Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Persistence’ Category

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.

A Post of Quiet Contemplation

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The last few weeks, I’ve needed to take a breather.

I’ve been doing what I can to watch nature as the weather starts to turn. There is a plethora of birds to see at this time of year in Wisconsin, and many are small and cute. While I’m no ornithologist, I enjoy bird-watching, as it reminds me that troubles are mostly transitory. Eventually, we fly away from our cares.

(BTW, jazz saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker had a song called “Ornithology.” That’s how I learned the word — and if you don’t know who Charlie Parker is, shame on you.)

I try to be aware of the various animals around at this time of year. We often have ducks crossing the road, or sometimes a pack of squirrels (with maybe one or two laggards)…there are some folks with outdoor cats that I’ve seen, too, along with a number of geese (rare at this time of year, as they usually like much warmer surrounds than Wisconsin in November).

When I see an animal wounded or dead on the road, I say a prayer for them. (I know that has to sound ridiculous, but it’s true.) They remind me of something that happened a few years ago now, you see.

There was a duck in the middle of the road with its feet up. It was only a two-lane road, and it was a county highway. There was no way for me to get off the road as there was no shoulder (road construction, I think, at the time); I couldn’t do anything except hope and pray my wheels would not hit the duck in its throes.

Unfortunately, I ran over the duck. I felt terrible about it. I kept wondering if there was anything I could do. (My bird-loving friends said no, there wasn’t.) I wanted to go back and get that duck and bring it to the side of the road, so it could die in peace, rather than perhaps getting run over by even more cars (I don’t think mine was the first car to hit the poor thing).

While I couldn’t do that then, I have tried to do similar things with other animals in the road. I haven’t found any live animals since that duck, but I have been able to get a few cats off the road and one poor little dog (no tags on any of them, and no collars, either). If all I can do is pick them up with a bag or some paper toweling to put them on the side of the road, at least I feel slightly better for it.

I wonder, sometimes, if we are like those poor things. Most of the time, no one knows what we’re doing while we’re doing it, and we seem to only be appreciated in retrospect. We mostly hurry, scurrying here and there, not watching the road very much as we just try to keep going about our business in our daily lives.

What I believe, mostly, is that we owe it to all of the Deity’s creatures to respect them and do our best to love them, if possible. (I have a hard time loving a flea or a mosquito, so when I see one, I mostly hope it goes somewhere else. But that’s probably a flaw in my faith.)

So, if you are out and about this week — and many will be in the US, as it’s the week of Thanksgiving for us — you owe it to yourself to fully partake in nature’s surroundings as best you can.

Look at the trees. See how they keep growing, changing, yet somehow keeping their essence the same despite all the seasons of their lives.

Look at the few flowers that have made it through the frost (if any are left); otherwise, look at the evergreens, and ponder how shrubbery makes it through all the seasons more or less unscathed.

Look at the animals, including rabbits, geese, ducks, birds of all sorts, and squirrels. See how they just go about their business, preparing for winter, but enjoying what they have in the meantime (even if it’s just a stray bar of sunlight now and again).

Don’t forget these things. Let them ground you, motivate you, or maybe both…but no matter what, keep an eye on them.

These are the things that matter, you see. Everything else, save love and faith, is extraneous. The animals know it.

We should know it, too.

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 21, 2022 at 2:49 pm

Will Be on Dellani Oakes’ BlogTalkRadio Show This Monday (November 14)

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As the title says, I’ll be on writer Dellani Oakes’ BlogTalkRadio show this upcoming Monday, November 14, 2022, between 3 and 5 Central Standard Time.

You might be wondering what I’m going to talk about. I figured I’d discuss writing the two Elfyverse short stories that have been sold to the Fantastic Schools anthologies; one is in Fantastic Schools 3, while the other is in Fantastic Schools Hols. Both feature Bruno the Elfy (my main character from the two Elfy novels), but before he knew he was an Adept. (Actually, the second story features him both before and after he found out, because of my own sense of whimsy.)

I plan to read from the second story, mind you. It’s called “Jon and Leftwich have a Holiday Adventure.” I do hope you’ll join me and the others, because I think you’ll enjoy yourselves if you do.

At any rate, talking about that isn’t long enough for a blog, so I figured I’d discuss a few other things.

While I still love writing Elfyverse stories, and plan to get out a collection of Elfyverse stories soon (it may not be the end of the year as I was hoping, as I’m battling significant flu issues right now), I wonder sometimes if I’ll ever hit my market squarely. I know it’s there. The folks who loved Robert Asprin’s comic novels or love Jody Lynn Nye’s funny stories or Esther Friesner’s work should enjoy what I’m doing. (If I were truly lucky, I might even tap into some of the folks who clamored for Douglas Adams’ work, but I doubt I’m that lucky. Plus, I’m not British, and lack that sort of edge to my humor. Still, my daydreams sometimes work that way…and if it keeps me writing, why not?)

The state of the Elfyverse is better than it was, mind you. I do have those two stories in the FS anthos, I’m working on two other new ones (for the upcoming collection), and I have restarted the long-delayed novel KEISHA’S VOW and have figured out at least in part what had been stopping me cold.

Thing is, I must get over this flu. (It’s not Covid. Tested negative.)

I rarely have fevers. So when I have them, I don’t really know what to do. When I get a few good hours, I need to use that to finish up the edits in progress, which of course is sensible. But it’s knocked me out of a band I was hoping to play in (I may still be able to play in another one soon, but I must get better fast), it’s delayed my writing more than it was already (and that’s been considerable), and because I have to push all the time, it seems to stop my creativity cold.

Music lives in me. But when I’m ill, the notes escape before I can write them down. (Playing is not an option today. Maybe it will be soon.) And my stories live in me, too. But it’s hard to write down music or words when I can’t concentrate worth a hill of beans.

The stories I have in progress are various. One’s about an Amazon who’d settled down and was teaching young warriors (men and women) how to fight…but while she was away, her whole family (including her beloved husband) was killed. She goes to his family to let them know, and before she can tell them, finds out that most of them are dead also. Only her sister-in-law is alive, and she’s like a mental vegetable. So what’s gone wrong there?

I have an inkling, but I also think somehow I lost my way. Still, this remains one of several stories that are vexing me.

The second is a good friend’s favorite story. It’s called “All the News That’s Fit,” and is about the US post-apocalypse of some sort. There’s now a bunch of divided states rather than a United States, and while one part of it still calls itself the US, it’s now centered around St. Louis, Missouri. (The South split off by itself. Texas, I think, is alone. The West Coast is now The Republic of the West.)

But the reason my good friend loves it is due to the romance between a newsreader (technology has backslid, to a degree, so the Army shepherds newsreaders around to various hamlets to tell ’em whatever the official story is) and an Army NCO. Newsreaders go into doing this to save their families, mostly…to get good medical care now is even more expensive than it is now in the US, and if you aren’t affiliated with some sort of public service, you can’t get it. But if you do an important job like newsreading, you can get your family the treatment they need…and that’s important for my heroine, Chloris, whose sister has cancer.

The guy in the tale is Sergeant James Carter. I didn’t consciously name him for the former POTUS, if you’re wondering; instead, I named him because I knew a very good, female Sergeant Carter years ago. She was competent, tough as nails, and yet very kind to me as I tried to work my way through becoming a military wife. She was a Reservist, and as I said, I truly appreciated her.

My Sergeant Carter is close to retirement age. He’s in his late thirties. He’s been through a lot. And because of his training, skills, and service, by the time he meets Chloris, he’s pretty much off women and off the idea of getting married someday. (That newsreaders rarely marry doesn’t help, because the duty is grueling, and newsreaders have to be hypnotized after a while to remember what to say and how to say it. As I said, it’s a messed-up world they live in.) But there’s just something about her that appeals to him, and the better he knows her — away from her job, and he’s thrown together with her due to his own — the better he likes her.

Then her sister goes missing…and all Hell breaks loose.

The third one is a YA story featuring a young version of Commander Ryann Creston, who features briefly in my story “To Survive the Maelstrom.” Here, she’s been taken captive at 14 along with a whole bunch of would-be cadets — stolen on the way to the military academy — and is put to work by a cult at some sort of out-of-the-way space station. She finds one person who’s willing to help — the doctor, who’d also been shanghaied years earlier — but in the meantime, she’s forced to endure many indignities…including the gropings of a young man named Derrick. There’s no actual sex here, and there’s more the threat of violence than anything…still, Ryann’s in a bad spot and needs to get the Hell out of there.

Now, why am I stalled? It’s very simple. I can’t figure out where the Hell the ships would dock on this station. It’s an old one, so it might actually have to use some sort of manual locks or shuttles or something to deal with how to get on and off. Ryann can’t move about the station unless there’s a power outage, because she’s watched nearly every minute of every day. (This station is old, so it does have some power outages, thank goodness.) And if Ryann can’t figure out where to go, how can she lead everyone else off that station and get back to the Academy where she belongs?

Those aren’t all the stories I have in progress, but those are the three that vex me the most. Somehow, I have to get them done…and while in some ways “All the News” is closer to it than the others, the best ending I’ve found relies on a cliffhanger and I don’t want to do that to readers (hoping they find me in the first place, I don’t want them then to throw down their e-readers in disgust).

So, that’s what’s going on.

What’s going on with you? (The comments, as always, are open.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 11, 2022 at 6:04 am

Inspiration Is Where You Find It

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I want to talk about inspiration for a bit, because I truly do think inspiration is where you find it.

Consider, please, that when you go outside, you see small animals. Birds. Squirrels. Rabbits. Assorted critters of various sizes along those lines.

Observing wildlife, just watching them, gives you the idea that the struggles we face aren’t a patch on what they do.

In the middle of fall, as we are now in much of the Northern Hemisphere, a squirrel is storing away food to make it through the winter. A bird is figuring out where it’s going to nest, or perhaps lighting out for warmer climates. A rabbit…well, who knows what’s going to happen to it, as there are many competitors for that rabbit, and most do not indicate a long life.

Yet they continue to get up, move around, and do whatever they can to extend their lives. It’s instinctual, sure…but it’s also inspirational.

None of us know the future. None of us have any idea what will happen tomorrow, or the day after that either. Yet we continue to get up and do what we can, in the hope that it’ll matter down the line.

All we can do is our best. Every day. In every way.

If we realize that, and if we are observant, we can find many things to inspire us and also to give us hope, even during the darkest time of the year. (As Ned Stark put it in Game of Thrones, “Winter is coming.”)

The most important thing to do, though, is the hardest.

Believe in yourself. Believe in your talents and abilities. Give them a chance to flower, no matter how rocky the ground is, and no matter how much fertilizer you have to put on that ground in the meantime.

If you can do that, you’re one step closer to where you want to be.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 4, 2022 at 12:17 am

Moving on, again (Plus: Answering the Q, “How Can You Still Edit?”)

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As my last blog said, I am no longer a member of the Racine Concert Band.

It’s been a couple of very strange weeks, I must say. Every time there’s a rehearsal, I keep thinking I need to go (until I correct myself); every time there’s a concert, I feel how wrong it is that I’m not there.

All I can do, though, is move on.

I’ve had many experiences lately where I’ve had to move on when I wasn’t ready to do it. It never gets easier. But I will keep working at it, because as I know well, much of life and life’s experiences remain out of my control.

Let’s move on to something else.

One of my friends asked me why I was so forthcoming in regard to admitting I had a pulmonary embolism in 2020 and haven’t been the same, health-wise, since. She was afraid I might mess up my editing prospects, as there are a lot of folks out there who don’t want to deal with anyone who admits to illness, much less chronic illness.

(To put this in perspective: my friend also deals with chronic illness and has for years.)

So, I figured I’d discuss the elephant in the room, which is this: “Barb, if you’re not able to play your instruments right now, how can you edit?”

Simply put, they are two different things.

Yes, both are creative pursuits. However, there are many ways to edit once you get past the grammatical aspect, and I tend to be as creative as possible while making my points to various clients.

As most of you no doubt know, music is usually performed with other people; even if you’re playing a recital with a pianist, you still must play with another person at a scheduled time and place. (Yes, sometimes there are late cancellations for different reasons, but then you have to find a makeup date.)

Editing is done by me and can be scheduled at any point in any given day. (I tend to edit at night, when there are fewer distractions, but I’ve proven I can edit at any time of any day if need be.)

I hope this answers the question as to how I can continue to edit despite all that’s gone on in my life since 2020.

In conclusion, I appreciate my clients. They are all great people, and many of them have become my friends, which is something that pleases me greatly. I enjoy their company, I enjoy their manuscripts, and I appreciate the work.

Oh, one final, thing (I know I sound like Lt. Columbo from TV, years back): My Elfyverse “holiday” story was accepted into the Fantastic Schools: Holidays anthology. Thank you all who asked me privately about this and reminded me to come say something about it.

What’s going on in your life, writing or otherwise? Tell me about it in the comments!

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.

A Sunday Roundup: Cain DFA’d, Car Oddities, and Some Writing Achieved

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Folks, I thought long and hard as to whether I wanted to write one bigger blog, or three short blogs. As I’m pressed for time, I decided to go with the longer blog…so, here we go.

The Milwaukee Brewers, my favorite baseball team, designated CF Lorenzo Cain for assignment yesterday (or DFA’d for short). Cain was an outstanding offensive and defensive player before Covid-19 hit; he sat out 2020 (the truncated first Covid year), came back last year and dealt with injuries but still showed flashes of his old form, and then this year he never quite got on track.

Personally, I blame the owners’ lockout for that. Any athlete has his routine to go through, and Spring Training is as much about routine as anything. When Spring Training got disrupted by the owners’ lockout, that meant spring games were not played; at-bats were not taken; players were not able to do anywhere near what they’d usually do for several weeks until the owners and players finally came to an agreement, and the owners’ lockout ended.

Why does that matter? Well, an older athlete — and Cain is now thirty-six, ancient for a baseball player — needs more time to get in the groove. (Maybe some don’t when it comes to defensive play, but most do when it comes to hitting, pitching, and fielding.) It seemed to me that Cain was doing as well as anyone in Spring Training pre-lockout…but after, he wasn’t quite right.

Cain was hitting only .179 when the Brewers designated him for assignment. Considering his lifetime batting average is .283, that’s a significant drop-off.

Cain’s defense was still sharp, for the most part. He was still an exceptionally fast runner, as outfielders tend to be (they need to, in order to cover so much ground). He was taking extra batting practice, and doing everything he could to get his hitting in gear…but it just didn’t work.

Both Cain and the Brewers were classy about this. Cain said it was “a mutual decision” according to what I heard on TV and via radio. The Brewers waited until Cain had ten full years of major-league service time (that day being yesterday) to designate Cain for assignment, making sure that Cain was fully-vested with regards to MLB’s pensions for retired players down the line.

As WTMJ-AM announcer Brian Dee said on the “Brewers Extra Innings” program after the Brewers game yesterday, “The Brewers did Cain a solid.” I agree.

I will miss Lorenzo Cain. His energy was infectious. He had a huge smile, and obviously loved to play (even in the last few weeks, where it seemed like he couldn’t buy a hit). He was smart, savvy, and did everything right, even when he wasn’t hitting. (He said he wished things were going better, making no excuses for himself.)

I think it’s likely Cain will retire. But if he does continue to play, I hope he’ll find his hitting stroke again and enjoy baseball as much as he ever has.

Anyway, now we’re on to the “car oddities” part of the blog. And it really is an odd story…so, here I go with that.

I was parked in one of the lots at the apartment complex where my Mom lives. That lot is dark after 8:30 p.m. in the summer (and no better in the winter, either; in fact, in the winter it is hard to see probably after 4:30 or 5:00 p.m.), which matters. And when I parked, I was the only person in the lot with a 2010 Hyundai Accent Blue. (Yes, this matters, too.)

When I walked out to leave, there was an identical car parked next to me. I only realized it once I got in the wrong car, realizing that I didn’t have an air freshener (this car did), that the car was far too neat to be mine, and the seat was also in the wrong position.

So, I got out of the car, and automatically locked the driver’s door and the passenger side door behind me (as I always do), after I got my hand-cart out of the back seat.

Anyway, I then realized I did not have my purse. I had left it in the wrong car!

Fortunately, the passenger side doors were open (as the driver’s side ones had been, too). I reached in, got my purse, and got the Hell out of there.

However…I left my cane in that car, and I didn’t realize it until I was all the way home.

My brother is visiting right now and saw my agitation over it all. (I hate being stupid, and I really felt stupid with this.) He drove me back to the lot, exclaimed about how dark that lot is, and said anyone could’ve made that mistake with two cars, identical makes and models, in almost no lighting. And yes, he opened up the passenger side door (which fortunately I hadn’t locked), and indeed, my cane was in that wrong car.

I don’t know what the owner of that car is going to think when they go back out to their car, mind you. (I have no idea who this is. Until now, I had no idea that anyone in the complex or among the people who regularly visit had a car identical to mine.) The seat is in the wrong position for them, as I pushed it all the way back. The driver’s side doors are locked, while the other two are not, and they’d left them all unlocked.

I considered leaving a note, but I had no idea what to say.

My brother said that I should leave well enough alone. If I figure out who that person is, I’ll apologize; otherwise, he said I should leave it be as it was an honest mistake.

He drove me back home, where my father wasn’t too happy over the whole affair. (Dad has never seen that lot at night. Jim tried to tell him, but Dad still didn’t understand how this could happen. At all.)

Now that I know there is another car with the same paint job (light blue), the same make and model, the same wheels, all that, I will look at the license plate before I get into the car. (Other distinguishing features of my car were unable to be seen in that light.)

As it was, my brother had to park the car in such a way — half in and half out of the spot — and shine his headlights on the wrong car (as I had driven my own car back and left it at home) before he could see well enough to figure out if the cane was in the car. (His phone has a flashlight. My phone with a flashlight was back at home, of course. But even his flashlight app couldn’t tell him whether the cane was in there or out, and he didn’t want to open the car door unless he was sure the cane was in there.)

I don’t know if anyone else has ever had this happen before — two cars, both identical in dim light, same make, same model, same paint job, and all — but it is truly strange. (Thus, “car oddities.”)

Finally, after I’d gotten back home again, and talked this out with a few friends who live overseas in different time zones (as my good friends who live here were all asleep, as they should’ve been), I managed to write one thousand words into a new Elfyverse short story. I’d wanted to write all week long, and the time got away from me…but I figured that as I was back, and was too scattered to edit, I should do something creative in the hopes that it would help me calm myself a little.

It worked.

At any rate, I will try to schedule time to write over the next few days and see how it goes.

What’s going on with you? Anything new this Sunday? How is your writing going, for the writers out there? Let me know in the comments…especially about the car oddity.

My Thoughts, As A Widow, On Recent “This is Us” Episodes

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(What a pretentious title, huh? But it was the best I could do…moving on.)

My Mom and I have watched NBC’s TV show “This is Us” about the Pearson clan for several years. (I can’t recall if we watched it regularly until the third year, but we did watch.) I’ve had a great deal of empathy for various characters. I remember Randall (played by Sterling K. Brown), the Black man raised in a white family, meeting his biological father for the first time. That was both difficult and heartening, all by itself; when the Pearsons, en masse, decided to welcome William (Randall’s bio father), it became something more.

Anyway, the matriarch of the Pearsons is Rebecca, played by Mandy Moore. We see her when she’s young and heavily pregnant; we see her when she’s in her late twenties/early thirties, raising her kids; we see her in her fifties and sixties, after her first husband’s passed away and she’s married her second one; we see her, finally, with Alzheimer’s disease, dying with her kids and grandkids around her.

Rebecca’s story is the one that I took to the most, over time. (This is not surprising, I suppose.) She loved her first husband Jack with everything that she had, and when he died unexpectedly, still in his prime, her world collapsed.

I understand how that feels extremely well.

Rebecca, unlike me, had three children who were all teenagers. She still had to be there for them. She also had good friends, including Miguel (the man who later became her second husband), her husband’s best friend. The friends helped Rebecca and her kids accustom themselves to a life with a Jack-sized hole in it.

This was not easy for any of them. Jack was an interesting, kind, funny, hard-working, loving man who adored his wife and was so ecstatic to be a father. He had his faults, including battles with alcoholism, that he tried to hide from his wife (and mostly did hide, successfully, from his children). But his virtues far outweighed his flaws.

Obviously, Jack’s loss was hardest on Rebecca. She was still in her prime, in her late thirties/early forties. She hadn’t expected to be a widow, much less so soon. But she was one, and she had to adapt on the fly, just as her kids were starting to flee the nest.

As her kids married, divorced, remarried, had children, and lived their lives, one thing was clear: even if their spouses had been divorced, they were still part of the Pearson clan. They were still welcome at every family function. They were included, not excluded, because the Pearsons believed “the more the merrier,” which probably came from Rebecca being pregnant with triplets in the first place. (The third triplet died, which is why Rebecca and Jack adopted Randall, who was born on the same day and needed a family as his mother had died and his father — then — was completely unknown.)

Of course, there were oddities that happened to the Pearsons. (How else? Life itself is strange.)

One of them was when Randall’s father, William, made contact with Rebecca and Jack when Randall was quite young. William felt Randall was better off where he was, as William was battling a drug addiction along with poverty and much frustration; that was an extremely hard decision, but one that reaped major dividends late in life when Randall (in his thirties, roughly) found that William had known a) he was Randall’s bio father and b) where Randall was the entire time. Randall forgave William, in time, and as I said before, the Pearsons welcomed William until the day William died.

That said, for many fans, the oddest oddity of them all was the fact of Miguel marrying Rebecca. We knew Miguel was with Rebecca from the start (or nearly), because “This is Us” has always told its story in a non-linear fashion. We also knew that Miguel was Jack’s best friend, that he was appreciative of Rebecca from the start (he told Jack to make sure he married Rebecca, because “someone else” would; maybe even he didn’t know that someone else, someday, would be Miguel himself), and that while Jack lived Miguel made no moves (as a quality human being, of course he didn’t).

Because of the jumping back and forth in time effect, though, until the last few episodes it was impossible to tell when Miguel had married Rebecca. (That Rebecca had developed Alzheimer’s, and Miguel was caring for her until his own death, was something explored in great depth this past season.)

Why?

Well, Miguel didn’t get an episode revolving around him until a few weeks ago. That’s when I found out that Miguel had waited several years, had moved away to a different state, and made sure his feelings were real (and not something conjured out of pity and the deep, abiding friendship he’d always had with Rebecca while Jack was still alive) before he married Rebecca.

We still didn’t see his marriage, which was the second marriage for both of them. (Miguel’s first marriage ended in divorce.) But we saw how he took care of Rebecca. He was tender, kind, compassionate, loving, and altogether the right person for her after Jack died.

I was happy she found another good man to love.

This may sound odd, if you’ve read my blog for years. I thought for quite a few years that my heart was not big enough to admit another love — romantic love, anyway — after Michael’s way-too-early death.

While I found out that was wrong, the two men I’ve cared about in the past few years did not end up growing with me in the same way. They did not want the same things. (Or in one case, even if he had, he could not express that. He is neuro-divergent.)

The man who might’ve been “my Miguel” was Jeff Wilson, who died in 2011. Jeff didn’t know Michael, so that part wouldn’t be analogous. But Jeff knew I was the person I am because of Michael. Jeff also was my best friend of many years (seven, at the time of his death), and during his fatal health crisis said to me, with a weary yet humorous tone in his voice, “Can we please proceed to the dating phase now?”

I’ll never know what would’ve happened had Jeff lived. But I knew I was going to try, and I told him that.

Then he died, after he’d been improving; his death was unexpected, and he was only a year older than Michael had been when Michael died.

So, two men. Both interesting, intelligent, funny, hard-working, creative…both themselves, indelibly themselves, and I cared about them — loved them — both. (I did not yet have romantic love for Jeff, but I certainly was getting there at the time of his death. I definitely had agape love and philios also.)

Anyway, Rebecca’s death episode was this past Tuesday. She was pictured on a train. She saw William (acting as the conductor); she saw her obstetrician (acting as a bartender). She saw her kids, possibly including her deceased triplet (I wasn’t sure about that), at various ages. She heard the various well-wishes of the Pearson clan, including from her daughter’s ex-husband, her son Kevin’s wife (he’d only married twice, to the same woman, but many years apart), and her sons. But she was waiting “for something”…

As she’s waiting, she sees Miguel, a passenger on the train. He salutes her with his drink, and tells her she’s still his favorite person.

This made me cry.

Miguel got no more time in that episode, which upset me. I thought Rebecca should’ve gone to him, hugged him, and said “thank you.” Her mentation has been restored, on the train; she knows that Miguel helped her while she was so ill with Alzheimer’s. She also got a second wonderful husband in addition to her first, which is very rare…yet while she smiled at him, and seemed happy to see him, she didn’t go to him.

This made me even sadder.

The end of the episode came when her daughter, Kate, was able to get there (she’d been overseas). As she says goodbye, Rebecca clearly crosses over and enters “the caboose,” where her first husband, Jack, waits.

That’s where the episode ended.

I don’t know what’ll happen in the finale of “This is Us.” I do hope that Miguel’s contribution to Rebecca’s life, and to the entire life of the Pearson clan, will somehow be recognized. (Her children all told her to say “hey” to their father for them, but no one asked her to hug Miguel if they saw him. That, too, bugged me, but maybe the writers wrote it and they had no time to get it into the episode.) It’s obvious that without him in her later years (even before she got Alheimer’s), there wouldn’t have been as much acceptance and love from the Pearsons as a whole.

Anyway, my take as a widow is that I want there to be some recognition of how much good Miguel did for Rebecca, and that Jack had no problems with it as Miguel both made her happy and helped her as her mentation declined. (Miguel also still saw Rebecca as the same person, even with her mind going; her own children couldn’t always do that, as her daughter Kate pointed out in a recent episode.)

To be able to love again after such tragedy was wonderful. To not express thankfulness and gratitude for loving again…well, had it been me in that position, I hope I’d have done better.

(And yes, I know they’re all characters. Not real people. But they surely felt real, which is why I hope that Mandy Moore wins an Emmy for her portrayal of Rebecca and that Jon Huertas wins an Emmy as well for his excellent supporting work.)

Sunday Thoughts: Creativity and the New Matrix Movie, Resurrections

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I found no way to write this without spoilers. If you have not seen Matrix Resurrections yet, proceed at your own risk.

As a writer, I am often inspired by unusual things.

I take note of all sorts of things, you see. I observe them. I think about them, sometimes only subconsciously, but I ponder them. And I wonder, often, what would have happened if I’d have chosen a much smaller life.

(I do not think that would’ve been a good idea, mind you. But let’s stay with the concept.)

This all matters to me, as a person, especially due to the fact that I’ve been creative my entire life. And as I’ve grown into midlife, there are so many different messages that have been thrown at me. “Grow up,” says one. “Stop fantasizing that your career will ever matter,” says another. “What you do as a writer…what’s the point of it? No one reads what you say, so who cares?”

And then, there are the bills. The obligations. The chores. The never-ending minutiae of life.

All of this can weigh me down. Add in health problems, as anyone who’s read this blog for a while has to have figured out, and the weight of sorrow as my life-partner has been dead now for over seventeen years, and it sometimes seems overwhelming.

“But Barb,” you say. “What about the new Matrix movie, Resurrections? You put that into your title, right? You are going to talk about it, aren’t you?”

Yes, I am. Because I think much of the commentary regarding Matrix Resurrections is flat-out wrong. They are missing the point, which is this: Just because you’re older, your love shouldn’t be trivialized. And fighting for love matters more than anything in this world.

Anything.

Very few of the critics have even touched on this, and that annoys me. Even those critics who’ve enjoyed the movie have discussed more obvious themes and have pointed out that Resurrections builds heavily on what has gone before in the previous Matrix trilogy. (How it was supposed to do anything else is beyond me. But let’s not go there.)

Mind you, some of the commentary is quite interesting, as it discusses trans rights and “deadnames” — that is, the name you were given at birth is not the name you go by (such as the fate of the late Leelah Alcorn) — and some of it quite rightly points out the romance between Trinity and Neo carries the film.

But they still are missing a huge point, and I can’t help but point out the elephant in the room.

Look. It’s easy, when you get into midlife, to let those messages I delineated above overwhelm you. It’s really easy to let the weight of words, and life itself, stop you from being who you truly are.

Neo, in Matrix Resurrections, is again going by his original name, Thomas Anderson. Trinity is now a character, only, in a game Thomas supposedly created. (That the Matrix was diabolical enough to do this is another problem entirely, mind you, but often when we get to midlife, people completely misunderstand what the Hell we’re doing as creative sorts. I tend to take that as allegory, personally.) The person who’s alive and should be Trinity is now named Tiffany (going by Tiff), and she has children and a husband. And only Neo knows that “Tiffany” is really Trinity.

But how can he convince anyone of that, when he can’t convince anyone that he’s Neo, not simply Thomas Anderson? Especially when other people only see an older and broken man, someone who’s survived a suicide attempt, and who lives alone and mostly unnoticed.

Hell, he doesn’t even have a pet to take care of. He’s that isolated.

Those around him completely misunderstand what he’s about, and he’s been led to believe that the one person he’s ever loved was someone he made up himself.

I understand all of this very well.

For Neo to reclaim himself, to reclaim his life, and to free Trinity so the two of them could go on and live the lives they were born to lead is the most important part of this film. (How they get there is not relevant to this discussion, but I will say that as an editor of SF&F, it worked well for me.) That they have a true partnership, a true meeting of the minds, and a truly good relationship where both are more together than they are separately (even though they’re both interesting, separately) is extremely important, to me as a widow.

(Yes, I like vicarious wish-fulfillment, sometimes. Sue me.)

At any rate, I was deeply moved by Matrix Resurrections. I loved the new characters (Bugs in particular, a blue-haired and fierce female warrior/captain), I enjoyed the main plot, but the subtext and the emotion was what got to me.

I believe in love. I believe it matters more than anything in this world. And I believe in soul bonds that endure between one creative soul and another, that call to us despite all the noise this ultra-connected world throws at us.

I also believe that memories matter. And that no one can frame your memories except yourself.

So I urge you to check your assumptions at the door before you see Matrix Resurrections. But do see it, and then if you are in midlife — as I am — ask yourself these questions:

Does what I do matter? (Hell, yes.)

Even if no one ever reads what I write, should I continue? (Absolutely.)

Can you reclaim your life against nearly impossible odds? (I would like to think so!)

What do you think of this blog? Have you seen Matrix Resurrections, or are you going to see it? Tell me about it in the comments!

When the Going Gets Tough…

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Folks, I wanted to stop by and let you all know that I’m starting to get a little better. I’m weak, somewhat dehydrated, and and extremely tired, but the symptoms of the food poisoning are finally gone.

As I said before, I think what happened is this: The Irish sausages I ordered were not fully cooked, as they were cold when they got to the table. Even eating the half-portion I ate was enough to put me down for the count for the past week.

So, now I am going to try to slowly ramp up again. I hope to do some writing (fiction included). I hope to do some editing. I also hope to play my sax and maybe my clarinet soon…there’s a concert scheduled for late January with the Racine Concert Band that I want to take part in, and I want to be ready to go before the first rehearsal for that starts in mid-January.

I don’t know how tough I am, mind, but I do know I’m committed, determined, and persistent.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s the only way to be.

Let me know how you’re doing in the comments.

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 9, 2021 at 2:34 am