A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late August, 1991

Saturday, August 24, 1991

8 PM. Today I’ve begun to realize what the study of the law entails. I sat down at the table after my aerobics and began to read a case for Contracts. With me, I had not only the casebook but Black’s Law Dictionary, which I used every time I came across a slightly unfamiliar word; the Uniform Commercial Code and Restatement, Second, referred to whenever I came across them in the cases; and my hornbook for background.

I got immersed in the first case and looked up and an hour had passed, spent in the kind of intellectual exercise I’d rarely experienced. In a way it was like writing when I feel I’m on a roll.

The other day, Gene, who’d been an Air Force major, said he figured it was all like a stream with no start or end, just middle, and we had to jump in and feel lost until we gained our bearings with time. I can see that’s how it’s going to work.

It’s not like learning most subjects, where one body of knowledge builds on a prior base. I haven’t even yet briefed the six Contracts cases I read, but I feel I know them very well after spending nearly six hours reading them.

It’s a new kind of reading, not linear but Talmudic or maybe hypertextual. The concepts – consideration, bargain, promise – are so nebulous that it’s difficult to focus in on the fine shades of meaning and the exquisite lines of reasoning, but I can take pleasure in it.

Perhaps I’m allocating my time badly, not seeing the big picture, but right now, at the start, I need to learn how this new world operates and so I’ll probably pick up speed as I go on.

Sunday, August 25, 1991

7 PM. I got done most of the work I’d planned to do this weekend and I’m ready for week two of law school. At the bookstore counter in front of me this afternoon, I heard a guy tell the cashier, “It’s very complicated,” and although I didn’t recognize him, I knew he was another first-year law student.

Still, I adapt quickly when I’m confronted with new kinds of textual material, and I don’t feel lost in another language yet.

Yesterday afternoon I went to a bookstore for a book signing by Padgett Powell, who at my age has published two novels with Farrar, Straus and whose first story collection just came out. He’s a UF prof, of course.

Why I get shy and flustered among literary people, I don’t know, but I feel like a kid or imposter around “real” writers. My strategy was to show him the letter from the professor about The Dictionary of Literary Biography and ask if any one of his colleagues would consider doing it.

“This is a major article, 7500 words,” he said, seemingly impressed and probably puzzled: Who was this kid in a T-shirt and denim shorts? I told him I’d just moved here.

Powell showed the letter to Wendy Brenner, a recent MFA grad now in the Ph.D. program, and later I sent her copies of With Hitler in New York and Narcissism and Me. I’ll probably send Padgett Powell a book once I read his story collection, which has gotten mixed reviews.

Why am I such a literary weirdo? Nobody’s ever heard of me, but I guess I have a decent body of work, and I still think a lot of it has been underrated. Partly it’s the publishing business, partly it’s my own problems, partly it’s luck.

Maybe I wanted to spread this romantic notion of myself as a writer who’s disguised as a lowly first-year law student. I would like to get involved with some of UF’s writers, though I doubt they’d find me the kind of writer they’d read themselves.

I’m used to spending weekends alone, so this one wasn’t so bad. I briefed the Torts and Contracts cases for tomorrow, read Plain English for Lawyers, and started on Civ Pro.

I hope Grandma is doing okay. Mom called tonight, and I know she’d like to hear details about law school, but I wasn’t in the mood. I was very friendly but close-mouthed.

She said Marc is probably going up north with his girlfriend Denise to put her 14-year-old son in a Pennsylvania military school. Denise has no family of her own, and she had a brain tumor two years ago, so she wants Jason to be independent and to get some discipline.

A year ago Gainesville was in turmoil as the student murders were discovered. They say indictments may be coming soon, but I don’t think they’ve got hard evidence. From the people I’ve spoken to, those were traumatic days here, as it seemed somebody was targeting students.

In New York City or Los Angeles or South Florida, people get murdered every day, so I can’t imagine myself getting too upset or scared. Maybe in such a nice small town like this, life isn’t considered as cheap as it is in big cities.

Tomorrow I’ve got a long day – 8 AM to 4 PM – and this is going to be a hectic week, but after it’s over, I’ve got the Labor Day weekend.

Monday, August 26, 1991

4:30 PM. I just returned home from a long day at law school. This week I’ve got four classes not just on Thursday but today and tomorrow as well. Actually, having my Research and Writing lab at 8 AM isn’t bad, because I normally have to get to campus by 8:20 AM to find parking anyway.

Scott Shuster, our TA, led about six of us into the library and we went through procedures for doing research: basically, it was a broad overview, and we’ll get more details later.

Tomorrow Pat Thomson’s going to give a lecture at 10:20 AM, and we’ll be having these labs and lectures most weeks for a while. The tradeoff is that the course ends early in November, before the other classes.

In Torts, we continued the hypo of the Cipollone case, trying to determine responsibility as we thought up every possible defendant who might be responsible for Mrs. C’s lung cancer.

During our break, I got a locker so I don’t have to keep running back to my car to exchange books. Contracts really began today, and Davis isn’t a martinet after all. He’s animated to the point where people suspect he’s drunk, but he’s direct, humorous, and provocative.

I went to Publix for salads and groceries, had lunch, and returned to school, reading in the library until 3 PM.

In Jurisprudence, we finished our discussion of “The Lottery” and of treating policy questions – such as raising the speed limit to 65 mph even though it’s going to cost lives as economic decisions – based on cost-benefit analysis.

I’m glad I slept well last night because I hadn’t been having restful nights. But I forced myself to lie down at 8:30 PM and it took a couple of hours till I fell asleep, so I lost some time I could have used for work.

At Dean Patrick’s office, I picked up my scholarship check for $1,250. I get the other half next semester, and they’ll continue as long as I keep a 2.8 index. I let Dean Patrick know I’ll be in the M.A.M.C. program next fall, but he said the scholarship would continue when I returned to law school if I kept up my grades.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll have time to deposit the scholarship check at NCNB. I used their bank card to pay for my groceries at Publix under the store’s Presto debit card system.

Well, at 5 PM I’m going to have dinner and listen to All Things Considered as I read the news and unwind. I’ll try to watch ABC’s news at 6:30 PM and then do work after 7 PM.

Already I can see that time is a first-year law student’s most precious commodity. I feel hard-pressed for time, and the term has barely started. Well, we’ll see how this works out.

Being in the joint degree program and knowing I’ll be out of law school next year makes it easier for me, because I know if I hate it or do poorly, I can always stay in grad school or do something else. One year of this seems simpler to handle than if I knew I’d have two more years right after this.

Tuesday, August 27, 1991

4:30 PM. Last evening I read Jurisprudence and Research and Writing material until about 9:30 PM, then got into bed. But my mind was racing, and at 11:30 PM, I still wasn’t asleep, so I tried to make sense of some of the cases for Civil Procedure.

Up at 6 AM, I exercised and was at school just after 8 AM. In the library I read the Times – I miss my old leisurely reading habits – before Torts. We finished the hypo based on the Cipollone case, which I think Dowd used to give us a good overview of the torts system.

Our lecture by Pat Thomson followed immediately, and we learned about precedent through a clever set of role-playing by TAs who presented us with hypothetical cases, each based on a line of reasoning in succeeding precedents. Also, Pat told us how to format our case memo, due next week.

Contracts was next, in the same room, and Davis further examined consideration in the cases we covered. Tired and hungry after three classes in a row, I left campus to deposit my scholarship check in NCNB and come home for lunch.

I tried to work in the library for an hour, but I gave up because of a headache. Since I’ve been in Gainesville with its intense humidity, my sinuses have been terrible.

Jurisprudence focused on issues relating to that British nineteenth-century case of stranded seamen who had to eat a companion to survive. I’m learning a lot about the law, and it’s pretty interesting stuff, but I wish there wasn’t so much of it.

I feel more pressed for time than at any other time of my life. With the labs and lectures, I’m spending 17 hours a week in class – and they’re 60-minute hours, not the 50-minute hours I’m used to.

Yes, law school seems even harder than teaching six classes a semester at Broward Community College last fall. Marty Peters is running a Time Management workshop this week, but I feel I don’t have the time to go. Just kidding, but barely.

At least I can use the Labor Day weekend to catch up. I don’t know how my classmates can go away for weekends or have any kind of social life.

I’d like to go the Gay and Lesbian Student Union tomorrow night for their opening get-together. There was an article in the Alligator newspaper, and they’re now an officially recognized organization with an office on campus and about a hundred members (which has to be a small fraction of the gay people at UF).

Lynette Williams was quoted as the GLSU president, and her name rang a bell: she was the short black woman who was ahead of me on line for a locker yesterday. I called the Gay Switchboard, and there are Thursday pot-luck dinners at the United Church right on this block.

God knows how I’ll ever find time to do anything else but study law, but I can’t let schoolwork be all my life is. I’m slowly getting to know more of my classmates, but it’s hard to find time to socialize. Basically, I know the names of about forty people and I say hi to others I know by face.

Obviously I’m going to have to curtail some activities. Maybe I don’t have to listen to all ninety minutes of All Things Considered, for example. I’ve got to set priorities. A half-hour of exercise each day is important. I want to keep eating healthily and at least keep skimming the New York Times.

Yesterday I thought I’d be too tired to study after a long day of classes, and I feel the same way now, but yesterday I did perk up after 7 PM. If others manage, I suppose I can. Maybe that time management workshop can help.

We’re supposed to meet Cheryl for lunch at 11:30 AM tomorrow, so I guess I’ll eat lunch in school. Law school is much harder than grad school, which seems like a vacation by comparison.

Wednesday, August 28, 1991

4:30 PM. I thought I’d get a lot of work done last night, but after an hour of briefing Civ Pro cases, I fell into a stupor and retreated to bed. Part of it was sleepiness and part the result of my sinus headache, but I did rest well and got up early enough to brief one more case.

At school at 8 AM, I read the Times, which is something I need to do, even if I can only glance at headlines and have to read only a few stories. (I’m subscribing to the paper to save money; I’ll get the combination to the lockbox on campus.)

We did our first case in Torts, and we were pretty painstaking about it; Dowd showed us the importance of framing the issue because it makes a lot of difference whether you’re the lawyer for the plaintiff or the defendant.

In Crim, we discussed punishment, using the case of U.S. v. Bergman. I’m probably the only one in the class who actually lived in New York City at the time of Rabbi Bernard Bergman and the scandal at his nursing homes and who really understood the political realities.

In my story “On the Boardwalk,” I had the character based on Uncle Morris say what Morris actually did say about the case: “They should take away the man’s yarmulke.”

Cheryl wanted to meet our group at 11:30 AM for lunch; I found my rice cakes and Weight Watchers cheese stayed okay in my locker, and I got a salad in the cafeteria.

There were no tables inside so we sat outdoors, but only Larry and I stayed; Kenny, Barry and Greg soon left to play foosball (a game in the lounge) and Angelina and Karin both decided to study instead.

Cheryl wants to go into human rights law, especially regarding women and children, and she seems like a real decent person.

After our group broke up, I went into the ladies’ room in Bruton-Geer by mistake. One of my female classmates came in as I was drying my hands and looked at me oddly. “God, I’d wondered why there were no urinals here!” I said.

Despite all my preparation for Civil Procedure, I didn’t catch all the details in the cases dealing with prejudgment seizure and had the feeling – I’m sure I’m not unique – that everyone in the class but me understands what is going on.

Since Marty Peters’ Time Management workshop will be given again on Friday, I decided to come home at 3 PM so I could do aerobics and relax a bit before plunging into work.

I’ve got reading for Crim and cases for Civ Pro and preparation of a case comparison for Legal Research tomorrow. Tonight I really wanted to go to the first GLSU meeting on campus, and I hope I’ll have time.

Wendy Brenner left a message that she got my package of books and said to call her because she’s sure someone in the department would be interested in doing the Dictionary of Literary Biography essay on my fiction. Of course I already gave the editor some names. Well, I’ll see what I can get out of this; maybe I can make people in UF’s literary community aware of my existence.

It started raining just as I got home. I’m going to eat now and then try to work and see if I finish in time to get out. Many of my classmates seem to be ahead of me, although a few are really brilliant and probably workaholics.

One aspect of UF law school I like is being treated like a smart, sharp person. At Brooklyn College, in my graduate school programs, and in the places where I taught – certainly at Broward Community College – I always got the impression I was part of a second-rate group.

Listening to WUFT-FM, I heard Denis Woychuk’s voice in a promo for a program on tomorrow. It’s about the mentally ill, and I’ll have to listen and then write or call Denis. I’m sorry I didn’t get in touch with him this summer; in a way, Denis is my role model.


10 PM. I probably won’t get much sleep tonight because I only just got home from the GLSU meeting. But I don’t mind; it was good to get away from the law school.

Lynette Williams, GLSU’s current president, told me her first year (last year) was a nightmare, and she advised me to get away from law students as much as I can, not because they aren’t nice but because “you always end up talking about the one thing that’s your biggest obsession.”

I don’t plan to be active in GLSU, but getting to their regular meetings biweekly and maybe to some non-party social functions will help me. I did a bit of my work before I left, and the rest I can do before class tomorrow.

There were about 80 people at the meeting, and it looks like an excellent group, diverse but obviously skewed toward undergrads. There was a two-hour meeting which explained the group’s history and activities, and officers discussed what they do, and they gave us a packet of resource materials and a phone list.

Then there was a social hour or two, but I find I don’t talk to strangers well and I definitely felt out of place – not because it was a gay group but for the same reason I found it hard to talk to anyone at the law school orientation brunch: I’ve lost my social skills in dealing with strangers.

Actually, I did have several nice conversations, but I’ve been isolated from everyone but my oldest friends for so long that I’ve forgotten how to make new friends.

Today’s Times had a story about 40-year-old unmarried straight men, and I expect I’m just like them and will never get “married” or be in a serious relationship again. Anything’s possible, but like the man in the survey, I’ve grown accustomed to being alone and I’m set in my ways .

Yes, I can change my life by moving here and starting law school, but changing the pattern of my home life is harder, and most of me really prefers being alone. Still, I need friends so I’m not a total monk – although law school may be the perfect place for someone of my habits.

I’ve done okay, considering that I spent my first night in Gainesville on the floor here only three weeks ago. G’night.

Friday, August 30, 1991

4 PM. I feel buoyant right now. Not only is it Friday and I’ve survived my second week of law school, not only is this the start of a three-day weekend, not only did I learn yesterday that I could survive a day of four classes on no sleep, not only did I just deposit my unemployment check and pay September’s rent – but I feel like I fit in here in Gainesville, the second most humid city in America, according to rankings released this week.

With enough Drixoral and Dimetapp, I can overlook the humidity. I can sense the possibility of being part of a community here. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I feel at home at the law school, where I know about fifty people by name and more by sight.

I like my classes and enjoy what I’m learning. The atmosphere is relaxed and yet everyone seems to take it for granted that you’re smart and work hard. I can imagine getting to know people in the gay community, which seems nice, and maybe also the literary community and the journalism school.

Yesterday there were times when I didn’t think I’d make it, as I felt woozy and weak in my morning classes.

But after I came home for lunch and lay down for an hour (and listened to the excellent Soundprint radio show on the criminally insane at Wards Island, which featured Denis – I sent away for a cassette of it), I returned to school and felt more energetic in my afternoon classes.

Today’s classes went well, and I even got applauded after Prof. Nunn called on me to explain who Huey P. Newton was. (We covered the case of The People v. Newton, hinging on the “not guilty by reason of unconsciousness” plea.). I went into so much detail – but after all, I once wore a button that said “The People Will Free the Panther 21” and hung out with movement people 21 years ago – that Nunn exclaimed, “Wow, you must be older than me!”

And I’ve been thinking about that a lot: I’ve experienced a great many things in my life, and I haven’t just stood on the sidelines. I worked in the 1969 Vietnam Moratorium headquarters and participated in 1970’s first Earth Day and the Kent State/Cambodia student strike; I was at the 1972 Democratic convention; I’ve met interesting people in politics, literature and other fields.

Yeah, I think – obviously, if you read my journals – that I’ve had a pretty special life. And I still see myself as being special. Perhaps that’s my worst blind spot.

As I said, I’ve got to learn to defer to others because they have experiences and knowledge I don’t have, and I tend to tell people I’m boring and have no real interests when I first meet them because I don’t know how to tell them what I’ve done, from my presidential campaign to my media stunts to my credit cards to the books I’ve published and my knowledge of literature and my incredibly talented friends.

I don’t know what, exactly, I’m doing here in Gainesville, but at the moment, it feels right. At Marty Peters’ workshop on time management today, she gave us some good suggestions on how to maximize our scant time. There were only about seven people there, but I intend to take advantage of any psychological help UF offers.

I spoke to Wendy Brenner, who said she’ll pass my books onto this MFA student, who like her is in the Ph.D. program. She asked if I liked Padgett’s work because she noticed both of us have admiring references to “Donald Barthelman” [sic].

I told her I’d call the Dictionary of Literary Biography editor next week and I’ll then phone her back. At least someone in the creative writing program knows of my existence, and I plan to go over to the J-school soon, too.

Saturday, August 31, 1991

8 PM. I didn’t get much work done today although I made a good start on my one-case memo and got ahead in Torts. Moreover, I accomplished some other tasks: I got a haircut (at a shop where everyone seemed to be real Southern and most of the other customers were UF football players or housewives with perms), and I read Padgett Powell’s Typical, which wasn’t at all bad. I sent him a note and some of my books.

I also mailed out about a dozen postcards to friends, though I still need to call or write Pete, Teresa, Justin, Josh and Tom. Still, at least I’m keeping in contact with my friends, from the people at Broward Community College to my literary friends like Rick Peabody to old pals in New York like Sat Darshan, Mikey and Denis.

Up at 7:30 AM, I listened to NPR, read the paper, had breakfast, did aerobics – the usual stuff. A number of people probably went home for the holiday weekend.

Mom called the other night. Dad’s computer arrived: an IBM clone with a modem, mouse, printer and probably power I’d die for. Dad is struggling with it, Mom said. It’s a shame that all the time I lived with my parents, they couldn’t have found the time to let me teach them computer basics.

I regret being away from computers, and I feel so far removed from my work in computer education, as I haven’t taught a workshop in the Miami public schools since April 1990. The software and hardware has gone far beyond what I’m used to. Next term we get to use Lexis and Westlaw in Appellate Advocacy, but I think they want us to learn how to research the old-fashioned, once-normal way for the first semester.