Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Prescient observations’ Category

You Must First Try Before You Can Do

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I know Yoda said, long ago, that “there is no try,” but I disagree.

When you’re learning something new, you can’t help but try to figure out exactly how this new thing will work. For example, if you’re learning a new fingering for the clarinet (the altissimo register, or highest notes, can require some unusual fingerings), you try the new fingering out. You see if it works by itself, then you add in other notes around it to see if it works in context with the music. Then, finally, you try that fingering after playing in a lower octave (composers often write urgent things in piercing registers, or at least we can; lower registers are more about steadiness, sometimes, or at least about a rich sonority as the notes are easier to play), and make sure it works no matter what register you’d been playing in beforehand.

So, when you’re learning something new, you try it out.

Here’s another example. When you go buy a new car, you try it out. You see if it seems like something that will work well for you; you see if it’s comfortable, easy to manage, has enough room to carry your groceries or other important items on occasion, and you envision yourself in the car even as you’re taking it for a test-drive. All of the various amenities it has, or doesn’t have, don’t matter as much as what I’ve just mentioned. What does matter is how the car feels as you test-drive it — in other words, how it feels as you try the car, and put it through its paces.

Even in our personal lives, there is an example.

When I was younger, before I married for the first time, I had no idea of what I was getting into. Yes, I’d taken or at least sat in on a “Marriage and Family” course, I’d tutored some kids in high school who took similar classes also, and I thought I had a good grasp of what marriage entails.

I was wrong.

Why was I wrong? Well, I was envisioning only myself, plus the perfect husband for me, who would do everything right, all the time, without prompting, without me ever saying anything to him because he’d know everything before I mentioned it.

(Do you know how unreasonable and unrealistic this is? I didn’t, not at age twenty or thereabouts.)

See, I expected that anyone I was attracted to would be the same as myself, at least in one way. That way was regarding making the commitment to be with each other every single day. That meant that every day was a new one, where we built on what we already had while adding even more to the edifice…I know discussing a marriage like you’re building a house is an inexact metaphor, to say the least, but it’s the best I can come up with even with my additional experiences.

How did I get those additional experiences? I tried various things. I learned different, disparate things about myself along the way. And by the time I met my late husband Michael, I knew exactly what I wanted out of myself and exactly what I wanted and needed from him. I knew he could provide it, too, because he not only said the right words. He backed them up with the right actions.

(Perhaps that’s not a surprise, as Michael was a Zen Buddhist. They believe in Right Action as one of their tenets, I seem to recall. But I digress.)

I could do, by that time. But the reason I could do was because I’d tried and failed so many other times.

Here’s a final example. Musicians are told to practice often, including major and minor scales, scales in thirds (these are small jumps, for the nonmusicians in the audience; for the musicians, think C-E D-F E-G, etc.), sometimes even scales in sixths, to make playing any sort of music far easier from the technical standpoint. If we get the technique down, we can concentrate instead on other things, such as breath control (for wind musicians, this is essential!), blending with the others in the group, intonation (you don’t want to be sharp when everyone else is flat, or vice-versa, though it’s easier for people to hear “sharp” rather than “flat” for some reason), and actually making music rather than just playing a bunch of shiny little notes.

(I have nothing against shiny little notes. I use quite a lot of them as a composer. Moving on…)

What I’m saying is this: Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid of trying multiple times before you can do something, much less do that same something well.

Persist. Keep trying. Keep motivating yourself as best you can, because it’s not likely anyone else is going to do so…and start believing that the best, in some ways, might just be yet to be.

Only then can you proceed from mostly trying, to mostly doing.

Tuesday Insight: Love and Meanness Do Not Go Together

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Folks, I’ve thought for a while about writing something on Tuesdays that would be more introspective — similar to what I often write on Sunday, except without as much of the spiritual element. Today’s blog is the result.

Recently, love has been on my mind.

This is not much of a surprise. There is an element of romance with nearly every story I write. Furthermore, my late husband Michael also wrote romance into many of his stories — though his romances were usually subtler than mine.

So, you might be asking yourself, “Barb, what brought this on today?”

It’s simple. I started thinking about how love should be patient, kind, honest, sincere — and completely without gratuitous meanness.

Tennessee Williams’ play A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE has a line spoken by Blanche (the main female lead) that goes like this: “Some things are unforgiveable. Deliberate cruelty is unforgiveable.”**

In other words, if someone is going out of their way to hurt you, they do not love you.

You may be wondering about someone who tries to make up for their utter rudeness and complete and total lack of respect. I can almost hear you say, “Isn’t that good enough that they apologize?”

It depends on the circumstances. If someone came home from work, needed to be alone for a half-hour (or however long), and said so, but their significant other gave them no space, then I might understand why someone was curt or to the point when it wasn’t necessary.

But rude? Outright nastiness just to hurt you?

No. That should not ever be tolerated, because that’s how people start to hate one another. Or at best, treat the other with contempt — contempt being possibly the worst thing that can enter a long-term relationship — as both of you pretend to still care, but actually don’t.

Yes, one of you in that scenario can still care, and often does, for that matter. But if you both aren’t in the marriage 100%; if you both aren’t pulling together at least 95% of the time; if you both aren’t trying to “fight fair,” and instead bring up old and dead topics again just to make the other person angry…well, if you are doing any of that, your marriage (or long-term relationship) is probably doomed.

You see, I’ve been there. (Not with my late husband, obviously. But with previous exes.) And while I’m glad those relationships ended, so I could marry Michael and know what love truly is all about, I went through a lot of pain and heartache to get there.

Anyway, what you must remember about love is that it truly should be patient, kind, trustworthy, and caring. Yes, everyone has disagreements, but a loving couple fights fairly and asks, “is this what you meant?” in as level of a tone of voice to make sure you’re understanding your spouse (or partner) if there’s any ambiguity about what the other person means.

So, a relationship that’s healthy and helps both you and your spouse (partner) to live a better, happier life needs cooperation, contemplation, sharing, kindness, honesty, a willingness to communicate even on (or especially because of) tough subjects, a rock-solid commitment to doing what you say you will and saying only what you will do, and much, much more.

What it should never contain is gratuitous, willful cruelty.

Now, I figured I’d also point out that most people want to believe the best of the person they’ve chosen to spend their life with. That’s fine, providing you are being honest with yourself when you do it.

In other words, if you would not want your best friend to be treated the way you’re being treated — or a sister, cousin, aunt, uncle, etc. — why are you putting up with it?

I do have a solution for you, though. It’s counseling. That will help you learn how to fight fair and treat each other the way you want to be treated. (If your partner refuses to go, please go alone.)

If you can’t afford counseling, pick up my friend Karl Ernst’s book ROCKING CHANGE: Changing the World Through Changing Ourselves. It’s eye-opening, refreshing, and different. (I know this, because I edited it.) Read his book, think about it, and then ask yourself why you are with a person who only seems to care about themself, rather than you, your kids (if you have any), your friends, or your job (in short, anything that matters to you besides them).

Karl’s book is about $10 at Amazon as an ebook. You may think this is a steep price, but I don’t. Compared to counseling — especially if you need it badly, and don’t have insurance — ROCKING CHANGE is downright cheap.

———–

**I was reminded of this idea after reading a Washington Post chat led by main advice columnist Carolyn Hax from May 6, 2022. (The WaPo is behind a paywall, so I don’t know if you’ll be able to see my link. But if you can, read the entire chat. It’s quite insightful.)

Actress Kirstie Alley dies at 71

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It’s taken me a day since I heard about actress Kirstie Alley’s passing to figure out what I wanted to say.

Alley was almost an icon, in some senses. Whether it was weight loss, taking on tough challenges later in life (she was on Dancing with the Stars in 2011, when she was 59 going on 60), discussing difficult subjects (she once asked a reporter from my best recollection, “Are you a chubby chaser? Shouldn’t you be?”), or being outspoken in nearly every aspect of life, Alley was an American original in the best of senses.

I first saw Alley in STAR TREK II: The Wrath of Khan. She played Lieutenant Saavik, who was Spock’s mentee and almost his foster daughter. Saavik was half-Vulcan, half-Romulan, so she had more emotions than most Vulcans, yet she’d grown up more in the Vulcan way and did her best to follow logic rather than give in to her emotional side. The body language of Saavik was quite different than any other character Alley played later on; it was fluid in the lower body but restrained in the upper body. (She’d said this is how she viewed Leonard Nimoy’s performance as Spock, so she was emulating that the best she could as far as body language went.) This “mirroring” made it clear, without speaking, that she was deeply attached to her mentor, Spock.

Later, Alley was in Cheers, one of the longest running comedies ever on the “small screen” (aka television). She played the difficult and demanding Rebecca in such a way that you kind of liked her even though Rebecca threw out verbal jabs as easily as she served up a drink to the bar’s regulars. She won an Emmy for that performance.

In everything she did, Alley was memorable. Quotable.

Alley’s dance partner from Dancing, Maksim Chmerikovskiy, left an emotional tribute to Alley on Instagram. He said, in part, “You were one of the most unique people I have ever met and easily one of the brightest moments of my personal and professional life.” He wished her “the most peaceful rest,” and said he loved her and wished he’d spoken to her more often.

People who have huge hearts and spirits like Alley should be celebrated (which is exactly what Maksim C. did, above). They are unafraid to be themselves. They are unafraid of censure, because they know for the most part it’s meaningless and won’t matter in the end. They are more interested in self-improvement and being good to others than they are about anything else except their work, where they usually excel…and they are people who live full lives because they know that’s the only way to be true to themselves.

Alley’s life, especially after age fifty, seemed more like Auntie Mame (from the 1958 movie) than anything else. She was eccentric, outspoken, interesting, funny, yet had her vulnerable side as well. She was exactly the type of woman that I, in my midlife, hope to become someday.

May her memory always be a blessing.

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 6, 2022 at 11:24 pm

Opposites Attract: The Jerry Falwell and Larry Flint Friendship

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Folks, I’ve been thinking a great deal about friendship. Must we always be just like our friends? (You know I’m going to say no.) Can’t we appreciate different things in different people? (I would assuredly hope so.) And have other people managed to find common ground despite their differences?

Too many people get caught up in their “tribes” of folks who say they believe every single thing down to the last jot and tittle as themselves. They don’t challenge themselves, or their assumptions; they aren’t strong enough, perhaps, or maybe they just see no need.

Yet Larry Flynt — the famous owner of Hustler magazine (a men’s magazine that, shall we say, specialized in raunchiness rather than photographic artistry) — and Jerry Falwell, the famous Protestant minister, ended up friends after fighting like cats and dogs for years due to their obvious differences. (To say that Falwell did not approve of pornography, much less graphic porn like Hustler, is a severe understatement.)

How did they become friends?

Well, there’s a story behind that, and it goes like this: After Jerry Falwell lost a big lawsuit that went all the way to the Supreme Court, he went to Flynt and said, “I believe God wants us to be friends. Goodness knows we’ve tried everything else.” (This is my best paraphrase from several things I’ve read over the years.)

Flynt had some God-fearing friends, such as Ruth Carter Stapleton (former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s sister), and had converted, at least for a short time, to Christianity in the 1970s. (I think he made it about a year before he again proclaimed he was an atheist.) He respected them despite their differences. But no one, not him and probably not Falwell, would’ve believed that these two wildly disparate personalities would become friends.

Why? Well, to put it mildly, most people do not become friends after they lose such a high-profile lawsuit. (Or any lawsuit.)

Yet Falwell extended Christian charity to Flynt, and Flynt responded. Flynt once said (again, from my best paraphrase), “We had almost nothing in common, yet he was a great friend.”

These two were unafraid to discuss their differences, too. They knew in many ways they were diametrically opposed. Yet…they also had some things in common, such as beliefs in integrity and fair dealing. They also believed people should honestly confront themselves, plus both believed in the rights of people with disabilities to fair treatment and understanding. They also were both, adamantly, against the death penalty, and Flynt backed it up when the gunman who paralyzed him was on death row as Flynt asked for the death penalty not to be applied.

In writing circles, we have a few other “opposite attracts” friendships, including the professional collaboration and long friendship between David Weber and the late Eric Flint. I know from my own knowledge of reading various posts by both men at Baen’s Bar (find it by going to baen.com and look for the link) that both men were intelligent, spirited, and tough but fair when discussing their various differences. (The respect between the two men was never in doubt.) What they had in common was personal integrity, honesty, commitment, a strong work ethic, and a willingness to work together to write excellent fiction.

My late husband Michael was a major admirer of David Weber, years ago. He had all the Honor Harrington books, plus the Bahzell books, and several other ones. (I can’t remember all the names now, but I’d probably recognize the various covers.) Michael, like myself, believed in traditional small-l liberal values and tended to vote for centrist candidates. (This was quite right-wing for San Francisco, he proudly used to say. I think Michael loved being contrary. But I digress.)

See, it is possible to respect and admire someone no matter what providing people are of good will and no malice. Flint and Weber worked together, were great friends, and appreciated each other. And the oddest couple of all, Flynt and Falwell, certainly became great friends and appreciated each other.

Knowing of these friendships makes me believe that people in general can, still, become friends with folks who seemingly have nothing in common.

So, when you abhor the state of the world — and truly, there are very difficult things going on all over the place, including a ton of stupidity — remember this:

It is possible to be friends with someone of a different political party. It is possible to become friends with someone of a different gender or sexual expression. It is possible to become friends with someone who worships differently than yourself…and it definitely is possible to be friends even if all of these things are present, providing we are people of goodwill and do as much listening as we do talking.

(That’s hard for me, but I’m working on it.)

Anyway, what “opposites attract” friendship have you wondered about? Tell me about it in the comments!

A Post of Quiet Contemplation

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The last few weeks, I’ve needed to take a breather.

I’ve been doing what I can to watch nature as the weather starts to turn. There is a plethora of birds to see at this time of year in Wisconsin, and many are small and cute. While I’m no ornithologist, I enjoy bird-watching, as it reminds me that troubles are mostly transitory. Eventually, we fly away from our cares.

(BTW, jazz saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker had a song called “Ornithology.” That’s how I learned the word — and if you don’t know who Charlie Parker is, shame on you.)

I try to be aware of the various animals around at this time of year. We often have ducks crossing the road, or sometimes a pack of squirrels (with maybe one or two laggards)…there are some folks with outdoor cats that I’ve seen, too, along with a number of geese (rare at this time of year, as they usually like much warmer surrounds than Wisconsin in November).

When I see an animal wounded or dead on the road, I say a prayer for them. (I know that has to sound ridiculous, but it’s true.) They remind me of something that happened a few years ago now, you see.

There was a duck in the middle of the road with its feet up. It was only a two-lane road, and it was a county highway. There was no way for me to get off the road as there was no shoulder (road construction, I think, at the time); I couldn’t do anything except hope and pray my wheels would not hit the duck in its throes.

Unfortunately, I ran over the duck. I felt terrible about it. I kept wondering if there was anything I could do. (My bird-loving friends said no, there wasn’t.) I wanted to go back and get that duck and bring it to the side of the road, so it could die in peace, rather than perhaps getting run over by even more cars (I don’t think mine was the first car to hit the poor thing).

While I couldn’t do that then, I have tried to do similar things with other animals in the road. I haven’t found any live animals since that duck, but I have been able to get a few cats off the road and one poor little dog (no tags on any of them, and no collars, either). If all I can do is pick them up with a bag or some paper toweling to put them on the side of the road, at least I feel slightly better for it.

I wonder, sometimes, if we are like those poor things. Most of the time, no one knows what we’re doing while we’re doing it, and we seem to only be appreciated in retrospect. We mostly hurry, scurrying here and there, not watching the road very much as we just try to keep going about our business in our daily lives.

What I believe, mostly, is that we owe it to all of the Deity’s creatures to respect them and do our best to love them, if possible. (I have a hard time loving a flea or a mosquito, so when I see one, I mostly hope it goes somewhere else. But that’s probably a flaw in my faith.)

So, if you are out and about this week — and many will be in the US, as it’s the week of Thanksgiving for us — you owe it to yourself to fully partake in nature’s surroundings as best you can.

Look at the trees. See how they keep growing, changing, yet somehow keeping their essence the same despite all the seasons of their lives.

Look at the few flowers that have made it through the frost (if any are left); otherwise, look at the evergreens, and ponder how shrubbery makes it through all the seasons more or less unscathed.

Look at the animals, including rabbits, geese, ducks, birds of all sorts, and squirrels. See how they just go about their business, preparing for winter, but enjoying what they have in the meantime (even if it’s just a stray bar of sunlight now and again).

Don’t forget these things. Let them ground you, motivate you, or maybe both…but no matter what, keep an eye on them.

These are the things that matter, you see. Everything else, save love and faith, is extraneous. The animals know it.

We should know it, too.

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 21, 2022 at 2:49 pm

Halloween Musings

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Folks, as I write this, it’s two days until Halloween. Three days until All Soul’s Day. And the official Day of the Dead ceremonies go from October 31 to November 2, 2022.

As this is a time where we’re not quite to winter, yet it’s colder more days than not, there’s an awful lot of personal reflection going on. (I don’t think I’m alone in this.) What have we done this year? What would our loved ones on the Other Side be proud of, and maybe not-so-proud of?

When I was young, I was like everyone else. I wore cute costumes (I think I went one year as a pink fairy; Mom and Grandma helped me make a “wand” with aluminum foil that looked a bit like a Star of David), went out to get Halloween candy, and possibly went to a few minor parties. (They were all very tame parties. A “lock-in” at the local Aladdin’s Castle, a place to play a ton of video games, was one of them. Another was at a good male friend’s house; I knew he was gay, but we didn’t talk about it then, and I had a huge crush on him anyway.)

As I got older, I read a great deal about the significance of Halloween. It started out as Hallowe’en — as in, the evening before All Soul’s Day. (All Hallow’s Eve got contracted to Hallowe’en.) It was a Christian religious observance that happened around the same time as Pagan Samhain (“Sow’en” is the pronunciation), and it’s possible — I think likely — that the early Christian church kept the day and most of its rituals in order to help people convert without having to “convert” people by taking up arms against them.

Of course, Samhain this year is on October 31. (Many years, it coincides. But not always, to the best of my recollection.) It is celebrated from dusk to the dawn of November 1. It is thought by many, particularly those in the NeoPagan community, that Samhain is when the veils between this world and the next are the thinnest. (Note the similarity with the Day of the Dead celebrations. I’m sure it’s not accidental.)

For me, as a NeoPagan, what I do is very similar to what I did as a Catholic, earlier in life: I light a candle, and think about my loved ones. I have several that I think about in addition to my beloved husband, Michael…I think a lot about Grandma, great-grandma on my father’s side (called “Aiti”), my uncle Carl and aunt Laurice, my best friend Jeff Wilson, my good friend Larry (dead for over thirty years, now, via suicide, but not forgotten), and more.

If I can find it, I will buy a Mountain Dew (diet, even though that’s not what my husband drank; he drank the regular stuff, thank you very many, and he preferred Code Red or the orange Livewire if he could find them), and sip it slowly. (I don’t know what foods would appeal that much to any of my relatives or to Jeff, but I know for a fact that Mountain Dew and a few specific candy bars and such are what Michael would like, if he could taste them through me.)

But most of all, it’s about reflection. What have I done? What can I still do? Would my loved ones approve of what I’ve done or what I’ve at least tried to do?

So, yeah. It’s not all about the candy and the costume parties for me. Not anymore.

What are you planning to do this year for your Halloween/Samhain/Day of the Dead festivities? Let me know in the comments…and if it’s that you’re going to a costume party, that’s good (so long as I don’t have to go!)

Former President Jimmy Carter Turns 98 Today

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When I woke up, I realized it was Jimmy Carter’s birthday.

I’ve always admired the former president, as he is an exemplary human being. He’s kind, gracious, funny, wise, smart, prescient, and constant in his affections (as he’s been married for 75 years to the love of his life, Rosalynn). He’s also hard-working, honest, a philanthropist (he’s built many houses for Habitat for Humanity, which helps people in need with sustainable housing), taught Bible study at his local church for many years (only stopping due to his health woes of the last few years), and has done everything in his power to improve life on this Earth.

I was quite young when Jimmy Carter was elected. (I know, I know; some of you who read this blog were not even a glimmer in your parent’s eyes at that time. Bear with me.) I was with my grandma, and we’d stayed up to watch the election returns all night. It was a hard-fought contest, but Carter prevailed.

His presidency was fraught with difficulty and even peril. There was trouble in the Middle East, as hostages had been taken. (They only were released after Carter lost his bid for a second term.) There was stagflation — inflation combined with no increases in wages, so everything had stagnated. I even remember that my parents had to think ahead in order to get gas for their cars, as you could only fill up on even or odd numbered days depending on the last digit in your license plate.

(Things were that bleak.)

Jimmy Carter was mocked, at the time, for wearing a sweater and having a fireside chat. He discussed troubles the way a good man does: directly, honestly, with sympathy and with understanding. This was not a man who believed he was exalted above all others (as so many of our other previous presidents believed, most especially Richard Nixon). Instead, he believed he was one of us, and as such, he could lead by example.

While some don’t appreciate his presidency, most do appreciate him as a person. He’s been called “the most successful ex-president who’s ever lived” (at least, that’s what my grandma called him, and I think she was right), due to his belief in human dignity and kindness.

I admire Jimmy Carter. He has lived his faith, you see, and he has helped others. He has done everything he can, often with little fanfare, to make things better for those who have little to nothing. He has remembered the downtrodden (see his work, again, with Habitat for Humanity), and he has done everything he can to help raise them up.

This is why I urge you all to raise a glass to celebrate Jimmy Carter’s 98th birthday, and to wish him continued good health.

We need more men like him in this world, to remind us that people — even those in power — can still be good, kind, solid human beings.

Moving on, again (Plus: Answering the Q, “How Can You Still Edit?”)

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As my last blog said, I am no longer a member of the Racine Concert Band.

It’s been a couple of very strange weeks, I must say. Every time there’s a rehearsal, I keep thinking I need to go (until I correct myself); every time there’s a concert, I feel how wrong it is that I’m not there.

All I can do, though, is move on.

I’ve had many experiences lately where I’ve had to move on when I wasn’t ready to do it. It never gets easier. But I will keep working at it, because as I know well, much of life and life’s experiences remain out of my control.

Let’s move on to something else.

One of my friends asked me why I was so forthcoming in regard to admitting I had a pulmonary embolism in 2020 and haven’t been the same, health-wise, since. She was afraid I might mess up my editing prospects, as there are a lot of folks out there who don’t want to deal with anyone who admits to illness, much less chronic illness.

(To put this in perspective: my friend also deals with chronic illness and has for years.)

So, I figured I’d discuss the elephant in the room, which is this: “Barb, if you’re not able to play your instruments right now, how can you edit?”

Simply put, they are two different things.

Yes, both are creative pursuits. However, there are many ways to edit once you get past the grammatical aspect, and I tend to be as creative as possible while making my points to various clients.

As most of you no doubt know, music is usually performed with other people; even if you’re playing a recital with a pianist, you still must play with another person at a scheduled time and place. (Yes, sometimes there are late cancellations for different reasons, but then you have to find a makeup date.)

Editing is done by me and can be scheduled at any point in any given day. (I tend to edit at night, when there are fewer distractions, but I’ve proven I can edit at any time of any day if need be.)

I hope this answers the question as to how I can continue to edit despite all that’s gone on in my life since 2020.

In conclusion, I appreciate my clients. They are all great people, and many of them have become my friends, which is something that pleases me greatly. I enjoy their company, I enjoy their manuscripts, and I appreciate the work.

Oh, one final, thing (I know I sound like Lt. Columbo from TV, years back): My Elfyverse “holiday” story was accepted into the Fantastic Schools: Holidays anthology. Thank you all who asked me privately about this and reminded me to come say something about it.

What’s going on in your life, writing or otherwise? Tell me about it in the comments!

Where Can We Be Safe? #Updated

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Update #1: There was a mass shooting this afternoon — no deaths yet reported — at Graceland Cemetery in Racine, WI (where I live). No reason given yet, though the man who was being buried (Da’Shontay “Day Day” King) had apparently fled the police and been shot due to the pursuit.

Why anyone would want to shoot these mourners is beyond me.

In addition, as the names of the victims of the Tulsa Shooting have been released, I wanted to give a link about that. Four people died, including a pioneering Black orthopedic surgeon, Preston J. Phillips; Amanda Glenn, a devoted mother, wife, and also a receptionist; Stephanie Husen, another doctor known in the community as kind and caring; and a retired Army First Sergeant, William Love.

I have to mention two things. Dr. Husen had a devoted canine companion that is not going to understand what’s happened to his loving owner. I hope the dog finds a new forever home in honor of his brave owner. The second is this: William Love was 73. He was with his wife of fifty-five years (they married in 1967) when the gunman rushed in. He first held the door closed so his wife could get out safely, then confronted the gunman.

This meant until the end of his life, he remembered what he’d been taught in the Army.

All honor to him. All blessings to his widow.

Now to the original post, already in progress:

#

Folks, once again in the United States, we’ve had another mass shooting. This time, it was in a medical clinic, because (apparently) the shooter was upset that he still had pain from a surgery in mid-May of this year. The doctor (again, apparently) hadn’t been responsive to the shooter’s pain issues, so the solution for the shooter was this: Shoot the doctor. Shoot another doctor. Shoot the receptionist. Wound a whole bunch of other people. And then shoot himself stone cold dead.

So, let me get this straight. We’ve had shootings in the following places in the last decade: Temples of worship, churches, mosques, supermarkets, concerts (the Las Vegas country music festival comes to mind), outside basketball games (the shooting of 21 people in Milwaukee a few weeks ago comes to mind), movie theatres. People have been shot in their cars and in their homes. People have been shot in assisted living situations and in senior housing, too. There have even been shootings on buses and a few on subway platforms in the past few years. And, of course, there have been the senseless deaths at colleges, universities, and other schools, including the recent shooting in Uvalde, Texas, at an elementary school.

With all of that, I ask this question: Where can we feel safe?

Recently, I played a concert with the Racine Concert Band in a church. (Beautiful church, too.) It’s our 100th anniversary, and we’ve played free concerts in the Racine Zoo or elsewhere during all of that time. It’s certainly a setting where you’d never expect a gunman with a pistol and some sort of rifle (as this shooter at the medical clinic had today).

But as much as I enjoyed playing my saxophone with the band, I still was wary as I got out of my car and went into the building. I kept scanning the audience to make sure there wasn’t anyone suspicious or out to make trouble. (I’ve never done this before while playing a concert. Occasionally, I’ve done it in other places.) And I was glad to get through the concert, not just because we as a group played well (and I didn’t muff an extended solo as I’d feared), but because we hadn’t had our activity marred by senseless violence.

Why must we feel this way in the United States of America? Why is it that I feel as if we got lucky because there wasn’t any senseless violence where we were?

Are we as a band supposed to have armed guards around us to protect us as we play?

(If so, we won’t be playing any free concerts again anytime soon. Armed guards are expensive.)

Before anyone says this, I will: I realize that all life is risk. Every time you step outside, you are risking something. (Brushing against poison ivy or poison oak, for example. Or getting stung by a bee, which would be very bad in my case as I am deathly allergic.) Every time you get into a vehicle, you are risking your life to a degree because you can’t fully predict what other drivers will do.

Those, however, are manageable risks. They are known risks. You can, to a large degree, compensate for them.

With all of these shootings in all of these various places, they were not manageable risks. The Las Vegas shooter used a sniper rifle to kill people from a hotel room high above the festival. The recent shooting at the Buffalo supermarket was made by someone who was a racist and who wanted to kill Black people, and had scoped the area out with pre-planning. (That guy may have been evil, but he was not stupid. He didn’t even live in Buffalo, so how could anyone have predicted he’d do this?) The shootings in El Paso, Texas, a few years back, were also done by a racist who wanted to kill Latinos, and he, too, like the Buffalo gunman, didn’t live in the area and had driven from hours away to murder people for no good reason.

These gunmen were not on anyone’s radar, either, even though coworkers had mentioned that the killer of children and teachers in Uvalde recently had the nickname of “serial killer” at work. He was said to be a scary person, someone you didn’t want to cross. He also had discussed his plans with several young women online, but they didn’t tell anyone because they thought “this is just how guys are, always bragging themselves up.” (That last is a paraphrase of several comments I’ve read, and is not an exact quote.)

There is an argument in all of these shootings that they come from a culture known as “toxic masculinity.” That is, these are men (or in some cases, teenage men) who firmly believe they are right, everyone else is wrong, and because they are the “man,” they get to make the rules even if they’re against society’s covenant.

(Yes, I know this isn’t the way “toxic masculinity” is usually described, but it’s the way I think of it. I defined it this way because most men do not think this way. Thank goodness. Moving on…)

Personally, I think this is happening for three reasons. The first is because so many other shooters have gotten away with their violence in the moment that it’s emboldened other domestic terrorists to do the same. (This is one reason why I refuse to name any gunman at my blog.) The second is because local, state, and federal governments have refused to do anything — or in some cases have been blocked from doing anything — to protect people from deranged shooters. This includes prevention and identifying suspects and realizing that at least half of the domestic terrorists in the above cases were men below the age of twenty-five. (Somehow, the local, state, and federal officials need to figure out who these bad apples are and stop them before they do anything remotely like the horrid acts I’ve listed above.) The third is because people are apathetic and believe nothing can or will be done, because our politicians have made it so.

As I said, I don’t have the answers. I just have the questions.

Now, folks, you have the floor: What do you think? What can be done other than perhaps beefing up budgets to deal with people who are obviously deranged and having some sort of awareness campaign so young people will understand that a guy with the nickname of “serial killer” is not normal?

P.S. Before I end this blog, I also want to point out that most police officers, sheriff’s deputies, federal and state law enforcement, and other personnel are good people. They do the best they can with the limited resources they have. Usually, these folks are maligned when something awful happens (sometimes rightfully — at least, so it seems — as in Uvalde), but they’re the first line of defense. They should be appreciated as much as possible rather than denigrated or besmirched. They stop many bad things from happening that most of us never hear about. Which means things might be even worse without their help…awful as that seems, considering how bad it is already.

My Thoughts, As A Widow, On Recent “This is Us” Episodes

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(What a pretentious title, huh? But it was the best I could do…moving on.)

My Mom and I have watched NBC’s TV show “This is Us” about the Pearson clan for several years. (I can’t recall if we watched it regularly until the third year, but we did watch.) I’ve had a great deal of empathy for various characters. I remember Randall (played by Sterling K. Brown), the Black man raised in a white family, meeting his biological father for the first time. That was both difficult and heartening, all by itself; when the Pearsons, en masse, decided to welcome William (Randall’s bio father), it became something more.

Anyway, the matriarch of the Pearsons is Rebecca, played by Mandy Moore. We see her when she’s young and heavily pregnant; we see her when she’s in her late twenties/early thirties, raising her kids; we see her in her fifties and sixties, after her first husband’s passed away and she’s married her second one; we see her, finally, with Alzheimer’s disease, dying with her kids and grandkids around her.

Rebecca’s story is the one that I took to the most, over time. (This is not surprising, I suppose.) She loved her first husband Jack with everything that she had, and when he died unexpectedly, still in his prime, her world collapsed.

I understand how that feels extremely well.

Rebecca, unlike me, had three children who were all teenagers. She still had to be there for them. She also had good friends, including Miguel (the man who later became her second husband), her husband’s best friend. The friends helped Rebecca and her kids accustom themselves to a life with a Jack-sized hole in it.

This was not easy for any of them. Jack was an interesting, kind, funny, hard-working, loving man who adored his wife and was so ecstatic to be a father. He had his faults, including battles with alcoholism, that he tried to hide from his wife (and mostly did hide, successfully, from his children). But his virtues far outweighed his flaws.

Obviously, Jack’s loss was hardest on Rebecca. She was still in her prime, in her late thirties/early forties. She hadn’t expected to be a widow, much less so soon. But she was one, and she had to adapt on the fly, just as her kids were starting to flee the nest.

As her kids married, divorced, remarried, had children, and lived their lives, one thing was clear: even if their spouses had been divorced, they were still part of the Pearson clan. They were still welcome at every family function. They were included, not excluded, because the Pearsons believed “the more the merrier,” which probably came from Rebecca being pregnant with triplets in the first place. (The third triplet died, which is why Rebecca and Jack adopted Randall, who was born on the same day and needed a family as his mother had died and his father — then — was completely unknown.)

Of course, there were oddities that happened to the Pearsons. (How else? Life itself is strange.)

One of them was when Randall’s father, William, made contact with Rebecca and Jack when Randall was quite young. William felt Randall was better off where he was, as William was battling a drug addiction along with poverty and much frustration; that was an extremely hard decision, but one that reaped major dividends late in life when Randall (in his thirties, roughly) found that William had known a) he was Randall’s bio father and b) where Randall was the entire time. Randall forgave William, in time, and as I said before, the Pearsons welcomed William until the day William died.

That said, for many fans, the oddest oddity of them all was the fact of Miguel marrying Rebecca. We knew Miguel was with Rebecca from the start (or nearly), because “This is Us” has always told its story in a non-linear fashion. We also knew that Miguel was Jack’s best friend, that he was appreciative of Rebecca from the start (he told Jack to make sure he married Rebecca, because “someone else” would; maybe even he didn’t know that someone else, someday, would be Miguel himself), and that while Jack lived Miguel made no moves (as a quality human being, of course he didn’t).

Because of the jumping back and forth in time effect, though, until the last few episodes it was impossible to tell when Miguel had married Rebecca. (That Rebecca had developed Alzheimer’s, and Miguel was caring for her until his own death, was something explored in great depth this past season.)

Why?

Well, Miguel didn’t get an episode revolving around him until a few weeks ago. That’s when I found out that Miguel had waited several years, had moved away to a different state, and made sure his feelings were real (and not something conjured out of pity and the deep, abiding friendship he’d always had with Rebecca while Jack was still alive) before he married Rebecca.

We still didn’t see his marriage, which was the second marriage for both of them. (Miguel’s first marriage ended in divorce.) But we saw how he took care of Rebecca. He was tender, kind, compassionate, loving, and altogether the right person for her after Jack died.

I was happy she found another good man to love.

This may sound odd, if you’ve read my blog for years. I thought for quite a few years that my heart was not big enough to admit another love — romantic love, anyway — after Michael’s way-too-early death.

While I found out that was wrong, the two men I’ve cared about in the past few years did not end up growing with me in the same way. They did not want the same things. (Or in one case, even if he had, he could not express that. He is neuro-divergent.)

The man who might’ve been “my Miguel” was Jeff Wilson, who died in 2011. Jeff didn’t know Michael, so that part wouldn’t be analogous. But Jeff knew I was the person I am because of Michael. Jeff also was my best friend of many years (seven, at the time of his death), and during his fatal health crisis said to me, with a weary yet humorous tone in his voice, “Can we please proceed to the dating phase now?”

I’ll never know what would’ve happened had Jeff lived. But I knew I was going to try, and I told him that.

Then he died, after he’d been improving; his death was unexpected, and he was only a year older than Michael had been when Michael died.

So, two men. Both interesting, intelligent, funny, hard-working, creative…both themselves, indelibly themselves, and I cared about them — loved them — both. (I did not yet have romantic love for Jeff, but I certainly was getting there at the time of his death. I definitely had agape love and philios also.)

Anyway, Rebecca’s death episode was this past Tuesday. She was pictured on a train. She saw William (acting as the conductor); she saw her obstetrician (acting as a bartender). She saw her kids, possibly including her deceased triplet (I wasn’t sure about that), at various ages. She heard the various well-wishes of the Pearson clan, including from her daughter’s ex-husband, her son Kevin’s wife (he’d only married twice, to the same woman, but many years apart), and her sons. But she was waiting “for something”…

As she’s waiting, she sees Miguel, a passenger on the train. He salutes her with his drink, and tells her she’s still his favorite person.

This made me cry.

Miguel got no more time in that episode, which upset me. I thought Rebecca should’ve gone to him, hugged him, and said “thank you.” Her mentation has been restored, on the train; she knows that Miguel helped her while she was so ill with Alzheimer’s. She also got a second wonderful husband in addition to her first, which is very rare…yet while she smiled at him, and seemed happy to see him, she didn’t go to him.

This made me even sadder.

The end of the episode came when her daughter, Kate, was able to get there (she’d been overseas). As she says goodbye, Rebecca clearly crosses over and enters “the caboose,” where her first husband, Jack, waits.

That’s where the episode ended.

I don’t know what’ll happen in the finale of “This is Us.” I do hope that Miguel’s contribution to Rebecca’s life, and to the entire life of the Pearson clan, will somehow be recognized. (Her children all told her to say “hey” to their father for them, but no one asked her to hug Miguel if they saw him. That, too, bugged me, but maybe the writers wrote it and they had no time to get it into the episode.) It’s obvious that without him in her later years (even before she got Alheimer’s), there wouldn’t have been as much acceptance and love from the Pearsons as a whole.

Anyway, my take as a widow is that I want there to be some recognition of how much good Miguel did for Rebecca, and that Jack had no problems with it as Miguel both made her happy and helped her as her mentation declined. (Miguel also still saw Rebecca as the same person, even with her mind going; her own children couldn’t always do that, as her daughter Kate pointed out in a recent episode.)

To be able to love again after such tragedy was wonderful. To not express thankfulness and gratitude for loving again…well, had it been me in that position, I hope I’d have done better.

(And yes, I know they’re all characters. Not real people. But they surely felt real, which is why I hope that Mandy Moore wins an Emmy for her portrayal of Rebecca and that Jon Huertas wins an Emmy as well for his excellent supporting work.)