My name’s Becky. I’m technically a photojournalist and video editor. But I’m really a studious storyteller.
I think. I read. I dream. Big.
This is me when I was 7 or 8. I had just lost two bottom teeth. I loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Gremlins and the Karate Kid.
But this is also me TODAY.
Sure, I’m 23 years older. But I love this little girl so much, I take her with me everywhere I go.
But it wasn’t always this way. I used to see pictures of myself and see an ugly, weird little kid who never quite belonged. My smile never looked genuine enough, my hair always seemed funny. I was a tomboy who felt ridiculous in just about everything she had to wear. And these feelings seemed to just come naturally, out of thin air.
I grew into an awkward 14 year old, floundering in a sea of emotional confusion, and becoming stiff with of the ache of parental estrangement and human misery. It wasn’t until I had almost completely lost touch with this little girl that I had a chance encounter with a man who was changing the world- even as his own death was being mourned all over it. That man was Jim Henson. You know him as the guy who created the Muppets.
I wasn’t friendless. I had a few friends, and while I never had them spend the night at my house, I was allowed to go stay away from home. One Friday night, my best friend Sarah and I were at her house, bored and channel-surfing. We happened across a broadcast of “The Muppets Take Manhattan” and we instantly lit up with nostalgia.
It was the scene where Kermit and Piggy are on the carriage ride and the musical flashback with the Muppet Babies occurs. Sarah and I had grown up with the Muppets, and we soon melted into these careless, happy little kid-puddles. As girls feeling the pressures of becoming young women, the movie was like an island oasis emanating calm in stormy seas.
Meanwhile, at home, my sense of security and closeness to my mom- the only parent I had ever known- were disappearing fast. She had gotten married when I was 13, and I had to learn how to love a complete stranger as a father- and I had no idea what anything meant. Most painful however, was seeing his needs and wants consistently put above my own.
My bedroom was my sanctuary, and I began to withdraw from everything and everyone outside of it. Soon, my unhappiness manifested itself as physical illness. I have never had mono, but I’ve read descriptions of it, and it’s the only thing I can could possibly compare this with. I was severely stricken, laid up in bed for a week, feeling horribly ill and forgotten. But I was not alone.
It just so happened that I had scoured my Grandma’s VHS collection the week before, and had come away with a wrinkled copy of none other than “The Muppets Take Manhattan.” It was all the fun and love and comfort I could find just then, and I watched it repeatedly for the entire week I was sick. I memorized the songs- my first feat being to scat the Kermit the Frog part at the beginning of the film. I memorized the words of wisdom: “Only peoples. Peoples is peoples.” And it really felt like… we were “together again.” It felt good to be together again! And I got better. And I felt better.
Navigating a world void of many traditional norms, I instinctively gravitated toward this good thing when I found it. From that point on, Sarah and I became “Muppetfreeks”- freek being a mix of the words “freak” and “geek” -for life.
Myself, I watched every bit of video I could get my hands on. I listened to every record and tape I could find, begged for every Muppet toy offered at local rummage sales, and I started watching the last 25 minutes of Sesame Street every day after school. (The bus-ride home cut into the show.)
While I idolized all the puppeteers, I was most drawn to Frank Oz, because he had literally been Jim’s other set of hands. I scoured the internet, at one point using HotBot and Altavista to find what I sincerely believed to be Frank’s phone number and address- by using his real name. I wrote reggae songs about how sad he was now that his creative partner was gone. And I tried to imagine what the electricity of friendship and creative kinship that crackled between Jim and his associates must have felt like.
A magical thing bubbles up out of every Henson creation, a strange and sweet elixir of ideas such individuality, togetherness, specialness in all things, of compassion that transcends and erases social boundaries. Every child is thirsty for this knowledge, and I drank to my heart’s content.
Song from the Street soothed me to sleep. Movies moved me to laughter and tears… of joy. With songs like, “Believe in Yourself.” and “One Fine Face,” I lost focus of the standards that the sexually charged world of MTV and rated R movies was imposing on me. And I started to value my greatest asset and talent- my imagination.
I told myself that one day, I was going to do what Jim Henson did. I would not be who I am today, or as happy, or as full and open to life, were it not for he and his associate’s creations. His ideas and philosophy were such a valuable gift to the world- it is our duty to Pass It On when we receive it.