- Daniel Nelson
Study of a Young Woman Writing
This story was originally published on The Pittsburgher’s predecessor, The Dog Door Cultural.
September 28th, 2010
My girlfriend’s professor “strongly” urged that she start a journal. She’s a creative writing major and he’s a creative writing professor. She urged me to start a journal as well. I’m a finance major but she said, “It’d be good for you.” She’s usually right so I decided to give it a shot, so here I am. Her professor said that the goal of the journal is not to write about your feelings or emotions or anything like that, it’s not even really to record the day’s events; it's not a diary, it's more to record things you encounter that you find interesting and fascinating. She says a favorite writer of hers does the same thing and he says it can help you to understand what you’re interested in. I get why she’s doing it, it’s her major, what she wants to do with her life – writing, that is. I don’t really get why I’m doing it, to be honest. She showed me her first entry. “We’re not really supposed to, but just this once, to get you started,” she said. It was interesting, something about….
I don’t really know what to make my first entry about so I guess I just made it about her. Her name is Charlotte.
Last week Lotte asked to see how much I’d written in my journal. “I won’t actually read the words, I just wanna see how you're taking to it,” she said. I told her it was private and I didn’t want to share anything. She asked again today and became suspicious since she’d never once seen me so much as open the thing; we had a bit of a fight and I lost. She looked inside and saw the September 28th entry and nothing else. So here I am again, “taking it seriously.”
Today there was a dead seagull on the street. It was pretty weird. I usually—
I don’t understand how Lotte writes so much in her journal. She’s always sitting there, scribbling so fast, sometimes angrily even. I tried to peek at the pages once over her shoulder – I think I even saw some drawings. I don’t get it. Where’s she coming across all these interesting things? Don’t we live in the same city? Don’t we see the same shit all day? Sometimes we’ll go for a walk, or a bite, or something and I’ll see that she’s impatient to get back to that journal and when we get home, sure enough, she starts the scribbling again! And I’ll think to myself, What did she see? We were in the same place and I didn’t see a thing worth writing about! I don’t know. Maybe she’s making them up? I don't know. Whatever works, I guess.
I asked Lotte if I could see what she’s been writing about, just an example. She told me about yesterday, when she saw a…. Then she said, “Well, look here,” she opened the journal for me so I could see today's entry. It was insane: first of all the book was half full already and each page was so heavy with ink that it was like she was flipping through pieces of cloth or through one of those 4th century bibles as she looked for the page. “For example,” she said, “this morning I was looking through my closet and came across my high-school senior year t-shirt.” “Okay,” I said, “so what?” She seemed a little disappointed I think. “On the back it had all these names, names of kids that graduated with me, from my class. I went to a big public school so there were like 600 names.” I nodded my head, not sure if the interesting part had come and gone yet. “Right,” I said. She smiled and gave me a quick kiss. “Anyways, I got to reading the names and came across some pretty amazing ones.” “Amazing names?” I asked. “Yeah! Like Yuppie McClun.” She showed me the list and we had a good laugh about some of them, it was pretty interesting.
Lotte and I went to a movie today. She said she didn’t like it but I thought it was pretty funny. On the walk back to the apartment she pointed out something in a storefront window, I guess hoping I’d try writing about it. There was a man in blue overalls who was changing a lightbulb, standing between a couple of mannequins, and Lotte said that, at first glance, it looked like he was posing as one of them. I’m not sure if I copied that in the right way – she said it better I think.
In the subway today I saw a man – a street performer – doing a trick. He had a long, sharp needle and he drove it slowly into his bicep until it came out the other end. Then he walked around to all of us on the platform for a closer look. Some people looked away in disgust. A little kid shrieked and hid behind his mother’s coat and then, gaining a little confidence, took a step closer to the man in amazement. The performer then quickly pulled the needle out and everyone applauded. It was really bizarre, I have no idea how he did it.
Lotte just got back so I told her about the performer in the subway and wanted to ask how she thought he did it. She said we’d already seen the same guy do the same trick about a year ago, only it was in the park not the subway. “When we’d just started going out,” she said, “don’t you remember? We had just gotten those terrible corn dogs. We even searched up how he’d done it when we got home that day.”
I told her I remembered.
I was walking to one of my morning classes, Empirical Asset Pricing, and was a little early so I took the more roundabout route that goes past the train station. A ton of homeless people gather around the station early in the morning – not sure why – and I saw three that sort of struck me. They were each standing about 2 feet from one another, evenly spaced, but didn’t seem to notice each other at all. Actually, they didn’t really seem to notice anything at all. They were all half asleep or stoned, swaying slightly towards each other, being pushed by the breeze almost. I told Lotte about it and she pushed me to write it down. She said it was all the more interesting because they were in front of a train station. I’m not really sure what she meant by that but she seemed really excited by it.
Lotte hasn’t stopped talking about the names on her t-shirt almost since she brought them up. She’ll just start listing them. “Bonaparte Hayes,” she’ll say randomly, shaking her head, “it’s just incredible.”
Tiny Lester (she really liked that one)
She even brought up a name she’d read in the credits of the movie we’d seen. I thought it was funny at first but it’s starting to annoy me.
Lotte is doing great. She just had a string of stories published in the school paper. One of them was even read out at the opening of the newest wing of the university library. She’s doing really great. She’s writing all the time now, sometimes she even skips class just to write – she’s on a real writing streak.
There’s a book that has been sitting on one of the tables of the library for what’s gotta be at least the last six months. It’s on the 3rd floor, near where I usually sit to study, and I pass it every time I go to the bathroom. It’s still shrink-wrapped in that clear plastic. The book is purple and has got some sort monk or witch doctor or something on the cover, he’s old and has got white lines painted on his face and is wrapped up in grey robes. It’s called “The Science of Self-Realization” and is written by “His Divine Grace” A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, “Founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.” Lotte will like that name I think, it’s a good one.
I told Lotte about something that happened today that I was thinking about writing in the journal. She laughed when I told her and said that I had “a winner.” I’ll copy it down as best as I can:
So I was walking to get some food and a man, who I thought was homeless at first, shouted something at me, pointing at my shoes. I turned the volume down – I was listening to music – and heard him saying, “They need it, they need it real bad, man!” He then pointed to a small shoe shine station with a sign that read, “SHINE/POLISH – 5 BUCKS.” I looked down at my shoes, they did look pretty terrible, all scuffed up and discolored. The guy made me a little uncomfortable, so I shook my head and said, as I passed him, “Sorry, I’m in a hurry. Have a good day.” He looked angry and shook his head, still pointing at my shoes, as I put my earphone back in. I was already halfway down the block when I heard him shouting, “C’mon man, someone will see!” That’s the part that Lotte laughed at. I read her some of my entries. I’m not sure what I expected but she seemed a little disappointed by them, or maybe a little sad? I asked to see what she wrote today and she said she didn’t want to show me.
I hardly see Lotte anymore. She spends all her time writing in the library, or at Leaves n’ Beans, or at her desk. When we do talk it’s either about her stories or those fucking names. “Snails Franco,” she’ll say, and then again, “Snails. Is that a boy or a girl?” “I don’t know,” I’ll reply then try to change the subject, which works for a while then, out of nowhere, as soon as there’s a lull: “You know, half these names aren’t even recognized by my computer? When I add them to my list they’re almost all underlined in red!” She has a list now. God knows what she’ll use it for.
I’m home for Thanksgiving break. I tried my best to get out of coming back but my mother wouldn’t hear it, so here I am. The best I can hope for now is to get out of seeing high school friends. Just have to make it four long days. The trip up was uneventful I think. Not anything worth writing about – not sure.
I haven’t spoken to Lotte in a couple of days. Hardly have signal in my house and besides, she’s with her family so she wouldn’t really reply to me anyway. She does—
I was called down for dinner – can’t remember what I was gonna write up there but when I walked Cherry after we ate I saw something interesting: It was pretty late and pretty cold and the streets were completely empty. All of a sudden, out of one of the gated communities near my house, a group of three people came running. As I got closer I saw it was a man pulling a dog on a leash and a woman pulling a young child by the hand. They ran across the street and up a small hill turning the corner, towards another gated community. They weren’t dressed for how cold it was and seemed to be in a hurry, but they didn’t look distressed at all. They weren’t talking either. It was strange – I’ll see what Lotte makes of it.
Had Thanksgiving dinner tonight. It was fun, Emma came over afterwards and we hung out; it was good to see her again. Dinner itself was alright, everyone asked me about Lotte and commented on how well she’s doing. “Yup,” I said, “she’s on a real writing streak.” What else could I say?
Finally heard from Lotte. Got a text from her. It read, “Johnny Johnson.” I didn’t reply right away, then she sent, “No? I thought it was a great one haha. I’ve actually seen some of them since being back! How’s it over there?”
Don’t any girls have funny names?
Someone mentioned today that there are only two weeks left to the semester, which is a relief. I need to focus on studying for my finals but will try to keep this up; Lotte bought a new journal over Thanksgiving.
People are sleeping in the library more and more I’ve noticed. That “Self-Realization” book is still there. Maybe I’ll open it and read a chapter.
My Price Theory and Applications exam is this week.
Lotte has been completely absorbed by her writing. I think she’s working on something really special – I asked if it had something to do with the list of names, because otherwise: what’s the point of keeping it? “Mhm.” That’s all I got.
My exam went well. Financial Accounting tomorrow.
My last exam is this week then next week I’ll be heading back home for winter break. Lotte will be going home, too. She got a story published in some big literary journal, I don’t know which one – I don't know any. She almost forgot to tell me but it seems like a pretty big deal. It’s not the story she’s been working on, though. She says she’s almost done with the current one. She’s been working on it nonstop, I’m excited to read it, but she’s being kind of funny about the whole thing.
Lotte published the story in the last issue of the student magazine. I had to find it myself – when I asked to see it she said she didn’t have a copy. I read it and we had a big fight about it.
Cherry brought a dead squirrel into the house and laid it on my bed.
December 1st, 2015
I saw Charlotte today in the window of a restaurant. She was having lunch with some people, I don't think she saw me. She’s been doing well – I get emails about her from the alumni association every so often. She got a book deal shortly after graduation, it was a big deal, as I understand it.
I dug around for this journal when I got home and read some of the entries—
* * *
January 3rd, 2016
I saw something curious on the subway last night and had the urge to try writing it down. A young couple got on the train and sat across the aisle from one another. I had headphones in so I didn’t hear their conversation, but they were arguing – it looked fairly serious. Every once in a while the man would stand up and point at the woman, getting real close to her, and then, swinging on the pole in the aisle, fling himself back into the seat. This went on for two or three stops. Then the man stood up and walked off the train – I don’t remember at which stop – but he said something nasty to her as he got off and spat at her window from the platform. The girl stayed on, sitting quietly in her seat. A few stops later she suddenly burst out laughing, like it had all been a joke. She got off before me. I didn’t know what to make of it, so I figured I’d write it down here.
* * *
December 5th, 2018
I heard that Charlotte published a new book. I didn’t think much of it when I heard that, but when I found out that it was the “unedited and original” journal from our senior year I ran out and bought it. I remember she’d become so secretive about the whole thing I was dying to finally read it. I read it in two sittings – I blew through it. There wasn’t a single mention of me. She didn’t mention my name once, she didn’t even hint to me. I went in and matched her entries to mine. I even remember some of the things she wrote about, I remember seeing them with her, but she never said anything about me. Other people are in there, our friends and acquaintances, parties we went to, professors we had, and those names, all those names are all in there without missing a single one: she even published the list of names in an appendix. Cornelius Coats, Jared Frizzelle, Francisco Ponce, Bo McCreedy, all of them. The list is pages long and I’m not on it.
I’ve been giving it more thought and I’ve decided to mail this journal to you. You can do whatever you like with it, but I thought you might like to give it a read – maybe it’ll inspire you.
All the best,
Daniel Nelson is a financial consultant in New York City. He does not consider himself a writer but has, on occasion, journaled.