A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late February, 1997
by Richard Grayson
Saturday, February 22, 1997
8 PM. I’m tired after another long Saturday of teaching, but once again, it proved to be a satisfying day. My classes seemed to enjoy going over the work of Sherwood Anderson, Hurston, Fitzgerald, Faulkner and Hemingway.
Over the years I’ve gathered enough knowledge about the writers to have anecdotes and sidelights at my command, and it’s a pleasure to share them, for I feel I’m getting to put to use muscles I’ve exercised over years of intensive training.
Joe Cook, in his class on the techniques of college teaching, said the most important thing was to “wallow in your material”: to know your subject forwards, backwards and inside-out, and I feel I can do that with twentieth-century American literature, though I’m always open to learning new stuff.
Of course, I first taught stories like “The Egg” and “Winter Dreams” 21 years ago at LIU. Sometimes I think what a career I would have had as a university English professor if I’d been born twenty years earlier.
Still, I’ve managed to do what I enjoy doing most – to teach and to write – without sacrificing very much.
Last evening I read all of Jack Saunders’s The Bicycle Cycle booklets.
As Chauncey Mabe once said to me, the guy has something there; he has a compelling way of telling his story. And Jack knows all his friends’ negative criticism of the kind of writing he does.
Of course, I’ll have to write to him, but there’s no point in my making any suggestions to Jack, so I’ll just thank him and praise him, though I’m not sure he needs any encouragement from me.
It was hard to get up at 6 AM today although, as usual, I needed no alarm clock but my internal one to rouse me out of sleep.
When I left the house at 7:30 AM, it was warm enough so that I just had to wear my Tommy Hilfiger green plaid polo shirt. (Yesterday I saw the same exact shirt on a handsome Hispanic guy at Publix.)
The ride to Ocala was pleasant, and the morning class – like the afternoon one – seemed pleased that I would be their Business Communications teacher next month.
I showed a bit of both the Fitzgerald and Faulkner bio videos in each class, and we had interesting discussions, although by the time we got to the last story, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” I was starting to run out of energy.
The severe thunderstorms began just as I arrived back in Gainesville, and I drove from my apartment to City College in a driving rain.
It was 5 PM when I returned home to veg out with NPR news, the New York Times and a Seinfeld rerun.
Nevertheless, I did make four word processing files – first at breakfast, then during my lunch break, and again after dinner – from Lexis news articles about the 2 Live Crew obscenity trials. For years I saved my yellowed clippings from 1990 and 1991, always intending to do something with them. Someday I’ll use them in my writing although I’m not sure how.
Sunday, February 23, 1997
9 PM. My brain has been buzzing since I got up at 6 AM. I don’t know if all that mind-activity actually accomplished anything, and I didn’t even manage to get around to reading the Sunday New York Times Arts and Leisure section or Book Review.
It’s getting light out earlier these days, so I decided to drive to Ocala to see if I was in today’s Star-Banner. I headed down I-75 as the sun rose on a cooler but bright morning.
It was 25 miles to State Road 326, and when I bought the paper at the Chevron station where I filled up with relatively cheap gas, I saw my photo and article take up nearly two-thirds of the Forum section.
I drove around Marion County to get more copies out of Star-Banner vending machines – yes, I do feel guilty about taking out extra copies – and sort of got lost when I decided to take a road through very rural areas.
In the small town of Reddick (pop. 500), using my best Southern accent, I asked a good old boy for directions and left him by saying, “Thahk yuh vey mush, suh.”
God knows what Christian conservative Marion County will make of my defense of free speech for homosexuals. I wonder what my students will think, but I’ll find that out terreckly.
They ran the photo with my jaw stuck out, the one in which I said, “I have no chin,” and the sexy photographer said, “I’m trying to give you one.”
My dark blue shirt and wild tie under my burgundy sport jacket make me look more like an urban professor trying to look hip than a lawyer, and I was identified as a teacher of literature and writing at Nova Southeastern University’s Ocala cluster and a member of the Human Rights Council board of directors.
Back in Gainesville, I did some errands and then went to CGR office to get a little work done.
I xeroxed a bunch of copies of the article in pieces, and later I managed to put them together minus the illustration of a padlocked college building so it would fit on an 8½”-x-11” sheet that I could xerox at Office Max.
I sent a new story to the webzine Blue Moon Review, which had nicely rejected “COUGH!” and worked on various other projects, including a new op-ed article.
When Liz came into the office to do some work, she said that the Florida Bar Foundation symposium in Orlando was interesting and that she met someone who may work with CGR on immigration policy.
I wrote to Alice, thanking her for sending me the latest Richard Simmons Newsletter, where she herself is this month’s “Cinderella” story.
The article explained how her weight loss has always been informed by the negative example of her mother and Alice’s knowledge that she could end up like her.
There were great photos of Alice with her brother and her mother, taken in the backyard in Brooklyn that day I was there in the summer of 1988 for a barbecue, and of Alice and her mother at the latter’s 70th birthday party – just eighteen days before Mrs. D died.
Two other photos contrasted Alice in 1993 in Greece, when she weighed 153 pounds, and Alice today at 137 pounds, looking like the Karate Kid in her exercise bodysuit.
I xeroxed the article and sent it to Mom, hoping she’ll heed the warning of how Alice’s mother’s obesity caused her poor healthy and premature death. (Though sometimes I worry more about Marc than I do Mom.)
Home at 11:30 AM, I exercised, showered, had lunch and then began reading the various newspapers in print and on Lexis. There’s certainly plenty in the news to think about.
China after Deng’s death was the subject of a lot of media speculation, and Tropic had a cover story on Florida’s continuing growth in the face of a decreasing quality of life. (I want to live in a real urban area of South Florida, not a suburb where I’m trapped without a car.)
Although I’ve got various ideas for more newspaper columns, right now my brain is starting to approach “build-out”; as in Broward County, nothing new can be constructed unless something else is torn down.
Justin e-mailed that he’s as busy as ever, teaching and making crew assignments at Brooklyn College, reading a new play of his at Chuck Maryan’s workshop, and directing two new shows in rehearsal.
His biggest disappointment is “postponement (cancellation) of a reading of one of A Neighbor of Van Gogh’s for some supposedly interested producer. Someone has been lying to someone.”
Monday, February 24, 1997
8:30 PM. I didn’t sleep well last night, so I pretty much dragged myself through the day, accomplishing a good deal less than I would have liked.
Nevertheless, I did manage to get from Westlaw all of the Miami Herald stories on the 2 Live Crew obscenity trials in Broward County. Tonight I downloaded them to one of the diskettes I bought at Office Max yesterday.
I also put the large Lexis files about 2 Live Crew on the same diskette. I guess I have the makings of a book there – at least I’ve got tons of factual material from newspapers and magazines.
I’m not really a journalist and wouldn’t want to interview people, which is something a book about the obscenity trials likely would need. I know from my past experience that there’s nothing I hate more than cold-calling strangers.
In today’s mail I got the NEA fellowship application. The deadline is in a few weeks, so in the afternoon I used the office typewriter to fill out the application form, and tonight, after the Fellows’ meeting, I printed out nine copies of the 26-page manuscript I developed earlier, adding “In the Sixties” to the Florida grant application manuscript of “Twelve-Step Barbie” and “Cuban-Chinese Restaurants.”
For the past twenty years, I’ve applied unsuccessfully for NEA creative writing fellowships. At this point, they award fewer of them further apart (now only every two years) and the money is a lot less in real terms: the $20,000 grant amount has stayed the same for about 18 years.
Come next January, I don’t expect anything more from the NEA than the usual rejection notice – but obviously it’s idiotic not to apply.
I also took the file I downloaded in which different newspaper articles compare places (Kuwait, Israel, Swaziland, Taiwan) to “the size of New Jersey.”
It’s too bad I destroyed the original story I wrote for New Jersey Online, which Laura Italiano didn’t want. But I’ve decided the article might interest one of the three big Jersey dailies, the Star-Ledger, Record or Asbury Park Press.
Anxious about the new set of Nova classes I start teaching in March, I wrote and printed out the assignment for the next American Lit class, which will be due on March 22 (check), the day we go over O’Connor, Roth, Oates, Updike and Ellison.
Having said all that, I actually didn’t do so bad today in terms of productivity.
Liz gave me the article she wrote on pro se divorce training for the issue of Florida Law Review open only to UF faculty.
I’ve gotten halfway through it, and while the article is generally well-written, it’s pretty dull. Clearly, it’s torture for Liz to write this kind of thing.
Nina Smith apparently never received my PICAP document, so she postponed this morning’s meeting till a week from today. I’ll have to be at Dean Matasar’s planning session next Monday, but the others can go over the document without me.
The material from the DOE hasn’t yet arrived, so I was able to avoid doing CGR work most of the day.
The meeting with the Fellows took place after 5 PM. Thanks to Mary Kay’s leadership, I think they’ve pretty much taken care of what needs to be done about the symposium.
Of course, I’m aware that five weeks from tonight, I will no longer be a CGR employee, so It would be foolish – and unnatural – of me not to disengage at least a little bit.
Rhonda is getting married next Friday, and apparently we’re all invited to the wedding.
I didn’t get much personal e-mail today, though Alice thanked me in a brief note for my nice words about her Richard Simmons Newsletter article.
I’m deliberately holding off on replying to Sean, though actually it isn’t that hard to put it off.
I don’t want Sean to think I’m anxious to keep up a heavy e-mail correspondence, and at this point, I’m really not.
Once the thrill of contacting Sean and finding out he’s alive and well and still thinks of me fondly subsided, my silly fantasies about Sean basically disappeared.
We’ve been getting on with our lives without contact for all these years, and the truth is that I find Sean a bit dull.
When I got home tonight, there was a message from Bruce Gaultney, the editor of the Star-Banner. By that time, he had left he office, so I recorded a message for him.
Is it crazy of me to be concerned that he’s going to yell at me – maybe for not saying the piece had previously been in the Gainesville Sun? Or that he’s had to handle a lot of negative reaction from conservative Christian readers today, and that he wants me to verify my facts?
I can’t imagine what he wants to say, but my first impulse is that I’ve done something wrong.
I now feel as mentally exhausted as I did last evening, but hopefully I’ll sleep better tonight. I wish I had the gift of being able to drop off to solid sleep in twenty minutes. What kind of person can do that?
Wednesday, February 26, 1997
10 PM. Mom called last night to tell me I got in a postcard from MacDowell saying they had all my materials and I’d hear from them in about a month.
Coincidentally, I then got a call from Brad Richard (at first I thought the voice saying “Richie…” was Elihu), who apologized after discovering he’d missed the deadline for the recommendation for MacDowell. I told him not to worry since they apparently didn’t need it.
Brad says that teaching at NOCCA is burning him out. He’s looking forward to going on sabbatical over the next year, but Brad needs some extra money to get by, so he’s applying for that fellowship at the University of Wisconsin at Madison for MFA’s who have yet to publish a book.
Apparently every MFA grad in the country – and there are plenty of them by now – applies for this position. I wished Brad good luck and told him to stay in touch.
As I was working out at 8 AM today, I got a call from that guy, Gene Fox, who read my article in the Ocala paper, and asked the editor how to get in touch with me. I asked him to phone me later at work.
At my desk, I wrote a breezy, chatty e-mail to Sean, making sure I mentioned Doug’s name because he hasn’t.
Anyway, I don’t expect a response for at least a week, and it seems less important now – probably to Sean as well, as we’ve realized we don’t quite have room for each other in our everyday lives. Still, I’d rather not lose touch with Sean again.
Chuck Ruberg called the office late yesterday. He wanted to send out the stuff to me so I could begin my memo research on copyrighting, trademarking and possibly patenting the Sunshine State Standards.
Chuck told Laura he would pay my salary for however long it took, but he needed to get a purchase order first.
After consulting with Joann and Laura, I decided to ask for four weeks’ worth of salary – two pay periods totaling $3,200 – and Chuck didn’t blink an eye.
At least I’ve brought in some money to CGR for salary purposes; Laura said it will go to pay Tucker.
At the law library, I took out some books on intellectual property. I felt a little rusty going through the stacks, but I’m glad I had the chance to do more IP research in education before I leave.
When I tried to borrow the books, my ID card showed up “Not Valid After January 11,” but Susy fixed that. She and Rick seemed sad to hear I’ll be leaving UF law school.
That makes me feel good, and so did the reaction of the Sundowne manager and maintenance director when I gave in my formal letter saying I’m leaving; they jokingly offered to chauffeur me back and forth to South Florida every day. I guess they consider me a model tenant.
Rick told me that the planning sessions with Dean Matasar are four-hour Total Quality Management-type, touchy-feely visioning exercises. It sounds as if it’s going to be both bizarre and interesting to write about.
At lunch, I got the new Poets & Writers in the mail, and I had time this evening to send out five submissions to little magazines. When I have more free time, I’d like to try to write stuff specifically tailored to the topic-based anthologies looking for stories.
Back at the office, Julia gave me a message that Ralph Blumenthal, a New York Times reporter I’ve read all my adult life, had wanted to speak with me and that Lucy Komisar had given him my number. Poor Lucy has few people who will speak up for her and many in PEN who are happy to disparage her.
When Blumenthal called me back, I tried to sound reasonable. I enjoyed speaking with such an obviously intelligent man, but I could tell he was trying to size me up – he done research on me – and I’m not sure how I came off.
But it sounded as if he’s only exploring the possibility of doing an article, and after the one in the Daily News didn’t appear, I’m not going to expect one in the Times, much less one that will quote me – although he seemed to like my line about Galsworthy not founding PEN with the intention that the Forsytes would run it.
I printed out the last of the six American Literature writing assignments, which will be due at the April 5 class. That leaves me only a final essay exam to make up.
I haven’t yet read the Business Communications text, but I phoned the publisher in Cincinnati and they said they’d send me a teachers’ edition, overheads and handouts in about a week.
Jeff Wade found my “Legislators in Love” in Funny Times, which allowed me to xerox it. When it appeared in October, I accidentally threw it away without looking at my article.
Before I left the office, Gene Fox called. He said he was visiting his family in Dunnellon and was going back on Thursday to his home in Rochester, but he wanted to meet me “and perhaps members of your group.”
He sounded like a gay man, but after thinking about our conversation, some things didn’t sound right. For example, he seemed not to have heard of the Colorado Amendment 2 case. And he said I probably got a lot of negative response because the article “seemed pro-gay.”
After Friday’s bombing of a gay and lesbian bar in Atlanta – following last summer’s bombing of an abortion clinic there and the still-unsolved Olympics bombing, plus the discovery of a bomb at Jacksonville synagogue, planted by an Orthodox Jewish nationalist who wanted to kill Shimon Peres, who was speaking there – I can’t be too careful.
Greg said he’s going to call me tomorrow, and I told him he could come to the office if he wished, but now I’m a bit unsure. Hopefully, he’ll realize that Gainesville is 50 miles away from Dunnellon and he’s got to be at Orlando Airport later, so it won’t be worth his while.
This evening I did a quick defrost to melt the ice in my freezer and then went to the public library to return the tapes and books which I’ll never have time to watch and read. From there, I went to Albertsons to replenish my grocery supply.
Having finished my reading for the day, I’m listening to “Musica Antiqua,” kind of medieval and Elizabethan music, on our local NPR station.