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

by Richard Grayson

Friday, September 12, 1997

9 PM. I slept fitfully last night. Despite having been told that my New York Times letter would appear, if at all, on the weekend, I wondered whether it might be in today’s paper, and that crept into my dreams.

At Nova half an hour early this morning, I xeroxed the Albuquerque Journal article and some of my transcripts. So far I’ve been unable to locate my Brooklyn College B.A. and M.F.A. transcripts, but I’m sure I’ll find them if I look further.

In class, I went over “Shooting an Elephant” by Orwell, and stressed showing, not telling, in writing narrative before I returned the students’ essays for revision.

I-95 slowed to a crawl after the Palm Beach County line, so I got off at Palmetto Park Boulevard and got some newspapers (and surprised myself pleasantly by weighing in at 145 on the scale at Publix) before heading to FAU via Military Trail to Glades Road.

I had a message in my departmental mailbox from Randall Murray, an editor of the Boca Raton News. When I called him, he told me that after he called the English Department on Wednesday, he went through hell trying to find me because nobody knew who I was.

(There also was an urgent note from the secretary, Rebecca, who needs my syllabi. I got neither message on Wednesday because the office was locked in the evening.)

Anyway, Murray wants to use my piece as a “Local Opinion” column and ask me to stop by the news office at 4 PM to get a headshot taken. They put color photos at the top of each column, which appears on the front page.

This meant I had to make another trip back, and I encountered bad traffic and bad weather the four times I drove between Davie and Boca today, but I guess it was worth it.

In class, I read poems from the 20th anniversary issue of Gargoyle in order to show my creative writing students the kind of poetry being published in literary magazines these days. I suspect some of them may have been a little shocked.

Getting home at 12:40 PM, I saw that the storm had knocked out the power because the radio clocks were flashing, the microwave said RESET, and the answering machine was offline.

After lunch, I lay down for an hour and listened to ABC’s soap All My Children, which is running a storyline about homophobic parents insisting their gay son “change” with the help of one of those quack psychiatrists (the kind who impressed Judge Frusciante so much). So far, the show has been quite intelligent in handling the issues involved.

I exercised at 2 PM and then left in another downpour an hour later. The Boca Raton News complex is one of those pink and cerulean buildings near Mizner Park between Federal Highway and Dixie Highway.

I was in and out of the newsroom in about five minutes after the photographer, Kat – who was on the job for only two days – took half a dozen shots in gradations of serious to smiley-faced.

Just this afternoon, of course, whiteheads began appearing in profusion on my chin.

Back at home before too long, I ate my usual frozen diet dinner, read the papers, listened to NPR and vegged out. After 7 PM, I went out grocery-shopping.

No e-mail today except from Alice, who told me to consecutively paginate all the stories in the package I’m sending her. She and Andreas are on their way to Vienna or Venice – I forget which – so she was very busy.

My first FAU paycheck should have been direct-deposited today, but I haven’t called the NationsBank phone info line all week because every call last week rang up a service charge of fifty cents (after the first twenty calls each month, which are free). I’ll call tomorrow when the deposit would have been recorded.

The exterminator came today, supposedly – but I didn’t detect any bug spray in the air. My sinuses have been killing me all day, and I still have a headache. Yawn. (I really did just yawn. I’m either sleepy or just sinus-clogged.)

Saturday, September 13, 1997

9:30 PM. Today was the most relaxing day I’ve had since I moved to this apartment. I spent at least four hours at Barnes & Noble, both in the morning and afternoon, reading the texts for my classes.

It’s interesting that the texts for both Language 1500 at Nova and English 102 at FAU use many of the same excerpts: Isak Dinesen’s “The Iguana”; interesting sections of Mike Rose’s intellectual autobiography; the essay “Beauty: When the Other Dancer Is the Self” by Alice Walker.

I doubt my students will get as much out of the texts as I do. I know when I was a college freshman, I didn’t get very much intellectual stimulation from my English textbooks. Of course, those books predated the current process-based approach to writing and tended to be “handbooks” rather than “guides.”

I also read the last chapter I’ll cover next Saturday in my Business, Government and Society course, which deals with Supreme Court cases regulating business; for me, they brought up fond memories of Con Law with Professor Baldwin at 8 AM in the spring of 1992. Call me weird, but I get pleasure from reading, thinking and writing.

The Times didn’t come this morning, so I went out at 7:30 AM to buy it. But my letter didn’t appear in it today and I doubt that it will appear in Sunday’s paper – which probably won’t get delivered, either.

While I was out in the relatively cool early morning, I went to Walmart, filled my gas tank and made an ATM withdrawal ($394 from FAU got directly deposited yesterday) before coming home to work out.

I sent off my application to Arizona State’s Walter Cronkite College of Journalism’s M.M.C. program although I still need to provide some transcripts, letters of recommendation, GRE scores and a personal statement.

At Mom’s, I printed out my FAU syllabi to give to Rebecca and I made 14 copies of the writing assignment I’ll give out next Saturday.

I’ve completed most of my preparation for this week, except for Tuesday evening’s class. Of course I can never be prepared enough, especially given all the unexpected events that are likely to occur.

I got my first look at a Kevin after he sent a photo of himself with a friend from Seattle in a car. I was surprised how old Kevin looked; his goatee is very bushy, thicker than my beard ever grew in 17 years.

Although Kevin is nice-looking, I’m not at all attracted to him, and I guess if I’d known what he looked like right away, I would have lost interest. I was expecting someone “prettier” and less macho-looking.

Maybe Kevin sensed that and that’s why he was reluctant to see me in Gainesville at Christmastime. By now, of course, Kevin is my friend, and it’s a relief in a way not to be attracted to him.

Mom said that Marc is flying home tomorrow night, a day early, because Jay, his boss, didn’t give him enough money for the last night in the hotel.

Mom got a packet from Sedona, Arizona, but that upscale resort town is way beyond her reach financially. Jonathan would like them to move to Flagstaff, but Mom doesn’t really want to live in a place with a cold and snowy winter.

One might ask why I’m applying to grad school at ASU at the same time my parents are thinking about moving to Arizona. Of course, Phoenix and Flagstaff are four hours apart, and in any case, I don’t think we’ll end up in the same state.

I’m surprised I haven’t yet gotten application packets from the other grad schools I e-mailed.

Using my $50 Barnes & Noble gift certificate from Alice, I bought Writer’s Market for 1998 and a picture book on Queen Victoria for Mom.

Tuesday, September 16, 1997

9 PM. I don’t expect to get enough sleep tonight, but I slept fine last night, and tomorrow night I can relax because I have Thursday off.

Last evening I had a nice class at FAU in Boca, spending the last half-hour reading Salinger’s “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” which seemed to entertain the class. It was 9:30 PM before I came home because I stopped at Bread of Life and the Racetrack gas station, where regular is now $1.13 a gallon.

(I was just interrupted by a student calling.)

Yesterday I bought some laundry tokettes from Marie and told her that the key to my top lock had never worked. Actually, they gave me two keys to the bottom lock, but in any case, Marie gave me the right key without admitting their error.

In the mail yesterday, I got an application from the Ucross Foundation in rural Wyoming. (I guess all of Wyoming is rural.) Their deadline for the season that ends in June is October 1, and I debated whether to apply.

Today I decided it’s worth the limited investment of a $20 processing fee and few dollars of xeroxing and a little time. It looks like a beautiful place, in the kind of environment I’ve never lived in before – the high plains of the Rocky Mountain West – but I’m afraid I might feel isolated there.

There might be no New York Times delivery, no town to visit as I did in Lake Forest at Ragdale, and I’d be hundreds of miles away from the nearest big city. Could I deal with that? Either I’d get a lot of work done or I’d go nuts.

Anyway, it’s probably difficult to get in, and my very old “to whom it may concern” letters of reference probably won’t help, but I can’t ask anyone to write a recommendation on such short notice.

Dad went out this morning, and when he returned at 10 AM, Mom called to say that while Jonathan felt ill with a bad sore throat, Dad and I could bring the bed over here.

I decided it would be better to have three people and said I’d wait till another day. I’ve lived here for two weeks with this little bed in the living room, and I’ve grown accustomed to sleeping here. In fact, I rarely go to the bedroom at all and find that I don’t really need all this space.

I wanted to go to Boca and see if I could get the Boca Raton News, so I took the Turnpike and got four copies from a vending machine near the exit. Even at a distance, I recognized my photo on the front page by the first column just above the fold.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my looks. Beardless in the photo, I look better than I thought I would. I have a cleft in my chin. But the lines on my face seem so deep. Mom said our deep nasolabial folds are a legacy from Grandpa Herb.

I feel old. Despite my persistent acne, I’m at the point where I can no longer pretend that I’m a young man. I thought I’d accept the transition to what I consider middle age with more aplomb.

After all, it’s my brains, not my looks, which have always been what I’ve gotten satisfaction from. It’s not like I’m one of those gay pretty boys who can’t face the loss of his youthful beauty. I was never beautiful; rarely did anyone ever give me a second glance.

Yet I find it hard to accept that I’m the person behind this face. Well, I suppose I’ll adjust to it by 2000 or so.

The article, “Only Deadbeats Pay Off Their Credit Cards,” was, of course, very short, about the length of my longer New York Times letters to the editor. But in a number of short paragraphs within a narrow column and bolder type, it almost looked like a real column.

Several of my students phoned during the day, and of course they can’t all have these health problems and family emergencies at the same time. I had only six of eleven students show up at Nova tonight, and another had a friend send over her paper – so that makes only seven papers to grade by Thursday, before the 8 AM class and the Saturday class hand in their papers.

Tonight I talked about encyclopedias, card catalogs, periodical indexes, and other reference sources, and they discussed the proposed topics or general areas for their research paper. It was an okay class, nothing very interesting.

Despite the Diet Peps I drank while I taught, I’m getting slightly drowsy now. But if I do have insomnia and stay up much of the night, I have plenty of things to do to keep me busy.

Saturday, September 20, 1997

4 PM. I felt so tired today that I wondered for a moment if I might have a serious illness. You always read about these people who discover they have a tumor or something after they go to a doctor following a period of time when they are unusually tired.

Although I went to bed early last night and rested yesterday afternoon, I felt exhausted upon awakening even after a good night’s sleep.

I had to force myself to exercise before I went off to teach at Nova.

During the four-hour class, I didn’t notice any weariness because I was so preoccupied with teaching, but when I got home I realized that I’m coming down with the cold that I figured I would get when I was with a sick Jonathan on Thursday.

My throat is getting that tickle, and it’s not from lecturing in class. Anyway, I’d certainly rather have a cold than a serious illness. There’s definitely a cold going around: my students have been getting sick left and right.

After reading the paper, I feel like doing what I did most of the past 24 hours: lie in bed under the covers. I ran out of throat lozenges and I should probably go out and get some for tonight, but I don’t have the energy.

Well, if I’m sick, I’ll pamper myself. While I don’t know how I’ll get through this week’s teaching – or more importantly, the grading – somehow I’ll handle it.

I don’t believe getting sick is an indication that I’m run-down, but certainly the stress of all the changes in my life – new jobs, new apartment, the long commutes – probably made me vulnerable.

Anyway, I know how silly all this must sound.

I enjoyed my course today: I went over the chapters on business ethics, and the PBS video from Ethics in America played well. Although I’m two chapters behind the syllabus, it’s no big deal if I don’t catch up.

I also showed the students my letter in last Sunday’s Times, “Big Tobacco Has Eyed China for a Century,” which of course discussed material from our text. I’m especially glad I was identified as an adjunct in Nova’s business school, but I’m not sure anyone noticed.

This cluster in the B.P.M. program has only another eight weeks of classes after this semester ends and then all the students will be graduating, so I don’t need to bust my brains – or theirs.

I know this attitude isn’t exactly ethical, but I’ve never claimed to be ethical. I just have to teach ethics.

And if I don’t grade the four sets of papers I’ve got now with the kind of precision that I usually do – if I just do a half-assed job and give everyone higher grades than they deserve – I suppose I’ll have to live with my conscience.

Anyway, being sick is a great excuse to do less than I usually do.

After class, I got yesterday’s mail at my parents’ house and chatted with Marc about his trip to Southern California. Unfortunately, he really didn’t get to see much of it, except for the first day when he rented a car and drove for two hours in rush hour traffic to visit Daniela and her family in Beverly Hills.

They took him around the area and he went to Rodeo Drive. But he didn’t really get to check out Los Angeles before he had to go back to his shared room at the Marriott near John Wayne Airport for all the workshops he attended.

After I left my parents’ with my mail (Amy from Ragdale sent me a postcard supposedly written by her teddy bear José), I got ice milk at Publix and returned the two videos and the Salinger and O’Connor books, all due on Monday, to the public library here in Davie.

Today’s only e-mail was from a student unable to come to class today due to a bad cold.

I suppose if I need to, I can take time off from work – although unlike at CUNY, I’ll probably be docked pay if I’m absent at FAU or Nova.

Well, maybe I will go out now and get some lozenges and other cold stuff. In a way, I’m almost looking forward to feeling I can pamper myself, and perhaps that’s the reason I caught a cold at this time. I now feel I have permission to watch junky TV or just lie here and kvetch.