On Karen

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

My gift, I think, is to help people feel less alone in their messes.  To remind them that we have all cried in the dark, avoided our reflection in the mirror, ruined someone else’s day, and lived to tell about it.

All, as they say, fall short of The Glory.

I’ve always considered it an honor to be able to help people feel more comfortable with their shortcomings.

But last weekend I met a woman whose gift is… I don’t know, more.  I hesitate to use the word more, because it’s ridiculous to compare the things that God has given us in terms of more or less.  I know this.  But her gift, what I saw her do for people, it was…  It was next.

It was the thing that comes after you stop beating yourself up for being imperfect.

Last week I met a woman named Karen.  You may know her online as Chookooloonks.  Perhaps you’ve seen some of the amazing pictures she takes of people, or maybe you’ve ordered her book The Beauty of Different.  I have, like many people, admired her pictures and marveled at her talent with a camera.

Meet Karen. She took this picture of herself and said I could use it.

But what she does with a camera pales in comparison to what she does with a woman’s soul.

Karen was part of an interactive art exhibit at BlogHer, which is a fancy way of saying that she stood in the middle of a room and painted words on people.  I’d read about people having words painted on their bodies before, and I was intrigued by the idea.  I got in line at Karen’s table.

“What do you want me to write on you?” she asked when it was my turn.

“Uhhh… I don’t know.”

“It should answer the question – what makes you different?”

I laughed a little too loudly.

“Uhhh… my hair?”

I knew it wasn’t what she was looking for, but I was suddenly extremely uncomfortable to be standing in the middle of this hotel ballroom underneath a microscope.  She didn’t respond.  Or laugh.  She just stood there looking at me, waiting for me to answer her.

“I have to choose?” I ask.

“Yes.”

I stuttered and stammered a bit and looked intently at the white paint tray on top of the white linen tablecloth.

“What makes you different?” she asked again.

“Uhh… I’m loud?” more uncomfortable laughter.

“Are you proud of that?” Jesus, this woman wasn’t backing down.  She hadn’t cracked a smile and her steady gaze was searing a hole into my he he he I’m just a fuck up defenses.  I hung my head in reply.  “Do you want to be proud of that?”

“No.”

“What makes you different?  What’s the compliment you most often receive?”

“I’m honest?”

“Is that what you want me to say?” She wasn’t going to be tricked into answering this question for me.

I thought about it a little more.  What did people say about me?  What did I say about me?  How is it that I wanted this woman to define me with her black paint?

“Genuine.” I said.

She dipped her brush and got to work.

My Word

I found myself staring at the letters on my skin all night.  Genuine.  It wasn’t perfection.  It wasn’t never having told a lie.  But it was something I felt comfortable claiming.  Something I became more proud of, more in love with, as the night wore on.

I watched Karen do this for other women over the course of the BlogHer convention.  She refused to let women stay stuck in that place of simply not being a fuck up. She insisted that they push further, push past being comfortable with their flaws and into embracing and loving who they are.

I was in awe.  I don’t know if she even realized how stubborn she was being with some of us or if she appreciated what she was giving us.  You kind of got the sense that she was just old enough and wise enough to no longer put up with women talking shit about themselves in her company.  She doesn’t coddle or coax you into loving yourself – or at least, that’s not what I experienced.  Rather, she stands up tall in front of you and says “well, are you coming?”

I’m trying to clamber up the hill to catch up to her.  I want to be where she is, past acceptance and in the land of truly loving who I am.  I want to walk past the backhanded compliments to myself and the self deprecating humor that hides the things I’m most ashamed of.  I want to, I’m going to keep pointing myself in the direction of embracing the wonderful things that make me different.

And I hope someday to be able to turn around and say “well, are you coming?”

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  1. avitable says:

    You know, I didn’t even realize that was her doing that. There was always a line of people getting painted on when I was in that room, so I bypassed that part.

    And I think you’re already at the top of one hill, at least. I’ve always gotten that “well, are you coming?” sense from you, but maybe that’s just because I’m wayyyy behind you as far as emotional evolution goes.

  2. Courtney in FL says:

    Beautiful! All of the above is beautiful.

  3. Sarah says:

    If “genuine” isn’t one of the best possible things in the whole world to be, I want know what is.

    And you definitely are, lady.

  4. Nanna says:

    Jesus, child. This is really amazingly well written. And Karen? Is breathtakingly beautiful.

  5. Genuine was the PERFECT word for you.

    I’ve never met Karen, but in every photo of her she just seems to radiate joy. You want to be Karen when you grow up? Sometimes I want to be Britt when I grow up. You throw yourself at life with open arms. I want to feel like that.

  6. racheal says:

    Oh, this was beautiful. What an amazing, inspiring experience and how perfectly “genuine” suits you.

    :)

  7. NaysWay says:

    I’ve never met Karen but, just following along on her site, have always been intrigued by what kind of woman she is in person. After reading this, I’ve got to get my butt to a BlogHer conference so I can meet her! She sounds balls-to-the-wall. Love it.

  8. Lisa says:

    I think Genuine is a personality trait everyone should aspire to be, and you rock it. It doesn’t matter how many times you feel like a screw up, you go at everything with the best of intentions. Being true to yourself, which is how I interpret Genuine, is more important than being perfect.

  9. Faiqa says:

    I’m so thankful I got to speak with her for a few minutes, as well. She’s amazing. And, WHAT? Drop DEAD GORGEOUS. I didn’t know that was allowed…

  10. Finn says:

    Hello to the beautiful (inside and out) Karen.

    Genuine is the perfect word for you. I haven’t a clue what my word would be. I think I need to meet Ms. Karen!

  11. Sheila says:

    I’m proud of you for sticking it out….*if* I had had the guts to get into that line, I most definitely would have bailed once I got up front and I had to pick of word for myself that wasn’t “fuck up”.

    Genuine. That’s so you.

  12. Raven says:

    She and the experience itself sound amazing. I so happy for you!

  13. Stacey says:

    Karen sounds AMAZING. I love this post. And I’m glad you found your word.

  14. anymommy says:

    I love this. I was so moved by Karen as well – touching people so much in 2 minutes while you paint on them is pretty amazing. I did know what I wanted her to paint and I wore it the whole next day like a dang idiot who hadn’t showered (I hadn’t). It made me happy to look at it on my arm.

  15. angi says:

    I read you, because you’re genuine. I love you, having never met you, because I believe you will be there ahead of a lot of us, saying “well, are you coming?”

  16. kdiddy says:

    I just wanted to pop over and say that I spotted you exactly once over the weekend. (At least, I’m 99.999% certain it was you.) It was during the afternoon break on Saturday and you stopped into the ballroom and asked me about the Hilton crew’s activities moving around the tables and chairs. I was going to say hi but you seemed a bit flustered and I had a mouth full of mini Reuben sandwiches. Your post the other day about feeling alone made me feel bad, because I could have made you feel less so. Next time. Promise. :-)

  17. God, I want to be at the top of that hill with you. And her.

    Your word is perfect and should become your tagline. “Miss Britt. Genuine.” :)

  18. This gave me goosebumps.

    And this? “It was the thing that comes after you stop beating yourself up for being imperfect.” is a beautiful description.

    So glad I clicked over.

  19. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by anymommy, Carolyn Dingman. Carolyn Dingman said: Love ths by @misdbritt On Karen « Miss Britt http://miss-britt.com/?p=3802 [...]

  20. I didn’t go to BlogHer, but in the days since the conference, I have read so much about Karen on a multitude of blogs. This one woman inspired so many… amazing.

  21. Lynn says:

    I have been reading your blog since you moved to Florida. You are blessed with being able to turn your thoughts into words that draw beautiful pictures in the minds of your readers. In my opinion this post it the epitome of your talent. Please submit it to some contest that will bring you and your talents the worldwide recognition that you deserve. Write on, Tadpole. You are becoming an amazing princess frog.

  22. Jenn says:

    This is the first post BlogHer post I’ve read where I have both cried and gotten chills over it. I cried because, oh, how I relate to how you must’ve felt. I don’t know what my word is and would probably have cried at her question looking into her beautiful, unflinching eyes. I got chills because you did it! Genuine! That’s perfect for you! Of every BlogHer moment people were able to experience, this one…well, this one sounds like one of the most incredible ones that makes me sad I missed! But, meet you on that hill soon?

  23. She sounds amazing and you captured her well – next is perfect.

    It’s so difficult for women, in particular, to speak to what makes them different, because really she’s asking what makes you special and we spent so much time helping our children understand what makes them special and supporting whatever our spouse is doing that the light shifts away from us and we forget. And some of us never really knew. It took turning 40 and waking from the slumber of marriage and motherhood to make me think about it again. My difference – I’m open – not afraid to explore or talk about pretty much anything. That’s part of why I write and why I feel comfortable writing pretty steamy stuff that makes others blush.

    Most people don’t have the spotlight shone on them, forcing them to think, remember and reflect. People like Karen are a gift. How lovely that she was able to touch so many people, and leave such a visual memory of the experience.

    You’re the first to write about this.. Thank you!!

    Elizabeth

  24. Caitlin says:

    This is my favorite Blogher post so far. And it will probably continue to be my favorite.

    Amazing. Made me tear up a little.

  25. I love this so much.
    Karen does NOT back down and she can down right intimidate you and look into your soul in the most awesome of ways.
    She is one of my favorite people of all time.
    I love her.
    and you.

    and genuine. Yes. it is you. own it.

  26. My life’s goal? To be one of the women asking, “well, are you coming?”

    Now, what’s step 1?

  27. elz says:

    I’ve been lucky enough to know Karen for some time now. She is, without a doubt one of the best people I know b/c she is so true and real and genuine and makes you want to be better just to live up to her. Her power is so beautiful. She was the perfect choice to bring out everyone’s inner beauty at BlogHer.

  28. carmen says:

    I think you are at the top of the hill. Said by a woman left way in your dust, unable to climb the hill, in your shadows and in awe.

    Karen is amazing and inspiring and so are you.

  29. muskrat says:

    Your hair and volume are both genuine.
    Okay, I suppose the rest of you is as well.

  30. Alison says:

    This was wonderful – both the experience and the way you wrote it.

    Now I have to think of my word…

  31. Tina says:

    So glad to find your blog. How beautiful. I needed to read this post today. I’ve had several days of being me and feeling tired of the chaos I leave in my wake. Genuine. Nice.
    Best,
    Tina

  32. I’m still sitting here staring at the screen, ten minutes have passed since initially reading this post, and the worst thing of all? I wouldn’t have a clue how to answer Karen. NOT A SINGLE CLUE.

    I think the single thing that always strikes me about you (although you’d probably never know it because I read but seldom comment…I have a genetic anomaly that causes me to leave stupid and unoriginal comments!)is not just your ability to be genuine, but your “muchness”…the fact that your not afraid to put that much of yourself out there in a relate-able and admirable way. I admire that! :-)

  33. Momo Fali says:

    And, now I’m crying. Again.

  34. You captured her perfectly. She’s inspirational. And exhausting.

    But in a good way.

  35. Peggy Payne says:

    Genuine is such a good choice, a good and very brave thing to be.

  36. [...] was odd for me to email her.  Although we’ve met once and I’ve written about her here, Karen and I aren’t close friends.  Certainly not the kind of friends that email each other [...]

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