A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-August, 1986

Tuesday, August 12, 1986

3 PM. I’ve been rushing around all day since I woke up in Rockaway at 10 AM, and I’m going out soon.

Our journals and “chosen writing” are due in class today, and I must xerox my “Caracas” story, and if there’s time, make a corrected hardcopy of my journals. This wonderful course has really kept me going in a very difficult time in my life.

Maybe that difficult time is over now. I don’t know.

When I spoke to Tom last night, he said that my reaction to being sick and then getting a clean bill of health from Dr. Rundle when I tested negative for AIDS was akin to that of the hypochondriac Woody Allen played in Hannah and Her Sisters.

Last night I didn’t get to sleep until 4 AM; all night by the glare of floodlights, men worked on restoring the beach as the sand kept blowing in from those big pipes and the tractors kept smoothing it out. I tried to look for the Perseid meteor shower but couldn’t find it.

In a way, I guess it doesn’t matter all that much whether I go to Florida or stay in New York as I did the past two fall semesters. Wherever I go, I’ll want to try to write, to read, to learn, to make new friends, etc.

It seems like a crucial decision now, but it’s really not.

Where I live and where I work and go to school are just details, after all: it’s what I think and feel that are important.

If I hold onto that thought, maybe I’ll be more relaxed over the next ten days, which are bound to be hectic.

I spoke to Spencer last night – Susan was at the dentist when I called – while he was feeding the baby.

When I said that I knew things had been hectic for him and Susan lately, what with the baby and all, “but after all, our parents did it,” Spencer replied, “Yeah, but our parents didn’t have the choices we did.”

He’s right: Life was a little easier when there were fewer choices. I have so many that I can’t even make up my mind about where to live and what jobs to take. Meanwhile, the days and months and years fly by.

Teresa and probably Anna will be back tonight, so it’s the futon on the floor for me.

The last few hours I’ve been running around, doing laundry, paying bills (I changed the address on the last three credit card bills back to Davie), reading the papers, flossing my teeth: all the paratactic details of everyday life.

Will I really continue in my desire to write more stories after “Caracas”? We’ll see.

If I do stay in New York, I won’t take on teaching more than four classes, and even then, I’ll have a hard time getting the time and mental space to write.

I don’t know what I’m going to do, and I feel both oddly serene and typically agitated.

Life seems very full these days and heavy with meaning. I’m alive; Sean is alive; my parents and brothers and friends and Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Nat are all alive – for now.

I feel as though I’ve turned a corner. That may be a cliché, but it seems to fit.


Wednesday, August 13, 1986

10 PM. The last couple of days have been two of the best of the summer. Not only has the weather been cool and dry, but I’ve been enjoying myself.

Yesterday’s class was very interesting, as we discussed how computers will affect the future of writing and society in general. Two years ago, when I read Sherry Turkle’s The Second Self, I knew she was saying something important.

We handed in our journals and “chosen writing” and have a final class session tomorrow.

When I returned from Teachers College, I was surprised that Teresa wasn’t home; she left a message that she’d still be at Fire Island. Although she came in this morning, I didn’t see her until I got in at 5 PM and went with her in Michael’s car to pick up a bike at Perry’s.

Now she’s having dinner with Michael (his idea). She’ll probably stay there tonight. I asked her to bring back my suitcase.

Last night I dreamed that I was painting the word “YES” in bold capital letters over and over again; literally, that was an affirmative dream.

At noon, I went over to David’s brownstone to meet Tom, who seemed fine. We spent the entire afternoon together, going to the Museum Cafe and then to Books & Company before heading back to the West Side.

When I asked Tom how Europe was, he told me about the 16 films he’d seen in Paris, and as usual, mentioned directors I’ve never heard of. And of course, he mentioned a lot of European writers I’ve never heard of, either. I’ve never known someone who lives such a literary/cinematic life.

Tomorrow he flies back to New Orleans, where he’ll type up the stories he wrote this summer and help Nick prepare to take over for him at NOCCA. Because of the school’s new administration, Tom is glad not to be there this fall.

He intends to join Debra in an apartment in Baltimore around September 7. He showed me some photos of them in Europe. (She left him all the ones of both of them together, which she couldn’t show her parents.)

Tom would like to quit teaching creative writing because at age 37, he hasn’t had a book published yet. Railing against American publishers, he said that the bookstore at the train station in Münster has more literature than any bookstore in New Orleans.

I feel that Tom is too reverent toward literature; although his own writing is great, it requires the kind of highly intelligent and experienced literary audience that no longer exists in America.

At Books & Company, we went through the latest titles. Usually I’m happy to stay away from prolonged ganders at the current literary/publishing scene; in a way, being too conscious of that is what started my writer’s block in the first place.

I plan to steer clear of paying too much attention to what people are publishing now – which may be why I’m better off in Florida than in New York. Quite obviously, I’m not one of the careerists for whom New York is the place to make contacts.

Tom didn’t think the pay I’d get at FIT for teaching is all that good, and he’s probably right.

I’m not going to make any decisions today. No one responded to my ad in the “sublets wanted” section of the Voice (unless Teresa deliberately didn’t give me messages – which wouldn’t surprise me).

Tom feels my main consideration in deciding where to live is to stay in the living space where I’ll be most comfortable and most likely to write.

Anyway, it was great to spend five hours with Tom, and it was a terrific day to walk through Central Park to and from the East Side.

Josh came up to meet me for dinner. We ate at Caramba!!!, which like the Museum Cafe, had dreadful service and mediocre food. It’s amazing how many so-so restaurants have such overblown reputations in New York.

Josh finished the new Kilodney books; he liked Foul Pus from Dead Dogs but said the other two “sucked.”

Towards the end of our meal, Josh asked me if I could see him doing something other than computers.

I told him I thought he should be preparing to leave his current position because three years is an awful long time to spend in a job you hate.

Thank God I’ve been able to enjoy life all this year.


Saturday, August 16, 1986

7 PM. Scott is coming over in an hour, and I have to take a shower after I finish writing this.

I’ve just come back from Brooklyn, where I saw an apartment of a woman who answered my “sublet wanted” ad.

The place was huge and magnificent, airy and just perfect, located right on Seventh Avenue and Third Street in Park Slope. Because she’s teaching at Ohio State in Columbus, a fall term sublet would be perfect for her, too.

But I decided against it. The rent would have been $500, steep but probably manageable. I just have this instinct that I should go back to Florida now.

Of course, maybe, as Josh says, I’ll “freak out” when I get there and immediately decide that want to come back.

More likely, I’ll have trouble adjusting and be homesick for New York City for the next couple of months till about November, when it cools off in Florida and when it starts to get cold up here.

At least I have November and the six months after that to look forward to. Yes, in one way I feel going back to Florida is a retreat – but sometimes we need retreats. I don’t want to ride the subways for a while.

Probably after eight months in South Florida’s traffic jams, I’ll welcome the IRT, but that’s just it: I want to get away from New York so I can really miss it, so that being here will be as magical as it was when I came here in May of 1984.

Anyway, this last trip into Brooklyn made up my mind. If I didn’t take that terrific apartment, I won’t take any other; I’ll tell anyone else answering my ad that I’m no longer interested.

Yes, I’m scared and apprehensive about returning to Florida without any kind of job – but as I told my parents yesterday, I’ll find something.

I guess I’m still nervous about having to quit at FIT, but I’ll do that on Monday and I’ll cancel my student loans at Teachers College.

I’ve got to tell Grandma Ethel and see her before I go, and I’d like to see Alice, Josh, Justin, Susan and maybe Pete and Harold before I leave.

This morning I worked out while viewing The Re-Animator, a grisly but funny film Tom recommended that I rent. (I’ve got a terrible crush on the guy at the video store.)

It turned very humid, and it’s been a pretty dark day. Well, I’d better get moving. At least Scott is coming up here for dinner and I don’t have to go to Chelsea.

I wish I didn’t feel so tired, though. Hopefully it will be an early life night.


Sunday, August 17, 1986

3 PM. It’s difficult for me to believe that in one week I’ll be leaving New York. It’s a hard thing to do, too.

It would be easier just to stay put and be an adjunct here in the fall, but I’ve had enough of that. Adjuncting will get me some money, but not much else.

Yes, it would allow me to stay in New York, but by now, living in the city is no novelty. Perhaps I’m making a big mistake. But since I intended in any case to go back to Florida at Christmas, I’m just giving myself a four-month head start.

Although I don’t know how I’ll support myself in Florida, I see different possibilities.

Maybe I’ll do some computer education work like the class I taught at Sunshine Elementary in the spring. Maybe I’ll find a job I hadn’t thought of taking before and find out I really like it. Maybe I’ll write fiction and get some more nonfiction ideas like the one I sold to People.

Unlike Scott, who came over at 8 PM last night, I don’t need much money to live on.

Scott makes over six figures and pays three times as much in taxes as I’ve ever earned, yet he has nothing to show for it. True, he has no debts, but he has no savings, either; nor does he have any investments or property (he rents).

Worse, he’s bored with his job and seems deeply unhappy.

Scott’s been at his job for seven years, can’t really go anywhere, and hates litigation because it’s so adversarial.

But unlike lots of other attorneys, Scott is no corporate whore: while working for the judges’ association may not be helping mankind, it doesn’t actively hurt people or deal in greed.

Divorced now, Scott says he’s “lost [his] touch” with women, and he can’t seem to find anyone he really cares for. Yet he’s anxious to have kids and family life.

He still smokes cigarettes although he says he gave up coke (it cost too much) and even grass.

Obviously, he’s used to going to bars because after dinner, he took me along to several of them, most of which we left quickly because he said the crowd was too young or too old or “creepy.”

Scott said that despite his outward success, he hasn’t accomplished a thing.

“Everyone feels like that sometimes,” I told him, but I don’t think he believed me.

I don’t mean to sound superior. It’s not that I’m all that much happier than Scott, but I’ve learned how to wake up the morning and understand that this is as good as it gets.

I may not be the most happy fella, but I can be alone with myself and be basically at peace. (I just imagined getting Scott and Teresa together; with their nervous energy, they’d probably explode from spontaneous combustion.)

Today I was on the phone a lot.

Crad called, but I won’t get to see him while he’s in New York because he’s leaving his grandparents’ in Jamaica for his parents’ in Plainview tonight and won’t be back in Jamaica until next Sunday, when I leave.

Although he’s pleased with his three new books, Crad says that Torontonians are zombies and don’t respond to him as they used to.

But his career may get a boost soon: Ticknor and Fields, a New York publisher, is considering doing a collection of his old stories. I bet that would really get Crad going.

Crad’s girlfriend Gwen says he’s much more well-known in the literary community than he thinks he is, and I’m sure the Harper’s piece can’t hurt.

Pete, too, is doing nicely. He told me the new book will be finished on Labor Day weekend, and the Red Dust book should be out before spring. Meanwhile, Pete has lined up lots of gigs of musical and literary performances for the fall season.

Alice told me that she had a horrendous first week at Woman’s World, but she had to go into New Jersey all five days and had a lot thrown at her.

The old entertainment editor left very little backlog, so Alice was desperate for copy. She frantically called all the show-biz writers she knows, promising steady work, if not big bucks, if they could keep her supplied with celebrity stories.

She is also in the processing of learning to use the computer; the magazine uses XyWrite on IBM PCs.

After dealing with the long commute to New Jersey, Alice wondered if she had made a mistake taking this job, but probably this first week will have been the worst, and having survived it, she can go on to better days.


Monday, August 18, 1986

8 PM. I just walked in from buying some literary books to take back with me to Florida.

Of everything in New York City, I’ll most miss the life of the streets and the diversity of people here. It’s going to be hard to do without that stimulation in Florida, and I should try to find substitutes for it.

Of course, somehow a walk in the Broward Mall doesn’t do it; there’ll be no street people, no one playing jazz guitar at midnight, no peddlers with books and jewelry. A mall is artificial and antiseptic.

But I’ll come back to New York City. If there’s one thing I’ve proven these last few years, it’s that I can come and go and adjust.

When I finally got a chance to tell Teresa I was leaving, she sounded a bit huffy – but she doesn’t understand.

Although I’ve spoken to her every day for the last fifteen weeks, we haven’t had one substantial conversation.

When I come back to New York City, it probably won’t be to this apartment.

Last night I called my parents and learned that Grandpa Nat is in the hospital. On Thursday, while Dad and Aunt Sydelle were visiting him, he seemed to have a heart attack or stroke, and they thought he was dead.

With Sydelle screaming, Dad raced him from the garden to the nurses’ station and they gave him oxygen. Although Grandpa seemed okay, an ambulance was called to take him to Parkway General.

At first, the nurse there thought Grandpa Nat was totally disoriented and that he would need special care; Dad had to convince her that he’s always like that. I guess the strange faces and noises he makes upset other people.

At first his hospital roommate wanted him out, but the next day the man said Grandpa had been very quiet all night, and the nurse said he was actually her best patient because he did whatever he was told and didn’t complain.

Apparently Grandpa Nat has arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat. When the doctor suggested they may do a bypass or put a pacemaker in, Dad told him to forget it.

The doctor actually wants to do a brain scan – as if we didn’t know Grandpa’s been brain-damaged for nine years. Anyway, he should be getting back to the nursing home soon.

I also called Wade and Ellen, who said their new baby is doing fine and that his older brother is taking having a sibling in stride.

They really seem to have a good life in Philadelphia, which they describe as a livable city.

Although they were able to buy a seven-room house only ten minutes for downtown by car (or a clean trolley) in Philly, they said they couldn’t even afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan.

Wade will be teaching only two classes at Penn this fall, and Ellen has one (“The Screwball Comedy”) as a part-timer.

And by next year, Wade will probably teach only graduate courses. He just sent his book on Henry James to Cambridge University Press.

Anyway, Hurricane Charley brought us only a little rain and wind today before fizzling out. This morning I did the laundry, canceled my student loan, and called FIT.

Prof. Peterson won’t be coming back this term, and the new chairman won’t be in till next week, so I wrote him a letter of resignation: the coward’s way out.

I took several boxes to the post office, and I’ve got a couple more to send back to Florida. Little by little, everything is getting done.

I spoke to Grandma Ethel, who’s in bad pain from arthritis. I’ll visit her before I go, of course. As sad as leaving is, I like the sense of closure.


Tuesday, August 19, 1986

6 PM. Well, I got all of my packages off to the post office today, and I met Justin for lunch at the World Trade Center. We ate downstairs in that English restaurant.

Of all my friends, Justin is the one who most disapproves of my going back to Florida, but he kept quiet about it after I told him of my decision.

He looked very tired. For weeks he’s been working on the set design for the show in Reading, and he’s been traveling there every weekend for the past month.

In a way, Justin has been able to get out of New York City – in fact, all my friends have – while I’ve been in Manhattan continuously for four months.

Last night I couldn’t sleep; obviously I’m still a little nervous about moving back. So I read the Times, which I’d bought at 11 PM, and the first few chapters of Norman Corwin’s Trivializing America. Then I just lay in bed, thinking.

I didn’t conk out until 5 AM, but then slept nicely for a few hours. It wasn’t enough rest, however, for by 2 PM, when I came home from lunch with Justin, I immediately had to lie down.

On the bed, I slipped into a 90-minute semi-sleep: that great “deep relaxation” alpha state which always makes me feel terrific afterwards.

Scott will be over late tonight to pick up his contact lens case, which he’d left here by accident.

Josh phoned to ask if I wanted to have dinner, but unfortunately, I’d already eaten a sandwich.

I feel ask if I’m on some sort of countdown as I keep saying to myself: In five days you’ll be gone, so take in as much of this Manhattan scene as you can because you won’t see it for a long time.

But, you know, this past winter I was happy in Florida, and I think I can be happy there again. Actually, the first two-thirds of 1986 has been quite good to me.

I thought Teresa would be home tonight, but maybe not. God knows how she keeps from being bored out on Fire Island. I’d be bouncing off walls after a day there.

Certainly she’s making no effort to look for work, Though she says she needs a job, I suspect she’ll live on Unemployment the rest of the year.


Wednesday, August 20, 1986

6 PM. I had a crisis today when I got home at 2 PM to find a message from Evelyn, the secretary at FIT, asking if I could teach another course. I’d mailed a letter to the new chairman, but that was a coward’s way out.

So I went down to FIT; unfortunately, Evelyn had just left for a long lunch, and during that time I agonized. Maybe, I thought, they’re offering me a full-time position.

With four courses, I could make $6,500 for the semester. (I’d already given up the thought of taking classes at Columbia.)

But Evelyn just wanted to give me a second adjunct course, and she wasn’t certain my Friday night class would have enough students to make.

I told her I was up for a full-time job and she said that obviously if I got it, I should take it and call the chair as soon as possible.

When no one was looking, I retrieved my letter from his mailbox; I’ll call him tomorrow. “Everyone here knows what a crazy, last-minute business this is,” Evelyn told me.

It is a crazy, last-minute business, such a crazy way to run higher education. All over New York City, adjuncts will play musical chairs over the next few weeks.

I got a notice that I was hired to teach a class at LaGuardia Community College today; I’ll have to call them tomorrow.

No doubt Teresa’s phone will get lots of job messages for me next week and the week after. The thing is, I really don’t want to teach four sections of composition.

Dad phoned last night to say that the Hollywood Sun-Tattler’s Mike Burke wants me to call him next week about my doing a guest humor column.

That’s the kind of opportunity I could never get it in New York City, and even one column would give me satisfaction, though I’m already nervous about having to come up with something for the paper.

Vivian and Mark at EPIE were really pissed when I told them I was moving to Florida. Well, I guess they trained me as a software evaluator, and now I’m not giving them anything for the money.

What can I do? I certainly don’t think I’m doing anything unethical or immoral. This isn’t exactly like the insider trader scandals on Wall Street.

Scott came over late last night after he “broke [his] girlfriend’s heart” by breaking up with her.

She was so upset by the unexpected breakup that he “had to take her out for a drive to Brooklyn,” where they talked on the Promenade.

Jeez. The girl probably didn’t know what hit her.

Scott will be in Florida next month for his cruise – which he was supposed to take this girl on – and he told me to “plan an exciting Saturday night” for the two of us. Right.

Teresa slept at Michael’s last night and came in early this morning. We went out for breakfast together and had a good time; sometimes no one can be nicer than Teresa.

She got back my suitcase from Michael, who is now planning weekend trips with Teresa for the fall. I gave her a big hug as I left her at the subway; she won’t be back from the beach till next week.

Well, I’ve done just about everything I need to do now. I’ve got to see Susan and Alice and Mikey, who said he was enjoying the third and final week of his vacation. Josh is coming over for dinner and maybe a movie later this evening.

My Computers and Writing stuff wasn’t in the department office, but I got a form to send away for my Teachers College transcripts.

I’m really a bundle of nerves right now. It’s funny, but I had forgotten what stress felt like. Well, unlike in New York City, in Florida there’s not much of it around.TC mark

More From Thought Catalog