Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Michael B. Caffrey’ Category

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

“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

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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

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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

Blogging and Life

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Some days, it’s easier to write than others. But lately, writing has been like pulling teeth.

Why am I starting out with this? Simple. I haven’t blogged much in a few weeks, and I’ve had questions as to why. Long-time readers probably know the answer, but I’m willing to give it again…it’s the time of year that’s getting me down.

Around this time thirteen years ago, my husband Michael was alive. Writing. Reading and editing my writing. Making me laugh. Letting me make him laugh. Cooking. Walking the neighborhood. Complaining about politics, and listening to my complaints about politics, too.

In short, living his life. And enjoying it, and our marriage, immensely.

Then came that awful day, the day that changed everything. The day he had four heart attacks without warning, which he couldn’t survive.

The day I became a (way too young) widow.

I can’t pretend that I like this time of year. And I won’t.

What I will say, as I said in last week’s blog about changing perspectives, is that I’m trying to look at it a different way. At long last, I am trying to see my husband’s life right now, rather than see the “period at the end of the sentence,” otherwise known as his death.

Yeah, at other times of the year, I see Michael’s life quite well. And it comforts me. It gives me hope, because I was fully understood and appreciated and admired, all for being myself. And boy, oh boy, was I loved…

(Embarrassed grin.)

Anyway. The fact of the matter is, I just hurt at this time of year. And because I hurt, my creativity is slowed. I find it hard to play my instruments, hard to write fiction, a little more difficult to edit (depending on the project), and just, in general, find life to be more of a drag.

That this year is going to be more like 2004 than not — in that it’ll be too hot, and too humid, for late September — is not helping.

Still, if I think about my husband’s life, and about how much he loved me, it helps. A lot.

I know Michael would like it if I could find more joy, more happiness, or at least more peace. And God/dess, am I trying.

As to why I’m blogging about something so personal?

Well, there may be some widow out there hurting just as much as I am. Maybe she’s wondering what the point is. Or wondering how on Earth she can keep going, keep striving, keep working toward a future she can no longer see, when the love of her life is dead.

I think there is a reason, but I don’t have a way to articulate it very well.

The best I can say is that because I was loved so well, I want to do right. I want to help others, in whatever way I can, and I want to keep going. Because that’s what my husband would want.

And I’m trying, so hard, to find a way to want it, too. Despite the time of year.

Because if I can keep trying, maybe I might eventually find love again. (Hey, it could happen. That I even want it to happen, after thirteen years, is miraculous enough. And no, you may not say “it’s about time.”)

I kind of think Michael would like that.

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 19, 2017 at 7:33 pm

Changing Perspectives

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Folks, sometimes you just have to change your perspective.

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

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

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

Of course I said it was everything else.

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

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

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

No, he wouldn’t. And I admitted that.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 15, 2017 at 9:20 pm