A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-March, 1995
Saturday, March 11, 1995
8 PM. Last evening I heard some visitor outside describe these apartments as “bungalows.”
I hadn’t thought of that word in a long time, though of course when we spent summers in Rockaway in the 1950s and 1960s, everyone lived in bungalows, and one of the ice cream trucks sold a brand called Bungalow Bar.
The word stuck in my brain because I dreamed about being back in those bungalows. In the dream, Grandma Sylvia moved slowly, but she managed to not only serve all of us (me, Grandpa Nat, Grandpa Herb, Alice, Shay and others) lunch but also to start fixing up the bungalow.
She put curtains on my bedroom window, I remember. It was nice to see Grandma Sylvia in a dream because I don’t dream about her that often.
Up at 7 AM, I went out to Kash n’ Karry for groceries and the papers.
On NPR, Weekend Edition had a 45-minute story on the new complete edition of Anne Frank’s diary.
Miep Gies, the Dutch woman who hid the Jews in that office annex, is still alive, and they also interviewed a childhood friend of Anne’s, who Anne thought was dead when she wrote in the diary – but this woman survived the camps and lives in Jerusalem.
Towards the end of the segment, kids in D.C., mostly African Americans, read and discussed passages from the diary.
I remember the Pocket Books version of the diary I had when I was in fifth or sixth grade. In 1971, I sent out UNICEF Christmas cards with Anne Frank’s quote about still believing, in spite of everything, that people are good at heart and that if she looked into the heavens, it seemed everything would soon be all right.
Even as I began doing low-impact aerobics, I cried towards the end of the segment on Anne Frank.
Off and on I’ve thought about trying to write a formula novel which would have for its premise an ultra-right-wing U.S. government that persecutes gay people the way the Nazis did Jews, gypsies and gays.
What I’d do is look at some similar books and try to pattern my novel after them. But I’d probably end up with a literary short story or, more likely, no story at all.
Yet I feel more impelled to write these days.
Last evening, reading the unintentionally funny guidelines for ratings from the Recreational Software Advisory Council, with its various levels of violence (“accidental damage to sentient being,” “disappearance of realistic object with implied social presence”) and language (“butt to indicate one’s rear end” is “inoffensive slang” while butthead is “strong language”) gave me an idea for a story.
At 2 AM, Justin sent me an e-mail I got today on Delphi. For him, 1995 has so far been a weird year – and not a good weird: “Tacky Pataki wants to cut Brooklyn College’s budget by 26%. The plan is to cut 60% (!) of the adjunct budget, so my days as an adjunct seem numbered.”
Justin could probably stay on in the Theater Department and do crew and subscription, but the time required would interfere with the other job that he’d have to get to make ends meet.
“I’m sending out résumés,” Justin wrote, “but little is available in the area, so I am suitably depressed.”
On the playwriting front, he’s gotten a lot of rejections lately although an off-off-Broadway company called Love Creek Productions is putting on his one-act mother/daughter play.
I fear that a lot of these Republican budget cuts will hurt education badly. It’s a bad time in America to be poor, old, a minority, a student, a child, etc.
The House GOP under Newt Gingrich is dismantling the welfare state through their Contract With America, afflicting the afflicted and comforting the comfortable.
My Nova class went okay today. The students were a little shaky on “Young Goodman Brown,” but we had a lively discussion on Billy Budd, and they seemed satisfied with their grades on the midterm.
In the course of our discussion, one guy remarked, “I didn’t think Claggart was a fag because . . .” and I didn’t upbraid him.
Maybe I should have, but all I did was pointedly used the word gay in response.
To me, it’s a jolting reminder of how people in this country talk. I’m sure that “Good Germans” talked that way about Jews.
I’ve come to feel that my discomfort in living in America today is totally rational.
Tuesday, March 14, 1995
7:30 PM. Last evening I read magazines and then watched the corny conclusion of the movie Far and Away with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman on ABC-TV.
Up at 6:30 AM, I exercised before breakfast, knowing I’d be too busy to do so later. Indeed, I never got around to even glancing at today’s New York Times until after I got home at 5 PM.
Checking in at the office at 8:30 AM, I asked Christy how the National Health Forum went.
She said it was hectic for her and also emotionally draining because of controversies regarding the forum’s topic of doctor-assisted suicide.
Christy reported that “a war broke out” between attendees from the pro-suicide Hemlock Society and the hospice advocates there.
“My hero,” Ellen said of me, for having the had the presence of mind to fax her Thursday’s Ninth Circuit opinion in Compassion in Dying v. Washington.
I left early for the Reitz Union to attend Data Day ‘95, a symposium about data resources sponsored by NERDC’s Instruction and Research Users Committee, headed by Betty Taylor.
I told Betty about the Florida Educational Technology Conference and that I finished the Nicholas Negroponte book that she’d recommended.
The first session I went to was “Creating Websites,” and like the others, it used a Mac running the web browser Netscape.
The facilitator showed us how to create our own home pages, and I learned what I needed to know, including five or six basic “tags” for HTML, Hypertext Markup Language (a cousin to SGML).
At the next session, I sat with Linda and Joann. Taught by a librarian wearing a Star Trek outfit, it covered academic home pages in general and the UF home page in particular.
Most UF departments, from philosophy to poultry science, have World Wide Web sites, but the law school does not.
Later, Betty told me that she’s getting together a committee to create one and that I could join them as the CGR representative.
Maybe CGR could have its own home page to send out information about our work. When I told this to Jon later this afternoon, he seemed interested.
Of course, I want to see how I can eventually put up a website of my own writing. More well-known writers have no incentive to divert income from their valuable copyrights, but I have little to lose.
(Today I got a notice that I didn’t win the short story collection contest at Notre Dame, and two of my stories, including my classic “Rosh Hashona 1969,” were rejected by little magazines.)
I returned to the Reitz Union after lunch for three more Data Day sessions. With Joann and Linda, I went to one on government information.
The facilitator showed us home pages from many different federal agencies and departments, etc., that are available directly from our UF library site.
The problem with the law school, of course, is that we don’t have Macs or Windows and can only get a text version of websites on IBM 3270 or Lynx.
The next session was on library document delivery from Inter-Library Loan people who showed us CARL UnCover, Ariel and Eureka, all available through our LUIS online library catalog.
The final session I attended had only a handful of people – and those from the law school (Betty, the librarian Jim Gates and the computer guy Harold) made up half the audience.
Pam Williams discussed CD-ROM products that the law library has, either online or on our LAN or physically at the reference desk.
Back at CGR at 4 PM, I spoke with Joann after her call with three people at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
She said they seemed very confused; it sounded to her as if they wanted to use our document.
She told them to contact the person at the Florida Department of State and then get back to her. Joann will call Roy Hunt to see if he can figure out what’s going on.
I left after the secretaries did today, putting in a good eight-hour day. My eyes are tired from all the reading I did today: most recently the main and business sections of the paper, but also from reading computer screen outputs through an overhead product projector all day at the Reitz Union.
It didn’t help that the temperatures there ranged from frigid to uncomfortably warm.
The last couple of days at work have been weird, but they make me feel I’ve got an exciting job.
I like being involved in different stuff like computing and historic preservation and health care because it feeds my rose-colored view of myself as someone who’s competent in a variety of diverse fields. I also love that I’m able to continue learning at CGR.
Although Nikki has xeroxed about a dozen law review articles for me to look at, I can’t seem to get around to reading them.
I’ve got to put a limit on what I can read. Just because it’s possible for me to access so much information doesn’t mean I need to make myself blind.
Thursday, March 16, 1995
4 PM. Carol came into my office this morning and said that yesterday she told Christy that we have to let her go as of June 1 because there’s no money to pay her salary.
Christy took the news well. Now that there’s no more National Health Forum, Christy can do work for me until then – not that there’s much I give her.
This afternoon I called Christy and we talked. She’s not devastated although she would like to know that she could come back, even part-time. (Carol had told me they’ve done this before.)
Christy has just one more class at SFCC and she’ll have her A.A. degree, so in the fall she’ll probably be going to UF, where she wants to get into the Entomology Department.
I spoke to Ellen about the educational equity lawsuits, and I finally organized my file of clippings about education and technology into subjects and often particular cases.
I want Stacey to start making summaries of these new controversies for a memo or series of memos to Schoolyear 2000.
Mom called me at work, and we chatted for a while. Business is bad for Dad, especially because his best customers in Florida and Puerto Rico can’t get their credit approved by the factor.
Like most Americans, Mom vaguely understands that the world economy is changing and feels very uneasy about it. While some sectors of the economy boom, others are dying, and the Mexican financial crisis and the descent of the dollar have proven that there really is one world market.
Just before I came home, I stopped at Kash n’ Karry, where my cashier was Ken, the half-Japanese comic book lover who was in my Downtown class at SFCC last fall.
He called me Richard and asked how I was doing at UF. Ken is also at UF now, taking English 102 and other classes.
Last evening I read the first 100 pages or so of Sven Birkerts’s The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age.
The first half of the book is about reading itself, especially reading literature. The author, a literary critic my own age, gives an account of his own reading history.
While I was publishing stories in little magazines and getting my first book out, Birkerts was a bookstore worker. After failing as a fiction writer, he found his calling as a book reviewer and critic.
He made me think about my own experiences as a reader, which I’ve lost touch with, surrounded as I am by computer screens, TV, radio, fax, tapes, etc.
Not that I don’t read books anymore; I do. But the experience is different today.
I had more patience when I was a teenager seeking out those Bantam, Signet and Dell paperbacks that I’d devour promiscuously.
I can remember how I felt discovering books like Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle or Salinger’s Franny and Zooey or Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, and I could even describe the covers of those books to you in detail.
In sixth grade, I tried to read John dos Passos’s Manhattan Transfer, which impressed Mrs. Zweig (herself the mother of a poet and literary biographer).
In early childhood, I treasured my Golden Books like The Tawny Scrawny Lion and The Poky Little Puppy.
I even liked books I was forced to read for school, though rarely as much as the books I discovered on my own.
Why can’t I read like that anymore? Is it the pace of life that’s changed?
I consider myself lucky to be born at the genesis of network TV and no later, and I’m glad I didn’t encounter a computer screen until I graduated from college with a print sensibility and twenty years of a traditional education behind me
Maybe my handwriting has deteriorated, not because of age or impatience or law school, but because I’ve grown so used to printed text.
Still, I’ve never wanted to give up writing my diary entries by hand. Back in 1969, it never would have occurred to me to type diary entries, and I’ve never liked the idea of a computer diary.
I like this diary being made up of atoms, not bits. It’s not malleable, and so it’s a real record of how I felt on a particular day at a particular moment. And I like the feel of pen and ink on paper.
Anyway, the second half of Birkerts’s book, the part about the changes we’re seeing – his students, like mine, don’t “get” Henry James – is ahead of me, but I’ve already appropriated his ideas and text for a story using HTML tags that I learned on Tuesday.
I titled it “http://america.net/my.own.homepage.html” – the command you’d use to get a site on the World Wide Web.
Josh e-mailed that he and Todd went to see Josh’s mother and then they dropped in at KGB, where Todd saw Denis for the first time since our MFA program. Another MFA alumnus, Simon, told Josh that his house wasn’t harmed in the Northern California flooding.
Sunday, March 19, 1995
7 PM. This has been the most relaxing day I’ve had in a long while. Today was warm and sunny. When I walked home from Barnes & Noble in the late afternoon, there wasn’t a single wisp of cloud in the sky.
Spring officially starts tomorrow, but it’s hardly been winter here at all. Even in New York City, according to today’s Times, it was so much milder than last year’s harsh winter, with only one snowstorm instead of more than a dozen.
What’s different about this year for me is that in the past three springs that I’ve spent in Gainesville, I could look forward to the end of the term in late April or early May. The past two years I went to New York at that time.
I don’t yet know what my plans are for this summer. At work now, there are no clear demarcation points.
Well, I do have my Nova class, which ends on May 6 – so that’s sort of an end to the spring semester for me.
Last night I slept soundly, although I became agitated in one dream when Rosalie Sanderson expected me to take a group of Japanese students up in a helicopter.
But instead of waking up in panic as I faced the inevitable horror – what usually happens in those kind of dreams – I decided to get out of the helicopter and get in a car instead. Some of the students looked relieved, too, so it wasn’t just me that was scared.
Leaving the house at 7 AM, I picked up the Sunday New York Times as well as some ATM cash at NationsBank and bread and milk at Publix.
I stayed in till 1:30 PM, reading, doing low-impact aerobics, and listening to and watching public affairs shows.
In the afternoon, I went for a drive in the sunshine, heading first for the Millhopper library and then my office.
Ben was there, studying or doing his work for Richard Hamann, as usual – but John Moon, busy translating Los Indios do Brasil yesterday, was not.
At Barnes & Noble, after watching a scene from the Hot L Baltimore from a production starting next week at Santa Fe Community College, I found ACM in the magazine racks.
The issue had a couple of pieces by Pete Cherches, ones he mentioned on the phone last night. Pete told me the only person he knew at the Pittsburgh AWP meeting was the ACM editor who published him.
I wrote down the names of some editors from the acknowledgement pages, but I walked away from the fiction/literature paperbacks realizing that I’m unfamiliar with many of the authors who’ve come along in the last decade.
It seems that, as Pete said, everyone is either younger than we are, or older and famous.
What happened to all the people publishing in little magazines and small presses twenty years ago? People like Michael Lally, Opal Nations, Merritt Clifton?
(Answer: they became actors, radio hosts and editors of animal-rights magazines, just as I became a computer teacher and a lawyer.)
I was glad to see that Ivan Gold’s Nickel Miseries was reprinted in a new edition. I sometimes think that someday some New York publisher will reprint my old books the way Mark Leyner’s I Smell Esther Williams from the Fiction Collective has been reprinted by his regular publisher.
But there was never that much interest in my work to begin with, and it’s hard to see how anyone could find out about my old books at this point.
No, I am not going to start feeling sorry for myself because them’s the breaks, and I am still healthy and thriving. Besides, I forget about all the other worthy out-of-print fiction writers whose books are not on the shelves at Barnes & Noble either.
What about writers like Tom McHale or Scott Sommer ? I didn’t notice if their books were there, but they’re dead, and I’m lucky enough to still be breathing.
I think I’m better off trying a literary agent than an editor, but I don’t know where to begin, really.
I’ve always been bad at the business side of publishing – except, as with little mags and small presses, where it didn’t seem like business but like friendship.