A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late November, 1992

by Richard Grayson

Saturday, November 21, 1992

8 PM. I’m not at all pleased with the way my Family Law final is going. I’d hoped to have first drafts of both essays by now, but all I’ve done is jot down pages of notes.

Probably I’ve been doing too much, looking at all the cases and unnecessarily consulting articles and other cases on Lexis and in texts.

McCulloch said we should spend only four hours total on it, and I’ve already spent a lot more than that.

On the other hand, I’m “studying” as well as writing. Hopefully, the process will speed up and I’ll get my act together.

I’m sure I will; I know how I approach writing, and I know that starting too soon is as bad as procrastinating. I’m still partly in the rehearsal stage and partly into drafting.

The questions I picked are closely related and they also require a little review of material I studied in Political and Civil Rights.

They concern laws restricting welfare (AFDC) benefits – one limiting benefits to women who get mandatory prenatal care and follow all their medical orders, the other denying benefits to kids conceived while the mothers are on welfare.

Suppose a challenge to the latter is brought by a married Catholic couple whose religion forbids birth control and abortion?

(I just got a new idea and went to jot it down in my notes.)

Denis Woychuk called me this afternoon, and it was a pleasure to talk with him.

He and his girlfriend had a little girl, Ava, a few weeks ago, and he’s tickled to be a father. I told him to send me a photo of what he says is a gorgeous baby.

Denis still has his job defending the “criminally insane” and he’s making money by using the art gallery space as a theater; recent productions have been quite successful.

Denis would like to quit his lawyering job and write. His new agent (Ruth Hamlin at Sanford Greenburger) is helping him with a proposal for a book tentatively called Sympathy for the Devil: My Life with the Criminally Insane. He’d like to get a big advance without having to write a lot on spec.

The two kids’ books haven’t sold much, his latest royalty statement shows: “My name begins with a W and so the books are buried, despite good reviews from Kirkus and Library Journal.” Naturally his publisher does nothing.

Denis said that a friend from a workshop at the West Side Y (which is on his block) and another pal who lectures at Harvard have suggested that he should exploit the incongruity of a guy who keeps madmen like Daniel Rakowitz out of prison writing these sweet stories for toddlers.

His publisher doesn’t want to do that, of course, but Denis said he’d like to get some publicity, so he came to me for advice.

I suggested he try to create a “scandal” out of it by tipping off a supermarket tabloid or maybe Page Six, and I gave him other ideas.

However, I told him that while this probably wouldn’t sell the kids’ books, the notoriety could lead to talk shows or interest by a book publisher in his nonfiction proposal.

While Denis still loves going to court, that’s a rarity – although he just tried a case against the mental hospital, which now would like to see him out of his position.

He asked me about law school and teaching English. I told him I’m doing what he did a dozen years ago when he was going to Fordham Law and teaching with me at John Jay and other colleges.

“Yeah,” he said, “and I’ve been a workaholic ever since then.”

In the background, I could hear Ava scream when her mother stopped feeding her.

It was good to be in touch with Denis, a kindred spirit – like me, he much prefers the 1990s to the 1980s – and someone I have great admiration for.

Despite the pressure of the Family Law final, I feel both relaxed and at least slightly productive.

Monday, November 23, 1992

8 PM. It’s been extraordinarily warm for late November.

I’m still behind schedule on the Family Law final although I  managed to finished a final draft of the second question. The first question is harder, but I’ll finish it tomorrow afternoon and do the best I can.

The final counts for only 30% of my grade, and I already know that 51% of my grade is a B+ and 10% is an A.

I had thought McCulloch would post our post-negotiation memo grades today so I’d know about the other 9% of my grade, but she was out sick.

Up at 6 AM, I decided to exercise to Body Electric before breakfast so I’d have more time to work on the final in the afternoon.

Before Baldwin’s class, I read City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson Company, the affirmative action case that he segued to after discussing Bowers v. Hardwick and the dismal prospects for gays in federal court following that awful decision.

All the military exclusion cases rely on Bowers, as do some cases of firings of teachers for being gay.

In Evidence, Seigel discussed specific impeachment of witnesses; I doubt if anyone but me and the groups assigned to talk read the textbook.

Arriving at Santa Fe, I left a message for Vivian Lee, knowing she’d be in class. At least I attempted to return her call.

I hope I don’t get in trouble for forgetting that I shouldn’t assign the essays for the final as writing assignments, but I honestly didn’t remember that warning.

I had thought up a couple of topics, but this morning I decided to let my class choose their own topics. Maybe that will make the papers more interesting to grade.

With people going home for the holidays, attendance on Wednesday should be low.

Rick Peabody left a message saying that Books & Books in Miami will definitely sponsor a reading with me and what’s-her-name at FIU – oh God, it must be a mental block, I can picture her, books from Carnegie-Mellon, glasses, Lynn?

Think, Richie . . . Oh well, it will come to me.

–– I went to look her up in the Poets & Writers Directory: it’s Lynne Barrett, of course. Why did I blank out like that?

Anyway, Rick said the guy at the bookstore still will work through St. Martin’s Press, and presumably somebody will get in touch with me before February or March, when it will be scheduled.

Returning Rick’s call, I found him really depressed over his unemployment. He needs to leave Washington, he said, because he’s asked everywhere and can’t find work, and the academic jobs he’s applied for don’t start till next fall.

Most of his old friends have left D.C., Rick said. He plans to just head out of town in his car after the holidays, probably to New Mexico.

St. Martin’s has been as awful as every other publisher. They’ve held on to Mondo Elvis way past the deadline for a decision, and Rick and Lucinda’s agent wants to pull it away, but Rick’s worried that might piss off St. Martin’s and they’ll screw Mondo Barbie.

Rick sounded so down. I know how being broke and unemployed can be, especially when you think things will never change.

But I’m certain Rick’s luck will improve even if the U.S. economy doesn’t.

In the Times today, another obituary of someone I know: Jackie Eubanks, the radical librarian at Brooklyn College – a familiar face at meetings and demonstrations in the early ’70s, and later on, at small press events like the New York Book Fair – died of AIDS at 54.

God, Audre Lorde was 58; Gloria Glikin, 61. It make me worry about Mom’s health. I think I’ll give her a call now.

Wednesday, November 25, 1992

4 PM. The weather remains mild and muggy; I haven’t had to wear a jacket in days.

Today was the last day of classes, and I only had two.

Baldwin lectured on the Second Amendment and how caselaw shows that the right to bear arms “doesn’t mean what the National Rifle Association thinks it does.”

He told us our final will be closed book with unlimited space (unlike his Con Law final), and there will be three essays.

I went over to Student Services, where the secretary told me they rescheduled my Political and Civil Rights final to Monday, December 14, at 9 AM.

That means I’ll miss the morning grading session at Santa Fe, but since I’m only going for a few hours (because I have only one English 101 class), I can get there in the afternoon to do grading.

I’d expected Baldwin’s final to be rescheduled for Saturday, but this gives me two extra days to study.

Carla gave me a dollar for the notes I xeroxed for her; I didn’t want to take any more than that even though it actually cost me more.

Seigel lectured on expert witnesses, probably the subject I find most interesting – and then told us about the final.

We pick it up on Wednesday at 9 AM and have to return it by 3 PM. It’s one big question and he’s limiting us to five typed double-spaced pages.

I’m going to be a wreck on Wednesday, as I don’t have a clue about what we’ve done all semester.

Seigel is a nice guy, yet my instincts tell me not to trust him; I can’t quite figure out why he gives me bad vibrations.

Laura said she and Dan R find him anti-Italian when he tells all his stories about the Mafia guys he prosecuted.

His last remarks were about how we should never forget the importance of ethics. But I wonder whether he would bend or skirt ethics in the courtroom if he felt it would serve justice – as when he was fighting organized crime.

I finally found Lee so I could give her Julin’s handout from yesterday’s Natural Resources class.

It turned out that someone – not McCulloch or Dowd – placed a notice by the CGR office yesterday that our Family Law final was due at 5 PM today rather than 9 AM. Because some people read the notice, they had to extend the deadline.

Talk about unethical: somebody in the class obviously did that. Well, I’m still glad I went to CGR to hand mine in yesterday and got it over with.

I told Karin to have a good Thanksgiving in Orlando and the same to Laura in Coral Springs; I don’t think either of them are coming back for Seigel’s review session on Monday.

As I was getting into my car, a bug flew into my shirt and I started feeling it bite me. I shook off my shirt, but now I have two welts on my upper chest and one on my lower back.

It was probably just a horsefly or something, but you always hear these stories about this insignificant insect bite resulting in some incredibly bad nerve disorder spread by a virus.

I’m sure I’ll be okay, but I’m a little concerned and I hope that’s not why I feel so icky now.

At Santa Fe, I had only half a dozen students show up, and I read to them papers submitted by their classmates on Monday. Most were a pleasure to read.

I remember how Lucy Calkins often talked about letting students write on their own topics, and I know it makes reading the essays far more pleasurable for the teacher.

In the end, the rigid format of Santa Fe’s departmental English 101 final made it more structured than Broward’s version of the course, though at BCC we had the absurd task of teaching the research paper as well.

After coming home, I spoke briefly to Alice, who called to wish me a happy Thanksgiving.

Tomorrow she and Peter are going to Brooklyn for dinner at her mother’s. Her mother was in the hospital recently but she’s better now; her brother and his family are too busy with moving to come up from D.C.

After getting a haircut from that pleasant half-witted woman at the Mane Stop, I did some light aerobics and took a shower.

I phoned Grandma, who sounded so good did it heartened me. Instead of complaining, she merely reported a problem with a rash that is causing them to take her to a dermatologist.

She talked about a play they had seen yesterday and all the activities they have at the home and how she’s tried, unsuccessfully, to convince Aunt Tillie she would be better off if she, too, gave up her apartment.

After I hung up with Grandma, I marveled how something that once seemed like the worst thing in the world – Grandma giving up her home and moving into a home for elderly people – turned out to be the cure for Grandma’s deep depression.

At least her last years are turning out to be more pleasant than they would be if she, like Tillie, were isolated in an apartment with nobody to interact with.

Friday, November 27, 1992

9 PM. Last evening’s Thanksgiving dinner for me was a Healthy Choice roast turkey frozen dinner – with stuffing and raisins, and carrots and green beans, plus a microwaved sweet potato and Entenmann’s low-fat brownies. Not anything out of the ordinary, but good enough for me.

If I sounded depressed yesterday, I gave the wrong impression. There’s no doubt I’m totally cynical about human life and pessimistic about the world in general, but the paradox is that I’ve had an amazingly rich, happy and productive life.

Either I’ve been lucky or else perhaps I’m wrong about the world. I suspect I’ve just had some lucky breaks, plus I tend to shunt all my anger off to issues of life and death while I behave very cheerfully most days.

Even the hairstylist at the Mane Stop makes fun of me because I’m always smiling, she said, and I always say whatever she does to my hair is “perfect.”

Perhaps I’m not as particular as most of her young customers, who have to look studly. That’s one advantage of aging.

I’ve been studying Evidence since last night. Just now I’ve completed the first pass through my notes, the Federal Rules of Evidence, and the text.

I’ll make a haphazard outline and an index to my notes, but I’m not going to drive myself crazy, especially when I don’t think I can do much to raise my Evidence grade above a C or a C+.

Last night I fell asleep before 10 PM because I was so tired. I woke at 6 AM to the sounds of heavy rain that didn’t let up till mid-afternoon.

This morning I lazily stayed in bed, listening to the radio and reading the paper I got when I went out to Publix.

After working out lightly, I returned to the couch, where all my Evidence materials were. I studied till 3 PM, interrupting the work only to shower, eat lunch and rest my eyes.

Then, in the media library, I watched some videos by Professor Irving Younger on hearsay, part of a long series on Evidence that was interesting but probably not helpful.

Home at 5 PM, I got the mail, which included a cute photo of baby Ava sent by Denis (“I finally did something right”) and the AWP Bulletin.

I decided to enter my Thirties/Eighties manuscript in the AWP Award Series competition for next year.

The creative nonfiction winner will be picked by Phillip Lopate, and the worst that can happen is that my diary book won’t get read by him but will be screened out.

Lopate is an intelligent man whose writing I admire, and just knowing he’ll read my book will give me a lift.

I need to cut the manuscript down to 300 pages and eliminate all the references to my name although other clues will give away my identity if anyone wants to figure it out.

Just now Mom called to read me a letter from Florida Secretary of State Jim Smith appointing me to the Literature Panel for this year’s grants from the Division of Cultural Affairs. I had nominated myself but I didn’t expect to get selected!

I’m thrilled – because this is another “crumb” I’ll gladly savor. As I wrote yesterday, it’s not often I get treated as a literary figure.

I can’t wait to see the details in the letter Mom will send me. She said I have to read some stuff and send in my acceptance to Tallahassee.

Obviously I’ll have to be in the state capital sometime this summer to go through the grant applications.

God, this is exciting. It makes me feel like I’m not considered a nutjob by other people. This is a boost for my confidence.

My first political appointment – and it’s from a Republican.

If I fail Evidence, at least I’ve got my other career to keep me from feeling like a complete failure.

Monday, November 30, 1992

8 PM. Last night it got down to 27°, but I was warm in bed. Perhaps the heat was what kept me sleeping so soundly.

I had a wonderful dream about Manhattan. First, I was going uptown on the M104 bus when I noticed the bus had no driver. Startled, I was told this was an experimental robot bus, but I didn’t trust it and got off at 72nd Street.

Walking under an el, I somehow ended up on 96th Street way over on the East Side, so I walked across town back to Broadway.

At the southeast corner of 96th, instead of Pathmark and McDonald’s, there were gleaming Rodeo Drive-type boutiques and jewelers, and I wondered how they got rid of all the poor people in the neighborhood.

Trying to get to 95th Street, I discovered they created a barricade.

“But I’m poor!” I cried. “I need to get out, not in!”

I bought the Post but didn’t give the newsstand dealer enough money, for which I apologized: “I’ve been out of town a long time.”

Finally I heard animal noises coming from Riverside Park, and when I went over there, I was told that the city had let it become woods again and wild animals now roamed freely.

I won’t get back to New York till next spring, the longest I’ve ever been away. In all of 1992, I spent only the first six days in New York, and as you can see, I miss it.

It was a pleasure not to have to be in school at 7:30 AM today, but I did get there for Seigel’s 10 AM review session. About half the class made it, including Karin, who decided to return early from Orlando.

Even though I didn’t understand a lot of the questions my classmates asked, I feel a little better about Evidence because I now think I’ve got an idea of what Seigel wants to see.

I can get the issues and probably the sub-issues, but not what he called the sub-sub-issues.

Other people, like Dori and Mike W, figure Evidence will be one of the tests they’re least worried about.

I hurried over to SFCC, where I picked up my paycheck and then found another adjunct to sub for me on Wednesday and give the prototype for the CLAST writing skills test.

Lynn, the English Department secretary, wasn’t in, but I sent her my leave of absence form in the interoffice mail.

In class, I began going over James Baldwin’s “Stranger in the Village” slowly – perhaps too slowly for my bored students.

But I wanted them to understand the argument of the essay, which of course reads differently now than when I first read it in a 50¢ paperback of Notes of a Native Son back when I was a teenager.

There are probably few villages in Europe today which haven’t seen black people, if only on TV.

Europe’s race problems are different from America’s, of course, but people of color are now living in most countries, leading to stuff like neo-Nazi attacks in Germany.

Back home, I had lunch, paid the rent, read the paper and exercised before returning to the law school.

I xeroxed the letter I got from Jim Smith appointing me to the 1993-94 Literature Panel. Tonight I filled out the reply form and put it in the mail.

At the media library, I watched another Irving Younger video, this one on character evidence, and then got a CALI disk.

Lisa was using a different CALI disk, and Claudia came in, wanting to copy all of them.

I tried to help her, but it was such a tedious process that I told her to come over to my house, where I gave her my three hearsay disks and put her disk on character evidence on my hard drive.

I just finished that disk, which probably was helpful, but I didn’t do any other studying today. Maybe I’ll do more later, but I’m free all day tomorrow to study.

After the final exam on Wednesday, I’ll feel less pressured because my next exam isn’t until December 11.

I have only three more SFCC classes to teach – on Friday and next Monday and Wednesday – and then I give the English 101 final on Thursday.

Certainly this fall’s final exam schedule at the law school is much less stressful than my first semester exams a year ago, although I did exceptionally well on those.

But I expect this term’s grades will be more like my grades of spring or summer.

Well, they have to be, because there’s no way I can imagine getting two A’s.