Barb Caffrey's Blog

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Inspiration Is Where You Find It

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I want to talk about inspiration for a bit, because I truly do think inspiration is where you find it.

Consider, please, that when you go outside, you see small animals. Birds. Squirrels. Rabbits. Assorted critters of various sizes along those lines.

Observing wildlife, just watching them, gives you the idea that the struggles we face aren’t a patch on what they do.

In the middle of fall, as we are now in much of the Northern Hemisphere, a squirrel is storing away food to make it through the winter. A bird is figuring out where it’s going to nest, or perhaps lighting out for warmer climates. A rabbit…well, who knows what’s going to happen to it, as there are many competitors for that rabbit, and most do not indicate a long life.

Yet they continue to get up, move around, and do whatever they can to extend their lives. It’s instinctual, sure…but it’s also inspirational.

None of us know the future. None of us have any idea what will happen tomorrow, or the day after that either. Yet we continue to get up and do what we can, in the hope that it’ll matter down the line.

All we can do is our best. Every day. In every way.

If we realize that, and if we are observant, we can find many things to inspire us and also to give us hope, even during the darkest time of the year. (As Ned Stark put it in Game of Thrones, “Winter is coming.”)

The most important thing to do, though, is the hardest.

Believe in yourself. Believe in your talents and abilities. Give them a chance to flower, no matter how rocky the ground is, and no matter how much fertilizer you have to put on that ground in the meantime.

If you can do that, you’re one step closer to where you want to be.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 4, 2022 at 12:17 am

My Thoughts on the Salman Rushdie Stabbing

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Folks, yesterday, in Chautauqua, NY, author Sir Salman Rushdie was about to give a speech at the Chautauqua Institution. He’d stepped up to the podium with another man, Henry Reese (the co-founder of the nonprofit City of Asylum), as they were both going to speak about the importance of freedom of speech with regards to artistic expression.

This is an important topic. It always is. Freedom of speech and freedom of expression is of paramount importance, especially in the United States of America.*

So, picture yourself there. It’s a crowded room, as Salman Rushdie is a well-known author with multiple, well-received books to his credit. Everyone there wants to see and hear him, as he’s been under the threat of persecution for a long, long time…

All except for one.

That guy, a twenty-four-year-old idiot, ran to the podium and stabbed Rushdie multiple times before he was brought down by audience members and a lone policeman. Rushdie sustained injuries in the throat, to his liver, to his arm (nerves are reportedly severed), and to one of his eyes (which he may lose). The idiot also stabbed Reese in the face**, possibly to get Reese out of the way quicker so he could go to town on Rushdie.

(As per usual, I am not going to name this guy.)

This all happened a bit before 11 a.m. EDT, and the people on the scene said the lack of security was a problem. One spoke on one of the cable news networks (I forget which) to say that they were screening out people who brought coffee and water into the auditorium (or wherever this speech was to be held); they’d have done better to screen for weapons.

And think about that lack of security for a moment. Was this a good idea, especially considering Rushdie was about to speak?

Rushdie has had a fatwa, otherwise known as a price on his head, since the late 1980s after his novel The Satanic Verses came out. The last anyone checked, the bounty for killing Rushdie was up to $3.3M.

Just writing that sickens me.

A person’s life is worth so much more than any amount of money. What one person can do, what one person’s strengths can do, what one person’s transmutation of weaknesses can do, is unable to be monetized. Because it is infinite in possibilities.

I said at my Facebook page that I understand people hating books. I understand, even, people hating authors. But leave it there. Don’t attack authors just because you hate them.

We believe in freedom of speech in this country, which might be one reason why Rushdie relocated here in the early 2000s. (He has never become a US citizen, I don’t think. Last I checked — which was last night — Rushdie is a citizen of the UK.)

So, in a nation that celebrates free speech, at a place that most especially discusses writing and writers and thoughts related to such, a twenty-four-year-old decided to stab one of the most decorated writers alive.

I don’t care about the stabber’s motivation. I care that he stabbed Rushdie multiple times, that Rushdie is said to be on a ventilator right now, that Rushdie has injuries to his arm (nerve damage is a serious thing), and that Rushdie may lose an eye.

I sincerely hope that Salman Rushdie will fully recover. I hope he won’t lose his eye. I hope his liver will heal. I hope his nerves in his arm that apparently got severed will be reattached, and that with physical therapy and time, he will be restored to himself in full measure.

But the thought that a fellow writer — albeit one that’s wealthy and well-known, unlike me — had this happen bothers me greatly.

I wrote a blog a while ago called “Where Can We Be Safe?

That rings in my mind right now, as I continue to ponder the utter wreckage this twenty-four-year-old stabber left in his wake.

————

*The way I always learned it was, “I may not like what you have to say. I may really hate it, in fact. But I will defend to the death your right to say it.” (That is, providing you’re not doing something asinine like yelling fire in a crowded theatre that’s not actually on fire.)

**In case you’re wondering about the other speaker, Mr. Reese, he was treated and released from the hospital.

Moving on, again (Plus: Answering the Q, “How Can You Still Edit?”)

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As my last blog said, I am no longer a member of the Racine Concert Band.

It’s been a couple of very strange weeks, I must say. Every time there’s a rehearsal, I keep thinking I need to go (until I correct myself); every time there’s a concert, I feel how wrong it is that I’m not there.

All I can do, though, is move on.

I’ve had many experiences lately where I’ve had to move on when I wasn’t ready to do it. It never gets easier. But I will keep working at it, because as I know well, much of life and life’s experiences remain out of my control.

Let’s move on to something else.

One of my friends asked me why I was so forthcoming in regard to admitting I had a pulmonary embolism in 2020 and haven’t been the same, health-wise, since. She was afraid I might mess up my editing prospects, as there are a lot of folks out there who don’t want to deal with anyone who admits to illness, much less chronic illness.

(To put this in perspective: my friend also deals with chronic illness and has for years.)

So, I figured I’d discuss the elephant in the room, which is this: “Barb, if you’re not able to play your instruments right now, how can you edit?”

Simply put, they are two different things.

Yes, both are creative pursuits. However, there are many ways to edit once you get past the grammatical aspect, and I tend to be as creative as possible while making my points to various clients.

As most of you no doubt know, music is usually performed with other people; even if you’re playing a recital with a pianist, you still must play with another person at a scheduled time and place. (Yes, sometimes there are late cancellations for different reasons, but then you have to find a makeup date.)

Editing is done by me and can be scheduled at any point in any given day. (I tend to edit at night, when there are fewer distractions, but I’ve proven I can edit at any time of any day if need be.)

I hope this answers the question as to how I can continue to edit despite all that’s gone on in my life since 2020.

In conclusion, I appreciate my clients. They are all great people, and many of them have become my friends, which is something that pleases me greatly. I enjoy their company, I enjoy their manuscripts, and I appreciate the work.

Oh, one final, thing (I know I sound like Lt. Columbo from TV, years back): My Elfyverse “holiday” story was accepted into the Fantastic Schools: Holidays anthology. Thank you all who asked me privately about this and reminded me to come say something about it.

What’s going on in your life, writing or otherwise? Tell me about it in the comments!

Sunday Musings: Why should you help a widow? (Or widower?)

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Folks, my last blog asked you to please help Eric Flint’s wife, Lucille, in her time of need. (I was one of many people asking for people to help.) She received an outpouring of financial support, and the GoFundMe for Eric’s final expenses has been closed.

Thank you all.

That said, there are still other things to be done to help her, or other widows/widowers suffering from the loss of their spouse.

First, though, I wanted to answer this (somewhat obvious) question: Why should you help a widow or widower?

I’ve thought a lot about this question in the intervening years since Michael’s passing. And I’ve come up with a few reasons as to why you should always help a grieving widow or widower — any grieving widow or widower, whether you like them personally or not.

When you’ve been newly widowed, you are exceptionally vulnerable. All of your support, all of the love you had that you had freely shared with your spouse, is suddenly gone. That love has no place to go. And worst of all, you are often misunderstood when you try to express your grief in any way, shape, or form.

It’s incredibly difficult to deal with the world when you’re in deep shock, suffering with the worst wound you’ve ever had. That’s just a fact.

Everything seems unreal. Nothing feels the same. It’s very hard to go on, alone except for memories (and, if you’re like me, the knowledge that the spirit is eternal and that you will eventually be reunited in joy somewhere/somewhen again).

We all grieve differently, but what I just said tends to be in common for nearly any grieving widow/widower if they deeply loved their spouse.

Anyway, I wanted to talk more about Eric’s wife and widow, Lucille, at this point. I do not know Lucille except for that one meeting in 2002 I’ve previously discussed (and there, I asked Eric a question; I should’ve asked her one, too, in retrospect, but I didn’t think of it). But I do know that if I were within a hundred miles of where she is (I’m not), I would try to bring her a cooked meal or two. Or volunteer to run errands.

And if I knew her better, I’d offer to listen to her talk at any time of the day or night.

Lucille is a valuable person in her own right. Yet if she’s anything like me, or the other widows and widowers I’ve known, she’s not going to be able to feel that for quite some time.

She deserves to be helped in as many ways as possible in whatever way she’ll allow on any given day. She should be given all available love, stamina, support, and whatever other good things she can possibly be helped with for as long of a time as she needs.

Her loss should be respected.

People should talk with her about Eric, as soon as she’s able to do that (or wishes to do that). He was her favorite person in this world. It’s unlikely she’ll want to stop talking about him, merely because his Earthly presence is gone.

Give her time, space, if she needs that. (I know this seems contradictory, but much about grief seems contradictory, too.) But help her as much as you possibly can, those of you who know her best. (I will help, too, if I ever get a chance to meet her again, and if she allows.)

In other words, while monetary help is great, it’s not the only way to help a grieving widow or widower.

Now to a bit more personal stuff, about my own feelings regarding being a widow.

Those of you who have met me, in person, or even have known me through my blog or my books, should know how much I value — and will always value — my marriage to the most wonderful man in the world, Michael B. Caffrey. I had some monetary support at the time of his passing, enough to help me buy an obituary for him, and help to pay for his funeral expenses. I appreciated that, too, at the time.

But no one knew how to help me with my grief. (My grief was so bad, a grief-support group sent me away.)

My family understood that Michael’s death was a huge loss. They didn’t have any idea how to help me process that.

I suffered, mostly on my own, with how to come to terms with it. How to see myself as valuable in my own right. How to go on alone (except for memories and the belief, as I said before, that the spirit is eternal). How to keep writing on my own, with little to no support or understanding of why I felt I must write (whether it be poetry, SF/F, or nonfiction/essays).

I had to figure it out one step at a time, stumbling and fumbling in the dark.

I don’t want anyone to have as much trouble as I did, not even the person who believed Michael was better off dead than with me. (I will never forgive that person. Never. But I still don’t wish ill on them. No point.) If and when they lose their spouses, I want them to have help and support.

That, most of all, is why I dearly hope that Lucille will be aided in as many ways and for as long of a time as she needs. And I pray very much that this will be so.

Eric Flint dies at 75, and his wife Lucille needs help

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Folks, Eric Flint passed away yesterday due to a long illness. He was a brilliant writer, an interesting soul, and a kind-hearted man — the last needs to be pointed out at great length, as most people focus on the other two.

I only met Eric Flint and his wife Lucille once. It was in 2002, not long after I married Michael. At that point, Michael and I were both trying to figure out how to write together, as our writing styles were about as opposite as can be imagined.

Anyway, it was a Barfly gathering, in Chicago. Many others were there. Some knew we’d just gotten married. (I don’t know if Eric did, but at least a few of ’em did.) We weren’t saying much (observers R us, or at least we both were), but were taking in as much information as we could.

I somehow got enough energy and gumption to ask Eric how he wrote so well with disparate people. (At that time, he’d worked with David Weber, Dave Freer, Mercedes Lackey, K.D. Wentworth, and I think he was in the process of working with Ryk Spoor. This was not long after his landmark novel 1632 was published.) I told him that my writing process was far different from my husband’s, yet we wanted to write together. How could we do that?

I figured Eric had the answer, and he did.

Eric said that the way to collaborate with someone is to play to their strengths. If someone writes fast — such as Dave Freer — work with that and add what you can. If someone needs more time and thought — as did Michael — let him add what he could. Otherwise, try not to step on each other’s toes, and remember to have fun…I’m pretty sure he said all that, and if not, he probably meant to say all that (so I’ll attribute it to him anyway).

This made a huge difference to us. We knew we could do it, you see, but we needed the right words from an expert to let us know it was OK to fail. (This may seem counterproductive, but bear with me.) If one of us could write faster than the other (believe it or not, that person was me), the other could take his time and add what he wanted. If the other needed to write things in longhand before transcribing them to the computer, that was fine…if he wanted my help, I could slow down just a little, and help him out.

This was very, very important to know. And it grew more important after Michael died, because I now was looking at a bunch of stories that Michael left in progress, wondering how I could possibly finish them and do justice by them. (I’m still working on that part.)

Anyway, I mention all of this because Lucille, Eric’s wife, needs help now. Eric was ill the last year or so, and while he plateaued out for a while, he wasn’t able to do much writing. (He did encourage people right up until the end, though. That counts more than anyone can possibly know.) Without being able to write, the income stream narrows…without being able to write, the writer is in danger of people forgetting all about them (though I find it hard to believe anyone could forget about Eric Flint, maybe he worried about that as he was human and it’s a justifiable worry). And without being able to write, the writer gets frustrated, stymied, wondering what in the Hell has gone wrong — just because health has intruded, why does that mean we can’t write?

(That’s how I see it, anyway. I can’t ask Eric anymore to know if that’s how he did.)

At any rate, Eric Flint was a very generous soul who cared about others and nurtured many fine writers along the way. He also was a very good husband to Lucille, and as I understand how it feels to be suddenly widowed and in need of help, I wanted to make damned sure I passed along this link so you could go help her out.

This is the link: https://gofund.me/6b66d7f6

If you can’t donate now, share the link as far and wide as you can.

And please, please, stand with the widows and widowers in your life, most especially right after they’ve been widowed. They need much care and love and concern, most particularly because they are unable to care or love or take any concern about themselves due to their bereavement.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 18, 2022 at 4:13 pm

A Sunday Roundup: Cain DFA’d, Car Oddities, and Some Writing Achieved

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Folks, I thought long and hard as to whether I wanted to write one bigger blog, or three short blogs. As I’m pressed for time, I decided to go with the longer blog…so, here we go.

The Milwaukee Brewers, my favorite baseball team, designated CF Lorenzo Cain for assignment yesterday (or DFA’d for short). Cain was an outstanding offensive and defensive player before Covid-19 hit; he sat out 2020 (the truncated first Covid year), came back last year and dealt with injuries but still showed flashes of his old form, and then this year he never quite got on track.

Personally, I blame the owners’ lockout for that. Any athlete has his routine to go through, and Spring Training is as much about routine as anything. When Spring Training got disrupted by the owners’ lockout, that meant spring games were not played; at-bats were not taken; players were not able to do anywhere near what they’d usually do for several weeks until the owners and players finally came to an agreement, and the owners’ lockout ended.

Why does that matter? Well, an older athlete — and Cain is now thirty-six, ancient for a baseball player — needs more time to get in the groove. (Maybe some don’t when it comes to defensive play, but most do when it comes to hitting, pitching, and fielding.) It seemed to me that Cain was doing as well as anyone in Spring Training pre-lockout…but after, he wasn’t quite right.

Cain was hitting only .179 when the Brewers designated him for assignment. Considering his lifetime batting average is .283, that’s a significant drop-off.

Cain’s defense was still sharp, for the most part. He was still an exceptionally fast runner, as outfielders tend to be (they need to, in order to cover so much ground). He was taking extra batting practice, and doing everything he could to get his hitting in gear…but it just didn’t work.

Both Cain and the Brewers were classy about this. Cain said it was “a mutual decision” according to what I heard on TV and via radio. The Brewers waited until Cain had ten full years of major-league service time (that day being yesterday) to designate Cain for assignment, making sure that Cain was fully-vested with regards to MLB’s pensions for retired players down the line.

As WTMJ-AM announcer Brian Dee said on the “Brewers Extra Innings” program after the Brewers game yesterday, “The Brewers did Cain a solid.” I agree.

I will miss Lorenzo Cain. His energy was infectious. He had a huge smile, and obviously loved to play (even in the last few weeks, where it seemed like he couldn’t buy a hit). He was smart, savvy, and did everything right, even when he wasn’t hitting. (He said he wished things were going better, making no excuses for himself.)

I think it’s likely Cain will retire. But if he does continue to play, I hope he’ll find his hitting stroke again and enjoy baseball as much as he ever has.

Anyway, now we’re on to the “car oddities” part of the blog. And it really is an odd story…so, here I go with that.

I was parked in one of the lots at the apartment complex where my Mom lives. That lot is dark after 8:30 p.m. in the summer (and no better in the winter, either; in fact, in the winter it is hard to see probably after 4:30 or 5:00 p.m.), which matters. And when I parked, I was the only person in the lot with a 2010 Hyundai Accent Blue. (Yes, this matters, too.)

When I walked out to leave, there was an identical car parked next to me. I only realized it once I got in the wrong car, realizing that I didn’t have an air freshener (this car did), that the car was far too neat to be mine, and the seat was also in the wrong position.

So, I got out of the car, and automatically locked the driver’s door and the passenger side door behind me (as I always do), after I got my hand-cart out of the back seat.

Anyway, I then realized I did not have my purse. I had left it in the wrong car!

Fortunately, the passenger side doors were open (as the driver’s side ones had been, too). I reached in, got my purse, and got the Hell out of there.

However…I left my cane in that car, and I didn’t realize it until I was all the way home.

My brother is visiting right now and saw my agitation over it all. (I hate being stupid, and I really felt stupid with this.) He drove me back to the lot, exclaimed about how dark that lot is, and said anyone could’ve made that mistake with two cars, identical makes and models, in almost no lighting. And yes, he opened up the passenger side door (which fortunately I hadn’t locked), and indeed, my cane was in that wrong car.

I don’t know what the owner of that car is going to think when they go back out to their car, mind you. (I have no idea who this is. Until now, I had no idea that anyone in the complex or among the people who regularly visit had a car identical to mine.) The seat is in the wrong position for them, as I pushed it all the way back. The driver’s side doors are locked, while the other two are not, and they’d left them all unlocked.

I considered leaving a note, but I had no idea what to say.

My brother said that I should leave well enough alone. If I figure out who that person is, I’ll apologize; otherwise, he said I should leave it be as it was an honest mistake.

He drove me back home, where my father wasn’t too happy over the whole affair. (Dad has never seen that lot at night. Jim tried to tell him, but Dad still didn’t understand how this could happen. At all.)

Now that I know there is another car with the same paint job (light blue), the same make and model, the same wheels, all that, I will look at the license plate before I get into the car. (Other distinguishing features of my car were unable to be seen in that light.)

As it was, my brother had to park the car in such a way — half in and half out of the spot — and shine his headlights on the wrong car (as I had driven my own car back and left it at home) before he could see well enough to figure out if the cane was in the car. (His phone has a flashlight. My phone with a flashlight was back at home, of course. But even his flashlight app couldn’t tell him whether the cane was in there or out, and he didn’t want to open the car door unless he was sure the cane was in there.)

I don’t know if anyone else has ever had this happen before — two cars, both identical in dim light, same make, same model, same paint job, and all — but it is truly strange. (Thus, “car oddities.”)

Finally, after I’d gotten back home again, and talked this out with a few friends who live overseas in different time zones (as my good friends who live here were all asleep, as they should’ve been), I managed to write one thousand words into a new Elfyverse short story. I’d wanted to write all week long, and the time got away from me…but I figured that as I was back, and was too scattered to edit, I should do something creative in the hopes that it would help me calm myself a little.

It worked.

At any rate, I will try to schedule time to write over the next few days and see how it goes.

What’s going on with you? Anything new this Sunday? How is your writing going, for the writers out there? Let me know in the comments…especially about the car oddity.

My Thoughts, As A Widow, On Recent “This is Us” Episodes

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(What a pretentious title, huh? But it was the best I could do…moving on.)

My Mom and I have watched NBC’s TV show “This is Us” about the Pearson clan for several years. (I can’t recall if we watched it regularly until the third year, but we did watch.) I’ve had a great deal of empathy for various characters. I remember Randall (played by Sterling K. Brown), the Black man raised in a white family, meeting his biological father for the first time. That was both difficult and heartening, all by itself; when the Pearsons, en masse, decided to welcome William (Randall’s bio father), it became something more.

Anyway, the matriarch of the Pearsons is Rebecca, played by Mandy Moore. We see her when she’s young and heavily pregnant; we see her when she’s in her late twenties/early thirties, raising her kids; we see her in her fifties and sixties, after her first husband’s passed away and she’s married her second one; we see her, finally, with Alzheimer’s disease, dying with her kids and grandkids around her.

Rebecca’s story is the one that I took to the most, over time. (This is not surprising, I suppose.) She loved her first husband Jack with everything that she had, and when he died unexpectedly, still in his prime, her world collapsed.

I understand how that feels extremely well.

Rebecca, unlike me, had three children who were all teenagers. She still had to be there for them. She also had good friends, including Miguel (the man who later became her second husband), her husband’s best friend. The friends helped Rebecca and her kids accustom themselves to a life with a Jack-sized hole in it.

This was not easy for any of them. Jack was an interesting, kind, funny, hard-working, loving man who adored his wife and was so ecstatic to be a father. He had his faults, including battles with alcoholism, that he tried to hide from his wife (and mostly did hide, successfully, from his children). But his virtues far outweighed his flaws.

Obviously, Jack’s loss was hardest on Rebecca. She was still in her prime, in her late thirties/early forties. She hadn’t expected to be a widow, much less so soon. But she was one, and she had to adapt on the fly, just as her kids were starting to flee the nest.

As her kids married, divorced, remarried, had children, and lived their lives, one thing was clear: even if their spouses had been divorced, they were still part of the Pearson clan. They were still welcome at every family function. They were included, not excluded, because the Pearsons believed “the more the merrier,” which probably came from Rebecca being pregnant with triplets in the first place. (The third triplet died, which is why Rebecca and Jack adopted Randall, who was born on the same day and needed a family as his mother had died and his father — then — was completely unknown.)

Of course, there were oddities that happened to the Pearsons. (How else? Life itself is strange.)

One of them was when Randall’s father, William, made contact with Rebecca and Jack when Randall was quite young. William felt Randall was better off where he was, as William was battling a drug addiction along with poverty and much frustration; that was an extremely hard decision, but one that reaped major dividends late in life when Randall (in his thirties, roughly) found that William had known a) he was Randall’s bio father and b) where Randall was the entire time. Randall forgave William, in time, and as I said before, the Pearsons welcomed William until the day William died.

That said, for many fans, the oddest oddity of them all was the fact of Miguel marrying Rebecca. We knew Miguel was with Rebecca from the start (or nearly), because “This is Us” has always told its story in a non-linear fashion. We also knew that Miguel was Jack’s best friend, that he was appreciative of Rebecca from the start (he told Jack to make sure he married Rebecca, because “someone else” would; maybe even he didn’t know that someone else, someday, would be Miguel himself), and that while Jack lived Miguel made no moves (as a quality human being, of course he didn’t).

Because of the jumping back and forth in time effect, though, until the last few episodes it was impossible to tell when Miguel had married Rebecca. (That Rebecca had developed Alzheimer’s, and Miguel was caring for her until his own death, was something explored in great depth this past season.)

Why?

Well, Miguel didn’t get an episode revolving around him until a few weeks ago. That’s when I found out that Miguel had waited several years, had moved away to a different state, and made sure his feelings were real (and not something conjured out of pity and the deep, abiding friendship he’d always had with Rebecca while Jack was still alive) before he married Rebecca.

We still didn’t see his marriage, which was the second marriage for both of them. (Miguel’s first marriage ended in divorce.) But we saw how he took care of Rebecca. He was tender, kind, compassionate, loving, and altogether the right person for her after Jack died.

I was happy she found another good man to love.

This may sound odd, if you’ve read my blog for years. I thought for quite a few years that my heart was not big enough to admit another love — romantic love, anyway — after Michael’s way-too-early death.

While I found out that was wrong, the two men I’ve cared about in the past few years did not end up growing with me in the same way. They did not want the same things. (Or in one case, even if he had, he could not express that. He is neuro-divergent.)

The man who might’ve been “my Miguel” was Jeff Wilson, who died in 2011. Jeff didn’t know Michael, so that part wouldn’t be analogous. But Jeff knew I was the person I am because of Michael. Jeff also was my best friend of many years (seven, at the time of his death), and during his fatal health crisis said to me, with a weary yet humorous tone in his voice, “Can we please proceed to the dating phase now?”

I’ll never know what would’ve happened had Jeff lived. But I knew I was going to try, and I told him that.

Then he died, after he’d been improving; his death was unexpected, and he was only a year older than Michael had been when Michael died.

So, two men. Both interesting, intelligent, funny, hard-working, creative…both themselves, indelibly themselves, and I cared about them — loved them — both. (I did not yet have romantic love for Jeff, but I certainly was getting there at the time of his death. I definitely had agape love and philios also.)

Anyway, Rebecca’s death episode was this past Tuesday. She was pictured on a train. She saw William (acting as the conductor); she saw her obstetrician (acting as a bartender). She saw her kids, possibly including her deceased triplet (I wasn’t sure about that), at various ages. She heard the various well-wishes of the Pearson clan, including from her daughter’s ex-husband, her son Kevin’s wife (he’d only married twice, to the same woman, but many years apart), and her sons. But she was waiting “for something”…

As she’s waiting, she sees Miguel, a passenger on the train. He salutes her with his drink, and tells her she’s still his favorite person.

This made me cry.

Miguel got no more time in that episode, which upset me. I thought Rebecca should’ve gone to him, hugged him, and said “thank you.” Her mentation has been restored, on the train; she knows that Miguel helped her while she was so ill with Alzheimer’s. She also got a second wonderful husband in addition to her first, which is very rare…yet while she smiled at him, and seemed happy to see him, she didn’t go to him.

This made me even sadder.

The end of the episode came when her daughter, Kate, was able to get there (she’d been overseas). As she says goodbye, Rebecca clearly crosses over and enters “the caboose,” where her first husband, Jack, waits.

That’s where the episode ended.

I don’t know what’ll happen in the finale of “This is Us.” I do hope that Miguel’s contribution to Rebecca’s life, and to the entire life of the Pearson clan, will somehow be recognized. (Her children all told her to say “hey” to their father for them, but no one asked her to hug Miguel if they saw him. That, too, bugged me, but maybe the writers wrote it and they had no time to get it into the episode.) It’s obvious that without him in her later years (even before she got Alheimer’s), there wouldn’t have been as much acceptance and love from the Pearsons as a whole.

Anyway, my take as a widow is that I want there to be some recognition of how much good Miguel did for Rebecca, and that Jack had no problems with it as Miguel both made her happy and helped her as her mentation declined. (Miguel also still saw Rebecca as the same person, even with her mind going; her own children couldn’t always do that, as her daughter Kate pointed out in a recent episode.)

To be able to love again after such tragedy was wonderful. To not express thankfulness and gratitude for loving again…well, had it been me in that position, I hope I’d have done better.

(And yes, I know they’re all characters. Not real people. But they surely felt real, which is why I hope that Mandy Moore wins an Emmy for her portrayal of Rebecca and that Jon Huertas wins an Emmy as well for his excellent supporting work.)

Updates on Ukraine, the Empathy Gap Essay, and a Discussion of Muslims, Cigarettes, and Virtue-Signaling

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Folks, I wanted to write a blog today about Ukraine along with updating last week’s blog about the empathy gap. I also veer into a discussion of smoking that may surprise you. So do keep reading, OK?

Sometimes, a news commentator utterly surprises.

Why am I saying that? Well, Malcolm Nance, a longtime MSNBC analyst, has joined the international force doing their best to push Russia right back out of Ukraine. He is a Navy vet, and he said that he was “done talking.” Therefore, he went to Ukraine, where he’s been now for over a week, and has been doing whatever he can to aid the fighters there.

I’m glad Ukraine continues to resist Russia’s stupid and pointless invasion. (Well, not stupid and pointless to Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President. He wanted the Ukrainian bread basket, as the land is exceptionally fertile there. And rather than pay for the grain like anyone else, he thought he’d just take the country, so he would just get the grain as well.) But it saddens me to see the destruction of once-beautiful cities like Kyiv and Mariupol.

Not to mention the loss of human lives, which is utterly incalculable.

I hope that whatever Malcolm Nance continues to do over there works. He has always struck me as a highly intelligent man, though I didn’t always agree with him. (I don’t always agree with anyone. Even with my late husband Michael, we had an occasional disagreement. Spice for the mix, I always thought, especially as we made sure to “fight fair” and not drag up old and dead issues over and over.)

Anyway, the next piece of old business has to do with my essay on empathy a week-plus ago. Paul, a regular reader, asked why I didn’t bring up someone on the left who’s sparked my ire as much as Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert have on the right. Another reader, Kamas, mentioned Maxine Waters — a very able legislator in her way, but also someone who seems to enjoy verbal conflict and hyperbole from time to time. And I’d brought up two other D legislators who seem to get into trouble on a regular basis, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

Rep. Omar is in the news right now for calling out a double standard on airplanes. Apparently, a church group that had just come back from working with Ukrainian refugees sang a Christian hymn on the plane. This upset her, as she believes Muslim groups would be shut down from singing on planes. (Maybe this has happened to her, but if so, she hasn’t said so specifically.)

My view of this is simple. The folks who went to Ukraine or the borders of Poland and Romania and elsewhere that border Ukraine, and did good work, deserve to celebrate any way they like. If their song wasn’t bothering anyone else on the plane, let them sing.

Mind, I’d also say the same thing for a Muslim hymn. There are many uplifting Muslim hymns, I believe, but we almost never hear of them — much less hear them — because Muslim in the US tends to equal “Shia or Sunni rebel” rather than pious person doing their best for God and country.

Still, why Rep. Omar waded into this one with both feet, I don’t know.

Centuries ago, the Muslim people were often literate, learned, urbane, and often had no trouble with other “People of the Book” (meaning Christians and Jewish people). The Muslims came up with algebra, created music and art and poetry and architecture, and did many wonderful things.

We tend to forget all that with the current crop of fundamentalists over in Iraq and elsewhere. Those rigid, ruthless sorts are not what being a Muslim is all about, any more than, say, the so-called Christians who helped burn down Minneapolis and Kenosha and other places in the last few years have anything to do with most actual Christians. (The Christians who protested are fine. The ones who burned for the sake of destruction are not. We forget about the former because we have had to dwell on the latter in order to rebuild.)

I have an online friend, a doctor, who’s a proud Muslim woman. She lives in India. I’ve known her now for several years, while she’s been at university, then started medical school in earnest (from what it sounds like), to studying for boards (which sounds harrowing) and being a medical resident (which, like the US and the UK, consists of many hours of work for not that great of pay, and is exhausting).

Tajwarr, my friend, loves makeup, loves to dress up, does not wear a hijab (not in the pictures I’ve seen of her), and writes poetry. She has many gifts, including that of putting people at ease. She is unfailingly polite, and does her best to be cheerful with patients, family, and friends without losing one ounce of authenticity.

I admire her.

In India, where she lives, Muslims are being persecuted. Hindus, by far, have the upper hand there. And like anywhere else, the folks with the most seem to lord it over those with less. So the populous Hindus have made it harder for Muslims — an ethnic minority in India, I think — to enjoy being themselves and to enjoy their own culture, religion, music, etc.

I say all this to point out one, simple thing: You can’t put all people in a box. Not all Muslims. Not all Christians. Not all Neo-pagans. You just can’t stereotype people like that.

One of the folks I know, who I worked with on Hillary Clinton’s campaigns in 2008 and 2016, worked on behalf of Joe Biden in 2020. She is a Black woman. Very smart, able, all that. She knew Biden would not be perfect, but she worked for him anyway. Part of the reason for this might have been that Donald Trump signed a bill that raised the minimum age to smoke from eighteen to twenty-one. She felt that was no one else’s business, and that if you’re old enough to go to war, you’re old enough to smoke.

(Even though I don’t smoke, I agree with her.)

My friend has always smoked menthol cigarettes, such as Newports. But Biden’s FDA banned menthol cigarettes citing their “adverse affects on Black Americans.” (This was often the phrase used by journalists and TV analysts when this happened last year.) Menthol, you see, masks some of the harshness of the tobacco, and it apparently opens up additional nicotine receptors. (I have never smoked, so all I can say is apparently.)

At any rate, my friend was absolutely furious about this. She felt it’s her body, her choice. Alcohol is allowed in many flavors, and alcohol kills many more people than cigarettes.

She also was deeply unhappy, and remains deeply unhappy to this day, about how people who smoke get treated like second-class citizens. Being a smoker is now worse than being a drinker, and that’s just wrong.

I’m not saying any vice is good. But I have two vices of my own: lottery tickets, and diet soda. (Well, three if you add in Snickers bars.)

Most of us have at least one vice, and for most of the time, this vice is harmless or reasonably harmless. (Some folks, knowing that I am a plus-sized woman, probably would tell me that a Snickers bar is not harmless in my case. Too bad. I definitely agree with my friend regarding “my body, my choice.”) Those who drink in moderation are not shamed in the same way as those who smoke in moderation.

My late husband, and my late grandmother, and most of my grandmother’s family before her, were all smokers. My grandma lived to be 89 years old. My husband’s heart attacks were almost assuredly not caused by smoking (this from the ME at the time), though it probably didn’t help. Most of grandma’s family lived to be 75 and up…they drank, smoked, gambled, some of the men probably wenched, and they enjoyed life to the fullest until the day they died.

Look. I am asthmatic. Smoke and smoking can cause trouble for me. Michael, my husband, knew it, and did his best to smoke outside. The smell on his clothes was minor that way. He used breath mints and did his best to keep the nicotine taste out of his mouth so when we kissed, we had a better experience.

In short, he did his best to minimize the effects of smoking. Plus, he was trying hard to quit — he tried at least six times during our marriage (we only got two-plus years together as a married couple, remember, so this is actually rather impressive), and was down to only four cigarettes a day from a pack-and-a-half habit. (He could not use the patch because of his skin issues. He didn’t do well with the gum because of his dentures. And the only other option for him, nicotine water, was so foul that he could not stand it. I didn’t blame him.)

Therefore, I cannot and will not censure any smokers. And, quite frankly, I do not understand anyone who does unless they’re “virtue-signaling.” (Yes, me, a left-of-center more-or-less liberal person, is using that term.)

We all have faults. We all have vices. We all have “Achilles heels.”

Lording it over anyone because you do not like their legal vice is not just stupid, pointless and wrong. It’s also cruel. So if you’re someone who’s told yourself, a non-smoker, that smoking is evil and have forgotten all about how the cigarette companies did everything they could to keep people hooked by altering the levels of nicotine, etc. (look up the old “60 Minutes” episode if you don’t believe me), and have decided to blame the smoker rather than the cigarette company, you need to stop doing that.

Right now.

Sunday Musings: The Empathy Gap

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Recently, I’ve thought a great deal about one thing. Empathy.

Why? Well, the United States, as a country, don’t seem to be showing a lot of it lately.

Whether it’s because of how individuals have handled Covid-19, or because of the ascension of politicians with more mouth than brain (including current US Reps Marjorie Taylor Greene and Nicole Boebert), it seems trendy now to behave badly and blame it on someone else.

I read a lengthy article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel recently about this very thing. (I am not linking to it because it was for “subscribers only,” meaning unless you have a subscription, they won’t let you see it.) It talked about the differences between what good, empathetic behavior is and bad behavior, and discussed how two decades — the 1970s, or “Me Decade,” and the 1980s, or the “Greed is Good” Decade — have changed public discourse for the worse.

I’m not sure it was just because of those two decades, mind you. But it is possible that folks who were born in those decades changed their parenting style, and their kids grew up with fewer “guard rails” against bad behavior along with perhaps lesser consequences for said bad behavior.

I think most of us have seen someone treated badly because of Covid-19. Whether it’s a customer cussing out a store employee for wearing a mask (as they mostly have had to do due to local or state regulations), someone being happy that another person who’s died because they didn’t get the vaccine and felt they wouldn’t get sick (schadenfreude, in other words), or a store employee (in a state/county that does not require masks) ask someone to remove their mask because said store employee didn’t like it, there seems to be very little tolerance for any behavior besides one’s own.

I have a very good friend who went to the post office recently where she lives. The clerk there is an anti-masker and possibly also an anti-vaxxer and complained when my friend (who is immunocompromised) did not remove her mask after she was asked. She explained this, but the clerk did not care. It was all she could do to stay in the post office until her business was done due to being so upset.

I have another friend who lives in Florida. He is also immunocompromised, but his doctors believe he should not be vaccinated. (I’m not sure why.) He has kept himself from just about everyone now for almost three years. It’s been a tough life, as he is gregarious and loves to talk with people about just about anything. But he’s risking his life with or without a mask, and as he lives in Florida — where people have disdained wearing masks even at the worst of the Covid-19 breakout stages — he sees no other way but to stay home, live quietly, and hope Covid goes away.

Other than the nurse who comes in to give him treatments, he sees no one. He hears many, mind, as there are people roundly cursing each other out at his apartment complex at all hours. (That we’re all under much more stress due to Covid is a given, granted.) But he sees no one.

There hasn’t been anyone to bring him food, or talk to him outside (making sure there’s no one around at the time so it’ll be safe for him, with a mask if he wants one, to do that), or do any of the small, kind human gestures that show empathy for someone who’s suffering, much less through no fault of his own.

(He lives too far away for me to help, or I’d have already visited. But I digress.)

I could give more examples, but I’ll stop there because I think my point’s been made.

You, as an individual person, should be free to lead your life any way you see fit. But you also should not be rude to someone who needs a mask even if mask mandates have been relaxed; you should not be rude to someone because her autistic son cannot wear a mask; you should not be rude to someone, like me, who has asthma and has great difficulty and distress wearing a mask but tries anyway because of two parents “of a certain age.” You also should not be so rude as to say, “I’m glad he’s dead” when you hear of a prominent anti-vaxxer dying due to Covid.

Why has it become so controversial to say these things, anyway? (To say what I just said, mind. Not to be outright rude, which seems perfectly fine to many for reasons I just don’t understand.) Why must empathy now be politicized, as if it’s something bad to actually care about others?

What I want this Sunday — not to mention every single day of my life — is for everyone to take a moment and step back. Realize that we are all human. We are all deserving of care, empathy, trust, and love. And we should start to show the best of ourselves to others, quietly, not as an Instragrammable moment but because our shared humanity deserves that.

If we can do that, the world will become a much better place.

A Sunday Throwback (and Other Stuff)

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Folks, Facebook has a memories feature, and it reminded me of a blog I wrote in 2015 called “A Writer’s Work is Never Done.” (Link is here.) As lately I’ve been editing far more than I’ve been writing, it was nice to have something positive show up in my Facebook feed (yes, I shared that puppy; what, you expected me to say anything else?)

See, editing can be draining. And the most recent project I’ve been working on was a monster of an edit. (It might be the toughest edit I’ve ever had.) It consumed me, at least when I wasn’t sick and was being consumed by something else.

I am still sick, mind, with an asthma exacerbation and some sort of untreated allergic reaction. (I have an Epi-pen, and I know what to do if/when something bad happens of an allergic nature. Still, I hope I won’t have to use it anytime soon.) The new meds I’ve been put on should do some good, but it’ll take a few weeks for them to ramp up.

Anyway, the point to this Sunday post is this: No matter how awful you’re feeling, something will remind you of better days. (Even if it’s not exactly what you’d thought about, at first.)

Of course, the other memory I had pop up in my feed was that my dog Trouble died on this day two years ago. (Well, two years and a few days ago, now.) Thinking about Trouble is bittersweet, at best, ’cause I loved that little guy so much. He really did see himself as a badass, but he was a sweetheart. (Hey, you can be both, especially if you’re a dog. But I digress.)

I don’t have a picture that’s shareable, or I’d show you one. But Trouble was about fourteen pounds, had a black and white coloring, was mostly Shih Tzu but mixed (the back legs were shorter than the front, which isn’t common for Shih Tzus), and was one of the most interesting and funny dogs I’ve ever been around. Big brown eyes, an expressive face…Trouble had empathy galore, though of course he didn’t bruit it about (as again, he was a badass and don’t you forget it).

Finally, though my Facebook feed didn’t throw this memory up, I remember my good friend Jeff Wilson on this day. He would’ve turned 58 today, had he lived, and it’s been ten long years since he died.

How time flies.

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever be able to forgive myself for not being able to go out to Colorado and be with him (as I was still working on financing that at the time of his death). I wish I had made it there, as maybe Jeff’s passing would’ve been a bit easier…and even if not, I would’ve had people to mourn with (rather than mourning alone so many miles — almost half a continent — away).

So, on this day, I remember Jeff. I remember Trouble. I remember that once upon a time, I was excited for my second novel to come out, and was working on my third.

All of these things remind me of my most intrinsic, essential self. And my hope is that as I continue to heal that I will be able to resume my fiction writing, along with being able to play my saxophone and clarinet regularly, along with editing.

Because while I do enjoy editing, doing only that stifles me.

I must be able to create, you see. Or it all builds up to the point I feel like I’m going to spontaneously combust (and not in a good way).

At any rate, what are you thinking about this Sunday? Do you ever think about the people (and beloved pets) that have gone before us? Let me know in the comments, if you would. (Still feeling all alone in the void, here.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 21, 2021 at 5:23 am