A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-June, 1994

Sunday, June 12, 1994

8 PM. The only “work” I did last evening was start to put together a short story collection manuscript for the O’Connor and other prize contests that have deadlines this summer.

The problem I have with my work is that the representational/autobiographical stories don’t go with the experimental/surrealistic/humorous ones.

My chapbooks were more unified than the three “full-length” books. Probably all my work needs to be completely reorganized, and I should put the stories from With Hitler in New York, Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog, and I Brake for Delmore Schwartz into more coherent collections.

While the rights to the Hitler stories have reverted back to me, I can’t put any of them in a contest collection, according to their rules.

My career as a fiction writer – or rather, as an author of books – occurred  haphazardly. I never had the advice of an agent, and none of my editors or publishers had any interest in doing a second book.

Rather than try to squeeze out a manuscript of one kind or the other, last night I decided to take the two strains of my work and shuffle them, letting one experimental story comment on the representational one before it, and vice versa.

I still need to do a lot of work, to add and subtract stories – it’s a real pain because most of my stories are not in digital formats – and to see if the resulting manuscript makes any sense as a book.

Not that I expect to actually win any of the contests. But it gives me the opportunity to have a book-length collection ready, if only to keep myself under the illusion that I’m still a writer of stories.

I read A Perfect Ganesh, the Terrence McNally play from last year. I like McNally’s work, and here he manages to put together an interesting play that isn’t totally successful but which has important things to say.

Tonight’s the Tony Awards, but I don’t get CBS and so I can’t watch it.

Today I woke up at 7 AM. It was cool when I went out, driving to the post office, the NationsBank ATM and the newspaper rack. I’ve gotten through most of the Sunday Times, everything but the book review.

In the afternoon I went over to the Reitz Union for the Gay Pride Film Festival, the first one they’ve had in Gainesville.

Most of the audience of about 50 were undergraduates, and they seemed very young. I felt a little odd because I was there by myself, but I’m used to that.

I always wonder if the active LGBSU crowd is representative of UF’s gay students. My guess is that the people there are somewhat less mainstream than would be typical because most gays in college are probably more closeted.

Perhaps I’m wrong. But on the phone dating service, you tend to hear guys saying they’re “discreet” or “straight-acting” (whatever that means). Of course, that could be a function of the phone set-up.

There were a couple of cute guys there, but nobody as cute as, say, Jody or Javier. Of course, Javier didn’t seem at all attractive until I got to know him a little.

Although I’m still not quite over my hopeless crush on him, I don’t expect to see him again, and even if I did, I’m not certain he’d speak with me.

I stayed only for the first three films because I’m used to eating dinner early and I got hungry.

The first film, The Dead Boys Club, was about a young guy who’d flash back to the sweaty disco days of the ’70s when he would put on a pair of shoes owned by an older man who died of AIDS.

After that was a Canadian meditation on the effect of one man’s death from AIDS on his lover, family and friends.

Then I saw an excellent documentary, Framing Lesbian Fashions, that discussed butch/femme, the ’70s “uniform,” lipstick lesbians, leather, etc.

I thought it was too bad that a lot of the young guys went outside because the movie didn’t interest them. It was about the best one I saw.

The rest of the films were okay. They featured characters or real people who were Nicaraguans, deaf people, South Asians, and black gays and lesbians. You could see the organizers were trying for diversity, and they apologized for not having films about bisexuals.

Like all well-meaning people who don’t quite understand art, they don’t grok that the specific is the universal.

I guess I sound like some conservative criticizing the challenges to the literary canon, but I’m not.

I am all for diversity, but I hate to see art divvied up and parceled out to interest groups – as if artists, no matter their race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, disability – didn’t transcend all that.

I mean, I’d hate to see Flannery O’Connor presented as merely a representative of Southerners, Catholics, women, or the disabled.

Monday, July 13, 1993

3 PM. I need to write now in order to straighten things out in my head.

This morning after I worked out, I decided to put on long pants and a sport shirt instead of my usual T-shirt and shorts and go over to Santa Fe.

At the registration room, there was a computer allowing people to print out open sections of classes, so I saw that there are only six vacancies in my English 231 class at 12:15 PM. But my 1:40 PM English 102 has 20 vacancies, so it’s unlikely they’ll let it run.

I noticed that there’s an English 102 at 8 AM downtown with 14 vacancies that’s TBA, so it’s possible I could get that downtown class as a substitute. (I’m listed by name as the instructor for my classes.)

Saying hello to Rhoda at the desk, I went to see Cissy Wood, who was very helpful in supplying me with handouts and syllabi for English 231.

She asked about my campaign for Congress. An ardent Democrat, Cissy has a photo of Bill and Hillary Clinton on her desk, along with ones of James Dean and The Beatles.

I tried to get in to see Barbara Sloan, but she was busy.

It was nice to be on campus with the community college students. In the library, I saw a couple of my library school classmates doing the next assignment.

When I got home there were two phone messages, both from Micki Johnson. She has a class for me in Ocala on Thursday nights, the same Argumentative Writing I taught before at Gainesville High School.

I felt I had to accept the job, even though there are a lot of problems – though as long as my car holds up, the drive to Ocala isn’t one of them. (I couldn’t have taught the class before I bought the car.)

But I have to be out of the apartment on August 10, and the course ends on September 1 – which means that for the last four classes, I’d have to drive up from Tampa if I’m living there.

And if I get another job, I might have to quit before the class is over.

Teaching on Thursday nights is better than teaching on Saturdays, which would have interfered with my USF library class.

But I’ll be prevented from teaching or taking a class in Tampa on Thursday unless I can arrange to miss the first two sessions.

Still, the $1,400 Nova salary is something I can’t turn down, especially if I lose the SFCC English 102 class.

Argumentative Writing isn’t that much work, after all, and Micki said she also hires teachers for classes in Tampa.

The real problem is on August 10, as I don’t know where I’ll be staying as I finish up at SFCC, let alone teach for Nova that night.

That got me thinking that maybe I should stay in Gainesville till the end of the year. I could probably rent an apartment for five months.

If I taught three classes at SFCC and was offered a class or two at Nova (or if I found other part-time work in the area), I could get by given Gainesville’s low cost of living.

And it might be easier to move in December, when I could go to another city – Tampa/St. Pete or South Florida or wherever – and study for the February bar exam.

While I don’t want to stay in Gainesville, it would be much simpler to remain here.

In the mail, I got my response to my federal financial aid form that was sent to my parents’ house; after signing it, I sent it to USF.

It looks as if my choices are boiling down to two: either stay here in Gainesville or go to Tampa. I still haven’t gotten an acceptance from the library school, though, and I should wait for that.

If I have to drive to Ocala for three weeks, that’s not so difficult, as it’s only about two hours from Tampa on I-75.

I guess this will all work out.

I got the mailing from Stories on Stage. Kathe, their director, started it after she got her performing arts management degree at Brooklyn College and was an agent in New York. She attended Selected Shorts at Symphony Space and decided to do something similar in Chicago.

Their licensing agreement gives me only $50, and they’re not recording the performance for the evening benefit, which is titled Elvis Lives and Barbie Tells All.

Tom sent a long letter from Germany, but I’ve been too excited and preoccupied by figuring out my plans to read all of it.

Tom did say he’s told Brad to allocate money to have me teach at NOCCA this year.

Tuesday, June 14, 1994

3 PM. I finally managed to calm down yesterday, though last night I slept sporadically because I still had a lot on my mind.

Probably the thing to do is drive down to Tampa next week and get a feel for the area around USF. Even Dad said Temple Terrace, near there, is the nicest part of town.

I could rent a small apartment in one of the complexes whose names I got from USF. At least I’d know what I was doing.

Once I start teaching, I won’t be able to get away during the day. I want to drive to Tampa really early so at least one part of the trip would be made before it gets too hot.

Of course, once I sign a lease, I’m sure I’ll get one of the full-time jobs I applied for – because life just works like that.

On the other hand, given my track record with applications, the likelihood that I’ll be hired for a full-time community college teaching position in Lake City or Avon Park is minimal.

And would I really want to live in a godforsaken rural town when I could live in a major metropolitan area?

It really makes no sense for me to move to Tampa without a job there and without being accepted into graduate school in library science. Still, it feels right.

The worst thing that can happen is that I’ll be broke and miserable. (I’ll rent near public transportation in case my car breaks down.)

The best that can happen is that I get to experience a new city, something I am excited about. I know I can make a life for myself in Tampa for however long I live there.

Yesterday I exercised to two Body Electric videos, and this morning I put on my Walkman at 7:30 AM and listened to the news on NPR while I walked to the law school and back.

I miss walking, and keeping up with it will help keep me fit. But it’s so hot and humid that I’ve got to do it very early or after the sun goes down.

Back home, I entered “Inside Barbara Walters” on the computer and inserted it into my short story manuscript, which has hit 200 pages. I’m going to add some other uncollected stories before I send the book out to contests.

When the phone rang at 9 AM, it was Rosalie. She had spoken to her friend Frank Valdes, the gay law professor in San Diego who just got his J.S.D. at Stanford.

The law review there is devoting an entire issue to his dissertation, which is on law and gender. Rosalie said I should call or write Frank and send my résumé to his house. I said I would.

Rosalie told me that even though Frank has stuff on his résumé that makes it known he’s gay, he still got 45 interviews at AALS a few years ago.

Rosalie doesn’t understand that being gay is the least of my problems; in fact, it’s probably a plus in today’s academic job market, where a few schools actually have affirmative action programs to hire gays.

No, my problem is that my being a writer/artist/flake would stop people from hiring me.

After all, unlike me, Frank Valdes had a rather conventional job as a corporate attorney – something I wouldn’t consider. I know I am stubborn about that.

Another thing Rosalie doesn’t understand is that I’m not sure I even want to be a law professor. I’d rather be a successful comedian/performer/whatever any day.

Nevertheless, I know Rosalie means well. I’ll explain myself in my letter to Valdes.

At 10 AM, I went downtown to the library and worked on my acquisition project, which I’d only begun doing seriously last evening.

I had a great talk with Adrian, who knows so much about library services;

He told me about being director of the Collier County library back when Naples had only 13,000 people, and about how Cecil Beach was brought into Broward to get rid of the city libraries and put them into a consolidated countywide system.

Kathe Telingator from Stories on Stage called, and I told her that I sent out my signed agreement.

This reading will be at the Klein Art Gallery in Chicago, and it’s going to be their big fundraiser for the year. My story will be read along with Mark Childress’s from Mondo Elvis.

She’s going to modify my bio note from the back of Mondo Barbie after I told her I was a candidate for Congress and said she’d send me more publicity and programs for the event.

It would be nice to be at the reading. I’ve always wanted to go to Chicago anyway. Someday I will get there.

This afternoon I played with the cats. The orange Persian one lapped up water from a dish I placed in front of my door and let me stroke her fur. She’s filthy, but it must be hard to keep the sheen on her bushy tail.

Saturday, June 18, 1994

8 PM. The bizarre O.J. Simpson drama kept me and lot of others riveted to TV sets yesterday. Early in the day, the police announced he was charged with the two murders and could get the death penalty.

By mid-afternoon, when he had failed to show up for his arraignment, the Los Angeles district attorney was calling him “a fugitive from justice.”

When I turned on the TV at 7 PM and saw his newly-hired attorney at a press conference, I was confused and unsure what was going on.

So I called Dad, who told me that the lawyer explained how O.J., aided by a friend, escaped from the doctors and lawyers at the house where he’d been staying after signing a codicil to his will and writing notes to his kids, his mother and the general public.

Dad said the note sounded like a suicide note. When I heard it, I agreed – although Simpson denied killing his wife and the young waiter.

He also sounded self-pitying and in extreme denial. But the police released information on O.J.’s past wife-beating incidents.

Finally, at about 9:45 PM, we watched the most bizarre event of all: O.J. was reportedly in a white Bronco on the Santa Ana Freeway, being driven by his friend while O.J. held a gun to his own head, threatening suicide.

Although they lost the picture occasionally, for two hours ABC showed  the helicopter view of the car being followed by a phalanx of police vehicles.

Since they were going under the speed limit, it wasn’t a chase but a weird procession along three freeways, which I followed on my road map of L.A.

It ended when the car returned to Simpson’s house in Brentwood, where for over an hour he sat in the car. Finally, he negotiated his surrender to police at midnight (9 PM PDT).

It was great TV, if sometimes tedious – great because, unlike the usual scripted show, nobody knew what would happen next and nobody really knew what to say.

“if Wesley Strick had written this for a movie,” Dad said, “I’d tell you it was too bizarre to be believed.”

Now O.J. is in jail on a suicide watch awaiting arraignment Monday.

My sense is that he’s definitely guilty. From what I learned about domestic violence in law school, Simpson and his wife fit the pattern of batterer and victim, each unable to retreat from a relationship in which the level of violence ratcheted up until finally it was fatal.

Maybe people will now take domestic violence more seriously. That’s about the only good that can come up this. Nobody has ever been so widely admired and then accused of such a brutal murder.

Yesterday I finished the revised “Linda and Me” story. I think my new short story collection manuscript, now about 225 pages long, is just about ready to be sent off to all those contests where it doesn’t have a chance.

I stayed in most of yesterday, especially since an explosion at a chemical warehouse in northeast Gainesville had led to an evacuation of a four-square-mile area, the closing of the airport, and warnings that the toxic cloud over that part of town could (and did) make people ill.

Up early this morning, I got downtown and parked at the main library by 9 AM. Today we met in the “story room” of the children’s section and had a very good class.

Although it was a long day, I learned a lot, and Adrian continues to impress me as a knowledgeable and dedicated librarian.

I remember how Lucy Calkins used to say that good teachers made you feel like you’re an insider in a field, and Adrian does just that. Although I’ve spent so much of my time in libraries, I now see that there was a great deal I never understood.

I got a perfect 36 out of 36 on my homework, though I know I didn’t do as well on the assignments I turned in today.

What I like about this course is that it covers vast areas of knowledge, from science to the humanities and social sciences.

Our next library class is four weeks away, and we have only another reading assignment due on July 16.

I’ve been reading the papers and Poets & Writers, whose latest issue came in the mail. It has lots of places I can submit stories and essays to. I’ll need more stamps, but doing submitting stuff makes me feel like I’m a writer again.

Also in the mail were my W-4 form from Nova Southeastern University and a PIN number for my First Carolina Visa.

The reviews of Wolf, which opened yesterday, suggested the movie was a disparate mix of a sophisticated comedy about corporate publishing with a macho horror film.

One critic suggested that Wes and Jim Harrison were working at cross-purposes in the script; another review mentioned Elaine May’s uncredited rewrite.

But of course, the real important thing for Wes and everyone else is how well the movie does this weekend.

Rick called. He said last Friday’s memorial service for Scott Sommer at the West Side Y was very moving although he didn’t know anyone there.

Scott’s brother spoke for 45 minutes, as did Robert Ferguson, Scott’s professor at Miami University in Ohio.

Several people said that Scott was their best friend. He was the kind of guy who made people feel like that.

Susan Minot didn’t show, but her brother talked about his friendship with Scott. Nancy Lemann, in her ninth month, read from Scott’s work, as did Amy Hempel.

The neighbor who found Scott said that he’d been reading The Book of Solitude when he died – with the page open to a poem by Shelley about nightingales speeding you to heaven.

While Scott smoked and drank, he was a vegetarian and a runner, and he hadn’t been sick; apparently, his heart just gave out.

Rick said that Scott’s students seemed more stunned by his sudden death than anyone, and they’re planning a Scott Sommer Scholarship at the Y. I wish I had known Scott better.

Rick didn’t know anything “Twelve Step Barbie” and Mark Childress’s story being featured at the Stories on Stage benefit. He said that he and Lucinda should have been notified because the stories come from their anthologies, but he didn’t plan to stop it. (Thank God.)

Rick said their contract for Mondo Marilyn just came, and I gave him Tom’s address in Stuttgart because he needs to get all the authors’ permissions by July.