A Christmas List for Santa

“You’re just being sentimental.”

Sentimental. Sentimentality.  These words more often than not are used as a judgement to label the recipient deficient. We encounter the word when reading reviews and critiques, in the academic world among those appealing for so-called objectivity.

It’s no wonder so many fear being damned as sentimental.

For perhaps a surprise consider the Merriam Webster dictionary, where sentimental/sentimentality is defined as tenderness, love, sadness seemingly expressed in an excessive or foolish way.

Ah hah! The dictionary author says “seemingly,” which I would suggest implies that sentimentality is not false feeling, nor as is often taught, a feeling inappropriate to its stimulus.

(Most definitely false feeling exists. We experience it every day in ads and especially in 45’s tweets.)

It’s that time of year when most joy and merry-making would disappear without the authenticity of sentimentality.

As our dear friend Mary Ruefle (Our fathers were college roommates.) writes in her extraordinary and wonderfully subversive-for-the-good-of-all book Madness, Rack, and Honey, “Why is it that all the great stuff is never in keeping with what you are always told: don’t be sentimental.”

Sentiment. Mental. What a lovely and whole coupling.

So, ’tis the season to be merry. And nostalgic. And sad. And wistful. And rich with seemingly inappropriate love.

As is every season, day, hour, and minute.

A repeat for this season–

A Christmas List for Santa

A Wednesday afternoon with no thought of Thursday

Three weeks in the woods, two by myself, one with my father

My father

Cups of tea, plates of sugar cookies, the first ones I ever made,

the dough still sticking to my fingertips

Comic books from the late ’40s: Little LuLu, The Green Hornet, Felix the Cat

Every creek from the upper peninsula of Michigan

The last page from twenty unpublished novels

The ease of a dog’s sleep

Five gold rings

A moon-draped evening among the birds in the hemlocks

Any snow-covered pile of leaves

Photographs, I don’t care how many, of my daughter just before

she smiles for the camera

Seven moments with the lucidity of cutting yourself with a bread knife

Whatever happens between what happens

The liturgy of an old monk laughing

–Jack Ridl

From Practicing To Walk Like A Heron (Wayne State University Press)

Don’t forget to check out Holland Weekly at hollandweekly.com

On April 1 (perfect!) my new book, St. Peter and the Goldfinch, will be released by Wayne State University Press. Preordering is up at that link, and Julie says stay tuned for news of a PARTY!

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Visit Reader’s World in Holland, The Bookman in Grand Haven, and The Book Nook & Java Shop in Montague to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

Jack’s page on Amazon.

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Click here for Jack’s entire collection, In Time — poems for the current administration.

Click here to watch Jack’s TedX talk.

16 thoughts on “A Christmas List for Santa

  1. With all the gushing implied, I wish you the merriest of Christmases, the warmest of human and canine love. Thank you for being my friend.

    • Gosh and gush, thank ya, and here’s to you and your canine having
      the merriest Christmas possible.
      When Mimi was little she called Christmas “Turfees.” Who knows why.
      So also here’s to a Merry Turfees!!!!

  2. Thank you for this, Jack. Just yesterday I wrote to a friend that I feared my new work being judged sentimental. It’s all in the “seemingly”! Who gets to set the standard for “appropriate”? Maybe it’s because of their standard that we’ve come to the stark, cold place we find ourselves in this country. I vote you get to set the standard!

    • Gayle, I gladly accept your nomination! And I agree with your insight
      about the cold place we’ve come to. The fear of feeling is rampant.
      When teaching, I had to lead poetry students to overcome terminal coolness
      and the fear of being “cheesy.”
      Hold firm.

  3. That posting sums up my definition of sentimentality. My best friend, John Sari, who I have known for almost 64 years, now, has many times told me growing up, “For a jock you are the most tenderhearted, schmaltzy guy I have ever known.” I always replied this proves that birds of a feather do hang together. He cringed and tried to say I was the odd duck, but he was a gander too. Only he was not as outwardly expressive as I am. But, beneath his ruffled feathers he is as soft hearted as can be.

    I still cry watching old movies that exude sentimentality and emotion. This is who I am, and glad that 73 years of life’s lessons have not diminished this part of me.

    You validate me with this posting. Thank you Jack!



    • What a marvelous description of “what it’s like,” Nick. Thanks for sending it.
      It’s the odd ducks who get to live a life.
      The Nick’s of this world deserve recognition for sustaining their
      humane humanity.

  4. Ah, you do great stuff with 26 letters, Jack. Merry and happy and sentimental and lovely stuff to you and yours over the next days. Lean back quietly into someone soft and sigh. Drink it in. Stay as present as possible. It’s not only okay…it’s encouraged, especially in front of your glittering tree.

    We love the Ridl gang! XO


    • And you write such beautifully lyrical messages. That’s you, right
      there in every word and between each word. I wish you your very
      message. How lovely and how loving.
      And we love those loving Schrecs!

  5. If I was leaving on a long starlit journey in search of all that is good, I would take my copy of “Practicing To Walk Like A Heron.” Thanks so very much, Jack.

    • Jim,I don’t know if you can sense how much, how very very very much this
      means to me. I write poems hoping they land in souls like yours. To know
      this has lifted this heart. My gratitude is a Christmas star.

  6. Dear Jack,
    in India they speak of a Third Eye. You can tell a person who has this third eye from the suddenness with which his / (her) poetry moves you.
    Have a merry Christmas and, please, take my thanks

    • Oh My. I don’t know what to say. My gratitude spans the stars.
      And this is joy, knowing that the hearts I write for includes yours.
      This matters. How else can I know if what I try to do offers any
      sustaining soulfulness unless told? Yours is a loving gift to
      me this season of many holidays.

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