A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late November, 1997

Saturday, November 22, 1997

4 PM. It’s extraordinarily hot and humid for this late in the year, and I’ve had a bad sinus headache all day, as it’s been raining on and off. Another cold front is scheduled to make it down this far south on Sunday night.

Marc called from his car phone at 5 PM yesterday, saying that he thought the interview went well. The guy is interviewing six other people, but it sounds like a great job. I told Marc it was good practice just to go on the interview and not to be disappointed if he doesn’t get the job, that he should just keep trying and I was certain he’d find something.

On e-mail, Pete Cherches asked me if I know Brad Gooch because Pete’s applied for a position at William Paterson College, where Brad teaches.

Pete also said, in response to my query about Alice seeing his name on a Brooklyn Museum lecture series, that he programmed some readings there with Michael Kasper and Ken Bernard, who went over very well.

In another e-mail, Mark Savage said all his sixth graders this year were pre-selected, so he has few behavioral problems and is able to teach more and spend less time on discipline.

Alice thanked me for sending her that mention of Just the Weigh You Are, which she admitted has sold poorly in hardcover. It’s unlike Alice to say anything negative, but she did say she hoped it would do better in paperback.

I wonder why diet books are published in hardcover at all – and that could go for any books except coffee table books, surefire bestsellers and reference books.

I would have gladly given up the “prestige” of hardcover publication of with Hitler in New York, Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog, and I Survived Caracas Traffic for the added exposure and easier access to sales that trade paperback versions would have brought – even though I might not have gotten as many trade and newspaper reviews.

Igor called at 10 AM, saying that he wanted to get to the Miami Book Fair early and stay late, so I suggested that we go in separate cars and that he follow me to MDCC’s Wolfson Campus in downtown Miami.

We got there early enough to get to a reading in the big auditorium by Sandra Benitez, Christina García and Ana Veciana-Suarez. I was kind of bored hearing sections of novels about Latina matriarchies, though García and Veciana-Suarez some interesting writing.

Mitch Kaplan, God bless him, introduced the authors and made some remarks at the conclusion of the reading.

If I’d been alone, I probably would have gone instead to listen to Doris Kearns Goodwin and Nat Hentoff discuss their memoirs, but that wasn’t the kind of literary writing that interests Igor. (He has the worst bad breath I’ve encountered in some time; it was almost painful every time he spoke to me.)

Basically I wonder if I’m actually a fiction writer at all. I don’t like most contemporary novels, and I don’t have the patience to read them.

What will I do during all those weeks at writers’ colonies next year? What if I discover I can’t write at all?

Hey, I’ll write something; I’ll figure out projects for myself or make a schedule.

If I write a couple of pages a day – if I force myself to do that kind of discipline – and even if I were to throw away 90% of that material, I’d end up with 30 good pages after two months. I can’t expect to do better than that although I shall try.

Headachy and tired, I told Igor that I hated Joyce Carol Oates so much that I couldn’t stand to sit through – actually we would have to stand through – her reading, and that I might see him later at the Anne Waldman reading.

Instead, I just walked around the booths for a while and came home to lie down for an hour.

I’m not crazy about being in the large crowds at the book fair although I would have liked to see and hear some other authors.

But all of those events jammed into one day can be overwhelming. I preferred the intimacy of Judy’s reading at BCC on Thursday.

Sunday, November 23, 1997

7 PM. Last evening I surprised myself by how excited I got when I turned on the Florida-Florida State game and watched the Gators, who’ve had a bad season, beat the number-one Seminoles with a touchdown just two minutes before the game ended at The Swamp back in Gainesville.

Evidently I was affected by the town’s football fever more than I thought.

Another surprise last night was that I graded eight papers, leaving me with an easier job of grading today, one I completed by 3 PM.

I slept well although my sinuses throbbed when I awoke several times during the night.

Today was a grey, dreary, humid day.

Up at 7 AM, I’ve been alone all day, reading the papers, listening to and watching news-related radio and TV shows, exercising, eating and going online.

I went out only to get some items at Walmart, a trip that caused me distress because my car is making a terrible noise, as if there was something that was going to fall out of it.

Tomorrow I have to go to Boca twice, and I fear getting stuck with the car or it dying and me having to rent or borrow a car or use Tri-Rail.

Even though this is the easiest week of the whole semester – because after tomorrow, I just have the Tuesday night class and only Creative Writing on Wednesday – I figure, pessimist that I can sometimes be, that I’ll have some problems to deal with. And car trouble has eluded me for too long.

On the other hand, I should be grateful that I got through the semester. I have to make only three trips to Boca this week and two next week and two the week after.

If the worst happens – and I think back to 1993 (the last time I went to the Miami Book Fair) – and my car totally dies, I will probably call on my credit lines to buy a used car. That used car might get me to California and Wyoming so I could save money on plane fares and car rentals.

Another potential disaster that worries me is a dental problem, as I’ve been experiencing a throbbing pain today. Still, I haven’t really had to shell out major bucks for dental work in many years, and I can’t expect that to last much longer.

If I do have a major dental problem, I’ll get upset, but it’s only money I’ll have to shell out. It’s not as if either a dental problem or a dead car will change my life the way something like Dad’s heart attack changed his. And I’ll be better for having handled the situation.

I’ve been listening to Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway on the Walkman in the car for weeks now, and yet the messages don’t seem to have fully sunk in yet. Old habits die very hard.

Last night Bill Hastings called. He’s the guy whose AOL ad I answered. He seems like an intelligent guy, so I could relate to him better than the other Bill or that Portuguese guy or anyone else I’ve met on AOL.

I’m snail-mailing him a photo (from my columns in the Boca Raton News) because he wants to see what I look like. He looks okay from his GIF, but it’s hard to tell, given the fuzzy resolution.

Bill is 41 and has owned his own business and house (near Biscayne Bay, on NE 73rd Street in Miami – he bought it for $40K and it’s now worth $140K) for a decade. Originally from Kalamazoo, he attended Western Michigan University there and has degrees in business and education.

He’s lived in Detroit, Seattle and a few other places, and he’s taught and done many things. He mentioned that he headed a local chamber of commerce and he has even given money to the Human Rights Council of North Central Florida.

I get good vibes from him even as I doubt that I’d be incredibly attracted to him – but maybe I should consider that a plus at this stage of my life.

Monday, November 24, 1997

2:30 PM. Last evening I reread “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience” and “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which I plan to go over in tonight’s class.

Though of course I’ve read the Thoreau and King before, I found something new in these pieces this time. They really are classic documents in American history and make me feel good about human beings when I read them.

Then, after watching The Simpsons and King of the Hill, I got into bed and read some other things before dropping off to sleep. I woke up at 12:30 AM, however, and unable to get back to sleep, I went on AOL and read at least half of Monday’s New York Times.

Because of my presbyopia, it’s actually easier to read a computer screen about ten inches away than it is to read the newspaper, which is blurry unless I take off my glasses, or, if I’m wearing lenses, put on my reading (magnifying) glasses, as I did before class in the FAU cafeteria this morning.

When I finally did go back to bed at around 2:30 AM, I had a dream in which I was making love to Sat Darshan, though she appeared as the 18-year-old Avis in the dream.

I wonder if all gay males sometimes dream about heterosexual intercourse – dreams that are intensely erotic – or if they’re rare.

In another dream, Grandpa Herb died and Mom said she wasn’t going to his funeral. That must relate to feelings I had expressed to myself related to going to Dad’s funeral if he dies while I’m away.

When I got up at 6 AM, I felt exhausted, but I knew I’d be better off if I forced myself to work out before breakfast. It will be another week before I have to teach an 8 AM class at Nova, so if I wake up earlier, it will only be because I want to.

I spent half the Nova class talking about Lawrence’s “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter” and half introducing the subject of the research paper.

Coincidentally, Teresa e-mailed to ask if I could write to Jade, who’s moaning about the two research papers she has due in two weeks. I did send Jade a note. Hopefully, she won’t lose the “tremendous respect” Teresa says Jade has for me.

After giving them back their essays, I wished my students a good holiday. Immediately, I left for Boca, not wanting to spend time relaxing at home because I was concerned about my car.

I had my FAU Creative Writing class do their teacher evaluations today before our workshop, so I left the classroom for the first twenty minutes.

I’m sure I’ll get some stinker evaluations, as I know there are students who don’t like my method or the whole workshop process. Many would have preferred that kindly old Professor Peyton had not retired, though I have to know more about creative writing than she did.

Still, there are also some students who like the class, so I’ll get some good evaluations, too. In any case, I’ve decided not to apply for the assistant professor position at FAU.

Talking with Judy Cofer about her experiences at FAU made me realize that they’ll never value someone under their noses, and if I have no chance of being hired, I might get more respect as an adjunct if I maintain that I have no interest in a full-time English professor position. That also has the advantage of being the truth, mostly.

Before class, I used the web browser in the library to get on the Boca Raton News site – because it has frames, my home computer can’t read it – and I discovered that my column on cheerful Turnpike toll takers, “Hectic Workdays Don’t Take Toll on These Folks,” appeared in Local Opinion on the front page yesterday.

So, after leaving campus, I drove way out west on Glades Road to the new regional library, and because the xerox machine wasn’t working, I – God forgive me – put the first section of Sunday’s paper into my backpack (which is about to end its lifespan any day now) and got on the Turnpike, going south.

The car is still making all kinds of terrible noises, so I might get stuck with it tonight. Anyway, I’m going to lie down under the covers for a while to rest up for tonight. It’s another dark, gloomy day, and perfect for spending the afternoon in bed.

Tuesday, November 25, 1997

8 PM. This is the first Tuesday night that I’ve come home from teaching at Nova on which I don’t have to also teach there at 8 AM on Wednesday. Tomorrow I have only my 11 AM Creative Writing class in Boca, so I can relax. Or can I?

Last evening’s FAU class went all right, I suppose, though I knew that of the half the class that attended (I needn’t have graded all those late papers, since the students who came last Wednesday were absent last night), only a couple had read “Civil Disobedience” and “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

I was tired by the time I arrived home at 9 PM, so I went to sleep right away. This morning I awoke at 5 AM but fell back asleep till 6:30 AM, and then I lay in bed another hour.

At 10 AM, I stopped by my parents’ house to collect the mail. Dad was out again, which seems like it’s a good sign.

My mail included rejections of “Salugi at Starbucks” (“Not what where looking for”) and “Anything But Sympathy” (“Good material, but does it hold together? Try us again”).

I’ve got to remember that many of my favorite stories like “Twelve-Step Barbie” and “Reflections on a Village Rosh Hashona” were rejected two dozen times and that it takes only one acceptance to get a story published. The length of my recent work is a handicap in that it limits the number of magazines I can send them out to.

It occurred to me this weekend that while I consider Judy Cofer to be a great success, she probably feels she’s not on the same level as the three Hispanic novelists whose reading I attended at the Miami Book Fair.

Judy is probably a better writer than they are, yet her books are published mostly by university presses and she hasn’t been invited to the Book Fair, so I suspect she must feel underrated. Don’t all writers, even ones that win the Nobel Prize?

At the Barnes & Noble café, I graded the papers from tonight’s class, including two first drafts of the research papers by the young Jamaican women who sit in the back row when they come.

As I filled their pages with red-ink scrawl, I became increasingly frustrated. They were such bad papers that I truly believe that the worst of my seventh grade classmates at Meyer Levin Junior High would have done a better job.

It’s as if these students didn’t listen to anything all semester: their papers cited no sources and were broad, vague summaries about nicotine patch therapy and “phobias” without any focus whatsoever – not to mention their being written in tortured prose (which has affected my own style here).

I suppose that getting so upset made me sick by the time I came home: all afternoon I felt dizzy and agitated, as if I’d had an adverse reaction to some drug. Is it just that my students don’t have the ability or interest to do adequate college work or am I a total failure as a teacher?

It will be a very long time before I can bring myself to teach composition again. I learned a good deal this semester, but I just cannot stand reading such lousy writing. It hurts me in a visceral way.

I exchanged e-mail Thanksgiving greetings with Kevin, who’s spending the holiday in Los Feliz as the guest of a woman he knew at Goddard College.

Teresa is having dinner for twelve: she and Paul, her parents, her sister and her husband and the kids, her sister’s in-laws, and Martin and Sal. Teresa convinced Jade to visit her mother in Vermont, since Carolyn’s other children live far away.

Teresa and Paul are still dealing with the IRS and with student loans, and she’s not as busy with catering jobs as she’d like.

Alice e-mailed that she and Andreas are going to Cape Ann for the holiday while Peter is “going to stay home and sleep late (his preference).” She got a $33,000 royalty check for the KISS book, but of course she has to send 85% of that to her client, the author.

Tom thanked me for sending him the Austin paper’s mention of his book with all the other life-after-death titles. He’s beginning to think he’s crazy since nobody can see The Little Book isn’t meant to be taken seriously.

Annette is visiting the Bay Area this weekend; she spent the first eleven years of her life in Berkeley, which is why she doesn’t have trouble with the INS about being here.

Although going to Wyoming is five months away, I find myself worrying about how I’ll adjust without the New York Times, National Public Radio, Body Electric – all important parts of my daily routines, ones I managed to keep in New York and Chicago last summer.

Even though part of me is scared and resistant to any change, another part of me is glad that I’m going to force a drastic change in my routine.

Saturday, November 29, 1997

7 PM. Last night I slept nicely even if I did wake up again for a few hours. At least now I go on AOL and read part of the next day’s New York Times.

That XY magazine was not only a decent stroke book – it’s clearly aimed at gay teens and twentysomethings – but it’s not raunchy so much as sweet.

For example, they have photo sequences of a jock and his buddies threatening to beat up a nerdy but cute skateboarder and in the next photo the jock is kissing the guy in the locker room – they’re both clothed in fashions highlighted in the text – and in the final photo he’s writing over and over on the blackboard, “I will not kiss Eric in school again.”

XY’s AOL site is adorable, especially the message boards where these guys, like teen girls, give each other advice “Re guy who stares at me in calculus class”: “Just be yrself – don’t wear a slutty shirt and lean over his desk and sing happy birthday Mr. President.”

I answered another ad on AOL myself today and spoke to the guy for 90 minutes. His name is Gianni – his own made-up name – and he’s 23, 6’1”, 155 lbs., black, and he sounds sweet.

He wanted to make sure I knew he was black, and when I said race didn’t matter, Gianni said to him neither although he prefers white guys and more so Jewish guys, growing up as he did in the mostly Jewish Baltimore suburb of Reistertown, near Owings Mills. He just got back from Thanksgiving there today.

Gianni sounds a little fem, which is nice, and he’s a hair colorist. He’s worked at that trendy place on East 56th Street in Manhattan, Bumble and Bumble, but he said it was hard to live in the city, so he moved down here six months ago.

As a kid, he studied ballet, and he loves Madonna and Miss Saigon and Hair, so he’s at least somebody I could talk to about movies, plays and even Scott Joplin’s opera Treemonisha.

At first we were going to meet tonight, but we decided tomorrow would be better – and who knows what will happen then? But he’s someone I could relate to better than I could Terence, who was immature.

Gianni said he knew I was from New York City immediately. His accent is comfortably Baltimorean, and he passes to the telephone test.

I told him that nobody would turn his head to look at me, and that I doubted he would be attracted to me. Also, I told him I was 36, though I’ll correct that tomorrow if I think I’m going to see him again.

I know, I know. But when I see XY describing 25-year-olds as “older guys,” I feel ancient.

Regarding my age, I’m my father’s son, and if Dad could take ten years off his age with the paramedics treating him for a heart attack, what can you expect of me?

Today was a cool (relatively of course: I still didn’t need a jacket), cloudy day. I spent the morning reading and I also finally got together a file of 40 pages to send as a sample manuscript of my stories to Alice.

After lunch I went out and brought back some audio tapes to the library, borrowing an audio tape of Emerson’s essays and two videos that I probably won’t have time to watch.

I wrote to Christy and she told me about giving papers at academic conferences. Her goal was to do five a year and she’s already spoken at several, burnishing her reputation as a “scholar at large.”

She said she and Tom are going to France again in April and said I could stay at their house then if I wanted. My friends are so nice.