“I want a girl that’s full of life and enthusiasm and optimism and creativity and assumed profundity. Who I do not have to brag to. Who I can engage in a dialogue. I want honesty, more than anything, “— Marina Keegan, “Cold Pastoral”
April is National Poetry Month, and there was this challenge associated with it to see if you might be able to finish 30 poems in 30 days. It seemed like a cool challenge, and one I was excited about participating in, but it’s already April 6th and I haven’t written a single word. Even blogging has been somewhat of a challenge. I don’t know what to share, often.
The creative block I have been suffering, the thing that tells me I suck and don’t have any original ideas and there’s absolutely no point spending hours writing stuff nobody is ever going to read, just isn’t going away. In an ideal universe, I’d be using a lot of the time I have not being able to go out and interact with society to be creative in a brilliant-but-disturbed-Virginia-Woolf kind of way. However, it turns out, the same things that make me feel angsty as a person create angst as a writer, and so blank pages just stare back at me.
I, of course, conquered this in the best way possible: by watching hours of television. This week was also Comcast’s “Watchathon”, the one week where they give you access to all the channels you want but don’t get (even though you also get 100 channels you never use, and could watch at any given time.), and therefore, you can catch up on a series that you’d normally miss out on.
I watched the mini-series (which was 10 hour-long episodes, almost as long as a regular American dramatic series) adaptation of Phillipa Gregory’s “The White Queen”, which I highly enjoyed. I like both historical fiction and period drama, although too much romance and sentimentality is not a selling point for me, and today’s authors tend to go too much in that direction. Phillipa Gregory does her research, but she also tells a compelling story; it’s really a compelling soap opera that is so much better, because at some point, IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED. If you are one of the 5 people on the planet who has Starz, or you can find the series elsewhere, I highly recommend watching it.
The Guy I Am Currently Dating was even more ambitious, and managed to catch up on “Game Of Thrones”, which I refuse to watch. It’s really a shame; despite the fact that it is the type of story I’d typically love, I can’t watch the level of violence and emotional abuse on that show without crying. (And I watched both “Sopranos” and “Oz”, so violence is not necessarily a deal-breaker in my show choices.) There’s something about the way the show is done that makes the violence and killing and sadness so much more affecting than other shows, and it didn’t take long to realise the show would give me nightmares. I do still have the book on my Kindle, which I haven’t read yet.
I suppose it was either last year or the year before, but I was really profoundly affected when I read about the death of 22-year old Marina Keegan, right after her college graduation from Yale. I didn’t know her; I’m about 10 years too old for her to have been closely connected to anyone in my circle, but I saw her story and her writing through a friend of a friend at Yale. It was one of those stories that simply stayed with me, and reminded me of the cruelty that accompanies the randomness and impermanence of life. We can all lose everything, so quickly, and lives change in the blink of an eye.
She was a talented writer, and the piece she wrote for classmates before their impending graduation was heartbreaking, because it was all about everything she and her friends might grow up to be. She never had the opportunity. I am really happy that her writings are being collected and published, because although I never knew her, it felt like she left an absence in the world. Her book, The Opposite Of Loneliness is being published on April 8th through Amazon, so if anyone would like to gift me a copy, I’d love that. The New Yorker, where she interned after graduation, has honoured her by publishing one of her pieces, a short story more than worth reading.. I suppose her story resonates with me, because it is a reminder that death does not discriminate, and every day, life says “What are you doing that’s worth leaving behind?”
I’m not a hyper-competitive person. I didn’t go to an Ivy League school, not because I didn’t get in (I was accepted at both Penn and Columbia), but because I didn’t feel the freedom to be me. I felt like it was yet another step on being rewarded for properly pedaling the hamster wheel, a path that never ends until you have the right resume, the right internship, the right job, the right awards, the right house, the right spouse, the right kids and/or dogs, the right air of respectability, the right legacy, the right funeral. At no point on the wheel is there too much room for self-expression or for saying “I don’t care about any of that. I am not a resume. I am not an image. I need you to see me“. It is a battle I am still fighting; I’m not equipped with the right anything. I have more than once fallen for someone who could never fall for me back, not because of lack of feeling, but because I am “not the sensible choice”. I am not a stop along the maze-hampster-wheel path, and for those who are, noticing me may be ultimately destructive.
But, like those countless rule-following, over-achieving friends I admire and feel a great sadness for simultaneously, I spend a lot of time wondering what I will have done with my life that’s worth leaving behind. It is poignant to read Marina Keegan’s stories and poems, because she examined that a lot; like many 20-somethings, she had a lot of questions about the future and so few answers, and wasn’t afraid to discuss how utterly terrifying that is.
I wish she were still around, so I might tell her, “In 10 years, you still won’t know. All the questions you’ve answered will be replaced with new ones”. It makes me terribly sad that such a bright light, such a curious and intuitive mind was taken from the world so quickly. It makes me more determined than ever to find something worth leaving behind. I know I will never change the world, but in some small way, I’d like to be remembered by someone for the tiny little mark I left behind. Perhaps if I’d done things “just like everyone else”, if I’d “lived up to potential”, I’d be a stellar resume with a cute studio apartment by now.
I suspect I’d be miserable, staring at a lack of authenticity and freedom to exist in an unrestrained fashion, both from myself and everyone else. I’d be lying, though, if I didn’t admit to wondering.
It occurs to me pretty frequently that I may have less time on this planet than most of the people I know, and so the pressure to live, to leave a mark, to be worthwhile, it is something that feels greater. I am terrified of running out of time. I’m terrified of all the chances I’ve never taken, all the alternate ways things still might work out, but I may not be around to see. I’m terrified that after a fairly colourful life, I’m still lacking in self-confidence and inhibited. I still can’t say “I love you”, or “Please don’t leave, because I’d miss you too much”, or even “Why don’t you think I’m worth getting to know?” I’m terrified that I’ll never be the strong, unique, loving, accomplished person I’d like to be. I’m terrified of always being overlooked, as if there’s little special to note about me. The friends who define success in the level of accomplishment and attractiveness of their mate and the net worth that will result from a lifetime of hard work tend to make me feel invisible, despite the fact that they simply see the world differently than I do.
I sometimes wonder if *anyone* sees the world as I do, or I will keep losing people to the beguiling mistress that is conventionality. I wonder if I’m going to be in the world long enough for it to matter.
Last weekend, I finally did what I could to make myself social again, and I had a party. Most of the people I love most in Atlanta were able to show up, and I had a wonderful time. But what I noticed most acutely is how different life is as an extrovert. Being ill has given me a gift I never had before, the one of being calm and focused enough to get to know people on a one-on-one basis—to actually feel more inspired and content by a few days with one person, than by meeting 100 new people. It has taught me, perhaps, what the world looks like for introverts. I still love parties, and crowds, and dancing, and singing, and costumes, and martinis, and awesome clothes, and cities that don’t shut down. But the times that make an impression on my heart are increasingly the times I went out for drinks with a friend, and that turned into an adventure; the time I went to dinner with someone I liked but didn’t know that well, but talked until the place closed down and walked away with a really special friendship. I think, maybe, I’ve learned to be both fun and substantial…and it’s something I wish I could have taught my 25-year old self.
I’ve learned not to take anyone or anything for granted, and that if you want something, you have to take a chance. You can’t wait around for life to happen. You can’t wait around for someone to notice how fascinating you are. You can’t wait for people to come knocking at your door, asking to be your friend, because they rarely do. You can’t wait for someone else to create the next adventure you’ll remember.
Life is really short. If you want to watch every episode of Game Of Thrones, do it now.