Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for September 2017

Reverence for the Flag, and the Crisis in Puerto Rico

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Folks, I’m going to do my best, but this situation makes my blood boil. You have been warned.

In recent days, we’ve been told much about the need to revere the flag of the United States of America. The current President, Donald Trump, has taken on the NFL and its players, even calling them “SOBs” (spelling it out, rather than using the acronym as I just did) for some wishing to kneel during the national anthem. Even though the third verse of the Star-Spangled Banner has some offensive references (which is why we usually do not sing it, or even think about it)…and even though there are many ways to be reverent, and all does not stand or fall on whether someone stands and puts his/her hand over his/her heart while listening to the Star-Spangled Banner.

Well, I have news for you. We have several major crises going on, and one of them is in Puerto Rico. Due to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria, many people there are without food, water, hospital supplies, electricity, or any of the needs of living.

How is it reverent to ignore these people, American citizens all?

And why on Earth would anyone, especially the President of the US, decide he’d rather talk about the “need” to stand for the national anthem than the fact that people are dying in Puerto Rico (at least two have already died, in hospitals, and more will follow as supplies dwindle, most especially diesel fuel to run generators)?

Look. We were hit by a number of hurricanes in rapid succession. The US Virgin Islands were hit. Florida was hit. Texas was hit. And Puerto Rico was hit.

Only Puerto Rico, as far as I know, hasn’t gotten the help they need. Their port was devastated, which made immediate help hard to come by; the thing is, there are ways to help that don’t require a set of working docks. Helicopters, for example, could drop supplies on pallets. There’s also mobile “comfort ships” that can be sent; the US Navy has helpful ways to get supplies to people also, whether they can actually dock or not.

And most importantly of all, the devastated phone system can be brought back quickly by the US military. Which is desperately needed, as many of the people who were hurt by this storm are aged, and can’t even make their needs felt under these circumstances.

I want to know, honestly, why it is that we haven’t helped Puerto Rico yet?

How is it reverent to ignore three million-plus American citizens? How is it patriotic, either, to let people starve and run out of water and medical supplies and have unnecessary pain and anguish, all while the temperatures rise and there’s no electricity at all and no phone service, either?

And while we sit here debating what reverence is, and whether NFL stars should sit, stand, kneel, or turn purple while saluting (or not saluting) the flag, those people of Puerto Rico continue to suffer.

No matter what, we must help these folks; we cannot abandon our own citizens. It is wrong to watch night after night after more people in Puerto Rico suffer, with no help forthcoming and nothing said by the current President except a) platitudes and b) statements that more or less say Puerto Rico is on its own.

In addition, every time the current President talks about the crisis there in Puerto Rico, he talks about the “wonderful job” he, himself, is doing. Not FEMA, mind…himself. (He sometimes says “his team.” Not much better.)

This is utterly disgraceful.

How will history judge us, when we refuse to help our own?

So, to my mind, it is more reverent to help the people of Puerto Rico than it is to worry about the flag. Because the flag is going to take care of itself, while those people need our help now. (Besides, if we can’t help those people, what does our flag mean, anyway?)

If you want to help, here’s a good place to go to find charities that need assistance right now:

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/help-puerto-rico-12-effective-160201263.html

Beat the Heat and Stand for Something

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Folks, you may be wondering why on Earth I decided to combine these two topics. It’s mostly because it was 95 F with high humidity (and far from the world’s best air quality) where I live in Southeastern Wisconsin; originally I was going to talk only about standing for something, but it being so hot made me combine them.

So, hopefully my brain hasn’t melted, and this will make sense. Enjoy!

There’s so much negativity in this world right now. And the only way I know to try to fight against any of it is to find something to believe in, and take a stand.

What do I stand for? (I’m going to try to stay out of politics for the moment, as it’s so hot…) Literacy, for one. And education. And thinking for yourself, and making up your own mind after using reason, logic, or at least some sort of step-by-step rationale for making your decisions, rather than following the whims of whatever “in-crowd” seems to be dominating the airwaves this week.

This is important. You need to think for yourself. And stand for something, as well as stand against stuff that makes no sense to you.

Such as narcissistic contemporary behavior. And I am not alone in that.

Tonight, while watching television, I saw highly respected journalist and writer Gay Talese, speaking with MSNBC’s Ari Melber. Talese said that in his opinion, our culture is incredibly narcissistic. He pointed out that even when he goes to a baseball game, more people are watching their phones than watching the game — and he truly does not understand that.

(Neither do I, as a baseball fan. That just never has made any sense to me. Watch the game if you’re there, dammit. Or stay home and follow your phone…unless someone in your family has a health emergency, turn the damned thing off.)

Talese was speaking broadly, as well as specifically (as he was talking politics; someday, maybe soon, I’ll talk about that, too, but not today). But his point is well-founded. We are too narcissistic now, in the Western World in particular; we are not thinking about tomorrow so much as immediate self-gratification.

How do we combat all this? We need to stop undue navel-gazing. And instead, take a stand. Find something you like to do that will actually help someone else. And stop focusing on your own problems to the detriment of everyone else.

(I know, I know; I am at fault as much as anyone reading. But I’m telling myself to do this, too, as I really don’t want to be hypocritical. Trust me. Now, back to the regularly scheduled post, already in progress…)

Some ideas of how to help:

  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen or food pantry
  • Volunteer with dog, cat, parakeet, or other animal shelters, and make sure those animals are well cared for until they find their “forever homes”
  • Send money to Florida, Puerto Rico, Houston, the Virgin Islands, or any other place that’s been devastated by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, or Maria

Those are just three ideas, but I hope that gives you some food for thought.

We’re only here for a short time. We have to help others while we’re here, or at least make a good attempt to do so; otherwise, why were we put on this Earth with millions upon millions of other souls rather than in our own hermetically sealed bubble, alone in our “perfection,” alone with our thoughts…and no doubt bored silly by same?

As the heat beats down, and the humidity makes the heat even worse, do your best to keep yourself focused on people other than yourself. That’s the best way to honor the better angels of your nature, and it’s the best blow against self-defeating narcissism I know.

P.S. It’s not that you shouldn’t care about what happens to you, mind…it’s that you also should care about what happens to others.

How do you help others? And what do you think of this post? Let me know in the comments!

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 22, 2017 at 6:15 pm

Blogging and Life

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Some days, it’s easier to write than others. But lately, writing has been like pulling teeth.

Why am I starting out with this? Simple. I haven’t blogged much in a few weeks, and I’ve had questions as to why. Long-time readers probably know the answer, but I’m willing to give it again…it’s the time of year that’s getting me down.

Around this time thirteen years ago, my husband Michael was alive. Writing. Reading and editing my writing. Making me laugh. Letting me make him laugh. Cooking. Walking the neighborhood. Complaining about politics, and listening to my complaints about politics, too.

In short, living his life. And enjoying it, and our marriage, immensely.

Then came that awful day, the day that changed everything. The day he had four heart attacks without warning, which he couldn’t survive.

The day I became a (way too young) widow.

I can’t pretend that I like this time of year. And I won’t.

What I will say, as I said in last week’s blog about changing perspectives, is that I’m trying to look at it a different way. At long last, I am trying to see my husband’s life right now, rather than see the “period at the end of the sentence,” otherwise known as his death.

Yeah, at other times of the year, I see Michael’s life quite well. And it comforts me. It gives me hope, because I was fully understood and appreciated and admired, all for being myself. And boy, oh boy, was I loved…

(Embarrassed grin.)

Anyway. The fact of the matter is, I just hurt at this time of year. And because I hurt, my creativity is slowed. I find it hard to play my instruments, hard to write fiction, a little more difficult to edit (depending on the project), and just, in general, find life to be more of a drag.

That this year is going to be more like 2004 than not — in that it’ll be too hot, and too humid, for late September — is not helping.

Still, if I think about my husband’s life, and about how much he loved me, it helps. A lot.

I know Michael would like it if I could find more joy, more happiness, or at least more peace. And God/dess, am I trying.

As to why I’m blogging about something so personal?

Well, there may be some widow out there hurting just as much as I am. Maybe she’s wondering what the point is. Or wondering how on Earth she can keep going, keep striving, keep working toward a future she can no longer see, when the love of her life is dead.

I think there is a reason, but I don’t have a way to articulate it very well.

The best I can say is that because I was loved so well, I want to do right. I want to help others, in whatever way I can, and I want to keep going. Because that’s what my husband would want.

And I’m trying, so hard, to find a way to want it, too. Despite the time of year.

Because if I can keep trying, maybe I might eventually find love again. (Hey, it could happen. That I even want it to happen, after thirteen years, is miraculous enough. And no, you may not say “it’s about time.”)

I kind of think Michael would like that.

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 19, 2017 at 7:33 pm

Out Now–The Zero Curse

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This is Chris’s newest novel. I edited this book and know it’s an outstanding YA adventure, second in a series (the first is the excellent THE ZERO BLESSING). Go read his blog, check out the free sample, and grab the book!

The Chrishanger

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Written by Barb Caffrey

September 15, 2017 at 9:37 pm

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Changing Perspectives

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Folks, sometimes you just have to change your perspective.

Whether it’s your book, your life, or something specific, changing how you look at it can make a huge difference.

I realized this earlier this week. A wise person told me, in reference to my “sadiversary” (the anniversary of my late husband Michael’s death, coming next week), that I need to look at it differently. And what he said was so interesting, I thought I’d pass it along, to see if it might help you, too.

My wise friend said, “You’re a storyteller. Is the period at the end of the sentence the important thing? Or is it everything else?”

Of course I said it was everything else.

“And at the very end of a novel, is the last period the most important thing? Or is the overall story, the journey of it all, the most important thing instead?”

Again, I said that the story/journey was what was most important.

“So, Barb, why are you so worried about that final period at the end of Michael’s story?” (Michael, of course, being my late husband.) “That’s just the smallest part of it all. He, himself, would not want you to be obsessing over that period, would he?”

No, he wouldn’t. And I admitted that.

Ever since that important conversation, I’ve been thinking about how important changing my perspective in this way actually is. And it makes sense.

So, if you’re having trouble looking at a problem, maybe you can try looking at it a new way. And seeing it a different way may give you a path forward, or at least something else to think about.

If you take away only one thought from today’s blog, please remember this: Your story is a journey. (In other words, a work in progress.) And if you get hung up on one, small part of that, it’s going to mess you up.

When something like that happens, do yourself a favor and try to look at it a different way. (Maybe you’ll need help to do this. If so, I sympathize. I certainly had never seen this before my wise friend said something, but it does make sense.) It may give you perspective…

But more important even than that? It may give you peace, too.

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 15, 2017 at 9:20 pm

Self-Belief and Writing

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Folks, with the recent posts about self-acceptance, I figured I’d follow it up with how self-belief and writing mix — or don’t.

In my own experience, when I am more confident in myself, and I know that what I’m saying makes sense, I am more likely to make sense in writing than when I am more insecure.

And yet, insecurity is part of what drives a creative person. I can’t deny that. (No creative person can, really, not if he or she is smart.)

The trick is to balance the two. Be just insecure enough to want to write, to need to write (or play music, or compose music, or, I suppose, paint, draw, act, or any other creative pursuit), but be confident enough in what you can do — your belief in yourself, as it were — that you can actually sit down and do it. Without fear. Or at least without the fear stopping you cold.

I’m not sure how that all works, mind. In my head, right now, I’m picturing a space station for a YA milSF story I’m working on. And as I tend to think two-dimensionally, this is a real problem. My main character, a young girl and a military prodigy, would not be thinking in 2D.

How do I get to where I need to be, so I can describe the space station I hazily see, and make the readers believe in it?

Or, here’s another conundrum I’m working on right now.

I’m writing a novel in a friend’s universe. (No, I won’t tell you which one. I won’t unless/until I pull it off. I do have permission from my friend to give it a try and an interested publisher if I can pull it off.) I know I don’t write like my friend. But I’m going to talk about characters that interested me, that my friend could not work on, as his main character needs to be doing something else.

If I think too much about how I don’t write like my friend, or that his readers won’t like what I’m doing because I’m not my friend, well, that will stop me cold.

But just a little insecurity, in that I want to find out what’s going on, and can refer back to what my friend’s written so I can use that as best I can to ground my writing…d’you see? (Or am I thinking too two-dimensionally again?)

Finally, I have a story going in my Elfyverse that’s taking a long time to gestate. I have two new characters who will be interacting with my known characters Bruno, Sarah, Lady Keisha, and more…and I like these characters. But it’s hard sometimes to figure out how to get those new characters into the mix without making them seem lesser than the two titanic mains, Bruno and Sarah, especially as this new story isn’t about Bruno and Sarah. (Instead, it’s about new love, unlooked for, with more mature folks.)

So, should I think about how people won’t like the story, because it’s not about Bruno and Sarah, and they’re at best peripheral characters? Or should I think about how there’s room for more characters at the Elfyverse inn?

And just a little insecurity may be useful. But a whole lot of it just stops me cold, and makes me trot out the “Fear is the mindkiller” speech from DUNE.

As I said, you have to have enough belief in yourself (self-belief, natch) to keep going, even when you don’t see an end-point. (Yet.) But you also have to work with your insecurity, and keep it at bay enough while using it at the same time to inform your work and make it thrive the way it was supposed to do all along.

(If this is still clear as mud, my apologies.)

What do the rest of you do, when you’re trying to create something? How do you strike that balance? (Tell me about it in the comments!)

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 9, 2017 at 8:31 pm

The Quest for Self-Acceptance, Part 2…

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Folks, I wrote about how damned hard I find the quest for self-acceptance to be a few days ago. But yesterday, I had a very odd experience that I’d like to share with you…and then, I’m going to give you the links to all the other wonderful bloggers who were part of the Collaboration for a Purpose — Self-Love/Acceptance blogging circle. (Yeah, I should’ve done this earlier, but I hope you’ll see why it took me a bit of doing this time.)

Collab with a purpose Self Love

I’d like to set the scene a little bit, if I may.

I was in my car, and it was quite early (for me, at least). I hadn’t had anything to eat yet, and I’d just dropped a family member off for an important appointment. She’d asked me if I could go shopping for her while she was at this appointment, and of course I said yes.

Anyway, I pulled into a parking spot. (No biggie, right? We do this all the time, we with cars.) And another car parked very, very close next to me, so close that I knew if I got out, my door would almost certainly bump the other car a little no matter how hard I tried. (This is partly because I walk with a cane, and I don’t know about you, but I can’t get out of the car easily with that cane nine times out of ten.) And this is exactly what happened, but my car door did not leave a mark of any sort as far as I could tell.

Most people, of course, are forgiving. But I happened to run into the one person in all of Southeastern Wisconsin who just wasn’t…and she was very belligerent and rude.

This woman (a passenger sitting in the car; the driver had already gone into the store) would not let me walk away, would not leave me be, and I just had it…and I ended up having a panic attack, right there in the parking lot.

I am not proud of this.

Yeah, this other woman was horrid. There’s no question about it. But I could not love this person, and I could not love myself either as I couldn’t figure out how to de-escalate the situation other than walking away, which I eventually did. (The woman continued her verbal abuse all the way into the store, mind.)

What I can tell you is that this story has a happy ending of sorts. I found the driver of the car, and she told me it was fine. She even gave me a hug, and she told the passenger (from what I could tell, as I stayed inside the store to keep away from that older woman) to get back in the car and stop it. (Bless her for that, too.)

I know we all have days like this, where Murphy’s Law rules the day and nothing at all seems to go right. But all we can do is try to get past it, and in my case, the way I did this was to talk to a couple of my best friends. They helped me put this into perspective. And they gave me hope that my horrible, no good, very bad day didn’t mean I was a horrible person.

It does make me wonder, though, about context. And about some of the stuff I’ve seen over the years that weren’t good things to do, but perhaps actually would’ve been comprehensible in context…such as parents yelling at their kids in public (something no parent ever wants to do, but sometimes does anyway). It makes me wonder what happened before that point that made it all escalate to the point of yelling.

And if any of these other people actually were having panic episodes, rather than just being downright rude…

Anyway, that’s today’s follow-up regarding the quest for self-acceptance. I will keep working on it, and remind myself that (as a good friend put it), “Your blooper reel is not a fair comparison to someone else’s glamour shot.”

Now, please go see these other lovely people’s blogs, as they’re all worthwhile and interesting in their own right:

Camilla Motte at Moms on the Go

Mylene Orillo

Divyang Shah

Ipuna Black

Manal Ahmad

Sonyo Estavillo

Nicolle K. (Nicolle also created the picture for this round’s Collaboration with a Purpose that you see above, and I think she did a fantabulous job)

Sadaf Siddiqi

Tajwar Fatma (she who started this whole shebang)

Joel A. Scott (he’s new this time around, so make sure to give him a warm welcome!)

Jane Love

Jothish Joseph

Addison D’Marko

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 7, 2017 at 3:47 am