“I want enough time to be in love with everything. And I cry because everything is so beautiful and so short.”—- Marina Keegan
I’ve been feeling a little down today. There is too much alone time and not enough fun, I think. I miss people and adventures. I really do, no matter how tiring, messy, or filled with complications they tend to be. Perhaps some part of me actually likes the chaos, because once in a while, chaos leads to something that makes you magnificently happy. Other times, it leads you to feeling stressed out and screwed, which causes adrenaline to pop up for a reason. In no way do you feel blase, or just “there” for days on end. This is something I’ve never gotten used to. I’ve been told since my teenage years that if nothing bad happens, that is cause to feel happy in life. It has never been for me. I’ve been told a majority of life isn’t interesting; we spend our energy on school, jobs, and every once in a while, have meaningful connections with others, go on a social outing, travel, or have an unexpected adventure come our way. I’ve never been content with that. I don’t feel that way. I don’t feel happy because life isn’t bad, I feel restless because it isn’t interesting, and sad because it isn’t magnificent—and couldn’t it be? “Just being OK” and “Every day being kind of the same” hasn’t been something I understand, and even in my younger years and the best of health, too much exposure to this made me feel low in spirits.
Of course, since I got sicker, there are days that are terrible, where I cry and just want to be alive, no matter what. There are days when I feel happy, energised, and mostly like my old self again. But honestly, most days are just…the same. I often don’t see other humans for days at a time, and most of my relationships are maintained through writing and electronic devices. Work occurs in the same place as fun, and fun occurs in the same place as sleep. I don’t often wake up full of passion or excitement for a person or thing, something that’s always been very natural to me. I get very excited about the things I am currently interested in, even if it may be a passing infatuation. I tend to burn myself out on both interests and people because I am so consumed by them for a period of time, I inevitably get bored, and want to recapture that “I’m so enamoured with this thing, I can’t wait to get up!” feeling.
I should be appreciative of all the days that are peaceful and “just okay”, but I am not. After all, I have it easier than most, in a lot of ways. I have a good support system of family and friends. I don’t have to get up and go to work every day. I have the luxury of spending my time being creative if I choose, or exploring new things, or doing all the things people want to do when they have peace and quiet.
But I am so underwhelmed and uninspired by peace and quiet, I am not thankful, but sad. I want nothing more than to be a part of the world again. Until you’ve been locked inside for four months and can’t do all the things your friends are doing, you don’t know how much it means when someone comes to visit you. A few months ago, I was this girl who loved fashion and costumes and did too much online shopping. Now, I think, “Well, who is going to see me, and when will I ever be able to get dressed up and look pretty (or what passes for pretty, if you’re me. :P) again?” I used to look at the calendar in terms of things I just couldn’t wait for. Now, the hours tick by. All I really want is human interaction; laughter, dancing, friendship, romance, complicated emotions and petty gossip, playing trivia, shopping, going out to lunch or grabbing a cocktail, all those things PEOPLE DO. I don’t want life to continue to go on and forget about me.
I appreciate the opportunity to have been able to live in a bubble and get more in touch with my inner self and comfortable with being alone, but it hasn’t made me more creative or confident. It just makes me miss being part of the big world out there, and meeting interesting new people, and celebrating life. I miss seeing everyone, and not having the anxiety of illness always be the focus of conversation. I never want to have to say, “I can’t do this thing all you guys are doing, because I am not strong enough” again. I never want the most interesting thing about me to be what’s wrong with me, ever again. And if I do not recover from this illness, being defined by what’s wrong with me is not how I want to be remembered. I have learned to have the utmost respect for people who have had to deal with illness, injury, or disability. It’s one thing when what holds you back is in your mind—that’s hard enough. But when what holds you back is your physical being, it changes you. I know this is supposed to make me a stronger and better human being, since I am not dead, but I don’t feel anything but lonely.
For this to happen to a person who thrives on experience, social relationships, and interaction with the world is as disabling as an injury to a person whose life and identity is focused on athletics. There’s always the hope you may heal, but also the knowledge that even if you do, you may never be quite the same, and the world isn’t going to stop to mourn your absence. You have to find new dreams.
Right now, every dream I have requires me to be a marginally healthy, non-agoraphobic person. I feel the amount of time I spend on my computer and watching television starting to drain me, physically and mentally, but I keep looking for interaction, anywhere. Even my mother, who is in a nursing home, has company on a daily basis. However, being a little like me, she is also so depressed that she goes to sleep at 8 PM. She doesn’t know what else to do with her life when her body and her mind have been so limited by illness.
All this being said, it’s probably not the best state of mind for me to start reading Marina Keegan’s “The Opposite Of Loneliness”, or maybe it is. For those who haven’t heard of her, Marina was a Yale magna cum laude graduate who was already publishing her work and landed a job at The New Yorker. She was a good writer; many referred to her as a prodigy. She had every advantage one might think of; fairly well-to-do parents, a good education, a loving boyfriend, plenty of friends, and a brilliant mind. Yet, most of her poems and essays are about the alienation of Generation Y, the struggle for perfection at the cost of identity, the relinquishing of passion in hopes of success, without any guarantee, and even then, the choice not paying off. They are, in a way, very much about loneliness—but the comfort in knowing that everyone around you is experiencing the exact same sort of loneliness, which turns out to be not quite so lonely after all.
Marina writes a great deal about death in her work; she makes statements that will send chills down your spine about life, death, mortality, and the future. It’s as if she knew, on some fundamental level, that she should be concerned with death and leaving behind a legacy in a way most people are not for another 22 years.
Marina Keegan died in a car crash 5 days after her graduation. My heart breaks for her, because it is almost as if she always knew there would not be enough time. One of her essays focuses on being remembered, and how her “greatest fear is that I will never end up doing anything, not really”. This is her legacy, this is a tangible memento of something she did—although it’s nothing compared to the legacy people leave behind in the people they love, the hearts they touch, the things that are better for a person having been on the planet.
This is her legacy, although it’s not why you should read it. Some of her essays went viral, others are being posthumously published, but even when she was alive and well, she was being hailed as an accomplished writer. Her talent does not lie in an early, tragic, and eerily foreshadowed death, but in raw talent with a lot of potential. She could have been a lot of things, and she feared becoming nothing.
She did become someone and accomplish something, and this is her legacy. It gives me great comfort to know she will be remembered. After all, it’s what I want for myself, although I will never have 1.4 million people mourning my death. I should like to have proven Marina’s fear, and my own, to be without merit; we all become something, we all become someone worthy of memory.
Perhaps, if we try hard enough, we even inspire, long after we’re gone. This young woman, someone over a decade younger and tremendously more gifted than myself, inspired me and touched me in a way that’s difficult to explain. I had a similar reaction when Brittany Murphy passed away, an Irish-Italian girl with black eyes and red hair and pale skin who lived in New Jersey, and fell into the trap of living a life in which one can never possibly be good enough. I didn’t know Brittany Murphy, but I knew she was my age, and underneath the plasticised, anorexic exterior, I saw someone who was a lot like me…and I genuinely mourned her passing. Perhaps it is natural to be touched by the passing of those who are young, those who remind us of who we are, who we were, and who we might have been.
Not everyone in the world will feel the same connection to “The Opposite Of Loneliness” that I did, reading words that could have so easily been many of my own thoughts and words and fears and doubts. I am often afraid that, like this young woman, I won’t be around as long as I would want to be, and I may never become anything worth remembering.
And, for that alone, it is important for me to remember her–this perceptive girl with a quirky sense of humour and unique insight into others that made her special. She is someone I would have liked to have known, and I would have liked for the world to have known.
You should not read and applaud someone’s creative work simply because it is his or her legacy. But you should allow yourself to be touched by it, identify with it, and wonder how you yourself may one day be remembered by the world.
Thank you, Marina Keegan, for leaving behind the gift of yourself. I am sorry you didn’t have enough time to fall in love with everything. It’s no consolation, but none of us ever do.
Best-selling author J.R Moehringer, best known for his own semi-autobiographical novel The Tender Bar writes this heart-breaking final tribute in his review of her work: “I also might have told Marina that we do have a word for the opposite of loneliness. It’s called reading. Again, I’ll have to tell her readers. This book reminds us: as long as there are books, we’re never completely alone. Open it anywhere and Marina’s voice leaps off the page, uncommonly honest, forever present. With this lovely book always at hand, we and Marina will never be completely apart.”
I can’t think of a better legacy, really.
“The Opposite Of Loneliness” is currently available through Amazon.. It is not only worth reading, it is worth being a permanent fixture in your library.