Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

You Must First Try Before You Can Do

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I know Yoda said, long ago, that “there is no try,” but I disagree.

When you’re learning something new, you can’t help but try to figure out exactly how this new thing will work. For example, if you’re learning a new fingering for the clarinet (the altissimo register, or highest notes, can require some unusual fingerings), you try the new fingering out. You see if it works by itself, then you add in other notes around it to see if it works in context with the music. Then, finally, you try that fingering after playing in a lower octave (composers often write urgent things in piercing registers, or at least we can; lower registers are more about steadiness, sometimes, or at least about a rich sonority as the notes are easier to play), and make sure it works no matter what register you’d been playing in beforehand.

So, when you’re learning something new, you try it out.

Here’s another example. When you go buy a new car, you try it out. You see if it seems like something that will work well for you; you see if it’s comfortable, easy to manage, has enough room to carry your groceries or other important items on occasion, and you envision yourself in the car even as you’re taking it for a test-drive. All of the various amenities it has, or doesn’t have, don’t matter as much as what I’ve just mentioned. What does matter is how the car feels as you test-drive it — in other words, how it feels as you try the car, and put it through its paces.

Even in our personal lives, there is an example.

When I was younger, before I married for the first time, I had no idea of what I was getting into. Yes, I’d taken or at least sat in on a “Marriage and Family” course, I’d tutored some kids in high school who took similar classes also, and I thought I had a good grasp of what marriage entails.

I was wrong.

Why was I wrong? Well, I was envisioning only myself, plus the perfect husband for me, who would do everything right, all the time, without prompting, without me ever saying anything to him because he’d know everything before I mentioned it.

(Do you know how unreasonable and unrealistic this is? I didn’t, not at age twenty or thereabouts.)

See, I expected that anyone I was attracted to would be the same as myself, at least in one way. That way was regarding making the commitment to be with each other every single day. That meant that every day was a new one, where we built on what we already had while adding even more to the edifice…I know discussing a marriage like you’re building a house is an inexact metaphor, to say the least, but it’s the best I can come up with even with my additional experiences.

How did I get those additional experiences? I tried various things. I learned different, disparate things about myself along the way. And by the time I met my late husband Michael, I knew exactly what I wanted out of myself and exactly what I wanted and needed from him. I knew he could provide it, too, because he not only said the right words. He backed them up with the right actions.

(Perhaps that’s not a surprise, as Michael was a Zen Buddhist. They believe in Right Action as one of their tenets, I seem to recall. But I digress.)

I could do, by that time. But the reason I could do was because I’d tried and failed so many other times.

Here’s a final example. Musicians are told to practice often, including major and minor scales, scales in thirds (these are small jumps, for the nonmusicians in the audience; for the musicians, think C-E D-F E-G, etc.), sometimes even scales in sixths, to make playing any sort of music far easier from the technical standpoint. If we get the technique down, we can concentrate instead on other things, such as breath control (for wind musicians, this is essential!), blending with the others in the group, intonation (you don’t want to be sharp when everyone else is flat, or vice-versa, though it’s easier for people to hear “sharp” rather than “flat” for some reason), and actually making music rather than just playing a bunch of shiny little notes.

(I have nothing against shiny little notes. I use quite a lot of them as a composer. Moving on…)

What I’m saying is this: Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid of trying multiple times before you can do something, much less do that same something well.

Persist. Keep trying. Keep motivating yourself as best you can, because it’s not likely anyone else is going to do so…and start believing that the best, in some ways, might just be yet to be.

Only then can you proceed from mostly trying, to mostly doing.

A Post of Quiet Contemplation

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The last few weeks, I’ve needed to take a breather.

I’ve been doing what I can to watch nature as the weather starts to turn. There is a plethora of birds to see at this time of year in Wisconsin, and many are small and cute. While I’m no ornithologist, I enjoy bird-watching, as it reminds me that troubles are mostly transitory. Eventually, we fly away from our cares.

(BTW, jazz saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker had a song called “Ornithology.” That’s how I learned the word — and if you don’t know who Charlie Parker is, shame on you.)

I try to be aware of the various animals around at this time of year. We often have ducks crossing the road, or sometimes a pack of squirrels (with maybe one or two laggards)…there are some folks with outdoor cats that I’ve seen, too, along with a number of geese (rare at this time of year, as they usually like much warmer surrounds than Wisconsin in November).

When I see an animal wounded or dead on the road, I say a prayer for them. (I know that has to sound ridiculous, but it’s true.) They remind me of something that happened a few years ago now, you see.

There was a duck in the middle of the road with its feet up. It was only a two-lane road, and it was a county highway. There was no way for me to get off the road as there was no shoulder (road construction, I think, at the time); I couldn’t do anything except hope and pray my wheels would not hit the duck in its throes.

Unfortunately, I ran over the duck. I felt terrible about it. I kept wondering if there was anything I could do. (My bird-loving friends said no, there wasn’t.) I wanted to go back and get that duck and bring it to the side of the road, so it could die in peace, rather than perhaps getting run over by even more cars (I don’t think mine was the first car to hit the poor thing).

While I couldn’t do that then, I have tried to do similar things with other animals in the road. I haven’t found any live animals since that duck, but I have been able to get a few cats off the road and one poor little dog (no tags on any of them, and no collars, either). If all I can do is pick them up with a bag or some paper toweling to put them on the side of the road, at least I feel slightly better for it.

I wonder, sometimes, if we are like those poor things. Most of the time, no one knows what we’re doing while we’re doing it, and we seem to only be appreciated in retrospect. We mostly hurry, scurrying here and there, not watching the road very much as we just try to keep going about our business in our daily lives.

What I believe, mostly, is that we owe it to all of the Deity’s creatures to respect them and do our best to love them, if possible. (I have a hard time loving a flea or a mosquito, so when I see one, I mostly hope it goes somewhere else. But that’s probably a flaw in my faith.)

So, if you are out and about this week — and many will be in the US, as it’s the week of Thanksgiving for us — you owe it to yourself to fully partake in nature’s surroundings as best you can.

Look at the trees. See how they keep growing, changing, yet somehow keeping their essence the same despite all the seasons of their lives.

Look at the few flowers that have made it through the frost (if any are left); otherwise, look at the evergreens, and ponder how shrubbery makes it through all the seasons more or less unscathed.

Look at the animals, including rabbits, geese, ducks, birds of all sorts, and squirrels. See how they just go about their business, preparing for winter, but enjoying what they have in the meantime (even if it’s just a stray bar of sunlight now and again).

Don’t forget these things. Let them ground you, motivate you, or maybe both…but no matter what, keep an eye on them.

These are the things that matter, you see. Everything else, save love and faith, is extraneous. The animals know it.

We should know it, too.

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 21, 2022 at 2:49 pm

Former President Jimmy Carter Turns 98 Today

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When I woke up, I realized it was Jimmy Carter’s birthday.

I’ve always admired the former president, as he is an exemplary human being. He’s kind, gracious, funny, wise, smart, prescient, and constant in his affections (as he’s been married for 75 years to the love of his life, Rosalynn). He’s also hard-working, honest, a philanthropist (he’s built many houses for Habitat for Humanity, which helps people in need with sustainable housing), taught Bible study at his local church for many years (only stopping due to his health woes of the last few years), and has done everything in his power to improve life on this Earth.

I was quite young when Jimmy Carter was elected. (I know, I know; some of you who read this blog were not even a glimmer in your parent’s eyes at that time. Bear with me.) I was with my grandma, and we’d stayed up to watch the election returns all night. It was a hard-fought contest, but Carter prevailed.

His presidency was fraught with difficulty and even peril. There was trouble in the Middle East, as hostages had been taken. (They only were released after Carter lost his bid for a second term.) There was stagflation — inflation combined with no increases in wages, so everything had stagnated. I even remember that my parents had to think ahead in order to get gas for their cars, as you could only fill up on even or odd numbered days depending on the last digit in your license plate.

(Things were that bleak.)

Jimmy Carter was mocked, at the time, for wearing a sweater and having a fireside chat. He discussed troubles the way a good man does: directly, honestly, with sympathy and with understanding. This was not a man who believed he was exalted above all others (as so many of our other previous presidents believed, most especially Richard Nixon). Instead, he believed he was one of us, and as such, he could lead by example.

While some don’t appreciate his presidency, most do appreciate him as a person. He’s been called “the most successful ex-president who’s ever lived” (at least, that’s what my grandma called him, and I think she was right), due to his belief in human dignity and kindness.

I admire Jimmy Carter. He has lived his faith, you see, and he has helped others. He has done everything he can, often with little fanfare, to make things better for those who have little to nothing. He has remembered the downtrodden (see his work, again, with Habitat for Humanity), and he has done everything he can to help raise them up.

This is why I urge you all to raise a glass to celebrate Jimmy Carter’s 98th birthday, and to wish him continued good health.

We need more men like him in this world, to remind us that people — even those in power — can still be good, kind, solid human beings.

Updates on Ukraine, the Empathy Gap Essay, and a Discussion of Muslims, Cigarettes, and Virtue-Signaling

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Folks, I wanted to write a blog today about Ukraine along with updating last week’s blog about the empathy gap. I also veer into a discussion of smoking that may surprise you. So do keep reading, OK?

Sometimes, a news commentator utterly surprises.

Why am I saying that? Well, Malcolm Nance, a longtime MSNBC analyst, has joined the international force doing their best to push Russia right back out of Ukraine. He is a Navy vet, and he said that he was “done talking.” Therefore, he went to Ukraine, where he’s been now for over a week, and has been doing whatever he can to aid the fighters there.

I’m glad Ukraine continues to resist Russia’s stupid and pointless invasion. (Well, not stupid and pointless to Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President. He wanted the Ukrainian bread basket, as the land is exceptionally fertile there. And rather than pay for the grain like anyone else, he thought he’d just take the country, so he would just get the grain as well.) But it saddens me to see the destruction of once-beautiful cities like Kyiv and Mariupol.

Not to mention the loss of human lives, which is utterly incalculable.

I hope that whatever Malcolm Nance continues to do over there works. He has always struck me as a highly intelligent man, though I didn’t always agree with him. (I don’t always agree with anyone. Even with my late husband Michael, we had an occasional disagreement. Spice for the mix, I always thought, especially as we made sure to “fight fair” and not drag up old and dead issues over and over.)

Anyway, the next piece of old business has to do with my essay on empathy a week-plus ago. Paul, a regular reader, asked why I didn’t bring up someone on the left who’s sparked my ire as much as Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert have on the right. Another reader, Kamas, mentioned Maxine Waters — a very able legislator in her way, but also someone who seems to enjoy verbal conflict and hyperbole from time to time. And I’d brought up two other D legislators who seem to get into trouble on a regular basis, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

Rep. Omar is in the news right now for calling out a double standard on airplanes. Apparently, a church group that had just come back from working with Ukrainian refugees sang a Christian hymn on the plane. This upset her, as she believes Muslim groups would be shut down from singing on planes. (Maybe this has happened to her, but if so, she hasn’t said so specifically.)

My view of this is simple. The folks who went to Ukraine or the borders of Poland and Romania and elsewhere that border Ukraine, and did good work, deserve to celebrate any way they like. If their song wasn’t bothering anyone else on the plane, let them sing.

Mind, I’d also say the same thing for a Muslim hymn. There are many uplifting Muslim hymns, I believe, but we almost never hear of them — much less hear them — because Muslim in the US tends to equal “Shia or Sunni rebel” rather than pious person doing their best for God and country.

Still, why Rep. Omar waded into this one with both feet, I don’t know.

Centuries ago, the Muslim people were often literate, learned, urbane, and often had no trouble with other “People of the Book” (meaning Christians and Jewish people). The Muslims came up with algebra, created music and art and poetry and architecture, and did many wonderful things.

We tend to forget all that with the current crop of fundamentalists over in Iraq and elsewhere. Those rigid, ruthless sorts are not what being a Muslim is all about, any more than, say, the so-called Christians who helped burn down Minneapolis and Kenosha and other places in the last few years have anything to do with most actual Christians. (The Christians who protested are fine. The ones who burned for the sake of destruction are not. We forget about the former because we have had to dwell on the latter in order to rebuild.)

I have an online friend, a doctor, who’s a proud Muslim woman. She lives in India. I’ve known her now for several years, while she’s been at university, then started medical school in earnest (from what it sounds like), to studying for boards (which sounds harrowing) and being a medical resident (which, like the US and the UK, consists of many hours of work for not that great of pay, and is exhausting).

Tajwarr, my friend, loves makeup, loves to dress up, does not wear a hijab (not in the pictures I’ve seen of her), and writes poetry. She has many gifts, including that of putting people at ease. She is unfailingly polite, and does her best to be cheerful with patients, family, and friends without losing one ounce of authenticity.

I admire her.

In India, where she lives, Muslims are being persecuted. Hindus, by far, have the upper hand there. And like anywhere else, the folks with the most seem to lord it over those with less. So the populous Hindus have made it harder for Muslims — an ethnic minority in India, I think — to enjoy being themselves and to enjoy their own culture, religion, music, etc.

I say all this to point out one, simple thing: You can’t put all people in a box. Not all Muslims. Not all Christians. Not all Neo-pagans. You just can’t stereotype people like that.

One of the folks I know, who I worked with on Hillary Clinton’s campaigns in 2008 and 2016, worked on behalf of Joe Biden in 2020. She is a Black woman. Very smart, able, all that. She knew Biden would not be perfect, but she worked for him anyway. Part of the reason for this might have been that Donald Trump signed a bill that raised the minimum age to smoke from eighteen to twenty-one. She felt that was no one else’s business, and that if you’re old enough to go to war, you’re old enough to smoke.

(Even though I don’t smoke, I agree with her.)

My friend has always smoked menthol cigarettes, such as Newports. But Biden’s FDA banned menthol cigarettes citing their “adverse affects on Black Americans.” (This was often the phrase used by journalists and TV analysts when this happened last year.) Menthol, you see, masks some of the harshness of the tobacco, and it apparently opens up additional nicotine receptors. (I have never smoked, so all I can say is apparently.)

At any rate, my friend was absolutely furious about this. She felt it’s her body, her choice. Alcohol is allowed in many flavors, and alcohol kills many more people than cigarettes.

She also was deeply unhappy, and remains deeply unhappy to this day, about how people who smoke get treated like second-class citizens. Being a smoker is now worse than being a drinker, and that’s just wrong.

I’m not saying any vice is good. But I have two vices of my own: lottery tickets, and diet soda. (Well, three if you add in Snickers bars.)

Most of us have at least one vice, and for most of the time, this vice is harmless or reasonably harmless. (Some folks, knowing that I am a plus-sized woman, probably would tell me that a Snickers bar is not harmless in my case. Too bad. I definitely agree with my friend regarding “my body, my choice.”) Those who drink in moderation are not shamed in the same way as those who smoke in moderation.

My late husband, and my late grandmother, and most of my grandmother’s family before her, were all smokers. My grandma lived to be 89 years old. My husband’s heart attacks were almost assuredly not caused by smoking (this from the ME at the time), though it probably didn’t help. Most of grandma’s family lived to be 75 and up…they drank, smoked, gambled, some of the men probably wenched, and they enjoyed life to the fullest until the day they died.

Look. I am asthmatic. Smoke and smoking can cause trouble for me. Michael, my husband, knew it, and did his best to smoke outside. The smell on his clothes was minor that way. He used breath mints and did his best to keep the nicotine taste out of his mouth so when we kissed, we had a better experience.

In short, he did his best to minimize the effects of smoking. Plus, he was trying hard to quit — he tried at least six times during our marriage (we only got two-plus years together as a married couple, remember, so this is actually rather impressive), and was down to only four cigarettes a day from a pack-and-a-half habit. (He could not use the patch because of his skin issues. He didn’t do well with the gum because of his dentures. And the only other option for him, nicotine water, was so foul that he could not stand it. I didn’t blame him.)

Therefore, I cannot and will not censure any smokers. And, quite frankly, I do not understand anyone who does unless they’re “virtue-signaling.” (Yes, me, a left-of-center more-or-less liberal person, is using that term.)

We all have faults. We all have vices. We all have “Achilles heels.”

Lording it over anyone because you do not like their legal vice is not just stupid, pointless and wrong. It’s also cruel. So if you’re someone who’s told yourself, a non-smoker, that smoking is evil and have forgotten all about how the cigarette companies did everything they could to keep people hooked by altering the levels of nicotine, etc. (look up the old “60 Minutes” episode if you don’t believe me), and have decided to blame the smoker rather than the cigarette company, you need to stop doing that.

Right now.

Sunday Thoughts: Creativity and the New Matrix Movie, Resurrections

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I found no way to write this without spoilers. If you have not seen Matrix Resurrections yet, proceed at your own risk.

As a writer, I am often inspired by unusual things.

I take note of all sorts of things, you see. I observe them. I think about them, sometimes only subconsciously, but I ponder them. And I wonder, often, what would have happened if I’d have chosen a much smaller life.

(I do not think that would’ve been a good idea, mind you. But let’s stay with the concept.)

This all matters to me, as a person, especially due to the fact that I’ve been creative my entire life. And as I’ve grown into midlife, there are so many different messages that have been thrown at me. “Grow up,” says one. “Stop fantasizing that your career will ever matter,” says another. “What you do as a writer…what’s the point of it? No one reads what you say, so who cares?”

And then, there are the bills. The obligations. The chores. The never-ending minutiae of life.

All of this can weigh me down. Add in health problems, as anyone who’s read this blog for a while has to have figured out, and the weight of sorrow as my life-partner has been dead now for over seventeen years, and it sometimes seems overwhelming.

“But Barb,” you say. “What about the new Matrix movie, Resurrections? You put that into your title, right? You are going to talk about it, aren’t you?”

Yes, I am. Because I think much of the commentary regarding Matrix Resurrections is flat-out wrong. They are missing the point, which is this: Just because you’re older, your love shouldn’t be trivialized. And fighting for love matters more than anything in this world.

Anything.

Very few of the critics have even touched on this, and that annoys me. Even those critics who’ve enjoyed the movie have discussed more obvious themes and have pointed out that Resurrections builds heavily on what has gone before in the previous Matrix trilogy. (How it was supposed to do anything else is beyond me. But let’s not go there.)

Mind you, some of the commentary is quite interesting, as it discusses trans rights and “deadnames” — that is, the name you were given at birth is not the name you go by (such as the fate of the late Leelah Alcorn) — and some of it quite rightly points out the romance between Trinity and Neo carries the film.

But they still are missing a huge point, and I can’t help but point out the elephant in the room.

Look. It’s easy, when you get into midlife, to let those messages I delineated above overwhelm you. It’s really easy to let the weight of words, and life itself, stop you from being who you truly are.

Neo, in Matrix Resurrections, is again going by his original name, Thomas Anderson. Trinity is now a character, only, in a game Thomas supposedly created. (That the Matrix was diabolical enough to do this is another problem entirely, mind you, but often when we get to midlife, people completely misunderstand what the Hell we’re doing as creative sorts. I tend to take that as allegory, personally.) The person who’s alive and should be Trinity is now named Tiffany (going by Tiff), and she has children and a husband. And only Neo knows that “Tiffany” is really Trinity.

But how can he convince anyone of that, when he can’t convince anyone that he’s Neo, not simply Thomas Anderson? Especially when other people only see an older and broken man, someone who’s survived a suicide attempt, and who lives alone and mostly unnoticed.

Hell, he doesn’t even have a pet to take care of. He’s that isolated.

Those around him completely misunderstand what he’s about, and he’s been led to believe that the one person he’s ever loved was someone he made up himself.

I understand all of this very well.

For Neo to reclaim himself, to reclaim his life, and to free Trinity so the two of them could go on and live the lives they were born to lead is the most important part of this film. (How they get there is not relevant to this discussion, but I will say that as an editor of SF&F, it worked well for me.) That they have a true partnership, a true meeting of the minds, and a truly good relationship where both are more together than they are separately (even though they’re both interesting, separately) is extremely important, to me as a widow.

(Yes, I like vicarious wish-fulfillment, sometimes. Sue me.)

At any rate, I was deeply moved by Matrix Resurrections. I loved the new characters (Bugs in particular, a blue-haired and fierce female warrior/captain), I enjoyed the main plot, but the subtext and the emotion was what got to me.

I believe in love. I believe it matters more than anything in this world. And I believe in soul bonds that endure between one creative soul and another, that call to us despite all the noise this ultra-connected world throws at us.

I also believe that memories matter. And that no one can frame your memories except yourself.

So I urge you to check your assumptions at the door before you see Matrix Resurrections. But do see it, and then if you are in midlife — as I am — ask yourself these questions:

Does what I do matter? (Hell, yes.)

Even if no one ever reads what I write, should I continue? (Absolutely.)

Can you reclaim your life against nearly impossible odds? (I would like to think so!)

What do you think of this blog? Have you seen Matrix Resurrections, or are you going to see it? Tell me about it in the comments!

Sunday Musings: Self-improvement, One Day at a Time…

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Folks, I keep having one thought running through my head. And as it’s Sunday, it’s time to talk about it.

Too many of us coast through life. Maybe we take the easy way out too much. Maybe we don’t look hard at ourselves, and our motivations. And maybe–just maybe–we are the poorer for doing that.

(You know I think so, or I’d not be writing this blog. But I digress.)

We must learn how to work hard on ourselves, every day, and to become the best version of ourselves.

For example, if you are a great bricklayer, that means working hard every day to lay your bricks, maybe finding faster or easier ways to do it, or perhaps better materials with which to do it. The one thing you don’t do is to rest on your laurels, because once you say, “This is the best I can possibly be, and I can’t lay any bricks better than I’m already laying them,” that’s when your progress as a human being comes to a screeching halt.

I can hear some of you now, though, asking this question. “Barb, what the Hell are you talking about? I don’t lay bricks, so why should I care about the bricklayer?”

(It’s a metaphor. But again, I digress.)

See, the bricklayer in this example is doing their best to improve every day, and improving their art (of bricklaying, in this case) matters. It gives a shine to everything else they do all day. It gives them a sense of purpose, a sense of satisfaction, of a job well done. And all of that matters, because it all helps them to learn more, be more, and grow more as a human being.

But that’s not really what you asked, is it? What you asked was, “I’m not them, so why in the Hell should I care?” And to that, I have two reasons, one transactional–that is, do it because it will help you–and one that’s not.

The transactional reason is as follows: While you may not know the bricklayer, he may know you. And if you are rude or uncaring to him, or his family, or his friends, that will ultimately hurt your reputation and standing in the community.

But I prefer to use the non-transactional one, which goes like this: “Love one another, as I have loved you.” (Jesus said that, and it’s the best reason to do things that I know.)

In short, we are all worthy of care. Because we are all doing our best to learn, grow, change, improve ourselves, and/or survive while doing all of the aforementioned every single blessed day.

As it’s Sunday, I would like to ask you all to do just one thing today. It’s a hard thing, sometimes. But it’s a needed thing, too.

Be kind to each other, even when you’d rather not.

What did you think of this blog? Tell me about it in the comments! (I like to know someone’s reading, as otherwise I feel like I’m shouting into the big, dark Void.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 8, 2020 at 3:42 am

Sunday Musings: One Step at a Time…

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Well, it’s Sunday again, so I figured I’d better write something. Here we go…

Lately, I’ve been struggling with a number of issues. The world at large seems stifling…the fact that Covid-19 rages on, and that “real life” remains so constrained, definitely does not help.

A week or so ago, my father told me, “So, what’s the big deal? Your life hasn’t changed that much since the pandemic.” His view was that I mostly do everything I’ve always done, except for wearing a mask while I do it.

Maybe that’s true. But it doesn’t feel that way.

As a writer, I observe things more keenly than most. And what I’ve observed is that societally speaking, we seem to be in a free fall. We’re tired, we’re frustrated, we’re angry, we’re definitely not happy…and the few who usually try to find bright spots mostly seem to be muzzling themselves. (Except maybe for posting various cat and dog pictures; they’re nice, but don’t make up for everything else.)

I know I usually try to concentrate on something positive, or uplifting, or at least interesting. And the past few months, I’ve been in a rut of my own that has made it hard for me to do any of that.

Why? Well, I think part of it is because 2020 has been so difficult. Everything I’d wanted to accomplish has been slowed significantly. And that’s extremely vexing.

One of my writer-friends sent me an essay that I wish I could find right now. The essay pointed out that sometimes, rage is your friend. It may stop you from writing in the short-term, but providing you do not give up, the rage can give you enough energy to keep going until you can write again.

But in case rage doesn’t do it for you, consider it from a different angle.

A book I read years ago called THE QUOTIDIAN MYSTERIES discusses just how these fallow periods in our lives can lead to greater creativity in the end. We seem to need these empty spaces with regards to our creativity for some reason, just as fields need to be left fallow every so often.

In other words, we have to trust the process.

And speaking solely for myself, I have to believe that this fallow season will come to an end, and my creativity will reassert itself as soon as it possibly can. And providing I stick it out, the words — and the stories — will come back full-force just as soon as they possibly can.

What are you doing during the pandemic to best utilize your creativity? Or at least keep yourself from running around, screaming? Tell me about it in the comments!

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 25, 2020 at 3:02 am

Peace and Remembrance

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Yesterday was my eighteenth wedding anniversary, AKA the sixteenth wedding anniversary I’ve spent alone since my husband Michael died suddenly and without warning in 2004. Usually, observing this day and remembering how wonderful Michael was in all his allness crushes me. (I’m not going to lie.)

But this year was different.

(Why? I don’t know.)

I decided that I was going to do my best to remember Michael as he was. How he loved to make me laugh. How he enjoyed doing just about anything with me. How he wanted to hear whatever I had to say on whatever subject, and about how interested he was to hear about my day even when I had been sick for three days running and hadn’t even been able to go to the computer.

In short, Michael was an outstandingly good husband as well as an outstandingly good man. And I felt better for remembering him that way.

Many anniversaries, I’ve thought more about what I’ve lost than what I’ve gained. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, either. It’s how I felt at the time, it was authentic, and it was the best I could do to process my catastrophic level of grief.

But this time, I was able to think more about what Michael and I did together. How we wrote, together and separately, and talked our stories out together. How we watched current events, sometimes bemusedly, sometimes with great insight, and could talk them through in a historical context. How we were able to talk about spiritual matters, him being a Zen Buddhist and me being a spiritual seeker who probably best aligns with NeoPaganism (but isn’t NeoPagan enough for some because I still appreciate the life and works of Jesus Christ and try to make common cause with what makes sense to me, especially “love one another”). How we were able to forge a life together despite previous divorces…

Anyway, concentrating on what we were good at together, and how good we were together, helped me a lot. I was able to get through the day with more peace than usual.

I will always wish Michael were still alive, beside me, on this plane of existence. I wish he were still here, writing his stories, writing with me, helping me with my stories, and editing for other people. I wish he were able to tell me what he thinks of the state of the world — most particularly the coronavirus concerns and the #BlackLivesMatter protests, though I’d be interested to hear his (likely trenchant) takes on the current crop of DC politicians (most especially President Trump, someone I don’t think Michael would’ve cared for at all due to that gentleman’s previous experiences as a reality TV star). I wish he were still here so I could see his smile, hear his laugh, enjoy his touch, and get to watch and listen and observe how he got through the world with such serenity and optimism.

But as he’s not alive on this plane — though I do believe the spirit is eternal, and that love never dies either, so in those senses he’ll always be with me — I can only do what I can to remember. And yesterday, I chose to remember the good.

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 25, 2020 at 5:15 am

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!

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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.

Easter Musings: The Resurrection of Hope

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Folks, I woke up this morning — or afternoon, as the case may be (being the inveterate night owl that I’ve always been) — thinking about the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This is not surprising. It is Easter, much though it doesn’t feel like it with a pandemic ravaging the world. And around Easter, we usually as a people talk about redemption, hope, faith, and of course the resurrection of Jesus.

But Jesus’s resurrection wasn’t just about being raised from the dead. It was about the hope that something good would come from Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. It was also about the belief that three women had, mourning outside Jesus’s burial site, for three days. And it was about the astonishment they had, along with the embodiment of their hopes, when Jesus rose again on the third day.

Other ancient religions had talked about resurrection, too. But they hadn’t been so much about hope, it seems to me. And they certainly didn’t talk about the folks who were left behind quite so much as early Christianity did, and has to this day.

We need hope right now, as I’ve said before. But we also have to believe firmly in resurrection, too. Those of you who aren’t Christian (some days I don’t identify with it, other days I do; I’m more like G.K. Chesterton, who once said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”) can still appreciate the idea of resurrection in this sense, as explicated by the Cambridge English Dictionary: the act of bringing something that had disappeared or ended back into use or existence.

Right now, what we’ve viewed as the normal comings and goings of society has disappeared. Ended. And we’re mostly at home, wondering whether the virus known as Covid-19 will ever stop ravaging the Earth. Doctors and nurses and other medical personnel are struggling, as they’re the only ones who have the tools and training to help the rest of us deal with this. And as yet, there is no cure; there is no vaccine to temper the virus, either; there is no therapy; there is nothing.

It is a humbling thing, to know that you can’t stop Covid-19.

Yes, everything we’re doing right now — the vast majority of us in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, etc. — helps to mitigate the damage. Staying at home lessens the reach of the virus and allows the amount of people sickened at any one time to flatten out, so hospitals and clinics don’t get overwhelmed. (Or at least not as overwhelmed as they could be.)

Some of you are probably saying, “But Barb. That is not nothing. We are being proactive. We’re staying home, even though we hate it. And we’re doing everything we can to let this virus die out.” (New Zealand, in particular, has been particularly good at squashing this virus flat.)

That’s all true.

But it’s not enough. People are still dying. And the world outside is radically transformed. Economies have crashed, and will continue to do so, until some sort of medical mitigation occurs. Our way of living has suffered; our way of belief, that we can come together as people, and enjoy each other’s company, and lessen each other’s sorrows in person as well as online, has been shown to be, at best, incomplete.

My view is, today should be not just about Jesus Christ, though his life and teachings are well worthy of study.

I think today — the Easter of 2020 — we need to believe in the resurrection of hope. The resurrection that our society will someday get back to some semblance of what we’ve seen before: openness. Being able to give hugs to loved ones. Concerts. Ball games. Being able to go outside, in public, unmasked and without fear…being able to go anywhere you want, at any time you want, without being hassled (or at least being worried you might be), and without risking your life either. And our first responders — our medical personnel, police, fire, rescue, etc. — not to have to risk their lives every day in every way because they have no idea who’s carrying Covid-19, no idea who’s had it, and no idea whether or not their protection is good enough to keep them from getting it.

I think Jesus would appreciate us believing in all of these things, in addition to believing in Him today. (Or at least believing in what he showed us can be possible.)

And that is all I can say today, prayerfully, because I know it to be true.

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 12, 2020 at 2:36 pm