I once had a relationship that existed exclusively in notes. It was during my seventh grade French class, in which I’d exchange tiny epistles made up of ripped-off notebook paper with the boy who sat directly in front of me to make third period just a little more interesting. They were hardly romantic elegies equal to Shakespeare’s, but the notes sufficed to sustain my ego throughout the afternoon. The best part about it was that I didn’t even have to look this kid in the face or — God forbid — engage in actual human interaction. It was a pretty ideal fling for the time being, with just the right amount of scandal: When la professeure would scold us for our misdeed, I would just feign an apology while secretly imagining her own pathetic marriage, and then get back to writing.
It’s strange that the written word, even if it’s just expressed on a scrap of paper, worked as my outlet for self-amusement and, technically, as a semester-long relationship. Verbal compliments are nice, but there’s something more immortal about the written word that carries with it a stronger gravitas — it’s documented longer than if it was just an ephemeral swap of words lost in the air as soon as it passed the fence of our teeth (that’s a Homeric expression).
And concerning notation, my class notes are all just amusing phrases I hear from a classmate or professor, or even my own sarcastic remarks about whatever it is we happen to be learning. I pay attention when I study independently, but when there’s a discussion or lecture, I just note down whatever appeals to me in no particular manner. Many an offensive remark or doodle are included in this category. Exempli gratia: I must have been irritated with a particular professor one morning, because in a November set of notes I call him “an unqualified homeless person” and wrote that his class had “the indecency to fill up my good notebook.”
But among my vindictive remarks and recorded daydreams are minor revelations that occur to me throughout the day, including topics relating to Anubis, prisms and the Glass Bead Game. These marginal observations connect whatever is happening in class with my own slightly aloof mind (I have the attention span of a small, wiggly puppy), and when I compile them all together, I seem to create an orrery of arbitrary, yet somehow interconnected constellations that revolve around one theme. These notes give color to otherwise dreary accounts of academic discussions, which is why I have dedicated my current research to investigating the annotation of manuscripts — and there’s always the small chance that something even as insignificant as this column will be one of the only sources of 21st-century life in the far future.
As for my middle-school love story, its termination came when my classmate mustered the confidence to ask me out in the real world (an offer I rejected), but somewhere in my archives those notes are saved, and they’ll likely be here long after me.
Sydney Shea is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.