Thursday, November 1, 1984
9 PM. Mom and Dad should be landing back in Florida now. In just a dozen weeks, I’ll be there, too.
It’s a long way off, but I bet it will go fast. The last two months have gone pretty swiftly, and at nearly the halfway point, I have to say I feel proud that I’ve managed so well.
It proves to me that things can work out if I try to make them work out. I’ve proven to myself that I can live and work in New York.
Two South Florida radio stations have left messages for me to do interviews, and those are special pleasures. I guess I felt that I was half-kicked out of Broward Community College and South Florida and am glad to know people down there saw me in People.
This morning, I got dressed nicely – half preppy, half punky – and I looked really cute and young today when I caught glances of myself in mirrors. So I felt good about going over to Globo TV, the Brazilian network that’s the fourth largest in the world.
Craig Reese, the producer, was American, but all the crew and everyone else was Brazilian. The woman who interviewed me was a newscaster who flew up from Rio to cover the U.S. election. She did an interview with me in the studio and then we went downstairs and outside.
On the corner of Third and 55th, I shook hands with passersby and asked them to vote for me as if I were campaigning; naturally, because of the TV cameras, people did stop – and some said they’d give me their votes.
I mugged for the camera, and as I saw myself in the lens, I realized I was doing a good job, almost like a David Letterman.
When I promised to forgive the Brazilian debt to U.S. banks if they gave me two weeks in Rio at Carnival time, the head of Globo TV news suggested he’d endorse me.
And all were surprised when I understood their Portuguese. But it’s very close to Spanish. The whole experience was very positive.
The crew left to cover George Bush a few blocks away (“First we cover the President, then the Vice President,” said the TV reporter) and I hopped on a bus uptown.
After a two-hour workout with weights, I showered and left for my LOGO class at The New School.
Mike taught us about the recursiveness of LOGO: it’s self-referential, a feature I love because I’ve constantly experimented with it in fiction.
LOGO is very powerful, and while I haven’t gotten a sure grasp of the language yet, it’s definitely going to come together for me if I keep at it. It’s just a lot thrown at me at once: first BASIC and now LOGO.
I’ve sent $10 to join the Association of Computer Educators, which is located, coincidentally, in my home school district, 22, back in Brooklyn. The organization is having a conference at Fordham Lincoln Center in December that I want to attend.
After class, I went to the New School library and read the issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education which contained the complete text of that Commission report John Brademas spoke about.
I guess people who read about me in People would be surprised that I’d spend time on stuff like that. My public image, which I’ve cultivated, isn’t one of a studious, thoughtful person.
Back home after a miserable rush hour ride, I ordered in Sichuan food with Teresa, who seemed very cheerful after a busy day helping Perry move.
She’ll probably be going to the Berkshires on Saturday, and she’s decided to leave next weekend for California since she can mail in her unemployment forms on Veterans Day.
Larry and Judy sent me an engagement card in the mail. I guess I’ll see Larry on Saturday evening at Mikey’s bachelor party.
Lately I’ve felt especially pleased how well I’ve handled my money and all my credit. I always pay my credit card bills on the day they arrive, and I’ve now gotten credit from my New York address.
At this point, I’ve got about $14,000 in credit, and revolving credit is almost the same thing as money.
It’s almost scary how well things have been going. So it’s not a big deal I didn’t get an NEA fellowship; there are others who don’t have the intellectual resources and brains I have, not to mention my street smarts.
Friday, November 2, 1984
6 PM. It’s cold and dark and it feels, for the first time, like winter; we may have skipped fall entirely and will be heading straight into the cold season.
I slept reasonably well and got up at 7 AM out of habit. Teresa slept until 10 AM, so in the three hours I had to myself, I read 50 pages of Papert’s Mindstorms, got off a letter to Crad, and worked on some other projects.
At noon I met Pete at Mary Elizabeth’s, a tearoom on 37th and Fifth. We decided to call our reading at Darinka “A Salute to Baby Fae,” the California infant who got a heart transplanted from a baboon.
Pete made up some posters at the Center for Alternative Media at NYU, where, as a guest artist, he has access to the Apples and the graphics software the Parsons students use at The New School.
We talked computers a lot. Pete wrote a program in COBOL that uses his list of three variables (“life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” “the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker,” etc.) and scrambles them, and he’s working on a COBOL program that will produce a pantoum.
I was really excited by what I had read in Mindstorms earlier, and I realized I’m using computer-thinking even as I grade my students’ papers.
Their errors now seem less like mistakes than “bugs” in their program: all the errors are logical and are based on either faulty intuition, false analogies or false perceptions.
Pete wants to buy a Sharp color copier, now about $700, to do some art and text work with.
Those artists and writers who are afraid of technology are neurotic. Rather than being an instrument of regimentation (Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate), computers and other technological advances give us more choices and more chances to express our individuality.
As Hawken stated in The Next Economy, the information-based culture will be much more individualistic than the mass culture of the industrial revolution.
At The New School, I got to work in the window today, and people walking on Fifth Avenue watched as I fooled around with LOGO. I think I’m beginning to master Turtle geometry and am ready to move on.
I’ve had more calls from radio stations, but they want me to do interviews on Monday, when I’ll be very busy; I have a meeting at John Jay at 3 PM.
Teresa is at her parents’ house to get her car for the trip to the Berkshires tomorrow, and I’ll be going over to Ronna’s soon to spend the evening – and hopefully I can sleep over. Maybe we’ll go to the movies, but I’d just as soon stay home.
Saturday, November 3, 1984
3 PM. Last night I put on my down parka and some gloves I had bought earlier on the street for $2, and I walked up West End Avenue to Ronna’s house.
Some people looked at me funny, but when cold weather arrives, I’m a Floridian in my bones. To me, it feels as though we’ve gone directly from summer to winter; right now, it’s about 48°.
When I got to the apartment, Ronna said she had to stay until Lori’s date came so Ronna could look him over. To me, he seemed like an awkward nerd, but he’s probably a nice guy.
As we walked down Broadway to Pumpkin Eater, Ronna explained that Lori insists that guys pay for her, and this guy kept taking her to the cheapest restaurants and diners. I’m so glad I don’t have experience in that horrible world called dating.
Ronna and I had a nice, modest health-food dinner and then came home. I told her I didn’t really want to go to the movies, that what I wanted to do was go right to bed. It was honest, and it worked.
The last few times I’d seen Ronna, we hadn’t had a chance to be alone, and when I woke up yesterday, I was as horny as I’d ever been in my life.
Making love last night was great. My orientation is basically homosexual, yet I can get very excited when I’m with Ronna. I know she’s overweight and so am I, and that we’re not romantic kids anymore, but we always seem to get along sexually.
When she touches me in certain places like my ass or the middle of my lower back, I get chills. I love to snuggle up against her breasts (although I worry my beard irritates them).
I like to feel free in bed – uninhibited, relaxed and un-self-conscious – and with Ronna, I feel all of those things.
Sometimes I worry that I take Ronna for granted and am not being fair to her, both because I won’t be hanging around and because I’m gay.
I know I should not let myself go crazy with this – and I usually don’t – but to know that I’m going to cause pain to the one person who has given me so much doesn’t make me feel good.
Yet last night was wonderful. On the mattress on Ronna’s floor, she and I fell asleep early, exhausted by our lovemaking, and we both seemed to sleep soundly. I had vivid dreams and kept waking up to see Ronna lying next to me: itself like a vision in a dream.
I don’t know why I’m so sleepy today, but I just haven’t been able to get moving to do all the things I have to do, like grading that big batch of papers. I didn’t want to leave them for the last minute of tomorrow.
And I really should have done some exercise. But after breakfast with Ronna, at 11 AM, I came home, showered, and got into bed again for two hours.
I’d still be in bed now if Judy hadn’t come in to look through Teresa’s wardrobe for a dress suitable to wear to a bar mitzvah.
Tonight I have Mikey’s bachelor party, and I wish I didn’t have to go. I would rather just get into bed and read and do my work and watch TV.
Maybe my sleepiness is caused by the cold weather; I feel like hibernating. Life seems like a dream, and time seems unreal.
In bed this morning, I read Ronna parts of Tom’s “The Enchanted Forest,” in Rick and Gretchen’s Fiction/84. When Tom writes about his love affair with his student Cathryn, it reminds me of Sean.
I wonder if Sean saw my photo in People, just as I wonder just which other people in my past did see the magazine.
Except for the Globo TV interview, it didn’t bring much excitement, but like the New York Times Book Review review, I’ll probably discover that others have noticed it. People just don’t run to the phone and let you know.
In ten weeks – 70 days – I’ll be back in Florida, starting school, living at the Florida Atlantic University dorm and my parents’ home in Davie. I’ll miss one week of classes and I’ll have to rent a refrigerator and lease a car, but that will get taken care of.
My voter registration card came in today’s mail: valuable proof that I’m a New York City resident. At least I can get a library card. In the future it may come in handy for lower CUNY tuition or other grants-in-aid.
And I like being a resident of two states, for I do feel I’m both a New Yorker and a Floridian.
But at the moment, I also feel a gnawing sense of anxiousness. Maybe it’s my dread of winter. Cold November afternoons always have seemed ominous, ever since I was kid. In South Florida, now is the best time of year as things cool off and the magical winter season is about to begin.
But I probably need to experience November and December up North to appreciate Florida more.
In a way, I wish I were going to accompany Teresa to California next week. I’d love to see San Francisco and the Bay Area, and I’m sure I’d fall in love with it.
I guess I’ll put off the papers until tomorrow. Exercise, too: it’s hard to get into it when it’s so cold. Perhaps the steam is making sleepy; I have that sore throat that dry heat gives me.
The next three weeks have holidays each week, and my LOGO course ends this week, the mid-part of the semester at John Jay.
Last Wednesday, as Mom and I drove down Flatbush Avenue, we saw the familiar Christmas decorations going up. Thanksgiving is in less than three weeks, Christmas in a little more than seven weeks, and then it’s a week till 1985.
Monday, November 5, 1984
Almost midnight, and the first votes from Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, will be coming in.
The polls still show Reagan with a 15 to 20 point lead, and although I think the election will be closer than that, I don’t see how Mondale can win more than the six or seven states Carter won in 1980.
Tomorrow will be an early evening, at least. I’m tired after a long day, but I’m also exhilarated and satisfied.
Last evening I spoke to Susan, who’s been pretty bummed out after learning she will have to undergo surgery for her fibroid tumor. There’s only a 1% chance it’s malignant and then she‘d have to have a hysterectomy.
But what’s depressing to Susan is that she has something uncontrollable and alien in her body: “I feel there’s no use in banging my head trying to be a writer when something like this can happen.”
Because she’s an adjunct, Susan can’t take off from work and will have to use the entire month of January – her only vacation – to recuperate from the operation.
And, of course, Susan is scared about the surgery. Who wouldn’t be?
Meanwhile, she’s still plugging away, working hard at her writing – she’s doing book reviews for Malcolm Jones at the St. Pete Times – and teaching.
I called Alice, who’s quoted (under a pseudonym) in an article in this week’s New York magazine, about how she and Peter had to move to separate apartments to have enough space.
The article is about the incredible New York housing squeeze. Peter (also given another name) calls himself and Alice “the Sartre and de Beauvoir of Manhattan.”
Alice confided that she’s looking for a new job and that she and Peter are giving serious consideration to leaving the city next summer.
Alice has traveled a lot, but she’s lived all her life in New York and has the fear she can’t survive elsewhere and worries that once she gives up her apartment, she’ll never be able to return.
Both Peter and Alice feel dissatisfied in their careers and other areas of their life. “It’s a lot of stuff coming together at once,” Alice said – as it was for me when I left New York four years ago.
Teresa returned after a good weekend in the country; she’s begun preparing to leave for California on Friday.
This morning I was up and out early and had good classes at John Jay; I feel close to my students because I see them so often, and unlike at Broward Community College, there are relatively few of them.
Working at BCC is over six months in the past now, and I can see it in more perspective, but I still feel unduly angry and upset when I think of that place.
After a couple of hours relaxing at home, I went back to John Jay for a 3-5 PM meeting to discuss the exit test in English 094/100. I got the reassuring feeling that I’m on the right track.
I expect one-third of my students could already pass the test, another one-third couldn’t possibly pass it, and so it’s the others I’m concerned about.
That sounded about right to the old hands at John Jay. Really, I don’t think they know much more than I do when it comes to teaching composition. (Nobody seems to.)
Downtown, I enjoyed John’s class. In lab, Sue and I worked on a Spanish word “flashcard” program, and then in lecture, we went ahead with READ…DATA statements and will begin arrays next week.
I’ve made some good friends at New School.
After class, I went with Roberta to Burger King. She’s an ESL adjunct at Borough of Manhattan Community College and Baruch and says she doesn’t want to do it much longer even though this is only her first year.
We talked about the horrible job situation in academia and how we hope computer knowledge will empower us to get out of the exploitative adjunct life.
Back at home at 10 PM, I got a lot of mail from Mom: a Citibank Radio Shack credit card, a form to fill out for my student loan, and more stuff from Citibank in South Dakota: my checking account and MasterCard statements.
Josh had phoned, Teresa said, with news of a review of my books.
When I called him, Josh read me Jaimy Gordon’s long review of I Brake for Delmore Schwartz, Disjointed Fictions, and Eating at Arby’s from the American Book Review; as the nominal publisher of Arby’s, Josh got a clip from the magazine.
It was hard to follow over the phone, but the review – more like an essay – was mixed but thoughtful and intelligent. I think Gordon has me pegged; or rather, she’s got the author of those three books pegged, for in many ways I feel like a different person today.
The last “serious” story I wrote that Gordon read was completed over four years ago, and some of those stories were written as far back as 1976 and 1977.
Well, I’ll study the review further when I can see it.
Josh is gratefully enjoying Wanda’s visit. They’re getting along swell, and I’m really glad for him.
Tuesday, November 6, 1984
5:30 PM. I lay awake for hours last night, thinking about the ABR review and what it means to me as a writer.
Up at 7 AM out of habit, I had breakfast but was then able to get back to sleep until 11 AM. “You’re the only candidate to sleep late on Election Day,” Teresa said.
We voted at the school on West End and 82nd, where it was very crowded: much more so than in 1980, according to Teresa.
After we had lunch, I went to the New School, stopping off at the Gotham Book Mart in an unsuccessful hunt for a copy of ABR.
In LOGO class, we learned more interactive procedures, and I’ve become comfortable with playing in LOGO.
It’s dark and very chilly out now. I just got in. Teresa is at her Italian conversation class. Later she’ll come home with dinner and we’ll watch the election returns.
I haven’t heard any results yet, but I just hope Reagan’s landslide is not monumental.
Wednesday, November 7, 1984
8 AM. It’s the morning after the Reagan landslide. I stayed up last night watching the election returns, and this morning I’ve listened to National Public Radio and read the Times.
(It’s only 39°, so I put on my winter jacket to go outside.)
Reagan won every state but Minnesota and the District of Columbia, beating the record for an electoral vote victory. The popular vote was 59-41%.
The President’s coattails weren’t that long; he carried with him only a net gain of 15-17 GOP House members, and the Democrats picked up two Senate seats for a 53-47 Republican lead there.
Many Democratic Congressmen were able to withstand the landslide, and things will probably be pretty much the way they were during the past two years.
Now the Republicans have won four out of five of the last Presidential elections, and it seems evident that we’ve been going through a Republican era.
The last election I was thrilled about was Johnson’s Democratic landslide 20 years ago; since then, we’ve moved into a conservative era, starting in the early ’70s and culminating in Reagan.
I still believe that the pendulum will swing back in a few years, and this may already be past the crest of the rightward move.
In the 1990s, I have been predicting (so much so that Teresa has taken it up), we’ll be in a new era of liberalism, though in a different form probably.
I think that my own writing and work will be more appreciated then. Maybe if I can get out my book about my college days, I can be a part – even a catalyst – in that change.
Well, I’m tired and think I’ll close my
ideas (Freudian slip – I meant eyes) for a while.
Teresa is asleep and says she plans to sleep through the rest of the 1980s.
6 PM. Brrr. Today was really cold, and it feels like winter. I’ve got about 65 days till my return to Florida, and psychologically, I’m getting ready to leave.
I’ve had enough of the delays and filth of the New York subway system to last me a while; it will almost be a pleasure to be back in a car all the time. And as New York turns grayer and grayer, I’ll be grateful for the bright skies of Florida.
This afternoon I worked out for a couple of hours while reading last Sunday’s Fort Lauderdale News.
I’m embarking on a kind of reorienting mission. It will probably be a very difficult readjustment to Florida, but the more I change my life, the more adaptable and flexible a person I’ll become.
Teresa is at her parents’ house now, to return the car and some things and to help celebrate her grandmother’s 88th birthday.
I drove down with her at about noon; we moved like a LOGO turtle commanded to REPEAT 500 (FD 2), going down Second Avenue at a very slow pace.
Hopping out at St. Marks Place, I walked over to The New School, where I fooled around with Apple LOGO for an hour and decided to forgo my time on the IBM PC.
Tomorrow’s my last LOGO class; it’s a pity I don’t have the time or money to take Intermediate LOGO.
Hopefully, I can learn on my own – I think I can still use the Apples at school – and take a grad course when I’m in Florida. I’ve sent for the Florida International University and Barry University catalogs and Jonathan’s sending the FAU class schedule.
But I need time to do other stuff, especially since for the next two weeks I’ll have the apartment to myself. I want to make more time to see friends I’ve neglected, like Josh, Susan and Justin.
I think I’ll go out for a stroll, even if it’s very chilly now; I just feel like wandering on Broadway.
God, I’ve been lucky in that everything has worked out so well for me. Tomorrow’s school, and then I’ve got a four-day weekend till Tuesday.
Friday, November 9, 1984
4:30 PM. I just got in. It’s a really chilly day.
Teresa should be taking off from Newark any minute now. She’ll be picked up at Oakland Airport by Deirdre, and she’ll be in California for the next fifteen days.
Now I don’t have to listen to the TV set droning for eight to ten hours a day, and I can hear myself think. I love Teresa, but by God, the woman doesn’t stop talking from morning to midnight.
In our final LOGO class last evening, Mike brought in an Atari to demonstrate their version of LOGO, with its “Sprites” that move various Turtles all over the screen.
Walking to the subway after class ended, I decided what the fuck and went back and registered for the Intermediate LOGO class that begins next Monday.
It conflicts with our last BASIC class, but John Kallas is meeting with Bob and Rita at 5 PM and will fill them in on the work and give them extra lab time, so he’ll probably do the same for me.
My whole tuition at The New School for the fall is $827, a big chunk of money for someone as poor as I am. But furthering my education is the best investment I can make, and God will look after fools like me.
Up late this morning, I helped Teresa pack and then said goodbye to her before meeting Justin at his office at 1 PM.
Justin said things are incredibly busy there because they’re expanding their activities in light of Eddie’s new multimillion-dollar contract with Paramount.
We had lunch at Molly’s, this new genteel place with a harpist. Afterwards, we went to two banks and shopped at the A&P.
Then I spent the remainder of the afternoon doing errands and came back to find in the mail – along with Miriam’s final letter from Martha’s Vineyard, giving me the address of the new place in Santa Fe where Robert found a little house with a yard – the tearsheet from American Book Review that Josh sent.
Here’s Jaimy Gordon’s review:
Eating at Arby’s and Disjointed Fictions clamor for laughs before one even opens the covers. True, I Brake for Delmore Schwartz is a dignified volume, except for the title and the enclosed red bumper sticker that spells it out in large letters. But the flamingo-pink cover of Eating at Arby’s announces that Richard Grayson ran for Town Council lately in Davie, Florida, with a campaign promise to give horses the vote; and the back of Disjointed Fictions reports that he was once a candidate for the Democratic Vice-Presidential nomination. Both books offer columns of testimonials on Grayson’s work, some from trade organs like Publishers Weekly, others from Florida community rags like the Delray Beach News Journal and the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. These critics are, on the whole, somewhat puzzled by Grayson — a woman from the NewYork Post hopes that “his literary career may be blessedly brief”—but most know a joke when they see it. They invoke Steve Martin, Saturday Night Live and the muse of stand-up comedy to explain Grayson, though a certain uneasiness lingers between the blurbs: If this is Saturday Night Live, can it be literature?
And now a second clipping from the Miami Herald slips out of Eating at Arby’s, hinting at yet another South Florida story. In October, 1982, an alert reporter sniffed out a small scandal behind the chapbook: Richard Grayson employed a $3000 grant from the Florida Arts Council to chronicle the banal adventures of Manny and Zelda among mall shoppers, Marielitos, and drug murderers, in flat, repetitive, Dick-and-Jane-style prose. The reporter finds Grayson in his English Department cubicle at Broward Community College, and he does not allow her to go away disappointed. He elaborates on his municipal campaign platform: besides enfranchising horses, he was in favor of giving tactical nuclear weapons to the Davie police force. He threatens to sell the book on the street and says of the Florida Arts Council: “I’m sure they’ll be delighted to see such a great piece of literature came from their money.” But he adds a typical disclaimer: he is grading well over a hundred “illiterate papers” a week. “As you can see from the book,” he tells her, “it doesn’t do much for your writing style.”
The willingness to be a public clown—or, more accurately, to present the appearance of a wistful nobody scribbling away in private who occasionally bursts out as a farcical publicist, exposing himself before the world—continues unabated inside Grayson’s prolific but never prolix fictions. The several strains of his humor occur in more or less varied combinations according to the story, and I much prefer those loosely segmented chains of association in the first person (happily, two thirds of the stories in both Disjointed Fictions and I Brake for Delmore Schwartz fall into this category), where all his mannerisms exist side by side, to his more symmetrical and abstract pieces; for, in the absence of the first person, Grayson’s prose loses much of its charm and is shown to be a rather blunt and inelastic tool. Grayson is not a graceful stylist, and as soon as the expression of a personality (or the illusion of this) disappears, his inventions and satires move on leaden feet. This is particularly true of Eating at Arby’s, whose conceptual plan may sound comic, but which, as a literary experience—that is, as something to read—is all but insufferable. Manny and Zelda speak the same stiff, uncontracted idiom with which Dick and Jane stupefied us in second grade; the tiny vocabulary of their dialogues expands primer-style from a base of I like/nice/fun/friends/important/good/glad/ happy/man, to include “gay,” “I-95” and “accidents”; “Century Village” and “Arby’s”; “trip to Colombia”; “sore back” and “chiropractor”; “hurricane,” “cocaine,” “gun,” and “murder.” Besides offering a draught of gall to the Arts Council, the little book has two virtues, of a sort; it does not take a subtle intellect to feel the point of its satire, so that Grayson’s contempt, which almost any dolt can share, is ultimately reassuring; and it is all over in twenty-four pages.
The variegated texture of the first-person narratives that most engage his admirers and baffle his critics is challenging to describe, since it is through juxtaposition that these deliberately unshapely tales achieve their effects. There is a strain of soap-opera exhibitionism in Grayson; sown through I Brake for Delmore Schwartz are revelations of an embarrassingly personal nature, often maudlin, often clearly untrue: “At this time I was suffering from schizophrenia,” he says in passing, in “Is This Useful? Is This Boring?.” “No matter how hard I tried, I never could take the whole bottle of sleeping pills,” he says in “Oh Khrushchev, My Khrushchev.” “But maybe for Khrushchev I could do it.” A commonplace East Coast Jewish extended family, divided between New York and Miami and subject to cancer and bar mitzvahs, is put to use in many of Grayson’s stories, variously as the basis of anecdotes that would not go over badly on the borscht circuit (“little antidotes,” the grandfather in “Nice Weather, Aren’t We?” calls them) or for highly suspect pathos. In one story in I Brake for Delmore Schwartz, the narrator’s sister has drowned; in another, leukemia has snatched her away; in Disjointed Fictions (“Escape from the Planet of the Humanoids”), a sister is still tirelessly dying; the reader is instructed to “Feel this:”
The pain of frustration that a man feels when he is trying to write a sentence about how a character feels at his sister’s funeral and can only come up with this fragment: Better her than me.
But in another tale the sister’s phone number (“FOR A GOOD LAY CALL 969-9970”) appears on a subway map in the IRT; and in yet another, she’s alive and prospering as Roslyn, “now a Long Island dermatologist and mother of twins,” who says, “Yes, I remember Saulie’s bar mitzvah. . .”
The thread of the pathetic family saga intertwines with another characteristic one that I will call the lament of the schlemiel in the creative writing workshop. He is no longer in it, of course, but it has left its mark. The narrator worries about the quality of his fictions, checking them against mumble-mouthed platitudes of the craft; and these are travestied evenhandedly whether they arise from the post-modernist school or the Famous Writers’ School. Grayson has an MFA from Brooklyn College, so he knows the rhetoric. In “Is This Useful? Is It Boring?,” the narrator boasts, “For two years I studied Fiction Writing in one of the best universities in the country. . . We were supposed to write new kinds of fiction. One writer called himself a ‘post-contemporary’ writer. That says it all.” But from this self-congratulatory beginning, the voice disintegrates into a muddle of pomposity and self-pity: as a writer who misrepresents people as characters and otherwise can “get away with murder,” the narrator is “a pretty powerful person”; well, no, he says, actually he writes out of a neurotic need for attention; in fact, he writes to get revenge on some Italian kids who once called him “Irving”; then the narrator changes his mind — “I can’t even find the right words” — maybe he didn’t learn anything in college after all. So much for the tenets of the experimentalists.
But then there are the traditionalists to contend with. Halfway through “Nice Weather, Aren’t We?,” the narrator’s girlfriend Rosalie sneaks in “while I was out getting a Fresca” and writes “NO FOCUS” on the middle of the page. “Criticism like that I don’t feel useful,” he says huffily. But he admits it’s all a strain. In “The Four Faces of Freud”:
Listen, there is no point in finishing this story… I can’t understand why some editor would print this, except as a cry for help. I am mentally ill.
This is the Grayson manner in endless variations: alternate strains of impudent posturing that breaks down in self-parody, equally disingenuous confessions of the writer’s ineptitude; and, withal, punchlines and puns that he will labor for many paragraphs to set up, like, “I never promised you a prose artist,” and, “Fiction’s no stranger than Ruth.” All these parts are suffused with the appealing professional anxiety of a small-time writer scrabbling against odds and without much concern for his dignity to get a little renown for himself. Grayson once said in an interview (Gargoyle 17/18) that he keeps his fiction short because “fragmented, self-conscious novels might very well be boring. Some people say that fragmented, self-conscious stories are also boring, but at least they’re short.”
It seems worth noting that Grayson perceives his readership, so far, more clearly than his readership perceives him. There is a sound precedent for that loose-jointedness of his fictions that so confounds his critics, a venerable one that reaches back far beyond the mimetic and novelistic bias that is in fact a middle-class parvenu in the world of letters. It is the satiric tradition of Erasmus and Rabelais, of Diderot, of Swift and Sterne and Peacock, and one may find this tradition, as in Grayson, the shape of a miscellany founded on a loose association of ideas, frequently with humble apologies from the author; idiosyncratic asides, digressions, and non sequiturs; catalogues and inventories; structures of information borrowed from extra-literary domains of the language; dialogues, patterns of query and response, and other instances of the unexpected, the undignified, the fitful, the intellectually pretentious breaking down into parody. But the brevity of Grayson’s fictions is his own design, based on a just though severe estimate of the attention span of a literary peer group he understands all too well. In the same interview, Grayson told his questioner, “Actually, if you look at my work, it’s probably more influenced by TV than by literature.” Grayson writes for (because he is one of) a literati that watches TV, that is hounded by the neologisms “writers’ workshop,” “Citibank,” and “co-op apartment.” The narrator of “I Brake for Delmore Schwartz” walks the streets of New York, Citicard in hand—the same streets trod by Isaac Bashevis Singer and by the shade of the departed Schwartz—asking himself if it wouldn’t be smarter to take a course in computers for a guaranteed fourteen grand a year, than to persist in this thankless manner of living.
Perhaps the most confusion about whether to place Grayson in the contemporary literary scheme is owing to the imperfect self-knowledge of that public of which Richard Grayson is the jester. We — and I mean you and I — live in a strange literary economy where most writers between the ages of twenty-five and forty accept the lot of the sort-of-published, the semi-solvent, the great unread, against the backdrop of an age of media super-celebrities; so that we are unable to escape the evidence of our under-appreciation though fully aware of the ludicrousness of the contrary. Richard Grayson constructs a literary persona out of just this predicament. He is a satirist and parodist so timely that his brothers and sisters may not yet discern themselves in his mirror. Certainly our hapless group that writes and studies writing and cogitates about writing but cannot know its audience deserves its own comedian, if it can learn — as Richard Grayson has — to laugh at itself.
Well, Jaimy Gordon is intelligent. That’s for sure.
Saturday, November 10, 1984
7 PM. Ronna and I had a terrific time together.
We met at the video store on Broadway about this time yesterday. After picking out a film – This is Spinal Tap – we had Sichuan food (not very good) for dinner.
Back at the apartment, we sat at the kitchen table and talked.
As the Hebrew Arts School’s representative to the literature programs of the New York State Council on the Arts, Ronna has been attending lots of meetings with arts administrators (Gregory Kolovakis, NYSCA’s Lit director; Jason Shinder of the West Side Y) and people in the literary community, so we have one more thing in common to discuss.
Ronna read Jaimy Gordon’s review and felt she took me seriously, “maybe too seriously.”
I showed Ronna yet another piece about David Leavitt, the 23-year-old author of Family Dancing. He’s good, much better than I’ll ever be, and he writes about Jewish family life, divorce, cancer and homosexuality.
Maybe Rick is correct when he says the kids born in the 1960s are rising and putting us 1950s babies in a Never-Never-Land where we’ll always be passed by.
David Leavitt has never worked, and his parents were academic intellectuals, and he was able to go to Yale.
“Are those advantages?” Ronna asked me. She thought maybe I had other kinds of advantages.
We watched the film and lay in bed and talked and kissed and made love. She was in her flannel bathrobe, the one that makes her look like a fairy-tale princess. It was chilly when we first got into bed, but we warmed up quickly.
I can still feel her arms around me, her hands massaging my back, and I almost can feel her in my arms. I can definitely smell her on my fingers. Vaginas are such sweet places.
I slept soundly – we both did – and woke up late. No sooner were we conscious than we began nuzzling each other, and one thing led to another, and we were going at it pretty heavy again.
We didn’t get out of bed till this afternoon. It really was heaven, being with her like that. She’s so adorable and cute and sexy. Don’t I sound like a retard?
I had to get to The New School to play with BASIC on the IBM PC. The time flew by as I tried to get bugs out of the educational program I was writing; I had just finished and was about to start a new one when a girl came and said my 90 minutes were up.
Although I need exercise, I feel very tired, and since last night I’ve been on the verge of coming down with yet another cold.
My throat has been raw for days. I can’t discern if it’s a combination of steam heat drying me out and my talking too much – or if I’ve caught a cold again.
I guess if I’ve survived two colds in the last few months, I can survive another one. Every wintry day here feels like a big shock to my system.
I’ll be asleep early tonight, as I have to catch a 9:30 AM train to Roslyn for Mikey and Amy’s wedding. Truly, I’d much rather have a whole day to myself. But at least I don’t have to go teach on Monday.