Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

The Transformative Power of Music

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Folks, this is the first in a three-part series. All will start with “The Transformative Power of…”, so you have been warned if this isn’t your thing. (Though why it wouldn’t be, I haven’t any idea whatsoever.)

Music can transform your life, if you let it.

What do I mean by this? (I can practically hear a few of you thinking, “Barb, you have gone off your rocker with this one. What gives?”) It’s simple: music can actually heal you. Or at least improve your mood while giving shape to your feelings, which is nearly as good.

Who hasn’t felt better after singing in the shower? Who hasn’t felt better after singing along to their favorite songs in the car?

For me, playing music takes that feeling and amps it up to eleven. (H/t if you got the Spinal Tap reference, there.) And being able to play music in a group, whether it’s a concert band, a jazz band, a small group, or just by myself, is one of the best feelings there is when it’s going right.

But as this post is titled “the transformative power of music,” I suppose I should get down to brass tacks.

After my husband Michael died in 2004, I didn’t want to do anything. My grief was so profound, it took me at least five years to process, and another few after that to realize I still had a life to live — and what was I going to do about it? All that time, my health worsened, my hands especially, and when I decided I wanted to play my instruments again (sax, clarinet, and oboe), I was barely able to do it due to my hands aching so much.

And it wasn’t just trying to play my instruments that made me frustrated. I was to the point with my hands that driving in the car was painful. I could only use one hand a few minutes at a time, and then switch off to the other. It was just that bad.

Fortunately, I went through a few rounds of occupational therapy, which helped a great deal. The pain lessened, I gained range of motion again, and I learned how to properly stretch the areas. And ever since, when my hands have started approaching that state again, I’ve asked for — and received — another date with the occupational therapist, and gone through more therapy as required.

Mind, I’d have never gone through with any of that if I hadn’t wanted to play my instruments again. But I did. And that allowed me to make a positive decision in the depths of my grief to do something positive, meaningful, and healthy.

Anyway, in September of 2011, I asked to play in the UW-Parkside Community Band again. (I’d been a member before I left the area for graduate school, back in the day.) One of my professors from Parkside, Mark Eichner, was still conducting it, and he told me when rehearsals were for the December concert. So I rejoined it in late October, played the next concert, and voila! I was a performing musician again.

(For the record, my first concert back was on alto sax, and I played a lengthy solo on a piece called “Roma.”)

Soon after, I rejoined the Racine Concert Band in 2012, again on alto sax. (I’d been a member of this in high school and again in college, and only stopped when I moved away to attend graduate school in Nebraska.) Ever since, I’ve played many concerts with them. Most have been on alto, but a few have been on clarinet.

And last week, on Saturday, I played clarinet — first chair, de facto concert master/mistress — with the UW-Parkside 50th anniversary alumni band. That was an exceptionally challenging concert, as we had only one rehearsal beforehand and the parts were very tough. But I was there early, practiced my parts, and was as prepared as I could be.

It paid off. The concert went well. And I had a few folks come up to me afterward, praising what I did (nice, when you can get it), along with asking why I wear a neckstrap to play the clarinet as few clarinetists do. (It helps keep the weight off my hands, and allows me to play for a longer period of time with a whole lot less pain.)

Why am I going into all this detail? Mostly to explain what playing music has done for me. It has given me my confidence back. It has reminded me I can still do something, something positive, something very few other people can do.  It has rewarded my perseverance and search for excellence…it has allowed me to give the gift of music to others in performance, also.

All in all, music has transformed my life.

You don’t have to be a musician to allow music to transform yours, though. Just listen to whatever you want. If you are hurting, let the pain out. If you are healing, allow yourself to feel safe and comforted. And if you just want to hear music for the sake of music, good for you: that’s the best listening experience of all.

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

Love Matters. (Really.)

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The most powerful force in the universe is love.

This may seem simplistic. But it’s the flat truth. There is nothing more powerful than love in its purest form; there’s nothing that can motivate you more, make you try harder, make you want to be better, or give you more joy than love.

When we run into life’s difficulties — and oh, aren’t there a bunch of them! — love helps smooth the way. Knowing that you are cared for, needed, appreciated, and loved for yourself without any preconditions and without any need to be anything other than what you are is the most phenomenal feeling in the world.

I write this today mostly because a good friend of mine, in New Zealand, is struggling. He just got married — only a few, short days ago — and his wife is ill. (As in, in the hospital.) He and his wife found each other online, she flew to meet him and spend a few weeks with him, she flew home, they became engaged, and she flew back out to be with him. They have been very happy together despite all that life has thrown at them thus far, but I wish very strongly that my friend’s wife were not ill and that they’d been able to have the first few days as a married couple without so much stress and strain.

That said, they love each other deeply and well. I know they can and will come through this, precisely because of the love they bear for each other.

While I don’t know much else with a great deal of exactitude at the moment, I do know this: If you find true love, nurture it, work with it, and let it heal you…as much as it possibly can. (It may not heal you physically. But it can heal you every other way.) And celebrate it, every day of your life.

I know my friend and his wife have done all that, are doing that now, and will keep doing that. And I am certain they will continue to appreciate each other, for as long as they both shall live.

That is what is truly important, in life. (Don’t let anyone else tell you anything different, either.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 6, 2019 at 6:42 am

Announcing…”The Chronicles of Amberdrake” by Loren K. Jones

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Folks, I’d meant to tell you about this several weeks ago, when it first came out. But my friend Loren K. Jones has a new book out called THE CHRONICLES OF AMBERDRAKE, and I wanted to tell you a little about it. (I should know enough to do that. I edited it.)

Loren's Amberdrake bookDrake, son of Standral, is a young, impetuous teen. When he sees two higher beings–I’ll call them this because at the time, Drake has no idea what or who they might be–duking it out, rather than run into the house or hide anywhere at all, Drake stays outside and watches in fascination. Because of this, he manages to distract one of the fighters, but gets killed in his original, human form. However, as the other fighter who benefited from Drake’s interference was the God of Chaos,  that Being tells Drake he’ll grant Drake any wish at all, just name it. (Yes, I’m oversimplifying.) And Drake’s wish is to be the most powerful mage in the world, the most powerful  mage who’s ever lived. This seems simple enough to the God, so the God grants Drake’s wish and goes on his way…

…and Drake is now left in dragon-form.

Why? Because the most powerful mage who’s ever lived prior to Drake (now) was Dandershandrake, a dragon…so to grant Drake’s wish, Drake, too. had to become a dragon. (Probably, to the God of Chaos, a human and a dragon aren’t that dissimilar, or maybe the God of Chaos just wanted to create more chaos within the dragon ranks. Who knows?) Dragons live a very long time, and often die only when they get tired of living after a few millenia. As Drake’s dragon-form is yellow-gold, he becomes known as Amberdrake.

Magic indeed comes easily to Drake/Amberdrake, and he gets used to his new circumstances. But he’s lonely for human companionship; dragons, you see, aren’t the same thing at all. (They’re smart, dragons are, and they certainly have relationships. But they think on such a grand scale, you see.) In fact, the dragon Drake becomes closest to, Sahrendrake, takes human form at Drake’s suggestion…but therein lies a tale, and I don’t want to get in the way of your reading, so further editor sayeth not. (Hey, I can’t give it all away, can I?)

So, what can I tell you that won’t spoil your reading?

First off, Drake is a fun character. He’s a lovable rogue, the first one Loren’s ever written. (Yes, Drake has a conscience, but it’s on his time and his terms.) He enjoys life, he enjoys beer (especially the beer he makes himself!), he enjoys women (though he’s not a Lothario; he’s more of a serial monogamist than anything), and he definitely enjoys his food. Drake’s adventures are a blast of fresh air, and he acts just the way you’d think he should; his characterization is true to itself throughout, and that makes the book just that much more fun.

Second, I was encouraged by Drake’s personal growth during his journey in Vernardia. This is when Drake finally meets a woman (a human woman at that) who is up to his weight both magically and mentally, and gives as good as she gets…and the interpersonal journey Drake goes on is very well-drawn, especially considering it’s mostly done via subtext.

Third, there is so much rich detail here to be savored. (Again, I don’t want to spoil your reading, so I will stop…there. Yeah, there.)

In other words, I just adore Drake/Amberdrake, and I hope you will, too.

So do, please, check out the e-book version of THE CHRONICLES OF AMBERDRAKE, soonest…it’s only $2.99 for about 500 pages of pure, reading pleasure. (Is that too smarmy? Well, if it is, too bad. It’s my blog, so I can be as smarmy as I want.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 3, 2019 at 3:12 am

Posted in Books, Loren K. Jones

Computer Woes: Stuff I Learned While The Computer Was Down

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As the title says…here we go.

  1. I am very impatient. Waiting to get my computer fixed seemed like forever, rather than nearly eight days.
  2. I was more stuck in ruts than I’d previously thought.
  3. Trying to type on a phone — even on a smartphone — is much harder than I’d thought, and it’s not just because of my quasi-carpal tunnel syndrome.
  4. Following from #3, I figured out I owed a friend an apology from a while back. He and I got into it because I was being very chatty, and on a good day — and with a good computer, complete with a proper keyboard and my hands cooperating, I can type nearly 80 words per minute. He could not follow me on his phone, and said so. (He later admitted he wasn’t particularly nice about it and did apologize.) At the time, I didn’t understand this…but boy, do I ever, now.
  5. Following from #4…yes, I did apologize. Because it’s better to apologize late than never. And it’s a lot better to know, in and of yourself, that you tried to do the right thing, albeit late, and albeit when the other person may not even care anymore…because it was important once, and I muffed it. It’s a statement that I won’t do it wrong–at least not intentionally, anyway–again. (Of course, that leaves all the other stuff that I haven’t run across yet as potential things to do wrong. But I could do ’em right, too…moving on.)
  6. Tablets are damned hard to use.
  7. I don’t enjoy texting. Not on a flip phone, not on a smart phone, not at all. (“I do not like this, Sam I am.” — Dr. Seuss.)
  8. That said, texting my best friends when the computer is down beats staying out of contact all to Hell.
  9. And using a tablet is better than using a phone of any sort to stay in contact.
  10. Sometimes, life doesn’t go as planned, at all. And while I’ve known that for a damned long time, it bears repeating. (Like a clue-by-four upside the head.)
  11. I have a hard time reframing a bad situation, something I truly can’t stand, into anything remotely resembling a good one. I did try. I told myself over and over that I had more time to read. (I read all sorts of stuff, too. Found a couple of good new authors — new to me, anyway. One of ’em is Kate Stradling. Really am enjoying her work.) I told myself, over and over again, that I was still thinking about my stories — which I was — and that there have been times I’ve not been able to write for seven or eight days before, and I didn’t panic, so what’s the big deal?
  12. Enter panic. (Ding, ding, ding!)
  13. Getting my computer back was useful. I’m still not back up to speed. But I have friends to help. And I’m grateful for that.
  14. I have to believe, despite it all, that there are better days ahead. We all have trials and tribulations. That this affected my livelihood for a week-plus in addition to my communication and my mode of living wasn’t good. (To put it mildly, but I digress.) But several of my friends made a point of calling or texting daily. They were concerned. And they made absolutely sure I knew they were concerned. (Bless them forever for this.)
  15. My family was also very good through this crisis. (It wasn’t just this I was dealing with. This is just what I’m willing to talk about. Further writer sayeth not.)
  16. “Sufficient unto the day are the needs thereof.” (Intentional Biblical misquote by my husband, Michael.) I have to meditate more on this one, I guess.
  17. Buddhists point out that you don’t have to enjoy your circumstances. You just have to accept them.
  18. But yes, when you get an ounce of joy, wring it out to the fullest! (I intend to do so, just as soon as I get some sleep. I’m going to write, and edit, and write some more…)

What do you think of this stream-of-consciousness blog? And what have you, yourself, learned when you have not been able to be online for a significant amount of time due to a computer failure, power outage, or any other reason? Tell me about it in the comments!

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 25, 2019 at 12:53 am

Change and Pointlessness

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I’ve been thinking, for the last week or two, about change. Specifically, change for the sake of “keeping up with the Joneses.” Or, to put it another way, change to be more “technologically current.”

(I wish you could see the eye roll I just gave to that.)

Look, I get it. Technology, in the main, is a good thing. The internet has revolutionized life and communication, and has for the most part made it better. But that was a change to make something better. Not a change for the sake of change alone.

“So, if you’re not talking about the internet, Barb, what are you talking about?” you ask me in exasperation.

Mostly, I’m talking about the “upgrades” at Pogo.com. I have been a member for quite a number of years now. (Well over ten.) And because of the phase-out of some staples of gaming technology, including the impending retirement of Java and lessening of Flash, many games I’ve enjoyed playing over the years are being retired right along with them. These games include Crazy Cakes, Dice City Roller, Pogo Addiction Solitaire, Pinochle (yes, they aren’t “upgrading” it to HTML5 anytime soon, it appears)…and to say I’m not happy is the understatement of the year.

Now, the fun of most of these games was never in the graphics. They were instead in the strategy. How were you going to be able to serve the most customers and make the most money with the ingredients you had on hand (Crazy Cakes)? How were you going to be able to make the most points with the rolls you received, and did you want to do the Auction rooms (which would slow you down, but perhaps give you more time to get more points to win extra dice) in Dice City Roller? (And if you haven’t played Pinochle, it’s much like most card games; you need to learn your basic strategy, but once you get that, it’s a lot of fun.)

Still, Pogo.com has apparently figured out that graphics and high-tech things are the way of the future. Even games like Tri-Peaks Solitaire, which did get an upgrade to HTML5, got better graphics even though the game-play didn’t change. (Unfortunately, they also changed the music behind it. They did better with Aces Up!, where they kept the music after the conversion to HTML5.) And since none of these games needed those things, they’re on their way out.

I like better graphics as much as the next person. But I like strategy games far more than I like the best of graphics. And these games had that (still have it, until June of 2019, anyway) in spades…but that’s not good enough, not in a world where change for the sake of change is needed.

Or when the original Final Fantasy game couldn’t stand on its own, and we’re up to what, now, in the numbering? (How many more so-called final fantasies are out there to be mined, huh?)

I know life is like this. Nothing lasts forever. The original Star Trek lasted three years on TV. Star Trek: The Next Generation lasted seven. (I can list all the other Star Treks, but you get the point.) The recent reboot, One Day at a Time starring mostly Latino/Latina characters and featuring Rita Moreno, lasted three. (If you haven’t seen that show lately, find it on Netflix now. Even though it’s been cancelled, it’s still available and it is hilarious.)

And yes, you have to take your enjoyment where you find it, because you know it won’t last. It never does.

That said, I find the current “upgrades” at Pogo.com to be unnecessary. I am definitely going to be playing my favorite games until the bitter end, and do my best to enjoy them even as I know that “all good things” inevitably find their conclusion.

But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. (And I obviously don’t.)

What say you to change for the sake of change? Did this blog make any sense? What would you like to add? Comments? Brickbats? Sobriquets? The floor is open…

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 12, 2019 at 4:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

It’s All Grist for the Mill…

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As a storyteller, no matter how halting I find the process to be sometimes, I’ve learned one thing and one thing only in this life:

It’s all grist for the mill.

What do I mean by this? Well, everything that happens, good and bad — but most especially the bad — can be used in a positive way toward illuminating your stories.

Why?

Well, think about it. When someone tells you off, how do you feel in that moment? What would you do differently, if you could? What would you do better? Or what, if the devil on your shoulder was in charge for a moment — for story purposes only, of course! — would you do worse, to get a bit of your own back?

See, we’ve all been there.

We’ve all had someone tell us off. We’ve all had someone treat us terribly, for no reason, without warning.

And we’ve all been unable to do what we wanted in those moments, for good or ill…and the virtue of storytelling is, you get to figure out what you might’ve done, and how it might’ve been, without hurting yourself or anyone else. (While making it fun to read, too, if you do it right. Otherwise, why bother?)

Mind, the good things are also grist for the mill.

We’ve all had wonderful, amazing, spine-tingling things happen. Maybe they’re split-second things, like seeing a double-rainbow (or better yet, the Northern Lights — I hope to see that someday). Or they’re the most astonishing things ever known to man, like climbing Mount Everest…or, closer to home, finding someone who loves you, warts and all, and cares only about you and nothing but you — not your bank account, not your health or lack thereof, not your putative beauty or lack thereof either, but YOU.

These things all illuminate your stories. They make them deeper. Richer. More intense. More believable. More relatable. And more interesting by far.

So, the next time you have a bad day, try to remember this: it’s all grist for the mill. It may help. And even if it doesn’t, you can tell yourself in your best Evil Writer (TM) voice, “Hey, I’m going to remember this person, and– (insert worst possible thing you’d do to him/her here)” and that may get you to laugh.

What’s grist for your mill? Tell me about it in the comments!

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 27, 2019 at 12:55 am

Appearance Vs. Reality

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In daily life, I am struck often by the difference of appearance versus reality. And as a novelist, this strikes me with at least triple force, because I see how it could be otherwise, with just a bit of tweaking…and yet the pathos remains because the person (or people) in question just can’t make that tweak…

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

You may be asking, “So, Barb, what brought this on, hm?”

I’ve been thinking about the difference between appearance and reality for months, if not years. Not just because of the differences between reality starlets’ shows and their real lives (real lives are far more messy, are unscripted, and definitely have fewer camera operators and makeup personnel), but because of the difference in how people I know well — or at least people I once knew well — show off their lives in public but are all different in private.

This, of course, is not new to the 21st Century. We may have different ways of showing ourselves to be different and better and “all that” in public than in private than previous centuries, but it’s still the same old song.

Very few people, in short, feel confident in letting people know they’re real, with warts and all. They don’t want to admit they’re anything less than perfect, because they’re afraid the jackals may be circling…and sometimes, they’re probably right.

But most of the time, showing ourselves in our best light all the time is, to my mind anyway, self-defeating. It’s like a good friend of mine put it: “You see everyone else’s glamour shots, and your own blooper reel.” And you measure your blooper reel — that is, your real life with warts and all — against these highlight-reel things, and come up short.

Which, by the way, anyone would.

Back to why I’m talking about this today, though.

The whole “appearance vs. reality” thing has always been a particular interest of mine. This is only partly because I, myself, decided early on for whatever reason that I would not “fake it ’til I make it.” (That is, put on a front and pretend things were better than they actually were.) And I’m not sure what the rest of it was, excepting that I’ve always been someone who observed others keenly–and in so doing, figured out that all was not as it seemed.

I believe in leading as close to an authentic life as possible. That doesn’t mean burdening people with all my troubles, though sometimes it does seem that way. And it doesn’t mean, either, that I won’t share my triumphs, when I get them…it’s just that I won’t put on that false front, because I see it as wasting time and energy.

(And I don’t have enough of either, so let’s get on.)

That said, are there still things I keep private? Hell, yes. I don’t need to tell all and sundry everything about me just to lead that authentic life. And yes,  it’s a balancing act, for certain.

In essence, what I want you to think about today is this: Is your life what you want it to be? What’s the difference between how it appears, and how it actually is? And what can you do about it to make it any better?

These questions will also work well when you’re writing, mind, as every character ever written struggles with this (as well as more common motivations). And if you use it just right, it’ll deepen and broaden your writing to a degree that’s startlingly real…and may just help others in the process. (Not that you have to, in art, but it’s a good side benefit if you can.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 21, 2019 at 12:33 pm