A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-March, 1991
by Richard Grayson
Wednesday, March 13, 1991
8 PM. Passing Dad’s office on my way from the bathroom just now, I noticed a fax coming through, something from J.C. Penney.
I’ve just come back from the library, where I now take the online catalog for granted.
Yesterday at Wendy’s, I stood on line behind a guy who was talking on a portable telephone – in Spanish.
McDonald’s is introducing a McLean burger, 310 calories and 10 grams of fat.
Despite some of the changes for the worse in the world, all these innovations make me glad I’m living in this time.
After sleeping okay, I woke up at 5 AM and began exercising (to a videotape – something I couldn’t have done twenty years ago). I arrived at school early enough to take down the sign announcing my class cancellation before anyone else saw it.
Then I got on the computer (yes, I know) and printed out my assignment for the FAU class and my English 102 midterm.
In my 8 AM English 101, I discussed process analysis and attempted to write one on the board. When a student made a correction, explaining that I hadn’t written something clearly, I was delighted because it illustrated how the writing process works.
I see that my old opponent from 1982, Art Lazear, managed to return to the Davie town council again in yesterday’s election. Because I now live in an unincorporated area, I don’t get to vote in March municipal elections anymore.
It’s hard to believe that next March will be the presidential primary because it seems I just voted for Dukakis in the last one.
As you get older, life moves more quickly; as Aunt Minnie told me, it feels like you’re having breakfast every fifteen minutes.
While Dad was out, Federal Express brought 11 huge cartons containing the new Introspect line, and so I got them into the garage.
My noon class complained about the difficulty of the midterm essays that I wrote questions for, but I’ll grade them leniently; I just wanted them to work a little.
I read the Chronicle of Higher Ed in the office and spoke to Flora. Both her daughters loved attending FSU (where they were active in the band) so much that Flora has become a big Seminole booster.
She urged me to go to Tallahassee soon because students rent all the good apartments by June. I now think I’ll go up during spring break, but I’m afraid to fly in a small prop jet and I don’t think any real planes – the kind I’m used to – fly to Tally anymore except maybe from Atlanta. I’ll check with Delta and US Air. Because the drive is too far for a two-day trip, what I might do is fly to Jacksonville (on a big plane) and drive a rental car from there.
Anyway, it will be an adventure, and I really should see the place to make my going there seem like reality. Even if my first impressions aren’t great, I’ll feel better after going.
I always say ignorance is at the root of most people’s problems, so I should make this step an informed one.
In Food and Nutrition class, we went over our menus for the adult home. I really learned a lot about creating a diet that meets nutritional standards and modifying it to eliminate sugar, fat and sodium.
Ms. Holland asked me to put in the first tape she brought to show us – but instead of the one on herbs listed on the box, the library had mistakenly given her one of those Video Professor tapes I used to use in my computer ed workshops in Miami.
But we did get to see another film, on spices in Indian curry. Our next class, in two weeks, will meet in the House of India restaurant.
Friday, March 15, 1991
4 PM. Beware the ideas of March.
But I don’t have to worry since my ideas seem to be nonexistent these days.
I just returned from a walk around Oak Knoll II – the development hasn’t been renamed yet, though the homeowners have already cast their ballots – and onto Nova Drive.
Yesterday, when I took Rabbit at Rest out to the patio, Updike had me hooked by the first paragraph. Where does he get those perceptions, that language, that subtlety?
Compared to him, I write like one of my English 101 students – or worse. My writing is a blunt instrument: good for stunning someone but not useful in day-to-day living.
Updike’s take on the condo scene of Southwest Florida, filtered through Harry Angstrom’s voice, makes me despair of ever attempting to do something like that. It’s a good thing I’m going to law school.
Here’s an ironic idea of March: the closer I get to giving up fiction writing for good, the more I value what good fiction can do.
And another springtime in paradox: now, just as I’m at my peak of abilities as a college English instructor, I’m giving it up.
But paradoxes makes sense, and I do know what I’m doing. All these years I’ve talked a big game about risk-taking, but I’ve always settled for the known and the comfortable.
Of course, that’s understandable, given my family background and experiences. For an agoraphobic kid who went to a psychiatrist at 15 because of panic attacks in classrooms, it was a large enough step just to spend my adult life in classrooms.
But there’s no challenge in doing that anymore, and a classroom can make as good a hideout as my bedroom on East 56th Street was when I was 17.
Hm. Last summer Ronna used the words “hiding out” in tandem with “three years in law school.”
Well, I can hide out anywhere, even on the pages of the New York Times and Miami Herald.
Who decides what is and what isn’t “hiding out”? Me, I, myself. (My students use the three interchangeably.)
I know that BCC doesn’t offer me that cold terror in the pit of my stomach, and anyway, I don’t want to turn into Jim or Phyllis, correcting comma splices for twenty or thirty years.
Anyway, last night I shared Healthy Choice chicken fajitas with China (who went to the canine beauty parlor and was sporting a yellow ribbon, presumably in support of our troops in the Persian Gulf).
After dinner, I read and watched a Fox TV show with a cute young actor.
Yes, I do think about sex every month or so, and last night I started thinking about Shelli and how we used to go to bed every afternoon in the spring of 1971, and about Sean and that red-draped bedroom and king-size bed I had in Sunrise in 1982.
I identify like mad with Rabbit Angstrom, and I’m only (almost) 40, not 55, and presumably further away from the end of my life. (And I hope my arteries are in better shape.)
Up at 5 AM, I got to BCC early and marked the English 101 papers in my classroom before the students came. Both classes went well today, and during my morning break, I read the newspapers.
Back home at 1 PM, I was able to do aerobics now that my calves have stopped aching.
Yesterday I exercised to Body Electric twice, on channel 42 at 8 AM and then at 6:30 PM; both were new shows I hadn’t seen before.
Today I felt the need to walk even after a half-hour of low impact aerobics, so I think I need more or harder exercise to keep me going.
Two weeks from tomorrow, it will be Passover already and Easter the following day. And it will be spring even in New York this week. I’ll blink and I will be in Tallahassee, Los Angeles, New York City.
Reading a large print book like the Updike – the only copy of Rabbit at Rest available at the library – is so easy.
Monday, March 18, 1991
3 PM. I have to go to South Campus to meet with Patrick and the P’an Ku editors at 5 PM, so I’ll eat something to tide me over until I get home.
Last evening I finished the excellent Florida section of Rabbit at Rest.
Up at 6 AM, I went off to school without a shower because I didn’t exercise till after my 8 AM class.
Luckily, I was home when Federal Express delivered some more packages. While he was here, I gave the delivery guy the overnight letter to the New York Times containing the op-ed piece I wrote and printed out at BCC yesterday.
No, I don’t expect they’ll print it, but I also know this comes closer than any previous submission.
My classes today were casual conversations about research. One student called it “chatting with Richard.”
In the men’s room, I ran into this guy who was in one of my English 101 classes last semester, a student who resented always getting C+’s on his essays.
He told me that he now has Al Lemaire, who grades much lower than I do and takes off points if the margins are over or under the specified length.
While I sometimes suspect that students need that kind of discipline, I know I can’t provide it because I don’t give a damn about margins.
With the summer schedules out and the final exam schedules in our mailboxes, I can feel the end of the spring term approaching.
Basically, we’ve got five weeks when we come back from spring break two weeks from today, and I’m going to be away in California for one of those weeks.
I noticed a letter from Mick to Alan Merickel in the outgoing mailbox and saw that Alan now lives in Tallahassee. He was an intelligent guy who left BCC to move to Massachusetts, and I could tell I shared values with him and his wife, so I think their living in Tallahassee is a good sign that it’s a place I’d like, too.
It’s turned hot and sunny now.
9 PM. When I got to Patrick’s office at 5 PM, he introduced me to Marie and Diane, the students who were going to interview me. After I admired Patrick’s new Mac SE, he left us alone to go to a recital at his daughter’s school.
Diane asked intelligent questions, all prepared in advance after reading my books and some criticism of my work.
A tape recorder got my answers, filled with me pausing a lot and saying “um” and “you know.” I just hope I didn’t say much that was pompous, self-serving or pretentious.
We covered the usual subjects: fiction and autobiography, writing and teaching, the influence of writing programs, my publicity stunts, censorship, etc.
Patrick had filled them in quite a bit. Though you’d never know it from the way he treats me, I guess he must admire something about me.
Although I couldn’t spontaneously come up with any ideas that were new or surprising to me, Marie – who accompanied Diane there because she wants to be a writer – said she learned something after 70 minutes.
Diane ended the interview with this question: “What’s next for Richard Grayson?”
“Probably chow mein for dinner” was my reply.
This issue of P’an Ku won’t appear until after I’ve left Florida, but I know they’ll send me a copy and I feel good that former students and colleagues will see it.
At least I don’t remember complaining about anything in the interview. But maybe that’s because I don’t feel much like complaining these days.
I don’t have a black-and-white headshot, so they’ll send a student photographer to take a picture.
The interview with Kyra in the last issue took up four pages, so I expect that only a fraction of what I said will make it into the magazine.
Anyway, I got home at 7 PM and had dinner, after which I called Delta and was quoted a price over $600 for a trip to Tally via Atlanta next week. Forget it, obviously: I could go to London or Paris for less money.
I’ve called FSU and I’ll see what I can do about housing from here.
Perhaps tomorrow I’ll try calling another airline, but as of now, I’ll probably spend all of spring break at home catching up on my schoolwork and the rest of my life.
Wednesday, March 20, 1991
6 PM. With no FAU class this afternoon, I can relax for the rest of the day.
After work at BCC, I weighed myself when I went to pick up a salad at Albertsons.
At 142, I’m heavier than I’ve been in nearly a year, so I probably need to cut back my calorie intake, which has crept over 1900 to 2000 on some days.
While I see only the slightest bulge in my belly and I don’t want to become anorexic, if I can prevent weight gain from getting out of hand, I can avoid worse problems later.
I doubt I could ever get like Marc, because I’m so conscious of what I eat and I write everything down. But I worked so hard to get slim, I never want to be described as “pudgy” again.
Last evening’s American Lit class wasn’t that good because fewer than half the students had read Ethan Frome although they had an extra week due to my absence.
Not showing annoyance, I plowed ahead, and it ended up being mostly a lecture. I got the midterms from the students who showed up.
At home, I made sure to stay up for the start of ABC’s Eddie Dodd, with Treat Williams in the role created by James Woods in True Believer.
The plot seemed okay but typical network TV, and I didn’t bother watching after the first 15 minutes.
Wes was only one of three names listed in the “created by…” credits, and he didn’t write the opening episode, so I’m not certain what his connection with the show is, whether he’s actively involved or they just took his characters.
Mom said, “Oh, maybe you can give him an idea or you could write for this show.”
That made me wince. If there’s one thing I’ve always abhorred, it’s all those people hankering for Hollywood and determined to use any connection to worm their way in. To me, that’s pathetic.
While, like anyone else, I’d like a wider audience, I’ve got no desire to write for TV or the movies.
Even Tom, whose Blood U. script is way too cerebral – and who skewers Hollywood in it – expects me to show it to Wes when I’m in L.A.
There is no way anyone in the film industry would consider Tom’s script, and I’m certainly not going to bother Wesley with it.
I don’t mind popular culture (remember how down Tom got on me when I said TV wasn’t that awful?), but it would be hypocritical of me to try to write the kind of show or movie that I’m more comfortable satirizing.
And as for asking friends for career favors: it’s hard enough for me to take the unsolicited help of friends, like doing the Long Beach Writers’ Conference for Alice.
I would never, ever trade in on the success of any of my friends.
Probably I feel that would be an admission that I need their help, and I hate to think they’re doing that much better than I am.
Envy is ignorance, says Emerson in “Self-Reliance,” an essay I tried to read with my noon class. They couldn’t get past the nineteenth-century prose and the unfamiliar vocabulary even with my “translations,” so I gave up after four pages.
At this point, everyone at BCC, including me, is more than ready for spring break.
Between classes, I did aerobics, showered and read the Times, and then I listened to Dad complain about all the samples he got in and all the faxes coming over.
Thankfully, Mom is at the flea market with Jonathan today.
More and more, I am looking forward to law school.
The one student in my American Lit class who’s an FSU grad – she’s getting her teaching credentials so she’s taking my course – raves about what a great school it is, and I’ve rarely heard a bad word about the university or Tallahassee.
Lately, I’ve become conscious of the popular images of lawyers, like on Eddie Dodd.
And I notice that when someone discusses young people becoming productive and important, they say, “They might become doctors or lawyers.” They never say “teachers, college professors or writers.”
Also, when people talk about high-paying professions, they always mention law and business.
Although attorneys are often disparaged, people respect them because they seem to know difficult stuff that laypersons can’t comprehend.
People always seem to think they could be writers or teachers themselves, but I’ve never heard anyone say that about lawyers.
Anyway, after five months at BCC, I’m getting burned out. If I’m nervous about keeping up with my first-year law school classmates, that’s great; I’d like to be intellectually challenged. And I need to embrace change and take risks.