect. And if not, you will get an idea of “what this part is like.” Lara is a remarkable writer and student of literature. What a delight it would be to be one of her students!

______________
Dear Jack,
Strangely, you have retired from teaching the same year that I am finally starting! Now I know what you mean about walking into a classroom, nervous to the core. Thankfully, I’m teaching a freshman composition class and they’re all pretty nice kids.

Oh goodness, Jack. How did you do this for so long? I love it, but I want SO MUCH for them and I’m running myself into circles trying to come up with creative ways to help them out. I know they can see and appreciate my effort, but I wonder if the effort will actually affect the product. How?

Today I came home with a stack of essays I had them write in class–the first thing they’ve written for me, just something small so that I could “get to know them in writing.” It sat on my desk during my office hours. I stared it down during lunch. Now I am back at my apartment and it’s waving at me from across the room. Never in my life have I been so afraid to read anything. It’s like I am about to start an archeological dig; I am thrilled and elated and scared and nervous and, most of all, without a clue what I will find beneath the soil.

Some part of me wants to put it off for the entire holiday weekend. Wouldn’t that be nice? No reading, no red pen, no comments to make. No evaluation of faulty logic, no absolute, ice-cold fear at thoughts like, “What does this need?” and “How do I help?” No back strain and squinting and spending too many hours extracting a response that comes from my heart and may very well never be read after the student sees the grade.

I guess the flip side is that then I’ll never know them, never see, never help, never prepare, never learn. No encounter with another person’s imagination. And even though this first week has been full of doubts, I kind of love teaching already. The first day of class, I overestimated how long it would take to go over the syllabus (how dry does that sound?) and scrambled to make use of time by having them write any questions or comments they had for me on scrap pieces of paper. One person wrote, “I love this class already,” and I thought, “Wow! I must be excellent at reading syllabi. Have I got the skills or what?” Hee hee. Honestly, I have no idea what prompted a response like that from that student, but it made me grin and think maybe I could somehow convince eighteen eighteen-year-olds that it’s worth it to roll out of bed for an 8:15 a.m. class about writing, writing and more writing.

I just looked at the top paper on my stack. The first sentence in her paper is “Imagine.”

Isn’t that nice?

Lara

Jack’s on the list…

Somehow in the kerfuffle and excitement of learning about CavanKerry publishing “Losing Season” next year, we neglected to mention a terrific honor Jack received, and how much it both tickles and warms him. The International Institute of Sport named Jack one of the 100 top sports educators in the country. The list is impressive. Jack’s been getting a lot of mileage out of being on the same list with, well, all of the others. At any rate, we got the word on the same day that we received word of the book, and the two are so connected, that we’ve conflated the news in our heads. What we think, more than anything, is how much Pop-Pop (Buzz Ridl, Jack’s Hall of Fame basketball coaching dad) would have loved this news. It’s a great honor, and Jack’s been having fun talking to writers and reporters from far and wide about sports education, his Dad’s record, and the little-known genre that is sports poetry.

“Retiree” Returns to Work

Well, this “retiree” is back at work! I’m teaching the Intermediate Poetry Writing course this fall I have a great gang of poets in there including my philosophy professor pal Jim Allis. He enables me to say things like “Oh, that ontological move you made from the Aristotelian assumption of reality to the Platonic reality of reality which then implies a Buber-influenced relational reality just blew me away!” And the students with their affirmation of one another’s work have taken a conventional classroom and have transformed it into a safe and creative space. We get to hang out and talk about poems.

The second edition of Approaching Literature (Bedford/St. Martin’s Press) that Peter Schakel and I wrote will be out soon along with a new edition of our 250 Poems. Approaching Literature, we think/hope, is a richer book than the first time around. I’ve loved working with Peter. We’re a great good team, able to bring our very different strengths to the book. It was funny—at first, I kept worrying that I was having all the fun while Peter was doing the work I would not enjoy. Then we found out that each of us was concerned about that for the other. We were able to harmonize what each of us brought to the project. We always signed off our emails to one another with “On we go.” And on we went until, after two years of all but daily work we met the deadline.

Here’s something cheerful: You should all check out Julie’s knitting blog: knittingjuju.wordpress.com what she’s designed and knitted are now showing up all over the knitting globe, and I do mean globe. Wait’ll you see the sweater she made for me. I’ve reached the age where I could live in autumn in that sweater all year.

Summer Workshop Roundup

Have I ever been lucky this summer, getting to lead poetry workshops at The Far Field Retreat for Writers, at Interlochen’s first annual writers conference and at Ox Bow where I was surrounded by artists.

I highly and whoopingly recommend all three of these opportunities. They are so well run, never a bump in the road, everything moving along as if they are running themselves when one knows that behind the scenes, those in charge– Mary Ann Samyn, Anne Marie Oomen, and Jason Kalajainen–have made sure that we are in a writer’s paradise. What a joy to work with attendees ranging in age from 19-83 each carrying life stories abundant with sorrow and hilarity.

Julie and Charlie dog went along to Interlochen, and Charlie was in heaven each morning as he dashed out the door of our home on Green Lake and headed to the shoreline to roll in a dead fish. Ahhhhhh. Hmmmmm, maybe there’s a metaphor in there about this life in poetry.

Our class visited Mike Delp at his fishing camp, where Charlie tasted the life of a river dog.

Next up: A week long seminar in poetry that I’ll be leading at Hope College, July 30-August 3. Come join the good time. Just contact David James at Hope College — james@hope.edu

Then on August 5 at 2:30, I’ll get to read with Jackie Bartley at the Fenn Valley Winery. Come join us for poems and for tasting, sipping, downright imbibing in wine and one another.

Note from backstage…

Hi folks. Julie, the help, reporting in. We’ve given Ridl.com a new home and an upgrade through WordPress. (Bless WordPress. I love WordPress.) And that has enabled a really nice linking feature, which means linking to pals and buddies with blogs and pages out there in the world.

But Jack hasn’t kept careful records of all of his friends with web destinations. So if you have one, and you don’t see it on the list, would you let him know, and I’ll add you to the Friends’ links list soonly.

Onward…