A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late November, 1996

by Richard Grayson

Saturday, November 23, 1996

9 PM. I slept soundly and had several great dreams which I told myself I wouldn’t have to write down because I’d remember them; needless to say, all I can recall are maddeningly tantalizing fragments that don’t give me a clue.

It was back down in the 40°s this morning, but I got out of bed soon after waking up at 7:30 AM to go to Albertsons. When I picked up the Times, I saw the Gainesville Sun headline, “Anti-Gay Vote Is Rejected,” so I picked up the paper.

I never did hear the local news yesterday, so I was pleased to read of Judge Smith’s three-page ruling, which the paper said the judge based largely on Romer, that Amendment 1 couldn’t be explained on any rational basis except hostility toward gay people.

No word yet on whether the county will appeal, but the most homophobic commissioner said he hopes it won’t because it’s not worth the money. Wow!

I got only one letter in today’s mail, from Janice Eidus and her husband, looking for stories for an anthology about rock to be published by David Godine. The letter said they’re mostly full but need stories on current music.

I decided I could do something about a queercore band. In “Moon Over Moldova,” I tried to employ a twentysomething voice, and I’d like to try it again.

At the office and at home, I did lots of research on Lexis and the Net and now I’ve got a 115-page document of articles, Pansy Division lyrics and other stuff I hope will give me ideas for the story.

The deadline is January 30, and I’d really like to do this, even if it does take time away from other things. I spent two hours on Netscape, which is about as much as I can take at one time, and even at that, I had to print out pages (about 100) rather than really sit there and interact with all that Webshit. After a while, it all begins to seem the same: like TV, I guess.

I cleaned up the piles and piles of papers at my desk at home, and I exercised. John Childrey at FAU-Davie replied to my e-mail, saying has plenty of adjuncts but would like me to visit his creative writing class, as he remembers me as “a storyteller and raconteur from the early 1980s.”

I found a Dennis Cooper review of some books by Black Ice, the grittier Fiction Collective spinoff, which explained how experimental fiction á la Barth & Company fell out of fashion in the early 1980s but may be coming back.

Except I think my work has what Cooper calls “the stink of moderation” about it. Anyway, I’ve always written as I pleased and never worried about an audience.

Probably it’s a good thing that I don’t teach English this spring in South Florida; it will force me to do something that’s unfamiliar instead. Also, even if I don’t practice law, it’s stupid to let my legal training go to waste.

I decided to take my car over to Von on Monday, which means putting in more power steering fluid every day till then.

It’s going to be a short week, and I can definitely take some time off; in fact, I need to, or else I’m going to be giving up sick time when I stop working at UF.

I really want to see a movie one of these days, as I can’t remember the last movie I saw.

Sunday, November 24, 1996

8 PM. My car is driving very badly, and I hope I didn’t damage it by procrastinating until I get it to a repair shop tomorrow. I had to fill it with steering fluid twice today, and in the morning I must take it to someplace close by. I can afford to take another sick day tomorrow.

Up at 7 AM, I went out to do laundry and get the Sunday Times. At 12:30 PM, I was at the office, where I spent the next two and a half hours on the Internet. I probably used 120 sheets of paper to print out Net pages.

Much of the real work of the New Jersey Online project remains to be done, and I haven’t heard from Susan in week. (Nor have I received payment for the Senate Quiz although I e-mailed an invoice weeks ago.)

In addition to working on the NJO project, I also looked at some more queercore sites. The deadline for submissions to the Janice Eidus anthology is January 30, but I feel I have to get moving writing it now.

I’ve said this several times before, but this is a weird time in my life.

Actually, right now isn’t, as I’m going about my usual routines, even clinging to them as if they were a life preserver – but I’m expecting that, come January, I may be adrift, because so much of my identity over the past 25 months has been my role as a staff attorney at the Center for Governmental Responsibility.

As scared and unsure of myself and my future as I am now, I am positive that if I wasn’t leaving, I’d be discontented and feel as if I were in a rut.

My life in Gainesville is so easy and so comfortable that I see how easily people get suckered into spending their entire adult lives in one job, like Josh at the DOT in New York or his father at the post office.

Dad continues to complain about his job, but after nearly losing it recently, he seems to go on as if it’s going to last indefinitely. It will be hard for me to leave CGR and it will be hard to leave Gainesville.

I remember how hard it was to leave Brooklyn College after graduation, leaving an environment, a community, were I was comfortable – and I stayed on, visiting Ronna and other friends for the following year and then going to the MFA program for two years after that.

The great thing about being older – aside from the joys of declining eyesight and a tummy that refuses to tighten despite exercise and strict dieting – is that I’ve already experienced a number of these changes.

I left my full-time job at Broward Community College, and I left the security of law school between the time I graduated in May 1994 and my starting work at CGR five months later.

None of the transitions in my life have turned out to be as drastic and abrupt as I feared they would be. I’ve kept many friends, I’ve kept writing, I’ve kept my relationship with institutions like BCC and CUNY. And I’ve always managed to do something constructive.

I worry about money, of course, but I’ve always gotten by, and there’s unemployment insurance and my credit lines and living as cheaply as possible and taking whatever jobs I can get.

I’m more concerned in some ways with giving up the ease of small-town life for the problems of a large metro area: traffic and . . . well, I actually can’t think of another one because my pen was poised after the and while I was musing about the advantages of a big city.

Besides, I should leave Gainesville at this time precisely because it makes me nervous to think about doing so. I will greatly miss my easy access to the Lexis and Westlaw databases, but I’ll get a good modem and e-mail system and Net browser to use with my laptop.

And I’ll read more books instead of news articles – or I’ll go to the library to find other articles to read. That, too, will make me change; I’ve gotten far too dependent upon my databases of newspapers and magazines.

Hasn’t it always been true that when I’ve given up something, another thing has come into my life? I remember times in my life when I was desperately – okay, not desperately – unhappy, like the summer of 1980 in my Rockaway apartment, when I’d read Emerson’s “Compensation” and try to believe its thesis was true.

Well, deep down I do know that for everything that is lost, something else is gained. It’s the anticipation, that just-around-the-corner something, exciting and satisfying, that might be imminent is what makes me want to leave Gainesville.

Maybe I’ll even meet my life partner – although at this stage of my life, I’ll settle for a partner for six months. My five and a half years in Gainesville have changed me in that they’ve given me new experiences, but I’m the same guy who’s been writing this diary for 27 years. Yes, my handwriting has gotten a lot more illegible, but I’m still me.

God, isn’t all this disgustingly trite?

Remember how I used to live on credit cards, spending so much time figuring out how to pay my bills in ways that would gain me even more credit? When the balloon burst, I thought it would be very difficult to adjust to not having those 41 bank credit cards, but it really wasn’t. I had more time to do other things.

As long as I don’t engage in self-destructive activities – things like substance abuse, risky sex, or destructive relationships – I’ll be fine. Who knows, maybe the best part of my life hasn’t even happened yet, although it’s hard to believe that, given all the great times I’ve already experienced.

If anything, at least moving on to the next phase of my life will keep me from becoming stodgy and more boring than I already am.

Monday, November 25, 1996

4:30 PM. Susan called last night when I was rereading Emerson’s “Compensation.” She told me New Jersey Online was interested in having me host a holiday forum on the worst gift people ever got. And they want me to host the forum in the persona of a cranky little old lady.

I said I probably could do it if it meant logging on only two or three times a day and adding messages to the forum responding to readers’ messages. She said it probably wouldn’t begin until December 15 and last a few days after the holiday.

Now I’m not sure I should take this on. I need to be away from December 9 to December 15 to go down to South Florida and find an apartment to rent for January. I’m anxious as hell about the process of moving; it kept me up part of the night. And of course that’s removed from the content and meaning of my move.

I told Susan I’d send her some stuff on the Web Guide tomorrow, but after working on it for hours today, I realize I’m still organizing my sites into categories rather than doing any new writing.

Well, I think I’ll send Susan my entire work product, rough as it is, and some notes or questions I have. I wish she’d monitored me more closely because I have no idea if I’m doing what she wants or if my work is duplicating Shreeram’s.

Susan, Spencer and Zack just returned from a week in Sarasota with Spencer’s relatives. She relaxed among “people who don’t think my job is interesting” – a rare experience for her – and she and Spencer went off by themselves to Tampa, where she got an Art Nouveau tattoo on her wrist in Ybor City.

At 7:30 AM, I took the car into Firestone. Yes, I know: they’re crooks, but they’re conveniently close by. It turns out I didn’t need a new rack and pinion but just a new pump.

However, they also found a broken axle and something else, and stupidly, I told them to fix it. The total was just over $400, about what I expected to pay. The car does seem to ride better – so far, at least.

Although the car was ready by 1:30 PM, I didn’t pick it up until two hours later because I was busy working. I monitored my e-mail, and Bob Karp, who was away this weekend, asked me if I could write something analyzing the arguments and decision overturning Amendment 1.

I called the judge’s chambers and they said I could get a copy of the opinion if I went downtown, but when I got there, I couldn’t find a secretary and all these creepy white male lawyers were waiting for the judge, so I left. I’ll wait for Bob to fax me the decision, as he has more time than I do.

I realized how uncomfortable I felt being home on a Monday. I’ve gotten so used to going into the office every day that I feel weird when I stay home on a weekday and can’t imagine how I used to do it. However, it wasn’t as if I don’t have plenty of work at home – or else it’s keeping up with my reading of magazines, newspapers, court decisions, newsletters, etc.

I’m sure I can always find stuff to do, but I need some sort of structure in my life or I will squander the free time. There has to be a time when I need to be somewhere doing something.

Yes, I can adjust to leisure, I’m sure, the way I did when I lived off credit cards in New York in the summer and in South Florida in the winter. But even then I almost always worked or took courses part-time.

I’ll have to do something similar in South Florida this coming winter. At least I need to be involved in some community activities. Right now I feel very stressed out and put-upon, but I know the feeling will wax and wane over the next month as I deal with leaving Gainesville.

Everything will get done, although I have the obsessive questioning of that in the voices of my mother and my grandmother that still rattle around my brain.

Wednesday, November 27, 1996

7 PM. Last night, asleep under my comfy quilt, I dreamed about going in Brooklyn in the summertime. It was July 4th, and I could hear my next-door neighbor Evie Wagner’s voice the way I used to, coming from those walls that separated our attached houses.

Somewhere – on Ralph Avenue? Cortelyou Road? or maybe the Prospect Park station of the Brighton line – I got on a brand-new subway car as I pushed a cranky Hispanic baby in stroller. We stood next to another Hispanic man and his little son.

To quiet my child, I started tickling him lightly. “Why are you tickling me?” he asked, and I said in a sing-song, “Because I love you.” The toddler smiled and gurgled.

This was a quiet day at work. Laura and Cari got permission to leave the office at 2 PM, and of the few of us who had come in, I was the last one to go home.

I surfed the Net a bit, but the holiday mood made me feel like goofing off. Earlier I sent a “Happy Thanksgiving” e-mail to various friends. Kevin responded with a short, warm note, and I heard from my junior high friend Jerry, who lost his job but is about to start a new one as a salesman for Allstate in their Plainview office.

Patrick e-mailed that after returning from a disappointing college publication conference in Orlando, he’s busy getting the BCC literary magazine to the printers. He said he has stuff to tell me when we meet in a couple of weeks.

The AP picked up the news story about the overturning of Amendment 1, and it ran in the Herald, Sun-Sentinel and San Diego paper.

Bob Karp said my analysis of Morris v. Hill is fine as it is; he’s not editing it and will run it in two columns on one side of the mailing for Human Rights Council members. By this evening I discovered that my article analyzing the judge’s decision had already gone out over GLB-NEWS to the 1,400 subscribers on its mailing list.

I sent Susan a long memo discussing the process I used to work out the Web Guide and the difficulties I was having with categories. Then I e-mailed her eight separate files of work in progress. The worst she will do is tell me I’m hopeless and won’t get paid.

I did tell her that if my work seemed usable, I’d appreciate suggestions on how to proceed and how to make sure that Shreeram and I are doing the same thing.

I’m finally starting to catch up on my reading: yesterday I read Electronic Learning, the Finley case overturning the NEA’s decency guidelines, and a bunch of newsletters.

Before leaving the office, I spoke to her Mom, who discovered the power of the Internet when I read her stuff about the BBC soap opera EastEnders, which she and Dad watch religiously. She was shocked that I could read her a summary of the episode ahead of the ones she sees on WPBT-TV.

Everyone in the office was going off to their Thanksgiving dinners with family, while tomorrow I’ll be alone for the sixth year in a row.

In other years, I fended off invitations, but this year Liz is away, so I didn’t get invited to her house. My own family in Fort Lauderdale aren’t having a special dinner tomorrow, but my brothers won’t be working. I’ll see them in a few weeks.

During my lunch break, I bought a Healthy Choice turkey dinner when I stopped at Kash n’ Karry at lunchtime. Why not be traditional for a change?

I got out the applications for MacDowell, Yaddo, Ragdale and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts that I’d sent away for recently, and I began filling them out.

I plan to apply to all four artists’ colonies next summer to give me yet another option for 1997, which is going to be the most unstructured year I’ve had in a long time. If I don’t find some way to put structure into my life, I’ll waste time and likely start getting depressed and bored.