On Thursday, April 8, Vivian Lawry will be leading a discussion of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows). Time: 7:30 p.m. Place:Tuckahoe Branch of the Henrico Public Library. The event is free and open to the public.
During the framing of the Constitution, Abigail Adams famously urged her husband to “remember the ladies.” But it wasn’t until the 20th century that women were granted the right to vote. As you may be aware, 2020 is the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.
In 1756, in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, Lydia Taft became the first legal woman voter in colonial America.
Voting rights did not come easily, nor did they come all at once. With the exception of internal tribal voting on a few Native American reservations, voting was limited to white women until the 1950s, Unmarried white women who owned property could vote in New Jersey from 1776 until 1807. Women were casting ballots as early as 1838 in Kentucky, where widows with school age children were allowed to vote on school issues. In 1869, Wyoming granted women full voting rights in territorial and local elections. In 1893, Colorado became the first state to pass women’s suffrage into law. Idaho and Utah gave women the right to vote at the end of the 19th century. By 1914, eleven states and one territory allowed women to vote.
During the years of partial suffrage, voting was a complicated business. One solution to the problem of separate ballots came in 1899, when Lenna R. Winslow of Columbus, Ohio—my home state—applied for a patent for a “Voting-Machine.” There were many versions of voting machines already patented, going back to 1875. But Winslow’s creation was unique. It was a single booth with two doors, one marked “Gents” and the other, “Ladies.” When one entered, the door essentially flipped a switch that brought up either the full ballot or the restricted one. Thus this voting machine was an analogue computer.
Voting around the world has been restricted in various ways for both women and men, but I’ll focus on women in North America. Several Native American nations gave women decision making power equal to men, more in some areas. For example, starting sometime before 1654, Iroquois women had a deciding vote in the councils. Women elders voted on the male chiefs and could depose them.
Through the end of the 19th Century, there was a gradual shift away from what many historians called the “Cult of True Womanhood”—the idea that the only “true” woman was a pious, submissive wife and mother whose only area of concern were home and family. Many religions encouraged this idealized gender separation.
The U.S. is typical of modern democracies in that men had the vote before women. One exception was Hawaii. In 1840, the Kingdom of Hawaii had universal suffrage—but it was rescinded for women in 1852.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were active in the suffrage movement and invited abolitionists to meet in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, to discuss women’s rights. The delegates produced a Declaration of Sentiments that began in the words of the Constitution but declared “that all men and women are created equal…”
In the decades leading up to the Civil War, the campaign for women’s suffrage was very active. Perhaps this was because in the 1820s and 1830s most states had extended the vote to all white men, regardless of wealth or property ownership.
The women’s movement lost momentum during the war, but as the 14th and 15th Amendments were passed, the old questions of citizenship and suffrage emerged again. At that point, all males were citizens, and black men were guaranteed the right to vote.
The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), established in the U.S. in 1873 campaigned for women’s suffrage as well as ameliorating the condition of prostitutes. It was one of several organizations who were actively supporting various social causes in addition to women’s suffrage—e.g., anti-alcohol, religious movements, moral-reform societies, and anti-slavery movements.
Black suffragists started aggressively asserting their right to vote in the 1890s. Even after the passage of the 19th Amendment, all women didn’t have equal access: many women of color were disenfranchised through various loopholes and thus had to continue to fight for their voting rights. When poll taxes, literacy or comprehension tests, and onerous residency requirements did not keep people away from the polls, racist enforcers resorted to misinformation or outright intimidation campaigns to prevent Black citizens from voting.
Starting in 1910, some states in the West began extending the vote to women. The Southern and Eastern states were most reluctant. In 1916 Carrie Chapman Catt initiated a campaign to mobilize state and local suffrage groups all across the country to lobby for voting rights state by state.
Several leaders of more aggressive suffragist groups began more confrontational actions than marches and petition drives. Alice Paul used radical, militant tactics—such as hunger strikes and White House pickets—to generate publicity and support for the cause. While picketing outside the White House, 33 members of the National Women’s Party were arrested and sentenced to months in the Occoquan Workhouse. On the night of November 14, 1917, prison guards at the Workhouse restrained, beat, knocked unconscious, and threatened to rape many of the suffragists, including Dora Lewis, Dorothy Day, Minnie Prior, and Lucy Burns. Alice Cosu suffered a heart attack because of the abuse.
The momentum lagged again during World War I, but women’s work on behalf of the war effort turned the tide after the war, leading to the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920—at least 100 years after the start of the movement.
Bottom line for writers: Besides the rich background for historical writing, consider a future in which the Equal Rights Act is revoked. Consider what would happen if individual states decided to go back to partial suffrage for some groups.
P.S. Women’s voting rights varied around the world, but with the granting of suffrage in Saudi Arabia in 2013, women can vote in almost every country that holds elections. In the Vatican City, only Cardinals are allowed to vote, and only men can be Cardinals.
Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counteract ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.
Marching against injustice or striking for improved work conditions, pressing for suffrage or civil rights, playing music or writing books to increase public awareness—throughout history, all sorts of causes have moved people to seek change. The definition of a protest is both vague and nebulous, depending on the speaker. For the purpose of this blog, I’m going to limit my definition to a conscious attempt by people in a society to change some part of the status quo.
The Battle of Hastings in 1066 was not a protest by William the Conqueror against the policies of King Harold of England. A toddler throwing mashed peas on the floor is not protesting in an attempt to change the household policies on vegetable consumption.
A protest is an expression of objections, disapproval, or dissent regarding an idea or action, typically a political one. The intention is to publicize opinions in an attempt to influence public opinion and/or government policy or to alter conditions so that the change results directly. The categories listed below can have a great deal of overlap: a rally may include protest music; a hunger strike may be accompanied by a vigil; a march may end with delivering a petition, etc. Nearly any type of protest can end in violence, either on the part of the protesters or from opponents trying to stop the protest. Today’s blog will be limited to protests intended to be peaceful.
Rally: People in the affected group gather together, often with other allies from the community, to improve solidarity, boost morale, and demonstrate the size of the affected community.
Rallies often include speeches, speakers, singing, preaching, and other attempts to raise awareness in the general community and encourage people to continue to campaign.
Crowds of people rallied together are more likely to attract media attention, providing a platform for the message to be spread further.
Roman plebians were occasionally allowed to gather in a few public spaces to make their grievances against behaviors and unmet expectations of the princeps heard, primarily outside theaters, bathhouses, and the circus.
Students rallied at Tiananmen Square in 1989 to call for more freedom and government transparency.
Turkish women rally to protest violence against women and police apathy
Georgians rally in Tbilisi to legalize marijuana
The M’ikmaq people of the Elsipogtog First Nation took a stand against fracking in 2013 in New Brunswick.
March: Affected people and supporters move from point A to point B, often beginning or ending with a rally. Marches often include prayer walks, chants, and singing, as well as signs and banners detailing demands.
Though most protests are relatively short, a few miles or circling around and around the same area, some are extremely long.
In 195 BCE, Roman women came from all over the country to march on Forum in protest of the Senate refusing to repeal the lex Oppia, a law funding the Punic Wars by forbidding women wearing jewelry.
Mary Harris “Mother” Jones led the March of the Mill Children from Philadelphia to New York in 1903 to protest working conditions, especially child labor conditions.
Marches for racial justice and equality have taken place around the world in the past few weeks
Opal Lee, who is 93, is walking from Ft Worth, Texas to D.C. to protest for racial justice and deliver a petition to Donald Trump.
Vigil: Banners, placards, candles, and/or leaflets are displayed quietly so passersby know what the vigil stands for even if those standing vigil say nothing.
Many vigils are accompanied by music and symbolic lighting or extinguishing of candles or lights to symbolize lost lives or spreading hope, among other statements.
A vigil can also be held to raise morale for someone who is unable to be there, to let someone confined in hospital or prison know that others in the community are aware of their plight, or to bring awareness to authorities or the community at large.
Vigils have been held outside prisons to ask authorities too release at-risk, nonviolent prisoners so they won’t die of COVID-19.
A candlelit vigil is held every year to mark the anniversary of the massacre at Tiananmen Square.
Jenny Holzer staged a lightshow vigil to remember victims of gun violence and to spark conversation on how to prevent it in the future.
Art – Creativity of every kind is put to use in support of various causes.
Songs – Strange Fruit became one of the most well-known anthems of the American Civil Rights Movement.
Music -The Brothers of Brass play Louisiana-style jazz at racial justice protests in Denver.
Dance – Young ballerinas in Richmond, VA dance to protest monuments to Confederate generals in 2020.
Grafitti – Tahrir Square in Iraq has been surrounded by murals painted in support of equality.
Theater – “The Other Shore” was written by Gao Xingjian in 1986 to protest government censorship and lack of individuality. It has never been performed in mainland China.
Poetry – Sextus Propertius the poet wrote several poems highly critical of Caesar Augustus’ warlike nature, generally decrying militarism as a policy.
Petition: Having a written record of multitudes who support a cause is an effective way of getting the attention of authorities.
King John was petitioned by his barons to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede in England in 1215, reducing the power of the monarchy.
Human Rights Campaign gathering signatures to present to legislature in support of a bill supporting equal right
Satire: Rather than attack an authority directly, undermining credibility or gravity by mocking is sometimes a more effective method of advancing a cause.
Vikings historically have been portrayed as uncivilized barbarians without culture or intelligence by the people who left written records of them – literate monks whose monasteries had been burned.
Lysistrata is a comedic play by Aristophanes about women trying to end the Peloponnesian War by withholding sex until their husbands agree to stop fighting.
Environmental protesters in London protesting corporate interests putting profit over humanity.
Across the street from Westboro Baptist Church, a notoriously anti-gay religious sect, the home owners have painted their houses in the colors of Gay Pride and Transgender Pride.
PETA activists often demonstrate in public by dressing ridiculously to illustrate absurdities in the meat and fur industries.
Ester Hernandez created this illustration to express anger at the human and environmental costs of commercially grown agriculture.
“Doxxing” (or doxing) is a destructive variation of this type of protest, more common since the spread of the internet. Protesters widely publish contact details and sensitive information about people with whom they disagree in an effort to endanger their careers, social lives, families, and personal safety.
Lewis Hine’s photographs of child laborers showed the terrible conditions in which they worked, creating a public outcry
White Rose Society students in Germany protested Nazis by secretly printing anti-Nazi pamphlets and leaflets with information about prison camps and SS atrocities.
Incorrect doxxing nearly ruined the life of Kyle Quinn after he was mistakenly identified online as having taken part in a neo-Nazi rally. He was not involved in any way and was not even in the same time zone.
Lawsuit: A social movement or group can sometimes use the legal system to advance their aims.
The Sumerian Code of Ur-Nammu, one of the oldest recorded legal systems, provides methods for women to sue for divorce, for slaves to be set free or re-enslaved, for everyone to be punished, and for property disputes to be resolved.
Elizabeth Freeman was the first woman to win her freedom in court in America, having successfully sued for her freedom from her former owner in 1781.
Richard and Mildred Loving took their case all the way to the US Supreme Court in 1958 to defend their right to marry, opening the way for all other interracial marriages.
Symbols: Pictures are worth a thousand words, and actions speak louder than words… The same is true when protesting. There are many ways to call attention symbolically to a cause
Shoes left empty to stand in place of people being killed by climate change
Indian students bandaged their eyes to echo the injuries inflicted on a fellow student and to protest safety for Jamia students
Indian farmers stood in chest-deep water for days to call attention to rising floods ruining their farmlands
Puerto Rican protesters erected a guillotine against government corruption
South African women taped their mouths shut to protest community silence about rape
Chinese students against government propoganda education
Colin Kaepernick knelt during the playing of the National Anthem before football games to protest police murder of Black people
Activists in Pamplona, Spain painted themselves red and staged a die-in to protest the Running of the Bulls
A Syrian migrant sewed his mouth shut in protest of the lack of safety or empathy in the world for refugees
Tommie Smith and John Carlos bowed their heads and raised a Black Power salute during the medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics, in support of the Civil Rights Movement. Peter Norman, the Australian sprinter who won the Silver Medal, had his award stripped as punishment for his support of his fellow athletes.
Protesters put plastic bags on their heads to demand clean air and action against climate change
Bicyclists dumped yellow paint on the roadways around the Arc d’Triomphe, causing motorists to spread the paint into the shape of the sun, raising awareness for solar energy
Toni Smith turned her black on the flag during the Pledge of Allegiance to protest racial inequality.
Taiwan workers blocked a highway with a die-in, bodies spell out “raise our salaries”
Clothing, or lack thereof, can send a strong yet silent message. People can call attention to their message by wearing clothing considered socially unacceptable, wearing acceptable clothing in an uncommon way, or wearing clothing that is strongly linked with a particular cause.
Because women have traditionally been excluded from the sphere of public discourse, many women brought attention to their causes through fashion.
Writing on clothing allows a protester to make their voice heard without actually speaking.
Refusing to wear a particular garment or any garments at all can also send a message.
Amelia Bloomer popularized the garment allowing women more comfort and freedom
Women dressed in antique costumes to highlight old-fashioned, sexist laws
London protesters showed their almost-everything to protest the unsafe and unrealistic body standards used by Victoria’s Secret
Girls from Lincoln High wore trousers to school in 1942 to call for an end to the double standards of the dress code
Boys from Clovis High School wore dresses to protest continuing, sexist, double standards in student dress codes
Congressional Black Caucus members wear Kente cloth to display pride in their African heritage.
Saudi Arabian women wore their abayas and niqabs inside out to protest laws requiring women to be fully covered in public
During a protest against sexual assault, this woman wore clothes documenting all the ways men have touched her inappropriately against her will.
IRA political prisoners on Block H refused to wear prison uniforms and wrapped themselves in blankets to protest the British government revoking their status of political prisoners in 1978.
Burkinis on French beaches have become a contentious issue, with the French government banning them and women demanding to wear them.
Jadon Sancho took off his jersey after scoring a goal to reveal a shirt calling for Justice for George Floyd.
Andrew Hawkins wore a shirt emblazoned with the names of men killed by police
LA Lakers players wore shirts echoing George Floyd’s last words in support of Black Lives Matter
US Women Soccer players wore inside out jerseys to protest pay gap
Women dressed like Handmaid’s Tale to protest anti-abortion laws
Indigenous dress to protest racist team names like Redskins
The 2016 Women’s March on Washington featured thousands of women wearing pink hats in protest of Donald Trump.
Slutwalk to protest victim blaming
French men protest gay marriage by being… naked
Philipino naked protestors against Ferdinand Marcosa buried in hero cemetary
Strike, slow down, sick-outs to protest work issues: often follows a failure of negotiations.
Pullman car operators on strike in 1894 clashed with union-busters
Factory workers in St. Petersburg, Russia went on strike in 1905, but the Nicholas II sent in the military to break it up.
Shipyard workers in 1942 staged a sit-down protest to call for wage increases
Workers at the Oracle Korea plant on strike
Employees at Woolworth staged a sit-down strike for a regular 40-hour workweek.
Inmates in US prisons went on a hunger strike and refused to work in 2016 and 2018 to call for better conditions and voting rights.
AIIMS- doctors protest racism being treated like terrorists by going on strike for one day
Boycott: Organized refusal to buy or use a product or service in protest of the owners, the vendors, the production, or another aspect that is in need of changing.
Employees at a stocking factory opposing a boycott of Japanese goods, including silk
American consumers were told to fight Nazis with their wallets during World War II
After Rosa Parks’s arrest in 1955, the Montgopmery Bus Boycott led to thousands of people walking and bicycling to work in protest of bus segregation.
Picket: hold signs, placards, or banners and walking around circles, with or without singing, chanting etc., point is to impede access to a place or to address the people going into that place, there are legal lengths now to how long a picketer is allowed to physically impede someone trying to cross the line
Women working in clothing factories went on strike for safer working conditions and better wages following the deadly fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.
Sanitation workers on strike picketing to protest segregation during the Civil Rights Movement.
Verizon employees on strike form a picket line.
Civil Disobedience: Deliberately breaking laws (often seen as unjust) is a way to protest their enforcement. The laws broken are typically not violent ones (such as those against murder or driving drunk) and are usually broken with the deliberate intention of being arrested, possibly causing a scene and raising attention while being arrested.
Henry David Thoreau went to jail rather than pay taxes going to support the Mexican American War.
Students sat at the lunch counters in defiance of segregated Whites-Only rules.
Civil Rights protesters deliberately entered spaces marked for segregation, such as the Azalea Room.
Flower arranging without a license in front of Louisiana courthouse
Protesters kissing outside the DUMA in Moscow to push back against new laws against public shows of affection in same-sex couples
Kristen Stewart was disgusted by a dress code requiring women to wear high heels at Cannes Film Festival, so she took off her shoes and went barefoot.
Irish protesters kissing outside DAIL in support of gay marriage
Lebanese protesters for government reforms used multiple means to block roads, including burning tires, practicing yoga in intersections, and setting up living space in the middle of highways.
The Kiss of Love Campaign in India is a protest against moral policing forbidding public affection.
Protesters blocked traffic to the courthouse in Kansas during a Black Lives Matter rally.
Graffiti artists are illegal in most areas, but protesters like this woman send messages of solidarity with suffering and demanding government action.
Note: Many older sources reference LGBT. I’ve taken the liberty of adding Q.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled 6/3 that LGBTQ people are covered by Title VII and cannot be discriminated against in the workplace. This ruling coincides with the 50th anniversary of the organization of Gay Pride events in the U.S.
A Brief History of LGBTQ Rights in America
The 1960s was a time of civil protest in general (you heard it here first!), including protests and demonstrations seeking civil rights for lesbians and gays. In 1965, homophile organizations started Annual Reminders pickets, reminding Americans that LGBTQ people did not have basic civil protections.
Veteran activist Scott Hix provides context for the beginning of the national push for equality. “Stonewall was not the beginning of gay rights. It was just the tipping point of our continued pushback because of the exposure from the New York Times.”
For years before the raid of the Stonewall Inn in New York, Hix worked to get respect for the LGBTQ community on the West Coast, including the Compton Cafeteria Riots in San Francisco. “Scott worked in bars as a drag queen at the time and he vividly remembers the times when the cops would raid the bars, throw everyone in jail for a night, and destroy drag queens’ wigs by setting them on fire or flushing them down a toilet, then they would make the queens wash their faces with dirty mop water.”
The seminal event for LGBTQs occurred in June, 1969. Police raided a gay bar, the Stonewall Inn in New York City, triggering spontaneous riots by LGBTQ people there. An organized march on June 28, 1970 marked the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. This is now seen as the first Gay Pride march in U.S. history.
At the time of the Stonewall Riots, it is estimated that there were 50-60 gay groups in the country. By 1972, that number had grown to 2500, and marches took place in Atlanta, Brighton, Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Miami, Milwaukee, New York, London, Paris, Philadelphia, West Berlin, Stockholm, and Washington, D.C.
By now, the entire month of June is celebrated as LGBTQ Pride Month. It has been recognized by three U.S. presidents: Bill Clinton and Barack Obama via official proclamations, and Donald Trump in via Twitter. Events range from marches to festivals, nationally and internationally.
Because any realistic group of characters that are even remotely representative of the population as a whole is likely to include LGBTQ characters. Because far too many authors write gay characters who have no personality except being gay. Because, even when LGBTQ characters are included, they are often killed off quickly as nothing more than a plot device.
Because (even if you don’t know it) you almost certainly have friends, colleagues, and family members who identify somewhere along the LGBTQ spectrum. Because people who identify as LGBTQ are still more likely to face harassment and discrimination, even in the US, even in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling. Because LGBTQ children and teens are far more likely to deal with bullying, discrimination, homelessness, and suicide from a lifetime of being told by media that they are not normal and a source of shame.
Because LGBTQ People are All Around
Though accurate numbers are difficult to estimate, a significant portion of the U.S. population is LGBTQ; 4.5% overall, 5.1% of women and 3.9% men. The number who identify as transgender is estimated at 0.6%. In addition, be aware that these percentages are not evenly distributed across states, cities, or countries.
The five “gayest” cities, in rank order by % of population are:
San Francisco, 15.4
Because Others Can’t Be Proud Without Fear
Major advances in equality in have been made recently in Europe, Canada, the US, and India, among other countries. However, in many countries, LGBTQ people face significant danger of jail or even death if their orientation becomes known. Still, people turn out for Pride celebrations despite the danger.
Because Pride Is the Perfect Time to Propose
Because Pride Has All the Best Fashions
There is more LGBTQ literature available than you might think. Wikipedia has a 44-page list. Here are some examples of well-known authors you may not have known are or were LGBTQ.
Sir Francis Bacon
Honré de Balzac
Rita Mae Brown
William S. Burroughs
Daphne du Maurier
Gerard Manley Hopkins
Sara Orne Jewett
W. Somerset Maughm
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Bottom line: This month you can support LGBTQ colleagues by marching, celebrating, or (amid COVID-19) by reading LGBTQ literature.
Everyone reading this blog knows that reading is a good thing (I hope), but just how good is it? Let us count the ways.
1) Activates existing neural pathways in the brain. Complex poetry, in particular, keeps the brain active and elastic. For example, reading 30 pages of a book the night before having an MRI resulted in heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex, associated with language and intelligence.
2) Maintains and improves brain function. Frequently exercising the brain by reading decreases mental decline in the elderly by 32%. Elderly patients who regularly read or play mentally challenging games are 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s. Memory is improved at every age.
3) Reading is good for mental health. Depressed patients who read—or have stories read aloud to them—report feeling better and more positive about things. Research has indicated that reading can reduce stress by around 68%. Making a habit of reading a physical book before bed can improve sleep. (Reading on e-readers or tablets can actually keep people awake longer.)
4) Reading is highly beneficial for children. A children’s book exposes the child to 50% more words than watching a TV show. Children who are exposed to reading before preschool are more likely to do well at all levels and in all facets of formal education. Children who read are better able to grasp abstract concepts, apply logic, recognize cause and effect, and use good judgment.
5) Identifying with characters in books creates an empathic experience for the reader much like real-life. In fact, people who read do exhibit more empathy in real life.
That last bit is the primary point of this blog. As recent events have made abundantly clear, people born straight with white privilege experience the world differently from “others.” And I’m not the only one to make that point.
Writing in The Washington Post (4/24/15) Sunili Govinnage wrote, “I read books by only minority authors for a year. It showed me just how white our reading world is.” Finding books by nonwhite authors wasn’t easy. “Research shows . . . a systemic problem in the literary and publishing world.” (See also my blog from Friday, When You and/or Your Characters Are Not White.)
Campaigns such as We Need Diverse Books, launched in 2014, are making a difference. Annual lists of POC/BAME lists are published by The Guardian, The Telegraph, Bustle, and others. But making something available isn’t enough.
I recently heard a sound bite from a protestor who objected to white protestors being called “allies” because everyone should be just people protesting a common problem. But whatever the label, straight white people who want to work against prejudice (the attitude) and discrimination (the practices) that have unfairly and harmfully impacted minority and LGBTQ people need to understand at a gut level what it’s like to be “other.” They need empathy.
And that’s where reading comes in. Individuals still must make the effort to diversify—one might say “normalize”—their own experience through conscious reading choices. Author Gail Carriger credits Mercedes Lackey’sHeralds of Valdemar books with validating her experiences as child and influencing queer representation in her own books. On her blog, Carriger writes, “Her books were/are important because in them queer wasn’t a big deal. It just was.”
Sadie Trombetta at Bustle Magazine recommended 23 LGBTQ books with a person of color as the protagonist. She writes, “We need to share, read, and talk about diverse stories now more than ever. There is an entire population of the country continually underrepresented or misrepresented, misunderstood, and straight up discriminated against, and we need to hear their voices.”
And it is tough. During the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, in an exchange with a friend from college—i.e., a friend of decades—I said that he (my friend) had the benefits of white male privilege. He claimed I’d insulted him. Even though I elaborated—said that I was not saying he hadn’t worked hard, hadn’t deserved what he earned, etc., only that he hadn’t had to overcome his gender or his skin color to be successful—he hasn’t spoken to me since.
And while we’re at it, let’s go international. The U.S. doesn’t have a lock on racism, discrimination, and oppression. Several times a year, The New Yorker publishes short stories by international authors. Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian posts suggested reading lists of Canadian Black and First nations authors several times a year. These themes can be explored around the world, as shown by the rallies in cities around the world.
As everyone should know by now, given recent events and news coverage, who you are and how you look makes a difference across the spectrum of American life. Writing (and publishing your writing) is no exception. I want to thank Kathleen Corcoran—friend, colleague, and occasional guest blogger—for suggesting this topic. In case you missed the photos on the header of my blog, I should clarify that I am a white woman and thus am relying on outside resources.
Surprise, surprise! (Hear the sarcasm dripping.)
Black Authors Get Fewer and Smaller Advances Than Their White Counterparts
Take a look at the author photos on the shelves of just about any bookstore, and you’re likely to be confronted by an overwhelmingly pale gallery. The science fiction and fantasy shelves tend to be even more monochromatic.
The disparity in pay is one reason Black authors are less likely to be full-time authors. Through the magic of Twitter, people were shown just how wide that disparity is. Here are a few instances from #publishingpaidme, started by Black fantasy author LL McKinney.
White American sci-fi author John Scalzi wrote that to the best of his recollection: he received $6,500 for his first two books in 2005 and 2006, then several five-and six-figure advances before a $3.4m deal for 13 books in 2015.
In comparison, Hugo-winning Black sci-fi novelist NK Jemisin said that she received $40,000 for each book of the Inheritance trilogy, $25,000 for each book of the Dreamblood duology, and $25,000 for each book of the Broken Earth trilogy, each of which won a Hugo award.
Black American literary novelist Jesmyn Ward said that she wrote her second novel, Salvage the Bones, before securing an advance. “Even after it won the [National Book Award], my publishing company did not want to give me 100K for my next novel.”
Black American author Roxane Gay’s opinion: “The discrepancy along racial lines is very real. Keep your day job.”
Possible explanation: according to a survey earlier this year by Lee & Low Books (publishers of children’s books), 76% of workers in U.S. publishing identified as white.
In that podcast Wilkinson noted that in spy novels, from James Bond and John le Carré on, the super spies look very male and very white. So she wrote American Spy featuring a Black woman, Marie Mitchell.
Japanese American author and literary critic David Mura has written extensively about the race, gender, and identity the world of publishing. In his article about changes in the traditional path to publication, Mura identifies another challenge facing Black science fiction and fantasy authors.
The divide between the way whites and people of color see the social reality around them is always there in our society…. Creative writing involves the very description of that reality, and so the gulf between the vision of whites and people of color is very present right there on the page. And so, conflict ensues.
Traditional wisdom held that making a main character a person of color will change the focus of the story. The advice was to substitute some sort of alien for the minority human. These things were actually taught in creative writing classes! Butler maintained that if a writer can see minorities for all their humanity—faults, skills, problems, aspirations—writing minority protagonists won’t derail the plot. Butler’s essay still seems spot-on to me, and I recommend reading it!
[R]emember when men represented all of humanity? Women didn’t care much for it. Still don’t. No great mental leap is required to understand why blacks, why any minority, might not care much for it either. And apart from all that, of course, it doesn’t work.
Ramón Saldívar is a professor of English and comparative literature at Stanford University whose scholarly work is with ethnic literature. Stanford News, January 17, 2017 profiled Saldívar prior to the publication of his book The Racial Imaginary: Speculative Realism and Historical Fantasy in Contemporary Ethnic Fiction.
He studied works by African, Asian, Mexican, Dominican, and Native Americans. All were born after the civil rights movement of the 1960s. His overall conclusion is that these writers find new ways to imagine and talk about race through fiction. “They are combining representations of race and racial identity with the wildest literary experimentations one could imagine.” And this is across all genres.
If you want to read what he’s talking about, here are examples of authors he studied, including several prize winners.
African Americans: Colson Whitehead, Perciival Everett, Touré Neblett, Darieck Scott
Asian Americans: Sesshu Foster, Karen Tei Yamashita
Native Americans: Sherman Alexie
Latinos/Latinas: Marta Acosta, Michele Serros, Yxta Maya Murray, Salvador Plascencia
Dominican American: Junot Diaz
April 17, 2018 The New York TimesMatch Book replied to the following query: “I’m hoping you can save me from the literary doldrums. I’m looking for black authors who can both get me excited about reading again and inspire my own writing.” The writer then gave examples of writing she likes, following with, “I need to know that there is an audience out there for mystery, suspense and science fiction written about black characters by black authors, so I don’t feel like I’m writing in vain.” Here are The New York Times recommendations. If you want descriptions of each, check out the post online.
Bottom Line for Writers: the time is long overdue to break the molds and end systemic bias in publishing.
Why Do So Few Blacks Study Creative Writing?
Always the same, sweet hurt, The understanding that settles in the eyes Sooner or later, at the end of class, In the silence cooling in the room. Sooner or later it comes to this, … And she has to know, if all music Begins equal, why this poem of hers Needed a passport, a glossary…
As writers, we are told to write what we know, but it isn’t possible for anyone to have firsthand knowledge of everything. We turn to secondary sources for an idea of what our characters might have lived through, what they could have seen and felt in situations outside our own experience. Here are some particularly interesting sources relevant to today’s headlines.
Here is a Partial List of Books About Social Protests, Recommended by Goodreads:
Demons, Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1872)
It Can’t Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis (1935)
The Warriors, Sol Yurick (1965)
The Gunslinger, Stephen King (1982)
Smoky Night, Eve Bunting (1994)
Strange Future: Pessimism and the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, Min Young Song (2005)
Pages Stained with Blood, Indira Goswani (2002)
The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America, Barnet Schecter (2005)
Riot, Walter Dean Myers (2009)
Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America, Cameron McWhirter (2011)
The Black Box, Michael Connelly (2012)
Bachelor Buttons, Kathleen L. Maher (2013)
Jordan’s Stormy Banks, Jefferson Bass (2013)
The Harlem Hellfighters, Max Brooks (2014)
Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, Sunil Yapa (2016)
A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919, Claire Hartfield (2017)
The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas (2017)
In Our Mad and Furious City, Guy Gunaratne (2018)
I’m Not Dying With you Tonight, Kimberly Jones (2019)
Jazz Owls: A Novel of the Zoot Suit Riots, Margarita Engle (2019)
Today’s blog entry was written by Kathleen Corcoran, a local harpist, teacher, writer, editor, favorite auntie, turtle lover, and dutiful servant of a fluffy tyrant masquerading as a dog.
By this point, most of us have seen something in our lives change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we understand (at least a bit) why things have changed. Our animal companions just see that the humans’ behaviors are suddenly different.
Despite various quarantine and lockdown orders around the world, animals dependent on humans still need care. Many zoos and animal parks house animals that cannot be released into the wild because they were born in captivity, they are still recovering from injuries, their homes have been destroyed, or other circumstances that prevent them being able to thrive. Animal shelters, zoos, rescue and rehabilitation centers, and emergency veterinarians have adjusted to provide food, socialization, attention, playtime, and everything else to keep their charges happy.
Zoos have closed to the public, but zookeepers are still reporting for work. Some keepers have temporarily moved into the zoos themselves to be closer to their charges and to avoid any chance of carrying any infections into the zoo or home to their families. They’re camping in the cafeterias and staying in veterinary isolation huts.
In Cornwall, England, four keepers at Paradise Park have moved into the original house of the family that owned the property. Other keepers rotate in and out to assist, maintaining a strict schedule so that they are not in the zoo at the same time.
Without visitors around all the time, zookeepers have more freedom to take animals to visit their friends in other areas of the parks.
Because most zoos are making do with skeleton crews, keepers don’t have as much time as they’d like to play with the animals in their care. Many animals have been taking their own tours around zoos to see each other and keep each other entertained. (That doesn’t mean that bunnies have been jumping into the lion pens to say hello.)
The tamer animals have been allowed to wander the parks freely while there are no visitors. Territorial animals like geese have taken over bridges and tried to block keepers from crossing to feed other animals. Many zookeepers report that the more social animals still follow them around during rounds, without any leads or harness.
Some animals have left the zoo altogether and gone to explore the world. Peacocks from the Bronx Zoo took a stroll through Prospect Park.
This cockatoo learned how to sing “Row row row your boat” and loves to sing along with kids who come by her enclosure. Without her backup singers, she has started humming to herself in the quiet. Zookeepers report that they can sometimes hear her start the song by herself but trail off sadly when no one joins in.
Without visitors to interact with, many animals are behaving differently. Keepers try to give each animal extra attention during feeding and rounds, but it’s hard to replace a steady stream of admirers. Some animals miss the interaction and get very excited to see anyone. Other animals feel more comfortable without an audience and venture out of hiding spaces more regularly.
Zookeepers come up with activities to keep animals entertained and socialized. Gorillas who regularly mirror gestures and pose for selfies with visitors are shown videos of people talking to them. Leopards at Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, NY have to “hunt” for food in cardboard tubes to keep teeth and jaws strong.
Polar bear cubs at Ouwehands Zoo Rhenen in Holland didn’t have to worry about public crowds when they left the maternity den for the first time.
Snakes, alligators, stingrays, etc. haven’t shown any sign that they’ve even noticed a change. However, one zookeeper noticed that some types of fish have become very attention-seeking.
Veterinarians at the Dubai Camel Hospital in Abu Dhabi have kept their enclosures open to treat their patients. After surgery, the very large patients need plenty of space and lots of help to get over that first hump in their recovery. (Ha! I crack myself up!)
Most veterinarians are only open for emergency cases to lessen the chances of spreading COVID-19. The CDC has confirmed that two pet cats have tested positive for COVID-19, but both showed mild symptoms and are expected to make a full recovery. Updated guidelines for interacting with cats and dogs have been posted on the CDC website. Although pets cannot become infected, there is a chance that they could spread virus surviving in droplets on their fur or paws.
One of the positive side effects of this awful pandemic has been the emptying of animal shelters. All over the world, people are adopting or fostering quarantine buddies. Shelter managers warn that permanent adoption may not be the best choice for families who will not have the time and resources to continue to care for pets when lockdown restrictions are lifted.
Some shelters are offering to cover food or vet bills for adopted or fostered pets as an incentive. While we’re all stuck inside, what could be better than spending extra quality time with our favorite furry buddies? They must be loving it, too. People home all day!
Mental health experts recommend furry, feathery, or scaly companions to mitigate the feelings of loneliness and depression some people are bound to develop while self-isolating. Pets can also be a huge help to parents trying to keep children entertained while they are out of school and have no place to run off all that energy.
Depending on the intelligence and motivation of the pet you adopt or foster, they may be able to help you complete some of your work at home.
Therapy dogs who can no longer visit patients in hospitals and nursing homes are sharing their affection and calm over video.
Several localities are under extremely strict lockdown measures that residents are only allowed outside for specific errands, such as walking the dog. If walking the dog is the only opportunity you have for going outside, you might as well do it in style.
While the zoos and aquariums are closed and everyone is staying home, take a virtual trip. Many parks and zoos have installed virtual tours and live-feeds of animals. These are a few of my favorites.
A while back, I posted a blog on hair and what it says about a character—or at least what impression it makes on others. So what can we glean from how a person (or character) deals with hair now that beauticians and barbers are deemed “nonessential”?
As best I can tell, there is a big divide in hair care priority between those who are deemed essential in jobs that require working onsite and those who are staying home. The former are under more pressure to keep up appearances. But both groups include essentially three subgroups: those who are happy to let it all flow, those who try to recreate professional techniques on their own, and those who create entirely new styles to fit the situation.
Go With the Flow
Theses people are doing nothing beyond washing and brushing their hair. The result may be tri-color—for example, dark chestnut coming in, the remnants of highlights, and gray in front or at the temples. Such people may resort to caps or scarves. Over time, ponytails, braids, barrettes, bands, and ties come in handy. And think wigs! They can be ordered online.
Some would claim this choice is tougher for a man to carry off, to the extent that many men are simply shaving their heads. Women are less likely to choose this option.
Choosing to do nothing is sometimes characterized as “giving my hair a break” from chemical treatments and elaborate coiffures.
Technically, shaving one’s head might be a form of DIY for people who hadn’t already adopted that look. A close alternative is men who have their spouses or partner’s cut their hair, even if they have never cut hair before. Some women opt for this option as well
Some women are cutting their own hair—definitely easier with some styles than others.
But not all households have the basic equipment—hair scissors, clippers, a mirror that allows a steady view of the back of the head. In such situations, what are the alternatives? Think kitchen shears, pinking shears, nail scissors, and safety razors.
Those who color their hair have denuded the shelves of supermarkets and drug stores of home dye. Professionals strongly recommend against DIY color, saying one may severely damage one’s hair. But, hey, it’s only hair. It’ll grow back, right?
A friend suggested to me that I could color the tips of my hair with red food coloring. She said that my hair is so short, it would be cut off soon. It reminds me that when I was in seventh grade a redheaded friend and I experimented with food coloring. She chose green and I chose blue. We (erroneously) thought it would wash right out. So, no red tips. But blue to match my eyes? Maybe.
And that reminds me: so-called temporary hair color is permanent if you have previously had your hair lightened.
DIY may be exceptionally difficult for Black women. The importance of hair care has resulted in a massive industry, worth $2.5 billion at least, including chemical relaxers, braiding services, hair pieces, and so forth. Women may feel uncomfortable wearing “natural” hair, and many more are unable to create their customary look from home.
These are the people who have decided hair care is essential and therefore defy the stay at home/social distancing injunctions. Either the client goes to the home of her/his hairdresser or the practitioner comes to the home of the client. Both greatly increase the risk of spreading the virus, of course.
I’m not a YouTube fan, but there are a gazillion (by actual count!) options for videos of home hair care. Recently, salon experts have been posting and advising their clients to take a look. Some salons are delivering professional supplies and equipment to their clients’ homes in sanitized packaging. And some practitioners are setting up video chats with clients to talk them through coloring or braiding their own hair.
Bottom line for writers: How a character responds to the hair care crisis is a clear reflection of personality. Use it!
Surely everyone out there is aware of the (apparent) worldwide toilet paper shortage. Although people who claim to know say there is plenty of TP to go around, what shoppers actually see are miles of empty shelves. And there’s no denying that the TP panic has led to weirdness. Lots of weirdness.
Writers note: if anything in this blog is useful for your writing, it’s purely incidental to what I hope is the smile factor. (I won’t be able to reference every individual incident. They’re all over the internet. You can look it up!)
Ingenuity or Desperation
A thief in Eugene, Oregon smashed the entire back window of an SUV to steal two 30-roll cases of TP, along with any miscellaneous valuables within reach. That turns out to be small potatoes. Police in Guilford County recovered a stolen 18-wheeler loaded with over 18,000 pounds of TP.
In Hong Kong thieves held up a supermarket delivery driver and made off with hundreds of rolls. Authorities estimated that the value of the TP was $218 (HK$1700) but could be sold for much more on the black market.
A man in the UK crammed his van so full of scarce paper products that he was over the legal weight limit for his vehicle and had to pay a fine worth more than $370 (GPB 300).
Hoarders and others with a supply have offered TP and other scarce items online at sites like eBay and Facebook Marketplace for extreme prices to such an extent that efforts to curb price-gouging have been put in place. Several customers have had their accounts suspended.
One man jumped ahead of the curve, going to small towns in his area and buying out the TP and hand sanitizer from the shelves of mom-and-pop stores, Dollar Stores, etc., and then offering them online at such excessive prices that he’s been barred and is stuck with a garage full of supplies he cannot sell.
A similar scalper in Australia had his hoard seized by police and donated to local shelters.
Brick and mortar stores have started imposing limits on how many of each item individual shoppers can buy. Once stores moved to control bulk buying—such as limiting the number of packages customers can buy in one day—desperate people took desperate measures. For example, each member of the family going into the store separately to buy the maximum. When Wegman’s limited people to two packages of TP per day, someone bought the TP and then came back ten minutes later wearing a hat and sunglasses and tried to buy more.
Some people are not happy with the limiting of purchases. Near Richmond, VA, a man arrived at the supermarket check-out with a cart full of paper napkins. When told he could buy only two, he yelled, “F**k you!” then upended the cart and walked out.
The situation has gotten so crazy in some parts of Australia that police are having to guard pallets of toilet paper in stores, handing packages to customers one at a time.
Recently, my endodontist’s receptionist told me that they had locked up their supplies of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and other items that had begun to disappear. Public restrooms in gas stations, fast food restaurants, and convenience stores have done the same.
Perhaps they should follow the lead of a convenience store worker in Japan. She hung signs with images of eyes and kanji characters in front of the TP to curse the rolls. The symbols imply that anyone pilfering the TP will be hunted down and eaten by a hungry monster. And the pilfering stopped! Never underestimate the power of superstition.
An Internet cafe in Florida posted the following hand-written note in the bathroom: “Stealing toilet paper at this point in time is not funny. I pray that you do not get the virus— But if you do . . . God was watching!” There was no report of the note’s effectiveness.
Once shelves were denuded of TP, people started stocking up on tissues, paper towels, wipes, and napkins. But flushing such things is likely to screw up the plumbing, septic systems, and sewers. City officials in Ankeny, Iowa tweeted the plea to flush only human waste and TP. The city of West Des Moines posted similar pleas not to flush wipes, paper towels, napkins, diapers, feminine hygiene products, socks, dryer sheets, or facial tissue. Johnston, IA, added toothbrushes and toys to the list!
Iowa isn’t the only place where such warnings are needed. A Tacoma, Washington plumbing company reported an instance of people flushing pieces of T-shirts down the toilet. They routinely give a roll of TP to people who have called them in.
An Arkansas florist turned his pre-COVID-19 stash of TP into “floral bathroom tributes” just $75 (for about 9 rolls). And TP is becoming a welcome wedding gift.
TP has become such a valuable commodity that retailers are rewarding customers with rolls of it. A pizza restaurant in Milwaukee, offered a roll of TP for every large pizza bought. Other large restaurants from coast to coast have started similar TP giveaways. And some establishments accept toilet paper in lieu of money!
An Australian newspaper, NT News, included eight blank pages in the middle of the printed pages to be used as TP, complete with cut lines so customers could get the maximum number of squares.
An LA jewelry store decided to use toilet paper as a marketing ploy, as advertised here.
Arcade owners in the UK and Hong Kong have replaced the usual plush toys in claw game machines with rolls of TP. Other similar vending machines offer hand sanitizer and other personal hygiene products to the prize pool.
No doubt, somewhere out there, someone is standing in the median of a roadway holding a sign that says, “Will Work for Toilet Paper.”
On the Flip Side: Acts of Generosity
In Coral Gables, FL, Church by the Glades announced a day and time for people to pick up free toilet paper.
In Summerville, SC, police issued rolls of TP to drivers in lieu of tickets.
NT News, an Australian newspaper, has begun including extra sheets of blank paper in the centerfold, specifically for use as toilet paper.
Traveling/Keller (an Atlanta-based marketing firm) is one of many companies that are temporarily closed. Having enough TP on hand for 1,000 employees, they decided to give it away. Employees threw rolls of TP through the open windows of cars driving by in their “Toilet Paper Tosses” initiative.
On a smaller scale, many people have been offering a roll or two to friends or family in need, going to the store for those who can’t make it out, or donating hygiene products to local homeless and women’s shelters.
The New Currency
Venezualans have experience using toilet paper and diapers as currency, after skyrocketing inflation. It seems the rest of the world may be catching on.
Alternative Methods of… You Know
There are plenty of other materials with which to maintain your personal hygiene when you don’t feel up to facing the hordes at the stores. Be aware, though: many of these alternatives cannot be flushed. Sewage systems around the world are becoming clogged by “fatbergs” of flushable wipes (that aren’t flushable), paper towels, diaper, sanitary napkins, and all the other alternatives people experimented with.
Do you really need to buy TP right now? Most standard 2-ply, 1000 sheet rolls should last about a week. But for a number tailored to your household, there’s an online calculator for that.
P.S. Police departments around the country are reminding people: Don’t Call 911 If You Run Out Of Toilet Paper. It is not a life-threatening emergency.
What to Do When You Realize You Can’t Return It
Some people have already realized the folly of buying pallets of squished-up trees in preparation for a respiratory illness, but most stores have policies in place refusing returns. Here are some other ideas! (These photos were taken before February 2020.)
By this time, I would bet that nearly everyone on Earth has been touched one way or another by COVID-19. Global pandemics are an unfortunate experience that unites all of humanity. Similarly, medical providers around the world have been called upon to step up, just as they would in any similar event whether historical, fantastic, or science fictional.
Nurse Green treating consumption patients in a New York sanitorium in 1843, Doctor White treating AIDS patients in Zimbabwe in 1997, and Healer Black treating bubonic plague patients in Constantinople in 546 all have the same general goals and similar biological challenges.
Medic Silver treating space plague in patients on the Third Moon of Alpha Centauri is likely to find xirself facing the same situation.
For most of us, all but urgent care medical appointments have been postponed or cancelled. Even urgent care has changed drastically. I recently had an appointment for a root canal in a nearly empty clinic. The receptionist told all patients to wait in their cars until called, and only the dentist, his assistant, one office worker, and I were in the building the entire time I was in the chair. Of course, most of us see these changes from the perspective of the patient. What about the providers?
A chiropractor who has a one-man practice told me that so many patients are canceling (or not making appointments in the first place) that he is worried about what’s happening to his personal income, and whether he can continue to pay his one office worker. My dentist is the head of a small practice (fewer than 50 employees) and he said the same thing: trying to keep the practice open and employees paid when they are seeing only urgent care cases. A dental assistant, recognizing that the practice is vulnerable, worries that she won’t be able to pay the rent.
These people are the tiniest of samples and most would agree they aren’t front-line workers in this pandemic. For that perspective, I am fortunate to have a colleague who lives in a veritable nest of doctors, nurses, medical students, and first responders, and here are things they had to say.
Is this sort of thing what you had in mind when you applied to med school?
Absolutely not. When I went to medical school, I thought I wanted to go into surgery, but I realized that I hated rounding and getting dressed up. As far as the current pandemic, I don’t think anyone envisioned something like this. We haven’t had anything close to this since 1918 with the Great Influenza Pandemic. And in probably every humans’ mind, medical care has advanced so much since then. How could anything like that happen again?
Not at all. I had visions of helping patients overcome their physical or medical disabilities so they could live their lives. Now I am at the frontline of protecting about 100 elderly, disabled patients who were recently hospitalized for other reasons and are now at risk for coming down with COVID-19. We have already diagnosed it in quite a few of our patients. It is likely many of the others also have it but only mild or asymptomatic cases. However, they are still contagious, and we must be extremely careful so we don’t spread it around to other patients, ourselves, and our families.
I always knew working with high-risk patients meant that I would be saying a lot of good-byes, and I thought I was okay with that. I could at least make them feel a little bit better, maybe smile a little. But now I feel like I’m saying that final good-bye every time I leave a patient’s house. Like, will this person even be here the next time I come over?
Pretty much, yeah. I always knew the communities where I wanted to work would be full of infection and contagion, without a lot of medicine or cleaning. But there was always something I could do, yeah? Now there’s no medicine, no vaccine, no ventilators, nothing but me in the same mask I’ve been wearing for a week and trying so hard to convince families that grandmother must stay away from her grandbabies.
Nope. I think a lot of this is media driven. And people fear arguing against safety. But being too safe can have its own trade off and risk other forms of safety.
If we did not want that responsibility, we would not have chosen this career path.
In general, how do you avoid bringing work stress or infections home?
Not bringing infections home is easy. The scrubs I wear for work stay and get laundered at the hospital. I have separate shoes for the hospital which stay in my office. And I use hand sanitizer before I leave the building. We deal with some pretty nasty resistant bugs at work. I don’t need to bring that home to my wife and daughters. I try not to let work get to me. I try to make sure everyone is having fun at work, so it keeps my stress level down. But even with that, it can build up.
It’s been tough, lately. I cry every night. I try not to, but I see so many people sick and nothing I can do. I never let my family see me.
Showers when I get to work and before I leave work. There’s a clean line between my two lives. I don’t bring any of that culture home with me. No stickers or special license plates on my car, just the parking decal.
The key to avoiding bringing infections home is the same as avoiding spreading it at work, always good hygiene and using protective equipment. There really is no difference. And as long as I work as hard as I can and do the best I can, stress is not an issue. Only fatigue, which comes to anybody who works long, hard hours.
Do you prioritize symptoms, patients, contagion, contact, etc. differently now?
It used to be mostly elective or scheduled operations, so we had time to make sure patients are prepped and optimized for surgery ahead of time. On the bus [ambulance], we don’t get to pick and choose our patients. They call us when they are in their worst time. There’s a big difference between a sterile operating room, and the side of the road at 2am. But in the end, a patient is a patient. It’s about the ABCs and then go from there.
Patients have prioritized themselves differently. Nobody will come to the clinic if they can find something else to do. I had a girl come to my house with a broken arm because her parents did not think she should be risk being exposed.
PPE is at a premium. At work, I’m reusing my N-95 masks between patients because otherwise we’d run out. But if I have to intubate a known or suspected COVID patient, we are in full protective gear to include a respirator. We do have new protocols in place for use of PPE on the ambulances when we suspect a COVID patient.
So far we do not have to prioritize anything other than can they leave their room on a closed ward? Should they be cohorted with someone else who also has the virus? Many of our patients have other contagious diseases or infections; we must be careful.
Actually less people are calling 911. Looking at the county stats the call volume has dropped 10-20% over the past month. Generally you can look at a person and tell if they are in distress or not. There used to be a lot of people who called for help when they just wanted a ride. I typically deal with one patient at a time.
What behaviors in the general public infuriate you from a health care view (at any time, not just now)?
I used to get really worked up with people smoking. There is so much data about how bad smoking and drugs are for you, yet young people still start using them. But I realized I can’t change everyone, and it would just cause me undue stress. So I just focus on who I can help in front of me. I also realize people are going to make their own choices, good or bad. All I can do is give them the information and hope they listen to it.
There are so many people who are just forgotten about and so they have no one to help them. They are stuck at home because they are old or no one will talk to them because they are weird or whatever. And then they are sick and no one knows because no one thinks to go and check.
People get a little bit of information and then suddenly they’re the expert and telling everyone else what to do and then people actually do it! Or they follow what the aunties say to do, even if it makes no sense, just because no one wants to upset the aunties. Like, drinking fever tea is not going to cure COVID-19, even if it makes your fever feel a little better.
The only behavior that infuriates me is when I see people carelessly congregating and likely spreading the virus but acting as if it is a joke. It’s infuriating because they are then passing it on to even more possibly highly vulnerable people who have nothing to do with their irresponsible behavior. Otherwise the public’s behavior does not infuriate me. I feel very bad for family members who are not allowed to visit their family members. Must be terrifying being in such a helpless position. When they get obviously upset or even angry, we know it’s understandable.
Passing the liability on to others. “Oh my insurance or doctor said call 911.” And the fact that life is not sunshine and rainbows. Just because you’re not feeling well doesn’t mean you’re going to die.
Have you changed your routines at home or work in the past few months?
I always believed that the immune system is something that needs frequent practice to be strong, and I still do believe that. But with COVID-19, the game has completely changed. I’m now washing my hands much more frequently, or using hand sanitizer whenever I touch something public in the hospital. I wipe my desk, computer, phone, and ID badge down with a sanitizing wipe before I leave work. And I always wash my hands when I walk into my home first thing before I do anything else.
Patients who used to come to me for stomach virus and insulin checks stay far away from the clinic now, especially the pregnant ladies. Now I see only people who are afraid they have coronovirus or that their aunties have coronovirus.
I share a flat with other medics, but I’ve moved back into my parents’ house, where the cellar has a separate washroom and entrance. It’s easier to stay isolated there, even if it’s a longer commute.
In the past two or three weeks our entire day has changed. We do not focus as much on the primary reason the patients are with us, which is to be evaluated and treated for various disabilities. Instead, we are more focused on signs or symptoms suggesting that they may be coming down with the virus. We don’t want to miss them for their sake, and for the increased risk of them spreading it to other patients and staff.
I definitely pray a lot more. I’ll admit it’s a little strange to see His Holiness over video broadcast in an empty room, but it’s very nice to know that I’m not alone to say the Rosary even when I can’t go to Mass here.
Stepped up the disinfecting. And wearing more healthcare protective equipment. We don’t got in nursing homes unless they can’t be brought outside. And we tell people to meet us outside.
I spend more time at each house because a lot of my patients aren’t having any other visitors. All the community outreach stops at the front door now.
Have you seen anything good as a result of the recent insanity?
I try to focus on the good, but it’s so hard when there is so much bad. I guess… traffic is fantastic now. I think everyone is trying to do their part to support local restaurants and businesses. Most people seem to want to do the right thing.
With so many people made to stay at home, I think a lot of families are spending more time together. And everyone seems to be thinking up some way they can help, kids giving birthday money to shelters and medical students doing childcare for health workers.
Communities are recognizing that shop clerks, drivers, cleaners, they’re all absolutely necessary. It’s not just the politicians and rich folk who matter. Where would we be without rubbish clean-up and food delivery?
Difficult times like this often bring out the best that is already in people. The best has been in them all the time, but now they are expressing it and experiencing it more.
People are learning that hospitals are disgusting places and that there are risks in going to them.
Is there anything you wish management, government, media, or whomever would do differently?
All those different entities do so many things wrong, it’s hard to know where to focus. I’ve learned for the most part that there is little that I can affect on a large scale, such as with government or the media. So I tend to not pay attention to either much.
Some countries have been able to mobilize testing of millions of people very rapidly. It would help us to determine who has already had the virus and is very low risk for acquiring it and passing it on, and is therefore fairly safe working on the front lines. They can also get back to work in what is currently called nonessential businesses. Without enough testing, we are fighting this battle blindfolded.
Why do travel companies keep offering cheap tickets?!
The media has been distorting the message. We keep hearing how certain drugs have not been approved for this virus, but really nothing has been approved. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t at least try. About 20% of all medications used have not been approved for the thing doctors are prescribing them for. This is called off label use and we use this approach all the time for many medications. For a governor to ban certain medications because they have not been approved is the same as practicing medicine without a license.
The amount of bad information floating around is so dangerous. I understand that people are scared and no one has all the answers, but I wish people would stop telling things that aren’t true. Washing your mouth with bleach, drinking boiling water, filling your room with smoke… No, don’t do these things.
I wish there was more reliable information available in every language. My neighbours like to assume that, because I speak English, I have all of the answers that are being hoarded by British and American doctors.
It’s become a social and status symbol to say that you’ve been tested or have it. No one cares. Just stay home.
What keeps you up at night?
The one thing that has kept me up at times is when I have a patient that has a complication, whether I contributed to it or not. I tend to “Monday Morning Quarterback” every little thing I did and blame myself even when it’s not my fault.
Nothing currently keeps me up at night. As long as I do my best in my family is okay, I sleep well. It’s been a long time since I’ve been unable to sleep.
I worry about the people no one seems to help – the families who can’t get food, the people stuck behind barricades, the old ones left at home with no neighbors to check on them.
Dead kids tend to make it harder to sleep for a while.
The question we all really want to ask: How do you keep your hands from drying out and cracking when you wash them every twenty seconds?
Make sure you rinse really well. Little bits of soap film, especially in the knuckles or between your fingers, can cause irritation.
Soap and water is so much better than hand sanitizer. The alcohol in hand sanitizer is usually what dries out skin. Plus, soap and water is more effective.