Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Prescient observations’ Category

Turning Bad Circumstances into Good Ones

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It’s Friday the 13th, so I thought I’d talk about how to turn bad circumstances into good ones. (Or, at least, into better ones?)

“Why, Barb, did you pick Friday the 13th for this blog?” you ask, wearily.

Well, the answer is simple. On Friday the 13th, everyone worries more about accidents, superstitions, odd events…and what’s odder than turning a bad circumstance into a good one?

Yeah, I realize that’s not how most people think of it. Instead, we think about the negative stuff going on all around us. And it’s very easy to find…we all have stuff in our lives that could be, shall we say, improved.

And it’s hard to think about improving things, when everything seems against you.

I’ve had my back to the wall at least ten times in my life. It’s not pleasant. Every time, I’ve thought whatever was going on would break me. I’ve been through deaths of loved ones (including my beloved husband Michael), divorces before I even found Michael at all, at least five major moves, job losses, and economic hardship, and I haven’t enjoyed any of it.

(If I did, though, wouldn’t you wonder what I was about? I would, in your place. But I digress.)

What you have to do when you’re at a breaking point is to keep going. Remember that you didn’t ask for this to happen. You are just doing the best you can. Maybe you’ve made mistakes, but we all have…the trick is not to give up on yourself and not to give up on your talents, no matter what is stacked against you.

And as bad as dealing with horrific events (like deaths of loved ones in particular) can be, there actually is one positive side to it that I’ve found.

Ready?

I realized  that going through all the negative experiences in my life has actually sensitized me to other people’s suffering. And along the way, I found that being able to help someone else, even if it’s only a little bit, did two great things: It helped the other person realize they were not alone, and it also made me feel better as a human being to reach out and help someone who truly needed it.

Maybe that’s why we have things like “Do unto others as they do unto you” (the Golden Rule). It’s not just that we want to be treated well; it’s that we need to treat others well for our own well-being, and to become our best selves.

Anyway, the point of this blog is, sometimes life just stinks. There are things you have to do sometimes that you never wanted to — that you never even conceived of, when you started out as a young adult — but you have no choice.

When you’re at one of those places, step back, and try to realize that you are not alone. You can come back from whatever it is that you’re facing with time, courage, fortitude, will, and effort. Best of all, you will be able to better understand yourself and others when you do…and I don’t know of any other way to turn a bad circumstance into a good one than that.

The Art of the Questioner

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Sometimes, late at night, as I struggle to get words down, I ask myself the following question:

“Why, Barb, are you putting yourself through this?”

I suppose it’s because I feel I must. I enjoy writing, usually, even when it comes slowly and painfully. It keeps me amused, and focused, and allows me to question to my heart’s content.

Lately, I’ve been struggling especially hard because of whatever illness that’s laid me low this time. (I am starting to get a teensy bit better. But I say that while mentally crossing my fingers, as the last time I thought that, I was overly optimistic.) When I can’t concentrate, I can’t tell stories — period, end of discussion.

And when I can’t tell stories, I get completely frustrated, am incredibly hard to live with, and just am a major pain in the caboose.

(Hey, at least I admit it.)

But maybe this is missing the point a little bit. Because my questioning skills — whatever it is that makes me go, “Hm. What would happen if…” and then start writing down whatever comes next — are still there. Waiting for me to get healthy enough so I can use them; waiting for me to realize that even if I can’t write tomorrow, can’t write the day after that, I assuredly will write as soon as I possibly can because that is what’s inside me.

(My late husband taught me that, and he was right. As he usually was, but that’s another story for another day.)

So, maybe along with all the other things that make up my palette of writing skills and abilities, I should admit that the whole idea of questioning — or, as I put it in the title, the art of the questioner — is useful, in and of itself.

Because if you can’t question, you can’t possibly come up with a different scenario. And without different scenarios, you don’t do so well as a writer — especially not as a writer of science fiction and fantasy.

At any rate, the important thing to remember is that if you are having trouble writing today, that doesn’t make you a bad person. (I know that’s blindingly obvious, but it still needed to be said. Bear with me, OK?) Maybe you’re just stressed out. Maybe you’re sick. Maybe you’re exhausted. Maybe you’ve just had it with the world around you, and your body and mind and heart are all shouting, “Enough already!”

But whatever it is, you need to be kind to yourself. Understand that if you can’t write today, you will write tomorrow. And if you still can’t write tomorrow, you will write the day after that.

Because that is how you’re made. And that is what you’re going to do, come Hell or high water or whatever else, because you must do it or you’re not being your best self.

And in the meantime, keep asking questions!

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 10, 2017 at 5:51 am

Driving Adventures in Winter

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Folks, if you live in the Northern Hemisphere — especially if you live in the Upper Midwest, as I do — you know that driving conditions right now tend to range from “iffy” to “downright bad.”

It’s because of this that I decided to share a few tips I’ve learned about winter driving…in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, it’ll help you to know them as well.

First, before you go out on the road, make sure your car is in the best repair possible. If you’ve been putting off buying tires, now is the time to get them…if you’ve been putting off replacing your windshield wipers, definitely replace them now (or possibly suffer the consequences — more about this anon).

Second, make sure that whenever you’re going out in the cold weather that you have a full gas tank, especially if you have a smaller car (as I do). Don’t assume that half a tank, or worse yet, a quarter of a tank, will do, because you’re only going across town. You have to plan for the worst-case scenario here, which means you need a full tank (or at minimum, three-quarters of a tank).

Third, don’t assume that the roads will be plowed, sanded, or salted. (Worst-case scenario, got it?) That way, you’ll be less stressed out if they aren’t.

Fourth, if your car does skid, you need to turn into the skid and lay off the brake pedal if at all possible — brake lightly and gently, else. That way, you may not go into the ditch, and can get off the road in one piece. (If you go into what would’ve been oncoming traffic except for the snowstorm, so what? Providing no one is there, no harm, no foul. So keep your cool, get the car turned back around, and go on your way again, thanking your lucky stars that you didn’t hit anyone today, and that no one hit you, either.)

Fifth, if you do land in the ditch — I have, though not in many years — don’t panic. That is what your cell phone and/or AAA or whatever roadside assistance you have is for. If you don’t have that, call a tow truck. (And if you are between paychecks and just don’t have any money at all, it’s time to call a friend who can tow you out.)

I say all this after surviving some of the worst driving conditions I have ever faced last night. There was black ice, then snow on top of that, then rutted ice on top of that…at least six inches of snow on the ground, and I saw no sand or salt trucks out. And the only plow I saw showed up just as I got into my driveway…which means that plow didn’t exactly help me much.

As I’m an intelligent person, I definitely did not enjoy these horrible driving conditions whatsoever. But what I did to survive them was to do one thing: find a line, and stay on it.

“But Barb,” you protest. “What in the world does that mean, anyway?”

It means that if the roads are so bad you can’t possibly see the lane lines, and no plows have been by, and there are ruts everywhere, pick the best line you can in order to stay out of the ditch. Adjust your speed accordingly; I went only fifteen to twenty miles per hour on city streets that were rated thirty, thirty-five, or forty…not because I am a nervous Nellie (though I can be, sometimes), but because I was more concerned with preserving my own skin and getting home in one piece than in how long it was going to take me to get there.

When you get to a stop sign or a stoplight, know that you may not be able to stop in such horrible conditions, too. Plan to skid around other cars, if you must. Try to avoid any obstacles…but yes, try to brake gently and lightly first, before you take evasive action.

That’s one of the reasons you go more slowly, mind, so you have a hope in Hell of actually stopping in such dreadful conditions. But you have to realize you still may not be able to do so, and figure out what you’re going to do in the worst-case…it’s the only way to be safe, truly.

Two more things before I go:

If you are in a four-wheel drive vehicle, truck, or SUV, don’t assume that you’re going to have any better traction than I do in my little car. Chances are in conditions like that, you don’t. Try to take your additional car’s mass into account, and be as safe as you can; don’t believe that your bigger car or truck will save you if you don’t use your head as well.

And finally…remember what I said about windshield wipers, before? Well, last night as I got into my own driveway, my driver’s side wiper actually fell off. Both wipers had more or less stopped functioning during the snowstorm as the snow and sleet mix continued to come down, and were badly iced over. The roads were so bad, I didn’t trust going to an auto parts store and getting back out again, so I took a calculated risk and made it all the way home instead.

Could I do it over again, I’d have made sure I had enough money in my pocket to buy two new wipers. (By the way, I did that today. I got the teflon-coated ones, too…they won’t stick to the windows, and it’s going to be far less likely that they’re going to stick to the windshield and thus be inoperable.) And I’d have bought them before that snowstorm hit, considering how bad it was.

I was very, very fortunate last night to make it home in one piece, not get into an accident, and avoid the three-four accidents waiting to happen that I clearly saw in the process.

What I want you to do is learn from my almost-mistake, all right? Make sure you have good wipers on the car if at all possible. And if you are between paychecks, treat your wipers gently and hope like fire they’ll make it until you do get paid…because that’s the only way you’re going to be safe. (And safety is the name of the game, in winter. Trust me.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 17, 2016 at 6:26 pm

Life, Blogging, and Everything…

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Folks, you probably have noticed that I haven’t blogged all week. There is a reason for that.

Earlier in the week, I was sick. Something akin to the flu, I thought…it passed in about three days, but in the middle of that three days was a rehearsal for the Racine Concert Band as we have a Christmas concert coming up next week at Racine Park High School. I couldn’t miss that, so I exerted myself and went…most people didn’t know I was ill, though my stand-partner Vivian surely did.

Anyway, because of that I wasn’t able to write or edit much until Friday evening. Fortunately, I was able to write and edit some tonight, then I remembered I’d best come over here and let y’all know what’s been happening to keep me away from blogging.

I wish it had been something more fun, mind…something like a Jamaican vacation with a fun tour group, and maybe an interesting man to keep me amused. (Hey, I doubt my husband would mind at this point. It’s been twelve years, and he didn’t ever expect me to be alone all this time. He’d probably ask me what took me so long, if he could, for all I know…but I digress.) That would’ve been great to talk about, and the pictures…oh, Goddess, the pictures!

(No, you’re not about to see me in a bikini. Not now, not ever. I’m talking about sand, surf, fruity drinks, maybe undersea diving…stuff like that.)

I figure that seeing the sun rise in a strange place, with someone I truly cared about by my side, would be fun. Especially at this time of year, when it’s cold, colder, coldest outside, it’s nice to fantasize about warmth, whether it’s the human variety or the weather variety…or better yet, both.

So there you have it…I am again writing a little, editing a little, and am preparing for a concert next week. And I’m fantasizing a little, too, which I guess is…good? (Proves I’m human, in case anyone wondered.)

Hope everyone in Southeastern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois will find ways to stay warm, stay indoors, and read good books. (Fantasizing optional, of course. Though if it helps you, why not?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 10, 2016 at 2:55 am

Be Yourself, Be a Friend…

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Sometimes, when you’re someone’s friend, it’s not easy.

Maybe that person does something you don’t like, and you don’t know what to say. Or that person has political beliefs that shock you, or least surprise you…or that person insists on going his/her own way, calmly (but not quietly) pointing out the errors in your argument. Or maybe that person, who you thought was so much like yourself, turns out to be his/her own person after all…and while you want that, because who wants to live in an echo chamber, it can be quite disconcerting.

The best thing you can do, when you’re someone’s friend, is to listen. (It’s also the hardest, but it’s necessary.) Try not to pass judgment. Try to step into your friend’s shoes, and see whether or not you can find common ground; even if you can’t, the fact that you took the time to listen and care should matter.

None of us agree all the time. (Even my late husband and I had the rare — OK, extremely rare — disagreement.) So we’re going to have times where all we can do is listen, care, and agree to disagree.

Somehow, some way, we have to learn to be fine with this. And take people as they are, rather than how we’d like them to be.

That way, when you say something to your friend that’s shocking, or surprising, or (in contemporary parlance) a “buzz-kill,” maybe you’ll get the same courtesy.

Ultimately, it all comes down to one thing: Treat others the way you, yourself, want to be treated.

So if you want understanding, dignity, common courtesy, and respect, you’d best give that to your friends — and maybe even your enemies. (Capisce?)

———

Before I go, I wanted to make sure to ask my readers to say a quick prayer (or think good thoughts, or send positive energy, whatever you do in your own, personal belief system) for SF&F author Sarah A. Hoyt. She’s being kept overnight for observation at a Colorado hospital, and while her family is around her (which you’d expect, knowing Sarah at all), she needs all the good wishes, warm feelings and positive prayers she can get right now.

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 3, 2016 at 12:39 am

Refuse to Give Up

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Folks, I only have a few words for you today, but here goes:

Refuse to give up.

As my ongoing housing crisis continues, I’ve struggled to finish CHANGING FACES. I believe in this story, and have been working on it in one form or another for the last fourteen years. The stress has been enormous to do everything that needs to be done, yet continue to write as that’s vitally important to me.

If I do my job well, no one’s going to care in a year, or ten years, or whatever, that I endured hardship and travail while finishing up this novel. (Nor should they, as the hope is the work stands or falls on its own merit.) And that thought is slightly heartening, oddly liberating…but it’s not as important as the one I already gave you.

In your own lives, you probably have endured much difficulty and stress. Writing — doing something creative, that comes from your heart and soul and mind — is not easy when you’re going through all that. But providing you find a way to keep doing it as you’re able, the journey is worth it…and the end result should be worth it, too.

So, if you’ve learned nothing else about me in all the years I’ve written this blog, know this:

I refuse to give up. And so should you.

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 2, 2016 at 2:12 am

#MilitarySFSunday: A Guest Post by Martin D. Hall

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Folks, a while back I wrote a guest post for Chris the Story-Reading Ape’s busy blog that I re-blogged here called “What is Military Science Fiction, Anyway?” I enjoyed writing that, and thought it might spark a conversation…and, fortunately, it has.

Writer Martin D. Hall (who often writes as M.D. Hall) wrote me a lovely essay, and sent it to me…so, for your Sunday delectation, here it is. Enjoy!

I read an interesting guest post here, entitled: “What is Military Science Fiction, Anyway?” As I explored its message, I thought about the nature of military science fiction. It occurred to me that most sci fi falls into “military”, regardless of whether the writer intends it. This can happen even when, at first sight, it isn’t a prime element, for example: “The Time Machine”, where our traveller ultimately encounters a military force of sorts. “2001” is set against a cold war backdrop. Our intrepid explorers are sent out, ostensibly, to seek contact with a sentient race, but isn’t it likely that those funding the expedition were seeking a military advantage? Once David Bowman metamorphoses into the ‘Star Child’, he returns to Earth, detonates an orbiting warhead, thereby de-escalating a global conflict; we’ll visit “3001” shortly.

In pondering the invasiveness of military elements throughout science fiction, I was like an archaeologist who unearths a first century Roman pot, I brushed away more loose soil, and there it was: the remains of a bronze age dagger. No, it wasn’t a real dagger, but my imagery might be apposite … I uncovered another question: what place does violence occupy in science fiction?

While I’m sure you will find examples of non-military science fiction, it’s hard to find non-violent science fiction … Not impossible, but rare. Invariably, the use of violence, or force, if you will, underpins most the genre, with some modern day readers demanding a quick hit, before their attention wanders. In the case of “2001” they get it when a sure sign of our hairy ancestor’s accelerated evolution – courtesy of the monolith – is to crush another hominid’s head with a club.

How is the violence most easily exploited? In a military scenario, of course. Naturally, for balance, there needs to be political intrigue, and character development within the military arc: the hardening of some characters and the softening of others; the blurring of lines demarcating good and evil; above all humour, but weaving through it all is the use, threat, or fear of violence.

Why is this? Perhaps it’s because, from the comfort of our computer chair/armchair/wheelchair/deckchair, we crave excitement from a safe distance. Like watching contact sports, we can enjoy them without personal risk. Unlike contact sports we can witness the destruction of starships, planetary systems, galaxies and even universes, before taking a break for a cup of coffee (or something a little stronger).

Is this a bad thing? Of course it isn’t and, unlike other genres, it’s highly unlikely that truth will mirror fiction – I know, Captain Kirk used a flip-top mobile phone, and yes, inconsiderate use of said phones leads to anger and, occasionally, violence, but give me a break!

I promised I would return to “3001”. Arthur C. Clarke had charted David Bowman’s rapid evolution into the ‘Star Child’ in “2001”. Yet, at the very end of this book, it’s the human remnant of this not-quite omnipotent being, together with the closer-to-human Hal who will form the bulwark against …? Surprise, surprise: the genocidal, albeit coldly reasoned, aggression of the deity-like beings who started the chain of events on an African plain three million years before. Even these farmers-of-the-Universe, portrayed as benign in “2001”, will ultimately resort to violence at some point beyond the end of this book.

What does all this say about us? It isn’t that we are bored by non-violence, merely that in certain genres, and science fiction is one, we expect violence. Going back to “Star Trek”, Roddenberry didn’t send his creations out to wreak havoc, but even when Kirk, et al, managed to avoid shooting or hitting anyone, a guest protagonist usually did – you can’t even exclude Tribbles because of the threat they posed if unrestrained.

Let me close with another imagining: an alternative reality version of Star Wars, Episode VI. In our reality, we have the ultimate villain – Palpatine – who comes to a violent end. Perhaps we needed to temper this by witnessing the redemption of throat-crusher Darth Vader, but only after we have observed him in the act of crushing throats, or Obi squishing.

The scene is set: over the course of the two earlier films, no one has died, no planets have been destroyed, and Vader hasn’t remodelled anyone’s windpipe. We are on the not-really Death Star for the final confrontation between Luke and Palpatine (with a non-violent Vader looking on):

Vader yawns and tries to scratch his head, but is non-aggressively frustrated by the helmet needed to: a) help him breathe, and b) provide that gloriously rich baritone … The helmet lends no visual aspect of dread, because it is coloured in a non-threatening pastel shade – I leave it to you to decide which shade.

Palpatine: “What do you suggest, young Jedi?”

Luke: “Perhaps we can chat about it over a cup of tea?”

Palpatine: “Earl Grey?”

Luke: “Of course, I’ll even throw in a slice of lemon.”

Palpatine: In an impeccable English accent touched with a soft Scottish burr, following a not-so-sinister chuckle: “No one, who is anyone, drinks Earl Grey with lemon.”

The two laugh, good-humouredly, while Vader pours the tea, and the credits roll to John Williams’ stirring theme.

Did that do it for you? 

I didn’t think so.

Nope, that definitely wouldn’t have worked for me. And I can’t imagine audiences watching the two other movies, either, no matter how good the acting or how good the storytelling, if there was no action-adventure, considering the venue. Great post, Martin! Hope to have you back here, soon.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 16, 2016 at 12:14 pm