A Writer’s Diary Entries From Mid-September, 1986


Wednesday, September 10, 1986

8 PM. Last night I had one of my famous bouts with insomnia. I didn’t go to sleep until 6 AM or so; I even read the Herald when it came at 5:30 AM.

I have no idea why I get these patches of bad sleep, but my sleep patterns tend to run in cycles, and this weekend I came off about a week of terrific sleep.

It’s so white-bright and so warm in here once the sun rises, it’s hard to sleep late, too. Probably I got about three and a half hours.

The oddest thing is that I continued to be productive today. From 2 PM till 5 PM, I was in the computer lab, and I did the final draft of the humor piece I’ll send the Sun-Tattler.

I also wrote about four or five pages of a story which I’ll probably mostly discard (still, it’s good just to be writing and it teaches me discipline), and I worked on a career summary that I’m going to submit with my application for a Guggenheim, which arrived today.

In addition, I made out a form letter to send to writing conference directors and a new “literary” résumé which eliminates my computer skills and downplays my teaching of remedial writing.

I’ve still got tons to do, but the main thing is that I continue to work hard at my writing.

Last night I began Amy Hempel’s Reasons to Live. A student of Gordon Lish’s, praised by David Leavitt in the New York Times Book Review, Hempel has some great writing in the book, but it’s all very unsubstantial.

Her stories are as short as two or three pages, and some of them seem like creative writing exercises. She’s a very good craftswoman, though.

Today, wearing a black t-shirt and red shorts on Broward Community College’s South campus, where I went to use the library in late morning, I felt I could fit in with the students.

I really wish I had some friends here or that I could meet a nice guy and get a good relationship going, but I’m still ten times better off than Crad. Here’s the entire letter I got from him today (it was dated Thursday):

Dear Richie, My relationship seems to have fallen to pieces, and I’m so depressed I don’t care what happens to me. I’m not answering the phone, and I don’t know about my mail. You may not hear from me, indefinitely. I can only conclude that there must be something seriously wrong with me as a human being. 

Well, of course there is, but it’s probably not what Crad thinks, Remember a couple of years ago how depressed he got when that relationship with a woman whom he barely knew revealed itself to be one-sided?

Crad takes these things hard. Now I didn’t get over Sean all that easily, but I never fell to pieces, and I never inflicted a letter like Crad’s on anyone.

Yes, of course he’s terribly depressed, but I can’t help feeling that Crad sets himself up for these romantic disappointments.

Now Rick Peabody – whom I haven’t heard from since July – is different. I can understand how Rick is suffering at the end of a live-in, decade-long relationship with Gretchen, but Crad’s known Gwen only a few months.

Am I being uncaring?

I flash back to that party at Alan Cooper’s in late 1971, after I’d broken up with Shelli and was wallowing in despair, where Consuelo said to me: “I think people should try to bounce back from these things.”

At the time her remark annoyed me. I guess it’s easy for me to agree with it now.

Remember what a mess I was fifteen years ago? But I also was 20 years old, and Shelli had been my first girlfriend.

I don’t even know whether to write Crad back.

Anyway, despite my tiredness, I feel good. I still feel very much like I’m at a writing colony here. It’s odd to be in Florida in the fall and not to be teaching.

So far, I’m glad I took the risk of coming here. Maybe I won’t feel that way in two weeks or a month, but the closer we get to November – and the good weather here and the start of cold weather up North – I’ll probably appreciate Florida more.

Thursday, September 11, 1986

10 PM. The stock market fell a record 68 Dow points today. Of course, I’m rooting for a total crash. I think the market psychology has changed: people see the economy is in really bad shape for the long run, and even an upturn ahead might mean new inflation. Good.

Last night I slept twelve solid hours – I must have badly needed the rest – and I felt very good when I awoke after 10 AM. For an hour I worked out my lower body; then, after a shower, I went out for the day.

First I drove over to the West Regional Library, and then to the BCC computer lab, and finally I went back to the library before getting home at 5:30 PM.

Tackling the Guggenheim application is my first goal, since the deadline is October 1. I’ve completed and printed out two copies of a career summary and six copies of a statement of plans. Now all I need is to type out a bibliography; that will be time-consuming, but it’s easy to do.

Also today, I made a standard query letter to book editors and then personalized it by printing out 24 letters, each with the name and address of an editor that I got out of Literary Market Place in the library.

From the same reference book, I got out information on writers’ conferences, xeroxing six pages. To the conferences, I think I’ll send out a form letter.

I’ll probably use up lots of my Contemporary Literary Criticism reprints, so I’ll need more of those.

This evening I drove down to Florida International University’s Bay Vista Campus for a reading by David Kranes, fiction writer and professor of English at the University of Utah.

All the FIU creative writing teachers were there: Les Standiford, Greg Pape, and Jim Hall, who seems to have gotten a lot older than when I saw him last.

Kranes read portions of his two novels, both of them published by larger small presses, and a recent story, which was intelligent and well-crafted. At first, I thought I’d find his work excruciatingly boring, but he was actually pretty good.

I spoke to Jim afterwards, and I introduced myself to Kranes, Standiford and Pape.

It’s painful for me to push myself and tell people that I’ve published books. It’s demeaning; I never did it at Bread Loaf, and it’s almost as hard now, nine years and three books later.

Objectively speaking, I’m probably more successful than any of these guys, but they seem to know something I don’t. It’s like they’re a part of a club or old-boy network; I think all three of the FIU creative writing professors were students of Kranes at Utah.

Definitely I feel like an outsider. Pape said they’re probably going to start an M.F.A. program at FIU in 1988; the proposal’s already in. When I asked him about details, Pape said, “Are you interested in a degree?”

“No,” I replied. “I’m interested in a job.”

When I said I always wanted to teach creative writing because of how easy it was, Pape and Kranes looked at me as if I were nuts.

“Well, it’s a whole lot easier than teaching remedial writing or freshman comp,” I said. “I’ve done both for over ten years.”

Fuck them. They’ll never hire me at FIU. My efforts to become a socially acceptable literati are probably doomed.

It’s strange, because in other settings I’ve always been popular and one of the gang.

Do I sabotage myself with other writers? Are some people jealous of me? Or are there just rules I don’t understand?

I wish I had a videotape of me tonight so I could figure out what I’m doing wrong.

Saturday, September 13, 1986

7 PM. I lay awake a long time last night, thinking. This is an odd time in my life. I’ve said that before, I suppose, but it’s very strange not to be teaching in September.

This is the first year since I’ve begun keeping a diary that I’m not either a full-time student or a college teacher. Going to classes on Monday and Tuesday evenings isn’t the same.

It’s also odd to be in Florida in September for the first time since 1983, when I was living in North Miami Beach.

And it’s strange being in my parents’ house and having to cope with living with them. They’re great as far as parents go, and I have my privacy, but it’s still weird to be 35 and be living with your parents; it has to infantilize you a bit.

Marc may give me back my apartment in another month or so. To save money, he’s thinking about sharing a friend’s condo. He can’t move for a while because he still has the cast on his arm.

I don’t know if this will work out, but naturally I’d rather have my old apartment back than look for a new one. For one thing, I wouldn’t have to go through a credit check and pretend I have a job.

Dad is still very nervous and excitable, the way his parents were; his voice has a loud upward inflection all the time, and I’m certain he isn’t aware of it, but I’m not used to someone yelling so much.

Mom is so clean that this morning, not for the first time, she took some clothes I’d laid out for the day on the couch and put them in the washer before I’d had a chance to wear them.

Last night was Jonathan’s usual Friday night out with Marshall, and in the kitchen I talked with them.

Marshall might not have all the answers, but he’s intelligent and has experienced a lot, including several years in a monastery and Haight-Ashbury in the Summer of Love 19 years ago.

There are times when I like having the company of my family, like when I want to share an idea or a TV program or something I’ve read.

Today I had to wait here for two deliveries that Dad needed for tomorrow’s menswear show in Miami. While the first package arrived at 10:30 AM, the second didn’t come till three hours later.

At least I spent the time productively with my usual heavy Saturday morning workout. Last week’s had my chest and biceps sore for days, but I was not used to doing pull-ups and chin-ups on the bars.

I spent half an hour of my workout following an aerobics show on TV, which was tough but rewarding. My legs and triceps are still charley horse from the other day, but I love feeling that my muscles are there.

(Hey, that’s the kind of thing I should put in a story: how I enjoy the soreness after exercise, with the worse the soreness, the better I feel.)

Actually, today wasn’t all that different from some of the Saturday mornings I spent this summer in Manhattan.

After lunch, a shower, and a little rest – and after waiting till Dad called so I could rest his mind about the delivery of the second package – I went out at 2:45 PM.

Stopping off to get Saturday’s Times and to get money out of an ATM, I made the 3:45 PM show of Doris Dorrie’s Men… at the Art Towne cinema.

Josh had said this was one of those movies which would be dumb if an American made it but is widely praised because it’s from Germany and has subtitles. But I liked it a lot.

Regardless of what my friends say, there is culture here. Most of the foreign movies that play New York City get down here eventually.

Afterwards, I went to the Broward Mall for a burrito.

The guys in the mall who are in their twenties and teens all look so cool and well-built, just like young guys in Hollywood movies. I guess it’s because they’re affluent?

I don’t know which came first: Hollywood’s conception of the American adolescent or these guys’ own style and attitudes.

I continue to be incredibly horny. Am I going through a mid-life crisis? I’ve always heard that buying a sports car is a sure sign of one.

Am I trying to be 25? Probably a little. I don’t feel 35. I don’t look 35. Oh well.

I got turned down for a Peoples Bank Visa credit line increase: “too many obligations.”

Miriam wrote a funny letter about her glamorous two-day trip to New York to appear on Good Morning, America. They even put her up in a fancy hotel and had a chauffeur-driven limousine pick her up and take her the two blocks to the studio.

She’s going back East for a family wedding soon. Anyway, she says everything in Santa Fe is fine.

Monday, September 15, 1986

10 PM. Not a bad start for the week.

September is half-over, so maybe in another month, it will start to cool off here enough as a cold front finally makes it down to South Florida.

But after being here three weeks, whatever misgivings I have about my decisions, I’m fairly adjusted to living here.

I’ve just returned from Joe Cook’s class. First we broke up into groups and did one of those touchy-feely icebreaker routines Joe likes.

Five of us went into one group and we were given five minutes: three minutes to tell “how we got to where we are now,” one minute to describe our happiest moment, and one minute to take questions from the other group members.

I was in a group with Jack Pawlowski, who I know is very uptight and uncomfortable with self-revelation, but of course this gave me an appreciation for him as a person that I never had when he was my boss’s boss.

After this exercise, we discussed various methods of instruction – lecture, discussion, A/V, CAI, simulation, recitation, tutoring, etc. – and how they’re teacher-oriented or student-oriented.

When we came back from our break, we took an instructional styles inventory, a short instrument of 25 items, and then saw our profiles.

Mine was about what I expected: high on organization and goal-setting, low on competition; high on qualitative and people interests, low on scientific and inanimate interests; and moderate expectations of my influence on students.

Interesting stuff. Joe is fascinated by role-playing, games and simulations, and I have to admit I like those kinds of 1960s things, too.

Naturally, most of us lecture: we’re comfortable with it and do it because it’s the easiest and most efficient way to impart information to large groups.

It was a good class.

No, I didn’t do any writing today, but I wanted to digest some of the material I wrote yesterday, and I feel confident with my notes: they may not be a blueprint for the new story, but they’re at least a road map on which I can find my way.

I did, however, xerox “I Saw Mommy Kissing Citicorp” and sent it out to four places; I also sent three copies of “I Survived Caracas Traffic” to fairly prestigious litmags. We’ll see if I have any luck.

The Jane Rotrosen agency said they wouldn’t be good in handling my work because they do mostly commercial novels and nonfiction.

The New York book editors should be getting my mailing now. Since Literary Market Place is eight months old, given the turnover in publishing, I expect that many of the editors I wrote may no longer be working at the houses where I wrote them.

Today I got four or five credit card bills, and another turndown for new credit. However, when Marc came over, he brought a spanking new Choice card I’d sent away for at the Lauderhill address.

So not only does Richard S. Grayson have a Choice card, but now Richard A. Grayson does, too – with a $1500 credit line.

I’ve really got a decent credit card chassis going now, though I’m going to be writing a lot of checks this week. Of course, that’s the fun of it.

Dad had a really busy two days at the Miami menswear show. The Bugle Boy tops are a “hot” line, almost reminiscent of the shows he had in 1981 when Sasson was so hot.

He told me he was so busy writing orders, he didn’t have a chance to eat breakfast or lunch either yesterday or today.

It’s all in the brand name; people are like sheep.

Thursday, September 18, 1986

10 PM. Today’s been a rough day emotionally. I think I may be coming down with a cold, and I almost hope I am, because I could easily accept a physical reason for why I’ve felt so lousy.

I did sleep okay and was up at 6:30 AM to take Dad to the airport an hour later. The rush hour traffic along State Road 84 was almost New York-like.

Although I’m not used to getting up early, it was good to be out when it was almost cool; the constant heat here has begun to get to me.

Last evening, as we watched the Mets win the pennant and the fans tear up Shea Stadium, I made car reservations for Dad. He called a little while ago and said everything is fine in L.A.

Also last night, I wrote Libby that I’ve made tentative plans to come to New York City and see her and Grant in October.

Apart from wanting to see Libby after all these years, one reason I want to keep in touch is that I’d like to visit her and Grant in Los Angeles one day, as there’s no one else out there I could really stay with. Well, we’ll see.

When I came home from the airport at 8:40 AM, I took off my clothes and contact lenses and went back to bed. I didn’t think I’d get back to sleep, but I did, for hours – except it was on an odd level: I felt barely asleep, yet I kept going from dream to dream to dream.

It wasn’t until noon that I got out of bed, and then when I got the mail, the first thing I saw was this big manila envelope from – I knew it – The New Yorker.

While it’s hard for me to believe that I really expected them to accept my story, their rejection may have had something to do with why I felt so terrible the rest of the day.

But at least it wasn’t a form rejection; it was a formal, typed letter from the editor Frances Kiernan:

I like many of the details and the writing . . . but I don’t think you’ve managed to bring together the two elements of your story: John’s death and the narrator’s making a life for himself. Unfortunately, the shape of the story partakes too fully of the looseness and arbitrariness of real life experience.

[Of course, I wanted the story to do that.]

The memories of John remain distinct and apart and eventually upstage the quieter events of the present. [I think I wanted to do that, too.]

But the story is low-key and honest, and I feel bad saying I think it doesn’t really work . . .

Well, she took me seriously and she didn’t say anything about sentimentality, which was what I was most afraid of. The rejection makes me believe that another editor, of a (lesser) little magazine will eventually take the story.

Also in today’s mail: McGraw-Hill isn’t interested in any short story collections, and neither is a second book publisher, but Pat Strachan at Farrar, Straus and an editor at Holt want me to send them some uncollected stories and the two hardcover books.

Now I have to get a manuscript together. Marc said he’d bring over what I had in the Lauderhill apartment, but I also need to make xeroxes of other stories, which means a trip to the warehouse, which I dread.

I should definitely have made a copy of the manuscript I sent Zephyr Press last winter. What a job I’ve got now! Maybe I’m a little scared of the possibility of success.

Anyway, I took an aimless drive to Miami, and riding around Coral Gables, I began to feel quite sick. It was a bad panic attack, but by breathing deeply, I got myself out of it.

However, on the way home, the car started acting funny, as if it was slipping in and out of gear. When I got home, I didn’t feel I could deal with anything, and I went back to bed for nearly three hours.

I felt feverish – or my thoughts were like those when I’ve had a fever in the past – and I thought maybe I was having a reaction to the rubella vaccine, but when I got out a thermometer, my temperature proved to be normal.

But I still felt out of sorts, and I thought it would be good to get away from Mom and Jonathan, so I went out for some chicken tacos and then to the Art Towne cinema to see My First Wife, a good film by Paul Cox, the Australian who directed Man of Flowers.

I feel better emotionally now.

Friday, September 19, 1986

3 PM. No, I didn’t do any writing today. I feel compelled to record that so I can feel guilty.

But I did go over to the Lauderhill apartment and the warehouse to get out two dozen copies of With Hitler in New York and Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog and just about all the uncollected stories I’ve got.

Next week I’ll do a lot of xeroxing and send out stuff to the editors who are responding favorably.

Last night I slept well, which is surprising, considering how much I’ve slept lately. This morning I spent two hours working out with light dumbbells because I had to stay in the house to wait for a UPS delivery of Bugle Boy shirts.

The mail came at noon. Today’s lineup of responses from editors: Crown, no (“we don’t do your sort of fiction very well”); Harper & Row, no (“smaller presses are more suitable for your work”); some other publisher, no (“we’re under heavy pressure to make money so we can’t take on books that don’t sell at least 10,000 copies”).

But editors at Ticknor and Fields and also at Doubleday said yes. So far, the publishers that want to see my work are those two plus Farrar, Straus & Giroux and Henry Holt.

I’m surprised the responses are coming so fast. I’ve got to work up a manuscript of uncollected fiction, starting with “I Survived Caracas Traffic” and “My Basic Problem” and “Coping” (thank God I found a copy) and “In the Sixties” and “Talking to a Stranger” and some other stories.

This could really be my big break.