Civil War time lapse map

January 31, 2010

A super cool map of the American Civil War. A “time-lapse” rendering of the major battlelines and territory held by both sides throughout the war.

The Civil War in Four Minutes

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Meditation on Makeup

January 26, 2010

This morning while waiting for the bus, I was seized with a 30-second panic, wondering if I had remembered to put on makeup this morning.

Now, I’m no beauty queen and I don’t spend hours in front of a mirror, but I know better than to leave the house for work without makeup on. I reassured myself that yes, I did everything I needed to do to prepare myself for work and I needn’t worry.

But this got me to thinking – why is it that we, as women, have taken on and accepted as a part of our consciousness that we are incomplete, faulty, most of all, embarrassed – if we don’t wear our makeup? We can’t bear to look ourselves in the mirror – and we cringe at the thought of others seeing us – as we really are.

This is especially hard for teenage girls, when they are beginning to form this consciousness. Oh sure, part of the makeup is that it is fun; part of it is experimenting to find their own “look” – but I believe that the makeup obsession is part of the reason why young women give up their souls – their identity – their strength and their heart – as they go through adolescence.  (Think I’m exaggerating? Read the classic Reviving Ophelia and others like it.)

This morning, when the wind whipped my hair and my makeup faded as my skin paled against the cold, I recalled an incident many years ago, where I first came to realize how the makeup issue can so powerfully affect a woman’s self-esteem.

I was camping (no makeup needed or expected here) and most of the other campers were some good guy-friends and a few families.  One of the families had a teenage son, about 16 or so. Poor guy, he had horrible acne.

I thought – wow – if he were a girl, he would be devastated – but at least she could cover it up with makeup. As a boy, of course, he did not have that option.

I realized if I were in a similar situation – bad skin, right out there for the world to see – that I’d have to “power through” it – I’d just have come to terms with it and move on.  It would actually give me confidence. Self-determination. Inner strength.  What a contrast to what it is like as a girl.

Even though I never had such a severe problem as his,  I realized for myself – even as a grown woman – a blemish here and there would seem catastrophic. I had to cover it up! I couldn’t let anyone see – that I was less than perfect. That I was not completely in control of my own skin and appearance.  That without makeup I was a failure – less of a woman, less of a professional – a perfectly capable but physically (and therefore, by extension, perhaps in other ways, too) flawed human being. Putting all of my failings – by that one little  blemish – on display for the world to see.

Even in the camping situation where makeup was not expected and would be pointless and a pain (it was summer after all), I felt insecure.  I saw this young man – and took courage from him. If he could do it – so could I.

This one experience helped me see the vast differences in how – just even in this one small area – we continue to teach and encourage our young men to be confident and secure no matter their situation – and how we do such a disservice to our young girls by buying into the charade that “without my makeup I must die” mentality that we all seem to have in our culture.

I don’t have a teenage daughter, so I don’t know how I would try to balance her need to explore and affirm he own identity – sometimes via makeup – versus losing herself and feeling exposed, embarrassed, and ashamed if she didn’t have makeup. Perhaps sports or another activity would give her a chance to spend equal time experimenting without makeup and give her a chance to discover herself – her confidence, her true, natural beauty, and learn who her real friends – and boyfriends – really are.

Thankfully, I’m old enough now that I no longer have the fear and insecurity that I had when I was younger. I wear makeup or don’t wear makeup as I choose – though clearly I still follow the cultural expectation that I shouldn’t leave the house without it. (And I panic if I forget!)

© writingreading, 2010


Floating Rocks

January 19, 2010

I went to the park yesterday, and was puzzled when I first saw them. Large football-sized grey rocks that were apparently floating on the surface of a lake. I did  a  double take, then a triple take. Yes, they were there, on the surface. But it was only when I looked closer that I realized the lake was still frozen. That’s how the rocks “floated.”

It was 50 degrees, and the multi-week cold spell of below freezing temperatures had finally abated. It was a sunny and pleasant day. So the last thing I expected was to see floating rocks. They were slightly down into the ice, and the ice was clear, not white – so it really did look like they were floating.

About an hour and a half later, when I passed back by, the scene was even more intriguing. The rocks had absorbed heat from the sun, and had begun to melt the ice around them. They were sitting in puddles. But there was still enough ice underneath them to bear their weight although the ice was invisible. Now with the puddles forming, it truly had the appearance of large rocks floating on the surface of the lake. It was a fascinating visual riddle.

But this natural optical illusion was thought-provoking beyond the literal. How often do I see a problem as insurmountable – only to realize later that I merely had the wrong perspective.  Too often, I cling to my own stubborn views, without ever considering that they might not be as solid and reliable as I assume.

If someone had told me they saw large rocks floating on a lake, I’d say they were crazy. But I saw it myself, I know it is true. Perhaps, not in the most literal sense – they weren’t floating, after all – but at least in a metaphorical, visual, illusory sense, they were. To me, that tells me that even the impossible can become possible, given the right circumstances and the right perspective.

I’ll need to remember this the next time I get discouraged about my book, when progress seems slow, when it seems like I may never get done. I will remember these floating rocks, and I will believe that the impossible is just a figment of my imagination – and that the rock that stands in my way, is really just a stepping stone to help me across an otherwise dangerous or impassable path.

© writingreading, 2010


Famous Women You’ve Never Heard Of #5 – Jackie Cochran

January 17, 2010

Oh sure, we’ve all heard of Amelia Earhart  – and even before the recent movie, many people would at least recognize her name as a famous aviatrix.

But a contemporary of hers was in many ways even more famous. In the late 1930s, she broke record after record. And not just in women’s categories. In 1938, for instance, she won the Bendix cross-country race, even beating out the men, becoming the first woman pilot to do so. After World War II, she kept flying, and became the first female to break the sound barrier in 1953.

Although impressive, these accomplishments are not Cochran’s most important. She – almost single-handedly – helped bring about the establishment of the WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots) during World War II.  Initially resistant to the idea, Cochran persuaded Gen. Hap Arnold and Eleanor and Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt to make her idea a reality.

More than 1,000 women served in the WASPs, mostly as ferry pilots. These pilots flew all sorts of airplanes – bombers, fighters, trainers – all over the country, from one base to another. They made a valuable contribution to the war effort, freeing up men to be sent overseas for more hazardous duty, and demonstrating that women could be just as effective pilots as the men. They were not officially part of the Army Air Corps, and therefore did not receive military benefits like their male counterparts. Even if they died in the line of WASP duty – the government would not pay for their body to be returned home or buried. That would have to be a family expense. They were still “civilians” after all.

Finally, in 1977, the WASPs recieved the recognition they deserved, at last being accorded formal status as military veterans. And in 2009, they were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, a very high honor.

Read more about Jackie Cochran and the WASPs, or watch a short film on YouTube about their service. You can also learn more about Cochran by getting the documentary by American Experience, called Fly Girls.

© writingreading, 2010


Words of the Year (2010): Persistence/Patience

January 5, 2010

Last year, I posted a “Word of the Year” instead of doing a New Year’s Resolution. I’ve never been much for the latter, but I really enjoyed choosing a WotY. Last year, my word was “Believe.” Mostly, I chose it because I wanted to believe in myself as a writer. And as 2009 came to a close, I could tally 2 upcoming articles accepted and awaiting publication in the coming year, and I’m significantly closer to completing my non-fiction book that I have been working on for about two years. I think and hope that in 2010 I will get it finished!

So, for 2010, I’ve actually selected two words. I couldn’t decide on just one. They are:  PERSISTENCE / PATIENCE.   To me, they have very similar qualities, and I think I’ll need a lot of both to get through this upcoming year – and to successfully meet my goals of completing my book manuscript.

I need PERSISTENCE to keep on writing, to keep believing (building on last year’s word), and to keep going, even when I get tired, discouraged, procrastinate too much, or begin to think that despite the work I’ve already done, that I may never get finished.

I need PATIENCE because by rushing my book to completion, I’ll set myself up for disappointment. In fact, rushing things will be the fastest way to doom myself to failure. Rushing and impatience would make me get sloppy, lackadaisical, and ultimately could self-sabotage the entire effort. I also know I’ll need patience to face some personal challenges and changes I’ll be experiencing at work. Since I’ve decided on patience as one of my Words of the Year, I actually have a lot more peace about the impending changes, some of which start right away.

Last year was the first time I had done a Word of the Year approach, and I really liked it a lot. As I was reflecting on this tonight, I realized that this approach actually is a lot more satisfying and nearly a fail-safe way to approach the new year. A resolution is soon broken. But a WotY stays with you, and can help guide you if you need direction or inspiration. You really can’t mess it up. Just Believe, have Patience, and be Persistent!

© writingreading, 2010