Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

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Collaboration With a Purpose: Let’s Talk About Men (International Men’s Day)

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Folks, it’s International Men’s Day. And as promised, the bloggers who comprise Collaboration with a Purpose — including yours truly — are going to talk about men. We’ve talked about International Women’s Day before (here’s my post for that) and I, personally, mentioned International Women’s Day a couple of years ago…so it’s high time that International Men’s Day got its fair share, no?

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(Jane Love made the graphic above.)

Men, these days, often feel underappreciated. Too many times, they’ve been told they’re “privileged,” because they’re men. They’re expected to succeed from the get-go, and yet, they grow up with many of the same fears, struggles, and problems as women — what will I do? How will I become my best self? How can I find love and happiness? And so forth.

When men try to find ways to express themselves, they often aren’t understood. Compounding things for them, there are two big stereotypes that cause trouble; first, men are often expected to be the “strong, silent type,” and so showing emotions can be very difficult. Second, men are often supposed to be the breadwinners, even now, in most situations…to a much larger extent than most women, the garden variety guy out there worries about how he’ll take care of not just himself financially, but his family, too.

There are some folks out there now who seem to undervalue the fact that men struggle as much as women do with finding their place in the world. I don’t understand this. We’re all human beings. We have many of the same motivations, fears, desires, etc., and we all need to come to grips with who we are and what we’re going to do in this world.

But men, somehow, are just supposed to know what this is.

My late husband Michael assuredly felt like this. He told me, on multiple occasions, that when he tried to better himself educationally, his needs were not understood by his parents. He graduated high school a few years early, worked in a comic books store, signed up for the Navy as soon as he decently could (his mother had to co-sign, as he was still under eighteen)…and then, he had some sort of accident while running in Naval training that broke both knees.

He was eighteen years old. The only thing he’d wanted to do was now closed to him. So what was he going to do?

He went back home after his knees healed. He started work as a typist for the Naval Base in Oakland as a civilian, probably because it was the closest he could get to his old dreams. And over time, he became a contracts administrator, because he found he was very good at both problem solving and small differences in contracts…and these two things added up to a job he could do that was useful.

Then, his world was rocked again when the Naval Base closed. He could’ve followed his job to a different base somewhere else, but he didn’t want to do that. He was married — not to me, as he hadn’t met me yet — and his then-wife had found work and he wanted to stay where he was. He loved San Francisco, you see…the place he’d spent much of his young life, and most of his adult life also.

So he stayed. And wrote fiction. And edited, sometimes, for friends. And worked on his art — he sketched, and his drawings had real life to them (unfortunately, I don’t have any of them with me, as they were lost during our move somehow). He also did a type of macrame with ropes, and sewed, and cooked…basically, Michael was creative as Hell, and any way he could create, he was going to do it.

Then he met me. In 2001.

He had been unemployed except for temp jobs and working for friends for over two years. He’d been on some dates, as his previous marriage had broken up (they remained friends until the end of his life, mind; one of the true amicable divorces I know about), and none of ’em had panned out. The women he’d met wanted men who made money. Or had a home, as in San Francisco, that denoted wealth. Or at least had a car, as that, too, denoted more than the average amount of wealth, as on-street parking is rarer than hen’s teeth, and on-street parking where you didn’t have to pay anything at all for it is even more difficult to find than that.

He was in his early forties. Distinguished-looking. He didn’t see himself as handsome. He was only middling tall. He used a walking stick (not a cane; call it a shillelagh instead), because of the old double-knee break and the finding of chondromalacia afterward (a type of arthritis; that’s what put him out of the Navy, when they found that). He felt like no woman would ever care about him.

But he met me. And found out he was wrong.

I think, for once in his life, Michael was glad to be proven wrong. (Michael loved being right more than anyone I’ve ever known.) I didn’t care about him not having work at the time, because I knew how hard-working he was, and the more I found out about him, the more intrigued I was. I didn’t care about him not having any money, because I didn’t have any myself. And I did care about him being creative, because I was creative, too…and had been vastly misunderstood, too.

Anyway, I put that in there to try to illustrate why Michael felt there would be no one out there for him.

I wonder, sometimes, if other men feel like this. They aren’t wealthy. They don’t have big houses. They don’t have fancy cars. They don’t have Rolexes, or any status symbol possessions. And our consumer-driven culture makes them think that no one will care, no one at all, unless they have these things…

But being a man is about much more than making money. It’s about caring for others, nurturing them, helping them. It’s about finding out who you are and maximizing your talents. It’s about sacrifice, sometimes. It’s about making choices, and rolling with the punches, and finding your own way through the thicket of what is supposed to be “masculine” behavior. It’s about finding yourself, and working on yourself, and doing whatever you can to do good in this world.

My husband succeeded, as a man.

And I will celebrate that success, all the days of my life.

*****

Anyway, here are the other bloggers this month celebrating International Men’s Day with me; go read their blogs, too, and let them know what you think!

Ipuna Black — International Men’s Day: A Father

Jane Love — A Real Man, Part 1

Mylene Orillo — A Tribute to All the Men in My Life

Sadaf Siddiqi (will be posting later due to family illness)

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Written by Barb Caffrey

November 19, 2018 at 9:50 am

Thoughts on Regret

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Over the course of my life, there are things I wish I could’ve done differently. I regret these things, and yet, if I had them to do over again — and didn’t have the additional knowledge of hindsight, of course — I almost certainly would do the exact same things in the exact, same order.

I wrestle, often, with the idea that no matter what I do, it’s not going to be enough. And I regret, often, that I can’t do any better than this…(even though this is the absolute best I’ve got, and I know it.)

I regret when I’ve lost friends I truly care about, all because they’ve misunderstood me or I’ve misunderstood them. Sometimes there is no way back to being friendly, either, and that just makes me so frustrated, I have no words to describe it.

I’ve thought long and hard about the idea of regret, and have only come up with one conclusion.

I seem to regret so many things because I somehow,  in defiance of all logic, believe I should’ve done everything absolutely right, every time. And while wanting  of that is understandable, not to mention very human, it isn’t possible.

And I do know better than that.

I know we can’t control things beyond ourselves. We can’t control other people. We can’t control their actions. We can’t make them do anything.

(Nor would I want to control anyone but myself, either. That would not only be boring, it would be utterly pointless, and take all the joy out of living. But I digress.)

Anyway, if you are dealing with a lot of regret in your life right now, you need to remember two things.

  • One, you aren’t a bad person.
  • Two, you are almost certainly on the cusp of positive change, even if you can’t see it right now.

One final thing: as a writer, I believe that all experiences are necessary to write good stories that ring emotionally true and have depth…so even the worst experiences (and I have a bundle of those) can be transmuted into something much better. I hope knowing that makes it slightly easier to deal with the bad days, in the hope that good days will come again.

What do you think about regrets, or this blog in particular? Let me know in the comments!

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 26, 2018 at 2:00 am

Fighting Disappointment, and Moving On…

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Folks, I’ve written about disappointment before. (Many times, in fact, with my most recent example being here.) But it seems to be a good time to write about it again, and I have a different take on it…so why not?

I have known some other authors besides myself to have intense struggles getting their work before the public. They’ve put their books out there, and gotten no response at all. They’ve slaved over their creations, taken care of the edits, the book covers, tried to get reviewers interested, all that…and still, nothing happened.

Some of success is being in the right place at the right time. I know one author rather well — Loren K. Jones — who put out several novels in late 2009 and early 2010. None of them did much. He was, I believe, extremely frustrated at the time, and thought no one cared about his writing.

Fast-forward to 2018.

Now, Loren has a thriving career as a novelist. He has ten books out, with more on the way. His six books in the “Stavin DragonBlessed” series did exceptionally well, and put him on the map as a fantasy novelist. (Don’t believe me? Go read ALL THAT GLITTERS for yourself; it’s only ninety-nine cents for the e-book version.)

Loren’s not the only one I know who’s had this sort of thing happen, but he’s possibly the best example right now.

So why am I talking about him, when the theme is disappointment? Well, sometimes you have to learn how to roll with the punches, keep your chin up, and keep trying.

That is what Loren did.

It’s what I’m trying to do, too.

Do your best to fight on, no matter what odds you face. Believe in yourself, and your dreams. Work hard, learn much, and keep fighting.

Sometimes, that is literally all you can do. (Because you can’t control the market. You can only control yourself.)

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 2, 2018 at 9:22 pm

Romance, Short or Long, is Worthwhile

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I thought tonight about how being with someone truly good for you is worthwhile, whether you get a long time with that person, or a short one.

Why? Because it helps you feel better about yourself. You know you’re doing whatever you can to help another person, and he’s doing whatever he can for you. And if you both truly care, and do the best you can for one another, that is an amazing thing.

It really is.

And it can change your life for the better, even after that person has died.

The important things to remember, if you want to build a life with someone else, are these:

  • Communication
  • Caring
  • Concern
  • Attentiveness
  • Appreciation
  • Sticktuitiveness

If you have these things, and are willing to work hard every single day and commit, every single day, to being with that special someone, you will have a successful marriage. One that’s based on mutual respect and liking as well as sex appeal (nothing wrong with the latter, but that will not carry you past the rough spots that invariably come). One that’s based on reality, tempered perhaps with a bit of optimism that you two can, and indeed will, find a way to make a better life together.

That’s what worked for me, and it’s why I celebrate the time I had with my husband every single day.

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 7, 2018 at 4:34 am

Good Things Still Exist: It’s Summer Concert Time!

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Folks, I’m happy to remind you that the Racine Concert Band free summer concert series starts tonight at the Racine Zoo, and will continue every Sunday night until August 12. We’re playing patriotic music tonight, in honor of the upcoming July 4th holiday, and we will have as guest artists the Milwaukee North Division drum line assisting us with a brief pre-concert show plus an appearance with us during John Philip Sousa’s “Semper Fidelis.”

As there’s nothing better than a free summer band concert, I figured I’d remind you all about this, in the hopes that you’d be able to see that good things still exist in this world.

We’ve had a whole lot of turmoil, much strife, too much ignorance, and more despair than I could shake a stick at. We’ve heard about so many horrible things, including the five people, most of them writers and editors, murdered at the Annapolis Capital Gazette newspaper (something I hope to blog about in greater detail in a few days), not to mention the overnight stabbings in Boise, Idaho seemingly because someone did not like the fact that refugees were staying in an apartment complex. And these things are horrible to contemplate.

Still, good things exist. Like tonight’s band concert. Which is absolutely free.

Other good things I try to remember: The affectionate nature of my Mom’s dogs. Sunrises. Sunsets. Nature and all its wonders. Good books. Funny movies. (And yes, of course SF movies!) Baseball games. Art. And so many, many more…(add your favorite good things in the comments, if you would. I’d love to see ’em!)

So when you are frustrated, angry, upset, or really wonder what the point is, you need to remember that good things do continue to exist.

Keep fighting the good fight, yes. (In a nonviolent way, peacefully. That should go without saying, but in this day and age, you can never be too sure.) Keep striving for what you know is right.

But don’t let fear, anger, despair, or loneliness overwhelm you, if you can help it.

Instead, try — and try hard — to hold a positive thought.

That’s the best way to live that I know, and ultimately, it’s what drives the darkness back. (Well, that and creativity in all its myriad forms. But that, too, is a separate post…)

So, take in the band concert tonight — again, it’s absolutely, positively free — down at the Racine Zoo. Enter at the Augusta Street gate (that’s on the side, near the Zoological Gardens, close to Lake Michigan) starting at 7:15 p.m.; showtime is 7:30 p.m.

Hope to see you there!

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 1, 2018 at 6:35 am

My Musical Journey (A Collaboration with a Purpose Post)

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Folks, World Music Day is later this month, June 21st to be exact. And the folks at Collaboration with a Purpose decided to write about what music is, why it matters, and why we care about it in our own words.

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I’m a musician. If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you likely know this. I play the clarinet, the saxophone, and the oboe. I also compose music, though mostly for myself, and tend to think first in music, and only later in words.

I’ve played instruments since I was ten or eleven years old. Music always called to me. I loved the sound of a saxophone in particular, and remember telling my Mom that I would play that someday. (When my teacher in graduate school, Dr. Fought, said to me that the saxophone sounded the most like a human voice, I agreed with him. Perhaps that’s why I insisted I’d play it.) Whether it was someone like Clarence Clemons wailing away with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band or later, jazz musician Art Pepper’s clear and beautiful sound with advanced and interesting harmonic and rhythmic melodies (yes, you can have it all!), I was hooked.

So why did I end up on the oboe first, then?

I think they needed oboists, as it’s difficult to play well. (One of the common sayings, at least among musicians, about the oboe is that “it’s an ill wind that nobody blows good.”) And no one was going to tell me I couldn’t play a difficult instrument…that’s where psychology came into play, I suppose. (But I was only eleven, at most. You can see why this might appeal?)

I learned all sorts of things about the oboe. It has a beautiful sound if played well, a distinctive one, and for whatever reason, the sound I could get was a bit lower than most, tonally — this is very hard to explain in words, so bear with me — and a bit closer to the sound of an English horn, according to a few of my music teachers.

Personally, though, I think the reason my sound on the oboe was a little different was because I wanted to play the saxophone. And I wanted my oboe playing to be different, interesting, and memorable; I learned how to play jazz on the oboe, even, as there was one musical group — Oregon — that had a jazz oboist.

“But get to picking up the sax, Barb! That’s what we want to hear about…”

Yeah. Well, I wanted to play in jazz band. But they didn’t have arrangements for a jazz oboe player. And my band director, Mr. Stilley, believed that I could pick up the sax in a month or so. The school had an awful alto saxophone available to play; it was held together by string and tape. But I didn’t let this stop me, and I did indeed learn how to play the sax in a month as some of the skills I already had were transferable.

Then, I took up private lessons with two different instructors: one for the oboe, one for the sax. I found out quickly that the alto sax was the instrument most classical musicians play. Most of the good repertoire, including the Jacques Ibert Concertino da Camera and Paul Creston’s Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano, was written for alto rather than tenor, baritone, or soprano saxophones. And of course I learned these pieces, along with one that later became one of my favorites, Alexander Glazunov’s Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra.

I found that while I loved jazz, I loved classical even more. There were so many different ways to say things in classical music. From Robert Schumann’s Unfinished Symphony to Paul Hindemith’s Symphony for Band in B-flat, from Cesar Franck’s Symphony in D Minor to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (and it’s famous “Ode to Joy”), there were so many, many different ways music could be expressed.

And then, there was Debussy, Haydn, Mozart, Bach, Bernstein, Brahms, and the one composer I sometimes loved, sometimes hated: Gustav Mahler. (Mahler’s music can be beautiful. It can make me laugh. And it can make me scratch my head and go, “What the Hell?”)

I listened to jazz, too. And pop music, as I found along the way that I rather liked the diverse influences Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, and even Linkin Park brought to the table. (Linkin Park in particular was a very big surprise, as they combined some aleatoric elements along with rock-rap and solid music theory, with not one but two singers: the late Chester Bennington with his soulful voice that could turn to a scream in an instant and Mike Shinoda, who could rap or sing, depending on what was needed from him.) And Creed, too…something about them hit me, emotionally, and I understood why they became popular on the one hand quickly, and didn’t last on the other.

The best of music evokes emotion, no matter what genre you play or sing or hear. Whether it’s Alice in Chains’ “Rotten Apple” or Soundgarden’s “Fell On Black Days” or Linkin Park’s “In the End” (or, much later, “One More Light”), or the second movement of Franck’s Symphony in D Minor, or Elvis (my mother’s personal favorite, and for all his fame, a truly underrated emotional stylist), or Art Pepper’s flights of fancy while playing “Over the Rainbow,” it is all about emotion.

See, words can only take you so far. Music, with all its complexity, all its chords, all its harmony, all its rhythm, can take you much farther.

It’s because of that, and my own, personal journey, that I decided my hero and heroine in CHANGING FACES were both clarinetists and both would use music as a way to survive incredible pain. Because music can describe things words cannot, music is able to heal a great deal more than words.

And that, I think, is why World Music Day is so important.

So do let music heal you, or inspire you, or at least give you the soundtrack to whatever you’re doing/writing/learning at the time. And let me know what music you move to, in the comments!

Also, please go take a look at my fellow collaborators, who’ve also written interesting takes on the subject (links will be posted as they go up, as per usual):

Nicolle K. — Intro Post

Nicolle K. (coming soon)

Sadaf Siddiqi — “A Musical Tribute

Mylene Orillo

Sonyo Estavillo

It’s Mother’s Day (in the US)

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Folks, last week I asked a friend of mine who lives in Scotland if he was going to do anything for Mother’s Day, and he drew a blank.

Then we both figured out that Mother’s Day isn’t celebrated on the same day in the United Kingdom. This year, Mothering Sunday (what they call Mother’s Day) fell on March eleventh.

So, for those of you in the United States, you probably know that Mother’s Day is today. Sunday, May thirteenth, 2018. And beyond all the hype you see online or on television regarding “you must get Mom this special something NOW,” there’s a quieter, more reflective holiday underneath it all that deserves your time and attention.

I realize that not everyone has a mother who’s still alive. (I am very fortunate that I can celebrate this day with my Mom, and am glad to do it.)

I also realize that some people don’t have mothers at all. (One of my best male friends is raising a daughter, alone. I’ve told him before that he should celebrate both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, as he’s doing all the work.) And days like this are hard for them.

Personally, I think you should celebrate as much as you can, as often as you can, with the people who matter the most to you. If those people have nothing to do with your biological (or adopted) families, well, then they just don’t.

But you should let people know when you care about them, as often as you possibly can.

Why? Well, this world can be a cold and lonely place from time to time. The people we care about the most help bridge those times, and remind us that we do have family, friends, and loved ones to give us strength when we have little ourselves. And remind us of our past successes when we’re instead dwelling on our current failures, because they’ve seen it all and know we can rise, as phoenixes, from the ashes of futility yet again, given time.

Nurturing is hard work. And the people who do it don’t get anywhere near the credit they deserve.

So on this particular day, I hope to celebrate my mother. And my sister. And my friends who are mothers. And my friend the single father (who really should get to celebrate today, too). And everyone else who needs to be remembered for nurturing the next generation, so they can in turn nurture the next when their time comes.

What are you going to do for Mother’s Day? (Or what did you do, if you’re in a place that’s already celebrated it?) Tell me about it in the comments!

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 13, 2018 at 4:52 am