Due to technical incompetence—and mental fatigue—there will be no blog posts for the next few weeks. Stay tuned for the return announcement.
Once upon a time, women didn’t wear underwear. There are no written records of those times, but I can’t imagine that when humans first donned clothing—i.e., something to cover their bodies—their first priority was underwear. Going commando is not a new thing! And I’m not talking nudists here. Keep reading.
Advantages of not wearing panties
- Reduced risk of developing yeast infections
- Reduced vaginal odor
- Keep genitals drier by allowing sweat to evaporate
- Reduce chafing
- Eliminate the tight underpants risk to the labia of irritation, injury, bleeding, or infections
- Protects against allergic reactions to dyes, fabrics, or chemicals
So why did women start wearing underwear in the first place? Warmth, protection against scrapes and abrasions, and as a source of announcing status and meeting the current cultural standards of beauty—which, of course, change over time.
Consider the debate over “open-drawers” from the end of the 19th century, both written by Canadian physicians.
- Is it not ridiculous, not to say criminal, for us to take the position that the corset is harmful and the open drawers is not? I hold that infection takes place as frequently in this as in any other way on account of the delicate organ being unprotected. (Dr. E. R. Palmer, 1892)
- A free circulation of air by open drawers is wholesome to the parts, as well as a deodorizer. (E. R. Shepherd, 1882)
Underwear Of The Ancients (753 BC – 476 AD)
Very few women in the ancient world wore what we would consider panties today. Men frequently wore variations of loincloths for support, but women in most cultures simply wore a garment like a slip made of soft material, if they wore anything at all. Depending on the climate (and local definitions of modesty), undergarments might double as outer garments for members of the lower classes in a society.
Historians disagree about whether Greek women regularly wore any form of undergarments. In Minoan society, circa 4th C BCE, which flourished on the Greek peninsula before the Greeks, acrobats have been depicted in frescoes and mosaics wearing a type of loincloth, a perizoma. Both male and female acrobats were painted on the Bull-Leaping Fresco at Knossos wearing a perizoma while flipping over bulls, but some sources indicate the perizoma was only worn by men.
Lower class Egyptian women seldom wore undergarments because of the heat. The most common garment for Egyptian women of any class was a kalasiris, a simple linen tunic that could be worn as underwear, as outerwear, or on its own. Wealthy women who did wear undergarments wore figure-shaping garments similar to the Greeks and Romans (“tunica” and “strophium”), which emphasized the ideal feminine figure of small chest and large hips.
Roman women (and men) wore subligaculum beneath their tunics and togas. This was a loincloth, typically made of linen, that was wrapped as shown in the diagram. The subligaculum could also be made from goatskin leather, which I imagine would be very uncomfortable during a Roman summer.
When worn by slaves or grape treaders, these same garments were called limus.
The word ‘kimono’ in Japanese translates simply as ‘things to wear’ but has come to mean a specific category of wafuku: traditional style garments of silk worn in layers, each of which has specific purposes and symbolism. The outermost layer is more specifically called the nagagi. Layers of undergarments (juban) served to protect the elaborate (and very expensive) nagagi from being dirtied by the skin.
Directly next to the skin is the hadajuban, made to absorb oil and sweat, keeping the more elaborate (and harder to wash) nagagi clean. The hadajuban is cut close to the body and cannot be seen then the nagagi is on. A second layer of underclothing is sometimes worn in colder areas or for particularly formal occasions. This nagajuban is more elaborate than a hadajuban, the edges of the hems can usually be seen beneath the edges of a nagagi. Sometimes, the juban would also contain padding to give the wearer the desired body shape.
Nei-Yi refers to garments worn close to the body for both men and women. However, very few historical records exist of women’s underpants. References to women’s Nei-Yi generally include only the top. There is some evidence to suggest that women wore a form of modified loincloth for hygiene purposes during menstruation. Otherwise, the only form of underwear worn by traditional Chinese women was a form of chemise or half-slip worn by very wealthy ladies to protect elaborate gowns.
South and Central America
Both women and men in the Aztec Empire wore loincloths of hemp, leather, bark fiber, and other materials. Depending on the occasion and the status of the wearer, the loincloth might be worn under other clothing or worn alone, decorated with beads, feathers, and colorful weaving.
Europe and European Influences
Middle Ages (500 – 1500 CE)
Woolen hosiery was worn under dresses and chemises. Teasingly, wealthy women would wear bracelets to match their unseen garters.
Renaissance (1300 – 1700 CE)
The favored female silhouette featured a pushed-up bust and wide hips emphasized with a full skirt. Laced corselets and stiffened bodices were worn to achieve this specific shape. Skirts grew and shrank in width, depending on the time and location. Petticoats, hoops, ruffles, and bustles went in and out of fashion as methods of making skirt fuller.
1500 – 1600
Wealthy women wore a frame of wire or whalebone called a farthingale under their dresses. The farthingale shaped the female form by cinching a woman’s waist and spreading the skirts wide, creating highly exaggerated hips.
Although prostitutes began wearing them during this time, panties were not yet adopted by the mainstream as they are today. Their only underwear was a long linen garment like a nightgown called a chemise or shift, worn over a dress.
One function that corsets provided was to help disperse the weight of the crinolines, petticoats, and skirts, which may have been as much as thirty-five pounds. Following the onset of crinoline in the 1850s, women wore trouser-like undergarments that extended to below the knee.
Women began to wear drawers (so called because they were drawn on). A pair of separate legs was joined at the waist.
Knickers were loose-fitting trousers gathered at the knee or calf.
1849: Amelia Bloomer advocated loose trousers for women that were called bloomers. Later, all women’s underwear has sometimes been called bloomers.
1860s: Women began to wear colored drawers.
1881: Women’s underwear in Britain were called knickers.
In the play Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage, the character Mrs. Van Buren orders revealing corsets and undergarments from Esther. Because the undergarments Esther created were so luxuriant, they became a stand-in for some of the characters’ repressed feelings. Mrs. Van Buren says she feels like a “tart from the Tenderloin”—an expression of forbidden desire.
In the undergarment industry, enterprising women found opportunities in design, production, and management not readily available to them in other clothing manufacture.
In 1900, poor women in Britain made nickers from flour bags. I suspect this happened in the U.S. as well.
1908: In the U.S., women’s underwear was called panties. The term never caught on in Britain. (If you want to try an exercise in hilarious humiliation, try talking to a British person about their “pants!”)
With the progress of women’s suffrage in 1920, many young women embraced a new sense of freedom and created an androgynous silhouette that featured bobbed pageboy-style hair and flattened busts with boyish hips. Flappers did away with pantaloons in favor of “step-in” panties. As hemlines rose, panties became shorter—down to mid-thigh other than down to the knee!
Panties became still shorter and briefs were fashionable. During WWII, women in Britain used parachute silk to make knickers.
1949: Gertrude Morn played tennis at Wimbledon wearing frilly panties.
The popular bikini brief was introduced. The “Pin-up Girl” exemplified an overt acceptance of women pictured in lingerie. These models showed off the latest underwear trends (seamed stocking, bustiers) and embraced the curvy female figure.
In 1959, Allen Gant introduced pantyhose (called tights in Britain). Previously, stockings were separate pieces for each leg, held up by garters and/or a garter belt.
Victoria’s Secret was introduced to the world as a destination retailer of women’s premium lingerie.
In 1981, thongs were introduced in the U.S.
“Underwear” became “outerwear” and was worn by stars such as Cher in her infamous g-string bodysuit.
In 1984, Depend products for adults were introduced. From incontinence pads, the line has evolved to include panties. Now such panties are available in colors and in reusable/washable designs.
Thongs became popular.
Spanx, a slimming underwear brand, was introduced and quickly became a modern day shapewear essential.
Recent years have brought a shift towards more diversity and body positive thinking in lingerie.
HISTORY OF THE BRASSIERE
Until recently, the vast majority of the female world dealt with “the girls” in one of three ways: wrapping to press them flat to the ribs, wrapping or pushing to lift and support from underneath, or simply letting everything sway where it will.
Advantages of not wearing a bra
- Better breast skin health
- Better circulation
- Improved muscle tone (and possibly breast shape)
- Increased comfort over time
In Minoan society, circa 4th C BCE, women wore a form of chest support called an apodesmos. This was a length of wool that was wrapped around the breasts and pinned in the back. There is some archaeological evidence to suggest that the apodesmos was worn in earlier Mesopotamian society to emphasize the breasts rather than for support or modesty.
In Greek society, active women might wear an apodesmos under their chiton to stabilize and support their breasts. The strophion was a wide band of wool or linen wrapped across the breasts and tied between the shoulder blades.
Roman women wore strophia (also known as amictorium and mamillare) over their inner tunic. Unlike in Greece, Roman strophia were usually made of leather. In the latter half of the Roman Empire, this was often referred to as a mitra.
Part of a formal kimono ensemble includes an intricately folded and tied belt called an obi. In addition to holding the layers of robes closed, a woman’s obi provided breast support from below. Women’s obis are generally wider than men’s and are often stiffened with inserts or starch.
People’s underwear, which was first called du dou in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), was a piece of cloth that covered the front of one’s chest. It often had four strings, being fastened behind one’s neck and back. Men, women, and children all wore it.
Some du dou had pockets for people to store small valuable things, such as rings and necklaces. People also put spices and herbs in the layers of their du dou to stay healthy.
“Du Dou” literally means “abdominal support”.
In India, the first mention of the bra dates back to literature from the reign of King Harshavardhana, who ruled from 606 to 647 C.E. A kanchuka could be either a tightly-wound bodice, similar to a Greek apodesmos, or a type of armor worn to shield the torso of soldiers in battle.
In some parts of India, there has sometimes been a mulakkaram, a tax women had to pay for the privilege of covering their breasts. The amount of the tax was based on a woman’s caste and on the size of her breasts.
A choli is a form of outerwear that provides the support of a brassiere. It is a short garment that covers the chest and ties in the back. It is often worn with a sari, sometimes with long or short sleeves.
The kemben has been worn by women in Indonesia, Malaysia, Bali, and Java for centuries. A piece of kain (cloth) is wrapped tightly around the torso and folded, tucked, and tied with a small rope or string behind the wearer’s back. Today, it can be held in place with ties, buttons, or zippers. A kemben is traditionally made of batik silk or cotton, but modern variations can be velvet, rayon, linen, or any other material available.
Europe and European Influence
Women wore corset-like outerwear to enhance their figures. The bodice laced tightly under the breasts to provide support but usually did not cover them. Bodices were often lavishly embroidered and decorated as a sign of wealth and status.
The favored female silhouette featured a pushed-up bust and wide hips emphasized with a full skirt. Laced corselets and stiffened bodices were worn to achieve this specific shape.
Corsets made their first real appearance during this period. Women wore corsets made of whalebone or willow covered with fabric.
The 1700s corset was long-waisted and in the shape of an inverted cone, imposing an even more constricting shape. The wealthiest and most fashionable women had corsets that pulled together their shoulder blades so closely that they would nearly touch.
Such tight corsets signified the wearer’s status in several ways. A lady would be unable to lace up her own corset and would need to hire assistance. The constriction of the lungs and restriction of movement made them impractical for wear if a woman needed to do any activity more strenuous than serving tea and practicing a bit of dancing.
The corset took on a new shape and was used to emphasize the hourglass shape with a very small waist. Corsets were made in beautiful colors with silks and satins and included garter clips at the bottom.
United States patent #40,907 issued to Luman L. Chapman in 1863 may be the first recorded design in America for a brassiere.
1893: Marie Tucek filed for a US patent for what might be called the first underwire bra. She called it a “breast supporter.” In addition to having separate pockets for each breast, this early “underwire” had a metal plate below the breasts. Shoulder straps helped support what looks like a very heavy piece of clothing sticking on a woman’s chest.
The corset was still an essential part to a woman’s wardrobe, but also started to be thought of as standalone lingerie as much as an essential part of an outfit. The corset took on an extremely exaggerated “S-curve” shape, which created a very feminine shape. Silk became a popular fabric for corsets during this period.
In the play Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage, Mrs. Van Buren orders revealing corsets and undergarments from Esther and says she feels like a “tart from the Tenderloin”—an expression of forbidden desire.
1913: Mary Phelps Jacobs (a.k.a. Caresse Crosby) is often credited with inventing the modern bra, but there are several other contenders for this title. Olivia Flynt, Marie Tucek, Caroline Newell, and Gabrielle Poix Yerkes also filed for patents for brassiere designs and adjustments.
“Brassiere” came into vogue around 1904. The term “brassiere” became widespread in English-speaking nations within a few years, but the French have maintained their designation of soutien-gorge (literally “bosom supporter”).
After WWI, the corset’s popularity began to decline. Rather than the S-curve or hourglass figure that fashionable women in past decades achieved with tight corsets, a rectangular, boyish silhouette became the desired figure. Flappers wore simple bust bodices or tight bandeaus to restrain their chest when dancing. The lack of curves of a corset promoted a boyish look.
Adding an even more boyish look, the Symington Side Lacer was invented and became a popular essential as an everyday bra. This type of bra was made to pull in the back to flatten the chest.
In 1947 Frederick Mellinger introduced the padded bra. (Previously, rows of tiny, tight ruffles sewn to bras enhanced the silhouette.)
1948: Frederick Mellinger introduced the push-up bra.
A major shift in women’s undergarments brought the focus to the bust instead of the waist. This can be seen in popular images of “Pin-up Girls” posed to bring attention to the bust, butt, and legs. These models showed off the latest underwear trends (seamed stocking, bustiers) and embraced the curvy female figure.
In 1963, the forerunner of the WonderBra was invented in Canada by Louise Poirier.
1969: Bras ablaze! The “bra-burning feminist” became something of a legend during the Women’s Liberation Movement of the late 1960s. There are no actual records of women burning their bras, but the symbolism of such an act was so powerful that it became part of apocrypha of the time. A group demonstration at the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City called on participants to throw their bra, high heels, cosmetics, and girdles into a “freedom trash can.” Nothing was actually set on fire.
In 1977, Lisa Lindahl and Polly Smith were very uncomfortable trying to compete in college sports while wearing regular brassieres. Wearing no brassiere was even worse. To solve this problem, they sewed together two jockstraps from the men’s athletic wear section, crossed the straps in the back, and invented the sports bra. It was first called the “jockbra” but quickly renamed to “jogbra.”
The “Wonder bra” became popularized with a push-up design intended to enhance sex appeal.
Nearly all outlets and experts agree that you should replace your old underwear with new underwear once every 6-12 months.Jul 8, 2020
Underwear experts can’t seem to agree on how much underwear one should own to allow for an optimal washing and wearing schedule. (Retailers tend to skew toward advising people to purchase more, of course) As a good rule of thumb, a three-week supply of panties offers a happy medium. This nearly month-long supply adds up to about 20 pairs of underwear.
According to “most experts,” underpants should be replaced every 6-12 months. (Take this with a grain of salt.)
Don’t wear a pair of underpants for more than 24 hours.
“You really should sleep without underwear if you’re prone to vaginal issues,” Dr. Nancy Herta, an OB-GYN, told Glamour. As mentioned before, underwear can trap moisture and that type of wet environment is where bacteria grows and causes yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis.
According to a Glamour article from 2009, women had 16 bras on average. According to the Daily Mail, in 2016, the average was 8. Are American women cutting back, or is it a U.S./Britain difference?
Women should wash their bras after every 2 to 3 wears, or every 1 to 2 weeks if not wearing the same one every day.
“Experts” recommend replacing bras every 6 months, or after about 180 wears. I say, use common sense: check for stretched-out elastic, stains, and holes.
There is an old (mostly unused now) saying in Tagalog that a man should not walk under a woman’s underwear: nasa ilalim ng saya ng nanay. It means that a man should not take a woman’s advice, because doing so would have made him appear weak in a traditionally patriarchal society.
Bottom Line: Though not as immediately visible as hats or jewelry, women’s undergarments provide plenty of information about the wearer’s age, class, status, etc. Wearing the wrong item, or not wearing a “required” item can cause serious trouble for a woman. Historical settings as well as modern can make use of clues provided by undergarments to tell readers a story all by themselves.
What do you—female or male—think and feel about women’s underwear?
As you might imagine, writing stories about the same characters for fifty years can get either very repetitive or very complicated. When those characters don’t age and generally don’t stay dead, a reader trying to track their biographies is likely to get lost in a maze of changing identities, regenerations, spousal roulette, mind control, evil clones, and anything else that might keep things interesting. The serial format of most comic stories lends itself to story arcs with plenty of resets.
As the popularity of female superheroes grew, writers began to realize that their characters needed more than scandalous costumes to keep going. Heroines started to develop actual personalities (if somewhat one-dimensional) to go along with their witty flirtations.
One of the biggest changes to the characters in comic books came after the publication in 1954 of Seduction of the Innocent. According to Frederic Wertham, the author comic books were causing juvenile delinquency and spreading homosexuality. Along with proving they were not spreading Communism, writers of comic books had to prove there was no question that every character was completely heterosexual. Romantic subplots and superhero couples drastically increased after 1954. Female characters were more common but less independent and well-developed.
- Black Cat
- Linda Turner’s father was a Hollywood stuntman and amateur detective, and he taught his daughter everything he knew, including expertise with a lasso and horses. She has a black belt in Judo and is skilled in other hand-to-hand combat styles. As an actress, Linda realized her director was a Nazi spy, hiding state secrets and propaganda in the script. To stop him, she became the vigilante Black Cat. She is listed as a member of the Super Friends but never shows up in their comics.
- Linda adopted a young acrobat when his family was killed in a burning circus tent. When the boy discovered her identity as Black Cat, she allowed him to become her sidekick Black Kitten.
- This Black Cat is not related in any way to Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat of Marvel’s universe, who debuted in 1979.
- Phantom Lady
- Her real name was Sandra Knight, daughter of U.S. Senator Henry Knight. Using projection technology (a blacklight gun), she could blind her enemies and make herself invisible. Although she had no distinctive super powers, she was a smart fighter and fared well against ordinary human enemies. Despite not wearing any mask or disguise, no one ever recognized the Phantom Lady as famous socialite Sandra Knight.
- The Phantom Lady’s costume changed several times, but it was always quite skimpy. She explained that it was a distraction technique to disrupt male foes’ concentration.
- Miss Fury
- Marla Drake was a character establishing the rise of vigilantes. She was rich girl who didn’t have much to do, so she made a classic catsuit to fight crime. Originally called the Black Fury, her name was changed to Miss Fury—perhaps to distinguish her from Black Cat. She fought all sorts of evil. Her skintight suit came under a lot of scrutiny.
- Elsa Lesau was the creator of Spider-Queen, a heroine who debuted in The Eagle #2. Sharon Kane technically had no superpowers, but she created a set of bracelets that could shoot a gluey substance that worked just like a spider’s webbing. With tip-offs from a police detective she was dating and hand-hand combat skills, Spider-Queen fought crime by swinging about and tying up criminals.
- Wonder Woman
- First in comics, then on TV, and later in the movies, Wonder Woman is the immortal, super-strong, and magical genius daughter of Zeus and Hippolyta. She came to the world of mortals as an emissary of the Amazons but ended up fighting solo for justice and equality. She was a founding member of the Justice League. She has a magic lasso and an invisible airplane, though she also fights with sword and shield and with a bow.
- Batwoman was originally created for the sole purpose of being Batman’s love interest, to prove he wasn’t gay. In her first appearances, Batwoman didn’t join Bruce Wayne in his vigilante activities. She waited for him at home.
- In 2017, Batwoman was reintroduced in the form of Kate Kane, the niece of the original Batwoman and an openly lesbian superhero. She returned to Gotham to take over for the absent Batman and save the city.
- Making her first appearance in 1959, Supergirl is Superman’s cousin who fights for truth and social justice. She foils all kinds of threats, from time-traveling supervillains to authoritarian Martians. Like Superman, her superpowers are flight, invincibility, laser vision, etc. By day, Supergirl is disguised as Kara Danvers, top-notch journalist. Supergirl first met Wonder Woman in 1965.
- Jean Grey/ The Phoenix
- Jean Grey is arguably the most powerful telepath and telekinetic mutant in the X-Men. She was the first female member of the X-Men team and one of the best-developed, complex characters in comics. While studying with Professor Xavier to hone her abilities, she reached a level of the astral plane where she first reached her Phoenix persona. The Phoenix is so powerful that Jean Grey frequently loses control of it. The chaos and destruction the Phoenix unleashes is one of the major causes of mental illness for Jean Grey, along with the dissociation. Over the course of the series, Jean Grey has had name changes, died and been regenerated several times, married and divorced, and overtaken and been overtaken by the Phoenix.
- Captain Marvel
- There are several characters in the Marvel Comics Universe with the name Captain Marvel. The first of these (in 1967) was an alien sent to observe Earth, Captain Mar-Vell of the Kree Military.
- Carol Danvers was first introduced as an officer in the US Air Force in Marvel Super-Heroes #13 in 1968. It wasn’t until 1977 that she gained superhuman abilities. An exploding “Psyche-Magnetron” melded her DNA with that of the Kree Captain Mar-Vell. This is the source of her superhuman abilities, including strength, stamina, durability, agility, flight, speed, healing, and immunity. In case that isn’t enough, Captain Marvel can also use her “Seventh Sense” to warn her of future dangers and tap into the photonic energy of a “white hole.”
- When she is not being Captain Marvel and maintaining peace throughout the galaxy, Carol Danvers fights for feminism and equal right for women on Earth. Even her first name, Ms. Marvel, was a nod to the feminist movement’s focus on independence.
- Ororo Munroe was the first major female comic character of African descent. Storm was the daughter of Kenyan sorceress, first appearing in the special edition of Giant-Size X-Men in 1975.
- As the descendent of sorceresses, student of magicians in the Serengeti, object of worship by the people of Wakanda, and Omega level Mutant X-Man, Storm has very impressive skills. Her primary abilities revolve around her atmokinesis, the control of weather. Storm can change the temperature and pressure in the atmosphere, creating winds, precipitation, fog, lightning, and any other imaginable offshoot of these. A side effect of her weather control gives Storm the ability to fly and to hide herself in dense fog.
- Storm started as Xavier’s ingénue, became a seasoned hero, rose through the ranks, and ended up as headmistress of Professor Xavier’s school and leader of the X-Men.
Bottom Line: Some characters can be reinvented and adapted as long as the writer can keep up with demand. Some characters should be allowed to retire before they pass their “sell-by” date. Which of these methods do you prefer? What sort of changes can keep a character fresh?
Note: There are many more female superheroes and action heroes than I’ve discussed here. Many independent publishers have printed stories of lesser known but equally fantastic female heroes (check out Faith, Miss America Chavez, Medusa, Boodikka, Wolfsbane).
If you search online for tips to make life easier, you will find lists ranging from 6 to 1000 “Life Hacks!” Some are specific to the workplace, relationships, around the house, health, etc. You can even find Life Hacks from before the internet called them Life Hacks… from before there was an internet. What follows is my personal, unorganized list of things that have helped me keep my **** together over the years. Which might appeal to/characterize your character(s)?
- Choose a low-maintenance hair cut/style.
- Wear only comfortable clothes.
- Keep personal care products/routines to a minimum—except there is never too much exercise.
- If a plethora of neckties, jewelry, or whatever, makes daily decisions time-consuming, pare down!
Housekeeping/ Repair and Yard Work
- If it isn’t causing structural damage, it can wait. This is especially important for people with children or pets.
- Plant a Darwinian Garden—i.e., perennials only, nothing delicate, everything low-maintenance, nothing invasive. Consider a yard of clover rather than grass!
- Take the same approach to house plants.
- Get thee Peg Bracken’s I Hate To Cook Book (great for general wisdom and laughs) and The Doubleday Cookbook (for a good, basic, encyclopedic cookbook). Especially if your character isn’t into cooking, these two have got you covered.
- If it’s cheap, like measuring spoons and cups, get multiples to avoid cleanup I’m the midst of cooking. (Actually, I think that was a Peg Bracken tip.)
- Get the best out of a microwave (beyond reheating), a pressure cooker, a slow cooker, an electric skillet, and/or a toaster oven—whichever fits the needs.
How to Give Feedback
- Give a praise-criticism-praise sandwich. This works for employee annual reviews, co-worker project/product feedback, family or friends who want to know “what you think.”
- Don’t use labels. Stupid, lazy, careless, cruel, etc., raise a person’s dander and can lead to arguments over the accuracy/appropriateness of the label.
- Be clear and specific regarding behavioral expectations.
- Set up the discussion as “When you do X, I feel Y” and work together for change as needed.
- Give the child autonomy in as many areas as possible. With my children, that included (among other things) hair cuts/styles, what clothes to wear, how often to clean their rooms, and extracurricular activities.
- Make each child a responsible member of the family. For example, in my case, starting at age 12, each was responsible for making the family dinner one night a week, and cleaning up after. No frozen dinners or ordering in!
- Don’t argue over food/eating. Put the food in front of the children and they either eat it or not. If not, no dessert and no snacks before the next meal.
- Give financial education at least by mid-teens: savings accounts, checking accounts, credit cards, and money management.
- Get up early enough!
- Plan what to wear and have your briefcase or other work materials ready to go the night before.
- Learn how to customize equipment. For example, for poor eyesight, learn how to manipulate the print size on various devices.
Bottom line, when creating characters, give thought to how your particular people might try to make life easier. And if it eases anything in your own life as well, you’re welcome!
The bad news is that it’s virtually impossible to prepare for every possible incident; the good news is that virtually no one has to be.
More good news: you don’t have to come up with situations and actions on your own! There are people who are trained to do exactly that. In fact, there is an entire industry of people whose job is anticipating and preventing every possible situation. In the US, they’re known as Emergency Managers. If I had this job, I’d write “Master of Disaster” on my business cards!
Before Disaster Strikes
Go to ready.gov for more information than you’ll need. It’s easy to use and amazingly thorough. I, for one, didn’t even know that “space weather” is a thing!
Being prepared begins with thinking ahead. Consider both the likelihood of an event and the severity. For example, people in Ohio don’t need to prepare for tsunamis. People in Virginia don’t need to be prepared for earthquakes in the same way that Californians do. And very few people in the continental U.S. need to prepare for volcanoes. (You know who you are!)
Note to Writers: Ready.gov is a great resource! Everything a competent protagonist can do to fare well in these situations, and by implication ways a bad situation could be worse, is laid out. The Red Cross (and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Organization), the DC National Center for Disaster Preparedness, the CDC, and the ADA websites offer more information for specific characters and specific situation types. This Wikipedia article about Emergency Management has links to international and country-specific organizations.
Types of Disasters and Emergencies
- Attacks in public places
- Chemical emergencies
- Extreme heat
- Hazardous materials incidents
- Home fires
- Household chemical emergencies
- Landslides and debris flow
- Nuclear explosion
- Nuclear power plant malfunctions
- Power outages
- Radiological dispersion device
- Severe weather
- Space weather
- Thunderstorms and lightning
- Winter weather
- Other disasters and emergencies are specific to particular countries or regions, and characters in any story would be likely to consult authorities in that region.
Emergency Managers prioritize hazards according to the type, size, and mitigation possibility of each situation. S.M.A.U.G. stands for Seriousness, Manageability, Acceptability, Urgency, and Growth. A knife-wielding, homicidal maniac running amok at the North Pole would be a very urgent situation, but world government are likely to declare the risk to be acceptable. On the other hand, a massive dump of hazardous chemicals in the Mariana Trench is not terribly urgent, but the risk is beyond management and likely to grow exponentially in scope.
“It is not realistic, even in developed countries, to expect that the governmental infrastructure will be able to reach everyone within hours,” says Daniel Barnett, a disaster preparedness researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Research by Dr. Barnett and his team in 2012 showed that less than half (sometimes less than ten percent) of the American population has actually created an emergency kit.
Many websites provide guidance for putting together your own disaster preparedness kits. Unfortunately, this information can be confusing, and multiple websites directly contradict each other. Should you prepare for three days or three weeks? Are water purification tablets more important than tents? How are you meant to store five gallons of gasoline safely?
A problem to consider in writing is the ability of a character to create such a kit. A family that is living paycheck-to-paycheck most likely can’t afford to keep three week’s worth of food, water, and medicine sitting around. Emergency Managers have found that often the people who are most in need of assistance (collapsed housing, cut off by flooded streets, unable to evacuate) are also the people who are least likely to be able to afford preparation.
Because they are common across many emergencies and disasters, there are some things everyone needs to prepare for: lack of clean water, lack of food, lack of electricity, and lack of information or documentation. Also, consider the risks and benefits of sheltering in place or changing locations.
In getting prepared, consider the special needs of infants, children, the elderly, and people with physical or mental limitations. Characters cut off from hospitals would need to know how to deal with medications and medical devices.
But if you (or your characters) aren’t DIY types, you can always buy what you need on-line. You can get kits for singles, couples, or families; for 72 or 144 hours, four weeks, a month, and probably more options.
Of course, disaster/ emergency food only supplies, suitable for refreshing/ resupplying a kit, are available.
Kits can and should be customized for specific situations, for example, wilderness survival. Urban differs from rural. Homes differ from workplaces. Seasonal shifts as well as geographic location are important. At the least, become knowledgeable about the risks common to where you live.
Pet Bug-Out Bags
You can also buy kits prepared specifically for cats or dogs. For less common pets, such as macaws or bearded dragons, one may be forced to DIY. The ASPCA provides information for preparing ahead to care for animals in a disaster, including farm animals, reptiles, and birds.
- Pet food (and a method of opening the container)
- Food and water bowls
- Several gallons of water
- Pet treats and supplements
- Plan for waste disposal
- Grooming supplies
- Dental tools
- Protective pet clothes
- In general, if a human would be painfully hot or cold, any other mammal will be as well
- Reptiles, birds, fish, etc. may need external heated or cooling apparatus
- Paws, claws, and hoofs need protection from hazardous chemicals on the ground
- In general, if a human would be painfully hot or cold, any other mammal will be as well
- Depending on the emergency type, evacuations and shelters may forbid pets, particularly large dogs or particular dog breeds
- Horses, cows, donkeys, llamas, and other large animals may need to stay in a temporary safe space if trailers are not available
- Carriers and leashes
- Small animals will need a sturdy travelling case to protect the inhabitant, along with replacements for whatever liners are used
- Medical records and vaccination documents
- Pet meds for at least two weeks
- Crowded conditions, unreliable water and food, and unfamiliar environments are likely to cause new medical concerns in pets, such as worms, mange, anxiety disorders, and a variety of infections
- Collar or harness with identifying/contact info
- Microchip information if one is used
- Recent pictures (to identify lost pets)
- Detailed instructions on how to care for each pet (in case someone else has to care for the pet)
Who’s Running the Circus?
Before a predicted disaster, someone has to make sure there are available helicopter landing pads, clean syringes in ambulances, sterno cans for field kitchens, and a million other minor details covered by a dozen organizations.
During a disaster, someone has to make sure the Search and Rescue teams are paired up with the Coast Guard boats, that the Red Cross medics are given transportation by drivers with appropriate vehicles, that everyone knows which evacuees should go to which shelter, and that all the aid organizations are communicating the same information.
After a disaster, someone has to direct potable water trucks to neighborhoods without reliable drinking water, ensure trauma counselors are available for everyone involved, prioritize sites for reconstruction, and all the other concerns that get lost in the fray.
Emergency Managers are trained to take care of all of these constantly evolving situations. They are familiar with fire fighting, emergency medicine, hazardous material control, containing nuclear fallout, and just about any other disaster or emergency situation that might arise. As a writer, you can use Emergency Management training materials to discover potential problems facing people (and characters) as well as possible solutions to those problems.
An Amazing Lack of Disaster
As an example of a disaster that did not happen because of the work of Emergency Managers. In 2015, Richmond VA hosted the UCI Road World Championships, an international cycling race. Obviously, there was the possibility of participants having an accident and needing medical attention, so ambulance crews were on stand-by. But that was just the beginning!
Because the Union Cycliste Internationale hosts road racing through cities, multiple streets had to be closed to traffic. This required coordination with Richmond Police to close the streets and the Fire Department and Paramedic services to ensure fire trucks and ambulances would still be able to reach local residents.
An estimated 500,000 visitors from all over the world came to Richmond for the week-long event, and they all needed food and places to sleep. Local hospitality and entertainment organizations coordinated with the Emergency Managers to be sure everyone could be accommodated without disrupting local school schedules, routine utility maintenance, trash pick up, commuters, etc. Richmond International Airport had to handle extra flights, and taxi and transportation services ferried extra people all over the city.
The race route had to have portable toilets, water stops, first aid stations, and timing checkpoints. All of these needed to be staffed by qualified people (maybe not the toilets). All of these also had to be protected from the elements and re-stocked throughout the week. Waste had to be collected and disposed of before it could pile up.
A huge crowd, elite athletes, international participants, and lots of media representatives add up to an ideal opportunity for terrorist strikes. That means extra police on duty, heightened security along the route, even FBI and CIA surveillance.
This was an event that had the possibility for all kinds of disasters: power grid overload, sanitation failures, respiratory disease spread, violent crimes or rioting in the crowded streets, inaccessible hospitals, planes colliding on runways, chemical attacks, bombs, and the list goes on. Not a single one of these disasters happened. That’s not a very exciting headline, but it demonstrates how many disasters Emergency Managers are trained to foresee and prevent.
Along with the types of preparedness plans above, familiarize yourself with the agencies and services to help you.
BOTTOM LINE: Being prepared is both a generic and a specific state.
Editor’s Note: Due to inclement weather causing disruptions in power and internet services, this blog post is somewhat sparser than usual. Though it is a perfect illustration of the subject at hand, this situation is entirely coincidental. Honestly!
When I started researching this blog, I had no intention to compare U.S. statistics with other countries. The United States was a given, because that’s where I and most of my readers are. International statistics vary greatly by country and region. China kept popping up in so many ways, I couldn’t help noticing—and passing it on.
Information about natural disasters has to be taken with a pinch (tablespoonful) of salt, for several reasons.
- During almost any natural disaster, communication is disrupted. Temperature readings, water levels, windspeeds, hospital capacities, and any other information is more difficult to gather and transmit.
- Records might also be damaged or lost in floods, fires, etc.
- The nature of a disaster often makes accurate counts of casualties and property damage difficult to obtain.
- Earthquakes and mudslides often bury remains for months.
- Tsunamis and floods can wash away buildings so completely that no evidence is left for property evaluation.
- Damage caused by a natural disaster may not be noticeable until long after the event, such as a long-term illness caused by inhaling toxic materials released by property destruction.
- Multiple entities have an incentive to under- or over-estimate the damage caused by a disaster.
- Media channels gain viewers by broadcasting more sensational news.
- Insurance or reparation claims may be estimated higher by claimants or lower by organizations paying out.
- Governments may deliberately try to conceal accurate accounts for security reasons, to manipulate the populace, to cover official malfeasance, or pretty much any other sinister or logical reason you can think of.
Wikipedia is a great source of data on nature’s deadly capabilities—and the data are sliced and diced in all sorts of ways. (Remember that this data is only as accurate as the contributors to the Wikipedia pages.)
Not surprisingly, the United States and China make frequent appearances on many of the Top 10 lists. Both countries are massive, contain a wide variety of geographic hazards, and have areas of massive population density.
- Ten deadliest natural disasters ever by highest estimated death toll excluding epidemics and famines: 6 of the 10 were in China.
- Ten deadliest natural disasters since 1900 excluding epidemics and famines: 5 were in China.
- Deadliest natural disasters by year excluding epidemics and famines
Wikipedia also presented natural disasters by cause; if the U.S. isn’t named, we didn’t make the list.
- Deadliest earthquakes: 10 of 46 in China
- Deadliest famines: 6 of 29 in China
- Deadliest impact events: of 13, 1 in the U.S.; 4 in China
- Deadliest limnic eruptions
- Deadliest wildfires/bushfires: 6 of 25 were in the United States
- Ten deadliest avalanches/landslides: 3 of 10 were in China
- Ten deadliest blizzards: 7 of 10 were in the U.S.
- Ten deadliest floods: 5 of 10 in China
- Ten deadliest heat waves: 3 of 10 were in the U.S.
- Ten deadliest pandemics / epidemics (does not include COVID-19): 4 of 10 were worldwide
- Ten deadliest tornadoes: 2 of 10 were in the U.S.
- Ten deadliest tropical cyclones: 1 of 10 in China
- Ten deadliest tsunamis
- Ten deadliest volcanic eruptions
Looking through these lists, it becomes apparent that of the 14 natural disasters included, the United States predominates in blizzards, while the worst natural disasters by death toll occurred in China. Part of this is no doubt because of the population differences.
If one looks at the list of countries by natural disaster risk, from lowest to highest, the United States is ranked 45 out of 171, and is considered low risk. China is 87, and considered high risk. Qatar is #1, very low risk. At the other extreme is Vanuatu, ranked #171, extremely high risk.
N.B.: Rankings are based on data from 2012 to 2018.
Pay attention to what’s going on in Texas, especially, but also locally, to see the web of problems that can emerge. For example, several of the most common disasters in the United States cause power outages. Consider the options for tension and conflict possibilities.
- No light
- No heat/AC, depending on the season
- No way to charge mobile devices
- No way to cook, unless you have a gas stove
- No water, and no way to boil contaminated water
- Food spoiling without refrigeration
- No internet
- No TV
- These together often limit inhabitants’ access to information
- Destruction of property
- Loss of personal possessions
- Danger to children, the elderly, pets
- Hospitals not functioning
- Generators in hospitals are set up to handle only necessary equipment, not escalators or vending machines
Now consider a similar situation in an area where such conditions are common. In many ways, “developing countries” are better able to cope with certain natural disasters.
- Fewer communities have reliable access to electricity, water, and internet, so houses and businesses are accustomed to using wood stoves, water pumps, solar power, hand tools, etc.
- Hospitals and are often run on generators at all times, so there is no disruption if the power grid goes down.
- Food is stored in ways that do not require refrigeration or freezing.
- Children and the elderly frequently live together in multigenerational households, making caretaking much easier.
Bottom Line: Mother Nature can be a main force in people’s/characters’ lives!
Christmas Carols have always been around, right? No, not exactly.
Carols were sung in Europe thousands of years ago. The word “carol” means dance or song of praise and joy, typically in rings and circles, and they used to be common during all four seasons. Pagan carols at Winter Solstice celebrations were sung as people danced around stone circles. The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, usually falling around Dec. 22.
Carols at other seasons of the year have largely disappeared. Perhaps winter carols have survived because early Christians took over the pagan solstice celebrations for Christmas and gave people Christian songs to sing instead of pagan ones.
In AD 129, a Catholic Bishop said that a song called Angel’s Hymn should be sung at a Christmas service in Rome. Another early Christmas Hymn was written in AD 760, by Comas of Jerusalem for the Greek Orthodox Church.
In subsequent years, composers all across Europe wrote such hymns. They never became popular, some say because they were written in Latin, which common people didn’t understand.
In AD 1223, St. Francis of Assisi started Nativity Plays in Italy. The people in the plays sang canticles that told the story during the plays, normally in a language that the audience could understand and join in. The new carols spread across Europe.
In AD 1426, John Awdlay, a Shropshire chaplain, listed twenty-five “caroles of Cristemas,” the first written record in English.
During the 15th century and through the Elizabethan Era (ending 1603), these carols were fictional stories loosely based on the Nativity described in the Gospels and intended as entertainment rather than worship. They were sung in homes or pubs, not churches.
Traveling minstrels freely changed the words to suit the local people wherever they were. For example, I Saw Three Ships might first have represented ships taking the skulls of the three wise men to the Cologne Cathedral, but over time and venues, the travelers on the three ships were sung to be many different Biblical characters.
When Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans came to power in England in 1647, the singing of carols was banned. Carols survived because people sang them in private.
During the Victorian period, many new carols were written including Good King Wenceslas. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (originally Hark! How All the Welkin Rings), The First Noel, and God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen were popularized. The custom of singing carols in the streets became popular and remains so today.
- Martin Luther authored carols and encouraged their use in worship.
- Adeste Fideles had attained its modern form in the mid-18th century, although the words might date to the 13th century.
- God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen, The First Noel, I Saw Three Ships, and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing appear in a collection assembled by William Sandys in 1833.
- It Came Upon a Midnight Clear also dates from this period.
- In 1865, Christmas-related lyrics were sung to the melodies of traditional English folk songs, such as Greensleeves—think What Child is This.
- Good King Wenceslas and The Holly and the Ivy can be traced directly back to the middle ages, and are among the oldest musical compositions still sung regularly.
In older times, caroling children asked for (and were given) edible gifts such as dried fruit, eggs, nuts or sweets. By the 20th century, the edible gifts had been replaced by money. Caroling is also done by choirs, marching bands, groups trying to raise money for trips, projects, or charity, folk societies, neighbors, and well-wishers.
Now caroling often includes secular as well as religious music. Such songs written in the United States range from Jingle Bells and Frosty the Snowman to O Little Town of Bethlehem to Away in a Manger. So gather round the old piano and celebrate the season with songs of your choice!
I often start with a definition, so my readers and I are on the same page. In this instance, a collection is related things acquired on purpose. Collecting is not a new activity. Evidence of collections date back to 500-400 BCE. Mesopotamia?
Some claim that everyone collects something, be it athletic trophies, family photographs, antique farm implements, theater programs, or anything else that catches the collector’s fancy. Some claim that a true collection has no essential or practical use.
Which begs the question, what about a cookbook collection? In my opinion, a collection is like pornography: you know it when you see it.
In better knowing your character, there are two relevant aspects of collections: what is collected and why it is collected. These are often intertwined.
Investment often means collecting things that a museum might be interested in. The bottom line is that the thing collected has been shown over the years, potentially, to provide some degree of financial return to the collector.
- Ancient artifacts
A complete set of something finite, e.g., all 13 editions of the Fannie Farmer Cookbooks, would be worth more than the individual items, but financial reasons are often irrelevant. There is satisfaction in simply having all of them. As a collecting motive, set completion may well be related to OCD tendencies.
Note: Most set completions do not preclude others completing the same set.
- Putting together full service for eight or twelve in Colonial Knife and Fork depression glass
- Getting signatures of all of the U.S. Presidents
No Potential for Financial Gain
How does one rationally explain the collecting of matchbook covers, Cracker Jacks toys, belt buckles, salt cellars, shot glasses, door knobs, etc.?
- Creating and Projecting an Image
- For example, a woman collecting Black Sabbath concert shirts gives very different vibes than one collecting fancy china cups and saucers.
- Enhancing Social Status
- This motive varies by reference group. What might be the reference for someone who collects copper food molds—or someone who collects first editions?
- Conspicuous Consumption
- The only requirement is that the collectible be expensive AND others know it.
- Stave Off Boredom
- The collection allows the collector to spend time learning about the item, acquiring it, and caring for it.
- I met a man who has over 500 sets of salt and pepper shakers, knows where and how he got each, and built hardwood display cases to house them.
- Continue a Family Tradition
- I know one man whose mother collected elephants and mushrooms (various sizes, materials, styles). He inherited her collections and continued from there.
- Childhood Connection
- As a tangible connection to one’s childhood pleasures—such as Barbie dolls or Tonka trucks
- Compensating for Childhood Deprivation
- To feel secure in having “plenty”—especially among people who grew up deprived of something.
- A person who grew up in poverty might collect one thing after another as a financially secure adult : antique cars, napkin rings, mah jong sets, maps, buttons, marbles, artificial Christmas trees.
- Other Ego Defense or Coping Mechanism
- For example, William D. McIntosh & Brandon Schmeichel suggest that collectors are drawn to collecting as a means of bolstering the self by setting up goals that are tangible and attainable and provide the collector with concrete feedback of progress.
Questions for Writers
- What surrounds your character? Are those things random or chosen?
- What does your character collect?
- What does collecting do for your character?
Happy New Year! I hope everyone has a wonderful start to 2019. This is, of course, the time for resolutions to begin… what are your New Year’s resolutions this year?