Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Persistence’ Category

Self-Belief and Writing

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Folks, with the recent posts about self-acceptance, I figured I’d follow it up with how self-belief and writing mix — or don’t.

In my own experience, when I am more confident in myself, and I know that what I’m saying makes sense, I am more likely to make sense in writing than when I am more insecure.

And yet, insecurity is part of what drives a creative person. I can’t deny that. (No creative person can, really, not if he or she is smart.)

The trick is to balance the two. Be just insecure enough to want to write, to need to write (or play music, or compose music, or, I suppose, paint, draw, act, or any other creative pursuit), but be confident enough in what you can do — your belief in yourself, as it were — that you can actually sit down and do it. Without fear. Or at least without the fear stopping you cold.

I’m not sure how that all works, mind. In my head, right now, I’m picturing a space station for a YA milSF story I’m working on. And as I tend to think two-dimensionally, this is a real problem. My main character, a young girl and a military prodigy, would not be thinking in 2D.

How do I get to where I need to be, so I can describe the space station I hazily see, and make the readers believe in it?

Or, here’s another conundrum I’m working on right now.

I’m writing a novel in a friend’s universe. (No, I won’t tell you which one. I won’t unless/until I pull it off. I do have permission from my friend to give it a try and an interested publisher if I can pull it off.) I know I don’t write like my friend. But I’m going to talk about characters that interested me, that my friend could not work on, as his main character needs to be doing something else.

If I think too much about how I don’t write like my friend, or that his readers won’t like what I’m doing because I’m not my friend, well, that will stop me cold.

But just a little insecurity, in that I want to find out what’s going on, and can refer back to what my friend’s written so I can use that as best I can to ground my writing…d’you see? (Or am I thinking too two-dimensionally again?)

Finally, I have a story going in my Elfyverse that’s taking a long time to gestate. I have two new characters who will be interacting with my known characters Bruno, Sarah, Lady Keisha, and more…and I like these characters. But it’s hard sometimes to figure out how to get those new characters into the mix without making them seem lesser than the two titanic mains, Bruno and Sarah, especially as this new story isn’t about Bruno and Sarah. (Instead, it’s about new love, unlooked for, with more mature folks.)

So, should I think about how people won’t like the story, because it’s not about Bruno and Sarah, and they’re at best peripheral characters? Or should I think about how there’s room for more characters at the Elfyverse inn?

And just a little insecurity may be useful. But a whole lot of it just stops me cold, and makes me trot out the “Fear is the mindkiller” speech from DUNE.

As I said, you have to have enough belief in yourself (self-belief, natch) to keep going, even when you don’t see an end-point. (Yet.) But you also have to work with your insecurity, and keep it at bay enough while using it at the same time to inform your work and make it thrive the way it was supposed to do all along.

(If this is still clear as mud, my apologies.)

What do the rest of you do, when you’re trying to create something? How do you strike that balance? (Tell me about it in the comments!)

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Written by Barb Caffrey

September 9, 2017 at 8:31 pm

Why Is Self-Acceptance So Damned Hard?

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Folks, this blog is part of Collaboration with a Purpose. This time around, we have fourteen bloggers talking about the difficulties with self-love and acceptance. And as I have a really difficult time talking about that l-word when it comes to the self, I’m going to use the term “self-acceptance” for all of it.

Collab with a purpose Self Love

Why is accepting yourself as you are so damned hard?

Think about it. If someone you know is having a hard time, don’t you reach out and say, “Hey. I care. I am here for you. It doesn’t matter how you screwed up. It doesn’t matter at all. I care, I’m here, and I want to help.”

But you don’t do that for yourself. (At least, most of us don’t.) Instead, we beat ourselves up for our mistakes. Because we’re supposed to be perfect, even though it’s OK if everyone else isn’t.

So why is it that we have such a hard time with self-acceptance, anyway? Why can’t we be as kind to ourselves as we are to others in similar situations?

I don’t know. I’ve pondered this for a long time, actually, but despite that, I still have no answers.

Maybe we’re supposed to struggle with this. Maybe we’re supposed to learn, no matter how slowly, how to see ourselves as others do. Or at least how to learn to forgive ourselves for things we’d forgive anyone else…to appreciate our own humanity, even though that means we will make mistakes, and plenty of them.

And sometimes repeat them, even though we’re working on not doing so, because that’s part of being human, too.

It’s hard to unlearn old habits. And it’s really hard to pick up new ones even after you’ve unlearned the old.

Maybe being upset with ourselves is like that. (Hear me out, OK?) It’s like an old, bad habit. We do something that we get upset with, and we chastise ourselves, all because we’ve criticized ourselves this way since we were small. And we don’t know any better way; maybe we don’t even realize there might be a better way.

But accepting yourself, warts and all, is not easy. It sometimes seems easier to accept your worst enemy than your own self, because you believe you should always be at your best, no excuses, no quarter. Even though anyone else — including your worst enemy — you’d agree with the caveat that everyone has their down times, and that we have to accept them. (That is, if you’re feeling like being kind. And I do hope you are, at least for the purposes of this exercise.)

It’s not easy to say, “All right. I’m still a valuable human being, no matter how many mistakes I’ve made, and no matter how often I’ve made them. I deserve to treat myself with kindness and respect, just like I’d treat anyone else,” because we’re not taught how to do that. We’re taught instead that if we think too much about ourselves, we run the risk of being narcissistic.

Or at least self-absorbed. And no one wants that.

All you can do, every day, is tell yourself that it’s all right to forgive yourself, the same way you’d forgive anyone else for the same thing.

And if it’s too hard to tell yourself, “I care, I’m not going to stop caring, and I am not going to hate you forever for screwing up big-time,” well, at least tell yourself that tomorrow is another day. And you can and will make it better, so stop beating yourself up already.

Self-acceptance is damned hard to achieve, no lie. But it is possible. And you should keep working on it, and figure out a strategy that works for you, so you can put your energy to its best use creating things of wonder and beauty — or at least not waste it beating yourself up.

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 5, 2017 at 12:25 am

Why Must We Be So Negative?

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Folks, the other day I read an interesting post by my friend Tajwar Fatma, she of the blog Life As We Have Never Known it. She’d just passed ten thousand hits on her blog — a truly impressive feat, if you think about it — and she decided to talk about how much negativity she’s had to overcome during her newfound blogging career. (It’s called “Overcoming Negativity,” and can be found here.)

This got me thinking.

Why must we all be so negative all the time?

Granted, there are plenty of negative things in this world. Politics often makes no sense. The weather is too hot, too cold, or maybe just too boring. Prices are rising. Everything we seem to like gives us cancer; everything we don’t like is touted as curing everything down to the common cold, but is ultimately just good, solid food that we continue to dislike.

So, we can eat healthy and hate it. Or we can eat what we like and clog our arteries (at best).

It seems like no matter what we do, we can’t win.

I have no answer for why others are negative. But I do have an answer for how to overcome your own negativity, at least in part.

First, as Tajwar put it in her blog, “Don’t let negativity get to your mind and heart. You have to lose in order to win. And if you can’t handle criticism and negativity, you sure can’t handle praise and victory!”

Second, you need to realize that some of this negativity, regardless of how personal it feels at the time, is not being directed at you in specific. It’s because people are frustrated, upset, angry, or sometimes even jealous of the fact that you’re still trying, but they’ve given up.

Third, it’s important to keep going because you know in your heart that what you’re doing matters to you. (For example, I continue to write, despite the struggles and life-worries and frustrations, because writing matters very much to me. And my stories matter, too.)

Don’t let anyone tell you that what you’re doing doesn’t matter. Or that no one will ever care, either.

As a barely-succeeding author (someone most people don’t even know about), I’m here to tell you that so long as you care, that’s all that matters.

So keep doing what you are. Work hard on yourself, and spread joy and light and life wherever you can. Try to overcome the negativity in this world as best you can (mind, constructive criticism is not negativity, but that’s a separate issue and I’m not going to get into it now).

And most importantly of all: Whenever you get a negative thought about what you’re doing right now, do your best to throw it out. (Or better yet, laugh at it, as Tajwar suggested in her blog.) Don’t let that negative thought stop you from doing whatever it is that you need or want to do…because that’s the only way that you truly lose.

And I see no purpose in that. (I hope you don’t, either.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 25, 2017 at 5:23 pm

Work/Life Balance: Is it Achievable?

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Folks, lately I’ve been wondering about the above title — is work/life balance achievable? And if so, how do you go about it?

See, over the past week or so, I’ve been dealing with family health issues. I’ve also been working on my writing, editing, and staying in contact with a few friends here and there in order to remind myself there are good things in the world.

In short, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed.

There are so many things in this world I can’t do much about. And when I’m confronted with those things, I sometimes forget about the things I can do something about — that is, take care of myself; get adequate rest; remember to eat properly; get a little exercise here and there; enjoy the scenery; work for positive changes wherever possible, but try not to completely exhaust myself in the process.

And I can’t believe I’m the only one to ever feel this way.

It’s sometimes easier to focus on what we can’t do, because we’re often taught that it’s wrong to focus on ourselves. Even in a good, positive, healthy sense, where we’re trying to create something or help others or do the best work we can, it’s hard to stay focused on that when everything else seems to be falling apart.

So, is work/life balance achievable?

I think it is, but it’s a tough go sometimes. It’s like running into a headwind; you have to remind yourself that you’re doing your level best, and it has to be good enough. Just keep trying, refuse to let the despair win, refuse to let the exhaustion win, and keep going long enough so it becomes an ingrained habit…then, maybe, it will give you peace of mind to know that you’ve done everything you can on your own behalf.

It’s important to do what you can for yourself.

But how do I put that into practice, under the circumstances? Mostly, I try to remind myself often that it’s perfectly OK for me to put myself first and get the rest, food, and time I need to do what I have to do in order to feel like a fulfilled person even as these other things aren’t working out no matter how hard I try and no matter how much effort I put into it.

Just remember that while you do need to work on controlling what you can control, it’s really hard to do. We’re taught to be rugged individualists, mostly, and having to leave so much up to the Higher Power is difficult. (It really is.)

But don’t stop trying. Definitely don’t stop believing that better things are possible.

Because they are. Even when you can’t see them.

So yes, I do think work/life balance is achievable. And I’ll keep working on it. (How about you? Tell me in the comments!)

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 16, 2017 at 3:13 pm

Mozart, and Persistence

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Folks, what comes to mind when you think about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart?

Is it the fact that he was a gifted composer?

Is it that he was considered a virtuoso before the age of fifteen or so?

Is it that his father, Leopold, was also a composer and conductor?

Or is it that Mozart, like every other creative person on the face of this Earth (past or present), had to struggle at times, and not everyone liked what he was doing, or cared about it either?

Yes, Mozart was famous during his own lifetime. But he had struggles, too. (My conductor for the Racine Concert Band, Mark Eichner, pointed this out earlier this evening during his remarks.) For example, Mozart desperately wanted to break into the Paris opera scene; it was considered the “happening place,” back in the 1770s or so, and every composer who was anyone wanted to be known there.

So, he went to Paris. Taught some students, probably played some gigs here and there (as Mozart played any number of instruments, though he was known most for strings and piano), and managed to get a gig composing an overture for a ballet, “La Petite Riens.” (We played this piece tonight, hence Mr. Eichner’s remarks about Mozart. But I digress.) He thought that this would be his big break, as anyone who heard his music tended to adore it…but when he read the papers the next day after the ballet was premiered, he found out that his name wasn’t mentioned in the review. Nor was it mentioned in the concert’s program…

Yes, even W. A. Mozart could get treated badly, folks.

Anyway, the point here is that Mozart didn’t give up on his dreams after this setback. (It must’ve really smarted, too, considering.) He kept going. While it must’ve felt like a retreat, he went back to Germany, then to Italy, and elsewhere in Europe, and did what he needed to do in order to get his music played and published.

It may seem odd, that Mozart — the great Mozart — ran into problems. (This wasn’t his only problem, mind. He suffered money woes, health problems, problems with his kids and their health, difficulties with his wife’s family, and goodness knows what else.) But he was a human being, and as such, he had to deal with the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” like anyone else.

And it’s not like the man couldn’t compose. Anyone who’s heard any of his symphonies, or better yet, any of “The Magic Flute” (perhaps his best-known opera), knows that Mozart was an incredibly gifted and prolific composer…the large amount of music Mozart left behind, considering he died before the age of forty, testifies to that.

So, if you’ve run into problems with your creative pursuits, because you don’t think anyone cares, or you wonder what the point is, or you even wonder why you try so hard for so little of a result, remember what happened to Mozart.

Whatever has gone wrong this time, it is temporary. It doesn’t have to stop you if you refuse to let it do so.

So, remember this story…and don’t give up.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 31, 2017 at 12:08 am

Writing and Fatigue

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Folks, the last week or so, I’ve been battling some intense frustration when it comes to writing.

Why?

Mostly, it’s because of being intensely tired. (Or fatigued, as it were.) I put a lot into my music, both during practice and at concerts, and perhaps during the summer it takes a bit more out of me than it used to.

(Yeah, this is as close as you’re going to get to the fact that I know I’m getting a wee bit older. But never old — that’s not happening.)

See, life is all about choices. I could’ve said, back in 2011, that I did not want to put out the energy to play again, but what sense would that have made? (It would invalidate my years of education, for one…and waste my talents for another. Again, not happening.) But I made that choice, to play again, and to use my talents and education to the fullest extent of which I’m capable…which means I don’t have as much energy available for everything else.

And life doesn’t stop. It never, ever stops…I have a lot of mundane things to do, like grocery shopping, errand-running, and so forth, plus a good amount of editing (as that, for all practical purposes, is my “day job”), and I’m glad I’m able to do all of those things, too.

But again, see what I said about “choices.”

Plus, I’m aware that right now, I seem to be in a fallow period when it comes to writing, most particularly when it comes to writing fiction. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying. But it means that maybe, if I stop pressing, I’ll do a little better…if it feels less like sheer bloody-minded pushing boulders up the hill (like Sisyphus?), maybe I’ll be able to do more.

Creativity is one of the hardest things to harness, sometimes…at least for me. Especially when I’m overtired, and been pressing too hard for weeks, and the weather is too hot and humid to be borne, perhaps the best thing to do is rest.

But I’m not good at resting. I want to be up and doing. Resting feels like surrender.

It’s not, though. It’s actually playing it smart.

Anyway, I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets into fallow periods and wonders what on Earth will get me out of it. What gets you out of these ruts? Are you someone who believes firmly in PBICAT? (Put butt in chair and type?) Or do you think sometimes you just need R&R, as much as you can stand that’s in your price range, to recharge your batteries?

Whichever it is, let me know in the comments! (Maybe we can find some new strategies in how to combat this. Who knows?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 21, 2017 at 6:52 pm

Concert Over…

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Folks, I’m glad to report that I played my sax solo reasonably well last night, and the preparation that went into that worked out.

I am mostly writing this follow-up blog because of a comment I received from a fellow musician on Facebook. He isn’t aware of all of the various issues that went into me playing this solo, or even wanting to play a solo at all, and that reminded me that not everyone has read my blog for years.

And if you haven’t, you’re maybe not going to know exactly what did go into the persistent effort to play well enough to ask for a solo…much less anything else.

For longtime blog readers, this is going to be old hat to you, so if you want to skip over this post, feel free…but for the rest of you, here we go.

When my husband died in 2004, I was so devastated, I wasn’t able to do much of anything for years. Because I’d already been battling carpal tunnel syndrome (or what I thought was that, at the time), my hands became so stiff and sore, they were almost unusable — at least, when it came to playing a musical instrument. (I could still type, with effort, but I also saw problems even there.)

Then, for several years, I just didn’t play. I looked at my instruments, and grew frustrated; I’d gone through so much to get my two degrees, and now, I couldn’t do anything whatsoever?

In 2011, I finally felt able to talk with my old band director, Mark Eichner. He was still at UW-Parkside, and hadn’t yet retired; he told me when the Parkside Community Band was going to start rehearsing for their winter concert, and so, I rejoined the band. I played a solo there, within the band rather than standing up in front of it (as I did yesterday), which was difficult but worthwhile.

And not long after that, in 2012, I rejoined the Racine Concert Band as a saxophonist. They needed someone to play the second part, you see…and occasionally, I could play tenor sax or clarinet as needed. I knew playing every week in the summer, where I’d battle against my asthma as well as my hand issues, was going to be a challenge, but I appreciated being able to play again.

In a way, it took a few more years for my ego as a musician to reassert itself. (Ego is not necessarily a bad thing, mind.) By this point, I wanted to play a solo. So I asked for one, preferably on clarinet.

My conductor (again Mark Eichner, who also conducts the RCB) gave me a sax solo instead.

Note that my friend Vivian is the saxophone section leader. I’ve known Vivian for years. She’s a great person, she plays well, and she makes going to rehearsal fun. I did ask her if she had any problem whatsoever with me wanting to play a solo, and she basically said, “Of course not. Don’t be silly!”

(And she was the first person to congratulate me, too, last night. Just saying.)

So, I hope that fills in a few blanks.

As for why I said things the way I did before? It’s because I am a human being, fallible and mortal, and I really do struggle sometimes depending on what types of parts are written for the sax. (Many times, Vivian doesn’t have a good part, either. Nor does any other sax player in the section. It really depends on the arranger how well the sax section is used and/or exploited.) I have an easier time playing second clarinet or even third clarinet than I do second alto sax, because the clarinet parts in a band are based off the violin part in an orchestra — meaning that usually those parts are more interesting, or at least can be, than the second alto part. (And oft-times, they’re more interesting in my opinion than the first alto part, too. But that’s probably just me.)

I’m glad I feel well enough to play, and that I was able to do a good job last night. (And that my section leader, Vivian, puts up with me. Because I’m like anyone else — sometimes I can be a major pain in the buttinsky.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 17, 2017 at 8:21 pm