A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-January, 1995

by Richard Grayson

Wednesday, January 11, 1995

4 PM. I ended up at my parents’ house in Davie after all. The Days Inn on Sheridan Road wouldn’t honor my discount coupon, and I decided I didn’t want to shell out the $145 cash and wait to be repaid. (I don’t have that much credit available on any of my cards.)

So I called Mom and she said I could stay here. Actually, it’s more convenient in that it would be much harder to see my family if I not only had to stay at the meeting all day but also had to be at a motel by myself.

Marc left soon after I arrived, saying he was going to Miami after his class tonight and staying with friends and going to work tomorrow directly from Miami. This way I can stay in his bed tonight although I really don’t mind the floor or the couch.

Up at 6 AM, in Gainesville I was at work before 8 AM. Mostly I read the paper although Lisa came in and asked for a copy of the memos she wrote when she was Liz’s research assistant.

I didn’t recognize from the name that Lisa sat two seats away from me in Baldwin’s Police Practices class. (She’s now taking his Media Law seminar, as well as another seminar in Media Torts.)

Liz is trying to get essays from the two Florida Bar Foundation Fellowship applicants who neglected to include them, and she says she’ll put them – and next week’s interview schedule – in my mailbox.

I left the office at 10 AM and picked up the car early. After I had a cheese (Kraft Fat-Free, as usual) sandwich and some microwaved frozen veggies, I took off in the little green Ford from Budget car rental.

The trip got off to an inauspicious start when the southbound lanes of I-75 were totally closed due to a bad accident, and I had to go all the way to SW 13th Street and take 441 past Micanopy before I could get on the Interstate.

It was a fairly sunny, mild day even in North Florida. I-75 is still a construction nightmare from Ocala to where I got off for the Turnpike. Lots of RVs with cars attached were on the road: obviously snowbirds on their way down the Gulf Coast to Sarasota or wherever.

I’ve gotten used to these long, all-day drives through Florida although they’re pretty tedious. I still stop at every rest area to use the bathroom, but today I also bought two cans of Diet Pepsi (I needed the caffeine; I rarely use it, but when I do, it’s as a medicinal stimulant) and some fat-free TCBY frozen yogurt.

I was getting close to Orlando at 1 PM, so I turned off the radio and set my little TV on channel 9, the local ABC affiliate, for All My Children. This trip I was smart enough to bring my headphones from the Walkman so I could hear the dialogue.

But the station faded out past Kissimmee/St. Cloud, and I turned back on the radio – the Melbourne station that runs Pat Buchanan – until I got near Fort Pierce and could pick up ABC again, this time channel 19, so I could listen to One Life To Live.

Restless, I got off the turnpike and headed to the parallel I-95 at Jupiter. That was a mistake that cost me a lot of time – plus I was desperate for a bathroom by the time I got to the Burger King on Glades Road in Boca Raton.

Still, I liked seeing the tall buildings of West Palm Beach – a city I have new respect for since yesterday’s election. By a vote of 54% to 46%, they turned down a repeal of their gay rights law (which is more inclusive than the one Palm Beach County has).

As usual, there was a moment when I realized the sky is different from Gainesville and the quality of light so much more intense.

I can once again appreciate how magical South Florida is in January. It may have been 43° when I went out this morning in Gainesville, but it was 77° here.

At 4 PM, I listened to NPR’s Fresh Air, a program I’ve heard only in New York City and South Florida.

I went to the Days Inn, but they weren’t going to honor my $39 coupon, and that’s when I decided to call Mom.

China greeted me effusively, even if my brothers were matter-of-fact, but my parents clearly were glad to see me, and we had a nice talk as we had dinner and watched the evidentiary hearing of the Simpson trial.

Mom believes O.J. is innocent, and Dad said they just need one person like her on the jury and they’ll never be able to convict him.

I feel tired, but I expect to sleep only fitfully tonight.

Thursday, January 12, 1995

9 PM. I slept soundly from 11 AM to 6 AM in Marc’s bed. It surprised me that I was able to get such a good rest, but today was a long day so I’m grateful, as it permitted me to function on a high level.

I was at the Sheraton Design Center at I-95 and Griffin Road from 8:30 AM until after 5 PM, and I’ve met a lot more of the people connected with Schoolyear 2000.

I’m less skeptical about the initiative because I’ve learned enough to understand that these people know what they’re doing.

The Public Schools Council isn’t a separate organization but part of Schoolyear 2000 and made up of teachers and administrators from participating school districts from Florida’s 67 counties, the four lab schools, and the Florida School for the Blind and Deaf.

Yesterday they had meetings of their design teams, and tomorrow some people are staying on to train others in the two newest districts, Broward and St. Lucie.

I saw Wendy Cuellar and Bob Branson early on, and I’m getting to know some of the others, like Donna Gillis, who seemed to be running things behind the scenes.

I had a name tag (“Oh, you’re a presenter!”) and went into a large room where we sat behind tables set up in a rectangle.

I sat between Mary Brown from Key West in Monroe County, and Sunny Wadsworth from Old Town Elementary in Dixie County (near Gainesville).

Wendy co-chaired with Bob Connors from the DOE. After some introductory remarks from them, we had presentations.

Phil Stockton of EBEC got stuck in bad weather in Chicago, so Marty Beach of Schoolyear 2000 demonstrated both the learning support system (LSS) that Wendy wants to trademark and the CIA (curriculum, instruction and assessment) proof of concept. Then she talked about Britannica Online, which is already functioning on the Internet.

From Comware, Inc., Ginger Swope and Pam Zimpfer demonstrated the staff support system (SSS) and the TREE support system for exceptional students. The GUI and software look very promising.

Wendy showed the CNN tape on the Tycho product test; the device will soon be available in version 2.0.

For me, the most exciting part of the day came when MIT’s Seymour Papert spoke. (Apparently Bob Branson met Papert when they both spoke at a conference in Singapore last year.)

Since reading Mindstorms a decade ago and learning LOGO, which Papert invented, I’ve been a big admirer of his vision.

He spoke about the need to get at kids’ natural thirst for learning and the role conventional education plays in dulling or destroying that energy.

Papert said that there should be a word that is to learning as pedagogy is to teaching, and he showed examples of a computer program that kids can use to make a video game that will get them caught up in learning about parabolas, energy, and gravity.

I’m not good at describing Papert’s ideas, but I agree with him that the old paradigm of education is dead but nobody knows it yet, and that the present system will collapse within 20 years.

The kind of system that Schoolyear 2000 is designing – a technology-based, quality-control-driven, learning-centered model – is going to replace what we’ve got now.

A lot of what I heard today were buzzwords – like “learning as a process” – but I think they’ve been around long enough to be validated.

Before our lunch break, I introduced myself to Papert as “the lawyer” but said I’d once taught LOGO.

“How did you go from one to the other?” he asked with wonder, and for once I said something clever rather than thinking of it later: “Oh, I just went REPEAT 25 [FORWARD 10 LEFT 45].” (Those are LOGO commands.)

I thought I’d have time to go home for lunch, but on I-595, I realized I didn’t, so I went to the Wendy’s on College Avenue and had a salad bar and baked potato just like in the old days just like when I taught at BCC-Central.

Our afternoon breakout sessions lasted 20 minutes each, with four going on at one time.

I went first to Wendy Cuellar’s discussion of customer satisfaction in which she showed the questionnaire from TARP, the research and consulting firm that handles the measurement process from customers (parents) in the seven collaborating school districts.

Later, Wendy helped with my presentation, “Management Operations: Legal Issues Research.”

I thought I came off as awfully unsure of myself, but several people afterwards said it was interesting, and at least I had the legal memos to give out.

I handed out more during Bob Branson’s session on the knowledge database. (I hadn’t intended to go to the two leaders’ sessions but it worked out well.)

Bob does seem fairly certain that Schoolyear 2000 will be funded again.

When we all met as big group, we had presentations from Bob Connors and the change management teams from the school districts. Then Wendy explained how other districts could become Schoolyear 2000-implementing districts.

The meeting ended with everyone commenting in turn on the meeting: “exciting” and “learning” were the most frequently used words.

After adjourning, Wendy asked to meet with me, and she showed me a memo from a December meeting with Chuck Ruberg. She really wants us to trademark the FLSS; I said we’d do what we can.

I’ve also got other things to do for them. We’re definitely moving toward getting these memos out as soon as possible rather than the way they worked in the past.

I was also glad to chat with Michelle Tate, who just began working as their communications director – her background is in journalism and PR – and Bill Cline, who recently started as management operations team leader for System Development.

Back at my parents’ at 5:30 PM, I made myself dinner, glad I didn’t have to drive home to Gainesville tonight or fly the way all the Tallahassee people did.

I began reading the New York Times, made up a half-hour light exercise routine and watched My So-Called Life.

Marc just came in and I’m going to say hello.

Friday, January 13, 1995

8 PM. I’m still in Fort Lauderdale. I’ve got what seems like the start of a bad cold, and I called Budget to extend my car rental.

I think getting only about 90 minutes of sleep last night lowered my resistance, especially since my usual diet and exercise habits got all screwed up yesterday.

One reason for the insomnia, of course, is that it’s so uncomfortable on the floor, but I don’t think that’s the only reason my mind kept churning.

Anyway, by 5 AM I did drift off, and I thank God for the hour or so of weird dreams. But as tired and icky as I felt, I couldn’t face the long drive back.

When I called the office, Christy said I had no phone messages. I reported to Liz on the meeting, and she said she has some stuff for me from her meeting yesterday.

She found me the two essays that came in late with the applications. I wish I had brought the others to read. But I don’t have to be back at work till Tuesday, after all, and it’s so sunny and warm here.

I visited Broward Community College’s South Campus, and after finding Patrick in his office, we chatted for an hour. I also spoke with Betty and some of the other teachers: Ellen, Chris, Scott and Judy.

Patrick told me BCC is having some serious budget cuts. South Campus is the only growing campus; it’s as big as North now, but with much fewer faculty. This term, three-quarters of the English classes are taught by adjuncts.

Patrick’s on his way to his Ed.D. at Nova. The program sounds vert survey-ish, but it’s something I’d do if I had the time and money.

Patrick opposed a recent faculty senate vote of no confidence in President Holcombe and says there’s bad blood between the faculty and the administration and among the faculty themselves.

Despite my better instincts, I still have a soft place in my heart for BCC and Broward County. I spent a lot of my life here, and today I remembered how magical South Florida can be in January when it’s 80° and the sky is bigger and bluer than anywhere else.

Those chilly days in Gainesville make me realize how I eventually took South Florida’s extraordinary winters for granted. Not that Gainesville is really cold, though. Besides, in a couple of months the “winter” will be over.

I mostly lay around today, but I went out for a late afternoon drive on State Road 84 to U.S. 27.

I’ve been making sure not to complain or butt in on family disagreements, of which there are plenty without me.

Jonathan told me he can’t wait to leave for Arizona – but of course he is waiting till May because before that, it will be too cold or the roads will be too crowded.

Monday, January 16, 1995

8 PM. Despite last evening’s weariness, I could not get to sleep until 2 AM. After several hours of lying in bed, I got up and managed to get through all the Sunday New York Times except for the book review.

Up at 7 AM, I didn’t leave the apartment until the afternoon. I read, did an hour’s worth of exercise, made lists of things to do and spent over an hour in the painful, tedious, but somehow satisfying chore of defrosting my freezer compartment.

While the hair dryer really helps melt the frost, it’s still a pain – and the middle finger on my left hand still hurts a bit, perhaps due to frostbite.

It was a dark, chilly day, so different from the sunny warmth of last week in South Florida. Mom called late this afternoon and said it was bright and 75° there.

We forgot to take in the mail on Saturday, or I would have seen the package from the Order of the Coif.

Mom described the certificate and said she’d send me the original. She then proceeded to read me the brochure about the society’s origins in medieval England, which interested her more than it did me.

She said it was good to see me, and I did get on well with my family during this last trip. I no longer feel as remote from them as I did.

Today, the King holiday, there was no mail delivery, of course. In the afternoon, I did two loads of laundry, bought groceries at Kash n’ Karry, watched soaps, read today’s paper, and finally got around to the 17 applications for the Florida Bar Foundation Public Interest Law Fellowships.

Most of these applicants seem to have a real concern with doing good and they have lots of volunteer and charity work to their credit.

Although their essays are generally mediocre and they don’t have the best grades, I wouldn’t dismiss anyone until I’ve interviewed them in person.

Not that I really know what to ask. At least to begin, I’ll just follow Liz’s lead. I did get some sense of them from their résumés, their transcripts, their essays, and the letters of recommendation several included.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the stuff Wendy discussed with me about before she left for her flight back to Tallahassee. I need to get moving on some of those projects moving as early as tomorrow.

I’ll also have to prepare for the Nova class on Saturday. A trip to the public library might supply some books, tapes or videos I can use.

Reading about the antigay referendum in West Palm Beach – the largest city in the U.S. to turn down an attempted repeal of a gay rights law – I see that they were extremely well-organized and that rather than spend money on media, they relied on 100 volunteers to identify voters supportive of their position.

That was the key to their success – and exactly what Javier told me he learned at the Victory Fund meeting in Atlanta.

Thursday, January 19, 1995

7 PM. Ivana had been trying to reach me all day yesterday, and when she finally got through, she asked if she could come over so I could help her with a paper for Nora Bright’s World Lit class at Santa Fe Community College.

Her husband couldn’t drive her over here till after 9 PM, but I said sure, and I tried to clean up and straighten up a bit.

Ivana’s assignment was on the characters in Tartuffe. Although I only dimly remembered the outlines of the plot about the hypocrite in this particular Molière play, using Lexis and whatever I did know, I think I was able to help her.

She and her husband stayed in Belgrade for several weeks after her mother-in-law died in August. She said despite the embargo, people can get most things on the black market, and many women are wearing expensive clothes and makeup.

The Serbians are disappointed in the U.S. after we were their allies in two world wars, Ivana said. I didn’t relate my own views about the Bosnian war other than to say Germany made the crucial mistake in prematurely recognizing Croatia – a point with which Ivana wholeheartedly agreed.

Before her husband came to pick her up, I gave her a copy of With Hitler in New York and said I’d be in touch.

Earlier I’d reread the Norton Anthology on Emerson and “Self-Reliance.” When I got home today, I read Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” for (I think) the first time, and I only have to read the Thoreau sections for Saturday’s class; then I can go over some of the articles on the stories and essays for background.

Although I didn’t sleep that well, I had a lot of energy today, and I needed it. I exercised to Body Electric on WUFT/5 when it came on at 6 AM and was at my desk in my pinstripe suit a couple of hours later.

At 9:30 AM, Liz and I began three hours of interviewing in my office. We got behind, and it was kind of mind-numbing.

Each of the five law students we interviewed impressed me, especially Regina (and not just because she’s a Haitian-American from Brooklyn); Jaime, an environmental law student (like another candidate, Liz thinks of him as white but he’s Hispanic); and another African-American woman who was very sharp.

I was less impressed with two others, and Liz was more taken with an older black guy than I was. (She admitted she was attracted to him; I was concerned because he failed Torts and Appellate Advocacy.)

After lunch at home – Mom called to see if I got the copy of the Order of the Coif certificate just as I opened the envelope – I returned to school and read for an hour before our 2:30 PM interview with someone totally unsuitable, a sweet Valley Girl-ish white girl (and she seemed like a girl the way Laura C seemed like a girl).

We have four more interviews tomorrow, and if two of them are duds, then our task will be pretty easy. Even the students we’ve eliminated since Tuesday have been interesting to meet, and it’s good practice for me to interview people.

Liz is a little concerned about what ethnic and gender mix we end up with because of the way people have talked about past selections. But blacks tend to apply and whites don’t, at least not in proportion to their much greater numbers.

I went with Liz to the 3 PM meeting of the current Florida Bar Foundation Public Interest Fellows. I went to their annual symposium two years ago, when they had Morris Dees.

This year the Fellows selected the death penalty as the topic, but unfortunately their star speaker just canceled.

I could not believe how childish some of the ideas they tossed around were, like trying to bring in a live TV hookup with death row inmates in Starke.

Liz doesn’t feel it’s her place to preside at Fellows’ meetings and she let them go on and on with only a small warning about tastefulness. Later, she told me she’s had to stop them from making this into a sensationalistic Oprah-type show.

Liz will be having a pizza party on Friday, February 3, for old and new Fellows, and on February 24, two weeks later, we’ll go to Orlando for the public interest law convention.

(The symposium is on February 23; Ken Nunn will be on the panel and at least his Criminal Law class will be a captive audience.)

I guess it will be interesting to be more involved in the Fellows program.

Today was a long day – 8 AM till 4:15 PM – but I’m not tired. After I watch My So-Called Life, I’ll probably do some reading. I have so much to catch up on. But I don’t mind being less involved with my reading and more involved with people.

January’s been a good month so far – and tomorrow’s pay day.