Thursday, November 11, 1982
11:30 PM. I’m in my room at the Joynes Center at Winthrop College. This has been a long, hectic day.
Last night I slept well, and today I drove over to my parents’ house at 10 AM so Dad could take me to Miami Airport for my flight to Charlotte.
This was my twentieth flight in the last three years, so I’m no longer that phobic, but I still feel scared on takeoff. However, I enjoy looking out the window at snowy clouds once we’re up in the air.
As soon as I got off the plane in Charlotte, I heard myself being paged and told to come to the Information Desk, where one of Susan’s students was waiting to drive me to her condo downtown.
Peter Meinke was already there; he’d flown in from Tampa very early this morning. Susan hugged me, and it was good to see both her and Peter again.
We took a drive through Charlotte, which is a pleasant Southern town with some very beautiful old houses. This was my only chance to see autumn colors on the trees, and I was glad to be able to enjoy the russet and gold leaves. It was 65° today, brisk but not chilly.
Back at Susan’s house, Julie Suk and Stephen Policoff arrived separately.
Julie is a local poet, very much a Southern lady – she’s from Mobile originally – whose poems are surprisingly bold and sensuous.
Stephen’s a playwright from the Upper West Side who reminds me of Peter Filichia; Susan met him at VCCA in August. He’s very funny and smart in the New York manner.
We all went for drinks with a married couple, college students, at a bar, Tam’s Tavern, here in Rock Hill; then we were all invited, along with J.W. Rivers (Cathy’s friend, a poet who now lives in Greenville, N.C.), to have dinner at the home of Arla Holroyd and her elderly Norwegian mother.
The meal was all Scandinavian specialties – Swedish meatballs, pressed chicken, fruit soup, crumb cake – and I had a great time. People can be so nice and decent; being a writer has made me able to experience the good side of people more than the bad.
Then we came to the college and found the conference getting underway. Only about 30 or 40 people have registered, it seems.
I went to my room (as at VCCA, I share a bathroom – with Steve) just to put away my things; then we all went down to give our reading.
First, J.W. Rivers read some fine poems; next up was Julie Suk; then I read “But in a Thousand Other Worlds” and “Escape from the Planet of the Humans,” which went over well.
I was glad to sit down and relax and listen to the remaining writers: Stephen read a funny anti-nuke play; Lee Zacharias, a little aloof and very pregnant, read a terrific story, “Helping Muriel Make It Through The Night”; and finally, Peter did his usual great job with his wonderful poems, reading some of my old favorites.
Dan Wakefield, the banquet speaker, joined all of us for a wine and cheese party. I’m pretty shy, and fewer people than expected came up to talk with me, but I spoke with all who did.
Dan Wakefield and I discussed Tom McHale, Ivan Gold, Richard Yates, Agnes Nixon and Isaac Bashevis Singer.
It’s nice to feel like an equal of other writers, especially Dan, who is the epitome of a popular writer who is also literary; he is surprisingly nice, but I guess I should have expected that from the writer behind Starting Over, Going All the Way and James at 15.
I’m probably too tired to sleep very much, and I may get dizzy tonight; it’s also quite cool in the room. If this diary entry isn’t very clear, it’s because I feel pretty disoriented right now. I’m not a great traveler.
I’ve got to be up at about 7:30 AM, as my conferences start at 9 AM. The next two days will probably be a blur. But as of now, I’m certainly glad I came. If nothing else, it’s great to be away from Broward Community College.
Friday, November 12, 1982
5 PM. I’ve got a free hour – the first all day – before the cocktail party at the home of the college president. Then we have a dress-up banquet, at which Dan Wakefield will speak, and then a party afterwards at the home of that nice couple from the Drama Department.
I’m already exhausted, and I feel that Winthrop College is getting its money’s worth of work from me.
As I’d expected, I had a hard time getting to sleep, but once I did, I got about five hours of solid snoozing in. I’m grateful for the TV in my room, since watching the morning news shows seems to make me feel less disoriented when I’m in a strange place.
I showered and shaved after Steve finished and then met the others in the lobby downstairs. Eight of us – Susan, Dan, Peter, Lee, Steve, J.W. and Julie – all walked to a local restaurant for a neat breakfast.
On the way, we stopped to look at the campus’s historic Little Chapel. I went inside for a minute, noticing a plaque saying that Woodrow Wilson had “accepted and confessed Christ” there in the 1870s.
On our walk and at breakfast, I enjoyed the camaraderie of smart and talented writers: it’s something I’ve missed in the last three months since I left Virginia.
It started pouring, so someone had to pick us up in a car and deposit us, wet and late, back at the Joynes Center.
My six morning conferences with students went well. I was lavish in my praise, but only when I felt it was merited; in truth, most of the stories I received are publishable in some little magazine.
Some stories were slightly rough, but they were more on the level of MFA students at Brooklyn College than my creative writing class at BCC.
It’s always a pleasure to meet would-be writers, and to know there are elderly women in Ninety Six, South Carolina, who keep rereading Virginia Woolf’s The Waves.
Talking to the students, I ran overtime and had to rush to join the panel on publishing, which had already begun. On the panel, we answered questions about markets and agents and practical stuff.
Afterwards, the eight of us staff members went over to The Cornerstone, a trendy little restaurant in Rock Hill (a rather charming little town – I really do love Southern towns) for a pleasant lunch.
Back at the Joynes Center at 1:30 PM, I began my afternoon workshop, delivering my usual spiel and answering questions. (The first person who raised their hand asked what part of Brooklyn I was from. I guess my accent is a giveaway.)
When a couple of people walked out, I realized that I had gone on too long – fifteen minutes longer than I had to.
Susan, Grace Freeman, and a very good local poet whose name I didn’t catch read for an hour, and I enjoyed them despite my fatigue.
Writers’ conferences, like political conventions, take on a life of their own. I know I don’t write very well about events like this; all I usually do is record bare facts.
It’s supposed to get very cold tonight, but today was fairly balmy, if cloudy. Tomorrow I’ve got another workshop from 10:30 AM to noon, but that’s all the formal work I have to do here.
I did promise one guy I’d read another story (it’s about a black drag queen on Christopher Street) and another that I’d read his novel, which Dan Wakefield told me was basically a plotless diary-type Vietnam-service-and-after narrative. Dan said he didn’t know what to say to the author but thought I might relate to the manuscript better than he could.
I’ve enjoyed coming here, but I’ll be glad to get home to Florida, although not to get back to work.
Everyone who’s a professor at a real college, from Lee to Susan to Peter, has told me that my BCC teaching workload is outrageous, and I know I have to leave my job if I’m to get back to my writing and not feel like I’m being a hypocrite in calling myself a writer.
Midnight. Tonight was magical. I got dressed up in a new blue shirt, tie, jacket and nice pants, and we went over to the President’s House for a cocktail party. (The college president didn’t attend; Susan says he’s gay and doesn’t live in the house so as to protect his privacy).
Then we went to the banquet, which began at 7 PM. I sat with four of my fiction workshop students, all Carolina ladies of middle age (three white, one black), very cultured and refined.
The meal was surprisingly delicious, and the conversation over dinner was stimulating. What a nice change from teaching grammar at BCC!
Dan Wakefield gave a wonderful talk about the origin of his new novel, Under The Apple Tree, about the home front in Indiana during World War II, and Susan presented some awards to the students whose writings were judged the best.
After the banquet, we drove in the rain to Les and Charles’s house, a magnificent Swiss chalet home on a tree-lined hill. There was a fireplace and much good company.
I had fantastic conversations about Charleston, about Harry Crews (Dan Wakefield knew him at Bread Loaf in ’68 and ’69), about Winthrop College and poetry and so much more – the kind of conversations I could never have in New York or Florida.
Julie, Lee and I left the party an hour ago and stopped off for ice cream before returning to the campus.
Although I suppose that most people wouldn’t consider this evening very exciting, it was almost magical for me. I think I can live off the memory of this trip for a while.
Being a writer is wonderful!
Saturday, November 13, 1982
6:30 PM. I’m en route home; we’ll be landing in Miami in an hour. I feel beautiful tonight. I just finished dinner and went to the lavatory and saw myself in the mirror. I looked older and more tired than usual, but I feel better than I ever have in my life.
The Winthrop College Writers’ Conference was a peak experience for me. Everything went perfectly. I feel it makes up for all the frustration I have at BCC.
When I say “being a writer is wonderful,” I mean that it has allowed me to experience things and to meet people I never would have otherwise.
It’s also made me into a mensch (who can even write on planes!) – this may sound wildly narcissistic, but tonight I feel I am the person I want to be.
The good people in the world, no doubt about it, outnumber the bad. As at Bread Loaf, everyone who attends a writer’s conference may not be a “real” writer, but those sensitive people who want to write have to be the best on the globe.
There are always horrible people, like the guys in my 11 AM class at BCC or the drunken redneck who rammed into a parked car at the college last night, but they are outnumbered by the good people – like Lee and Julie and the members of a black fraternity who took the guy’s license and called the police.
(A passing stewardess just exclaimed, “You write so teeny!” I told her, “I have a lot to say.” There are only about ten passengers on this flight.)
Today I had breakfast with Susan and Stephen after a great night’s sleep. It was only about 40 ° this morning.
My conference with Doug Wynant about his novel went well. I like the autobiographical book, which reminded me of my diary-novel; it’s wonderful to know that a Southern small-town Vietnam vet and I can share the same sensibilities.
We had a fine workshop that ended at noon. It was a pleasure to go over the students’ stories in depth and listen to their voices, both on the page and in person. We all said goodbye to each other, students and workshop leaders. I thanked Susan and told some of the other writers I hoped to see them again.
At the conference, I sold $30 worth of books – more than I expected to – and made a lot of new friends, including the amazing Arla Holroyd and her mother, Elise Stenseth, who were so generous that they picked me up at Susan’s and took me to the airport.
I feel blessed.
Sunday, November 14, 1982
7 PM. “The world needs you, Richard,” Susan told me in South Carolina. Does it? I suppose I should feel let down this week. If Emerson’s law of compensation holds, a disastrous week should balance out my marvelous trip.
Unless, of course, the trip was in compensation for all my frustrations lately. . . Oh, never mind.
As soon as I finished yesterday’s diary entry, the pilot announced we were beginning our descent, which I heartily enjoyed. Strange as it seems, on a plane I feel freer than I usually do.
And it’s always fun to come home to South Florida at night, to see a familiar face waiting, and to feel the warmer air. Dad picked me up and drove me back to his house, where I’d left my car.
He hasn’t been looking well lately; he’s got a sore by the side of his face that won’t heal. I wonder if it’s a skin cancer and if Dad will continue to ignore it the way he did his salivary gland tumor or see a doctor and find out the truth.
On the way back, we stopped at the post office so I could pick up a batch of my mail: college catalogs, fellowship brochures, my royalty statement from Taplinger (I earned $2 on three books sold in the first six months of 1982) and letters from Tom, Robin, and Ivy Garlitz, who thanked me for sending her Eating at Arby’s.
I stopped in Davie for a few minutes, but found it hard to stand my parents’ bickering and nagging.
Alone back at my place, I unpacked and unwound and reflected on my trip. There were so many moments I was unable to get down in my diary – but the main thing was, all the memories will be good ones.
During my time in Charlotte and Rock Hill, life seemed too intense to capture in prose – though it gave me lots to think about, now and for some time to come.
Today I read, worked out at Bodyworks, rested, shopped for groceries, and made phone calls.
I reached the answering machines of Josh, Alice, and Teresa; Sean’s roommate told me that Sean was out; Grandpa Herb, of course, was home and very weak – but he sounded cheerful and backed me up in my plan to leave BCC.
Selma called and said I sounded much happier. In the Herald’s TV-radio section I noted that “Richard Kresin, author of Eating at Arby’s – A South Florida Story,” will appear on the Neil Rogers show from 9 PM till midnight on Friday.
On Thursday I have the ladies’ luncheon in Plantation and next Sunday is Grandma Sylvia’s unveiling, so I’m glad I had today to rest before a busy week.
It’s time to take stock of my life, I think. Well, to start with, there are only four more weeks of classes for the fall term, so I hope I can coast through.
The spring term will be rough, but I plan to go to New York and wherever else I’m invited: Fort Pierce, Tallahassee, Birmingham. In May, I’ll be back in New York, and then I’ll return here for late June and July.
I hope that by then I’ll have some options for next year.
Since I’ve come back to Florida in August, I’ve accomplished a lot. I ended my affair with Sean with a minimum of trauma and regret. I’ve stuck to my Nautilus workouts and am starting to look cool (I keep flexing in mirrors). I’ve kept out of debt and kept my house in messy order. I’ve sought out options for my future, gotten publicity for myself and Arby’s, read a good deal, and worked on my performances.
I don’t exactly know where I’m going but I’m not worried. Life is exciting, as Mrs. Stenseth, Arla’s Mama, said: “Some people my age are old. How can someone get old when there is so much to do in life?”
Tuesday, November 16, 1982
7 PM. Last night I called Sean, but we didn’t have much to say to one another. He ignored the three or four slightly sexual remarks I made, as well as some questions about how he was doing.
Sean was always discreet, but now he’s clammed up, and I can see I’ll never get beyond that very private surface of his again. Our conversation was pleasant but superficial. I feel distance between us, and it’s not just the 300 miles between Sunrise and Gainesville.
Okay, I guess maybe it’s his roommate and probably they’re very close lovers, and that’s fine. Wait a minute! Is it? Yeah, it is.
Sean and I never had any kind of a future; we didn’t have much in common even last May. Still, it was beautiful because he woke me up sexually, and more than that, he made me aware of the possibilities ahead and the little surprises that can turn out to be amazing.
I won’t call Sean again. I told him to call me when he comes in for Thanksgiving next week; he may call, but I bet he doesn’t stop by. He’ll want to be with his family (his sister should have the baby any day now) and go to the bars.
Thanksgiving of his freshman year at Darmouth was when Danny gave Brad the old heave-ho. But unlike Brad, I won’t fall apart, become an emotional mess, and be impotent for two years; I’ve got other things in my life to concentrate on.
I slept divinely anyway. (Is the use of the adverb divinely a dead giveaway to my affectional preferences?) I always seem to dream about dark New York cityscapes, almost like Bob Kane’s shadowy Gotham City in the Batman comics.
Florida was pretty dark today, too, as about six inches of rain fell. Up early, I got to Bodyworks for its opening; at 9 AM there, elderly Jews predominate.
I had a good workout, doing mostly negative-accentuated exercises, working on my chest and legs especially. Even if Nautilus weren’t able to change my physique, I’d still enjoy it: the time at the gym is time away from work, career, TV and loneliness.
It was raining so hard that I called the school with a lie about a car accident. Then I spent three wonderful rainy hours lying in bed. It’s not as if I had any classes today, and I was just as productive as I would have been in the office: in bed, I got all my marking done, as well as most of my reading.
The stupid BCC administration equates productivity with the time clock, not realizing that a mini-vacation can do wonders for morale. Sometimes, less is more, and I feel that BCC – especially the Central Campus English Department – could use a little more less.
I finally got to the school at 1 PM, and of course, there was no compelling reason for me to have braved the torrents to be there at all today since I have no classes.
A memo congratulated Rosa on her appointment “to the New York City Board of Education,” so I guess she’s leaving for a K-12 job in the city. Patrick proposed that a group of English Department faculty read our fiction and poetry one night, and Drs. Grasso and Pawloski bought the idea.
Lisa showed me a poem, the only one she’s written in a while, and we kvetched to each other about school. Bob looked startled, John affectedly diligent, and Lloyd, the sub-moron student aide, told me my book was “so-so.”
So it goes. I left at 3 PM and came home to read the Voice, the AWP Newsletter (they put Arby’s in “Books by Members”) and Writer’s Digest.
Tomorrow’s one of my long Wednesdays, but I can skip the gym and will probably get through it okay unless the car breaks down or Dr. Grasso decides to pay a surprise visit to my class. But who cares?
I feel almost hostile on the job because I know that they can’t fire me until the academic year is up and that I don’t want to return next year.
Am I turning into a horrible person? “Prob’ly,” as Sean would have said. Gee, I enjoy being bitchy for a change: this may be a better drug than cocaine.