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November 7, 2016

A 28-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early March, 1980

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Saturday, March 1, 1980

5 PM. February is finally over; this year it seemed like the longest month. Of course, March looks like it could be even worse. Last night was the coldest night of the winter, with the wind-chill factor around -30°.

Huddling under three blankets and a heating pad, I somehow managed to sleep. I dreamed of our old house on East 56th Street: how I miss it. Now I can remember only the good times.

1607-e-56-st-1969I worked all day on my story “If Pain Persists.” It’s not really a story but an evocation of what these last few months have been like for me. It’s mostly true, and I hope that someone will find it good enough to publish.

I exercised and I managed to scrounge around for breakfast after I discovered the milk was frozen and I had no orange juice left. Then I went over to Grandma Ethel’s to give her a birthday card; she’s 70 today. She was taking a nap, so I left it with Grandpa Herb.

I got more phony calls from those little kids. It turned out that they were girls, so I grossed them out by being lewd; that was the only way I could think of to get them to stop calling.

In the mail I got a lightbulb: a prize from the Voice’s lightbulb joke contest. And I got other mail, though nothing very special.

winter-prospect-parkMikey called to say he flunked the bar exam again; at least he’s certain he did after taking it again this week. Now he can’t take it for another year, and law firms are reluctant to hire him. He may have to move out of state. Shit.

What is this, Depression Month? I wonder if the 1980s will be the decade in which everything unravels. Certainly my life is unraveling.

Kingsborough didn’t call; they still might call on Monday, though I doubt they will. I’ll go down and see if I can collect unemployment. But if I don’t teach at Kingsborough, that means I can go to Florida for Easter. I can go when I’m off at Touro and SVA, from Thursday, March 27, to Monday, April 7.

cabsHow I’m going to survive financially is another matter, but I’ve got to try everything; I’ll wait tables or drive a cab if I have to. Wow, it’s wrist-slitting time in the Big Apple, kids!

Tonight I’m going to see Harvey, who moves to California on Monday. I envy him. At least he’s going to something. What am I going to do? I have to think of Florida.

Of course (as usual) it makes me feel like failure, like I couldn’t make it on my own in New York. I have to work out these feelings with Dr. Pasquale. I refuse to go through another winter like this one. It’s been the worst time in my life since the winter of ’68-’69.

he-knows-youre-aloneI feel I have few supports in my life, nothing that I can count on. I’m worn out and worn down. Maybe good writing is coming out of this, but there’s also the possibility of lousy writing coming out of this.

One good thing: I was hardly dizzy today – so far, anyway. I wish I could speed up the calendar and make it June already. In June I’d like to be in Florida, but I also know that it will be a bit easier here then.

What if moving to Florida doesn’t work out? That scares the hell out of me. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I know I don’t want to talk about my decision to move with friends – especially not Justin, Alice or Avis.

I can’t stand Justin anymore. Whatever possessed me to think, even momentarily, that we could have a relationship? I don’t want to get into a relationship with anyone right now. As Teresa said, “First things first.”

march-80First things first. Hey, maybe I’ll get through old March yet. I got through February, didn’t I? Teresa says spring won’t come this year till late May, and I’m afraid she’s right.

Well, I might be in Florida in four weeks, back at Mom and Dad’s house, back in the sun and cleanliness and warmth and newness of it all. I’ve got to keep reminding myself that I do have a future.


Monday, March 3, 1980

3 PM. Today might be the worst day of all. I’m terrified. I don’t know what’s happening to me. The pain is so great I don’t think I can bear it.

Today, of all days, my telephone went dead – just when I was expecting I might get a phone call from Oscar Miller about teaching at Kingsborough. This depressed me so much I couldn’t get out of bed this morning.

rockaway-street-in-winterFor the last month I’ve been functioning marginally. I feel like there’s a leaden weight in my chest. And now, without the phone, I feel completely cut off from the world. Everything seems to be out of control.

Someone stole the gas cap from my car. Even if Grandpa Herb gets calls for me, he can’t call me and he can’t come over here because, after two months, he still doesn’t have his car.

I feel completely helpless to control anything about my life. I’m dizzier today than I have been. God, I feel severely depressed. I don’t know what I’m going to do.

Last night I barely slept: I didn’t get to bed until 5 AM and woke up only a couple of hours later. Things just seem to be getting worse. I barely have any desire to eat. If only this time would pass and I could be in a new and better phase of my life.

a-pToday I went to the supermarket, and I found three responses to my question to celebrities: “Did you ever feel such despair that you could not imagine going on for another day?”

Bill Boggs, the talk show host, wrote: “I’ve been down so low that I just wanted to close my eyes and go to sleep but I always looked forward to the next day figuring I’d have some new insight into the situation.”

Joe Brainard, the artist, answered: “Yes. When recently dropped by a lover of 15 years, but it’s not something I can talk about (sorry) – yet.”joel

Poet Joel Oppenheimer, responded: “yes, many times, mostly over unrequited love and/or the unfairness of life. However, up til now, I have succeeded in going on, one way or the other.”

*

6 PM. I lay in bed depressed and inert until 4 PM, when the phone repairman came. When I finally finished, it was 5 PM.

I called Oscar Miller, but all he had left were 8 AM classes which I couldn’t take because of SVA. Oscar said he’d been trying to get me all day. Why did my phone conk out today, of all days?

I feel sick, not just dizzy, but also a profound nausea. I feel I have nothing. I don’t know how I can go on. A year ago I had everything going for me: a nice home, money, the prospects of a book coming out, offers at Albany and Texas Woman’s University.

bill-boggsNow what do I have? Nothing. My life is empty and meaningless. I’ve got to find a new meaning. Maybe, as Bill Boggs says, I’ll find some new insight into the situation.

*

10 PM. I went out for some Chinese food and saw the movie Being There, which was very funny. I feel somewhat relieved of the burden I’ve felt the past few days. Maybe things will work out for the best.

being-thereI’ll survive somehow. This too will pass and all that tommyrot. It won’t be easy, but it will end someday, and spring will come and I’ll be in Florida.

Look, it’s the worst time of my life and yet I’m managing to handle things all by myself. I haven’t fallen apart, though I’ve been in a lot of pain. My luck has to change.


Wednesday, March 5, 1980

Noon on a rainy, mild Wednesday. The day has just begun, really, but I wanted to record what I’m feeling, because I’m afraid it might go away at any time and that my despair will return.

For once I feel I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, that this great depression will eventually end, and I’ll come out of it – cliché time – a better person. If nothing else, it’s got me writing again.

desktop-with-typewriterWriting is the most important thing in my life. I got a lot of writing done after my other great depressions: in the winter of ’68-’69, when I was stuck in the house; the fall of ’71, when I broke up with Shelli; and the fall and winter, ’74-’75, when I stopped seeing Ronna and stopped therapy and had to work for the first time in my life.

Remember how depressed I was in the fall of 1971? Because Shelli broke up with me, it seemed as if my life was over. I kept getting sick. I lay in bed, inert and crying. I thought I was having a breakdown.

But look what happened to me during that same time: I conquered my fears of going into the city. I remember the sweet triumph of driving to sundaybloodysundayManhattan on a Sunday morning and going to see Sunday, Bloody Sunday at one of those theaters on Third Avenue and 60th Street.

I really found myself again back then; I learned about herbs; and I even flew back home from Washington on Thanksgiving weekend, which seems to have been the turning point. I came out of that despair and was stronger and wiser.

I’m sure the same thing will happen with this. I may not be lucky, but I’m a resourceful and tenacious person, and I will learn from this. I am going to have setbacks, I know – tomorrow I may plunge into darkness again – but I’ll survive and even do better than mere survival.

I’ve just got to hang on. If my years of diary-writing have taught me anything, it’s that life is constantly changing and that nothing is permanent. This isn’t going to be the last of my depressions, either; they are a part of life.

agamemnonDr. Pasquale has faith in me; my parents do; my friends seem to. Remember that quote from Aeschylus I used to love, about the pain drop by drop becoming – against our will, through the awful grace of God – wisdom? It is wisdom I need.

My apartment seems somehow cozier this morning. Sleeping till 10:30 AM seems more a sign of renewal than inertia. I was buoyed by John Anderson’s near-victories in the Massachusetts and Vermont primaries; maybe he can make it. His slogan, like that of the ’69 Mets, is “You gotta believe.”

I gotta believe that life won’t always be like this for me. I can get from here to there. I’m stronger than I think. I won’t always be dizzy. (I’m almost certain it’s my sinuses or an allergy now.)

chem-bankI won’t always be poor. (Listening to my grandparents tell me of their financial fluctuations over fifty years will help me remember this.)

I won’t always be alone. Life will get better, I believe.

*

10 PM. All things considered, it has been a good day. I got my SVA check, and I got a haircut, and I had a turkey sandwich for dinner. My class went well tonight. Next week is Open School Night at Beach Channel H.S. so we get a vacation. This means only two classes before the spring holidays.

I can finally believe that spring and Easter will come. Actually, I have an ideal schedule now. I like my SVA and Touro classes, and I have time to enjoy myself. The only thing I don’t have is money.

yeshiva-avenue-jI called a yeshiva in response to an ad. The rabbi wanted to pay me $240 a month for 28 hours of work. I told him the salary was too low. Taking such a job would be bad for my self-respect. I’ll get something better.

The earliest Mom could get plane reservations for me to come down was March 31, but I’ll be flying with Dad, who’s coming in to New York for the menswear show.


Thursday, March 6, 1980

6 PM. I’ve definitely turned a corner, and I can see some rays of hope. For one thing, spring is definitely coming: it’s not dark just yet, and there’s a different kind of light in the late afternoon. An hour ago I was sitting on the boardwalk, reading the paper, and it was sunny and about 45°.

air-florida-adFor another thing, I have my reservations for Florida in a little more than three weeks. And Dad will be coming to New York in a couple of weeks for the menswear show; it will be great to see him again.

And finally, I really have a light schedule now, with a lot of time for myself: to write, to think, to socialize, and enjoy myself, and to plan my career moves. Money is the only problem in my life now, and I’m not yet at the stage where I have to panic.

Last night I felt exhilarated and didn’t get much sleep; it was a bitch to wake up at 6:45 AM. I drove into the city and had a good class at SVA: we bullshitted about Lawrence and art. I’m not teaching remedial this term, and I can really enjoy myself.

I’ve got to realize that I haven’t been turned down for courses; I’ve turned them down. I could have had another SVA class, but when Dorothy Wolfberg asked me about it last fall, I said no. (That was another mistake – but I’m entitled.) Kingsborough offered me an 8 AM class which I couldn’t promenade-restauranttake, and I quit NYCCC.

Anyway, after my class this morning, I went to the Heights to pick up Josh and we had lunch at the Promenade Restaurant.

It reminded me of other times when we had few responsibilities, like the spring of 1973, when we took Dostoevsky together: after class we’d hang out or drive into Manhattan to get a bite to eat.

I was a college senior then and had so much time to feel gloriously free. I do have that freedom now, and I might as well enjoy it. At times I get dizzy, but I’m learning to control it.

Josh is no longer speaking to Simon. He says he won’t make it up until Simon apologizes for being condescending. Josh thinks Avis and Simon have created their own little world, away from everyone else.

intruderI don’t feel very close to Avis now because she’s so wrapped up in her own life that I feel like an intruder, especially since I’ve been feeling so depressed.

Josh says Lynn is mad at Simon because instead of coming over to return the $1,000 he borrowed from her, Simon sent her a check and a nice card in the mail. Meanwhile, Josh thinks that Lynn may be after him – Lynn says that Josh is the only one who can cheer her up – but despite his horniness, Josh thinks Lynn is too dumpy and unattractive to go to bed with.

We walked along Montague Street, and I got the $20 I owed Josh out of the Citibank machine. Josh keeps apologizing for going into computers, but I’m fascinated with them; certainly I love playing with the Citibank computer.

Back home, I got a rejection from Eckerd College (a very nice letter, however), and Miami-Dade says they have no vacancies.

iron-magazine-no-28An English artist, Tim Thackeray, wrote me. He illustrated my stories for Iron magazine and wanted to tell me how much he enjoyed them. Tim asked where he could find more of my work and if I knew of any American magazines he could do artwork for.

Also, Helen Gurley Brown responded to my “depths of despair” query with a detailed and intelligent response.

A nice day.


Saturday, March 8, 1980

8 PM on a warm, rainy night. Dr. Pasquale and I made some headway in our session last evening. He asked me “realistic” questions about my future as a writer.

Do I foresee myself getting professorships, grants, making money from my writing? Yes, I said. I’m optimistic in the long run, but it may be five to ten 1977-winter-st-manhattanyears before I achieve stability.

Dr. Pasquale talked about “the process” at work: I let myself be controlled by the whims of others and I leave myself at the mercy of flukes. Writers, artists, actors, musicians all have up-and-down careers, and more than not, sheer luck or chance is involved in success.

Does Taplinger publishing my book make me a better writer? No. Does my being turned down for teaching jobs make me a worse writer? No. I’ve got to cede control of a great deal of what happens in my career.

Today at Alice’s, Peter gave me much the same advice. He’s not envious of other, less talented playwrights who do well because he knows that it’s the work which is important.

amatteroffindingtherightgirlpeterfilichiaPeter measures his writing only against himself, and he feels he’s improving. He takes joy in his work and is willing to sacrifice big money or recognition. Still, I can’t help wondering how long he’ll be that patient.

I know my impatience and frustration and envy are terribly negative emotions: they do me no good and they waste energy. Unfortunately, I have a drive for success that is partly based on my desire to show up others and to make them envious of me.

Alice said she doesn’t do that anymore, that she’s realized the futility of achieving something just so you can imagine the look on somebody else’s face. Of course Alice and Peter and Dr. Pasquale are right, but I find myself stuck in this neurotic mindset; I still don’t know what I want.

Getting back to my session with Dr. Pasquale, I was pleased to see that young boy come out of his office and into the waiting room and look so much happier than he did several weeks ago; that made me feel optimistic.

dr-ps-bldgI’ve got to remember I can’t let my state of mind be influenced by events beyond my control, be they positive or negative. A bad or good review, an acceptance or rejection, a compliment or an insult: I’m still the same writer, still the same person.

Last night when I went to Avis’s, I found her and Simon stoned. Simon asked me to take him home, as he had a number of cartons with him. He also gave me a bunch of his stories to read and asked me to provide him with a list of little magazines to submit to.

He and Avis kissed goodbye a zillion times, and that made me feel a bit uncomfortable: I couldn’t tell if they were being especially clingy or if I just have a hangup about other people being super-affectionate in my presence.

Avis and I brought pizza back to her house and we ate it in the kitchen. She said she knew – from Teresa, Justin and Simon (via Josh) – that I had been very depressed lately.

pizza-calzoneAvis feels my dizziness is psychosomatic. She encouraged me in my plans to get out of New York although she thinks I could find a better place to move to than Florida.

She herself doesn’t know how long she can take living in New York, and Simon, too, has been making noises about leaving the city. Avis definitely wants to be somewhere else a year from now and just hopes she can stick it out in her present job that long.

Helmut was very hurt when she told him about Simon, and now Helmut’s not writing to her. I guess he thought she would always be his. I’m sure he didn’t actually think that, but you know how people are.

wash-dryJustin came home while we were in the kitchen, and I felt uncomfortable because I knew I had hurt him last week when I sort of rebuffed him. I tried to be more than just polite and cool, and Justin found it hard to be cold to me.

While Justin was fixing his dinner, Avis and I were talking about Simon and Josh’s not speaking to each other. Simon is very upset about it, and that makes Avis unhappy. I told her Josh is unhappy about it, too, and I wondered aloud why people who care about each other should cause each other such pain.

“It’s usually people who care about you who cause you pain,” Justin put in – and I felt he was talking about him and me, not Simon and Josh.

I do like Justin – but not that much – and I’m no longer attracted to him park-slope-garfield-pl-nightphysically.

Avis and I went up to her room, where we chatted and gossiped and talked politics; I was glad to spend time alone with her. Our relationship keeps evolving, but there’s always something there. As Avis said, whatever happens, she can’t imagine us not talking to each other.

This morning I went into the city; it was almost 60° and if the sun were out, it could have been a gorgeous day. Alice put out a real spread for me: she’s so thoughtful.

Alice surprised me by saying that maybe it is best for me to move: “Like Teresa said, maybe you have to go away from New York for a while to appreciate it.” She said she’s never seen me this depressed in more than waverly-theater-bwtwenty years and feels I should do whatever I think is right.

She herself has been very busy with work: song writing, doing articles, trying to get another book contract. Under Peter’s influence, she’s become less hyper and more stable.

And Alice no longer asks me about women; I think Peter has gently explained to her that I’m gay. He hears nothing in his office about the Spider-Man project and isn’t even sure that the firm isn’t going under completely. Alice and Peter were very supportive and I left the Village feeling buoyed.

Alice told me a great story about finding an article in a woman’s magazine by someone who has the same name as her mother but spells her first name ttywith two E’s. So Alice sent it to her mother by mail.

Alice’s mother then called her on the TTY and typed out, “How dare you use my name!” Alice got all upset and “said” she was going to hang up the phone, that her mother was being ridiculous.

And then her mother typed out: “But, darling, I was only kidding, ha ha.”

Alice realized that since she was unable to see her mother’s expression or hear her tone of voice, Alice couldn’t tell her mother was in a joking mood. I guess deaf people communicating over a TTY have to say “ha ha” when they’re kidding.

bcc-signBack home, I got a letter from Betty Adkins, head of the English Department at Broward Community College (the Davie branch); she wrote that she’d interview me for an adjunct job at our mutual convenience. Big deal. I know I’m so much better than that.

Marc came over to pick up his income tax forms; he looked terrific, as though he’d lost ten pounds. He told me he’s on a “cocaine diet”: he snorts before every meal, and it takes away his appetite. I wish I could lose weight, but coke is a dangerous and expensive way to do it.

I’ve learned from Grandma Ethel and Dad that Deanna told Marc she wouldn’t see him anymore after Marc told Deanna that he’d never marry her.

Marc hasn’t mentioned it, and I haven’t asked.

There’sreagan-80 a big thunderstorm right now, and I’m very dizzy. Reagan won big in today’s South Carolina primary, crippling Bush and Connally (Anderson wasn’t on the ballot.) I’m sure Ford will run now in an attempt to stop Reagan. TC mark

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