Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for December 2017

Unwritten Rules, Social Norms, and You

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Folks, recently I read a book by Mike Duncan called THE STORM BEFORE THE STORM. It was about the fall of the Roman Republic, which preceded the fall of the Roman Empire…and about the various things that happened that caused the Roman Republic to fall.

Something called Mos Maiorum had been followed up until that time, you see. Those were the unwritten rules and social norms that every Roman professed to follow, and none seriously transgressed until things started to fall apart. These were especially important for Roman politicians, as they dictated how often you ran for office, how long you should stay there in some cases, whether or not you should run again, and what you should do while you actually were in office (including treating other office-holders with respect rather than disdain, whether you liked those people or not).

This rang true with me in our contemporary American society, because it was the breakdown of the unwritten rules of the Mos Maiorum that led to the rise of Roman demagogues, who exploited rising economic inequality for fun and profit…and that is what we’re seeing right now, at least in part.

Mind, by the time a demagogic politician takes command, those rifts are already there for him (or in some cases, her) to exploit. The loss of the unwritten rules of conduct everyone is supposed to follow may seem negligible, but we saw it play out in the 2016 Presidential election, where Donald Trump refused to release his taxes (as every other politician had done for many years), criticized many people (including those in his own party) and called decorated war heroes such as Arizona Senator John McCain unimportant (because hey, Trump only likes people who weren’t captured). Trump even complained about a Gold Star family — that is, a family who lost a loved one while serving the United States as a military member — which is something I couldn’t have imagined anyone doing for any reason before 2016.

Mind, as in the fall of the Roman Republic, some pols still do follow the unwritten rules. (For example, Hillary Clinton released her taxes, and while she certainly criticized Trump — and he returned the favor, in spades — she did not go after anyone outside of the campaign. She left Scott Baio alone, Kid Rock alone, and any other celebrity or personage that expressed a strong affection for Trump strictly alone as far as I could discern.)

So it’s not an exact science, no. But I am still struck by the parallels.

When the civil discourse breaks down, it’s hard to remember that we all need to pull together. And that sort of division can be exploited by anyone with demagogic leanings, which is why we all need to educate ourselves as best we can, read widely (and not just to our own political leanings), and challenge our assumptions as that is the best way to deal with demagoguery I know.

That all being said, people may still prefer the demagogue in the future. I can’t do anything about that. But what I can ask you to do is to please, please, for the love of little green apples, do your homework. Vote for someone who represents you and your interests as closely as possible…but yes, someone should stick up for the unwritten rules of civil discourse and most importantly civility in politics, too, lest we follow the Roman Republic into oblivion.

That way, it’s less toxic to watch. And we may stay better-informed.

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Quick and Dirty Holiday Survival Guide

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Folks, I hope you will enjoy your holidays. Whatever you celebrate, I hope you’ll do so to the fullest, as that’s the way to get past the other feelings this season can sometimes engender–despair, frustration, unhappiness, and strife.

But if you’re like me, and tend to run into those last four things at the holidays in greater amounts than the rest, here’s a quick holiday survival guide.

First, make sure to take time for yourself. No matter what errands you need to do (or what gifts you need to buy, or food to make, etc.), you can’t do them well if you don’t rest a bit here and there, or at minimum try to recenter yourself as you go about all of your various holiday activities.

Second, if a family member or friend upsets you, try to let it roll off your back. (Sometimes you can’t, but in those situations, state your case firmly and move on.) Don’t let yourself get enmeshed in arguments if you can help it, as arguments at this time of year seem to be much worse than at any others (perhaps because we in the Western World seem to know this is supposed to be a time of joy, happiness, and goodwill toward all men and women, so when it doesn’t happen it may feel worse).

Third, if you are feeling down, don’t swallow it. Go ahead and let yourself feel it. At least for a little while.

Then, after you’ve fully felt whatever it is, tell yourself firmly, “Self, I’ve felt that. I understand.”

And go about your business anyway. (This last was one of my late husband’s Zen tricks, and it works.)

The reason you need to feel it has more to do with refusing to censor (or censure) yourself. But the reason you feel it for a short time, and then go about and do whatever you were going to do anyway, is that you don’t let your feelings derail you.

So, feel ’em, but don’t let ’em consume you. (Clear as mud, probably, but it’s the best I can do.)

Anyway, these are my three quick and dirty tips that may — just may — help you survive the holidays in one piece.

What are your holiday tips? (Tell me about them in the comments!)

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 23, 2017 at 9:39 pm

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Following the Eleventh Commandment…

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As we get closer to the Christmas/Yuletide holiday season, I get more and more frustrated with this time of year.

(And yes, I admit it.)

I’m not into conspicuous consumption. (If you’ve read my blog for a while, you probably know this.) And all the commercials for stuff “You Must Buy Now (TM)” annoy the crapola out of me.

I’ve already said I believe in being around my friends and loved ones at this time of year, and that I prefer your presence over your presents. But I figured I’d go a little further today, and try to explain another thought that needs to be expressed: We have to try to follow the Eleventh Commandment a little better (that being “Love one another, as I have loved you,” uttered by Jesus the Christ).

This is a very tough commandment to follow, because it is not always easy to love each other, in this world. There are people, quite frankly, in this world that I cannot stand. (I know, I know — quelle the horror.) And yet, by just about every faith I know–Christianity, Buddhism, Shintoism, Confucianism, the Church of Latter-Day Saints, and yes, the Neo-Pagan community–we’re told to love them. (Or at least to do no harm to them, if we can’t love them. And most of the time in most faiths, you’re still supposed to try to love the unloveable even if it’s extremely difficult; doing no harm and letting them go their own way is only an intermediate step.)

As I said, there are some folks out there who are incredibly difficult to love.

So how are we supposed to go about loving them anyway?

I think, to start with, we need to try to check our prejudices at the door. Try to meet people where they are, and use your empathy as much as you possibly can.

Does this mean you should let others railroad you when you don’t agree with them? Oh, Hell no. But you should at least try to understand, if you can, when someone believes something different than you do. Because it seems to me that understanding someone else is the first step toward loving them…and we all have to start somewhere.

In addition, I wanted to add another thought I’ve had, that is probably only tangentially related.

Does anyone else feel that we’ve become a much less forgiving society, lately? And that we’ve stopped believing that people can change, people can improve, and people can–even if they’ve made horrible mistakes–redeem and improve themselves somehow?

It’s like, someone makes a mistake one day, and kisses someone he or she doesn’t know while drunk at a holiday party. The next day, that man (or woman) is hailed as a pervert, and rather than saying, “You need to drink less” or “Wow, you can’t hold your wine” or even “What were you thinking, when you kissed that person?,” you’re condemning that person.

Forever.

I’m not the Higher Power, so I don’t believe I have the right to condemn anyone. (Sometimes this is hard to remember, granted.) And I try hard to remember that people can change; that nothing is cast in stone; that no one should believe that one mistake will define you the rest of your life and you’ll never, but never, get out from under it so you may as well stop trying.

That said, I’ve already pointed out that it’s hard to love someone who seems thoroughly unlovable. And that sometimes, the best you can do is leave them alone…and perhaps pray for their–or your–enlightenment, in order to find a way to follow the Eleventh Commandment a little better down the line.

Personally, I believe that if you’re going to follow the Eleventh Commandment, you should also do your best to give people second chances if warranted. (Again, don’t let yourself be treated like a pushover or a martyr. But do, please, believe that if someone’s trying, is doing his/her best to improve himself in various ways such as by going to counseling and seriously trying to figure himself/herself out, it’s not wrong to give someone at least one more try…and if it still doesn’t work, then you can step away and tell yourself, “Hey, I gave it my all, and sometimes it just doesn’t work.”)

So, it’s a work-in-progress, following the Eleventh Commandment. But I think it’s something you need to try to do, because it may make you a wiser, kinder person…and it also may make the holiday season a lot easier, besides. (Hey, one can only hope.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 16, 2017 at 8:13 pm

Presence, not Presents (a Xmas-inspired Post)

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Folks, we’re inundated daily by commercials, as it’s close to Christmas season. (Otherwise shortened to Xmas, of course.) There’s the ubiquitous Pajamagram commercial. Or the “My Pillow” guy. Or the “go to Jared (jewelers), so your girlfriend will love you” commercials.

I call BS on all of that. (Banana squishies, y’know. Family site.)

The important thing about the Xmas season is visiting your family, friends, loved ones, and making time for all of them. Making memories, too…being with them, being present, being there, doing what you can to let those you care about know that you, too, care and think about them.

That is what matters. Not all that other nonsensical stuff.

Look. I do like presents. (Books. Lots and lots of books. I’m a writer, so this can’t surprise you too much.) But I like well-chosen ones. Ones that show you know me. Ones that show you are paying attention.

Not just something you saw on TV. Or heard on the radio. Or saw on the Internet.

But if it’s a question between your presence, and being with you, and letting you know I am happy to see you, and getting a gift in the mail, it’s no contest.

I want your presence. Not your presents.

(And in this day and age, where our loved ones often live far away, your presence can certainly be virtual if you really can’t go home to see the family…just sayin’. Back to our regularly-scheduled post.)

Too many people get the idea that the only way to show that you care is to buy stuff. Lots and lots and lots of stuff. Really expensive stuff, too…smaller, well-chosen gifts don’t matter as much, because hey, they’re not “status symbol possessions.” And you can’t show ’em off.

Again, I say “BS.”

All I know is, if you are in doubt of what to get your significant other, or a good friend, or a family member, here’s my advice:

Call that person. Talk to them. Be with them, as much as you can, in whatever ways you can…and if all else fails, ask that person what he or she wants.

But if that person is worth your time, he or she is going to understand that not all of us are made of money. And even if we are, it’s more important to be there, and to pick something the other person really wants, than to just go to a jewelry store and pick out something expensive and call it good.

So, do remember, this holiday season, that your presence is far, far more important than any present you could possibly give. Because year-round, the things that matter are how you act with your loved ones and friends, not what you gave ’em…or what they gave you, either, beyond their care, concern, friendship, and love.

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 11, 2017 at 8:49 pm

Reflections on 2017: A Collaboration with a Purpose post

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Folks, I am happy to write another blog for Collaboration with a Purpose, this time on the need for personal reflections. As I continue to struggle with a respiratory issue (though I am getting a wee bit better), I’m happy to discuss something that I hope won’t be too controversial…though in this day and age, where people seem to take offense at the drop of a hint, who knows?

So, here’s my take on 2017…ready?

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First, let’s talk about the good parts of 2017.

  • I’ve made some new friends, particularly among the bloggers who’ve taken part in the Collaboration with a Purpose group, and that’s a wonderful thing.
  • CHANGING FACES was completed, at long last, and was published in February as an e-book.
  • I realized, not without a lot of effort that I might not have had to put in were I not so hard-headed at times, that the heart can expand to fit wherever it’s needed. There’s always room for another friend, for example…the only trick, if there is one, is to let yourself feel and not censure yourself. (Not that all of your feelings will make sense; nope, that’s too easy. But knowing I can feel deeply again is a very, very good thing.)
  • I edited at least fourteen books, most in the SF&F genre.
  • My story “To Exist within Memory” was published by the Twilight Times e-zine in October, along with a reprint of my poem “Break the Dark Lens.”
  • I played my first musical solo on alto saxophone in over ten years in July, the Isaac Albeniz Tango (with band accompaniment from the Racine Concert Band, of course).

The bad?

  • United States politics was completely frustrating, incredibly vexing, sometimes stupefying, and always, always maddening. I just did not understand much of what the government did, nor why they did it, and wondered just how these people thought they should get paid for doing nothing. (Or in some cases, worse than nothing.)
  • Roy Moore. (See my recent blog on the subject.)
  • I suffered from self-doubt, especially after CHANGING FACES didn’t make much of a dent in the marketplace. I wondered, often, if anyone would ever read what I was writing aside from the occasional blog post, and if not, what my life purpose actually was?

So, it was kind of a mixed bag.

Mostly, though, I’m glad the year is almost over. The good parts of the year outweighed the bad, but 2017 is a year I’ll be happy to put in the rear-view mirror.

Now, go take a look at these other posts from my Collaboration with a Purpose buddies, as they’re all different, all interesting, and all memorable:

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 5, 2017 at 6:58 pm