I realized today that Maurice Sendak is one of those people I had, somewhere along the line, subconsciously, decided would live forever. Like a crotchety, brilliant, Bilbo Baggins, surely he would outlive me.
I’ve been actively thinking about him a lot lately– he was referenced several times at this conference I went to a couple weeks ago, our library is having a show of his work, his recent NPR interview, as well as his hilarious stint on the Corbert Report. I was impressed to hear that at 83 he was working on a new book, further solidifying his current role in my life as “long-lasting-career role model.”
One of the first picture books I remember being obsessed with is Outside Over There. Honestly, as a kid, I really didn’t appreciate Where the Wild Things Are, though I loved In the Night Kitchen. But I pored over Outside Over There.
(Incidentally, the books were a trilogy of sorts. According to Sendak:
They are all variations on the same theme: how children master various feelings – danger, boredom, fear, frustration, jealousy – and manage to come to grips with the realities of their lives.)
The story was fascinating and scary: A kidnapping and a baby made of ice! Would I be as brave as Ida, fighting goblins, to save my little sister? (Though I was pretty sure I would have heard the goblins climbing in, even if I was practicing my horn–so negating the need for such a journey. Pretty sure.) Would I ever be able to draw a woman so beautiful as the mother? (For much of my childhood this was one was of my main goals.) I wished for a long, yellow cloak.
The NY Times review states:
It is also obvious enough that its story is really about an older sister’s ambivalent feelings toward a younger sibling, and about getting one’s feelings under control …
Ah perhaps my obsession, as a newly older sister, now makes sense.
Little Bear was another favorite. He was silly (–You’re not really on the moon, Little Bear!) but relatable, and I had a friend named Emily too.
Years later while attending Pratt, Sendak was interviewed as part of a lecture series. I didn’t know what to expect– I hadn’t heard him speak before. I was thrown at first, but then loved his lack of charm and artifice. His quick witt. At the time his “Wild Things” were plastered all over the city as part of an ad campaign for Verizon. I remember someone challenging him on that, and I sort of loved his honest response. There was a lot next to his house in Brooklyn that he wanted to buy. The deal enabled him to do so. With a mischevious look, he added that getting paid to compare a large communication company to hulking monsters, was a bonus.
To be dramatic in a way that would probably amuse him, I’ll end with saying that the path I’ve chosen is due in no small part to Mr. Sendak and his books. “I’m in the milk. And the milk’s in me.”