A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early November, 1986

Saturday, November 1, 1986

7:30 PM. Well, it’s the final weekend before the election, and like the true political junkie that I am, I’ve been following the campaign carefully. And I’ve been as annoyed as most people at the negative TV ads candidates have been running. They’re enough of a turn-off to lower the turnout because people end up believing both candidates stink.

It’s also absurd how much money is being spent in the campaign, and I’m certain that the Senators who get elected Tuesday will already, by Wednesday, be raising money for their 1992 re-election races.

(That makes my giant fine from the Florida Division of Elections for not reporting that I had no contributions or expenditures even more ridiculous when you compare me to the candidates and PACs raising and spending millions and millions.)

I tend to be cynical enough to think the electorate is by now so stupid that once again, mesmerized by Reagan, they’re going to “win one for the Gipper” and that the Republicans will keep the Senate, though it may be through a 50-50 tie.

A report by the always intelligent Ernest Boyer has just been released: its subject, the nation’s colleges, which he says have “lost their mission.”

Boyer’s report criticizes over-specialization, the lack of cohesion or a sense of the larger picture in the curriculum, not enough emphasis on writing a critical thinking, too much emphasis on research rather than teaching, and overemphasis on the big-money sports.

Yesterday a study of freshmen for the last 20 years noted that many of today’s college students, in contrast to those of 1966 or 1976, have made the pursuit of money their main goal. Lots of fertile ground here for a social critic, no?

As for the colleges, I still have to face the tremendous wall of bureaucracy I’m up against in getting a job. As I get letters from department chairmen, I begin to re-experience the disgust which made me get out of the academic labyrinth three years ago.

The same holds true of the literary world. “I Survived Caracas Traffic” got another rejection, this one from the Missouri Review, where I thought it had a chance.

The story has been rejected eight times already, and only The New Yorker gave me more than a form rejection. This afternoon I revised it here and there, and I’m sending it back out, to the Florida Review at the University of Central Florida. It’s also at the Madison Review and the Crescent Review.

In the computer lab for a couple of hours, I didn’t do much writing. Apparently “Caracas” is too long for a PC-Write file, so I had a lot of trouble with my disks – but eventually I fixed the problem.

I’m going to work on the “Shadow People of the Eclipse” and “You May Already Be a Winner” stories and have them finished by the end of 1986. Also, I’ve got to see what I can do with the miscellaneous fragments I have.

Asleep early last evening and awake at 8 AM today, I went to Davie, where I started working out at 10 AM, in time to watch Pee-wee’s Playhouse, an imaginative kids’ show with Pee Wee Herman that is really for adults.

I need to work on my abdominals tomorrow or Monday, but today I did my usual bench presses (up to 110 pounds now) and I worked out on the leg machine and did dips in addition to the aerobic workout I got with that TV show I watch at noon.

Michael Burke in the Sun-Tattler announced next week’s “The Observation Deck” and mentioned me (“a wit from Davie”) and lots of other local columnists. I can’t wait to see my first column already.

The paperwork finally arrived from the Florida International University Teacher Education Center; I’m getting $500 plus travel expenses for the course.


Tuesday, November 4, 1986

8 PM. I just got home in time to see the beginning of CBS’s election night coverage. This year, for the first time, only one network is having full coverage all night: another bad sign of the times.

Here in Florida, as expected, Governor Graham has beaten Paula Hawkins for the Senate. I’m anxious to get back to the TV – you know that as a political junkie, I live for election nights – but I haven’t had a chance to write my diary entry yet.

Last night I had an interesting dream, which I recorded on paper as I woke up from it.

In the dream, Ronna was getting married to a “cute, young, thin, short, dark Jewish guy” (that’s what I wrote, anyway, and it seems accurate). It was the morning of the wedding, and I was with Ronna, along with other friends. (No family was present.)

Riding in a car, I began having trouble with my contact lenses: my eyes were getting soapy, and I had to take the lenses out. Unable to see clearly, I realized that I loved Ronna and had to tell her this before she got married.

En route to the ceremony (at a Publix supermarket), I encountered the usual dream obstacles and pitfalls. When I got to the supermarket, I could see my presence wasn’t wanted by Ronna’s friends, all of whom tried to discourage me from seeing her.

The groom refused to let me get past him to talk to Ronna. As he kept shoving me, I explained that I had to speak to her, that he wouldn’t want to marry Ronna if she really loved me.

But he was adamant, and in frustration, realizing I’d lost my chance (at least until their possible divorce) – I woke up. Wow. One could take a lot from that dream.

This morning I did some work and I exercised. At the Davie polling place, I met Mom and Dad coming out as I went in – the first of two times I accidentally ran into my parents today.

I spent the early afternoon at their house, and then at 3:30 PM, I went to Broward Community College. Tom, Debbie and Robert were upset because it looks as though the Board of Trustees will name former Central Provost Willis Holcombe or, worse, North Provost Carl Crawford, as the new BCC president.

Dr. Sandiford announced that our proposal about repurposing the videodisks on fractions was accepted for presentation at the Orlando Florida Instructional Computing Conference early next year.

I was drafted to write the abstract, and Sue showed us the flowchart for part of the program. This is a big project, but it probably will be interesting.

We discussed it for 90 minutes, and then we went to the lab, where Robert showed us PC-Storybook, which is terrific, and Bill demonstrated IBM PILOT.

On the way home, I ran into my parents, who were going out to dinner. So I joined them at Gaetano’s for an enjoyable meal. Now it’s back to Election Night.


Wednesday, November 5, 1986

7 PM. Election Night proved to so be exciting and satisfying that I stayed up past 2 AM to watch the results. The Democrats have recaptured the U.S. Senate by a 55-45 margin, about three seats more than the most optimistic Democratic forecast.

First-term Republican senators who swept into office in 1980 were swept out here in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, the Dakotas and Washington.

The Democrats held onto all their seats except for one open one in Missouri. The party also gained half a dozen seats in the House, while losing lots of governorships to the Republicans.

I was disappointed over some races, mostly here in Bob Martinez’s taking the Florida Governorship, but perhaps this is the beginning of the end of the Reagan Revolution. (Or, as Bill Moyers called it, Reagan’s counter-revolution against the New Deal of FDR, the last giant of a President.)

Maybe the liberal cycle will start in 1988 if the Democrats can keep from fucking up. If I had to place a bet on a candidate now, I’d say Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, though I think Gary Hart or others could also win. (Governor Cuomo, despite his re-election win, couldn’t; he showed himself to be kind of aloof and thin-skinned, an intellectual Nixon.)

And maybe in the next two years the Democrats can keep Reagan from appointing fascists to the bench and keep an eye on the military budget.

Groggy this morning, I nonetheless enjoyed reading the papers and listening to the news and talk shows on radio. Casino gambling lost by a huge margin in Florida, and that’s a shame, but the loss was expected.

At noon today I drove down to Dade County, where I had lunch at Corky’s.

I was at Palm Springs Elementary in Hialeah pretty early, but that gave me time to prepare, and I enjoyed my class a great deal. The principal, a jovial and lively man, sets a good tone, and I think my teacher students all had fun.

First, I lectured on the history of computers, and then I talked about disks and disk drives and booting up, and finally I let everyone use some software and boot up themselves; they explored and played on their own, although people kept calling me over for help.

In any case, it again was a gratifying experience.

I was in a good mood until I picked up my mail. The one response to my ad in the P.O. box today was a Christian tract. Well, I can appreciate the irony and humor in that.

But in Davie, I got another stupid letter about my fine from the Division of Elections; the Morrow editor sent back my manuscript saying that all my stories seemed alike (I used to get told my problem was my styles were too different, but asshole editors have to say something); and the post office in New York City sent a letter to West 85th Street saying my P.O. box in Manhattan was finally approved, half a year after I applied.

Is the world full of incompetents?

Yesterday Jack Saunders’ latest book, Open Road, arrived, and naturally I fell into it. It’s more of the same: Jack kvetching, ranting, writing his heart out.

Saunders is a crank, but there’s power in his work that goes beyond mere injustice-collecting, and I empathize with him. I also worry that he’ll destroy himself in his efforts, so I hope he’ll make good in a promise to relax a little, “to go fishing,” at the end of the book.

Is it worth it to keep banging your head against the wall? I think not. Sending out stories and manuscripts and trying for professorships and grants only makes me remember how the process used to eat away at me, and I remember why I wanted to opt out of the literary/publishing/academic world.

Tom Whalen’s letter today was a comfort: He thinks Miriam’s saying my stories were dated was an asinine remark, and he didn’t like the Carver-edited Best American Short Stories or the 20 Under 30 anthology.

I read those books last week and found most of the stories boring, light-years away from the kind of writing I like. I feel as if I’m doing something so totally different from these writers, it’s as if I’m from another galaxy.


Thursday, November 6, 1986

10 PM. “Aren’t you excited?” asked the cashier after she put down the date on my credit card slip at Jaffe’s Stationers tonight. “It’s just a few weeks until Chanukah.”

“I hadn’t thought about it,” was my reply.

It’s been very hot this week, and the last couple of days have been record-breakers, around 87°. I didn’t do much except read today. I went out to pick up my mail this afternoon.

The first halfway decent response to my ad arrived, but I’m not expecting much. The guy didn’t send a photo, and that’s not a good sign. His letter was brief – which is probably an intelligent way to respond to an ad.

The guy’s name is Marvin, and he says he’s 34, 5’ 11”, 170 pounds, with light brown hair; he’s “a college-educated professional” from Chicago. I sent him a brief note back with my phone number. Probably he’s lying about his age or he’s a lunatic of some sort. That’s the way my luck has been going.

Actually, I’m almost reconciled to not having any sexual relationships with guys in the near future. (Actually, I’d be happy just to meet a gay friend down here like Justin, someone I could talk to on the phone and go out to dinner and a movie with). Fatalist that I am, I figure that I’m avoiding any chance of AIDS.

Now that I’ve tested negative for the AIDS virus, I should be careful to stay that way as AIDS becomes more prevalent. No sex is worth dying for. Am I just glad to have an excuse to be celibate after all these years? Probably not . . . but who knows?

Last evening I called Ronna, and as always, I felt terrific after speaking with her. She did get the job at Yeshiva University, where she started on Monday.

Although she’s been very busy, Ronna says the place seems to be run a hundred times more efficiently than the Hebrew Arts School. She’s a Writer/Editor, has gotten a $6000 raise and great benefits.

Ronna says the commute uptown isn’t bad, and she’s getting lots of glances from the cute horny Orthodox undergraduates.

[The lights and electricity went out for five minutes and have just come on again.]

The female students are all at Stern College downtown, so the boys uptown aren’t used to seeing young women like Ronna. I bet some of them already have crushes on her.

Though I felt embarrassed about it, I recounted my dream in which I tried to stop her wedding, and she laughed and said, “Thank you for telling me.”

With no time off until Passover, Ronna probably won’t see me until then; I’d really love to show her South Florida.

The amniocentesis showed that her stepmother is carrying a boy who’s healthy, and Ronna’s little half-brother should be arriving in March.

My relationship with Ronna is like a haven for me at times.

Today I didn’t particularly want to face the world. The rest of my mail brought rejections from colleges and six letters from the Florida Elections Division with about $15,000 in fines total.

I wrote out a notice of appeal and backed it up with “evidence” that I made up and then photocopied: letters from me to me, resigning as Treasurer and Chairman of Floridians for a Personal Income Tax.

Tomorrow I’ll send out the appeal and request for a hearing. And I’m also sending the material to the local papers; perhaps the huge amount of the fines will catch their eye.


Saturday, November 8, 1986

10 PM. I spent most of the day at the Miami Book Fair. It sort of reminded me of the times I’ve been at the small press New York Book Fair.

I got up too late to have my usual Saturday morning workout, so I just stopped off in Davie and put up a wash and picked up the Sun-Tattler, with my first column, the one about changing the name of Broward to Hot Pus County. I haven’t done more than glance at it yet; I want to savor it later.

Today I figured I didn’t want to waste time in downtown Miami looking for parking, so I left the car at Fort Dallas Park and walked the eight blocks to Miami-Dade Community College.

Although Downtown Miami is familiar to me, I’m not used to walking its streets the way I am in Manhattan.

At 1 PM, I’d wanted to see Ron Powers and Frances Fitzgerald (I’d read the Rajneeshpuram portion of her book, of course), but by the time I got there, the doors to the auditorium were locked, and I had to stand in line for the next event.

Because I was hot and hungry, I went outside and had some expensive but vile Philadelphia cheese steak; then I walked around the booths.

At Mixed Breed’s booth, I saw Jack Saunders, whom I recognized from photos, and I introduced myself and shook his hand.

For about fifteen minutes, I sat down next to him and talked. I shouldn’t have been surprised at what a shy, self-effacing man he was in person: very different from his bombastic fictional persona.

It’s like everyone thinks Crad Kilodney is a wild man, but Crad is very quiet and polite. And I suppose from my public persona, you’d expect a flaky eccentric and wild narcissist.

Anyway, Jack said he’s broke now and looking for work and is going to take a vacation from writing for a while.

I was surprised he knew not only about my Presidential campaign (I can’t tell you how many people have asked me, “What are you running for this year?”) and even more surprised that he said my complaint against senior discounts kept getting in the Palm Beach papers all spring; I had no idea.

I told Jack about my problems getting a new book published. Miriam wrote me and is glad we’re still friends. She’ll hold the manuscript until I feel ready to send her a batch of new stuff I feel secure about.

That probably means I won’t have a book out till late 1988 or 1989 at the earliest, because I certainly don’t expect anything but rejections from Henry Holt, Farrar Straus, etc., in New York.

But listening to some authors today made me feel better about myself as a writer.

At a reading of very good short stories by Richard Ford and W.P. Kinsella, I heard both of them say they’d had a real hard time.

Kinsella said that till the success of Shoeless Joe (in response to a question from me, he told how Salinger’s threat of a lawsuit had them quaking at Houghton Mifflin), “I beat my head against North American literature for 20 years.” (Shoeless Joe was published when he was 46).

And Ford admitted he often thought about quitting writing, which he said many writers do, and he said that if you didn’t feel like saying anything else, the world wouldn’t lose anything – and neither would you – if you stopped writing.

Earlier, I’d gotten into the tail end of a Q & A session with Anne Rice (Interview With The Vampire) and Pat Conroy (The Lords of Discipline, The Great Santini), both of whom were marvelously witty and personable.

(Jack would say, “Why shouldn’t they be? They’re successes!”)

Bill Robertson of the Herald moderated both events.

I also caught the end of a panel discussion on Miami with G. Cabrera-Infante, Russell Banks and others. It was pretty interesting, and there was this really cute guy in a Northwestern University sweatshirt across from me, and we both kept staring at each other and looking away.

Sadly, neither of us had the nerve to talk to the other as we filed out of the auditorium, though I thought about it a lot. I should have.

All day I kept seeing nice-looking guys, all of whom had to be fairly intelligent (or they wouldn’t be at a book fair), and I figured some of them were gay, but I didn’t know how to make contact.

There are definitely bright, literate, hip young people in South Florida, but on a day-to-day basis it’s impossible to meet them.

I don’t expect to get any more responses to my ad, and I don’t expect Marvin to be anything close to my type. Well, así es la vida.

Wandering around, I saw Jeffrey Knapp again, and Jacqui and Shirley at the South Florida Poetry Institute booth, and a few others I knew.

At 6 PM, I didn’t feel like staying for a Jim Hall/Andrei Codrescu/Stephen Dobyns reading, so I walked back to the car.

Still, I do feel like writing another story set in Miami, a sort of sequel to “Caracas Traffic.”

I drove back to Broward and joined my parents and Jonathan for Chinese food; they thought my column was very good. On the way home, I did some shopping.

Tomorrow I’d like to see Jay McInerney and Tama Janowitz, but I may not be able to make the time to go to Miami again.


Sunday, November 9, 1986

7 PM. I did return to the Miami Book Fair today, mostly because I slept surprisingly well and was up early.

At 7:30 AM, I was in Davie, working out with the weight bench and the chinning bars. It was a drizzly day, not as hot as it’s been.

In Miami at 1:30 PM, I caught the end of a talk by Belva Plain, the Jewish-saga writer who reminds me of one of my great-aunts; stayed for the McInerney/Janowitz reading and Q & A session; and then went to hear Kathy Acker and the filmmaker John Waters (Pink Flamingos, Polyester).

Going to Miami took time out from my schoolwork, correspondence and other usual doings; I still have three hefty Sunday newspapers to get through, and I haven’t at all prepared for tomorrow night’s role-play session in Joe Cook’s class.

But I’m glad I went to so many events at the Book Fair. I think I feel better about myself as a writer, as I said yesterday.

When Tana Janowitz told a would-be writer, “There’s no way your stories aren’t going to get rejected a million times,” she could have been speaking just to me.

I don’t begrudge McInerney and Janowitz their success because they have worked hard to get where they are. Both maintain writing schedules that I couldn’t possibly keep up; if they’re to be believed, they go to their word processors the first thing in the morning.

Of course, if I knew, with the more-or-less certainty that they do, that my work would be published and prove a steady source of income, I’d probably work a lot harder.

But I am who I am, and I think I can learn to be satisfied not being a major author. If, as all the writers seemed to agree, it’s the work that’s of foremost importance, then all the rest – publicity, reviews, money – is just gravy. Or maybe just shit.

Perhaps my values were always screwed up, and I was more interested in literary celebrity than solid achievement.

Anyway, I have nothing to be ashamed of. My books and stories may not be widely known, but they were published, people have read them. I’ve attracted enough reviews and criticism to make for an entry in Contemporary Literary Criticism.

If you count Hitler, Dog and I Brake, I’ve actually published one book more than either McInerney or Janowitz.

Part of my hesitation to commit myself more fully to writing fiction is fear of failure; another part of it is fear of success; and another is genuine interest in other things.

Both Jay McInerney and Tama Janowitz are bright, good-looking, witty, and excellent writers, and I admire them, but that doesn’t mean I have to compare myself to them.

Is it just writers or just Americans who have this big notion of competition?

Anyway, in my case, I may have forty or fifty years left, and who knows what success I could have? Maybe I’ll hit it big at 65.

But even if I died without publishing another book, what would it mean?

This week, when the rejections come in – from magazine editors and English Department chairpersons – I’ve got to maintain my equanimity. When I freaked out over Miriam’s letter, I really ended up scaring myself.

At the reading today I met Bob Wiener, this former film editor whom I met when I took over Mick Cleary’s creative writing class one night.

As I recall, we later met at a broadcast of All Things Considered and went to a movie and dinner together.

He’s now a lawyer in private practice in Coral Gables and we spent time together at the fair and took each other’s numbers. If I remember right, he had a fiancée – so I always assumed he was straight.

Bob is really not my type, anyway: he’s tall with straight blond hair and glasses, and he reminds me of Ed Begley Jr. But it would be nice to have an intelligent friend.

Before I left the Book Fair, I also spoke with Jeffrey Knapp again. He’s always a pleasure to be with.

While we were talking, a woman came over and asked me, “Aren’t you Richard Grayson?”

She said she knew me from when I visited Rosemary Jones’s workshop a few years ago.

So I guess I’m not ready to be buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Writer just yet.TC mark

More From Thought Catalog