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

Sunday, October 12, 1986

8 PM. It’s Yom Kippur. Earlier, I tried to call Grandma Ethel, but she must have gone to Tillie and Morris’s for dinner; I’ll try later.

An hour ago, once the sun went down and the temperature fell to 83° or so, I combed my hair and put on a sport shirt and long pants and went out for a drive. Not a very Yom Kippur thing to do, but I had to get out – and I was so sick of wearing shorts and a t-shirt all the time.

I miss sweaters in October. I remember a camel-color crewneck I bought at Campus Closet as a freshman, and a white one with lots of multicolored threads that I associate with the fall of 1971, when I broke up with Shelli.

It would have been nice to experience a little of October in New York. Remember two years ago, when Teresa, Amira and I drove up to the Berkshires for Columbus Day weekend? There was that chill in the air, and the autumn leaves were unlike anything I could remember.

Tomorrow will be my fiftieth day in Florida, and it’s been hard to adjust to the hot weather these last seven weeks. Tonight’s forecast was just for more of the same: sunny with a slight chance of showers, high around 90°, like every day here.

But then I also can remember not being able to get warm in my freezing apartment in Rockaway in December 1979 and hearing that howling wind coming off Jamaica Bay.

And the corner of Riverside Drive and West 85th Street gets pretty chilly, too, with that wind blowing off the Hudson River.

This year I didn’t really experience a spring or a fall, and I sort of miss temperate weather.

Well, I survived this long in Florida, so I can wait a little longer for that first cold front to make it this far south.

Aside from the weather, I’m awfully lonely here. While there were weekends like this one in New York when I didn’t see any people, I also didn’t feel so isolated: I could always just walk the two blocks to Broadway and be a part of the sidewalk crowds.

Since I don’t really get out in Florida, I don’t have a chance to meet the people my age I’d like to get to know here. Obviously, I can’t expect them to just materialize in my apartment.

While I have friends at school, nearly all of them are older married people.

I think I’m going to put an ad in the personals in the weekly news, the gay paper. I can’t use my address, of course, so I need to get a P.O. box, something I’ve been meaning to do anyway.

I’d be happy just to meet a gay friend I could talk to, someone like Justin. If I met someone on a romantic basis, that would be extra.

Why should I lead a monkish life? There’s no guarantee that keeps me writing. Oh, well.

This morning I got up at 9 AM after watching TV till very late.

After going to Albertson’s to get the Sunday papers and other junk (I still haven’t read today’s Times), I went to the house in Davie, where I worked out for a couple of hours.

I’m definitely getting stronger if not more muscular.

Last evening I decided to see if I could do any pushups – an exercise I’ve never liked or been good at – and I did 25 without any effort. I again used 100 pounds for bench-pressing today.

The Reykjavik non-summit summit collapsed, as Reagan refused to give in about his Star Wars proposal – so there’ll be no arms agreement.

This week a U.S. plane was shot down by the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, and the survivor of the crash is probably linked to the federal government – though they deny it.

And the revelation of a press “disinformation” campaign aimed at Colonel Khadafy led to the resignation of the State Department spokesman and much outcry by the media.

Will Reagan’s Teflon shield continue to hold? I’m pessimistic that people will get outraged or that they’ll ever see through Reagan’s use of public relations and style over substance.

Not only do I miss autumn, sweaters, and my friends; I also miss Jimmy Carter.


Monday, October 13, 1986

11 PM. Last evening, after listening to the Yom Kippur services from that Reform temple in Miami that WTMI broadcasts, I read the Sunday Times.

It took me a long time to get to sleep and I slept only a few hours. Up at 10 AM, I discovered that though most institutions were closed today, the libraries were open, so I went downtown to the Main Library.

Interrupted by a great steak sandwich at the City Park Deli (sorry, God), I spent about four hours doing reading and research. What a joy. I know I say I’m pretty lazy, but I do love to read.

I went through the recent issues of American Banker, Publishers Weekly, Small Press, Vanity Fair, Florida Trend and the Chronicle of Higher Education. I guess I really do live an easy life.

Last night I spoke to Grandma Ethel, who sounded pretty well but who can’t understand what it is that I do.

Sometimes I get so down about not making a literary video like Tama Janowitz or getting my photo on page 2 of the Times Book Review like David Leavitt . . .  but that’s so petty of me.

Both of them, and all the young writers who’ve achieved more success than I, have their own problems, frustrations, setbacks.

I’ve done things none of them have ever done, and besides, I started way behind some of these writers as an agoraphobic kid from a family in which I was the first college graduate.

I’m not exactly working-class here like Richard Price, but I had to overcome my psychological problems. Sometimes I think it’s a miracle I can function at all.

So I’ve got to make sure I don’t lose my sense of what’s important and what isn’t.

Again listening to the Yom Kippur services before I went to class, I heard the rabbi talk before Yizkor about the just-closed off-Broadway show of 22 years, The Fantasticks, and the song “Try to Remember” – which the lady cantor sang – particularly the line, “Without the hurt, the heart is hollow.”

The rabbi told the story of a 19-year-old poet destined for greatness who every winter would walk on a certain pond until one year the ice cracked and he drowned.

“The ice didn’t know a great poet was walking on it,” the rabbi said. “You see, the ice never knows.”

The tragedy of life, he went on, is that “nature is completely unaware of us; we are the only part of nature aware of itself.” So the rain and the earth and the cancer cells do their jobs, part of some orderly plan.

“We can plan, pray, beg God to change what it is. But what is, is,” the rabbi said.

And he quoted Cervantes: “To lose a fortune is to lose much; to lose a friend is to lose more; to lose courage is to lose everything.” Well.

After stopping off for pizza, I went to Joe Cook’s class, where he said his ten days in England were wonderful. He raved about seeing the just-opened musical, Phantom of the Opera.

Our guest speaker tonight was a woman from the Miami News’ newspapers-in-education program – of course, I’ve always used the newspapers in my teaching – and then the class discussed group dynamics.

I haven’t seen my parents since Friday evening. Tomorrow I think Dad leaves for a trip to the Gulf Coast. On Friday he made a presentation at J.C. Penney and got a nice order for Bugle Boy.

He’s sold all of the major department stores, and hopefully, come next winter, when these goods are shipped, Dad will be getting big commission checks.

Of course right now he’s broke. Bill collectors keep calling the Davie house to dun my parents; I hate that.

Me? I’m in a leveraged buyout of time, financing these months of pleasure and work (the same thing) with debt.


Tuesday, October 14, 1986

2 PM. I’m very upset after getting a letter from Miriam today. She does not feel that there is a book “in the 100 or so uncollected stories” I sent her.

Miriam says there’s nothing past the early ’70s, and so she’d like me to send her unpublished stories “with an ’80s feel: New York, Yuppies, gentrification, AIDS, the homeless. . .”

Obviously, I have only “I Survived Caracas Traffic” and a few other stories like that, and she probably wouldn’t like them anyway.

I wrote her back telling her how upset and discouraged I was, letting her know I felt she was wrong, that I felt insulted by her suggestion that I’m interesting only if I’m trendy, and telling her I didn’t know what to tell her.

I did mention the queries I’d sent to New York publishers and the positive responses to submissions, but I didn’t say I’d sent any manuscripts to them.

Of course if Zephyr won’t publish me, surely none of the trade publishers will be interested.

Fuck – there goes a fucking ant crawling across the page.

Calm down, kiddo.

The phone just rang: It was Sophie Roussakis at Florida International University’s Teacher Education Center, who’d called earlier. She confirmed that I’ll be teaching a computer literacy class at an elementary school in Hialeah on Wednesdays, starting October 29.

God, now I’m confused. I’m really happy about that, but I’m so bummed out about Zephyr.

See, it was the possibility of another book that’s kept me going all this time. Without it, I don’t think I would have gone back to thinking that I’m a writer again.

Now . . . well, it’s almost as if I’ve gotten past it. I don’t know if this will so shake my confidence that I can’t write fiction anymore.

Why is the earlier material uninteresting because it’s about the late ’60s and early ’70s?

Maybe I have to go back to thinking what I thought through most of 1984 and 1985, that I’m simply not good enough a writer to be in the major leagues?

I haven’t gotten a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship or critical acclaim – maybe for good reason.

The confidence I’d been building up in the last few weeks is shattered a little.

I don’t blame Miriam for her honest reaction; she may well be right, but of course that only makes me feel worse.

Ah well, kiddo, there are worse fates than never having another book published. And maybe it’s still possible some editor not at a New York publishing house will be stupid enough to want to do a book of mine.

Yesterday at the library, I noticed there were no entries on me in Books in Print, so all my books are now officially out of print.

Crad struggles terribly up in Toronto, but at least he’s his own master. Maybe I’ll have to turn to self-publishing, too.

It’s my own fault, really, for not keeping up with my fiction writing these past four or five years. I’d been so discouraged, though.

Time has passed me by, and Tama Janowitz, David Leavitt and other young writers are household names – at least in literary households – and I’m a has-been.

Self-pity, kiddo? It’s not the end of the world.

Miriam will probably freak out when she reads my letter, but it was an honest letter, not mean, just filled with disappointment and hurt and maybe some bitterness.

I wish I didn’t have to go to class later; I don’t know what we’re supposed to be doing. Shit. I need a hug from somebody.

*

It’s 7 PM, and I still feel like a piece of garbage. I’m going right to bed now, for I can’t deal with anything. Everything seems out of my control.

For some reason, I’m not on Dr. Sandiford’s roster – and probably not Dr. Cook’s either. Has FIU screwed up? Or maybe I don’t exist. Wishful thinking. Self-pity.

FIU only called me to teach this class at Hialeah because everyone else was busy and Dr. Sandiford thought of me. I’m the last resort.

As for Zephyr, I don’t want them to be the publishers of another book of mine, and when I speak to Miriam, I’m going to tell her that she should send me back the manuscript.

I’ve always felt condescended to by Zephyr Press, although I was a good seller for them. If no New York publishers want my book – and I know they won’t – I’ll try every small press in The International Directory.

And if they don’t want the book, I might self-publish it. I don’t feel very much like continuing to write fiction, though. Maybe I’ll feel differently later.

Right now I just want to lie inert until I fall asleep or my mood changes.


Wednesday, October 15, 1986

5 PM. I got out of bed at noon and I’m returning to bed now. I’ve had enough of the world for today, thank you.

It was one of those days when lots of little things go wrong – or one of those days when I notice them going wrong because I feel so lousy.

I really thought I’d bounce back more quickly today, but Miriam’s letter hit me hard – and in my most sensitive spot. I doubt my writing abilities, and I feel so inadequate and discouraged that I understand why I stopped writing and stopped thinking of myself as a writer.

Maybe I just “don’t have what it takes” – to use the well-worn expression – and how easily I get discouraged is prime proof of that. (As is my groping for clichés.)

I got another rejection today: no note at all, just my story back.

Well, I’ve had experience, a lot of it, with these feelings of depression and inadequacy and powerlessness, and I think the best thing I can do is what I’ve been doing: lying in bed, shutting out the world, until the mood lifts.


Thursday, October 16, 1986

8 PM. I’m still depressed, but maybe I’ve just got to accept once and for all that I’m not that talented a writer.

Michael Congdon, the agent, said that he and his associate read my material, and they agreed that the uncollected stories were not up to the quality of those in the books, particularly Hitler in New York, of which he said “Taplinger did a very good job.”

(I wonder how much of their opinion was formed by the physical appearance of the material – and the fact that Taplinger is a commercial publisher. Still, I have to accept their judgement as unbiased).

So while he thinks that I could get someone to reprint the earlier works in paperback, no one’s going to do it without a new book. And like Miriam, Congdon believes my uncollected stories do not add up to a book.

(I remember Lou Strick telling me he didn’t think “there was a book in [my] stories,” either – that was before Wesley saw them.)

Anyway, I’m torn. Should I go on believing in these uncollected stories and persevering or should I just put them away – as I had for the last three years – and forget about them?

Maybe I need to read them again. I had better brace myself for a brace of rejections as the manuscripts come back from the New York publishers.

Yet I also feel that, even if the stories aren’t all that good, I can get at least some small press publisher to handle a new collection – on the basis of my reputation (the Contemporary Literary Criticism reviews and others), sales, and possibly my subsidizing the production.

As far as the uncollected stories, the question is whether I believe in them enough and as diffident as I am, I still think I do.

So maybe they’re Not Ready for Prime Time – but I’d rather get another book out than have nothing at all.

Once I’ve exhausted all the New York trade publishers, I’ll start going through the International Directory and contacting every small press that seems like it might be worth trying.

Maybe the book won’t get reviewed, but I’ll feel better with those stories published in book form. Anyway, it’s a long way off.

The other question relates to my general writing career and where I go from here. Was I right in deciding that my small talent didn’t justify my continuing to write fiction? I’m not sure.

The editor of Coydog Review, Candida Lawrence, sent back “I Survived Caracas Traffic,” saying that her magazine is suspended until late 1987, but that “out of hundreds of stories about gay life” that she’s read, mine was the best, and she’d definitely publish it if I wanted to wait till 1988, “but I’m sure you’ll place it elsewhere.”

That’s encouraging – but I know “Caracas” is a good story. Maybe it still needs work, but it’s good. Maybe I can write only one story like that a year. I don’t know.

I know I can’t call myself a failure as a writer yet, because it’s possible that in thirty years, at the age of 65, I could write a terrific novel and be hailed as a genius.

People and times change. The 1980s, I knew, would not be a hospitable time for me, but I’ve survived two-thirds of the decade.

What I dread most is becoming one of those has-been author-types who still belong to PEN and the Authors Guild even though their last (and maybe first) book came out 20 years before: a guy who’s so bitter he can’t stand younger successes and so obtuse he equates himself with people like Mailer and Bellow.

This type makes a big deal out of every stinky little publication he gets, and his work appears in worse and worse places as he trades off on what little glory he ever garnered. Creepy.

I’d much rather move on to other careers and be a “hobbyist” fiction writer. After all, there are other fields in which I can become a success. Whatever that means.TC mark

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