Posted by: Kelli Dunham | October 19, 2010

7th D.O.C-Ask a nun-THAT question

For the 7th Day of Convent, I told folks they could ask me any question they’d been burning to know about about convent life. Charlotte Cooper was curious about the following:

Did you ever hear the word ‘lesbian’, or some other euphemism for the word/concept uttered in the convent?

Yes indeed Charlotte, there is a handy dandy phrase that was used to describe lesbian relationships: “particular friendships”  This phrase was at once euphemistic and even ironic and also not so.  Clear as mud? (as my grandma would say…does anyone under 55 even use that expression anymore? But I digress)

The term “particular friendship” was indeed used euphemistically to describe actual lesbian relationships including relationships in which  the two parties (or perhaps more although I never witness anything behind dyads) were known to take a rare moment when we were not busy to, um get busy. However,  the term was also used to leverage homophobia in order to discourage nuns from forming actual friendships with other nuns.  You didn’t need to be having sex in order to be accused of having a “particular friendship:” demonstrating in any way that you preferred the company of one sister over another or had any type of specific connection with another sister was also seen as problematic. I guess the idea was that Jesus was our spouse and he was jealous of any other relationships we might have.

Which, come to think of it, makes Jesus sound like at best a creepy jealous husband with the potential of devolving into an actual abusive jerk.

Which, come to think of it, is kind of how I ended up experiencing it.


Posted by: Kelli Dunham | October 17, 2010

Sister Mary Goofus-the 6th Day of Convent

Do you remember those cloyingly didactic Goofus and Gallant cartoons from the old Highlights Magazine? Each page would contain a series of contrasting images highlighting the messed up behavior of Goofus (get it, Goof-us. Yeah I guess simple puns were funnier back then before our constant exposure to hilarious cat surfing videos on the interwebs raised our resistance to humor) and the super awesome behavior of Gallant who was, of course, GALLANT.

The tone is so obvious and condescending (“Goofus handles things in the store; Gallant keeps his hands off things in the store”) that as a child I can remember truly hating Gallant and thinking Goofus would be a helluva lot more fun to hang around than his holier than thou perfect friend.

Which brings me to a photo I found in my nunbox just now.

It really does look like Sister Mary Goofus and Sister Mary Gallant.

Sister Mary Goofus shows that she despises Jesus when she gossips with another sister before mass.

Sister Mary Gallant shows that she loves Jesus by spending every precious moment she can talking with him.

Yknow, we prayed 4 HOURS A DAY in the convent. I love my girlfriend but we have never talked four solid hours a day, not even when we first started dating. Not even when we’re on vacation. What on earth were we supposed to be saying to someone who (to follow the godlogic) ALREADY KNOWS EVERYTHING ANYWAY?

Spending that much time in prayer seemed like a one way verbal stalking relationship. By the way, if you’re ever a nun, and you ever feel like too much time spent in prayer = a one way verbal stalking relationship, don’t tell your aspirant mistress this.

Seriously. Don’t.


Posted by: Kelli Dunham | October 15, 2010

For the 7th day of convent: ask a nun anything!

So, you’ve got something you’ve been wanting to ask an ex nun right? About undergarments, or inner convent workings or yknow, something really personal. You might not get another chance so, if you’d like to ask me something, comment here, I will answer as many questions as possible on Monday, the 7th day of convent!

Posted by: Kelli Dunham | October 14, 2010

3rd day of convent: Sins, Sins and More Sins!

One of the great adventures of convent life was Finding Out There Were More Things To Do Wrong Than I Had Ever Known. Every day at noon and then during night prayers, we were supposed to do an an examination of conscience. That is, we were supposed to figure out what we did wrong and and write it down in a little book so we could confess it, or work on it, or feel guilty about it…or I guess all three. To accompany our own little book (photos of that in the next post) we were given this little book called (fittingly enough) The Examination of Conscience. In it were lists of things we might have done wrong. And in case you hadn’t actually done anything wrong, a lot of the lists were annotated with possible WRONG motivations for doing the RIGHT thing. I asked my aspirant mistress why there wasn’t a space for doing the WRONG thing with the right motive, but told me not to be so fresh.

Some gems (transcribed EXACTLY as written in the book)

Do I make the resolution to control my tongue from getting dirty (p 5)

Do I realize how much of an affect my angry words have on my Sister? (like the one bite of Adam of Eve that has affected all mankind) (p 4)

Do I help a Sister struggling with her bucket? (this makes sense in the MC context, see the upcoming 6th day of convent “Buckets of Buckets”)(p8)

Do I conquer my temper? If not, I don’t love God even for one minute? (p 15, remember this is transcribed EXACTLY)

Am I so ugly or preoccupied that I have no time allow the Sisters to love me? (p 16)

Do I spoil Mother’s name by my words and actions? (p17)

and finally two of my favorites:

Am I selfish in being moody? Do I know that moodiness is devilish pride in action? That it comes from a soul which is not of prayer? That it is a curse (p 20)


Do I use my tongue for the good of others? (p 32).

Want to hear more? Surrounded by go go dancers and the most amazing food by Kitchentop Catering? Get tickets now to the October 23rd NYC Bad Habit Brunch.

Posted by: Kelli Dunham | October 14, 2010

The 2nd Day of Convent…

Presenting me and my group sisters, c 1995. As far as I know, no one but the professed (my mistress, known as Sister Milagro in the Bad Habit Story) and perhaps one other sister are still with the MCs.  That’s me in the middlish, looking not very innocent. But trying.

Want to hear more? Surrounded by go go dancers and the most amazing food by Kitchentop Catering? Get tickets now to the October 23rd NYC Bad Habit Brunch.

Posted by: Kelli Dunham | October 14, 2010

1st Day of Convent: Long Lost Letter

Thanks to my old friend Bryan Synder, who sent me a copy of this, I can share with you A Letter Home From the Convent. Because we were only allowed to write our parents (and just once a month), my mom was kind enough to photocopy my letters and share them with the world at large. Or at least my friends. We were allowed to get letters, although they would sometimes come with bits snipped out: they reminded me of my dad’s letters home from WWII after they had gone through the censors. Anyway because we never wrote anyone back, after a short time it was hard for folks to write us anymore. Also, as you can tell from this letter, I was hardly writing about universal themes.

Hi Mom! It was good to talk to you today. Yjanks so much for calling and for all you have done for me since I have been here. It was to talk to Grandma too. Everything here is fine. We are all surviving and trying to be good (easier said than done I guess) and having fun also.

The house has been full of visiting sisters. In early December and then later in January there was a group of about 20 sisters coming through their way to India their home visits. Mostly these sisters had been staitoned in the States and in Latin American, but 2 of the sisters I knew from Haiti. It was good to see them again. Anyway in early January, Sr Priscilla (one of the oldest sisters who joined when she started the Society in the 1950s) came to visits us. Then all the sisters from all the houses around New Yokr came for mass lunch and nap (we take a nap every afternoon, can you believe it? It’s great, like getting to do nursery school all over again and appreciate it this time_) All together there were 80 sisters in the house. At nap time it looked like a nun bomb exploded. There were nuns sleeping everyone-beds, the floor, benches etc.

We have new additions to our community. 2 new aspirants came these past two weeks. They seem to be adjusting well to everything and have gotten in the hang of dropping bucks, breaking statues and spilling soap. It is nice to have the extra sisters do now or “family” is 8, including our mistress. Because they are doing construction in the Bronx (where the aspirants usually are) we are all together (the aspirants and the pre-aspirations) for now.

Despite the added numbers, we are still having trouble with our wswinging in the chapel. During adoration, we somehow manage to forget the tuns of the songs we sing even the old favorite (ave Maria, Salve Regina) and so then each sisters tries desperately to recover the tune (everyone in their own key of course) while the other sisters try not to laugh. In the end, we all end up giggling uncontrollably each have to leave the chapel. We console ourselves by remembereding that God has a sense of humor and He must have a really good one, or I certainly would not be here.

For the last couple of weeks, they have been sending us (that is, 2 pre-aspirants) to “Gift of Love” a couple of afternoons a week to help out. Gift of Love is a house we have for People With AIDS, so we have a bit of a change of scenery, plus we get to take the subway (real spiritual motives, Huh?!) The house is really nice and cozy and the number of men living there is limited–less than 15– so it really is a family atmosphere.

The other newsworthy item is this project we have agoing. A 12 step devotional calendar. Using different 12 step books, quotes from Mother etc we (aspirants and pre-aspirants) are putting together a little reflection for each day of the year (ie each month we use one step). We are trying to incorporate the “I thirst” (the aim of the Society) into the spirituality of the steps. Like the 1st step is “I admitted that I am powerless over my own thirst and that my life is unmanageable.” The whole “I thirst” thing is just incredible. I know I went that I went on about it last letter, but the whole ideas is really incredible…that God thirsts for us, individually, our own unique love for Him, that we can give it. It’s hard to imagine after all, it just goes back to “Jesus loves me this I know/for the Bible tells me so”

Well mom, I have no more time so I must go. Thank you again so much for eerything. Give my love to everyone. Pray for me, I’m praying for you.

Love Sister Mercy

Despite the fact that I signed my “nun name”, I finished the letter by drawing a picture of “Barfy” the fish on a skateboard that I used as my personal tag since my pre-teen years.

Want to hear more? Surrounded by go go dancers and the most amazing food by Kitchentop Catering? Get tickets now to the October 23rd NYC Bad Habit Brunch.