A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-January, 1992

by Richard Grayson

Wednesday, January 8, 1992

4 PM. I doubt this term will be much easier than last. The past two hours I’ve been struggling with 18 pages in the Property casebook – historical stuff about English feudal law, with so many unfamiliar (Norman French?) words that it required me to stop every other line to consult Black’s Law Dictionary. I’m glad to be back at school, but I wish the pace were slower.

At 8 AM today Baldwin started lecturing, and I took eight pages of notes as he never stopped for a minute. I had him pegged as imperious and conceited, and I’m sure of it now, although he may be a brilliant teacher.

He’s more like the traditional law professors I dreaded; he never even said, “Hello, my name is Professor Baldwin,” and he expects tons of work from us.

Even so, I volunteered to answer his first question, about the difference between excluding and expelling a House member (the Adam Clayton Powell case). I hear he calls on one person for the entire hour and doesn’t spare the ridicule.

His ACLU-liberal bias showed in various remarks, but I sort of like seeing my conservative classmates squirm.

It was good to see everyone again, and thank goodness, there was little talk of grades today.

Davis gave us a Dutch-uncle talk at the beginning of Contracts and told us he thinks the method of ranking stinks and is inaccurate, and our grades will change drastically in May.

I didn’t notice anyone looking especially distraught. Karin said she was pleased with her grades, and I didn’t press her.

We sat together in the second row of Con Law (I’m at the end, good for sneaking in late) and in the first row of Contracts (Rob and Paul are next to me, and they sit next to Karin in Con Law).

I said hello to tons of people: Gena, Gene, Angelina, Barry, Larry, Lawrence, Laura, Dan, Emira and others. Everyone seemed to enjoy the three weeks off.

Our Appellate Advocacy sections were all switched; I still have mine with Rambo, only at 10:20 AM tomorrow instead of 12:40 PM today, so I got to go home at 11:20 AM.

Thursday, January 9, 1992

8 PM. After finishing my schoolwork, I fell asleep at 10 PM and was up at 5 AM to exercise. I decided to go through my mail, mostly responses to Christmas cards.

Kevin Urick said he hopes law school was as good a move for me as it was for him; he’s now moved up to jury trials.

Rochelle Ratner thanked me for helping her out with the Miami Beach reading; Jeffrey Knapp, whom I contacted, ended up introducing her.

Her book tour was “good but not great,” and she liked seeing her name in lights at the monster Powell’s Bookstore in Portland but said bad weather produced low D.C. and Philly turnouts.

Wade wrote from Texas that he and the family miss Philly and that “Aggieland is strange,” but he got tenure in November, the people in the English Department are nice, and Ellen’s teaching full-time and going for her doctorate in computer visualization/digital filmmaking. Yes, she’s doing the article on me.

Shelli, still working for TVAnswer, which is excitedly awaiting FCC approval, said she and her boyfriend Gary will be married in July at a romantic country inn in Great Falls, Virginia.

Rick sent a cute photo of himself on a rubber raft. Richard Kostelanetz sent an unintentionally hilarious year-end report about his 1991 books (over a dozen), projects (the man publishes his grocery lists, I think) and activities with a short personal greeting. Pete sent a postcard from Thailand.

Libby said that Lindsay liked the book I sent (Denis’s The Other Side of the Wall) and that Wyatt is now following her around like a perky puppy.

Miriam sent a new poetry chapbook, an issue of Robert’s Fish Drum. Patrick shipped the latest issue of The Cathartic.

Susan Schaeffer said her new book, Green Island, will be out soon and told me I could pet-watch at her house in Brooklyn in the summer if I wanted to.

Tom wrote on the back of the program for this month’s The Art of Film series he runs every year. He said that Debra’s friend in Stuttgart got him a month there this August, giving two lectures at the University (after their first choice Bellow, refused) along with people like the president of Harvard.

Tom lost $4500 in the options market – his whole Loyola salary. (“My students aren’t real students, Loyola isn’t a real college, so the money wasn’t real money.”)

Tom called Crad’s new 200-page docu-novel, Putrid Scum, “wretched . . . he’s stopped trying to transform his raw material into something of literary (‘emotional’) value.”

I got to see for myself because Crad sent me a copy. It’s basically about his experiences in 1979, when he began selling on the street: more self-pity, self-dramatization, crankiness and bigotry.

At one point, an intelligent man gives Crad some good advice – how he needs to grow spiritually, how he has to learn to express not just rage but gratitude like his idol Henry Miller – but after a moment’s reflection, Crad goes right back to kvetching about being an undiscovered, unknown genius surrounded by idiots.

After telling me that his father died suddenly in the fall, Crad said he’s suing the Arts Council because the Governor-General’s Award doesn’t permit self-published books to be entered.

Crad said he’ll stop self-publishing if he loses the case, and I hope he does lose: the man needs to get off the street and to get a wake-up call from somebody.

I’m thrilled to keep in touch with people, and it makes me feel – as did my vacation in New York – that there’s more to my life than law school.

On the other hand, I like law school.

Julin seems like an excellent Property teacher, and I’m not saying that just because he canceled tomorrow’s class. He’s a superb storyteller, and I can see that his avuncular style may make a boring subject come alive.

Julin said we need to approach the study of Property with “a clear medieval mind,” bearing in mind that all of today’s concepts stem from feudalism.

I also like the Appellate Advocacy lecturer, Tracy Rambo, a willowy young woman who seems compassionate and intelligent.

It was good to see Mashburn again; today she lectured about trials, but the subject of this term is jurisdiction (subject matter and personal) and res judicata and collateral estoppel, and it’s going to be entirely different conceptually from what we did last year.

I sat with Karin in the first row of both Property and Civ Pro, with Peter on the other side of me in Property and Emira and Dan in Civ Pro.

In Appellate Ad, I walked into the room with Pam, and Jonathan sat on the other side of me; it’s good to get to know new people from the other section although I feel well-liked at school. In fact, I could socialize all day at school the way I used to do in LaGuardia Hall at Brooklyn College.

When I got home for lunch, I was shocked to see that Nunn sent me a letter: I got the highest grade in his class, and for this I’ll be getting the Book Award. I never imagined I would do so well.

Friday, January 10, 1992

3 PM. Today was an easy day. Since Property was canceled, I had to go in only to Civ Pro, where Mashburn went over the exam.

Unfortunately, I forgot what answers I wrote – after all, the test was well over a month ago – and so I have no idea why I got a B. I still think I should have gotten a C or at most a C+ based on what I wrote.

And, honestly, I can’t imagine that I wrote the best essay exam in Criminal Law.

I wrote Nunn to thank him and said I probably did so well because I took advantage of having a criminal mind.

Before class, I sat outside with Steve, Martin, Donna, Jim and Dwight, and they were discussing who booked which class and how you know if you booked. (Martin hopes he booked Jurisprudence.)

So I said the professor writes to you, and admitted I booked Criminal Law. Kenny was there by that point, and later in the day, Martin told me that Kenny was upset because he thought he booked the class.

I said I felt embarrassed to admit to booking Crim Law, but they said I should be proud.

Since I did not hear from Collier, I assume the student who got the only other A booked our Jurisprudence section, which makes me feel both relieved (I’d hate to book two classes and have people resent me) and disappointed (part of me, having tasted the excitement of achieving a book award, wants more recognition – aren’t human beings silly?).

I’ve got my usual heavy reading for the weekend, but I’ll probably start tomorrow morning.

The weather just turned dark and chilly after being warm and sunny the last few days. Once again, I’m spoiled even by North Florida.

This morning I got up early, did aerobics, read, listened to the news – the usual. December’s unemployment rate went up to 7.1%, a high for this recession, and Bush’s agreement with Japan probably doesn’t amount to much.

While his popularity is down, I never underestimate the power of a GOP President running for reelection to control events. If Bush can avoid an embarrassment in New Hampshire, he may be able to win a second term.

Clinton seems the Democrats’ front-runner, and I hope he wraps up the nomination fast because he’s the most electable candidate.

The only time the Democrats have won in the last 30 years is when a Southerner headed the ticket.

I have doubts about Clinton’s character and programs, but let’s hope he’s a good guy.

My identity feels in flux now. I like being a law student, and in a way, it would be so much easier not to deal with the College of Journalism next year, because I could remain comfortable at the law school.

But it will be interesting to start from scratch in a whole different program, even if it means establishing myself all over again.

The more I can succeed in different arenas, the more confident I’ll become. My law school success has made me feel better about myself – the way publication, publicity, reviews and fellowships did in the past.

Monday, January 13, 1992

4:30 PM. I just got back from school before the downpour that’s expected.

Up at 5 AM, I exercised and was on campus by 7:30 AM.

Baldwin wasn’t as horrible as I expected. I tend to think law students exaggerate. When he called on Ryan today, Baldwin was persistent and peppered him with questions no one but Laurence Tribe could be expected to answer, but he wasn’t sarcastic, brutal or condescending, and he didn’t exhibit any cruelty.

I think I can learn a lot from Baldwin. Probably we’ll finish Marbury v. Madison tomorrow.

During the break, I sat with Tasha and Dan N in those carrels outside the offices of the Center for Governmental Responsibility, where I briefed the cases I’d already read for Contracts. In class, Davis went over the cases, which deal with remedies, and at 11:20 AM I left for home.

After a quick lunch, I drove downtown to Unemployment, where they now have instituted a take-a-number system.

But unlike in Brooklyn, I was 39 and they were already calling 25, so I didn’t have to wait for hours.

My check and claim card, according to the computer, were mailed out on Thursday, and I was told to return only if I didn’t get my check by Friday’s mail.

With some time to spare, I went to the Alachua County Public Library and took out two audiotaped books before returning to school.

Several people have come up to me and congratulated me on booking Criminal Law, so I guess word travels fast. Like everyone, I knew that Lori booked Torts because Dowd starred her exam number on the grade list, but I haven’t heard about the other classes.

Dowd went over the exam and I picked up my copy after class; I read it later to see how badly my exam matched her answers.

For Dowd, B was an average grade, but I’m happy with it, certainly, especially because she did seem to give a large number of D’s and C+’s as well as a bunch of A’s.

This term she’s going to ask some of us to be “on deck” with the cases and also to make a hypo each week. We’re back in the same classroom, and I’m in the same seat, with Karin on my right again; it’s nice to have Lorraine on my left.

So far, this term seems easier, but intentional torts – like battery, which we started today – are much more straightforward than negligent torts. That this class, like Civ Pro, meets only twice a week, also seems to make it easier.

I can see why they structured the curriculum the way they do: it’s helpful to have Criminal Law before covering intentional torts, to have Jurisprudence and Civ Pro I before Constitutional Law, and to have Contracts I and Torts I before Property I. It’s nice to see how the classes work together in legal education.

I find I’m starting to get back into a routine. Now I’ve met all my classes at least once, and I’m feeling enthusiastic about the material we’re covering.

Wednesday, January 15, 1992

7 PM. Even with all of Wednesday afternoon off, I didn’t get any of my casebook reading for Property or Civ Pro done.

Instead, I struggled for three hours on the first 54 pages of Moynihan’s readable but incredibly dense and difficult treatise on real property.

The concepts in Property are so unfamiliar it’s going to be a challenge to keep up. Hopefully, I’ll find time during tomorrow’s breaks to do the required reading so I can be prepared for class.

At least I did catch up on my sleep last night.

It was 36° at 7:30 AM when I left the apartment, and I was dressed in my New York Christmas vacation uniform: long-sleeved shirt under thick sweater under my winter jacket. I needed my gloves to touch the icy steering wheel.

Laura wasn’t in school today, and I figure she had to return to Coral Springs. I hope her family’s problems aren’t too serious.

I’m beginning to see that Baldwin can’t possibly expect us to answer half the questions he asks because they’re not in our version of the cases but in the complete record and a lot of arcane history.

So when E.K. and John couldn’t answer Baldwin’s queries about Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee, it was only a way for the professor to show off his greater knowledge. No wonder Baldwin never gets angry at students.

During the break, after reading today’s cases for Contracts, I went to the library to look up the record of Baker v. Carr, our next Con Law case. I also copied Baldwin’s old exams.

Teaching assistants from Legal Research and Writing were taking first semester students on their initial visit to the library while I was there. They look as bewildered and overwhelmed as we must have been last August.

Other than at that time, I haven’t noticed any of the new students and have probably a suit assumed that everyone I didn’t know was an upperclassman.

After Contracts, I came home to exercise, have lunch, and read the Property hornbook and the paper.

My unemployment claim card arrived, and I mailed it at the post office so it will get to Tallahassee no later than Friday.

I just realized that Teresa went to Mexico today; I had meant to phone her before she left on vacation. Unfortunately, I fall asleep so early or I’m just so tired I can’t stay up at night or don’t have the energy to call friends. Maybe I can make up some lost ground during the upcoming three-day weekend.

Believe it or not, I feel ready for dreamland now at only 7:30 PM.

Friday, January 17, 1992

3 PM. Having just returned from my Civil Procedure class, all I’ve got ahead of me is a three-day weekend. But instead of feeling exhilarated, I’m already certain I won’t have time to accomplish all I need to do.

It’s not just schoolwork; It’s the apartment, which needs a thorough cleaning, and a lot of personal errands.

Rather than shower before class, I did what I used to do last spring at Broward Community College, when I taught my early class and then went home to exercise and shower before returning to campus.

I read the Property cases before class even though we never went over them. Instead, Julin helped us understand what some of these terms mean and how a life estate differs from a fee simple, etc.

I like Property more than I expected to, as the cases so far mostly deal with family squabbles over wills. Later in the day, I xeroxed Julin’s old final exams for Property I.

After I worked out to Homestretch on WUFT/5, I showered and did my reading for Civ Pro. This term it may be harder for me to get ahead of myself, but perhaps I’ll pick up speed as the term goes on.

Already I have that Appellate Advocacy assignment which is due next Thursday; I’d better begin it this weekend.

I thought about going to an Amy Clampitt poetry reading tonight, but the cold weather and the need to work will probably keep me at home. Still, I’d like to get some recreation this weekend.

Sunday, January 19, 1992

4 PM. It’s a cold winter Sunday, with hard rain falling since last night. I heard they got snow up in Georgia. Right now it’s about 45°, and I’ve got the heat on.

But I almost don’t mind because I’ve already gone through a taste of winter in New York this year – as opposed to the year-round summer of South Florida.

This afternoon I treated myself to a movie. I went out to the Butler Plaza multiplex to see Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho, which was haunting. (This is an example of my sappy critical prose.)

River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves, two actors I like, played Portland street hustlers, one a narcoleptic, the other the son of the mayor, a guy who plays Prince Hal to a chickenhawk Falstaff, and there was even dialogue from Shakespeare.

Risky stuff, but Van Sant pulled it off. He’s a gay filmmaker from the Pacific Northwest, and he made that part of the country look as beautiful as it probably is.

The film made me think of my own life and how, ten years ago, I fell in love with a 17-year-old boy. You know, I had the idea of going back to “I Survived Caracas Traffic” and turning that story into a novel.

I made and abandoned several efforts to write a sequel to the story, but what might be easier is to take the basic framework of the story and thicken it with details, flashbacks, memories, observations.

What I liked about “Caracas” was its being a necessary story for me to tell and how it dealt with important stuff: sex, death, love, coping.

Right now, fired with enthusiasm, I feel I could do so much more with it. Of course, while I’m in law school, I don’t have the time, but I plan (am I really saying this?, I didn’t mean to) to see if I can (there, that’s better; I need to equivocate) try to work on it this summer.

Maybe now that I’m older I have more discipline – and maybe even law school has helped with that. We’ll see. I get these urges to write a novel about once or twice a year, and I’ve never followed through.

The one thing I should feel secure about is that if the novel is in me, delaying won’t mean forgetting what I want to say.

One reason I found it increasingly difficult to write fiction was that after the huge burst of stories that came out of me from 1975 to 1980, I had plumbed just about everything in me, and I began recycling and repeating myself.

Now, or within the next few years, I have the experience of being an adult, of being over 40, of having lived through the 1980s as an adult. My pre-1980 stories were all the work of an adolescent: someone who lived with his parents its whole life, who hadn’t cooked his own meals and done laundry or woken up alone in the middle of the night.

If I can reinvent myself as a fiction writer the way I’ve reinvented myself as a person, maybe I still have a career in writing ahead of me.

If not, it’s no great loss to literature, but still, it would be nice (scary, hard work) to find out. At least I’m not stuck and still writing the same stuff.

Remember how, in my twenties, I was so envious of young writers who were successful?

I don’t feel the same degree of envy anymore, because rather than look at their success, I look at what they’re doing, and when I see what that is, I know I don’t want to be doing something like that.

It’s the same reason why, unlike Tom, I’ve never had any envy of Wes’s success: being a Hollywood screenwriter was not something that ever interested me.

I hope I’m half as smart as I think I am and secure in feeling that I don’t want to be anywhere but the place where I am now: lying on my bed in Gainesville, Florida, about to crack open my lawbooks.