Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Prescient observations’ Category

Birthdays and Funerals

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Folks, on Friday, I went to my uncle Carl’s funeral. And Saturday was my birthday.

To say I feel strange at the confluence of events is understating the point. I never do all that well with birthdays anyway, as I am more like my late husband in this than not (he who famously celebrated “unBirthdays”). And today, my plans were simple.

But I was wrung out from everything else. My plans got changed; I had to rest, at home, and think, at home, and deal with the consequences of being alone, at home.

Anyway, my uncle Carl’s funeral is more important than this, so I will tell you about that instead…as he was a retired policeman, there was an honor guard around the casket until the service started. Three policemen were guarding it; two at each side, one to rotate in and out so the others could rest a bit. (Standing in one place like that is not easy.) The way they rotated in and out was like an elaborate ballet; the third officer would come up, salute the casket, turn on his heel, turn to the side, and the officer being relieved would come forward. Then the relieving officer would take the first person’s place…I’d never seen anything like that before.

Note that Carl was not much for pomp and circumstance. But I think he’d have appreciated his much younger colleagues doing this for him, even so.

There also was a 21-gun salute as Carl was a military veteran. (The young kids at the funeral were scared.) And I saw two young military women first drape the flag over Carl’s casket, then re-wrap the flag and hand it to one of my cousins, thanking my cousin gravely for my uncle’s military service. (My late husband was also a military vet, but the flag came in the mail already wrapped, with a letter from then-President Bush’s office thanking Michael for his service and, I suppose, me for being Michael’s wife.)

Carl was 88, and he’d outlived my aunt Laurice (his wife) by a little over a year. It’s hard to realize they’re both gone now, though as long as we remember them, at least a small part of them lives on. (Plus, my aunt and uncle had grandchildren, and even a few great-grands. Time marches on and all that.)

The last year or so, Carl was in and out of the hospital, and was in a nursing home. He probably didn’t enjoy that overmuch, but the folks who took care of him were smitten by his remaining charm and by how he approached life. (Even as he was dying — he had Parkinson’s, and it was at a late stage — he could still charm the socks off people if he wanted.) He may not have remembered entirely who he was at that point, but he was still the same generous-hearted person he’d always been, even to the last.

My personal view of my aunt and uncle? They came to a lot of my concerts, when I was young. They went to my high school graduation, and my aunt went to my first marriage. When I returned to Wisconsin after my late husband died in 2004, they were among the first to comfort me.

They were kind people. Smart, thoughtful, interesting…they lived their Christian faith in a way most others can’t seem to figure out.

It’s partly because of them that I kept trying, even as I was laid low by my late husband’s too-early passing. They were unafraid of my deep grief, and they were willing to listen to my memories of my husband. Carl even said to me that as fun-loving as Michael seemed to be, there would be no way Michael would want me to feel this bad for many years after his passing. (I think that is true, but my mind had its own ideas.)

Anyway, it does feel weird to be officially another year older. My aunt and uncle are gone. My husband is gone. My best friend is gone. My grandma is gone. Some of my other good friends over the years have dropped by the wayside, too, and I feel terrible about that even though I don’t know how to repair what became broken.

I’m fortunate that I do have family left. Good friends left. And a strong mind, a willing heart, and at least a dab of creativity here and there to make things a wee bit better.

I love them, and they love me, even if they don’t always understand me. (Well, I don’t always understand others, either. Maybe love transcends that in some way. I’m not sure.)

So, I’ll keep going, and remember those who’ve gone before me. And do my best to honor them, and their memories, all the days of my life.

Because really, what else can I do that’ll do any good?

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Written by Barb Caffrey

August 19, 2018 at 12:06 am

Yes, We Need Freedom of the Press

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Folks, today is a day for action. As a writer, I feel it’s important to let you know that hundreds of newspapers have written and published editorials about the importance of the freedom of the press, due to constant verbal battering by President Donald J. Trump calling any news he dislikes “fake news.” (If you want to know more about it, take a look at the New York Times editorial from today, and then click on a few of the associated publications that are listed. And those aren’t all of them; those are just the ones the Times knows about, as far as I can tell.)

See, the 45th President of the United States complains that all news is fake. Or at least all news that he doesn’t like must be fake. And he constantly proclaims this from the highest mountaintop, letting everyone know he hates the press, he hates everything they say (unless they fawn over him, of course, as they often do on Fox News’ morning programs), and that supposedly the press is “the enemy of the people.”

Um, no, Mr. President. They aren’t.

As a writer, I want you to know where I stand on this.

We need the First Amendment to hold, and as such, we absolutely must have freedom of the press to operate as they will, to find out what they can, and to hold the powerful accountable. (Is that emphatic enough? Do I need to add emojis? GIFs? Frowny faces? Or will this do?)

(Moving on…)

I’ve written for a few newspapers in the past. (Two college papers, and freelance articles in a few other places, to be exact.) We took what we did seriously. We researched. We wrote. We edited. We checked our facts. And then we wrote and edited some more…yes, sometimes errors were still made, but we did our best to correct them. (Something President Trump doesn’t seem too worried about doing, if you ask me. But I digress.)

As today’s Kenosha News‘ editorial put it (this being the closest paper to me that’s taking part in the nationwide effort; my hometown paper, the Racine Journal-Times, did not, which shames me):

Presenting news that you disagree with is not “fake news.” We work hard to inform, serving as watchdogs of government and institutions, while also celebrating the good in the community. This has been going on for decades.

Absolutely correct. And without watchdogs, what would we learn except spin, spin, and more spin?

Here’s why we need the free press: They find stuff out everyone needs to know when the bigwigs in state, local, or federal government (or, perhaps, the very, very wealthy corporations) don’t want anyone to find out.

How would we have learned about big problems that led to the meltdown of Three Mile Island’s nuclear reactor without the press? (Wouldn’t the government have just spun everything, and said everything was fine?) How would we have learned about the Flint water crisis, and all the problems with the pipes, without the press? (Especially as the Governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, did his best to obfuscate and “happy talk” the problems away until they got so big, they had to be dealt with publicly? Not that they’re over by any stretch, but at least we know about them now.) How would we have known at all about the problems of Senator Joseph McCarthy (who was from Wisconsin), if not for the press? (Wouldn’t Senator McCarthy have continued his reign of terror, accusing people of being Communists willy-nilly, and ruining even more people’s lives, reputations, and livelihoods thereby?)

And those are just three examples. There are many more. (For my conservative friends, think about how Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky would’ve been covered up if there were no journalists. Linda Tripp could’ve spoken until she was blue in the face, but if there was no one to publish what she had to say, other than the folks in her limited circle, who else would’ve known?)

This is why I urge you to please remember that the press is not the “enemy of the people,” no matter who says it, no matter how many times that person says it.

And start thinking about why someone who holds the highest office in the US of A keeps nattering on about “enemies of the people,” hm? Because shouldn’t he have bigger fish to fry, like North Korea? Or better yet, trying to make sure hackers don’t shut down our power grid in the middle of winter?

———–

P.S. And yes, dammit, the Russia investigation needs to be fully investigated, if for no other reason than to find out once and for all what happened. We need to know.

And if nothing happened, well, we need to know that, too. (I wait for facts. But the way this President has behaved, including his atrocious behavior in Helsinki alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin, makes me wonder just what he’s trying to hide. Surely I can’t be the only one?)

Thoughts on Forgiveness

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It’s Sunday, so it’s time for another bit of reflection…enjoy.

The topic today is deceptively simple: How do you forgive, especially when you’ve been badly hurt by someone’s actions (or, perhaps, deliberate inaction)?

I’ve thought a lot about this over the years. Because when you refuse to forgive someone else, you’re potentially holding your hurts way too close to you. And those hurts can poison you, if you let them; at best, they hold you back and make you less than what you need to be.

The thing is, how do you forgive someone who either doesn’t ask, won’t ask, or can’t ask you for your forgiveness?

I don’t know the answer to this, and I wish I did.

My husband Michael told me any number of times that it’s impossible to fully forgive someone if you’ve not been asked for forgiveness. While I agreed with him at the time, and still mostly agree with his assertion now, I think it’s better to try — and, potentially, fail — to forgive someone, even if he can’t or won’t ask.

“Ah, but you didn’t say anything about someone who doesn’t ask!” you cry.

That’s because I am still working on that particular problem.

Someone who can’t ask, or won’t ask, is someone who fully realizes that problems have occurred between you, nine times out of ten. So there is an awareness there of wrongdoing, or at least of a significant disagreement that led to a major falling out. But someone who doesn’t ask may be willfully ignorant of what he or she has done, and that willful ignorance will get in the way of anything you try to do on the forgiveness front.

The reason Michael and I talked about this issue with regards to forgiveness is because we had some folks we knew who would make the same mistakes, over and over again, ask forgiveness, and then go out and make the same mistakes again and not care about hurting the same people. They felt they could ask for forgiveness over and over, and that they should automatically be granted forgiveness, without any work on their part, or any true remorse, or any acknowledgment of the pain and suffering they’d caused over the years.

That sort of person does not deserve forgiveness, at least until some hard thought goes into why this pattern repeats over and over again, and effort is made to reduce — or better yet, eliminate — that pattern by the person in question.

I do think most people realize that they will make mistakes. (I know I’ve made my share.) And that sometimes, those mistakes cannot be undone; even if forgiven, the hurt is there, and will always be there, unless both people work to eliminate that pain and figure out how to deal with each other on a more even footing.

So, forgiveness. It’s tough. Sometimes you can’t do it unless someone asks. And even then, you may be unready to forgive, or perhaps unwilling…sometimes, as I’ve said before in this blog (and elsewhere), all you can do is admit that you can’t forgive and leave it up to the Deity.

But I do think you should try, especially if asked. Because holding unnecessary pain inside will poison you, and no one needs that.

What are your thoughts on forgiveness? Share ’em in the comments, and let’s discuss!

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 5, 2018 at 3:02 am

Why Friendship Is Important

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Some days, it’s hard to get by. The world seems like it’s gone crazy. Politics make no sense. Current events show that people are overstressed, overstrained, and are getting into arguments–some deadly–seemingly at the drop of a hint.

It’s on days like that I definitely need the help of my friends. (Hey, it wasn’t just the Beatles who believed they’d get by, providing they had the help of their friends.)

Why? Well, they help keep me grounded, for one…for another, I value their perspectives, their voices, and themselves so much, it takes me out of my own head and makes me realize I’m not all alone in the world.

To me, being someone’s friend means more than “I care about you.” It means, “I care, so I’m going to tell you what I can. Show you what I can. Help you all I can.”

Anything less than that is not enough.

Now, are there different levels of friendships? Sure. You have folks you’re just getting to know, you have folks you’ve known a long time, and you have folks somewhere in between that continuum.

But with all of them, the point remains: if I care, I will do everything I possibly can do to show that I care. And that means if they have a problem, I listen and try to help. If they have a success, I rejoice with them. If they are frustrated, I let them vent; if they are buoyant, I allow myself to be lifted up by them, even if it’s been a horrible day on my end.

See, you have to try to see the other person’s viewpoint, or you’re not truly a friend.

Will my friends and I have differences of opinion? You’d better believe it. But we’ll at least try to agree to disagree because that is what friends do.

(No, they aren’t clones of you. If they are, you’re doing it wrong.)

Lately, I’ve been battling a great deal of frustration. My friends know this. They try to give me hope, or at least give commiseration, understanding, and support…they listen, they empathize, they care, and they make a huge difference thereby.

But I’ve also had to come to the realization — one I truly didn’t want to come to, mind — that there are some people in this world who will profess friendship, but honestly do not mean it. Or they maybe mean it some of the time, but not all of the time, and when the chips are down, they will not listen, they will not help, they will not empathize, and they will not understand.

There’s nothing I can do about people like that. The only thing I can do is remove myself from their consequences, and keep on going, with the friends who’ve proven true and trustworthy by my side.

So, on this Sunday morning, ask yourself the following question:

How can I be a better friend today? (I ask this question of myself all the time.)

Then, when you come up with an answer, go ahead and do whatever you need to do to be that better person.

Because you can choose to do better. You can be that better person, living up to the Golden Rule and treating people the way you, yourself, want to be treated.

And when you make mistakes, as you inevitably will?

Admit to them. (Even when it’s hard.) Apologize for them. (Even when it’s almost impossible.) And be determined to do better, and at least make different mistakes the next time.

That way, your friendship can go forward. And that way, your mistakes won’t weigh you down forever, either…so it’s a win/win.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 15, 2018 at 2:06 am

Women Co-Authors are “Disappeared” by NPR, and the World Shrugs

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Folks, I am really upset right now.

NPR recently interviewed two authors, Silka-Maria Weineck and Stefan Syzmanski, for their radio show “All Things Considered.” The reason? Well, it’s World Cup season (championship soccer, as the US would call it; championship football, as everyone else does), and Weineck and Szymanski wrote a book called It’s Football, Not Soccer (and Vice Versa): On the History, Emotion, and Ideology Behind One of the Internet’s Most Ferocious Debates. The book sounds fascinating, and I would’ve loved to hear what Ms. Weineck had to say…except that NPR host Anders Kelto scrubbed all of her interview, and then compounded his error by attributing their co-written book to Szymanski alone.

That is what prompted the following letter to NPR’s ombudsman.

You see, as a female author myself, I know that if I had written a book with someone, and then only my co-author was named after I’d done an interview also, I’d be going ballistic right now.

Ms. Weineck isn’t too happy, either. (Take a look at this article if you don’t believe me.) And I don’t blame her at all.

Anyway, here you go with my letter to NPR:

I am deeply unhappy that in a recent on-air segment for “All Things Considered” host Anders Kelto did not name both authors of the book IT’S FOOTBALL, NOT SOCCER (AND VICE VERSA), instead only naming the male co-author. Refusing to name the female co-author was wrong and shameful, and further compounding his error by refusing to initially name her in the printed piece on your website (which was later corrected) is extremely disheartening.

I look to NPR for balanced coverage. And if there are two authors of a book, the only way to get balanced coverage is to talk about — and to — both co-authors, unless one is not available. In this case, the female co-author, Ms. Silke-Maria Weineck, was indeed available, and had spoken to the on-air host for thirty minutes by her account (I read it at the Chronicle.com, BTW), and yet none of her quotes were used. So your host, Mr. Kelto, was willing to talk with Ms. Weineck, but apparently not willing to use any of her quotes. Or even properly attribute the book to both her and her co-author, Mr. Szymanski, for that matter.

I am extremely frustrated that Ms. Weineck’s voice was silenced. But I’m even more frustrated, as a female author myself, that another female author was marginalized and “disappeared” in this way.

I believe NPR should rectify this problem immediately by talking with Ms. Weineck and working out some way of compensating her for this egregious error.

And please, please, for the love of little green apples, never make this type of mistake ever again. Because it is sickening.

Now, to the men in the audience:

I know most of you would never behave as Mr. Kelto did. (Most especially, the male authors wouldn’t.) But this behavior still must needs be challenged, as it shows the problem we female authors still run into from time to time. (I can’t believe this is the only time NPR has done something like this, either, and they’re supposedly the “liberal bastion” of radio — or at least, by their own charter, are supposed to promote equality and fairness. And what could be more fair than properly attributing a co-written book to both authors?)

(Mind, if you only think about how much you would hate it, if only the female co-author were named instead of you, maybe you’ll understand…such is my hope.)

The reason I am writing this blog, though, is very simple. You men need to realize that the women in your life, especially the creative women, are often discounted or dismissed. (It’s always wrong, too. A creative person is a creative person is a creative person, whether the person is male, female, trans, queer, intersex, or Martian.)

Without realizing that simple fact, the good men out there cannot work against this type of abhorrent behavior. As I do hope you will do, because it needs doing.

And if you, too, want to write to the ombudsman and complain that the female co-author’s name should not have been “disappeared” from the broadcast? Here’s a link.

What does the Fourth of July Mean to You?

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To some, the Fourth of July means freedom.

To some, it just means another holiday to drink, dance, watch fireworks, have a day to themselves…to party, in other words.

But for most, it makes people remember the founding of the United States of America. And they at least remember the War of Independence, if not the difficulty of instituting a peace, then drafting some form of workable representative government and making it stick.

What I think about, though, is how difficult it must’ve been for the Founding Fathers (and, perhaps, their wives, mothers, and sisters) to work together. These were men with towering egos. And they didn’t agree on much of anything. They could be at sword’s point with each other, quite literally, seemingly at the drop of a hint.

Yet these men all worked together — sometimes begrudgingly, granted — to form “a more perfect union,” and agreed that Americans should be able to freely partake in “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

(Notice they didn’t say a perfect union, just a more perfect one. Keep that in mind, please.)

At any rate, these very difficult, but very brave men (and their unsung wives, girlfriends, mothers, and sisters, no doubt), had to deal with all sorts of uncertainty in the War of Independence. They had no idea what peace was going to look like, or even if they could obtain it at all.

Yet they knew they had to fight.

That they won their way to peace, and then to a difficult, fractious, but ultimately rewarding gathering in Philadelphia in 1787, was to their credit.

Sometimes, I wonder if we’ve lost our way, as Americans, as we have to realize that some battles — those of complacency, honesty, fair treatment, fiscal responsibility, and transparency, among others — need to be fought over and over again.

No one can be perfectly trustworthy, you see, as power can corrupt.

In addition, as we’ve also figured out, power can reveal, too. Some, like George Washington, remain virtually incorruptible, and stay the same person before the power as after.

But some are more avaricious, I fear. They see the power, take it for themselves, and then realize, “I can do anything I want, at least for a time.” And thus, they do…to the detriment of many others.

Men like former Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) are a danger to the United States, because people follow them due to their charisma. And those who refuse to follow, such as playwright Lillian Hellman, can be ostracized.

The only thing we can do, as citizens of the U.S. (and the world at large), is to use our brains to think, and think hard. Refuse to be led like lemmings, for one…do your research, for another.

And for the sake of little green apples and whatever Deity you follow, do not let anyone’s charisma make you forget history, or forget how hard it was to form the U.S., or how hard the men and women of the Armed Forces — much less the (seemingly few) honest men and women of the U.S. Congress and various state houses around the country continue to work to keep us free enough to continue to partake in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

See, freedom is not free. It takes work, and lots of it. And it takes compromise from a bunch of towering egos at all times…when we forget that, we are at risk of becoming less than we are.

That worries me greatly.

What gives me hope are the citizens of all political stripes saying to themselves, “Hey, I can do better.” And they’re running for office at all levels, including school boards and county commissioners.

Perhaps these people, who’ve heard the call from their countrymen for people willing to talk, listen, reason, and (I hope) compromise, will do a better job.

Anyway, the Fourth of July to me means that we continue to fight what battles we can, all to keep this land of ours safe to reason, to dissent peacefully, and to solve what problems there are as civilly as possible.

(Because without civility, we are asking for trouble. But you have to know that already.)

So yes, continue to be active, in your way. Talk to others of all political stripes, and try to find common ground. Read a variety of sources, and refuse to close your mind.

That’s the way to form a more perfect union, to my mind. And it’s what we need to remember every day, not just on the Fourth of July.

So, now you know what the Fourth of July means to me. But I’d like to know what it means to you. Tell me about it in the comments, will you?

The Virtue of Dissent

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Folks, there’s been a lot in the news lately about dissent, and about how it’s supposedly unpatriotic to disagree.

I beg to differ.

We need dissent. Or we can’t function as a democracy.

See, when people feel stifled from talking about anything, whether it’s something that is frustrating, unpleasant, difficult, annoying, or any other of a dozen other things that are incredibly hard to discuss, that causes a lot of trouble.

When you feel stifled, when you feel your voice isn’t being heard, that builds resentment. And at best, when you feel that much resentment, you aren’t likely to be looking for any sort of compromise; you’ve already been told compromise is not possible because your point of view is not important.

And yet, in a democracy, every voice is important. And we all get a say.

Being able to discuss problems in a rational manner without yelling at the top of your lungs or telling the other person (or party) that they’re a bunch of blithering idiots is mandatory. But right now, we don’t seem to have too many in the Congress who are willing to be adults and do the people’s work — i.e., compromise for the common good — because they are either blinded by the power or they are daunted by the responsibility.

Whenever we have one party solely in charge of the government — whether it was the Democrats from 2008-2010, or the Republicans from 2016-2018 — that makes it harder for dissenting voices to be heard. And when they aren’t heard, those voices usually become movements. And those movements become akin to steamrollers…witness what happened with the Tea Party in 2010, for example.

That’s what is supposed to happen in a democracy. Those who feel ignored have a right to talk, to assemble, to figure out what they’re going to do, and then they have a right to make their case to the public.

It is a virtue.

That we can see dissent as a virtue was, at one point, uniquely American.

But now, we have a man as President with authoritarian impulses (or at least a great deal of bloviating and authoritarian speech), and he definitely does not seem to think that dissent is valuable, or a virtue, or needed in a democracy.

He wants instead for everyone to follow him. Because he says so.

To my mind, that is not good enough. We have to have reasons for what we do. Logical reasons. And we have to have some basis and forethought and planning behind these logical reasons.

When government officials pop off and do things on the spur of the moment, we get bad law, bad policy, and a whole host of unintended consequences. That, in general, is why you want to have responsible public officials who are willing to call people — regardless of party or power or prestige — on the carpet when they do something that is harmful.

That’s why we need dissent.

We have had one-party rule with vigorous dissent in the past, looking back to WW II, for example. Harry S Truman, then a Senator, held hearings about war profiteering. Most of those he called before him were Democrats, but that didn’t stop him; right was right, and he did the right thing.

That is what brought him to FDR’s attention, and it’s why Truman became FDR’s Vice President in 1944. Without Truman dissenting vigorously, Truman never would’ve become VP, and thus never would’ve ascended to the Presidency after FDR’s passing.

Unfortunately, the Republicans in charge of the House and Senate have not dissented very much. Not with the travel ban. Not with the tariffs. Not with the immigration situation, whether it’s families being split up at the border, DACA, or anything else.

Nope. Instead, they’ve blindly — as a body — done the President’s work, which is not what the Constitution wanted. (We have separation of powers for a reason.)

Yes, individual Republicans, such as Bob Corker or John McCain or a few retiring House Reps, have stepped up and said they believe that the President needs to be checked now and again. That no one should have that much power. And that there’s a reason we have a deliberative body like the Congress…and that they should do their jobs, and uphold their Constitutional responsibilities.

I believe in the power of dissent. I believe it is constructive to dissent, to allow dissent, to understand dissent, and to appreciate dissent. I also believe that if we start to think that dissenting is “unpatriotic” or “anti-American,” we are ceding our rights of dissent and getting nothing back.

I am concerned that we have so many politicians that are (in George Will’s words as heard on MSNBC months ago), “supine” or “craven.” They do not express dissent because of these two horrible characteristics, and thus do not do the people’s business thereby.

My hope is that more people will understand that dissent is healthy, necessary, and essential.

But my fear is that too many people won’t realize what’s at stake, or what could be at stake if the current crop of supine and craven Republicans in the House and Senate continue to refuse to be a check on this President. And that we’ll go further down the garden path of authoritarianism, and lose our abilities to dissent freely and fairly.

What you need to do, if you live in the U.S., is this: Think hard about what you want out of your representatives and Senators. Do you want them to blindly trust anyone without doing their due diligence? Or do you want them to be like Harry Truman, and stand up for what’s right, whether it’s against their own party or not?