Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Persistence’ Category

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

Concert Prep for Sax Solo, 7/16/17

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Folks, a while back I wrote a blog about how frustrated I was that I couldn’t seem to do what I used to do, as a musical performer. I’ve mostly played the second part, since I started playing again five or six years ago, and that’s really tough on the ego; furthermore, because they’re lower parts that mostly blend in, only the other musicians and the conductor tend to even know I’m there at all.

I was always a soloist, you see. Trained as an oboist, played in bands and orchestras, had musical scholarships, then picked up the saxophone in high school because I wanted to play in jazz band. I picked up the clarinet as a senior in high school because I wanted to play the doubled parts in jazz band (sometimes, the sax parts also have a small clarinet part, where you “double” during the piece and play both instruments), and in every case, I ended up playing more solo parts than anything else.

So, to go from first chair anything to second parts has been very difficult. And while “we also serve who stand and wait” (only slightly mangling that phrase), I like playing things that actually showcase my abilities now and again.

Fortunately, when I asked my conductor for the Racine Concert Band, Mark Eichner, for a solo, he gave me one. And I’m playing it tomorrow, on July 16, 2017…the first solo where I’ve stood before the band that I’ve played in twenty-one years.

What’s the piece, you ask? It’s Isaac Albeniz’s “Tango,” for alto saxophone soloist and band. (Yes, it’s an arrangement. But it works.)

I’m not the only soloist tomorrow, mind you. Eric Weiss, a very fine trumpeter, will be playing Clifton Williams’s “Dramatic Essay.” And a master illusionist, Pinkerton Xyloma, will be also helping to entertain the crowd during four of our band pieces.

So, since I put “concert prep” in the title, you might be wondering what that entails. (I hope so, ’cause I’m going to tell you anyway.)

Mostly, what preparation means, in this case, is to be prepared to play the piece. This includes physical preparation (repetition, playing it many times), mental preparation, trying to get rest, eating well, and also trying not to stress out over it all.

And I have done all of this.

My hope is that if you live in Southeastern Wisconsin or Northern Illinois, that you’ll come down to the Racine Zoo tomorrow night and hear the band play. It’s a free concert; the show starts at 7:30 p.m., but the doors open about an hour ahead of time. (Park on August Street, or on Goold. The main doors are not open for the Zoo during RCB performances.)

If you do, be sure to listen hard to my solo, and come up and say “hello.”

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 15, 2017 at 8:36 pm

Strength: A Follow-up

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Folks, I am glad to be able to talk to you a little bit more about what strength is, what it isn’t, and how important it is in your daily life.

Strength-Blog-Collaboration

Last week, I wrote a post about strength, along with eleven other bloggers as part of the blog event Collaboration with a Purpose. We all came up with variations on the same theme: what is strength? Why is it important? Why should we care about it? What are we supposed to do about it? And what’s the meaning of it, anyway?

To me, it’s all about the power the mind, heart, and spirit. You have to believe that you can get past anything, even at your darkest times, or you just can’t function.

It’s really hard sometimes to believe that you can do just that, mind. Life can be overwhelming and stressful and frustrating and all-encompassing and exhausting.

Sometimes it’s tough to believe in yourself. Nothing seems to be going right. Everything seems to be stacked against you. And you wonder what the point is.

I’ve been there. Done that. Bought the t-shirt, burned it, buried the ashes, all that.

The important thing is, don’t give up. Keep trying, and refuse to allow whatever it is to bring you down.

Instead, learn from it. Grow because of it. And maybe, just maybe, at the end of the darkest hour, you’ll find peace — and it won’t just be from exhaustion.

Now, I’d like it if you’d go check out my fellow Collaboration with a Purpose bloggers, and see their takes on the subject of strength. Please check out the following links:

1. Addison D’Marko’s Post.

2. Ajibola Sunday’s Post.

3. Nicolle K’s Post.

4. Tajwar Fatma’s Post.

5. Camilla Motte’s Post.

6. Ipuna Black’s Post.

7. Jothish Joseph’s Post.

8. Jane Love’s Post.

9. Mylene C. Orillo’s Post.

10.  Sonyo Estavillo’s Post.

11. Manal Ahmad’s Post.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 13, 2017 at 10:56 am

It’s My Seventh Blog-i-versary Today — and Lucky Number Seven Starts…Now

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Folks, where has the time gone?

Just a minute ago, it seems, I started my blog back in 2010. A good friend of mine suggested I start writing one as a way to announce myself to the universe — granted, that is not at all how he’d have put it, I’m sure — and another friend agreed, adding that a writer needs a platform. May as well make one for yourself, right?

Sometimes it’s not been easy to blog. When my best friend Jeff Wilson died in 2011, I was bereft. I didn’t know what to say, what to do, how to act, any of it. That I couldn’t get to his funeral devastated me, and in some ways, I wonder if I’ll ever forgive myself for that.

(The money was not there. No, I didn’t want to start a GoFundMe for that, not then. I didn’t think Jeff would approve.)

There have been good times, though. I’ve met some great friends, blogging and spending time online. I’ve also met a wide variety of writers, and more than a few editors; all of that has added richness and value to myself beyond anything I could’ve imagined back in 2010.

I’ve talked about many things: Sports. Politics. Fine Arts, including music and writing. My books. Other people’s books. Observations about life, the universe, and everything (with all apologies to the late Douglas Adams)…some editing tips…lots of other stuff, too, way too much to list.

Blogging has indeed given me more of a voice. And I’m grateful for that.

(Now if I could just get folks to go check out my books and stories, I’d be content. But I’ll keep working on that.)

Anyway, this is the seventh anniversary of my blog, thus, my seventh “blog-i-versary.” I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and that you’ll stay tuned for whatever comes next.

(Hey, I’m not sure, either. So we’ll learn it together?)

Before I go, I wanted to ask y’all: Which blog of all I’ve written is your favorite, and why?

And a second question: What would you like me to write about next?

(Tell me about it in the comments, and I’ll consider it. Honest.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 11, 2017 at 5:56 pm

Posted in Persistence, Writing

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Mistakes? Or Stepping Stones?

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Folks, have you ever wondered if mistakes are merely stepping stones?

And the worse the mistake, the bigger the stepping stone?

I know most of us (myself included) tend to think a mistake is a life-altering event that you can’t go back from. You’re not the same person as before you made the mistake, and you don’t know what you’re going to do. Sometimes you don’t have any good choices, and that’s frustrating in the extreme.

But I’m here to tell you that I’ve rebounded from most of my past mistakes. They did turn out to be stepping stones, though I didn’t necessarily know that at the time. And I learned from them, and became a more informed person (if not always a wiser one).

Consider that when you write, sometimes you have to tear up a whole chapter, maybe even start over ten or fifteen or more times before you get a sentence right. (Or a paragraph, or a story, etc.) A start is just that: a start. It doesn’t have to lead where you think it’s going to lead, not and still be worthwhile to you.

Life is like that, too.

If you’d have told me after I fought so hard to get my two college degrees in music that I’d end up as an independent writer and editor, I’d probably have looked at you like you had two heads. I’d planned my whole life to be a performing musician, and to teach music. That’s what I wanted to do from the time I turned ten years old, and I worked really hard to do just that.

But life threw me a few curveballs, and so, here I am.

And as my character Bruno says (in the as-yet unpublished AN ELFY ABROAD), “I am who I am. I refuse to apologize for it.”

My mistakes did turn out to be stepping stones, for the most part. The ruins of my first two marriages were necessary so I could find the right guy, at long last, and build a strong and sturdy marriage that satisfied me in all senses. (That it ended too soon, because he died too young, is not Michael’s fault. Nor mine, but I digress.) And my hands not allowing me to become the musician I had dreamed of becoming turned my creativity in an alternate direction.

Maybe, had I not gone in this direction, I wouldn’t know the writers, editors, and yes, the musicians I know now. Maybe, just maybe, I’d not have learned as much about life either.

And I can’t be unhappy with any of that, even though my life in a lot of ways didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped.

(Maybe it’s the same with you.)

Anyway, just the thought that your mistakes might someday turn out to be stepping stones may do you some good today. Because mistakes aren’t always as bad as they seem. They often can lead to good outcomes, even if you can’t see it now; even if it makes no sense; and even if you have to fight like Hell to get there.

For one moment, try to step outside yourself and treat yourself the way you’d treat your best friend. Be kind, be compassionate, and give yourself a break.

That way, you can accept what comes, and keep fighting.

For a creative person (writer, musician, editor, or what-you-will), that’s the only way to live.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 10, 2017 at 4:52 pm

Time Waits for No One…

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Folks, I’ve had it up to here with mortality.

I’ve lost my husband. I’ve lost my best friend. I’ve lost my grandmother, my uncles, my aunt, and numerous other good friends way too early.

But I’m not the only one.

Other friends of mine have lost sisters, mothers, fathers, brothers, best friends, you name it.

We’re all here for a short time. I’m not entirely sure what we’re supposed to do with that time, other than love one another and develop our gifts and talents as much as we possibly can.

So please, remember that time doesn’t wait for anyone.

That’s why you have to make the most of today.

Don’t wait. Use your talents, use your mind and heart and body and spirit, and cherish your family, your friends, and all your loved ones as much as you possibly can.

Do everything you can to make a positive difference, while you still have time. Don’t let anyone put you off; don’t let anyone tell you that the small things you can do on your own won’t ever matter.

Because that is a lie. And you need to remember that.

Mind you, there’s a lot about life that really frustrates me. But one thing I know is true:

Time waits for no one.

So do your best today. Love your best today. Create your best today.

And never stop trying, loving, or creating. (Because the day you stop is the day you lose. Guaranteed.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 6, 2017 at 4:04 pm