Ever notice how so many things in life are divided into zones?
There are no parking zones, handicapped zones, fire lane zones, personal space zones, school speed zones, no passing zones, quiet zones, pet walking zones, end zones, no fly zones . . . I’m sure you’ve been able to think of a few more I’ve left out.
And, hey, let’s not forget the most famous zone of all--- The Twilight Zone.
As everyone knows, The Twilight Zone was a half-hour sci-fi/thriller television show that debuted in 1959 and ran until 1965. It’s creator was Rod Serling, a talented screenwriter who came out of World War II with a unique, and penetrating view of the world and the human condition. He wrote many of the screenplays for the show, but perhaps the most memorable thing about The Twilight Zone was Serling’s gravelly voice-over commentaries at the beginning and end of each show. His voice had the consistency of a wood rasp being scraped over a two-by-four. Serling was a heavy smoker and died way too young at age 50, but his bold use of irony and trick endings influenced generations of writers to come. And the twilight zone became so entwined in our popular culture that it is commonly used to describe things that are a little bit out of wack.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time in what I call “the twilight zone” myself, mostly working night shift as a cop. As a patrol supervisor, I was responsible for assigning the officers under my command to various zones for the shifts. Cities are divided up into zones, or beats, for the purpose of assuring comprehensive coverage. An officer is responsible for handling those calls within his zone and must patrol that assigned area. Sometimes you’re assigned to the same zone for a period of time so you can get a better handle on what’s going on inside those parameters. Some zones are better than others, but everything kind of gets thrown off kilter when you enter “the twilight zone.” The twilight zone generally opens up during the wee hours of the night, when most normal people are sleeping and cops and hobgoblins rule the night. This brought about my locally famous quote of “Nothing good ever happens at two-thirty in the morning.”
Now I’m sure there are many people who would argue with my sentiment, but keep in mind that my statement is meant as hyperbole. But I can still remember driving around my zone waiting for the bars to close and seeing the glow of a television set through a picture window. Knowing that person was comfortably ensconced in his living room at the wee hours, while I was stuck in a cramped squad car patrolling the neighborhood and looking for trouble, used to engender a mild resentment. Why would anyone be up at this hour who didn’t have to be? Thus, I came up with the quote. Still, I too was there of my own choosing, and didn’t let it interfere with my job.
So let’s recap. Zones can bring organization to life, but they can also be limiting. Boundaries are assigned and sometimes there are penalties for breeching them. Sometimes we assign these boundaries to ourselves and fail to reach our full potential because we’re reluctant to venture outside them. Have you ever been urged to get out of your “comfort zone?” Sometimes you have to do just that if you want to grow.
Zones are useful when it comes to breaking something down into more manageable parts. They’re useful in setting parameters for your behavior. It’s good to remember, however, that zones can also limit your horizons if you fear stretching or moving beyond them. Where would we be if Columbus hadn’t stretched things and ventured across the Atlantic. But perhaps that’s not the best example. I’m sure there would be a lot of happy Indians if he hadn’t. But what I’m trying to say is sometimes you have to roll the dice and go for it, especially when it comes to writing. Find your voice. Get out of your comfort zone and take a chance or two. Or three . . . Or four. . . Use the zones to your advantage, and stretch your boundaries when you feel it’s appropriate. Don’t be afraid to take that chance if you feel it might be worth it.