A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early April, 1991
by Richard Grayson
Monday, April 1, 1991
8 PM. Back to school. My re-entry into BCC wasn’t that painful, but I’m glad to know that in five weeks, it will be a memory. I hate grading papers. God knows how I managed to grade the papers for Saturday’s class, but I knew I needed to make time to prepare for my trip to California.
In both classes this morning, I gave out our schedule for the rest of the term and discussed their research papers.
Frankly, I think research papers are a waste of time at their level, especially in English 101, where we should concentrate on getting them to write coherent essays before they tackle a research paper; the course is overloaded, which is why so many students get sidetracked and drop out.
Well, in a month it won’t be my problem – even if today’s Herald had an article stating BCC will lose nearly a third of its faculty to retirement in the next decade.
Let some dumb sucker take that thankless job. Even now, with a master’s, you can earn $4,000 more in the public schools. Of course, those are cesspools and getting worse due to budget cuts.
While I may be part of the tiny minority of Americans who see us going down precisely the worst path, I hope I’ll be able to vote with my feet and leave the U.S. by 2001. Even as a foreigner, I’d probably get better care in my old age in Europe.
During my three-hour break at home between classes, I read the papers.
China knew my parents were taking it to the doctor this morning – how, we have no idea – and she carried on all the way there.
Her problem: a slipped disc, the same kind of back trouble Dad had last month. The vet said, “It’s probably hereditary.”
After school, I exercised and then had the salad part of my lunch; after that, I went to the Delta ticket office and got my three boarding passes for the trip to California (going, I have to change flights in Dallas) and bought my ticket to New York.
I’m leaving for New York at 12:50 PM on Monday, May 6, and I can’t cancel that flight unless I have a doctor’s note. I made a return flight for Monday, August 12, but I can change that if I pay a small penalty. Anyway, I got a good fare.
By the time I got home at 3 PM, China started getting friskier, probably because the pills and the shot the vet gave her alleviated some of her discomfort.
But she needs to rest, and we can’t seem to figure out how to discourage her from jumping up on couches and beds. (Last evening she was unable to jump.)
USA Today had a two-page spread on how to cope with turning 40, aimed at baby boomers like me.
Maybe I’ll wake up in horror on June 4, but I can’t see what’s so traumatic about one’s 40th birthday. Do I feel this way because I’ve already talked myself into being 40 already? Since October, I’ve been telling people I’m 40.
For tomorrow night’s American Lit class, I need to read the material I’ll be teaching and I have to grade the late papers I got in my mailbox today.
The eye doctor says they’ll order my lenses so I can have them before I go to Los Angeles and New York. I’m trying to think of all the things I need to take care of before I leave, but I expect I’ll forget something.
Tomorrow marks sixty days since my bankruptcy court hearing, but I don’t expect the final discharge notice right away because they are so backed up.
A Times article suggests that New York City will be losing baby boomer professionals and younger aspiring yuppies (if you can actually be a Yup these days) because the quality of life in the city is getting so poor.
Meanwhile, Time’s cover heralds “The Simple Life” as all of us forswear our 1980s excesses and conspicuous consumption and live the kind of back-to-basics lifestyle I’ve always preferred.
Wednesday, April 3, 1991
10 AM. Although I’ve got a headache from lack of sleep, I still have a long day ahead of me.
I spent preparing much of yesterday preparing for my American Lit class.
Reading excerpts from The Education of Henry Adams allowed me to experience the same kind of intellectual excitement that I got when I read the book for the first time.
I’d kill to have written a book like that. Sometimes I think maybe I could do a twenty-first century version, an Education of Richard Grayson.
I also got to read from Black Elk Speaks and two old favorites, Crane’s “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” and Du Bois’s chapter on Booker T. Washington from The Souls of Black Folk.
I usually don’t enjoy having a whole day before teaching at night, but last night I seemed in good form, particularly in regard to Adams and tying all the stuff up to make connections to the big changes in American life and thought at the turn of the last century.
One student wondered aloud how I “knew so much” and asked if I did my master’s thesis on Adams. No, I said, I just know this sort of thing, it’s what I’m paid for.
Because of all my reading over the years, I’ve acquired a lot of knowledge of names, anecdotes, facts and trivia that work well in teaching.
Even though I let the students go at 9 PM, they got their money’s worth out of me last night. All that background, and I still get paid $20 an hour.
This afternoon I’m taking over Jacqui’s class in exchange for not losing 90 minutes of my own pay when I’ll be out of town.
Dr. Grasso has little money for substitute teachers, so there’s not much else I can do but give my class assignments, though Phyllis can come to my lit class and cover for me for an hour.
In chatting with Dr. Grasso, I (laughingly) told her, “Never, ever hire me as a teacher here again.”
She said she sees me as a defense attorney, fighting for lost causes. We’ll see.
Yesterday the off-campus housing office at FSU sent me a comprehensive Tallahassee apartment guide, though I think I’ll first try to get on-campus housing. That way I won’t have to go to Tally before August and I’ll give myself a chance to get acclimated.
Tom wrote that Chip in Los Angeles seems closer to a deal with a producer who wants to see Tom’s screenplay of Head in a Box. Tom is excited about this, but he seems to have an unrealistic view of Hollywood: he wrote about the demands and guarantees he wants.
Why someone at war with pop culture would be so taken with the desire to write for the U.S. movie industry mystifies me.
Tom’s other news was all about his literary activities, and while I’m still interested in his plans for publication and his latest acceptances of new stories – he sent a xerox of one from Gordon Lish’s Quarterly – I’m moving away from that world.
My planned end-of-term syllabi already blew out the window this morning: At 8 AM, I’d intended to give a class essay, but instead the fortuitous combination of a videotape on the research paper I found in the office and the fact that there was a TV and VCR in my classroom led me to change plans.
I have to face it: that’s the kind of teacher I am. I do things spontaneously.
I’ve got to be at school from noon to 2:30 PM to teach and then from 4 PM to 6:30 PM for my FAU Food and Nutrition class.
Saturday, April 6, 1991
4 PM. I slept pretty well again last night, waking up at 6 AM and having plenty of time before today’s 9 AM class at South Campus.
While I’m not crazy about losing an hour tonight because of daylight savings time, I remember how great it is up North when it starts to get light out later in the evening, so I won’t begrudge Teresa and my other friends that.
One thing I don’t like about myself is how blasé I’ve become about the South Florida winter warmth. This year I’ve hardly noticed what once made the place magical. Perhaps that’s the surest sign it’s time to leave.
I haven’t heard from the University of Florida about the joint law school/journalism school program, and I probably won’t go there unless I get one of those $10,000 University Fellowships. Still, I expected to have heard from them by now.
I didn’t have much to do in class today except go over the reference books people found in the library, help them individually with their research, and play the video on the research paper writing process.
The semester is winding down and we’ve got only three more classes. Everyone, including me, seemed to want to get out early, so I dismissed the last student at 11 AM.
After exercise and lunch, I fell into one of those delicious alpha states that are incredibly refreshing – but only for 20 minutes.
Then I read today’s and yesterday’s Times, lingering over articles on Floyd Bennett Field (where budget cuts never really allowed it to blossom into the showpiece of Gateway National Park although it’s still a bit of nature in the city) and the debate over the use of queer (favored by younger militant gays but viewed with dismay by older people – like myself, I guess).
Literary news: Cris Mazza sent a short note with her new book from Fiction Collective 2, Is It Sexual Harassment Yet?, which contains some stories that remind me of my own.
Tom Person sent a post-it note with the latest Laughing Bear Newsletter that said he reviewed Narcissism and Me for New Pages, which is about the only semi-mainstream notice it will get. (The only other review was from Paul Fericano in YU Press).
Bob Siegle of Virginia Tech, the author of Suburban Ambush, the book about Pete and other Downtown writers, sent a postcard from India saying he’d still like to get together and talk with me about my work for his new book.
Naturally, I’m flattered and I’ll write him when he returns next August.
Monday, April 8, 1991
2 PM. I’m sure Teresa enjoyed the change to daylight savings time, especially because it was in the 80°s yesterday in New York, but I found it a drag.
It took me a long time to get to sleep last night, and this morning at 6 AM, I felt as if I were getting up in the middle of the night.
I did have one nice dream, though: I was reading Tom Person’s review of my work in some magazine, and I caught the last line, which said, “Now that Richard Grayson is starting law school, look for his fiction to take even more interesting turns.”
I did get some work done yesterday, and even late last night: instead of fretting about insomnia, I read the poems of Robinson, Masters, Frost and Stevens in preparation for teaching them in American Lit.
Stevens went to law school because he didn’t want to make “a petty struggle for existence.” That way he didn’t have to grade papers from college students who spell the new in “new car” with a K or who spell knife without a K.
I was so disgusted when I caught both of those errors yesterday in the first two papers I graded that it prevented me from looking at any others.
But I did make out handouts for my workshops at the Long Beach Writers’ Conference: a sheet on resources for publicity and a sample short story manuscript page.
Today my BCC students were inattentive, and my own energies were scattered. In the middle of the noon class, the wall clock fell down, nearly killing me, so “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” couldn’t compete with that kind of real-life excitement.
I’m still a bit shaken, and my right ear hurt for a while from the noise.
7 PM. I feel an unexpected sense of well-being, as if the pleasure receptors in my brain are ignoring all the bad shit going on; for example, my parents’ usual raised voices (no, they’re not arguing; that’s how they converse, in shrill rising inflections) or the crap on the news (the tragedy of the Kurds massed on the border of Turkey and Iran, neo-Nazis beating up Poles).
Maybe my nice dinner – Healthy Choice mesquite chicken, rice, corn, carrots and apples – is responsible for my good mood, or maybe it’s the half-hour workout I did to Body Electric at 6:30 PM.
Or maybe it’s even the fact that it’s still light out. I feel differently about daylight savings time when I don’t have to get up early the next day.
Maybe I’m feeling good because of the work I accomplished today – or the work I put off (grading).
Maybe it’s the mail: I got my contract from Long Beach State and a certificate stating that A Version of Life is now bound and in the Brautigan Library, filed under their Mayonnaise System with the catalog #ALL 1991.005.
Their newsletter makes the project seem like a delightful, whimsical dream that gives people who think they have a vision a place where they can share it.
From the sample summaries of their 200 books, I can tell that most, if not all, are the kind of stuff I’d laugh at: amateurish, pretentious, illiterate or naïve works you expect to find on the list of a vanity press. Although my book is different, I’m enough of a rebel to be happy in the company of such authors.
Perhaps one day I’ll be a lawyer or an accountant writing only for myself, and that’s okay, too.
While I was never a Brautigan groupie, perhaps we could use some 1960s hippie philosophy right now, as Time’s cover story “The Simple Life,” on the transformation of Yuppiedom into jes’ plain folks, argues.
I’m not sure I buy it: even in the Summer of Love, there were a lot of greedy people around.
Friday, April 12, 1991
9 PM. I’ve been calling the automated information number for the Southern District of Florida bankruptcy court every day, but until tonight, the metallic voice would say, “Status as of February 11, 1991: awaiting final discharge.”
An hour ago when I phoned, the voice said, “Status as of April 12, 1991: awaiting enclosure order. The case was discharged on April 12, 1991.”
I’m not sure what an enclosure order is, but I am relieved to know the case has been discharged, which is pretty final.
In the newsletter of the Broward Schools Credit Union I got in today’s mail, there was yet another column warning members against bankruptcy, “a black hole from which few people emerge.”
Some black hole! Of course, the credit union needs to use scare tactics to prevent losing more money to people like me.
Actually, a year ago I never envisioned filing for personal bankruptcy would prove to be so painless.
Yes, I did manage to manipulate the system in the great credit balloon of the 1980s, and it will make a great story – someday, but not for a few years at least.
That’s the great thing about turning 40: I have more interesting experiences to look back on now, and I can remember times younger people can’t.
Like my student Jamie, doing his research paper on “The Stonewall Revolution of 1969,” a “revolution” I lived through.
Jamie came up after class with some questions about documenting sources. He also wanted to know if I were going to read our papers aloud to the class because he said that would make him feel funny. I said he’d be lucky to see the paper again himself.
Tonight I went through some of the clips Mom had. Would you believe I’ve lost all traces of my celebrity shortage article in People? But I did find articles I’d written for The Ol’ Spigot and Kingsman at Brooklyn College from 1970 to 1972.
In a new letter, Tom Whalen seemed surprised that I stopped “marketing” my diary book. But I know that if the material is ever worthy of a real book, it will have to be shaped and transformed.
Perhaps as a 70-year-old in 2021, I can look back at my undergraduate years in a wave of 1960s nostalgia, or maybe I can write about the Upper West Side during the yuppie decade of the 1980s.
At 8 AM today, I met individually with my English 101 students for conferences and then came home to work out and shower before I returned to school, where I used the English Department xerox machine to make copies of some of my stories and press clips.
Before the term is over, I should have a file of most of my stories, reviews, articles and poems, and all the stuff written about me.
In the noon class, I shared some comics I found in the warehouse: Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor and Mark Alan Stamaty’s MacDoodle Street. While that might have been a mistake, I know nobody else will expose these kids to that kind of stuff – which is totally defensible literary material.
A Times article on the Law page says that many third-year students are now graduating law school without job offers – but after all, we’re in a recession.
If fewer people are going to law school because it’s no longer perceived as a ticket to financial security, I think I’ll appreciate it all the more.
Besides, I like sailing against the wind – or as Alice says, “I zig when others zag.”