Anna Chamberlin

This piece was written for the Class Day Anthology, which was distributed to graduates at Class Day on May 19th, 2024.

During my first year at Yale, I interviewed my professor for an article. It was late October — the wind rustled leaves left on lithe branches. At the end of our conversation, my professor looked up from the book he’d already reopened. “Good writers have something to say,” he said. “I know you have something to say.”

It’s been four years, and I’m still not sure I have much to say.

Most of the time, I don’t know what I’m saying — like, what I’m really saying. When I was younger, I’d meander through my thoughts, get lost halfway, and forget why I was even talking. My parents would say my stories were too long. Years later, I’m still concerned I don’t know what to say. Here’s what I mean. When I call my doctor’s office to schedule an appointment, there’s a 50-50 chance that I’ll remember my insurance provider (Cigna) or how to spell my last name with the phonetic alphabet (H-O-R-N…N like November). At Yale, I never really prepped thoughts or questions for seminars. (To the professors who will see this essay, a confession: I never completed the readings.) 

Thinking ahead helps overthinkers figure out what they ought to say, so I began my search for the right things a few days after I talked to that professor. As I found ideas, I jotted them down in a file on my iPhone’s note-taking app. I’ve never shown it to anyone, though it mentions most of my friends and family. It’s titled Random Things.

The list has no order, but it’s nearly chronological. On my six-inch phone screen, I move from New Haven to my car pushing 80 miles per hour on a Wyoming interstate and back again. Random Things remembers what I don’t recall about my time at and between Yale — when Cross Campus gnats glinted in the afternoon light, when we danced in the shadow of the Tetons, and when I saw him on Wall St. and everything calcified.

I monitor Random Things’ word count like it’s my blood pressure. When I’m bored, I shave profligate prepositions so that no random thing is more than a fragment long. They’re all complete ideas, but most are unfinished sentences — probably because I write while walking and talking. “When the New Haven sun (or lack thereof) sets at 4:45 pm, I —” I wish I finished this one in December.

Evidently, I hate some random things, like “when people inflect their voices at the ends of sentences,” “when WLH smells like a damp backpack,” and “when couples kiss in the middle of Commons.”

Some snippets, like “whenever I pass the yellow church on Dixwell, I ought to be turning,” merit more explanation than I can give. Most could be book titles — or beginnings of things to say: “wrath in the dining hall,” “delirium in the stacks,” “talking about death over breakfast,” “understanding how the forest feels at night,” and “consolation beers.” “Some things are better left unsaid,” I assert 20 lines down. I can’t remember what this refers to. While many thoughts are declarations, others are queries loosely attributed to the questioner. “In 200 years, will Yale have archives about us?” a classmate pondered in the Beinecke, inflecting her voice as she skimmed students’ diaries from before the Civil War. To the future Yalie who must draw a lofty conclusion from the depths of my iPhone: good luck, and I’m sorry.

Will any of these become more than a line of text? Once, a friend told me that he’d read my work if I wrote “for real.” I like to think that, eventually, he’ll read about these random things for real — whatever that means.


This is what I’ve been taught: writers need real things to say, worthy things, not shards of fleeting moments. We all have our own collection of random things — and think too long and hard about them. But my writing doesn’t offer moral quandaries, doesn’t question the unquestionable, doesn’t talk about big things like the human condition (I don’t know what this means). So I’m not sure I can be a writer. I’m 22 years old: I should write like I’m a hopeful college graduate. Is that good enough?

Sometimes, I try to explain why I want to write. My answer goes like this: while I don’t think I have much to say, I’m not sure it matters. I want to be a writer, and I want to write little, random things. When I’m old and graduated, maybe I’ll tackle bigger ideas (I hope not — this sounds boring). 

For now, I’ll write about how I remember Yale. The candy wrappers from last year’s students strewn across my advisor’s desk like confetti; the dining room tables sticky with IPAs; the lessons learned from watching a friend brush their teeth; the curves of the Humanities Quadrangle; the promises; the peers who read to find mistakes; the questions I should have asked my professor four years ago. The mist. These things. They’re good enough, I think. I just have to figure out how to say them.