Friday, June 30, 2006


I gather from the feedback I'm getting that everyone thinks I'm freaking out over the scope of this project. And I am. But I don't mean to be all sturm und drang. It's not all heavy. There's already been plenty of joy, fun, and beauty along the way.

Take this photo, for example. Chris and I were at The Cracker Barrel in Mebane, NC. We hadn't really eaten (Power Bars don't count) in nearly twenty-four hours, this despite the fact that we'd done a full-day shoot, all-night drive, and even a short run. So we were huuuung-ry! And when I saw that bacon -- those thick, glorious strips of swine -- well, I had to grab the camera.

Breakfast was, by the way, outstanding. I had two eggs over-easy, sausage and hash brown caserole (mmmmm, cheese!). Chris had (get this!) two eggs over-easy, three strips of bacon, and three pancakes.

Sure, I was wound like a top. But we sure enjoyed that breakfast. And we had an absolutely amazing afternoon afterwards (excepting, perhaps, when Cracker Barrel became the but of jokes -- "Southern Fast Food," I think she called it -- around the dinner table).

An unexpected byproduct of this project is the tie spent with my brother. We've been best friends our entire lives, with the usual ups and downs. But as he anticipates the August arrival of his second child, and I continue to be consumed with my career, and my singer/songwriter aspirations, we spend less time together. So the long drives and long talks have been nice.

At the end of our long day at The Human Kindness Foundation, Chris and I snapped a few photos with Bo in his office. After we said our goodbyes, and were turning for the door, Bo opened his arms wide and pulled both of us into his chest. I thought it was pretty cool that, on just the second day of shooting "Mr. Rogers & Me," we had already been brought closer together.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Solution

I walked out of the office to pick up lunch this afternoon past two-hundred teenage girls, each one dressed and coifed identically. Sitting on a planter near the center of the 1515 (which we call, "The Mothership") were two paparazzi waiting on "Superman Returns" stars Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth.

As you probably know, "multi-platform" is the big catch phrase in media these days. In short, it means that ads are following you onto every device you have: tv, laptop, ipod, cell phone. MTV's TRL has already experimented with dual live bradcasts onair and online, so when the action ends on TV, you can just turn your head towards your computer. You can watch "The Hills" on your iPod, your cell phone, and your laptop. One of my (bad) jokes around here is that implants are next: TV straight to your brain.

All of which would be fine if we were broadcasting, say, "Frontline," or "The News Hour," but...

But I can't stop thinking that if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

This morning I was thinking about some of the things Bo Lozoff and I discussed on Monday (Chris laid off all the HDV to DVD so I can screen them over the weekend -- I can't wait!). As a culture, America has more leisure time and more wealth than any other in history. But we're more overscheduled and more depressed than ever. He told me about a couple he saw walk into a hotel gym, climb on their respective treadmills, out on their respective headphones, unfold their respective magazines, and watch their respective channels.

There's something seriously wrong with this picture, yunno?

Mr. Rogers received four Emmy Awards over the course of his thirty year television career. Upon receiving his fourth, he stood before the inustry-only audience is said, "You know, there are a lot of powerful executives in the room right now who are responsible for most of the television programs on the air. And I have to tell you, you're not doing a very good job."

If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

I worried about working for MTV before I even started. On one hand, I was concerned it was be high school for adults. For another, it didn't align too well with the Thoreau-like ascetisism I'd embraced in college ("I endeavor to stand on the edge of two eternities..."). So I rode a motercycle high into the San Juan range, climbed to 14,000 feet, and sat alone a few days to think it through. I decided to go for it, and have enjoyed it almost every step of the way.

I thought as I crossed Columbus Avenue en route to the subway this morning, "This documentary is going to be the end of my career."

One of em, anyway.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Accept The Ambiguities

Amy, bless her heart, sent me two emails today. Both were packed with the kind of fortification necessary to help me through a long, challenging day. As you can imagine, transitioning from the rolling green hills of North Carolina and the unharried energies of the Human Kindness Foundation to the steamy concrete of Times Square and deadline intensive MTV was jarring. Three hours of fitful sleep didn't help. But Amy's email sure did:


    So your "angels in the atmosphere" are at work again today, and these words straight from Fred himself:

    "I've often hesitated in beginning a project because I've thought, 'It'll never turn out to be even remotely like the good idea I have as I start.' I could just 'feel' how good it could be. But I decided that, for the present, I would create the best way I know how and accept the ambiguities."

    Accept the ambiguities. Everyone is pulling for you.

    Best, Amy

After work, I spent a few minutes on my deck, watching the clouds soar by. Then I called Abbi and talked her ear off. I was rolling on materialism, being in the world but not of the world, life, death, truth and beauty for a half hour, non-stop. Then I stepped inside (out of the rain), and wrote Amy...

    Forgive me for taking so long to respond to both of your thoughtful, inspiring, and comforting notes. As you can imagine, leaving Richmond at 6AM, flying into New York at 7AM, and returning to work at 9AM makes for quite a day. I only now just finished eating dinner, and am sitting down to begin to process all that's transpired...

    As you may have read, yesterday went quite well. Bo is an interesting, charismatic, and very deep man. Words still fail me when I try to summarize all that we discussed in our nearly six hour conversation. From culture to kids to shaking off our mortality; we covered some serious ground. As you read, I was rendered speechless by the end of the afternoon. (I'm still recovering, to be sure.)

    Your emails have helped restore me to a place of confidence. Chris, too, keeps reminding me, "One step at a time." It's not so much that I doubt the outcome (as long and in whatever form it might take), but instead am reeling a bit over how naive I was to undertake this project -- this journey -- and not expect to be forever transformed.

    Still, I feel if only slightly equipt for the long road, whether from studying Campbell in college, or fasting for four days in the desert when I was 22-uears-old, or simply putting together compelling, substantive programming at work. As one of my favorite guitarists (The Who's Peter Townsend) says, "It's all building up to something."

    That said, this is a project that will progress in fits and starts. Chris and I have most definitely returned to earth. I expect that our next major step will be either Washington, DC, or Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, we work for "The Man."

    Either way, you have been a kind, patient, and giving soul. Likewise your wonderful family. Thank you so much. (These words themself seem insufficient.) Thank you for opening your home, and your heart, and
    sharing with me.

    I don't know quite what this will look like when we get there, but I can promise you that I will do my best to merit the fact that you're pulling for me.

    Now, however, I really must go to sleep. The Big City seems even bigger on just three hours of sleep.

    Love to all, and my deepest gratitude. Will speak soon, and keep you posted...

I hit send, then collapsed into deep, dreamless sleep.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Staring At The Sun

Had I known just how radically impactful one afternoon at Bo and Sita Lozoff's Human Kindness Foundation was going to be, I'm not sure I would have had the courage to turn up the driveway. But ain't that always the way?

In my very first conversation with Mr. Rogers, standing there on his back porch gazing out on Madaket Bay, he told me that his friend, mystic Bo Lozoff, had just begun a yearlong vow of silence. Nearly five years later, I have spent a full day with the man, and am just now cracking the spine on the book that started it all for Mister Rogers and me, "Deep & Simple." Inside, Bo has written me a short note:

    For Benjamin
    With love and friendship and blessings for your Great Project
    Bo Lozoff

I was verbose at the beginning of our conversation. I tried and tried to wrap language around the most profound mysteries like God, The Divine, and Faith. But by sundown, I was mute. By dusk, Bo's many wisdoms ("pearls" just don't do the depth and breadth of Bo's words justice) simply washed over me, so overwhelmed by deep, simple and profound truths was my "beginning mind." I could scarcely muster an "Aha!" or an "Mmm hmm."

I said to Chris as we packed up at the end of our eight-hour shoot, "I feel like I've been staring at the sun all day long."

Still, a few hours later (it's 5:26 Tuesday morning; Chris and I are waiting on our Richmond flight), I can't wrap words around what happened yesterday. I can barely remember Bo's exact words. He quoted every Great Book, and many great minds, but this morning almost all of his words are lost on me. Like I said, it's like going blind after you stare at the sun. Right now, I'm still blind. I know that I will see again, but right now, there is only bright light.

I remember how it felt, though, walking and talking with this great man (a man whom, along with Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama, Mr. Rogers counted amongst his heroes). It felt like I had stepped off a steep cliff into deep, cool water. I knew I was going to be able to swim just fine, even though I was in way over my head.

Lemme give you some context here. This is a man who's writings contain introductions by the Dalai Llama. This is a man who speaks his truths in synagogues, churches, ashrams and prisons alike. This is a man who lives by three tenants: live simply (wary of material), contribute to the greater good, and practice spirituality. This is a guy who -- through discipline, prayer, study, and fasting -- seeks to shake off the mortal coil: self, family, home, and body in order to touch the divine.

He told me a story just after the sun fell behind the rolling hills of Orange County, North Carolina, about a mortal man visiting angels in Heaven.

"If things are so wonderful up here, why don't you come down there to to earth?" the man asked the angels. "We really need you down there."

The angel pointed through the clouds to a crack in the ground and said, "Do you see that tiny crack down there? The one through which ants can barely pass? We angels can no more pass through the dooway to your human earth than those ants through that crack. Only one has passed before. The rest of us are too big."

"Instead," the angel continued, "You must grow. You must decompress every atom of your being, and then ascend to us."

I told Bo that I was overwhelmed with the depth, breadth and substance of all that he had told me. I told him that I hadn't expected to wrestle with so much so fast. And I told him that the project suddenly felt enormous.

"You don't have to wrestle with it all in one day," he said. "You will sit and be quiet with it all."

"And what's the worst thing that can happen?" he asked as we strode up the gravel road toward our car. "You'll fail. We all fail. There's nothing wrong with failure. It's how we grow."

Monday, June 26, 2006

Equal Turns

Within just a few minutes of arriving in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Abbi called in tears to tell me her sister's boyfriend had been killed by a drunk driver. Five minutes later, my friend Dan Guttman called to announce his engagement to his girlfriend Lisa. A steady, steamy raind was falling from a cloudy sky. Still, the sun fought to shine through and I thought, 'This is it. This is life. Terrible and wonderful, tragic and magical in equal turns.'

The Hollingsworths -- Amy, Jeff, Jonathan and Emily -- were waiting patiently when Chris and I pulled up beside their slate gray colonial home. Inside, the table was set with fruit, crudites, Checx Mix and water. The family was warm, and welcoming, and as excited and nervous as we were. After about an hour of getting comfortable with one another, Chris began re-arranging their living room for the shoot. We set Amy up in front of the fireplace, lit the room, and rolled tape.

Amy and I spoke of her nine year friendship with Mr. Rogers, the lessons he taught her, and legacy he left her. She graciously shared her private letters -- including one he wrote in praise of the sunset as seen from his Crooked House on Nantucket. She spoke of his sincerity, his deep intention, and steady discipline. Amy, bless her heart, had been reflecting for days on how to best serve our project, and speak directly to the notion of "deep and simple." Time slipped by effortlessly. I felt so safe and comfortable as the fire died down, I found myself reclining on the family couch. The clock read seven o'clock. We'd been talking nearly two hours.

Somewhere in the middle of our conversation, I became overwhelmed by the scope of our undertaking. I began to feel unworthy of the task. Who am I to even begin to tackle huge themes like God, faith, meditation, self esteem, death and love? As we watched an interview Amy had conducted with Mr. Rogers some ten years prior, I told her I felt overwhelmed, and afraid.

"I just hope we can do this story justice," I said in near whisper.

"Benjamin," Amy assured me, "Fred always knew what he was doing. Don't second guess yourself. You were commissioned for a reason."

The Hollingsworths sent us on our way with a few cold sodas, and three bags of snacks just as dusk was falling. Chris and I talked the whole way to Chapel Hill. We have some six hours of sleep between us (twenty minutes of fitful sleep on the airplan notwithstanding) in the last twenty-four hours. I don't know where this road will end, but we're on it, and there's no way but forward.

Saturday, June 24, 2006


In six hours, a black Lincoln will pick up Chris and me, and whisk us away to LaGuardia where we will board USAir flight #267 for Richmond where our journey will commence. Actually, we've already departed wherever we are, or were.

The story arch of this documentary is all about the journey of discovery. In many ways, we have no idea what we'll find. In short, it is a connect the dots; how did Mr. Rogers become the man that he is, and how did he help other become who they are. Sounds simple, right?

It is a simple premise, except that, for Chris and me, it is all unknown. I have Googled and Mapquested, I have researched and read, but still, I have no idea how this story will end. It's like our own "Da Vinci Code," but without the murder in the Louvre. The north star of our story, the means by with we guide ourselves, is Mr. Rogers. Outward from him, dozens of bright points: Amy Hollingsworth, Bo Lozoff, David Newell, Bill Isler... how do they all connect?

Each person's story could constitute an entire documentary. Take Bo Lozoff, who we will meet Monday afternoon on his seventy acre ashram near Chapel Hill, NC. A '60s peace activist, Bo was visiting his brother in prison when he realized the similarities between their two worlds. Bo lived on a commune, tilling soil and living collectively. His brother worked in a factory and shared the yard. Bo was happy with his life. His brother was angry with his. And it dawned on him. Culture views prison as punishment. But Bo saw it as an opportunity to transform lives. A mission was born.

Thirty years later, millions of prisoners have been send free copies of Bo's book, "We're All Doing Time." His Human Kindness Foundation is a way station for ex-convicts, allowing them to transition back into society. Three years ago, funded in part by a small donation from Mr. Rogers estate, The Lozoffs founded a small biofuel refinery in rural North Carolina to give ex-convicts a space to acquire skills.

This is a man who walks the walk. This is a man who Mr. Rogers once listed as one of his personal heroes. And this is the man about whom Mr. Rogers and I spoke when we first met nearly five years ago.

I am anxious tonight. My ambition, or foolishness, has gotten the best of me. With no funding, no endgame, and nothing but a wing and a prayer, we are embarking on something much, much bigger than ourselves. Right now, we are staring up at a night sky filled with twinkling stars. Our job is to make constellations of them by which to find ourselves a new way home.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Envelope

Amy's FedEx envelope arrived at my office amidst a hurricane of MTV bologna.

Next week is MTV Movie Week. I'm EP of News, but I also manage the Movies area of So I've been trying to hook up excellent programming (trailer premieres, exclusive clips and interviews, etc), assign out all the production, and coordinate the onaire/online/broadband/podcasting promotion. It's not rocket science. It's not even deep and simple. It's a bunch of Major Hollywood Movies that require Major Planning. (Well, it's not all Big Hollywood; I'm most excited about our exclusive interviews with Richard Linklater and Kevin Smith). So I'm wrestling with Michele Gondry's people, trying to nail down an interview location less than an hour before we're supposed to be there, wherever there is. So my heart is racing, my temper is short...

And Amy's FedEx package arrives. I rip it open, close the door, and pop the tape into my VCR. Used to be Amy Hollingsworth was a reporter for The 700 Club. The tape held a dub of her visit to Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood back in the late 80s. For the eight minutes of that package, time stood still.
It was like I was watching my dream. Amy went to WQED, where Mr. Rogers shot his show, wandered backstage, interviewed all the major players, and spoke with Mr. Rogers about his faith for the first time on camera. It was the access and the intimacy I've dreamt of. It made me think of a few things.

For one, the film as it stands in my mind is terribly devoid of Mr. Rogers himself. Chris and I never got him on camera. He passed away before we could do so. So I'll have to figure that out. He has to be there in more than words. It is a medium of moving pictures. I need more than the two snapshots I have of Mr. Rogers and me.
That absence also made me think about the title. It occurs to me that "Looking For Mr. Rogers" or "Searching For Mr. Rogers" may be a better title. I'm sure we'll know better as we get further along.

For another, the segment reminded me what a huge advocate Mr. Rogers was for self esteem. He's all about the individual, the uniqueness of everyone, and viewing life through the prism of positivity. He talked about seeing ourselves and our neighbors through the eyes of God: as unique, good and beautiful. He wrote it on one of my birthday cards: "You are special." And he probably had no idea how key that is for me. I've never been terribly fond of myself. Cue the applause; that helps. Send in the adoring ex-girlfriends. If they like me, I must be worth something, right?

This whole thing, the entire documentary, is so personal. In just a few words over a few conversations, his words and deeds spoke volumes to me. I hope I make some sense of it all. With people like Amy on my side, and Mr. Rogers smiling down on me, I imagine I'm in good hands.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


I got an email from Amy Hollingsworth this morning.
    I'm planning to overnight (or maybe two-day air) something to you and wanted to know if it should be sent to your office or home. If to your office, do I just send it to your attention at the 1515 Broadway address, or do I need to include an office number? Or if you prefer it be sent to your home, what is your address there?
Ooooh! What could it be? So excited!

I imagine it could be a recording of one of her favorite "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" episodes. Or maybe a photocopy of an exchange between them. Either way, tomorrow can't come soon enough!

Amy has been something of a guardian angel as I really began pushing on getting this documentary started in the last few months. Her book, "The Simple Faith Of Mr. Rogers," has been sitting on my shelves for a few years, and came to me quite by accident. Yruth is I wasn't entirely alone that day I went to visit Mr. and Mrs. Rogers. My now ex-girlfriend Jen was with me as well. In fact, she's behind the lens in the two photos that exist of Mr. Rogers and me. She's a talent booker for The Tony Danza Show, and as such, receives numerous pitches from publicists, publishers, etc. She sent the book to me years ago -- long after we'd broken up -- with a note that read, "Couldn't resist Love, Jen."

I'd avoided reading the book initially because it seemed -- at first blush -- quiet religious. And though I harbored a fantasy of Mr. Rogers (an ordained minister, remember) marrying me in Nantucket, it was not his religiousness that appealed to me, but his spirituality. (As it ends us, the book doesn't foist God on the reader in any way.)

Nonetheless, as I flipped through the pages, it became apparent to me that Amy's book was a blueprint, of sorts, for my own project. Here she had distilled the knowledge she had gained from numerous conversations with Mr. Rogers into a book. I, lacking those numerous conversations, had to go outside myself to find out more about who he was, and what he stood for. In the end, though, the objective is the same: to amplify the man's message through personal experience.

Amy has been a supporter from the start. I tracked her down via her publicist, and she emailed me immediately. She already knew about my project via what I'd written on my website. And almost immediately, she offered me her time and, more importantly, her encouragement.

Believe me, this has not been an easy project to get off the ground. Family Communications is a small company with a huge task: sustaining Mr. Rogers' legacy. Getting them on the phone is no easy task. Amy empathized. As importantly, she reminded me that Mr. Rogers had leveled this challenge of spreading the "deep and simple" message to me -- of all people -- for a reason. A PBS mind in an MTV world? That's me. And that's why.

We've since exchanged dozens of emails. And on Sunday afternoon, she'll open her home and her heart to Chris and me.

I can't wait.

Monday, June 19, 2006

About "Mister Rogers & Me"

I was sitting with Mister Rogers in the candle light of my thirty-first birthday cake. Outside, a thunderstorm was blowing through Nantucket. I told him that I often thought about our conversation the summer prior during which he said to me, "I feel so strongly that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex." His message stuck with me, I said.

"Spread the message," Mister Rogers told me. "Spread the message."

Three years later, I continue to spread the message.

My essay, “Mister Rogers & Me,” is a permanent installation on my website,

My short story, “Meet Mister Rogers,” was published in Little, Browne and Co’s “To DO Before I Die.”

The potential release of our independent documentary, “Mister Rogers & Me," is intended to grow the message’s reach exponentially.

“Mister Rogers & Me” is a story of personal inspiration and discovery, a hero's quest that begins on an Nantucket summer afternoon’s we spent together in 2001, then sets out on America's highways and skyways to understand the basis for and manifestations of “deep and simple" from some of media's strongest voices.

While we're been planning the film since 2004, and began shooting Nantcuket b-roll last fall, production began in earnest this month. Our itinerary is expected to include Latrobe, PA (Mister Rogers’ birthplace), Pittsburgh, PA (Family Communications, WQED), Washington, DC (The Smithsonian, NPR, NBC), Durham, NC (Bo Lozoff’s Human Kindness Foundation), New York City (Linda Ellerbee, Marc Brown), and back to Nantucket (photographer Beverly Hall).

“Mister Rogers & Me” is written, shot, directed by edited by Benjamin and Christofer Wagner.

Saturday, June 17, 2006


"Jeez," I said aloud to no one in particular. "This trip alone's gonna cost a thousand bucks."

I just booked travel and car rental for Chris and my first official shoot for the film. We're flying into Richmond, VA, next Sunday morning, then driving to Fredericksburg to interview Amy Hollingsworth, author of "The Simple Faith of Mr. Rogers." Monday morning we'll drive to Durham to interview Human Kindness Foundation founder, and author of "Deep & Simple," Bo Lozoff.

There is, perhaps not surprisingly, no budget for this film. Basically, Chris are using our buddy Jason's HD DV, travelling on our own dime, and editing on our PowerBooks. We have at least five more road trips: Pittsburgh (Family Communications, David Newell aka Mr. McFeely, WQED), Washington, DC (Smithsonian, Senator Tom Harkin), Boston (Yo Yo Ma, "Arthur" author Mark Brown), Los Angeles (Michael Keaton, Bill Cosby), and back to Nantucket (Mrs. Rogers).

We're squeezing these trips in between the unreasonable hours of our regularly scheduled day jobs (MTV and Sony), and
regularly scheduled lives -- Chris has a baby due in August.

I don't really know how this is all gonna turn out. That's part of the process. The first act is set up: who I am and how I met Mr. Rogers. The second act is the journey: travelling around, interviewing his friends and colleagues, and trying to better understand the man and his message. The final act is back to Nantucket to visit Mrs. Rogers.

In the end, I imagine that the film will be as much an examination of the shallow and complex nature of culture, as my own sense of the man, and the absence of a grandfatherly figure in my life. Either way, I'm excited for the journey.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Gardening At Night

I'm out to dinner with my mom. She's been a Istanbul for the last three weeks, so there's a fair amount of catching up to do.

A lot has happened, but mostly, I wanted to tell her about progress on my Mr. Rogers documentary.

Mrs. Rogers gave me her blessing for the project two years ago, but said I had to get approval from Family Communications first. So I've been tentatively reaching out to FCI, the company that produced "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" and now manages his intellectual property, ever since. But only since March, when Chris and I finished the teaser trailer, drafted a synopsis, and began reaching out to potential interview subjects, have I been assertively calling the Pittsburgh-based company.

At first, I left messages for Bill Isler. Mr. Isler is the president of FCI, as well as president of the Pittsburgh Public School board, and Executive Director of the Fred M. Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania (the town in which Mr. Rogers was born). He's a busy man. And then it dawned on me. How do you get through to any important, busy, in-demand person? Through their assistant.

His assistant, Elaine, has been delightful. I've spoken with her once or twice a week for the last six weeks. I know the weather in Pittsburgh. I know when she's not feeling well. When I called for what must have been the twenty-fifth time on Monday, she laughed and said, "One minute. He's in, but he's on the phone. I'll put you through next."

I sat there at my desk nervously reviewing my notes... the film will be a combination between documentary and memoir, it's a road trip, book ended by Nantucket --

"Benjamin Wagner, Bill Isler."

"Mr. Isler, thanks so much for taking my call."

"Call me Bill."

"Well, Bill, thanks so much for taking my call. I know you're a busy man."

"Well, so are you."

We're meeting on Monday at four o'clock.

Which doesn't mean anything. He could still say no, and all of the doors to Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" would close: Mrs. Rogers', FCI's, WQED's, David Newell's -- closed. But I don't think he will.

My mother met Mr. and Mrs. Rogers the summer before I did. They lived in a cottage next door to the one she rents in Nantucket. She gathered the courage to say to hello to him as he passed by for his daily swim in Madaket Bay. He saw that she was writing in her journal.

"Mary Catherine, are you a writer?"

The truth is, my mom knew The Rogers far better than I did. I only saw him person three times, and exchanged a few letters. Which may have a lot to do with why I'm working so hard to know him better. Because I think he's about the best role model a man could have.

"I've always been myself," he once said. "I never took a course in acting. I just figured the best gift you could offer anyone is your honest self, and that's what I've done for lots of years."

Your honest self: no more, no less.
My new friend, author Amy Hollingsworth (a guardian angel on this project, to be sure), writes in her book, "The Simple Faith Of Mr. Rogers"

    Acclaimed writer and thinker Madeline L'Engle once noted, in her treatise on the spiritual rhythms of life, "The Irrational Season," [that] "Righteousness begins to reveal itself as that strength which is so secure that it can show itself as gentleness, and the only people who have this kind of righteousness are those who are integrated and do not suppress the dark side of themselves."

The day after I met Mr. Rogers, he took me on a tour of his Crooked House. And, as I've written before, asked me questions about my parents' divorce that no other adult dare ask.

"With children," he told Amy, "You don't have to talk about the weather. If the child trusts you, very often, what happens to be on his or her mind will just spill out."

It all spilled out that September afternoon way back in 2001. I felt like crying.

I told my mother of my incremental progress. Bill and I are meeting on Monday. Two weeks later, Chris and I are flying to North Carolina to interview Amy and Human Kindness Foundation founder Bo Lozoff, who is also a friend of The Rogers. Later this summer we'll do shoots in Washington, DC, New York City, Pittsburgh, Boston, Los Angeles, and back in Nantucket.

My brother asked me a few weeks ago, "What's our conflict? Every story has a conflict."

At first," I told my mom, "I didn't know. But now I do. Mr. Rogers asked me about working for MTV. Then he said to me, 'There is no shortage of things that are shallow and complex. We need more television, more movies, more art that is deep and simple.'"

I felt the tears again, rising up through my solar plexus and into the pit of my throat.

"He was planting a seed in me, mom. It's my job now to make it grow."