Monday, 19 November 2012

The Opposite of Loneliness

The piece below was written by Marina Keegan '12 for a special edition of the News distributed at the class of 2012's commencement exercises last week. Keegan died in a car accident on Saturday. She was 22.

We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life. What I’m grateful and thankful to have found at Yale, and what I’m scared of losing when we wake up tomorrow and leave this place.

It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table. When it’s four a.m. and no one goes to bed. That night with the guitar. That night we can’t remember. That time we did, we went, we saw, we laughed, we felt. The hats.

Yale is full of tiny circles we pull around ourselves. A cappella groups, sports teams, houses, societies, clubs. These tiny groups that make us feel loved and safe and part of something even on our loneliest nights when we stumble home to our computers — partner-less, tired, awake. We won’t have those next year. We won’t live on the same block as all our friends. We won’t have a bunch of group-texts.

This scares me. More than finding the right job or city or spouse – I’m scared of losing this web we’re in. This elusive, indefinable, opposite of loneliness. This feeling I feel right now.

But let us get one thing straight: the best years of our lives are not behind us. They’re part of us and they are set for repetition as we grow up and move to New York and away from New York and wish we did or didn’t live in New York. I plan on having parties when I’m 30. I plan on having fun when I’m old. Any notion of THE BEST years comes from clichéd “should haves...” “if I’d...” “wish I’d...”

Of course, there are things we wished we did: our readings, that boy across the hall. We’re our own hardest critics and it’s easy to let ourselves down. Sleeping too late. Procrastinating. Cutting corners. More than once I’ve looked back on my High School self and thought: how did I do that? How did I work so hard? Our private insecurities follow us and will always follow us.

But the thing is, we’re all like that. Nobody wakes up when they want to. Nobody did all of their reading (except maybe the crazy people who win the prizes…) We have these impossibly high standards and we’ll probably never live up to our perfect fantasies of our future selves. But I feel like that’s okay.

We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re twenty-two years old. We have so much time. There’s this sentiment I sometimes sense, creeping in our collective conscious as we lay alone after a party, or pack up our books when we give in and go out – that it is somehow too late. That others are somehow ahead. More accomplished, more specialized. More on the path to somehow saving the world, somehow creating or inventing or improving. That it’s too late now to BEGIN a beginning and we must settle for continuance, for commencement.

When we came to Yale, there was this sense of possibility. This immense and indefinable potential energy – and it’s easy to feel like that’s slipped away. We never had to choose and suddenly we’ve had to. Some of us have focused ourselves. Some of us know exactly what we want and are on the path to get it; already going to med school, working at the perfect NGO, doing research. To you I say both congratulations and you suck.

For most of us, however, we’re somewhat lost in this sea of liberal arts. Not quite sure what road we’re on and whether we should have taken it. If only I had majored in biology…if only I’d gotten involved in journalism as a freshman…if only I’d thought to apply for this or for that…

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.

In the heart of a winter Friday night my freshman year, I was dazed and confused when I got a call from my friends to meet them at EST EST EST. Dazedly and confusedly, I began trudging to SSS, probably the point on campus farthest away. Remarkably, it wasn’t until I arrived at the door that I questioned how and why exactly my friends were partying in Yale’s administrative building. Of course, they weren’t. But it was cold and my ID somehow worked so I went inside SSS to pull out my phone. It was quiet, the old wood creaking and the snow barely visible outside the stained glass. And I sat down. And I looked up. At this giant room I was in. At this place where thousands of people had sat before me. And alone, at night, in the middle of a New Haven storm, I felt so remarkably, unbelievably safe.

We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I’d say that’s how I feel at Yale. How I feel right now. Here. With all of you. In love, impressed, humbled, scared. And we don’t have to lose that.

We’re in this together, 2012. Let’s make something happen to this world.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

In Praise of Solitude (by Jane Flett, published in Oh Comely!)

I moved in with my boyfriend a year ago and it's still a surprise to wake up and not be alone. I don't mean this as a Mills and Boons hyperbole. I mean physically, tangibly, literally: not alone. Another person in the vicinity. Another person, all the time. Most of the time, this is a delicious, squidgy thing, full of red lightbulbs, baked bread and duck-down duvets. But it's been useful for my ability to write.

In the first moments of waking, I used to loll across the bedsheets, tottering through the glorious corridor on the cusp of unconsciousness. I'd remain very quiet so as not to disturb the flitting thoughts, hoping if I did they might seep inside. I'm a fan of the morning's first ideas and their peculiar, elbowy, dream logic. They make for good fiction. But they're never tangible. They dart in and away again like mayflies not long for this world: one chance to mate. One chance easily scuppered by alarm clocks or coffee or conversation. Or kisses. I'm not complaining. But by now, I thought I'd have written my book.

The truth is, I'm terrible at writing when company is an option. The thoughts - which if alone, I'd leave to percolate - bubble from my mouth long before they're ready. I no longer roll over ideas on my tongue like oysters; instead, I talk, I vocalise every thought that enters my brain, and notions that might have been interesting sink like soufflés at the behest of the oven door. In truth, the only time when I stop talking is when I am alone. And then I start to think. And then, eventually, I write.

This was why, last month, I looked at my wads of half-written stories and missed deadlines and decided to take myself to a writing retreat. I couldn't afford a real retreat, so I signed up to trade labour for accommodation. In the countryside near Reading, I ended up with a small flat annexed to a manor house, the keys to a trailer tractor, sprawling grounds of fallen wood to clear, and a door that could firmly close.

My phone had no reception and when they asked if I wanted the modem brought within reach, I declined. I didn't speak, aside from the occasional 'whoosagoodboy,' and I waited for the responses to all the endless chatter that bounces around my head. For the first day there wasn't much, except for a persistent earworm rendition of Disney's Under the Sea. Then, somehow, things started to slow down. My thoughts found other thoughts and coalesced to form stories. They could be as ridiculous as they liked because there were no eyes to read them.

At night, I stared at the four walls and wrote things down. In the morning, I lay supine at hypnotised until all the sleep had drained away, eking out that moment for as long as possible. Then I sat up and stretched and went looking for a rake. I'd like to say that I finished my book and it's with an agent now, waiting for the next thing to happen. Well, no. I did , however, rediscover the pleasure of solitude. The quietness of a date for one; the silence of a room without my voice always talking. I'm already planning my next trip alone. Maybe this time, I'll get things finished.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Love Letters to Strangers

I love writing letters. There was a time when I used to catch up with all my correspondence at my favourite pub, the Backyard. There I'd be, with my glass of red, my stationery spread all around me, going at it with my cheap, disposable fountain pen (I lost my uncheap undisposable ones along the way - well, I lost two, gave away one). I know my friends love receiving handwritten letters (rather than emails) but what surprises me, is that others can't let well alone, and must needs come and ask me, what are you doing? And wouldn't it be faster/more efficient through email?

Well, listen to what Hannah has to say.

And think how many broken hearts you can mend when you just randomly decide to write a letter to someone because they crossed your mind.