Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

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Changing Perspectives

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Folks, sometimes you just have to change your perspective.

Whether it’s your book, your life, or something specific, changing how you look at it can make a huge difference.

I realized this earlier this week. A wise person told me, in reference to my “sadiversary” (the anniversary of my late husband Michael’s death, coming next week), that I need to look at it differently. And what he said was so interesting, I thought I’d pass it along, to see if it might help you, too.

My wise friend said, “You’re a storyteller. Is the period at the end of the sentence the important thing? Or is it everything else?”

Of course I said it was everything else.

“And at the very end of a novel, is the last period the most important thing? Or is the overall story, the journey of it all, the most important thing instead?”

Again, I said that the story/journey was what was most important.

“So, Barb, why are you so worried about that final period at the end of Michael’s story?” (Michael, of course, being my late husband.) “That’s just the smallest part of it all. He, himself, would not want you to be obsessing over that period, would he?”

No, he wouldn’t. And I admitted that.

Ever since that important conversation, I’ve been thinking about how important changing my perspective in this way actually is. And it makes sense.

So, if you’re having trouble looking at a problem, maybe you can try looking at it a new way. And seeing it a different way may give you a path forward, or at least something else to think about.

If you take away only one thought from today’s blog, please remember this: Your story is a journey. (In other words, a work in progress.) And if you get hung up on one, small part of that, it’s going to mess you up.

When something like that happens, do yourself a favor and try to look at it a different way. (Maybe you’ll need help to do this. If so, I sympathize. I certainly had never seen this before my wise friend said something, but it does make sense.) It may give you perspective…

But more important even than that? It may give you peace, too.

 

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Written by Barb Caffrey

September 15, 2017 at 9:20 pm

Why Is Self-Acceptance So Damned Hard?

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Folks, this blog is part of Collaboration with a Purpose. This time around, we have fourteen bloggers talking about the difficulties with self-love and acceptance. And as I have a really difficult time talking about that l-word when it comes to the self, I’m going to use the term “self-acceptance” for all of it.

Collab with a purpose Self Love

Why is accepting yourself as you are so damned hard?

Think about it. If someone you know is having a hard time, don’t you reach out and say, “Hey. I care. I am here for you. It doesn’t matter how you screwed up. It doesn’t matter at all. I care, I’m here, and I want to help.”

But you don’t do that for yourself. (At least, most of us don’t.) Instead, we beat ourselves up for our mistakes. Because we’re supposed to be perfect, even though it’s OK if everyone else isn’t.

So why is it that we have such a hard time with self-acceptance, anyway? Why can’t we be as kind to ourselves as we are to others in similar situations?

I don’t know. I’ve pondered this for a long time, actually, but despite that, I still have no answers.

Maybe we’re supposed to struggle with this. Maybe we’re supposed to learn, no matter how slowly, how to see ourselves as others do. Or at least how to learn to forgive ourselves for things we’d forgive anyone else…to appreciate our own humanity, even though that means we will make mistakes, and plenty of them.

And sometimes repeat them, even though we’re working on not doing so, because that’s part of being human, too.

It’s hard to unlearn old habits. And it’s really hard to pick up new ones even after you’ve unlearned the old.

Maybe being upset with ourselves is like that. (Hear me out, OK?) It’s like an old, bad habit. We do something that we get upset with, and we chastise ourselves, all because we’ve criticized ourselves this way since we were small. And we don’t know any better way; maybe we don’t even realize there might be a better way.

But accepting yourself, warts and all, is not easy. It sometimes seems easier to accept your worst enemy than your own self, because you believe you should always be at your best, no excuses, no quarter. Even though anyone else — including your worst enemy — you’d agree with the caveat that everyone has their down times, and that we have to accept them. (That is, if you’re feeling like being kind. And I do hope you are, at least for the purposes of this exercise.)

It’s not easy to say, “All right. I’m still a valuable human being, no matter how many mistakes I’ve made, and no matter how often I’ve made them. I deserve to treat myself with kindness and respect, just like I’d treat anyone else,” because we’re not taught how to do that. We’re taught instead that if we think too much about ourselves, we run the risk of being narcissistic.

Or at least self-absorbed. And no one wants that.

All you can do, every day, is tell yourself that it’s all right to forgive yourself, the same way you’d forgive anyone else for the same thing.

And if it’s too hard to tell yourself, “I care, I’m not going to stop caring, and I am not going to hate you forever for screwing up big-time,” well, at least tell yourself that tomorrow is another day. And you can and will make it better, so stop beating yourself up already.

Self-acceptance is damned hard to achieve, no lie. But it is possible. And you should keep working on it, and figure out a strategy that works for you, so you can put your energy to its best use creating things of wonder and beauty — or at least not waste it beating yourself up.

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 5, 2017 at 12:25 am

Why Must We Be So Negative?

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Folks, the other day I read an interesting post by my friend Tajwar Fatma, she of the blog Life As We Have Never Known it. She’d just passed ten thousand hits on her blog — a truly impressive feat, if you think about it — and she decided to talk about how much negativity she’s had to overcome during her newfound blogging career. (It’s called “Overcoming Negativity,” and can be found here.)

This got me thinking.

Why must we all be so negative all the time?

Granted, there are plenty of negative things in this world. Politics often makes no sense. The weather is too hot, too cold, or maybe just too boring. Prices are rising. Everything we seem to like gives us cancer; everything we don’t like is touted as curing everything down to the common cold, but is ultimately just good, solid food that we continue to dislike.

So, we can eat healthy and hate it. Or we can eat what we like and clog our arteries (at best).

It seems like no matter what we do, we can’t win.

I have no answer for why others are negative. But I do have an answer for how to overcome your own negativity, at least in part.

First, as Tajwar put it in her blog, “Don’t let negativity get to your mind and heart. You have to lose in order to win. And if you can’t handle criticism and negativity, you sure can’t handle praise and victory!”

Second, you need to realize that some of this negativity, regardless of how personal it feels at the time, is not being directed at you in specific. It’s because people are frustrated, upset, angry, or sometimes even jealous of the fact that you’re still trying, but they’ve given up.

Third, it’s important to keep going because you know in your heart that what you’re doing matters to you. (For example, I continue to write, despite the struggles and life-worries and frustrations, because writing matters very much to me. And my stories matter, too.)

Don’t let anyone tell you that what you’re doing doesn’t matter. Or that no one will ever care, either.

As a barely-succeeding author (someone most people don’t even know about), I’m here to tell you that so long as you care, that’s all that matters.

So keep doing what you are. Work hard on yourself, and spread joy and light and life wherever you can. Try to overcome the negativity in this world as best you can (mind, constructive criticism is not negativity, but that’s a separate issue and I’m not going to get into it now).

And most importantly of all: Whenever you get a negative thought about what you’re doing right now, do your best to throw it out. (Or better yet, laugh at it, as Tajwar suggested in her blog.) Don’t let that negative thought stop you from doing whatever it is that you need or want to do…because that’s the only way that you truly lose.

And I see no purpose in that. (I hope you don’t, either.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 25, 2017 at 5:23 pm

Collaboration with a Purpose: Graduate School and One Step Toward the Impossible…

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Today’s theme for the group of bloggers I’m a part of known as Collaboration with a Purpose is “One Step Toward the Impossible.” And as such, I wracked my brains trying to find a topic.

collaboration-one-step-impossible-533x300

Why?

Well, I actually had so many different ideas, I didn’t know which one to pick. (And yes, sometimes too many ideas is as much of a problem as too few.)

The three ideas were:

  1. My lengthy journey to get into graduate school
  2. The journey I’ve been forced to endure as a widow toward building a better and more fulfilling life
  3. The overall journey every person has in attempting to find himself/herself in a culture where many superficial things are celebrated to the detriment of what is true and real

So, what did I finally decide?

I thought discussing my journey to get into graduate school might be interesting. So, without further ado…

Graduate school was definitely a journey that started with a hesitant, single step. I remember going back to finish my Bachelor’s as a slightly older than average student, and telling my advisors that I wanted to go to grad school. That I’d always wanted to go. And what did I need to do so I could?

It turned out that first, I needed to clear up some old debts, so I could get my transcripts released from my undergrad work at another college. I needed to do this first, because until I did, I could not graduate with my Bachelor’s, much less aspire to anything else.

This seemed utterly impossible. First, I was flat broke. Second, I was getting a divorce. Third, I had so many bills that I didn’t have any idea how I was even going to live from day to day, much less anything else.

But I persevered. I took a single step of going back to school, first, even though I couldn’t officially become a degree-seeking student until I had fixed a certain amount of debt. Then, I took another step, and took lessons from probably my favorite overall clarinet and sax teacher, Tim Bell, one of the most encouraging and helpful people I’ve ever run across. Third, I took another single step by working on my music composition with Mark Eichner (who’s now my conductor in the Racine Concert Band)…I didn’t know how anything was going to shake out, but I was at least willing to try to put myself in a position to make it happen.

Then, one night, my mother and I were out at the old Dairyland Greyhound Park in Kenosha, Wisconsin. We liked to go watch the dogs run, and yes, we bet small amounts of money on them, too.

That night, I bet $2 on a superfecta — meaning I had to get four dogs in some sort of order — and my superfecta was what they call a “partial wheel,” meaning I had picked two of the dogs to finish in a particular order, but the other two could come in elsewise. (I know this is not an accurate description, but bogging down this blog with how to work a partial wheel on a superfecta is not my idea of a good time. All apologies if this disappoints you.) And at first, I thought I’d lost.

My Mom checked my ticket, and said, “But Barb, you’ve got the winning combo. At least go up and check the ticket.”

I did, hoping like fire that I did have it. Because the winning ticket paid enough for me to fix the transcript issue, and become a degree-seeking student…

Yes, I had the winner.

I can’t tell you what a relief it was to find out I did have it, mind, ’cause I had been working hard toward this particular end for nearly a year by this time. I was upset  earlier that day, I remember, because of the divorce proceedings, and I’d needed distraction — thus the dog track.

Mom and I had other bills to pay, mind, but I knew that if I didn’t pay this particular bill now, I was likely to not ever get another chance. So, I paid the bill, got my transcripts released, became an official, degree-seeking student, and then asked what else I could do to make things easier on me to getting my degree. (I had to do my last thirty credits in residence at Parkside, mind, and the twelve credits I could take as a non-degree seeking student were already in the can. That means I had eighteen credits yet to go.)

My advisors, Tim Bell and Mark Eichner, told me to try out for a music scholarship.

I did, and I won the best one they had, which knocked half off my tuition. The rest, I’d have to pay in installments, as I was out of financial aid…but I was working full-time as a cashier and stocker, so I vowed to do just that.

While it took me a bit of extra time to make those three payments, I managed it. But then, I had some health issues, and had to take an incomplete in my favorite class of my final semester: United States History, senior-level. (Did I mention yet that I have the equivalents of minors in history and English? No? Oops…) I had to write a couple of papers to finish that up, and I had until the following May to get that in, or my grade — which had been an A before the incomplete had to be taken — would turn into an F.

I wasn’t about to let this stop me, either. So I wrote the papers. Did all the research. Turned them in, and got complimented by my history professor for doing so much work as he’d expected four or five-page papers, not twenty-five to thirty page papers.

(Am I an overachiever? Well, yeah…)

So, my degree requirements had been completed. I had my BA in Music. And I started looking around for grad schools.

I did a couple of auditions in the next few months, helped along by my family — without them, I’d not have been able to get there, as the money was definitely not there for me to travel. (And really, you have to do auditions in person if you want to be a music performance major. A tape only gets you in the door. I am reasonably sure it’s still the same way, because a tape can be altered; performance, in person, can’t be faked.) And I settled on a school, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, because I liked the saxophone teacher, Robert Fought, and believed he’d be able to teach me a great deal. (He did, too, down the line. Good teacher, Dr. Fought.)

At this point, I was offered a full-tuition scholarship and a job as a graduate teaching assistant, meaning I’d be paid a small stipend. The two were a package deal, and I didn’t hesitate to take advantage of it.

But then, life threw me another curveball. As I was readying myself to go to graduate school, I injured my back at work. And this was no minor injury, either; somehow, I pulled nearly every single muscle in my back, and was off work for nearly three months.

By the time I was able to get around again, the first semester (fall) had started at Nebraska. I didn’t know if they’d hold my TAship until the spring or not, but I told Dr. Fought I really did want to go to Nebraska and learn from him.

A number of other difficult things happened, but finally, I managed to get to Nebraska and start my graduate school education.

Note that this journey, which had once seemed impossible, started with a single step. It took nearly four years of hard work, a couple of good breaks I immediately took advantage of, and overcoming at least five bad breaks in the process. But I got it done.

This, to my mind, is what this theme is all about. So I hope my journey will help you all realize that if you set your mind to it, and you do not waver, and you give it your best effort, you, too, can do whatever you put your mind to.

I firmly believe that.

Now, go check out my fellow bloggers and their takes on the subject (the quotes are from some of their best lines, as summarized by the inestimable Nicolle of Stories of a Highly Sensitive Introvert):

 

  • Addison D’Marko (“If you want to achieve complete happiness one of the things you are going to have to do is care less. By this I mean stop putting so much thought into the things that do not matter.”)
  • Ajibola Sunday @ Inspirational Motivation (“The true definition of success is being happy and living up to your potentials.”)
  • Camilla Motte @ Moms on the Go (“We want to be help to the helpless. We all need love and support and I pray this community will be that for you.”)
  • Divyang Shah @ i think my way (“If someone don’t speak much, don’t interpret as a dumb, their mind must be working on something very big or may be he is a writer and observing surrounding on which he would come with some deep write-ups.”)
  • Jothish Joseph @ TheJothishJosephBlog (“Anybody can write “Extra” before “ordinary” but only people of courage dare to earn it…”)
  • Ipuna Black (“None of us are perfect or come from perfect backgrounds, but this doesn’t mean we can’t aim for a positive and fulfilling life. The life we all deserve.”)
  • Jane Love @ Harmonious Joy (“People who have a genuine say and a true voice of their own… not just an echo of some celebrity they think they love.”)
  • Manal Ahmad a.k.a. iamthatgirl @ Sensible Nonsense (“Who says oblivion happens to all of us? A single act of kindness makes sure you live on in somebody’s heart.”)
  • Mylene C. Orillo (“Where I’m at right now is a testament that ‘Dreams really do come true.’”)
  • Sadaf Siddiqi (“The best thing about memories, is one doesn’t realise they are making memories but once recorded, it just rewinds and takes one back to the beautiful series of life.”)
  • Sonyo Estavillo @ ‘Lil Pick Me Up (“I am here to champion anyone from the successful and confident folks, to those that are clinically depressed.”)
  • Tajwar Fatma @ LifeAsWeHaveNeverKnownIt (“When life hits you hard, hit back harder!”)
  • And of course Nicolle K @ Stories of a Highly Sensitive Introvert! (“Success, for me, is when I spend my days feeling happy, peaceful, fulfilled and without fear of lack. 😊”)

Any questions? Tell me about ’em in the comments!

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 4, 2017 at 6:37 pm

Strength: A Follow-up

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Folks, I am glad to be able to talk to you a little bit more about what strength is, what it isn’t, and how important it is in your daily life.

Strength-Blog-Collaboration

Last week, I wrote a post about strength, along with eleven other bloggers as part of the blog event Collaboration with a Purpose. We all came up with variations on the same theme: what is strength? Why is it important? Why should we care about it? What are we supposed to do about it? And what’s the meaning of it, anyway?

To me, it’s all about the power the mind, heart, and spirit. You have to believe that you can get past anything, even at your darkest times, or you just can’t function.

It’s really hard sometimes to believe that you can do just that, mind. Life can be overwhelming and stressful and frustrating and all-encompassing and exhausting.

Sometimes it’s tough to believe in yourself. Nothing seems to be going right. Everything seems to be stacked against you. And you wonder what the point is.

I’ve been there. Done that. Bought the t-shirt, burned it, buried the ashes, all that.

The important thing is, don’t give up. Keep trying, and refuse to allow whatever it is to bring you down.

Instead, learn from it. Grow because of it. And maybe, just maybe, at the end of the darkest hour, you’ll find peace — and it won’t just be from exhaustion.

Now, I’d like it if you’d go check out my fellow Collaboration with a Purpose bloggers, and see their takes on the subject of strength. Please check out the following links:

1. Addison D’Marko’s Post.

2. Ajibola Sunday’s Post.

3. Nicolle K’s Post.

4. Tajwar Fatma’s Post.

5. Camilla Motte’s Post.

6. Ipuna Black’s Post.

7. Jothish Joseph’s Post.

8. Jane Love’s Post.

9. Mylene C. Orillo’s Post.

10.  Sonyo Estavillo’s Post.

11. Manal Ahmad’s Post.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 13, 2017 at 10:56 am

Mistakes? Or Stepping Stones?

with 5 comments

Folks, have you ever wondered if mistakes are merely stepping stones?

And the worse the mistake, the bigger the stepping stone?

I know most of us (myself included) tend to think a mistake is a life-altering event that you can’t go back from. You’re not the same person as before you made the mistake, and you don’t know what you’re going to do. Sometimes you don’t have any good choices, and that’s frustrating in the extreme.

But I’m here to tell you that I’ve rebounded from most of my past mistakes. They did turn out to be stepping stones, though I didn’t necessarily know that at the time. And I learned from them, and became a more informed person (if not always a wiser one).

Consider that when you write, sometimes you have to tear up a whole chapter, maybe even start over ten or fifteen or more times before you get a sentence right. (Or a paragraph, or a story, etc.) A start is just that: a start. It doesn’t have to lead where you think it’s going to lead, not and still be worthwhile to you.

Life is like that, too.

If you’d have told me after I fought so hard to get my two college degrees in music that I’d end up as an independent writer and editor, I’d probably have looked at you like you had two heads. I’d planned my whole life to be a performing musician, and to teach music. That’s what I wanted to do from the time I turned ten years old, and I worked really hard to do just that.

But life threw me a few curveballs, and so, here I am.

And as my character Bruno says (in the as-yet unpublished AN ELFY ABROAD), “I am who I am. I refuse to apologize for it.”

My mistakes did turn out to be stepping stones, for the most part. The ruins of my first two marriages were necessary so I could find the right guy, at long last, and build a strong and sturdy marriage that satisfied me in all senses. (That it ended too soon, because he died too young, is not Michael’s fault. Nor mine, but I digress.) And my hands not allowing me to become the musician I had dreamed of becoming turned my creativity in an alternate direction.

Maybe, had I not gone in this direction, I wouldn’t know the writers, editors, and yes, the musicians I know now. Maybe, just maybe, I’d not have learned as much about life either.

And I can’t be unhappy with any of that, even though my life in a lot of ways didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped.

(Maybe it’s the same with you.)

Anyway, just the thought that your mistakes might someday turn out to be stepping stones may do you some good today. Because mistakes aren’t always as bad as they seem. They often can lead to good outcomes, even if you can’t see it now; even if it makes no sense; and even if you have to fight like Hell to get there.

For one moment, try to step outside yourself and treat yourself the way you’d treat your best friend. Be kind, be compassionate, and give yourself a break.

That way, you can accept what comes, and keep fighting.

For a creative person (writer, musician, editor, or what-you-will), that’s the only way to live.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 10, 2017 at 4:52 pm

What Is Strength?

with 42 comments

Folks, this is a special post for the blogging event Collaboration with a Purpose. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Strength. What is it, why do we covet it, and why should we care about it?

Strength-Blog-Collaboration

I think strength is one of the more underappreciated of human virtues. Without strength, no one would live through famine, dearth, wars, or anything profoundly traumatic.

Actor Kevin Sorbo knows this. In his book TRUE STRENGTH (which I reviewed a few years ago over at Shiny Book Review), Sorbo discusses his brush with a catastrophic, life-threatening health condition that robbed him of his physical endurance and what he’d thought of as his strength — that is, everything he could do, physically. At the time, he was known mostly for his work as Hercules, and as such, he had to be strong, cool, confident, and portray someone who could break heads without breaking a sweat, then go to the tavern afterward with his buddy Iolaus and crack jokes.

But this illness changed things. He learned what he was really about; it wasn’t his physical attributes that mattered, as they weren’t what made him strong.

What mattered was his mind. His heart. His spirit. His desire to live, to get better, to take up the mantle of his life again on his terms…and to not give in, until he’d found a way back to the life he was meant to live.

Sorbo credited much of this willingness to continue fighting with faith, along with the love of his wife, Sam. And there is no doubt that’s all true.

Still, I tend to think that it’s the person he was, annealed in fire (or at least forged in illness) that shows exactly what strength is — and what it isn’t.

See, most of us only see the outsides of things. We don’t see the inner workings. We can’t, or we won’t, or maybe we’re afraid to be vulnerable and to admit that we’re all frail in some respects. That we can all make mistakes. And that our lives can change in an instant, whether it’s due to a life-threatening illness, the death of a spouse, or other catastrophic events.

Who we are is often shown in starkest relief after we’ve lived through something incredibly painful. The fact that we endured this, that we came out on the other side and lived to tell about it, is what strength really is.

Now, as to why we should covet it? I think that’s more because some of us are afraid that we may not be everything we think we are. When the chips are down, will we convert on our promise, or will we roll over and play dead?

Granted, being strong means you have to admit that sometimes you’re weak, vulnerable, and not at your best. You have to know that in your darkest moments, even when you’ve lost all hope that things will ever improve, that somehow you’re going to survive, and keep trying, and refuse to give up.

Why we should care about strength is obvious. It’s what makes us who we are. It taps into our souls, into our innermost selves, and demands that we be true to ourselves, or else.

Providing we are, and give it our all, that strength, that innermost drive to survive and do our best will get us through many dark periods of time in our lives. (As well as a few good ones here and there; maybe more than a few?)

At any rate, that’s what I think of, when I think of what strength truly is (and isn’t). What do you think about? (Let me know in the comments.)

(Later today, I’ll add links to all the other bloggers taking part in today’s Collaboration with a Purpose event. I was showing my strength — or at least my bullheadedness — in writing this down now, during a migraine headache. But even my strength has limits; I’ll have to add the links to the other bloggers later, and hope they’ll forgive me down the line.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 5, 2017 at 4:36 am