Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

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You Must First Try Before You Can Do

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I know Yoda said, long ago, that “there is no try,” but I disagree.

When you’re learning something new, you can’t help but try to figure out exactly how this new thing will work. For example, if you’re learning a new fingering for the clarinet (the altissimo register, or highest notes, can require some unusual fingerings), you try the new fingering out. You see if it works by itself, then you add in other notes around it to see if it works in context with the music. Then, finally, you try that fingering after playing in a lower octave (composers often write urgent things in piercing registers, or at least we can; lower registers are more about steadiness, sometimes, or at least about a rich sonority as the notes are easier to play), and make sure it works no matter what register you’d been playing in beforehand.

So, when you’re learning something new, you try it out.

Here’s another example. When you go buy a new car, you try it out. You see if it seems like something that will work well for you; you see if it’s comfortable, easy to manage, has enough room to carry your groceries or other important items on occasion, and you envision yourself in the car even as you’re taking it for a test-drive. All of the various amenities it has, or doesn’t have, don’t matter as much as what I’ve just mentioned. What does matter is how the car feels as you test-drive it — in other words, how it feels as you try the car, and put it through its paces.

Even in our personal lives, there is an example.

When I was younger, before I married for the first time, I had no idea of what I was getting into. Yes, I’d taken or at least sat in on a “Marriage and Family” course, I’d tutored some kids in high school who took similar classes also, and I thought I had a good grasp of what marriage entails.

I was wrong.

Why was I wrong? Well, I was envisioning only myself, plus the perfect husband for me, who would do everything right, all the time, without prompting, without me ever saying anything to him because he’d know everything before I mentioned it.

(Do you know how unreasonable and unrealistic this is? I didn’t, not at age twenty or thereabouts.)

See, I expected that anyone I was attracted to would be the same as myself, at least in one way. That way was regarding making the commitment to be with each other every single day. That meant that every day was a new one, where we built on what we already had while adding even more to the edifice…I know discussing a marriage like you’re building a house is an inexact metaphor, to say the least, but it’s the best I can come up with even with my additional experiences.

How did I get those additional experiences? I tried various things. I learned different, disparate things about myself along the way. And by the time I met my late husband Michael, I knew exactly what I wanted out of myself and exactly what I wanted and needed from him. I knew he could provide it, too, because he not only said the right words. He backed them up with the right actions.

(Perhaps that’s not a surprise, as Michael was a Zen Buddhist. They believe in Right Action as one of their tenets, I seem to recall. But I digress.)

I could do, by that time. But the reason I could do was because I’d tried and failed so many other times.

Here’s a final example. Musicians are told to practice often, including major and minor scales, scales in thirds (these are small jumps, for the nonmusicians in the audience; for the musicians, think C-E D-F E-G, etc.), sometimes even scales in sixths, to make playing any sort of music far easier from the technical standpoint. If we get the technique down, we can concentrate instead on other things, such as breath control (for wind musicians, this is essential!), blending with the others in the group, intonation (you don’t want to be sharp when everyone else is flat, or vice-versa, though it’s easier for people to hear “sharp” rather than “flat” for some reason), and actually making music rather than just playing a bunch of shiny little notes.

(I have nothing against shiny little notes. I use quite a lot of them as a composer. Moving on…)

What I’m saying is this: Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid of trying multiple times before you can do something, much less do that same something well.

Persist. Keep trying. Keep motivating yourself as best you can, because it’s not likely anyone else is going to do so…and start believing that the best, in some ways, might just be yet to be.

Only then can you proceed from mostly trying, to mostly doing.

Damar Hamlin, 24, Still Alive After Collapsing on Monday Night Football (Update)

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Folks, a few days ago I wrote a post about Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin. He’s only twenty-four years old, a second-year pro football player in the NFL. He collapsed about three seconds after participating in a hard hit of Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins, and most cardiologists consulted on TV, Twitter, or elsewhere believe what happened is called commotio cordis. This occurs when at precisely the wrong time, someone gets hit directly over the heart when the rhythm is about to reset. (I am not a cardiologist, obviously, nor a doctor. I hope I’m stating this correctly, and any doctors in the audience may feel free to correct me. Or EMTs, paramedics, etc., who all know far more than I.) This causes cardiac arrest as the heart goes into ventricular fibrillation (also called v-fib).

Fortunately for Hamlin, he was given immediate CPR on the field, plus an AED — a type of automatic defibrillator — was used. This allowed him to survive and get to the hospital and gives him a fighting chance to survive this ordeal.

Surviving a few days after such a horrible thing means the chances of waking up and knowing yourself and your family, friends, teammates, etc., is far higher.

Damar Hamlin’s collapse and resuscitation feels personal to me, and not just because I’m a football fan. It’s because of how my husband Michael collapsed years ago. Michael fell backward the same way and survived only ten hours after having his first heart attack. He was in a coma after his second. He had two more heart attacks before he passed away, still at a young age, still with absolutely no explanation that made any sense to me. They put on his death certificate “acute myocardial infarction suspected,” along with the beginning of arteriosclerosis. That last part should not have been enough to kill him. (There was so much damage, I’ll never know what caused Michael’s four heart attacks.)

Michael went into v-fib for certain after the second heart attack. He was out for eighteen solid minutes before he revived. After the third, he was out for at least another ten minutes, and when he came back to life again and I was allowed to see him, I was told by the doctors and nurses that they’d never seen anything like the fight Michael was putting up for his life. They said he obviously had everything to live for, and they hoped he’d pull through.

He didn’t.

Anyway, I pray that Hamlin will continue to improve and that he’ll be able to wake up soon. At that point they can figure out what to do next, as there are a number of outcomes — some really good, such as no memory damage due to oxygen deprivation — and some that aren’t. I want Hamlin to fully recover, even if he never plays another down of pro football.

Some of you may wonder how Hamlin’s GoFundMe for Xmas toys is doing. It’s up now to over $7M in donations. (No misprint.) Famous sportsmen like Tom Brady and Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay have donated, along with tons of other football players including the Bills’ next opponent, the New England Patriots. (As a side note, Russell Wilson, former quarterback at Wisconsin and now a member of the Denver Broncos, and his wife Ciara donated, along with Wilson’s foundation.). But the majority of the donations have been from regular people. They’ve donated $5, $10, $13, $23, $33, etc. (Hamlin’s number is 3), because they want to do something, anything, that’s positive.

If Hamlin can wake up and know himself, eventually he can administer all these funds and help needy kids the way they deserve to be helped.

That is my hope. Hamlin is a good man, who set up that GoFundMe before he even was drafted and is someone who’s tried hard to help others by from what everyone has said since he was in his teens (if not sooner). He deserves to wake up and make a full recovery if any of us do.

I also want people to lay off Tee Higgins, who did nothing wrong whatsoever. What happened was a freak accident. This could’ve happened to Hamlin on any football play, if the heart was at the wrong point of its cycle. Football is a tough, violent, hard-hitting sport, but this particular risk usually is miniscule. It had never happened before in NFL history, and I pray it never will again.

So, at this hour (1 a.m. Central Standard Time), I continue to pray for Hamlin, his family, his team, the Bengals (the opposing team), Higgins because he’s being unfairly blamed, and the entirety of the NFL. I also pray for those who, like me, have watched loved ones die from sudden heart attacks and could do nothing about it.

For those people in my situation, I urge you to do your best to remember that so long as you are alive, at least a part of your loved one is also alive. It isn’t enough. I know it’s not. But it’s something, and it may at least give you a way to go on.

Monday Night Football Game Suspended After Bills Safety Damar Hamlin Collapses

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Sometimes, we forget that life is far more important than sports.

Tonight, however, is not one of those nights.

Late Monday night, during the scheduled Monday Night Football game on ESPN, second-year pro Damar Hamlin, a safety playing for the Buffalo Bills, collapsed on the field. He’d just taken part in a hard hit, and he’d stood up…then collapsed. CPR was performed, and an AED — a type of auto-defibrillator — was used to restart his heart. He was unconscious and not breathing for what appeared to be over nine minutes. (I can only say “appear” because a wall of players, coaches, and staff surrounded Hamlin while the EMTs worked on him desperately to keep Hamlin alive.)

Hamlin is only 24. Previously healthy. No heart issues indicated.

So how did this happen? Why did it happen? How is it that a 24-year-old man is in a Cincinnati hospital tonight, with football fans and others around the country praying for him and hoping he makes a full recovery?

No one knows yet, or if they do, they’re not saying. There are theories, some given by MDs, about types of heart conditions that could’ve possibly occurred. I believe these theories have been postulated because so many people are very upset. Any of them could be right. Or none of them could be right.

We must wait for facts, here. And we must hope that Hamlin wakes up, as the last word given was that he was intubated and in critical condition. No one’s said if he’s regained consciousness, and no updates are going to be given until morning (probably at least 8 or 9 a.m. Eastern Standard Time).

All we can do, as decent human beings, is pray that Hamlin recovers.

You may be wondering what happened to the game. Well, it’s been postponed. No one has any idea when it will be played, or even if it’ll be played, as of this hour (12:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, Central Standard Time).

That’s as it should be. Lives are more important than football.

As a side note, a charity Hamlin started before he became a member of the NFL that gives toys to kids has raised almost 3 million dollars as of this hour. It had a stated donation goal of $2500. (Yes. Twenty-five hundred dollars.)

I believe this is happening because fans want to do something as they pray. Some have said in their comments that they want Hamlin to wake up so he can distribute all the toys his fund will buy, while most are just commenting that they continue to pray for him, his family, his team, and for the entire NFL.

I, unfortunately, am in between paychecks right now. I can’t contribute to Hamlin’s fund, though I will keep it in mind the next time I’m paid. But if you want to donate to help bring toys to needy kids in Hamlin’s name, that would be wonderful.

All I can do, as a football fan and as a human being, is to pray that Hamlin recovers. I am doing that partly because a 24-year-old man should have many years left, and partly as the widow of Michael B. Caffrey, who died in a similar way after fighting for ten hours to stay alive. Michael was no football player, but he did stand up, then collapse backward…an AED was not there when Michael needed it, but CPR was started right away by a neighbor EMT, and Michael had the best of care for the remaining ten hours of his life.

I don’t want the Hamlin family to have to see anything like what I saw.

I want him to live. To fully recover. To distribute all those toys. To enjoy his life, and know himself, and be happy with who he is, even if he never plays another down of football again.

Please. Pray for Damar Hamlin, his family, his teammates, and the entire NFL, most especially the players who risk their lives every single week to give enjoyment to millions.

Please.

Opposites Attract: The Jerry Falwell and Larry Flint Friendship

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Folks, I’ve been thinking a great deal about friendship. Must we always be just like our friends? (You know I’m going to say no.) Can’t we appreciate different things in different people? (I would assuredly hope so.) And have other people managed to find common ground despite their differences?

Too many people get caught up in their “tribes” of folks who say they believe every single thing down to the last jot and tittle as themselves. They don’t challenge themselves, or their assumptions; they aren’t strong enough, perhaps, or maybe they just see no need.

Yet Larry Flynt — the famous owner of Hustler magazine (a men’s magazine that, shall we say, specialized in raunchiness rather than photographic artistry) — and Jerry Falwell, the famous Protestant minister, ended up friends after fighting like cats and dogs for years due to their obvious differences. (To say that Falwell did not approve of pornography, much less graphic porn like Hustler, is a severe understatement.)

How did they become friends?

Well, there’s a story behind that, and it goes like this: After Jerry Falwell lost a big lawsuit that went all the way to the Supreme Court, he went to Flynt and said, “I believe God wants us to be friends. Goodness knows we’ve tried everything else.” (This is my best paraphrase from several things I’ve read over the years.)

Flynt had some God-fearing friends, such as Ruth Carter Stapleton (former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s sister), and had converted, at least for a short time, to Christianity in the 1970s. (I think he made it about a year before he again proclaimed he was an atheist.) He respected them despite their differences. But no one, not him and probably not Falwell, would’ve believed that these two wildly disparate personalities would become friends.

Why? Well, to put it mildly, most people do not become friends after they lose such a high-profile lawsuit. (Or any lawsuit.)

Yet Falwell extended Christian charity to Flynt, and Flynt responded. Flynt once said (again, from my best paraphrase), “We had almost nothing in common, yet he was a great friend.”

These two were unafraid to discuss their differences, too. They knew in many ways they were diametrically opposed. Yet…they also had some things in common, such as beliefs in integrity and fair dealing. They also believed people should honestly confront themselves, plus both believed in the rights of people with disabilities to fair treatment and understanding. They also were both, adamantly, against the death penalty, and Flynt backed it up when the gunman who paralyzed him was on death row as Flynt asked for the death penalty not to be applied.

In writing circles, we have a few other “opposite attracts” friendships, including the professional collaboration and long friendship between David Weber and the late Eric Flint. I know from my own knowledge of reading various posts by both men at Baen’s Bar (find it by going to baen.com and look for the link) that both men were intelligent, spirited, and tough but fair when discussing their various differences. (The respect between the two men was never in doubt.) What they had in common was personal integrity, honesty, commitment, a strong work ethic, and a willingness to work together to write excellent fiction.

My late husband Michael was a major admirer of David Weber, years ago. He had all the Honor Harrington books, plus the Bahzell books, and several other ones. (I can’t remember all the names now, but I’d probably recognize the various covers.) Michael, like myself, believed in traditional small-l liberal values and tended to vote for centrist candidates. (This was quite right-wing for San Francisco, he proudly used to say. I think Michael loved being contrary. But I digress.)

See, it is possible to respect and admire someone no matter what providing people are of good will and no malice. Flint and Weber worked together, were great friends, and appreciated each other. And the oddest couple of all, Flynt and Falwell, certainly became great friends and appreciated each other.

Knowing of these friendships makes me believe that people in general can, still, become friends with folks who seemingly have nothing in common.

So, when you abhor the state of the world — and truly, there are very difficult things going on all over the place, including a ton of stupidity — remember this:

It is possible to be friends with someone of a different political party. It is possible to become friends with someone of a different gender or sexual expression. It is possible to become friends with someone who worships differently than yourself…and it definitely is possible to be friends even if all of these things are present, providing we are people of goodwill and do as much listening as we do talking.

(That’s hard for me, but I’m working on it.)

Anyway, what “opposites attract” friendship have you wondered about? Tell me about it in the comments!

Halloween Musings

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Folks, as I write this, it’s two days until Halloween. Three days until All Soul’s Day. And the official Day of the Dead ceremonies go from October 31 to November 2, 2022.

As this is a time where we’re not quite to winter, yet it’s colder more days than not, there’s an awful lot of personal reflection going on. (I don’t think I’m alone in this.) What have we done this year? What would our loved ones on the Other Side be proud of, and maybe not-so-proud of?

When I was young, I was like everyone else. I wore cute costumes (I think I went one year as a pink fairy; Mom and Grandma helped me make a “wand” with aluminum foil that looked a bit like a Star of David), went out to get Halloween candy, and possibly went to a few minor parties. (They were all very tame parties. A “lock-in” at the local Aladdin’s Castle, a place to play a ton of video games, was one of them. Another was at a good male friend’s house; I knew he was gay, but we didn’t talk about it then, and I had a huge crush on him anyway.)

As I got older, I read a great deal about the significance of Halloween. It started out as Hallowe’en — as in, the evening before All Soul’s Day. (All Hallow’s Eve got contracted to Hallowe’en.) It was a Christian religious observance that happened around the same time as Pagan Samhain (“Sow’en” is the pronunciation), and it’s possible — I think likely — that the early Christian church kept the day and most of its rituals in order to help people convert without having to “convert” people by taking up arms against them.

Of course, Samhain this year is on October 31. (Many years, it coincides. But not always, to the best of my recollection.) It is celebrated from dusk to the dawn of November 1. It is thought by many, particularly those in the NeoPagan community, that Samhain is when the veils between this world and the next are the thinnest. (Note the similarity with the Day of the Dead celebrations. I’m sure it’s not accidental.)

For me, as a NeoPagan, what I do is very similar to what I did as a Catholic, earlier in life: I light a candle, and think about my loved ones. I have several that I think about in addition to my beloved husband, Michael…I think a lot about Grandma, great-grandma on my father’s side (called “Aiti”), my uncle Carl and aunt Laurice, my best friend Jeff Wilson, my good friend Larry (dead for over thirty years, now, via suicide, but not forgotten), and more.

If I can find it, I will buy a Mountain Dew (diet, even though that’s not what my husband drank; he drank the regular stuff, thank you very many, and he preferred Code Red or the orange Livewire if he could find them), and sip it slowly. (I don’t know what foods would appeal that much to any of my relatives or to Jeff, but I know for a fact that Mountain Dew and a few specific candy bars and such are what Michael would like, if he could taste them through me.)

But most of all, it’s about reflection. What have I done? What can I still do? Would my loved ones approve of what I’ve done or what I’ve at least tried to do?

So, yeah. It’s not all about the candy and the costume parties for me. Not anymore.

What are you planning to do this year for your Halloween/Samhain/Day of the Dead festivities? Let me know in the comments…and if it’s that you’re going to a costume party, that’s good (so long as I don’t have to go!)

Remembering Del Eisch, My First Band Director

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Folks, last week, my first truly good band director died. (In all senses.)

Delbert A. Eisch — or Del, as he urged everyone to call him — was eighty-five, and had lived a good, long life. In that life, he’d done many things as a conductor, a trombone player, as an activist for live music, and much, much more. He taught in Racine for thirty-six years, and also conducted over 640 concerts while the conductor of the Racine Concert Band (previously named the Racine Municipal Band).

Much of this information can be gleaned from his obituary, which you can find here, but I wanted to summarize it before I got into what Mr. Eisch meant to me.

As I said, he was the first good band director I’d ever known. When I joined the Racine Municipal Band (not yet called the RCB), I was only fourteen. I played the oboe, then; I hadn’t picked up either the sax or the clarinet as of yet. I’d played in the Kiwanis Youth Symphony as an oboist and had played in my junior high school band and orchestra at Gifford (it’s now a K-8 school, but back then it was solely a junior high — our term for middle school at the time). But the junior high band was limited to what most of the performers were able to play, meaning I didn’t get a chance to play high-level pieces, nor did I get much sense at that time of what good band literature was all about.

Mr. Eisch knew how to program for his band, though. I figured that out immediately. We played marches — John Philip Sousa, Henry Fillmore, etc. — as nearly all bands do, but we also played more. We played show tunes. We played overtures. We played incidental pieces composed to be heard behind ballerinas, or with movies (as we certainly played selections from movie soundtracks). And we played the big pieces for concert band, including the two Gustav Holst Suites for Band, as well.

Mr. Eisch was extremely encouraging to me when I was a young musician. This was essential, as at the time I felt completely lost in my life. I loved music, loved to play, but otherwise I was a misfit. I read too much. I enjoyed talking with people much older than myself. I studied history and geography and some mathematics along with reading everything I could get my hands on, because I’d started to write stories and poems and wanted to be knowledgeable about my chosen subjects.

I loved science fiction and fantasy, of course, even back then. I was fortunate that my local TV station regularly played episodes of Star Trek (now called “The Original Series”), and I was even more fortunate that my junior high’s library had an excellent selection of SF&F books along with copies of Downbeat Magazine and other musically oriented magazines such as Rolling Stone. (That dealt with commercial music, sure. But things were applicable across all disciplines, and I tried to learn whatever I could, wherever I could.)

Anyway, I think Mr. Eisch knew, from all his years teaching at Gilmore School, that I was a bit of an odd duck. (Or at least that I felt like one.) He was gentle, kind, and patient with me as I learned the music — which wasn’t too hard for me, as even then I was quick on the uptake and an excellent sight-reader — and how to get along with the people in the band.

He encouraged my talents, to the point that I played oboe solos in front of the band, then later a clarinet duet, a saxophone solo, and finally a clarinet solo before I was off to my first undergraduate school. (Me being me, and more importantly being married to a guy who was then an Army Reservist and later in the active-duty Army, I needed to go to three different colleges/universities to finish my degree.) He also added in twelve bars for an improvised solo when I played “Harlem Nocturne” with the band, so it sounded a little jazzier and helped to give me a better experience as a musician.

My tale picks back up approximately ten years later, when my then-husband and I were back in Racine after his military service ended. Our marriage was breaking up, which I didn’t know then (but can clearly see now), and I needed music as an outlet. (I always had, so why not then?)

Mr. Eisch warmly welcomed me back to the band. (My soon-to-be-ex-husband also joined the band as a percussionist.) He had a need for an additional clarinetist, so would I mind playing clarinet?

I did not mind.

It was interesting, as I got to hear many of the same pieces in a different way than before. I learned how the various parts interrelated and asked Mr. Eisch many questions about music and conducting that he patiently answered. (At the time, I was hoping to eventually be a conductor myself. This is a dream that didn’t come to fruition, but the knowledge I gained was still invaluable.)

When I finished my Bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, I started looking for graduate schools. (I wanted to teach in college, and that was the way forward. Plus, I wanted to learn even more about music, harmony, melody, music theory, music history, etc., as I loved everything about music.) I discussed the merits of them with Mr. Eisch, along with several other wonderful musicians in the band; eventually, I decided on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Once I finished my degree there (it took me a few additional years due to family health concerns), Michael and I married. We knew we’d go back to his home in San Francisco sooner or later, so I didn’t rejoin the band at that time.

A few years passed. Michael and I had moved to Iowa. I’d looked into perhaps going to the University of Iowa as a doctoral student, once I qualified for in-state tuition…then Michael died, suddenly and without warning.

I have to include this, to explain the rest.

I didn’t feel like playing my instruments for years. I rarely composed any music, either. It was hard to write. Hard to do anything. I barely even recognized myself in the mirror, I was so upset.

So, because of that, I didn’t attempt to rejoin the band, or even find out if they might have a use for me.

I did, however, rejoin the Parkside Community Band in October of 2011 (not too long before my good friend Jeff Wilson passed away). And doing that led me back to the Racine Concert Band, where Mr. Eisch was now the band’s business manager (and conductor emeritus).

Mr. Eisch and I had several conversations along the way, once I rejoined the band. Some were to do with the band and its need for funding and fund-raising. Others were about life, and about loss, and about faith, as well as music.

Mr. Eisch then retired as business manager, and completely stepped away from the RCB. We did see him at concerts for a few years after that…then COVID hit.

Anyway, the last time I saw Mr. Eisch was earlier this year. I was going into Ascension All-Saints Hospital for an appointment; he was coming out of there, being medically discharged. He was happy to see me, and I was happy to see him; he asked how I was doing, how my family was doing, and asked me to tell my parents that he’d said hi (as he knew them both well, too, especially my Dad as he played in the RCB for ten years, himself, as a drummer).

I didn’t know that would be the last time I ever saw him, or I would’ve told him just how much his kindness and dignity and example had meant to me, along with all of the musical knowledge he’d imparted along the way.

Mr. Eisch was a very kind man. He was also a gentle man, in the best of senses. He loved music, of course he did, but even more so, he loved his family and friends.

Good men, good people, are sometimes hard to find. But when we get a chance to be around them, we hopefully reflect the light they can’t help but give out a little brighter. Then that light goes on, and on, and still on, for as long as people last…or at least as long as our memories do.

I truly hope that his widow, Anne, will be comforted by his memory. Always.

*****

An Addendum: I wrote this today, on the eighteenth anniversary of my beloved husband Michael’s death, because I wanted everyone to know just how much Mr. Eisch meant to me.

Michael only met Mr. Eisch once, I think. We were at the grocery store, or maybe at the mall…anyway, he did meet Mr. Eisch, and told him it was a pleasure to meet one of my formative influences.

I’d like to think that Michael again met with Mr. Eisch in Heaven, Eternity, or whatever The Good Place (TM) truly is, and that Michael has passed on what I’ve just said — as he knew I felt this way, because he knew me extremely well — just in case Mr. Eisch still did not know it.

Sunday Musings: Why should you help a widow? (Or widower?)

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Folks, my last blog asked you to please help Eric Flint’s wife, Lucille, in her time of need. (I was one of many people asking for people to help.) She received an outpouring of financial support, and the GoFundMe for Eric’s final expenses has been closed.

Thank you all.

That said, there are still other things to be done to help her, or other widows/widowers suffering from the loss of their spouse.

First, though, I wanted to answer this (somewhat obvious) question: Why should you help a widow or widower?

I’ve thought a lot about this question in the intervening years since Michael’s passing. And I’ve come up with a few reasons as to why you should always help a grieving widow or widower — any grieving widow or widower, whether you like them personally or not.

When you’ve been newly widowed, you are exceptionally vulnerable. All of your support, all of the love you had that you had freely shared with your spouse, is suddenly gone. That love has no place to go. And worst of all, you are often misunderstood when you try to express your grief in any way, shape, or form.

It’s incredibly difficult to deal with the world when you’re in deep shock, suffering with the worst wound you’ve ever had. That’s just a fact.

Everything seems unreal. Nothing feels the same. It’s very hard to go on, alone except for memories (and, if you’re like me, the knowledge that the spirit is eternal and that you will eventually be reunited in joy somewhere/somewhen again).

We all grieve differently, but what I just said tends to be in common for nearly any grieving widow/widower if they deeply loved their spouse.

Anyway, I wanted to talk more about Eric’s wife and widow, Lucille, at this point. I do not know Lucille except for that one meeting in 2002 I’ve previously discussed (and there, I asked Eric a question; I should’ve asked her one, too, in retrospect, but I didn’t think of it). But I do know that if I were within a hundred miles of where she is (I’m not), I would try to bring her a cooked meal or two. Or volunteer to run errands.

And if I knew her better, I’d offer to listen to her talk at any time of the day or night.

Lucille is a valuable person in her own right. Yet if she’s anything like me, or the other widows and widowers I’ve known, she’s not going to be able to feel that for quite some time.

She deserves to be helped in as many ways as possible in whatever way she’ll allow on any given day. She should be given all available love, stamina, support, and whatever other good things she can possibly be helped with for as long of a time as she needs.

Her loss should be respected.

People should talk with her about Eric, as soon as she’s able to do that (or wishes to do that). He was her favorite person in this world. It’s unlikely she’ll want to stop talking about him, merely because his Earthly presence is gone.

Give her time, space, if she needs that. (I know this seems contradictory, but much about grief seems contradictory, too.) But help her as much as you possibly can, those of you who know her best. (I will help, too, if I ever get a chance to meet her again, and if she allows.)

In other words, while monetary help is great, it’s not the only way to help a grieving widow or widower.

Now to a bit more personal stuff, about my own feelings regarding being a widow.

Those of you who have met me, in person, or even have known me through my blog or my books, should know how much I value — and will always value — my marriage to the most wonderful man in the world, Michael B. Caffrey. I had some monetary support at the time of his passing, enough to help me buy an obituary for him, and help to pay for his funeral expenses. I appreciated that, too, at the time.

But no one knew how to help me with my grief. (My grief was so bad, a grief-support group sent me away.)

My family understood that Michael’s death was a huge loss. They didn’t have any idea how to help me process that.

I suffered, mostly on my own, with how to come to terms with it. How to see myself as valuable in my own right. How to go on alone (except for memories and the belief, as I said before, that the spirit is eternal). How to keep writing on my own, with little to no support or understanding of why I felt I must write (whether it be poetry, SF/F, or nonfiction/essays).

I had to figure it out one step at a time, stumbling and fumbling in the dark.

I don’t want anyone to have as much trouble as I did, not even the person who believed Michael was better off dead than with me. (I will never forgive that person. Never. But I still don’t wish ill on them. No point.) If and when they lose their spouses, I want them to have help and support.

That, most of all, is why I dearly hope that Lucille will be aided in as many ways and for as long of a time as she needs. And I pray very much that this will be so.

Updates on Ukraine, the Empathy Gap Essay, and a Discussion of Muslims, Cigarettes, and Virtue-Signaling

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Folks, I wanted to write a blog today about Ukraine along with updating last week’s blog about the empathy gap. I also veer into a discussion of smoking that may surprise you. So do keep reading, OK?

Sometimes, a news commentator utterly surprises.

Why am I saying that? Well, Malcolm Nance, a longtime MSNBC analyst, has joined the international force doing their best to push Russia right back out of Ukraine. He is a Navy vet, and he said that he was “done talking.” Therefore, he went to Ukraine, where he’s been now for over a week, and has been doing whatever he can to aid the fighters there.

I’m glad Ukraine continues to resist Russia’s stupid and pointless invasion. (Well, not stupid and pointless to Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President. He wanted the Ukrainian bread basket, as the land is exceptionally fertile there. And rather than pay for the grain like anyone else, he thought he’d just take the country, so he would just get the grain as well.) But it saddens me to see the destruction of once-beautiful cities like Kyiv and Mariupol.

Not to mention the loss of human lives, which is utterly incalculable.

I hope that whatever Malcolm Nance continues to do over there works. He has always struck me as a highly intelligent man, though I didn’t always agree with him. (I don’t always agree with anyone. Even with my late husband Michael, we had an occasional disagreement. Spice for the mix, I always thought, especially as we made sure to “fight fair” and not drag up old and dead issues over and over.)

Anyway, the next piece of old business has to do with my essay on empathy a week-plus ago. Paul, a regular reader, asked why I didn’t bring up someone on the left who’s sparked my ire as much as Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert have on the right. Another reader, Kamas, mentioned Maxine Waters — a very able legislator in her way, but also someone who seems to enjoy verbal conflict and hyperbole from time to time. And I’d brought up two other D legislators who seem to get into trouble on a regular basis, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

Rep. Omar is in the news right now for calling out a double standard on airplanes. Apparently, a church group that had just come back from working with Ukrainian refugees sang a Christian hymn on the plane. This upset her, as she believes Muslim groups would be shut down from singing on planes. (Maybe this has happened to her, but if so, she hasn’t said so specifically.)

My view of this is simple. The folks who went to Ukraine or the borders of Poland and Romania and elsewhere that border Ukraine, and did good work, deserve to celebrate any way they like. If their song wasn’t bothering anyone else on the plane, let them sing.

Mind, I’d also say the same thing for a Muslim hymn. There are many uplifting Muslim hymns, I believe, but we almost never hear of them — much less hear them — because Muslim in the US tends to equal “Shia or Sunni rebel” rather than pious person doing their best for God and country.

Still, why Rep. Omar waded into this one with both feet, I don’t know.

Centuries ago, the Muslim people were often literate, learned, urbane, and often had no trouble with other “People of the Book” (meaning Christians and Jewish people). The Muslims came up with algebra, created music and art and poetry and architecture, and did many wonderful things.

We tend to forget all that with the current crop of fundamentalists over in Iraq and elsewhere. Those rigid, ruthless sorts are not what being a Muslim is all about, any more than, say, the so-called Christians who helped burn down Minneapolis and Kenosha and other places in the last few years have anything to do with most actual Christians. (The Christians who protested are fine. The ones who burned for the sake of destruction are not. We forget about the former because we have had to dwell on the latter in order to rebuild.)

I have an online friend, a doctor, who’s a proud Muslim woman. She lives in India. I’ve known her now for several years, while she’s been at university, then started medical school in earnest (from what it sounds like), to studying for boards (which sounds harrowing) and being a medical resident (which, like the US and the UK, consists of many hours of work for not that great of pay, and is exhausting).

Tajwarr, my friend, loves makeup, loves to dress up, does not wear a hijab (not in the pictures I’ve seen of her), and writes poetry. She has many gifts, including that of putting people at ease. She is unfailingly polite, and does her best to be cheerful with patients, family, and friends without losing one ounce of authenticity.

I admire her.

In India, where she lives, Muslims are being persecuted. Hindus, by far, have the upper hand there. And like anywhere else, the folks with the most seem to lord it over those with less. So the populous Hindus have made it harder for Muslims — an ethnic minority in India, I think — to enjoy being themselves and to enjoy their own culture, religion, music, etc.

I say all this to point out one, simple thing: You can’t put all people in a box. Not all Muslims. Not all Christians. Not all Neo-pagans. You just can’t stereotype people like that.

One of the folks I know, who I worked with on Hillary Clinton’s campaigns in 2008 and 2016, worked on behalf of Joe Biden in 2020. She is a Black woman. Very smart, able, all that. She knew Biden would not be perfect, but she worked for him anyway. Part of the reason for this might have been that Donald Trump signed a bill that raised the minimum age to smoke from eighteen to twenty-one. She felt that was no one else’s business, and that if you’re old enough to go to war, you’re old enough to smoke.

(Even though I don’t smoke, I agree with her.)

My friend has always smoked menthol cigarettes, such as Newports. But Biden’s FDA banned menthol cigarettes citing their “adverse affects on Black Americans.” (This was often the phrase used by journalists and TV analysts when this happened last year.) Menthol, you see, masks some of the harshness of the tobacco, and it apparently opens up additional nicotine receptors. (I have never smoked, so all I can say is apparently.)

At any rate, my friend was absolutely furious about this. She felt it’s her body, her choice. Alcohol is allowed in many flavors, and alcohol kills many more people than cigarettes.

She also was deeply unhappy, and remains deeply unhappy to this day, about how people who smoke get treated like second-class citizens. Being a smoker is now worse than being a drinker, and that’s just wrong.

I’m not saying any vice is good. But I have two vices of my own: lottery tickets, and diet soda. (Well, three if you add in Snickers bars.)

Most of us have at least one vice, and for most of the time, this vice is harmless or reasonably harmless. (Some folks, knowing that I am a plus-sized woman, probably would tell me that a Snickers bar is not harmless in my case. Too bad. I definitely agree with my friend regarding “my body, my choice.”) Those who drink in moderation are not shamed in the same way as those who smoke in moderation.

My late husband, and my late grandmother, and most of my grandmother’s family before her, were all smokers. My grandma lived to be 89 years old. My husband’s heart attacks were almost assuredly not caused by smoking (this from the ME at the time), though it probably didn’t help. Most of grandma’s family lived to be 75 and up…they drank, smoked, gambled, some of the men probably wenched, and they enjoyed life to the fullest until the day they died.

Look. I am asthmatic. Smoke and smoking can cause trouble for me. Michael, my husband, knew it, and did his best to smoke outside. The smell on his clothes was minor that way. He used breath mints and did his best to keep the nicotine taste out of his mouth so when we kissed, we had a better experience.

In short, he did his best to minimize the effects of smoking. Plus, he was trying hard to quit — he tried at least six times during our marriage (we only got two-plus years together as a married couple, remember, so this is actually rather impressive), and was down to only four cigarettes a day from a pack-and-a-half habit. (He could not use the patch because of his skin issues. He didn’t do well with the gum because of his dentures. And the only other option for him, nicotine water, was so foul that he could not stand it. I didn’t blame him.)

Therefore, I cannot and will not censure any smokers. And, quite frankly, I do not understand anyone who does unless they’re “virtue-signaling.” (Yes, me, a left-of-center more-or-less liberal person, is using that term.)

We all have faults. We all have vices. We all have “Achilles heels.”

Lording it over anyone because you do not like their legal vice is not just stupid, pointless and wrong. It’s also cruel. So if you’re someone who’s told yourself, a non-smoker, that smoking is evil and have forgotten all about how the cigarette companies did everything they could to keep people hooked by altering the levels of nicotine, etc. (look up the old “60 Minutes” episode if you don’t believe me), and have decided to blame the smoker rather than the cigarette company, you need to stop doing that.

Right now.

My Thoughts on Tonight’s Packers-49ers NFL Playoff Game

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Folks, as it’s now Saturday, that means the Green Bay Packers will be playing its first playoff game of the NFL season against the San Francisco 49ers at home. Seemingly everyone in Wisconsin is ready for this. (If you’re not a Packers fan in Wisconsin, you probably follow along enough to get by. We’re quite rabid when it comes to football, here.)

I think the Packers are likely to win today because they have a better quarterback in Aaron Rodgers and because the Packers defense has been surprisingly good most of the season.

But that’s not why I’m writing this blog.

Nope. I’m writing this blog because it reminds me of one of the special moments in my life.

You see, back in 2002, the Packers were preparing to play the 49ers in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. (This time, the Packers got the bye, meaning they could rest during the Wild Card round.) My late husband Michael and I had been dating long-distance (as nearly all of our courtship was long-distance due to living about 1500 miles apart) for about a month, maybe a month and a half. And we both knew we’d watch this game, as we were both football fans.

We really wanted to watch this game together. But as we were not independently wealthy (far, far from it), the best way we had to watch the game together was to talk on the telephone for three hours while I watched the game in Iowa as he watched the game in San Francisco.

We both vowed that whichever team won, we’d continue to root for it throughout the remainder of the playoffs.

But that’s not why I remember the game so well. The reason I remember it has to do with the three hours of conversation, including digressions as to what sort of commercials were on, whether the announcers on TV or radio were better (I think we both agreed the radio announcers had more skill and knowledge), and, of course, cheers and jeers when our respective teams made good plays.

After the game, we both hung up, and then went to talk some more via instant messaging. (We didn’t have webcams. It was 2002. This meant we had to learn to communicate, quickly, or our relationship would founder. Fortunately, both of us were extremely motivated to find a way to do just that…)

That football game was one of the best moments of my entire life, all because I had Michael to share it with. It was astonishing then, as it is now to recall, just how much Michael wanted to be with me, and how creative he was in finding ways to do whatever he could to make my life better. (Yes, I was creative, too, and did my best to make his life better also.)

I’ve never met anyone else with both the tenaciousness and the tenderness that Michael showed me, though I have met three other special men since his passing. (None worked out as relationships, but I still have soft spots for these guys, two of whom are still living.) I believe the reason I could try again is because of how wonderful Michael was, though of course he’s a tough act to follow.

So, this football game reminds me, just a bit, of the 2002 playoff game between the same teams. And I’m wishing, right now, that my husband Michael was still alive to root for his 49ers, and to make whatever other interesting comments he could about everything else along the way.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 22, 2022 at 4:11 am

In Romance, See What’s There, Not Just What You Think Is There

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I’ve been thinking a lot about two things. One is about romance, and the second is about the nature of observation.

See, we as human beings want to see what we desire most. This can delude us into staying in bad relationships far longer than their sell-by date (certainly, I did, in my first marriage; thank goodness I found Michael in the end). Because we see every single small gesture as full of meaning…which it is, if the feelings are true.

But what if they aren’t? What if your significant other is lying to you? What then?

We have to observe what the truth is before we can grasp that truth.

In my case, with my first marriage, it took me several long years to realize two things. (Yes, I’m big on two things today for some reason.) The first was that the way I saw my then-husband was not who he truly was. The second was that he was not the person I needed.

When I met him, I was quite young. So was he. Maybe he wanted to be the man I needed. But he just couldn’t be that person, no matter how much I wanted him to be.

There were good things, even then, that I missed after I divorced him. He liked the same music I did. He read many of the same books.

But then, there were the drawbacks, which I decidedly did not miss. He had wit, but not a lot of depth. And at the time, he was incapable of being faithful.

(I hope his second wife has found him to be much more faithful than I. But that’s up to them, of course. And as always, I digress.)

So, persistence of vision led me into a trap. The trap was that I saw only the best iteration of my ex-husband. Not the entirety of him. (Not even close.) I saw that because when we met, he was on his best behavior. And I hoped that was all he was…or that he would deepen and broaden and become more and more interesting over time.

That did not happen.

The person it did happen with, eventually, was Michael. He was funny, smart as a whip, shared many interests with me, but not all. We had amazing, long, in-depth, interesting conversations. He was more fascinating the longer I knew him. I loved him, I loved being with him, and I very much enjoyed being his wife, because he was exactly who he said he was.

(Not to mention, he was as faithful as the day is long. And honorable. And so many things that I could go on for days and still not tap the entirety of him. But I’d better finish this blog instead.)

Michael was not the first person I’d entered into a relationship with after my first marriage failed. But he was the only one who mattered.

I could tell, by observation, that Michael cared about me and wanted only what was best. I knew by what he did — how often we talked (as our relationship started as a long-distance one and proceeded that way for about six or seven months), what we talked about, how much he remembered of what I’d said, even what he sent me in the mail — that he was an honorable, loving man.

Someone worthy of me. Someone worthy of love.

Michael was ever-changing, but always at the bedrock level was the same. Honest. He’d tell you the truth, even if he would’ve rather not, because he knew nothing real could proceed without it. And the depth of feeling he had for me was incredible.

Ultimately, even though we didn’t get a lot of Earthly time together, Michael’s love and influence changed my life. It’s made me a better person.

Again, I know this by observation. I know this by re-reading our letters to each other. (Mostly e-mail, but a few are dead-tree versions.) I know this by the stories he wrote. I know this by every action he ever performed.

There’s a big difference between someone who truly loves you and someone who only says they do. That difference is as clear as night and day, but you have to first perceive it before you can see it. And you have to admit to yourself, when you’re in the wrong relationship, that it’s time to go.

I fought that realization before I divorced my ex. In a way, he forced my hand, because he started the next relationship before he was done with me. But his action in doing that somehow got through to me that he was not about to change; he could not be the person I needed, and he’d already left, emotionally and spiritually. He’d made that choice to go.

So, you may be wondering why I’m talking about this. (No, it’s not just because of rewatching the new Matrix movie, Resurrections, again. Though I enjoyed it even more the second time around, I will say.)

We see, often, what we expect to see. So if we are in love, we expect to see that our significant other loves us in return. We look for reasons to believe what we think is right, rather than observe how they’re behaving, or listening to what they actually say, or watching their body language, or a thousand other little details that tell a quite intricate story if we just paid attention.

In this New Year of 2022, I urge you to pay attention to what is real. Observe. Listen. Pay attention.

Whether in romance, in life, in work, or in play — or in all of them — paying attention matters. And you should not ever stay with someone who doesn’t respect you as much as he respects himself.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 1, 2022 at 6:54 am