PBS Rewards Insomniacs

Last night, I was struggling to get to sleep. I’ve had my futon opened since the illness and moved all my blankets/pillows out to the living room. So far, I’ve been lazy and haven’t moved all my crap back into the bedroom. I’ve gotten accustomed to leaving the television on (setting it to shut off after 90 minutes), and falling asleep in its friendly glow.

My sleeping schedule has been so spotty lately, it took serious effort to even get tired by 1:00 AM. Next thing I know, I’m up until close to 2:00 AM, entranced by a PBS documentary on Rod Serling. I used to fall asleep to the television a lot in grad school, and I’ve woken up on the couch in the wee hours to find some kick-ass program playing on PBS. Hell, I guess I have a tendency to do this sort of thing.

I should take a moment here to mention I’m a big fan of the Twilight Zone. While they’re not all, each and every one, good… the ones that endure are absolutely fantastic. All time favorite? I’d have to vote for Burgess Meredith and Time Enough At Last. I love the pacing of the stories, of how they walk you down a familiar path, only to show you a slightly skewed version of what you thought was the world. Sometimes for good, sometimes for ill.

In a strange way, I see similarities between the arc of these episodes and how I go about structuring my poems. Early on in my writing, I’d go for the knockout punch at the end, the overkill surprise ending (think something along the lines of … but it was all a dream!). Today, I know better (or at least I tell myself that I know better). The ending for me no longer has to work as a 180° turn, or pulling the carpet from beneath your feet. It’s not the trick ending I’m looking for anymore: it’s a twist, it’s an angled view. By the poem’s end, there has to be some reaching, some movement toward… I’m not sure. The world? Humanity? Something bigger than the mere subject of its lines.

And yes, I’d say that the strongest episodes of the Twilight Zone do just that: when they’re working right, they’re allegories. When you watch episodes written by Serling, you can see how deeply he cares about other people, about us. There’s an incredibly strong moral and ethical streak throughout much of his work: the line between right and wrong is very clear, and the consequences are dire. I like Rod Serling, and I like his work. He’s probably influenced me more than I’m aware.

Let me tell you a story. When I was an undergrad, I held a job at the Indiana University Main Library, working as a library page. I shelved books up in the stacks (11 or 12 floors worth of books). I walked around, pushing an endless supply of books and making sure everything was in its rightful, alpha numerical place.

It was during this time that I came across Marc Scott Zicree’s most excellent Twilight Zone Companion. In addition to introducing and summarizing each season, Zicree summarizes each and every episode, averaging about 2-3 pages in length. I’m not sure how I found this book, but you bet your ass I didn’t let it get out of my sight before I was done reading it. After every shift, I hid it; before every shift, I made sure to place it on my cart as I made my rounds. Every so often, I’d pause in my shelving and blow through an episode or five. I forget exactly how long it took me to finish, but I’m sure it wasn’t very long.

Fast forward a few years: in Columbus, while I was attending grad school, I came across this copy (above) at a Half Priced bookstore. Eight bucks. Well worth every penny. I urge you: if you liked the Twilight Zone, and can remember more than 2 episodes… get yourself a copy of this book. Impressive research. Solid writing. And a fascinating subject.

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