A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-May, 1992
Sunday, May 10, 1992
8 PM. Last evening I began reading the first Law and Psychiatry assignment for summer school.
I know, I know: I don’t need to be doing schoolwork. But the material is interesting, and it’s not about law yet but rather about mental illness, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, and Szasz’s theories.
Up at 6:30 AM, I tried to sleep some more but I couldn’t, so I had breakfast and began reading the Sunday Times. My back still aches, but not as badly as it did yesterday, and I exercised a little.
In the morning I watched the Sunday news shows and wrote long-overdue letters to Helmut and Tom in Germany, and I also sent a postcard to Crad.
At 2 PM, trying to avoid overeating, I went out, intending to go shopping, but I found myself driving south on U.S. 441.
It wasn’t long before the scene changed to a rural one, and I sailed down the highway to “Historic Micanopy,” ten miles south.
It’s a neat little town with old buildings and antique shops. Supposedly it’s the second-oldest city in the U.S., founded in the early 1600s after St. Augustine.
When I saw a sign saying Cross Creek, I drove nine miles to the east through eye-popping scenery: languid, lush vegetation along a two-lane blacktop, with me the only car on the road.
Cross Creek is, of course, where Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings lived and wrote Cross Creek and The Yearling.
As I got out in the parking lot, I’m certain I saw Larry getting into a car with people I take to be his family, especially since the car had Vermont plates.
Either he didn’t notice me or else he didn’t want to see me. Anyway, I didn’t want to intrude on a family’s Mother’s Day.
I walked around the Rawlings farm but didn’t wait for the next tour of the house, an older Cracker house from the 1910s or 1920s. Cross Creek itself I could see from the road; people were fishing there, and it seemed very peaceful.
I didn’t want to spend the $3.25 admission to the Paynes Prairie Nature Preserve, so I settled for looking at the scrublands from the highway. This area is so different from any other I’ve been to.
Dwight, Angelina, and Kim have told me how they love North Central Florida’s natural beauty, and I’d like to get to know the place better.
It was a warmer, sunny day, and it was a nice, cheap treat to go for a ride in the country. I’m definitely recuperating from law school’s effect on me.
When I returned to town, I bought some groceries and came home to sit on the patio and read the Times Book Review. The parking lot here is still half-empty although summer school begins tomorrow at the main campus.
I vegged out on some TV during and after dinner.
So here I am, with a week of nothing in front of me. I don’t feel like reading now, but I obviously can’t fall asleep and I don’t feel like calling anybody. What to do?
I could sit and think. Or skylark. There’s always TV and radio. Or eating. It’s a good thing I force myself to write down everything I eat or I would have ballooned back to my weight of three years ago. In the evenings, sometimes I find that I eat out of boredom.
I was reading Tom’s essays on Walser. Walser could juxtapose these entirely random sentences and yet the whole piece would make sense. And Walser’s point of view and consciousness seemed to shift with every new phrase.
Tom says Walser was clearly not schizophrenic, but in a sense – perhaps in a good sense – he was mad.
By the way, I think I discovered Josh’s diagnosis in the DSM-III-R: delusional disorder. Apparently most patients with the problem – and it gave “people following someone” as the very first example – talk normally about everything except for their delusion.
I’d love to know if Josh still believes there’s some kind of conspiracy against him, but of course he won’t tell me because he knows I’d think that he was mentally ill.
Four years ago, we seemed to spend the whole summer trying to figure out what was going on until finally I realized Josh was psychotic. Delusional disorder is listed as a psychosis.
Tuesday, May 12, 1992
4 PM. Last evening I watched a movie on TV – Albert Brooks’s Lost in America – as I lay on the “couch” (the twin bed) in the living room. That was fun. I’d been concerned I’d feel lonely and bored, but I find I like not having to be productive and I’ve managed to discover things to keep myself busy.
I just returned from a two-hour visit to the main campus. Like yesterday, today is summery and about 88°, but I don’t feel hot (although the humidity has given me a little headache).
Now that it’s summer session, the main UF campus seems even more laid-back than usual. And I don’t mind looking at all the guys without shirts studying outside. I’ve become a dirty old man, I know, but that’s better than being dead.
I read the Alligator on a bench and browsed in the library, leafing through recent issues of American Demographics, my subscription to which I stopped being able to afford years ago.
At the registrar’s office, I filled out a transcript request for Barbara Sloan at the Santa Fe Community College English Department; I hope they don’t wait to send out my transcript till my lower spring grades come and shoot down my GPA.
Up at about 7 AM today, I read the paper, listened to the radio, exercised, and ate a leisurely breakfast before going down to the Job Service to pretend I was looking for a job.
At the Amoco station, I filled my gas tank and used the squeegee to try to get that white love-bug gunk off my windshield.
I watched All My Children (a juicy murder mystery is coming to a conclusion) and ate Vidalia onions, sugar snap peas, corn and broccoli as well as blueberries and grapefruit.
Next Tuesday I’ll be back in law school classes, so I’d better make the most of my leisure days. I’m actually hoping to have more free time this summer, and I think I will.
Part of it is having a third day off, and the new, shorter 50-minute “hours” really mean I’ll be in class about 11½ hours rather than the 15 in the fall and the 13 in the spring. And of course I won’t have to deal with extra work of App Ad or Legal Writing.
I’d planned to try to write an op-ed article about my bankruptcy during this week off, but I haven’t been motivated.
Nor have I gotten around yet to cleaning the bathroom and kitchen. There’s world enough and time, and even if there’s not, do I really care?
I think I’ll be real sinful now and lie down.
8:30 PM. I’ve continued to goof off, although I did scrub the tub while listening to the news. Mostly I’ve been rotting my mind with television.
Last night I had a dream about China and another one in which I was back in the West 85th Street apartment, which had a new, elegant elevator. I don’t know what that is apropos of.
Being on campus this afternoon made me remember my first semester at Brooklyn College in the summer of 1969. I was 18 years old and just reentering the world after spending most of the year in my room. And what an exciting time it was: to be entering the world in the summer of Woodstock.
I remember the Friday I bought my first diary; I’d spent the afternoon with street players from the Free Theater when I found the bound 1969 diary with the red cover on sale in the racks outside the Barchas bookstore. I promptly wrote entries for the previous seven days in August, and I’ve been keeping a diary ever since.
I didn’t have any friends at school that summer, but the next summer, 1970, I was hanging out with Mark Savage at the Spigot office , and the summer after that I was seeing Shelli (I sent her a card today, wishing her the best for her wedding) and hanging out with her, Avis, Stacy, Elspeth, Slade, Laura and others in LaGuardia Hall.
The next year, 1972, I remember hanging out with Mikey and Mike and going to the Miami Democratic Convention between summer sessions. In the second summer session, I took Classics with Ronna, months before we started going out.
Those four summers at Brooklyn College were good times; now it’s twenty years later.
Ten years ago I taught at Broward Community College for the first summer session and I had those great times with Sean before I went off to New York City and he went off to be an undergrad right here in Gainesville.
Friday, May 15, 1992
3 PM. I don’t know how I’ll feel after I see my grades later today – they’re supposed to be posted in a couple of hours – but I quickly recovered from yesterday’s depression, mostly by just lying down and trying to let myself wallow until gradually my thoughts became more rational, if not optimistic.
I slept okay and got up at 6 AM, letting myself work out to the Body Electric show that’s on here that early.
I got a call from Matt Sauer of the St. Petersburg Times, who bought the press release I sent him last weekend about the Broccoli Eaters Political Action Committee.
After our interview, he said that a story on it will probably be in tomorrow’s paper.
I hope so, for it would make me feel better about mediocre grades and allow me to believe I still haven’t lost my touch for publicity and political satire.
9 PM. When I got to school at 5 PM, Donna and Bob told me that Mashburn and Davis didn’t get their grades in by the time they were posted around 4:30 PM.
I felt disappointed after I looked at the grades for my exam number, but after I’d driven half a block from campus, it struck me that I had been looking at exam number 2140, and my exam number was 2041.
I was still disappointed by a B+ in Con Law, where I worked hard and knew a lot, but my other grades jumped: while 2140 got a C+ in Property, I got a B+, and in Torts what I thought was a B turned out to be one of the four A’s that Dowd gave.
I also got an S in App Ad, where I thought I might get an S+, but since it doesn’t figure in the index, who cares?
Even if my remaining grades are C’s and C+’s, I still should have an index above 3.0 for the semester.
Bob got one of four A’s that Baldwin gave. I’d expected my participation would have raised my grade to an A in Con Law, and I feel kind of sour on Baldwin. Certainly I’m better in Con Law than I am in Property or Torts.
Anyway, it’s silly of me to be more annoyed by my B+ in Con Law than pleased by my unexpectedly good grades in the other two courses.
Property is a total mystery because I didn’t have any idea what I was doing on the final. While I thought I had a chance at a B+ in Torts, I guess I did even better.
I noticed that most of the people Julin gave A’s to received C’s or C+’s from Baldwin. That also convinces me there’s poor correlation between grades on the one hand, and ability, effort and knowledge on the other.
If that’s so, why do I bother getting so wrapped up in grades? It’s silly.
The biggest problem I’ve had in law school this year was getting sucked into this stupid ranking system.
Monday, May 18, 1992
1 PM. Today’s sort of the opposite of last Friday night and Saturday morning. Then I felt great because I had a sense of control and even mastery after getting my grades and seeing the St. Pete Times article in print. In contrast, today’s been a bummer because of things entirely out of my control.
This morning I took $100 from checking, leaving me with very little left in the bank.
At Xerographics they told me Collins’s supplement can’t be sold because the copyrights haven’t come in. (He’ll probably rage about the Kinko case again.)
At school, not only were the Civ Pro and Contracts grades not posted, not only was Julin’s supplement not in the JMBA bookstore, but I got a $15 parking ticket. I’d forgotten I needed a new decal.
All last week I had plenty of time and today there was a line of 100 people at the parking office as the parking Gestapo went into a ticket-writing frenzy, this being the first day to enforce the rule.
Usually they give us a week to get adjusted, but the rest of the university’s summer session began last week.
I don’t think that’s fair to law students, many of whom just returned to town today and probably first headed to campus to check their grades and assignments and to complete registration.
Is it worth appealing the ticket? Fifteen dollars means a lot to me now.
Frantic about the new outlays of cash I had to make, I gathered up lots of shorts, sweaters, shirts and slacks my parents had sent me and sold them at Flashback, the used clothing store downtown, getting back a pathetic $18 (25% of what they’ll sell them for).
Some of the clothes didn’t fit or I didn’t like, but others were okay and I would have preferred to keep them. Still, I need cash.
Even worse was selling last term’s Con Law text, for which I got $10, and some hornbooks, for which I got $18.
God, three and four and five years ago I was in cash advance heaven, taking hundreds of dollars out of ATMs to feed my credit card chassis, and today I decided not to buy the Wall Street Journal so I could save 75¢.
Thus, the lack of control. But at least I did something to bring in a little extra cash even if I had no control over how much money I got.
I remember talking with Dr. Pasquale in therapy about this issue, and I know the Serenity Prayer, and at least I recognize why I feel overwhelmed and stressed out.
Take a deep breath, kiddo, and go about your business.
7 PM. I got a C+ in Contracts, and while I’m disappointed, I’m also kind of relieved. It shows I’m only human and don’t have to try to be a brilliant student in any class.
With all the high grades given in this class, it’s obvious I’m not a good Contracts student.
All year I’ve liked Contracts the least of my classes because of my animus toward business and my lack of a head for commercial stuff.
This confirms that I was right not to register for Corporations in the fall. The truth is, I never really “got” Contracts, and I’m still astounded I got a B in the first semester.
Mashburn’s grades won’t be up until tomorrow, but if I get even a C in Civ Pro, I’ll still have a 3.25 or so index for the year, and I think I probably got at least a C+.
I can’t say I’m shocked by my grades tanking, and I’m probably lucky I didn’t get a C in Contracts.
I stood around talking with Martin (who didn’t get the A he wanted in Con Law but was more upset about Dowd giving him a C+ in Torts), E.K., Mike W, Peter and a couple of others who usually don’t reveal their grades, like Karin.
Earlier, I waited on line in the hot sun at the parking decal office, but I had the newspaper and was comforted that others, like Dean Savage and old Professor Weyrauch, also had to stand on line.
Back home, I rested for a couple of hours and looked at my mail. I did get the claim card for unemployment, but I have to mail it this coming weekend, so it will be a while before I get my final check for $234.
The next week or two will be very tight, but I’ll manage. On Wednesday I’ll check on my student loan.
I got rejected for a scholarship at the Sewanee Writers Conference, but that’s okay. I know I’m not the type of writer they want, and if I have money to travel anywhere, I’d rather be back in New York City than in rural Tennessee.
Tom must have liked the Barbie story, for he had his class read it. That’s good; I have to take recognition where I can get it, right?
I finally did manage to get Collier’s supplement. Our first assignment are excerpts from Milton’s Areopagitica and John Stuart Mills’s On Liberty, and he’s got material in the supplement about PC issues by Stanley Fish, Duke’s English Department chair, so I’m as happy as a pig in shit even if my classmates can’t figure this stuff out.
Anyway, I’ll start on it tonight.
Tuesday, May 19, 1992
6 PM. It’s been a long, hard day and it ended badly when I saw I got a C+ in Civ Pro.
So I went down to a 3.16 for this term, giving me a 3.3 GPA overall. That’s not bad, but I think what I suspected last term – and didn’t want to believe – is true: there’s little correlation between one’s interest, ability and hard work in a class and one’s grade.
That’s not just in the classes I did worse in, but it also goes for my A in Torts and my B+ in Property.
If I would have graded myself, I’d have gotten an A in Con Law, B’s in Torts and Civ Pro, and C+’s in Contracts and Property – so Davis was the only one who agreed with my grade, and he actually might be too high.
Anyway, this is obviously the height of my discontent, but I’m now going through what most of my classmates went through in January: a sense of alienation.
Nobody is going to tell me I’m not smart, and it’s okay if I’m not a brilliant legal scholar, but the hardest thing to accustom myself to is the seeming arbitrariness of the process.
I’m also angry at the hierarchical nature of law school culture, something I started to articulate last week.
Even though I booked two classes, I think the whole idea of “booking,” like the overrated prestige of law review and all the other attendant shit, is self-aggrandizing, leading to the attitude that lawyers are better than anyone else.
Other professions may have this, too, but I’m not in medical or architecture school, so I don’t know what they do.
Well, I guess writers and artists are arrogant, but then most of them are treated like garbage by society.
Anyway, it will take weeks to sort out how I feel, but the summer session began with a sour taste in my mouth.
At the moment, I feel like detaching myself from the law school and doing just the minimum required. I can also see myself not keeping up with the reading.
On the other hand, I can use the material I’ve learned in ways that others can’t and which can’t be measured on a law school exam.
I gave Martin the St. Pete Times article from Saturday and it got passed around the class during the day. People know I can be funny and that I can get recognition elsewhere, and that makes me feel good.
But what about everyone else?
It’s interesting to watch other students cope in different ways. Maybe this is projection, but I seem to see people starting to withdraw from the game-playing of the Socratic method.
Anyway, I don’t expect much Socratic method in my summer classes. In Con Law, Collier wants to concentrate on freedom of expression and equal protection and how they clash in hate speech and PC issues, so the class will be interesting to me, at least when Collier doesn’t get too spacy.
In Property, Julin is Julin. The other section has been combined with us, so now they get to experience his odd way of teaching.
It felt weird to be in an elective. From our section, only Kevin M (who sits with me), Gene, Gina, Judy and Rich T are in Psychiatry and the Law with me.
Slobogin seems okay. I volunteered to be a judge for a roleplay of the Hinckley trial on Thursday. Today we talked about the DSM-III-R and “thinking about mental disorder.”
In Con Law I sit between Karin and Kevin C, and I’m on the aisle next to Lorraine in Property. It’s nice to be sitting with the Kevins because I don’t know either very well.