A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early December, 1986

Tuesday, December 2, 1986

8 PM. Tomorrow is the last day of my Computer Literacy workshop at Palm Springs Elementary. I’ve prepared the final evaluation for the students as the component from the Dade County Public Schools outlined it.

Now that my teaching for the term is over, I should have more time to devote to my own writing – and that makes me nervous even though in the last few days I’ve been “pre-writing” in my head.

The other night I was kept awake by ideas for my Sun-Tattler column, but none of the ideas has taken shape yet. And I’ve been seeing things as stories or even films, maybe because of the screenwriting course I’ve registered for.

Last night I did manage to sleep very well and shake off my headache. Although today was another warm, humid day, we’re finally scheduled for some sweater weather later this week.

I got up later than usual today. Want to hear my routine?

Usually I turn on the news show Morning Edition on National Public Radio; I switch to Al Rantel’s talk show at 9 AM and often listen to Neil Rogers when he comes on at 10 AM. I like to keep up with the zeitgeist.

(Today Reagan seemed more conciliatory, asking for a special prosecutor and agreeing to cooperate with congressional investigations. His popularity, according to one poll, has plummeted.)

I eat breakfast, which is orange juice, vitamins and a big bowl of either Just Right or Nutri-Grain Wheat with Raisins.

Back in bed, I read the Herald, usually getting to the front section last. (That’s the way I’ve always read the New York Times.)

Then I do whatever work I’ve got – today it was preparing for tomorrow’s workshop – and shower, get dressed (even though it’s warm, I don’t feel properly dressed in a T-shirt and shorts: I wear one of the neat sport shirts sold by my family and one of my four pairs of jeans or corduroys), and get into the Camaro.

The car takes a while to start up; I put the radio and air conditioner on and then buckle my seat belt.

This morning I stopped to get some $400 in cash advances and I felt like driving along U.S. 441 to the credit union office in Hollywood even though I can walk to the branch here in Lauderhill.

At my parents’, I picked up my mail: a “You may win $100,000” letter, a survey about writers using word processing from a librarian in Alaska, and a nice rejection (“Keep up the good work”) of my credit card story from Millionaire’s Digest.

Then, after buying the Miami News, I went into the Bagel Whole, sitting at the counter for my usual lunch: tuna platter on a pumpernickel bagel, untoasted, with a slice of raw onion and a Diet Coke. Sam, the owner – a very nice man – usually comes over to joke around with me.

From there, I went to the West Regional Library, where I read a recent Sunday Washington Post and issues of the Village Voice, Vanity FairNew Republic (I loved a quote by embattled White House Chief of Staff Don Reagan in which he spoke of “fuck you money”: what a wonderful term, one I plan to use), Miami/South Florida, Ms., etc.

Our last Software Evaluation class with Dr. Sandiford was held in the computer lab. Sue showed us the programming she’d done for the Florida Instructional Computing Conference project, and we worked for hours on our presentation.

There’s still a lot of work to do, and I’ve been assigned to write some handouts for the conference. Debbie demonstrated the IBM Private Tutor CAI authoring system she’s been using, and class ended at about 7 PM, at which time I came home to watch the news, read USA Today, and have a Lean Cuisine dinner.

Are these mundane details of interest to anyone?


Wednesday, December 3, 1986

7 PM. Last evening I read a few stories in Fiction/86, and one was so good that it inspired me to write an outline for a story of my own. I really do hope I can work on my fiction in the next month.

Today, another rejection got me thinking: Perhaps if these little magazine editors knew I was a published author, they’d see my manuscripts in a new light.

Weren’t Jerzy Kosinski and Doris Lessing rejected when they submitted under other, unknown names? From now on, I’m going to send along cover letters and maybe the Contemporary Literary Criticism entry and see if the response changes.

Last night I spoke briefly with Susan Mernit, who was working on an article for Prevention, which is considering her for a full-time job. Unfortunately, it would mean relocating to outside Allentown, Pennsylvania, and Susan would find that difficult.

She sounded excited about getting back to writing fiction, and she told me that she interviewed Ronna for an hour for an article she’s doing for Working Woman.

Up early this morning, I exercised and watched a TV show about homeless people.

Today was noticeably cooler: the high was more like 81° rather than our usual 86°, and tonight it may even get below 70°. I can’t wait for cooler weather to make it feel just a little like December.

After having lunch at Corky’s in North Miami Beach, I spent an hour walking around Miami Dade Community College’s North Campus.

Remember I almost adjuncted there in the fall of 1981, before Broward Community College hired me full-time? They’d even given me a creative writing course.

The MDCC campus is more like those of CUNY schools like John Jay, Brooklyn, Baruch and Kingsborough in that minority students predominate – unlike at BCC, which is very white and middle-class. I prefer the grittier, more urban feel.

My last workshop session at Palm Springs Elementary went very well.

After all my students passed their evaluation test, we talked about the future of computers in education, and I let them play with ELIZA, the public domain program based on Weizenbaum’s computer psychiatrist.

Mrs. Cil, the assistant principal, helped me with the paperwork, and we got it all done; now the only thing left is for the Dade school board to give my students credit and for FIU to give me my $500.

At Davie, I found a notice summoning me for jury duty – in Manhattan! I’ve sent back a note explaining that I’ll be out of town until May and asking for a postponement. I wouldn’t mind serving in May or June.

Also, Prof. Cook sent me a letter an official letter of welcome as “a fully-admitted graduate student” in the Ed.D. program in community college education. Hopefully, this means I can get a student loan for FIU for next term.

Earlier, at MDCC, I had looked to see if they had any uncovered English sections for the spring. But all of the ones without instructors were remedial or regular comp – and it just wouldn’t be worth my while, either financially or time-wise.

It’s a shame, in a way, because I’d be a good teacher.

That quote of Don Regan’s about “fuck you money” keeps coming back to me. I feel I’ve got a little of it myself, at least enough to tell BCC to go to hell when I was offered adjunct classes.

By now I’m pretty sure that I have no chance for a full-time creative writing job next year, and even if I get one or two calls about going to New York for MLA interviews, I’ll say no because it isn’t worth the expense of the trip.

I want to get out applications to MacDowell, Millay, VCCA, Ragdale and Yaddo for next fall. So far, at least, I have been able to get into artists’ colonies, and I should take advantage of what I can get.

Sometimes I feel I’ve been extraordinarily lucky. In fact, I’m sure I’ve lived better than 99% of people.


Sunday, December 7, 1986

4 PM. This turned out to be a very pleasant weekend. I slept over in Davie not only on Friday night, but also last night, and both nights I slept exceedingly well.

I had terrific dreams: in several of them, I was back in Brooklyn College as a freshman, taking courses with my old friends. In another dream, I was living with Ronna and so was Jordan, who was upset and jealous that Ivan was coming over to visit Ronna. (I felt too secure to be jealous.)

On Friday night, after we had Italian food, I watched Brazil on HBO. Yesterday morning I had my usual workout, starting at 10 AM while watching Pee-wee’s Playhouse. I’m up to bench-pressing 135 pounds.

I worked out with weights and doing chin-ups and dips till noon, when I did my usual half-hour of aerobics with the Body Electric TV show.

Like Friday, yesterday was one of those grey New York-like days, but with a difference: heavy downpours that ruined the day for my family at the flea market.

By 8 AM, Dad had done $200 worth of business, but the weather forced them to close early, probably costing them about $2000 that they can never make up. But of course, there’s nothing they can do about the weather.

Fortunately, today has been gorgeous: mild and breezy, with partly sunny skies. So I hope my family has done well today, as there are only two more weekends before Christmas.

Yesterday I felt bad when I saw another big jiffy-bag envelope in the mailbox, for I knew it meant another rejection from a New York publisher. This time it was Atlantic Monthly Press, whose brief note kissed me off perfunctorily.

I began wondering if I haven’t been wasting my time with fiction. As I wrote on Friday, I’m tired of all the rejections.

I’m beginning to think that Miriam and all the other publishers and agents are right when they say there’s not a book in my uncollected stories. Maybe the best have already appeared in Hitler, Dog, I Brake and Disjointed Fictions.

I think about some of the uncollected stories, and I know they’re good. But does that make any difference if I can’t convince anyone else?

Maybe I should type them up and try to resubmit them to little magazines (most were published in small places so that no one would realize they were already in litmags), but I’m having enough problems getting my new stories accepted.

I felt very blue until I got the Sun-Tattler with my column about the Committee for Immediate Nuclear War. I felt proud of it; it was so long that I had to reduce it before it would fit on a letter-sized photocopy.

Moreover, I felt encouraged enough to type up a brand-new column which I plan to enter on the computer and do a final draft.

I’m very pleased with my columns, and it’s wonderful to hear, as I did from my parents’ neighbor Tony (Delia’s father), an ordinary guy who works as a mailman, how much he enjoyed reading them. I felt the same way with the People piece.

Coincidentally, I got a query about the Committee for Immediate Nuclear War from a reporter from Common Cause, who must not have seen the earlier stories that magazine did on me. (I sent him the column and a note and the article about my difficulties with the Florida Division of Elections.)

Anyway, this made me feel better about myself as a writer. Although I may not be a world-class fiction writer, I’m a good satirist, and I know I haven’t lost my writing touch.

As for my lack of productivity, it’s related to the slim hope of seeing my work in print. With my columns, I have the incentive of knowing that each one I write will most likely get published and all the newspaper’s readers will see it.

Writing every day like Tama Janowitz and Jay McInerney wouldn’t be so hard for me, either, if I had their assurance that my work would be published, reviewed, noticed and bought – and if I knew I’d be making money from it.


Monday, December 8, 1986

10 PM. Sometimes life is as sweet as Manischewitz Cream Concord wine.

I feel very good just now. The term is just about over, and I’ve come from Mr. Laff’s, where Joe Cook’s class adjourned to after an hour of watching the videotapes of our lectures.

I really did get a lot out of the course and I got to know some of my classmates well enough to consider them friends. Maybe not life-friends but good work-friends.

The conversation over dinner was stimulating, and I felt a part of something; that’s Joe Cook’s doing, for he’s very adept at making a class a unit of people involved in a common goal. The course I must take next term is his Monday night History and Philosophy of Higher Education.

It looks as though I’ll have to drop the screenwriting class I registered for because I accepted another FIU Teacher Education Center workshop on VisiCalc on Wednesdays, starting the week after the first one ends.

While it’s a shame that the TEC workshops conflict with grad classes, I’m better off – both financially and emotionally – as a teacher than as a student. I’ll probably do a better job with VisiCalc the second time around.

In January, I’ll rearrange my schedule for next term, depending on whether I get any other teaching jobs. At least I know I’ll have about $875 coming in, and I’ll be teaching for two solid months, until mid-March. If the University of Miami or Barry comes up with any classes, I’ll consider them, too.

But I’ll worry about that when the time comes.

Last night Dad called me up and said, “I think the Miami Herald or the Sun-Sentinel or some syndicate is crazy if they don’t pick you up as a columnist and pay you well. You’re the best thing in the newspaper.”

“Dad, you’re just saying that because you’re my father and you love me,” I said.

“No,” he said. “I read you as if you were a stranger.”

“Well, I love you for that,” I told him, not without embarrassment.

This morning I read the paper and watched the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearings on Iranscam.

Reagan’s been more forthcoming and the White House has begun to admit that mistakes were made, but at least one damaging bit of news seems to emerge daily.

Yesterday’s Herald, for example, reported that although the Reagan administration knew the Iranians were totally responsible for the Beirut blast which killed all the Marines in ’83, they sold them arms anyway.

Meanwhile, the Cubans in Miami are holding a “Support Reagan” rally tonight.

At the computer lab this morning, Robert was livid over the BCC administrators’ decision on Friday to reject the findings of the Special Master in contract negotiations. They really treat the BCC faculty with no respect.

I chewed the fat with Ray for a while; he’s pretty fed up with FIU jerking him around regarding tenure and such. College teachers in Florida all seem so downtrodden.

The unions are ineffective because of right-to-work laws against strikes. Many BCC teachers, of course, don’t know any better because they’ve never taught at any other college (and many probably wouldn’t be hired anywhere else).

I finally finished my latest column and got it off in the mail to Michael Burke.

After lunch at Gaetano’s pizzeria, I came home and did some work: I finished the Florida Arts Council application for a fellowship, and I’ll mail it tomorrow.

In simplifying and consolidating my bank accounts, I’ve now closed my money market accounts with Chase, Zions, First Union and Virginia Beach Federal.

Right now I’ve got about $32,000 or $33,000 in the bank, and I’m happy with that. I’m happy with life in general.


Tuesday, December 9, 1986

9 PM. Last night I had a brief conversation with Ronna, who stills seems to like her new job at Yeshiva University, although she’s having a problem getting Christmas Day off.

Her playwriting class ended last night, and Peter won’t be teaching it next term “so we’re five playwrights in search of a teacher.” Ronna got my check for getting me the 1987 diary, for which I thanked her again.

This morning I stayed in bed reading until about 10 AM. After writing a long overdue letter to Crad, I went over to Davie, where I had virtually no mail.

Mom asked if she could borrow $1000, and naturally I said yes, but I hate the idea of lending my parents money – not because I’m cheap but because I find it disturbing for me to be lending them money.

Of course, as they get old, eventually they’ll be dependent upon me – maybe sooner than I think.

Anyway, Mom and Dad need the money to pay the IRS back taxes, and after the holidays, when Dad’s commission checks start coming in, I’ll probably get paid back.

Still, it makes me feel kind of creepy.

From 1 PM to 6 PM, I was at BCC. In the computer lab, I wrote another column, this one dealing with the whole Legislators in Love affair. After editing it, I put it in an envelope to the Sun-Tattler tonight, though it will probably need cutting if they use it.

Maybe it’s too egocentric. I don’t want too many of my columns to be about my own exploits and adventures, but for years I’ve longed for some way to turn my media stunts into grist for my own writing.

Wow, I’ve written two columns in four days: that’s really productive of me. While I want to keep writing them, I fear it’s getting out of hand and that I should curb my enthusiasm.

Dad suggested I could one day turn my columns into a book. I think I should write enough of them so that I’d have a manuscript to send to a publisher in a year or so. Is this unrealistic?

At the computer lab, after Robert showed me the BCC bulletin board he’d set up, I logged into the system and got the FAU library online and was able to find books in their card catalog.

Later, when class began, we worked with the videodisk, and I now feel comfortable with that, too.

The BCC faculty, upset at the school’s treatment of them, is planning a campaign against the administration, starting on Friday with a boycott of the formal dedication of Central Campus in retiring president Hugh Adams’s name.

Debbie told Robert all of the plans the union has, and she says that eventually the faculty will win.

Talking to Bill and Sharon, I heard more horror stories of how teachers – this time, public school teachers – are treated like shit. I can’t believe how educated people can stand that kind of abuse.

Am I so out of the mainstream that I’ve forgotten that most people need security very badly?

In my P.O. box, I found a note from Marvin, who said that he’s tried to call me several times without success, and that if I wanted to get together, I should call him. Frankly, I’m shocked: I was sure he had no interest in me.

How do I feel about him? I don’t really know. I did enjoy our dinner and the movie afterwards, but I’m so inexperienced in forming relationships that might be romantic that I really don’t know how to proceed.TC mark

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