A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early December, 1989
by Richard Grayson
Friday, December 1, 1989
9 PM. It doesn’t seem like December even though it’s getting colder. After all, the high was 75° today, and that’s perfect weather.
So we begin the last month in the next-to-the-last decade of the century. I’m ready for the 1990s, whatever they bring.
Whether my long-held suspicions about the new decade are correct or not, I’m in better shape to take advantage of the future than I was on December 1, 1979.
The ’70s ended with the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Iran hostage crisis, and an economy about to go over a cliff of rampant inflation and stagnant growth.
Now we’re entering the eighth year of a record peacetime expansion – though it may end soon enough – and Bush and Gorbachev are meeting in Malta while Czechs and other Eastern Europeans experience freedom that would have been unthinkable a few years or even months before.
Me? Well, my “better shape” doesn’t just refer to my body, though I’m proud of that, too.
This morning I took out $1500 in cash advances to deposit in the bank, and later I got my new gold Optima card with a $1500 credit line.
A recent report blames banks for the rise in personal bankruptcies, saying they gave credit to people who shouldn’t have gotten it.
I’ve shamelessly exploited the greed of the banks to live pretty well since 1984, and I don’t apologize for it.
Of course I’ll end up bankrupt, but nobody can ever take these good years away from me, and I expect I’ll have even more company when I file under the bankruptcy laws – and some of my companions will be large corporations.
I’m so thrilled the term is ending. It’ll be a long time before I teach English at a community college full-time –never, if I play my cards right.
But I did make $10,000-plus this semester at BCC, and I learned what I don’t want to do. Taking grad courses in computer education was a smart idea, and taking other classes at FIU, FAU and Teachers College has opened other doors for me.
I may not be the writer/literary person I once was, but I’m more marketable as well as broader in my outlook.
Also, I have a sense of power because I feel comfortable in a world of information – unlike my students.
I was in the library with all three classes today, and I had to lead them everywhere: to the card catalog, microfilms, indexes, books and magazines.
I expect their term papers will be dreadful. Probably I didn’t do them much good, but at this point in my life, I can’t teach people things they don’t want to learn.
That’s really what makes teaching yesterday’s workshop of teachers at Miami Springs High School different from my BCC classes, with exceptions among my students here and there (and I’m there for those few).
I want to stop talking the shop talk I engaged in with Barbara and Adrienne today. “Ain’t It Awful” is a zero-sum game.
Headachy from looking at screens in the library, I came home and spent the afternoon shopping at Albertsons (going on Maintenance may be a fun challenge; I started buying diet foods), doing aerobics, and playing around with my money (or the bank’s money).
Mom helped me make my Nutri/System desserts (cupcakes, pudding, dairy whip) and gave me some clothes; I was badly in need of shirts that aren’t two sizes too big.
Jonathan went to the doctor because he’s been getting palpitations, but tests showed nothing wrong. I’m sure it’s stress or caffeine from all the chocolate he eats.
Marc brought China over as he helped Mom load goods from the garage into the van.
Driving home on Nova Drive, I passed Dad’s station wagon heading the other way.
I had a burger and watched the network news.
Monday, December 4, 1989
10 PM. Today was my half-birthday, six months since I turned 38 and six months till I turn 39.
I called in sick this morning. Actually I kept falling back asleep and when I finally got Cynthia, it was 8 AM. She didn’t ask what was wrong after I said I didn’t feel well, and she said she’d cancel my classes.
Of course I didn’t do any schoolwork today, though I caught up on my reading and some other chores.
Actually, I felt kind of sluggish today. The soreness from Saturday’s Nautilus workout was worse today than yesterday, but it’s going away, and I did exercise my hamstrings, outer thighs and rear end this morning.
It hit a record low, 47°, in the morning, but by mid-afternoon I was able to go out with a long-sleeved shirt and no jacket.
Last night I read the AWP Chronicle and some other stuff, and I spoke to Ronna, who told me I looked fantastic in the photo I sent her.
She still is at Yeshiva University even though Hartstein, her boss, took away her raise because she was out with a cold three days in October. I told her I don’t know how she can play Bob Cratchit to an employer’s Ebenezer Scrooge.
Ronna has such low self-esteem that she always lets her bosses walk all over her, and as her mother says, her places of employment would have to burn down before she’d quit.
Ronna should be less nice; she’s not at all assertive. While I don’t like a lot of things Teresa has done regarding jobs, nobody’s going to take advantage of Teresa.
Actually, Justin and Alice are better examples: people who have quit jobs where they’ve been unfairly treated but who treat others fairly.
Me? I have no shit tolerance at all. I wouldn’t put up with one of the dozens of indignities Ronna has told me about.
Ronna says it’s hard to find a job when one doesn’t have a job, but that’s baloney. I know her: she’d just be lazy and not look for work fast enough.
I wish Ronna could see herself the way I see her and realize her potential and take a risk or two with her career. She’s too timid and frightened about unemployment.
At the Hebrew Arts School and Redbook she stayed on so long, they finally asked her to leave. That pattern isn’t better than Teresa’s.
I guess I relate Ronna’s situation to my own. I couldn’t respect myself if I let someone walk all over me.
This afternoon I thought I’d take a ride to Coral Springs, but University Drive was so jammed, it took me 20 minutes in heavy traffic just to get to Sunrise.
Returning home, I remembered how on Christmas Day 1979, Dad took me out for my first daytime look at West Broward.
Compared to today, it was so rural here ten years ago, with cow pastures lining University and no rental units (like the one I live in), few strip shopping centers, no I-595, no office buildings; many of today’s streets (again, like the one I live on) didn’t exist.
But that’s progress, no?
I called Marc at the flea market on his new cellular phone. A decade ago, who would have believed people would carry their phone with them?
And at my parents’ house, I saw the video of Batman lying around. When they got HBO with their cable TV in 1980, it was a big deal, but now people can buy (not just rent) videos of movies that came out less than six months ago.
Contemporary Authors New Revision Series sent me the entry from 1983 for review, and updating it made me feel good because I accomplished more in the interim than I’d thought.
Tuesday, December 5, 1989
1 PM. I slipped out of the English Department office half an hour ago. The other teachers are going to grade the CLAST prototypes they gave today and yesterday.
Because I was out yesterday and had only my remedial class today, I didn’t give the essay, and I’m going to pretend ignorance if anyone asks me why I wasn’t there today – or I’ll plead illness again; maybe I’m not over yesterday’s problem.
The truth is, I’ve felt pretty much out of it the last two days, as if I’ve got some kind of virus that makes me sleepy and achy.
I’m achy because of over-exercising on Saturday, and yesterday I worked my outer thighs hard enough to make them sore now.
Today I did only an inner thigh workout; I couldn’t manage to do pushups because my chest and triceps are so tender.
I go to Nutri/System in a few hours, but I suspect I’ve lost very little weight in the last five days.
Last night I watched the beginning and end of the TV movie Howard Beach: Making the Case for Murder, which left me sobbing, as did the news reports of the real incident three years ago. I cried because people are so stupid.
This planet is overrated, I thought to myself, and then the writer in me took over and I wrote that phrase down as a great title.
In the past week I’ve been making notes for writing again. I’ve already moved out of my BCC head.
Talking to Ronna and Alice helped, as it made me feel more in contact with my New York City self.
Crad, after reading my students’ miserable essays on the bad story, asked how I can get any satisfaction whatsoever out of teaching such people.
In my next letter to Crad, I’m enclosing Elizabeth Johannsen’s funny essay about moviegoing in Inverrary to show him some of my students are smart and good writers, but the truth is not enough are to make it worth my while.
I’m very seriously considering telling Betty to find someone else for that noon English 101 class next semester.
English 101 was the course I liked least and the one I felt most like a failure teaching, though I couldn’t have done that well in English 102 if my students couldn’t tell “One Life to Give” was a deliberately terrible story.
This term hasn’t been a fiasco, I guess. Lucy Calkins taught us it’s never the students’ fault. I just think that teaching community college writing and I aren’t a good mix.
My neck is very stiff, and sleeping on only my left side probably caused it to get that way. My vertigo has been pretty strong lately. I’m exhausted.
One reason that May 1984 – the six weeks I stayed at Teresa’s while she was in Europe – stands out as one of the happiest times of my life is that I was recovering from the drudgery of three years of teaching full-time at BCC.
Right now I feel I need a long, quiet vacation.
9 PM. I graded the dozen or so papers I needed to grade before tomorrow, listened to the closing arguments in the Lozano trial (yet another Miami police officer who shot and killed a black motorcyclist, thus touching off riots during Super Bowl week), and finished the Times before heading to Nutri/System.
Because I weighed in at 152 – two pounds less than last Thursday and two pounds from my goal – the nurse wanted to put me on Maintenance today, but I told her I was going out of town and wanted another week before I began Maintenance.
There was only one other person in Julie’s 4 PM class, so we just talked individually. She says everyone is scared about going on Maintenance.
I got my mail and came home to have dinner and read 7 Days, which has become my favorite magazine; it keeps me in touch not only with New York City happenings but with New York City sensibilities.
Thursday, December 7, 1989
8 PM. I’ve just looked at the page proofs for Narcissism and Me. I’m much too tired now to deal with them, but they look good, and they condensed the type on the back cover blurbs.
Book Masters can do the front cover type, but I should call Amy and see if she has my cover ready. I suspect not, and I think she has more profitable stuff to do, but I’ll check.
Narcissism and Me is a better and more ’90s book than The Greatest Short Story That Absolutely Ever Was, and I hope I can get some publicity for it when I return to New York in five months.
I was telling my creative writing student Scott Coventry about my plan to emulate Crad and take the book on the streets of Manhattan – though my goal is as much to get publicity as it is to sell the books.
Am I naïve to think I could make a breakthrough this way? We’ll see. One thing is for certain: nobody else in New York will be doing this, except for all the guys who sell other people’s books on the street.
Because the last book didn’t sell to 95% of the people on the mailing list, I’m going to forget about doing a mailing with this one except for the names Tom gave me of those who did buy The Greatest.
I’m tired, but I’ll be finished with school at noon tomorrow, and there’ll only be one more week of the term. Yay!
Last night I started to feel good about BCC again, and that feeling stuck with me all day.
Perhaps it’s because fiction writing and remedial are by far my favorite classes. The 6000-word rule in English 101 and English 102 makes those courses drudgery for me.
I slept well (but not enough), and my dreams have been more “literary” lately: they seem to have richer story lines.
Could it be that I’m itching to write fiction again? I’ve been jotting down ideas lately, so maybe I’ll find my voice again – or the discipline to work on short stories.
This morning I exercised and left here at 9:30 AM. Dressed in a new fitted shirt and my Bugle Boy parachute pants which are cinched at the waist and which make me look even thinner, I felt sexy today.
While my remedial students wrote, I had conferences with them about last week’s papers.
Back at the office, I spoke with Doris Sams, the campus’s AIDS education officer; her job sounds like one I’d like to have because she gets to go to lots of informative workshops and give talks.
Most of the people we’ll be dealing with are HIV-infected students and staff.
It’s good to know BCC is dealing with AIDS because even as the disease spreads and the death toll mounts, people seem to have the idea the epidemic is over. Probably that’s because HIV infection is now largely a problem of the poor.
Although it’s now spreading heterosexually among young people, it’s still thought of in most people’s minds as a gay and IV drug users’ disease.
The media can only focus on one thing at a time. AIDS, drugs, education – all have had their turn and then they disappear from view.
Today the news hyped the guilty verdict for Officer Lozano, and though I should know better, I found myself in arguments with people who thought he was convicted only to prevent a black riot in Miami.
Hispanics were especially upset. At Miami Springs High School, I heard the computer teacher and another teacher discuss how unfair the trial was. They didn’t realize I could understand enough Spanish to follow their conversation as I set up for my class.
Once again my workshop was satisfying, as my teachers discovered for themselves the peculiarities and promise of word processing on a computer.
I didn’t have time to read the Times or USA Today yet, to say nothing of my page proofs or student papers. But tomorrow is Friday again.
Monday, December 11, 1989
8 PM. Last evening I was so burned out, I put out the lights at 7 PM and went to sleep.
Although I was up a lot during the night, eleven hours in bed still gave me plenty of sleep time, and I needed it all.
One indication of how anxious I am for the semester to end is that Greg’s office bears few traces of my presence; I’ve cleared out just about everything but final grade forms.
Most of my students didn’t show up today, so I had time to grade my English 101 papers and to finish today’s Times and Wall Street Journal.
I got a new batch of student papers in, of course, but I’ll deal with them later. When I came home, I just wanted to wipe all thoughts of BCC away.
Bob Buford told me that Murray Geller at FAU is looking for someone to teach computer education at the Boca Raton campus on Wednesdays, but of course, I’ve got my FIU course in Davie that day.
Even if the Technical Writing class doesn’t get enough students to run, I’ll have the afternoon free to do TEC workshops. Right now, I feel I need money less than I need time.
One semester of full-time teaching English at BCC has made me feel as burned out as I did after three years in 1984.
I don’t want to say anything to Betty just yet. I know she’ll be annoyed that I won’t be teaching English 101, but I’d rather deal with her annoyance than the frustration I’d feel for four months. I can use my other jobs as an excuse – and of course, I’d teach at BCC if I didn’t have other work.
My rationalization is what it always has been when I’ve quit jobs, they can always find someone to teach college English. When they can’t, they’ll have to start paying better.
In almost every way but financially this semester has been a disappointment. My social life didn’t improve; I didn’t feel I had much intellectual stimulation, and most of the time I felt like an overworked drudge.
Still, I don’t regret the experience because it’s my style to look on the bright side. This semester I discovered I could adapt to a new (old) job, and many of my students, I’m sure, got something out of my classes. Certainly the regimen was conducive to losing weight.
Well, Amy, the graphic artist, didn’t call, and so I’m going to have Book Masters do the cover, even if it’s just typeface; the book isn’t going to be judged by its cover.
This afternoon I exercised lightly, read more of the Sunday paper, paid four credit card bills, made a haircut appointment for tomorrow, and spoke with Grandma Ethel, who sounded pretty well.