Two puzzled men are left dangling by a few words : from a mysterious young woman’s copybook
Edric Cane of Edric Cane Seminars, La Canada, writes to tell me about a manuscript, or partial manuscript, that has puzzled him for years, but which, all things considered, has given him some pleasure.
“It is a 200-page hard-bound copybook,” he explains, “that somehow got mixed up with books of mine as I left a Midwestern university some 15 years ago. I am sending you a photocopy of the full text.”
The full text of this 200-page copybook, written in a legible schoolgirl hand, is as follows:
“Wednesday, Jan. 14, 1970
“It takes a certain amount of self-confidence to begin a journal such as this. First of all one assumes that she has something meaningful and memorable to say. And secondly, one must realize that introspection can breed depression, frustration and impatience as well as virtue. But, by no means will I let myself dwell on virtue or vice when the intricacies and motions of life are of constant stimulation to me at this point in my life. I’m nineteen years old. My imagination runs wild. . . .”
“Yes,” Cane concludes, “the other 199 pages are blank. I will leave the rest to your imagination.”
I am puzzled too. What happened to this young woman after that brave start?
She seemed to have such confidence, and such determination. She was so eager for life, and so eager to write it all down.
Did she drop out of school? Did she drop the class? Or was her journal not related to her schoolwork at all?
Did the intricacies and motions of life intrude, and force her to dwell on virtue and vice?
Did she have a disastrous love affair, one whose details she found too cruel to commit to her journal?
Did she become pregnant? Did she have an abortion that forced her to re-examine her understanding of virtue and vice?
Did she get married and become a housewife and mother, too subdued by the routine of housework to look into her inner being for the exciting discoveries she had expected to confide to her journal?
Did she simply find that writing is hard work, and that a 19-year-old girl, beset by the stresses and vicissitudes of living, could not find time for it?
Of course she might just absent-mindedly have left her copybook in Cane’s classroom, from which it found its way into his library; or she might have left it on a bus, or in the campus cafeteria. It was unsigned, so no one could have returned it.
My guess is that she had relieved certain tensions simply by writing that introductory paragraph, and after that she felt less compulsion to sort herself out in writing.
As I say, writing is hard work, and more and more these days our educators are inclined to relieve their students of its demands.
Or perhaps, as she foresaw, introspection bred depression, frustration and impatience, and she quickly gave it up.
I am reminded of a book my brother used to have in his extensive library. It was a well-made little book, expensive, I imagine, published by one of the more pretentious houses. It, too, was about 200 pages long, and every page was blank. Its title was, “What Men Know About Women.”
Of course there have always been women who wrote about their natures, their demons, their desires, their frustrations; and in recent years, in the new wave of feminism, we have been inundated by personal narratives and novels revealing women’s long-kept secrets.
So if men don’t know anything about women today, it’s their own fault. They just aren’t doing enough reading.
I think I know a great deal about women, though I admit I learned it rather late in life. I’m sure I would have been much enlightened by getting my hands on a journal such as this one, had it been kept up through that young woman’s maturing years.
Perhaps this young woman had been taking a class on creative writing, and had been urged to keep a journal, since it would not only help her develop a writing style, but get her in touch with her thoughts and feelings, and, in the future, of course, it would be a source of rich material.
I have no doubt that Mary McCarthy’s “The Group” was drawn largely from just such a journal. How, otherwise, could she have remembered those other women in such detail, all their passions and resentments?
If this woman simply gave up, I can hardly chide her. It was longer ago than 1970 that I began my novel, “Summer’s End,” and to this day I have only written six words: “It was the end of summer.”
For all we know, of course, this mysterious young woman may have restarted her journal in another copybook, and kept it all through college. She may indeed be one of those novelists whose work has illuminated woman’s lot in life. After all, she did say that her imagination ran wild.
Surely a college girl whose imagination ran wild, and who had the ability to write an English sentence, could not have held her tongue throughout her college years.
It occurs to me that in the 1970s many young people in the Midwest were drawn to Los Angeles; by their ambitions, by their unfulfilled dreams or maybe only by their curiosity.
If the young woman who wrote those promising words in that uncompleted journal indeed is here, and happens to read this, I hope she will get in touch.
Edric Cane and I would like to know how everything turned out.