LIVING IN THE MANIC

By Stephen Jay Schwartz

“Mania: excitement manifested by mental and physical hyperactivity, elevation of mood; excessive or unreasonable enthusiasm.”

Yep. Yeah, that’s where I’m at. I’m fuckin’ manic.

I never thought of myself as a “manic-depressive” person, but these past couple years have put my moods to the test. I saw huge “highs” with the publications of my first and second novels and all the goodies that came with that. This includes the friendships I’ve made with hundreds of authors and readers. But the “lows” were pretty tough. I struggled with foreclosure and ultimately lost the home my wife and I built together. I pounded my head against the wall in a day job that left me unfulfilled five days a week. Each day at the office brought a depression that dragged into my evenings and weekends, my only time to write or hang with the family. The only way I could finish my second novel, BEAT, was to give my employer a doctor’s note saying I had to take an immediate, two-week medical leave of absence in order to rest my heart. I spent those fourteen days writing twelve-hours a day in an effort to finish the book. When it was over I handed the book to my editor and went back to the day job, nursing my wrists for the first carpal tunnel I’d ever encountered. I think my boss was surprised that I didn’t look like a guy who spent two weeks on mandatory bed-rest.

2011 initiated the Big Change. With the short-sale of our home finalized, my family and I were able to set ourselves up in a stable little apartment in a beautiful area not far from the beach. One major stressor was removed from my life.

And just before that, near the end of 2010, I started interviewing for a screenwriting assignment for a big, 3D zombie movie. I read different drafts of the project and delivered notes on how I would approach a rewrite. The notes reverberated with the producers and director and I got the gig.

There was no way I’d be able to write a screenplay and a novel and keep a full-time day job. I had to evaluate what that job gave me—security and health insurance on the one hand, depression and heart palpitations on the other. It was time to give it up.

It was a strangely exhilarating feeling, walking into the same office I’d gone to every day for ten years and walking out a free man. It was very much like that moment in “Jerry Macguire,” when Tom Cruise was listening to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ singing “Free Falling” on his car stereo. “I’m freeeeeeee….free falling!”

Stressor number two was removed from the list.

I didn’t think it was possible to live a manic-depressive life without the depressive. But now that I’ve closed the file on the house and the day job…well, I’m feeling pretty good.

What I’ve learned is that I rather enjoy living in the manic. Okay, maybe we’re supposed to have a calm, balanced life. Someday I’ll move to Tibet and meditate my way to Nirvana. But, for the present, I reside in friggin’ Los Angeles and I’m living the dream. I’ll take that adrenaline hit and ride it on out.

I’m a long way from completing my third novel, however. My goal is to write two novels and a screenplay this year, and by God, I’ll…really try to make that happen. I’ve done some significant research for the book, but not enough. I’ve written the first fifty pages a couple times and thrown them out. It’s a process, but, thankfully, now I’ve got time.

It’s only been one month and I’ve already forgotten what the date is–I’m barely aware of the days of the week anymore. And, since my favorite writing cafe is open 24/7, I don’t even need to know what time it is. My world has become magnificently malleable. If I wake up at 2:00 in the morning with an idea, I can get up and follow that trail to its end, crashing out on the sofa again at 10:00 after putting in an eight-hour work day. The last time I had that kind of flexibility was when I wrote my first screenplay at age twenty.

But I’m not twenty anymore and I’ve yet to wake up at 2:00 am to tackle the Muse. My day begins when I drag myself out of bed, about an hour after the alarm clock sounds. I’m gonna have to work on that. Then I toodle around on the computer, take the dog for a walk, take a long shower, and before you know it I’ve arrived at my cafe for the day, at 11:00 am. Again, not good. Gotta get there by 9:00 am sharp. Fortunately, I can work until 10:00 pm, which gives me an eleven-hour work day if I start by 11:00. Or, if I get a later start, I can go to the 24-hour cafe and pull an all-nighter. But I’m not going to the gym, so I have no stamina, which means that I end up falling asleep at the cafe, my mouth open, spittle drooling from the corners of my mouth. If I’m going to write like this I’m going to have to get back in shape.

I’ll figure it out. Give me another week or two and I’ll have it down. The biggest challenge I’ve got is juggling the novel with the screenwriting assignment. The script is definitely one thing I don’t want to fuck up.

Having been a development executive in the film business, I recognize just how good this screenwriting opportunity is. Most of the time screenwriters find themselves writing and rewriting for producers or studio executives who hope to attract a director or actor to their project. When these “elements” come on board they usually have their own ideas for the script, and they often have a screenwriter in mind to do additional rewrites. In this way, screenplays can go through years of development before landing in production, and the vast majority never get that far. But I’ve stepped into a project that’s slated to go into production this summer, with a talented director attached and the financing in place. And I love the producing team—they’re all incredibly bright and inventive. In all the years I did development work I rarely saw such a positive environment for creative collaboration.

Another fun perk is that I get to bring my kids to the studio and show them the 3D technology that will be used in the film. I’ve already seen it, and it’s amazing. I was never a big 3D fan until I saw “Avatar,” and then I thought, “I don’t ever want to see a movie that doesn’t look like this again.” Instead of leaping into my lap, like most 3D films, “Avatar” invited me to join its world, to walk among the foliage and see the butterflies and other creatures up close. The producers making this film are doing the 3D conversions for films like “The Matrix” and “Titanic.” And if James Cameron signs off on their work, you know they’re good. I saw the 3D conversion they did for a Jane Austen-type period film and it made me feel like I’d just walked through a cathedral in 19th Century England. When I told the producers I was surprised to see a 3D period film they said, “3D is the way we see the world. 2D is the anomaly.” It’s very cool to be joining a technological revolution in its infancy.

So, come on, now. I’m spending my days reading and writing at beach cafes, taking meetings in Hollywood, hanging with my wife and kids. And since an apartment is easier to clean than a house, we can now make the place presentable for babysitters. My wife and I just had our first “date night” in two years!

Kick me if I sound like I’m gloating. I’m really not. I’m just truly happy for the first time in years. Like a nut-case I’m bumping into walls and tripping over my feet. It looks a lot like “excessive and unreasonable enthusiasm.” If the psychologists want to call that “mania”…so be it. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

24 thoughts on “LIVING IN THE MANIC

  1. Grace

    How wonderful for you! I hope the mania lasts indefinitely. You've certainly paid your dues and deserve it. Good luck with the screenwriting, sounds very exciting and ya! comeback of the zombies.

  2. Matt

    Hey Stephen

    I've had a similar strange spell going back to the American Film Market in LA last November, so know how it feels. Stoked you've managed to come through it with your sanity and talent very much intact and look forward to seeing the fruits of your labour on the screen and book form.

    By the way Tom Petty helped me get through my tough period. Wrote a blog piece on my whole experience a few days ago, so if you have time then please feel free to have a read…

    http://ogmosis.tumblr.com/post/3197874536/whymusiccanhelpyoubeatthescriptblues

    Have a fun weekend Stateside, Stephen. All the better for hearing about your experience.

    Cheers, Matt

  3. billie

    What I've learned is that I rather enjoy living in the manic. Okay, maybe we're supposed to have a calm, balanced life. Someday I'll move to Tibet and meditate my way to Nirvana. But, for the present, I reside in friggin' Los Angeles and I'm living the dream. I'll take that adrenaline hit and ride it on out.

    *******

    The above made me laugh out loud! The key is; for the present. You're riding the wave you're on. Balance in this moment and enjoy the ride!

  4. Zoรซ Sharp

    Hi Stephen

    Loved the post. The trick is to remember the highs when you're suffering the lows, and tell yourself that it's just a phase and you'll pull out of it when you're good and ready.

    Meanwhile, enjoy the highs ;-]

  5. Debbie

    When you're jazzed about something Stephen it's infectious. Thanks for the song! Congrats on the date btw, my husband and I get maybe two of those a year and I thought we were deprived. Guess it's normal. Hearing that makes it easier.

  6. kit

    Stephen-
    I'm not a doc…but ..look up hypomania. It should be reassuring….also you are worthy..why the devil not…it isn't crazy or unstable to KNOW you are talented and make use of it..it's pretty damn intelligent if you ask me…ya have back up.
    If you stayed in a job you hated, or a home that wasn't working…then yeah, that's pretty crazy..it takes guts, and sweat to do what you're doing…never, ever underestimate it.
    It's a scary thing sometimes to believe in yourself. It's a cool thing when you do…ride it out, there's nothing else like it, take care, kit

  7. Allison Brennan

    When you remove the outside stressors, you realize that there are only two important things for most writers: family and writing. You should be elated, and I am thrilled you are living the dream. I've recently thought about dumping everything I own (because in this market, I'm not going to make any money on the house we live in and the house we can't sell) and moving to a low-tax or no-tax state and focusing on writing and the kids. (Other than the fact that my kids will kill me, it's a great idea. With two kids in high school, I have to ride out the next four years before making any life-altering changes.)

    As far as writing 11 hours . . . That's pretty much what I do. I write from 10-3 or 4; then it's family time after school, dinner, sports, homework, etc . . . then I write from 9 to 1 or 2. Family and writing.

  8. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Hey guys! Sorry I'm jumping in a bit late…didn't get up until an hour after that alarm clock went off…

    JD – thanks for opening the comments!

    Grace – yeah, I've paid some dues. It's nice to reap some benefits every now and again. Thanks for the well-wishes.

    Matt – I read your blog piece – I've been to the AFM once or twice. It doesn't get much more "Hollywood" than that. I'm glad you used it to improve your pitch and financial package. I'm going to try to avoid the place…too much pressure!

    billie – I'm going to stay on top of the wave as best I can. I know there will be challenges ahead, but at least the year is off to a really great start.

    Zoe – boy, I'm so with you on that. In difficult times I always tell myself that someday things will turn around. I know that if my father had that attitude he would still be alive today (he killed himself when I was twenty years old). I look at life on a long time-line.

    Alex – I think what you need is a night at the local blues club in Hermosa Beach. That'll turn things around a bit. Get your dancing shoes on.

    Debbie – thanks! Yep, it's crazy how long it's been since my wife and I spent a moment alone together. What's great is that our kids understand how important it is to us and they want us to have our time. They want us to be happy, which makes us love them all the more.

    kit – thanks for the words of encouragement. It's funny how many businessmen I know who would tell me I'm crazy to leave a stable job. But I know better. I've done my time. It's time to live.

    Louise – thanks for grinning – I can feel your happiness for me, and it feels good.

    Allison – maybe I'll steal that schedule from you, it looks like it works. I need to do something–I'm not getting enough writing done. Maybe I'm still in shock from leaving the day job. Maybe my body is telling me to rest before launching into things. But you seem to have found a healthy balance of writing and parenting. Just make sure you get a date night once in a while!

  9. Alafair Burke

    I'm so happy for you that things have come together after a rocky road, and with 3D zombies to boot. How cool is that?

  10. MaryQuiteContrary

    You sound like you're gloating (kick) but YOU DESERVE IT! Enjoy and thrive in peaceful mania!.

    A tip to get going in the morning…make a playlist of all the music that inspires you to move or sing along. Turn off the alarm, turn on the playlist, and get going. The satisfaction (or self-rightousness in my case) of meeting your goals is much better than those few minutes under the pillow. But please, by all means, take the dog for a long walk.

  11. Spencer Seidel

    Stephen —

    Good post. Sounds like you got a bunch of serious crap-ola out of your life. That's great. You'll find a nice groove for yourself eventually, I'm sure. I have to say that if I worked in a cafe, I would either be (a) fifty pounds overweight because of the muffins or (b) a jittery sweating insomniac from all the caffeine ๐Ÿ™‚

    Spence

  12. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    I'm back. Took that long shower, then spent some time bonding with the dog. Of course, I had to give a long goodbye to my wife and kids before finally walking out the door. Okay, it's Noon and I'm about to start my writing day. That means I gotta keep it going until 11:00 pm. But it's so pretty outside….

    Alafair – yes, I think I'm kind of detoxing from the rocky road I so recently left behind. The ocean air is doing its job.

    Eika – I'm just hoping I can keep this going for more than a year. I might be out there looking for a day job again in 2012…you never know.

    Mary – I took your advice with the dog. By the way, it's well-documented that petting a dog lowers the heart-rate and blood pressure. An instant soothing mechanism. Unless, I suppose, you're petting a vicious guard dog. I don't recommend that. Thanks for the music tip – I like it. That's a great idea.

    Spence – first of all, yes, I'm gaining weight. And I'm getting jittery. And I'm spending too much money on cafe food. I've started packing a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich now, so at least I can save some money each day. Cafe writing is fun, but it comes with its own issues. Like sumptuous, buttery croissants drenched in honey. I wish you lived out here, man, so we could hang out and buy each other cappuccinos. (And beer eliminates those caffeine jitters, by the way.)

  13. lil Gluckstern

    As I am a loyal reader, I am glad you're doing what you want, and that there will be another book to relish. You may feel manic but it takes some time to come off of high stress times, I think. I sometimes use the image of a wet dog, and try to shake it off mentally. Enjoy that ocean air.

  14. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Spence – I'll start by walking to the cafe from the car. I'll build up to skipping. I'll get to running by 2012.

    lil – the wet dog image is working. I did a lot of good shaking today, and it wasn't just from the caffeine.

    L.J. – thanks! I'm still in shock. I've called the old work-place a few times already to ask them if there's anything they need. It's hard for me to imagine that I've actually left the place.

  15. KDJames

    Stephen, I know it's ridiculously late to be commenting but it has been that kind of week. And yeah, I'm turning just a bit green at the thought of ditching the day job. I'm so happy to hear you're in a manic place and I hope that, no matter what may come in the future, you will always be able to find your way to that place by simple means of hanging out at the cafe or coming home to the family you love. Don't burn yourself out, man. Working 11 hours at something you love can be just as debilitating as putting in that time doing something that stifles you. Mix it up. Take breaks. Go home for dinner and hugs. And keep living the dream, inspiring all of us who aren't quite there yet.

  16. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Thanks, KD. I had a good day today, mixing it up and all. And seeing the family, who came out to spend some cafe time with me. If I can get a work-out schedule in then I'll be styling.

  17. inkgrrl

    I love living in the manic too! So much more fun to have energy and zoom around being part of the brilliant than slog along in somebody else's cubicle.

    Where by the beach did you end up? Stephen and I are moving next month to Santa Monica – thank the gods for walkable neighborhoods!

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