A 26-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Mid-April, 1978


Wednesday, April 12, 1978

10 PM. It’s been a long day. Ronna just called me on the eve of her birthday: she got my letter and my card today and wanted to thank me.

I missed her a lot today, so it was great to hear her voice. I love her and she loves me and I was inane enough to make a kissing noise over the phone.

As soon as I told her about Rose, I was immediately sorry. But I couldn’t keep it from her. Perhaps it wasn’t a good time to break the news to her, but I’m not sure there’s ever a good time to tell someone her friend is dead.

I wish I could have held her and hugged her tightly and lay next to her tonight. Ronna. (That’s not a sentence but adolescent moaning.) God.

She said Susan was coming to Middletown tomorrow, and I figure if anyone can help her cope with the news about Rose, it’s Susan, who is talky but has a sensitive nature.

But was I cruel to tell her? I have this terrible fear of hurting Ronna. It scares me, her feelings for me. I do love her, but this afternoon, I was in Washington Square Park, reliving 1969, and looking at boys.

I can’t ask Ronna to cope with that cliché of a problem. Everything’s so confused all of a sudden. Spring came today with 75° temperatures. Sensuality is in the air.

I can’t write. I’m bored. This afternoon, for no reason, I drove out to the Nassau County line and back, which accomplished nothing except I spotted the first green buds on trees – and I wasted gas.

No word from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center today, and I don’t think it will come tomorrow. I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m not even sure that fellowship really what I want or what I need.

Seven months with nothing to do but write may sound great, but won’t I go out of my mind with all that unstructured time? Where will I get stimulation from?

If for the last twelve hours I’ve been completely free to write and I haven’t done so, what makes me think I’ll write in Provincetown? And Ronna: how would my going to Provincetown affect our relationship?

Now I can see why I’ve avoided love all these years: it causes such problems.

I passed the Dime Savings Bank clock downtown at 8:20 AM this morning and at 8:20 PM tonight. As I ride up and down Flatbush Avenue, its urban decay moving southward week by week, all I see are people running – from morning to night.

My parents run around the track at Marine Park every morning. Ronna runs. People of all shapes, colors and sizes are j0gging up and down and across Flatbush Avenue. Where are they running to, what are they running from? Why are they running?

“No pain, no gain,” they say, and so they make themselves sick and hurting. “No Pain, No Gain”: that’s got to be the title of my next short story, right?

My classes today – on Flannery O’Connor’s “Judgement Day” – were dreadful: I babbled on, boring myself, feeling like a fool. At home, I felt restless watching The Young and the Restless and the mail was late and when it came there was only junk (“Join NOW!” “Subscribe to Cue!” “Sorry about this rejection, kid – read more Brautigan!”).

In Washington Square Park at 4:30 PM, it felt like summer 1969: I’m glad I went there. Bearded hippies trying to be comedians are still around, and there are still frisbees and scraggly-haired skateboarders, and cute boys who look at me and then look away, and girls in gym shorts with nice thighs, and little kids, and blacks selling loose joints, and cops who smell the grass and look the other way.

Dining at The Cookery, I was reminded of the past: being there nine years ago with Brad and Daniel and Seth. I felt pampered and I felt mature at the same time. (Does this sound silly?)

And, as I always do at those kinds of times, I walked across West 8th Street and went into the Art Theater just in time for the 6:30 PM showing of Luis Buñuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire.

I’m glad I saved seeing the film for spring: Buñuel is a genius, and if I could express anything with his grace and wit and panache, I’d gladly give up my testicles.

Thursday, April 13, 1978

9 PM. I just saw the Fiction jury of the National Book Awards explain their choice of a winner, the unknown and virtually unreviewed Mary Lee Settle’s Blood Tie over the work of Cheever, Roth, Percy and Coover. They said it was simply the best work of fiction. Naturally, the publishing industry is aghast, but it delights me and gives me hope.

Today was a lazy kind of day. It must have hit about 80°, and these quick changes in temperature seem so unnatural and unhealthy. I have a sore throat because, I think, I haven’t been dressing properly.

I didn’t get out of the house until late afternoon; most of the day I felt submerged. No word yet from Provincetown, although the Cape Cod magazine Sandscript accepted my very slight piece, “Chiaroscuro,” for their next issue. They’re a nice little magazine, well-made and unpretentious.

And Ian Young, a Canadian writer, sent me a letter saying he was keeping all three stories I sent him for his gay anthology.

“They’re three of the few things I’ve received that bear some evidence of having been written in 70s rather than the 20s,” he wrote. “I hope to use at least one of them.”

According to Ian, St. Martin’s Press is interested in the anthology, as are a number of other publishers, so maybe I’ll make it into a big press.

What I’d really like now is to hear from Provincetown one way or the other; it’s been such a long, unnerving wait that it almost doesn’t matter anymore what their decision is as long as it comes already.

This morning I wrote a seven-page story, “The Continuing Adventures of Ace Plotnick.” But it’s very slight: even I have to admit that. It’s difficult for me to keep from repeating myself; I’ve written so much that I always seem to be going over the same ground, both in content and in form.

I got the mags Aspect and Northeast Rising Sun today, and I enjoy dipping into news of the small press world. Secretly, though, I long to be published by Knopf or Harper & Row or Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Which is probably why Grandpa Herb irked me this afternoon when he told me to try to write “a novel that will sell.” I hate to get short with my grandfather, but I can’t stand people telling me what to write.

To paraphrase Daisy Miller, I write as I please, and in that I have a freedom none of the writers at Alice’s party have. I’m willing to pay the price – for now, anyway.

Certainly I can’t be a total no-talent bum. Ninety stories accepted by 70 little magazines have to mean something; pure persistence couldn’t be responsible for all of that.

After I had a burger at Kings Plaza, I walked around, looking at nice clothes I can’t afford. I feel fat even though I’m probably in better shape than I have been in five years.

Summer stirs the blood, and as I said, I worry about my relationship with Ronna; probably I’m worrying for no reason, but I realize now that I’m afraid of love. (You’ve known that for a decade, haven’t you?)

I’m afraid of getting hurt and I’m also afraid of hurting someone else. That this fear is tremendous can be seen in the way I’ve avoided any relationship that might lead somewhere.

This evening, at Waldenbooks, I looked at Hilary’s photo in her father’s autobiography. A year ago I was beginning to be interested in her, and then I cut it off, for no good reason, simply because I was afraid of getting involved.

Even Ronna hurt me once (and I hurt her) and maybe that’s one reason – apart from the obvious ones – that we’ve become close again: We know we can survive each other because we have done so already.

Buñuel, in Obscure Object, has terrifying scene after scene in which the actress playing Fernando Rey’s love alternately runs passionate, coy and treacherous. (It was a brilliant stroke to alternate two actresses in the same role.) Every man fears that the woman will say, “Your touch disgusts me and always has.” Ronna once said something like that to me.

Let’s face it: it’s sex, combined with love, that makes us the most vulnerable. No wonder I’ve tried to separate the two, and no wonder fleeting, care-less homosexual encounters can appear so desirable.

Monday, April 17, 1978

7 PM. That Holocaust show makes difficult viewing. This week is a kind of a national reexamination of the Holocaust. One can’t help wondering if it could happen again, in America or elsewhere.

I don’t recall a mood of such anti-Semitism as we have now. Much of it, of course, masquerades as anti-Zionism, but for the first time in my life I’m beginning to be aware of anti-Semitism.

I’ve stopped, for example, sending my “Rosh Hashona” story out to English Department chairmen when I apply for jobs and am asked for writing samples. I now think much of the anti-New York feeling in the country stems from anti-Semitism.

I wonder how many little magazine editors turn down my stories because of Jewish characters or themes. But one can become paranoid over this, of course. All my life I’ve lived in a very Jewish world: even friends like Vito and Teresa are “sort of” Jewish, if you know what I mean.

It’s probably not useful to contemplate what an American holocaust would be like: would I have to hide out at the Judsons’, or what? Better not to think about it (though maybe it would make a good story).

Today there was a boycott of classes at school and a futile protest against the tuition hike. The only real protest LIU students can make is to go elsewhere for their education.

In my 9 AM class, I started a lesson on commas but it ended abruptly when a fire alarm sounded around 9:30 AM. There were six people in my next class, and the false alarm rang again, so I reluctantly canceled it.

Pearl told me most of the adjuncts were being observed again – but I am not. I wonder why. Do they have that much confidence in me? I wouldn’t mind being observed, but I’m not going to say a word, of course.

Four weeks from today the term is over; I really do love LIU by now. I feel so at home there, as though I’m among friends.

Ken Bernard showed me his letter from the NEA; he’s going to get $7,500. If I got one of those grants, I could live for a full year off it – and I could afford to move out and work only part-time or not at all. Well, it will come.

The Junction thing is just another example of my coming close; I know that story isn’t even my best work. But it’s a traditional, non-experimental story, and I need to have those published, too.

I’m awaiting some big stories that should be out soon: the Peacock Room story in Carleton Miscellany; “I, Eliza Custis” (if it ever comes out) in Texas Quarterly; “Innovations,” the story that Baumbach will go crazy over, in Seems; “The Bridge Beyond the Pleasure Principle” in Hudson River Anthology; and the story in Sou’wester.

Today there were no rejections or acceptances in the mail, but the AWP Job Placement List arrived, and I spent much of the afternoon applying for positions at the University of Cincinnati; at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa; at Humboldt State in California; at University of Missouri-Kansas City; and at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

I don’t hold out much hope, but I want to try every opportunity. Actually, I’m scared to death at the possibility of living in one of those places by myself. But I’ll do it if I get in anywhere.

I’ve also applied for a scholarship at the Santa Cruz Writers’ Conference this summer. If I got it, I’d have to fly out to California in late June.

I wonder about Ronna a lot. I hope she’ll be able to understand my situation, that I’m very attracted to men – especially when I see such nice men like those at the theater yesterday or at that party at Les Mouches.

I want to have an affair, or maybe just an experience, with a male. I can’t allow my affection for Ronna to close me off from the possibility of a gay relationship.

Look, I’m going to be 27 and by this point I care very little about what others think, and I’m years beyond adolescent guilt. I’m a bit frightened, but I’d like to get the whole thing over with and see how I like it. I’m tired of pretending not to notice cute men and boys.

I know I’m still a decent human being and that I’m not some freak, whatever Anita Bryant says. She also says all Jews should wind up in Hell. But Hell is really cutting yourself off from Heaven (whatever that means).

Friday, April 21, 1978

8 PM. Tonight is the first Seder night of Passover, and Mom has been cooking like crazy all week. The turkey’s in the oven now, and Mom has set up the kitchen table with the help of Jonny and myself.

We’ve having twelve people for dinner: the five of us, Deanna, Grandpa Herb and Grandma Ethel, and Marty and Arlyne and their kids. I’d rather Marty and Arlyne not be here; I had a better time last year when they couldn’t make it.

Their smug materialism annoys me, but I shall try to behave. If Arlyne tells me one more time to “write something commercial,” I shall excuse myself politely and run upstairs to the bathroom and flush the toilet to cover my screams.

The only good thing is that at least we’re not having thirteen people at the seder. That didn’t work out so well for Jesus.

I find it so obnoxious when people – even people I love, like Grandpa Herb – tell me what to write. And it’s not a matter of principle either: if I could write commercial stuff, I would, and if by some fluke, any of my work turns out to be commercially successful, I’d be overjoyed.

No, I’m not like Ken Bernard, who puts down everything that sells – for example, Woody Allen, who I think is a genius (though a sad one, who doesn’t seem able to enjoy life). But I digress, as usual.

The only thing I have is my individuality; without that, then I’m a third-rate hack. I still may be third-rate right now, but at least I’m usually first-rate Richard Grayson.

Oh God, I sound as pompous as the rejection note I got today: “You need to write on heavier subject matter.” (Obese people? Elephants?) Why is it that a little magazine’s quality and importance always seem inversely proportional to its editor’s inflated ego?

Magazines like Shenandoah, Epoch and Transatlantic Review are businesslike and professional, while tiny mimeographed, poor-quality magazines think they’re God’s gift to the world of literature.

I have always distrusted people who take themselves seriously. (In deference to that belief, I am now making funny faces as I continue writing.) Let’s get back to Passover, okay?

Ronna should be coming in this afternoon. I called her Monday night and she said she has to leave Brooklyn on Sunday. So I won’t get a chance to see much of her; she’s got family seders both nights.

On Sunday, Alice spoke about wanting her freedom to see others and yet resenting Peter’s outside friends and lovers. I almost feel the same way about Ronna. Piggish of me, I know, but then we’re all pigs when it comes to that. And yes, down deep I’m glad that Ronna has lots to keep her busy and that I don’t have to fulfill all or most of her needs.

Last night after finishing John McPhee’s The Pine Barrens – a wonderful book: I’d like to visit there someday – I lay on my bed for hours in complete darkness. It was good to think like that.

There are moments when I so miss psychotherapy, but then I remember there were times five years ago when I thought I could never function without it. Even a month ago I seriously contemplating returning to therapy; I will do it if I ever feel it’s necessary.

Still no word about any jobs and the time is getting late. At least if I’m able to teach this summer, I can get some extra money, maybe enough to move out.

In class today I had two fairly good discussions on a Richard Wright story. The pharmacy students are still very much high-school types; they can be so immature compared to the older black and Puerto Rican students who’ve been kicked around by life a little.

I feel so at home at LIU now. Margaret is one of my dear friends; I’m glad she’s going to Rose Aronson’s for dinner tonight, as she needs to get out more.

Mom said she heard on the news that someone painted a wall sign in Bremen that said GET OUT, JEWS! After all this discussion of the Holocaust, I’ve changed my attitudes a little.

I always thought it was bullshit when older people and Orthodox kids told me that “when they come for you, nothing matters but that you’re a Jew.” Now, while I still feel myself very much an American, I realize some of the
victims in Dachau and Auschwitz thought they were 100% German. It makes me wonder how Avis can live in Bremen.

(Through the bedroom wall, I can hear Jonny playing Carly Simon’s “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be” now. That song has always touched me.)