A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late November, 1989

by Richard Grayson

Monday, November 20, 1989

7 PM. This seemed like such a long day at BCC. Perhaps it’s because I had such a terrible English 101 class at 11 AM. Of all my classes, I like that one the least.

Part of it is my fault, as I’ve fallen back on lecturing when they didn’t take to the writing workshop, and I’ve been disorganized and unproductive. The classroom setup – all the students facing front in Prussian precision – doesn’t help.

Sometimes I think I’m not a very good English teacher. Tonight I can’t bring myself to get to the 25 remedial papers for tomorrow, and I’m hoping I’ll have more energy soon or will have more energy in the morning.

I did read their essays, though, and I enjoyed many of them. Writing on their own topics seems to work well with the remedial class.

I can’t think I’m a total failure when a student writes about our class: “It’s more like a writing team where members help each other.” That’s what I strive for.

But I’m not entirely to blame for the problems I have teaching. If I had only one or two classes, I could plan better and give the students the attention they need.

However, five classes are way too many: every time I turn around, either I’ve got to prepare for the next class hour or grade papers. If the term weren’t ending in four weeks, I don’t know if I could stand it.

And I think I budget my time well and set appropriate priorities. Oh well, I’ve gotten this far, and I just need to get through this semester. But I don’t like feeling disgusted with myself and my students.

Perhaps my distress is exacerbated by spending the weekend at the Miami Book Fair with BCC people.

Ordinarily on weekends, I’ve got time away from thinking about school – even though very often in the last three months I’ve woken up in the middle of the night and planned lessons in my head.

Well, I’m not going to think about my job for the rest of the evening. I’d like to go to sleep early.

This afternoon I had stomach pains for the first time since I’ve been on Nutri/System, but I suspect the pains are stress-related.

This afternoon I did exercise to a Body Pulse tape, but like a week ago, I now barely can work up a sweat doing low-impact aerobics. Oh well: now studies show even mild exercise is helpful for health.

I never heard from Wendy Abernathy all week, and I’m going to call her and say that if she doesn’t want to do my Narcissism and Me cover, I’ll get someone else. It’s possible she could be working on it, but she should have called me.

I’m getting that sticking pain in my stomach again, and I’ve just realized that my teeth are clenched. Relax, kiddo. You’ll get through this time.

Wednesday, November 22, 1989

8 PM. At last, it’s Thanksgiving weekend and I’ve got four days off, not to mention this evening, when I’d ordinarily be at BCC with my fiction writing class.

This afternoon I got a call from Miami-Dade Community College’s English Department, telling me I was a finalist in their search for a temporary instructor for next term and asking me to send recent letters of recommendation.

Instead, I’m mailing a letter withdrawing my application, citing previous commitments at BCC and FIU.

If I mildly disliked teaching at BCC-South, I’d hate schlepping all the way to Kendall to MDCC-South and teaching students who’d be similar to my current ones, only without their command of the English language.

I answered MDCC’s ad mostly to see if I’d be considered, and I’m now satisfied I can get jobs I don’t want.

Probably I should have worn a jacket this morning, but later the temperatures warmed up and the sky remained a cloudless blue.

New York and Quebec plates are all over the roads these days, and I understand the wind-chill factor was below zero in New York today. So I’m happy I’m here in South Florida.

As I told Patrick on Sunday, I’m still glad I decided to teach full-time at BCC this term because it’s given me the experience of life as a community college instructor and confirmed my belief that I was right to give up that life in 1984.

Would I do this again? Maybe, in a few years, but not next term and not next fall, either – unless I were in a severe financial bind.

Like the just-adjourned U.S. Congress, I too can hide my fiscal irresponsibility with tricks: I’ve put all my credit card bills “off-budget” the way the federal government no longer counts the postal service or the savings and loan bailout expenses as part of their deficit.

At BCC today, I had three pretty decent classes, and I didn’t keep any of them more than 35 minutes.

I weighed in at 154 at Nutri/System, but since I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, I probably lost less than the two pounds they recorded.

Our class was a last-minute inoculation against diet saboteurs who’ll try to get us to eat bad stuff over the holidays.

Others in the group have been doing what I’ve been doing: turning down invitations and avoiding social situations where I’m likely to be tempted.

I got Dad to take some photos of the thinner me today, so if I do gain weight, I’ll know I once was this thin and can get this way again. But I hope to keep the weight off.

I got another letter from Crad, who has never written a word about my weight loss, even though I inform him about it in every one of my letters. I suppose he’s envious or maybe threatened.

Last evening Grandma didn’t answer her phone at the hospital, and today Dad told me she returned to her apartment yesterday.

Thursday, November 23, 1989

10 PM. I had a quiet Thanksgiving, spent on my own mostly, although I’ve just come back from my parents’ house, where I watched TV with Mom and Dad and played with China until Marc picked her up after his dinner at a friend’s house.

I had my Nutri/System food alone here and then went over to my parents’; they and Jonathan had already had their Thanksgiving lasagna dinner, so I wasn’t tempted to join in.

Last night I again fell asleep early. I’d forgotten about the space shuttle launch, but Mom and Dad said they went out to the backyard and looked to the northwest and were able to see the white trail of Discovery lifting off from Cape Canaveral.

Despite the holiday, I was up at 6 AM, and by 9 AM I’d already had breakfast, written a letter to Crad, and exercised to Homestretch.

But I wasted the next three hours lollygagging in bed, reading the newspaper, and listening to the radio. I meant to do some chores today, but all I managed to accomplish was the laundry.

Not a very exciting day, I guess, and I do miss the companionship of friends. I’ve been talking to myself too much.

When the term started, I thought I might get to be good friends with Adrienne and Tony, but I’ve discovered she can be obnoxious and immature, and I’m glad for my usual caution against rushing into friendships.

Actually, being socially inactive has had one good result: it’s made my diet easier. In three months I’ve lost 31 pounds, and that’s an accomplishment I’m proud of.

Not only do I have a much better-looking and presumably healthier body, but I proved to myself that I could do something I wasn’t sure I could.

I did it by taking one day at a time and using will power and discipline. I bet I could write a book that way if I set my mind to it.

I’ve got a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. My health is fine, as is that of almost everyone I know, and I don’t want for any material goods.

My life might seem spartan to some, but to homeless people or those living in oppressive countries, I live a life of sublime luxury. And I do have a VCR, microwave and computer.

I keep my diaries in the closet of the bedroom I stayed in when I first arrived in Florida this fall, and I haven’t looked at them in many months, so I’m not sure how I spent Thanksgiving twenty years ago. Or ten years ago, though I know in 1979 I was in New York while my parents had just moved here and Marc was visiting them for the holiday.

Last night I had a dream in which I was walking through Manhattan, wearing only my underwear, trying to get uptown to Teresa’s in a rainstorm.

Watching the Macy’s parade, I felt a twinge of nostalgia for Manhattan – but five inches of snow fell there today, and I really don’t miss that cold weather.

I’ll be back up there in a little more than five months.

Things will be different in 1990 because I can’t go to Teresa’s right away, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to live on West 85th Street at all next summer. But I know I’ll manage somehow.

Friday, November 24, 1989

9 PM. Away from BCC for the long weekend, I’m starting to feel like a human being again, especially when I contemplate life after this semester.

Although I haven’t looked at my students’ essays yet, I’ve got the whole weekend to grade them.

Sleeping till 9 AM today felt like a luxury.

After breakfast, I went out to get the papers and deposit $1700 in cash advances in CalFed. Now that I’ve got my new checks, I can use the account to pay my bills – half a dozen of which arrived in today’s mail.

Back at home at 11 AM, I worked out for 30 minutes and then relaxed with the Times and Wall Street Journal. In the afternoon I did some more reading, trying to catch up on magazines. Getting 7 Days every week helps me keep informed about New York.

Teresa and I spoke for over an hour. She had a disastrous catering job for a party on Wednesday at West 77th and Central Park West, the block where they blow up the balloons for the parade.

The police would not let her bring her car (her father’s Subaru station wagon) on the block, and it started to snow as she was lugging all the stuff to the party.

Yesterday it took Teresa two hours to get out of Manhattan. Because her father’s mother was ill, they didn’t go to Mattituck for the family Thanksgiving and had it at her sister’s in Douglaston instead.

Her house in Oyster Bay Cove looks like a picture postcard of a winter scene, but one night – when it was so windy that planes at JFK were blown off the runway – the howling wind frightened her.

She’s got a roommate, a 30-year-old who works as an environmentalist for NOAA, but the woman hasn’t been around much. Like me, she sleeps on a futon and has few possessions of her own.

Teresa has been spending about one night a week on West 85th Street; she stayed there on Tuesday to prepare for her party.

American Express gave her business the Corporate Card and Teresa has been doing things with checks, not cash, for tax purposes.

This afternoon I did some shopping for groceries, staying away from the malls on the busiest shopping day of the year.

Although it was cloudy and relatively cool, I was comfortable going out without a jacket or sweater.

I just spoke to Grandma, who said she didn’t feel that well today.

She’s been alone because Tillie is ill and Lillian went to her stepdaughter’s for the weekend. But Meals on Wheels have been arriving every day.

Gail, the social worker who put Grandma in the hospital, said she plans to stop by twice a week.

I don’t know how long Grandma can stay by herself, but if she gets help, she might be better off in the apartment than in a nursing home.

One good thing about Grandma is that she doesn’t have any vanity; unlike Tillie or Lillian, she doesn’t care who knows how old she is.

All four of my grandparents were plain-speaking and unpretentious; they weren’t at all phony, and I’d like to think I’ve got that trait, too.

Wednesday, November 29, 1989

2 PM. Maybe I’m complaining too much about my job at BCC, and that just makes it worse. Or perhaps it’s just that the semester is too long.

At least when I don’t like a Teacher Education Center workshop I’m teaching, I know it will be over in five or six weeks.

Sophie called with two jobs for next semester, but they’re on Wednesday and conflict with my FIU technical writing class.

I regret having to turn down computer ed workshops, and in a way I hope the FIU course won’t register so I’ll have my Wednesdays – always the most popular day – free.

I know my spirits are much better when I teach computer ed workshops.

I’m sure Betty has overheard my complaints about BCC. I suppose I should feel embarrassed because she’s so nice, it’s like I’m an ungrateful guest.

But I just can’t understand why anyone with intelligence would want to teach English there. What could the rewards possibly be?

Although I haven’t had to meet with my fiction writing class for three weeks, I still dread going tonight.

Am I overreacting? I should be relaxed now that I’m working with my English 102 and English 101 classes on their term papers in the library: helping them is satisfying.

Still it annoys me that they don’t know their way around a library the way my classmates and I did when we were just junior high students. In fact, I’m positive our ninth-grade term papers were better than the ones I’ll be getting at BCC.

It must have been nice for our Meyer Levin Junior High teachers 25 years ago, when they had students like us. I would have enjoyed teaching our 8SPE2 class the way Mrs. Newman, Mr. Berger and Dr. Bernstein did.

See: I can’t seem to stop obsessing about how poorly educated my students are. Some of the English 102 students learned nothing in English 101, particularly if they had people like Greg  or Bob as teachers.

Just as it was wonderful to speak to Tom on Monday evening, I was grateful when Ronna phoned from work yesterday afternoon.

She went to New Jersey for the holiday weekend and won’t be going to Israel for Christmas; that means she’ll be in Orlando sometime this winter, depending on what’s happening at work. Although Ronna couldn’t talk about it, I suspect she may have a new job lined up.

She was kind enough to let me rattle on about BCC and my diet; I really felt – and feel – starved for companionship.

My role as a BCC English teacher seems to have absorbed so much of my energy that I’ve even enjoyed hanging out with my parents the last couple of afternoons.

Well, I can hold on for another few weeks, and I’m definitely going to call in sick on Monday or maybe even this Friday. 

Thursday, November 30, 1989

11:30 AM. I’ll be leaving for Miami Springs in a little while on this cool (73°), cloudy afternoon.

Yesterday I went over to my parents’ house after I exercised at 3 PM to get the mail.

It didn’t arrive for several hours, but I relaxed while I was there: I drank herb tea (chamomile and peppermint) sweetened with NutraSweet, and I stood outside under the protective covering by the front door, watching the rain.

Also, I sat out by the screened-in patio and looked at the trees and grass in the backyard.

Because I’ve been so busy since I returned from New York, I never had time to fully notice how pretty the setting was at my parents’ house – not even when I was living there in late August.

Also, it was rare for me to be alone in the house. By the time I left yesterday, I felt I had centered myself, and this feeling of well-being came over me.

Alice phoned from her office, and we chatted for a while. She, too, has lost weight: 15 pounds on Weight Watchers.

When Alice broke the news of her brother’s wedding to her mother, Mrs. D took it badly, but now she seems to be coming around to accepting the idea.

Peter went to Boston for his 25th high school reunion, where he was voted “most improved-looking.”

Last evening, delayed by a late start and bad traffic due to the rain, I got to school just in time for the 7 PM class.

We went over a story by Morris, about an elderly man taking his first course at a community college – he denied it was autobiographical, but of course it was – and this dreadful story by Michael.

Like all stories by my younger BCC students, it was basically a TV series pilot. The story was so ludicrous that I could not help occasionally giggling as I read it, but Michael – who argues with every criticism, even when we’re telling him how to punctuate dialogue properly – is too thick to get offended.

Later, I read several of the “childhood humiliation” papers I’d assigned. While I had fun in class, I’m happy we’ve got only a couple more sessions.


9 PM. I had a good class at Miami Springs High School.

On my way into the school, I ran into Jackie O’Connell, the English Department Chair, who was so nice to me last time.

Teaching word processing the way I do it is satisfying; I try to let the teachers make discoveries on their own and learn from their mistakes.

A lot of problem-solving strategies are involved in figuring out how to create an extra space or delete a line or move words over to begin a paragraph.

Many of the teachers in my class seemed to enjoy the learning experience.

I charged them only a dollar for the data disks I gave them to save their work even though the disks cost me more than that.

Yesterday I got the contract for the Miami Springs workshop, and the pay is better than I thought.

Actually, considering the work involved, if I teach English 101 part-time at BCC next term, they’d have to pay me triple what they’re going to if they were going to equal the money I make in my computer ed workshops at FIU.

I made it home by 6:15 PM, gulping down dinner before rushing off to Nutri/System.

I changed my appointment for next week to Tuesday, which is something I should have done months ago. Why should I knock myself out rushing there on Thursday when I’m free all Tuesday afternoon?

I didn’t lose any weight. But since last week I wore a t-shirt and shorts and tonight I had on my work clothes, I suspect I did lose a pound. In any case, I have no complaints.

As usual, Julie’s class was fun and provided extra reinforcement for my new eating patterns.