Real Life Inspiration: Marina Keegan

Marina Keegan

Marina Keegan

Before beginning to type this I sat upright in my desk chair, remaining still as I felt the air from my ceiling fan softly caress the damp and cool tears which lay on my cheeks. I love to cry in the way that people who can’t cry do. As the Jewish proverb says, tears are soap for the soul. There’s just something renewing about them.

But before I knew it my tears had evaporated leaving a salty shadow in their place. The skin above my cheek bones adhered slightly to my hands when I finally wiped them on a dry face. But the cry had been good.

I cried for Marina Keegan.

In a rare moment of emotional cowardice I admit that it would pain me to type the details of her story. As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff writes in his most recent column:

TWO years ago, Marina Keegan’s life brimmed with promise. She was graduating with high honors from Yale University, already a precocious writer about to take up a job at The New Yorker. She had a play that was about to be produced. She had sparked a national conversation about whether graduates should seek meaning or money.

But it wasn’t her accomplishments or potential that made the car accident that took Marina’s life such a tragedy. It was the fact that she viewed life in a light few have the courage to see it in. This she expressed beautifully in her writing.

Her Poem Bygones is perhaps my favorite piece of literary art in the world.

Bygones by Marina Keegan

I had a dream the other night that I was checking my email.
That dream sucks.

And woke to woes of seniors writing
love songs for tomorrow and
Tomorrow and the melodies
That flirt us forward, whispering
the next thing and the next thing
and – so we beat on
birds flocking south until we
circle round and realize maybe
maybe all that running wasn’t worth it.

Maybe we should build a cabin.
Or teach high school.
Or use our hands.
My palms are smooth as words –
Weak with fashion and double spaces.

I want everyone else’s club and job and class
The grass I sleep in always browner than
Than that around erasing dreams
To sit and breathe because you
Only bank for two years then it’s over
And twenty two is nothing new
It’s just another chance to build
For when we’re twenty three
And twenty four
And time begins to sell for more than
Any 9 a.m. to never.

We’re not stuck.
That’s the thing, we’re not stuck.
We owe no one our nothings.

Yale will be what it was,
Gothic dreams of lucky, of amazing
Not a staircase or corner office contract.

At home, I walk in forest fields,
Orange light and dry trees,
Becoming slowly sleepy,
And disgusted with my vintage shoes
And the thinness of my skinny pants,
my florals laughed at by the flowers,
whispering, hip. Whispering, there’s no
sidewalk that cares.

But let me tell you, I look cool at parties
And success sufficient to make men fall in love
As we smoke again and open wines
And text to leave because the here is never
Good and I heard that thing on Chapel was fun, well do you wanna leave soon?
Who’s there
Do you wanna leave soon?

I want to bake my blackberry into blackberry pancakes
And live wire-less,
With a husband who runs in the mornings
And lots of books
And a baby who I raise…
To be anything – or nothing
Because that’s okay too.
Because working in a bookstore and having babies
And nothing and being in love is okay too.

Ambition is a choice.
Ambition is a race we chose to run
So we could get here so we could
I don’t know so we could save poor
People or invent something or be in charge.

Last winter I slept in word counts
Face pressed to table tops until the
Snow came and the sun rose
And a man came in to vacuum the floor.

And I’d be tired.
Not just sleepy, but tired.
Tired until all I wanted to do was put on something
Acoustic and romantic and vacuum castle floors.

Why do I feel like I can’t do that?

I’m not sure anymore if I want
To schedule meals and be late
And delegate because that’s what
Good leaders do.

And I’m tired of justifying with tomorrow’s bliss, because
Yesterday’s tomorrow is today and
Someday the sun is going to die
And then the human race will end and
I’ll still be texting to see if that other party’s better.

Do you wanna leave soon?
No, I want enough time to be in love
with everything.

We’re too smart to sell our time
For cocktail moments of
This is what I’ve done
And summers lost for
Three lines on a document
That can’t contain the time
We got high on pancakes
And built a snow fort.

We’re not that young.
We’ve always been young
But now we’re not that young.

And the world is so beautiful.

And this is what we’ve got, you know? This is what we’ve got and we’ll just keep flirting forward, shrinking fonts and grays in love songs to future companies who may decide they want us on their team.

The middle of the universe is here, is tonight,
And everything behind is a sunk cost
Lost in our oceans and our oceans are deep.

So I went to Yale.
So I got good grades.
So we beat on
birds flocking south until we
circle round and realize maybe
maybe all that running wasn’t worth it.

Or the snow comes, and the sun rises, and the vacuum starts,
And I cry because everything is so beautiful and so short.

###

And this is why I cry yet again this morning. Only now I wipe my tears instead of savoring their chill on my face. Somehow, I just don’t feel worthy of such a small and curious pleasure in the light of someone who is such a personal hero to me. She deserved to be here not me.

She was a hero for baring herself so authentically in her art and a hero for being who she was – herself. She had confidence, character, and personal modesty as a Yale lecturer had said.

And yet, as a friend of hers told the Yale news:

“Marina was someone who looked at the world and knew it had to be changed, but at the same time saw there was beauty in it.”

She knew it had to be changed. And she walked the walk. Who knows how many students she saved from a life of drudgery and regret with her poignant anti Wall Street college recruitment views.

Standing outside a freshman dorm, I couldn’t find a single student aspiring to be a banker – but at commencement this May, there’s a 50 percent chance I’ll be sitting next to one. This strikes me as incredibly sad.

Marina represented the idea of being true to yourself rather than subscribing to societal dogma. As I prepare for my 29th year, (a formative time in the careers and lives of many men), I can’t help but feel her words are too strong not to heed. While not a Yale University graduate, I feel at this point in my life an equal sense of pull between my dreams (being a fantastic published author) and my desire for more secure success (my business, which I am not in love with to the same degree).

In thinking of Marina, I found myself writing this morning:

Broken hearts mend, regrets don’t.

While that may seem to be the kind of sentiment an angst filled teenager might share on facebook, I can’t help but look into those five words and feel a sense of both comfort and fear. What regrets am I willing to live with? This is the question few of us ever dare to ask but all of us inevitably must answer for.

What would Marina say to my life? What would she suggest I do with my dreams?

I look to her words and I feel I already know the answer:

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 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.

Am I going to lose my sense of possibility? Am I going to circle round one day after running the race of ambition only to realize that maybe all that running wasn’t worth it?

I don’t want Marina Keegan’s legacy to me to be just a bleeding-heart story that I express my lament over before going about my day life. I want to realize that ‘Working in a bookstore and having babies and nothing and being in love is okay too’.

It’s madness that we live the way we do. Are we going to be another inmate in the asylum of society because we don’t have the courage to follow our dreams?

Who among us will listen to the beautiful words of Marina Keegan and do something about our lives because of it? What will people say about us when we die? So few of us would be content with the answer. And yet we beat on.

Note: The Opposite of Loneliness, a collection of essays and short stories from Marina Keegan is being released on Amazon tomorrow! (04/08/2014).

And remember, it’s never too late:

###

Also, Give this great Alan Watts audio a listen.

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3 thoughts on “Real Life Inspiration: Marina Keegan

  1. Pingback: Advanced Falconry | 53 Minutes

  2. Pingback: A Sunk Cost: Letting Bygones be Bygones – 7 Saturdays

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