Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Criticism/critique’ Category

Staying Stable in an Unstable World

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Lately, wherever I’ve gone, I’ve had the feeling that the world just isn’t as stable as it used to be.

Granted, maybe it was all illusory, that feeling of stability. But feelings need to be taken into account, or you can’t keep yourself stable no matter what’s going on around you.

In the United States, we have a President who shoots from the lip (or at least from “the Twitter”) as often as he possibly can. He doesn’t seem to care if this bothers foreign leaders, or his own citizens, or anyone else; he just does it, because “Trump’s gotta be Trump.” (Yes, I’ve heard this a great deal.)

We’ve never before had a President like this in the U.S. We’ve had blustering Presidents, sure. (Some might say Teddy Roosevelt qualifies, here. And certainly Warren G. Harding.) We’ve also had Presidents that got in under odd circumstances (witness the 1876 election of Rutherford B. Hayes). But we’ve never before had someone who seems to delight in recklessness and obnoxiousness in this particular way.

That President Trump doesn’t seem to understand the pain of new widow Myeshia Johnson, the wife of deceased U.S. Army Sergeant LaDavid T. Johnson, just adds the cherry on top of a whole bunch of unadulterated rudeness and disrespect.

And as an American citizen, I can’t help but feel terrible about this. I don’t understand why this particular man can’t seem to understand that being the President requires empathy as well as logic, and caring as well as commerce.

Not that Donald Trump is alone in seeming to bring the caricature of “the ugly American” to a new (and highly disgusting) sheen. There are all those people who marched in Charlottesville in a white supremacist march, too, pointing out there are still plenty of others in this country who have no interest in tolerance, respect, or basic human decency.

And that also makes me, as a rational person, feel less stable. Less like the light I can bring, and the creativity I keep trying to use, will make any difference.

Regardless of anything else, those of us who have a shred of creativity need to keep using it. This is when it’s needed most. And we can’t stop when it’s hard; we may have to take more breaks, and we may have to give ourselves time to rebalance ourselves sometimes, and we may have to remember that what we do still matters no matter what it looks like…but yes, indeed, we must use our creativity as best we can.

Why? Because we need to do everything we can to stay on balance. Live the lives we were born to live. And refuse to let anyone, regardless of pride, position, or Presidency, take us off our course.

So, in addition to doing my best to stay creative, I’ve also resolved the following things. I’m going to reject bad behavior, whoever it’s from. Reject words that make no sense, whoever says them. Reject those who just don’t seem to get it that we all need to pull together, and do what we can to bring more rationality and respect and tolerance and (dare I say it?) kindness into this world.

And if I can do all that, I believe I will feel more stable, centered, and whole.

What do you do to stay stable in an unstable world? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Written by Barb Caffrey

October 24, 2017 at 8:39 pm

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

Communication — Not Just for Breakfast Anymore…

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Folks, I keep thinking about communication. What does it mean, and how can we improve it?

Communication, to me at least, means that someone is saying to me, “I am listening. I am paying attention to what you’re saying. What you are talking about matters even if I don’t understand it, but I do want to understand.”

We see a real dearth of communication these days, and not just in our personal lives. (The lack of communication in Washington, DC, these days is startling. Even by non-communicative DC standards.) And yet, no one seems to know how to improve it, to make things any better…and the bad communication (or worse, complete lack of communication whatsoever) just keeps going on and on, dragging down everything it touches.

If you are having communication problems with someone else, try to listen. If you can’t do that because you are swamped with work, at least tell that person you will listen as soon as you can and that you do care. (Yeah, is this a personal message to someone? Maybe. But maybe not. There are a lot of people in my life I’d tell this to, if I could get them to sit down and listen.) And then, make some time and listen. Don’t judge — listen.

Communication isn’t just for breakfast anymore. (Who knew?)

Anyway, the only way to fix bad communication is to actually try. Refuse to be afraid of confrontation; just make sure that you are as respectful and calm as you can be, or if you can’t be either, apologize for your lack of same and then get on with trying to understand each other.

This is harder to do with some than others, granted. But if you are friends, or family, or have common interests, or work together, you have to try to do this even when you don’t want to, or the problems that will result from same will just keep snowballing…

And there is no point to that. At all.

***Note: I am fortunate that nearly everyone I know can and does communicate. But my goodness. I am tired of the non-communication in this world…beyond tired. Thus, this post.

Why Must We Be So Negative?

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Folks, the other day I read an interesting post by my friend Tajwar Fatma, she of the blog Life As We Have Never Known it. She’d just passed ten thousand hits on her blog — a truly impressive feat, if you think about it — and she decided to talk about how much negativity she’s had to overcome during her newfound blogging career. (It’s called “Overcoming Negativity,” and can be found here.)

This got me thinking.

Why must we all be so negative all the time?

Granted, there are plenty of negative things in this world. Politics often makes no sense. The weather is too hot, too cold, or maybe just too boring. Prices are rising. Everything we seem to like gives us cancer; everything we don’t like is touted as curing everything down to the common cold, but is ultimately just good, solid food that we continue to dislike.

So, we can eat healthy and hate it. Or we can eat what we like and clog our arteries (at best).

It seems like no matter what we do, we can’t win.

I have no answer for why others are negative. But I do have an answer for how to overcome your own negativity, at least in part.

First, as Tajwar put it in her blog, “Don’t let negativity get to your mind and heart. You have to lose in order to win. And if you can’t handle criticism and negativity, you sure can’t handle praise and victory!”

Second, you need to realize that some of this negativity, regardless of how personal it feels at the time, is not being directed at you in specific. It’s because people are frustrated, upset, angry, or sometimes even jealous of the fact that you’re still trying, but they’ve given up.

Third, it’s important to keep going because you know in your heart that what you’re doing matters to you. (For example, I continue to write, despite the struggles and life-worries and frustrations, because writing matters very much to me. And my stories matter, too.)

Don’t let anyone tell you that what you’re doing doesn’t matter. Or that no one will ever care, either.

As a barely-succeeding author (someone most people don’t even know about), I’m here to tell you that so long as you care, that’s all that matters.

So keep doing what you are. Work hard on yourself, and spread joy and light and life wherever you can. Try to overcome the negativity in this world as best you can (mind, constructive criticism is not negativity, but that’s a separate issue and I’m not going to get into it now).

And most importantly of all: Whenever you get a negative thought about what you’re doing right now, do your best to throw it out. (Or better yet, laugh at it, as Tajwar suggested in her blog.) Don’t let that negative thought stop you from doing whatever it is that you need or want to do…because that’s the only way that you truly lose.

And I see no purpose in that. (I hope you don’t, either.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 25, 2017 at 5:23 pm

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

A New Low: NC Law Legalizes Discrimination Against LGBT Individuals

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Folks, I am really steamed right now.

A few days ago (March 23, 2016, to be exact), the Governor of North Carolina, Republican Pat McCrory, signed into law a bill that’s so widespread in its ability to legally discriminate against LGBT people, it defies belief.

Why?

Here’s what this bill, called HB 2, allows for in North Carolina according to the Huffington Post:

North Carolina’s General Assembly voted Wednesday to block cities and counties from passing protections against LGBT discrimination in a wide-ranging bill that could have enormous implications for the state.

HB 2, which passed in a special session, would set a statewide anti-discrimination policy, banning employers and businesses from discriminating against employees or customers based on their race, color, country of origin, religion, age or “biological sex.” The bill offers no protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and prevents local governments from passing any nondiscrimination policy that goes beyond the statewide standard.

The bill also pre-empts local employment ordinances governing wages, benefits, employee protections and leave policies. It would prevent schools from allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.

OK. So, it’s now legal in North Carolina to discriminate against LGBT people.

Have they all lost their flippin’ minds?

“But Barb,” you say. “This happened over a week ago. Why are you only talking about it now?”

Well, remember my last post? About how I was dealing with an illness in the family, and the whole “temporary lapse of blogging” thing?

“Yeah, I do. So what? Why bring it up now?”

Aside from the fact that this law deeply offends me as a human being, news broke yesterday (March 30, 2016) that there is a sports league that could be potentially affected by this law — and that league is the National Basketball Association. Next year, Charlotte is supposed to host the NBA All-Star Game, and has been looking forward to doing so for quite some time.

But now, because of this terrible new law, the NBA might have to pull their All-Star Game out of Charlotte. That means much revenue could potentially be lost, and some people will probably lose their jobs — all because of the idiots in the NC Legislature who thought it was a good idea to pass the terribly offensive law, HB 2.

You see, the NBA has perhaps been the most proactive league in professional sports on behalf of LGBT rights. They are acutely aware of this for several reasons: Jason Collins came out as gay while still an active NBA player a few years ago (he’s since retired), a referee has recently come out as gay, several teams have made supportive videos on behalf of LGBT youth, and at least one team, the Boston Celtics, has already condemned the actions of the North Carolina Legislature (save for all the Democratic state Senators, who walked out, and most of the Democrats in the NC lower house, who voted against HB 2).

By all accounts, the NBA is taking a good, long, hard look at North Carolina right now, even though Charlotte — the city — had passed anti-discrimination laws that HB 2 wiped off the books. And even though Charlotte is steamed, and North Carolina’s own Attorney General says he’s going to refuse to enforce HB 2 (good for him!), the NBA is not at all happy with what Gov. McCrory has done by refusing to veto this bill.

Because that’s exactly what Gov. McCrory should’ve done — veto this piece of trash. There is no legitimate excuse for discrimination against anyone. Period.

At all. Ever.

And lest you think the Governor of North Carolina was only doing his job, think again: Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, also a Republican, vetoed a similar law only two days ago.

And Democrat Terry McAuliffe, Governor of Virginia, vetoed an anti-LGBT bill this week as well, calling it “nothing but an attempt to stigmatize” the LGBT community.

So, it is possible for a public servant — which is exactly what a duly-elected Governor of any state is supposed to be — to do the right thing, and stand against discrimination.

So, why didn’t Gov. McCrory do what Gov. Deal did, or Gov. McAuliffe? Simple. Gov. McCrory appears to be pandering to the hard-right. Either that, or he actually believes that allowing transgender women into ladies’ bathrooms is tantamount to allowing pedophilia. (No. Really. This was an argument I heard on CNBC the other day from the state’s Lieutenant Governor, a pipsqueak of a man whose name escapes me.)

Look. I’m a woman. I’ve been one all my life. I have no problems with allowing transgender women into the ladies’ room right along with me. I don’t think they’re going to do anything except use the facilities, touch up their hair, maybe their makeup (if they’re wearing any; maybe they’re like me and don’t care for it much), wash their hands and get out of there.

Or to put it another, more emphatic way: Whether you’re a straight woman, like me, a lesbian woman, or a transgender woman, when you’re in a bathroom, all you want to do is take care of your business and get the Hell out of there.

As I said in my title, this horrible bill, North Carolina’s HB 2, is a new low in American politics. Gov. McCrory should be ashamed of himself for signing this travesty of a bill.

Discrimination should not be tolerated. Ever. Period!

End rant.

——

Edited to add: There already is a lawsuit underway in North Carolina against this bill. I hope HB 2 gets struck down very quickly, and that Charlotte can re-institute its anti-discrimination bill ASAP.

One Curmudgeon’s Opinion (a Halloween PSA)

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It’s Saturday, October 31, 2015…All Hallow’s Eve, or as we Americanos call it, Halloween (with or without the apostrophe between the two “e’s,” my recalcitrant Editor Voice insists I point out). We in the United States tend to think of Halloween as an excuse for dressing up, revelry, eating a lot of candy, and (if you’re over 21) drinking a whole lot.

In other words, it’s all but a bacchanalia for adults. (Kids, mind you, are engaging in much more sedate enjoyment — they dress up, their parents make much of them, they get immortalized in pictures that will embarrass them for the rest of their lives, and then they take their candy-booty home.)

Was Halloween always like this? No, it was not.

“But, Barb,” I can hear you saying. “In my lifetime, it’s always been this way!”

Ah, but before your lifetime, things were different. And centuries ago in the Western World, Halloween was much different.

Why? Well, holidays, like words, elide over time. So a holy time, where spirits once were said to walk — good ones, mostly, but beware of the bad ones! — is subsumed into revelry and near-bacchanalia.

This annoys me, mostly because I figure if you’re going to have a bacchanalia, you should admit it to yourself and be done with it.

But the commercialization of Halloween annoys me even worse.

Look. I like candy. I even like to dress up — though for me, dressing up mostly means I wear concert black attire when playing my instruments — and have been known to throw a good party, complete with liquid refreshment and plenty of vittles.

But I don’t like it that every advertisement you see, starting in midsummer, is for candy. You have to stock up for Halloween, you see, or it’s bad for the kidlets. Because heaven forfend, we cannot possibly allow those kids to go out and not get candy on the one day of the year they’re allowed to ask for it from strangers…that would be inhuman!

In other words (in case you missed the sarcasm), I have a problem with every advertiser on the planet trying to make me out to be a bad person if I don’t buy a humongous stockpile of candy to give out to the kidlets on Halloween.

Anyway, I tend to observe Halloween in the older form — I think about my deceased loved ones, wonder if they can indeed break the walls between the worlds, and hope they’re doing well (as I believe the soul is eternal, they must be alive somewhere in the cosmos).

But if you observe Halloween in the newer form, please do me a favor: Don’t drink and drive.

In fact, do me two favors: Don’t text and drive, either. (Especially don’t drive drunk and try to text; that is a recipe for disaster if I’ve ever heard one.)

In other words — enjoy yourself, but be safe. And watch out for the kidlets during trick-or-treat time.

(This concludes today’s Halloween public service announcement.)

—–

As for a CHANGING FACES update: I am about three-quarters of the way done with my work. I will continue to work on it, and hope to have it in to my publisher in another week or two. (I feel like I’m wrestling alligators — big ones — but maybe the longer I go, the better I’ll become at alligator wrestling. Such is my hope, anyway…)

Oh, and as for book reviews? I’m hoping to review a couple of books next week. I may actually review them first here at my own blog, and later review over at SBR…we’ll see. (Books in the queue include N.N. Light’s PRINCESS OF THE LIGHT and PLANTING THE SEEDS OF LOVE and Rysa Walker’s TIME’S DIVIDE and TIME’S MIRROR, plus several books by E. Ayers.)