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Why Friendship Is Important

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Some days, it’s hard to get by. The world seems like it’s gone crazy. Politics make no sense. Current events show that people are overstressed, overstrained, and are getting into arguments–some deadly–seemingly at the drop of a hint.

It’s on days like that I definitely need the help of my friends. (Hey, it wasn’t just the Beatles who believed they’d get by, providing they had the help of their friends.)

Why? Well, they help keep me grounded, for one…for another, I value their perspectives, their voices, and themselves so much, it takes me out of my own head and makes me realize I’m not all alone in the world.

To me, being someone’s friend means more than “I care about you.” It means, “I care, so I’m going to tell you what I can. Show you what I can. Help you all I can.”

Anything less than that is not enough.

Now, are there different levels of friendships? Sure. You have folks you’re just getting to know, you have folks you’ve known a long time, and you have folks somewhere in between that continuum.

But with all of them, the point remains: if I care, I will do everything I possibly can do to show that I care. And that means if they have a problem, I listen and try to help. If they have a success, I rejoice with them. If they are frustrated, I let them vent; if they are buoyant, I allow myself to be lifted up by them, even if it’s been a horrible day on my end.

See, you have to try to see the other person’s viewpoint, or you’re not truly a friend.

Will my friends and I have differences of opinion? You’d better believe it. But we’ll at least try to agree to disagree because that is what friends do.

(No, they aren’t clones of you. If they are, you’re doing it wrong.)

Lately, I’ve been battling a great deal of frustration. My friends know this. They try to give me hope, or at least give commiseration, understanding, and support…they listen, they empathize, they care, and they make a huge difference thereby.

But I’ve also had to come to the realization — one I truly didn’t want to come to, mind — that there are some people in this world who will profess friendship, but honestly do not mean it. Or they maybe mean it some of the time, but not all of the time, and when the chips are down, they will not listen, they will not help, they will not empathize, and they will not understand.

There’s nothing I can do about people like that. The only thing I can do is remove myself from their consequences, and keep on going, with the friends who’ve proven true and trustworthy by my side.

So, on this Sunday morning, ask yourself the following question:

How can I be a better friend today? (I ask this question of myself all the time.)

Then, when you come up with an answer, go ahead and do whatever you need to do to be that better person.

Because you can choose to do better. You can be that better person, living up to the Golden Rule and treating people the way you, yourself, want to be treated.

And when you make mistakes, as you inevitably will?

Admit to them. (Even when it’s hard.) Apologize for them. (Even when it’s almost impossible.) And be determined to do better, and at least make different mistakes the next time.

That way, your friendship can go forward. And that way, your mistakes won’t weigh you down forever, either…so it’s a win/win.

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Written by Barb Caffrey

July 15, 2018 at 2:06 am

Try, Try, Try Again

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If I have a motto, it’s the above-titled one.

You see, I don’t believe in leaving well enough alone. I keep trying, even when all seems lost. Whether it’s with people, causes, books…while I may set something aside for a time, I don’t give up.

See, setting something aside when you’re tired, or ill, or have had enough, is the smart and sensible thing to do. Because those are times that you shouldn’t overtax yourself, if you can help it.

So, yeah, you can be persistent, but you also have to be smart about it. (I’m still learning about the latter, mind, and tend to learn best from The School of Hard Knocks (TM).) Pick your spots, maybe. And give yourself the leeway to rest, when you can…because as I’ve said before, if you don’t rest well, it’s much harder to access your creative faculties.

I know that to write well, or to compose music at all, I have to have rest. This past year or so, rest has been hard to find for a variety of reasons. But I continue to work hard at finding a way to rest…and finding a way to create, and be my best self, as well as the best person I can possibly be overall.

At any rate, that’s what I’m pondering, this hot July morning. What’s on your mind?

Oh, and for those who’ve asked: Yes, there will be a free concert at the Racine Zoo tonight at 7:30 by the Racine Concert Band, weather permitting of course. (Our first free concert of the year was rained out last week.) Hope you can stop in and hear some free music if you’re in the neighborhood…who knows? You might just enjoy yourself.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 8, 2018 at 1:43 am

The Virtue of Dissent

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Folks, there’s been a lot in the news lately about dissent, and about how it’s supposedly unpatriotic to disagree.

I beg to differ.

We need dissent. Or we can’t function as a democracy.

See, when people feel stifled from talking about anything, whether it’s something that is frustrating, unpleasant, difficult, annoying, or any other of a dozen other things that are incredibly hard to discuss, that causes a lot of trouble.

When you feel stifled, when you feel your voice isn’t being heard, that builds resentment. And at best, when you feel that much resentment, you aren’t likely to be looking for any sort of compromise; you’ve already been told compromise is not possible because your point of view is not important.

And yet, in a democracy, every voice is important. And we all get a say.

Being able to discuss problems in a rational manner without yelling at the top of your lungs or telling the other person (or party) that they’re a bunch of blithering idiots is mandatory. But right now, we don’t seem to have too many in the Congress who are willing to be adults and do the people’s work — i.e., compromise for the common good — because they are either blinded by the power or they are daunted by the responsibility.

Whenever we have one party solely in charge of the government — whether it was the Democrats from 2008-2010, or the Republicans from 2016-2018 — that makes it harder for dissenting voices to be heard. And when they aren’t heard, those voices usually become movements. And those movements become akin to steamrollers…witness what happened with the Tea Party in 2010, for example.

That’s what is supposed to happen in a democracy. Those who feel ignored have a right to talk, to assemble, to figure out what they’re going to do, and then they have a right to make their case to the public.

It is a virtue.

That we can see dissent as a virtue was, at one point, uniquely American.

But now, we have a man as President with authoritarian impulses (or at least a great deal of bloviating and authoritarian speech), and he definitely does not seem to think that dissent is valuable, or a virtue, or needed in a democracy.

He wants instead for everyone to follow him. Because he says so.

To my mind, that is not good enough. We have to have reasons for what we do. Logical reasons. And we have to have some basis and forethought and planning behind these logical reasons.

When government officials pop off and do things on the spur of the moment, we get bad law, bad policy, and a whole host of unintended consequences. That, in general, is why you want to have responsible public officials who are willing to call people — regardless of party or power or prestige — on the carpet when they do something that is harmful.

That’s why we need dissent.

We have had one-party rule with vigorous dissent in the past, looking back to WW II, for example. Harry S Truman, then a Senator, held hearings about war profiteering. Most of those he called before him were Democrats, but that didn’t stop him; right was right, and he did the right thing.

That is what brought him to FDR’s attention, and it’s why Truman became FDR’s Vice President in 1944. Without Truman dissenting vigorously, Truman never would’ve become VP, and thus never would’ve ascended to the Presidency after FDR’s passing.

Unfortunately, the Republicans in charge of the House and Senate have not dissented very much. Not with the travel ban. Not with the tariffs. Not with the immigration situation, whether it’s families being split up at the border, DACA, or anything else.

Nope. Instead, they’ve blindly — as a body — done the President’s work, which is not what the Constitution wanted. (We have separation of powers for a reason.)

Yes, individual Republicans, such as Bob Corker or John McCain or a few retiring House Reps, have stepped up and said they believe that the President needs to be checked now and again. That no one should have that much power. And that there’s a reason we have a deliberative body like the Congress…and that they should do their jobs, and uphold their Constitutional responsibilities.

I believe in the power of dissent. I believe it is constructive to dissent, to allow dissent, to understand dissent, and to appreciate dissent. I also believe that if we start to think that dissenting is “unpatriotic” or “anti-American,” we are ceding our rights of dissent and getting nothing back.

I am concerned that we have so many politicians that are (in George Will’s words as heard on MSNBC months ago), “supine” or “craven.” They do not express dissent because of these two horrible characteristics, and thus do not do the people’s business thereby.

My hope is that more people will understand that dissent is healthy, necessary, and essential.

But my fear is that too many people won’t realize what’s at stake, or what could be at stake if the current crop of supine and craven Republicans in the House and Senate continue to refuse to be a check on this President. And that we’ll go further down the garden path of authoritarianism, and lose our abilities to dissent freely and fairly.

What you need to do, if you live in the U.S., is this: Think hard about what you want out of your representatives and Senators. Do you want them to blindly trust anyone without doing their due diligence? Or do you want them to be like Harry Truman, and stand up for what’s right, whether it’s against their own party or not?

Happy Summer Solstice to All…

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…and man, do we need it.

Folks, my hope for everyone is that the Summer Solstice (in the Northern Hemisphere) will bring about a positive change.

For me, this is when I start intensively thinking about my husband Michael. Because on this date in 2002, we’d taken out our marriage license. And we celebrated over the weekend as best we could, knowing we would marry on the 24th, which was also the night of a full moon as best I can recall.

We had the whole world to look forward to, then…love, happiness, spiritual fulfillment, the joy of creativity, the joy of emotional and physical and mental and spiritual harmony, and the fun of being around Michael — the funniest, most intelligent, most spiritual and most everything person I have ever known.

I wish our journey together had been longer than a bit over two years. But I will never regret marrying him. Marrying Michael was the best thing I have ever done, and I am very happy that I get to remember him in the ways that I do — at the height of his creative powers, and at his happiest and most content.

For us, the Summer Solstice of 2002 was extremely beneficial.

May your Summer Solstice of 2018 be equally generous.

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 21, 2018 at 9:51 pm

Little Things Matter (in Relationships, Too)

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In a way, this is part two of my last post about how little things matter. But it also stands on its own…enjoy!

Recently, I read something about what makes interpersonal relationships work, whether they’re friendships or something of a romantic nature. I’d expected something profound — yes, even me, someone who’s experienced a successful and happy marriage — but that’s not what the writer talked about.

Nope.

What this writer — whose name escapes me — said was that the way to predict whether a friendship or romantic relationship was going to work well was whether or not you shared the little, mundane, ordinary things with your friend or partner.

And my jaw dropped. (Seriously. It did.)

Maybe this idea, that all the little things — the petty annoyances, the grievances, the frustrations, not to mention the small victories (like remembering to pick up the milk when you’re dead tired, so your partner can have it for her cereal in the morning) — add up to something major may not strike you as earth-shattering.

But here’s the reason it struck me as exactly that.

We’re told all the time that little things like that don’t matter. That we’re supposed to talk about profound things instead. And that if we can’t or won’t talk about deeper issues, there’s no point to being there.

There’s a certain amount of truth to that last part, mind, insofar as you have to be able to talk over deep and difficult things, too. That shows you trust the other person, and without trust, you cannot have intimacy, whether it’s emotional, physical, or any other way there is.

But the reason the little things matter just as much, if not more, than the big revelations that we trust our friends and partners with, is because they show our vulnerability.

See, when we’re willing to talk about how much our feet hurt, or how the traffic on the road was, or any other thing that seems piddly on its face, it all adds up to something much more profound.

Talking about things like that, when taken in their totality, say, “I trust you” to the other person. And as I said before, trust is absolutely essential to any form of intimate, interpersonal contact.

So, when you share your vulnerabilities, you promote deeper connection between yourself and someone else you care about. And you do that not just by the ‘big reveals” of the stuff you don’t trot out on the first date (or even the fiftieth); you do that by showing every day who you are, why you care, and what on Earth you’re doing spending any of your time with your loved one (or friend).

That’s why the little things do matter, in relationships, just as they do in anything else.

What little things do you do to show your friends (and/or loved ones) that you care? And what little things did you never, ever, in a million years think would be important, but maybe actually are? Tell me about them in the comments!

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 30, 2018 at 3:42 am

With Creativity, Little Things Count

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Most of the time, it seems that when we don’t make major progress in one area or another, that we aren’t doing enough.

And yet, little things count. Little things add up. Little things, when they accumulate in big enough numbers, turn into medium-sized things, then big things…but it takes time.

It’s easier sometimes to pretend that these little things don’t count, mind. Because making a bunch of little things accumulate into something bigger takes time, effort, commitment, persistence, and a lot of faith.

With all that’s been going on lately in the news, and all the frustrations, headaches, and worries (not to mention utterly despairing things like the U.S. immigration system “misplacing” over 1400 children, some as young as two years old), it’s hard to believe in time, effort, commitment, persistence, and most especially the last item on the list: faith.

And yet, without those five things, what do you have?

What’s interesting about a bunch of little things is that while they don’t seem like much, it’s those fundamental things that are the building blocks of creativity.

But it all comes down to those five things. In short:

  • Will you put in the time, even when it doesn’t seem like it’s doing any good?
  • Will you make the effort, even though sometimes it doesn’t seem at all like anyone will ever care? (Just so long as you do, though, that’s enough.)
  • Will you prioritize your creativity, at least to yourself, and make a few minutes in every day (or more, if possible) to work on it?
  • Will you keep grinding away, day after day, month after month, year after year?
  • And, will you do your best to hold onto your faith in yourself (and, hopefully, the Higher Power that gave you these talents in the first place; if you don’t believe in the Higher Power, then the random chance that gave you these talents, I suppose), even when it doesn’t seem warranted?

If you can do all of these things, your little things can and indeed will turn into bigger things.

What do you do to keep going, even when you don’t feel a lot of hope? Let me know in the comments!

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 28, 2018 at 3:50 pm

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.