Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Framing Narrative’ Category

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?

Nightmare at the Hugo Awards: No Award “Wins” Five Times…including for Best Editor Categories

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Folks, right now, I’m not happy. As a writer and editor, I look forward to the Hugo Awards ceremony every year to see what other people active in science fiction and fantasy think of other writers and editors.

This year, apparently the other active writers and editors in my field think that no awards at all should be given out to editors. Because that’s what “won” at the Hugos this year — No Award — in both “best editor, short form” and “best editor, long form.” (These were two of the results of the 2015 Hugo Awards; go take a look at the rest if you are so inclined. I’ll wait.)

Look. I understand that the SF&F community has been rent asunder over the past few years. But one thing I thought everyone could all agree on was that books do not produce themselves.

To have a book that reads well, you need not only a good writer with an interesting plot and some excellent characterization, but a highly competent editor to pull the story into its best-possible form.

Why? Well, the best writers in the world can and often do make mistakes, and it’s up to your handy-dandy, trustworthy, hard-working editor to fix them.

The people who were nominated for Hugo Awards all have a great deal of experience as editors behind them. None of them were people who just came in off the street and started editing yesterday; most have edited for at least ten years, and some a great deal more…even the casual fan is aware of Toni Weisskopf of Baen Books and Sheila Gilbert of DAW Books, to name two fine editors who were passed over for “no award” in the long form category, because these two ladies have had long and successful careers as editors to date.

How “No Award” can be voted for by anyone in good conscience over either of them bothers me.

Quite frankly, even though I’ve not been a fan of Vox Day as an editor or a writer, I don’t see how “No Award” can come before him, either. His authors have all sworn blind that he is as hard-working as any of the other editors who were nominated, and he’s been in the SF&F field for quite some time.

Editing awards are about simply that: editing…and who’s good at it.

And speaking of Vox Day solely as an editor — solely for the work he has done — if he’s been nominated for an award, dammit, he deserves to come in ahead of “no award” just like all the other hard-working editors in these two categories.

As a hard-working, lesser-known editor, let me be the first to say, “Boo, hiss!” to the Hugo Award voters who decided to turn the editing awards into a mockery — all because some respondents apparently did not like the Sad Puppies and/or Rabid Puppies, and decided to throw their votes away rather than vote for any of the people who’d actually done the work to help put high-quality books and magazines up for sale.

Hugo Awards committee people, I don’t blame you for this nonsense. You did your best with a bad hand, and I appreciate the hard work and effort you put in.

I do blame the campaign in the media, that has done its best to devalue the hard work of people of various races, creeds, ethnicities, and sexuality/gender preferences. Because I am tired of the narrative framing already, that somehow voting for “No Award” has brought back the “integrity” of the Hugo Awards…as that is simply hogwash.

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 23, 2015 at 5:15 am

Milwaukee Brewers 2015 Trade Aftermath: Situation…Bleak

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Folks, most of you know I’m a huge fan of the Milwaukee Brewers baseball club.

And most of you are aware that when good players like Carlos Gomez, Gerardo Parra, and Mike Fiers get traded for minor-league prospects, that usually indicates that the team in question (in this case, the Brewers) is undergoing a rebuilding phase.

As a fan, I don’t like seeing rebuilding phases. I know they’re necessary. But it’s frustrating all the same, because I like to see a team that competes hard and does its best every day.

Right now, the MIlwaukee Brewers cannot do that.

When you take a hitter like Carlos Gomez out of the lineup, you lose a great deal. Couple that with taking Gerardo Parra out of the lineup — Parra hitting better than he ever has, and playing solid defense at all three OF positions, and you have the recipe for a lineup with little pop and even less situational hitting.

Couple that with the earlier trade of Aramis Ramirez to the Pirates, and the hitting situation grows even more desperate.

Right now, the Brewers have only two hitters with any chance of doing well: Ryan Braun and Adam Lind. Both have had trouble with back spasms this season, and Braun has a lingering issue with his thumb that will almost certainly plague him from time to time for the remainder of his career. So these things have to be taken into account, health-wise; both players cannot play every day in the high heat and humidity, not if manager Craig Counsell expects to get a maximum return out of them.

The other hitters are not doing that well this season. Jonathan Lucroy hasn’t looked like himself all year. Khris Davis — he still strikes out too much, and he waves at pitches in the opposing batter’s box, too. So no one with any sense is going to throw Davis a fastball. And Hernan Perez?

Really?

Granted, Jean Segura has shown flashes of his old hitting style, and is playing reasonably decent defense in the field. But he’s not a guy the Brewers should be depending on for RBIs; he’s a table-setter, not a meat-and-potatoes type of guy.

Then we get to the starting pitching. And we see the void that the trade of Mike Fiers has left in the Brewers pitching staff.

Look. Taylor Jungmann has had a great ride thus far, and looks like a solid pitcher for 2016. But Kyle Lohse — much as i like the man, and much though I root for him, he looks like he’s at the end of the road. And Matt Garza’s been up and down, Jimmy Nelson is still overrated (he’s done well most of the time, but I still don’t trust that), and Wily Peralta is showing just why his 17-win season last year was such a fluke.

If the Brewers didn’t have excellent relief pitching, they’d probably be even worse off than they are. Neal Cotts has actually been good (I have to say this, as early on I said I wanted him gone). Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez has been stellar, as always. Will Smith has been iffy lately — at about the same point he became iffy last year — but was very good at the start of the season. And Tyler Thornburg is back up and pitching well…Jeremy Jeffress looks solid…really, I have few complaints with the bullpen.

The Brewers are currently 44-62. They look like they probably won’t even win sixty games this year, the way they’re playing. So I understand, mentally, why GM Doug Melvin made the trades that he did.

Still. Right now, what the Brewers front office is doing is an exercise in narrative framing. They’re saying, “Hey, in a year or two, we’ll be really good. Look at all these prospects!” And trying to divert the long-time fan, who’s seen the Brewers be awful before (in my case, many times), into dreaming of the future…all while the present looks downright depressing.

The thing about prospects is this: It’s all speculative.

We knew that Carlos Gomez loved Milwaukee, would hit reasonably well, would play excellent defense most of the time, and make some baserunning mistakes while striking out a goodly percentage of the time. Because that’s who Gomez is.

But Gomez is a known commodity. Brewers fans knew exactly what we were getting in him.

Similarly, Fiers and Parra were also known commodities. I knew, as a fan, that Parra would be tenacious at the plate and have good situational-hitting skills, and I knew that Fiers would always try his hardest and be unsparing of himself in postgame commentary if he just didn’t have it.

But fortunately, Fiers mostly does have it.

Anyway, Doug Melvin took three very good players — one perhaps a superstar in Gomez — and traded them, when the Brewers are already having trouble with their offense. He got back some very solid prospects, some of which may develop into decent-to-better players (Phillips, which the Brewers received in the Houston trade, might even turn out to be a superstar himself down the line; but that day is not today).

But for now, the situation is bleak and getting worse.

What I want to see, as a fan, is for Doug Melvin to go out and get some hitters. Daniel Nava was designated for assignment by the Boston Red Sox last week — and Nava can hit. (Granted, he hasn’t hit well this year at all for Boston, but a change of scenery might really help him.) Plus, Nava has some speed and would play a better left field than Khris Davis, who really shouldn’t be in the field at all (why, oh why, hasn’t Davis been traded to the AL by now? He is a DH in the making; he’ll never make an outfielder.)

And the Brewers need to find other diamonds in the rough like Nava. Guys who can hit, who’ve proven they can hit, and who can do a little better than the Shane Petersons or (gasp! shudders! horrors!) the Hernan Perezes of the world.

So that’s where I’m at, as a fan. I think the aftermath of the Brewers trades of Parra, Gomez and Fiers is showing itself right now.

And if I had to bet, I’d probably say it’s very unlikely the Brewers will even win 60 games this year. Which is very, very sad.

So don’t believe the narrative hype, my friends. Know full well that the Brewers will be awful for the remainder of this year, with some flashes of solid playing by folks like K-Rod, Braun and probably Lind.

And hope that somehow, some way, we’ll get some people in the lineup who can hit, run, and field…because right now, they’re just not there.

Just Reviewed “Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty” at SBR

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Folks, I wanted to point your attention toward my latest book review of Charles Leerhsen’s TY COBB: A Terrible Beauty, which is up right now over at Shiny Book Review (SBR for short, as always).

Now, why am I so proud of this review?

I think it has to do with two things. One, Mr. Leerhsen’s baseball scholarship is superb. And two, I was pleased to realize, after reading Leerhsen’s  book, that Cobb was not at all the virulent racist he’d been portrayed to be.

See, all of the stuff I thought I knew about Cobb was wrong — well, except for the actual baseball facts. (I knew Cobb hit .367 as a lifetime batting average, for example, and was the all-time hits leader until Pete Rose moved past him in the mid-1980s.)

Basically, Ty Cobb, since his death in 1961, has been the victim of a shoddy narrative. Apparently his “biographer” Al Stump was no such thing; instead, Stump invented the wildest flights of fancy about Cobb, figuring that as there was almost no film or still pictures or even radio accounts of Cobb’s play, Stump could do as he liked and no one would be the wiser.

Besides, monsters sell. So Stump made Cobb a monster.

Leerhsen proved just how fallacious Stump’s account actually was by going back and reading all of the various newspaper reports, which were readily available in the archives. (Thank goodness for archives, eh?) Stump made so many erroneous assumptions that it’s hard to believe Stump didn’t know what he was writing was dead wrong; in fact, Cobb himself was in the midst of a lawsuit at the time of his death, because he’d gotten wind of what Stump was about to do to him in the guise of Cobb’s “autobiography” (which was ghost-written by Stump), and wanted no part of it.

The most egregious fallacy of Stump’s was to paint Cobb as a racist. Cobb was anything but — in fact, according to Leerhsen, Cobb used to sit in the dugout with players like Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige during Negro League games, and famously remarked that “The Negro (ballplayer) should be accepted, and not grudgingly but wholeheartedly.” And Cobb was a big fan of Roy Campanella’s, plus he enjoyed Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson.

And as far as being a mean, nasty, vicious old cuss — well, how mean, vicious and nasty could Ty Cobb have been if he was willing to help the young Joe DiMaggio out when Joe D. signed with the Yankees? (Cobb understood baseball contracts, and young Joe didn’t.) How mean was Cobb when he helped Campanella and his family out after “Campy” became paralyzed? And how vicious was Cobb when, after his playing days were over and he had nothing at all to gain by it, he and Babe Ruth became fast friends?

Leerhsen has dozens of stories about Cobb, and very few of them depict anything close to the man Stump portrayed (and Tommy Lee Jones later masterfully acted in the movie version, Cobb).

While Cobb was a difficult man to know — he was prickly, quick to anger, and settled things with his fists more than once — he was not a monster.

Instead, Cobb appears to be the victim of one of the worst narrative frames in the history of all narrative-framing.

So do, please, read my review of Charles Leerhsen’s book TY COBB: A Terrible Beauty. Then please, if you have any interest whatsoever in early 1900s to the “Roaring Twenties” Americana, baseball history, or just want to find out what’s actually the truth about Ty Cobb, go read his masterful book for yourself.

Easter Meditations on Christian Laettner

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Happy Easter, one and all!

A few years back, I wrote a blog called “Meditations on Easter.” In that blog I discussed the nature of forgiveness, redemption, and hope through the story of Jesus Christ. It is still my own, personal gold standard as to why people of all faiths should try to recognize why Easter remains such an important holy day, 2000 and some odd years later.

And this got me thinking.

Recently, I watched an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary called I Hate Christian Laettner. It’s about former college and pro basketball star Christian Laettner, who sank a game-winning shot in 1992 for his Duke Blue Devils in the NCAA championship game…but because he’d also stepped on an opposing player’s hand (Aminu Timberlake) earlier in that tournament and was unrepentant about it, his game-winning shot was highly controversial.

People still remember the shot, years later. But it’s not because Laettner was brilliant. It’s because many people, myself included, felt Laettner should’ve been suspended for stepping on Timberlake’s hand. And when he wasn’t, most fans were indignant — even furious — as it seemed like Laettner was getting special treatment due to his star status as one of college basketball’s best players.

And that has fueled a whole lot of hatred toward a guy who, at the time, was only 22 years old.

Yes, he was an arrogant cuss. Yes, he was a difficult and prickly personality.

But maybe he had a reason for being that way. He was a tall guy who was often mischaracterized in the press as something he wasn’t. He was called wealthy and overprivileged, simply because of the fact he was white and going to Duke. And it wasn’t true — his parents worked hard and were members of the middle class, something I never heard one word about until I watched the 30 for 30 documentary about Laettner.

This particular documentary really made me challenge my assumptions.

Simply put: We humans still have a lot of growing up to do in some ways, don’t we? We judge people based off the appearance, the outward aspect, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

In this case, much of the outward aspect of Laettner was flat wrong. He was a middle class guy who would never in a million years have been able to afford a high quality education at Duke unless he had a compelling gift for playing basketball. He needed that scholarship so he could go, grow, learn, and improve himself, both as a player and as a human being.

Now, did he do some stuff that was juvenile? Sure.

But at 22, I have to admit that I did all sorts of things that were juvenile, too. I was just fortunate enough not to be in the public eye, so my immature behavior was not trumpeted from the bully pulpit as Laettner’s lapses were.

After watching that 30 for 30 documentary, I was left shaking my head at how even someone like me — someone who’s very well aware of how the narrative can be framed as a writer and editor — can’t realize that Laettner’s story was far more complex than had been reported in the media.

Personally, I think Laettner showed a lot of class dealing with some of the stuff that was yelled at him during the NCAA Tourney back in 1991 and 1992. (“Ho-mo-sexual” and the like was yelled at him, and yes, that was considered a slur. How far we’ve come…that behavior today would not be tolerated. But I digress.) And I think, upon reflection, that he did try to rise above a lot of the nonsense directed his way.

But the most important thing I learned from the documentary is this: You have to know yourself. And you have to learn to forgive yourself.

Laettner knows he’s a much different person on the inside than was reported. He doesn’t give any weight, he said in the documentary, to people who don’t know him, because that wastes his time. (This is my best paraphrase, mind, as I watched this movie at least a week and a half ago and I don’t have a transcript in front of me.) The people who matter to him are those who do know him. His wife. His family. His coaches. His friends.

Everything else — everyone else — can go hang. Because they are irrelevant.

As Laettner knows, appearance is not the reality. And we human beings have to learn this, whether we’re sports fans or not.

And as it’s Easter Sunday, that got me thinking. If we’re supposed to forgive people who did us wrong, as the example of Jesus surely shows us we should do, why is it that many sports fans still cannot forgive Laettner?

Maybe it’s a flaw in ourselves that keeps us on the hate-train. And maybe it’s something we should try to rectify, before it’s too late.

Thoughts After Hearing Adam Levine, Maroon 5 Sing “Animals” on SNL

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Folks, for the past hour or so, I’ve been struggling with how I feel after hearing Adam Levine and his band, Maroon 5, sing their controversial song “Animals” while doing a guest musical performance on Saturday Night Live. As a woman, I suppose I should be appalled, as the video for “Animals” seems to glorify stalking — and excessively violent and bloody stalking at that. (In case you haven’t read anything at all about this controversy, please see this link from the LA Times as it’ll give you a heads-up.)

But when I listened to “Animals” as a song, I heard an entirely different narrative. One that deals with an obsessive love affair that’s run its course, where the couple in question has a tremendous amount of sexual chemistry and not much else, yet the male partner cannot let go quite yet and the female partner, for whatever reason, is allowing him to stick around so they can keep having great sex. Then she apparently kicks him out and pretends it didn’t happen afterward, only to repeat until she finally gets the stomach to tell him, “No more, buster.”

Or until he has the strength to tell himself that he deserves better than a woman who’s keeping him around just for sex.

So all the lyrics about “preying on you tonight” and “(I’ll) eat you alive, just like animals, animals, oh oh” take on an entirely different tone in that context. It actually sounded to me like the guy was trying to justify having kinky animal sex with this woman who otherwise despises him, and as such, that’s just sad. (And hardly objectionable.)

However, the narrative framing shifted once the video for “Animals” was released, and the shift isn’t pretty at all. The video (which I refuse to link to) stars Adam Levine and his wife, model Behati Prinsloo; Levine is a psychotic madman who can’t leave his ex-girlfriend alone. And when his ex lets him inside her apartment, the blood flows along with the sex. Sex is explicitly linked with death, and the obsessive ex-boyfriend of the song becomes a murderous stalker instead.

I’m not entirely sure why Levine and Maroon 5 chose to go in this direction for their video, mind you. But I’m guessing that it’s all about the free publicity. A controversial video gets noticed, so it usually gets downloaded more. That means, obviously, the music’s heard more, too. Maybe the hope was that after seeing this video, some people who’d never heard of Maroon 5 before — or hadn’t heard a Maroon 5 song in years — will go buy the new song (or better yet, their whole CD). Which will make Maroon 5 money in the short run, and possibly prolong their careers in the long run.

But all this controversy has actually worked to obscure Maroon 5’s music, much less Levine’s singing. And that’s a shame, because Maroon 5’s music is worth more than a few listens — and Levine’s live performance on “Saturday Night Live” showcased his impressive range and his pitch-perfect vocal control.

Maybe it’s all about the narrative framing as to whether the song “Animals” is actually offensive or not. Or maybe it’s in the ears of the beholder.

But the video of “Animals” will give most women nightmares, especially if they’ve ever had any run-ins with domestic violence in the past.

It’s a free country, and Maroon 5’s marketing people obviously have earned their money this year. But I’d rather have encountered the song “Animals” another way, so my own view of what the narrative is could more easily take hold over the extremely graphic, violent video.

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