A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early April, 1996

Friday, April 5, 1996

4 PM. More upsetting than not hearing from Kevin today – I expected that – was the e-mail I got from Josh, which proved the last straw.

Every time I go beyond one-sentence banal replies, he responds with these sick, bitter messages that infuriate me.

Yesterday I mentioned that I got Denis’s brochure about his reading at Barnes & Noble, and he commented: “Hey, do you think he sent it because he expected you to come or because he wanted to rub your nose in it?”

I lost it, and I quoted that and wrote back: “This is an example of why your e-mail is consistently the most annoying and upsetting I received. I feel sorry for you. Don’t send me any more e-mail. I’ve had enough.”

I was so upset that I had to walk around the law school campus three times before I could calm down.

What he said, I realized, is the product of his sick mind: Josh is so envious of Denis or anyone else who’s happy and successful that he thinks of Denis’s brochure that way.

I can only imagine what he thinks every time I tell him of one of my successes. His barely-disguised aggression, telling me I’d be better off without a New York Times review or a paperback sale, his ignoring the review when it came out, his constant bad-mouthing of every achievement of one of his friends – down to things like Teresa’s engagement . . . I can just imagine how he talks about me.

I feel very angry. I know that Josh is mentally ill, but I can’t overlook it anymore. I feel it’s likely that he’ll be mystified at my reaction – which makes it sadder, because if he was being deliberately cruel, that would be one thing.

That he’s clueless about his own feelings is both worse for him and frustrating for me because I can’t just write him off as a bad person.

He’s a sick person, and I’ve known that since his paranoia about the alleged harassment in 1988. But I wanted to deny it because I treasured our long friendship.

However, I’ve got to put Josh out of my life for now. I can’t do anything to help him. If he chose to lose Sharon rather than go into therapy, there’s nothing I can do.

Everything I wrote was true: I do feel sorry for him, but I’m also extremely upset and angry. I know it will be a relief not to see his e-mail anymore, but I’m sad over the loss of a friendship that goes back 25 years. At least I didn’t tell him, “You’re a sick fuck” or whatever my frustration might have led me to spill out hastily.

Did I overreact? Perhaps his implication that I might be a failure – at least compared to Denis – triggered an inappropriate action?

It’s possible, but in any case, this is far from the first time I’ve been upset by a similar message from Josh.

If I’d behaved the way I did in the past, I wouldn’t have responded until he kept asking me where I was and I’d write something neutral and we’d be back in regular contact and then he’d do it all over again.

In a way, that sounds exactly like the pattern of his continual fights with Sharon. Josh is a sad case.

If he does e-mail back, I’ll delete the messages before I can read them. No doubt my action will just make his paranoia worse, but I need to protect myself; I can’t deal with his toxic negativity.

As for Kevin: well, either he’ll get back to me or not. I don’t want a perfect fantasy lover; I want somebody to share the mundane with, the day-to-day stuff that’s bad as well as good, the way Ronna and Matthew do.

The last time Kevin stopped writing, it was because he was depressed. He felt showing that would make him less than the perfect on-line lover with his poems and playfulness and erotic talk.

It’s no accident that I get involved in these weird relationships. I’ve got to spend time thinking more about myself and my own mishigas. Can I examine myself closely enough to change, or will that be too painful?

At least with Josh, I did something to change this situation.

Saturday, April 6, 1996

10 AM. After five straight sunny weekdays, it’s Saturday morning and rain has returned. I felt emotionally exhausted last night and only wanted to sleep deeply. I did, for quite a long time period I had incredibly elaborate dreams, but the one that was best had Sean calling me on the phone.

In the dream, Sean wanted to tell me all about his life with Doug in Tampa, and he assured me that he had not snubbed me when I passed him in public at a county fair; he hadn’t known about it until I told him, so obviously he hadn’t seen me.

Clearly, I’m trying to deal with Kevin and maybe with Josh in that dream.

I finally learned how to auto-forward my office e-mail to Delphi, so today I got the usual news plus first-time e-mails from Ronna and Rick and a response from Harold.

I couldn’t help reading Josh’s e-mail, and while it upset me, it confirmed what I’m doing is right.

He said I should contact Todd to back him up about Denis “rubbing people’s noses in his success” and then he got ugly and said, “Yeah, maybe you are better off dealing with people like Christy Sanford, who pretend to be artists and who will kiss your ass. Adios, ex-amigo.”

That shows that the hostility was there all along. It’s hard for me not to respond with some kind of thoughtful logical argument or something that will only hurt him back, But I won’t.

I’m sure he talks about me to other people the way he talks about Denis to me.

Responding to Josh won’t repair our relationship or make him saner or happier. While I know I will miss our friendship, I also know that he will feel my absence more, either because he has so few friends and no longer any girlfriend or because he’s such a desperately unhappy person.

Mom called yesterday and read me a news story about a Fort Lauderdale man whose mummified body was found in his condo 18 months after he’d had a fatal heart attack.

Because the guy, a retired eye doctor, traveled frequently, his bills were paid automatically by debiting his accounts, and the neighbors assumed the smell coming from his apartment was rotting food because that had happened before.

It wasn’t until water leaked into the apartment downstairs that police knocked down his door and found the mummified corpse. The guy must have been such an unhappy person to make himself so isolated.

I guess I fear that nobody will care about me, either – but I’m not that kind of person and I never will be.

Mom told me that on Thursday some 10-year-old boys had walked over to look at the one baby kitten left, and after she told the kids how the others in the litter had been taken away, they went to go look for them in the Ridge even though Mom said the kittens must be dead.

An hour later, the boys knocked on the door and showed Mom all four of the missing kittens. The daughter cat had put them all in one place.

Now Mom is putting the kittens in the garage and bringing the mother cat in to nurse them while keeping the jealous daughter outside.

I fed a family of three cats myself this morning.

Sunday, April 7, 1996

8:30 PM, though because of the newness of daylight savings time, it feels earlier. This evening I’m feeling much better.

I shouldn’t have assumed Kevin’s not writing for a few days after I sent him my photo meant that he no longer wanted to be friends.

He actually wrote me a love poem that’s kind of a celebration of my looks and he said that I’m a very handsome guy.

Kevin wrote that he likes beards on other guys but can’t stand the “riff-raff” feel of his own facial hair. Anyway, if I thought my photo would turn him off, it didn’t, Quite the reverse.

Still, throughout our online relationship, I’ve always been the cautious one, the one afraid to trust. Whether I ever see Kevin “in the flesh” – as he put it – he’s given me a precious gift: not just affection and sexual playfulness but also a supportive friendship. Anyway, there’s no problem with Kevin.

As for Josh, once I get over the end of our friendship, I won’t miss his e-mail, which either made me angry, upset or just plain feeling bad about myself.

Whether Josh intended me to have those reactions is beside the point. He may call what friends like Christy do “kissing ass,” but to my mind, friends should make each other feel better about themselves.

At least they shouldn’t make a friend feel worse, and Josh almost always did – even if it was just making me feel worse about life in general.

Whenever I become like Josh and think of ways I can make other people see that I feel indifferent or superior toward them, I hate that part of myself.

My upbringing as a “well-behaved boy” prevents me from actually acting on my meaner impulses towards people most of the time – like when I think about being nasty to Russ after I’m triggered by what I view as his disdain for poor people or liberals.

Sometimes I get so enraged by conservatives and the religious right that I just want to lash out, but I know that I’ll not only end up looking rude and being an ineffective spokesperson for my own causes.

On Easter Sunday, I need to remember to turn the other cheek.

Rick wrote about Atticus Books’ Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald party last night – complete with Gatsbyesque outfits, a great cake and other 1920s party items. NPR and the Washington Times were there to cover the event.

When I went to the office this afternoon, I was surprised to see Liz there, too.

She said that Wendy didn’t respond to her voicemail about renewing our grant except to poll the others by e-mail about whether they want to continue CGR’s legal issues work for Schoolyear 2000.

Tuesday, April 9, 1996

4 PM. I took the afternoon off because my wrists and ankles still ache, and although I slept fairly well last night, I remain a bit tired.

After dinner yesterday, I managed to recover my energy and went to hear Dr. Joycelyn Elders speak at the O’Connell Center.

Outside, I saw Kathy, Helen and Patricia, and I sat with them in the arena. Helen told me she got elected as one of the Fifth Congressional District delegates to the Democratic Convention in Chicago this August. Gay and lesbian activists were elected delegates in most of the congressional districts in Florida.

Kathy urged me to get together a meeting, as I had promised to, to make sure we’re complying with the Florida election laws for political action committees and keeping things separate from our tax-exempt 501(c)(3)  organization.

Dr. Elders was an inspiring speaker. Although she broke no new ground, she reminded me and Helen why we were so angry with Clinton for firing her.

She understands this country’s priorities, and of course I agree with her emphasis on curbing violence, emphasizing preventive health care, reducing the effects of poverty and spending more on education.

Back at home, I did some stuff on the computer. It’s convenient to be able to get all my e-mail messages on Delphi.

My new e-mail correspondents – Rick, Ronna and Harold – all sent messages, and Kevin, God love him, sent another love poem and a sweet message.

I congratulated Rick on the Washington Times story about the Scott and Zelda party; it was excellent publicity for Atticus Books, a nice tribute to the Fitzgeralds, and a fun thing to do.

Although it’s sad that Josh is my “ex-amigo,” I am relieved not to have to deal with the passive aggression of his messages.

Last night I slept soundly from 10 PM to 6:30 AM, but I still feel out of sorts, as if my body is fighting off a virus. Otherwise, why would my wrists and calves ache?

I walked over from the law school to the Reitz Union for a two-hour seminar on trademark, patent and copyright law sponsored by Dr. Susan Wray’s Office of Technology Transfer.

An attorney from an Atlanta firm who handles a lot of UF’s intellectual property legal work presented what was basically a primer on IP issues for faculty and staff.

While I knew just about everything already, it’s always helpful to hear this stuff again, to see how others present the material and to refresh my knowledge base.

I love the feeling that I’m learning the way I felt as a law student, and if there’s one thing I regret about my soon-to-be-over tenure at CGR, it’s that I didn’t take more advantage of the seminars, workshops and lectures offered on campus.

I haven’t yet gotten ready for class tonight, but I still feel prepared to go over the chapters on effective visual aids, developing a career strategy, and preparing a résumé.

This is effectively the last teaching session, as I’ll spend most of next week giving the final exam.

Wednesday, April 10, 1996

10 PM. I can be so bad.

This evening I went to the Harn Museum to a poetry reading put on by what Christy calls “the impenetrable sanctum of the fourth floor of Turlington Hall”: the Creative Writing Program of the UF English Department.

They were featuring one of their own, of course: a Ph.D. graduate, Stephen Corey, whom Christy told me was the associate editor of the Georgia Review.

I sat with Christy and her husband Tom Sanford, who impressed me as down-to-earth and sensible, especially when he kept dozing off during a stupendously boring long poem about the smashing of the Pietà.

All Corey’s poems were careless and pedestrian, and as Christy said, “they show how far networking will take you.”

I realized immediately that one section of the Pietà poem, set in 1972, that was in Lurleen Wallace’s voice as she sat by the bedside of George after he was shot, was factually incorrect, and I had that little devil on my shoulder that made me go over to Corey at the end and say, after waiting for other admirers to compliment him, “I enjoyed that last poem, but you do realize, don’t you, that Lurleen Wallace died in 1968, during her term as Alabama governor? George’s second wife, Cornelia, was married to him in 1972.”

Although the book that contained the poem was published in 1993, this was clearly the first that Corey had heard of the error. He looked stricken and tried to joke about it.

“Don’t tell anyone,” he said.

“Well, I’m a lawyer, “I said, “and you know what sticklers for facts we are. I figured it was just artistic license.”

But, boy, he turned from me in a nanosecond to another audience member, leaving me standing by myself.

“You’ll never get in the Georgia Review now,” Christy said gleefully when I caught up with her and Tom in the jammed parking lot. (The draw was a Tori Amos concert at the Performing Arts Center.)

I guess it was better that I didn’t go to the reception at the English Department afterwards.

I know it’s self-destructive of me not to ingratiate myself with these people, but I don’t think they’d ever accept me.

All those “artistic-looking” MFA and Ph.D. students make me want to call myself a lawyer even as I call myself a writer among lawyers. I’ve always been perverse that way.

Last evening I had my best Nova class yet. Going over the chapters on visual aids, career planning and résumés, I had a wealth of interesting material, handouts, and a good half-hour video on interviewing.

Last night I managed to sleep pretty well. In one dream I was in a Bowling Green, Kentucky concentration camp along with others who were sent there by the dictator in D.C., President Whitewealthy.

(This sounded like a perfectly normal name in the dream when his followers shouted, “Hail, Whitewealthy!”)

I don’t know: suddenly it was as if my dreams were being written by Clifford Odets and Bertolt Brecht.

In another dream, Grandpa Nat, alive and healthy, called Grandma Sylvia, Dad and the rest of us together to tell us that we’ve got to go into family therapy.

It was chilly when I woke up this morning – 40° – and it’s supposed to get even colder tonight. Ronna, Rick and others have told me about wet snow in the Northeast, where the winter seems endless.

At work today I made up my Nova final exam for next week. I even xeroxed the nine copies of nine pages each. So that’s done.

I also read the NAPIL compilation of the loan forgiveness and loan reduction programs for public interest graduates at various law schools in preparation for next Monday’s meeting.

Russ seemed dismayed when I told him that of course he works for the state and is paid with taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars.

He prefers to think that he’s really getting MacArthur Foundation money because he’s been brought up by his Republican parents to hate the government and worship private enterprise.

Wait till I tell him that he’s basically doing the work of the Florida Democratic Party, though I can’t see why he doesn’t realize that already.

He either needs to modify his kneejerk white (oops, Freudian slip) right-wing views or come down with a real bad case of cognitive dissonance.

I’m being bad again.

Maybe I could see if the Commerce Department will send me a photo of Ron Brown, whose state funeral was today.

Like a lot of people, I admired Ron Brown – but the devil on my shoulder knows it will irk Russ if I put up Brown’s photo above my desk.

Am I behaving like Josh? Am I deliberately trying to hurt people? I’ve always viewed this stuff as good-natured fun, but also a kind of attack on pretentiousness and hypocrisy.

Of course that could be what Josh was thinking when he attacked me and everyone else. Should I think about this more?