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Here Be The Wild Things June 10, 2020

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“And so we have…this critical problem as human beings of seeing to it that the mythology—the constellation of sign signals, affect images, energy-releasing and -directing signs—that we are communicating to our young will deliver directive messages qualified to relate them richly and vitally to the environment that is to be theirs for life, and not to some period of man already past, some piously desiderated future, or—what is worst of all—some querulous, freakish sect or momentary fad. And I call this problem critical because, when it is badly resolved, the result for the miseducated individual is what is known, in mythological terms, as a Waste Land situation. The world does not talk to him; he does not talk to the world. When that is the case, there is a cut-off, the individual is thrown back on himself, and he is in prime shape for that psychotic break-away that will turn him into either an essential schizophrenic in a padded cell, or a paranoid screaming slogans at large, in a bughouse without walls.”

 

– from A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living by Joseph Campbell

 

How do we keep from becoming, to paraphrase Joseph Campbell, a screaming paranoid person? How do we face trauma, loss, and disability with a smile on our face, as Wayman Tisdale did? Maybe we have to go all the way back to the womb to figure out why some people survive the challenging circumstances they face in life. Maybe we have to go back even farther than that to see why some people just inherently know how to stay connected to their “inside stuff” even when life throws them one curve ball after another fast ball. Whatever the reason some people rebound and some people don’t (or don’t as easily as others), trying to figure out that reason has fascinated people since the beginning of time.

Children’s book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, born today in 1928, in Brooklyn, New York, once said, “I only have one subject. The question I am obsessed with is: How do children survive?” Like the poets mentioned during Sunday’s class (06/07/2020), Sendak wrote about what he saw – and what he saw was a family decimated by the Holocaust and trying to acclimate to a new country and a new culture. He saw kids being kids, being alive and full of so much life despite the overwhelming and pervasive feeling of perpetual mourning. The adults called the unruly children “vilde chaya,” which is Yiddish for “wild animal.” Sendak turned it into “wild things” and wrote a children’s book that become the center of a trilogy about (you guessed it) how children survive and thrive.

“I grew up in a house that was in a constant state of mourning.”

 

– Maurice Sendak in a 2002 interview with children’s book historian Leonard Marcus

 

 

“’And now,’ cried Max, ‘let the wild rumpus start!’”

 

– from Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

 

Where The Wild Things Are, published in 1963, tells the story of preschool-age Max who, as adults would have said during my childhood, gets a little too big for his britches. He is sent to his room without his dinner because he can’t behave and, as children do, he lets his imagination take over. His bedroom becomes a magical land full of wild animals, beasts, monsters….

My amazing friend Julie K just sent me a recent essay in The New Yorker about metaphorical monsters. I found it problematic because the identity of the monsters is too vague. Sendak, however, was always very clear; the monsters in his first book were the perpetually mourning and stern adults in his family. He just exaggerated them into something endearingly grotesque. As Max manages his emotions, becoming “king of all wild things” (a. k. a. the “most wild thing of all”), he finds his way back to the regular world. Managing one’s emotions, it turns out, is the secret to making one’s way back to the regular world.

“Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again. You really don’t have a sacred space, a rescue land, until you find somewhere to be that’s not a wasteland, some field of action where there is a spring of ambrosia—a joy that comes from inside, not something external that puts joy into you—a place that lets you experience your own will and your own intention and your own wish so that, in small, the Kingdom is there. I think everybody, whether they know it or not, is in need of such a place.”

 

– from A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living by Joseph Campbell

 

“There should be a place where only the things you want to happen, happen.”

 

– from Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

 

As I mentioned before, Where The Wild Things Are was the first of a three-part series to be published, but it is actually the centerpiece to the trilogy. In The Night Kitchen (published in 1970) follows toddler-age Mickey as he falls, naked, into the Night Kitchen, where he has to avoid getting baked into the cake batter and eaten up. Max, again, is preschool-age. Outside Over There (published in 1981) features pre-adolescent Ida, who shirks her responsibility and then has to face the consequences of making things right. It is interesting to note that while there is always a symbol of a mother and evidence of a mother’s love in all three books, Ida is the only real-live human girl featured prominently in the books and she is given (in the book) the mother’s role of caregiver – a role she initially fails to take seriously.

“When Papa was away at sea and Mama in the arbor, Ida played her wonder horn to rock the baby still – but never watched.”

 

– from Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak’s trilogy is recognized as a series which traces the psychological development of children. Each protagonist has age appropriate responsibilities, feelings, thoughts, and emotions. Each protagonist also has to navigate and find balance between the (age appropriate) expectations of the simultaneously present yet absent parent(s) and their feelings, thoughts, and emotions. One of the emotions that figures prominently, especially in Where The Wild Things Are, is rage and one of the themes that figures prominently in the books is how to manage emotions like rage. Because, as I sated before, managing one’s emotions is the secret to making one’s way back to the regular world. It is the boon, as it were, of this particular hero’s journey/cycle.

“But it is more than mere survival that Sendak aspires to, for his children and for himself. He asks the question of resilience: How do children surmount and transform in order to prosper and create? It is tempting to imagine that Sendak conceives of the trajectory of his own life and art as a model for the way he has handled these questions in his works.”

 

– from a 2009 The Psychologist article by psychoanalyst Richard Gottlieb

 

When Where The Wild Things Are was turned into a movie, therapists like Richard Gottlieb offered their clinical take on the book and the movie. Psychoanalyst and attorney Stanton Peele noted in a 2009 article for Psychology Today that Dr. G. Alan Marlatt, a psychologist who focused on addiction, “specifically developed mindfulness as a relapse prevention technique, one that assists addicted people to combat cravings. In brief, a user may imagine the urge to use again as a physical challenge – like a wave – that he or she rides out.” Then, Peele called Sendak’s work “a model of mindfulness.” For his part, Gottlieb did not think it was an accident that Sendaks’ work was so psychologically applicable. In fact, he specifically highlights various “psychological proddings and teachings” which influenced Sendak’s life – including the fact that his partner (for over 50 years) was psychoanalyst Eugene Glenn – and shares bits of conversations with colleagues who also see the value in the book.

“I’m not the milk and the milk’s not me. I’m Mickey!”

 

– Mickey in In The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

 

Call it a coincidence, a coinkydink, God winking, or serendipity, but it is interesting to note that Maurice Sendak, whose seminal book has been hailed and praised by addiction experts, was born on the anniversary of Dr. Bob Smith’s last drink, which is also the anniversary of Alcoholics Anonymous. Today in 1935, Bill Wilson and Smith’s wife Anne gave a severely hung-over Smith (a. k. a. “Dr. Bob”) a beer so that he would be “steady enough” to go into surgery. Hours beyond when the surgery should have ended, Smith announced that yes, the surgery was successful and that he had spent the remaining time reaching out to creditors and others he had hurt when he was drinking. Founded by Smith and Wilson, with support from Smith’s wife Anne, Alcoholics Anonymous is a 12-step rehabilitation program that has helped some people cope with alcoholism. It is also the model for other 12-step programs. While I have not counted the steps as they apply to Maurice Sendak’s work, there are very definite parallels in the way the main characters acknowledge their problems, turn inward, and offer restitution and express remorse. There are also, in the books and in recovery, humongous amounts of love and forgiveness (in particular, self-love and self-forgiveness).

“Quiet down there!”

 

– Mickey In The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

 

“If Ida backwards in the rain would only turn around again and catch those goblins with a tune, she’d spoil their kidnap honeymoon!”

 

– Papa’s song in Outside Over There

 

Please join me today (Wednesday, June 10th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a practice inspired by the inner workings of a child’s heart and mind. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Since music soothes the wild beasts, the goblins, and the cooks, Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (NOTE: YouTube is the original playlist and includes the video below.)

 

My all time favorite rendition!

 

### “I’LL EAT YOU UP!”• “I LOVE YOU!” ###

Comments»

1. Eileen O'toole - June 10, 2020

Love those books and didn’t know the AA theory. Lots that is interesting!


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