You see, twenty-two years ago today, the world lost one of the greatest artistic visionaries that has ever graced our planet. Multiple biographies have been written about Jim Henson, his vision, his puppets, his life, so I’m not going to bore you here by rehashing the highlights. You know he’s the Man behind the Muppets, Sesame Street, the Fraggles, the Creature Shop, and the lot.
Instead, I’m going to write a bit about how Jim’s inspired me, and how I look at my life through frog-tinted glasses: What Would Jim Do?
I can’t believe I’m sitting here crying while I’m writing this. Perhaps that’s a bit melodramatic. It’s hard to put into words just exactly what I’ve learned from Jim, even though I was only 7 when he passed away, and I never had any direct contact with him personally. I only know of him what I’ve seen through the television and what I’ve read in books.
Still, I can see his influence in my life every day:
“I have a dream, too. It’s about singing, and dancing, and making people happy — the Kind of dream that just gets better the more people you share it with.” — A quote from Kermit/Jim that hangs on computer in my office and on my wall in my studio. They’re not huge framed posters. Just those powerful words scrawled across a post-it note. It reminds me to not get caught up in the hustle and bustle, and that more people than just me really do like to sing and dance and just be happy.
I’ve developed a curricula of puppet classes – construction and performance techinque – that I teach three times a year at a local arts center with continually sold out classes. This will be my third year of teaching it, and in every class, I use You Tube footage of Jim and the Muppets to teach the next generation about puppetry and acting. So far, the two crowning moments of my puppet class are that a) a young man who was turning 11 asked his mom to get him a Jo Ann Fabrics gift card for his birthday so he could buy puppet making supplies and b) my kids last semester made, completely on their own, Sesame-Street inspired videos teaching kids about letters. I’m working with a local school to get those videos used in their kindergarten and first grade classes. I credit the fact that I’ve been able to teach these classes with such passion to Jim, who inspired me first.
When I first watched the new Muppets movie, I completely identified with the character of Walter: “But then… I found them.” And again, with my melodramatic side, I cried buckets at the end (you can ask my best friend who went to the movie with me. I think I embarrassed her), when Walter is faced with the choice of joining Kermit as one of them and going back to Smalltown with Gary and Mary. I could completely put myself in that position and see the other Muppeteers saying, “Come with us, Candice. You’re one of us!” And my heart aches because really, when it comes right down to it, that’s what I want to do with my life, and I don’t see how I would ever get there: an impossible dream, to work with the Jim Henson Company, but I don’t see why I can’t dream it.
I cry every time I hear “Rainbow Connection.” And some days it seems “It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green” is my personal theme song. I have worn out my completely dog-eared-falling-apart-highlighted-and-doodled copy of “It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green: And Other Things to Consider” that I scrounged from a bargain bin at the local Goodwill. And while I know there are plenty of others out there who are much more talented than me in puppet performance and who are much more skilled than me in puppet construction, I know that no one else has the same fire that burns inside my heart when it comes to watching the joy that puppets can bring to people.
So thank you, Jim. Thank you for my childhood. Thank you for your visions. Thank you for your legacy, but most of all, thank you for giving me fire and purpose and drive and a means to share the third greatest gift in the world: Laughter.
THANK YOU. From the lovers, the dreamers, and Me.