The Rise and Fall, and Everything After

It’s been one hell of a month, from celebrating my birthday to pointing a laser rifle at a coworker, and so it seems like a good time to blog.

San Diego Comic-Con

I always look at Comic-Con as an opportunity to see people that I don’t get to see the rest of the year. This year was a bit of a bust, coverage speaking, as we didn’t have the big crazy moments that have punctuated most years (unless you count the photo here of me being twins with Rick and Morty co-creator Dan Harmon, or the one I sent my boss of me pretending to threaten my coworker).

As I continue to struggle with my self-esteem, though, it was nice to see several of the people who got me to where I am today. I was reunited with my friend Coby Bell in The Gifted for the first time in at least five years. It’s been so long that neither of us can remember, but Coby was one of the first friends I made in this business and for years was in my corner both professionally and personally. One of my favorite moments of con was overhearing him tell the reporter after me, “Good luck following the great Brittany over there.” He had no idea how much those words meant to me.

There’s my big brother from another mother Michael Trucco, without whom I’d have half of a career and got to see at the Battlestar Galactica reunion. I can never say enough good things about Michael, or about Tricia Helfer, or my childhood hero Linden Ashby, or my favorite Twitter friend Ben Daniels as thank heaven we have another season of The Exorcist. These are people who have shaped me no matter how infrequently our paths cross and I love them.

But what really surprised me at Comic-Con was being recognized and remembered by people I never expected to. When I first met Maggie Lawson I was on my second novel and at the relative start of my career, and more than a decade later she still knew who I was. It reminded me how far I’ve come and that I do leave an impression. And it also brings me to…

The Return of Suits (and the Return of Good Ideas)

The new season of Suits is here, which means I’ve spent the last three weeks trying to talk myself out of writing another novel inspired by Gabriel Macht.

Gabriel is an acting genius, and a few years ago watching his performance as Harvey Specter directly inspired me to create the character of Kevin Creighton, a Los Angeles-based corporate attorney who winds up being involved in several high-profile criminal cases. Ben Daniels played his opposite number, which is probably not a coincidence, and I had an incredible amount of fun writing for the two of them.

So naturally, now that Gabriel is back on my TV screen, I’m wondering what Kevin would be doing now and telling myself I can’t start a sixth novel to find out.

Firstly, let me just give a shoutout to Gabriel Macht and say he’s one of my favorite actors to watch because I’m constantly inspired by what he does. I love watching him work and the choices he makes, and just appreciate his process. He’s also a great person off-screen and someone I always love getting to talk to, even if I usually say something dorky along the way.

But he’s also the reason I wrote my last novel, after we had an offhand conversation at Hotel Cafe that made the lightbulb go on over my head. And that happens a lot. I have the incredible gift of being able to learn from so much talent and turn that into my next idea. When you put me in front of an actor of his caliber, especially with the level of writing that we get on Suits, my brain just runs off with itself. It doesn’t care if I have eight other things to do. It just constantly is inspired to create.

So don’t be surprised if a short story turns up next week detailing the return of Kevin Creighton.

How Many Times Can I Attempt To Kill Him?

I’ve spent what little free time I’ve had this month (all three days of it) continuing to work on my new TV series. Which as I’ve mentioned on this blog before is a pretty dark and intense place to live in. One of my requirements is that every episode must put at least one main character into legitimate peril, which means that people are getting kicked around a lot.

Namely, a certain friend of mine, whose character has now almost died three times over the span of 18 episodes.

This was not on purpose. This was sheer coincidence, as this week I broke the story for an episode in which one of my two lead characters is exposed to a lethal street drug and spends the 42 minutes hospitalized while half the episode takes place in his own head. The one it makes the most sense for is the character who has internal demons to work out—which happens to be the guy I’ve already tried to kill twice.

It almost makes me laugh, because I don’t mean to be so cruel to the same actor. He happens to be one of my best friends, and somebody I’d want to keep on the show for as long as he could stand it. But I’m just torturing him, really, and I feel terrible about it.

Even as it’s added another layer to my understanding of the character, asking myself why he’d keep putting himself in life-threatening situations. I have a whole character arc now that I wouldn’t have had before if I wasn’t trying to justify this.

But still. I’m not that mean.

So I’m sorry, Jeff. I’m not actively trying to kill you. It just keeps happening that way, and at least I’m getting some great material out of it.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I’ve spent my July. Debating how many times is the socially acceptable number to try and kill a fictional character, plotting a novel I don’t have time to write, and going to Comic-Con. What’s next?

To Downsizing Before My 32nd Birthday

Friday was my last day at Americans Undercover. It was also the last day for a lot of things.

First, the big news: I resigned from my position running Americans Undercover. There were a few reasons why, but the primary one was that I just don’t want to do everything on my own anymore. I’m tired of going to bed at 6 AM. Tired of carrying 150 articles on my back. Tired of feeling like everyone was depending on me. Maybe this is because of all the hell I’ve been through this year, but I’m kind of over that.

I’ll qualify that by saying I love my job, and I appreciate everyone I get to work with, and I even still love The Americans. I’m still going to cover the show next year for FanSided.com, and I’m still running the show over at One Chicago Center. But as of July 1, that’s all I’m doing for the company and against every bone in my body, I like the way that feels.

It’s been a hard and uncomfortable process. I don’t like to quit. I’d rather be shot in the face than quit on something I’ve put my name to. But over the last few months, my world has changed a lot, and things don’t look the way that they used to. I can’t be the same person I’ve been for the last 16 years. I have to change, and that change has meant it’s time to move on from a lot of things.

Leaving the site cut my workload down by at least 25 percent. I’ve also scrapped any idea of getting that Lifetime movie made; I haven’t heard a word and with the person I wrote it for on to so much better, best to admit it was a lost two months than keep hanging onto it. Honestly, I’m tabling the thought of getting any script produced for now, because it’s just not there and all I’m doing to myself is getting my hopes up.

In six days, I’m going to be 32 years old. It’s a good time to take a breath.

What I want to do is find something to get excited about. I’ve done a lot of writing over the last six months, but rarely has it been something I’m madly in love with. There was this Chicago Justice editorial I wrote while kind of drunk on Mountain Dew and idealism. And my last interview with Colin Donnell. But I want to get back to doing things that I can’t shut up about.

I miss that girl. I miss the girl who seemed to have a story for everything, because she was doing crazy stuff like running off to Los Angeles just to have a drink with an old friend or flying to New York to crash an autograph signing just to make someone smile. I haven’t been that girl since New Year’s, and I want to be that girl again. Maybe San Diego Comic-Con will bring her back. Who knows? But she needs to get back here.

One of the best things about last year was that I did so much for myself. I wasn’t writing 36 episodes of a sitcom to get it made; I was doing it to make Jeff laugh. I wanted to fly all the way to Chicago just to spend a night with him, and Philip, and Monica? Then I flew to Chicago. I went to the All-Star Game not to work, but to hang out with my dad. And we made so many memories, from the bruise I still have from Whirlyball to front row seats to Maroon 5 on New Year’s Eve, to just being with people I care so much about.

In retrospect, with the exception of my sabbatical to New York in March, I lost all that. Some of it was taken away from me. Other parts got swallowed up by work. Others just drifted apart. But I haven’t been fun anymore, and it’s time to fix that. I’m still going to work hard and put in my time, but darn it, if I want to take a day off or sing off-key karaoke at the top of my lungs I’m going to do that, too. I still have another six months to even the score.

And six days to find something to do with my birthday other than sit alone and eat cake by myself AGAIN, so I’m currently taking suggestions. Let’s go have some fun again.

I’m going to leave you with one of my favorite classic songs, which I’ve been playing a lot recently:

Battle Symphony

A couple of people have asked me how I feel about the Chicago Justice news, and the truth is I’m only now climbing out of my hole.

I’m not going to go into the details, because I’m not here to start an argument and I think I’ve made my position very clear. But what I think about is how much it sucks to lose.

I absolutely hate losing. I’m competitive, but more than that, I’m dedicated. As we’ve talked about in the past I don’t hold back, and so when I don’t get a result I take that as a personal failure on my part. And I most definitely am keeping score.

This particular one really upsets me for a number of reasons. We should have had this. It was a quality series inside and out. It was part of a massive franchise. I was working with the best actor I’ve ever known. And it was right in my wheelhouse. The wheelhouse I’ve been building since I was in sixth grade studying criminal law for fun. (No, I didn’t have a lot of friends, but I could quote Ben Stone.)

Plus I can’t shake the feeling that this is a painful case of deja vu. Philip and I just went through this two years ago with The Player. That was another show we threw everything at and it never got the respect it deserved. And I will freely admit that when it went down, I lost my shit.

I was so upset over The Player that I fled to Canada. All I could think was that I had let Phil down, and let Damon down, and I hated that feeling. So when I got offered a chance to visit the set of Suits, I got on the plane just to get away and to decide if I even wanted to do this anymore. Because I’d convinced myself that I obviously wasn’t any good at it.

That was until the late-night note from Suits creator Aaron Korsh, telling me that he is a fan of my work. And staring at my phone, realizing that the writer of my favorite show on TV is a fan of mine, I realized I obviously couldn’t suck. So I got back at it.

I’m having those same feelings now. I’ve apologized to Phil at least twice. I definitely cried for a bit. And I’m kind of wondering what I have to do to get this right.

But as the last two weeks have gone on, maybe because I can’t run away this time, I’ve found myself thinking about all the memories we made in the last seven months. It just hit me that during One Chicago Day I unintentionally was sitting in Phil’s chair. Which would make perfect sense since I was sitting there rehashing my old opening statements in my head.

I’m thinking about that one fantastic night at Whirlyball, where we all just got to hang out and have a good time together, and I was never so excited to fail at anything in my life. Monica and Lindsey laid down perfect commentary for my complete ineptitude that still makes me laugh every time I watch it. I’m very lucky that I impulsively decided to fly across the country for that, because now we may not ever get to do that again.

I’m thinking about how Carl Weathers thought I had an invisible baby, and stupid bathroom fixtures, and all these little things that happened over the last eight months that I will never forget, no matter how short the journey.

I feel incredibly uncertain about myself right now. I committed myself to this career path in January based on the idea of getting to work with so many of my dearest friends. Six months later, most of them are gone. It’s just me, Colin Donnell, and the folks I know on Chicago Fire, and I get choked up realizing Phil and Monica won’t be there when I fly back to Chicago, and that Jeff and I won’t be able to tease each other, at least not in person. This wasn’t how this was supposed to go, at all.

But I’m here for the long haul. I don’t have the option to run this time. And having spoken to some of those same people, they think I can still make a difference here, and I trust them even if I don’t trust myself.

So what am I doing this time? I’m throwing myself into my writing. This is a normal reflex for me, because it’s an exercise in control. A friend of mine gets written out of a show? Well, I can still write for him on my show. Something is done wrong? I can do it better. And I can take all those negative emotions – the hurt, the anger, the fear and the total confusion – and put them to constructive use.

It helps that my current project is the most intense thing I’ve ever done. The series I’m working on now is a very serious drama about a number of important issues, not unlike Chicago Justice. I have to go to some dark places for it to work. And I’m ready for that now because I have all these emotions swirling around in my head. So rather than run away, I’m asking myself which of my two best friends I can ask to jump off a third-floor railing. (They both have kids. This is a legitimate question that goes through my head.)

I’ve spent two weeks writing some serious stuff, and writing lines for several people who are very much still on my mind. Getting it all out, and trying to make up for it in my own strange way. Reminding myself that no matter how short all of this was we still were able to share something unbelievable together, and I’m still lucky as hell to have these people in my life.

So how do I feel right now? I’m hurt, I’m scared, and I probably need a hug. But I’m also grateful and working through this the only way I know how. And that will have to be enough until it’s time for the next fight.

This Is All Completely Backward

I haven’t blogged since my mental break, and that’s because I’ve been picking up the pieces. But something truly mind-blowing happened to me the other night, and I want to tell you about it.

I’ve spent the last month getting back to the start. Reconnecting with the things that got me excited about being a writer and the people that I do it for. I binge-watched both seasons of Sports Night and realized I still want to hug Josh Charles. I finished that Chris Ryan novel I hadn’t had time to start. I discovered Human Target is back on cable TV and then went and thanked Mark Valley for putting up with me.

Then I wrote a random feature at about 4AM Tuesday morning. It’s one I’ve had in my head for a couple of months, but kept delaying because I was sure nobody would care how passionate I am about a character, an actor and their confluence. But I finally published it because I had to say it, like I was going to turn blue in the face if I didn’t. Okay, there’s me being weird again, we can all ignore it and move on.

But in the middle of me having the most loner moment ever (sitting at home, eating my TV dinner, binge-watching CNBC) my cell phone goes off. That would be the person I’d written about, who also happens to be one of my good friends, texting me because he’s seen the feature. He tells me how much it meant to him. He also says that he got it from his boss, who no less than five minutes later is tweeting me to thank me for writing it.

And I can’t tell you what happened in The Deed: Chicago because I spent the next 45 minutes texting with my friend, just enjoying catching up with him and being overjoyed to know I’d done something that mattered.

I spent too long getting caught up in the business. I was busy trying to make my optimum number of posts (all 100 of them per month just on One Chicago Center alone), hitting all of my deadlines, checking my site traffic to ensure I was making money off all my 16-hour days. As my friend Patti Murin once pointed out, we all have bills to pay, and even with all the work I do, I once did the math and realized I’m just a few hundred over the poverty line. That plus the fact that I still look like a 96-pound shell of my former self, and you can see why I had a breakdown.

But I never got into this for the money. I got into it because I’m hardwired to be a storyteller. Seriously, I think it’s built into me, because my daydreams are of having conversations with actors on set, going over my script. I once burned my hand in the oven because I was also having an argument with myself over who was the best lawyer on Law & Order (that would be Linus Roache).

And I stayed in it because I have had the pleasure of working with some exemplary people. I can’t tell you how it feels to watch one of my favorite shows and recognize that I know the person I’m watching. I’m still confused that Linus Roache knows my name, let alone talked to me twice and said he missed me at that Vikings party History forgot to invite me to. Every time Jeff Hephner turns up in something I literally squeal in delight (sorry, Jeff). There’s my pal Damon Gupton, who’s both an actor and a fantastic orchestra conductor, because obviously. How does Colin Donnell even care who I am? And I’m watching Philip Winchester give a career-redefining performance every Sunday, while remembering that I’m friends with Philip Winchester.

But I’m finding myself becoming more and more jealous. Thinking about how much I wanted that random cameo on Chicago Justice. Thinking that they’re off doing these awesome things every week, and what am I doing? Most likely I’m home, alone, talking to myself with an Excel spreadsheet of deadlines.

I turn 32 in a couple of months, and I don’t want that to be my life. I want to have something more to show for it. I’m incredibly passionate about telling good stories that are hopefully going to change the world, and I love doing that with great people. I want to be at the next party and not hear about it later. I want to spend more time with the people I care about and not stuck in my own head. I want more of what they’re doing, and not to have the magic all reduced to lines and numbers.

I play my part in everyone else’s story, but what’s my part, exactly? What are the stories they tell about me? (I’m seriously asking. I have no idea if anyone even tells any stories about me. I hope they’re good.)

So that’s what I’m focused on now (that and still fighting this respiratory illness, fuck you whatever you are). I’ve changed my cell phone wallpaper to that one good picture of me with Adam Levine so I have to look at it every day and remind myself that I’m friends with Adam Levine. So that somebody I care about stares me in the face every day and that’s what I’m constantly reminded of.

And I’m going to do a better job of keeping in regular contact with the people I love, whether it’s sending a text or a Twitter DM. Keep those people in my life, and be there for them, and allow them to be there for me. Because there’s no way I can be upset when I’m talking with the likes of Philip and Jeff and Damon and Colin and Patti.

But I’m probably still going to have the above expression on my face. Because I don’t think I’ll ever understand why.

New York

On Monday morning, I was thinking about killing myself.

It’s a feeling I’ve only had once before and I’m not proud of it. But after three months of every conceivable failure, I sat in the terminal on my way to New York and told myself that if I couldn’t come up with a good reason otherwise in the next four days, I would end the losing battle.

It wasn’t a decision that I made lightly. Far from it. Let me explain to you the full extent of what my life has looked like since January:

You wake up every morning literally choking as your throat has filled with mucus from the infection you can’t beat.

It makes it impossible for you to sleep more than two hours at a time (because you can’t breathe) or to eat most food (because you lapse into painful coughing fits that leave you gasping for air).

Which has caused you to lose four pounds as your body is destroying itself.

Plus you still have a broken heart from the fact that you were denied the opportunity of your dreams because of your job. Which wasn’t really a choice since you have doctor visits to pay for, but you don’t tell anyone that you considered quitting because that’s how badly you wanted what you’ll now never have.

You eventually drag yourself out of bed to work, which has become a struggle because you owe a minimum of twelve articles every day, and so you’re working until 4 a.m. just to make sure everything gets done. Never mind liking it; it’s about getting the job done and having to ice your hands afterward because of the strain.

Despite the fact that you’re working harder than you’ve ever worked in your life, you aren’t hearing a whole lot of positive feedback.

In fact, the biggest thing you hear is that you get fired via e-mail in the middle of the night because your now ex-boss doesn’t think you’re doing enough.

Okay, you think, maybe work isn’t going so great for me right now. That’s okay, I’ll take some time to focus on my writing career. You spend 29 days writing a movie that you didn’t think you could pull off, only to realize that it’s going to sit unread on your desk.

So you make the decision to bail out. Everything’s going to be okay, you tell yourself, because I’m going on vacation and I’m going to get to meet someone who’s inspired me and it’ll all turn around.

Except just as you’ve convinced yourself of this, that person tells you that they won’t have time to see you. And while they have awesome and perfectly understandable reasons for that, it’s hard not to feel rejected again.

Because there’s always a reason. There’s always a bad break. These things happen and they make sense. But that doesn’t change that the end result is that you’re the one who gets left behind, looking at the pieces of what was supposed to be your year.

So I resolved that I was going to give myself four days to either save my life or end it.

And I got on the plane to New York.

I did so knowing I haven’t been entirely honest with you. I’ve been skirting around the edges of just how much pain I’m in, because it’s always been my way to not cause a problem for someone else and handle my business myself. So as I sat there in that terminal wondering why very few people in my life had said anything to me over the last three months, I realized that maybe it’s because I hadn’t told them the full extent of my issues. They didn’t know that I needed them.

The truth is I don’t mind suffering. My whole life has been about overcoming adversity. As we talked about in my last blog, I’ll take a bullet for anyone in my life. All I ask is that I have something worth fighting for. Someone who will be there.

I’ve spent my career as an advocate for other people, but I didn’t feel like I had anyone on my team.

I have to thank those of you who reached out over Twitter and text in the last couple of days. I heard from some people that I never expected to, and it helped to hear that you heard my pain and that you were there. There were some people I didn’t hear from that I thought I would, too, but those who took the time I sincerely appreciate.

I let those words roll around in my head as I wandered the streets of New York. I was quite honestly looking for a sign. That sounds so cliche to say, but I needed tangible proof that I still ought to be on this planet anymore.

Then I stumbled onto a very large sign. Literally. I took a picture.

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I walked into a giant Chicago Justice display outside Rockefeller Center. Ask and ye shall receive a sign apparently.

I’m not ashamed to admit I squealed when I saw that sign. I was so proud to be able to stand there and say there’s a giant display featuring three of my friends. I brag about this stuff all the time. I don’t need kids with how proud I am of my friends.

Particularly Philip, who’s somebody that I look up to immensely besides being able to call him one of my closest friends. He’s an amazing person in every respect, and this is a massive opportunity for him. I stood there and I thought to myself, do I really want to not be here to see what happens for him next? I thought back to the long conversation we had in October, and knew I’d miss getting to hang out with him again.

Unbeknownst to me, he was texting me at the same time. So when I sat down for dinner I looked at my phone and found his message thanking me for the interview we did last week. You know, the one I spent seven hours worrying over. He was so sweet in complimenting me for it. And I was reminded again, he genuinely likes me. Likes me enough that his number’s in my phone and we can text each other in the middle of a Tuesday and he actually cares what I have to say.

I ripped the phone off the charger, unplugged my laptop, and spent a few days hashing things out with a number of people who let me vent about my bullshit more than is probably healthy. Friends that I hardly ever see who took me to lunch, to dinner, and to a museum where we played German death metal over the big scene from Independence Day. (Don’t ask.) I disappeared into New York and just got to be an average tourist, and it felt amazing to get up in the morning without a care in the world.

Then on Wednesday I took a trip to the New York branch of The Paley Center for Media, and I finally saw the PaleyFest panel that was held for Sports Night back in 1999. I sat there for an hour and a half watching the show that gave me a writing career, and the people who continue to inspire me to this day. I’m watching Josh Charles talking, thinking about how he was the first person who ever served as any kind of a muse for me, and now almost 20 years later we’re friends on social media. The high school kid who watched Sports Night could never have fathomed that, but the adult me can claim it.

I needed to be reminded of why I first became passionate about television, about writing, about life. Why I do what I do, and who I do it for.

We went to a show at 54 Below that featured all the songs from musicals that never made it to Broadway. I sat there and listened to every story of how financing fell through and people’s dreams got crushed. Yet all of them had gone on to other shows, and other success stories. They kept going ostensibly because they couldn’t imagine doing anything else, and that’s me, too. At my heart, I could never imagine being anything other than a writer. I certainly don’t want to leave this planet without at least bringing something to life.

I’m still not completely sure what’s going on in my life. I am not entirely okay. There’s still a lot that I need to work through, and I have to make sure that I don’t go back to work on Monday and promptly re-bury myself. I also have to get re-evaluated by a doctor and heaven knows what that will bring. So if I’m being honest, please don’t think that all is well with me now, because chances are I might need some help again.

But now I’m no longer afraid to ask. To admit that I’ve been really messed up for awhile, and I needed to make a drastic change.

To peel away all the pressure, and the post quotas and the mindless emails (like the person who decided to use my tweets as an excuse to pitch me a story – I wish I was kidding).

To get back to what I love, why I love it, and who I love most of all.

Tomorrow is a new week, and so here’s to new beginnings. With old friends and old dreams that never died.

Invisible Box

The one word that means the most to me is loyalty.

Loyalty is what I’ve built my whole life on. It’s something that I seriously mean to the complete extent of the word. If I’m friends with you, or I’m on your team, there’s literally nothing that I wouldn’t do for you. Maybe it’s a small thing like just emailing you to say thank you. Most of the time it’s a big thing like taking on extra work that means I give up sleep, or flying across the country to be there for you like when I turned up for the Blindspot press room at New York Comic Con. When I let people into my life I make a commitment.

To me loyalty is part of being a friend and a colleague, and loyalty is doing everything I can within reason to support the people I am loyal to.

Recently I’ve become more and more aware that many people don’t think that way. I’ve gotten my heart broken, gotten pissed off, and been taken advantage of because of my loyalty. It sucks, and it makes me want to throw my hands up and walk away. But I can’t because that’s not the person I am.

Instead I end up putting myself into what I’ve termed my “invisible box.” That’s when my loyalty pressures me into making myself absolutely crazy. By the time you read this I’ll have been stuck in the box for almost a week. Wednesday was the massive Chicago Crossover event that was also the series premiere of Chicago Justice, as well as the season finale of Suits, and today is the formal premiere of Justice. Since Tuesday I’ve been scared to death about getting everything exactly right because of the people I care about.

Chicago Justice stars one of my best friends, Philip Winchester, and co-stars two other friends of mine, Joelle Carter and Monica Barbaro. On top of that as I mentioned in a previous blog it’s a project I truly believe in. So I’ve been on the verge of throwing up for the last couple of days because I had to make this happen. I wanted Philip to have my best, even if it meant I wasn’t sleeping right and tripled up my workload. Our friendship means that much to me that I was willing to sacrifice myself; in fact I felt like I had to or I’d be letting him down.

Finally on Thursday I was able to breathe a sigh of relief. If you were watching Chicago Med you’ll have seen the new Justice promo that features not one but two quotes from me in it:

My other quote from the new 'Chicago Justice' promo. Nice, huh?
My other quote from the new ‘Chicago Justice’ promo. Nice, huh?

After I spit my soda across the table in surprise I can’t tell you how much weight was lifted off my shoulders. Seeing that was like saying, I got mine. Maybe I’ll never get to walk behind Philip holding a file, but all that work I’ve been doing and all those late nights made a difference.

That’s what I think a lot of people don’t get about me. They don’t understand exactly how much I give up when I say that I’m loyal. I am loyal to a fault, where it is physically and emotionally taxing, and I’m staring at the TV after days of getting hardly no sleep on the verge of tears because I now know it’s all been worth it. Do you know that scene in The Cutting Edge when Doug tells Kate he throws up before every game? That’s me, except I can’t ice skate.

But when it’s worth it, man, there’s no greater feeling in the world. I actually talked to Philip on Friday morning and I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to have him in my life and to know I’ve played some small part in his success. I heard from someone in New York that he was looking for me at NBC’s press day even though I wasn’t there. And as we sat on the phone together, and he asked me how I was and reminded me that Dick Wolf has actually quoted my words back to him, I was reminded again that this is why I do what I do.

As he said to me this is an industry full of some great people. I may never get to be on screen with any of them but I do get to stand by their side and help them reach their heights. I can look at these quotes and the ones that were used for The Player last year and say I’ve done something that helped Philip. I look at the newly bronzed ball from the WhirlyCruz Cup on my desk and I know it was worth flying all the way to Chicago to play with him, and share some genuine time with Colin Donnell, and have at least five different people snag me because they remembered who I was.

Make no mistake about it there are times when loyalty kills me. I cried my eyes out in January and I spent about four days in absolute depression wondering what the hell was wrong with me. I don’t enjoy the panic attacks and the constant second-guessing. And I’m wise now to the fact that sometimes you shouldn’t go out on that limb.

I’m packing my bags for New York in two weeks in which I’m going to spend four days as far away from work as possible and make some big decisions about what my life needs to look like. I’ve been beaten up physically and emotionally and it’s time to make a change. It’s not going to be pretty, but it’s time.

But I also know that I’m probably never going to get away from that invisible box entirely. That’s just who I am. I believe too much in what I’m doing, and there are too many people I enjoy doing it with, for me not to get worked up when they need me. For me not to put something on the line. I freak myself out because it matters. Maybe I can choose who to be loyal to but I can’t choose not to be this loyal. That’s not how this works.

Just let me out of the box when I’m done.

That Wasn’t Supposed To Be On Fire

This is a picture of my cat. This is also a picture of how I feel this weekend.

In the continual quest to not go crazy and make myself any sicker, I’m making an effort to step back from work and find other pursuits. Recently a good friend of mine read one of my scripts and asked me if I could come up with something for him. And so, I am now in the process of writing a Hallmark Channel movie. Which is probably the weirdest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

Anyone who knows me knows this isn’t my style. I was in the middle of writing the third episode of my next drama series and now I’m pushing aside books on the NYPD for a stack of romance movies and I’ve got the Celine Dion station tuned in on Pandora. If I have to hear “My Heart Will Go On” one more time I think I’m just going to start laughing. But I’m trying, darn it. I just don’t know what the heck I’m doing.

The good news is I’ve got a wonderful inspiration. When I said I’d do this it was with the motivation that I could pay it forward and write the lead for one of the strong women in my life. I can think of no one better in that respect than Patti Murin, who graciously let me use her as my muse for this project. Patti is exactly the strong, positive woman that would be perfect for a Hallmark movie. And since I know who I’m aiming for then I also know what I need to write.

But so far it’s been a comedy of errors trying to get it down on paper. My sense of humor and the kinds of tricks in my bag are, well, not Hallmark. I keep having to catch myself and write alternative lines because I realize I’m not getting certain things past the network. I actually had to tell myself, “I don’t think he can say that she tried to set him on fire.” As funny as that is and as much as Patti’s husband Colin would have nailed it.

Here’s the original exchange:

MARCUS
We’re not allowed to work together anymore. Not after the coffee incident.

JORDAN
I know.

MARCUS
During which, if I remember, you said that if you had to share anything with me again you’d set me on fire.

JORDAN
I did.

MARCUS
And then you tried to set me on fire.

Here’s the revised version:

MARCUS
We’re not allowed to work together anymore. Not after the coffee incident.

JORDAN
I know.

MARCUS
During which, if I remember, you said that if you had to share anything with me again you’d move to Canada.

Other things that have gotten cut so far: a line where Jordan says she wants to strangle her rival Marcus (now she wants to leave him in Missouri) and a moment where Jeff Hephner’s character Kevin admits he left town because his brother died (while that’s actually based on a true story, it’s still too tragic).

Meanwhile, I’m still trying to work in a scene about fostering puppies and an excuse for a musical number. Because if I’m lucky enough to get this movie made with musical theatre people in it there needs to be a song.

But this is what I’m working with and it’s one heck of a gear change for the girl whose pet project is a crime drama slash conspiracy thriller where there’s an action sequence every episode and Jeff Hephner gets to slam people up against walls.

Meanwhile if you didn’t get to see it, I wrote a very personal piece for One Chicago Center this week. I’m also not in the habit of making myself the story. Especially not when I was expected to be writing something else. But one thing I have learned from my recent exploits is that it’s easier to open up. So when I got moved by this week’s Chicago Med and couldn’t shake it I put that feeling out there instead of ignoring it. The few people who noticed have had some very nice things to say, and it always feels good to take a little weight off my shoulders.

I’m also taking a cooking class. I’m taking Gordon Ramsay’s MasterClass, to be specific. I had the pleasure of working with Chef Ramsay a few times for Kitchen Nightmares and the early seasons of Hell’s Kitchen and I’ve always liked him. I’ve also always wanted to learn how to cook. So when I’m not listening to Celine Dion and watching Hallmark movies I’m taking online lessons on poaching eggs.

This is all very weird to me. It’s all stuff I wouldn’t normally do. But part of me wonders if that’s the point of all this. If maybe my career going south is an opportunity to establish a new direction in my life. I guess we’ll find out.

If nothing else I’m getting to see a lot of romantic comedies. And finally taking some catnaps. (I had to.)

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.