A Writer’s Diary Entries From Late February, 1992

Wednesday, February 18, 1992

1 PM. Despite my weariness, I couldn’t sleep last night. At 11:30 PM, I listened to an ABC News special on the New Hampshire primary, which was an embarrassment for Bush and a muddle for the Democrats, with Tsongas winning but Clinton coming in a strong second.

Although I was sleepy this morning, I stayed alert in Con Law and Contracts. With the afternoon off, I’d really like to work on my brief for Appellate Advocacy, which is hanging over my head.

Barbara Goldsmith had an article in The Docket complaining about law school professors being unprofessional, lazy, anti-intellectual, and prejudiced. That hasn’t been my experience.

Certainly, my professors are in another dimension from the culturally constipated colleagues I had at BCC-Central. But then I’ve never been at a “real” university before, just at urban schools with low-skilled students and at community colleges.

For me, Gainesville is an intellectual step up: my studies here are certainly less drudgery than grading remedial writing papers.


Thursday, February 20, 1992

5 PM. I fell into a funk yesterday afternoon, perhaps because of the gloomy weather, perhaps because of sleep deprivation, but I was unable to work on my brief.

I only now spent 90 minutes revising the statement of the case and the initial pages – something I could have done two weeks ago.

I still have to go over my initial argument. If I can get that done tomorrow, then I’ll have the entire weekend to work on the argument dealing with the second issue in the case.

I suppose if I’m having trouble, I can always take off Monday and still get the brief in by the 3 PM deadline. But although many of my classmates will skip classes (David A is even taking tomorrow off), I hate doing that. For me, class time is the most valuable time spent, and I hate the idea of missing any.

I admire Dwight, who was disciplined enough to finish his paper last night. Karin got an extension because of all the hassles she’s had – yesterday she spent hours at the courthouse, and though she can’t talk about the outcome, she seems pleased – and Lorraine also got an extension because she’s going in for some medical tests tomorrow. (She gave me her tape recorder to record Property and Civ Pro for her.)

I did buy those tickets on Delta, and I’ll be flying down to Fort Lauderdale on Saturday morning, March 7, and returning Sunday morning, March 15. At the very least, I’ll be getting a change of scene after two months of school.

In the late afternoon, attempting to fight my depression, I took a walk on the main campus and settled on a bench to read the paper.

Alan Levine, the Gator Party candidate for student government president, passed by, and I told him I’d already voted for him in the runoff because Paul D, Rick, Martin and Lawrence are pushing the Gator Party.

Later, Lawrence passed by, campaigning, and said to me, “This is a nicer campus than all that concrete at the law school, huh?” He went to UF as an undergraduate, of course.

For a Republican frat boy, Lawrence is pretty nice – and funny, too.

Somewhat in a better mood – the skies had cleared, too – I came home and fell asleep at about 9 PM.

I had indeed been sleep-deprived because I was in dreamland for hours.

But instead of leaving for school at 7:15 AM, I waited an hour so I could exercise and could get back into bed after breakfast.

Julin lectured the whole hour on the rule against perpetuities, which I still don’t get.

After his class and Mashburn on personal jurisdiction this afternoon, I feel I’m back where I was last fall, unable to keep my thoughts up with the speed of the teacher and other students who seemed to converse with astonishing fluidity.

It’s that way in all my classes, though I think my classmates in Con Law are having more trouble than I am.

I can’t understand how I booked two classes last term and now believe it was surely a fluke, perhaps because the concepts in Jurisprudence and Criminal Law were easier to nail down.

My mind doesn’t appear to be equipped for the fine points of legal thinking; I find it hard to deal with abstractions – which is probably why the cases, with their concrete facts, seem easier than they are.

It was announced in Appellate Advocacy that we’re having mini-orals next week. Harris’s group goes next Thursday. (At least that means we’re free the following week.)

As a demonstration, Harris and Barbara gave five-minute oral presentations, with Tracy Rambo as the judge, interrupting and peppering them with questions.

We also have to attend the session of the First District State Court of Appeals, which is hearing arguments on campus.

They sort of work us to death here. It’s probably good preparation for most of my classmates, but not necessary for me.


Saturday, February 22, 1992

3 PM. I thought I’d write now because the Appellate Advocacy assignment is making me frantic. I don’t know when I’ve felt under such pressure. Everything has to be just right, and I feel there are too many balls in the air for me to juggle.

I sat at the computer for three hours from 9 AM until noon, spending all that time working on format and redrafting my first argument.

I’ve only outlined the second argument, and I’ve got the two-page summary of argument and the conclusion to write, too – plus I’ve got to get the table of contents and authorities to match the argument headings and the case citations.

God, I despise this! Aieee!

Well, I’ve gotta calm down. Remember, this is only a first draft. They just want to see something. I only have to write nine pages – exactly nine pages – and I’ll get it done.

I’m so tense that I’ve got a headache and I’m desperate to overeat. While I’m in this state, I can’t work.

Okay, Richie, you don’t have to be a perfectionist; this one-credit, no-grade class isn’t worth it.

It’s another rainy, bleak day. This has been the gloomiest winter I’ve experienced in a long time.

Right now I hate Gainesville, I hate law school, and I feel totally inadequate.

For a little while I’m just going to lie down and try to relax.

At least today I got my $174 unemployment check, plus a claim card for this past week and the coming week, and that’s a relief.

*

6 PM. I’m somewhat more composed than I was three hours ago.

I lay down for about five minutes, and then I decided I’d feel better if I printed out near-letter-quality copies of the pages that were already done.

I revised them, and now I still need to write the final six pages of the argument, the summary and the conclusion. Actually, I have to do most of the stuff I had to do at 3 PM, but after printing out eleven pages that I can hand in, the remaining tasks don’t seem so daunting.

And I ate only an apple and still can have dinner. I’ll try to relax. I know where my second argument is heading, and this part is only a first draft I didn’t yet get comments on, so I feel more confident.

It may be another six to eight hours of work, but it’s doable tomorrow. After all, I spent six or seven hours working today.

At the very worst, I can complete it during the break between Contracts and Torts on Monday and hand it in just before Torts at the 3 PM deadline.

If it goes worse than that, I’ll skip Contracts; though I’m sure other students will do that, I hate to miss classes. Last term I missed class only when I was ill.

At least I don’t have to report to Unemployment on Monday although I should pop into the Job Service this week and get my card signed.

On Wednesday afternoon I’ll prepare for the mini-orals on Thursday. While I don’t have the slightest idea what I’ll be doing there, neither does anyone else.

These mini-orals are only practice, designed to make us more ready for the real thing in April.

Public speaking doesn’t frighten me, and it’s no big deal anyway, as I don’t expect to argue before an appellate court ever.

What I can see, though, is that I’d be miserable if I had to face this kind of pressure as an attorney.

Although grading English papers was drudgery, there was never any pressure involved in teaching in college.


Monday, February 24, 1992

7 PM. Last evening I called Ronna. I was leaving a message on her machine when she picked up the phone, explaining that she’d been cooking dinner in the kitchen for herself and Steve.

I told her to get back to her vittles and her guest and that I’d call her at a more convenient time.

She did say she finally got over that lingering cold and that otherwise everything was fine.

I’m glad she’s still close to Steve. If Ralph and Ronna aren’t going to get together permanently, maybe she and Steve will.

Or maybe they’re just friends, the way she is with me or Jordan. I just want her to be happy.

Relieved at having completed my brief, I was unwilling to do any more schoolwork, so after I read most of the Sunday papers, I got into bed and listened to C-SPAN from the living room TV: first an interview with Nixon, then Question Time for Prime Minister Major in Parliament, during which I dozed off somewhere in one of the Speaker’s cries for “Order! Order!” to the backbenchers.

I woke up during the Democrats’ South Dakota debate but finally shut the TV off.

Although I slept sporadically, I got in about six hours and had an adequate number of dreams.

At 5:30 AM, I exercised, ate, reviewed Con Law and went to school, wearing shorts because it was 67°. But it was yet another day of gloom with heavy downpours, and I switched to jeans this afternoon.

Baldwin noted the many absences and said three students have already been dropped for missing more than six classes – though he doesn’t notify them and just writes to the Dean.

We went over the Slaughterhouse Cases and just began Lochner.

During the break I handed in my brief at the Legal Research and Writing office and then tried to refresh my memory as to the Contracts reading.

Some people had apparently come in just for the 8 AM class and either left to finish their briefs or went home after they turned them in because they were exhausted from staying up all night.

In Contracts, there were three empty seats between me and Peter, and similar gaps all over the room.

Davis noted the “App Ad flu” and went on with our cases.

When I returned Lorraine’s tape recorder to her, she told me that she’d apparently had some kind of EEG test for which she had to stay up the night before. The test was unpleasant because they stuck tubes way up her nose.

Back at home, I got my Orlando-Fort Lauderdale tickets in the mail. I’m starting to look forward to spring break.

After lying down for an hour, I had gobs of veggies – yellow pepper, carrots, sugar snap peas, corn, sweet potato and baby Le Sueur peas – for lunch.

Torts was okay, and our hypo didn’t seem that stupid. Tomorrow our group has to do the hypo we got today, and so we’re meeting before Contracts.

It seems to me there’s something wrong with an educational program that makes so many students so tired and starved for time and sleep.

Our education would be more effective if we didn’t have to cover so much in so little time. It’s no wonder lawyers all forget what they learned in the first year of law school.

Of course, they probably do remember the process, so they can use the mode of analyzing as the rules and facts change.

But they could still do that if we took fewer credits or didn’t have Appellate Advocacy to make us all half-crazed.


Tuesday, February 25, 1992

7 PM. I really should be reading Con Law, and I still haven’t made headway in today’s Times, but I was fascinated by some TV.

First, ABC News had a story about young American expatriates in Prague, a place where they can find interesting jobs (many of them arts-related) and live cheaply in a beautiful city where the president of the country is a playwright.

If I only had the courage, I would have gone there. I think if I do eventually move to Europe, I’ll have lots of company as others join the young people who’ve gone to Prague.

Then I saw a brilliant report on McNeil-Lehrer about the real decline in American wages since 1973 (the year I graduated college), using All in the Family’s Bunkers as the prototypes.

It reminded me that Alice’s brother once told her, “Remember, our father never made more than $10,000 a year.” But Alice and Michael’s father died in 1970, and if he made $10,000 in his last year working – like Archie Bunker, in a tool and die factory – he probably did as well as his educated, talented children.

Although he was deaf and had no education, Mr. D supported a wife and two kids, none of whom worked. True, Alice was lower-middle class, but there’s no way that she could support four people on her present income.

Anyway, last night I slept okay, but not enough – as usual. Nevertheless, I got through a long day.

Both Baldwin and Davis slowed down, so I don’t have that much reading for tomorrow, and during the break between classes, I attended a session of the First District Court of Appeal in Bailey Courtroom.

The oral arguments were on a suit by the widow of a man who got AIDS from a 1983 blood transfusion at Shands Hospital. He specifically wanted blood from his own family, and it wasn’t clear if they complied with his wishes.

He didn’t test positive for HIV until five years later, before he was even symptomatic. But he died soon afterward, and the trial judge dismissed the case on the pleadings because of Florida’s medical malpractice statutes of repose and limitations (issues we covered in Torts later in the day in regard to product liability).

After we left the courtroom, Barry, Steve H, Kenny H, Karin and I went over the Torts hypo we got yesterday and we thrashed out the issues Barry would raise as our spokesman.

Following Contracts, I was too tired to go to the Con Law C-10, but I went back to school early enough to catch the Property C-10; Shara and I arrived late and had to sit in the back of the library seminar room.

Everyone is recovering from the App Ad assignment and seems worn out.

Heavy rain continued nearly nonstop from last night to right now and the sun won’t come out tomorrow.

After Torts, I came home, exercised and listened to the news. I got the JMBA directory of law students (the “face book”) and spent too much time looking through it.

I’m amazed how at home I feel at law school.


Thursday, February 27, 1992

4 PM. I may be coming down with a cold. I was under a lot of stress this week, but now it’s over, and I intend to coast through the next week until spring break.

It’s sunny but chilly, and I just spent an hour walking around. I returned a book at Library West and then vainly looked through reference books on literature to see if I could find anything on me. Nothing new, but I turned to the page in volume 38 of Contemporary Literary Criticism where my photo is and my entry begins – just to remind myself who I am.

After paying my March rent, I xeroxed my book awards as well as the accompanying certificates and the letter of congratulations I received from Dean Lewis.

Then I sat in the Baskin-Robbins on University Avenue and had a tiny cup of Simplesse fat-free Jamoca swirl and went to the Gator Shop, where I bought, for $15, a little Gator plush toy.

No, it’s not for myself – although I could use a cuddly friend. I got a birth announcement from Scott and M.J.: Brianna, 7 pounds, 15¼ ounces, was born on February 10 (same birthday as Jonathan).

How wonderful – I wish they’d sent a photo because she probably is a pretty girl. I’ll send this stuffed animal along with the card and note.

Also in today’s mail was the Review of Contemporary Fiction Robert Walser number that Tom and Debra edited (which I could have been in if I could have thought of something to write).

In addition, I got a postcard announcing Ken Bernard’s new play; he wrote that he sent out the recommendation for me to the Sewanee Writers Conference.

I don’t expect I’ll get a fellowship, but if I did, it would be a thrill because it would make me feel somewhat in touch with the literary world.

I feel bad that I missed Bellow’s appearance at UF last Friday; Padgett Powell introduced him and he read a part of Humboldt’s Gift before a crowd of 900.

Remember the headline in the Orlando Sentinel review, “Bellow is more than Grayson clone”?

What a Freudian slip – of course it was the other way around: “Grayson is more than Bellow clone.”

The last story in Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog was about my meeting Bellow at the National Arts Club, just about exactly 14 years ago.

And Ivan Gold’s New York Times Book Review notice of I Brake for Delmore Schwartz ended with the excerpt about Grandpa Herb preferring my “little antidotes” to the fiction of “Ballow.”

Sometimes it hurts that I’m not treated like a writer. But of course it’s my own doing, and I never could have or would have done the tremendously exciting things in my life if I’d gone down the “normal” career path for an American academic literary writer.

So no self-pity for sure.

Yesterday I managed to relax a bit, though I didn’t get much work done except for the week’s reading for Civ Pro. This weekend I’ve got no obligations but schoolwork, so hopefully I’ll get ahead in my reading. I plan to do tons of work during spring break – making outlines, reading hornbooks and study guides – but I’ll probably just end up doing the minimum.

Today was okay. Classes were fine, but I was a disaster at the mini-orals; I hadn’t prepared an outline and so I spoke off the cuff and fumbled a lot.

I definitely was the worst one, but on the other hand, I was probably the least nervous. I have experience speaking in front of crowds, and I’ll be better when the real orals come around.

I tried to nod approvingly when the others did their arguments, so they’d be encouraged when we made eye contact.

Dusty was extremely nervous, but he did fine. I never really spoke to him until after class today.

I always assumed he was a frat jock, but now I get the feeling that he might be gay.

Anyway, I’m not attracted to him, and if he is gay, he may not know it yet – which is probably true for a number of law students who are 21 or 22. They’re classic “good kids” and it’s hard for them to associate what they feel with some groups of people they’ve been taught are evil monsters.

Oddly, last night, after watching The Wonder Years, I got nostalgic for the girlfriends I had in college, and sure enough, I ended up dreaming about making love to Ronna.