Sunday, July 12, 1981
5 PM. This weekend has been nearly idyllic. Wade and Ellen came to pick me up yesterday morning as I was sitting outside with Cathy.
After I showed them around the colony, we drove to Charlottesville, about 60 miles north of here on Route 29 (which was partly closed due to a hazardous chemical spill).
At nine months, little Gabriel is an adorable child. In the past week he’s learned to stand up while holding one arm against the crib or playpen, and he’s taking “swimming” lessons at the University.
They showed me the UVA campus, whose original buildings were designed to perfection by Jefferson. The school is large and comfortable, and it’s dominated by a very conservative fraternity/ preppie atmosphere.
Of course the English Department is first-rate and most of the professors are from the North and quite sophisticated.
Wade works every day on his dissertation on Henry James. (The Golden Bowl is his favorite novel of all time.) He believes that the richness of the later novels is due to James’s acceptance of his gayness “although he never did anything about it.”
Wade hopes to get a full-time job teaching literature at a good school for the 1982-83 academic year. Two-thirds of his department’s Ph.D.’s seem to get those jobs, so he feels more confident than I ever would after my horrible experiences with academia.
He’s been very active running the Citizens Party in town and was rightfully proud that their candidate got 6% of the vote in a special State Senate election in January; apparently, Wade did a very good job in getting publicity.
Ellen said that if Wade doesn’t get a full-time teaching job, he may make politics his career. She took me downtown to see the old buildings and the renovated shopping district, now a pedestrian mall.
Having a baby is limiting her, Ellen said, especially when they want to do things on the spur of the moment. Since she’s breast-feeding Gabriel, Ellen has to be around him a lot and she was taking him with her to her classes.
Ellen loves teaching film and has been teaching a senior seminar, where she’s probably influencing students with her own viewpoint.
She likes Charlottesville because she has lots of friends, and indeed, in the course of the weekend she and Wade were constantly running into people they knew.
The town is clean, very wealthy, and is now attracting a lot of rich people from Washington as it becomes a kind of distant suburb.
I felt very much at home in Charlottesville and especially in the McAllisters’ pleasant little home, which they rent for $200 a month.
We all went out to dinner at Fellini’s, which, like the local repertory movie house where Ellen used to work, is owned by a couple, Chief and Ann, who are the McAllisters’ good friends.
The atmosphere at the restaurant was convivial and the food was good; even the baby seemed to be enjoying himself.
Earlier we had gone to a swim club outside of town, where Ellen and Wade showed me what Gabriel had learned in the pool. I was a little frightened as they had him “swim” a couple of feet between them, but I think that kid will never have the fear of the water that I did – and still do.
We talked a lot about their trip to Florida – which they hated – and how Ellen’s parents acted on the trip they all took to California from the contest they won.
(Wade thinks all the women in our parents’ generation are uptight about breast-feeding because they feel guilty about not doing it.)
Avis told them that her time in New Mexico was great and that she and Anthony loved chanting and exercising with the other Sikhs during the summer solstice celebration.
Wade said he is a little less worried about Avis than he had been, but Ellen and I wonder if she’ll ever give up the religion as long as she’s with Anthony – who neither of us are crazy about.
We reminisced about Helmut, whom we all loved – they said I caught him perfectly in my story – and would like to remain in touch with; they said when they went to Bremen, they liked Helmut’s friends but not Avis’s.
We talked a lot about Avis and how sad and restless and humorless she was and how she seems to be happy only when she’s a fanatic.
Wade took the baby home to sleep while Ellen got me into her friends’ theater to see Resnais’ Mon Oncle d’Amerique, a heartless but interesting film that takes a Skinnerian approach to human behavior.
When we got home, Ellen made up a bed for me in the baby’s room. With the fan blowing cool air and with fresh sheets, fluffy pillows and an afghan blanket, I felt like Richie in Wonderland – especially since I was sharing a room with a cat and a nine-month-old baby.
Gabriel woke up crying because he was teething, and both Ellen and Wade came in and comforted and rocked him. I didn’t mind at all since I had been wide awake, my mind racing with good thoughts.
Finally Gabriel and I both went to sleep, and in the morning I made him laugh by playing peekaboo.
I went out with Ellen for croissants and brioche, and their friend Lane (who years ago arrived for a weekend visit and never left town) came and made ham and eggs.
We had a terrific leisurely breakfast, and I felt happier than I have been in weeks. The four of us looked through the Sunday New York Times and chatted and played with the baby.
After lunch, I hugged Ellen and Gabriel goodbye, and Wade drove me back through spectacular countryside to the VCCA.
Once I got back here, I called Florida. Jonny said that everything was okay there. I told him that Ellen advised that an aspiring film director should not major in film but get a broad liberal arts education instead.
Monday, July 13, 1981
9 PM. I’m really enjoying VCCA and feel very adjusted to the place now. Yesterday I finished the book with an artificial diary entry.
More and more I’m thinking of calling it a novel. For one thing, it’s always been my contention that autobiographical writing of any sort is actually fictional.
And for another thing, it might be more marketable as a novel – say, if I wrote to an agent like Russ Galen or Timothy Seldes and tell them I have a novel, they’ll be more likely to look at it.
Last night I slept well and was wide awake at breakfast this morning.
Afterwards I did my laundry and picked up my mail: there was a lot of it today.
Paul Fericano wrote me a great letter. He liked his Small Press Review ad for The Stoogist Manifesto, and orders for the book have been coming in daily. Also, when Paul did a poetry reading at the COSMEP Conference, he had them rolling in the aisles with laughter.
Paul was pleased by my including him in the Terrorist Poets & Writers notice in Small Press Review, which Mom sent today. Paul and I have each gotten about three letters or cards about the Terrorist Poets & Writers, and I think it’s a really funny, outrageous notice.
George wrote that he’s glad I liked his Natural History and that the paper nominated him for the H.L. Mencken Award. Kevin is now typesetting Disjointed Fictions, and George won’t need any more money for it.
My letter to Crad was returned because of a Canadian postal strike; I’ve got to get through to him to let him know that I think Human Secrets is a masterpiece.
Applezaba Press in Long Beach sent me a copy of Billy Collins’ Video Poems: a nice book, a little rough, but still well-done enough for me to take them up on their offer to submit a manuscript.
I really feel that I should concentrate, like Crad, on book publications now. I probably won’t hear from Zephyr Press for a while, but I’m sure my reputation and work are now such that I can get more small press books done – by Applezaba, Applewood, or some other press.
In a year I could have three or four books coming out. Now I feel optimistic about my career. With Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog coming out next year and the new Disjointed Fictions appearing soon, there’s the perception of progress.
I may not win the Tropic contest (though the night before I wrote him about it, Paul dreamed that I won $1,000) or get a Florida grant or NEA fellowship this year, but they will come to me eventually.
And having finished A Version of Life, I feel that I have a new book to market to Mudborn and other publishers.
Mom called this morning, and I thought it might be good news. She just wanted to tell me she’d received a big package from the Orleans Parish School Board.
I’ve got to get my birth certificate, transcripts, take a physical, and fill out a million personnel forms; I’m anxious to get back to Florida so I can take care of it all.
Of course part of me still wishes I weren’t going to New Orleans. Yesterday in Charlottesville, when I read the New York Times and saw that Fordham and Rutgers were advertising for English adjuncts, my first impulse was to answer those ads.
But I can always try again next year if I want: that is the (only?) beauty of adjunct work. No, now I want to test out my wings in New Orleans for just a year – actually, just for nine months.
As Paul says, moving to New Orleans will help my writing even if I’m miserable there. It can’t help but give me a new perspective.
Mom said she called Eastern and found that to fly home, it’s $179 ($135 at night) from Richmond; $125 from Washington; and $129 from New York, for which I’d get $50 if I took the shuttle from Washington.
So I could get a trip to New York for free if I want. The question is, is it worth it? I would like to see my grandparents, Teresa and Josh and Mikey and Avis. (Alice and Gary will be out of town.)
Yet I would end up spending more money that way and I’d have to leave here by next Monday if I wanted to get back to Florida early.
No, I think I’ll go directly from Washington to Florida. Maybe I can spend a night in Charlottesville or with Kevin to make the trip easier.
Teresa wrote that Frank has been nicer to her since she agreed to get used to the idea of leaving the Borough President’s office in three months.
She still feels depressed but would like a job at the new Convention Center; Frank promised her that a position there could be arranged.
Meanwhile, back at the artists’ colony, I’ve become very close with some of the people here. Diane is a real nudzh and nobody can stand her, but the others are wonderful.
Susan and I talked for hours until midnight last night and we now know each other very well. This afternoon, Cathy, Sybil, Susan and I went into town and the four of us met in Sybil’s room for drinks before dinner.
These people are real friends whom I expect to keep in touch with. And I love talking to Lou, Alison, Carol, John, David and Mary. Peter, Sterling and Sally seem to be a tight unit, and Will the sculptor keeps to himself.
But still, you get to know people better here at VCCA than you did at MacDowell. Tonight I spoke with the new arrival, Sookie Stambler, a 36-year-old writer from New York: she’s Jewish, vegetarian, an adjunct and yoga student.
Sookie is going to liven up this place. She invited herself to my room and left only an hour ago. Maybe she was interested in me. I’m surprised that people here don’t realize I’m gay.
Well, I’m sure Cathy, Sybil and Susan know, but no one’s said anything; Diane’s made a few cracks. I suppose that since I’ve been the only single male here, I’m the closest facsimile to a straight man.
Friday, July 17, 1981
1 PM. After more than two weeks at VCCA, I don’t really have much to show for it. However, I did finish A Version of Life, which was my main goal.
Why don’t I feel more impelled to work? Probably because I am uncertain about where I am going, both personally and professionally.
Several people have told me that I’m the most popular person here. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve that reputation; I’m not particularly sociable. What I hope it is, is that I’m a nice person and it shows through.
I enjoy talking with older people like Lou or Peter, and I’ve become especially close to Sybil (who left early this morning), Cathy (whose husband is coming tonight), Susan, Sookie and even Diane (who is reading Hitler now),
Yesterday Diane read a story called “Living With Writers,” which satirized me in the character of “Dirk Kennicott, a very straight young man who neither smoke nor drank but who published 125 poorly-written dirty short stories.”
There seems to be much attention paid to my sex life, too: endless speculation, I’ve been told.
It’s weird because I consider myself the most boring person at VCCA. I suppose it’s because I’m the only single white male – Peter, Sterling, Will, John and David are all married – here in a place where women outnumber men more than two to one.
When I called Mom, she said I should fly back direct from Washington on Eastern; apparently there are lots of flights daily. By next Friday I’d like to be in Fort Lauderdale.
The last few days here, I’ve been very dizzy, and I almost passed out while talking to Sookie and Alison last night after dinner. I took a pill and then had a farewell drink at Sybil’s with her, Cathy and Susan.
When I came back to my studio, I exercised and read, but at 11 PM, I felt restless and went to watch TV with Diane and Sookie. I didn’t get to sleep until very late and went back to bed after showing up for breakfast and shoving oatmeal into my mouth.
I dreamed that I moved in Janice’s old house in Canarsie, but only when I was through moving in did I remember whose place it had been. It is about a year since Janice died. I miss her.
Kevin wrote yesterday that his typesetter broke, thus putting him behind schedule. He’s got to finish Disjointed Fictions, then do a double issue of Bogg and then begin work on Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog.
Kevin said he’d have the page proofs for me by late August and that he hoped to get the book out of the printers by Christmas.
He and Joe Lerner have been having contractual problems, he says, because Joe refuses to subsidize his novel by buying 100 copies of it at a 50% discount.
I had told Kevin that I would give him $500 for 100 copies (in addition to the 100 I already get for free); I suppose I could borrow the money from Dad. If I could sell the books myself, I could clear a profit anyway.
This is almost as exciting a time as the months before the publication of Hitler. Reading Henry James’s biography, I see that I’m already more published than he was at my age. So I can afford to slow down.
Harry Chapin, the singer/songwriter, died in a Long Island Expressway car crash yesterday. Last night I listened to a radio special on him. He was 38. I wonder – this is very narcissistic – how people would react if I died.
Saturday, July 18, 1981
1 PM. Yesterday Diane drove Susan and me to Sweet Briar College to xerox some things; then we went to a snack shop behind the hospitality center where we had ice cream cones and watched General Hospital.
Diane was being her usual bitchy self; she’s so infantile in that she always has to be the center of attention.
Susan and I agreed that everyone at the colony was beginning to get on our nerves. It’s hard not to, because this place is so small and we’re always on top of one another.
Sweet Briar College is deserted except for a few dozen kids, all gorgeous (particularly a pair of blond brothers from Zimbabwe), at the summer tennis clinic.
From the college we went to the Amherst library, where Diane embarrassed us by being so loud and obnoxious when she discovered she couldn’t take out books. On the drive home I was silent.
Later, Susan said that Diane likes me a lot but doesn’t know how to win my approval. She could start just by being normally civil. I went back to my room and read more of Leon Edel’s biography of Henry James.
Robert’s quiche never set because they gave him the wrong kind of cheese, but I enjoyed dinner anyway, in the little room, with just Lou and Sookie.
Susan’s husband called, asking her to meet him in Washington today. She was upset by the call and asked me to take a long walk with her.
Spencer misses Susan terribly and feels that if he can drive down to Washington, she can take the bus up there so they can spend an afternoon, night (at a motel), and morning together.
His family and hers are both making it difficult for him in New York, and Susan said he probably resents her plan to stay at VCCA an extra week.
She really loves Spencer and he’s never been jealous of her work, so in the end she decided to go. Her decision made, we passed some cows and decided to turn back.
When Susan called Spencer to make plans, he said, “I’d travel for 24 hours to see you for ten minutes.”
Cathy’s husband Travis arrived at 8 PM after a drive from Charlotte. He seemed as sweet and informal as she herself is. I smiled as I watched them go off together for the weekend.
After spending an hour in an absorbing conversation with Alison, Lou and Susan, I made a bathroom-to-bathroom search for toilet paper.
When rates changed at 11 PM, I called Florida, and Dad said they made reservations for me on an Air Florida flight next Friday from Washington.
The plane takes off at 2:55 PM, which is when the bus arrives, so obviously I’ll have to leave the day before and spend the night in Washington. I’ll have to decide soon.
Late last night, I managed to catch WCBS NewsRadio 88 on my radio, and I liked the feeling of being in touch with Manhattan. I slept well, both before and after breakfast, and spent much of this morning reading in bed.
At lunch Bill Smart came in with a woman from the National Endowment for the Arts, whom we call tried to impress with the wonders of VCCA.
Sookie kept saying how she’s into the local men – the young tennis players, the workmen, the townies she and Alan met in a bar last night – and Diane explained to the NEA lady: “See, she’s writing a sex novel and doing research here.”
Mikey wrote in a letter that he’s fine and has been busy with his client Louise Ann, a girl from Alberta who’s been arrested for prostitution and disorderly conduct.
Louise Ann has been working her way across America as a stripper, but her father wants her to return to Canada and become a Hebrew school teacher.
I called Josh and spoke to him and Simon. Their trip to California was great – so great that Simon is moving permanently to San Francisco. In time, Josh will join him there.
Josh says that although everyone treats him great at his new job, he dislikes it there. “Other than that,” Josh told me, “absolutely nothing’s new.”
Sunday, July 19, 1981
1 AM. I don’t feel at all tired; rather, I feel quite exhilarated. It’s late on a Saturday night and there’s a full moon out.
My stay at VCCA, whatever work it’s produced, has been more than worth it.
These days will always seem special to me: dragging myself out of bed to get breakfast cooked by Sue, Julie Smart’s earthy young sister, the one woman here I truly would like to sleep with; getting back into bed and listening to music for a couple of hours; writing letters and reading James’s biography and engaging in endless artistic talk; being found attractive by so many women; driving into Amherst for a treat; dinner conversations and walks in the moonlight.
For once I feel at peace.
Yesterday afternoon Diane was very upset, so I suggested we drive into town, where I bought her ice cream.
Later Cathy told me that Diane had come to her room last night in tears because I’d been upset with her. If Cathy can see good in Diane, then so can I. Her manner is abrasive and obnoxious, but it covers up a great unhappiness and insecurity.
Diane’s poetry is good. Anyway, I was less brusque than usual with her tonight. Privately, Lou told me how Diane bragged to her that I’d bought her ice cream.
Tonight’s dinner was a barbecue, and I ate inside with Sookie. Alison showed me and Peter her cow painting; her style is primitive but extremely powerful.
The new arrival, Abby Goell, took up most of my evening. She’s a very sophisticated painter who makes her living as an appraiser and art publisher.
The daughter of a wealthy Palm Beach pediatrician, Abby is blonde, “handsome,” and divorced with a “brilliant, gorgeous” 21-year-old son who just straightened himself out and finished his first year at Skidmore.
Abby is obviously High Society: East Hampton, Bendel’s, Educated Abroad, Well-Bred. I felt her talk – and she did go on – was a primer on a new world to me. Not that I’m Henry James and have social ambitions, but I think it’s important for me to know all kinds of people.
She told good stories about friends like Judith Krantz (“a very well-educated girl . . . she has what Jews call chutzpah. Years ago she told me, ‘I like to read novels about rich people’”) and Lois Gould (“a terrible writer . . . I was a good friend of her poor first husband . . . I didn’t enjoy being a character in Such Good Friends . . . I think she and her husband are gay”) and Anaïs Nin.
I actually would have preferred to go the movies with Diane, Sookie and Susan – especially with Susan – but I was so wrapped up in Abby’s talk that I couldn’t leave.
Cathy and Travis drove up after spending an ecstatic getaway weekend in Charlottesville. Travis is every bit as nice in that gracious Southern way as his wife; there’s no pretense to either of them.
Lou Jones is the moral center of the colony right now, and I think she respects me, for we’re always exchanging glances whenever Alison or Sookie or Diane says something outrageous. (Alison, by the way, isn’t Irish; Susan told me she has a “Tidewater” accent that makes her pronounce house as “hoose.”)
Because of the Canadian postal strike, I haven’t been able to get my letters to Crad Kilodney, so I phoned him. In one month, he’s sold 400 copies of Human Secrets: an incredible start.
He’s so happy with his success, and he’s working hard, standing on Bloor Street six days a week wearing a sign that says EXTREMELY UNPOPULAR WRITER – BUY MY BOOK.
Crad discovered that the book editor of the Globe and Mail hates him (envy) and won’t review his books, so he’s thinking of withdrawing the manuscript that’s at Virgo Press and self-publishing it as several books.
Tuesday, July 21, 1981
4 PM. I feel better than I did yesterday. For the third night in a row I slept like a log. The difference today was that I did not snooze the morning away.
I went over to the office to see Peggy to make arrangements for our drive to Washington on Thursday afternoon. I’d better call Kevin to find out if I can stay with him on Thursday night.
If I can’t, I’ll spend my $100 in traveler’s checks on a hotel room. Though I’ve been traveling about for months, I haven’t enjoyed a night in a hotel room since Dad and I stayed at the New York Sheraton in January.
Marc took Grandpa Herb to the doctor today, and I want to call and find out how he is.
This morning I went into town with Debra Flood, the VCCA bookkeeper; Abby went along, and we picked up Sterling at the service station.
Abby has announced a birthday party in her honor on Thursday evening, and she’s even giving the “Goell Memorial Prize” for the best occasional poem. She talks nonstop in that New York Rich way of hers, and it’s plain that Sterling (and others) detest her.
Although Abby is pretentious, I find her amusing. One of the reasons I’m not sorry I came to VCCA is that I’ve met a lot of nice people here. Even Peter surprised me the other day by affectionately calling out “Reesh-ard” in a French accent when I approached.
The best friends I’ve made her are Susan (with whom I have much in common), Cathy (today we spent a lovely afternoon at Sweet Briar College, going to the bookstore, the library, and the restaurant there), and Sybil, whom I’ll definitely see again in Brooklyn.
Diane likes me, and although she can be fun, she’s too demanding a neurotic to be close friends with. I love Sookie – tomorrow night the two of us are giving a reading – but she’s a little flaky.
The others are all pleasant, and while I especially love Lou Jones, it’s unlikely we’ll see each other again. I do feel at home here at VCCA, but I’ll be glad to go back to Florida and get on with my life.
If I hadn’t come here, the last month might have been very unpleasant. Being in Virginia probably made me less nervous about the move to New Orleans – in four weeks I’ll be there for good – and about my adjustment to a new place.
In a little more than three days, I’ll be back in Davie. What will I do there?
Well, first I’ll probably feel disappointed when I don’t get a grant from the Florida Fine Arts Council and when I don’t win the Tropic short story contest. (I fantasize about this way too much.)
In Florida, I have to fill out all those forms from New Orleans and see a doctor for a checkup. I need to look through all the stuff in the mini-warehouse and take what I need. (Perhaps I’ll find some goodies I’ve overlooked all this year.)
I have to get a haircut and visit Grandma Sylvia and Grandpa Nat and the Littmans. I need to buy new sneakers. I have to send out manuscripts to a couple of places. If I have time, I’ll start retyping A Version of Life. I’ll visit the malls and eat hamburgers out and exercise and read the papers and go to libraries and sit by the pool.
And I’ll probably feel very sad and very anxious and very unhappy. The first 200 days of this year have been gravy; now come the difficult times.
I only hope that New Orleans isn’t as unbearably humid as everyone say it is and that I adjust to life there as quickly as possible.
Wednesday, July 22, 1981
1 PM. Tonight is my last night at VCCA. As anxious as I am to get on with the rest of my life, I’ll miss this place and the friends I made here. Sookie and I are reading tonight; this morning the two of us went into town and bought beer and wine for our audience.
Sookie is such a live wire; at lunch today she had everyone doubling up with laughter as she described her outing last night with Cathy and Diane to a bar in Lynchburg.
Diane accused Sookie of stealing a guy who was interested in her, and there was much speculation about Cathy and the guy who drove her home at 4 AM.
But Sookie’s biggest laughs came when she described her OTOs (one time onlys), LCFs (limited country fucks), ABFs (average bourgeois fucks), and other initialisms.
Although she’s a born storyteller with a funny, footloose attitude, I suspect that deep down, Sookie has a little sadness to her. In any case, she’s as refreshing as air conditioning.
Last evening after dinner, I got a little annoyed when she, Cathy and Diane started teasing me again about how they all want to sleep with me.
Even if I weren’t gay, I think the worst thing I could have done is to sleep with one of them. In the long run, it would have been upsetting to everybody.
Anyway, they’ve all pretty much realized that I’m more attracted to men – although I don’t think I would have slept with a male colonist here, either.
Last night I again slept (by myself) deliciously; I can’t believe how refreshed I’ve felt today.
This morning I got a letter from Brooklyn College telling me how I can get my transcript sent to New Orleans.
Just half an hour ago, I answered the phone and it was for me, as my instinct had told me it was. Mom called to say that she’d just gotten a call from a professor at LSU in Baton Rouge asking if I was still interested in the creative writing job in the English Department there.
(Later, Susan Ludvigson told me she’d spoken to the chairman, Gale Carruthers, a few weeks ago and told him she wasn’t interested in giving up her tenure-track job at Winthrop.)
I tried to phone the LSU professor, but he wasn’t in, so I’ll try later.
Mom also told me I’d gotten a letter from Helmut in Germany and that I had three poems accepted by a magazine in Miramar. The editor, Betty Owen, wrote that the whole county is talking about me and she would like to meet me.
Great! Whatever happens, I’ve got a good feeling about the future.
Last night I phoned Kevin and he said I could come and stay over on Thursday night; I’ll take a cab from the airport. I think things may work out after all.
Thursday, July 23, 1981
9 AM. I’m in bed now feeling a little queasy. I’m scared to leave VCCA, especially after last night, which was my best night here. I feel I’m surrounded by supportive, loving friends here and that I’m returning to a hostile or indifferent world.
At 4 PM yesterday I called LSU: they want me to come for an interview around August 10. So I’ll go when I move to New Orleans.
The LSU job pays $17,000 for nine months. I probably won’t get it, but the possibility is enough to give me hope and fear.
I took a long walk down the mountain to try to straighten things out in my mind. What is it that I want out of life? I’d prefer to stay in Florida, but is that only because it’s the easy way out?
Over by the swimming pool, I chatted with Cathy, Sookie, Susan Ludvigson and Abby, who said that at the end of his life, Henry James told Edith Wharton he had made a mistake in becoming a wandering expatriate.
I came to no conclusions about my life but did enjoy the moral support.
After I had dinner with Lou and a few others in the smaller dining room, Sookie and I rehearsed a little and I took a shower and a sinus pill and then dressed in my pink preppie shirt and jeans.
Around 8 PM, the best time of day here, it cooled off. Everyone in the colony came to our reading: all the fellows, some of the people from the kitchen, and Greg, a slim, pretty guy Diane had met in the bar the night before.
I started off with “Ordinary Man” because Cathy had asked me to read it; the laughs I got surprised me. Then I read “On the Boardwalk,” which was received with polite applause.
As Sookie read from her novella, I laughed and looked around at the faces of everyone: Peter, Sheba, Alison, Sally, and the rest. These people are so beautiful, I thought, and I remembered having the same thought my last night at MacDowell last year.
When I read “A Thousand Other Worlds” in a deadpan manner, I brought the house down. You can’t imagine what a tonic it is to hear laughter and applause: I felt smarter, stronger, better-looking. It’s almost a narcotic.
Sookie finished up with another section which I could tell didn’t go over as well as my stuff. Her work is autobiographical and charming, but my work is more sophisticated.
After we went outside, I received praise from everyone and people expressed sorrow at my departure. I hadn’t felt this way since my farewell party at Teresa’s apartment in January.
Cathy kept hugging me. She said I don’t have to worry about being lonely wherever I go because I’m the kind of person people will always love. Why is that? I’m rather a cold fish, the only non-drinker wherever I go, not especially handsome or witty (except maybe on paper).
Diane’s friend Greg suggested that they take me out to a pizzeria in Madison Heights, and he took me, Diane and Cathy in his car, and Alan, Sookie, and Susan Ludvigson followed us.
We smoked hash on the drive down and then enjoyed a magical meal. I sat across from Greg, and I felt attracted to him and glad he liked my work; despite his accent, he’s sophisticated and fun. (He said his father was a good friend of Truman Capote’s.)
With everyone there, through our funny, intimate talk, I kept thinking of the line Tennyson wrote: “I am a part of all I met.”
Cathy told me I have “a heart too soon made glad,” and she and Diane and Sookie kept hugging and kissing me. I hadn’t felt such physical contact in a long time.
Returning to VCCA, we all went back to my studio and called for Susan Mernit. Now I see that she really liked me.
When Sookie started depressing us all with her routine about being 36 and not ever being married, I tried to argue her out of it, but it was silly of me. I agreed with Alan, who said sex is not important, but how can I deny the pain Sookie feels?
It’s true, I admitted, that I am afraid of relationships and have run away from sexual involvement with others. Susan said that coming here and seeing all these divorced women makes her appreciate Spencer and her marriage.
“I thought about having an affair here if I met someone terrific,” Susan said.
“You did,” I said, smiling.
“But he wasn’t interested.”
“And aren’t you glad he wasn’t,” I said.
They all left, finally, at 2 AM. I barely slept, but I had one dream in which I was on plane taking off and reassuring a nervous fellow passenger.
Now I’m nervous myself: it seems a long way to Washington and then to Florida, and even longer to Louisiana.
I called Ellen to say goodbye and to thank her for my weekend in Charlottesville; I’ll see her and Wade in Florida at Christmas.
Well, I’d better start getting ready to leave here. Looking back, I know how much I’ve experienced here in Virginia and I see the last four weeks as a very special time in my life.