A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late December, 1993
by Richard Grayson
Thursday, December 23, 1993
3 PM. So far today I’ve only gone out to fetch the mail (just junk), but I’m shivering. I’ve got the heat on. It’s ominously cloudy and the temperature is only about 45°.
It’s supposed to be like this through Monday, so I may want to go to South Florida this weekend after all.
However, if I have to spend next winter in a cold climate, this is preparation for it.
Last night I had terrible insomnia. So much for my saying yesterday how sleepy I felt. But during the night I actually managed to get out three application packets (applications, cover letters, curriculum vitae, transcripts and even sample syllabi) to community colleges in California and Oregon.
And I decided to send out copies of “In the Sixties” – one of my few decent stories that hasn’t been reprinted in a collection – to The New Yorker, Esquire, Harpers and The Atlantic. They’ll all probably reject the piece, of course, but at least I get to feel I’m doing something.
At this point, my strategy should be the opposite of what it was when I started out as a writer. Instead of trying to get lots of stories published in lots of little magazines, I’d now be better off if I could get just one story published in a good place.
Not that I have a choice; I’ve hardly got any stories left anyway. But “Twelve Step Barbie,” the only story I had published this year, got me more press and notice (if not money) than two dozen stories in places like The Snotnose Review.
I worked for an hour on the Yanomami paper, going over the printout of the first seven pages and making global and local revisions.
I’ll obviously have the paper ready for McCoy by early January even if I don’t finish it this weekend. The paper is already about 20 pages.
This morning Micki Johnson of Nova called to offer me a Saturday afternoon literature course. If it weren’t in St. Augustine, I probably would have taken it despite my agreeing to teach at SFCC at the same time because Nova pays more money for a lot less work.
But my car isn’t reliable enough to get me to St. Augustine and back for eight Saturdays. It’s too bad Nova doesn’t have anything in Gainesville right now, but Micki’s call was an indication of how easy it is to get adjunct teaching work.
Granted, she had only one course to offer me in a year, but I could have had much more work if I’d been willing to travel.
Anyway, at least if I’m living in an area with a lot of colleges next year, I can make the pitiful adjunct salary while I’m figuring out what to do next.
Although I slept only from 4:30 AM to 8:30 AM, I got out early today. I realized I needed to return videos to the library if I plan to go to Fort Lauderdale even if I hadn’t seen one of them yet. The libraries will close tonight and won’t reopen until Monday.
I also got the Times, which I haven’t looked at yet, and groceries, and I xeroxed cover pages of two of my Yanomami books for McCoy and I mailed off all the envelopes to schools and magazines along with a note to my old poli sci teacher, South Korean Foreign Minister Han.
Except for Micki, I’ve had no calls all week and no personal mail either. Oh well.
Two weeks from today, classes begin, and after that, time will go by quickly. I’m not so much lonely as I am in need of someone to converse with – but alone, I’ve been thinking about my life after law school.
In a way, Tallahassee looks like the most sensible place to move to, assuming no jobs come through. I’ll either go there or return to New York temporarily.
I got my last paycheck of the year yesterday, and I have over $1,000 in my checking account.
Monday, December 27, 1993
8 PM. My car had to be towed when the AAA couldn’t start it this morning. There’s a laundry list of stuff wrong with it – probably padded by the guys at Mott Auto Care – and it will cost me a lot to repair it.
They had to keep it overnight, making going to South Florida out of the question. Mom felt bad when I called her, but I promised her I’d come down for spring break, and I’ll see my parents again at graduation two months after that.
Somehow I feel I wasn’t meant to visit them this vacation. Not that I believe in fate (or astrology – I gave a radio astrologer my birth date and time, and she said I’d probably make a good nurse, that I may be getting married soon, and that I’ll lose income in mid-January).
But I feel comfortable with staying here. In a week, all the undergraduates will be back in town and the first-semester law students start their classes. I’ll have time to work on my paper for McCoy.
At least the really gloomy weather has been banished by three days of blue skies. While it was 30° when I woke up at 8 AM today, by 11 AM when I got out to meet the AAA, it was 58°.
Our normal high for this time of year is 67°, and this winter can’t all be below normal.
Besides, the whole eastern half of the country is in the deep freeze, with lows of -50° in Minnesota and two feet of snow in Cleveland, so I can’t complain. At the warmest part of the day I could go out in a flannel shirt
Last night I watched the conclusion of Clarissa on Masterpiece Theater, a three-hour series that was an excellent feminist adaptation of Richardson’s novel.
In the Sunday Times, Mark Bernheim in Oxford, Ohio, had a letter in the Book Review interpreting Maurice Sendak’s latest kids’ book as a story about two gay men raising a child. I wrote to Mark at Miami University; somehow we totally had lost touch.
I was so dumb with him, never realizing he liked me until afterwards. Not that I was attracted to him, but I’d just assumed that being married with two daughters, he was straight.
I spoke to Ronna last night. She and Steve broke up before Thanksgiving. She said she didn’t tell me the last time I called because I was upset about Grandma’s death.
Ronna is a bit distraught about the breakup and hates going back to dating strangers. But Steve kept pressuring her to get married, and she felt “at the core of our relationship was nothing.”
Even Steve said that if she didn’t want to marry him last year when he was doing fine, what would change now that he’s unemployed and saddled with a mother with Alzheimer’s?
Ronna spent Christmas at her father’s and said it was mostly boring. Her father, responding to his cousins chiding him for never seeing Billy, told everyone that Billy was born when he and Ronna’s mother were already finished and he’d always wanted Beatrice to abort the baby.
Furthermore, he said that when he used to pick up Billy on Sundays when he was a kid – I remember those days – it was more because of Barbara nagging him to see his son than any feeling that he himself had for Billy. God knows what possessed Bernie to say that in front of Ronna.
Yesterday Ronna drove down with him, Barbara and Jeremy to Philadelphia to see Sue and Thomas and Thomas’s visiting parents.
Sue is pregnant, but Ronna’s superstitious and said Sue shouldn’t tell people because it’s too early. (She’s due in August.)
Ronna asked if I was seeing anyone, and I told her I was planning to respond to some of those phone ads on The Alternate Matchmaker – not that I expect anything to come of it.
Ronna said that maybe we could see each other in Orlando in late January; I told her I hope so.
I’m glad I was home today to get the package of Triavil from Deutsch; I’d been getting nervous because my supply was getting low.
The University of Nevada-Las Vegas and the Culinary Institute of America sent me rejection letters, and I should be getting more because obviously nobody expressed interest in interviewing me at the MLA convention.
I’m becoming resigned to going to grad school in Tallahassee and seeing what develops there.
I wrote away for a Florida bar exam application today, and I guess I’ll finally give in and sign up for one of those bar review courses they’re always having at school.
I finally got some Christmas cards today. Even Dr. Grasso sent me one. Alice sent a Manhattan skyline card. Shelli said she’s still at TVAnswer – now renamed eon – and that everything is fine.
Shelli wrote that her mother is moving to Delray (I guess her father died) and that she and her husband are in their house in the Keys this week.
Libby said the family loves their new house in Woodland Hills and “we’ve got an extra bedroom waiting for you to visit.” How nice.
Lindsay and Wyatt looks so big on that Christmas photo. Lindsay loves kindergarten and Wyatt goes to pre-school three days a week.
Rick Peabody sent his annual Christmas photo card, too.
I’ve been disgusted with the tabloid journalism on Clinton’s sex life, all based on charges by lowlife Arkansas state troopers. But I doubt most people care about it.
Christmas sales figures were good, not great. The economy does seem to be slowly improving – although the Dow, which hit another record today, is disconnected from everything.
Still, all the layoffs as companies downsize are spooking people. But at least now the United states is better off than Japan or Europe, which are still in bad recession.
A New York Times Magazine article on movie producer Scott Rudin showed exactly how horrible Hollywood is.
Rudin – 38, Jewish, gay, the son a Long Island clothing salesman – is a big player there, but he’s a total tyrant, asshole, and baby.
From my perspective, screenwriters like Wes can’t get paid enough to put up with that kind of shit. It’s no coincidence Hollywood movies are so bad.
Rudin did say that the exciting pictures of the late ’60s and early ’70s ended with Rocky. He’s right about that.
I remember seeing the first Rocky on a frigid winter day in Manhattan after teaching that morning at LIU. I couldn’t believe people would take the movie seriously because it was so corny, nothing like the films of that era that I had been used to.
Tuesday, December 28, 1993
4:30 PM. The car cost nearly $350 to fix. I don’t understand what was wrong with it, and I assume they were ripping me off a little.
What’s really bothersome is that it took a long time before I was able to get it started, both at Mott Auto Care and later in the afternoon by my apartment.
The guy whom I paid (thank NatWest Gold MasterCard) told me the engine will need to be rebuilt soon, so I shouldn’t count on keeping the car beyond six months.
As I’d expected, my blue Bonneville will never leave Gainesville, and I’ll probably be lucky if it lasts the four months until law school ends.
I told Mom, who said she’d send me some money, but of course I said I wouldn’t hear of that and wouldn’t cash the check.
The $350 is a big dent in my finances, but there’s nothing I can do about it.
It really is a good thing I didn’t spend the money to go visit my parents.
The day warmed up to the point where I could go out in a T-shirt and shorts this afternoon. I worked on the Yanomami paper most of the day, and I have what I hope is my final draft printed out.
In the morning, when I’m fresh, I’ll go over it and make final revisions and correct errors, and then I’ll see if I can turn it into Professor McCoy. After that, I’ll be free of this semester at last.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to do any creative writing; the James Dean story I’m trying to write for Rick and Lucinda’s anthology is barely a germ of an idea at this point.
I did print out five copies of “Twelve Step Barbie” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Citicorp” for my annual futile NEA fellowship application.
Thursday, December 30, 1993
It’s only noon, but the day seems so long already. My car is dead. There’s no doubt about it. When Josh called, he said I sounded as if a person had died.
To be honest, I’m much more depressed about the car then I was about Grandma Ethel, because it affects my daily life so much more.
It was hard to get the car started this morning, but I took it over to the Mobil station at Millhopper Plaza and showed the owner the carburetor.
Although he fixed it, he told me when I returned (by bus) an hour ago that there was so much more wrong with it that it would cost me more than the car was worth to fix it.
He was kind enough not to charge me for the work he did, and he said he understood why the Mott mechanics tried to do what they did.
Somehow I managed, after many attempts, to get it started and to get it home although I was sure it was going to die out at any time.
I called Dad, of course. At 43, I still run to my parents as if I were a kid.
He called me back later saying he’d see if Marc could get me a car for about $1,000, but that would all come out of cash advances and I’d be totally broke in a few months.
I’m not going to make a decision now. I may get a bike. Josh said I could get a moped.
I don’t know anyone at law school who doesn’t have a car, and it’s going to make it very hard for me to get around Gainesville. And where can I move to without a car? Well, New York City.
Oh, it’s all too much to think about now. I’m planning to lie inert for the next week or so.
The car lasted a long time, but it couldn’t make it through another four months of law school.
My stomach hurts. It seems like everything has gone wrong the end of this year – since Grandma died, really.
I guess I was expecting this. Why else would I reread Emerson’s “Compensation” during a sleepless night last night?
I know how silly I sound. After all, in New York, Alice, Josh, Ronna, Pete, Justin and Larry all live without cars, and I did, too. But I never lived without a car in Florida.
I guess if I’d come up here without a car, as I’d originally planned, I wouldn’t think about what I had missed.
As foolish as it sounds, I need time to let this sink in; it’s almost as if I need time to mourn.
It’s loss, lack of control: it’s pushing all my buttons. I’ve now got this feeling that everything in my life is going to go wrong. I bet my grades will be a disappointment and my Saturday SFCC class doesn’t register and I’ll be a basket case by spring.
I need to say “fuckshit” a lot before I’ll feel better.
Naturally it’s turned very cool again.
3:30 PM. I feel better already. I didn’t succumb to depression for very long. In “Compensation,” Emerson wrote that for everything that you lose, you also gain something.
I walked to NationsBank to get rolls of quarters and envelopes to mail deposits, but the walk there and back took less than half an hour. Even on a chilly day, it wasn’t bad.
Plus, I got to see things I don’t see as a driver; I never realized that the bar review places and the watering holes people talk about are right here in Creekside Plaza, a couple of blocks away – nor did I know there was a creek there.
Being without a car is not the inconvenience being in a wheelchair is, and I’m embarrassed even to compare the two. Somehow I’ll manage.
At least my car lasted so I could finish teaching at night at SFCC. One of the buses to the downtown campus runs on Saturdays.
Basically, I’ve got a lot around here within walking distance, and I’m beginning to remember how much I love walking.
Why had I never walked to the bank before? Because I always had the car.