A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late November, 1987

Sunday, November 22, 1987

4 PM. So far I haven’t done any work today. Maybe later.

I’m such a terrible procrastinator, but somehow I never really fall behind schedule, though sometimes I do a half-assed job.

I’ve almost finished The Education of Henry Adams. Yesterday I heard Adams quoted on WNN, “the motivation station,” that plays excerpts of self-help speakers “for winners only.”

The quotation was something like “he who knows how to learn has all the education he needs.”

Adams’ book is not just a work of nonfiction, it’s a work of art. I identify with his quest for knowledge and meaning and with his apparent sorrow that after an auspicious start, he accomplished little in life.

Of course that wasn’t quite true, and The Education is perhaps his grandest achievement. Maybe I, too, will have to be 73 years old before I can write something as good.

Sometimes I feel like one of those pompous, tweedy English professors who can’t understand why, if they’ve studied literature more than anyone else, their own creative writing is so mediocre.

Obviously, there’s a vast difference between knowledge and wisdom. I’m afraid that as I get older, I’m losing that irrational, obsessive self that drove me to write in my twenties. I’ve become more analytical, methodical, plodding.

I don’t really take chances anymore. And I can’t blame that on anyone but myself.

No, I never achieved the potential I had ten years ago. However, if you go back twenty years, it then seemed unlikely that I had any potential at all.

The self-help experts on the radio would say I haven’t achieved success because I’ve been afraid of it and at every step down the line, I’ve sabotaged my own career.

They might be right, too, and it’s only because I do have a lot of talent and guts that I’ve achieved anything at all.

Still, while I may feel somewhat superfluous and absurd, I haven’t done that badly – and day by day, I’ve enjoyed my life as much as anyone I know; there’s no one I’d trade places with.

At least I know my own shortcomings. Would I better off if I kept upbraiding myself for my faults? Yes, I know, I’ve been easy on myself and I always seem to let myself off the hook – but all this is jejune and boring.

I slept well, but intermittently, and again I woke up at 10 AM after some pleasant dreams set in New Hampshire and downtown Brooklyn. I read the papers most of the morning, and I used Jonathan’s chinning bar but was too sore for any other exercise.

It’s another mild day, though last night was not so cold that I needed a blanket. I came across a great story title: “Things Are Closer than They Appear.” That comes from the mirror on the passenger’s side of my car.

Why can’t I imagine characters and situations the way I once did? In three years, I’ve published only three stories: “My BASIC Problem,” “I Survived Caracas Traffic,” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Citicorp.”

I’ve written others, but they fall flat. Well, at this rate, I could have another short story collection ready by the year 2000.

I’m impatient with the pace of change from one era to the next.


Monday, November 23, 1987

5 PM. Yesterday I managed to grade all the rest of the papers I have to return tonight.

Also, I finished The Education of Henry Adams and looked in BASIC books to get an idea of what I’m going to teach tomorrow.

While I’ve been very concerned about this BASIC programming workshop, I think I’ve now prepared enough.

Before making a syllabus for the whole course, I need to see what kind of computers they have at Riviera Junior High and how many of them we have per student; I also have to see if any of the students have previous BASIC experience.

If I remember my own FIU and FAU grad courses, going slowly can’t hurt. Today I made up and xeroxed some sheets for tomorrow’s class.

I guess I won’t really feel relaxed until the first class is over, but I like having a challenge even if it does frighten me a bit.

Last evening I brought dinner from Kanton Kanton over to my parents and Jonathan, who were tired after a day in the flea market.

Mom said they need extra help and brought up the possibility of my working there before Christmas, but I squelched that idea practically before she got it out of her mouth.

They did take in $3000 yesterday and are starting to see some holiday sales.

Back home, I got a call from Alice, who was lying in her tub.

She’s doing fine. Glamour has given her a monthly column in which she interviews a celebrity about the importance of the woman’s hometown.

Alice won her lawsuit against those flimflam book packagers and hopes to collect her money from them soon.

But she’s in a bad financial position and can’t look for a co-op now. She still owes money on what she borrowed to pay the IRS, and her brother has been having trouble with the tenants in the D.C. houses he owns jointly with Alice.

The tenants aren’t paying their rent and one of them has a pending lawsuit against Alice and her brother over the maintenance of their building. Alice’s brother fired his agent for the houses, and Alice agreed to take over the job, adding to her responsibilities.

I wouldn’t tell Alice this, but I think her homes were a poor investment and are more trouble than they were worth.

Alice’s optimistic that eventually they’ll make a hefty profit, but I’m not sure that Adams-Morgan neighborhood will ever gentrify. Of course, that leaves aside the issue of whether it should.

I’m just glad I don’t own any property.

On a happier note, Alice and Peter are planning a huge party in February for a hundred or so of their friends.

It will celebrate the tenth anniversary of their being together, and Alice’s already scouting out locations. She said she might ask Teresa to cater the party.

I’m sorry I won’t be able to make it, but I’ll send them a gift. “Ten years is a long time,” Alice said, “longer than most marriages today.”

Alice is going on a trip to London and the Scottish Highlands with 25 other travel writers in a couple of weeks, and I wished her a good trip.

After hanging up with Alice, I called Justin. It was great to hear from him about his busy life.

He was selected to direct a reader’s theater production of Merry Wives of Windsor and did splendidly with a 22-member cast despite only a couple weeks to rehearse.

Justin had never directed Shakespeare before – Wives is a pretty weird play – and the experience is a good one.

Chuck Maryan invited Justin to be part of his workshop again and Justin agreed, both because it was free and because Chuck has affiliated with an up-and-coming company with their own theater across from Manhattan Plaza.

In Los Angeles, there was a reading of Justin’s A Boy’s Resurrection that elicited favorable comments and Justin’s at work revising the play right now; he’s also doing some other writing.

He and Larry have been alternating weekend visits, and he’s looking forward to going to Reading for the Thanksgiving weekend.

At Shearson, Justin’s position is, if anything, more secure since the post-crash layoffs.

He’s spending time tutoring his boss Florence (who’s now Ali’s roommate) on her writing in preparation for Florence’s returning to school for her MBA; from the way it sounds, I’m sure Justin is an excellent writing teacher.

Justin’s life sounds full and happy, and he seems to have rebounded from all the disappointments and frustrations of summer.

I slept sporadically, waking up late, but I got out of the apartment as soon as possible.

On the Broward Community College campus, after having the usual problem with my FIU registration for the spring semester, I’ve decided to postpone registering till January.

In the computer lab, I ran into Dr. Sandiford, and then I saw Sue Spahn, who’s leaving BCC next week to become director of the microcomputing program at Nova University across the street.

In the computer lab, I made up my handouts for the BASIC class, and later I xeroxed them.

In the mail, I got four credit card bills and other junk, but the most important thing was $200 in Thomas Cook traveler’s cheques that I ordered by phone via a credit card.

I deposited them along with other money, into my Cal Fed account. The traveler’s cheques are a great way to get around the Visas and MasterCards which don’t give me access to cash advances.

I plan to keep my cards at the maximum for the next few months and then pay off as much as I can before I leave for New York.

I’m not applying for any new cards other than the Citibank American Airlines card I already sent away for.

After six months, I’ll have no inquiries on my credit files, so I can apply again in the spring of 1988.

I left Joe Cook the last of the manuals I edited in his BCC mailbox, and although I couldn’t find him, later I saw that he had picked it up before his class.

My upper body is sore from yesterday’s dips and chins, but I feel pretty good.

It’s a relief to be able to take off my contact lenses at night. Extended wear was not for me.

I see Dr. Grasso hasn’t yet added a Saturday creative writing class to next term’s schedule. I’ll be just as happy if it doesn’t run as if it does. I’ll go over to Mom’s and have a sandwich now.


Tuesday, November 24, 1987

10 PM. It seems like a long time since I last wrote in this diary.

I had a good English 101 class last night; not only did I teach well, but I was very funny, too. It was one of those rare moments when everything seems to come together and you just sail along, knowing you’ll do okay.

I felt good when I came back home, and before bed, I began Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table, which is terrific.

This morning I went to the ATMs to get cash advances and then deposited $1000 in the bank.

I picked up my mail at Mom’s, where Joe Cook called to say that he was going to Atlanta for Thanksgiving but would have a check for me next week.

At 1 PM, I left for Dade, stopping at Corky’s for lunch. On the long drive out to Riviera Junior High, I decided that I should definitely buy a computer.

Yesterday I had looked at the Radio Shack’s Tandy 1000 EX, which is on sale for $499.

I’ve been hesitant about buying a computer, but what made up my mind was how much time I’ve lately been spending on my credit cards and bank accounts.

I figured out that I now have more than $40,000 in the bank. Yet, because of my great debts, I’ve avoided a big purchase like a computer.

However, there’s no point in spending all that energy on money if I’m not going to use the time it buys me to write.

So tonight I got the 1000 EX and a monochrome monitor, and I came home and set it up.

The computer runs the Tandy DOS and Deskmate and my own disks of PC-Write, LOGO, DOS, etc.

I’m tired and headachy now, but it’s still exciting, having a computer right where I live.

I know that must sound odd, but to me, it’s a new experience; I associated computers with college labs for a long time.

It’s true I don’t have a printer yet, but I can use the BCC lab for that until I get one. At least I can do word processing at home. Now I’ve challenged myself to write again.

It turned out that the class at Riviera Junior High was postponed until next week (and we’ll run a week later, until March 1) – but Sophie couldn’t reach me until I’d gotten there.

Mrs. Addison, the TEC rep, explained that they’d changed their usual Wednesday faculty meeting to today because of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Still, it wasn’t a totally wasted day. I got to scope out the room and talk to some of the teachers who’ll be in the class, trying to eliminate some of their fears.

They’ve got 24 Apple IIe’s, some with printers, and most of the participants don’t have much computer experience, so I don’t have to worry about them being too advanced for me; I can go very slowly with teaching them BASIC.

Riviera seems like a nice school. It’s been years since I’ve been at a junior high with all those girls and boys at such a difficult age, halfway between childhood and adolescence.

After stopping off at the Teacher Education Center at FIU to tell Sophie there was no harm done, I drove back – it was another delicious day – to Broward via the Turnpike and I-75.

At my parents’ for dinner, I told them about my planned computer purchase, and Dad said, typically, “What do you need one for?”

He’s always made me feel like I don’t deserve certain things. But it’s my responsibility at 36, to answer for my own needs, so I neither got angry nor did I stammer out some justification.

I can’t keep playing my parents’ tapes in my head. I’m glad I bought the computer.


Wednesday, November 25, 1987

9 PM. I couldn’t sleep last night. On the computer, I played around with the opening of a new story.

I’d like to rewrite the story I wrote at MacDowell – the one about me and Josh and his AIDS tests, but I want to change my character into that of a lesbian friend. Too much of my fiction is closely autobiographical.

I watched Tana Janowitz on David Letterman. The lady is crazy like a fox the way she’s positioned herself as a recognizable character: the ditzy artsy East Village girl.

I can even see her becoming the butt of jokes like, “They found Judge Crater – he was lost in Tana Janowitz’s hair,” the way celebrities like Dolly Parton or Phyllis Diller are used in comedian’s punch lines.

Finally, at about 4 AM, I finally fell asleep, and I slept till 11 AM, dreaming that I was pregnant. (I hope that’s a good sign, telling me that I’m going to give birth to some new writing.)

At my parents’ house I worked out to Body Electric – God, what a blessing it is to exercise. Then I got my mail and brought it back home.

Ironically, Radio Shack sent me a form to get my credit card with them renewed – too late, huh? But maybe I can use it to buy a printer.

I got other bills and some new replacement cards, but the most important letter was from Crad.

The guy is still out there on the street after nine years, and although he’s established himself as an underground favorite, the Canadian literary establishment continues to treat him like . . . well, like “Excrement,” the title of his long memoir.

Rejected again by the Canada Council for a grant and unlikely to get an Ontario Arts Council grant through Coach House Press, Crad is filled with anger that seems to me totally justified.

He wrote the Council that he’s 39 and “will be around for a long time” and will never forget how they treated him.

Crad saw one of them on the grant panel pass him by and then point Crad out to an acquaintance while both were laughing. Who is the real artist, that man or Crad?

Granted, Crad’s work has its limitations, but he deserves better. A voice in me says, “So what else is new?”


Monday, November 30, 1987

9 PM. I dismissed my English 101 class early after a discussion of the research paper.

I’ve managed to do most of the grading for the week, though I have half a dozen papers to do for Wednesday’s class.

I meet my classes this week and next, and the following week I’ll simply collect their research papers. While I haven’t exerted myself unduly in teaching these classes, I think I’ve given BCC their money’s worth.

But although I’ve enjoyed my students, it’s certainly not been worth the time I’ve put into the classes. I don’t intend to teach composition again for another few years . . . if ever.

Last evening I felt a bit nauseated, but it passed by the time that Mom asked me to get Chinese food for dinner.

However, late at night I felt queasy again, and I thought I might be coming down with a stomach virus. But after sleeping very soundly, I felt fine this morning, though the queasiness did recur during the day.

I feel very put-upon, which is odd, since my responsibilities are not very great. Perhaps the self-induced pressure of beginning a novel is what’s got me knocked for a loop.

I didn’t work on the book today, but I printed out and xeroxed “640K” and “Kindly Withdraw,” which I intend to submit to little magazines.

I was at BCC briefly to do this, and I saw Dr. Grasso, who asked me how things were going and again thanked me for taking over Peggy Evers’ classes.

I saw Rosemary and Richard, both of whom seemed glad to see me; that made me feel good.

This afternoon, after getting my mail across the street and having lunch at the Bagel Whole, I went home and paid some bills, read the papers and a letter from Helmut (he included some of his boring Marxist commentary in response to my remarks about the stock market – incidentally, with the dollar plunging the stock market had a bad day today), graded essays, listened to soap operas, and scratched my mosquito bites.

Later, at Mom’s, I played with China. The flea market went very well this past weekend.

Dad and Mom hired a girl to help them; she’s in her eighth month of pregnancy with her fourth child, and the girl isn’t even 21 yet.

A high school dropout, she’s unmarried and lives with her mother and her mother’s fourth husband. Dad said the girl is “stupid, but she can sell.”

I feel sorry for the children of such an ignorant, irresponsible woman. (She stayed out till 4 AM Saturday night and got to the flea market at 7 AM.)

God, more and more, it’s become obvious that education is the best answer for people like this woman – and her children. But she expressed amazement that her stepfather, a Jewish accountant, could make “good money for sitting on his ass all day.”

Although my family is making money at the flea market, retail selling is a tough business.

There’ll always be a need for it, but generally it’s not work that pays well unless you own the business, and I hope Marc and Jonathan won’t ever be put in the position of having to look for retail work with someone else.

December begins tomorrow, and so 1987 is coming to a close. November flew by, and this whole year seems to have passed quickly.

Even with my daily journal, it’s hard to see how the days add up so quickly into months and years. Now that I’m just about halfway there, I’ve started to think of myself as 37.TC mark

Related

More From Thought Catalog