Take It To The Limit

I came to an important realization this week.

I have found my limit.

I’ve always thought there’d be a wall I would hit, but I never figured that I’d actually get there. I’ve spent 31 years piling onto my shoulders, finding ways to dig a little deeper, give a little more, telling myself it’s only another 15 minutes or one more task and it’s worth it because I’m doing something good.

But I hit the limit this week. I’m now on an inhaler for an unknown respiratory illness, waiting for the results of an X-ray to tell me if there’s a more serious problem. In the last four months I’ve battled bronchitis, a sinus infection, a codeine allergy and I’m still overdue for a skin cancer biopsy. Write it all out like that and it sounds ridiculous but I’m pretty sure there’s not a part of my body that works the way it’s supposed to anymore.

And I have worked through it all. I have not had a single day off since New Year’s. I have worked seven days a week, ranging from 14 to 16 hours a day. For the last week I’ve gone to bed at 4 AM. And that’s not getting ahead; that’s me keeping pace with my established commitments. My articles-per-day number has doubled to 12. Last month, I wrote almost 300 pieces.

And I’m still nursing a broken heart that I’m not sure will ever heal entirely.

Physically, mentally and emotionally, I’m done. My doctor has told me that part of the reason I’m so seriously ill now is because I ignored my condition in order to keep working, and because I didn’t take care of myself while I was looking out for everyone else. I’m spending every day elbow deep in deadlines. I’m not just spinning a few plates; I’ve got the whole damn dinner set. And worst of all, I’m just tired of it. I’m not excited anymore, or feeling like I’m doing the right thing – all I feel is exhaustion.

I’ve finally discovered that I’m not invincible. I’m not sure anybody else gives a fuck about how much I’ve wrecked myself, but it matters to me. And it’s time for me to accept it, and decide what I’m going to do with it.

Because I was warned. I had numerous friends of mine over the years tell me that I was going to go too far. I chose not to listen. I chose to prioritize everyone else’s needs and wants over my own, and I got away with it until right now. Now when I’ve been sick for four months and yet have so much to do that I can’t take a break and have finally realized that most people in my life don’t care about how much I’ve given up for them. And the ones that do are telling me “I told you so,” and they’re right.

When my dream got taken away from me last Friday it also removed that mental block that told me I was invincible. It taught me that while my sacrifices have value to me, and to some others, most people don’t care. I put my job on the line recently and not one person involved in that has said thank you for being willing to take that risk. And it’s as if once I saw that the pain had no merit, the will that kept me going through it died and the pain caught up with me. I feel terrible, but at the same time maybe this had to happen so that I stop over-extending myself for nothing and trying to save everyone and trying to make up for something I don’t need to.

I never thought I’d have to say stop, but I’ve finally reached that point. And as low as I feel right now, I can only think it’s for the best. I may not be the most popular kid in the class anymore, but I’ll be the one who’s not waking up every day ill and going to bed at 4 AM.

Sucks to not be invincible anymore, but hey. Even Scott Dixon is only human. And he’s a four-time IndyCar champion, so. I think I’m going to be okay.

In Which A Dream Dies

I’ve never said never until yesterday.

I’ve always believed that whatever was put in front of me, no matter how difficult, no matter how crazy, if I worked hard and truly cared about it I would eventually find a way to make it happen.

Now I know that’s not true.

Yesterday I was on the verge of making the only thing I’ve still wanted to do since I beat the hospital and the cancer scare happen. And yesterday, I got an email that not only will it not be happening now, but it will not be allowed to happen ever.

I don’t want to give specifics because I don’t want this blog to be taken as an attack on anyone involved. That is not at all what I’m speaking out for. But I need to talk about how much this hurts, and the very tough lesson that it taught me that I wish I hadn’t learned.

Yesterday I felt something inside of me die. This opportunity was something I’d pursued and dreamed of for years. It was something that several people had supported me in and encouraged me to do. It was literally the last line on my bucket list. And this particular shot at it would have been the perfect one because I would have gone back to my roots and a world that made me who I am today. But not only did I lose it for what is now the third time, I have to come to terms with the fact that I’ve lost it forever.

They tell me it’s not personal and I believe them. They tell me the reasoning and I understand it. But it’s still personal in the sense that it broke my heart, and that it’s hard not to feel like I failed.

This changed the way I look at the world. I’ve had a lot of defeats thrown at me over the years, but there has never been an absolute. It’s always been Okay, it didn’t work this time but go out and get ’em next time. There’ve been a lot of things that have sucked, most recently not getting to drive in the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race, but then a few months later I got to drive go-karts with Patrik Sandell. What keeps me going is the knowledge that there’s always a next shot, even if it takes fifteen years like that time I finally met Aaron Sorkin.

And I’ve built my entire life on the belief that I can find a way as long as I work hard enough and truly care about what I’m doing. Even when I was told I’d never walk I found a way to make it happen, twice. I dragged myself six miles with heatstroke through the middle of nowhere in Indiana when I shouldn’t have been able to walk one. When I spent sixteen years thinking I’d never be good enough to work in law enforcement, I took the test anyway and they offered me a job. When I thought there’s no chance in hell I’d ever sing with Adam Levine, I still left it on my bucket list and we ended up at karaoke night together. The reason I’ve gotten so far is that I knew hard work and passion could beat anything – maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but I’ve seen it do some amazing things.

Now I know that’s wrong and that’s something I think I’m going to carry with me forever. Just that knowledge that I can be defeated and that someone can finally tell me what I can’t do. I spent 31 years proving those people wrong and being proud of the fact that I never let anyone else define my path, and for the first time they won.

I can do this, but I can't cross off the last line on my bucket list. Photo Credit: Trae Patton/NBC
I can do this, but I can’t cross off the last line on my bucket list. Photo Credit: Trae Patton/NBC

It’s also hard not to take this as a reflection on myself. I’m well aware that this isn’t personal and everyone involved keeps telling me how much they appreciate me regardless. But in a similar vein, I always have thought that when I’ve spent so much time going above and beyond, constantly giving of myself for everybody else, to the point where I’ve put my reputation on the line, that somebody else would go out on that limb with me. That somebody would take a chance on me when the tables were turned. When you have a moment like this, it’s hard not to think I keep giving everything but is it all for nothing?

Because trust me, I don’t work seven days a week, fourteen hours a day, while literally gasping for air because I can’t clear my lungs properly because I think it’s fun. I go to bed exhausted almost every night and I have given up a lot of other opportunities to make sure that I’m there when other people need me, because I believe I’m fighting the good fight. I believe that I’m helping people, and that my effort matters to those people. Today my faith is more than a little shaken.

I did learn one other thing in all this, and that’s the fact that I have an amazing friend in my life. I had to break the news to him that this wasn’t going to happen and when he found out, he actually called me to find out what was going on and to try and console me. To hear him on the other end of that phone, and to have him telling me that he gets what I’m going through and that he was disappointed in all this with me, is the one thing that I’ve been holding onto ever since. If nothing else I can walk away from this heartbreak knowing that one of the people I admire most in the world is also a true friend of mine who cares about me enough to reach out when I needed it. We’ll never get a chance to be equals, but it reaffirmed to me that he has my back, and I’ll always have his.

That’s the difficult part in front of me now. I know my dream is dead. Part of me wants to just cry in a corner and say fuck it all. I feel like I let him down, like I let myself down because I was feeling like I’d found a new family and I was going to be one of them and now I’m questioning if I actually fit in. And I’m apprehensive about putting myself back out there and continuing to bust my ass if this is what it comes to. I don’t want to ever feel like this again.

But I have no choice but to get back up and keep giving more of my heart and soul. Because as much as I question my value, my friend still needs my support and I do genuinely believe in what’s happening even if I’m left standing on the outside of it. I know he needs me and I still want to be by his side even if it’s not in the way I wanted it. Something else I’ve always held true is that I am loyal to the end, and so even though this is the end of my dream I’ll swallow my hurt and go back to work, giving up the one thing I so desperately wanted so that I can enable other people to succeed.

I’ll do it with the knowledge that I won’t get to be the one to stand in the sun, instead of lifting everyone else up. I’ll do it just a little more guarded. A little less likely to take that next chance. Because now I know I’ve found my never, and I’m never going to unlearn that.

Choose Your Weapons Carefully

I’ve been seeing red for the past week. Literally. I discovered a few days ago that my entire upper body had broken out in a massive rash, because I’m apparently allergic to the codeine that was in the cough syrup prescribed to me for the sinus infection that still won’t die. But that wasn’t the only thing that got under my skin.

I was offered an opportunity recently to pitch a script idea. This could be a huge step forward for me in terms of giving me a screenwriting career. I came up with an idea that I liked only to discover I was the only one who liked it because it didn’t check off the right buzzwords. It had a strong lead character and a positive message, but that didn’t matter because it wouldn’t sell. At first I got legitimately angry about this and then I realized that there was no point because if I changed anything, I’d be doing it for the wrong reasons. I would rather die with something I’m proud of than live on something I can’t stand behind. And that’s how I live my whole life.

This week was the Television Critics Association press tour, so I took my anger and my allergic reaction and my sinus infection up to Pasadena to support my friends on Chicago Justice. Philip Winchester and I have known each other for the last six years and that’s the perfect example of what I’m talking about. This will be the third show on which we’ve worked together, and the last two never really got their due respect. I took so much crap for championing The Player, to the point where I almost punched somebody a few months ago because she decided to be negative about it to my face.

But it never mattered to me that the show wasn’t successful. What mattered to me was the joy I got out of working on it with a very talented cast and crew. Philip is honestly the best actor I’ve ever seen before I met him, and I sometimes can’t believe that we’re friends. Sometimes I just stand there dumbfounded like I did on Wednesday looking at him and realizing he was noticing me. The executive vice president of NBC told him I was there, and then told me that Philip was so happy to hear it. That’s not counting the high-five he gave me when I told him about the launch of One Chicago Center or the hug we shared after. This man is amazing, inside and out, and there is nothing I wouldn’t do to help him. That’s what I hold onto, not whether we win or lose.

I’m already excited for Chicago Justice because I can see the potential in it. Not just Philip, or my other friends Monica Barbaro and Joelle Carter, or holy crap Carl Weathers and Jon Seda are in this. But I sat across a table from the show’s executive producer Michael Chernuchin and we just started talking. Talking about how he wants to tell stories that affect people and how far the medium has come since Law & Order launched in 1990. That’s the kind of stuff I’m passionate about. I want to do something that challenges people, that affects and inspires them, and I believe that Justice can do that. So I’m already along for the ride.

After I went through that, after I talked to Michael and laughed with Philip and got hugged by Monica, I realized I really don’t mind what happens next. If I’m able to come up with an idea that works and get a movie made and my next blog is telling you all about it, that’s great and I’ll be grateful. But not if I have to change what I believe in to do it. If this still winds up being me writing pages in the middle of the night and cheering for Philip from the sidelines, I’m okay with that too because at least then I’ve stayed true to myself. I’m here to change the world, not to change myself. Love has always been my only weapon, and I’m not putting it down any time soon.

Storming Into 2017, And For Once I Won’t Apologize

I’m taking a cue from the fabulous Patti Murin and trying to blog at least once a month this year. Which is probably a good thing, because 2017 and I have already thrown down.

On New Year’s I decided to chop off most of my hair and donate it to cancer patients. I was getting tired of looking exactly the same as I did in my high school yearbook photos and also, charity.

The next day I started on the biggest project of my career. One Chicago Center is a FanSided site devoted exclusively to Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D., Chicago Med and Chicago Justice. I have the keys to the kingdom. After spending months last year trying to convince the FanSided higher-ups to make this site happen. I was dropping hints and pleading and arguing. I think the only thing I didn’t do was make them cookies. But they finally said yes and now this is easily the biggest thing I’ve ever done. I’m responsible for every aspect of this site, by myself. 24/7/365.

More importantly this is my platform to help some amazing people. The reason I do anything is to make a difference and I wanted this site to get the backs of the many wonderful folks from the Chicago shows I have met and fallen in love with. Except Jeff Hephner, because Jeff knows I already adore him as one of my best friends. And Philip Winchester, who is my other best friend and equally worthy of adoration. But there’s Joe and Colleen Chappelle and their whole family, and Randy Flagler and Tony Ferraris on Fire, and Monica Barbaro who’s working with Philip on Justice. And not to keep name-dropping Patti but I so admire her and her strength, and she’s married to Colin Donnell, who I’m pretty sure is basically a unicorn with all the things he can do and who has graciously put up with me while I’ve squealed in his direction..

These are great people aside from being amazing talents, and I’ve made it my mission to make sure they get the support and attention they deserve. That’s what I do. I help people.

One Chicago Center is a huge weight on my back. I now write for four different FanSided sites (FanSided.com, Hidden Remote, Local POV and 1CC) as well as TV Fanatic, AXS.com and Pure Fandom. That’s a lot of articles. No one in the entire FanSided company writes for more than three sites. And I’ve had some of my friends tell me that they didn’t think I could do it. So you know what I did?

I wrote 70 articles this week. In 4 days since we got Monday off as a holiday. That’s 13.5 articles per day. Suck it, skepticism.

And you know what? I feel good; well, not totally good since I’m now into my third month with bronchitis and a sinus infection and on three different prescription drugs, but I’m not exhausted. My hands aren’t falling off. In fact I’m ready to keep writing. I don’t know what’s gotten into me (maybe it’s the codeine) but rawr.

Photo Credit: Steve Wilkie/SyFy
I love this photo. I call it my action hero shot. Thanks to Steve Wilkie from SyFy for making me look so badass.

So I’ve decided I’m just going to run at things this year. You may know I spent most of 2016 writing a half-hour sitcom project for Jeff, because I am that kind of person. I write 36 half-hour scripts just to entertain my friends. Anyway, that went really well and I kind of cried at the end of it, so for 2017 I’ve decided that I’m going to do it again. There is an hour-long TV show I created when I was 15 and have wanted to revisit for years because I love the idea even if I really sucked at it, and so I’m going to rework it and start it from scratch. If you need me I will be buried under books about the FBI and NYPD and probably texting Jeff to see if he wants to play a role in this show too.

What 2016 did was remind me how much I love screenwriting. Like, love it. It’s the thing that I was probably put on this earth to do. I had the most amazing time putting together those 36 episodes and making myself laugh at jokes and writing parts for my friends and then texting them to see if they’d actually say that weird thing I just made them say. So I’ve had this idea I’ve always wanted to do, and I’m going to go and do it, even if it’s twice as long and five times more complicated because clearly I’ve proven I still know how to finish a script.

This is going to be that kind of year. I’m going to take on every challenge and see what happens. I probably won’t get to 36 hour-long episodes by December but I’m going to at least get a few. I may not write 70 posts every week but I’m going to do a lot.

Most importantly I’ve decided to stop apologizing. One thing I’ve learned from spending time with and around the likes of Patti, Colin, Jeff and everyone else I met last year is that I’m pretty awesome. I’ve accomplished a lot and I’ve found people who actually want to spend time with me. People who I think are way too cool for me. So if they obviously like me the least I can do is like me and stop apologizing for stupid little things that don’t matter.

I’m doing stuff I was never supposed to do. Like breathing. And breaking writing records. And having Adam Levine sing part of “Misery” to me on New Year’s Eve. So screw it, I’m just going to run at all this already.

And if this is what the first couple of days hold for me, I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year has in store.