Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Framing Narrative’ Category

Computer Woes: Stuff I Learned While The Computer Was Down

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As the title says…here we go.

  1. I am very impatient. Waiting to get my computer fixed seemed like forever, rather than nearly eight days.
  2. I was more stuck in ruts than I’d previously thought.
  3. Trying to type on a phone — even on a smartphone — is much harder than I’d thought, and it’s not just because of my quasi-carpal tunnel syndrome.
  4. Following from #3, I figured out I owed a friend an apology from a while back. He and I got into it because I was being very chatty, and on a good day — and with a good computer, complete with a proper keyboard and my hands cooperating, I can type nearly 80 words per minute. He could not follow me on his phone, and said so. (He later admitted he wasn’t particularly nice about it and did apologize.) At the time, I didn’t understand this…but boy, do I ever, now.
  5. Following from #4…yes, I did apologize. Because it’s better to apologize late than never. And it’s a lot better to know, in and of yourself, that you tried to do the right thing, albeit late, and albeit when the other person may not even care anymore…because it was important once, and I muffed it. It’s a statement that I won’t do it wrong–at least not intentionally, anyway–again. (Of course, that leaves all the other stuff that I haven’t run across yet as potential things to do wrong. But I could do ’em right, too…moving on.)
  6. Tablets are damned hard to use.
  7. I don’t enjoy texting. Not on a flip phone, not on a smart phone, not at all. (“I do not like this, Sam I am.” — Dr. Seuss.)
  8. That said, texting my best friends when the computer is down beats staying out of contact all to Hell.
  9. And using a tablet is better than using a phone of any sort to stay in contact.
  10. Sometimes, life doesn’t go as planned, at all. And while I’ve known that for a damned long time, it bears repeating. (Like a clue-by-four upside the head.)
  11. I have a hard time reframing a bad situation, something I truly can’t stand, into anything remotely resembling a good one. I did try. I told myself over and over that I had more time to read. (I read all sorts of stuff, too. Found a couple of good new authors — new to me, anyway. One of ’em is Kate Stradling. Really am enjoying her work.) I told myself, over and over again, that I was still thinking about my stories — which I was — and that there have been times I’ve not been able to write for seven or eight days before, and I didn’t panic, so what’s the big deal?
  12. Enter panic. (Ding, ding, ding!)
  13. Getting my computer back was useful. I’m still not back up to speed. But I have friends to help. And I’m grateful for that.
  14. I have to believe, despite it all, that there are better days ahead. We all have trials and tribulations. That this affected my livelihood for a week-plus in addition to my communication and my mode of living wasn’t good. (To put it mildly, but I digress.) But several of my friends made a point of calling or texting daily. They were concerned. And they made absolutely sure I knew they were concerned. (Bless them forever for this.)
  15. My family was also very good through this crisis. (It wasn’t just this I was dealing with. This is just what I’m willing to talk about. Further writer sayeth not.)
  16. “Sufficient unto the day are the needs thereof.” (Intentional Biblical misquote by my husband, Michael.) I have to meditate more on this one, I guess.
  17. Buddhists point out that you don’t have to enjoy your circumstances. You just have to accept them.
  18. But yes, when you get an ounce of joy, wring it out to the fullest! (I intend to do so, just as soon as I get some sleep. I’m going to write, and edit, and write some more…)

What do you think of this stream-of-consciousness blog? And what have you, yourself, learned when you have not been able to be online for a significant amount of time due to a computer failure, power outage, or any other reason? Tell me about it in the comments!

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 25, 2019 at 12:53 am

Appearance Vs. Reality

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

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

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

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

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

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

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

Which, by the way, anyone would.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 21, 2019 at 12:33 pm

How You Treat Cashiers Says A Lot About You…(A Rant)

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I decided to write this, to explain what I saw, as an exercise in narrative framing…and I hope it will make sense to all of you.

Folks, I was out shopping a few days ago, laying in supplies for myself and my Mom due to the incoming snowstorm. And I witnessed a terrible man lighting into a cashier for no reason at all…so I thought I might talk about this, and why it showed so much of this man’s negative personality.

First, it was busy in the store. The shelves were bare in some places. It was cold outside, we were anticipating snow in the next six to eight hours, and most folks with any planning sense at all were in the store. Which means the cashiers were overworked, harried, and tired.

How do I know this? I’m a former cashier. I also have some common sense. And I know that if you’ve been dealing with a lot of people with big orders for hours, you are tired, you are stressed, and you haven’t had any down time to even grouse to fellow cashiers about how cold the weather is, how worried you are that your car won’t start, or that you won’t make it home until the storm is well underway.

But you can’t help but think this. You do what you can to shove it away, and give the best customer service you can. You tell yourself that no one can control the weather, and that it’s not your fault all these people are cranky (oft-times, crankier than you are), and you do your best to be ultra-polite and get them out of the store as fast as you can.

Anyway, I was in line, paying for a large amount of groceries (especially by my standards), and heard a man behind me yelling at a cashier in the next lane over. (I turned to get a description. He was fortyish, with graying-brown hair, rather short, with a combative expression.) He’d just asked her if anyone had called in sick; she said no, and had turned her light off as she was about to go home. (I know this because the manager had just been over telling her to go home a minute or so prior.) He apparently took great exception to this, and started yelling at her about her “unprofessional behavior,” “bad attitude,” and suchlike. All he did was rant at this poor young woman, who did nothing wrong, and then insisted that a manager be called. All delaying her in going home, and souring her experience of working hard and well during a difficult day.

This guy had no reason at all to do this. She had tried to de-escalate the situation after he started yelling, asking if there was anything she could do. He said he wanted a manager, and he kept yelling and making an ass out of himself.

Look. I know it’s frustrating when the weather is bad, and you’re worried about driving, and you have kids (he had two, I think), and maybe you couldn’t find everything you needed. But yelling at a cashier who did nothing wrong says more about you than it does about her.

And none of it — none — is flattering.

As I am a former cashier, I decided to stick around and talk with the folks at the service desk to give them a better idea of what had happened. I didn’t have to do this. But I didn’t want them thinking this young woman had done anything wrong. (She was probably under twenty.)

I wanted to give that angry man a piece of my mind. But by the time I got out of my line, he was already with the manager. Then he stormed out, his kids in tow…there was no point to engaging with him, not under those circumstances.

Had he not been the final person in this cashier’s line, and had I been behind him, I might’ve asked him why he was getting all upset over nothing. (Then again, I might’ve just waited and then told the cashier she did nothing wrong, and that I was sorry she had to put up with asinine people like that.)

But he was. And he behaved very badly, so badly that he gave his two kids a lesson in bullying. Not to mention rudeness, completely misunderstanding the situation, and a show of just how obnoxious this particular individual can be on any given day.

I did what I could to repair the situation for the cashier. (She’d already gone home by then, or at least was counting her drawer somewhere I couldn’t see her.) But I don’t know how many other patrons would do that.

So I am here to ask you: If you are in a bad mood, please do not take it out on an innocent person like a cashier. Do not make a spectacle of yourself in public, and give bad examples for your kids (or other people’s kids).

And if you have a legitimate beef, be calm. Be courteous. Be respectful. Treat others the way you would want to be treated.

That’s the only way to be an adult. And don’t you want to be one? Especially if you have two kids looking up to you, trying to learn decent behavior from you?

Finally, I will tell you this: Any guy who behaves like this to a blameless cashier is not one I want to spend any time with whatsoever. Period.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 29, 2019 at 1:36 am

Women Co-Authors are “Disappeared” by NPR, and the World Shrugs

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Folks, I am really upset right now.

NPR recently interviewed two authors, Silka-Maria Weineck and Stefan Syzmanski, for their radio show “All Things Considered.” The reason? Well, it’s World Cup season (championship soccer, as the US would call it; championship football, as everyone else does), and Weineck and Szymanski wrote a book called It’s Football, Not Soccer (and Vice Versa): On the History, Emotion, and Ideology Behind One of the Internet’s Most Ferocious Debates. The book sounds fascinating, and I would’ve loved to hear what Ms. Weineck had to say…except that NPR host Anders Kelto scrubbed all of her interview, and then compounded his error by attributing their co-written book to Szymanski alone.

That is what prompted the following letter to NPR’s ombudsman.

You see, as a female author myself, I know that if I had written a book with someone, and then only my co-author was named after I’d done an interview also, I’d be going ballistic right now.

Ms. Weineck isn’t too happy, either. (Take a look at this article if you don’t believe me.) And I don’t blame her at all.

Anyway, here you go with my letter to NPR:

I am deeply unhappy that in a recent on-air segment for “All Things Considered” host Anders Kelto did not name both authors of the book IT’S FOOTBALL, NOT SOCCER (AND VICE VERSA), instead only naming the male co-author. Refusing to name the female co-author was wrong and shameful, and further compounding his error by refusing to initially name her in the printed piece on your website (which was later corrected) is extremely disheartening.

I look to NPR for balanced coverage. And if there are two authors of a book, the only way to get balanced coverage is to talk about — and to — both co-authors, unless one is not available. In this case, the female co-author, Ms. Silke-Maria Weineck, was indeed available, and had spoken to the on-air host for thirty minutes by her account (I read it at the Chronicle.com, BTW), and yet none of her quotes were used. So your host, Mr. Kelto, was willing to talk with Ms. Weineck, but apparently not willing to use any of her quotes. Or even properly attribute the book to both her and her co-author, Mr. Szymanski, for that matter.

I am extremely frustrated that Ms. Weineck’s voice was silenced. But I’m even more frustrated, as a female author myself, that another female author was marginalized and “disappeared” in this way.

I believe NPR should rectify this problem immediately by talking with Ms. Weineck and working out some way of compensating her for this egregious error.

And please, please, for the love of little green apples, never make this type of mistake ever again. Because it is sickening.

Now, to the men in the audience:

I know most of you would never behave as Mr. Kelto did. (Most especially, the male authors wouldn’t.) But this behavior still must needs be challenged, as it shows the problem we female authors still run into from time to time. (I can’t believe this is the only time NPR has done something like this, either, and they’re supposedly the “liberal bastion” of radio — or at least, by their own charter, are supposed to promote equality and fairness. And what could be more fair than properly attributing a co-written book to both authors?)

(Mind, if you only think about how much you would hate it, if only the female co-author were named instead of you, maybe you’ll understand…such is my hope.)

The reason I am writing this blog, though, is very simple. You men need to realize that the women in your life, especially the creative women, are often discounted or dismissed. (It’s always wrong, too. A creative person is a creative person is a creative person, whether the person is male, female, trans, queer, intersex, or Martian.)

Without realizing that simple fact, the good men out there cannot work against this type of abhorrent behavior. As I do hope you will do, because it needs doing.

And if you, too, want to write to the ombudsman and complain that the female co-author’s name should not have been “disappeared” from the broadcast? Here’s a link.

Rolling with the Punches…

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Folks, before any of you freak out, I’m not talking literal punches, here. (No, the second coming of Muhammad Ali has not haunted my sleep, fortunately.) Just the usual stuff that tends to congregate that you’d rather not do, including minor car issues, a couple of minor medical tests, and the like.

But that got me thinking. (Ooh, a dangerous task, I know…but one I take up with abandon. Or something.)

What are you supposed to do when life throws you a curveball?

Whether it’s minor medical tests or a car problem you’d rather not have (like today’s refusal by my car’s battery to start the car, necessitating a call to AAA), you have to keep as calm as possible and solve the problem as best you can.

I don’t do well with medical tests, personally. I would rather not do any of them. (I freely admit this.) I know it’s better for my health to do them, however, so I do…grumbling all the way. (Hey, it’s not all sweetness and light around Chez Caffrey, hard though I try.)

Fortunately, I have good friends who listen to me and care enough that they’re willing to tell me when I’m being foolish or counterproductive. (Mostly they say this by omission rather than direct observation, but I’m not an idiot; I can tell if they think I’m behaving stupidly, and usually I adjust my behavior accordingly ’cause I don’t want to add to my friends’ burdens.)

To mix metaphors gleefully (the only way to mix metaphors, I can assure you), I think you have to roll with the punches life throws at you. Whether the car doesn’t start (bad battery; bad!), the doctor insists you need a medical test you’d rather not do, or anything else you’d rather not have to deal with, you have to try to remain calm.

But what do you do when you just can’t?

What I do is this: I try to envision the worst-case scenario. What is that, and can I survive it?

Since I’ve survived any number of difficult things in my life (including the deaths of my beloved husband and my best friend), if I think rationally — whether using the worst case scenario frame or not — I know that these problems, vexing though they are, are transitory.

In a week, I won’t think much about ’em. In a month, they’ll be in the rear view mirror so much, they’re barely a pinprick…so it’s all a matter of perspective.

Try to remember that, the next time you have something happen that makes your blood boil. Maybe it’ll help you maintain a cooler head, so you can think your way out of the problem. (Or at least keep your blood pressure down somewhat, which is also a win of sorts.)

Scott Park’s Story Explains Why We Must All Challenge Our Assumptions

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About a year ago, college basketball fan Scott Park was gaining notoriety for missing a million dollar half-court shot. As he looked healthy, perhaps it wasn’t surprising that Mr. Park was mocked by thousands upon thousands of people after he missed that half-court shot.

But there was much more to this story, which ESPN found out. They made a video for their E:360 program, which was also aired yesterday on ESPN’s Outside the Lines…and because I saw that, I felt the need to discuss it further. (While I haven’t figured out how to link directly to OTL’s feed, I can send you in the direction of OTL’s “extra” footage discussing why both Bob Ley and reporter Ryan McGee found Scott Park’s story to be both relevant and inspirational.)

Granted, once I saw the story myself, it’s obvious why Scott Park’s story is inspirational. This is a man who has nearly died — not once, but twice. (See McGee’s article from March of this year for further details.) He suffers from a condition called CAPS — otherwise known as catastrophic antiphospholipid syndrome — and because of it, he’s already endured a kidney transplant and suffered serious and life-threatening consequences.**

Scott Park’s story is inspirational. (We need more stories like this in this world.) But we’d not know about it except for two things: first, Scott Park missed that half-court shot, and because he looked healthy people made fun of him for doing so. And second, the reporter who posted the clip of Mr. Park missing that shot wrote a follow-up story to explain just why we should be ashamed of ourselves for jumping to conclusions. That got other writers, including ESPN’s Ryan McGee, interested in Scott Park and following along with Mr. Park’s story of persistence, faith, hope, and chronic struggles against his disabling conditions — though the way Scott Park carried himself during the E:360 piece (shown on OTL yesterday), it’s obvious that he is emphasizing the “half-full” part of the equation.

Simply put: While he may be disabled today, he is a lucky man. He has a caring, loving, and devoted wife and family, and many good friends (one who donated his kidney in order to give Scott Park more time on this Earth). He loves college basketball, even now. He holds no animus toward anyone, including the reporter who posted the clip of Park’s abortive half-court shot effort. And no one should feel sorry for him, even with his health challenges, physical therapy, and all…because he’s had a good life, he’s still in there fighting, and — maybe this is leap of faith on my part — life is all about what you do with it.

Scott Park has done a great deal with his life. And that’s what no one knew when the clip of him missing the half-court shot was taken.

Fortunately, we did learn “the rest of the story” with regards to Scott Park. But we don’t always know everyone’s stories, and there’s an awful lot of assumptions going on. We live in a world where it seems everyone rushes to judgment, and sometimes, that judgment is plain, flat, utterly wrong.

So, the lessons I would like you to take away from this are these:

  1. Challenge your assumptions. Challenge them often.
  2. Try to put yourself in other people’s shoes.
  3. Be as charitable and forgiving as you can. Because some day, you may just need some of that charity and forgiveness for yourself.
  4. Do not assume that the initial narrative framing is correct.
  5. And, finally — DO YOUR RESEARCH.

If you do all that, you are much less likely to be an obnoxious, uncaring, unfeeling butthead. (End rant.)

————

**At the moment, Mr. Park is in the hospital, recovering from a series of strokes. He is alert, aware, in good spirits, doing physical therapy, and hoping to regain the use of his right arm and to walk again. Wish him well, will you?

Advice for Valentine’s Day, 2016 Version

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Folks, it’s nearly Valentine’s Day. And I wanted to write a few words, just in case you haven’t read my two previous blogs on the subject (which, for the record, are here and here).

Too many people get caught up in conspicuous consumption on Valentine’s Day, because commercials and books and movies and nearly every possible thing says, “You must buy a whole lot of unnecessary things, or your partner won’t know you love them!” Even if you walk into a grocery store, there will be reminders that Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so have you bought your cake/roses/card/fill-in-the-blank yet? (The most inventive one I’ve seen around here was over at Festival Foods in Mount Pleasant, where they’re offering a Valentine’s Day dinner, catered, that you can pick up for something like $42. That might actually be useful, and didn’t bother me…but I can see where it might bother someone who feels pressured to do something for Valentine’s Day.)

The thing is, as I’ve said before, Valentine’s Day is not for conspicuous consumption. It is for love. But somehow, in our consumer-driven society, we’ve gotten it into our heads that the only way to love someone is to buy him or her a whole lot of stuff…and that’s just not right.

Let me give you a few examples.

The best Valentine’s Day I’ve ever had was in 2003. Why was it so good? Well, Michael was with me, then, and the two of us had a great and quiet dinner at home, watched some of his favorite “Danger Mouse” videos (Michael loved them, and I enjoyed ’em, too — mostly because I liked seeing how he reacted to them), and then retired to “none of your business land.”

Note that this didn’t cost us anything. We already had the “Danger Mouse” videos. We already had the food. We already had anything else we needed in the house…we didn’t need roses, or wine, or fancy chocolates, or even sushi (something Michael and I both enjoyed, and I continue to appreciate), because we had each other and that’s what counted.

And my second favorite Valentine’s Day was in 2004. Michael and I had just moved from San Francisco to Iowa, and were living in a motel. The move had been stressful and we were close to flat broke, and finding work was a challenge that we hadn’t expected.

So, what did Michael do? This time, we went to a scenic overlook outside Davenport on I-80 with a couple of sub sandwiches, some soda, and sat and talked. It was the middle of winter, but I didn’t feel cold…and I don’t think he did, either. We felt the world was full of possibilities, because we were with each another…and I was touched that Michael remembered I liked spicy-hot peppers on my sub (something he wouldn’t touch because of long-term stomach distress).

You see, if a guy remembers what you like, that is sexy to a woman. Michael knew that.

Now, what did I do for these Valentine’s Day outings? (Maybe you’re asking this, and it’s a valid question.) Mostly, I was there and fully in the moment…yes, I’d asked Michael what he wanted on both days, and I’d actually tried to cook for him in 2003, but he wasn’t having it. (Mostly, Michael cooked for us, because he enjoyed it. And besides, he said I’d done too much for people as it was, over the years; now it was time someone did something for me.) I did suggest the “Danger Mouse” videos in 2003, and I probably suggested going out for subs in 2004…but for the most part, Michael made those outings happen.

So, to sum up…the important thing about Valentine’s Day, or any day, is for your partner to know that he or she is loved. Spending large amounts of money on a Pajamagram or a Vermont teddy bear or fancy chocolates (much though I enjoy that) is not necessary. Showing you care, that you pay attention, that you know what your partner likes…listening to him/her speak and asking intelligent questions (or giving intelligent answers)…being fully in that moment with him/her, with your cell phones/tablets off and your attention undivided…well, those are by far the best gifts you can give.

Don’t let the “must spend big money NOW!” narrative of the commercials blind you to this, OK?