I’m sorry I never wrote before this, and I’m very sorry to hear that you have passed.
Most people I know read your books or had your books read to them when they were quite little. And, as they grew older, they never really got over them. This must have been what led so many people to call your works timeless.
I wasn’t really one of those kids. I remember “Where the Wild Things Are,” of course, and your illustrative style is so familiar to me now it feels like it was penned from my own hand. In reality, though, I fell in love with you last year.
Imagine me, Lindsay You Don’t Know, working in a bookstore, trying to make big decisions. So I make a friend. She happens to be 65 years old and loves scrap-booking. She loves storytelling and crafts and things that remind her of days past. She collects vintage Penguins and hand-drawn postcards and I think she must be God. So I ask her questions and I tell her about myself and she brings photos of the places she’s been in her life and when she talks she often wells up with tears or reaches to touch you like a cat. Except that I mind cats and I mind touching, but I don’t mind this. This goes on for a year or so.
This is where you come in, Mr. Sendak. It’s the day that we get in this extraordinary book. The Art of Maurice Sendak by Selma G. Lanes. I pour over it, touching the pages with the palms of my hands because my fingertips are too dirty and I just can’t resist. It’s big and it’s heavy as art books are. Because my friend assumes the best in all people she tells me that she loves that I love you.
She didn’t know that I was just getting to know you. That you were securely pinned somewhere in the back recesses of my memory and she would be the one to bring you out. And, since she is God, she already knew that I was to love you.
I’ll speed up the story a bit now, because I know you don’t have time for this. You don’t even know me. Basically, I get to know you so well all at once and in all the right ways. My friend brings me a copy of Higglety Pigglety Pop, or There Must Be More to Life. And I find myself reading, re-reading, and quoting aloud from a children’s book as though it’s gospel. Then, at home, on my wood floor in front of the heater, I read the story behind the Higglety Pigglety Pop, and Jennie, your dog. I am so sorry to hear about her passing. I know how hard losing a dear friend can be. I’m sure she would have loved the story, too.
I also read much more about your life, but I won’t be one of those weird people who pretends like she knows you because she’s read your works or something someone once wrote about your life. That’s the last thing you need right now. What I’m writing to tell you is just how much you inspired me at a certain time in my life. Maybe for most kids it was at an earlier time, and not at twenty-two.
So now we’re getting back to why everyone calls your works timeless. I suppose because what you write and draw has everything to do with time. It has everything to do with understanding what it’s like to be a child—particularly by bringing out the often eerie, haunting experience of childhood. It also has everything to do with a deep-seeded understanding of mortality that transcends both time and age. It has everything to do with mischief and monsters– with being trapped in unruly nightmares, and finding adventure in the solitude of our imagination. Somehow, in all your sketched oddities or three-worded prose pieces, you manage to recall the momentous courage found in insatiable hearts. The Odysseys that stretch between dream and reality. The nakedness of our thoughts. The child, maid, monster, or dog who loves salami finding wonder and meaning in the wilderness we inhabit…both together and entirely alone.
So there you have it. Now you know me, or at least you know of me what you so graciously gave to me. Thank you, Mr. Sendak.
“Two pillows, two bowls, a red wool sweater, eyedrops, eardrops, two different bottles of pills, a thermometer, and he even loves you.”
“That is true, ” said Jennie, chewing more leaves.
“You have everything,” repeated the plant.
Jennie only nodded, her mouth full of leaves.
“Then why are you leaving?”
“Because, ” said Jennie, snapping off the stem and blossom, “I am discontented.I want something I do not have. There must be more to life than having everything!”
The plant had nothing to say. It had nothing left to say it with.