A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late September, 1989

by Richard Grayson

Friday, September 22, 1989

8 PM. Another week of work over with. Actually, my first month teaching at BCC-South is over, and I have less than three months to go in my full-time job. This morning I feel I did a bit better with my English 102 and English 101 classes.

I had the English 102s do the exercise in which they write about their names and then I made them all share. In English 101 I used some ideas of Donald Murray’s from Write to Learn.

Basically I’m feeling my way around into incorporating all these new (for me) ideas into teaching English, and I’m learning myself, working by instinct as well as experiment. One of my worst faults – the flip side of my flexibility and adaptability – is that I get bored easily and don’t stick with things.

For me, a one-semester sabbatical replacement position teaching English at BCC-South is fine, as are my computer education workshops at Dade schools – Sophie still has yet to call me with my first job offer this fall – and my Rockland Arts Center residency last fall and winter.

I do feel I learn a little more from each experience, and even if it never all comes together for me, even if I’m never able to find a career or job where I can use all the stuff I’ve learned, it’s all been worthwhile.

This morning I was chatting with Barbara and Adrienne, who asked me  if I ever had been married. I said no, nor did I want to be.

I told them I was gay and really wasn’t interested in a “marriage” with a guy, either. While I may get lonely at times, for now I still prefer the freedom I have.

Say I met a guy here, and we fell in love, all that stuff that Justin and Larry have. (I spoke with them last night).

How could I leave the guy for months at a time? In a way, that’s what happened with Sean in 1982.

Our relationship might have gone further, but there was no way I was going to give up my summer in New York City and at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts to stay in South Florida.

And I didn’t want Sean to give up Gainesville and his experience at the University of Florida, either.

Doug did – and he and Sean both moved to settle in Tampa together. Obviously, Doug loved Sean more than I did because he uprooted himself from Fort Lauderdale for Sean. In a very nice way, both of them had to give up something to be together.

Now maybe it’s just that I haven’t yet met the person for whom I’d be willing to make that big a sacrifice. I certainly can’t say I will always feel this way or I’ll never meet that person.

Justin said he’s incredibly busy with Theatre, Inc. business. Their incorporation procedure has run into trouble because of their name. An inactive organization already has that name and they aren’t making things easy for Justin: every variation he comes up with, they find objectionable.

Still, they had their first reading: Justin directed Larry and others in Christopher Fry’s The Lady’s Not for Burning. And Justin and the others are excited about their future plans.

I think Justin is doing a great job is getting this theater company together.

Sat Darshan left a message on my machine, saying she’d just called to chat. She thanked me for the book I sent to the girls and said she’d speak to me soon. I do miss my New York City friends.

I’d like to know how Larry’s first meeting with Justin’s parents this weekend came off and what the outcome of Larry’s biopsy in Reading next week will be. (Larry has a small lump by his collarbone and so far all of the tests – including HIV and a CT scan – show nothing.)

Hurricane Hugo devastated Charleston and caused a lot of damage in Charlotte, which is so far inland it would seem they’d have nothing to fear from a tropical storm. We in South Florida are very lucky – once again.


Saturday, September 23, 1989

9 PM. I’ve just finished ineptly gift-wrapping my wedding present to Scott and Joon and then putting it into a jiffy bag to mail.

It’s some appliance no sane person would want: it heats and sprays butter, margarine and syrup, and I picked it up at Sears for ten dollars. But then again, it’s probably something they don’t already have.

I fell asleep about this time last night, and boy, did I sleep well. In the middle of the night, I awoke from a thickly-plotted dream which ended up as a whole page in my notebook.

Up at 8 AM, I got to the eye doctor in Fort Lauderdale at 9:45 AM and picked up three months’ supply of lenses. Back at home, I had an aerobic workout and played Wheel of Fortune on my computer before finally breaking down and finishing The Greatest leaflet.

Deciding not to go to the expense of getting it typeset and hoping that the hamishe look pays off, I spent much of the afternoon printing out a prototype, xeroxing 300 copies on canary yellow paper, and folding, stapling, stamping and addressing the flyers to about sixty people. I also sent a big batch to Tom.

I still have more to do, but I need to sit down in the library with a mess of phone books so I can get people’s proper addresses.

Yesterday I got a quote on the typesetting of Narcissism and Me from Sherry Ringler at BookMasters and today I got a quote on printing and binding from Book Crafters.

It will come to about $1600, and I figure why not? If I’m going to go bankrupt, I should at least get another book published before I do. Besides, I can take both chapbooks and sell them on the streets of Manhattan next summer, à la Crad Kilodney.

Actually, Crad wrote his most recent letter on the back of his announcement of two books, and mostly I followed his format on my own leaflet.

Crad’s big news is that he’s got a girlfriend, Tamara, 23, a University of Toronto senior who’s a virgin but very affectionate; she’s a longtime reader of Crad’s. I hope this works out to be a mutually satisfying relationship for both of them.

At my parents’ empty house this afternoon, I made my Nutri/System chocolate pudding by using the blender, retrieved my laundry, and picked up my mail. I paid five bills, and at Publix I took out $800 in cash advances.

Three years ago I had lots of excess cash, but now I’m cutting it close every month even with my BCC salary. However, as my salary checks pile up, I should have more room to maneuver.

At Waldenbooks, I bought Shoshana Zuboff’s In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power, which I’ve been wanting to read for over a year.

Grandma Ethel, still ill, told Mom she’s going into the hospital on Tuesday to check if the bitter taste is cancer. Aunt Claire is in the hospital down here, and apparently she’s not doing very well.

Today Dad was trimming for his show at the Miami Merchandise Mart. He’ll work there tomorrow with Mom and do the same on Monday, but then he leaves for a trip to Los Angeles for a sales meeting.

They no longer have the Bugle Boy sales meetings in New Jersey, and that’s a real pain for Dad. Mom and Marc and Jonathan aren’t opening at the flea market at all this week because they need to sit in for Dad in Miami at the menswear show.

I don’t know what day autumn officially arrived, but it’s here now. It gets dark just after 7 PM these days.

Although I haven’t opened a school book or folder, I did accomplish a great deal today. I’ll leave to tomorrow my worrying about reading and grading papers and preparing classes.

I feel pretty good about being so active today, and I’ve stuck totally to my diet. Last night I didn’t take a Bonine pill, but I felt a little dizzy this evening so I took one.


Tuesday, September 26, 1989

4 PM. I just showered after an aerobic session in front of the TV and VCR. Really, I can’t detect any change in my body. Perhaps that’s because I look at myself so often. Last evening I got hungry enough to cheat, but the only food I could find to cheat with were some apple-and-cinnamon Cheerios.

I didn’t sleep well, but by the standards of this past summer, I had a fine night of rest: I finally got to sleep around 2 AM and woke up at 8 AM.

Mom was working with Dad at the Miami merchandise Mart menswear show on Sunday and Monday, and although business in general was bad, they were fairly busy taking orders. Customers tell them that Bugle Boy goods “fly out of the store.” Bugle Boy has lasted a lot longer than I expected.

At 6 PM yesterday, Dad took Jonathan’s car to the airport in Miami and got on the plane to California for the company’s sales meeting. He’ll be coming back from L.A. on Friday.

Mom said that Grandma was going into NYU’s cancer hospital today even though a dermatologist checked her out and didn’t find anything. I hope . . . well, I was going to say that I hope they find nothing serious, but that wouldn’t help much, would it? Still, at least Grandma is getting medical attention for that burning sensation that’s driving her crazy.

I called Ronna, who said her cousin Esty’s baby is in some kind of intensive care unit, but he’s drinking his mother’s milk from a bottle and is off IV. Some of his problems in clearing up, though he’ll probably have to undergo heart surgery when he’s older.

Ronna told me she’s been seeing this guy from her synagogue for the last couple of months, and it may be getting serious. I didn’t press her for details, so all I know is that he lives in Teaneck.

She’s having nine people over for Rosh Hashona dinner on Friday night, and Sandy will stay over for the holidays as she did last year. A big part of me wishes I were in New York this fall, but when Ronna told me it was in the 40°s that morning, I felt a little less nostalgic for the city.

The guy who’s head of some Jewish sports organization at Yeshiva University said he’s going to try to get Ronna named as a chaperone on a Christmas/Chanukah trip to Israel by a girls’ basketball team. Like me, Ronna’s both excited and very scared by the prospect of traveling abroad. But I think it would be a great experience for her – and it would be totally free!

This morning I went over to my parents’ house to pick up two packages from UPS. One was the Poets & Writers Directory, which I can scour for names and addresses to put on my flyer mailing list (unfortunately, it’s out of date already and still has me on University Drive), and the other package contained the mechanicals for The Greatest Short Story That Absolutely Ever Was.

At school, I read Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” for my English 102 class; I still think he was overrated.

My remedial class wasn’t all that great today, as I had a hard time getting my students into writing; sometimes I see how immature they really are.

Though the guys (and girls) are cute, there’s no way I could see myself having any kind of relationship or even a friendship with one of them. If I do get involved with a guy, I’d want him to be at least close to 30 so we can share more common reference points. It will happen.

When I got home, I read and commented on student papers; I still have a couple more to look at.

I also read the Business section of the Times, which has been running a front-page series on the mismatch between poor educational skills and the demanding jobs of the 1990s, something I see every day at BCC.


Wednesday, September 27, 1989

11 PM. Yesterday when I went to Mom’s, there was a message on their machine from Sophie at FIU telling me to call, that she had a workshop for me.

When I called her this morning, she said it’s at Northwestern High School: Computers in Secondary Education, the same thing I taught there in February.

I gave Sophie some dates – Mondays and Thursdays in October – and she said she’d get back to me.

Last night I fell asleep fairly early while browsing The Directory of American Poets and Fiction Writers index for names of people to send my flyer to.

I noticed that Ronna’s cousin Betty was listed in the Directory’s acknowledgements as one of the book’s typesetters and proofreaders.

Today I arrived at BCC at 7:30 AM and left at 10:30 PM. Of course I came home for most of the afternoon, but I am tired nonetheless.

I had reading and writing workshops in my English 102 and English 101 classes and intend to continue with them on Friday.

This evening our fiction writing course workshopped stories by the remaining four students whose work we hadn’t looked at before.

One, about a young widow’s dreams, had a lot of integrity, and it turned out to be almost totally autobiographical.

I disliked Max’s story. He’s the immature, obnoxious kid; tonight he kept jabbering at me even during our break, even after I closed the stall behind me in the men’s room. He doesn’t know how to use semicolons but kept insisting he was using them correctly.

The students seem to enjoy my class, and I try to be open and remember they’re not writers (well, maybe Scott will become one) but pleasant people who want to express themselves and share their stories.

Although I’m no stylist – as Jaimy Gordon noted in the American Book Review – my students’ carelessness with language disturbs me.

President Bush met the fifty governors at a summit meeting in Charlottesville to discuss education. Now that the disasters of the school system are proving to be costly in the marketplace, suddenly everyone’s sounding the alarm.

However, I’m confident little will be done to arrest the education problem. As with the “war” on drugs, it’s all lip service and photo opportunities.

I’ve been trying to catch up on my reading, but I still haven’t finished the Associated Writing Programs Chronicle or the Authors Guild Bulletin. These days just getting through the Times and USA Today is difficult.

Home at 12:30 PM, I read, exercised and picked up my mail at Mom’s. China was staying with Jonathan while Mom and Marc were working with Adriana at menswear show in Miami. Dad is still in Los Angeles although I haven’t heard how things are going there.

I got a copy of Brushes with Greatness in the mail. That’s the Coach House Press book featuring writers’ meetings with famous people.

Gwendolyn MacEwen, George Myers Jr., Joyce Carol Oates and Ram Dass all have stuff in there, and I liked the way my piece on Jackie Onassis held up.

Both Peter Hargitai and Janice Lapore got “honorable mention” in the Florida Arts Council fellowships, but no money. Patrick, Barbara and Eileen were rejected.

So I guess my getting $5000 last year was a bigger deal than I thought.

My grant year ends this weekend, but I’ll wait till the Sun-Sentinel profile comes out before I send in my final report to the state.


Friday, September 29, 1989

1 PM. Yesterday at Nutri/System, I weighed in at 169, having lost three pounds for the week and 16 pounds overall. If I lose a pound and a half this coming week, I’ll be halfway between 185 and my goal of 150.

I’m very pleased with my progress, and I think my success may spur Mom to try Nutri/System.

I attended the 3 PM class, also with Julie, who I guess teaches all Tuesday classes. It was on control and the ways we can engineer our environment to avoid temptation. Most of it didn’t apply to me because I live alone and don’t prepare meals or see non-Nutri/System food in my house. And I have no problem throwing food away.

I have stopped reading while I eat, and perhaps it’s made difference; also, I’ve tried to consciously slow down my eating to give my body the time it needs to register that I’ve satisfied the hunger.

Taking my weekly supply of food home, I quickly prepared dinner (if that’s what you call popping something in the microwave for two minutes), ate, and paid the three bills I picked up at Mom’s before leaving for Hallandale.

Something is definitely wrong with my car; it was smoking from the bottom all the way over to Tony and Adrienne’s apartment, and the air around it smells like burning oil. I really should take it over to Freddy’s garage before I get stuck or the smoking leads to serious and expensive damage.

Tony and Adrienne have moved to a fourth-floor apartment on Golden Isles Drive just off Hallandale Beach Boulevard. I thought the place was a bit dumpy until I saw that gorgeous terrace view of the Intracoastal and its lush vegetation, as well as beautiful luxury homes and all those canals.

It had been the first time I been that far south since returned since I returned to Florida six weeks ago. We took A1A and U.S. 1 to FIU’s North Miami campus for the reading. Tony and I walked in early.

Jim Hall was in the audience, and I nodded to him, but I’m not sure he knew who I was. Jim’s photo had been in USA Today that morning alongside a good review of his new novel. (Is there something wrong with Jim’s head? Why is he never seen without a hat?)

Also in the audience: Gil Bogen and his wife, my students from the spring of 1988. They’re going into FIU’s MFA program, which strikes me as a reflection that FIU will take anyone.

The Bogens are lovely people, but surely a retired physician and Hebrew school teacher who write only adequately at best are not the people for whom MFA programs were intended.

Pearl Levine – who wrote the best story in my workshop at last spring’s BCC writing conference – came up to me to say hi. She said she’ll try to take my class next term and mentioned that she got my flyer.

Sterling Watson recognized me, and we talked for a while. He got older-looking (his beard is mostly white) and heavier. Sterling said he been back at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts a few times since we were last there together in 1982.

By this time, Tony was convinced that I knew everyone, but except for Jeffrey Knapp, who came over to say hello and is always a pleasure to talk to, the rest of the crowd were all strangers to me.

Les Standiford’s introduction of Sterling’s reading was terrible, and I amused Tony with my running commentary, especially when I said his words (“the novel deals with the mysteries of the heart”) a second before Les did.

Sterling’s reading was marred by an idiotic woman who brought a baby who wouldn’t stop talking.

Sterling is a solid, competent writer, but when I hear the names of farm implements and the words “creek” and “good old boy” too often, my brain goes into neutral. It’s that macho (Hemingway/Faulkner) honor-and- courage view of the world that means little to me.

Apparently FIU hired a short story writer, John Something, whose first book is coming out from Norton soon; he looked older than I.

I was wondering why he got the job until Les mentioned that the guy used to teach at the University of Texas-El Paso, where of course Les and Jim had both worked.

I hate all the backscratching literary politics in academia.

Today I had three good classes: we had writing/reading workshops and I read from Brushes With Greatness.

I returned Joel Achenbach’s call. Joel is a wonderful writer on the Herald’s Tropic magazine; I’d sent him a copy of The Greatest to because I thought he would appreciate the book, and he had kindly phoned to say he liked it.

Alice just called with big news: she and Peter are going to be taping Donahue on Monday, a show about rules in relationships.

I finally told Alice to watch her posture, and she said others who had seen her on Sally Jesse Raphael’s show said the same thing. This time, she’s also going to wear lighter lipstick and a jacket so the microphone can clip on the lapels.

I told Alice I’ll watch for her on Donahue – we don’t know when it will appear here – and she thanked me for sending her The Greatest and my clippings.

Alice’s brother called from Canberra last week to tell her that he’s getting married; the teacher he was seeing moved in with him.

Alice and Peter will fly down to Australia in May for the wedding. Tomorrow Alice is going to see her mother and break the news to her.

Now that her brother is obviously not going to want it, I told Alice I’d definitely take her Waverly Place apartment if she leaves it.

It doesn’t feel much like Rosh Hashona to me. Let’s get the weekend started.