Wednesday, June 25, 1980
3 PM. It’s very hot and humid, and I have my usual sinus infection, but otherwise everything is fine, and I’m definitely over the symptoms of the stomach virus.
Last night I called my parents, who said Grandpa Herb is back home while Marty tries to find a new doctor. Grandpa Herb is very nervous now that he’s had to quit smoking.
At dinner last night, there were three new people, all women artists: Miyoko Ito, a grandmotherly painter from Chicago, who’s very quiet and dresses in traditional Japanese garb; Medrie MacPhee, a young painter from New York; and Patty Hansen, a 25-ish Southerner who lives in Soho.
Nancy Miller and I talked to them about our first few days here and how we kept making up excuses in case we decided we wanted to leave because we were having such a hard time. That made the newcomers feel more at ease; it’s very difficult to adjust to MacDowell.
I’ve been here three weeks now, and I know I’m going to have a hard time adjusting to life outside MacDowell. In a letter today, Teresa said I should try to “ride the crest” of MacDowell and let it carry over into my everyday life.
I went to Savidge Library, afraid I was going to be the only one at Hilda’s reading of her long poem, but of course John came, as did Miyoko and Ellen. Actually, the poem turned out to be excellent, all about Hilda’s trying to move on after the death of her husband. Ellen, a recent widow, was particularly moved.
After finishing my book, Ellen gave me some very positive feedback on it; she said she likes the direction I’m going in. Sarah liked the stories I gave her to read and said I should be working on a novel. I’m sure I will one day.
Today at my studio, though, I couldn’t manage more than three pages of a new store, “Avenues” – and they need to be rewritten. I didn’t type up any more of 1975 and now I’ve lost faith in the project.
It’s just too easy. I have excellent material in the diary – of that, I am 100% certain – but I need to mold it, give it more form. Perhaps if I just keep typing up the 1975 diary, eventually I’ll be able to fashion a real work of art out of it.
After Hilda finished reading her long poem, Anne brought three bottles of champagne, and more people arrived to hear Anne play some of her pieces and to hear Jane read sections of her novel-in-progress, In Thrall. Jane’s writing about sex in gay bars was intelligent and perceptive, and I think Jane and I think the same way.
Anne’s music was delightful, particularly her “Concerto for Active Frogs.” She interspersed tapes of actual frog mating sounds with her own composition and had the musicians dress in green plastic bags.
Anne is undoubtedly a genius. As I listened to her more serious piece, I looked around at the faces of the people in the room and I thought, My god, all that talent! MacDowell is far from being a utopia, but there is real magic here; it’s the best community I’ve ever been part of.
Exhilarated, I slept poorly and dragged myself to breakfast this morning to say goodbye to Sarah and Michael. (I suspect he didn’t really like me – but that’s okay.)
Afterwards I went back to my room and had MacDowell-ish dreams. I’ve been debating when and how to leave. My rides have all vanished: Dan Gurskis left mysteriously, without saying goodbye to anyone, and Lucille decided not to visit New York.
I don’t want to spend the money to fly, and I’m a little afraid of the turbo-prop jets anyway, so my best bet is to go back the way I came: a taxi to Keene and then a bus to New York. I still haven’t decided which day I’ll go back: Friday, Saturday or Sunday. If I get an 11:30 AM bus at Keene, I can be in New York around 6 PM.
Today I found a form in my mailbox: they want me to fill out something for the Colony Fellows Newsletter.
Tonight is Nancy Englander’s big picnic supper at Hillcrest, the mansion she lives in, the place where the MacDowells once lived.
Thursday, June 26, 1980
4 PM. Like some schoolgirl, I want to write: “Could it be only three weeks since I arrived at the MacDowell Colony?” The past three weeks have been one long peak experience for me. Now that my visit is almost over, I look with dread on my return to the “real” world.
I’ve done so much work here, but I feel I’m just beginning to renew my creativity. At my studio today I didn’t do very much; I sort of cranked out seven lousy pages. I sat in the sun and watched a pitched battle between an ant and a caterpillar.
But when I came back to Pan’s Cottage, story ideas started coming at me fast and furious. I feel I need more time here. Last evening Ellis Kohs drove Jane and me to the picnic dinner at Hillcrest.
It was quite a spread: roast beef, salmon, tomato aspic, thick hot slices of bread, good drinks and delicious chocolate fudge cake for dessert.
Nancy Englander is a bit intimidating. Having those Dobermans around her sort of reinforces her image – but I managed to go up and tell her how productive and enjoyable my stay here has been.
I spoke with Miyoko, who seems very sad. She’s been ill, and the University of Chicago is doing a retrospective of her work, “which at my age feels like an obituary.”
Dan Meltzer was nattily attired in a polka-dotted bow tie, and I talked with him and Anne, who’s looking forward to her Hawaiian vacation with her boyfriend. Patty Hansen and Margaret Garwood discussed their dogs and cats; Preston, Elaine and Ellen were deep in composer talk; Tanya and David were together, as usual; Jane complained about feeling feverish, and she did look very tired.
Hillcrest is a magnificent house, built by the MacDowells. John had just read Doris Grumbach’s Chamber Music, a novel based on their lives that made both the MacDowells out to be bisexual.
Edward, a handsome young man (there was a gorgeous bust of him on the piano), actually did die of syphilis – but apparently he was quite a ladies’ man.
I walked Nancy Miller to her studio, trekking on to Colony Hall alone while fighting off the mosquitoes. (They got me all over, including one bite on the palm of my right hand.)
Medrie and Lucille and I waited as John spent half an hour on the phone, trying desperately – and theatrically – to arrange his marriage.
Finally I called Marc, who said he and Rikki were coming to Providence today. He told me to call him tonight at their hotel in Seekonk, Massachusetts.
Maybe I can come down to Providence by bus and drive home with them or else they might come to New Hampshire to pick me up. So I could be leaving as early as tomorrow; if that doesn’t work out, I’ll take the bus home on Sunday.
I had marvelous dreams. In the final one, a girl tried desperately to convince me to take her to the top of Mount Monadnock and “marry” her there. That jolted me out of sleep at 8 AM.
Lucille was upset by a crisis in her department at C.W. Post: one of her teachers quit. Lesley and Elaine both left this morning; I didn’t really say goodbye to either of them, although I did like Elaine.
Today was very hot but not so humid. I feel my remaining time here is precious, but I’ve already started looking ahead to New York. I don’t want to face my hot apartment, my dying car, and Grandpa Herb’s illness.
I don’t look forward to doing my own cooking, cleaning and shopping again. I almost feel that I could live better if I never see Rockaway again. I’ve changed because of my stay at MacDowell; here I’m a more relaxed, more creative person, and I don’t want to go back to what I was.
Friday, June 27, 1980
5:30 PM. Either stupidly or purposely, I lost the piece of paper on which I had written the name of the hotel at which Marc and Rikki were staying. So I had no way to contact them, and because of that, I missed my chance to get a ride home.
It’s just as well. I can now stay at MacDowell a couple of days more and put off harsh realities that much longer. Right now I can hear a new arrival moving into one of the upstairs rooms here at Pan’s Cottage; I wonder if she feels the mixed emotions I felt when I first arrived.
I didn’t write today, but I did things that will result in writing in the future: I read and I thought. I finished Jane Howard’s Families, which has given me new ideas for stories.
This is the longest I’ve ever been away from my family (and my family of friends as well): over three weeks on my own. I’ve discovered something that would have calmed most of the fears I had a year ago about not being to make it by myself.
I will never forget these days at MacDowell; corny as it sounds, I feel I will always treasure the memories of this place. It liberated me from the external pressures that were destroying me as a writer.
I have a new sense of myself, a new perspective. Bless the MacDowell Colony: it’s given me as much as Brooklyn College did years back. Reading Families made me see how important being part of a family is: that sense of connectedness that comes in no other form.
When Jane Howard writes of a visit to Baba Muktananda’s ashram in the Catskills and mentions that his devotional room was once the Penguin Room nightclub of the Hotel DeVille, I felt proud: that was my parents’ hotel!
Reading that, suddenly I missed them very much. And I felt very bad about not calling Grandpa Herb; it’s been selfish of me, but somehow I couldn’t deal with his illness while I was here.
I know that coping with his cancer and his eventual death will be a horror for all of us, but I’m just as certain that I will come out of it a stronger, wiser and more integrated person.
As I looked out from the gazebo toward Mount Monadnock in haze a few hours ago, I thought about the new way I see things here. Somehow everything is in perspective when you don’t have to deal with the distractions of TV news, shopping, earning money, phone calls, the daily mail.
Last night I sat with Jane, David Del Tredici, John and Ellis: “the singles table,” David called it. (The gay table, I thought.) Jane whispered to me that David thinks John is gay and was coming on to him. Maybe, but I didn’t notice.
After dinner, Jane was furious at Nancy Miller and Lucille and Cynthia for some real or imagined slight. Her anger at “those fucking cunts – it always happens with feminists!” – frightened me. I, too, am angry, but I don’t express it openly the way Jane does.
David says Jane has a chip on her shoulder, and maybe he’s right.
After dinner, Jane, John and I went with David into town to see Nijinsky, a stunningly boring film. Still, it was good to get out, even though I have only $55 left – barely enough to get me back to New York. I may have to borrow some money from Jane.
I slept soundly last night and woke up early. The heat wave broke a bit today as the record-breaking high temperatures moderated somewhat. The humidity, though, is playing havoc with my sinuses.
As I said, I finished Howard’s book and began a brilliant memoir, Inside, Looking Out, by Harding Lemay, who for many years wrote my favorite soap opera, Another World. Someday – but not now – I’ll be able to write a memoir like that.
I can’t describe MacDowell adequately now because I’m too much a part of it. One measure of my reluctance to leave is that I still haven’t made plans to go home by bus. I suppose I’ll take a taxi into Keene on Sunday and then get the 11:30 AM bus, which arrives at Port Authority at 5:30 PM.
Got to go: the first dinner bell just sounded.
Saturday, June 28, 1980
2 PM. Last night in bed, I half-wished that I would die in my sleep. If it happened, I would have died happily. I don’t want to go “home,” back to “the real world” which has little use for me and for which I have little use.
I almost regret my time at MacDowell because I know life can never be so perfect, so decent, so courteous again. Already the barbarity has encroached on me.
Marc called me last night at dinner. He and Rikki were not in Providence but in Newport. She wanted to stay a week, but he had to go to New York to get clothes or “conduct business” or whatever, so he said he’d call me in the morning, either at 8:30 AM or else at 11:30 AM.
Needless to say, my old reliable brother didn’t come through today any more than he did on Thursday night.
Wait, I just found a message from Jane slipped under my door: “Your brother will call at dinner. He doesn’t know if he’s coming tonight yet.”
If I do have to take the bus, I now I have no ride into Peterborough (that’s if I take the 8:30 AM bus to Boston and go back to New York from there) or into Keene (to catch the 11:30 AM bus to New York).
Marc has really screwed me up: now there’ll be nobody to meet me and my four pieces of luggage at the Port Authority, and I don’t have keys to my car – maybe not for a week if he and Rikki don’t come back.
I don’t know what to do. I hate this feeling anxiety and anger and resentment, and I’m angry at Marc and his selfish, irresponsible ways.
Marc’s world is the opposite of life at MacDowell. Here it’s genteel, intellectual and creative as opposed crass, vulgar and tasteless. But Marc’s world is the world – most of it, anyway.
For 24 days I’ve been living in a haven from the intrusions of reality. It’s been almost too good to be true, and I feel this experience hasn’t quite been real, that it’s a long, complicated, extended dream and that I’m going to wake up in my hot apartment in Rockaway and be unable to get back into the dream fantasy.
I want to stay here forever. I don’t want to trade the quiet gentility of the country for the raucous roar of New York. I don’t want to trade the stimulating conversations over a nourishing dinner for peanut butter in front of the TV screen.
I don’t want to trade the cool breezes of the New Hampshire mountains for the harsh glare and heat of Rockaway. I don’t want to trade intelligence for stupidity, concern for apathy, creativity for anhedonia and depression.
How do I make the rest of my life more like MacDowell? I’ll have to talk with Dr. Pasquale about that – but can even he understand? MacDowell is a throwback to another era.
The “real” world is filled with cotton candy and glitter and celebrities and nothing that’s nourishing or decent, and I know that I’m going to get sucked right back into it again.
Enough sloppiness. Let me enjoy the last few hours here: It’s a cool, clear day, and the countryside looks beautiful.
Today I had long talks with Jane, and John, and Ellen, and others. I retrieved my typewriter and my papers and I cleaned out Wood Studio for its next inhabitant. A letter arrived from Linda Lerner: her Touro classes were canceled.
And I finished Harding Lemay’s Inside, Looking Out, one of the best autobiographies I’ve ever read. No wonder I always liked Another World: Lemay is a fine writer. He managed to escape a vulgar, cheap life and become a writer, a book-lover, and basically a happy man.
Maybe I can find happiness too – even outside MacDowell.
Sunday, June 29, 1980
9 PM. Home again – or maybe I should just say I’m back in Rockaway. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past year (half of 1980 ends tomorrow), it’s that I can be at home in Davie, Florida, or Peterborough, New Hampshire, or maybe anywhere I take myself and this old diary.
I’m tired but strangely elated, not depressed the way I thought I might be; perhaps that will come tomorrow.
MacDowell changed me, and I feel more relaxed and more confident that life will work itself out.
While I know I won’t be as happy in July as I was in June, I hope to use some of what I learned at MacDowell to help me get through life in New York City.
Marc called during dinner last night and said he’d be in Peterborough in the morning. Bless Marc. Forget all those mean things I wrote about him yesterday; it wasn’t his fault the messages got screwed up. He’s a good brother, a far better brother than I have been.
We had Mexican food last night, and I felt a little wistful sharing my last dinner with my friends.
Then we went over to the library, where Ellen Taaffe Zwilich and David Del Tredici played Mozart, Brahms and Beethoven on the violin and piano, respectively. The music was almost unbearably sweet, and it made me feel sad but good.
I slept very deeply and I had a dream I knew I would have, a dream of making love to Jane.
Before breakfast, I finished packing and then I went to Colony Hall and had pancakes and bacon. I got everyone’s addresses and phone numbers. Ellen asked if I wanted to go into town with her to buy the Sunday Times, and I felt like a ride, so I did.
Then she took me to see Sargent Lake. It was cool and peaceful and I felt I wanted to stay there forever.
Back at the colony, I kissed Ellen goodbye, and when I went past the dining room, Jane said my brother had come. I hugged Jane tightly and I hugged Anne and Hilda and said goodbye to David Foley, Tanya, and Dan.
Marc said he had no trouble finding Peterborough and he made it up from Newport in 2½ hours. We drove through Keene and Brattleboro and then down I-91 past Springfield and Hartford.
Marc told me he and Rikki will be getting married and moving to Florida before the year is out. He said he actually got down on his knees and proposed in their hotel room in Newport. They love each other, and I guess they’re both ready for a commitment.
During the five-hour drive back, Marc and I smoked grass, and he told me the story of Rikki in more detail. Her father wasn’t only in gold; he was also dealing in cocaine all over the world. Rikki worked for him, smuggling the drug in her purse or sewn into her clothes.
There was some sort of falling-out between them; before that, Rikki, the eldest, had always been her father’s favorite – so much so that her mother was very jealous.
Rikki’s husband was (and is) a very wealthy and famous photographer and they had two children, Tara, now 6, and Lee, now 4. Rikki divorced him after coming home one day and finding him in bed with her friend. Her ex gives the children $300 a week each as child support and they have trust funds in their names.
Rikki’s father took the children away from her because she tried to kill herself. She said her father is friendly with all the bigwigs and judges in Rhode Island, so it’s going to be hard to get them back.
Marc told me that Rikki herself is worth a quarter of a million dollars, but he doesn’t know whether she can get all the money because it’s all in joint accounts with her father.
Rikki’s father has already cut off Rikki’s two sisters, whom Marc met in Newport: one married a Hispanic, and the other has tattoos all over.
Marc was very impressed with the family’s huge estates in Rhode Island and with the rich and classy friends Rikki introduced him to in Newport. Her family is now in Tahiti for some kind of reunion.
Marc had to go back to New York to “conduct business and make phone calls” and he planned to return to Newport tonight.
Their present plan goes something like this: They want to see if they can get the children back, and they might rent a place in Rhode Island for the summer.
Then, in September, if things go well, they’ll fly down to Florida to look for a place to live not far from Mom and Dad. Marc said I could have his apartment if I want it. I asked him how he felt about living with Rikki’s kids, and he said he liked the idea.
As we drove through the beautiful green mountains of New England, I thought about this and realized how excited I am at the prospect of being a step-uncle.
After Marc and I stopped for lunch at a Howard Johnson’s in Fairfield, it got progressively hotter and uglier as we entered New York. Pulling up to Marc’s block in Sheepshead Bay, I had the strange sensation that I was in a place I didn’t recognize.
Then, after I piled my stuff into my Filthmobile and drove to Rockaway, I was repelled by the sheer ugliness of Brooklyn. What had once seemed so pretty now seemed like a wretched place, a place to get away from.
I paid the now-75¢ toll on the bridge (the transit fare is now 60¢) and pulled up to my apartment building with a real sense of dread. I can’t stay here long: I know that now.
While unpacking and putting everything away, I aired out the apartment (a surprise: there are new screen windows) and then I took a shower.
I called Mom and Dad and told them of the marvelous time I had at MacDowell. They already knew about Marc and Rikki’s wedding plans, and their reaction was, “If they’re happy, we’re happy.”
“With Marc and Rikki coming down here,” Mom said, “we’re not going to leave you in New York alone.” She told me I could move in with them and try to find work in Florida.
Jonny, who dislikes the summer heat, is doing fine in school, and Dad now has the Sasson line of ladies’ outerwear.
Anyway, the next person I called was Avis, and the first thing she said was, “Are you sitting down? I have big news.”
“You’re getting married,” I said.
“You guessed it!”
“Someone you don’t know, a guy I met in anatomy class at LIU.”
His name is Anthony Rubio, he’s 30 and has gone through the ’70s scene, dropping out of Columbia, going into hippiedom and drugs and radical politics. He works in a hospital and wants to get his B.S. now.
Anthony is into yoga and meditation and has worked a miracle in that he’s gotten Avis out of some bad habits: she’s given up marijuana, coffee, cigarettes and running around like a beheaded chicken.
Avis seemed happy with my reaction, which was an instinctive “That’s wonderful!” God knows why I’ve laid aside my usual skepticism, but all this just feels right.
Anthony and Avis decided on wedding plans only last night and she still can’t believe it. At the apartment, she told Ari and Justin, and then she called her sister and Wade in Charlottesville, and she also broke the news to Simon, who “took it well.”
Avis told me that I can meet Anthony on Monday night and said to expect a wedding soon. (She will also beat me in having a nephew: she’ll inherit Anthony’s nephew, who is 27!)
She still has to tell her parents. “And I’d been planning to spite my mother for the next 25 years by not getting married,” Avis said. (A great line.)
After hanging up with Avis, I called Alice, wondering what her news would be – but it wasn’t anything so dramatic: Peter’s surprise party went well, she’s told Mark to “cool it,” and she’s going to Minnesota after all.
At the Ram’s Horn, I had my first hamburger in a month and went to see my grandparents. Aunt Minnie and Uncle Irv were there, having just come back from visiting Carol in San Francisco.
Grandpa Herb looks very pale and drawn, but then this was the first day he was up and about since getting out of Peninsula Hospital. He’s very depressed about the possibility of an operation on his lung, and he feels weak all the time.
And he also misses cigarettes. (Grandma Ethel cuts them up and rations them out.) I was very optimistic, telling my grandparents that all would work out. And I feel it.