Saturday, May 1, 1976
6 PM on a dark, rainy May Day. I’m not looking forward to Elspeth and Elihu’s party tonight, although I probably will drop in for a little while.
Basically, I feel like a mess. My acne has flared up terribly again (at least when I had my tan, my face wasn’t broken out), I awoke with a stiff neck which is giving me twinges of pain when I move, and my sinuses hurt.
I’d prefer to get into bed as early as possible. I’m tired of people and I hunger for the solitude that keeps me going and keeps me writing. I hate when I get too much into the world and too far away from myself.
There’s no one at the party I really want to see; those whom I do, I can see anyway at other times, like Mark and Consuelo or Elspeth or Elihu. I’d like to see Skip, Jerry and Shelli, Leon, Bob and Estelle – but none of them will be there tonight.
The LaGuardia people were a beautiful bunch, but it’s over now, and while individual friendships (and enmities) remain, the group cohesiveness is gone. I loved being a part of LaGuardia Hall, the whole idea of belonging to and being known in a small society. But I’ve lived without that group, and in fact, I guess I am part of another.
Through my writings, my work for the Fiction Collective, my own reading, I have become part of the small press/little magazine world. I did go back to the Book Fair at Lincoln Center today, and I’m glad I did.
I spoke again with Kathy Anderson of Boxspring and with Herb Leibowitz, who said he knew I was there because he’d seen my name on a mailing list I signed.
Ray Federman was manning the Fiction Collective table, and he remembered me and was very friendly. When he went out to lunch, I sat at the table in his place, selling two books: the anthology Statements and Russell Banks’ Searching for Survivors.
I sat between some guy who’s very nice and who’s putting out a new fiction magazine, Edgeworks (Baumbach has a story in the first issue, so I gave the editor $2 for a subscription), and the people from the Teachers and Writers Collaborative, who were also really friendly.
There was a nice woman from the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines who gave me a listing of their member literary magazines, and it was a lot of fun to be at the Book Fair, so much so that I stayed for an hour even after Ray came back.
Ray used the hard sell, calling out, “The future of fiction is here! . . . Buy them . . . What’s the matter, don’t you guys want to read?” – all in his delightful French accent.
Sitting around there, we all exchanged stories about the people in that world: Lyn Lifshin, perhaps the most prolific poet; Marianne Hauser, who always uses her old age as an excuse to get out of doing things; Carol Berge, who everyone thinks is slightly daffy.
I spoke to Paul Kurt Ackermann of the Boston University Journal without telling him who I was. I also spoke, at the Assembling table with Richard
Kostelanetz, pretending I didn’t know who he was.
Richard is very excitable and somewhat bitter. He said that no magazine should accept a story or poem from someone who doesn’t subscribe. In the last PEN Newsletter, Martin Tucker said that it’s the writer’s job to write and that others should buy. I think a writer should buy the work of other writers, but one can’t depend on writers to carry the brunt of sales.
David Lehman came by and introduced me as “a very good young fiction writer” to his friend; I introduced David to Ray Federman and later saw David in an animated conversation with Herb Leibowitz.
I came home in the rain, stopping off in the Village for a late lunch at The Bagel. At the copy center at the Junction, I picked up my thesis; it doesn’t look too bad. Jon has already signed his approval.
In a little more than a month, I’ll be 25 and I’ll have my second master’s degree. Mom told me that Marc said to her that he can see that my education is paying off. Marc’s thinking about going back to school to learn medical electronics, and I suggested he look into Poly Tech.
Sunday, May 2, 1976
4 PM. It’s so good to be able to write. After hundreds of thousands of words – the cement of my life – I still have not been able to make much sense out of things. Yet I keep writing.
Lately many of my prose pieces have been expressing the feeling that fiction contains no answers, that there is nothing in a story by me that could really be of value to anyone else.
Sometimes I wonder, then, why I bother to keep writing. I know I’ll never be a major literary figure and there are so many wonderful people writing today.
I doubt I can even emerge as respected minor voice. There’s nothing extraordinary I have to say, and I have trouble expressing the thoughts that may possibly be uniquely mine.
There are very few material rewards to writing short stories. Yet I just forget all that when I write and then I concentrate on putting words on paper because I have to. Sadly, I don’t know of any other way to operate.
My writing is useful only to myself, and I don’t claim otherwise – but I need it to live.
This morning I read a review of an autobiography of the novelist Mark Harris which noted that Harris wrote a diary every day and thus was “a prisoner of chronology.”
Writing this daily diary may be the wrong way to become a writer, but I have to go by my instincts that this is the right way to become Richard Grayson. I’ve achieved a certain kind of peace with myself; maybe it’s a temporary cease-fire.
Excuse all this self-evaluation (to whom am I talking if not myself?), but after all, it is the second of May, my own private adolescent holiday when I’d have a ritual of tossing a coin into the water and reflecting on my life.
I know I’ll never make sense of things, and saying that, my eyes have started to water over, and I’ll die and so what, right? Well, at least I tried to figure out some things.
I had a nice time at the party last night only because Ellen and Wade McAllister were there; I spent the bulk of the evening talking to them and Wade’s sister Cornelia, as well as Lois and a couple of others.
There seemed to be several parties going on at the same time: Elihu, Elspeth and Robin had each invited their own friends, so it was a really heterogeneous group.
Elspeth was half-coming out of her dress. By the end of the evening, she seemed to have been hurt that many of her friends did not show up.
Elihu was so stoned on hash brownies, you couldn’t talk to him all evening, and his friends were mostly gay men from Brown or Madison, with a few from Manhattan.
I met Peter from Wisconsin, “a legend” and a good friend of Leon, Shelli and Jerry, who works as a discotheque dancer. He was very gay with obviously dyed and permed bright red hair.
Mark and Consuelo phoned to say that they had come down with a stomach virus, so Ellen and Wade were my only salvation.
Josh’s friend Andy was there, but he’s changed so much since he became – in Elspeth’s words – “a Jesus freak,” or in his own words, “saved.”
Andy brought his guitar and was playing religious hymns all evening, and his new-found religion made me slightly uneasy although he didn’t proselytize and I’m in favor of anything that brings someone peace. Andy does seem to have become very mellow.
I didn’t really get to know Elihu’s friends; honestly, I just wasn’t interested. I hate to sound like this, but they seem so washed-out-looking. Gay men like Peter just seem very silly to me, although some of the others seemed pretty nice.
But it was the McAllisters whom I stuck to. They’re moving to Charlottesville, Virginia, in a couple of weeks. Wade was accepted into the Ph.D. program in English at the University, and Ellen by luck walked into a job teaching American Film there. It’s only one course a term, but by next year Wade should have a teaching assistantship.
Lois is still working as a proofreader and living at home in Borough Park. No one else from LaGuardia Hall showed up, and that is the final indication that that scene is all over and done with.
I did enjoy seeing Lois and Ellen and Wade, though; it’s sort of nice to get closer to Avis’s sister and brother-in-law. We had a lot of fun tonight, and Ellen said I’m welcome to visit them in Virginia anytime.
After turning on the bedroom TV and watching Reagan win the Texas primary – Wade thought it was a shocking upset – we left after midnight.
Tuesday, May 4, 1976
I always remember May 4 as the date of the Kent State shootings in 1970. That was a traumatic time for me, and I suppose, many of my generation. It was as though a war had been declared, not on Cambodians or Vietnamese, but against the young in this country and our lifestyle.
It’s six years later, and there is no longer even much need for a truce: the young are indistinguishable from the rest, and who knows? Maybe a man like Jimmy Carter can heal the wounds that remain from that time and that war.
And of course, we are not young anymore. One month from today, I will be 25, having lived for a quarter of a century.
Yesterday I met Jon at the college when I went to the English Department to find out about my thesis getting approved; I hear Kaye has to read it next, and he’s a stickler for margins and words being filled in.
Jon said he thought the Book Fair was a success and told me the Fiction Collective took in a number of sales: 200 books, in fact.
I ran into Prof. Schlissel and told her about Ronna going to Purdue for American Studies. I probably should have kept quiet, but I’m proud of Ronna, and I knew Lillian Schlissel would be pleased to hear one of her American Studies students was going on to grad school.
At the Graduate Student Organization office, while I awaited Donny, I marked some papers and passed the time with Cookie. Marie, of course, was holding her weekly Executive Board meeting too, and she said there was a problem with Junction: in order to request funds (hopefully, at this Thursday’s meeting of the Brooklyn College Association), we need a charter for an independent organization.
So we really can’t get started with going to the printer or even copy-reading until this is settled. When Cookie called Mike to find out why he wasn’t there, I got on the phone and spoke to him; he said he was very tired after counseling all day.
As I was about to leave, Marie asked me to sit in on the Executive Board meeting. Intercourse, our Graduate Student Organization newspaper, will be coming out soon, and there will be a GSO Awards Dinner on June 4. (I’ll probably attend, if only because it will be nice to be with people on my birthday, and who knows, I might get an award.)
Cookie and Marie both have an awful lot of work to do, and Marie is also trying to complete her thesis on time. The big question is Governance, and what President Kneller’s going to do with what he called a “split” in the referendum results.
There will be a meeting today with Kneller (Marie asked if I could attend, but I’ll be in class): the Board of Higher Ed gave him a one-week extension to come up with a governance plan for the college.
Dave Jordan, who now works in Graduate Admissions, told us of a sharp decline in graduate enrollment, but we decided there’s little we can or want to do about that.
After the others left, Donny taking the Junction material, Marie and I stayed to work on the charter. Finally, around 10 PM, we finished, but I was unable to put the typewriter back into the desk and neither was Marie.
We felt totally ridiculous, and she went to call Cookie to ask her how to do it, but then Bruce Weitz came by and did the job with ease. Driving Marie home, I reflected on how nice it was to spend the evening working with friends, as I did in the old undergraduate student government, Spigot and
Gary called when I got home. He seemed to be assured of getting a position with a firm called Response Analysis (I think) in Princeton. And he and Betty are getting a lot of engagement gifts.
I didn’t get to sleep until late, and I dreamed of a very surrealistic Rockaway and going to see a film in a Neponsit cave with Alan Karpoff and a little boy who seemed to be my son.
Today I went downtown to the Fiction Collective office to clear some things up. Peggy showed me a letter from a Gregg Mavoy, a New Hampshire college student who’d like to be an intern at the Collective.
Ron Sukenick writes that Carol Berge is driving him crazy, complaining about her manuscript. When you come down to it, everything is politics. So the thing is, even a writer must be a master politician.
Ashbery’s Pulitzer Prize was announced today. He’s also gotten this year’s National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award. Richard Kostelanetz wrote a piece on him for the Sunday Times magazine section. I wonder how it feels to get all that recognition.
In workshop, we had our usual squabbles as we went over three stories by Denis. Josh said he’d gotten very ill last weekend after driving up to the country to rent a house for the summer with some friends. I have a standing invitation to come up there any weekend.
While Josh and I were walking off campus, we ran into Debbie. Instinctively, she and I kissed. “You look well,” she told me, and I lied and told her that she too looked well when, in fact, she looked tired and drawn.
Debbie’s graduating her nursing program at Downstate in two weeks and “I’m moving to Boston all by myself and I’m scared shitless.” She got a job at Boston Children’s Hospital, she explained. We talked of how strange it is that we’re all adults now.
I chastised her for never calling me and I told her to send me her Boston address so I can mail her obscene letters. As we walked away, Josh said I appeared uncomfortable, something I hadn’t noticed or felt.
Josh told me he can’t take Andy anymore. Ever since Andy woke up one morning and found Christ, he’s gone through a personality change, which Josh thinks is all surface: “I’d like to know how he feels when he’s alone with himself.”
Andy tries to convert people subtly, Josh said. If a group of people are sitting around and somebody says, “Starsky and Hutch is a pretty good show,” Andy will say, “Yeah, it’s good – but Jesus is better.”
After dropping Josh off, I came home to have dinner and watch the very surprising primary returns tonight: Reagan beat Ford in Alabama, Georgia, and most surprisingly, Indiana.
The campaign is now topsy-turvy, with the Republican race now muddled and Carter a clear leader over that once-large field of Democratic candidates.
Saturday, May 8, 1976
10 PM. I’m feeling very good. I just completed my story, “A Dream Deferred.” Right now, of course, I’m too close to it to figure out if it works or not, but I’ve been juggling it around in my head since last night, and I think the final version is richer and more complex than what I had originally thought of writing.
I don’t know if anyone else will “get” it; it’s probably my least accessible story. Yet ultimately I find that I do write for myself, and at this moment, just after creation, this story pleases me; therefore, it already is a successful story.
Aside from that, I’m also feeling good. I just undressed and noticed myself in a mirror. For the first time in a long time, I am quite satisfied with the appearance of my body.
I’ve lost everything but a very slight paunch, I have these huge biceps, broad shoulders, and high hopes that the hair on my chest will continue to grow in. Of course I’ve always been a narcissist – but now it’s nice to have something to be narcissistic about.
Maybe I’m a Pollyanna, but I do believe that with work and determination and discipline, one can progress. Basically, I’ve been able to stick to a modified Weight Watchers Maintenance Diet, and I haven’t had ice cream or non-diet soda or pancakes or bagels since last summer.
And I’ve exercised with that ridiculous Bullworker for over an hour a day, every day, for nearly sixteen months. Moderation, discipline, determination: those are qualities I used to scorn when I was a self-satisfied self-proclaimed “compleat neurotic.”
I know, at times like these, that I shall see things through, and sometimes I believe myself capable of great things.
My diploma from Richmond arrived today, and I must admit to being surprised at how thrilled I was to see it. Mom had been bugging me to see what was causing the delay in getting it, and I kept saying, “Who needs it? It’s only a piece of paper. The real rewards of going to school are inside me . . . You’re only interested in appearances.”
As usual, I was just shooting my dumb mouth off, because I must have looked at the diploma seven or eight times today. It’s large, and it’s in modern, clean lettering, and it makes me feel proud, giving me the same kind of sense of accomplishment a finished story does.
I slept so well last night that it more than made up for the preceding several nights. This morning I went to the main Queens library in Jamaica to do research for my story, and coming home, Gary was following me on the parkway and up Flatbush Avenue; he and Betty were coming from her house.
They stopped off for a while, and I invited them in, glad to finally meet Betty. Although I met Kathy only on a few occasions, I was struck by Betty’s resemblance to her. Maybe it was the same heart-shaped locked she wore (and that Wendy wore, too).
No, seriously: Betty seems like a nice, sweet, pleasant-looking, bland, dull girl. I’d never look at her twice myself, but she and Gary definitely fit together. So maybe they will have a great marriage after all, although I suspect they cling a little too much.
It could be my own envy, but I was uncomfortable the way they had to hold hands while sitting at my kitchen table. We talked about nothing for fifteen minutes; luckily, I remembered to ask to see Betty’s ring. Usually I’m kind of dimwitted about these things.
Betty’s understandably nervous about going into the hospital on Monday for some surgery to correct a breathing problem due to a deviated septum suffered in a car accident, but Gary will be holding her hand all week.
I imagine that they’ll be good for each other, but that kind of life is not for me. I’m vain enough to think that I’m somehow special, and that the ordinary life isn’t what I want or need.
Monday, May 10, 1976
10 PM on a warm May night. Unable to do any writing today, I confined myself to sunbathing, daydreaming, lollygagging and wandering.
This morning I did teach, or attempt to, starting to go over Lawrence’s “The Horse-Dealer’s Daughter,” which is a fine story. But the half of the class that did show up was too laconic to discuss it, or perhaps they hadn’t read it at all.
I don’t let it bother me anymore when a class doesn’t go well; today, at least, it was the students’ fault and not mine. While I enjoy teaching, I’m not at my best at 9 AM.
For so many years, I’ve accustomed myself to sleeping late; it’s been strange getting up early this past year. It’s sort of nice, though, to be part of the morning scene in New York – especially on a beautiful spring day like today.
I got “A Dream Deferred” xeroxed and I mailed it out to several magazines, including the American Review, TriQuarterly and the Harvard Advocate. It would be so nice to make a really prestigious magazine.
I was having lunch when I heard Mom’s side of a phone conversation with Dad. They’ve decided to go down to Florida this weekend to look over business prospects there.
Dad had spoken with Sid Siegel this morning, and Sid advised him that service businesses do best; Sid is going to introduce Dad to some people who may be able to tell him if a venture is worthwhile.
A few minutes after Mom left, I started feeling depressed, and then, of course, I realized that my parents’ moving to Florida would change my life enormously, too. I expect my twenty-fifth year – actually, I suppose, it’s my twenty-sixth year, if reckoned correctly – to be filled with the most important changes of my life.
I will no longer have my role as a student to give my identity a kind of focus. Hopefully, I won’t stop thinking of myself as a writer, and luckily I’ve been thinking of myself more as a writer than as a student lately, anyway.
I don’t know what I would do if the rest of the family moved to Florida. In any case, it will make for a big change in my lifestyle if they do. For one thing, I’ll be leaving the house that I’ve lived in and loved for nearly twenty years.
I have the feeling that my parents’ ultimate decision will be to move, and perhaps that will be good for everyone. At least it would have the effect of finally forcing me to grow up.
I might stay on in New York, getting a job and an apartment, or I could move with the rest of the family, try my luck in Florida and eventually move out to my own place there.
For the first time in my life, I suppose, I’d be leaving very little behind in New York. My friends from college are scattered all over the country and the globe by now, and those who are here are wrapped up in their careers or their marriages.
I’m not in love with anyone, and the only person I’d ever even consider (albeit unrealistically) staying on for is Ronna, who’s going to Indiana.
Gary’s getting married, Mikey will be busy with Cardozo Law School, Avis is in Germany. I would miss my grandparents most of all, along with Mason and Alice and Josh and a few others.
I wonder if I could adjust to life in Florida; I don’t know what I would be doing there. If I could get a teaching job, that would be terrific: a college campus is basically a college campus.
But there’s a great deal of uncertainty about staying on in New York, too. One thing I wouldn’t miss, of course, is winter up North.
Very pensive and somewhat uneasy, I spent the late afternoon and early evening in the Village: dinner at The Bagel, hanging out in Washington Square Park, a movie (Grey Gardens) at the Eighth Street Playhouse.
I just walked through it all, and the people depressed me and even scared me a little. Everyone seemed so uncaring and nearly psychotic that it made me very depressed.
And I’m lonely, too. I’m losing a lot now, so this (says the neurotic) might be a good time to fall in love.