A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late May, 1992

by Richard Grayson

Thursday, May 21, 1992

8 PM. It’s three weeks since the last final, the Civ Pro exam I did badly on. But I’m definitely getting over getting my C+’s and I’m proud that even as I was upset, I knew the only thing I really needed was time.

Tonight I’m tired and I may be coming down with a cold, but I’m relaxed. A hard rain is falling, as it did three weeks ago. I don’t have any work for tomorrow, which is a short day, and then I have a four-day weekend, since we’ll be following a Monday schedule on Tuesdays – I’m usually off Mondays.

Today was a long day, but I enjoyed all my classes, from our discussion on free expression in Con Law to Julin’s gentle, wise (and occasionally numbing) lecture in Property to Slobogin’s class, where I got to make some points about the admissibility of psychiatric expert testimony regarding diagnoses in the Hinckley trial.

I also got to hang out with people who’ve become my friends over the last nine months, people whose personalities and interests are familiar to me, if only on that level you see in colleagues at work or school.

I chided Martin and Bob for continuing to talk about exams, and the more I think about it, knowing everything I do about education, it seems to me that the least effective part of law school is the method of evaluation.

Hopefully, I can begin to take more seminars and other classes where the final exam is not the sole factor in my grade.

Actually, the people most discriminated against are those who don’t write effectively, not me.

I got a $174 check from the state for another week of unemployment benefits, so at least I can breathe easier for a little while, though I don’t know what I’m going to do to get through this summer.

I’ve made an appointment to talk to Amy Gillespie about financial aid tomorrow at 9 AM.

So I’m getting into a new pattern for the summer term. Up at 6 AM, I exercised to Body Electric even though my back is still as bad as it’s been for a month.

Then I walked to the post office to fetch the Times and the Alligator and came home for a leisurely breakfast.

At school I did work until my first class, and I came home at 1 PM for lunch and All My Children.

I’ve spent the last couple of hours eating and unwinding.

Sunday, May 24, 1992

8 PM. I’ve just walked around the neighborhood, which is pretty deserted except for an occasional party here and there with music blasting and young people hanging out.

It’s still daylight, though just barely, and pleasantly warm.

On Memorial Day weekend this time last year, I was probably sitting on the terrace in Rockaway, watching the beach and ocean. I miss Grandma’s old apartment, but at least I got to enjoy it one more summer and for those weeks at Christmas.

I was also thinking of the Labor Day weekend, the holiday that ended last summer. I’d only been in law school a week at that time.

When I think about how much I’ve learned and what I’ve experienced, it seems silly to be disappointed in a couple of lower-than-expected grades.

Hey, you know what I did this afternoon? I wrote a story, a 14-page first draft in my nostalgic/impressionistic fragments/sentimental mode.

Last night I again ruminated about my Civ Pro grade and dreamed about Mashburn, and today I was thinking I could use the titles of some of the Rules of Civil Procedure – Intervention, Process, Time, Notice of Pleadings – as headings for little sections.

The story sort of wrote itself over three hours. It needs a lot of work and it’s probably not very good, but at least I felt the need to write fiction and I kept at it. That’s a good sign.

Title? “Rules of Civil Procedure.” That’s just my style, isn’t it? Taking something that looks like a failure and using it to my advantage.

Last night I read Property and listened to some Ring Lardner stories on tape. By midnight, I still couldn’t sleep and I felt restless so I flicked on the TV.

Usually I only get a couple of channels, but last night’s atmospheric conditions must have been weird because stations from Tampa/St. Pete and Orlando were coming in clearly.

The novelty kept me flipping channels for a couple of hours, until I began to feel ready for sleep.

Up at 7:30 AM, I went shopping at Publix and got the papers, which I read before and after breakfast. For once, I was able to enjoy the whole New York Times Book Review again.

I exercised and watched the McLaughlin Group and showered and just hung around the apartment. As I said, I spent a good part of the afternoon messing around with my story.

When I finish it, I’d like to make copies and send them out to little magazines, the way I used to in the old days.

If I can’t be a star law student, I feel, at least I can still be a short story writer. Hey, I’ll be fine.

Look what I’ve accomplished in the past year. It’s not my transcript that’s important but how I’ve grown as a person.

Yes, I’ve neglected some aspects of my life but remember all the doubts I had as I sat on the terrace at the beach last year?

Most importantly, I’ve come to a place I’ve never been to before and lived here for nearly ten months. That may seem like a small accomplishment, especially to the 18-year-old freshmen at UF who do it without a thought, but we’re talking about neurotic, agoraphobic me here.

As hard a time as I may be facing – in terms of money, anyway – I’ll never again have some of the fears I used to have, wondering if I could live in a place without friends or family.

To me, that’s really more important than success in law school. I tried something new at age 40. Perhaps it was because I had nothing left to lose, but in the past I might have been paralyzed by fear into just letting life go on. Instead, I took control.

I didn’t just get to Gainesville and UF law school by magic; I made this happen.

Now I have to learn to live with the stuff I can’t control.

The crickets and cicadas and some birds are making their sounds along with the bass guitar from someone’s stereo.

I’ll be fine. It’s a pleasant night and there’s no need to be anxious about tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 26, 1992

4 PM. My eyes are sore, and it hurts less to write than to read, so I’ve interrupted my daily look at the New York Times. I spent a lot of time in front of a computer screen today.

At the law school Dean Savage said she’d try to change my status and that I should get back to her next week.

But without any classes, I took advantage of the free time to work for three hours – not on law school stuff, but on my own business.

At the computer room I revised “Rules of Civil Procedure” and printed out the 14 pages at the laser printer. I also wrote a letter to Tom.

On Lexis, I tiptoed through Nexis files about credit cards, fraud and personal bankruptcy and literary topics: Mark Leyner, Jay McInerney (whose new novel is out in England and due here soon), little magazines, etc.

I’m so out of touch with the world of creative writing and literary publishing that I hardly know where to begin.

After lunch, I went to the public library, I looked into the International Directory of Little Magazines, looking for any clue as to where to submit.

I could only afford enough postage, xerox and envelopes to send out three copies of the new story, but it’s a start.

Do I really want to invest in submitting manuscripts for no pay again? Well, maybe I’ll get some feedback, and it’s nice to keep my hand in.

Actually, my hand has been out for so long, I’m a stranger to the small presses and they’re strangers to me. It’s not like ’76-’79, when I was making my reputation.

I’ve read the law school material for tomorrow and I’ve got enough time so that I don’t have to struggle to get ahead of myself because that’s usually unproductive since I end up reading everything over anyway.

I saw Peter B in the computer lab: he was wearing a grey T-shirt cut off at the belly. I think he might be gay. I know he was in the military and he seems like a nice, intelligent guy, somewhere between 25 and 30. Nice body and blond hair, too.

Except for the lesbians who wear their declaratory T-shirts, I don’t know any gay law students who are “out.” No guys, anyway, and God knows if anyone but me in my section is gay.

I’ve wondered about Peter B and Michael K, who are both older. The kids just out of college aren’t going to be interesting; even if they are gay, probably some of them don’t know it yet. Like Darin: he may just be one of those slightly fem heterosexuals, but he went to a Christian college so he could also be way deeper in the closet than I was in my twenties.

I decided not to go apartment-hunting today since I have no money for a down payment and don’t want to spend more than the $6 I shelled out already (for stamps and xerox).

Was it really 13 years ago that With Hitler in New York came out? That was an exciting time, but also scary because my parents were selling the house in Brooklyn and I’d be alone as they went to Florida.

The cold I got at the end of the term at Brooklyn College (I was teaching in Veterans Outreach and either Small College or the Liberal Arts Program for adults) lingered, and when I got depressed enough, I made an appointment with a shrink – Dr. Pasquale, who had an ad in the Village Voice.

Was it really 23 years ago that I was 18 and just getting over the worst of my agoraphobia, preparing to take my first college class – Poli Sci – for the summer? In nine days I turn 41.

Wednesday, May 27, 1992

4 PM. I’ve just come in from the bank, where I got someone to notarize a paper I need for my car registration renewal. In order to avoid the Broward auto emissions test, I had to show I’ve moved to Alachua, a county where the test isn’t mandatory.

I have to do my Law and Psychiatry reading, but I need to rest my eyes for a while. Anyway, I can do the reading before tomorrow’s classes, when I’m usually straining my eyes on Lexis.

Yesterday I got a letter from Crad, who talked enthusiastically about a trip to Edmonton, where he and other Black Moss Press authors read.

Of course, most of the letter was his usual litany of complaints – about the people who ignore him on the street, the women who disdain him, the Canadian literary establishment which won’t accept him.

From my point of view, Crad has had plenty of success as a writer but he still considers himself a failure. Probably no matter what would happen, he’d feel the same way.

What a negative guy. He feels entitled to everything. I can see I was in danger of becoming that way, angry that I hadn’t achieved the recognition as a writer I felt I “deserved.”

Really, nobody gets what he or she “deserves,” and it’s probably a good thing, too.

Crad plans to put out two more self-published books: another bad poetry anthology and one with an idiotic title. Crad clings to these nineteenth-century romantic notions about being an “artist.” He should just get a job and write in his free time.

I read some stuff by Ron Sukenick yesterday about how the young artsy types in the late ’50’s and early ’60s longed for that same kind of romantic success; Sukenick contrasted that with the view of Mark Leyner, who wants to be rich and famous but assumed he’d have to make a living doing something other than his art.

I now think the mediocrities of the Fiction Collective were lulled into complacency by the ease in which they slipped into academia and publishing in the ’60s.

I’d rather have had a hard time. They’re bitter old men now, but I’m never going to allow myself to slip into bitterness. Crad and Tom already have.

Fuhgeddaboudit, I want to shout. This is really an admonition to myself, of course. No doubt I’ll fall into my own complaints soon enough, and some of them may even be justified (as the others’ are) – but who cares? Get on with one’s life and appreciate what one has.

I thought everyone would have forgotten about grades already, but Peter S began talking about it as soon as I sat down next to him at school this morning. He tried very hard in spring semester and still got mostly C+’s and C’s.

I could understand when he said even apart from career considerations, he would have liked to have good grades just for self-satisfaction.

But he did all he could and then he had no control over the outcome – just as writers and artists have little control over “success” after a certain point.

Martin already was anxious for the list of people who booked classes to be posted; he wants to book Con Law badly, and he probably deserves it. Of course, that doesn’t mean he’ll get it.

Actually, I was delighted with something else at the bulletin board: If we turn in our parking ticket from last Monday, the dean will take care of them. That saves me $15.

Classes were okay today, and since I exercised and went to Kash n’ Karry before school this morning, I had the afternoon free.

The people who are taking just five credits must have loads of free time. Neither Julin nor Collier got very far in our reading assignments.

Last night I read two-thirds of Nat Hentoff’s The First Freedom and watched a couple of PBS documentaries.

My back still hurts, but less so.

It’s kind of amazing that May is nearly gone because the last four weeks have just flown by, even if it feels like it’s been a very long time since the spring classes ended five weeks ago.

Friday, May 29, 1992

3 PM. I just returned from depositing a $60 check in the bank. That was my last unemployment check, and the last money I’ll have until (and if) my loan check arrives.

It will be hard to get through the summer, but of course I have to be grateful that benefits were extended twice. There’s no other way I could have gotten through law school.

My speedometer conked out on the way home from the bank and now rests at 0. Is it worth fixing? Can I drive without knowing how fast I’m going? I’ll think about it tomorrow.

Last evening Mom called to remind me to book a flight because of fare wars announced that morning and which expire next week. I’ve been getting busy signals at every hour of the day and night, but I’ll keep trying.

I just hope I’ll be able to stay with Ronna, Alice and/or Teresa or find other arrangements. Well, I’ll make the flights first and then find places to stay. It will be odd being a visitor and not a resident in New York.

I did a lot of socializing today, chatting before class with Marsha and David G, then with Barry and Mark R.

After Con Law, I went to Wilbert’s with Lorraine and then hung out on the steps with Shay, Carla and Denise, and after Property, I spent time with Martin and Donna, and then talked with David A, Larry, Shara, Derrick and Rich T.

It was 2 PM before I got home. Now that I have more free time, law school seems more like being an undergrad with all the attendant schmoozing, as well as discussing intellectual stuff, weighty or not.

I enjoyed classes today, as the pace picked up. In Con Law, Collier tossed out a hypo about banning books that took the position that white people are superior.

I commented that would mean getting rid of 90% of the stuff in the library as well as the Constitution itself.

In Property, Julin called on me when I looked quizzical and had the luck (bad?) to make eye contact with him.

Saturday, May 30, 1992

8 PM. Yesterday at 5 PM, a man with a foreign accent called and asked for me by name.

“Helmut!” I exclaimed. We talked for 15 minutes – 142 “units” on his phone in Hamburg – and it was a thrill to chat.

Despite our occasional disagreements – and I still think Helmut is a bit unstable – our friendship seems stronger than ever.

It was 11 PM in Germany and with his wife “350 miles to the south,” Helmut was about to go hang out in a seedy part of Hamburg and go drinking. He said he plans to come to the U.S. for four or five weeks next June and July.

He spoke of how crazy his friends were for my Hitler book and how, after learning of all the copies I have, said I should send him some. Helmut claims to admire my writing; however, I’ve never heard him mention any other story than the “Hitler” one in which he appears.

He told me there was a war in Bosnia “where Avis and I used to drive through on one way to vacation in Greece” – as if I lived in total ignorance.

“Yes, Helmut, I too saw those TV pictures of people being blown up outside that bakery,” I said, reminding him that we all live in a McLuhan’s global village.

He told me he lost his virginity in California “to a Jewish girl from Brooklyn” and said he felt so meek when he met “Peter – no, Scott – because he was so toned and strong and dynamic.”

Scott? I would have never guessed that Helmut would have felt intimidated by him.

Helmut does tend to talk to me about things I plainly know, however, as if he were explaining them to me for the first time, like the way he tells me about the times we met in 1973 and 1977, or that I hand-wrote my last letter.

If I’m one of his only links to America, he’s my only link to Europe, a continent where I’d like to live eventually, so I’m sure we’ll stay in touch.

Right now I can’t see going to live in Europe before the year 2000 or 2001. I need to give myself time to make a little money, give the U.S. more of a chance – with my own active participation in trying to change things for the better – and give Europe time to see if the current surge of xenophobia and nationalism abate.

I spent most of today reading for Con Law: first Robert Paul Wolff’s “Beyond Tolerance,” and then law review articles by Richard Delgado on making racial insults a new tort and the one I’m still reading, by Mari Matsuda, on hate speech from the victim’s perspective.

I eat this stuff up, from Durkheim on suicide to W.E.B. DuBois’ sorrow songs to “outsider jurisprudence” and the critical legal scholars’ reliance on personal narrative.

I’m sure I’ll again do fine in Collier’s class because I love to play with these ideas. I read so slowly, in fact, because I kept thinking so much as I interacted with the text, tossing out ideas silently.

Perhaps I’m foolish in that I went to the airport and bought round-trip tickets to New York for a three-week trip. On the other hand, at half-price, it’s $157 – less than I paid to fly from Orlando to Miami back in March.

This will probably be the cheapest air fares will ever be, so I might as well take advantage of it.

Besides, this will bring me up to over 30,000 miles, and I can get my next trip free. (I probably should use it to go to California or some other distant place.)

Sunday, May 31, 1992

4 PM. I’ve resisted doing any law school work today.

At 1 PM, I went out to the public library to return the rest of the books I borrowed. I ran into Barry there; he said he had no schoolwork to do.

For an hour I read magazines, the Village Voice – which was like meeting an old friend – and an article on Stanley Fish, the Duke English chairman and controversial scholar whom Collier is having us read (“There’s No Such Thing As Free Speech and It’s A Good Thing, Too”).

Last night I read the papers and then tried to get to sleep in the living room. At 11 PM, I turned on the video jukebox channel, and people steadily ordered a passel of hip-hop videos (Sir Mix-A-Lot, Compton Something-or-Other, NWA, Arrested Development, Beastie Boys) which I found interesting.

Nobody I know shares my interest in this music, and my own knowledge is extremely limited. But I persist in thinking its emphasis on lyrics and rhyme and word play makes it literary as well as being bulletins from the front of our inner cities.

Anyone who’d seen enough rap videos wasn’t surprised by the L.A. riots.

At the library today, I took out books of short stories by Malamud and E.M. Forster and last year’s International Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses.

While I don’t have the money to mail out a lot of queries, I’d like to familiarize myself with the small press world again. I keep thinking some publishers would like to bring out a book of my selected stories. After all, between all my published books and chapbooks, there are about 90 stories, and surely nine or ten of those could be worthy of appearing in a single volume.