Thursday, March 10, 1977
5 PM. Last night, after watching the premiere of the TV version of Scenes from a Marriage, I slept okay, and this morning I wrote, so it can’t be such a bad day. And it’s spring: sweatshirt weather, 65°. But still I feel uneasy.
I find it incredible that on Tuesday night I could lie awake worrying about success happening too fast. I’ve been getting rejections from tiny little magazines and tiny little colleges. Today I am going nowhere.
But at least I did write. It’s called “Moments in Place and Time,” a very nostalgic story. Perhaps it’s getting too easy for me to turn out eight-page things like this, though, and perhaps I’m just repeating myself repeating myself repeating myself.
I want to be a successful writer, and I guess I don’t quite know how to go about it. Maybe I write about myself too much.
Kirkus Reviews’ review of Statements 2 was so-so, and they mentioned Simon’s story and not mine. Of course they mentioned only eight or nine of the 24 authors and they did no more than summarize the plots of the stories they did mention.
At least they didn’t single me out as being the worst writer in the anthology. I guess I’m aware I have little talent. If I had Simon’s talent, I’d be using it and getting ahead much more quickly.
On the BC campus, I ran into Ronna’s sister today. In all these months of my going there, I’d never seen her. Without thinking, I kissed her hello: it was so good to see her again, dear Sue. I told her I’d send her a book and she sounded excited.
“Did you know Ronna’s in Pennsylvania now?”
I said I didn’t.
“She stayed at Indiana one term and then transferred to Penn State because they have a better program.”
How is she doing?
“Oh, she’s being an intellectual and handing in her papers late. . . She’ll be home in two weeks on her trimester break.”
“Tell her to call me,” I told Sue, and then asked how she was, as I was interested in her as a person, not just as a conduit of information about an old girlfriend.
Sue is graduating next January, a term late, which is okay because she’s really enjoying herself. She’s majoring in health sciences, doesn’t know what she’ll do with it, and was on her way to a Human Sexuality class.
We sang the praises of the weather; she told me her mother is in Florida now, and her grandmother is staying over to take care of Billy.
I wonder if Ronna will call me. By this time, it doesn’t matter all that much, but I’d like a chance to speak with her, if only to find out how she’s doing.
I tried not to sound pretentious with Sue about my activities. I remember once she came home from the beach and told us that she’d run into Ivan and he tried to impress her – which, of course, had the opposite effect.
In the Fiction Collective office today, I started to figure out just how the brochure is going to look. I’ve got to take it to Wells Graphics tomorrow or Monday so they can set the type. That will take a week, I figure, and then Valco will take eight or nine days to print up the brochure. I guess I’ll have them by the first week in April.
Jon and Jack finally decided today to call the conference “Literature and Publishing: The Brooklyn College Conference of Writers, Editors, Agents, Book Salesmen, Publicists, etc.” – with an opening address by Dr. John Kneller.
I had a nice talk today with Laurie, who had just come from the beach at Riis Park, where she began the process of “cancerizing her skin” and was annoyed by various creeps. I didn’t have the car today – and probably won’t tomorrow – or I would have gone to Rockaway myself.
Laurie told me she makes $1,100 a term as an adjunct at BC for just one course. I make $1,350 for two courses at LIU. That really made me feel awful.
I spoke to Walter Clemons, the book editor of Newsweek, and he’s coming to the conference. He sounds so nice and friendly, too.
I’m not sure why I feel so down. Tomorrow’s a light day, and the weekend comes after that. Perhaps it’s my blood sugar.
Friday, March 11, 1977
9 PM. I enjoyed today. First of all, it hit 73°, a record. I never thought spring would come so early; it feels like May already. In three weeks it will be Easter and Passover vacation.
People are already (prematurely?) putting away their winter clothes. Today was T-shirt weather, and I really must take off some weight around my middle, which has gotten a bit too thick in recent weeks.
I was awakened by the alarm, which interrupted a pleasant dream. But Friday mornings are leisurely, as I don’t have to rush to that 10 AM class. Dad drove me to the Kings Highway train station (the Mill Basin bus is on strike), and I arrived at DeKalb Avenue and LIU fairly quickly.
Having coffee with Beverly and Margaret, I chatted with them about TV, the freeing of the hostages in Washington buildings, and other mundane matters. (Yes, hostage-taking is mundane to me.)
It was so hot in the Humanities building that I had to get out for a while, so I took a walk down Fulton Street and bought a card for Mark Savage, whose birthday is Sunday. I sent Mark and Consuelo a copy of Statements 2 as well; I also sent one to Mikey.
Today I was again terrific in class; we had a discussion of Sherwood Anderson’s “The Egg” and it went over much better than I could have hoped for. I actually liked my students today; some of them have very sharp minds.
After a quick hamburger at Junior’s, I took the IRT to the Junction, where I xeroxed yesterday’s story (which now reads halfway decently). I didn’t have the patience to wait for a bus, so I took a cab home. My car was back, fixed, so that was nice.
Four rejection notices were waiting for me, but there was this acceptance:
You are one hell of a great writer, and as one who reads thousands of manuscripts each year, I find you a goddamn pleasure. I’m going to use ‘On the Boardwalk’ for the next issue of Ataraxia.
Please send us a bio and a photo of yourself immediately, as press time is here and we need the material within the next few days. If I had room, I’d publish all your work.
I read ‘The Art of Living’ three times and cried each time I read it. My wife, my co-editor, was similarly moved. ‘Mini People’ is a gem. I could go on for weeks.
Thanks for giving us a good ride with this work and thank God people like you are holding back the hordes who think they can write.
Best wishes and best of luck,
A terrific letter, eh? It almost – no, it does – make up for all the rejections. After I finish writing this entry, I’m going to resubmit to all the magazines that rejected me this week.
At least I know I’m getting somewhere. I’ve lost count of the number of stories accepted, but it’s above forty by now. It looks like my goal of fifty stories accepted by the end of 1977 will be reached.
And Ataraxia wants a photo: that’s a first. I had to go to Woolworth’s and get one of those ugly four-poses-for-a-quarter mug shots.
I called Seventeen this afternoon, but Alice was not there, so I ended up talking to Hilary for half an hour – about Sarah Lawrence and anorexia (she went there, but doesn’t know Caaron), J.D. Salinger (whom she’s very up on), weight-watching – when I said I needed to diet, she said sarcastically, “Oh, yes, Richie, you’re ter-rib-ly overweight” – and other goodies.
I like Hilary a lot – more each time I speak to her.
Tonight I had one of the Friday night dinners I love with Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel: lentil soup and spaghetti and meatballs. I told my grandparents that they, along with Uncle Morris, are in “On the Boardwalk.”
Although it was a little chilly in Rockaway, I still can feel the summer coming: oh, it’s months away, but a month ago, I was certain that summer would never come.
Saturday, March 12, 1977
4 PM. Another Saturday brings another acceptance of a story previously accepted. Epoch wants to use “Where the Glacier Stopped” in their spring issue, due out in May.
Of course, Syzygy, published by Cincinnati Women’s Press, has already accepted the story of Zodie Yakker for their March issue. That puts me in a pickle.
Epoch is a well-known little mag, published out of Cornell; it’s one of the few that even Baumbach has heard of. If I tell them not to print the story, I won’t be able to submit to them in the future.
So, reluctantly, but with greed for credits, I’m going to play dumb and let both magazines publish the story. It’s not as if I were getting paid for the story.
Legally, I can’t get into any trouble. Once the story is published somewhere, I own all rights to it – and hence can send it out again.
Of course, morally it’s incorrect to do so and let the second magazine think it is publishing an original work. I’m not proud of myself for this. But if I didn’t send out duplicate, triplicate, and quadruplicate manuscripts, I’d have only about seven acceptances by now.
So I plead guilty to excessive ambition: sue me. (I hope nobody can.)
But it is time to stop and wonder just where I’m heading. By the end of the year, I’ll have fifty – count ’em, fifty – stories in little magazines (although I imagine one-tenth of the accepted stories will never appear because the mags fold).
But what then? What I really need is a collection of my work. Should I start making the rounds of the small presses, or should I try the big publishing houses first? Should I get an agent, perhaps? Maybe I’ll find out things like this at the Conference. Till then, I’ll keep on writing a story a week and sending them out like there’s no tomorrow.
Stories I wrote just to keep from feeling guilty about not being productive are being accepted with regularity: things I view as minor pieces like “On the Boardwalk” and “Where the Glacier Stopped,” both stories I wrote on Saturday mornings in under an hour.
This afternoon I went to the Gotham Book Mart and came across Michael Lally’s anthology None of the Above; I should have bought it, but at the time I didn’t feel like shelling out five dollars. Lally will be at the Conference; he’s 35-ish, a wonderful poet, vibrant, bisexual, energetic.
The anthology is a collection of the work of poets under 40. Each section contains a photo of the poet, a “statement,” a list of publications, and a list of poets they admire. Most of the poems were published previously in little magazines or chapbooks.
Now my idea is this: Why not an anthology of fiction, published by fiction writers born since, say, 1950? (I might have to go back a few years to get more material.) I’d edit it, put in my own work, Laurie’s, Simon’s, Caaron’s – and the work of other people I’ve admired from little magazines.
I think it’s a brainstorm. The trouble is, who would publish such a venture? Could I interest a small press? Would I have to have their okay before I actually begin to compile the anthology?
It’s something to consider. Maybe I’ll write Michael Lally and ask him how he did None of the Above. Richard Kostelanetz also did a similar anthology earlier in the decade.
I’d like to showcase my generation’s talent, and of course, an anthology edited by me would enhance my own reputation.
Last night I spoke to Mikey. He’s in the law library every night, but he’s getting out and having fun, too. Mikey has taken up drinking socially.
He told me he’s pissed at Mike, whom he called at home on Mike’s birthday, but Mike told him he was – as usual – too busy to talk. “The next day Mandy called to apologize,” Mikey said. As Larry had told me, it seems Mandy handles all Mike’s social obligations for him.
Mikey also recently spoke to Debbie, and they made a tentative date – except Debbie never called him back. That’s typical of her.
I wish I had more time to see Mikey and vice versa, but it’s good to at least keep in touch.
Tuesday, March 15, 1977
7 PM on the Ides of March. On Saturday night Alice and I were sitting at a table at The Arch, discussing how quickly we become used to every little success.
Alice said if she knew a year ago that she’d be an editor at Seventeen, she would have been thrilled. But now it’s all routine and she feels dissatisfied.
A year ago if I had known I’d have all these stories accepted and published, I would have been astounded and disgustingly grateful. But now I still feel as though I’m not getting anywhere.
Two stories came out in print last week; I wrote two new stories; and two stories were accepted by magazines. Yet I can’t help feeling disappointed because more hasn’t happened.
Consuelo called me the other night to say how “thrilled” she was for me after getting her copy of Statements 2. Yet I don’t feel “thrilled” anymore, not even after I got nice letters from people I’ve sent the book to.
Congratulations! (I love it – I’m sorry I can’t write more – I’m taking my comps this week. Will write more later) –
From Dr. Lipton:
It was almost impossible to read more than a sentence or two before taking off on a flight of my own. This had the twin effect of sharpening your thoughts and lending mine a greater poignancy. I think, in some ways, this reduces the inevitably minimizing effect of putting something down on paper and at the same time increasing the effect of the experience.
It becomes a sharing, a participation: the process of what I consider the prime function of the writer, if he has one, has achieved – by which the reader sees himself clearly. Thank you again and keep up the good work.
From Ms. Ehrlich:
Your story is really wonderful, and I’m delighted you’re getting the professional recognition you deserve. As you undoubtedly suspected, many things in ‘Au Milieu Intérieur’ rang a bell: I found myself occasionally wondering how much was fictionalized, how much did you write about things as you felt them then, and how much of the emotional ‘coloring’ is how you remember them. Whatever, it’s a very moving story. . . Keep up the good work.
Well, now that I have reread the letters, I must admit I feel the tiniest bit “thrilled” still. I sent out copies of the book to other friends, too, so maybe I’ll hear from more people as the days go on.
Last night I dreamt I was in the UN and the Foucault pendulum was nearly perpendicular to the ground – meaning the world was topsy-turvy. There were men in women’s clothes around, and I was being chased by UN guards because they thought I had a bomb.
Also, I had an idyllic dream of two baby sisters; I love to dream about babies.
This afternoon I went out to Mount Lebanon cemetery in Queens and found Bubbe Ita’s grave in Section 7 of the Workmen’s Circle: “Yetta Saretsky – Beloved Grandmother – Dear Great-Grandmother – Died June 17, 1956.”
I stood there a while, thinking about the times I spent with her, and I put a small stone on her headstone. It was odd that she wasn’t buried next to Isidore, her husband, but I guess because it’s a socialist cemetery, they just seemed to bury people one next to the other based on the date they died: she’s buried with people who died in 1956 and he’s buried with the Workmen’s Circle members who died in 1937.
It was a cool, cloudy, breezy day, a sweet afternoon. I could see the World Trade Center from the cemetery. After a while, walking back to the car – and it was a long walk – I felt upset by the sheer number of graves, all names and dates, all beloved and at rest.
I have been invited, along with Alice and Janice, to Dolores’s house on Saturday night. Alice doesn’t know if Big Anthony, Dolores’s husband will be there, but her son, “a fresh, impossible kid,” Little Anthony, undoubtedly will be.
At Wells Graphics, I picked up the typesetting for the brochure. It looks pretty shitty, but I don’t give a darn by now.
Wednesday, March 16, 1977
5 PM. This early spring is as delightful as it is unexpected; I haven’t worn my winter jacket in a week. I feel relaxed now, as though I have things under control.
Today I went to Valco Printers and arranged to get the brochure printed up on stiff ivory-colored paper with dark brown ink. It shouldn’t look all that ugly, and it will probably be ready late next week. That’s a relief! I think I can handle the details of the Conference from here on in; at least I hope I can.
I had to drag myself out of bed this morning – sleep was so delicious – but I was downtown by 9:30 AM to take my place at the coffee percolator with Devra, Beverly and Kenneth Bernard.
Beverly says she’s the protagonist of her friend Alan Friedman’s forthcoming novel. I admired parts of Friedman’s Hermaphrodeity, but I can’t understand why Beverly would be worth a whole novel. To me, she’s just another neurotic Jewish Columbia-educated, Morningside-Heights-living graduate student in English, and I find both her and Devra capable of making the stupidest remarks.
I taught a lesson on punctuation today, and it seemed to go fairly smoothly; I’m angry, however, because members of the English 10 class come in late. I started marking them absent if they don’t show up on time.
In English 12, I taught bibliography-making, and I didn’t find myself hoarse or tired after teaching three hours in a row; it looks like my throat has become accustomed to it. Friday is a student strike against the rise in tuition, and so I really I won’t be teaching.
There were three rejections waiting for me when I arrived home – from the Carolina Quarterly, New York Arts Journal, and Oyez Review. When I left the house, it was with three new submissions to those magazines. That’s the spirit, eh – or is it just foolhardiness?
After going to Valco, I dropped in on the Fiction Collective, where Gloria looked very haggard and confessed that she’s under so much pressure she hasn’t been eating.
Her parents are moving to Florida, she and her family are moving to Park Slope, and the job doesn’t let up.
Now they want her to do the spring 1978 books (so far the Ursule Molinaro and the Carol Sturm Smith) next February, so that they can be sure Gloria will be around.
This makes so much more work for her: publicity for this spring’s books, getting next fall’s books to the typographers, and preparing the manuscripts for next spring’s books. No way would I ever replace Gloria, and certainly not for less than the $8,000 she’s making!
We’re moving to new offices downstairs, next door to the English Department. Happily, those offices have partitions, so we can avoid embarrassments like today, when Gloria, Jackie and I were working while John Ashbery tried to conduct a poetry tutorial.
(Ashbery didn’t know what the word motility meant when he came across it in his student’s poem. He was supposedly ill on Monday, but he had a suspicious tan today.)
It’s been very hard to park on the block today, as so many people have come to pay shiva calls on the Bochman family. Mom and Maud were sitting in the kitchen talking about Doris’s death and how the entire family is suffering so: Zelda’s been throwing up, Jeffrey’s got a bad chest cold, and Doris’s husband Joe is unapproachable.
I heard Maud, who’s been widowed once, say, “It takes such a long time to get over it.” Death has been on my mind a great deal lately. Yesterday I felt a twinge of panic as I was just about to leave the cemetery; it was like an accumulation of the enormity of death.
The line between living people and unliving people is more nebulous than we usually think. I don’t fear my own death, only the deaths of others – which is to say I fear loss more than death. And I suppose I fear suffering: the physical pain.
But now I don’t see myself dying young; no, I imagine my fate is to grow old and garrulous and persnickety. I can see myself as an old man, but I am certain that even when I do get old, I’ll still feel as young as I do now.
Sunday, March 20, 1977
3 PM. It’s snowing lightly on this first day of spring. It’s not going to amount to anything, though.
Sundays are sleepy days and days for taking stock.
There are only two weeks left of teaching before Easter vacation, and I’ve never looked forward to April more.
Undoubtedly I’ll have my work cut out for me as far as the Conference is concerned, but I’ll manage, perhaps with help from Harvey. Mostly detail work is left, and I think I can handle that.
I’ve been thinking about Ronna coming home, but now I’ve decided that maybe it would be best if she doesn’t call. I had an angry dream about her during the night. I realize that our separation and out not being in touch has probably been a good thing.
God knows I’m glad that we haven’t been seeing each other all the time in the past 2½ years. If we had continued to go together, undoubtedly we’d be married and divorced by now; we’d be enemies instead of strangers. So I guess we were both pretty smart to break up when we did.
The Times today has one of their “trends” articles about more American women under 35 living alone and unmarried. Since 1960 the percentage of never-married people under 35 has doubled.
I don’t see marriage in my future, and it’s somehow comforting to know that I’m not a freak. Perhaps we’re a more selfish generation than has ever existed before.
One-person households, of both younger and elderly people, are becoming more common. Will this result in (or is this the result of?) people losing the skills needed to get along with others?
I’d like to be around to see where this trend leads, of course. I’d like to chronicle – fictionally – these new developments. For myself, marriage appears less and less what they call a “viable alternative.” I need my career more, my privacy, my living space.
Years ago I used to fantasize about my wedding day as the culmination of all my dreams of success, but now it seems a wedding day would only be a change in one part of my life; other things – my need to work, my friends, my high points and my depressions – would not change.
Speaking of friendships, last night was very pleasant. Alice and I went to dinner at the Chinese restaurant in Georgetown. She’s been depressed lately after a series of rejections by men. I wish I knew why Alice pushed so hard, why she so desperately seeks a relationship that she thinks will fulfill her needs.
I am hungry for love too, but I don’t run after it the way Alice does. Of course Alice gets hurt a lot, but she does manage to find more satisfactions than I – even if her satisfactions are only fleeting.
Sometimes I hate to see Alice as that kind of man-hungry career woman Rose Marie used to play on the old Dick Van Dyke series, but there are moments when it’s hard to see her in any other light. And of course, I am amused by Alice’s stories; they are often funny adventures into a world of men and women that I know little about.
After dinner, we went to Dolores’s apartment, which is full of delightful relics such as a real jukebox, a crank-turned Victrola, and a 1920s rolltop desk.
We were met by Big Anthony, Dolores’s husband, who’s everything Alice and I expected: handsome in a faded Italian way, overweight, big of course, a bigot and a male chauvinist. I’d guess he’d prefer a submissive housewife instead of Dolores – though maybe not.
There must be a hell of a lot of tension between them; their fights must be brutal, and I suspect their sex is electric. I see the Camerlangos as very passionate people.
Little Anthony, at 10, is a bundle of nervous energy, too: chattering away, dragging me by the hand to show me his snake shedding and his favorite ironed-on t-shirt stickers and his Lionel train set, like the one I used to have, only a lot more elaborate.
Janice and Jay came over and we drank wine and listened to dirty old records and played Perquackey and laughed because Dolores’s Barbadian Banana Surprise mold turned out to be a hideous glop.
Jay is very quiet, cynical, witty; Alice tells me he has a son out of wedlock. These people are all in their thirties, and I was glad to be with them. It made me feel like an adult and it gave me a chance to enjoy a different type of friend – and of course I’m always hungry for the opportunity to observe people in action.