A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-November, 1988

by Richard Grayson

Sunday, November 13, 1988

2 PM. Thank God for Lola, Teresa’s close friend this year, who got her out of the house this afternoon.

I would have gone out myself, but a heavy rain is falling, and I got soaked to the skin just a little while ago when I went out to bring back some food for my lunch. I hope the wet chill doesn’t affect my recovery from the cold.

While I feel better, I’m still congested and somewhat in a fog. I did exercise the past three days, so at least I don’t feel my body is totally falling apart.

Last night Ronna was an angel, getting me out of the house when I needed to be elsewhere (and I’m sure Teresa was happy to have the apartment to herself for six hours, too).

Since Sue arrived shortly after I did, I didn’t have time to complain as much as I might have – and that was good for everybody.

Sue had just come from donating blood. Robert had flown to San Francisco on business earlier in the day, so she came into the city.

Ronna told us she’s decided that it’s time to start looking for a new job, as she’s fed up with her treatment at Yeshiva University.

The three of us went out to Hunan Balcony, where we had a delicious meal, and then walked up Broadway to 107th Street to see the movie Everybody’s All-American at the Olympia.

It was a very cold evening, and I was freezing as we waited half an hour in the street, but I enjoyed the movie and the company.

Ronna is always fun, and Sue always sets off a nice, sillier side of her sister. By the time I got home, I felt really good.

Teresa had been watching TV all night. I noticed that she had ordered in a Japanese dinner that cost five dollars more than the combined check for my dinner, Ronna’s and Sue’s.

That’s an example of what I think is Teresa’s carelessness. She’s physically careless, spilling things or dropping them; verbally careless, as she seems to forget what she’s talking about (it almost seems as if she has aphasia, for Teresa cannot remember certain words as she speaks); and of course, emotionally careless.

I’ll be glad when I don’t have to deal with Teresa up close. Our values and outlooks are totally different.

I want to finish my Wall Street piece today, but I don’t expect it to be a problem getting it to Lucy Calkins’s office by its due date, the Thursday before Thanksgiving.

This will be the hardest work week of the fall, but when it’s done, I’ll be over the hump.

Monday, November 14, 1988

8 PM.   Teresa is out on a dinner date with Herbert Weiss, a Brooklyn College poli sci professor.

When he came to pick her up, I remembered him from the department back when I was an undergrad poli sci major.

I just called Mom, who said that they’ll deposit my $5000 Florida Arts Council grant check in my California Federal account tomorrow.

Dad had tried to reach me with the good news on Saturday, when the check arrived, but the line was busy all evening because Teresa was home.

It’s a relief to me that the Florida fellowship money finally came through; now I don’t have to call Tallahassee this week.

It’s a mild evening.  I had dinner by myself at Szechuan Broadway, and when I came out of the restaurant and saw all the interesting people and the lights from the stores, I felt grateful that I’ve had the chance to live in cosmopolitan Manhattan.

Today in Nanuet went pretty well.  I feel I’m learning a lot about third graders, though I’m not certain I’m teaching them much about writing.

Last night I slept soundly for nine straight hours and felt so refreshed at 6 AM that I left early, eager to start my day.  The ride was quick and pleasant, and the first class went a lot better today.

I also felt better about last week’s session when their teacher showed me stories students had written about me.  (“I know an author.  His name is Richard Grayson.  He writes in a notebook.”)

The second class also was very good.  One boy wrote an amazingly sophisticated five-page story about his pitching in the 2025 World Series between the Mets and the Yankees.

During my break, I again had an early lunch at the diner across from the Nanuet Mall, and then I went back to the Miller School for my final three classes.  I tried to model writing conferences with varying degrees of success.

The classes are so different and seem to reflect their teachers, so that laid-back Mrs. Tabor’s class is the most casual and unruly, while Mr. Slayburg’s students seem very controlled and disciplined.

(Mrs. Tabor is a wry, plump, middle-aged woman while Mr. Slayburg is 25 and very muscular, with a determined, almost military, bearing.)

As the day went on, my energy wore out, but I did enjoy being with the students and talking to the elementary school teachers during my free time; it was interesting to hear their concerns.

The students in Nanuet seem like all-American middle- or upper-middle class kids, and some of them are so cute and precocious, I could eat them up.  (A few look like little monsters.)

Judith Rose called me last night to give me directions to Pomona Junior High School.

Unfortunately, I think I’m only going to get to come to her seventh-period ESL class because I’ll be at Ramapo High School before that.

I’ve got to get to the high school around 10 AM.  Dr. Garan, the principal, called today with directions.

Busy, busy!  I really haven’t prepared anything specific for either the high school or the junior high, and I figure I’ll just talk and read and answer questions and maybe ask a few.

I can’t expect to sleep as well tonight as I did last night, but I hope I can get some sleep.  I have to.

Notice I didn’t complain about my health, and it’s because I’m feeling better and only a bit stuffed up.

Josh called yesterday and we chatted briefly.  He doesn’t speak for very long on the phone these days, as I think he thinks his phone is tapped.

I told him I’d been sick, and Josh said he’d been working hard and had to work even on the two holidays last week.

Tonight Alice called to ask if I wanted to see Cocoon II tomorrow evening.  I thanked her but said I’d be too tired after another long day in Rockland County schools.

I’m tired even now and am going to lie down on the futon after I finish writing this, whether I can fall asleep or not.

Unfortunately, Teresa gets home from Brooklyn Heights every day at 4 PM, just when I get home from teaching, so if she had not gone out on a date with Prof. Weiss tonight, I wouldn’t have had any time alone here today.

Tuesday, November 15, 1988

7 PM. I’m tired again tonight, but I’ve got a feeling of satisfaction because I think I accomplished a lot today. Although it was the hardest day I’ve had as a writer-in-residence, it was also the most fun.

I did sleep soundly last night, and I got up at 7:30 AM, an hour later than yesterday. It was another beautiful fall day: clear and crisp and not too chilly.

I wore a new black Bugle Boy shirt that Dad brought me on his last visit, along with my Bugle Boy parachute pants. My hair is nicely long and my beard is full without being bushy, so I felt I looked good.

The ride over to Jersey and up the Palisades is becoming familiar to me, and this morning I set out with plenty of time to spare.

That turned out to be a good thing because the directions to Ramapo High School weren’t the best, and I ended up driving around for an hour before I finally found the school.

However, that did give me the chance to see Spring Valley, Monsey, Ramapo and other towns different than those in the southeastern part of Rockland.

The terrain was hillier, and there were apartments with lots of black people, and more Hasidic Jews than I’ve ever seen in Brooklyn.

The principal, Dr. Garan, welcomed me heartily and led me to a big lecture hall – the school is modern and well-equipped – where I had two sections of two teachers’ 11th and 12th-grade English classes, both honors and Regents classes.

Though the first group was a little rowdy, I didn’t mind – I like suburban teenagers – and I read my People “celebrity shortage” article and “But in a Thousand Other Worlds” and talked a bit.

I did much better with the second group: I read selections from Eating at Arby’s, my column about my Davie Town Council campaign, and “Y/Me,” all of which got a good response.

“He was superb,” I heard one of the English teachers tell the principal afterwards.

Stopping for a quick slice of pizza, I made it in time for Judith Rose’s earlier ESL class at Pomona Junior High School. She’s a type I recognize: the good-hearted, slightly ditzy culture vulture.

The first class of seventh graders was made up of all Haitian students, the second class a UN of kids from Korea, India, Vietnam, Colombia, the Philippines and Cambodia as well as from Haiti.

I talked about writing and publishing a little and then we did the “Once I was ___ ; now I am ___” exercise and some freewriting.

All day I tended to forget how short their periods are: forty-five minutes just flies by.

The kids were quite nice, and Judith thanked me for coming; like the high school teachers, she asked me where she could get my books.

Although I enjoyed talking to the kids at both schools, I was tired and hungry and headachy by the time I left the junior high at 3 PM.

I drove east on Route 59 until I got to the Palisades Parkway, and when I got home at 4:20 PM, Teresa was already here.

I lay down on the living room couch to recuperate and see if I could stop my headache; the rest did help a bit.

Teresa went out to the movies, and I brought in a turkey sandwich for dinner.

I just read most of today’s paper and watched the TV news. The PLO, implicitly recognizing Israel, has declared a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.

It’s too bad that Israel’s new government will be so right-wing and intransigent, because a two-state solution is the only sensible course now.

Otherwise, demography will take over and there will be a majority of Palestinians in “greater” Israel, making the Jewish state into South Africa, where a minority rules by tyranny and oppression.

Wednesday, November 16, 1988

7:30 PM. For the third night in a row, I slept magnificently; I even got up at 12:30 PM and assumed it was 6 AM and that I’d slept the night through.

Alice called me early this morning, telling me my picture was in Business Week. Andreas had awakened her with the news: he said he spilled his morning coffee when he saw me in the magazine.

Actually, the sign part of the photo is used on the table of contents page. On page 94, the full photo, in color, appears with the caption “Social Commentary on Wall Street” in regard to the RJR Nabisco LBO bids.

Social commentary or social criticism was just what I was aiming for, and I’m glad Business Week recognized it.

Cy Rubin must have sold the photo to them, as he did to the Post, but of course it was my clever conceit that the magazine wanted.

Even though this latest publicity art is anonymous, I can take credit for it, of course, because it’s in the photo. I xeroxed some copies, and a couple in color, so I have documentation.

And I only have one final draft to go for the writing project for Lucy. I printed out copies of my process log and all the drafts although I’m not sure if Lucy wants us to hand in all of that.

On the envelope of my first paper, she wrote that she hadn’t gotten to it yet and thought I should do something related to my teaching rather than my writing because I was so experienced and well-published. She told me to phone her.

Lucy did seem to like my writing conference transcript, though her comments are barely legible.

Today in class, we discussed the qualities of good writing and mini-lessons; I was one of two students who volunteered to give a mini-lesson.

I did it on not being afraid to use “he said” and “she said,” and Lucy said it was great but could have been more personal. I did make the students and even Lucy laugh when I used negative examples like “‘Oh, my god! A dead body,’ he ejaculated.”

This class has been a good experience for me.

Teresa went to her mother’s after work tonight, and she’s not home yet. After she left this morning, I did my laundry and exercised.

(I also worked out last night, so the only day I missed this week was Monday. For me, exercising is a treat, a release, something like meditation.)

It’s nice to be here when the TV is off and the phone isn’t ringing all the time, the way it is when Teresa’s here.

I keep seeing more and more examples of her careless approach to life.

We’re so different: I plan, I’m cautious, I think ahead and prepare, I conserve. Somehow Teresa has got more of a sense of entitlement than I ever had.

But I don’t want to write about her.

Friday, November 18, 1988

6:30 PM.  For some reason, as soon as I went outside this morning, my nose started running, and it hasn’t stopped since.  I’ve had a tissue in hand most of the day.

But I don’t really feel that bad. I’ve got to make sure I don’t get run down because I dread getting sick again (even though part of me expects that exactly that will happen).

I had a long day at Teachers College, with Prof. Jo Anne Kleifgen’s workshop, Connecting Computers and ESL Teachers.

I’m the only one in the class who’s not a teacher of English as a second language or as a foreign language, so I was unfamiliar with the principles of language learning and applied linguistics.

However, I was familiar with much of the software we looked at.  In the morning, we were in a lecture room, talking about our jobs, and then Jo Anne showed us these pieces of software.

One was drill-and-practice based on the structural method: the student had to complete sentences like “The teacher was giving a book,” using various tenses and constructions.

Another was based on Cloze-type exercises in which the student fills in blank words of so many letters in a short text.

The last was Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? – which I’ve known for years and which was presented in the other two computer workshops I took, on problem-solving and social studies software.

After lunch, we went to the Apple lab in the library.

The only interesting program I saw was KidTalk on the Apple IIgs, which used the computer’s speech synthesizer – which can be regulated as to tone, pitch, gender and speed – to recite words that the student writes.

Bruce Barnard – whom I remember from Howard Budin’s Computer Graphics class three years ago – and I had a lot of fun with that one.

But the rest of the computers had Word Attack, Oregon Trail, Bank Street Writer, Magic Slate and other programs that aren’t really ESL. I can see where they can be adapted, but I’ve looked at all these programs for years.

There was nothing like the software specifically for ESL that we use with the Ufonic Sound System speech synthesizer in the Dade County public schools.

We did watch a videotape of kids learning to use Bank Street Writer, but I was disappointed that there still hasn’t been a breakthrough in the educational software. There probably will not be as long as the Apple IIe is the standard in public schools.

For the one-credit assignment, we have to write an eight-page paper evaluating two pieces of software.  That shouldn’t be hard for me.

When I got back from lunch – I wanted to eat alone, so I went to Grandma’s Restaurant – I xeroxed three articles on spreadsheets in social studies education that I’m going to use for my paper in the other workshop.

Back home, I found a notice from the Teachers College registrar that my third workshop was canceled; I’ll get a refund of $345 in the next six weeks. How that will affect my student loan, I don’t know.

I waited very long in frigid cold for the M5 bus both this morning and this evening, and I’m tired now.  Because I didn’t feel like going out, I ordered in Sichuan food.

Teresa’s gone to Mattituck, so for the first time since last Wednesday – nine days – I can sleep in the bedroom and I have the apartment to myself.

These intensive workshops always leave me with a headache.

But I did take eight credits this year: Teaching Writing, AIDS Education and Human Sexuality, and the three computer education workshops – and at the end of this term I will have (from Teachers College, FIU and FAU) a total of 62 graduate credits in education (plus 11 credits in other fields) since 1984.

Saturday, November 19, 1988

 8 PM. Today was another long day at Teachers College. Up at 6:30 AM, I bundled up and went out to get the Times, which I read before getting in the shower.

After I had breakfast, I took the Broadway bus up to Columbia. In the morning, we had interesting small group discussions and then gathered as a whole group to report.

I stayed with those who teach ESL to adults, but as someone in computer education, I’ve really seen the whole range in Florida, where I’ve worked with elementary, junior high, and high school teachers, and of course, my own college students.

Some new software had come in, and we looked at it before we broke for lunch at 1:30 PM. To me, it was just the usual stuff, nothing revolutionary.

Again I felt like being by myself during lunch, so I walked down Broadway to 112th Street, to Pizza Town.

After I ate, I stopped by at Flux Computer Systems and paid with AmEx for two more months’ on the Toshiba T1100 laptop.

This way I can take it with me to Florida and use it until the end of the semester without worrying about having to return it before January 22.

I don’t think I’ll buy it, however; it would cost me an extra $1000, and the screen isn’t that good. But I probably will buy a laptop eventually.

When we returned from lunch, we met in the computing department to look at some videotapes demonstrating interactive video for ESL.

gain, it was old news to me: Sue Spahn and Robert Buford and the rest of Dr. Sandiford’s class at FIU did something similar for the Florida Educational Computing Conference two years ago.

Back in the lab, I played around a little more with KidTalk, and I think I’m going to evaluate it in my paper for the workshop. I xeroxed the manual and will look to see if I can find any reviews of the product in periodicals.

Basically, a talking word processor is a good idea. Unfortunately, the Apple IIgs doesn’t produce great speech, and the voice is very robotic.

We went up to the fifth floor of the library to see where the software and PCjr computers are kept; again, everything there that was old stuff to me.

I think I should stay away from these software-reviewing workshops until the technology changes.

Still, at Teachers College, I’ve had courses with software in computers and writing, in the arts, in social studies, in problem-solving and critical thinking, and now with ESL and language learning.

From FIU and FAU, I have 37 credits in computer education, including BASIC, LOGO, PILOT and Artificial Intelligence. All in all, I’ve got more than the equivalent of a master’s degree in computer ed.

Although I don’t constantly keep up with the literature in the field, I know enough by now to be a semi-expert. Certainly, if I really had to get a job in computer education, I’d have no trouble.

By the time I got home at 5:30 PM, I felt very tired but forced myself to exercise to a Body Electric tape.

Ronna had left a message for me, but when I called, Lori and some of the guests for Lori’s bachelorette party or whatever they call it, had arrived, so we didn’t talk for long.

I spoke to my parents, who were unable to get a copy of Business Week; I’ll send them a copy of the pages with my picture.

I guess if Andreas hadn’t seen it and told Alice, I might not have ever known about being in the magazine.

Dad bought a new station wagon, a 1975 Caprice with 40,000 miles. His car, like mine, is dead. Marc’s friend may have a buyer for the Camaro, but at most I’ll get a few hundred for it.