My Sister & Maurice Sendak

NOTE: Illustrator/author Maurice Sendak was born on 10 June, 1928 in England. In his honor I am reprinting the post I wrote upon hearing that he had died. —Jadi

Our first experiences learning to speak seem to involve rhymes. [Twinkle twinkle and Dr. Suess, anyone?] We recite as children, loving language’s sing-song chants.

One of the very first pieces I memorized as a child (to this day I can recite it) was ‘The Cow’ from A Child’s Garden of Verses and Underwoods by Robert Louis Stevenson, printed in 1913.

                                                           The Cow
The friendly cow all red and white
  I love with all my heart:
She gives me cream with all her might,
  To eat with apple-tart.
She wanders lowing here and there,

         5

  And yet she cannot stray,
All in the pleasant open air,
  The pleasant light of day;
And blown by all the winds that pass
  And wet with all the showers,

  10

She walks among the meadow grass
  And eats the meadow flowers.

Can’t you see her?? In my child’s brain she was white and a funny shade of red (who ever heard of a red cow? I mean, really.) And she was named Flossie, or Maisie, or Bessie. Placid Maisie meanders in a huge field, chewing her cud and surrounded by fairy rings of little flowers.

I have to be in the right mood for poetry, but I still have the used copy of The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry from my college days of long ago. (How long ago? Decades. A couple of ’em.) My edition of Robert Frost’s complete works came to me when my mother died. When I read Frost, his poems of New England keep me linked to her, too.

Emily Dickinson still knocks me out, and every word Shakespeare penned is poetry in exalted form.

Poetry is emotion and experience expressed in crystalline shapes, no matter whether it’s metered or free verse. Prose works by poets betray themselves through the beauty of the writing. Think of The English Patient. I read that book slower and slower, and found myself rereading pages over and over, savoring Ondaatje’s mastery with language. Or anything by Ray Bradbury: each of his strange magical visions contains a goodly dose of poetry.

Hmm. I just went back and read what I’ve got here so far… Scratch the comment about needing to be in a certain mood to read poetry.

The Muses pay a very special visit on those they gift with the ability to speak through poems. For me it’s the hardest of all forms of writing. Sadly, the poetic Muses Erato (love poetry), Calliope (epic poetry), Euterpe (songs and elegiac poetry), and their sister Polyhymnia (hymns and sacred poetry) just don’t knock on my door more than once a decade or so. An impulse to even attempt a poem is the sighting and citing of a rare bird. The last time, and it came over me in a total rush of surprise and inspiration, was the death of Maurice Sendak.

File:Sendak illustration.gif

(Photo from Wikipedia)

Mr. Sendak accompanied my childhood and probably yours too, and he was particularly part of my sister Pam’s early years. I remember his Nutshell Library books, extra small to fit the hands of children. There were 4 of them: Alligators All Around, Chicken Soup With Rice, One Was Johnny, and Pierre (A Cautionary Tale). Pammy read them repeatedly, relating especially to the contrary Pierre. A few years ago I spotted an interview with Sendak in The New York Times (click here for the interview).

The article brought back those little books and how much my sister loved Maurice Sendak. I promptly sent the link to Pam and we spent several weeks emailing back and forth about his wonderful art and our childhood memories.

In May last year, Maurice passed away. My sister was teaching in Japan; had she heard yet? For some reason I wanted to be the person to break the news to her. I debated how to contact Pam and gently let her know.

The next morning I awoke preoccupied with way too much to do. I began my tasks with the radio on. NPR mentioned that Terry Gross was doing a special Fresh Air show in honor of Maurice Sendak’s passing (a much older interview with Sendak and a more recent one recorded not long before his death). Despite really having no time to spare, I sat down to give 5 minutes to Sendak.

An hour later I still sat. By now tears were streaming down my face. Sendak’s wise, sweet old voice came over the airways, speaking of the secret fears of children, of his inability to believe in God after the horrors of the Holocaust (he lost his entire extended family), his more than half a century with the man he loved, Dr. Eugene Glynn, a NYC psychoanalyst his parents never knew about… Sendak told his story as the tears continued to pour.

I forgot everything, the chores that had seemed so important that morning, the things I had wanted to cross off my to-do list that day. The interview ended, I got shakily out of my chair, found some tissues and blew my nose, wiped my eyes, and sat down to write my sister. “Pam,” I said, “I just heard an incredibly moving interview with Maurice Sendak. He’s died, and I wanted you to get the news from me…. but really you need to hear this interview and listen to his voice.”

And as I sat, a Muse spoke. I wrote the first version of the following poem in one take.

Maurice

Maurice Sendak

Your words and drawings,

depictions transcribe

the soul&depths

of my sister, Pammy.

You died yesterday,

83 years old and not a day

older than the children now grown

adults weeping, mourning

your passing theirs passing

something of childhood gone beyond

retrieving.

Maurice.

I listen to recordings of your voice

You speak, the New Yorker

in you       so     obvious

I love your sense of place

your first generation voice

of Polish immigrants

of your humanity

your humility

your atheism

your embrasure of

a definition of the world

in which God is

everywhere

in the Wild Things

where they are

My Wild Things salute you.

My Wild Things weep.

Gnash our teeth.

Our King has left us.

Our island, and not just New York

is so much smaller with your passing.

We will cook a meal

Eat a supper and

wish

You were still with us.

(In loving memory of Maurice Sendak, June 10, 1928 to May 8, 2012.)

Copyright © 2013 Jadi Campbell.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

Baum, Bats, and Monkeys

NOTE: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz first appeared in print on 17 May, 1900; the film premiered on 12 August, 1939. Here is one of my very first posts, about author L. Frank Baum, bats, and monkeys…. — Jadi

Both sides of my family hail from the Northeast. We lived for a while in Cazenovia, one of the most beautiful small towns in upstate NY. Caz is just a few miles from Chittenango Falls, and that town was the birthplace of L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz.

My sisters and I first saw The Wizard of Oz film on an old black and white television set we called Lucille. Lucille was temperamental (“Dad! Lucille’s on the fritz again!”), but her screen was big.

It was years before I finally saw The Wizard of Oz on a color television. How I gasped when Dorothy opened that door and stepped out into Munchkin Land! But in color or black and white, to this day I don’t much like monkeys.

Balinese Barong

Some years ago my husband and I traveled to Bali. The Balinese fill their temples with statues of the strange half-bird, half-god creature known as Garuda, a lion-like Barong, lots of sinuous snakes, and Hanuman the monkey god. The cultural heart of Bali is Ubud, home to the Monkey Forest which contains the Monkey Temple. I wrapped a sarong around my waist before we entered to show respect, and I know I was curious as to what we’d find.

The temple grounds were filled – no, overrun – with crab-eating macaque (Macaca fascicularis) monkeys. Dozens of them rested on the platforms to the Pura Dalem Agung Padangtegal temple. Many more watched us from up in the canopy of thick jungle trees and vines. But worst of all, a horde of monkeys scampered our way as we drew near. They were used to people and accustomed to visitors who bring them food. We walked slowly, not making any sudden movements, keeping our arms stretched out with our hands opened. I hoped my empty palms signaled: no food here!

Monkey Temple Gang
Monkey Temple Gang

I breathed a huge sigh of relief when we left the grounds. But I wonder about the sanity (to say nothing of the later health) of tourists who bring bananas and fruit to hand to the macaques. Those critters are feral!

Bali has another disturbing indigenous species: bats.

Text
Bali bats from hell

A huge colony of the largest fruit eating bats I have ever seen, all with wingspans of an easy three feet, hung upside down in a very tall tree. I was horrified by their size.

Then they began flying. In the middle of the day. Bright tropical sun highlighted the reddish membranes of their webbed skins. They flew in loops, more and more gigantic bats, circling lower. I began to feel dizzy as a scratchy voice in my head murmured, “I’ll get you, my little pretty …”

Macaques and bats had morphed together into L. Frank Baum’s flying monkeys. Never underestimate the power of imagination in children…or adults. That movie scene still haunts me. Like I said, to this day I don’t much like monkeys.

PS: But, do go to Bali!

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. Uwe’s photos of our trips and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

Carl Possessed: 1

Growing up, Carl just wanted to be accepted as middle class. Years later he heard the term hard scrabble. It defined the subsistent existence of getting by, but for Carl it always meant more: the tough climb required to get anywhere. Scrabbling perfectly defined the undignified, difficult activity. It might not be a proper verb in the outside world, but in the one where Carl lived scrabbling was very much a real activity. To scrabble had nothing to do with a board game and everything to do with surviving the harder rules of the real world.

Everything about his family was poor; their upstate area had rocky soil for anyone trying to farm, and a rocky climate for manufacturing, business, or trade. It was a hard climate for everything to do with life, actually. The sense of security that anyone who lived there could hope to establish was a rocky one at best.

When Carl was five years old he went to the single market still left in town and stole a Mars© candy bar. His mother found the empty candy wrapper where Carl had shoved it underneath the blankets of his bed. She frowned as she pushed wispy hair back into the plastic hair clip. “What’s this?”

Carl pretended he didn’t hear her or see the crumpled paper she held, hoping the confrontation would simply go away.

This was when his mother realized the problem was greater than her son eating in bed. “You have fifteen minutes to tell me,” she informed him before she turned her back on Carl and went to do the ironing. But her son stayed silent.

Mrs. Penderson didn’t believe in corporal punishment, but half an hour later she smacked Carl with a ruler as punishment for stealing. While she hit him, she explained the why of the beating. “You think anybody around here has enough extra for you to take it from them? Or that store owner’s little kids think it’s okay that you get something for free from the store and they don’t? Well, do you?”

Carl simply gritted his teeth as he cried until the punishment was over. When she was done, his mother sat abruptly in the living room’s one easy chair and pulled Carl up onto her lap. “Honey, someday you’ll be big and smart enough to get all this stuff. But you have to wait until that day, do you understand?”

Carl didn’t particularly, but he nodded his head anyway, because neither of his parents ever talked to him in such an adult fashion. The seriousness in her voice surprised him in a way the punishment had not.

“There are those on the top, and everybody who’s below them,” she instructed. “If you get to the top you can call the shots. In the meantime, you keep your eyes open for what’s going to be yours, do you understand?”

Again she asked an unanswerable question. Carl wasn’t sure what the proper response might be, neither then nor later.

NOTES: – from my short story “Carl Possessed” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. © Jadi Campbell 2012. Go to following link to order my books: https://www.amazon.com/author/jadicampbell

A Boogie with the Bootlegs

I’m beginning 2017 with a fun post …

One year when Uwe and I took a vacation in Asia, I jumped at the chance to fly early and visit my sister Pam and my nephew Nikolai in Hong Kong. They lived in the city for a few years, and Pam had made a game out of finding as many cultural events as possible.

We attended a Japanese hip hop performance, fascinated to see how a form that began with black America was interpreted into Japanese. We got tickets for electrifying (and surprisingly political) Chinese modern dance. Not everything we saw was good; we had to suffer through an hour of really bad flamenco. We fled as soon as politely possible.

And Pam got us tickets for the Bootleg Beatles.

Asians retain a fierce love of the Beatles to this day, and the Bootleg Beatles aren’t your average cover band. The Bootlegs are the Beatles’ first and oldest tribute band. They have been playing for over 36 years! “George”, “Ringo”, “John” and “Paul” sing and play, complete with costume changes to track the evolution of the group. An eight-piece orchestra backs them up. They. Are. Terrific.

The Lyric Theatre of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts is a classic amphitheater space. Our seats must have been the last three sold: Pam, Nikolai and I sat high, high up in the last row.

Once they started playing, it was clear why the concert was completely sold-out. It was like the Bootlegs were channeling the original band. My sister and I got up and danced.

But a strange thing happened: during the entire concert, we were the only people dancing. The amphitheater was filled to capacity with more than a thousand Hong Kong residents and visitors – and everyone was far too well-behaved to get on their feet.

We were surprised that no one else danced. Had we missed something? Was there some kind of Asian protocol about performances? We looked at one another, at Nikolai (sitting between us with his face covered, totally absorbed in listening to the band and not about to join us) and the proper people sitting all around. Like I say: we had seats in the final row up in nose-bleed territory. The only thing behind us was a cement wall. Who would it disturb if we danced?

So we did. From Please Please Me to Back in the USSR to All You Need is Love, we rocked out. Pam and I had a ball. There is something about giving yourself over to the ecstasy and joy of great music. These are the tunes of our childhoods and teenage years.

We grew up with the Beatles. The night in 1964 the band played on The Ed Sullivan Show, Mom came and got us out of bed. “Come see the Beatles!” she urged. I was a little kid at the time. I remember dashing to the black and white television set in excitement… only to watch bewildered as four men in black sang. Where were the insects? (Our dad Bobbo was an entomologist, so my confusion was genuine.)  Later the band and their music became – and remain – an integral part of the weave of my life.

These are just the albums I have in CD form. The others are records and downloads…

So. Fast-forward almost 50 years to an amphitheater in Hong Kong, and you’ll understand why we simply had to get up and boogie.

Before the first break, “George” said how nice it was everyone had come out for the show. He added, “Especially you at the back. We’re really glad you’re here. You’re great!”

“Hey!” I exclaimed. “Do you think he means us?” At the end of the show, “George” and the boys thanked the audience for coming, with “A special thank you to the two girls in the top row. You made the show.”

Some events remain live. In a parallel universe and all my dreams, I’m still dancing.

Love Me Do!

NOTES: The Bootleg Beatles; Photo Copyright © 2017 Jadi Campbell.

Grounded

Grounded_for_web

My new novel Grounded is finally in print and available as an eBook! Use the following link to see it: https://www.amazon.com/author/jadicampbell  

Grounded is the story of how two people react when cyberattacks lame the world. It’s also the tale of a father’s love for his son, a woman’s search to feel alive again, and what the Arctic Circle and a temple in a remote corner of India reveal.

I wrote the first draft in 2002, worked on it for over a year, and put it aside for a decade. I returned to the manuscript last year and reworked and rewrote. This book has had a very long gestation period, and I believe it was worth the wait. Please read it and let me know if you agree.

 

 

 

History’s Loop 2

Cass is eating too, but she pauses and frowns. “You mean Nine-Eleven when I was little?”

Her question reminds me of how I’d stumbled around an explanation about what happened with my daughters.

“No,” Keith shakes his head at her, “way earlier. Way before all your times. In the 1960s, there was a total black out on the East coast. No one knew what’d caused it. Information didn’t get out as fast. No computers, and no Internet.”

“It was 1965,” Sue states. “November. We were living in Connecticut. We’d just moved into this little ranch house, kind of a fifties bungalow, not quite a row house. A starter home, they called them. I loved our little house!” She beams with pleasure and places a hand on Keith’s for a second.

He smiles as he enjoys his sole.

“It had three bedrooms so the kids each got to have their own room, and a long back yard. Keith hung a hammock out there and we had a picnic table and a grill.”

Both eat as they reminisce. “The kids were little. They were outdoors with friends, playing.”

“Lynn and Jeffrey were, what, six and ten years old? Something like that.”

Sue nods. “I went to start dinner and the lights in the kitchen were out. The refrigerator light, too. I figured a power outage. Then our neighbor Irene Robinson knocked on the door; they had the same problem. So the two of us stood on the stoop trying to understand what had happened. It was getting dark and I was about to call the kids in when Irene said, ‘Shouldn’t the street lights be on by now?’ She was right; the streets were dark in any direction as far as I could look. Everything was.

“We realized it must be a blackout. I called the kids in to get ready for dinner. I figured I’d have Keith fire up the grill.”

Keith speaks up. “Lynn and Jeffrey would’ve eaten grilled hamburgers and hotdogs every night if they could.”

“And corn on the cob,” Sue adds.

I’m already nodding in agreement with both statements. My three kids are wild about meals outdoors on the picnic table. Louie prefers a good pork sausage to a hotdog, but he’ll eat a burger any chance he gets.

“My Petey, too,” Timber chimes in. He presses his foot against mine under the table and gives me a special smile. My stomach flutters and I smile back, our conversation in the car forgiven.

“Us too!” Jolie and Cass contribute.

Three generations represented by four adults and two almost adults in a fancy seafood restaurant agree: all children love summer meals.

“So there we were,” Sue resumes. “My freezer thawing as I stood and watched. Keith and I had a confab and decided we’d do a smorgasbord. Cook everything. To throw out perfectly good food isn’t just wasteful. It would have been sinful. Back then, people were frugal.”

“Of course, in the ‘sixties people worried more about food going bad. Stuff didn’t have shelf lives like they do today! Except Twinkies,” Keith adds.

His wife doesn’t miss a beat. “Hey. Don’t knock my emergency go-to snack in those days. Moms need one thing that never gets stale! So Keith starts the grill. I seem to remember there was a full moon that night…. I made an inventory of what we had to cook. About the same time Irene was back at the door. The Robinsons had the same idea. How about we combine meals? I’d been saving two T-bone steaks for special. God knows when I thought that evening was going to arrive. Anyway, the adults split them while the six kids ate burgers and hot dogs. Irene had giant turkey drum sticks and we rigged an aluminum packet with those and a can of tomatoes. Remember, Keith?”

“Yeah. It was messy.” His eyes are soft as he recalls a meal eaten more than half a century past.

Both old folks are silent for a minute as they relive the evening.

Timber and I are silent too. I relax into their memory.

Cass seems fascinated too. “You never told this story before, Gram. Neither has Mom. Did she understand there’d been a blackout?”

“I never explained. We never talked about it, not that night and not after.” Sue stares down at her meal and I’m shocked at how haggard her face grows. “That night I thought, This is it. The world’s coming to an end. Russia had invaded. Or Martians; didn’t matter which. When electricity on the eastern seaboard went out, it had to be a foreign attack. And if my government hadn’t been able to prevent that, I’d better get ready for the end. I was grateful to be with my family.” She’s somber, softer. “I knew I’d shield my children as long as possible. I told them the TV and radio weren’t working, and how about we treat it like an early Night before Christmas? It seemed that quiet to me, the full moon outside, the glow of coals in the grill out where Keith and the six kids were making s’mores.” Sadly, Sue adds, “Our son died in a car accident a few years later. That was still ahead of us.”

© Jadi Campbell 2016. From Grounded. Go to following link to order my books: https://www.amazon.com/author/jadicampbell

History’s Loop 1

We order clam chowders, avocado halves filled with shrimp, sole with crab meat, and scallops sautéed with leeks and tomatoes. Another glass of white wine for me, a third local beer for Timber. Alcohol seems to have little effect no matter how much we drink. And I was never a drinker before.

Before. Back in the days when I was a faithful wife and knew where my kids were at all times. Back when the world was one I could recognize.

“Cheers.” My smile wobbles as we toast one another.

We’re diverted by laughter from the next table. An old woman leans over and kisses her husband’s cheek. She gives us a sunny smile. “I couldn’t help overhearing you order. You picked all our favorite dishes.”

“Oh, Grammy.” The tawny-haired young female who says this and rolls her eyes is improbably beautiful. She has the flawless skin and glossy sheen of someone with her whole life ahead of her. She’s nineteen, twenty maybe, tops, just a few years older than Theresa. She sits across the table from her grandparents next to a friend, who nudges her with a grin.

The young women slurp drinks in globe glasses through straws as they stare at us. I watch, amused beyond words, as they check us out. I can almost hear the category click into place: Our parents’ age group, probably parents themselves. The guy she’s with is cute though – for an old guy.

I’m grateful for the youth at the next table. That’s the thing with a catastrophe: you want your children to carry on, no matter what happens to you. I have a Crosby, Still, Nash and Young album, with a song called ‘Teach Your Children’. Its tender lyrics about how you on the road should teach your children well are suddenly, acutely visionary.

“…Keith James; this is my wife Sue. And this is Cass and her friend Joley. Cass always stays with us in August.”

I come back to the present as the strangers introduce themselves. “Joley and I are starting nursing school and Gram told us, if we want to specialize in geriatrics start with them. Grandpa got his other hip replaced so it’s good we’re here. But I’d come anyways. I love summer in Ocean Beaches.” Their granddaughter in the summer print dress and sandals speaks politely, but she and her friend keep staring.

“I’m Glen, and this is Nicole. Nice to meet you.” Timber’s eager to talk, seeking an antidote to the grim calculations we just heard in the bar. “We had the best afternoon!” he offers. “We went to the beach.”

The two girls burst into laughter and for some reason it sounds familiar. For the first time the granddaughter’s friend speaks. “We were like, jogging, and saw someone who was like, almost bare, fighting a dog for her clothes. And, you,” she turns and looks at Timber and her eyes go glassy in admiration. “You did this amazing series of back flips and took off most of your clothes too! When we saw you come in the restaurant I knew that for sure it had to be you!”

With relish Timber and the girls tell Keith and Sue about the incident. I’m too embarrassed to do anything except nod. At the end of the telling everyone laughs and I join in.

Timber gives the two young women a smile that makes their cheeks flush like a blush wine.

Cass’s grandfather offers, “We’re on a budget, but we go out to dinner once a week no matter what. Thursdays, you’ll find us right here. It’s not just, um, old people’s force of habit. Or maybe it is…”

“Are you from here?”

“We moved here decades ago. We love the coast,” Sue answers. “Our daughter talked us into it. Lynn (Cass’s mom), and her family live in Corvallis. We’re glad to have Cass and Joley with us.”

Keith says, “Lynn’s anxious, but we’re fine. We keep telling her, Ocean Beaches just might be the safest place in the country right now. And if not, then not. Life goes on, and Thursday means dinner at The Sea Shore.”

“How can you be so calm with the world exploding?” It blurts out before I can prevent it. I go red, embarrassed and sorry to have ruined the relaxed conversation. I can’t seem to stop asking my desperate question of everyone we meet today.

I’m saved by the arrival of a waiter. He sets down two plates each of sole and scallops and in spite of myself I laugh.

“Okay, so it is force of habit.…” Keith picks up his silverware and prepares to dig in.

“Truth in advertising!” I tease.

“The scallops? They’re the best,” Joley declares. She widens her eyes and gulps more of her drink.

“By the way,” Keith says. “Your question? This isn’t the first time we were afraid maybe the world was ending.”

© Jadi Campbell 2016. From Grounded. Go to following link to order my books: https://www.amazon.com/author/jadicampbell