Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

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Quick Update, Plus Some 2018 Olympic Figure Skating Thoughts

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Folks, I know I haven’t posted any updates in a while, and I’ve had folks asking why.

First, I have had some time-intensive edits on my plate lately, and the paying work must come first.

Second, I have a concert next week with the Racine Concert Band, and I’ve been spending some time preparing for that.

Third, I’ve been watching the Olympics — and yes, the figure skating, natch — but I haven’t had anything interesting to say there.

Until now, that is.

I love Adam Rippon. I always have. Great skater. Lots of technique and emotion. I love how he puts programs together.

Tonight, Nathan Chen skated up to his potential and then some. He is a great jumper. And he has nice spins. But without his jumps, he’d not be there. (He is not yet the whole package.) But six quads, with five cleanly landed? Hard to argue with that.

Don’t know if either are in the mix for individual medals (as the team, overall, won a bronze). But they have represented the US well and I’m proud of them.

Aside from that, it seems odd that Ashley Wagner is not there.

I am not sold in Bradie Tennell as “the best American women’s figure skater,” though she does seem engaging, perky, and a good jumper. My guess, as this is her first try at the Olympics, is that she’ll be lucky to finish 8th. (Note I will be happy if she does better than this. I’m just aware of international figure skating politics, and how very difficult it is for a first-time skater on the major stage to place in the top ten, much less the top five.)

We are fortunate, as Americans, as this certainly is Mirai Nagasu’s time, as she’s hitting her triple axel, and she looks good and wants redemption for the Sochi Olympics (where Wagner was placed on the team ahead of Nagasu, even though Nagasu had appeared to win a spot in her own right). Providing Nagasu hits her triple axel in both the short and long programs, she could medal, especially as the international judges are quite aware of her.

As for the pairs…eh. I like our pair team, the Kneirims. They are a married couple, and have lovely flow on the ice. But they’ll be lucky to finish tenth after a weak short program. (Edited to add: I somehow missed this, but they finished fifteenth overall.)

The dancers look strong, with the Shibutanis (otherwise known as the “Shib Sibs”). So we have a very good chance for a medal there, perhaps silver or even gold.

So, there’s been a lot going on, for me personally and with regards to the Olympics.

As always, I’ll try to keep you posted, so do look for blogs next week.

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Written by Barb Caffrey

February 16, 2018 at 9:52 pm

Beat the Heat and Stand for Something

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Folks, you may be wondering why on Earth I decided to combine these two topics. It’s mostly because it was 95 F with high humidity (and far from the world’s best air quality) where I live in Southeastern Wisconsin; originally I was going to talk only about standing for something, but it being so hot made me combine them.

So, hopefully my brain hasn’t melted, and this will make sense. Enjoy!

There’s so much negativity in this world right now. And the only way I know to try to fight against any of it is to find something to believe in, and take a stand.

What do I stand for? (I’m going to try to stay out of politics for the moment, as it’s so hot…) Literacy, for one. And education. And thinking for yourself, and making up your own mind after using reason, logic, or at least some sort of step-by-step rationale for making your decisions, rather than following the whims of whatever “in-crowd” seems to be dominating the airwaves this week.

This is important. You need to think for yourself. And stand for something, as well as stand against stuff that makes no sense to you.

Such as narcissistic contemporary behavior. And I am not alone in that.

Tonight, while watching television, I saw highly respected journalist and writer Gay Talese, speaking with MSNBC’s Ari Melber. Talese said that in his opinion, our culture is incredibly narcissistic. He pointed out that even when he goes to a baseball game, more people are watching their phones than watching the game — and he truly does not understand that.

(Neither do I, as a baseball fan. That just never has made any sense to me. Watch the game if you’re there, dammit. Or stay home and follow your phone…unless someone in your family has a health emergency, turn the damned thing off.)

Talese was speaking broadly, as well as specifically (as he was talking politics; someday, maybe soon, I’ll talk about that, too, but not today). But his point is well-founded. We are too narcissistic now, in the Western World in particular; we are not thinking about tomorrow so much as immediate self-gratification.

How do we combat all this? We need to stop undue navel-gazing. And instead, take a stand. Find something you like to do that will actually help someone else. And stop focusing on your own problems to the detriment of everyone else.

(I know, I know; I am at fault as much as anyone reading. But I’m telling myself to do this, too, as I really don’t want to be hypocritical. Trust me. Now, back to the regularly scheduled post, already in progress…)

Some ideas of how to help:

  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen or food pantry
  • Volunteer with dog, cat, parakeet, or other animal shelters, and make sure those animals are well cared for until they find their “forever homes”
  • Send money to Florida, Puerto Rico, Houston, the Virgin Islands, or any other place that’s been devastated by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, or Maria

Those are just three ideas, but I hope that gives you some food for thought.

We’re only here for a short time. We have to help others while we’re here, or at least make a good attempt to do so; otherwise, why were we put on this Earth with millions upon millions of other souls rather than in our own hermetically sealed bubble, alone in our “perfection,” alone with our thoughts…and no doubt bored silly by same?

As the heat beats down, and the humidity makes the heat even worse, do your best to keep yourself focused on people other than yourself. That’s the best way to honor the better angels of your nature, and it’s the best blow against self-defeating narcissism I know.

P.S. It’s not that you shouldn’t care about what happens to you, mind…it’s that you also should care about what happens to others.

How do you help others? And what do you think of this post? Let me know in the comments!

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 22, 2017 at 6:15 pm

Quick Wednesday Thoughts

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Folks, I continue to deal with hand issues, and I also have a number of projects hanging fire…so this will be a quick “hit-and-run” type blog, where I tell you what’s on my mind in blurb form.

Ready? Set?

First…what in the world is up with President Donald Trump? I mean, every day, there seems to be a new scandal, something worse happening than the day before. He seems to have come into the office completely unprepared, and due to his impulsivity and other issues, he seems to enjoy scaring the Hell out of people, at home and abroad.

My primary thought here is, “Please stop doing this, Mr. President.” (And that I have to call him Mr. President still irks me something fierce. What did we ever do to get this guy?)

And my secondary thought is, “If there have been criminal — or worse, treasonous — acts committed, the Republican-dominated Congress has to grow a spine or some testicular fortitude. Because we can’t have this happening in the ‘land of the free and home of the brave,’ at all.”

Second, the weather in Wisconsin has been all over the place lately. We’ve had cold weather, hot weather, not too much medium-range weather, and it either is raining in buckets or it’s dry as a bone. I can’t figure it out.

Except for one thing…as weather forecasters can seemingly be wrong every day of the year and still get paid, why didn’t I sign up for that gig? (Yeah, they need more math and science than I had, but I’m sure I could’ve learned it. Ah, well.)

Third, I wonder sometimes about relationships. Why is it that we can try so hard, and get nowhere in them?

I was very fortunate in finding my late husband Michael, but before him I made a couple of bad mistakes. (Of course, what is the definition of a “good” mistake, anyway? One that leads you to the New World when you’re looking for China?)

All I know is, if you’re the only one trying in a relationship, it’s not a relationship. It’s you talking to yourself, and pretending like fire someone else cares when he or she really doesn’t. (Or doesn’t care enough to be useful to you.)

Learn from my mistakes.

And learn from my lone success, too…there is someone out there who will get you, completely, even if you don’t know who that is right now. Refuse to settle for anything less.

Fourth and last…I refuse to give up. I will keep trying.

I just wish I could get a small break in the action where something completely positive happens for a change, that’s all.

Anyway, that’s about it.

What’s going on with you, and what are your thoughts? (What annoys you, or makes you smile, or anything?) Tell me in the comments!

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 17, 2017 at 1:20 pm

When Life Gives You Lemons…

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You all know the saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade?”

Sometimes, that lemonade can be sour, even bitter to the taste. But eventually, you will learn to tolerate that taste…and you might even begin to crave it.

Why?

Because it means you’re still trying. It means you haven’t given up. It means you know, deep down in your soul, you are doing everything in your power you can to make the world a better place.

You might be wondering what brought this on.

I’ve been dealing with a family health crisis this past week, and I’ve been running back and forth to the hospital. While I’d rather be doing just about anything else, I’m very glad to do this.

Why?

It means my family member is still alive, still fighting, getting better and doing whatever is possible to improve her health.

That’s a good thing.

See, the connections I have with my family and friends are essential. I want them to be happy, healthy, and to enjoy life to the fullest.

But no one can do that while sitting in a hospital bed.

Even though this week didn’t go at all according to plan, I’m glad that I was able to do something to try to help those who are important to me.

One final thought:

Sometimes, it feels like we’re not doing very much during a crisis. This is very human, but somehow we need to throw those feelings to the side.

Why?

Because self-forgiveness — which I’ve discussed before — is essential at times like this. We are not saints, and we can’t expect ourselves to act as if we are. All we can do is be ourselves, try our best, and do whatever we can to make life a little better place.

Including visiting those who are ill (if they’re up to visits), talking with them, and letting them know we care.

That’s what’s important.

Don’t lose sight of it. (Please?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 29, 2017 at 11:33 pm

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