Mr. Rodman Edward Serling (known better as Rod Serling) and I officially met back in May via Internet access and a story about what mannequins do after hours. He wore a grey suit off screen and told me I was entering another dimension, an extension of my own imagination. I didn’t plan on traveling that far, but often neglect my schoolwork for purposes surrounding Attention Deficit Disorder.
For him, it was 1960 of which was the end of a decade everyone at present thinks was ideal. For me, it was 2011 of which is a decade Mr. Serling predicted the worst. Some things he got right and some things he got wrong. Even without the right things, it is highly unlikely that Rod on that operating table knew the strength of his writing and not image. No writer knows their footprint in the cracked dirt of consciousness until he or she sees the path of footprints leading away from it. He deemed his work: “Momentarily adequate.” There I was, a twenty-first century young adult, disproving that quote. Learning fails if you let your birth year restrict the bridging of generation gaps.
This particular story is a recap of one of those proverbial bridges.
I’m not here to talk about the wow factor of The Twilight Zone. To do that would only cover a fractional creative export of The Guy in the Suit. I want to talk about Rod. I want to write about the two lessons he taught me from beyond the grave. I want this to be published on his memorial site. Once again: I am not here to focus on The Twilight Zone only.
Contrariwise, a lot of Mr. Serling’s mentality went into the five seasons than most teleplay writers would even dare input. It could be argued that Mr. Serling left a piece of himself broken into 92/156 episodes. He is it. It is him. It could be doubly argued that I’m not making any sense. Writers write. So who cares why?
Imagine if you will a broken-nosed youth with thick dark eyebrows, fortunate shrapnel, and nothing but dark expectations about the future (hence the shrapnel). Racing through his mind are negatives and negatives alone. The only therapy that could possibly be employed for this boy was to write it down. I don’t think this young man had any premonitions about network broadcasting.
That was Roddy Serling, in case you didn’t guess.
I had to write to deal with a horror I saw and experienced. It was less of a horror than war but horror enough for me. Science fiction writers particularly write down these dreadful premonitions and delusions to infect readers in the hope that something will be done. It’s not so much the advanced technology as it is the eternal anxiety.
Lesson #1: “I knew I could get away with Martians saying things Republicans and Democrats couldn’t.”
Mr. Serling devised a formula to avoid the censorship ruckus he experienced in the playhouse. This was done unbeknownst to the producers. With this formula in pen, he cross-fertilized suspenseful forty-minute stories with political and social opinions. Slipping morality, commentary, thought, and truth under a good story enabled him freedom of speech. It melted together so that no sponsor would suspect a thing. The messages sailed over their heads and straight into the conscience of Americans belonging to the 20th and 21st centuries.
Science fiction is not the easiest genre to write. It’s also not the easiest to broadcast. “The hard science won’t be understood by anyone who is not a scientist! The fantasy won’t be marketable! Horror is never in fashion! The American family will be alienated in their own living room! No thank you. We’ll pass.”
With Serling’s formula, the science of psychology served more than advanced physics. Nothing too fantastical could be avoided if it was grounded with a take on human behaviour. Disguised with stories about aliens and haunted paintings, flushed out by talented actors, and any message could be transported. All of the really supreme speculative fiction was based on commonplace worry. He had plenty of it. So do I. If Mr. Serling could channel his worries into interesting science fiction and not be kicked out, so can I.
Lesson #2: “Ladies and gentlemen, you’re entering the wondrous dimension of imagination…”
Until May 11, there was nothing soulfully significant about my tutorship with Mr. Serling. Then, I went on vacation. Upon my return, I hurriedly typed the following as a response to a picture book author’s video on television’s impact:
“I’ve been watching (immersing in) way too much Twilight Zone lately. I keep having conversations with Rod Serling in my imagination. I also went to Florida recently and rode the Tower of Terror, which is a ride based upon The Twilight Zone. I even have a shirt now to prove it. Watching the original series made me want to ride the thrill ride, which, like you said once, is something I’d never thought I’d do.
The Science Fiction Lover in me convinced the What If Super Girl in me that it would be my only chance to enter the Twilight Zone, even if it was artificial. I screamed at Rod (who appeared in the ride) through all the sudden drops. By the time the elevator doors opened, my whole body was shaking so much it was hard to look through my wallet to pay for the shirt.
The reason why I went through this whole ordeal was because I figured that if I was too scared to conquer a theme park ride, then I would be completely incapable of conquering the real scary stuff in the world. I started small but, little by little, I can conquer everything I want to do even though it, frankly, scares the shit out of me.
Rod Serling: “Julianne Sylvia, once a recluse in society, has signed a certificate of complete insane dedication. What she doesn’t know is that certificate of dedication may lead to more than just temporary satisfaction, here, in the Twilight Zone.”
Yes I had the audacity to put words in his mouth. I also had the audacity to write him, even though he is dead. Just like I do with other people, even though they are dead.
Dear Mr. Serling,
I accept the fact, as I have with other cases such as this, that you and I will never meet face-to-face or introvert-to-television-icon. The opposites would probably play harder and more satisfactory against the similarities.*
*I no longer remember what I meant in that sentence. Maybe you do.