A LONG TIME COMING

Don’t get in Abigail Adams’s way!

During the framing of the Constitution, Abigail Adams famously urged her husband to “remember the ladies.” But it wasn’t until the 20th century that women were granted the right to vote.  As you may be aware, 2020 is the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. 

Lydia Taft

In 1756, in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, Lydia Taft became the first legal woman voter in colonial America. 

Voting rights did not come easily, nor did they come all at once.  With the exception of internal tribal voting on a few Native American reservations, voting was limited to white women until the 1950s, Unmarried white women who owned property could vote in New Jersey from 1776 until 1807.  Women were casting ballots as early as 1838 in Kentucky, where widows with school age children were allowed to vote on school issues. In 1869, Wyoming granted women full voting rights in territorial and local elections. In 1893, Colorado became the first state to pass women’s suffrage into law. Idaho and Utah gave women the right to vote at the end of the 19th century. By 1914, eleven states and one territory allowed women to vote.

Now that’s just bragging!

Partial Suffrage

During the years of partial suffrage, voting was a complicated business. One solution to the problem of separate ballots came in 1899, when Lenna R. Winslow of Columbus, Ohio—my home state—applied for a patent for a “Voting-Machine.” There were many versions of voting machines already patented, going back to 1875. But Winslow’s creation was unique. It was a single booth with two doors, one marked “Gents” and the other, “Ladies.” When one entered, the door essentially flipped a switch that brought up either the full ballot or the restricted one. Thus this voting machine was an analogue computer.

Iroquois women inspired early feminists

Voting around the world has been restricted in various ways for both women and men, but I’ll focus on women in North America.  Several Native American nations gave women decision making power equal to men, more in some areas. For example, starting sometime before 1654, Iroquois women had a deciding vote in the councils. Women elders voted on the male chiefs and could depose them. 

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Through the end of the 19th Century, there was a gradual shift away from what many historians called the “Cult of True Womanhood”—the idea that the only “true” woman was a pious, submissive wife and mother whose only area of concern were home and family. Many religions encouraged this idealized gender separation.

Seeking Suffrage

The U.S. is typical of modern democracies in that men had the vote before women. One exception was Hawaii. In 1840, the Kingdom of Hawaii had universal suffrage—but it was rescinded for women in 1852.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were active in the suffrage movement and invited abolitionists to meet in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, to discuss women’s rights. The delegates produced a Declaration of Sentiments that began in the words of the Constitution but declared “that all men and women are created equal…”

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, early advocate for freedom and equality, campaigned tirelessly to bring racial justice to suffragist organizations

In the decades leading up to the Civil War, the campaign for women’s suffrage was very active. Perhaps this was because in the 1820s and 1830s most states had extended the vote to all white men, regardless of wealth or property ownership.

The women’s movement lost momentum during the war, but as the 14th and 15th Amendments were passed, the old questions of citizenship and suffrage emerged again. At that point, all males were citizens, and black men were guaranteed the right to vote. 

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), established in the U.S. in 1873 campaigned for women’s suffrage as well as ameliorating the condition of prostitutes. It was one of several organizations who were actively supporting various social causes in addition to women’s suffrage—e.g., anti-alcohol, religious movements, moral-reform societies, and anti-slavery movements.

Freedom Summer for voter registration, 1964

Black suffragists started aggressively asserting their right to vote in the 1890s.  Even after the passage of the 19th Amendment, all women didn’t have equal access: many women of color were disenfranchised through various loopholes and thus had to continue to fight for their voting rights. When poll taxes, literacy or comprehension tests, and onerous residency requirements did not keep people away from the polls, racist enforcers resorted to misinformation or outright intimidation campaigns to prevent Black citizens from voting.

Starting in 1910, some states in the West began extending the vote to women. The Southern and Eastern states were most reluctant. In 1916 Carrie Chapman Catt initiated a campaign to mobilize state and local suffrage groups all across the country to lobby for voting rights state by state.

Several leaders of more aggressive suffragist groups began more confrontational actions than marches and petition drives. Alice Paul used radical, militant tactics—such as hunger strikes and White House pickets—to generate publicity and support for the cause. While picketing outside the White House, 33 members of the National Women’s Party were arrested and sentenced to months in the Occoquan Workhouse. On the night of November 14, 1917, prison guards at the Workhouse restrained, beat, knocked unconscious, and threatened to rape many of the suffragists, including Dora Lewis, Dorothy Day, Minnie Prior, and Lucy Burns. Alice Cosu suffered a heart attack because of the abuse.

Imprisoned suffragists on hunger strikes were often force-fed by jailers. This forced feeding was sometimes fatal.
Ladies born before the 19th Amendment was ratified

The momentum lagged again during World War I, but women’s work on behalf of the war effort turned the tide after the war, leading to the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920—at least 100 years after the start of the movement.

Time Marches On 

In 1923, the National Women’s Party proposed a Constitutional Amendment prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex.  This Equal Rights Amendment has never been ratified.

Lines of people waiting to vote in Philadelphia, 2020
Suffrajitsu was a form a self-defense taught to suffragettes to be used when they were almost inevitability attacked at marches and demonstrations.

Bottom line for writers: Besides the rich background for historical writing, consider a future in which the Equal Rights Act is revoked. Consider what would happen if individual states decided to go back to partial suffrage for some groups.

P.S. Women’s voting rights varied around the world, but with the granting of suffrage in Saudi Arabia in 2013, women can vote in almost every country that holds elections. In the Vatican City, only Cardinals are allowed to vote, and only men can be Cardinals.

JEWELRY AS MORE THAN BEAUTIFICATION: IDENTIFICATION, INFORMATION, AFFILIATION, COMMUNICATION

I’m a jewelry junkie: even staying home I wear earrings, a necklace, a bracelet (only one, unless we’re talking bangles), and at least two decorative rings. If I didn’t wear a lot of jewelry every day, how could I justify having so much of it? For me, and for those who know me, it’s just my style: sterling silver with stones such as jasper, carnelian, onyx, and lapis lazuli.

Museum visits just aren’t complete until whatever jewelry displays are available have been viewed. There are quite a few you can visit online right now!

Nassarius shell beads found in Turkey
Animal bones that may have been Neanderthal adornments

It might be argued that jewelry has been around as long as humans have. The oldest known human jewelry is 100,000-year-old Nassarius shells that were made into beads. An archaeological dig in Croatia provided some evidence that Neanderthals might have made jewelry from 35,000 years before that!

As you probably know, jewelry has been made from such natural materials as bone, animal teeth, shells, pearls, wood, carved stones, and many combinations thereof—and it still is! The term baroque comes possibly from the Portuguese baroca for a misshapen pearl. Less stable materials have rarely withstood the test of time, but people have and do make fabulous adornments from feathers, animal skins, paint, clay, dried leaves, flowers, paper, and even hair. And consider how many body parts you’ve seen adorned with jewelry—for example hairpins, tiaras, earrings, nose rings, neck rings, finger rings, toe rings…

Ring found in an Aztec tomb

Throughout history, people of high importance or status have historically had more jewelry than others, and often were buried with it. Burial spots of Viking chiefs, Egyptian nobles, and Chinese warlords are identified as such because of the fancy weapon and fabulous jewelry next to the corpse. In Ancient Rome, only people of certain ranks could wear rings.

But I started by saying jewelry can be more than beautification.  In earlier times, jewelry served to pin clothes together, to restrain hair, to hide weapons, and as a method of storing wealth.

Identification

The US military will now allow personnel to list The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM or Pastafarian) as a religious preference on dog tags.

Can we count dog tags as jewelry? Made specifically for the purpose of identifying military, they have a long and erratic history. In English, the term “dog tag” comes from the resemblance to animal registrations.

Signaulum

The earliest mention of an identification tag for soldiers comes in the writings of Polyaenus, who described how the Spartans wrote their names on sticks tied to their left wrists. A type of dog tag (“signaculum“) was given to Roman legionaries at the moment of enrollment: a lead disk on a leather string, worn around the neck, with the name of the recruit and the legion to which the recruit belonged. 

Dog tags were provided to Chinese soldiers as early as the mid-19th century. During the Taiping revolt (1851–66), both the Chinese Imperial Army regular servicemen and rebels wearing a uniform wore a wooden dog tag at the belt, bearing the soldier’s name, age, birthplace, unit, and date of enlistment. 

U.S. military personnel have worn dogtags since 1918, primarily for the purpose of handling casualties and deaths. (FYI: There were no official dog tags during the American Civil War. Some soldiers pinned pieces of paper with identifying information to their clothes. A few enterprising jewelry makers started making custom-ordered identification pins for soldiers to buy.)

French or Danish signet ring, unknown owner

Consider other types of ID jewelry: ID bracelets, pendants that spell out a name (usually only a first name). In some places, slaves were made to wear permanent bracelets or necklaces identifying their position and owner. In the days before photographic IDs, people used signet rings to prove their identity when giving orders or sending letters.

Information

Fancy medical alert bracelets

Dog tags show more than just identification; they now include basic medical details like blood type and inoculations as well as religious affiliation.

Staff Sgt. Ivor Griffin with the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor he earned for his service in World War II, finally presented to him at 92 years old

The military is big on jewelry to convey information: number of stripes, number of stars, Purple Hearts, and other medals proclaiming one’s expert standing or honors.

Medical alert jewelry (typically bracelets) to proclaim diabetes, a heart condition, serious allergies, etc., in case medical treatment is needed for someone who cannot talk.

In past years, “mourning jewelry” made of jet or the woven hair of the deceased proclaimed one’s grief—often for a specified period of time, depending on relationship. Malaysian, Aztec, Chinese, Indian, Zulu, Egyptian, and Celtic funeral traditions all include specific jewelry for the corpse or the bereaved. The Victorians (of course) had incredibly detailed and strict rules about what type of mourning jewelry was to be worn, by whom, for which occasion, and for how long after a loved one died.

Traditionally, Japanese women’s hair and hair accessories were practically a résumé in code. The type and placements of a woman’s kanzashi (簪) hairpieces signified marital status, age, profession, social class, training level, etc. The most elaborate hairstyles and kanzashi were worn by geisha, courtesans, and women studying arts such as flower arrangements and tea ceremonies. Kanzashi were originally worn to ward off evil spirits, and they often doubled as weapons.

Maasai women communicate similar status messages in traditional bead-work. Traditionally, every woman learns how to weave together the intricate bead patterns and designs. The jewelry design and color indicates the family a person is from and how wealthy the family is. It also indicates the status of a Maasai woman, whether she is single, engaged or married.

Claddagh rings are common in Irish weddings, signifying love, loyalty, and friendship

And, of course, wedding rings signaling that (presumably) one is not available for romantic or sexual relationships. (FYI, wedding rings for men are relatively recent: by the mid-1940s, 85% of weddings included rings for both bride and groom.) Throughout most of Europe and America, wedding rings are worn on the left hand. In some countries, particular in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, wedding rings are worn on the right hand.

Affiliation

This may be the most common use of jewelry of all (except as pure adornment). On college campuses, Greek fraternities and sororities each have their unique “pins,” worn by members. Consider the jewelry Masons wear, and the rings worn by “Eastern Star” members, the group for women affiliated with a Mason. Other fraternal organization that have nothing to do with college campuses abound, along with their identifying jewelry.

Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts have pins declaring their rank and troop number, but other pins and badges are earned through service and awarded like military honors. Nurses, doctors, firefighters, paramedics, dentists, and many other professionals are presented with pins when they graduate. The pin is a sign of certification and of membership in the group.

The United States Congress has an entire system of jewelry for members. Lapel pins, ribbons, and necklaces show which party a Senator, Representative, spouse, or page belongs to and which Congress they are a member of. Each Congress designs a new design and color scheme.

Mayan nobility may have worn as much as 20 pounds of jewelry while dancing

Jewelry made of precious metals and precious gems, especially designer jewelry, clearly proclaim wealth, and sometimes status.  Societies that are very conscious of class divisions are more likely to place importance on specific types of jewelry worn in public.

Ancient Egyptians used symbols on their jewelry to show territorial pride. The white vulture represented Nekhbet, patron of the Upper Egypt, and the red cobra stood for Wadjet and Lower Egypt.  When the kingdoms were combined, the Pharaoh signified leadership of Upper and Lower Egypt by wearing a crown with a both the cobra and the vulture.

During the Medieval period in Europe, royalty and nobility considered the wearing of fashionable clothing and jewelry a special privilege reserved for themselves. To enforce this idea, sumptuary laws were initiated, primarily in the 14th century. Such laws were meant to curb opulence and promote thrift by regulating what people were allowed to wear. The English sumptuary laws forbade clothing and jewelry of certain materials, above certain price levels, of certain sizes, etc.

Ring with vodun veve sign

Religious affiliation can be signaled by jewelry, usually with symbols of the faith itself, though sometimes with the presence or absence of the jewelry or by what is covered by the jewels. The Star of David for Jews, a crucifix or a stylized fish for Christians. Buddhists may wear a lotus blossom or an image of Buddha. People who fervently believe in the power of Hogwarts may wear the Sign of the Hallows or a symbol of their House mascot.

Communication

Madame Secretary says, “I think this room is bugged.”

All of the above involve communication of some sort. The Smithsonian has a traveling exhibit on jewelry as a form of language and expression, particularly the pins of Madeleine Albright. The former Secretary of State loaned her extensive collection of brooches, many of which had specific messages for those in the know. Queen Elizabeth Tudor is rumored to have had a similar system of jewelry signals for her vast network of spies, but nothing has ever been proven (probably because historians are not spies).

From the Smithsonian National Museum of American History exhibit: Illegal To Be You

Secret messages can be communicated through jewelry even if the wearer is not a politician. In communities where homosexuality is illegal, LGBTQ people will often develop among themselves a discreet code of earrings or particularly colored necklaces. In America before the 1970s, this often took the form of a ring on the pinkie finger or a single earring in the left earlobe. During the American Civil War, abolitionists in Confederate States wore a red ribbon or string to signal that they would help escaping slaves move to safety.

Small squares of colorful beads known as Zulu Love Letters are gaining popularity in South Africa again. Like Maasai necklaces, each bead’s color and its placement in relation to others has a meaning. Together, the beaded designs send a message of love or affection.

Protea, shown here in a corsage, worn for compassion, integrity, or peace (depending on the location)

Perhaps the most ephemeral jewelry of all—flowers—have a very long history of communicating when worn as adornments. Flowers and greens mean different things in different cultures, but they nearly always mean something pleasant when worn on the body. Hawaiian orchids woven in a lei with jasmine blossoms, carnations, or kika blooms are given as a sign of welcome or farewell. The Victorians had such a specific flower code that people could have entire conversations without saying a word, just by wearing combinations of blooms at various times.

Protection

Sign against the Evil Eye

In addition to wearing a religious symbol as a way of declaring one’s membership in a group, many people wear religious amulets or reliquaries for protection from evil influences. In the Middle Ages in Europe, ecclesiastical rings worn by clergy and laymen as sacred emblems, were one of the few exceptions to the nobility’s limits on jewelry.

Curative rings, meant to cure ailments and diseases, were another exception to Medieval sumptuary laws. Necklaces with pouches of herbs, hair ornaments made of holy or lucky materials, and bracelets blessed by clergy are just a few of the ways people have used jewelry in an attempt to guard their health.

Many cultures allow women ownership only of her jewelry, given to her as bride gifts or a dowry. This can give women some degree of financial freedom. She will have ready access to cash if there is an emergency or if she needs to leave her home.

Jewelry can also double as weapons! Roman women wore hairpins that were long enough to be used in self-defense. Rings can double as a variation of brass knuckles or contain poison. Necklaces and very long bracelets can be turned into garrotes or used to tie up an enemy. An enterprising magic user can attach hex bags or cursed amulets to necklaces given as gifts. All sorts of useful methods of assassination can be hidden in lockets, brooches, arm cuffs, or anklets.

Domination

Jewelry that contains part of your soul may seem extra intimidating, but it will likely to be an eventual liability.

One of the first requirements of becoming an Evil Overlord is to acquire some piece of jewelry (usually a ring) that provide power or subdue the will of enemies. Otherwise, all the other Evil Overlords will laugh.

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,

Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,

Nine for Mortal Men, doomed to die,

One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne

In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,

One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

Bottom Line for Writers: As with everything about your characters, consider their jewelry choices and the whys therefore!

WRITING PROTESTS, DEMONSTRATIONS, AND PUBLIC OUTCRIES: THINK BEYOND TODAY’S NEWS

Scribe Amennakhte wrote the Turin Strike Papyrus (c.1157 BCE), believed to be the first written record of workers’ strikes and sit-ins. Tomb artisans in Deir el Medina sat down on the job and refused to work until Pharaoh Ramesses III agreed to pay their food wages.

Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counteract ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.

Saul Alinsky

Marching against injustice or striking for improved work conditions, pressing for suffrage or civil rights, playing music or writing books to increase public awareness—throughout history, all sorts of causes have moved people to seek change. The definition of a protest is both vague and nebulous, depending on the speaker. For the purpose of this blog, I’m going to limit my definition to a conscious attempt by people in a society to change some part of the status quo.

Part of the Bayeux Tapestry, depicting the Battle of Hastings

The Battle of Hastings in 1066 was not a protest by William the Conqueror against the policies of King Harold of England. A toddler throwing mashed peas on the floor is not protesting in an attempt to change the household policies on vegetable consumption.

A very British protest
Swan Lake meets the Red Lady Army

protest is an expression of objections, disapproval, or dissent regarding an idea or action, typically a political one. The intention is to publicize opinions in an attempt to influence public opinion and/or government policy or to alter conditions so that the change results directly. The categories listed below can have a great deal of overlap: a rally may include protest music; a hunger strike may be accompanied by a vigil; a march may end with delivering a petition, etc. Nearly any type of protest can end in violence, either on the part of the protesters or from opponents trying to stop the protest. Today’s blog will be limited to protests intended to be peaceful.

  • Rally: People in the affected group gather together, often with other allies from the community, to improve solidarity, boost morale, and demonstrate the size of the affected community.
    • Rallies often include speeches, speakers, singing, preaching, and other attempts to raise awareness in the general community and encourage people to continue to campaign.
    • Crowds of people rallied together are more likely to attract media attention, providing a platform for the message to be spread further.
Russians protest 2019 election results in Moscow

Roman plebians were occasionally allowed to gather in a few public spaces to make their grievances against behaviors and unmet expectations of the princeps heard, primarily outside theaters, bathhouses, and the circus.

Students rallied at Tiananmen Square in 1989 to call for more freedom and government transparency.

Turkish women rally to protest violence against women and police apathy

Georgians rally in Tbilisi to legalize marijuana

The M’ikmaq people of the Elsipogtog First Nation took a stand against fracking in 2013 in New Brunswick.

  • March: Affected people and supporters move from point A to point B, often beginning or ending with a rally. Marches often include prayer walks, chants, and singing, as well as signs and banners detailing demands.
    • Though most protests are relatively short, a few miles or circling around and around the same area, some are extremely long.
Soweto student march against South African Apartheid in 1976

In 195 BCE, Roman women came from all over the country to march on Forum in protest of the Senate refusing to repeal the lex Oppia, a law funding the Punic Wars by forbidding women wearing jewelry.

Mary Harris “Mother” Jones led the March of the Mill Children from Philadelphia to New York in 1903 to protest working conditions, especially child labor conditions.

Marches for racial justice and equality have taken place around the world in the past few weeks

Opal Lee, who is 93, is walking from Ft Worth, Texas to D.C. to protest for racial justice and deliver a petition to Donald Trump.

  • Vigil: Banners, placards, candles, and/or leaflets are displayed quietly so passersby know what the vigil stands for even if those standing vigil say nothing.
    • Many vigils are accompanied by music and symbolic lighting or extinguishing of candles or lights to symbolize lost lives or spreading hope, among other statements.
    • A vigil can also be held to raise morale for someone who is unable to be there, to let someone confined in hospital or prison know that others in the community are aware of their plight, or to bring awareness to authorities or the community at large.
UCI nurses held a candlelight vigil protest the lack of personal protective equipment for health care workers treating COVID-19 patients and to honor health care workers who have contracted COVID-19. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Vigils have been held outside prisons to ask authorities too release at-risk, nonviolent prisoners so they won’t die of COVID-19.

A candlelit vigil is held every year to mark the anniversary of the massacre at Tiananmen Square.

Jenny Holzer staged a lightshow vigil to remember victims of gun violence and to spark conversation on how to prevent it in the future.

  • Art – Creativity of every kind is put to use in support of various causes.
Sections of the Berlin Wall left standing have become canvasses for murals calling for peace and freedom.

SongsStrange Fruit became one of the most well-known anthems of the American Civil Rights Movement.

Music -The Brothers of Brass play Louisiana-style jazz at racial justice protests in Denver.

Dance – Young ballerinas in Richmond, VA dance to protest monuments to Confederate generals in 2020.

Grafitti – Tahrir Square in Iraq has been surrounded by murals painted in support of equality.

Theater “The Other Shore” was written by Gao Xingjian in 1986 to protest government censorship and lack of individuality. It has never been performed in mainland China.

Poetry Sextus Propertius the poet wrote several poems highly critical of Caesar Augustus’ warlike nature, generally decrying militarism as a policy.

  • Petition: Having a written record of multitudes who support a cause is an effective way of getting the attention of authorities.
Activists deliver 400,000 signatures on a petition against changes to the NHS in England.

King John was petitioned by his barons to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede in England in 1215, reducing the power of the monarchy.

Human Rights Campaign gathering signatures to present to legislature in support of a bill supporting equal right

  • Satire: Rather than attack an authority directly, undermining credibility or gravity by mocking is sometimes a more effective method of advancing a cause.
Protesters shed their clothes to protest the clothing industry’s reliance on sweatshop labor

Vikings historically have been portrayed as uncivilized barbarians without culture or intelligence by the people who left written records of them – literate monks whose monasteries had been burned.

Lysistrata is a comedic play by Aristophanes about women trying to end the Peloponnesian War by withholding sex until their husbands agree to stop fighting.

Environmental protesters in London protesting corporate interests putting profit over humanity.

Across the street from Westboro Baptist Church, a notoriously anti-gay religious sect, the home owners have painted their houses in the colors of Gay Pride and Transgender Pride.

PETA activists often demonstrate in public by dressing ridiculously to illustrate absurdities in the meat and fur industries.

Ester Hernandez created this illustration to express anger at the human and environmental costs of commercially grown agriculture.

  • Information distribution: tabling votes, gathering petition signatures, lobbying letter-writing campaign, teach-ins.
    • “Doxxing” (or doxing) is a destructive variation of this type of protest, more common since the spread of the internet. Protesters widely publish contact details and sensitive information about people with whom they disagree in an effort to endanger their careers, social lives, families, and personal safety.
Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis shows names of Black people killed by police

Lewis Hine’s photographs of child laborers showed the terrible conditions in which they worked, creating a public outcry

White Rose Society students in Germany protested Nazis by secretly printing anti-Nazi pamphlets and leaflets with information about prison camps and SS atrocities.

Incorrect doxxing nearly ruined the life of Kyle Quinn after he was mistakenly identified online as having taken part in a neo-Nazi rally. He was not involved in any way and was not even in the same time zone.

  • Lawsuit: A social movement or group can sometimes use the legal system to advance their aims. 
A recent US Supreme Court ruling allows immigrants brought to the country as children to stay.

The Sumerian Code of Ur-Nammu, one of the oldest recorded legal systems, provides methods for women to sue for divorce, for slaves to be set free or re-enslaved, for everyone to be punished, and for property disputes to be resolved.

Elizabeth Freeman was the first woman to win her freedom in court in America, having successfully sued for her freedom from her former owner in 1781.

Richard and Mildred Loving took their case all the way to the US Supreme Court in 1958 to defend their right to marry, opening the way for all other interracial marriages.

  • Symbols: Pictures are worth a thousand words, and actions speak louder than words… The same is true when protesting. There are many ways to call attention symbolically to a cause
A die-in for eight minutes and 46 seconds in memory of George Floyd, to call for police reform

Shoes left empty to stand in place of people being killed by climate change

Indian students bandaged their eyes to echo the injuries inflicted on a fellow student and to protest safety for Jamia students

Indian farmers stood in chest-deep water for days to call attention to rising floods ruining their farmlands

Puerto Rican protesters erected a guillotine against government corruption

South African women taped their mouths shut to protest community silence about rape

Chinese students against government propoganda education

Colin Kaepernick knelt during the playing of the National Anthem before football games to protest police murder of Black people

Activists in Pamplona, Spain painted themselves red and staged a die-in to protest the Running of the Bulls

A Syrian migrant sewed his mouth shut in protest of the lack of safety or empathy in the world for refugees

Tommie Smith and John Carlos bowed their heads and raised a Black Power salute during the medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics, in support of the Civil Rights Movement. Peter Norman, the Australian sprinter who won the Silver Medal, had his award stripped as punishment for his support of his fellow athletes.

Protesters put plastic bags on their heads to demand clean air and action against climate change

Bicyclists dumped yellow paint on the roadways around the Arc d’Triomphe, causing motorists to spread the paint into the shape of the sun, raising awareness for solar energy

Toni Smith turned her black on the flag during the Pledge of Allegiance to protest racial inequality.

Taiwan workers blocked a highway with a die-in, bodies spell out “raise our salaries”

  • Clothing, or lack thereof, can send a strong yet silent message. People can call attention to their message by wearing clothing considered socially unacceptable, wearing acceptable clothing in an uncommon way, or wearing clothing that is strongly linked with a particular cause.
    • Because women have traditionally been excluded from the sphere of public discourse, many women brought attention to their causes through fashion.
    • Writing on clothing allows a protester to make their voice heard without actually speaking.
    • Refusing to wear a particular garment or any garments at all can also send a message.
A model for Gucci made a surprise statement on the runway to protest the designer’s use of glamorized straight jackets in a fashion show. “Mental Illness is not fashion” is written on her palms.

Amelia Bloomer popularized the garment allowing women more comfort and freedom

Women dressed in antique costumes to highlight old-fashioned, sexist laws

London protesters showed their almost-everything to protest the unsafe and unrealistic body standards used by Victoria’s Secret

Girls from Lincoln High wore trousers to school in 1942 to call for an end to the double standards of the dress code

Boys from Clovis High School wore dresses to protest continuing, sexist, double standards in student dress codes

Congressional Black Caucus members wear Kente cloth to display pride in their African heritage.

Saudi Arabian women wore their abayas and niqabs inside out to protest laws requiring women to be fully covered in public

During a protest against sexual assault, this woman wore clothes documenting all the ways men have touched her inappropriately against her will.

IRA political prisoners on Block H refused to wear prison uniforms and wrapped themselves in blankets to protest the British government revoking their status of political prisoners in 1978.

Burkinis on French beaches have become a contentious issue, with the French government banning them and women demanding to wear them.

Jadon Sancho took off his jersey after scoring a goal to reveal a shirt calling for Justice for George Floyd.

Andrew Hawkins wore a shirt emblazoned with the names of men killed by police

LA Lakers players wore shirts echoing George Floyd’s last words in support of Black Lives Matter

US Women Soccer players wore inside out jerseys to protest pay gap

Women dressed like Handmaid’s Tale to protest anti-abortion laws

Indigenous dress to protest racist team names like Redskins

The 2016 Women’s March on Washington featured thousands of women wearing pink hats in protest of Donald Trump.

Slutwalk to protest victim blaming

French men protest gay marriage by being… naked

Philipino naked protestors against Ferdinand Marcosa buried in hero cemetary

  • Strike, slow down, sick-outs to protest work issues: often follows a failure of negotiations.
Chilean workers on strike in support of popular protests for government change

Pullman car operators on strike in 1894 clashed with union-busters

Factory workers in St. Petersburg, Russia went on strike in 1905, but the Nicholas II sent in the military to break it up.

Shipyard workers in 1942 staged a sit-down protest to call for wage increases

Workers at the Oracle Korea plant on strike

Employees at Woolworth staged a sit-down strike for a regular 40-hour workweek.

Inmates in US prisons went on a hunger strike and refused to work in 2016 and 2018 to call for better conditions and voting rights.

AIIMS- doctors protest racism being treated like terrorists by going on strike for one day

  • Boycott: Organized refusal to buy or use a product or service in protest of the owners, the vendors, the production, or another aspect that is in need of changing.
Customers and employees call for a boycott of WalMart to push for higher wages and better HR policies.

Employees at a stocking factory opposing a boycott of Japanese goods, including silk

American consumers were told to fight Nazis with their wallets during World War II

After Rosa Parks’s arrest in 1955, the Montgopmery Bus Boycott led to thousands of people walking and bicycling to work in protest of bus segregation. 

  • Picket: hold signs, placards, or banners and walking around circles, with or without singing, chanting etc., point is to impede access to a place or to address the people going into that place, there are legal lengths now to how long a picketer is allowed to physically impede someone trying to cross the line
Miners on strike picketing in 1984

Women working in clothing factories went on strike for safer working conditions and better wages following the deadly fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.

Sanitation workers on strike picketing to protest segregation during the Civil Rights Movement.

Verizon employees on strike form a picket line.

  • Civil Disobedience: Deliberately breaking laws (often seen as unjust) is a way to protest their enforcement. The laws broken are typically not violent ones (such as those against murder or driving drunk) and are usually broken with the deliberate intention of being arrested, possibly causing a scene and raising attention while being arrested.
Leshia Evans stood to be arrested in defiance of police orders trying to break up protest after the deaths of Philando Castile and Tamir Rice.

Henry David Thoreau went to jail rather than pay taxes going to support the Mexican American War.

Students sat at the lunch counters in defiance of segregated Whites-Only rules.

Civil Rights protesters deliberately entered spaces marked for segregation, such as the Azalea Room.

Flower arranging without a license in front of Louisiana courthouse

Protesters kissing outside the DUMA in Moscow to push back against new laws against public shows of affection in same-sex couples

Kristen Stewart was disgusted by a dress code requiring women to wear high heels at Cannes Film Festival, so she took off her shoes and went barefoot.

Irish protesters kissing outside DAIL in support of gay marriage

Lebanese protesters for government reforms used multiple means to block roads, including burning tires, practicing yoga in intersections, and setting up living space in the middle of highways.

The Kiss of Love Campaign in India is a protest against moral policing forbidding public affection.

Protesters blocked traffic to the courthouse in Kansas during a Black Lives Matter rally.

Graffiti artists are illegal in most areas, but protesters like this woman send messages of solidarity with suffering and demanding government action.

  • Sabotage, property destruction, assasination, riot, mob

Bottom Line for Writers: Someone will always want change, and almost any method they choose to create it has some example in history.

JUST THE FACTS

Below you will find facts, maybe useful in your writing, definitely fun—IMHO. As the title says, this is just the facts. If something catches your eye, you can find more about it online. (Most of these are on multiple websites, so list is just for your convenience.)

Showers really do spark creativity

Five of the ten deadliest poisonous snakes are native to Australia

Many dogs have served US military campaigns, even earning medals, awards, and combat ranking.

  • Sergeant Stubby served in the 102nd Infantry Division in World War I, the only dog to be promoted through the ranks by serving in combat. He was awarded several medals alongside his handler.
  • Rags was a stray terrier mutt picked up by an AWOL soldier who used him to bluff his way back into the 1st Infantry Division commander’s good graces. He delivered messages in the trenches, warned of incoming shells, and replaced field telephone wires. After being injured in a gas attack, Rags and his handler were both honorably discharged and sent home. Rage is buried with full military honors.

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  • Smoky the Battle Dog was found abandoned in a foxhole during WWI and earned eight battle stars in Papua New Guinea and the Philippines, despite weighing only four pounds. In addition to running radio cables, alerting soldiers of incoming shells and gas, and delivering messages, Smoky is unofficially recognized as the first military therapy animal.
  • Chips was part of the Dogs for Defense program initiated in World War II. He was awarded the Silver Star for Valor and the Purple Heart for being injured in battle. (Those medals were later taken back by higher-ups who claimed Chips was “equipment” rather than a soldier, despite the fact that Chips took out several German pillboxes and disabled all the enemy soldiers within entirely by himself. He is buried with his medals, but don’t tell the generals.)
  • Nemo A534 was wounded in combat during the Vietnam War but still guarded his handler long enough for the man to radio for help and receive a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. Nemo was one of the first dogs given an honorable discharge from Vietnam and sent home to retirement.
  • Lucca lost her leg while clearing IEDs in Iraq on her second tour of duty. She was awarded the Dickin Medal by the PDSA and a (unofficial) Purple Heart by one of the hundreds of service members whose lives she had saved.

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The longest wedding veil was the length of 63.5 football fields (6,962.6 m or 22,843 ft 2.11 in)

Superman didn’t fly until 1943 — before that, he could jump 1/8 mile high

The first mechanical computer was invented in the 1822 (by Charles Babbage, not Superman) — the first electrically programmable computer was invented by Tommy Flowers in 1943 (also not by Superman)

Space smells like seared steak or welding fumes

The official state drink for Ohio is tomato juice

The national animal of Scotland is the unicorn

Bees sometimes sting other bees (when bees from another colony or species tries to enter the hive without bringing pollen)

Hmong, Silbo Gomero, Yupik Inuit, Amazigh, Wam Akhah, and Kuskoy are only a few of the more than seventy communities who communicate by whistling

Whistles travel about ten times farther than spoken words, up to five miles

There are about ten thousand trillion (1,000,000,000,000,000) ants on earth

Depending on age, kids typically ask 40,000 (between ages two and five) to 300 (between ages five and twelve) questions every day

The letter E occurs in 11% of all English words

in 1998, twelve hundred human bones were found in the basement of the London house where Benjamin Franklin lived, dating from the time when Franklin was staying there. Whether the constantly curious and observant Benjamin Franklin knew what was in his basement… the world may never know.

The healthiest place to live is Shangri-La Valley in Panama

The first iPhone was made by Cisco

Romanian police officers often take ballet lessons to improve spatial and body awareness

King Pepi II, Egyptian pharaoh, had a slave coated in honey to draw insects away from himself

barreleye is a a large deep-ocean fish with a completely transparent head

Approximately 10-30% (depending on the source) of people have a fabella bone in their knee

Technically, Pringles aren’t potato chips

Abraham Lincoln’s bodyguard (John Frederick Parker) left his post at Ford’s Theatre to go for a drink — he told family members that Lincoln had dismissed him with the valet

Dolphins have been trained to be used in wars: Russia, Ukraine, Iran, and the US have all had Military Marine Mammal divisions at some point

Playing the accordion was once a requirement for teachers in North Korea

Several patent medicines once contained morphine

Donald Weder holds more patents than Thomas Edison

There are approximately 2,000 moving parts in a modern pedal harp

Pouring cold water makes a slightly higher-pitched sound than pouring hot water

Pro baseball once had women players, mostly to keep stadiums full during WWII

One California Highway Patrol officer (Kevin Briggs, “Guardian of the Golden Gate Bridge”) has talked-down over 200 potential suicides

In 16th and 17th century Europe, cannibalism was fairly common—for medical purposes!

Onesimus, an African slave in Boston, was the first person to introduce inoculations to the American colonies in 1706

Koalas have fingerprints

Riding a roller coaster could help you pass a kidney stone (renal calculi passage if you want to be fancy)

Most dogs can learn to recognize about 165 words

Dinosaurs lived on every continent

Bee hummingbirds are so small they are sometimes mistaken for insects (only 0.056 – 0.071 oz)

Sea lions can dance to a beat (though I can’t say much for their taste in music)

The legend of the Loch Ness Monster goes back nearly 1500 years, first spotted in 565 AD

Two-three teaspoons of raw nutmeg can induce hallucinations, convulsions, pain, nausea, and paranoia that can last for several days, and rarely, death

For 100 years, maps (including Google Earth) have shown Sandy Island off the north-west coast of Australia, though cartographers have been demonstrating that it does not actually exist since at least 1974

A Lone Star tick bite can make you allergic to red meat by transferring a sugar molecule called alpha-gal into your blood

It is illegal to allow a dog to fight a pig in an enclosed space in Florida, but perfectly legal to use dogs to hunt wild pigs

Greenland sharks can live for 300-400 years

If a pickle doesn’t bounce, it cannot be called a pickle, according to Connecticut law

The English Monarchy owns at least two private properties, one in the Moors of Shropshire and one in London near the Royal Courts of Justice, addresses unknown

Note to writers: plot lines and/or esoteric knowledge for characters, use as you will!

Snopes.com is an excellent resource for making sure your fun facts are actually factual, and it can also be an inspiration for plots or characters from urban legends. My favorite is the one about the bodies hidden under the motel floorboards!

WHEN LIVING IT ISN’T ENOUGH—OR IT’S TOO MUCH

As writers, we are told to write what we know, but it isn’t possible for anyone to have firsthand knowledge of everything. We turn to secondary sources for an idea of what our characters might have lived through, what they could have seen and felt in situations outside our own experience. Here are some particularly interesting sources relevant to today’s headlines.

Here is a Partial List of Books About Social Protests, Recommended by Goodreads:

  • Demons, Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1872)
  • It Can’t Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis (1935)
  • The Warriors, Sol Yurick (1965)
  • The Gunslinger, Stephen King (1982)
  • Smoky Night, Eve Bunting (1994)
  • Strange Future: Pessimism and the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, Min Young Song (2005)
  • Pages Stained with Blood, Indira Goswani (2002)
  • The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America, Barnet Schecter (2005)
  • Riot, Walter Dean Myers (2009)
  • Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America, Cameron McWhirter (2011)
  • The Black Box, Michael Connelly (2012)
  • Bachelor Buttons, Kathleen L. Maher (2013)
  • Jordan’s Stormy Banks, Jefferson Bass (2013)
  • The Harlem Hellfighters, Max Brooks (2014)
  • Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, Sunil Yapa (2016)
  • A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919, Claire Hartfield (2017)
  • The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas (2017)
  • In Our Mad and Furious City, Guy Gunaratne (2018)
  • I’m Not Dying With you Tonight, Kimberly Jones (2019)
  • Jazz Owls: A Novel of the Zoot Suit Riots, Margarita Engle (2019)

This is a handy guide for safe and legal protesting.

The 20 Best Books About Pandemics, According to Vulture.com:

  • A Journal of the Plague Year, Daniel Defoe (1722)
  • Pale Horse, Pale Rider, Katherine Anne Porter (1939)
  • The Plague, Albert Camus (1947)
  • The Andromeda Strain, Michael Crichton (1969)
  • The Stand, Stephen King (1978)
  • Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Márquez (1985)
  • Journals of the Plague Years, Norman Spinard (1988)
  • The Child Garden, Geoff Ryman (1989)
  • Ammonite, Nicola Griffith (1992)
  • Beauty Salon, Mario Bellatín (1994)
  • Blindness, José Saramago (1995)
  • The Years of Rice and Salt, Kim Stanley Robinson (2002)
  • Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood (2003)
  • The Children’s Hospital, Chris Adrian (2006)
  • The Transmigration of Bodies, Yuri Herrera (translated by Lisa Dillman) (2013)
  • Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel (2014)
  • Find Me, Laura Van Den Berg (2015)
  • Severance, Ling Ma (2018)
  • The Book of M, Peng Shepherd (2018)
  • The Old Drift, Namwali Serpell (2019)

The CDC has provided information about staying healthy during the COVID19 pandemic.

How to protest safely while staying healthy during a global pandemic.

Note to writers: Everything old is new again! Inspiration and resources can be found in the unlikeliest places.

WRITING TIPS: OLDIES BUT GOODIES

Officially authentic Italian style

You are likely to recognize at least some of these tips.  They turn up in writing classes, critique groups, and books on writing well.  Still, a review never hurts.

Kill Your Favorites

How much pepperoni is too much pepperoni?

People have speech patterns, habitual gestures, familiar facial expressions, and characteristic ways of walking. Writers also have writing habits–favorite words or expressions that often seem apt. Maybe you like voices that rumble like thunder. Perhaps you are partial to jettison for flummoxed. Take care that you don’t over-use these darlings. Once in any short story is sufficient, unless their repetition is part of the story. Think twice before repeating them even in a book-length manuscript.

Is it possible to have too much cheese?

Other words aren’t necessarily favorites, just so common – so universal – that they slip in unnoticed. Probably your readers won’t notice, either. But they are so insipid that they deaden your writing. I’m talking about words like smile, frown, scowl, laugh, sigh. I’m talking about faces that flush, eyes that fill with tears.

Make a list of words that you use a lot – that you suspect that you use too often. Use the edit function of your word processing program to find each instance of each of these words. Consider which can be replaced with more precise and/or more vivid alternatives.

Beware Wrap-ups and Extensions

All that added cheese is doing no one any good.

To take an example familiar to most people reading this blog: if you have a child narrator/POV for telling the Biblical story of Noah’s ark, stop when the child is out of the story. Do not then add an authorial note about global warming, animal evolution, or anything else that is modern. If you have a mother narrating the loss of three children in a natural disaster, don’t add an authorial note after the mother’s death that tells how the one remaining daughter became a nun and devoted her life to working with children following natural disasters.

These examples are blatant, but beware of more subtle wrap-ups as well. If you have a wrap-up at all, as opposed to an ending, ask yourself whether it takes the reader out of the story itself, whether it adds anything relevant, whether you can do without it.

Make Use of Your Dreams

Keep a notebook/journal/folder – whatever suits your style – in which you record your especially vivid or disturbing subconscious ramblings. Record the dream as soon after the event as you reasonably can, and include as many details as you remember, however bizarre, disjointed, or impossible they may be. You can make use of these dream records in at least two ways.

The most obvious way to use these dream records is when you need your character to have a dream. You can either lift it in total or use it as a starting point. Much easier than creating a dream out of whole cloth.

Because dreams often contain odd juxtapositions, they also are useful when you are writing something that calls for a supernatural, mysterious, or merely unexpected series of events.

Once you are in the habit of collecting your dreams – and maybe the dreams told to you by family or friends – you may find yourself using them in surprising ways.

Use Uncomfortable Words

Potato chips? Lobster? Marshmallows?

Uncomfortable words are perfectly correct and not obscene. Nevertheless, they often surprise – or even shock – the reader. Sometimes they make the reader uncomfortable. These latter words can simply be highly personal. My high school English teacher was bothered by the word “bother.” She said it made her think of dirty old men. One of my personal preferences is to use “it isn’t” rather than “it’s not,” the latter sounding too much like “snot”–which is an uncomfortable word for a lot of people.

Kiwi?!

Consider succulent, flaccid, penal, ovoid, horehound, hump, abreast, coldcock, excretion, floppy, fondle, globule, goiter, lipid, niggardly, onus, rectify, and more.

Choose uncomfortable words for effect. Use them sparingly.

Listen

There’s something about listening to the pizza original that just seems to get lost in CD or digital files.

Pay attention to the sounds around you – speech and non. Think of how to describe that bird call – or the rainfall, or the traffic, or the crowd at the game – really sounds, and write it down. But also listen to what people are saying. Pick up on strong phrases such as “plucking my last nerve” or anecdotes containing disturbing images, such as a man on a bus with a dead rabbit in a paper bag. Jot these things into your writing journal for later inspiration.

Remember The Five Ws

You probably have a vague recollection that sometime in the past – perhaps in high school – someone told you that when writing a newspaper article, you need to cover all five Ws: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. That is good advice in general, including fiction–and even memoir.

Where is this pizza and how can I get some?
  • The Who covers both the character(s) and the Point of View. 
  • What is generally what the POV character is striving for – anything from making the team to becoming the richest person in the world.
  • When can be as specific as April 19, 1945 or a vague as once upon a time… 
  • Where is, of course, setting.
Why? Really, just… why?
  • And Why is motivation – what is driving the character. Much depends on Why, and within the context of your story it must be both believable and sufficient to justify the act. If your character kills someone to secure a spot on the team, the stakes for making/not making the team must be very high indeed, and fully developed in the story.

Writing Both Sides

Characters who are either too good or too evil are too flat! Settings – whether rooms, cars, or countrysides – that are unmitigated beauty are likely to be unbelievable. Pick and choose the good and the bad, especially for your protagonist. 

Bottom line for writers: Good tips for good writing will never grow old!

If you feel stuck, try approaching your writing from a different angle.

WHEN PEOPLE ARE STRESSED OR ANXIOUS

And who isn’t, these days? But a pandemic isn’t the only trigger for defense mechanisms.  For example, the death of a loved one, loss of a job, life-threatening illness, relocation, demotion . . . the possibilities are endless. So, for you reading pleasure and maybe your writing of believable characters, here’s a quick overview of ways people cope with thoughts, feelings, or acts that are too psychologically painful to tolerate.

Hulk throws the ultimate temper tantrums.

Acting Out 
Performing an extreme behavior when a person cannot otherwise express thoughts or feelings. A child’s temper tantrum would be one example. Hurting oneself is one form of acting out—cutting or burning oneself, literally banging one’s head against a wall.

Aim Inhibition
Rather than admit to failure, a person accepts a more modest goal. Think of someone who had hopes for a career in the NFL who becomes a high school coach.

If he can’t be the Flash, at least he can be Whizzer!

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Altruism
Rather than admit having no control over a situation, a person copes by helping others, perhaps compulsively. This is a person who needs to be needed and may promote helplessness in those close to him/her.

The Angel had such a strong compulsion to help everyone that Dr. Charles Xavier of the X-Men diagnosed him with “heropathy” (not an actual disease).

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Avoidance
Refusing to deal with the situation. In the current pandemic, choosing not to watch the news, read the newspapers, or respond to online postings.

Deadpool has been using running and laughing to avoid his horrible life situations since he was a child.

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Compartmentalization
Keeping different parts of one’s life in separate compartments, often with different moral guidelines. For example, someone who lies, cheats, steals, or hurts others to make a living but is unfailingly kind, helpful, and loyal to family and loved ones. Another example would be someone who enjoys extramarital sex but would never have “an affair” because that involves emotional intimacy and thus would be “cheating.”

Matt Murdock is a blind defense lawyer by day and the superhuman illegal vigilante Daredevil by night.

Compensation
Overachievement in one area because of failure in another. For example, throwing oneself into professional achievement because of failure of a marriage or intimate relationships. Or the opposite: not making it professionally and then becoming a helicopter parent.

Hartley Rathaway was born deaf and became obsessed with sound manipulation, eventually becoming the Pied Piper.

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The Amazons on Themyscira spent centuries denying the existence of any world outside their island paradise.

Denial
Basically, this is saying it isn’t so.  “There is no pandemic. It’s all a hoax—or an exaggeration.”  “It isn’t that dangerous.” Addicts often deny that they have a problem.

Displacement
Taking out frustrations, feelings, or impulses on people or objects that are less threatening. It usually applies to displaced aggression. The classic example is the boss criticizes the employee, the employee yells at his/her spouse, the spouse scolds the child, and the child kicks the dog. Of course, the person might just abuse the child or pet. Or one might smash a fist into the wall or break something.

Reed Richards “Mr. Fantastic” frequently expressed his frustrations with the world by beating his wife and children. This panel occurred immediately after such an outbreak.

Dissociation
Mentally separating oneself from one’s body or environment in order to keep an overwhelming experience at a distance. An example would be someone unhappy with his/her job has trouble concentrating at work, frequently “daydream” or finding his/her mind wandering.

Trance used her astral projection ability to escape the demonic Limbo pocket dimension and get help.

Fantasy
Retreating to a safe place in one’s mind. If one can’t find relief in fantasizing about being turned into a movie star or whatever, you can get much the same effect by binge reading or tv watching or gaming.

Michael Jon Carter hated his life in the 25th century, so he traveled back in time with stolen gadgets to live out a fantasy life as the superhero Booster Gold in the 20th century.

Humor
Seeing the funny or ironic side of any situation. This is actually a pretty adaptive way to handle stress and anxiety. For example, wearing a face mask with giant mustache attached or creating silly photo shoots of pets in quarantine.

Spiderman is a master of using bad jokes to torture his enemies.

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Dr. Manhattan is so brilliant that he loses all touch with humanity.

Intellectualization
Focusing on the problem/problematic thoughts in a cold, factual way. For example, putting the current pandemic into the context of  pandemics through the ages, how devastating they were, how they were transmitted, how they were dealt with, etc.

Passive Aggression
This is often the refuge for someone who can’t express anger or aggression directly (by scolding, hitting, etc.). For example, a teenager who is assigned a chore, such as mopping the kitchen floor, who begins by asking a gazillion questions about where to find and how to use the necessary equipment, then doesn’t sweep before starting, then mopping around the table rather than under it, and finally leaving soap scum behind.

Emma Frost generally straddles the line between passive-aggressive and aggressive-aggressive, depending on her allies.

Projection
Ascribing one’s unacceptable qualities, thoughts, or feelings to others. Think Donald Trump accusing reporters of being rude.

Harley Quinn projected her brainwashing and Stockholm Syndrome onto Flash and tried to “cure” him.

Rationalization
Basically, this is making excuses. You did it, you aren’t denying that you did it, but you give rational or logical reasons for it. What makes this a defense mechanism is that the stated/acknowledged reason isn’t the real motivation. For example, you pawned your mother’s wedding and engagement rings and claim you needed the money when you really wanted to hurt her—or you hated your dead father and don’t want the reminder around.

Gin Genie can create seismic shock waves in direct relation to the amount of alcohol in her system. To be a powerful superhero, she also has to be an abusive alcoholic.

Kamala Khan wants to fit in and avoid trouble but goes out of her way to stand up and confront super villains and terrorists when she shifts into Ms. Marvel.

Reaction Formation
Replacing an unacceptable feeling, impulse, or behavior with the opposite. For example, subconsciously wishing a sibling would fail and so going out of one’s way to be helpful and promote success — the perfect fan.

Regression
A person reverts to a pattern of behavior that worked when one was younger. Think thumb-sucking, crying, sulking, or temper tantrums.

Zatanna feels such guilt over using her powers to erase the memories of her enemies and friends that her powers revert to a level she had when younger.

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Repression
I like to think of this as motivated forgetting. Things that are too painful are kept out of consciousness awareness, but may have a powerful effect on behavior. For example, a victim of early childhood sexual abuse who doesn’t remember the event(s) but has difficulty becoming intimate.

Jessica Jones has years of repressed memories thanks to brainwashing and mind control.

Suppression
Much like repression, but one consciously decides not to think about or remember something. This is fairly tough to pull off!  Every time it comes to consciousness, one distracts oneself with something else. One example: having an obsessive thought running through one’s head is a way to block other scarier or more stressful thoughts from surfacing.

The Red Room training forced Natasha Romanoff to remove all empathy and mercy and become the Black Widow. She had to retrain herself to join the Avengers.

Sublimation
Act out unacceptable impulses by transforming them into a more acceptable form. For example, aggressive impulses channeled into martial arts. Someone who likes looking at naked bodies takes up figure drawing.

Batman has turned the anger and grief from watching his parents’ murder into a drive to fight crime.

Undoing
Closely related to Reaction Formation but usually on a more conscious level; trying to make up for unacceptable thoughts, feelings, or behaviors — sort of like an unstated apology. For example, a child who is jealous of a younger sibling and wishes s/he were dead might make a point of giving that sibling toys, one’s cookie, etc.

Tomorrow Woman is an android created to destroy the Justice League. She achieves artificial consciousness and sacrifices herself to destroy her creators instead.

BOTTOM LINES FOR WRITERS: Everyone uses defense mechanisms. It’s how we cope. Choose defense mechanisms for your characters that are in line with his/her character in general. So, for example, a scientist is unlikely to use denial and more likely to use intellectualization.

Although using defense mechanisms is natural, normal, and helpful on an episodic or “acute” basis, long-term or “chronic” use can lead to emotional problems because the underlying threat or anxiety is never actually addressed.

The most emotionally stable superhero out there seems to be Zephyr aka Faith Herbert, from Valiant Entertainment. We should all be as awesome as Zephyr!

PANHANDLING 101

Why would you have a character panhandle?  I can think of several reasons just off the top of my head.

Buddhist monk in Thailand with a rice begging bowl
  1. S/he really is down and out and desperate
  2. It requires less training, credentials, etc., than a regular job
  3. To win a bet or meet a dare
  4. To put one over on the gullible
  5. To conduct undercover surveillance
  6. To collect research data
  7. Funding a backpacking tour (“beg-packing”)
  8. Several religious orders are mendicants and depend on donations from devout followers

Thanks to wikiHow, we have a clear recipe for successful panhandling—or failure, depending on the needs of your plot. Here’s the basic recipe, taken largely from the wikiHow panhandling page, but visit Marginal Revolution or Prepper Press for more detail and the rationale behind recommendations. See also Inc.com, Bill Murphy, Jr. on sales techniques.

Location

  • Choose a place with lots of foot traffic:
    • Subway stations
    • Metro stops
    • Truck stops
    • Urban campuses
    • These places may require talking
  • Alternatively, a place with lots of auto traffic:
    • These places need a clearly visible sign
    • Doesn’t work as well in cold, rainy weather
Panhandlers in Shanghai have gone high-tech!
  • If feasible, move location to take advantage of changing seasons and weather
  • Stick to downtown commercial district and middle-class neighborhoods
  • Don’t use the same location more than once a month
  • Choose medium to large cities
  • Do not beg near ATMs
  • Don’t walk in the street
  • Don’t block traffic

The Big Ask

  • Ask politely
  • Say thank you
  • Be believable, whether truth or fiction
  • Make the story fit the location, with props if appropriate (see notes on animals and children)
  • Ask for a specific amount of money, e.g., the precise subway fare
  • Keep it simple: I need XXX  for YYY
This may be a little too specific
  • Alternatively, spew something long and convoluted, hoping for money to make you go away
  • Make signs easy to read at a glance
  • Evoke sympathy (a homeless veteran, a disabled person, etc.)
  • Be funny, make a joke, especially with college students
  • Remember the regulars; greet people by name if feasible
  • End politely, even if you don’t get any money

Safety

  • Know the local laws about panhandling (locations, times, during events)
  • Stay on good terms with businesses and other panhandlers
  • Obey No Soliciting or No Loitering signs
  • If told to move, just move
  • Don’t panhandle after dark
  • Stash money frequently, and/or spread it around your pockets, etc.
  • Be aware that panhandling is actually hard work and dangerous
  • Women need to be especially cautious

Miscellaneous Bits

  • Having a baby or child with you increases vulnerability exponentially
  • Never bring a sick or malnourished animal with you
  • Do not wear fashionable or expensive clothes
  • Disheveled is okay, dirty isn’t
  • Don’t smoke or drink anything while panhandling
  • Don’t take money from people after the light turns green
  • Use language and body language that is non-threatening

If you want your panhandler character to fail, break all the rules!

Writers note: If your character is panhandling because s/he really is down and out, consider community services, churches, soup kitchens, shelters, etc.

A row of beg-packers in Hong Kong next to an elderly man digging through trash to find food

“Beg-packing” is a fairly recent phenomenon. Tourists, often college students, hitchhike and panhandle as they travel, allowing them to spend very little money on the way. Some see this as a way to open up sight-seeing opportunities to people outside the ultra-wealthy.

Others see it as a drag on local economies, with tourists begging for money from already impoverished communities without actually contributing anything. Some countries have outlawed panhandling tourists; police arrest beg-packers and drop them off at their respective embassies.

The St. Paul’s station on the London Tube is in particularly high demand for buskers

Street performers, technically, aren’t panhandlers.  The definition of panhandling is seeking money without providing anything in return. Street performers are (presumably) providing entertainment and therefore are busking. From a writer’s point of view, it may make little difference. 

Depending on local ordinances, street performers may need to be licensed or scheduled by a central authority. For example, busking at platforms on the London Tube is so profitable that performers must audition and apply for time slots.

N.B. writers: Money made by street performers is taxable as tips; begging/panhandling income is not taxable.

Ghostly white women selling flowers in Stockholm are one of the creepier variations of this activity

Another variation is “selling” worthless trinkets or single flowers for an exorbitant price.  For example, braided bracelets offered in exchange for $10. Selling flowers is common, particularly to tourists seated at outdoor cafes. Because so many panhandlers have begun taking flowers from funerary wreaths in local cemeteries, many florists in cities where this is common now deliberately snip the stems of funeral flowers just below the bud.

Consider Other Characters

Dominican and Franciscan orders were both founded as mendicants in the Twelfth Century
During Ramadan, panhandling becomes so common that several majority-Muslim countries remove all beggars from public spaces to channel charity through official groups – a somewhat controversial move
  • What motivates people who do or do not give money. Is giving money satisfying a “customer” need?
    • Many religions encourage or require charitable giving of some sort.
  • What are the attitudes of others toward panhandling?
    • Sympathetic, disdainful, hostile, etc.
  • Does the panhandler have family or friends?
  • What about a boss who “runs” panhandlers the way a pimp runs prostitutes?

Bottom line for writers: Regardless of monetary success, panhandling is a rich opportunity for writers!

ALCOHOL: OTC MEDICATION?

Stress and alcohol go together like peanut butter and jelly—a burger and fries, mac and cheese, bread and butter, mashed potatoes and gravy, milk and cookies, or any other iconic duo you can think of. Yes, they can be separated but—oh, so often—you don’t have one without the other.

I started thinking about this when the Richmond Times-Dispatch ran a front page story (above the fold!) about liquor sales in Virginia. You will recall that ABC Stores have remained open as “essential” services. And according to numbers from the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority, sales now hover around $22 million a week. 

In March, as the social distancing began, the ABC stores had more than $30 million per week.  Sales in April 2020 were up about 15% over a year ago. The article goes on to identify the top selling brands for the state and for the Richmond Planning District (City of Richmond, Henrico, Goochland, Hanover, Chesterfield, and Powhatan counties). I was less interested in the rankings than in the sheer volume!

Alcohol consumption is up all over the country. To look at one other location, in Tulsa, OK, one liquor store reported that looking at sales March 15 to April 15, liquor sales were up 56% and beer 48%. Compared to a similar date in April of 2019, one-day sales in April 2020 were up by 100%. 

According to one store owner, buying habits are changing in that people are buying more at a time, shopping more during the day and less in the evenings and on weekends.

In order to facilitate buying alcohol, providers are offering digital ordering and delivery, curbside pick-up, hosting, hosting virtual tastings and/or cocktail hours. And some are branching out by stocking hand sanitizers and face masks. Virtual cocktail parties among friends and families are now common.

If your aim is absolutely perfect, your cocktail parties with neighbors don’t have to be virtual!

Estimates of the increase in U.S. alcohol consumption from now to the same time last year vary from 25% (WHO) to 55% (Healthcare Home [//healthcare.utah.edu]).

The uptick in alcohol consumption is not solely a U.S. phenomenon. The World Health Organization has issued statements urging countries world-wide to try to curb drinking during the current pandemic. They cite several health reasons to try to control excessive alcohol consumption. No matter how bad a situation is, excess drinking can always make it worse!

Magic Snowman Tea is guaranteed to be 100% alcohol free.
There are other substances one can turn to in times of stress. This is one of my favorites.

Also according to WHO, alcohol-related deaths number 3 million every year—before the pandemic.  And the WHO now has the added difficulty of trying to quash the misinformation that has circulated to the effect that drinking can make someone immune to the COVID-19 virus and/or cure one if infected. The presumed medicinal value of alcohol has a long history (see below), perhaps with roots in the dulling of physical pain.

Jackie Chan is a master of Drunken Fist Kung Fu ( 醉拳 )

The link between stress and alcohol consumption is so well established that it’s actually called “self-medication.” In fact, such self-medication can be pretty effective, at least initially, in relieving anxiety and depression. Alcohol is a “downer” (i.e., a system depressant) so if people are wound up, rapid heart beat, etc., alcohol can definitely make those symptoms of stress go down. But as mentioned above, alcohol also depresses inhibitions, increases risk-taking, decreases logical decision making, increases violence, and — after all that — is still likely to interfere with restful sleep.

Being home all day with bored and curious toddlers is a very stressful circumstance.

COVID-19 presents a set of circumstances that are problematic with regard to alcohol consumption.

  • High levels of anxiety associated with the unknown
  • Isolation from one’s usual support system
  • Loneliness
  • Economic distress/job loss
  • Food insecurity
  • Fear of infection/death
  • Mourning the loss of a loved one
  • Stress at having to work from home
  • Stress of having to work in an “essential” job interacting with the public

COVID-19 is dominating today’s headlines, but it is far from unique. Research indicates that alcohol use and abuse increase during and after “violent conflicts”—e.g., wars, periods of martial law, government coups. Other psychotropic substances are also used to deal with psychic strains and trauma, but alcohol is generally the most likely to be readily available, legal, and (at least within limits) socially acceptable.

Totally non-addictive!

During the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, bootleg whiskey was viewed as a respectable medicine. At the time, more than half the states in the U.S. had passed Prohibition laws and thus were “dry.” But for medicinal purposes, some officials decided to tap the vast stores of liquor that had been confiscated initially to aid the military, although the Army mostly remained silent about using it. In Richmond, Virginia—reportedly—two railroad cars of confiscated whiskey arrived for the benefit of Camp Lee. Over time, confiscated whiskey was distributed to civilian hospitals, too.

Medical isopropyl alcohol is now available at vending machines in Moscow.

The United States Pharmacopeia dropped whiskey, brandy, and wine from its listing of therapeutics in 1916. In 1917, the American Medical Association resolved that “the use of alcohol as a therapeutic agent should be discouraged.” Even so, more than half of physicians believed it was “a necessary therapeutic agent.” It continued to be available by prescription in dry states. To this day, strong alcohol is prescribed for medicinal purposes in some areas, even by doctors!

Besides the demand for alcohol, the Spanish Flu pandemic shared other characteristics with COVID-19:

  • Wearing masks
  • Social isolation
  • Use of disinfectants
  • Limiting group gatherings, including churches
  • Hospitals and funeral homes were overwhelmed
  • During Spanish Flu the treatment of choice was aspirin, up to 30 grams daily which is a toxic dose; currently, think ingesting bleach or disinfectants.
Bootlegger tunnels in Miami during Prohibition

Bottom line for writers: people use alcohol to self-medicate for stress. The current stressor is COVID-19 BUT consider all the other stressors out there, which might occur alone or in combination with COVID-19: death of a loved one, job loss, divorce, physical illness, mental illness, physical disability, too little money, going hungry, being homeless… Do you have a character who does—who could—self-medicate with alcohol?

RATS: WHO KNEW?

And who would want to?  

The Country Rat and the Town Rat

Writers, that’s who. Rats have long been characters—sometimes major—in literature old and new. Fables from around the world feature rats/mice and the moral usually relates to survival in one form or another.  In these fables, rats are often presented as clever and resourceful. Aesop’s Fables, the Fables of Bidpai, and Panchatantra all feature rats involved in moral lessons.

In some languages, rats and mice are interchangeable. When there is a distinction made, rats usually come off worse. In fiction and in popular consciousness, rats are almost always portrayed as more devious or dirty than mice.

Rats are extremely important in Chinese mythology. The rat is the first of twelve animals in the Chinese Zodiac, corresponding to Sagitarius.  Both are assigned the traits of creativity, hard work, generosity, and optimism.

The Year of the Rat is reputed to be one of prosperity and hard work. FYI: 2020 is a year of the rat.  The rat rules daily from 11:00 p.m. till 1:00 a.m. and its season is winter. 

N.B. writers: if you are inclined to write a rat fable, this might be the place to start.

The German cover is so much more horrifying.

Often rats are included in stories to add a touch of horror to scenes involving dungeons, torture chambers, vampires, the unknown… Authors from Edgar Allen Poe (“The Pit and the Pendulum“), to George Orwell (1984) to Stephen King (“Graveyard Shift” and “1922,” for example) have made effective use of rats. Shakespeare included rats in eight of his plays. Perhaps the epitome of horror would be The Coming of the Rats by George H. Smith (1961), suggesting the aftermath of the H-bomb.

And of course, if it’s in books, it’s in movies as well. Think Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  Some movies, such as Ratatouille, Chicken Run, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Flushed Away, include rat characters who are funny and likeable in addition to being clever. Willard, Of Unknown Origin, and The Missing are Deadly are horror movies that focus on twisted relationships between humans and rats. Many films, especially The Food of the Gods, Deadly Eyes, Rodentz, and Rats: Night of Terror, focus on swarms of rats pitted against humanity.

Rats and mice are depicted very differently in The Secret of NIMH.

If you do write about rats, it may help to know the terminology.

  • A group of rats — a mischief
  • Male rat — buck
  • Female rat — doe
  • Infants — pups or kittens
  • Musophobia (suriphobia) — fear of rats and mice

Rats have such a horrific reputation that threats of being eaten, taken, overrun, etc., by rats are a common tool used around the world to frighten naughty children into better behavior. In Canada—Newfoundland—rat threats were second only to bear threats, and twice as frequent as big fish (in third place out of seven). 

Writers consider the possibilities: “I’ve got an attic/cellar full of rats for naughty little girls and boys like you.”

As mentioned above, rats are often depicted as smart, and turn up in unexpected places. Consider this poem by Emily Dickinson:

The rat is the concisest tenant.
He pays not rent—
Repudiates the obligation,
On schemes intent.
Balking our wit
To sound or circumvent,
Hate cannot harm
A foe so reticent.
Neither decree
Prohibits him,
Lawful as
Equilibrium.

Emily Dickinson

Rat Facts 

A Rat King was a group of rats whose tails were knotted together, often ascribed mystical powers by rat catchers.
  • Rats are everywhere in the world except Antarctica, where it’s too cold for them to survive outside and there are too few humans to provide for them.
    • In some places, especially islands, aggressive rat control policies have reclaimed the land.
  • Rats are one of the world’s worst invasive species.
    • Transported around the world on ships, rats have been credited with the extinction of untold number of small native animals and birds.
New York City rats can take down pigeons.
  • Rats often live with and near humans (commensals).
  • Rats carry many zoonotic pathogens, all sorts from The Black Death to foot-and-mouth disease.
  • Many rats in the wild live only about a year due to predation.
  • By and large, rat vocalizations are pitched beyond the range of human hearing.
  • Rats have been kept as pets at least since the late 1800s, most often brown rat species, and are no more of a health risk than cats or dogs.
  • Rats are omnivorous.
    • Rats are cannibals.
Rats made of food?

Rats as Food 

The Bible forbids eating rats, and  parts of the world, particularly in the Middle East, consider rat meat to be diseased, unclean, and socially unacceptable. Islam, Kashrut, the Shipibo people of Peru and the Sironó people of Bolivia all have strong taboos against eating rats. However the high number of rats and/or a limited food supply have brought rats into the diets of both humans and pets worldwide.

  • Human food
    • Rat meat is part of the cuisines of Vietnam, Taiwan, and Thailand.
    • National Geographic (March 14, 2019) featured Vietnamese rat meat.
    • In India, rats are essential to the traditional Mishmi diet, for women are allowed to eat only fish, pork, wild birds, and rats. In the Musahar community, rats are farmed as an exotic delicacy.
    • Aboriginal Australians’ diet regularly included rats, as did traditional Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures.
    • Rice field rats were an original component of paella in Valencia (the rat later replaced by rabbit, seafood, or chicken). These rats were also eaten in the Philippines and Cambodia.
    • Rich people ate rat pie in England in Victorian times, and others ate rats during the World Wars when food was strictly rationed.
    • Alcoholic rats trapped in wine cellars in France became part of a regional delicacy – grilled rats, Bordeaux-style.
    • Rat stew was (and maybe still is) eaten in West Virginia.
Remy insists that rat food of any kind must be properly seasoned.
  • Animal food
    • Snakes, both wild and pets, eat rats and mice. The rats are available to snake owners both live and frozen. However, in Britain, feeding any live mammal to another animal is against the law.
    • When included in pet food, rats are counted as “cereals” in the ingredients list.

Rat Contributions to Science 

The first rat research I know of was conducted at Clark University (Worcester, MA) in 1895. Since then, rats have been used to study disease transmission, genetics, effects of diet, cardiovascular conditions, and drug effects. 

Psychologists have studied rats to further our understanding of learning, intelligence, drug abuse, ingenuity, aggressiveness, adaptability, and the effects of overcrowding (the “behavioral sink”).

Working Rats

Besides acting in movies, rats are good a sniffing out gunpowder residue, land mines, and tuberculosis. They also can be trained for animal-assisted therapy. 

N.B. writers: consider a PI or amateur detective who has a trained rat sidekick!

The stereotypic rat: Besides the horror aspects of ratness, their image is mainly that of pest. 

They infest urban areas, particularly multi-family housing. They like areas with access to food, water, and a moderate environment, such as under sinks, near garbage, in walls, cabinets, or drawers.

In rural areas, rats are a threat to both grain supplies and small birds. (Think chicks.) They live in fields, barns, cellars, basements, and attics. 

And as with so many things, rats are a bigger bane for the poor, whether rural or urban.  Picture this: a baby crib is set in the middle of a room, all four legs in buckets of water to try to keep rats and mice from climbing into the crib. Meanwhile, beady eyes stare from darkened corners.

Rat in Everyday Language 

Any way you cut it, rat is not positive.

Rats shredded nearly $19,000 worth of rupees in a safe in India in 2018.
  • Noun: backstabber, betrayer, blabbermouth, canary, deep throat, double-dealer, fink, informant, sneak, snitch, source, squealer, stoolie, stool pigeon, tattler, turncoat, whistle-blower.
    • In unionized workplaces, anyone who doesn’t pay dues and/or crosses picket lines is called a rat.
  • Verb: the act of doing any of the above.
Master Splinter is living proof that rats can train turtles and fight ninjas!
  • Rats!—exclamation of surprise, frustration 
  • Drowned rat
  • Gutter rat
  • Mall rat
  • Rat’s ass (as in, I don’t give a…)
  • Rat faced
  • Rat fink
  • Rat hole
  • Rat king
  • Rat’s nest (hair or residence)
  • Rat pack
  • Rat race
  • Rats from a sinking ship
  • Rat tail (hairstyle)
  • Rat tail comb
  • Ratted hair
  • Rat trap
  • Ratty
  • Smell a rat

Bottom line for writers: it’s worth your while to know about rats!