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.

+500 Points That Don’t Matter

It’s been another long while since I’ve blogged, so I’m going to cover a variety of things this time around.

500

One Chicago Center hit its 500th post this week. That’s a big milestone, and it cramps my brain to realize I’ve accomplished it in less than five months. The site is already within the Top 100 of the entire FanSided network. I heard that and breathed a major sigh of relief, because most of you probably have no idea how much I’ve stressed over getting it to work.

I put my reputation on the line when I asked FanSided to launch the site in the first place. I’ve spent the last seven months (five plus the two I spent in development) with most of my life invested into the site. I do the majority of the work and I’ve given up quite a bit to do it. So to reach 500 is something I’m proud of.

Thanks to all of you who’ve been a part of that, and supported the site through everything. A particular shoutout to my TV doctor Jeff Hephner, who was the first person to get behind me on this, and who’s done more than his fair share of tweeting and retweeting, and reminding me that I am not a crazy person.

Thanks as well to my actor friends who graciously took time out of their days so I could interview them, to the network social media reps who supported my content and my bad jokes, and to the fans who keep clicking to make sure the lights stay on. I literally couldn’t do it without you. (I think my favorite compliment I’ve gotten was Colin Donnell telling me he’s enjoyed seeing my work grow into this. When one of your favorite actors tells you something like that, it makes all the sleepless nights worth it.)

Upfronts, Downbeats

Speaking of sleepless nights, let’s talk about the upfronts.

I hate the upfronts every year. They are the only point in the year during which I am driven actively to drink. Luckily for me, drinking consists of two venti frappucinos and three bottles of Mountain Dew, because otherwise I’d be on the floor. There’s just so much stress that I can’t take it.

For me it’s not just about whether or not a favorite show is renewed. I’m thinking about the people I know who are involved in said shows, and the hundreds of crew members, all of whom may or may not still be employed. And selfishly, I’m thinking about whether or not I’m going to see them again.

One of the cool things about working in television is that you form ongoing relationships with people. Every time a show is picked up for another season, that’s another year of press events that I get to see someone at, or another chance I can get them on the phone for an interview. It keeps them in my life. When that show goes away, I don’t know how long it may be until we cross paths again.

I was elated over the renewal of Chicago Med because it means I get to hopefully spend more time with Colin and Patti; I’ve really enjoyed becoming friends with them and being inspired by them. At the same time, Jeff got written out in the finale, so I’m really sad that he won’t be there if and when I come back to Chicago.

And I’m getting more and more upset over the lack of news on Chicago Justice. Everyone there has been so welcoming to me, and such a pleasure to work with, and I don’t want to think of them not being there. One of the best things about being involved in this franchise has been how much time Philip and I have gotten to spend together over the past year, and I don’t want to wonder when the next time we see each other is going to be. I’ve got a Whirlyball team to field again in December, and suddenly I could be going back there without him, or Monica, or Connor, or Lindsey, or Jeff. It’ll just be me and Colin standing next to each other while I get progressively drunker on Mountain Dew.

So I’m literally sitting up all night, writing every freaking column I can think of just to do one more thing to hopefully help, waiting for the second we all hear.

This is why I hate the upfronts.

Indy 500

While all this madness is going on, I’m also working non-stop at my second job as FanSided’s IndyCar beat reporter. The month of May is the biggest month in IndyCar, and by the time you read this I’ll be up watching qualifying for next weekend’s Indianapolis 500.

I had the honor of going to the 100th Indianapolis 500 last year and it nearly killed me. The race was great, but I had to walk six miles in triple-digit heat, got heatstroke, and then got stranded in Atlanta coming home. If you look very closely in the above photo of me with Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi (I’m near the rear wing of the car), you can already see how my skin has been unfathomably nuked by the sun.

Part of me feels strange not being there, considering it’s the biggest race in IndyCar and I’m supposed to be on top of all things IndyCar. But then I think about how I nearly wound up in an ER and I realize, probably best to watch this one from the couch.

Although I do find it cool that Marcus Lemonis, someone I think is awesome, has his company sponsoring my favorite car.

If you need me, I’ll be working on the 12 articles I owe today, while yelling something about Scott Dixon and trying not to lean too heavily on the Dew.

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.