Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

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Musing on Sunday: Making Difficult Choices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is hard.

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

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

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

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

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 12, 2017 at 4:21 pm

It’s a Marathon, not a…

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Folks, I know I haven’t blogged this week. (Until now, of course.) But there’s a reason for that.

I have been seriously under the weather since before Christmas. I finally marched into the local urgent care clinic a few days ago, and found I had a sinus infection, ear infection, and throat infection, plus I might also have strep throat. I was given antibiotics and sent home again, plus given the directive to pick up a bunch of over-the-counter meds (which, of course, I did).

I don’t like talking about being sick. It annoys me. I want to be up and doing stuff. Like making the final editorial changes to CHANGING FACES, which are due imminently…or at least able to take a walk around the park, or drive without my head hurting like a vise has been clamped over my forehead.

My hope was that the antibiotics would help me feel so much better, I’d have something good to blog about this weekend. Like, finishing the editorial changes. Or maybe my reaction to seeing the movie about British ski-jumper Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards. (Good movie, BTW, even though they took some poetic license in creating a composite character in Eddie’s so-called “coach.”) Or maybe more on the virtues of hope, without which we can do very little in this life…as I’ve said before, if you can’t hope for better, you can’t possibly visualize it, either. Which means it’s nearly impossible to create a better situation for yourself, much less create anything else, either.

But that did not happen.

Instead, I have gotten sicker. I’m not sure what’s wrong right now, except that I’m coughing a lot, I have a fever, and feel terrible. I can’t think well and I can’t take care of what needs to get done this way from an editorial or writing standpoint.

My voice is better, which is good. (It’s again recognizable.) But that’s about the only good thing going on right now.

Unless I feel a thousand times better than this in the morning, another visit to the urgent care clinic is in my future. And I do hope they’ll figure out what is wrong, so I can get it taken care of…feeling this sick for this long is decidedly not my idea of a good time, thanks.

But I’m doing my best at the moment to remember that as bad as I feel right now, I’ve worked very hard to get CHANGING FACES ready for publication. I am not about to give up now. I merely have to rest, so I can make my best effort, as I have all along…’cause it really is a marathon, not a sprint.

So my hope is that soon, I will be able to get back to my regular blogging stuff, and talk about far more interesting things than my health. (I have to deal with my health 24/7. I’d rather not have to talk about it at my blog, too.)

And for everyone else, my advice is that if you haven’t seen that movie about Eddie Edwards yet, and you need a quick reminder of what persistence and hard work can do against all odds, you should find a way to see it.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 7, 2017 at 10:57 pm

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Holidays, Grief, and Disappointment

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Folks, as we all know, the holidays are upon us.

As I have written before (most recently last year, here), this is an awful time of year for anyone who has suffered losses. You can’t help but think about those you miss, especially when you have happy memories of better days when they were alive, well, and completely themselves.

I don’t have the answers for how to deal with this, despite having to deal with it for so long. As time passes, I know I’ll be grieving more and more people, and that’s the way life works — some of us keep going, and remember those who have passed before us, and try to honor their memories as best we’re able.

But that doesn’t make it easy.

In addition, because this is a highly-fraught time of year, any disappointment you receive at this time seems magnified. By a hundred, maybe, or even a thousand…it’s an illusion, mind, borne of the fact that you’re probably already under stress for various reasons, you’re expected to be “happy happy, joy joy” all the time at this time of year, and maybe you’re expending energy you didn’t realize you were using to stay on an even keel.

When I’m disappointed, whether it’s in someone else, myself, the world at large, whatever, I try to take a step back. Will this matter in a week? Will this matter in a month? Will this matter in a year?

If the answers to all of those questions are “no,” it’s a little easier to push past the disappointment.

“But Barb,” you say. “What is it about this time and people getting on each other’s nerves?”

Believe me, I wish I knew.

What I do know is that I try hard not to get upset by what other people do. Sometimes I observe this more in the breach than in its keeping, but I honestly do try.

OK, not everyone is going to be be what you want them to be. (Maybe no one is. Maybe you, yourself, aren’t, either.) Maybe you don’t have the life you want. Maybe nothing went right for you this year. And maybe, just maybe, you are having trouble hoping that tomorrow will be better than today.

That is normal, human, and you have to realize that other people feel the same damned thing.

So, yeah. This time of year is very hard for me. I feel almost as if I’m a chronic observer rather than completely in the mix of life and all its pleasures (and annoyances), and that’s only partly because I’m a writer and my observational skills have been heightened by years of practice.

All I can do, quite frankly, is endure the holidays. Get past them. And hope that 2017 will be a whole lot better than 2016.

Anyway, may we all treat our loved ones, friends, and co-workers gently at this time of year, and throughout the year…and may we all be richly blessed, one way or another.

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 22, 2016 at 11:32 am

Driving Adventures in Winter

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Folks, if you live in the Northern Hemisphere — especially if you live in the Upper Midwest, as I do — you know that driving conditions right now tend to range from “iffy” to “downright bad.”

It’s because of this that I decided to share a few tips I’ve learned about winter driving…in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, it’ll help you to know them as well.

First, before you go out on the road, make sure your car is in the best repair possible. If you’ve been putting off buying tires, now is the time to get them…if you’ve been putting off replacing your windshield wipers, definitely replace them now (or possibly suffer the consequences — more about this anon).

Second, make sure that whenever you’re going out in the cold weather that you have a full gas tank, especially if you have a smaller car (as I do). Don’t assume that half a tank, or worse yet, a quarter of a tank, will do, because you’re only going across town. You have to plan for the worst-case scenario here, which means you need a full tank (or at minimum, three-quarters of a tank).

Third, don’t assume that the roads will be plowed, sanded, or salted. (Worst-case scenario, got it?) That way, you’ll be less stressed out if they aren’t.

Fourth, if your car does skid, you need to turn into the skid and lay off the brake pedal if at all possible — brake lightly and gently, else. That way, you may not go into the ditch, and can get off the road in one piece. (If you go into what would’ve been oncoming traffic except for the snowstorm, so what? Providing no one is there, no harm, no foul. So keep your cool, get the car turned back around, and go on your way again, thanking your lucky stars that you didn’t hit anyone today, and that no one hit you, either.)

Fifth, if you do land in the ditch — I have, though not in many years — don’t panic. That is what your cell phone and/or AAA or whatever roadside assistance you have is for. If you don’t have that, call a tow truck. (And if you are between paychecks and just don’t have any money at all, it’s time to call a friend who can tow you out.)

I say all this after surviving some of the worst driving conditions I have ever faced last night. There was black ice, then snow on top of that, then rutted ice on top of that…at least six inches of snow on the ground, and I saw no sand or salt trucks out. And the only plow I saw showed up just as I got into my driveway…which means that plow didn’t exactly help me much.

As I’m an intelligent person, I definitely did not enjoy these horrible driving conditions whatsoever. But what I did to survive them was to do one thing: find a line, and stay on it.

“But Barb,” you protest. “What in the world does that mean, anyway?”

It means that if the roads are so bad you can’t possibly see the lane lines, and no plows have been by, and there are ruts everywhere, pick the best line you can in order to stay out of the ditch. Adjust your speed accordingly; I went only fifteen to twenty miles per hour on city streets that were rated thirty, thirty-five, or forty…not because I am a nervous Nellie (though I can be, sometimes), but because I was more concerned with preserving my own skin and getting home in one piece than in how long it was going to take me to get there.

When you get to a stop sign or a stoplight, know that you may not be able to stop in such horrible conditions, too. Plan to skid around other cars, if you must. Try to avoid any obstacles…but yes, try to brake gently and lightly first, before you take evasive action.

That’s one of the reasons you go more slowly, mind, so you have a hope in Hell of actually stopping in such dreadful conditions. But you have to realize you still may not be able to do so, and figure out what you’re going to do in the worst-case…it’s the only way to be safe, truly.

Two more things before I go:

If you are in a four-wheel drive vehicle, truck, or SUV, don’t assume that you’re going to have any better traction than I do in my little car. Chances are in conditions like that, you don’t. Try to take your additional car’s mass into account, and be as safe as you can; don’t believe that your bigger car or truck will save you if you don’t use your head as well.

And finally…remember what I said about windshield wipers, before? Well, last night as I got into my own driveway, my driver’s side wiper actually fell off. Both wipers had more or less stopped functioning during the snowstorm as the snow and sleet mix continued to come down, and were badly iced over. The roads were so bad, I didn’t trust going to an auto parts store and getting back out again, so I took a calculated risk and made it all the way home instead.

Could I do it over again, I’d have made sure I had enough money in my pocket to buy two new wipers. (By the way, I did that today. I got the teflon-coated ones, too…they won’t stick to the windows, and it’s going to be far less likely that they’re going to stick to the windshield and thus be inoperable.) And I’d have bought them before that snowstorm hit, considering how bad it was.

I was very, very fortunate last night to make it home in one piece, not get into an accident, and avoid the three-four accidents waiting to happen that I clearly saw in the process.

What I want you to do is learn from my almost-mistake, all right? Make sure you have good wipers on the car if at all possible. And if you are between paychecks, treat your wipers gently and hope like fire they’ll make it until you do get paid…because that’s the only way you’re going to be safe. (And safety is the name of the game, in winter. Trust me.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 17, 2016 at 6:26 pm

Life, Blogging, and Everything…

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Folks, you probably have noticed that I haven’t blogged all week. There is a reason for that.

Earlier in the week, I was sick. Something akin to the flu, I thought…it passed in about three days, but in the middle of that three days was a rehearsal for the Racine Concert Band as we have a Christmas concert coming up next week at Racine Park High School. I couldn’t miss that, so I exerted myself and went…most people didn’t know I was ill, though my stand-partner Vivian surely did.

Anyway, because of that I wasn’t able to write or edit much until Friday evening. Fortunately, I was able to write and edit some tonight, then I remembered I’d best come over here and let y’all know what’s been happening to keep me away from blogging.

I wish it had been something more fun, mind…something like a Jamaican vacation with a fun tour group, and maybe an interesting man to keep me amused. (Hey, I doubt my husband would mind at this point. It’s been twelve years, and he didn’t ever expect me to be alone all this time. He’d probably ask me what took me so long, if he could, for all I know…but I digress.) That would’ve been great to talk about, and the pictures…oh, Goddess, the pictures!

(No, you’re not about to see me in a bikini. Not now, not ever. I’m talking about sand, surf, fruity drinks, maybe undersea diving…stuff like that.)

I figure that seeing the sun rise in a strange place, with someone I truly cared about by my side, would be fun. Especially at this time of year, when it’s cold, colder, coldest outside, it’s nice to fantasize about warmth, whether it’s the human variety or the weather variety…or better yet, both.

So there you have it…I am again writing a little, editing a little, and am preparing for a concert next week. And I’m fantasizing a little, too, which I guess is…good? (Proves I’m human, in case anyone wondered.)

Hope everyone in Southeastern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois will find ways to stay warm, stay indoors, and read good books. (Fantasizing optional, of course. Though if it helps you, why not?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 10, 2016 at 2:55 am

Rolling with the Punches…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Temporary Lapse Of Blogging…

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…or something like that.

Seriously, folks, I haven’t written much in the past several weeks. And I am overdue for some sort of rational explanation — I know there are people who do read my blog, and have asked, “What’s the deal, Barb? Don’t you care about blogging any more?”

Yes, I care. But reality has intruded.

I’ve been dealing with an illness in the family, and also was finishing up a few pressing editing projects. I still have more to do — and much, much, much more writing, natch — but I finished the most pressing of those editorial projects, and my family member is feeling much better after antibiotics and rest.

My hope is that after I’ve caught up a bit on my own rest, I’ll be back to blogging with the best of them in no time. Because there’s so much to talk about — the April 5 election in Wisconsin (Presidential primaries, and a very important Wisconsin Supreme Court election also), my preview of the upcoming 2016 baseball season for my favorite team, the Milwaukee Brewers, and more about books, stories, current events, etc.

So, stay tuned for more blogging in the not-so-distant future. And thanks for bearing with me in the interim.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 29, 2016 at 5:08 am

Posted in in general, Persistence

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