Sunday, October 14, 1979
3 PM. October continues to be very chilly. This will be the first five-day week since September, and there are no more holidays for a month. So the next four weeks should be rough.
I’ve got to move out of here and into my new apartment; I’ve got to keep up with my classes; and undoubtedly there will be unexpected time-consuming tasks.
If I can get through the next month, I can get through anything. It’s also going to be hard on me psychologically to leave this place I’ve lived in all my life. Of course Rockaway is familiar to me and I feel comfortable there.
I slept till 10 AM and then got off a letter and résumé to Bergen Community College, where there’s a full-time vacancy for January. A Times article on the CUNY budget reported that they’ve allocated money for full-time faculty at some understaffed community colleges; I’m sure there’ll be openings in some English departments.
Right now I’m keeping every option open. I’ll go anywhere or do anything, provided it’s interesting and pays well. It’s not that there’s no way out; there are dozens of ways out, and I need just one.
I keep trying not to fantasize about the NEA fellowship because I know I won’t get it and I don’t want to feel keen disappointment. There’s no denying, though, that $10,000 would be a cushion of security for me.
The Times had a section on Careers in the ’80s that quoted Bureau of Labor Statistics job outlooks. For college teachers, the growth rate is a dismal 3% (for adult education teachers, though, it’s higher), and for authors, it’s minus 3%.
The odds are really against me, but I like the challenge. After all, I had a book of short stories published when everyone said that was impossible.
I’ve had five years of teaching experience at varied institutions: a four-year private university, a four-year public college, a community college, and an art school. I’ve taught older adults, veterans, inner-city kids, pharmacy and nursing students, and art students. (This is what I say in my cover letters.)
I’ve gotten a good deal of publicity – with more to come – and I’ve cleared up a point in the federal election law. I’ve worked for the Brooklyn College Alumni Association, and I’ve accomplished a good deal. I have resources for dealing with people and difficult situations.
If all this sounds pompous, I think it’s important for me to remember that I’m not “a mess,” but an accomplished and resourceful person.
Carol Evans called earlier and apologized for not getting back to me yesterday. I’m going to meet her at 5 PM at her brother’s place on Broadway and Bleecker. I expect nothing except an interesting meeting.
Last night Alice and the others asked me about the paperback rights to Hitler. Richard suggested that I buy them back from Taplinger for myself and sit on them for a while.
If I become famous, Richard said, they might be worth more than they are now, and the rights might be more of a hedge against inflation than Krugerrands or comic books.
It just has to get warmer than it’s been before winter starts. Yet I do feel nostalgic for the chilly weather. I remember other Octobers when I used to enjoy driving into Manhattan and walking around.
I broke up with Shelli on a Sunday just about eight years ago, and oddly enough, I remember that autumn of heartbreak with a good deal of fondness because I grew so much from that experience.
Last night Peter said that he grew a lot from his divorce; he confessed that Alice was only “the fourth lady” he’s ever slept with, and we discussed bisexual feelings.
Peter and Alice, I think, have weathered their rough times and have settled into – not “stumbled upon” – something very special.
Monday, October 15, 1979
6 PM. I am grateful to be able to retreat into my diary at this time because I feel very anxious about moving. Yesterday, for the first time, I gave someone my new address, and it made me feel slightly sick.
I wish I had moved back in the summer when I didn’t have all these other obligations, but perhaps working helps take some of the pressure off. All I can think of is getting through the next month.
It seems as though I’ll have no time for myself, but I know that is an illusion. The other thing I’m afraid of is that once I move in, I’ll have too much time on my hands. Avis and Josh think I’m isolating myself by “moving to the moon.”
Avis came back last night, and I spoke with her and Josh (separately). Maybe it’s just that I want them to agree with my decision, but talking to them made me feel bad.
Avis and Josh depress me; both of them are always criticizing and being very negative. Nothing ever goes right in their lives, and they always seem to be worried. Neither one gets enthusiastic about anything. I’d rather spend time with Teresa or with Alice and Peter, who are always supportive and positive.
Even Ronna and I support each other. She’s going to stay with Jordan in Boston for a week, and I really am hoping she gets a job there. (But is part of that my desire to have Ronna out of town?)
This sounds terrible, but I wish Avis would have gone to Israel. I don’t really want to deal with her on a day-to-day basis. At least we didn’t move in together; as Teresa said, that would have been a disaster.
Yesterday at 5 PM, I met Carol Evans at the loft of her brother Randy, who’s cute. Carol didn’t get a chance to read my stories, but she seems interested in doing a book.
She and Richard Meade run a good operation in Story Press; they’ve sold 3,000 copies of their Norbert Blei book, which has gotten good review in PW, LJ, Booklist and Kirkus, as has their new book, The Monkey Puzzle Tree by Florence Chanock Cohen.
There have been enthusiastic reviews in all the Chicago publications, and they do a large mail order business. But so far they have no distribution outside the Midwest.
Carol and Richard are ignorant of small press and NEA politics; they really believe in what they are doing and need only to keep making back their investment so they can put it into new books.
Working with an author in New York would make editing difficult and create other problems, but I said I would help them with bookstores here.
They are doing a book by Michael Mooney, which they hope to bring out in March, and they’d like to try to bring out my book by next August. (While I don’t think there’d be a problem with Taplinger, I wrote Louis Strick about Story Press.)
Carol and Randy and I talked about the differences between Chicago and New York, as well as about snowfalls and literature; I liked them both a lot.
It was dark when I got back into the Cadillac to drive back to Brooklyn; the car works like a dream compared to my Comet.
Today I had both my classes write and I did catch up with marking papers. I’m so disorganized this term; maybe tonight I can plan a syllabus for the rest of the semester.
Marie wrote me that the Class Notes have to be done right away, but I can’t be bothered right now that I’m moving. Let them realize how valuable I am and maybe think about paying me something. They don’t even thank me, really, although of course they did print my “Hitler” story in the Alumni Bulletin.
Yesterday was the big march on Washington for gay and lesbian rights. Close to 100,000 people from all over the country came to D.C. and filled the Mall. It looked pretty amazing from the pictures in the paper and on TV.
Thursday, October 18, 1979
4 PM. What a beautiful day! It’s days like today that keep me sane. I feel totally relaxed now, and it’s a rare feeling these days, so I want to savor it as much as I can. Outside, it feels like summer: warm and sunny like late May or early June. I feel exhilarated and frisky. I feel alive.
If only life could always be like this. I must remember: you can never know when you’ll have a good day any more than you can know when you’ll have a bad day. So stick it out, my friend, and you too will get to feel this way again.
I woke up early, feeling refreshed. For once, I got to Manhattan by subway with no hassles; rush hour wasn’t very crowded, and it was even pleasant, probably because I left so early. At SVA, I felt relaxed and had an enjoyable class, and then, miracle of miracles, I got home in under an hour.
When I went to Rockaway, I saw that the carpet had been cleaned and a new toilet bowl had been installed, and Mom had left some goods stored away, but the lock hadn’t been installed, and I could see that there was nothing more I could do today.
So I called up Avis and went over to see her in the brownstone in Park Slope. She and Ari and Justin have a gorgeous and spacious duplex apartment. The rooms are huge and quite cheerful, and it almost, but not quite, made me regret my choice of an apartment.
Avis spent Tuesday and Wednesday job-hunting, and the results almost made her feel suicidal. At the telephone company they told her there was a two-year waiting list, and she doesn’t have good enough typing skills to get a temporary job.
Avis is broke and in debt. When we went out for a walk on Seventh Avenue and had pizza for lunch, I treated. She spent last night with Josh, whom I had spoken to yesterday so I already knew how upset he was.
His observation at Hunter went splendidly, as I knew it would, but yesterday the chairman put him down, not just for not having a syllabus, but for his long hair and jeans.
Josh signed a contract at Pace to teach next term, but he’s thinking of quitting. The pay there is very low, and he doesn’t need the aggravation. Avis said that Josh is going crazy with teaching because, unlike me, he has nothing else going for him.
I told Avis that she, Josh and I should go into business for ourselves and somehow beat the system. All the time, you hear stories of how some person turns a hobby or a crazy idea into a profitable business, the way Aunt Arlyne did with her cooking lessons and catering.
Surely among the three of us, we have enough skills to figure out something. I want money so that we can all be more relaxed and not dependent on others. I’m going to try to think up something.
Back at home, I found twenty copies of Beyond Baroque with my stories and one copy of MOTA, which contained, in its Posthumous issue, the poems of my great-great-grandmother, Sylvia Shapiro.
In addition to the poems, Eric Baizer published my query letter (with a facsimile of my signature) and Sylvia’s death certificate. I think the poems are pretty funny; I’d forgotten about them.
Anyway, this was enough to make feel like a writer. And seeing Avis and being relaxed in the middle of a gorgeous weekday was enough to make me feel like a human being.
Let’s give today four stars. The very air I’m breathing seems charmed. I realize, though, that it’s mostly my attitude. If I had been in a different frame of mind, not having the key for the apartment today might have really set me stewing. Why didn’t it seem crucial today?
And would I have gotten as much pleasure from seeing the literary magazines yesterday, a “bad day”? Why do I tend to label days as good and bad when what matters isn’t the day but some external events and the attitude I take towards them?
Friday, October 19, 1979
7 PM. In my session with Dr. Pasquale today, I talked about the pain of giving up my childhood and the symbolic meaning of my moving out. He agreed that it’s a very natural feeling to have separation anxiety, but he also feels that I’ve been dealing with it very well.
I mentioned yesterday’s insight about why the lock not yet being put on my apartment door didn’t trigger panic and despair. Dr. Pasquale was pleased that I’m learning to deal with the mechanism that makes me want to give up.
After nearly four months of therapy, I think Dr. Pasquale is a very good psychologist. He’s more of a behaviorist than the other shrinks I’ve seen, and we focus on how I react to my feelings.
I don’t write much about therapy because it’s a very slow process. Intellectually, I know the problems and their solutions; what I’m attempting to do is unlearn behavior patterns that I’ve gotten stuck in.
My problem isn’t really money or my apartment or my car or my job. My difficulties are with feelings and perceptions. There’s a Nazi-like perfectionist in me that wants me to do everything flawlessly, that won’t allow me a single mistake.
Even now I’m afraid to admit that I’ve been handling the situation so much better than I would have in the past, even a year ago. As usual, I’m testing myself, and while I’m cutting corners teaching, I haven’t really been derelict in my duties.
This fall I’ve had an awful lot thrown at me, and I’ve managed to cope. To an outsider, it would probably look like I was handling things beautifully. But how do I deal with my intense separation anxiety? I wanted to know why it doesn’t go away just because I’m more aware of it.
Dr. Pasquale said there’s a time lag between acknowledging feelings and being free of them. I’m not obsessing, he told me; I’m working the feelings out. Obsessing is what Josh does (I can see it more plainly in another person): he speaks endlessly about a worry, but it never gets him anywhere.
I obsess in regard to my car, job and money. The real anxiety that I feel now is a necessary step in my growth. In a couple of months, when I’m settled in my new home, I’ll feel better. But there’s no question about it: this is going to be a very difficult time for me.
This morning I was surprised when I got only $685 for my pay at Kingsborough; it’s less than what I got at Brooklyn College, but what can I do?
I taught my half-empty classes, then went to the bank to deposit my check. As things stand now, I’m financially okay. A big federal tax refund will probably rescue me in late winter.
Today I spoke with Sylvia Barasch, another adjunct with whom I’ve worked at Kingsborough and Brooklyn. I can see that Sylvia works very hard at teaching. I’m not nearly as diligent but it doesn’t seem cost-effective to be so; if I were being paid for a full-time job, I’d raise my teaching standards.
Michael Cordts of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle sent me his story on the book reviewers selling copies to the Strand; I had sent him the PW notice.
It’s the weekend, and I have no papers to mark – but I am going to start packing.
Saturday, October 20, 1979
8 PM. I’m exhausted physically and emotionally. I woke up at 10 AM today and worked straight through the day, throwing at least eight Hefty bags full of stuff. It really hurt to get rid of old letters, mementos, notebooks, knickknacks, but it will be easier for me in the long run.
I cleaned out all my drawers and threw away pretty much everything that wasn’t absolutely necessary. I packed away all my letters in a file cabinet, I put all my pants in a carton, I got a rid of a lot of ridiculously out-of-style clothes like the loud sports jacket I wore to Jonny’s bar mitzvah.
Menus, hotel bills, love letters from Shelli and Ronna, notes from Mara and Debbie and Allan Cooper, issues of The Ol’ Spigot, notices of meetings of the University Student Senate, grade postcards from college, wedding invitations, yarmulkes from bar mitzvahs and weddings, the Herald Tribune from the day I was born, story manuscripts, old rejection and acceptance letters, the “Richard’s Roost” sign from my bar mitzvah, the novel about LaGuardia Hall, endless paperclips, old address books, menus from dinner parties, the Richmond College election ballot from 1973 – all these pieces of my life went into the garbage.
At about 5 PM, I began to feel faint. In my efforts to get everything done, I had neglected to eat lunch, but it was also the mental stress of seeing my past die.
There are endless paperbacks that I cannot take with me. My xeroxed published stories are so mixed up that I could only pack them away and hope to get them in order someday – hopefully not too far away.
I always knew it would come, of course. Heaven knows, I’ve delayed it longer than any other human being. But it’s still something of a shock. Now most of my drawers are empty and the walls of my room are bare.
In a month this will be little Alex’s room, and hopefully he’ll enjoy it as much as I have. I, too, came to this house at age 7, and I feel I am willing my childhood to Alex: an American childhood for a little Soviet boy.
I guess I’m feeling pretty sentimental tonight, but that’s good. There’s a kind of bittersweet feeling to all of this.
I was stirred by watching the opening ceremonies at the John F. Kennedy Library. Kennedy’s election in 1960 was nearly twenty years ago.
Now I am ending my 1970s and beginning a new decade, and I have all my diaries ready to move: I think I would feel the loss of them more than that of any other possession.
Although I am both frightened and sad, I also feel a sense of hope and excitement about the future. I sent out postcards with my new address; it’s hard to get used to it. I don’t think I’ll be living in Rockaway long, though.
Today I got a letter from Ohio’s Miami University: they said my qualifications seem to match their needs, so they asked me for my dossier. Maybe I’ll even go to San Francisco in December for interviews at the MLA convention. Who knows? My life is opening up in so many ways.
Last night I went over to Park Slope to visit Avis. She and I sat in the kitchen, sharing an omelet and Perrier water, and talked for hours, just as we did in the old days.
We told each other about our homosexual feelings. She said Josh suspected I was gay but wasn’t sure. Avis said it doesn’t make any difference to her.
Justin, her roommate, joined us later; he’s a very sweet guy who works doing PR for the American Place Theatre. Ari came home late; the show he’s with, King of Schnorrers, is moving to Broadway. I left their house at midnight.
Today Gary and Alice both called, and it was good to make contact with my oldest friends when things are in such transition and turmoil.