Tuesday, August 1, 1978
9 PM. Last night I couldn’t sleep at all. Not till 4 AM did I doze off, and even then, my sleep was too light to be very good.
Early this afternoon I was feeling depressed and empty. I haven’t written in so long; each day brings a new rejection; the weather was cloudy; and I was bored. So I figured I’d take my car to LIU and then go into the city by subway.
As I descended the stairs at the DeKalb Avenue station, I saw a D train whizzing by and I thought I had missed it; however, I was at the end of the platform and able to get into the last car, which was sparsely populated.
Two black guys walked into the car and sat opposite me. I noticed one nod his head slightly towards me. I thought they were making fun of me for some reason. I was wearing nice pants and a good shirt and I was chewing gum, so maybe I looked silly. We were just passing the Myrtle Avenue ghost station.
My first impulse was to move away, but I thought this might embarrass them: they would think I was a racist. One moved over to the other side and one came over and sat to my right.
“Take everything out of your pockets,” he ordered in soft voice. Now, I will replay this scene in my head a dozen more times, but I can’t explain my reaction. It was instinctual: I knew I was not going to give him any of my money.
I did not move to take out my wallet; I pretended I hadn’t even heard him, and quickly I just got up deliberately and walked away down the length of the subway car into the next car.
I did not look back until I was two cars away. I didn’t run; I walked quickly. My heart was starting to pound. I found the conductor and told him and a woman worker standing next to him what had happened. At this point the train was going over the Manhattan Bridge.
The first thing he asked me was, “Were they black?” I thought that was odd since he and the woman were black and I said something like “Why should that matter?” and he just asked again and I sighed yes.
“Do you want police assistance?” the conductor asked me. “There’s really no point in it, if they didn’t get anything. You’ll only look foolish, and besides, they’ll never be punished. We’ll have to stop the train and delay everyone on it.”
I said no, I’d just sit down and try to calm myself.
“You’ve got to be more alert,” the conductor warned me. It was almost as if he were reprimanding me.
I rode all the way to the Rockefeller Center station, where I called Mom. “They could have shot or stabbed you!” she said.
And when I returned to LIU, everyone who I told the story to told me I was really lucky. I suppose I was. Soon I felt a strange sort of peace fall over me; certainly my earlier depression was gone.
I had cheated death and fooled a couple of scum who must have been too dumbfounded to react. (Or maybe they figured I wasn’t worth any trouble, and they could just as easily move on to another victim.)
The moral of this: Never be embarrassed to get out of a subway car or elevator because you fear a mugging. Rely on your instincts, not your thought processes. Don’t look back. Do the unexpected.
I feel a little bad that they thought I looked like an easy mark, but after all, I ended up outfoxing them. It angers me that one has to be “alert” at all times to get through life safely.
Maybe I’m leaving New York at the right time. After my experience, the LIU campus felt like a haven: I could be with familiar friends like Margaret, Elihu, Al Orsini, Warren Jeter, Ralph, Mrs. Reiss from the library. I feel at home at LIU.
Both last night and tonight, my classes went well. I have a new student, bringing the roster up to six, and as of tonight, the term is one-quarter over. (On Thursday it will be one-third over.)
I got a call from Greg Napoleon, the editor of Courier-Life. Reading over Carolyn’s story on me, he remembered the stories I’d sent him a month ago; he said he loved “Hitler” and asked if he could reprint excerpts from it. I said sure.
Today marks the beginning of the tenth year of my diary. Nine full years, day in and day out, I’ve been recording my thoughts, feelings and experiences.
Right now I feel very alive. Maybe it’s because today I realized I’m not afraid of death. I am not a coward. So now maybe I can try to live my life without being afraid.
Friday, August 4, 1978
9 PM. “Author Richard Grayson Practices His Craft With Little Fanfare” reads the headline on page 22 of this week’s Kings Courier, Bay News, Flatbush Life and Canarsie Digest. The sub-headline I don’t like that much: “Brooklyn Trivia Incorporated.” But the two-page spread, featuring half of “With Hitler in New York,” is quite impressive.
My picture is not a disgrace, although I wasn’t wild about the caption: “ACCEPTED AFTER 20 REJECTIONS [my Transatlantic Review story]. . . A highly skilled fiction writer, Grayson inhabits the nether world of shades, shadows and unsung fictioneers as a very successful writer.”
And Carolyn Bennett’s article begins: “Richard Grayson, at age 27, is a very successful writer. Not in the world’s terms, mind you, but in that nether world of shades, shadows and unsung fictioneers.”
My favorite paragraph is the second, which begins: “Grayson is hard not to like. Handsome, personable and sincere, he exudes a high-energy level, and he is a highly imaginative writer. . .”
I always wondered just what it was I’ve been exuding all these years. And to be called “handsome” in print, by a nonbiased (lesbian) journalist – well, I couldn’t ask for anything more. I’d been afraid I was going to be described as “cherubic.”
Carolyn’s article is wonderful, comparing me to Barthelme (I come out on top because my stories are filled with quiet emotion), tying me in with my Brooklyn roots and giving a summary of my career that is so impressive it almost impresses me.
Plus we get a plug for Disjointed Fictions. I found the paper when Ronna and I stopped off at the Junction on our way back from Manhattan.
The lady in the candy store wanted to know why I was buying five copies, and I showed the article to her, and she insisted on showing it to everyone in the luncheonette! But I wasn’t embarrassed; I felt proud.
Mom and Dad were thrilled, and even Marc thought it was terrific. Ronna, as usual, was restrained, but I think deep down it impressed her.
(I was very cruel to her today – for no reason, really – but I’ll write about that tomorrow. It’s not that it’s not important; it is, but tonight is not the time for recriminations.)
I don’t want to keep crowing over this, but after all the disappointments and frustrations of recent weeks, it does give my ego a boost. Mom sent copies to her friends the Littmans and to Grandma Sylvia in Florida, and Marc took the paper along when he went to have dinner with Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Herb tonight.
I xeroxed copies of the article, and yes, I sent them to people who I know well enough so that they won’t think I’m obnoxious: Gary and Betty, Vito, Mikey, George Myers, Dr. Lipton, Caaron (for her I used it as a gambit to get her to write me back), Avis, Libby.
I tried to call Carolyn to thank her, but she wasn’t home; I really owe her one now. I’m sorry for going on about this at such length, but after all, folks, this is my diary and I’ll crow if I want to.
Besides, it’s good to get it all out now so tomorrow I can completely forget about it. I don’t want to be someone who believes his own publicity. And of course I have to practice my craft with little fanfare.
Anyway, it’s a nice lift in this time of uncertainty, insecurity, loneliness, rainy weather, oil spills off the beach, pimples, sinusitis and angst. (Let’s not forget ennui.) Go to bed, public figure.
Saturday, August 5, 1978
Almost midnight. There’s a drizzly mist falling after yet another day of rain. Tomorrow looks to be just as bad and so does Monday. I can’t remember a cloudy, rainy spell this long in any summer except maybe 1969.
I miss August of 1969, yet it’s all there in my diary: that’s what I love about writing. I feel happy now, content and lazy, ready to enjoy a night of dreams and to sleep late into tomorrow.
I spent the day with Ronna, and it went a lot better than yesterday. Yesterday, we were at loose ends, and something compelled me to have an outburst at Ronna at the public library when she couldn’t get a library card because she didn’t have anything on her with her new address.
I told her she was an asshole and a schmuck for not just saying she was still living at the old address; I couldn’t believe Ronna was that stupid – or so honest – not to just give her old address, which is on her identification.
I had no right to abuse her. Despite better times today and tonight, neither she nor I can forget my outburst yesterday. It led us to talk about our relationship.
“It isn’t growing,” Ronna said.
“I’m not sure I want it to grow,” I responded. “What’s wrong with it the way it is?”
Yesterday we had lunch at Yogurt Delight on Sixth Avenue in the Village and then we drove home in the rain, got the paper with the article on me, and watched TV at her house.
A guy named Jordan called her. Ronna explained that he’s a friend of Evan’s. Now that Evan and Susan are enjoying their bliss being together again after all these years – they’re thinking of marriage – Evan is trying to arrange a suitable suitor for Ronna.
I don’t mind at all; I want Ronna to see other guys because it will take some of the heat (and guilt) off me. Jordan is a law student at Boston University, and Ronna likes him, but he’s only 21. I said that shouldn’t matter.
This morning at 10 AM, I drove to Ronna’s in the rain. We stopped off at a health-food store to buy some goodies to hold us through a double feature at the Carnegie Hall Cinema. It was Ronna’s idea, but I enjoyed myself.
The subway ride went faster because I had Ronna to talk with. First we saw Death in Venice. I’d wanted to see it for years, and it was no better or worse than what I expected. Dirk Bogarde was very good, and the boy playing Tadzio was androgynously gorgeous.
The second feature, Women in Love, wore surprisingly well on my fourth viewing of it; only when Ken Russell goes overboard did I wince.
There were two lesbians sitting in front of us, both young and pretty women, but they kept making out like crazy during the films. Still, it didn’t bother us, and it sort of touched me to see them.
On the way to Brooklyn, Ronna had a headache, but I gave her a Tylenol at my house and we had a very pleasant dinner at the Mill Basin Deli. Back in my room, we watched TV and just held each other. After an hour or so, we began making love.
Her body is so dear to me. I love the curves of her breasts and hips and belly and ass. Ronna is soft. I like the smell of her, too. And her legs are pale and smooth. This sounds adolescent, but God bless her, Ronna makes me feel like an adolescent.
It was wonderful: slow and quick, halting and insistent, warm, and by the time I was about to come, I nearly got frightened because I seemed to be coming out of myself. Well, in a way I was, but this was like a kind of transcendental experience.
And after the orgasm, it wasn’t one of those times when you want to roll over and fall asleep. I held Ronna, I touched her, she laughed, we stared at each other for minutes without saying a word. I wished that that time would never end.
I don’t feel like an intellectual or a writer or a neurotic when I’m with Ronna that way. She makes me feel marvelously free. I can understand why people live together and get married. Even now I feel my body shuddering when I think of holding Ronna close.
For all that separates Ronna and me, there’s an intimacy, based not only on sex, which makes me closer to her than I’ve been with anyone. And yet . . . is it close enough?
Sunday, August 6, 1978
7 PM. Another humid, rainy day. I slept until just before noon. I took a nap. What else is new? I didn’t write today. The Pope died of a heart attack. Deanna announced the Pope’s death to Marc and me and then asked if the Pope is Catholic and “Does every country have its own Pope?”
I just watched a rerun of a 60 Minutes segment dealing with married homosexuals. It’s not fair to the wives, who end up suffering so much, and if there are kids involved, well, it’s that much sadder.
That’s why I told Grandpa Herb and Grandpa Ethel not to expect me to get married – not that I gave them the reason. After speaking of Marc and Deanna, Grandma Ethel was sighing and said, “Maybe someday you’ll have a girlfriend and get married.”
“Any idiot can get married,” I told her. “But I want to accomplish things.” A weak argument, but what am I going to tell my grandparents? Grandpa Herb says I’m going to be lonely in my old age, but who’s to say that I’ll live to old age or that a wife wouldn’t precede me to the grave by twenty years.
At least Grandma Ethel admitted, “I guess it’s a different world today anyway.” And it is: I probably would never get married even if I’d never had a single homosexual impulse in my life.
But still, I think it can’t help but affect my relationship with Ronna. I love her as a friend, and sexually I can’t keep my hands off her. Yet I’m sure some of the tension in our relationship comes from my unacknowledged homosexuality.
Ronna accepts my bisexuality, but I don’t think she’s aware that I’m not really attracted to any women but her. I’m sensible enough to be sure that I would never marry her, but even at this point I worry.
She’s an intelligent woman, I know, and she says she can look out for herself – but it bothers me. Aren’t I using Ronna as a substitute, waiting until “the real thing” comes along?
Yet I do love her. I suppose I can control that and stop loving her. I don’t know. For now, our relationship is fine. Ronna’s seeing other men and perhaps “the real thing” will come along for her. Maybe it will be this Jordan guy: who knows?
Meanwhile, we can’t let ourselves become too dependent upon each other. Maybe this conflict and so many others are the reasons why I haven’t been able to write fiction in two weeks.
Part of it is that after having that IBM Selectric for a month, it’s hard to get used to my old Smith-Corona. My writing block bothers me. Is it partly the fear of success? Just as I appear to be on the verge of a breakthrough, I draw away.
Or is it just that I’ve said everything I have to for the time being? Maybe it’s good for me not to be writing for a while. After all, last year I took a hiatus when I went to Bread Loaf.
Perhaps I need a break, time to recapture what living without writing is like. Or else I’m searching for something new. I know I could probably write a publishable story now, but it would be mechanical, a mere repetition of earlier work.
I’d rather write nothing than become stagnant and turn out stories for the sake of turning them out.
Rose Aronson called me after seeing the article in Flatbush Life; she said she was very proud, and it was nice of her to phone me. She’s recovering from a hysterectomy now. I hope to see her in the fall at LIU.
I decided that instead of calling Carolyn Bennett to thank her, I’d send her a bouquet of flowers and a note. It cost me $13.50, but it was well worth it; that article really gave me a
life lift. (Mind you, I meant to write “a lift,” not “a life” – though I’m not in orbit around Venus or anything.)
More and more, I find myself looking forward to going to Albany in January. I’ve got to go take out a student loan soon.
Wednesday, August 9, 1978
3 PM. This depression has been going on for weeks now, and it seems to lift only for an hour or so a day. Everything seems to be going wrong at once, and I’m under a great deal of stress.
My nights are very long. I can’t seem to get a decent eight hours of sleep. I awake again and again after unpleasant dreams, and during the day I crave nothing so much as sleep.
My wisdom tooth is killing me; yesterday I was in so much pain I actually had to moan. I went to Dr. Hersh this morning, and he said it’s probably best that it comes out. I’m going to wait a couple of days to see if the swelling and pus and soreness go away; otherwise I’ll make an appointment with the oral surgeon.
I’ve been rinsing it out with warm salt water and applying oil of clove, which soothes it a little. But it makes me irascible, the pain, and I’m already depressed.
No mail for days. I feel like nothing is happening. If only I could write a story (this is the longest I’ve gone without writing a story in three years) or see one come out in print.
My car is acting up again, vibrating crazily when I stop, sputtering when I accelerate. I just don’t know.
And Mom and Dad are at the doctor now. I’m sure that Dad needs surgery. Mom says she’s “worried,” as if this all happened suddenly!
He’s had that growth for over five years, and three years ago I pleaded with him to see a doctor, to no avail. His cowardice may cost Dad his life, and that outrages me.
I’m thinking of canceling class tomorrow night. If I can finish teaching Conrad’s The Secret Sharer this evening, there’s no sense in going ahead with Lawrence’s The Fox when their midterm is on Monday.
Oh, I’m so disgusted with living and with myself and with the choices I’ve made. Every Wednesday at this time I am writing about how unhappy I am.
Something’s wrong, and I’m not sure I can work it out myself. I know that if I do, I’ll be a stronger person, but I’m not sure I’m equipped to deal with everything that is troubling me.
I would very much like to be in therapy, but I have only $290 in the bank as it is, and I can’t afford therapy. Ironic, isn’t it, that just as everyone is beginning to think of me as a success, I feel like more of a failure than ever.
Or is it more than just ironic? Am I reacting to the Courier-Life article negatively as well as positively? I see now how celebrities can be so sad.
I feel I can’t live up to the image of the “handsome,” “personable,” “sincere” man (man, not “Grayson”) who “exudes high-level energy.” I don’t know what it is I need, but I know I need something.
Last night, teaching Mann’s Tonio Kroger, I spoke to my class about “the agony of the artist.” But I think my troubles are that I’m a human, not an artist. I just know how to express my sufferings, and in a way that’s a consolation that some others do not have.
I don’t know very many untroubled souls today. So I’m not crying out as a special person – I’m not one – but just because everyone else is in pain, that doesn’t take away from the hurt I feel.
I would like this to be 1979 and I would like to be looking back at this time with greater understanding than I have now. Because, simply put, I’m not sure of anything.
Sure, I’ve solved the aches and pains that afflicted me ten years ago, the things that led to my breakdown. Thank God and life and myself and whatever that I don’t get anxiety attacks anymore.
But in a way getting an anxiety attack (or a toothache?) is the easiest way of dealing with my problems. My central problem here and now is that I am troubled, yet I can’t quite define my problem – unless the problem is simply life itself.