A 26-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Early May, 1978


Thursday, May 4, 1978

It’s only 10 AM, but I think I need to write. Oh, don’t worry, nothing is seriously wrong. I’m just a bit depressed. It will pass without writing, but confiding in my diary is one of the best coping mechanisms I know, and I might as well take advantage of it.

The nausea I’ve been feeling is weird: I’m sure it’s psychosomatic. Anniversaries are coming up. Today is the eighth anniversary of the Kent State murders, but more importantly for me, it’s going to be ten years since I graduated Midwood High School and ten years since my breakdown.

I think my nausea is a way of commemorating that event and giving me just a hint of the hell I used to go through every day. Imagine being nauseated every day of your life: that’s how it was for me a decade ago.

I couldn’t face the world, couldn’t go to graduation (I never did pick up my high school diploma), and that long, friendless summer ended with my being worse than ever and unable to start college.

I don’t mean to romanticize my past. I find that now I can hardly remember it at all. Nineteen sixty-eight: that horrible spring when Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy were killed, me taking driver’s ed, masturbating only every other day to ensure that my mind wouldn’t rot, all 107 pounds of me.

Five years after that, five years ago, I graduated from Brooklyn College: I went to commencement, I had friends, I was (surprisingly) a Big Man on Campus, confident, in love with Ronna. That spring the Watergate hearings began, and I remember watching the opening session with Scott at the Student Center.

Yesterday in the Post and Sunday in the Times, there were articles about the ugly mood on the Brooklyn College campus today. Black and Puerto Rican radicals are fighting “against Zionism,” causing Jewish students – and President Kneller – to feel that they’re in physical danger.

That sickens me, and BC depresses me now, and I’m so glad I’m not teaching there, regardless of the better salaries they pay adjuncts.

And me now, here in the spring of 1978? I’ve been teaching at LIU for three years. I’ve published a lot. I still live in my parents’ house, and I’m still not financially independent.

And I write: It’s an endless cycle of frustration, self-doubt, near-torture, and finally creation, when the words flow like Log Cabin syrup, as they did last Friday.

I’ve got some ideas for a new story – “The First Annual James V. Forrestal Memorial Lecture,” I think I’m going to call it – but it’s not ready to come out yet. It will, or something like it will. Eventually it happens.

Last night I dreamed that I could fly and that was living, variously, in a loft and a shopping mall; that I saw a building destroyed in World War II Italy and thought, “This is hell on earth”; that I was playing a game I didn’t understand so I finally gave up. That’s enough for now.


2 PM. After the first six pages, “The First Annual James V. Forrestal Memorial Lecture” began to unravel, so I went with it and ended up with six pages more of a typical failed Grayson story.

It may be boring and it may be funny, but is this the type of thing I should be doing at my age? Still, it’s out, and that’s the enough of a relief for now.

In today’s mail, I got a letter from Sue Stephens, editor of Tailings, a very small but niftily-done magazine at Michigan Tech. She’s taking “Conjectures” and “The Fiction Writer and His Friends” (she returned “Introductions,” thank God).

That puts me over the 100-mark in stories. Da-da! No time to feel proud because I’ve got to start working on getting the next 100 pieces published (and written – don’t forget that).

I also got a form rejection from Iowa Review. The Long Island Poetry Collective Newsletter contained a letter from me, sort of a market update designed to help other writers; the editors seemed grateful.

Today I feel rather jumpy. I’m supposed to meet Teresa in Soho at 5 PM and I’m a little apprehensive about getting an anxiety attack.

Friday, May 5, 1978

9 PM. This afternoon I went to the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines offices and used their library, finding a lot of new magazines that I wouldn’t otherwise have seen.

Among them was Seems #9, minus my “Innovations” story. Did Klinkowitz have second thoughts, being afraid to arouse Baumbach’s ire? I could understand that, certainly, but he should have written me. I got off a note to him so he can tell me what’s what.

I did come across the new Carleton Miscellany with my story “Rain on the Roof” (the renamed “Princess,” formerly “The Peacock Room”): six nicely laid-out pages, with my name on the cover. I guess it should be coming in the mail any day now.

I was at CCLM at a fortuitous time: just when they were mailing out announcements of grant winners; I took a copy. Tailings, which accepted those stories yesterday, got $500, as did Porch (supposed to print two of my stories). Zone and George’s X, A Journal of the Arts got $1500 each, a nice sum.

Anyway, I used the list to send out about fifteen new submissions tonight, cleaning out my file cabinet.

Today brought three rejections and one acceptance: “Slowly, Slowly in the Wind” for the Boston newspaper Dark Horse’s May humor issue (if they don’t run out of room).

While I don’t want my work to appear in shoddy publications, the important thing is that it gets into print and that somebody sees it. I’m proud of all the stories recently accepted.

Of course I’m gambling that I’m just beginning a career. If this is all there is and I don’t write anymore, I’ll have given all my best work away for nothing.

Baumbach used to talk about being very careful where you’re published, and I suppose I haven’t done that. However, at least fifteen or so of my stories have appeared in fairly prestigious little magazines – but enough about that.

God, it’s chilly and rainy today: wintry, with us back into down jackets and parkas. This morning I had two easy-going classes; next week, the term papers are due, and next Friday is the final.

Ken Bernard told me he sold four more short pieces to Iowa Review; he’s not interested in novels at all and resents people always urging him to write them.

Yesterday I almost got killed when some debris fell from the old LIRR tracks onto Kings Highway. I was trying to get out of a truck-blocked right lane, and even as these heavy metal things were falling, no cars would let me through.

“Bastards,” I thought, and you can bet I honked and cut off cars all the way to Soho. Teresa was late, as usual, but her neighbor Wanda’s music was very good, as were the exhibits at the O.K. Harris Gallery.

I really got into some of the more avant-garde stuff there; I should go to galleries in Soho more often. Wanda’s continuous performance was of piece written by her department chairman at Rutgers; at moments, it was stunningly powerful.

Teresa was supposed to pick up her friend downtown at Sym’s (the Lower Manhattan version of the Male Shop), but we couldn’t find her although we did spot Stacy looking very pretty as she walked down the street.

At my suggestion, we had dinner at 125 Prince Street, where I’ve always felt at home and where we enjoyed a pleasant, leisurely meal, discussing how good it felt to be in New York City despite all the shit we have to put up with.

Her friends really liked me, Teresa said, and I told her I thought James and Pam were wonderful; it doesn’t matter a bit that they didn’t go to college. I really am not a snob – honestly!

After Teresa and I kissed goodbye and I promised to call her soon, I went to visit Laurie at the bookstore. She had a bad cold and was down about the situation at Brooklyn College. The Puerto Ricans took over Whitehead and everyone on campus seems uneasy.

Laurie told her students about Kent State, which meant nothing to them: “We were in fourth grade then!” they protested – or I guess they didn’t protest. What a gulf there is between the classes of ’71 and ’81!

Laurie saw Harvey the other day, and she said he was acting strangely. He still doesn’t have a job, and neither Laurie nor I understand how he survives financially.

Dorothy Friedman, another weirdo, wants Laurie to be editor of a new women’s magazine, and Peter said that Laurie might be able to teach in the MFA program: Gelernt likes her, and that’s what counts.

Sunday, May 7, 1978

9 PM. Yesterday I bought a black pen and I’m tempted to use it in writing this. Maybe rather than always using blue ink, I should write in black ink when I’m depressed, in green ink when I’m in a manic mood, in bright red to describe a momentous event, and save blue for those ordinary blah days when I feel lousy in almost every way.

Now I have the sore throat, postnasal drip and the weakness I had before my last cold seven weeks ago. My face has been broken out like a road map for days. I feel – not unhappier than anyone else – but perhaps more unhappy about being unhappy.

I should – dare I use that word? – be feeling happy, right? This is the last week of the term, the warm weather can’t hide from us much longer, and I’ve had 102 stories accepted. That’s more than a book, God damn it. And an hour ago I finished what is probably a fairly decent piece. Yet – the portentous yet, da-da-dum – I yam mizzuble.

Last night I was very tired when I left Alice’s and was walking across Waverly Place and the south side of Washington Square Park to my car on Greene Street. I felt so relaxed and so tired I was afraid I would just disintegrate into the surroundings.

It wasn’t really an old-type dissociation/anxiety attack; I felt very calm, and in fact I tried to will the more familiar feelings of anxiety to come. Of course now I realize that anxiety attacks were and are a way of evading feelings: wishes, mostly.

Perhaps I didn’t want to go back to Brooklyn. I found myself feeling slightly resentful of Alice’s attitude all evening; like all converts, she’s become slightly fanatic, and all she talked about was how wonderful living in Manhattan is and how life has now really begun.

(Significantly, though, she admitted she’s stopped her regular journal entries.)

But I suppose I resented more the fact that Alice did have her own apartment – that it was in the Village or Manhattan didn’t matter so much – and that I had to go back to my room in my parents’ house.

Now I see it: That’s why I forgot all about being tired when I got home and spent hours applying for admission and for a fellowship at SUNY-Albany’s doctoral program in writing for next spring. (The fall deadline for financial aid has already passed.)

Years ago, grad school application forms intimidated me, but now I have enough confidence to print out a blunt “statement of purpose” in four handwritten sentences.

And that’s why I became furious at Evie Wagner and Prof. Templeton in my dreams last night. And why I keep noticing what’s-his-name, Jesse, a guy on the block who’s three years older than me and still lives at home.

I’m too defensive about it; I want out. What if my family underwrites my collection of short stories, as Dad has suggested? If I don’t pay back their loan, will I feel obligated to them? Every time Mom gets annoyed with me, will she throw the money in my face?

I feel like getting sick, so it’s no wonder I’m sick. I’d much rather stay awake all night with a nagging postnasal drip than face the really nagging questions of my life.

Again, I’ve failed to take any risks, and again, I’ve ended up stuck. (Stuck: an old Dr. Lipton word. Last night I dreamed that Dr. Lipton told me his troubles.)

I’m torn between/among so many things: Commercial success vs. artistic integrity. Security vs. change. Ronna vs. homosexual encounters. Dependence vs. – but isn’t this an Eriksonian “stage of man”?

Oh, Christ, Grayson, straighten yourself out! Stop whining! No crap about suicide, either: your sensitive artiste pose won’t work with me because I’m you. And addressing yourself/myself like this is a sign of schizophrenia.

(Yeah, that guy’s right.)

It’s just common sense, right? But sometimes I do feel despair. I wonder what non-creative types do when they feel this way; it must be awful for them. Hey, this is probably just a low period in my biorhythm sic cycle.

See, I almost spelled “cycle” wrong. Sickle?

Monday, May 8, 1978

7 PM. In bed last night, I thought of Peter Pan. I’d like to read the book now because I’ve been identifying with him. It seems that I don’t want to grow up, either.

Much of what I’ve written lately – especially in this diary – has been childish or adolescent. Today on TV that crazy Edie Beale, when asked why she devoted her life to her demanding mother Edith Bouvier Beale, remarked, “Responsibility is the hallmark of aristocracy.”

And an aristocrat I am not.

During my office hour today at LIU, Andrew Grey came to see me. He’s bright, handsome, fidgety; he never comes to class and he hands in his (excellent) papers weeks late.

“There’s a lot of friction at home between my parents and me,” he explained. “I just can’t sleep and consequently I can’t get up in time for your class. . . ”

Andrew was in Queens College last year, transferred to the LIU pharmacy school this year, and now he wants to go back to Queens. He says he’s more interested in the humanities and social sciences “and if I fuck up at Queens, it’ll only cost my parents $500.”

“Don’t fuck up,” I told him.

He nodded and said, “Yeah.”

Okay, so Professor Grayson isn’t a fuck-up, but am I much beyond Andrew Grey? Trans-adulthood: that’s the stage I’m in; I remember discussing it with Mrs. Ehrlich. But I think I know what I want now: to go to school in Albany.

I’m working on it pretty fast: today I wrote the registrar at both Brooklyn College and the College of Staten Island to send out transcripts, and I sent out letters of recommendation forms for Peter Spielberg and Susan Schaeffer to fill out.

I look at the course offerings in the SUNY-Albany bulletin and I get excited. It would (will?) be nice to be a student again as well as a teacher. A doctorate, even a D.A., will probably be useful. And of course it will get me out of the house, out of New York City, out on my own.

I only wish I had heard about the program sooner, so I could have applied for a fellowship for this fall.

This morning was too laid-back for me to be a very good teacher, what with everyone’s mind on the end of the term already.

The biggest excitement at LIU today was when a loud-siren police motorcade raced down Flatbush Avenue, taking David Berkowitz from the hospital to the courthouse, which was a circus.

He confessed to all six Son of Sam murders, saving the state the expense of a trial – but the reporters are probably upset that they’ve lost a chance to milk this story any further.

For May, it’s been so grey and chilly out; I’m beginning to think the warm weather will never come.

On Saturday night at Alice’s, she made a great dinner: lemon chicken, rice and chocolate mousse. We chatted about my book (she thinks my parents subsidizing publication is a good idea) and Manhattan (she admitted she’s become a snob about living there by now) and other things.

Also, we played Scrabble. Alice is very competitive and I’m not, and usually she whips me by 200 points. But in the last game I decided to try to win rather than just going with the flow of the game – and I did win, really upsetting her.

I think something has gone out of our friendship, and it was inevitable. We’re on different paths. Alice is firmly entrenched in the glittery world of the slicks; I’m a poor schlump of a literary/academic type. I hate everything Alice’s world represents: a shallow approach to life, hysterical commercialism, gossip, celebrities of the moment, trendy things.

When Alice and June criticize Richard for “selling out” by doing PR for Peter Frampton, Resorts International (the Atlantic City gambling people) and other trashy commercial clients, I don’t see that the two of them are doing any better.

Sure, I admit I am jealous of their huge salaries: June gets paid $250 just for an idea she gives the National Enquirer (but at least she’s too scrupulous to write for it). Anyway, I’m probably just being bitter.

Peter came in at 11 PM on Saturday and I left shortly afterwards. (Peter’s show is having a lot of trouble and may be postponed indefinitely.)

Yesterday I visited Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel, and that gave me the idea for the story I wrote last evening.

Wednesday, May 10, 1978

9 PM. I’m tired. It’s been a long day, but one of those rare days when everything seems worthwhile.

This morning was perfect, from the way the shadows fell to the easy drive to work; I felt relaxed driving up Linden Boulevard, passing Grandma Ethel’s old house and Bubbe Ita’s old house in East Flatbush.

We had fun at our 8:30-9:00 AM kaffeeklatsch at LIU; we’ve got quite a little group by now. Ken Bernard gave me the latest issue of Confrontation, containing pieces by himself and work by Joyce Carol Oates, Henry H. Roth, Stephen Dixon, Siv Cedering Fox and a lot of other familiar names.

My classes today were short and rather unruly, owning to the warm weather and the end of the term. I’ll especially miss the pharmacy students; they were a nice group, and I had fun with them.

On Friday I’m giving the final theme, and on Monday I’ll just have office hours. Going home early, I stopped off to xerox “Rain on the Roof,” taking the copy of Carleton Miscellany from the LIU library. I’m sure I’ll be getting my copy soon, but I couldn’t wait; I’ll bring back the magazine on Friday.

While I don’t think “Rain on the Roof” is an especially good story, the magazine is very attractive and prestigious, and it’s the first time my name has ever been on the front cover of anything except Statements 2.

But the best news came in the mail from George Myers. He wants to use the $1500 CCLM grant to fund a special issue of X, A Journal of the Arts devoted entirely to a collection of my work. Nominally it would be X #5, but actually it would be a 40-page chapbook of my stories.

I’ll have to pay $300 for the initial printing costs, but that will be refunded through CCLM via George. Isn’t that wonderful? And so nice of George! I wrote him back accepting right away.

There are a lot details to arrange. I think George might prefer me to do the design, layout, typesetting and cover to save him time. But I don’t know if I could do as good a job as he would.

“I always thought you should have a collection of your stuff in print if you wanted it, too,” George writes. “This would be a freebee chance. Here comes the Pulitzer.”

(A mysterious aside in his letter: “Had lunch a couple of times with Ronna . . . She thinks you should marry her.” Does she really? She seems to say things in Harrisburg she doesn’t say here.)

Anyway, this is pretty ironic. I guess today proved yesterday’s point: that I can get things published without paying for them. I told Alice and Teresa about the chapbook and both said they were proud of me – as were my parents and grandparents.

It’s not going to be a regular large-press book or even a regular small-press book – but it will be something I can hold that will be completely mine. I’m happy.

This afternoon I found a new little mag, the Helen Review, which Dorothy Friedman publishes from her house a few blocks from here. (This is what Dorothy called Laurie about.)

It featured poems by Ellen Wisoff, Henry Rasof, Tom Masiello and David Lehman, a portrait of John Ashbery, and an interview with Susan Fromberg Schaefer. Sounds like a heavy Brooklyn (College) influence, eh?

But it’s a nicely-done poetry magazine, and I wrote Dorothy to tell her so. (That’s the nice part of the small press scene: the mutual encouragement.)

I marked four term papers this evening, ate dinner in Rockaway at the Ram’s Horn, and afterwards visited my grandparents.

Teresa got us tickets for the new Broadway hit, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas for next Friday night. She said she’s dying to go to Europe this summer but doesn’t want to go alone. Teresa also said that her friends have told her that Bremen is a cold, grey hole in the wall, so she doesn’t want to go to Germany to visit Avis.

For a change, I feel very pleased with myself. I have a feeling that things are beginning to roll for me.