Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

Following the Eleventh Commandment…

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

(And yes, I admit it.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forever.

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

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

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

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

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Written by Barb Caffrey

December 16, 2017 at 8:13 pm

Self-Belief and Writing

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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

Forgiveness (Especially of the Self), Easter, and Faith

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Before I get into today’s blog, I’d like to first wish you a happy Easter weekend. I have many friends who will be celebrating Easter, and I hope their celebration will help them find a renewal of their faith and give them a sense of peace regardless of the struggles going on in their lives.

I have a great reverence for Easter as a holiday. It’s about forgiveness, or at least it should be**, as much as it’s about Jesus rising from the dead and giving hope to the rest of humanity.

Granted, hope is a very valuable thing, and can’t be underrated. But I’d rather talk about forgiveness, most especially self-forgiveness, as most of us aren’t too good at either thing.

Why? Because it’s easy to beat ourselves up, that’s why.

Someone who’s creative spends a lot of time thinking. Those of us who create have to do this; it’s part of the job description. Most of the time, thinking brings up all sorts of interesting ideas…but sometimes, thinking brings up stuff we’d rather not admit to, including our faults and how we can’t seem to get past them for all our trying. And that leads to guilt, fear, and self-abnegation, among other not-so-nice things…if you’re anything like me, sometimes you get into a spiral that you can’t seem to get out of, and it can be very hard to remember that you’re human and are going to make mistakes.

What is it about mistakes, anyway? Why can’t we forgive ourselves for making them, but we’ll forgive our friends, our family, or even our world leaders for their mistakes?

Yet if we believe in something beyond ourselves, we should try to remember that we’re here to learn. And you can’t learn without making mistakes.

Why not? It’s impossible; if we always did things right the first time, what would be the impetus to learn a different, potentially better, way?

So, if you believe in any sort of Higher Power, one of the things you need to remember is to forgive yourself once in a while.

It’s very hard to do. (Much harder to do than to say, and it’s not that easy to say, either.) But it’s essential, or you can’t grow as a human being.

So, this Easter weekend, try to remember to give yourself a break now and again as you work on your trespasses…including your trespasses against yourself. (OK?)

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**Jesus more or less forgave everyone after he rose from the dead, including those who betrayed him (some unwitting, some not). If he could still love those who hated him, and who’d betrayed him, I think we all can try to do the same. (No, it’s not easy. Yes, it will take time. But yes, you should try, regardless of what actual faith you profess, including atheism. It may make you a less angry person, more forgiving, and more able to see joy…and we all should want that whether we admit to it or not.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 13, 2017 at 7:20 pm

Musing on Sunday: Making Difficult Choices

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It’s Sunday, so I thought I’d try a different type of post today.

What do we do, as writers, and as people, when we have to make a difficult choice?

In our writing, sometimes we have snippets of dialogue and characterization that leap off the page, but don’t go with anything in the story. What do we do with it, then?

And in life, we never seem to get exactly what we want. The people around us — and we, ourselves, for that matter — make bad decisions from time to time. Or maybe they make good decisions for them, but bad ones for us…because they’re human, and they make mistakes. (Just as we do, but I digress.)

In writing, it’s easier to figure out what you’re going to do with a difficult decision. First, you can turn that snappy dialogue or great characterization into a new story that doesn’t conflict with the one you already have. Second, if that doesn’t work, you can simply excise it — the whole “kill your darlings” thing that all writers know, and all writers hate. And third, you can try to find a way to incorporate the good stuff into your manuscript anyway…though that last is the most difficult choice of all, as if it had been easy, that bit that stands out but doesn’t go with anything would’ve been incorporated already.

Note I said “easier.” It’s still not easy. You have to think, long and hard, about what you’re going to do, and make a choice that you have to live with.

In life, sometimes we can only react to what is put in front of us. Where we are today might not be at all where we want to be. (I think I can safely say that, under the circumstances; if I had my druthers, my husband would still be alive, we’d be about to celebrate fifteen years of marriage, and we’d have I don’t know how many books out, together and separately.) Because we’re in uncharted territory, we don’t know what to do, and we feel our way toward the best solution possible.

We have to have faith in ourselves that we can find a good answer, even when the question itself seems like it has no answer. We have to believe that we can reason our way out, think our way out, know ourselves well enough that we can stay on an even keel while everything around us feels unsteady, almost as if we’re enduring a long-lasting earthquake that doesn’t quite — quite — swallow us whole.

This is hard.

It’s especially difficult for our friends, who watch as we struggle, and give advice, and give comfort and support, and try to do their best to help you keep your body and soul together another day, so you can continue the fight.

But ultimately, the choices you make are up to you. You have to live with them.

So please, make your best decisions. Use your reason as well as your gut reaction. And then act accordingly…knowing full well that you can revisit your decision if and when the situation changes.

What do you do when you face a difficult choice, in writing or in life? Let me know in the comments.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 12, 2017 at 4:21 pm

Try a Little Kindness

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Folks, I want to tell you a story that means a great deal to me.

Years ago, when I was in high school and attending religious education, there was an exercise our teacher wanted us to do. We were given slips of paper with people’s names on it, and had to write something kind about the person we’d drawn. We were not to identify ourselves, and we had to use our own, personal knowledge to give them a heartfelt letter that would give this other person strength and peace and hope.

Needless to say, as a burgeoning writer, I felt this a nearly impossible task.

I don’t remember much about what I said about the person I drew. I barely knew him, but tried to give some sort of comfort…that much I’m sure of. I tried to show him that I had seen who he was, and what he was about, and that I admired it. (Because that much was the truth, and I could say that without giving any offense or feeling too squicky inside myself.)

What I do remember is the message I received, from a wholly different person in the class. She drew me as all the colors of the rainbow. (Maybe this is what led, eventually, to the formation of Michael the Rainbow Man in CHANGING FACES, but I digress.) She showed me as artwork, and then mentioned five or six things she really liked about me that were all true — but weren’t at all how I felt about myself at the time.

Why? Well, my parents were in the process of divorcing. (This was about a year before they actually split up, if I remember right.) I was unsettled, at best, and trying to hold to an even keel when I felt nothing but chaos all around me.

I’ve never been good at projecting things I don’t feel. But what I have been good at is trying to remember that we’re all people, and we all deserve kindness and respect. That is what this young woman in my class saw, and that’s what she drew on the paper with the pastel rainbows.

That work of kindness has stayed with me to this day. The young lady who drew this didn’t have to do any of that. She could’ve written something facile, something about me as a musician (because I was already known for it), or something about my poetry (as I’d won some sort of minor award for that), or about me being a Brewers fan…she could’ve picked a number of things, but she didn’t do that.

Instead, she did her best to represent me in the way she saw me. She was kindness itself when I needed that. And she reminded me that I can’t see myself the way others do; it’s impossible.

There are a couple of different inferences to be drawn, here.

First, we have to treat others with kindness, dignity, and respect. It’s imperative. Whether you believe in the Golden Rule, the Rule of Three, or are an atheist, we are all human and we all deserve to be treated the way we, ourselves, want to be treated. (This is harder with some people than others, and sometimes we’re going to fail. But keep trying.)

Second, if we treat others with kindness, that will be remembered. It will help the other person in ways you can’t possibly imagine. And that ripple effect does more to resist the vagaries of time, space, and indignities more than anything else can possibly do.

In other words, I hear a lot about “resistance” these days because of the Trump Administration, and that’s fine — I, personally, believe that everything that any presidential administration does should be sifted with great care, and in this particular case, I believe more care should be applied than most with the sifting. But if you don’t treat others with kindness, respect, and dignity, you are doing the work of people who want to tear you down for them…and that just won’t do.

So, please…remember to be kind. Always. Try your best. Treat your friends with care. Help others as you can.

And don’t do the work of your enemies for them. (Please?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 4, 2017 at 11:51 pm

Hope: Just Do It

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It’s Sunday, and I was in need of spiritual sustenance. So I started thinking about hope, and its necessary qualities.

See, when you’re down, it’s hard to believe that anything matters. Life has given you a bunch of lemons, sour ones at that, and your attempts to make lemonade out of them don’t seem to be working…and it’s hard to believe in hope.

But you have to, because that’s when you need hope the most.

There’s a reason that hope was in Pandora’s Box. That one thing can make the difference between success and failure, because it reminds you that it’s all right to fail once in a while, just so long as you get up again.

It’s because of hope that I keep writing.

I realize that hope alone is not enough. But if I believe I have a good story idea, and do my best to flesh it out, I can use that hope and weld it to my will and work ethic to get something done.

I know this works. Because today, finally, after several weeks of illness and frustration, I did what was necessary and finished up my final edits with regards to my novel CHANGING FACES. My publisher has the file now, and aside from proofreading the PDF advance reader copy when it comes out (I’ll keep you posted on that), my work is now complete.

While I was feeling poorly, it was very hard to hope that I would be strong enough to do what was required. But I held on to my hope that I would do it, and I did it.

So that’s why the title above.

You need to believe in hope, because without hope, it’s nearly impossible to believe in yourself.

If you remember only one thing today, believe in this: Hope. Just do it. (For me. Please?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 22, 2017 at 5:53 am

Turning Bad Circumstances into Good Ones

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It’s Friday the 13th, so I thought I’d talk about how to turn bad circumstances into good ones. (Or, at least, into better ones?)

“Why, Barb, did you pick Friday the 13th for this blog?” you ask, wearily.

Well, the answer is simple. On Friday the 13th, everyone worries more about accidents, superstitions, odd events…and what’s odder than turning a bad circumstance into a good one?

Yeah, I realize that’s not how most people think of it. Instead, we think about the negative stuff going on all around us. And it’s very easy to find…we all have stuff in our lives that could be, shall we say, improved.

And it’s hard to think about improving things, when everything seems against you.

I’ve had my back to the wall at least ten times in my life. It’s not pleasant. Every time, I’ve thought whatever was going on would break me. I’ve been through deaths of loved ones (including my beloved husband Michael), divorces before I even found Michael at all, at least five major moves, job losses, and economic hardship, and I haven’t enjoyed any of it.

(If I did, though, wouldn’t you wonder what I was about? I would, in your place. But I digress.)

What you have to do when you’re at a breaking point is to keep going. Remember that you didn’t ask for this to happen. You are just doing the best you can. Maybe you’ve made mistakes, but we all have…the trick is not to give up on yourself and not to give up on your talents, no matter what is stacked against you.

And as bad as dealing with horrific events (like deaths of loved ones in particular) can be, there actually is one positive side to it that I’ve found.

Ready?

I realized  that going through all the negative experiences in my life has actually sensitized me to other people’s suffering. And along the way, I found that being able to help someone else, even if it’s only a little bit, did two great things: It helped the other person realize they were not alone, and it also made me feel better as a human being to reach out and help someone who truly needed it.

Maybe that’s why we have things like “Do unto others as they do unto you” (the Golden Rule). It’s not just that we want to be treated well; it’s that we need to treat others well for our own well-being, and to become our best selves.

Anyway, the point of this blog is, sometimes life just stinks. There are things you have to do sometimes that you never wanted to — that you never even conceived of, when you started out as a young adult — but you have no choice.

When you’re at one of those places, step back, and try to realize that you are not alone. You can come back from whatever it is that you’re facing with time, courage, fortitude, will, and effort. Best of all, you will be able to better understand yourself and others when you do…and I don’t know of any other way to turn a bad circumstance into a good one than that.