Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Images of Matchstick Men

Dear Matchstick Man, 

A sculptor I know asked about the difference between sentiment and sentimentality.  Right now, run and write down what you think it is, before I go and ruin your gestating definitions.  If you like what you write, you can keep writing, and skip this reading.  If you really like what you write, you can keep writing and then write it to someone.  Maybe to me, maybe to The World.  If you really really like what you write, you can put it in a book, on a shelf, in a library.  Then, you should rest, I think, because that's a lot of doing.

Meanwhile, a few of you may have not run and gotten a pencil, and so let us now consider what might be meant by 'sentiment.'  A sentiment is a nice thought or feeling when you look at that sugar bowl that used to be your great grandmother's, as you remember her fondness for tea with sugar, and her enormous aluminum tea kettle, her hob, her back stoop, her crocheted hot pads.  This is well and good and it's what makes Proust great.

'Sentimental', now, is a little stickier perhaps.  It can mean that you are being too soft, or blinded to the hard truths.  Great grandmother is long dead, her kettle is long gone, and there was a time when they thought that aluminum cooking utensils and pots were giving us all Alzheimer's.  Plus what, there must be 7 million other great grandmothers who liked sugar in their tea and Proust has already written all we could hope for in one lifetime of reading.

Now what?  Another thought experiment: let's risk it, let's go ahead and be mushy instead of erudite.  It isn't all that bad, these hearts, flowers, and cliché symbols where a tender, delicacy of expression might have been.  If that is the worst we can do, to make a silly greeting card when we were shooting for a pietà, well, so what? 

I hope your book is done by now, and I hope it is filled with the truths and beauties of a thousand years and a million gestures of kindness and insight.

Oh, yes, and don't forget to take this song with you, when you go.