A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-September, 1994
by Richard Grayson
Tuesday, September 13, 1994
4 PM. Although I’m sleepy and haven’t yet prepared for tomorrow’s classes, I think I’ll go over to the Civic Media Center this evening and see if they’ve got any work on the referendum for me to do.
It’s meaningful activity and it makes me feel as though I’m doing something positive.
Last evening I managed to grade about ten papers and I was online for a long time. Lars Eighner responded to the E-mail I sent after I discovered his Internet address on a gay forum on Sunday.
He wrote a nice reply after I told him how much I loved Travels with Lizbeth and explained that SFCC’s English 101 classes are using his “Dumpster Diving” on our final. I responded, probably going on too much about myself.
In recent days I’ve been thinking that I probably need to put together a performance piece in which I talk about one or more of my political campaigns or other media activities.
Stuff like “Legislators in Love” probably comes across better orally than in print. And I like the idea of being a storyteller. I could discuss my credit card chassis or the Trump Rescue Fund or Pauper Magazine, using videos and reading press accounts and then commenting on them.
I’m a ham, and I need an audience. I just wish I knew how to go about becoming a performance artist. How does one start?
Mom called after getting my book award and other recent clippings. She said she didn’t think my being a performer was an odd idea.
Passionate about injustice like me, Mom understood completely when I told her how frustrated I am by the meek adjuncts at SFCC who are afraid to stand up for themselves.
She then related Dad’s latest mistreatment by his company. They’re pressing him to go to Kendall to show samples to some Brazilian who has a store in Rio – only Dad won’t get a dime for his trouble.
After systematically taking away his accounts and lowering his commission percentage, the company has left Dad barely breaking even after he covers his high travel expenses.
For the first time today, Mom said she and Dad were probably going to sell the house. I’ve been urging them to do it for years, but I know it will be a hard thing to do because that house meant a lot to Mom.
She further surprised me by saying that Jonathan is planning to move to Arizona.
I suggested he start out easy, just by living on his own nearby because he’s been so attached to our parents.
His plan to move to Arizona sounds half-baked to me, but any kind of change our family undergoes can only be beneficial.
This morning’s class on Ellison’s “Battle Royale” went wonderfully; I was in good form, insightful and funny.
I finally did that interview with Alice for her new book. I gave my compulsiveness much of the credit for my successful dieting.
I told her I never expected that losing weight would change my life other than my being thinner. Alice said a lot of people aren’t that realistic. I also said I’d exercised long before I began my diet in 1989.
Alice race-walks for 30 minutes every morning. She says that unlike in Washington Square Park, there aren’t many other exercisers in Union Square Park. She thinks people in the Flatiron District are “lazybones,” but I told her they probably just go to health clubs.
I talked Alice out of getting Medline as either the online service or the CD-ROM. It isn’t worth the expense and time, even if she’s writing a book on health. I told her the Rodale people have a great library she can get stuff from for the price of a call to Pennsylvania.
Wednesday, September 14, 1994
3 PM. When I got to the Civic Media Center yesterday, they were only three people there: Javier and two women, one from last week and this woman Cynthia Myers, who just moved to Gainesville from Denver for her Ph.D. in clinical psych.
Javier was explaining the latest on the court case: The county had decided not to defend the ballot measure too strongly, and word got out to Concerned Citizens, who that day got to intervene in the case.
Javier says they’ve got enough right-wing money to bring in the same expert witnesses as in the Cincinnati case.
Concerned Citizens is basically employing the same argument in Alachua County that the judge dismissed in Cincinnati.
Kathy Lawhon and another guy came a bit late, but there really wasn’t much to do but talk.
I like being able to listen to discussions about strategy for the referendum. Cynthia talked about her experiences in Denver fighting the anti-gay constitutional Amendment 2, which passed but was overturned by the Colorado Supreme Court in Evans v. Romer.
It was nice to sit next to Javier. He knows everything about Gainesville and Alachua County. But I knew things he didn’t about the Idaho referendum (that it calls for segregating “gay” library books) and other Christian Coalition and American Family Association activities as well as political races in other states. My reading GLB Digest and The Hotline every night comes in handy sometimes.
While I’ve obviously given up on Javier as a potential lover (his boyfriend wasn’t there last evening), I’d like to be his friend, and last night, for the first time I felt like I was, joking that he didn’t have to rush home to study because he’s a third-year law student.
“I don’t have a job yet,” he said. “Do you think I went to law school for fun?”
“Well, I did,” I replied. “and from what I’ve heard there aren’t any jobs.”
Both Kathy and Javier expect Concerned Citizens to get really ugly, and she showed me their “special rights” literature. To me, it seems so easy to answer – but everyone else says it’s not. I keep forgetting how stupid voters are. The other night I came up with a line riffing on Tip O’Neill: “All politics is yokels.”
At home, I had an E-mail message from Bob K, who’d just come back from San Francisco. He asked me to snail-mail him the Cincinnati decision and inquired about my candidacy for Congress.
Lars Eighner wrote me back and said that when people found out he was published by St. Martin’s, they always asked him about Mondo Barbie.
Although I didn’t sleep much, I got my work done for today. My classes at both campuses went okay, and I’ve got lots of grading to do for tomorrow.
In the AWP Chronicle I read an excellent essay from Sven Birkerts’s new book in which he discusses the crisis of subject matter for the literary fiction writer in an electronic age.
Basically he was able to articulate movements in our culture which I felt but couldn’t quite put my finger on.
Instead of berating myself for not writing fiction, I think I understood early on that fiction can’t tell us about our lives the way it did in either sprawling nineteenth-century novels about society or in the twentieth-century modernist novels about individuals.
Today people just don’t interact with text on the page the way readers used to. Unless you’re going to try to recreate the past and cash in on nostalgia for way people used to read books, there are better ways to be influential.
Except in the minds of the naïve and the simple, the Great American Novel dream is long dead. That’s probably why MFA programs now have “creative nonfiction” tracks.
I like that in this weird time in my life, I still see myself as a freelance artist and intellectual.
Sunday, September 18, 1994
5 PM. Here I am, at the start of another week.
Last week nothing really good happened – and by “good,” I mean stuff like a new job interview coming up, an acceptance of a story or article, some publicity in the media, or meeting someone special.
On the other hand, nothing really bad happened last week, either.
What I wish is that I had something to look forward to, the way I did the publication of Mondo Barbie last spring, the Miami Book Fair last fall, the Brooklyn College twentieth reunion and my graduation from law school this past spring, or even the Tropic article this summer. I feel like I’m fixed in one place, not getting anywhere.
Of course, that’s never quite true, is it?
Just as Justin called last Saturday and filled me in on all his doings, his old roommate Sat Darshan phoned from Phoenix yesterday. She said she’s on the edge of bankruptcy, which I can definitely relate to.
She never once mentioned her husband during our whole conversation and I didn’t ask about him. But she said Gurujot is at home now, having had so much trouble at school in India that she felt she’d fall permanently behind if she went back.
Gurudaya, who always seemed calmer and more stable, is successful academically and wanted to stay with her friends at the Sikh school, which has now moved to their holy city, Amritsar.
In Phoenix, Gurudaya attends a public K-8 magnet school where they wear uniforms and “are taught the same way I was at P.S. 135,” Sat Darshan said.
By now she’s used to Arizona although the weather there has only just become bearable again, and where, as in Florida, lots of jobs pay minimum wage and offer no benefits.
Sat Darshan sounded as dissatisfied with her life as I am with mine. “I’d like to go on a real vacation,” she said.
The closest she’s come in the past year was when Rose visited from Germany. They drove up to Williams and took the train to the Grand Canyon, where she stayed all too short a time.
I told her about the BC reunion and how Josh, Scott and others looked, and about what I’m doing and not doing. I took her work number, as I need to call her more often.
Earlier, when Jonathan picked up the phone when I called Mom, I asked him about his own plans to move to Arizona. Nothing is definite yet, he said, “but I’ve got to get out of here.”
Jonathan asked how he could get in touch with Lisa, whom he’d like to do a psychic reading on his rabbits “so I could know what they want me to do with them.” Gwendolyn and Cecily are too much for our parents to look after when Jonathan leaves.
When I mentioned that Sat Darshan is in Phoenix – this was before I spoke to her – Jonathan made bigoted remarks about Sikhs, whom he grew to hate “only second to Israelis” from his experiences at the flea market.
I’d love for Jonathan to implement his plan to move to Northern Arizona though I’m not sure he even knows that the climate there can be cold and that it’s so mountainous.
When he put Mom on, she said she wasn’t sure what was up with Jonathan, either. She also said she was so “disgusted” that she felt like moving out of South Florida, too – although I doubt she and Dad have discussed it yet.
I began reading Dr. Abraham Verghese’s My Own Country, an excellent account of an Indian doctor treating AIDS patients in Appalachia.
When the gay sons of the Tri-Cities area in Tennessee and Virginia went home after they got sick, a rural conservative community had to deal with the disease that they’d associated with New York City and San Francisco queers.
By 1994, of course, only morons or homophobes think of AIDS as only a gay disease. At this point, as the disease becomes the leading killer of young black men and women, just a bare majority of HIV patients are gay men.
Tuesday, September 20, 1994
1 PM. I can’t say that this is a horrible time in my life because I’m not ill. I’m not poverty-stricken, and I’m not without a smidgen of hope.
But when the phone doesn’t ring and mail doesn’t come and nothing seems to be happening, I get those helpless, depressed feelings I associate with rough times. My life seems emptier than usual.
I guess it’s up to me to fill it up.
I did grade all the English 102 papers that students handed in last Thursday, but it was torture.
Although a couple of them were fine – one older woman, a legal secretary, writes with intelligence and grace – most of the essays were horrendous.
My students seem incapable of critical thinking. Most seem unable to even copy down the names of the stories or characters without spelling errors.
I find I can grade papers if I do one every half-hour on the half hour. Last evening that meant grading from 7 PM to 9:30 PM.
To counteract the effects of my students’ prose, I read some more of My Own Country. I admire Verghese’s ability to write such wonderful descriptions and to have such empathy for his patients.
I know I could never deal with ignorant Appalachian rednecks – even gay ones – the way he does. I just don’t have the patience. (No pun intended.)
Also, the horrors of HIV disease frighten me. I doubt I could ever stand to live with AIDS once I got sick; I assume I’d just kill myself. But then I don’t know how strong my will to live is.
I’ve never even visited the hospital room of someone with AIDS. I berate myself for that, especially since we’re more than a dozen years into the epidemic.
Things might have been different if a close friend was HIV-infected: somebody like Justin or Larry or Elihu. While I’ve had a number of acquaintances who died of AIDS, none was truly my friend.
I’m rationalizing, I know. . .
I went to the law school library to use Westlaw, and in The Docket I read that the February bar exam will be given in Fort Lauderdale.
I really want to take it, but I’d need at least $1,500, and at this point I’ll be lucky if I can just pay my bills for the next month.
I seems unfair that the Florida Bar charges such a high application fee, but it’s my own fault for not applying in my first semester of law school the way I was warned to. Of course, back then I wanted no part of practicing law.
Is it any wonder that I’m alone and going nowhere when I so imperiously disdain being part of any group?
I never wanted to be seen as a literary writer, a Jew, a gay person, a Floridian, a New Yorker, a computer education specialist, a college instructor, or anything.
I resented being typecast so much that I alienated people who could have helped me. I’m not a team player. I’ve never made contacts or I threw them away – in publishing, in law school, in every institution I’ve been connected with.
Somehow I felt I was special, that I stood apart. So here I am now, 43 years old and standing still by myself. Why would anyone want to hire me?
Well, not only am I depressed now, but I feel I’m a horrible person who’s failed at everything.
Just another afternoon I’ve got to get through. . .
Wednesday, September 21, 1994
It’s only 11 AM and I’m between classes, but I think I’ll have time to write this, eat lunch and still get to SFCC for my 1 PM class.
Yesterday afternoon, when I was lying in bed feeling depressed and miserable, the phone rang, and it wasn’t a wrong number. It was Carol Dolder from the Center for Governmental Responsibility at the law school, calling to make an appointment for a job interview.
Weeks ago I had applied for one of their grant-funded positions as a research assistant.
I chose to come on the only Tuesday they’ve got available, October 4, at 11:30 AM, so I won’t have to miss teaching.
Carol told me she wasn’t authorized to pay travel expenses, but of course in my case that would be nothing anyway.
I need some letters of recommendation and other material, and I’ll be the last person interviewed by the search committee.
The job can be anywhere from two-thirds-time to full-time, and the maximum pay is $1,150 biweekly, plus benefits.
While I don’t expect to get the job, at least for the next two weeks I’ll have at least a false hope that something in my life will change.
I can deal with that, living from false hope to false hope, just so long as something eventually happens.
I was pretty hard on myself yesterday, but sometimes it’s good for me to berate myself.
I’m glad I spent three hours at the Civic Media Center last evening, even if I got my final confirmation that Javier has, as he said, a “partner.”
I worked next to Bryan, the guy I’d suspected was Javier’s boyfriend, and he’s a terrific person.
He grew up in rural Alachua County and it took him a long time to come out. Even now, he said, his Southern Baptist parents “don’t know and think I’m perfect.”
(“You are perfect,” another person at our table said.)
He’s 29 but looks younger, and Javier is his first relationship. Later Javier joined our work table, and it was so nice just to be with two of them. They’re adorable together and seem to bring out the best in each other.
This guy from the Victory Fund, an organizer from D.C. who’s been traveling to Idaho and Oregon, was in town to help organize the kickoff of the No on One campaign at a courthouse rally at 1 PM today. (Too bad I’ll be teaching then.)
Javier is speaking, along with four or five others, and last night I learned so much: about the proposed TV commercials they’ve looked at, about the people at Concerned Citizens (their biggest contributor once roomed with Diego, a guy helping us, before Diego knew he was gay), and about Javier.
He told me he’s not sure he what he wants to do with his law degree but he’ll probably move back to South Florida to be near his family: “You know us Hispanics.”
I actually felt I was becoming Javier’s friend, and that’s more than enough. I prefer just being friends with people I’ve had crushes on rather than not seeing them. It helps me get over the crush – as it did back in the 1970s with Sat Darshan and Wes.
It also feels good to work with people I can joke around with, like Cynthia, Eden; Diego, and Elizabeth, who’s actually a pretty good organizer for such a youngster.
I’d forgotten how volunteer work for a cause be so rewarding. Last night reminded me a little bit of how I felt when I first got involved with student government as a BC freshman 24 years ago.
I’m very cynical, and I’m sure I say stupid things that cause people to regard me with annoyance or bemusement – but I have become unaccustomed to meeting people in a movement like this and tend to fall back on telling stories.
(Nobody could believe that in 1965 in James Madison High School in Brooklyn they made us boys swim nude.)
I came home, knowing my mind would be so busy that I’d be unable to sleep. So I got on the computer and answered a fairly long E-mail from Elihu.
“Elihu, are we becoming alter kockers?” I asked him. After all, I know Elihu from Midwood High School, and like me, he’s become a fussy middle-aged single gay man.
In yesterday’s New York Times, the subject of the advertising column was George Schweitzer – my classmate and best friend at the third high school I attended, Franklin School. He was discussing the promotion for CBS’s fall TV schedule.
Although I slept only from 2:30 AM to 5 AM, I got through my first class fine. I love that it’s now cooler in the morning.
It’s really disgusting to see TV news reports showing U.S. soldiers standing by as Haitian police beat up and even kill Aristide supporters.
Hey, being capable of outrage is a good sign, I think. Now I’ve got to eat and get to SFCC.