A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early September, 1997

Monday, September 1, 1997

1 PM. I just had my first lunch in my new apartment, after taking my first shower here. That was after I’d been lying dead to the world in an exhausted, depressed funk.

I brought nearly everything over here today. My big computer and my bed and dresser are still at my parents’, but anything else I left there was by lack of foresight.

It was wrenching, in the way, to leave: as much as I hated being with my family, I’d slipped into their comfortable routines. China seemed sad to see me packing and carrying suitcases, but perhaps I’m just projecting or generalizing from my experiences with Hattie this summer.

There’s just so much to do, and nothing yet knows where it belongs. I know from experience that objects will sort themselves out and find their places, but it’s hard at the beginning.

Still, if I tell myself I adjust quickly, I probably will. And I shouldn’t be hard on myself after doing all the moving on my own, and before that, managing to find an apartment and jobs to keep me at least treading water.

Last night I couldn’t sleep and I got on the Net, asking for application forms to various grad programs, including ASU in Phoenix (justice studies and journalism), Texas at Austin (government), Washington in Seattle (law librarianship), Berkeley and Maryland-College Park (both journalism).

I need to set limits, and those all seem like good places to live. Of course it’s possible I might not get accepted anywhere, but if I apply to four or five programs, I can probably make at least one.

Yes, when in doubt, go back to school for another degree. I do love learning and am comfortable in the womb of a large state university, where tuition is cheaper.

Going to one of those schools and cities would mean another wrenching readjustment in about a year, but it will get me to a new place and put me in a highly structured environment the way UF Law School did.

The year that begins today with September, Labor Day, the end of summer, was always going to be a transitional year. I still feel as though I don’t know where I’m going with my life, but I do know that often it will seem to all make sense.

I fear succumbing to despair, but I’ve been afraid of that before, most recently when I left my comfy job at CGR, and before that in 1994, when I graduated from law school and faced adjuncting at Santa Fe Community College as I moved into my tiny dump of an apartment at Sundowne.

Speaking of which, why didn’t living in one room facilitate my getting rid of more possessions? I think of myself as the least acquisitive of Americans, a sympathizer with the “voluntary simplicity” movement – yet I have so many clothes I never wear, books I never read, tchotchkes I carry from place to place without my having any need of them.

I promise that over the next year I will throw out unnecessary clothes, objects, and other possessions – like the orange t-shirt I’ve got on right now which has a tiny hole in the armpit.

I know that in the next few months I’m going to have some financial disasters: car repairs, dental repairs (the tooth seems okay for now) or whatever. My left upper arm is still a deep splotchy purple from last week’s accident.

Right now I should be preparing for this week’s classes, but I can’t even bring myself to sort out the textbooks from the various courses. I’m such a mess.

I feel like returning to my veg-out state of an hour ago; I’m even thinking of getting a cover to put over me as I lay here on the single bed. (It’s low, just on the box spring, and Mom says I can’t leave it like this, though I probably will.)

Well, getting under the covers isn’t such a bad thing as long as you eventually get up and face the world. I’ve got classical music on. This apartment reminds me of my studio in Rockaway in 1979, and that scares me but also gives me a sense of hope.

Wednesday, September 3, 1997

4:30 PM. I didn’t sleep well last night, maybe getting four or five hours, so I hope I can have a decent English 102 class tonight at FAU – at least better than the barely-salvaged disaster (but a learning experience) of a week ago.

I’m going to hold off leaving until 5:50 PM and see if I run into traffic. These 13-hour, three-class days are killers, so I should be grateful I have only one this week.

Up at 5:30 AM, I exercised half an hour later to Body Electric, which I kept on as I listened to NPR’s Morning Edition. After stopping at my parents’ to fetch the New York Times with its blue wrapper from the ground, I made it to my classroom at Nova just before 8 AM.

We went to the MicroLab today, and I’d expected some kind of tutorial, but I was on my own. So I got the students into Microsoft Word – the Office 95 edition – and we did some freewriting and discussed the advantages and disadvantages of writing on computers.

This generation is totally familiar with the technology and had no difficulties, though a few were not fast keyboarders. We also set loose the spell checkers, the grammar checkers, and the other bells and whistles, and I noticed some students applying lots of different font types and styles to their writing.

For the last ten minutes of class, I told them to “play.” and most gravitated to the Web, where they looked at music sites, tried to go to teen chat rooms or the home page of the Russian teen tennis star whose name I forget, and a couple looked at their e-mail.

On Friday, we’re going to use the book of readings for the first time, and I’ve got to come up with their first writing assignment, which according to the syllabus is due next Monday. If I think I’ve been busy now, just wait till I have to start grading papers all the time.

I got to FAU before 10 AM and read in the cafeteria, though I have to admit my reading the paper kept being interrupted when I was distracted by the cute young guys around me.

Last night I took the phone off the hook so I could get to sleep without a call from Michael, but of course I didn’t get to sleep for hours anyway.

It was I who phoned him on Sunday, so I’m obviously giving poor Michael confusing signals, which is because I’m confused about our relationship myself, but we’ll see what happens.

In Creative Writing, we spent the whole period on the first story: a spacy, preachy dialogue about enlightenment and spirituality that Jonathan might appreciate.

I tried to be as kind and gentle as possible, and the students also treaded lightly, but the boy who wrote it apparently felt attacked and devastated. Well, the grading in my class is easy, but they need to listen to reasoned, intelligent criticism.

Nobody was rude or cruel. I know it’s hard for them to have criticism when they’re at the age when all their creative efforts have gotten only praise because of teachers, parents and friends wanting to be polite and build up the student’s self-esteem.

I realize how utterly unsophisticated about literature most of the students are, but I hope I can connect with them. They are decent critics despite their lack of literary knowledge and reading experience, however.

I spent the afternoon at home reading and lying down. The public mourning for Princess Diana is unlike anything I can remember since John F. Kennedy. God knows what it means for the future of the monarchy.

A year ago I showed Medium Cool to my class in Gainesville as a meditation on the media’s effect on society. The opening and closing scenes of Medium Cool feature photographers snapping pictures of a fatal auto wreck rather than helping anyone in it who might still be alive.

If one of my Gainesville students this week thought about the film in relation to the Paris death of Diana, I feel I did a good job.

Saturday, September 6, 1997

9 PM. I’m very tired. Since I was up at 5:30 AM anyway, I figured I might as well turn on Diana’s funeral, which I listened to and glanced at occasionally.

The most moving moments were Elton John’s singing of “Candle in the Wind” with lyrics to honor Diana; her brother Earl Spencer’s eulogy, not without anger at the media and the royal family; and Prime Minister Tony Blair’s reading of that great section of 1 Corinthians that ends “… but the greatest of these is love.” (It’s “charity” in other versions.)

I also caught seeing her sons, her brother, Prince Charles and Prince Philip walking behind the carriage with her hearse. A week ago on AOL I first learned of the accident and I couldn’t imagine what this last week would have been like.

Arriving at Nova at 8:15 AM, I taught my Business, Government and Society class till noon. Although the session went fine, the material is new to me, and I wish I was more familiar with it and had more time to prepare.

I showed a short video about the Great Depression that I got yesterday at the library. (Alachua County’s library had much better stuff than does Broward’s.) The class said they would prefer my shorter writing assignments involving research to having a long, end-of-semester research paper.

Despite drinking two cans of caffeinated Diet Pepsi during our three-hour class, I was tired when I got home, so I lay down for a while. After lunch, I went out.

Last night on the Web (but not Lexis), I found Larry Calloway’s article, “Warning: Albuquerque May Be Hazardous to Health,” that quoted Mom extensively on how shocked she was to receive the warnings for those considering moving there.

I read the article to Mom over the phone, and later printed it out at her house. Later, I went downtown, and to my surprise, found a copy of last Sunday’s Albuquerque Journal with the column on the front page.

I do know how to get publicity, don’t I?

I just brought the paper over to Mom, who via FedEx got an apology as well as a beautiful hardcover book about Albuquerque from the head of the Chamber of Commerce. Then I went to Publix and Kmart.

This morning, tiny sugar ants were swarming over the kitchen sink, counter and even inside the microwave. It was disgusting, and I had to spray the place again, much as I hate doing it near where I eat and prepare meals.

The covers I put on the big windows for privacy are coming down, but I bought duct tape that may hold better than packing tape. I can’t find any curtains or curtain rods that are 104 inches long. So I’m not all that crazy about this apartment, as I wrote Alice and Sat Darshan on AOL.

Michael (“One19YO” is his AOL username) sent me an Instant Message but it didn’t say much. I replied but didn’t say much back.

I decided to unblock Josh, so of course he sent me an Instant Message, too. Josh sounded very bizarre, talking about how he sees Pete Cherches wearing a suit and tie all the time and telling me in detail about this movie about Hasidim.

Just as I got Josh’s Instant Message, I was trying to submit a story to a webzine, so I told him I’d e-mail him another time.

Monday, September 8, 1997

2 PM. I’m a bit tired, but it’s one of my funky Mondays, and I still have to teach tonight at FAU.

Last night I read about half of the Sunday New York Times Magazine before becoming overwhelmed by drowsiness. I slept soundly; the first time I woke up it was only midnight and I already felt refreshed.

But even though I got in another 5½ hours, I’ve been a bit sleepy all day. I’m glad I forced myself to exercise at 6 AM so I don’t have to now.

Before my 8 AM Nova class, I xeroxed the assignment sheets for my evening classes. By now I know the names of all of my 14 Language 1500 freshies.

Although the room was freezing, class went well. I got the first drafts of their papers today, though naturally I haven’t glanced at them yet.

Since no one needed to speak with me, immediately after class, I got into my car and headed onto the interstates (I-595 and I-95) for Boca Raton.

Since I was at FAU with more than an hour before class, I read all of today’s Times except the usual Monday The Media Business section.

In Creative Writing, we workshopped a couple of poems. As I expected, when I asked my students if there were contemporary poets they admired, they came up with Langston Hughes (“Dead a long time ago,” I said), Robert Frost (“Totally dead”), Allen Ginsberg (“Okay, he’s just barely dead”), Maya Angelou and Robert Pinsky, who’d read at FAU last semester.

Otherwise they don’t know any poets writing today. That doesn’t surprise me, but it means I’ll have to bring in work by contemporary writers.

Back home in Davie, I stopped at Winn-Dixie – why does that supermarket cater to the downscale? – before coming home to take off my school clothes and change into a t-shirt and shorts.

As All My Children played on TV, I had lunch, and here I be.

One of my Tuesday night Nova students left a message that she needs an appointment to see me, but she was out when I phoned her at work.

In yesterday’s Times I came across a good phrase by the creator of the office based comic strip Dilbert, who says more workers are going into “boss diversification” – that is, not being dependent on any one employer who can lay you off whenever he wants.

In a way, that’s what I’m doing now, at FAU and Nova.

Teaching for Nova while I worked at UF Law School kept me from having to look hard for a totally new job. And I’ll also show a continuous record of employment at Nova since 1992, so I’m not so dependent on references from anyone at CGR.

So I think Scott Adams is on target with “boss diversification.” Once, having one employer gave workers the most security; now it leaves them very vulnerable to a quickly evolving environment.

Sean said he was feeling much better after a quiet weekend at home, washing the dog, gardening, and watching Beautiful Thing for the fourth time. He said he appreciated my advice about depression and said that knowing that I got an erection while writing to him made him feel more “up” than anything.

Sat Darshan is struggling with the heavy (literally heavy) workload at the Phoenix post office (“Thank God the UPS strike is over”) and suggested that I might – or my family might – have the kind of difficulty adjusting to a desert climate that the Albuquerque Journal article mentioned. There’s very dry weather, the intense sun, Valley fever, etc.

I told Mom about this on the phone when she called (as I was writing this) because Phoenix is one of the places she might move to.

Jonathan would prefer to live in Flagstaff, because he feels comfortable there – as you’d expect he would, as it’s a Western college town with hippies, health food stores, “spiritual” people, etc. But Flagstaff is a ski resort, and winters are cold there.

Alice said I should put together a package of my work for her to send out as soon as possible: five to six complete stories, an “about the author” bio note, a page of quotes about my work, etc. As an experienced literary agent, she seems to know what she’s doing even if she doesn’t normally take on fiction writers as clients.

Next week Alice is giving a talk to the Newswomen’s Club; she’s accepting these kinds of speaking engagements to gain as many new clients as possible.

Well, I’m going to finish the Times now and see if I can lie down and close my eyes. Then I’ll eat at 5 PM and leave at about 5:50 PM for Boca Raton.

Tuesday, September 9, 1997

9 PM. I had good evening classes both last night at FAU and tonight at Nova, but teaching seems to take a lot more out of me than it used to.

Last evening in Boca I read “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” and we had an excellent discussion afterwards. Tomorrow night I’m teaching “Good Country People,” so the class will get a double dose of Flannery O’Connor. Her stories amaze and surprise me even after all the times I’ve read them.

From Boca, I headed to my parents’ house, where Mom was helping Marc prepare for his trip to California. Early this morning he left for Orange County for that workshop sponsored by some product or service used by his store.

Marc needed a vacation, and I’m sure he will enjoy Southern California. It’s an exciting place when you’ve never been there before.

At my parents’ house, I collected my laundry and mail and printed out a piece I wrote for the front-page “Local Opinion” column of the Boca Raton News, which I’ve been buying on the FAU campus.

I’d been looking for a subject I could write about, and yesterday afternoon I settled on a column about having my Household Visa account canceled because I’m a credit card “deadbeat” who didn’t incur interest charges when I paid off my balance in full every month.

The “Local Opinion” columns are very short – 175 to 200 words – and it was an effort to cut things down to that length.

Although reading so much about the writing process in all my textbooks has helped spur me to write, unfortunately, I don’t have the time now.

We’ll see if the Boca paper is interested in this column idea; if not, I’ll try them again in a few weeks.

This evening in Language 2000 at Nova, I went over how to choose and narrow a topic and how to write an argumentative essay. I used a New York Times article about the amount of water in flush toilets and my old Gainesville Sun column about chain gangs to illustrate some points involved in argumentation.

I had to accommodate one student who was out tonight and another who asked to go to Jamaica next week to see her dying mother – just as I was understanding yesterday morning when one of my freshies didn’t handle his paper because of what he said was a family emergency.

I know: I’m a pushover. But part of it is that old wicked bargain of wanting to go easy on my students so they’ll be lenient with me. It’s not the best way to teach or to learn, yet for an adjunct, it’s often the best way to behave.

Look, I know I won’t be doing this again at FAU and Nova next spring, and I doubt my bargain with the devil of being devil-may-care about attendance and assignments will hurt my future employment prospects at either school. I can pretend I’m a corporate manager who needs to improve the balance sheet and bottom line in the short run.

I don’t really care about the long term. Isn’t that how our society is run?

Last night I slept until 7 AM, waking up after a dream in which I was making love to that dark-haired, sloe-eyed girl in my creative writing class. Then I ended up staying in bed, taking the rest I needed while listening to NPR news until 9:30 AM.

It was nearly noon before I even showered and dressed, and I went out only for about 45 minutes at 2:30 PM. I treasure being able to spend some mornings reading and exercising in my t-shirt and boxers.

I also like staying in the air-conditioned apartment during the heat of the afternoon. It will be a couple of months before it really cools off here, so I don’t feel my schedule is causing me to miss any beautiful weather.

After reading the personals on AOL, I can’t really imagine meeting anyone there. The guys are either too young, interested only in sex, or else they sound decent until I read that they want a guy who’s hairy or uncut.

At this point I’m at least getting some intimacy with another guy through e-mails with Kevin and Sean. I’m glad Michael stopped calling and even more glad that I stopped calling him.

If I ever do meet someone I’ll fall in love with, it will catch me totally by surprise. At this point I see myself living out my life like Henry James or somebody’s bachelor uncle. But people do change, and life has a knack for surprising us.

Even without a serious relationship, I never seem to have the time to do everything I want to do.

I’m amazed that someone as busy as Matthew found the time with his medical career to adopt a daughter, court and marry Ronna, and then spend all his free time with his wife and daughters.

I wish I could be more like Matthew, who’s not only a wiser man than I am, he’s also a lot more efficient.