Month: May 2014

Where Wendell Berry Finds Peace


When despair for the world grows in me
And I wake in the night at the least sound
In fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
Rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
Who do not tax their lives with forethought
Of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
Waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

– Wendell Berry, The Peace of Wild Things
_________

It is a thing of awe to consider how much more dangerous are the lives of wild animals, yet how void of fear they remain. Of course we understand that, biologically-speaking, the ability to plan our futures and the resulting tendency toward worry is a product of the superior functionality of the human mind. Yes, of course, worry is a small price to pay for mental capacity toward so many other higher skills.

Yet, when we desire calm and peace, we venture out into the simple and violent natural world, where nothing is safe and peace pervades.

_________
Further Reading

What Mary Berry Expects Of Her Father

Dave Eggers On Author Fear

C.S. Lewis On Helping Children Cope With A Scary World

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55 Classics Review #9 – Heavy Weather by P.G. Wodehouse


It took me a long time to finish this relatively short book, but don’t let that soil your impression of its merit. The past 6 weeks have included, among other things, the much-anticipated and long-belated birth of my son. I haven’t felt entirely comfortable going off to read while my wife attempts to fend off the violent affections of two young ladies set on wrestling out their love for mother and new baby brother. I also blame Middlemarch; reading any book in tandem with Middlemarch makes for demotivation by osmosis.

I have been excited to dig into Wodehouse for some time. Having heard many mirthful mentionings of his work, I watched some of the BBC adaptation Jeeves & Wooster, starring the wonderful duo of Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. While Heavy Weather follows an entirely different cast of characters, the eases and difficulties of adapting his work for the screen are evident. Both pros and cons draw from his ability to approach all content with such an even and natural comic sensibility.

Heavy Weather follows a large cast of characters as they attempt to gain control of a manuscript of reminiscences which would prove to be very lucrative and excessively embarrassing to almost all existing British nobility if published. Miscommunication and dumb-luck continue to keep everyone fumbling for control of said manuscript throughout most of the book, with many awkward interactions and side stories. Move by move, each pawn finds something at stake on one side or the other and occasionally on both. It is like reading a season of Downton Abbey written like Arsenic And Old Lace or Harvey. This type of story does not urge one to find out what happens next. It reads like a walk in the country, taken in for the paced experience rather than the end result. There are plenty of unexpected moments, but the plot is convoluted rather than climactic.

As a writer of many plays and comic musicals, Wodehouse makes the actions and reactions at hand in this novel flow as if written for players on a stage. The book is full of fast-paced comic miscommunication, failing strategizing, and diplomatic family blundering. He writes visually and his evocative scenes, comic dialogue, and eccentric characters make ideal performance material.

It is this singular whimsical writing style which is so central to his work that also remains in many ways untranslatable. He describes thoughts, appearances, and concepts as well as he does visual experiences and often time these are the best bits. This means that at least half of what makes this work so remarkably enjoyable remains staunchly text-based. He also uses huge amounts of period-specific British slang, which may make trouble or hinder enjoyment for some readers.

Wodehouse was a consumate writer. He wrote almost as compulsion, continuing his career into his 90’s. He has a remarkable unique voice as a humorist that does not seem contrived or even niche. Reading his work quickly feels like listening to a hilarious old pal recount familiar stories. This is, in fact, a characteristic tendency for some member’s of his cast. These mannerisms, in the author and in his characters, helps make his writing universal yet unique.

Overall, I would suspect that most who enjoy period fiction and indulgent language-building will be able to appreciate this book. It may leave those hungry for significant plot a little empty-stomached, but one cannot help loving and loathing the characters and their antics, even if the last page makes you feel like you’ve been chasing your tail all this time.

Wodehouse is a light read for those who occasionally prefer to take reading lightly.

_________

Further Reading

“The Railway Children” by E. Nesbit

“On Stories” by C.S. Lewis

“Frankenstien” by Mary Shelley

We Are All War Memorials


Aftermath

“Have you forgotten yet?…
For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same–and War’s a bloody game…
Have you forgotten yet?…
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz–
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench–
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, ‘Is it all going to happen again?’

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack–
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads–those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?…
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.”

– by Siegfried Sassoon

_________

Like so many other Americans since Vietnam, modern Jingoism has made me weary of nationalism in general. This sentiment is not one of anti-patriotism or even anti-war sentiment, but one that makes vigilant effort to consider the costs of war so grave as to be entered into it at the exclusion of all alternatives.

This spring I was devastated to learn that an old high school friend of mine was killed in action. We hadn’t been close in years, but the man was a compassionate light that brought infectious joy into any room he entered. I spent weeks under a dark cloud after I heard the news, trying to understand all that happened. We never do. We, our very lives, are memorials to wars.

We should keep that in mind on Memorial Day and every day.

_________

“Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.”

I hear some people pursuing the reflection on the tragic “point” of Memorial Day almost to the exclusion of all celebration. I think grief is a very appropriate emotion today, but I think we should create a tone of celebration. We celebrate the lives lived and the gift given by the fallen, the success of their efforts, and the monumental lives and families build on the foundations they have provided.

_________

“Do you ever stop and ask, ‘Is it all going to happen again?'”

Sassoon asked this after WWI, and shortly his question was answered. We should be turning our grief to sober-mindedness and our celebration to continued action, asking the same question and turning it to wisdom in alleviating further war.

_________
Further Reading

World War Develops Great Art

“Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut

Wendell Berry On Children And The Cold War

Wanglung Children’s Book Sale!


Recently, I used Kickstarter to self-publish my children’s book Wandlung. You can read and share the book here. Soft cover copies of the book are available through Amazon and my publisher’s site and copies of the limited edition hard back version are available from local Oklahoma City vendors Collected Thread, Blue Seven, and Full Circle Books.

As of this publication, I still have a small stack of the limited edition hard back version in my possession and I’m ready to get these out into little hands! There were only 65 hard back copies ever printed, and most of those have already been shipped to Kickstarter backers, placed in local storefronts, or sold by me personally. To make sure that the last few get to be read, I’m going to be selling the remaining books at $15 a piece. That’s a 40% discount, making them cheaper than the soft cover copies currently on sale online!

If you do not live in the Oklahoma City or Cincinnati metro areas, you can still get a copy! Shipping inside the U.S. is an additional $4. These will be sold on a first come, first served basis until they run out! To grab your copy, contact me through the contact form below.

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Further Reading

C.S. Lewis On Why Kids Need Fantasy Literature

A Review Of “In The Night Kitchen” By Maurice Sendak

Thoughts On “The Railway Children” By E. Nesbit

 

Two Year Olds Are Not Terrible


My second daughter (who is now a middle child!) turned two a couple of months ago. While she is extremely different from her older sister, there is one similarity between them that has struck me. Being a two year old is tough work for everyone, but it is emphatically NOT terrible.

Her older sister is a three-and-a-half-year-old dreamer. She’s barely aware of her physical surroundings; easily engrossed in cartoon worlds; always coming up with bizarre, creative ideas; and constantly singing, dancing, or talking about dragons, ghosts, and castles. She always forces me to be the princess and deems herself the king.

My newly established two-year-old is intensely opposite. She loves singing and dancing as well, but she is hyper aware of her physical surroundings and other people’s emotions, she would rather take a nap than watch Gummi Bears with us, and she gets great joy out of putting trash in the garbage or trying to help sweep the dining room floor.

When my older daughter got to be about two, we saw what people often see. An easily satisfied temperment gave way to something newly challenging, which people frequently call “terrible”. Our older daughter would become easily enraged. She had a difficult time learning to engage in communication about any point in contest. Any hint at disrupting her fun, even accidental, would provide kindling for a quick melt-down. In helping her grow, we had to learn to temper our discipline and patience with intentional efforts to create communication and dialogue, both in and out of trouble situations.

My younger daughter is, of course, proving to be a very different person. When she gets in trouble, it’s often drastically different trouble from her older sister’s. She does not respond to interruption or correction by freaking out, but with a cold, hard stare of defiance. She seems to feel that she has been watching the world and adults long enough to understand how things should be done and she will not be easily dissuaded. She often gets bent out of shape when we attempt to help her with simple tasks like putting her shoes on the right feet. She wants to contribute and she wants to do so on her own terms.

Something in a child changes when they get to be about that age, and that something is developing personal desires for ideal outcomes. Children near the two year mark are becoming more fully human in that they are developing intuitions, tastes, preferences, and goals. They are learning to choose their emotions. They are beginning to do what everyone else ahead of them does every day until they die. They are making conscious decisions and gauging consequences.

Is a two year old terrible? No more than any adult. The transition that happens around two years is more drastic even than the transitions of puberty. A child is learning to have preferences, to plan ahead, and to believe in and build into their own identity and identities of others. Along with these stunningly beautiful core elements of being human comes a whole slew of misused emotional responses and improper judgements.

We parents are actually still learning what they have just begun. As a dad, I am still trying to learn to guide my children to make good decisions without making poor, emotionally-driven decisions myself. At nearly 28 years old, I still have a tendency I picked up around two years old, a tendency to get so emotionally overwhelmed by the behaviors I can’t control in others that I act out of anger or exasperation. I try to be louder or prove I’m stronger-willed.

My kids are just starting to come to grips with the hopes, fears, dreams, and discouragements of being a human in this world. My older daughter isn’t even four yet and she’s gaining tons of ground in learning to communicate better, even with so many poor examples on our part. Recognizing these things helps me focus on who I’m led to be and leading others from that identity instead of focusing on forcing the appropriate responses of a two-year-old who is trying to learn not to be terrible at living.

I think that sums it up. Two-year-olds seem like a lot of work because they are becoming more like the rest of us. My two-year-old just woke up from her nap and brought me a couple of misplaced coat hangers that she expects me to put away appropriately, so I’m signing off!

_________

Further Reading

What Daughters Should Expect From Fathers

The Tragedy Of Childbirth

A Poem On War And Children

Vonnegut Says Hate Is What Gets Things Done


“As a member of a zippier generation, with sparkle in its eyes and a snap in its stride, let me tell you what kept us as high as kites a lot of the time: hatred. All my life I’ve had people to hate — from Hitler to Nixon, not that those two are at all comparable in their villainy. It is a tragedy, perhaps, that human beings can get so much energy and enthusiasm from hate. If you want to feel ten feet tall and as though you could run a hundred miles without stopping, hate beats pure cocaine any day. Hitler resurrected a beaten, bankrupt, half-starved nation with hatred and nothing more. Imagine that.

[…]

The members of your graduating class are not sleepy, are not listless, are not apathetic. They are simply performing the experiment of doing without hate. Hate is the missing vitamin or mineral or whatever in their diet, they have sensed correctly that hate, in the long run, is about as nourishing as cyanide.”

– Kurt Vonnegut, speaking to the graduating class at Fredonia College, 1978.
_________

I would have loved to hear Kurt Vonnegut speak publically. He was apparently as appreciable a speaker as a writer, as he was very frequently engaged. His tone is always one that catches us off guard with encouragement, whimsy, and dark self-deprecation toward the human race.

While I’m not sure that I have seen any evidence of a generation without hate for fuel, I do find his concept here simple, self-evident, and fundamentally understated else ware. Often men have worked entire philosophies off of a basis that includes this theory, but rarely does one actually think about the fact that fear and hate often work hand in hand as our greatest motivators. The great striding leaps of human ingenuity in the past couple centuries have not helped to build up individual security and eliminate worry and hatred as everyone seems always to be hoping they will. They have been fuel for and sparked by the greatest wars and genocides in history.

_________

Further Reading

What C.S. Lewis Knew About The Holocaust Before WWII

Vonnegut’s Views On Religion And Science

Wendell Berry On Family And The Cold War

A Woman Is Not A Sex Machine: Modesty Is Built On Lies


I have a lot of friends who are really into modesty.

To be perfectly honest, I guess I err toward being pro-modesty myself. Ultimately, however, I think the concept is built on lies.

This blog post is supposedly about the stigma surrounding breastfeeding. That’s how it started out. My wife thought I should call it something like “Boobs Are For Babies: A Father’s Perspective On Breastfeeding.” I really like that idea (enough to include it here), but this issue has a far deeper root than being about comfort levels around someone exposed to nourishing a child. The only reason breastfeeding is an issue we need to talk about is that we have all accepted a much larger lie: the human body is meant for sexual use.

The human body obviously has a valuable sexual function; we can’t abandon that even when we think we should. The problem is that we have all bought into a hyper-sexualization of the human form. The pro-modesty crew are often some of the biggest proponents of the hyper-sexualization myth. I’m talking about those who get nervous about marble statues because they think any nude form must have been designed by ancients to insight mass arousal. Those of us who want to protect sexuality as a special thing while going along with the assumption that it is the main purpose of the human form are actually buying into a falsehood sold to us by both sides of generations of culture wars. Those who scream for sexual liberation make life out to be all about sex. Those who have screamed for censorship have agreed that human bodies are there to be used and we must lock them up for the appropriate context.

I’m telling you that there are thousands of non-sexual purposes for the human body, but that the human body is never a valid source for building an identity.

Whether we fight for sexual liberation or modesty, we actually accept the idea that everything always comes back to sex; it doesn’t. It might seem like it does in a photoshopped, air-brushed, sensory-overloading culture that is constantly pitch vague siren-songs on how to become perfectly satisfied. Even the most conservative among us tend to think of a marriage existing mainly for sex.

Public breastfeeding is awkward. It’s okay that we find it awkward. But our question at that point becomes “does this awkwardness mean that we should discourage the practice or that we should be very intentional about recognizing the valid purpose of the practice?” I would argue wholeheartedly that we should take this awkwardness as an opportunity to recognize that a breast is mainly a tool that gives a mother the opportunity to give life and strength from her own body into the body of her child. The greatest strength and beauty of a breast does not pull from sexual sources. Myth broken.

Loving other people’s physical bodies is really hard work, and it rarely has anything to do with sex. Changing thousands of diapers, bathing an elderly loved one, and helping a sickly spouse use the bathroom are all tasks that are a stronger form of physical love than sex. A form of cherishing a person’s form in their immense vulnerability. Becoming comfortable around breastfeeding is just one such task.

New mothers have a serious load of stress building up on their shoulders. Weird hormones, little sleep, milk supply issues, and who knows what else is keeping them at their wit’s end and ready to throw in the towel. In case you don’t realize it, breastfeeding is often very hard work. It taxes the body physically and doesn’t usually work without a great deal of struggle. Breastfeeding moms rarely desire to showcase their breast publicly, but they’re attempting to care for someone who is utterly defenseless and solely reliant on them.

Am I saying people should get comfortable staring at breastfeeders? Obviously not. Am I suggesting that moms shouldn’t show some sort of decorum according to their location? No.

Am I suggesting that things like lust and rape should be ignored or that they can simply be idealized away? No, we can’t avoid sexual deviations and we should stand against them. We should stand against them by seeing and valuing the body on a vastly wider spectrum.

Sex is a sacred thing, but the human body is more sacred than sex. We should be willing and able to become Good Samaritans regardless of the nakedness of those in need.

_______

Further Reading

What Daughters Should Expect From Fathers

The Tragedy Of Having A Baby

How My Wife Transformed From A Weak, Doubtful Girl Into A Nurturing Momma

Horrible Start # 2 – Roast Beef


As I wrote originally, the Bulwer-Lytton awards are something that should elicited endless hours of enjoyment for the average English major. I have devoted a menu here to creating my own, but the mood has rarely struck me as of yet. Here’s my second entry to date.

_________

“As he chewed, swallowed, and digested the grocery sample roast beef on marbled rye, he contemplated the metallic, rainbow, fishing-lure sheen of the meat and proposed that surely no animal existing outside of a Lisa Frank binder should ever display such morbidly brilliant chemical coloration upon dissection; he cut a wide birth with the rusty wheeled cart and made for another slice.”

Michael Pollan Didn’t Start This


“Americans today are having a national conversation about food and agriculture that it would have been impossible to imagine even a few short years ago. To many Americans it must sound like a brand-new conversation, with its racing talk about high price for cheap food, or the links between soil and health, or the impossibility of a society eating well and being in good health unless it also farms well. But to read the essays in this sparkling anthology, many of them dating back to the 1970s and 1980s, is to realize just how little of what we are saying and hearing today Wendell Berry hasn’t already said, bracingly, before.

And in that “we” I most definitely, and somewhat abashedly, include myself. I challenge you to find an idea or insight in my own recent writings on food and farming that isn’t prefigured (to put it charitably) in Berry’s essays on agriculture. There might be one or two in there somewhere, but I must say that reading and rereading these essays has been a deeply humbling experience.

It has also been a powerful reminder that the national conversation now unfolding around the subject of food and farming really began back in the 1970s, with the work of Berry and a small handful of his contemporaries, including Francis Moore Lappé, Barry Commoner, and Joan Gussow. All four of these writers are supreme dot connectors, deeply skeptical of reductive science, and far ahead not only in their grasp of the science of ecology but in their ability to actually think ecologically: to draw lines of connection between hamburgers and the price of oil, or between the vibrancy of life in the soil and the health of the plants and animals and people eating from that soil.”

– Michael Pollan, excerpt from his Introduction to Wendell Berry’s farm essay collection Bring It To The Table

_________

I truly respect men like Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin, but, as Pollan himself lets us know here, they are late to the game when it comes to the crisic farming, economic, and ecological situations today. They were simply born too late, and their interest in the issue is necessarily similar to mine in that it is basically reactionary.

If I were born in the 1940s, would I so easily see the growing problems of the changing system that Berry and Lappé saw the 1960s? I would love to say yes, of course I could spot the obvious flaws, but since almost no one else did, I can’t be confident that I would have been so cautious. We have to look to the men who saw the problems not because of their results but by their roots in poor thinking and short-sighted planning. The Berrys and Fukuokas were thinking differently when the problems were still originating; their thoughts and opinions carry the weight of an utterly alternative outlook from the start.

Do we need younger men to take on this alternative mindset? I certainly hope so; I am eager to be one. Ideally everyone would catch on to a different big picture from the current pipe dreams being dealt out. The problem itself has lasted so long at this point that it would be difficult for those who saw it coming to outlive it. Generations must pick up the torch to make change, but we have to always go back to what went wrong and who witnessed it happening.

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Related Reading

An Agricultural Insight From Tolkien And Lewis

A Japanese Scientist Questions The Reasonability Of Agricutural Science

Wendell Berry On The Difference Btween A Path And A Road

Rod Serling On Speculative Fiction And Censorship


Mike Wallace – “You’ve come a long way since those early days, and perhaps more than any other writer your name is figured in the classic battle — that is television writer — the battle of the writer to be his own man. What happens when a writer like yourself writes something that he really believes in, for television?”

. . .

RS – “Well, depending of course on the thematic treatment you’re using, if you have the temerity to try to dramatize a theme that involves any particular social controversy currently extent, you’re in deep trouble.”

MW – “For instance?”

RS – “Um, a racial theme, for example. My case in point, I think, a show I did for the Steel Hour some years ago, three years ago, called Noon On Doomesday, which was a story which purported to tell what was the aftermath of the alleged kidnapping in Mississippi of the Till boy, the young Chicago negro. And I wrote the script using “black” and “white,” uh, initially. Then it was changed, uh, to suggest an unnamed foreigner. Then the locale was moved from the South to New England, and I’m convinced they’d have gone up to Alaska or the North Pole [using] Eskimos as a possible minority, except I suppose the costume problem was of sufficient severity not to attempt it. But it became a lukewarm, vitiated, emasculated kind of show.”

MW – “You went along with it?”

RS – “All the way. I protested, I went down fighting as most television writers do, thinking, in a strange, oblique, philosophical way that ‘better say something than nothing.’ In this particular show, though, by the time they had finished taking Coca-Cola bottles off the set because the sponser claimed this had southern connotations, suggesting to what depth they went to make this a clean, antisepticly, rigidly, ah, acceptable show. Ah, why, it bore no relationship at all to what we had purported to say initially.”

MW – “Paddy Chayefsky has talked about the insidious influence of what he called ‘pre-censorship.’ How does that work?”

RS – “Pre-censorship is a practice, I think, of most television writers. I can’t speak for all of them. This is the prior knowledge of the writer of those areas which are difficult to try to get through and so a writer will shy away from writing those things which he knows he’s going to have trouble with on a sponsorial or an agency level. We practice it all the time. We just do not write those themes which we know are going to get into trouble.”

MW – “Who’s the culprit? Is it the network? The sponsor? It sure is not the FCC.”

RS – “No, it’s certainly not the FCC, ideally speaking, of course. It’s a combination of culprits in this case, Mike. It’s partly network. It’s principally agency and sponsor. In many ways I think it’s the audience themselves.”

MW – “How do you mean?”

RS – “Well, I’ll give you an example. About a year ago, roughly eleven or twelve months ago, on the Lassie show — this is a story usually told by Sheldon Leonard who was then associated with the show — Lassie was having puppies. And I have two little girls, then aged five and three, who are greatly enamored with this beautiful Collie and they watched the show with great interest. And Lassie gave birth to puppies, and Mike, it was probably one of the most tasteful and delightful and warm things depicting what is this wondrous thing that is birth. And after this show, I think they were many congratulations all around because it was a lovely show, the sort of thing I’d love my kids to watch to show them what is the birth process and how marvelous it is. They got many, many cards and letters. Sample card, from the deep South this was: ‘if I wanted my kids to watch sex shows, I wouldn’t have them turn on that. I could take them to burlesque shows.’ And as a result of the influx of mail, many of the cards, incidentally, as Sheldon tells it, were postmarked at identical moments all in the same handwriting, but each was counted as a singular piece of mail. And as a result, the directive went down that there would be no shows having anything to do with puppies, that is in the actual birth process. Well, obviously, it is this wild lunatic fringe of letter-writers that greatly affect what the sponsor has in mind.”

MW – “You can understand the position of the sponsor, can’t you?”

RS – “In many ways I suppose I can. He’s there to push a product.”

MW – “He has a considerable stake, thus, in what goes on the air.”

RS – “Most assuredly, and in those cases where there is a problem of public taste, in which there is a concern for eliciting negative response from a large mass of people, I can understand why the guys are frightened. I don’t understand, Mike, for example, other evidences and instances of intrusion by sponsors. For example, on Playhouse 90, not a year ago, a lovely show called ‘Judgment At Nuremberg,’I think probably one of the most competently done and artistically done pieces that 90’s done all year. In it, as you recall, mention was made of gas chambers and the line was deleted, cut off the soundtrack. And it mattered little to these guys that the gas involved in concentration camps was cyanide, which bore no resemblance, physical or otherwise, to the gas used in stoves. They cut the line.

MW – “Because the sponsor was…”

RS – “Did not want that awful association made between what was the horror and the misery of Nazi Germany with the nice chrome wonderfully, antiseptically clean beautiful kitchen appliances that they were selling. Now this is an example of sponsor interference which is so beyond logic and which is so beyond taste — this I rebel against.”

MW – “You’ve got a new series coming up called ‘The Twilight Zone.’ You are writing, as well as acting executive producer on this one. Who controls the final product, you or the sponsor?”

RS – “We have what I think, at least theoretically, anyway, because it hasn’t really been put into practice yet, a good working relationship, where in questions of taste and questions of the art form itself and questions of drama, I’m the judge, because this is my medium and I understand it. I’m a dramatist for television. This is the area I know. I’ve been trained for it. I’ve worked for it for twelve years, and the sponsor knows his product but he doesn’t know mine. So when it comes to the commercials, I leave that up to him. When it comes to the story content, he leaves it up to me.”

MW – “Has nothing been changed in the…”

RS – “We changed, in eighteen scripts, Mike, we have had one line changed, which, again, was a little ludicrous but of insufficient basic concern within the context of the story, not to put up a fight. On a bridge of a British ship, a sailor calls down to the galley and asks in my script for a pot of tea, because I believe that it’s constitutionally acceptable in the British Navy to drink tea. One of my sponsors happens to sell instant coffee, and he took great umbrage, or at least minor umbrage anyway, with the idea of saying tea. Well, we had a couple of swings back and forth, nothing serious, and we decided we’d ask for a tray to be sent up to the bridge. But in eighteen scripts, that’s the only conflict we’ve had.”

—–

MW – “Is pre-censorship, though, involved? Are you simply writing easy?”

RS – “In this particular area, no, because we’re dealing with a half hour show which cannot probe like a 90, which doesn’t use scripts as vehicles of social criticism. These are strictly for entertainment.”

MW – “These are potboilers.”

RS – “Oh, no. Un-uh. I wouldn’t call them potboilers at all. No, these are very adult, I think, high-quality half hour, extremely polished films. But because they deal in the areas of fantasy and imagination and science-fiction and all of those things, there’s no opportunity to cop a plea or chop an axe or anything.”

MW – “Well, you’re not gonna be able to cop a plea or chop an axe because you’re going to be obviously working so hard on ‘The Twilight Zone’ that in essence, for the time being and for the foreseeable future, you’ve given up on writing anything important for television, right?”

RS – “Yeah. Well, again, this is a semantic thing — ‘important for television.’ I don’t know. If by important you mean I’m not going to try to delve into current social problems dramatically, you’re quite right. I’m not.”

– Excerpts from Mike Wallace interviewing Rod Serling on The Mike Wallace Interview in anticipation of Serling’s new series, The Twilight Zone, 1959.

_________

Whether Serling realized it or not in the midst of this smoke clouded interview, he would find his most memorable avenues for social commentary through the less “important for television” resource of speculative fiction. He would also continue to bump heads with McCarthy-Era censorship, having episodes banned from the air for racial and war themes raised among other ethical and philosophical questions.

While this interview remains cordial, it is hard not to recognized a self-censoring vehemence from Serling. Having been in the television industry for about a decade by this point, he is one of the most lauded and heavily censored figures on the stage as he prepares to create The Twilight Zone. Although I can’t say for certain, I would argue that this interview was a very intentional opportunity for Serling to make a public statement that defends his position while promising to toe the line with the censors. On the latter point, I am happy to say he would go on to fail tremendously, creating some of the most immortal and poignant sci-fi television ever made.

I would highly suggest that you watch his previously award-winning tv film “Patterns.” It is probably impossible to find on DVD, but it should be easy to find via YouTube or the like. It’s one of the best films I have ever seen, a commentary on corporate life and ethics that seems prophetic in the current age.

_________

Recommended Reading

C.S. Lewis and Kingsley Amis On The Value Of Science Fiction

Kurt Vonnegut’s Pessimistic Social Commentary

Frankenstien And Human Nature