Coming Up with Something

I was sitting on our bed, frowning, and staring at the blank Microsoft Word page on my laptop for about two hours before Anthony woke up. I was jittery after having drank about forty-eight ounces of espresso. Anthony sat up, and wrapped his arms around my shoulder, and rested his forehead on my shoulder.

He was a lanky, Puerto Rican guy who grew up in the Bronx. He had short, light brown hair, grey eyes, and skin the color of antique gold parchment paper. He had a decent amount of body hair, but much more than I had since I had virtually none. I was a tall, with brown skin, dark brown hair, and dark brown eyes. I stood by my opinion that he was the more attractive of the two of us; he disagreed. I grew up in Bronx, too. And, strangely enough, not too far away from where he lived his entire life. My family and I moved around a lot, but the last place we lived in before Anthony and I moved in together last year was four blocks from his house.

We met during my first semester in college — his second semester — in an earth science class. We sat next to each other, and became study buddies. Now, he’s twenty-one and working for ACS, and I’m twenty and interning for Writer’s House.

“Did you even sleep last night?”

“For a little bit. But then I thought I found a way into the story.”

He lifted his head up, looked over my shoulder, and saw the screen was blank. “You’ve made so much progress.”

“Fuck you.”

“What are you even trying to write about?”

“Romance.”

“Well, there’s your problem, already.”

“Hey, we’ve been together for almost three years already. I’d say I’m doing a pretty good job.”

“If you say so.” He laughed.

I pushed him back onto the bed.

“No, but for real. Maybe you need to talk it out. I can be your soundboard.”

“An actual wall would be a better soundboard than you.”

He pushed me with his feet. “Come on. Please.”

“Ugh. Fine.”

I explained to him my concept for a story: two guys meet on Grindr, but one of them doesn’t want to fall in love, but ends up falling in love with the other one; the other one wants to fall in love, and does.

“Okay, but what’s the conflict? I mean, like, is there more than that? What’s at stake?”

“Which is my current dilemma.”

“Well, tonight is Kathy’s party. Maybe some time outside of this room will be helpful.”

Kathy was Anthony’s best friend. She was a short, bubbly, Pakistani girl with a slight accent. She had long jet black hair, and kind of squeaky voice. She was the reason why Anthony and I even ended up together in the first place. After Anthony’s failed attempts at hinting that he and I should date, she told me, verbatim, “Hey, oblivious ass hat. My best friend likes you. Date him.”

“That’s tonight?”

“I’ve been reminding you about it for weeks. All that writer’s block is fucking with your memory I see.”

“Shush.”

“It starts in two hours.”

About ten minutes before we were finally ready to leave, I was struck with the idea of how to add conflict to the story.

“Oh my god. Why now?”

“I won’t be long!”

I sat and typed on my laptop for about thirty minutes before writer’s block returned. Once I typed out the idea, it wasn’t as good as I thought, and then I deleted the story.

Anthony shook his head. “So much time wasted.”

I sighed. “Let’s go.”

On our way from our apartment in Flushing, then to the liquor store Anthony and I go to in Rego Park, and then to Bushwick where Kathy lived, I kept turning over the story idea in my mind trying to figure out if I could find some bigger conflict. I couldn’t.

When we were walking from the train station to Kathy’s apartment, Anthony said, “Stop thinking so hard about the story. That’s clearly not helping you.”

“It usually works.”

“Well, now isn’t ‘usually’.”

We knocked on Kathy’s door, and she opened it a few seconds later.

“Happy birthday!”

Anthony hugged her, and then handed her the bag with honey Jack Daniel’s and Dr. Pepper we bought her.

“I would’ve cried if this didn’t make an appearance tonight.”

“We would’ve been here sooner, but Mr. Writer here had an empty stroke of genius last minute.”

I rolled my eyes.

“Happy birthday, Kathy.”

“Thanks, Julian.”

Kathy and I hugged.

“Now let’s go get drunk!”

For about the first hour or so, I sat with Anthony, Kathy, and their friends from work as they talked about being social workers, office work life, relationships when one of them said something that struck me. I didn’t talk much about my work life because interning as a literary agent wasn’t nearly as interesting.

“Can you repeat that for me?”

Anthony rolled his eyes.

“Uh, one of the scariest parts of getting into a relationship for me is not knowing whether my feelings for that person will last. I’ve never been interested in someone longer than a few months, so I just stay out of them.”

I wrote down everything she said, word for word.

“Thank you!”

“You’re welcome . . . I guess.”

Anthony sighed. “He’s been trying to write — well, attempting and failing would be more accurate — a story for, like, ever, and what you said probably helped him put it together finally.”

Kathy looked at me, then at Anthony.

Everyone nodded, and then continued talking.

I spent the rest of the time drinking, and writing down ideas for the story on my phone — the whole time, Anthony and everyone else was drinking and dancing around me. When it was time to leave, I copied and pasted what I wrote, and emailed it to myself.

“I think I finally got it.”

Anthony, completely drunk, absent-mindedly nodded.

When we got home at around 2 AM, I decided against writing because I wanted to sleep on the idea, hoping that the idea would sink in more.

I woke up the next morning teeming with new inspiration and excitement. I usually waited until 9:50 AM to make coffee to be ready by 10 AM — since that’s the best time to drink coffee in order to get the most out of the caffeine — and then start writing, but I was up by 5 AM, and was too eager to write. By 6:30, Anthony’s iPod alarm clock went off, blasting “Ignorance” by Paramore, and woke him up.

By the time seven o’clock came around, I finished the whole pot of espresso that I made, and wrote about ten pages before I hit a wall. So, like I usually do, I re-read the story to see where I might’ve went wrong, but couldn’t find anything. I re-read the story for about an hour — frustration mounting as each second passed — before I started to delete the story.

Anthony sat down beside me.

“What are you doing? You spent so much time on that.”

“It sucks, and the story can’t go further than these ten pages because nothing’s happening.”

“Let me read it. I have a little bit of time before I have to leave”

“No.”

I clicked ctrl + A, deleted everything, and then saved the once again blank document.

Anthony shook his head. “You need to stop being so hard on yourself.”

“I can’t help it.”

“Since you haven’t gotten any more work yet, and it’s a Friday, take the day to just relax. No writing. No worrying about writing. Nothing.”

“That is literally impossible.”

“Try. I’ll see you after work.” He kissed me, then left.

For the first hour after he left, I just stood in the shower hoping the hot water would relax me, and conjure up some new ideas since shower thoughts were responsible for any short story I completed. But nothing. I just kept trying to find a way into a story that I should’ve given up on.

After that, until Anthony came home from work , I cleaned the apartment. I did everything I could possibly think of: rearranging our books by genre, and within each genre, I put them in alphabetical order by author’s last name; cleaning the walls; cleaning the bathroom; cleaning the kitchen; rearranging our closet by what kind of article of clothing it was — button downs went in one folded pile, button ups in another, graphic tees in another, and so on. Anthony came home when I was finishing trying to re-organize our room while I was making dinner.

“This is the one good thing to come out of your writer’s block.”

“It felt like I was in some new circle of Hell.”

“So then why didn’t you stop?”

“Because then everything would’ve been messy.”

“You didn’t write anything, right?”

“If I did all of this, obviously I didn’t write.”

After we talked about his day at work, and finished eating dinner while watching last night’s episodes of The Originals and The Vampire Diaries, we decided to go to sleep. Anthony fell asleep almost instantly, but I couldn’t sleep after two hours of laying with my arm around him and staring at the wall.

I nudged him.

“I’m going for a walk.”

He sleepily nodded.

I took his iPod off the dock since mine wasn’t charged, and left the apartment. I walked around for fifteen minutes trying to find a song to listen to, and settled for “Cemeteries In London” by Coldplay. I played that song on repeat as I walked up from our apartment on 76th Street and Broadway to the 103rd Street stop on the 7 train line, and then back — the whole time, a new idea started forming in my mind because of the song.

When I got back home, I put Anthony’s iPod back on the dock, and played the song on low volume for the rest of the night. I stayed up researching cemeteries in London, slang used in London, what life in London in like — all of that. By the time Anthony woke up at around 10 AM, I already settled on Highgate Cemetery — because of the unknown grave there that had an interesting headstone, and I figured I could make that into a cool urban fantasy story — and had written about five pages.

Anthony stretched, yawned, and then rested his head on my shoulder.

“Have you been up all night?”

I nodded.

“I’ll go make you some coffee.”

For the rest of the day, that was the routine: I sat on our bed, typing away at the laptop, only moving if I needed to use the bathroom; he brought me coffee, watched me write, and occasionally added in comments like “That doesn’t sound like your protagonist,” “You need more details,” and “That sounds boring.”

By the time I finished writing at around 5 PM I had written twenty-five pages, and felt more accomplished than I had in weeks.

“You look happy.”

“Hold on. Let me get sad.”

He lightly shoved me.

“Hopefully you’ll actually see this story through to completion.”

“Don’t jinx it!”

“Hey, I’m not the one with problems finishing.”

“I’m pretty sure I’m good at finishing for both of us.”

“Shut up. That’s not what I meant.”

I smiled.