perfectly mediocre

organic apples from evergreen lane farm

Sometime last month, I came across Jack Ridl’s TEDx talk. I e-mailed the link to myself, my way of dog-earing things for later (I know, I know! I should probably get on Pinterest), and finally turned it on while making dinner last week.

I met Jack in college, just after I returned from Oregon. He invited over one of my classmates from Oregon, Allison, who had been one of his students, and her friend Dani, and they invited me to tag along. We pulled up in his and Julie’s gravel driveway, canopied by ancient trees, enormous elephant hostas at our feet. Wisteria vines, winding around the arbor, stretched the length of the path to the door. Charlie, their stubby-legged dog, greeted us, and suddenly I was a part of things. I’d never had Jack as a professor, but I’d been adopted by the whole clan.

Jack is a man who loves.

He loves his wife, he loves his daughter, he loves his dogs, his students, his friends, his parents. Jack loves people he doesn’t know. Once, after I sent an e-mail to most of my address book, an old friend of mine accidentally replied-all with the news of her engagement, and Jack wrote back in perfect sincerity (but almost certainly with a twinkle in his eye), “CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!!! Don’t know ya, but I’m beaming!!!!!!” (Jack is prone to exclamation points.)

Jack has a soul of gold. No kidding. If you’re lucky enough to know him, you’ve probably been the object of affectionate birthday e-mails, invitations to writing workshops, and great big hugs on the street. His abundant tenderness makes you feel like you’re his only grandchild.

And he is unflaggingly encouraging. He quit giving grades when he realized that doing so was damaging his students’ fragile writing-selves. If you ever put words to paper, you’re a writer in his eyes.

empires and ida reds

Jack’s TEDx talk was on the subject of imperfection. He told one of his charming stories about his daughter as a girl, observing the world from her Zen-child-philosopher vantage point, and remarking that she rather preferred imperfection to perfection. Following her cue, Jack insisted that excellence isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be—that it’s even pernicious in its ability to prevent us from doing things we might otherwise do if we weren’t paralyzed by excellence’s expectations.

He pushed for us to try things and do things because we love them, not because we’re excellent at them.

And right there in my kitchen, I knew he was right. I have to take those words to heart—I want to take them to heart so that I never give up the piano despite playing as poorly as Lizzie Bennet, so that I don’t quit cooking because our dinners are simple and unremarkable most nights, so that I don’t set writing aside when my words seem so pedestrian to me.

I took Jack to mean that I can be a perfectly mediocre person in all sorts of realms and still lead a rich life, full of wonder and love. When I get home, I’ll stumble my way through Chopin.

Thank you, Jack, for spurring me on. All my love to Julie and the animals.

(This post is one in a November series for NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month. You can find the rest here!)

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3 thoughts on “perfectly mediocre

  1. Pingback: cross-creativity | Forsythia Root

  2. after reading your description of jack, i couldn’t help but add one of his poetry collections to my amazon wish list. also, a friend and i decided that our motto for this year of grad school would be “embrace mediocre.” i have it written on an index card on my desk. it’s a good reminder.

    thanks again for the lunchtime company — both in person and in blog spirit! 🙂

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