Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Prescient observations’ Category

Unlock Yourself, and Get Out of Ruts

with 2 comments

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

with 9 comments

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

with 6 comments

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!

That Irreplaceable Someone…

leave a comment »

As it’s Sunday, I wanted to talk about something vaguely inspirational. Enjoy!

We are told, as we grow up, that we need to be that irreplaceable person. Be the best. Be the brightest. Be the only one who can do everything that’s required.

What we aren’t told is that not everyone can be the best. Or the brightest. Or be the only one that can do everything, either.

However, what we’re told isn’t wrong, exactly. Because we can only be ourselves. And if we are our best self — well, then, that is something no one else on the face of this Earth can be.

And that is, indeed, attainable.

I write this as I’m about to play a concert this evening with the Racine Concert Band. Tonight, I’m playing alto saxophone. Next week, I’ll be playing clarinet. (And, possibly also, alto saxophone.) And when I play a part on one instrument, someone else has to cover the part I’d usually play. And while they can and will cover the part, they can’t and won’t do it the same way I can.

(This sounds obvious, but hear me out, OK?)

The other person will get things right I won’t. The other person will miss things I would’ve gotten right. Or, maybe, we’d both play it note-perfect all night long, but have different nuances to add — or not — to the equation.

But what’s important is, that other person is playing the part the best way he can. Doing his best, making his best effort, trying his hardest, all that.

While of course I’m doing the same wherever I am, as nothing less will do.

Tonight in the band concert, we’re playing a piece called “Jubilation Overture” by Robert Ward. This is one of our conductor Mark Eichner’s favorite pieces (it should be, too; it’s really a fun piece), and so that means I’ve played it before. The last time I played it, in fact, I played the solo clarinet part — which means tonight on alto, I have to remember other people are playing that, and I have to concentrate on my own part instead, thank you. (Otherwise, my fingering and embouchure will be off, to say the least.)

And, this week, my section leader and stand-partner, Vivian, is off on vacation. While I’m covering her parts for her, I can’t do anything the same way she would — just as she can’t do anything the same way I would.

But do I miss her playing? You bet I do. And do I miss her being there, steady as a rock, on nights I quite frankly don’t feel well? Absolutely.

She is irreplaceable, you see. (And yes, so am I. But that’s not the point.)

We as human beings need to concentrate on what we can. Not worry so much about what other people can do. Just what we can do. And do it to the level best of our abilities, and keep doing it, as long as we possibly can.

That’s what our parents and teachers and others meant, when they told us to be our best selves. And it’s something we can continue to work on, all the days of our lives.

Dealing with the Internet Age

with 6 comments

Folks, I have been thinking hard about a story I’m trying to write — and am stalled at doing, of course — so all sorts of other things have come into my mind.

For example, in the 1930s during the Great Depression, comedies — the wilder, the better — were all in vogue. Yet now, in 2019, after what some call the Great Recession of 2008 (that hasn’t fully recovered in some areas, at least not to pre-Recession levels), what’s in vogue? Depressing stories — such as The Walking Dead. Or George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” epic (AKA HBO’s Game of Thrones).

That doesn’t mean comedies can’t still find their way, mind you. But the comedies that have succeeded, such as Bridesmaids or the various instances of The Hangover (last I knew, it was up to part three), all have a darker edge to them than the ones did in the 1930s.

I hate to think that the 1930s were a simpler time, because that can’t be true. They’d endured what was then called the Great War — what we call World War I — and so many men died there, at least half a generation of men were wiped out. (Note that I say “men” because very few women fought in those days, and even those serving in hospitals and as ambulance drivers tended to be as far away from the fighting as humanly possible. Not that this was all that much all the time, of course — but it was the principle of the thing.)

But the 1930s didn’t have today’s instantaneous communication, either. While they certainly had telephones, and they had telegraphs as well (kids, think about text messaging, and then think about it going over telephone-type wires…while this is imprecise, that’s more or less what telegraphy was meant to be), they lacked 24/7 news coverage. Or the ability to wake up and know what was going on, say, in Bangladesh, even if you were asking from your living room in San Francisco, California.

I’ve read a few stories recently that make me wonder if the world at large knowing so many things at such a shallow level is actually good. Many people, just run-of-the-mill folks, feel either isolated or inundated, and don’t know what to do with themselves.

Moderation is meaningless unless it’s taught. And no one’s taught anyone online how to be moderate whatsoever.

Thus Tweetstorms. Thus random comments from 2013 (or whatever) coming back to bite people…

And that’s why some folks think it’s OK to gang up on others online, because there’s this ideal out there that you’re supposed to be perfect 24/7. And if you can’t be the pattern card of propriety (as the Regency Era would put it), you aren’t worth anything at all.

This era of ours, the Internet Age, sometimes lacks humanity. It also lacks soul. And the reason for both of these problems is very simple: there are too many people who seem to have forgotten to show compassion, or maybe to even feel it.

I don’t know what the answers are to fix these dilemmas. But I do know what you can do to try to moderate yourself as best you can amidst the screaming and the shouting and the horrors often seen.

(Make no mistake, there are plenty of horrors out there. And they should be dealt with. But dwelling on them all the time does not do any good. Back to the post.)

My simple, five-point strategy is this:

  1. Read widely, but take breaks. This means you should question yourself and your assumptions, but you also should take a day off here and there from all of this questioning and assume the world is going to keep spinning.
  2. Practice compassion toward others, even when it’s hard. Try to find someone else’s point of view if at all possible, and if you can’t, ask the other person — the one you don’t understand — to explain himself/herself/themself.
  3. Remember that every day is a new day. And that you do not have to carry yesterday’s mistakes with you forever.
  4. Do what you can to help, or at least not hinder.
  5. And finally, try to find fun amidst all the meaning in your life. Because life is very short, and sometimes the end sneaks up on you in a big hurry.

If you can do all these things, you will be able to shut out some of the yelling, the screaming, the argumentation for the sake of argumentation…and thus be able to live a better and more fulfilling life.

What do you do to find balance in your life during the Internet Age? Tell me about it in the comments!

Book Recommendation: Leo Champion’s “Warlord of NYC”

with 12 comments

Folks, I’ve been meaning to write this blog for several weeks. I knew about Leo Champion’s book WARLORD OF NEW YORK CITY for quite some time, mostly because I was one of his beta-readers and proofread the final version. But the time never seemed right to talk about Leo’s book.

Now, the time is right. The word is given. (Abandon all hope, ye who enter here? /snark)

Leo's WarlordFirst, let me show you the book’s blurb:

In the twenty-second century, global civilization has moved into networks of arcology-skyscrapers that tower hundreds of stories above streets abandoned to anarchy. Inside the arkscrapers, a neo-Puritan cult of social justice rules absolutely; on the streets, feral gangs raid between feuding industrial tenements.

Diana Angela is a hereditary executive in the bureaucracy that runs the world, with a secret life as an assassin on the streets. A burned-out idealist, she’s long ago given up on trying to change the world – the best intentions of the past have only led to greater misery.

And she has no reason to think precinct boss Jeff Hammer’s intentions are even good. A former mercenary who may be a military genius, Hammer’s narrowly taken control of a small tenement. Now he’s facing vengeful exiles, aggressive neighbors, and uncertain internal politics.

Which might be the least of his problems now that he’s drawn the attention of one of the city’s most dangerous women…

And now, my comments.

Diana Angela, also known as DA, is a badass. There’s no question about it. She is tough, smart, strong, somewhat of a chameleon as her society requires it (she lives in the arkscrapers, and is a part of the Intendancy, an extremely corrupt yet also extremely politically correct society). She hates what she’s forced to do in her day job, and has worked all her life to do some good on the streets of New York City as an assassin.

(Yes, an assassin. And she’s damned good at it, too. But I’m digressing, and I shouldn’t.)

DA is a fully actualized woman. She cares about people and has compassion, but it comes out in very unusual ways. She also loves sex — why not? — and her society, with its beliefs that you have to do this (and “this” changes weekly, it seems) and you can’t do that (with “that” also changing weekly), makes it hard to enjoy it. (That you have to get permission for every sex act from the worst of the toadies she deals with — “Can I touch you here? Can I touch you here?” — drives her crazy. And it should.)

The fact that sex, itself, has become so far away from what it can be in taking you out of yourself for a moment and losing yourself in someone else is a huge symptom of what is wrong with the Intendancy.

Simply put, the Intendancy has got to go. But they have enormous power, and DA can only do so much topside in the arks.

She can do a great deal more on the streets, and she does. I do warn you, some of what she does is bloody and there’s a whole lot of violence. She kills people who “need killing,” and for the most part you’ll agree with her once you realize what these people have done — though in the moment, you may think, “Why be so happy about killing them?”

Diana is not a sociopath, though. She’s more of a frustrated idealist with a set of skills — judo, aikido, various other martial arts, swordsmanship, archery, guns — that allows her to live with the terrible things she has to put up with in the arks by balancing it with her vigilantism below.

But then, she realizes there’s a new player on the streets of NYC. A guy named Jeff Hammer (from Leo’s first book in the series, STREETS OF NEW YORK CITY) has overthrown the corrupt regime in his own tenement, and has started a new one. He’s an ex-flyboy (and flying, in his world, means using something akin to a bike with wings; I am not doing this concept any justice, and I apologize for that), he’s smart as a whip, and he knows things have been off for a very long time. And he’s going to do something about it…

DA goes to look in on Hammer, and can’t decide if he’s a criminal, a madman, or worse. That the last time someone like Hammer arose caused a bloodbath that DA, herself, was a part of, makes it even tougher for her.

So, will she decide to help Hammer? Or won’t she? And if she does, will NYC ever be the same?

Thus ends my plot summary, hoping I didn’t spoil it too much for you.

I still have one more comment, though: Leo’s book is damned good. Really, really good. It reminds me in some ways of Lois McMaster Bujold, even, though it’s far bloodier and DA’s overt sexuality is not something LMB would ever cotton to. I think the reason it does remind me of LMB, though, is because of the assuredness of the writing on the one hand and the capability of the female protagonist on the other. DA knows who she is, what she wants, and knows exactly how to get it…so don’t get in her way, as the only person she needs to fear is herself. (In that way, she reminds me a little of Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan, or better yet of Elli Quinn or even Sergeant Taura. And if you don’t know who I’m talking about, go read every book LMB has ever put out, then come back, will you?)

In other words, you need to read this book, even if you’re normally squeamish regarding violence (as I am). It is funny. It skewers with manic glee many stereotypes regarding how “wonderful” a politically correct civilization would be if given its head. It has some interesting things to say about sex, power, and money. And the way DA is, herself, matters greatly…as does the way Jeff Hammer tries to change things for the better.

WARLORD OF NYC will make you think. And will make you root for DA, even when she’s at her most obnoxious…and wonder how on Earth she’s going to deal with Jeff Hammer when she can’t always see the forest for the trees.

It is, by far, the best thing Leo Champion has written yet. And he needs to be encouraged to write more in this vein. (Who knows what’ll happen next? I want to find out!)

Again, the Amazon link is here for WARLORD OF NEW YORK CITY. It is available on Kindle Unlimited. (Unfortunately, at this time, it’s not available at Barnes and Noble or anywhere else.) Or you can buy it outright for $3.99 (again, only at Amazon).

The Transformative Power of Writing

leave a comment »

Writing is one of those activities that can transform you, if you let it.

How? Well, it’s simple. You have to throw enough of yourself into your writing to inform each character, at least enough so they’ll feel real. And in so doing, you can make more of your memories, or your abilities, or your hopes/dreams/fears, by working them out to their natural conclusions.

(Or, as I write a lot of fantasy and we all know it, their unnatural conclusions. But I digress.)

Giving yourself the permission to explore sides of yourself you’d rather not — such as when you write villains — helps you to harmlessly bleed off your worst impulses, and transforms that into something more. Something better.

Or at least something different.

Writing, as a transformative ability, is something writers almost take for granted. I can almost hear some of you going, “But Barb, really! Here we are, writing our stories, doing what we need to make our stories sing…why do we need to think about it as a transformative ability, anyway? What’s the point of that?”

Well, you don’t have to think of it as transformative, if you don’t like. But that doesn’t make it any less the case.

Every single thing we do as writers is intended to create something. Or transform something. Or inform something. Or maybe educate you, along with your enjoyment of same…no matter what book or story you might be reading (and no matter how awful it may be in the moment), there’s something you can take out of nearly every piece of writing. (Yes, even the dullest Puritanical “erotica” out there, that was Bowdlerized before Bowdler even came onto the scene.) Even if it’s just what you know you definitely don’t want to do, you learn something from everything you read — whether you realize it or not.

Some folks refuse to throw out anything they’ve ever read, no matter how boring or mundane or stupid or pointless. I’m not necessarily saying you need to go that far, because I think it’s more important you learn whatever it is from stuff you can’t stand as quickly as possible (thus keeping you from having to go back and read it ever again). But whether it’s mores, culture, language, description, dialogue, or all of the above, there’s something in just about everything to appreciate — even if you decidedly don’t like it.

ALTERNATIES, by Michael P. Kube-McDowell, is one such book. It’s well-drawn, the different alternate realities stark and compelling, and the characterization is professional. But the protagonists are, to a person, unlikable. There are some things done in this book, such as torturing of sex slaves, that turned my stomach so much that I would never read the book again even though it is very good.

What I took from reading this book at the time was, “Sex sells. And dysfunctional, sadistic sex sells even more.”  But now, with the perspective of an author with three novels and any number of shorter works under my belt, I look at it a little differently. I think what Kube-McDowell was doing was masterful, in its way — but I don’t have to like it, and I don’t.

So, appreciate the craftsmanship, yes. Appreciate the time and effort and hard work, yes. (Respect the hustle, as Jason Cordova would say.) But don’t get lost in the depravity of it all, or the enervating sense of despair…because while that is in its way transformative, that isn’t at all what most people would like to be transformed into, if you get my drift.

And in your own work, look for ways to find hope, if you can. Even the worst situation may have one hint of hope; for example, all those French resistance folks trying hard during the occupation of France (Vichy France) in World War II had to deal with many stark and terrible realities. But they had hope nevertheless; they could believe their hard work would make a difference, no matter what it looked like, and no matter how long it took.

Ultimately, they were right.

So when you write a book with a lot of stuff that’s depressing or enervating or hopeless, try to find at least a few moments of comedy or light to balance it out. When you’re able to do that, that’s when a book really sings.

And if you’re writing something lighter (as I tend to do), finding moments of darkness to set off the light also works. (It’s all in the contrast, ultimately.)

So, how do you feel about the transformative power of writing? Tell me about it in the comments!