Sendak, Comebacks and Full Body Condoms

I just saw a hilarious clip of Steven Colbert interviewing Maurice Sendak. Colbert tongue-in-cheek as usual, plays the supreme narcissist. Sendak, delightfully, plays himself. In response to a doltish query, Sendak says, “That’s a very interesting question. It’s just not interesting to me.”

While this sort of riposte may be neither conventional nor polite, it does not appear that these were highly held priorities for the author, and that’s one of the many reasons his books delighted and provoked the imagination. Besides, let’s face it, narcissists are terrorists and you can’t negotiate with terrorists!

I know a little something about narcissists, like most women who have ever dated.  I’ve seen them up close and personal, made a study of them, and now can spot one at a thousand paces. And I can tell you one thing for sure. These are not people who love themselves. They loathe themselves. For them, a happy person is intolerable and an infinitely attractive target. They want to feed and demolish and feed some more off the results of the demolition. So, when dealing with them, I advise a full-body energy condom. And if you have to be rude, do so. Because they will take your kindness for weakness and needlessly waste your time and energy.

The Sendak “It’s just not interesting to me” comeback reminded me of an event a little over a year ago.  I was at Kutztown University, an obviously happy person, giving a talk to a psychology class about my happy paintings with happy quotes on them. It was all too much for a staffer who had decided to sit in on my lecture. At the end, after the other people had come forward and spoken with me, he sidled up. I could feel the ick of his energy and I saw the inebriated look of a narcissist about to strike. Not unlike what I imagine the look of a wife-beater might be as he anticipates his pleasure. I wasn’t going to have any.

“I find the quotes confusing,” he said.

“You may find them confusing,” I said. “They are not confusing.”

He began again, “I’d like to give some criticism.”

“No thanks,” I smiled at him.

He stepped back, regrouped and tried again. “I think criticism is important and I want to tell you what I think about these paintings.”

“I’m not interested,” I said. “And now I have to pack up. Good-bye,” I said cheerfully and removed my attention completely.

I’ll leave you with a quote by another writer I admire, Erle Stanley Gardner, the author of the Perry Mason books.  About criticism, Mr. Gardner quipped, “It’s a damn fine book. You got something to say, write it on the back of a check!”

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