A 23-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-February, 1975
by Richard Grayson
Monday, February 10, 1975
4 PM on a very cold afternoon. Mom and I have been squabbling again, so today I’ve been avoiding her. Yesterday I was talking with Arlyne, and she said I’m really sacrificing a lot by living at home, and I’ve been thinking about that.
I suppose I’ve been angry and taking it out on my parents – but it’s a situation I’ve created. Perhaps in the fall I’ll be able to work full time; Spielberg says he’s trying to get our Fiction Workshop scheduled for after 6 PM then. And maybe I can get the non-Writing classes in the MFA program over with by going to summer school.
Of course Ronna did not call last evening, but Teresa did. I inquired about Ted, her married paraplegic friend – Spring had mentioned that Teresa was getting serious about him – and Teresa reported that she plans to go to California and live with him, but the plans are vague.
Ted is leaving his wife (who found another man anyway), and so the move probably won’t happen until the end of summer. Teresa last saw Ted when he came to New York a month ago, and they spent two wonderful weeks together.
Right now Teresa is in a bad way, having anxiety attacks, pains everywhere: she’s keeping a journal because writing everything down is the only way to release the tension. Her job is tedious, a glorified clerk’s position – but it’s easier now that she knows she’s leaving it.
She ran into Slade in the lobby of her office building; he’s working for a marketing company in the same building. But Teresa’s big news was that Karen is getting married in April, to “this guy who looks like a ’67 hippie: he’s a messenger somewhere, and they only know each other four months.”
First Avis’s sister Ellen, now Karen: people are really falling by the wayside. (I wonder if the two former best friends, now arch-rivals, know of each other’s weddings).
Teresa had no definite news of Elspeth, but when I told her about Elihu, she said she’s been waiting for him to come out of the closet for years. “Everyone used to wonder about you, too, Richie,” she said, “but I always knew you were a ladies’ man.”
So my sexuality was speculated on in LaGuardia. That shouldn’t hurt me – it makes perfect sense – but it does. Anyway, I told Teresa I’d call her up so we could meet for lunch soon.
I slept well, and just before I woke up, I dreamed I had a baby son. He was six weeks old, but could talk and even make double-entendre jokes; he had no mother, just me as a father, and I loved him so. I woke up feeling so full of love for that baby that I just wanted to get back into the dream so I could hug him once again.
The work at the library went routinely and quickly today; if it was not for the short hours, the lousy pay and the getting up so early, the job would be ideal.
I received a letter from Avis today. I had thought of her over the weekend; on Saturday, Frenzy was on TV and I remembered seeing it with her on the Friday before she left for summer camp in 1972; we ran into Ivan and Vicky at the Kings Plaza theater that evening. I was so in love with her back then.
Last night Teresa read me a letter from Avis that she had received; in it, Avis sounded bored and bit low. She outlined the reasons in her letter to me (she sends me letters and everyone else aerogrammes): she’s running out of money at an alarming rate, and still she doesn’t yet have her resident permit or her work permit.
Helmut would lend her money, but she’s too proud to accept it since she’s living rent-free at Helmut’s place. Avis mentions that her sister has “an old man” but there was no talk of marriage in the letter.
Avis did say that her letter to Shelli and Jerry in Boston was returned “Addressee Unknown,” so she asked her mother to ask Shelli’s mother (who works at the same office) what was up.
Avis writes that Europe is in the grip of unseasonably warm winter weather and that all she has to read in English are books like Vanity Fair and Emma. She said she loves me and misses me, and asked me to say hi to Ronna, Josh, Barbara and Alan Karpoff.
Today was Jonathan’s 14th birthday. I gave him a Snoopy card and the latest Agatha Christie mystery.
Thursday, February 13, 1975
7 PM. Walking home from the bus stop a while ago, I was struck by the eeriness of the surrounding landscape.
The streets, filled with snow – the snowplows haven’t come to East 56th Street yet – seemed so still, like in the desert. And there’s a thin smile of a moon making a triangle with Venus and Jupiter. Simon pointed them out to me.
Despite all my inactivity yesterday, surprisingly I slept deeply last night. I’ve just about given up hope that Ronna will ever call. I don’t quite understand it. Not a day goes by that I do not think of her and yet I suppose she has banished me from her thoughts.
It’s been ten days since I called her; that’s a long time to be not speaking to someone you consider a good friend. I don’t let that long an interval slip by without talking to Gary or Alice – and the point is, neither do they.
I feel Ronna has not been “up front” with me; either she’s abashed to call me or she’s angry. Of course there’s always the possibility that she just doesn’t care. I’ve been confused and hurt and angry, and now I’ve mostly just given up.
There’s nothing I really want from her anymore, except some friendly conversation. Part of it is, I guess, Ronna’s loss if she doesn’t want my friendship.
But I am still surprised and disappointed in her, and I imagine that I did not know her as well as I thought I did. If this is how it is, then I’m glad the thing ended when it did.
This morning I took the bus to work. The library was unheated for a while, but finally it got warm. Mrs. Higgins asked if I could work extra hours, including next Saturday, and I agreed, for I badly need the money. As I wrote Avis last evening, poverty is not particularly ennobling, and even if it is, well, I’d rather be rich and ignoble.
This afternoon Josh came over here at 3 PM in a state of great agitation after he’d had a contretemps with Spielberg.
Josh said he merely questioned Spielberg about his mark in last term’s tutorial, and Spielberg began getting very angry and started yelling. Josh has a way of bringing out the worst in people sometimes, but I do think our new teacher is a bit of a strange man.
There was an article on the Fiction Collective in last evening’s Post accompanied by a photo of Baumbach and Spielberg with their books. Spielberg was smiling while Baumbach merely looked uncomfortable because of the photographer’s idea of posing them “cutely.”
Today in class we went over my “Reflections on a Village Rosh Hashona,” but Spielberg didn’t say anything because earlier in the class Simon had asked Peter not to talk until the class had finished because his being the teacher tends to lend more weight to his comments and influence the course of the discussion.
The class more or less enjoyed my story. Simon, Josh and Barbara liked it; Denis said I antagonize him by referring to books and things he doesn’t know about; Todd still thinks I break the “rules” of short story writing.
I’m concerned, though, about Spielberg’s comments – for his comments on Barbara’s story centered on the personality of the protagonist, which was an indirect attack on Barbara, of course.
To talk of “middle class values” and scorn a desire for an engagement ring or the fact that a character wears makeup seems peripheral to the general criticism of a work of fiction.
As Barbara and I walked to the Junction to catch our respective buses, she told me of her annoyance with that kind of criticism, and I must say I agree with her. I do not want Peter Spielberg to judge me as a person.
As Josh said, that can only discourage us from writing. And Spielberg has somehow always struck me as a man who enjoys inflicting pain on others. I may be wrong, and I hope I am.
Right now I’m not too encouraged about my writing, anyway; I’ve gotten several rejection notices in the past few days.
And I let myself entertain this wild hope that the American Review would publish one of the stories I sent them — but in their last issue, I read that they print only one-half of one per cent of all material submitted. At least when the rejection notice comes, I shouldn’t feel so bad.
Sunday, February 16, 1975
Tomorrow is Washington’s Birthday, a holiday with no school and no work. Today was a mild, rainy day. Most of the snow is melting. I spent today alone, and although I do feel a bit lonely, I really don’t mind, for somehow I feel I won’t be alone for very much longer.
Marc brought his new girlfriend home tonight. Her name is Bunny and she’s pretty and seems nice. Marc was really upset these past months over the whole situation with Fern, and I’m glad he has somebody now.
My brother needs a girlfriend because he seems not to have too many outlets for his feelings; everything gets bottled up inside him. But then, that is the way of life for the whole Grayson/Ginsberg/Sarrett family: deny, intellectualize, repress, judge, don’t feel.
I’ve been reading Carl Rogers again, On Becoming a Person. Maybe it’s because of my therapeutic experience with Mrs. Ehrlich – as the months go by, she grows higher and higher in my estimation, both as a therapist and a human being – but I feel myself in near-total agreement with Rogers’ philosophy.
I went so far to take “Some Useful Learnings” from his first chapter and type them onto a sheet of paper. The things he has learned seem to be borne out by my own experience:
1. In my relationships with persons I have found that it does not help, in the long run, to act as though I were something that I am not.
2. I find I am more effective when I can listen acceptingly to myself, and can be myself.
3. I have found it of enormous value when I can permit myself to understand another person.
And so on. Basically, Rogers believes in truth, in allowing oneself to accept what is in oneself and others; in not trying to rush in and “fix things” about people; in relying on one’s own experience and not the judgments of others; in gathering the facts, which are always friendly (because they further truth).
I have come to believe in those things myself although I do not always live up to practicing what I preach; too often, I am quick to judge others, or too quick to judge myself, or too quick to rely on other people’s opinions of what I “should” be doing.
Yet, deep down, I do have the attitude that life is a flowing, changing process – that scares the hell out of me at times – and that people basically move toward positive and constructive growth.
I try to flow with my body, listen to what it’s telling me (perhaps that stomach discomfort on Friday was a sign of great anger and frustration and fear), and just be.
It’s been a while since I’ve had a genuine anxiety attack; I’m trying to stay in touch with my feelings. But now I see I’m ready for a positive and mutually rewarding relationship with a woman again.
And it’s definitely a woman I want. I’m aware of my homosexual feelings and will probably act on them some day in the future, but at this point in my life, basically I find the gay world as it’s been shown to me to be a great big bore.
I see Vito and Leon and Allan and Elihu and Shelli and Jerry and others, and I know that I could not get into the gay lifestyle. It’s not that I’m repelled by the whole scene; it just seems irrelevant to my present needs.
The loud noises of Gay Liberation have, it seems to me, created a kind of community I don’t feel a kinship with anymore; I guess when I was younger and seeing Brad, I was more idealistic about what it could be.
I find myself becoming a believer in the “pleasure bond,” to use the title of Masters and Johnson’s latest book, the pair-bond between a man and a woman. Yes, our old friend here, the big nonconformist, now grudgingly accepts marriage (and possibly children) as the way he would like to live.
Again last night I dreamed of a precocious infant; this time it was a week-old baby who could converse intelligently. Is the baby me? Am I being born again? Silly idea, but silly ideas make a lot of sense at times.
This afternoon I went to see John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence. Hooray – it was an excellent portrait of insanity (I love Gena Rowlands, crazy or sane), but I was disappointed that the film gave no reasons for the woman’s breakdown except for superficial ones.
I’d like to act like a crazy man sometimes. How delightful that would be.
Monday, February 17, 1975
I woke up late today. Actually, it wasn’t that late, but I went to bed early and slept for ten hours. I don’t know what’s the matter with me lately; my mind wanders so easily and I can’t concentrate anymore.
After breakfast, I wanted to take a drive. I hardly drove the car last week, so I figured it would be all right to go far today. But I didn’t want to go to the North Shore again, and I didn’t feel like driving into Manhattan or Staten Island.
I’ve hardly been on Staten Island since I left Richmond College. But I must go back to straighten out my M.A. Why do I have such trouble ending things? I pretend that they’re not there. I don’t say goodbye or quit; I just try to forget about the whole thing. It’s been that way with everything in my life.
This afternoon I saw Jay Hershenson on the TV news, chairing a conference protesting CUNY budget cutbacks. Seeing him made me realize that I just up and left the University Student Senate.
Tonight I walked over to Kings Plaza for the first time, really, since I left Alexander’s. I am so full of awareness about this problem, why can’t I act?
Anyway, so this morning I decided to drive into the Bronx on the Whitestone Bridge. I’m a bridge freak and had never been over the Whitestone Bridge before. I found myself driving into Westchester and wanting to go across the state line to Connecticut.
I realized what I was doing: I was trying to provoke an anxiety attack; I was setting up a goal to see if I could maintain my cool when I stretched my always-present, invisible umbilical cord holding me to Brooklyn and this house and my parents.
Well, I passed my own test. I felt a kind of nervous excitement but no real fear and none of the panicky nausea that I used to endure, once every day, finally somewhat less frequently, for years and years of my adolescence.
And when I passed a sign that said Welcome to Connecticut – Ella Grasso, Governor, I felt a sense of fulfillment. For a while, I just drove around Greenwich, letting it sink in: I was in New England and I had gotten there by myself, on the spur of the moment.
It may not seem like a great accomplishment and I’m sure a lot of people would consider it laughable, but don’t forget: I was once the boy who was afraid to go into Manhattan.
On the way back home, I stopped off at City Island, an island in the Sound which is part of the Bronx legally but which in reality is a throwback to the last century, a sleepy little fishing village. I like exploring new places and making them “my own” in a way.
I took the Interboro Parkway back into Brooklyn from Queens and when I passed Flatlands and East 83rd Street, my heart skipped a beat as I imagined seeing Ronna – perhaps in some guy’s car – but it never happened.
Maybe I should see her again and not let everything go unresolved. Two weeks have gone by, and she never called, so I don’t see how she can back up her claim that she wants a good friendship with me. I need to reiterate my hostility towards her because I don’t want it to fester inside of me; I must get rid of it.
This afternoon I spoke to Grandma Ethel. I knew from Mom that Aunt Claire and Uncle Sidney were flying in today to do something about Micki, their middle daughter. Micki has been very depressed for a while, and when her parents moved to Florida, she became worse, unable to properly care for her three little sons.
On Saturday night Micki called Grandma Ethel and said she wanted to commit suicide, saying she was worried about the Depression and asking Grandma Ethel what it was like to live through the Thirties.
She also asked Grandma about her own mental problems right after Marty’s birth. (Grandma Ethel always admits that “I was out of my mind then” but says it was from acute blood loss during the delivery.)
Micki gave birth to her youngest son about a year ago. Grandma Ethel tried to help her – it’s almost comic to imagine someone turning to Grandma since she’s always such a worrier herself – and I guess she called her sister, and that’s when Micki’s parents decided to fly in and see what can be done.
This evening I called Gary, who was recovering from a bureaucratic hassle up at school. He made one of his classic malapropisms when he told me he wants to show the Columbia sociology chairman that he’s a good worker: “I don’t want to disenfranchise him at this early date,” Gary said.
Tuesday, February 18, 1975
The pace of my life has speeded up dramatically. At midnight in Florida, Grandma Sylvia fell in the bathroom and broke her arm. She’s in the hospital now and will have to remain there for three weeks because she is unable to take care of her bodily functions.
Tonight Dad went to pick up Grandpa Nat at the airport. Grandpa Nat decided there’s nothing for him to do down there, as Aunt Sydelle and Monty are with Grandma Sylvia, so he came back tonight as scheduled.
Dad is very upset. He and Mom were planning to go away on a much-needed Caribbean vacation next week and now he feels guilty about going. Aunt Sydelle intends to stay on in Miami only another week, so I don’t see why Dad should be responsible for the situation.
The four of them – my grandparents, father and aunt – make such a strange unit: their family motto must be Don’t Face Reality. Grandpa Nat can’t face the fact that he’s an old man, so he forced Dad out of the business deal with the man in their building.
Grandpa Nat wants to work, but the business can’t run without either him or Dad being there. He doesn’t want to see what will happen if he’s no longer fit enough to come into work.
He and Dad work together all day long but don’t communicate: when Grandpa Nat last went to Florida, Dad learned the date from me, via Grandma Ethel!
Dad is still in his father’s business, and Aunt Sydelle, a grandmother herself, is utterly emotionally dependent on her mother. Dad won’t see a doctor about the lump on the side of his neck because he’s afraid he might learn something is the matter.
And as for Grandma Sylvia, I can’t help noting that her accident occurred the night before Grandpa Nat was to return to New York. I know how she hates it when he leaves Miami, and I wonder if her fall had a subconscious motive: to either detain Grandpa Nat’s departure or else to make him feel guilty for abandoning her.
I understand and accept these longstanding Ginsberg characteristics, but I’m doing my damnedest to rid myself of them.
The other big surprise in my life was that Ronna called last night. In a sense, it was her last chance: after two weeks (the holiday yesterday added another day), I was about to give up on her, and I’m sure she knew it.
She and I had trouble getting started at first; it was difficult to find topics for conversation. It’s a paradox that when we spoke on the phone every night, we never ran out of things to talk about.
Ronna told me about her mother’s forthcoming trip to Florida and her brother’s new pet snake and the plans she and Susan are making for Felicia’s shower and her class at the New School with Gene McCarthy.
I told her about the things going on in my life. When I asked her if she had been accepted at any grad schools, she said, “No,” tersely and quickly changed the subject. I have a hunch she hasn’t applied yet.
The reason she called last night, Ronna said, was because of a dream she had about me the night before. In the dream, I visited her “and it was very nice.” She was leading into something, and I asked her if she wanted to see me.
“Very much,” she said, but figured it’d never happen. I told her I was ready to see her and she suggested Sundays as the best time for both of us. This Saturday night she’s going to a Billy Joel concert – the late show – so I said maybe we should wait for the week after, but she said this week would be okay.
Ronna went through all kinds of verbal gymnastics to avoid mentioning her boyfriend: she said she did this or that although it was obvious that she’s been seeing a guy. There is anger and jealousy on my part, although when Ronna asked me if I still hated her, I was honest when I said, “No, not really.”
But while I do want to test myself in regard to getting over our relationship, I’m afraid the mixture of memory and desire will be potent enough for us to end up in some awful (horizontal?) position from Scenes from a Marriage.
We can’t go back: she’s got a boyfriend and I have hopes of finding a new girlfriend. The fact that she dreamed about me is not terribly significant. While we were going together, Ronna often dreamed of Ivan, and she didn’t go back to him. Until last night, though, I hadn’t dreamed of Ronna since our breakup. But last night’s insomnia made up for that.
On a less earth-shattering scale, I called Mikey. He’s fine now, doing his schoolwork and looking at the dismal job market after he graduates with his masters in criminal justice in June.
Mikey said he ran into Mark at a hardware store, and Mark told him that Consuelo has a fairly good job and she’s trying for an even better one as a bilingual teacher in the Bronx. For now, Mark told Mikey, he’s content to be a househusband and care for David and pick up his unemployment check every week.
Mikey also said that Mike is fine and that Cindy has begun a part-time job at a real estate office on Empire Boulevard; Mikey thinks she’s planning to return to college this summer.
Tonight Elihu returned my call. He isn’t enjoying his classes at the Graduate Center the way he did his classes at Brown: the people in this program are older and they all already know each other. But he’s kept busy with schoolwork and his tutoring at LIU, where his father is the English Department chairman.
Leon, Elihu said, has decided to move back to Madison sometime in March. He misses his friends in Wisconsin, and he’s unhappy with the job at Columbia and with the New York scene in general.
Elihu said that Leon mentioned the possibility of contacting me before he leaves; I am mildly surprised at this and somehow, despite everything, I’m flattered.
Ellen is definitely being married in May and she’s ecstatically happy, according to Elihu. He hasn’t met Ellen’s fiancé Wade yet, but he knows that he was exclusively homosexual before Ellen came along.
That fact is the one thing dampening Ellen’s mother’s happiness at the prospect of her older daughter’s nuptials. (I wonder if Avis will come back for the wedding. I’m kind of hoping she does, as I miss her greatly.)
Anyway, I told Elihu we should see each other now that we live only a mile or so apart.
Today’s Fiction Workshop was incredible. Spielberg gave his rap on my story for the entire period. He’s very subjective and arbitrary (and proud of it), and he nit-picked his way through “Reflections on a Village Rosh Hashona.”
Most everybody was bored – that never happened with Baumbach – and I felt very hostile toward Spielberg. He gave me this rap about a story of necessity having a center, and how mine didn’t, and he wanted to know how all the fragments of my story were related.
Simon was really upset that we didn’t get to do his story, and as far as I know, none of the students in the class can stand Spielberg. He’s so nervous, with his chain-smoking; perhaps Baumbach was more self-assured and that was why he didn’t have so many definite opinions of what fiction should be the way Spielberg does.
Admittedly, I was obnoxious, challenging Spielberg on every point. For instance, he questioned me on the following sentence: “I heard a cute story about my little next-door neighbor.”
Spielberg wanted to know what was cute, the story or the neighbor. “I learned how to modify a noun with an adjective in second grade,” I said coldly.
And when Spielberg made a crack about Susan Schaeffer’s magazine article about soap operas, I just said, “Excuse me?” and he repeated it and I said, “I don’t know what you mean,” and he got flustered and angry.
I’ve probably blown my A for the term as well as any chance of winning Spielberg’s favor, but I’m glad I stood up to him. Otherwise, I would have pretended I was calm when I seethed inwardly.
The first “significant learning” of Carl Rogers is “I have found that it does not help, in the long run, to act as though I were something I am not.” And I probably saved myself an ulcer by expressing my anger.
After class, Simon, Todd, Denis and Barbara all expressed their displeasure with Spielberg’s handling of the class.