Being Elmo: Unexpected Inspiration

I totally expected to enjoy¬†Being Elmo (which I did). I expected it to be cute but not cloying, like Elmo himself. I even expected to cry a little, which I did when Elmo played with a Make-a-Wish child. But what I didn’t expect was to be so inspired.

What may be construed as spoilers follow.

Kevin Clash has always loved puppets. When he was a kid, he ripped out the lining from his father’s overcoat and made one. Only after the fact did it occur to him that he might be in trouble, but all his dad said was, “Next time just ask.”

From then on, Clash was all about puppets. He performed for the kids in his mother’s daycare, at the local hospital for the sick kids, and eventually ended up on local TV and then the Captain Kangaroo show.

Kevin Clash performing for local children in Baltimore in 1975.

Of course he worshipped Jim Henson. He saw a TV show about one of Henson’s puppet creators, Kermit Love (Kermit the Frog was apparently not named for him, by the way). He was so interested in what Love was doing, his mother got in touch with Love, and eventually he became Clash’s mentor. This led to a fateful meeting with Jim Henson, working on the puppets for Labyrinth, and the creation of Elmo.

What I found so inspiring was that Clash didn’t seem set out to succeed. He just loved puppetry, and was obsessed with learning all there was about it. From the time he was a kid, he put himself out there constantly. He performed in the backyard, at hospitals, on local TV. He reached out to people he admired, not to make connections, but because he wanted to learn from them. Plus of course he’s immensely talented, but talent means nothing if you sit at home and do nothing about it.

I started thinking about my writing. For the past few years, I’ve been so focused on getting published. Instead of primarily writing something I’m interested in, I tailor my writing for contests and magazines. I’m writing my novel as something people would want to read. Not that I don’t try my best with my writing, and try to create something artful, but writing simply from inspiration or a random idea is rare for me these days.

When I was a kid, I wrote for the pure joy of writing. Sure, it was also usually for a school assignment, but I enjoyed every one. I wrote crazy science-fiction stories, magical tales set in medieval times, and Sweet Valley High ripoffs. My junior year in college, I took a poetry class, and I remember staying up late at night, one meager desk lamp burning, scratching out poem after poem, and feeling both enthralled and peaceful. (I think part of what helped was taking a Chinese class, which made my brain think in a different way.)

Now it’s mostly a struggle. Of course I know that not every minute of writing can be joy. Sometimes it will be drudgery. But I miss that feeling of “I want to write because I love it, because I have to get down this story,” and I want to get that feeling back. I want to, yes, be Elmo.

The question is how? Usually when I think of an idea for a story or essay, I jot it down in my idea “parking lot” with the intention of tackling it later. “Later” inevitably becomes later and later as I write for work, work on my novel, and blog. Before this job and the novel, I think I did write a lot more short pieces. But now it’s harder.

I need to somehow find time to work on my parked ideas, to just start writing stories and essays when the ideas occur to me. I always worry that once I start on a short piece, my novel will suffer. But I always get back into it eventually, and now that I have a deal with MB that for every day I don’t work on my novel, I give him $10, I should feel even more encouraged to keep noveling.

To keep trying to be Elmo.

 [Photos: from Being Elmo]

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