Point Break

In the past two years, I can count the number of days I’ve taken off on one hand. One hand. I plow through each day with an overfull pile of work and constant requests for help as if I am Wonder Woman. Believe me, she’s got nothing on this pimp… well, except a really hot outfit.

But after seven hundred and twenty five 12-hour days, I finally lost it. Totally and completely.  All while on a professional phone call.

I don’t do anything half-ass, even falling apart.

My day started on a high note. I had stayed up late the night before doing the final polishes of Slavery by Another Name (SBAN) in preparation for our LA trip. I had that baby printed and ready to read upon my return from the morning hour-long-teen-taxi-school run.

But first came a preproduction meeting for a film I’m producing, gone Elvis, with writer/director David Newhoff. If anyone but David had asked me to produce, I probably would have said “no.” I love his writing and his passion for filmmaking so much that I had to be a part of this project, but that’s a whole other story. Plus, he buys me breakfast. I’m a cheap date.

Finally time to read SBAN.

I curled on the couch, red pen in hand. As I flipped each page, I wordsmithed, marking little typos I had missed, and tweaked the dialogue one more time. But as the pages went on, I started remembering each moment of writing it. Each keystroke. Each word. Each decision. Each character’s birth.

But the one who really was born in the writing of SBAN was I – the true Jeanne.

I’ve written often of my passion for this project and my intense need to see this produced. I felt it more than ever as I read the final pages through tears. But it wasn’t just the horrific truth of our nation’s history that made me cry. It was my battle scars all over the pages, like the stretch marks of pregnancy.

I hadn’t read the script in several months, and when I finally did, those scars popped. It was like reading my baby book. I could see my transformation from fearful to fearless in each word.

My life changed the day I picked up that phone and called the author. In doing so, I stopped being a disease-to-pleaser and started pursuing my dreams. I took the first step to living an authentic life.

So how does this revelation make someone crack? Good question. I’m still not sure myself. But by the time I read “FADE OUT”, I was a worthless bawling mess. I managed to pull myself together and made the changes to send to my writing partner.

Not five minutes after hitting “send,” the phone rang. Uh oh. It was the professional call I had on my calendar long before I ever thought I’d be reading SBAN that day. Oops.

I answered.

In our discussion of my current comedy script, I lost it. Just lost it. The caller was challenging me on my concept and the marketability of it, and while I know he was only trying to help, all I could see was one more Herculean task ahead of me to fix it, a task I was already well aware of. Frankly, if I could write SBAN, I could fix this script, of that, I was sure. But at that very moment, I didn’t have an ounce of energy left in me. I just didn’t give a shit.

I’m getting ready for meetings in LA in a few weeks, I’m in the middle of writing a TV episode for an incredible showrunner and friend, another friend called with a fantastic TV series idea I’m dying to create with her, my teens were buzzing about waiting for dinner, karate class was in 15 minutes, and there chirping in my ear was another problem I needed to fix.

Why at that moment, did I lose it? Why with this person? Timing? Maybe. Being tired? Maybe.

But what puzzles me is I’m normally so open to feedback and brainstorming, yet that night, I wasn’t. I was done. Shut down. A blank wall.

He stated, “I can’t figure out if you’re protecting the script or protecting yourself.”

Excellent question that I couldn’t answer at the time, but I can now.

Instinctively, I don’t protect my work. I welcome feedback. I crave it – the more challenging, the better. Last night, I was protecting myself, not my work. I shut down.

It was a matter of survival.

I’m not even sure why I’m sharing this. Maybe one of my readers has had a similar experience and can provide insight. Or maybe one of you is on the brink of losing it, and works insane hours too. Maybe the purpose of this post is to try to find an explanation for a situation that has none. Maybe I’m just tired and I need a day off.

Funny how that very morning as I walked up the stairs to my office to print SBAN at 6:30AM, I saw my reflection in the mirror. I stopped, noticed the exhaustion and thought, “It would be so easy to quit right now… but not for me.” I opened my laptop and the day began.

I do know one thing. I work at an insane pace, and I cannot keep this up forever. But the momentum of my career is moving me forward every day. I’m going to hang on for my life on this wild ride. But I’m also going to try very hard to slow down. I need it. My children need it. My writing needs it. My sanity needs it.

So yeah, I had a little breakdown. I think it was a good thing.



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33 thoughts on “Point Break

  1. Yes. Your emotions/body took over because they know you won’t stop on your own…

    You were on overload after re-reading SBAN. Perhaps if you hadn’t done that, the phone call wouldn’t have been catalyst.

    It’s good to be so busy, especially when knowing clearing what dream to follow. But, as you said, you need to slow down now and again. To recharge.

  2. You should definitely listen to what your body is trying to tell you here. I’ve been there, too, (still am, actually), never thought I’d be run over by something as blurry as “burnout”, but it can hit you when you least expect it. One month I was working day and night and really enjoyed it and felt fine, but the next month, all the negative feelings, exhaustion, etc. that I had suppressed before exploded and I simply couldn’t work any more. And the worst part is that (aside from some physical exhaustion) your mind is affected most – as a writer you don’t want your mind to be “out of order”. Especially not if we’re talking about the mind that brings us Balls of Steel! So, take note of the little warning your body gave you. Take a day off, or two, or three. Everything afterwards will be so much more enjoyable. Take care!

  3. It might be pretentious of me to think of being capable of providing comfort or advice.
    Old age is my only qualification and being male is a severe handicap too.
    But, reading your touching story, I cannot help feel that your sharing it in the open, is driven more by the desire to help others, than that of being helped.
    In the same spirit, I will offer this comparison, relating to sports I have practiced.
    Our lives, no matter how successful, are akin to flying a sailplane, sailing a boat, rowing a kayak on whitewater or downhill skiing.
    We might have been born with or have acquired certain skills, enabling us to have some control. Ultimately, however, the inescapable reality of gravity and the passage of time and space, are not only the very powers that make the “ride” possible in the first place, but also those making all the waves, bumps, falls, crashes and eddies more tolerable and enjoyable. In hindsight.
    Occasionally we might find ourself battered by the elements or desperately “in irons”. But as long as we don’t get too tired of rowing our way out, there is always another lesson to be learned downstream or at the next turn.
    Things always going “our way”, it’s not only boring, it teaches us nothing!

    • Yes, the post was definitely written more to help others, but I often learn a lot about my inner workings when I write them down. Also, in doing so, I’ve said it “out loud” and then have to deliver on my promise to myself. It’s a great way to achieve accountability. Now I know you’ll all slap me if I don’t take regular time off! haha Your words are very fitting, Gianni. Thank you so much.

  4. Big hugs!!!

    I imagine you may feel like the South in the spring after a pollen cleansing rain. This emotional release, the owning of feelings too inconvenient to acknowledge was weeks, even months in building. Maybe you can do it all, but at what cost? Who is paying the bill? Your inner self, your children, your family?

    You are an incredibly talented, hard working, giving person . Know that you are cherished for you, not what you do, not the number of obstacles you surmount each day. You do not have to earn the right to breathe, exist, live. You are special for just being you.

    It might be time to touch base with the insecur-aholic, the pleaser, and go to a meeting, reconnect with your touchstone, put down the tequila that helps you deny and delay self care. You are loved by many, are you loved by you?

    Nothing will stop your dream, it lives within, it will not desert you, it will happen. Trust that it is okay to drive with all four wheels on the ground. Trust that you will reach you destination. Please do so in one piece. You are a beautiful soul and the world needs you healthy. You can do this. You will do this. But not at any cost.

    • “…are you loved by you?” That is exactly the journey I have been on these past years. Yes, I am finally loved by me. Taking on SBAN had a lot to do with that and most certainly why I had the reaction I had in reading it again. Thanks for the support.

  5. I feel compelled to comment here, not to give advice or suggestions for dealing with the meltdown, but to share my response to it. This was just so beautifully written and so vulnerable that I found myself saying, “Wow… is this really Jeanne saying this? Wow.” At one point in your post you said, “I’m not even sure why I’m sharing this,” but my personal reaction to it suggests that it’s good for those of us who read your posts, follow your screenwriting journey on Twitter, watch you live life at a break-neck pace, and wonder to ourselves, “Who IS this woman??” Reading this made me fully realize how human you are, and that is actually an encouragement to me! So many of us struggle with juggling 100 pins at once, and we all deal with that differently, but for you to admit that it’s hard is comforting in a way – to know that it doesn’t have to be perfect. We can be infallible and still great.

    And to borrow your final line: So you had a little breakdown. I think it was a good thing.

    Keep on keepin’ on. 😉

    -Stacie (@staciedenola)

  6. Thank you all for your advice and for sharing your own personal struggles. Part of what I do on this blog is open up my wounds and hand people the salt shaker. I’m always touched when you hand me a salve instead.

    By the way, right after I posted this, I went to a new neighbor’s house and enjoyed a relaxing morning of friends and coffee. That was the best gift I gave myself in a long time. Amen! I’ll be doing it more often 🙂

  7. Jeanne –
    I can’t help but be reminded of what a friend told me years ago after I had a breakdown of a different kind. “It’s okay,” she said. “I’d think less of you if you didn’t fall apart.”
    So say I, of you.
    See you in NYC…

  8. I agree with Stacie and Viki. Sometimes those balls just get too damn heavy. There’s no shame in giving in to vulnerability. Putting your hands up and admitting you dropped one helps other accept their vulnerability, too. And let’s face it, without it we wouldn’t be human. You poured an awful lot into Slavery by Another Name, calling on all of your emotions I suspect, including vulnerability, anger, frustration…etc. The whole gamut of emotions are what make us what we are. And they allowed you to bring something special to a great project. Forgive yourself, hon. Let it go. Take a rest – if you can. And then just get back to being you. You’re OK.

  9. I’ve always worried about your super-human abilities. They are truly incredible and leave me in awe most of the time. The truly great is accomplished by reaching beyond our grasp all the time, it’s the only way to know how far we can reach. But, (you knew that must be coming, right?) there has to be a balance to life. For most people it’s provided by the shackles of their jobs, 9-5 or whatever, something we who work for ourselves never have. There is no end to work, even if we love it. There is always the nagging thought when trying to relax that this time could be used for something more productive. I had to shut down in a lot of ways recently, to regain my balance, and realize that relaxing was productive. We have to eat, sleep, and recharge our batteries. Until the day they can download our minds into a computer (which I eagerly await) these are limitations we have to function under. Take a vacation with your kids before they are gone. The scripts will still be there when you get back. You have an incredible future but you’ve already achieved an incredible present, look around and enjoy it for a few moments.

    • I did notice you shutting down, and I think that’s a good thing…. though I’ve missed you 🙂 I love your remarks about an “incredible present”. Very accurate, and I should stop and appreciate it more than I do. Today, I did!

  10. Jeanne,

    I can understand the pressure to keep going. What we also have to realize, being the type of people we are, is that our need for creative expression can drive us towards the cliff and we don’t even see it. But, as I am sure you are well aware, it isn’t something that can just be turned off. It is a natural part of who we are and I know for myself I am trying to recognize it and I am not even at the same point of this insane career path that has chosen us as you are.

    Just always remember that you most definitely are not alone. Most of my close family and friends don’t understand the desire and drive and think I am crazy for the pace I keep. Luckily I do have a couple of friends who are in the industry as well who can relate when I need them to so I don’t end up locking myself in the closet, curled up in a ball in the corner, crying myself to sleep in the middle of the day.

    • That is so true, Geoff. It’s part of why I have found such value in Twitter… so many writers there who understand in a way my family and lifelong friends can’t. I don’t know what I’d do without that kind of group therapy! This is indeed “insane career path that has chosen us.”

  11. Seems like a natural biological response to the stress (good and bad) your body and mind has been going through for however long. Don’t really have a remedy for you, as you would know best. My prescription for any type of pain only goes as far as: 3 bowls of chicken noodle soup, gingerale, rub some dirt on it, walk it off, and breathe. (I know, I should be a physician or a psychologist). We all need some sort of release from all the pressure we build up during our everyday lives. If you don’t have a release, find one, and use it often. Glad to see you seem to have recovered quickly. Peace.

  12. People ask me sometimes, “how do you do it all?” I simply don’t know to tell you the truth. Balance is a tricky thing and even though I don’t feel like I have a balance of all the stuff going on in my life, it all manages to get done. Somehow. I can really relate to your post today and I thank you for sharing your story. I feel a little breakdown coming with all this juggling but I’m going to try to remember your words, allow myself the breakdown moment, and then open my laptop and keep on truckin’.

    “Nobody said it’d be easy, they just promised it’d be worth it.”


  13. Darling, I love your honesty. I love your blog. You are an amazing writer.

    Writing is a naked craft, much like acting. You must reveal… and, sometimes, when you do so, you are told that you are not thinenoughtallenoughethnicenoughfatenoughnonenthnicenoughblondeenoughbrunetteenough… on and on…

    The playground sucks. So… the answer is ice cream. Double dipped. On cones. And shove them in the naysayers faces. xoxo

  14. Interesting! I had a similar issue at a rehearsal for my last play. For some reason, I was just emotionally spent, and everything was an effort, and one day the smallest thing had me in shambles. Luckily, I was with other artists who knew me well and accepted the “breakdown” with aplomb.

    One of the things I learned in my personal work over the years is that breakdowns are required in order to have breakthroughs. I’d be willing to bet that this emotional moment has led or will lead to incredible moments of peace and clarity for you. I would love to know what happened in the subsequent days!

    Thank you for sharing! 🙂

    • Erin, the week after the breakdown, I slowed down. I even took not one, but two days off. Probably weren’t real days “off” like most people would define, but for me, even a few hours of sitting still is remarkable. I like to think I’m learning to pace myself, stop sprinting to the finish line and enjoy the marathon that is this career.

  15. I don’t have anywhere near your stamina. I live alone and don’t go out much (no job because of back trouble) so writing is all I do. And I do a lot of it. But sometimes I snap, usually because all the fears suddenly fall on my head – will my back ever get better? will I ever dance again? will I ever be thin again? will I ever sell my work? will I ever get to be a writer full time which is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do or will I have to sell my soul to Corporate Wherever and spend the rest of my life shackled to a desk with spots and three chins from abuse of the vending machine?

    I might end up where you are in a couple of years time. I feel guilty taking days off. I feel guilty taking hours off, so at some point I’ll start crying or something and my CP, god bless her, will give me a virtual slap (she lives 6000 miles away, god bless Twitter) and tell me to take a day off.

    Trust me, you are not alone 😀

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