My time with Maurice

Maurice Sendak has died, and I am pondering temporality. In fact, it’s taken me all day to find the time to write this post…

On a ride to Philly only last Thursday, my friend Kevin and I were talking about the great creative thinkers we admire, who also just happen to be gay. “Maurice Sendak would be amazing to interview,” he said. I took out my phone, and started thumbing through the address book. “I’ll call him right now!” I threatened, but didn’t. I then told Kevin about the time Maurice and I shared together in the summer of 1995.

At that time, my Mom was dating Maurice’s driver, Peter, whom I liked and who took a liking to me. Peter connected me with Maurice since we were both, “you know… creative.” Looking back, I think Peter was suggesting Maurice and I had something else in common… something I was permitted to discover myself.

The afternoon I drove to Maurice’s house through the woods of Ridgefield, Connecticut, I was nervous about meeting one of my heroes, and thus, forced to be present. Maurice made me feel immediately comfortable by the twinkle in his eye, and by his gregarious, irreverent nature. He was both quietly confident and occasionally saucy as he (and Runge, his German Shephard) gave me a tour of the house, showed me his Mickey Mouse collection (Mickey and Maurice were born the same year), and introduced me to his slate of at least a dozen projects. There were in-progress book illustrations and galleys, cover sketches, set design doodles, and librettos. He first mentioned the initial plans to convert Wild Things into a movie with Dave Eggers’ assistance. I followed Eggers’ early work at Might magazine and so I was an immediate fan of the mash-up. Over our many hours together, I found Maurice to be a truly great and witty conversationalist, passionate and dedicated to his work, dismissive and impatient with idiocy and those who did not demand quality. We sat outside in the twilight and sipped white wine, surrounded by all the lilacs — his favorite flower — and talked about our careers, making me feel an equal, although at 24 years old mine was just beginning.

Maurice hired me to hand-letter the words for his Sendak in Philadelphia poster and invited me to attend the opening at the Rosenbach Museum and Library. It was thrilling to be part of his creative process, be in Philadelphia for the preview, be introduced to the people who made the exhibit happen, and attend the opening night. It was a lot of being present a lot of the time.

At the time I was working in a small, two-person design studio and was pleading for months prior to the opening for some time off; I knew that the miscalculation of value on the part of my boss meant that my time at her shop was limited.

I moved to Boston in the fall of 1995 and Maurice and I kept up a telephone and written correspondence for many years. I wrote, in longhand, about my observations in the then big-feeling city, about the difference in the slant of the nose of the New Englander compared to the New Yorker, and about my hesitations and conflicts around starting my own design studio. “Start it,” he advised. “You’ll never look back.”

He was mostly right — I’ve looked back only a few times in these 14 ½ years, when the doubt and fear seemed impenetrable, and when the idiocy outstank the lilacs. But what I learned from Maurice is that, despite it all, we are innately compelled to create. We make something that wasn’t there before, and in doing so bring light into the world. We keep moving.

It is a privilege to have been in his presence and to have created with him. And today I feel a renewed vigor to make.