A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-September, 1992

Friday, September 11, 1992

2 PM. I just came home for an hour between my SFCC class and the meeting at 3 PM so I could have a relaxed lunch.

Last night I called Mikey, who’s living in Real Estate Hell in Riverdale.

They had a buyer for the apartment, but since the building sponsor, who owns 28 units, is in Chapter 7, nobody will give Mikey’s buyer a mortgage.

Mikey’s trying his best to get the holder of his note (who got it from a failed S & L) to let the buyer assume the mortgage, but Mikey thinks he’s stuck in Riverdale for at least another year until the economic situation works itself out.

He’s delayed buying furniture on the expectation that he can move, so he’s been sleeping on a mattress on the floor, and it’s all very depressing.

Mikey would like to go out on his own next year in a solo practice, and he needs the money from the co-op sale. (Presumably, Amy does, too.)

At least his rafting trip on the Colorado River to the Grand Canyon excited him; Mikey said it was thrilling to be at the bottom of that huge gorge.

This morning’s classes were interesting, though at one point in Natural Resources I couldn’t quite follow all of Julin’s (and Dave G’s) train of thought.

Between classes, I read the material on grading for our 3 PM session, and I began to remember how difficult commenting on student writing can be.

It became more evident as I read my Nova students’ argument essays while my SFCC students wrote in class.

Because these people sounded articulate and are adults with responsible jobs, I was unprepared – naïve me – for the grammatical, mechanical and structural problems in their essays, not to mention their illogical arguments.

A year of law school, reading carefully reasoned judicial opinions and being trained to examine assertions in detail, may have reduced my patience with the way most people “think.”

My students’ papers are evidence that Bush should easily win this election. These people deserve a president like Bush and their country deserves to go straight to hell.

I feel anger at what I perceive as their unthinking acceptance of non-ideas – like the guy who’s for Bush because he’s for the balanced budget amendment and the guy who just kept writing “no new taxes” again and again like a mantra.

While I’d like to be a wonderful and patient teacher, my first reaction is that these people are stupid rednecks. I know I have to get past that.

One other thing: While reading the Times, I saw a preview of this Sunday’s magazine section. The cover shows Mark Leyner clowning around with barbells and the title of the piece is “Mark Leyner is the Country’s Most Well-Built Comic Writer” or something like that.

I hate myself for feeling envious. The truth is, I like Mark and I think he’s clever and funny, and he’s always been nice to me and has admired my own work. I don’t begrudge him any success because he does deserve it.

It’s just that I think I deserve some success, too. Of course I think: Hey, he’s living this glamorous life, and here I am, stuck in Gainesville, with the drudgery of reading oil and gas cases and grading freshman essays.

Now, I do understand that Mark’s life is not one big glamorous magazine cover and that I’ve had my share of good publicity, too.

Well, at least I feel I’m learning something about myself. Maybe law school has taught me that I’m happiest being around smart people and ideas, and if that’s true, I shouldn’t be teaching college writing courses.


9 PM. The meeting at Santa Fe did help, and I’m impressed with the department’s commitment to quality teaching.

Barbara Sloan and Dave Hellmich led a discussion, using sample papers, graded and ungraded, on how to respond to and evaluate student writing.

About half a dozen adjuncts attended, as did Barry’s wife Paula from SFCC’s high school, who was surprised to see me there. (I told her I rarely see Barry, who’s taking mostly business-type classes and is busy interviewing, trying out for trial team and trying to write for law review.)

The discussion brought out a number of my concerns and the dilemmas I feel when I have to respond to a student essay.

In a way, it reminded me of the classes and workshops Lucy Calkins had at Teachers College, and I appreciate the opportunity to learn.

Tired, I came home after 5 PM, had dinner, read the Times, and watched news shows.

This weekend I’ve got a lot of work, but I’ll manage.

Channel 5 in Ocala is running The Paper Chase movie in an hour, and maybe I can stay up for it.

I missed the preview when the producers took it to Brooklyn College to gauge audience reaction, but I saw the film soon after it came out nearly two decades ago.

Having gone through the first year of law school, I’ll probably now get some of the references to Contracts cases and other details of law school life.

I doubt that Professor Kingsfield will seem that intimidating anymore, although I don’t think any of my professors were as sarcastic and cruel as I remember him from John Houseman’s performance.

Tuesday, September 15, 1992

2 PM. I’ve been lying on the living room couch for most of the past three hours, not sleeping but resting, with the lights off and no TV or radio, only the hum of the air conditioner and my own thoughts.

As usual, I had a hard time getting to sleep last night, and since I got up at 6 AM, I’m sleep-deprived – but the rest now seemed to help.

I’ve got to teach the Nova class tonight, but I don’t have much to prepare since the essays I’ve printed out will give us plenty to discuss in a workshop.

I do have four or five papers to grade before tomorrow’s class at SFCC, but the worst-case scenario is that I get them done tomorrow morning.

After Wednesday afternoon, most of the pressure of the week is gone if I don’t have papers to grade for Friday.

I feel better about my D+ Evidence quiz after talking to Bob, Dan R (he got the money from his deposit from his ex-landlord, by the way), and others who also fared poorly.

Between our two 50-minute Evidence sessions today, I looked at the answer key and I met with Seigel, who gave me suggestions on how to practice understanding relevance.

At least Karin, Shara and I did well when we were each called to do hypos on non-hearsay, including verbal acts and impeachment of witnesses.

The CALI software helps me understand hearsay; it’s too bad they don’t have a disc on relevance.

In Political and Civil Rights, Baldwin went over Korematsu, not for equal protection but for infringement on liberties due to military necessity; before class, I had printed out Judge Patel’s 1983 decision on the case that contained the memos Baldwin referred to, about the lies that went into the original 1942 brief by the U.S.

As Baldwin said, the Japanese-American concentration camps can happen again. We still live under a declaration of national emergency from August 2, 1990, when Bush’s post-Kuwait invasion executive order came out.

Last night I dreamed about my dead grandparents, something that’s been happening with frequency lately. I miss Grandma Ethel, and as the years go on, I realize it’s over a decade since I saw my other grandparents before they died, or in Grandpa Nat’s case, became a semi-vegetable.

Their personalities are still with me, but I’m sure there’s stuff about them I can no longer remember in sharp focus.

This morning Shara said to me, “I can’t believe September is half over,” so I’m not the only one who feels that way.

Back in September 1969, when I was 18 and writing the first of these diaries, I hadn’t even started college yet. This was when Brooklyn College began two weeks after Labor Day and our term ended in late January and not before Christmas.

I wish I could get into a time-travel machine and visit myself in 1969. Would I try to warn that kid about the future, or would I reassure him that life was less scary than he thought? Probably both.

If I had been asked (by Ms. Stein, say – my freshman comp teacher) to write an essay describing the next 23 years of my life, what would I have come up with? Probably nothing that resembled reality.

Of course, I don’t want to assign myself an essay describing the next 23 years of my life, either. I’d be 64 – the essay’s title would be “When I’m 64,” of course – and the year would be 2015. Unimaginable.

Wednesday, September 16, 1992

4 PM. As usual, I’m in need of sleep, but I feel no worse for wear, and I feel a sense of satisfaction, the kind that’s rare for me: the sense that I’m doing something meaningful with my life.

I felt that way even before class yesterday as I was heading to Gainesville High School. There was just the slightest hint of fall in the air, and I liked seeing the nearly-deserted school grounds, where a few people (from the band, presumably) were playing tubas and trombones in the distance.

My class went well, and I was right about the workshop format: it was a great help to my students, they told me. Even when the discussion was about contentious issues like politics, students’ comments were warm-hearted and good-spirited, and I could bring up points about writing that are difficult to handle in a lecture without a piece of writing in front of us.

During class, even I became aware of how I use really too much or put in that unnecessarily, so workshops also help me as a writer.

We broke up at 9:15 PM, when the energy in the room seemed to flag.

It’s important, beyond my class, that the Nova cluster bond together, and I hope I can help create a sense of community.

Today one of my students whose paper we didn’t get to last night called to ask if we can do it next week because she found the workshop so valuable. I said of course we could.

Next week the class meets on Thursday because Tuesday is open school night at the high school, so I get to have an easy Tuesday.

I felt good as I drove home, thinking: Boy, you’ve managed to make a life for yourself even in this place that’s so different from anywhere you’ve lived before.

Oh God, I’m fading into faux lyricism.

I had sporadic deep sleep, but I kept waking up – just because I wanted to hear CBS Radio news on the hour with results of the New York primary and those in other states. I’m glad that Bob Abrams squeaked by Ferraro to get the Democratic nomination for senator because I think he’ll do better against D’Amato.

I’m astonished that despite the draft problem, Clinton’s lead of ten points seems to be holding up – everywhere but Florida, where Bush is ahead and where North Florida must be the heart of the heart of Bush country.

Anna Quindlen’s column today – the pullquote was “Don’t say it, don’t even say it” expresses my view: I’m afraid of jinxing Clinton, of giving him a kinahora.

Yet Quindlen points out that Clinton is bound to disappoint the many who have hot impossibly high expectations of him.

And, yes, it’s hard to believe that we could soon have a national abortion rights bill or a family leave bill or the end of the gay ban in the military.

In contrast, Bush wouldn’t disappoint his supporters because nobody has any expectations of a second Bush term.

At school at 7:30 AM, I was walking behind Larry and Shara, who arrived in the same car. I noticed Shara touching Larry the way . . . well, you know . . . and I wondered why I hadn’t realized before that they were more than just friends.

If they are together, I think they’re a terrific couple, even more so because they seem quirky: Larry’s casual goofiness contrasts with Shara’s intensity, but I can see how they fit.

Baldwin went over the flag burning cases. Just when I thought I knew all I could know about Texas v. Johnson, I see there’s still more to discover.

Martin told me he’s had five interviews already. When I congratulated him on that, he sighed and said, “Yeah, but Lori probably had her maximum of 15 already.”

Today Karin’s mother is being released from Shands, where doctors gave her half a dozen different diagnoses. The last was some form of leukemia, so the family is frightened and of course Karin is upset.

As we were going into Evidence, Lee congratulated us on how good we were when we were called on yesterday with Shara.

Siegel told us he won’t teach the first day of Rosh Hashanah, a week from Monday, or on October 7, a Wednesday, Yom Kippur. The people who have Cohn for Corporations also get that day off.

I like Evidence, but I had a little trouble following the trains of logic today.

In Family Law, Dowd went over her “scorecard” on Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and then we broke up into groups of “Supreme Courts” and voted on Roe and the constitutionality of the provisions in the Pennsylvania statute, just as we did in our papers.

We began polling the “Chief Justices” (Judy was our group’s,) when time ran out.

At Santa Fe, I had a fun discussion with the other faculty, all of whom hate Bush.

Norma Dew mentioned that her daughter is attending UVA and talked about how she, Norma, grew up on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

“Around Salisbury?” I asked, and I told her how I used to get Channel 16 in Rockaway and would watch The Delmarva Report at 11 PM.

I had a good class of my own. Part of the time we used one of the papers from my Nova class so I could show them how to respond to writing constructively. They felt freer to talk knowing none of their own work was being discussed.

After returning home, I had lunch, watched One Life to Live, did light aerobics, filled out my absentee ballot for the runoff, and took a shower.

Except for a dollar I used for xeroxing on Monday, I haven’t spent a cent all week.

Friday, September 18, 1992

3 PM. Made it through the week. Although I slept from 10:30 PM to 6:30 AM, I was still in need of sleep when I dragged myself off to school an hour after I awoke.

Perhaps I’ll get more sleep next week and thus be able to function better, but I don’t know. At least I didn’t miss any classes or forgo any of my responsibilities.

There are only six more weeks of Nova classes, but by then, law school will be coming to a close.

Luckily, I have a fairly relaxed final exam schedule, with a week or more between my Evidence final and the others.

Still, that will coincide with the end of the term at Santa Fe.

Somehow I’ll manage. I’d like to be able to avoid teaching at Santa Fe next term. If I knew I could get a Nova class, I wouldn’t need the extra money because the Santa Fe salary is so poor.

Anyway, in early November I’ll pick up $100 because I told Barbara Goldsmith I’d take her Saturday Nova classes in Jacksonville while she’s got an interview with Legal Services.

It’s probably something I’ll regret when I have to do it, but perhaps it will be an adventure.

Julin’s class was fine today, and Family Law also was interesting. During the break I read the Wall Street Journal and printed out a law review article from Lexis for Baldwin’s class.

I think he’s giving a makeup class late Monday, and although he said he wouldn’t count our missing it as an absence, I hate to miss class.

At Santa Fe, I chatted with Rhoda, the morning unit aide; as I suspected, she’s a Jewish lady. She used to work at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda and lived in Delray until she got sick and moved up here to be close to her daughter in Keystone Heights.

My class went okay. I tried to break them up into peer review groups, but not everyone had the rough draft of their (okay, his or her – God, what an English teacher I am!) essay.

I kept my office hour, and luckily I was there when Vivian Lee called. She’s my faculty “buddy” assigned to help me – but probably she’s just checking up on me to make sure I’m not doing anything crazy.

She wants to observe me sometime next week, and then we’ll do an exchange of paper grading as part of the department’s usual procedure.

I tried to let her know I was competent. Vivian must have been an elementary school teacher because she addresses people as if they’re first-graders.

Poor Fred: His “agent” had no luck with his screenplay when she traveled to Los Angeles. Nobody even saw it. Fred is stuck in Adjunct Hell, unsure of where to turn next, with his hopes resting on making a breakout with a probably hopeless movie script.

I’m going to exercise now and then veg out; I can’t do any work today.