Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Michael B. Caffrey’ Category

“Writing After Widowhood” Essay Is Up…

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Folks, author and editor Deborah J. Ross asked me, a while back, if I’d be willing to write an essay for her about the differences between writing before my husband Michael died, and after. I called this essay “Writing After Widowhood,” and it is up now at her blog. Here are a few excerpts, though I do hope you’ll go over there and read it…then let people know, far and wide, about it.

(In particular, if you can leave a comment at her blog, do. I am all thumbs today, and can’t seem to get Blogger to accept my profile for love or money, meaning I can’t even comment over there. This is very frustrating. So if you can do it instead, that would be great.)

Here’s a bit of what I remember about writing before widowhood, mind:

Anyway, when Michael was alive, we wrote some short stories together despite having very different writing styles. We could do this because we’d heard Eric Flint, in 2002, discuss how he collaborated with other authors. It was all about communication, Flint said, “Also, if you could check your ego at the door, that would help immensely.”

That wasn’t all Michael did, mind you. He edited for me, as I edited for him. He and I talked about our stories for many hours a day, every day of the week, a great gift…and he made sure to do all the things a good husband does for his wife without prompting—and without fanfare.

My quote there is my best remembrance from 2002. That comment from Eric Flint was made at a gathering of Baen Barflies (or Barfly gathering) in July of 2002 in Chicago to the best of my recollection. It was only a few, short weeks after our marriage, and it made a huge impression on me.

I discuss Michael’s passing (which you should go over there and read about), its effects on me, why I decided to keep going with his stories as best I could and get at least a few of them out there, and a bit about how frustrating it was to write for a few years after Michael died.

Then I got into the nitty gritty about what it’s like to write now:

But as I started writing again, I realized something. I am a verbal processor. I need to talk my stories out with someone who wants to hear about it. And since Michael died, I really haven’t had that. Though I do have some very good friends who will let me bend their ears on occasion, they are working writers. They are doing more in the field than I am currently, and I don’t want to be a millstone around their necks.

(And yes, I listen to them. Of course I do. But that’s not the point.)

With Michael, I knew if I made mistakes, he’d fix them. Or he’d show me where I’d made mistakes, and I’d fix them myself. I had more confidence in going to write on a day I had little energy (as I have battled lifelong health issues), because if I screwed up on a name or made an unnecessary tense-shift, he’d catch it. So I could relax and create.

Those were the good old days.

And I discuss what I try to do now to get around what I call “Life, Interrupted.” I write prose notes on days I can’t do anything else. I think a lot about my stories (I didn’t say this at Deborah’s blog, but I hope it’s implied in subtext). And I do my best to keep my husband Michael uppermost in my mind on the worst of days, because he believed in me — and dammit, if he could believe in me, so can I.

I do hope you will read the rest of the essay. It’s about 1400 words long, so I only excerpted a little bit of it here to whet your whistle.

For other widows and widowers out there, or those touched by tragedy in other ways who are struggling, know that your life can continue. It is frustrating, difficult, sometimes exasperating, but you can keep creating if you make the effort. It won’t be the same — it can’t be the same — but you don’t have to lose all of yourself when your spouse dies.

It took me a while to learn this. But now that I have, my hope is that I can help others along the way.

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 17, 2019 at 1:24 pm

Computer Woes: Stuff I Learned While The Computer Was Down

with 10 comments

As the title says…here we go.

  1. I am very impatient. Waiting to get my computer fixed seemed like forever, rather than nearly eight days.
  2. I was more stuck in ruts than I’d previously thought.
  3. Trying to type on a phone — even on a smartphone — is much harder than I’d thought, and it’s not just because of my quasi-carpal tunnel syndrome.
  4. Following from #3, I figured out I owed a friend an apology from a while back. He and I got into it because I was being very chatty, and on a good day — and with a good computer, complete with a proper keyboard and my hands cooperating, I can type nearly 80 words per minute. He could not follow me on his phone, and said so. (He later admitted he wasn’t particularly nice about it and did apologize.) At the time, I didn’t understand this…but boy, do I ever, now.
  5. Following from #4…yes, I did apologize. Because it’s better to apologize late than never. And it’s a lot better to know, in and of yourself, that you tried to do the right thing, albeit late, and albeit when the other person may not even care anymore…because it was important once, and I muffed it. It’s a statement that I won’t do it wrong–at least not intentionally, anyway–again. (Of course, that leaves all the other stuff that I haven’t run across yet as potential things to do wrong. But I could do ’em right, too…moving on.)
  6. Tablets are damned hard to use.
  7. I don’t enjoy texting. Not on a flip phone, not on a smart phone, not at all. (“I do not like this, Sam I am.” — Dr. Seuss.)
  8. That said, texting my best friends when the computer is down beats staying out of contact all to Hell.
  9. And using a tablet is better than using a phone of any sort to stay in contact.
  10. Sometimes, life doesn’t go as planned, at all. And while I’ve known that for a damned long time, it bears repeating. (Like a clue-by-four upside the head.)
  11. I have a hard time reframing a bad situation, something I truly can’t stand, into anything remotely resembling a good one. I did try. I told myself over and over that I had more time to read. (I read all sorts of stuff, too. Found a couple of good new authors — new to me, anyway. One of ’em is Kate Stradling. Really am enjoying her work.) I told myself, over and over again, that I was still thinking about my stories — which I was — and that there have been times I’ve not been able to write for seven or eight days before, and I didn’t panic, so what’s the big deal?
  12. Enter panic. (Ding, ding, ding!)
  13. Getting my computer back was useful. I’m still not back up to speed. But I have friends to help. And I’m grateful for that.
  14. I have to believe, despite it all, that there are better days ahead. We all have trials and tribulations. That this affected my livelihood for a week-plus in addition to my communication and my mode of living wasn’t good. (To put it mildly, but I digress.) But several of my friends made a point of calling or texting daily. They were concerned. And they made absolutely sure I knew they were concerned. (Bless them forever for this.)
  15. My family was also very good through this crisis. (It wasn’t just this I was dealing with. This is just what I’m willing to talk about. Further writer sayeth not.)
  16. “Sufficient unto the day are the needs thereof.” (Intentional Biblical misquote by my husband, Michael.) I have to meditate more on this one, I guess.
  17. Buddhists point out that you don’t have to enjoy your circumstances. You just have to accept them.
  18. But yes, when you get an ounce of joy, wring it out to the fullest! (I intend to do so, just as soon as I get some sleep. I’m going to write, and edit, and write some more…)

What do you think of this stream-of-consciousness blog? And what have you, yourself, learned when you have not been able to be online for a significant amount of time due to a computer failure, power outage, or any other reason? Tell me about it in the comments!

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 25, 2019 at 12:53 am

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?

design 2

(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)

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 19, 2018 at 9:50 am

“Sadiversary” Week, Fatigue, Illness…

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Folks, later this week will be the fourteenth “sadiversary” — that is, the saddest anniversary there is — of my late husband Michael’s death. I struggle with this every year; unlike some widows and widowers, I seem stuck, and think more and more about him over time rather than less and less.

Granted, I’ve also done my best to “make new memories” and have even gone on a few dates. (Two, to be exact.) And I was in a long-distance friendship with a guy for a while with that I’d hoped for more with…but it didn’t happen. So it’s not like I’ve just shut myself down cold, even though it took a long time to even get to the point where I could try to do these things.

I keep wanting to wake up one day, and find out the previous fourteen years are nothing but a bad dream. My husband, in this scenario, is alive, glowingly vibrant, cooking me meals, helping with my stories as I helped with his (and yes, while I cook, too, Michael was the better cook; I was glad to step aside for him).

Hell, my husband even would do all the laundry, knowing I have a bad back, and if I was allowed to do anything at all, it was to sit at the laundromat with him “looking decorative” and of course carrying on a conversation.

Those were the days.

Instead, I wake up and find that the stark reality is, I’m here, he’s not, all the work I’ve struggled with, everything I’ve done, is not enough. Too few people even seem to be able to find out about our work, much less like it enough to tell friends about it who might also tell others.

When I’m sick, as I am now (I am guessing a sinus issue and possibly a weak onset of the flu), it makes it harder to believe that I am doing everything I can. And yet, I know I am. There isn’t any single thing I could be doing any differently; I can only do what I can do, and if it’s not enough, and if it drives me crazy that it’s not enough, well, I just have to live with that.

I’m grateful for my family and my friends. I’m also grateful for the two guys I went on dates with, even though I’m sure they were awkward and I knew I was very awkward, too. Even the guy I crashed and burned with in the long-distance friendship taught me something…I’m not dead, and I don’t think Michael would want me to do my best imitation of a vestal virgin because he’s already on the Other Side.

Still, I look at the totality of my life since my husband died, and it frustrates me so much.

Maybe we all feel this way, when we’re sick, that we haven’t done what we set out to do, and that we are failures because of that.

And I never expected Michael, the goodness of him, the totality of his existence, the love he brought to my life, and the sly sense of humor that invigorated every conversation and interaction with him. (As I’m trying to keep this to a PG level, as I know there are at least a few younger kids who read this blog on a regular basis, I won’t talk about the rest of it — shall we say that everything, absolutely everything, about my marriage with Michael was phenomenal, and leave it at that? Yes? Good.)

All I can do now is go on. It’s hard. I haven’t been able to see the road in front of me since the day Michael died. And even at my best with the three guys who’ve put up with me long enough to want to get to know me a little better, I still didn’t see anything but glimmers.

So, that’s where I am right now. I am sick. But tonight I’m going to try to edit, and I did manage to write this blog. Tomorrow I will do laundry, and think about Michael while I do it (as that makes me feel better, as I definitely don’t enjoy doing laundry in any way, shape, or form, but I do enjoy clean clothes). I’ll get to the doctor, do what they say to do, talk with my counselor of course as this is a very highly-fraught week, and do what she says also as best I can.

And I’ll try to be as good to myself as I can, even though that’s not something I’m all that good at.

P.S. Next week, I hope to talk about fun things again, or at least current events things…something different.

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 18, 2018 at 10:53 pm

Sunday Anniversary Thoughts

with 4 comments

Today is my wedding anniversary. And it’s Sunday. So I thought I’d combine the two things by discussing things Michael found very important — and that I do, too.

Mostly, when I think about my husband, I think about his sense of fair play along with his sense of intellectual curiosity. He was principled, honest, fair-minded, funny, witty, extremely creative, very smart, loved to learn, loved to laugh, and did not suffer fools lightly. He believed in public service, had no truck with materialism, and was a Zen Buddhist, yet we also had the Koran and seven Bibles in the house as Michael believed most holy texts had something good to say, if we only had the wit to decipher it for ourselves.

And while I don’t think Michael would’ve put it quite this way in 2004, I definitely will put it this way in 2018: He believed then, as I believed then and now, in the freedom of the press. Stories need to be told, even in hard and bad times; even when journalists seem to go too far in their pursuit in the truth, we need to respect their need for truth and the ability to tell the story in such a way that we, too, can see what they see — and decide for ourselves if it makes any sense or not.

In this day of so-called “alternative facts,” we need the free press more than ever.

See, there is no such thing as alternative facts. There are only facts. And opinion.

Mind, Michael would’ve been appalled at the idea of “alternative facts.” That anyone could think they could, by the means of Orwellian doublespeak and much repetition, make people think anything they wanted, merely by calling it “alternative facts” would’ve upset him greatly.

Again: facts are facts. Opinion is opinion. And you cannot create your own facts; you can only learn what the facts are, and then make the best decisions you can, accordingly.

In addition, Michael would not be happy with the thought of such intense, partisan tribalism in our politics. We need both the left and the right, along with the centrists, to state their opinions while finding the facts. And then, everyone needs to make the best deals they can with those facts in mind.

Michael would not have been happy with the direction of the U.S. government, either. Between the utter paralysis of the Senate and House, and the authoritarian leanings of the current POTUS Donald Trump, he’d have wondered, “Has everyone in Washington, DC, lost their minds? And if they have, what can we do to lead the best lives possible without giving in to authoritarian and/or dictatorial influences?”

(Some of my friends will not agree with me, mind, as they read this. But Michael and I talked about these things more than once. I am convinced this is how he’d have seen this time in history, and I think he’d be extremely concerned by it. Now, moving on…)

He and I used to talk about all sorts of things, including the end of World War II. When the English and American and French forces (among others) liberated the concentration camps, for example…we talked about how horrible it was that no one did anything beforehand, or that few understood the coming dangers.

And Michael had on our wall in our San Francisco apartment a poster of Father Martin Niemoller’s poem, “First They Came For…” We talked about that, too. About how it was important to speak up for what is right, and about how that’s not always easy. And about how good people were either hoodwinked or willfully blinded themselves in the run-up to World War II, including English PM Neville Chamberlain, who honestly thought he’d secured “peace in our time” because he thought he could bargain with Hitler and trust Hitler to keep Hitler’s word.

I wonder, sometimes, if Michael would’ve liked 2018. I kind of think he wouldn’t. That reasonable people with disparate political beliefs can’t seem to talk openly or try to find any consensus at all would vex him sorely. And while computers have gotten smarter, faster, and have better graphics, I think he’d lament the loss of privacy — the whole scandal with Cambridge Analytica wouldn’t have come as a surprise to him, that’s for sure, because he’d probably have seen it coming as he had a gift for putting a few pieces of information together to get the whole faster than anyone else I’ve ever known.

I miss my husband fiercely. But on this day, my sixteenth wedding anniversary, I remember my husband as the strong, smart, funny, determined, principled, ethical, and intelligent man he was. I honor his memory. I’m glad he was with me.

And for all the days of my life, I will remember what he said. And do my best to live up to the promise he saw in me.

 

 

Happy Summer Solstice to All…

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…and man, do we need it.

Folks, my hope for everyone is that the Summer Solstice (in the Northern Hemisphere) will bring about a positive change.

For me, this is when I start intensively thinking about my husband Michael. Because on this date in 2002, we’d taken out our marriage license. And we celebrated over the weekend as best we could, knowing we would marry on the 24th, which was also the night of a full moon as best I can recall.

We had the whole world to look forward to, then…love, happiness, spiritual fulfillment, the joy of creativity, the joy of emotional and physical and mental and spiritual harmony, and the fun of being around Michael — the funniest, most intelligent, most spiritual and most everything person I have ever known.

I wish our journey together had been longer than a bit over two years. But I will never regret marrying him. Marrying Michael was the best thing I have ever done, and I am very happy that I get to remember him in the ways that I do — at the height of his creative powers, and at his happiest and most content.

For us, the Summer Solstice of 2002 was extremely beneficial.

May your Summer Solstice of 2018 be equally generous.

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 21, 2018 at 9:51 pm

Wedding Month, Thinking Month

with 3 comments

Folks, as I was married in June, and as June has been known as a very popular month for weddings in the United States for a long time, I’m sure you can figure out why I put “wedding month” in the title.

But “thinking month?” What’s that all about, huh?

It’s simple. When I get close to my anniversary, I start thinking. I try to count my blessings; I was able to find the right person for me (after a few failed attempts), we married, we were very happy…and that’s all true.

But what’s also true is that I miss my husband very much. That feeling isn’t likely to go away. Even if, someday, I find someone else to spend time with, I’m never going to forget my husband Michael. Especially as he was by far the most encouraging person I’ve ever been around, and believed in me no matter what.

I think a lot about Michael.

My biggest advocate. My best friend. My editor — yes, he was that, too. My co-writer, from time to time.

And the most romantic person I’ve ever known, too…something that would’ve surprised most people who knew him before he met me, no doubt.

But then, Michael surprised me, too. With his generosity, his optimism, his faith…and, of course, his immense creativity.

As I said, I’m trying to see the positive side of things. (It’s easier by far for me to see the negative, because I miss him so much.) And as such, I know that me being here, doing the best I can — even though it doesn’t seem like anywhere close to enough — is all he’d want me to do.

Along with doing whatever I could to find meaning, beauty, and maybe a modicum of peace, too…still working on all of those, of course.

Anyway, that’s what I’m pondering right now. The run-up to my anniversary, later this month — the sixteenth, for those of you keeping track, and the fourteenth I’ve spent alone.

So I might blog a bit less, this month. Or maybe I’ll surprise myself, and blog all the more…it’s hard to say.

I just know that right now, I’m thinking hard, and hoping like fire that in the end, everything I’ve done will matter.

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 4, 2018 at 4:39 am