Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for May 2017

Preparation Is Key

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Folks, I recently played a concert with the Racine Concert Band, and I was struck by the difference good mental preparation made in my performance.

When I was younger, I never thought about this at all…I figured if I’d done the work, learned the pieces, my instrument was in good repair and I had a good reed, that’s all I needed to do. But preparation doesn’t stop with the mechanics of playing music; it actually starts there.

Because I have hand problems now, I have to think a great deal more about what I’m going to do, whether it’s with music, writing, or anything else. And what I’ve found is that if I put myself into a calmer frame of mind and tell myself I’m going to do the best I can, and not beat myself up beforehand because I can’t do what I once was so easily able to do, I come pretty close to being able to do what I used to do so effortlessly.

Now, I did prepare for big moments on stage, of course. I mentally played through solos, recitals, various high-profile gigs…so this mindset is not totally alien to me.

I’d never thought about it with a run-of-the-mill concert before, though.

So, as I was thinking about this, I wondered if it might help my writing, to stay in that same mindset as best I can. Just the belief that I can do it may make a difference on a bad day…and we all need that, whether we realize it or not.

Granted, I write on different days for different reasons. Sometimes I am writing an intensely emotional scene and I need to be able to feel that. Staying detached under such a circumstance won’t work.

But the belief that I can affect my own outcome a little…that is worth having.

You see, the biggest threat to creativity is the belief that it doesn’t matter. That who you are, that what you create, won’t ever make a difference to anyone.

We creative types have to have at least a small bit of an ego to take up a creative profession; otherwise, we’d get ground to powder quickly, as creating against strong headwinds is not for the faint of heart.

So, just for today, I want you — and me — to believe one thing:

It does matter.

What you do, what you create, what you are, all matters.

Don’t let anyone tell you different. And keep doing whatever you need to do, in order to be your best self.

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 25, 2017 at 10:36 am

Singer Chris Cornell Dies at 52

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Folks, yesterday I read the stunning news that singer Chris Cornell, frontman for Soundgarden and Audioslave and Temple of the Dog, had died at age 52. Cause of death: suicide by hanging.

I’ve read a great deal about Mr. Cornell’s passing since then. It appears that he was taking Ativan (generic name: Lorazepam), an anti-anxiety medication, and he admitted to his wife by phone shortly before his death that he may have taken a few too many.

I am familiar with Lorazepam. It is a central nervous system depressant. It works to calm an anxiety attack, and is a very good medicine…but taking too many can lead to despair and suicidal thoughts precisely because it depresses the central nervous system. (That is its function.)

I’m also familiar with playing concerts; I’ve been a musician since age 10 or so, and while I never did much singing, I am familiar with some of the things that tend to happen after concerts. So please, bear with me, as I try to discuss some of them.

(Note before I do, I do not know the circumstances beyond Mr. Cornell’s death any more than anyone else does via various published reports. All of this is speculation, and I can’t be certain I’m right. I say this as a disclaimer; everyone here should know I’m not a medical professional.)

First, when you don’t play well, it eats you up inside if you’re conscientious and care about music.

This does seem to apply to Mr. Cornell, because audience members at his last concert said he wasn’t at his best. And his wife said he was slurring his words (this according to a published report at Huffington Post) in their final conversation…all of this tells me, as a musician, that Mr. Cornell was anxious before his concert, so he took some Ativan as prescribed.

And to my mind, this makes sense. I have taken anti-anxiety meds before a big concert where I’ve had solos I’ve worried about. And I’m not a multi-million dollar artist, known for at least twenty-five years as a big-name act.

See, we all want to play or sing well, and do our level best.

In my case, I took the lowest possible dose, and refused to take any more despite still feeling nervous. I had a reason for this; my grandmother used to take this medicine, and I knew how it affected her. So I didn’t take any additional meds; I just waited it out, played my concert, and did my best.

I think taking the medicine at the very low dose prescribed was useful.

But if you don’t have someone in your background who’s taken that medicine, maybe you might think differently than I did. Maybe you might take an extra one. Or two.

And if you don’t realize that it’s a central nervous system depressant, or you don’t realize exactly how much it’s going to affect you after you hit one of these “performance lows” you can sometimes get…well, my best guess is that these two things combined to cause Mr. Cornell’s passing.

From published reports, it sounds like his family wants a toxicology test done to see exactly how much Lorazepam Mr. Cornell had in his system. That makes sense to me; I’d want to know it myself, in their place.

I hope they also are aware of the whole idea of performance highs and lows. Most musicians are, whether they talk about it much or not.

I’ve known about it since at least my mid-teens; sometimes after concerts, where I feel I’ve exceeded expectations (and my own are pretty high), I’ll feel extremely happy, and it takes hours to “come down” from that feeling. But the reverse is also true; if I finish a concert and think I’ve played much worse than expected, I’ll feel extremely awful. And it takes hours to regain my equilibrium.

That leads to a story…

Last year, in the summer concert season with the Racine Concert Band, I felt awful. It was hot, it was humid, my hands were aching and sore, and I felt ten steps behind the rest of the band. I nearly had an asthma attack on stage if I remember right, and I did not play well at all.

Hours later, I was still ruminating over this concert. I was wondering if I just shouldn’t play my saxophone any more. (Was this an overreaction? Sure. But I’m trying to explain how badly I felt in that moment.) I thought, for a brief time, that maybe I was just getting older, and there was nothing I could do to improve my performance.

It took a few hours of a friend talking to me to realize I was overreacting. (I’d usually call it “being silly,” but in this context, I don’t quite want to do that, because I don’t want any fans of Chris Cornell to think I’m saying he was being that way. He wasn’t.)

And I did reach out. I did say to my friend, “Hey, I had a bad concert and I’m feeling terrible.” And my friend patiently talked me through it…staying up until two a.m., even, to make sure I was going to be OK, before he and I stopped talking.

Not everyone can admit to that. Not everyone wants to…they think of it as a personal failing they need to hide. Or maybe they just don’t realize that this feeling of playing or singing badly is going to go away. There will be other, better concerts; there will be other, better days.

But when you are in the downward spiral, it’s really hard to get out of that. You start to think that your whole life has been a waste, that your musical talent and training is a waste, that you don’t have any reason for being, etc.

I am not saying that I know what happened to Mr. Cornell that night, mind you. I can’t say that.

I’m just saying what happened to me that night.

And I’ll tell you what; if I had had some anti-anxiety meds that night, I might’ve been tempted to take too many. I was in a terrible state. I didn’t want anyone to see me like that, or hear me, or realize I was in that rough of shape.

But I was. And for some reason, I was able to reach out.

My friend, whether he knows or not, may have saved my life that night. (Or at least my sanity.)

As for Chris Cornell…all I can tell you is that I wish he were still alive, still singing, and could still tell his family that he loves them.

I will miss Chris Cornell. I never knew him personally, but his songs, his musicianship, and the emotion that came through every time he sang spoke to me.

I hope wherever his soul is now, he is at peace and feels the outpouring of love and sympathy for himself and his family that has occurred since his tragic death.

And I hope his family will also feel that comfort. It isn’t enough — it will never make up for Mr. Cornell’s absence — but it may help them realize that they don’t grieve alone. (Though they will grieve harder, and longer…as a widow, I know that full well.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 19, 2017 at 2:41 pm

Quick Wednesday Thoughts

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Folks, I continue to deal with hand issues, and I also have a number of projects hanging fire…so this will be a quick “hit-and-run” type blog, where I tell you what’s on my mind in blurb form.

Ready? Set?

First…what in the world is up with President Donald Trump? I mean, every day, there seems to be a new scandal, something worse happening than the day before. He seems to have come into the office completely unprepared, and due to his impulsivity and other issues, he seems to enjoy scaring the Hell out of people, at home and abroad.

My primary thought here is, “Please stop doing this, Mr. President.” (And that I have to call him Mr. President still irks me something fierce. What did we ever do to get this guy?)

And my secondary thought is, “If there have been criminal — or worse, treasonous — acts committed, the Republican-dominated Congress has to grow a spine or some testicular fortitude. Because we can’t have this happening in the ‘land of the free and home of the brave,’ at all.”

Second, the weather in Wisconsin has been all over the place lately. We’ve had cold weather, hot weather, not too much medium-range weather, and it either is raining in buckets or it’s dry as a bone. I can’t figure it out.

Except for one thing…as weather forecasters can seemingly be wrong every day of the year and still get paid, why didn’t I sign up for that gig? (Yeah, they need more math and science than I had, but I’m sure I could’ve learned it. Ah, well.)

Third, I wonder sometimes about relationships. Why is it that we can try so hard, and get nowhere in them?

I was very fortunate in finding my late husband Michael, but before him I made a couple of bad mistakes. (Of course, what is the definition of a “good” mistake, anyway? One that leads you to the New World when you’re looking for China?)

All I know is, if you’re the only one trying in a relationship, it’s not a relationship. It’s you talking to yourself, and pretending like fire someone else cares when he or she really doesn’t. (Or doesn’t care enough to be useful to you.)

Learn from my mistakes.

And learn from my lone success, too…there is someone out there who will get you, completely, even if you don’t know who that is right now. Refuse to settle for anything less.

Fourth and last…I refuse to give up. I will keep trying.

I just wish I could get a small break in the action where something completely positive happens for a change, that’s all.

Anyway, that’s about it.

What’s going on with you, and what are your thoughts? (What annoys you, or makes you smile, or anything?) Tell me in the comments!

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 17, 2017 at 1:20 pm

Writing, Hand Issues, and More Frustration…

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Folks, you probably have noticed that I haven’t written a blog in nearly a week.

There is a reason for that. Three of them, to be exact: Hand issues. Frustration. And lots of editing.

My writing has taken a big-time backseat to all of this.

Now, as for the hand issues? I have tendinitis in both hands and wrists. (Until recently, I was told this was carpal tunnel syndrome, but now, the diagnosis has been revised.) Typing is painful at the moment. Using my arms at all is painful, too. I’m going to hand therapy, using heat, ultrasound, and doing various exercises, all so I can continue to use my hands as best I can.

Why am I so worried about my hands? (This may seem basic, but please bear with me.) Without my hands, I can’t work. As being an editor pays most of my bills, I need to do this despite the pain.

That’s why writing, for the moment, is taking a backseat, even though I don’t like it much. I just can’t concentrate on my stories right now, because everything I’ve got is going either into the hand therapy, my editing, or just living day-to-day life.**

In addition, I have another concert to play in a week and a half with the Racine Concert Band as a saxophonist. My part won’t be very difficult; I will have no solos, I will not have any exposed parts, and I will be someone that most people won’t even realize is playing. Yet the conductor and other members of the band would notice if I didn’t show up, and thus I’m going to go and do my best.

Even though it hurts.

I’ve persisted through a lot in my life. I’ve endured divorces, deaths, health problems, financial distress, floods, earthquakes, and probably a number of other things I’m forgetting right now. So you can assume I’m going to persist through this obstacle, too.

Do I wish things were easier right now? You’d better believe it.

But I’m glad I can still type. I’m glad that I can still play my saxophone, even if it’s not at the level I want, even if I don’t have solos anymore, even if for the most part I’ll probably never again be someone most people in the crowd think about when they go see a concert.

I’m doing what I can. I have to take comfort in that.

No matter how frustrating I find this situation to be, I will not give up.

I just have to pick and choose my spots for a while. That’s all.

——

**Note that I am still thinking about my stories. I have written down some prose notes. I have talked with other writers, and am doing what I can to re-read the works in progress, and keep going as best I can with my thought process overall. I know that my mind never stops working, so maybe being hindered will eventually produce some better, richer, deeper stories…one can only hope, right?

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 11, 2017 at 3:47 am

Speaker Ryan, Listen to Your Constituents

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Folks, this is my semi-obligatory post about the repeal of the Affordable Health Care Act in the United States House of Representatives, otherwise known as Obamacare. As Speaker Ryan is my U.S. Rep (surely for my sins), I’ve decided to speak directly to him.

Speaker Ryan, you’ve been my representative for many years. But I am frustrated with you.

Why?

You do not talk with your constituents at all. You haven’t for years, as far as I can tell, but it’s gotten much worse since you assumed the Speakership a year ago.

Because you don’t talk with your constituents, you are out of touch with how people in Southeastern Wisconsin feel about everything. Including the Affordable Care Act…which is why I am now going to explain it to you.

I did not approve of how the ACA was passed back in 2010. I felt a huge bill that wasn’t read should not ever be voted on, because no one had any idea what was in it. I actually agreed with you at the time about that, in fact…along with Lindsay Graham and a number of Republican Senators who didn’t agree with the way the ACA was rammed down the throats of the Republicans serving in the Congress at that time.

However, what you seem to have learned from that is, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” That is, the Democrats rammed the ACA down your throat, so now, you want to stick it to the Democrats in turn.

How does this help the American people? Quite simply, it doesn’t.

And it doesn’t help your constituents here in Southeastern Wisconsin at all, Speaker Ryan. We are poor, for the most part. That means most of us are getting help to have healthcare because of the ACA. The process was horrible, but it actually did help some people, including a whole lot of your constituents…

But now, you want to take it away, and make it much harder for the poor, sick, and elderly to get any decent quality of healthcare.

Make no mistake, Speaker Ryan. This was a heartless thing to do.

I am aware that the Senate is not even going to look at this version of the bill. Whatever comes out of the Senate may be far different than this, and your bill and the Senate’s bill will have to be reconciled before it can go to the President’s desk and be signed into law.

Still. I am frustrated that you did this, Speaker Ryan. You spearheaded this in order to force a vote to repeal the ACA and replace it with yet another omnibus bill that no one’s read but has some truly awful stuff in there among its lowlights. (I don’t see where taking money away from the poorest of the poor — that is, taking a great deal of money away from Medicaid — is helpful in the least. Especially if there’s no help forthcoming…what are we poor people supposed to do, anyway? Just go out into the streets and hope we get run over by a bus?)

So, congratulations, Speaker Ryan. You have won a “victory.”

May it give you exactly what you deserve.

Your constituent,

Barb Caffrey

How to Wait Out “Life, Interrupted”

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Folks, I continue to be in a holding pattern due to what I’m going to call “life, interrupted.” As there’s a lot of stuff going on here that I can’t talk about, I’d rather talk about my coping strategies to deal with all the stress (the “life, interrupted” stuff), in the hopes that if one of you ever has a similar situation, maybe you’ll remember that you’re not alone.

I want to write every day. Most of the time, I have a lot of other stuff to do, including  editing, trying to help family, supporting friends, taking care of my health, and so forth. Writing is very important, so when all these other things crowd it out during a crisis, I get extremely frustrated because I’m not able to do very much due to the circumstances at hand.

What do I do to try to combat this frustration?

Mostly, I wait it out. Once the stressful situation passes, I can do more.

But how I wait it out may be of interest.

If I get a story idea, I write it down. I write down whatever I have, which usually is the idea itself, maybe a bit of dialogue or description, and a potential title. These things help me go back and figure out what it was that so captivated me, and actually work on it later.

In addition, I think a lot about my stories. I don’t just say, “Out of sight, out of mind.” Instead, I think about what I want to do next. What seems to be going on with my stories. What needs to be done, and how am I going to go about doing it?

So I at least stay in the mental frame of mind that I need to be in, hoping I can get a few minutes here or there to work on it.

Finally, I try to be good to myself and realize I’m not staying away from my writing because I’m slow, stupid, or anything like that. It’s that I truly am under stress and just cannot devote enough time to get writing done at such a time. (Big stressors include people in the hospital, myself undergoing medical tests, being sick to the point all I can do is sleep, etc.)

Why do I mention the last part? Because I really hate not doing anything. It annoys me something fierce.

But sometimes, the best thing you do to help yourself is to rest. Once you rest, you should have enough energy to do what needs to be done…and at the top of the list for any writer (not just me) is writing.

My view is simple: If you need to rest, do it. If you are under stress, admit it. And if you can do anything about your writing at such a time, including planning, thinking hard about what to do next, or actually getting some words written, count that as a major victory.

And then, when the big stressor passes (as big stressors invariably do, one way or another), get back to work on your work(s)-in-progress.

That’s what works for me.

So, what works for you as a coping strategy to deal with stress? Tell me about it in the comments!

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 2, 2017 at 12:39 pm