In 2020 “Karen” became social media shorthand for a stereotypical middle-aged entitled white woman - potentially one with an asymmetric blond bob who likes to make a big fuss, and is not-so-blissfully ignorant. As featured in memes, Karen is often asking quite loudly to speak to "whoever is in charge here" to voice complaints or make demands.
I became aware of the pejorative term "Karen" when my teenaged children started calling me that after they heard me ask (nicely enough and for good reason) to "speak to a manager". Apparently that's a big Karen trait. Asking to see the manager.
I feel bad for Karens. Not the insufferable Karens, who seem to enjoy nothing more than running around demanding justice for themselves and others if the avocados at Whole Foods are not up to snuff. My heart goes out to the women who were named Karen at birth. It's a fine name. A derivative of Katherine, a name that I also like. But alas, Karen seems doomed - at least for the next few years - to the scrap heap of names like Myrtle, Gertrude, Elspeth.
I live in a town with a lot of Karens. These women (and sometimes men - who are called Kens) have strongly felt and often uninformed opinions about how everything and everyone should behave. And we are the lucky ones who get to hear all about it. At the school meetings, during the sports games, in the parking lots. It's a lot of dissatisfaction and disharmony, expressed at volume 11.
So yes, we have lots of Karens in my town, which isn’t great. But we also have a gorgeous beach called The Point, which is. Around The Point there is a stunning walking trail that winds its way around the shore for several miles. The path is usually not that populated but sometimes in the summer it can get a little congested. I walk there when I can find the time. For peace, for solitude, to commune with nature.
One simply perfect July morning I arrived at the entrance to the walking trail and heard, before I saw, two Karens just going at it. They were complaining about something and when I rounded the corner they spied me and started motioning for me to come over. I certainly wanted no part of their bitch session so I pretended that I suddenly had an urgent call to make. I stepped off the trail and onto the grass and waited until they were far out of sight. I played some music on my headphones and completed the loop, enjoying the water, the breeze, and the many birds that live on and around The Point.
As I approached the last leg of the walking trail, I heard it again. The lazy nasal pessimistic grumbling. It was still going on. I couldn't believe it. Had they walked the whole loop, complaining the entire time? It seemed likely. There was no way to avoid the Karens now. I was trapped. I took a deep breath and started walking fast, trying to slink by. But those Karens were faster than me and I was stopped. "Yoo hoo! Hello? Yoo hoo. Hey you. We just want to ask you a question." I stopped and approached, no longer able to avoid the inevitable meeting.
"How often do you walk here?" they asked, somewhat aggressively.
"I walk here when I can," I answered, "weather permitting."
"And have you noticed anything? Anything out of the ordinary?"
"Well no..." I answered, afraid that in my day-dreamy state while meandering along the path I had missed some heinous change to The Point. Something obvious and obscene, like maybe Godzilla rising from the shallows offshore and gobbling up the small children splashing in the water there.
"Not really?" I whispered. Afraid of what was coming.
"Well we have noticed something very distressing. We’re starting a petition and we’re looking for people to sign it."
I wanted to make a run for it but the Karens were blocking the exit, like human blowfish, all puffed up to double their normal size with their self-righteous outrage.
"Well", I ventured "what's bothering you?"
"Just look!" they pointed. "Just look. There is dog shit EVERYWHERE!"
I looked around in surprise, I had not noticed any "dog shit" on my walk. Nor had I noticed an increase of it in the preceding few weeks. Dogs are allowed to walk The Point during the winter and sometimes people don’t clean up after their pooches then, but this was dog-free summer and the paths all looked clean to me.
"Will you sign our petition?" they demanded. I didn't feel like it was a question at all, more of a statement. “You will sign our petition!”
"Well I would," I answered, "but I don't really see anything."
"What do you mean?" They gasped. As if I were not only an idiot, but also blind.
"I just don't see it." I said.
"Just look! There! By that bush. Just look by that bush."
So I bent down and looked at the bush and what I saw there, tucked into the sandy dirt and roots was what was possibly a tiny little dried up nugget of dog crap or a baby pine cone. I was unsure.
"Well" I said, "NOW I see what you’re all hot and bothered about!" And with that I ran, dodging and weaving away from the Karens and back to my car.
I think about those women often. I laugh about how I definitely have a little bit of Karen in me. A little bit of bitterness and negativity. A little bit of searching for the dark cloud on the sunny day. A little bit of “I know better than all of you.” I see that I could be walking The Point on any given day but somehow, someway, if I am not vigilant with my thoughts, I will create something to complain about. Something to worry about. Something hopeless and gloomy. I can imagine myself there, crawling around on my hands and knees in the sand looking for something to be outraged about and calling people over to join my crusade. "Just look at this!” I would harangue my audience. “This (whatever this might be) is simply unacceptable. And I, for one, am not going to stand for it. I want to speak to the manager!!!"
The older I get, the more fleeting life feels, as if time itself is actively running away from me. And, because of that, I've decided that I'm not going to spend my time at The Point on a perfect summer morning, eyes downcast, searching for something to piss me off.
After years of getting high off of self-righteous anger, it's clear to me that focusing on the dark side, imagining slights and problems, getting needlessly outraged, are all a complete waste of time. Recently I have found that if I can keep my mind in check and consciously make a decision to focus more on the positive aspects of existence, my days of searching for dog turds in the bushes fall farther and farther behind me.
In loving memory of Liz Moran 1958-2018