Barb Caffrey's Blog

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Narrative Framing, the Milwaukee Bucks, and You

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Folks, over the past week or so as I’ve battled an illness, I’ve been thinking about how we shape our own narratives. (Again, as this is one of my besetting sins as a novelist.) And that led me to ponder the Milwaukee Bucks, which have had one of the best years in their team’s history and have made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals…which you’d think would be good enough for anyone.

But as the Bucks were expected throughout to go to the NBA Finals, people have been up in arms (including yours truly) when they lost game 5 to the Toronto Raptors at home to put them down three games to two. They now face elimination in game 6.

The thing is, if you think about it, just getting to the Eastern Conference Finals is wonderful. The Bucks were “one and done” last year. And, I believe, the year before that.

But this year, they swept their initial playoff series, against the Detroit Pistons. And then they won easily over the Boston Celtics in the second round.

This, mainly, along with a stellar regular season, is why Bucks fans have taken a doom-and-gloom attitude.

And that led me to consider how else we tend to frame our own narrative in our lives. Do we think of the bright side? (Should we is another question, but that’s for another day.) Or do we think of what’s not working rather than what is, and concentrate on our failings rather than our successes?

I don’t know about you, but I tend to think about the failures, myself. I think about how I could’ve done this, that, or the other better. Sometimes, in the moment, it’s almost like I see myself from above and wonder, “Why can’t I do better than this? Why is it that I can barely explain myself? Why is it that I can’t make better decisions? Why do I run out of time?” and so on.

I wonder if that’s where the Bucks are at, right now. But I strongly suspect, as their season is not over, that they aren’t.

Are they happy to be down 3-2 and facing elimination? Of course not. (Who would be?)

But they have things they can still do. And I believe they’re most likely concentrating on them, and how they need to just do a few more things to get a win (in sports parlance, a W)…they may even be focusing on past success against the Raptors, and be looking at what they’ve done differently (and worse) in this series that hasn’t been working.

Forward, they are probably looking. Not back.

Now, does this make any difference in what happens in Game 6? You better believe it does. They can go in there and do their level best, knowing their season will be over if they don’t give it everything they possibly have.

And of course they could still lose. But if they do, they’ll know — providing they gave it their all, and tried their best, and focused their minds and bodies properly — it wasn’t their time to shine after all.

That can be a bitter lesson, sometimes. Because we try our best, and we want to shine all the time.

But no one — not Michael Jordan, not LeBron James, not Wilt Chamberlain, not George Mikan, nor any other basketball superstar over the years — has ever shined all the time. Because it’s not humanly possible.

So, let’s take a step back, and frame this differently, OK?

The fact is, the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo is a great player. He may well win the NBA Most Valuable Player award this year, and if so, it’ll be richly deserved.  And he’s  led the Bucks to an excellent season.

These pluses are not negated, nor should they be, if the Raptors do succeed in beating the Bucks.**

How does that relate to your own, personal situation, though?

In essence, you need to learn how to frame your own narrative. Stop beating yourself up because you can’t seem to get ahead no matter how hard you try. Think about your successes once in a while, rather than always and only your failures. And do what you can to remember that you are a vital person with a role to play whether it seems like it or not.

That’s how you can learn from the doom and gloom over the Milwaukee Bucks and their current situation.

What do you think about this blog? Tell me about it in the comments!

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**As a fan, I will admit that if the Bucks can’t win game 6 and force a game 7, for a few days I will go around with a bad taste in my mouth. (That comes with the territory.)

Why I Don’t Care About Josh Hader’s Teenage Tweets

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As most of you know, I am a fan of the Milwaukee Brewers. I love baseball, enjoy the Brewers, watch their games, sometimes write blogs about them, and have been happy to keep the faith over many years of mostly non-winning, non-viable teams.

This year, the Brewers have a better team than they’ve had in years. After last year’s shockingly good season (where they missed the playoffs by only one game), they remain in the playoff hunt. And they placed five players, a team record, in the All-Star Game: Jeremy Jeffress, Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich, Jesus Aguilar, and Josh Hader. Two of them, Hader and Jeffress, are relief pitchers; two, Cain and Yelich, are outfielders; the last one, Aguilar, is a first baseman.

But rather than being happy the Brewers placed five players on the All-Star team (a nice accolade to have), Brewers fans woke up yesterday to a very sour story, that of Josh Hader’s teenage Tweets. Hader’s Twitter account (now locked down to “private” mode) was public, and went all the way back to 2010 or 2011…and some of the Tweets from that time period were pretty raw. Hader bragged about the size of his, er, male anatomy; he quoted raunchy song lyrics without attribution; he said he couldn’t stand gay people; he even made an odd KKK Tweet. (This latter made no sense, but Hader has been an elite-level pitcher since high school. I want to believe he maybe meant this as a reference to three strikeouts in a game he’d pitched, though who knows?) Worst of all, to my mind, was the disregard he showed, whether it was to women, LGBT people, minorities, or anyone else nonwhite and not an elite athlete like himself.

(Note that I am not linking to the screen-capped Tweets, mostly because this is a family blog. (I also believe you can find them elsewhere without too much difficulty.) They aren’t pleasant reading. I felt like washing my mind out with soap after reading them. But back to the blog.)

The thing is, Hader was seventeen at the time of these Tweets. I do not condone what he said; I, myself, would not have said anything remotely like that at seventeen, and I was considered an elite-level musician at the time, with multiple scholarship offers. (Not exactly the same thing as Hader, and certainly without the earning potential. But close enough.)

Still. He was seventeen. And one would hope he’s learned better by now, as he’s now twenty-four.

His teammates have said what’s expected. (Jesus Aguilar in particular came out and said Hader’s not racist, and that everyone should know it.) They know Hader better than anyone else. They do not believe he’s a bigot. Nor do they believe he’s misogynistic.

Look. We all have said something we shouldn’t, that hurts us. (I know I have.) It may not be as bad as this, no. But it is something we do because we haven’t fully matured yet, or maybe we just don’t realize the impact our words have on others yet.

Or, perhaps, we all make mistakes, so we can learn from them? Or try to learn from them?

In this day and age, when mistakes can linger for years and years–as Hader’s did, waiting to bite him on the butt in 2018–shouldn’t we learn how to forgive and forget? Or at least forgive?

Also, keep this in mind: Hader is not making public policy. He is not in charge of the federal government, or the state government, or even the local government…he is a baseball player. A pitcher.

In other words, Hader’s words have only as much effect on us as we allow. And if his teammates are all right with him, and providing he continues to work on himself and mature and become a better person (as we all must, if we want to get something good out of this life at all), why should we care about his teenage Tweets?

So, that’s my position. I do not care about Hader’s Tweets from 2011. But I do care about how he acts right now. And my hope is that he will be able to become a force for good, and use his celebrity and money to good effect.

In that way, he can transform this obnoxious episode from his past into something better. And then, maybe, his old Tweets can become a blessing…that is the best-case scenario.

Redemption, Tonya Harding, and Chris Nuttall’s newest novel, THE FAMILY SHAME

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Redemption. It’s one of the strongest words in the English language, or at least it should be. It means to be saved from sin, evil, or error. Or to save yourself from the past consequences of bad or immoral actions…or, perhaps, it means this:

Living. Learning. And improving yourself, because you can’t live with the person you used to be.

My friend Chris Nuttall wrote a book recently based around this theme called THE FAMILY SHAME, set in his Zero Enigma universe. (I was one of his editors, so I got to see the book early and often.) In it, young Isabella Rubén has lost everything she once had, all because she trusted the wrong person. She’s only twelve, but the person she trusted plotted treason against the powers-that-be, and Isabella knew about it — and didn’t say anything to her father, or anyone else. Worse yet, she actively collaborated with this person to commit treason, mostly because she saw it as her only reasonable way to obtain political power due to what amounts to her family’s benign neglect of her talents (she’s a female magician and her particular family can only be led by male magicians).

the-family-shame-cover-revised

See, Isabella, in any other family, probably wouldn’t have done this. Every other family in the city of Shallot (where she’s from) picks their leader from everyone, male and female alike, based on a combination of magical and political ability. But her family, the Rubéns, don’t.

But she did it. She feels terrible about it, but she did it, and she can’t take that combination of deliberate non-action (in not telling her father or any of her teachers) plus actively aiding and abetting the treasonous older “friend” along the way.

And she is paying the price, as she has been exiled to Kirkhaven, an old, ramshackle estate about as far away from Shallot as you can get by horse. She’s also been told not to send letters to her father, mother, or brother, as she’s now “the family shame.”

So, not only has she lost everything — family, friends, wealth, schooling, political standing (which she did care about, even though she was only twelve as she was quite precocious in some ways) — she now has to deal with this ramshackle manor. Two adult magicians live there, Morag Rubén and Ira Rubén. (No, they’re not married to each other.) Morag is a cook, while Ira is a type of experimenter who admits he wants to find ways to make Dark-inflected spells work for good. And both of them, too, are exiles…

Did they want young Isabella around? The answer is a resounding “no.” But there she is, and now she has to figure out how to deal with them (not easy), how she’s going to continue her schooling independently (definitely not easy), and how she’s going to deal with the loneliness of this deserted, remote place (almost impossible). All while wrestling with the problems that brought her to this place, which she knows she created and cannot change.

When she manages to befriend a boy around her own age, Callam, her life starts to improve a little. But she has to keep the friendship secret, as she’s not supposed to leave the grounds, nor is he supposed to be on the grounds himself. (It’s a very innocent friendship, as is befitting for their respective ages.)

It’s getting to know Callam that helps to slowly but surely make Isabella realize just how badly she behaved before, and avow that she will find a way to do better.

I don’t want to give away the plot, so I’ll stop there with a plot summary. But I’ve given you this much because I wanted you to think about just how hard it’s going to be for Isabella to redeem herself in the eyes of society — and worse, how hard it’s going to be for Isabella, herself, to redeem herself in her own eyes.

Redemption, you see, is hard. People judge you by your past actions, and no matter what you do, no matter what you say, no matter how much you might apologize, and no matter how much you’ve actually changed, there are still going to be some people who will hate you, and not give the new version of you — the better version, the one tested in the fire — the time of day.

We see that in contemporary life every day.

One of the most current examples is that of figure skater Tonya Harding, who’s now nearly forty-eight years old. But when she was only twenty-four — in 1994 — she somehow failed to stop an attack on fellow figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, then not quite twenty-five. Kerrigan was hit on the knee by thugs sent by Harding’s then-husband, and one of those thugs was Harding’s bodyguard. Harding, herself, was sentenced to probation, given community service, and ended up being banned for life by the United States Figure Skating Association.

What Harding did back then was awful. That she had a rotten childhood (she truly did), that she came from abject poverty (she did), that her husband was mean and abusive to her as far as the public could discern, and that figure skating was her one gift (she was the first American woman to land a triple axel in competition, and was known for her athleticism, her jumps, and her footwork passages) may ameliorate things slightly, but the fact remains that she could’ve apparently done something to keep Kerrigan from being harmed. (I must say “apparently” because the facts are not completely in evidence. What we know is that Harding took a plea deal.)

But did she deserve to be ostracized the rest of her life for this?

Is the assumption going to be that Harding can’t learn, can’t find a way to be a good person, and that it’s supposedly OK for her to never use her one, true gift ever again, even to teach young kids how to skate?

See, that’s the quandary my friend Chris’s protagonist Isabella is in, too. Isabella is a gifted magician, but she misused her magic and hurt people. She knows it was wrong. She has apologized (as Harding, back in 1994, 1995, and 1996, apologized multiple times to the best of my recollection). But she was ostracized, cast out, exiled.

Isabella does find redemption, or at least finds a way toward redemption.

I would like to think that Harding also has found some sort of redemption, too. (Being on TV’s Dancing with the Stars surely has given her an athletic outlet, and may help pay for her son’s education down the line for all I know.)

But what’s sad about the quest for redemption, and what’s sad in both cases I’ve discussed here, is that some people will never forgive you no matter what good you might do. And no matter how much you might’ve changed. And no matter how much you might want them to forgive you…they just won’t, and you have to learn to live with it.

That Harding still has people, even to this day, leave feces (yes, actual feces) on her doorstep or rude messages on her phone or random people on the street swearing a blue streak at her, twenty-four years later, illustrates just how hard it is to seek redemption, even if you do it privately and out of the public eye.

You pay a heavy price, when you do something wrong, bad, or something that society judges immoral or flat-out evil.

But you still have to learn to live with yourself and your talents, and use them to the best of your ability. Which is what I think Harding is trying to do, as the older, presumably wiser version of herself…and it assuredly is what the young Isabella Rubén is trying to do in THE FAMILY SHAME.

I’m proud to have edited Chris’s new novel, and I hope you will find it a fun read, as well as an instructive one.

And personally? I think redemption is definitely possible. I just wish people would learn to see others for who they are today, not for how they hurt them yesterday, or how bad they behaved the day before that (or twenty-four years ago). Don’t forget it, no, as that’s revisionist history and unnecessary. But do forgive, if you can, at least as far as to say, “If I lived that person’s life, I can’t say for certain I wouldn’t have done the same things.”

That is the best way to be a decent human being, bar none.

Why I Love Baseball

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Ever since I was a child, I have loved baseball. There’s something about how the game is played, including the managerial moves (pitching substitutions in particular), that has captivated me, and made me want to learn more and more about it.

Early on, I read the biographies of Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, and several other ballplayers. Most of the players I read about had struggled to get the big leagues; Jackie Robinson, in particular, had a very rough go of it as he was the first black player to break the “color line” (that is, the lily white major leagues). And whether it was race, poverty, or race and poverty, most of the players I read about found a way out of their bad situations, and made decent livings for themselves as ballplayers.

Because back then, ballplayers — even huge stars like Robinson and Aaron — were not paid extravagantly, as they are now. There were no millionaires in the major leagues until after Curt Flood challenged the reserve clause (and gave the baseball world free agency, and thus shifted salaries rapidly upward), though perhaps a few people came close to making a hundred thousand dollars now and again. And except for the really big stars, most players had to work in the off-season at regular jobs. Car salesmen, say, or at the post office, or maybe at the grocery store.

So if they weren’t making big money, why did most of them play? I think they did it because they enjoyed it. It’s a fun game, baseball; there are lots of different things to watch, from the pitching, the hitting, the defense, the managerial substitutions…a good manager can take a ho-hum game and make it dramatic, if he has the right team and makes the right moves at the right time.

Of course, sometimes, you don’t need a manager for the dramatics to occur naturally.

My favorite team, the Milwaukee Brewers, have had many interesting things happen over the years. The Brewers have had position players pitching in blowout losses; they’ve had inside-the-park home runs (one memorable one was Prince Fielder’s, several year back; Fielder was not exactly svelte compared to most other players, so seeing how fast he could scamper around the bases was a particular delight); they’ve had players do nearly everything, except win a World Series. (One of these years, perhaps that will happen, too.)

But around baseball, there are dozens of things that happen a night that are interesting, and usually there’s at least one truly different and unique happening every week or so. Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants third baseman and all-around good, beefy guy, pitched a stellar ninth inning in a blowout loss just last week, and amidst the hysterical laughter by all the relief pitchers in the ballpark (home and away), there were some genuine compliments. Especially as Sandoval was the one “pitcher” who managed to get through an inning without giving up any runs for the Giants in the entire ballgame, these compliments seemed warranted.

And again, I turn back to my team, the Brewers, for a novelty. They were in a game earlier this year where the first two batters (from the opposing team) hit back-to-back home runs, which is not novel in and of itself…however, the fact that the Brewers, at the very end of the game, hit back-to-back home runs to end it was the first time that feat had ever occurred in the modern history of major league baseball.

Yeah. The first two guys hit solo homers. And the last two guys also hit solo homers.

Now, that’s entertainment!

Anyway, I love baseball. It can be thrilling. It can also, occasionally, be downright boring (I’m looking at my Brewers again, here, as they mounted almost no offense during last week’s series against the Cubs — must I say, again, that two runs over four games does not make an offense?). But even the boring moments usually have a silver lining, if you look hard enough…and hey, on nights like that, I can catch up on my reading.

So it’s always a win/win, as far as I’m concerned.

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 2, 2018 at 4:19 am

Former Brewers Coach, Broadcaster Davey Nelson dies at 73

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Earlier today, I found out that former Brewers coach and broadcaster Davey Nelson died on Sunday at age 73. And that made me feel awful.

Why?

Well, even though I never met Davey Nelson in person — and yes, he was always “Davey,” with the -y ending — he was an extremely positive person who lit up the room anywhere he went. And he could seemingly find the silver lining even to the worst game, even if it was just “no one got injured today.”

(That’s my quote, not his. Davey would’ve undoubtedly put it a much different way.)

There are some people who transcend sports because they have huge hearts and make a positive difference in as many ways as possible. Davey Nelson was one of those people without a shadow of a doubt. Adam McCalvy’s article (Brewers beat writer for MLB.com) quoted Brewers Chief Operations Officer Rick Schlesinger as saying, “Davey took every opportunity to turn a casual introduction into a lifelong relationship, and his legacy will live on in the positive impact he had on the lives of so many people. Davey’s love of life and commitment to helping those in need were second to none, and we are so grateful for the time that we had with him. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and all of those who loved him.”

I wish I had met Davey Nelson in person, mind. He was known for encouraging people. And even when he must’ve suffered setbacks — as I seem to recall him saying once, during a rain delay years ago, that he wished he could’ve played longer (though he was happy with what he did while he was there — see his stats, and you’ll know why) — he found a way to make you feel better.

That was one of his main talents.

Player after player have made statements on Twitter and elsewhere stating how influential, positive, and just plain good a person Davey Nelson was. And how much he will be missed.

As have broadcasters. And well-known sportswriters.

Still, what I will remember about Davey Nelson was his very strong belief that people matter. Not just in baseball, either…people, period.

That’s why he got involved with Open Arms for Children in South Africa. And was friends with the director of that organization for over twenty-five years. And met numerous children, whom he inspired…and who helped to inspire him as well.

And at the end of his life, as Adam McCalvy pointed out in his article, Davey’s TV and baseball family stepped up.

That, too, is a wonderful tribute, though I’m sure all those folks don’t see it that way now — and may not, ever.

All I know is, I will miss Davey Nelson. He was a very good man. He made other people around him feel better, and encouraged them to be their best selves.

There aren’t many people like that in this world.

Quick Update, Plus Some 2018 Olympic Figure Skating Thoughts

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Folks, I know I haven’t posted any updates in a while, and I’ve had folks asking why.

First, I have had some time-intensive edits on my plate lately, and the paying work must come first.

Second, I have a concert next week with the Racine Concert Band, and I’ve been spending some time preparing for that.

Third, I’ve been watching the Olympics — and yes, the figure skating, natch — but I haven’t had anything interesting to say there.

Until now, that is.

I love Adam Rippon. I always have. Great skater. Lots of technique and emotion. I love how he puts programs together.

Tonight, Nathan Chen skated up to his potential and then some. He is a great jumper. And he has nice spins. But without his jumps, he’d not be there. (He is not yet the whole package.) But six quads, with five cleanly landed? Hard to argue with that.

Don’t know if either are in the mix for individual medals (as the team, overall, won a bronze). But they have represented the US well and I’m proud of them.

Aside from that, it seems odd that Ashley Wagner is not there.

I am not sold in Bradie Tennell as “the best American women’s figure skater,” though she does seem engaging, perky, and a good jumper. My guess, as this is her first try at the Olympics, is that she’ll be lucky to finish 8th. (Note I will be happy if she does better than this. I’m just aware of international figure skating politics, and how very difficult it is for a first-time skater on the major stage to place in the top ten, much less the top five.)

We are fortunate, as Americans, as this certainly is Mirai Nagasu’s time, as she’s hitting her triple axel, and she looks good and wants redemption for the Sochi Olympics (where Wagner was placed on the team ahead of Nagasu, even though Nagasu had appeared to win a spot in her own right). Providing Nagasu hits her triple axel in both the short and long programs, she could medal, especially as the international judges are quite aware of her.

As for the pairs…eh. I like our pair team, the Kneirims. They are a married couple, and have lovely flow on the ice. But they’ll be lucky to finish tenth after a weak short program. (Edited to add: I somehow missed this, but they finished fifteenth overall.)

The dancers look strong, with the Shibutanis (otherwise known as the “Shib Sibs”). So we have a very good chance for a medal there, perhaps silver or even gold.

So, there’s been a lot going on, for me personally and with regards to the Olympics.

As always, I’ll try to keep you posted, so do look for blogs next week.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 16, 2018 at 9:52 pm

Thoughts After Watching”The Life of Donnovan Hill”

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As most of you who read my blog know, I am a regular watcher of ESPN’s Outside the Lines program (henceforth shortened to OTL). Recently, OTL featured a story about a young man, Donnovan Hill, who’d become paralyzed as a result of being incorrectly taught how to tackle by a Pop Warner football coach. Donnovan Hill went from an active, athletic, and energetic young teen to a quadriplegic, and no one took responsibility.

Granted, some might see what happened to Donnovan Hill as “an act of God.” Many others on his team were also taught this inaccurate technique, and they did not become injured (much less paralyzed for life).

But what I saw–and what I internalized–was a young man who’d loved to play football, and had been bright, gifted, and doing everything he wanted to do.

Then, one day, it was all gone.

His friends mostly melted away, being unable to conceive of Donnovan’s life as a paraplegic (much less deal with it). His coaches tried to help, at least until they realized Donnovan’s mother was going to sue them; then, they also faded away.

So it was just Donnovan and his mother, living a life without any sort of help for either. Donnovan could not brush his teeth, and had to work very hard to regain enough feeling in one hand so he could put on his own pair of glasses. While his mother had to do everything for him — feed him, get him to the toilet, brush his teeth, carry him to and from the car (as they didn’t have a motorized wheelchair or handicapped accessible van, this was a huge problem for both).

It was obvious that both were heartsick, exhausted, and extremely unhappy with what had become of Donnovan’s life. But there were compensations.

First, the bond between Donnovan and his mother was extremely close. The love was palpable in the story between them, even though no words were spoken.

Second, Donnovan turned to poetry and music to express his inner thoughts and feelings. And he had a gift…one that, had he lived longer, might’ve brought him fame of another sort…the sort a young man wants to have, that of accomplishment against the odds.

Third, after the original OTL story aired, many people stepped forward with offers of help. Two handicap-accessible vans were donated. A better, disabled-friendly apartment was offered. A motorized wheelchair was given to Donnovan…so life got better for them both, due to them being willing to discuss publicly what had happened to him after getting hurt so badly.

And finally, former Pro Bowl OT Kyle Turley reached out to Donnovan as well. The two became friends, and that friendship had worth and value.

Donnovan Hill died at age 18, just after his mother had settled the lawsuit with the Pop Warner organization. Kyle Turley sang a song he and Donnovan had written together, using one of Donnovan’s poems…the church was full, and at least one of Donnovan’s former coaches did attend the service.

So, after watching “The Life of Donnovan Hill,” I am left with a deep and overarching sadness. This was a young man with great potential and a gift for poetry that was truly inspirational. I wish he’d lived longer…but the fact he lived, and kept trying so hard after being paralyzed in a Pop Warner football game, was meaningful.