Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for January 2012

Performance, Music, and Nerves

with 2 comments

Folks, I started thinking about one of the sentences I’ve thrown into several of my articles about sports stars, but mostly with regards to figure skating stars as often, only one or at most two people are on the ice at the same time.  That sentence is, “(X) can really be something, if (he/she) can learn to control (his/her) nerves.”

Now, why is it that I keep saying this?

I’m a musician, and have been since I was eleven years old.  So I know a great deal about performance anxiety.  I’ve also played many solos in front of bands and orchestras, as well as within the band and orchestra as a featured performer; that’s why I do know how it feels to be out there, all by yourself, wondering if everything’s going to work right today and waiting to see how well the performance comes off.

Consider that in music, we have many things that aren’t under our control.  How fast is the conductor taking the music?  Will one of the saxophone’s pads fall off?  (Brass players worry about similar things related to pistons sticking or the like.)  Will my reed continue to work, or will it do something idiosyncratic at the last possible minute after I’ve committed to the solo and can’t change it?

Well, figure skaters have to worry about their skates; not just their skate blades, but whether or not their laces will break.  (This happened to Nobunari Oda at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.)  Will there be ruts in the ice that can’t be avoided?  (This happened to Johnny Weir during his second combination spin at the 2010 Olympics and stopped his spin dead.)  How well did the competitor do beforehand?  (This is important because people throw stuffed animals on the ice and it can take a while to clear them off, plus as the next competitor, you have to stay away from them before they’re all cleared.)

So all you can do, as a performer in whatever discipline, is control what you can control.  That’s tough to learn.  (I know I didn’t really learn it until I was close to thirty.)  And worrying about it beforehand is counterproductive, yet if you’ve had past difficulties, it’s very human.  (We all do it.)

The solution, if there is one, is to not take it all so seriously.  (This can be very tough to do in a business where how well you audition is vital, but it’s necessary.)  And to remember that no matter how badly you may play today, you’ll play well tomorrow and the next day and the day after that — because you’ve done everything you can do by rehearsing for untold, uncounted hours beforehand.

That’s why, despite how casual it may seem when I throw that one sentence in there about such-and-such “controlling his (or her) nerves,” it’s not a casual thing at all.  It’s a long-held belief that’s been borne out by many things I’ve lived through as a performer.  And it’s why I have empathy for someone who really has talent, like Jeremy Abbott, who uncharacteristically falters (as Abbott did during his 2010 Olympic short program; Abbott performed much better in the long program to finish in ninth place overall, but even his long program wasn’t really up to his best), because I know he (or she) can do much better if he’ll only learn to trust himself along the way.

One more thing to consider is this: when you perform for a living (or for even part of your living), you start thinking you’re only as good as your last performance.  I’d like to tell all performers of all types one, simple thing:  Please, do not do this. 

Instead, what you as a performer need to do is to remember that you have prepared well for whatever it is you’re about to do.  That you’ve dedicated yourself to learn your craft.  And that you’re going to do your level best; that’s all anyone can expect of you, and it’s all you should expect out of yourself.

You also should try — and I know this is very, very hard — not to let the dictates of how you perform take over your life.   Who you are as a person has very little to do with how you may perform any given day, though how you prepare for the performance, and what you put into the performance — your “sweat equity” — has a great deal to do with you and your perseverance and your personal character.

That’s why I write blog posts about perseverance, because I feel that’s the main difference between a person who ultimately succeeds and one who doesn’t.  You must refuse to give up on yourself and your talents, because that’s literally the only way to lose in the game of life — no matter how well, or how badly, you may perform on any given day.

My late husband Michael used to tell me, “If you can’t do it today, you will assuredly do it tomorrow.  I know you; I know you don’t give up.  ‘Quit’ is not part of your vocabulary.”  And then I get back after it tomorrow, because I know he was — and still is (wherever he is now in Eternity) — right.

Or to distill this message down to its essence: your only true competition is yourself.  So do yourself a favor, and keep utilizing your talents as long as humanly possible.  Don’t give up.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 31, 2012 at 12:28 am

United States Men’s 2012 Championships: Abbott Wins, Rippon 2nd

leave a comment »

Folks, I am a figure skating junkie despite never learning to skate.  (I tried roller skating.  I had poor balance.  I knew better than to try ice skating.)  I’ve studied the jumps, the spins, the choreography, and of course as a musician I enjoy figure skating programs that actually go with their music.

That’s one reason why I like contemporary men’s figure skaters Jeremy Abbott and Adam Rippon so much.  Like my all-time favorite Johnny Weir (who’s preparing for a comeback), these are men who spin well, jump well, and most importantly to my mind, are musical, lyrical performers who can actually create art on the ice.

Granted, most of the time, what’s talked about with regards to Abbott is his past inconsistency.  Abbott, 26, has persisted, and has proven his resilience under pressure; while his 2011 season was one to forget (much like Weir’s 2009 season), he’s come back stronger than ever and had two fine performances (a brilliant short program, and a very good and musical long program) to easily win the United States 2012 men’s championship.  This was his third win at the United States National Championships, as he’d previously won in both 2009 and 2010.

Adam Rippon, 22, who came in second after a great short program and a so-so long program that was long on artistry and a bit short on jump technique, is another of those skaters I can’t help but root for.  Rippon has such wonderful flow over the ice; his spins are perfectly centered 99.9% of the time (all that any human being can do, in short), his footwork is inventive and elegant, and his musicality is impressive.  Rippon has everything a figure skater could ever want at his fingertips, but he has to learn to control his nerves.

Abbott and Rippon train together in Michigan as they have the same coaches, former World Champion Yuka Sato and former US National pairs champion Jason Dungjen (a married couple, who also coach two-time US National Champion Alissa Czisny).  So it seemed especially fitting for these particular two men to go one-two during Sunday afternoon’s men’s figure skating competition; that they have cemented their place on the 2012 World Team is an additional benefit that both men will assuredly appreciate, considering that it’s never been a lock for either man to make the World Team due to a variety of factors.

Congratulations, gentlemen!  And best of luck at Worlds!

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 30, 2012 at 9:48 pm

2012 US Women’s Figure Skating Championships — Wagner Wins, Czisny Second

with one comment

Folks, last year I wrote a blog about Alissa Czisny (link is here), and that blog goes double for her performance this year in the 2012 United States Women’s Figure Skating National Championships even though she came in second to Ashley Wagner.

Watching Czisny skate last evening, I was struck again by her elegance across the ice, the perfection of her positioning, her excellent spins, and her gritty determination.  Though Czisny fell on her first triple Lutz (her most difficult jump) and turned out of another attempt at the same jump, she otherwise made no obvious mistakes; this is quite difficult to do, because once something goes wrong in a performance, it can be difficult to hold it together.

I applaud her determination and persistence; coming in second to Ashley Wagner (who skated by far the best program of the night, with six clean triple jumps) is not a defeat.  And as Czisny said herself to NBC Sports reporter Andrea Joyce, sometimes you can learn more from your imperfect programs than your perfect ones, which shows how strong Czisny’s mental perspective is overall.

Czisny should be named to the World Team as she came in fifth last year.  Had she come in third at the US Nationals, she’d have had a harder time to get onto the World Team, though it might’ve happened anyway as the US has to know Czisny is their strongest competitor overall, and is by far the US’s best chance to medal at Worlds.**

But keep your eyes on Wagner; she’s a very strong skater with good jumps, good spins, and some nice artistry to her.  (She’s friendly with my favorite figure skater, Johnny Weir, too, so that doesn’t hurt her in my eyes, either.)  She, too, has an excellent chance to get a medal, providing she hangs on to her composure.

More thoughts about the women’s championships: it was nice to see Caroline Zhang do well and come in fourth, as it’s been years since she skated a clean and effective performance.  Zhang skates a bit too slowly for my taste but the way she moves is impeccable and her spins, while slower and less precise than Czisny’s, are probably the best of all the American women aside from Czisny.

Agnes Zawadski, first after the short program, fell into third place.  Zawadski is only seventeen years old, so she has plenty of time to compete among the best in the United States, and eventually, the world.  I really enjoyed her short program and see big things ahead for her if she can only get a handle on her nerves.

Otherwise, I felt sorry for Mirai Nagasu; she came in seventh, and had a wildly inconsistent performance.  I think Nagasu needs to speak with Czisny once this season is over, because Czisny is the skater who’s most likely to understand what Nagasu has been going through. 

See, once upon a time, Czisny was not a model of consistency, either, partly due to a lack of good jump techniques with the triple jumps.  But she’s worked through that and has come out more confident, more dedicated and with everything you could ever want in a figure skater on the other side.  Maybe Nagasu can do the same thing down the road if she just learns to trust herself and her ability.

Here’s hoping.


** UPDATE:  Czisny was indeed named to the World Team along with Wagner.  Congratulations!

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 29, 2012 at 8:43 pm

Just Reviewed the Last Two Books in Jim C. Hines “Jig the Goblin” Series at SBR

leave a comment »

Folks, I just reviewed GOBLIN HERO and GOBLIN WAR, the latter two books of Jim C. Hines “Jig the Goblin” series, at Shiny Book Review.  These books are satirical and often made me laugh, but the lack of a definite conclusion to the third book was frustrating.  (If there’s to be a fourth book down the line, I’d completely understand as there are dozens of loose ends — or at least it seems that way — left to exploit in future books.)

Here’s the link:

My capsule review is, go read Hines’ books in paperback.  They’re fun, they’re enjoyable, and I really hope Hines will write a fourth book (maybe several more books) about Jig because there’s lots more to say.  (And before anyone points it out, I am aware of several more short stories in Jig’s universe.  That’s a start, but more novels are needed.)


Written by Barb Caffrey

January 28, 2012 at 8:23 pm

Posted in Book reviews

Prince Fielder signs with Tigers; 9 years, $214 million

leave a comment »

Folks, there are reports all over the Internet that former Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder has signed a deal with the Detroit Tigers; the deal is reported as being $214 million over the course of nine years, or an average $23.78 million per year.

See this story from Ken Rosenthal for further details:

Here’s a relevant quote:

On the long list of Scott Boras shockers, this one ranks near the top.

Boras’ top free-agent client, first baseman Prince Fielder, has agreed to a nine-year, $214 million contract with the Tigers, according to major-league sources.

Fielder’s deal with the Tigers does not include an opt-out provision, a source said.

Tigers general manager David Dombrowski recently told that Fielder, “doesn’t fit for us. He’s looking for a long-term deal and that just doesn’t fit.”

Either Dombrowski was shading the truth, or Tigers owner Mike Ilitch — who has worked well with Boras in the past — made a last-minute call to sign Fielder.

So, see, it’s not just me who’s shocked.  Rosenthal is obviously shocked, too.

The reason this deal surprised so many people, including me, is because of how long it took on the one hand (as we’re only about a month away from when pitchers and catchers must report to Spring Training) while on the other hand, the team that ended up landing Fielder — the Tigers — wasn’t even on the radar screen until now.  (This last bit is very reminiscent of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s pursuit of Albert Pujols; no one on the outside of the negotiations had any idea that the Angels were interested in Pujols, much less that they’d lay out big money for him.)

At any rate, the Tigers’ plans apparently include having Fielder play some first base and DH other days; they already have a first baseman in Miguel Cabrera (who hits from the right side, and is a power hitter), but Cabrera is no better defensively than Fielder and presumably wouldn’t mind DHing now and again.

Now, as a Brewers fan, I wasn’t surprised at all to see that Fielder is moving on.  It was obvious that he didn’t want to re-sign here; he had an opportunity to do that last year, and even at the end of this year, he had the opportunity to accept arbitration and come back for another year — Brewers set-up man Francisco Rodriguez (“K-Rod,” one of the best closers in the game), decided to do this even though the Brewers have a particularly good closer in John Axford — one who set team records last year and one who isn’t being paid very much.  (Axford should be getting a lot more than he is; at this point, he’s making just over the major league minimum and that really seems unfair.  But I digress.)

This situation has happened before, albeit with C.C. Sabathia.  Sabathia helped the Brewers get to the 2008 playoffs; the Brewers clinched the “wild card” spot on the final day of the season, and they wouldn’t have done so without Sabathia’s stellar performance (he went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA in 17 starts with the Brewers).  But Sabathia, as good as he was, was a half-season rental; Fielder was developed by the Brewers farm system and his entire career (six full seasons and part of a seventh) was spent in Milwaukee up until now.

Still, unlike Ryan Braun, who accepted a contract below market value in order to stay in Milwaukee because he apparently likes the stability of knowing he’ll be financially solvent (good thing, too, but other than Evan Longoria, there isn’t a single player in MLB who’s anywhere near as interested in his long-term financial future as Braun), Fielder obviously wanted to go wherever he’d get the most money.  And he does have ties to Detroit; his father played there, and Fielder took batting practice there as a pre-teen — part of the “Fielder legend” says that Fielder hit several HRs in batting practice when he was twelve, though I’m unsure that’s factually correct.  (Fielder has enormous power, and even as a child he probably had a great deal of it also.  But Fielder himself cast aspersions on some of these legends while he was in Milwaukee, saying, in effect, “Don’t believe everything you hear, but isn’t it a nice story?”)

I just hope that whatever Fielder is getting out of this deal is worth it to him, because it’s one thing to be a “Big Man On Campus” like he was for the Brewers; it’s another to become the highest-paid player on the team, as he will be for the Tigers.  The media in Detroit isn’t as friendly as the media in Milwaukee, and even if they were, Fielder’s contract will make him much more of a target than he’s ever been in Milwaukee.  This is something he’s not likely to understand until he’s lived with it for a while; I just hope the learning curve for him won’t be too steep along the way.

Granted, Fielder is a big man (in many senses, including his heart) and I’m sure he can handle it.  But it will be much more difficult for his family and friends to deal with the media on days where he goes 0 for 4 with a couple of Ks (even a guy who strikes out as little as Fielder does, proportionately, has a few days like this a year) than it’s ever been in Milwaukee.

All I can say now is, “Enjoy the contract, Prince.  Play well.  And don’t forget your fans in Milwaukee.”  Because assuredly, we will not forget about you anytime too soon.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 25, 2012 at 12:05 am

Former Packers Radio Network Announcer Jim Irwin dies at 77 from Kidney Cancer

leave a comment »

Former Green Bay Packers Radio Network announcer Jim Irwin has died at age 77 of kidney cancer.  Irwin, who worked mainly for WTMJ-AM 620 Milwaukee in Wisconsin, announced games on the radio for the Packers, Milwaukee Bucks, Milwaukee Brewers (as a fill-in announcer) and Wisconsin Badgers for many years, starting in 1969 and retiring in 1998.  Irwin also occasionally worked as a sportscaster for WTMJ-TV channel 4 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Irwin was a mainstay of the Packers Radio Network** for years as first a color commentator, then a play-by-play voice.  Irwin called games for the Packers through many losing seasons before they finally got and stayed good in the 1990s; he retired after the Packers went to their second successive Super Bowl in 1998.   Irwin was the last remaining radio announcer from his particular broadcast team, as long-time color commentator Max McGee died in 2007 and statistician Jim Palm died in 2010.  (Note that in the 1997-8 season, Irwin called games with color announcer Larry McCarren as Max McGee retired one year before Irwin; McCarren continues those duties to this day with current Packers play-by-play announcer Wayne Larrivee.)

Irwin was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 2003; prior to that, he had been inducted into the Wisconsin Broadcasting Hall of Fame and the Milwaukee Press Club Hall of Fame.  Irwin was named the Wisconsin Sportscaster of the Year for a record-setting ten times in a row.  (Please see this biography from the Packers Hall of Fame Web site for further details.)

Irwin was an outstanding, passionate announcer who loved the Packers and didn’t try to hide it, but wouldn’t hesitate to call out plays he felt were dumb or unnecessary.  Irwin also could be caustic with regards to bad coaching, though it took a lot to get him there; as Bob Harlan said today on WTMJ radio 620 in Milwaukee during the Wisconsin Afternoon News program, Irwin was extremely “enthusiastic” about the Packers, was always “well-prepared,” but had “a temper” and would occasionally let it loose, especially if he felt something was wrong due to someone not doing his or her homework (either for the radio broadcast, or regarding the team itself).

Listening to some of the calls Irwin made fifteen years after the fact (as some were from 1996 and early 1997) reminded me how much I enjoyed the way Irwin called a game.  He didn’t insert himself into the commentary as so many do nowadays; instead, he let the game come to him, and he explained what he saw in a way that was both clear and entertaining.

I’ve missed hearing Irwin’s smooth voice and insightful commentary on a regular basis since 1998, but he had occasionally worked on behalf of WTMJ AM so I still heard his thoughts now and again in recent years.  There also had been an interview with Irwin on Today’s TMJ 4 (WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee, Wisconsin) last May that referenced the beginning of Irwin’s fight against kidney cancer, a fight Irwin was certain he’d win; that link is here.

Please see this link for a few transcribed Jim Irwin play-by-play calls, along with a great deal more information about what Irwin actually did for WTMJ radio and TV:

Irwin led exactly the life he’d hoped to live, one filled with professional and personal success.  And my guess is, he’d not have had it any other way, as referenced by this quote from the TodaysTMJ4 article:

When asked about how he would rate his life on a scale of 1-10, Irwin answered, “Is there a 12 or a 14?”

Rest well, Jim Irwin.


** Wisconsin is unusual in that we’re a state that follows one, single NFL team, the Green Bay Packers.  The Packers Radio Network in 2011-12 is comprised of thirty-six separate Wisconsin stations (see list here) and stations in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.  That’s why our broadcasters often have a wider scope than some in other, much bigger media markets.

Certainty, AKA a Mixed Bag of Thoughts

leave a comment »

I’ve just had the oddest thing happen: someone accused me of being, of all things, certain.


As a writer, especially of opinion pieces (which, make no mistake about it, blog posts can’t help but be most of the time), it wouldn’t go over well to take a more equivocal stance.  So perhaps that’s why I may seem so “certain” some of the time, even though I’m just like anyone else and have more than my share of uncertainty, too.

One good thing about this world is that there are a wide variety of people in it.  This helps to promote an interesting dialogue, if you’re willing to listen, and only by listening — and learning — can you get anywhere.

Observation is one of the key skills writers attempt to learn; it’s how we grow, as writers.  We can’t just assume we know everything, even when we’re playing around in our own little created universes; if we do, we are doomed.

I have friends of all political stripes, all ethnicities, and all ages, because I find diversity not only necessary, but also to be intellectually stimulating.  This helps me observe, which helps me learn in the bargain; in effect, it’s a “win/win” strategy, and it’s one that I hope keeps me from an interminable stay within the “doomed” category.

That said, I have very strong opinions.  If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you already know that.  I’m not likely to change some of ’em, especially when it comes to actions I find stupid, pointless, unnecessary, or unjustifiable.  I’m also not keen on hypocrisy, as I find it the root of many actions that I, personally, find reprehensible in modern daily life.

All this means is that I’m sometimes extremely certain; at other times, I’m as uncertain as a newborn babe.  Because that’s what being human is all about.

So, please.  Don’t accuse me of “certainty” as a way of life.  Instead, give me credit for being as human as you are.  (Because believe you me, this blog isn’t writing itself.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 22, 2012 at 11:49 pm

Posted in Writing

Former Penn State Football Coach Joe Paterno, 85, dies in PA

with 2 comments

Most sports fans are probably aware that former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno has died at 85.  He had lung cancer, but what probably hastened his demise was the furor that erupted over the sordid behavior of one of his former coaches, Jerry Sandusky (a man accused of having sex with several pre-teen boys).  Paterno was fired from Penn State in November due to the fallout from this scandal.

Please see the following link for further details:–nfl.html

All I know is, I feel saddened by Paterno’s passing.  This was the guy who had the most wins in college history; he’d had a major trophy (the Big Ten’s conference championship trophy) named after him, then that honor was taken away due to Sandusky’s conduct and all the fallout at Penn State.

Now, me being sorry that Paterno is dead certainly does not mean that I condone anything that Sandusky has been accused of doing.  All it means is that I feel sorry that an old man, a grandfather, had to face such a terrible ordeal in what amounted to the “overtime” of his life — something Paterno couldn’t change at that late date and certainly couldn’t help, either — and that I hope that, like any other man, Paterno’s life can be seen for what it was.

Right now, there’s a lot of sentiment that has said that Paterno wasn’t well-treated in his age.  I share much of that.  But one would hope that when Paterno “meets his Maker” that the sum total of Paterno’s life will be what’s important — whom Paterno loved, and why.  What he actually did (including helping many of the young men on his college football teams graduate and become productive citizens), along with what he unfortunately failed to do — not merely the actions that came to light in October and November of 2011.

I don’t know what the whole story is regarding those actions.  I suspect we’ll never know.

What I do know is that Joe Paterno’s life has ended.  I wish his family, friends, and colleagues as well as possible, and I hope that somehow, they will find peace despite the complex issues that surrounded some of Paterno’s tenure at Penn State with regards to Sandusky in particular.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 22, 2012 at 11:37 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Today’s Writing Update

with 13 comments

Folks, I haven’t posted much this past week due to the whole controversy over SOPA and PIPA — the two controversial bills that are currently sitting in the United States Congress that, if passed, would likely muzzle the Internet and independent blogs like this one.

However, it’s time for a writing update, so here goes.  Most of what I’ve done is in the realm of planning or outlining; actual, fiction writing has been at a minimum, something I’m hesitant to discuss most of the time because a writer who can’t write seems almost as useless as a fish who needs a bicycle (feminist allusion intended).

I’ve been sick for weeks (sinus issues, mostly, which have exacerbated my asthma), which isn’t conducive to creativity.  Whatever’s wrong this time appears to be a viral thing which I have to just wait out rather than anything that can be cured by antibiotics; this is very frustrating.  All I can do is try to grab some extra sleep when it’s available and continue on the best I can otherwise.**

Fortunately, I’m still able to edit or I’d be even more frustrated than I am already.

Anyway, my hope is to get some fiction writing in later tonight or tomorrow if possible; that may well make me feel better even if this viral issue continues unabated.  This way, I might actually be able to report something positive, rather than continue to give the verbal equivalent of the null set regarding the Elfyverse and any other piece of fiction writing that’s currently awaiting a dash of creativity (or at least a wee bit of energy).


** Michael’s advice when I was ill was not to be too hard on myself, and to rest if at all possible as he knew I tend to drive myself too hard as I am my own worst critic.  I’m trying to take his advice.

Jeff’s advice when I was ill was for me to get as much rest as I possibly could and remind myself that I’ll write when I’m feeling a little better, or have had a bit of sleep.  I’m trying to take his advice, too.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 21, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Posted in Elfy, Elfyverse, Writing

Just reviewed Jim C. Hines’ “Goblin Quest” at SBR

leave a comment »

Folks, as a writer of satirical urban fantasy, I know satirical fantasy when I see it.  Jim C. Hines’ first novel in his “Jig the Goblin” series, GOBLIN QUEST, is satirical epic fantasy of the highest order.  Jig’s quest sends up warriors, wizards, the whole nature of throwing a bunch of unrelated people together together on a quest in the first place (it probably wouldn’t work too well in real life), and even a bit about how Elven thieves probably are like thieves anywhere else — poor, broke souls who have no better options available (or at least feel like they don’t have anything better to look forward to).  And it’s a ripping good read with much else to recommend it, besides.  (And did I mention this was Hines’ debut novel?)

Anyway, please read my review of GOBLIN QUEST at Shiny Book Review (link follows):

Enjoy!  (I know I sure did.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 20, 2012 at 9:58 pm