Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sendak: A Downer

When I read things like this, it's like listening to the darkest, saddest blues - it makes me feel uplifted. In this case it also makes me feel young. I live in a safe world, where the doors are not locked, where women go for long walks alone after dark. I live in a world where summer children play at night running through wet grass, laughing and squealing, chasing fireflies and young dreams. May you all live in my world instead of Maurice Sendak's.

Recently a mural Sendak painted in 1961 on a Manhattan apartment wall was cut out (1,400-pound wall and all), transported to Philadelphia, and restored. He says he is very sorry he couldn't get to Philadelphia this month to see it unveiled in its new home, the Rosenbach Museum and Library on Delancey Street, where his papers, original art, and ephemera are collected. He had wanted to renew his acquaintance with Rosalyn and Lionel Chertoff's children, for whom he painted it as they "ran in and out of the room."
part of the mural in question
'I'm not feeling great," Maurice Sendak is saying. "I've been rather sick, to tell you the truth. I can make believe I'm well."
You can hear it in his voice. Sendak, 82, on the phone from his Connecticut home at 3:30 p.m. Friday (pretty much when the night owl's workday gets going), sounds gravelly and stuffy.
"I'm old," says the author and illustrator of dozens of children's books, including Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen. "It could be anything. Who the hell knows?"
"I was very fond of the kids," he says. "I saw a photograph of them. They're all grown up, and, oh, my God . . ."
His voice fades. Most of his ruminations end this way - not morosely but, as in his books, with a kind of rollicking doom, barreling toward repeated destinations: the passage of time, the state of the world, his own mortality, the basic futility of life, a dark but fun stickball game.
"When I kick the bucket," he begins - about to describe why he's glad his stuff has ended up at the Rosenbach, where it will be seen, not archived - then goes parenthetical: "Which can't be too long from now. I think I'm getting out just in time. Watching the news, everything seems to be in disorder. Everybody seems to be unhappy. We've lost the knack of living in the world with the sensation of safety."
The man who imagined escapes as romps that ended with warm suppers says, "I wonder why people still have children. I mean, why put kids in the world when the world is so insecure? This is how old people rationalize their death. You get a little crotchety with the world.
"That's the one thing that I think makes the mural worth having. It represents a time on a personal level when I was secure and young and happy. And I didn't think about dying . . . about my friends dying."


Tom G. said...

"I wonder why people still have children. I mean, why put kids in the world when the world is so insecure?"

Whenever I hear someone say this, I want to slap them. It's never someone from rural India, or Africa that says it. Instead it's a comfy, overeducated, overfed, American or European. I want to say "Get over yourself folks!". Look around. Life is beautiful.

The problems our world faces are dwarfed in comparison to where we've been as a human race. Are we perfect? Hell no, but it's not an excuse to stop living.

Gunnar Berg said...

Sendak was different. He obviously truly loved children, but never had any of his own. Maybe it WAS too painful to bring them into what he saw as a dire place.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Sendak just enjoyed children vicariously. It would certainly have made it easier to idealize children and childhood. Having children of your own is like having a big blowout party at your house; Fun enough...but you can't go home when you want to.


Rick Moffat