Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Mischief of One Kind And Another

I, like about a zillion other people, am an enduring fan of Maurice Sendak's classic children's book Where the Wild Things Are. The appeal of the book isn't just the story or the illustrations, it's a universal identity with the inner Max in each of us. Everyone's misbehaved without regard to the consequences, everyone's been pissed about the inevitable punishment, and everyone's fantasized about escaping the unpleasantness of real life. Sometimes, everybody wants to be king, regardless of how old or young we are, where we are from, or how we are raised. To me, the book's most important lesson comes right at the end, when Max finally decides to return home, and finds that he hasn't, in fact, been abandoned by his mother, and that his dinnenr is waiting for him, "still hot."

Isn't that the perfect ending to any story?

When the live action film was announced, I was ecstatic. I couldn't imagine how anyone would make the movie, but I didn't care. I couldn't believe a feature film could be adapted from a story that's less than 350 words long, but I didn't care. I wanted to see it; I couldn't wait, and I have to admit the trailer itself nearly brought me to tears, due in no small part to that song playing. I was hooked in the first five seconds.

When the film was released, I was surprised to hear negative or hushed reviews, and criticism that the film's story didn't follow that of the book exactly. Truth be told, I became even more intrigued. I was secretly happy the critics weren't raving about it, because it meant the film was made for its own reasons, not those for which it would be judged successful entertainment. When I heard about the parents who threw a fit because it wasn't a happy kid's show, I knew even better that it had been made for me, and nobody else.

I didn't see the movie in the theater; I couldn't get anyone to go, except when I could, and then there were always more 'entertaining' movies to go see. Finally I watched it on Netflix. I didn't know what to expect, but whatever I got was more than satisfying. I haven't had the experience very often of seeing a movie and not feeling some closure at the end, but this one came close. Sure, it has a conclusion: Max makes it home, just like he's supposed to. But unlike most stories that are neat and clean, that go around their story arc from beginning to end, Where the Wild Things Are kept turning around inside me, following the same arc over and over, just in the context of my own self instead of Max.

When I described the movie to my family, it was difficult. All I could come up with was, "it's a movie about growing up, and facing your fears, and finding out who you really are." Which is lame as movie descriptions go. The movie is different. Where as the book gives us a story of exploration that's fun to read, the movie is sometimes difficult to watch. The characters get into uncomfortable and unpleasant situations that are common, at least in my family, but nobody wants to see, and certainly nobody wants to deal with during an evening out. They fight. They call each other names and hold grudges. They hurt each other.

Today, for some reason, my mind went back to that story, the one on the screen, and I found out more about who I really am. I saw myself in every predicament the characters endure. This morning as I looked into the bathroom mirror, what I saw partly completed a picture I've been piecing together my whole life.

I could see my own wolf suit.

We all have a wolf suit, and we all do with it exactly what Max does with his. It changes us; that is its purpose. It allows us to become brave and reckless; it lets us present to the world that which we would like everyone else to see, instead of that which we know will be disapproved of, that which is weak. It lets us tame the wild things in our own lives, and gives us a barrier of protection against the terrible roars and gnashing teeth that would otherwise reduce our broken souls to tears.

My personal realization is that I have relied too much on my wolf suit. I have never taken it off, because I have never believed myself strong enough to live without it. I have hidden inside from everyone I've known. Some, a tiny few I could count on one hand, have been shown this truth. But no one, including myself, has a real understanding of who is inside.

This must be my quest: to do what Max does, and finally come home, still loved, and feel safe enough to start taking off my wolf suit. People will be hurt, more than have already been. I will be shamed, more so than I am already dealing with. But maybe, like Max as he sees his dinner, I could just start with the hood.

I am scared to death.

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