One year ago today I woke up in a hotel room in Svalbard, Norway. I was sleeping on half of a king-size bed made from pushing two twin beds together. On the other side of the bed was the most magical woman I’d ever met. We were just friends, sharing a bed for the first time, prior to boarding an old research vessel in search of polar bears. Little did we know that we were about to embark on a much bigger journey than that.
Shay and I met a few weeks earlier at a gathering of friends in Italy. I’d flown into Florence and rented a car, and I’d offered a ride to the group of eighty or so folks who were going to be at this get-together. Someone named Carlos said he and his girlfriend would love the ride, so we agreed to meet for lunch in Florence before heading out to the castle where the event was taking place.
All it took was one lunch for a bromance to brew between us. Carlos was an art collector who uses big data to find hidden value in a market that often relies on guesswork. He had a mix of left and right brain that I find appealing, and a calm presence that almost concealed his hyperactive brain and imagination. Young, handsome, successful, and eager to dive into deep topics right off the bat, he and I skipped the first two years of friendship by the time we set off on our little road trip.
On the drive south through Italy, I told Carlos about my upcoming voyage from Svalbard, the northernmost city in the world, to look for polar bears. I’d booked the trip three years prior, when I’d been in a relationship. Covid had delayed the trip several times, and now I was single with an extra spot on the boat. Did he want to join me? Alas, he had a wedding during those dates, but he said his best friend was going to be at the gathering that night and she was dying to see polar bears. He said she was a pilot, a sailor, always up for an adventure, and that the two of us should meet. This is how I was introduced to Shay.
Within minutes of meeting, we’d agreed to go on the trip together. And during the next few days in Italy, we spent a little time hanging out and always knew where the other was among the eighty or so guests. It turned out that some of our closest friends were friends with each other — and several of the people dearest to me were there to watch Shay and myself orbit each other for the first time. Nothing romantic happened between us, mostly because neither of us were interested in being in a relationship at the time. We’d both gotten out of engagements six months prior and were enjoying time with friends and time with ourselves. Everyone close to me at the time knew that I wasn’t on the market. My previous relationship had been so difficult that I was thinking of being happily single for the rest of my life. No joke.
Side note: The very week that I was in Italy, shooting on the first season of SILO was wrapping up outside of London. Were it not for the gathering at the castle, I would’ve tried to be there for the wrap party. This little coincidence will play into the second incredible bookend that helps define my year-in-review.
Three weeks after meeting, Shay and I had a day together in Paris before boarding a plane for Svalbard. I’d been thinking about her and this upcoming trip a lot, wondering what it would be like to be trapped together in a small cabin for two weeks in one of the most remote places on the planet. All I was looking for was enjoyable company to use the ticket so the money didn’t go to waste. Someone who liked adventure. I’d invited two male friends who couldn’t make it, and now I was going with a strange woman I’d only spent a few hours with over a three-day gathering of friends.
Those hours, by the way, were spent mostly at night, in the dark, and outdoors. I couldn’t really recall her face that well three weeks later. I just remembered feeling at home around her and the way she laughed. I’d spent way more time with her best friend Carlos, and he was adamant that she and I would have a great time together. I trusted him and my gut. When I saw Shay again in Paris, I was taken aback by how quickly we fell into a comfortable rhythm together. How much we laughed at the same things. And how absolutely drawn I was to her.
We toured museums most of the day. Shay had lived in Paris as a teenager, during her modeling years. It was only in Paris that I learned she’d been a model. It wasn’t something she led with or even usually mentioned. Her passions were flying single-engine and sea planes, sailing, her horse, her home in Scotland, and her friends. She wore flat shoes, comfortable clothes, no makeup, and did little with her hair. She was absolutely gorgeous and didn’t need to do anything to highlight that, nor was it part of her identity. She’d just been born that way. What she took pride in were all the things she’d learned over the years and all the hard work she’d put into becoming a better person. Reader, I was smitten by the end of the day. I couldn’t believe I was about to spend two weeks with this magical creature cut off from civilization. We spent the night in separate hotels and shared a cab to the airport the next morning. The following day we woke up in Svalbard on either side of a king-sized bed. Snuggling up to Shay, I worked up the courage to kiss her shoulder, her arm, her stomach. What were we? Fellow adventurers? More?
Shay sat up in bed and kissed me on the lips. It was July 1st, a year ago today. I knew in that moment that we would spend the rest of our lives together. I don’t know how I knew, but I felt it in every fiber of my being. And not a moment of this past year has lessened that surety. The feelings have only grown.
Oh, and we saw polar bears. Including this beautiful mom with her two cubs:
Shay and I disappeared for the next two weeks. We sailed above 80 degrees north and fell in love. The next time our friends heard from us, we told them we’d found the one. My friends were shocked and worried for me — right up until the moment they met Shay. That’s all it took for them to go from “are you sure about this?” to “dude, don’t let her go, ever.” We hit five countries in our first seven weeks. We spent every hour of every day together. I mean, our first date was two weeks in a cabin the size of a walk-in closet in the Arctic Circle. The first two weeks of a normal relationship might mean a few dinners and movies. For us, we had over 300 hours of time together on that first trip. And we were rarely apart afterwards.
Two months later, Shay was asking her mom if she should pop the question, since I was taking so long. Luckily, I beat her to it. It’s one of the very rare times that I’ve beaten Shay to anything. She’s always a step ahead, physically and mentally, and she loves reminding me that she’s a hair taller than me. But I got down on one knee before she did. Before I could ask the question, she said “yes yes yes yes yes.” Luckily, I’d handed my camera to a stranger moments prior, and they captured the very moment we agreed to get married.
Two months after our engagement, Shay and I were at another gathering of friends in Arizona. It was a conference of storytellers and scientists that I’d been attending for a decade, so some of my dearest friends were in attendance. Shay had gotten to know several of the people there already and considered them friends as well. When one of our friends heard we were engaged, she suggested we get married then and there. She was ordained. Had married five other couples. Tugging her own wedding band off her hand, she said “let’s do this.” It’s not easy to say “no” to Jamie Lee Curtis, but we managed to slow her roll. However, the next night at dinner, word was getting around and the pressure was mounting. A brief aside here to explain something that still doesn’t make sense to me.
At least half a dozen times over our first months together, strangers had come up to Shay and me and asked for one of our phones so they could take our picture. Unasked. While we were just sitting at dinner talking. Or standing with our arms around each other. Or sitting together off to the side away from others. “It’s the way you two are looking at each other,” people would say. I’d never had this happen to me once in my life. Now it was happening in the streets of Portugal, in Mexico, in restaurants. The thing we have between us radiates outward, we’ve come to learn. Other couple friends of ours enjoy basking in it. Our single friends are inspired by it. Strangers notice it. So at this gathering, everyone wanted to celebrate it with us.
At dinner that night we decided to get married the following day. No decision has ever felt more right in my life. Standing in front of a crowd full of people I admire and look up to, every single one of them disappeared except for Shay. We exchanged vows and rings. Christopher Guest served as our witness. In every way possible, our marriage has been dialed to eleven.
The same year I fell unexpectedly in love and got married, Apple was turning my novel WOOL into a TV show. I had no idea what to expect from any step of this process. I just tried to enjoy each phase and did my best to minimize my dread. That’s right, I felt a lot of dread leading up to the show’s release. How badly would it disappoint existing fans? How difficult would it be to draw in a new audience? How would publishers react if the show didn’t do well and they didn’t sell the books they hoped? And would the teams at AMC and Apple who worked so hard to make the show a reality regret ever taking a chance on me?
Most shows and films aren’t great, as all of us know. There’s a deluge of content out there, and only a handful every year get any kind of buzz or recognition. The chances of it happening to our show was slim. Even with a stellar cast, incredible sets, a generous budget, top-notch crews, a seasoned showrunner — nothing was guaranteed. Projects with all these ingredients falter all the time. Why would I expect anything different?
The buzz on set was super positive, but this is probably true for shows that don’t come out well. It’s hard to know what you’ve got until you get in the editing room and stitch it all together. It was only at this phase that I started hearing buzz from the other producers. “We’ve got something special here,” they started to tell me. “Apple wants to make this their tentpole release next summer. They’re gonna market the hell out of this.”
Hints of a possible second season were already brewing. We set a release date for season one, and a premiere date in London. Then we learned Canneseries wanted to debut the show, where it would get a standing ovation. Shay and I attended the premiere with my sister and some close friends. At this point, I’d seen the episodes and knew the show was good. But would others agree? Would the show disappear beneath an avalanche of all the other new releases?
The critics loved the show. When the first 30+ reviews came in a week before launch, the average on Rotten Tomatoes was an unbelievable 94%. The hype exploded after the first two episodes dropped, with more media coverage and social media mentions than I could keep up with. Taking it in was like drinking from a firehose. Each week, the insanity only increased. Stephen King started Tweeting about his love for the show. Folks were saying it was their favorite show of the year. It was one of those shows that you counted the days down for each episode. On YouTube, Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter folks were discussing every twist and hint for clues about where the show would go next.
It all culminated in the finale last night, on June 30th, which blew hairs back and has the likes of Forbes and others calling this the best sci-fi show of the year. It also brought the most incredible year of my life to a close — my 365th day with my wife, Shay. We celebrated with some wine and cheese, a reminder of meeting in Italy last June. We crawled into a bed just as we had on June 30th the year before, but this time with no doubt about what the other thinks of us. We wake up a year after our first kiss to plant more on each other. There’s a lot to celebrate from this past year, so many moments that friends, family, and fans were a part of and got to celebrate with us. For Shay and myself, it’s the first year of many. It’ll be a difficult year to top. But that’s okay. I’ve always gone into everything with low expectations. And then the universe has a way of turning every dial to eleven.