A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-November, 1983

Saturday, November 12, 1983

9 PM. Boy, was I depressed yesterday. It may have been insomnia or having the day off or perhaps a surfeit of all the good stuff that has happened lately, but all day I was as depressed as I’d been in months.

I felt – as I wrote yesterday – fat, ugly, lonely, unloved, a total failure, and I had my usual suicidal fantasies. Seeing no reason to get up, I lay in bed until late afternoon.

Yet even while I was feeling that way, I did realize that my depression was just temporary. Today I’m no thinner, but I don’t feel as grossly fat.

Last evening, I did get up and go out to dinner, but after getting home, I felt sick to my stomach and had violent cramps and diarrhea.

So I took three Triavils, which knocked me out in mid-Dallas and kept me zonked out most of this morning.

However, I did get out to the post office and dropped off all those flyers, and I got letters from Susan Mernit and Crad.

Crad seems better, although he had a bad anxiety attack on the Toronto subway and almost burst into tears. He’s going to New York for Thanksgiving, around the time his sister is expecting her baby.

Crad says he probably will not be coming to Florida to visit me this year. I’m sanguine with whatever decision he makes.

Susan enclosed her slick magazine story, “A Fan of the New, New Music,” which I loved. Although she’s busy with teaching, she manages to write all the time; her novel is nearing completion.

At 2 PM, I finally threw myself under a shower, took some B-12, and went out to Bodyworks, where I nauseated myself with a light but highly aerobic workout.

It was good to collapse in Davie, where nobody was home. Washed up (literally, that is) and recovered of wind, I went to the library in Fort Lauderdale, where I found David Finkel’s hilarious piece in the St. Petersburg Times.

He captured the West Palm Beach debate so perfectly and so humorously, I couldn’t help laughing, startling the cute blond gay guy at the table next to me.

It’s so good to laugh and be silly. I once read an article in which Woody Allen said he most admired doctors, who actually save people’s lives, but his own comedy has probably helped people in an honest-to-God medical sense.

Sometimes I believe that the most important thing I do is make people laugh. So, kiddo, if you can keep your sense of humor and sense of the absurd, you’ll be okay.

It was chilly today. As the radio announcer said as I was driving home, “Miami is enjoying 69 today.” (Whether he omitted the word “degrees” by accident or on purpose, I’m not certain.)

I xeroxed David Finkel’s article, ate pizza, and bought a tax worksheet book to prepare for my assault on itemized deductions. Did you know that they allow deductions for Navajo singing/healing ceremonies and for clarinet lessons “if prescribed by a dentist”?

Right now I feel pretty good, though tomorrow I’m finally going to have to face those student papers that need to be graded. But then again, I don’t really have anything else to do.

I’m still rather lonely. The cute blond guy at the library smiled at me and then went off with some other guy with big muscles. Still, I really do believe that I’m myself – and more importantly, if I leave myself open to all possibilities – I’ll eventually get into another nice relationship.

Hey, I’ll keep trying. There isn’t much else I can do.


Tuesday, November 15, 1983

7:30 PM. In half an hour, I hope to watch the local New York news on WOR/Channel 9. The cable TV was hooked up this afternoon, and now I have about thirty channels, including all the local stations and the basic package cable stations (CNN, ESPN, C-Span, WTBS, etc.) – plus HBO. There’s even a channel that gives the time and temperature.

Technology is amazing.

Today, for example, I called the Landmark Bank office in St. Pete via satellite to tell them to send me a PIN so I can use my MasterCard at Honor ATMs; I worked out on Nautilus equipment that didn’t exist fifteen years ago; on the TRS-80 at school, I word-processed a letter to Paul Fericano, had the computer type it out on the printer, and then killed the file since I no longer need it; I paid for a book with a piece of plastic; I xeroxed copies of a résumé I’d done via computer; I call-forwarded my home phone to my parents’ house; I read a national newspaper, USA Today, and the New York Times, possible only because of satellites; and went to the mall, where I had spinach salad, a gluten roll and frozen yogurt for dinner.

Well, the last doesn’t count as technology, but it’s a demographic/cultural change. American Demographics, my favorite magazine, arrived today, along with the new Small Press Review.

I didn’t devour it all, but I did read a fine article criticizing Naisbitt’s Megatrends for being simplistic and overly optimistic.

The new information-based society will not be any better than the old industrial society; it will just be different, and a lot of people are going to be confused, uprooted and badly hurt.

Probably (this is my own feeling) it will lead to more materialism, more commercialism, more of the blockbuster syndrome seen in movies, TV, and publishing. (Yes, there will also be a chance to reach small audiences who want quality.)

This morning, with my radio broken, I drove to work thinking about the poetry I was going to teach – Plath, Auden, Sexton, Dylan Thomas – and I wondered why, in America, where writers can say anything, nothing we write seems important to regular people, while in the Communist and Third World countries, where writers are often censored and oppressed, so much more of what they write is considered important by the masses.

My Authors Guild Bulletin lists more imprisoned writers in Asia, Latin America, the U.S.S.R. and Africa. Here they just ignore us. . . unless we run for President?

Today my classes went well, I had a good workout, I had loads of energy from the moment I woke up after a terrific night’s sleep, dreaming I had lived in several different apartments since I left my parents’ house in 1979.

Four years ago, I was struggling on my own in Rockaway, teaching at Kingsborough Community College and the School of Visual Arts, finding it hard to make ends meet and hard to get used to being away from my parents’ place in Brooklyn after they moved to Florida.

That fall I used to visit Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel, and Josh on Atlantic Avenue, and Avis in Park Slope; I’d shop on Beach 116th Street; and I was so disappointed when I didn’t get the NEA fellowship.

That $10,000 could have changed everything – except I would not be as tough as I am today. This week, the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines will announce the winners of the GE Fellowship, and I will not be among the ones getting $5,000.

I’m disappointed, but maybe there are less tough people who need it more than I do. Besides, at this point, all that $5000 would do for me now is get me out of debt.

As the American Demographics review stated, 1973 was the year the world economy – and thus modern life – changed, and that was the year I graduated from Brooklyn College.

Stacy wrote that she finally had to take a job – back at the Transit Authority, in the Car Maintenance Division – but she and Jeanne still have career, housing and living decisions to make.

I don’t want to sound pompous, but really, nobody before has had to make decisions that we baby boomers face every day. (In most cases in the past, people didn’t have choices.)

Can I make art out of our lives?


Thursday, November 17, 1983

6:30 PM. Coming in a few minutes ago from dinner at the counter of Corky’s, I put away my lenses, took the phone off the hook, got undressed, brushed my teeth, and came into bed.

It was relatively chilly today: 49° early this morning, only about 62° now.

I’m bone-tired, and my muscles still ache from the workout on Tuesday. Either I’m out of shape or I’m getting so strong that it takes me longer to recover from workouts (it sounds screwy, but the Nautilus books say that it’s true).

Last night in Davie, I slept, but I had half a dozen anxiety dreams about today’s Jewish Book Luncheon. While it didn’t turn out to be a disaster, I don’t feel I was at my best.

My talk, beginning with a discussion of the wide variety of languages Jewish writers have written in – I don’t think anyone there had heard of Bruno Schulz, Elias Canetti or Clarice Lispector – was rambling and the crowd got restless; some of them were obviously offended at the portion of Eating at Arby’s I read, for my one question from the audience was: “Is it your objective to make fun of people?”

“Yes,” I began, but I continued in a reasonable tone, really better than those old farts deserved. I will never again speak before an elderly audience, Jewish or otherwise. This talk, like last week’s synagogue reading, didn’t make me feel good afterwards.

What I crave most is to be with people my own age. Here in South Florida, I feel like a generational exile. How can I ever hope to write about baby boomers if I  have no contact with anyone my age? I’m either with teenagers, people my parents’ age, or elderly people.

I feel so alone here, and it pains me that I’m missing out on so much of life. What good is being a semi-celebrity if you’re lonely?

Feeling upset and discouraged, I didn’t even take the issue of the Jewish Journal with my photo and a photo of the book on its cover. I sold only a few books, in contrast to Floydene Partain, whose Caribbean saga sold like Israel bonds, or the Brandeis biography (whose author was smart enough to stress Brandeis’ Zionism in his talk).

But I don’t write for people in their fifties, sixties or seventies. What, do I want to be a part of Nedda Anders’ Book Group with its old ladies?

Yes, many people said very complimentary things to me – “You were terrific,” “I like your sense of humor” – but it rang hollow in my ears.

When I tried to envision how I looked on the dais, I realized I was acting the part of a guest speaker at a literary luncheon: my mock-hearty gestures and overly sociable comments seemed like such lies.

Well, I shouldn’t be too hard on myself: that was the best I could do under the circumstances. But the “What am I doing here?” feeling that struck me like a brick during the luncheon means that I have to return to New York.

Last night Mom said, “Maybe you’ll stay in Florida another year” – and I thought, Well, there are worse fates; at least it’s comfortable at Broward Community College.

But is that what my life is about: comfort?

Shit. (And it feels great to say shit the way I couldn’t in front of old Jewish people, that Moral Majority witch in one of my classes, or any of my BCC colleagues.)

I need to trade off some comfort for camaraderie with people who are young, urban, single, professional, literary, gay.

Tom sent me a copy of the Associated Writing Programs Newsletter with my letter about the rudeness of English Department chairmen; I was happy to see how well-written it was, and the editor agreed I had a valid point.

But it also means that academia is out for me as an alternative.

Sue Spahn was going to be late for our computer class at the college, and she asked me to go ahead and start for her, but I got out of the luncheon too late.

Today I bought four diskettes and made backups of VisiCalc and Scripsit on them. Maybe computers are the answer for me.

This morning I did have a great class. Going over poems gives me a chance to use all the stuff I know about literature and drama and film and politics. If it bores my students, at least it lets me use my brain cells.


Friday, November 18, 1983

4 PM. After sleeping from about 9 PM till 7 AM, I woke up feeling relaxed although I did have a nightmare that was like a sci-fi movie.

In it, I was the “press secretary” to a new government which had banned the reading of books. But I was doing the dictator’s bidding only because he had Grandma Ethel locked up and was threatening to kill her.

Secretly I belonged to an underground group which read books and discussed them, and I was at clandestine meeting at some woman’s high-rise apartment in West Palm Beach when the police broke in and started shooting.

Terrified, I woke up. I usually don’t dream such elaborate fictional narratives.

Because my students’ bibliographies are due on Monday, I decided that today would be a good day to take them to the library.

That gave me a chance to rest my sore throat, caused more by the reverse-cycle heat action of my air conditioner than by anything else. (It was only 53° this morning, and during the night I turned it on because I felt frigid.)

At the library, Neil Linger was really friendly, even showing me that they put on display the copy of I Brake for Delmore Schwartz that arrived yesterday, and Fran Brown showed me that Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog was listed in the latest Short Story Index.

My students are so helpless when it comes to gathering information. I realize that whatever problems I’ll have earning a living, my information skills will always help. I’ve learned how to learn – and that’s the most important thing a person can learn.

*

11 PM. I broke off writing before when I got a call from Marie at Landmark Bank. My student loan was approved, and she asked if I could come in to sign the promissory notes. Because she was working late tonight, I said I’d drive up to downtown Fort Lauderdale.

As I was about to leave, I got a call from a reporter in the Wall Street Journal’s Washington bureau who was intrigued by the names of my political action committees.

He interviewed me for ten minutes and said he may do a story on it; I hope so, for getting into the WSJ would be a real coup.

In a good mood, I drove up U.S. 1, went to the Landmark office, and signed the notes; I got my contract, too. They’re going to send it to the University of Miami, and I’ll be able to pick up my check for about $2300 in about three weeks.

In today’s mail, I got a “check” for $400 from Mellon Bank; part of their “Holiday Money Sale,” it was a loan at 15% interest. Naturally I deposited it.

I know that I’ve just gotten myself $3000 deeper in debt today, but I also see that is how the money game is played.

I sent a check for $500 to Citibank for a certificate of deposit at 9.7% interest. (The student loan carries a 9% interest rate, half that of credit cards and the cheapest money around.) I hope to have a good credit rating, and eventually, some equity.

Although I wasn’t among those getting the $5,000 CCLM/GE fellowships, I shall survive on my wits. My luck has been good, and the windfall predicted for in November by my horoscopes did occur today.

From the bank, I drove over to my parents’ place and joined them for dinner at Duff’s, a smorgasbord place in Pembroke Pines.

Earlier in the week, Dad wasn’t feeling well, but he looked okay this evening. He got a “really nice” order on the shirts today; if it weren’t for them, he’d have no income, for the jeans concern went bankrupt under Chapter 11.

Now that the weekend is upon me, I realize that the coming weeks should be easier, with few papers to grade until the final days of the semester.

I feel optimistic again.


Monday, November 21, 1983

8 PM. Last evening, after I finished grading papers, I got a call from Christina.

I thought she’d dropped out of sight, but she merely dropped out – or was kicked out – of college and has been living on the Main Line of Philadelphia with her ancient grandmother. She’s been trying to use her society contacts to get publicity for her campaign for Vice President, and to some extent, she’s succeeded: she has lots of clippings from various tiny newspapers.

Though I think Christina’s a flake, she may provide some fun for both of us. After hanging up with her, I turned on the TV.

The Day After was a bit boring at first and not as gruesome as it might have been had it been more realistic and graphic about the effects of a nuclear war. Over 100 million people watched it.

“This must never be allowed to happen,” I thought to myself as I watched it, and I’m sure most of the other viewers felt the same way.

If the bomb drops, I want to be one of those people who instantly turn into skeletons; otherwise, I’ll just commit suicide.

This morning at BCC, I gave three back-to-back lectures on footnotes. Boring. Then I rushed to Bodyworks, where I did numerous exercises using light weights.

Back home at 3 PM, I showered and dressed (so to speak: shorts and a T-shirt) when the photographer and reporter from the Miami Beach Sun-Reporter arrived.

After getting some head shots outside, the photographer skedaddled, and the reporter, Serene Collins – jokingly, I asked, “Was Collins Avenue named for your grandfather?” and she answered, “My great-grandfather” – came in and asked me questions to which I gave my usual idiotic answers.

She was a nice woman, though, and probably won’t make me sound too stupid.

It’s odd how easy it is for me to get publicity now. There’s no way I can keep track of all my clips; one day I’m going to have to make some kind of order of all my xeroxed newspaper articles.

Mail was heavy today. I got bills from Citgo and J.C. Penney, the delayed AWP Newsletter, a card from the University of Denver English Department requesting my dossier, other junk, and a letter from Rick.

Rick said he recently met with Michael Martone, an Iowa grad whose short story collection is being published by Knopf in the spring.

Gordon Lish is trying to get Martone (“He’s one of us – our generation,” Rick wrote) to sing all that “I was discovered by this genius editor!” crap. And Knopf is giving them legal trouble over the use of names of real people.

Doubleday has been sounding out Rick about doing a book on the D.C. literary scene, but he doesn’t expect much will come of it. Rick has a New York neurosis: an irrational fear and hatred (and also a secret regard?) for the Big Apple.

He says I’m mentioned in some new fiction writers’ guide and reports that Martone says AWP is at war with the independent literary magazines and presses: “If you’re not in AWP, you’re not a writer.”

I’ll tell you, I don’t want any part of that narrow, backbiting world. The fish I want to fry are considerably bigger and broader.

I have no idea where I am going, but life continues to be interesting, and I feel I have an ideal situation in that I stay hungry and ambitious.

Yesterday Jonathan was held up at gunpoint at the store, but he wasn’t hurt. The thief got $250 from the cash register and $20 of Jonathan’s.

Naturally, he was shaken up – these incidents always make people feel powerless – but my baby brother remained calm during the robbery and behaved really bravely.TC mark

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