Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Heartwarming stories’ Category

My Thoughts, As A Widow, On Recent “This is Us” Episodes

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(What a pretentious title, huh? But it was the best I could do…moving on.)

My Mom and I have watched NBC’s TV show “This is Us” about the Pearson clan for several years. (I can’t recall if we watched it regularly until the third year, but we did watch.) I’ve had a great deal of empathy for various characters. I remember Randall (played by Sterling K. Brown), the Black man raised in a white family, meeting his biological father for the first time. That was both difficult and heartening, all by itself; when the Pearsons, en masse, decided to welcome William (Randall’s bio father), it became something more.

Anyway, the matriarch of the Pearsons is Rebecca, played by Mandy Moore. We see her when she’s young and heavily pregnant; we see her when she’s in her late twenties/early thirties, raising her kids; we see her in her fifties and sixties, after her first husband’s passed away and she’s married her second one; we see her, finally, with Alzheimer’s disease, dying with her kids and grandkids around her.

Rebecca’s story is the one that I took to the most, over time. (This is not surprising, I suppose.) She loved her first husband Jack with everything that she had, and when he died unexpectedly, still in his prime, her world collapsed.

I understand how that feels extremely well.

Rebecca, unlike me, had three children who were all teenagers. She still had to be there for them. She also had good friends, including Miguel (the man who later became her second husband), her husband’s best friend. The friends helped Rebecca and her kids accustom themselves to a life with a Jack-sized hole in it.

This was not easy for any of them. Jack was an interesting, kind, funny, hard-working, loving man who adored his wife and was so ecstatic to be a father. He had his faults, including battles with alcoholism, that he tried to hide from his wife (and mostly did hide, successfully, from his children). But his virtues far outweighed his flaws.

Obviously, Jack’s loss was hardest on Rebecca. She was still in her prime, in her late thirties/early forties. She hadn’t expected to be a widow, much less so soon. But she was one, and she had to adapt on the fly, just as her kids were starting to flee the nest.

As her kids married, divorced, remarried, had children, and lived their lives, one thing was clear: even if their spouses had been divorced, they were still part of the Pearson clan. They were still welcome at every family function. They were included, not excluded, because the Pearsons believed “the more the merrier,” which probably came from Rebecca being pregnant with triplets in the first place. (The third triplet died, which is why Rebecca and Jack adopted Randall, who was born on the same day and needed a family as his mother had died and his father — then — was completely unknown.)

Of course, there were oddities that happened to the Pearsons. (How else? Life itself is strange.)

One of them was when Randall’s father, William, made contact with Rebecca and Jack when Randall was quite young. William felt Randall was better off where he was, as William was battling a drug addiction along with poverty and much frustration; that was an extremely hard decision, but one that reaped major dividends late in life when Randall (in his thirties, roughly) found that William had known a) he was Randall’s bio father and b) where Randall was the entire time. Randall forgave William, in time, and as I said before, the Pearsons welcomed William until the day William died.

That said, for many fans, the oddest oddity of them all was the fact of Miguel marrying Rebecca. We knew Miguel was with Rebecca from the start (or nearly), because “This is Us” has always told its story in a non-linear fashion. We also knew that Miguel was Jack’s best friend, that he was appreciative of Rebecca from the start (he told Jack to make sure he married Rebecca, because “someone else” would; maybe even he didn’t know that someone else, someday, would be Miguel himself), and that while Jack lived Miguel made no moves (as a quality human being, of course he didn’t).

Because of the jumping back and forth in time effect, though, until the last few episodes it was impossible to tell when Miguel had married Rebecca. (That Rebecca had developed Alzheimer’s, and Miguel was caring for her until his own death, was something explored in great depth this past season.)

Why?

Well, Miguel didn’t get an episode revolving around him until a few weeks ago. That’s when I found out that Miguel had waited several years, had moved away to a different state, and made sure his feelings were real (and not something conjured out of pity and the deep, abiding friendship he’d always had with Rebecca while Jack was still alive) before he married Rebecca.

We still didn’t see his marriage, which was the second marriage for both of them. (Miguel’s first marriage ended in divorce.) But we saw how he took care of Rebecca. He was tender, kind, compassionate, loving, and altogether the right person for her after Jack died.

I was happy she found another good man to love.

This may sound odd, if you’ve read my blog for years. I thought for quite a few years that my heart was not big enough to admit another love — romantic love, anyway — after Michael’s way-too-early death.

While I found out that was wrong, the two men I’ve cared about in the past few years did not end up growing with me in the same way. They did not want the same things. (Or in one case, even if he had, he could not express that. He is neuro-divergent.)

The man who might’ve been “my Miguel” was Jeff Wilson, who died in 2011. Jeff didn’t know Michael, so that part wouldn’t be analogous. But Jeff knew I was the person I am because of Michael. Jeff also was my best friend of many years (seven, at the time of his death), and during his fatal health crisis said to me, with a weary yet humorous tone in his voice, “Can we please proceed to the dating phase now?”

I’ll never know what would’ve happened had Jeff lived. But I knew I was going to try, and I told him that.

Then he died, after he’d been improving; his death was unexpected, and he was only a year older than Michael had been when Michael died.

So, two men. Both interesting, intelligent, funny, hard-working, creative…both themselves, indelibly themselves, and I cared about them — loved them — both. (I did not yet have romantic love for Jeff, but I certainly was getting there at the time of his death. I definitely had agape love and philios also.)

Anyway, Rebecca’s death episode was this past Tuesday. She was pictured on a train. She saw William (acting as the conductor); she saw her obstetrician (acting as a bartender). She saw her kids, possibly including her deceased triplet (I wasn’t sure about that), at various ages. She heard the various well-wishes of the Pearson clan, including from her daughter’s ex-husband, her son Kevin’s wife (he’d only married twice, to the same woman, but many years apart), and her sons. But she was waiting “for something”…

As she’s waiting, she sees Miguel, a passenger on the train. He salutes her with his drink, and tells her she’s still his favorite person.

This made me cry.

Miguel got no more time in that episode, which upset me. I thought Rebecca should’ve gone to him, hugged him, and said “thank you.” Her mentation has been restored, on the train; she knows that Miguel helped her while she was so ill with Alzheimer’s. She also got a second wonderful husband in addition to her first, which is very rare…yet while she smiled at him, and seemed happy to see him, she didn’t go to him.

This made me even sadder.

The end of the episode came when her daughter, Kate, was able to get there (she’d been overseas). As she says goodbye, Rebecca clearly crosses over and enters “the caboose,” where her first husband, Jack, waits.

That’s where the episode ended.

I don’t know what’ll happen in the finale of “This is Us.” I do hope that Miguel’s contribution to Rebecca’s life, and to the entire life of the Pearson clan, will somehow be recognized. (Her children all told her to say “hey” to their father for them, but no one asked her to hug Miguel if they saw him. That, too, bugged me, but maybe the writers wrote it and they had no time to get it into the episode.) It’s obvious that without him in her later years (even before she got Alheimer’s), there wouldn’t have been as much acceptance and love from the Pearsons as a whole.

Anyway, my take as a widow is that I want there to be some recognition of how much good Miguel did for Rebecca, and that Jack had no problems with it as Miguel both made her happy and helped her as her mentation declined. (Miguel also still saw Rebecca as the same person, even with her mind going; her own children couldn’t always do that, as her daughter Kate pointed out in a recent episode.)

To be able to love again after such tragedy was wonderful. To not express thankfulness and gratitude for loving again…well, had it been me in that position, I hope I’d have done better.

(And yes, I know they’re all characters. Not real people. But they surely felt real, which is why I hope that Mandy Moore wins an Emmy for her portrayal of Rebecca and that Jon Huertas wins an Emmy as well for his excellent supporting work.)

Sunday Thoughts: Creativity and the New Matrix Movie, Resurrections

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I found no way to write this without spoilers. If you have not seen Matrix Resurrections yet, proceed at your own risk.

As a writer, I am often inspired by unusual things.

I take note of all sorts of things, you see. I observe them. I think about them, sometimes only subconsciously, but I ponder them. And I wonder, often, what would have happened if I’d have chosen a much smaller life.

(I do not think that would’ve been a good idea, mind you. But let’s stay with the concept.)

This all matters to me, as a person, especially due to the fact that I’ve been creative my entire life. And as I’ve grown into midlife, there are so many different messages that have been thrown at me. “Grow up,” says one. “Stop fantasizing that your career will ever matter,” says another. “What you do as a writer…what’s the point of it? No one reads what you say, so who cares?”

And then, there are the bills. The obligations. The chores. The never-ending minutiae of life.

All of this can weigh me down. Add in health problems, as anyone who’s read this blog for a while has to have figured out, and the weight of sorrow as my life-partner has been dead now for over seventeen years, and it sometimes seems overwhelming.

“But Barb,” you say. “What about the new Matrix movie, Resurrections? You put that into your title, right? You are going to talk about it, aren’t you?”

Yes, I am. Because I think much of the commentary regarding Matrix Resurrections is flat-out wrong. They are missing the point, which is this: Just because you’re older, your love shouldn’t be trivialized. And fighting for love matters more than anything in this world.

Anything.

Very few of the critics have even touched on this, and that annoys me. Even those critics who’ve enjoyed the movie have discussed more obvious themes and have pointed out that Resurrections builds heavily on what has gone before in the previous Matrix trilogy. (How it was supposed to do anything else is beyond me. But let’s not go there.)

Mind you, some of the commentary is quite interesting, as it discusses trans rights and “deadnames” — that is, the name you were given at birth is not the name you go by (such as the fate of the late Leelah Alcorn) — and some of it quite rightly points out the romance between Trinity and Neo carries the film.

But they still are missing a huge point, and I can’t help but point out the elephant in the room.

Look. It’s easy, when you get into midlife, to let those messages I delineated above overwhelm you. It’s really easy to let the weight of words, and life itself, stop you from being who you truly are.

Neo, in Matrix Resurrections, is again going by his original name, Thomas Anderson. Trinity is now a character, only, in a game Thomas supposedly created. (That the Matrix was diabolical enough to do this is another problem entirely, mind you, but often when we get to midlife, people completely misunderstand what the Hell we’re doing as creative sorts. I tend to take that as allegory, personally.) The person who’s alive and should be Trinity is now named Tiffany (going by Tiff), and she has children and a husband. And only Neo knows that “Tiffany” is really Trinity.

But how can he convince anyone of that, when he can’t convince anyone that he’s Neo, not simply Thomas Anderson? Especially when other people only see an older and broken man, someone who’s survived a suicide attempt, and who lives alone and mostly unnoticed.

Hell, he doesn’t even have a pet to take care of. He’s that isolated.

Those around him completely misunderstand what he’s about, and he’s been led to believe that the one person he’s ever loved was someone he made up himself.

I understand all of this very well.

For Neo to reclaim himself, to reclaim his life, and to free Trinity so the two of them could go on and live the lives they were born to lead is the most important part of this film. (How they get there is not relevant to this discussion, but I will say that as an editor of SF&F, it worked well for me.) That they have a true partnership, a true meeting of the minds, and a truly good relationship where both are more together than they are separately (even though they’re both interesting, separately) is extremely important, to me as a widow.

(Yes, I like vicarious wish-fulfillment, sometimes. Sue me.)

At any rate, I was deeply moved by Matrix Resurrections. I loved the new characters (Bugs in particular, a blue-haired and fierce female warrior/captain), I enjoyed the main plot, but the subtext and the emotion was what got to me.

I believe in love. I believe it matters more than anything in this world. And I believe in soul bonds that endure between one creative soul and another, that call to us despite all the noise this ultra-connected world throws at us.

I also believe that memories matter. And that no one can frame your memories except yourself.

So I urge you to check your assumptions at the door before you see Matrix Resurrections. But do see it, and then if you are in midlife — as I am — ask yourself these questions:

Does what I do matter? (Hell, yes.)

Even if no one ever reads what I write, should I continue? (Absolutely.)

Can you reclaim your life against nearly impossible odds? (I would like to think so!)

What do you think of this blog? Have you seen Matrix Resurrections, or are you going to see it? Tell me about it in the comments!

What Makes a Good Story?

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Recently, I wrote about Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher John Axford, and I said that the way his story ended was not the way his story was supposed to go.

This begs the question: What makes for a good story, anyway?

By contemporary standards, what would’ve made Axford’s story much better would’ve been him coming into the game, striking out the side (or at least getting three outs), getting the save, and having the stadium rain cheers upon his head. (The crowd did cheer him when he came in — I think he may have even received a standing ovation — and cheered him on the way out, too, which is not usual when a pitcher is unable to get out of the inning. This last happened because we Brewers fans knew Axford well from his previous service with us, and knew he was deserving of such approbation due to how well he’d done before.)

In previous eras, though, they had stories such as MADAME BOVARY that sold a ton. Those stories would have characters put through the wringer and they’d never be able to come up for air; instead, even their children would be put through the wringer for no purpose, and would never be able to get ahead.

Why audiences appreciated such stories is beyond me, but that was the fashion at that time. The would-be heroine (or hero) had a tragic flaw (or two, or five), and because of that flaw would taint herself and everyone around her beyond any hope of redemption.

The fashion now tends more to happy endings, but well-deserved happy endings. Characters still get put through the wringer (see Lois McMaster Bujold’s MIRROR DANCE, or Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s NIGHT CALLS, or any of Robert Jordan’s novels in the Wheel of Time series, among others), but they live to fight another day. They learn from their mistakes, too. And they continue on, having learned much more about themselves in the process.

Of course, the Harry Potter novels also exemplify this sort of story. Harry grows up to be a powerful magician, but he’s put through the wringer and must fight the big, bad, nasty, evil, and disgusting Lord Voldemort (and yes, I meant all those descriptions, as Voldemort is just that bad) in order to become the magician he needs to be. He and his friends Hermione and Ron are put through all sorts of awful things, but they eventually prevail.

My friend Chris Nuttall’s novels about Emily, starting with SCHOOLED IN MAGIC and continuing through to FACE OF THE ENEMY (with CHILD OF DESTINY coming soon), also have a plot that shows Emily being thrown into awful situation after awful situation, but she finds a way to prevail every time through hard work, effort, and a talent to get along with people even if they’ve crossed her (or she’s crossed them). Emily scans as a real person, and we care about her because she faces things most of us face even though we’re not magicians.

What are those things, you ask? Well, she has to learn from her own mistakes. She has to realize that she can’t fix everything and everyone. She has to find out that her snap judgments are not always correct. And she has to reevaluate people and situations, even when she doesn’t want to.

Of course, my own stories about Bruno and Sarah (AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE and A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE) have many of the same lessons. There are things Bruno can do, and does, once he realizes he’s been lied to about nearly everything. Sarah is in much the same boat, except she has different talents — complementary ones, in most cases — and the two of them have to find that they’re stronger together than they could ever be alone. But there are still things they can’t do, and they must make their peace with that (as every adult does), while continuing to work on the things they can.

In other words, they can control what is in their power to control. But they can’t control other people. (It would be wrong to do so, anyway. They have to make their own lives meaningful in whatever way they can, too. And make their own mistakes, as we all do…but I digress.)

Anyway, the stories I love best are those with happy endings. People sometimes start out with situations they don’t deserve (such as my friend Kayelle Allen’s character Izzorah, who went through a childhood illness that damaged his heart and nearly blinded him), but they get into better positions and find the people who can help them — maybe even love them the way they deserve. (Izzorah, for example, finds a treatment for his heart — it’s not a standard one, by any means, but it works in the context of the story — and finds love along the way in SURRENDER LOVE.)

So, to go back to the beginning of this blog, as we love happy endings and we want to see deserving people find good luck and happiness, the true ending we wanted for John Axford was to get the outs, get the cheers, bask in the glow of achieving his dreams once again at the baseball-advanced age of thirty-eight, and stay with the Brewers the rest of the season as they continue to make their run at postseason play.

That Axford was unable to achieve this happy ending was distressing. But all the hard work and effort he put into his return to the big leagues should still be celebrated. And my hope, overall, is that he will still be with the Brewers in one way or another after this season ends.

What makes for a good story? Do you agree or disagree with me, and if so, why? Tell me about it in the comments!

Sitting, Resting, Loving

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Folks, the above title is kind of odd, but I hope you will bear with me.

Over the past several months, I’ve been battling with some long-running illnesses. They don’t stop me from editing. They do get in the way of writing, whether this blog or any fiction. And I’ve been frustrated by a lot of things because of this.

I’ve had to rest a lot. And that got me to thinking. Did I want to keep living the life I’d been living, where I was lonely all the time, and just frustrated overall? Or did I want to try to see if I could find someone I liked to spend time with, online or off? (As Covid-19 is still around, and is still prevalent most especially in the U.S., online time is more important than ever. And long-distance doesn’t matter if you can’t do any short-distance dating anyway.)

Michael would never have wanted me to feel like he was the be-all, end-all, of my existence. He knew how important he was. He knew how much I loved him (and will continue to love him, come what may). But  he’d have not wanted me to be alone for sixteen long years.

That wasn’t what Michael was about.

Michael was about joy. Shared sacrifice. Enjoyment of each other’s quirks and follies. Appreciation of who we were, good and bad. And so many other things, I can’t possibly list them all.

In short, Michael cast a very, very long shadow. And for years, I didn’t think I had enough room in my heart to share it with anyone else, knowing I would love Michael until the end of time (and then some).

Then came Jeff Wilson, my very good friend. I cared about him a lot, and talked about everything with him. But he died suddenly in 2011, just three short days after he said, plaintively, “Can we please proceed to the dating phase now?”

And I was devastated.

Jeff was a good man, someone I believed Michael would’ve liked. We laughed together, sometimes cried together (or at least I cried; him being a Confucian, he’d not admit to such frailties), enjoyed each other’s online company, and I was making plans to go see him in Colorado when he suddenly died.

I miss him to this day.

Fast forward to 2015.

A few years ago, I met someone I thought might be the guy. (I have talked a little about this, elliptically, over the years.) I was wrong. He wasn’t the right guy. But he did remind me that life is short, and that feeling something good for someone else was not wrong.

It didn’t work out. But it did get me to thinking.

Now, we’re up to 2020. And throughout all this time, one man stood beside me. He was the first person I called after Jeff died. He was the first person I called when I had to go into the hospital for heart issues. (Fortunately, they weren’t serious.) He was the first person I contacted when I was ready to talk about anything, and he was always there. It might take him a day or two to figure out what he was going to say, if I contacted him by e-mail…but he always, always answered.

And he was also there when Michael died. He was worried about me, and despite disliking the phone, called quite often in 2004 and 2005. (I also called him.)

He liked Michael. Respected Michael. And understood why I felt so terribly. He didn’t want to rush me. (He certainly knew about Jeff, too.) And until the past few months, had thought I was too far away on the one hand and not attainable on the other.

But Covid-19 changed everything.

We’ve been friends for twenty years, this man and I. But it still surprised me when, about a month and a half ago now, he said to me, “Can we try a virtual date?” (That is, listen to the same music, talk online, relax, play board games, etc.) And I said, “Sure!”

Our virtual date was a rousing success, so we didn’t stop there. We’ve continued to chat. We’ve even exchanged short video messages, and are trying to figure out what comes next. Because of him, I smile a lot more. I laugh a great deal. And while I am still tired, and still recovering from whatever Ye Olde Mystery Illness is, I feel much more optimistic despite all the vagaries of the outside world, and all the political messes, too.

Because of Covid-19, I can’t go see him anytime soon. But I do plan on finding a way to do just that, now.

What I’ve learned, over time, is this: Love matters. It may take time. It may not show up the same way every time. But when someone declares himself, and you have an honest connection together, it changes your life for the better.

The main difference between the last two people is this: the gentleman from 2015/2016 was more interested in helping himself than helping me. He didn’t see me as a priority and despite knowing me for quite a number of years never tried to visit me. He never told anyone about me, and he never admitted that I was anything other than a good friend if asked. Whereas this man, my 20-year friendship-turned-romance man, is as interested in helping me as he is helping himself. He does see me as a priority. He does want to visit, but Covid-19 won’t allow it. And his health right now is such that I’d be the one who must visit him in any event, though he still would rather come to me if he had his druthers because he knows this is going to be hard on me, finding a way to go to him.

Despite how it sounds, I’m grateful, in a weird way, for the gentleman from 2015/2016. He showed me that I was wrong about whether my heart could handle yet another love-interest. And that prepared me when, all unlooked for (at least by me), my very good friend stepped up and said, “I’m here. I care. Will you try with me?”

So yes. I am going to try. And I believe Michael would be very happy that I’m willing to do just that.

 

 

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.

When Love Disappoints, What is the Point?

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img_8906The title, above, is the main question at the heart of CHANGING FACES, my new fantasy romance set in modern-day Nebraska featuring a bisexual and gender-fluid woman, Elaine Foster, and her heterosexual boyfriend, Allen Bridgeway. These two have overcome much to find each other, fall in love, and now want to get married — but Elaine’s been keeping her gender-fluidity secret, as she’s desperately afraid Allen will not be able to understand it.

The problem is, when you don’t have open communication, love has no way to grow and becomes less sustaining and fulfilling. Ultimately, if you are holding a big secret inside, as Elaine is at the start of CHANGING FACES, it starts to poison your relationship…that secret has to come out, or you end up with the question I posed above: when love disappoints, what is the point?

See, you need to share all of yourself, when you’re in love with someone else. The good stuff, the bad stuff, the in between stuff…it all has to come out, or you aren’t truly joining with someone else. (That “two shall become one” Bible verse is not just about children, after all.) You have to be willing to be vulnerable, to open yourself up to potential ridicule — though someone who truly loves you isn’t going to do that, we are all human and we all worry about such things — and to hope that your love will grow, change, and flourish over time.

In the case of CHANGING FACES, Elaine is worried that Allen can’t possibly understand her gender-fluidity, as she barely understands it herself and she’s lived with it her entire life. She also was a child of the foster homes, as was Allen…while Allen was able to find a loving adoptive home after a while, Elaine never was, and worse, Elaine was raped while resident of her last foster home by five young men. It’s because of this atrocious act that Elaine can only barely accept Allen’s love for her in the first place, and it adds stress to an already stressful situation.

You might be wondering why Allen keeps trying, hey? Well, he truly is in love with Elaine. He sees who she is, even if he doesn’t know about her gender-fluidity (he doesn’t care about her bisexuality at all; he figures he looks at women, she looks at women too, and they only go home with each other so that’s fine), and he loves her indomitable spirit. He sees her, entire, sees her soul, and loves her for who she is.

But of course, when she finally tells him about her gender-fluidity (and how she believes she’d rather live as a man, maybe get the surgery down the line to become a man outwardly, even though she’d always think of herself as a woman — did I mention that Elaine is a feminist scholar? No?), Allen is completely thrown.

Who wouldn’t be?

I mean, you live with someone for seven years, right? You love that person wisely and well, knowing how much she’s been hurt, appreciating that despite it all, she’s willing to turn to you and give you everything she has…and then you find out this secret.

Allen’s a very good man. He wants to be with Elaine so much, even though he doesn’t understand any of this, he prays that she won’t leave him (as she’s confused, hurt, and upset, and is about to do that very thing even though she still loves him every bit as much as before).

And his prayer is answered by two quirky, shapeshifting angels…

Look. My view of love is very simple. Love matters, period. You have to have communication and trust and honesty, or love can’t flourish as it should. (I think it dies, personally, if you don’t have those things, but maybe that’s just me.) The right person at the right time in your life can work wonders — refer back to everything I’ve said about my late husband Michael if you don’t believe me (I have a category for it, even, if you haven’t read anything about Michael before, on the side of the blog) — but you have to be open and vulnerable and real and tell the truth about yourself, or love will be ultimately less than fulfilling and highly disappointing.

Telling the truth and being vulnerable is a big risk. That’s why it’s so hard to do. And it’s even harder when you’re someone like Elaine who’s been badly hurt and who doesn’t really know how to explain who and what she is…she’s not lying to Allen, but she’s not able to tell him everything, either, and thus, a wedge grows between them.

A wedge that can only be fixed by the two quirky angels and their solution of changing Allen and Elaine’s faces (that is, putting Allen in Elaine’s body, and Elaine in Allen’s, so they’re now both, in effect, transgender in every sense).

As I’ve said in the past several days, I believe in love. I believe in honesty. I believe in miracles, faith, optimism, second chances all unlooked for, and I think we need more of it in this world.

I’m proud to have written CHANGING FACES, and I hope you will enjoy it as well. Do let me know what you think…especially about how you, yourself, have transcended the disappointments you’ve found in your own love relationships (as trust me, every single one of us has been disappointed in a love relationship one way or another — it seems to be part of the human condition).

********

Edited to add:

Here are all the places you can find CHANGING FACES…Chris the Story-Reading Ape put it in this format (so thank you again, Chris!):

Barnes & Noble

Amazon:

USA  –   UK  –  CA  –  AUS  –  IN

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 12, 2017 at 12:35 am

Racine Concert Band Plays Tonight at Park High School

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Folks, it gives me great pleasure to announce that tonight (otherwise known as December 15, 2016) at Racine Park High School, the Racine Concert Band will be performing a Christmas-themed concert. Showtime is at 7 PM, and ticket prices are $4 for adults, $3 for kids, last I checked.

Tonight, we’re going to play four pieces. The first is a transcription of Frescobaldi’s Toccata for band; it’s not a lightweight piece, but it’s not ultra-heavy either, and it suits the mood and ambience of Xmas well. The second is Celtic Hymns and Dances by Erik Ewazen; this is an original piece that is more “inspired” by Celtic themes than anything else. (To my mind, it sounds more like the music for the movie BRAVEHEART, but Celtic and Scottish music have a number of things in common, and perhaps Kwazen was inspired by both for all I know.) The third is Russian Christmas Music by Alfred Reed; this again is an original piece, but it’s based off Russian themes instead. And the final piece the band will play alone is Leroy Anderson’s venerable Sleigh Ride…complete with the “whinny” from Dave Kaprelian’s trumpet at the end.

After that, we’ll play Jingle Bells Fantasy with some of the Park students, we’ll take our bows, and go out into the frigid air, perhaps lightening a few spirits along the way (hey, it could happen).

Hope to see you there!

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 15, 2016 at 5:05 pm

Let’s Talk About…Love?

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Folks, Christopher Graham’s blog this evening had a great post called “‘I Love You’…Why Are We So Afraid to Say it?” by guest author Tina Frisco. Ms. Frisco discusses love, and how important it is, and that we shouldn’t be afraid to use the “three little words” as often as we can in the spirit intended (this spirit, of course, mostly being completely in the spirit of brotherhood/sisterhood rather than sexually based). But perhaps you’d rather hear from Ms. Frisco herself?

Here’s a few words from her guest blog tonight:

Among true friends, why are we so afraid to speak our hearts?  Do we think the sentiment might be misconstrued?  Instead of “I love you” we say “much love,” “love you,” “love and hugs,” “sending love,” etc.  We omit the “I” because it’s uncomfortable to speak and just as uncomfortable to watch the receiver’s reaction if our intentions are misinterpreted.  In saying “I” we make a commitment; we own what we say.  That little one-letter word carries huge implications.  It can cause us to hesitate to reach into the depths of our hearts, extract a kernel of authenticity, and share it with another.  It can also cause the door to many receiving hearts to shut.

I’m not sure why we’re sometimes afraid to speak our hearts to our friends. I do know that I, as a widowed woman, am often afraid to use the “l-word” to any of my male friends, but most particularly to those who are married, engaged, or otherwise attached. I don’t want to be misunderstood; I don’t want to make my friends’ partners angry with me; I don’t want to say something that I know, in American society, is often reserved for either the closest of family relations or our spouses. (Period.)

But I’m not as likely to use the “l-word” with female friends, either. The main reason for that has nothing to do with whether or not someone might think I’ve turned bisexual overnight (I haven’t, though if you think that can happen magically without effort, I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn). Instead, it’s because I have a hard time saying something like that, because it’s so naked and so revealing…I may as well strip naked and walk down the street without clothes (a la Kim Kardashian West, without anything close to Mrs. West’s body), because it’s so damned difficult to say.

In fact, the only time I can remember saying to my friends — male and female alike — that I loved them was right after my husband Michael died in 2004. I told them that I loved them all. I figured at that point, they’d best understand my love was more on the agape side, with a bit of philios thrown in; I was in no shape to love anyone erotically except Michael, and he wasn’t there any more. (At least, not physically.)

Ms. Frisco goes on to say:

Our time on this earth is short.  Our reason for being here is to learn.  And there is nothing more gratifying than telling someone you love them and having them receive it with delight and reciprocation.  Saying “I love you” shouldn’t be a fearful thing.  It should be a joyous union of two souls helping each other grow.

I agree with her that life is very short, and I also agree that at least one of the reasons we are here is to learn from others.

Still. It’s really hard to say the three little words to anyone other than your spouse and your nearest and dearest friends, at least in the US of A, for the reasons I gave above. And even there, if your friend is of the opposite sex, you’d best use a ton of qualifiers, or he/she could possibly get the wrong idea…

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to say the words, mind. But I still think it’s far, far more important to let your actions carry weight and meaning.

Maybe it’s because I was divorced before I met Michael, but here’s my take on love: It is a wonderful and even awe-inspiring thing, when someone loves you unconditionally. It feels almost like a sacred trust, except there’s so much love, so much laughter, so much joy in it…you’re still you, with all the flaws endemic in being a human being, and yet you feel understood, and worthwhile, and happy.

But just saying “I love you” is nowhere near enough. You need to back up those actions by listening, by caring, by doing what you can to help your loved one(s), and by making a commitment every single day to be the person who is worthy of such love. Then return those things, every single day, to your loved one(s)…that way, whether you are like me and can only rarely say the “three little words,” your spouses and kids and family members and close friends will know that they are deeply blessed to have you in their lives.

At least, I hope so. Because that is what love is all about, to my mind.

And that is indeed at least one reason why we’re here, too…to love others, as we wish to be loved ourselves. (My husband taught me that, and it’s true.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 17, 2016 at 12:16 am

Musings on September and Mortality, Part 2

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Folks, last year I wrote this post about September and mortality. My husband Michael died in September of 2004, and I miss him even worse during September than all of the other months put together — though that seems almost impossible, considering how much I miss him all the time.

Anyway, that blog is still a good read, but I wanted to update it a little. Maybe talk more about what I loved about my husband — how he lived, and what he enjoyed doing, and what he thought life was about — as those memories are among the best I have. And for some reason, I realized I’d never put them together quite in this way…thus, this blog.

So, here’s a few of the many wonderful things I remember about my husband, in no particular order:

Michael believed that if you were going to do something, do it with all your heart and soul. He committed to things, in his own quiet, wry way, but did so in such a fashion that you had to know him very well to realize just how passionate he was about the things that mattered to him.

He was self-deprecating to a fault, loved puns, loved how words went together, and helped many writers codify their thoughts.

Michael believed in a Higher Power — he called it “Goddess,” but said if someone else wanted to call it “God,” “Deity,” or “Hey, You, Big Guy in the Sky,” it didn’t matter to him. He wasn’t sure what the Goddess was doing all the time, but he firmly believed that living the best life he could had led him to me…and me to him, in turn.

Michael believed in blessings, and in miracles. (He thought our marriage was both.)

Michael pretended he didn’t care much about professional sports, but he actually did. He loved baseball, football, and could tolerate basketball (mostly because he admired both the athleticism and erudition of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). He’d been into running, as a kid, and if he hadn’t developed arthritis in both knees early in adulthood, he’d probably have continued to run until the end of his life. (As it was, he enjoyed brisk walks, using his wooden shillelagh on days he felt he needed additional support.)

Michael loved music. All forms of music. His favorite group was Kitaro, which plays a type of Classical fusion music infused with Japanese and Asian themes. He also enjoyed Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Cher, musical theatre, and Barbra Streisand.

Being married to an instrumental musician who couldn’t sing a lick was new to him, mind. But he loved to hear me play. I played my five-piece suite for alto saxophone (alone), Creation, for him, and also the Paul Creston Sonata and some of the Ibert Concertino di Camera…but he probably liked the Alexander Glazunov Concerto the best.

Of course, Michael also heard me play the clarinet many times, too. There, I think he probably liked the Mozart Concerto the best, along with Saint-Saens and Poulenc and a number of other pieces. Mozart was his favorite, though, because of the clear and distinct melodic line.

And Michael adored writing. He spent much time on his stories, getting the universes  right, thinking about all the different permutations of this, that, and the other…he could be astonishingly meticulous on one hand, and then say, “What the Hell?” on the other and laugh.

Michael did love to laugh. Nearly everything could be funny, and, given time, he’d find a way to make even the worst situation seem much less bleak.

So, even though it’s September, and even though this is a very difficult and frustrating month for me in many senses (especially as CHANGING FACES is still not done, and that vexes me no end), I am doing my best to remember my husband Michael as he was. He was a living, breathing, thinking man who inspired me, encouraged me, and gave me a tremendous amount of love and support.

When I can see him, smiling, or maybe leaning over my shoulder saying, “Did you mean to say that? OK…,” I feel better. Because so long as I continue to live, at least part of him lives on…it might not be the part he expected, or I did, either, but it’s still here. I remember him, and remember his goodness and his worth and his humanity and the allness of him.

In short, Michael’s life mattered. And I will never, ever forget it.

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 12, 2016 at 1:04 pm

Thoughts After Watching”The Life of Donnovan Hill”

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As most of you who read my blog know, I am a regular watcher of ESPN’s Outside the Lines program (henceforth shortened to OTL). Recently, OTL featured a story about a young man, Donnovan Hill, who’d become paralyzed as a result of being incorrectly taught how to tackle by a Pop Warner football coach. Donnovan Hill went from an active, athletic, and energetic young teen to a quadriplegic, and no one took responsibility.

Granted, some might see what happened to Donnovan Hill as “an act of God.” Many others on his team were also taught this inaccurate technique, and they did not become injured (much less paralyzed for life).

But what I saw–and what I internalized–was a young man who’d loved to play football, and had been bright, gifted, and doing everything he wanted to do.

Then, one day, it was all gone.

His friends mostly melted away, being unable to conceive of Donnovan’s life as a paraplegic (much less deal with it). His coaches tried to help, at least until they realized Donnovan’s mother was going to sue them; then, they also faded away.

So it was just Donnovan and his mother, living a life without any sort of help for either. Donnovan could not brush his teeth, and had to work very hard to regain enough feeling in one hand so he could put on his own pair of glasses. While his mother had to do everything for him — feed him, get him to the toilet, brush his teeth, carry him to and from the car (as they didn’t have a motorized wheelchair or handicapped accessible van, this was a huge problem for both).

It was obvious that both were heartsick, exhausted, and extremely unhappy with what had become of Donnovan’s life. But there were compensations.

First, the bond between Donnovan and his mother was extremely close. The love was palpable in the story between them, even though no words were spoken.

Second, Donnovan turned to poetry and music to express his inner thoughts and feelings. And he had a gift…one that, had he lived longer, might’ve brought him fame of another sort…the sort a young man wants to have, that of accomplishment against the odds.

Third, after the original OTL story aired, many people stepped forward with offers of help. Two handicap-accessible vans were donated. A better, disabled-friendly apartment was offered. A motorized wheelchair was given to Donnovan…so life got better for them both, due to them being willing to discuss publicly what had happened to him after getting hurt so badly.

And finally, former Pro Bowl OT Kyle Turley reached out to Donnovan as well. The two became friends, and that friendship had worth and value.

Donnovan Hill died at age 18, just after his mother had settled the lawsuit with the Pop Warner organization. Kyle Turley sang a song he and Donnovan had written together, using one of Donnovan’s poems…the church was full, and at least one of Donnovan’s former coaches did attend the service.

So, after watching “The Life of Donnovan Hill,” I am left with a deep and overarching sadness. This was a young man with great potential and a gift for poetry that was truly inspirational. I wish he’d lived longer…but the fact he lived, and kept trying so hard after being paralyzed in a Pop Warner football game, was meaningful.