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

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Tuesday, September 21, 1982

4 PM. After my spaghetti dinner last night, I drove out to the post office to see if I’d gotten any more mail. There was just the Village Voice, but I enjoyed reading it.

I went to Bodyworks, but I find it’s too crowded at night for me to exercise well. Back at home by 8 PM. I showered, got into bed, and read until about midnight.

One of the saddest things about teaching at BCC is that it’s so obvious that none of the students read enough . . . but I just wrote this same complaint on Sunday, and I fear I’m turning into a crank.

Even reading back issues of P’an Ku convinces me that even the students who write poetry or fiction haven’t read their basics.

I remember how voraciously I read all through public school, junior high, high school and college – how my room was filled with hundreds of paperbacks – how my ideal birthday present was $20 to spend at the Bookworm, next to the church at Church and Flatbush.

I suppose it should make me feel relieved to know that while I’m far from being a talented writer, there are so few who can match even my small grasp of what it means to be a writer.

Obviously, I’m no intellectual – but in today’s junk culture, I can look like one by comparison.

Today’s English Department meeting was cancelled due to Dr. Grasso’s stomach virus; Lisa and Dave were also sick, so I guess it’s going around. Well, I can’t worry about catching a virus – if I do, I do.

Aside from sinus problems, I’ve felt pretty good lately, and I’ve been trying to take care of myself.

I stopped by Mom’s to say hello and make an attempt to defuse the tension between me and my parents; I’ve got to get along better with them. Their cable gets WOR/Channel 9, and watching the New York City news reminded me of how much I miss the place. How I wish I could be back in New York for the start of autumn.

The back issue of the Chicago Sun-Times arrived, and it contained Bob Herguth’s Public Eye column with the headline, “His Answer to Reaganomics? It’s Hart-Byrne”:

Mayor Jane Byrne is on the Hart-Byrne White House ticket for 1984, like it or not. Richard Grayson, who teaches English at Florida’s Broward Community College, tells Jane he registered the [Gary] Hart-Byrne combo with the Federal Election Commission. . .

Grayson is fun-loving and pun-loving. He claims:

 ‘Hart-Byrne spells relief from Reaganomics’

 ‘[They] have the stomach to do battle with the Republicans.’

 ‘Hart/Byrne can cut gas consumption’

 ‘They’ll give the GOP ulcers.’

 ‘I’m convinced they’ll pass the acid test. Of course, the party needs time to digest the idea.’

Ah, finally, another of my ideas becomes part of the public record in a newspaper. I can’t help being proud of myself for being able to get all this stuff in print. I just wish I knew how I could get paid for it.

Well, better get to the English 100 paragraphs – what I do get paid for.

*

9 PM. Finished with my marking. Tomorrow’s my “long” day and I’m about ready for bed.

I’ve been trying to work out my finances, and all I can figure out is that if I’m lucky, by the end of the academic year, I should have saved up – nothing. But at least I’ll be out of debt.

It’s crazy the way one’s cost of living rises to meet one’s income. Poverty – or fear of it, anyway – just may keep me at BCC (shudder) one more year after this.

Well, I better resign myself to this unless I’m romantic enough to try to live in poverty as a writer. We’ll see how romantic I am.


Thursday, September 23, 1982

4 PM. A real storm is brewing on this first day of autumn. I just took out the garbage and reveled in the cool, windy darkness and the lightning and thunder.

I opened my windows for the first time in months. I feel, all of a sudden, awed by life and its sad beauty. Banal?

“Everything beautiful is sad,” said Anthony Quinn to Jacqueline Bisset in The Greek Tycoon, a particularly banal movie. But it’s true: the transitory nature of life causes life’s beauty.

Wallace Stevens was more poetic: “Death is the mother of beauty.”

Grandpa Herb told Mom, “I’m getting ready to go.” He is, I know, and it’s awful but somehow it also seems right. Is it terrible to say that?

Yesterday, blow-drying my hair for a change, I realized how my hairline is receding. So I guess I’m starting to get ready to go myself – at least I’m beginning to think about a trip I hope I don’t have to make for several more years.

My creative writing class went well last night, but I felt exhausted when I got home. I turned on Dynasty and fell asleep, but it was a restless night.

At 10 AM today, I went to Bodyworks. Even though I had the place all to myself and I didn’t have to rush, I got through all my exercises and then felt terribly nauseated and faint.

I supposed that means I’m getting an intense workout, but it felt very unpleasant; I thought I would pass out or throw up while I was driving home.

But once in my big bed with the dark-blue and orange sheets I love so much, I felt better; I showered and went to BCC, where there was little for me to do.

Actually, I have about 25 papers to mark, but I plan to work tomorrow while my classes are writing and while I have office hours.

I felt I needed today as an escape from my job. I went to the Broward Mall for lunch and read the New York Post (today’s the primary in New York) while eating Cozzoli’s pizza for the first time in weeks.

Pizza, like hamburgers, no longer tastes very good to me. I’ve been eating lo-cal pasta every night and I think I’m losing weight; I no longer have such an enormous appetite, especially after I work out.

– I just had to close the windows because of the howling winds and furious rain; I’m sure there’s a tornado somewhere around here.

Saul Cohen wrote me at last. He’s been unable to interest any publisher in my books – either the diary book or the story collection; therefore, he’s resigning the account and is sending back my material.

The 200 info packets he sent out elicited not a single bite and the manuscripts themselves were turned down by Godine, FSG, Workman, Holt, etc., etc.

I’m disappointed, of course, but I’m not surprised. The commercial publishers don’t need me, and I’ve given up the idea that I need them.

Lucky for me I’m smart enough to have gone ahead with Eating at Arby’s and the Zephyr Press book. I feel worse for Saul, who probably put in a lot of time and effort into trying to sell my work.

Now I’m sure I have nothing to offer New York. Is it because I’m a poor writer? Perhaps, but I doubt it – plenty of poor writers succeed with big publishers. It’s simply that my work is not for them.


Saturday, September 25, 1982

7 PM. Last evening Teresa called. As I had expected, she was delighted with Cuomo’s upset victory, taking it as a personal triumph.

Teresa and her friends went to Cuomo headquarters on primary night, and she said it was an incredibly happy and surprised scene.

Maria Cuomo reminded Teresa of her promise to quit her job to work for her father if he won this primary, and Teresa plans to live up to it. Next week she’ll have lunch with Maria and see what there is for her to do in the general election campaign for governor.

After months of being sidelined, Teresa’s ready to go: she sounded more ebullient than ever.

Of course, she was thrilled to see Frank get his comeuppance with Koch’s defeat, but Teresa said now that she’s had her revenge, her hostility toward Koch is gone.

She realizes she should make up with Frank now. He was her boss, after all, and she can’t live in fear about what kind of recommendation or non-recommendation he’ll give for her.

Since she’d lose her job at the Attorney General’s office after Election Day anyway, Teresa figures she doesn’t have much to lose by leaving a month earlier to work for Mario.

The only thing annoying her is that Sharon is riding high with Cuomo’s win. But Teresa hopes she can get around Sharon (and Denny Farrell) during the general election campaign by going through the Cuomo family.

I got a call from Evelyn Aronston, the talent agent, who wanted to know how Wynmoor Village went; I told her I thought it came off rather well.

Mrs. Aronston said that she’d just returned to Florida, and while stopping over in Chicago, she read of my Hart-Byrne campaign in Tuesday’s Chicago Tribune. Neat-o! So it made that paper, too. Evelyn said she’ll keep me in mind for engagements this fall and winter.

I slept restlessly, dreaming of a weird mixture-city – New York and Florida – and of getting lots of mail. Since I’ve gotten the post office box, it seems I rarely get any mail. Some days I get nothing at all; all this week, I haven’t gotten more than two pieces of mail each day.

My car stalled several times on the way to BCC but I made it there okay. My class went well – it’s getting smaller – as we moved rather quickly through You Can Write. I really don’t mind teaching on Saturdays, but I miss lying in bed and listening to jazz till noon.

I went to the health club this afternoon; although I wish I could lose some fat, I know that will require self-discipline in my diet rather than just exercise. Oh well, at least I didn’t get nauseated today.

I called Josh, who was on his way to distribute free copies of Grinning Idiot at a small press fair in the Jefferson Market library.

His porno story, “Moonie Over Miami,” is out in this month’s Fling. Unfortunately, the magazine’s editors butchered it – “and do you know how embarrassing it is to stand at the newsstand at the St. George and flip through a porno mag looking for your story?”

But these days Josh does more writing than I do; he’s completed a 70-page detective story on his word processor.

He told me of a visit to his parents’ which totally depressed him. His father told Josh that he, Josh, has never looked as good as he did in his bar mitzvah photograph.

Simon is coming into New York in December, Josh said. Other than that, there’s not much news: he hates his job (as usual) and feels as though he hasn’t “grown up” yet. It’s just our baby-boom situation, I told him; we all feel that way.


Monday, September 27, 1982

3 PM. Yom Kippur. It’s another dark (delightful) afternoon, and I’ve just returned from Bodyworks.

I’m lucky I didn’t injure myself on any of the Nautilus machines, for I’ve been so accident-prone all day: I’ve spilled orange juice and milk and broken an expensive bottle of Aramis cologne that I’d bought Sean for his birthday.

Part of it was simply “haste makes waste,” the old Type A behavior I inherited from the Ginsbergs and which will someday cause me to have a stroke or heart attack.

Last night I dreamed well – the finest dream was the last, where I ended up eating carrot cake at Brownie’s Restaurant on Fifth Avenue and watching the snow fall.

Pete’s concern about his future, expressed in our phone conversation yesterday – which is very unlike him – has spurred me (again) to think of what I’m going to do about my own future.

In the next month or so, I’ll be disappointed to learn that I haven’t received an NEA fellowship and then I’ll have no more fantasies left, only reality to deal with.

I love pretending I’ve got that $12,500, but I have to work with “worst-case scenarios” in order to survive. One thing is certain: I’m not going to be “rescued” by any miracle. There’ll be no big book sale or breakthrough in my career.

Instead, I’m going to have to settle for little breakthroughs that will hopefully add up: the Winthrop College Writer’s Conference (today I got my letter of confirmation from their dean), Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog being made a Small Press Book Club selection, and the little quote I saw today in Publishers Weekly in Ed Hogan’s contributor’s note to his article: it said he was “publisher of Zephyr Press, whose next book will be I Brake for Delmore Schwartz, stories by Richard Grayson.”

Anyway, I have to be my own rescuer, as usual. It appears that by next August, I will have paid all my debts but not have put any money away to last me more than the month – and that’s if I’m lucky.

What then? Do I return to BCC for another year? Imagine how unhappy I’ll be a year from now if I’m still at BCC. Of course, with unemployment running at 10%, I’m damned lucky to have the job. Who knows what kind of recovery or depression we’ll have by next summer?

Since 1974, when I started the MFA program and my writing career, we’ve never really seen good economic times. The 1974-75 recession was bad, and I never managed to do very well.

This will be the first year I ever earned more than $10,000. Obviously, I’m not going to be able to count on my parents for help. When I went over there this morning and saw Dad, I realized again how depressing being with him is.

He has the same hangdog looks he had when he was unemployed in New York. Even his one “good” year hasn’t helped him financially or emotionally.

Dad is very negative; I hate the look he gave me when I mentioned I had to go to the bank. I hate him for making me feel I had to explain how much money I was taking out and how much money I had in my account (of course I lied).

He feels guilty about not being “a good provider,” as if he were responsible not only for the recession but for the expenses of his grown children.

He’s much too embarrassed to even mention the fact that he owes me money; it’s always been Mom who’s taken care of the details of my loans.

Well, I suppose Dad never had to lend his parents money; at my age, he was probably still borrowing from them.

Anyway, I can’t stand to be with my family these days. When Dad asked if I were “coming tonight,” I had no idea what he meant. Apparently the Littmans are having a post-Yom Kippur feast to which we’re all invited. That’s the last place I want to be.

With the rest of my mail, I had a letter from Sean, who’s more a part of my life than my family members are. Sean is a kid of 18 (next week) and his letters read like it – but he’s so darned affectionate. Always he writes “Be happy” and signs off, “Love always, Sean.”

Maybe it’s because Sean misses the love of a father; anyway, I feel a bit like Sean’s father – or at least like an older brother who’s raised him. (For my own brothers, sad to say, I can feel little.)

Sean got 96 on his first physics test (I can shout “yay” with him); had a fight with Jeff, who left Gainesville in the middle of his visit; had an accident with his bike (minor, but the bike needs repairs); and is way behind in his reading for school.

Anyway, back to my life: I compare myself with Edmund White, interviewed in the latest PW. He couldn’t get Forgetting Elena, his first novel, published until he was 33.

Although I’ve always admired White for being an up-front gay, he had a long time accepting it and was even engaged to be married in his late 20s.

His next novel was rejected and never published, and even Nocturnes for the King of Naples went to 11 houses before St. Martin’s bought it. White co-authored The Joy of Gay Sex and did the readable gay nonfiction book States of Desire.

White’s new book, A Boy’s Own Story, sounds great. (I’ve read portions of it in magazines.)

Anyway, White says he’s a literary fiction writer, not a popular one, and that he’s made the choice and doesn’t feel superior about it.

He has two jobs, at NYU and Columbia, and says, “I write lots of articles. I know I’ll be doing this, and I know that I’ll never make a living from my writing, but that’s fine. It’s enough to be published. I don’t know why people complain so much. I’ve been fortunate in having older friends who are much more famous than I’ll ever be, and the valuable thing is that one can see that even the famous don’t necessarily have lovers, and they don’t even have enough money to live on. In this country, it’s possible to be an extremely well-known writer and still be completely broke. But what fame does ensure is a chance to be published, and people will pay attention. . . To me, that’s enough.”

It’s got to be enough for me, too. I thought I had adjusted to never being well-off financially, but this ingrained middle-class sensibility just won’t quit.

While I read a great deal and take furious notes – just as I did in the old days – I haven’t written a story in ages.

As Robert Jay Lifton points out, while artists have always felt there was meaning in the knowledge that their art would survive and “live on” after they were dead, there doesn’t seem any certainty in that in a post-nuclear age.

Indeed, if you add in the factors dealing with publishing, there is very little chance that anyone will remember me a dozen years after I die. So why should I write?

Well, why have I written these daily diary entries for 13 years, since I was Sean’s age in the summer of 1969? Because I’m a writer, so I write. A tautology, but it will have to do for now.


Tuesday, September 28, 1982

6 PM. I feel I must record what, to me, has been the best day in a long, long while. Everything that happened today was hopeful and puts me in a good frame of mind about my future.

Last night I realized that I should write to the local and national businesses mentioned in Eating at Arby’s: not only Arby’s, but the Broward Mall, the various stores, the Rascal House, the Marlin Beach Hotel, etc., and see if there’s any publicity value in that.

I decided to set a pub date of December 15, which will give me a lot of lead time and also let me take advantage of my Christmas vacation.

This morning, there was, for the second day in a row, a big stack of mail in my P.O. box: Darlyn Brewer finally sent the copies of Coda with a nice note; I got applications for Hoyns Fellowships at UVA and a Neiman-Marcus charge card.

There was a call notice for a parcel which had the return zip 80012: Colorado. On line, I realized that I’d be getting my first copies of Eating at Arby’s.

In the lobby of the post office, I opened the jiffy bag and there they were: two bright pink books. My book. The thrill was as big as when I first saw Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog in January, or Disjointed Fictions last year, or when Wes showed me the first copy of With Hitler in New York in May of 1979.

I still haven’t allowed myself the full pleasure of kvelling over my book; I want to save that savoring for later.

At school, I showed it only to Lisa. I worked hard for several hours, marking the papers I couldn’t face all weekend, and I took over Patrick’s 11 AM class (he was ill last week and didn’t look well – I hope he’s okay).

John told me he saw an ad in the Chronicle of Higher Ed for a job as Director of Creative Writing at UF in Gainesville; I found the ad in the library, wrote a cover letter and mailed it out with my in résumé. If only. . . I know I won’t get it, but there’s always that chance: there’s hope.

The chairman of Barry University’s English Department asked if I wanted to teach a comp course Thursday nights at Nova High. I thought about it, it, lusted after the extra money, and then decided I don’t need to kill myself and said no.

At our department meeting, Dr. Grasso mentioned there’s local pressure to put on media writing courses because there’s a great need for TV and radio scriptwriters down here. More possibilities.

The only sour note all day was from Mom: Fredo called on Sunday, trying to extort money from Dad. I told her to call the FBI, but she and Dad are scared – they haven’t told Marc about the call, fearing it would upset him – and don’t know what to do. Oy vey.

At the library I read the Harper’s cover story on Dan Bradley, former head of Legal Services, who came out of the closet.

Odd how I never experienced so much of what he did. I never sought furtive, anonymous sex – with me, it was going to be love, or nothing (and it turned out to be love). I did enjoy going to bed with women and never used them to hide my sexual identity. And I never felt Bradley’s obsessive paranoia and depressions.

My gayness will be “out” very soon – completely – when I explain to people who the Sean of the “To Sean” dedication in Arby’s is.

And, unlike Bradley, I never ever denied that I was gay. Even at BCC, it’s come to the point where I just don’t care what people think.

Today I like myself a lot. TC mark

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