Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Prescient observations’ Category

Staying Stable in an Unstable World

with 9 comments

Lately, wherever I’ve gone, I’ve had the feeling that the world just isn’t as stable as it used to be.

Granted, maybe it was all illusory, that feeling of stability. But feelings need to be taken into account, or you can’t keep yourself stable no matter what’s going on around you.

In the United States, we have a President who shoots from the lip (or at least from “the Twitter”) as often as he possibly can. He doesn’t seem to care if this bothers foreign leaders, or his own citizens, or anyone else; he just does it, because “Trump’s gotta be Trump.” (Yes, I’ve heard this a great deal.)

We’ve never before had a President like this in the U.S. We’ve had blustering Presidents, sure. (Some might say Teddy Roosevelt qualifies, here. And certainly Warren G. Harding.) We’ve also had Presidents that got in under odd circumstances (witness the 1876 election of Rutherford B. Hayes). But we’ve never before had someone who seems to delight in recklessness and obnoxiousness in this particular way.

That President Trump doesn’t seem to understand the pain of new widow Myeshia Johnson, the wife of deceased U.S. Army Sergeant LaDavid T. Johnson, just adds the cherry on top of a whole bunch of unadulterated rudeness and disrespect.

And as an American citizen, I can’t help but feel terrible about this. I don’t understand why this particular man can’t seem to understand that being the President requires empathy as well as logic, and caring as well as commerce.

Not that Donald Trump is alone in seeming to bring the caricature of “the ugly American” to a new (and highly disgusting) sheen. There are all those people who marched in Charlottesville in a white supremacist march, too, pointing out there are still plenty of others in this country who have no interest in tolerance, respect, or basic human decency.

And that also makes me, as a rational person, feel less stable. Less like the light I can bring, and the creativity I keep trying to use, will make any difference.

Regardless of anything else, those of us who have a shred of creativity need to keep using it. This is when it’s needed most. And we can’t stop when it’s hard; we may have to take more breaks, and we may have to give ourselves time to rebalance ourselves sometimes, and we may have to remember that what we do still matters no matter what it looks like…but yes, indeed, we must use our creativity as best we can.

Why? Because we need to do everything we can to stay on balance. Live the lives we were born to live. And refuse to let anyone, regardless of pride, position, or Presidency, take us off our course.

So, in addition to doing my best to stay creative, I’ve also resolved the following things. I’m going to reject bad behavior, whoever it’s from. Reject words that make no sense, whoever says them. Reject those who just don’t seem to get it that we all need to pull together, and do what we can to bring more rationality and respect and tolerance and (dare I say it?) kindness into this world.

And if I can do all that, I believe I will feel more stable, centered, and whole.

What do you do to stay stable in an unstable world? Tell me about it in the comments!

Advertisements

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 24, 2017 at 8:39 pm

Concerts and Life

with 4 comments

Folks, I’m preparing right now for a concert later this evening with the Racine Concert Band. We’re playing at 7 PM at Park High School in Racine, a joint concert with the Park High School band…and I have a few things to say about concerts and life.

First, sometimes you prepare for something, and it doesn’t happen. But that preparation is still a good thing to do, because it might help you down the line with something else.

In an immediate sense, we had this happen last night in our dress rehearsal with the RCB. Our first-chair clarinetist was unable to play for a very good reason, and her husband brought the folder in so someone else could play her parts.

So, what happened? One of the other clarinetists moved up to play the parts instead. That clarinetist is my former teacher from my college days, Tim Bell…if anyone can play a concert on one rehearsal, it’s Tim.

But Tim had prepared the second parts. He didn’t really want to move. And he would’ve preferred playing the parts he already had, with the first-chair player being healthy enough to play. (I think we all would prefer that, as the first-chair player is a beacon of light whenever she’s around.)

Still, he was called upon, and he answered the call. And he did very well. (Come to the concert tonight and see just how well he did, learning the parts in one rehearsal.)

Second, as is seen by what happened to the first-chair clarinetist, you can do everything in your power to do everything right, and something out of the blue happens so you can’t perform. This is incredibly frustrating, and it’s not easy to deal with whatsoever.

All you can do in such situations is your best. That seems trite to say, but it’s the absolute truth.

Right now, for the first-chair player, rest is what she needs. She’d rather be playing, but she can’t right now. So all she can do is rest, recover fully, and get back to being that positive presence she’s always been down the line.

That’s the winning strategy, now that life dealt her a bad hand. But because she’s a mature and thoughtful soul, she realizes that bad hand is temporary.

Third, while concerts are ephemeral, music itself isn’t. Music can last forever, even though the pieces we play will sound a little different every time we try, as we learn and change and grow and become wiser (and hopefully, just a bit better, too).

This is why music is important. The players may change, sometimes through no fault of their own. The pieces change, too. And the audiences definitely change, something no musician can ever predict…nor would we want to in advance, as that’s half the fun of playing, in my not-so-humble opinion.

Anyway, that’s why I think concerts are interesting. They are a microcosm of life, in their own weird way, and as such, the preparation for the actual event may — or may not — match what ends up happening.

But no matter what, the music will endure. And the Racine Concert Band shall do its best to play it with passion, vigor, and authenticity, later tonight at Park High School.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 17, 2017 at 2:44 pm

Sunday Musing: Aaron Rodgers

leave a comment »

Folks, on Sundays I often try to write something a little different, something that makes you think. And today, I have an almost ideal subject, albeit for a not-so-great reason, that subject being Aaron Rodgers. (He was injured today, you see. But I’ll get to that in a bit.)

When Rodgers first became the starting quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, I wasn’t happy. (Yeah, I’ll admit it.) I was a big fan of Brett Favre and Favre’s happy-go-lucky style of play, and Rodgers was more sedate, much quieter, and far less flamboyant.

However, over time, I’ve learned to appreciate Rodgers. He is a deep thinker, as well as a fierce competitor, and he seems to have a very solid moral compass. (He reads, too, and I’m a big fan of that…no surprise, huh?)

Rodgers is the type of guy who learns from experience. He is mature, and has a personality that I probably would like, one-on-one.

So, why was it that when Rodgers, who probably had all of these qualities to begin with in some fashion or another, came into his own with the Packers that I didn’t appreciate him very much at all?

I think there’s something to do with loyalty that came into play, there. It was hard to give Rodgers a chance when I still liked Favre and believed Favre could play, and play well, in the NFL. And even though it wasn’t up to Rodgers at all as to when Rodgers would finally get his time to shine (as if it were, Rodgers would’ve started from the moment he got drafted by the Packers, and that obviously didn’t happen), it was difficult to see Rodgers’ worth or value.

This is the value of time, though. It gives you the opportunity to re-evaluate your snap judgments. Some of them are right; I liked Favre from the start, for example. But some are flat wrong, and are colored by prejudgments that can’t help but keep you from seeing the whole picture.

As my cousin Wayne put it a while back, Favre and Rodgers are both great, but in different ways. One was relatable and quotable; the other humane and thoughtful. But both are wonderful players, and are interesting people with unique perspectives on life, to boot.

And that’s important to think about. Rodgers is a person, with feelings and wants and needs and desires of his own. He’s not an automaton. He’s a real, live person, and he’s about to have to endure the hardest thing any athlete in his prime hates, that being a major injury.

Earlier today in the game versus the Minnesota Vikings, Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone. He will be out for quite some time. There’s even a possibility that Rodgers will be out the entire remainder of the 2017 season.

I hope Rodgers will heal quickly and well.

But while he heals, I also hope he’ll continue doing what he was already — that is, studying, reading, thinking hard, doing good for others, and caring deeply about the world we live in.

Because as great a quarterback and football player as Rodgers is, I think he’s an even better person. And we need more people like him in this life.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 15, 2017 at 4:45 pm

Reverence for the Flag, and the Crisis in Puerto Rico

with 2 comments

Folks, I’m going to do my best, but this situation makes my blood boil. You have been warned.

In recent days, we’ve been told much about the need to revere the flag of the United States of America. The current President, Donald Trump, has taken on the NFL and its players, even calling them “SOBs” (spelling it out, rather than using the acronym as I just did) for some wishing to kneel during the national anthem. Even though the third verse of the Star-Spangled Banner has some offensive references (which is why we usually do not sing it, or even think about it)…and even though there are many ways to be reverent, and all does not stand or fall on whether someone stands and puts his/her hand over his/her heart while listening to the Star-Spangled Banner.

Well, I have news for you. We have several major crises going on, and one of them is in Puerto Rico. Due to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria, many people there are without food, water, hospital supplies, electricity, or any of the needs of living.

How is it reverent to ignore these people, American citizens all?

And why on Earth would anyone, especially the President of the US, decide he’d rather talk about the “need” to stand for the national anthem than the fact that people are dying in Puerto Rico (at least two have already died, in hospitals, and more will follow as supplies dwindle, most especially diesel fuel to run generators)?

Look. We were hit by a number of hurricanes in rapid succession. The US Virgin Islands were hit. Florida was hit. Texas was hit. And Puerto Rico was hit.

Only Puerto Rico, as far as I know, hasn’t gotten the help they need. Their port was devastated, which made immediate help hard to come by; the thing is, there are ways to help that don’t require a set of working docks. Helicopters, for example, could drop supplies on pallets. There’s also mobile “comfort ships” that can be sent; the US Navy has helpful ways to get supplies to people also, whether they can actually dock or not.

And most importantly of all, the devastated phone system can be brought back quickly by the US military. Which is desperately needed, as many of the people who were hurt by this storm are aged, and can’t even make their needs felt under these circumstances.

I want to know, honestly, why it is that we haven’t helped Puerto Rico yet?

How is it reverent to ignore three million-plus American citizens? How is it patriotic, either, to let people starve and run out of water and medical supplies and have unnecessary pain and anguish, all while the temperatures rise and there’s no electricity at all and no phone service, either?

And while we sit here debating what reverence is, and whether NFL stars should sit, stand, kneel, or turn purple while saluting (or not saluting) the flag, those people of Puerto Rico continue to suffer.

No matter what, we must help these folks; we cannot abandon our own citizens. It is wrong to watch night after night after more people in Puerto Rico suffer, with no help forthcoming and nothing said by the current President except a) platitudes and b) statements that more or less say Puerto Rico is on its own.

In addition, every time the current President talks about the crisis there in Puerto Rico, he talks about the “wonderful job” he, himself, is doing. Not FEMA, mind…himself. (He sometimes says “his team.” Not much better.)

This is utterly disgraceful.

How will history judge us, when we refuse to help our own?

So, to my mind, it is more reverent to help the people of Puerto Rico than it is to worry about the flag. Because the flag is going to take care of itself, while those people need our help now. (Besides, if we can’t help those people, what does our flag mean, anyway?)

If you want to help, here’s a good place to go to find charities that need assistance right now:

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/help-puerto-rico-12-effective-160201263.html

Beat the Heat and Stand for Something

with 3 comments

Folks, you may be wondering why on Earth I decided to combine these two topics. It’s mostly because it was 95 F with high humidity (and far from the world’s best air quality) where I live in Southeastern Wisconsin; originally I was going to talk only about standing for something, but it being so hot made me combine them.

So, hopefully my brain hasn’t melted, and this will make sense. Enjoy!

There’s so much negativity in this world right now. And the only way I know to try to fight against any of it is to find something to believe in, and take a stand.

What do I stand for? (I’m going to try to stay out of politics for the moment, as it’s so hot…) Literacy, for one. And education. And thinking for yourself, and making up your own mind after using reason, logic, or at least some sort of step-by-step rationale for making your decisions, rather than following the whims of whatever “in-crowd” seems to be dominating the airwaves this week.

This is important. You need to think for yourself. And stand for something, as well as stand against stuff that makes no sense to you.

Such as narcissistic contemporary behavior. And I am not alone in that.

Tonight, while watching television, I saw highly respected journalist and writer Gay Talese, speaking with MSNBC’s Ari Melber. Talese said that in his opinion, our culture is incredibly narcissistic. He pointed out that even when he goes to a baseball game, more people are watching their phones than watching the game — and he truly does not understand that.

(Neither do I, as a baseball fan. That just never has made any sense to me. Watch the game if you’re there, dammit. Or stay home and follow your phone…unless someone in your family has a health emergency, turn the damned thing off.)

Talese was speaking broadly, as well as specifically (as he was talking politics; someday, maybe soon, I’ll talk about that, too, but not today). But his point is well-founded. We are too narcissistic now, in the Western World in particular; we are not thinking about tomorrow so much as immediate self-gratification.

How do we combat all this? We need to stop undue navel-gazing. And instead, take a stand. Find something you like to do that will actually help someone else. And stop focusing on your own problems to the detriment of everyone else.

(I know, I know; I am at fault as much as anyone reading. But I’m telling myself to do this, too, as I really don’t want to be hypocritical. Trust me. Now, back to the regularly scheduled post, already in progress…)

Some ideas of how to help:

  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen or food pantry
  • Volunteer with dog, cat, parakeet, or other animal shelters, and make sure those animals are well cared for until they find their “forever homes”
  • Send money to Florida, Puerto Rico, Houston, the Virgin Islands, or any other place that’s been devastated by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, or Maria

Those are just three ideas, but I hope that gives you some food for thought.

We’re only here for a short time. We have to help others while we’re here, or at least make a good attempt to do so; otherwise, why were we put on this Earth with millions upon millions of other souls rather than in our own hermetically sealed bubble, alone in our “perfection,” alone with our thoughts…and no doubt bored silly by same?

As the heat beats down, and the humidity makes the heat even worse, do your best to keep yourself focused on people other than yourself. That’s the best way to honor the better angels of your nature, and it’s the best blow against self-defeating narcissism I know.

P.S. It’s not that you shouldn’t care about what happens to you, mind…it’s that you also should care about what happens to others.

How do you help others? And what do you think of this post? Let me know in the comments!

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 22, 2017 at 6:15 pm

Changing Perspectives

with 3 comments

Folks, sometimes you just have to change your perspective.

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

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

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

Of course I said it was everything else.

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

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

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

No, he wouldn’t. And I admitted that.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 15, 2017 at 9:20 pm

Self-Belief and Writing

with 10 comments

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!)

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 9, 2017 at 8:31 pm