A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-March, 1996

Tuesday, March 12, 1996

4 PM. I slept quite well last night. I had pleasant dreams about being in Miami and driving from the airport up NW 27th Street through Liberty City to Broward County.

Somehow, though, I hurt my back – around my right shoulder blade – and I must have aggravated the strain by exercising.

I’ve gone into spasms a number of times during the day, and I’m writing this sitting at the table rather than lying on my bed the way I usually do because I can’t get into that position without pain.

I haven’t taken anything for the pain or applied heat or ice, and I’m hoping that it will just go away by itself.

I’m a little anxious about tonight’s Nova class because there’s so much material I need to cover and I also want to give the students a writing assignment.

Other than that, I feel harried. Jamie informed me that I’m going to introduce the panelists at the symposium on March 28 and give a ten-minute history of affirmative action.

I think I can get a good deal of it from Nicholas Lemann’s article In the New York Times Magazine last summer and pull together other information as well.

Still, I’ll be taking the place of Professor Perea, and it will be scary to be on stage in the auditorium before what could be several hundred people.

On the other hand, it’s good for me to challenge myself and deal with the frightening situation. And let’s not forget that deep-down, I’m a ham who loves the spotlight.

Lucy Komisar has asked me, along with five other volunteers, to serve on the PEN Internet Committee, and she sent along a variety of messages for us to deal with in our initial agenda. I haven’t looked at them yet.

Eric and Alice both e-mailed that they received their copies of my book, so I guess Martin has filled all the orders by now. I didn’t have time to respond to messages from several people, but I’ll get to it eventually.

Christy wanted to know if I could attend some event with her on Friday night, and I hope I wasn’t too brusque when I begged off, pleading too much work.

In the mail I got the latest issues of Wired and the AWP Chronicle: more stuff to read.

Laura C sent her new address – in Palmyra, Pennsylvania – and the Florida Bar Foundation sent me a check for my car rental just as the credit card bill that has the Avis charge on it arrived.

Today is Super Tuesday but it’s more like Stupor Tuesday. It’s also the Gainesville city election, and I was invited to a “victory” party at Gainesville City Commission candidate Pegeen Hanrahan’s house, but of course I can’t go because I have my class.

Wednesday, March 13, 1996

4 AM. My Nova class went okay, I guess. It’s impossible to convey all the material in three hours, so I skipped some stuff that was less important.

I also gave them a writing exercise, which proved valuable when we discussed it afterwards.

But towards the end of the class, it became harder for both them and for me to concentrate as we ran out of energy. Like me, all my students have day jobs and most of them have families.

My students are really nervous about the midterm and found all sorts of ambiguities in my sample questions to back up their anxieties.

I realize that writing these memos and letters in response to hypothetical situations isn’t easy, but that’s why I wrote alongside them in class tonight, and I showed them that I crossed out my first four attempts at the assignment.

I hope that gives them confidence in me rather than makes them question my credibility.

Certainly I have no doubt about my writing abilities, and I know that only someone who is confident can allow himself to step out of the role of know-it-all dispenser of wisdom in front of a classroom.

But do the students realize that? I hope so.

Last night, when I e-mailed Kevin, I did something I had no right to do: I told him he could stay with me in Brooklyn this summer. I didn’t say for how long – I was thinking of a visit – but he responded quickly by taking me up on the invitation, telling me how sweet I was and offering to talk on the phone when I was ready.

It’s my own fault for getting carried away. I’m going to be a guest of Teresa’s parents, and I can’t just bring a stranger – to me as well as to them – into their house.

And Kevin’s quick reply makes me more suspicious of him, Now, it seems, I’ve got something he wants, and it’s New York City, not me.

To be fair, Kevin was always warm and affectionate, but he’s also someone who dropped out of sight for a while. I think I’ll wait a while to get back to him and see what his reaction is.

Although this seems like game-playing, I know I really don’t know Kevin. Anyway, I don’t want to be one of those older guys who has a younger guy with him because I can give him something – in my case, not money or a career boost but an apartment close to Manhattan.

Let’s see what happens if I don’t write back immediately and if I drop the subject of the summer when I do.

I’m lonely, but I don’t want to be used and I don’t want to set myself up for a disastrous situation.

If Kevin is real, he’ll understand my qualms. I want to make sure I don’t trust him merely because I want to trust him.

This probably doesn’t require so much space in my diary, but I’m wide awake this early and I’m thinking on paper.


4 PM. It turns out I missed the interview with myself on WUFT-FM, both when I was writing my diary entry at this time yesterday and then again at 6:50 AM today.

I was exhausted after getting up so early that I couldn’t deal with turning on the radio at 6 AM, as I usually do.

I only learned about the interview because Randall and Kern separately told me about hearing it this morning, and Jeff said he’d heard it yesterday.

I called Russell Lewis at the station and he agreed to dub a tape for me, but he was going out of town until the end of next week. If I miss hearing the interview, I miss it; it’s no big deal.

Today’s big news happened when I went to Goerings on my way home for lunch. I didn’t expect to see the Times Book Review at the counter, and my heart pounded as I read the review.

I told the cashier about it as I bought three copies, and then I went back to the office, where I showed it to Liz, who showed it to Laura, and I later showed Jeff, Robertson and Russ, and in the library I showed it to Rosalie at the reference desk – who showed it to Betty Taylor when she passed by.

It’s hard for me not to be excited. I xeroxed some copies and faxed them to Martin and to my parents.

The review is at the end of the first “Books in Brief” page, and it’s by Sally Eckhoff. I was glad to see they printed Avisson Press’s full address.

It goes:

The scrambled nature of things and events isn’t what gets your attention… No, it’s the incessant familiarity of the writer’s secret self that makes his world entertaining and bizarre. The latest in a long line of oddball collections with names like “With Hitler in New York” and “I Brake for Delmore Schwartz,” “I Survived Caracas Traffic” features stories that are thickly populated with accident-prone people. One piece portrays a man whose great-great-grandfather made a liverwurst sandwich for the surgeon and medical researcher Walter Reed. (Reed died, but not from the sandwich.) Another has its protagonist slouching around a Brooklyn apartment with the Pope, who suggests that they go out for a beer: “Oh, I don’t know, your holiness, I feel awful about not writing anything lately.” “Don’t be like that,” he admonishes me. “You know what a useless emotion guilt is.” The dialogue is consistently, even ingeniously funny. However, it’s unsettling to find that you’ve polished off this entire batch of stories but can’t remember exactly what they’re about. Mr. Grayson excels at diverting the flow of action so nothing expected ever happens. But the results are inconclusive. This book is a perplexing piece of gadgetry: hard to come to grips with, not sturdy enough to make a good can opener for the conscience, far too bright and keenly made to flick casually away.

Wow! In my experience, this counts as a rave. Others see the negative parts, but these are actually lines we can use in publicizing the book.

I’m thrilled, so much so that I haven’t fully taken it in yet. Today definitely feels like publication day for me, the day something happened. It’s nice to think about all the people who will see this on Sunday.

Whether it will do anything for my career, I don’t know. So many publicity breaks have occurred since Hitler’s publication in 1979, and there’s never been anything life-changing. Hey, I haven’t even gotten a paperback sale, and the cynic in me says nothing will happen this time, either.

It’s got to help sales, but the I Brake review in the New York Times Book Review 13 years ago didn’t really stir up interest in my previous books or future books.

After all,  no matter how many people read this – including influential publishing people – they will be reading plenty of other reviews, and its placement in “Books in Brief” suggests I’m not first-rate (which is true).

Anyway, back to reality. Hard as it was to work today, I revised my memo on software licenses following Liz’s editing, and I sent off a hard copy to Wendy once I straightened out the endnotes.

And I responded to my e-mail and did whatever needed to get done at work. Tomorrow the office that Russ and I share is being painted, and Laura suggested I take two days off, but I said I’ll see. I’m really tired.

Surprisingly, both of the Human Rights Council-endorsed candidates, Sande and Pegeen, finished first in their City Commission races. It’s too bad both were stuck at 48% and couldn’t avoid runoffs with conservative Republicans.

At least that horrible homophobe Courtland Collier finished third.

Dole won all the Super Tuesday primaries, and Forbes is dropping out tomorrow.

Thursday, March 14, 1996

10 PM. Last evening I went to the office, where I answered some e-mail and xeroxed a hundred copies of the Times review and some copies of it with the Publishers Weekly and Kirkus reviews, and I spoke to Dad, who congratulated me.

Kevin himself brought up whether I meant to invite him to Brooklyn for something like a weekend visit or if I meant the entire summer.

I’m glad he’s busy with plays (The Bald Soprano), video shows, radio shows and writing, and he’s still incredibly sweet.

But tonight I explained the situation with Teresa’s parents’ brownstone and said I couldn’t have him live with me unless they knew.

Also, I wouldn’t want to live with him unless I met him and we spent some time together first. I tried to frame it as, “How do you know you could live with me?”, but he’s smart enough to know I’m being tactful.

Kevin sweet-talks me, but until I feel secure with him, I’m not going to do anything stupid, no matter how lonely I may be or how lovable he may be.

Last night I slept really well, catching up on dreamtime. In one complex end-of-night dream, I was in a Los Angeles hotel, unsure how long I’d stay in California; I had long reddish-brown hair with a couple of little braids.

Because I intended to stay home today, I slept till 7:30 AM and then didn’t move too fast. I made a list of everything I wanted to read and do over the next couple of days, and I made rental car and motel reservations for next Friday for that Authors Guild dinner at USF President Betty Castor’s house.

Laura called at 11 AM to say that they weren’t going to paint today after all, but soon after I came into the office at 12:30 PM, Stan and his boys came in with paint buckets and brushes.

I stayed in the outer office until 3:30 PM, reading the Lambda Legal update that came in the mail today, and then the Ninth Circuit Compassion in Dying decision, which I’m about one-third of the way through.

It’s a great review of substantive due process and the 14th Amendment as well as other constitutional law issues, plus an interesting mini-thesis on the history of suicide.

At home, I read Wired’s cover story on Sherry Turkle – when I read The Second Self in 1984, I knew she was on to something big – and another article on bots, computer robot programs, the ancestor of which was Eliza, the faux-therapist program I used to use when I taught computer literacy in the late 1980s in Miami.

At 5:30 PM, I went for an hour’s walk through the Butler Plaza shopping center and vicinity as I listened to All Things Considered. Earlier, I played Green Day’s Dookie, which is really growing on me.

Pete Cherches called from Park Slope. He’s probably going to have to get a job before summer because his money is getting low.

For his sake, I was glad to hear that there was still a demand for COBOL and Assembler programmers. I had assumed they were obsolete.

I wonder: Does anyone use BASIC anymore? Or Pascal? Things change so fast these days.

Turkle suggests that the unitary self is a vestige of pre-computer days; in these postmodern times, we cycle through various cells.

I’m fairly good at being different people, though women usually tend to be better than men at it because they’re used to a multiplicity of roles.

Anyway, all this reading is grist for whatever mill I’ve got going in my brain these days.

Why are people surprised that I’m leaving Gainesville? I’d expect it from someone who’s always followed the “right” path, like Rosalie, but I’m more surprised at Pete, who I thought would more appreciate risk-taking.

That I’ve got a new book out and that the New York Times reviewed it only reinforce my belief that as I wander, seemingly aimlessly, from one role and place to another, I’ve been on the right path all along.

It’s really the same thing as Emerson’s line in “Self-Reliance” about the guy who variously farms, serves a term in Congress, works as a peddler and a preacher, buys a township, etc. – this guy is worth a hundred of the young men who expect to be installed in an office in Boston or New York for life.

If I run into the expected hard times, well, I’ll call on my own resources and experiences and cycle through to another self.

It must be getting late because my current self seems to be drifting into incoherence.

Tuesday, March 19, 1996

4:30 PM. I’ve been reading about affirmative action and just getting more confused. The Supreme Court decisions on the subject are all tortured multiple opinions or paper-thin majorities.

Jamie showed me the brochure for the symposium, where I’m listed as giving a “brief history.” I guess my theme will be the lack of debate at the time affirmative action programs were established and becoming institutionalized and the overdue debate that is taking place now.

I really don’t want to go into the holdings of the court cases – at least not too deeply. I’m a better storyteller than I am a historian, of course, and if I view the problem as one in narrative, maybe I’ll do better.

This evening I’ve got my Nova class, but I’ll go over the one chapter within half an hour and then give them the rest of the time for the midterm.

While they’re writing, I’ll read the New York Times and maybe the reading assignments for next week’s class. Although I’m a bit sleepy, I’m sure that’s the result of the decongestants I took for my bad sinus headache.

Today has been windy and cool. Russ didn’t get back today, but once I was alerted to the heavy smell of paint in our office, I worked in the outer office today.

I had a good conversation with Isabel, who turns out to be much nicer than I thought.

Laura let me look at the twenty or so curriculum vitae and cover letters that came in applying for Russ’s job. It’s scary how accomplished some of these applicants are.

Most had one or more graduate degrees in the liberal arts as well as a law degree; many had excellent scholarly publications, including law review articles.

(At least four had published on same-sex marriage or gays in the military – although one guy who did made sure to mention that his girlfriend would like to return home to Florida.)

I suspect that most of these people have jobs that bore them, whether they’re in academia or practicing law. A number had teaching experience, all were fluent in one or more foreign languages, and several held fairly prestigious fellowships.

It’s interesting to see what varied careers and backgrounds people have – and kind of depressing to someone who likes to think of himself as unique.

It’s a little smarmy that most of these people have wasted their time applying for a job preordained for an internal candidate.

But I have little doubt that despite his lack of paper credentials, Russ would be better than anyone else. Jon doesn’t need a scholar but a flunky who can write serviceably and quickly.

Laura told me she hired Cari (short for Caridad) as our new secretary. She and Helen, our new senior secretary, start on Friday.

I got some e-mail from Kevin, Teresa and Josh (he still didn’t mention the NYTBR review) but didn’t feel like answering today.

Denis got a fairly decent review of his book in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, while Padgett Powell, UF’s creative writing program director, got a devastating one in Sunday’s Newsday for his sequel to Edisto.


10 PM. I just got home. In my class, I gave my usual disjointed presentation of the material, only this time I did it for half an hour.

Then I let them take the midterm while I read the paper and the two chapters on doing business research for next week.

I’ve already realized that some of the multiple choice questions were ambiguous – which is why I hate multiple choice.

Back here, I had a guilt-inducing message from Abby about working in the City Commission campaign runoffs. The easiest thing to do is not call her back. What she really needs are people who will phone the names on our HRC list, and I dread calling strangers.

I think, given my lack of interest in local politics, that I probably need to resign from the Human Rights Council board, especially since I’m not willing to devote the time to the organization’s campaign work.

Unlike the other board members except Richard Smith, I’m a professional with a career – or careers.

I’ve got midterms to grade, a speech on affirmative action to prepare, a book to promote, and I’m going away on Friday to Tampa for the Authors Guild dinner at USF.

I forgot to take a Triavil before class, and so I just took two pills, but I’ll probably lie awake most of the night and be groggy, as usual, on Wednesday.