chapter 33

God, I miss her

I miss the idea of her

The reality of her

My dreams of her

The fantasy of her

The thrill

The joy

The levity

The hand holding

The longing

The yearning

The wondering

The questioning

The magic of it all

I felt special

I felt chosen

I felt me

My best me

God, I miss her

I miss her idea of me.


chapter 32: the trees

Today’s one of those sun on your shoulder-iced coffee-sneakers and an evening walk-kind of days in New York, and I thought to myself at lunch, “why not write to you.” It’s not a Monday, but that’s okay.

I’d rather not state the flat-out obvious (it’s been a while have I died), and plow right on to the news: I’m feeling good. I’m actually satisfied right now. What about you? How have the last couple of months been for you?

Every day on my way home from work on these commonly slush-ridden, hail-storming evenings, I walk past a park: it’s surrounded by a towering black-iron gate, and the garden is covered in snow: yellow snow, brown snow, black snow, vomit snow. But along the garden’s perimeter are tall, gaunt tree stalks. They’re hunched, like they’ve been bearing the weight of a cold, dark winter for too long, and they haven’t had the chance to express themselves in months.

I’ve felt like those trees for a while: hunched over my desk littered with menial tasks, silencing myself creatively for fear of exposing my lack and insecurities, trivializing myself into the size of a shrub.

It’s an awful feeling when you make yourself small – when you let your fears rock you to sleep and surrender. But all winter long, I’ve told myself, “It’s just your season. The season will pass.”

And slowly, like the unraveling of the first bud of a baby stalk, I think… I might… be opening.

Thanks to a recent submission deadline for screenplays, I’ve actually written a good chunk of mine and sent it out. And what fortitude it took: the screaming matches between my fears and my passions continued into the night. But with the forced intervention of a deadline, the two were coerced (momentarily) to extend an olive branch so I could do my job – which is merely what I think I’m meant to do on this earth, which is write and hope that it resonates with people.

But perhaps it’s the silence of their screaming that’s letting me write to you today. When fear doesn’t try to suffocate passion, there’s a quiet space made, like the cleaning of a sock drawer or kitchen cabinet, for inspiration and encouragement to come in. I’m so grateful for this. (May it last through the night may it last through the night).

And I’m actually in love, guys. And it’s not that fucked up-can’t have you but want you-why is life so hard-is this good for my writing but bad for my health-kind of love. But an actually supportive, warming feeling that also helps keep the fears at bay, or at least, joins me in solidarity to fight them. Eleanor’s a special person, and it helps to be with someone who paints and understands the vulnerability of creating while juggling a job, but she does her own thing and has a talent I cannot comprehend. She still lives across the hall, though we do enjoy our sleepovers.

I’m reading a great book called “Story” right now – have you heard of it? It’s commonly coined the “Bible of screenwriting,” but its advice on creating a story and maintaining a structure align with writing a book, plays, etc. In the first couple of pages, it states that when we go to see a movie or a play, and the lights go down, and our reactions are hidden to the world, we’re free to feel how we want to feel – which is why we pay lots of money and invest our time to see them. That liberation in this world is a rare, rare beast. But beyond this point, it also mentions how there’s a grave misconception when it comes to movies and theatre and books: we don’t put in the time and effort with these pieces to escape our lives, but rather to find them – to discover our flaws and our desires in the characters we meet. We watch and read these pieces so we know we’re not alone.

So we know we’re not alone. Isn’t that brilliant? That we ride the escalator to theatre 4, shell out $18 on a movie ticket and some Raisinets, just to be reminded for two and a half hours that we’re not alone.

And in the writing of these pieces – when you’re the one endeavoring to write the book, the movie, the show – that’s truly the story behind your story. You write to reassure and connect with others and let them know, “Hey, you’re just like me, and I’m just like you. We’re gonna be okay.”

I can’t wait to walk by the park today. With the first 60-degree day in New York in months, I know what I’ll find. Where there was once yellow and black and brown snow, there will be grass. And where there was gaunt and hunched trees, there will be buds. And that’s the thing about the seasons: just when you think that nothing has happened and all is dormant and nothing is moving forward, life suddenly appears, having waited for its moment to blossom, and you come alive.

chapter 31: cupping “potential”

Every now and then, a nice little batch of good news floats down the Hudson, like a soft, giggly baby in a basket, and shows up right at my door.

Yesterday, while choosing which sesame roll to buy in the baked goods aisle for a meatloaf sandwich I was planning to make, I noticed a new email in my inbox:

It was from Kyle, a LA-based director I had worked with on a short film years ago, who relentlessly believed in me, but had his own career to forge, a family to feed, etc., etc.

Months ago, I had sent him a script I was beginning to work on, 21 pages full of those nascent little buds of ideas that just thrill you but you know need more sunlight and earth and digging and just tons of raw sweat to thrive. I hoped he would get it.

He did. He asked if he could come see me this month while he’s in New York for a sitcom he’s helping produce, and just have a drink, talk the story, catch up, and try to hatch something a bit more from the mini development.

Of course, grabbing a drink with a director I worked with years ago is no wild, incredible news. My script isn’t bought or even finished. But the meeting has, as I like to call it, great “potential energy.”

Not kinetic – because it doesn’t necessarily promise that things will move along with this script and with this director – but it’s something. It’s not nothing. It holds potential, like a baby cups water in his hands during a bath.

And when you’re starving for potential, a handshake, a meatloaf sandwich, then you get very excited for the single opportunity. But I’m trying not to get excited. Because this meeting is not a guarantee of anything. Do I sound excited? I’m not. I am. I am not. Because success is such a fleeting, painful little beast that kind of “fucks you” and then moves along. Like a bee sting. But the bee doesn’t die.

I am kind of excited for it. 

But I hate that I am, I really do. The thing about success is that once it stings you, and once it lifts you, you spend the rest of your life trying to feel that again. The elation of momentarily doing what you want and what you love and feeling confident and capable, like you’re looking back at your journey and watching the stars align for you and smile at you, like you’re supported and “it all makes sense now.”

This is the moment where movies always end, where the camera drifts farther away from the happy ending and we watch it fade and haze out and then suddenly the credits roll telling us who created this fake scene.

Life doesn’t end at “happy.” After that neat little closing sequence, someone will fight, a miscommunication will pass, bad news will present itself, and then the cycle will continue and continue and drone on.

But does that mean we don’t celebrate the good moments? The ones that resemble a nice “sting” even when they’re merely the flutter of the bee’s wings?

No, you do. Because if you don’t jump on them then, then you’ll just saunter in the deep, never basking in that bubbly rush of “potential” – which is nearly as good as the sting. Maybe even better.

The potential is the beginning – that plotting, uphill crank of the roller coaster car to the top, when everything is fresh and there is wonder and you know there’s a view, but you can’t see it yet. It’s where the imagination lives and breathes and engulfs you and lets you play. It’s the start of your opening scene, when your story untangles itself. It’s freedom, and it’s bliss.

So yeah, I’m pretty excited about this meeting. I’m kind of excited. I’m definitely excited. 

I’m excited for anything, because anything is better than nothing.


chapter 30: almost every Monday

I changed my tagline on here. Can you see it at the top?

Before it was “my life, every Monday,” but now I’ve decided to make it “my life, almost every Monday.” I figure it’s more realistic.

How’s your week been?

Mine’s been pretty okay. Eleanor’s birthday is coming up, so I’ve been thinking a lot about that. My co-worker Vanessa said that birthdays are a very big thing in relationships because every person handles them differently. Some gifts are sparse or elaborate, meaningful or a spectacle, and whatever they are says a lot about the relationship.

Naturally, I feel like I could crap my pants simply because I don’t know how or what to get her, and how and if we are in a relationship, and I don’t have that much time.

Two weeks.

What does she like?

Does she like a nice dinner? A show? A bike? A box of her favorite cookies? How small and how big can I go? How much does she like me?

If the tables were turned, I’d probably just want to have dinner someplace nice and we’d take a walk outside and eat a sundae and have sex and that would be the end of it and then I’d be 41.

But women are different. The magic is in the details. Is the gift thoughtful? No, is it really thoughtful? Like, did I pick up on some telepathic predilection that she doesn’t yet know she has?

Eleanor’s turning 26, which I guess is kind of a big deal ’cause everything in your twenties is a big deal, but it’s not as big as 25 or 30.

Twenty-six is when you say hello to your “late twenties,” which is such a silly term because there’s nothing “late” about it. You’re right on time and you’re so young and the number means nothing.

Where was I at 26?

I guess I was inching my way toward what I now affectionally call “my peak,” with my films getting picked up at festivals, and critics buzzing about my “potential,” etc., etc.

After the peak, I wasn’t really able to follow it up with anything as successful, and naturally, I tumbled back down to “ordinary,” hitting my head on a couple of bumps on my way down, and spending a couple of years healing the bruises.

But that’s okay. I’m still writing. It’s just a life. It doesn’t have to shake the world. Sometimes I really think all we can do is work hard and be kind and let life do what it’ll do.

And then other times I want to set fire to the world, and I want to ignite it with spirit and wonder, and I want to light it up, and I want to help shape it into something good.

And then sometimes I don’t know what I want.

Like for Eleanor’s birthday. What do I get her?

What would you get her?

chapter 29: convenience or coincidence?

Being with someone is a very strange thing. You really have to feel like their company is worth the compromise, because when you’re with another person, sharing is the theme of the day, every day.

Every moment, of every day.

You share your cereal with the person, the dessert you picked up on the way home, the glass of water they said they didn’t want but now they do. The rye bread in the bread basket.

But you also have to share how you feel about everything. And just when you think you’ve shared it all, you quickly realize even everything isn’t enough. No, your partner wants you to air your insides like a wet t-shirt or a fluffy carpet hung to dry. 

But even that’s not enough. Then, they want to watch you meticulously fan your insides in the hot hours of the day, until they’re smooth and in their proper place again.

Being with someone is really exhausting. But is it worth it?

I say this because I’ve been with Eleanor for a while now, the woman who lives across the hall. You know, she’s 25 years old, an aspiring artist, and she made me a miniature painting of that time we got high. It hangs on the wall beside my bed.

But by “been with” Eleanor, I do mean that I’ve been hanging out with her a ton. Like, we’re spending a lot of quality time in one another’s presence without uttering those four precious words:

What are we doing?

And it’s a good question, because I really don’t know. The day will arrive, oh yes, when the question must be answered. But for now…

I like getting bagels on Sundays with her, sharing my writing with her, teaching her things about bank accounts and stocks that I, too, knew nothing about at 25. I like watching some aimless independent film she picks out on Netflix. I like watching her eat tacos.

There’s something very easy and quaint and almost college about the whole thing because it’s just so convenient. If I told my parents about it, they’d likely say, “Oh, Dougie. When are you gonna grow up?”

But what’s wrong with convenience? With a tilt in perspective and a shedding of cyncism, convenience can simply be “coincidence.” 

When do you know when it’s comfort or more?

chapter 28: the trouble with confidence

It’s hard to like a confident person – but not because of jealousy.

Chances are, you know a confident person, or you’ve heard one give an interview. They glide gracefully across words when they speak, have illuminating smiles that relax their peers, and are masters of the faux-humble “I don’t even know what I’m doing!” line tacked onto a statement announcing a massive accomplishment.

We’re taught to emulate and even fall for these people. “Want to find the one you love? Just be confident.” We’re told they’re inspiring and inspiring is sexy.

But it’s not real.

Deep down, everyone is actually insecure – painfully at odds with the shape of their face, their lack of a passion, their weight gain, their diminutive bank account. But the “confident” do a good job at hiding it  – or, as the self-help books and articles call it, “overcoming” it.

But are we really overcoming anything?

At the end of the day, we’re still just standing in the shower at 7:43am, hot water splashing our faces as we contemplate the day to come and the decisions we made yesterday, and all the insecurities that are coming with us on the journey.

I like people who aren’t confident, and who aren’t afraid to show it. Not downers or people who spend the 9-5 pitying themselves. No, I like my friends to have moderately-low self esteem, but still be operational. To be open enough to still be themselves + their insecurities, not just themselves + a sturdy, confident facade.

While it’s easy to admire the veneer, it’s even easier to relate to the person who doesn’t have one. The stranger who turns red when they make a mistake at the cash register, or stumbles over an introduction because they’re too busy thinking about you’re thinking about them.

Why is the world so enchanted with the “confident?” Why can’t we fall for the insecure?

Anyone can play “Confident,” but no one can ever be you.

chapter 27: i’m back

It feels good to be writing to you again. I missed it.

What took me so long?

Let me explain in as simple and honest a way that I can.

For a while there, I found myself kind of paralyzed when it came time to write to you. I think I felt like I had to deliver something great every week. Like I had to make my life into something exciting enough to deserve to be told and shared with you all.

And each week, I only had seven days to do it. Seven days between my next post to carefully package a story with all the tragedy, triumphs, confusion, arousals, love, and fury of a life well lived.

But I’m just me, Doug in NYC, and I know that the only one pressuring me, was me. Do you know what I mean? I hope so.

You’re a special audience. You’ve got questions and witty comebacks, real anecdotes about your lush lives – the best and the worst – and you share them with me in this journal. Each thought you share is such a gem of a gift, I thank this lovely internet for the chance to receive it.

But, I guess you only receive if you give, and that’s the only time it’s really satisfying. So I’m back to giving.

Now where was I?

Oh yes…

this is my 26th chapter

“Talent Show

Show Us What You’ve Got

Live and Video Acts Welcome”

It was posted in the office bathroom, and really kind of surprised me when I pulled my pants down early in the morning.

Talent show? Where am I again? High school?

I ripped the page off the wall, washed my hands, and walked back over to my cubicle.

Me: You see this?

Gary swiveled his chair around, staring at me, hungry and bored.

Gary: What.

Me: It’s a talent show.

Gary: Yeah.

Me: You’ve been?

Gary: Happens every year. They rent out a space down the block. It’s a competition with two other firms, and it’s a joke.

Me: You mean people don’t take it seriously.

Gary: Oh, they do.

Me: Then what.

Gary: Doug. It’s a bunch of finance guys trying to do a song and dance. These awkward, talentless idiots attempt something creative for a night. It’s comedy gold.

It did sound kind of funny. I tried to imagine Larry my frizzy-haired manager singing “Oh Shenandoah” while wearing a bow tie and tap-dancing, and almost spit out my coffee.

But my eyes lingered on the boldfaced “Video Acts,” and all of its potential…

Back when I was in high school (ye olden days of yore), I used to perform with friends at the annual talent show, creating skits about odd scenarios – like stumbling upon a wormhole under my backyard patio, eating a magical fruit that made us phosphorescent and telepathic, and digging a hole to Japan.

I did it mostly to get girls. It didn’t work. It worked for Lucas, though. And he didn’t even write the damn scripts.

I guess it was the first time I started creating and entering other worlds that weren’t real. Every year, the more I’d write the skits, the more I’d realize just how colorful the mind could be, and how I’d rather be there.

So I kept creating, even when the annual talent shows passed, and high school passed, and I started college.

After a longtime creative writing professor took a video of my friends and I acting out my skit about zombies who only kill the cruel (it was very pre-Dexter of me), I marveled at how it looked on screen, and started to teach myself how to film.

I’d stay after class with this professor – Professor Glass – who’d show me how to handle a camera, and write for a character who” really wants something,” and how to foreshadow and make all the dots connect in these characters’ lives, in a way mine never did.

Two months before graduating, after filming my very first 5-minute skit on supernatural sisters, Professor Glass put the script down and lowered his spectacles. He said he hopes that, when I leave this place, I never change. That I always stay the same. And that I never give up doing what I’m doing, because it’s “one of my dots.”

I thought it was crazy at the time because who doesn’t change, you know? How do you live life without changing? And of course I’d never give up. I was 21-years-old living in a bubble. I felt ready to take on the world.

But a month later on a Tuesday, Professor Glass didn’t show up to class. And with a bowed head and sad eyes, the Dean announced at the podium that he had passed, from a longtime case of cancer.

And while Professor Glass told me never to change, I did. I really couldn’t help it.

I went from writing skits about supernatural sisters and phosphorescent friends, to brothers road-tripping after the loss of their dad, to kids getting lost in a canyon.

The color and fantasy began to fade. Life got real.

And though I changed, I didn’t give up. I kept writing scripts that went on to attract national attention. But success – it’s just a visitor.

And while it’s hard to sit at this desk in New York nearly 15 years later, working a job that has nothing to do with my origins, I looked at those boldfaced words “Talent Show” and could still feel the hope in Professor Glass’ words.

“It’s one of your dots.”

“Never change.”

So, I signed up.

chapter 25

On my Friday morning subway ride to my soul-sucking job, I had two realizations:

1. I have not had sex in eight months.

Of course, I’ve thought a lot about sex. In the shower. Before bed. Every time I see Eleanor. When Jane was nearly naked. When I pass gorgeous women in jeans and knee-high boots. I could go on.

But when I think about it, I feel like I’m watching a movie scene. Like I’m sitting in a theatre, devouring popcorn, and living vicariously through someone far better looking and better paid. I feel detached.

Has this ever happened to you?

The last time I went this long without sex was when I was 18 and hadn’t had sex yet.

Which brought me to my second realization:

2. I need a best friend.

With Lucas in Baltimore, and me living in a studio apartment, any chance at socializing is entirely on me. When I go home, I am 100 percent guaranteed to be alone – unless I run into a neighbor.

But I can’t just keep running into neighbors. At some point, coincidence has got to be traded with initiative.

So I’ve decided: Gary will be my new best friend.

You know Gary: the one whose cubicle is mere feet from mine, who threw the Valentine’s Day party, also lives on the west side, and sends me emails full of singing nuns and shark attack videos. Gary’s a genuinely nice guy.

But most notably, he’s single.

Once you’re a guy in your 30s, it’s hard to find a friend who’s single who you can go out with. Or even watch the game with. Or get falafel with. Everyone is happily married, unhappily married, engaged, seriously dating someone. You feel like you’re running through a jungle, searching furiously through the vines and ferns for your species that is going extinct.

And since I’m not the kind of guy to sidle up to a bar alone and make eye contact with any woman who’ll stand next to me, I really need a friend.

Why? Because we’ll motivate each other to sidle up to the bar and make eye contact with any woman who’ll stand next to us. It’s a collaboration. A team effort.

It’s what friends do.

And maybe, if Gary and I hang out more, get burgers, go out together. Then just maybe, I may meet someone new. Someone not on my floor. And I may have sex again.

Well, there will be a greater chance of it.

I’ll let you know.

chapter 24: the delivery

A package arrived in the mail the other day.

My doorman mentioned it to me in a dubious, “I think you got a package but you never get a package” kind of way. There was no return address; just my name written in black Sharpie upon a medium-sized cardboard box.


That was all.

I shook it. Then realized underneath the box it read: “DO NOT SHAKE.”


In the elevator, I began imagining all the things it could be: a toaster, glass figurines, a package of jewels, pet fish, a decapitated head, a hand grenade.

By the time I walked into my apartment (and guzzled a soda), I was ready to rip the cardboard open like a bear on a campsite. So I did.

There, wrapped in purple tissue paper, was a miniature painting. It was frameless, half the size of an old Nintendo video game console.

Green, red, and gold filled the painting like ribbons, mimicking the swirls of the Northern Lights. Below were little brick apartment buildings sketched in mountains of snow, with neighboring caribou feasting on garbage and Thai noodles. Hovering above, instead of stars, there were bite-sized specks of brownies.

It was Alaska.

It was that night.

It was Eleanor.

I knocked on her door.

Me: This…

I held up the painting.

Me: This is special. There’s even pad Thai.

Eleanor: Douglas, that was ages ago.

She looked pissed.

Me: What? But I just got it today. The doorman gave it to me.

Eleanor: Huh?…Oh no, the doorman must have gotten confused because I didn’t put a last name. I dropped it off weeks ago.

Now she looked disappointed. Like her considerate, colorful air balloon of a plan was deflated with the prick of a detail.

Me: Next time just knock on my door.

Eleanor: I know, but like, it’s just more surprising… this way. More fun.

Me: No no, it is. Especially weeks later like this. I feel like I just time-traveled back to that night. You captured it perfectly.

And then I stood there in the hall, like an overdressed doofus, trying to think up something to say.

Me: Ah, come over. Help me hang this.

So we walked the five feet to my apartment and looked around the living room.

Eleanor: Can’t you splurge on some decorations? There’s still no color in here, your walls are so bare.

Me: I would if I was here more. You wanna do it?

Eleanor: Me? Decorate?

Me: No, come in and paint. Pick a color. We’ll do it together. Make a day of it.

Eleanor: You’d paint. You’d pick up a paintbrush and paint.

Me: Hey, I’ve done it before.

Eleanor: When.

Me: Well, when I lived in an apartment for a while.

Eleanor: I thought you lived at home?

Me: Yeah, I did, but for a little while I lived with a girlfriend. In Hoboken, couple of years ago.

Eleanor: Oh. Right over there.

She pointed toward the window, across the Hudson. I hadn’t thought about it that way. I hadn’t thought about Avery in a long time.

Eleanor: And what happened?

I poured us some wine, and shuffled over to the couch.

Me: We grew apart, you know how it is. Just became different people.

Eleanor: Okay.

She took a sip of the red wine, and looked up at me.

Eleanor: So what really happened.

Me: Well.

And then I debated getting into it because getting into a story about an ex is the worst thing you can do on a date. Or whatever this was. A hangout. With my neighbor.

Me: I guess I just… fell for her potential, the best version of herself she could be if she really wanted to. And I think she fell for mine. So we never really fell for each other. We just loved visions of each other that never really existed.

Eleanor: Wow.

She put her glass down.

Eleanor: That. Now that was introspective. Douglas the Intellectual.

I may have turned red here. I am not sure. I mean, she asked me what really happened. I thought we were going to talk about it.

Me: Well I’ve had the time to think about it. I’m over it though, but for a time I wasn’t. But now I am.

Suddenly, I wanted to press “rewind.” Maybe back to the moment I mentioned the ex. Or knocked on her door. Or shook the package.

Me: Have you ever lived with someone?

Eleanor: Well… once. With a guy I dated. We lived in the financial district, thought we’d get married. Get a dog, etc., etc.

Me: And what happened. What really happened.

She laughed, sipping her wine in that way women do when they don’t take their eyes off you. It’s a killer.

Eleanor: I couldn’t imagine being so bored like that for the rest of my life. I mean, life would just drag, you know?

Me: Exactly. Life is too long. It’s too long to be bored for so long.

Eleanor: Totally. So I left, and he’s hated me ever since for it. I felt awful – but not nearly as awful as I felt with him. So what are you gonna do.

We both looked out, sipping wine. Thinking.

Eleanor: Potential, though. It’s a dangerous thing.

Me: Boredom, too. And comfort.

Eleanor: Yeah.

Then she got up, picked up the painting from the kitchen counter, and walked into my bedroom, turning the light on.

Me: What are you doing?

For a moment I thought she was going to leap into my bed and pull me in. Wishful thinking.

Eleanor: I think I know where I want to put it.

Me: Where?

Eleanor: I need a nail.

After grabbing some tools, I followed her inside.

Eleanor: Don’t look.

I turned around.

Me: What are you gonna do, stick it to the bedpost?

Eleanor: Oh come on, you can trust me kind of.

I heard some hammering and then some shuffling and finally an–

Eleanor: Okay you can look now.

So I turned around. And there, upon the wall beside my bed, hung Eleanor’s vision of Alaska. A tiny square on a very big wall.

Eleanor: Your very first painting.

I smiled, I couldn’t help it.

Shortly after, she left, tired from the wine and her day. I wanted to kiss her, but it had been a while. I didn’t want to ruin anything. So we hugged.

Eleanor: Next time, I want you to show me your writing. A short. Something of yours.

Me: I’m up for that.

Eleanor: Then maybe we’ll paint your living room.

Me: Any color. Your pick.

Then she walked down the hall to her apartment, looking back.

Eleanor: You’ll regret that…

After closing the door, I changed and brushed my teeth. Getting into bed, I laid on my side toward the wall, opening my eyes.

And that’s when I realized: I was face-to-face with her painting.

Hung low and beside my bed, she wanted it to be the last thing I’d see before sleep. When the day is done. When potential isn’t dangerous, and comfort isn’t boring, and the only thing left to do is dream.

So I closed my eyes, and did just that.