A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late November, 1993
Sunday, November 21, 1993
7 PM. I got to sleep late last night, but I slept deeply, and after an hour up from 6 AM to 7 AM (I used very hot tap water for oatmeal and grits, and it seemed perfectly okay), I managed to fall back asleep till after 9:30 AM.
For a couple of hours I vegged out, not even attempting to exercise, and at 10:30 AM I checked out of the InterContinental, paying the $20 I owed on the valet parking.
Rick told me that last night he, Lucinda and Pamela got to the Cameo just in time for the last number. Then they all went to a party at a posh South Beach house that sounded like something out of La Dolce Vita: a very weird sybaritic crowd.
I had lost my parking stub from valet parking, but after identifying my car keys in the parking office, I put my luggage in the trunk and parked in a lot near the Book Fair.
Rick went to the MDCC auditorium where Lawrence Black and Jim Hall were appearing, but I opted to hear Yale Law Professor Stephen Carter and journalist Myra McPherson talk about their nonfiction books (on religion in American life and on the generation of men who went to Vietnam or avoided the draft).
On my way out of the auditorium, I ran into Tony and Adrienne, whom I greeted effusively. Adrienne is teaching full-time at Miami-Dade North, and they’ve bought a house near Sky Lake where Grandma Sylvia used to live.
Their mentor at McNeese, Robert Olen Butler, this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner, arrived, and he told them that Wayne Wang and Oliver Stone have bought the rights to his book about Vietnamese-Americans in Louisiana and want him to write the screenplay.
I left them – Butler was kind enough to say goodbye to me by name – in order to meet Rick back at the hotel.
As I was leaving the Book Fair, I said hi to Dan Wakefield and Mimi and noticed that Mitchell was still running around and looking frazzled. He works so hard.
Rick arrived a little after I did, and after thanking people at the hospitality suite, we drove to the Amtrak station.
As I drove him through Little Havana, Rick was interested about how Miami has changed in recent years. It’s too bad he wasn’t here long enough to experience much of the city.
Still, we had a good conversation. Rick and his 27-year-old girlfriend live together, but she’s a musician with the National Symphony Orchestra and has resisted marrying him.
Like me, Rick keeps up with people in their twenties, and he made fun of a guy our age who last night didn’t know who Nirvana was.
This year he’s been teaching creative writing and a class on The Beats at George Washington University, the University of Maryland and UVA-Tysons Corners.
After waiting to see Rick safely board the Amtrak train, I drove north twenty miles on NW 27th Avenue/University Drive back to my old West Broward stomping grounds.
Monday, November 22, 1993
4 PM. Back in Gainesville, I just tried to unwind with 30 minutes of exercise.
I’m a little dizzy from all the ground I covered today at 70 mph; no doubt I’ll see whirring highway when I close my eyes to sleep.
In tonight’s SFCC class, I’m just going to have my students write so I can come home early and start my insomnia at a decent hour.
If being at the Miami Book Fair was a dream, being at my parents’ was sort of a familiar nightmare.
Although my family’s still acting the same as ever, the more I’m away from them, the odder they seem.
Marc barely said anything to me. I know he’s depressed, but when Mom told him what I’d said about anti-depressants, he said he’s “not that bad.”
What happened was he and Clarissa were getting back together, and to prove his worthiness, Marc was working ridiculous hours, putting great pressure on himself.
The day before he and Clarissa were supposed to move in together and even look to buy a house, Marc reverted to form and took drugs while she was out.
When she found him collapsed on the bed, Clarissa threw him out, calling Dad to pick him up.
Mom, Dad and Jonathan vented all their anger on Clarissa for doing that when Marc was “sick.” (“He could hardly stand up,” Dad said, and Jonathan kept saying Clarissa was a spoiled yuppie who always had to have her way and that she had a psychotic kid.)
Marc has gotten even heavier while Jonathan has slimmed down and is now into “green spirituality.” He rejects animal rights extremists and gave me a book on Yanomamo shamanism.
China looks like she aged more than the people in the house, but that’s probably because dogs get older at a faster rate.
I drove Dad (and China) to pick up their usual Sunday night Chinese food, and I put gas in the car and got out some clothes for today.
Mom placed quilts on the floor of Dad’s office, and after I read most of the paper and watched a little TV, I slept quite soundly there.
There’s been no word from the hospital, so Grandma is still hanging onto life.
Leaving Fort Lauderdale at 8 AM, I made it back to Gainesville by 2 PM, stopping for lunch at the Wendy’s in Wildwood.
On the way up, I listened to NPR’s Morning Edition, then an hour of my tape Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, and then Neil Rogers, first on WIOD and then when the Miami station faded out, on Saint Pete’s WSUN.
The last couple of hours I listened to classical music and All My Children on Gainesville’s ABC TV station. It got chillier as I drove north, but I ran into only a few sprinkles of rain.
At home, I had two phone messages: Josh called on Friday to ask if I’d seen the obituaries – he meant Scott Sommer’s, of course – and a farmer wanted me to know that he’d injured himself on the tractor Skip sold him and asked me to have Skip call him immediately.
If that’s not a wrong number, then I have a multiple personality I’m unaware of.
After unpacking, I got my mail and the Times and took the rental car back to the hotel.
Although I really would like to reflect on the trip, I’m too busy to do it right now. Besides, I have to return to my life as a Gainesville law student and community college teacher.
I remember exactly where I was 30 years ago today when I heard JFK was assassinated – but I probably wrote about that on the 25th anniversary of the Dallas assassination five years ago.
Wednesday, November 24, 1993
4:30 PM. It’s a cool, overcast, drizzly Thanksgiving eve. This will be the first Wednesday evening I haven’t had to work since mid-August.
I’m happy I’m not traveling anywhere on this busy holiday weekend even if the American Airlines strike was stopped by Clinton, whose handing the flight attendants a victory makes a vivid contrast to Reagan’s firing the air traffic controllers and Bush’s refusal to get involved in the Eastern strike that killed the airline.
After reading the remaining cases for Police Practices last evening, I fell asleep early.
Baldwin’s last class was as interesting as ever. Lee brought her husband Sam (“a fellow New Yorker,” she said as she introduced us) to see Fletch in all his glory as he finished out the term.
In International Law, Nagan breezed through cases on jurisdiction. It was Ana’s final class in law school.
After class, I met Gene afterwards to give him my notes from yesterday’s makeup session. (Earlier, I swapped some notes with Karin.)
Today is also Gene’s last day in law school, and it was Dan R’s as well. I’ll miss them – and Kathy and Judy and the others from our section who are graduating early.
Next semester there will be five law school classes that came in behind us. It’s hard to get to know the students who started later than we did – at least for me, because I’m not involved in extracurricular activities.
Anyway, after coming home to exercise, I’ve been vegging out. I’ve been faithful to my intentions to do no schoolwork today.
Perestroika, Part II of Kushner’s Angels in America, opened on Broadway last night, and I was thrilled to see rave reviews in the Times and Variety (on Nexis).
I can hardly wait to read the second play after the first one blew me away. Kushner had an excellent article in Sunday’s Times exposing the myth of the solitary writer, in which he discussed his “collaborators,” including intellectual mentors and cohorts and teachers.
Plays are more collaborative than fiction, but I too would like to get rid of the myth of the individual artist. As Kushner noted, we pay a high price for it, just as we Americans pay a high price for individualism in terms of health care and social and economic needs.
The cult of the individual leads to the kind of success-or-failure choice artists have in today’s society. Writers can’t be just a little successful – which is what I am; instead, we’re failures in society’s eyes until luck makes us rich or famous.
Today, for the first time, I realized that the South Korean foreign minister, Han Sung-joo, is my old poli sci teacher from Brooklyn College – the guy who taught Political Systems of East Asia in the spring of ’71 and introduced me to Mishima’s fiction with Confessions of a Mask. I should write him a letter.
I guess I’ve got to really begin thinking of my future – by that I mean my next move after law school.
Going into the Ph.D. program in humanities at FSU is one possibility, and I’ve got to send out my fellowship application to Tallahassee.
If I stay in Florida, I’ll have to be active in this fight against the anti-gay amendment. I know that will take an emotional toll on me, having to deal with the hatred and lies. It will also mean coming out publicly, something I should have done before now.
But there’s no way I could remain in Florida and not work for gay rights – even if I know that we’re going to lose.
At least if I don’t stick around here, I won’t have to also deal with the Alachua County referenda; the homophobia in Gainesville is too in-your-face for me.
If I don’t stay in Florida, I can go anywhere – can’t I? While I’m scared of the expense living in New York City, it’s familiar and I have a lot of friends there.
I just heard that Congress finally passed the Brady gun control bill – useless, but it’s a start.
Monday, November 29, 1993
4 PM. I called Franklin General Hospital yesterday and was told Grandma Ethel is in “fair” condition, which I take to mean they’ve stabilized her.
“Fair” is better than “critical” or “serious,” I suppose, and in some hospitals it’s the best you can expect in the absence of the term “good.”
I don’t know whether to be sad or glad that Grandma didn’t die. From my experience with Grandpa Nat in 1977, I know that sometimes death is preferable when a person is old and worn out and will never be able to function again.
Two weeks ago Grandma had heart failure, yet she’s still alive at nearly 84 – while Scott Sommer, like me, exactly half Grandma’s age, had his heart attack and died.
I read Nagan’s notes last night and this morning, and at 11 AM, I went to school to pick up his final. But apparently he was still working on it because we had to wait around for an hour until it was ready.
The final came with a 20-page appendix, a timeline on the Yugoslavian crisis as well as the text of the Security Council arms embargo resolution.
The mandatory 40% part of the exam is a multi-part question relating to Bosnia’s right to self-determination and all the other issues Nagan’s been working on.
I can take most of the answers directly from my notes, if Nagan wants to hear himself quoted. (I suspect he does.)
There are two other questions, worth 30% each, and I’ll probably select one on the post-Cold War global constitutive process, which will give me a chance to be creative, and another on interpreting the UN Charter.
I’m staying away from questions that involve particular cases.
Many of the people in the class are second-year students who have a couple of finals this week, so I’ll probably have more time than most to plan and research and think.
I’ll try to limit myself to the “mandatory” three hours writing time, but I’m not going to watch the clock.
In a way, I wish Nagan had given us only three days to do the final rather than a wekk because then I wouldn’t be spending so much time on it.
I was one of the few students who voted for an exam at the regular time because that’s so much less time-consuming: three hours and you’re done.
Anyway, I’ve read the final over and thought about it and that’s about all I’ll do today. I’ve got to teach tonight, and I have yet to read today’s Times.
It was a cold night and morning although it got up to about 62° now. Still, I’m not used to it being chilly, and my skin gets as dry as sandpaper (and it feels the same way).
Cindy from the Human Rights Council asked if I would volunteer to do something other than “terrorism,” which is what I checked off on the box.
I agreed to phone about 30 people to tell them about a town meeting next Wednesday night (when I work at SFCC; that’s how I got out of stuffing envelopes this Wednesday).
I don’t know why I’m bothering since I don’t really want to take part in the Alachua County stuff, especially since I realized how snotty Javier has been to me.
Cindy said she’ll mail me out a list of names to contact about the meeting. At least I can say I did something.
A little while ago, I called Karin, who was already working on Nagan’s final, and told her about the real case Baldwin’s sample question came from, as I had told Lee and Bob about it in school. (Lee was already studying for the Police Practices exam.)
I also went to the library downtown, where I xeroxed the Sun-Sentinel article on the Book Fair that mentioned me, and then to Winn-Dixie.
Maybe I’ll have more energy by tomorrow.
Tuesday, November 30, 1993
3 PM. I just called the New York Times classified to put in a death notice for Grandma Ethel, who died during the night. Mom called me about 10:30 AM with the news. She was quite upset.
Apparently Grandma had never been in “fair” condition – unless you consider dying “fair.”
I took the news philosophically. Mom told me that she and Marc managed to get a flight to Newark on Carnival Air (I’ve never heard of it) for Thursday, the day Marty scheduled for the funeral.
It will be a graveside ceremony at 1:30 PM – no chapel – at the cemetery in Elmont.
I tried to give Mom directions so Marc can drive the rental car from New Jersey to Long Island. It sounds to me that they’re cutting it close, as they’re scheduled to arrive in Newark just two hours before the funeral. Dad is in Puerto Rico this week.
I tried to tell Mom that Grandma had lived out her life, that there was nothing left she wanted to do, that her last years in Woodmere were relatively pleasant, and that she simply died of old age.
Mom said she was very angry when her brother, in telling her when the funeral was, said, “Let me know if you’re interested.”
I think Mom is going to have a harder time with this because the truth is, for whatever reasons, she did neglect her mother. Mom barely called Grandma and hadn’t seen her in over three years.
While I spent countless hours with Grandma over the last ten years, Mom paid only three visits to New York in the fall of 1984, and then in May and August of 1990.
I feel no need to attend the funeral and want to avoid being made uncomfortable by Marty and Arlyne.
Mom said she won’t go to their house afterwards and asked me if she should ask them for one thing she wanted, a chain Mom got Grandma in Israel.
I told her that I wouldn’t, but she was on her own, and I felt as if I were talking to a little girl. Whatever unfinished business Mom had with Grandma, as Teresa said later when I called her, it’s going to remain unfinished.
Teresa said she’ll try to get over to Beth David Cemetery but that Mom should call her in any case. Their flight back is from MacArthur Airport in Islip at night, and they’ll have a lot of time to wait, so they could go to Teresa’s house.
Whatever her faults, Teresa is the best friend to have when something like this happens.
Meanwhile, Mom told me they’d had a terrible weekend because Marc disappeared and didn’t come home on Saturday night.
They were frantic that something had happened to him, but Marc said he just needed to get away and think things through. I can sort of understand that.
Even though I’ll be billed for four lines in the Times death notice, all it will say is “SARRETT, Ethel – I’ll miss you. – Richard Grayson.”
I don’t intend to tell anyone about it, but at least I’ll see it in the papers on Thursday. (I think Grandma Sylvia’s funeral was also on the first or second day of December.)
Last night I had a nice class on poetry at SFCC and stayed up late reading. This morning I did an hour’s worth of research for the International Law final before Mom called, and I haven’t been able to get back to it since.
I feel sad and empty but not depressed.
I exercised and did laundry, and UPS caught me in the shower when they delivered the New York State Bar Examiners’ application materials, which I’ve only glanced at.
Somehow I hurt my back, though nowhere as badly as I did a few weeks ago. Obviously, it was my way of somatizing my grief.
Although I’ve tried, I haven’t been able to cry. Am I as calm as I tell myself? I’m trying not to block any feelings.
I know that at 42, I’ve lost my last surviving grandparent, which I guess puts me up one generation towards death.
Still, with all my contemporaries who’ve died of AIDS, and Scott’s death at my age two weeks ago, I’ve felt not that far from death already.
It’s typical that I would say Grandma died at 84 (because she would be that age in three months) while Mom said, “No, Grandma is 82.” Technically, she was 83¾.
I figure if I get to live as long as she did, then I’m only at the halfway point of my life. Even though I sometimes seem to revel in life, I don’t even know if I care to experience that much more of it.
Well, I’ll get on with my day now.