I can’t read my own handwriting.

“Karen,” you say, “what are all those little yellow squares with handwriting on them?”

“Handwriting I have blurred a number of times in photoshop, Internets,” I reply. “I do not want the contents of those squares to be discernible! Because I am plotting a book.”

“Oh, Karen,” you sigh. “There are these things called computers, perhaps you have heard of them?”

“Well, Internets,” I say, “I think the method of presentation for this imaginary conversation is adequate evidence that I have, yes.”

“Then why?” you ask. “You have been using Scrivener for a couple of years now. You love Scrivener! There is a whole thing there with little electronic notecards that, moreover, you will not accidentally skid on as you attempt to traverse your bedroom floor.”

“Aha!” I say triumphantly. “Internets, you have inadvertently hit upon it. For while I am indeed deeply in love with Scrivener, I am ever intrigued by the new and the rare. And do you have any idea how strange it is for me to have this much of my bedroom floor readily available for the physical arrangement and rearrangement of little squares?”

“Karen,” you say. “That is very sad. We cannot even.”

“New book, Internets,” I say. “New plot, which I am transcribing to Scrivener versions of these cards, as we imaginarily speak. The only right way to write a book is the way you write it.”

“Well,” you concede. “Just don’t write the whole thing longhand.”

“Ahahahaha Internets,” I say. “It is to make the funny jokes. Not a chance.”

Yuletide Tales

Today my fabulous sister looked at my mother during the traditional zillion rounds of hotly contested Uno and said, “Hey, Mum, tell the story of how you gave that nun the heart attack.”

“What?” I said. “I haven’t heard this one!”

“I didn’t give a nun a heart attack,” Mum protested. “She was probably going to have it anyway. I was just there when she did.”

As a teenager, my mother attended St Thomas’s High School, a girls-only school attached to the local convent; naturally, many of the teachers were nuns. One day she was returning from PE in a state of dishabille, and was sent out of the classroom for being improperly dressed.

“I didn’t know how she could tell,” Mum said. “She was nearly blind. But anyway, I went outside and put on my tie, and came back in, and she yelled at me again. I thought that she must have known I hadn’t put on my pantyhose. So I did that, and went back in, and she really let loose.”

“Hah!” I said.

“It turned out she was angry because my sleeves were rolled up! I didn’t even know that wasn’t allowed! Anyway, she was calling me a brazen hussy, and then she turned purple, choked, and started to fall. On the way down she grabbed at a statue of the Virgin Mary. I had this split-second decision to make: did I catch the statue, or the nun?”

“Which?” I asked.

“I caught the nun. The statue hit the floor.”

“You’re going to hell,” my fabulous sister said, grinning.

“Is this the same nun who told you that if you were going to enter a convent, you should wait until she was dead?” I inquired.

“Different nun. Anyway, she never came back.”

“You killed her?”

“It wasn’t my fault! And she didn’t die! She was just retired from teaching.”

“All because of your sleeves. Hussy.”

Faith in Foxholes

I went to Christmas Mass this year.

I was raised Catholic and turned agnostic, then atheist in my teens, which was the kick-off for a number of truly spectacular fights between me and my mother. The part where I pretended I was going to Mass by myself and instead snuck off to a friend’s house because I was too chicken to tell her I was having doubts about the whole God thing was particularly memorable, especially when I got caught. We both went nuclear in the kitchen. My siblings and father cleared out and let us scream at each other before we retreated to opposite ends of the house in resentful, fulminating silence.

At that point, I wasn’t quite a disbeliever, but I was well-nigh certain that if God did exist, a God who wouldn’t let women occupy positions of ultimate power in his Church nor grant them autonomy over their own bodies was not a God I wanted any part of. I still thought Jesus was pretty neat, Mary was awesome – and Paul was totally gross. Let the women learn in silence with all subjection, my ass.

It was a genuine crisis of faith. I used to believe – not automatically, but with full faith and joy – in the glory of the Risen Christ, and then, gradually, I didn’t. I was an altar girl; I was a reader of scripture; I had danced at a Rosary gathering and acted in the Nativity pageants. I had been involved with the great machinery of the Catholic Church and I had been cherished and loved in that community.

But I could not believe. And thus I could not stay.

After the big fight, I went to Mass when my mother made me, and didn’t when she was too exhausted by the struggle. I enjoyed the singing, I mumbled the prayers, I dutifully took Communion because everyone else did and I would have felt too self-conscious if I hadn’t. And then I went to university, and didn’t set foot inside a church except for weddings and funerals.

Which meant that I didn’t go to Christmas Mass either, and those Christmases I spent at home, I hurt my mother every time I didn’t. I was sure I was right, but I didn’t like making her sad.

So a couple of years ago I decided to take a different approach. I go to Christmas Mass. I sing along with the choir, whether they suck or are great (this year, they were great), and I mumble the prayers.

However, I don’t take Communion. I don’t believe in transubstantiation, I have committed a great many things the Church regards as mortal sins since my last confession, and as I don’t believe in the divinity of any god figure, I am never in a state of grace. Communion is the most important sacrament of the Roman Catholic Church, and taking it under those circumstances would be immensely disrespectful. I won’t do it.

So, basically, the point of this screed is that I am absolutely certain there is no God, and I don’t think a little wafer that sticks to the roof of your mouth is the body of Christ. But, equally certainly, I love my mother, and I will bend my principles once a year to contribute to her happiness. This may make me both a sucky atheist and a terrible Catholic, but I’m confident that it makes me a better daughter.

A very merry Christmas to all those of you who celebrate it! And to everyone else, may your Sunday be wonderful.

Beautiful Day

Yesterday I accompanied my cousin on a trip to a farm near Rakaia, which is near Christchurch. His job was to check and re-service the wireless hub on a movable irrigator; mine was to keep him awake long enough to do it and drive back, and also pester him with endless questions about dairy farming and the technology used to facilitate it.

Research, folks! Not just in libraries.

He went off to consult with the farmer in the milking shed, while I, in keeping with my “no pooh” policy, peeked in long enough to get an idea of the environment, and then returned to the car to stay out the way and play Plants vs Zombies. At which, by the way, I am a freaking legend.

At 1:58 pm, there was a 5.8 earthquake, 8 kilometres underground, off the eastern coast of New Zealand near Christchurch.

Christchurch has had a shit of a year, and the aftershocks had finally started to die out. Now they’re back. They got four strong ones and myriad small quakes after that first 5.8.

I noticed when the car started wobbling. At first, despite being trained to be earthquake-aware since I was very young, despite knowing that Christchurch and the surrounding areas are a volatile zone, despite having been in various smaller quakes and experiencing the ground roll under me, I wasn’t sure what was happening.

Then, “It’s a quake,” I said, out loud to no one, and pulled my legs inside the car. I was oddly calm – I have anxiety about things that might happen, and only very rarely about things that actually are. The farm was very quiet. There was no sound of panicking birds, no cows mooing. The farm dogs came out and jumped around the car a few minutes later, also silently. I shut the door then; I should have done it when the quake began, but I didn’t beat myself up about it.

My cousin came back. The farmer said the quake had been a 5.8, and I thought of friends in Christchurch, but had no way to get in touch. My cousin drove us out to the irrigator and fixed the wireless router. Liquified cowshit began to pump out over the thick green grass.

On the way up to Rakaia, the radio had been full of cheery summer hits and those hearty-banal holiday greetings DJs do so well. On the way back, it was full of news and warnings. Liquefaction in the streets. Electricity out to over 15 000 households. Rockfalls from the Sumner cliffs.

But there had been no major damage or serious injuries reported. Every newscaster, as we flicked between stations, repeated that.

By Timaru, two hours into the return journey, I couldn’t take any more. When we stopped for gas, I picked up a double CD entitled “High School Hits”, and we sang “Wonderwall” and “Place Your Hands” and “Lightning Crashes” until we got back to Oamaru.

The news was full of pictures of chaos: smashed wine bottles on supermarket floors; huge queues at airports around the country. I had enquiries from anxious friends on twitter and in my inbox. I was checking my own friends’ accounts for any news.

The sky was so beautiful yesterday. The music was good. And 60 injuries – all minor – have been reported.

We thought it was over. I just want it to be over.

That’s In A Name

I’m a nerd who lives on the internet and has a reasonably common name and a couple of email accounts, so I am often made aware of the existence of other Karen Healeys.

Sometimes I learn about these other people who share my name when I get email intended for them. There’s a Karen Healey in the USA who is a deeply Christian woman with a large circle of friends who haven’t all updated their address books from a mistype a couple of years back. They are all very nice when I notify them of this error, and frequently promise to pray for me, which I’d rather they didn’t. There’s a Karen Healey in Australia who likes Shakespeare, which I know because the email informing her that she’d successfully bought tickets to Richard III came to me instead; I called the ticket company and they got in touch with her to sort that out.

And, of course, because I am a nerd who lives on the internet and has a couple of books, the reviews of which I follow, I sometimes learn something about these people because they come up as search engine hits. There’s a Karen Healey who does something with environment science, and another who does something with consumer research. There’s the equestrienne Karen Healey, who is one of the finest hunter trainers in the USA – the day my name outranked hers on Google was an embarrassingly proud one for me.

But a couple of days ago, a new Karen Healey started showing up on searches.

She is naming sportswriter Bill Conlin as the man who sexually abused her and other children in the 70s. And she is calling to account the families that knew of the abuse, and, rather than get the police involved, chose to cut off further contact with Conlin instead.

Jezebel has an article with a good overview:

Karen Healey, who is now a 44-year-old corporate sales executive with three children, says she’s shocked by how adults reacted at the time. “Nobody called the cops,” she said. “Everyone went back to living their lives … It’s never talked about. None of the kids are offered therapy. We all go on with our lives.”

Philly.com has a much lengthier, more in-depth article, where Karen Healey’s mother expresses her shame:

In retrospect, Barbara Healey said, she and the other mothers should have done more: “I decided the wrong thing.”

(Bear in mind that the Philly.com comments include a number of victim-blaming suggestions. Conlin resigned from the Philadelphia Daily News, and he has many fans frequenting the site.)

The statute of limitations has run out on this case and many others; Karen Healey and the other women and men naming Conlin as the perpetrator of sexual assault on them cannot pursue justice through the criminal courts.

But she has come forward to name him, at the inevitable cost of her own name being dragged through the mud, of being labelled a money-grubbing fame whore, of being held accountable for the abuse perpetrated upon her by every victim-blaming asshole who cares to take the time.

Karen Healey is brave and principled, and I admire her very much.


My fabulous sister currently has a job at a dairy farm, which entails getting up at 4am, bossing cows around, coming home at about noon, and going back to work in the evening until about six or seven. Then she comes home, washes the cow poop out of her hair, and goes for a hearty run.

I tend to go to bed at 4am, and wake up at noon (which is convenient for hang-out potential!), the closest I generally come to a cow is deciding which part of it to eat, and… well, I do actually enjoy jogging, but my version of it involves running until I get tired, walking until I feel like running again, and stopping when I get bored. Gina is much more disciplined about the whole thing.

But despite our differences, we also have many similarities. We love to read, we like Community – at least, once I introduced it to her – and we both enjoy beating our mother at Scrabble, an extremely rare occurrence.

And then there are conversations like this:

GINA: What are you watching?
ME: The Vampire Diaries.
GINA: Who’s that man?
ME: What?
GINA: That man on your screen.
ME: Oh. Ian Somerhalder. Hot, right?
GINA: Right.