All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned from Jim Henson… and a few others…

My Path, South Park

Emptiness and rebirth. There is a lot of empty and rebirth going around… (My husband will actually be writing about something similar in his blog this week, as well… funny how great minds think alike.) A few weeks ago, I decided to sit down with my family and watch the original Muppet Movie. There was no particular reason behind this other than that it was my birthday weekend and I wanted to share a memory of something I loved with my husband and son. I hadn’t watched this film in about 15 years, so I was curious if my memories of the greatness of this film truly held up.

This movie marked the first time I fell in love, although (at the time) I did not know I was falling in love. I fell in love with an idea much bigger than myself. My young brain was too immature to process that idea, so I simply collected Kermits and various other Muppet memorabilia throughout my childhood as a make shift shrine to this thing I admired yet didn’t understand. In fact, I still have my commemorative Muppet Movie glasses that McDonald’s handed out in the 1970s when the movie first came out.

To my delight, the perfection of this film from my memories remained in tact. The one liners, the subtlety, the heart, it was still there. Steve Martin in Lederhosen was there. Crazy German Mel Brooks was there. My family listened to my deep-seated Muppet geek references and my general gushing. We all had a great time watching, laughing and analyzing the sheer brilliance of the film.

But I was struck by something I had forgotten. I always, always, always cringed at the film’s ending. If you have not seen it before, here it is:


This ending nearly sent my optimistic childhood brain into shock.

How the hell could they end it like this!? All that work. All that struggle. All that, all that to make their dreams come true: the bad guys, the kidnapping, the Instagrow™ pills, the frog legs, etc. After all that, they finally get to Hollywood to make their dream a reality and whoosh, the studio gets destroyed by carelessness and freak accidents. I was devastated. Even the rainbow at the end seemed senseless. It was a true moment among many truths in that movie. A level of unfairness my adolescence had not (as of yet) encountered.

I have spent this past year focusing on my limitations and trying to better the person I am. When I began this journey, I felt I had a limited knowledge of who I really am and what made me tick. I took the dangerous approach of self exploration without a net, or at least without a licensed psychologist.

I suppose I should have made a list of what I considered limitations within, but instead I began to explore my roots, my genetics and how all of that comes into play with shaping who a person is, but more importantly, discovering what happiness IS when you really want it.

After a year of analyzing, kneading, and expelling, I realized something rather horrifying. I have spent my whole lifetime over analyzing my limitations. I have been so busy getting to the heart of my flaws, that I had forgotten how to nurture the seeds that had been planted by my family, my teachers, my friends, my experiences and myself from so long ago until this very moment. And worse, I lacked the foresight then, as I do now on how make them blossom.

Henson was always my teacher. And like the best teachers, I had no idea I was being taught. I was just organically (and sometimes inorganically) learning. He became a father figure to me when I needed some emotional guidance. He taught me straight forward humor and the ability to laugh at myself. He taught me the beauty of imperfection. He taught me to follow my dreams with what is (in my opinion) the single greatest buddy film ever created using these few simple words:


They believed in the dream…

Lately I feel as if I have let down my surrogate father of my possible and impossible dreams by traipsing through regret and not bounding gleefully towards the future as much as I really should.

I have been reflecting on these thoughts for some time now, and then Steve Jobs’ passed. And something happened…

Something was set in motion. I was left empty and I did not expect it, but there it was, drifting into my life like a message in a bottle.

Another teacher forging his own path. Another risk taker showing me how following your bliss is the only thing that makes sense in this life. Risk takers have this foresight or at least are able to weigh the risks enough to know what is a “win”. That is a skill set of intuition I am so envious of.

I have a confession. I have squandered bliss from time to time for the sake of responsibility. Don’t get me wrong, I have tried to live the life I was meant to live, but compromise for the greater good sometimes took precedence over happiness. I think that happens when your parents leave you young, you either become super reckless or super responsible. I chose the latter.

Upon hearing the news of Jobs’ death, these thoughts came rushing through my brain, both fast and furious:

I need pushed. I need my dreams to not be in vain. My plea is desperate and my soul craves something. 

The restless has been stirring for a long time. I have been stuck in these waters for too long.

I love my family and my art, but I have been treating my life as temporary, as some sort of transitional period for far too long. What I need to do is transition them (and myself) into the “next”.

There are so many quotables from my heroes, but how can you translate that rhetoric into solid life experience and success?

I have been under a false notion, listening to the dissenters for far too long, saying your too old for this, too late for that…

All this clarity happened so abruptly to the point where I can barely type these words out. When I heard the news of Jobs’ death, I wanted to change everything. I wanted to grab the scissors and cut my hair, cash in and/or sell everything and fly off to Berlin, do something, anything. Light a fire and begin living.

So how do you change the world? I guess the better question for me is, how do I change myself and leave the world different? I guess I need to start by changing the way I perceive myself. I need the change the way I perceive my limitations. All my heroes believed they could leave the world a little bit better than the way they found it. They found ways to enhance our way of communicating with each other. One on an emotional level and the other on a technological level.

My first computer was an Apple. I bought it (used) at a time when everyone was buying PC’s. That simple purchase changed everything for me. I began drawing with the Mac Paint program and doing simply desktop publishing very early on. I was curious about layout and design all the while trudging through my journalism degree. I saw fonts and illustrations differently and began nurturing possibilities. I began taking classes in the early Photoshop programs; I began taking desktop publishing courses; I began shaping the person I was searching to become.

My mother bought me that computer. She shaped so much for me in our short time together. We both thought about driving to NYC to attend Jim Henson’s funeral. We never did go for one reason or another, but she understood why I so desperately wanted to attend. My brother and I sang this song at her funeral:



My solidification of unabashed change came today when I heard of the passing of someone who I attended college with. I did not know him well, but the whole college community knew of him. He was one of those folks you would call a life force. He was musical, both in vocational choice and in the fact he was constantly singing, his voice burst through the halls of our dormitory in a joyous noise. He sounded like Stevie Wonder and wore rollers in his hair. He took in all the “misfits” and made them feel like family. They called him “Mama.” In his short time on earth, he touched so many. I have not seen him in 20 years. I admired him from afar while standing next to him when he serenaded the masses in our tiny ramshackle dormitory elevators:

Monte Smock: Amazing Grace (video courtesy of Gretchen Schock)

Life should not end at 39.

I walked into Starbucks (as I normally do most days). I was thinking about all my friends who were grieving over Monte. The school hallways constantly echoed with his singing; he was always singing. Lost in my thoughts of his voice and my friends’ sadness, the Starbucks workers spontaneously burst into song, the same song, laughing, giggling, having a good time. Everyone in the coffee shop began to smile. I am there everyday (literally) and I have never seen any one of them do that. Normally it is pretty silent and stoic. I was moved to tears. I told them that their impromptu concert made my day and urged them to keep on singing. Monte was special and he served his purpose on this earth. Again, even for me, someone who only got to observe his loveliness from the rafters… or within earshot.

Teachers really do “show up” when you least expect it.

To that end, I have spent the whole day reading the FB memories of someone I wish I would have gotten to know better in life. The lessons I have learned this week are more than I can bear.

My hope still is to leave the world a bit better than when I got here. — Jim Henson

Upon this last viewing of the Muppet Movie, I began to understand the film’s ending on a much deeper level. I did not cringe this time. I watched with the knowledge only age and maturity could provide. I realize that your dreams can come true but sometimes they can still be taken away. That your dream doesn’t always turn out the way you had hoped it would, but if you do it right, if you believe in something, if you are truly yourself, that you will be surrounded by folks who stand up for your dream. Jim Henson was a great teacher and he was smart not to candy coat life, even if it was only a movie.

I think we all go through life wanting to be remembered, wanting to leave an impact. It takes hard work, perseverance, etc. But the dirty little secret to success is not just success itself but combining that success with a life well lived.

Life is not for the faint of heart. It is work to find out who you are. I am envious of those who have killer instincts and trust in themselves implicitly. The rhetoric means nothing without a change in perspective. I am still crawling through my path of self discovery. But I think I may be cashing a few things in and starting a new adventure. I owe it to my surrogates, my art, my loyal and gracious family. I owe it to myself.