A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late September, 1997

by Richard Grayson

Monday, September 22, 1997

2 PM. I’m spending the afternoon in bed although I don’t feel as bad as I thought I would.

I’ve been taking Cold-Eeze, those zinc lozenges, every few hours. Although they upset my stomach a little, they’re supposed to work against cold viruses. The viruses supposedly bond to the zinc molecules instead of the mucous membranes and nasal passages. Who knows if that’s true?

I’ve also been taking all my herbal remedies from echinacea and golden seal to garlic and cat’s claw. And I’ve been eating lots of fruit and vegetables – more than usual (which is a lot more than most people get) – so I can get more nutrients and not fill up with empty calories.

I definitely have a cold: I can feel the virus has invaded my body. But I managed to sleep okay, if for too short a time.

Last evening I watched network TV, something I haven’t done in months, and I fell asleep during Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting on PBS.

It was hard to get to work today, but I made it through my classes at Nova and FAU okay. They weren’t the best classes, but teaching actually took my mind off my discomfort.

Driving to Boca on the Turnpike and down on I-95, I listened to an audio tape of Charles Scribner’s In the Web of Ideas, a book about his publishing career and intellectual pursuits that should last another few weeks of car trips.

I hope to manage with tonight’s class, but if I have to, I’ll let them go really early. Tomorrow I’ve got most of the day to rest and grade papers for the evening class at Nova.

It is nice to have the afternoon off, and to be able to get undressed (t-shirt and boxers) and get under the covers, put my head on the pillow and close my eyes. What I thought was a feeling of well-being after my demi-sleep on Friday afternoon was probably my body reacting to the cold virus.

I know I have the hypochondriac’s concern with minute details of the progress of my illness. God knows what I would be like if I had AIDS or cancer.

The truth is that I’m scared as I approach the age when serious illnesses get more common. I am unprepared financially and mentally to deal with getting sick. You can see what a baby I am when it comes to a common cold.

Sean sent me pictures on AOL but I can’t figure out how to view the files once I’ve downloaded them.

Well, I’m going to go back to resting under the covers for a few hours.

Tuesday, September 23, 1997

4 PM. In two hours, I’ve got to teach at Nova, but I have laryngitis. I didn’t realize how bad it was until a telemarketer from AT&T called at 11 AM and I could barely croak out a “hello.” I guess I’ll do the best I can and dismiss the students early.

That’s what I tried to do last evening at FAU, but I stayed to help some students with the drafts of their papers and ended up getting home at the usual time, 9 PM.

On the drive up to Boca, I realized that the congestion had moved into my chest, and so before I went on campus, I stopped at Eckerd Drugs to buy some cough syrup.

Class went okay: we discussed Annie Dillard, and I don’t really enjoy her nature writing – but all I wanted to do was get through this session. I guess I feel that way about this whole semester. Or maybe that’s the way I feel about my life.

I got annoyed last evening when one of my students suggested I must have a weak immune system to catch a cold because it played into my notion that illnesses are a kind of moral rebuke to those who are living messed-up lives.

I know that attitude is crazy, that anyone can get a cold, but the fact that I haven’t been sick in over three years tells me that I’m under more stress now than I was in Gainesville. That’s because I don’t know where I’m going with my life.

I was in exactly this position when I had my last severe cold, in July 1994: I’d gotten out of law school and didn’t know if I was staying in Gainesville or moving to Tampa (I became ill that Saturday I tried to apartment-hunt in Tampa) or what. I was teaching two summer session classes every day at Santa Fe Community College and I didn’t really want to be doing that.

Anyway, after I started to recover from the cold, I made some decisions, the main one being to rent that cheap studio apartment in Sundowne and stay on in Gainesville. Maybe I’ll be able to find some kind of resolution with the present situation.

Yesterday’s mail brought the University of Washington catalog from their communication school. But that program is academic, and for me, the problem with that – and with all the social sciences – is all the statistics prerequisites. I suppose I can handle all that quantitative stuff if I work hard, but I don’t really feel that plays to my strengths.

Maybe going to graduate school is just the easy way out for me. Also, once I saw Washington’s out-of-state tuition ran to $17,000 a year, I threw out their material – from their library school as well. I can’t afford that.

Better to have a cheaper degree no matter what the prestige of the school is. Or maybe I just need to find a job and I should spend more of my efforts looking for full-time work all over the country.

I haven’t done that yet because I’ve been teaching. I keep remembering Susan Mernit’s warning many years ago about the seductiveness of adjunct work. The jobs are easy to get, the hours aren’t bad, and I don’t have to deal with all the bullshit one puts up with in a “permanent” full-time job.

But I don’t get benefits or sick days, which is why I have to go to work today and tomorrow even though if I felt like this when I worked at CGR, I’d certainly be staying home.

I still might call in sick at FAU tomorrow if I feel really bad. I don’t want to stress myself out and get bronchitis or whatever. Remember how sick I got in the winter of 1980 when I was stressed out? That labyrinthitis seemed to last forever.

Although I exercised lightly and did laundry today, mostly I lay in bed. I feel very tired and I need rest. I don’t know what I’ll do this evening, but I did manage to grade all seven papers I got last Tuesday. They were dreadful, of course.

I just want this semester to be over already, and there are so many weeks to go. No wonder I’m ill: I’m not happy with my life. That tells me I’ve got to change.

The one thing that keeps me going is that I know in a little more than five months, I’ll be in Villa Montalvo in California.

Thursday, September 25, 1997

4:30 PM. My first impulse is to record that I didn’t grade any papers today. It’s so typical of me to want to cite my failures first. I need to give myself a break, no?

Last night I was still very congested, but I managed to collect the FAU class’s papers and keep them until 8 PM, discussing the same Alice Walker essay that I covered at Nova last week.

Home, I was happy to get into bed and watch Ellen. But later, I couldn’t sleep after waking up at 1 AM. I read a little for my classes, but mostly I ruminated and sniffled.

My head started to open up a little, and when I woke up at 5:30 AM after another couple of hours’ sleep, my nasal congestion had mostly dissipated. I’ve got a trace of a stuffed nose, but aside from tiredness (which could be attributed to lack of sleep), I’m fine.

That tells me the zinc lozenges and the other stuff I took to boost my immune system actually did work. But the cold happened, I think, because I’m feeling a bit lost these days.

I know I’m in a holding pattern, and I’m dissatisfied with my life.

Although I’ve made so many changes in the past six months since I left my job at CGR, after a month of teaching at FAU and Nova and three weeks of living here in this apartment where I’m not even settled to the point of having my bed here yet (I’m writing this on my mainly bare bedroom floor, propped up against a pillow), I’m already looking to the next place, the next job. . .

This is definitely Gail Sheehy’s passage of crisis men go through in their late forties. I feel so old. Getting a haircut, I could hardly look at my face in the mirror all the while. I didn’t shave today, wondering if I’ll look better with a beard again.

Short of plastic surgery I can’t afford, I don’t know what I can do to keep my appearance except accept my face and body as that of a man approaching 50. Perhaps, like the men Sheehy writes about, I’ll feel more youthful once I get off this plateau onto the over-50 level.

This sounds ridiculous, I know, but I can’t imagine myself living much longer. There’s nothing I can point to with regret, which may show how hopeless I am. I don’t regret pricking my adventures over a life of stability.

If I’d stayed at Broward Community College all this time, the way Patrick was happy to do, I’d be miserable. But I’d probably own a house and a late-model car and not worry about providing for myself.

I knew there were tradeoffs when I chose to be a nomad. Or did I choose this lifestyle? Use the word lifestyle and people immediately think “gay lifestyle,” but of course my sexual orientation has nothing to do with this.

I’m rambling.

This morning I read the paper, ordered a TV and VCR for my FAU classrooms on Monday so I can show videos, wrote very short and very belated notes to my Ragdale friends Theresa and Matthew, and got my newer story files on a disk so I could take them to Mom’s to put on the desktop computer. Alice is probably wondering why I didn’t send that package of stuff for book editors.

When I showed Mom the photo of the first June group at Ragdale, her first reaction was that I look as young as the people in their twenties and thirties. How we see what we want to see!

Sean is an insecure as he figured he’d be: he didn’t realize I was joking when, after seeing the photo of him in New Orleans, I congratulated him on losing his baby fat.

I replied right away to say I was kidding, that he was skinny in 1982 and he still looks thin. He and Doug are going to Italy tomorrow, and I hope they have a spectacular time.

I got my first phone bill today; after this one, the money will be deducted from my checking account. Capital One said if I deposited $99 in my secured card account, they’d raise my credit limit by $500, to $1,000 total.

I’ll do it, but I can’t seem to get comfortable with borrowing money the way I did a decade ago. I’m trying to run up balances on my Household credit cards so more aren’t canceled, but I’d rather not pay interest.

Somehow the money seems real now. Of course I may get desperate again over the next year and I want all the unsecured credit I can get. At least Household did send me a new GM Card today, so that $250 credit line seems safe for another year.

Brooklyn College sent my B.A. and M.F.A. transcripts, so I made copies I can send to Arizona State, still the only grad school I’ve applied to. Next Thursday I’ll be taking the GRE, so I’d better get moving.

When I went to xerox the transcripts at Office Max, I also bought my 1998 diary: the red “Daily Reminder” hardcover was the only one they had. Since my first diary was 1969, this one will become the thirtieth volume of unreadable daily scribbles.

The Times had an obituary notice for Bernard Lenahan of the New York City school system; he was either the principal or assistant principal at P.S. 203 or assistant principal at Meyer Levin J.H.S. 285, I’m pretty sure.


Monday, September 29, 1997

9:30 PM. Even when I showed poetry videos in part of every class, these Mondays can be very long days, leaving the house at 7:20 AM, getting back from Boca 14 hours later.

Of course I’m here for five hours in the afternoon, but I’m really not able to rest then. Still, I felt more tired just before I ate dinner at 5 PM than I do now.

Last night I slept so deeply that I awoke at 11:30 PM feeling as if the night was over and it was already morning. That’s one of the nicest feelings a person can get: to know he still has hours of sleep ahead of him.

I had the same experience when I woke up at 3 AM and again at 5:30 AM. Finally I got up at 6:15 AM to force myself to exercise.

Last night I’d relaxed with Fox TV’s 8 PM to 9 PM cartoon shows, The Simpsons and King of the Hill, which are better than the sitcoms and hour-long dramas – except for the daytime soaps.

Today on All My Children, Kevin finally wised up and stopped trying to be what his parents and quack psychiatrist were trying to make him – straight – and accepted his homosexuality despite his parents’ rejection.

There was no pedagogical reason to show The United States of Poetry videos to my freshman comp students, but I bet they got more out of it than they would have a lesson from the Prentice-Hall Guide; I hope the poetry opened their eyes.

For the FAU creative writing students, whose poetry is pre-modernist, I showed the Bill Moyers tape with establishment poets – Bly, Kinnell, Olds, Stafford, Paz – who I hope made the case against the kind of greeting-card verse that’s been coming in.

Tonight, my English 102 class – the half that showed up, anyway – seemed unsettled by the language and demeanor of some of the funkier poets in The United States of Poetry video although obviously the multicultural group probably related to seeing people who looked and talked like they do read their own poetry.

I think I have to take the car in tomorrow morning. It’s been making a trilling, squealing sound when I first start it up, and car sounds usually don’t go away by themselves; they just get worse until the car breaks down.

Putting so many miles on the car (more than 130 today), I’ve been more dependent on a car then I have in a long time.

The longer I deal with this idiotic schedule, the more it seems like madness to have taken it on. It’s not only unrelenting, but also so utterly non-remunerative. Yes, it does pay the rent – I put my check for October in the rent slot today – but just barely.