“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.