Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

Birthdays and Funerals

leave a comment »

Folks, on Friday, I went to my uncle Carl’s funeral. And Saturday was my birthday.

To say I feel strange at the confluence of events is understating the point. I never do all that well with birthdays anyway, as I am more like my late husband in this than not (he who famously celebrated “unBirthdays”). And today, my plans were simple.

But I was wrung out from everything else. My plans got changed; I had to rest, at home, and think, at home, and deal with the consequences of being alone, at home.

Anyway, my uncle Carl’s funeral is more important than this, so I will tell you about that instead…as he was a retired policeman, there was an honor guard around the casket until the service started. Three policemen were guarding it; two at each side, one to rotate in and out so the others could rest a bit. (Standing in one place like that is not easy.) The way they rotated in and out was like an elaborate ballet; the third officer would come up, salute the casket, turn on his heel, turn to the side, and the officer being relieved would come forward. Then the relieving officer would take the first person’s place…I’d never seen anything like that before.

Note that Carl was not much for pomp and circumstance. But I think he’d have appreciated his much younger colleagues doing this for him, even so.

There also was a 21-gun salute as Carl was a military veteran. (The young kids at the funeral were scared.) And I saw two young military women first drape the flag over Carl’s casket, then re-wrap the flag and hand it to one of my cousins, thanking my cousin gravely for my uncle’s military service. (My late husband was also a military vet, but the flag came in the mail already wrapped, with a letter from then-President Bush’s office thanking Michael for his service and, I suppose, me for being Michael’s wife.)

Carl was 88, and he’d outlived my aunt Laurice (his wife) by a little over a year. It’s hard to realize they’re both gone now, though as long as we remember them, at least a small part of them lives on. (Plus, my aunt and uncle had grandchildren, and even a few great-grands. Time marches on and all that.)

The last year or so, Carl was in and out of the hospital, and was in a nursing home. He probably didn’t enjoy that overmuch, but the folks who took care of him were smitten by his remaining charm and by how he approached life. (Even as he was dying — he had Parkinson’s, and it was at a late stage — he could still charm the socks off people if he wanted.) He may not have remembered entirely who he was at that point, but he was still the same generous-hearted person he’d always been, even to the last.

My personal view of my aunt and uncle? They came to a lot of my concerts, when I was young. They went to my high school graduation, and my aunt went to my first marriage. When I returned to Wisconsin after my late husband died in 2004, they were among the first to comfort me.

They were kind people. Smart, thoughtful, interesting…they lived their Christian faith in a way most others can’t seem to figure out.

It’s partly because of them that I kept trying, even as I was laid low by my late husband’s too-early passing. They were unafraid of my deep grief, and they were willing to listen to my memories of my husband. Carl even said to me that as fun-loving as Michael seemed to be, there would be no way Michael would want me to feel this bad for many years after his passing. (I think that is true, but my mind had its own ideas.)

Anyway, it does feel weird to be officially another year older. My aunt and uncle are gone. My husband is gone. My best friend is gone. My grandma is gone. Some of my other good friends over the years have dropped by the wayside, too, and I feel terrible about that even though I don’t know how to repair what became broken.

I’m fortunate that I do have family left. Good friends left. And a strong mind, a willing heart, and at least a dab of creativity here and there to make things a wee bit better.

I love them, and they love me, even if they don’t always understand me. (Well, I don’t always understand others, either. Maybe love transcends that in some way. I’m not sure.)

So, I’ll keep going, and remember those who’ve gone before me. And do my best to honor them, and their memories, all the days of my life.

Because really, what else can I do that’ll do any good?

Advertisements

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 19, 2018 at 12:06 am

Wedding Month, Thinking Month

with 3 comments

Folks, as I was married in June, and as June has been known as a very popular month for weddings in the United States for a long time, I’m sure you can figure out why I put “wedding month” in the title.

But “thinking month?” What’s that all about, huh?

It’s simple. When I get close to my anniversary, I start thinking. I try to count my blessings; I was able to find the right person for me (after a few failed attempts), we married, we were very happy…and that’s all true.

But what’s also true is that I miss my husband very much. That feeling isn’t likely to go away. Even if, someday, I find someone else to spend time with, I’m never going to forget my husband Michael. Especially as he was by far the most encouraging person I’ve ever been around, and believed in me no matter what.

I think a lot about Michael.

My biggest advocate. My best friend. My editor — yes, he was that, too. My co-writer, from time to time.

And the most romantic person I’ve ever known, too…something that would’ve surprised most people who knew him before he met me, no doubt.

But then, Michael surprised me, too. With his generosity, his optimism, his faith…and, of course, his immense creativity.

As I said, I’m trying to see the positive side of things. (It’s easier by far for me to see the negative, because I miss him so much.) And as such, I know that me being here, doing the best I can — even though it doesn’t seem like anywhere close to enough — is all he’d want me to do.

Along with doing whatever I could to find meaning, beauty, and maybe a modicum of peace, too…still working on all of those, of course.

Anyway, that’s what I’m pondering right now. The run-up to my anniversary, later this month — the sixteenth, for those of you keeping track, and the fourteenth I’ve spent alone.

So I might blog a bit less, this month. Or maybe I’ll surprise myself, and blog all the more…it’s hard to say.

I just know that right now, I’m thinking hard, and hoping like fire that in the end, everything I’ve done will matter.

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 4, 2018 at 4:39 am

With Creativity, Little Things Count

with 4 comments

Most of the time, it seems that when we don’t make major progress in one area or another, that we aren’t doing enough.

And yet, little things count. Little things add up. Little things, when they accumulate in big enough numbers, turn into medium-sized things, then big things…but it takes time.

It’s easier sometimes to pretend that these little things don’t count, mind. Because making a bunch of little things accumulate into something bigger takes time, effort, commitment, persistence, and a lot of faith.

With all that’s been going on lately in the news, and all the frustrations, headaches, and worries (not to mention utterly despairing things like the U.S. immigration system “misplacing” over 1400 children, some as young as two years old), it’s hard to believe in time, effort, commitment, persistence, and most especially the last item on the list: faith.

And yet, without those five things, what do you have?

What’s interesting about a bunch of little things is that while they don’t seem like much, it’s those fundamental things that are the building blocks of creativity.

But it all comes down to those five things. In short:

  • Will you put in the time, even when it doesn’t seem like it’s doing any good?
  • Will you make the effort, even though sometimes it doesn’t seem at all like anyone will ever care? (Just so long as you do, though, that’s enough.)
  • Will you prioritize your creativity, at least to yourself, and make a few minutes in every day (or more, if possible) to work on it?
  • Will you keep grinding away, day after day, month after month, year after year?
  • And, will you do your best to hold onto your faith in yourself (and, hopefully, the Higher Power that gave you these talents in the first place; if you don’t believe in the Higher Power, then the random chance that gave you these talents, I suppose), even when it doesn’t seem warranted?

If you can do all of these things, your little things can and indeed will turn into bigger things.

What do you do to keep going, even when you don’t feel a lot of hope? Let me know in the comments!

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 28, 2018 at 3:50 pm

Sunday Thoughts: Working Through Pain

with 6 comments

Folks, as it’s Sunday, it’s time for me to reflect on something bigger, something more profound…or at least something I usually don’t.

This week, I wanted to talk about pain, whether it’s physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual. We all deal with pain from time to time in our lives, and it can seem overwhelming. And dealing with the pain is damned hard, because it takes so much of our energy just to keep functioning while we hurt.

I wish I could tell you that the pain will go away tomorrow. Unfortunately, I can’t. (Refer back to the apocryphal Buddha story of how everyone suffers in life for further details. I wrote a blog on this a while back.)

What I can tell you is that you’re the same person you were before, with a few more life experiences under your belt. And that none of us — not one, single, solitary, blessed person — gets through life unscathed.

But while you’re in pain, it’s very hard to function. Especially when the pain is new and raw.

All you can do at such times is take it day by day, moment by moment, sometimes even minute by minute. And remember that who you are at your worst is not who you are any more than who you are at your best; it’s all the places in the middle that matter more to you, as a person, than that. (Though of course most of us try to be our best selves as often as we can, that isn’t always possible. And we have to forgive ourselves when we can’t do it — while vowing to do better later, natch.)

My late husband Michael had a trick that I always attributed to his adherence to Zen Buddhism, in that he told me at times like this to feel the pain, no matter how bad it is, for ten minutes. Then, after ten minutes, tell yourself, “OK, self, I’ve heard you. I’ve felt this pain. Now I need to get on and do what I need to do anyway.” Most of the time, doing that will allow you to carry out the rest of your day unscathed; some of the time, though, you may have to repeat this exercise two, three, even four times a day, just so you can do whatever you can the rest of the time, and tell yourself that you have, indeed, heard and felt what your inner self is insisting you must hear and feel right now, thanks.

I know these tricks do help. They aren’t a cure-all, no. They aren’t going to make the pain go away. They aren’t going to make you feel that much better, either…because that’s not the purpose of the exercise.

Instead, the purpose is to help you remember that you can still do things.

You aren’t stuck forever, in short, unless you want to be. (And most of us don’t, though sometimes it does take a while to get through the pain. It took me nearly twelve years, after my husband died, to deal with the worst of it, for example. I still have moments where it seems overwhelming, even now.)

You do have options, even in times of great pain. There may not be many, and they may be just the best of all the available horrible options. But you do have a few, and you have to be able to look coldly and rationally at what they are, so you can make the best decisions possible for yourself.

As I’ve said before, you do matter. Who you are, who you want to be, who you’ve always been…that all matters. And what you do for yourself to create beauty, joy, and purpose is also incredibly meaningful.

These are the things that make life worth it, in spite of the pain. (Or maybe because of it. But that’s a separate, future blog post.)

So, do your best to look past the pain, if you can. (Can you tell I’ve dealt a lot with pain in my life?) But if you can’t, feel it as long as you need, and then go forth and do whatever it was you were going to do anyway.

That’s the best way to go, and eventually you will realize that you still have more to offer…even if it wasn’t quite in the exact, same way you’d hoped.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 4, 2018 at 3:13 am

Sunday Thoughts — Advice for the Downtrodden

with 5 comments

Folks, it’s Sunday, so I’d like to reflect a little bit on what’s been going on, both with me and the world (as far as I can tell, at least from this little corner of it), as I have a tendency to do on what most of the Westernized world considers to be the Sabbath.

Right now, I’m working hard on three different edits. I also have several writing works-in-progress I’m trying to devote some time to, and I also do what I can to help family and friends enjoy life (or at least not hate it quite so much) by reminding them that they, too, are valuable.

Life shouldn’t just be about work, you see. As wonderful as work can be — and I do enjoy, very much, my work as a writer and editor — it isn’t enough to give you personal satisfaction at a deep level.

Caring for others matters. Even when they can’t show you, it still matters. Because it’s done not to help you feel better, but to help them feel better. And virtue, sometimes, has to be its own reward…even if it does not seem like it at the time.

But how do you keep caring, keep trying, and keep reaching when you feel like your own, personal well of inspiration is dry?

I don’t have the answers to that. But I do know that if you give yourself some credit for all the effort you put in, even on the worst of days, you can get up the next day and try it again.

Everything you do matters. Whether it’s tangible or not, whether others realize it or not, it still is important. And I believe we were put here on this Earth to realize that very fact; that we are meant to not only improve ourselves, but to help others, and to feel less alone while doing it.

I may not be putting this the world’s best way, mind. I’ve still been fighting the vestiges of bronchitis, and also have been working a great deal (thus the not-so-much blogging I’ve done over the past week to ten days).

But I know this to be true: You do matter. To yourself, to the Deity, and to your friends and family, whether it seems like it or not. And whether they can show you…or not.

And you need to keep doing your best to use your talents productively, while encouraging others to do the same thing, because that, too, makes a positive difference in this world.

So if others are telling you that what you are doing doesn’t count, don’t listen.

And if you feel like your life is over, please believe me: it’s not.

Your viewpoint, your inspiration, your drive, your passion, are still there, whether you can feel them today or not. And you will use them to their utmost tomorrow, after you’ve rested.

Please, folks: Believe in yourselves, and believe there is a purpose for you being here. Do not believe in those who tear you down, and do your best to rise above, and keep rising no matter what negativity finds you.

That’s the best way to do good in this world that I know. And while doing your best, you may just find your way back to personal and job satisfaction…just a thought.

Following the Eleventh Commandment…

with 2 comments

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

(And yes, I admit it.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forever.

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

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

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

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

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 16, 2017 at 8:13 pm

Self-Belief and Writing

with 10 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 9, 2017 at 8:31 pm