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KEEGAN: The Opposite of Loneliness

Staff Reporter

opposite of loneliness essay

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.

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The Opposite of Loneliness

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About The Author

Marina Keegan

Marina Keegan (1989-2012) was an award-winning author, journalist, playwright, poet, actress, and activist. Her nonfiction has been published in The New York Times ; her fiction has been published on NewYorker.com, and read on NPR’s Selected Shorts ; her musical, Independents , was a New York Times Critics’ Pick. Marina’s final essay for The Yale Daily News , “The Opposite of Loneliness,” became an instant global sensation, viewed by more than 1.4 million people from 98 countries. For more information, please visit TheOppositeofLoneliness.com.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (April 14, 2015)
  • Length: 256 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781476753911

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Raves and Reviews

“In her brief life Marina Keegan managed to achieve a precocious literary mastery. Her wry, wise, lyrical voice is unforgettable, and her vital, exuberant spirit reminds us powerfully to seize the day. Though every sentence throbs with what might have been, this remarkable collection is ultimately joyful and inspiring, because it represents the wonder that she was.” —J.R. Moehringer, Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times bestselling author of The Tender Bar “I will never cease mourning the loss of my beloved former student Marina Keegan. This book gives partial evidence of the extraordinary promise that departed with her. Throughout she manifests authentic dramatic invention and narrative skill. Beyond all those, she makes a vital appeal to everyone in her generation not to waste their gifts in mere professionalism but instead to invest their youthful pride and exuberance both in self-development and in the improvement of our tormented society.” —Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor of the Humanities and English, Yale University “Many of my students sound forty years old. They are articulate but derivative, their own voices muffled by their desire to skip over their current age and experience, which they fear trivial, and land on some version of polished adulthood without passing Go. Marina was twenty-one and sounded twenty-one: a brainy twenty-one, a twenty-one who knew her way around the English language, a twenty-one who understood that there were few better subjects than being young and uncertain and starry-eyed and frustrated and hopeful. When she read her work aloud around our seminar table, it would make us snort with laughter, and then it would turn on a dime and break our hearts.” —Anne Fadiman, Yale University Professor of English and Francis Writer in Residence and author of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down and Ex Libris “Illuminates the optimism and neurosis felt by new grads everywhere. . .Like every millenial who's seen irony elevated to an art form, Keegan brings self-awareness to the collective insecurity of her peers even as she captures it with a precision that only comes from someone who feels it too. How unfortunate that she will never know the value readers will find in her work.” — Publishers Weekly “Funny, poignant, tender, and fiercely alive, The Opposite of Loneliness contains the keen observations of a short lifetime—and the wisdom of a much longer one.” —Jennifer DuBois, author of Cartwheel and A Partial History of Lost Causes “The writing Marina Keegan left behind offers a tantalizing taste of a literary voice still in development, yet already imbued with unusual insight, nuance, humor, and sensitivity.” —Deborah Treisman, Fiction Editor of The New Yorker “Two years after a young writer’s death, her words soar. . . . The Opposite of Loneliness... sparkles with talent, humanity, and youth. The prose, polished but thoroughly unselfconscious, is heartbreaking evidence of what could have been.” — O Magazine "A bittersweet, what-might-have-been book filled with youthful optimism, energy, honesty, and beyond-her-years wisdom.” — Yale Alumni Magazine “ The Opposite of Loneliness captures in both fiction and nonfiction [Keegan's] adventures in love and lust, the weird bliss of being stoned, and, as she writes, what it’s like to see 'everything in the world build up and then everything in the world fall down again.” — Elle “Remarkable... a compelling literary voice... the appeal of this collection is its improvisational quality, its feeling of being unfinished but always questioning.” — Chicago Tribune “How do you mourn the loss of a fiery talent that was barely a tendril before it was snuffed out? Answer: Read this book. A clear-eyed observer of human nature, [Keegan] could take a clever idea...and make it something beautiful.” — People Magazine “A triumph...Keegan was right to prod us all to reflect on what we seek from life.” —Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times “ The Opposite of Loneliness does [Keegan's] talent and memory justice, both as a picture of a generation entering adulthood and as a highly personal portrait of a gifted young woman.” — Pittsburgh-Post Gazette “What a gift Keegan has left behind. Not only in her written words...but also in her legacy of social activism and fierce belief in leading a life of purpose, not privilege.” —Joseph P. Kahn, Boston Globe “Keegan’s fiction… is built around the kind of empathetic extrapolation that makes for all the best realism… Keegan would have been—would have continued to be—a star. She would have been famous, not quietly or vaguely, but really, really famous.” — The New Republic “[Keegan ] was one of the most present, incisive, and hopeful writers.… That’s the gift and the pain of her book. How incredible, how lucky, that we get to read her words, that people who never knew her or her work can find it for themselves, that she was in some way given the chance to speak to the world the way she wanted.” — Buzzfeed “A glimpse of a young woman who is growing as a writer and a person, someone who’s thinking deeply about love and the world around her and the scale of the universe….I have no doubt she would have been great.” — Bustle “In the little time [Keegan] graced the world she created a life’s work many writers could only dream of achieving in decades.” —MariaShriver.com “This posthumous collection of essays and short stories is beautiful and brilliant, young but not childish—just like the author was. Every essay is a gem you want to pick up and put in your pocket, taking it out from time to time to see how it looks in different lights—the lights of promise and potential, yearning and memory. The Opposite of Loneliness will make people cry and hope.” — Rewire Me “The loveliest piece of writing I’ve ever seen from someone so young… Her voice is steady and often very funny, her senses of character and pace are frighteningly good, and the flow of her prose is easy to get carried away by. She wasn't just college-talented; she was talented, period.” —Kevin Roose, New York Magazine “A new voice of her generation.” — The Hartford Courant “Wonderful... Marina Keegan did that thing we all want to do as writers: say what everyone else is thinking, but better.” — Refinery29 “Inspirational.” — The Huffington Post “Full of uncanny wisdom...Marina would not want to be remembered because she was dead. She would want to be remembered because she’s good. No worries there, Marina. You left us aching for more.” — Detroit News “A talented voice, silenced too soon, endures...throughout there are reminders of the talent of this forever-22-year-old.” — The Improper Bostonian

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‘The Opposite of Loneliness’ by Marina Keegan

A keen collection of stories from a light that dimmed too soon.

opposite of loneliness essay

When Marina Keegan wasn’t tapped to join one of Yale’s secret societies, she gave herself less than two hours to wallow in disappointment, then pledged to spend the time she would have spent “chatting in a tomb” writing a book. Five days after graduation, Keegan was killed in a car accident on Cape Cod. She was 22.

“The Opposite of Loneliness” is a record of that time better spent. The book of nine short stories and nine essays takes its title from Keegan’s last essay to appear in the Yale Daily News, which went viral in the days after her death when it was read by 1.4 million people in 98 countries. In it Keegan writes with an eerie urgency: “We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.”

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The introduction, by Anne Fadiman (Keegan’s writing professor at Yale), sets the tone for the collection. She describes Marina’s determination to become a writer, and brings her to life — she was always losing her keys in her bag; she complained when her roommate used the same knife to cut bread and spread Nutella — without ever slipping into sentimentality. This book is not a posthumous vanity project; Keegan’s writing is intimidatingly good. When she died, Keegan was already well on her way to becoming an established writer, earning coveted internships with The New Yorker and The Paris Review. She had a job lined up at The New Yorker after graduation, and an apartment waiting in Brooklyn.

It would be, however, dishonest to say that her death doesn’t add another dimension to these stories. Some seem like chilling premonitions but there is nothing sentimental on these pages. Keegan’s storytelling is so strong that the reader quickly becomes invested in the characters’ struggles, forgetting about their author’s life and death. While unsettling at times (the hair on my arms stood on end more than once), the feeling of being socked in the stomach doesn’t come from remembering Keegan’s death, but instead from the gut-wrenching vulnerability of her characters.

In “I Kill for Money,” Tommy, the obnoxious exterminator who cracks jokes incessantly,confesses that he releases squirrels into the wild, rather than drown them as the law requires. In “Winter Break,” the protagonist watches her mother trudging through the snow alone with her spaniel and later reflects, “I thought of my mother circling suburbia while I drank in dim fraternities or video-chatted with Sam or slept lazily in my dorm while it snowed out my window. I loved her in that moment in a way that twisted my stomach.”

Another strength: Keegan writes her age. A keen observer of the human condition, of herself, and of her generation, she uses the vernacular: “things,” “stuff,” “hooking up,” and “butts.” She writes about smoking weed, red plastic cups, microwaving Thai soup, the pangs of realizing a parent’s mortality, and of first love. She writes about friends who are protective of one another, as well as the failures of friendship, how college kids sometimes try to sound older than they are, and what it’s like to envy those who have already figured out who they want to be.

But Keegan doesn’t rely solely on her perspective as an observant, brilliant, self-aware college student. Some of the strongest stories in the collection take place in Baghdad, or 36,000 feet under the sea, or from the perspective of a hypochondriacal former ballerina. She often places her characters in horribly uncomfortable situations then writes about their efforts to escape. Keegan does not shy away from risk — either in setting, character, or form — and it pays off.

In “Challenger Deep” five people trapped at the bottom of the ocean in a submarine in total darkness await rescue. The story opens and concludes with the protagonist, Patrick, waiting by the periscope for schools of florescent jellyfish to float by and illuminate the blackness (the jellyfish may also indicate an ascent to the surface). The philosophical and psychological nature of being isolated in the dark brings to mind “Moby-Dick” (which Keegan alludes to in an essay titled “Why We Care About Whales”) and like Melville’s masterpiece, “Challenger Deep” works on multiple levels.

“The Emerald City” is told through a series of e-mails from William, a Coalition Provisional Authority officer working in Iraq’s Green Zone, to his girlfriend, Laura, back home in the States. Through his letters, he gradually becomes disillusioned by the US presence in Iraq, and we learn that he accidentally aids a coordinated mortar attack on the Green Zone, killing dozens, including one of his friends. The e-mails end after William confides in Laura that he and his Iraqi translator have decided to escape to the desert in order to avoid a lengthy sentence for conspiracy. Even though the drama accelerates gradually and is crafted through a series of one-sided letters, the story is gripping.

As Fadiman points out in the introduction, “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.” So it isn’t a question of whether Keegan would have made it as a writer, but rather, what we have lost. What more might she have done had she lived for another 50 years?

In “Song for the Special,” Keegan writes that she once attended an arts conference in which everyone was “scrambling to meet everyone, asserting their individuality like sad salesmen” and she was the only person without business cards. “I read somewhere that radio waves just keep traveling outward, flying into the universe with eternal vibrations. Sometime before I die I think I’ll find a microphone and climb to the top of a radio tower. I’ll take a deep breath and close my eyes because it will start to rain right when I reach the top. Hello, I’ll say to outer space, this is my card.” Through these stories and essays readers can feel the powerful reverberations of Keegan’s singular voice.

Sophie Flack, author of “Bunheads,” has contributed to The Weekly Standard, The Wall Street Journal, and O Magazine. Follow her on twitter @sophieflack.

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The opposite of loneliness : essays and stories

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  • Introduction / by Anne Fadiman
  • The opposite of loneliness
  • Fiction: Cold pastoral ; Winter break ; Reading aloud ; The ingenue ; The Emerald City ; Baggage claim ; Hail, full of grace ; Sclerotherapy ; Challenger deep
  • Nonfiction: Stability in motion ; Why we care about whales ; Against the grain ; Putting the "fun" back in eschatology ; I kill for money ; Even artichokes have doubts ; The art of observation ; Song for the special.

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Acquired with support from.

Professor Alfred H. Grommon and Helen McCurdy Grommon Library Fund for 19th Century and Contemporary American Literature

Professor Alfred H. Grommon and Helen McCurdy Grommon Library Fund for 19th Century and Contemporary American Literature

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The Opposite of Loneliness review – Marina Keegan's life cut short

W hen Marina Keegan graduated from Yale in 2012 her CV already boasted internships at the Paris Review and the New Yorker (at which a much-coveted staff job awaited her) and a stint as a research assistant for literary critic Harold Bloom. She had had a play selected for a major theatre festival, and an essay published in the New York Times inspired by a piece she wrote for the Yale Daily News , Even Artichokes Have Doubts, in which she lamented the fact that a quarter of her Yale peers would be lured away from their artistic aspirations by lucrative contracts offered by consultancy and financial firms: "Maybe I'm ignorant and idealistic but I just feel like we can do something really cool to this world," she wrote. As her writing clearly demonstrates, Keegan certainly wasn't ignorant. The tragedy, though, is that she never had the chance to lose her youthful idealism: five days after graduation, she was killed in a car accident.

This collection brings together her published and unpublished work: nine stories and nine essays, including the final essay she wrote for the Yale Daily News , The Opposite of Loneliness , a meditation on the future awaiting her and her classmates on the eve of their graduation, which subsequently went viral. "We're so young," she writes. "We're so young. We're twenty-two years old. We have so much time."

In some ways Keegan's life reads like a tragic novella, her finite body of work inextricably and forever after bound up in the tragedy of her death, lending an understandable poignancy to much of the writing. Stability in Motion, for example, her elegiac essay about her first car, a vehicle "crowded" with the "physical manifestations" of her high school memories; or the short story Winter Break, in which a female college student's calming words to her mother are now loaded with hidden meaning – "Don't worry, I'm driving," she tells her as she and her boyfriend head off to a New Year's Eve party. Keegan wasn't driving, incidentally, it was her boyfriend, who fell asleep at the wheel. Sentences written lightheartedly are piercingly loud reminders of what will never be: "I plan on having parties when I'm thirty. I plan on having fun when I'm old"; throwaway comments about the children she'll one day have; a mouth-watering list of all the forbidden foods and drink she'll indulge in on her deathbed (Keegan was allergic to gluten).

However, rather than this being a collection of juvenilia, with an underlying theme of promise and potential, and despite Keegan being only at the beginning of her career, this book shows her prodigious talent already in full bloom. As befits her age and experience, she excels in capturing what it feels like to be on the cusp of adult life – from the daughter in Winter Break, who realises her own youthful romance has made her mother, a woman in whom the young girl now sees "a frailty to her posture, a thinness to her cheeks", comprehend the failures of her own marriage; to the undergraduate in Cold Pastoral, who has to deal with the death of the student she's been hooking up with, forced to reassess their relationship in the light of her loss.

But Keegan is just as eloquent and insightful when she looks beyond the horizon of the near-familiar. Who would have thought a profile of a bug and rodent exterminator, I Kill for Money, could provoke such pathos? While Challenger Deep, an account of five people trapped in a pitch-black submarine 36,000 feet underwater, is an accomplished horror story, deeply and fundamentally disturbing. Keegan may have died before her time, but she was a writer who demonstrated a gift beyond her years.

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The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories Audio CD – CD, April 8, 2014

  • Language English
  • Publisher Tantor Audio
  • Publication date April 8, 2014
  • Dimensions 6.7 x 0.9 x 6.4 inches
  • ISBN-10 1494531259
  • ISBN-13 978-1494531256
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  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Tantor Audio; Library - Unabridged CD edition (April 8, 2014)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1494531259
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1494531256
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 7 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 6.7 x 0.9 x 6.4 inches

About the author

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Marina Evelyn Keegan (October 25, 1989 – May 26, 2012) was an American author, playwright, and journalist. She is best known for her essay "The Opposite of Loneliness," which went viral and was viewed over 1.4 million times in ninety-eight different countries after her death in a car crash just five days after she graduated magna cum laude from Yale University.

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Marina Keegan was a writer of short stories, personal essays, social commentary, poems, and plays: a literary pentathlete.

Let's make something happen to this world.

1911829_595061513910595_797540421_n.jpg

Marina grew up in Wayland, Massachusetts, and spent her summers in Wellfleet and at the Cape Cod Sea Camps in Brewster, where she learned to love sailing and the sea. She attended Wayland public schools and the Buckingham Browne & Nichols School in Cambridge.

At BB&N, Marina headed the Model United Nations Club, served as a peer counselor, performed in many plays and musicals, sang in the chorale, played four years of varsity lacrosse, and earned a place in Cum Laude, the academic honor society. She won the Jacobs Cup as the top sophomore debater; the Profile Writing Prize as a junior; and the Meriwether Otis Kimball Award for her involvement in school life, along with the George Henry Browne English Prize, as a senior. The citation for the Browne Prize read: “Known for her keen intellect, irrepressible enthusiasm, strong opinions, and ready humor, she writes with insight, nuance, and grace.”

At Yale, Marina was an English major and a Writing Concentrator. A political activist, she was a leader of Occupy Yale; served as one of the youngest paid staffers on the Obama campaign; and, as president of the Yale College Democrats, registered voters and organized panels on health care and homelessness. As a writer, she won the Meeker English Prize, the ORLO Writing Award, and Yale’s Moth Story Slam. During her college years, she also won David Rakoff’s Gilded Ink Writing Contest and heard her story read on NPR’s “Selected Shorts.” Her work appeared in The New Yorker online and The New York Times, and she is the only person ever to have been honored for both fiction and nonfiction by the Norman Mailer College Writing Competition.

This book’s title essay, “The Opposite of Loneliness,” was Marina’s final message to her college classmates, distributed in a special edition of the Yale Daily News at the 2012 Commencement exercises. After her death in a car accident five days after she graduated magna cum laude, her words of inspiration resounded around the globe, receiving 1.4 million hits in 98 countries and transforming her into an icon for her generation.

The Opposite of Loneliness is culled from the rich trove of writing Marina left behind when she died at 22. Her family, friends, and teachers worked together to find the most recent versions of her essays and stories and choose the best. Marina would have been proud that her book is published by Scribner, the publisher of some of the writers she most admired, including Hemingway and Fitzgerald.

Playwriting provided another important platform for Marina. Her insightful focus on familial and romantic relationships and her honest, witty dialogue raised serious issues and filled theaters with laughter. Her play Utility Monster won “Best Reading” in the Midtown International Theater Festival in New York City and was later performed at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater. She wrote the book for the musical Independents (with music by Stephen Feigenbaum and lyrics by Mark Sonnenblick), which was featured in the New York International Fringe Festival. The New York Times selected Independents as a Critics’ Pick and described it as “salty and lyrical.”

Throughout these many projects, Marina lived her life with passion and conviction, treating every day as an opportunity. She sang, played guitar, painted, rallied for Democratic causes, and, most of all, spent time with those she loved. She expressed her strong individual style in every aspect of her life, from what she wrote to what she wore (short skirts, lace-up boots, patterned tights, bracelets, rings, blazingly bright pea coats). She was a daughter, sister, friend, significant other, leader, activist, athlete, and actress, and she used all of her experiences to engage, inspire, and challenge others. She could turn a phrase, make you laugh, make you cry. Her words could make you want to shake your fist and march with her to save the whales, support the Dream Act, stand up for same-sex marriage, and elect the next president. Everyone who met her seemed to carry away a story. As a young graduate of her high school put it, “She turned a lot of people into who they are.”

Marina’s death became a summons to life for the millions who have heard her words. “Let’s make something happen to this world,” she wrote. Her readers have taken up her challenge by making documented changes in their lives and the lives of others.

We were privileged to know Marina for 22 years. We hope that her words will help you get to know her too, and that they will make a difference in your life.

–– Marina's parents

      Tracy Shoolman

      Kevin Keegan

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Jessica Grose

Loneliness is a problem that a.i. won’t solve.

A person’s hand reaching for a mobile device.

By Jessica Grose

Opinion Writer

When I was reporting my ed tech series , I stumbled on one of the most disturbing things I’ve read in years about how technology might interfere with human connection: an article on the website of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz cheerfully headlined “ It’s Not a Computer, It’s a Companion! ”

It opens with this quote from someone who has apparently fully embraced the idea of having a chatbot for a significant other: “The great thing about A.I. is that it is constantly evolving. One day it will be better than a real [girlfriend]. One day, the real one will be the inferior choice.” The article goes on to breathlessly outline use cases for “A.I. companions,” suggesting that some future iteration of chatbots could stand in for mental health professionals, relationship coaches or chatty co-workers.

This week, OpenAI released an update to its ChatGPT chatbot, an indication that the inhuman future foretold by the Andreessen Horowitz story is fast approaching. According to The Washington Post, “The new model, called GPT-4o (“o” stands for “omni”), can interpret user instructions delivered via text, audio and image — and respond in all three modes as well.” GPT-4o is meant to encourage people to speak to it rather than type into it, The Post reports , as “the updated voice can mimic a wider range of human emotions, and allows the user to interrupt. It chatted with users with fewer delays, and identified an OpenAI executive’s emotion based on a video chat where he was grinning.”

There have been lots of comparisons between GPT-4o and the 2013 movie “Her,” in which a man falls in love with his A.I. assistant, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. While some observers, including the Times Opinion contributing writer Julia Angwin, who called ChatGPT’s recent update “ rather routine ,” weren’t particularly impressed, there’s been plenty of hype about the potential for humanlike chatbots to ameliorate emotional challenges, particularly loneliness and social isolation.

For example, in January, a co-founder of one A.I. company argued that the technology could improve quality of life for isolated older people, writing , “Companionship can be provided in the form of virtual assistants or chatbots, and these companions can engage in conversations, play games or provide information, helping to alleviate feelings of loneliness and boredom.”

Certainly, there are valuable and beneficial uses for A.I. chatbots — they can be life-changing for people who are visually impaired , for example. But the notion that bots will one day be an adequate substitute for human contact misunderstands what loneliness really is and doesn’t account for the necessity of human touch.

There are disagreements among academics about the precise meaning of “loneliness,” but to come at it as a social problem, it’s worth trying to sharpen our definitions. Eric Klinenberg , a sociologist at New York University and the author of several books about social connectedness, including “Going Solo” and “Palaces for the People,” described the complexity of loneliness to me this way: “I think of loneliness as our bodies’ signal to us that we need better, more satisfying connections with other people.” And, he said, “the major issue I have with loneliness metrics is they often fail to distinguish between the ordinary healthy loneliness, which gets us off our couch and into the social world when we need it, and the chronic dangerous loneliness, which prevents us from getting off our couch and spirals and leads us to spiral into depression and withdrawal.”

Why I worry about chatting with bots as a potential solution to loneliness is that it could be an approach that blunts the feeling just enough that it discourages or even prevents people from taking that step off the couch toward making connections with others. And some research indicates that a lack of human touch can exacerbate feelings of isolation. One 2023 paper by researchers at the University of Stirling expresses this more holistic view of loneliness quite eloquently, describing the emotion as “an embodied and contextualized sensory experience.”

Nick Gray, a co-author of that paper — which is about the effect of simulated versus real touch on feelings of loneliness — told me that he hasn’t seen any research yet on how realistic A.I. chatbots affect loneliness, noting that it is, obviously, a very new technology. But based on previous research in the field, including his own, he says “a realistic A.I. chatbot could give a temporary reprieve of the feelings of loneliness,” but “it’s a stretch to say it will reduce or get rid of loneliness.”

Klinenberg pointed out that we just had a natural experiment in forced isolation with the Covid-19 pandemic, and the results were quite clear: People, particularly people who lived alone, longed for human interaction. “If I told you that it’s a new pandemic that will hit this summer and we’ll all spend the next year alone or at home with our family, with everything in the public realm shut down, I don’t think the fact of A.I. would make us feel relieved,” he said, adding, “I think the prospect of a world without face-to-face interaction and human touch is terrifying.” He also noted that some of the companies that are pouring money into developing A.I. are among those that put ( unpopular ) return-to-office mandates into effect, so they certainly believe in the value of human interaction on some level.

I was struck by this passage in a story titled “Could A.I.-Powered Robot ‘Companions’ Combat Human Loneliness?” about work that researchers at Auckland, Duke and Cornell Universities are conducting with robots used as a means to try to help alleviate loneliness in older people:

“Right now, all the evidence points to having a real friend as the best solution,” said Murali Doraiswamy, M.B.B.S., F.R.C.P., professor of psychiatry and geriatrics at Duke University and member of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences. “But until society prioritizes social connectedness and elder care, robots are a solution for the millions of isolated people who have no other solutions.”

What if even a tiny portion of the billions being spent developing A.I. chatbots could be spent on human and physical things we already know help loneliness? As Klinenberg put it, to help lonely and isolated people, we should be investing in things like collaborative housing, parks, libraries and other kinds of accessible social infrastructures that can help people of all ages build connectedness.

“The real social challenge and policy challenge and human challenge is for us to find ways to recognize these people and to attend to them, to care for them,” Klinenberg said. “But I also know that’s very hard work, and collectively we have failed to rise to that challenge.” We don’t want to spend the money or the time to support the most vulnerable among us. “In a way,” he added, “it’s our social failure that has created this opportunity for A.I. and technology to fill in the void.”

Jessica Grose is an Opinion writer for The Times, covering family, religion, education, culture and the way we live now.

"Opposite of Loneliness" by Marina Keegan

Yale 22-Year-Old Writes Essay on Life, Then Dies

May 30, 2012— -- The piece below was written by Marina Keegan '12 for a special edition of the Yale Daily 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..."

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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.

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COMMENTS

  1. KEEGAN: The Opposite of Loneliness

    KEEGAN: The Opposite of Loneliness. Marina Keegan 3:10 am, May 27, 2012. Staff Reporter. 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.

  2. The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories

    The Opposite of Loneliness is an assem­blage of Marina's essays and stories that, like The Last Lecture, articulates the universal struggle that all of us face as we figure out what we aspire to be and how we can harness our talents to make an impact on the world. 208 pages, Hardcover.

  3. Home

    The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan. An affecting and hope-filled posthumous collection of essays and stories from the talented young Yale graduate whose title essay captured the world's attention in 2012 and turned her into an icon for her generation.

  4. The opposite of loneliness : essays & stories

    The opposite of loneliness : essays & stories ... "The Opposite of Loneliness," went viral, receiving more than 1.4 million hits. Even though she was just twenty-two years old when she died, Marina left behind a rich, deeply expansive trove of prose that, like her title essay, capture the hope, uncertainty, and possibility of her generation. ...

  5. The Opposite of Loneliness

    Marina Keegan wrote the essay "The Opposite of Loneliness" specifically for her Yale graduation in 2012, and the single line "The hats" refers to the college's Class Day tradition of seniors wearing creative, colorful hats. Yet many readers have found its message to be universal, evoking their own days at college, at camp, or in any ...

  6. The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories

    An essay called "The Opposite of Loneliness," which she wrote for the Yale Daily News, recounted the excitement she felt about graduating from college and heading into her future, yet it was also tinged with the melancholy of the simpler college days, when minor problems seemed so insurmountable.

  7. The Opposite of Loneliness : Essays and Stories

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  9. Marina Keegan

    Marina Evelyn Keegan (October 25, 1989 - May 26, 2012) was an American author, playwright, and journalist. She is best known for her essay "The Opposite of Loneliness," which went viral and was viewed over 1.4 million times in ninety-eight countries after her death in a car crash just five days after she graduated magna cum laude from Yale University.

  10. 'The Opposite of Loneliness' by Marina Keegan

    "The Opposite of Loneliness" is a record of that time better spent. The book of nine short stories and nine essays takes its title from Keegan's last essay to appear in the Yale Daily News ...

  11. The opposite of loneliness : essays and stories

    As her family, friends, and classmates, deep in grief, joined to create a memorial service for Marina, her deeply affecting last essay for The Yale Daily News, "The Opposite of Loneliness," went viral, receiving more than 1.4 million hits. Even though she was just twenty-two years old when she died, Marina left behind a rich, deeply expansive ...

  12. The Opposite of Loneliness review

    This collection brings together her published and unpublished work: nine stories and nine essays, including the final essay she wrote for the Yale Daily News, The Opposite of Loneliness, a ...

  13. What Is the Opposite of Loneliness?

    Loneliness is, by definition, painful. The opposite of loneliness is contentment or joy. It is living your most meaningful life, the life you want to live rather than the life you think you should ...

  14. The Opposite of Loneliness : Essays and Stories

    The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories. The instant New York Times bestseller and publishing phenomenon: Marina Keegan's posthumous collection of award-winning essays and stories "sparkles with talent, humanity, and youth" (O, The Oprah Magazine). Marina Keegan's star was on the rise when she graduated magna cum laude from Yale ...

  15. The Opposite of Loneliness Summary

    The Opposite of Loneliness is a collection of autobiographical essays by Marina Keegan, published posthumously in 2014. At the heart of the collection is the essay of the same name, which Keegan wrote for her commencement program at Yale in 2012. Keegan died in a car accident several days after commencement.

  16. The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories|Paperback

    Marina Keegan wrote the essay "The Opposite of Loneliness" specifically for her Yale graduation in 2012, and the single line "The hats" refers to the college's Class Day tradition of seniors wearing creative, colorful hats. Yet many readers have found its message to be universal, evoking their own days at college, at camp, or in any ...

  17. What Is the Opposite of Loneliness?

    Loneliness is, by definition, painful. The opposite of loneliness is contentment or joy. It is living your most meaningful life, the life you want to live rather than the life you think you should ...

  18. The Opposite of Loneliness : Essays and Stories

    The Opposite of Loneliness. : The instant New York Times bestseller and publishing phenomenon: Marina Keegan's posthumous collection of award-winning essays and stories "sparkles with talent, humanity, and youth" (O, The Oprah Magazine). Marina Keegan's star was on the rise when she graduated magna cum laude from Yale in May 2012.

  19. The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories

    The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories. Paperback - April 14, 2015. The instant New York Times bestseller and publishing phenomenon: Marina Keegan's posthumous collection of award-winning essays and stories "sparkles with talent, humanity, and youth" (O, The Oprah Magazine). Marina Keegan's star was on the rise when she ...

  20. The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories

    Marina Evelyn Keegan (October 25, 1989 - May 26, 2012) was an American author, playwright, and journalist. She is best known for her essay "The Opposite of Loneliness," which went viral and was viewed over 1.4 million times in ninety-eight different countries after her death in a car crash just five days after she graduated magna cum laude from Yale University.

  21. Read the Title Essay

    The title essay of Marina's book was her final message to her college classmates, distributed in a special edition of the Yale Daily News at the 2012 Commencement exercises. 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 ...

  22. Marina

    The Opposite of Loneliness is culled from the rich trove of writing Marina left behind when she died at 22. Her family, friends, and teachers worked together to find the most recent versions of her essays and stories and choose the best. Marina would have been proud that her book is published by Scribner, the publisher of some of the writers ...

  23. Opinion

    One 2023 paper by researchers at the University of Stirling expresses this more holistic view of loneliness quite eloquently, describing the emotion as "an embodied and contextualized sensory ...

  24. "Opposite of Loneliness" by Marina Keegan

    Yale 22-Year-Old Writes Essay on Life, Then Dies. By ABC News. May 30, 2012, 9:27 AM. May 30, 2012 -- The piece below was written by Marina Keegan '12 for a special edition of the Yale Daily News ...