BETTER KNOW YOUR CHARACTER: JEWELRY

Very few people wear no jewelry at all, at any time.  That said, men are more likely than women to be among those few. Where, when, and what type of adornment provide fertile ground.

Characters from different cultural backgrounds, time periods, and social classes are likely to view jewelry in ways that seem odd to outsiders.

So change it up! 

Go Against Expectations

In June of 2020, I posted another blog about jewelry titled JEWELRY AS MORE THAN BEAUTIFICATION: IDENTIFICATION, INFORMATION, AFFILIATION, COMMUNICATION. Lots of good information there (I say, most humbly) but I won’t repeat it here. 

In determining your characters’ jewelry profiles, start with “Why does this character wear (or not wear) jewelry?”

Uses of Jewelry

Jewelry is often viewed as a fashion accessory for complementing one’s clothes, especially for special occasions. With a bit of imagination, it can be so much more.

Research has shown that wearing jewelry can increase an individual’s self-esteem. Nursing home residents with memory loss were less unruly when they wore jewelry.

Not wearing jewelry when it is the norm can also attract attention, possibly criticism (such as removing a wedding ring before going out to drink).

Flo-Jo (Florence Griffith-Joyner)

Many wear jewelry as a symbol of femininity or masculinity. Think of the number of female athletes who wear jewelry while competing or even coaching. Think biker chains and skulls.

Jewelry has an obvious dollar value that can be a signifier, even if it is fake.

  • Showcase social status or wealth
  • Serve as an investment
  • Be a safety net for financial independence
    • This is especially common among women, particularly in nomadic cultures
Traditional Afghani Bridal Jewelry

Jewelry can make a person feel confident and attractive.

Jewelry can have personal or sentimental value. It can be a powerful connection to loved ones and memories.

Many wear jewelry because, well, one likes how it looks

Wearing jewelry can be a way to express oneself.  

  • Red jewelry, for example, connotes vitality, courage, and confidence.
  • Anchor jewelry denotes stability, strength, steadfastness, and hope. 
  • Hemp

A variety of jewelry pieces signify strength, courage, and hope. Some actually contain the word—in letters or Morse code.

Rings by goldsmith Danielle Crampsie

The recorded sound wave of a loved one’s voice (or bark) can be etched onto the metal of a ring or pendant.

Others are symbolic like the Celtic tree of life, the Viking axe pendant, the Egyptian ankh, or the eagle ring. Still others could be more esoteric, like dragonfly earrings supporting the wearer to pursue dreams. These are often gifted or awarded to someone.

Jewelry for Healing or Health

One well-known example is the usual 7 stones in the chakra, used for reiki, healing, meditation, chakra balancing, or ritual: 

  • Amethyst (Crown Chakra)
  • Carnelian (Sacral Chakra)
  • Yellow Jade (Solar Plexus)
  • Green Aventurine (Heart Chakra)
  • Lapis Lazuli (Throat Chakra)
  • Clear Crystal (Third-Eye Chakra)
  • Red Jasper (Root Chakra)

Virtually every stone is associated with physical and/or mental health in one way or another. Whole books have been written about. One good all-around reference for The Book of Stones: Who they are & What They Teach by Robert Simmons & Naisha Ahsian. 

Particular Stones in Jewelry

First of all, think birthstones.

Although there is assumed to be a particular affinity with one’s birthstone, there is no hard evidence (that I found) that this is the case. One thing they all have in common is that they sparkle, especially in sunlight. Some wearers find the sparkle both beautiful and cheering.

In general, does your character prefer sparkly stones, opaque ones, or no stones? 

Malachite
  • As a general rule, sparkly stones are dressier as well as more expensive than opaque ones. Are these factors?
  • Opaque stones offer more variety, from jasper to turquoise to onyx.
    • Color and pattern are primary considerations.

Turqupise: An Example of How a Stone Can Be Related to a Character 

John is an undercover police officer, 6’4” tall, and he wears silver jewelry as a statement that he’s a rogue, and not to be intimidated. Depending on the role he’s playing, he sometimes goes more subtle, choosing a tie bar, cufflinks, or belt buckle.

When he delved into turquoise, he discovered the huge range of colors, including copper-turquoise in blue, green, purple, red/orange, and black. 

Women find him handsome and say his jewelry just accentuates that he’s one of a kind. He once dated a woman who told him turquoise represents wisdom, tranquility, protection, good fortune, and hope, and that contemporary crystal experts celebrate it for its representation of wisdom, tranquility, and protection. John is skeptical of all that.

His preference for turquoise reflects his (distant) connection to Native American culture, even though he has no involvement with a tribe and was reared entirely within the Anglo world. However, his paternal great-grandfather was Navajo. John has a blue turquoise ring that belonged to his great-grandfather, and a green turquoise one made by his great-grandfather’s brother.

When those rings came to John, he was surprised to learn that Native Americans (the Hohokam and Anasazi peoples) first started mining and using turquoise around 200 B.C.E. They mined the famous Cerrillos and Burro Mountains of what is now New Mexico and, in Arizona, the Kingman and Morenci turquoise mines.

When John is deep in thought, he often turns his ring around and around. Depending on context, he can do this when problem solving, daydreaming, or planning. He is very disciplined not to do it when playing poker or being threatened.

Which Metal

  • Platinum
  • Gold
    • White gold
    • Yellow gold
    • Red gold
  • Silver
  • Aluminum
  • Titanium
  • Stainless steel…

Not to mention the role of leather, cord, wood, hemp… But I’m not going there!

When Not to Wear Jewelry

Many professions require specific jewelry or no jewelry at all. This could be for safety considerations or to create a specific professional impression.

  • Most medical professionals cannot wear rings, bracelets, necklaces, or large earrings for health safety.
  • Jobs requiring heavy machinery, blades, or high temperatures (locksmith, chef, welder, etc.) generally prohibit wearing anything that dangles or hangs.
Those working out of the spotlight, such as in the pit orchestra or in the flies usually wear no jewelry, at least nothing that catches the light.

Raw food can also get caught in the settings of rings and bracelets, trapping bacteria and other contaminants in your jewelry and leading to possible skin irritation or contaminated food. 
While at the beach, the sun, sand, and sharks (attracted to shiny objects) are three reasons why not to wear jewelry at the beach.

Whenever the activity might damage or wear-down the gem or the metal. This list is just a reminder. You can figure out the risks associated with each activity for yourself—except, maybe, sleeping!

  • Showering
  • Swimming
    • Whether in the pool or at the beach
  • Exercising
  • Cleaning
  • Getting ready in the morning
  • Gardening
  • Cooking
  • Sleeping
  • Painting

Jewelry prongs/settings can wear down faster during sleep, especially if someone tosses and turns a lot. The prongs can also become bent out of shape if caught on a sheet or blanket, making the chances of accidentally losing a gemstone more likely.

Bottom line: Writers, tap the rich vein of jewelry and gemstones to add depth and detail to your work!

COLLECTING: A FINE OLD THING

According to Wikipedia, “Collecting is a practice with a very old cultural history. In Mesopotamia, collecting practices have been noted among royalty and elites as far back as the 3rd millennium BCE. … Collecting engravings and other prints by those whose means did not allow them to buy original works of art also goes back many centuries.” 

Carl Jung—to drop a familiar name—suggested that the appeal of collecting is connected to hunting and gathering for early human survival.

Collections of art and antiquities often form the basis for museums or galleries/wings within museums. Donating such a collection is often an intentional or unintentional path to prestige, usually a wealth marker. Just look at James Smithson, who would have been just another wealthy Englishman if he hadn’t founded the Smithsonian Institution.

Sometimes these museum collections are the result of are generational family collections. The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures in Arizona began with a dollhouse passed down to founder Pat Arnell from her mother. The museum is now a series of exhibits arranged to transport the visitor to various times and places all over the world, like a time machine.

N.B. the difference between an antique and a collectible is age.

  • In general, antiques are at least 100 years old.
    • The DMV classifies vehicles as antique when they are 25 years old.
  • Collectibles are “vintage,” meaning old but not that old.
  • Of course, everything old was once new, so…

A collection must be valued at least… ?

A lot of Depression Glass collections started with free pieces of glassware in bags of flour.

Neither age nor monetary value define collections for ordinary people. Virtually anything can be collected—and probably has been! 

My mother collected salt and pepper shakers. My sister collected dolls. One aunt collected Swanky Swigs Kraft Pimento Cheese Jars, free when she bought the cheese for her son’s favorite lunch sandwich.

Aunt Lena took pride in collecting them all and decades later used them as juice glasses.

I’m probably the most varied collector I know. I started as a preschooler collecting “pretty” pebbles—and collecting them again after my mother dumped them back into the driveway. Then it was paper dolls.

As an adult I have several collections.

Perhaps my jewelry collection could be measures by the branch.
  • Carved wood Santas (>450)
  • Hundreds of cookbooks ranging from newly published to one from 1840
  • Depression Glass table service and flower vases
  • Mahjong sets approaching antiquity 
  • Gold and cloisonné napkin rings
  • Mineral skulls as both shelf art and jewelry
  • Jewelry that can be measured only by the pound.

The general consensus among those who know me is that having grown up poor, as an adult objectively enough is never psychologically enough.

Why do people start collecting?

Imelda Marcos’s shoe collection probably provides enough material for a dozen psychological studies.

Collecting can reflect a fear of scarcity, or of discarding something and then later regretting it. No doubt many collections are connected to deep-seated personality or psychological issues.

This form of collecting can very easily cross the line into hoarding, a mental disorder connected with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Psychologists differentiate between collecting and hoarding in several ways.

Pet hoarding is one of the most tragic forms of hoarding, both for the keeper and for the animals. The ASPCA has information and resources on how to help.
  • Collectors tend to organize and display their collections.
    • Hoarders are more likely to have so much that everything is piled together, often becoming crushed or ruined beneath other piles.
  • Collectors are specific about the items they collect and know the monetary value of items in their collections (if there is any monetary value).
    • Hoarders may collect categories of items, but these categories are more likely to be vague, regardless of monetary value.
  • Collectors have a sense of pride in the uniqueness or size of their collections, creating displays to share with visitors and to preserve everything in the collection.
    • Hoarding is often a source of shame, leading hoarders to attempt to downplay or hide their hoarded possessions from visitors.
This photo of a collection of BDSM and fetish gear is one of the very few that is not X-rated!

One might wonder about sex collections, those who own dildos in various sizes, shapes, and materials; fetishists who collect shoes, handcuffs, or leather. Collections of marble, glass, clay, and leather sex toys have been found in Roman ruins and Viking burials. This is certainly not a modern phenomenon. (There are actually books out there that talk about sex collectors, fyi.)

But surely many—most?—are not related to deep-seated needs or issues.

What explains collecting belly button fluff?  At 22.1 grams, Graham Barker has the largest collection of belly button fluff. It’s his own fluff. He started the collection in 1984, and keeps a daily log of color, amount, and what towel he was using or clothes he was wearing that yielded the sample.

The fact that Mr. Barker has the largest collection implies that there are other people out there who collect belly button lint.

And what about the guy who keeps his ABC (already been chewed) nicotine gum balls to make one giant one?

Personally, I think a lot of collections begin by happenstance. 

Becky Martz shows off her collection with help from the Chiquita Banana Lady.
(Image from Chiquita.com)

For example, that seems to be what happened for Becky Martz: in 1991 she noticed that label on the newly purchased Dole bananas (from Honduras) was different from the one already in her fruit bowl (from Guatemala),  and voila, a collection of >21,000 banana stickers from around the world was begun. 

What else would explain collections of

  • 730 umbrella covers/sleeves
    • There is a museum of umbrella covers in Maine.
  • Rubber door stoppers
  • Bars of soap

And some collections start as free-bees. Many people keep mementos of their travels in the form of free items with the location printed on them. These sometimes depend on quantity rather than variety:

In case you’re curious, collecting matchbooks is technically known as “phillumeny.”
  • Water bottle labels
  • “Do Not Disturb” hotel tags
  • Airline barf bags
  • Sugar packets
  • Drink coasters
  • Matchbook covers
  • Bottle caps
  • Seashells
  • Cigar bands 

Pure whim?

  • Artificial Christmas trees
  • Pink hats
  • Coke memorabilia
  • Old cast iron cookware and utensils
  • Pens or pencils
  • Chicken/pig/cow memorabilia
  • Barbed wire
  • Bells

Examples I know of circumstances leading to collections:

  • A home brewer who collect beer glasses and steins
  • A woman who bought an historic home on a railroad track and started collecting train memorabilia
  • A firefighter who inherited her father’s and grandfather’s firefighting badges and helmets
  • A collection of 30,000 toenail clippings for medical research

Collecting socially

Znachki are all over eBay these days.

In Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, and many Eastern European countries, there is a tradition of znachki – trading pins. During the end of the Imperial Era and throughout the time of the Soviet Union, people were given pins in commemoration, in celebration, as congratulations, to note achievements, and pretty much any other occasions. When meeting in public, people could ask about pins and medals worn as a way of breaking the ice. Pins were often traded and collected.

A meeting of antique doll collectors hosted by DOLLS magazine.

Disney parks and Olympic Games have similar customs of issuing commemorative pins to be collected and traded by strangers and friends.

Many hard-core collectors can also find societies and organizations of like-minded individuals. Dollhouse furniture, Star Wars memorabilia, and Pokemon cards all bring people together online or in swap meets to buy, sell, and trade to perfect their collections.

Collecting Christmas cards is one of the most social collections imaginable.

Bottom line: Whatever the source or start point, what might a collection add to your plot or character? You can go online to find about about these and innumerable other collectables and their collectors, associations, meetings, swaps, and collecting venues.

SEPTEMBER FOCUS

Every day of every month marks something remarkable, something to celebrate, something to be aware of. I’m not up to tracking daily events; instead, I like to look at whole months.

Of course, International Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19th is worthy of being studied and celebrated all month long!

So here, for your information, entertainment, and possibly seasonal scenes in your fiction, is the September summary.

Books/Education

  • Be Kind to Editors and Writers Month
  • Library Card Sign-Up Month
  • Sea Cadet Month
    • (The Sea Cadet program is similar to the ROTC, run by the Navy and Coast Guard.)
  • International Strategic Thinking Month

Food

  • Eat Chicken Month
  • Great American Low-Cholesterol, Low-Fat Pizza Bake
  • Hunger Action Month
  • National Honey Month
  • National Mushroom Month
  • National Rice Month
  • National [Milk]Shake Month
  • Whole Grains Month

Health and Safety

(Make sure the baby is wearing a helmet before she rappels off the roof.)
  • Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Month
  • Baby Safety Month
  • Childhood Cancer Awareness Month
  • Gynecologic Awareness Month
  • International Speak Out Month
    • (For those who suffer from a fear of public speaking) 
  • Mold Awareness Month
  • National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month
  • National DNA, Genomics, & Stem Cell Education and Awareness Month
  • National Head Lice Prevention Month
  • National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month
  • National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month
  • National Recovery Month
    • (To support recovery from substance abuse, addiction, and mental illness)
  • National Skin Care Awareness Month
  • Healthy Aging Month
  • Sports Eye Safety Month

Pets/Animals

  • AKC Responsible Dog Ownership Month
  • Happy Cat Month
  • National Service Dog Month

Relationships

  • Intergeneration Connection Month
  • International Women’s Friendship Month
  • One-On-One Meetings Month
    • (In the workplace)
  • Pleasure Your Mate Month
  • Subliminal Communications Month

And Then There Is…

Bottom line: September has something for almost everyone! But if none of these are for you, look forward to next month (or back to last month).

BETTER KNOW YOUR CHARACTER: SLEEP

Even without pausing to think, people can easily describe their sleep habits. What does your character think and feel about about his or her own ? Is sleep a welcome respite or a necessary evil? What’s necessary for your character to fall asleep—and stay there? Is insomnia a chronic condition, or only within the plot situation? Does your character sleep as an escape mechanism? Does your character take sleep aids? Self-medicate with alcohol? Does sleep feel like a waste of time?

Deviating From Eight Hours

By now, pretty much everyone knows that, on average, people spend approximately one third of their lives sleeping. Anything that time-consuming must impinge on people’s (characters’) awareness.

It turns out most people sleep about 7 hours a night, so that would be “normal.” Fewer than 6 hours a night means one is a short sleeper, and more than 8 hours a night is a long sleeper. Does it matter?

People tend to perceive short sleepers as high-energy, productive, and on top of things. Long sleepers are often perceived as lazy, or at least not hard workers. 

What is your character’s sleep duration? Is s/he happy with with it? Smug? Defensive? Self-conscious?

Sleeping longer is better for physical health.  A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology titled Sleep Duration and Survival Percentiles Across Categories of Physical Activity says sleep duration affects physical health: Those who get less than six hours of sleep are at increased risk of diabetes, hypertension, and early death even if they’re active and exercise regularly.

But can one sleep too much? Not if you maintain a reasonable level of physical activity. (Inactive long sleepers also die earlier, usually from cardiovascular problems.) 

Keep this in mind when creating realistic characters.

Early Birds vs. Night Owls

Early birds tend to get up early without setting an alarm, and even on the weekend.  Mornings are the most productive times. And activity trackers indicate that early birds actually move 60-90 more minutes per day. They fade in the evening, often in bed by 10:00.

There is a middle group: Day people sleep a little later and are most effective in the afternoon.

Night owls sleep as late as possible and are up well past nightfall, into the wee hours of the morning.  Night owls tend to sit more and move less, even when researchers factored for education and health conditions—so need to make an effort to move more for health reasons! And because this pattern doesn’t fit the world at large, making appointments for doctors, etc., can be problematic. Robo-calls while still in bed are especially annoying!

Stereotypes favor early risers for being healthy, wealthy, and wise. On the other time, creative types often report that their best work hours are evening/wee hours of the mornings.

NB: sleep patterns can change naturally over the lifespan. Infants sleep almost constantly; teenagers seem to sleep only while in a classroom setting.

What is your character’s sleep rhythm? Is it felt to be a blessing, a burden, or relatively irrelevant fact of life? Does s/he struggle against the “natural” rhythm? If so, why? Does your character push the limits for staying awake and then “catch-up” later?

Napping

Some people doze off while sitting in a chair; some settle into a recliner and nap intentionally; and yet others can only nap in their own beds, often with shoes off and tight clothes loosened. 

Some take “power naps” for 15 minutes or so during the work day; others nap for an hour or more at a time.

Napping offers several benefits for healthy adults, including

  • Relaxation
  • Reduced fatigue
  • Increased alertness
  • Improved mood
  • Extended functioning hours later
  • Improved performance, including quicker reaction time and better memory

Napping can also have negative effects, such as

  • Sleep inertia: feeling groggy and disoriented after waking up from a nap.
  • Nighttime sleep problems. 
    • Short naps generally don’t affect nighttime sleep quality.
    • People who experience insomnia or poor sleep quality at night, napping might worsen these problems. 
      • Insomniacs often have trouble napping at all because it takes longer to fall asleep than the allotted duration of the nap!

Does your character nap? Where? Why?  And is s/he okay with that?

Dreaming

Does your character claim not to dream? If so, s/he is mistaken. People team an average of 7 times a night during so-called REM sleep. These dream periods get longer as the night’s sleep progresses. Chances are, your dream denier simply doesn’t wake up within ten minutes of dreams ending.

Are dreams important to your character?  Some people mine dreams for clues to their inner lives, creative insight, and even hints of the future. Some people treasure dreams as raisers of awareness of non-conscious problems or conflicts. Some believe internal conflicts actually get solved during dreams. Some dreams are erotic and can lead to sexual release. And some people keep dream journals for later review and inspiration for creative works.

Like other dreams, nightmares often include elements of real life: anxiety, fears, failures, embarrassments, or trauma. People do not wake up happy from nightmares. Because nightmares are a disruption of the REM cycle rather than a part of it, a sleeper with nightmares wake up less refreshed than before. (Nightmares are not the same as night terrors.)

Lucid dreaming is less well-known than other sorts of dreams. According to Psychology Today, “During lucid dreaming, which most commonly occurs during late-stage REM sleep, a dreamer is aware that they’re asleep, but is able to control events within their dreams, to some extent.” Lucid dreamers report willing themselves to fly, fight, or act out sexual fantasies. There are communities dedicated to learning how to lucid dream at will, although evidence that this is possible remains inconclusive. Still, that doesn’t mean your character can’t be a dedicated lucid dreamer!

Research indicates that dreaming is crucial to intellectual functioning, memory consolidation, and mood regulation. A sleeper who is allowed to undergo every part of the REM cycle except dreaming will eventually develop the same problems as severe sleep deprivation, including hallucinations and strokes!

What is your character’s dream scape? Are dreams remembered? Are they amusing, irritating, or sources of unease? Does your character talk about his/her dreams? If so, to whom?

Bottom line: sleep—and everything associated with it—can make your plot richer and your character more realistic. 

A while back (March 10, 2020, to be exact) I wrote a blog Sleeping Alone and Together, about gender and personality reflected in sleep positions. 

ONE RESOURCEFUL BLACK MAN

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that (among other things) August is Black Business Month. And then I heard about John P. Parker. He caught my attention because 1) my father’s name was John E. Parker; and 2) both moved to Ohio from points farther south, and died there.

Although there’s no other connection, that was enough to make me want to find out about this historical Parker—and an amazing man he was!

An Eventful Early Life

John P. Parker was the son of a slave mother and white father—name unknown, but reputed to be a Virginia aristocrat. At the age of eight, John was chained to another slave and forced to walk from Norfolk to the slave market in Richmond, VA. There he was resold and added to a chained gang of 400 slaves being herded to Mobile, AL. In Alabama, he was bought by a local physician.

“After the Sale: Slaves Going South from Richmond” by Eyre Crow, 1853
Encyclopedia of Virginia

Parker worked first as a house slave and companion to the doctor’s two sons. According to John’s memoir, he became good friends with the two boys and enjoyed being their playmate. Although educating a slave was against the law, the doctor’s sons secretly taught Parker to read and write.

When the sons went to Yale, John was supposed to go with them as their personal servant. However, in Philadelphia, the difference in public sentiment regarding slavery became obvious. Afraid that abolitionists would try to free John, the doctor’s sons sent him back to Alabama. His dreams of university were dashed.

John Parker returned to Mobile, where the doctor apprenticed him to a plasterer. The plasterer was a brutal drunk and after defending himself, Parker feared for his life and fled by riverboat. After months of pursuit and escape—well worth reading about!—he ended up on the docks in New Orleans. In a bizarre coincidence, Parker happened to cross paths with the Alabama physician and returned to Mobile. According to his memoir, Parker was quite happy to accompany the doctor home.

Returned to the doctor’s household, John was apprenticed again to a foundry. He thrived and learned there until he got into a fight with his boss. The doctor sent John to work in another friend’s foundry. Again, John’s temper ended in a fight with the superintendent. The argument was compounded by the superintendent’s theft of Parker’s design for an improved tobacco press. Fortunately, the superintendent was unfamiliar with patent law, and Parker was able to file the patent when he was a free man.

After this, the doctor claimed he didn’t know what to do with John and would have to to sell him as a field hand.

Finding Freedom

The three golden balls of a pawnbroker’s sign originally referred to the three golden coins on the medieval Medici family crest.

Desperate to avoid the brutality of a field hand’s life, John asked one of the doctor’s patients, a widow, to purchase him. He persisted in his petitions until she agreed to do so, for $1,800. 

Elizabeth Ryder, the widow, allowed John to hire himself out to earn money. She agreed that his wages could be used to purchase his own freedom. John Parker repaid that $1,800 plus interest at the rate of $10 per week. He earned the money doing piecework in Mobile iron foundries, as well as occasional odd jobs and running a “regular three-ball pawnshop.”

Parker was so motivated to repay Mrs. Ryder that he paid her far more than $10 every week.

John Parker gained his freedom in 1845, after eighteen months with the widow. This is a pretty amazing achievement: that $1,800 (never mind the interest) is the equivalent of $64,659 today. He was only 18 in 1845!  Clearly, he was both hard working and talented. And thanks to Mrs. Ryder, who “gave me a free hand to go where I wanted to and do as I pleased.”

Businessman

John Parker’s patents for a portable tobacco press, an improved tobacco press, and soil pulverizer

Beginning as an iron molder, Parker developed and patented a number of mechanical and industrial inventions, including the John P. Parker tobacco press and harrow (pulverizer), patented in 1884 and 1885. He had actually invented the pulverizer while still in Mobile in the 1840s.  Parker was one of the few blacks to patent an invention before 1900.

The “Parker-Built McColm Soil Pulverizer” produced from the patent diagrams by Ben Schulte of the University of Cincinnati College of Applied Science.
from Small Farmers Journal

In 1865, Parker and a partner bought a foundry, which they named the Ripley Foundry and Machine Company. “Parker managed the company, which manufactured engines, Dorsey’s patent reaper and mower, and sugar mill. In 1876 he brought in a partner to manufacture threshers, and the company became Belchamber and Parker. Although they dissolved the partnership two years later, Parker continued to grow his business, adding a blacksmith shop and machine shop. In 1890, after a destructive fire at his first facility, Parker built the Phoenix Foundry. It was the largest between Cincinnati and Portsmouth, Ohio.” (Wikipedia)

Family Man

I find John Parker’s personal life as impressive as his business achievements. After buying his freedom, Parker settled first in Jeffersonville, Indiana, then Cincinnati, Ohio. The port city of Cincinnati had a large free black community, with a variety of work available. In 1848, he married Miranda Boulden, free born in that city.  They had a small general store at Beechwood Factory, Ohio, but a year later moved to Ripley.  There they had seven children together, though some sources only include six.

  • John P. Parker, Jr, b. 1849, attended Oberlin College but died before graduating, in 1871
  • Hale Giddings Parker, b. 1851, graduated from Oberlin College‘s classical program and became the principal of a black school in St. Louis
    • Later, he studied law and in 1894 moved to Chicago to become an attorney
  • Cassius Clay Parker, b. 1853 (the first two sons were named after prominent abolitionists)
    • He studied at Oberlin College and became a teacher in Indiana.
  • Horatio W. Parker, b. 1856, became a principal of a school in Illinois
    • He later taught in St. Louis.
  • Hortense Parker, b. 1859 was among the first African-American graduates of Mount Holyoke College
    • After marriage in 1913, she moved to St. Louis and continued to teach music.
    • Her husband was a college graduate who served as principal of a school.
  • Portia, b. 1865, became a music teacher
  • Bianca, b. 1871, became a music teacher

In one generation from slavery, all seven of John Parker’s children were college educated. John and Miranda are noted in local records as owning the area’s largest collection of books, which they frequently loaned to neighbors in support of education.

Interestingly, in his will, John Parker forbade any of his children taking over his businesses. He wanted them to be upwardly mobile in the professions and Black middle class.

Abolitionist

Ripley, OH was in an area of growing abolitionist activity when John Parker moved there, and who is to say whether he would have been as much involved in the movement if he had lived elsewhere? Perhaps not.

But while living in Cincinnati, Parker boarded with a barber whose family was still held in slavery. Parker’s first successful extraction was to rescue the barber’s family from and eventually rescued the barber’s family from slavery—his first successful extraction—and it was launched from and came to a successful close in Ripley.

Ripley, so close to the Ohio River that separated slavery from freedom, was a natural station for the Underground Railroad.

Parker joined the resistance movement there, and for 15 years aided slaves escaping across the river from Kentucky to get farther north to freedom; some chose to go to Canada. Parker guided at least 440 (some sources put the number as high as 1,000) fugitives along their way, despite a $1,000 bounty placed on his head by Kentucky slaveholders. The federal Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 increased the penalties for aiding escaping slaves.

Freedom Stairway” leading from the Ohio River to John Rankin’s house (John P. Parker’s neighbor) in Ripley, OH

Although he was known for keeping meticulous records of the people passing through Ripley, John Parker was equally meticulous in maintaining the secrecy of his Underground Railroad station. When he received word that someone had reached safety, Parker burned the records relating to that person. He insisted that his photo not be taken, and there is no confirmed photograph of him. When the Fugitive Slave Act was passed, Parker dropped his entire book of fugitives’ names, dates, and original homes into the cupola of his own iron foundry.

Parker risked his own freedom every time he went to Kentucky to help slaves to freedom. According to the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune“He would go boldly over into the enemy’s camp and filch the fugitives to freedom.”  During the Civil War, he recruited a few hundred slaves for the Union Army.

But Ripley, like many towns in non-slave states, wasn’t united in support of escaping slaves. Residents on opposite sides of the issue often ended in physical conflict. In Parker’s own words, “I never thought of going uptown without a pistol in my pocket a knife in my belt, and a blackjack hand. Day or night I dare not walk on the sidewalks for fear someone might leap out of a narrow alley at me.” Even so, he helped at least 440 fugitives to flee.

This 1892 photo, of the dedication of the “Freedom’s Heroes” monument to abolitionists John and Jeanne Rankin in the Ripley, Ohio cemetery, is the most likely surviving photo of John P. Parker.
from the Ohio Historical Society and John Parker House

Parker’s Memoir

Parker’s story in his own word—HIS PROMISED LAND: The Autobiography of John P. Parker, Former Slave and Conductor on the Underground Railroad wasn’t published until 1998. Parker gave interviews to the journalist Frank Moody Gregg of the Chattanooga News in the 1880s, when Gregg was researching the resistance movement. He never published this manuscript, but historian Stuart Seely Sprague found Gregg’s manuscript and notes in Duke University Archives. He edited the document for publication, keeping Parker’s language, and added a detailed biography in the preface.

The documents are still accessible in the Duke University archives online.

I’m calling it a memoir rather than an autobiography because this book is limited to Parker’s early life and his involvement with the Underground Railroad. It’s a fast, gripping read, but if you want to know about his business or personal life, you must look elsewhere.

The John P. Parker House

Parker’s house at 300 N. Front Street in Ripley, Ohio, is a National Historic Landmark. It is a small museum, open to the public Friday-Sunday, May-October.

Daughter of Another Mother

My moms have always been such bastions of dignity and deportment.

Today’s blog entry was written by Kathleen Corcoran, a local harpist, writer, editor, ESL teacher, luthier, favorite auntie, cookie maker, canine servant, and fortunate daughter of multiple mothers.

Tomorrow is my mom’s birthday, and she won’t be here to celebrate. Like many people, I was raised by a crowd of mother figures. My siblings and I only called two of them “mom.” One of them died last year.

Mom Cheryl and my biological mom were best friends since before I was born. Though they looked nothing alike, they called each other sister.

If anyone was fool enough to question their biology, my moms would reply, “She looks like momma; I take after daddy.”

They met when Mom Cheryl was directing a summer day program at the playground near my house. Biological Mom was a health and PE teacher at a local girls’ high school. As extremely intelligent, exceptionally tall women more interested in sports than makeup, they sort of inevitably became friends.

One played field hockey and watched football; the other played rugby and watched basketball. Both were the loudest cheerleaders for whatever activity my siblings and I did.

My two moms did everything together. They cooked together, handing spoons and spices back and forth without looking, like relay racers with a baton. They maintained order on a field of fifty excited kids with their finely-tuned gym teacher voices.

They were always together for holidays, birthdays, vacations, and funerals. My biological mother’s extended family eventually included Mom Cheryl automatically when planning weddings or baptisms.

Whenever Mom Cheryl was cooking, we all knew to be careful. Instead of following a recipe, Mom Cheryl added whatever looked good at the time. Her end results were always very tasty, but she liked things hot!

My siblings were not the only beneficiaries of Mom Cheryl’s bottomless well of love. Everyone in the neighborhood knew that “Miz Cheryl” could always help with science homework, jump shots, sewing, giving insulin shots, and haircuts.

It was universally agreed that Miz Cheryl’s hugs were the best hugs.

During a hurricane, she climbed out the window of a flooded bus to rescue a nearby driver. Mom Cheryl pulled the lady out the window of her car and lifted her up into the bus just before the woman’s car was swept away.

One of the things I miss the most about Mom Cheryl is the way we could sit and be quiet together. When a chaotic family dinner or crowded wedding party was too overwhelming, Mom Cheryl would step out for a smoke break. Eventually, I noticed that she never actually lit her cigarettes, just held one in her hand so no one would question her. She was a bad influence: I started joining her to “smoke” when I was about twelve.

But then the whole world stopped making sense and Mom Cheryl was gone. This wonderful lady, this pioneer for women’s sports, this unstoppable Amazon of hugs and quiet spaces won’t be here to celebrate her birthday tomorrow.

Ladybug can have the steak. I’ll have the beer.

When Mom Cheryl died, her dog Ladybug came to live with me. Maybe tomorrow we’ll have a beer and a steak in our absent mom’s memory.

YOU STILL HAVE TIME TO CELEBRATE!

“The beatings will continue until morale improves!”
August panel from the Queen Mary Psalter (14th century)

Yes, it’s August 10th, and some events are in the rearview mirror.

Nomony Hall, home of Robert Carter III
from Encyclopedia Virginia

Like the anniversary of the Emancipation of 500. On August 1, 1791, Virginia planter Robert Carter III shocked his family and friends by filing a deed of emancipation for his 500 slaves. Not all at once, but the document established a schedule such that 15 slaves would be freed each January 1 over a 21-year period. Children would be freed when they reached adulthood: age 18 for women and 21 for men.

Robert Carter’s Deed of Gift
from Encyclopedia Virginia

In addition, Carter made legal provisions to care for freed slaves who were elderly or infirm. Before being emancipated, people were taught trades and set up with bank accounts and legal identity papers. The lands that had made up his multiple plantations were rented or sold cheaply to freedmen.

He wrote, “I have for some time past been convinced that to retain them in Slavery is contrary to the true principles of Religion and Justice and therefore it is my duty to manumit them.”

Robert Carter’s “Deed of Gift” is believed to be the largest act of emancipation in US history, and it predates Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation by 70 years.

But some things are celebrated all month long, so there is plenty of time to observe the various “holidays” at your own convenience. 

August Holidays

American Adventures Month

I mentioned American Adventures Month in a Facebook post: the point is to celebrate vacationing in the Americas. People are encouraged to explore South, Central, and North America.

Outdoor adventures are a great way to maintain social distance while we wait for Covid to die out completely. I might add, doing so would raise awareness that the United States is not equivalent to America.

Black Business Month

Six months after Black History Month, the point of Black Business Month is to boost awareness of black owned and operated businesses. The month is dedicated to starting, maintaining, and buying from black owned businesses. Maggie Walker (founder of the Penny Bank, among other things) and Oprah Winfrey didn’t start at the top!

Score.org, Business Insider, Entrepreneur, Mashable, NBC, and Oprah have suggestions for how you can support Black and minority-owned businesses.

Image from the 18th Annual National Black Business Month website

  • Boomers Making a Difference Month 
    • This is a relatively new one, dating only to 2010. Many organizations, including the AARP and Senior Living Magazine, arrange events to encourage those in the Boomer generation to volunteer in their communities. Some also celebrate baby boomers who have made special efforts to help others in need improve their lives.
Closing your eyes and covering your ears doesn’t make the screaming stop. The zombies will continue to attack.
  • Bystander Awareness Month
    • The Bystander Effect is a social psychological phenomenon: the more people who witness a person in need, the less likely that person is to get help. Everyone assumes someone else will step in. The purpose of this month’s awareness is to encourage people to be active bystanders and step up when witnessing injustice, sexual assault, domestic violence, etc. Even traffic accidents and house fires cause this effect. It’s far better to have too many people call 911 than to have no one call.

Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month

The American Academy of Ophthalmology encourages parents, doctors, teachers, and anyone working with children to look for signs of poor eyesight or eye health in August. In addition to near-sightedness or far-sightedness, children’s vision development is commonly affected by lazy eye, crossed eyes, color blindness, drooping eyelids, and astigmatism.

This is closely related to Children’s Vision and Learning Month, established in 1995. Because 80% of learning is dependent on vision, parents and educators need to be alert. Just before starting a new school year is the perfect time to schedule an eye exam. Estimates are that 25% of children have an undiagnosed vision problem.

Get Ready for Kindergarten Month

Support the happy transition to Kindergarten. Nearly 2 million children in the US enter kindergarten each year, changing not only their lives but the lives of their parents siblings, and teachers.

This year will be especially challenging for families and teachers making the change back from online school while trying to avoid new Covid outbreaks.

August is a good time to get kids adjusted to a new sleeping and eating schedule, ensure new students are up to date on all their doctor visits and vaccines, and buy a giant pair of sunglasses to hide your tears when your little one skips off to the classroom.

Happiness Happens Month

The Secret Society of Happy People breaks their solemn vow of secrecy every year to sponsor this event. The goal is to encourage people to express their happiness and discourage raining on anyone’s parade.

International Pirate Month

Technically, International Pirate Month is not celebrated in August. It’s celebrated in Ahrrr-gust!

It’s the perfect opportunity to practice your patois for Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19.

National Read-a-Romance Month

First observed in 2013, the title says it all!

I recommend this romantic story about the true love a dog feels for his bone.

National Traffic Awareness Month

Boiled down, it means be aware and take steps to not get distracted by all your car’s technology, cell phone calls, passenger talk, or any other distractions.

Reading in the car can lead so easily to sleeping in the car, which inevitably ends in drooling in the car.

National Spinal Muscular Atrophy Awareness Month

The goal is to bring attention to this congenital disease. By damaging the motor function nerves in the spinal column, SMA breaks downs patients’ ability to walk, move, eat, even to breathe.

Neurosurgery Awareness Month

The American Association of Neurosurgeons has designated August every year to raising awareness of neurological conditions. Each year, the focus is on a different type of disorder or injury, such as stroke or brain tumors. This year, the focus is on Traumatic Brain Injuries.

*Not an accurate representation of a neurosurgeon at work.

What Will Be Your Legacy Month

Many people do not realize how their actions affect others. They live their lives selfishly, not realizing the impact of their life choices on present and possibly future generations. So, the point of this month-long celebration is to have people reflect on ways to make make positive changes that will affect generations. Start by planting positive seeds in the children in our lives.

***NATIONAL IMMUNIZATION AWARENESS MONTH***

NIAM is part of an outreach program by the CDC, the WHO, local hospitals and health organizations. It’s a chance for researchers and health providers to focus on the critical role immunizations play in preventing life-threatening diseases among people of all ages and cultures. Each year in the US, tens of thousands of people die because of vaccine-preventable diseases or their complications—and that doesn’t include those who suffer pain or disability. 

Think COVID-19!

Get your vaccines to protect those who can’t.

Bottom Line: Find ways to celebrate this month!

EASY FIXES FOR FLABBY PROSE

(It’s not flabby; it’s fluffy!)

By flabby prose, I mean prose that includes unnecessary words. Besides improving the quality of one’s prose, cutting out excess words can help keep the word count down when there are page or word limits.

Stop Mentioning the POV Character’s Senses 

“The flavors of carrots and mulch mingled on his tongue.”

Yes, sensory images are rich and desirable. What’s unnecessary is citing the character’s senses. 

~She heard squirrels scampering up her tree.
~He smelled the tantalizing scent of acorns.
~They saw flying squirrels swooping overhead.

~Squirrels scampered up the tree outside.
~The scent of acorns filled the breeze.
~Flying squirrels swooped among branches overhead.

“The banana thief twitched his tail to remain steady for his heist, upside-down and backwards.”
(Proprioception or equilibrioception)

If the character describes a squirrel stealing a banana, the reader knows that character sees it and needn’t be told that he sees it. Ditto for other sensory systems. If they are mentioned, make it a conscious decision for a writerly reason.

Don’t forget the other senses! In addition to the five we all learned about in school, scientists classify up to 21 neurological senses. The body’s awareness of its place in relation to surroundings (proprioception) is invaluable to any character in tight spaces or moving quickly. Feelings of hunger or lack of air are classified as chemical senses, very useful to characters undergoing any kind of physical deprivation.

Consider also balance, gravity, pain, temperature, air pressure, the passage of time, itching, muscle tension, or even the perception of magnetic fields. There is an entirely separate set of nerves to detect stretching in the lungs, stomach, bladder, and blood vessels. Just think what a character could do when paying attention to that!

Stop Telling What a Character Notices, Remembers, Etc.

“The seed-stealer gyrated and spun, his prize always just out of reach.”

If a character recounts something from the past, it’s clear s/he remembers it. When a squirrel was a hairless kit, his mother taught him how to steal from bird feeders. He doesn’t have to tell his friends that he remembers being a kit.

Your reader doesn’t have to be told that the POV character noticed the squirrel hanging off the bird feeder again. It’s probably an event that happens every time the bird feeder is filled.

This is similar to how one handles what a character sees, hears, feels, smells, or tastes: it’s typically obvious in the rest of the sentence.

Beware Is, Are, Was, and Were

“Gravity worked overtime, and her limbs refused to work at all.”

By and large, these verbs should be replaced by something stronger and less passive.  “Fatigue weighs her down” is much stronger than “She is fatigued.”

Reconsider -ing Verbs

Is, are, was, and were often precede an -ing verb. For example, ”is walking” or “was walking” might better be replaced with “walks” or “walked.”

Question Every Adverb and Adjective

“The graceful, red-furred, majestic, enormous, flying squirrel soars gracefully and majestically, proudly displaying its enormous, red-furred wing flaps in its graceful, majestic flight.”

Some writing teacher or other once told me that an adverb modifying a verb is often hiding a stronger verb. For example, consider replacing “walked fast” with “rushed” or “hurried” or “scurried” or whatever fits the context. 

“This pale, white, albino squirrel displays the very odd and unique trait of striking, brilliantly blue, nearly cobalt eyes.”

Saying something is very tall or very beautiful is vague, triggering different images for different readers. Specify “over seven feet tall,” for example, or say what is beautiful about the person, object, scenery, etc.

And for goodness sake, don’t modify things that shouldn’t be modified, that are already specific. There is no such thing as ”very unique.” Unique means one-of-a-kind. If it isn’t truly unique, switch to “very rare”—and then consider whether the “very” is really needed! A second and a glance are, by definition fast/brief. Enough said.

Examine Attributions 

“You’re eating too fast,” he said.
“I’m hungry!” he said.
“You’re hogging all the jackfruit,” he said.
“This fruit outweighs both of us combined. Calm down,” he said.
“You’ll make yourself sick,” he said.
“Stop worrying,” he said.
“My stomach hurts just watching you,” he said.
“Krjxqkkkk…. Ahem….. Choked on a seed,” he said.
“Told you so!” he said.

Probably everyone knows that the most frequent, useful, and unobtrusive attribution is “s/he said.” True, when multiple people interact in a scene, the writer needs to identify whether it’s Joan, John, Susan, or Sam speaking.  But when there are only two people in a scene, identifying/attributing every change of speaker gets clunky. Use sparingly.

If you’re unsure about whether it sounds clunky, try reading it aloud.

Bottom line: Go forth and tighten your prose!

BETTER KNOW YOUR CHARACTER: GRIEF

Funeral for a victim of the Siege of Sarajevo
photo by Mikhail Estafiev

Grief, deep sorrow at the loss of someone/something important, comes to everyone in one form or another, at some time or another.  According to healthline.com, grief is personal, not necessarily linear, and doesn’t follow timelines or schedules. Everyone grieves in his or her own way.

People usually recognize when someone is grieving the death of a loved one. But other deaths—other losses—any change that alters life as one knows it—can cause grief. What might cause your character(s) to grieve? Loss of . . .

Refugee woman, circa 1945
  • Job/career
  • Marriage
  • A love relationship
  • A child
  • Loss of child custody
  • A pet (or pet custody)
  • A close friend
  • One’s home
  • Reputation
  • Faith
  • Physical ability
  • One’s youth
  • Treasured object
  • …and others?

How Would Your Character(s) Grieve?

In 1969, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross published On Death and Dying, based on her years of work with terminally ill people. Subsequently, it was applied to other losses as well.  Because grief is so complex and personal, various numbers of stages—from two to seven—have been posited. The original model had five stages:

Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions is another model of possible progressions of grief.
  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Models with seven stages include the following three after depression:

  • Upward turn
  • Reconstruction and working through
  • Acceptance and hope

Important to note: Stages can vary in order, can overlap, or can be skipped altogether. The duration of any given stage can vary widely, from days to months to years

What Would Your Character(s) Grief Cycle Look Like?
  • Straight line?
  • Bowl of spaghetti?
  • Immediate start?
  • Delayed?

Expressions of Grief Reflect One’s Personality

For example, people who express anger physically will continue to do so while grieving, very different from those who express anger verbally. Grieving can be self-destructive, triggering harmful eating, drinking, or risk-taking behaviors. Some might grieve by intellectualizing (finding out everything possible about the causes, prognosis, etc.) or compartmentalizing (confining conscious grieving to certain times or places).

BOTTOM LINE: What causes feelings of loss and how your character(s) respond are rich sources of adding depth and feeling to your plot.

BEACH READS 2021

I blogged about beach reads (i.e., anything read at the beach) in 2016, 2018, and 2019. I was in the Rocky Mountains in 2017, and we all know what didn’t happen in 2020. But here’s this year’s take on what people actually read at the beach. These 16 people are ages 12 to 90, and 8 are female. FYI, some raved about their reads; no one said, “Don’t bother.”

Here, in the order people wrote them down, with writers’ comments where noted

Volume 1 of That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime 
Cover artist: Mitz Vah

And some people don’t choose what they’ll be reading at the beach. Work demands, school demands, parenting demands… Does reading the newspaper count as pleasure reading or required reading?

  • Student papers to grade
  • Reports for work, if the internet connection cooperates
  • Legal something-or-other for an upcoming court appearance
  • Coursework for Continuing Education requirements
  • Comparing textbooks for homeschooling
  • Manuscripts to edit

And there you have it folks: 16 people, 25 books (and other reading materials)—plus turtle viewing, boogie-boarding, brewery touring, thrift shopping, sewing, story telling, cooking, euchre, dancing, cribbage, Mexican Train Dominoes, hair, makeup, nails…

Bottom Line: Yep, lots to do at the beach—but don’t leave home without at least one good read!