I came across the title essay, The Opposite of Loneliness from Keegan published in Yale’s college newspaper. The essay was written by Keegan a couple of days after graduation and it reflects the hope, optimism, ambition, and uncertainty of a person leaving university to step into “the real world”. Keegan begins her essay with, “We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life”. And these words found me at the time when I needed to hear them but more importantly relate to and appreciate Marina’s predicament. And if you’re young, in university, or about to go to university, you might find something in it.
After the reading the essay, I had to pick up the book, which is a posthumous collection of fiction and non-fiction essays from Keegan. The introduction is written by one of Keegan’s professors, Fadiman. Fadiman talks about how many of her students sound forty years old but Keegan sounded young. To quote from the book, “Many of my students sounds forty years old. They are articulate but derivative, their own voices muffled by their desire to skip over their current age and experience, which they fear trivial, and land on some version of polished adulthood with passing Go. Marina was twenty-one and sounded twenty-one: a brainy twenty-one, a twenty-one who knew her way around the English language, a twenty-one who understood that there were few better subjects than being young and uncertain and starry-eyed and frustrated and hopeful. When she read her work aloud around our seminar table, it would make us snort with laughter, and then it would turn on a dime and break our hearts”. And I think that accurately sums up Keegan’s writing.
I listened to the audiobook. Some of the essays I particularly enjoyed were, “Cold Pastoral”, “Even Artichokes Have Doubts”, “Why We Care About Whales”, The Ingenue”, and “The Emerald City”.
The non-fiction essays can sound like platitudes, but hell at 21 what else is a girl to write? So I’m not one to judge. Yes, Keegan was talented and hardworking, but then again the several privileges Marina enjoyed crossed my mind- because they made the publishing of her work possible. But I set aside those for now, because here is a collection of really good stories that I enjoyed.
Here are a few quotes from the book that I really liked.
“We’re our own hardest critics and it’s easy to let ourselves down. Sleeping too late. Procrastinating. Cutting corners. More than once I’ve looked back on my high school self and thought: how did I do that? How did I work so hard? Our private insecurities follow us and will always follow us.”
“The middle of the universe is tonight, is here, And everything behind is a sunk cost.”
“The best years of our lives are not behind us. They’re part of us and they are set for repetition as we grow up and move to New York and away from New York and wish we did or didn’t live in New York.”
“Everything will be destroyed no matter how hard we work to create it. The idea terrifies me. I want tiny permanents. I want gigantic permanents! I want what I think and who I am captured in an anthology of indulgence I can comfortingly tuck into a shelf in some labyrinthine library.”
“What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over. Get a post-bac or try writing for the first time. The notion that it’s too late to do anything is comical. It’s hilarious. We’re graduating from college. We’re so young. We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.”
“It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table. When it’s four A.M. and no one goes to bed. That night with the guitar. That night we can’t remember. That time we did, we went , we saw, we laughed, we felt.”
“But it became clear very quickly that I’d underestimated how much I liked him. Not him, perhaps, but the fact that I had someone on the other end of an invisible line. Someone to update and get updates from, to inform of a comic discovery, to imagine while dancing in a lonely basement, and to return to, finally, when the music stopped.”
“I want enough time to be in love with everything… And I cry because everything is so beautiful and so short.”