Wednesday, December 3, 1975
6 PM. I’ve been feeling so tired lately, and so pressed for time. As usual, I feel stifled by the small pressures and responsibilities of my life. Or perhaps I’m just ill-tempered due to a sinus headache.
But in the past few days, I’ve often had the feeling that everything is falling apart, especially myself, and that nothing works anymore. Sometimes I think there are grinders out there, waiting to work on my spirit.
I could really use a lift right now. I see myself working toward things, but I see my goals vanishing like a mirage just when I get in sight of them. I lead such an empty, futile life, really. I feel so worn down by restrictions. I need an oasis, and not an illusory one, either.
Yesterday, on campus, I ran into George Abrams from the Honest Ballot Association and his secretary, who were going to LaGuardia to arrange the new student government elections. Mr. Abrams doesn’t know me by name, but we’ve built up a kind of friendship after years of association.
I went to the Placement Center to look at the bulletin boards. I can’t count on getting rehired as an adjunct at LIU, not with the university’s own fiscal crisis, and I’m not even sure I want to teach again.
If a job at LIU is offered to me, I’ll take it, but it might be nicer and more challenging to try something totally different; I don’t know what yet, of course, but I don’t want my life to go stale.
In class at our fiction workshop today, I told Jon that he sounded very good on the radio; he said he couldn’t stand to listen to himself, which is natural for anybody. There was a new story by him in the latest Confrontation, the LIU literary magazine, that has already rejected my stories.
Jon said that he had been thinking of asking me to take over his undergraduate class this Thursday, but he decided to do it himself and postpone his business for another day. I was flattered by his confidence in me; it obviously never occurred to him to ask any of the others.
We went over a story of Simon’s that was excellent and is probably publishable. After class, I drove Denis and Josh to Josh’s house – they’ve become so tight lately, while I haven’t seen or talked to Josh socially in several months – and then came home to dinner.
Afterwards, I started working on a new story, and I didn’t want to stop, so I called Cousin Robin and made some excuse; I don’t have to go out of my way for her, and she calls me only when she wants something.
I finished the story. It’s a dreamy piece, half-in-and-half-out of sleep, a story suggested by Ronna reminding me of our weekend at the Raleigh Hotel. I think it’s weird but pretty good.
Going over my Directory of Little Magazines, I noticed the journal Unicorn, put out in Brooklyn by its editor, Karen Rockow. I recognized the name as that of a 17-year-old girl who had written a letter to me in 1966 about a Godzilla for President “campaign.”
Being too shy at 15 to approach a woman old enough to be in college – she was a Kingsman news copy editor yet, which then seemed impressive – I never answered her.
But of course I saved her letter, as I save everything else, and so last night I decided to send Karen’s letter back to her. If I were her, I’d be curious to see it.
I slept too heavily and was cranky all day, and I didn’t go into the Fiction Collective office until 2 PM. There was an awful lot of work today: several manuscripts came in, and I never had time to get to most of the correspondence.
Peggy, of course, was pleased with the Sunday Times Book Review, and I hear Mimi was very happy, especially because she just got a second letter from President Kneller firing her, and the Times review may help her get a new job.
I’ve got to be fairly realistic and accept the fact that I am not going to get a job in a college teaching creative writing. But I’m going to try. Someday – soon, I hope – when I feel more confident, I’m going to try my damnedest.
Saturday, December 6, 1975
It’s after midnight, but I’m so exhilarated that I probably won’t sleep.
Being a writer is terrific: in what other profession can you have an absolutely delightful day enjoying yourself and then come home at 11 PM to find that you have sold a short story? These moments make up for all the frustrations, all the disappointments.
At times like this, life is very sweet. Even if I hadn’t sold the story, today would have been one of the most pleasant days of my life. But that extra bonus tonight was like the cherry on top of the chocolate sundae.
This morning Avis called, wanting to know if I’d go with her to the Carnegie Hall Cinema, where her sister and Wade said we could get in for free. At the time, I was just about to call Avis to ask if she wanted to go to the movies, so I jumped at the offer.
We decided to make a whole day of it, and I picked her up at noon. Driving to Manhattan, she told me about her job – as much as she could tell me, because it’s a very hush-hush job and who she’s working for and what she’s working on is confidential.
But from what she could say, I gathered that she’s doing research related to AT&T and a big antitrust lawsuit. I mentioned that Ronna was working for Telenet, and I got the distinct impression from Avis that Telenet was very much involved in the whole business.
Ronna had told me that Telenet has something to do with making phone calls using satellites with some weird thing called “packet switchers,” but she doesn’t really quite understand it. Ronna’s bosses both hate AT&T.
Of course, I couldn’t ask Avis for any specific information, but I am glad she really enjoys her work and finds it interesting.
After we parked in the Village, I went with Avis to buy clogs in a store on Sixth Avenue. Then we went to the Eighth Street Bookshop, where Avis bought the Sierra Club Wilderness Calendar for 1976, to put up in her and Helmut’s apartment in Bremen.
Laurie gave us a discount, and she was very friendly, even telling me to come in whenever I wanted for Christmas stuff and she’d put it away for me. Laurie said she wrote a story about the Fiction Collective party in Soho and that it didn’t go over too well in her class’s fiction workshop.
She said she writes “snotty realistic stuff” and that she just got a story back from The New Yorker. I bought the latest copy of New Writers, both because it’s a good magazine and because my name was listed in their story index for the past two years.
When Elihu entered the store and came over to the register, it was like Old Home Week. Elihu hadn’t seen Avis in a very long time. After some chatting, Avis and I said goodbye and took the subway uptown.
I was back in my old Village Voice messenger days stomping grounds, so when Avis wanted to eat an American hamburger, I suggested we have lunch at the Bun ‘n’ Burger in the MGM Building, on the block where Sheila lives, and so we did.
Avis told me that Scott called her last Sunday morning while she and Libby were baking apple pie. She said Scott was as cocky and braggadocio as ever, telling Avis he was getting “inside info from bigwigs on Capitol Hill.”
When we went to the theater, Avis asked for Wade, and the box office people let us go to his office. We met Sidney Geffen, the maniac her sister and brother-in-law work for.
Wade is very nice: a slight, blond guy, the kind of person who seems at ease with himself and who puts one at easy right away. I liked him immediately.
The films we got to see for free – Morgan! and The Ruling Class, two British comedies – were okay, but I found it hard to sit for so long, from 3 PM to 7:30 PM.
Ellen – who works in another of Sidney’s offices – had come by to visit Wade, and so after the movies ended, Avis and I went to the office to chat for an hour.
It had been ages since I’d last seen Ellen, who looks very well; she and Wade make a nice couple. They’re going out to Iowa to see if they’d like to move there.
Wade, a Yale graduate and a preppie, wants to go for his Ph.D. in English, and Ellen is thinking of getting another master’s. They said they can’t take the city and working for Sidney much longer.
After we left at 8:30 PM – Ellen said I could come to the theater for free anytime – and took the train back to the Village, I drove Avis back to her parents’ in Sheepshead Bay.
Her parents had company, and there were cold cuts, so Avis and I went into her room and had one of our old-time talks over roast beef and Swiss cheese. She’s such a dear friend; I know she loves Germany and she loves Helmut, but it’s good to have her back for a while.
Avis is quite worried about Libby. When I took Libby to the gynecologist for the first time this summer, he said she had an ovarian cyst. I didn’t think that was necessarily serious, but last week Libby went for a sonogram and it showed that surgery may be necessary.
I know that is a pretty involved operation, with a lot of recuperation needed. Avis is trying to persuade Libby not to go to England and instead have the surgery immediately. Apparently if the cyst isn’t taken care of right away, it can be very dangerous.
When I got home at 11 PM, I found a letter saying that New Writers had bought “Coping.” Tee-riffic. Like their other acceptance, this letter was marked “Contract Enclosed – Open Immediately,” and so Mom and Dad knew all day and kept waiting for me to come home.
It was such a coincidence to buy a copy of New Writers today and then get an acceptance letter from them.
Constance Glickman wrote that she could understand why Jon Baumbach preferred “Rampant Burping” and said “the style there is very original. Yet this story [“Coping”] shows tremendous ability. The subtlety and characterization are very well-handled. You’ve got so much going for you. . .”
As always, Connie was very encouraging; she treats her young writers so well. I signed the contract – I’ll be getting $35 this time – and will send it back to her with an updated bio and a letter of thanks and appreciation.
I always knew I had talent, but each new sale confirms this and makes me feel that I am doing the right thing with my life. I’ve sold three stories in three months, and that was the goal I set for myself for the whole year. So far I’ve surpassed my 1975 goal by one story, although I guess I won’t get any more acceptances till next year.
“Coping” is my first representational, “made-up” story to be accepted, and I think the characterizations in it are very nice, particularly the one based on Grandpa Nat.
Monday, December 8, 1975
4 PM on a cloudy afternoon. Sometimes I worry about myself. Despite my sale of “Coping” on Saturday, I still felt an almost, but not totally, imperceptible twinge of disappointment when today’s mail bought no other acceptance.
If I keep this up, I’m going to give myself an ulcer and I’ll have to go back to my old Rolaids-and-anxiety-attack days. I keep berating myself for not producing more fiction, yet I know, objectively, that I’ve been fairly prolific.
I must accept the fact – told to me so often over the past two years – that one cannot make a living as a writer of fiction. Plus, it’s getting increasingly more difficult to make a living teaching writing. I cannot exist on part-time jobs like those at LIU and on small checks paid to me by editors of quarterlies.
After I graduate the MFA program in June, I will need to find a job. It’s unlikely that I’ll find a job in a university, and the thought of a 9-to-5 Manhattan office job makes me sick. But I’ll be 25 and – granting that my generation has postponed adulthood with a fierce reluctance – I should be doing more. (Watch out, kiddo: there was a “should” in there.)
And of course I’m so insecure that I worry even about my success. “Too much too soon”; “You’ll burn out early”; “Beware of slickness”; “Don’t try to get there too fast” – all of those clichés come to mind.
One problem I foresee is that I’ve put all my eggs in one basket and concentrated solely on my writing. I’ve got to keep my options open and remember that I have other talents. I’m still very much of a political animal, and I enjoy linguistics. I used to sketch in pen and ink fairly well although I never cultivated that talent. Perhaps I could even be a journalist.
At this point I wouldn’t have the patience for law school, but I might not make a bad psychiatric social worker. I’ve always been interested in geriatrics, and I’ve dabbled in acting.
Like Constance Glickman wrote, I’ve “got a lot going for me,” and not only in writing; there are enough avenues of possibility open to a bright kid like me for me to find something I can do with my life and make a little money.
Last evening I spoke to Ronna, who said she’s been fighting with her mother; a lot of it seems to be about Ben. On Friday night she left the house at 8 PM so as to avoid Ben; she took the bus to Rockaway and walked in the cold night air.
I would have called her then, but I assumed she had a date. On Saturday she went shopping with her sister and then to a Chanukah party at her grandmother’s.
So it would appear that Ronna isn’t really dating anyone although she did mention that she would have to help Henry with some Boy Scout function next weekend. But she said it was because Craig was unable to help due to some personal problems he’s having.
Last night I dreamed of Ronna, and I had another dream which must have a lot of sexual significance: I was living in an all-male, all-gay world – it reminded me of the Amazons, only male – but we went up to another level, to a dinner where we were joined by women and where we learned we were all going to become heterosexual.
In the dream, our leader made a farewell toast, and we all stood up, and then a boy – it was my friend Eric, still looking the way he looked in junior high – put his arm around me. I clutched him tearfully, knowing we could never hold each other anymore.
“I’m going to miss seeing your legs,” he sobbed regretfully, but although it was sad, we both knew it was for the best. It was a weird dream, but it said a lot about me.
Today I went to the bank, the health food store, and the eye doctor, and I xeroxed my syllabus for my students; I did not go in to LIU.
Mara sent me a funny little note: “I’m sorry this letter is so short, but then again, so am I.” She still has her hopes for the federal job, and her term papers are really starting to pile up.
“I have decided that I’m lacking something in my life,” Mara writes, “and I want to have a wild, impetuous (once I learn to spell the word) affair – even for a weekend. I had one prospect, but he got a job in Alaska. (That was supposed to be funny).”
Oh, Mara – I know, I know, I know.
Thursday, December 11, 1975
9 PM. After a long, successful day like today, I almost feel as though I’ve surprised myself. I sometimes try to imagine me looking at myself teaching, writing, interacting with others, and I don’t connect the Richard Grayson the world sees with the bundle of neuroses I know and love.
But I think I could very easily grow to love the dynamic, successful Richard Grayson. Actually, despite all my upset last night, I was the only one in the house who got a good night’s sleep; the others were awake because of Jonathan’s illness.
Apparently he was moaning for hours with the terrible pain in his ear. It popped eventually, and pink pus kept running out; after that, it felt better. But he was awake all night, and so were Mom and Dad. Marc finally went to the basement to get some sleep.
Larry Rotenberg came over at 7 AM, just as I was getting up, and he prescribed some things, and Jonny felt better during the day. I worry about him being so compulsive: he must lift his weights at a certain hour, and he can’t eat Italian food tonight because he eats it on Friday nights, and tomorrow he wants to go to school despite being sick.
This morning, I was in a cheerful mood: the sleep did me a lot of good. In the office at LIU, Margaret had just put up the Christmas tree and decorations, and people were making plans for the Christmas party.
After boring the class with adjective clauses, I talked to them about their next paragraph, which is to be a narration of a personal incident. I read them Dr. Silveira’s mimeoed paragraphs, but just for once, I wanted to add something interesting, so I read aloud a piece by Dick Gregory about a childhood humiliation.
By the looks in the students’ eyes, I could see that for once, the class was really into what was going on. I told them that the book I had read it from had essays by others, and they wanted to hear Malcolm X, Cleaver, etc.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t time, and I must stick to the syllabus. But that gleam in their eyes was, to me, a glimmer of what teaching could be.
This afternoon, I taught again, taking over Baumbach’s undergraduate short story writing class at Brooklyn College. It feels so natural to be up in front of the room that I just plunked down and took charge immediately.
I read aloud the story we were covering, and then, one by one, the class commented on it. Tom, whom I met at the Fiction Collective party, and Hannah, an older woman in a lotus posture, were the most perceptive critics, and, I suspect, the best writers in the class.
We had a good discussion going, and we had just about finished when Jon entered the room, fresh from his sales conference at Braziller. There were only five minutes left for the class, and with Jon’s acquiescence, I remained in charge.
Afterwards, he said he had never seen the class looking so interested, and later I ran into Tom and Hannah, who both told me that it had been a very good class. So maybe I do have a talent for teaching.
I left Jon to Jack Gelber, whom I heard complain that he hadn’t slept in three nights because he doesn’t know which of three houses to buy.
Today I got three rejection notices, but also an acceptance: Tobin Simon, the editor of Snakeroots, the Pratt Institute literary magazine, sent back “Glen Cove By-Pass” and “Subtle Kinship,” but said he was accepting “Roman Buildings” for Snakeroots #6, which won’t appear until October 1976.
It’s a long way off, and there’s no payment but copies. Still, “Roman Buildings” is one of my favorite stories, and I’ll be glad to see it published. I’m getting so blasé about these story acceptances already.
I went back on campus for our Fiction Workshop, where we went over a story of Denis’ (my reaction was the most positive of anyone’s) and my “Glen Cove By-Pass.” While I knew Simon and Josh would not like it, I was surprised that the story got such a favorable reaction from Denis, Todd and Baumbach.
There was dinner at the Pub after class, and then I came home to get some Richardly-deserved rest.