I’ve long maintained that people always do things for a reason—or more than one. Even habits are not “just habits.” There are reasons people repeatedly do something—often non-consciously—and this includes bad habits. At this point, most writing on the topic of bad habits would veer off into a discussion of ways to break them. But this blog is about what people get out of their habits that might not be immediately obvious.
A bad habit is that action which causes problems for our health, income, career, or relationships. Something that is bad is unpleasant, harmful, or undesirable.
Note: Some of the behaviors listed here might not be considered bad habits by everyone. Anything done to excess can become harmful, after all. Drinking too much water can lead to hyponatremia. Spending too much of your time helping others can lead to ignoring self-care.
Here, in no particular order:
Create an image
Sophisticate with a cigarette holder
High roller with an expensive cigar
Pausing to think before responding without obviously pausing
Get an energy hit
Creates situations for social connections that might not otherwise happen
Provides a brief break from work or stressful situations
Relax in a socially tense situation
Create an image of sophistication, wealth, etc., depending on the drink
Regularly drinking heavily increases tolerance, making it less likely the drinker will make a drunken misstep
Moderate drinking reduces likelihood of a heart attack by about a third
Alcoholic beverages are sure to be free of water parasites in places where other beverages are chancy
When things go bad, “I told you so”
When things go well, pleasant surprises
Eating Junk or Fast Food
It’s handy, so no effort
It’s relatively inexpensive, so easy on the wallet
Service is fast, so it’s an efficient choice
Higher levels of fat, salt, and sugar provide temporary dopamine surges
Can become family ritual, if eaten infrequently
Create positive associations with otherwise negative experiences (lollipop at the doctor’s office)
Intimidates more timid people
Creates the impression of passion or strong feelings
Less likely to bottle anger and turn it inward, resulting in ulcers, high blood pressure, etc.
Indulging a Greedy Nature
Gets one more of the good stuff (sometimes)
Incite envy/ jealousy in others
“Little white lies” ease socially awkward situations
E.g., “Of course your new haircut is flattering…”
Keep positive secrets, such as a surprise party
Excessive Screen Time
Keep up with news and fads
Have the topics for conversation
Improve hand-eye coordination (video games)
Builds one’s self-esteem by comparison
Intimidate potential critics
Temporarily look like a subject expert
Makes paying for manicures unnecessary
Shows intense feelings
Is less destructive than other bad habits
Occupies hands to prevent other, worse habits, such as smoking
Eating quickly is fairly common in some circumstances. Gulping down a meal within a few minutes is a bit less common.
Saves time for other things
Demonstrates that food is not important
Potential future in speed-eating competitions
Not Maintaining Hygiene and Cleanliness
Saves time and energy
Saves money on grooming products
Allows focus on things other than personal appearance
You never have to feel like a failure because “I could have aced it ill I’d spent more time on it”
If you procrastinate but succeed or excel anyway, you’ve saved time to do more/other things
If a procrastinator is successful, it’s a big boost to one’s self-perceived capability
Keeping Late Hours
Fewer people around to interrupt
Hours when no one is criticizing what one is doing
Easier to conduct a clandestine affair
Boosts one’s self-concept as a non-conformist
Minimize hours spent with unpleasant spouse or other family
Night shift workers are often paid more
Facilitates communication with people in other time zones
Substitutes for more physically violent anger outburst
(E.g., throwing things, punching the wall)
If conducted at great volume, it’s good for one’s lungs
Can encourage verbal creativity
Is typically a sign of honesty
Tapping toes, drumming fingers, or other incidental movements
Relatively safe way to release nervous energy and creativity
Makes it easier to maintain weight, heart and lung health
Unconscious form of drilling for musicians and dancers
It saves energy
It allows more time for other things
If conscious decision, can save money on exercise clothes/ equipment/ memberships
Humming or Talking to Oneself
Self-soothing when anxious
Clarify thinking when facing a difficult decision
Relieves the silence for those living alone
May be the only way to have an intelligent conversation
Express more of one’s own opinions
Stop an opponent from making points
Shows enthusiasm for topic
Can prevent someone else accidentally divulging sensitive information
BOTTOM LINE: The downsides of bad habits have been well-documented. But everyone gets something out of every act, especially repetitive acts.
Soap is incredibly easy to work into a scene or conversation. But, as a writer, why would you?
Because—like everything else—soap choices make an impression. “Soap” usually refers to what is technically called a toilet or toilette soap, used for household and personal cleaning. Soap choices reflect at least two things: need and personal preference.
The very first cleaning agents were likely ashes from fires used to cook animals. Fatty acid (which would have dripped from the carcasses onto the fire) and a caustic agent (such as the lye in wood ash) removes dirt from skin and clothing. Soap-making processes have gotten a little more sophisticated in the 5000 or so years since then. I’ll start with two of the oldest soaps made in the United States and still available.
Ground volcanic pumice works as a mild abrasive, ideal for sloughing off viscous grime without removing the skin underneath. Lava is a heavy-duty hand cleaner in soap bar form manufactured by the WD-40 Company. In addition to the typical combination of fatty acid and salt, Lava soap contains ground pumice, which gives the soap its name. The soap and pumice combination is intended to scour tar, engine grease, paint, dirt, whale oil, and similar substances from the skin.
The Lava Bar is a heavy-duty hand cleaner, developed in 1893 with pumice. Do-it-yourselfers, auto mechanics, coal miners, locksmiths, luthiers, and oil rig workers commonly use Lava to scrub off the traces of their work. The original Lava bar was gray and dried the skin. The modern version looks more attractive and contains moisturizers.
So, what sort of person/character would keep Lava around the house? If all you knew about the person was the use of this hand soap, what would you expect regarding age, occupation, gender, education, occupation, etc.? How might those expectations change if it was a well-worn bar of soap or a brand-new bar still in the box?
The sons of the original Proctor and Gamble were responsible for the creation of Ivory soap. James Norris Gamble developed the soap with the intention of making mild, effective soap inexpensive enough to be widely available. The name Ivory was created by Harley Procter, who was inspired by Psalm 45:8 in the Bible: “All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces whereby they have made thee glad.” In September 1879, Procter & Gamble trademarked “Ivory”, the name of its new soap product.
During production, Ivory soap has air whipped into the solution, making the bars buoyant. James Gamble developed the process of adding air during production. When bathing in a murky lake or river or in a tub of bathwater that has already been used by the rest of the family, having soap that floated was extraordinarily convenient. This gave rise to the slogan, “It Floats!” in 1891. In 1992, Proctor & Gamble marketed a new formulation that includes moisturizers but does not float.
So who uses Ivory? This soap has a long-standing image of gentleness and purity. Small children, people with sensitive skin, cleaners who need to avoid residue, and many people who simply prefer inexpensive soap choose it for that reason. What sort of characters might have a bar of Ivory soap in their washroom or liquid Ivory handsoap in the kitchen?
Though it is not typically used as a regular body soap, I’m including shaving soap here for its traditional connotations. Shaving soap is sold as a hard disc or stick that is used with a wet shaving brush to produce lather. The lather softens the hair before shaving and forms a thick, protective layer between skin and blade. Modern shaving cream is more convenient than shaving soap, but it does not work as well for moisturizing or giving a close shave.
So what sort of character prefers shaving soap to shaving cream? Would you expect old? Or old-fashioned? And would the shaver choose a basic, inexpensive brand like Williams ($1.49 per cake) or something more exotic, like Molton Brown ($65 for one cake in a wooden bowl)? How much is it worth to get a moisturizing lather blended with coconut oil to prep skin for a clean shave, with a top note of mandarin, heart notes of jasmine and violet, and base notes of musk, sandalwood and vanilla, all in a slick shaving bowl?
And what if it’s a woman using shaving soap? Why? And on what part(s) of her body?
Medically Necessary Soap
As dermatologists like to remind us, skin is the largest organ in the body. Many skin ailments can be improved or even cured by using particular soaps.
Note: The information provided below is not intended for medical diagnosis or treatment. This is only intended for writing purposes and providing examples.
Perhaps your character will do their own research, determining their particular needs and methods of treatment. What sort of person does this? For general use, dermatologists recommend Aveeno, Dove, Olay, and Basis. Skin cleansers are better for sensitive skin, such as Cetaphil, CeraVe, and Aquanil. Deodorant soaps are often very harsh and drying.
More information on all of these soaps is available online. Every type of soap has a different texture, smell, weight, and other characteristics that can add sensory detail to your writing. Would your character have a signature soap? Chose to make a statement—to self or others?
Status symbols only work if other people know about them. Some of the most expensive soaps have distinctive scents. They may provide (mostly subjective) beauty benefits. Prominently displayed wrappers or overseas packaging left ever-so-casually where guests might see them
Qatar Soap: A bar of this soap produced by a family-run business in Lebanon might make you think twice about washing too often. Infused with gold and diamond powder, a single bar costs $2,800 (£1,700; 2,050 euros).
El-Nino (Kenya) Soap: The soap is part of the Kenya government’s strategy to provide aid for victims of El Nino weather catastrophes. Each piece will retail for $375 (Ksh 37,500). However, it is not yet clear if this soap will be manufactured in Kenya, Lebanon, China or Migingo.
Cor Soap: Cor was produced by Plank, a company that manufacturers yoga-themed products. Each bar will set you back $125 (KSH 12,500). The ingredients that made Cor expensive are the following:
Chitosan to even out skin tone
Sericin — a silk extract — to trap moisture and provide UV protection
Four types of collagen to help maintain skin structure.
Silver, a known antibacterial agent
Cle de Peau BEeaute Synactif Soap: A facial cleansing soap that removes impurities from pores and lifts away makeup and dead skin to reveal purified skin filled with translucence and suppleness. $100.
Dead Sea Mud: Restores skin’s own mineral levels; infused with 26 minerals and has a signature black color that transforms to white foam.
Glycerin: Attracts and holds hydration for a more moisturized, glowing complexion.
Palm and Palm Kernel Oils: Regulates skin’s oils and reinforces its defenses against outside stressors.
Dragon’s Blood Cold Process Soap: Loaves / Bars for those who want to sound high end on a budget. Loaves of soap are cut into bars and packed with your own custom label. Dragon’s Blood soap comes in custom sizes, colors, etc. for large orders. The famous fragrance contains “top notes of amber, vanilla, and patchouli. Also has hints of orange and other fruity base notes.” Sample 4.5oz. Bar ($3.50 / unit)
Bottom line for writers: Soap can flesh out a character, either subtly or in a more marked way. Think about it!
By definition, superstitions are irrational beliefs that objects, actions, or circumstances not logically related to an outcome nevertheless influence those outcomes. Every Friday the 13th, I think of superstitions. In the past I’ve blogged about superstitions related to Fridays and to 13s. The superstitions below have nothing to do with the date directly, but there is a belief that negative things happening on Friday the 13th are worse than they would be on other dates.
There are myriad ways to slice and dice the universe of superstitions, including by country or by topic (e.g., love and marriage or hearth and home). Indeed, there are whole books of superstitions out there, and who knows what’s on the internet. But anyone wishing to pursue the topic can do so easily.
Clearly, this blog can give you only a tiny taste of the superstitions out there. So here you go, alphabetically:
April 1, April Fool’s Day
To be fooled by a pretty maiden means the man will marry or befriend her.
To lose one’s temper over a practical joke will bring bad luck.
A wedding on this day means the woman will be the family boss.
Being born on this day means lucky in business and unlucky in speculation.
A girl might meet her fiancé.
It may signify having two husbands.
It might mean illness or early death.
It might mean many children or no children.
It may mean spinsterhood.
Perhaps it portends desertion by a husband.
Bats are very good omens, denoting happiness, peace, long life, wealth, and virtue.
Birds are associated with both good and bad spirits, and are portents of things to come.
A bird in the house or tapping on a window is an omen of death.
Injuring a robin or disturbing its nest brings bad luck.
A friendly robin is a portent of a long, hard winter.
The first robin seen in spring portends good luck if it flies up, bad luck if it flies down.
A robin’s nest near the house brings good luck.
Seeing a robin in the morning portends a visitor the same day.
A swallow nesting in the eaves of a house brings good luck.
A swallow abandoning its nest is a sign the house will burn down.
A swallow skimming near the ground is a prediction of rain.
If a sparrow builds a nest under your window, you will take a trip.
Turtle doves near the house prevent rheumatism.
Eagles are said to carry off lambs and small children.
The cry of a peacock under a window predicts a death in the house.
Seeing a hawk is an omen of victory or success.
Seeing a crow in flight is time to make a wish; if the crow doesn’t flap its wings, the wish will come true.
Magpies (or jackdaws or crows, depending on where you live) mean different things depending on how many you see:
One for sorrow, Two for joy, Three for a girl, Four for a boy, Five for silver, Six for gold, Seven for a secret never to be told.
To break the curse of seeing a lone magpie, salute the magpie.
If bread falls butter side down, hungry company will come seeking food.
Eating bread crusts will make your cheeks rosy.
Two people saying “bread and butter” after someone or something comes between them will break the spell of bad luck.
Waving bread and sugar around a wound will make it heal faster.
A black ace falling on the floor during a bridge game is a sign to stop playing.
Singing during a card game is bad luck.
It’s unlucky to play cards on a bare table.
A cat washing its face is a sign of a visitor coming.
A black cat crossing one’s path is an omen of very good or very bad luck, depending on the culture.
A strange cat following you or making a home with you brings good luck.
If you wake up to a cat on your chest, it means the cat was under the influence of evil spirits and was trying to steal your breath as your slept.
If a knife falls on the floor you will have a gentleman visitor.
If a fork falls, it will be a lady visitor.
Crossing knife and fork is a bad omen.
Days of the Week
Good or bad luck depends on the day of the week.
Monday for health Tuesday for wealth Wednesday the best day of all Thursday for crosses Friday for losses Saturday no luck at all
A child’s entire life is influenced by the day of the week on which they were born.
Monday’s child is fair of face Tuesday’s child is full of grace Wednesday’s child is full of woe Thursday’s child has far to go, Friday’s child is loving and giving, Saturday’s child works hard for a living, And the child that is born on the Sabbath day Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.
A yellow dog happening to follow your tracks is a sign of good luck.
A dog howling in the night, especially at the moon, is a harbinger of death.
A dog predicts rain by lying on its back or eating grass.
Sailors held the belief that a pierced ear with a ring in it improved eyesight.
More generally, piercing a child’s ears will improve eyesight.
Small = stingy
Large = generous
Long = long life
An itching left ear portends sadness or bad luck; itching right ear means someone is speaking well of you.
Two yolks in one egg means great financial prosperity is on the way.
Refusing an Easter egg is an invitation to lose the friendship of the person offering it.
Rabbits lay eggs at Easter time.
Eggs blessed at Easter are supposed to ward off illness.
When cracking Easter Eggs with a friend, the one whose egg cracks first will have good fortune.
If your right eye twitches, you are going to hear good news.
A twitching eyelid means someone is thinking fondly of you.
A person with brown/ blue/ hazel/ green/ grey eyes brings bad luck.
A person with heterochromia (eyes different colors) is a witch or a demon.
Grey or blue eyes can see the future.
Friends crossing index fingers over one another and making a wish will have their wish granted.
Crossing your middle finger over your index finger either brings good luck or is a sign of lying.
A person with a ring finger longer than the index finger is sure to be wealthy.
If a person points a finger in the direction of a graveyard, they must bite their finger to avoid inviting death.
Broad nails show that a person is generous.
Long fingernails reveal a lack of thrift.
Short fingernails mark a liar.
Specks on fingernails correspond with the number of lies told.
Cutting a baby’s nails before the first birthday means the child will become a thief. (Bite them off instead.)
Cutting nails on Friday is bad luck.
Cutting the nails of a sick person means that person will never get well.
Handkerchiefs used to wipe tears at a funeral must be buried with the coffin or thrown away.
Singing, laughing, or talking too loudly at a funeral will wake the dead.
Not crying and singing funeral hymns loudly enough will anger the recently departed and wake the dead.
A man not wearing a belt to a funeral will bring death home with him.
Gloves are not good!
Picking up a glove is to risk bad luck.
Dropping a glove brings bad luck.
Giving someone gloves invites the breakup of the friendship.
Hitting someone with a glove, even accidentally, means wishing for their death.
Dig graves facing east toward Gabriel when he blows his horn.
Tools used to dig a grave should be left nearby for several days.
If someone shivers for no apparent reason, someone is walking over his/her grave.
Open graves are ill omens.
Leaving the site of a grave before the gravediggers lower the coffin means another death will follow.
Some cultures require a corpse to be buried in a standing position, holding weapons at the ready.
Sharp objects given as gifts will turn on their new owner.
Giving certain numbers of objects (such as flowers or cookies) is unlucky, varying widely around the world.
In some areas, giving any unreciprocated gifts is unlucky.
Most of these gift taboos can be avoided by repaying the giver with a symbolic trifle, such as a penny or a piece of bread.
An itchy right hand means money is coming.
An itchy left hand means money is slipping away.
Rubbing an itchy left hand on wood and wishing for money will break the spell of losing.
An itchy right hand means that a friend is coming.
Hand itching means you will shake hands with a stranger.
Itchy hands also means that you will be entertaining company.
Itchy palms means the receipt of unexpected money.
Every town and village in the world seems to have a different variation of hand signs to ward off evil.
Thumb holding middle and ring finger against the palm with other fingers extended.
Holding the hand with the palm flat and all fingers pointed forward, folding each finger against the palm separately and sequentially.
Tucking the thumb between the index and middle finger with all fingers pulled into the palm.
Binding anyone’s hands together will condemn them to a life of misfortune.
Folding or crossing one’s hands causes infertility.
Setting a hen on the first Monday of the month brings good luck.
Setting hens on Sunday night brings successful hatching.
If 13 eggs are set, 12 will be pullets and 1 will be a rooster.
Long eggs hatch roosters; round eggs hatch pullets.
Having the hiccups means someone is remembering you fondly.
Each hiccup is an attempt by a demon to draw your soul from your body.
If the tail of a man’s shirt is ironed (or starched) will make the man harsh.
An ironing board falling across a door is an omen of death.
Ironing the backs of clothes is bad luck.
Injury or Illness
Stepping on a crack will break your spine.
Sleeping with wet hair will make you sick.
Women sitting on bare cement will become infertile.
If your shadow falls on a graveyard or a funeral procession, you will become gravely ill.
Blowing in a baby’s mouth will cure colic.
The presence of a net beneath a trapeze or high-wire act will cause the performers to injure themselves or fall.
Jar of water with a knife in it behind the door will protect a building against the devil.
July 25, wet or dry, is the day to plant turnips.
Jumping over a baby means they won’t grow very tall.
Couples jumping over bonfires together will have peace and good fortune for a year.
Jumping exactly as the clock strikes midnight for New Year’s will bring good luck in the coming year.
If someone gives you a knife it will cut the friendship unless you “buy” it by giving a penny, pin, etc.
Leaving a penknife open brings bad luck.
Handing an open knife to someone will lead to a quarrel.
Knocking on Wood
Knocking on wood before starting a project is inviting good luck.
Knock on wood after bragging/boasting to prevent future failure.
Ladybug / Ladybird
It’s bad luck to kill a ladybug.
A ladybug landing on you will bring good luck.
A ladybug flying off you will take away all your troubles with her.
More than 7 spots on a ladybug’s wing means famine.
Fewer than 7 means a good harvest.
Make a wish with a ladybug in your hand and the direction she flies shows the direction your luck will come from.
Itchy lips means someone is speaking ill of you.
Itchy upper lip, someone tall will kiss you
Itchy lower lip, a short person will kiss you.
If you bite your lip while eating alone, you have a great kiss ahead.
Unmarried people who sit at the corner of a table will never get married.
Girls who want to get married should write the names of three prospective spouses on slips of paper and slide them under their pillow. She then discards one at night, one in the morning, and the remaining paper will have the name of her future spouse.
Married women are very lucky wedding guests. The longer she has been married, the more luck she brings to the new couple.
A man who walks between two women will have an unhappy marriage.
Moles or Warts
On the forehead near the hairline is a sign of bad fortune.
On the chin or ear is a sign of wealth.
On the breast is a sign of poverty.
On the throat is a sign of good luck.
A mole on your arm, live on a farm.
Having lots of moles indicates future wealth.
Breaking a mirror brings seven years of bad luck.
Looking at your reflection in a broken mirror brings permanent bad luck.
Standing between two mirrors allows spirits to steal your soul.
Count nine stars for nine nights and on the last night one’s lover will be revealed.
Find nine peas in one pod, hang it above the door, and the next person through the door will be one’s spouse.
A nail dropped on the floor can only build crooked houses.
Carrying an iron nail will ward off evil influences and demons.
Looking at a coffin nail while carrying a body to a graveyard invites death.
A rusty nail stuck through a lemon will keep away the evil eye.
Omens of Misfortune
Spilling salt on the table.
A rooster crowing at night.
Killing a spider.
Stepping over a snake.
Dropping a comb.
Stepping on sidewalk or road cracks.
Laughing before breakfast.
The number 13.
Hearing a screeching owl is an omen of bad luck.
An owl perched on a house predicts death to someone within.
In Wales, the hoot of an owl signaled that an unmarried girl had surrendered her chastity.
Owls are sacred in some parts of India because their eyesight is phenomenal.
Owls signal approaching death.
A ring set with a pearl is unlucky.
Pearls signify tears.
A gift of pearls will bring tears and sadness to the recipient.
Finding a pearl in an oyster is a sign of good luck.
A high forehead is a sign of a reflective mind.
A high forehead is a sign of leadership.
Large eyes signify benevolence and wonders
A wide skull indicates pugnaciousness.
Large heads contain large brains, signifying high intelligence.
Saying the word “quiet” will cause all hell to break loose.
Seeing a quail is a sign that a goal can be attained only if the seer acts immediately.
Seeing a quail in flight is an omen of danger or death.
Dreaming of a quail is a sign that love, good fortune, and victory are coming.
Putting a quarter into a pot of black-eyed peas will bring good luck and money.
Adding a quarter to a tip jar will make it fill faster.
Tucking a quarter into a purse or wallet given as a gift means it will always have money in it.
Redheads are emotionally unstable and of terrible temper.
A redhead who tends a cheese vat will produce curd not fit to eat.
The appearance of a white horse heralds the appearance of a red haired girl, and vice versa.
Seeing a redhead first thing in the morning is a sign of bad luck.
Rats leaving a house signifies bad luck.
Rats entering a house bring good luck.
Rats won’t go through a soaped hole.
Catch a rat, paint it garish colors, and release. It will drive other rats away.
Hanging a snakeskin from the rafters will protect a house from fire.
Killing the first snake you see every year will guarantee victory over any foe.
Seeing a snake cross one’s path or dreaming of a snake are bad luck.
Pregnant women who are frightened by a snake will give birth to a child with a constricted neck.
A snake will never bite a pregnant woman.
Tying a snakeskin around the waist of a woman in labor will ease childbirth.
Feeding women in labor a drink containing the powdered rattle of a rattlesnake will ease childbirth.
Carrying a snakeskin is generally beneficial to health, effective against headaches and extracting thorns from the skin.
Carrying a snake tooth will ward off fever.
Carrying a snake tooth is lucky when gambling.
To avoid getting bitten by a snake, wear an emerald.
When a snake’s head is severed, it will not die till sunset.
If you sing before breakfast, you will cry before the day is done.
If you sing before you dress, you’ll have trouble before you undress.
If you sing before seven, you’ll cry before eleven.
If you sing before you eat, you’ll cry before you sleep.
It is unlucky to have an umbrella bought aboard.
It is unlucky to drive nails on Sunday.
Whistling aboard ship brings bad luck.
If a bee or small bird lands on the ship, it means good luck.
If a hawk, owl, or crow lands in the rigging, it means bad luck.
A horseshoe nailed to the mast protects against witches.
It is unlucky to set sail on Friday, lucky to set sail on Sunday.
A baby who sucks its thumb will grow up to be hideous.
A thumb turned backward indicates an inability to save money.
Thumb pricking means something bad is coming along.
Thumb itching indicates visitors are coming.
Closely associated with the Holy Trinity in several world religions: Christianity, Hinduism, Islam.
Some pagan traditions celebrate the trinity of land, sea, and air to make up earth.
Third time lucky/third time’s the charm.
A person will resurface three times before drowning.
If three people make up a bed, one of them will fall ill.
Good things and bad things come in threes.
Shakespeare’s Macbeth is so unlucky that people avoid saying the name in a theater, referring to “the Scottish play” instead.
Whistling onstage or backstage is bad luck.
Wishing a performer good luck will bring the opposite, hence the common “Break a leg!” wish before going onstage.
A terribly dress rehearsal means the performance will be excellent, and vice versa.
Failing to salute the resident ghost (every theater has at least one) will cause it to be angry and take revenge.
Carrying an umbrella will ward off rain.
Opening an umbrella in the house is bad luck.
Holding an open umbrella over your head in the house will lead to your death within a year.
Turning a picture upside down brings bad luck to the person or place in the picture.
An upside down photograph or picture turned to the wall invites lurking evil spirits to attack the subject of the picture.
Turning a photo of a person to face the wall or the floor will protect you from evil influences caused by that person.
Slippers or shoes left upside down on the floor will cause trouble on the next journey.
Wearing new underwear on a first date will doom the relationship.
Wearing underwear inside out will improve test or exam scores.
Visit on Monday and you’ll be visiting out every day of the week.
Guests, like fish, should be thrown out after three days.
Violets grow where tears have fallen.
Drinking tea made from violet petals cures heartbreak.
Dreaming of violets means you’ll come into money or marry someone younger.
When violets bloom in the autumn, an epidemic is coming.
Wash and wipe together, live and fight together.
If a woman gets wet while washing clothes, she will marry a drunkard.
A woman who wants beautiful hair should wash it in water from March snow.
Washing laundry on Saturday or Tuesday is bad luck.
A whistling girl and a crowing hen always come to no good end.
If little girls whistle they will grow beards.
Whistling in the house invites bad luck.
If someone whistles inside a house, they will become financially irresponsible and lose money.
A bride jumping out of bed and landing on both feet on her wedding day bodes well for her married life.
The bride and groom seeing each other before they meet at the altar will doom the marriage.
An iron horseshoe carried by the bride will bring good fortune to her extended family.
A thunderstorm during a wedding is an omen of bad luck.
A snowstorm during a wedding is a lucky omen.
A Sunday wedding is a good omen.
A Friday wedding is a bad omen.
Marrying on the last day of the year is especially auspicious.
Wearing pearls on your wedding day tempts sorrow, tears, and an unhappy future.
Yawning during prayers is a bad omen.
Yawning without covering one’s mouth allows the devil entrance.
Giving yellow clothing as a gift will bring bad luck.
Wearing yellow clothing to any kind of test will cause a poor performance.
When speeding through a yellow traffic light, a driver throwing a kiss to the roof of the car will avoid accidents and police.
Zero is a whole number as well as an even one, and thus a lucky digit.
Seeing a wild zebra means you are spiritually safe from harm.
A zebra licking your hand can mean danger is coming or someone is holding onto bad memories.
The black and white of a zebra indicates good and bad.
Dreaming of a zebra means one is facing situations that are difficult to control.
Follow a zebra to find water.
More stripes on the front legs of a zebra than on the back is an omen of a baby, possibly twin boys
One zebra is a sign of good luck and blessings. Seeing two zebras in the morning is an omen of illness and maybe two bad harvest seasons.
A running zebras is an omen of an ample harvest.
Bottom line: The superstitions listed here are shared by many people, but every culture and person has different beliefs. Anything can become a personal superstition if something unrelated is associated in time or place with a dramatic event or outcome (such as lucky socks or particular foods). Consider how someone might come to feel anxious and fear bad things will happen if s/he loses a carved wooden heart. If you are writing about an entirely fictitious culture, you can invent whatever superstitions you like!
What would (or wouldn’t) your character(s) do? And just as important, why? This particular election has been unusual in several dimensions. When considering your character(s)’ behavior, also consider whether it might reflects a general or stable level of political activism/ involvement or is it specific to this election (or fictional elections with similar circumstances). If the latter, is that because of the pandemic, the candidates/issues of this particular election, or both.
Social Media Activity
Following candidates, pundits, campaigns
Replying or reposting to boost signal
Researching candidates’ policies or campaign news
Sharing information with others within a social group
Contacting candidates or campaigns through social media
How carefully would a character ensure that information is factual and unbiased before believing it or sharing it?
If a character has verifiably true information, how much effort would they put into combating falsehoods?
Would a character knowingly spread disinformation?
Before Election Day
Provide forms to register to vote at the DMV or other locations
Help voters obtain documents needed to register to vote
Check registration status for voters
Campaign to expand voting access or challenge flawed registrations
Manage a candidate’s campaign
Absentee drop off
In person early
Campaign for a local, state, or national candidate
Donating money to a campaign or political party
Sign petitions and share on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Attend a rally
Advertise his/her support
Clothing (hat, T-shirt, etc.)
Try to convince friends/family to vote
Encourage voting in general
Persuading to vote for particular candidates
Only if the weather is good
If the lines aren’t very long
Work for the elections board
As a poll worker directly interacting with the public
As a ballot counter for early or mail voters
Helping voters contact election clerks to resolve problems
Volunteer as an election monitor
Officially representing a campaign, being a silent presence in the background while ballots are counted
Challenging potential voter fraud outside of a polling place (unofficial)
Carry signs or flags supporting one candidate or party
Distribute campaign literature or sample ballots to those far enough away from the polling place
Provide assistance to those waiting in long lines
Drinks and snacks
Umbrellas or parasols
Playing music, dancing, entertaining
Hand sanitizer and masks
Driving voters to the polls
Providing childcare so parents can go vote
Planning vote time around work requirements
Taking time off during the workday
Getting to the polling site at 4am to vote before work
Going after work and potentially staying in line until late at night
Follow the media
Early evening only
Late into the wee hours
Not at all
Post Election Day
Electoral college tally
State or local races only
Every few minutes
Only on the 6:00 news
When results are in
Protest the outcome
If unhappy with outcome
Protest with violence against property/people
Have a quiet glass of champagne
Party with family/friends
Dance in the streets
Binge on chocolate cake
Remove all visible signs of political support
Only if his/her candidate lost
Yard signs but not bumper stickers
Not at all
Try to pretend it never happened
How the Character(s) Felt—Check All That Apply
Determined to run for office in the next election
To continue momentum from the current campaign
To correct future errors of the recently elected
Consider whether your character’s behavior would be consistent with his/her feelings. Why or why not?
Bottom line for writers: Though your plot may never involve an election at all, this exercise should shine light on your characters’ level of civic involvement and activism.
Surely, somewhere along the line, you’ve done the getting-to-know-you exercise in which each participant answers the question, “If you were an XXX, what would you be? And why?”
XXX can be anything—from trees to historical figures and beyond. In this variation, the question is “Would your character be an alpaca or a llama?” Although they share many similarities, they are quite distinctive in several ways.
The size difference between llamas and alpacas is obvious even from a distance. Llamas are big: as much as 4 feet tall at the shoulder, and tipping the scales up to 400 pounds. Alpacas are around 3 feet tall at the shoulder and weigh up to 150 pounds.
So, is your character tall for his/her gender? Muscular? Overweight? Or more petite?
Think clothing, hair, and skin. Both llamas and alpacas grow thick coats of hair, that can vary in color from white or pale yellow to various shades of brown and black, to piebald, but. . .
Alpacas are more likely to have one consistent hair color.
Would your character be more likely to wear flashy clothes (llama) or conservative clothes (alpaca)?
Both llamas and alpacas are herd animals, i.e., sociable. But overall, alpacas are more laid-back than llamas. A llama can move up or down the social ladder by picking fights—usually among males, to establish dominance. These involve spitting, ramming each other with their chests, neck wrestling, and kicking to knock the other off balance.
Females usually spit as a means of controlling other herd members. When overloaded or maltreated by humans, llamas spit, kick, lie down, or refuse to move. Llamas take care of each other by issuing a loud, shrill sound that rhythmically rises and falls to alert others to a threat. They also hum to each other.
Alpacas are typically shy and polite. Although they can play herd politics with the best of them, they seldom do so. They live in family herds, which typically consist of an alpha male, several females, and their young.
Is your character tough, competitive, ready to throw down, like a llama? Or a peacemaker?
A llama’s degree of upset is revealed in what they spit: the more irritated, the more digested the food that is spit. If they groan or go “mwa” it is a sign of fear or anger. When unhappy or agitated they lay their ears back. Ears perked upwards is a sign of happiness.
Alpacas spit when they are distressed or fearful. Their warning of danger is a sharp, noisy inhalation that sounds like a high-pitched bray. When a male is defending his territory, his ears are laid back and they turn sideways. Alpacas are amenable to petting as long as it’s not around the head or neck.
Communication is both verbal and non-verbal. Sometimes the meaning is unclear, just like people. For example, alpaca mothers and babies hum constantly, but all alpacas also hum as a sign of distress, curiosity, happiness, worry or caution! They also snort, grumble, cluck, scream, and screech. From what I’ve read, it appears alpacas are more vocal than llamas.
What emotional “tells” does your character display? To everyone, or only close friends and family?
Alpacas look smoother than llamas. Alpaca hair is silkier, each strand being half or less the diameter of llama hair. While it might not perfectly reflect refinement, llamas are used for food and as beasts of burden. Alpacas are herded for their hair, to make expensive textiles, and seldom kept as food animals.
Is your character smooth and sophisticated or a little rough around the edges?
Llamas can be trained to a lead quickly when young. Alpacas are also very trainable using food as a reward. Llamas can carry heavy loads over long distances and are more likely to be pack animals. Both can be guard animals for other species, such as sheep. Here again, it’s more likely that the guard will be a llama.
Sometimes, llamas even guard herds of alpacas! When guarding other species, males are most likely to hold their posts alone. If more than one male llama is put on guard duty, they might fraternize with each other and neglect their charges (just like humans!).
Nanobodies (part of the antibody) of llamas and alpacas are particularly useful to molecular biology research. Alpaca and llama nanobodies have a very strong ability to destroy viruses like HIV and influenza. Currently, researchers are looking into the possibility of a vaccine for COVID-19.
Does your character care for—take responsibility for—others? When, how, and why?
As with humans, much depends on the eye of the beholder.
Llamas have pointy, protruding faces and long, banana-shaped ears. Alpacas have smaller ears, shaped like elf ears, and a pug-like face.
Does your character share any physical characteristics with llamas or alpacas? Does s/he meet the cultural standards of beauty? And is it important?
Prior to the last ice age, llamas inhabited large parts of North and Central America. Now llamas and alpacas live primarily in parts of Peru, Equador, Bolivia, and Chile. As of the 20th Century, both alpacas and llamas have been reintroduced into the U.S.
Is your character a rolling stone or a homebody?
One interesting tidbit about alpacas: They use a communal dung pile where they do not graze.
One interesting tidbit about llamas: In Aymara mythology, the Heavenly Llama is said to drink water from the ocean and urinates as it rains. According to Aymara eschatology, at the end of time, llamas will return to the springs and lagoons they came from.
What is one interesting or unexpected tidbit about your character?
Bottom line: better know your character by looking at her/him slant!
Folk wisdom would have us believe that we all should be early birds: they get the worm, after all, and they are healthy, wealthy, and wise. Indeed, research indicates that there are real differences between the early-to-bedders and the late-to-bedders.
Being up and ready for the day correlates with EBs getting better grades and having a better chance of getting a good “regular” job.
In one way, at least, early birds (EBs) have a big advantage: most social life takes place during the day, and EBs can take full advantage of that. Getting to medical appointments, grocery stores, and business breakfasts are not hardships.
In addition, at least one study found that EBs anticipate problems and try to minimize them. Being proactive in this way is linked to better job performance, greater career success, and higher earnings. They set goals and plan to meet them.
Overall, EBs are much more likely to exercise, and as a result are less prone to health problems, everything from obesity to depression. Perhaps that’s partly because most outdoor activity takes place during the day anyway!
However, not everything is roses for EBs. For one thing, their days are all downhill. They get no “second wind” late in the day. As sleepiness pulls, an EB’s performance lags. In addition, EBs need more sleep, and if they don’t get enough, it really drags them down. Still, it seems a small price to pay for all the good stuff I just talked about.
So why wouldn’t everyone want to be an EB? First of all, what one wants isn’t always what one gets. People are biologically predisposed to be either an EB or a Night Owl (NO). Frederick Brown (Penn State psychologist) refers to EBs as early risers and NOs as late setters and comes out strongly on the side of genetic determination. In fact, in 2003, researchers discovered a “clock “ gene. EBs were more likely to have a longer version of this Period 3 gene.
And there is a real downside to being a NO—including being more prone to a whole host of mental and physical health problems, especially depression and obesity. Not surprisingly, they tend to die sooner than EBs.
NOs struggle with social activities. Yes, there are all night restaurants, gyms, and movies, but if NOs’ family and friends are on a different schedule, they face the choice of pressing/stressing themselves to accommodate or suffer from self-imposed isolation and loneliness.
It sounds like being a NO is a total bummer, but not so! Research has discovered several benefits to getting up with the owls.
Likely to pick up energy as their waking hours move along
Somewhat surprisingly (to me), NOs have more sex—which could lead to being productive in non-work-related ways!
One’s sleep patterns and preferences are expressions of one’s circadian rhythm: this is the rhythm of one’s body processes over the course of approximately 24 hours. In fact, the word “circadian” comes from the Latin words circā (approximately) and diēs (day). All living things—even plants—have them. (If there is life on Mars or Venus, then all bets are off!)
Left to their own devices (i.e., with no external cues as to time of day), humans tend to settle into a “natural” cycle of about 25 hours within a waking/sleeping day.
Fortunately, adjusting by an hour is fairly easy.
On the issue of enduring wake/sleep rhythms, there is lots of variability. Approximately 1% are diehard EBs and another 17% are diehard NOs, with everyone else being somewhere in between. The “tweeners” have an easier time making bigger adjustments in their sleep cycles.
There are age-clustering effects, too. High school and college age people, regardless of bio-rhythms, tend to stay up late and sleep in. The opposite is true of the elderly.
All sorts of outside factors have major chunks of control over when we wake and sleep, regardless of preferences. Many NOs must adapt to workplace schedules, or demands due to spouse or children. Consider how one’s body’s preferences would adapt to these work schedules.
Night shift workers
People do what they have to do, sometimes for years at a time. Not surprisingly, swing-shift workers have the hardest time of it, and the more often their shifts change, the more disruptive it is. (If one’s work shifted by an hour a day, it would be easy to handle… but I don’t know of any examples.) If one works 7-3:00 followed by 3-11:00 followed by 11-7:00 and then repeats the cycle at lengthy intervals, the adaptation is easier than random shifts and/or short intervals.
Last Sunday I talked with a woman who said, “COVID is making me so OCD!” She’s been working from home for months, in a state that is tightly locked down. With her normal summer activities disrupted, her isolation has been filled with painting the baseboards and other wood trim, hanging her growing son’s clothes hooks higher, and weeding flowerbeds for hours.
“I get down on the floor to exercise and all I can focus on is the pulled place in the rug. And then I look out the window and feel like I ought to be out there raking leaves, even though they’re only half down. And this morning, I rearranged books size and color as well as type.
“See? Completely OCD.”
OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) is a label that’s tossed around loosely, like beautiful or crazy. The woman I talked to is a good example. OCD is casually applied to people who are finicky or particular about some one thing (e.g., straightening picture frames) rather than people with serious mental health problems that interfere with living a healthy, comfortable life.
Technically, OCD applies only to people who use obsessive thoughts and/or compulsive behaviors in an attempt to deal with anxiety and fear. It’s a coping mechanism—another way to get through the day.
Today, OCD is viewed by researchers as a spectrum, much like autism. It often develops in people with a genetic predisposition to anxiety disorders and mental illness, and this is the group most likely to develop true OCD in response to COVID. For these people, when the threat diminishes, the attempts to reduce the threat do not go away—and may worsen.
Ideally, people with OCD receive treatment (usually a combination of medication and behavioral or exposure therapy) to deal with the condition. One of the major goals of treatment is learning not to try to avoid their fears. Instead, patients with OCD work to balance exposure to triggering conversation and information with healthful activities such as exercise, spending time outside, developing good sleep habits, etc., while doing things in line with personal and work-related goals.
The spread of COVID has caused a spike in anxiety and fear for everyone (with the possible exception of some diehard deniers). The constant need for vigilance has forced nearly everyone to change daily habits, focus on ways to stay safe and well, and then to act on them. People who compulsively watch the news or spend hours on social media typically are more fearful.
Many people previously diagnosed with OCD are suffering greatly. Medical experts’ advice to wear a mask, wash hands thoroughly and often, avoid touching their faces, avoid being around sick people, disinfect surfaces most often touched, and socially distance requires a lot of attention throughout the day. People with a germ phobia may be unable to attend to anything else!
Ideally, the OCD sufferer will do but not overdo: for example, to wash hands for twenty seconds and no longer—to focus on having done the hand washing, not on feeling clean. Tip: if you wonder whether you are over-doing it, you probably are.
“Other types of OCD that can be triggered by this pandemic include somatic obsessions (concerns with illness or disease, such as headaches), sensory-focused symptoms (obsessing over sensations in the body or perceived feelings on the skin’s surface), feelings of over responsibility and inappropriate guilt (e.g. related to spreading the illness), and harm OCD (e.g. fear that one will be responsible for something terrible happening, such as unknowingly causing others’ death).
Additional OCD symptoms might include magical thinking, superstitious fears, fear of harm coming to self or others because of not being careful enough (fear of spreading germs if you were unknowingly COVID-positive or asymptomatic), and religious obsessions or excessive fear of right vs. wrong.
Moreover, OCD symptoms may include needing to know or remember information related to updated guidelines, and related excessive information gathering and checking. In addition to handwashing and cleaning, compulsions that might present or worsen could include mental reviewing (of where you have been, how far you stood from someone else, what you might have touched), needing to tell/ask/confess to others, superstitious behaviors, and health-related compulsions (e.g. asking for excessive reassurance from doctors about health symptoms).”
For some people, the pandemic is just proof that they were right all along: the world is truly a dangerous place. For mentally healthy people, this danger will pass when the pandemic passes: they are highly unlikely to develop lifelong OCD. In non-OCD people, when the threat diminishes, the compulsive threat-based behaviors will diminish.
Bottom Line: People are different. (You heard it here first!) In this instance, people will vary widely in the extent, severity, and duration of COVID-triggered obsessions and compulsions.
According to the team of editors at nationaltoday.com, they “love celebrating 196 October holidays.” I’d guess that there are even more than that. For example, my calendar showed Monday, October 12 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but it didn’t show up on this website. But, basically, the point is that the things people want to celebrate—or at least observe—approaches the infinite. The purpose of this blog is to give my readers a two-day sample, for October 16-17, 2020.
Three durations: party down for a day, a week or all month. I’ve put some of my personal favorites in all CAPS. I recently posted a blog on the value of knowing your characters’ holiday behavior. Would any of your characters be celebrating these October holidays?
You can check out any of these holidays on-line to learn more about the rationale and goals for the observance, along with suggestions for activities and the means to get involved locally or nationally.
Week-Long Observances That Include October 16-17, 2020
Keep in mind that this is only one month, focusing on only two days. So, clearly, there are a ton of holidays and observances out there. But if your passion isn’t represented, what can you do about it?
Fortunately, the brownielocks.com holiday website can answer that question—and I quote:
INFORMATION ABOUT HOW HOLIDAYS & OBSERVANCES GET STARTED and HOW TO START ONE YOURSELF
Through the years, I’ve been asked how these holidays and observances all get started. And, I also get asked how someone can create one and also be listed on my site. Below is what I know about this topic and also what I require in order to be listed on my “Official” holidays and observances listing.
Holidays or Observances are started by the President of the United States as a proclamation.
Holidays or Observances are started by an act of the U.S. Congress as resolution # ___.
Holidays and Observances can be started by individual US State legislatures and/or Governors.
Holidays and Observances can be started as cultural traditions or due to some historical event.
An example is St. Patrick’s Day (Irish culture) or Patriot’s Day (September 11).
They are also started based on a religious belief. Examples are Christmas, Ramadan and Hannukah.
Observances can also be started based on someone’s date of birth or date of death.
This can either be based on their life or something that they invented or accomplished. An example is Tolkien Day or Morse Code Day.
NOTE: Not every famous person’s birthday or death date is an observance!
Observances can also be started by organizations (profit or non-profit).
Observances are also started by commercial companies, and are usually publicized on their websites or on television.
An example was “Potty Dance Day” that we just had in 2011 by Huggies diapers.
Observances are also started by individuals! This is the one that most of you are interested in learning about.
Let me first of all explain the difference between, “create” and “think of.” Lots of us can think of lots of fun things to observe daily. But, that doesn’t make them “official” and valid to be listed on my website.
Any event lists in Chase’s Calendar of Events is considered validated.
If you do not want to submit to Chase’s Calendar of Events, then …. add it to the website you already have. This way, I know the origin. It’s the organization that the page is Linked with at their website. For example, many organizations have their own website. Then they also have a page on that site for the observance that they sponsor. They don’t get a new website domain for their observance when they already have one. So, if you are a dress boutique and you have a website. But, you want to start an observance such as “Wear A Mini Skirt Day.” Just add that page to your current website and send me the Link along with the date etc. and I’ll add it.
BOTTOM LINE: Having your character treasure one of the less popular observances, outside the top 10, can add richness, scenes, settings, and twists entertaining for the reader. And what if your character is motivated to create a special observance—why?
Most medical professionals agree that a reading habit is much healthier than a cocaine habit or a heroin habit (the ones that don’t are the same dentists who don’t suggest brushing your teeth). For one thing, reading is good for your physical and mental health. You probably know at least some of these benefits of reading every day, but just to review briefly:
Improves brain connectivity
Readers are more able to empathize with others
Aids sleep readiness (if it’s a physical book)
Lowers blood pressure
Lowers heart rate
Helps reduce depression
Reduces cognitive decline with aging
So, everyone should read, and it should start at an early age. According to doctors at the Cleveland Clinic, parents should start reading to/with their children from infancy through elementary school years.
Builds warm, happy associations with books
Increases the likelihood that kids will enjoy reading in the future
Reading at home boosts school performance later on
Builds good communication skills
Physically strengthens the human brain
Builds attention span
What Should You Be Reading?
Whatever you can get your hands on! Even before they know how to read, children will learn reading habits such as which way to hold a book and finding familiar pictures or letters on a page. It’s important to expose kids to books both above and within their current reading ability, in a wide variety of genres.
If you want some guidance on what is age-appropriate for children, you can get advice on-line and/or in actual books. Each grade level in school typically requires students to pass reading skill tests before passing to the next level. Libraries are an excellent resource for book suggestions for children of any age or reading ability.
Every child learns differently and at a different pace. Whether in real life or in your writing, it is entirely too easy to limit children by expected levels or shame a child for not conforming to expectations.
Types of Readers
When it comes to reading habits, to each his or her own. To use a biology analogy, the “family” of readers includes numerous “genera.” In some instances, there are even “species.”
Just about every reader belongs to more than one species to a greater or lesser degree. Many people adjust their reading habits as circumstances allow, changing when children are born or a job change requires a different commuting style.
High Need-for-Achievement Readers
These readers read almost exclusively within their professional area, e.g., mathematics journals or business publications or medical research papers, etc. These readers may or may not enjoy their reading, but they read nonetheless. Some professions, such as teachers and paramedics, require continual study and testing to maintain up-to-date certifications to practice.
If you start a book, you finish that book, no matter what. Anything else feels like failure. For more information about the difference between obsessive compulsive disorder and quirky fixations, check out this post I wrote about the character possibilities of each.
Although this group includes those who read (and study) the Bible, it also includes anyone whose goal is spiritual enlightenment and growth. Many Muslims read and recite the entire Qur’an during Ramadan every year as a form of meditation. Writings by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh are widely read by people of many faiths.
These readers want someone to talk with about their reads—which can be more or less academic. Depending on how books are chosen, they are likely to end up reading things they would never have chosen for themselves, which can be good—or not so much. Book groups often have a specific focus, such as current fiction, or botany books, i.e., anything from the genre preferences.
Much like a book group, except it’s whatever one’s bridge buddies, neighbors, family members, et al. are reading, recommending, and/or lending. Depending on the interests of friends, this can lead to a very eclectic reading list. Reading what friends recommend or enjoy can strengthen social bonds by encouraging discussion of books read in common.
These readers are up-to-the-minute at the water-cooler and/or cocktail hour. They often operate on the presumption that if it appeals to enough people to be a bestseller, a book will appeal to themselves as well. The traditional gold standard here is The New York Times. The Times tracks the following categories:
Combined print & e-book
Paperback trade fiction
Combined print & e-book
Note: These bestsellers divisions take account of readers’ format preferences and allow for combining with one’s genre preferences.
These people know what they like and stick to it: a genre is characterized by similarities of form, style, or subject matter. Accordingly, pretty much any category of book is a genre—and I’m probably missing some here, but you get the idea:
Often read more than one book a day, limited to a specific genre, sometimes a limited number of preferred authors. Genre Junkies tend to prefer genres in which a plethora of books are available. A fan of books about Arctic Circle Siberian reptile varieties is likely to run out of material much more quickly than a fan of paranormal dystopian romance fantasy books.
Exactly what it sounds like. These people often skip meals and sleep when a book is particularly hard to put down. Accomplished binge readers may even learn to walk, dress, cook, and feed the dog without putting down the book in their hand.
Reads anything and everything: blogs, poetry, nature, non-fiction, fiction, sci-fi, or whatever. An interesting book from thirty years ago is no lower on the list than the absolute latest best-seller. Eclectics are often bright, inquisitive, and frequent readers.
Some readers have multiple books going and bounce back and forth among them. The bedside book, the lunch break book, the evening book, the boring book they know they should read for some obligation but just can’t seem to make it through… I haven’t seen any formal studies on the subject, but I would imagine that ping-ponging readers would be very good at multi-tasking.
Some people have such packed schedules, they can seldom read for more than fifteen minutes at a time. A person who is able to keep track of characters and plotlines despite snatching only small doses has to have a pretty-good memory.
Generally caretakers or parents, some readers have to wait until their charges are asleep before picking up a book. Parenting and caregiving are both stressful occupations, and reading during naptime or after bedtime can provide absolutely necessary stress relief for Night Readers.
Some people use reading as a form of reward, much as others might promise themselves a piece of chocolate or pair of shoes for completing an unpleasant task. Anyone who enjoys reading could be a self-rewarder: a doctor can only read the latest sci-fi bestseller after reading the latest medical journals; a parent can only read after finishing the laundry; a binge reader has to put the book down until dinner is finished.
As a visitor to a blog about writing and reading, you are probably someone who enjoys reading on some level. However, reading is difficult and not enjoyable for many adults. Some researchers estimate that 1 in 7 adults in the US are functionally illiterate; dyslexia, disrupted schooling, dyspraxia, and many other reasons could lead to a person reaching adulthood with only enough reading skill to be able to function in society.
Besides what we read, our reading habits include when and where we read.
Transit readers: they read on planes, trains, automobiles, and subways. Very careful transit readers may be able to read while walking; audio books make this much easier.
Bed-time readers: exactly what it sounds like.
TV readers: while one’s partner/house mate/family members watch something unappealing on TV, they hang out companionably and read.
Vacation readers: weekends, holidays, and vacations, kicking back with a good book.
Not recommended because it isn’t daily.
Boredom readers: any waiting room or line that goes on forever.
Last but not least, how do we read? Today there are more options than ever. There’s no reason not to read every day! The three basic options:
Physical books: the traditional option, most researched, with best/most positive effects on health
E-books (available on devices from smart phones to tablets to computers to dedicated devices such as Kindle and Nook). Often the choice of people with vision issues (any book can be LARGE PRINT), frequent travelers (who once went abroad with a dozen books or more weighing down the luggage), and anyone who likes having a light-weight, portable library at hand.
Audio books: the choice for someone who wants to do something else simultaneously (e.g., go to sleep, knit, make dinner). Can contribute to distracted driving, so don’t do that while behind the wheel. Audio books are also indispensable for people with impaired vision.
Do other formats have the same health benefits of physical books?
A study by Beth Rogowsky at Bloomsburg University “found no significant differences in comprehension between reading, listening, or reading and listening simultaneously” using e-readers—and the test was limited to comprehension. It’s too complicated to get into here, but you can check it out. By and large, the effects of reading physical books daily are well-documented. E-books offer some but not all of those benefits. Audiobooks are the great unknown.
Bottom line: develop or nurture your daily reading habits. There is much evidence that it’s good for you, and no negative side effects on record.
When it comes to holidays, some people go all out while others are minimalists—and some don’t participate at all. Even Christmas, the #1 holiday in the United States, isn’t celebrated by 4-8% of the population. For each of these most popular U.S. holidays, what would your character(s) do? And why?
December 25 (Fixed)
Christmas (from liturgical Christ’s Mass) is the Christian celebration of Jesus’ birth. Religious celebrations are marked by church services (often at midnight on Christmas Eve), singing hymns, recreating the scene of Jesus’ birth either in art or by reenacting, and observing four weeks of prayer and fasting in leading up to the holiday. Many elements of Saturnalia or pagan winter solstice festivals have been incorporated into modern Christmas celebrations, including decorating an evergreen tree, burning a Yule Log, making and eating special foods, and an evolution of the Holly King – Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Tovlis Babua, etc. Secular Christmas celebrations in the United States generally revolve around exchanging gifts, decorating inside and outside, singing carols, visiting family, and sharing a holiday meal. In addition to having the highest percentage of the population celebrating it, Christmas is the top holiday in the United States based on retail sales and number of greeting cards mailed. Among religious celebrations, Christmas is known for having the second highest church attendance (behind Easter).
November 22–28 (Floating Thursday)
Originally a harvest festival, the first official Thanksgiving holiday in the United States was proclaimed by George Washington in 1789. Traditional dishes often claim to have some connection to foods eaten by early American colonists, such as turkey, cranberry sauce, corn, and pumpkin. Typically, Thanksgiving is a celebration of thanks for the previous year, with families and friends gathering for a large meal or dinner. Consequently, the Thanksgiving holiday weekend is one of the busiest travel periods of the year. One-sixth of the turkeys consumed annually in the U.S. are eaten around Thanksgiving.
May 8–14 (Floating Sunday)
Mother’s Day recognizes mothers, motherhood, and maternal bonds in general, as well as the positive contributions that they make to society. Florists and restaurants have their busiest sale days on Mother’s Day and the days before and after, even higher than Valentine’s Day. Many churches experience spikes in attendance, following only Easter and Christmas.
March 22 – April 25 (Floating Sunday)
Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The highest church attendance happens on Easter. Most Christian traditions observe 40 days of Lent, fasting and repenting before Easter, beginning on Ash Wednesday. Many traditions associated with Easter originated with pagan celebrations of Spring Equinox, including the name (Eastra was a Saxon goddess of spring). Like Christmas, it has become a widely celebrated secular holiday, and customs observed by both Christians and some non-Christians include egg hunting, the Easter Bunny, and Easter parades.
July 4 (Fixed)
Independence Day, also commonly known as the Fourth of July, marks the date that the Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776. The Continental Congress actually voted to adopt the Declaration of Independence on July 2nd. The holiday is best known today for fireworks and barbecues. In addition to watching civic displays of fireworks, 45% of American celebrate the 4th of July by setting off their own fireworks, accounting for about $675 million in fireworks sales.
June 15–21 (Floating Sunday)
Father’s Day is a celebration honoring fathers and celebrating fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society. The first official Father’s Day observation in the US was in 1910. Sonora Smart Dodd was raised by her single father and wanted to recognize him and others in his position for their contributions. Inspired by the official celebration of Mother’s Day the year before, Dodd petitioned the government to set aside a day celebrating fathers. It accounts for the highest sales of ties and neckwear annually, around $12.7 billion.
October 31 (Fixed)
Halloween (Hallow’s Eve) celebrations are marked today by costumed children knocking door to door asking for treats, and costumed adults attending parties (or costumed adults borrowing the neighbor’s children to have an excuse to beg for candy). Historically, Halloween was a Christian adoption of pagan Samhain traditions, burning lanterns (in turnips or pumpkins) and wearing frightening costumes to scare off restless spirits. It is the most popular holiday for candy sales, amounting to $2.6 billion in 2015. The same year, $6.9 billion was spent on candy, costumes, and pumpkins, all of which are directly attributed to this holiday.
St. Valentine’s Day
February 14 (Fixed)
St. Valentine’s Day is recognized as a significant cultural, religious, and commercial celebration of romance and romantic love. As I’ve discussed before, there are also many tragic events associated with the 14th of February. It accounts for 224 million roses grown annually; 24% of American adults purchased flowers for Valentine’s Day in 2015. The holiday comes in second in terms of annual restaurant sales, behind only Mother’s Day. In recent years, florists, chocolatiers, greeting card sellers, and other associated romance retailers have been encouraging non-romantic displays of affection to increase sales.
St. Patrick’s Day
March 17 (Fixed)
St. Patrick’s Day (Lá Fhéile Pádraig) commemorates life of Saint Patrick, a Welsh shepherd brought to Ireland as a slave, and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. It is also an opportunity to celebrates the heritage and culture of the Irish in general. In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is generally a quiet affair; most people attend church services and perhaps wear a shamrock on their lapel. American traditions of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day stem from Tammany Hall efforts to recruit voters from among the newly arrived Irish immigrants in New York at the end of the 19th century. The political organization threw parades, hired bands to play Irish music, and distributed food and beer to hungry tenement dwellers. Modern celebrations generally involve public parades and festivals, parties, the wearing of green attire or shamrocks, and alcohol consumption.
New Year’s Eve / New Year’s Day
December 31 (Fixed)
New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are usually lumped together, particularly since the actual festivities center around midnight between the two. Observed on December 31st and January 1, the last day of the old year and the first day of the year on the modern Gregorian calendar as well as the Julian calendar. Many religious traditions require attendance at services on New Year’s Day. Parties celebrating the countdown to midnight are common. It is known for being the holiday with the highest alcohol consumption, evidenced by the spike in sales around between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Alcoholics’ support groups acknowledge this as one of the most dangerous holidays for people fighting alcoholism. Many parents set their household clocks ahead by several hours and allow their children to stay up until “midnight” and watch the televised countdown and fireworks in a country several time zones ahead; the kids are then sent to bed at 9pm, convinced it is midnight, and parents can go to bed early.
We have literally hundreds of national, state, and local holidays. A couple of examples of the less common ones are Patriot’s Day celebrated and observed in Massachusetts and Maine; and Yorktown Victory Day in Virginia.
Are some holidays—not among the most popular in the U.S.—nevertheless important to you character(s)? What are they? Better yet, make a list of holidays most important to your character(s) similar to the above. This is especially useful if you are writing a series character.
Bottom line for writers: how your character behaves around and on holidays can tell the reader a great deal about ethnicity, religion, family relationships, and spending habits, as well as revealing basic tendencies toward extravagance or minimalism, introversion /extroversion, degree of anxiety, etc.