Still on this “how I got here” kick, sans wine this time, as it’s a quarter to 7 in the a.m., though I’d probably prefer to be able to blame this on alcohol later.
Certainly, I can blame my family for a large chunk of it: they are a whole pack of fabulous strangeness, and gods know I’m never going to run out of material with them around. My characters’ messy, loud, bold, sprawling childhoods can all be traced back to mine in one way or another. The way friends and siblings and lovers in my books play rough the way dogs play rough –all in fun, but with teeth, and the understanding that rules are made to be broken– well, I’ve never wondered where I got these things. I grew up with them. They’re why I love my characters: even the ones I have the hardest time identifying with at first still get these gifts from me, and it gives them depth and breadth.
But I forgot to credit a fairly huge influence of mine from early to late childhood. I seldom watch TV now, and consequently I rarely give the TV shows I watched as a kid much thought, but I was showing my husband this skit last night (as a means of explaining some really strange behavior in one of my last jobs), and, well, it pretty much explains me and all my siblings.
Sesame Street in general, and Jim Henson in specific. The man with the whim of steel, according to his coworkers. The spark that lit a fire under a newly-created PBS. The Muppet man. I’ve been known to stare at the phone and utter “Phone! Oaaahh. Brrring!” at home and at work, and I do the “E is for Exercise” thing spontaneously pretty much anywhere, because it never gets old. Fraggle Rock is the ringtone on my cell.
I don’t think about this stuff very often; it’s just part of the background noise for me most of the time, but I watched every show he created or was involved in from an early age to about junior high, and his unique, slightly skewed and 100% sentimental take on the world definitely had a huge impact on my view of it. I learned tolerance from Kermit, curiosity from Ernie, sarcasm from Oscar the Grouch, comedic timing (and its lack) from Fozzy, melodrama from Miss Piggy. Most of all, I learned to identify wholeheartedly with felt and wire, and to think of something I knew was just cloth around some guy’s hand as a person, one with issues and ambitions and a job to do. Coming up with my own now, made of ink instead of felt, I can appreciate how hard that was to pull off even with an audience of kids.
(Or maybe especially with an audience of kids: willing suspension is usually a conscious process in adults, but with the little ‘uns you either pull it off or you don’t, and you don’t get a chapter of set-up to ease them into the world.)
Anyway. Thank you, Jim Henson. For the whims and the weirdness. It’s a decade or two late to be saying that, but so what.