Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Inspirational stuff’ Category

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

Try a Little Kindness

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Folks, I want to tell you a story that means a great deal to me.

Years ago, when I was in high school and attending religious education, there was an exercise our teacher wanted us to do. We were given slips of paper with people’s names on it, and had to write something kind about the person we’d drawn. We were not to identify ourselves, and we had to use our own, personal knowledge to give them a heartfelt letter that would give this other person strength and peace and hope.

Needless to say, as a burgeoning writer, I felt this a nearly impossible task.

I don’t remember much about what I said about the person I drew. I barely knew him, but tried to give some sort of comfort…that much I’m sure of. I tried to show him that I had seen who he was, and what he was about, and that I admired it. (Because that much was the truth, and I could say that without giving any offense or feeling too squicky inside myself.)

What I do remember is the message I received, from a wholly different person in the class. She drew me as all the colors of the rainbow. (Maybe this is what led, eventually, to the formation of Michael the Rainbow Man in CHANGING FACES, but I digress.) She showed me as artwork, and then mentioned five or six things she really liked about me that were all true — but weren’t at all how I felt about myself at the time.

Why? Well, my parents were in the process of divorcing. (This was about a year before they actually split up, if I remember right.) I was unsettled, at best, and trying to hold to an even keel when I felt nothing but chaos all around me.

I’ve never been good at projecting things I don’t feel. But what I have been good at is trying to remember that we’re all people, and we all deserve kindness and respect. That is what this young woman in my class saw, and that’s what she drew on the paper with the pastel rainbows.

That work of kindness has stayed with me to this day. The young lady who drew this didn’t have to do any of that. She could’ve written something facile, something about me as a musician (because I was already known for it), or something about my poetry (as I’d won some sort of minor award for that), or about me being a Brewers fan…she could’ve picked a number of things, but she didn’t do that.

Instead, she did her best to represent me in the way she saw me. She was kindness itself when I needed that. And she reminded me that I can’t see myself the way others do; it’s impossible.

There are a couple of different inferences to be drawn, here.

First, we have to treat others with kindness, dignity, and respect. It’s imperative. Whether you believe in the Golden Rule, the Rule of Three, or are an atheist, we are all human and we all deserve to be treated the way we, ourselves, want to be treated. (This is harder with some people than others, and sometimes we’re going to fail. But keep trying.)

Second, if we treat others with kindness, that will be remembered. It will help the other person in ways you can’t possibly imagine. And that ripple effect does more to resist the vagaries of time, space, and indignities more than anything else can possibly do.

In other words, I hear a lot about “resistance” these days because of the Trump Administration, and that’s fine — I, personally, believe that everything that any presidential administration does should be sifted with great care, and in this particular case, I believe more care should be applied than most with the sifting. But if you don’t treat others with kindness, respect, and dignity, you are doing the work of people who want to tear you down for them…and that just won’t do.

So, please…remember to be kind. Always. Try your best. Treat your friends with care. Help others as you can.

And don’t do the work of your enemies for them. (Please?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 4, 2017 at 11:51 pm

Hope: Just Do It

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It’s Sunday, and I was in need of spiritual sustenance. So I started thinking about hope, and its necessary qualities.

See, when you’re down, it’s hard to believe that anything matters. Life has given you a bunch of lemons, sour ones at that, and your attempts to make lemonade out of them don’t seem to be working…and it’s hard to believe in hope.

But you have to, because that’s when you need hope the most.

There’s a reason that hope was in Pandora’s Box. That one thing can make the difference between success and failure, because it reminds you that it’s all right to fail once in a while, just so long as you get up again.

It’s because of hope that I keep writing.

I realize that hope alone is not enough. But if I believe I have a good story idea, and do my best to flesh it out, I can use that hope and weld it to my will and work ethic to get something done.

I know this works. Because today, finally, after several weeks of illness and frustration, I did what was necessary and finished up my final edits with regards to my novel CHANGING FACES. My publisher has the file now, and aside from proofreading the PDF advance reader copy when it comes out (I’ll keep you posted on that), my work is now complete.

While I was feeling poorly, it was very hard to hope that I would be strong enough to do what was required. But I held on to my hope that I would do it, and I did it.

So that’s why the title above.

You need to believe in hope, because without hope, it’s nearly impossible to believe in yourself.

If you remember only one thing today, believe in this: Hope. Just do it. (For me. Please?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 22, 2017 at 5:53 am

Keep Trying, No Matter What

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Folks, the above title — “keep trying, no matter what” — is my personal philosophy.

But sometimes it’s much harder to do that than others. When that happens, I have to realize that I’m human, fallible, mortal, all that…and try again the next day, and the day after that. And the day after that, etc.

What’s caused me to write this blog at this time is very simple. I’ve struggled now for about a month with an illness that started as a cold and flared into something akin to bronchitis. My asthma is acting up, and my energy is much lower than it should be.

I try to be positive, as much as I can, but I’m not into this nonsensical “happy happy joy joy” stuff, either. I am a realist. Right now, being a realist, but also being optimistic, means I have to say, “OK, today I can’t do much. But tomorrow, if I am careful, I can do more…so I will be as careful as I can.”

Of course, this isn’t the only thing I’ve got to deal with. I have a number of physical limitations that I deal with daily that I work around, including bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis bad enough in my back and knees that I walk with a cane, and more.

But I get up every day, and I deal with it the best I can. I try to think about what I can do. Not what I can’t. Because thinking about what I can’t do is self-limiting and self-defeating.

And thinking about what I can do is life-affirming. It reminds me that as bad as things can be, as lonely as I am and have been since my husband Michael died, there’s still something I can do that’s creative and fulfilling.

Besides, something in me says about writing, editing, and music, “Yes, you should do it.”

Why? Well, it seems to me that even if the world seems against me, even if no one else seems to care, I have to do what’s inside me or I’m not being my best self.

Why does that matter? Well, as a creative person, I try hard to be my best self. It’s where the words come from, I think…or maybe the music of the words, if my late husband was right. (Michael, as you might recall, believed that I thought music first, and then only translated those musical notes and chords into words. And who am I to say he was wrong, especially as I do compose some music as well?)

I want to be attuned to whatever it is that makes me a creative person. It may not be easy to be creative. (In fact, it’s often as difficult as all get-out.) But I know who I am, and I want to keep doing whatever I can to maximize my talents and abilities the best I can.

So, the journey has been tough. (That I’m still struggling, due to the recent illness, to concentrate well enough to wrap up the last little bits for CHANGING FACES so I can turn it in to my long-suffering publisher and get it placed firmly on the schedule drives me batty, too, I must admit.) It probably will not get much easier, either.

But I will do it. I will get up every day, and keep trying.

No matter what.

See that you do the same.

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 18, 2017 at 6:12 pm

#MondayMotivation: Figure Out What You’re Best At…

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Folks, it’s time for a Monday Motivation post. (And as I’m still — somewhat, anyway — on Twitter, I decided to use the hashtag in the title. For my sins, I guess.)

When you were young — or at least, younger, as most of us do not enjoy pointing out that we’re not as young as we used to be — your teachers, mentors, and even your parents used to say, “Figure out what you’re best at, and do it.”

But how do you do that, exactly? Especially if you’re a creative type, when creativity isn’t exactly understood?

Maybe this is where Malcolm Gladwell’s book OUTLIERS holds a few of the clues. (I reviewed this book a while back at Shiny Book Review — yes, I do plan on writing a review or two this year, thanks for asking — and I’ve never forgotten it.) Gladwell insists that to become an expert at your field, you need approximately 10,000 hours of hard work to get there. (And even more time than that to stay there, improve upon your expert abilities, and keep going at that high level after that, no doubt.)

The way I view this has to do with persistence, otherwise known as ramming your head into the wall over and over and over again until the wall falls down. It’s not an elegant solution, but it’s the only way I know to get things done.

So, when you get a story idea, or an idea for a poem, no matter how outrageous it seems, you should write it down as best you can. (If I’m pressed for time or tired or ill or all of the above, as I’ve been lately, I try to write it down in prose note format — that is, whatever I get, I write it down, sans dialogue, sans much in the way of description unless it’s absolutely essential, so the idea is not lost.) Even if you can’t do anything with it today, even if you can’t do anything with it next week either, it’ll still be there, waiting for you, when you can look at it again and develop it.

I know this method works, because I’ve had at least four stories that I’ve developed after writing them down in prose note form…and in two cases, I got halfway into the story, then had to put it aside for six months to a year before returning to it.

(What can I say? I’m like a dog with a bone. I have to finish what I start, no matter how long it takes. No excuses.)

So, to figure out what you’re great at, you need to keep working at your talents as much as you possibly can. Whatever they are, figure them out, keep going, refuse to give up on yourself, and give it your best shot. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you differently, either…because the only person who can tell you when it’s time to stop (if it ever is) is you.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 16, 2017 at 6:23 am

Turning Bad Circumstances into Good Ones

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It’s Friday the 13th, so I thought I’d talk about how to turn bad circumstances into good ones. (Or, at least, into better ones?)

“Why, Barb, did you pick Friday the 13th for this blog?” you ask, wearily.

Well, the answer is simple. On Friday the 13th, everyone worries more about accidents, superstitions, odd events…and what’s odder than turning a bad circumstance into a good one?

Yeah, I realize that’s not how most people think of it. Instead, we think about the negative stuff going on all around us. And it’s very easy to find…we all have stuff in our lives that could be, shall we say, improved.

And it’s hard to think about improving things, when everything seems against you.

I’ve had my back to the wall at least ten times in my life. It’s not pleasant. Every time, I’ve thought whatever was going on would break me. I’ve been through deaths of loved ones (including my beloved husband Michael), divorces before I even found Michael at all, at least five major moves, job losses, and economic hardship, and I haven’t enjoyed any of it.

(If I did, though, wouldn’t you wonder what I was about? I would, in your place. But I digress.)

What you have to do when you’re at a breaking point is to keep going. Remember that you didn’t ask for this to happen. You are just doing the best you can. Maybe you’ve made mistakes, but we all have…the trick is not to give up on yourself and not to give up on your talents, no matter what is stacked against you.

And as bad as dealing with horrific events (like deaths of loved ones in particular) can be, there actually is one positive side to it that I’ve found.

Ready?

I realized  that going through all the negative experiences in my life has actually sensitized me to other people’s suffering. And along the way, I found that being able to help someone else, even if it’s only a little bit, did two great things: It helped the other person realize they were not alone, and it also made me feel better as a human being to reach out and help someone who truly needed it.

Maybe that’s why we have things like “Do unto others as they do unto you” (the Golden Rule). It’s not just that we want to be treated well; it’s that we need to treat others well for our own well-being, and to become our best selves.

Anyway, the point of this blog is, sometimes life just stinks. There are things you have to do sometimes that you never wanted to — that you never even conceived of, when you started out as a young adult — but you have no choice.

When you’re at one of those places, step back, and try to realize that you are not alone. You can come back from whatever it is that you’re facing with time, courage, fortitude, will, and effort. Best of all, you will be able to better understand yourself and others when you do…and I don’t know of any other way to turn a bad circumstance into a good one than that.

Don’t Be Afraid to Hope

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Folks, we’re now one day into 2017. And after most of us got buffeted, again and again, by the Wrath of 2016 (TM), it seems nearly impossible to believe in something better during the upcoming year.

But don’t you dare believe that better things don’t exist.

Why?

Quite simply, dreams die when you stop hoping for better. And when dreams die, at least some of your zest for life dies with them.

Does that mean every single dream you’ve ever had will work out as planned? Of course not. Life doesn’t work that way at all. Most of us know that life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans, after all…still, you have to try to set goals, you have to try to make good things happen, and you have to be willing to hope for better than what you have today.

Otherwise, you can’t possibly try for better, because you don’t even realize that better exists.

So in this new year, full of possibilities good, bad, and indifferent, for just one day, try to throw the bad and indifferent possibilities out and concentrate on the good ones instead.

Don’t be afraid to hope.

But while you wait and hope, keep working on yourself, too, and try to take one step every day toward your goal.

That, ultimately, is what will get you there — the belief that you can, along with the willingness to do the work to turn that belief into reality.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 1, 2017 at 8:16 pm