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

Friday, July 1, 1983

8 PM. That guy Michael Ladd turned out to be the nerd I expected; he’ll never write any article, and I politely wasted my time with him.

Still, it did give me a chance to see the kind of person who can get away with calling himself a writer here in Florida. (He tells me women are impressed by his profession.)

You just know a guy is a jerk when he wears a shirt with zippers – and this guy looked like a typical Reaganite accountant, which is what he is. He showed me a printout of his “publications”: mostly silly articles in obscure local pennysavers. Jesus.

I let him take some of my clippings, but I don’t plan on cooperating much further with him.

Last night I called Patrick, who said he said he’s been busy with his grandmother, who’s well enough to be out of the hospital but too ill from the stroke to be able to go home; they had no choice but to put her in a nursing home.

Patrick has an interview with Betty Owen and Eric Reno about the South campus English Department job next week.

Mark Feinberg, the gay guy in my class, called last night to ask my help with an assignment. Today he came up to me after class.

He’s not my type, but I find his effeminacy sort of touching; he’s not bad-looking and was wearing only a T-shirt and very skimpy shorts.

As he pointed something out to me on his paper, I noticed a Nova High School ring and remembered he said he’d been at UF in Gainesville this year.

I began to wonder if he knows Sean, both from high school and college, and if Sean told him about me. Hmm. . .

The thought that Sean might be visiting his mother for the holiday weekend also crossed my mind, but he probably wouldn’t call even if he were here.

Clay looked really cute today, with sunglasses propped on his head of strawberry-blond hair. He was the only one in the class who knew what the Book of Revelation was about. Either he’s bright or he’s born-again Christian.

Perhaps he’s very straight, and I’ve misread or imagined any signals.

Marc dropped by my office before class; he’d just taken a very easy psychology test. He’s glad he got away from computer courses for a term: “It was getting too much.”

Adriana was coming over this afternoon and he was looking forward to seeing her. He’s also looking forward to a car trip to New York at the end of this term.

Judy Cofer phoned to say she’d gotten back from Puerto Rico and had received the book I’d sent her. She hopes we can see each other at the University of Miami: “It’s lonely to be a writer here.” We both kvelled about Susan Ludvigson, too.

Lisa invited me to her parents’ Fourth of July barbecue in Boca; tonight she’s dining with Monica and Blake at a French restaurant on Los Olas. I would not have minded being invited, for I’d like to get to know Blake better and try to figure him out.

In class, we discussed Flannery O’Connor, and I read aloud “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” which went over really well. I like this class a lot.

Casey was in my office and I told him to shh and listen to some students discussing their weird and difficult English teacher. I’d figured they were talking about Lemaire, but Casey recognized them as his own students; I felt really embarrassed.

Dr. Grasso and Dr. Pawlowski are gone for the rest of the summer, apparently, so I feel pretty much on my own at school with no bosses to bother me.

After stopping to pick up my mail – Dad said he felt awful about taking out his bad mood on me all day Saturday after I left, so my behavior modification worked a little – I got a haircut from Pam, who chattered away.

I feel as though I’m being ungenerous to people like her and Michael Ladd, but I compare them with people I know in New York and I can’t help thinking what dullards they are.

Hey, at the shopping center I saw this sign: Computer Shoppe – with the fake Old English spelling. It’s pretty funny when a computer store tries to project an image of quaint gentility.


The check from Francis Marion College for the writers’ conference arrived, and damned if they didn’t take out FICA, withholding, and even South Carolina state tax. That means the air fare cost me more than I earned. Well, I’ll deduct it next year.

Gale Research sent me a form for a listing for the Committee for Immediate Nuclear War in their Directory of Associations. Yesterday, a kid in Cleveland asked me about it, so maybe the wire services did pick it up.

The letter that really depressed me was from Crad. David Wells shut down his porn magazines, so Crad can’t count on any income from that work anymore.

After he sells out Terminal Ward, he says he won’t do any more books; he’ll have to get some kind of job. Although the new book started off well, sales have gotten very slow – and I’ve never heard Crad sound so depressed:

All my efforts have come to nothing. I feel like a failure. My street experience has proved that there’s virtually no public to write for. . .

People with a ton of money go by and look at me like some sort of ugly freak. I get very little human contact, and much of what I do get, I’d rather not get.

I’ve also been terribly lonely. I hardly ever see my girlfriend any more, and I almost never meet nice, eligible women on the street. This whole city is so fucking unfriendly. What do you think I should do?

He’ll be out selling on the street till October, breaking even financially,

But after that, I haven’t the slightest idea of what to do. I have no desire to try to write ‘commercially.’ There are too few markets and too many writers. . .

Oh, Crad, I wish I could tell you not to be depressed, that you’re a great writer (you are) and that eventually everyone – or at least the people who matter – will see this.

But what to do now? I wish I had good advice, buddy, but I have no ideas. Maybe Crad should move out of Toronto and start fresh in a new place. Shit.

This afternoon on National Public Radio, I heard a 92-year-old woman talk about writing. Her best advice, she said: Keep a diary every day of your life – a sloppy, careless, un-thought-out diary. Right on.

I am incredibly sore from my last workout, especially in my ass.

Saturday, July 2, 1983

5 PM. Today I mostly stayed in bed. I went out to the library, the cleaners and the post office. There wasn’t any decent mail.

I spoke to Josh, who said it’s 95° in New York. His collarbone seems to be healing, though he’s worried about a lump that’s formed.

Lisa called to tell me about last night’s dinner with Monica and Blake; she said they actually had a good time.

Stupidly, I left the lit textbook at school, so I can’t go ahead in my reading and I won’t have any papers to grade until Tuesday.

I really should have gone into Miami to look at apartments, but it’s just so darned hot. I still don’t know what neighborhood I’d like to live in.

I wish I knew Coral Gables better and also that I could tell which sections of Coconut Grove were in the ghetto.

Sometimes I think about living in the more familiar territory of North Miami Beach or on the Beach itself; however, maybe all the old people would depress me.

But at least they wouldn’t be rednecks; I’m hoping there’ll be fewer of those in Dade County than here in Broward.

Wednesday, July 6, 1983

3 PM on a rainy afternoon. The lights just flickered and dimmed as I heard thunder – there, they’re back on again.

I thought I’d sleep well last night, but at 2 AM I was still awake, and now I’m groggy and have a headache.

I was just going over my credit card bills. All told, I’m $2,000 in debt – which is pretty scary, since I’ve got a guaranteed income of only $6,000 from UM for the next year.

Sure, I can borrow money on a student loan, and perhaps that bank will lend me the $2,000 I asked for, but there’s no way I can get out of debt unless – the phone just rang and when I picked it up, it was a stockbroker wanting to know if I’d like to do business with him.

Anyway, I’ve got to have extra income. This will probably entail teaching more classes, but I’d like to see if I could find another way to make money. Right now I keep fantasizing about that CCLM/GE Fellowship, but realistically, I know I don’t have much of a chance.

When I got the Florida grant, I wasn’t all that surprised because I knew I had little competition. But I’ve been turned down for NEA fellowships three times – in 1979, 1981 and 1982 – and I lost out in the NEA’s syndicated fiction project.

In New York I never got a CAPS grant, either. I got an application for a Guggenheim yesterday, and I’m going to fill it out but I’m sure I won’t get one. What to do? Struggle, I guess. What else?

The money isn’t going to come to me unless I chase after ways to get it. I’ll attempt to get unemployment. I’ll try to sell the books I own. I’ll try, if I have to, to teach adjunct courses at FIU or elsewhere. I just wish I could make writing my novel my first priority.

For my class this morning, I played the tape of my show with Jean Trebbi. I’m beyond the point where I cringe at seeing and hearing myself on video. In fact, I thought I sounded fairly intelligent and poised and I didn’t look bad.

That was from a year ago last May, when I was seeing Sean; it was odd to see the way I appeared at that time.

I spoke to Clay after class while we were both trapped during a cloudburst, and he told me his friend, whom he was going up to Singer Island to see, is a New York playwright.

He did say this guy was married, but most BCC students don’t have friends who are New York playwrights, and I again wondered if Clay is gay.

I think he must have money, for he dresses beautifully and seems to have the confidence that coming from a wealthy family brings.

He’s so beautiful to me and he reminds me of Sean, but I see clearly that there can never be anything between us. He doesn’t look at me in that way Sean used to, before we were lovers.

Oh well, that’s life. There are lots of nice gay guys around, and eventually I’ll find someone.

I’m definitely taking off on Friday; I told my morning class not to come, and Phyllis will take over my evening class. I still have about five papers to grade before tonight and I feel I’ve got so much to do.

I also haven’t yet autographed the copies of I Brake for Delmore Schwartz that Ed sent, and I need to get them back to Zephyr Press soon.

I’ve got so much on my mind, it’s no wonder I can’t sleep.


9:30 PM. Just back from BCC, where I had an okay evening class. I hope I can sleep tonight. My head is splitting and I feel extremely tired.

The full weight of the risk I’m taking in the coming year has finally hit me, and I’m almost panicky. My God, how will I survive on a $6,000 salary from UM, even with student loans?

Maybe I raised my sights too high and I should have stayed on at BCC if I could have. I may have been overworked and unable to find time to write the last two years, but at least I didn’t have to struggle to survive. I’m a little scared I’m not going to make it.

Thursday, July 7, 1983

3 PM. I tossed in bed all night and again didn’t get much sleep. What I fear the most is going back to living on the edge. But I guess I’ll have to keep struggling.

Last night I kept thinking of the way I felt three years ago, when there seemed to be no way out of my situation. Surely I’ve learned something since then. Surely I haven’t come this far only to end up in Nowheresville.

There are things I’ve got to keep in mind:

First of all, I could have gone for interviews in Ithaca and Kansas City, and I might have a job at either place, if I’d been willing to move there.

Second, nothing is irrevocable, and that includes my decision to go to UM. Obviously, if it doesn’t work out, I can get out of the fellowship and try to do something else.

Finally, I’m resourceful enough so that I won’t starve. I may have very rough times paying my bills, but eventually I can get out of debt. Maybe desperation will spur on my creativity – but I doubt it: I work best when I’m relaxed.

Last night, money kept running itself through my mind: I’ve got to find a way to make money. Maybe I’m too proud, but I can’t let myself live like a pauper. I’m certainly not extravagant, but I need to lead at least a middle-class life.

This morning in class, we went over the first half of The Death of Ivan Ilych. I first taught that short novel five summers ago at LIU, and it always makes me rethink my life.

Of course, there are times when I get so depressed that I’d consider death a welcome friend – but that’s only when I feel that everything is spinning out of my control.

Ted Berrigan, the poet, died – his obituary hit me while I was reading the Times at lunch. He was 48 and he died July 4 “of unknown causes.”

I remember the day Bert Stratton took me to the East Village apartment where Berrigan, his teacher at Michigan, lived with his wife Alice Notley, whom I met and really liked.

Funny, my reaction to the news of the death was the same as that of Ivan Ilych’s colleagues: well, he made a mess out of things but I’m okay. And: death is something that can happen to Ted Berrigan but not to me.

I’m taking tomorrow off, so in effect, my weekend has begun. But I don’t feel light or relaxed; I feel empty but heavy – and very uneasy.


10 PM. I fell into a half-sleep till 5 PM and I felt better afterwards.

I made out my application for a Guggenheim. While I probably wasted my time, it’s done except for the xeroxing and mailing.

And I finally signed all those hardcover copies of I Brake; tomorrow I’ll send them back to Zephyr Press.

Yesterday Sandy Thompson called to ask me about the hardcover price of the book. She need to know it because she’s done a review for the St. Petersburg Times.

This Sunday in the St. Pete Times, she old me, that article about the revival of the short story in which I’m quoted will appear.

Sandy’s got the galleys of her book from the University of Georgia Press; the collection will be out in the winter, and of course she’s excited and a little scared. Peter Meinke told Sandy that the best time is between the acceptance of a book and its publication.

I called Josh, whom the orthopedist said can go to Europe next week as planned, though Josh should probably leave on the shoulder harness for a month. But his collarbone is healing fine.

Josh ran into Bob Tratamonte of Blue Springs Press – he gave me his Fat Like Me at the Book Fair – and Bob said he just reviewed Eating at Arby’s. For what publication, I have no idea.

I called Kevin, who’s “taking a rest,” teaching three classes at Southeastern but working only two days a week. He sounded mellow – for Kevin – and said he’s working on “commercial science fiction.”

Saturday, July 9, 1983

9 PM. I’ve just been outside by the pool, marking papers through great force of effort. I’ve completed about all but eight papers for the evening class. It’s finally almost comfortable out now, just as it gets dark.

That redheaded guy was in the pool with (I assume) his girlfriend, and they were surprisingly friendly, telling me to jump in. I said I had too much work to do, and he said, “It’s Saturday night!” I think they were a little drunk.

Last night I woke up around 1 AM feeling nauseated, but I soon felt better and went into a heavy sleep with lots of dreams about the Upper West Side and Brooklyn; in one dream, I was bicycling across Eastern Parkway as the crowds cheered me on.

This afternoon I went to Coral Gables to look at some apartments. There was one I was particularly excited about.

Described as a cottage on a wooded estate, it was all too good to be true: the house was nearly a mansion, but the “cottage” was a tiny room, probably a maid’s room, with a half-refrigerator and a hot plate.

I like small apartments, but that was ridiculous. An Indian guy there looking with me was astonished how crappy it was after we’d been in the woman’s luxurious main house with spiral staircases and expensive furnishings.

After I left, I got caught in a typical July downpour, with lightning bolts whiter and thicker than I’d ever seen.

I looked at two apartment complexes in South Miami, but they seemed in disrepair and full of redneck types.

Driving home, I felt really nauseated, but somehow I managed to make it up NW 27th Avenue all the way to University Drive in Davie.

This is the second Saturday night in a row I’ve come home disgusted.

When I called Mom, she suggested moving to North Miami or North Miami Beach, and right away I knew that’s what I’d always wanted.

Why? Because I feel comfortable in North Dade; it’s where Grandma Sylvia lived, an area I know very well, a place full of Jewish people from New York. It’s more New Yorky than elegant Coral Gables.

Look, I probably won’t be going to UM more than three days a week. I’ll take two courses and teach two courses, so I can probably arrange a three-day-a-week schedule.

The commute won’t be so bad, especially with express buses and Metrorail opening soon so that I can get to school even without a car (although I’m certain it’ll be a pain).

But I really want to live in North Dade. It’s only a few minutes from the Broward line and is convenient to downtown and to Miami Beach. Okay, it’s settled. Tomorrow I look in North Miami Beach or North Miami.

Pete called this morning. He’s still freelance-proofreading, working odd hours but making more money. Ronna Johnson, the Zephyr editor whom I’ve figured out doesn’t like my work, sent Pete a nasty rejection letter for his collection of short stories. I’ve got to tell Ed about that.

But Mark Leyner thinks Pete’s book will get a go-ahead from the Fiction Collective in a few weeks. That would be great; I hope Pete decides to keep Kennedy’s Brain as a title.

Judith Applebaum, Peter DeVries, and the librarian I sent copies of my book to all acknowledged them.

I treasure DeVries’ note, handwritten, which says he’ll read Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog when he gets the chance: “A quick flip through it indicates much to be enjoyed. I deeply appreciate it.”

Phyllis Cartwright thanked me and said the County Library plans to purchase multiple copies of I Brake. She said my work was “comic, charming, funny, wise.”

That’s-a nice. I feel pretty good.

Sunday, July 10, 1983

5 AM. I awoke two hours ago after only a couple of hours of sleep. I feel terrified.

I’m so scared of what I’m facing this next year that I feel an ice-cold panic in the middle of my stomach. I keep envisioning these scenarios wherein I can’t pay my bills, can’t get a job, and have to commit suicide.

Alternately, I think of doing some desperate act to get attention like murdering a corrupt politician. Shit, I’m really scared.

I just feel so helpless, too. I see doors closing everywhere, that old “no way out” of 1980. I see myself getting sick, I see my car dying, I see myself starving.

Is this irrational? I suppose so. How could a person of my capabilities starve in America? The problem is probably more mental than real. Yet it feels very real right now.

My left eye hurts, like I’ve got an infection. Maybe it’s the new contact lens. Shit – all I want to do is sleep. How can I look for an apartment when I feel this way?

I’ve got no one to talk with about the way I feel. I’d just feel silly talking this way to my friends, and my parents are the last ones on earth I’d tell.

Probably Dad is somewhat responsible for this feeling, because I keep imagining him telling me, “I told you so,” and “Now you’ll have to kill yourself.”

I just remember how I felt when I lived in Rockaway. I know I’ll never be able to write a novel when I feel all this anxiety.

Maybe I should have stayed at BCC; maybe I had the hubris to think I’m better than that, and now I’ve got to pay for my arrogance, as in classical drama.

Conversely, I feel rage that I’ve been working so hard at my writing and teaching for eight years and can’t find anything better than a graduate assistantship at the University of Miami.

I expect a lot more sleepless nights.


8 PM. Despite my middle-of-the-night terror, I rented an apartment today. It was the only one I saw. It’s furnished decently, maybe even better than where I am now.

The apartment is in a twenty-year-old complex on N.E. 167th Street and 20th Avenue in North Miami Beach. I went there at 2 PM to meet with the manager, Mrs. Baron, a Jewish grandmother from the Midwest who obviously takes pride in her work and doesn’t let in anyone.

(She’s a bit racist, though. Just before me there was a large Vietnamese family she showed the apartment to, and when they left, she told me, “I wouldn’t rent to them. I rent only to white people.”

Making this weird was that there was a little black boy, about six or seven years old, sitting at her kitchen table eating a sandwich. I guess I looked at him when she said that, and she said, “Oh, that’s my grandson. His father is Puerto Rican.”)

I gave her $325 as a security deposit, and on Thursday I’ll give her the first month’s rent and sign the lease, which begins August 1.

The place looks quite run-down, but it has a small pool and the apartment is light and airy, with enough room so I won’t be cramped. It’s scary but exciting.

There are mostly Jewish people around there, half elderly and half young people. (Next to me lives a law student). I like the neighborhood, which is far from the University of Miami, of course, but it still shouldn’t take me more than a 45-minute drive to get there.

There are lots of shopping centers around, and other stores and restaurants, and I’m close to the Golden Glades Interchange, FIU’s Bay Vista campus, the Causeway to the beach, Biscayne Boulevard and Dixie Highway, and near the Littmans, Aunt Violet, and Grandpa Nat’s nursing home.

I think I could be happy there. We shall see.

Mom and Dad and Grandma Ethel sounded pleased but cautious when I called them with the news.

Mrs. Baron seemed to be reassured that I was a pleasant Jewish boy who doesn’t seem loud or violent. The important thing is that I’ll feel comfortable there.

The $70 in rent I’ll save each month will go a long way toward helping ease the crunch caused by my lowered income. Still, I’m going to have to hustle to get by.

I’m sure I’ll have lots of sleepless nights, but eventually I’ll find a way to support myself and pay my bills. But I’m still not ruling out total disaster. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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