The Opposite of Loneliness

I just finished an English Literature degree. I’m used to reading words by dead people. But so many of the authors I wrote essays on were the kind of famous that makes people stories in themselves, their deaths no more real to me than their fiction.

the opposite of loneliness

I could not fictionalise Marina Keegan. She died in a car accident in 2012, five days after she graduated from Yale University. She was twenty-two. She wrote an essay a few days before that went viral after her death. Seeing her writing touch so many people, her parents and her teachers gathered her best essays and fiction into a book named after that viral essay: The Opposite of Loneliness.

Initially the grief that this book is wrapped in makes it difficult to experience Marina’s writing for what it is. In her essays she mentions the future a lot – as all twenty-two year olds do (I would know) – and it’s jarring.

I’m one of those people who worries about dying a lot. Reading the book made me anxious.

But Marina’s writing is so good, I found myself forgetting about the grief and the death and my own anxieties. I suppose because not many of us get published, I don’t feel that I get to read much in the way of writing by people in their early twenties, like me. Utterly bewildered by life (happy free confused and lonely at the same time), like me. It was kind of like listening to 1989 for the first time and marvelling at how Taylor got dating in your twenties down so perfectly. Actually Marina does too, in Cold Pastoral, a story about a girl whose sort-of-but-not-really-boyfriend passes away, suddenly. She’s faced with grieving for a boy she was considering breaking up with, someone who was kind of boring her until he permanently idealised himself by dying. We all want what we can’t have. I really felt that sense of being a tourist in someone else’s life – the places and customs that glide past you, barely significant to someone who doesn’t plan on staying long.

My favourite of Marina’s essays was Even Artichokes Have Doubts, about how high proportions of Yale students go on to work in the consulting or finance industries. It’s not finance or consulting that are the problem, it’s the dreams that working for them replaces. Rather than starting their non-profit, or making their films or writing their songs, Marina saw the people around her instead signing up to be a part of a machine that served nobody. She saw the world losing out on the gifts her friends could share if they were only brave enough.

And here lies the conundrum of the nearly-graduate art student. Do I commit to my art and work a crappy job, or do I commit to a decent job with decent money that isn’t what I want? I think this quote in Marina’s essay, from Kevin Hicks, former dean of Berkeley College sums the whole argument up pretty perfectly:

“The question is: where do you need to be with yourself such that when the time comes to ‘cast your whole vote’, you’re reasonably confident you’re not being either fear-based or ego-driven in your choice… that the journey you’re on is really yours, and not someone else’s? If you think about your first few jobs after Yale in this way – holistically and in terms of your growth as a person rather than as ladder rungs to a specific material outcome – you’re less likely to wake up at age forty married to a stranger.”

Now that is advice to carry into the future. In the book, Marina mentions a few times that she wants to be a writer. But from what I can tell she already was one. It made me think that perhaps we are already what we want to be, but that in the real, non-university world of 9 to 5 and money and responsibility, we find ourselves forgetting. Re-reading The Opposite of Loneliness will be how I remember, I think.

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Audiobooks for Insomnia

During my first year of university, I became an insomniac. I don’t know whether it was the unfamiliarity, the sensory overload, or the experience of endless time that only exists in the first year of your degree and (I am told) never again. As a wise person once wrote (Rainbow Rowell) ‘Every freshman month equals six regular months – they’re like dog months.’

During my first year of university, I became an insomniac. I don’t know whether it was the unfamiliarity, the sensory overload, or the experience of endless time that only exists in the first year of your degree and (I am told) never again. As a wise person once wrote (Rainbow Rowell) ‘Every freshman month equals six regular months – they’re like dog months.’

In my case, that was at least partially due to the fact that my days were often twenty hours long, as I had pretty much lost the ability to sleep. Anyone who has ever had sleep trouble knows: lost sleep produces anxiety produces lost sleep. That plus university, plus the standard and not so standard problems of a nineteen year old girl, meant I was pretty much driving myself insane.

That is, until I discovered audiobooks. At that time nothing could quiet my frenetic brain like the sound of a stranger in my ears telling me a story. The only major downside to this discovery is that audiobooks cost a freaking fortune. As a result I have about six I can pretty much recite. But I really like those six.

My top 5 audiobooks for insomnia (or, almost all of the audiobooks I currently own):

5. Tommy Sullivan is a Freak – Meg Cabot

tommy sullivan is a freak

That I love Meg Cabot is obvious – who wouldn’t? A cute story of romance and self-discovery is exactly what you need during a meltdown at five in the morning.

4. I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections – Nora Ephron

i remeber nothing

A series of essays on such topics as lost memory, sexism in journalism and how restaurants are failing us. These essays go well with the 3am, early acceptance of the fact it is going to be a no-sleep-night mindset: reflective while gripe-ey, self-aware yet funny.

3. Bossypants – Tina Fey

bossypants

Tina Fey is a boss lady. It is difficult for me to contribute to the vast and interesting writing that exists about this book. All I will say is, while in despair at 4.25am as I checked the clock bang on the hour for the third consecutive time, her and Amy Poehler’s sketch as Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton made me smile.

2. Is It Just Me? – Miranda Hart

is it just me

It isn’t just her. The book is full of tales of embarrassment, self-acceptance and sticking two fingers up in the face of society’s expectations. A You-Can-Do-Anything! book for the manic phase that begins at around 5am at which time the non-sleeper will believe, for at least the next three hours, that they in fact have the potential to be the next Steve Jobs/Sheryl Sandberg/Kim Kardashian.

1. Yes Please – Amy Poehler

yes please

‘Everyone has a moment when they discover they love Amy Poehler.’ – Mindy Kaling.

Never a truer word. Also in this book, Amy reads a chapter about her own sleep issues! Despite the fact that generally speaking, I (thankfully) sleep a lot better these days*, I did actually listen to this at 4 in the morning with the familiar sense of despair of my ability to ever sleep again.

I felt less alone. I felt this throughout the book, actually. You should seriously read/listen to it. I know that people are generally biased toward their own experience of something, but I think listening to it is better cause it’s just so Amy.

*Brief and unscientific cures for insomnia

  1. Eating cheerios and drinking tea (post 3am only. Be aware that housemates/family members/partners will be pissed in the morning when there is no milk. Blame others if possible.)
  2. Writing down a list of your worries (despite my best intentions I only ever open my diary to write lists of worries. At 2am. If it is ever found in the future, my legacy will be of the most neurotic person who ever lived.)
  3. Opening the window, waiting till the room totally freezes and then making a hot water bottle to restart the warm snuggling process that was lost to sweat and exasperation several hours earlier.
  4. Giving up and binge watching Parks and Recreation until morning (or any other sitcom. They soothe anxiety. Try to leave it until 4am when you are ready to start bashing your head against the wall).
  5. Therapy. Can’t recommend this one enough.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

I love this book. Mindy explores the goods and bads of her life with a mix of sarcasm and earnestness anyone who has ever heard her speak will be familiar with.

My obsession with self-development has grown in response to my obsession with memoirs. I love reading about how other people are figuring it out. Part of me believes that if I read enough advice, I will somehow skip a few steps and wake up one day a fully developed human adult.

is everyone hanging out without me

That said, part of the reason I find these books so comforting is that they make the process of figuring it out sound like so much fun. They help my bad days feel like part of a wider picture rather than a series of unfortunate accidents. A bad week and the subsequent desire for that feeling was how I found myself re-reading Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) for the fourth (fifth?) time.

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I love this book. Mindy explores the goods and bads of her life with a mix of sarcasm and earnestness anyone who has ever heard her speak will be familiar with. She always seems so fearless in her self-expression, something I admire and consistently fail to display in my own life. Mindy’s book is like a crash course in identifying what you want and expressing it, no messing around. One of my favourite examples of this is in the chapter where she talks about the difference between boys and men, and why she’s pretty much done dating the former.

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I, as an almost-graduate, aspiring writer and current waitress also really enjoyed the chapters on pre-success Mindy. I really love a good failure story. Mindy does not shy away from the more embarrassing job interviews and auditions that she went through before she earned her spot on The Office writing staff.

In addition to the more embarrassing episodes, she also talks about experiencing a lack of motivation when it came to writing and the distractions that TV, and the internet, and your housemates provide, which also made me feel better. I don’t know about anyone else, but I often think that successful people are somehow magically immune from procrastination, and that my love of pinterest is probably the reason I will be serving sandwiches the rest of my life. But no! Mindy goes through it too!

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What you take away from reading this book, I think, is the belief in potential okayness, a feeling pretty vital to the survival of most of us.