Whilst studying at Yale University, English major Marina Keegan wrote a list of pitfalls. Number four on the list read, “Be careful of parallels”. While Marina was most likely commenting on her writing style, her words seem to be even more relevant as life advice for us all; an unofficial student bible, if you like. As I embark on my second year, I wish I could hand a copy of her essay and stories, The Opposite of Loneliness, to every fresher silently filled with the worries that come with starting a new life.
The truth is, when you start university, you expect everything. You expect the world to be given to you on a plate. You leave your home town and you have your aunt’s voice ringing in your head when she said, “these are the best days of your life.” Keegan’s work acknowledges the stress felt by millions of young adults in the 21st century. She writes, “We have these impossibly high standards and we’ll probably never live up to our perfect fantasies of our future selves.” In our Instagram society, we are subconsciously lulled into thinking we always have to be happy and grateful, healthy and successful. Keegan’s essay, filled with realistic enthusiasm, leaves its readers with a zest for life and a belief that greatness is achievable. And yet, despite its effortless excitement and emotion, she manages to prove that it’s okay not to feel like you’re happy and grateful, healthy and successful all of the time.
“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.” Somehow, her honesty prevents the essay from being clichéd or tinted with the faddish affectation so common in our self-help, gratitude practising society. Her words remind us not to compare our experiences as we log onto Facebook and see our school friends tagged in a million pictures with faces and names we’ve never seen or heard of before. Simply, “be careful of parallels.” Keegan’s essay is the manifestation of all the emotions students seldom share as they worry their peers will think they’re not “living the dream” that is expected of us all.
“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?”
Also addressed is the concept of work ethic and what it means to really do one’s best whilst studying and trying to adapt to life in the real world. “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?” Keegan is refreshingly reassuring in a series of short sentences that we can all resonate with, “Sleeping too late. Procrastinating. Cutting corners.” Hers is a voice that refrains from feigning maturity beyond her years. Self-deprecating to the point of comforting her readers and self-aware enough to know that brilliance is achievable, her literature jumps from the page, ready to sooth our secretly scared student souls.
Quite simply, her work is a delicious concoction of witty remarks, touching truths, and philosophical musings that I wish everyone could taste. So, buy yourself a copy now and leave it on your shelf until the fresher’s debauchery has died down and you find yourself in need of a friend. Oh, and remember, “THERE CAN ALWAYS BE A BETTER THING” so, don’t beat yourself up if you’re not happy and grateful, healthy and successful all of the time.
The Opposite of Loneliness is published by Simon & Schuster, £8.99
by Megan Louisa