A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-March, 1997

by Richard Grayson

Wednesday, March 12, 1997

10 PM. I feel the giddiness that has come with lack of sleep and a palpable sense of both accomplishment and relief.

My two nights of Nova teaching are over, and they were pretty good classes although I probably could have been even more effective.

I do enjoy the rapport I have with my students and the sense that they’re learning.

Last night, Deborah, who works at City College, said she “raved” about me to the head of City College in Fort Lauderdale and asked if I’d consider teaching there. Probably not, though I guess it’s nice to know I’m well-liked.

(“Well-liked”? That makes me think of Death of a Salesman’s “He’s liked, but not well-liked.”)

My mind was active on the drive back from Ocala tonight. I love the smell of Paynes Prairie as I pass it on I-75: the open spaces and crisp air also mean that I’m almost home. Well, it’s home for a few more weeks, anyway.

Last night I stayed up late re-reading Ellison’s “Battle Royal” from Invisible Man and Roth’s “Defender of the Faith.”

This morning I got to work at 9 AM and left in time to get home and hear myself being interviewed on Noon Edition on Classic 89/WUFT-FM on the repeal of state sentencing guidelines. Laura had asked if I would talk to a young reporter who called the office, and of course I had a sound bite or two ready.

On the station’s 4:30 PM Florida First show, they used my final quote from when the reporter asked me if I had anything else to say. I told him I wanted to rephrase my main point into a more concise and cogent sound bite.

As I told my class tonight, that’s one of the few times you can revise your speaking the way you can normally revise written communications.

I called Mom and let her listen to me on the radio. I will miss the part of my job that has me fielding calls from the press.

Ralph Blumenthal ran his New York Times story on Lucy Komisar and the PEN wars, but there was nary a mention of me. Oh well, those are the breaks. My name will get in the New York Times again, I’m certain.

Kevin e-mailed that things are quiet in his office at Warner Bros. Records since crazy Jennifer is on a leave of absence and his boss is on jury duty.

He’s looking into the American Film Institute’s acting workshop and trying to see what his friend Rachel Davidson, who works for Norman Lear studios, can advise him about next steps in finding small roles in TV or movies.

Sean wrote that skiing in Colorado was okay, but unfortunately Doug got the flu after a couple of days and Sean spent the rest of the trip nursing him. Doug’s still not quite over it, and now, back in Tampa, Sean seems to have caught it.

Sean said he appreciated my answering his questions about whether I was straight, by or gay; married or not; and had kids or not. He remarked that since I’m in my forties and don’t have kids, “that must be driving your parents crazy. Do they pester you about them?”

He recommended the film Beautiful Thing, so we still must have the same tastes.

And he answered my question about how he changed in the past fourteen years: “Probably not much, really. Physically I am older, but psychologically I’m still pretty immature. Maybe everyone feels like they are still kids trapped in adult bodies. I’m still pretty shy. I still apologize too much. I just don’t feel like a grown-up. However, when I spend time with young adults (19-21 years old), I feel very old.”

I’m still fond of Sean, who seems to have turned out to be a mensch, and I wish I could be friends with him and Doug.

Perhaps thinking so much about Sean isn’t healthy, that I’m letting myself believe that something could happen between us again. On the other hand, a big part of me knows that Sean is in my past – at least the sexual part of our relationship is. I’d never sleep with Sean again, not when I value the relationship he’s built with Doug over 15 years, and I’m sure that he’d never sleep with me.

Sean’s comment about my parents pestering me about not having kids caught me off guard. My parents have never pestered me about anything, least of all about not having kids.

Mom and Dad have never expressed a desire to be grandparents to me, or as far as I know, to my brothers. To be honest, I’d never really thought of it at all.

Perhaps Mom and Dad have discussed it with each other, but I suspect that they still see me and my brothers as “the boys,” sort of the way Willy and Linda Loman viewed Biff and Happy.

It’s only recently that I’ve even given a thought to having a biological child. Although I might pass on some good genes – today Mom talked about how, as a baby, I loved to be read to, and when she would pause in a much-loved story, I would fill in the missing words, astonishing her with my memory – I think the human race will continue to evolve without my DNA.

Besides, I’m making other contributions to our culture, such as it is.

Think about Thoreau, Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Henry James, Flannery O’Connor, Philip Roth, Henry Adams, Zora Neale Hurston. Then don’t think about me.

Saturday, March 15, 1997

10 PM. I don’t know where the day went to. I just finished reading the New York Times, and if I hadn’t done my laundry at 8 PM, finishing the job an hour ago, I’d have yet another chore to put off to tomorrow.

As it was, I didn’t read any of the three chapters I need to cover on Tuesday and Wednesday, nor did I grade a single one of the 15 papers from the Gainesville American Literature class.

I did sleep soundly last night, not waking up till 7:30 AM – which is an improvement over 5 AM. Yet I remained tired and I lay in bed for hours, drifting in and out of consciousness.

When I first started teaching at Broward Community College in 1981, I remember being so exhausted by full-time work that I slept – or lay in bed – nearly all Saturday. Today almost felt like that.

However, at 10:30 AM I forced myself to do step aerobics, and before noon, I got the mail, which included the AWP Chronicle.

I found one magazine I could submit stories to, and at work I used Netscape for browsing the other sites listed in the Chronicle, including one run by Matthew Paris, the former editor of the Brooklyn College Literary Review or whatever it was called.

He’s still in Brooklyn, apparently still writing without success in the “paper publishing world” of New York trade houses.

Well, there’s not much hope for anyone literary there, but I suspect that Matthew Paris, like myself, will always be overlooked because of lack of talent rather than the stupidity and venality of the publishers (although those traits are real).

I sent something to Matthew’s enterprise, New World Publishing, on diskette as an ASCII document, the way he requested manuscripts.

Pete Cherches called tonight, and he said he won’t submit at all to “anything that’s not on paper.” His delightful India piece was taken by a paperback magazine, Grand Tour.

Pete’s new job is both mind-deadening and well-paying; the company has an archaic computer system, and it’s been hard for Pete to get used to office work, especially in a field he expected to leave.

St. Martin’s still has Pete’s dissertation, and he hasn’t given up hopes of securing an academic job eventually. It must be quite disappointing for him to get his Ph.D. and yet be unable to find a professorship.

But the academic job market will be awful for years to come. When I mentioned how Patrick told me how many Ph.D.s had applied for the Broward Community College job openings, Pete said, “Well, of course you applied.”

Why would Pete think I’d apply for a job that I had sixteen years ago? If I had to, I’d teach at BCC for a semester, but not for more than that; grading all those comp papers would eventually drive me up a wall.

I feel frustrated because I keep having to tell people like Pete and Elihu when I’m leaving my job and apartment in Gainesville and where I’m going. I understand that they don’t keep track of my life’s deadlines, but why do they keep re-asking the questions as if they’re expecting a different answer?

Perhaps I shouldn’t have, but I took time today to see the 3 PM showing of British filmmaker Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies at the Royal Park Cinema. The 2½-hour movie was brilliant, like a work of literature, with great dialogue and superb acting.

It’s too bad that Hollywood movies are all formulae, special effects, car crashes, explosions, remakes of third-rate sitcoms, etc., when you see what good stories can be told on film.

Well, I guess it’s the same reason that publishers print books by Alice’s clients: they make money.

Sunday, March 16, 1997

7 PM. Yesterday I started thinking that the one thing that’s most preying on my mind, the Department of Education memo, is probably something – there is no graceful way to put this – I should get out of doing.

I thought about this when I woke up at 4 AM and was unable to get back to sleep.

The truth is, I just don’t want to do it, and the thought of it hanging out over my head after I leave the Center for Governmental Responsibility fills me with dread.

This is, of course, a self-induced misery.

While I have a 10 AM appointment with Jon tomorrow, I’ll try to get ahold of Chuck Ruberg earlier and tell him simply that I’m leaving my job at CGR in two weeks and can’t finish the memo then.

If I let him think I’m going on to another job – at Nova – that will make it easier.

What’s the worst thing he – or Jon or Liz or Laura – can do? My feeling, self-serving and selfish though it is, goes like this:

The next six weeks are going to be difficult enough without my promising to complete a project which I don’t want to do and which will bring me no money. I can take off two or maybe three days this week and read the Nova text and grade papers.

So what did I do today? Well, I finished the entire Sunday New York Times, the Miami Herald, and articles from other papers online. I did some low-impact aerobics, washed the car, bought some groceries, and watched some news shows on TV.

Yesterday, rereading my 1980s diary entries – as silly and pompous as some of them sound – reassured me that I am not my job or my apartment or my writing career, that all those things have been mutable my entire adult life, and yet I feel a continuity that you’d expect if I’d been, like Sean, in the same job and the same house and with the same person for the last dozen years.

In the journals, I read not only of the love I had for Sean and the intimacy we shared, but also something I’d forgotten: his late-night calls from Gainesville in the fall of 1982, when he was lonely and uncomfortable, and how I tried not to show him the exasperation I felt at his inability to break through his shyness and meet people at UF.

Obviously Doug was willing to take charge of Sean’s life if I wasn’t, and Doug seems to have done a good job in making Sean happy all these years.

My fantasies about Sean’s social life were based on my own experiences at college: I needed to let Sean go precisely so that he could discover the world on his own, the way I did.

At 18, I wasn’t going to have any part of an older guy like Brad trying to control my life. While I still admire Sean for taking risks that I never did, I don’t give myself enough credit for being independent when I was young.

I thought nothing of going to the movies or a restaurant or a party by myself when I was 18, and I think nothing of it now. Even if I weren’t gay, I probably would have remained a bachelor, for bachelorhood is something I find has great appeal.

Yes, I get lonely, but not nearly as much as other people might think, and I greedily hoard my solitude. Friends like Pete and Alice would understand, and I expect Kevin does, too.

Anyway, being in contact with Sean again has reminded me that our relationship ended in the best way possible, that we both ended up getting what we wanted.

I’ve always felt more distress at perceived lack of progress in my “career” than I have in any romantic problems – or lack of same.

I still feel that, whatever my accomplishments, I’ve never achieved what I might have because of an inability to focus, the lack of a single-minded vision. I write stories instead of a novel and I write articles instead of a nonfiction book.

Notice that that I haven’t talked (written) at all about the law in any of this, although it’s been hard to escape the law in the last 5½ years at a law school. I think it will be good not to think of myself as a lawyer for a while.

And I find myself not wanting to be pegged as a gay activist or a gay writer even though in the past couple of years, most of my writing – fiction, and now nonfiction – has dealt with being gay.

Coming out is a never-ending process, but I’ve worked through a lot of it in my mind, and I want to move on. Move on. It’s time to get going, kiddo.

Until I figure out some things – like how I can earn money to support myself and where I’m going to be living and what I want to write about next – I’ll have a difficult time.

But I’m in decent shape physically and mentally, and my finances are better than they have been even though I’m facing unemployment. (Of course, given my financial irresponsibility in the past, that’s hardly reason to celebrate.)

Basically, I’m an optimist. It was hard when I got out of law school and had no job except adjuncting at Santa Fe Community College, but I made do. I got involved with the No on One campaign and had articles published in newspapers and I kept myself busy.

I’m not a pushover. I may not be anyone’s idea of Mr. Stability, but I’ve survived to almost 46 with all my wits and my hair and most of my teeth.

Which reminds me: it’s time to floss and use the, damn it, what’s that thing called?

Tuesday, March 18, 1997

2 PM. It’s a cool, cloudy, lazy day. I was comfortable just now when I walked to the mailbox in a t-shirt and shorts (no mail today – or not yet), and I’ve got the window open, and I can feel the breeze.

Last night I slept well although I had anxiety dreams about losing my e-mail account at the law school. I’ll have to learn the commands in Delphi’s system, as there’s more stuff I can do there then I know how to do at present.

Ronna called this morning just as I was about to begin exercising. She couldn’t talk long because she was doing Hadassah work and Chelsea was home from school for the day, having slept too late to make an early computer class.

While Chelsea was occupied with The Magic School Bus on PBS, Ronna told me that she suspects that her assistant at Hadassah – who’s also her successor, come next winter – is taking all her work e-mail in a power play. She gets e-mail from me and her aunt in hardcopy on the one day a week when she goes into Manhattan.

Ronna said she’s suddenly gotten huge after not showing for months – although her 17-pound weight gain still puts her under her weight before she began dieting a few years ago.

She feels healthy, and she recently had an ultrasound test which proved normal. The baby, a girl, is due in early June – “when a lot of good people are born,” Ronna said.

Matthew is very busy these days. His program is going through an accreditation review, and at the same time it’s getting close to Match Day, when medical students are picked for residency programs.

I asked how Alan was doing in Orlando, and Ronna said he died seven weeks ago. Since then, Valerie has been acting oddly, taking the kids out of school and going on lots of cruises and visits to Alan’s relatives around the country.

Valerie is even taking Ronna’s mother to see the Taj Mahal on a one-week tour of northern India. Apparently they were watching TV together, a show about India, and Beatrice offhandedly remarked that she always wanted to see the Taj Mahal. The next thing she knew, Valerie was buying their tickets.

Oh, I almost forgot: I heard myself on the radio a couple of times this morning.

Yesterday I was interviewed by Classic 89/WUFT-FM about the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusing to hear an appeal of the Florida Supreme Court’s approval of the law allowing the state to sue the tobacco companies.

My comment seemed remarkably uninformed and uninformative, something I probably could have said better as a first-year Torts student. But at least it sounded polished.

I now realize it actually didn’t quite matter exactly what I said as long as they had a clear, concise sound bite from “Richard Grayson, staff attorney at the Center for Governmental Responsibility at the University of Florida.”

Two weeks from today, that identity will be part of my past.

I went to school at 7:15 AM to get the New York Times from the lockbox. I’ll probably continue to get my paper there since I spent $32 for the semester-long subscription.

E-mail roundup:

Susan Mernit wrote me at the new Delphi address: “So when are you coming up North for a visit?”

Josh also sent a “so?” question: “So where are you working now?” That depressed me, for reasons I can’t put my finger on. Either I had forgotten how much I dislike exchanging e-mail with Josh, or else I’m comfortable with unemployment. I won’t reply to Josh for at least a week as I don’t want to make our correspondence a regular thing.

Patrick wrote that he went to his ex-wife’s house in Clearwater to see Chris and his fiancée. Patrick’s former in-laws were there, and he said they look pretty good considering they’re in their nineties. Chris’s cousins were also visiting. One has a master’s in elementary education but can’t find a job in Buffalo, so she’s looking in Florida.

Alice wrote that Peter can’t tell me when my article will appear in the Star-Ledger, though he probably can get me copies of it when it does run. I assume that it will eventually turn up on Westlaw, though as of Sunday, it had not appeared.

Alice and Jeane are still planning on going to the their 25th anniversary reunion at Brooklyn College, though I’m certain they won’t like it very much because they hated Midwood High School’s 20th anniversary reunion.

Although I’m as prepared to teach my Business Communications course tonight as I’ll ever be, I had hoped to be able to grade and return the class’s American Lit papers.

I’ll be getting a new batch of papers from students tonight and tomorrow night and have to return them by next week. So much for relaxing this weekend!

As I’ve always said, I dislike the anticipation of teaching evening classes. But now that I’m older, I also have to modulate my energy level to be “up” at the later hour when my middle-aged system is usually getting ready to shut down for the night.