Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Persistence’ Category

Birthdays and Funerals

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Folks, on Friday, I went to my uncle Carl’s funeral. And Saturday was my birthday.

To say I feel strange at the confluence of events is understating the point. I never do all that well with birthdays anyway, as I am more like my late husband in this than not (he who famously celebrated “unBirthdays”). And today, my plans were simple.

But I was wrung out from everything else. My plans got changed; I had to rest, at home, and think, at home, and deal with the consequences of being alone, at home.

Anyway, my uncle Carl’s funeral is more important than this, so I will tell you about that instead…as he was a retired policeman, there was an honor guard around the casket until the service started. Three policemen were guarding it; two at each side, one to rotate in and out so the others could rest a bit. (Standing in one place like that is not easy.) The way they rotated in and out was like an elaborate ballet; the third officer would come up, salute the casket, turn on his heel, turn to the side, and the officer being relieved would come forward. Then the relieving officer would take the first person’s place…I’d never seen anything like that before.

Note that Carl was not much for pomp and circumstance. But I think he’d have appreciated his much younger colleagues doing this for him, even so.

There also was a 21-gun salute as Carl was a military veteran. (The young kids at the funeral were scared.) And I saw two young military women first drape the flag over Carl’s casket, then re-wrap the flag and hand it to one of my cousins, thanking my cousin gravely for my uncle’s military service. (My late husband was also a military vet, but the flag came in the mail already wrapped, with a letter from then-President Bush’s office thanking Michael for his service and, I suppose, me for being Michael’s wife.)

Carl was 88, and he’d outlived my aunt Laurice (his wife) by a little over a year. It’s hard to realize they’re both gone now, though as long as we remember them, at least a small part of them lives on. (Plus, my aunt and uncle had grandchildren, and even a few great-grands. Time marches on and all that.)

The last year or so, Carl was in and out of the hospital, and was in a nursing home. He probably didn’t enjoy that overmuch, but the folks who took care of him were smitten by his remaining charm and by how he approached life. (Even as he was dying — he had Parkinson’s, and it was at a late stage — he could still charm the socks off people if he wanted.) He may not have remembered entirely who he was at that point, but he was still the same generous-hearted person he’d always been, even to the last.

My personal view of my aunt and uncle? They came to a lot of my concerts, when I was young. They went to my high school graduation, and my aunt went to my first marriage. When I returned to Wisconsin after my late husband died in 2004, they were among the first to comfort me.

They were kind people. Smart, thoughtful, interesting…they lived their Christian faith in a way most others can’t seem to figure out.

It’s partly because of them that I kept trying, even as I was laid low by my late husband’s too-early passing. They were unafraid of my deep grief, and they were willing to listen to my memories of my husband. Carl even said to me that as fun-loving as Michael seemed to be, there would be no way Michael would want me to feel this bad for many years after his passing. (I think that is true, but my mind had its own ideas.)

Anyway, it does feel weird to be officially another year older. My aunt and uncle are gone. My husband is gone. My best friend is gone. My grandma is gone. Some of my other good friends over the years have dropped by the wayside, too, and I feel terrible about that even though I don’t know how to repair what became broken.

I’m fortunate that I do have family left. Good friends left. And a strong mind, a willing heart, and at least a dab of creativity here and there to make things a wee bit better.

I love them, and they love me, even if they don’t always understand me. (Well, I don’t always understand others, either. Maybe love transcends that in some way. I’m not sure.)

So, I’ll keep going, and remember those who’ve gone before me. And do my best to honor them, and their memories, all the days of my life.

Because really, what else can I do that’ll do any good?

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Written by Barb Caffrey

August 19, 2018 at 12:06 am

Romance, Short or Long, is Worthwhile

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

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

It really is.

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 7, 2018 at 4:34 am

Still Writing (A Brutally Honest Essay)

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Sometimes — especially lately — I’ve wondered why I write.

Writing, like any creative pursuit, takes a lot of energy to do it well. And if you know anything about me, you know I take as an axiom “whatever’s worth doing is worth doing well.” (I didn’t say that first. Neither did Lois McMaster Bujold, though her character Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan is famous for saying this. Nope, Philip Stanhope, Fourth Earl of Chesterfield, said it first as far as anyone can tell.)

This past year, I haven’t been able to devote as much time to my writing as I wanted. There were various reasons for this. But the upshot was that life got in the way of my writing, and because life was so all-pervasive, all-emcompassing, and extremely difficult, I lost my belief in myself for a while.

Now, I’m working on getting it back.

The easiest way to get back to work is open up an old MS that you believed in once, and still believe in now, if you can just figure out what else to do. If you open it back up, and don’t judge yourself as you fix a little here, and add a little there, before you know it, you’re back to writing every day.

Or at least every other day.

What complicates matters for me is that I thrive on audience participation. (Maybe that’s the musician in me, the musical training; I don’t know.) And for a writer, the only way for an audience to participate is to share your works-in-progress and talk it out with someone who’s as knowledgeable and as skilled as you are.

(Or at least is working on it and has a keen interest in doing so.)

There are a few ways for me to do this with stories that are further along than what I have, in various private forums I know about. But I haven’t felt confident enough to do just that. And as I always tended to work best alone, but with copious amounts of discussion between a trusted person (my husband, then my best friend, then a few other friends when they had time), I don’t want to put myself out there when I’m still building on the idea that it’s OK for me to put myself first, and my need for writing first as well, over what I’d been doing before.

In other words, I feel fragile. Almost as if what I’m doing won’t stand up, if I look at it too hard. Or that I am perhaps being too emotional about it all, as it means so much to me that it’s almost easier to bury it and leave it alone than get it out, face it, and move on with my creativity intact.

I’m not the only one who’s ever faced this. Most of us do, whether we realize it or not. But most don’t talk about it, because it feels like an illness, something to be hidden away, something shameful, maybe…something others won’t understand, unless they’re writers.

And they, my friends, figure they know what it is, so why talk about it?

I am working on it, and doing what I can to write my way, in my time, however I feel I must, and do what I have to do to feed my creativity. Because that’s undoubtedly where my soul resides; my husband knew it, my good friends have known it also over the years, and while they don’t say much about it, they know when I’m not writing, I’m not happy.

So that’s where I stand right now. Continuing onward, though the road seems dark and the scenery rather depressing. But the sun could come up tomorrow for me, and I want to wait it out, all the while scribbling madly (or typing, rather), to get down my impressions of where I am and where I hope to go.

That’s my strategy. But I would like to know what yours is, especially if you’ve dealt with disappointment, frustration, or “life, interrupted.” The floor is open…comments, anyone?

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 28, 2018 at 6:47 pm

Why Friendship Is Important

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Some days, it’s hard to get by. The world seems like it’s gone crazy. Politics make no sense. Current events show that people are overstressed, overstrained, and are getting into arguments–some deadly–seemingly at the drop of a hint.

It’s on days like that I definitely need the help of my friends. (Hey, it wasn’t just the Beatles who believed they’d get by, providing they had the help of their friends.)

Why? Well, they help keep me grounded, for one…for another, I value their perspectives, their voices, and themselves so much, it takes me out of my own head and makes me realize I’m not all alone in the world.

To me, being someone’s friend means more than “I care about you.” It means, “I care, so I’m going to tell you what I can. Show you what I can. Help you all I can.”

Anything less than that is not enough.

Now, are there different levels of friendships? Sure. You have folks you’re just getting to know, you have folks you’ve known a long time, and you have folks somewhere in between that continuum.

But with all of them, the point remains: if I care, I will do everything I possibly can do to show that I care. And that means if they have a problem, I listen and try to help. If they have a success, I rejoice with them. If they are frustrated, I let them vent; if they are buoyant, I allow myself to be lifted up by them, even if it’s been a horrible day on my end.

See, you have to try to see the other person’s viewpoint, or you’re not truly a friend.

Will my friends and I have differences of opinion? You’d better believe it. But we’ll at least try to agree to disagree because that is what friends do.

(No, they aren’t clones of you. If they are, you’re doing it wrong.)

Lately, I’ve been battling a great deal of frustration. My friends know this. They try to give me hope, or at least give commiseration, understanding, and support…they listen, they empathize, they care, and they make a huge difference thereby.

But I’ve also had to come to the realization — one I truly didn’t want to come to, mind — that there are some people in this world who will profess friendship, but honestly do not mean it. Or they maybe mean it some of the time, but not all of the time, and when the chips are down, they will not listen, they will not help, they will not empathize, and they will not understand.

There’s nothing I can do about people like that. The only thing I can do is remove myself from their consequences, and keep on going, with the friends who’ve proven true and trustworthy by my side.

So, on this Sunday morning, ask yourself the following question:

How can I be a better friend today? (I ask this question of myself all the time.)

Then, when you come up with an answer, go ahead and do whatever you need to do to be that better person.

Because you can choose to do better. You can be that better person, living up to the Golden Rule and treating people the way you, yourself, want to be treated.

And when you make mistakes, as you inevitably will?

Admit to them. (Even when it’s hard.) Apologize for them. (Even when it’s almost impossible.) And be determined to do better, and at least make different mistakes the next time.

That way, your friendship can go forward. And that way, your mistakes won’t weigh you down forever, either…so it’s a win/win.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 15, 2018 at 2:06 am

Try, Try, Try Again

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If I have a motto, it’s the above-titled one.

You see, I don’t believe in leaving well enough alone. I keep trying, even when all seems lost. Whether it’s with people, causes, books…while I may set something aside for a time, I don’t give up.

See, setting something aside when you’re tired, or ill, or have had enough, is the smart and sensible thing to do. Because those are times that you shouldn’t overtax yourself, if you can help it.

So, yeah, you can be persistent, but you also have to be smart about it. (I’m still learning about the latter, mind, and tend to learn best from The School of Hard Knocks (TM).) Pick your spots, maybe. And give yourself the leeway to rest, when you can…because as I’ve said before, if you don’t rest well, it’s much harder to access your creative faculties.

I know that to write well, or to compose music at all, I have to have rest. This past year or so, rest has been hard to find for a variety of reasons. But I continue to work hard at finding a way to rest…and finding a way to create, and be my best self, as well as the best person I can possibly be overall.

At any rate, that’s what I’m pondering, this hot July morning. What’s on your mind?

Oh, and for those who’ve asked: Yes, there will be a free concert at the Racine Zoo tonight at 7:30 by the Racine Concert Band, weather permitting of course. (Our first free concert of the year was rained out last week.) Hope you can stop in and hear some free music if you’re in the neighborhood…who knows? You might just enjoy yourself.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 8, 2018 at 1:43 am

What does the Fourth of July Mean to You?

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To some, the Fourth of July means freedom.

To some, it just means another holiday to drink, dance, watch fireworks, have a day to themselves…to party, in other words.

But for most, it makes people remember the founding of the United States of America. And they at least remember the War of Independence, if not the difficulty of instituting a peace, then drafting some form of workable representative government and making it stick.

What I think about, though, is how difficult it must’ve been for the Founding Fathers (and, perhaps, their wives, mothers, and sisters) to work together. These were men with towering egos. And they didn’t agree on much of anything. They could be at sword’s point with each other, quite literally, seemingly at the drop of a hint.

Yet these men all worked together — sometimes begrudgingly, granted — to form “a more perfect union,” and agreed that Americans should be able to freely partake in “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

(Notice they didn’t say a perfect union, just a more perfect one. Keep that in mind, please.)

At any rate, these very difficult, but very brave men (and their unsung wives, girlfriends, mothers, and sisters, no doubt), had to deal with all sorts of uncertainty in the War of Independence. They had no idea what peace was going to look like, or even if they could obtain it at all.

Yet they knew they had to fight.

That they won their way to peace, and then to a difficult, fractious, but ultimately rewarding gathering in Philadelphia in 1787, was to their credit.

Sometimes, I wonder if we’ve lost our way, as Americans, as we have to realize that some battles — those of complacency, honesty, fair treatment, fiscal responsibility, and transparency, among others — need to be fought over and over again.

No one can be perfectly trustworthy, you see, as power can corrupt.

In addition, as we’ve also figured out, power can reveal, too. Some, like George Washington, remain virtually incorruptible, and stay the same person before the power as after.

But some are more avaricious, I fear. They see the power, take it for themselves, and then realize, “I can do anything I want, at least for a time.” And thus, they do…to the detriment of many others.

Men like former Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) are a danger to the United States, because people follow them due to their charisma. And those who refuse to follow, such as playwright Lillian Hellman, can be ostracized.

The only thing we can do, as citizens of the U.S. (and the world at large), is to use our brains to think, and think hard. Refuse to be led like lemmings, for one…do your research, for another.

And for the sake of little green apples and whatever Deity you follow, do not let anyone’s charisma make you forget history, or forget how hard it was to form the U.S., or how hard the men and women of the Armed Forces — much less the (seemingly few) honest men and women of the U.S. Congress and various state houses around the country continue to work to keep us free enough to continue to partake in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

See, freedom is not free. It takes work, and lots of it. And it takes compromise from a bunch of towering egos at all times…when we forget that, we are at risk of becoming less than we are.

That worries me greatly.

What gives me hope are the citizens of all political stripes saying to themselves, “Hey, I can do better.” And they’re running for office at all levels, including school boards and county commissioners.

Perhaps these people, who’ve heard the call from their countrymen for people willing to talk, listen, reason, and (I hope) compromise, will do a better job.

Anyway, the Fourth of July to me means that we continue to fight what battles we can, all to keep this land of ours safe to reason, to dissent peacefully, and to solve what problems there are as civilly as possible.

(Because without civility, we are asking for trouble. But you have to know that already.)

So yes, continue to be active, in your way. Talk to others of all political stripes, and try to find common ground. Read a variety of sources, and refuse to close your mind.

That’s the way to form a more perfect union, to my mind. And it’s what we need to remember every day, not just on the Fourth of July.

So, now you know what the Fourth of July means to me. But I’d like to know what it means to you. Tell me about it in the comments, will you?

My Musical Journey (A Collaboration with a Purpose Post)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicolle K. — Intro Post

Nicolle K. (coming soon)

Sadaf Siddiqi — “A Musical Tribute

Mylene Orillo

Sonyo Estavillo