Thursday, October 22, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

Since I first heard that Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are was being made into a film, I've been deeply ambivalent. As exciting as it might seem to see the Wild Things alive on the screen, it's a 10 sentence picture book, not a film length narrative. And any attempt to turn into one destroys the book.

I dug back through my Children's Literature work to pull out notes I'd taken on the book before our class discussion. Then I went to find my copy and it's disappeared. auuughhhh. I hate it when things go missing on me. Eventually I will track it down and scan the pages to go along with my notes. Until then, use your own copy and follow along...

This reading is just a cursory nod to the issues of size, of thresholds and boundaries that define and defy concepts of the miniature and the gigantic that are inescapable throughout children's literature and Where the Wild Things Are.

Following the illustrations in order:

1. The central focus is tight on Max's destructive capabilities. The while frame around the illustration constrains the narrative as tightly as it will until the final page of the book. The wolf is predatory by nature, as is Max. The hammer and and nail are enormous. Max stands on top of the books, creating his own narrative in his destruction of the wall. What has been knotted together to make the line? Whose sheet has been turned into the tent? Why has the bear been executed by hanging? And why are the bear's eyes wide, his arm in what appears to be a posture of solidarity with his raised arm?

2. Max's face, hungry as a wolf, is centered in the frame. The vitality and momentum of this illustration extends even to his wolf tail. He is leaping from the threshold of the staircase and driving the wary domesticated dog through another threshold, rejecting Max's wildness. Max's artwork is the lone wall decoration. Something about walls and boundaries, mischief and imaginiation and art connects the first picture to this one. It is all interior. Max is stir crazy. Why is one foot always sticking up? Note, too, that he is chasing the dog with a giant fork. This ties itself into the theme of eating, which in this book is tied to love.

3. "I'll eat you up" get Max banished. The threshold of cannibalism, even the hint of this taboo, sends him unwillingly across the threshold of his own room . Both feet are on the ground for the first time. The door knob is above his head, demonstrating his size. But this is not a child's room. Look at the furniture and lack of anything remotely child-like. Out another frame, the window, is the full moon and all it symbolizes. There are no stars. The white frame continues to shrink.

4. The indoor/outdoor threshold begins to blur. Max's eyes appear closed in prayer, one foot slightly raised, as he wills the growth around him. Stars appear.

5. The growth continues, Max's foot rises higher, eyes still closed, and he suppresses a giggle. The beige interiors fade, the greens take over, and the frame is almost gone.

6. The frame has disappeared, the exterior fills up the entire space, spilling over. Max's back is to the viewer now, as he ignores us and howls at the moon in the wildest of all places in children's literature: the forest.

7-9: The Trilogy of the Boat

7. It is suddenly day. An ocean tumbles by, turbulence continuing the vitality of the text. There seems to be a tree in the middle of the ocean and it breaks the boundary of the facing page. Max is now gigantic in his boat. Check out the miniature rigging. The seas are always stormy. Max is smiling directly at the reader.

8. Now the wild sea thing stands on the text side of the boundary, not terribly menacing, just creating a wake that, on the other side of the page, pushes the boat aground. Max appears afraid, arms half raised as if to try and threaten the beast without any conviction. And there is a big pink tree.

9. Now Max is no longer aground (??) and he scowls at his greeting party of wild things from the safety of his boat. There are four wild things all mimicking the posture of Max earlier in the book, arms and feet raised. The girly wild thing (Tzippy, sans horn) is behind all the boys, but she is present.

10-12 New Reign on the Island Trilogy

10. The four wild things, keeping their exact order, are joined by the Buffalo wild thing who peeks from the forest. The moon is no longer full. Max makes his magic on the Things through eye contact, a threshold of significance. This is the last time we'll see the small goat wild thing.

11. The lead monster in the previous illustration who was closest to Max is now cowering in the forest, as though the boy is too hot to handle. Buffalo Wild Thing (Bernard) is now joined by Eagle Wild Thing (Emil). Max's eyes are again closed as they take turns paying homage to him, his scepter raised, allowing their worship.

12-14 The Trilogy of the Wild Rumpus

12. The frame (inferiority) is completely lost even between pages. The image overflows the entire book altogether. Language is lost as all text disappears. There are four wild things, two new on either side. Their numbers continue to grow as language is lost. They stare at the moon, which is full again. Max however, has closed his eyes again, claw and paw raised in his own worship.

13. Different wild things return, all ones we've already met. It is daylight and they are all suspended from the trees. Again, only Max's eyes are closed, one foot raised very high. The three male monsters look shifty, something is going on with their eyes. Tzippy seems to be listening intently to Bernie and Emil, her legs demurely crossed.

14. The conga line dance adds one of the big nosed wild things of the four from illustration #13. Max is riding Bernie's back and once again, only Max's eyes are closed. His foot and scepter are raised. The two monsters on the left page are arm and arm, as are the three on the right side, and Tzippy is behind all the boys again.

15. The frame reappears, as boundaries return, the rumpus ended. The colors of dawn fill the sky and the wild things are able to sleep. Max is not. He sits at the threshold of his tent, the only figure with his eyes OPEN this time. He has sent the wild things to bed without their supper, for he loves them just a little less. Wanting to be "where someone loved him best of all" is what allows his to connect to the power of scent (the most powerful sense tied to memory) and smell his supper. He is hungry to return home.

16. Compare Max's departure here with his arrival in illustration #9. Now he is smiling and waving goodbye. The monsters' threat, "we'll eat you up -- we love you so!" again connects love and eating, but with much wilder connotations of ingestion and oneness. Tzippy's posture is finally threatening, as Max moves to leave her. The stone cave hasn't been seen until now, perhaps symbolic of the primitive, naturalistic impulses to which Max bids farewell.

17. The illustrations begin to close up in the same manner they opened. Again, there is a lone tree in the ocean that crosses the boundary between the pages. Note that this tree is tropical, whereas the earlier tree in #7 resembled an oak or ash. The return trip is by night, but the sea remains turbulent. The full moon lights the boat, as Max closes his eyes again in prayer.

18. The frame has been restored to the narrative side of the book. The door stands as the threshold between the words and illustration. Unlike. #3, there is no white frame constraining the picture. Max is removing his wolf suit, looking tired but happy as his dinner (love) awaits him.

19. Now the entirety of the book lies as a white field, "and it was still hot" filling up the space. No capitals, no beginning, no thresholds, just completion and closure that wraps up time and space completely.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Glorious Fall

Fall has become my favorite season. There wasn't much Fall to speak of my entire life until I moved to Colorado. You'd get a few days of cool breezes followed by weeks of heat and humidity hanging on, dragging on endlessly. Nothing changed color and very little actually FELL.

Here, though, I am in awe of the colors the trees turn, the crispness of the air, the true sense of change that surrounds me. The photos above are just one tree in my backyard and I could spend hours watching the reds and golds push their way across the leaves. Our early snow this year means everything has sped up and within weeks there will be no more color on the trees, just leftovers sweeping down the street in the breeze.

There's something, too, about endings that I have always adored. I'm the girl who collects slit-your-wrists love songs for her iPod because of their glorious sadness that brings me to my knees, to borrow from Sarah McLachlan. Watching the slow death, the pulling in and hibernation of the world is exhilarating. Let it Fall.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Home Again

Back from Houston and not sure whether my title refers to the coming or going. It was disconcerting to be driving back through streets that are more like a foreign country than a homecoming.

How did I forget about the traffic across Houston, the sprawl of the whole city, when I arranged a flight to arrive at IAH just in time to hit it all. There are patches that remind me so viscerally of the landscape of Idiocracy.

The upside was that Lynne and I had hours to catch up, time to pull over for a diet coke, and then time to pull over and find the bathroom...

I had Lynne take the Edgebrook exit and we drove around the grounds of what was once Easthaven Baptist School. The "yard" where we would play was still green, but the pavilion with the rafters we had swung from was long gone. The brand new building I remembered being opened in 1981 was so small and tired looking. The old chapel, which had always looked old, even when I entered its doors in 1975, didn't look nearly as worn. I tried telling Lynne about the dusty old basement underneath that magnetically drew us down there after school despite threats and warnings from all our teachers. It had creaky wooden floors and the narrowest staircase with rooms that hadn't been used for years, with children's tables and glass eyed naked baby dolls hanging out of play trunks. I told her the memory of the big boy who held the door so I couldn't get out and almost made me miss the bus and scared the crap out of me. I wish I could have broken in and poked around what must by now be exponentially more creepy nowadays.

We made it to the church to meet with Courtney and get the video camera from her so I could play the ideographic for her. Per Cjo's recommendation, we tried Terra del Luna (I think?) off of Bay Area and Saturn. Not a favorite, but since I'd nothing since the Starbuck's Pumpkin Spice Latte that morning and the diet coke on the drive, it was good enough. I'll skip the pumpkin latte next time, too. I'm just waiting for the Peppermint Mocha to hit the stores now.

By that time it was completely dark and we headed for the B&B in Seabrook, which is right off the part of the road that would be Nasa Rd. 1 on the other side of 146. You can't even see the garish lights of the boardwalk, just the dark waters of the bay. Stevie, the Old Parsonage House's owner, had left the keys in the mailbox and the porch lights on. We couldn't take in all the grounds by the time we got there, but the interior was beautiful and we both wanted the dark back bedroom. I took the front. Lynne was paying.

I stayed up late finishing the book I'd bought before my flight. The Good Thief is a quick read, very Dickensian in the vein of Oliver Twist, the drawback being, you don't put it down. I finally finished a little after 2:00 a.m. At 7:30 I was up, Lynne was already out on the porch, and I started taking pictures of the place. If I can get the uploaded to cooperate, I'll get some included.

My room. See the pretty flowers Lynne arranged to have waiting for us?

The foyer looking into my front room.

Looking from the foyer into the sitting room and kitchen.

The back yard.

Looking toward the front door from the back.

I loved the kitchen window.

Front morning in the morning sun.

Lynne still looks like she has a cigarette, even though she hasn't smoked in 4 months now, after a 40 year habit.

Lynne's room

We lounged, read, sipped on coffee, showered, and headed out mid-morning for the tour of the old stomping grounds. We took Hwy 3 up to the corner where the VFW and Pe-te's had been forever, although the old cajun dancing place was now an H&H. We turned and slipped past San Jacinto South and a discussion of playing softball on the Brio toxic site. After a brief stop in Scarsdale whose retail seems to skew entirely Asian, we rolled down Beamer and turned right on Hughes toward Sagemont and Thompson and traced the back road I used to walk home after junior high.

I'd stood before the old house last summer when I was down for the reunion. This time, we didn't slow down. Four trucks, one in semi-disrepair, filled the driveway, with a pitbull roaming about the legs of some very tough looking men who were working on the truck. We headed for the even older house on Kirkdale which looked a hundred times better cared for than the one on Sageville. Up past the old Dobie building, over past Beverly Hills, down Buene Vista to the Wilbanks house, which looks like the best kept place in 20 square miles, albeit nearly unrecognizable from the home where I spent so many hours.

Then it was time to hit Almeda Mall. We were pulling past what was once the Best Store when Lynne revealed her misgivings about even stopping the car. There was a pall about the endless concrete, the building that was once Penney's without any signage, as though the shell was all that remained. Across the way, Almeda West Theater was nothing but a delapidated building waiting for demolition. But the Picadilly sign was exactly the same. We entered through the food court and I started snapping pictures. The locals looked at us a little strangely, partly because we were so clearly not the prevailing demographic, and because I kept taking pictures of things like the glass dome and benches and clocks.

Lynne and I got our pictures taken in the photo booth in front of where Liberace once stood in the Piano Store, across the way from where Doctor's Pet Center once was. Everything is empty there now. I stood in front of the huge empty area that was once Woolworths, the brick wall that was once H&H, and felt empty myself.

That was about all I could take and it was 1:00, so we went in search of sustenance. The Joe's Crab Shack fit the bill and then we returned to the house to nap, refresh, and prettify for the evening wedding.

We got to the church about 5:45 and get up in the balcony, which was where we had to sit in order to film. I was sweating the end, because I hadn't brought in a second tape and I was watching the minutes ticking down. Courtney and Nathan couldn't stop smiling at one another. They are a lovely couple. With 4 minutes left on the tape, Mr. and Mrs. Smith got down the aisle and out of my viewfinder, so we meandered over to the Colloseum (yeah, you really spell it that way) for the reception. We enjoyed a wonderful meal, scrumptious cake, and watching the bride and groom's first dance before deciding we had to call it a night.

We got in after 11:00 and my feet were screaming. I didn't sleep well that night and woke up covered in a cold sweat twice. Not sure what was going on there. I woke around 8:00 and got the coffee and biscuits going before scratching Lynne's back to wake her up which she always gushes about. It was the way my Mom always woke me up and the way I wake everyone else up, too. Who wouldn't want to wake up to a gentle back scratch?

After another lovely morning in the cool breezes and sun, it was time to pack up and hit the road. The weekend ended so quickly, I'm still processing what little time I had. I wish I could have gotten together with more friends, visited longer, soaked up the gorgeous weather a few more days. Of course, that weather is already slipping away down there and up here we're expecting snow tonight. Home again.