Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Prescient observations’ Category

Insist on Facts, Please

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Folks, as I watch the wrangling in Washington, DC, I get more and more frustrated.

The Republicans don’t think anything they do is wrong. So whatever the current President of the United States, Donald Trump, says or does must automatically be right.

And the Democrats don’t think anything they do is wrong, either. So whatever they say must be right, too.

What this does is alienate literally everyone. Because no one takes responsibility for anything. And no one ever admits wrongdoing.

And I’m tired of it.

The thing is, as I watch all this nonsense, I want to remind you of one thing: No matter what is being said, get the facts.

Insist on facts, please.

Do not allow your own biases to be confirmed or denied unless and until you have facts.

And when you see something like a release of a memo by one party (as reportedly will happen within days) about the FBI supposedly doing something wrong, where a whole bunch of stuff can’t be confirmed or denied due to being classified — when the memo by the other party is blocked by the party in power (as the Republicans are going to release the memo authored by Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, but won’t release the memo authorized by Democrats) — you must absolutely, positively insist upon facts.

If one party — in this case the Ds — says that the Justice Department and/or the FBI should at least be consulted before releasing the memo due to possible classified information being there, and that the other party — in this case, the Rs — refuses to even consult with the professionals in the area, that is deeply troubling.

And it looks like facts are being ignored, at least from here.

Still. Even now, when all sorts of things look wrong and are annoying and frustrating and nonsensical, get the facts. Get as many facts as you can, before you condemn.

So, while I continue to condemn tribalism and reflexive thinking — if you’re an R, everything the Rs do is good (even if it’s not), or if you’re a D, everything the Ds do is good (even if it’s not) — I urge you to be smart, be prudent, refuse to be snowed, and dammit, to get the facts before you make up your mind. (Please?)

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Mourning Ursula LeGuin

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Earlier this week, well-known science fiction and fantasy author Ursula K. LeGuin died at age 88. While this was a very long and well-honored life, most of the SF&F community is in some degree of mourning due to how influential LeGuin was on the entire field of SF&F.

Most people who have read any SF&F at all are aware of her best works, which include the Earthsea Trilogy, THE LATHE OF HEAVEN, THE DISPOSSESSED, and the gender-bending THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS, that deals with a planet where traditional gender roles do not apply and people can become male or female as the situation arises due to a type of estrus. But LeGuin also wrote poetry, short stories (in and out of SF&F), and any number of other things…and in some ways, she was primed from birth to become a writer.

Now, why do I say that? Well, her mother was a writer. Her father was an anthropologist. And she came from a well-read, well-educated household, with three siblings; all of them were expected from a very early age to reason and explain their reasoning to their intelligent parents, along with reading widely and being able to research nearly any subject.

All of these things — reading widely, being able to research, and being able to reason and better yet, explain your own reasoning — are important to writing. If you don’t read widely, you’re only rarely going to be able to produce anything of worth; if you can’t research new things, you can’t possibly explain them; if you can’t explain your reasoning, you can’t tell a story, because the story would ramble, meander, and perhaps wander off on tangents as it would not be properly set up in the first place.

LeGuin could and did all of those things. But her style, even from the first, was unusual. She wrote in a way that was both moving but also passive; she let the words speak precisely because of how they were stated, and let the reader interpolate a lot as to how people felt about whatever was going on in whatever story.

For example, in my favorite of all her works, THE LATHE OF HEAVEN, George Orr has a gift: He can dream true, and thus change his world through his dreams. But he doesn’t know what to do with it, and is afraid of it, so he refuses to use it.

Enter a corrupt psychiatrist, William Haber, who believes he can control Orr’s gifts. (Orr has no choice to see the man, either, as Orr was abusing drugs to keep himself from dreaming true and thus altering the world.) And over time, Orr loses nearly everything — his world, his girlfriend, even his psyche — until he realizes he must stand up to Haber once and for all.

The problem is, by this time, Haber has figured out how Orr’s managing to do what Orr’s done. And Haber’s version of a utopia is far worse than anything Orr has dreamed up, all unwittingly…so almost all of the pulse is internal, dealing with how Orr feels (which I like quite a bit), rather than external, though there is some of the latter (in particular, what will this horrible guy Haber do with the power Orr refuses to use?)

THE LATHE OF HEAVEN is the most deeply romantic novel LeGuin ever wrote. The romance between Orr and Heather Lelache (later Andrews, as in different worlds she married, or didn’t, thus changing her last name) is halting but real. Orr is enriched by his love for her, and she is given an unusual type of dignity along with the ability to realize that being soft does not make you weak by her love for him. And thus, they become better, wiser, kinder people…that is, until Haber interferes with the relationship. (Which for those who have read this, and are going, “Barb, you are misstating this,” is exactly what Haber does. Haber doesn’t like Heather at all. And he’s just as happy once Heather’s out of the picture, because Haber realizes instinctively that Heather is the main reason Orr will oppose him, due to Orr’s innate passivity.)

See, what I think LeGuin was saying is that we all deserve to find love. Whether we’re more passive than not, whether we’ve made mistakes (as both Orr and Heather have definitely done more than a little of that), whether we’ve done everything right all the time is immaterial. What matters is that we do our best, and stand up for what’s right, even when it’s difficult — and even when the best solution seems to be passive, rather than active, everything will find a way to work itself out over time if you just keep making your best effort.

That’s why I enjoyed THE LATHE OF HEAVEN so very, very much. I could see myself in Heather, for sure. I even saw a little of myself in George Orr, even though I’ve never been considered a passive sort of person…still, having gifts that you don’t always feel comfortable in using is a theme most people recognize instinctively, as we all have talents we’re sometimes afraid to use for various reasons. (Granted, not everyone wants to admit this. But it is the verimost truth.)

So if LeGuin had only written that one, very fine novel, I’d have remembered her and have mourned her craftsmanship and humanity, both of which shone through as a writer.

But as I said, she wrote many other things. And in nearly everything she ever wrote, I found value and worth…which is all you can ask of any writer, really.

And for those who want entertainment and just that in their stories, well, LeGuin could do that, too. Witness the Earthsea trilogy, TEHANU — the fourth book of Earthsea, and THE OTHER WIND, the fifth book. These are all ripping good reads, with heart and pluck and adventures, and kids of all ages enjoy them to this day.

(To clarify, TEHANU is about an older woman as she finds love, all unlooked for, with the former Archmage, Ged from the first three books. But there’s still a great deal of stuff there that younger kids will like, and the romance is certainly not a graphic one.)

So, here’s to you, Ursula LeGuin. I’m glad you lived. I’m glad you left behind excellent novels and stories and essays and poetry. And I hope your family — which includes, effectively, the vast majority of the SF&F community — will find comfort in your memory.

Staying Stable in an Unstable World

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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!

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 24, 2017 at 8:39 pm

Concerts and Life

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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

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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

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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

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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