My Letter to Maurice
May 8, 2012 § 4 Comments
In November 2010, we were hearing, almost every day, that “Things Get Better.” Dan Savage’s campaign to empower and comfort homosexual teens had taken off, and around the world, people were taking to the web to reach out and tell children, essentially, that their fears and their anxieties were founded, but that who they were–and are–is worth fighting through those fears for.
I don’t remember why, specifically, Sendak was on my mind then. But Sendak has often been on my mind. Somehow the whole “It Gets Better” phenomenon made me think of him, and his partner, Eugene, who had recently passed away. Sendak’s parents, of course, had also passed away some time earlier, and Sendak had, in the years since, let it be known that he was gay, and always had been. He and Eugene, whom his parents had never known to be Sendak’s partner, had been together for decades. Sendak had never come out to them.
So, in November 2010, I wrote him a letter.
I sent it.
I never heard back from him, but I hope he read it. This is what I hope he read:
Dear Mr. Sendak,
I’m sure you receive many “personal” letters to this address that turn out to be anything but—people who have just discovered Where the Wild Things Are for the first time, people who have studied your work for years, people who want to know why, oh, why, did Nickelodeon ever get its hands on Little Bear?
Although it’s likely that my interest in you and my praise for you falls into a similar category, I hope that you read this. I hope that you read it, and aren’t too terrifically annoyed. I read about the death of your partner two years ago in the New York Times with deep sadness. Some might say that it’s surprising for someone who has brought such joy to children to experience such loss, and to have lived so long without the release of coming out to one’s parents. How ironic, some people might say. But I don’t see the same irony that those people might—your work, to me, has always contained that sadness, and an acknowledgment that loss is a part of who we are, and of our lot. Your work has always spoken to me of the extreme loneliness of being a child in an unsure world; and that’s what we still are, in the end, always children in an unsure world.
This sounds silly, I know—but for the past several years, since I began to look at your work as an adult, and not as a child, I have wanted to give you a hug. I don’t want to shake your hand, or to purchase a signed copy of Dear Mili. Because that idea only makes me feel momentarily thrilled, and doesn’t do a thing for anyone else. What I have wanted, when I’ve looked at your characters who struggle with who they are in a frightening world, is to comfort you in some way. Bake you cookies. Tell you that you’re a hell of a guy. Send you a hokey singing Christmas card.
I suppose all I can do is to tell you what many people probably already have—that you’ve inspired a generation of not only young readers, but beautiful human beings. Although media hype has its ways of skewing a situation, I hope that the current focus on empowering young people who feel that they are “different” gives you hope as well. I can’t imagine having to deny, for so many decades, a part of your life as important as who you love. You surely had your reasons for keeping your parents unaware of your sexuality, and far be it from anyone to judge those reasons, or you. But I hope that you can see your influence in the generation of young people who are choosing not to hide who they are. Despite your insistence that you “hate people,” you show in your books a profound connection to them, by telling them that it’s understandable to be lonely and afraid, and also by allowing your characters to confront that loneliness and fear as themselves, and no one else. Were it not for Max, or Ida, or Mickey, or Jack and Guy, or Jenny—characters who overcome their fear or their apathy or their surroundings in order to become their best selves—I don’t think that we would be seeing a generation of people so insistent that others love them for who they are. I can only wish that that gives you hope, and fulfillment. You are one of their heroes, and you are certainly mine.
On a lighter note, I share your love for Mozart, and an enthralled by the idea of the wigged little man waiting for you in the afterlife.
That’s pretty much all I had to say. I will simply close by saying Happy Holidays, and thanks.