I had a bad day. I won’t detail the events leading up to this particular bad day. Stuff happens. Especially in teaching, stuff happens – odd, heavy, down right tiresome stuff. For me, it was as though I got up in the morning, filled up my pot, turned on the stove and anticipated a slow simmer. Not this day, I boiled over and spilled everywhere. I was a mess. It was a bad day.
That evening, I went to the bookstore in an attempt to drown out my thoughts after this particular bad day. I was drawn to a paperback with a young woman on the cover wearing an oversized bright yellow jacket with a short floral skirt. She wore it all with an effortless smile. This woman was the picture of youthful beauty. It was an engaging photo but the title drew me in even further, The Opposite of Loneliness. I flipped it over to read the blurb: “Read for Gen Y, by Gen Y,” “How do you mourn the loss of a fiery talent that was barely a tendril before it was snuffed out? Answer: Read this book.” The author, Marina Keegan had a birth and death (1989 – 2012) listed along with an array of titles: award winning author, journalist, playwright, poet actress, activist and more.
I am far removed from Generation Y. My birthdate thirteen years prior to Marina’s but I was intrigued and I bought the book. I am so glad I did. It has helped start new paths in my brain less traveled and tiresome then those that initially drove me to the bookstore that day.
Marina’s collection of fiction and nonfiction short stories was published after her death from a tragic automobile accident. Marina’s college professor, Anne Fadiman, wrote: “When a young person dies, much of the tragedy lies in her promise: what she would have done. But Marina left what she had already done: an entire body of writing, far more than could fit between these covers.”
I would encourage all generations X, Y, Z or whatever letter of the alphabet marks your generation to read this book. Marina was a rare talent, and a reminder to seize the day. I am particularly interested in her non-fiction stories. Her professor acknowledges that Marina was a fervent reviser and the final form of the writings gathered for the book may not have been as she would have liked.
But that in itself, is what makes the book special and even more meaningful. Our lives are flawed and there are bad days like the one that drove me to the bookstore. What would the unedited version of my life look like? I often tell friends that I live like a “frat boy.” (They laugh but there is more truth in it then I like to admit.) Walk into my home and there is sometimes clutter and dust. Currently, there are blinds in disrepair, a ceiling that needs a new coat of paint, a closet that is bursting with clothes rarely worn. I often get discouraged by the things in my life that are not as they “should” be. But it is stories like Marina’s that remind me that in my clutter there are photos of my loved ones, an old harmonica belonging to a beloved uncle who passed away, a beer bottle from a friend’s trip to Germany (beer long since enjoyed), a collection of good fortunes from cookies, a scarf signed by an Elvis impersonator and so many other things that may appear to be clutter but are really pieces of a good life.
In one of her non-fiction stories “Why We Care About Whales,” Marina wrote about experiencing first hand efforts to save beached whales. From her writing, I learned that whales in distress will send out a call to which other whales will respond. As a result, entire pods will rush to the lone whale’s side beaching themselves in the process. Once on land, there is no echolocation so the whales die without being able to relay a parting message. This brought Marina and, in turn due to her wonderful writing, me to think about dying slowly next to a loved one helplessly unable to tell them what I was feeling.
That day in the bookstore, I was feeling bad. But Marina’s stories reminded me of all the beautiful things I have in this life. I am blessed with my own “whale pod”, my family and friends, who listen to me on my bad days or celebrate with me on the good ones. One last thing about those whales, she described whales as “conscious breathers.” For them, rising to the surface for inhalation is a choice. What a thought! Inhalation as a choice! I hope when my pot is getting ready to boil over next time that I make that choice to breathe in a little deeper and to realize that most of my “bad” days really aren’t that bad and I am never truly alone.