A 25-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-November, 1976


Thursday, November 11, 1976

5 PM. All week I’ve felt so sleepy. Last night I slept twelve hours and managed to get up this morning only by forcing myself. It’s not so much that I crave sleep; what I hunger for are dreams: one dream after another, each presenting me with a fabulous landscape far more real than my waking life.

Maybe my dreams are trying to give me a clue as to who I am, because I don’t feel I know that anymore. Like the U.S. government, I’m in a period of painful transition, and in the morning, I don’t know which Richard Grayson I’ll be. In the magazine Velvet Wings, I was “Richard Greyson,” author of the poem “The Horsehead Nebula.” But that was a mistake.

Am I the self-confident do-er, the teacher, the writer, the observer? Or am I the neurotic adolescent transfixed with fear? Am I the friend or the lover or the cynic or the sissy or the cute guy or the masturbator or the nasty person I’ve learned I can be?

This depression – or recent ones – isn’t like the depressions of old. Gone are the feelings that I cannot cope, that I cannot go on, that I cannot (and do not want to) survive. I know tomorrow will follow today and I’ll go through the motions of living.

But do I believe in what I’m doing anymore? Sure, I’ve had 36 stories accepted and I’ve written 75 more. But so what? I’ve run out of anything really important to say before my career has even gotten started.

All I’m doing is repeating themes I’ve never fully resolved. The sad part is that I’ve grown comfortable and smug and tired of evolving. I gave up on people years ago, something I’m just coming around to realizing.

I’m 25½ – I love that childish “½” – living under my parents’ roof, trying to be the strong one while everyone around me is sinking into seaweed. My energy level is as low as it was in high school, when all my resources were channeled into fighting the anxiety attacks which came like clockwork.

Ten years ago this very month, I was finally forced to face myself and I made that decision to see a psychiatrist. Ten years later, the world sees a different person, but are we that different?

I remember wandering around Brooklyn then, trying to figure things out, looking for answers. Well, today I wrote – Freudian slip: that should be rode – buses and subways for hours, doing exactly the same thing.

I feel a crushing emptiness and I haven’t the slightest idea of how to plug up the gaps in my life.

Well, yes I do. I’ve got to start taking risks again. God, have I let myself be lulled into complacency so quickly! I’ve got to start making those decisions that will get me out of this house, out of this position, out of my dreams, and into the world of other people.

I know it’s not too late. This whole year I made no emotional progress whatsoever; I’ve “settled” instead. Now I want to do crazy things, wild things, be a person who understands how to live.

I only know how to dream and write and do. I’ve become much too impressed with my limited successes. Could you imagine if I really were a success? I’d be intolerable! But I don’t know what’s under the role anymore, whether there’s a person there or not. There must have been a person there at some time.

I feel that I’m going around at 33 rpm and the rest of the world is on 78; if I can just get up to 45 rpm, it’ll be a victory. Why do I stuff tissues in my mouth? Or pick my facial acne until I have scars? Why do I keep telling myself, “I love you”?

What is the matter with the head behind the hand holding this pen, and the body attached to that pen? Is there a next reel in which we’ll find out the answers, or has the network canceled my soap opera?

Sunday, November 14, 1976

8 PM. Life is simpler without the questions, “Should I do this?” and “Should I do that?” and “Am I wrong to do this?” and so on. I have never done what I ought to do, and I’m not going to start now.

The formula methods for achieving success are only for the mediocre or the faint-hearted. What I have always wanted to be is an original, a man who follows no man or idea or custom.

I realize I could become a fanatic, and now that I think about it, I probably am already a fanatic, but all great people were fanatics, weren’t they?

Last evening, after having dinner at the Floridian, I picked up Alice. Driving to the city, Alice told me about her night with June’s friend Cliff; they spent the evening yakking away at The Bagel.

And on Saturday, Alice went with her friend Janice to see off another friend on a New School cruise. Star-struck Alice saw Lou Jacobi, June Havoc, and Erica Jong, with whom she spoke for fifteen minutes. Jong was very friendly and very open, telling “the whole story of how Hollywood fucked her over” with the film version of Fear of Flying.

After parking on West 30th Street, we both had to go to the bathroom badly, so Alice and I went to the Southgate Hotel on Seventh and 31st to use their facilities. As I was leaving the men’s room, a guy came in wearing a big nametag that said GREG.

Then there were more men with nametags: MIKE, LENNIE, CHUCK. Outside the bathroom: ILYA, SUE, KATE, PEACHES. They were all very affluent-looking and kind of chic; then I noticed that they were all from EST, the latest of the fad pop psychologies.

Waiting for Alice and watching all these people looking so incredibly absurd – I knew they were paying $250 to get harangued and brainwashed by some flunky of this phony Werner Erhard – I started giggling involuntarily at the sight of them. By the time Alice came out, I couldn’t suppress my laughter no matter how hard I tried, so I walked out into the lobby nearly hysterical with laughter. My sides were splitting.

Alice was so embarrassed that she walked ten feet in back of me. It was like when I got incurable giggles at that poetry reading in Cadman Plaza or that Nureyev film at the Ziegfeld Theatre; I was laughing because everyone seemed so pompous.

Alice and I went to Blimpie’s for coffee and to give me time to catch my breath and calm down. But at Blimpie’s, too, we were surrounded by EST people, and we remarked how sad it was that all these people have nothing better to do than shell out time and money for some phony “cure” for their problems.

Jerry Stiller, the comedian, walked into Blimpie’s, and after he got his coffee, I nodded to him at the table across from us, and he said hello. Jokingly (so I thought), I said, “You’re not with these EST people, are you?”

Just as I finished saying it, he shifted a bit in his seat and his coat opened to reveal the nametag JERRY. “Yeah, I am,” he said. “Are you?”

“No,” I said, feeling very uncomfortable. I could see his face fall. I had been (unintentionally) condescending and I hurt his feelings. It was a strange moment; immediately I knew it was a kind of revelation: No matter who anybody is, famous or rich or whatever, peace comes from within.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at Jerry Stiller again: upon seeing my disdain and contempt for EST, he looked so pathetic and lost. After that, the posh publication party Alice and I went to didn’t impress me at all.

A 23-year-old kid who looked like a Math Team member whose mother had to tell him to wear a jacket and straighten his tie, was the author of this book Growing Up With the Beatles, “a tribute to the Fab Four.”

It could have been a good idea, interweaving autobiography with a history of Beatlemania, but this kid told only the “nice” stories of adolescence, the papered-over past: the proms, the father-son talk about “the birds and the bees,” the high school hijinks.

And the party was a New York Magazine cliché. Just about everyone there was about as pretentious as possible. A legwoman for a gossip columnist started a conversation and then abruptly stopped talking to me when she discovered, “You aren’t anyone, are you?”

Alice and I had a talk with Derek Marlowe, a rich and successful British novelist (A Dandy in Aspic) who in the end came off as a vain, pompous, womanizing drunk.

I ended up enjoying the party the way I would enjoy an anthropological mission. As I was getting our coats in the bedroom for the drive back to Brooklyn, I overheard some guy on the phone, saying, “I’m trying to make a deal here for fast ten thou.”

Monday, November 15, 1976

11 PM. It’s been a long, busy day, and I’ve been living, not writing. Yesterday I went to visit Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel. Uncle Jack and Aunt Betty were there; now that Chuck has come home from medical school in Spain, he’s got his family of five living in their Far Rock apartment.

I enjoy being with the old people even though I can’t really communicate some of my life to them. Uncle Jack still thinks college is the same as it was when he was at Valparaiso University fifty years ago, and Grandpa Herb can’t really understand things like the party on Saturday night.

About the party: Alice told me she wrote six pages about it in her journal. I hardly wrote about it yesterday. Alice was very impressed with it, but I wasn’t.

I thought Hal and Ivy’s party the Saturday night before was much nicer, because it was all regular people acting naturally. There were no gossip columnists wondering if you were “anybody,” no phony embraces, nobody greeting each other with “Dah-lings! ,” no wheeling-and-dealing going on behind the scenes in the bedroom.

Saturday night was like some strange tribal rite that I want no part of. I realize now that I am more comfortable with nice, hamishe married couples in Brooklyn like Hal and Ivy and their friends than I am with glittery, chic types in Manhattan.

This evening was the Gotham Book Mart party for the Fiction Collective, and I really didn’t enjoy that, either, although the crowd was more literary and intellectual.
I liked seeing Lethe and Tom Glynn again, and meeting Juan Alonso and Jerome Klinkowitz, and talking with Jon and Georgia, and introducing myself to Morris Dickstein and Bill Henderson (for the third time, since he never remembers me). But I don’t yet feel a part of that world – not socially, anyway.

Yes, I’d like to be in their company as far as publishing goes, but I am not sure that I want to be friends with writers exclusively. Alice came there from work, and as there was no one “famous” there and the food was virtually nonexistent, she was bored.

We did speak with Jules Gelernt, the Brooklyn College English Department chairman, who looks like an onion. And I chatted with Peter, and this man named Franklin, Eric Rohmann’s associate from Seabury Press, and wonderful old Frances Steloff sitting in the corner with her beautiful white cat.

But Alice and I left early with no regrets, taking the subway to 14th Street to visit June and Richard, who live in Brad’s building, on the floor below him and Les. I wasn’t expected, of course, but they were perfect hosts, serving jasmine tea and cookies.

They’re both very nice, although June can push just a little too hard. (Sometimes I get the feeling that she’s the slightest bit condescending towards me.) Richard is very open and very thoughtful.

They brought back a present from London for Alice: a container of tea from Fortnum & Mason. Their apartment is nice: it’s a writer’s apartment. As the three of them talked about selling magazine articles, I felt (happily) a bit removed from their major concerns.

Still, I enjoyed the visit, since I see people so rarely these days.

This morning I could hardly rouse myself, and my 9 AM class seemed to fizzle out; the energy level in the room was very low.

Before class Maura O’Brian stuck her tongue out at me. Was she flirting? When I asked her why she did it, she said, “You have that kind of face.”

Greg Williams, in discussing the inequality of our society, gave this example: “A good teacher like you gets a pittance while someone else who doesn’t teach well can be making a lot of money.”

I didn’t dispute the point. He wasn’t trying to butter me up, because it sounded so matter-of-fact: as though it’s taken for granted that I’m a good teacher – when sometimes I feel I don’t make a dent.

In a conference with Harold Schuberg after class, he told me about his CB radio and his car’s accessories, including a mobile phone, explaining, “If you were eighteen, you’d understand.”

And when we talked about his being late and sleeping ten hours a night, he said, “Yeah, but you’re an adult; you don’t require as much sleep as I do.”

I had to laugh. I much prefer the company of my students to the people at either Saturday night’s party or this evening’s. After my office hour and lunch at the counter at Junior’s, I kept my English 10 class only an hour and a half: we went over quotation marks.

Tonight I had dinner around the corner from the Gotham Book Mart, at a Bun ‘n’ Burger. Just like two years ago when I was a messenger for the Village Voice, Gene Shalit of the Today show was eating there. He was two empty seats away from me, but I didn’t feel the need to talk to him or even stare.

Wednesday, November 17, 1976

8 PM. It looks like I was correct about my lethargy yesterday, and once I discovered the cause – that today’s the tenth anniversary of the anxiety attack in high school where I lost control and felt so horribly embarrassed that I realized I had to see a psychiatrist – I felt like a new person.

As a symbol of my rejuvenation last night, I went out and purchased my 1977 diary, the ninth of these diaries I will keep.

Mom and Dad were arguing last night, and Dad stormed out of the house. When he returned later, they fought again.

Dad said he wasn’t going back to Florida again and “You better get it straight that this is what I’m going to do. If you don’t like it, you can take half my money and get the hell out.”

Incredibly, Mom said, “If we’re not moving, I must have money to fix up the house. I can’t live like this!”

“Just now, right?” Dad answered. “When I get $95 a week unemployment and $75 goes to the maid! Let me get on my feet first, will you?”

Then Dad mentioned that Aunt Sydelle was lonely and suggested we invite her for Thanksgiving dinner; naturally, Mom didn’t go for that idea.

Mom is so unsupportive of Dad, who hasn’t the foggiest idea of where he’s going. Now he’s selling a line of jeans. Marc is selling dope and gambling and drowning himself in very loud music, and Jonny has his own little world of sets and reps and bigger biceps and pecs.

Everyone in this house is out of it, and I’ve got to get out of this house. Maybe that’s why I needed so much sleep: to prepare for a new journey.

On November 17, 1966, I began my ordeal of becoming a functioning adult. The journey, the process, took ten years, but by all standards, I have achieved my goal. As Harold Schupak said, “You’re an adult. . .”

I’ve become an adult in everyone’s eyes but my own. The journey that will begin today, November 17, 1976, will take me to my own recognition of myself as an adult. The really hard work is ahead of me.

Lately I’ve just been coasting – as with my writing. There’s no reason for me to continue writing the same old stories again. For now I have said most everything I have to say in my fiction.

It’s time for me to enter a new phase, to write stories that take me to new places and themes and people. If a dormant phase is coming, so be it.

I’ll get back to my fiction eventually, and my stories will be better for the time I’ve taken off to think and reflect and get my life together. I can’t go on repeating myself endlessly.

My English 11 class didn’t go that well. I’m unable to put my foot down and cope with disruptive students. After class, one of the serious students complained about the others’ frivolous behavior, and I said we’d talk about it on Friday. God, you can’t imagine how I hate confrontations.

In the office, I learned that all of us adjuncts will be observed within the next week. Prof. Malley is going to observe my English 10 class on Monday, and I suppose I could have been worse off, for Malley seems like a nice guy. But everyone is pretty nervous about it, and that’s making me nervous, too.

In speaking with Mark O’Donnell, I was very surprised to learn that he’s still very tense before each of his classes. Mark usually appears so loose and casual. He and I had a fantastic talk about Borges and Buñuel and Coover: we have nearly the same tastes in literature and film.

George said he was hoping for a big turnout for Peter’s reading at LIU tomorrow. I’m not going, because I’ve heard Peter read on several occasions, and also I have to go down to the Collective office.

This afternoon I did all my marking and rewrote “The Bridge Beyond the Pleasure Principle.” It gave me the feeling of producing a story, at least.

I think I’m not going to be able to hold out and I’m going to have to write a story before too much longer. I need my fiction too much now. But is that a bad thing? Or something positive and constructive?

Friday, November 19, 1976

7 PM. It’s a beautiful, mild, clear evening: a perfect night to take a walk. I’ve just had dinner alone at the counter of The Arch diner.

Sometimes I am frightened at the enormity of my own ambition. There are days when I feel like swallowing the world whole. I crave power: I admit that freely, if a bit ashamedly.

I want fame, even though I am certain that fame makes no human being happier. (Lucky for me, I’ve never been all that interested in wealth; otherwise I’d be the most unscrupulous man who ever lived.)

Being in front of my class today, leading a good discussion, seeing my students get interested and even excited, being complimented by their refusal to leave their seats even after the discussion had overlapped the next hour – that has to be the most sublime feeling in the world, the feeling that I’m somehow “making a difference.”

Tonight I felt my old political ambitions making themselves known again. I envy those young people involved in the transition in Washington. If I had been eager enough, I might have been one of them, for I sensed early in the game last winter that Carter was going to be a winner.

Now there’s a man who knew what he wanted and who worked hard to get it, even as everyone laughed at him. I suppose this desire for power is a constructive revenge fantasy, a way “to show them all. . .”

But it is also very much a desire to be a part of things, to be at the center and core of what Justice Holmes called “the actions and passions of our times.” It’s that need to “be there,” to “make a difference.”

Even if you wind up as a footnote in the history books, at least you were part of mankind’s story. That all sounds messianic, even as I write it, but I am not sure I can be satisfied being a fiction writer and teacher.

I want to try so many different things out; I want to act, to be in politics, to have a TV show, to be a therapist, to do anything I feel I can do. The trouble is, we live in an age of specialization and there are very few Renaissance men and women in our society.

What may have contributed to this burst of ambition on my part is that I’m reading, of all things, the biography of Warren Harding, The Shadow of Blooming Grove. I find Francis Russell’s account of Harding’s rise in the byzantine world of Ohio politics fascinating.

And last night I came across a passage which intrigued me:

Samuel M. ‘Golden Rule’ Jones had just been reelected independent mayor of Toledo. . . Jones, from a bluff and genial manufacturer of oil-drilling equipment, had evolved into a Christian Socialist of sorts who read (and quoted) Tolstoy, Emerson, and Whitman, and even more paradoxically, took Christ’s teachings literally.

He announced that for his Acme Sucker Rod Company, the one rule was now the Golden Rule, and he set up a Golden Rule Hall, a Golden Rule Park, and even a Golden Rule Band.

At municipal elections he became unbeatable . . . and at his death, he was succeeded in office by his young secretary, Brand Whitlock. Whitlock was an Emersonian visionary who believed that his mission was to eradicate the brutality of the state.

But the coarseness of the everyday world was too much for him, and he lived at home as much as possible reading and writing. After four terms as mayor, he retired in disillusionment, eventually leaving America and settling in France.

Immediately I knew that I had to learn more about these two mayors, so after my class today, I went up to the New-York Historical Society and looked for information on them.

I came across one book, by Whitlock himself, entitled Forty Years of It, a remarkable autobiography which includes an account of Jones’s tenure as mayor. Although I only had time to skim the book, I felt an immediate kinship with Whitlock, who regretted accepting a fourth term because “there are so many novels I should be writing instead.”

I had forty pages on Jones xeroxed, and the Historical Society will mail them to me.