uncovering hidden figures

Last week-end, I started reading Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. It’s a non-fiction book about the African American women who, as the cover states, “helped win the space race”. I’m only a couple of chapters in, but I’m already fascinated by what I’ve learnt so far.

To be fair, I know very little about space exploration, engineering or physics, so it probably seems extra insightful to me, but it is thought-provoking in other ways too.

At the start, Shetterly writes about what it was like for her to grow up in Hampton, Virginia, with a father who was a NASA research scientist. There were a lot of African American women who worked there as “computers” — essentially mathematical geniuses — and to her, it was always normal to see African American women in this role. It was only later that it occurred to her how significant and under-acknowledged they were.

It really goes to show how one’s view of the world and the future can be shaped by the environment in which one grows up. It made me think of all the uproar many years ago about how girls’ toys were very limiting in their scope — always about fashion and beauty and cute things — but boys’ toys were more about action and adventure. It is easier to aspire to something greater if you are shown what is possible.

Early on, Shetterly introduces Dorothy Vaughan, one of the mathematical geniuses. Dorothy was originally a high school teacher, but applied for other jobs over the summer break to help provide for her family. One summer, in the midst of WWII, she applied for two jobs: one to launder uniforms for the military (a job that would, surprisingly, pay better than what she was getting as a teacher (African American teachers were paid much lower than their white counterparts)), and the other to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA).

The book is written really well, in a conversational way, and I’m quite keen to keep reading, so this is all for this week’s post. I will almost certainly write more about this book as I read it.

doubt and composition

The presenters on ABC Classic, my favourite radio station, sometimes provide little bits of information about classical composers in between the music. Since I know very little about music history, I find it quite interesting, and will often make an effort to stop and listen to what they say.

This week I learnt that Clara Schumann, one of the world’s greatest composers and pianists, experienced a lot of self-doubt about her worth as a composer, and, despite her obvious talent, not to mention her own enjoyment of composing, felt that it was not a suitable endeavour for her (or other women — such were the times back then).

She was also limited by needing to support her family (she had seven children) after the death of her husband, Robert Schumann, at a relatively young age. She spent much of the rest of her life playing piano recitals/concerts in order to stay afloat financially.

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Three Act Tragedy

The latest selection by my book club is Three Act Tragedy by Agatha Christie. Apart from a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories that I read while still in high school, I haven’t read many crime stories — or “whodunits” — before. I had friends who were really into this genre, but it never interested me. I was more of a fantasy/sci-fi person back then.

As such, I approached Three Act Tragedy with caution — I figured there would be red herrings all over the place, so I didn’t want to jump the gun and place all my suspicions on anyone too early. Eventually I decided I didn’t want to even try to guess the murderer (the crime in question was murder), and just go along with the story. However, a friend told me that half the fun of whodunits was trying to solve the mystery before the characters do, so I got back on the trail again.

In the end, I did not guess correctly. It was quite a surprise who the culprit was. I was going to try to write this post without spoilers, but I don’t think I can, so please be warned that there will be spoilers

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nothing happened

Thinking, wondering,
Curiosity, searching.
And nothing happened.

Anticipation,
Expectation and waiting.
Yet nothing happened.

Scurry and scamper,
Movements filled with urgency.
Still, nothing happens.

Calm resignation,
Acceptance, embracing of
Nothing happening.

support small

I have a friend who makes ceramics — mugs, vases, cups, bowls, sculptures, whatever she feels like. Last week-end, she sold some of her creations at a laneway market. She booked a stall, bought an Eftpos machine, and invited everyone to come along. Being very excited for her first market day, I went and bought one of her cute little hexagon mugs (and my partner bought a cube vase — a photo of these can be found on my Instagram (see side panel)).

I think she sold more than she expected, but numbers are just numbers, and I’m more inspired by her efforts and her courage than anything else. To create something with part of one’s heart and soul, and then show it to the world, is a tremendous thing.

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walk together

A friend of mine shared an infographic on Instagram a while ago. It illustrated the difference between fixed and growth mindsets with regards to race issues. Instead of just thinking that you don’t know what to do, or that you won’t make a difference, or that you simply don’t have time to get involved (all fixed mindset thinking), it encourages people to seek new information, learn about how to help, and have the courage to take part in something that has far-reaching implications (growth mindset).

It’s easy to think that a singular person cannot have much impact on greater issues, but if every person thought that, nothing would happen, nothing would change, and nothing would improve.

As someone who attended their first protest last month — for Black Lives Matter — it really reinforced this notion of “yes, I’m just one person, but together we can be a force to be reckoned with”. It was incredible to stand amongst so many others, all assembled for the same reason.

And yet, the realist in me keeps wondering what will be the true outcome of this — will there be lasting change, or will people just settle back into “normal life”, and grumble about other things?

The same friend who posted the infographic has also been sharing resources for how to support the cause further, how to support indigenous Australians, and how to just be a better human. I’ll admit it’s a lot to keep up with, and I haven’t read everything she shared, but every step in the right direction — no matter how small — equates to progress, and it’s further than I’d gone before.