FRIENDSHIPS: HIS AND HERS

Group data reveal that, in general, women’s and men’s friendships are measurably different on all sorts of dimensions. “Like what?” you might ask. Read on.

Notable Differences in Male-Male Friendships and Female-Female Friendships

As listed on PsychCentral

  • Male-male friendships are side-to-side, fostered and maintained through shared activity
  • Female-female friendships are face-to-face, fostered and maintained through intimacy, communication, and support
  • Male-male friendships are less intimate than female-female friendships
  • Male-male friendships are less fragile than female-female friendships
    • E.g., men will consider someone a friend even if they do not maintain or stay in constant contact
  • Emotional attachment: females have and desire a strong emotional attachment with persons they perceive to be a friend
  • Men are more likely to remain friends after an argument or a fight whereas women are not
  • Women require more frequent contact with someone they consider to be a friend
  • Men are more likely to use humor to taunt a friend while viewing this as innocent fun
  • Women are more likely to refrain from taunting and humor out of fear it may hurt their friends’ feelings
  • Men tend to hang out more in a group, the more the merrier, while women typically prefer to go out with one good friend

For a slightly different but compatible take, consider the findings from “Sex differences in friendship preferences,” by Keelah E.G. Williams, Jaimie Arona Krems, Jessica D. Ayers, and Ashley M. Rankin.

“Across three studies (N = 745) with U.S. participants—assessing ideal hypothetical friends, actual friends, and using a paradigm adapted from behavioral economics—we find that men, compared to women, more highly value same-sex friends who are physically formidable, possess high status, possess wealth, and afford access to potential mates. In contrast, women, compared to men, more highly value friends who provide emotional support, intimacy, and useful social information. Findings suggest that the specific friendship qualities men and women preferred differed by sex in ways consistent with a functional account of friendship.”

Abstract of “Sex differences in friendship preferences

And a few miscellaneous bits of info:

  • For both women and men, when disclosing intimate, private, or secret information, they are more likely to tell a woman
  • Men’s best friendships are considerably less close than women’s
  • Women are more likely than men to say they have a best friend (98% vs. 85%)
  • The trait of “outgoingness” was a leading factor that men, but not women, mentioned in choosing a friend
  • Men tend to prefer social interaction in groups, whereas women have a stronger preference for one-to-one interactions
  • Humor was an important characteristic for women’s best-friendships, but not for men’s
  • Neither attractiveness nor athleticism played much of a role in the best-friend choices of either men or women
  • A husband will often say his best friend is his wife; wives usually name another woman
  • Platonic friendships between women and men come with a lot of baggage: suspicion of sexual involvement, jealousy, skepticism, etc.
  • Women say they both like and love their husbands/heterosexual partners; men are more likely to report loving but not liking
    • N.B.: liking and loving are different dimensions, not simply different intensities.  There’s a whole body of psychological research on liking and loving, if you want to pursue that topic.

 BOTTOM LINE: In general, men’s and women’s friendships are significantly different. Whether men’s or women’s friendships are “better” depends on what you (or your character) wants friendship to provide. And, remember, these assertions are based on group data, meaning only group outcomes can be predicted confidently, because individuals differ from the norm.

KILLING ON MY MIND

“Axes, chisels, whetstones and a black stone bracelet from a Neolithic Macedonian settlement at Olynthus, excavated by Mylonas in 1928. Archeological Museum, Thessaloniki, Greece”
Michael Greenhalgh

I can’t help it.  The evening news is full of local drive-by shootings and the massacre happening in Ukraine. I’ve been thinking about killing (not planning it, just considering the varieties of ways and means).

I’ve mentally pursued two paths: the category of killing and the method of killing.

Categories of Killing

Execution: the carrying out of a sentence of death on a condemned person within the confines of a legal system. Over time, many methods have been embraced. For more information, look here, here, or here.

  • Firing squad
  • Hanging
  • Electrocution
  • Lethal injection
  • Drawing and quartering
  • Drowning
  • Burning at the stake
  • Beheading (whether by axe or guillotine)
  • Exposure (on the ice, in the desert sun, adrift at sea)
  • Disembowelment
  • Crucifixion
  • Gibbeting
  • Keelhauling
  • Suffocation

Murder: the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another. The methods are infinitely variable. 

  • Felony murder (in some jurisdictions):
    • Killing someone during the commission of a dangerous or enumerated crime.
    • The killer and also all accomplices or co-conspirators may be found guilty.
    • It doesn’t matter whether the killing was intentional or accidental.

Homicide: the deliberate and unlawful killing of one person by another. The point here is lack of premeditation or planning. Killing in the heat of the moment by whatever means would count. 

  • Justifiable homicide: the killing of a person in circumstances which allow the act to be regarded in law as without criminal guilt.
    • Examples include self-defense, capital punishment, and police shooting.
  • (Note: police shootings are not automatically judged  justifiable.)

Manslaughter: the crime of killing a human being without malice aforethought, or otherwise in circumstances not amounting to murder.  

  • Involuntary manslaughter: the person who commits the crime had no intention of causing or even expecting the possibility of death.

NOTE NOTE NOTE NOTE NOTE NOTE NOTE

Different jurisdictions define these categories of killing differently, and some times interchangeably. If you want to be precise, know your local laws.

Euthanasia (a.k.a. mercy killing): the painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease or an irreversible coma.  Note: the practice is illegal in most countries.

Ritual sacrifice: offering something to a deity in propitiation or homage, especially the ritual slaughter of an animal or person.

Suicide: death caused by injuring oneself with the intent to die. 

Assassination: 

  • In law: any murder committed by an assassin, understood to be committed for money, without any provocation resentment given by the person against whom the crime is directed.
  • In dictionary.com: to kill suddenly or secretively, especially a prominent person; premeditated.

Wartime Killing

War: a state of arms conflict between different nations, states, or different groups within a nation or state.

Soldiers killing soldiers during a war between nations or states are generally considered justified and legal; incidental killing of civilians are generally considered collateral damage, regrettable but not subject to punishment.

Not all wartime killing is internationally acceptable.

The Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907) and Geneva Conventions (1864, 1949 [pt 1, 2, 3, and 4], and 1977 [protocol 1 and 2] and 2005) focus on the protection of people not or no longer taking part in hostilities.  There is no single document in international law that codifies all war crimes. However, lists of war crime can be found in both international humanitarian law and international criminal law treaties, as well as international customary law.

  • War crimes (for a more complete list, see the United Nations, and the International Red Cross, and Wikipedia):
    • Intentionally killing civilians
    • Intentionally killing prisoners of war
    • Torture
    • Taking hostages
    • Unnecessary destruction of civilian property, often with the aim of causing starvation or death by exposure
    • Deception by perfidy
    • Wartime sexual violence
    • Pillaging
    • Use of chemical or biological weapons
    • Conscription of children into the military
    • Granting no quarter despite surrender
    • Flouting the legal distinctions of proportionality and military necessity  
  • Crimes against humanity:
    • Specific cries committed in the context of a large-scale attack targeting civilians, regardless of their nationality.
    • E.g., murder, torture, sexual violence, enslavement, persecution, enforced disappearance, etc.
    • Chemical, biological, and radioactive weapons are often considered specifically crimes against humanity in addition to being war crimes.
  • Genocide/ethnic cleansing:
    • The deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group.
    • Forced sterilization and sexual violence may be included here the aim is to disrupt or preemptively remove future generations.

War between groups within a nation or state = gang war: a “small” war between two (or more) groups feuding over territory or vendetta, not generally related to international legal standing.

  • Characterized by sanctioned and unsanctioned killing
  • Gun violence
  • Street violence
  • Joining a gang may be involuntary
  • Leaving a gang—and surviving—may be next to impossible
  • All gang activity is illegal in the US, although being a gang member per se isn’t

Methods of Killing 

There are far too many to list, but here are a few methods to think about.

  • No weapon (strangulation, broken neck or back, beaten to death with fists, thrown off a cliff, etc.)
  • Weapon of convenience (for example, branch, bookend, poker, scissors, axe—anything found at the scene)
  • Physical weapon brought to the scene (for example, cutting implement, gun, garrote, automobile, whatever)
  • Animal weapon (for example, dog, venomous snakes or insects, predatory animals such as bears, big cats, trampling by elephants or horses)
  • “Soft” weapon such as poison, gas, or medication overdose


Bottom Line: Killing is everywhere and always has been. Think about it! When—if ever—and under what—if any—circumstances would a character think/feel that killing could be acceptable. 

THE DOWNSIDE OF SELF-CONCEPT

Despite being a legendary harpist, ruler, and monarch, King David said, “But I am merely a worm, far less than human, and I am hated and rejected by people everywhere.” ~Psalm 22:6
Chu Wanning of Er Ha He Ta De Bai Mao Shi Zun is a visual illustration of the power of self-concept. When he appears in other’s flashbacks, Chu Wanning is an extremely handsome young man. When he is the narrator, Chu Wanning is an old, ugly, weak man.

Self-concept is how people perceive their behaviors, abilities, and unique characteristics.  For example, beliefs such as “I am a good friend” or “I am a kind person” are part of an overall (positive) self-concept. These perceptions of oneself are important because they affect motivations, attitudes, and behaviors.  Self-concept also impacts how people feel about who they think they are, including perceived competence and self-worth.

Low self-worth is having a generally negative overall opinion of oneself, judging (or evaluating) oneself critically, and placing a generally negative value on oneself as a person.


Self-esteem is a similar concept to self-worth but with a small (although important) difference: self-esteem is what we think, feel, and believe about ourselves, while self-worth is the more global recognition that we are valuable human beings worthy of love (Hibbert, 2013). People with low self-confidence tend to have low self-esteem and vice versa.

Abraham Lincoln’s “melancholia” is likely to have been influenced by a negative self-concept.
“Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. Whether it be true or not, I can say for one that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem.”

Some of the most common characteristics of low self-esteem—of which there are many—also appear in those with low self-worth:

  • Depression/sadness
  • Anxieties
  • Low mood
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Extreme focus on clothing, makeup, grooming, etc., because of a belief that self worth comes from exterior appearance
  • Poor confidence
  • Feeling like a burden to other people
  • Criticize their appearance and personality regularly in their head and out loud
  • Feeling a lack of control in life
  • Negative social comparison
  • Negative self-talk
  • Worry and self-doubt
  • Not trying things out of fear of failure
  • Neglect of their own needs, particularly emotional ones
  • Guilt over self-care
    • (E.g., you feel guilty buying things because you feel you don’t deserve them.)
Esther Summerson, in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, has been described as both an ideal of Victorian womanhood and a personification of low self-esteem.
(Illustration by Hablot Browne)

Some of these characteristics have an obvious effect on how a person interacts with others.

  • Avoiding social situations
  • Trouble accepting positive feedback
  • Afraid to talk in a conversation, and belief that no one listens when they do
  • Sensitive to any criticism and obsessing about it for weeks if not months
  • Apologize when other people bump into them
  • Problems asking for what they need
  • Fear of leaving the house to avoid anything out of their comfort zone
  • Questioning how a romantic partner could possibly love them
  • Always needing everyone’s agreement
  • Needing constant validation from others
  • Constantly comparing themselves to other people
  • Treating Feel other people are more important
  • Belief that other people don’t actually enjoy your company and are just being polite
Avatar Korra masks her low self-esteem by being impulsive and impatient. This leads to anger, depression, isolation, physical impairment, and nearly destroying the world.

Some of these characteristics may affect how a person interacts with others in less obvious ways.

  • Frequent anger and irritability
  • Difficulty making decisions because of worry about making the wrong one
  • Needing to be perfect 100% of the time
  • Over-achieving in general
  • Overly accepting or not accepting flaws in others
  • Tendency to criticize other people to make oneself feel better
  • Jealousy of other peoples accomplishments, instead of being happy for them
  • Shifting blame to others because they think it is unacceptable to make the slightest mistake

How Did This Happen? 

Even after becoming a mother, a senior witch, and Queen of Lancre, Magrat Garlick (left) remained in the shadows of the elder witches in her coven.
“She seemed to have spent her whole life trying to make herself small, trying to be polite, apologizing when people walked over her, trying to be good-mannered. And what had happened? People had treated her as if she was small and polite and good-mannered.” (Lords and Ladies by Sir Terry Pratchett)

Causes of low self-esteem can include:

  • Disapproval from authority figures or parents
  • Emotionally distant parents
  • Sexual, physical, or emotional abuse
  • Contentious divorce between parents
  • Bullying with no parent protection
  • Academic difficulties
  • Guilt associated with religion
  • Social beauty standards
  • Unrealistic goal setting

Does It Have To Be This Way? 

If these sound all too familiar to you personally, don’t panic!  You can retrain your brain and start to replace all the negative things you told yourself with positive things.

Several ways in which one can improve self-esteem:

In one of the most dramatic depictions of negative self-concept, George Bailey (It’s a Wonderful Life) so firmly believes that he is “worth more dead than alive” that he considers suicide.
  • Identify and challenge negative beliefs
  • Identify the positive about oneself
  • Build positive relationships—and avoid negative ones
  • Give yourself a break
  • Become more assertive and learn to say no
  • Improve physical health
  • Take on challenges

Low self esteem can lead to anger, depression and anxiety, and generally a miserable life. Therefore, it’s important it is to work on it—and to keep working on it. If you have never worked on your self esteem before, positive affirmations for confidence are a good place to start.

Bottom line: You can identify low self-worth (in yourself and/or others) and portray it in your characters without an explicit label.

TWO POWERFUL HUMAN MOTIVES

Of course, humans are driven by a lot more than two motivations. Various levels of deprivation (of all sorts of needs, such as food, shelter, sleep, sexual release, and much more) can motivate behavior in specific situations. Those are not the focus of this blog. Instead, I’m focusing on two powerful motives that tend to shape behavior across numerous situations and often whole lifetimes. 

I’m talking about the need for achievement and the fear of failure.

In the simplest terms (according to me) the difference is striving to be the best versus trying to be good enough.

Need for Achievement

Nadia Nadim, possibly the human embodiment of n-Ach

Need for achievement is the desire to obtain excellent results by setting high standards and striving to accomplish them. It is a consistent concern with doing things better.

According to the American Psychological Association,  the definition of need for achievement (n-Ach) is a strong desire to accomplish goals and attain a high standard of performance and personal fulfillment.  The need for achievement was proposed by Henry Alexander Murray and investigated extensively by David McClelland.

People with high need for achievement often undertake tasks in which there is a high probability of success and avoid tasks that are either too easy (because of lack of challenge) or too difficult (because of fear of failure). 

An example of the latter would be a 5-ft-tall basketball player with poor leaping ability, ball handling abilities, and passing skills. Such a person high in n-Ach is unlikely to try out for the team!

Recognizing Accomplishment

Even “minor” accomplishments deserve to be recognized and celebrated.

Studies have shown that feeling a sense of accomplishment is an important element in students developing positive wellbeing over time.

Research also shows that people with a strong sense of purpose, persistence, and accomplishment perform better at work.

Because one tennis ball is simply not enough

People high in need for achievement present as ambitious, driven, successful … and insecure. The need for achievement drives behavior in school, work settings, even recreational activities. In case it isn’t obvious, this trait can cause problems:

  • Driven to achieve the task—any and every task
  • Fails to differentiate “urgent” from merely “important”
  • Has difficulty delegating
  • Struggles with producer-to-supervisor transition when promoted
  • Obsesses about getting the job done at all costs
  • Craves feedback

No doubt about it, people high in n-Ach put themselves under a lot of pressure. At first glance, it might seem that such people should relax, take it easy, and be happy doing well enough. 

Fearing failure in a particular endeavor is experienced by most people,  including high n-Ach people, sometimes. Think a new situation or task, or one that’s just being learned. Think public performances. There are times when just not humiliating oneself is success.

Fear of Failure

This is why restaurants deliver.

But the fear of failure, more generally, is an irrational and persistent fear of failing

(FYI, irrational and extreme fear of failing or facing uncertainty is a phobia known as atychiphobia.) 

Sometimes fearing failure might be triggered in only one specific situation/task. Sometimes it’s more generalized. And sometimes it’s related to another mental health condition such as anxiety or depression.

In any case, the fear of failure varies in level of severity from mild to extreme. Here are a few ways it’s commonly exhibited:

  • A sense of hopelessness about the future
  • Chronic (versus occasional or limited) worry
  • Worry about what other people will  think about you if you fail or don’t do well
  • Frequent procrastination
  • High distractibility, being pulled off task by irrelevant or unimportant things
  • Avoiding tasks or people associated with a project or general goal
  • Physical symptoms (fatigue, headaches, digestive troubles, joint or muscle pain) that prevent working toward a goal
  • Believing that you don’t have the skills or knowledge to achieve something
  • Feeling like you won’t be able to achieve your goals
  • Procrastinating to the point that it affects your performance or ability to finish on time
  • Telling people that you will probably fail so that expectations remain low
  • Underestimating your own abilities to avoid feeling let down
  • Worrying that imperfections or shortcomings will make other people think less of you
  • Failing makes you worry about your ability to pursue the future you desire
  • Failing makes you worry that people will lose interest in you
  • Failing makes you worry about how smart or capable you are
  • Failing makes you worry about disappointing people whose opinions you value (especially family/friends)
  • You tend to tell people beforehand that you don’t expect to succeed in order to lower their expectations
  • Once you fail at something, you have trouble imagining what you could have done differently to succeed
  • You often get last-minute headaches, stomach aches, or other physical symptoms that prevent you from completing your preparation
  • You often get distracted by tasks that prevent you from completing your preparation which, in hindsight, were not as urgent as they seemed at the time
  • You tend to procrastinate and “run out of time” to complete your preparation adequately, as a way of protecting your belief in your ability to have done it
Social Media can illuminate and exacerbate both the need for achievement and the fear of failure.
Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and Bored Panda (just to name a few)

Bottom line: Two people may exhibit the same behavior, even turn in the same objective performance, but their reasons for doing so can vary dramatically.

BOTH SIDES OF INERTIA

What happens when the unstoppable force of Kathrine Switzer meets the (apparently) immoveable object of the 1967 Boston Marathon officials and centuries of sports misogyny? Kathrine Switzer completes the Boston Marathon, the first woman to do so as a registered participant.

Check a thesaurus for words related to inertia. You’ll find plenty of alternatives, from attitude to Newtonian physics. 

  • Apathy
  • Indolence
  • Idleness
  • Languor
  • Lassitude
  • Laziness
  • Lethargy
  • Listlessness
  • Oscitancy
  • Passivity
  • Sloth
  • Deadness
  • Dullness
  • Immobility
  • Immobilization
  • Inactivity
  • Paralysis
  • Sluggishness
  • Stillness
  • Stupor
  • Torpidity
  • Torpor
  • Unresponsiveness

Indeed, the first dictionary definition (n) is a tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged. 

If you ask a physicist (or any one in a beginning physics class) you get a less one-sided view:

Inertia noun

In life in general, including one’s writing life, the remaining-at-rest side of inertia is typically a hurdle to overcome. In its simplest form, the longer one goes without writing (or scheduling a doctor’s appointment, sending condolences, making an apology, weeding the garden, etc.) the more effort it takes to make it happen. 

Newtonian and social inertia at work:
Despite all the anatomical evidence available, crash test dummies used in car safety tests are modeled on an average male body from 1976. That might be why female drivers are 73% more likely to be seriously or fatally injured in a car accident.

Procrastination is a bear of not getting off the mark.  Researchers suggest that it takes approximately 18 to 250 days to train yourself to a new habit. The first 21 days are said to be the most difficult, especially for a physical habit (regular exercise, quitting smoking, etc.).

This holds true for habits of thought, too. It’s a little more difficult to get precise numbers in this area, but studies show that you can train yourself to meditate, think positively, stop apologizing to everyone, even improve your memory. The brain, like the body, wants to remain at rest.

For humans, the continuing movement side of inertia, it seems to me, is both rarer and more beneficial. I think of it as being on a roll

If you are on a roll, you may be having a run of good luck. (This expression, which alludes to success rolling dice, dates from the second half of the 1900s.)  Enjoy it while it lasts, but the nature of luck is that it’s beyond one’s control.

Inertia, as explained by Bill Waterson

Alternatively, being on a roll can mean enjoying a success that seems likely to continue. Continuing in the same habits will likely lead to a series of successes. This is true of everything from an athletic success to the first book in a popular series.

Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, Marquise du Châtelet, a French physicist whose postulate for energy conservation in inertia I don’t even pretend to understand.

Being on a roll also means a period of intense activity. This building momentum side of inertia comes to the fore when meeting deadlines, whether work or social (like Halloween preparations).

The outside force part of the physicist’s law of inertia is where a writer’s free will comes into play. There are all sorts of things you can do to overcome inertia in your life. Identify and remove triggers for a behavior you want to change. Set reminders on a timer or a note taped to your wall.

Those outside forces can be the basis for a character’s motivation in your writing as well. Perhaps an overheard comment sparks a character’s curiosity to begin a massive research survey. Perhaps a health scare inspires a character to change jobs and move to the opposite side of the globe. Perhaps new of impending alien invasion encourages an entire planet to move all habitations below ground.

BOTTOM LINE: If you understand both sides of inertia, you can make it work for you!

In honor of International Women’s Day (March 8th), check for biases in your life, in your thought patterns, even in your writing. At its core, bias is often just mental inertia.

SNACKING: WHY AND WHERE

WHO? 

Nearly everyone in the U.S.

Over 70% of surveyed Americans said they snack.

WHAT?

Food that isn’t part of a regular meal, usually a small amount.

In fact, dictionary definitions specify a small amount. However, eating more than a quart of ice cream can be a snack without being small. (For some of the most popular snack foods, see last week’s blog.)

WHEN?

Any time, day or night. Or habitually, the same time every day and/or every night

WHERE?

Anywhere possible!

  • Wherever you watch TV
  • Reading chair
  • Bed
  • Boat
  • Car
  • Bar
  • At sports events
  • On fishing trips
  • Hiking
  • Pillow fort
  • Treehouse
  • In front of the refrigerator
  • While driving
  • Backstage
  • Grandma’s house
  • In class (not recommended)
  • Hospital waiting room
  • Swimming
  • Camping
  • Wakes
  • Wedding receptions
  • Card parties
  • Cocktail parties
  • Retirement parties
  • Birthday parties
  • Graduation parties
  • Virtually any kind of party

WHY?

Duh! Who needs a reason? But let me list a few.

  • Too hungry to wait for a meal
  • Too busy to stop for a meal
  • Too tired to cook a meal
  • Need to gain weight
  • Need to lose weight
  • To maintain blood sugar levels
  • To explore when traveling
  • It’s a favorite food, so it’s the pleasure principle
  • It’s right there
    • When you see it, you eat it, the convenience factor
  • To be polite when someone offers food 
    • In many cultures, it is considered rude to refuse an offer of food, particularly from a host
  • You’re drinking
    • Well established that people snack more with alcohol
  • You always eat leftovers
    • The waste-not principle
  • You need an energy boost
  • You feel like celebrating
  • You’re feeling down or depressed
  • You want to reward yourself
  • It’s a habit
    • You always have a bite to eat at a particular time
  • Other people are snacking
    • Psychology has documented that people who’ve stopped snacking when alone in a room start eating again when someone else comes in and starts eating

Bottom line: Snacking is ubiquitous. What can we learn about ourselves and/or our characters based on what, when, where, and why we snack?

SNACKS AND SNACKING IN AMERICA

While filming The Avengers (2012), Robert Downey Jr routinely hid food around the set so he could snack between takes. When he offered to share with his co-stars, the director let the camera keep filming. And so we end up with Iron Man offering Captain America and Hulk some of his blueberries.
Some people (particularly those who keep outgrowing their sneakers) snack on anything that stays still long enough.

February is National Snack Food Month. It was started in 1989 to “to increase consumption and build awareness of snacks during a month when snack food consumption was traditionally low” according to the Fooducate wellness community. February 15th is a particularly good day to stock up on chocolate!

According to Oxford Languages, a snack is a small amount of food eaten between meals. Snacks often differ from main meals in what they contain, portion size, consumption time, and place as well as why they`re eaten 
So, theoretically, it can be anything.  But certain foods are more likely to be chosen than others. My personal observations—totally not scientific—is that people tend to be primarily salty snackers OR sweet snackers.

Salty or Sweet?


You can find favorite junk food by state, but these are the nation’s most popular snacks, as measured by consumer opinion.

  • Jif.  (peanut butter)
  • Oreos. 
  • Lay’s.  
  • Pringles. 
  • Fritos. 
  • Snickers. 
  • Tostitos.
  • Cheetos.

And sometimes, one is not enough: according to a OnePoll survey of 2000 snackers, 60%  said snacks taste better when they’re paired together.

Celery salt and Worcestershire sauce?
  1. Cookies and cream                         39 percent
  2. Chocolate and nuts                         37 percent
  3. Popcorn and chocolate                   35 percent
  4. Chocolate and marshmallow          34 percent
  5. Chocolate and fruit                         33 percent
  6. Peanut butter and jelly                   32 percent
  7. Peanut butter and apples               30 percent
  8. Cheese and crackers                       27 percent
  9. Chips and salsa                                26 percent
  10. Chocolate and peanut butter         26 percent

Modern Snack Trends

Little Women is modern, right?


According to an article by Bridget Goldschmidt (progressivegrocer.com), Americans are snacking between meals more than ever, and eating snack foods with meals grew by 5% over the ten-year period from 2010 to 2020. She cited several conclusions.

Some people bake the cookies before eating them.
  • NPD (a national research group) also found that snacking follows a daily pattern in most U.S. households: better-for-you snacks such as fruit or yogurt are eaten in the morning; snacks like potato chips or tortilla chips are likely eaten at lunch; and sweeter snacks like chocolate candy and cookies in the evening. 
  • What drives snacking?
    • Taste
    • Satiety (how full the eater is)
    • Preferences 
    • How easy a food is to eat 
    • Time of day (health-driven motivation gives way to satiety as the day goes on)
  • The COVID-19 pandemic ramped up snacking. (How surprising is that? Not.) The NPD study cited in the article found that having enough snack foods available during the pandemic is important to 37% of consumers. These consumers’ homes are well stocked with salty snacks and frozen sweets more than other items. 
  • In many cases, the more snack food packages in the home, the more often the item is eaten, which tends to be particularly true of certain kinds of snack foods, such as salty snacks.
Wonder Woman takes her snacking seriously.
Kebabs are wonderful!

According to the survey of 2,000 American snackers mentioned above: 

  • 71 percent of all those surveyed consider themselves “snackers”
  • 66 percent said snacking brings them great joy
  • 67 percent said snacking is one of their favorite forms of stress relief
    • (No wonder snacking is up during the pandemic!)

Snacks? What Snacks?

Conan the Barbarian always steals Princess Yasimina’s snacks, but at least he shares.

48 percent of surveyed Americans have stashed their favorite treats in hidden spots around the house (often with no plans to share!).

Doctor McCoy tries to hide his snacks, but Vulcans are notorious snack sleuths.
  • 46 percent of those who had hidden snacks said they simply “don’t want to share” 
  • 53 percent said the people they live with would “eat them all” if they knew where to look

Of respondents who have ever hidden snacks, 69 percent said they’re currently doing so!

  • 72 percent said their snack stash has been discovered by someone else
  • The average person has moved a snack stash four times to try to keep it a secret.
  • 71 percent of the time partners and kids were the finders of respondents’ “snackpiles”
  • Only 6 percent of respondents have never been caught
Does time travel for fries count as a hiding place?

A few creative snack hiding places:

  • Behind the washing machine
  • Inside oatmeal containers
  • Behind books on a bookshelf
  • In the freezer, behind the broccoli
  • Under yarn piles in a knitting basket
  • On a top shelf, out of sight
  • Among cleaning supplies
  • At the bottom of the diaper bag
  • Taped to the underside of the fish tank lid
  • Behind the butter churn
  • Suspended from the ceiling, above the ceiling fan
  • In the wall, behind the vents or outlet covers


And the average respondent believes they could survive almost FIVE full months on their stockpile of snacks alone. 

Really? I’d be pressed to live 5 months on my pantry, 2 refrigerators, and a freezer! Surely that was 5 full months of snacks. 


BOTTOM LINE: In the U.S., you now know the what of snacking, and a bit of the when.

STAY TUNED: Next week I’ll delve into where and why!

SELF-IMPOSED “RULES”

Some people see external rules as a challenge!

I don’t mean rules like fastening seatbelts, which are self-regulated laws. I mean personal rules of conduct. 

Many rules” somehow become engrained in one’s thinking/behavior, but are actually totally personal.  

So where do self-imposed rules come from? 

We notice what behaviors bring love and affection, and which result in punishment or rejection. Over time, we develop “rules” to maximize rewards and minimize punishments.

Does open air trumpeting ever bring love and affection?

(For an extended example of this, visit bbekercoaching.com and learn about  the personal rule “Don’t Be A Sourpuss.”)

Some self-imposed rules are consciously adopted. 

For example:

  • No more than three pieces of chocolate at a time.  
  • Walk 10,000 steps a day.  
  • No alcohol before 5:00PM.
  • At least one page of writing a day.
  • Talk with family at least once a week.
  • Never let them see you cry. 

Many of us have internalized rules that could be voiced but seldom are.

The first time I was alone with my future father-in-law (a retired English professor and college dean), he said, “Tell me, what were the guiding principles by which you were reared?”

First I gasped. Then I paused. Then I said, “Your word is your bond. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. Finish what you start. If you don’t try, you can’t succeed.  If at first you don’t succeed, try again. If you don’t succeed, at least you’ll know you gave it your best shot. Don’t threaten if you won’t or can’t follow through. Always be there for family. And, of course, The Golden Rule.”  

Upon reflection, I realize that I’ve lived my life by those rules, even when I didn’t consciously call them to mind.

Virtually everyone has comparable rules, developed through childhood, plus rules about  bedtime rituals, morning routines, getting dressed, etc. These are rules we follow because we’ve decided they are good for us. 

Please note: sometimes what we think is a good rule might not be.

  • For example, Don’t argue in front of the children lest they be warped.

But how will they learn to disagree productively? Will they be gobsmacked when their parents announce that they are getting a divorce?

Many such rules are about what not to do. 

Many rules relate to clothes, where unwritten rules/expectations demand dressing a certain way for work, but on weekends are pretty much irrelevant. Even so, one usually stays within the bounds of what one should wear as a person of a given age and gender. Why not wear hats or jewelry around the house?

Similarly, certain hobbies or activities may be passed over because one is of a certain age, or not the right ‘type’ of person for that. Think paintball, rollerskating, singing while walking around outside, learning to play a harmonica…  

And then there are things one does not do simply because, somehow, it isn’t “right.” Think running the dishwasher when it’s only half full. Or leaving dirty dishes overnight. Sleeping in the same clothes worn all day, no matter how comfortable.

Never telling a lie is a rule for some people—and not easy to abide by.

Many self-imposed rules compel us to do things for no objective reason. 

For example, these rules might compel us to put up and take down holiday decorations at particular times, in a particular order. Many people have rules around pet care and household chores.

  • Rule:
    • Always load the dishwasher or dish drainer the same way.
    • Always sort the laundry by color
      • Or fabric
      • Or wash temperature
      • Or not at all
      • Or depending on what one thinks works

And speaking of clothes: change socks and underwear every day. And clothes appropriate to the occasion: says who?

Even in this day and age, some people send only hand-written notes of thanks or condolence, and only send them by U.S. mail.

At this point, you might be thinking, “But there are reasons! That’s the best way!” By what standard?  Much of this happens on a non-conscious level, until challenged—or until the pattern is disrupted. 

Always wear a helmet when riding a bicycle.
  • What about making the bed every day?
  • Or changing the towels once a week?
  • Always making the toilet paper unroll over the top of the roll rather than from under?
  • Hold the door for others?
  • Say “please” and “thank-you.”

All of these and more are “rules” for some people. In other cultures or times, any one of these could be impractical, irrelevant, or downright offensive.

The upside of self-imposed rules: they simplify your life and increase productivity.

  • Living by the rules is efficient.
    • One doesn’t have spend time/energy making the same decision repeatedly.
  • Rules provide predictability.
  • Things done repeatedly require less effort.
  • Rules provide clarity about behavior. 
  • Rules provide security, the knowledge that one is “doing it right.”
  • Rules reduce anxiety.
  • Rules help make sense of the world.

The down-side of self-imposed rules: breaking them has consequences. 

Breaking rules is uncomfortable—and the extent of the discomfort reflects the importance of the rule.

Not keeping (or being able to keep) self-imposed rules can reflect on one’s feelings of self-worth and discipline.

On the other hand, sometimes keeping the rule(s) causes more trouble/damage than benefit.  Sometimes keeping rules induces anxiety.  Some researchers (e.g., see psych diary.com) suggest that perfectionists have more rules and adhere to them more closely. I’d suggest that the effort to comply with one’s rules can be stressful beyond the apparent importance of the behavior.

People differ in the number of self-imposed rules they have and their adherence to them. In the extreme, one might suffer from Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder. Think of Adrian Monk, “the defective detective” whose compulsions keep him from living anything like an ordinary life.

(N.B.: related to but different from phobias.)

Getting over self-imposed rules. 

When rules become stressful, and/or interfere with living happily, something’s gotta give.  Maybe someone people just realize they were unconsciously restricting themselves in certain ways, and choose to change the pattern.  

Some of these rules are relatively easy to recognize and break, but others are much more elusive and potentially insidious.

Ultimately, the person must consciously break a rule and realize that no one exploded, small children did not die, and (probably) s/he didn’t even get negative feedback. Indeed, people close to/living with the rule keeper may express relief, approval, and/or appreciation!

BOTTOM LINE: Consider your own self-imposed rules and (if you’re a writer) those of your characters. Consider bringing the non-conscious to awareness.

BETTER KNOW YOUR CHARACTER: GRIEF

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

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

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

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

How Would Your Character(s) Grieve?

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

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

Models with seven stages include the following three after depression:

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

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

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

Expressions of Grief Reflect One’s Personality

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

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

TATTOOS: CONVICTS AND STREET GANGS

Japanese Yakuza

If you aren’t in a prison or a gang, who cares? More people than you might imagine! Think self-preservation and decision making—not to mention writing realistically.

  • Prison employees
  • Parole officers
  • Social workers
  • Police officers
  • Medical providers
  • Those new to the neighborhood/prison
  • Border patrol
  • Anyone living or travelling in Eastern Europe or Russia

Indeed, an extensive list of tattoos, with pictures and meanings, has been produced for the Canadian Border Patrol. It’s available online at publicintelligence.net (search tattoos and their meanings).

Another good source is corrections1.com.  

There is an abundance of on-line information about the meaning of prison tattoos, and it’s generally consistent. But keep in mind, there are varied meanings, and context is important.  One example here would be playing cards, typically found on the knuckles. In Russian prisons, the suit chosen have meanings. In other settings, this type of tattoo may indicate someone who likes to gamble, or who sees life as a gamble. (See below.)

The Nature of Prison Tattoos

Overall, prison tattoos tend to look dark and crude. Inmates tattoo each other using whatever equipment they can gather, such as staples, ballpoint pens, paper-clips, improvised needles, molten rubber, styrofoam, etc. 

Sometimes the “artist” will draw a picture on a wooden plank, place needles along the lines of the design, cover the needles with ink and stamp the whole tableau on the prisoner’s body. Another method is to slice the image onto the skin with a razor and daub the cut with indelible ink. When prisoners manage to get an electric shaver and a syringe with a needle, they can jury-rig a tattooing machine.

One of the least horrific photos I could find of an infected tattoo

Ink is hard to come by, so for dye, they can use pen ink. Also, they  can burn the heel of a shoe, and mix the ash with the prisoner’s urine – a practice superstitiously believed to reduce the chance of infection. Research has revealed a connection between tattoos and high rates of hepatitis C among prisoners.

Tattooing is typically slow and nearly always painful.  Conditions are inevitably far from sterile, so infections and complications are common.  Suffice it to say that what prison tattoos convey is important to the wearer.

Not All Tattoos are Voluntary

The most famous instance would be during the Holocaust when concentration camp inmates were tattooed with an identification number. Also see the section on gender below. Any tattoo that stigmatizes a prisoner, or invites abuse by other inmates, is likely to have been applied involuntarily.

White Supremacist Gang Tattoos 
  • KKK
  • Neo-Nazism
  • Arian Brotherhood (AB)
  • Family Affiliated Irish Mafia (FAIM)
  • Sacramaniac
  • Number tattoos
  • General white supremacist symbols
    • For example 1488 (or 14 or 88) found anywhere on the body identifies white supremacists/Nazi inmates.  There are a variety of tattoos associated with the Arian Brotherhood, important to identify, for they make up 1% of the prison population but commit 20% of inmate murders.
  • FAIM members sometimes wear a shamrock as well, signifying affiliation with the AB—but this is only allowed with permission of the AB
Russian Prison Tattoos

In the Soviet Union, particularly during Joseph Stalin’s time, non-political prisoners (thieves, murderers, arsonists, etc.) in the Gulag system were often given preferential treatment by prison guards. Tattoos told the guards as well as other prisoners how to treat a prisoner, including what labor assignments they got and whether to assign prisoners as enforcers. Eventually, non-political prisoners gained so much power within the Gulags that the Vor v Zakony (Thieves in Law) essentially ran many of the prison camps. Today, the Vory is one of the most powerful mafia organizations in the world. In many areas within the former Soviet Union, anyone with visible tattoos is assumed to be affiliated with the Vory or pretending to be.

  • Star
  • Manacles
  • Epaulette
  • Birds on horizon
  • Barbed wire
  • Symbol of the cross
  • Crowns and rings
  • Scarab beetle
  • Playing cards
  • Cat
  • A cat tattoo represents a thief.
    • One cat = the prisoner worked alone
    • Multiple cats = the prisoner was part of a gang of thieves
    • A cat tattoo (think stealthy as a cat) is considered good luck for a thief
    • If worn on the chest, it also signals a dangerous criminal who hates law enforcement 

Playing card suits carry specific meanings: spade represents a thief; clubs symbolize criminals in general, diamonds label stoolpigeons and informants – and was probably applied by force—and hearts imply that someone is looking for a romantic partner in the prison, which may also be forcibly applied.

The knife through the neck tattoo, in Russian prisons, means the bearer is a murderer—and proud of it. Much has been written about Russian prison tattoos. If interested, you can find information specific to Japan, Australia, France, Italy, etc.

Street/Prison Gang Tattoos

MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha)
  • Mara Salvatrucha 13
  • Black Guerrilla Family
  • Red Blood Dragon
  • Gangster Discipes
  • Santana
  • Mexican Mafia
  • Mexikanemi
  • Texas Syndicate
  • Almighty Latin King Nations
  • 18th Street Gang
  • Sureños
Crips
  • Norteños
  • Texas Chicano Brotherhood
  • Border Brothers
  • Hells Angels
  • Bloods
  • Crips
  • Indian Warrior
  • Laotian Boyz (LB)
Common Symbols
  • Tiger
  • Spider web
  • Tear drop
  • Three dots
  • Five dots
  • Angel of death
  • Clown faces/masks
  • Vida loca
  • Barbed wire
  • spiderweb, typically representing a lengthy incarceration, is commonly found on the elbow or neck. 
  • Teardrops can mean a lengthy prison sentence, that the wearer has committed murder, or that one of the inmate’s friends was murdered and the tattooed one is seeking revenge.

According to corrections1.com, “One of the most widely recognized prison tattoos, the teardrop’s meaning varies geographically. In some places, the tattoo can mean a lengthy prison sentence, while in others it signifies that the wearer has committed murder. If the teardrop is just an outline, it can symbolize an attempted murder. It can also mean that one of the inmate’s friends was murdered and that they are seeking revenge. The teardrop has been popularized recently by rappers and other celebrities, but still remains a staple in prisons. Those who are newbies behind bars with a teardrop tattoo will make a lot of enemies, fast.”

Alternatively, Mental Floss says, “There are many stories about why a prisoner would have this tattoo, but the most common is that an unfilled teardrop might symbolize the death of a loved one, while an opaque one might show that the death has been avenged.

Three dots representing “my crazy life” (vida loca) refers to the gang lifestyle, but no particular gang; typically applied at the corner of the eye or between the thumb and index finger. Sometimes three dots, like three crosses, represents the holy trinity of Christianity. 

Five dots between the thumb and forefinger represents time done in prison. It’s found internationally. Located elsewhere on the body, this design may mean association with the People Nation gang.

A clock with no hands represents doing time and a lot of it. Ditto watch without hands or an hourglass.

Barbed wire tattoos are fairly common and many have no specific meaning. Sometimes each barb represents a year served in prison.  On the forehead, such tattoos typically mean serving a life sentence.

Laughing and crying clown faces/masks often means “Laugh now, cry later” attitude of the gang lifestyle.

Gender As a Factor in Prison/Gang Tattoos

Although there is much online discussion of convict tattoos in general, most of the images shown feature men. From this, with an overlay of gender stereotypes, one might conclude that tattoos among female inmates are rare.  But I found one research paper to the contrary.

“This study confirmed that there is a high frequency of tattoos among female offenders, but disproved the hypothesis that the frequency would be higher and more aggressive among violent offenders in comparison to non-violent offenders. Based on these findings, non-violent female offenders were more likely than violent female offenders to have a tattoo or tattoos, to have multiple tattoos, and to have aggressive or masculine tattoos. However, offenders convicted of violent crimes like robbery and assault or battery had the most visible tattoos, primarily located on the hands, face, fingers, and wrists.” 

(Sullivan, Megan, “Crimes Committed By Tattooed Female Offenders and the Significance of Body Art Content and Location” (2011). All Regis University Theses. 48 (.https://epublications.regis.edu/theses/483

I found no indication that the images and/or their meanings differ by gender. 

And according to Wikipedia, “Forced and enslaved prostitutes are often tattooed or branded with a mark of their owners. Women and girls being forced into prostitution against their will may have their boss’ name or gang symbol inked or branded with a hot iron on their skin. In some organizations involved with the trafficking of women and girls, like the mafias, nearly all prostitutes are marked. Some pimps and organizations use their name or well-known logo, while others use secret signs.  Some years ago, the branding mark was usually small, only recognized by other pimps, and sometimes hidden between the labia minora, but today some “owners” write their names in big letters all upon the body of the victim.”

Bottom line: Tattoos can carry a lot of meaning. When deciphering that meaning, tread carefully.