A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early March, 1989
by Richard Grayson
Wednesday, March 1, 1989
7:30 PM. I’m tired but feeling okay.
After picking up my mail, I had lunch at Corky’s in Pembroke Pines and drove to Miami Springs High School via I-75 and the Palmetto.
Coming back the same way during rush hour was a pleasure. I stopped at the Broward Mall for a dinner of spinach salad and a muffin (to offset the burger and fries I had for lunch).
The nine teachers in my class are all working happily on their word processing and spreadsheet projects.
After talking to them as a group for only a few minutes, I spent the rest of the time going from person to person, answering questions, problem solving, and encouraging them to try block moves or the spell checker.
Jackie O’Connell said to me at the start and the end of the session that everybody’s happy with the way I’ve been teaching them, and I can tell how pleased people are when they print out a document or realize how much time they can save via word processing.
It’s satisfying to be able to help people in a concrete way.
Last night at 9 PM, I watched the first AIDS Quarterly on PBS. The show left me in tears after seeing this story of how this man my age died as he finally made peace with his Mormon family.
AIDS is being talked to death, says Randy Shilts in the new Esquire. The boneheaded politics and waffling he described in As the Band Played On is still going on, and the media has shifted its attention elsewhere just as the AIDS death toll rises exponentially.
Already more Americans have died of AIDS than died in Vietnam, and there’s an explosion of AIDS in the inner cities.
I phoned Grandma Ethel to wish her a happy 79th birthday. She said that people are starting to return to Rockaway from Florida.
Spring is only three weeks away, I told her, but of course in New York it won’t really be nice until May. That’s when I’ll be back.
Saturday, March 4, 1989
9 PM. Last night I dreamed I called Josh and told him that I thought he was suffering from reactive paranoid psychosis. His reaction was silence at first, and then he asked me why I thought so. I don’t recall the rest of the dream.
In another dream, I got a clean bill of health from a cardiologist. I now suspect that doing push-ups and flyes caused the muscle strain responsible for my chest and arm pains in early January.
After waking up at 8 AM, I went to the ATM and the bank before heading over to my parents’ house to tape the 10 AM Body Electric, to which I exercised.
Mom had given me money to buy a color TV at Service Merchandise, but since it wasn’t in stock, they back-ordered it and should have it sometime this week.
This afternoon I printed out the entire manuscript of The Greatest Short Story That Absolutely Ever Was except the stuff for the back cover.
I want to go over it one more time, and then, after Tom gets the ISBN prefix so he can assign the book an ISBN number, I’ll send it to Book Crafters or Book Masters.
The latter will typeset it from the manuscript for $8 a page, and the former sent me a contract for 500 copies for about $1100. The other two estimates I got were higher by $400 and $1000.
I’ll have to print out the final copy of the manuscript on good typing paper and use near-letter-quality printing.
Once I’ve sent off The Greatest, I’ll feel relieved. Then I can concentrate all my literary energy on the In the Sixties collection.
If Galileo Press doesn’t take it – and the odds are they won’t – I’ll enter it in all the short story collection contests, send it to other small presses, and if all else fails, I’ll publish it myself.
Crad writes that his production schedule for his new books has been thrown off after a dispute with Tim, his cover artist, who came up with something Crad thought inappropriate: “So now I have no friends in Toronto. Well, it’s hard to be friends with people who are small-minded.”
Crad says he’s planning another hoax, “this one against publishers. I’ll be hoaxing the crème de la crème of Canadian publishers, seven or eight of them. Yeah, I’m cutting my own throat, but I have satanic help and they don’t.”
Most of Crad’s letter is about the Rushdie affair and the timid reaction of people in Canada and the U.S. to this threat to freedom.
It does appear that free speech is under attack on dozens of fronts these days. I’m quite pessimistic about our cultural future. Once I thought the 1990s would be a more liberal era, but if it is, it may be mindless liberalism.
Well, that’s a stupid thing to say: liberalism can’t be stupid – unless I’m talking like some fuddy-duddy about the students of the 1960s.
I remember a line from Camus to the effect that the problem with people wasn’t that they were evil but that they were ignorant.
Today people seem more stupid, more brutal, and more close-minded than ever. Boy, I sound like Crad on his soapbox.
I got such a nice letter from Ron Anagnostis complimenting me so effusively on my work at Sloatsburg Elementary that I was embarrassed to read the whole thing. However, I will use it as a letter of recommendation.
I picked up bagels and appetizing at the Best Deli for dinner with Mom and Jonathan tonight.
Tomorrow afternoon I’ve got to show the house again, to the same woman who saw it last Sunday.
Eastern’s pilots generally avoided crossing the machinists’ picket lines at the airports today, so the airline was able to fly only 25 of its 1100 scheduled flights.
There’s chaos at airports across the country, and especially in Miami, Eastern’s headquarters. I don’t know how Dad will get home from L.A. this week.
I’m going to sleep soon. Although I’ve been keeping busy, I’m lonely for my New York friends.
Monday, March 6, 1989
9 PM. I’ve just come from the BCC Distinguished Lecture series. Tonight Frank Scafella, a professor at West Virginia University, spoke on “Hemingway Creating Hemingway.”
He had access to the unpublished writings in the Kennedy Library in Boston, and he read some interesting pieces which showed Hemingway’s creative mind at work as well as his intellectual, playful side.
What did the professor say Hemingway thought was necessary for a writer? Something about the devotion of a priest and the courage of a burglar.
“A writer should die with every book,” was something Papa felt.
I know I’ll never be a great writer, but that doesn’t mean I can’t write some very good things. However, I am not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to make myself die with every book.
I’d rather write no books than end up shooting my brains out, and if that’s a pity, let it be one. I make no apologies for wanting to be happy.
Because the lecture was literary, it drew several English Department people, like Mick, Bill and Rosemary, all of whom I exchanged a couple of words with.
Glen Rose, the provost, sat behind me and greeted me warmly.
But BCC-Central isn’t my workplace anymore. Although I taught there last year at night and on Saturdays, I left full-time teaching there five years ago.
In the paper this morning was the news that the Broward legislative delegation has decided to hold up funding for FIU, FAU and Nova until the state Board of Regents create a new, tenth state university for Broward.
I doubt they’ll be able to follow through, but a four-year public college is needed here.
I just said, “follow through,” and according to Prof. Scafella, that’s what Hemingway said a writer must do, that “follow through” is what separates great writers from people who write. We know which category I fall into.
Last night Josh called and we talked for twenty minutes.
He asked if I got that “thing” – he meant Phil Straniere’s death certificate – and I said no, and he clearly did not want to talk about it, so I just told him what was going on with me.
Josh said he might come to Miami to visit his brother, and I told him I think it would be great for him to leave New York, even for a weekend.
Last night I had the oddest erotic dream: it was about Shelli. I couldn’t believe how intense the dream-feelings were.
Of course, though I rarely think about her, Shelli was the first person I was intimate with. That was just about 18 years ago. Hard to believe. Remember how many scares we had when we thought she was pregnant?
If we’d had a child, he or she would be 17 now, probably a high school senior – the same age as the cute guy in a tank top and shorts I tried not to stare at when I had dinner at Wendy’s this evening.
Up at 8 AM today, I spent the morning reading newspapers after forcing myself to work out to Body Electric.
I waited at my parents’ for the mail to come, as I knew I would have to sign for the $600 in travelers cheques that I ordered with my Citibank Visa to circumvent their limited cash advance line of credit.
Dad phoned, unaware that Mom was at jury duty. He needed his OnePass frequent flyer number to make new reservations on Continental.
Dad said it was beautiful in Los Angeles; here it was cloudy and rainy.
I wrote to Crad and spoke to Teresa, who again complained about one of her friends: the husband of the woman who invited her to Fire Island for the weekend.
By hook or by crook, Teresa will definitely be in Fire Island again this summer – she’s already thinking of renting a parking space at the ferry terminal for $350 – and I suppose that means I’ll be back on West 85th Street. We’ll see.
Wednesday, March 8, 1989
Noon. Just as I did last Tuesday night, I got very little sleep last night.
I didn’t manage to get to sleep until 7 AM, after I’d had breakfast and read the paper, and I slept only lightly for a couple of hours.
Consequently, I feel very out of it now. It’s only 54° and very dark and gloomy. Of course, I’ve got to go to Miami Springs High School this afternoon, and I just hope I can get through class.
To think that I felt so productive yesterday. I wrote and printed out a very brief author’s note for the book.
I still haven’t decided about using blurbs. When I called Tom to tell him to call in the ISBN number as soon as he gets it, he said the book would look cleaner without blurbs but it would be more promotable with them. We’ll see.
Last evening I picked up dinner for me, Jonathan and Mom, who finished jury duty without getting called to sit on a case.
On CNN’s Moneyline, I saw George Schweitzer, my old friend from tenth grade at Franklin School, commenting on the Time Warner merger in his role as CBS vice president.
Although I could recognize George even though I haven’t seen him since 1966, he looked so much older than I thought he’d look.
Mostly it was his balding head, I guess, that contributed to his older appearance.
As old as I think I’m looking, I can see that the average guy my age does look a lot older than I do.
For example, all the candidates for local political office who have their photos in the paper look as if they could be my father. But maybe politics makes people age quickly.
Tom and I had a good talk last night. He’s concerned about what he views as Crad’s megalomania. Crad wrote Tom that he wishes he could see, after his death, how he’s made literary history day by day.
Crad is nuts if he thinks that way. The great writers are practically unknown to all but the most devoted scholars, and most 20-year-olds don’t even know who Winston Churchill was, so they’re not going to know Crad Kilodney.
But maybe Crad needs to feel that way to keep him going on the street.
Tom is concerned that Crad alienated all his friends by portraying them so negatively in Excrement. Crad feels nothing is more important than his writing, and he can be very cruel to people who have treated him nicely.
I now realize – and Tom says he does, too – that not changing details to disguise real people in fiction is lazy.
In a way, Crad is a monster, and if that’s the price of literary greatness, I wouldn’t even consider paying it.
Day to day, I feel satisfied and generally happy – while Crad says he knows he’ll never be happy, so writing is all he’s got.
Although Tom is way too literary for me, he’s much more grounded in real life than Crad, more aware of people’s feelings, and more realistic about fame and fortune.
Two of Tom’s novels were rejected yesterday, but he’s got 19 stories coming out and loads of poems, reviews and translations besides.
Of course, he feels that he’s got to keep publishing as long as he’s at NOCCA, if only to feel honest about being a working artist/teacher.
“But they [the NOCCA administration] don’t know how hard it is,” Tom said, “and they can’t understand why I’m not published by Knopf like Nancy Lemann.”
Ronna and I also had a good talk last night.
At work she got yelled by Hartsdale, who said she’s not producing enough. I told her (as her friend Sandy said I would) that she’s too good for Yeshiva University.
Ronna should be looking for another job because it sounds as if the situation there is becoming as bad as it was at the end of her time at the Hebrew Arts School.
Ronna told me about seeing the premiere of the new Albert Innaurato play – I identify with him – and about the -20° wind-chill factor.
She plans to be here in late April, probably.
I didn’t ask, but I don’t think she’s seeing anyone.
Friday, March 10, 1989
5 PM. I didn’t do much yesterday after I gave my manuscript a final look. I realized I still have to find a cover artist, as that’s not included in the printer’s job.
This weekend I’ll start looking around for someone. With such a long title, I don’t want anything but text on the cover, so it shouldn’t be that hard to find an artist to do the job.
After going to the new Fashion Mall for lunch, I came home and again unsuccessfully tried to reach Dr. Anita Meinbach about Dade’s gifted program and the Tropical Elementary workshop. It’s only ten days away, so I’ve got to get cracking on my preparation.
I had dinner with my parents and Jonathan. Marc showed up with China, who was, as usual, excited to see the rest of us.
Back at my apartment, I phoned Alice, who had exciting news. She and Peter are taping the Sally Jessy Raphael show next Tuesday.
They had just canceled a weekend trip to Phoenix because they were nervous about not getting back Monday on Continental, now a target of the Eastern strikers.
Alice and Peter had an article in this month’s New Woman about their living apart. Today I bought the magazine and read the piece, in which Alice and Peter take turns discussing why they became “apartners.”
This is the book concept they’d had, and Alice decided to send the article to talk shows to see if they could revive the project, which their agent declined.
But if apartners can become what Alice called a “media trend,” they may now be able to garner enough interest from the publicity to get a book contract.
Like Oprah, Geraldo and Donahue, Sally Jessy Raphael is nationally syndicated, although she’s gentler than the other talk show hosts.
The producers asked Alice and Peter to come up with similar couples (and not just commuter marriages but people who prefer living in two separate domiciles), and after some searching, they did.
After I finished reading their article, I had a better idea of why Alice and Peter prefer to live apart.
I have the same love of privacy and inability to put up with another’s habits, though I’ve managed to live with Teresa and my family pretty well.
Of course, Teresa isn’t my wife or girlfriend, and I can always remind myself we’re just roommates living separate lives – similar to when I was living with Ben and Jim in Park Slope.
If I’d lived with Ronna, on the other hand, we’d have been lovers, too, and I could not have so lightly accepted Ronna’s messiness, for example.
While I suspect that Alice and Peter’s mode of living may be the perfect solution for them, I also wonder if I, like them, might be a little too selfish and unwilling to tolerate another person’s faults or perceived faults.
Well, I’m sure these issues will come up during the show.
They’re sending a limo to take Alice and Peter to New Haven for the taping. Alice is nervous about being on TV even though she said she and Peter were “superb” during the pre-interview with the show’s producer over the phone.
They’ve both bought new outfits, and Alice said she had to look for a dress that had a place for a microphone to clip onto.
Alice said she knew that Wesley had written True Believer, but she didn’t attend the screening she was invited to.
My friends all seem to be getting more successful, and I’m not surprised. It will happen to me, too. Besides, I’ve already had my share of publicity and success.
Even in the last couple of months – the last half-year, anyway – I’ve gotten the Florida and NYSCA grants, had my photo in the New York Post and Business Week, and won the West Side Spirit short story contest.
Even though I know I’ll never be really famous, I don’t despair. And forget about my ever getting rich.
My only financial goal these days is to declare bankruptcy and get away with all my credit card debts.
Sophie told me I’m not going to get my first paycheck from FIU for another two weeks. If I don’t get any more new courses, I’ll be making about $3000 during my stay in Florida, and that’s not enough for me to make any financial headway.
I’m nervous about tomorrow’s all-day workshop at Miami Sunset High School. I have to be up at 6:30 AM, so I pray I’ll have another good night’s sleep.
Now I’m going over to Mom’s for dinner, and I hope to be back here by 8 PM.