‘The rest is the madness of art’

“The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another…”

I stopped peeling potatoes to read Where the Wild Things Are to 2-year-old Lilia, my granddaughter, on Christmas Day. She’d carried the book into the kitchen. “Rumpus! Read it, please?” I dropped potato and scooped up toddler.

Maurice Sendak’s book is about a rambunctious boy named Max.

“His mother called him ‘WILD THING!’ and Max said ‘I’LL EAT YOU UP!’ so he was sent to bed without eating anything.”

Max sails to the land of the wild things that roar terrible roars and show terrible claws. Unalarmed, Max tames the wild things, becomes their ruler and orders: “Let the wild rumpus start.”

For three page turns, the book contains no words—only illustrations of Max and snarling, yellow-eyed beasties leaping, swinging, stomping.

Sometimes Lilia and I march around the room chanting, “RUM-pus, RUM-pus!” Potatoes can wait.

I’m 42 years into the project of life. Time slips away. Inane distractions abound.

Since I stopped believing in a life after this one, I’ve been more tuned in to people and places and things in the here and now.

In a scene from the book/film Fight Club, pro/antagonist Tyler Durden drives into oncoming traffic. He asks passengers: “What will you wish you’d done before you died?”

If the peak oilers are right, if global warming spoils the fun, if we nuke ourselves in the foot, what will you wish you’d have done?

My own list isn’t spectacular. I’d take more autumn walks through crunchy leaves at sunset. I’d trip to the ocean with Lilia, visiting the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. I’d hit the road for anywhere with my daughters. We’d sing along with old NOFX, visit museums and stop for enchiladas and fried ice cream. I’d nab every opportunity to watch my sons make music, skateboard, quote Family Guy, lift weights, kick a hacky sack, juggle oranges or do headstands.

I’d like to write a beloved children’s book. There’s more wisdom in one slim Seuss than in the 200-some books I’m reading in pursuit of a doctoral degree in literature.

If I could plan it, my last meal would be take-out Thai with a chilled bottle of Chardonnay, eaten picnic-style on the living room floor with my Significant Republican. This month, we celebrate our 25th anniversary. Time slips away.

If I’m gobbing melancholy on the page here, I apologize. Last night, I went to Renown’s rehab hospital to visit a friend and university colleague, one of the smartest women I know who’s trying to recover movement and speech after having a stroke. She’s speaking in sentences again, palpable deliberation in each syllable.

“We take a lot of things for granted,” she said. “Yup.”

So this is my last column. I’m working on what academics call a “terminal” degree. I’ve finished coursework and am studying for comprehensive exams. After learning to be properly incomprehensible, I’ll write a dissertation.

Since I’ve written Fray for almost seven years, editor Brian recommended a farewell column before I sign off. I thought about this. But what parting words? What final contradiction to baffle and confuse? Perhaps something a bit circuitous, slightly random? (For a change.)

Melding a dozen ideas into one 600-word column has been a terrific weekly challenge.

“We work in the dark,” wrote Henry James. “We do what we can. We give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.”

In Lilia’s book, Max stops the rumpus and sends the wild things to bed without their supper. He decides to leave for home. The wild things beg him to stay, but Max boards his boat and waves goodbye. At home, he finds a meal waiting.

“And it was still hot.”

Thanks for reading.