Tuesday, May 3, 1977
3 PM. I slept like a king last night, but my dreams, though vivid, were somewhat less than regal. In one dream, I was with Avis, Scott and the LaGuardia people and we got to reading my diary for November 25, 1972, the day I met Hilary’s brother in the Eighth Street Bookshop.
In another dream I was lugging the corpse of a woman through the honking traffic of downtown Brooklyn. I woke up fairly early today even though I had been reading Irving Howe’s World of Our Fathers until very late at night.
Although I went to the Grand Army Plaza library to do some genealogical research, I didn’t get very far. None of my relatives seemed to have put their obituaries in the New York Times. I did manage to find Grandpa Nat’s villages of Lenyin and Lachva on the map; they’re east of Pinsk, along a river, in Byelorussia but not far from the Ukraine.
And of all my relatives, I could find only Grandpa Nat and his much older brother Ike in the 1910 Brooklyn Directory; they both lived, along with Ike’s wife and kids, at 590 Liberty Avenue, and their place of business was 121 East 17th Street in Manhattan.
Still feeling cheerful, I returned home to discover a postcard in the mail. I couldn’t make out the handwriting, but it turned out to be Ronna’s:
26 April 1977. Dear Smiley [I had signed her birthday card ‘Smiley’], Thanks much for the birthday greetings, the stories and the invitation. Hope the conference went well. I did some traveling this week (as this card attests) and am currently in the throes of midterms.
Susan spent the weekend here and was amazed at our bucolic splendor. Her news involved word that Felicia would be moving to (brace yourself) Birmingham, Alabama, where Spencer’s gotten work. I am appropriately shocked. Will write as soon as I emerge from this week’s crush. – Love, Ronna.
The back of the card was one wall of The Peacock Room in the Freer Gallery, the wall with Whistler and the two peacocks representing himself and his patron Leyland. So that room still has significance for Ronna; she must have gone to see it while she was in Washington. (Nice thinking, Richie!)
But Ronna’s sending a card of The Peacock Room is a kind of signal, as she knew it would stir up all kinds of memories in me (as it did in her?). It was something important we shared.
Also in the mail, I got the official acceptance of “The Art of Living” from Zone, but since I had already heard about it, it didn’t quite hold the wonder that a surprise acceptance does.
It’s a pity to have become so jaded that neither Friday’s acceptance of the book review nor Saturday’s acceptance of “Glacier” (which I had to turn down since it’s been taken by two magazines already) have lifted my spirits.
I feel stuck in my work, unable to break into a new and viable form for my fiction. It will happen eventually, I suppose.
I wrote Clay in the Brooklyn College Grants office to send me my voucher form for the money I’m supposed to get for my work on the Conference. Tonight I read a long story on the Conference in the Kings Courier, and it looks like it was a success.
Everyone showed up, and there were some interesting clashes. Gordon Lish particularly alienated people with his comments, and Harold Brodkey was particularly well-liked. Of course, the upshot was that the outlook for serious literature is gloomy in today’s book publishing world.
In a perverse way, it pleases me that the Conference worked out well. Evidently my weeks of work on it were not so incompetent after all – unless everything good was done in the two weeks after I left. I’d like to flatter myself that I laid the groundwork for the success.
This afternoon I again went to Methodist Hospital to visit Libby, who looked much better than she did on Sunday when her friend Thomas and I were there. She’s still in pain, but now it’s because she’s healing from the surgery.
Libby can walk, slowly but surely, and we went look at the newborn babies, including the premature ones in the incubators. One poor baby was in a special case with infrared light and tubes stuck in every orifice, its heartbeat recorded on a video monitor.
Mason and David and Angelina and Wayne were there the night before, and they had a little celebration for David’s birthday, finishing all of the cheesecake from Junior’s that I’d brought Libby.
Yet another bouquet of flowers arrived while I was there; Libby is so well-loved, and it’s no wonder.
On the way home, I voted for myself in the school board elections.
Wednesday, May 4, 1977
10 PM. Like millions of other Americans, I have just watched our former President, Richard Nixon, being interviewed on TV by David Frost.
Nixon was his old self, lying, bringing out the present-day equivalents of Checkers and the cloth coat. What an unctuous, unpleasant man. And there are still people who say they’d vote for him again!
It’s ironic that the interview was shown on the seventh anniversary of the Kent State murders. For me, that was the most traumatic political event of my life. I was a freshman then, newly involved in student government.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the days that followed: the campus strike, the takeover of Kneller’s office, the rallies, the marches, the black armbands, the endless meetings, the sit-in, the closing of the college, the special issues of The Ol’ Spigot that I helped Mark put out.
And then suddenly it was summer and the revolution dissipated. Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia went on. The war in Vietnam went on. The Nixon administration went on. McGovern was totally ineffectual in the 1972 campaign, but perhaps not: at least the Nixon staff wasn’t so sure because otherwise, the Watergate break-in wouldn’t have happened.
Tonight Nixon said he let the country down, that all of his mistakes were made because his heart overruled his head. What an actor that man would have made!
It’s strange how all-pervasive certain historical figures are in one’s life. I’ve been watching Richard Nixon since kindergarten when I came home one January day to see him being inaugurated for a second term as Vice-President.
Oh well, so many people have written about Nixon, it’s gratuitous for me to go on any further. But Kent State: that changed my life – for the better, actually. Although after my year in the house, I had gone to college for almost all of freshman year, I didn’t really get involved in the world until Kent State.
Not that I was ever in the forefront, but I was a close observer near the center of things in May 1970, at least at Brooklyn College. Till then, I had merely gone to my classes and left the campus when they were over.
Kent State gave me a reason to stay, to get involved, to know people. It led to my being in LaGuardia Hall and knowing Shelli and Ronna and most of the people I call my friends today.
If, in the end, little changed because of the campus unrest of those years, it doesn’t matter. Those few years – 1969, 1970, maybe 1971 and 1972 – were interesting times to be a college student.
Today – May 4, 1977 – we live in a different world. We’re used to the economy being depressed; our enemies are not so clearly defined; we’re weary of politics; and we have to cope with our own lives now.
God, I know there’s material in all of this for one hell of a novel someday. Only it will take ten years before I’m ready to write such a book. Till then, I hone my prose, cutting my teeth on stories and writing exercises like the piece, “Choices,” I worked on today.
I have confidence that I’ll be a major or minor figure someday. If nothing else, these diary pages should make an interesting literary, historical, or psychological curiosity. I don’t worry about my reputation. When the attacks start coming in hot and heavy, then I’ll know I’ve made it.
Today I taught for three hours. The end of the term is in just two weeks, and we’re beginning to tie up loose ends. At home, I read a good deal, and as I said, I wrote, and I visited Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel, bringing my own dinner from McDonald’s.
We watched the news. When I wondered why they had to say “son of rabbi slain” in a teaser, Grandpa Herb said, “Well, a rabbi’s not just anybody; they have to give him the honor.”
Grandpa Herb also told me a funny story about his neighbor, who’s got two sons, he told Grandpa and Grandma: “One’s a doctor and the other’s in medicine.”
So Grandpa Herb said: “So he’s a doctor, too?”
“No,” the man said. “He’s in medicine. Medicine, Wisconsin.”
Then we watched Bowling for Dollars. It was a pleasant, rainy evening.
Saturday, May 7, 1977
8 PM. Some thoughts, directed to myself: It’s another night and you’re home alone. Granted, a person doesn’t have to go out every Saturday night; that’s an absurd convention. But isn’t staying home every weekend just as absurd?
Admit it, old friend: what you would really like to happen is for you to begin a summer-long sexual odyssey. Solo sex just doesn’t make it. You want to plunge into other people’s bodies.
All day today you’ve noticed boys in their t-shirts, in shorts; you looked at their clean faces and their muscles and their hard asses in their jeans, and you wanted to fuck them all.
You like boys. There’s not so much pain in admitting it now; it’s a lot easier. Anita Bryant notwithstanding, things have changed since 1969, eight summers ago. The trouble is, my friend, you haven’t changed.
You were talking the other day how you admire integrity above all things. Is being celibate really having integrity? Or does integrity mean that you go after the things you seek?
Who wouldn’t understand? Your parents probably would, in the long run. Your friends: most of them would yawn and say, “So what else is new?” (The exceptions – Alice might be one of them – don’t really matter.) Your professional peers: half the writers and professors you know are gay.
And being gay is not even the question; the question is whether you try to get what you want. Latent homosexuality is a cliché, a dark secret; homosexuality in the sunlight is just life. But you can’t help analyzing it over and over again.
Are you feeling particularly gay now because you’re afraid of getting involved with Hilary or some other woman? You’re closer to it now than you have been in years, and it’s a pattern that’s occurred before: you feel most gay when there’s a relationship with a woman in the offing.
Or is it the other way around: are you reaching out to Hilary in sheer homosexual panic? But what is there to panic over? You have jerked off thinking of Hilary, thinking of Ronna, thinking of several faceless boys.
Of course you prefer the male body, but you have no trouble getting it up for a woman whom you can care for. If there weren’t still a sexual attraction to Ronna, getting a postcard from her wouldn’t matter.
Okay, okay, you’re bisexual: you don’t have to be so damned eager to prove it all the time. If you say you like guys, you have to add in the next breath that you kind of dig girls as well. The thing of it is, old buddy, the world does not much care.
Two of your poems came out today in the magazine Harbinger. In “Rejection Notice,” you say
Let me be frigid
A frigid man, a snow man, an iceman
Better than a nice man
No, not really. In “Tell Me About the Turmoil in Your Life,” you rather ineptly try to be erotic, and of course it ends
And I am
Why do you have to be anything else? You don’t have to be Henry James. Hell, if the truth were told, Henry James probably wasn’t even Henry James. So forget about being a celibate, stop worrying about looking awkward, go and make love to everyone you want to who’ll have you.
You’ll find out that most of the time, it won’t work out, but I (who is this I?) guarantee you that when it happens, it will be worth everything. Bisexuality should open more doors, not close them. Find a boy (sigh, or a girl, okay?); settle down; if want, you can marry. (Yes, even a boy!)
And you don’t have to rush out aimlessly, trying to make up for lost time. No time is ever really lost. And with that, my friend, I leave you in peace. It was nice, sharing these thoughts with you. L’chaim!
What else can I – this is me again, folks – say? Today I relearned the Hebrew alphabet and I discovered the name of another great-great-great-grandfather, Joseph Shapiro, and I began to diet by drinking predigested protein or collagen – under a doctor’s supervision, Mom is on a diet featuring nothing but that – and I spoke with Alice, who tried to drag me to a play tonight, and with Gary, who was very upset after another visit to his parents, this time without Betty.
I also xeroxed my first published poems, bought tight-fitting t-shirts, lifted weights for an hour (I want people to look at me, too), and all in all, I had an okay day.
Monday, May 9, 1977
11 PM. Today was an extraordinary day. First of all, we had a touch of snow. It was the latest in the year that it’s snowed in a century. It also hailed, rained and got down to 33°.
But what made today so nice (nice is the best word I can think of) is that I felt that I am getting somewhere as a writer. When I returned home from school, I found two copies of California Quarterly waiting for me.
It took a year and a half for “Talking to a Stranger” to see print, but now I feel it was well worth the wait. It’s the longest story published to date, and I believe it’s one of my strongest.
It’s very much me in a mood I like: we’ll-muddle-through-life-even-though-it’s crazy. The story is taken from my May/June 1974 diary and the personal nature of it makes it special.
The double issue of the magazine looks impressive, with poems by Joyce Carol Oates, Susan Fromberg Schaeffer and Lyn Lifshin, and an interview with Isherwood.
Early this afternoon I took the car into the city and parked in the Rockefeller Center lot, had a late lunch at Bun ‘n’ Burger, and then went to the Gotham Book Mart.
On Friday I had received an invitation celebrating the tenth birthday of the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines. Eugene McCarthy, the card said, would be announcing the winners of the 1977 CCLM Awards.
At the bookstore, I first browsed in the little magazine room in the back; there were many magazines I wanted to buy, but I didn’t feel like carrying them around at the party.
Still downstairs, I saw Ron Sukenick, who didn’t recognize me at first; he said I “changed my hair” and that was why. Ron was in corduroy and leather, as usual; he said he’d spoken to Jon and Georgia in the morning, but they couldn’t make it.
I went upstairs with Robert Hershon of Hanging Loose and his compatriots. Jane Buchanan greeted me with the news that I had gotten two nominations for the awards (for “Summoning Alice Keppel” and something else) but I didn’t win. Still, to be nominated is an honor – and eventually an award will come, Eleanor Shaikin said. She was very friendly, too.
I didn’t have to stand alone nursing my 7-Up because I knew quite a few people. Steven Schrader remembered me; he was with somebody other than Glenda Adams. Dr. Tucker was there, and he introduced me to Robert Phillips, the poet.
I spotted Brendan Gill, looking very aristocratic, there with his wife, as well as William Phillips of Partisan Review, and I spoke with Walter Abish and with Michael Andre, of Unmuzzled Ox, who’s a favorite of Warhol.
Gene McCarthy came with Siv Cedering Fox. He’s a tall, handsome man, but I think he let his reputation for being witty color his every sentence. “Fritz has the soul of a Vice-President,” I heard him tell someone.
I spoke with Siv, asking her how her novel was going; she told me she had put it aside and was coming out with two poetry books and a nonfiction work on sexual fantasies.
Although it’s the third time I’ve seen Siv in two months, I’m still in awe of her. She asked me to hold her pocketbook while she introduced McCarthy, an old friend of hers.
Before that, Ron introduced Siv and the whole event by quoting from the Times article on the Conference, saying how bad everything was in commercial publishing.
Siv introduced McCarthy as a journalist and a poet who lost out on a CCLM Award last year when she was a judge. Gene said, “So today is like when Lyndon picked Hubert for Vice-President over me in ’64 and asked me to give the nomination speech.”
McCarthy said the little magazines have had as much influence as he has, politically speaking, and that if he were President, he’d ban the New York Times Book Review. He also allowed that the trouble with American poets is that nobody oppresses them: “They’re too unimportant.”
He rambled on like that for a while. I find it hard to believe that so many of us once thought that this cynical, brilliant, bitter man was our savior back in ’68.
Before announcing the awards, he did his obligatory putdowns of McGovern and Carter: the former, he said, was “a Methodist who used adjectives; the latter, “a Baptist who favors adverbs.”
T.C. Boyle of the Iowa Review took one of the five Fiction Awards and rock star Lou Reed one of the five in Poetry.
After the event ended, I offered to drive Dr. Tucker back to LIU, where he’d left his car. I was grateful for the opportunity to get chummy with him.
We talked about the literary scene and he told me he was about to set the schedule for next term’s courses: “A difficult job because it’s all politics.”
Tuesday, May 10, 1977
3 PM. I seem to have so much trouble getting started on Tuesdays.
I was just so bowled over by yesterday: by the California Quarterly story, and by the party. It’s so strange, little me going to literary parties, meeting Gene McCarthy, talking to other writers, driving home with Martin Tucker.
I know now that I’m going to be a success, and it’s beginning to scare me a lot. Always in the back of mind there has been the fear of having another breakdown; somehow I feel that a surfeit of success and of happiness will trigger that. But I love these years; I love my life; maybe I’m even falling in love.
Last week I wrote Brad Gooch to tell him that Northeast Rising Sun accepted my review of his book. Also, rather hesitantly, I sent along xeroxes of “Roman Buildings” and “Reflections.” Today I received a reply:
This is at least starting out as a fan letter. The only other fan letter I’ve written, which I never mailed, was to the director of The Man Who Fell to Earth.
I was excited about your stories and surprised too since I always expect that if someone sends me their work out of nowhere, then the work won’t be very good, like immediately rejecting the person who comes on strong as obviously having problems although he might turn out to be the most interesting person in the bar.
Anyway, I’ve been reading parts of both stories to some friends on the phone, and I mentioned them in conversation, and feel relieved to find current writing which I like since I always sneak around talks about what’s being written by saying things like I’m interested in medieval ballads because they’re like WBLS disco music lyrics. . .
Well, what I liked about both stories was that you managed to find a structure which is usually the problem in prose poems and that you got in all the middle-class paratactic details which I love and still could finish the story without the ending seeming arbitrary because the arbitrariness got mixed-up in the time being one year and the theme of ineptitude (did you see the classroom scene in Woody Allen film, great).
In the other story I liked not knowing if you were dreaming or remembering or what the structure was of that brand new sentence building so that there’s something to figure out in the way that the story is put together as much as what it says. I liked the Rilke, and the herbs, and di Chirico and the boys, and the open feelings in both stories, and the Rockaway mirrors and heat and cold.
If you have any more stories you like or aren’t sure of, send them to me. Maybe I’ll send you some poems in the same condition. Maybe we could get together and talk some time. Or maybe we could be pen pals. Or phone freaks (866-9487).
Thanks for writing a review. Look forward to seeing it.
This letter was one of the nicest I’ve ever received. I think Brad is one of the best writers in our generation, and of course I would love to meet him. I get a sinking feeling in my stomach every time I think about it. When I read his work, something made me feel that we were somewhat alike.
I’m going to write him back because I want to call him, and if I did that, I’d just make a fool of myself.
Last night Joan Marmelstein, Beverly’s roommate, called me and we had a pleasant chat. She’s vivacious, an MBA student at Pace, a welfare case worker who hates it, a Bronx-accented girl who drops her g’s and sounds very good natured. I’d like to meet her, though not as much as I’d like to meet Brad.
Later Josh phoned. He’s so terribly depressed and feels he’s run out of options. I tried to give him some help with ideas for jobs and careers, but mostly I felt useless – as I do 95% of the time.
Thursday, May 12, 1977
8 PM. I’ve just been marking term papers, and the ones turned in early have been pretty good by LIU standards. Of course the students bullshit a lot and tend to inadvertently plagiarize rather than paraphrase, but I did much the same thing when I was an undergraduate.
Last night I watched the Norton-Bobick fight, which turned out to be a one-minute affair, with Bobick KO’ed almost immediately.
Now I have some time to call people, but Libby’s number is busy, and neither Gary and Betty or Elihu or Teresa is at home. So here I am, talking to myself.
The entire night I had terrific, straining erections, and I felt sexually insatiable. Spring is turning to summer, and if I don’t have some kind of sexual outlet soon, I’ll probably go mad.
I sat in the sun today and tried to re-red myself; my skin is bad, and naturally I make it worse by picking and squeezing my zits. Yesterday on the car radio, I heard a dermatologist say that happy people don’t have skin problems. So obviously I am not happy.
Mom went to her diet doctor today, and she was away all day with Dad. Lately Marc’s been moody, puttering around the house. His unemployment benefits have finally run out, and he has no more direction now than he did a year and a half ago when he graduated technical school. I overheard him saying something about going to school for computer programming.
Rejections are starting to arrive in greater numbers; today was another triple-header. Of course I expected this, as I sent out a whole ’nother bunch recently. I can’t be too afraid of success because I keep sending stories out and I keep writing.
I’m sure this will all pay off someday. I sent Gordon Lish of Esquire a brief story called “Why I Love Gordon Lish – and Why You Should, Too,” and that should at least get his attention.
It’s a gimmicky thing to do, kind of juvenile, but things being what they are, I don’t know how else to attract attention. Besides, it seems as though nothing succeeds except gimmicks anymore.
Maybe I should more sharply define my career goals. Deep breath: let’s try. First of all, I‘d like to do this book with Harvey, Laurie and Ron.
Deep down, I believe I’m better than any of them; even Mason wrote me, “I was disappointed with Laurie’s story [in Statements 2].” But I saw The Return to Black and White in the Gotham on Monday, and the book looked impressive.
But of course I’d like to have my own short story collection out in the not-too-distant future. I guess it’s out of the question, having a commercial publisher do it, but I think I might be able to find a small press who will handle the book.
Naturally I try – without any hesitation but with some guilt – to find everybody who might be able to help me. That’s why I sent T. Coraghessan Boyle of Iowa Review a note congratulating him on his CCLM Fiction Award; it couldn’t hurt with an editor who’s considering my stories.
Anyway, I’d also like to break into one of the “big” little mags: TriQuarterly, Paris Review, Partisan Review, Michigan Quarterly Review.
And I’d be thrilled to get a scholarship to Bread Loaf this year and ecstatic if I were to win a CCLM Award next year. If I got a CAPS grant, I’d feel like a Peter Paul Mounds Bar: “indescribably delicious.” And it would be nice, of course, to get a full-time teaching job.