Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Prescient observations’ Category

Computer Woes: Stuff I Learned While The Computer Was Down

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As the title says…here we go.

  1. I am very impatient. Waiting to get my computer fixed seemed like forever, rather than nearly eight days.
  2. I was more stuck in ruts than I’d previously thought.
  3. Trying to type on a phone — even on a smartphone — is much harder than I’d thought, and it’s not just because of my quasi-carpal tunnel syndrome.
  4. Following from #3, I figured out I owed a friend an apology from a while back. He and I got into it because I was being very chatty, and on a good day — and with a good computer, complete with a proper keyboard and my hands cooperating, I can type nearly 80 words per minute. He could not follow me on his phone, and said so. (He later admitted he wasn’t particularly nice about it and did apologize.) At the time, I didn’t understand this…but boy, do I ever, now.
  5. Following from #4…yes, I did apologize. Because it’s better to apologize late than never. And it’s a lot better to know, in and of yourself, that you tried to do the right thing, albeit late, and albeit when the other person may not even care anymore…because it was important once, and I muffed it. It’s a statement that I won’t do it wrong–at least not intentionally, anyway–again. (Of course, that leaves all the other stuff that I haven’t run across yet as potential things to do wrong. But I could do ’em right, too…moving on.)
  6. Tablets are damned hard to use.
  7. I don’t enjoy texting. Not on a flip phone, not on a smart phone, not at all. (“I do not like this, Sam I am.” — Dr. Seuss.)
  8. That said, texting my best friends when the computer is down beats staying out of contact all to Hell.
  9. And using a tablet is better than using a phone of any sort to stay in contact.
  10. Sometimes, life doesn’t go as planned, at all. And while I’ve known that for a damned long time, it bears repeating. (Like a clue-by-four upside the head.)
  11. I have a hard time reframing a bad situation, something I truly can’t stand, into anything remotely resembling a good one. I did try. I told myself over and over that I had more time to read. (I read all sorts of stuff, too. Found a couple of good new authors — new to me, anyway. One of ’em is Kate Stradling. Really am enjoying her work.) I told myself, over and over again, that I was still thinking about my stories — which I was — and that there have been times I’ve not been able to write for seven or eight days before, and I didn’t panic, so what’s the big deal?
  12. Enter panic. (Ding, ding, ding!)
  13. Getting my computer back was useful. I’m still not back up to speed. But I have friends to help. And I’m grateful for that.
  14. I have to believe, despite it all, that there are better days ahead. We all have trials and tribulations. That this affected my livelihood for a week-plus in addition to my communication and my mode of living wasn’t good. (To put it mildly, but I digress.) But several of my friends made a point of calling or texting daily. They were concerned. And they made absolutely sure I knew they were concerned. (Bless them forever for this.)
  15. My family was also very good through this crisis. (It wasn’t just this I was dealing with. This is just what I’m willing to talk about. Further writer sayeth not.)
  16. “Sufficient unto the day are the needs thereof.” (Intentional Biblical misquote by my husband, Michael.) I have to meditate more on this one, I guess.
  17. Buddhists point out that you don’t have to enjoy your circumstances. You just have to accept them.
  18. But yes, when you get an ounce of joy, wring it out to the fullest! (I intend to do so, just as soon as I get some sleep. I’m going to write, and edit, and write some more…)

What do you think of this stream-of-consciousness blog? And what have you, yourself, learned when you have not been able to be online for a significant amount of time due to a computer failure, power outage, or any other reason? Tell me about it in the comments!

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 25, 2019 at 12:53 am

It’s All Grist for the Mill…

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As a storyteller, no matter how halting I find the process to be sometimes, I’ve learned one thing and one thing only in this life:

It’s all grist for the mill.

What do I mean by this? Well, everything that happens, good and bad — but most especially the bad — can be used in a positive way toward illuminating your stories.

Why?

Well, think about it. When someone tells you off, how do you feel in that moment? What would you do differently, if you could? What would you do better? Or what, if the devil on your shoulder was in charge for a moment — for story purposes only, of course! — would you do worse, to get a bit of your own back?

See, we’ve all been there.

We’ve all had someone tell us off. We’ve all had someone treat us terribly, for no reason, without warning.

And we’ve all been unable to do what we wanted in those moments, for good or ill…and the virtue of storytelling is, you get to figure out what you might’ve done, and how it might’ve been, without hurting yourself or anyone else. (While making it fun to read, too, if you do it right. Otherwise, why bother?)

Mind, the good things are also grist for the mill.

We’ve all had wonderful, amazing, spine-tingling things happen. Maybe they’re split-second things, like seeing a double-rainbow (or better yet, the Northern Lights — I hope to see that someday). Or they’re the most astonishing things ever known to man, like climbing Mount Everest…or, closer to home, finding someone who loves you, warts and all, and cares only about you and nothing but you — not your bank account, not your health or lack thereof, not your putative beauty or lack thereof either, but YOU.

These things all illuminate your stories. They make them deeper. Richer. More intense. More believable. More relatable. And more interesting by far.

So, the next time you have a bad day, try to remember this: it’s all grist for the mill. It may help. And even if it doesn’t, you can tell yourself in your best Evil Writer (TM) voice, “Hey, I’m going to remember this person, and– (insert worst possible thing you’d do to him/her here)” and that may get you to laugh.

What’s grist for your mill? Tell me about it in the comments!

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 27, 2019 at 12:55 am

Appearance Vs. Reality

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In daily life, I am struck often by the difference of appearance versus reality. And as a novelist, this strikes me with at least triple force, because I see how it could be otherwise, with just a bit of tweaking…and yet the pathos remains because the person (or people) in question just can’t make that tweak…

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

You may be asking, “So, Barb, what brought this on, hm?”

I’ve been thinking about the difference between appearance and reality for months, if not years. Not just because of the differences between reality starlets’ shows and their real lives (real lives are far more messy, are unscripted, and definitely have fewer camera operators and makeup personnel), but because of the difference in how people I know well — or at least people I once knew well — show off their lives in public but are all different in private.

This, of course, is not new to the 21st Century. We may have different ways of showing ourselves to be different and better and “all that” in public than in private than previous centuries, but it’s still the same old song.

Very few people, in short, feel confident in letting people know they’re real, with warts and all. They don’t want to admit they’re anything less than perfect, because they’re afraid the jackals may be circling…and sometimes, they’re probably right.

But most of the time, showing ourselves in our best light all the time is, to my mind anyway, self-defeating. It’s like a good friend of mine put it: “You see everyone else’s glamour shots, and your own blooper reel.” And you measure your blooper reel — that is, your real life with warts and all — against these highlight-reel things, and come up short.

Which, by the way, anyone would.

Back to why I’m talking about this today, though.

The whole “appearance vs. reality” thing has always been a particular interest of mine. This is only partly because I, myself, decided early on for whatever reason that I would not “fake it ’til I make it.” (That is, put on a front and pretend things were better than they actually were.) And I’m not sure what the rest of it was, excepting that I’ve always been someone who observed others keenly–and in so doing, figured out that all was not as it seemed.

I believe in leading as close to an authentic life as possible. That doesn’t mean burdening people with all my troubles, though sometimes it does seem that way. And it doesn’t mean, either, that I won’t share my triumphs, when I get them…it’s just that I won’t put on that false front, because I see it as wasting time and energy.

(And I don’t have enough of either, so let’s get on.)

That said, are there still things I keep private? Hell, yes. I don’t need to tell all and sundry everything about me just to lead that authentic life. And yes,  it’s a balancing act, for certain.

In essence, what I want you to think about today is this: Is your life what you want it to be? What’s the difference between how it appears, and how it actually is? And what can you do about it to make it any better?

These questions will also work well when you’re writing, mind, as every character ever written struggles with this (as well as more common motivations). And if you use it just right, it’ll deepen and broaden your writing to a degree that’s startlingly real…and may just help others in the process. (Not that you have to, in art, but it’s a good side benefit if you can.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 21, 2019 at 12:33 pm

Holidays Are Hard, AKA Christmas Ramblings

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So, the holidays are coming. And they’re tough to take.

You see all the folks rushing here, rushing there (sometimes literally; today I saw a horrific car accident on the Interstate, and was very spooked by it), and you wonder what all that rushing is all about.

Then, there are the Christmas movies. The Christmas music, everywhere you go. (Even at the casino/hotel last night, where I was enjoying a rare night of R&R, I heard all Xmas music, all the time. I actually would’ve rather heard the 149th rendition of Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” which is not exactly my favorite song in the world, than that…because at least Britney is being honest.) The Christmas sales. The Pajamagrams. The Vermont Teddy Bears. And all the other ads you see, most especially for jewelry…

Everything is about conspicuous consumption. (Gag.)

Or about the assumption that every family is perfect (news flash: they aren’t), and that Christmas can make miracles happen out of even the most dysfunctional situation (and dysfunctional people). And while I want to believe that’s true (I know miracles can and do happen, for example), I don’t think it’s as easy as the movies make it out to be.

Look. Call me a curmudgeon. (Please.) But as I’ve said before, holidays are not about presents. They’re about presence.

As in, showing up, paying attention, making memories. Those are the only things that matter. Not how much you spend.

So, this may be an obvious take, but holidays are hard. We’re confronted with all we’re not, and we’re told we must aspire to be things other than what we are.

When you see stuff like that, or hear stuff like that, or think things like that, step back and take a breath. Then, realize that all you can do is take it moment by moment, give yourself permission to have human feelings (and human failings), and keep trying to do whatever good you can, wherever you can.

That’s what I’m going to try to do this year.

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 8, 2018 at 12:53 am

More Musing About Editing

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Most of my life, I’ve worked hard at being a reliable, steady person.

(My family might laugh at this, but it’s the truth.)

A big part of that is embodied by the phrase “finish what you start.” And I try to do that with everything I do, even if it takes me longer as a writer to finish things than I’d like…even if my overall writing process has changed drastically since my late husband died, and I’ve never quite regained my fluidity or facility since.

It’s easier with editing, mind. For whatever reason, my mind goes into a mode there where I can see the story, manipulate the story (or at least ask the author to manipulate it for me), fix what needs fixing, suggest what needs suggesting, and try to do the best job I possibly can for my editorial clients.

Working hard is important. Even if I’m the only one who knows how hard I’m working, I still want to work hard, do everything possible, and make a positive difference in someone’s life. Even if it’s “just” in helping them realize their own artistic vision a little better, with a bit more clarity and sharpness…because these things are important, too.

A good friend, years ago, told me that when I started editing, I’d see manuscripts — even my own — differently. It’s a hard thing to turn off, Editorial Vision (or as I call it, “Editor Voice”), and that can get in the way of my own writing.

Mind, I do appreciate Editor Voice. I can do many things with it that others can’t. Including, of all things, being able to look at a manuscript as if I’ve never seen it before, even if I’ve seen it several times in the past. This ability seems unusual; the other good friends of mine who are editors don’t report having this type of track, though they have other things that work just fine for them.

(I also see, at the same time, what I’ve done, what I want to do, and what the author hopes me to do if I haven’t already figured out a way to do that, which makes it a way of looking at a story in two ways: with great knowledge, and with almost no knowledge. I call it a “dual-level ability.”)

I take what I do seriously. (Maybe too seriously, at times. Though I also try to be humorous when I can…or at least laugh, as life is too short to live it without laughter. Really.) I give everything I’ve got, and then some, toward helping others find their unique voices, and give them (in the buzzword of the moment) “agency.”

I’m glad to do whatever I can to help my clients, most of whom become good friends in the process, tell the best stories they need to tell, in the clearest and most distinct manner they can possibly tell their stories.

And otherwise, when I write? I try to tell myself I don’t have to do everything today. If I get down at least some of what I need, I can add to it tomorrow. Refine it. Maybe reimagine it, if need be…work with what I have, and make it as strong and resilient a story as I can make it. And tell the stories I need to tell, too, so I can say with good grace to clients that I know exactly how they feel, as I, too, have been there. (Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt, etc.)

That’s what I’m thinking about, now, as I continue my journey forward.

Oh, one more thing…next week, I’m going to tell you about the newest anthology I’ve placed a story in. So don’t go anywhere…I’ll have a table of contents, even, to pass around. (Yes, I am a working writer. Thank God/dess.)

What’s going on with y’all? (Tell me in the comments.)

 

Moving Forward, Slowly…

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Folks, I continue to recover from the Nasty Respiratory Ailment (TM). I am much better than I was, and have completed two novel-length book edits in the past two weeks. Working on two more, too…and I have started writing a bit again, so I’m feeling much better about things overall.

That said, I wanted to talk a little bit about how sometimes being persistent means accepting the fact that you have to move more slowly than you might like. Illness does this, you see. Injury, too. And in either case, when you want to do more than you are physically capable of doing, it feels like beating your head against a brick wall.

Or maybe beating your wings against the bars of a gray, barren prison. (Whatever works as an image for you, though I definitely am more partial to the prison idea.)

It’s hard to deal with, the feeling of hopelessness. It really is. You want to be up and doing. Up and creating. Up and being the best self you can possibly be. But sometimes, to do that, you have to ration your strength and know your limits.

The way my husband put it was, “If you can’t do it today, you’ll do twice as much tomorrow. And if you can’t do it then either due to Real Life (TM), you’ll do three times as much the next day.” His view was that you had to believe you would keep moving forward, no matter how long it took, and no matter what in life stood in your way.

See, if you know your path and stay on it, good things will happen. You have to look hard sometimes to find those good things. But they will happen. You’ll meet good people, and you’ll be able to talk with them about things that matter to you. You’ll have exchanges of viewpoints, and sometimes may have your mind changed — or at least challenged — in ways you won’t expect. (Personally, I find that among life’s best of treasures, though it is woefully unappreciated by many who’d rather stay with whatever their personal status quo is. Too bad about ’em, isn’t it?)

And you will create. If you keep trying, you keep working on it, you keep thinking about it, and you do whatever is in your power on a daily basis, you will create.

That’s the hard lesson I’ve had to learn. And because I’m stubborn, I learn it over and over and over again. Because every single time, I want to be healthier than I am; I want to be stronger than I am; I want to snap back from ill health faster than I’m capable of; I want to do more, be better, create things of lasting worth…and I often wonder if I’ve failed at the lot of it.

That said, at least I keep trying. I move forward, slowly.

And that’s perhaps the whole trick of life. Find your path. Move forward on it, no matter how slowly it may be at times. Treasure the people you meet. Find common ground when you can, accept the stuff that will never be in common, try to delight in it when you can…just find whatever you can, and do that, and keep doing it as long as it makes you happy. (And, of course, hurts no one, is ethical, principled, etc.)

This is what matters. (Don’t let anyone tell you anything different, either.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 9, 2018 at 1:04 am

Six Things for Saturday

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Folks, I know I didn’t write a blog all week, and I’m sorry. So without further ado, here are six takes on six different things. (Why six? It’s Saturday. I like alliteration. It makes sense in my head, anyway…)

  • I’m very happy that my favorite baseball team, the Milwaukee Brewers, are in the playoffs. They haven’t had a team this good since 1982, and that year, the Brewers (in the American League back then) made it to the World Series. I don’t know if this year’s team can do that or not; much remains unclear at this time. But they have had a great year, and their bullpen is the main reason, along with the play of MVP-candidate Christian Yelich.
  • I’ve thought a lot about editing this past week. Some books that I’ve otherwise loved end up with odd errors in them. One such error is “fairing” instead of the proper word, faring, as in, “How are you faring?” (Meaning, how are you doing.) I don’t know why this keeps showing up in books, except that I’m guessing the authors either didn’t have good editors or they relied too much on spellcheck and/or grammar check. (No spellcheck or grammar check in the world is as good as a real, live editor.)
  • I am far from indifferent to the political situation we have going on in the US right now. I am frustrated with the descent into tribalism. We cannot get any traction if those of us in the middle are either vilified or ignored. And yet, if you try to take a middle stance on anything, that’s exactly what happens. As I’ve said before, change usually is incremental. (Mind, it may show up, all of a sudden, as a huge one, such as when same-sex marriage was legalized in all 50 states in 2015. But it took decades of progress to get to that point.) And to get that incremental change, you need people who are willing to look at the problems — take a good, hard, rational, fact-based look — and then compromise to get the best solution possible.

Now, is this hard to do? Damn straight it is. Most people do not have the wherewithal to truly serve the public rather than themselves, or worse, special interests/big moneyed interests. Maybe they want to serve the public, but can’t figure out a way; maybe they get to state capitals (or even more challenging, Washington, DC) and get blinded by the “bright lights, big city” phenomenon.

But this is what must happen to have good, positive public service. And right now, because no one trusts anyone else politically and there’s very little bipartisanship to be had at any level, those of us who just want to fix the potholes and make sensible public policy get pushed to the side. And that’s wrong.

  • Someone asked me if I believed Doctor Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony. The answer is that I did. Something definitely happened to her, and she was definitely sexually assaulted. Her behavior afterward is characteristic of that, as is the fact it took her years to put herself back together. So yes, I believed her. And yes, I believe we need to listen to sexual assault survivors, and make better public policy overall if we can in that regard, too.

(Before someone says, “But Barb! That doesn’t say Judge Kavanaugh did anything! You have no proof! She has no proof either beyond her bare word,” I will point out that I am answering only the one question. I wait for facts.)

I am very pleased Doctor Ford put herself back together, mind, and used her experiences to better inform her life, make better and more positive choices in the long run, and get her doctorate (which is a very big deal). That’s hard to do. She did it. She deserves credit for it.

And the people who are angry with her for telling her story need to show some compassion. Even if they think she’s flat wrong, they should be praying for her; they shouldn’t be doxxing her or sending death threats. (That should go without saying, but somehow, it no longer does.)

  • Weather is the last bastion of bipartisanship in the United States.

Weather is a great equalizer, you know. We all face it. We all have to deal with it. We all have to learn to live with it. And we all have to figure out ways to cope with it.

In my area in Southeastern Wisconsin, we’ve had lots of rain lately, with some of it overflowing the banks of the various rivers. That is never good. (We also are getting more rain and the ground is super-saturated already. Also not good.)

So, weather is still bipartisan, and is still a safe subject. (Hallelujah?)

  • Sixth and last, if I’ve learned anything from this life, it’s that I can’t change anyone else. I can only change me. (And that happens very, very slowly.)

Why am I talking about this? Recent events in my personal life, mostly. I have had to face the fact that no matter what I want, certain folks just aren’t going to change. I have to deal with the problem as it is (or as a golfer would say, “Play the ball as it lies”); I can’t prettify it up or hope for better.

Now, this can be depressing, if you take it one way. But it also can be liberating.

See, if you’ve done everything in your power, and nothing has affected the outcome, that just shows you’re in the wrong place. Or maybe with the wrong people.

So, going forward, I will keep working on myself, and my craft, and my art. And if I can find like-minded souls willing to walk with me on the journey, good.

If not? Well, I’m going to have to stop bending myself into pretzel-shapes, and save steps.

Any comments from the peanut gallery? (Preferably not about politics?) Let me know in the comments!