In case you are one of the lucky few who have lived their life without needing to know what a Karen is, let me give you a quick definition: The original definition has changed — originally it meant a woman who weaponizes her whiteness against people of colour; the kind of person who would call the cops on a picnicking black family, for example. Because ours is a living language it now means the kind of woman who is bottled up with rage and willing to release that rage against people who she perceives, consciously or not, to be lower status or lower power. We see these women in memes on social media and the news. This is an open letter to all the Karens in the world.
I need to start by recognizing my own culpability and complicity. I too have been Karen — not all the time but at times. I too have been filled with rage looking for a target.
In no way will I try to excuse verbal and sometimes physical abuse, their racism, classism, and just general shitty behaviour. But I’d like to try to speak to those of us who have Karen within us. I don’t expect to heal the world, but if I can reach even one or two people and help them rechannel that nasty energy, then this walk at the beach isn’t in vain.
You see, I write by dictating as I walk at the beach. It gets me out, calms me down, and allows me to write without having to staple myself to my desk. Like most writers, I abhor the act of writing but yearn for the state of having written.
Why do I bring this up after starting out by speaking about Karens? It’s because walking by the beach fills my soul. As does writing. When I didn’t write (because I hate the act of writing) I was frustrated and bitter.
If you recall, I mentioned that I too have been Karen. I too have verbally abused those without power, screamed for the manager, and spread bad energy. I too have some nasty karma to try to work off.
You’re right, of course – some people are just shitty people. Some people will never be happy or nice no matter what. And those Karens are unreachable. But I suspect a lot of Karens are people like me – people who are in lives that look ok but who feel stuck and unhappy. People who spend most of their time doing things that they don’t like and don’t care about. People who don’t take great care of their mental and physical health, who ignore their spiritual health, and who are mildly addicted to one or more socially acceptable substance like food, wine or their phone.
I believe there’s an awful lot of people out there who are in fact living lives of quiet desperation. Who are lonely in large groups, who are busy but bored, and who feel that their contribution doesn’t matter or is unnoticed.
And I suspect that a large amount of these people are women. I’m speaking to the women specifically, only because I know that journey. As a young adult I had no great sense of who I was, or ambition for any specific career. I wanted to love and be loved, to give love and receive love. Getting married and having kids was a natural step for me. Like many parents, I didn’t understand what it means to be a parent. Without thinking about it I just assumed that my loving and perfect spouse would support me while my beautiful, perfect children and I enjoyed many hours of love and joy together.
I didn’t know about, and wasn’t prepared for, was sleepless nights, endless frustrations, picking up the same toy every morning for three years, imperfect children and an imperfect marriage.
Since I wasn’t ready to explore my own imperfections I focused on what I could control – my kids, my yard, my furnishings, how clean the house was. The more I disconnected from a real life, the greater my need for control, and my rage when I wasn’t in it.
I suspect that a lot of people whose rage simmers just below the surface, like Karens, feel quietly unimportant. They have no sense of contribution, no sense of reward, and little self-direction because most of them revolve their lives around their spouse and children and the schedules of their children. I suspect a lot of these women got married and had kids because that’s what you do – an inevitable stage of life like puberty and old age.
The easiest thing to do when you don’t feel great about yourself is indulge – buy things, eat things, own things. Get those scented candles, bring them in the bath while you have a glass of wine; no one can deny that you deserve “me time.”
But what happens is that the things meant to refill us, recharge us, don’t. We’re still sloppily out of shape, intellectually bored, and emotionally dead inside.
We watch the latest shows, buy the newest styles, vacation in popular places. But still that well is dry.
And if these Karens are like I was, well now they’re in a pickle. Stuck, trapped. You can’t walk out on your spouse and kids. Even if you would do that you can’t afford to. You can’t afford it emotionally, either. Your role, your identity as wife and mother, as pillar of the community, as carpool queen and soccer mom – who are you without those? Who would you be if you gave up the wine?
So my challenge, if you think you might be a Karen, know it for sure, or are pretty sure you’re not: give up the wine. Give up the junk food. Give up apathy and underachievement and basking in other people’s achievements. Give up poking your nose in other people’s business.
Because this is it: this is your one and only wild and precious life. Don’t hide behind religious beliefs of having another life – act like now is all that matters. Every person has the right and the opportunity to make change, to make a difference. Get yourself out of that alcohol, sugar and caffeine induced haze. Get out of the mall. Get some exercise, go for a walk, do a couple push-ups or sit ups. Get the endorphins flowing; start taking care of your body today, right now.
When you start building positive energy in your life – in your actions and in your body – it becomes an upward cycle. You don’t need to change the world tomorrow, but start by changing your world today.
You don’t need to try to look like an influencer – just treat your body like you respect it. Do one small thing for five minutes today that shows your body that you believe it is a temple. Take one small action today, this afternoon, that will help other people have a lovely day, that will build peace, and that will help you see the power you do have to positively influence other people’s lives.
As you start to feel better, as you get healthier, as you start doing small things for yourself – that are truly positive not just addictions or bandaids — listen as the rage begins to subside.
You’ll notice that the energy, which previously had been so negative, starts to become neutral and then positive. You’ll notice that sitting alone with your thoughts becomes less scary, so the need to indulge in alcohol, food or distractions decreases. You’ll notice that the energy coming out of you is just a bit friendlier and more positive.
And maybe one day I’ll see you walking on the beach.