A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Early January, 1983

Saturday, January 1, 1983

3 PM. Here we go again. New Year’s Day 1983. I get antsy at the end of the year, as though I’m losing something, but I also get antsy at the beginning of the year.

It’s been a lazy day for me. Even though I went to bed at 1 AM, I slept well, so I don’t know why I feel so tired. My sinuses hurt, and it’s very humid and too hot for me.

Yesterday Fort Lauderdale had the country’s high temperature: 85°. I’d prefer it to be about ten degrees cooler. Hopefully January will bring some cool breezes.

I just spoke to Grandma Ethel, who was lying down with pains in her back, head and chest. She said she could see lots of people out on the boardwalk, so it must be a pleasant day in New York. Last New Year’s Day, I was also in Rockaway, about to return here.

I’m glad I didn’t go away this Christmas. Not only did I enjoy staying home, but I couldn’t have afforded a trip to New York. I was doing well financially until I was socked with this $850 dental bill for my new caps. I just hope some of it will be covered by my Travelers policy.

This year, it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to save any money; I’ll just be keeping my head above water.

I did go shopping at Albertson’s today and I did my syllabi for the 100 and 102 classes. Our new semester begins on Tuesday, and I feel mixed about its start.

Last year I enjoyed the spring term more than I did the fall term, and I’m hoping the pattern repeats itself this year.

It seems that I’m never able to get around to doing all the little things that have to be done in my life (writing, housework, errands).

I did accomplish most of the goals I set for the vacation, with the exception of rereading A Version of Life and trying to get Pac-Man Ate My Cat published. (I’ve lost enthusiasm for these manuscripts.)

Today’s not a good day to look ahead to the rest of the year: I feel tired, bloated, enervated, dull. Well, better to start this way, as it means I can only go up from here.

Where will I be at the end of the year? I don’t know. Sean asked me if it felt scary. It does, but I’m exhilarated to know that my life will be changing.

Any predictions for 1983? Nope – let’s just live this year.

I want to be spontaneous, to take risks, to make work and play one thing, to work on my body and mind, to get closer to people, to be more disciplined.

Monday, January 3, 1983

8 PM. Last night I read The Great American Writing Block by Thomas Wheeler, a SEEK/English professor at York College who used to teach at Brooklyn.

He doesn’t worry so much about topic sentences but gets kids to write by getting them to read relevant and interesting material and by getting them to express themselves on paper.

I wish I could do that at Broward Community College, for I believe that teaching remedial writing can and should be fun.

At school today, I was surprised that almost everyone came in for part of the day. Dr. Grasso was going crazy cancelling classes. Although there were long lines at registration, approximately thirty English sections didn’t “make,” and now Dr. Grasso’s scrambling to find classes for all the full-time instructors.

It’s a real mess, but for some reason I’ve been spared. Somehow my creative writing workshop “made,” as did all my other classes; I do have a ready-made P’an Ku staff in my creative writing class.

As of now, I have my standby remedial sections MWF at 9 AM and 10 AM, and the 102 and creative writing on Tuesday and Thursday evening, respectively – just like last term, only without my Saturday class.

Three days a week I’ll be finished with classes at 11 AM, and the other two days I’ll have classes, smaller ones, in the evening.

I already ran off my syllabi. This semester I’m going to be prepared and organized.

There was other good news, too. This afternoon I did a radio interview with Patti Berman of Associated Press; she was the first to contact me about my scheme to file to run for President.

I have a hunch that my press release and the Federal Election Commission forms will interest others, too. The interview was great because I love having to try to be funny on short notice.

And there were fourteen orders for Eating at Arby’s based on the Fort Lauderdale News article. They totaled $43.50, nothing to sneeze at.

Paul Fericano said in a letter that Kathy has not had her baby yet; he also wrote that he considers me a good friend.

From the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, Randee Humphrey sent me an application form for next fall; she said Bill was out of town and Janie’s no longer at VCCA.

In Publishers Weekly, Kevin’s Snow World got creamed as “innocuous,” “amateurish,” “sophomoric,” and “has little to offer . . . in no way justifies its length.”

Poor Kevin – but I think the judgment is on-target; I just wish I didn’t have to lie about the book when I speak to him.

Also in PW, a number of “well-known” authors discuss what they’re working on next. Susan Fromberg Schaeffer says that after The Madness of a Seduced Woman, her next novel will be “about someone who starts to suffer from a mysterious fever caused by the way she was living her life.”

I guess I know where Susan got that idea.

At 5 PM, I went to the airport to pick up Selma. As usual at this time of year, the place was a madhouse, but the flight from Chicago was only ten minutes late.

Selma was the absolute last person to disembark – on the seventh wheelchair they brought out. She had a terrific time with all her friends, who told her she looked marvelous – and she did have a radiance about her.

I struggled with her wheelchair and her luggage and her shower chair and her mink coat, but we made it. It was really such a small thing to do for her, picking her up, but Selma is the kind of person you want to do things for.

She gives me hope because she’s made the most of what life handed her. I hope someday she’ll find a man who’ll appreciate her.

Lately I haven’t been thinking that much about Sean, but while I was waiting for the plane, the kid standing next to me, about 18 and very effeminate, greeted another guy coming off Selma’s flight.

Even though they only shook hands, you could tell by the look in their eyes that they were lovers. It was nice.

Thursday, January 6, 1983

11 PM. Teresa called after Another World ended this afternoon. She was home in bed with a bad cold following a fabulous weekend in Albany.

Mario Cuomo invited her to the private swearing-in at the Governor’s Mansion at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Teresa said that the Cuomos, who are hamishe people from Queens, were just as excited as everyone else to be exploring their new home.

Matilda Cuomo never had anyone to help her with the shopping or cooking or cleaning, and now she’s got a household staff of 22. Mario Cuomo kept calling out as he discovered each new bedroom.

He showed Teresa and the others the lavish sunken tub in the master bedroom, which Evangeline Gouletas-Carey remodeled. Evidently she and Governor Carey carried on in the shower because Teresa said it was totally mirrored and had faucets all over.

Teresa said it was the most exciting time of her life, running all over the Executive Mansion with her campaign co-workers and the Governor’s friends and family. They’ve promised her a job, but they’re furloughing everybody from the campaign until January 17.

The official inaugural on Saturday was also interesting, Teresa said, though she’d been to the last two Koch inaugurals at City Hall and this one was about the same. There were parties all over Albany, and I’m certain Teresa had the time of her life. Lucky her – but she deserves it.

After my chat with Teresa, I headed over to Bodyworks and forced myself to have a fairly good negative workout; judging by the amount of weight I use, I’m getting much stronger than I was when I started nearly five months ago.

But as usual, I felt exhausted when I finished, and when I got home, I actually fell asleep for a little bit. After a quick shower, I went to BCC, where I had a bite to eat – my temporary caps are slipping – and then had a fine meeting with my workshop class.

Al, Marty, Chestine and Karen from last term are back, and the new people are a varied group, including several senior citizens. I let them tell me their interests, why they took the course, and what they hope to get out of it.

Maybe I’m not a monster after all. Even Stacy didn’t mention my coldness or lack of feelings in her latest letter, for a change.

Stacy seems to be getting into a long-range relationship with Jeanne, who’s apparently just disentangled herself from another one. I think the two of them may begin living with each other, though I can’t always penetrate Stacy’s prose.

(But then, I wasn’t too good at penetrating Stacy, either. Oh God, I’m tired.)

Friday, January 7, 1982

6 PM on a raw, chilly day.

I got the bad news from Dad this morning: the station wagon is dead. It has a cracked cylinder block, which would take $700 to fix.

What to do? This is a problem. Obviously, we need a new car; it’s not fair for me to use Marc’s car, but I’d be stranded completely without wheels.

So it looks like I’m going to have to shell out some money. On top of the $850 I just paid for my dental work, this is going to make my financial situation very difficult.

I think I can kiss subletting in New York goodbye. The best I can do is drive up with Lisa for a couple of weeks in May and stay with my grandparents and some friends. I can rely on Gary, who’ll be visiting me for a week in early February following a Club Med sojourn in Guadeloupe.

I’m very disappointed, but I’ve got to act responsibly, and there’s no way I can afford both a new car and a long stay in New York. I might even have to skip the trip altogether and do some part-time work at BCC for the first summer session, as distasteful as that would be.

I feel pretty depressed by this. Although Marc is really the one who’s suffering, I do have the inconvenience of waiting around till his last class ends at 2 PM every day.

Today’s Marc’s 28th birthday, but I just didn’t feel up to going out with the family to dinner tonight.

This morning my remedial classes went okay, leading me to believe that I won’t have much trouble with them. Several older adults, including a couple of black men, will keep the kids in line merely by their presence in the room. I could have used them last term.

I spent the rest of the day at school schmoozing with the other teachers and writing letters.

Crad writes that he probably won’t be able to make it to Florida this year. He’s in New York now, and he’s even spending a few days at his parents’ home on Long Island – a big step for him.

Sex Slaves of the Astro-Mutants is selling even more briskly than expected, and he hopes to be sold out by the end of the winter, which so far has been mercifully mild in Toronto this year.

Miriam writes that she and Robert went to a Zen retreat outside San Francisco, and afterwards she came down with the flu. Robert nursed her back to health with love and baked apples.

Her father will be lecturing in Berkeley this semester, so that should be fun for Miriam, as they will get to see him more often.

In other mail, I got two orders for the book; my talk to the Pen Women in Boca in April is definite now; a local high school teacher who read Eating at Arby’s to her class asked me to speak to them on February 1.

Also, Arch Angelus Sturaitus, who runs the Film Forum at Broward’s Manor Art and Art Towne theaters and who lives with Fort Lauderdale News movie critic Candice Russell, called to ask for a copy of Arby’s.

But right now I feel like getting under the covers and doing nothing else today.

Saturday, January 8, 1983

7 PM. Since yesterday I’ve been pretty depressed. A dose of the network news last evening was enough to put anyone in despair.

Unemployment is close to 11%, where it’s expected to remain throughout the year. Budget deficits of over $200 billion are forecast for the next five years, and the recovery from this recession may be short-lived if interest rates go up again.

I remember how awful it was in those days in Rockaway in 1980 when I was dead broke and didn’t have enough money to eat a decent dinner, when I had to borrow from my grandparents so that they didn’t cut off my electricity or gas.

I remember how I felt when I was turned down for unemployment, when I had to get food stamps, when my car died and I just had to leave it on the street.

I remember those winter and spring days when I was ill and depressed and wouldn’t want to get out of bed. I can still hear the howling of the northwest wind from the corner of my fifth-floor studio on Beach 118th Street.

At Dr. Pasquale’s – before I stopped going to therapy because I couldn’t afford it – I would complain that I saw no way out, that I felt totally helpless.

I’m afraid those days are returning. This is going to be a bleak year.

I fell asleep at 9 PM and stayed in bed until noon. During the night I had a couple of pleasant dreams, both of which were homoerotic.

Now that I’ve experienced a loving gay relationship, I feel more alone than I did before I knew what I was missing. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of Sean; I’m surprised how affected I am by losing him.

Perhaps what makes this harder is that I’ve kept it all inside. There’s no one I can talk to about it, and my letters to Susan, Stacy and Miriam have all been perfunctory. Denial, mostly.

I probably get that mostly from my father. – Hey, I just realized that “denial” and “Daniel” have only two vowels transposed.

I saw Dad today, and somehow he seemed so worn. The man has been under so much pressure, I’m afraid he will break.

I told him I’d give him more than half the money for a new car. He and Marc went to look at a station wagon which they said was a real lemon.

It rained on and off today, I had little to do, and there seemed little reason to do anything. I did get my hair cut, and of course I went to the post office. There were three more orders for the book today, and credit card bills totaling over $500.

Right now I have nothing in the bank, but unlike in the Rockaway days, I have credit cards so I am never really without money; however, I owe about $1500 right now.

I feel that I’ll never get out of debt, that I’ll never “make it,” that all my struggles are just silly. Maybe I’ve made all the wrong choices.

That’s about all for today: all I want to do is sleep, sleep, sleep. I’m getting under the covers.

Sunday, January 9, 1983

4 PM. This has been a dark, cool weekend: a perfect time to be depressed. I’ve spent most of the weekend in bed.

Still, I did go to the health club this morning and had a good workout. I think my Nautilus workouts have prevented me from being even more depressed.

I’m definitely making progress. No one has noticed it, but my chest is bigger and firmer, and my shoulders are wider. My big problem is still in my gut, but I can work on that. Obviously I’m never going to be thin, but I can do the best I can with the genetic material that I’ve got.

That applies to some of my other life choices, too, I guess. I’ve lived in Florida for nearly two years now. Two years ago I was about to leave New York in sorrow and despair.

When I said yesterday I’d made all the wrong decisions, certainly moving to Florida wasn’t one of them. I did feel there was a future for me here, while in New York I saw nothing.

Generally, the past couple of years here have been happy ones, and I don’t think I did make any significant “mistakes,” if there are such critters.

Actually, it’s just what I said would happen: I would have to struggle through the 1980s. The long-range future, I’m convinced, looks good. Even if we are in a major economic depression, the cycle has to swing up sometime.

I don’t want to toot my own kazoo, but I – and my fellow baby-boomers – have struggled through some difficult times and will have to continue to do so.

Ten years ago, when I graduated college, the economy went into a severe recession following the Arab oil embargo, and the decade since then has been very rocky.

It’s funny how the 1970s are just now coming into focus as a time of stagnation (at least economically). In college, I never paid attention as long as I was getting my allowance from Dad. Till recently, I never realized there even was a recession in 1969-70, at the time I began writing this diary.

As Mom said on the phone to me yesterday, I’ve picked very difficult fields: being a literary fiction writer and a college English teacher. This is a bad time for publishing and a disaster for academia.

But even there, I’ve made progress every year.

In the last two years I’ve had a new version of Disjointed Fictions published, as well as a new hardcover collection of stories, and a self-published chapbook that continues to bring in both public interest and money.

This year – very soon – I’ll be bringing out another short story collection. Without a novel, it’s hard to establish myself as a fiction writer, but I’ve begun to do just that.

My publicity has gotten me recognition and has given me satisfaction. I’m about where I expected to be.

I’ve been teaching full-time for two years, and there will probably be growth in higher education here in South Florida.

Whether it’s at FAU, FIU, the University of Miami or some other school, I think I’ve got a decent chance to get a real academic job at a four-year university.

Another year at BCC wouldn’t help my future prospects. Probably a big book would do more – or a job at an out-of-town college.

For the immediate future, though, I see South Florida as my base, with New York City my sentimental home. I think there’s more of a future here than there is anywhere else, though I expect that one day I’ll be living in a very different New York.

Money problems come and go, and it’s best not to worry too much. Right now I think I can do much better than merely survive.

Really, I have very few pressures for the next six months, so I might as well enjoy life while I can and not make things out to be worse than they actually are.

The important thing is that I’m continuing to grow in a positive direction and have new experiences: teaching creative writing, Arby’s, the publicity, Sean, Nautilus, flying, going new places.

In the past two years I’ve taken many of the risks I was too frightened to do in the 1970s. I’ve lost and I’ve gained and I’m different.

This is all very banal, huh?

Last night Lisa called and we talked for an hour, about poetry biz mostly, and “making it.”

We both saw a South Florida Poetry Institute newsletter notice announcing that Mick will be the featured poet at the next Poetry in a Pub. It called him “Dr.” in the notice. He’s not even a Ph.D. but a D.A., a Doctor of Arts. Either way, it’s incredibly pretentious.

As Lisa noted, all the professors in the Brooklyn College English Department were always listed as “Mr.” or “Ms.” Every real writer in New York with a Ph.D. would never think of calling himself or herself “Dr.” It’s the kind of thing you find among insecure, clueless community college professors who don’t understand that listing yourself as “Dr. So-and-So” in an announcement about your poetry reading marks you as an amateur.

You know, while I enjoyed talking to Lisa, I disliked talking about the other teachers at BCC. I’ve had altogether too much of that school.

Monday, January 10, 1983

3 PM. Last night my sinus headache grew worse, to the point where it hurt every time I bent down. My whole head feels stuffed with mucus. The headache has just started to get better in the last hour or so, since I’ve returned from school.

Today was an utterly boring day. Up at 7 AM, I went to pick up Marc. It looks as though I’m going to keep the Astra, and Marc will get a station wagon, which he needs for the flea market.

Although my classes were okay, Dr. Grasso kept sending me more students. I’m up to 33 (!) in the 10 AM class. God. I had P’an Ku work to do, and several appointments, but I felt as though I were under water. The humidity has been close to 100% for the past couple of days, and the weather continues to be gloomy.

Lisa and I went out for pizza for lunch; the only mail was one order for the book; I had little to do at school.

I fantasize about being away from here, in Arizona, in Southern California, in Oregon, in Boston. I see myself in a room with the radio playing jazz or classical, and me writing my book.

What book? Any book – the next book. Someone told me today that Mario Puzo wrote that all real writers are bad teachers, spouses, parents. I don’t think that’s true, of course, but I know I want to be a real writer.

Or do I? Am I just saying that out of habit? After all, in the past year, I’ve written little except this diary. Even in Virginia, when I had all that time, I hardly wrote.

So maybe I’ve been kidding myself; maybe I’m nothing more than a community college English teacher. Well, if I quit, I’ll certainly find out, and the truth will teach me what I really want.

Of course, teaching twelve classes a year at BCC, mostly comp and remedial, wears me down and makes me not want to write.

I’m so dissatisfied with the way writing is taught at BCC. I can’t help feeling Dr. Grasso and company are doing it all wrong.

The emphasis is on correcting every single error in grammar, usage and syntax; that gives too much weight to minor errors, overwhelms the student, and makes her hate writing.

Secondly, writing as a process is entirely ignored. Teachers treat students’ first drafts as if they were final drafts and their comments are usually justifications of the grades they’ve decided upon.

When Dr. Grasso says, “Rewrites don’t count” – either in the grade for the term or the Gordon Rule word-count requirements – she is missing the point of what writing is all about.

While students are constantly told to “be specific,” the teachers’ comments are usually vague – and often confusing to the student, who is told to be more direct and simple and yet to elaborate on her ideas.

Writing is communication – but not at BCC. That’s one big reason our enrollments are down.

– Well, I just let off a little steam.

Really, I feel I have nothing worthwhile to write today.Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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