A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early February, 1989

by Richard Grayson

Wednesday, February 1, 1989

10 PM. Up at 9 AM today, I didn’t exercise because I didn’t have time.

At 10:30 AM, I had to drive Dad to the airport to get his flight to Newark. Then, a little after noon, I left here and headed for Dade.

Stopping at the 163rd Street Mall, I had a turkey sandwich from City Deli in the food court. Then I drove across the causeway and down to Arthur Godfrey Road on Miami Beach.

North Beach Elementary is an old but classy-looking school, decorated with huge black letters declaring it a school of excellence – apparently it made one of those lists from either the Florida or U.S. Education Department.

The Teacher Education Center rep was glad I’d arrived early, for she’d meant to schedule the workshop for 2:30 and not 3 PM.

But only one other teacher from the school showed up, and we were joined by another woman who teaches sixth, seventh and eighth grade girls at the nearby Lubavitcher yeshiva.

I asked why they’d wanted the Critical Thinking Skills workshop in the first place, and the TEC rep said she’d seen it listed and it sounded good.

Basically, what I plan to do over the next two weeks is discuss some strategies I’ve read about on teaching critical thinking skills, but more importantly, discuss writing as a process so I can use all the good stuff I got from Lucy’s course.

With only three people – more will probably show up next week – I can gear it to individual needs: to the yeshiva teacher and to a first grade and a fourth grade teacher.

I did talk with them about critical thinking and let them go at 4:30 PM.

It was dauntingly beautiful in Miami Beach. Arthur Godfrey Drive seems so Jewish to me, like the old Miami Beach of the 1950s; there are a lot of Orthodox around.

The day was bright and very warm, and driving up Collins Avenue, I could hardly believe I was “working” in the resort area.

Tacky as it is, Miami Beach (going up to Surfside, Bal Harbor and Sunny Isles) reminds me of Coppertone and vacations and piña coladas under a beach umbrella. It’s hard to take the place seriously.

Passing the Carillon (whose new owners have gone bankrupt, leaving the renters holding onto worthless leases) and the Publix across from it, I remembered coming to Florida for the first time in December 1969 and loving the bright sun and warm weather. I still do.

The traffic was normal for early rush hour, and I didn’t get home till 5 PM.

To relax, I opened the sliding door of this room to the terrace, got a bottle of one of Jonathan’s health food store “natural” sodas from the refrigerator, lay back and read the newspapers.

Mom served Jonathan and me ratatouille for dinner.

Grandma phoned, saying it was almost summerlike in New York as well, as it hit 60° again today.

I heard Mom tell Grandma – we passed the portable phone from Jonathan (Grandma at first thought he was Mom) to me to Mom – that there would be a bedroom for her in the new house.

I reread the chapter on bankruptcy and broached the subject with Mom. “They’ll throw you in jail!” was her first reaction.

But there never has been any kind of debtor’s prison in the U.S., and most of my credit wasn’t applied for fraudulently.

Believe me, says the author of the book, you’ll leave bankruptcy court happier than you went in.

I guess the problem with my credit card chassis is that it’s like a treadmill where I keep having to run faster and faster just to stay in place. It’s like Lucy and Ethel in the candy factory.

Without new sources of credit, I can’t keep it going, and I’m not going to earn enough to make it work very much longer.

I do like the idea of wiping the slate clean and starting over. The credit cards and bank accounts have absorbed so much of my time these last few years that I’m not sure they were worth it.

I haven’t been able to read novels, much less write them, when I’m always dealing with money. But, as Emerson says, for everything that is lost, something else is gained.

Thursday, February 2, 1989

11 PM. One week ago at this time I was just returning to Manhattan from my great evening in Sloatsburg.

I was on a real high then. In a way, my experiences in January haven’t left me; they’re still making me feel good.

A month ago, I was so scared about going back to New York, but I not only survived the month, I feel I triumphed. It’s important to remember that I faced my fears and was so much better off for doing so.

Reading over my New Year’s Day journal entries on this year’s New Year’s Eve, I was struck by how many times I complained that I hadn’t taken big risks.

I want to continue to make myself anxious if it means throwing myself into new and positive situations that will make me grow. It’s odd how calm I am about my TEC workshops.

Driving to Northwestern High School today, I felt I was returning to a familiar place, even though I haven’t taught there for a year. But I remembered the school’s TEC rep, Miss Love, and the layout of the building.

My workshop is in the business computer lab with IBC PCs because the Apple room has asbestos in it and workmen are currently there.

Although the class is a large one, it’s a good mix of men and women, and there are even a few white teachers in the class.

A good number of the Northwestern teachers have computer experience by now. More and more, it’s going to be the rare teacher who’s not familiar with at least some aspects of computers.

As usual, there was little software, and I didn’t have enough copies of the Exploring the IBM Personal Computer tutorial to go around.

After an introductory lecture and demonstration, I let everyone get on a PC, and then I ran around helping people.

It was fun, but after the rush hour ride home, I needed to relax with a soda and USA Today, which has been coming regularly since Monday.

After I exercised and showered this morning, I took Jonathan’s car to Freddy’s, where they installed a new headlight and the new license plate (in Florida they call them “tags”).

Then I went to Sun Pointe Cove and gave in my letter about my salary; everything seems in order for my move on Monday.

I’ll need a bit over $2800, and I’ll be on the ground floor, apartment C-107, two buildings south of where I was before; my new address is 2701 SW 79th Avenue.

Today continued warm and sunny, and records show that this has been the warmest winter in 15 years down here.

Record-breaking Alaskan cold has made it down to the lower 48 states, and February isn’t going to be as mild as January in the Northeast.

After lunch, I left Broward at 1 PM, giving myself enough time before teaching to take a leisurely detour over the 79th Street Causeway past the WIOD studios where Neil Rogers and Glen Hill were doing their 10 AM-2 PM show, a mainstay of my day.

In a way, I’m impressed with how quickly I adapted to working in Florida. Actually, I adjusted pretty quickly to working in Sloatsburg, too.

Looking over my Teachers College grade reports tonight, I also know that I accomplished something as a student in 1988: A’s in The Teaching of Writing and AIDS Education/Human Sexuality and three one-credit computer education classes on various subjects.

I spent time writing out credit card checks now that I know some of my payments have cleared.

This “voice mail” that I can use to check my checking accounts and some of my credit card balances is a wonderful technological advance.

This weekend, I’ll make some cash advances. Luckily, the next week or so will be a quiet time in which I expect very few bills to arrive.

I’m far from pulling out all the stops in my credit card chassis, so it appears I’ll be able to manage throughout the winter and spring.

I like the idea of knowing I’ll be in my new apartment for the next four months (actually, it’s more like 16 weeks).

My short three-day “work week” is over until I’m back at Northwestern High School next Tuesday.

Tuesday, February 7, 1989

9 PM. I’m in my new apartment. An hour ago, I decided to sleep here tonight.

Mom was talking to Marc about business, Jonathan was behind locked doors doing whatever it is he does, and Dad was out at a condo board of directors meeting.

I felt like being in my own space, and so I grabbed everything I needed and came here, stopping for milk and orange juice on the way.

I’m definitely discombobulated and I keep making mistakes in my writing. Well, I’ve had to adjust to a lot, and I can’t expect myself to do much better.

I was getting too comfortable in my parents’ house: my room had a remote control device for the 42-channel cable TV, two phones, a fax, an answering machine. It seemed decadent and made me lazy.

Right now I’m back in a more spartan environment: no phone yet, no VCR, only my little Sony Watchman TV. I don’t quite know what to do with myself, and that’s probably a good thing.

My class at Northwestern High School went okay, but I feel frustrated by the unavailability of good CAI software. I have to bring everything from home.

And because only one computer has a graphics adaptor, I had problems demonstrating much of the software I did have.

Tomorrow I’m back at North Beach Elementary, and in the morning I’ll prepare a talk on writing process. I feel I’m never going to “catch up” with the details of my life.

Last evening I read The Review of Contemporary Fiction‘s Novelist as Critic issue.

George Garrett, as always, had a terrific essay on the vagaries of the literary stock market. He’s a man who understands the way publishing works and how writers bear some share of the blame for the system.

Garrett notes that while PEN is always attacking censorship or maltreatment of writes in far-off lands, the organization’s bigwigs never complain about the U.S. publishers who give them their advantages.

(This diary entry sets a record for mistakes.)

There were good essays by John Barth on postmodernism, by Gilbert Sorrentino on fragments, and by David Foster Wallace on CYW’s (conspicuously young writers – like himself) and the effects of TV and MFA programs.

I’d been so out of touch with the literary scene, forgetting how important it all once was to me. Even as a writer-in-residence, I had no contact with other writers, just public school students and teachers.

I’m going to read more literature, I promise.

Well, the highlight of my day was a letter and tape from Crad. The CBC hoax worked!

I never thought Crad would pull it off as well as he did, but every major Toronto newspaper covered the story of Crad Kilodney’s revenge against the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Literary Competition.

Stories by Kafka, O. Henry, Faulkner, Pirandello, Jack London and other classic writers were rejected and screened out of the contest. Boy, did Crad make the CBC look stupid.

The tapes of his appearances on various radio programs were fantastic. The publicity he got from this totally overshadowed the contest winners, and Crad sounded great on the shows and looked great in the newspaper clippings: my friend, the genius.

Maybe I’ll call him later. I admire Crad so much. He believes in his own worth as a writer in a way that I find it hard to do.

Crad admits he’s not a nice person, that he’s got a mean streak – but the guy is so much better as a writer than 90% of the ones who are considered the literary leaders of the pack.

Why aren’t other exciting writers publishing today? Remember the thrill I felt as a young adult, when I discovered Pynchon, Barthelme, Sukenick, Coover, Vonnegut, even the now-disparaged Brautigan (defended in an essay I read last night) and the forgotten Fariña?

There was Bruce Jay Friedman and Joseph Heller and Philip Roth doing what seemed mind-bending things in fiction. Raymond Federman and the Fiction Collective writers made exhilarating experiments.

But I guess it was the time. I’m just so sick at what Crad called “the ’80s mentality.”

Thursday, February 9, 1989

8:30 PM. Two weeks ago I was in Sloatsburg, in the middle of the kids’ presentation of their stories. It’s hard to believe that my day-to-day life has changed so completely.

I’m tired this evening, but my work week ended at 5 PM today when I finished at Northwestern High School.

Today I lectured on computer history and taught a bit of BASIC. I also let the teachers examine the PCjr and PS/30 computers outside our classroom.

I like the people at Northwestern, but I wish I had more software to show them. Their Apple IIe’s are stored away while they’re removing the asbestos from that computer lab, but maybe I can use one for a demonstration one day.

I’ve never had enough software to show in this component, not now or when I taught it last year at Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School and Coral Gables High School.

This morning I went to the bank and then exercised to a tape at my parents’ house while no one was home.

After I returned here to shower and dress, I did some preparation and chores before getting lunch and heading for Miami.

During the next four days, I have to stop and catch my breath a little.

I need various things for the apartment, like a bath mat and a blanket (I’m using the too-small one for a twin bed that I used at Mom’s).

I’d like to bring over my computers and peripherals and maybe a TV and VCR. I got the new phone with its built-in answering machine tonight.

I was just programming it to receive messages and to make phone calls with one button. This system has a digital voice, the same kind that’s becoming more common when I call banks to check on my account balances.

Really, I have to remember that it’s usually hard to move to a new apartment. I’ve been so blasé about the changes in my life; even if I feel I still have so much to catch up on, I’ve functioned beautifully.

For me, South Florida will always be the only place to spend the winter. Yesterday it even snowed in L.A. and Palm Springs; in New York, it turned very cold, according to Grandma Ethel, who said she’s still depressed.

Grandma told me to remind Mom to light a yahrzeit candle on Saturday for Grandpa Herb, who died six years ago.