A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-February, 1995
Monday, February 13, 1995
7 PM. The kind of anxiety I’ve been feeling all day has been unfamiliar in the past few years. But while it’s uncomfortable to be so nervous, it’s also a sign that I’m doing something I fear and taking a risk, and I need to do more of that.
This reminds me of other times in my life when I felt this way, and usually they end up with my getting past the fear and also experiencing life at a higher-than-normal intensity.
I didn’t get much work done today. Most of the morning I was on Lexis or E-mail or reading the New York Times.
I was glad to see that Mondo Marilyn got a nice little review in yesterday’s Washington Post, and even gladder to see they mentioned Tom and his story. I hope that nobody has told Tom about it before I show him the printout tomorrow.
Because of my great experience with Mondo Barbie, and with Rick and Lucinda, I feel a part of the whole Mondo enterprise.
Rick sent me a copy of Buoyancy, a new poetry collection of his. Like the story collection Paraffin Days, it’s a handsome little paperback.
Perhaps Rick finances both books, using other people’s presses? I really would have loved to have a stylish book like that published: my chapbooks are so clunky.
In the afternoon, I got two faxes from New Orleans. First, Skye Moody’s associate sent me the galleys of “Son of Obituaries” and “Journal: October 20” (they took off “1990” from the title).
It’s great to see new work of mine in print, even in the shaky font of a fax transmission. The writing, however, is really poor: all asides and parentheses and awkward phrases, the kind of spontaneous unrevised prose I feel most comfortable doing but which I suspect will be torture and/or mysterious to readers.
The pieces aren’t fiction, aren’t essays . . . God knows what they are. Mostly diary entries like this, I suppose.
I also got 39 pages from NOCCA: three stories for Wednesday’s workshop.
The first, by Dolsy Smith, is surrealistic and dense; the second, by Lauren Levin, deals in a realistic way with a bright Jewish girl’s extracurricular activities, from ballroom dancing to horseback riding; the last piece, by Daniel Fox, is a Borgesian listing of capsule biographies of 21st-century criminals whose crime was writing fiction and poetry.
They seem like good stuff, but of course, I’ll need to read all of the stories over a couple more times.
Stacey left a three-paragraph “memo” on Florida’s public meeting law in my mailbox. What a disappointment. I could have done that myself weeks ago if I’d wanted to.
After leaving Stacey a terse note saying she should see me next Monday, I talked to Liz about her.
Liz suggested I first give Stacey a day to consider whether she still wants to be a research assistant. She’s obviously overcommitted, what with Trial Practice, Civil Clinic and her seminar.
Liz said that research assistants are supposed to make our lives easier, and if they don’t perform that function, there’s not much point in having them.
I hate being put in the position of boss, but Stacey’s inaction makes me look bad when I promised Wendy a memo. Luckily, I just sent out a big one (that I wrote all by myself) to her.
But I can’t feel confident about Stacey anymore. I might as well do the work myself and use the $70 a week for something more valuable.
Back home, I felt so tired that I lay down immediately for half an hour. Then I exercised (lightly) and began packing in my neurotic way, taking twice as much as I need.
The problem with traveling to New Orleans this time of year is that, like here, it could be 20° or it could be 80°.
I spoke to Dad, who said he had a good trip to Puerto Rico, especially because he saved $180 when they didn’t charge him for his four extra pieces of luggage.
Wade sent a postcard saying I should definitely make my way out to Texas to visit him. He thought “Rules of Civil Procedure” was one of my best stories. He’s going to Baltimore in May and to Canterbury, England, in July.
At this point I feel less anxious and more serene, knowing I’ve got a night at home to rest before my trip.
Wednesday, February 15, 1995
10:30 AM. I’m in Tom’s kitchen, having spent the last hour rereading and marking up the three stories for this afternoon’s workshop.
“I hope I don’t screw up,” I said to Tom before he left to teach the morning class. “I could misread the stories.” He was skeptical about that.
I really felt awful at the airport in Atlanta yesterday, but after the plane took off and we escaped the gloom of the ground, either the blue skies as we flew west (the sun set as we landed) or the Triavil taking effect or some random chemical change in my brain lifted my spirits.
At the New Orleans airport, I put my lenses back in while squatting on the floor of the baggage claim area, retrieved my luggage and got a taxi.
The driver, a black woman, didn’t really know where Tom’s house was, but I remembered it better than I thought: get off I-10 at Carrollton, go down to St. Charles past the universities, and it was somewhere between Webster and Henry Clay. She went two blocks past Magazine Street, but I got here.
Tom looks good: his hair is short and grayer, he’s got a neat little mustache, and at his height, he’s still lighter than I am.
He didn’t offer me dinner, probably figuring I’d been fed on the plane, but I had mint tea and wasn’t hungry anyway.
We talked for several hours. I was glad to show him the Washington Post review of Mondo Marilyn that mentioned his story even though he subscribes to Book World (as he does to the New York Times Book Review) and would soon have seen it.
He said he’s now much more relaxed at NOCCA: partly it’s age, partly it’s all his experience dealing with adolescents.
Next year he will go back to Stuttgart. Annette (pronounced with three syllables) is a pretty 25-year-old who grew up in Berkeley. She was here for three weeks at Christmas and will be staying here starting next month as she writes her thesis.
Tom seems more intent than I remembered on wanting to make money. He showed me the Bantam contract for his and Daniel Quinn’s A Newcomer’s Guide to the Afterlife and told me about book proposals and manuscripts his agent has passed on.
Like me, Tom finds it harder to get published, even in little mags. “We’re out of touch,” he says.
But his knowledge of contemporary literature and film remains encyclopedic. And I can’t imagine anyone else on the planet putting Ashbery next to the toilet seat for bathroom reading.
Tom showed me the hardcover Yellow Silk erotica anthology he’s in and some other stuff.
He gave me the back bedroom while he took the futon in his study. I’d forgotten how chilly this house can get – and last night was mild.
I didn’t put the space heater on, as I dislike the smell of gas. As expected, I hardly slept, but I wasn’t dizzy.
However, when I got up to go to the bathroom, I kept noticing that my vision was blurry. Only when I awoke at 5 AM did I realize that I slept with my contacts on! Hopefully I damaged neither my eye nor my lenses, as I slept only a couple of hours.
I had oatmeal, grits and cream of wheat, using a match and Tom’s gas range to boil water. I hate to take baths, so I did the best I could, washing myself in Tom’s bathtub.
He’s got floor-to-ceiling bookshelves for his books and videotapes. Someday this will probably be some school’s wonderful bequest and the students and teachers there will experience the joy of Tom’s library. (That’s my assumption, anyway.)
After he left, I exercised lightly to a video I brought, and I went out to the local market (really just a convenience store) for whatever I could find. I bought the Times, bottled water, toilet paper (I don’t like to use up what Tom has), skim milk and a banana.
Brad Richard should be coming by at 11 AM to pick me up. We’ll have lunch and he’ll take me to NOCCA for the three-hour afternoon class.
I haven’t seen Brad since he was a high school student himself; Tom says he’s now almost bald and a bulky weightlifter.
Thursday, February 16, 1995
3 PM. The classes I taught yesterday and today went well, but I’m tired, as I’ve barely slept the last two nights.
Brad arrived, as expected, at 11 AM yesterday, though he was neither as balding or bulky as Tom had led me to believe.
We spent a couple of hours together, first eating outside at Au Naturel, the health food place, and then sipping coffee and iced tea on the terrace of a coffee bar.
I like Brad a lot, and he seems to enjoy being at NOCCA. It took him seven years to get his B.A. at Iowa because he screwed around, and then he got his MFA at Washington University in St. Louis.
He’s currently writing poems that are excellent – I’ve seen some from a series of vignettes of gay psychotics – and agrees with me that Tom has relaxed from his former hyper self.
Brad has made himself more comfortable back in New Orleans these last four years. He’s got a boyfriend, a nearby apartment, and seems content.
As usual, I talked too much about myself, but Brad is easy to talk to. Even though I haven’t seen him since he was in high school, he seems like the same person he was at 17 and 18.
The three stories I went over in the afternoon workshop were all worthwhile, and although the class is a hard bunch to get to talk, I managed to do so, especially since Tom came to my rescue, usually getting to the heart of the story in a few pithy sentences.
The works by Dolsy, Lauren and Daniel were all different, but I hope they understood, after all the criticism, how good they are for high school kids – or even for college students, really.
Daniel, who loves my work, had me autograph my books and we took a picture together. He’s a cute little kid (no, much too young for me to be interested in him sexually) who last year wrote “a Grayson story” for Umbra; at least that’s what Tom, Brad and Daniel himself called it.
Tom and I went to Audubon Zoo after class, and I got to relax in Tom’s favorite habitat as I watched tapirs (one was trying to lick its sleeping partner awake), orangutans, giraffes, gorgeous birds and other wonderful animals.
Chris Jeannesonne came over for dinner, bringing fresh bread to go with Tom’s spinach salad.
Chris had just returned from Rutgers, where he attended the annual Super 8mm Film Festival, where his Post-Op, based on Tom’s novel, with Tom’s screenplay, was one of 17 films out of 400 to be shown.
He screened it for me after dinner, and I found the film haunting and very skillful as well as mordantly funny.
I remember Chris slightly from my last visit five years ago when he was a student, but he’s now much smarter and sexier.
Tom had him as a student for creative writing again at Loyola, and he comes by to take advantage of Tom’s vast library of cinema criticism and tapes as well as Tom’s exhaustive knowledge of film.
I’m a cinema ignoramus, so I asked a lot of questions and learned a great deal from Chris.
Today I went to school with Tom at 8 AM. He’s got a small class who were marvelously attentive as I talked and talked. I read “But In A Thousand Other Worlds” and parts of Eating at Arby’s and then had them do an exercise to write something based on a magazine or TV show.
Tom and I wrote, too, and afterward we all read our work, including my Aaron Spelling Fox TV show about MFA students in poetry. For a rough assignment, the kids’ work was quite good.
Brad accompanied Tom and me back to the apartment, where we had lunch. My diet here is totally different, but I’m trying to eat a lot less.
Although I’m not used to so much conversation about books and films, it’s a pleasure to experience it.
It was another pleasure to be asked back to the afternoon class so I could talk about my work and answer questions and feel like a writer, self-deprecating and insecure as I am.
I also talked about my publicity stunts and performance art, about sending out to little magazines, about keeping a daily diary.
I hope that in the end I sounded like something more than an egoist and actually managed to say something that helps one of these kids be a better or wiser writer.
At 2:30 PM, I left Tom with the class so he could teach the critical essay.
The last couple of days in New Orleans have been infinitely richer that I’ve been able to express here – but as I told the class, very often the stuff I remember most clearly doesn’t find itself on the pages of my diaries.
Friday, February 17, 1995
3 PM. Yesterday, when Tom came home, he asked if there was anywhere I’d like to walk to. I said the levee, and Tom changed into shorts and a T-shirt and we went out. I took my jacket, which turned out to be a good idea because it was colder by the river.
We talked about Stuttgart and then about Anne Rice (naturally, Tom despises her, as I’m sure do many others in New Orleans) and all kinds of stuff.
As we passed the back of the zoo, Tom explained the pungent smell in the air was the scent of the red foxes.
Tom told me that after I left NOCCA, he sold copies of With Hitler in New York and Narcissism and Me, which I’ve got to sign. Along with the orders from the morning class, I sold 13 copies of each book for $2 a book.
I enjoyed walking along the Mississippi. We stopped off at Uptown Square, which is having trouble keeping business and will be half-converted to a Lutheran old folks’ home.
We dropped in at the Uptown Book Store, where the owner, Mark, is a good friend of Tom’s. Mark is head of the Mid-South Booksellers Association and is an expert on gay literature. He was interesting to talk to.
After Tom and I rested on one of Uptown Square’s benches and chatted some more, we walked home as it got dark. Tom suggested a Thai restaurant for dinner, and I agreed.
While he was changing, I cut my right index finger badly when I reached into a pouch for a Triavil and came up against the unsheathed edge of a disposable razor.
Tom applied hydrogen peroxide to the cut and covered it with a Band-Aid, but it’s been hard to keep it on since the cut is right on the fingertip.
Dinner was pleasant vegetarian food – I had pad thai with tofu – and at least I got to pay for Tom as a partial thank-you for all he’s done for me.
Back home after a drive on St. Charles past the universities – I especially like the architecture at Newcomb College – and a stop at the video store, we tried to call Eustace, who wasn’t in.
(Eustace’s ex-wife and his daughter are very hostile to him, with the daughter having supposedly remembered in therapy a repressed memory that Eustace did something to her.)
I wasn’t able to sleep as well as I expected because my head was pounding; finally, I realized it was a sinus headache, so I took some decongestant.
Today Brad was going to take me downtown, but it’s been very rainy and only 50° or so. Besides, I woke up with a postnasal drip and sore throat, so I told Brad not to bother.
Jane called while Tom was home for lunch. The house she rents is for sale, and it’s near Faubourg Marigny, where NOCCA is relocating. Tom could buy it for $35,000 (and he could afford to pay cash).
Last evening Debra called to say that she’d won a Humboldt Research Fellowship: a huge stipend from the German government, and all she has to do for it is make nice in Bonn for a month and then can spend the rest of the year in Berlin writing her dissertation.
Tom drove to school this afternoon so that I could have his umbrella and take a walk. I wanted to find the shopping center with that new Winn-Dixie Marketplace and TCBY, and God knows how I did it, but by walking along Magazine and then up Jefferson to the end and taking a left, I found myself right there.
It sometimes amazes me what a weirdly accurate sense of direction I have, even in cities I don’t know all that well.
I was able to get a salad bar (broccoli!) and baby carrots and other stuff that I’ve missed, as well as some lozenges for my throat.
Tonight we’re going out to a movie. Tom said he’d drive me to the airport tomorrow so I’ll save over $20.
Today I’m wearing a flannel shirt, my bulky sweater, and my heavy dungaree jacket. If it wasn’t so cold, I’d go out again before Tom gets home, as I like exploring Uptown New Orleans a lot.
But having walked more than usual and then exercised to a Body Electric video (as I have every day since I’ve been here), I feel tired.
Well, despite the way I’m feeling now, this has been a great trip. It has been good for me to shake up my obsessive-compulsive routine and wash in a bathtub, light a match to start a burner to boil water (Tom thinks microwaves give people cancer), and get used to that drafty, musty smell of wooden houses. This house’s smell reminds me of MacDowell, Millay, Bread Loaf and Teresa’s old place in the Berkshires.
To help me with my Nova lit class, Tom xeroxed all of Ralph Ellison’s uncollected stories for me, and he said he has material on Billy Budd. He’ll be here shortly.
1 AM. I had a nice evening with Tom and Eustace, who came over about an hour after Tom did. We sat and talked about politics and books and movies. Eustace is now 56, and his beard and hair are white and he’s got a big belly.
Later in the evening we went to the movies to see John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness, which Tom had already seen.
Brad and Chris couldn’t join us, so Tom and I ate at home and then drove to Eustace’s cozy upper-story apartment in Mid-City, which isn’t bad for a divorced older guy’s place. It seemed warm and comfortable to me.
Eustace drove us to the theater at Lakeside, a small mall in Metairie, and we sat close up in a nearly empty auditorium. I liked the film a lot, but Eustace fell asleep.
Tom was right about the movie, and of course he’s angry that it’s sinking without a trace. He has so much resentment that good books and films fail to gain a wide audience while bestsellers and box-office hits are mindless drivel.
However, complaining isn’t going to change the way things are, and I never – or rarely – think about “successful” books and films (and all TV) the way Tom does.
He put his heater on in my (his) room tonight, but so far it hasn’t helped me fall asleep.