"One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time." ~ Andre Gide, Nobel laureate in literature
My sister, Weez, and her family are visiting me for a week. My brother-in-law, Kyle, is a painter and given the cold weather we're having in New York City, this vacation is all about museums. For several weeks, he's been scouting cultural websites to see what exhibits are currently open. One of the exhibits that caught his interest is at the Morgan Library, and includes original sketches, watercolors, and book notes from Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Being avid fans of children's literature, we stopped in there today to have a look.
I have loved Where the Wild Things Are since I was little. I loved it because of its use of theatre and imagination. Max and his make-believe adventures made me believe that I could travel to distant and strange lands, too. Now as a writer, visiting this exhibit brought a whole new back story to the book. Originally the story was about wild horses, not the Wild Things we have come to know and love. Sendak abandoned the project for many years before completing it. During his first attempt he wrote that the story felt forced so he had to put it aside for now. He kept returning to it again and again to see if the story might flow more easily on another attempt. Eventually, he found an open door. My favorite margin note is "focus on Max." Despite his mastery of storytelling, he had to deal with all of the same anxieties so many other writers deal with: not knowing what comes next, starting a story, dropping it, and picking it back up again at a more suitable time, and the feeling that his focus was sometimes a bit off.
As much as I love Sendak's writing, his thoughts on his writing were even more interesting to me. The exhibit reaffirmed for me that writing is a physical workout in many respects. It's something that must be practiced consistently, even when the writing doesn't come easily. There will be periods of frustration when the words just don't flow the way we'd like them to and that's okay. Focus and commitment is something we must continually strive for, and some times we will need to write ourselves a prescription for them, a reminder of what's really important. And that's okay, too.
It's so easy to think that genius in any form belongs to the few, the gifted. Realizing that people whom I admire so much, such as Sendak, are just ordinary people like me reminds me that there is a little genius in all of us. Within everyone's imaginations, there is a brilliant story, our own Where the Wild Things Are, that is brewing. The land of the Wild Things is always right here beside us. To get it down, we just need to commit to showing up at our computers or at our notebooks with a wide open heart, a good set of ears, and an abundance of patience and determination in equal amounts.
The image above is an illustration by Sendak from Where the Wild Things Are