A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-August, 1994
by Richard Grayson
Thursday, August 11, 1994
4 PM. The great thing about being knowledgeable in the law is that you can get collection agencies to hang up on you. I just managed that trick with the Chemical Bank people, who’ve threatened me with default on my Columbia student loans.
As I’ve explained to them in numerous letters and phone calls, I should be in my six-month grace period now. They say they need proof of enrollment for the period from August 1988 to May 1994 although clearly they knew about the deferment all along. What assholes!
Yesterday I printed out sections of the Code of Federal Regulations, and when I began quoting part 17, section 662.015, paragraph (1), sub-paragraph (a) – well, apparently it was a little too much for my customer service representative, who abruptly disengaged from our conversation.
At least from the Chemical Bank letter I know that my mail is being forwarded.
The other message I got today with a phone call from a guy at a Chicago radio station interested in the Committee for Nuclear War. I treated him, too, with contempt, and of course, that got him even more interested.
Today at school I got several late papers and one guy came in to say he would definitely bring in his paper tomorrow. While I was at SFCC for a couple of hours, I graded research papers – but these were the cream of the crop, from my top writers.
Still, if I can grade just nine papers in each of the next three days, I’ll be done by Monday morning.
Last evening I spoke to Mom, who told me that Marc got home at 1:30 AM yesterday, driving back after visiting his friend in Fort McCoy.
As I was falling asleep last night, I kept having rushes of vertigo, but that was probably only because I was so exhausted.
I slept soundly, and what a difference it made: I felt like a completely new person this morning.
While reading the Times, I stopped to write a letter to William Safire about his column and to look up stuff on Lexis. (I don’t know why I’ve got access to it back or how long it will last, but I’m thrilled.)
I printed out, after editing, a couple of five-page pieces for the PEN Gulf South literary magazine: one, a meditation on the New York Times obituaries section, and the other, my diary entry for the day of the 2 Live Crew verdict.
I also got in the first aerobic workout since I hurt my back 12 days ago. (it’s still tight when I wake up, but I’m basically fine.)
I found only two bugs since last evening, and I’m becoming more comfortable in my new apartment. Once I start doing what I usually do – write, eat, read, exercise, talk on the phone – it becomes merely another place.
If I’m really involved in some activity, I couldn’t care less where I’m doing it. Anyway, I feel better about myself and my life choices today.
Last night I found on the Internet a Chronicle of Higher Ed ad for two law research assistants (“visiting”) at UF’s Center for Governmental Responsibility. I applied for the second job, which involves constitutional and other issues surrounding education, in particular dealing with information technology.
I feel this is a position I’d be ideal for, but if they’re not interested in me, it’s probably for the best. I’m a fatalist to the extent that I believe I’m not meant to do some things.
If I actually had been meant for any of those 80 college teaching jobs I applied for this year, I would have gotten one of them. If I don’t work at UF, then I’m meant to be doing something else.
This may not make sense, but it’s simpler to live with this philosophy. I’ll find my niche, just as I always have – even if I’m unable to stay there for long.
I often think it’s a wonder that I achieve any of my goals because my energies are so unfocused and scattered.
But somehow I’ve managed to do enough so that I had plenty of accomplishments to discuss in the biographical note I sent Skye Moody at PEN Gulf South.
Basically I see myself as a freelance something-or-other. While I have no security, I have more freedom to do what I please than just about anyone I know.
What a pleasure it is to be 43. Last night I watched Woodstock on TV as its 25th anniversary approaches. The music from then is wonderful – even when it’s not so good. Of course, back in August 1969, I was a total mess.
But then who can be 18 and not be a mess? Only an idiot or a robot. Getting through 1969 and the 1970s and the 1980s and nearly half the 1990s has been an adventure.
How many people my age can say that with a straight face? (It must be all those years of playing poker. What poker?)
Saturday, August 13, 1994
7 PM. I’ve given my students final grades, though in my usual haphazard fashion, I didn’t even mark up many of the research papers; I just read them and graded holistically. God, I hate grading.
I went to the adjunct meeting at 11 AM, as Barbara wanted returning teachers to join the newcomers. I sat in on a group in which Kathy Culver led a discussion of English 102, and it depressed me.
I feel I’m doing everything half-assed: por ejemplo, I don’t carefully teach or test things like synecdoche. I don’t ask my students to write all these boring essay questions I wouldn’t want to have to write.
I’m not really looking forward to the fall semester. Is it so bad of me to feel superior to most community college English teachers? Yet they probably do their jobs better than I.
I can now see why it was futile for me to apply for all those full-time “permanent” jobs in California community colleges. That’s not for me.
In his St. Petersburg Times column last Sunday, Bill Maxwell wrote how scary it was for him to finally leave the security of teaching for full-time journalism. I’ve always made certain I’ll never become that comfortable.
This is going to be a transition year for me. Last year I was studying so hard (and teaching, too) that I couldn’t look beyond the coming week’s assignments, but this year I can make long-range plans for my next big move.
This afternoon I went over to the law school and saw Lorraine, who was posting notices about selling her furniture.
She’s going to D.C. next week to stay with relatives and try to get some kind of government job. When I told her how courageous that was, she admitted that she’s scared. But she seemed determined not to stay in Florida because the job situation for attorneys is very bad right now. People like Doug G and Larry still don’t have jobs, and they’re not alone.
A number of people from our class have decided to leave Florida, and that’s pretty unusual, especially since other states’ lawyers usually migrate here.
At the bar exam, Lorraine met Wall Street lawyers who once had huge incomes who told her that things were so bad in New York that they’ve decided to try their luck here.
Lorraine gave me terrible news: Rich T died the day before the bar exam.
I liked him so much, and I didn’t realize his cancer would kill him so fast. She said people were passing around a petition to get the Florida Bar to admit Rich posthumously. He was such a live wire, a very different sort of law student.
Anyway, when I told Lorraine what I was doing, it didn’t sound so bad now that I know all my fellow law graduates aren’t raking in the big bucks.
I saw a posting about a job as a trainer with Lexis/Nexis, and like a competitive law student, I took it home with me.
I’d be perfect to go around to Florida law schools and train faculty, students and staff on the database. It’s the sort of job I’ve always wanted.
I wrote what I hope is a very persuasive letter to the person in D.C. in charge of hiring. I think I’d enjoy traveling – because, after all, the law schools are all in familiar places: here, South Florida, Tallahassee and St. Pete.
There was also a notice that Leanne Pflaum wants a research assistant, but I wasn’t sure if she needs a student or a graduate.
Last evening Josh called. His father is still very sick, but he’s eating just enough to keep him alive. They keep coming up with “crazy diagnosis after crazy diagnosis” to explain his father’s high white blood count, but they’ve ruled out a return of his original infection. Their latest guess is that it may be some kind of an inflammation.
Meanwhile, Josh’s father is still unable to get out of bed and he’s still highly agitated, with neither of the drugs they’ve tried being able to calm him down.
Poor Josh – although there are times when I think Josh always needs something to obsess about.
He said that Sharon is quite happy with her new apartment now that she’s cleaned up the mess from the previous tenant.
Last night I began reading Lars Eighner’s Travels with Lizbeth, a wonderful narrative about this intelligent oddball gay man and his dog who are homeless and wander around. (His chapter “Dumpster Diving” is one of the essays selected for next term’s English 101 final.)
More and more, I see nonfiction having real impact on people’s lives. Fiction is much harder for me to read these days.
Rick sent the copy of a Washington Times page-one story which quotes him as a cultural critic and the editor of Mondo Elvis on the bizarre marriage of Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley.
Another clip Rick sent was from a British scandal sheet, something Rick assumed I was responsible for. The headline of the article was “Boozy Barbie’s Sex Op Shocker.”
It begins: “Barbie, the clean-living doll has been exposed as a drugged-out, alcoholic transvestite. And her boyfriend Ken is really a GIRL, claims a stunning biography. But maker Mattel is so mad about the shock book they may sue author Richard Grayson.”
The article calls the book Mando [sic] Barbie and ends by saying: “Richard says the book is for adults and about ‘child conditioning.’”
I called Rick to say I had nothing to do with this article. He just laughed, dismissing it as something you see in London tabloids.
I didn’t stay on long because Rick had a deadline on an article about D.C.’s antiquarian bookstore history for AB Bookman’s Weekly.
Rick says he gets so many offers to do things these days and he hasn’t yet learned to turn anything down. He was never able to get ahold of Tom.
Friday, August 19, 1994
1 PM. I feel profoundly depressed, like I just want to lie inert for the rest of the day. I dislike writing when I feel this way, but maybe it will help me to get through it.
I understand the trigger is what has always been the main reason for my depressions: a sense that I don’t have control of anything, that I am helpless.
A lot of things going on in my life have contributed to that feeling lately. The cockroaches, for one; I just killed another one of them.
And at SFCC, at the end of a long, dull two-hour meeting, Barbara told me she needs me to teach English 102 Monday at 1 PM although it probably will not be my class permanently.
The Downtown poetry writing class I was assigned isn’t going to run, and I don’t know what hours I’ll be teaching or if I’ve got two or three classes.
(I almost surely don’t have four classes anymore, and that raises money problems.)
When I got home just now, I got a rejection from Tropic; Tom Shroder felt the Davie vote-for-horses piece was cute but too close to the last story.
So I’m not going to have any obvious breakthrough after “Legislators in Love.” Instead, it’s part of a long string of one-time events (flukes?) that have gotten me nowhere in my writing career.
I don’t know. This will look differently in a little while, I hope, but then I always knew that this was going to be a difficult time in my life.
It’s been hard to adjust to not being a law student. Yesterday I looked through UF grad catalog for programs I can apply to.
Political Science usually admits students only in the fall. I’m too embarrassed to reapply to Communications.
I don’t have interest or credentials for most programs, so I wrote to the graduate coordinator in English to see about a Ph.D.
If I could get in the program, I’d be able to get student loan money again, and I could teach at UF, which pays twice as much as at Santa Fe.
(Today Anna Baker, an adjunct, told me that UF only hires its own students or recent grads who can’t get jobs elsewhere.)
It’s been nearly 20 years since I’ve attended grad school in English although I’ve been teaching and writing all this time. But I don’t even know if I have good enough credentials to get admitted.
I feel I need to do something to take charge of my life.
Last night I awoke at 2 AM and finished Travels With Lizbeth. Lars Eighner, once homeless, now earns $100,000 a year, and he’s always going to be more successful than I. (I’ll probably outlive him, though.)
Eighner has paid his dues in a way I cannot even imagine, so nobody’s success is more well-deserved. But he’s got to be at least a little crazy.
Late at night, after completing his book, I began ruminating about my own sanity.
Aren’t I a little “off”? After all, I don’t know anybody else who lives the way I do. Very few people have moved around so much, dabbled so much, accomplished so little.
Who goes to law school for the hell of it? Who else does all the crazy publicity stunts I’ve pulled? Am I a satirist or instead the butt of other people’s jokes?
When people talk about me, do they say, “You know…” and twirl their index fingers as they point to their heads?
Homeless, obese Lars Eighner had lovers, but I don’t. I don’t even have any close friends in Gainesville – not anyone I feel like I could talk to about this.
What’s the point of my life anyway?
Hey, I know: My view of life right now is clouded by some events I had no control over, and sooner or later something will happen – probably as a result of my own efforts – that will make me feel better.
But right now, I feel headachy and exhausted. Everything, the simplest thing, seems like too much trouble.
I know that depression is sometimes a sign of growth. This isn’t the crippling kind of depression that serves no purpose. I’ll work my way out of this the way I have in the past.
3 PM. The phone rang a little while ago, and it was Curtis Krueger, a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times.
He interviewed me for 20 minutes, and it was such a pleasure. Unlike that guy from the Tampa Tribune, he understood where I was coming from.
I told some good stories as he typed away, and there’s obviously going to be an article on me.
So it didn’t take long for “something good to happen” and make me feel empowered, special, and no longer depressed.
I know that I shouldn’t rely on external events for satisfaction, but after all, it was external events that got me depressed. Or was it? Well, I do feel better already.
Now that I think of it, today at SFCC, Brendan gave out copies of the new Santa Fe Review. “Sylvia Ginsberg, Superstar” took up three pages.
There were essays, poems, stories and art by other English faculty as well as other instructors, a member of the college board of directors, and even President Larry Tyree, who wrote about failing at a four-year college and redeeming himself at Pensacola Junior College.
I didn’t mention this newest publication earlier because I was too busy wallowing about nothing happening in my life.
When I’m catastrophizing, I overlook all evidence to the contrary.
Saturday, August 20, 1994
4 PM. I’ve just come from one of my Saturday matinees at the dollar theater that I wrote that essay for the Orlando paper about. (I hope they print it, but I doubt they will; still, I’ll keep trying them.)
Wolf was kind of a mess, but it had some nice moments. I smiled when I realized, as the film first came on, that the screen was cutting off the second line of the big credits.
Sure enough, it said. “Screenplay by Jim Harrison and” and then you could only see the tops of the letters in “Wesley Strick.”
It’s hard to know what lines of dialogue Wes wrote, and what lines Harrison wrote, and what Elaine May did – although Wes is the one who knows the publishing business.
I was startled in an early scene when a character tells a novelist how much he admired her book What About Us Grils?
Could that have been Wesley using the title of one of my stories? Maybe I heard it wrong. I’m egotistical enough to believe it’s a reference to me.
Anyway, I’ve been feeling much better since I got the phone call from the reporter yesterday afternoon. The call is an object lesson in why I should not despair. Things change, things happen, and suddenly life looks different even if only one little event has intervened.
At the downtown library this morning, I said hi to Lynne from class and sat and read magazines and newspapers.
Then I went to the law library, where I found the slip opinion of Equality Foundation v. Cincinnati, the district judge’s voiding of the city’s anti-gay referendum on constitutional grounds.
Seeing Midori, I waved and called her over. She’s decided to stay in Gainesville because she really loves the town. She’s clerking in a law firm and hoping she passed the bar exam.
It was good to see her, and I probably should have asked her for her number, but maybe she has plenty of friends and Gainesville.
On my way out, I saw Brian Burns walking with a bouquet of roses for his wife. He asked if I’d gotten my grade in the library class from USF.
I hadn’t, but in the mail back home, I saw that I gotten an A: no big deal, but nonetheless satisfying.
USF also sent word that I was officially admitted to the library program. If I’m not teaching on Saturdays, I could take that fall class USF is offering at Santa Fe, but I can wait to decide whether to register on the first day, September 10.
I really shouldn’t spend the money, but right now I’m afraid I won’t have enough classes to teach to occupy myself fully.
At home, I scooped out and sliced up a honeydew and a cantaloupe I bought; then I had dinner while listening to the news.
I also sent out an application to a job I saw posted at law school: positions as Court Attorneys for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco. They are sort of like judicial clerks, but for the whole court.
Ronna called. She had only just gotten back from her Jewish education conference in Bloomington, Indiana, the night before.
She has such a hectic schedule at work, especially with all the September Jewish holidays, and she’s getting a new department chair to replace Harriet, who Ronna says can’t be replaced.
Her sister had a baby boy three weeks ago, and the family went to Philadelphia for the bris. Ed will be leaving soon for his new job in San Francisco, so for the next few months, Ronna, her mother and other relatives will take turns and stay with Sue and the baby, who is named David after Ronna’s grandfather.
While Sue is not thrilled about leaving Philadelphia, she’ll make the best of it. I know I certainly would like the chance to live in San Francisco.
Ronna said that her brother and Melissa got settled in their new apartment here in Gainesville. After a week, Billy thought his new job was okay.
In the mail, I got a letter from the Human Rights Council. I’ll send out another small contribution and volunteer to do what I can to fight the anti-gay referendum this fall.
While I hate calling people or going up to them to talk, there must be other stuff I can do to support gay rights – even if I know this fight against the referendum is a hopeless cause.
But hasn’t most of the political work I’ve done going back to the 1960s been in support of hopeless causes?
The collection agencies are designed to capture a minute fraction of the total lost revenues. They’re not expected to get much. They just get very excited if they can play a sucker on the line with paying them back.