A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early March, 1988

Tuesday, March 1, 1988

1 PM. I feel a terrible sense of anxiety about tomorrow’s trip to New Orleans.

You would think that by now, I’d handle things like this better. But for days I’ve had this low-level of anxiety which has gotten more and more insistent. God knows what I’ll be like tomorrow at this time.

I felt something close to this when I left New York in October. Then, as now, I felt this throbbing nervousness, tiredness, a longing to be hugged and feel secure.

Perhaps that was why I felt so positive about marrying Ronna then – because I felt that any kind of security and permanence would be preferable to uncertainty.

And yet, in my more relaxed times, I feel adventurous and independent.

Is it the plane ride I fear? Obviously, that’s a part of it, but it’s more what the plane ride represents: a wrenching change in my life.

Of course, this visit to New Orleans is just a short trip, and I also felt great anxiety last August as my trip to New Hampshire approached even though that didn’t involve air travel.

Seven years ago, when I first went to New Orleans, I found myself trembling with fear for nearly the entire plane ride, and when we landed at the airport there I felt disoriented and sick to my stomach.

This is sort of how I used to feel every day when I was 15 and 16 and 17 and had daily panic attacks in school and other places. God, the fear wore me down so much! No wonder I weighed only 107 pounds when I graduated high school.

I know that conquering fear is important and that when I returned from New Orleans in 1981, for the next couple of weeks I felt on top of the world.

In effect, I make myself suffer beforehand as a neurotic talisman, assuring myself that no real-world problems could be greater than the agony I put myself through.

So is there nothing to do but suffer and wait? It seems so needless, so wasteful. Can’t I operate on a less neurotic level?

*

8 PM. After finishing my last diary entry, I lay down, and after a while, the tension left me and I felt quite relaxed.

There’s a good lesson there: By their very nature, states of extreme anxiety are not sustainable. The anxiety may seem like it’s going to last forever, and it can cause uncomfortable hours, but the strain on the system becomes so exhausting that eventually I relax.

Even when I was in high school and had those terrible daily panic attacks in class, after a while the anxiety would fade and I would feel a lot better.

Although the Camaro has been making a squeaking noise, I got to Riviera Junior High School okay, and I had a decent last session of my BASIC workshop. Susie Adderly, the Teacher Education Center rep, will send in the completed paperwork to Sophie at FIU via interoffice mail.

It feels good to have finished another workshop, but since I’m beginning the Productivity Software workshop at the same school next Tuesday, it will hardly seem as though today ended something.

Still, today is March 1, and we began December 1, three months ago. I enjoyed teaching BASIC programming and would like to do it again someday.

I plan to relax as best I can this weekend. Usually I suffer insomnia in my first night in a new place, and if I can get four hours of sleep in New Orleans tomorrow night, I’ll consider myself lucky.

I wish I were a better traveler, but that’s something I can achieve only with practice.

Teresa left a message, so I’ve got to call her now. Then I’ll numb my brain with some network TV.


Wednesday, March 2, 1988

6 PM. I’m at Miami International Airport, but I’m not going anywhere. When I got to the ticket counter at the gate to get my boarding pass, I was told that my ticket was for tomorrow’s flight.

How could I have made such a stupid mistake? And I couldn’t get on today’s flight because it was totally booked. About fifty people from an Eastern flight that was canceled were on standby, and none of them could get on the Continental plane, either.

In a way, of course, I felt relieved, but now I don’t know what to do.

I called Mom, and too embarrassed to tell her the truth, I said that my flight (not the Eastern one) had been canceled and that I was on standby for another flight but that it looked unlikely I could get on it.

Obviously, mixing up  the dates was Freudian: I really didn’t want to go on this trip to New Orleans.

I guess I’m going to call Tom and give some excuse. God, I really feel weird. I’ve let Tom down: the speech, the interview, the visits to classes – I’ve blown it all.

I had no idea I had tickets for the wrong day. Now, that’s certainly not like me; usually, I’m Mr. Efficiency.

There’s no way this could have happened if I hadn’t done it unconsciously on purpose.

Yes, I could go tomorrow night, but I really don’t want to; besides, I would miss most of the purpose of my trip.

I don’t even know why I’m sitting here. I told Mom I would wait to see if I could get on the mythical “other flight,” but of course I’m going to tell her I couldn’t get on.

If I really wanted to be in New Orleans tonight, I’d wait forever to try to get on any flight there. But I don’t want to go.

I don’t know what to do.

*

9 PM. I’m back home, just about the time when I would have been getting in at Tom’s. I called and told him the lie I told Mom except I said I’d try to get out tomorrow.

But I called Continental, and they won’t let me change my flight because it’s a non-refundable MaxSaver. I need to be at NOCCA at 7:30 PM, and the flight I’m supposed to be on lands in at New Orleans at 6:55 PM, so it would be impossible to get there on time for my talk.

I may book an earlier flight, but whether I go or not, I’ll lose my $160 for the Continental flight anyway. I’m so confused and so tired and so disgusted with myself.

Boy, I’ve never screwed up this monumentally before. It’s nearly inconceivable that I could do this.

I probably will try to get to New Orleans tomorrow.


Thursday, March 3, 1988

2 AM. I made a reservation on a Continental flight for 8 AM and then I called Tom and told him I was standby on that flight.

I tried to get to sleep at 9 PM, but five hours later, I’m still wide awake and torturing myself, so I’ve given up any thought of trying to make that flight and trying to get through tomorrow with no sleep.

Maybe I’ll try to get a later flight, but the only direct one is the flight I’m booked on, which would get me there too late.

Is this a turning point in my life, I wonder? Am I now going to return to being that fear-filled adolescent I was twenty years ago?

For so long I made excuses to avoid doing things and going to events and places that frightened me.

In ninth grade, I couldn’t face being onstage as Anna’s son in The King and I, and so I got sick. I avoided my high school graduation and half a dozen weddings and bar mitzvahs. In recent years, I’ve chickened out whenever I had to fly to an out-of-town college fuor a job interview.

Yet I’m not agoraphobic, at least not the way I once was. Tonight I was scared, but I was ready to get on that plane, and I know I would have if I had a valid ticket.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. But I feel the need to bash myself and see this as a very revealing incident.

In my mind, it explains why I haven’t been a successful writer: because at every step of the way, I sabotage myself to avoid the responsibilities that go along with success.

I don’t write because I’m afraid – not of failure, but of what would happen if I were successful.

Success would mean having to do the traveling I don’t like, having to bear the burden of keeping up with myself in the future, having to become an adult.

Well, I’m beating up on myself pretty good right now.

If I don’t go tomorrow, will Tom hate me? I guess the worst that can happen is that Tom won’t forgive me and it will end our friendship. But of course, that’s in the outside world.

The worst that can happen is really what I think about myself.

I hate to let myself off the hook, but I also understand that I didn’t act dishonorably.  The road to hell, of course, is paved with good intentions, and it’s going to be a long while before I get over this.

*

10 AM. I’ve just unpacked. I’m not going to New Orleans. Tom still thinks I’m on standby for a late afternoon flight, but I’m going to call him later and say I didn’t get on it and that I don’t want to come tomorrow.

When I called to say I couldn’t get on the 8 AM flight, he was upset but not hysterical. Of course, I hate lying like this, but I don’t know what else to do.

If I had slept, I would have gotten on that 8 AM flight. I really intended to, but at 5 AM, with only an hour until I had to get up, I was still wide awake and extremely frustrated.

Although I did manage to fall asleep from 6 AM to 8 AM, I feel like shit. And while I know I’m going to feel bad emotionally, I do not – for whatever reason – do not want to go to New Orleans.

Is it fear? Yes, but it’s more than that. As I said yesterday, I was just a few feet away from the entrance ramp, and I was befuddled when I was told I had the wrong date on my ticket.

The unconscious always wins, I feel. Yes, I could have gone this morning, but I didn’t let myself sleep last night and I was far too exhausted to deal with the trip.

*

6 PM. I called Tom to tell him I couldn’t come. He felt very bad, and I’ll have to live with letting him down and letting down the NOCCA students and the people who were coming to hear me tonight.

I don’t like myself very much right now. I gave in to fear. But evidently it was important for me to do so.

Now I have to face myself and examine why I did what I did, like why I made the plane reservations for the wrong day.

I have to believe that a big part of me didn’t want to go to New Orleans. But I went there in 1981, 1982 and 1984. Why did I sabotage myself now?

With my head pounding from lack of sleep, this isn’t the time to search my psyche. And I’m going to try not to make myself feel any worse; guilt doesn’t do me any good, and it doesn’t help anyone else.

I almost feel I’m on the verge of breakdown, the way I did when I was 17. Is that what this is all about? I don’t know.

Meanwhile, my life goes on. I have to take the car to a mechanic tomorrow; it’s vibrating terribly when I hit the brake. Because Freddy is out of business, I’ll have to find a new mechanic.

This afternoon I got a call from Alice, who sounded very depressed. The book about her and Peter’s relationship, Apartners, has been turned down by eleven agents, most of whom say it’s really a magazine article.

After the fiasco with the Donna McKechnie biography, Alice had hoped that she and Peter could sell this book.

Making things worse, Alice says she has no assignments pending and she feels she’s unable to come up with new writing ideas.

Her cousin is a thorn in her side: not only is he writing articles for magazines she’d like to get into (like his new column for the New York Times Magazine), but now he’s becoming prominent on TV and writing a diet book, something Alice considers her own turf.

Alice said she’d like to write pop psychology books, but she figures she’d need professional credentials like her cousin’s Ph.D. and M.D. When she called NYU and Fordham, however, she was appalled at the time and money involved in getting even an M.A. in clinical psychology.

I gave Alice some suggestions, based on what I know about academia.

Yesterday, just before I left for the airport, Sophie called and said that Northwestern High School wants me back to do another Productivity Software class, but I’m not free on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the days they want.

I told Sophie that I could do it on Mondays and Thursdays and to ask Northwestern if those days were acceptable and to get back to me on Monday.

Although I’d hoped to ease up on TEC work, I could use the extra $950.

Dollar Dry Dock increased my personal credit line from $2000 to $3000; that’s the first credit line increase I’ve gotten in 1988.

I spoke to Teresa, who’s no longer so crazy about working for Frank, but she does love the $600 in cash she brings in from that job and from Norton’s chicken store.

She’s seeing that married lawyer who works for Kalikow after all. “He’s just another Sid,” she told me. (“Sid” was married Eric’s code name.)

Teresa said she ran into Mikey on the subway and reported that he seemed very unhappy. Mikey and Amy don’t like Riverdale or their commutes and are so house-poor that they can’t afford very much.

I feel very old right now.


Friday, March 4, 1988

10 PM. Last evening I read more of Peter Carroll’s history of the 1970s – I’ve almost finished the book – until I dozed off. Because of my exhaustion, I slept beautifully, dreaming pleasant dreams and feeling very rested this morning.

Reading the Times in bed, I read the obituary of Bobs Pinkerton, Taplinger’s senior editor.

She was 73, and the notice said: “This independent lady, greatly respected in her profession, enjoyed fine books and writers – Orwell in particular. She was spirited and freethinking, loved jazz both hot and cool, and relished lively conversation over drinks and cigarettes at her favorite neighborhood hangout. She will be missed by friends and colleagues.”

Wes or his father once told me that Bobs’s parents were both famous writers in their time.

I remember once seeing Bobs at that hangout of hers, that bar in the East 20s. I assumed she was an alcoholic, but she was a nice lady and I always liked her.

My car wouldn’t start this morning, so after I exercised for an hour across the street and took a shower back at home, I called the AAA.

After the tow truck guy started me up, he suggested I go back to his shop on SW 70th Avenue – where all the mini-warehouses are located – for a tuneup.

It was a major job, costing me $140 and nearly three and a half hours waiting at the mechanic’s.

To avoid boredom, I tried to relax and soak up the atmosphere of the office. All-American Towing is run by a family, it appeared, or maybe two. They are nice country people who look like rednecks but are more liberal.

By the time I got home, I was starving and gobbled down three zucchini muffins from Publix.

At Broward Community College, I xeroxed lots of material for next week’s first sessions of my computer education workshops.

Then I picked up Mom and we had dinner at the Best Deli. Back at her house, we watched Raising Arizona, a very funny movie, on Cinemax.

One lesson I learned from the fiasco of the last few days is not to quickly agree to do something that I am not really certain that I want to do.


Monday, March 7, 1988

10 PM. Last evening I had Chinese food with Mom. (Jonathan must have been exhausted, for he’d already gone to sleep.)

They had a surprisingly good weekend at the flea market, and for the week they took in over $5000.

Dad called from L.A., where he spent Saturday night with the Bugle Boy people at a “New Wave” 1950s-style restaurant  – where they served, unfortunately, mostly burgers and fries. The business world is hard for a vegetarian.

This morning my chest, biceps and upper back were sore from yesterday’s workout, but my lower back felt better.

After my usual morning routine – and lazy Monday mornings are the best – I went out and did some cash-advancing, both at tellers’ windows and ATMs, until I had $1300 to deposit in my CalFed account.

At Sears, I bought thirty single-sided diskettes which I later put Appleworks on; at the BCC computer lab, I copied the Appleworks tutorial, startup and program disks.

Tomorrow is the first day of the new workshop at Riviera Junior High, but since the place is so familiar to me, I’m not at all nervous.

Although Wednesday will be the first day of a new workshop at a school where I haven’t taught before, I’m sure it will go fine.

Sophie said she hasn’t heard back yet from Northwestern High School. On Friday I got a big check, and Sophie said I should come to FIU (which is on spring break this week) to pick it up because she doesn’t want to mail out such a large sum.

After lunch at Gaetano’s, I went to the West Regional Library, where I looked through lots of magazines. I know I should be reading more fiction, but it’s nonfiction that fascinates me. That’s one reason why I think I’m not actually a fiction writer.

Teresa called tonight with the startling news that she got a 250-page US Sprint long distance bill for over $7500. Of course, it’s a mistake, and I told her I’d just read a story in the Wall Street Journal about the problems US Sprint was having with their billing system.

Teresa told me that her Fire Island landlord raised this year’s rent by $1500, to $9500. The unexpected news shocked her, but since the landlord could get $12,000 for the house on the open market, she has no choice but to pay the money.

Frank wants to know if Teresa wants to work for him full-time. It’s a tempting offer, as she adores the glamour of doing P.R. for Frank’s rich and powerful clients.

But she doesn’t want to give up her summer at the beach, where she still enjoys catering parties. Also, she’d be leaving Norton and Pam in the lurch at the chicken store.

Teresa did say that she looks forward to my arrival. But if she’s going to be working five days a week in Manhattan all summer, I won’t have the apartment to myself very much.

On the other hand, I’ll be alone weekends and three nights a week. I’m sure it will all work out. There hasn’t been a summer yet when Teresa could manage five days a week in the city.

When I told Teresa I’ll be in New York in just eight weeks, she said, “Just eight weeks? You make it sound like it’s coming soon, but eight weeks is so long to wait.”

Well, it’s nice to know I’m wanted somewhere.


Wednesday, March 9, 1988

11 PM. A dozen years ago, when I wrote a new story every week and rushed to submit them to little magazines, I burned with literary ambition, but now I feel ambivalent about trying to succeed as a writer.

Either I don’t have what it takes to be a truly good writer or else my work is not appreciated, so why should I bother?

That’s a terrible attitude, I guess, but I feel comfortable with it after seeing the reactions my work has gotten when compare it to what I see happening with other writers.

If I’m not quite beyond bitterness and envy, I’m damned close to it. I can have a happy life without being famous or even being a respected “writer’s writer.”

Perhaps it’s because I feel I have other talents. Writing is always going to be a part of my life, but I will never define myself solely, or even mostly, as a writer.

Anyway, I slept sporadically last night, having turned on the radio or TV too often to listen to the Super Tuesday results and commentary.

I saw Dad this morning when I went over to the house. He’d taken the red-eye from L.A. and had just gotten in from the airport. We talked a little, but he was tired and I let him go get some sleep.

This evening I went to Sunrise and had dinner with my parents at Rappaport’s, a new Jewish dairy restaurant with a very old clientele.

Over vegetable cutlets and kasha varnishkes, Dad told us about his trip to L.A. He had a terrific Magic Show, and the Bugle Boy shirt line for the fall is hot.

I like to hear about Los Angeles, as it’s one of the few cities I hunger to visit and one I’ve always felt connected to in some strange way.

The other day Mom showed me Dad’s W-2 form from Bugle Boy/Paul Davril, which showed that last year he earned $86,000, more than three times what he earned the previous year. If the economy holds up, he may do as well this year.

Anyway, back to this morning: After a half-hour workout, I read the papers, seeing the results of the New York Times/CBS News exit polling, which presumably included my own responses to the poll after I voted for Dukakis yesterday.

After having lunch at Corky’s on 163rd Street, I drove to Flagler Elementary, south of Miami airport, to teach the first day of my workshop.

Although the area is entirely Cuban, about half the teachers and aides in my class were Anglos (I hate that term, but “non-Latin whites” is worse) or blacks.

Both the excellent principal, Dr. Reiter, and the computer teacher were extremely helpful, and it also helped that the classroom had a dozen Apple IIe’s (and one Apple IIgs) and an abundance of software.

I had the students look at some CA, including MECC’s The Friendly Computer, Apple Presents Apple, and elementary school math and language arts software. They did this for a couple of hours while I went around helping them, making suggestions, getting their feedback.

As I wrote yesterday, I really do enjoy the TEC workshops. I feel I’m doing something purposeful, and I like sharing my knowledge with others.

It’s also satisfying to help people learn to use something as important as a computer.

The teachers are, by and large, a group of very nice people. Some of them must be saints to put up with what they have to in the way of daily drudgery, bureaucratic meddling, and constant assaults on their sanity.

Even though I like kids, I’d never have the patience to be an elementary school teacher.

I’m going to bed now.

Knowing that my time here in Florida is limited to just eight weeks, I’m determined to make the most of it.TC mark

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