A Young Writer’s Diary Entries From Late January, 1985

Tuesday, January 22, 1985

8 PM. I called Amira last night to find out how she was doing in Teresa’s apartment, and the answer was Not Too Good. She was in bed with a bad cold, for one thing.

For another, she had been fired on Friday.

That really wasn’t so bad, though, since she hated her job at the 92nd Street Y and wanted to make a change. She’ll get unemployment benefits and severance pay and will start looking for a new job right away.

But what really upset Amira was a phone call from Teresa.

Yep, Teresa seems to be planning on coming home in two weeks.

Why then? Yesterday was Martin Luther King Day in New York and so she had Amira mail in her Unemployment claim form, but the next time Teresa is due in the New York office to sign for a check is on February 4.

Amira said Teresa is again “recklessly” moving, and in the process, hurting other people.

She’s not only hurting Amira, which is bad enough, but Teresa will put Amira in a terrible position vis-à-vis Adam, who has nowhere to go if he has to leave Amira’s apartment.

Amira said Teresa thought an ideal solution for all would be for her and Amira to live together: that would help them both financially, Teresa said.

But Amira’s used to living alone and told me she doesn’t have my tolerance with Teresa. She said she’d continue to pay the rent, no matter what.

But if Teresa does come back, Amira said, “I’m not going to get into a fight with her” – because she knows she has no legal rights – but she feels (totally justifiably) screwed.

I said I’d phone Teresa and talk to her as if I hadn’t spoken to Amira, and that I’d encourage her to stay in San Francisco.

When I did call Teresa, she said she was in a better mood than in the morning, mostly because she’d just come back from dinner with Deirdre.

The job selling for her cousin is over. After just a few days, Teresa has given up. She says she can’t afford to buy a car.

So why not try to get another job in San Francisco? “It’s impossible,” she sighs.

All of a sudden, after all these months, Teresa feels she must start earning money because her funds are low.

She claims Franny is a very difficult roommate and that they were barely on speaking terms because of some incident the day before.

When I told her, pseudo-innocently, that she couldn’t displace Amira, Teresa acted as if she were going to do Amira a favor. She dismissed Amira’s relationship with Adam and said that he “hasn’t really been living at her apartment.”

As usual, there was no use arguing with Teresa; she twists everything around to suit her purposes and soothe her conscience.

She may think I’ve forgotten what she did to poor Sharon, but I haven’t, and now, to screw Amira – her most loyal friend – it seems to me the last straw.

When Teresa suggested she might come down to Florida for a month – because she doesn’t have to report to Unemployment on Washington’s Birthday – I didn’t say anything, but the thought makes me furious now.

Why does she need to get a job when it suits her purposes, and then, when it doesn’t, she can play in Florida for a month? I’m disgusted with her.

True, she’s a desperately unhappy person, but – like Tom and Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby – she recklessly involves others in her “accidents.”

I certainly don’t want her here. It’s a delight for me to live alone, to be free of her know-it-all attitudes and possessiveness.

I do feel somewhat obligated to Teresa because she provided me with a lovely home in Manhattan, but I can’t allow her to use my gratitude and friendship.

I won’t condone what she’ll do to Amira. I won’t be an accomplice, as I was with Sharon.

Teresa is so confused and lies to others – and to herself – so much that she can’t tell lie from truth or right from wrong.

Talking to her cast a pall over my whole day, even though, as Amira said, I seem to have thought out my situation here in Florida a lot more than Teresa did her situation in California.

But I can’t help wondering: Am I as fucked-up as Teresa? Am I also selfish and lazy and without direction?

Florida may be banal, but it also is free – for me, anyway – of all the neurotic Manhattan machinations that Teresa represents to me.

I may be isolated and lonely here, but I’ve got a purpose: I want to learn about computer education.

Today was cold – it was 29° this morning – and draggy, and I didn’t come alive till I went to my FAU Measurement class at 4 PM.

We did more on means and medians, and I found I liked the challenges of the math and enjoyed the stimulating discussion about education in Broward County.

But am I, like Teresa, just rationalizing? I haven’t been very productive. Am I fooling myself into thinking I’m taking these courses for my future?

I hope not, but I’m not totally certain.

Still, I bet this solitude gives me time to find out.


Wednesday, January 23, 1985

Midnight. It’s been a satisfying day. Would you believe that I got home at 10 PM after being in class since 4 PM, and I’ve been working on programs for two hours?

The day has been fulfilling because I’ve got enough work to keep me busy. And I’m happiest when I’m busy.

I slept well, and it warmed up a bit today, so that helped lift my mood.

On the Broward Community College campus, Phyllis Luck hugged me when I visited the English Department and told me how things were going with her.

She’s now working at Burdines on weekends to make ends meet even though she’s a full-time instructor.

“BCC is collapsing,” said Bill Senior, and a story in the paper said that because of a 25% drop in enrollment, Dr. Hamilton announced severe budget cuts, a hiring freeze and other drastic (and dictatorial) measures.

Part of the enrollment decline is a result of demographics, the shrinking pool of 18-year-olds; another part is the improved economic climate, which has led to a nationwide community college decline because students don’t need college to get a job; and part of it is that CLAST tests have frightened off older students while others are being siphoned off by the admittance of freshmen at FAU and FIU.

Tonight in class, Patrick showed me a memo from the top and said things look very grim, although South Campus enrollment is up.

The Central Campus Communications Division lost 1½ secretaries. JoAnne was sent downtown to Personnel and her position was consolidated with Serena’s; the other secretary is shared with the Math Department upstairs.

I’m still morbidly interested in BCC politics, though now that I no longer work there, it’s — no pun intended — academic to me now.

Pam Garwood, the FAU teacher, told me I was way behind after missing two classes, but I told her I know IBM BASIC, and I’m sure I got at least a B on the quiz she gave.

The Apple II BASIC is similar to what John Kallas taught me at The New School. I’m a little rusty, but it’s all coming back – and so is the delight of learning it.

I worked on IBM LOGO in the next class, and even copied it to my own disk; now I won’t have to go to Boca to use their lab to practice for my FAU LOGO class. I love that little PCjr.

Ray Cafolla is an intelligent man as well as a good professor. After class, Patrick and I spoke with him about the politics of higher education in Broward between FIU, FAU and BCC.

Ray says that the easiest doctorate we could get would be FIU’s Ed.D. in community college education.


Friday, January 25, 1985

9 PM. I’m somewhat less exhausted than I was last Friday night, but I really should work out a way so that I’m not this tired. Perhaps I’m pushing myself too hard.

Even in Florida, even with subjects I’m somewhat familiar with, taking 18 graduate credits means a great deal of work.

While I don’t intend to drop any of the classes, I had flirted with dropping the FAU LOGO course as I drove up to Boca today.

But the problem isn’t with the courses: it’s with my attitude towards them. I’m here to learn, not to turn myself into the drudge I was when I was teaching full-time at BCC.

“Monkish,” “spartan,” “cloistered”: these are the words I use to describe in letters to my friends how I view this period of my life.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s as if I’m punishing myself. If I turn myself into a grind, what will be the good of it?

True, a lot of computer programming is drudgery, and that’s one reason I’d never consider programming as a career, but I need to emphasize the fun of learning, the joy of discovery, the satisfactions of my courses.

Today I got a card from Teachers College that my application is complete except for the GRE scores, and I know they’ll be coming shortly.

The 30-credit master’s (M.A.) program there won’t allow me to transfer any of these Florida credits (the 60-credit M.Ed. would, but it’s not in place yet), so I don’t really have to worry about my grades this semester.

Still, I yearn to get all A’s – or maybe just one B. It’s good that I have a need for achievement, yet I can’t let that interfere with my living normally. I need some luxuries, some diversion, some sensuousness in my life.

In New York, I enjoyed movies, plays, lunches with friends, and I certainly don’t have to shut myself off from pleasure while I’m here in Florida.

Probably I feel guilty about not working, and so I end up sabotaging my own need for fun. But if I don’t learn to relax, not only will I never write again; I won’t have any sense of what it’s like to be fully human.

Look, kiddo: When you get back to New York, you’re probably going to have to work in a 9-to-5 job and work hard, in addition to going to school.

Right now, you’re in Florida for the winter, you’ve got your own apartment, you’re still young at (almost) 34 – so enjoy yourself.

It wouldn’t kill you to lie out in the sun for an hour or to go to a movie one afternoon. You don’t have to be at the computer lab at 10 AM every day, as I was today.

Oh well. When I remember just one week ago, I spent the first night in this apartment, then I think about how much in my life has changed in only two fucking weeks, I want to scream: “Look at how well you’ve done! Relax! You’re doing fine! You don’t have to be perfect!”

I don’t need to take every opportunity to berate myself for what I haven’t done. If I find it hard to be self-congratulatory, then I should at least relax a little.

After learning that Amira just sent out my unemployment check, I went to the Fort Lauderdale unemployment office before going to FAU.

Transferring my claim from the Manhattan address should not be too difficult; I already signed for a check for last week and will report again on Wednesday, February 6.

I’ve paid my rent through March 1 and I can also pay my other bills, so I’m not desperate for the benefit checks.

For tonight I’m not going to think about the assignments I have due or about doing my income tax or anything else.

Instead, I’m going to shut off the lights and listen to classical music and hug myself as a breeze from the window blows over me. Maybe I can get a nice sexual fantasy going. . .

Hey, life’s okay.


Saturday, January 26, 1985

8 PM. I feel as if I’m accomplishing what I set out to do during my stay in Florida. If half my days could be as productive as today, I’ll have reached my goal.

Not that anything remarkable occurred: I got up early, feeling tired even though I’d slept well, dreaming of Park Slope and strange subway lines and Grandma Ethel.

Across the street at BCC by 8:30 AM, I felt that good early-in-the-morning feeling.

It was a bright, cool day; tomorrow may be even chillier, but I don’t mind. I like talking to Patrick, who’s invited me to speak to his creative writing class on Thursday.

Mary Alice, disorganized as usual, had no IBM software for us and so we took our word processing final on either Bank Street Writer or Magic Window.

The Saturday course is a breeze for me, with little work and few requirements. Soon we start on spreadsheets and then get to databases.

Out of class early, I read the New York Times while enjoying French toast at a University Drive coffee shop. Then I went home and got back into bed, where – miracle of miracles – I actually wrote a short story.

I’m very rusty, but I did finish it, all seven pages of it, the way I used to: in longhand, at one sitting.

Seeing a poster about submissions to the FAU literary magazine Coastline was what spurred me on. I think I’ll submit this story there, as it will be judged anonymously.

If they accept it, I’ll have more confidence and maybe start submitting all over again. But I liked the form of my story: to make the fragments run together, I headed each with the line of a BASIC program that actually would run.

Probably this is only the forerunner of a more ambitious, better-crafted story, but I have to start somewhere. And maybe this is just a fluke.

Today I relaxed, went to the library, went grocery-shopping, and did a lot of reading.

I’ve just finished the excellent Florida Education Commissioner’s 1985 report, a surprisingly well-written and perceptive study, taking into account demographics, high technology and teacher training.

At least Florida is trying different innovations; what it will add up to, I don’t know, but the people in this state probably have a better Education Department than they deserve.

What I like about the Florida public sector is its openness. In New York, decisions are made out of the sunshine in the backrooms, but here people get to see the decisions being made.

This often results in a perception of incompetence or stupidity, but there’s a lot to be said for it.

I doubt Florida will achieve its ambitious goals (especially in regard to teachers’ salaries), and the report does conclude by saying the state is heading toward a severe teacher shortage, which I will welcome.

I’d like to be in demand for a change and have demographics work for me rather than against me.

I got the application for the Florida Arts Council’s 1985 fellowships, and I’m going to get my application ready soon. The deadline is March, the same as for the NEA fellowships, to which I’ll grudgingly reapply.

When I called Amira yesterday, she said Teresa was definitely returning to New York.

Not at all happy with Teresa’s decision, Amira can’t find the words to tell Adam he’ll have to vacate her apartment, especially when he’s so happy there.

Amira said she hates the idea of living with Teresa, but she’s so numb from her job loss and everything that she can’t summon enough energy to fight Teresa – “because you can’t win with her.”

How can Teresa be so thoughtless? I don’t miss her.


Tuesday, January 29, 1985

11 PM. I just finished watching part three of Robert Kennedy and His Times, which covered the years 1967-1968: the growing antiwar movement, the McCarthy challenge to Johnson, the President’s withdrawal, and Kennedy’s candidacy.

Though the film was often insipid, and sometimes the history was simplified or even wrong, I did like seeing those crucial events in my own life.

Robert Kennedy’s speech on the night of Martin Luther King’s murder was the best part, and the script probably used his verbatim remarks.

Because of my agoraphobia, I had myself transferred out of a Problems in American Democracy class in Midwood where serving in Kennedy’s Manhattan Senate office was part of the coursework.

I was a Gene McCarthy supporter because I liked his cool intellectual style. But when Kennedy was killed – on June 4, 1968, my 17th birthday (half my lifetime ago!) – I felt awful.

I went to bed after the primary results and didn’t learn of the shooting until morning when I turned on the news on the radio. I started screaming and sobbing, and my parents came into my room, asking what the matter was.

“This damn country,” said Dad. I couldn’t stop crying for the next hour.

You know how Virginia Woolf says in one of her books something like, “In 1910 human nature changed.” Well, I’ve always wanted to use the line: “In 1968 human nature changed.”

Last night I dreamed that two of my great-grandfathers were alive, and that I was thrilled to be able to spend time with them.

That reminds me that I really miss Grandpa Herb two years after his death and that I should go see Grandpa Nat at the nursing home while I’m here.

As usual, I went to the shopping center on University and Griffin to buy the Times and go to the bank. I also bought a calculator to help me in my Measurement class.

At my parents’ house, I checked my mail – the Strattons sent a card that they’ll be visiting Florida on their annual trip soon – and picked up my laundry.

Home at noon, I sat down to revise and type up my story, “My Basic Problem.” It runs eight pages, and although it’s not up to the level of my best stories, it’s not a stinker.

Whether it’s a breakthrough for me, I don’t know yet, but I felt the same excitement I used to feel a decade ago when I finished a story.

I couldn’t wait to get it xeroxed, so I drove up to Jaffe’s on Oakland Park Boulevard.

On the way, I went through Sunrise, and as I have so often since I’ve been here, I thought of Ronna and how I’d like to point places out to her. I don’t miss her so much as I feel I want to share my experiences in Florida with her.

After xeroxing the story and buying paper clips and 9” x 12” manila envelopes – I’m going to send the story not only to the FAU journal but to other little magazines – I had lunch in the Broadway Diner and then went to my 4 PM class at FAU’s Commercial Boulevard campus.

Dr. Miller is an excellent teacher who today made me understand, at least tentatively, the concept of standard deviation.

I don’t quite have it yet, but unlike some of my classmates, I don’t worry because I know I’ll get it eventually. I’m learning, and that’s the important thing; I feel my brain is being exercised.

After dinner at the Goodbody’s healthy fast-food restaurant (where the Arby’s in Sunrise used to be), I went to the BCC library to work on several different projects.

This is an exciting time for me. I feel liberated and challenged. I like this low-profile, self-nourishing life.

Maybe I’ll even write more stories. I’m starting to feel like a writer again.TC mark

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