Thought Catalog

A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Early September, 1982

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Wednesday, September 1, 1982

4 PM. I’ve just come out of the shower after returning from the health club. My lenses are in the machine. I’m naked, lying on fresh sheets, Brahms is on the radio, and I feel surprisingly good.

Workouts make me feel better mentally, even if I’m not developing gorgeous peaks on my biceps or huge, defined pecs. So at the very worst it’s good for my head – not a bad bargain.

Most health clubs make their profits because members soon lose interest and stop coming, but I intend to use my membership as much as I can.

In a couple of weeks, when I feel I’m doing okay on the machines (there are still some on which I just can’t seem to increase the number of reps), I’m going to start attending the waist classes.

Like Jonathan, I tend to be fairly compulsive. I didn’t waste my free time yesterday, either: I did stomach exercises and read most of a couple of books.

Jerome Charyn’s The Catfish Man begins as a delightful memoir of bodybuilders in the Crotona Park section of the Bronx and slowly metamorphoses into “a conjured life,” a tricky and resonant nutty narrative. Charyn is an admirable writer; I’ve long admired his amazing prolificacy.

I also began Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler, a tour de force about novel-writing that includes some narrative tricks I’ve tried; I was pleased to see that the start of the novel resembled the beginnings of “Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog.” (Patrick’s wife read that story last night and said, “This guy must be crazy.” I take that as a compliment.)

I slept well with great dreams and was raring to go this morning; it’s amazing how badly I slept the first half of August and how well I slept in the latter half of the month.

My morning English 100 classes went well, though I’ve got to get a new classroom for the 10 AM class. There are 31 people (too many – and that’s also my roster in the 9 AM class) in a room which has 24 chairs. Dr. Pawlowski said I could move to room 202 in building 9, the business administration building.

During my break, Dave Sadlik talked my ear off. (The man is a nice guy but very stupid; he’s a fine inheritor of the office of Jim McMillan, who the other day asked if I had seen “the Commies” on campus protesting Reaganomics.)

I went upstairs to visit Lisa, who has a lovely office, quietly away from everyone. She enjoys her classes except for some wise guy students at 10 AM, and she feels settled into a routine.

Tomorrow night she flies to New York. On Friday in Brooklyn, she’s having a party to celebrate her getting the job at BCC (and to rope people into helping her move); it’s just too bad she’ll miss Pete, who’ll be here in Florida for the weekend.

My 1 PM class is wonderful; I couldn’t believe it when I looked at my watch and there it was, time to dismiss them. Many old students have dropped by to say hello these past few days.

My mail today: Publishers Weekly and a response from my query letter. Although they don’t promise anything, Little, Brown would like to see the manuscript for Pac-Man Ate My Cat.

I wish Coda would come out already. I need to see myself in print.


Thursday, September 2, 1982

7:30 PM. I’ve just returned from dinner with Pete. His company and a gorgeous sunset have made me feel better.

Today was a crummy day. Not that any major catastrophe has occurred, but it’s been a number of little things: heavy traffic, a bad sore throat and sinus headache (I’m out of Drixoral), pimples breaking out on my face, and some minor annoyances too petty to talk about.

Above all is the continual feeling that Dr. Grasso has changed her attitude toward me. I cringe inside when I pass her door now, always expecting to hear something else that I’ve done wrong.

I was in school today from 9:30 AM until 11 AM, and I did all my work and went home. At noon, Dr. Grasso called me at home, wondering why I’d allowed two more people into last night’s crowded (18+) creative writing course. She didn’t say anything, but I felt guilty for not being at work.

Shit. But maybe it’s my problem, as Pete says: I worry too much what others think. Dr. Grasso can be a nice lady, but she can also be single-minded and narrow-minded. Maybe it’s to my credit that I’m getting out of her favor.

Well, now I definitely don’t want to apply for the permanent job; I don’t want to subject myself to the humiliations of the hiring process. Damn it, I don’t have to prove that I’m good enough for them.

Last night, in my creative writing workshop, I was as good a teacher and as sharp a critic as any creative writing teacher I ever had. I helped those students and I kept them interested and I was so interested in their work that it did not seem a burden to keep them until 9:30 PM.

Look: I don’t have to worry about being fired, so what else am I worried about? I’m a temporary employee and will be gone after the summer. Probably I’d feel better now if everyone knew I wasn’t going to try to stay on; perhaps I can spread the word discreetly.

Pete’s visit raised my spirits. He’s always been so sure of himself; he doesn’t let anyone else define him. Pete doesn’t worry, as I do, that I’m not as diligent or disciplined as the other writers at VCCA or anywhere else.

Nor does he consider what he does for a living – his day job – as his life. He says that I take these things too seriously.

Well, I can never be Pete, but I too can take a more relaxed attitude. I guess what I need is a book or story or article to come out and remind me that I’m more than just a community college English Department drudge.

I find I’m starting to feel that there’s no way out again. My parents and brothers are almost back to where they were in Brooklyn four and five years ago. No money – or little money – is coming in.

Granted, some things have changed, but how can I help them if I have trouble making my own ends meet? I know, I know: Pete would say it isn’t my responsibility to make my parents, grandparents, or brothers financially and emotionally secure.

What the fuck am I talking about? What bothers me is that I now am positive I can no longer call upon my family to support me – either emotionally or financially. And so I fantasize about moving to the next place – to Washington or San Francisco.

Years ago, when I could never imagine leaving Brooklyn, I didn’t have that option. But now, when I am in New York, I want to be in Virginia; in Virginia, I want to be in Florida; here, I want to be elsewhere.

Forget fear of flying – I almost think the only time I’m happy is on a plane between two unhappy places.


Friday, September 3, 1982

9 PM. With no school, I’ve got a long weekend coming up. I plan to spend it preparing for Monday night’s performance at Wynmoor Village, and also reading and grading papers, exercising, and seeing Pete at least once more.

Last night I got to sleep early and slept well: my last dream was a pleasant get-together with Vito by the skating rink at Rockefeller Center.

My classes went all right; I had the morning 100s write a paragraph, and today, in a new room and building, even the 10 AM class didn’t seem so bad. It’s only a few people who spoil it, like that crude homophobic Bennett guy.

There are other kids – quiet girls and boys, one sweet-faced guy who may or may not be gay – who are on my side.

Today I thought a lot about my gayness. In the mail I received a book I ordered, Reflections of a Rock Lobster by Aaron Fricke, the Rhode Island boy who took another boy to his senior prom.

The book is amazingly well-written and a very moving account of being a gay teenager. What Fricke went through – the taunts, the physical violence and intimidation – makes me feel like a moral coward in comparison.

Sean had mentioned that he read the book; I’m sure it gave him a feeling of pride.

Today Miriam asked me about “life without Sean.” She and Robert are back in New Jersey this weekend, meeting each other’s “siblings and parental units” prior to their wedding later this month.

Miriam is happy with Robert, with Zen, with San Francisco, with her poetry and massage work. Like Aaron Fricke’s friends, good people like Miriam will always be around for me.

I remembered Grandpa Herb telling me, on a Saturday night two years ago, when I was broke and terribly depressed and had driven to New York Hospital to seek his advice, that there will always be good people to help you wherever you go.

Sometimes I feel I’ve been selfish and career-oriented and have been a true member of the Me Generation, that I’ve done very little to help other people.

Injustice still makes my blood pressure skyrocket, whether it’s homophobia or sexism, racism or anti-Semitism or those unthinking Jews who refuse to understand that the Palestinians need a homeland, too. (I applaud Reagan’s speech against further Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.)

Maybe if I went to Washington, I could do something – and without publicity, though I’m afraid I’m addicted by now. I get newsletters from the National Gay Task Force – the group that supported Fricke’s legal battle – and I feel I’d like to work for them to change things.

At BCC, my eyes are assaulted every day by dozens of gorgeous guys running around half-naked. Yes, I think of Sean and how much I love him, but I also think how nice it could be to be with some of these guys.

My gayness was evident early, but I had so many other problems that I had to deal with, I just pushed it aside for years. And though I consider myself gay, I must have bisexual tendencies, for my attraction to and love for Shelli, Ronna and Stacy was real.

I don’t regret not having come out sooner and I don’t regard my heterosexual life as a lie. I’m not just gay – this is trite – but also a Jew (that’s important to me, too), an American, a writer, a teacher. My identity is not based on any one thing.

Anyway, I always knew I’d come out when I had enough self-esteem and the esteem of others so that I wouldn’t have to endure what Aaron Fricke did. My students might call me a faggot but not to my face.

I’ve been in the papers and on TV, I’ve published books, won grants and fellowships – I’m not a teenager who can be dismissed as a mere fairy – not that I don’t know that people probably try to dismiss me as one.

I believe in Emerson’s theory of compensation, that somewhere every injustice is made right. We have a Holocaust but we never forget it, we have Israel; we love great literature and in the end there is no doubt as to the monstrous nature of the Final Solution.

Simplistic? Yes. It can’t bring six million Jews back, nor millions of gays, Catholics, Greeks, Armenians and gypsies and others. But I need to believe that wrongs are righted.

Sometimes it’s ironic. The Bush-Trask amendment stirred up hatred against gay people in Florida, but Senator Trask has resigned from the legislature in disgrace after a financial scandal, and on Tuesday, in my first Republican primary, this homosexual is going to have the pleasure of voting against Rep. Tom Bush for the State Senate.

Hopefully, his political career will be over. Tonight I heard even an ultra-right-wing talk-show host support Bush’s conservative opponent, saying Bush was “an ineffective one-issue candidate.”

Who knows? Maybe out of political office, Bush will think things through and realize the damage he’s done. It’s his God who works in mysterious ways.


Saturday, September 4, 1982

10 PM. I’ve just gotten off the phone with Sean. I still love him terribly (wonderfully).

He seems okay, all things considered. Registration was rough and he got closed out of most of the classes he wanted. He’s taking physics (very hard), biology (easy), religion, and  Contemporary Moral Issues.

He hasn’t made any real friends (“I’m a shy Libra”) but he does have a couple of gay friends from Fort Lauderdale; last night they went out to the one gay bar in town and he drank too much and got sick.

His nails are bitten down, but he likes living on his own in the trailer park. To get to the campus, Sean bicycles for about 25 minutes, and because of the heat, he’s been wearing shorts.

He seems to be doing an okay job of adjusting to what must be a very startling change. Sean misses home and his friends, including yours truly.

After about an hour – he called me collect from the local Majik Market – we finally hung up. My love for the guy is as strong as ever.

This morning I got letters from Stacy and Susan Mernit. Stacy’s was a short note about her work at the MTA; she was about to go into the hospital for laser surgery, but she didn’t mention the exact nature of the operation. I hope she’ll be okay.

Susan sent a typed, five-page letter all about Bread Loaf, which she hated (the hierarchy, the self-importance, the ass-kissing) and loved (the waiter/waitress camaraderie, the help she got from Hilma Wolitzer and Gail Godwin).

She had sharp characterizations of a number of people, from young writers like Grant Kornberg (“who mines the same vein as you, only not a bit as well”) to Stanley Elkin (“the king of Bread Loaf – a cranky genius”), John Gardner (“like sharks, he needs people in his light”), Judith Ortiz Cofer (“predatory . . . slinking around smiling at whatever male staff member was on her arm”) and others.

When I read the letter to Pete at the Galleria (we spent the afternoon driving around North Broward), he said that the kind of literary world Susan described was alien to him.

At Bread Loaf five years ago, I spent time with the people I liked and didn’t bother to make contacts, even though I was a Scholar. Perhaps I’m not the careerist I think I am.

By the way, Pete said that at the St. Mark’s Bookshop last week, he glanced at my “Report from Florida” in Coda; I wish I would get my copy already.

Selma phoned to say she’s started a book about her stroke and her life since then; I told her I’d help her with it. The book sounds like it could sell. Selma is a rare lady.


Tuesday, September 7, 1982

7 PM. No, I don’t take back what I wrote yesterday. I know I was a bit hysterical because of pre-performance jitters but that doesn’t take away from the validity of my feelings about life’s futility. I’ll go on to do my best, but always I’d prefer to be dead.

Adolescent? Probably. Maybe it’s that I feel angry these days, angry at the unfairness of life (even though life has, at times, been more than fair with me).

Perhaps others can discern my anger; last night Lisa had a nightmare in which I was holding people hostage in a typewriter store.

Pete called yesterday to tell me to break a leg and to say goodbye; he’s back in New York by now.

I wasn’t nervous last night at Wynmoor Village even though I appeared at a larger-than-expected theater and had 200 to 300 people in the audience. I rambled on, not being quite the lecturer, not quite the stand-up comic.

I’m finding my way. It wasn’t a fiasco, though I could tell that some people were bored and several walked out (“But in A Thousand Other Worlds,” didn’t go over well with an older crowd – they didn’t get the references).

I see myself as somewhere between Mark Twain, Emerson, Sam Levenson and Morty Gunty. I talked about my Davie campaign, the fan clubs for my grandparents, my teaching.

There was a senile couple in the first row who couldn’t understand a word I said.

When it was over, the applause came, people congratulated me, and I left in relief.

“Would you do it again?” Mom asked. Yes, if I got paid another $85; I need the money and the chance to work on a performance style and routine.

This morning I got a batch of mail: the VCCA newsletter and letters from Sean (“I was afraid you wouldn’t answer my letter,” he said – I can’t imagine why), Tom Whalen (The Current is going okay, Bill Harrison’s asked him to lecture at Arkansas, Greta’s leaving for Bennington, and at the beginning of the New Orleans school year, Tom’s teaching at NOCCA is not crazy yet), George Myers (who also sent his latest Patriot-News column), and Susan Schaeffer from Vermont.

Susan finished her new novel, which ruined her summer; it will be released in the spring. Now that Neil is department chairman at Brooklyn and she’s running the poetry MFA in “Ashbird’s” absence, they can’t move to Vermont permanently.

Susan liked Meg Wolitzer’s Sleepwalking and feels Meg already outshines Hilma, and she cautions me against writing too many “easy” books like Pac-Man (“I still remember The Peacock Room”).

At school, Patrick thanked me for the brief mention in the Coda article; I’ll probably be the last person in America to receive my copy.

I did some work – though I still have about fifteen more illiterate paragraphs to mark – and then I went to the health club to work out, voted in the GOP primary, bought food at Publix, and took my car in to be fixed after it stalled seven times on University Drive.

It’s too damn hot still – right now it’s 85° here and I’m disgusted with the heat. But then, I’m disgusted with myself and my life.

Labor Day up North means the start of the new year after summer, but here summer just drags on. Life drags on. I feel as though I’m doing fine going through the motions but that nothing real is going on.

This year is going to be a comedown for me, another 1979-80. Well, maybe I’ll learn me something.


Wednesday, September 8, 1982

11 PM. After a long day, I still feel the same way I did Monday night.

Last night I listened to the primary election results –the stupidity on the part of Florida voters amazes me – and I fell asleep at midnight.

Fearing that my car had not been properly fixed, I purposely left early for school after reading the paper. I walked my way through my 9 AM class and my horrible 10 AM class.

More interesting was that Patrick brought in his copy of Coda, with “Richard Grayson Reports from Florida,” a really nice one-page article with my photo.

It made me feel good to see it, and when Judy Cofer called to thank me for mentioning her, I felt doubly happy. We agreed to see each other at Debbie Grayson’s reading at Poetry in a Pub later this month; she feels she needs someone to talk to who would understand.

“At Bread Loaf, I felt I was among people who know what I was doing,” she said. I told Judy that Susan Mernit wrote that she was a good poet – but of course I left out Susan’s cattier comments about her.

I xeroxed the Coda article. What it does is give me legitimacy and put me on a level with Rudolfo Anaya, Tom Bertolino and others who’ve done Coda regional reports. I know it’s bullshit, but it’s the perception of it by others that’s important – just like the Times Book Review mentions.

Similarly, I’m sure people will take Tom Ahern, Harrison Fisher, and Diana’s Bimonthly Press more seriously now that they’ve been written up in Publisher Weekly’s issue on small presses.

I read the rest of the issue of Coda at work, and when I got home – after taking my 1 PM 101 class to the library lecture and after depositing my paycheck in the bank – I answered some “manuscripts wanted” ads and applied for a couple of listed academic jobs.

Susan Ludvigson called to ask if I would appear at Winthrop College’s Writing Conference that runs from November 11-13, Thursday through Saturday.

“The pay is bad,” Susan said – $500 – but at least I won’t be losing money and it will give me a chance to get away and to see Susan and Cathy and to practice being a creative writing teacher. (And also to be a ham).

I wrote Ed Hogan telling him not to schedule the book party for those days, and I sent Susan a bio note and a photo for the writing conference catalog.

I was again afraid I might have car trouble, so I left early and went to the post office where I mailed letters and got my mail, which was just a brief note from Josh, his reaction to the “I Brake for Delmore Schwartz” story: “Listen, pal, if that’s the worst anybody ever writes about me, it’ll be fine. But if you steal any more lines from me, I’ll kill you.”

I was driving up University when the car stopped dead. I managed to avoid getting collided into as I swerved to the side of the road. Unlike yesterday, when the car died four or five times, I was unable to start it up again.

Mom and Dad’s condo was about a mile down the road, so I started walking. I was halfway there when a guy stopped and asked, “Are you Richard?” Bless him, it was Sean’s friend Jeff, and he drove me to my parents’.

Jeff may be an “airhead,” as Sean says, but he’s got a good heart. He told me he was taking courses at BCC at night because his bank sends its employees without college credits there. He was finding the schoolwork difficult.

Jeff is planning to visit Sean in Gainesville this weekend and he asked me if I’d spoken to Sean lately.

At my parents’, Marc was home alone and said he’d drop me off at the Central Campus before heading to his computer class at South Campus.

I left a note for Mom and Dad, but they got home just as we were about to leave. They drove me to school and said they’d see if they could start up the car. Today had been the closing on Grandma Sylvia’s condo, and both of them seemed exhausted.

Once at BCC, all alone in Building 6, I felt calm and read over the pieces that were handed in to the creative writing class, making detailed comments on each of them.

I had a very good class; dammit, I know I’m a brilliant creative writing teacher – at least on an elementary level.

I’m terrific with critical comments; I can usually go right to the heart of a piece and I can also examine it meticulously, word for word. The class is wonderful too.

Dad picked me up and drove me back home to Sunrise. The car had started up right away and Mom will take it in tomorrow. That will mean I can’t get to BCC or to the gym: guess which troubles me more.

Actually, the two girls in my evening class told me that Dr. Grasso was really pissed at me for not being in my office last Thursday. Fuck her – I’m at the point where that’s how I feel.

I’ve got to let her know – probably through Pawlowski – that I don’t want to be back next year; maybe then she’ll go easier on me.

Right now I see the situation as similar to the one I had with Baumbach and Gelber on the Brooklyn College literature and publishing conference, and I don’t want to end up losing my cool and quitting or saying things that shouldn’t be said.

All I know is I dread going into that departmental office with Marilyn, Dr. Grasso, and the others there – and that shouldn’t be. When Dad came in to my office to drive me home, I explained how I felt to him.

Dad’s in a terrible way. The money that he’ll receive from the condo sale will get him through the rest of the year – but just barely. Although he made  $120,000 last year, in 1982 his income will be only a third of that.

He said he’s got to change his lifestyle; he doesn’t know where all his money goes. Perhaps he’ll be okay if he can just hold on till the economy rebounds. South Florida has got to bounce back faster than most places.

Right now he could never sell his house, but the area is a good one, and eventually the real estate prices will come back.

Dad says that his South American customers’ pesos are worthless now that the dollar is so strong; they can’t even afford the trip to Florida, much less buy clothing the way they did in 1980.

Many Miami customers are going bankrupt and closing their stores; Dad said that he’s glad, at least, that he’s not in business for himself.

“Reagan really fixed things badly,” he said. I marvel at most people’s patience with the bad economy. TC mark

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Poetry that will change you

This is for the women who are first to get naked, howl at the moon and jump into the sea. This is for the women who seek relentless joy; the ones who know how to laugh with their whole souls. The women who speak to strangers because they have no fear in their hearts. This is for the women who drink coffee at midnight and wine in the morning, and dare you to question it. This is for the women who throw down what they love, and don’t waste time following society’s pressures to exist behind a white picket fence. The women who create wildly, unbalanced, ferociously and in a blur at times. This — is for you.

“When Janne has a new poem written, I shut my life down to do nothing but read it, and then when I turn my life back on, everything is better.” — James Altucher

You’ve never read poetry like this before

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