there will always be a majority, and there will always be a minority. whether i fall into the former or latter hasn't always been an issue with me. however, it hasn't always been the easiest waking up every day and facing the majority of my peers as a man thrust into the gay minority. i'm lonely often. i'm moody and self-deprecating. but sometimes, i'm really strong. i'd like to take the time to thank one of my heroes, long before i even knew it, maurice sendak, for helping me to feel strong again today.
[via the New York Times]
Maurice Sendak’s 80th year — which ended with his birthday earlier this summer and is being celebrated on Monday night with a benefit at the 92nd Street Y — was a tough one. He has been gripped by grief since the death of his longtime partner; a recent triple-bypass has temporarily left him too weak to work or take long walks with his dog; and he is plagued by Norman Rockwell.
Or, to be more accurate, he is plagued by the question that has repeatedly been asked about Norman Rockwell: was he a great artist or a mere illustrator?
“Mere illustrator,” he said, repeating the phrase with contempt. It’s not that Mr. Sendak, who has illustrated more than 100 books, including many he wrote, is angry that people question Rockwell’s talent; rather, he fears he has not risen above the “mere illustrator” label himself.
Never mind that Mr. Sendak’s originality and emotional honesty have changed the shape of children’s literature; that his work is featured in museums; that he has designed costumes and sets for operas, ballets and theater; that he has won a chest full of awards and prizes including a National Medal of the Arts. As the playwright Tony Kushner, one of his collaborators, said, “He’s one of the most important, if not the most important, writers and artists ever to work in children’s literature. In fact, he’s a significant writer and artist in literature. Period.”
Mr. Sendak protested, “But Tony is my friend.”
Mr. Sendak, a square-shaped gnome, was sitting in the dining room of his Connecticut retreat. His shoulders are a bit stooped, but his fingers are long and delicate. When he hears that the 92nd Street Y event is sold out, his eyebrows rise in surprise.
“They must be coming to see the other people,” he said, referring to guests like Mr. Kushner, Meryl Streep, James Gandolfini, Spike Jonze, Dave Eggers and Catherine Keener.
Even his heart attack doesn’t seem up to snuff. People aren’t impressed with a triple bypass, he lamented; now it has to be a quadruple: “You feel like such a failure.”
That Mr. Sendak fears that his work is inadequate, that he is racked with insecurity and anxiety, is no surprise. For more than 50 years that has been the hallmark of his art. The extermination of most of his relatives and millions of other Jews by the Nazis; the intrusive, unemployed immigrants who survived and crowded his parents’ small apartment; his sickly childhood; his mother’s dark moods; his own ever-present depression — all lurk below the surface of his work, frequently breaking through in meticulously drawn, fantastical ways.
He is not, as children’s book writers are often supposed, an everyman’s grandpapa. His hatreds are fierce and grand, as if produced by Cecil B. DeMille. He hates his uncle (who made a cruel comment about him when he was a boy); he hates anything to do with God or religion, and Judaism in particular (“We were the ‘chosen people,’ chosen to be killed?”); he hates Salman Rushdie (for writing an excoriating review of one of his books); he hates syrupy animation, which is why he is thrilled with Mr. Jonze’s coming film of his book “Where the Wild Things Are,” despite rumors of studio discontent.
“I hate people,” he said at one point, extolling the superior company of dogs, like his sweet-tempered German shepherd, Herman (after Melville).
He is, at heart, a curmudgeon, but a delightful one, with a vast range of knowledge, a wicked sense of humor and a talent for storytelling and mimicry.
When Mr. Sendak received the 1996 National Medal of Arts, President Bill Clinton told him about one of his own childhood fantasies that involved wearing a long coat with brass buttons when he grew up. “But Mr. President, you’re only going to be president for a year more,” Mr. Sendak said, “you still have time to be a doorman.” Mr. Sendak insisted he was trying to be ingratiating, not funny.
Against all probability, some of the nightmares that have relentlessly pursued him since childhood — like the 1932 Lindbergh baby kidnapping — have been laid to rest. A couple of weeks ago a dealer found one of the tiny reproductions of the kidnapper’s ladder that were sold as souvenirs at the New Jersey trial.
“I was floored,” Mr. Sendak said. He traded one of his drawings for it. “That ends my obsession with the case,” he said.
His fascination with the kidnapping, like many of the other details of his life, has been repeated endlessly over the years in the hundreds of interviews he has given. Was there anything he had never been asked? He paused for a few moments and answered, “Well, that I’m gay.”
“I just didn’t think it was anybody’s business,” Mr. Sendak added. He lived with Eugene Glynn, a psychoanalyst, for 50 years before Dr. Glynn’s death in May 2007. He never told his parents: “All I wanted was to be straight so my parents could be happy. They never, never, never knew.”
Children protect their parents, Mr. Sendak said. It was like the time he had a heart attack at 39. His mother was dying from cancer in the hospital, and he decided to keep the news to himself, something he now regrets.
A gay artist in New York is not exactly uncommon, but Mr. Sendak said that the idea of a gay man writing children books would have hurt his career when he was in his 20s and 30s.
His latest book is one he started about four years ago, right after Dr. Glynn became sick with lung cancer. The illness and setting up of round-the-clock care in their home were just “so unbelievable,” he explained. Mr. Sendak is mostly finished with it, but he admitted that for the first time, “I feel extremely vulnerable.”
He is afraid — not of death, which is as familiar to him as a child’s teddy bear — but of not being able to finish his work: “I feel like I don’t have a lot of time left.” After Dr. Glynn’s death, Mr. Sendak said he was “still trying to figure out what I’m doing here.” “I wanted to take his place,” he said. “His death became a demarcation.” He added that he lost touch with many of his friends, unable to return phone calls and reply to e-mail messages.
Mr. Sendak is pleased with the coming birthday celebration, just as he is about his awards and honors, but in the end, he maintained, they don’t add up to much. They “never penetrated,” he said. “They were like rubber bullets.”
It’s not that he isn’t grateful. “They made me happy, but at a certain point in your life, you see through them,” he said. “You don’t mock them, you don’t hate them, you feel sorry for them” — tiny, inert emblems that just aren’t up to the task of answering pressing questions about meaning, soul-touching greatness and durability.
So he spends his days pondering his heroes: Mozart, Keats, Blake, Melville and Dickinson. He admires and yearns for their “ability to be private, the ability to be alone, the ability to follow some spiritual course not written down by anybody.”
Mr. Sendak is quick to insist that a vast distance stands between his own accomplishments and theirs. “I’m not one of those people,” he said. “I can’t pretend to be.”
Still, he has the feeling that “I will do something yet that is purely for me but will create for someone in the future that passion that Blake and Keats did in me.” What he has failed to consider, though, is that he may already have.
you most definitely have, mr. sendak.
i've been writing more lately, and it's inspired me to look for a really nice notebook i can carry with me everywhere to jot things down in. fourtypercent is great for blogging, but for things that are a little more personal, i like a pen and paper. plus, having all of that written down no matter where i am is great preparation for the fourtypercent zine i'm working on with some of my lady friends.
i stumbled across this moleskine on skulladay.com. the graphic is absolutely gorgeous, and it's a genuine moleskine. i love the combination of olde style illustration, and sea life. who doesn't love an octopus? the artist is dan hilier. a quick visit to his Web site had me developing a bit of an art-crush. i love artists who combine animal traits with humans - and i've yet to see one who does this so artfully as mr. hilier. absolutely beautiful work. check out his whole web site for more examples of his work.
1 papaya year // high places
2 renovo // mahogany
3 unknown // tujiko noriko
4 boundary addiction // geodesic
5 night // the field (fourtypercent edit)
6 the companion // the mary onettes
7 canal // atlas sound
8 bruises // chairlift
9 supervitesse // mahogany
10 from stardust to sentience // high places
sorry for the lack of knowing tujiko noriko's tracktitle. it was just really pretty and i couldn't leave it out of the mix. here's the link to download it: download fourtypercent's YOUAS22.
and also by mahogany,
thanks to cfs for no kids & simon bookish's "everything/everything" (out on tomblab october 28, 2008 in north america). much loved.
maybe i'll start djing again.
joseba elorza is a freelance illustrator and sound designer from spain. i came across his work on changethethought, and was impressed mostly with the above image. the color is ridiculously perfect, as is the integration of the old photograph. i love how his style throws together traditional photos of the past with apocalyptic imagery - very cold war paranoia meets modern design theory.
but what i most loved were his soundbits. i play around with sound design a bit myself (link goes to my geodesic myspace). this is mostly because i kind of suck at composing songs that are anything but ambient. i admit it. check out love me que here. it's very broadcast-like, which cannot be ignored.
joseba's blog gives some insight into his methods, and who exactly is using his work. if only i spoke spanish...
i spent a lot of time with lost-and-found friend, juanita, over the weekend. friday night was really more of the same "let's go pretend we want to dance at the wave!", but saturday was the piece-de-resistance. she picked me up around 4:30ish and we went to her house in norview, where her god parents, god brother and mother were staying with her. her mom had cooked up some fantastic stir fried tofu and vegetables over rice that i couldn't have been more thankful for. during the course of my little visit, her godmother and mother gave me a Thai nickname: Tha. i haven't been able to find a literal translation of the word anywhere on the internet, but i'm told it means something like royalty. if anyone out there speaks Thai and can tell me if that's true, i'd love you forever.
but the really great part of saturday happened when juanita had to drive me back to my car so i could go pick up my room mate from virginia beach, where she was stranded. i don't remember why, but i was looking in her glove compartment and i came across the amazing sunglasses you see above. after a little research, i found out they're sunglasses that were sold at the 1986 World Cup, which was held in Mexico City. besides being the second time Mexico had hosted the World Cup since 1970, the UN had also declared 1986 "international year of peace," which gave way to the unofficial motto: el mundo unido por un balon (the world united by a ball). some other trivia about the games that year: canada, denmark and iraq all qualified for the first time; argentina won the cup; iraq played all matches on neutral ground (meaning away games i guess) due to the iran-iraq war; Mexico City was rocked by a massive earthquake only 8 months before the cup; denmark was dubbed "the group of death" because of their 100 percent record in round 2 of the cup.
juanita said they looked better on me, so she gave them to me. i'm seriously in love with these sunglasses. they're vintage 80's (i know, i know. i totally blasted 80's fashion last week), and they've got a great backstory to boot. i feel good when i wear them. so be jealous that you're not friends with girls who have great sunglasses to give away, kids.
i am fighting the first sickdays of fall right now, and as a result can't sleep very well at night. so i figured now was as good as time as any to start mapping out looks for the fall that will make me feel as though i won't get sick anymore this season. (here's hoping!) i'm a huge fan of rainy days, especially between late september and the end of november, so hunter's wellington boots top series one of ///40% fall.
1. hunter wellington rain boots. i've had a love affair with rain boots for the longest time and have been waiting for them to catch on with actual people. not that i think they have, but my friend beth wore some out the other day and it made me so happy that i hunted down a pair for myself. they're a bit expensive, so i'm saving up for them, but they're available from jcrew for less than $100, which is very exciting. having not really taken my cowboy boots off since i bought them, it'll be refreshing to have another knee-high boot to rock when it's wet outside and i'm feeling slightly more whimsical. check 'em out. 2. WeSC Eddie Herringbone Duffle Coat. this is one of those coats where i actually did say out loud, "omigosh, it's amazing." the first time i heard about WeSC was the last time i was in california visiting my good friend bobby from kitsune noir. we stopped into their boutique, and i have to admit i wasn't too impressed. at that time, it was a new brand, and they appear to have come an awfully long way since then. at $258, this coat is an expensive addition to your fall/winter wardrobe, but damn if it's not worth it. if you can't afford something like this, sub it with a great peacoat or even a trench. i'm making this part of my official "bring classy back" movement. all of this 80's ironic hipster fashion is starting to make my head hurt. 3. any large, overstated, patterned or brightly-colored scarf. i have a "desert" scarf like the one pictured above in a green and black houndstooth pattern that i can't wait to start wearing all the time again. contrary to popular belief, scarves are not out of fashion. (as a point of fact, not much is out of fashion these days. it's about how you wear it.) throw a similar scarf in with the mix to spice things up a bit and draw attention to the way your cheeks and noses are turning red in the cool temperatures. 4. cheap monday tight unwashed jean. i know, i know. tight jeans are getting a little old. but as long as i can keep pouring my legs into them, i'm going to keep on wearing them. plus, they make wearing boots so much fun. cheap monday's skinny jeans are an exceptional find, as they're relatively cheap (in this case, only $65) and they fit like a glove, reinforced with a bit of spandex for movement.
obviously this look goes best on a particularly chilly day, flask of hot cocoa mixed with peppermint schnapps in hand. man, that sounds good. i can't wait until my body likes that stuff again.