Chapter 2

2.1

WARD, 37, a wavy-haired Hispanic man in a buttoned-up vest, yells at Alina from across his desk: “What do you mean it’s not finished? The advance covers you through tomorrow. Will it be finished tomorrow?” Alina’s eyes go wide and she shrugs her shoulders halfway up the sides of her head. “No, are you kidding me?” she says. “I’m stuck. I’m still stuck. I have hit a wall and I can go no further. I am out of ideas, forever. No more ideas. Nunca.” Ward, quieter, but agitated: “You know I can drop you whenever I want to, right? You know that I always stick my neck out for you and the last two years have really compromised my reputation because I’m always defending your sorry excuses…you know that, right?” This has Alina laughing, but not in a sinister way. It suggests he has said something that they both find funny. Her tone is soft now: “Ward. We had this exact conversation after the last book, and you know I’m trying to work my way through this, but I need a couple more months.” He’s speechless, then flicks his hands like he’s waiting on her to offer a solution. Her reaction: “I’ve been there for you, man. I have fucking been there for you. Maybe that’s why you can’t leave me. Maybe you’re stuck with me and I’m stuck with you, huh?”

2.2

Now Ward offers a solution: “How can I help? Huh? How can we prevent this from happening time and time again? You’re a publisher’s nightmare. Hell, you’re my nightmare.” Alina sulks, but is quick with a retort: “Then why do they keep asking for more? Seems I’m doing something right.” A pause, as Ward struggles to find the words to argue back, as if it’s worth his bother. Alina again: “How about an assistant?” // “You can’t afford an assistant.” // “You know damn well I can afford 30 assistants, especially if I can afford to keep paying you. Can we please stop arguing?” He drops his defense, and closes his eyes as he speaks: “What will this assistant do? Do you need me to come by the apartment more? Help out with Helene?” // “Mmm, no, don’t be crazy. The assistant could help there, I guess. But I always need help brainstorming plot ideas. Answering fan mail. Doing top edits. Maybe ghostwriting here and there if they’re good enough, to help on first drafts…” // “You would need someone in here, like, ASAP.” // “Yes.” // “I actually know of somebody.” // “Yeah?” // “She’s a smart kid. Quinn Healy’s assistant. His game has really picked up since she came along. Just finished his best, if you ask me.” // “So why steal her?” // “Because he’s fucking her. And it’s going to ruin his marriage.” // “Ha! That’s too good. Jesus. So she’s hot. If Healy’s into her, she’s definitely hot.” // “I won’t answer that. She writes like you, though. I think you would both benefit from one another. I’ll set it up. Just…hurry the hell up and get this book done.”

2.3

Alina prepares a French press in the kitchen when her buzzer rings. Cut to: Alina opening the front door, and we see TRACEY, 25, for the first time. She’s more average than we would have guessed—Tracey’s department-store jacket and unkempt hair command little praise—and although she’s doing nothing to highlight her angular facial features, piercing eyes, and full lips, we do see some potential. And so does Alina. There’s just half a beat too much as they study each other, before Tracey sticks out her hand. “Hi Ms. Elgin. Tracey Gorman. It’s…such an honor to meet you.” Alina smiles, shakes Tracey’s hand, and invites the young woman inside. “Any coffee?” Alina asks. Tracey: “Oh, yes, but only if you’re making some for yourself, too.” // “I am. How do you take it?” // “However you take yours is fine, thanks.” // “Well, aren’t we agreeable then?” // “I figure if I’m going to become a better writer, I should start copying my idols.” // “Ha, well, at some point I’m going to need you to disagree with me, Tracey.”

2.4

The two women are mid-conversation after coffee: “I read some of your stuff. Ward sent it to me,” Alina says. “It’s really insightful. You’re giving up a promising career as a journalist to pursue publishing. I hope you know.” Tracey blushes. “Well, I like to think it will pay off when I’m a novelist.” // “I like your confidence. It’ll get you far.” There’s a charged pause; Tracey doesn’t know how to accept the compliment aside from a shy smile. “I’ll put these dishes away,” Alina says. She takes the mugs and snack plates to the kitchen, then rinses them in the sink. “It’s so nice meeting you,” she shouts, so that Tracey can hear her in the next room. She dries her hands and walks back into the living room, where Tracey is showcasing a new look: She has pulled her hair back and down, and has put on some thick-rimmed glasses—they look just like Alina’s. “Oh, that was a quick transformation…” Alina says, somewhat unnerved as Tracey grins back.

2.5

“I get such a headache without them on, after the whole day,” Tracey says of her glasses. “They help me relax. I have a date, though. I hope I don’t look too dorky.” “Dorky? What’s that say about me?” Alina asks. // “Oh gosh, I would never… you’re the most chic woman I’ve met. And your wife is so regal. You’re not dorky.” // “Good save…” // “Speaking of chic…what’s that fragrance you’re wearing? It’s so…mmm, powerful.” // “Oh, it’s my favorite. It’s called Nanban. From Arquiste.” Alina extends her neck towards Tracey, as if to invite her for a closer account of the scent. Tracey accepts the offer, and they share a brief, intimate moment as Tracey’s nose barely grazes Alina’s neck. “It’s incredible, really,” Tracey says, her face now just inches away from Alina’s. “Here, wear some tonight,” Alina says, disrupting their moment to retrieve the bottle. She sprays each of Tracey’s wrists, then shows her how to dab the scent on her pulse points. “He’ll like that.” // “She,” Tracey says. “She’ll like that.” It’s not the response Alina expected. None of this was.

Chapter 1

the prospectives adam hurly justin teodoro

We’re in a beautiful glass convention hall, with tables tucked to one half, with dinner plates cleared, with hundreds of stylish people dancing around the other half. There’s a bride—a beautiful redhead in a sleek, sleeveless gown—beaming in her husband’s arms. They do a quick spin, and we see him; he’s beaming even wider. He’s attractive too, though he’s batting up a couple notches; he seems so warm, so charming, so stupidly happy. His three-piece suit rivals her gown in fit and frill. Just past them, we see a sharply dressed guest—ALINA, 45—mingling with two other women. They’re all wearing pant suits or blazers, hair pulled tight and sipping their upped cocktails. While the other two women chatter, Alina has her stony, bespectacled gaze fixed on someone just past the newlyweds.

1.2

The object of Alina’s attention is HELENE, 63. Whereas Alina hides behind her own prowess, Helene radiates ease, approachability. Her greying hair is buzzed short, and her legs are crossed at the knees beneath a modest navy dress. Her ivory earrings contrast her dark skin, and a long, beaded necklace accents the number. Helene watches the groom and bride with such grace and sincerity, admiring the purity and splendor of the moment; she’s lost in thought as they dance. Alina’s stare softens as she studies the older woman; then, for a brief second, their eyes meet. This catches Helene off guard, her smile disappearing as she realizes she is being watched. She sends Alina a nod, and Alina raises her glass very subtly, sending a hello back across the room.

1.3

The music fades away, and the groom leaves his bride to retrieve a microphone: “Hi everyone. I’ve said it enough times tonight, and I know you’re all thinking it too, but can we just take a few seconds to marvel at this beautiful woman.” His bride blushes again, and even Alina feels elated. We see this beat unfold from her POV, as the groom continues: “Now, we’ve got her fine parents to thank for making sure she turned out so perfect, but there’s someone here who is responsible for this gorgeous gown, and that same someone is largely responsible for how I’ve turned out…a verdict I’ll leave up to you, but as far as I’m concerned, it means I owe this very special person a lot.” He and his bride turn their focus to Helene, who doesn’t want the spotlight, but she’s got it now. Someone shouts drunkenly “We love you, Helene!”, followed by a steady, graduated cheer. Then, the groom again: “Helene, I can’t imagine working for anyone else; I’ve learned more from you in our decade together than any other mentor or teacher or textbook could show me. I admit, I was a little offended when Rebecca wouldn’t let me design her dress…I’m good enough for Kate Middleton to call multiple times, but apparently not for my own wife on her biggest day. That’s reassuring….” The crowd chuckles. “Really though, Helene, I’m not good enough for you. Nobody is. I remain humbled by your kindness and talents.” We see Helene smiling timidly, frozen from the attention; Alina is frozen too, her stare affixed to Helene, even as the groom concludes: “Thank you for making this beautiful gown, and for being here with us today. We love you, so much. May I have a dance?” More cheers as the music resumes with an up-tempo number, as Helene extends her hand to the gentleman and accepts his invitation. Then quickly, once more, her eyes look over to Alina, as if to seek permission, or perhaps to boast.

1.4

As the song ends, one of Alina’s friends turns to the other: “Honey, let’s dance. Come on, we never get to.” They set down their cocktails, grab hands, and steer towards the action. The other turns to Alina: “Are you coming? You gotta dance to at least one song…don’t be so pouty!” Then they’re gone. Alina sips her martini, surveying the room and wishing she could disappear. With a deep breath, she builds an ounce of energy to follow her friends and join the mob. She slinks to the dance floor as the music changes to another slow song. She steers nervously toward Helene as the groom hugs her and kisses her cheek; it’s taking Alina a lot of courage to make this approach. The bride comes over to hug Helene as well, before reuniting with her new husband for the next song. Helene turns away from them, right into Alina’s care. Helene’s smile falls flat, as she is unsure again how to handle this attention. She says to Alina: “I thought you were just going to stare all night. Make me sit there, looking like a spinster.” She extends her left hand to Alina; there’s a wedding ring on it. “So here, why don’t I ask you to dance, then?” She emphasizes the “I” and “you”. They both relax as Alina accepts the offer.

the prospectives adam hurly justin teodoro

The night is over, and the crowd slowly pours out onto the street: Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway, in Prospect Heights. We see the exterior of the building, the massive Brooklyn Museum, beaming like the bride. Alina is alone; she lights a cigarette and crosses the busy street to a boulevard, then across another one-way street before tossing the cig and entering her own front door; the venue location could not have been more convenient. We follow her through the lobby, then up one set of stairs, then down a long hallway, then into her apartment. It’s stunning, as sharply appointed as one would expect from an Eastern Parkway pre-war occupied by a posh power lesbian. She untucks and unbuttons her blouse to relax, then pulls out her ponytail before removing her heels. She walks to the bathroom door. It’s closed, and there is a faucet running on the other side of it. She knocks a couple times: “Are you almost done? Could you draw the bath for me?” The door opens, and we see Helene there, in her pajamas, prepared for bed. “All done. I’ll let you draw it. In 20 years, I haven’t once gotten the temperature right.” She scoots past Alina, then into the bedroom, shutting the door behind her. Alina sighs to herself, then walks to the tub to turn on the water. She cranks the cold handle, and we cut to black.

Series 3 Starts August 8 on Instagram

 

Hey again. It’s @adamhurly here. I’m excited to launch series 3 next week on our Instagram; I wanted to outline a couple things with you before it starts, so you know what to expect.adam hurly

First, there’s going to be a new image every day. Think of it like a graphic novel, but more like a storyboarded screenplay.
Secondly, it’s going to read like a screenplay. Lots of direction, lots of action, no first-person narrative, but still plenty of dialogue.
Next, like any story, it might take a few weeks for the plot to reveal itself. If you think of a standard screenplay structure, the first act is the first fourth of the movie. That being said, the first fourth of this story lasts eight weeks, so you might wonder a few times “where the hell is this going?”… It’s going somewhere, I promise!
Also, we’re publishing 5 days a week this season, so only on weekdays.
And lastly, PLEASE engage. Like the posts on Instagram. Comment on them. Sign up for our notifications if that’s something you think will help you see each post. Justin TeodoroInstagram’s algorithm affects everyone differently, and the success of this channel is dependent on how engaged you are with the content (which in turn depends on how well I do with the plot, hehe…). Either way, I’ve heard from lots of readers that they found this project in their Instagram Explore Feed, which is because their friends were liking and commenting. I’d really appreciate if you kept that in mind throughout the whole series…your engagement (and word of mouth to friends, to editors, to anyone!) is invaluable.
Thanks everyone; everything kicks off next Monday, August 8. Here we go!
–@adamhurly & @justinteodoro

CHAPTER 27

Adam Hurly The Prospectives Levi Hastings

Hey everyone. @adamhurly here. It’s time to wrap up this navel gazing. This series is starting to fold into itself, and it’s now too overlapped with the window of time in which I’ve been writing the story. I got the final idea for this second series within a few days of things ending with Strings; originally it was supposed to be a bunch of talking heads, discussing all sorts of topics: entrepreneurialism, health care, dating, sex, religion, work, family, and the sorts. Then I saw this interesting book-ended narrative that involved the love triangles and the weird gypsy doll. It felt too rich to not pursue, but it wasn’t dense enough to do without commentary from friends; I think the marriage of the two was a good decision, keeping things somewhat familiar from the first series. (Back me up here?) As with any endeavor, I’m happy to have written it, but the process of actually writing it was a pain in my side. For example, not only did I endure two months of bed bugs, but then I relived the nightmare when I wrote about it a few months later, then edited and published it a few months after that; suddenly I’ve been “dealing” with it for almost a year. Ditto for the relationships and family stuff and now work. This has been as good a self-exam as I’ve had, but taxing and somewhat unnecessary, all for the sake of what I thought was a decent narrative, a singular writing sample. So let’s move on!

Don’t get me wrong; I’m glad I wrote all this, just as I’m glad I endured all those annoying, pesky things that have made me slightly less affected by other annoying, pesky things. I admire the people I featured here (and many more) for the gradual steps they’re taking in their lives, and I consider this project—the bigger picture, including series 1 and the forthcoming series 3—one of my own gradual steps. But man, when people say “I would never want to re-live my 20s, but I am so grateful for those years…” (like Rod in last week’s episode), I want to shout a very loud and punctuated “AMEN.” I’ve changed identities so many times in the past decade, grabbing at air as I try to form some semblance of a POV or clear direction, only to do an about-face a few months later as I put on a new career hat, or adopt a new city, or cycle through friends, or pursue the wrong romantic interests. I’ve run myself in circles, and with just three months to go before 30, I’m eager to pack up the past 10 years in airtight boxes and file them deep in the corner of my overly analytical and critical mind. I know the number 30 is arbitrary, but I’m a sucker for symbolism. I don’t wish away the unpredictability, but I do hope the next 10 are less frantic and more confident; in fact, I’m certain they will be.

It feels good to have things so undefined again. It’s familiar this time, not alarming. I’ve finally accepted that too many variables are beyond my control, and my expectations—for career, for commitment, for stability and for stasis—have often let me down. I’m not lowering my expectations by any means, but I like knowing that I can approach them in different ways, at a steadier pace, and by embracing my shortcomings. I know that “failures” are also victories, because embedded in each conclusion are insights, reflections, lessons. … In my own history, the short period of time documented here will probably be categorized as “the sinking reality years”, as I know that this shit—pests (bugs and boys), minor debts, layoffs—is petty compared to everything that follows. I do feel more ready for it, though, like I’ve put on a helmet and fastened my seat belt. I guess that’s why the stress doesn’t feel as affecting now: I’ve raised a different kind of expectation—one for resistance, for impact—to more realistic levels.

The friends I’ve highlighted here are but a fraction of the people who have made my recent years so colorful. That I’ve been in New York just 4.5 is astounding to me, mostly because it previews what’s in store for the next 4.5, or 10, or 20: hundreds, even thousands more perspectives of people who flock to the heart of the creative and economic world, and who endure a lot of uncertainty and anguish if only to prove that they can bleed for what they love to do, or to test the expectations they’ve set for themselves—often falling short before trying again. This city is as much a character as the people who inhabit it; even as I watch my precious dollars melt away—not one at a time, but hundreds at a time—I feel indebted to this place and its powers, because of the people I’ve met, and because of their ability to positively affect my thoughts and behavior. An especially gracious “thank you” goes to these 13 friends who let me invade their private lives for this project, for my own gain. My persistent happiness and confidence in New York, or anywhere, would be nothing without companions; they have given me a home when I had none, found me work when I needed it, offered advice when I felt lost, forgiven me when I’ve done harm, and fixed my heart when it was broken. Do not let your friends go; their love is the most unconditional.

When I wrapped the first series, it meant saying goodbye to fictional characters I had created. It was fairly easy to find a concluding place, tie up loose ends, and get on with my own life. There are four characters in this story that feel somewhat fictional to me; I’ll be in no hurry to type the names Buckminster, Romeo, Cold Hands, or Strings again. I am happy to pack those names away along with that frantic version of me, and to move ahead as friends, without any silly pseudonyms. I see two regularly enough, and they’re considered among my best. Even though I was over these guys, I had to fall in love with them again as I walked through our relationships, then I had to fall back out of love as I moved things along. To the four of them, a thank you for letting me agonize, and an apology for seeming like a crazy person you dated. I hope what you read here feels sincere; it’s how I remember us and is, of course, just one perspective of two. More than anything, though, thanks for being wonderful and dynamic enough to write about, and for being highlights of my previous two years.

And of course, my gratitude goes to each of you. It would be hard for me to write this if I didn’t think anyone would read it. You really do validate the endeavor. I hope you’ll say hello and announce yourself, or send me a message on Instagram, or fill out the contact form on our website…I’d love to know your opinions, highlights, criticisms. I’d love to know where you’re from, or why you’re still reading. I’d love to know if you’re a literary agent. (Kidding!!!) A handful of you have said hello throughout the process, and it’s been great to count you as friends; it always means the most to hear from readers, and when you speak up, it gives me something to point to that says “maybe this is working.” Thanks again.

The next series will be fictional—hallelujah—and will be quite different from both of its predecessors, in tone and format. It launches this summer. And, yes, there’s a different illustrator; we’ll announce who it is today on Instagram, and will preview the series throughout the week. … With that, a “thank you” goes to our series 2 illustrator, my now darling friend, Levi (@leviathanleague). Thanks for giving this story its personality and visual identity, and for being such a wonderful collaborator. And once more, to everyone here: I am so grateful for your attention, your feedback, your trust. Last year, whenever I was a roving gypsy or a heartbroken fool, I had this project and you people to look ahead to each morning of the first series. That has only continued with series 2. You’ve played a very big role in my persistence, in my moving forward and feeling confident. I’ll miss you in this short interim, and excitedly await our summer reunion. I love you, quite terribly. So thanks.

CHAPTER 26

Bright Light Bright Light Rod Thomas Adam Hurly The Prospectives Levi Hastings BrightLightX2

Rod Thomas (@brightlightx2) and I met in early 2013; he had just moved to New York from London, and his publicist Talia was my roommate’s best friend. He’s a synth-pop singer-songwriter who performs under the name Bright Light Bright Light; Talia was talking him up to me, and within a few weeks Rod’s name was mentioned by a few other friends who were meeting him, seeing him perform, and listening to his albums. I booked him for a small April 2013 fundraiser performance that would inadvertently serve as a warm-up to his sold-out Joe’s Pub gig later that night. (For the non-New Yorkers, that’s not a standard pub; it’s a very intimate and prestigious venue, one fit for Adele as she showcased “25” to industry execs last winter.) I would interview him for a @HelloMr profile later that year at his apartment (just two blocks from mine in Crown Heights), and again booked him for a full-fledged concert at another fundraiser in January 2014, since his local fan base is a loyal and excited one. Through these various interactions, we forged a friendship that would blossom once I met my current roommate Tripp (@trippppp), who is one of Rod’s best mates. I’ve spent the last three Christmas Eves with Rod, staking out different restaurants and coffee shops around Crown Heights as we celebrate our respective families’ indifference to a silly traditional holiday. (We both prefer to visit home in warmer months, under less expensive and obligatory conditions, and our parents appreciate the logic.) Benchmarked at each of those Christmas Eves was a reflection on the previous year; being friends with Rod is a treat for this reason, because his talents make for interesting milestones. This last holiday, for instance, as he readied his third album (to be released this summer), we looked back on a year that he spent touring with Elton John, opening 55 shows on the legend’s world tour. The neighbor boy, Rod! Opening for Elton! At least someone had a good 2015….

Rod, 33, grew up between two villages in South Wales, surrounded by farmland and far from any of his friends. He would help his grandparents at their neighboring farm on the weekends, and the idyllic isolation gave him plenty of time to study music, to learn multiple instruments and how to record. He went to university in the Midlands in England, studying English Literature and Creative Writing, then moved to London in 2004, where he started working for PIAS, a record company that distributes lots of big and small independent labels. (In a lovely turn of events, they now distribute Rod’s label, too.) During his two years at PIAS, Rod learned how the industry worked, then decided to seek out new challenges within that arena. He wanted to land a job in music PR, and in the “stop gap” after the PIAS job, he began busking in the London Underground and working at a bar to help pay rent. Without his realizing it, the job search went on hold, and the busking-bartending continued for two years. He set up his own label and released a 7” single on his 24th birthday. Rod admits that there wasn’t a brightly lit path in front of him as his own music career progressed: “I think forward movement has always been my biggest struggle—knowing what to do to keep growing, to keep improving, and keep progressing. Early on, a lot of it was total guesswork—just doing something and seeing what happened.”

“It’s taken me a while to arrive where I am,” Rod says. His sound isn’t the Hot 100, chart-topping kind of pop that would compete with bubblegum divas, so he’s had to push his own career forward whenever execs and labels turn a deaf ear: “I didn’t have anyone funding me, so recording took longer,” he says. “I didn’t have a label or publisher pushing me to other artists, so any connections were from friends and touring together.” That has given him a different approach to the creative process: “All collaborations have felt incredibly natural and rewarding,” he says. “I also feel like I’ve had time to really think about where I wanted to go next, and how I felt about what had gone. There was a little luxury in that steady pace for contemplation, initially. But look, I’m 33 now, and after years of compounding, I’ve been able to build relationships—actual friendships—with great musicians: Elton, all of the Scissor Sisters, John Grant. Some artists have had a much quicker rise to ‘success’—however you want to define it—but I feel like I’ve made genuine and long-lasting connections along the way, all while doing it without the traditional backing. That can only happen with time; it can’t be forced.”

Besides the aforementioned artists, Rod has been able to tour or perform alongside Erasure, Kylie Minogue, and Grace Jones. He and Ana Matronic (of Scissor Sisters fame) covered Pet Shop Boys’ classic “West End Girls” which got glowing reviews from the band. His live performances are most memorable, because he can hit his high notes and always has a surprise in store; he might bring out his animated, equally talented friends, and he played a saxophone at his most recent New York show, to debut a new song from his forthcoming album. At that February 2016 gig, the room was packed with women, gay men, and music industry folks—the same faithful base that has bolstered most of Rod’s idols. “There have been vivid moments, like my first-ever shows in Seattle in 2013 and Chicago in 2015, where I didn’t know what to expect for a turnout. In Seattle it was a packed room, and at Chicago’s ‘Market Days’ festival, I played to a full outdoor lot. I never, ever thought growing up in South Wales that I’d have an audience the other side of the world. You can be comfortable with people coming to a show in a city where you live, or where friends live, but in a new city, finding a waiting fan base is very special.” It’s daunting to know he’s saying this after 10 years of metaphorical busking. If I keep my own writing cap on, I wonder how long it is before I’m not just making ends meet, but actually getting ahead—you know, saving something for my future, maybe being able to buy a house before I’m dead, or getting out of credit card and student loan debt. In that capacity, I’m not even sure Rod is getting ahead yet, but he’s pretty damn happy, and validated. And, since his momentum is still building, it’s hard to tally any real loss.

I ask Rod to reflect on how his approach to the profession has evolved with age. He says he’s calmer now, less concerned with the uncertainty of things, and that time has played a big part in developing his place: “I really felt stressed in my 20s, and at times very lost. It is overwhelming and distressing to realize that there are so many other musicians, especially in London. I did a lot of shows where I saw label people swarming to all the other artists. I would feel like a failure even when things were going well, because I would compare myself to them. Plus, without ever knowing what was coming next, my brain would always be in panic.” He says he needed these experiences for his perspective before he could empower the right change, the right confidence. Rod cites his 2013 move to New York as a turning point, especially as he wrote his second album, 2014’s “Life is Easy”. (Quite the title for someone who’s had to dial it in his whole career.) “That record became more about flipping the perspective from pessimism and anger to optimism and acceptance. It felt like a much better version of me. I feel more confident, both in myself and my music, and I’m having more fun than ever in the creative periods. I think it shows, and it gives me a better approach to everything—personal and professional relationships, songwriting, finances…everything.”

Rod’s songwriting is also a reflection of his growth. His first album was largely spent singing about other people’s experiences: “Feel It” was about Laura Palmer from “Twin Peaks”, while “Grace” and “Moves” were about his friends’ breakups, not his own. Things became much more personal on his second album, as he tapped into his own wealth of emotions for material. “I think my song ‘In Your Care’ is probably the most literal projection of where I was when making my second album, and my journey up to that point,” he says. “I did—and still do—have a horrible sense of guilt for being happy living in a place so very far away from my family and where I come from. I feel more at home in New York than I have anywhere. But I do miss my family and I do wish it were easier to see them. However, we have a great relationship and lots to talk about, and they love New York, so it could be worse. But the child’s guilt of moving away is quite present. I had a very vocal response to that song from a lot of fans and friends, and people who have children. I think it’s the most honest I’d ever been in a song. … On ‘More Than Most’ from that same record, there’s a line that goes ‘Try to take some time out from dreaming what the world could be’. I had finally arrived to a space where I was really enjoying life, so I tried my damn best to stop wishing for things that weren’t happening, to stop missing the moment.” Rod says his upcoming album will be his biggest fusion of artist and person: “Because I had the most fun actually making this record, I feel like it’s the truest reflection of ‘me’. There’s more humor in it, more of the tongue-in-cheek melodrama. Lots of emotion, and lots of the energy that I love to put into my live shows and my DJ sets. I feel like I’ve progressed a lot in this last year, particularly with all the touring, and I know my best creative skills more than I did on the previous album, which itself was an improvement on the first.” I admire this about him—this measurable growth, this awareness and self-audit that positively affects his creativity.

“I’m very grateful for the struggle years,” Rod says. “The busking, with its 6 a.m. alarms to sing to commuters. The bar jobs, the carrying a keyboard, guitar, and bag of equipment on my own for three miles across a city and up hills and through pedestrians to get to a show. It has made me who I am. But Jesus Christ, I don’t wish myself back to my 20s for a second. Right now, I’m making the music that I most want to, in the way I most want to, so that the 45-year-old me can be really fucking proud of what I’ve achieved, with or without other people’s help. I want to look back at my albums and feel like I really gave them everything, but also that I had fun doing them. I’ve given up trying to be something I’m not; I know what kind of man and what kind of musician I am. And now it doesn’t interest me to be angry or pessimistic, so I’m working very hard to forge a life where I can avoid those, and hopefully make it last. I’m very excited to age gracefully towards that.”

CHAPTER 25

The Prospectives Adam Hurly Levi Hastings

I was all nerves as I rode the elevator down to greet Buckminster for our workday lunch. We met outside my building, and he looked every bit the charming architect I had dated a year and some change prior: smart specs, clean beard, white button-down shirt, pop-color socks (my favorite). We hugged awkwardly; I kissed his cheek in that polite way, but he refrained—though he seemed plenty happy to see me. We turned toward Park Avenue and he stopped to look up at the high-rise building that had been under construction for a couple years. He spouted some knowledge about the project, as well as his opinion of the finished structure, and I sunk into a familiar, relaxed place. Once we were seated at the cafe with our food, we started where we left off: He outlined a big road trip from the summer before, then talked about the various highlights from school, as well as updates on his family and friends. My highlights weren’t as highlighty—benchmarks, more than anything—but I was lighthearted as I told him about my nine-month moving saga. I never brought up Strings, despite the hundred questions I could have asked—Did Buckminster know we overlapped? Were they still dating? Who made the first move? Do you know this is killing me?—and we stayed clear of any mention of our dating lives. We sandwiched 16 months into one hour, keeping affectionate smiles—no, appreciative ones—all the while. I felt the closure I had wanted, knowing we could sit here like this and resume our candor—perhaps with guards up ever so slightly—and I was proud of this person I had loved, was grateful for our history, and was excited for his future, regardless of who it included. I hope, very sincerely, that those feelings were and are requited.

In September, the South Dakota Advertising Federation invited me to Sioux Falls to speak about how my team planned and created content at Birchbox. While it was great being flown home just to talk about my job with a couple hundred people, it was even better that I would get to see Mom and Dad again, and so soon after my May visit. Usually, I only get home once a year, and sometimes not even that. Once there, I realized that this was the first time in my life I had the two of them alone for more than a few hours. As the second child of four, I always had to share their attention, and with Keith so freshly out the door to college (just a few weeks prior), I was the first to witness them as empty nesters. There was a certain lightness to them now, a tinge of relief and maybe some confusion, but it felt like they were ten years younger than the pair I had visited just four months earlier. Dad grilled steaks for dinner that first night—the “Adam is home” meal—and Mom prepared some vegetables and a pasta salad. We sat down together, occupying one half of the 6-person table that hosted twenty five years of family meals. We said the usual “Bless us, oh Lord” prayer, then clinked our beer bottles—my kind of ritual—and I felt very lucky to be there with them, very proud to see my parents start this new phase together, 31 years after the last one began. It’s a level of commitment and sacrifice that seems impossible, a selflessness that humbles me.

A few minutes into dinner, Mom asked about Strings: Was he still in the picture? I felt a little humiliated, telling her no, and that he had left the picture promptly after she learned of him. I thanked her for asking, because I didn’t want that to go unnoticed. “You know, I’ve joined a men’s group,” Dad said to break the silence that followed. “I meet with a few guys every week for coffee. They’re old like me, conservative, family men. It’s nice because I can bicker with them and spare your mom the noise. They see the world same as me. And well…I told them recently that I have a gay son. And that he’s doing cool things with his life. And I just don’t care anymore what people think about it. It shouldn’t matter. And you know what else? They all think it’s pretty cool, too. And some of them have gay sons also.” That was Dad’s way of holding the door open; this was the same man who preferred not to discuss my sexuality just five years earlier, when I came out. I don’t know if being childless at home changed anything, like maybe he realized it makes more sense to prop the door wide inside making me knock. “Thanks, Dad,” was all I could muster. This small thing was huge for him, and huge for us. He got more beers, and then started asking me bigger questions: Have I ever had any boyfriends? Is it normal for gay men to be friends with their exes? So, what happened with Strings?—and this waterfall of information poured out of me all night. We very naturally navigated from Strings to Buckminster, then from Romeo into Tolliver. We talked about smoking pot—Dad thought he was pretty badass for doing it in the 70s—and I confessed to my own share of “tried its”. We talked about how I almost disappeared in 2009, and how long I had been seeing men before I came out of the closet, and that I had a secret boyfriend when I lived at home in 2010, and that I still wanted to get married and maybe still wanted children. (“I keep thinking it’d be neat if you got to have kids,” Dad told me. “You’d be a good dad.”) Mom stayed mostly quiet, beaming behind a smile as I, for the first time in 29 years, introduced myself to them.

My post-Strings recoil is the longest I’ve had. I haven’t spent a night with anyone since then, nor have I carried on dating anyone more than a couple times. Gradually—since September or October, I’d say—I’ve grown accustomed to just being alone, and the idea of sharing my bed (or anyone else’s) seems inconvenient and bothersome. I don’t know what that represents on a grander scale; metaphorically I guess I’ve built up a wall. I’ve been here before, but not with such persistence, such insistence, such indifference. I’m not as good at dating anymore; I’m tougher to crack, to impress, to keep entertained, and I certainly care less to attempt those acts on anyone else. Or maybe I know when I’m wasting my time, which is almost always. If I had found Romeo after Strings, I’d have publicly announced our togetherness immediately, because I would have understood the value of our connection. Same with Buckminster. However, to counter that notion, I might now filter out anyone like them—an ex of an ex, or someone who was moving—without even giving them a chance. My whole practice is limiting, is jaded, is defeated. The good news, though, is that I feel less disappointed in myself, and more disappointed in others. I can thank Strings for that—for being the careless one here, for saying something and not standing behind it. If my new practice is preventing me from meeting more Buckminsters and Romeos, at least it is also filtering the thread-thin Stringses.

The two of them were in San Francisco at the same time, or so Instagram told me. Both for a wedding. Whose wedding, I don’t know. Were they together, I don’t know. I just as well assumed it. This was maybe September. It didn’t sting as much, but it felt really fucking annoying, like everything else that had happened in the last year. I couldn’t even try to keep them cordially in my life without feeling some sense of frustration or bitterness or minor rage. … At our July lunch, I got Buckminster’s blessing to write about him in this story. He didn’t know the full extent, but he happily said yes, that this was my own perspective for the telling, and that I should absolutely do it. He texted me in October when Chapter 3 went up—it’s the illustration of him and me—and gave me another indication of approval, of support. It felt like I should properly tell him where the story was going, that I’d eventually address this strange love triangle we were in. I got him on the phone and told him about everything, and it turns out he had not known of our overlap. But then I had to ask—if only because there would be no other appropriate time—if they were together. “First of all, no, we are not. Nothing really happened after we hooked up. We went on one date in New York, which was an overlap of you guys I guess…but the SF weddings were a coincidence. We didn’t even cross paths while there,” he said. “Second, I’m very sorry you had to deal with this. That was probably pretty straining. I don’t apologize for what I did because there was no bad intent…” I agreed with him there; he owed no such apology. “Third, and I say this in all seriousness: Maybe you shouldn’t give so much attention to Instagram. You really read into it, don’t you? Obviously it helped you learn that he and I met, but it seems like it’s adding some unnecessary stress to your life.” I laughed a “yeah, yeah, yeah…”, agreeing with him again.

Zach (@zachames) and I went to Denver in October, to visit Ben (@benjaminnyc) and Justin (@justinhsmith), to check on their life and see their new apartment (as in, actually brand new, paint just dried), and to go hiking and meet their friends and try their favorite restaurants and feel a sense of relief that everything was good. And it was. After each activity, Ben would confirm with us that “Denver is awesome, right?”, which was adorable and unnecessary, because we were having a great time and were thrilled for the happiness they were exuding. They had a new pair of best friends, this lovely female couple who had also just moved from New York, and their three-legged dog Cheyenne (@cheyenne_i_am), who spends many hours each week with Ben while he works from home. (Funny enough, all of his contracted clients are based in New York.) We tried some hip restaurants and dipped our toes in the Denver gay nightlife. New York has the obvious advantage there, though we all agreed that none of us would really pick a city for its nightlife anymore. Regardless, it’s inconsequential when you’re dancing with your best friends, when you’re happy and they’re happy and you can put to rest any worries that they moved too quickly. We’re all moving too quickly, really; I envied that they found a way to slow it all down, to focus on one another, and to try something new. I returned to New York wishing I felt as confident about any one thing as Ben did about his life. Denver was a good fit, or at least he knew how to make it look and feel snug, to hide any trace of missing New York, if he even missed it at all.

Until things got disrupted at work in late January, I found myself in this seven-month window of lacking any real life updates. There were a lots of trips in there, to South Dakota, Denver, Boston, Mexico, Vermont, Spain. Like the weather, that became my fallback topic, because there were no changes at work, no health scares, no financial upheavals, no romantic pursuits, no changing apartments, nothing that felt worthy of much dialogue…and thank God for that. I count that period of time as one of my biggest victories in adulthood; the prolonged stasis, until it becomes complacency, feels like a long weekend of lounging in the sun. Most people wanted the assurance that my home life was finally settled. And yes, of course it was: Crown Heights was bringing me as much satisfaction as Prospect Heights had, and now without radiators, with triple the space and for less money; it’s one of the few rat races in my recent New York City life that I have without question “won”. “Everything’s good,” I would say to anyone who asked. “It’s good. It’s all fine, really. I…I don’t know what’s new. Nothing much. I’m just…I’m doing really well, I suppose. I guess I’m trying to stay focused on that.”

CHAPTER 24

Laura Bolt Adam Hurly Levi Hastings The Prospectives

“Heather was a source of stress for you, and the more you collected anguish, the more you associated the bad experiences with her.” My friend Laura Bolt (@la_vie_bolt) helps me feel less cuckoo about projecting every problem into a tiny wooden figurine. “The act of performing something, like releasing Heather, is a sense of theater, which is a valid way to stop bad things: Taking performative, ritualistic measures will often free the mind. Maybe you cursed her, not the other way around; maybe she was just an object and was representative of this part of your brain that you were pouring all your anxiety into. You had all these happy feelings towards this new life: great job, great friends, finally a great apartment, and suddenly a likely boyfriend. But there was still within you this bad energy that was harboring your guilt and emotional baggage and a belief that you aren’t worthy of these good things. I don’t think what you did is crazy. It’s the opposite; it’s healthy.” I jokingly compare it to Catholic reconciliation, though: Whenever I would go to “confession” as a child, I would only tell the priest as much as I was comfortable telling him—”I lied once. I did things I shouldn’t do. I watched MTV at a sleepover.”—and the priest would tell me to “say 10 Hail Marys” and all would be absolved. Heather just feels like some stupid carryover of that ritual to me: “Get rid of this idol and all problems will go away.” Laura doesn’t subscribe to any singular belief system, but instead pulls ideals from many. However, Catholicism is not one of them: “I have no perception of Catholic guilt, but it’s fascinating how so many western, binary religions tell you that you must repent in order to feel free of anguish. In Buddhism, you are taught to examine your intentions. Were your intentions to cause pain? Do you honestly believe that Strings and Buckminster getting together was punishment for you dating Romeo? Really? Love-triangle karma? And that this guilt started your apartment-moving hell? Getting rid of Heather can’t change those things that happened. But it can serve as a reminder that you’re ready to move on from it all…. Embrace the ritual.”

Laura has been my spiritual advisor lately. I find solace in holing up at the two-blocks-away Crown Heights apartment she shares with her best pal Jon (@jonmroth). The two of them, both editors as well, were laid off at @DETAILSmag in November, and they tackled unemployment with a good, healthy sense of humor; their energy and few-steps-ahead-of-me perspective has been especially helpful in preventing me from feeling too wounded in my own unemployment. (Also, the cookies Jon bakes.) Just a couple weeks before losing her job, Laura moved out of a shared apartment with a long-term boyfriend, and into this one. She’s done a lot of embracing the unknown since then—and who wouldn’t, when job and home and love crumble in succession? And while I’ve seen her endure some pretty shitty days, the persistent sentiment is that “this too shall pass”, and that she will emerge strong, resilient, happy. Laura’s advice to me: “We tend, especially as New Yorkers and people who are driven and put a lot into their work, to craft an identity out of our jobs, and when that goes away it’s easy to feel like you’ve lost a part of yourself. But something like losing a job can force you to recalibrate, question the path you’re on, and whether you’re really doing what you want to be doing. It gives you a special kind of freedom to explore who you are at this point in your life. Well, you can do that anytime technically, but a big universal push—like unexpected unemployment—will allow you to do it better than almost anything else. Once the thing you are afraid of happens, then that fear is also gone. As important as financial stability is, maybe what you can find now is a better sense of self, which is the best way to align with what you want and how to get it.” This outlook justifies the emotions, and draws a dotted line to the feeling I want to have (security) and away from the one currently felt (fear of the unknown): How can I get from here to there? “The mind will work it out,” Laura says. “Understand that stress is part of that, and trust that you’ll get there, maybe quickly but maybe slowly. Just hold onto that.”

Most of my friends’ parents tried at some point to introduce religion to their children. Some of these baby boomers will get through life without ever questioning the belief system into which they were born, while accepting it as moral law—wow, cool life—while others have accepted their kids’ dissonance and the fact that maybe religion is just one way of processing the unknown; it’s socially structured spiritualism. Laura’s mother is in the latter camp; the daughter of a Methodist minister, she tried taking Laura to church but knew it was futile when Laura would spend the entire service looking for ghosts and spirits—“It seemed like one of the best places to communicate with ghosts, so that’s how I would pass the time.”—and when Laura was insubordinate as a 13-year-old acolyte: “That’s where they give you robes and a big candle-lighting wand. When I was walking down the aisle during church, I put on these huge Joan Didion sunglasses and just sat there on the bench with the light pouring in on me. Mom was so mortified, but she never punished me. She just accepted that I didn’t buy into it.” Neither does her father; her parents are still together but Dad has never gone to church: “They’re so philosophically and temperamentally different, but the vibe just works. Dad is really into existential philosophy, and we talk a lot about Buddhism together. Mom doesn’t talk about religion or make other people engage with it. It’s a thing she does, a thing Dad doesn’t do, and they leave it at that. Seeing them balance that was a big reason I stayed spiritual once I rejected religion; these two people existed in harmony while processing things in different manners. All I had to do was find my own manner—some malleable way of thinking, one that would keep me stable if nothing else made sense, if and when things get turned upside down.”

Laura and I are having this conversation around her living room on the evening of January 23, which brings with it Tropical Storm Jonas and 26 inches of snow. “Tonight is a full wolf moon,” she tells me, sounding something like a Hogwarts Divination professor. “It’s the perfect night for charging one’s crystals.” She hands me a small drawstring bag filled with four crystals, and I smirk as I posit why she’s gifting them to me. “Maybe you can use these as a more proactive ritual moving forward,” she says. “Crystals provide a good way of stating intentions, and understanding your needs. I believe everything is based on energy. The direction and intention of energy really depends on who you believe you’re talking to: a supreme being, a goddess, the earth.” (I guess my “supreme being” is some sort of god or goddess, though I’ve never imagined it with any physical attributes.) “You’re going to take these crystals and pour your intentions into them whenever you want or need something, as you clutch them in your hands. Think about what you want to get strength from and to achieve. It’s not the most pragmatic way of doing things, but it’s a simple intention, and they’ll give you a good backdrop of energy. It’s like prayer; just channel your energy into them, towards that supreme being. But, before you do that, you need to clear them and charge them in the sun or moonlight. Anything with particular meaning, like a solstice or equinox or full moon, has especially strong energy.” OK, got it. I think.

There are four crystals in the bag: quartz, amethyst, bloodstone, and citrine. “Quartz is the bind that makes everything more powerful; it’s the activating agent, like yeast for bread,” says Laura. “Amethyst is for mental clarity and purity; you’ll be very focused because of it. Bloodstone is holistic; it’s for protection. And citrine is for luck and prosperity.” She shows off her Comparative Religions degree by connecting this stability-seeking practice to a Daoist principle: “We are flowing like the way water flows, and anything against that current is going to disrupt us. Nature is meant to be unstable, and humans have an innate need to stabilize themselves. We work really hard to have definition in our relationships, and the work that we do, and the way that we relate to the world. You can’t hold on to things with a tight grip—except for these crystals, of course—because everything has to change. You have to lose things—people, money, security. If you don’t accept this, then you’ll be constantly bracing for impact and trying to avoid the inevitable. Without an internal flexibility that allows you to evolve and change, you’re going to be in chaos, and you will lead a very tragic, isolated life. Having this flexibility will keep your head above water, no matter what drastic things might happen; it’s the best way to preserve one’s self-esteem. Keep that in mind as you state your intentions; always work with that understanding and openness.”

I did charge the crystals that night, and the next morning I clasped them in my hand and channeled my intentions into them. I wished for a year of stability, of little excitement. I didn’t want to be closed off to changes—I felt ready to handle anything drastic, given my 2015—but my preference was to have a solid block of uneventful months, to be able to focus my uninterrupted attention on whatever was next. Work was steady and I had no plans to leave; my home life was also in perfect shape. I hadn’t dated anyone significantly since Strings; that game felt like a big fucking joke to me, so I was still opting out. Then, a few days later, after all 26 inches of snow had melted away, I lost my job. So much for my desired stasis. “That doesn’t take away from you focusing on what it is you want,” Laura says. “You want stability, security. Either way, you still get to focus on what is next, and look—your home life is still good, you have enough people to ask for work, and you only have yourself to support, so it’s all very manageable. Now you get to find security in your next endeavors. And you can still find it yet.” She’s right. It didn’t seem all that terrible; I got a good severance package, plus a prompt push away from happy complacency. I could pursue freelance writing and editing work and take time to find the next role to challenge me. I had a flashback to that poor, helpless, naïve kid who sulked outside of Pixar in 2009, totally entitled, totally heartbroken. I charged the crystals again the night I was laid off, and the next morning, sent into them my intentions of staying calm, keeping control, and, per Daoist wisdom, for flexibility and strength in times of change.

Laura and I are both 29. She points out that this is our year of “Saturn returns”: Basically, Saturn takes 29.5 years to round the Sun and return to the place in the sky where it was when you were born. Astrologers believe that anyone between the ages of 27-29 crosses a barrier that ushers them into a new phase of maturity, of adulthood. I like the idea, but I also used to think that 25 was the panacea number, and then 27, and now 29 because this theory gives me something to latch onto. I’m not sure what to expect this year, but something about being told by Birchbox that I’m now free of a salary, of subsidized health insurance, of routine, feels like my supreme being telling me that “it’s time to put your practice into play, to test the talents you’ve fostered, the network you’ve nourished, the wall you’ve built around your ego and conscience and heart… don’t hesitate; run.” Adds Laura: “There’s a helpful Mysticism practice of determining your identity and purpose: Turn your focus inward; guide and teach yourself to look at what’s around you and to listen to your intentions, see the signs, and you’ll see that you have far better tools than most people who are, as they say, ‘out in the forest’, searching for answers anywhere but within themselves.” As she tells me this after my layoff, I feel a strange kind of strength and assurance. The barrier around my mind is so tested by time and elements: If Adam 22 had to stumble and fall and dodge arrows in order to lift himself up and evolve into Adam 29, then Adams 35, 45, and 70 could only be born of a widened stance, firmly stated intentions—a god-damned battle cry, for that matter—and a full charge, right into the fire.