Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

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Why We Need Empathy Now, or, Why You Should Never, Never Punch Down

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Folks, I have been bemused — at best — by a complete and utter lack of empathy among many folks I know. I understand that tempers are frayed; we’ve already endured one lockdown and may have to endure another; the economy sucks; Covid-19 remains rampant in the U.S.; and no matter what we do, we can’t get away from these realities.

That puts a lot of stress on us, no lie.

But getting mad at grocery store clerks for having to enforce a mask mandate is stupid. Getting mad at someone who’s drawing unemployment because the U.S. government gave people under severe distress an extra $600 a week for several months is even more stupid. (Especially if you factor in the huge waits most of these folks had to get benefits they’d paid into. Unemployment insurance is not welfare. You pay into it when you’re working so you can get some help if you lose your job through no fault of your own. Losing your job due to the pandemic certainly qualifies.)

Getting mad at others because you, yourself, are up against it and hurting is very human. Yes, it is. But we are more than our basest impulses (or at least, we should be). And there are better people to be angry at than store clerks or medical personnel (many folks who can’t or won’t wear masks are angry at them, for some weird reason, as if they wanted Covid-19 about any more than the rest of us), and there are far better people to be angry at than the unemployed.

Simply put, if you are angry, you should turn that energy into something positive.

Here’s a few things to do:

Write to your Congressional delegation. Tell them what’s on your mind. Explain what you want them to do. And if you see them doing nothing, make sure you remember that when it comes time to vote.

Write to your doctors’ offices, if you can’t wear a mask due to PTSD or anxiety; explain that you do not want to hurt them or yourself, but you can’t wear a mask. Don’t stand on this pseudo-Libertarian argument that says, “Dammit, I have rights! I don’t want to wear a mask, and you have to see me anyway!” It’s a public health emergency, so no; they don’t. But you can get some help if you admit you have PTSD, severe anxiety or are so damned depressed you can’t handle the mask if you ask for that help, nine times out of ten. (The tenth time, you should write to whoever heads up the medical practice and complain to high Heaven.) Can’t they give you anti-anxiety meds before you are seen, so you can maybe get through the appointment without screaming?

And if you need surgery, and are again someone who can’t wear a mask — not just don’t want to, but can’t (as I don’t think any of us wants to wear masks, quite frankly; I’m asthmatic and I hate the damned things, but if they even give a scrap of protection to someone else I’m going to continue to wear the damned things because I don’t believe in hurting others to save myself) — please see the above.

And for the true Libertarians out there, I want you to consider this. I agree with you that you don’t have to wear masks. But if you don’t wear them, and a store requires it — which is something stores can do — don’t get mad at the clerks. (Yes, I’ve already said this, but it bears repeating.) Those folks don’t want to have enforce the stupid mask mandate any more than you want to be complaining about it.

The real problem, again, is Covid-19.

“But Barb,” you ask. “What’s this about punching down and needing empathy?”

Empathy is required to get through these exceptionally difficult times. We need to be kinder, not worse; we need to turn the other cheek more, not less. We need to remember that we’re all human. We’re all trying our best. We all are coping the best we can without running around and screaming, and need others to be as kind and gentle to us as we are to them.

The whole thing with punching down is, if you are angry with the people on unemployment for receiving extra money that they didn’t ask for but the government gave — why in the Hell are you mad at the people getting the unemployment rather than the government who offered them extra money during this time of unprecedented, multiple crises? (Mostly, again, due to Covid-19.)

These folks are hurting through no fault of their own. (See: Covid-19. Repeat as necessary.) You should not be angry at them. (And needless to say, you are not showing any empathy, are you, if you’re getting mad at people who’ve lost their jobs due to a pandemic drawing unemployment to feed their families and pay their bills?)

Be angry at Covid-19, if you must. (Not that it’ll care; it’s a virus. But still.) Be angry at the government for not preparing better for all of this.

Hell, be angry at the young adults acting like they’re immortal and partying on the seashore without masks and certainly without any social distancing. They’re a big part of why Covid-19 just won’t die in the United States, OK?

But don’t get angry at folks who need help. Don’t get angry with the doctors, even though a lot of what they do and say is frustrating. Don’t get upset at the people just trying to do their jobs without getting sick and perhaps dying, because for some folks, Covid-19 is more deadly than others (and they still don’t know why).

Channel your anger into something productive instead. Or better yet, try to understand why others are hurting, and do something, anything, to alleviate that hurt.

We must rise to the occasion and become better people. That’s the only way we can triumph over adversity that has any meaning and worth at all.

And remember: we need empathy. We need it now. We need it worse than we’ve ever needed it before. So be empathetic, and do your damndest to help others.

In short: Stop punching down. Lift others up, instead.

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 2, 2020 at 10:57 pm

Sunday Meditations on a John Wesley Quote

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I have been taken with this John Wesley quote for a while now. As it’s Sunday, let’s dive in!

https://quotefancy.com/media/wallpaper/3840x2160/38351-John-Wesley-Quote-Do-all-the-good-you-can-by-all-the-means-you-can.jpg

The above quote resonated with me the first time I heard it, which was sometime in junior high school. So I’d like to dissect this quote, starting with “do all the good you can.”

Too many of us think we can’t do any good at all, so we don’t do anything. And that’s not wise, nor is it smart. We can all do something to help our fellow man, woman, and/or child…it may be something small, like carrying in some groceries if you’re able-bodied and the person you’re helping isn’t. Or it could be something big, like helping someone fix a car when they can’t do it themselves but desperately need it.

(Note I’m talking about individual big things rather than societal big things. But I will get there.)

The key words there are “good” and “can.” Do your best, always; do what you can, always. And if you are in distress, and all you can do is offer good thoughts one day, do that. If you can offer a shoulder to cry on (even a virtual one, these days), that’s even better.

“But Barb,” you say. (Yes, I can hear you.) “What if I truly can’t do anything? I’m in a nursing home. Or I’m in the hospital. Or I’m just…tired, I guess.”

If you’re in a nursing home or in a hospital, the best thing you can do is to heal up. But while you do that, speak kindly to the nurses, doctors, and the staff. Encourage other patients, if you see them. Continue to learn whatever you can learn, via the TV or books or magazines or computer. And again, heal up.

If you’re just tired — and I know the feeling, because I often feel this way myself — you have to look at it a different way.

If you have had an abysmal day, just one from the Hells, and there’s nothing at all you can think of to do that’s any good for anyone, the best thing you can do is to calm down. Talk to a friend. Read a good book. Watch a movie that makes you laugh. Listen to some music that moves you. Whatever works, but do something to get your mind off these problems that are plaguing you.

Anyway, on to the next part of the quote, which is “by all the means you can.” Here, I think John Wesley was talking about the various ways you can help someone. Yes, you can help financially, but you can help emotionally, you can help physically sometimes, you can help spiritually (often we need that the most no matter what it looks like from the outside), and you can do it in whatever fashion you want.

The main thing is to not give in to despair. (Or if you need to, use my late husband’s Zen Buddhist trick and give in to it for five minutes. Then say to yourself, “Self, I’ve heard you. Now let’s get on.” I have used this trick frequently in recent days, and I know it works.)

Wesley here is saying again that you can make a difference by whatever means necessary. And that’s important.

The next part of the quote is “in all the ways you can.” I have already covered this, to an extent, in my previous paragraphs, but I will reiterate for the record: do whatever you need to do to help others in whatever possible ways you have available. Even if they seem small, they can do wonders.

For example, if you are at the grocery store in these days of Covid-19, you can be extra-nice to the cashiers. (Or just polite if you’re normally rude, I guess. Though I would hope none of my readers are rude on a regular basis. Yes, that’s a small joke. Probably very small. Moving on…) You can also help others get their groceries to the car if the clerks are too busy to do it or are unable to do it. You can be polite in the parking lot and make sure you give extra space and time to people walking to and from the store, and pay extra-close attention to the various cars in the lot because not everyone else is.

These are all small things. But they add up. And the clerks will appreciate someone who is not rude or abrupt. The people you deal with, in or out of the car, will appreciate that you are paying attention whether they realize it or not. And if you are helping someone get their stuff to the car, that is vitally important and will probably have made someone’s day.

Small things do add up, you know.

Wesley goes on to say “in all the places you can.” I think what he meant by this is for people not to stop thinking about ways to help others when they walk out the door of the church. If you can help someone in the store, do it. If you can help someone on the road, do that. If you can help a friend by listening even if it’s the tenth time you’ve gone over the same subject and you’re just tired of it — but you can rein in your frustration, and listen and empathize anyway — these things matter.

The next part of Wesley’s quote is “at all the times you can.” I think Wesley put it this way because of what I said before about “days from the Hells.” But it could also be that he dealt with too many people who thought the only time to be charitable was when they were actually in church. And once they walked out the door, that was it for charity for the week, almost as if they had “banked” the charity by going to church and enduring the hour-long sermon. (Or whatever.)

The message here is simple. We are all children of God/dess. (Or Deity. Or “Hey, you, big guy in the sky.” Call Deity what you wish; I don’t think it matters much to Deity.) We are all fallible, imperfect, mortal, all that — just as I’ve said in many other blogs — but along with that fallible, imperfect, mortal stuff comes some pretty good basic instincts. We, most of us, want to help others; we want to do good, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it makes us feel better to do it. (Maybe that was a biological thing Deity built into us, for all I know.)

And when we deal with those who just don’t seem to care, or don’t seem to want to do the right thing to help their fellow man (or woman or child), it can be frustrating to know that you’re doing your best but someone else is slacking off.

(I don’t know if that’s something Wesley considered during the writing of this, but it makes sense to me.)

The next part of the quote is, “to all the people you can.” I think here Wesley was saying that you should not stop caring about those you dislike. That you should try to find ways to help everyone, not just your own family, your own church, your own clique. That you should make a point to reach out, even when it’s hard (some days it’s very hard; I know!), to help someone who needs it. (Especially as some days, that person is going to be you. But I digress.)

And finally, Wesley closes his quote with, “as long as ever you can.” (I know that reads oddly to modern readers, but Wesley died in 1791. Word choices were different then.)

What does that mean, exactly? Well, I think Wesley believed you needed to keep doing whatever you possibly could to help others for the entirety of your lives. Period. Full stop.

Now, I did some digging into this quote. Wesley is attributed with it because of several sermons he gave during his career as a minister. This was seen to be his overarching philosophy, but Wesley probably never put it exactly the way this quote is put now during his lifetime.

(Which does make me wonder about that “ever you can” stuff, but again, Wesley died in 1791.)

What is important is that Wesley believed we all could and indeed should make a difference. That we indeed should do these things outside the church as well as inside; that we should do these things in the stores as well as our homes; that we should help those we knew and those we didn’t; that we should continue to pray for those we don’t understand and even those we dislike, along with those we know and do understand and deal with on a regular basis.

On this Sunday, take a minute and ask yourself, “What can I do to help someone else today that I normally don’t do?” And then, if you can, do that thing; if you can’t do it today but can do it tomorrow instead, do it then.

But do it. Because it matters. Even when it seems like it doesn’t.

Thoughts on Stereotypes

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Years ago, here at my blog, I wrote a piece about discrimination. At the time, my mother had urged me to write it because I was frustrated at the amount of ridiculousness in this world when it comes to discriminating against people different from yourself.

Right now, we have additional problems with discrimination and stereotyping, which kind of go hand-in-hand. There’s way too much stereotyping going on, and way too many people over-reliant on stereotypical behavior.

We are all human beings, regardless of creed, color, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, or any other thing that could possibly be used to divide us. We were all created equal. We were all created by love (at least, at the highest level possible, the Deity Him/Her/Itself).

But we forget this when we rely upon stereotypes.

I was talking to a good friend the other day about how he gets stereotyped often. He is not white. And while I guess he could pass, on some days, if he truly wanted to (and you didn’t know what his last name was), why should he have to worry about this?

I mean, isn’t he the same no matter what?

It’s about the content of your character. Not anything else. (I’m still with Martin Luther King., Jr., on that one, and always will be.) Your actions flow from your character. Your mind and spirit and heart are informed by that same character. And you, as a person, should never be judged by externals — never.

That said, it happens far too often.

With the recent murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis, I was reminded again that stereotypes can kill someone. He was stopped for apparently passing a counterfeit $20 bill (this is the best information I heard/read anywhere). And I know, from past experience as a cashier, that police do not have to kill you to get you to go to court to defend yourself. It’s a misdemeanor ticket if you’ve passed one, and if you can prove that you didn’t know, you will not be charged or blamed.

But Mr. Floyd was black. He was tall. It was a hot day, and he wasn’t wearing very much. And perhaps he looked offensive in some way — I don’t know how, mind — either that, or the white police officer just didn’t like the man on sight. Mr. Floyd was stereotyped as a dangerous individual solely because of his race.

It’s hard for me to type that. Because I want to believe we’re all better than that.

I referenced a good friend of mine from high school in my first blog about discrimination. I would like to talk more about her now, because I think it’s relevant to the discussion.

My friend was a viola player, and one of the best viola players in the city of Racine. She was easy to talk to, and we talked music, some sports, current events…you name it, we probably talked about it. She was cultured. She was opinionated, in the best of ways. She was intelligent. And yes, she was black.

I gravitated toward her because of her abilities, her interests, her intelligence and quick wit, and because I found her an interesting and admirable person. I didn’t care one whit about her color then, and I don’t now either.

But I do wonder what her life has been like since. Did she have the money to go to college? (I never asked.) Did she keep playing? (I wasn’t here in Racine for many years, and by the time I got back, I couldn’t find her in the music scene.) What happened to her?

I feel terrible that I lost track of her, as we all seem to do with many of our high school friendships. But I wish I knew all these things, because I’d like to ask her what she wants people to know right now regarding the murder of George Floyd. What she thinks about stereotyping, and how to get past it…what she believes will work to get people to see the content of people’s character, rather than only seeing the externals as we seem to be doing now.

Mind, I have other friends, as I’ve said, who also aren’t white or straight. They’re Latino, or Asian-American, or black, or mixed-race; they’re gay, lesbian, transgender, and gender-fluid/queer. I have friends of all shapes and sizes, and I’m glad of this. Because it means I can see past the stereotypes to the human beings underneath.

While there’s no way to turn the clock back so Mr. Floyd doesn’t die (or, on a happier note, that I didn’t somehow lose track of my old friend), we can have a better and brighter future. One based on the content of our character, rather than the outmoded and outdated stereotyping and discrimination that we’ve seen thus far.

May that day come soon for us all.

Stupid People Doing Stupid Things, Part the Nth

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Folks, today I felt like writing a blog. But the only things that I saw all day today were dumb things. People driving badly — as I had essential business today, I got to see the bad drivers in all their non-existent glory — was just the start of it.

There’s so much stuff in the news these days that’s just awful to behold. Whether it’s the death toll from the ongoing Covid-19 health crisis, the nonsense being spewed at various political briefings in Washington, DC, the nonsensical decisions of various governmental departments (why did the SBA decide to limit loan applications to $150K? That shuts out nearly every business that needs help!), it seems like there’s just nothing going on that’s any good.

I know that’s an illusion, mind you. There are so many good people in this world. And there are so many good things out there, too, including music, art, good books, word games, video games…all of those have worth and value and are worth far more than the bad drivers of the world. Or the bad politicians of the world. Or the bad decisions from otherwise sensible people, for that matter.

But today, I saw the dumbest thing I’ve seen in a while now. And I figured I had to come talk about it.

I was in line at the bank (did I mention I had essential business today? Yes?), and had just finished my transaction. As I started to drive off (as all banks in the US that I know of are still doing drive-thru banking only), the next car drove up — but a pedestrian somehow darted in front of the driver. This pedestrian had been in my blind spot, and I had no idea the guy was there. It was very bright out, and I was under an overhang; so was the next driver in line. So that guy really took his life into his own hands darting out like that, to put it mildly.

I know I would’ve hit the guy, had I been the next person in line. And I’m surprised the driver behind me didn’t hit him, too.

I call people like this “self-selectors for the Darwin Awards.” Because really, there’s no excuse for that. If you are a pedestrian and you have to do your banking, and for some reason you can’t use an ATM (which at the branch I was at was conveniently located on the side of the building; best of all, it was not under the overhang so no one in their right mind could miss a pedestrian there), you should get in line behind all the other cars and you should keep a healthy distance. Carry a flag, or something anyway, to get other drivers’ attentions, if you need to. But definitely go to the back of the line like everyone else and stand there; don’t dart in and out of traffic and act like an idiot.

This isn’t the first person I’ve seen to do this, either. And while I have sympathy if you don’t have a car or a bike or a motorcycle and you have to get food (which for the most part is done through drive-thrus these days) or go to the bank (ditto) or do anything at all that requires you being in a line outside, you have to be cautious and sensible.

While I can’t do a whole lot about many things these days (what am I going to do about Covid-19, anyway? Tell the virus to go away? Ha!), I can at least implore you to take care when you’re doing your banking business. Or going through a drive-thru anywhere at all if you are on foot, because it’s dangerous to do that — and if you’re going to do it anyway, you need to be cognizant of other drivers and pay attention to your surroundings.

Otherwise, you’re an accident waiting for a place to happen. (Or, as I put it above, a self-selector for the Darwin Awards.)

What stupid things are you seeing these days? Tell me about them in the comments!

A Crisis of Conscience…(Mass Shootings Commentary)

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Folks, I haven’t written anything in the past few weeks, and I’m sorry about that. I’ve been dealing with a number of things, and have been too scattered to put words down on the page. In addition, most of what I have to say seems old-hat, trite, or like something I’ve said three thousand times before.

Yet with the two most recent public mass shootings (one in El Paso, TX; the other in Dayton, OH), I feel I have to respond.

My own crisis of conscience, in other words, can wait. There’s a much bigger one going on in the United States as a whole, and I need to try to address it, while I still can.

First: I am frustrated. Angry. Enraged. And heartbroken.

These shootings did not have to happen. These people didn’t have to be injured or killed. And this weekend didn’t have to be marred by senseless violence, yet again.

Second: Here’s what I think will happen in the coming days.

(Crickets.)

Or, in other words, as I saw on Facebook: “Politicians send out thoughts and prayers. Facebook devolves into flame wars. Everyone forgets. And the same thing happens again.” (And again. And still, yet again.)

This is possibly the best way I’ve seen to sum up what’s been going on in the United States for the past several years with regards to mass shootings.

And that is flat-out unacceptable. We stay in the same place. More people die for no reason. And nothing gets done.

It’s wrong. And while I have no idea what the Hell to do about it — see below — I feel I must at least point out how frustrated, enraged, angry, upset, hurt, and heartbroken I am that other Americans have died because of two madmen. (As per usual at my blog, I will not name either shooter.)

And while I do think it’s a “mental illness problem” as much as anything else — I’ve said so, even, before — I don’t know what to do about this anymore.

Me saying I hate it does nothing.

Me begging my legislators for common-sense solutions has done no good.

Me trying to ask if there’s anything non-governmental entities (i.e., charities and the like) can do anything to put a stop to this has also done no good.

And yet, the killing goes on and on.

It drives me crazy that we have people in this country who think so little of others that they’ll go shoot up a Wal-mart, just because. (As in El Paso, TX.) Or they’ll go shoot up a bar scene in Dayton at night, just because.

Before my Hillary Clinton advocate-friends chime in, I am well aware that the first gunman was a white nationalist/racist. But while that shows his mental processes were, shall we say, unformed and ignorant, that does not explain why he picked Saturday as his day to shoot up a Wal-mart.

And do I think that was domestic terrorism? You bet it was. But I think every single one of these mass shootings has been a form of domestic terrorism, going back to the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado.

These gunmen are all marginalized souls who can’t see the forest for the trees, and they hold their own lives so cheaply, it means nothing to take others. That much is certain.

But again, what can I do about it? Nothing I do or say does any good. And it’s so frustrating, to sit here, impotent, unable to do anything whatsoever to bring healing or hope or anything other than rage to the situation.

Because we have more than enough rage already, thanks.

What we need now, somehow, is for our legislators to work with doctors and nurses and those in law enforcement and come up with something that will actually help reduce the amount of mass shootings in this country. But how we get that done in a super-polarized political climate is beyond me.

So, all I can say is what I’ve said before: I feel terrible that more good people have died for no reason. And I wish we could all come together and work out something that would do some good, rather than just continuing to let this fester…as letting it fester is obviously doing no good whatsoever.

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 5, 2019 at 12:37 am

Book Recommendation: Leo Champion’s “Warlord of NYC”

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Folks, I’ve been meaning to write this blog for several weeks. I knew about Leo Champion’s book WARLORD OF NEW YORK CITY for quite some time, mostly because I was one of his beta-readers and proofread the final version. But the time never seemed right to talk about Leo’s book.

Now, the time is right. The word is given. (Abandon all hope, ye who enter here? /snark)

Leo's WarlordFirst, let me show you the book’s blurb:

In the twenty-second century, global civilization has moved into networks of arcology-skyscrapers that tower hundreds of stories above streets abandoned to anarchy. Inside the arkscrapers, a neo-Puritan cult of social justice rules absolutely; on the streets, feral gangs raid between feuding industrial tenements.

Diana Angela is a hereditary executive in the bureaucracy that runs the world, with a secret life as an assassin on the streets. A burned-out idealist, she’s long ago given up on trying to change the world – the best intentions of the past have only led to greater misery.

And she has no reason to think precinct boss Jeff Hammer’s intentions are even good. A former mercenary who may be a military genius, Hammer’s narrowly taken control of a small tenement. Now he’s facing vengeful exiles, aggressive neighbors, and uncertain internal politics.

Which might be the least of his problems now that he’s drawn the attention of one of the city’s most dangerous women…

And now, my comments.

Diana Angela, also known as DA, is a badass. There’s no question about it. She is tough, smart, strong, somewhat of a chameleon as her society requires it (she lives in the arkscrapers, and is a part of the Intendancy, an extremely corrupt yet also extremely politically correct society). She hates what she’s forced to do in her day job, and has worked all her life to do some good on the streets of New York City as an assassin.

(Yes, an assassin. And she’s damned good at it, too. But I’m digressing, and I shouldn’t.)

DA is a fully actualized woman. She cares about people and has compassion, but it comes out in very unusual ways. She also loves sex — why not? — and her society, with its beliefs that you have to do this (and “this” changes weekly, it seems) and you can’t do that (with “that” also changing weekly), makes it hard to enjoy it. (That you have to get permission for every sex act from the worst of the toadies she deals with — “Can I touch you here? Can I touch you here?” — drives her crazy. And it should.)

The fact that sex, itself, has become so far away from what it can be in taking you out of yourself for a moment and losing yourself in someone else is a huge symptom of what is wrong with the Intendancy.

Simply put, the Intendancy has got to go. But they have enormous power, and DA can only do so much topside in the arks.

She can do a great deal more on the streets, and she does. I do warn you, some of what she does is bloody and there’s a whole lot of violence. She kills people who “need killing,” and for the most part you’ll agree with her once you realize what these people have done — though in the moment, you may think, “Why be so happy about killing them?”

Diana is not a sociopath, though. She’s more of a frustrated idealist with a set of skills — judo, aikido, various other martial arts, swordsmanship, archery, guns — that allows her to live with the terrible things she has to put up with in the arks by balancing it with her vigilantism below.

But then, she realizes there’s a new player on the streets of NYC. A guy named Jeff Hammer (from Leo’s first book in the series, STREETS OF NEW YORK CITY) has overthrown the corrupt regime in his own tenement, and has started a new one. He’s an ex-flyboy (and flying, in his world, means using something akin to a bike with wings; I am not doing this concept any justice, and I apologize for that), he’s smart as a whip, and he knows things have been off for a very long time. And he’s going to do something about it…

DA goes to look in on Hammer, and can’t decide if he’s a criminal, a madman, or worse. That the last time someone like Hammer arose caused a bloodbath that DA, herself, was a part of, makes it even tougher for her.

So, will she decide to help Hammer? Or won’t she? And if she does, will NYC ever be the same?

Thus ends my plot summary, hoping I didn’t spoil it too much for you.

I still have one more comment, though: Leo’s book is damned good. Really, really good. It reminds me in some ways of Lois McMaster Bujold, even, though it’s far bloodier and DA’s overt sexuality is not something LMB would ever cotton to. I think the reason it does remind me of LMB, though, is because of the assuredness of the writing on the one hand and the capability of the female protagonist on the other. DA knows who she is, what she wants, and knows exactly how to get it…so don’t get in her way, as the only person she needs to fear is herself. (In that way, she reminds me a little of Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan, or better yet of Elli Quinn or even Sergeant Taura. And if you don’t know who I’m talking about, go read every book LMB has ever put out, then come back, will you?)

In other words, you need to read this book, even if you’re normally squeamish regarding violence (as I am). It is funny. It skewers with manic glee many stereotypes regarding how “wonderful” a politically correct civilization would be if given its head. It has some interesting things to say about sex, power, and money. And the way DA is, herself, matters greatly…as does the way Jeff Hammer tries to change things for the better.

WARLORD OF NYC will make you think. And will make you root for DA, even when she’s at her most obnoxious…and wonder how on Earth she’s going to deal with Jeff Hammer when she can’t always see the forest for the trees.

It is, by far, the best thing Leo Champion has written yet. And he needs to be encouraged to write more in this vein. (Who knows what’ll happen next? I want to find out!)

Again, the Amazon link is here for WARLORD OF NEW YORK CITY. It is available on Kindle Unlimited. (Unfortunately, at this time, it’s not available at Barnes and Noble or anywhere else.) Or you can buy it outright for $3.99 (again, only at Amazon).

The Transformative Power of Writing

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Writing is one of those activities that can transform you, if you let it.

How? Well, it’s simple. You have to throw enough of yourself into your writing to inform each character, at least enough so they’ll feel real. And in so doing, you can make more of your memories, or your abilities, or your hopes/dreams/fears, by working them out to their natural conclusions.

(Or, as I write a lot of fantasy and we all know it, their unnatural conclusions. But I digress.)

Giving yourself the permission to explore sides of yourself you’d rather not — such as when you write villains — helps you to harmlessly bleed off your worst impulses, and transforms that into something more. Something better.

Or at least something different.

Writing, as a transformative ability, is something writers almost take for granted. I can almost hear some of you going, “But Barb, really! Here we are, writing our stories, doing what we need to make our stories sing…why do we need to think about it as a transformative ability, anyway? What’s the point of that?”

Well, you don’t have to think of it as transformative, if you don’t like. But that doesn’t make it any less the case.

Every single thing we do as writers is intended to create something. Or transform something. Or inform something. Or maybe educate you, along with your enjoyment of same…no matter what book or story you might be reading (and no matter how awful it may be in the moment), there’s something you can take out of nearly every piece of writing. (Yes, even the dullest Puritanical “erotica” out there, that was Bowdlerized before Bowdler even came onto the scene.) Even if it’s just what you know you definitely don’t want to do, you learn something from everything you read — whether you realize it or not.

Some folks refuse to throw out anything they’ve ever read, no matter how boring or mundane or stupid or pointless. I’m not necessarily saying you need to go that far, because I think it’s more important you learn whatever it is from stuff you can’t stand as quickly as possible (thus keeping you from having to go back and read it ever again). But whether it’s mores, culture, language, description, dialogue, or all of the above, there’s something in just about everything to appreciate — even if you decidedly don’t like it.

ALTERNATIES, by Michael P. Kube-McDowell, is one such book. It’s well-drawn, the different alternate realities stark and compelling, and the characterization is professional. But the protagonists are, to a person, unlikable. There are some things done in this book, such as torturing of sex slaves, that turned my stomach so much that I would never read the book again even though it is very good.

What I took from reading this book at the time was, “Sex sells. And dysfunctional, sadistic sex sells even more.”  But now, with the perspective of an author with three novels and any number of shorter works under my belt, I look at it a little differently. I think what Kube-McDowell was doing was masterful, in its way — but I don’t have to like it, and I don’t.

So, appreciate the craftsmanship, yes. Appreciate the time and effort and hard work, yes. (Respect the hustle, as Jason Cordova would say.) But don’t get lost in the depravity of it all, or the enervating sense of despair…because while that is in its way transformative, that isn’t at all what most people would like to be transformed into, if you get my drift.

And in your own work, look for ways to find hope, if you can. Even the worst situation may have one hint of hope; for example, all those French resistance folks trying hard during the occupation of France (Vichy France) in World War II had to deal with many stark and terrible realities. But they had hope nevertheless; they could believe their hard work would make a difference, no matter what it looked like, and no matter how long it took.

Ultimately, they were right.

So when you write a book with a lot of stuff that’s depressing or enervating or hopeless, try to find at least a few moments of comedy or light to balance it out. When you’re able to do that, that’s when a book really sings.

And if you’re writing something lighter (as I tend to do), finding moments of darkness to set off the light also works. (It’s all in the contrast, ultimately.)

So, how do you feel about the transformative power of writing? Tell me about it in the comments!

 

 

Appearance Vs. Reality

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In daily life, I am struck often by the difference of appearance versus reality. And as a novelist, this strikes me with at least triple force, because I see how it could be otherwise, with just a bit of tweaking…and yet the pathos remains because the person (or people) in question just can’t make that tweak…

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

You may be asking, “So, Barb, what brought this on, hm?”

I’ve been thinking about the difference between appearance and reality for months, if not years. Not just because of the differences between reality starlets’ shows and their real lives (real lives are far more messy, are unscripted, and definitely have fewer camera operators and makeup personnel), but because of the difference in how people I know well — or at least people I once knew well — show off their lives in public but are all different in private.

This, of course, is not new to the 21st Century. We may have different ways of showing ourselves to be different and better and “all that” in public than in private than previous centuries, but it’s still the same old song.

Very few people, in short, feel confident in letting people know they’re real, with warts and all. They don’t want to admit they’re anything less than perfect, because they’re afraid the jackals may be circling…and sometimes, they’re probably right.

But most of the time, showing ourselves in our best light all the time is, to my mind anyway, self-defeating. It’s like a good friend of mine put it: “You see everyone else’s glamour shots, and your own blooper reel.” And you measure your blooper reel — that is, your real life with warts and all — against these highlight-reel things, and come up short.

Which, by the way, anyone would.

Back to why I’m talking about this today, though.

The whole “appearance vs. reality” thing has always been a particular interest of mine. This is only partly because I, myself, decided early on for whatever reason that I would not “fake it ’til I make it.” (That is, put on a front and pretend things were better than they actually were.) And I’m not sure what the rest of it was, excepting that I’ve always been someone who observed others keenly–and in so doing, figured out that all was not as it seemed.

I believe in leading as close to an authentic life as possible. That doesn’t mean burdening people with all my troubles, though sometimes it does seem that way. And it doesn’t mean, either, that I won’t share my triumphs, when I get them…it’s just that I won’t put on that false front, because I see it as wasting time and energy.

(And I don’t have enough of either, so let’s get on.)

That said, are there still things I keep private? Hell, yes. I don’t need to tell all and sundry everything about me just to lead that authentic life. And yes,  it’s a balancing act, for certain.

In essence, what I want you to think about today is this: Is your life what you want it to be? What’s the difference between how it appears, and how it actually is? And what can you do about it to make it any better?

These questions will also work well when you’re writing, mind, as every character ever written struggles with this (as well as more common motivations). And if you use it just right, it’ll deepen and broaden your writing to a degree that’s startlingly real…and may just help others in the process. (Not that you have to, in art, but it’s a good side benefit if you can.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 21, 2019 at 12:33 pm

Why Can’t We Communicate?

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Over the past few weeks, I’ve been quite frustrated, I will admit.

It seems like the world has forgotten how to communicate. Left can’t talk with right, centrists like me trying to find common ground are ostracized, and it seems impossible to just talk with someone — even with the assumption we’ll disagree about nearly everything, but civilly — most of the time.

I don’t know why we can’t communicate. And it bothers me.**

The cultural assumption in the United States used to be that anyone could say anything (except yell “fire” in a crowded theatre, of course), and we’d agree they could do this. So long as people were peacefully protesting, that was just fine.

That’s what we are supposed to be about, in America. Free speech, yes, and peaceful protests, yes.

But we’re now looking at a scenario I’d never envisioned.

Instead of people agreeing to disagree, we’re mostly staying in crisis mode and assuming our neighbors will hate us unless they agree with us in every respect. (Which, by the way, is impossible, but I digress.) And the threat of violence seems so large, even the current President of the US has talked about it — though mostly in his terms, and because he seems afraid he will lose his grip on the power he has.

I live in a “purple” state. We are split down the middle, more or less, between people on the left and people on the right. Centrists, who just want to get the potholes filled and work out the remaining problems civilly and non-violently, are present, but keeping their heads low ’cause centrists are the only ones who get yelled at by all.

(“Blessed be the peacemakers,” indeed. But again, I digress.)

So, if there’s going to be violence if one side or the other doesn’t get their way, my home state of Wisconsin seems a likely target.

I don’t have any answers, mind you. But I do at least know what the right questions are, and the first one, as I said before, is “Why can’t we communicate?” Learning how to civilly disagree, without violence, used to be the first thing people learned, after all. So why is it that we can’t seem to remember that now?

————

**I do hope that people will stop getting so upset that they can’t even talk with their neighbors and/or friends about the things that matter. Politically, you can disagree with someone, but that doesn’t mean personally, morally, spiritually, or ethically that you disagree…and yet, we’ve become so tribally oriented for some reason, it seems like if you disagree at all, you’re just a non-person.

I find that so upsetting, I don’t have words to describe it. Thus this post.

Why I Don’t Care About Josh Hader’s Teenage Tweets

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As most of you know, I am a fan of the Milwaukee Brewers. I love baseball, enjoy the Brewers, watch their games, sometimes write blogs about them, and have been happy to keep the faith over many years of mostly non-winning, non-viable teams.

This year, the Brewers have a better team than they’ve had in years. After last year’s shockingly good season (where they missed the playoffs by only one game), they remain in the playoff hunt. And they placed five players, a team record, in the All-Star Game: Jeremy Jeffress, Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich, Jesus Aguilar, and Josh Hader. Two of them, Hader and Jeffress, are relief pitchers; two, Cain and Yelich, are outfielders; the last one, Aguilar, is a first baseman.

But rather than being happy the Brewers placed five players on the All-Star team (a nice accolade to have), Brewers fans woke up yesterday to a very sour story, that of Josh Hader’s teenage Tweets. Hader’s Twitter account (now locked down to “private” mode) was public, and went all the way back to 2010 or 2011…and some of the Tweets from that time period were pretty raw. Hader bragged about the size of his, er, male anatomy; he quoted raunchy song lyrics without attribution; he said he couldn’t stand gay people; he even made an odd KKK Tweet. (This latter made no sense, but Hader has been an elite-level pitcher since high school. I want to believe he maybe meant this as a reference to three strikeouts in a game he’d pitched, though who knows?) Worst of all, to my mind, was the disregard he showed, whether it was to women, LGBT people, minorities, or anyone else nonwhite and not an elite athlete like himself.

(Note that I am not linking to the screen-capped Tweets, mostly because this is a family blog. (I also believe you can find them elsewhere without too much difficulty.) They aren’t pleasant reading. I felt like washing my mind out with soap after reading them. But back to the blog.)

The thing is, Hader was seventeen at the time of these Tweets. I do not condone what he said; I, myself, would not have said anything remotely like that at seventeen, and I was considered an elite-level musician at the time, with multiple scholarship offers. (Not exactly the same thing as Hader, and certainly without the earning potential. But close enough.)

Still. He was seventeen. And one would hope he’s learned better by now, as he’s now twenty-four.

His teammates have said what’s expected. (Jesus Aguilar in particular came out and said Hader’s not racist, and that everyone should know it.) They know Hader better than anyone else. They do not believe he’s a bigot. Nor do they believe he’s misogynistic.

Look. We all have said something we shouldn’t, that hurts us. (I know I have.) It may not be as bad as this, no. But it is something we do because we haven’t fully matured yet, or maybe we just don’t realize the impact our words have on others yet.

Or, perhaps, we all make mistakes, so we can learn from them? Or try to learn from them?

In this day and age, when mistakes can linger for years and years–as Hader’s did, waiting to bite him on the butt in 2018–shouldn’t we learn how to forgive and forget? Or at least forgive?

Also, keep this in mind: Hader is not making public policy. He is not in charge of the federal government, or the state government, or even the local government…he is a baseball player. A pitcher.

In other words, Hader’s words have only as much effect on us as we allow. And if his teammates are all right with him, and providing he continues to work on himself and mature and become a better person (as we all must, if we want to get something good out of this life at all), why should we care about his teenage Tweets?

So, that’s my position. I do not care about Hader’s Tweets from 2011. But I do care about how he acts right now. And my hope is that he will be able to become a force for good, and use his celebrity and money to good effect.

In that way, he can transform this obnoxious episode from his past into something better. And then, maybe, his old Tweets can become a blessing…that is the best-case scenario.