It is not a matter of being fearless. The fear is sometimes constant, but it’s about moving forward regardless of the fear. Courage means feeling the fear and doing it anyway. (Gillian Anderson)
It’s the middle of the night, I have to get up in the morning, and I can’t sleep. I’m actually shaking as I type this. I’m honestly intimidated – and I suppose that I should be, because tomorrow night if all goes well, I will be coming face-to-face with the man who inspired my entire career.
I’ll be working the red carpet at tomorrow night’s William S. Paley Television Festival (PaleyFest) panel for HBO’s The Newsroom, which is scheduled to include series creator Aaron Sorkin. You likely know Mr. Sorkin from NBC’s acclaimed drama series The West Wing or the Oscar-winning film The Social Network. My history with him goes back 13 years, to his first television series called Sports Night on ABC, the viewing of which not only altered my professional course but changed my personal life in a number of ways. Since then, I’ve aspired to meet Mr. Sorkin, if only so I can shake his hand and say, “Thank you.”
Those two words don’t even seem big enough for the number of things I can trace back to that one TV show. Sports Night convinced me that I could be a screenwriter, was a major influence on my writing style, introduced me to a number of actors and actresses whose careers I still follow today who in turn were the reasons why I tuned into other shows and discovered other people, gave me so many lines I still quote, and got me to read my first David Mamet play.
It also was the vehicle that helped me grieve the loss of my childhood best friend, and over which I bonded with my current best friend of more than a decade. It’s the show that truly confirmed my belief that television can be so much more than entertainment, that it can make people think and feel and do some good in the world – the driving force that motivates everything I do professionally. Sports Night was my epiphany, and it came from the mind of Mr. Sorkin.
Years ago, when he was on Facebook as part of his research for The Social Network and posted a fan mail address, I gathered up the courage to write Mr. Sorkin a letter expressing my gratitude. He sent back the page from one of my screenplays I had mailed him, the one where I name-checked him in tribute, signed and with an encouraging note that maybe he’d be watching my TV show someday. I have it framed and hanging in my office. It’s one of my most prized possessions.
But I’ve never even come close to meeting him. I’ve met several Sports Night cast members – most notably star Peter Krause, who after hearing my story at another event made a point of coming over and introducing himself to me, in another moment I’ll cherish for the rest of my life – but Mr. Sorkin has so far eluded me. Finally, tomorrow, if he makes it past all the reporters ahead of me and down to my spot on the PaleyFest red carpet, I’ll have my moment. A 13-year quest will come to an end and in some sense, my life will come full circle. I’ll have met the man who set me on this whole wonderful journey.
The idea scares me, honestly. Because the magnitude of it is so huge, and it’s been so long that I’d started to give up on this ever coming to pass. I’ll interview him, obviously, but what my brain goes to is the moment after, the minute or so that might be my only opportunity to ever exchange words with Mr. Sorkin. Will he like me? Will I be able to hold it together? Will I find the right words that sum up everything I want to say? Will it even happen, or will he get pulled off the red carpet before I get to talk to him? (I hope not.) I have no idea how to answer any of those questions.
And I find it funny that, yet again, one of the potentially greatest moments of my life comes when I’m going through something else difficult. I’m going to head up to Beverly Hills tomorrow while suffering from still more health issues, waiting for the results of a blood test to tell me why I can’t get through a day without debilitating stomach pain. I may be doing interviews while in that pain. But it will all be worth it if I get a chance to shake Mr. Sorkin’s hand and say, “Thank you.”
Let’s see if I can find my courage.