A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early March, 1995

by Richard Grayson

Wednesday, March 1, 1995

8 PM. I went to Lincoln Middle School at 6 PM yesterday to attend a “speak-out on education” with local state legislators Rep. Casey and Senator Kirkpatrick (what a windbag) and Education Commissioner Brogan.

Over 300 people showed up in the auditorium – I said hi to Peter S and his girlfriend – and we were given cards to write questions on, which people handed to the moderator on stage.

Basically, I heard little of value. Mostly it was politicians talking about school choice, local accountability, budget cuts and ending state-mandated rules.

I left before 8 PM when I remembered I wanted to get to the big one-day sale at Burdines.

At the store, I tried on a number of sports jackets and finally settled on a classic wool blazer, single-breasted, in burgundy.

At half-price plus 10% off with my coupon, it seemed like a good buy for $90. Today I took it to the tailor to get the sleeves shortened.

I didn’t do much CGR work until late in the day when Ellen asked me to edit the program for the National Health Forum, which Christy was faxing from home.

Ellen said she and Julia had gone over it but they wanted me to check it, and it’s a good thing they did.

Not only did I find typos and mistakes and punctuation problems and stylistic barbarisms, but the bios of the speakers were all in different formats: some in sentences, some in fragments; some using honorifics or titles, others using only surnames.

I tried to impose some uniformity and edit the document for clarity and coherence. Then I went over my changes with Laurie, who’s going to talk to Christy over the phone.

They should have let me see it before today, as it’s due at the printer at 9 AM tomorrow.

Joann got my c.v. down to two pages that she felt she could hand in with the application for the Zagreb center grant to USIA.

“So you’re going to Croatia to solve the Balkans war?” Carol asked jauntily after getting the document. “Next, I suppose you’ll go to Northern Ireland, the West Bank and Rwanda – and maybe you could even make peace at our CGR staff meetings.”

For my next class at Nova, I finished Billy Budd and read criticism of the novel.

No wonder Morrissey wrote a song about homophobia called “Billy Budd” and Benjamin Britten and E.M. Forster did the opera based on it: the subtext is totally homoerotic. Claggart may be one of the first representations in literature of the homosexual villain.

I also read Rick’s Buoyancy, his book of poems – those about his late father, a Hemingwayesque hunter and man’s man, were the best of the lot – and sent Rick a little note about it.

(Even though he asked me to send him reviews I see on Lexis, I didn’t want to send him the dreadful pan of Mondo Marilyn in the Plain Dealer.)

Going home at 4 PM, I spotted Javier’s red Thunderbird near my own car in the parking lot. After our lunch yesterday, I’ve been thinking about him a great deal.

Friday, March 3, 1995

8 PM. If it’s Friday night, I must be in Orlando. There’s a thin smile of a moon peeking out from clouds on a beautiful night.

I’m tired, but even in the king-size bed, I don’t expect the kind of great sleep I had a week ago. Then again, the Red Roof Inn ain’t the Hyatt Regency. Still, it’s plenty good enough for me.

Getting to work at about 9 AM today, I called Mom to wish her a happy birthday.

Mom got the same exact birthday card for me and from Marc, and she couldn’t get over the coincidence, especially because she liked it so much.

It was one of those long rhymes detailing all the nice things she done for me and all the times I’d asked for help and she gave it. It ended with “I love you.”

It’s interesting that Marc and I think alike enough to buy the same card among thousands, in different stores and different cities.

Mom made it clear that she didn’t want to be reminded of The Beatles’ “When I’m 64.”

She has, I could tell, no idea of what it is that I do, or really, what any person whose job deals with information, analysis, etc., does.

She asked what I was going to do at work today, and I said, “Read the New York Times, to start.” Then I read her one of my memos and she said it sounded like gibberish.

While I was on the phone with Mom, an e-mail came in from Liz. Liz was home and said “another benefit” of my getting involved with local issues was having expert information available. Then she said she wasn’t putting pressure on me.

But that’s exactly how I perceived it – as nagging, hocking – and impulsively, I wrote back: “I’ll think about it, but I don’t know if I can deal with the local yokels.”

When I told that to Mom, she said, “She’ll fire you!” and “I thought you liked Liz” – and also “Why does she want you to get involved with yokels?”

I do like Liz, but I don’t respond well to pressure. As I told Mom, I have a low shit-tolerance and if I leave CGR, I’ll just get another job.

This really disturbed her. I should have known better. At this point I’ve got to treat Mom (and Dad) the way I treated Grandma Ethel (whose 85th birthday would have been on Wednesday): as someone incapable of understanding what I’m doing with my life.

As for Liz, by the time I got to Orlando, I felt bad that I might have heard her feelings or made her angry. My reply was rude and childish.

On the other hand, it did let her know how I feel. Clearly, she won’t risk getting shot down again by soon asking me to get involved in local issues. I probably would have been more inclined to do it if she had just left me alone.

I suspect it a lot of Liz’s mother issues (she hardly sees or hears from Eric) and my son issues are playing themselves out.

I thought about it all through the day: at CGR; when I went to the hotel to rent the car (someone from Budget called to apologize for last week); as I ate lunch and then as I drove on I-75 and the Turnpike listening to ABC soaps on channel 20 and then channel 9.

Obviously, Liz and I need to talk through our differences about what she sees as my role for as long as I’m going to be at CGR – which may not be much longer.

A couple of hours ago, when I got to the Convention Center for the Florida Educational Technology Conference, I walked into the Clarion Ballroom for the opening reception, and went up to talk to Wendy Cuellar.

Then I sat down with her and Owen Grande, the FSU computer science professor at the Center for Educational Technology, who’s one of the featured speakers.

I thought I detected a coolness on Wendy’s part. She left us to get a drink and didn’t come back, and I didn’t know what to say to Owen. After a few attempts at conversation, I excused myself, saying I was going to look for friends.

And I did try to see if I could find Sue Spahn, who’s now at Nova, or Ray Cafolla, who’s now at Barry University, both of whom are giving presentations.

Over 13,000 people are expected at FETC. I registered at about 3:30 PM, soon after I settled myself in the hotel room.

The Orange County Convention Center is so huge that you have to take a shuttle bus to and from the parking lot.

Most people come with others from their schools or systems, but I’m on my own and I feel uncomfortable just going up to people and making small talk.

After leaving the reception, I took a drive, passing the shopping center outside the Williamsburg development. I should call Ronna’s mother, but I feel weird about it.

The mirrors in this hotel are definitely more flattering to me than the ones at the Hyatt Regency; while I don’t look quite as fat here, I still need to lose some weight.

Saturday, March 4, 1995

8 PM. I feel as though I’m taking in only a tiny fraction of what I could be getting out of the FETC, but there’s much too much there for anyone to absorb.

As expected, I slept poorly last night. This morning I made myself cereal using hot tap water: not great, but adequate.

I arrived at the Convention Center at 9 AM, and already the parking lot was filling up. Passing the Schoolyear 2000 booth, I said hi to Michelle Tate, their communications director, before I went to the main hall for the opening session.

The hall is so big that they could hold a national GOP or Democratic convention there, but the space was needed for today’s huge audience.

Giant twin video monitors were all most people could speak see of the speakers: first the deputy commissioner of education and then some others who got awards, and then Commissioner Brogan.

I left when he began to move away from talking about technology to the same tired catchphrases from his standard political speech that I heard on Tuesday night in Gainesville.

Back from the bathroom in time for Brogan’s introduction of the keynote speaker, I found former astronaut Jim Lovell’s talk more exciting than I expected.

After showing the trailer for the film Apollo 13, which is coming out this summer, Lovell spoke about his experiences in the space program and told the story of the stricken Apollo 13 flight.

The speech was entitled “Success from Failure,” and he must have perfected it over the last 25 years. Admittedly, it’s a gripping story even when you know the ending.

After the session was over, I eschewed a breakout session so I could wander through the cavernous exhibit hall filled with vendors of every product remotely related to educational technology: hardware, software, giftware. I played with some of the new programs on the computers whose power I lust after.

Ten years ago I was taking 15 grad credits in computer education at FIU and FAU, but the programs and machines we had available then (the Apple IIe and IBM PCjr; Apple Logo and IBM Writing Assistant) are prehistoric compared to today’s technology.

After grabbing lunch at the Wendy’s at the corner of International Drive and the Central Florida Parkway, I bought some more food at Publix.

When I returned to the Convention Center, I had to find a space on the grass at a distant overflow parking lot. (This weekend I’ve spent a lot of time on shuttle buses.)

At 1 PM, I attended the Schoolyear 2000 presentation by Wendy and Bob Branson, which was a good update for me. Wendy even introduced me when the “legal services” component came up.

A teacher from Cocoa Beach stopped me on the way out to ask if I knew of any laws regarding teacher competency, and we exchanged e-mail addresses. I made other contacts from casual conversations with several teachers.

Everyone at the conference looks at my nametag, sees “Center for Governmental Responsibility,” and makes a remark about oxymorons.

At 2:30 PM, Stephen Marcus, a UC-Santa Barbara professor who runs a program for teaching writing with technology gave a wonderfully funny presentation called “Get Your Kicks on Route 666: The Beast on the I-Way.”

He dealt with flaming, sexual predators, pornography, anarchy, stalking and mayhem. (Online how-to manuals on bomb-making have cost some kids fingers and eyes when their homemade explosives injured them.)

Marcus showed videotapes of segments from TV newsmagazine shows and had great overheads as well as a wonderful wit – although he presented the horrors of cyberspace without giving any legal analysis.

From talking to teachers, I’ve learned they’re very concerned about legal issues; they fear liability every time they allow students to go online.

Professor Marcus gave us some good sources of information, including a Gopher site of acceptable-use policies that I really could have used for a memo I had to do last fall.

During the break, I spoke with a teacher from Lincoln Middle in Gainesville, asking him about school choice.

Although teachers are against school choice, he doesn’t see the Alachua County School Board implementing it without the concept of charter schools and without some kind of mechanism to prevent the school system from being polarized between rich white schools in the west of town and poor black ones in the east.

Lincoln Middle is a good school with a fine staff, a pre-International Baccalaureate program, and a nice mix of students – but he still gets lots of kids from “awful homes.”

(“One girl I worked with this week has a father who’s a transvestite prostitute – and he’s the more reliable of her two parents.”)

Alan November, a consultant and former teacher whose articles I’ve admired in Electronic Learning, gave a presentation titled “The End of the Job: Major Bummer or Golden Opportunity?”

It was one of those visionary talks that leaves you breathless – until hours later, when you suspect things can’t possibly change as fast as he thinks they will.

Basically, November (who I’m sure is gay) says that the job was a creation of the industrialized society that replaced the agricultural society, and schools were set up to prepare students to take orders and have jobs.

Now the American economy is growing fast, but there aren’t jobs for people graduating from college, much less from high school.

November says teachers will lose their jobs as the public school system comes to resemble municipal hospitals: the dumping ground for the poor underclass.

Home schooling, for-profit schools and other innovations made possible by technology – delivered by companies like Viacom and Nynex – are unstoppable, and it would be better for the poor, if instead of trying to preserve the dying dinosaur of the current paradigm, we worked for change to include all.

I guess Alan November would tell Liz that Alachua County isn’t moving towards school choice fast enough – and he said we can’t blame the Republicans.

Today’s elites control today’s most important resource – information – while the masses are “paper-trained” and can’t deal with the technological revolution.

When I left the conference at 5:30 PM, it was still and calm and gorgeous outside. How I love the silly, fanciful, kitschy buildings of International Drive. It’s nice being here for the weekend.

Sunday, March 5, 1995

9 PM I got home a few hours ago, and I have plenty to catch up on. I haven’t yet looked at the Sunday New York Times, which I bought at Barnes & Noble here.

(I also went to Albertsons, where I ran into one of my Santa Fe Community College students from last fall.)

I got a birth announcement from Shelli: she and her husband have a daughter, Melissa, and Shelli is staying home with her.

Rick called and asked if I could send him any reviews of Mondo Marilyn or the abortion book. He said they’ll hold on to my e-mail story for the Mondo Royals book, but it may be too silly. (I got a rejection of the story today.)

I’m glad I won’t be going to Amelia Island for the National Health Forum next weekend because I’ve got a lot of work to do; my first priority is grading the Nova midterms.

Last night I exercised and read the Lambda Update and watched TV. I slept okay but not great, dreaming about Mike, Mikey and other old friends from Brooklyn College.

I missed the first breakout session this morning, checked out of my motel at 10 AM, and went to the Convention Center for Owen Grande’s 11 AM presentation.

Computer development is going so quickly that he updated the old comparison with the airline industry to say that if planes had developed as fast as computers, a Boeing 777 would cost $50 and circle the globe 9,000 times on a battery.

Owen showed some scientific visualizations that the FSU supercomputers can do and talked about paradigm shifts, invoking a bumper sticker he saw: SHIFTS HAPPEN. He ended by saying that education must change, and it will change, even if we’re not ready.

I enjoyed Owen’s hour and told him so; Wendy and Bob Branson were also there, and I chatted more with them. They were very proud that the Tycho handheld computer for classroom management won some educational product award recently.

During the break, I went for lunch and then drove to downtown Orlando to get a look at Church Street Station, the city’s downtown tourist attraction of phony old-style buildings (or redesigned genuinely older architecture) on an auto-less street. The place was jam-packed with tourists.

Back at FETC, the next session I attended was David Thornburg’s “Renaissance II: Shifting the Vision for the Computer Age.”

This was more exciting material: paradigm shifts, finding the optimal point to jump from one horse to another – as when Blockbuster Video, still very successful with video rental stores, looked ahead and made arrangements not to be left out when video on demand is a reality.

Thornburg went through the parable of the frog in slowly boiling water, the coming end of the information age and its replacement with the communications age, homes as a richer source of information than schools, Francis Bacon’s idea that control of knowledge means power vs. Jefferson’s concept of democratizing the spread of ideas, etc., etc.

And Thornburg repeated Alan November’s statement that schools are places where kids go to watch teachers work.

He said the high risk opportunities for jobs were with Fortune 500 firms that will lay you off when you’re used to the good life but too old and indoctrinated to start another career, and he contrasted doing the same thing differently (word processors are just better typewriters) with doing different things (multimedia authoring).

I liked Thornburg’s emphasis on non-linear learning and thinking; I’ve never been linear in my teaching or my writing.

The last session I attended was an unsatisfying panel of copyright attorneys. They all worked with software publishers, and I got impatient with their attempted guidelines on fair use vs. infringement.

Maybe we need a new copyright paradigm because the old rules are being tortured to fit the new realities of digital technology.

I should have gone to the Schoolyear 2000 demonstration of the learning support system instead. Is “visionary lawyer” an oxymoron?

I had a hard time finding my car in the huge parking lot because I’d forgotten where I parked, so I didn’t leave till 5 PM.

It’s too bad I couldn’t enjoy the gorgeous Orlando weather this weekend; I never needed a jacket.

The drive home was uneventful: the sun began to set, and a thunderstorm hit once I approached Gainesville in darkness.

I’m tired but may be too hyper to get to sleep.

Tuesday, March 7, 1995

8 PM. I’m enjoying this low-key spring break week. Today at work I graded about half the Nova midterms, which are mostly as bad as I expected, but so far my lowest grade is a B.

Obviously, if Nova were a public college, I couldn’t do that, but my students expect they’re paying for good grades in the business school’s Bachelor of Professional Management program.

Last evening I began to read Twentieth Century Interpretations of Billy Budd, but an e-mail query from Josh has me worried about teaching “Young Goodman Brown,” which I thought was straightforward. Josh read Hawthorne’s story at my suggestion and asked, “What’s it all about? I don’t get it.”

Also at work, I went over most of the useful documents and papers I got from the Orlando conference, and I talked with Liz about what I’d learned.

She was pleased that I made good contacts there, not only with the Schoolyear 2000 people, but with other teachers and professors.

Before I came to CGR, I can’t imagine that anyone in the office really understood the educational technology field. At least I can speak the same language as the people at the Center for Educational Technology at FSU. I’m impressed by the slickness of their new brochures and press releases; Michelle is doing a great job.

I have the feeling did if I do leave CGR sooner than I’d like, I can probably find a job more easily if I don’t listen to Liz. Most lawyers involved in education are already concentrating on the issues of poor children and equity, but by centering my expertise on technology, I can approach those same issues in a different manner.

Tonight on Delphi, I found the Gopher site with all that different acceptable-use policies that Stephen Marcus talked about, but I don’t know how to download the text, so I sent $10 to Marcus at UC Santa Barbara for the print materials.

(Yes, I used my own money. See, I still think like a teacher, not a lawyer who bills everything.)

Tom wrote that my books arrived and the kids at NOCCA liked the silly things I wrote to them when I signed my name.

Tom said he wrote 37 good prose poems in a week, and then, on Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday, he “vomited 9,000 words of pap” of his “novel” for the agent. He’s now 15,000 words into it and plans to FedEx it to her soon: “This is my first ‘serious’ attempt at writing for money – and hopefully my last.”

With the dollar sinking on the currency markets, Tom’s salary in Deutschemarks next year in Stuttgart might give him enough to retire if the exchange rate keeps going down.

Julie, Christy and Ellen all look really busy and frantic with the National Health forum starting in a few days. I’m so glad I’m not involved with it. At $7 an hour, Julie is really doing the job Carol Caldwell was going to do for the same salary as I get.

Mark Leyner’s new book of humorous essays, Footprints on a Corn Dog, sounds pretty funny. Although Michiko Kakutani’s review in today’s Times said it was ephemeral, I like Mark’s sense of humor. He does things I’m too sentimental or too mainstream or too cute or just not clever or skillful enough to do.

Still, I like having the weird interesting careers that I’ve had. If Mark Leyner is an original, then so am I. Besides, I’ve lived very comfortably on very little money for so many years that I couldn’t imagine how I’d handle the real money and renown that Mark has gotten.