Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category

A Meditation on Forgiveness

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Sunday tends to bring some serious thoughts out in me, so I thought I’d discuss something that’s been on my mind lately. Namely, forgiveness…why is it so hard, and what are we supposed to do when it seems nigh onto impossible?

I was thinking about something Jesus apparently said any number of times, as quoted in the Bible. “Go, and sin no more.” Usually this was after someone had asked Jesus to absolve him (or her) of a sinful action. (Sometimes, it may have been because it was expected of Jesus, for all I know.) Which means the people who went to Jesus were looking for divine forgiveness, just showing that forgiveness has always been somewhat of a difficult art.

I don’t think you need to be as good of a soul as Jesus Christ was to forgive someone, mind. But Jesus helps to point the way when times are hard, bad, and it seems nearly impossible to forgive. (Mind, my late husband used to make the point all the time that someone has to ask for forgiveness, otherwise it doesn’t mean much. Without someone asking, there’s no acknowledgment from the transgressor that there was a problem in the first place, making any proffered forgiveness a moot issue.) Jesus pointed out that we should do our best to forgive, and hopefully that person would “sin no more” against us.

I would imagine it wasn’t all that easy for people to go to Jesus and ask for forgiveness or any sort of help. People don’t change that much over time, and we’ve always been a stiff-necked lot, we humans. As affable, as warm-hearted, and as caring a personage as Jesus undoubtedly was — without those qualities, the Twelve Apostles never would’ve followed him — it still took courage for people to go to Jesus and ask for help, especially at first when Jesus was not known as a prophet, healer, or Son of God.

So, why did they do it anyway?

My best guess is that people, then and now, want to be absolved of guilt. They may have hurt someone, without wishing to do so. They may have coveted another’s wife or goods — in this day and age, we don’t seem to worry about that as much so long as people don’t act, but back then, coveting was definitely seen as halfway to action. They may have had a horrible fight with a loved one, and now want to know how to come back from that mess and let their loved ones know that was an aberration, something they’re going to try to get past…

Something they don’t intend to repeat, if they can help it.

Maybe they tried to go to the person they hurt, and the words came out wrong. Maybe the person they hurt wouldn’t listen. Maybe they were so injured in spirit, they didn’t hear the remorse…or perhaps the person now seeking forgiveness truly doesn’t know how to ask, so it came out sounding like mockery instead.

I don’t know about you, but I have tried to ask for forgiveness in the past, and that is exactly how I sounded. And I’m sure I’m not the only person among all the human beings who’ve ever lived on Earth to sound this way.

That’s where Jesus came into play. He was willing to listen, and people were willing to go to him and confide, because of two things: Sometimes, people are more willing to tell a stranger their troubles than a loved one, because the stranger doesn’t matter as much in the long-term scheme of things nine times out of ten. And if you’re lucky, that person you’re confiding in, that stranger, is a good person who truly wants to help you, and will point the way toward a better resolution for you and the person you have hurt without injuring your pride too much in the process.

See, that’s another thing about we humans. We are also a prideful lot. And half the time, we get our backs up precisely because of pride.

Yet another thing that gets in the way of asking for forgiveness is our unwillingness to admit to making mistakes. (As a perfectionist by nature, I understand this one, too. But we aren’t called upon to be perfect; we can’t be. As the old bumper sticker used to say, “I’m not perfect. Just forgiven.”)

So, we need to get past our pride. We need to admit to making mistakes. And we somehow have to keep from getting our backs up when we need to ask for forgiveness — or when we actually do our best to forgive someone.

Now, that’s the next layer in this forgiveness onion that makes it tough. Too many people say they’ll forgive someone, and then they mouth the words but don’t actually feel the actions. They don’t feel their heart get lighter. They don’t try to put themselves in the other person’s shoes. They don’t try at all to do anything other than go through the motions, maybe because they don’t know that forgiveness is a verb — or at least, it should be.

So, if you decide you’re going to forgive someone — after they’ve no doubt asked for forgiveness — you need to make damned sure you’re actually going to do that very thing. It may not be easy. It may take a while for you to forgive. But you should search your heart, and your soul, and do whatever you can to empathize with those who’ve transgressed, because that’s the best way forward overall.

Anyway, I don’t know if I, or anyone else, can “Go, and sin no more.” But what I do know is that I can do my best to care. And try to rectify any mistakes, while being humble enough to admit I do not know everything and cannot know everything.

None of us can, except the Almighty/Higher Power. And that personage (of which Jesus is surely a part of) is not telling us everything, probably because that takes half the fun out of living.

And yes, making mistakes, and having to ask for forgiveness (as humbling as that is), is also part of living. So if you can’t “Go, and sin no more,” keep doing your best.

Because life, as we know it, is a work-in-progress. And we forget that at our own peril.

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Written by Barb Caffrey

January 7, 2018 at 5:08 am

Dare to Risk (Even When it Hurts)

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Folks, it’s been a while since I’ve written a post like this, but here goes:

The most important thing in life is this: You need to remember to dare to risk. Even when it hurts. And even when it doesn’t seem like the risk is worth the reward…do it anyway.

Why am I writing this?

Well, as a writer, every time I sit down to do something with a story, I’m risking the chance of failure.

But as a person, every time I open myself up and am vulnerable to someone, I’m risking the chance of being completely and totally misunderstood. Or unappreciated. Or just…nothing.

I know that. I am not a fool. And I choose to dare that risk, at least in part because it’s the only way, sometimes, to learn something…even if it’s something I’d rather not.

And there are other reasons to dare that risk, too.

Daring to risk is possibly the most important thing I can do, or any writer can do, or any creative person of any possible permutation can do, because it is the only way to express what needs to be expressed. And feeling the pain, sometimes, of risks that don’t work out is necessary, because none of us get through this life unscathed.

I’ve written before about the apocryphal Buddha story–the “search all around the world, daughter, and see if you can find anyone who does not suffer, then report back to me.” Buddha knew, in that story, that every single person had faced suffering of some sort or another, and that it was impossible to live a human life without it.

Now, being married to a Buddhist, I know that suffering is not to be avoided. It’s part of life, as obnoxious as it is to us, and yet thrusting it away causes bigger problems.

Why am I saying all this?

Simply this: I believe, very strongly in fact, that sometimes we have to be prepared to take our lumps. Daring to risk does not mean you’ll always succeed…and it certainly doesn’t mean at all that you will ever succeed, for that matter. But the risk is worth it for its own reward, that of knowing you did everything you possibly could, and then some, to make your dreams come true.

That sometimes there’s nothing you can do? Well, feeling that pain allows you to better inform the stories you write, and make them feel real.

(At least, so I’m telling myself right now. There has to be a reason for it, and that one is as good as any.)

Anyway, don’t let the bad days stop you from daring to risk it all for art, for love, for friendship, or for anything else you feel is worthwhile.

Because the moment you stop risking, that’s the moment you stop living. (Got it?)

———

By the way, folks…later today, I’ll be writing about two books I think you should keep an eye out for, Jason Cordova’s DEVASTATOR (out next week) and Kayelle Allen’s BRINGER OF CHAOS: FORGED IN FIRE. Both are second books in two very good series; both feature believable science and speculation, some darkness, some light, some romance, and are generally cracking good reads. So if you haven’t read Jason’s CORRUPTOR yet or Kayelle’s BRINGER OF CHAOS: THE ORIGINS OF PIETAS either, you really are missing out…can’t wait to tell you more about these two interesting stories. (No, I’m not always doom and gloom, or reminding you to take risks. But yes, do take that risk.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 5, 2018 at 1:14 am

Following the Eleventh Commandment…

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As we get closer to the Christmas/Yuletide holiday season, I get more and more frustrated with this time of year.

(And yes, I admit it.)

I’m not into conspicuous consumption. (If you’ve read my blog for a while, you probably know this.) And all the commercials for stuff “You Must Buy Now (TM)” annoy the crapola out of me.

I’ve already said I believe in being around my friends and loved ones at this time of year, and that I prefer your presence over your presents. But I figured I’d go a little further today, and try to explain another thought that needs to be expressed: We have to try to follow the Eleventh Commandment a little better (that being “Love one another, as I have loved you,” uttered by Jesus the Christ).

This is a very tough commandment to follow, because it is not always easy to love each other, in this world. There are people, quite frankly, in this world that I cannot stand. (I know, I know — quelle the horror.) And yet, by just about every faith I know–Christianity, Buddhism, Shintoism, Confucianism, the Church of Latter-Day Saints, and yes, the Neo-Pagan community–we’re told to love them. (Or at least to do no harm to them, if we can’t love them. And most of the time in most faiths, you’re still supposed to try to love the unloveable even if it’s extremely difficult; doing no harm and letting them go their own way is only an intermediate step.)

As I said, there are some folks out there who are incredibly difficult to love.

So how are we supposed to go about loving them anyway?

I think, to start with, we need to try to check our prejudices at the door. Try to meet people where they are, and use your empathy as much as you possibly can.

Does this mean you should let others railroad you when you don’t agree with them? Oh, Hell no. But you should at least try to understand, if you can, when someone believes something different than you do. Because it seems to me that understanding someone else is the first step toward loving them…and we all have to start somewhere.

In addition, I wanted to add another thought I’ve had, that is probably only tangentially related.

Does anyone else feel that we’ve become a much less forgiving society, lately? And that we’ve stopped believing that people can change, people can improve, and people can–even if they’ve made horrible mistakes–redeem and improve themselves somehow?

It’s like, someone makes a mistake one day, and kisses someone he or she doesn’t know while drunk at a holiday party. The next day, that man (or woman) is hailed as a pervert, and rather than saying, “You need to drink less” or “Wow, you can’t hold your wine” or even “What were you thinking, when you kissed that person?,” you’re condemning that person.

Forever.

I’m not the Higher Power, so I don’t believe I have the right to condemn anyone. (Sometimes this is hard to remember, granted.) And I try hard to remember that people can change; that nothing is cast in stone; that no one should believe that one mistake will define you the rest of your life and you’ll never, but never, get out from under it so you may as well stop trying.

That said, I’ve already pointed out that it’s hard to love someone who seems thoroughly unlovable. And that sometimes, the best you can do is leave them alone…and perhaps pray for their–or your–enlightenment, in order to find a way to follow the Eleventh Commandment a little better down the line.

Personally, I believe that if you’re going to follow the Eleventh Commandment, you should also do your best to give people second chances if warranted. (Again, don’t let yourself be treated like a pushover or a martyr. But do, please, believe that if someone’s trying, is doing his/her best to improve himself in various ways such as by going to counseling and seriously trying to figure himself/herself out, it’s not wrong to give someone at least one more try…and if it still doesn’t work, then you can step away and tell yourself, “Hey, I gave it my all, and sometimes it just doesn’t work.”)

So, it’s a work-in-progress, following the Eleventh Commandment. But I think it’s something you need to try to do, because it may make you a wiser, kinder person…and it also may make the holiday season a lot easier, besides. (Hey, one can only hope.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 16, 2017 at 8:13 pm

Reflections on Funerals — and Lives Well-Lived

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Folks, this last week was not an easy one around Chez Caffrey.

Why? Well, my aunt Laurice passed away suddenly last week, and this week was her funeral. I saw many of my relatives for the first time in years, talked with my cousins and others, and paid my respects to my aunt’s memory.

My aunt was a very good woman, you see. She lived her faith, and believed strongly in the goodness of others. She was a kind person, she cared, and I remember her fondly for many reasons — but most particularly because she went to many of my concerts, sitting proudly besides my parents (and sometimes my grandmother as well).

My aunt didn’t have to do that. But she loved music, and she loved family. Going to concerts for one of her nieces — or later, two of ’em, as my sister and I played in many groups together over the years — was not a hardship for her.

Remembering that helps to temper the grief I feel. And knowing that my cousins have it far, far worse than I do — as do their own kids, no doubt — doesn’t help much.

Grief shared is supposed to be grief halved. And maybe it is. But when you first lose someone special, you can’t feel that your grief has been halved, because the grief is so overpowering, even half of it feels like more than you can bear.

Still, we all are born into this life knowing we’re here for a short time. It’s what we do while we’re here that matters; those actions will live on in others, and help to keep our spirit and memories alive.

If you think about it, a person’s spirit and the memories you shared with that person is vitally important. Because it’s those things that determine how you think about them, how often you think about them, and what you do when you think about them…

My aunt was a special woman. She cared about others. I’m glad that I remember that, and will do my best to honor her memory in the best way I possibly can…by caring about others, and thinking about her while I do it. (I think she’d like that.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 24, 2017 at 7:30 pm

Sunday Reflection…about CHANGING FACES?

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Folks, over the last month or so, I’ve told you a lot about my new novel, CHANGING FACES. I’ve told you some of what I was about when I wrote it, and about my process in writing it, and about all sorts of other stuff…but as it’s Sunday, I thought I’d tell you the real reason I kept going.

After my husband Michael died in 2004, I was absolutely devastated. (I think everyone who regularly reads my blog knows this.) For a while, I didn’t recognize myself, at all…I was in so much pain, I could not create, could not write, could not play music, and saw no purpose to my life at all.

In the middle of 2005, one of my good friends asked me to come to Kansas City for a convention, ConQuesT. I had another friend offer to pay for my expenses while I was there; she and her family put me up in her house. It was the first time I’d tried to go that far away since Michael died, and because I was worried about the length of the drive, I took the Amtrak train from Chicago.

Little did I know that doing that would change my life. But it did.

I went to the convention, stayed with my friends, talked with my other friend (who was also at the convention), met some writers, all that. I felt a little better, being around people who were more like me; they didn’t see me as inherently flawed, inherently broken, or inherently irredeemable, just because my beloved husband was dead.

But that was not what changed things. (I’m getting to that, trust me.)

On the way back to Chicago, I met a minister and his wife. His name was Reverend Evans, and was an older black gentleman. He told me about his life, and his work, but mostly listened to me as I told him about everything going on — my frustration, pain, anger, rage, all that. And about how I couldn’t write, but had two novels in progress — ELFY, and CHANGING FACES. And that I wondered if there was any reason, any reason at all, I was still alive.

Rev. Evans could’ve easily thrown platitudes my way. But he didn’t.

Instead, he said that God is love, and that I knew that, because I’d seen it. Reflected in the eyes of my husband, for one; and in every word I wrote, and had ever written, for another.

This all made sense to me.

And he talked a great deal about CHANGING FACES. He said he thought I was still here to finish it. Because the world needed to know that we all need love. Regardless of race, creed, sexuality, gender preference, love is what matters.

And finding love, reflecting that love, is what’s most important.

But believing in yourself, and your talents, is also important.

Why?

Because that’s how we best enhance the Godhead.

See, our creativity comes from the Higher Power, and as such, when we are creative, we are reflecting that love and faith…and it gives back to the universe, which gives back to us.

I view talking to Reverend Evans as one of the most pivotal moments of my life. He reminded me that I still had things to do. And that even though Michael had been embraced by God/dess, and was no longer here for me to embrace, I could still be a testament to that love, so long as I kept trying.

And I’d like to think that in getting ELFY published (albeit in two parts, as AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE and A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE) along with CHANGING FACES, I have done some of what I was put here to do.

*****

There are two guest blogs I’d also like to point you to, before I go. The first is new today, and is up at Kayelle Allen’s blog…it’s about writing bisexual characters. (Or at least a bisexual character.)

Here’s a bit from that:

Now, as to why (Elaine) still couldn’t accept herself as gender-fluid easily? Well, as a society, we’re only beginning to learn about people who don’t always feel male or female. Sometimes they feel one way, sometimes another, maybe a third time they have a mix of both traits. Gender preference is not the same thing as sexuality; not by a mile.

So, Elaine has dated women and men. She sees the worth of a person and is not automatically attracted only to one sex. In a way, Elaine isn’t attracted by anyone, sexually. She’s only attracted mentally and emotionally, and then, much later, sex comes into the picture. But that’s not that strange, considering she’s a scholarly sort. She can see into a person, and evaluate who that person is, in a way most people don’t. She doesn’t even think to do this because how she views people is part of who she is.

Ultimately, love is love. Who you love is far more important than what gender your love happens to be. Seeing a person’s soul, seeing a person’s heart, seeing a person’s worth, is far more important than whether that person is straight, gay, bisexual, or Martian.

Obviously, I believe this. (So did Reverend Evans. So did my late husband, Michael.)

And the second is an interview with Mayra Calvani; here’s a bit from that about my favorite authors (hint, hint — I mention Katharine Kimbriel, Jason Cordova, and Chris Nuttall here, so do tell your friends):

First, Lois McMaster Bujold is one of the best writers working today. She combines humor, scientific expertise, world building, romance, characterization, heart, and much more in a package that is incredibly appealing. She’s considered one of science fiction and fantasy’s modern masters by many, and for good reason.

Second, the work of Katharine Eliska Kimbriel is phenomenal. She has written three hard SF books in her Chronicles of Nuala series, and three alternate history/fantasy books in her Night Calls series. They are all excellent books with great writing, wonderful characterization, world building to spare, humor that arises from the characterization…just can’t say enough about her books. (And that she isn’t as well-known as LMB just vexes me. Writing of this quality should be celebrated far and wide, methinks.)

Third, I’m fond of Linnea Sinclair. She combines romance and SF in a way I find very appealing.

Fourth, my early mentor, Rosemary Edghill, writes exceptionally well in a wide variety of genres, from detective stories to Regency romance to urban fantasy (and beyond). The way she uses language is wonderful, and I always learn from her work, whenever I pick it up. (It’s like meeting an old friend.)

“But Barb,” I hear you protest. “What about the male authors?”

Oh, I have a number of favorites there, too. Robert A. Heinlein, Stephen R. Donaldson, David Weber, Dave Freer, Eric Flint…and don’t discount my friends Chris Nuttall or Jason Cordova, either. (Chris is so prolific, he’s put out at least ten books a year in various genres for five years running. Chris has gotten so good, he just might end up with one of those major awards like the Hugo or Nebula one of these years. And Jason can write anything…just give him time, and he’ll figure out a way to write it and sell a ton of books. That’s just how he is.)

So, there you have it.

Have a good Sunday, folks.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 19, 2017 at 4:17 pm

Romance, “Changing Faces,” and Valentine’s Day

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Folks, as most of you know, Valentine’s Day rapidly approaches. V-Day is one of those times that men mostly hate, some women (such as myself) mostly hate as well, and most people in relationships can also dread because the social significance of the day is murky, at best.

See, we’re told over and over again to get our loved ones things. Lots and lots of things, whether it’s jewelry, Pajamagrams, teddy bears, or, if you have enough money to do so, a new car…all of those things are going to be hawked to you, or anyone in a relationship, as needed and necessary for V-Day.

The meaning of what love is, much less what Valentine’s Day should be about — the celebration of love, and those who dare to keep loving despite the longest of odds — seems to get more lost by the day.

I’d rather talk about what true love is.

True love is caring. Sacrifice for your partner, if needed (and sometimes, it will be needed, in one form or another). Compassion. Paying attention to what matters to you, and trying to alleviate the worst of what brings you down…that is what love is about.

Love is unselfish, too. It’s all about the other person, caring more for them than you do about your own self, and about making that other person happy.

Yeah, you should get something out of it. You should be happier, wiser, kinder, a better person, and certainly if your lover is not asexual, you should have a happy romantic life ahead of you for as long as you two are together on the face of this Earth…what you get, if you are smart, is a better and more meaningful life, all because you dared to care about someone else more than yourself, and threw out what society assumes is “normal” behavior.

So, how does my new novel, CHANGING FACES, come into this conversation? (Other than the fact that it’s a love story, that is?)

First, read the blurb, as that may help:

Allen and Elaine are graduate students in Nebraska, and love each other very much. Their life should be idyllic, but Elaine’s past includes rape, neglect, and abuse from those who should’ve loved her—but didn’t, because from childhood, Elaine identified as transgender.

When Elaine tells Allen right before Christmas, he doesn’t know what to do. He loves Elaine, loves her soul, has heard about transgender people before, but didn’t think Elaine was one of them—she looks and acts like anyone else. Now, she wants to become a man and is going to leave.

He prays for divine intervention, and says he’ll do anything, just please don’t separate him from Elaine…and gets it.

Now, he’s in Elaine’s body. And she’s in his. They’ll get a second chance at love.

Why? Because once you find your soulmate, the universe will do almost anything to keep you together—even change your faces.

You see, Allen loves Elaine more than he loves himself. He’s confused by her, because she’s trans, because she has gender-fluidity in her makeup, all that…but he loves her. Passionately. And he’ll do anything to stay with her…even become trans himself (albeit through the auspices of two meddling angels), if that is what it takes.

Why does Allen do this? Well, when you’re in love, you care more about the other person than you care about yourself. You want that other person to feel better, and be her best self…you want, in essence, to help that other person become whatever that person needs to be in order to feel good about herself, because doing anything less weakens your love and regard for your partner.

Note that you should never, never, never become less than you are, with someone you love. (I have to point this out, because I know it’s something I wish had been explained to me before I married young. Instead, I had to find out the hard way, and it took years before I found my late husband and realized what true love really was about. But I digress.)

Instead, you should become more yourself. More creative, if that’s what you are. Kinder. More compassionate. More aware of the world and what’s around you. More willing to fight suffering, even if all you can do is give someone a handkerchief when she’s crying and wish you could do more…

You should care, in other words.

No matter how hard it is, no matter how difficult it seems, so long as you and your partner both care, and try, and communicate, and are willing to keep caring and trying and communicating, you have a shot.

(But see what I said before about the limitations of love, especially if you’re with someone who doesn’t care about you…that is the type of person who is only about materialism or what you can do for him/her, and should be avoided at all costs.)

Anyway, I think anyone — straight, gay, lesbian, transgender, gender-fluid, or Martian — should enjoy CHANGING FACES if you enjoy romance at all. It has a fantasy element (how not, me being me?), is quirky (again, me being me, you have to expect that), and it has music and musicians and all sorts of good stuff…but the main thing to remember is, it’s about love. Communication. Compassion. Self-sacrifice. Honesty. And hard work.

Because without compassion, self-sacrifice, honesty, communication, and hard work, love isn’t worth very much. But with them? It’s priceless.

Guaranteed.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 10, 2017 at 5:51 am

Out Now in e-book: Changing Faces

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Folks, it’s been a long time coming, as most of you know, but my third novel, CHANGING FACES, is now out as an e-book and is available at Amazon. (Further links will be added as they become live; there will be a Barnes and Noble link later, and possibly one at AllRomance/OmniLit as well.) And best of all, the book is priced at only ninety-nine cents for the first week or so!

So, without further ado, here’s the links:

Amazon:

And in case you want a few sample chapters, here’s a link to that:

http://www.twilighttimesbooks.com/ChangingFaces_ch1.html

Now, because it’s important, I want to say a few things.

First, I’m glad that I have good friends in the writing and editing community and appreciate the support I’ve received during the last tumultuous year or so.

Second, I hope that CHANGING FACES, a book about a couple in love that looks “normal,” but actually isn’t as the feminine half of the couple, Elaine, is gender-fluid and identifies as transgender, will help spread some light and understanding about #LGBT individuals.

See, people are people. They want love, affection, understanding, all that. The gender and sexuality really doesn’t make that much difference, when it comes to these universal truths.

But it’s hard, sometimes, to make things work in a romance, even if you both are what society understands. We make mistakes, we people, and it’s hard to communicate even when you desperately love someone and want only what’s best for him or her.

Allen and Elaine’s story of love, frustration, misunderstandings, major changes, and ultimately more love and better understanding, was deeply personal to me. I hope it will matter to you as well, and that you will see it as a transcendent love story that matters to every living human soul.

Because that’s how I see it.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 8, 2017 at 8:09 pm