While she was a student at Yale, Marina Keegan was the shiny, successful person everyone wishes they could be like. Yet, in a dazzling essay called Song for the Special, she writes about her jealousy towards every other person who appeared to be more successful than her. In the eponymous essay, The Opposite of Loneliness, she mentions private insecurities too. She discreetly points out that we never really judge ourselves based on who we are or what we do. We do it by comparing ourselves to others. It is the 21st century, and it has never been worse: our friends carefully display the finest pieces of their lives on Facebook and Instagram, and everyone else’s successes are made widely visible on the Internet. We face all of this daily and can hardly help comparing ourselves to these picture-perfect Internet people. Through Song for the Special and The Opposite of Loneliness, Marina stresses this point but also gives us a welcome reminder that even the most successful-looking people (like her) are just human beings wanting to be even better than they already are. Even they can feel jealousy and helplessness. Somewhere between our ambition and our jealousy lies our potential.
The short story Reading Aloud has to be one of Marina’s greatest pieces of writing. There, she tells her readers about an old woman who used to be a ballet dancer and now fantasizes about her lost youth and a young blind man. The whole story could tend to a magical rediscovery of youth but instead reminds us that craving for what used to be is a terrible mistake. Youth is one of those things you can only enjoy there and then and should probably not try to desperately return to as you get older. Her short story feels like a carpe diem, an invitation to live the present to its fullest and to not care too much about the past. Marina tells us we should say ‘yes’ to memories and ‘no’ to nostalgia, and she is probably right.
In Even artichokes have doubts, Marina deplores that 25 percent of Yale graduates generally enter the consulting or finance industry after commencement. She stresses that for most of those 25 percent, this means giving up on their primary plans and dreams to get a secure job or doing it simply because one has to start somewhere. That’s where it gets thought-provoking, as she rightly repeats it many times in The Opposite of Loneliness: ‘we’re still so young.’ Why should we stop holding on to our dream plans so soon and take the risk to get stuck in a job we don’t really believe in forever? And even if it’s just for a year or two before we can do something else, why should we waste our young years to do it instead of trying a little harder to reach what we really want right away? Of course, it may be a little too idealistic and unrealistic to not consider strongly enough that many in-debt students’ need to quickly obtain a good salary, but those questions are nonetheless hyper-relevant for our society’s young generations. They make Even artichokes have doubts a must-read essay for any student or doubtful graduate.
Last but certainly not least, Marina Keegan reminds us in her book that our voice matters. As she talks about career prospects, mentions war, wonders about the evolution of spatial sciences and much more, she demonstrates that there is a lot to talk about and many things to reconsider. Talking here appears as the first step to ‘make something happen to the world,’ the wish she ultimately enunciates in The Opposite of Loneliness. Although she sadly didn’t live long enough to do it in the long run, Marina Keegan threw stones in our waters: we can now feel the vibes and take over. And talking feels like a really good start. The message she displays in her book, and most particularly in its main essay, couldn’t be any clearer: ‘we can still do anything,’ ‘we must not lose this sense of possibility,’ ‘let’s make something happen to this world.’ An empowering speech that displays the young Yale graduate at her best.