A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-January, 1987


Monday, January 12, 1987

9 PM. I just got home, and I’ve got a splitting headache. Either the flu still has me weak or I’m not used to working, but today really stressed me out.

While I coped flawlessly and everything went okay, the day took a lot out of me. Going from class at Florida Atlantic University to the school in Hialeah where I had to teach to Joe Cook’s course at Broward Community College – it was all very hectic, and I’m too headachy and exhausted to write about it now. I need sleep first.

Tuesday, January 13, 1987

11 AM. Although I didn’t sleep all that well, it was good enough so that my tension headache disappeared.

Yesterday, like today, was chilly: it was 48° this morning when I left the house for FAU’s Commercial Boulevard campus.

The Roman History professor is Dr. Boyd Breslow, a gnomish academic who wore a three-piece wool suit complete with gold watch fob and chain; he also carried an elegant, if Old World-ish, walking stick.

There are eight other students in the class, mostly older women and younger men. The course will have a lot of reading, and we’ve got to do a 7-page bibliographic paper on seven books about a particular aspect of Roman history.

To judge from yesterday’s class, Dr. Breslow is a pretty good lecturer, but I’m not sure I feel comfortable in the course. I haven’t ever taken a history course in college before.

With class dismissed an hour early at 1:30 PM, I drove west down Commercial Boulevard, had lunch at Corky’s, and then made my way to the Sawgrass Expressway and I-75 to northern Hialeah, where American Senior High School is.

It’s always strange to be teaching at a new school, and unlike at colleges, I often feel uncomfortable in high schools – probably because my own memories of high school are so bad.

After getting the assistant principal to open the Apple room for me, I found a dozen dusty Apple IIe’s with monochrome monitors and one disk drive each: not very good hardware. All the software was locked up, but I had brought some of my own disks to demonstrate.

My students, all female teacher’s aides, were easy to work with, and most had some familiarity with computers. After going over everything I thought was important for the first class, I let them play with the computers for a while.

At 6 PM, I let them go, for which they were grateful, and I hurried to BCC, where I caught the last hour of Joe Cook’s class. A film about values development was in progress when I walked in.

There are seventeen students in the class, including Mary Ellen Grass, Jack Pawlowski, Marina Burdick, Steve Davis and others I know.

Unfortunately, the BCC administrators have made Joe change the focus of his usual history and philosophy of higher ed course into one more about curriculum and instruction.

He’ll be team-teaching it with another professor, and this course, too, looks like a lot of reading. Next week there’ll be no class due to the King holiday.

I stopped at my parents’ to get a bite to eat and pick up what little mail there was before coming home to collapse.

I’m not certain that I’ll enjoy this semester. It looks as if I’ll have more work and less time to write than I did in the fall even if I don’t teach at the University of Miami.

I woke up in the middle of the night and wondered if I should just chuck writing short stories altogether.

For weeks I haven’t been motivated to write fiction, and I don’t see myself producing enough material to add to what Miriam wants for Zephyr Press. Besides, my ’60s stories would look weird in a collection with a few ’80s stories.

Maybe I should just tell Miriam to send me back the manuscript, and I’ll try to interest another publisher in it. By the time the book did get published, in 1988 or 1989, it could be read as a nostalgia collection.

Does any of this make any sense?

Tuesday, January 13, 1987

10 PM. This is the best I’ve felt since the year began.

Mainly my high spirits are due to Dr. Dan Kauffman’s A.I. course, which met at Boca Raton late this afternoon. I really liked what we did; it’s exciting to be at the cutting edge, and in education and elsewhere, A.I. is the cutting edge.

From my own knowledge, I could discuss things others in the class didn’t know about: the Turing Test, SETI, MCC, the Dartmouth Conference, heuristics, etc.

I think I’m going to like this class. A lot of the people who were in my LOGO or BASIC classes two years ago are in it, and it meets in the same room as that IBM LOGO class did.

Afterwards, I stopped at D’Lites, where I had lunch with Bert and Alice last week. Although it’s still chilly out, the world seemed more alive, and the teenage boys and girls looked cuter in their sweaters and jackets.

(For the past few days, I’ve been getting into girls: dreaming about them, looking at them. Not that I’ve stopped looking at guys. Anyway, after having the flu, it’s nice to feel frisky again.)

At Commercial Boulevard, I got off the turnpike and stopped to buy my Roman History books at that campus. I feel better about myself as a student now, and also, after yesterday’s session, I feel better about myself as a teacher.

Josh called tonight, seeking career advice. He hates what he does, but he doesn’t want to throw away his technical expertise.

Thinking of getting a certificate in film at NYU, he asked me how I thought his computer background could be worked in to get some kind of job in the film industry.

I didn’t really know, but we discussed different concepts.

I’m high on A.I., and I felt Dan Kauffman was a kindred spirit because he agreed with me that education must stop preparing students, in a paradigm of school-as-factory, for Industrial Age jobs. We need something completely different for the Information Age.

And I’ve always played with the idea of teachers becoming knowledge engineers, which is exactly what Kauffman said we should do. (And we should also demand the $85,000 salaries that Texas Instruments and DEC pay for knowledge engineers.)

Anyway, I feel I’m onto something with my studies, that I can learn and think and maybe make myself marketable for an exciting future – and that gives me hope. Although I love learning for its own sake, I would also like to put my knowledge to use someday.

My Sun-Tattler column also gives me a good feeling about myself. It shows me that all the newspaper and magazine writing I do, and all my amateur social criticism, can be put to good use.

This afternoon I went to the credit union, and then to Davie, where I picked up my AmEx bill (Teresa’s trip on Club Med cost $2200, but there were credits of $1700, so it ends up costing me about $500 so far: not bad) and a letter from Crad, who’s had bad times.

Gwen is hyper-critical, and Crad may have taken the last of her taunts (or what he claims are taunts).

Also, “The Old Bat,” his landlady, gave him notice that she wants him out by February 1. Apparently, though, under Ontario law, such notice is illegal, and Crad is protected from eviction.

At this point, he can’t afford a new apartment. It sounds like Toronto has rental prices and a vacancy rate comparable to New York’s, so Crad will have to stay put for now. Although his battle of wits with “The Old Bat” sounds comical, I’m sure Crad is very upset.

Crad’s good news: December was his best month in book sales and 1986 his best year, as he earned $8600 from street-selling, for which he should be very proud.

While I was in Davie, Mom told me that Dad is coming back from New York tonight.

I’m still coughing quite a bit from the flu, but I’m getting used to the cool weather. It’s a pleasure not to see everyone in shorts and tank tops all the time.

How long my feelings of optimism tonight will last is anyone’s guess, but it’s a relief not to be so depressed.

Wednesday, January 14, 1987

11 PM. Yesterday’s good feelings held today. “I Survived Caracas Traffic” was accepted by the Florida Review.

When I got to Davie at about noon today, I met Dad, who was getting into Jonathan’s car; his own car wouldn’t start again.

He said he would tell me about his trip to New York later and mentioned that the mail had come, “but there didn’t look like anything for you.”

When I saw the self-addressed stamped envelope from the Florida Review, I could tell by the thinness of its contents that they’d accepted my story.

The editor, Pat Rushin, said she’d read “My BASIC Problem” in Telescope last year and had gone to find I Brake for Delmore Schwartz, which she’d also enjoyed. She said she was happy to accept “Caracas Traffic.”

I sent back a publication agreement. The story will appear in their summer issue and they’ll pay me $90. Naturally, this news made it a great day.

After six months and a dozen rejections, this story finally got accepted.

And by the Florida Review, yet: it’s published at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, so the story will be copyrighted by the state university system. Pretty ironic, huh?

As much as I complain about Florida, the state has been lucky for me – and after all, my story does take place in Miami, so it’s fitting that it’s being published in the Florida Review.

This acceptance, especially sweet coming after all those rejections, gives me a boost of confidence in my fiction. Now I have something to look forward to this summer.

I respect the magazine, too; after all, the last issue had good stories by Tom and Debra.

Anyway, I knew the rest of the day would be great.

My class at American Senior High in Hialeah went wonderfully, thanks to the teacher’s aides who brought plenty of software to try out.

Teaching today was so exhilarating and gratifying that it felt more like recreation than work.

By 6 PM, I collected all the paperwork for the school board, and we broke up. It was so good to hear these women tell me that they’d learned something and had enjoyed the class.

Driving up University Drive from Dade County, I felt happier than I have in a month. I’m just sorry the workshop is over already.

What can I learn from feeling this good? One thing is that working (teaching, but probably also other things) gives me a sense of purpose, and when it goes well, a sense of accomplishment.

Another is that I was right to have faith in my story.

Also, I need little victories to keep me going. Just as I had the People article and then the Fort Lauderdale News article and then the Sun-Tattler columns to keep me going last year, I now have this Florida Review acceptance, which should also spur me to write more fiction.

At dinner with my parents and Jonathan, I listened to Dad talk about his week in Manhattan, which made me a little homesick even as he reminded how expensive everything is in New York.

Saturday, January 17, 1987

5 PM. I’ve just come back from Jaffe’s, where I photocopied today’s column, “Teachers Fill in the Very Blank.”

It was a good title and a damn good column. The writing is crisp and clean, with effective figures of speech and funny anecdotes. I was pleased with it the moment I read it over today.

A little while ago, Dad called me to tell me he’d come home and read the column in the copy of the paper I’d left in Davie and that he laughed all the way through it.

Like the best of humor, the column made a serious point, too: about the poor skills and abysmal cultural knowledge of most college students and about the overworked, underpaid college English instructors.

It feels good to finally criticize Broward Community College in print and relieve some of the frustrations I’ve had for so long.

But it wasn’t only my column that made today pleasant: the weather was warm and sunny, and I felt strong and healthy.

Last evening I again cracked the books, studying symbolic processing and LISP in Understanding Artificial Intelligence. One more long session and I should be finished with the text.

I woke up at 8 AM, had breakfast and then took off for Davie.

After I got the Sun-Tattler, I started my workout even though my chest and shoulders were a little sore from yesterday. I used very light resistance, and when the noon Body Electric show came on, I did aerobics for half an hour.

My back didn’t hurt at all, so perhaps I can start working on my stomach: my waist is too big and my abdominals are weak (which is probably what caused my lower back problems in the first place).

Generally, though, my body tone is good, and I’ve gained back all the strength I lost when I had the flu two weeks ago.

After lunch and a shower, I sat outside in the sun for 85 minutes or so. Instead of going to the pool, I sat in the lawn chair on the grass in front of the town house the way Delia does. Too bad she wasn’t around.

It had been a long time since I’d tried to get some color, and it felt good afterward.

Because of today’s column and my Florida Review acceptance and the Dade Teacher Education Center class, I felt I had accomplished enough this week so I didn’t have to feel guilty about lying in the sun.

Now I have six published columns in the paper under my belt, and I like to look at them.

Remember how I used to take such care with my early little magazine publications?

I’d line up my copies of New Writers, Panache, Transatlantic Review, California Quarterly and other periodicals, and I’d xerox my published stories and place them in a folder. Also, I used to xerox every acceptance letter I got and place them in a loose-leaf binder.

Well, this week I photocopied the Florida Review letter and publication agreement.

Ten years ago was probably the peak of my short story writing and publishing: I was writing all the time and I’d get an acceptance from a litmag every few weeks.

Although I did not live up to my early promise, I’m still writing and publishing, if not so much in the small presses and no longer in book form.

Monday, January 19, 1987

4 PM. I turned down Prof. Johnson’s offer of an 8 AM class at the University of Miami. The early hour, along with the so-so $1350 I’d be paid, pretty much decided it for me.

In fact, turning down an 8 AM class was easy; if I’d been offered a later class, I might have hesitated more. I’d have to leave the house before 6:30 AM three days a week to make it to Coral Gables in time.

“Maybe we can get together in the future,” Prof. Johnson said.

Did I strike another blow for adjunct rights when I lied and said that I could afford not to work and so I did not need the money? Or was I just being an asshole?

Last evening I finished the Understanding A.I. text and am now trying to get into the higher ed history text, which is incredibly boring.

I spoke to Ronna for about an hour, and although our conversation was brief, it was the highlight of my day.

We discussed our aging bodies and how we’ve both become hypochondriacs, and I talked about my columns and the story acceptance. Ronna’s one of the best people to bounce ideas off because she’s intelligent and sensitive.

She wants me to send her a copy of “Caracas Traffic,” which I reread last night. It still seems like a very good story, but it may be somehow incomplete.

I think, if anything, I downplayed the relationship with the character based on Sean, probably as a result of trying to avoid sentimentality.

I definitely want to run a companion piece – “run”? – I mean “write.” Freudian slip.

Today I also managed to get out three pages of a column, though it needs to sit and rest for a while as I try to figure out how to revise it.

Last evening I saw a documentary on bankruptcy which called Florida a “debtor’s paradise” in which bankrupt people can keep their homes and other assets.

I have few qualms about eventually taking advantage of Florida’s lenient bankruptcy laws. Bankruptcy is no longer the disgrace it was when Jimmy Stewart played in It’s a Wonderful Life.

The businessmen who cheat people by not paying employees, creditors and customers are the ones who hurt society, not me. I myself lost $79 when Northeastern Air Lines declared bankruptcy.

The banks and credit card companies expect losses: the TV report said they rarely try to investigate bankruptcy cases since they’re content to write off the bad loans as a cost of doing business.

Like most people, I intend to pay them off for as long as I can.

Tuesday, January 20, 1987

9 PM. An hour ago I got back from FAU, where Dan Kauffman lectured on knowledge representation in today’s class.

I need to get started using the KNOWOL system disk and book and figure out how to make a little expert system of my own. Dan said it would be very hard work.

The other project for the class is an annotated bibliography of ten A.I. articles to be put on a PFS:File disk. More work.

Yesterday I did get through 175 pages of the 415-page history of higher education text, which picked up interest as it moved along.

It’s interesting that trends in higher education swing with the pendulum of alternating conservative and reformist periods in American history.

Both Josh and Teresa called last night, and I was grateful to have the chance to talk with them.

Teresa mentioned that Anna, who’s still with her, will be moving to Teresa’s other apartment on West End and 104th soon. I guess that means there’ll be room for me on 85th Street, but if I stay there, it will only be till I can sublet my own place.

Teresa and her sister got turned down for refinancing the Berkshires house; although Teresa cleared up her TRW file, the Bank of Boston was not impressed by her dozen late mortgage payments over the past few years.

Now she and Connie are trying the tiny Lee Savings Bank.

Teresa was counting on that money, and as usual, she’s screwed up in the cash department. I told her not to worry about the $495 she owes me; she was glad the credits showed up on my AmEx bill.

Not that I did imagine that Teresa would ever worry: she’s irrepressible, and I think that’s why she’s my friend. I admire Teresa’s spirit. While she may screw up and lose jobs and boyfriends with regularity, somehow she always bounces back.

Teresa sort of reminds of Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair, who knew how to live on nothing a year.

I’m glad she’s coming for Presidents Day weekend though now that People Express, on which she had her tickets, has been absorbed by Continental, it’s going to cost her more than double the original price.

Even if I’m in Park Slope this summer, I figure I can still use Teresa’s place on weekends when she’ll be in Fire Island.

Josh called to ask me a question about fishing boats at Haulover Pier, as he wants to send his brother a birthday present that’s not cash, for money would end up in the hands of his shrewish sister-in-law.

The editing job Josh was considering at MIS Week would have required a tremendous salary cut, Josh learned, so he withdrew his application.

He’s definitely decided to enroll in the film certificate program at NYU’s School of Continuing Ed, with the ultimate goal of working in the movie industry.

Josh said NYU also has a certificate program in A.I., with courses in knowledge engineering, PROLOG and LISP.

I was flattered when Josh asked me for advice about investing in the stock market and on the feasibility of dating a 24-year-old woman. I said he should go for it.