When Did Your Life "Jump the Shark?"

This is a guest post by Daniel Brenton author of The Meaning of Existence (and all that).

I am a late bloomer.

I don’t feel particularly old, but I must acknowledge that I was born in the second half of the Twentieth Century — with a little room to spare. And I must confess it has taken me more years than I’d care to admit for me embrace the idea I had abilities that could free me from a life of the mundane, and give me a life of excellence.

We all do, of course. Some of us are born knowing who they are or what they have, but most of us have to put in the work to find these things.

My mother, I think, somehow knew, perhaps instinctively, what my unique abilities would be. Early on she began to encourage me in the creative arts — specifically, drawing, music, and writing. With what was clearly far too much coaching on her part, I won an essay contest in second grade, and — without her help at all — wound up being on the staff of my junior high school’s literary magazine.

At the age of fifteen I was sitting at my parents dining room table one weekend afternoon and I was scribbling up some notes for what looked like something that could turn into a pretty extensive story. At that moment the idea hit me that I could actually write a novel, an idea that was followed shortly afterward by the concept that I could become a successful novelist.

Over the years I dabbled in writing fiction and collected a slowly growing stack of rejection slips for short stories I had submitted to magazines. Finally, frustrated that the doors to the publishing industry seemed to be welded shut specifically against me, I gave up.

Have you ever heard the expression “jumped the shark?” I only first heard it a few months ago and, because of the internet, I was able to find out what it meant almost instantly. “Jumping the shark” is the moment in a television series when you know it’s pretty much lost any spark it once had, and it’s only a matter of time before it’s sent off to the great rerun network in the sky.

The phrase itself comes from a Happy Days episode in the fifth season, where Henry Winkler’s character Fonzie, in a demonstration of bravery, has challenged an opponent to literally make a water ski jump over an enclosure where a shark has been captured. He does, of course, while wearing his trademark leather jacket.

Color us all surprised that he succeeds.

Even though the show went on to produce 100 more episodes, this was the moment it started the downhill slide.

Just as I grasped this concept, a thought popped into my head: when did my life “jump the shark?”

(Talk about our harshest critics …)

There have been, unfortunately, a number of events in my life where, in the immediate aftermath, I thought it had jumped the shark. When I bungled the relationship with my first real love. When I went though a grievious financial setback about a decade ago. When my wife had discovered lump in her breast. (Fortunately, this last item reversed itself fairly quickly when the lump turned out to be benign.)

I’d have to count, as another of those moments, that period in my life where I pushed aside my dream of becoming a successful novelist.

However, the desire didn’t want to cooperate. It was still in there. Dreams like these don’t go away — we do something with them or we are forced to deny a part of who we are. And if we do deny it, a little piece of us slowly dies inside.

Fast forward to the early 1990s. My life-long friend Dave (David S.) Michaels, best friend from that junior high I mentioned above, broke one of those periodic hiatuses in our relationship and contacted me. He was interested in writing a screenplay based on a short story I had written while I was with that junior high literary magazine staff.

The story was built around the Moon Race, and Dave had his memory of my story erupt into the forefront of his mind as the result of a chance encounter.

Dave is a professional numismatist, and during a break at an auction at Sotheby’s in New York City, he stumbled upon another, almost surreal auction in the basement of the same building. Pieces of actual Soviet space program hardware were being auctioned off by the cash-strapped Russian government. Dave and I had both been following the revelations in the wake of the fall of the USSR on the true nature of the Soviet manned Moon program — the existence of which they denied as soon as the Moon Race was lost to them. Having authentic Soviet-era spacesuits, spacecraft close enough to touch — and having on hand the living, breathing cosmonaut Alexi Leonov, the first man to walk in space, no less — transformed the sketchy little story I had penned so long ago into something as tangible as the Cold War vehicles and equipment surrounding him.

Working with the title Red Moon, we first developed a screen treatment … that didn’t go anywhere. Then, with Dave taking the lead, came the novel, which wound up being a print on demand item created by Dave’s agent for the purpose of marketing it to a real publisher.

Despite glowing responses, nearly forty publishers passed on it. The doors to the publishing industry, alas, were still welded shut. After this limited edition of Red Moon went out of print, my life again felt a little like it was sailing over that shark enclosure.

Usually when a television show starts its downhill slide, there’s no turning back. With a person, thankfully, it’s different. Unlike a television show, human beings, when they fall on their faces, have the ability to pick themselves up.

For a human being, the moment we’ve “jumped the shark” is the moment we’ve chosen to give up, and not one moment before.

Oddly enough, shortly after I’d heard the phrase “jump the shark,” I recognized that if I didn’t tell my stories before I died that they would die with me.

I had been blogging for a while, but when I heard this, I became more determined to make a name for myself.

Writers write.

This, actually, could be the end of my message, but as it happened, a few months later an opportunity fell into Dave’s lap for a second shot at success with Red Moon. There has now been a second edition, and better, a third edition is now waiting in the wings that will actually go into brick-and-mortar store distribution.

It’s a humble start, sharing a byline on a small-time novel that still hasn’t made any real money, but it’s a start.

Did I manifest this?

If we buy the premise of the Law of Attraction, I must have.

* * *

Professional speaking coach Darren LaCroix burst on to the speaking scene back in 2001 when he made the point that when you fall on your face, if you have fallen forward — you’ve still made progress.

If you can’t get up again — or you’re dead — you’re done.

I’m not done yet.

If you can read this, you’re not done yet either.

Get busy.

* * *

Daniel Brenton is the author/publisher of The Meaning of Existence (and all that): The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Spirituality, a sometimes tongue-in-cheek weblog that focuses on practical spirituality, on finding underlying purpose in our lives, and on the tremendous value of the practice of gratitude.

He openly admits that he is not a psychologist, a minister, a chaplain, or a lettered Philosopher; and he concedes that does he does not even play any of these on television. He does cite a number of life-changing events that have pointed him at the profound value to be found in both the personal search for meaning and the practice of gratitude.

Daniel is also the co-author of Red Moon, a space race thriller about a Soviet spacecraft found after half a century that holds the darkest secret of the Moon Race and, possibly, the hope of all humanity. More about Red Moon at Luna15.com.

3 thoughts on “When Did Your Life "Jump the Shark?"”

  1. To pursue freedom is to believe that you are not free. To believe that you are free is to be secure in the knowledge that you are. True freedom is a spiritual state and is yours forever never needing to be pursued.
    ———Doug Rosbury

  2. Doug,

    So how does one gain the knowledge that one is free if one does not pursue such knowledge? What if one is not secure in the belief that one is free? How does one find that security? What if one is dependent and addicted and does not believe they are free? What one has conceded to slavery and then decides they want to find freedom? How exactly could they make that transition?

    I understand your point, that we are already free, and I agree. I believe true freedom is a state of being that can only be gained from inner dialog and realization. But it isn’t easy and it isn’t simple to reprogram ourselves. We have been taught since our first moments in kindergarten to be dependent slaves and we couldn’t be trusted. Maintaining freedom is a constant struggle in our world, both inner and outer. It is a constant and changing journey.

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