Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Prescient observations’ Category

Book Review: “A Bloody Arrogant Power”

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This is cut and pasted from my recent book review at Amazon. I don’t know how long it’ll take them to get this book review up, and a few times I’ve had it completely go astray in their system.

That would be a shame, in this case. Which is why I’m going ahead and posting it here, at my private blog, in the hopes it will not get swallowed up.

Short version of the following: You need to read A BLOODY ARROGANT POWER by Malcolm J. Wardlaw. It’s just ninety-nine cents as an e-book. And it’s a worthy read, one that’s hard to put down…and even harder to understand, once it’s over, how a book this good has been thus far overlooked.

Then again, as my own history as a writer has shown, sometimes good work does not get noticed (immediately, anyway; I refuse to believe otherwise). One can hope Mr. Wardlaw’s conception will escape the fate of my own two books in the Elfyverse.

Now, here’s to the cut-and-paste:

I had never heard of Malcolm J. Wardlaw before picking up his book, A BLOODY ARROGANT POWER. As an author myself (and as a little-known one at that), I am sympathetic to other authors struggling to break through the noise of independent publishing to get their vision out.

And what a vision: A BLOODY ARROGANT POWER is astonishingly thorough, and shows what the world could be a century or so hence after the current society collapses. Wardlaw’s dystopian vision is completely realized, down to the lexicon (“drains” are roads, or at least public thoroughfares, which “surplus” — people who don’t make enough money to protect themselves from being turfed out on a moment’s notice — are “discharged”); the people all feel real, with some being quite venal, some being quite opportunistic, some being idealists, some being realists…and the worst of all blending those four things into something abhorrent. (Prentice Nightminster, I’m looking squarely at you.)

A book as good as this should not be languishing in obscurity.

In fact, I read this book in three hours. And I came over here, to Amazon, to make absolutely sure it finally got someone rating it and commenting on it, all the while wondering what in the Hell has caused people to overlook A BLOODY ARROGANT POWER in the first place.

Honestly, if you enjoy SF, dystopian SF, future visions of a harrowing nature, or just plain good writing, you need to read this. Donald, the protagonist, is well-realized, and goes from company man to revolutionary without missing a beat. (Trust me: If you had an ounce of sense if you lived in this world, you’d do the same thing.) His love-interest, Sarah-Kelly, is also well-realized; she’s a smart, educated woman with a vision of a better society, and refuses to live in the world she finds herself in. (Good for her, I say.) And finally, Donald’s younger brother Lawrence, an ex-military officer with a conscience, emerges just at the end to give a glimpse of what the next book in the series is likely to be…he’s brash, but well-intentioned, and he’s lived through some harrowing stuff.

Very solid work, all the way around.

In fact, if this book had been picked up by a major publisher, I think it would’ve won several awards. It is that well-realized, that well-considered, and that thoroughly satisfying of a read.

I do not say these things lightly.

In short, if I could give this book more than five stars, I would. But since I can’t, this book is given five-stars and a highly recommended tag.

I hope more people read this book. And I hope Mr. Wardlaw finds his audience, because he — and his book, A BLOODY ARROGANT POWER — deserves it.

Barb Caffrey

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 8, 2019 at 1:18 am

Political Thoughts on a Friday Afternoon

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The national mood (much less mine) has seemed apocalyptic. The politics get more polarized; the POTUS bloviates and prevaricates, then deserts long-term allies in a shameful move; the politics get even more polarized, where some people for some reason still think this POTUS walks on water (and most of the rest realize not only that he doesn’t, but none of us do).

The mood in my state of Wisconsin isn’t that great, either. It’s fall, and it’s chilly. Our state politics have been polarized a long time, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. But worse yet is the feeling that very few elected officials are looking out for us at any level…and that this isn’t going to change unless we vote as many of the current crop of politicians out as possible.

(Except for those few who do seem to have a shred of public service somewhere deep inside, that is. They can stay.)

I can’t help but see these things, and be appalled. I care that we get the best representation possible at all levels, from honorable people doing their best to figure out how to run things the very best way they can. Not for greed or graft. Not for personal gain in any way. But because it’s the right thing to do.

Maybe I’m still an idealist at heart. Perhaps I am.

But we should be doing better than this. We deserve to have open, rational dialogues about the tough issues facing our world, much less this country and this state. We need to know the hard facts. (Not alternative facts, whatever the Hell they are.) We need to understand that traditional conservative values about saving money and paying down the national (and state) debt and not spending money on frivolous things like gold-plated faucets in executive washrooms are good things. And we also need to understand that traditional, small-l liberal values of freedom, justice, and the dignity of human worth are also good things.

We’ve become so polarized in the US that it’s possible to say one thing, and depending on what political party one belongs to, people hear it two ways.

That’s just wrong.

We are all human beings. We all deserve the chance to figure ourselves out. And we deserve the chance to live in a peaceful world, one where we don’t desert our long-term allies at the drop of a hint or the whim of an erratic and unskilled POTUS.

Our Congress, and our state government, on down to city and local governments, needs to start working for us. Rather than above us, besides us, or in spite of us.

I don’t know if we can get there anytime soon. But we have to start trying.

Otherwise, we’ll continue to get the neglectful, wasteful, and spiteful government we have now. And that is completely nonsensical.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 18, 2019 at 4:37 pm

Who Do You Want to Be? A Meditation

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Normally, at this time of year, I write about my late husband, Michael. He was the most wonderful person I have ever known, and thus I want to keep my memories of him — and his bright, lively, and fun-loving spirit — alive.

But today, I want to talk about a different side of Michael. And, therefore, of me, too.

One of the questions he and I pondered quite often was this: Who do you want to be?

Too many people out there don’t develop their talents, partly because they don’t know they have any. Or they repress their talents, because they need to make money and their talents don’t seem to be useful toward that end. Or, maybe, they’re just frustrated with trying to work with their talents (guilty!), and don’t know what to do with themselves.

The thing is, our talents are only part of us. They’re not everything.

We humans are a complex lot. We have so many different things inside us, and so many different things we can do.

That said, the question “Who do you want to be?” has particular resonance for me for a different reason, too.

There’s a well-known axiom, “Know thyself.” To know yourself should be the first step in figuring out what you want to do, what you need to do, and what you must keep doing to make not only your life-circumstances happy, but your immortal soul happy as well.

(Yes, I went there. Michael believed, too. But it’s OK if you don’t. Moving on…)

But again, knowing yourself can be fraught with peril. People go down paths they shouldn’t be on, all because they convince themselves the ones they need to be on aren’t good enough. Or that they will never be accepted for who they are, so they’d rather “fake it ’til they make it” or worse, pretend to be someone else.

(Yes, I know some of you live by the “fake it ’til you make it” philosophy. If it works for you, and you still know yourself, good. If you don’t, and are on the wrong path, go meditate for a while and figure yourself out. But I digress.)

To me, the most important thing to do every day is to help others. Whether it’s by music, writing, a gentle (or sometimes, not-so-gentle) word, or running an errand, I try to help others as much as I possibly can.

Why? Because I can’t live with myself if I don’t. And because to my mind, if you can help someone but refuse, you aren’t worthy of very much.

“But Barb,” you say. “You can’t help everyone. You know that.”

True. But as Lois McMaster Bujold’s character Mark Vorkosigan says in MIRROR DANCE (my best paraphrase as the book is not in front of me): “Everyone always says they can’t do it all, so they won’t do any. And they don’t.”

In other words, you should try to help others as much as you can.

Because really, what else are we here for? (Surely it’s not to ascend to our own one-person Heavens.)

Back to Michael, though. He believed in helping others as much as he could. He ran errands. He rebuilt other people’s computers. He fed feral cats. He listened and helped as much as he could.

And, oh yes, he reached out to a lonely woman suffering her second divorce and wondering, “Why, God/dess, why?” And the result of that was the richest, deepest, most rewarding, and by far the best relationship I have ever had with anyone in my entire life.

So, just for today, be like Michael. (And, maybe, like me.) Help someone else. Be there, even if they don’t expect it.

You could find a friend. (Or more.)

And if you do, toast Michael in The Good Place (TM), as it’s because of him and his love that I still stand. And still write.

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 21, 2019 at 6:00 am

When People Disagree: A Rant

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Folks, if you’ve been following my blog for the past few days, you may have noticed that there was a disagreement between me and a long-time reader of my blog. Over politics, of all things…the most fraught subject in the United States, partly because everyone seemingly has made up his or her mind already. Worse yet, most of the folks I know of any political persuasion won’t change whatever their initial snap judgment was in the first place, and thus we stay stalled out.

Nothing gets done, because we can’t even agree on the basics anymore.

I don’t know what to say about this, except that it saddens me.

In this case, my former reader was a Trump supporter. I am not, and never have been. That said, I do read George Will (a conservative columnist) regularly, watch Shep Smith regularly (the best newsman on TV, and he works on Fox News), and sample a number of conservative blogs every week, including Hugh Hewitt’s (a Trump supporter and radio host).

Do I agree with much of what any of them say? Hell, no, I don’t**. But I owe it to myself to find out what they’re saying, because sometimes I do agree with a little here and there. (And every great once in a while, I find myself in agreement with someone like longtime Republican strategist Rick Wilson. Granted, he’s a #NeverTrump guy. But he still is a true conservative, and thus doesn’t have a ton in common with me in some ways.)

And one thing I do know we all agree on, whether it’s Hewitt or Will or Wilson, is that we need to believe our government works for us. Rather than them doing whatever the Hell they want (or don’t); rather than our Congresscritters (and other governmental folks) acting like pigs at the trough and getting all they can, as long as they can; rather than them acting like complete and utter idiots, out of touch with people in the middle and lower classes (so they can’t possibly make decent laws, having no idea of what the true issues are).

The way to find consensus is to read exactly what’s written, and not impart what we think the other person is writing instead. The former reader decided no matter what I said about politics that I hated Trump so much, “Trump was Hitler.” (He said this in several comments.) And I said no such thing.

In fact, what I did say was, “I don’t like Trump. I don’t trust him. I don’t think he’s a good POTUS (president of the United States). But he’s not Hitler.”

I should’ve gone further, though. Which is why I’m writing this right now.

Many dictators and authoritarian-types who’ve come to power shut down the freedom of expression as the very first thing they do. Whether they are from China or Chile, Venezuela or Uganda, or anywhere else that’s featured dictatorial rule in the past century (including Cuba), the one thing a dictator can’t handle is the freedom to say, “I don’t like that guy, and here’s why.”

With all of Trump’s faults — and he does have many — he has not done that. He’s not even tried to do that. And I think one of the reasons the hard-core Trump supporters out there (including the former reader of my blog) get so frustrated is that some members of the media have worried incessantly that Trump will do that. And worse, some of the most loudmouthed members of the chattering class believe it’s only a matter of time, and have already decided Trump is guilty of suppressing freedom of the press right now.

Know, please, that I am not among those folks.

But back to the matter at hand. It isn’t fair to impart motives to my writing that do not exist. That frustrates the Hell out of me. As a writer, I try to be as blunt and to the point as I can, and make it blindingly obvious what I think when I’m writing my blogs or anything of a nonfiction nature. (Fiction, by definition, is different. And you have to take different tactics there as a writer to do the job. But I digress.) I do that on purpose, because I do not want to be misunderstood.

What I do know, though, is this: If we can’t agree even on how to disagree, we’re in big trouble.

I realize many people, myself included, are worried about all sorts of things, big and small; that said, we have to at least be willing to agree to disagree sometimes, and be civil about doing it. And not just storm off in a huff when you’re not getting your point across, or you don’t particularly want to agree to disagree, either. (That’s something the US Congress does very well. We, as people, should not.)

My belief, overall, is that you don’t have to agree with me. (In fact, I hope you don’t always agree with me. How boring would it be to have a bunch of echo chambers around all the time?) But you do have to be civil about your disagreement, and you really should try to see what the words actually are, rather than what you think they are.

End rant.

——–

**I like Shep Smith’s newscasts, and I agree with how he presents the news. He is objective and principled. I like that. I wish we had a lot more of it.

 

Unlock Yourself, and Get Out of Ruts

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I realized, earlier this evening/morning (as my mornings and evenings have been all screwed up for a while now), that I hadn’t written a blog in a while.

Shame on me.

There is a reason, of course, and it’s the usual one: I have a sinus infection, and it’s getting in the way of most fun things in life, including reading, writing, playing music, and just about anything except playing Sudoku and online card games.

Still, one thought kept crossing my mind, and I thought I should blog about it. Here goes: “Unlock yourself.”

What do I mean by that?

When you are in a rut, or you know you have to make a change but don’t want to do it, you are stuck. It’s like you’ve put a lock on yourself, on all of your abilities and talents and goals and dreams.

Worse yet, most of the time when you do this, you don’t even realize it. You are so brain-numb from whatever is going on in your life and/or work and/or circumstances that you just can’t deal with anything. Then you try to do what you normally do, and can’t. And feel worse about yourself.

I’ve learned that half the battle, when I’m brain-numb, is realizing exactly that. And once I do realize it, I can back off; take a break; do something fun; or at least try to get my rest. Any and all of these strategies will help me get back to living my life without feeling like I’m just going through the motions.

While the strategies above will help no matter what your circumstances are, being in a rut is not a fun thing. Most of the time, something major needs to happen for you to evaluate yourself, realize how deep the rut you’re in actually is, and make positive changes to get away and out of it.

The goal here is, you need to think about things differently. Maybe put your best friend, or your sister, or your mother, in your place; how would you advise them in a similar circumstance? (Surely you wouldn’t want anyone you cared about to stay in that rut, right?) And try to turn tragedy into opportunity.

Thus, “Unlock yourself.”

“But Barb,” you say. “I don’t get it. I need to change my attitude? But my attitude didn’t get me in this rut, so how will that help?”

That’s not exactly what I’m getting at, here. I know attitudes alone do not put anyone into a rut. But refusing to evaluate your circumstances, or re-evaluate as needed, and tote up the pluses and minuses of wherever you’re at, contributes to ruts. And if you don’t do these things, it’s easier to just go brain-numb, as I said before, and go through the motions…and the rut gets deeper, and deeper, and deeper.

Worst of all, for most of us, that shuts down our creative facilities something fierce.**

That’s why I say the key to everything is unlocking yourself. Your own potential. Your own belief that you can, and will, do whatever you set your mind to doing…just so long as you get proper rest, eat well, and treat whatever problems are going on all around you accordingly.

What do you think of my strategies? Did “Unlock yourself” make any sense to you? Tell me about it in the comments!

————-

**Those of you who don’t have this happen aren’t necessarily better off if you can get around this, mind. I know one person who swears he has to be unhappy to write, or he can’t do it; that, to my mind, is just awful. But there’s no talking him out of it, because it’s his way of thinking — his rut, if you will — and the only one who can get him out of there is himself.

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 29, 2019 at 4:42 am

Survivors Heal at Their Own Pace

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Folks, I read a Facebook post from a friend I’d like to know better earlier tonight. It was from two years ago, and I missed it at the time.

Without any privacy violations, my friend had gone through an ordeal while in middle school (once upon a time called junior high school; whichever works). A teacher had abused him for over a year, and he ended up with PTSD and other problems.

While I left as supportive of a message as I could now, albeit two years late, I wanted to say more about this.

Many of us have suffered wounds that take years, if not decades, to heal. And because we have had these problems, we think we’re less than we are; we think that maybe, just maybe, we deserved to be abused, or mistreated, or assaulted, or even molested.

I’m not saying we do this consciously. But we still do it.

How do I know this? Because I’m a survivor of sexual assault, that’s why. It happened in my teens. And for years after, I felt I wasn’t good for anyone, and never would be.

It took me over seven years to get any sort of a handle on it. I went to counseling. I read as many books as I could. I tried to forgive the person who’d assaulted me — which I found to be impossible, setting back my healing for a few more years.

And then, I found The Courage to Heal Workbook. That, along with a good counselor who knew how to use it, was my salvation. It taught me that I did not have to forgive the person who’d assaulted me. Instead, I could leave it up to the Higher Power.

Best of all, I learned that I was not to blame for any of it. And that I was stronger because I’d survived.

All of that helped me heal.

After I did all that hard work, I eventually found my late husband, Michael. He and I found a fulfilling life together in all aspects. He wasn’t afraid of my flashbacks, and would hold me until I was better; he had empathy, and knew how to use it. (I wish all people did. But empathy is still an exceptionally rare quality, it seems…but I digress.) And our sex life was second to none, because we both understood each other, loved each other unconditionally, and wanted to make each other feel that love every minute of every day.

Why am I’m sharing this now, rather than at the height of the #MeToo movement? Well, it’s mostly that I want my friend, who has found a good woman at long last and will be married soon, to know that he, too, can have a fulfilling relationship and that his past — the stuff that was inflicted on him — doesn’t have to derail anything.

The right person, you see, will be there for you no matter what. That’s what unconditional love is all about. And once you find that person who loves you, no matter what, hold on to him or her — because that’s a person whose worth is above rubies.

If you are reading this, live in the United States, and have suffered from rape, incest, molestation, or other forms of sexual violence and need to talk with someone, call RAINN at (800)656-HOPE. They are free, confidential, and open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And if you can’t call now, but need to find out more about how you’re not alone — as indeed, you aren’t — and that people do care (as we do!), go to https://www.rainn.org and read at your leisure what they’re doing to combat sexual violence in the United States.

Dealing with Disappointment, part the Nth

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What are you supposed to do when your efforts are not rewarded?

This is something that every single human being has to deal with at some point in his or her life. You’ve done everything you possibly can, and yet, your efforts are not appreciated. And sometimes, you wonder just how to appreciate yourself when you think no one else on the face of the Earth does.

It can be very hard to deal with this sort of disappointment. Even though we know, realistically, that other people will sometimes disappoint us, the lack of appreciation for our efforts tends to come at the worst possible time, often adding insult to injury.

In addition, I know that I tend to look at myself through a very harsh lens. So when I do something to the utmost of my ability and it doesn’t seem to have made a dent — think of what I said earlier this week about the efforts to get politicians to do anything about mass shootings, for example — I just wonder what the Hell I’m doing here.

Then everything starts to spiral down, out of control…at least, until I get some perspective, and tell myself the following things:

  1. You can’t control what other people think, say, or do.
  2. But you can control your own reactions. So if someone takes your hard work, grunts, and turns away, rather than saying, “Great! Thanks for putting in the hard work to get this done,” you have to tell yourself that’s their issue and not yours. (Maybe something is going on in their lives that’s making them be less responsive and less empathetic than they should be.)
  3. Sometimes, you just have to celebrate your own efforts yourself.
  4. It’s OK to be upset if someone is rude. That’s natural, normal, and human.
  5. Don’t beat yourself up due to other people’s failings.

If you can tell yourself those five things, it may help you feel a little better.

And even if it doesn’t, there’s still one more way to deal with your frustration, anger, and hurt over whatever’s disappointing you.

My late husband, Michael, told me you should not push your anger, frustration, or disappointment away. Instead, you should fully feel whatever it is, and put a time limit on it. (Say, five or ten minutes.) Then, after that time, you tell yourself, “OK, self, I’ve heard you. Now, let’s go back to what we were doing before.”

This may not sound like something that works, but it does.

Why? Because you’re acknowledging your feelings. You’re not pushing them away. You’re telling yourself it’s OK to have these feelings, even if they’re ugly and make you feel less than your best self; you’re reminding yourself that you’re a human being, and we all have bad days.

And when you can accept your feelings, even if you still dislike them, it’s much easier to get back to what you were doing.

In a few days or weeks, whatever was upsetting you probably won’t be as bad. (Excepting this whole mass shooting mess. That just seems to go on and on. But I’m putting that aside for now…hm de hum de hum.) But even if it is, you may have figured out how to deal with it better, and how not to beat yourself up for being human.

So, that’s how I deal with disappointment. What do you do? Tell me about it in the comments!