I don’t actually remember the first time I met Katie. I know what time period it would have been, probably sometime in the fall of 1999. But I’d heard about her long before I met her, because her older sister (who blogs here as Seraphine) and I were roommates at the University of Illinois, where I was a grad student. Seraphine and I were in the habit of talking late into the night, and in the course of our many conversations, we traded a lot of information about our respective families. When Katie showed up, then, it just meant putting a face with a person with whom I already felt somewhat familiar. Our time at that university and in the small singles branch connected to it overlapped by a year, but I can’t say I got to know her very well.
In one of those strange twists of the digital age, it was only years later, when we were no longer in physical proximity, that I really started to get to know Katie. Seraphine was one of the first members of ZD when we got the blog going in January 2006, and we’d snagged Katie as well by the end of the year. She jumped in with a post about religion and fiction that October, and we got around to officially adding her to the blog in November. About her blog pseudonym, she once explained:
It’s a nickname I got at my first youth conference when I was almost 14. I met a girl (who would become a fairly good friend) whose first comment was something along the lines of “Oh my goodness, you look just like the girl from My Girl!” We then spent the next half hour or so trying to remember the girl’s name, which was Veda (actress Anna Chlumsky, but that took us even longer to remember). When she introduced me to the rest of her friends the rest of the conference it was with the comment, “Doesn’t she look just like Veda from My Girl?” And so all through high school I was known by most of the youth in the stake as Veda/Vada (half of them didn’t even know my real name). I started using it as a middle name at the same time, since I didn’t have one, but I didn’t know how it should be spelled, and I spelled it Vada. When I figured out the appropriate spelling a couple of years later I tried using that for a short time, but I was kind of attached to the spelling I’d been using at that point. So that’s where my pseudonym comes from.
As a blog with an overabundance of grad students, we found it especially valuable to have someone who brought the perspective of a stay-at-home-mother with small children. In looking back through our email archives, I laughed to find a conversation about how she’d been hesitant, but decided it was okay for her to say “poop” on our overly intellectual blog. Katie blogged about a wide range of topics, but I think her most popular post ever was the one titled “I Hate Breastfeeding,” which garnered 124 comments and many, many hits. For years afterward, I would look at the google searches that had brought people to ZD, and the phrase “I hate breastfeeding” appeared regularly. I appreciated the matter-of-fact, informal, conversational tone of her blogging, and the way in which she often addressed concrete, everyday life issues. I also particularly remember the piece she did for FMH, for their “a day in the life series,” which really gave me a window into the challenges of being at home all day with small children. (She reposted it a few years later at ZD for the specific purpose of encouraging her younger sister who was dealing with similar things.)
As those of you on group blogs know, the public posts and comments are only a piece of the picture. Like most of us here at ZD, Katie’s blogging waxed and waned over the years, but in our off-blog conversations, she was a regular and lively participant, and she often said that our backlist chats were one of her favorite parts of her blogging experience. I know I appreciated her responses over the years when I asked for support or feedback. Like all of us, she would write the occasional entertaining rant about things that were frustrating her, but she was generally level-headed and thoughtful, as well as willing to disagree and offer an alternate perspective on things if she saw them differently. She also contributed every year to our server costs, which was really helpful for me especially when things were financially tight. And because I find it incredibly awkward to ask for money, I was always appreciative that she not just donated but did so with such enthusiasm, sometimes even bringing up the subject before I did, making me feel less weird about hitting up my co-bloggers for financial contributions.
As Facebook became more popular, a lot of our online interactions shifted there. Katie was one of the few people in my life who was on Facebook as regularly as I was—and also at similar hours, often very late at night. I would be amused when I would post something at 2:00 am and get a “like” from her in under a minute. She was involved in our ZD Facebook group, of course, but quite active in other Mormon feminist groups as well. And it’s only in the last week that I’ve realized just how many other online communities she contributed to in addition to the ones where I saw her. I was particularly touched by her concern for the LGBT community. After the Orlando shooting, she tagged me in a Facebook post that said, in part, “I’m not close enough to reach out and hug any of my LGBTQ+ friends/family in person, but I want them to know I’m thinking about them specifically today, in addition to the victims in Orlando and their families. “ It meant a lot to me that she’d thought of me. When I saw her in person in 2011 at Seraphine’s wedding, for the first time I think since we’d been in the same branch back in 1999-2000, I remember being struck by how natural it felt to talk despite so much time having passed, because we’d interacted so much online in the intervening years.
Along with hundreds of others of her Facebook friends, I watched from afar the story of her high-risk pregnancy this year, and the birth of her tiny twin daughters. I remember talking to my sister Eve a few weeks ago about how matter-of-fact she sounded in her posts about them, when it seemed like a very high-stress situation, with constant medical issues to address. Things seemed to be looking up, though, and I was starting to hope that it was actually going to turn out okay for these twins, and that made me so happy.
I’m still a bit in shock and disbelief about this tragedy. It’s also been surreal to watch her story go viral and race across the internet to land in places like People and Cosmopolitan. I realize that I only knew Katie in a limited context, but in our small corner of the internet, I want to acknowledge what she contributed to our particular community, and our work to make more space for conversations about Mormon feminism and other challenging issues. Our thoughts are very much with her family, her six children and her husband as well as her parents and siblings—especially her sister and co-blogger Seraphine. Probably most of you have already had the chance to contribute to the fundraising site for her family, but I’ll include the link again just in case: go here to help.