A Night At Waterstones: Marina Keegan’s Family
Some people do more in a few years, than other people do in a whole lifetime.
Back in May, I read a book. Not just any book. A book that smacked me right in the face, out of nowhere, like an uncontrollable magnet. A girl with words, who played them like Beethoven having some playtime on a piano. I curled up with it every night for two weeks, scowling at anyone that dare interrupt me, lost in a world of a parallel 20-something in New York who wanted to unashamedly make art with her laptop and imagination. The Opposite Of Loneliness. The words made my eyes sparkle and my palms sweaty and my heart thud. This girl knew stuff. She was 22, and she had the most unique perspective on the world I’d ever come across for someone of that age – and she wasn’t afraid to ask uncomfortable questions or just prod someone into asking themselves questions. She wasn’t safe – but she was likeable. I then ending up Googling her work for hours on end. Every article, every quote, every single piece of writing I stumbled upon unlocked something in my brain. I wanted this young author, Marina Keegan, to be my friend.
In 2012, Marina Keegan died in a car crash. Her book “The Opposite Of Loneliness” is a posthumous assemblage of her wonderful essays. It is honestly one of the best things I’ve ever read, but with this added layer of emotion; a heavy sadness at a loss of such talent. And tonight, I went along to an incredibly special event at Waterstones in central London, where Marina Keegan’s parents, Tracy and Kevin, her tutor Beth McNamara and her school friends spoke about Marina and the reasons behind publishing the book of her essays.
Kevin Keegan, Marina’s dad, opened the evening was something poignant: “Marina wouldn’t have wanted to be remembered because she’s dead – she’d want to be remembered because she was good”. After all, Marina, at the age was 22 was already an award-winning playwright, activist, poet, writer, viral online journalist. Oh, she was good alright. Some work included in the book was written when Marina was just 16, with sentences powerful enough to send shivers up grown-ups’ spines.
Marina’s book is a combination of part fiction, part non-fiction. Marina’s au pair from when she was around five years old read a passage that Marina wrote, describing her the messy homeliness of inside her car. Her friends from Yale read parts of her book that were non-fiction – brilliant excerpts from short stories that involved mysterious, complicated characters who are way beyond her age. Marina’s amazing talent let her write so vividly from one person’s viewpoint, from someone so so far removed from her own life. The dialogue engrosses you, the audience sat there, eyes closed, conjuring up all this interesting people that came all from Marina’s imagination. This is all Marina.
My favourite readings was from “Songs Of The Special”:
“Every generation thinks it’s special—my grandparents because they remember World War II, my parents because of discos and the moon. We have the Internet. Millions and billions of doors we can open and shut, posting ourselves into profiles and digital scrapbooks. Suddenly and totally, we’re threaded together in a network so terrifyingly colossal that we can finally see our terrifyingly tiny place in it. But we’re all individuals. It’s beaten into us in MLK Day assemblies (one person can make a difference!) and fourth-grade poster projects (what do you want to be when you grow up?). We can be anything! Our parents are divorced but we’re in love! Vaguely, quietly, we know we’ll be famous. For being president, for starring in a movie, for writing a feature at eighteen in the New York Times. I’m so jealous. Unthinkable jealousies, jealousies of the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel I’m reading and the Oscar- winning movie I just saw. Why didn’t I think to rewrite Mrs. Dalloway? I should have thought to chronicle a schizophrenic ballerina. It’s inexcusable. Everyone else is so successful, and I hate them.”
Her parents also touched on one of her well-known pieces “Even Artichokes Have Doubts” (her dad made a great point that Marina had a real talent with writing incredible headlines for her pieces). This article touches on the fact that a lot graduates almost subconsciously walk in to careers like “finance” or Goldman Sachs – and she questions why people aren’t encouraged to take a step back think what do I want to do before mindlessly entering to Another One Of Those Jobs. Marina’s message was “it’s never late to change.”
It was a reflective, intimate evening. We had wine. We listened, we asked questions. We sat and watched as her parents shared personal anecdotes, memories, confessions, advice, questions, answers, jokes, their favourite pieces. They shared all of this with us. Us, the readers of Marina’s work.
A brilliant thing happened at the end of the evening – Marina’s university read out a Facebook message that she’d sent him. He re-enacted the words, speaking her words with energy and re-telling a funny story when Marina auditioned for a talent recital with a rubix cube. In that moment, even Marina’s words in a Facebook message had turned into art. It reminded me that written words are meant to be spoken. It was so lovely to hear readings, listen to the words, and hear things we’ve read spoken out loud – everything became so much more real.
At the end of the night, Beth, Marina’s old tutor came up to me and my friends Laura and Zoe as we were all sat on the front row, and we thanked her for the evening. She saw me scribble down the URL to the YouTube video that was mentioned earlier in the talk. She said, I saw you were interested in the YouTube link, you really should watch it. If you love Marina’s writing, you should see her energy when she reads out loud her own poems, her passion. Watch her tonight. Thanks for seeing us tonight. We all just wish she could have been here too.”
I went home and watched the video of Marina and that energy.
I cried. And cried.
The lessons I learnt tonight? Whatever your thing is: make time for it all. Write it down. Go out and do it.
Better out, than in. Because if nothing else, you’re leaving some of your art behind for the people that love you.
“In love with Emma Gannon’s Ctrl Alt Delete. So funny & smart, and reminding me of some of my own cringe teen Internet exploits!”– Anna James, former literary editor of ELLE
"Funny, honest, and nostalgic!"– The Debrief
“Emma Gannon is a bright spark of light in the world. I seriously dig everything she makes”– Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of Big Magic