Wednesday, December 1, 1976
11 PM. I just got home. Tonight, in a change of pace, I went with Dad, Marc and Bunny to a basketball game at Nassau Coliseum.
Marc was up at Uncle Marty’s place today, and Marty said he wasn’t using his four season tickets to tonight’s Nets game. So when Dad proposed at dinner that I join him, Marc and Bunny, I surprised myself by saying yes. I enjoyed myself a great deal, and if I had the opportunity, I’d go to more games.
For one thing, I enjoyed the 40-minute drive to and from Nassau Coliseum; it’s so much nicer being a front-seat passenger in a Cadillac than the driver of my creakily-running Comet. I’ve been enjoying driving – especially city driving – less and less, and at this point it’s a great luxury to leave the driving to others.
I hadn’t been to the Nassau Coliseum in over two years, not since the John Denver concert that Ronna and Susan and I attended. Basketball is fairly interesting, although this wasn’t the most exciting game: the Phoenix Suns took a big early lead and never lost it, and there were way too many personal fouls.
Still, we had good seats (in a very small crowd), and I found myself getting more interested as the game went on. Before tonight, I had never been to a pro basketball game in my life. If I had stayed home tonight, I would have tried to write, but this diversion was better for me.
This morning, in English 11, we went over Cleaver’s essay on “The Revolt of White Youth,” which stirred some controversy and a bit too much rhetoric among the students, I’m afraid. But at least the class was interesting and not another disaster like Monday’s.
Between 10 AM and noon, I marked some papers and bullshitted with Mark and his undergraduate friend Steve, a nice guy who’s around our age.
Mark turned 24 the other day. He has eight brothers and three sisters, which must have made for an interesting upbringing. He says his siblings are out having their own families rather quickly, but he’s not interested in either marriage or children at the moment.
After my usual lunch at Junior’s, I finished the text with a lesson on adverbs and adjectives in English 10, and for the final hour, I had the students write a narrative about an incident in their childhood.
These weeks are flying by so quickly. Three weeks from today, the Christmas holiday will begin and after that there will be just a week of classes in January and then finals.
Dana Neugent wrote me that the Westerly Review is taking up a lot of their time now, and issue #3 should be out very soon. Dana’s such a nice guy; he said he’d call me when he comes to New York to visit friends during the holidays.
It’s nice making friends through my little magazine publications. There are a lot of nice people out there: Dana, Caaron, Toby Simon of Snakeroots, Tom Fisher of Star-Web Paper, Loris Essary of Interstate, and others.
Yesterday I finally showed Jon a copy of a little magazine containing one of my stories, and all he remarked was that Three Sisters had “an ugly, Catholic look to it.” He said something similar, though nondenominational, when he saw Junction.
Now that I think of it, Jon’s never been particularly supportive of me. When I first sold a story to Panache last October, he said, “What the hell is that?” and basically continued along the same vein all year as I got one acceptance after another.
Yet he wants me to be around in a couple of weeks when the MFA evaluators come, to show me off as a “successful graduate.”
It’s funny how yesterday’s published story did not satisfy me for long; I’m afraid I’m getting an inexhaustible need to see myself in print.
Saturday, December 4, 1976
5 PM. I am 25½ years old today, but it doesn’t matter. I’m happy.
Last night I slept soundly, dreaming dreams in which I handled various crises deftly. Waking up fairly early, I had breakfast and a shower and then typed up my story, “A View of Toledo,” based on an incident in Brand Whitlock’s memoirs.
Saturday mornings are good times to write, the best times for me. Just as I finished the story, I heard the click of the mailbox, so I ran downstairs and found two of my self-addressed manila envelopes.
The first, from the Queens College magazine A Shout in the Street, contained this handwritten message:
Dear Richard Grayson:
We read with some interest “Where the Glacier Stopped” but wished it went somewhere more. Thanks for sending it.
The second, a typed letter from Charles Bolton, secretary of the Cincinnati Women’s Press, publishers of the magazine Syzygy, said:
Dear Richard Grayson:
I’m happy to tell you that we’re keeping “Where the Glacier Stopped” for publication in the March, 1977 Syzygy. Truth is, we liked all of your stories. We wish we could pay you; in lieu, we’ll send you five copes of ‘your’ issue plus a subscription.
Ironic, isn’t it? But then that’s probably the prime virtue of my fiction: the irony. It’s interesting to note that four of my published stories have a woman’s voice (“Glen Cove By-Pass,” “The Horsehead Nebula”) or are about a woman (“A Wake in One Zone,” “Robin, Remontant”) in addition to my first person narrator of “Glacier,” Zodie Yakker (the name comes from an acquaintance of Ronna’s sister).
I could also add to the list “I, Eliza Custis.” At least I can’t be as readily accused of misogyny as Roth, Mailer, Bellow and Miller were in an article in this week’s Village Voice. To what do I owe my great understanding of female nature? Not to experience!
Anyway, we need male feminist writers of fiction, and I’m more than willing to be one of them.
Dad told me that he’s interested in buying the health-food store in Miami and that if he does buy it, he said he’d like me and Marc to run it. When I told him I wouldn’t consider it, Dad said I could make $20,000 a year and that after a few years, I could take my money and do what I want.
I told Dad life doesn’t work that way, that people just get caught up in their jobs and current income, and that anyway, the money’s not worth it to me. Having never had any money, large sums mean nothing to me. I don’t feel particularly principled or noble, but I know what’s right for me.
Still, a health-food store is tempting. Today I went to one and bought sage and wild cherry bark; I’m hoping to get back into herbs and slowly replenish my collection.
If nothing else, the revived interest in herbs will add a facet to my life that’s apart from writing and teaching, and they could also help me reduce if I drank herb teas instead of munching cookies.
Driving around the borough this afternoon, I again wondered why anyone would live in any other place besides Brooklyn. I stopped off at the Heights and renewed my acquaintance with Montague Street, where a number of interesting new stores and restaurants have opened up.
Brooklyn near Christmas time makes me feel jolly and exuberant. I sing “Winter Wonderland” to myself. (The reason that tune gives me such excruciating pleasure is something I don’t understand.) If I had been wearing a hat today, I would have tipped it to the ladies.
Whenever I’m in a good mood, I pun. Like “I have a sense of Yuma, Arizona” or “There are a lot of miner characters in D.H. Lawrence” or songs for a singer in Ghana: “Ghana Build a Mountain” and “Kwame, how I love ya / How I love ya/ My dear old Kwame.” It’s fun to be silly. While I still have a brace of papers to mark – ugh! – I’m going to put them off until the last moment of tomorrow.
Monday, December 6, 1976
8 PM. Yesterday was a lazy day, a perfect lie-in-bed day. I finally got all of my schoolwork done. Schoolwork! I’m the teacher, after all.
One day I want to be in the Notable Books section of the Christmas issue of the New York Times Book Review. Sometimes I become disenchanted with the whole small press scene. Maybe I’m just not good enough to have a book published by Harper & Row or Macmillan or Knopf – but I am certain I will someday.
I can write something, though maybe not fiction, that would gather a wide audience; I know it. But I’m young now and only an apprentice. In any interview yesterday, Saul Bellow said he still feels like a journeyman.
In an essay, “Why I Write,” Joan Didion described to a T the feelings I’ve always had. I have no patience with concepts or abstractions; I’ve always been interested in the concrete, the odd, the feelings, the “shimmer” around life. Caaron loves Joan Didion.
I got a fantastic eight-page letter from Caaron today; it came as a big surprise. She writes in that beautifully sexy style and handwriting, going here and there, floating, landing occasionally. Some excerpts:
Ohdearohdearohdearohdear. You know what? I did not have a breakdown, but I came close. I was anorectic in 11th grade and very sad. So I know about the worlds of introspection and therapy and talk. Still do – have yet to be as insightful as I wish – but I am happier, much. I hate the word happy. So I really don’t know what I am, just more well-rounded (pun?) . . .
I sent her a photo, and she wrote:
At least you are a face – even without a body. I wonder about the rest. Sweaters and corduroys? . . . Before I sent my other letter to you, I couldn’t decide if I should or should not have written it. But honesty always makes me feel better.
I think I even like you more because I’m not afraid of something (who I imagined you were) anymore . . . God, Richard? You know what? I was mad when she said you were used to friendships/flirtations – I guess I’m just being a Jewish mother but I do feel resentful about being another ‘F/F’ – but then it’s less dangerous, eh?
I guess so, Caa.
Her letter ends: I want to feed you chocolate cake and pinch your cheek. Smile. Mucho love, Caaron.
I already wrote her back, but it’s all very strange.
Our relationship is so intense, but it’s a writers’ relationship, all on paper. Or is it? I like this part of my life, my correspondence with Caaron, and I suppose I’m more than a little in love with her. But we’re not really real to each other.
I’m sure this will continue for a while and then one of us will slip and then the other will stop writing. It’s wonderful for me, because there’s no vulnerability involved; still, our intimacies are only on paper.
I’m not toying with her; she’s serious about me, and vice versa. But as Caaron said, we’ve put each other in a “certain special – undangerous – place.”
Today my classes went fairly well. Even when I phumpher around and feel like an ass, I like teaching. They’re registering for next term now, and I’m not sure whether there’ll be a class (or two) for me.
This is depressing, because I don’t know what I’ll do. LIU is a part of me now. I like joking with Mark and Abe, showing each other hilarities in the papers we mark (“A friend is someone who you can let open your drawers” – this from a very proper Chinese girl).
I love talking to my students individually. I like having coffee with Margaret and George telling me about his new book of poetry (to be published by Doug Messerli’s Sun Press) and having a key to the faculty bathroom. It’s all worth the measly wages.
Lesson: enjoy it while you can, sir. Squeeze every moment out of the rest of this term. (Try to do the same with life.)
One less story is being published: Open Ring has folded and they sent back “After the Avant-Garde Festival.”
Wednesday, December 8, 1976
8 PM. Last evening I began reading Rollo May’s The Courage to Create. It’s an exciting, rich book. May believes that creativity does not stem from neurosis, but is in fact man’s healthiest impulse.
He talks about the paradox of the courage to create, and indeed, all kinds of courage: “It is the seeming contradiction that we must be fully committed, but we must also be aware at the same time that we might possibly be wrong.”
This is so true. At times I feel filled with such doubts about my approach to my work, yet at the same time I am absolutely convinced that I am heading in the right direction and that I will ultimately be recognized as a talented writer.
Last night Mikey called from the law school library; he studies there every night till midnight now. He likes what he’s doing, but it’s still a grind. We had a friendly chat, nothing consequential.
Mikey mentioned talking to Mason the day before and seeing Stacy in Rockaway at Thanksgiving. Mason still hasn’t sold any Gulf Coast real estate at his new job, and Stacy is still working at the hospital.
I told Mikey I’d see him during the holidays, if not before.
Jonny and I were plagued with several calls in which there was a “click” before the caller said anything. The fourth time this happened, a woman with a phony accent asked if our number was 338-1578, which was kind of suspicious.
This morning I awoke feeling very chipper, kissed Mom goodbye, and drove downtown. I am saving these last days of the term, knowing there may not be a next term. Margaret put the Christmas tree up, and everything looks quite festive.
In English 11, I taught a lesson on commas that went well. After class, I had a long talk with my student Ben Maynard, who’s into health foods and knows a lot about herbs. Ben wrote a great paper comparing different newspapers’ coverage of the Patty Hearst release. I really feel close to some of my students.
Mark and I gabbed, as usual, and I wandered around the offices, which are such a congenial place to hang out.
After my customary burger with smothered onions, Tab and the complimentary little packet of Pep-O-Mint Life Savers at Junior’s counter, I taught English 10, enjoying every minute of my reviewing. Teaching grammar actually is fun; there’s creativity involved in that, too.
From LIU, I drove down Flatbush Avenue to Brooklyn College, my other campus home, to work at the Fiction Collective. Gloria and Jackie were sending out the fall financial statement to all the Collective members, and John Ashbery was eating tunafish and having tutorials.
Most of his students are such turkeys. They’re so impressed by the fact that he’s John Ashbery and they’re having a tutorial with him. I respect and am in awe of John Ashbery the prize-winning poet, but in the office, I see him as just another person, albeit a gentle, quiet, intelligent one.
Sometimes I listen in to his tutorials to see if I can hear pearls of wisdom from Ashbery’s mouth, but I feel foolish when I do that, and I haven’t really overheard anything I could use in my fiction writing.
Now that we’ve stopped accepting unsolicited manuscripts until next fall, my job should be simpler. Gloria showed me the cover designs for the spring series, and they look nice.
After I drove Gloria to the Newkirk Avenue station, I came home. Mom and Dad called from Florida, saying that their flight was fine and they’re enjoying the balmy weather.
I got a letter from Carolyn Bennett of Seagull Publications, to whom I had submitted a manuscript of short stories for a possible book. She wrote back that she’s up to her ears in manuscripts and will not be able to reply for a few months.
Carolyn graduated Brooklyn College in 1971 and was an English major and knew Peter. Her partner, Peggy Buono, is 23, and their poetry series editor is Neal Abramson.
Their first title has just come out and they’re looking for more books to publish. God knows how they’ll survive financially. Carolyn was curious about the operation of the Collective, so I sent her a letter and a fact sheet.
What an egotrip it would be to have a book out!
Friday, December 10, 1976
2 PM. Last night was so weird. I had an attack of diarrhea after dinner, and that knocked me out. While I was running to the bathroom, I got a call from some girl who said she saw my name in the Young Mensa register; I told her to call back, as it was a bad time for me.
I went through a lot of old letters and then started fooling around cutting designs out of construction paper. I was feeling very bored. Marc and Steven were playing cards, so I went in to watch them and on impulse asked if I could smoke, as I figured it might put me to sleep.
I had never really experienced anything but a pleasant buzzing high with marijuana before, but last night I smoked some very good Hawaiian grass laced with Thai sticks. Puffing away on the joint, I didn’t think anything was happening.
However, when I went back to my room, I started feeling slightly giddy and spilled my camomile tea and began to giggle. The room started getting out of focus. Somehow the walls looked so vivid, as if they’d been freshly painted.
Then I started to feel very anxious and realized that I was flashing back to the old anxiety attacks of yesteryear. The whole thing began to get very scary.
My heart started beating fast. I felt the feeling that all-times-are-one-time; I began to feel myself leaving my body, and my limbs tensed as though I were trying to prove to myself that I was still there.
It was like a primal, and indeed, I thought of myself as being pushed out of a safe watery womb into a strange, hostile environment. Marc assured me that people sometimes get that paranoid. He said he’s learned to function like that.
Half the time I was normal, or thought that I was – but when I tried to do simple tasks, it was obvious that I had no coordination – and half the time I was floating.
At one point I was sitting on the floor, having wrapped myself into a ball, and I was afraid to move. Steven tried to coax me to move by holding out a piece of carrot, as if I were a bunny rabbit.
It struck me that I was experiencing the same fear as in my anxiety attacks: the fear of losing control. Without inhibitions, I could do anything, and the prospects of what I might do terrified me.
But all the time I was ripped, I never panicked totally because in the back of my mind, I knew that I could never do anything that would harm myself and that the drug would wear off in a few hours. It did.
I value the experience, but I don’t see any point in repeating it; what I must do is learn from it. You can’t learn anything while you’re stoned; all those marvelous insights I had now seem insipid.
I tried writing, but my hand couldn’t keep up with my brain and I wrote in a childish scrawl, misspelling the simplest words, like it as itt – and what I wrote is definitely not profound.
Example: But I’ve lived such a controlled life, this is subdued. No – even I know that makes no sense. I’ve seen people like this but I never knew exactly how it feltt [sic].
Around 2 AM, I managed to come down and I felt all right in the morning. Today I finished my lesson on punctuation in English 11, and I seemed to be making sense although I found myself talking like Mary Hartman.
Back home, I was amazed to read Grandpa Nat’s testimony at the trial in which Art Pants is suing a mill, claiming that their late delivery of goods led to the company sustaining a loss of $250,000.
I particularly liked Grandpa Nat’s line on why he had to liquidate: “It was on account of stinky make and on account of late delivery.” I transformed the transcript into a short story, “Testimony of My Grandfather.”
Today’s mail brought four rejections, but there was also an acceptance: the Apalachee Quarterly took two of my stories for their March issue. The stories are “For the Time Being” and “The Domino Theory,” both very minor. I can’t even remember what “For the Time Being” is about.
Sunday, December 12, 1976
10 PM. This has been one of the best weekends on record. Nothing spectacular or exciting happened, but everything that did happen was – to fall back on my most overused word – nice.
Maybe it’s the Christmas spirit, or maybe it’s Mom and Dad being away and my getting a taste of being on my own, but I feel very serene tonight. That probably will change tomorrow, but for now I am fine.
Last night Gary called from his in-laws’, and we chatted for an hour; Betty got on to say hello and told me she likes her new job. Gary is busier than he’d like to be, but he’s getting a raise, and with Betty working, they can afford more things, like their new dining room table.
After reading the Sunday Times, I fell asleep, and my dreams were all very vivid. I dream about babies often now; it’s as though I want to have one or I want to start my own life anew. I also dreamed of being with a cute, sexy girl with tawny brown hair who was wearing a peasant blouse (they drive me wild) and narrow-banded wristwatch (they also drive me wild, for some reason).
In another dream, I was driving in a strange part of Brooklyn and accidentally walked into an elevator that got stuck between floors. And later I was writing a story about Shelli while she was standing nearby with Elihu.
There were other dreams: going to visit Vito and his mother at midnight; being evaluated as a teacher by Sean. I treasure the dreams I have every night.
It was a lazy, rainy Sunday. While my brothers were asleep, I had breakfast in my underwear. (Just think: if I lived alone, I could do that every day!)
Alice called, telling me she was glad I missed the party, as it was a terrible drag because most of the people were very religious and straight; at 10 PM, she left to visit June and Richard, who thought the entries for Alice and myself in the winter BC Alumni Bulletin were pompous.
But it’s fun to be pompous sometimes, as long as I realize that I’m taking myself too seriously. I had lunch at The Arch and was intending to go into Manhattan afterwards, but while munching my burger deluxe, I got something in my head: the germ of a story.
It seemed foolish to let it go to waste, so I headed for home and typewriter and cooked up something called “Sixteen Attempts to Justify My Existence.” It’s random and very loose, but I like it.
Then I got a call from Libby, always a treat. She’s fine, working Tuesday through Saturday at the YWCA, where she’s teaching swimming ten hours a week and arranging different activities and doing clerical work the rest of the time. It’s very pleasant, with no one looking over her shoulder.
Libby said Wayne and Angelina and her mother are all fine, and they wanted to invite me to Christmas dinner. I was overwhelmed. How nice of them to think of me! (There you go again with that “nice,” Grayson! Where’s your self-respect?)
I told Libby thanks a million times. I miss the Judsons very much; they’re such good, plain – yes, damn it – nice people. Libby said that Avis sounds very happy now that she and Helmut have found a new apartment, but she says the job at Berlitz isn’t as good as she thought it might be and that Avis and her friends might start a bookstore.
Libby is so sweet. I’ve got to buy Christmas presents for her family.