Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are is a favorite in our house for its utter literariness and theme of using our literary imagination to master the intense emotions we experience, particularly as children and also as adults. The Wild Things, of which main character Max is one, are Max’s aesthetic impulses writ large. For Max the relatively sedate and safe world of books may not be enough; Sendak illustrates Max standing atop a pile of books to hammer the rope of a fort into a wall. Max in every way wishes to, or believes he can, transcend the prescriptive imagination of someone else’s written words to create his own wild world. Though Max is unable to sustain his kingdom of the boisterous and the untamed, his aesthetic imagination does allow him a certain temporal wizardry as he sails over a year in both directions, and more tellingly, “in and out of weeks” as though time itself is a system of geographic places with liminal borders to be crossed at will with a sort of in-and-out weaving. I am once again here reminded of the connection between text and textiles and the ways in which the weaving motion has long been so central to the creation of both written and visual art. Certainly Max’s indefinite duration in his wild, fictive world mirrors closely his endurance as a character in Sendak’s famous and canonical (in children’s literature, at any rate) text: Max continues to live each time we open the book, taking it in and out of our bookcases throughout the years since its publishing in 1963.

The term “wild things” has origin in the Yiddish and Hebrew language family as well: vilde chaya literally means “wild animal” but more figuratively applies to an unruly or rambunctious child. Not only does Max create a wild landscape in which monstrous wild things live, but also he himself is a “WILD THING” in the words of his mother at the beginning of the book. Max, the epitome of wild things, the quintessential vilde chaya, is in return granted the powers of authorship. Does it take a wild essence in order to create? What is Sendak’s implicit commentary about the necessity of cultivating the vilde chaya in all of us?

I think now of Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day” in which the speaker wonders who had creatorship of the natural world (“Who made the world?/Who made the swan, and the black bear?”) She arrives at no answer as she strolls through the summer grass, but that state of uncertainty does not seem to distress her because she realizes there is one thing she does know for sure: “I do know how to pay attention…” The speaker then describes falling down into the grass and strolling around all day taking in the wonder of it, leaving us with the rhetorical questions:

“Tell me, what else should I have done?/Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?/Tell me, what is it you plan to do/With your one wild and precious life?”

The art of nurturing the wild-ness or wilderness in all of us becomes a call to action here. What is it we plan to do? How do we take ownership of ourselves and our impulses? How do we then form those impulses into a cohesive narrative that makes a well-lived life?

I think also of Henry David Thoreau’s quote from his essay/lecture “Walking” in which he explores the relationship between the wilderness and civilization. Without discussing more of the context or even giving too much thought to qualifying his statement, I still will say that it contains one of my favorite quotes of all time: “All good things are wild and free.” Perhaps they are, perhaps they are not. I still find this line highly motivating when I go for a run, or when I think more generally about shaping myself and the way myself is translated into the narratives of those around me.

There are about a dozen or more ways I would like to continue to trace the use of “wild” as both a motif and a theme throughout literature (Shakespeare, The Canterbury Tales, Arthurian literature, gothic literature, the setting of novels like The Scarlet Letter—I mean, honestly, the connection between that which is wild and that which is undreamed of until it is written and discovered is so tantalizingly rich in my academic discipline). We could also explore the idea of “the wild” in probability and statistics, in chaos theory, etc). Or we could look at its connection to the Sublime. It’s there, and that streak is fundamental to who we are when we think of what makes us human: retaining our connection to our animal nature and transliterating that impulse into art and expression of higher order thought. We both must embrace, and transcend, our wild nature in order to be thinkers, scholars, and authors of our lives.

So that brings me to Christmas. With the transfiguration of my body into a form it has never been, I have been dealing with a collection of clothes that do not fit. I have kept clothing from high school, yes, from high school…even all those years they didn’t fit. Now, those clothes don’t fit because they are too big. We have in the mix some clothes from my college years. (Whoa, serious style problems in college for the most part. And for those who don’t believe me, I will just say: wooden clogs with socks. See? I told you). Next to come along: my teaching clothes. Much more tasteful by then, but at times I must have thought I was dressing a schoolmarm. Oh well, we all make costume mistakes every now and then. But it boils down to this: for the first EVER in my life, I have the chance to create a wardrobe from scratch with no rules attached. (It will take awhile, but my family was generous with gift cards). I am not a minor and therefore under the approval of my parents; I am not held to clothes that are classroom and work appropriate; I am not pregnant or planning to be pregnant again; I am not self-conscious about my body and worrying about how I will cover up my arms with sweaters if I buy a sleeveless shirt—not that I ever did truly have to worry about that in an objective sense, but we all have insecurities, my friends. I also am no longer bound by the moral obligation of trying to make my old wardrobe work. I am a “use it up and wear it out” (obviously) kind of girl (as we can tell from my keeping clothing so long); but now that nothing fits (except a few pieces I took to the tailor), I am freed also from a sense of duty to keep making do with what I had.

As I choose my new costumes and ways to express myself, I realize I can use my textiles to be (almost) whomever I wish to be without very many external influences (save the clothes that happened to be offered in my proximity and budget). I am always me, but how we adorn ourselves speaks to what part of ourselves we decide to put on stage in this life show we’re in. What is my style, when it can be anything?

Well, I bought a necklace. I know, I know: a necklace isn’t clothing and you need clothes…for heaven’s sake what are you doing?

And this necklace is a chain with a single silver word: wild. Leave it to the English major to buy a necklace fashioned out of a word and to adorn herself with it as one of her first acts of self-authorship.

Wild.

Not so long ago, I never would have bought and worn that in a million years. Too many connotations and denotations in the language at this point.

But you know what? Some of them fit me.

Bill knows. As he said tonight, “You have properly labeled yourself now, I see.” He understands my nature.

I am in this stage of wild and free self-creation, and I revel in it. I am past my child-bearing phase by design and our plan, and although I loved that part of life, I fully embrace this time of my creativity in other ways coupled with the creative juices flowing between and within my growing and curious young children. This is a time of self-discovery for all three of us as mother and children, and I can be fully present with them in that process…and it is exciting.

More than that, though, when I wear my necklace, I am reminded of how very much in charge I am of my own narrative. To know we have that ownership, even when times are challenging or even downright tough, is to have the basis for contentment. When life is not easy, we must decide where to take those plot twists. I really believe the basis for walking around happy most of the time is understanding how to narrate our past, present, and future with verve and authenticity. If we’re living only for the moment, or for what brings us pleasure in the present without looking at long term goals or where we’ve been, I think that’s a way to get bogged down by what feels difficult instead of looking at how truly beautiful the whole of life is, and can be. If I have been criticized at all, it usually takes the form of “You seem so happy all the time; you must be ignoring life’s difficulties or hiding your own.” No, on the contrary: I acknowledge life’s difficulties, but I know how to write them into my story, and how to do it so well that they become necessary to whatever in my narrative turns out to be good. I know how to keep those challenges in perspective for my character. There are certainly experiences I will only share with people I absolutely trust, but I don’t hide things, no.

I just know that at heart, I am wild. And I know that life is equally wild. I am equal with my Life. Not at its mercy. Not subjugated. But wild, free, and in love with the challenge of living a life artfully.

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This life is, indeed, a wild rumpus.

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