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.

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.

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.