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

Debt of Gratitude to our Veterans

November 11, 2009

Veteran’s Day is always a bittersweet kind of day for me. Veterans of our armed forces have a very very special place in my heart. I’m not really an emotional person but shaking a veteran’s hand can reduce me to tears in an instant, before I can even blurt out an awkward, “Thank you.”

They do what I know I cannot do. They have given up their very lives – not just those whose bodies are left overseas – but even those who return – for me and my countrymen and -women.  There’s so much about what they do and endure that I know I am entirely too much of a wimp for. Start with the physical training. Ugh! Yes, I’m old and decrepit these days, but even when more youthful – I know I would not have been able to endure the 20 mile pack marches or the hundreds of pushups. Most of all, I know I would not do well with someone screaming orders at me. I could not obey without talking back or without question. A good soldier I would not make.

I am grateful that my work and my outside of work interests often bring me in contact with veterans. I have learned and continue to learn so much from them. They make so many of our noble pie-in-the-sky American ideals real. Loyalty, honor and camaraderie are something special, manifest in very real ways in these men and women’s lives. I am always humbled when I get to work with them. I very often feel that “I’m not worthy” to even keep company with them – they are superhuman, in my book.

But I also know from my experiences in working with them that there are those who struggle. Some in obvious ways, others in more subtle ways. I often hear about how skills that served them well overseas in a combat zone (like hypervigilance and quick reactions, for example) make life really difficult for them when they come home. I see it and hear it many times.

Today, I think of the men and women who served our country with honor and distinction, who got good educations through the military by becoming electricians, mechanics, radio operators, or learning many other skilled trades.  But who this evening are spending a cold winter night on the street, under a bypass, on a grate, or on a doorstep or in an alleyway. Some people say homeless – especially homeless veterans – are to blame for their condition. But I say – look what they did for our country – and that means, what they did for me, personally, by volunteering to serve. So what have we done – as a country, or me, personally, for them? Have I helped them in any way by saying Thank you, by giving them a cup of coffee, by referring them to places that can help them by providing food or shelter – maybe even a job? Everyone’s having difficulty finding work these days – why blame the victim?

Why do so many of our returning veterans find life so difficult once they return home that they believe suicide to be their only solution? What can we – as individuals, but perhaps more importantly, as a nation – do to help them? Why must they wait months to receive appropriate counseling and aid at VA hospitals – the very institution that is supposed to help them?

Thankfully, there are organizations out there to help. And not just aid to those veterans who find themselves homeless, but all veterans who need assistance – especially in areas no warrior wants to admit to needing help in – mental health. I saw a sign once that said, “It takes the strength/courage  of a warrior to know when to admit that you need help.”

Here’s some places that I know are helping others:

Ed Tick, author of  War and the Soul, leads healing journeys and seminars. Much of his work has focused on Vietnam veterans, but has now been expanded for the current generation of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Numerous cities have programs called Stand Downs, where homeless or near-homeless veterans can receive aid and comfort in a warm friendly place with their fellow veterans. It is a tragedy that nearly 200,000 veterans are on the street – and that there are so many out there that there is an organization called the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. It’s great that such an organization exists to provide aid and support – but wouldn’t it be wonderful if it no longer had to exist?

Finally, there is an online project called NotAlone.com which is designed to be a website for veterans and family members who are struggling to cope with the upheaval and adjustment of coming back to the United States after having been overseas. Some of the areas of tension might be unnoticeable at first – like the spouse who has remained at home and who has taken on the responsibilities normally shared by both parents of the children, and has difficulty adjusting back to having the soldier-spouse back in the household. Other areas might be more obvious – quick violent rages or quietness merging into deep depression. NotAlone is designed to help both the soldier and the family member who remained at home. They do this by providing an online forum where people can listen to interviews with others who have gone through the same experiences. It is a way for people to understand that they are NotAlone in their suffering, in their bewilderment, in their uncertainty – and even their pain. It helps people understand that there is hope and healing out there, and lets visitors to their website learn more about how others coped with and got through, and got help, in similar situations.

To all of our veterans, THANK YOU with deep gratitude for all that you do, have done, and will do. There is no way we can ever repay your sacrifice. Our nation and we as individuals owe you so very very much.

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© writingreading, 2009

Two Inspiring Young Women

November 1, 2009

Just this week, I’ve heard two stories about two young women – both age 12 – who are truly inspiring.

The first is Dorothy Dark, who creates original headbands and sells them at a boutique in Nashville, Tenn. They’re going for $8-$12, folks. She’s 12. What a talent, and what an entrepreneur.

The second is a young woman who may be about 14 by now, but the story I learned about her concerns her life when she was 12 and 13. She was making a movie, and not just any move, but a feature-length film – about zombies. Emily Hagins’ story is told in the documentary Zombie Girl – and it follows her through two years of filmaking. She was 12 when she did this, folks. Twelve. As in – in middle school. And this is no ordinary feature-length pre-teen zombie movie. It’s the Real Deal. Makup. Slates (“action”), film-editing, sound boom. The works.  (With lots of help from Mom and Dad and her schoolmates. And the local IGA, until the zombies left a trail of blood behind after the filming – but we won’t talk about that.) What’s more, she won a $1000 Texas Filmmaker’s Production Grant that helped her family recoup some of the funds they had put into the film. It took her two years to create the film before Pathogen premiered to a sold-out crowd in her hometown of Austin, Tex.

I really loved the documentary about the making of her film, because it showed her passion for filmmaking, her professionalism at such a young age, and her desire to do good work, and see her project through to completion. I mean, really – how many 12 year olds can keep their enthusiasm and momentum going on one subject for more than a few weeks – let alone two entire years? It was impressive and inspiring.

It was neat to see, too, how she and her mother got along during the entire zombie-journey. It was amazing to see how supportive both of her parents were of her endeavor, but especially her mother who provided transportation, and served as caterer, sound crew, makeup artist, props department, and special effects technician. Sometimes Mom tried to have too much influence in production, which led to some artistic differences and tension between mother and daughter, but her story, too, as mother of a child-film-producer was also interesting to watch.

I’m interested to see where these young ladies are in another 2 to 10 years. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if one is a major fashion designer and the other is getting her first Academy Award or Sundance Film Festival honor at age 18.

Young women like these inspire me. If we as adults, particularly us women, believed in our dreams and followed our passions with the heart and drive as these young girls – what might our world look like? Well, it might be full of zombies wearing hip, cool headbands – but I’d venture a guess that we’d all be happier, and those around us would be happier, too, because by following our passions, we would bring joy and laugher and pleasure to others. What’s more – we could inspire others – just like these young women are inspiring me – and I hope, you too!


© writingreading, 2009

High Heels, or Elephants?

September 10, 2009

I’m no physicist, and even less of a mathematician, so my ability to fully understand the data at the  Pressure Under High Heels page  is limited, but the important point is this:  a woman in high heels exerts significantly greater pressure and force than…yes, an elephant!

One scientist (or whoever these folks are who study these “weighty” concepts) puts it this way – would you rather have your hand run over by 10 women in high heels or a herd of elephants?  Opt for the elephants, my friends!

No wonder my mother’s feet are literally crippled from years of wearing heels. No wonder – and perhaps now, I’m grateful – that I literally cannot wear them (doctor’s orders).

And one of these folks even compares the pressure exerted by a woman’s typical shoe heel versus a man’s typical shoe heel. The guy, he’s cruising easy. The woman – well, let’s just say there’s a reason they are called “stiletto” heels. Sure, they can be used in self-defense – but they are also suicidal. Kinda gives the term “sensible shoes” a whole new meaning.

Check out the findings at: Pressure Under High Heels and see the proof for yourself!

© writingreading, 2009

Remembering Haymarket

September 7, 2009

It is the end of the Labor Day weekend here in America, and many people (including myself) had the day off today. Unfortunately, like many 3-day weekend holidays – the origin and significance of the holiday itself has been lost. These days, it’s all about football, hot dogs, and getting away. That’s fine, all well and good. But I believe it is important to remember what price was paid so that we could have this holiday.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Haymarket Riot.  May, 1886, Chicago. Workers marched in protest, advocating for an eight-hour workday. In the events that followed over the next few days, 2 workers were killed, seven policeman died, and seven labor leaders were sentenced to death, though only four were executed.

Haymarket is a complex story, and one that I am still struggling to grasp and understand, myself. But what is important to me to remember this Labor Day weekend is that people died so that I could have the things I take for granted today. I count all of the people who died in the Haymarket events to have paid the price for benefits that I enjoy today – so many of which I take for granted. Like the eight-hour workday. And a holiday off.

The battle for the eight-hour day did not end at Haymarket, and in fact, was entirely derailed because of the violence and controversy surrounding those events. It wouldn’t be until after World War II that the eight-hour day became law.


The Dramas of Haymarket from Chicago Historical Society – lengthy and detailed essays about the history and significance and lasting impact of Haymarket, and links to digitized materials.

Super short summary and links from Kent State.

Episode on the PBS program, History Detectives about Haymarket.

History of Labor Day from U.S. Dept. of Labor

© writingreading 2009

Inspiration from Michelangelo

July 20, 2009

Last night I watched an old movie, The Agony and the Ecstasy about Michelangelo and the painting of the Sistine Chapel.  There were a lot of lines there that really resonated with me, especially as it relates to my current book project – which frequently makes me feel overwhelmed and at times, immobilized. Also a lot of great lines just about art and creating, in general. Even though it is an old movie, it was pretty good, and it was one of those grand ol’ Technicolor classics, so it was pretty to look at, too. Here’s a few of the parts that meant something to me.

Michelangelo sketches a man in a bar – then “makes him a saint” just by adding a halo.

Michelangelo repeatedly says he is not a painter, but a sculptor. Sometimes the fear of painting the work before him, paralyzes him. When he gets a burst of determination, he declares: “Painting is not my trade, but I will make it my trade.”

Pope: “When will you make it end?”
Michelangelo: “When I’m finished.”
(This becomes a running line, throughout the film.) – And this is exactly the dilemma I am feeling right now with my book. “When will it end?” “When I get all the information in there that I need to.”

Exhausted and sick, Michelangelo declares: “Even if I had the strength to go on, I don’t have the will.” That’s a crisis of faith, of sorts, and something I can totally relate to.  I’m beginning to wonder if I have the will to see my own project to completion.

“You’ll always be an artist. You have no choice.”

“Don’t you want to finish?” “More than my life.”

The Pope in the film turns out to be a man of little faith. He is surprised at Michelangelo’s portrait of God, that God is not angry or wrathful. Michelangelo explains -“Not yet. Not at Creation.” The Pope says only a man of faith could create such a work of art. It is through his art that Michelangelo expresses his faith, and makes it more solid.

Both the Pope and Michelangelo egg each other on – virtually tormenting each other. By badgering each other, they encourage each other to fulfill their life’s mission and work. At one point when Michelangelo is ill, the Pope observes: “An artist is destroyed when he is kept from his work.” The Pope understands the cure for Michelangelo’s illness is to return to his art.

Even after Michaelangelo has been working on the chapel, probably for years – he still says he is not a painter, but a sculptor. When the Pope asks him to do more work, in addition to the ceiling – Michaelangelo rebels (but does it anyway), still complaining that he is not a painter. It was really interesting to see how this weighed on Michaelangelo, and to see how despite his distress over having to paint – and to paint something on such a grand and magnificent scale – he still managed to excel at his work, despite its burden and his own nagging self-doubts.

© writingreading, 2009