On Reading The Opposite of Loneliness

The first time I read The Opposite of Loneliness I cried. It wasn’t because of Marina Keegan’s writing (although her understanding and execution of the written word is undeniable) it was because of myself—or rather, in spite of myself.

In 22 years Keegan’s list of accomplishments read like an all-star roster. She had attended Yale, earned a job at The New Yorker, wrote a play that was to be produced at the New York International Fringe Festival, and had written an essay that was viewed over a million times online.

Think about that, over a million people heard her voice.

Whether it was from glowing computer screens, on a finicky tablet, a zoomed-in smartphone, or on the Yale Daily News website—Keegan was able to tell a story that resonated with millions of people in over 98 different countries.

And so, I cried. I cried because I was 25 and my list of accolades was far shorter than hers. I cried because I wasn’t 22. I cried because she was gone and I was here. I cried because I was jealous.

That’s a twisted revelation, I know, but it’s true. She had three less years in this world than me and yet she had accomplished far more with her literary craft than I ever had (or maybe ever will). I wanted that.

That afternoon I sulked around my house, my self-aware self-hatred seeping in until late that evening when I revisited Keegan’s essay in the dim lighting of my bedroom.

“What we have to remember is that we can still do anything.”

This sentence washed over me. It filled in all the holes of anxiety and dread. It patched the cracks of insecurity and regret. I turned off my light and dog-eared my page. I settled in under the covers and cried—this time, out of happiness.

I’m not sure what I want to do. I have a Bachelor’s Degree and a college Certificate, I’ve been an intern three times, I’ve written a full-length feature film, short films, short stories, and poetry, I’ve travelled to 14 countries and lived n 3, I’ve crowd surfed and skydived; but I still live at home, I still depend (largely) on my parents, I am still single, I still have panic attacks, I still get anxious about the future, and I still have to remind myself that I can do anything. We all do.

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The Taste of A Moment

There is so much in this great big wide world. So much happiness and heartache – so many moments. Moments when I catch myself laughing at the familiar way Will butters his toast, sliding the knife into each corner with careful scrutiny. Moments when I find myself crying on the bus in Portland next to a man with willowy white hair, his balding scalp reflecting the sun like a polished hourglass. So many little moments that I don’t embrace.

That’s where I go wrong.

I let those little moments of feeling pass by as I stand transfixed in my own self-doubt and anxiety. I take shallow breathes and exhale quickly. When instead, I should suck back every single minute detail of every second. I should taste every sweet and salty moment in all their bitterness and juiciness.

But, more often that not, I want to move past them. When an ex-boyfriend told me, “I don’t miss you that way anymore”, or when I was the oldest person in my class and I thought, what am I doing here? I wanted to escape and get out of that feeling as quickly as possible.

The unknown is perhaps the scariest of all these feelings. It’s this huge chasm of unaccounted for time and space, the great divide between youth and the ill-defined “adulthood”. Questions gnaw away at the inside of my head. They ask – who will I be? What will I do? What career will I have? Who will I love? Will anyone love me? Will I be a disappointment? Am I already?

But I shouldn’t give way to their apparent truthfulness. I shouldn’t let them dominate moments – MY moments, YOUR moments. They shouldn’t be allowed to infiltrate that time when I climbed a mountain to watch the sunrise, when I worked hard to get straight A’s in university, when I got drunk in my Grandma’s old car and found her old sunglasses (the kind with tinted sides, like blinders on a horse) and put them on to try and remember what she looked like.

I should take greedy deep gulps of these moments. I am 24 years old and there are SO many things in this world. So many things that taste every bit as delicious as everything else, and I want to taste them all.

Homecoming

Ten months of travelling and you truly believe you can do anything. You can face new challenges and achieve them with ease. You can take on any task put forth before you and accomplish it with flying colours.

After all, you’ve mastered airport security, you are the champion of trains, and you are the reigning queen of bus rides. You have tackled boats, kayaks, bikes, blades, horses, camels, tuk tuks, vomit inducing scooters, heel-cutting blister-making sandals, and cats. A cat isn’t a mode of transportation? Fuck it. You’ll teach it – AND you’ll do the whole thing with a hangover. You are the master of all things that move from point A to B, nobody messes with you and you believe you can do it all.

Then you get home.

The first month is euphoric. Clean clothes, your own car, old friends, inside jokes, and a bed with the perfect body hole molded to your liking. Then, reality sinks in. You’re home. You’re not sleeping in hostel dorms, drinking on the beach, or riding lazily in a sleepy haze on bus trips (with a mountain of snacks piled at your feet because you’re not quite sure when the next meal is coming). You’re home. The normalities and comforts of everyday life come in waves of nostalgic comfort and hateful bliss. You love but also loathe your ice-maker, and admire yet despise your overflowing closet. Did you always have that green sweater? When did you ever wear those shoes? Look at all your hats!

The duplicity of your happiness is soon overshadowed by your current state of housing and unemployment. While the unwavering love of your parents is much appreciated, it’s been awhile since you’ve been nagged to make your bed. And sure, it’s been two weeks and you still haven’t unpacked your bag, but what’s the rush? Trumping the parental influence is your dwindling cash flow.

Twenty four years and you still haven’t got it figured out. You assumed all that time to think in solitude, to reflect on your life and ponder what career path to take would give you some sort of direction. To be honest though, it only really gave you time to come up with a list of sub-par inventions (what about a towel with a built in inflatable pillow?) and a bipolar collection of Jodi Picoult and Jack Kerouac books from hostel book exchanges. It did not direct you in an appropriate career path. 

Thank god for Netflix, it helps ward off the self-pity. Lorelai and Rory’s seven seasons of quick quips ring in your ears while you mindlessly apply for job after job with feigned interest.

What do you want? Where do you want to be? What do you want to do?

In fourty five minutes Rory has it figured out, Yale over Harvard, Jess over Dean, and Bangs over No Bangs. Yet, here you sit, stumbling over the phrasing of another cover letter and overwhelmed by the prospect of it all. It’s too much. It’s more than a late train, a delayed flight, a cancelled bus route, or a flat tire. What’s happened to your overwhelming sense of confidence that you can do anything? Be anything. Maybe it’s still in the bag you haven’t unpacked. Zipped away and tucked between folded t-shirts, buried beneath the hoodie you bought your brother, or trapped in the holes of your worn out sneakers. Maybe it got lost along the way. Maybe you’ll never find it again.

You step outside onto the back porch to give your eyes a rest from the bright computer screen of Craigslist ads. You take a seat cross-legged on the warm grass and stretch your head up to the sky. You fall back into the green earthy mattress and let your arms fall by your side, fingertips pulling fistfuls of soft blades out into manicured piles. The back of your knees itch and the sun is burning a V-neck pattern into your chest. The bus is full, the plane is late, the car broke down and the sun is shining on your face at home. You breathe deep.

You might be able to find it again after all.

queenstown

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the bungy jumps, the skydiving, the bar crawls or hiking trails that let you know you’ve reached the mecca of backpacker New Zealand. Rather, it’s the library. In place of students hunched over books and children reading Dr. Seuss, the Queenstown library is filled with sun bleached, denim wearing, beard faced, hair wrapped, wifi seeking travelers. They fill the small public space in every nook and cranny, sitting on floors, leaning against bookshelves and squeezing into tiny red plastic children’s chairs in the reserved “Kiddie Reading Korner”. No one seems to be over the age of twenty six or have had over five hours of sleep. The look is weathered and tired but still eager. They seek vacant hostel beds and plan the next leg of their road trip in a mess of Google map tabs and actual maps with dog eared tags in every corner. German is the most commonly heard hushed whisper over top of the constant rustle of Lonely Planet pages. The power outlets burst forth from the walls with an array of converters and adapters furiously transforming energy to power ipads and ipods and imacs and i want everything charged. A map of New Zealand hangs on the far wall with a box of tacks next to it that can be used to pin places people have visited, turning the map into a kaleidoscope of blue and green memory markers.

The contrasting ideologies of wanderlust adventurism and 21st century social media co-exist within that little library. They live in a symbiotic relationship of stark contradiction – living within the worn out pages of The Hobbit and Instagram pictures of sunsets. It’s a strange relationship between the barefooted altruistic backpacker and the Tripadvisor review that rates their journey. It’s the obscure reality that says welcome to Queenstown.

Australia

This is the country I learned to call home.
The waves with each tidal change pulled me closer to the centre of it, the heart of it, the simplicity of a signature in the soil. Tracing my bare feet in the sand in a linear timeline of here and now and trailing into the sea of past and future. Flowing in waves, swelling into breaking whites, leaving foam fingerprints pressed into tan lines, glass bottles and surfboards.

This place I paced back and forth in dots and dashes on maps, in planes and buses. Where north met south in strangers in hostel rooms and we all headed east, saving the west for another time. Because time was infinite in that traced barefoot line in the sand, measured only in triple J songs on the radio and train schedules at Flinders Station.

These postcard friendships made along the way filled envelopes, stored in letterboxes labelled Ms. Cortex. Opened each time a memory of the sun fades in and out of focus. Every time that something reminds me this is the place I got to call home, if only for a time.