A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-November, 1997

Tuesday, November 11, 1997

Noon. It’s Veterans Day and it’s beautiful out.

Last evening’s FAU class went okay. We read Marguerite Yourcenar’s “How Wang-Fo Was Saved,” one of her Oriental Tales, which I found fey and precious, but which the students seem to enjoy.

Before coming home, I stopped at my parents’ house. Dad was lying in his usual spot in front of the TV with China barking furiously as I entered, only to wag her tail after I said, “China, it’s me.” She then lay on her back  – a gesture of submission and complete trust, stop Steven says  – while I rubbed her belly.

In the mail I got a couple of rejections. Red Hen Press wanted to see something else for their new anthology. Still, as far as I can tell, Anyone Is Possible wasn’t reviewed anywhere and the editors seem as if they don’t really care.

Kate Gale found “Anything But Sympathy” dull until the e-mail at the end, and she asked if I had any stories dealing with e-mail, so I sent her the very long “Salugi at Starbucks.”

Back home, I was reading Monday’s Media Business section of the Times when I got a call from this guy with a Slavic accent.

He said his name was Igor Satinovsky and he was a poet, writer and painter from New York who publishes a magazine and does Russian/English and English/Russian translations.

Richard Kostelanetz gave him my number because he thought I could get him in touch with the “literary scene” down here. Fat chance. Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve never been part of any literary scene.

Igor got his BFA in art at Brooklyn College and was part of a group of ex-Soviet artists and writers centered there. He moved down here a couple of months ago because his wife is going to optometry school at Nova.

Igor says he feels as if he’s in a vacuum: the open poetry readings that he’s gone to featured amateurs, high schoolers and seniors. I told him we could get together on Thursday although I don’t think I can give him much help.

After sleeping for several hours, I was awakened by my headache at 4 AM and I never got back to bed.

In an e-mail, Sat Darshan told me that her job as a mail carrier is history. She said it was a long story, but basically working that hard  – she lost 25 pounds  – for ten to twelve hours a day, six days a week, was not her cup of tea, despite how good the money was.

Now she’s temping at the world’s most boring job and looking for work. “Pray for me,” she concluded.

Kevin said he applied for the Chesterfield Film Project Fellowship. I told him I’d been rejected for it last year, as that might make it easier for him to take if he’s also rejected.

He hopes I can come to Los Angeles next year while I’m out West. I’ll have to get in touch with Libby and Grant if I want to stay in L.A., of course.

Josh thanked me for the information on rosacea, but he knew most of it except the phone number of the Rosacea Foundation. He said his face is so red and blotchy that he’s embarrassed to go out in public.

After writing back to Josh, I congratulated Patrick on P’an Ku’s taking a first place award in the community college literary magazine competition in Ocala. Patrick said he feels that he may want to start writing again and I encouraged him to do so.

At 11 AM, I went over to Nova to photocopy three papers from my Language 1500 class before I grade them. I’ll use the papers in a workshop at 8 AM tomorrow and maybe again next Tuesday in the night class.

Right now I have several batches of papers to grade, so I’d better do them. I did read the boring “Writing the Rough Draft” in our Spiral Guide to Research Writing, which I’m going to cover tonight in Language 2000.

I know that my students don’t have the time or capacity to write a really good  – or even adequate – college-level research paper. To be honest, I agree with my old Russian lit teacher, Professor Roberts, who believed that undergraduates shouldn’t try to write scholarly research papers.

Thursday, November 13, 1997

8 PM. Last night’s class in Boca went okay:  I discussed what I think is an excellent essay, “Memory and Imagination,” by Patricia Hampl, which discusses how experience gets transformed in memoir writing. But maybe you have to be a writer to appreciate it.

Back in Broward, I went to the West Regional Library before it closed to see if they had any videos I can use for my next Business, Government and Society class. But I found nothing suitable in the online catalog, so I think I’ll just talk on Saturday.

After buying groceries at Albertsons, I came home to finish the Times and relax.

That Portuguese guy who answered my AOL ad did call – his name sounds like Nelson, but I’m not sure – and we chatted for maybe fifteen minutes.

I don’t think we’re suited at all: he seemed surprised that I don’t go to the beach, and he’s totally wrapped up in his business career. He sounds like the kind of guy who thinks it’s important to own a Lexus or a BMW. Hopefully, he’ll see that I’m not his type and not call back.

This morning I caught up with my e-mail. Sat Darshan is excited that I may come to Phoenix and go to ASU. She said she could rent me the apartment at the guest house across the street. (The main apartment is rented to her Sikh friend, a lesbian, and a little nephew she’s raising.)

Of course, that’s only if I’d rather live in her neighborhood, “which has lately become very yuppie, gay and coffee bar,” rather than in Tempe. In either case, she said, I’d need a car with good air conditioning.

When I told her about my parents and Jonathan possibly moving to Arizona, Sat Darshan said it might not be any cheaper than Florida – though she’s not aware of how luxurious a house my parents live in.

Teresa wrote about taking Thomas, Heidi, and Heidi’s boyfriend to Roosevelt Field for a Veterans Day sale and how her sister told her to make sure Thomas doesn’t buy jeans that has legs more than 32 inches wide. (These are the “phat” jeans that teenagers wear, which have gone the old baggy, oversized kind one step better – or rather, two legs better.)

Teresa said Jade will get a C in math but otherwise A’s or B’s and has already registered for next term – so it sounds like Jade has adjusted to Purchase College fairly well.

Patrick emailed, in response to my comments about Judy Cofer, that Judy will be at BCC-South this month, having accepted Vicki’s invitation to visit.

I worked for over an hour this morning on a 200-word would-be “Local Opinion” column for the Boca Raton News. It’s an inoffensive little piece about the surprising friendliness of Turnpike toll collectors, and I printed it out at Nova tonight.

I also printed out a copy of “Salugi at Starbucks” without my name on the manuscript, so I could submit it to White Eagle Coffee Store Press’s A.E. Coppard Prize for Long Fiction – even if the editor, Christy Sheffield Sanford’s friend, didn’t think my writing was very good when he considered me for the post of judge for last year’s contest.

At noon I met Igor Satinovsky at Barnes & Noble, and I spent three hours with him, first in the bookstore (mostly at the café) and later at the restaurant in The Fountains shopping center, where we had salads at an outdoor table.

Igor is 28 but looks older; he’s quite intelligent and well-read. His wife Violeta, the Nova optometry student, is five months pregnant and loaded down with schoolwork.

Igor, who majored in art at Brooklyn College, has been doing computer graphics and a Delray Beach Office Depot, but they had no work for him this week.

He gave me a copy of Koja, his magazine, which features a lot of Russian writers as well as Richard Kostelanetz and Eileen Myles. I probably know a lot less about poetry – and maybe even about literature in general – than Igor, but then he has the advantage of a Soviet education.

Most of his relatives came over here before he did. His father died of cancer at 35 in 1975 when Igor was 6, probably from the radiation from a nuclear power plant across from where they lived in Kiev. His mother remarried years later and the family came to the U.S. when he was 20 in 1989.

Igor talked about his friendships at Brooklyn College with Allen Ginsberg and the painters in the Art Department and the poets and writers he knew in New York.

It seems like he really got involved in the Downtown literary scene, for he knew many writers like Bruce Andrews, the Language poet, and Eileen Myles.

We talked about Florida and New York City, about Russia (if my great-grandparents had stayed there, I might be speaking English today with an accent as thick as Igor’s), and about whatever local literary scene I could fill him in on.

He called tonight after reading my chapbooks and said he’d like me to send him something for his magazine – but I don’t think I have anything short that’s as good as my old stuff.

Anyway, I believe I’ve made a friend in Igor. Like most people I know, he’s on AOL and gave me his username, isat. (I’m graysonric, of course, although I use FTLBoy36 for my personal ads.)

Back home at 3:30 PM, I read the paper but couldn’t bring myself to do any grading, though I did read “Everything That Rises Must Converge.” Teaching three Flannery O’Connor stories this semester has made me aware of patterns in her writing I never quite discerned before.

Saturday, November 15, 1997

9 PM. I woke up around 5:30 AM and had plenty of time to prepare for my Business, Government and Society class. And I did have a good class, though the group, after two years together, is so ebullient that it’s hard to quiet them down.

By noon I had covered the chapters on consumerism and the changing workforce and had traded the papers I’d graded for the ones they handed in. I’d also gone over the take-home final, which should be an easy assignment. One more Saturday class in three weeks and I’ll be through.

I spent the afternoon at home, eating, reading, exercising and writing to Teresa and Patrick on AOL.

Last night Mom called, wondering where I’d been, so I went over to my parents after I taught and again tonight.

My mail included a couple of bills and a couple of transcripts for grad school applications, the Ragdale application, and the Lambda Legal Defense Fund newsletter.

Dad’s cholesterol tested at 250 and his triglycerides even higher, so the GP wanted to put him on a cholesterol-lowering drug. Instead, Dad asked to retake the test this Friday when he’ll fast beforehand.

Although Dad is a vegetarian, his cholesterol could be high due to pizza, eggs, grilled cheese sandwiches and other foods he likes. Dad is actually a very poor eater. Today he ate a Granny Smith apple but spit out the best part: the skin with all the fiber.

As they get older, my parents are more clueless and helpless; they don’t appear to be any more knowledgeable about diet and nutrition than were their own parents.

Pete called this afternoon. Since getting the e-mail from Smithsonian that they’ll publish his book if he agrees to certain revisions, Pete hasn’t heard from them again. I didn’t realize that he’ll probably get no advance and see no real royalties.

But of course the purpose of an academic book is a professorship and tenure. Pete has decided to apply only to colleges on the coasts and in New Orleans and Chicago because anywhere else wouldn’t be worth moving out of New York City and giving up his lucrative salary.

I told him about my getting into Ucross and Kostelanetz’s call and teaching at FAU, and then he went off to an Indian music concert.

Tom phoned this evening after I got in from shopping at Bread of Life and Publix and putting gas in the car. (The price war between Racetrack and Speedway has unleaded now down to $1.12 a gallon.)

Tom knows he can’t be ironic or literary when he’s on the Sally Jesse Raphael show.

Although his next book is about experiences he had with the dead as a child, he’d rather not talk about it on the air and instead would prefer to discuss the influence of Borges, Calvino and the Tibetan Book of the Dead on his work.

I told Tom to expect either an interview about his dysfunctional family or a makeover. He watched Sally yesterday, so he knows how hard it will be to say anything even halfway intelligent.

Bantam wouldn’t pay a cent toward his trip to New York, so they’re continuing to be as unhelpful as they been all along.

Tom really had hoped that “The Little Book” would give his career enough of a boost so that he could get all his unpublished novels to receive a fair reading from a publisher or agent – but he still has had no luck.

When I spoke to Pete earlier, he’d expressed amazement that Tom continues to write one literary book after another in the face of so much rejection.

At least Sally has millions of people watching it; perhaps something good (other than the makings of a great satire) will come out of his appearance on TV.

He’s flying into Newark at 2:30 PM tomorrow (Annette changed his original flight, which was routed through Denver to save money), so he’ll have time to spend in Manhattan, though he thinks it’s snowing there now.

They put him up at the Loews hotel in Midtown and he’ll fly back to New Orleans at 6 PM on Monday night. I asked him to call or e-mail me soon afterwards.

Wednesday, November 19, 1997

4:30 PM. I’m so overtired that I don’t know how I’m going to teach my class in Boca tonight, but as I said yesterday, somehow I’ll manage.

Last night my brain was working overtime, speeding as if it were on a Montana interstate, and I don’t think I got even four hours of sleep.

I did read all of last Sunday’s Times Book Review and the Elie Wiesel excerpt that I’ve assigned tonight. Somehow I forced myself to exercise at 6:20 AM, starting with (ugh) push-ups, but I didn’t shower until after I taught my Nova class.

Dressed in clothes from yesterday, I gave my 8 AM class another quiz, which showed that at least half of them hadn’t read either Welty’s “A Worn Path” or Bambara’s “The Lesson.”

For Friday, I’ve assigned them “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter,” and on my way back from Boca this afternoon, I stopped downtown at the Main Library and got the video of Lawrence’s story.

(I met Jean Trebbi coming off the elevator; she said hello although I’m not certain she knew exactly who I was.)

I got lots of e-mail and tomorrow I’ll have to reply to it all.

Tom said the taping of Sally went well. He was brought on at the end of the show, after dead relatives of weeping guests were summoned, and he played it straight.

Sally Jesse Raphael called the book “hip” and “a bestseller” and said it had been recommended by a friend with incurable cancer.

Sean also wrote me, sending a photo from St. Mark’s Square in Venice. Between him and Doug, I could barely make which guy with the receding hairline he was.

The big news at FAU, which I learned from my students, is that finals begin December 4, with December 3, Wednesday, a reading day. That means my last classes are a week from Monday, with finals scheduled for the week of December 8. A nice surprise!

Friday, November 21, 1997

4 PM. Last evening I went with Igor to Judith Ortiz Cofer’s poetry reading at Broward Community College’s South Campus.

I should have told him to meet me at Nova, but instead I gave him directions to this apartment complex, and as I might have expected, he got terribly lost, getting here at 7:30 PM, the time the reading was supposed to start.

I didn’t want to drive to Pembroke Pines, but Igor is a novice driver and he has little knowledge of the streets down here.

So we walked in about fifteen minutes late. Judy was in the middle of one of her many much-anthologized memoir pieces, about the time in Paterson when she freaked out her Catholic mother and a boy’s Jewish mother by crossing the divide between their communities as the kids studied biology together.

Judy writes with rich textures that I can only admire. After that, she read some poems, most of which deal with her Puerto Rican background, and told some great stories.

Obviously, she does a great deal of reading in public, and she’s got both that practical skill at it and the sense that she’s being totally spontaneous.

I’ve always admired Judy’s work and I wish my creative writing students at FAU could have heard her, too. She got a big round of applause at the end of the reading.

After Vicki announced that there’d be a table of Latin food set up outside and people filed out, Patrick came over to me and said, “I guess we both had the same idea,” meaning that we were seeing each other clean-shaven for the first time in years.

Patrick looked good without his mustache, actually. He told me about the new student editor of P’an Ku and introduced me to Erin, now 16, very pretty and obviously intelligent.

(Only later did I recall the afternoon, which didn’t seem that long ago, when Patrick hurriedly left our office at BCC-Central because Erin was about to be born.)

Vicki and I kissed hello. Although she’s obviously come a long way with the success of Miami purity, she seems as unpretentious as ever.

There were some cute younger guys at the reading, but I was too busy talking to my friends to try to meet any of them.

Betty Owen was collecting money as people bought Judy’s books and she autographed them. After Judy’s fans had left, I kissed both her and Betty, really glad to see them again.

Judy is staying at Betty’s house while she’s in town. Betty was basically the first person to encourage Judy’s writing, just as she was with Vicki’s.

After Patrick and Erin left around 9:30 PM, I was asked, along with Igor, to go to La Carreta, a new Cuban restaurant on University Drive, with Betty, Judy, Vicki and her friend Monty, and Alyssa, another South Campus English instructor and writer and her friend from Zimbabwe.

Ordinarily, I’d be hesitant to stay out so late when I’ve got to teach so early the next morning, but I’ve had such bad insomnia lately that I figured if I was going to be awake, I might as well be socializing.

At the restaurant, Betty even let me sit next to Judy, who had a bad cold and said she was worn out, not just from being sick, but from giving three readings that day. And Vicki had Judy scheduled for another reading in her class this morning.

It soon became obvious that Igor was starved for the kind of conversation among writers that we had at the table last night.

While I find him a bit too talkative, too pushy and too much of a know-it-all, I suspect that my discomfort with him stems from my ambivalence about my own Russian-Jewish heritage.

With his heavy accent, loud voice and manner, Igor must be like what my great-grandparents and their generation of Russian-Jewish refugees were when they came to this country almost a century ago.

My own ethnicity is quite toned-down. With my anglicized surname, I’ve always felt I fit into the mainstream of American life and was delighted in Gainesville when an evangelical Santa Fe Community College student, on hearing that I was Jewish, remarked, “That’s sort of like Episcopalian, isn’t it?”

Judy asked me to say hello to Howard Pearce at FAU for her. (She got her M.A. in English there.)

When I saw Howard this morning and relayed Judy’s greetings, he seemed pleased by her tremendous success. Still, as Judy said to me, “In South Florida, I’ve been asked to read everywhere but FAU.”

I told her that was probably because of the weird human trait that devalues the familiar. Prophets without honor and all that.

But Judy has achieved the kind of academic and literary success that’s classic. She’s now a full professor at Georgia and has published books in all genres (novel, short stories, poetry, essays).

She’s so widely anthologized that even one of my FAU creative writing students, as an intern, taught her work to tenth graders.

Back to last night in La Carreta: I sipped my plantain soup as I enjoyed the conversation. It was good to be out at night among people.

As we rode back to Davie, Igor said he hadn’t spent a night with such interesting conversation since he left New York City, where he experienced many similar evenings out with his emigre writer and artist friends.

It was past midnight when I arrived home. But after saying good night to Igor and giving him directions out of the apartment complex, I fell asleep soon after I got to bed.

For the first time this semester, I slept past 7 AM on a day when I had a teach at 8 AM. I had to scurry to eat and to put on last night’s clothes and my glasses instead of contacts.

I had a decent 8 AM class at Nova – The Horse Dealer’s Daughter video helped – and then came home to rest, shower and change before driving to Boca for my Creative Writing class.

When that class ended, I got thoroughly soaked sprinting to the FAU parking lot. I spent the afternoon shopping at Publix, exercising and lying down for a much-needed nap.