The Opposite of Loneliness is a collection of writings by 22 year old, Yale graduate Marina Keegan, published in 2013. Keegan was in the enviable position of having a job awaiting her at the New Yorker, a play ready for production at the New York National Fringe Festival and a number of non-fiction publications in the New York Times: opportunities wildly dreamt of by any humanities student – and frustratingly difficult to attain. Across eighteen fiction and non-fiction pieces, she voices sentiments akin to almost every student I know – myself included. Keegan writes of her concern for the speed with which time passes us by and the never ending pressure we feel to achieve ‘something’; to leave a mark upon the world. She stressed her assurance that we have time to change our minds and her confidence that the best years are still to come.
I can acutely relate to the sentiments of Keegan’s writings. Whilst she displays a distinctive talent, her voice throughout is resolutely young – and unapologetically so. In May 2012 however, five days after her graduation from Yale, Marina Keegan was travelling with her boyfriend to her father’s birthday party when she died in a car crash.
It is the devastation of Keegan’s sudden loss of life which makes her message of appreciating the present resonate more profoundly.
Keegan was a white, upper-middle class, Ivy-League student who benefited (indirectly) from America’s oligarchy and enjoyed a privilege which should not go unacknowledged (take note James Blunt), she was also one of thousands who die in car accidents annually and her story doesn’t encompass more tragedy than any other, but neither her privilege nor the frequency of road accidents should hinder the weight of Keegan’s words. The body of writing she left behind had a universality to it which deserves the credit it has been given. Her story has left me evaluating the familiar paradoxes of being young – read her essays with an ignorance of the author and you could easily presume her voice to be that of a Glasgow University student. We’re really not all that different.
We have similar concerns: the things we want the most often feel intangible, and the fear of failure can frequently paralyse us. Increasingly, we feel as though our lives are dictated by absurd, paradoxical concepts which often render us at a stand-still: we’re the ‘internet generation’, more globally connected than ever before, yet feel disenfranchised at the most local of levels; we grew up in the Neo-Liberal world, encouraged to reach as high as the stars, but we inherited the debts of the economic crash from our childhoods; we’re exposed to advertisements approximately every 40 seconds, blasting us with image after image of what our lives could be, should be, aren’t, yet all we really need is that which Keegan refers to as the ‘elusive, indefinable, opposite of loneliness’ in order to be happy.
It is all too easy to allow these pressures to affect us. Are you keeping those New Year’s resolutions? Have you applied for that job, that internship, that training course? Have you considered graduation and your prospects thereafter? With these concerns it can often feel obnoxious to use the hangover justifications we once had, or no longer amusing to spend the day watching re-runs of 90’s TV with a stack of real priorities in the corner. We forget that these pressures are not exclusive to our twenties; that we face decades full of worries about what is yet to come. We panic and binge eat and – most commonly – presume we’re the only one doing so.
I’m terrified of making mistakes, of missing opportunities or looking back on these years with regrets. However, that fear tends to ease when I stop and realise that these worries are universal. We all want to travel, and work, and get drunk, and move away, and go home, and have sex, and get a first, and get a Masters, and read everything, and know everything, and fall in love, and watch Netflix until 3am. The point is that we can.
In The Opposite of Loneliness Keegan writes that ‘we have these impossibly high standards and we’ll probably never live up to our perfect fantasies of our future selves. But I feel like that’s okay. We’re so young. We’re so young… We have so much time.’
So don’t panic, enjoy right now and let the future happen later. That’s what Marina Keegan has taught me.
This article originally appeared in Qmunicate magazine