A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early October, 1996

by Richard Grayson

Thursday, October 3, 1996

9 PM. Sleeping straight through from 10:30 PM till past 6:30 AM did me a world of good.

My lower back ached a little, and I skipped my usual exercising, as I’d done an extra half-hour on Tuesday and then exercised yesterday afternoon. Not that any harm would be done if I missed one day, but you know how compulsive I am.

I had a sense of well-being today, another rainy day but cooler. It looks as though the first cold front has finally arrived, as daytime highs didn’t get up to 80° today.

At the CGR office, I managed to grade the Saturday papers from the Nova students as well as the first five of the 16 papers that were handed in last evening in Argumentative Writing.

In addition, I made up the final writing assignment for the last Ocala class and ran off copies of the topics for their essays.

Liz still has heard nothing from Three Rivers Legal Services, and it’s been two weeks since her interview, so that may be a sign that she doesn’t have the job there. It must be nerve-wracking for her.

On the other hand, it may keep her mind off losing Becky as her foster child. I overheard Laura telling Liz to make sure she removes Becky as her dependent on her UF health insurance so she no longer has to pay extra.

In mid-morning Laura came to me and asked if I really planned to leave CGR. Yes, I told her.

“When?” she asked

“I have to leave by the end of the year when my lease expires.”

“Are you going up North?”

“No, down south,” I said, “back to South Florida, and no, I don’t yet have another job there.”

“Would you stay if the genome project got full funding?”

“I’m not really interested or competent in that issue.”

“What about something else? Could something else get you to stay?”

“I don’t think so, not really.”

Laura said she’d really like me to stay on the job, that Russ and I were welcome additions in the office.

I thanked her very much for her generous vote of confidence.

After all this time, leaving CGR isn’t going to be easy.

Robin Hemley wrote that he very much appreciated my e-mail concerning “The 19th Jew,” especially after what he said was a soul-crushing day dealing with difficult students and faculty.

I’ve always tended to idealize the full-time academic creative writing jobs I couldn’t get, but jobs like Robin’s probably come with a lot more stress than I’ve ever imagined.

Kevin sent me a story, “Circumnavigation,” which I extracted and decoded and will read at home.

When I wrote Kev that he should UUENCODE himself and send that by e-mail too so I could extract and decode him and take him home, he replied, “I’ll be there in late December and till then imagine me lying naked next to you.”

Kate Gale and Mark E. Cull, the editors of the Red Hen Press anthology – now retitled Anyone Is Possible – sent a form letter asking for a bio and help in marketing the book, especially for adoption in creative writing classes.

They said that Stephen Dixon, Frederick Barthelme and Charles Baxter are in the anthology, so perhaps the book will get more high-profile attention than I expected.

Mark told me I should be getting galleys of “Moon Over Moldova” in four to six weeks, so I have that to look forward to.

This afternoon Liz and I met with Mary Kay to help her with her job as the Florida Bar Fellows symposium coordinator.

We think that if she can get the Fellows to narrow their focus to migrant workers, we would have a clearer idea of how to proceed in getting speakers for the event and organizing it.

At one point Liz said that if there were problems with a moderator not showing up for the symposium, I could step in – and then she looked at me, realizing that I won’t be here in the spring.

Our next Fellows meeting is Monday evening, October 14, at Barbara’s house.

Later, Liz gave me a delightful letter from another Barbara, Barbara Goldstein. Budget cuts at Legal Services killed her job, but she’s in practice in a small town in western North Carolina, getting all the cases the good Baptists won’t touch: a lesbian bed-and-breakfast case, for example.

Using Netscape, I found my photo on the Web, along with a little biographical information, at the Congressional Quarterly site.

This evening was the first one this week when I could just stay home and veg out rather than teach or attend a meeting, and I used the time to catch up with the New York Times.

I see from UF’s football schedule that all my remaining Nova class sessions for The Individual and Society will take place during the Gators’ home games.

That’s bad luck, but maybe it means I can be even looser than normal with the Saturday students. I hope I can continue to do a good job.

Friday, October 4, 1996

5 PM. This was the fourth rainy day in a row, and the coolest one so far. If it doesn’t quite feel like autumn, it’s definitely not the heart of summer anymore.

Up at 6:30 AM, I got to work before 8:30 AM. Taking the campus shuttle bus to Turlington Hall, I stopped at Library West and checked out the Bellah book of readings associated with Habits of the Heart before going to the Faculty Support Center for today’s workshop on using Eudora.

Although I’m pretty familiar with e-mail, it was still helpful to get practice with the most popular Windows program.

Dave was again the instructor. My seatmate and I, like the others, kept practicing by sending each other e-mail, using most of Eudora’s features.

When we got out of the workshop at 11:40 AM, it was raining extremely hard, and I’d deliberately avoided taking an umbrella because it had been so sunny earlier.

To pass the time before it cleared up, I went up to the English Department and read the bulletin boards.

The latest AWP Job List was up, and it includes a position for a fiction writer here at UF. I might apply, even if I don’t have a ghost of a chance, just to let them know I exist. Of course, they’ll ignore me. I wouldn’t be surprised if Padgett Powell already has a candidate in mind.

The rain had by and large let up when I got the bus back to the Fraternity Row stop near the law school, where I got into my car and drove home for lunch.

I got turned down for an unsecured credit card from Capital One, and I don’t intend to apply for credit again in the near future. I’m better off using my First Deposit secured Visa till that line becomes unsecured after a good payment record.

Before I went back to the office, I stopped at Walmart to buy some stuff.

Yesterday Tucker had asked me if I could whip together the Presentation software for Tuesday’s meeting with Dean Matasar.

No, I told him, there isn’t enough time, and I’d been under the impression this “brainstorming” session was different from our presentation meeting. John said that was okay and blamed himself for not getting anything to me before now.

Wendy Cuellar – who’s still at FSU’s Center for Educational Technology as a visiting professor – surprised me with an e-mail.

She wanted to ask some questions about trademarking both an old Schoolyear 2000 learning support system they were still using and the title of her new book, The Florida Education Handbook.

Wendy also said that next week the DOE is printing the new volume of legal memoranda, from the 1995-1996 academic year. These memos are all by me, so it will be, in effect, a book written by myself. I hope I can use it as a calling card to get work in the future.

After I replied to Wendy’s query (it’s possible to trademark a learning support system, I suppose, but not an individual book title), she thanked me for getting back to her so quickly.

I wrote to Rick, who’s got a Thanksgiving deadline for the new Gargoyle and who told me about the latest literary gossip.

Last night I read Kevin’s story and I didn’t know how to respond. I can’t tell if he has a deliberately mannered style of writing or if he’s just totally inept.

He makes such odd stylistic choices: “He deserved me to be there” and “He advanced me grabbing my hand.”

His phrasing can be laughably awkward: “I remember his age of 13 when he was sprouting into a budding fruitful boy.”

Or worse: “He told me about his adventures where he narrated a story at a goldfish pond lying near a volcano in Thailand on a cassette tape.”

The story sounds as if it’s written by a particularly inept ESL student. It would be bad coming from my worst BCC community college students.

So I e-mailed Kevin, saying that the story needs work and that if I were his creative writing professor, I’d respond differently – but I’m his friend and not his teacher.

This evening I did laundry and bought $50 worth of groceries at Albertsons. But I didn’t grade any essays.

Saturday, October 5, 1996

10 PM. Last night I began watching the video of Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd but became sleepy, so I didn’t see the rest of it until just now.

It’s a great movie, sort of like a 1950s Network, and Andy Griffith was superb.

I’m going to show it to The Individual and Society class at Nova because, like Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool, it deals with the connection between politics and media.

I bought a VCR today.

I know it seems as if I’ve been spending money so freely, what with the $700 on the notebook computer and now $119 (the cheapest I found at Target) on the VCR.

But yesterday I noticed that Body Electric is now on at 6 AM with new shows, and this way I can tape them.

The past couple of years, I’ve only been able to tape the shows in New York when I was visiting Ronna. At home, my little video cassette player couldn’t record anything, of course.

Still, this is pretty extravagant for me.

But as long as I’m not going to take a week’s vacation in New York City or Los Angeles, let’s say this was the money I would have spent on plane fare. I can rationalize anything.

Marc phoned me last night and seemed surprised that I hadn’t had a chance to use my new computer yet.

Yesterday he bought a desktop 486 for about $400, and it sounds pretty good. I advised him not to keep it in the garage, where the heat might damage it.

This evening when I called Fort Lauderdale, and Mom was upset. Dad has apparently lost his job with Paul Davril. They’ve stopped sending him his monthly draw against commission.

“After sixteen years, this is how a company treats him?” Mom exclaimed. “They don’t even tell him! We need that money to pay our bills.”

The company claims – and Mom disputes this – that Dad owes them for his samples. I could only think of Death of a Salesman: “A man is not a piece of fruit.”

Mom said that the company has been going down the tubes ever since they made that bad licensing deal with Guess.

Naturally, this raised all sorts of emotions on my part.

As with the slow, steady declines of Art Pants in the 1970s and of their income from the flea market more recently, the deterioration of PDI was something my parents could have anticipated.

But they always lived with blinders on. One reason I’ve never wanted to stay on a job is that I don’t want to hang on for security’s sake the way my parents did.

This bad news only confirms my decision to leave CGR’s sooner rather than later.

But on the other hand, do I now want to live in South Florida, so close to Willie, Linda, Biff and Happy? I don’t want them to drive me crazy.

Marc said that with a vacancy at the store, he’s going to become the manager of City Radio, and he should be getting a raise.

I don’t know how Mom and Dad are going to make it financially, and I’d like to help them – but I’ve just started to finally save some money.

And of course, this makes me feel guilty about buying the laptop and the VCR, even though I know I deserve them.

After all, I live pretty shabbily in a crummy efficiency apartment. My parents and brothers live in a much nicer place than I will ever have.

Jonathan should start working more hours if he wants to contribute financially to the household.

Mom could get work, too, the way Ronna’s mother and aunt work. Or, if they’re living above their means, my parents can sell the house and move into a nice apartment in nearby Pine Island Ridge.

Do I sound horribly callous?

Well, they’ll get by, and I’ll help if I can, but I can’t sacrifice myself for my parents and certainly not for my brothers, especially a 35-year-old man fully capable of full-time work who works part-time.

Enough family matters.

My Nova class this afternoon went okay, I guess, although, as usual, there were logistical problems.

We had a decent discussion on the section of Habits of the Heart dealing with love and marriage, and I showed Our Town, which inspired a lively debate about the changing expectations of married life.

I got an e-mail from Josh, just telling me (using the third person) his new e-mail address. While I’m tempted to respond, I remember how upset I used to get at Josh’s strangely passive-aggressive messages.

I need to think about it for a while. I’m not angry with Josh, but his e-mail replies often disturbed me, and I still don’t know how to deal with them.

A day after Capital One rejected my Visa application, I got a letter saying that I’m guaranteed a secured MasterCard with them, and that if I just send them a $100 deposit, I’ll get a $500 credit line.

Perhaps the only way I can get credit these days is with the secured card, but it seems to be bait-and-switch rather than coincidence. Still, I bit, and sent the check.

I put my VCR purchase on my Target card, by the way, because their bills are sent out the first week of the month, which means I won’t get this one until November. (Also, the sweet fem guy who sold me the VCR kept flashing me that killer smile.)

This evening I graded five of the Argumentative Writing papers, leaving me six to go.

This morning it was almost cool enough for me to need a sweater.

Monday, October 7, 1996

8 PM. After a week of rainy days, today was the worst, as a front ahead of Tropical Storm Josephine, which was supposed to make landfall in the Panhandle tonight, drenched our area with a heavy, unremitting downpour.

Last night’s presidential debate contained no memorable moments, no gaffes, and generally good performances by both candidates. Bob Dole came across better than expected, but it probably won’t change his poll numbers much.

Although I slept poorly, I was at work at 8:30 AM, dressed in a tie and jacket. My programmed videotaping of Body Electric at 6 AM went perfectly, and I exercised to the show at 7:30 AM.

Jon drove Joann and me over to the main campus for a meeting with Vice President Holbrooke. Shelly Shuster and Bill Allen were also there, and Rick Matasar stayed for the first half of the meeting after a meeting that he and Holbrooke had just finished.

Although Joann had told me to expect Karen Holbrooke’s reaction, I was still dismayed when she said our concept paper wasn’t in-depth enough, and I showed my annoyance visibly and deliberately.

But since Bill Allen took it upon himself to do the revisions and additions to the concept paper, turning it into a proposal that Holbrooke can take to the UF board and come up with money, I didn’t care.

However, I explained to Holbrooke that I’m leaving in December and that if CGR is to work on this project, we need salary money to hire someone who has expertise in the field – “which I don’t.”

I think Jon was taken aback by my remarks, but I was just being honest.

In the afternoon, in going over our presentation to the Dean tomorrow, I told Tucker that CGR has to focus on areas of its strength and not take on every project that comes along just to get money.

“Otherwise,” I said, “in the end, we end up doing a half-assed job, and that can’t be good for our reputation.”

I told Tucker the sad story of the historic preservation workshops with the National Trust, using that as one example of us agreeing to do something we had no business doing.

Tucker, however, said he knew from his own experience how awful this is for us staff attorneys. But the problem is Jon Mills, who accepts everything, including grandiose projects that never pan out.

And of course, there’s the problem of people on soft money desperately taking these assignments to keep paying their salaries.

Hopefully, the heart of our meeting tomorrow afternoon will be about getting focused on a few relevant, high-quality projects and explaining to the Dean that CGR needs more fully-funded faculty lines.

I intend to speak frankly about this to Rick Matasar because it’s the only chance CGR staff will get to talk with him except through the filter of Jon Mills.

Liz told me that on Friday she learned that she didn’t get the Three Rivers Legal Services executive directorship.

She said she was depressed all weekend, but she wants to talk to me about ways she can do some of what she wanted to do at Three Rivers in her present position at CGR.

Now that I know I won’t be needed to fill in for Liz, I don’t see anything that could keep me at CGR.

When I called Fort Lauderdale this evening, all Dad would say is that he’s terribly depressed and says he doesn’t “know how to bring in income.”

My parents’ risk-averse, head-in-the-sand, stick-it-out attitude is precisely what should spur me to do the opposite and leave CGR on my own.

Mom said they’ll probably sell the house, “but it isn’t so easy.” However, she agreed that they would certainly be able to get back more than they paid for it.

When I suggested that Jonathan might want to work more than three days a week, Mom grunted.

I told her that if I had money, I’d send them some, but I need to save up for my own move and whatever period of unemployment I will have.

I wrote Ronna, asking if I was being a pig in regard to my parents.

After all, she knew them when they were my age and owned a house with a swimming pool and two cars (including a new Cadillac every two years); when they ate out all the time and went on gambling junkets to Vegas or the Caribbean regularly; and when they pissed away savings on expensive jewelry and ludicrous glamorous investments that failed (the hotel, the race horse).

Ronna replied that she understands oldest-child guilt but said that she knew how frugally I had lived: “You shouldn’t regret not being able to support your parents.”

Of course, if I were a successful Hollywood screenwriter, I’d happily pay for all their expenses.