Re: courage w/ puppets,
I thought of it a bit like puppet therapy. Bringing a puppet to my friend's "Circus"-themed b-day party also helped. Also, going to fetish nights. I figured that all these guys are in various bondage and leather contraptions around me so me having a puppet on my hand is really on par.
It came from talking to my puppets as well. Derek is kinda my inner-gay boy coming out (so to speak). All my puppets had a lot more chutzpah than I did that I just embraced it.
Also had the line that went something like (coming out of Derek's mouth), "I'm strange? You're the one having a conversation with a puppet."
I also live in a big city.