A 27-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early February, 1979

Early February 1979

Friday, February 2, 1979

9 PM. Neil Schaeffer phoned a few hours ago and offered me a course in the Veterans Outreach Program at Brooklyn College. I’ll be teaching English 0.2, a remedial course, to veterans, from 1:15 PM-2:05 PM Tuesdays and Thursdays and 1:00 PM-1:50 PM on Fridays.

Neil said he liked my résumé and Disjointed Fictions. After I hung up with him I was stunned – and then he immediately called back and gave me another course, also an English 0.2, in the Small College Program for older adults. This class meets in the late evening, from 9:25 PM-10:45 PM Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The news is just beginning to sink in. I’m a bit concerned about the next two weeks, when the winter module at Kingsborough overlaps with the Brooklyn College spring semester.

Belt Pkwy Verrazano trafficOn Tuesday and Thursday this week and next I’ll be getting up early to teach at Kingsborough from 8:30-10:30 AM, going to Brooklyn in the afternoon, and then again late at night – with a 14-hour day. Well, I’ll just have to get through it as best I can.

After all, I wanted activity to keep me from being depressed. Once the Kingsborough term ends, I’ll have it easier; I’ll be off Mondays and Wednesdays. As for the spring semester at Kingsborough: I’m not sure I want any classes.

At least my money worries have lessened; I’d been concerned about the possibility of no income at all this spring.

Elihu phoned to say he is teaching a course at LIU after all, though not in American history, his field, but in European. We agreed that being an adjunct is a nerve-wracking life: you never know you have a job until the last minute, and with such varied schedules, you keep having to switch your biorhythms.

Last evening I called Robert Wisotsky and we had a pleasant talk. He’s very effeminate, I think, and I couldn’t relate to him on a physical level because his hair is too long. (God, did I say that? Please forgive me: I’m very tired.)

Village+People+villagepeopleBut Robert and I did talk about the Catskills and the horrors of being a sissy and having to play baseball, about the absurdity of the Christopher Street “uniform” and other subjects. He said my writing makes him happy, and that’s so nice to hear. I finally feel I am reaching people – and that’s all I want, really.

Last night I also had a great talk with Josh, about grammar and Delmore Schwartz and Crad Kilodney and everything under the moon.

Denis lost his job at LIU: when he called Margaret, she said they aren’t hiring an1976 night manhattan trafficy adjuncts for the spring. Of course, it might just be that they just didn’t like Denis – and who can blame them?

I had insomnia till 4 AM, the hyper-manic insomnia that I love and hate. I felt glad to be alive, 180° different than I did a few days ago. Nothing really changed during that time, just my attitudes. I’ll get depressed and I’ll get manic thousands of times in my life: that is life.

This morning I slept deliciously late. In the afternoon, I worked on my income tax returns. I’d wanted to do them earlier, so I could get my rLCAN Newsletterefund quickly, but the W-2 form from the city arrived just today.

I spotted my name twice in Gary Lagier’s LCAN Newsletter: as a contributor to X and RiverSedge and then I was praised for my “Infant Sorrow” in a review of the Northwoods Narrows anthology: “‘Infant Sorrow’ is a must for all those who would acquire this anthology. Like [A.D.] Winans, he pulls no punches. The result is revealing, if not always tasteful.” And they quoted a passage about the character’s constipation.

I wrote letteArlene Zekowskirs to Avis and to Arlene Zekowski, and then submitted stories to new magazines; then, I was about to go out to dinner when Neil Schaeffer phoned. Thanks to Susan, I’ll be teaching at my alma mater this term. I still can’t believe it.


Saturday, February 3, 1979

6 PM. The fact that I’m going to be teaching at Brooklyn has begun to sink in.

Today I called Lou Asekoff, who has been teaching in the Small College Program for years. He told me that this term we’ve got to prepare them for the CUNY BC winter snowPlacement Exam, and I have experience doing that at Kingsborough, at least.

But in the Small College Program, English 0.2 is taught a bit differently. I’ve got to accustom these older, working-class people – predominately black women – to college, and I need to teach them study skills and note-taking techniques and get them into reading.

I went to Barrons twice today and decided I’m going to use the Harbrace Handbook and Workbook, Short Story Masterpieces, and an essay reader: which one, I’m not sure yet.steps in composition first ed

For the veterans, I’m going to take the advice of Bill Browne, the program administrator, and use Steps in Composition, which I bought today – but mainly I’m going to rely on newspaper and magazine articles.

Again, like the Small College people, the veterans will be just starting out, and this will determine whether they can continue with college.

After the next two difficult weeks are over, the spring term will be easier – that is, if I don’t teach a course at Kingsborough. Now I have to redo my résumé again.

When I called Mikey and Teresa, both of them thought it was great that I’ll be back at Brooklyn College to teach. It’s nearly three years since I graduated the MFA program there.

BC Boylan winter bwWhen I quit the Publishing Conference two years ago, I lost all contact with BC. Now I’m back as a teacher, nearly ten years after I began as a freshman. In a way, it was always a dream of mine to teach at Brooklyn, where I spent so many happy years.

But now I feel almost a stranger on campus, and last night I had an anxiety dream about finding my way around. (I also had a remarkable dream in which I was lying on top of myself, making love to my mirror image. It’s amazing that it was such an obvious scene of narcissism.)

Still, I’m very excited about going back to BC: it seems a fitting way to close out the decade since I began school and this diary and my reentry into the world. Teresa said it was so ironic that she wanted to write a story about it.

LIU sign winterToday I got a letter Margaret forwarded to me from LIU. It was from Andrew Grey, that mixed-up kid in last spring’s English 12 pharmacy class. He wanted me to return his paper on manic depression, and he explained that his sister was manic-depressive.

Andrew was very bright and very cute: blond and well-built. He often showed up late and sometimes didn’t come to class at all. He wrote:

Mr. Grayson, I want you to know that although my track record in your class was not very good in terms of attendance, that’s attributable to my difficulty in awakening in the morning.

You really have an excellent approach to teaching. . . Granted, you would kid around with the class very much and you were very easy-going and patient, but when you saw that you’d failed to get a message through to your students in your usual passive manner, you got pissed and became handwritten lettervery stern, and you made it clear that you weren’t fucking around and they had to learn. . .

You were very easy to relate to and your class and yourself were always mellow. I can honestly say that your approach to education was the best I’ve ever seen from a college instructor. . .

I hope you enjoy teaching and continue, because you’ll be a great asset to any student that has you. I wish you the best of luck always and hope that you stay well and mellow.

A former student,
Andrew Grey


Monday, February 5, 1979

phone green 14 PM. Last evening Ronna phoned after I left her house. She was very angry. She said she had been so looking forward to seeing me and she had fought with her mother about doing the laundry because she knew it would take a long time.

She rushed like crazy, had trouble driving, and then ran into the shower so as to get ready as soon as possible. Then I came in, in my petulant-child guise, and spited myself while hurting Ronna.

Why did I do it? Yesterday’s reasons seem so absurd now. I told Ronna it was because I felt insecure about her feelings for me, and that is true. Also – and Ronna sensed this – I seemed to want to stir up trouble “just to keep things interesting.” I felt then, and I now feel, very ashamed.

phone trimlineAll I could say was “I’m sorry” and “I understand how you feel” – and that, of course, was inadequate. I felt love for Ronna and sorrow that my piggishness had ruined our day. I’ve done this before, but I thought I was over it. I’ll never do it again.

I had to see Ronna, so I came right over. She looked so beautiful in the kitchen. We just stood there, not saying anything, communicating with our faces. I melted in her presence. We kissed, I held her, she let me put my hand on her shoulder.

We talked, then we went to bed. It was wonderful to feel her move under me; so involved was I in our lovemaking, I felt I was going out of myself. I felt totally at ease.

scottish love poemsRonna and I were closer than ever last night. We played in bed, laughing: she kept quoting poetry and I yelled, “Stop it or I’ll lose my erection!” Later, we watched Rocky while lying on the floor and nibbling each other’s earlobes and toes.

Well, any more descriptions like that and I’ll be sent to the Famous Writers’ School.

I do love Ronna and I’m still attracted to her: last night was better than ever that way. After getting home after 11 PM, I had a quick bite (I didn’t have dinner) and went right to bed.

culture of narcissismRonna loves me a lot, and that’s important; she’s important. I’ve been behaving as though the relationship were between me and myself, as though Ronna were only an adjunct: the perils of narcissism. I do feel ashamed about that.

This morning I taught punctuation and comparison/contrast at Kingsborough and then went to the Brooklyn College English Department, where the secretary (not Blanche, the old witch) had me fill out forms: a résumé for the placement file, a form for payroll, a personnel card.

I got a mailbox and a card to get the key to the English office. Luckily, next Tuesday follows a Monday schedule, so I’m off.

boylan hall in winterTomorrow won’t be all that bad, as I’m just going to introduce myself and the course – and on Thursday I’ll have them write diagnostic essays.

Around the department, I saw – and avoided – Jack Gelber, and I also ran into Jack Kitch; it will be strange having my old teachers as colleagues.

Chris wrote me a long, serious letter. He says he can’t tell me about his life in detail because it’s “too wild, too contrived, too improbable, too busy to be believable as life or art.” He goes on:

To me, there is little to gasp at: people adapt to their environment. . .

From the word go, when my mother resigned from her post as a missionary to abused orphans in the wilds of Alaska to marry my faBloodlineNovelther, the brilliant and gorgeous son of a powerful Southern family, my life was off to a running start as Most Likely To Be Material For A Ridiculously Overblown Pop Novel.

Does anyone really get a warning from a kindly psychiatrist in the middle of the night . . . telling one to flee with one’s children into the night and out of the country under assumed names, to escape the wrath of a psychotic?

Oh, for heaven’s sake, Richard, you get the idea. (We did flee, by the way.)

Wow.


Tuesday, February 6, 1979

5 PM. This is a difficult day for me. I have a headache and am tired and I have to teach another class in five hours. The 9:25 PM Small College class is set for a ridiculous hour, especially when you taught a class thirteen hours earlier.

1977 D train at nightAlthough I tried to get enough sleep last night, it still wasn’t enough, and now I feel on edge. I’m not looking forward to the next ten days, and I feel I’m not being fair to my students to be so overworked.

I get no sympathy at home; my parents think I should be able to teach forty hours a week. Because they’ve never done creative mental work, they don’t understand how much teaching takes out of a person.

Oh well. One day I can tell people there was a time when I taught classes at 8 AM, 1 PM, and 10 PM all in one day, and it will make for a good story.

It has turned bitter cold – 15° – and that hasn’t helped. I feel very pressured and under a great deal of stress. This morning I dismissed my Kingsborough class half an hour early, but I wasn’t able to relax at home.

BC new ingersollAt Brooklyn College, I picked up my mail and found I had the roster for only the Small College class.

In New Ingersoll, I got a key to the English Department office and then sat in Kosher Country in Whitehead, nursing a Tab and thinking about my own first class in college. It was nearly ten years ago: Poli Sci 1 in the summer of 1969. Ironically, that class had the same room – 401 Whitehead – where I’m teaching the veterans.

I gave a general introduction to the course and let them speak a little. If I’m not careful, I won’t be able to control their talking; they often seem to go off on tangents. I explained about the Placement Test and told them what text to get. On Thursday, whitehead hall signI’ll have them write something, so I can see what level they’re on.

They’re all guys, mostly around my age, and they took my being the teacher in stride. (It’s odd, isn’t it, that the only students whom I haven’t had trouble with because of my age are the older ones. I’m sure tonight’s adults will react similarly and take my youth in stride.)

We talked about the problems of writing – grammar, sentence structure, spelling, thinking up things to say. We’re on a first-name basis, and although I’m going to find teaching the veterans challenging, it looks like fun.

BC Veterans office GlenwoodAfter class, I went to the Veterans Outreach office on Glenwood Road, where I got my class roster and met Bill Browne, whom I’d spoken to on the phone.

On campus today, I saw many faculty members I recall from my student days: Hardy Hansen and Arlene Fromchuck of Classics, Dean Breglio and Prof. Harrington of English, Prof. Weiss of Poli Sci.

While roaming Whitehead, I noticed that Greg is teaching Anthropology; he’s an expert on China. I guess I was wrong and that he’s not as sleazy as I thought he was eight years ago.

BC Hess obitBut it’s a different time: the spirit of Brooklyn College has changed. The budget cuts have left their mark on supplies, the condition of the buildings, and on the morale of the faculty, staff and students.

I don’t sense the energy that used to be there. True, 1969 was a decade ago, and times have greatly changed. Students are no longer just kids, and now even young students are conservative, career-oriented and very conformist.

Well, we’ll see how it goes. I just hope I make it through the next couple of weeks without getting sick or collapsing. If I can get through this, I can get through anything at work.

pen palsI should take my cue from my pen-pal Chris, who adapts: “I mean, people went about their daily lives in concentration camps,” Chris wrote.

After an idyllic childhood where he was surrounded by bright, creative people, his adolescence in Hawaii was brutal. The people around him were sadistic, violent – he mentioned getting a brain concussion when he “got caught trying to escape.” Chris is becoming important to me.


Friday, February 9, 1979

11 AM. I’ve put up with a great deal of harassment from my mother this week. On Tuesday I came home to find that she had completely rearranged my bookcases.

When I became furious, she just ignored me: this is her house, after all, and she has the right to do anything she pleases. When I protest, she merely says: “Move out.” And that if I were a normal person, I would thank her for thoughtfully straightening up my room.

cometNow I’m waiting for Jonny to bring back my car. He took it without asking me: never mind that I have to get to Kingsborough to get my paycheck, that I have to go to Brooklyn College at 1 PM and I have to go to the bank and the drugstore.

When I get angry – and not, I swear, abusively so – Mom just ignores me until I become furious. And then: “This is my house. If you don’t like it, you can leave.” She’s a sick woman.

Later, when I was shaving, she was standing on the other side of the door, saying: “Do you hear me? You’re an asshole. You’re a dirty asshole. You’re a homosexual asshole. Do you hear me?”Mommie Dearest

I just pretended she was an inmate in a mental institution and it made me feel pity for her. When she called out to tell me she would be taking my gas credit cards away from me, I just took them out and plopped them in her lap.

Does she think I’m a child? I’ve accomplished more than anyone else in this family.

– Would you believe that she just came in and said, “Richard, I’m getting very worried. . .”? About Jonny being away so long. I told her he’ll probably be back soon.

Anyway, I’m not afraid of my parents anymore. I can live without them. Chris and Ronna have showed me that I’m stronger than I think. So have my own experiences, like my trip to Boston.

*

1979 bus6 PM. I took the bus to school, as Jonny hadn’t returned with my car.

In the English Department, I met Bruce, who was correcting papers. He’s teaching an 8 AM class at BC and an evening class at LIU. Bruce said that LIU almost didn’t take any adjuncts at all this term. He, like Denis, was called only at the last moment.

Josh started teaching yesterday, too. They gave him a course at New York City Community College: remedial writing at 8 AM. On Wednesday night I was giving him all sorts of advice because he sounded so unsure of himself. Simon got an evening class at NYCCC as well.

While I’m pleased for Josh, of course now my being a teacher is less “special” as most of my MFA classmates are doing the same thing. But this will reinforce our friendship. I suspect Josh will succeed despite himself.

Vietnam Vets stampI’m trying very hard to be a good teacher, but the veterans are a difficult group. Some of them were in Vietnam, but most went to Germany after the war in Southeast Asia ended. The Vietnam guys are really messed up.

Now everyone pretends the war never happened. My Vietnam veterans know they saw their buddies die for nothing, and they can’t forget the unspeakable – literally – horrors they saw. I’m afraid the passage of time is only making it worse for them.

Last night’s older people in the Small College class seem to be in college searching for a ticket out of menial jobs, out of the ghetto, out of oppression. It’s weird walking out of class across a frigid, icy campus at 11 PM, as I did last night.

laguardia hall in winterIf anyone tells me academia isn’t the “real” world, I’ll punch him in the mouth. After four years, I’m finally beginning to see my role as teacher as important, and I want to succeed in my field.

Oh, there’s so much I want to do – in the face of that, my family’s harassment seems trivial. TC mark

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