Saturday, March 10, 2012

more than fabric and fur.

Last summer, Amanda and I spent a lot of time during the day on our couch in our newly-inhabited apartment. We'd wake up to days that didn't involve class or work and do the only acceptable thing there is to do as fourth-year college students living on our own: we would eat cereal and watch Sesame Street.

A lot has changed on that street since the days I used to watch it from the floor of my grandparents' living room. There were new characters and new segments and a new opening sequence too, but there was still something very familiar about it all. Decades have passed since Jim Henson brought Sesame Street to life, but it's only grown more endearing and wonderful.

Every person I've ever had a "what was your childhood like" conversation with always agrees that Sesame Street was an important part of his or her upbringing. I remember storybooks we'd read with Mom before bed and video tapes of bedtime stories Mom would let us watch before she tucked us in. We had Sesame Street toys and clothing, and we'd be mesmerized every afternoon as PBS took over our televisions. And years later in college, I was just as mesmerized.

But what is it, as a twentysomething young adult, about Sesame Street that held my fascination? Was it the innocence? The cheesy jokes? The familiar feeling of being a child? I thought about this as I watched Being Elmo (now streaming on Netflix!) and it seemed so obvious: it's about the magic behind the scenes.

Being Elmo is about the journey of Kevin Clash from Baltimore to New York City and the Sesame Workshop. As a teenager, he spent his time indoors sewing puppets and creating characters while being chided by classmates and siblings for not going outdoors to play sports. But his dedication to puppets paid off because it led him into Jim Henson's inner circle eventually, and by the time he was 25, after working on Captain Kangaroo and Henson's film Labryinth, Clash was a regular puppeteer on Sesame Street and had given life and energy to an old red puppet laying around the studio that nobody knew what to do with.


I won't give you a play-by-play of the entire documentary; you really need to watch it for yourself. I found myself reaching for the tissue box on more than one occasion, and what's wonderful is that, by the end, you realize you just witnessed the path of a man who had a dream and didn't stop until he had achieved it.

And that's the kind of inspiration I think we should all strive for, and it's also the kind of encouragement we should always be giving one another. Clash was lucky to have parents who supported him through his endeavors when others didn't. What if his father had yelled at him for cutting up his trenchcoat to make his first puppet? Or if his mother had forced him to play outside instead of piecing together scraps of fabric and foam?

We might not always receive widespread support for the things that drive us, and we may not always feel encouraged to pursue our dreams, but if we persist and work tirelessly to get "there," then we'll make it. Realize your dreams, say them aloud, and don't be afraid to mess up along the way. It's that kind of tunnel vision that produced Henson's vision and Clash's career. It's that kind of tunnel vision that will help carry us on our own journeys to becoming who we want to become.

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