Where’s Jack?

Hey folks. The blog was a great form of protest, but now that we have some sanity heading for Washington, you’ll find Jack giving out a poem and a nice Pandemic “Good Morning Out There” each Thursday, live on his Facebook page. If you don’t do Facebook, the good news is, you don’t need to! You can still watch Jack live on Thursdays at 9am ET by heading to his public Facebook Page here or catch up with his Livestream videos here.  Thanks for subscribing. We will let you know where and when you can catch Jack on Zoom readings or maybe some day in person, through posts here every now and then. We love you guys! — Julie

Extra! Extra! SO Extra!

Oh I’m so delighted to have had the opportunity to be interviewed/have a cool conversation with this remarkable podcaster. If you haven’t found her cast yet, then I have the extra, extra honor of making the introduction, for which you will thank me.

And Then Suddenly is the brainchild of the kind and brilliant Angela Santillo, whose path I’ve crossed once before while working with CavanKerry Press. Her podcast has a brilliant premise…

Describe a moment in your life that changed… everything.

She’s had that moment, and from it she has made this podcast.

And here’s the conversation we had recently.  I hope you explore many of the episodes. Because they will change you. In a good way.





We know where WE will be tomorrow night.


Our pal Lisa Lenzo is throwing a launch party at one of our favorite local coffee shops, Uncommon Coffee Roasters. And you’re invited! Lisa’s work is as unblinking as the title of the new book, Unblinking, from Wayne State University Press.

Will we see you there?

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019
Saugatuck Book Launch Party
Short reading at 6
free coffee, tea, and treats
Uncommon Coffee Roasters
127 Hoffman Street
5-8 p.m.

And! Soon! Thursday, May 16 at 7pm, I’ll get to read with Lisa at the Michigan News Agency bookstore, 308 W. Michigan Avenue in Kalamazoo.

Community Read: Death and Life of the Great Lakes



Hey, hi folks,

Jack and Julie here. We belong to a groovy progressive church in Douglas, MI, the DUCC, which works for equal rights, social and environmental justice, all the good stuff. We sit on the Creation Justice Team, and we’re both going to be facilitating at this event, which will take place September through November, with three meeting times. We would love it if you would join us, in person or online, if you like, by comment/discussion below.

Former State Senator Patty Birkholz, in the year or so before she passed away, served as a great mentor to the DUCC Creation Justice Team. During that time she pressed into our hands — as she did everyone she met — Dan Egan’s amazing and award-winning book, The Death and Life of the Great Lakes.

Patty wanted everyone in the states and provinces that border the Great Lakes to read it, to understand better the challenges our waters have faced and will face, so we can be better equipped to fight for the survival of the largest freshwater system in North America.

So we have decided to read this book together as a kind of community-wide bookclub Event.

Will you join us?

The book is divided into three parts, the Front Door, the Back Door, and the Future. We will gather at the DUCC Friendship Hall, 56 Wall Street, Douglas, MI on these dates to discuss these sections of the book. We would love it if you could commit to all three dates, but if not, join in for as many as you can.

The Front Door, September 18, 6:30p.m.

The Back Door, October 23, 6:30p.m.

The Future, November 13, 6:30p.m.

The Saugatuck-Douglas District Library has hard copies and electronic copies of the book available on loan.

Follow this link to Evite.com to join in on the read!


Why I dropped everything to help Garnet Lewis go to Lansing.

Hi folks,

Julie Ridl here, Jack’s wife. He kindly allowed me to hijack his audience to share this message. I hope you don’t mind.

I need our friends to understand that helping Garnet Lewis in her run for Michigan State Senator has been the best work of my life, already. Selling products was fun. But helping a really fine person seek a seat on our broken Senate is easily the greatest contribution to my community that I’ve ever made in my lifetime. But I’d like you to know why I put my business clients and other commitments on hold to do this work:

If Atticus Finch, as played by Gregory Peck in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and Eleanor Roosevelt had a baby girl, she would grow up to be the Garnet Lewis I have come to know and love.

From these virtual parents she gathers relentlessness in discovering the right things to do, then seeing them done, building coalitions and communities of people who care for all the people, listening intently, guiding respectfully, honoring differences of opinion, all with nearly unsinkable humor.

Nearly unsinkable, because her righteous anger, when sparked, is a wonder to behold. She is powerful. A legacy from Eleanor.

Sandra Bullock would be cast to play Garnet in the film adaptation of her life for her ability to portray the right blend of virtue and goofiness, with two ticks of southern charm.

For me the shorthand to her character is that she is an Air Force Brat. I am a Navy brat. We both grew up on military bases where our dads served as career servicemen, overseas. This was during the 1960s-1970s. At that time, servicemen were drafted into service, and so military bases were an egalitarian microcosm of the whole melting pot of U.S. culture. We grew up serving side by side with people from many U.S. cultures and ideologies and religious faith traditions. And I say serving because military families absolutely sacrifice and serve alongside their service people, in our cases, our dads. Our mothers were strong and self-sustaining women who could form and reform strong, hardworking communities at the drop of a pin on the map.

That’s all I needed to know about Garn, that she is part of a tradition that respects and values the contributions of the whole community, that she will fight for the health and wellbeing of any community where she lives and serves.

But wait. There’s more. She…

+Was raised in England and Germany, where she learned to appreciate different cultures, and the value and challenges of international relations
+Moved to her father’s ranch in Texas when he retired from the Air Force, where she learned about the hard work of managing land and livestock
+Studied animal husbandry
+Fell in love with the philosophy of Education, earning a Ph.D. in Education
+Fell in love with Michigan as a young professor, and has lived here ever since
+Educated many, many educators
+Educated and guided Democratic legislative candidates
+Was the first openly LGBTQ person to be appointed by our Governor to serve on one of MIchigan’s University Boards
+Chaired that board
+”Retired” to run a small business, serve on Saugatuck City’s planning commission, serve on city’s board of review
+Is a thoroughly engaging community organizer
+Bravely answered the call when her community pleaded with her to run for office
+Donated a kidney to a total stranger
+That’s right, a total stranger
+Is a selfless mensch
+Is always the adult in the room
+Has an infectious laugh
+Is Vicky’s spouse
+Is Norman the Campaign Dog’s mom

And when we elect her, she will be the first openly LGBTQ State Senator for the State of Michigan. Ever.

Big, dark money has already launched her likely Republican opposition for this seat.

It will take a lot of people with heart and small, light money to win it.

I absolutely believe in my heart and bones that if we can’t send a woman like Garnet Lewis to Lansing, we will have utterly failed our State.

So. Now you know Garnet. Will you help me support her? You don’t have to live in my district or in my state to support her campaign. You do need to be a U.S. Citizen. (sorry German buddies.) Will you consider it? Max donation to a particular candidate is $2000. Any amount is most welcome. Thanks for making it this far if you did!


Or write checks to: Garnet Lewis for State Senate, P.O. Box 611, Saugatuck, MI 49453

–Julie Ridl

All I Have Is Words

(This post appeared first on the blog of the wonderful publishers of my book Losing Season, Cavan Kerry Press. I’ve remained connected with these wonderful people through their great good work in bringing the experience of beautifully made books and great untold stories to populations who might not normally receive them. I just love this publisher….

Just now Cavan Kerry is focusing their intentions on people who have disabilities. So we are writing about these, and finding writers with disabilities to write about their/our own experiences. This put me in mind of a writer I’ve been writing with for a while…)

I’ve just come back from spending a couple of hours, a couple enriching hours, with Randy Smit, the Reverend Randy Smit.

Randy and I get together at his home once every month. About a year ago, I received an email from him. I had no idea who he was. He asked if I would be willing to look over his poems and talk about poetry. Randy said that he was an ordained minister, had two graduate degrees, and through a former student of mine had developed an interest in poetry. He wanted to learn how to write poems that dealt with important experiences, ones that he felt prose simply wouldn’t embody. I was hesitant. I get a lot of these requests, and though I try to fulfill as many as I can, most of the time those who contact me do not want to develop the art; most want me to say that “these poems are very moving.” And I do understand that as well. After all, in our culture poetry is not an especially psychologically safe subject to talk about.

Randy asked if we could meet in his home. “It will be easier,” he said. And so I drove up to his place, parked, knocked on the door. A young woman answered. “Come in. I’m Elaine. This is Randy.” And she walked out of the room. “Elaine looks after me while my wife is at work at the hospital,” Randy said and welcomed me, smiling from his wheelchair. “Hey, I know you,” I said. “I’ve seen you in Sanctuary Woods when I walk our dog. I recognize you.” “It’s probably my glasses,” he replied, “a line I use all the time.” I reached out to shake his hand. “Sorry,” he said. “I can move only my head, and even that only a little bit. When we look at poems, you will need to hold what we’re looking at in front of me.”

He invited me into a spacious room with bookcases and floor to ceiling windows. “I spend most of my time here. I’ve come to know, really know the trees, the sky, the different animals and birds that hang out in the back yard. And of course the books.”

We sat at a large round table, Randy’s poems spread out there. “Okay,” he said and took a deep breath, and laughed. “I’m ready. Show me the ropes.”

“Well, what do you want to do?”

“I want to be able to write real poetry. I want it to be about my days, but I don’t want it to draw attention to myself. I want us to talk about poetry. I want us to read poems together. And I want to just see what happens when we hang out.”

“We can do that,” I said, hoping that we could.

We looked at some poems, some of Randy’s, some of mine, some of poets I thought he would learn from. Randy can’t write anything down, but it was clear that he was absorbing it all, and loving it. I asked him if he wanted me to “write any of this down.” “I’ll tell you if I think you’ve said something I might not remember. Then you can write it down.”

After a while our conversation began to explore and reveal the intersection of poetry and theology and what Randy called “spiritual practices.” It was as if the subjects themselves were having a conversation.

During a pause in our chattering away, I asked Randy the name of his condition. “I have no idea,” he said. “This is how I came into the world. All I can do is open my eyes, think, imagine, and feel. I feel a lot. And I live in words. Words are my world. All I have are words. I live in my head in a world of words. Even when I’m with other people, and I love being with other people, it’s words that bring us together. Like us, now.

I couldn’t help but think of the biblical passage about the word becoming flesh. I mentioned it to him. After all, he is a minister. “Yes!! That is what happens. For me words become flesh.”

And so since that first meeting we have gotten together and lived in a conversation that enlarges the world of each of us—through words.

After we had met a few times, I said to Randy, “You know, I will never know what it’s like to be you.” He laughed. He laughs a lot. “And I can never know what it’s like to be you,” he replied and then added, “But we can keep getting closer and closer to understanding. We’ll never get there, but we’ll keep getting closer. Poems, yours, others, mine are going to do that for us.”

From that first meeting on, if asked what it’s like to be a poet, I am no longer able to offer one of the more common replies: “Poets live in words.” No, I, and likely most poets, live in words for part of each day. Randy lives in words all day, every day.

(Randy Smit writes the very next post on Cavan Kerry’s Blog. See that here…)

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:


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.)


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.