Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

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Heat Wave…and Mike Shinoda’s New CD Post Traumatic

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For much of the day, it was too hot for me to think.

We had a heat advisory for much of the day, in fact, so I am spending the evening somewhere air conditioned. (Thank goodness.) That way, I can think better, breathe better, and also rest a whole lot better.

Because of that, I can do what I’ve wanted to do for a few days now: discuss Mike Shinoda’s extraordinary album (or CD release, if you’d rather), POST TRAUMATIC, in greater depth than I used in my review at Amazon.

Why?

Well, as a musician, and as a grieving widow, I understand a good deal of what Mike Shinoda has done on his CD.

For those of you who don’t have any idea who Shinoda is, he is a musician, rapper, producer, and one of the surviving members of the alt-rock band Linkin Park. Last year, their lead singer, Chester Bennington, killed himself.

At the time, I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know much about Linkin Park’s music then, save perhaps “In the End.” So I’d heard Bennington’s voice — one of the more distinctive voices in rock, as he could go from very soft to very loud/screaming in what seemed like the drop of a hint — and had heard Shinoda rap, but not much else.

Since that time, I’ve listened extensively to four Linkin Park Albums, HYBRID THEORY (their debut, from 2000), METEORA (from 2003), MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT (2007), and ONE MORE LIGHT LIVE (2017). I’ve heard a number of songs I think are extraordinary, including “What I’ve Done,” “Battle Symphony,” “The Little Things Give You Away,” and “In Pieces.” These aren’t as bombastic as early Linkin Park songs, but they contain much heart and emotion and empathy, along with solid musicianship and interesting lyrics.

As a woodwind musician, I respond to excellent musicianship much more than I do to lyrics. (Though don’t get me wrong; I enjoy lyrics, too.) And I could tell the craftsmanship of how these songs were put together the first time I heard them.

So, yeah…”Numb” and “Crawling” are great, and there are all sorts of other songs that had a lot of airplay that are fine, too. But to me, “The Little Things Give Me Away” or “What I’ve Done” pack a huge emotional punch along with their craftsmanship and musicianship, so they’re probably my favorites of LP’s work. (At least, the work I’ve heard. I still have more albums to listen to, of course.)

Anyway, I told myself months ago that I’d buy Mike Shinoda’s CD when it came out. I knew it would be emotional, along with having good, solid musical underpinnings and of course the rapping Shinoda’s known for. (Any CD that’s named POST TRAUMATIC obviously know what it’s about, after all.)

The CD starts off with “Place to Start,” which deals with Shinoda’s sadness, frustration, incomprehension, and perhaps a bit of rage after Bennington’s suicide. Because all of a sudden, Shinoda’s in a place he never wanted to be. His bandmate is dead. And his group, LP, will not be the same without their lead singer, especially as Bennington had a huge range (like Chris Cornell) and the ability to sing any style required.

The suddenness and unexpected nature of Bennington’s death reminded me very much of what happened to my husband Michael. (Michael died of several heart attacks in one day, without warning, mind.) And Shinoda’s reaction to it reminded me very much of how I responded after Michael died; by incomprehension, numbness, anger, rage, sadness, frustration…and wondering how I’d ever manage to create again, considering Michael was my co-writer as well as my partner in life.

The next song, “Over Again,” deals with the run-up to the benefit concert LP did after Bennington’s death along with the aftermath for Shinoda personally. And the chorus, which says, “Sometimes, you don’t say goodbye once…instead you say goodbye over and over and over again, over and over and over again,” resonated very strongly with me.**

Other songs, including “About You” (featuring Blackbear), talk about how when you do finally manage to find a bit of peace, someone else brings up something that reminds you again about how you are grieving, and relates it back to the sudden death you have just endured. (“Even when it’s not about you, it’s still about you,” goes the verse. Yep. Ironic sometimes, and the literal truth other times. Works on every level.)

“Promises I Can’t Keep” and “Crossing a Line” both deal with the problem of how do you go on afterward. You need to do whatever you can, but you can’t do it the way you did before, and you may break promises even when you do your best, because your best alone is not what your best would’ve been with your creative partner (and you well know it). And to get to a new creative place, you may well need to cross a few lines…in Shinoda’s case, he has four other bandmates who have to be wondering about the future of Linkin Park every bit as much as Shinoda obviously is, and Shinoda seems rightfully worried that if he succeeds in his solo venture (as I sincerely hope he does; his message is powerful and his music is equally powerful), his bandmates won’t appreciate it much.

(I’m guessing they won’t have a problem with it, personally. But I can see why he’d be worried, sure.)

There are a few songs that are harder for me to handle than others, mind, because of the raw, emotional, and sometimes deeply profane lyricism. But that’s just another color in Shinoda’s palette, and I get it, artistically; this is what’s authentic to him, and as such, it works. And works very well.

In short, as I said at Amazon, POST TRAUMATIC is a heartbreakingly beautiful album. It goes through so many different emotions, moods, and feelings, all of which rang true to me. And the music itself is superb, with “Brooding” (an instrumental) probably my absolute favorite cut of all.

If you are grieving, if you’re a fan of alternative rock with electronic elements and rap mixed with solid musicianship and outstanding emotional lyricism, or if you’re a fan of Linkin Park, you need to hear this album.

Mind, you may not always like it, ’cause it’s a tough album to listen to due to its subject matter. But stick with it. It’s cathartic, raw, emotional, and real…and as such, it might be the most important album of 2018.

—–

**Edited to add: The dangers of writing when you’re tired got to me earlier. I mistyped the lyrics, and have now corrected them. (Sorry to all who read this sooner than I realized I needed to correct ’em, or read in their e-mail.) The error is mine alone.

 

 

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Why Do We Feel So Bad When a Celebrity Suicides?

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Over the past week, two celebrities — handbag designer Kate Spade, and chef Anthony Bourdain — died in apparent suicides. And the grief when someone in the public eye kills himself (or herself) can be overwhelming. Whether that person is an actor, a sports star, a chef, a politician, or anything else that somehow brought that person to the heights of fame, the fact that person has a fan following before passing away so suddenly and abruptly by his/her own hand seems to magnify the outpouring of grief.

Or, at least, it seems to magnify how much that grief is being felt, because now the grief that people feel over the celebrity’s passing is also being covered in the news. And has become news in its own right.

Is this wrong?

Possibly, but not covering the grief people feel when someone they saw on television or the internet passes in such a sorrowful way also would be wrong.

See, these folks — who don’t know most of us from Adam or Eve — become like our friends. We get to know them. We care about them. We enjoy seeing them. And we want to believe, somehow, that their moment on the public stage will last forever…even though we know that’s impossible.

Lest you think I don’t understand why people feel terrible when people they knew (or at least knew of) ended their lives, I need to give you some background.

A very good friend of mine died by his own hand when I was in my early twenties. He was a smart man, a kind man, a caring man. He played organ in the church. He owned a home, which he’d inherited from his mother. He was a huge football fan. And he was a particularly gifted bowler, to the point he could’ve — and quite possibly would’ve, had he lived — made the Professional Bowler’s Tour.

(Yes, there is such a thing. Though there is a regional circuit to handle, first. And that takes a while to navigate. But I digress.)

My friend was only thirty-eight. And he felt he had nothing to live for, because he didn’t have a romantic relationship; he didn’t seem close to his family; he didn’t believe he should impose upon his friends.

So, one day, he told me and my then-husband one story about where he was going. And he told another good friend a different story. By the time we sorted out the stories, my friend had been dead for a few days.

He died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

He’d battled severe depression for quite some time. And he was in immense, enormous pain. His emotional state had gotten to be so dreadful, he couldn’t reach out anymore. And he didn’t want his friends to worry; he didn’t think we should worry.

That’s why he did what he did.

And to this day, I can’t think about my friend, and wonder about why he wouldn’t reach out to me. But I also know that he just wasn’t capable of doing it at the time; he was too upset, too hurt, too confused, maybe too angry with himself…just not in the right frame of mind, and couldn’t understand that he truly did matter.

I think, honestly, he didn’t believe anyone would remember him past the hour of his death. But he was wrong.

Getting back to the two celebrities who just passed away — I didn’t know Kate Spade personally, though I knew of her designs. (Very clever handbags, and quite attractive ones.) I didn’t know Anthony Bourdain either, though I read some of his writing (good stuff, with a visceral, meaty undertone; perfect for the chef he was), and saw at least parts of a few of his shows. I know they were creative people, and they did the best they could in their lives to maximize their creativity in a positive way.

And their deaths leave a big hole in the world, because they were known to have done this.

Of course their friends, their loved ones, their work mates, and everyone who held them in high esteem are devastated. How could they not be?

So, in a way, I can answer the question I posed above, regarding why we seem to feel a celebrity’s suicide so much stronger than a “run-of-the-mill person.” (Not that there is any such animal, but again, I digress.)

I think we do this because of our common humanity. And because many of us do know at least one person who has died, suddenly, because the pain got to be too much for him or her…and all we can do when we see that someone else has died in that same, sudden way is to extend our hands in sympathy.

We do this because we’re human. And it’s the best part of who we are, that leads us to mourn, even for those we didn’t know.

———-

P.S. No matter what you think when you’re at your worst, about your own personal shortcomings, or about the things you haven’t managed to do yet, or the people you feel you’ve failed — you matter, gentle reader.

Yes. You do.

And if you feel like you don’t, please get yourself to a counselor, a physician, a psychiatrist, a priest…whoever you can reach that has at least a little training in how to deal with someone in a major life-crisis (depression certainly is that, though most don’t seem to believe so). (Please?)

Little Things Matter (in Relationships, Too)

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In a way, this is part two of my last post about how little things matter. But it also stands on its own…enjoy!

Recently, I read something about what makes interpersonal relationships work, whether they’re friendships or something of a romantic nature. I’d expected something profound — yes, even me, someone who’s experienced a successful and happy marriage — but that’s not what the writer talked about.

Nope.

What this writer — whose name escapes me — said was that the way to predict whether a friendship or romantic relationship was going to work well was whether or not you shared the little, mundane, ordinary things with your friend or partner.

And my jaw dropped. (Seriously. It did.)

Maybe this idea, that all the little things — the petty annoyances, the grievances, the frustrations, not to mention the small victories (like remembering to pick up the milk when you’re dead tired, so your partner can have it for her cereal in the morning) — add up to something major may not strike you as earth-shattering.

But here’s the reason it struck me as exactly that.

We’re told all the time that little things like that don’t matter. That we’re supposed to talk about profound things instead. And that if we can’t or won’t talk about deeper issues, there’s no point to being there.

There’s a certain amount of truth to that last part, mind, insofar as you have to be able to talk over deep and difficult things, too. That shows you trust the other person, and without trust, you cannot have intimacy, whether it’s emotional, physical, or any other way there is.

But the reason the little things matter just as much, if not more, than the big revelations that we trust our friends and partners with, is because they show our vulnerability.

See, when we’re willing to talk about how much our feet hurt, or how the traffic on the road was, or any other thing that seems piddly on its face, it all adds up to something much more profound.

Talking about things like that, when taken in their totality, say, “I trust you” to the other person. And as I said before, trust is absolutely essential to any form of intimate, interpersonal contact.

So, when you share your vulnerabilities, you promote deeper connection between yourself and someone else you care about. And you do that not just by the ‘big reveals” of the stuff you don’t trot out on the first date (or even the fiftieth); you do that by showing every day who you are, why you care, and what on Earth you’re doing spending any of your time with your loved one (or friend).

That’s why the little things do matter, in relationships, just as they do in anything else.

What little things do you do to show your friends (and/or loved ones) that you care? And what little things did you never, ever, in a million years think would be important, but maybe actually are? Tell me about them in the comments!

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 30, 2018 at 3:42 am

Redemption, Tonya Harding, and Chris Nuttall’s newest novel, THE FAMILY SHAME

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Redemption. It’s one of the strongest words in the English language, or at least it should be. It means to be saved from sin, evil, or error. Or to save yourself from the past consequences of bad or immoral actions…or, perhaps, it means this:

Living. Learning. And improving yourself, because you can’t live with the person you used to be.

My friend Chris Nuttall wrote a book recently based around this theme called THE FAMILY SHAME, set in his Zero Enigma universe. (I was one of his editors, so I got to see the book early and often.) In it, young Isabella Rubén has lost everything she once had, all because she trusted the wrong person. She’s only twelve, but the person she trusted plotted treason against the powers-that-be, and Isabella knew about it — and didn’t say anything to her father, or anyone else. Worse yet, she actively collaborated with this person to commit treason, mostly because she saw it as her only reasonable way to obtain political power due to what amounts to her family’s benign neglect of her talents (she’s a female magician and her particular family can only be led by male magicians).

the-family-shame-cover-revised

See, Isabella, in any other family, probably wouldn’t have done this. Every other family in the city of Shallot (where she’s from) picks their leader from everyone, male and female alike, based on a combination of magical and political ability. But her family, the Rubéns, don’t.

But she did it. She feels terrible about it, but she did it, and she can’t take that combination of deliberate non-action (in not telling her father or any of her teachers) plus actively aiding and abetting the treasonous older “friend” along the way.

And she is paying the price, as she has been exiled to Kirkhaven, an old, ramshackle estate about as far away from Shallot as you can get by horse. She’s also been told not to send letters to her father, mother, or brother, as she’s now “the family shame.”

So, not only has she lost everything — family, friends, wealth, schooling, political standing (which she did care about, even though she was only twelve as she was quite precocious in some ways) — she now has to deal with this ramshackle manor. Two adult magicians live there, Morag Rubén and Ira Rubén. (No, they’re not married to each other.) Morag is a cook, while Ira is a type of experimenter who admits he wants to find ways to make Dark-inflected spells work for good. And both of them, too, are exiles…

Did they want young Isabella around? The answer is a resounding “no.” But there she is, and now she has to figure out how to deal with them (not easy), how she’s going to continue her schooling independently (definitely not easy), and how she’s going to deal with the loneliness of this deserted, remote place (almost impossible). All while wrestling with the problems that brought her to this place, which she knows she created and cannot change.

When she manages to befriend a boy around her own age, Callam, her life starts to improve a little. But she has to keep the friendship secret, as she’s not supposed to leave the grounds, nor is he supposed to be on the grounds himself. (It’s a very innocent friendship, as is befitting for their respective ages.)

It’s getting to know Callam that helps to slowly but surely make Isabella realize just how badly she behaved before, and avow that she will find a way to do better.

I don’t want to give away the plot, so I’ll stop there with a plot summary. But I’ve given you this much because I wanted you to think about just how hard it’s going to be for Isabella to redeem herself in the eyes of society — and worse, how hard it’s going to be for Isabella, herself, to redeem herself in her own eyes.

Redemption, you see, is hard. People judge you by your past actions, and no matter what you do, no matter what you say, no matter how much you might apologize, and no matter how much you’ve actually changed, there are still going to be some people who will hate you, and not give the new version of you — the better version, the one tested in the fire — the time of day.

We see that in contemporary life every day.

One of the most current examples is that of figure skater Tonya Harding, who’s now nearly forty-eight years old. But when she was only twenty-four — in 1994 — she somehow failed to stop an attack on fellow figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, then not quite twenty-five. Kerrigan was hit on the knee by thugs sent by Harding’s then-husband, and one of those thugs was Harding’s bodyguard. Harding, herself, was sentenced to probation, given community service, and ended up being banned for life by the United States Figure Skating Association.

What Harding did back then was awful. That she had a rotten childhood (she truly did), that she came from abject poverty (she did), that her husband was mean and abusive to her as far as the public could discern, and that figure skating was her one gift (she was the first American woman to land a triple axel in competition, and was known for her athleticism, her jumps, and her footwork passages) may ameliorate things slightly, but the fact remains that she could’ve apparently done something to keep Kerrigan from being harmed. (I must say “apparently” because the facts are not completely in evidence. What we know is that Harding took a plea deal.)

But did she deserve to be ostracized the rest of her life for this?

Is the assumption going to be that Harding can’t learn, can’t find a way to be a good person, and that it’s supposedly OK for her to never use her one, true gift ever again, even to teach young kids how to skate?

See, that’s the quandary my friend Chris’s protagonist Isabella is in, too. Isabella is a gifted magician, but she misused her magic and hurt people. She knows it was wrong. She has apologized (as Harding, back in 1994, 1995, and 1996, apologized multiple times to the best of my recollection). But she was ostracized, cast out, exiled.

Isabella does find redemption, or at least finds a way toward redemption.

I would like to think that Harding also has found some sort of redemption, too. (Being on TV’s Dancing with the Stars surely has given her an athletic outlet, and may help pay for her son’s education down the line for all I know.)

But what’s sad about the quest for redemption, and what’s sad in both cases I’ve discussed here, is that some people will never forgive you no matter what good you might do. And no matter how much you might’ve changed. And no matter how much you might want them to forgive you…they just won’t, and you have to learn to live with it.

That Harding still has people, even to this day, leave feces (yes, actual feces) on her doorstep or rude messages on her phone or random people on the street swearing a blue streak at her, twenty-four years later, illustrates just how hard it is to seek redemption, even if you do it privately and out of the public eye.

You pay a heavy price, when you do something wrong, bad, or something that society judges immoral or flat-out evil.

But you still have to learn to live with yourself and your talents, and use them to the best of your ability. Which is what I think Harding is trying to do, as the older, presumably wiser version of herself…and it assuredly is what the young Isabella Rubén is trying to do in THE FAMILY SHAME.

I’m proud to have edited Chris’s new novel, and I hope you will find it a fun read, as well as an instructive one.

And personally? I think redemption is definitely possible. I just wish people would learn to see others for who they are today, not for how they hurt them yesterday, or how bad they behaved the day before that (or twenty-four years ago). Don’t forget it, no, as that’s revisionist history and unnecessary. But do forgive, if you can, at least as far as to say, “If I lived that person’s life, I can’t say for certain I wouldn’t have done the same things.”

That is the best way to be a decent human being, bar none.

It’s Mother’s Day (in the US)

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Folks, last week I asked a friend of mine who lives in Scotland if he was going to do anything for Mother’s Day, and he drew a blank.

Then we both figured out that Mother’s Day isn’t celebrated on the same day in the United Kingdom. This year, Mothering Sunday (what they call Mother’s Day) fell on March eleventh.

So, for those of you in the United States, you probably know that Mother’s Day is today. Sunday, May thirteenth, 2018. And beyond all the hype you see online or on television regarding “you must get Mom this special something NOW,” there’s a quieter, more reflective holiday underneath it all that deserves your time and attention.

I realize that not everyone has a mother who’s still alive. (I am very fortunate that I can celebrate this day with my Mom, and am glad to do it.)

I also realize that some people don’t have mothers at all. (One of my best male friends is raising a daughter, alone. I’ve told him before that he should celebrate both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, as he’s doing all the work.) And days like this are hard for them.

Personally, I think you should celebrate as much as you can, as often as you can, with the people who matter the most to you. If those people have nothing to do with your biological (or adopted) families, well, then they just don’t.

But you should let people know when you care about them, as often as you possibly can.

Why? Well, this world can be a cold and lonely place from time to time. The people we care about the most help bridge those times, and remind us that we do have family, friends, and loved ones to give us strength when we have little ourselves. And remind us of our past successes when we’re instead dwelling on our current failures, because they’ve seen it all and know we can rise, as phoenixes, from the ashes of futility yet again, given time.

Nurturing is hard work. And the people who do it don’t get anywhere near the credit they deserve.

So on this particular day, I hope to celebrate my mother. And my sister. And my friends who are mothers. And my friend the single father (who really should get to celebrate today, too). And everyone else who needs to be remembered for nurturing the next generation, so they can in turn nurture the next when their time comes.

What are you going to do for Mother’s Day? (Or what did you do, if you’re in a place that’s already celebrated it?) Tell me about it in the comments!

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 13, 2018 at 4:52 am

Former Brewers Coach, Broadcaster Davey Nelson dies at 73

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Earlier today, I found out that former Brewers coach and broadcaster Davey Nelson died on Sunday at age 73. And that made me feel awful.

Why?

Well, even though I never met Davey Nelson in person — and yes, he was always “Davey,” with the -y ending — he was an extremely positive person who lit up the room anywhere he went. And he could seemingly find the silver lining even to the worst game, even if it was just “no one got injured today.”

(That’s my quote, not his. Davey would’ve undoubtedly put it a much different way.)

There are some people who transcend sports because they have huge hearts and make a positive difference in as many ways as possible. Davey Nelson was one of those people without a shadow of a doubt. Adam McCalvy’s article (Brewers beat writer for MLB.com) quoted Brewers Chief Operations Officer Rick Schlesinger as saying, “Davey took every opportunity to turn a casual introduction into a lifelong relationship, and his legacy will live on in the positive impact he had on the lives of so many people. Davey’s love of life and commitment to helping those in need were second to none, and we are so grateful for the time that we had with him. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and all of those who loved him.”

I wish I had met Davey Nelson in person, mind. He was known for encouraging people. And even when he must’ve suffered setbacks — as I seem to recall him saying once, during a rain delay years ago, that he wished he could’ve played longer (though he was happy with what he did while he was there — see his stats, and you’ll know why) — he found a way to make you feel better.

That was one of his main talents.

Player after player have made statements on Twitter and elsewhere stating how influential, positive, and just plain good a person Davey Nelson was. And how much he will be missed.

As have broadcasters. And well-known sportswriters.

Still, what I will remember about Davey Nelson was his very strong belief that people matter. Not just in baseball, either…people, period.

That’s why he got involved with Open Arms for Children in South Africa. And was friends with the director of that organization for over twenty-five years. And met numerous children, whom he inspired…and who helped to inspire him as well.

And at the end of his life, as Adam McCalvy pointed out in his article, Davey’s TV and baseball family stepped up.

That, too, is a wonderful tribute, though I’m sure all those folks don’t see it that way now — and may not, ever.

All I know is, I will miss Davey Nelson. He was a very good man. He made other people around him feel better, and encouraged them to be their best selves.

There aren’t many people like that in this world.

Thoughts in the Stressful Mist

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Folks, it’s March 1. We’ve had fog on and off where I live for a few days now, and tonight we’re supposed to have rain, sleet, and snow.

I say all this because that’s “the mist,” though there’s also a metaphorical mist, too. (I call this “the mood of the area,” not just of me.)

And I have to deal with both mists, or I can’t function.

We all do this, mind. We all have to deal with weather, and whatever life events are happening around us, and try to do it with equanimity. (Or at least not screaming, as that is considered bad form.)

So, how are we supposed to keep going when we’re under immense and enormous stress? And how can we remember that we, too, are worthwhile souls, no matter whatever is going on around us?

What I try to do is take it moment by moment. One thing at a time, one moment at a time, and one thought, even, at a time: Focus. Be concerned, yes, about whatever is troubling you.

But don’t let it consume you.

Sometimes I observe this better in the breach than in its keeping, of course. I’m human. I have bad days. And on those days, I have to remember that things can change on a dime — and that good days are assuredly ahead, whether I can see them or not.

If things feel like they’re overwhelming (and if you’re anything like me, they often do), try to take a breath. Then take another. And a third.

After that, take whatever tasks you have in front of you in their order of importance. (If you’re really feeling terrible and can’t figure out what the order of importance actually is, take the easiest and/or quickest first.) And go slowly; remember that you aren’t at your best, but you are trying. That does matter.

And that you, too, do matter.

Otherwise, also remember this: No matter how close the relationship, if someone treats you badly, you do not have to put up with it. You should try, at least once, to say you do not like this behavior and wish the person would change it…but if it’s something that either can’t or won’t be changed, you have a decision to make.

Only you can make this decision. But you need to remember that refusing to make a decision is also — wait for it — a decision. (Odd, huh?)

Anyway, whatever mist surrounds you — that of overwork, extreme stress, bad health, bad weather, or anything else that is getting in your way — try to remember as best you can that it will pass. No matter how bad it is, it won’t last forever…

And you need to make sure that you, yourself, are still there for the better days ahead. (OK?)