First, I want to apologize if I’ve been . . . grumpy. Grumbly. Cranky. Throwing small tantrums. Complaining about being uninspired. Writing blogs about futility and a passive-aggressive Zen approach to life’s matters, large and small. It’s been a tough month.
But it has also been a GLORIOUS month. Ah, perspective. Ah, the joys of looking back on the mountain over which you’ve come. The sweat dries. The thirst is quenched. The sun settles behind a peak and the sky reflects brilliant pinks and greens and oranges. You have not yet turned to see the mountain that is ahead. For once in your life, you are totally in the moment. Well, the moment and the exhilarating past, more exhilarating with every passing moment.
Seriously, though, right after my last whiny blog, I turned a corner. Maybe it was seeing how close I was to finishing. (Who said the light at the end of the tunnel is that of the oncoming train?) Maybe it was the longevity and intensity of my commitment finally paying off. I started to love my little book, and what’s more, I started to enjoy it. My characters surprised me in that way that writers sometimes say that characters can do–and what that really means is keeping at it long and hard enough that you can surprise yourself, dig below what you know you have to say and turn up something you’ve never told yourself before.
Maybe the cause of my change of attitude was reading Where the Wild Things Are aloud to my sons a couple of nights before I completed my 50k words. Reader, do you remember this book by Maurice Sendak? Max, the protagonist in a wolf suit, is getting into mischief “of one kind and another,” until he tells his mother he’ll “eat [her] up,” and is sent to bed without any supper. Well, as happens, trees begin to grow in Max’s room that night, and jungle, “until . . . the walls became the world all around.” Max gets in a boat and sails “through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year to where the wild things are.” They–the wild things–try to scare him by roar[ing] their terrible roars and gnash[ing] their terrible teeth and roll[ing] their terrible eyes and show[ing] their terrible claws,” but Max is able to tame them “with a magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once” so that “they were frightened and called him the most wild thing of all.” This is how Max becomes their king.
As I read to Charlie and Leo, the parallels to what I had been spending my evenings at the computer doing became evident and exciting. Yes, I had set off on a long journey without my supper, and yes, my little manuscript had tried to frighten me in a myriad of effective ways, but I had persisted, staring into the yellow eyes of my book without blinking once (okay, well maybe I blinked a few times, but I kept returning to stare), and eventually, I tamed my story. Well . . . in the way that Max tamed his wild things, which is to say, he commanded the wild rumpus to begin.
The next few pages of this marvelous children’s book are devoted exclusively to pictures. Of the wild things rumpusing. During our story-reading ritual, we spend these pages chanting, “Rumpus, rumpus, rumpus. Rumpus, rumpus, rumpus.” There is one monster who has more or less a bull’s head, and the boys point to him and say “Moooo.” (Or really “Mmmmm,” which is actually a more authentically bovine lowing sound, which they know because Berkely has a little farm up in Tilden Park. Farms? In Berkeley? Mmmmmm. But I digress. Which is the great joy of blogging but not, perhaps, of consuming said blog.)
And so I rumpused with the monsters of my fears and the monsters of my dreaded imagination and the monsters of the stories I have to tell that I long to tell and the monsters of the stories I have to tell which I do not even know I know, and 50,000 words later . . .
I was having fun. Feeling inspired. Writing my monstrous menagerie. Which goes to show that you can’t wait to rumpus until you feel inspired. You have to rumpus to keep the monsters moving, rumpus like your life is leaning into that stomping frenzy and hanging from the tree.
I want to quote the next two pages (or six lines) in full, and hope that this does not violate any copyright law (which for those of you who grew up in the age of the internet was an old idea people had about protecting the uses of their texts). I think it’s okay because this book is one you need to buy and own, for the pictures, for the story and for the underlying lesson I’m about to careen home.
I also want to say that during a most rocky horonal time of my post-pregnancy year, I read these pages to myself and they made me cry, they carried so much resonance about the human condition.
“Now stop!” Max said and sent the wild things off to bed
without their supper. And Max the king of all wild things was lonely
and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.
Then all around from far away across the world
he smelled good things to eat
so he gave up being king of where the wild things are.
I think this perfectly sums up the writer’s dilemma, the artist’s conundrum, the pull between the vital, scratchy world of rumpusing with monsters and being their king, and the declawed, yummy place where someone loves us best of all. Marge Piercy in her poem “For the Young Who Want To” says of writing, “You have to like it better than being loved.” I know exactly what she means: you can’t write to be loved, to gain love, you certainly can’t write for the love of your critics or your rivals or your mother. On the other hand, that’s a tall order, to like it better than being loved. Perhaps she had not snuggled with a one-and-a-half year old lately when she wrote that line . . .
But there’s one way to redeem ourselves, we who may not like writing better than being loved . . . who may not like anything better than being loved. If you write and write and write and write, if you write like you were married to writing and didn’t believe in divorce, if you write like writing is the way you get your oxygen and expell your carbon monoxide (remember that I dropped out of high school and forgive me if I have this equation slightly wrong . . .), if you write even when you are angry and lonely and even when you are tempted by a late-night bowl of cereal and an episode of Californication, something strange will happen. You will eventually and painstakingly and unconsciously learn to love yourself. To love the recesses of your imagination that can make you laugh or shock you (as if they themselves were one-and-a-half year olds). If you keep at the writing like it was your kid and you could not make another choice but to get up with it and sit up with it and feed it and rock it and sing to it and wipe its bottom and ask it if it wants to use the potty and mop up the urine off the floor and read it books and take it to the park and swing it as high as it can go in the swing and agree with it that, yes, that is an airplane . . . you will come to love it and it will love you and you won’t have to choose between writing and being loved.
And when you get back to your bedroom, your supper will be waiting for you. And it will still be hot.