21st Century Greek Chorus: The Wailing of the Karens

Do you remember reading the old Greek plays? There is always a group of people on the edge who act as the voice of what everyone is thinking. There Greek writers have been cherished for so long because they were really on to something. That voice of what “people” think–the combined opinions of the guy down the block, my cousin, my brother’s friend and that thing I heard on the news the other day.

It affects me. I pause in my choices as I remember others’ opinions.

The modern manifestation of this idea is social media. All the socials will tell me what opinions to have on topics I haven’t gotten around to thinking about.

These some social medias have come up with the modern Beelzebub: Karen

Apologies to the many nice women named Karen. But this Karen archetype is the woman who has lived her life successfully and knows how things work. Most especially she knows how the world should be run and how she is to be treated. It is widely understood that she is going to talk to the manager about what needs to be changed. The customer service she received may indeed be past repair, but she will take the time to inform the manager what needs to change so that this establishment can be brought up to the standards that allow her to bestow her patronage on it the next time.

This archetypical woman has gone through life and learned things. She is no passive participant; she has found her voice and can use it whenever necessary. Maybe a little more than necessary.

Karens do a lot to keep the world running smoothly. And the world ain’t running so smooth right now, have you noticed?

The ascendancy of the Karens, as I see it, was about 4 years ago. They knew the workings of the machine and could nudge it back into smoothness.

And at the beginning of the Covid lockdowns most of their knowledge was still valid. But 18 months ago was the end of an era.

Remember when we could laugh at those crazy baristas at Starbucks who would misspell our names in bizarre fashion? Karen would have talked to them about it.

But now? My local Starbucks doesn’t have that kind of personal detail to write my NAME on a cup. I’m asked to order with the app and not go into the store without an appointment.

Wait no, that was last month.

Now they have a trainee and they are out of Sharpies since the shipment hasn’t come in for the last two months. I don’t think the trainee is going to learn the signature name-reinterpretation tradition of baristas from decades past.

The wheels fell off. That trainee is not gonna stick around too long. The hard-won wisdom of Karen is EOL.

End of life. This era is becoming. What it is become remains to be seen. But I do foresee a great weeping and gnashing of teeth for those who had risen to prominence during the era previous.

Yes, I admit. I am one of those. I have talked to a manger once or twice. I mourn the decay of a once orderly system of existence.

People get ready

Arrow highway, which runs right by my hours, is under construction. They are extending a rail line. This has been planned for more than a decade.

We knew it has been coming, but there are lots of meetings and some disagreement about exactly where it will be built. Some want it there; some want it in another place. But now, it’s being built.

Things have changed since the plan was first conceived.

After the lockdowns happened a year and a half ago, the downtowns in many cities are emptying. Those high-rise buildings with fancy lobbies, busy elevators and high rents are empty since people started working from home. This new situation has caused businesses to re-evaluate their office choices.

Do they need those offices? What is the right amount of space for what they need?

Businesses aren’t the only ones responding to the opportunity of the work from home revolution. What if my livelihood no longer nailed to a place?

The internet is talking about “the great reshuffle. I personally know several people who have made the choice to move from a place with expensive housing costs to a place that is more reasonable.

Things have changed since I made my plans. What am I spending my time and treasure on? Am I getting what I want?

Am I watching what is happening? Am I ready to take advantage of the opportunities that change inevitably brings? If I’m not ready I better get ready. The moment is NOW.

I can watch the construction on the rail line and wonder. I am fairly certain they didn’t change their plans when the world changed. Government projects are notoriously rigid.

The lockdown took a lot of things away. But like Pandora’s box it brought gifts. I can check my assumptions to see if they are still valid. What else is possible? If I push on old boundaries, it could be the walls fall down.

Look and See

In a wide sea of eyes
I see one pair that I recognize

And I know
That I am… the luckiest
-Ben Folds

Last week I dropped my daughter off for her first day of Jr. high. She had gone through some agony to choose her outfit.

I remember in 7th grade I was not satisfied with the choices that I had. In my mind, I could have looked so cool. But the clothes I had couldn’t keep up. I landed on a signature choice: I wore different colored socks. I might even wear double slouch socks with four different colors. That was what I did with what I had. The Costco multipack of socks was squeezed of into an expression of uniqueness.

It’s been an elusive goal my whole life. How can I be special?

Life puts out cookie cutter molds and is not polite about making me fit.

Pull back your irrational curls. Lower your voice. Wait your turn. Keep waiting.

You have your place. Stay in your lane.

Yes, it’s nice to belong. It’s scary to stand out.

And yet I want to be seen.

It’s a human need. Kids will cry “Look at me!” And grownups want to find that one person in a sea of humanity. Like the Ben Folds lyric I have at the beginning, to see and be recognized.

You can see a sea. Look at me. See me.

Being subsumed in a group can feel like drowning, but I’m still alive. I’m still here. I don’t belong in anonymity.

No one does.

As much as I want to be seen, I want to see other individuals too. I want to hear your voices. You. Your voice.

That’s the moments I want to live in, listening and sharing. And the world I want to live in. What amazing things can we create together?

Maybe it’s easy for me to lend you a hand when you are too weak.

Maybe you can give me a hug when I need it. Hugs are highly individual.

We can remind each other of our humanity. And I will thank you for it.

How Hungry

It took me forever to finish college. That was the marked-out destination on the game board after high school as far as I knew. But life had gotten in the way and I could cross it off for forever.

In my late twenties I finally got back into a university and began to finish off the required classes. One of the classes was US government or something in that area. The professor was a hundred years old as far as I could tell, but he was so enthusiastic. He loved what he was teaching.

One class, he told us how he started college. He’d gotten in by mail, but he didn’t know how he’d manage to go to college and live.

So he got a suitcase and took—a bus? A train? to the university. He had no money and no place to live, but he was going to go to college. He knew he needed a job first thing. His plan? he walked along the streets of the college and stopped at every business asking for work.

He didn’t get a job that first day. He still had no money. And night came.

The was a park nearby with a couple apricot trees. He took his suitcase to the park and ate the apricots that had fallen from the tree. He slept in the park.

Next day he got up and kept looking for work. He hit the jackpot on the third day with a job and a place to live that came with it. He said he was pretty tired of those apricots.

Hell of a story. He went all the way through to be a professor.

Society was different a hundred years ago.

This last year I’ve been giving my daughter what I call “Independence training.” She’s 12 now. I want her to be able to face whatever life brings her and get what she needs.

I’ve taught her how to do laundry and how to make her bed.

Her favorite skill in the independence category is making ramen soup. She has determined her preferred ratio of flavor packet and water, and makes her own lunch frequently.

What with laundry and ramen soup, I told her she is well on her way to being prepared for college.

College is different in the 21st century. But challenges are always with us. I should probably think about what professor suitcase had and if it can be taught.

Some things change, but some things are always the same. How hungry am I?