A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-July, 1993
by Richard Grayson
Monday, July 12, 1993
7 PM. Last evening I got through to Teresa on Fire Island, although she had to call me back because she was on the phone with Deirdre, who will be coming for a visit soon.
The hot weather was awful, Teresa reported, especially since she had to run the bagel shop for Sue and stay in Oyster Bay to watch the dogs.
We dished the New York Times Magazine article, “Can Fire Island Survive?” Teresa told me the photographer stayed next door.
While the article didn’t say much about Fair Harbor, it’s the town that lost the most houses during recent storms.
Teresa figured that the silence was for the same reason the article appeared this week, just before an important meeting in Islip to decide on whether restoration of the dunes will be funded: namely, that several Times editors and writers live in Fair Harbor.
Teresa opposes using state funds to protect the private property of her neighbors; she says they could afford to raise the money themselves and that accepting it might mean the government will require the beaches to be open to the public.
Of course, Teresa’s not particularly fond of her town neighbors this summer although she has four little catering jobs in the next couple of weeks.
And she despises her summer shares: one couple brought out a dozen Hasidic relations on the weekend she was gone, and another couple are tight-assed accountants.
Teresa has a commitment on the Locust Valley house, but the sellers haven’t yet been able to get the necessary paperwork, like the certificate of occupancy, from the town of Oyster Bay, so she figures the closing won’t be until August.
On hearing that I lost my class at SFCC, Teresa said she could lend me money from the funds FEMA gave her – but I told her thanks, I’d be okay.
I hope I will be. In addition to my finances, I’m concerned about not giving into the depression that has come with all this free time.
Last summer I felt pretty lousy, and this afternoon I became so blue that I just lay on my bed for an hour.
I couldn’t get more than a busy signal at either the Broward or Alachua tax collector’s office, so tomorrow I’ll go up to the office on NW 34th Street and see how much a renewal of my car registration – plus a new tag, plus penalties for being late – will cost me.
I did have more energy earlier in the day. Up at 6:15 AM, I collected my New York Times at school and bought skim milk and Free cheese slices at Publix.
Then I exercised, did the laundry and went to the bank to make my deposit as well as withdraw some cash and get a roll of quarters for the washer and dryer.
After I showered and dressed, I drove downtown and sold a batch of beautiful Introspect clothes to the recycled clothing store for a pitiful $15.
But of course the clothes cost me nothing and didn’t fit me. All were samples Mom and Dad had sent me.
Once I had lunch, though, I fell into a funk and didn’t have the energy to go deal with my car registration. I watched soap operas and read the paper, listened to All Things Considered and took a walk around the apartment, making a circuit from the living room to the bedroom about a dozen times.
God knows how I used to fill up the time when I spent summers at Teresa’s and Grandma Ethel’s. You’d think I could use this time to write – but that seems like something I’ve forgotten how to do.
I still dream about winning the AWP Award Series in nonfiction, but I need to get real about it. They’ll pick some nice, polished memoir, not the raw sewage I put on the pages of my diaries.
I guess I’ll veg out on TV and do some reading the rest of the evening.
I’m not going to feel sorry for myself. Just half an hour ago I watched pictures of people shot dead while waiting for drinking water in Sarajevo and scenes of devastation due to the Midwestern floods.
At least I’m comfortable and healthy. What a kvetch I still am.
Tuesday, July 13, 1993
4 PM. I just finished reading a volume called The Deeply Unsatisfying Nature of Legal Education Today. Naturally, I was attracted by the title when I found it in the library this afternoon.
It turned out to be by the Dean of the Massachusetts School of Law, which began in 1988 after another law school closed down. (Later, the first school’s president tried to burn down Massachusetts School of Law – that must be a wonderful story.)
Anyway, his school obviously doesn’t meet ABA standards and the book was an argument for ABA accreditation despite that failure.
The book attacked ABA’s elitist standards in a way that made me agree. After two years of law school, I see that like academia in general, legal education is too research-oriented (and the research itself is badly-written trivia) and too professor-oriented (light workloads mean larger classes, the electives offered follow professors’ interests rather than student demand).
I would have made a decent law professor, but I have no more interest in writing law review articles than I do in writing ponderous research on literature and using unintelligible and obscure “scholarly,” “critical” language.
A few weeks ago, when Julie first met me, she asked if I were a liberal. “No,” I said, “I’m a radical. Liberals try to get on law review and end up like Hillary Rodham Clinton. They want to change the system but accept its present rules.”
Am I starting to sound like a windbag? Well, it beats being depressed.
Anyway, just like I don’t believe in tenure and feel more comfortable outside the MFA establishment in creative writing, I feel the same sense that legal education’s priorities and values are hopelessly fucked-up.
Actually, part of what I do like about law school is that it has almost nothing to do with being a lawyer. Outside of the few clinical courses, the curriculum isn’t preparing my classmates to practice law.
(Joke I heard on TV: “The practice of law is the opposite of sex: even when it’s good, it’s lousy.”)
Last evening I turned on the Ocala Fox station and watched the stupid, tasteless movie Weekend at Bernie’s, enjoying it even though it was a 4 on a scale of 1 to 10.
This morning I went to the auto tag agency, and within fifteen minutes I had my renewal sticker and registration after paying with a check for $53.10, $10 of which was a penalty for being late.
I spent 90 minutes in the Millhopper branch library, reading newspapers.
After using Dad’s Mobil credit card to get $20 worth of gas, I sold some of my paperback books to the bookstore nearby. (They didn’t want With Hitler in New York, but then they thought one copy of Robert Walser’s books was enough.) The $7.10 they gave me is something, at least; every little bit helps, especially with the unexpected expense of the renewal fee.
After lunch, I stopped at school to get the Times and look around the library. Dan R came over to thank me for warning him off Poverty Law and telling him he could take a graduate course instead.
Dan plans to take Sociology of Law. I’d take that, too, but it would mean an exceptionally long Thursday with only an hour between Legal History, which ends at 5:10 PM, and the graduate class.
Dan is graduating in December, so he gets to register before we do. Maybe some senior will drop one of the seminars I’d like to pick up at Drop/Add.
Back at the apartment, I read as I watched soaps, worked out for half an hour, and went out to get the mail.
Next to me at the mailbox was a cute guy I see from time to time in the laundry room. I’ve never once seen him with a shirt on. Obviously straight, he’s got a skinny but well-defined hairless body. He’s always smoking a cigarette in a way that still manages to look sexy at a time when most smokers look like assholes.
Thursday, July 15, 1993
7 PM. Last evening I read some more of David Lodge’s “Art of Fiction” articles, which use excerpts from great and not-so-great novels so explain interior monologue, self-referential writing, stream of consciousness, etc.
It would make a great teaching tool in introductory fiction writing or even in English 102, which I’d like to teach at Santa Fe this fall.
Today I woke up before 5 AM and couldn’t get back to sleep. After eating some cereal, I went to the law school to get the Times and the Alligator.
Dean Savage said hi to me, but I didn’t recognize her new hairdo at first.
It looks like Jody has been running another personal ad in the paper. In a way I guess that makes me feel good, that he didn’t find an immediate replacement for me.
While I sometimes think of contacting him, I also realize we’re both better off this way. It’s unlikely we would have been friends except for whatever sexual attraction was there.
I couldn’t get over the Times photo of Bailey White, the NPR commentator who lives in Thomasville, Georgia. On the radio she sounds like an elderly Southern spinster, but instead she’s a hauntingly beautiful, 41-year-old spinster.
I don’t know when I’ve been so taken by a woman’s photo. She’s pretty odd, of course, but her new book has sold so well that she can take a year off from her job as a first-grade teacher.
At Albertsons I spent $45, just about all the money I had, on groceries. Hopefully, I won’t have to buy much more food in the next week.
This afternoon I read and watched the 25th anniversary show of One Life to Live, complete with flashbacks of characters looking young and 1970s-ish.
The head writer of the show was brought on in late 1991, and he’s apparently revived its popularity. Michael Malone was a literary novelist who taught creative writing at Penn and Harvard; he’d never even seen a soap opera before he worked for All My Children.
Sometimes I think I’d love to try my hand at writing a soap. It must be satisfying to know, as Malone does, that more people follow his characters day by day than read the novels of even bestselling authors.
Soap operas also make wonderful “stories”: characters evolving over years and decades interacting with lots of history behind them.
Of course, the plots are unbelievable, but a lot of that is to accommodate the comings and goings of actors; that’s why some characters so frequently return from the dead or discover adult children and twins they never knew they had.
The mail brought my last $82 check from Unemployment – and also a claim card, to be mailed on July 25th, for regular benefits of $61 a week. I’m expecting to have to go to the office downtown, and I’m not going to count on that money yet, but if I get it, I can breathe easier for the next month.
I deposited the check and took out $30 from the ATM.
Tom writes that he regrets leaving America because “meager but good things will happen to my so-called publishing career this year.”
Tom’s agent told him that she expects the book he wrote with Daniel Quinn to sell to Bantam. And while The Camel’s Back sold only 40 copies through the mail and he sold 42 at the signing, the publisher will probably at least break even on the book.
It figures that Tom would believe the box office megaflop The Last Action Hero is the best movie of the summer. Tom’s taste is exactly the opposite of the public’s. Does he realize that?
Monday, July 19, 1993
4:30 PM. Clinton and Attorney General Reno were just on TV, firing FBI Director Sessions, who’s been refusing to resign since the Bush administration – even after reports indicated he was doing lots of unethical stuff.
Earlier, Clinton announced the “Don’t ask/Don’t tell/Don’t pursue” policy on gays in the military, which pleased nobody on either side of the issue.
I haven’t seen the whole text of the policy, but as Clinton said, the Joint Chiefs did move from their adamant opposition in the beginning.
Perhaps the courts will ultimately destroy the last vestiges of discrimination. Today the Colorado Supreme Court refused to lift an injunction on Amendment 2, approved by voters last November, ruling that people can’t vote on other people’s civil rights.
It will be interesting to see how the U.S. Supreme Court will come down on the issue of all these referenda overturning and forbidding gay rights laws.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s confirmation hearing starts tomorrow. She’s a significant improvement over White, who wrote Bowers v. Hardwick. But given the overall makeup of the Court, I’m not optimistic they’ll find a majority for the Colorado Supreme Court’s position striking down the antigay amendment.
Last evening I watched the first two hours of the old ABC miniseries The Thorn Birds. It’s junk, but it’s diverting, and I’ll probably watch the rest of it over the next week. That’s one of the advantages of having all this time.
I awoke at 6 AM, but I drifted in and out of dreams for another 90 minutes, dreams that got mixed up with the news stories coming over the radio.
At 8 AM I got the Times at school and spent $17 at Publix. It’s amazing how much I spend on groceries. On the other hand, a lot of my money for food used to go for fattening junk, restaurant food, and waiters’ tips.
Pete called at 9:30 AM, just as I was about to fetch my laundry from the dryer.
He said he and Harold had a delightful time in China, though of course he primarily talked about the food.
But Pete also said it was very different in the northern provinces than it was on his previous trip to prosperous Guangdong, where people were much more friendly.
Pete will be busy next year. In addition to his job and teaching at NYU (or private classes), he’s gotten a $9,500 fellowship and complete tuition waiver in his doctoral program in American Studies.
Andrew Ross, the hot culture studies critic – he deconstructs fashion, the Weather Channel, Madonna, etc., and is all over the papers – has taken over as head of the American Studies program and is transforming it away from the stodgy sinecure of aged English and history professors that it had been when it was called “American Civilization.”
After holding on to one of Pete’s stories for a year, Robley Wilson accepted it for North American Review. The piece is part of Pete’s unpublished book, and although Michael Kasper writes for North American Review, Pete agreed with me that it’s generally a lousy magazine.
I exercised for an hour – to an old (1986) Body Electric tape and to Homestretch on local TV; then I took a shower and had lunch as I listened to a speech by Edward Said on post-Cold War imperialism.
The phone rang again – suddenly I’m popular – and it was Pamela Gordon of the Miami International Book Fair, inviting me to a Mondo Barbie panel on Saturday, November 20, at this year’s fair. Finally I’ll be a part of the book fair!
Rick and Lucinda will moderate. Of the contributors, they’ve asked me and Lynne Barrett and are hoping Amy Holmes can work the appearance in to her busy schedule.
Pamela said she’d eventually send me a contract and they need a bio and a photo and that we could sell our own books if we had any. Great!
In addition to the spring publication of Mondo Barbie and my stint on the Literature Grants Panel, this is the one other event in 1993 that will make me feel like a writer again.
I stayed indoors all day, enjoying the cool air. I see our afternoon thunderstorm is right on schedule.