“I’m writing a poem right now about a nose. I’ve always wanted to write a poem about a nose. But it’s a ludicrous subject. That’s why, when I was younger, I was afraid of [writing] something that didn’t make a lot of sense. But now I’m not. I have nothing to worry about. It doesn’t matter.” Maurice Sendak
Maurice Sendak is 83. His latest interviews (i.e. NPR) spill-over with beauty, intensity, family shadows, wisdom, humor, and love. His interview with Terry Gross on NPR (chosen best of 2011) includes great musings about the end of life, his newest children’s book, people close to him, and meeting death.
I’ve always loved how his book “Where the Wild Things Are” is as much about rebellion as imagination. I think he was always trying to tell us all– ‘Hey, it’s really OK to go visit your demons. Even after getting into trouble, and being all by yourself; demons aren’t as scary as you think.’
Children’s books today are too safe Sendak says in the Guardian. “There’s a certain passivity, a going back to childhood innocence that I never quite believed in. We remembered childhood as a very passionate, upsetting, silly, comic business.” Max, the wolf-suited star of Where the Wild Things Are, “was a little beast, and we’re all little beasts”, Sendak said
Bumble-ardy, Sendak’s latest kid’s book, centers around an orphaned pig who doesn’t get the opportunity for a birthday party until he turns nine. It is said to be dark and deeply imaginative, much like his classic works Where the Wild Things Are and In The Night Kitchen.
He tells Terry in the NPR interview; “When I did Bumble-ardy, I was so intensely aware of death. Eugene, my friend and partner, was dying here in the house… I did Bumble-ardy to save myself. I did not want to die with him. I wanted to live as any human being does. But there’s no question that the book was affected by what was going on here in the house. … Bumble-ardy was a combination of the deepest pain and the wondrous feeling of coming into my own. And it took a long time. It took a very long time.”
This endless learning, this feeling completely, of giving into and over- all the way through to the last of life’s passages- is beautiful and humbling to me. Though, I hope I don’t have to get to 83 before I can begin expressing myself on any subject without a care- like noses 😉
One thing that struck me in this interview, is the way Sendak touches on the memories of his unhappy childhood. I can feel immense shadows swarming around his words as he speaks. The intensity is mixed with a deep love, an empathy, and a nameless hunger. Obviously, this same childhood led him to write some of the best children’s books around. Albeit, ones with happy endings. Other families too must have these similarly dark places in their histories- the ones no one wants to remember, talk about, or face down. Ever. And so the unknowns grow into the dark silences that Maurice alludes to. What does one do with those spaces anyway?
We can walk around bemoaning to the world “Oh why!?” all our lives. Or, as Maurice says, go through years of therapy to have someone else explain plausibilities to us. As artists, we can make Muses out of these ghosts- and let them speak through us– our writing, our songs, (his early character illustrations were aunts and uncles)- our Art. Ultimately, I don’t think I will want those same ghosts hanging out with me forever. To the end. I would hope that they can be safely and solidly cast off at some point- each book, each song, a little boat to carry them further afield.
Here is my song about a about a demon that kept coming to me in dreams at night. It wasn’t pleasant. We danced anyway… 😉 – Demon’s Cumbia.
The NPR Fresh Air interview with Maurice Sendak will be posted after 5pm ET tonight here.
“Live your life. Live your life. Live your life.” Maurice Sendak