A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-April, 1993

by Richard Grayson

Sunday, April 11, 1993

4 PM. I’ve done no reading for law school this weekend, and today I spent only about 45 minutes working on the Legal Drafting final.

It’s foolhardy of me to ignore schoolwork when finals are just around the corner, but I find I’m excited – perhaps needlessly excited – by the little indicators that people are noticing my writing.

Rather than use up lots of quarters in the Times vending machine, I went to Goerings’ at 10 AM to buy the paper – and there I discovered the new Village Voice with its April Voice Literary Supplement.

Hopeful, I turned the pages to see the boxed-off review of Mondo Barbie on the first page of the VLS’s “Brief Encounters” notices. The review, except for a line about glibness, is favorable and it did mention me near the end:

“Ideas about Barbie’s future life generate some of the funniest and funkiest stories. . . Richard Grayson’s ‘Twelve Step Barbie’ assigns the washed-up doll starlet a tawdry future that’s probably the most likely of all. She drives around L.A., volunteer-lectures at high school health-ed classes, and – strangest of all doll acts – lives an ordinary life.”

The reviewer, Julie Phillips, gets exactly what I was trying to say. With this coverage, the book should get noticed in New York City, and maybe it’ll be reviewed in more places.

Rick really deserves the success, especially when last year he was so broke and desolate. I hope he gets money, book contracts, and a job in academia out of this. The book has already given me a lift I couldn’t have gotten elsewhere without Rick.

The Voice had never previously mentioned my name, except when Arthur Bell put me in his column in 1979. Of course, the Los Angeles Times did mention me before this book, giving me a daily review that same year for With Hitler in New York.

I have fantasies that editors, agents and even film people will see my story and look at the contributor’s note and try to contact me. But I’ve had lots of ink over the years, even for my writing, and if a review in the New York Times Book Review didn’t do anything in 1983, this certainly won’t.

What the notices for Mondo Barbie have done is renew my confidence as a writer. I feel like pushing myself again. Today I sent out copies of Hitler to a couple of editors and professors I thought might like to see it. Of course, I sent out tons of copies years ago and only Clarence Major responded with a reply.

Yesterday I had long conversations with both Teresa and Alice. Teresa, housesitting in Oyster Bay, told me that this week she was considering going back to San Francisco because Paul had seemed nicer to her – but then he got snotty again.

I told her she was crazy for even considering it after the way Paul treated her. Teresa has so little self-esteem and self-respect that she’d go back to a guy who abuses her in every possible way except physically?

No doubt she drives him crazy, too, but when she described the way he talked to her – well, let’s say that my relationship with Jody, however transitory, was a dozen times healthier. At least Jody and I treated each other with respect.

The foreclosure on the East Side apartment means Teresa can’t get a mortgage; she said she’d have a better chance if she’d emulated me and declared bankruptcy.

So her parents will get the mortgage on their own – they could use the tax deduction because they own their other houses free and clear – and then deed the property to Teresa.

She said there was more damage on Fire Island from the recent storms, and it’s hard to interest possible renters for the summer. (Teresa must have had that house for a decade now, and I don’t think any renter has ever taken another share for a second summer.)

Alice told me she’s cut out red meat and is trying to eat fewer than 25 fat grams a day. Her diet and race-walking have helped her lose five pounds.

Meadowbrook Press keeps sending Alice totally inaccurate royalty statements which she has to challenge; they owe her more than $5,000. She’s done no work on the Rodale Press book, but she hasn’t gotten her $18,000 advance yet, and the deadline isn’t till February.

Alice has made a deal to move into that apartment between West 14th and 15th, but the owner needs to find a place to buy before they can finalize – and I’m not holding my breath expecting Alice will move anytime soon.

She’s going on a tour of the Greek Isles later this month, and she and Peter have some other travel-writer scam which will take them to St. Augustine in mid-June; Alice said I should drive over and spend a few hours with them.

Of course I might see her before that if I’m in New York in early May. This week I should call to see if I’ll be needed in Tallahassee by the Department of Cultural Affairs then; otherwise, I can check with Ronna about staying with her and then buy the tickets.

Sometimes it seems I’ll never get back to New York City, so I can’t really believe I could possibly be there in a few weeks.

Monday, April 12, 1993

7 PM. It’s definitely turned summery here, with blue skies, temperatures in the 80°s and higher humidity that has given me a sinus headache.

Last evening and this morning I worked on my Legal Drafting final for short stretches. I should have time to do a decent job; I’d like to get a B in the course at least.

This morning I stopped by school to pick up the newspaper and then did aerobics and went to the bank to withdraw money (I had only $5 in cash). After that, I went to the post office to mail letters (including my last unemployment claim card) and to the public library, where the latest Los Angeles Times was from the week before last.

At noon, I found a 45-minute parking meter by the Reitz Union so I could go to Professor Vieira’s lecture on Brazilian environmental law and the Amazon.

Although he went over stuff I’d already heard in class, I was glad to be one of the few members of the audience. (Also there were Richard Hamann, Renee and her boyfriend Marco, three Brazilians who work at the university, and one undergrad.)

In our regular class at 2 PM, Vieira discussed Mercosul, the Brazilian-Argentinian-Paraguayan-Uruguayan common market, for 40 minutes; then we filled out teacher evaluation forms and got out early.

In Estates and Trusts, D.T. tortured us with a couple of hypos on the Rule Against Perpetuities and powers of appointment, and in Legal Drafting, Lynn returned our questions, gave us a last- minute review for the final and went over a whole lot of different things.

Rick sent back my “Dateline: Monrovia.” While I’m disappointed, I know the story is not really about Marilyn Monroe. He wrote that the Mondo Elvis book won’t appear till March ’94 and Mondo Marilyn till March ’95 and then his trademark “Sigh.”

Tuesday, April 13, 1993

4:30 PM. I didn’t go out until 1:30 PM, staying home to work on Legal Drafting for an hour, exercise, and read my Criminal Procedure and Professional Responsibility assignments up to Thursday. I even looked at Vieira’s material a bit.

Today was another warm sunny day. Before class, I got on Westlaw as I skimmed through the Alligator, and lo and behold, I discovered another Mondo Barbie review, from last Thursday’s Arizona Republic.

It quoted Rick, so I’m sure he knows about it, and the byline was the Orange County Register, so it may have even been a longer review in that paper.

It’s a nice little notice that mentions my story and Amy Holmes’s in the same short paragraph, before that focusing on Sandra Cisneros, Gary Soto and Alice McDermott.

It’s nice that my story has been singled out although I’m sure I won’t be in every review. I wonder if Sat Darshan (whom I haven’t heard from in months; I hope she’s okay) saw the piece in the Phoenix paper.

While I feel stupid for my constant checking of the databases, every few days I manage to come up with something new.

Vieira lectured on Brazilian environmental law; tomorrow will look at their impact assessment procedures.

And D.T. gave us all Rule Against Perpetuities headaches again. Right now I can’t follow it at all, but if I study, I’ll probably get most of it.

Today is Ronna’s 40th birthday, so I’ll give her a call tonight although I expect she’ll be going out with friends.

It’s nice that the semester is ending, but I find that instead of being excited about the possibility of going to New York in three weeks, I’m looking for reasons not to go.

It’s been so long since I’ve been up there, and this is the first time I’ll be going to New York as a guest, not as a resident at Teresa’s or Grandma’s or Marc’s old apartment in Sheepshead Bay.

But I’ve got to use my ticket by July, and the break between this semester and the start of the law school summer term is the only time I can possibly go.

Besides, I do want to walk the streets of the city and see my friends and Grandma Ethel. And it will be May, usually a nice time of year.

Wednesday, April 14, 1993

4 PM. Just got in. D.T. stopped lecturing at 3:35 PM so we could fill out teacher evaluations. I bet a lot of people will write that he’s offensive. He is offensive, but I regard him as a crazy old uncle whom you just ignore whenever he says ridiculous things.

I walked out to the parking lot with Sharon – I learned she’s taught statistics and economics on the college level, so no wonder she’s such a great law student – and then I went in one direction, thinking my car was there.

But I wasn’t sure, and then I realized that it was over the other way. Derrick noticed my movements and asked me if I’d lost my car.

“Just getting senile,” I said.

Earlier in the day, I ran into Javier, the gay first-year student, at Publix and I said, “Doing some shopping, huh?” Almost immediately, I realized I’d said something totally stupid: What else would he be doing in a supermarket? Studying?

I slept well last night. In the library at 8 AM, I xeroxed some of the Mondo Barbie reviews and found a new one on Westlaw: actually, it was just a shorter version of the review that mentioned me in the Arizona Republic, and it appeared in yesterday’s Charlotte Observer. (Maybe Susan Ludvigson or Robin Hemley spotted my name.)

It turns out that the review, by Valerie Takahama, originally appeared in the Orange County Register.

Nunn started off class with a role-playing exercise in which he was the judge and three students played prosecutor, defendant and defense attorney. That led to a nuts-and-bolts discussion of the practical things you need to know in plea bargaining. After class, I voted for Nunn for Teacher of the Year.

I also switched my vote in the runoff for JMBA President from Nick to Odi, the Nigerian student. I like Nick, but I saw some really conservative types wearing Nick stickers (although Lawrence was for Odi) and figured JMBA probably could use a shaking-up.

At home, I did light aerobics and laundry (sort of simultaneously), then showered, dressed, read the Times and had lunch before I went back to school for Vieira’s last class.

I haven’t really studied for Vieira’s final tomorrow, and I probably won’t study much tonight, either. It’s one-third of a two-credit course, and with two-thirds of my grades in, I’ll just bullshit and get it over with.

Nor did I look at Legal Drafting today, and I probably won’t get to that until Friday. But I have the entire weekend to devote to that, as well as time on Monday, when I have only one class.

Speaking to Shay this morning, I showed her the reviews Mondo Barbie got while we were at neighboring computers. Shay’s husband (since December) Jonathan also adjuncts at Santa Fe, in psychology. He must know Billy because he’s also in the UF Ph.D. program.

Three weeks from today will be my first day of freedom, and I could even be in New York City then. It seems impossible that I’ll have the time to get in all my studying before I have to take finals.

Even though I expect to have a bad semester in terms of grades, I feel less pressure than I used to. I can afford to blow this term. A lot of my classmates no longer attend class and have stopped doing the reading.

Also, some of them aren’t great writers. If I make a B or better in, for example, Transboundary Environmental Issues, it’s only going to be because I can write well, and that impresses foreign professors.

I’m not going to panic. Last spring, I found the Contracts and Civ Pro finals very stressful and scary, and I got C+’s on them. (On the other hand, Property was even worse, and I got a B+ there.)  Who cares?

Yeah, on some level, I obviously do.

Sunday, April 18, 1993

5 PM. I’m all congested and I feel exhausted, but then I was so uncomfortable last night I managed to sleep only between 5 AM and 7 AM.

Nevertheless, I tried to work hard on my Legal Drafting final for several hours today.

I could go on for another twenty hours and still probably not get it right, but I’ve got to stop being such a perfectionist; I’ll make do with another three or four hours, and unless I get an irresistible urge to return to the computer, I’m not going to look at the thing again today.

Why do I give myself all this pressure about grades? After all, it doesn’t look I’m applying for jobs where people even care how I did this semester. But it’s all tied up with my lack of self-esteem, which is also why I’ve been going crazy looking for my name in Mondo Barbie reviews.

When I got the Sunday Times this morning, I opened to the Book Review’s contents page and found Mondo Barbie on page 7. Scanning the review by Robert Plunkett (a funny gay Florida writer I admire), I immediately felt crestfallen when I didn’t see my name.

He did mention the title of my story, along with others featuring Barbie as a character, which he found “fun” but sort of like skits about Dan Quayle.

Plunkett preferred the realistic fiction that mentioned the doll, particularly the stories by Julia Alvarez and Alice McDermott.

At first it seemed like a bad review, but actually it’s mildly favorable and probably very good news for Rick, considering its prominent placement up front in the Book Review. (The photo of the doll helps.)  Originally I’d figured they’d be lucky to get a box on the pages of brief reviews.

This means that more people will notice the book and maybe read my story, so it’s certainly good news. But I felt I needed to be validated by seeing my name in the Times again. That’s pathetic.

If I can’t, at this stage of my life, like myself for who I am rather than other people’s assessments – whether it’s a book review or a grade in a stupid law school class – then I haven’t come very far from that self-hating adolescent who got anxiety attacks in his bedroom in the mid-1960s, have I?

Why can’t I be happy, when I know I’ve done a halfway decent job and enjoyed myself? This semester I’ve learned a great deal, so what does it matter whether some law professor gives a grade of A or C to exam number 1299? Or whether my fiction is noticed or not?

Didn’t I get pleasure out of writing “Twelve Step Barbie”? Not only was writing it an accomplishment, but getting it published should be enough for me.

Or is it everyone who always wants more?

Ronna called today and said she’d check with Leah, but a week’s stay, starting on Thursday, May 6, is a good time for her; she’s going away on the weekends before and after that.

Right now she’s swamped with work at Hadassah as inquiries for materials come in from all the different locals because May is when their chapters elect officers.

She felt better before she left Florida, although she said she was sleep-deprived because she stayed up late every night talking with her mother. I told Ronna if she can stand me for a week she is a better friend than even I thought.

Ronna’s 40th birthday was low-key, and she thanked me for my card.

My throat is still raw, but less so, as the congestion has moved out into my nasal passages and chest. I forced myself to exercise (very lightly), but maybe I should have taken the day off.

I still have to read today’s Times – apart from that one book review, that is.

Tuesday, April 20, 1993

4 PM. Last evening I felt pretty awful, though not as bad as I did while writing yesterday’s diary entry. The medicine I took probably helped dry me out a little.

I got enough rest last night but woke up with congestion in my chest, and I’ve been coughing up chartreuse phlegm. At Eckerd, I bought Robitussin, which helped a little. My sore throat is gone, but my head is very congested, and I’ve had awful pressure on my sinuses.

Once again I skipped my usual exercise. There’s no sense trying to overdo everything because rest is just as important as exercise when you’re trying to recover from a cold.

After getting back into bed for a while, I felt well enough by 9:30 AM to work on my Legal Drafting final. I started feeling worse during Nunn’s makeup session (on jury challenges) at noon and I didn’t think I’d return to school later.

However, at home I started to gather more energy, and I printed out copies of my partnership agreement and the annotations, so now I’m finished.

I almost don’t want to look at it again for fear I’ll have to correct a lot more stuff.  Lynn said that the most annotations she ever got from a student was 64; I’ve got 53, and at least my paper shows that I worked on it a lot.

Of course, so did many other people.

Feeling more perky, I went to D.T.’s final Estates and Trusts class. He let us go after a 30-minute lecture and 10 minutes of talking about the final.

“It’s not over till the fat guy sings,” he said, and he marched up the stairs crooning “A-men, a-men’” as the class clapped.

What a clown . . . but I enjoyed him as a change of pace. I know a lot of people hated his style.

– I just sneezed, and my head is pounding.

I may skip Nunn’s class tomorrow if I find I can’t get up in the morning; Laura said she’d take notes for me. Otherwise, all I need to do is go to school at 4 PM to hand in my Legal Drafting final. I haven’t done the reading for the last day of class, but if I feel better, I’ll do that tomorrow.

I just hope I feel well enough to study for D.T.’s final. It’s closed-book, so he can’t expect too much of us. I’ve done all the work and haven’t missed a class, so I could probably get a C even without studying.

Actually, I look forward to studying and putting all the knowledge I’ve learned together in some way.

I obviously misjudged the impact of the Waco cult suicide because there was a banner headline in the Times and lots of TV special reports. (Janet Reno was on Nightline, saying she won’t resign, and I don’t see why anyone thinks she should.)

Yes, it’s horrible that those children were killed, but every night I see similar tragedies in Bosnia and other places around the world. Nobody likes to admit just how cheap human life is.

The Times has been running profiles of throwaway inner-city children, and I’m more worried about the disgraceful way we treat them than I am about the children in Waco. How many kids were shot in the last week all over the U.S., after all?

I got my new claim card from Unemployment, to be sent out this Sunday. For now, I intend to rest and read the paper and relax as much as I can, considering how crummy I feel.

Karin said I looked like I have a fever, but I don’t think I do.