A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late July, 1985

Sunday, July 21, 1985

2 PM. In an hour I’ll meet Josh at Chambers and Broadway, and then we’ll visit Tom.

Josh was livid that Newsday cut up his article, taking out all the vivid phrases, giving it a dopey title (“Sad Memories Linger of the Day His Dog Died”) and chopping off the ending.

I told him it read okay to me. That’s show biz: when you get paid to write, the words may not be your own.

My left eye has been itching when I put my contact lens in: not good. And the past few days, I’ve been more depressed and anxious than I have been in a long time. Again last night, I couldn’t sleep. No surprise, I guess, since I slept so much during the day, but frustrating nonetheless.

When I phoned Dad to wish him a happy birthday, he said, “Don’t worry. Things will work out.” But I know he of all people would be worrying even more if he were in my position. I feel like a failure, and even potential successes scare me.

Like the agoraphobia book: I can’t seem to get into the project and I resent myself for having started it.

Donald Booth of Toronto called me. He and his friend have $50,000 to do a low-budget movie and they want to see any screenplays or samples of stories that might make a good movie.

I’ll send him a few scraps, but I don’t feel confident – even though his friend read I Brake for Delmore Schwartz and pronounced me “a real writer.” I’ve scattered my energies all over the place in recent years. I’m unable to develop a passionate commitment to any project. I really do need therapy. I’m drifting.

*

9 PM. I have a bad eye infection. It’s not just my contact lens, but now wearing my lenses is unbearably painful.

I put them in before I left this afternoon, but by the time I got to the Chambers Street station, I was itchy and uncomfortable, and after Josh and I arrived at Linda Francis’s spacious loft, I took out my lenses. Luckily, Debra uses the same solution I do.

I put them in again to go home, but I couldn’t stand the itching and discomfort, so I took my left lens out at 72nd as I waited for the local. There’s mucus in my eye. I don’t know if I need new lenses, but I shouldn’t try to wear them for a while.

This summer is reminding me a lot of the summer of 1980 when I felt so desperate even though there were beautiful times with friends. This afternoon with Josh, Tom and Debra was wonderful. We talked and got along so well: the conversation was always stimulating, and Josh liked Tom’s lack of pretension.

They were good enough friends to let me talk about my fears and insecurities. But I’ve always been lucky in my friendships. When I’m beating up on myself, as I have these past few days, I even feel I don’t deserve such friends. Do I give them what they give me?

And yet, unfortunately, now I’m alone – and I need to be to figure out what the fuck I’m going to do with my life. This eye infection comes at what seems a proper time, and I’m sure some stress-related physical problems will come later.

What I’ll remember about today is being with Tom and Debra and Josh in that loft, going out to eat at Hamburger Harry’s, seeing everything through the fuzziness of myopia. I wished this afternoon would never end.

But after 8 PM it started to get dark, and once again I felt like a mess of confused feelings. It’s still 90° and humid.

Teresa’s sister called to say that Teresa will be back from Europe on Tuesday, though she probably won’t come home till later in the week.

July hasn’t been my month. But I’ll get through this.


Tuesday, July 23, 1985

6 PM. This seems like the old “best of times, worst of times” cliché.

Last night I was certain I’d spend the fall here as an adjunct, but this afternoon I made a flight for Fort Lauderdale in four weeks.

Lunch with Susan convinced me to do that. She was acting as my conscience and said that I should be writing the agoraphobia book. I know I should, but I can’t bring myself to do it now.

In Florida, with the stability and isolation, maybe I could.

But then again, maybe I wouldn’t want to do it any more there than I do here.

Susan strongly feels that adjuncting would be a step backwards for me. I guess I was ashamed of myself enough to figure she was right.

Now, a few hours later, I have doubts again. Of course, I’ve got to remember that only I can make the decision and that everyone is biased.

Susan would like to be writing a nonfiction book; she burns to do that, and I guess it kills her to see me walking away from it.

But I just don’t seem to have the ambition she has or I once did. I’d rather live pleasantly from day to day. Have I turned into a monster?

Last night I cleaned the apartment and slept okay. My eye infection seems to have cleared up enough for me to wear my contacts, though they’re a bit uncomfortable.

Today’s mail brought once piece of good news: on the National Teachers Exam English test, I scored 770, above the 99th percentile (750). As I expected, I must have come close to a perfect score. This may be a silly accomplishment.

Susan berated me for not really trying to get a teaching job at a high school. I felt guilty then, but now, as I think about it, I feel kind of annoyed.

So what if I’m content to drift along and let things happen to me? Maybe that’s what I’ve needed, what I continue to need.

I once thought progress meant every year getting more and more publications, reviews, publicity, more things to put on my résumé.

Now I view life as day-to-day satisfaction – that may not be progress, it may even be going backward, but it’s not terrible, is it?

I have to do what I want to do; the problem is, I don’t know what I want to do, so I’m content to be passive and see what happens.

We had lunch near Susan’s shrink on 92nd and Broadway and then walked down 20 blocks. She said Spencer and she are really anxious about the baby and their finances, and they’ve been fighting since he returned.

They don’t know whether to go to Europe or not because the money really isn’t there, but they’ll probably go.

When I got home, there were two messages from D.C. reporters who’d found the Committee to Draft von Bulow for Senator on the Federal Election Commission files.

I loved calling them up and doing interviews. Thats what I really enjoy: playing. And I’m so good at it. If only I could get paid for it. That and learning.

My only successes this year were my 4.0 average in my classes and my near-perfect NTE score, and writing my “BASIC Problem” short story (which Tom said he liked) and getting it published in Telescope.

Justin came over after an interview at WBAI. He wanted to do an arts show, and the people at the station seemed interested, but after they said they couldn’t pay him, he didn’t want to do it. He can’t – because he needs the money.

Justin feels he’s going nowhere with his directing and playwriting and feels the L.A. production of his diner play won’t come off.

He auditions and interviews and keeps getting rejected; this week, nothing’s gone right, he said.

Teresa called from her aunt’s. She said she’s “had better” trips to Europe. Her grandmother never stopped complaining, it was so hot everywhere she couldn’t stand it, and she said she’s ready to go to work now.

Actually, she doesn’t have to – since she should have $20,000 from the co-op sale. Teresa will be in Mattituck tonight and tomorrow night, but perhaps I’ll see her on Thursday.

For her part, I can stay here forever – but deep down, I know that wouldn’t be good for either of us.

Maybe Susan is partially right. The easiest thing for me would be to stay here and adjunct at CUNY – but is that the best thing?

I get anxiety gnawing at my belly no matter what I consider doing, but it will be hardest to return to Florida.

That’s a stupid reason for going, but it’s also a stupid reason not to go. Being confused seems to me now the worst thing in the world.


Wednesday, July 24, 1985

10 AM. I thought I could stop agonizing and sleep last night, but again I had insomnia. My eye infection is still with me; my eyes itch and are red and irritated and mucus-y.

I called Mom and Dad, trapped in the house due to Tropical Storm Bob, to ask them to send me the names and addresses of Dade and Broward high schools; I’ve made up a letter and résumé to send to principals there.

Meanwhile, I turned down the job at Malcolm-King College in Harlem that I got offered because the pay was too low.

I spoke to Grandma, who said Dr. Ramsey, who treated her for lymphoma seven years ago at NYU Hospital, called and asked her to come in as an example to those patients now suffering the same disease.

Although the doctor said she could help these people, Grandma has no way of getting to Manhattan and says, “What am I going to do, sit there and have everyone look at me and say, ‘She’s still alive’?”

Pete said his cassette will be duplicated soon. Our American Book Review panel will be a week from Saturday at his place at 4 PM.

Good gossip Pete told me – that Jonathan Baumbach is in Paris with his new love, Annette Grant, the Times Weekend editor and Alice’s former Seventeen colleague – just had to get passed onto Alice. Ironically, Alice had been planning to call Annette for some work.

Alice has decided to quit her job on October 31, and she feels relieved. She’s spoken with her accountant and feels she needs just $1500 a month to live on. If she doesn’t get a new job, she’ll freelance and try to earn the money that way.

Obviously, I’m far from being the only one with career problems. Once I make a decision, as Alice did, though, I’ll feel better.

One thing that came to me last night: I think I don’t want to write, and I don’t care if I never get published again.

Squinting through the little magazines at Shakespeare and Company last evening, I didn’t feel a sense of envy or disappointment that I wasn’t published in them.

Gretchen will be here at noon. I really would prefer to be alone, but maybe her visit will take my mind off my dilemma.


Thursday, July 25, 1985

8 PM. My airline tickets arrived today. I have a flight to Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, August 21. I plan to check out teaching jobs and register for classes at FIU and FAU.

If nothing works out, I’ll have enough time to cut my losses, get my money back from the schools, and return to New York to take on adjunct classes.

The FIU catalog arrived today and there are three computer education courses I haven’t taken offered at Broward Community College, all taught by Ray Cafolla.

Mom thinks Teachers College approved me for $4000 in loans for the fall. If I do get that much and take two courses there, I could do okay if I taught three classes at CUNY. We’ll see what happens in the next month.

More and more, I see that I do not want to write. I feel annoyed at each new letter in response to my author’s query about agoraphobia because I’m not really interested in writing about the disease – not now, anyway.

Maybe this has forced me to cut bait, get off the pot, etc. (Pick your cliché for quitting.) This may be painful, even shameful, but it’s best that I face it.

Last night I had an inspiration and wrote up a two-sided leaflet titled “CELEBRITY SHORTAGE?!,” alerting the public to the “dangers” of a celebrity shortage.

It’s pretty funny satire, and I spent 90 minutes in midtown today handing out the flyers, of which I printed up 500. It made me realize what Crad must go through trying to sell his books in downtown Toronto.

So many people passed me by; few seemed to get the joke as I repeated, “Help fight the celebrity shortage!” I had hoped that someone from the media would spot me, but no one did.

The calls to The Committee to Find New Celebrities were mostly curious people or jokesters. I did get rid of 200 leaflets rather quickly, though.

I like the idea of these people reading my stuff and getting a laugh out of it. The problem – if there is one – is that there’s really no point to it, but like most of my publicity zaps, that seems to be what makes it work for me.

I’d call this performance art, but I doubt anyone in the art world would agree.

Yesterday I had a good time with Gretchen. She’s just as I remember her: a cool, sophisticated yet down-to-earth woman.

We took the bus to the Gotham Book Mart and the subway to the Village, where we had lunch at The Front.

Gretchen has been the cook to the Harrimans for a decade now — the Governor is 95 and getting impossible, she says — even though she considered the job a “holding action.”

Getting involved with Rick and the magazine and press is really what keeps her sane. She loves reading submissions and finding the one in a hundred that really bowls her over.

Over lunch at The Front, and then walking around in the East Village, and later on a bench in the revamped Union Square, we talked for hours about writing, publishing, writers, editors, etc.

Gretchen was like a gold mine of ideas and knowledge, and she also thanked me for “fining” Rick every time he “sighs” in a letter when he writes about some yokel who’s 23 and has a book out with Knopf.

We both agreed that as we get older, we become more relaxed and less ambitious.


Friday, July 26, 1985

3 PM. I exercised some more last evening, so I’m a little stiff and sore now. Last night I had vivid dreams.

In one, I was asleep – on the same pillows and under the same sheets that I was in reality – on the Columbia campus right near Low Library. When a black woman came by and said I had to move, I began this surrealistic adventure.

In the dream, people’s heads opened up and things got swallowed inside them – as in Monty Python graphics – and I looked into my own eye and saw reflected a whole different world. This dream world would have made a fantastic film.

Because there was no milk in the refrigerator, I went out for breakfast at 9:30 AM. The day was dark; heavy rain had fallen all night, and today was sticky and the air was heavy.

I took the M104 bus down to Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, where I did some banking, went to the big library, had lunch at the CUNY Graduate Center, and then read at Mid-Manhattan before getting home an hour ago.

Pete phoned to say that our American Book Review pop culture seminar would not be next Saturday after all. If I’m not around in September when it’s rescheduled, that will be too bad.

Amid the mail, there was only one item of interest:  I have an interview next Thursday at noon at Baruch College – not for an adjunct job but for a position as college lab technician. The job obviously has to do with the English Department’s computer lab; I’ve got to find the Times ad to recall the details.

*

8 PM. About four hours ago I decided to go out and distribute more of my “Celebrity Shortage” leaflets. I just hope Teresa doesn’t get upset that I put her phone number on them. Last night I got half a dozen calls from the curious, and today a group of hip young editors at Simon & Schuster called me.

Probably I should have given my name, but I felt abashed. One reason I enjoy this little piece of conceptual art is that, like most of my publicity stunts, it’s pure: I’m not trying to sell anything and there’s no point to it except for the fun itself.

Today I started out in front of the New York Times building, hoping someone might see it and put it in the paper, but Times Square attracts such seedy people that I moved to Rockefeller Center. I found my best spot at the entrance to the Time-Life Building as the workers were streaming out.

It’s interesting to observe who’s responsive and who’s not. Blacks are far more likely than whites to take the leaflet. The least likely to bite are not, as I expected, stuffy-looking older business types but the super-serious, conservative young Yuppies who don’t want to be caught being interested in something that isn’t either fashionable or lucrative.

Today my line was, “Learn about the celebrity shortage.” Nobody hassled me, and I was very polite, of course, but I also understood a little of what Crad must go through on the street, with people treating you like a nonentity.

Sometimes it would register only as people passed me and one would say to a friend, “Celebrity shortage?” And a few people – who looked beforehand as if they would have a good sense of humor – saw the joke immediately and brightened as they passed, whether they took the leaflet or not.

Coming home in the rush hour is one way to get New York out of my system. I’m becoming reconciled to returning to Florida. Once Teresa returns and this is no longer “my” apartment, I’ll feel differently about staying here.

But for well over a month, I’ve had the privilege of having this place to myself. Tomorrow I’ll have been in New York City for three months, and by the time I return to Florida on August 21, I’ll have been here just as long as I was in Florida this winter and spring.


Saturday, July 27, 1985

2 PM on a bright, sunny, dry day. Last night, well before 9 PM, I fell into a deep sleep for over twelve hours, dreaming wild narratives.

This morning I met Alice at 86th and Broadway at 10:30 AM for breakfast at a diner. She’s trying to save her money now that she’s planning to quit her job at Weight Watchers, but it turns out now she may not have to freelance after all.

While at lunch yesterday with Karen, the articles editor at Redbook (who used to work with Alice at Seventeen), Alice learned that the post of entertainment editor was open there. Alice expressed interest in the job, and later, Redbook’s editor-in-chief, Annette Capone (who also worked with Alice at Seventeen) said the job is Alice’s if she wants it.

It sounds ideal: going to parties, screenings, previews, openings, hobnobbing with celebrities and actually doing little work, for basically she’d be the magazine’s liaison with celebrities.

The problem – and it’s a big one – is that the salary is $27,500, only about half of Alice’s present salary (in a wry irony, she’d be earning less than Peter). Naturally, I advised Alice to go for it, especially since she’d already decided to quit Weight Watchers to freelance.

Alice would have a tight financial squeeze, and she could forget about buying a co-op for now, though. Also, salary does mean prestige, and not only would Alice be going from the top of the masthead to the ninth person down, but she’ll probably find that her calls aren’t returned so quickly.

“Essentially it’s a demotion,” Alice said. But she won’t have to be anyone’s boss, won’t have the hassles with employees, and will be able to spend her time doing “the frivolous, glamorous, shallow stuff” we all enjoy so much. (Alice laughed at my “Celebrity Shortage” leaflet.) It would take her out of the “editor-in-chief” category and move her into “entertainment,” where she’d be starting at the bottom.

Funny, but Alice said that, like myself, all the people she asks for advice seem to themselves be in career transitions or nearly there. Obviously this is a new baby boom phenomenon.

I walked Alice to the 72nd Street subway stop and agreed to go with her and her brother (and Peter) to their mother’s sixtieth birthday party on Long Island in two weeks.

Back home, I discovered a pleasant surprise in the mail: a shiny new MasterCard from First Interstate Bank. After getting rejected from the first “pre-approved” mailing, I expected to get turned down again. Instead, I’ve got a $1500 credit line.

Now I have nine Visas and nine MasterCards (not counting the Glendale Federal one, which I’ve given over to my parents).

I’ve been reading lots of articles about how many people my age are deep into revolving debt. The government’s measure of consumer borrowing has never been higher.

Baby boomers aren’t used to denying themselves things, after all, and the federal government isn’t setting the best example, what with Congressional inaction over the budget cuts, the U.S.’s new status as a debtor nation, and the big trade deficit.

In other news – as the anchorpeople say – Rock Hudson’s admission that he has AIDS seems to be focusing new attention on the disease: our celebrity culture at work again.

When a famous movie and TV star and friend of the President and his wife gets AIDS, it’s top-of-the-broadcast news. I hope it will help the ordinary people who are dying of the disease.

It’s terrifying how many people I know, or know about, who have contracted AIDS or have already died.


Monday, July 29, 1985

7 PM. I always forget how beautiful Rockaway is in the summer. Even from the bedroom window, I can see the steel-blue ocean meeting the sky at the horizon line. “Heaven,” Grandma Ethel calls it.

Last night I spoke to Ronna, who’d just returned from vacation. She, her mother and grandmother drove up to her cousin Marilyn’s house in New Hampshire and had a good time there. Later in the week, Ronna and Marilyn sat on the beach in Maine, and Ronna spent the weekend observing the goings-on at the Eugene O’Neill Conference Center, attending rehearsals for several plays.

Ronna didn’t express any reaction when I told her I’d be going back to Florida in three weeks, but we agreed to see each other soon.

I just called Teresa, who got home a few hours ago. She got a message for me from a woman from People who wants me to call her tomorrow about the celebrity shortage.

It would be great if they could get a photo of me passing out my leaflets in Manhattan, and of course that was in the back of my mind all along.

When Grandma came back last night, we watched TV. It must have been a clear night because we were getting UHF stations from all over the mid-Atlantic states: channel 16 in Dover, Delaware-Salisbury, Maryland, and stations from Norfolk, Washington and Philadelphia.

I dropped off to sleep at 11:30 PM and slept very, very heavily. This morning I just couldn’t rouse myself until after 11 AM. It was cool but humid, and I went out at noon to get the paper and try to get a cash advance on my new MasterCard.

But the card turned up invalid; later, when I called First Interstate, they said it wouldn’t be good until Thursday, the first of August.

Which reminds me: In two days, I end my sixteenth year as a diarist, and on Thursday I begin the seventeenth year of these journals. I tried to buy a 1986 diary at Rogoff’s on Beach 116th Street, but they hadn’t come in yet.

I walked on the boardwalk to Beach 118th Street and stared at my old building, even looking into the lobby directory to see who lived there now; many of the names were still the same ones I remember as my neighbors.

Five years ago I was having a hard time when I lived there; in some ways, that was the most difficult period of my adult life. I felt desperate and unhappy. But even then, there were moments of joy: being with my friends; looking out at the bay at night from my fifth-floor window as I lay in bed reading Emerson; and really listening to classical music for the first time.

I’d like to look back at my diary entries from that time as a reminder that I have survived what I once thought would overwhelm me. And I grew up a lot because I went through that pain.

My eye itches after I put on my lenses for an hour. I’m definitely going to have to see an eye doctor in Manhattan.

Mom told me that New Jersey wrote to say they won’t give me certification to teach high school English until I’ve taken educational psychology and several methods courses in the teaching of reading and I’ve been student teaching for a full year.

Fuck that, and fuck them. Obviously I was misinformed about the state’s new “more relaxed” rules for certifying teachers. The bureaucratic nightmare that is the educational system will continue to screw up learning in this country.

I almost feel like applauding the rising tide of mediocrity and the coming teacher shortage; this country deserves exactly the kind of education it’s getting, given how little it is willing to pay for.TC mark

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