Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Writing and Fatigue

with 3 comments

Folks, the last week or so, I’ve been battling some intense frustration when it comes to writing.

Why?

Mostly, it’s because of being intensely tired. (Or fatigued, as it were.) I put a lot into my music, both during practice and at concerts, and perhaps during the summer it takes a bit more out of me than it used to.

(Yeah, this is as close as you’re going to get to the fact that I know I’m getting a wee bit older. But never old — that’s not happening.)

See, life is all about choices. I could’ve said, back in 2011, that I did not want to put out the energy to play again, but what sense would that have made? (It would invalidate my years of education, for one…and waste my talents for another. Again, not happening.) But I made that choice, to play again, and to use my talents and education to the fullest extent of which I’m capable…which means I don’t have as much energy available for everything else.

And life doesn’t stop. It never, ever stops…I have a lot of mundane things to do, like grocery shopping, errand-running, and so forth, plus a good amount of editing (as that, for all practical purposes, is my “day job”), and I’m glad I’m able to do all of those things, too.

But again, see what I said about “choices.”

Plus, I’m aware that right now, I seem to be in a fallow period when it comes to writing, most particularly when it comes to writing fiction. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying. But it means that maybe, if I stop pressing, I’ll do a little better…if it feels less like sheer bloody-minded pushing boulders up the hill (like Sisyphus?), maybe I’ll be able to do more.

Creativity is one of the hardest things to harness, sometimes…at least for me. Especially when I’m overtired, and been pressing too hard for weeks, and the weather is too hot and humid to be borne, perhaps the best thing to do is rest.

But I’m not good at resting. I want to be up and doing. Resting feels like surrender.

It’s not, though. It’s actually playing it smart.

Anyway, I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets into fallow periods and wonders what on Earth will get me out of it. What gets you out of these ruts? Are you someone who believes firmly in PBICAT? (Put butt in chair and type?) Or do you think sometimes you just need R&R, as much as you can stand that’s in your price range, to recharge your batteries?

Whichever it is, let me know in the comments! (Maybe we can find some new strategies in how to combat this. Who knows?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 21, 2017 at 6:52 pm

Concert Prep for Sax Solo, 7/16/17

with 2 comments

Folks, a while back I wrote a blog about how frustrated I was that I couldn’t seem to do what I used to do, as a musical performer. I’ve mostly played the second part, since I started playing again five or six years ago, and that’s really tough on the ego; furthermore, because they’re lower parts that mostly blend in, only the other musicians and the conductor tend to even know I’m there at all.

I was always a soloist, you see. Trained as an oboist, played in bands and orchestras, had musical scholarships, then picked up the saxophone in high school because I wanted to play in jazz band. I picked up the clarinet as a senior in high school because I wanted to play the doubled parts in jazz band (sometimes, the sax parts also have a small clarinet part, where you “double” during the piece and play both instruments), and in every case, I ended up playing more solo parts than anything else.

So, to go from first chair anything to second parts has been very difficult. And while “we also serve who stand and wait” (only slightly mangling that phrase), I like playing things that actually showcase my abilities now and again.

Fortunately, when I asked my conductor for the Racine Concert Band, Mark Eichner, for a solo, he gave me one. And I’m playing it tomorrow, on July 16, 2017…the first solo where I’ve stood before the band that I’ve played in twenty-one years.

What’s the piece, you ask? It’s Isaac Albeniz’s “Tango,” for alto saxophone soloist and band. (Yes, it’s an arrangement. But it works.)

I’m not the only soloist tomorrow, mind you. Eric Weiss, a very fine trumpeter, will be playing Clifton Williams’s “Dramatic Essay.” And a master illusionist, Pinkerton Xyloma, will be also helping to entertain the crowd during four of our band pieces.

So, since I put “concert prep” in the title, you might be wondering what that entails. (I hope so, ’cause I’m going to tell you anyway.)

Mostly, what preparation means, in this case, is to be prepared to play the piece. This includes physical preparation (repetition, playing it many times), mental preparation, trying to get rest, eating well, and also trying not to stress out over it all.

And I have done all of this.

My hope is that if you live in Southeastern Wisconsin or Northern Illinois, that you’ll come down to the Racine Zoo tomorrow night and hear the band play. It’s a free concert; the show starts at 7:30 p.m., but the doors open about an hour ahead of time. (Park on August Street, or on Goold. The main doors are not open for the Zoo during RCB performances.)

If you do, be sure to listen hard to my solo, and come up and say “hello.”

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 15, 2017 at 8:36 pm

It’s My Seventh Blog-i-versary Today — and Lucky Number Seven Starts…Now

with 5 comments

Folks, where has the time gone?

Just a minute ago, it seems, I started my blog back in 2010. A good friend of mine suggested I start writing one as a way to announce myself to the universe — granted, that is not at all how he’d have put it, I’m sure — and another friend agreed, adding that a writer needs a platform. May as well make one for yourself, right?

Sometimes it’s not been easy to blog. When my best friend Jeff Wilson died in 2011, I was bereft. I didn’t know what to say, what to do, how to act, any of it. That I couldn’t get to his funeral devastated me, and in some ways, I wonder if I’ll ever forgive myself for that.

(The money was not there. No, I didn’t want to start a GoFundMe for that, not then. I didn’t think Jeff would approve.)

There have been good times, though. I’ve met some great friends, blogging and spending time online. I’ve also met a wide variety of writers, and more than a few editors; all of that has added richness and value to myself beyond anything I could’ve imagined back in 2010.

I’ve talked about many things: Sports. Politics. Fine Arts, including music and writing. My books. Other people’s books. Observations about life, the universe, and everything (with all apologies to the late Douglas Adams)…some editing tips…lots of other stuff, too, way too much to list.

Blogging has indeed given me more of a voice. And I’m grateful for that.

(Now if I could just get folks to go check out my books and stories, I’d be content. But I’ll keep working on that.)

Anyway, this is the seventh anniversary of my blog, thus, my seventh “blog-i-versary.” I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and that you’ll stay tuned for whatever comes next.

(Hey, I’m not sure, either. So we’ll learn it together?)

Before I go, I wanted to ask y’all: Which blog of all I’ve written is your favorite, and why?

And a second question: What would you like me to write about next?

(Tell me about it in the comments, and I’ll consider it. Honest.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 11, 2017 at 5:56 pm

Posted in Persistence, Writing

Tagged with

Mistakes? Or Stepping Stones?

with 5 comments

Folks, have you ever wondered if mistakes are merely stepping stones?

And the worse the mistake, the bigger the stepping stone?

I know most of us (myself included) tend to think a mistake is a life-altering event that you can’t go back from. You’re not the same person as before you made the mistake, and you don’t know what you’re going to do. Sometimes you don’t have any good choices, and that’s frustrating in the extreme.

But I’m here to tell you that I’ve rebounded from most of my past mistakes. They did turn out to be stepping stones, though I didn’t necessarily know that at the time. And I learned from them, and became a more informed person (if not always a wiser one).

Consider that when you write, sometimes you have to tear up a whole chapter, maybe even start over ten or fifteen or more times before you get a sentence right. (Or a paragraph, or a story, etc.) A start is just that: a start. It doesn’t have to lead where you think it’s going to lead, not and still be worthwhile to you.

Life is like that, too.

If you’d have told me after I fought so hard to get my two college degrees in music that I’d end up as an independent writer and editor, I’d probably have looked at you like you had two heads. I’d planned my whole life to be a performing musician, and to teach music. That’s what I wanted to do from the time I turned ten years old, and I worked really hard to do just that.

But life threw me a few curveballs, and so, here I am.

And as my character Bruno says (in the as-yet unpublished AN ELFY ABROAD), “I am who I am. I refuse to apologize for it.”

My mistakes did turn out to be stepping stones, for the most part. The ruins of my first two marriages were necessary so I could find the right guy, at long last, and build a strong and sturdy marriage that satisfied me in all senses. (That it ended too soon, because he died too young, is not Michael’s fault. Nor mine, but I digress.) And my hands not allowing me to become the musician I had dreamed of becoming turned my creativity in an alternate direction.

Maybe, had I not gone in this direction, I wouldn’t know the writers, editors, and yes, the musicians I know now. Maybe, just maybe, I’d not have learned as much about life either.

And I can’t be unhappy with any of that, even though my life in a lot of ways didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped.

(Maybe it’s the same with you.)

Anyway, just the thought that your mistakes might someday turn out to be stepping stones may do you some good today. Because mistakes aren’t always as bad as they seem. They often can lead to good outcomes, even if you can’t see it now; even if it makes no sense; and even if you have to fight like Hell to get there.

For one moment, try to step outside yourself and treat yourself the way you’d treat your best friend. Be kind, be compassionate, and give yourself a break.

That way, you can accept what comes, and keep fighting.

For a creative person (writer, musician, editor, or what-you-will), that’s the only way to live.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 10, 2017 at 4:52 pm

What Is Strength?

with 42 comments

Folks, this is a special post for the blogging event Collaboration with a Purpose. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Strength. What is it, why do we covet it, and why should we care about it?

Strength-Blog-Collaboration

I think strength is one of the more underappreciated of human virtues. Without strength, no one would live through famine, dearth, wars, or anything profoundly traumatic.

Actor Kevin Sorbo knows this. In his book TRUE STRENGTH (which I reviewed a few years ago over at Shiny Book Review), Sorbo discusses his brush with a catastrophic, life-threatening health condition that robbed him of his physical endurance and what he’d thought of as his strength — that is, everything he could do, physically. At the time, he was known mostly for his work as Hercules, and as such, he had to be strong, cool, confident, and portray someone who could break heads without breaking a sweat, then go to the tavern afterward with his buddy Iolaus and crack jokes.

But this illness changed things. He learned what he was really about; it wasn’t his physical attributes that mattered, as they weren’t what made him strong.

What mattered was his mind. His heart. His spirit. His desire to live, to get better, to take up the mantle of his life again on his terms…and to not give in, until he’d found a way back to the life he was meant to live.

Sorbo credited much of this willingness to continue fighting with faith, along with the love of his wife, Sam. And there is no doubt that’s all true.

Still, I tend to think that it’s the person he was, annealed in fire (or at least forged in illness) that shows exactly what strength is — and what it isn’t.

See, most of us only see the outsides of things. We don’t see the inner workings. We can’t, or we won’t, or maybe we’re afraid to be vulnerable and to admit that we’re all frail in some respects. That we can all make mistakes. And that our lives can change in an instant, whether it’s due to a life-threatening illness, the death of a spouse, or other catastrophic events.

Who we are is often shown in starkest relief after we’ve lived through something incredibly painful. The fact that we endured this, that we came out on the other side and lived to tell about it, is what strength really is.

Now, as to why we should covet it? I think that’s more because some of us are afraid that we may not be everything we think we are. When the chips are down, will we convert on our promise, or will we roll over and play dead?

Granted, being strong means you have to admit that sometimes you’re weak, vulnerable, and not at your best. You have to know that in your darkest moments, even when you’ve lost all hope that things will ever improve, that somehow you’re going to survive, and keep trying, and refuse to give up.

Why we should care about strength is obvious. It’s what makes us who we are. It taps into our souls, into our innermost selves, and demands that we be true to ourselves, or else.

Providing we are, and give it our all, that strength, that innermost drive to survive and do our best will get us through many dark periods of time in our lives. (As well as a few good ones here and there; maybe more than a few?)

At any rate, that’s what I think of, when I think of what strength truly is (and isn’t). What do you think about? (Let me know in the comments.)

(Later today, I’ll add links to all the other bloggers taking part in today’s Collaboration with a Purpose event. I was showing my strength — or at least my bullheadedness — in writing this down now, during a migraine headache. But even my strength has limits; I’ll have to add the links to the other bloggers later, and hope they’ll forgive me down the line.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 5, 2017 at 4:36 am

Collaboration with a Purpose Is Back on July 5th…

with 2 comments

Folks, this is just a brief “hit-and-run” bloglet to let you know there’s another special event coming to the Elfyverse on July 5th. I’m one of twelve bloggers taking part in “Collaboration with a Purpose 2,” and this time, we’re going to talk about the toughest thing in the world to discuss: Strength.

That is, what is it, why is it important, and how do you find it?

(Take a look at the graphic if you don’t believe me.)

Strength-Blog-Collaboration

Anyway, I hope you’ll enjoy this. I’ll have a list of all the bloggers for you tomorrow, and will include links to all on the 5th, as was true of the last “Collaboration with a Purpose” about loss.

Do take care and enjoy your holiday!

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 3, 2017 at 4:11 pm

Music and Writing — Do They Mix?

with 13 comments

Folks, as you know, I’m a musician and a writer. And sometimes I’ve wondered…do writing and music really mix?

I think they do. Being able to hear words as a symphony sometimes helps. It gives you an idea of cadence, measure, tone, tempo…even counterpoint.

But there are times when it can be easier for me to say things with music rather than words. I even know why this is; I trained for a career as a musician from the time I was ten years old.

That doesn’t mean I can’t say it in words, mind. I can. Still, it’s as my late husband put it: there are times where it’s like I’m converting what I see from music to words. Because music was my first language in many senses; I trust that more.

Even so, when both can be combined, it works well. (Check out my novel CHANGING FACES if you don’t believe me.)

At any rate, in a few weeks, I’ll be able to tell you about a new piece of writing I think combines writing and music well — and no, it’s not my own, though it is from one of my writer-friends. (I wish I could say something now, mind, but…better wait.)

Enjoy your weekend, folks. And if you’re in Racine looking for something to do on Sunday night, come down to the Zoo at 7:30 p.m. and listen to the Racine Concert Band’s first free concert of the year — we’ll be playing patriotic songs in honor of the Fourth of July. (And did I mention it’s absolutely, positively free?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 29, 2017 at 5:01 pm

Posted in Music, Writing