A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early October, 1997

by Richard Grayson

Wednesday, October 1, 1997

9:30 PM. It’s October, and Rosh Hashona began at sundown.

I’ve gotten through another long Wednesday. If I didn’t have the GRE all afternoon tomorrow, I could really relax because I don’t have a full set of papers to grade.

Anyway, I’d like to get some nice sleep tonight. Last night I felt restless. At 2 AM, still unable to sleep, I put on a Body Electric tape and worked out lightly for a half-hour, and then I went online. I finally did fall asleep, and I was glad I didn’t have to force myself to exercise at 6:15 AM.

I took my 8 AM class to the MicroLab, where Sue Spahn finally remembered who I was and where she knew me from. I had the class write on the computers while I had conferences with the three students who handed in late papers, which will save me the trouble of making comments when I grade their work.

I’m not sure whether I embarrassed this girl, Lindsey, when I corrected her use of bondage instead of bond, as in “bond between people.”

“Bondage,” I said, “is when you handcuff your boyfriend to your bed.”

She’s a cute, bright girl – her paper was on Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and I think she took my comment as teasing and not sexual harassment. At least I hope so; it was just a chance remark.

Upstairs in the office, Lynn Wolf said she’d like to observe me next week, and I suggested Friday would be a good day. I e-mailed her this afternoon to have her confirm.

Stopping at the garage on Davie Road, I saw that my car was still being worked on, but Bob assured me it would be ready this afternoon. So I got on the Turnpike and drove to Boca in the rain.

Without my FAU parking sticker, I had to put the rental car at a meter in my usual lot before I went off to relax before my 11 AM class.

Today we went over perhaps the best piece of creative writing we looked at: the first chapter of John Gravante’s novel, which dealt with bizarre Manhattan artists manqués, their love lives and their Pynchonesque obsessions.

This story definitely reads as if it’s heavily influenced by The Crying of Lot 49, which of course is a book I’ve loved since high school. I wish John wouldn’t be so defensive about the few technical suggestions I made, but hey, nobody has to do what I say.

I’ve got tons of stuff to workshop now that just about everyone heeded my order to hand in 24 copies of a piece of creative writing by October 1.

Back home, I got a message that my car was ready, so after eating lunch, I returned the rental car to Enterprise – don’t ask how much it cost – and was driven to Bob Simon’s, where I paid the $230 or so (less than I expected, actually) for the car repair.

Returning home, I lay down in bed, and after reading the paper, I was so tired that I fell into an almost-sleep. After dinner, I returned to Boca and had a fairly decent English 102 class, discussing some punctuation points (no pun intended) and Virginia Woolf’s “The Angel in the House.”

Thursday, October 2, 1997

4 PM. I just got home from taking the GRE, and I have a headache caused by eyestrain after looking at a computer screen for three hours.

I arrived at the Sylvan Learning Center in the shopping center near Mom’s house at noon, but they weren’t ready for me. There was some difficulty getting the computer at the station they selected for me into the GRE program; the guy at their telephone support center had to give directions over the phone on fixing the bug.

That wasn’t the only reason I preferred the pencil and paper test to the computer-based version. I got tired of clicking the mouse, and my sweaty palms didn’t help. It also seemed more wearying to read on a screen than on paper even though I had on my glasses rather than my contact lenses.

I was more impatient to answer, and in some cases In the math section, I just despaired and guessed wildly. All around me, at other stations, were people taking tests for a variety of purposes: securities dealers’ licenses, teacher credentials and God knows what else.

My scores – which I sent to Arizona State, Columbia, Berkeley and Maryland – were: Verbal 660 (according to the book, 600 is 83rd percentile and 700 is 96th percentile), Quantitative 570 (500 is 36th percentile, 600 is 59th percentile; 555 is the mean), and Analytical 660 (700 is 88th percentile).

My scores were better on the paper test I took in 1990, but these seem adequate. However, I think I scored a near-perfect 780 on the Verbal last time, so I feel disappointed. I didn’t look at the sample questions in the math section until two hours before the test, and I know I could have raised my scores if I’d done some real preparation; I rarely use algebra or geometry and have forgotten things like the Pythagorean theorem and how to find the area of a cylinder.

Anyway, I feel mildly let-down. What a way to spend my only day off.

At least I did sleep okay last night, though as usual I was up at 6 AM in the dark of night.

This morning I made another try at a Local Opinion column for the Boca Raton News, though it’s hard saying anything interesting in 192 words. My column was a riff about people blaming El Nino for everything, a ploy I expect other columnists will milk to death over the next year.

I’ve begun listening to Russell Baker’s The Good Times on tape; it’s a sequel to Growing Up and mostly about how he became a journalist. I gave up on Charles Scribner Jr.’s fussy memoir a little before the audiobook ended.

Gee, I’m tired. I wish I didn’t have to teach the next two mornings and then, after Sunday, begin the whole week over again. At least I won’t have a lot of grading to do this weekend and I can stay home tonight.

I have to call back a student having trouble with her term paper topic. But first I need to sack out: rest my eyes, rest my head on a pillow, stretch my body a little. As blasé as I thought I’d be about the GRE, I felt tense throughout the test.

After a week of feeling better from my cold, my nose is still a little congested. I don’t want to get overstressed again.

Saturday, October 4, 1997

8 PM. I had a decent Business, Government and Society class this morning though I’d forgotten we were moving from the trailer module to the Parker Building, where I have my other classrooms. Luckily, someone found me and four similarly absent-minded students in our old room.

I lectured on three chapters – “Business and Government: An Overview,” “Reforming the Regulatory Process” and “Business in the Political Environment.”

To illustrate the topics, I brought in lots of recent news items – thank God I read the Times so thoroughly – and had plenty to say.

The only schoolwork I’ve done since teaching ended at noon is to write the next essay assignment for English 102, and since I’m letting them discover their own topic, it wasn’t hard to do.

Last evening I went through the submission notices in the last issues of Poets & Writers and The AWP Chronicle and ended up sending out ten manila envelopes after I got postage stamps today. I guess I’ll be lucky if I get one acceptance out of that, and even luckier if the magazine doesn’t fold before it prints my story.

After teaching, I stopped at Mom’s and complimented China on her new look after her haircut. Then I went to Publix to replenish my freezer and refrigerator.

Back home, I exercised, read the paper and basically goofed off, surfing the Web but not to any purpose. I finally wrote Carolyn from Ragdale a letter; I feel awful that I put it off for so long.

I need to fill out the grad school application to Berkeley. Maybe I’ll have time to do that if I have insomnia, which I seem to on every Saturday night.

The Promise Keepers rally on the Mall in D.C. is a puzzle to me: I don’t know what to make of watching heterosexual (homophobic) Christian men crying and hugging.

I’m not much for public crying and hugging myself. I guess that’s because I’m a real man.

Tuesday, October 7, 1997

9 PM. Yesterday afternoon I decided to do some laundry so that I’d have one less chore to do today.

I left the house at 6 PM, and either because of the heavy rain or my inattention, I got off the Turnpike at the Sawgrass Expressway. There was no real harm done except paying a 75-cent toll: I got off at the next exit, at Lyons Road, and took that north till I got into Boca and then used the streets to get to FAU.

I had an interesting class discussion on Bruce Weber’s 1987 profile of twenty-something yuppies, “The Unromantic Generation.” In a way, leading a classroom discussion is like being Oprah Winfrey or Phil Donahue racing around a studio audience with a microphone.

I feel I learn a lot from hearing what my students have to say. For example, on Saturday, when we discussed campaign financing, my class was adamant that nothing out of the ordinary happened in the Clinton campaign in 1996. It must frustrate Republicans to hear people say “They all do it,” but my students are more resigned and disgusted than outraged and angry.

I like getting the perspective of people of different ages, and as one young Iranian guy reminded me tonight when I heard a lot of students say that everyone is materialistic, “We’re in Boca Raton here!”

Last night I started to read the last two issues of the Times Book Review before falling into a deep, restful sleep.

I always get four or five erections during a decent night’s sleep, and this morning I thought I’d do some research on Lexis to see why men get these erections during REM sleep. The best guess is that it’s a way to keep the system functioning. It’s amazing that mine still works so efficiently.

I answered some e-mail today. There was a brief note from Tom and Annette (the Times-Picayune wrote “roll” for “role” in a headline), and I also wrote to Teresa and Camille. Apparently the weather in New York is so nice this week, they’re going to Fire Island.

Teresa seems less busy; yesterday she was on her way to a luncheon Sandy sponsored to raise money for a battered women’s shelter in Hempstead.

Jade continues to commute to and from Purchase every other day, and I suspect Teresa doesn’t mind the company at home. Teresa told me not to work too hard.

Alice said she and Andreas had a great time in Venice, and the most interesting thing that happened since she got back is that she replaced call-waiting with voice mail and got a separate fax/modem phone number.

Alice is off to British Columbia for a writers’ conference and said she hopes to get my manuscript and other stuff soon so she can start sending it to editors.

I guess taking advantage of Alice’s skills as a literary agent hasn’t been a priority for me because I don’t really expect any trade publisher will be interested in publishing my next story collection.

I did decide to relax today by going to Barnes & Noble at 10:30 AM. Laurie wondered why I hadn’t been in lately for my usual iced tea, and I said that unfortunately, life has interfered. (In a way, Laurie is like a bartender at a familiar tavern.)

I read the Definition chapter in The Structure of Argument, which I taught from 6 PM to 8 PM tonight. But I didn’t get to grade the Language 1500 papers, nor did I try to write my grad school applications’ “statement of purpose.”

What I did do at the bookstore café was read today’s Sun-Sentinel, the thirtieth anniversary issue of The Advocate – David Leavitt’s essay on how terrible so much “gay fiction” is really seemed perceptive; I’m actually glad that I’m not considered a gay writer – and a few other magazines.

On the way home from Barnes & Noble in Plantation, I stopped to xerox a page from “Anything But Sympathy” that hadn’t come out right and to get some groceries at Bread of Life.

Then I ate lunch during All My Children – the show has really taken out after “reparative” therapists who claim they can change sexual orientation – and read the Times.

Class tonight went fine, though the room was freezing. I really prefer dealing with students who are black and Hispanic adults to ones who are white teenagers.

When I came home, there was a message from Brenda Patterson in Lakeland, who needed a bio note from me tonight because Onionhead was finally coming out with my story “Willie 95.” I’d despaired of it ever getting published.

Brenda seemed very nice when I called back. I gave her my book titles and Ragdale residency to put in the bio note. I can’t believe that finally I’m going to see that story in print.

Well, I feel tired, but on nights like this one and last night, when I have a good class, I also feel a sense of accomplishment. Tonight I probably won’t get enough sleep, but I’ll get through the day.

And Thursday I’ve got off, without a GRE test to take up half the day like last week. It’s been getting perceptibly cooler out the last few nights.

Wednesday, October 8, 1997

2 PM. I just took a couple of Tylenol for this monster headache, which is probably the result of not sleeping enough.

Last night I slept maybe four or five hours, and although I did have one sweet dream in which I held on to China as we descended in a freight elevator to a secret underground city, I woke up craving more sleep.

I made myself work out before breakfast, and in my classroom twenty minutes early, I graded the two papers of the girls who handed them in last week.

At 8 AM I had a whole class on grammar, punctuation and sentence structure, which I tried to enliven with anecdotes, funny examples of sentences, and Seinfeldian humor. (Reading a list of conjunctive adverbs, I stopped at hence and kept saying it because it was fun, “like your clearing your throat: hence, hence, hentz…”)

I got to FAU early; there was no message from the Boca Raton News, so I assume they think my El Niño piece sucked. Well, last night’s phone call about “Willie 95” made me feel better, as I know I’ve got something coming out in print.

After heading to the administration building to get some transcript request forms, I read the newspaper over a 20-ounce cup of Diet Coke in the canteen.

Creative Writing went well, and I feel better about the class today; We went over a decent two-page personal essay.

Home at 12:40 PM, I logged on to AOL and saw “LATINnFL,” Jaime, was online, so I instant-messaged him. He was actually in the middle of responding to a note I wrote on Sunday.

My desperation is pathetic, and it’s obvious he’s only being polite. Jaime is getting his masters in dispute resolution – at Nova, I presume – and facilitates a discussion group at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center, so he’s smart (emotional-smart) enough to know how to respond to a creature like myself.

One reason I couldn’t sleep last night was that I was wondering if our I’ll ever fall in love again – especially with someone who loves me back. Against all realistic hope, or lack thereof, I think it’s possible.

While I can live out the rest of my life without love, I can’t imagine not wanting it. God, listen to me: I sound like a teenage asshole. Actually, pre-teen is closer to where I am emotionally, romantically and sexually.

I’m aware enough to know that I must be giving off signals that are the equivalent of a flashing neon sign saying, “Danger: approach this guy with caution! Total loser!” But I’m not savvy enough to figure out exactly where I’m going wrong.

It’s like with Jaime. Why do I come on so strong? I need to let the poor guy alone.

Anyway, there’s no way I’m going to meet anyone on AOL. If I haven’t figured that out yet, I haven’t been listening to Elihu all these years.

I wrote to Alice, trying not to complain or sound negative. Teresa e-mailed that she’s very pissed at Cat, who blew off Paul on her last visit to New York. Yesterday when I caught Teresa online, she was writing Cat, giving her a screenful, I’m sure, and telling her to call her father. (Cat has been telling the other kids to tell Paul to call her.)

Naturally, I can’t tell Teresa it would be better if she just let them work it out. It’s even possible that Teresa herself is the problem, that Cat and her husband avoid Paul more because of his marriage to Teresa than due to anything else Paul did.

I can’t see that Teresa’s angry emails to Cat or Carolyn accomplish anything positive, but hey, Teresa is an immovable object when she gets on something. All the rest of us can do is get out of her way.

My head is starting to feel better, but I plan to lie down for an hour or so before I return to teach my evening class at FAU.