A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-March, 1987

Friday, March 13, 1987

2 PM. As I expected, last night I slept like a baby in order to make up for the previous night’s lack of sleep. I went over to Davie for dinner – Italian food – and then decided to stay overnight.

In the little bedroom, I read the four New York Times issues that had come in the mail that day, and at 10 PM or so, I fell asleep.

Twelve hours later, I woke up. On the way out to my 11:45 AM dental appointment, I picked up my mail: a replacement Southeast Bank Gold MasterCard, bills from Discover Card and Bank One Visa, and plenty more:

Yaddo rejected me totally, which was a surprise, since I’d gotten on their waiting list before and since I figured that fall would be an easy time to get in.

Now I’ve got only MacDowell and Millay as possibilities for the fall, and I need to realize I may not make either one.

Pacific Lutheran University “is happy to announce that Parisian children’s writer Noelle de Chambrun” got their teaching job and I didn’t.

Arizona State informed me that of the 55 candidates for their creative writing job, I wasn’t selected, but Elizabeth Evans of Iowa City was.

A press release from the National Endowment for the Arts announces the selection of 104 creative writers to receive fellowships of $20,000 each.

The winners include Allen Ginsberg, Hilma Wolitzer and a mass of nonentities, but I was among the 17,000 or so writers who were judged not good enough – in my case, for the seventh or eighth time.

The Scott Meredith Literary Agency sends me one of its brochures about how it negotiated million-dollar deals for Norman Mailer, Carl Sagan and Margaret Truman and then says that if I send them a manuscript and a $300 fee, they’d be happy to look at my work and tell me if I can get a million-dollar advance, too.

Well! A writer’s mailbox is always filled with these gems.

I’ve got to cultivate a disinterested attitude toward my literary career and the attendant grants, fellowships, artist colony residencies, teaching jobs and publications.

Who cares? Not I, not anymore. Worrying tripped me up for too many years and stopped my writing cold.

If I’m truly a good writer, I’ll write, and if I am not, I won’t, and society will lose nothing. The reason I wrote “I Survived Caracas Traffic” was not to further my career but because it was a story I felt I had to write.

It takes a long time for a fiction writer to develop – not that you’d know it in our show-biz culture – and either I’ll develop or I won’t. But I’m not a failure because I don’t get grants, publications, awards, fellowships or jobs.

I’ve got to concentrate on my writing, not on being a writer – and “writing” doesn’t necessarily mean fiction. My columns are well-written and a terrific learning experience for me; also, they’re gratifying because I get to see my work in print.

I plan to persevere as a writer. My early books contained some good work, but it was mostly juvenilia, the concerns of a precocious adolescent.

Maybe I’ll never be able to write “mature” fiction – but that doesn’t mean I can’t try.

Granted, I’ve got mixed emotions about singlemindedly pursuing a writing career because I know I’ve got other talents and interests, and it’s very hard, in an age of immediate gratification and instant celebrity, to take the view that it’s a long, hard, painful road to artistic maturity.

Anyway, the dentist said I should have my bottom wisdom tooth out because it’s causing the soreness in my gums. I’ll think about it and meanwhile rinse with warm salt water and take ibuprofen.

Despite the rejections and the dental pain, I feel pretty good. I had a nice lunch at Sam’s Bagel Whole.


Sunday, March 15, 1987

7 PM. Actually, I’ve done pretty well in making progress in my schoolwork. Last evening and during the night when I couldn’t sleep, I read two books on daily life in Rome during the early Empire, and I made a few pages of notes on each.

The material was pretty fascinating, and I now think I’ve got a good idea of what life was like for the ordinary Roman citizen, something I wouldn’t have gotten from the classroom lectures because Dr. Breslow concentrates on the important people and events.

Just about everyone, except maybe Teresa and Ronna, laughed when I told them I was taking a course in Roman history. Although I did it to have enough credits to get a student loan, I feel it’s enriched me intellectually.

God, wouldn’t it be paradise to keep taking courses and studying different subjects forever? I guess I am the much-ridiculed “perennial student,” but I see nothing wrong with that.

People accept my taking computer education courses because it’s a new and growing field and I have to keep up with technology. But taking humanities – or as I did last winter, social science or business courses – seems frivolous to most of my friends, who feel they’ve outgrown school.

And maybe this is just another example of my Peter Pan-ish refusal to grow up.

Am I immature? In some ways, yes. Yet “maturity” is one of those loaded words. I’m 35, and I don’t know if I’ll live long enough to be 45, 55, or 65, but I hope I’m just as young in spirit at those ages as I am now.

The 75-year-old man in my history class is a good role model for me. Last week he had trouble remembering the dates and facts of history, but he got a B on the test while the 18-year-old guy got a C. (Maybe I’m at the ideal middle age with my A.)

Up to a point, age isn’t relevant. Dad can sell as well at 60 as he could if he were 45, which is the age his employers think he is.

It’s interesting how people age – physically, but even more so, mentally – at different rates. Already I feel that Alice, whom I’ve known for thirty years and who is only four months older than I, is mentally about a decade older.

Now maybe Alice is just more mature. I don’t know.

Anyway, I’ve got three books to go for my history paper, and I’ve begun the next one already. And I began looking through the New York Times Index pages I xeroxed for my higher ed paper.

Marc called to say he’d found a nice apartment but they want to see his W-2 form. I’ll have to play “xerox, cut and paste, and forge” for him, as I’ve done before with credit card applications.

This morning I of course read the Sunday papers; I also used Jonathan’s leg machine to work my thighs.

Jack Pulaski’s Zephyr Press story collection was finally reviewed in the Times Book Review. getting a nice notice in the “In Brief” section. Probably that will greatly help sales.

I’d still like to do another book with Zephyr. Miriam loved “Caracas Traffic,” and I figure if I could send her another 50-75 pages of material just as good, she’d be willing to put together a collection to send to Ed and Leora in Boston.

Otherwise, I see no book publication in my future. All the New York publishers and agents have told me to get lost, and I don’t think I’ll have any better luck with the larger small presses.

Maybe most of my 1970s stories don’t stand up anymore. I’m so close to them, it’s hard for me to know. But this year I gave it another shot, trying to get a new collection published and trying to get a creative writing teaching job and fellowships.

I’ve got to accept that nobody’s interested in what I’ve done – only without falling into the trap of giving up the way I did in 1984 and 1985.

I know that I’m still very much a writer. While the Florida Review publication of “Caracas Traffic” will be noticed only by a handful of people, to me it represents a breakthrough.

In the next week or two I should be receiving my Guggenheim rejection letter. Stupid me for ever fantasizing about getting something I’d never get in a million years.

Well, I probably fantasize less that I would have five years ago. Career, career, career – it’s all ego, anyway.

This afternoon I left messages on the answering machines of Teresa, Ronna, Josh, Justin and Alice, none of whom were home.

For me, Sunday nights still bring a kind of muted dread, but it’s just a vestige of my earlier life, when I really felt a difference between a weekend of leisure and a week of school and/or work.

Still, Sunday nights seem to begin earlier than weeknights.

While I’m a little anxious about starting my new Dade computer education classes, it would be terrible if I had nothing to be anxious about.

Besides, I’ve going to New York City to look forward to. No matter what problems I encounter there this summer, the change is bound to be good for me.

I need to be with old friends, to walk the streets of the city I grew up in, to again eat cold sesame noodles and ride the Broadway bus.


Tuesday, March 17, 1987

Noon. Last evening when I came home, I was totally exhausted after spending seven hours in class, but I ended up spending about 45 minutes each talking to Josh, Ronna and Teresa.

I was so tired when I got off the phone that I figured I’d put off writing my journal entry until today, but of course I was plagued by my usual insomnia and just lay awake in bed for hours.

Anyway, I’m starting to get excited about returning to New York and seeing my friends. It’s good to know that I’m still a part of their lives.

Josh got the word on his third AIDS test: “negative, negative, negative.” They now believe the first test was a clerical error, which is what I’d believed all along.

(However, I didn’t know if it was because I wanted to believe that or because intellectually I felt certain Josh wasn’t at risk.)

Naturally, Josh is very relieved; he sounded as buoyant as I’ve ever heard him.

The doctors have told him there’s only an “infinitesimal chance” that these two negative tests are wrong, so now Josh feels he’s in the clear.

As you’d expect, though, he now has tremendous sensitivity toward people with AIDS and those who test positive for the virus. And he plans to tell everyone not to take the antibody test.

As the days go on, there are more calls for mandatory testing for different groups, and it all seems pretty scary to me.

Anyhow, I feel really good for Josh but sad that he had to go through such torture for two weeks.

It does point out that, really, the only important thing in life is your health, and if you’re healthy, that’s 99% of everything.

Josh said he plans to remain in therapy for another month because he likes the shrink – although he says he now feels funny because he’s negative and the shrink tested positive. (That’s how I felt in regard to Josh when he tested positive.)

Ronna’s big news was that her stepmother had the baby at Mount Sinai on Friday the Thirteenth.

The little boy, Jason, weighed 8 pounds, 9 ounces, and he looks just like Ronna, with the same Asiatic eyes and cheekbones. Her father said that Ronna had the same hair when she was born.

Thursday is the bris, and Ronna finally tracked down a Conservative rabbi after Orthodox ones refused to do the bris because the mother wasn’t Jewish.

I’d love to see the baby this summer.

Ronna’s mother, meanwhile, says I should come up to Orlando during Passover when Ronna is there, and I think I will. Her sister and brother-in-law will be visiting, too, but there’ll be enough room for me.

Work at Yeshiva University is going well, Ronna said, and she’s still meeting guys from her New York ad.

I find it interesting that Ronna said that the subject of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases now comes up on the first date every time.

I asked about the counseling procedures in Sue’s program for AIDS testing, and we talked about her cousin Ellen’s upcoming wedding to an Orthodox guy. (Even if I were in New York at the time, Ronna said I couldn’t sit with her because the men and women will be seated separately.)

Teresa called after she’d just gotten in. While we talked, she was rustling around the kitchen looking for some food and could find only a frozen Weight Watchers pizza I had left there.

The past weekend she went to the Berkshires, and Michael followed in his father’s car, bringing along his daughter.

“He loves the role of ex-husband,” Teresa said, and told me Michael acted like such a lunatic, demanding to take back every possession that was originally his, that his daughter was embarrassed and even, for once, sympathetic to Teresa.

(Later, Michael’s son called. “His kids are rallying around me now that they know I’m not going to steal their father,” Teresa said.)

Obviously it was a difficult weekend.

When she got back to the city, a guy from Teresa’s office came to help her drag the futon up from the car to the apartment, and after she told him about me, he said, “You mean you have a guy live here only four months a year and you make him sleep on the floor? No wonder you’re such a cranky bitch!”

We shared a good laugh over that. I’m very happy she’s happy I’m coming back.

Classes yesterday were okay. Dr. Breslow lectured on the death of Julius Caesar all the way to the Principate of Augustus, and Dr. Cook tried to get us back on track, explaining that we’d had so many reports that we were losing sight of the big picture, not having time to synthesize and discuss the relevance of the material.

Our final in the Higher Ed class will be take-home and due April 13. In both courses, I now can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

In the mail, in addition to several credit card bills, I got a shiny new Visa card from American National Bank of New York, the one with the $4750 credit line backed up by my $5000 certificate of deposit, which has a 9.5% interest rate.

I don’t intend to go up to Boca until late today.

*

8 PM. I very much enjoyed this evening’s A.I. class at FAU.

PROLOG is the most fascinating computer language I’ve come across, and I want to learn it well.

My mind gets blown – as we used to say twenty years ago – by the possibilities of artificial intelligence, and Dan Kauffman’s class only whets my appetite to learn more. I love the feeling of being challenged and stretching my intelligence.

Perhaps in my lifetime, some A.I. researchers will have perfected the “brain dump,” and after my carbon-based body dies, I can go on living indefinitely in silicon form.

Why do some editors have to be so mean?

I sent samples of my work to an editor at USA Today because they often have satirical columns by several writers on their editorial page. If the editor wasn’t interested, she could have said, “No thanks.”

Instead, she began: “First of all, we here at USA Today take our work very seriously . . . If you want to write funny or humorous columns, by all means, send them to the Washington Post and not us.”

What a prune. She reminds me of the vapid E. P. Dutton editor.

A couple of weeks ago, Dad said, “The humorless will always be with us.” It’s a pity we can’t have some kind of device that could screen out humorless people and send them to Uranus or someplace.

Well, there are always pleasant people, too: I got my hair cut this afternoon, and Nikki and the others at JT’s always make going there a pleasure because they’re warm and funny and nice. And the people in my A.I. class are nice, too.

You can see my mood is pretty expansive tonight. I’ve got PROLOG homework to do and I have to prepare for teaching on Thursday, but tonight I plan to chill out if at all possible.

The check for my last Sun-Tattler column came in today’s mail, and hopefully, a new column will appear this Saturday.

I’m neurotic enough to worry about a kinahora because my life has been going so well.

Or is just that my happiness is unwarranted? I hope not.


Friday, March 20, 1987

8 PM. All things considered, yesterday’s workshop went well. Although the Camaro was vibrating like crazy, it made it to the West Dade neighborhood where Green Glade Elementary was located.

It’s not far from FIU, so I took the Turnpike Extension. After having lunch at a Hispanic pizzeria on Bird Road, I got to the school half an hour early.

Mrs. Arce, the Teacher Education Center coordinator for the school, showed me around. They had only seven Apple IIe’s, and they were not in a classroom but in the open space of the library/play room.

David, who’s either a teacher or a teacher’s aide, usually takes his kids there after school, but he gave us the use of the machines after 4 PM.

Their software library was pathetic, barely more disks than I’ve got at home, and David said that some of the disks were ones he bought himself.

I assume the guy is straight, but I had an instant crush on him. He looks like a heavy metal singer, with wavy blond hair cascading below his shoulders, and I liked the way he acted with the kids: he was both caring and no-nonsense forceful.

When Marge Sykes from the county (whom I’d met at American Senior High in January) arrived, she told me she was glad I was the teacher doing this workshop because I always do such a good job.

(I guess they’ve gotten good reports about me?)

Marge said I’d have seven or eight teachers in the class and they’d all had computer literacy. Behind her, David shook his head – and he, not Marge, proved correct.

Although it was supposed to be an advanced class, none of the women had so much as turned on a computer, and they had the usual fears.

Actually, it was okay for me to be with computer novices; I enjoyed lecturing, demonstrating and helping them once they got on the machines.

They were all tired by 6 PM, so I let them go then, just a little early.

All the rush hour traffic was going to the other way on the Turnpike, and switching over to I-75, I had an easy ride up to Davie.

As I walked into my parents’ place, Marc and his puppy (who’s getting bigger every day) were just about to leave. Marc’s been approved for the new apartment on NW 44th Street off University, and he’ll move in on April 10.

I had some tuna salad left over from my family’s dinner and sat and watched Reagan’s news conference with my parents. Because the President didn’t drool and was basically coherent, everyone seemed to think he’d done a good job.

Today, after getting my wheels aligned at Sears, the car seemed to be riding better.

Downtown at the main library, I caught up on recent issues of American Banker.

The new Optima card will come with a preapproved credit line based on one’s American Express payment history, and cash advances will be available. I just hope I qualify.

My ticket for New York arrived today from Delta, and in just six weeks I’ll be in the Big Apple again. It’s hard to believe how fast seven months in Florida have gone by.

Today is the first day of spring – not that it matters much after a winter so mild here that there were only six days when the temperature didn’t make it to 70°.TC mark

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