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



Thursday, December 2, 1982

It’s 4 PM on a gorgeous, warm afternoon. I guess I don’t often enough record how happy I am, how much I love life.

Right now I feel tired and a little achy, though I know the charley horse in my shoulders means my deltoids are getting bigger.

I still haven’t savored the upcoming publication of the Zephyr Press book yet; life seems so full that I haven’t had a chance.

Last night it was dark when I drove to Broward Community College. I found a notice about the screening committee for the new jobs; aside from Casey, it consists of idiots like Ledford, Lemaire and Lanshe.

I feel very relieved to be out of it. Casey said he’s not looking forward to the screenings, and he’s put in an awkward position vis-à-vis the temporaries – Patrick, Mimi, Chip, Bob and Lisa – who have applied for the five openings.

Phil came along, feeling buoyant because his Nick Carter paperback is out – but he disappointed me by expressing fear that the conservative administrators at BCC might disapprove of the sex and language in the book.

And he also seemed shocked that I want to leave BCC.

However, Phil put something else in perspective when he said that Dr. Grasso was considered “off the wall” by the other CLAST graders at Gainesville; she consistently failed papers that everyone else passed.

When she and Pawlowski observed Phil two weeks ago, he said, they were dumbfounded by the warmth and looseness of his classroom.

If I were teaching on the South or North campuses, I might want to stay at BCC, but I’m fed up with Dr. Grasso’s rigid attitudes and her insistence that she has all the answers.

Today Lisa said that if she doesn’t get a full-time job here, she’s going to stop busting her chops and relax. Well, I can already do that. . . and I am.

What can they do as long as I continue to show up and do the minimum amount of work? Fire me? Why should I care?

My very small creative writing class last night was nevertheless stimulating; I know I’m becoming a sharper critic and line editor and so are my students. If they don’t become writers, at least they’ll become better readers.

I read until 1 AM, then dropped off to sleep.

This morning I found that Josh had sent me three checks made out to Grinning Idiot Press, all orders for Eating at Arby’s.

I wish Josh were able to cash the checks, but he can’t even cash sample issue orders for his magazine. I don’t know where these orders came from – perhaps the AWP Newsletter mention.

The University of Wisconsin/Madison wrote to ask for my dossier and I got a call from the University of Pittsburgh asking for my dossier and a writing sample.

And there was The MacDowell Colony Newsletter and the one from Phi Beta Kappa, plus the Chronicle of Higher Education.

I stayed at BCC from 10 AM till 1 PM, reading, writing letters, and making up my final exams. Back home, I read the Times, the New York Post, The Advocate, and Writer’s Digest.

In the wake of Ted Kennedy’s pullout from the ’84 presidential race, I decided to re-enroll as a Democrat at the Board of Elections – that will be where the action will be. Maybe I can get involved in a campaign in a serious way. (I doubt it.)

God, I can’t seem to help having all these fantasies about the gorgeous guys at BCC. I also feel I want to be more open about my sexuality. Since I’m not trying to keep my job at the college, I think I can do that.

Or is that being self-destructive?


Saturday, December 4, 1982

4:30 PM. Looking at today’s date, I just realized that it’s been six months since my birthday – hard to believe – and of course that means it’s only half a year until I turn 32. Being 31 has been an excellent time of my life (thus far).

Last night Teresa finally returned my calls (Alice still hasn’t). She’s been working most nights till midnight, going over résumés and planning the transition to Governor Cuomo.

There’s still no word on what kind of job Teresa will have, if any, but she’s very hopeful. Teresa’s life is changing, it seems, and she’s ready for it.

She had an argument with Barbara over the guy she got to take over Barbara’s apartment when she moves out; now they’re not speaking and Teresa is no longer invited to Barbara’s wedding to Stewart Klein, at which she was supposed to have been maid of honor.

Teresa feels it’s part of the pattern of losing female friends (Diana, Jan) when they get married.

This morning I got letters from two colleges letting me know that despite my “impressive credentials,” they weren’t interested in me.

I can see I’m going to be getting lots of letters like this; I almost prefer the colleges which don’t acknowledge applications because I don’t get the rejections from schools I’ve forgotten I applied to.

But Stetson University did ask for my dossier.

I heard from Miriam, who had a nice Thanksgiving dinner with Robert; he got sick afterward and Miriam seemed to have fun taking care of him. She asked if I can think up some ideas for promoting the Zephyr Press book, which is definitely in production.

Susan Ludvigson thanked me for my thank-you note and said she’s pushing for me to join her on the staff of the Suncoast Writers Conference at the University of South Florida next month; that’s wonderful of Susan, but I won’t hold my breath.

My Saturday class went well: I’ve now done everything I can to prepare them for the research paper. Next week I’ll take more questions and get them ready for the final the following week. The group is down to about 14, so I won’t have too many papers to grade that final weekend.

This afternoon I relaxed by driving out to Markham Park, and later, by sitting by the pool at my parents’ place in Davie.

Three years ago, when I first visited this area, the place was an amazing haven for me. Now, even though I know how delightful it is to wear shorts in December, Florida no longer seems magical. I don’t think I can ever completely forget how beautiful it can be here, however.

In the past few days, fueled by the bad economic news, I’ve been worrying about my future.

For the past three or four years, I’ve been diligently applying to every teaching job in sight – without any success. It looks as though I’m not going to do any better in 1983.

Sometimes I wonder just what I’d have to do to get a creative writing job in academia. One thing I cannot do is let myself believe, as Dad does, that my career problems are my own fault: it’s the economy, not me.

Still, part of me fears that no school, not even another Florida community college, will hire me – that getting a job at BCC was just a fluke. Perhaps that’s the best reason of all to leave BCC: to find out if my fear is real.


Tuesday, December 7, 1982

7 PM. Tomorrow I’m taking a sick day, although I already feel guilty about it. I figured that if I’m going to take one more sick day this term – I have seven sick days accrued – tomorrow is the day.

I’ve got to do it. I have about sixty essays to mark and I never could have gotten them done in time to return them all tomorrow.

And taking off on Wednesday gets me out of six hours of classes for the same price as three hours the other days. So, why do I feel guilty? I guess it’s the old Protestant ethic.

Pete, Alice and Elihu all expressed surprise when I told them I’ve decided to leave BCC. Of course they don’t have to teach at the school, and all of them were against my moving to Florida in the first place.

Perhaps I am being self-destructive, but I just have to follow my instincts. I guess I’ve never really wanted to stay at any job I’ve had in the past four years. I can see that in reading over my diary. Am I unable to make commitments? Is this adolescent of me?

Today I realized I do have much of my life based at BCC. Still, others have left – Alan, Jacqui, Rosa – and more are leaving; Marilyn has moved up her wedding to January 3 and won’t be back next term. (Dr. Pawlowski is having conniption fits over this, as he does when anyone in the office leaves).

But BCC is safe, the way Brooklyn College and the LaGuardia Hall days were for me. I can joke with Casey (who was stung by a Portuguese man-o’-war while he and Mimi were in the Keys this weekend), talk poetry with Patrick, have an interesting lunch with Lisa and Carlos, have old students like Glenn McCormick (on whom I have a slight crush) come in and chat with me.

Yeah, I’m involved with people there – but it’s only going to get harder to leave after this year.

Risks, Grayson, risks. . . No, though it’s not good to think negatively, you probably won’t find a great teaching job. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, academia is in the worst shape it’s ever been in as even tenured professors get laid off because of budget cuts and low enrollments.

I probably won’t even be able to swing a lucrative fellowship anywhere if I go back to grad school for a Ph.D.

There’s a possibility I can go to VCCA or another artists’ colony, but that will last a few month at most. I don’t want to stay with my parents – I can’t.

What if the worst happens? Can I get a way to pay my bills? How will I live?Resources, Grayson, resources. . . You’re no dope; you’ll find a way. If I have to sell my books on the street à la Crad Kilodney, I’ll do that.

For every September (and lately, August) since 1969, I’ve been back on a college campus. Now it’s time I do something else.

Tom Whalen said his trip to the University of Arkansas was wonderful: Bill Harrison was a fine host and is helping Tom with getting a book published and with getting film work. The students there respected him and his work.

His visit to New York was even better. Thomas Disch’s agent got excited about Tom’s science fiction novel. He met Greta and stayed with three Bennington freshmen in an East Side townhouse, went to a birthday party for Voice movie critic Carrie Rickey, saw lots of films and bought lots of books.

And then he returned to New Orleans to find that his half-time teacher at NOCCA had told the students that Invisible Man was “bad writing” and to have to put up with bureaucratic memos and complaining parents and ungrateful, surly students:“All I want to do is write and go back to New York.”

I know the feeling, Tom.

Rick Peabody sent an interesting story he published in the GW Review and I got George Myers’s An Introduction to Modern Times.

Susan Fromberg Schaeffer wrote Lisa that she is enjoying Ashbery’s absence from Brooklyn College and said she liked Eating at Arby’s.


Thursday, December 9, 1982

5 PM. On TV last night I watched a man who hated nuclear weapons threaten to blow up the Washington Monument; he was shot by park police and it turned out there were no explosives in his van.

That’s the sort of thing TV does best: assassinations, riots, shootouts like the one at SLA headquarters years ago – immediate news.

This morning, when I got to school, there was lots of junk in my mailbox.

Apparently Lisa found my 9 AM class just as obnoxious as I do; she made them write paragraphs on how substitute teachers should be treated, and next to Devin Robins’s name on the attendance sheet, she wrote “Very, very obnoxious.”

I got a lot of new (late) papers, and I did manage to get through all but ten essays for the Saturday class. There was a lot of gossip around school today.

Pawlowski and Grasso went into Mick’s office to tell him about the girl, Lisa’s student, who made up the story that Mick failed her last term because she refused to sleep with him. Lisa told me she’s certain the student is a compulsive liar, that she tells blatant lies about all kinds of things when she comes to class.

Speaking of compulsive liars, Patrick said that last night Phil brought in the Nick Carter book he supposedly authored, but his name isn’t on the book and he said he wasn’t supposed to tell anyone he wrote it.

Patrick and I expressed some of our doubts about Phil’s stories – about his agent and the TV series and about NBC offering him a job. Why wouldn’t someone who got a job writing soap operas quit BCC?

And Phil had previously told Patrick that his mother died, but last night he mentioned having to go visit her this weekend.

Mick confided that Dr. Grasso told him that she was shocked when she observed Phil’s class and saw what a terrible teacher he was.

I don’t know what to believe anymore, but I’m beginning to suspect Phil is one of those people, like Rikki or Teresa’s neighbor Lance, who tells grandiose lies that they half-believe themselves.

Lisa came by while Mick, Patrick and I were chatting, and said that Dr. Grasso had summoned her out of class yesterday to tell her that some of Rosa’s former students had gone to Dr. Rose demanding their money back for the course, because they said the new instructors – including Lisa – were placing unreasonable demands on them. Apparently Rosa asked very little of them before she left for her new job in New York.

At lunch with Mick and Mimi, we discussed the problems of academia – and also the problems at BCC. This is such a crazy school.

By late afternoon, after four hours of marking papers, I was getting pretty punchy. Tomorrow night is the reading in Bailey Hall: it’s me, Patrick, Bob, Lisa, Mick and Luke. Probably few students will show up.

Tomorrow is also the last day of the term, though I still have finals and Saturday classes. This weekend I’m going to be deluged with term papers from my 101 class (which I have to return to them at the final on Monday). Any late 100 papers can wait till their final next Wednesday. And I’ll have to manage with the small Saturday class and the creating writing students.

All in all, the coming week shouldn’t be too tough. I wish I had the energy to grade the Saturday papers now, but I’ll probably have a chance to do it at school tomorrow. TC mark

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