A 28-Year-Olds Diary Entries From Mid-November, 1979

Saturday, November 10, 1979

12:30 AM Sunday. Avis is here now, sitting on the floor as I lie on my bed writing this; were watching Saturday Night Live.

This morning I woke up early and cleaned the bathroom and kitchen, though I felt kind of blue; I guess I miss my family and the old house. Ive also been worried because I havent heard from Mom or Dad.

So tonight I called Grandma Sylvia, who seemed more coherent than usual. She said Mom and Dad dont have a phone yet, and theyve been busy settling into the new house. Still, I wonder if something isnt wrong.

This morning I went to Kings Plaza and saw that Waldenbooks has ordered a new set of my books after the first five sold out. Elihu told me that Elspeth bought the last copy.

I hate furniture shopping, and Im afraid I was being an obnoxious pest, but by now Avis knows how to put up with me. We argue back and forth all the time.

Over lunch at Picadeli, Avis told me how upset she is about Josh. She said she loves him, and she thinks he hates her. It makes me wonder.

From the Heights we drove back to Rockaway. I was certain Avis would disapprove of my apartment, but she seems to like it.

After I made us omelets for dinner, we watched TV and argued. We got too stoned to catch the 10:15 PM show of 10 at Kings Plaza as wed planned: waiting on line at the mall, we were told that only the first five rows were available.

I saw one of my SVA students, Seth Eisenstein, coming out of the movie; I just knew beforehand that I was going to see one of my students in the mall, but I expected it to be one from Kingsborough.

Avis has just smoked a joint and gotten into bed; I made the couch into a bed by putting on sheets and a blanket and a pillow. If my writing seems a little forced now, its because Avis is in the room with me, and I feel a little constrained.

Its been a long time since Ive slept in the same room as someone. I wonder if Ill be relaxed enough to sleep. Avis is a very old friend with whom I should be (well, lets forget should) more comfortable.

Tuesday, November 13, 1979

4 PM. Today was a bad day from beginning to end.

Fuck them. They told Josh he wasnt a bad writer but they didnt think they could work with him. That makes me so angry. And Josh told me that he, Simon and Todd were all rejected by the NEA and as I knew, so was I.

I got the list of recipients today. A number of worthy older writers like Allen Ginsberg got them, but so did a number of no-talent people with connections, like Frederick Barthelme. Both Lynn and Ron Sukenick got them.

Making me feel worse was that I had a flat tire this morning. I walked the fifteen blocks to Grandpa Herbs and borrowed his car. At SVA, I was fifteen minutes late and had a rushed class, then hurried to get to Kingsborough, where I didnt have very good classes.

When I got home, the AAA was unable to fix my tire and I had to buy a new one for $53. After waiting a long time in the cold rain, I now think Im coming down with something. Grandpa Herb was a big help; thank God for him.

Josh just called and read me the pompous, moralizing letter SUNY/Albany sent him. It enrages me to realize that such small minds control things in America. Writing programs are so corrupt theyre just another cog in the wheel of corporate America that I cant believe good writers will come out of them.

Josh and I were talking about how adjunct teaching sucks. We are an oppressed class. Granted, Ive had some success, but Ive worked for everything Ive gotten. No one ever did me a favor, not even Taplinger. Louis Strick contacted me because he felt I could do his company some good.

Yes. From here on in, I will do all I can to promote myself (and Crad and Josh and others like us) and to hell with being a good little boy. Academia creates automatons, and badly-paid ones at that. Either Im going to beat this fucking world at its own game or Im going to die trying.

I like being the rebel, the one who points out the naked emperor. Hey, what if I gave out my own fellowships for creative literary politics to members of the Literature Panel? I could give each of them checks for 25 to show my faith in them for a job well done.

I think Ill do it and take my chances. Some NEA critics, like Eric Baizer and Richard Kostelanetz, are bound to love the idea. And no one can fault me for giving money away, can they? Ill get started on it soon. Yowza, yowza.


7 PM. Yowza, yowza: with that spirit, maybe I should go downstairs and walk into the ocean. I just came back from Grandma Ethels; I left in the middle of dinner, feeling sick and dizzy. I looked at myself in the mirror and saw a fat, tired man. A fat, tired man with $200 in the bank.

Perhaps I just need to be alone; I didnt want to be with Marc and our grandparents tonight. I feel lousy. Maybe my idea about giving checks to the NEA Literature Panel shows how sick I am.

I actually typed up a press release and wrote out 16 checks. Do I really need to do something like that? Whats to be gained? Would it embarrass the

All grant systems are unfair. This one probably isnt worse than any other. If I had received a grant, would I be feeling the same way? Why would I do something so self-destructive?

I just tore up the checks and the press release. But it frightens me when I realize how far I was about to go. I feel desperate.

My cars steering has something wrong with it. Damn Scott Sommer and everyone who never had to struggle and damn myself a thousand times more for thinking that thought! Im so tired of fighting.

I know this pain will pass, but it is real now and it hurts very much. Maybe Ill feel differently tomorrow. I probably will. Im a feisty little guy.

Wednesday, November 14, 1979

7 PM. Lets say survival is an art. Ill make it, somehow. If only th

Last night I whined to Alice, to Teresa, to Avis (they all called me) and eventually I felt better.

Alice asked if I wanted to escort her to the black-tie Front Page Association dinner-dance on Friday; I declined with thanks.

Teresa told me shes subletting her apartment for November and is moving into Pauls gigantic co-op; she invited me over to see it.

Avis said the Switzerland Cheese job aint that bad. She was happy that Josh called her b

Aviss mother has invited me over for Thanksgiving; Ellen and Wade are coming up from Virginia and will be there, so I might go. Im grateful people are thinking about me.

I got a long letter from Marie, whos now with the Department of Housing. She brought me up-to-date on all her news, joked about the Post John Hour article, and asked if she could have an autographed copy of Hitler (she said shed send a check).

Susan Lawton wrote that she read about me in (different people read different magazines, and Im in all of them) and sent me a xerox of a magazine article about her.

The North Stone Review sent me page proofs of A View of Toledo and the Universities of Alabama and Missouri asked for my dossier. I won a 60-watt light bulb

At least my car ran okay today. I taught my classes at Kingsborough, relishing the fact that there are only 13 days of school and 26 classes left. Its just one-quarter of the semester to go.

Jane told me the big machers in the English Department at Kingsborough dont like me very much; they were upset by the Post article and didnt know about my book until Jane told them.

Friday, November 16, 1979

2 PM on a cold and wintry Friday. I feel rather depressed right now, mostly because of money. That $10,000 NEA fellowship could have made such a big difference in my life.

My rent is due, and I barely have enough money to cover it. I got paid today, but now the bank holds even city checks against my account for five days.

In addition to my regular paycheck, I got $53 for substituting that day. But I wont get my next Kingsborough check until January 4, and I dont know how Im going to make it until then.

My classes today went okay: only two more Fridays left this term, and I plan to cancel one of them. Ive got a feeling Im persona non grata at Kingsborough now; everyone treats me coldly. I wonder if they think Im too big for my britches. Well, let em.

Last night Alice called to see if I was feeling better. She seems to have few problems, but Im sure her problems are very real to her.

However, she has money (although she tells me she cant afford a shrink), Peter, a job she enjoys, an apartment in Manhattan, and shes always going out to plays, movies and concerts. I hate myself for it, but Im feeling a little resentful toward her.

I feel I cant take any more rejections. But I suppose Ill have to.


8 PM and Im considerably cheerier. Seeing Dr. Pasquale helped. I told him how guilty I felt, depressing him with my life; also, I felt inadequate because Im not being a good patient if Im often depressed.

He said that this is a secondary mechanism with me: often I feel something that I think is bad (envy of Scott or resentment of Alice, for example), and

Dr. Pasquale hes also teaching at Kingsborough, by the way; I saw his name on the bulletin board of Student Development said that his opinion is just the opposite of mine: that Im trying very hard to change.

Its my usual problem: I expect myself to be Superman. I learned perfectionism from my mother, and from my father I learned that showing emotions is weakness. Except at TV and movies, I almost never cry.

We worked out a lot today; its so hard to absorb it all. Intellectually, I know everything like the process of projection but emotionally, Im an idiot. No, Im not. I do better than most people.

Im the harshest critic I have.

Sunday, November 18, 1979

8: 30 PM. Ive been feeling pretty depressed this weekend, but I suppose Ive been dealing with it.

Last night Larry drove me into Manhattan for Mikeys party. Earlier, I hadnt felt like going, so I told Avis and Josh (whom I was supposed to pick

Josh felt pretty depressed and didnt want to go. Avis called Mikey, wondering if he could arrange a ride home for her, and she mentioned my not going. Then Mikey phoned me and said that if I was depressed, he was feeling worse because he learned today that he failed the bar exam.

And if I can give this party, Mikey said, you can come. I called Mike and Cindy, but Mike said he was ill and couldnt stop throwing up. (Hes teaching evening courses at Brooklyn this term, incidentally.)

Then I phoned Larry, who said he wasnt crazy about going, either, but he had to bring the chairs and so I could come with him.

Gary took an apartment nearby for January 1, and until then hell be living with Martin on Long Island. Gary sounded pretty depressed, too.

Next, Mark called, and he didnt sound so hot, either. Hes still in therapy and said he still cant seem to get it together, particularly in regard to his career not that he has one.

Mikey actually smoked grass for the first time. Given his own depression, he tried to make it a party, but many of the other guests there had also just found out they failed the bar exam, so there wasnt much energy there.

Avis never showed up. Later she told me that she got too drunk to leave the house and she passed out while trying to make a phone call to Libby in California. Avis said she thinks she has a real drinking problem.

Alice called this morning and said she was depressed with Peter out of town. She visited June and Cliffs new apartment in Independence Plazaand said it was magnificent and it made her own place look dismal by comparison. (What should say?)

And at the Front Page Awards, Alice felt jealous of all the bright young women winning prizes for their journalism.

Today was an extraordinarily sunny and mild day, and I read the Times on the boardwalk, but eventually my sinuses got the better of me and I came back upstairs to lie down for a couple of hours.

Grandma Ethel was also upset when I left dinner early Tuesday night. Arlyne said I should pretend with Grandma that everything is all right; thats what she does.

Is there something in the air?

God, I was feeling so-so until I wrote down all of this; now Ive really depressed myself.

Monday, November 19, 1979

6 PM. A good line for a poem: Living on hope and peanut butter. This is a very difficult time for me. Im sure Im learning a lot and that this experience will be good for me, but right now its painful.

That makes me feel lousy. This pressure has led to a revival of symptoms I thought had left for good: all day I had an acid stomach and I was unable to eat lunch. Oh well, at least I saved money.

Thus I live on hope; maybe something will happen.

Its weird: just enough happens to keep me going, but my big break never seems to come.

Today, when I got home from a lousy day at Kingsborough feeling boringly suicidal Id worn a tie and jacket just to give me a lift, but it didnt work I got a phone call from Roger Weisberg, a producer at Channel 13.

Maybe something will come of it, maybe not but the diversion will keep me curious enough to ward off a suicide attempt. (Am I all talk?) And I got a letter from Dartmouth: send your dossier, were definitely interested. So I go on.

Teresa phoned to invite me to Pauls co-op Friday night. Pauls out of town and lonely, hes told her. Teresa also offered an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner. I guess I should amend that line to: Living on friends, peanut butter, and hope.

Or phone calls. Josh called this afternoon and we depressed one another for a while, playing Aint It Awful about the adjunct biz. He thinks his students are anti-Semites, but Josh is paranoid.

Things have felt so dismal that I havent been able to enjoy this remarkably bright and mild weather. These days I feel as though all my energy is taken up in the struggle to get through the day: making the bed, preparing classes, doing laundry.

The highs of this past summer feel like they took place in another lifetime. Jane Maher tried to cheer me up this morning by telling me what a great writer I am. Im not sure I believe it anymore. After all, what I have written lately other than this self-pitying diary and letters along the same vein?

Lets face it, gang: When Im rich and successful and fulfilled, Ill look back at these days and say. . . they stank.

Hey, Im sorry to make you (my diary) put up with this bullshit. I dont really know what else to write. I must change my life or Ill destroy myself.

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