Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘creativity

Still Writing (A Brutally Honest Essay)

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Sometimes — especially lately — I’ve wondered why I write.

Writing, like any creative pursuit, takes a lot of energy to do it well. And if you know anything about me, you know I take as an axiom “whatever’s worth doing is worth doing well.” (I didn’t say that first. Neither did Lois McMaster Bujold, though her character Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan is famous for saying this. Nope, Philip Stanhope, Fourth Earl of Chesterfield, said it first as far as anyone can tell.)

This past year, I haven’t been able to devote as much time to my writing as I wanted. There were various reasons for this. But the upshot was that life got in the way of my writing, and because life was so all-pervasive, all-emcompassing, and extremely difficult, I lost my belief in myself for a while.

Now, I’m working on getting it back.

The easiest way to get back to work is open up an old MS that you believed in once, and still believe in now, if you can just figure out what else to do. If you open it back up, and don’t judge yourself as you fix a little here, and add a little there, before you know it, you’re back to writing every day.

Or at least every other day.

What complicates matters for me is that I thrive on audience participation. (Maybe that’s the musician in me, the musical training; I don’t know.) And for a writer, the only way for an audience to participate is to share your works-in-progress and talk it out with someone who’s as knowledgeable and as skilled as you are.

(Or at least is working on it and has a keen interest in doing so.)

There are a few ways for me to do this with stories that are further along than what I have, in various private forums I know about. But I haven’t felt confident enough to do just that. And as I always tended to work best alone, but with copious amounts of discussion between a trusted person (my husband, then my best friend, then a few other friends when they had time), I don’t want to put myself out there when I’m still building on the idea that it’s OK for me to put myself first, and my need for writing first as well, over what I’d been doing before.

In other words, I feel fragile. Almost as if what I’m doing won’t stand up, if I look at it too hard. Or that I am perhaps being too emotional about it all, as it means so much to me that it’s almost easier to bury it and leave it alone than get it out, face it, and move on with my creativity intact.

I’m not the only one who’s ever faced this. Most of us do, whether we realize it or not. But most don’t talk about it, because it feels like an illness, something to be hidden away, something shameful, maybe…something others won’t understand, unless they’re writers.

And they, my friends, figure they know what it is, so why talk about it?

I am working on it, and doing what I can to write my way, in my time, however I feel I must, and do what I have to do to feed my creativity. Because that’s undoubtedly where my soul resides; my husband knew it, my good friends have known it also over the years, and while they don’t say much about it, they know when I’m not writing, I’m not happy.

So that’s where I stand right now. Continuing onward, though the road seems dark and the scenery rather depressing. But the sun could come up tomorrow for me, and I want to wait it out, all the while scribbling madly (or typing, rather), to get down my impressions of where I am and where I hope to go.

That’s my strategy. But I would like to know what yours is, especially if you’ve dealt with disappointment, frustration, or “life, interrupted.” The floor is open…comments, anyone?

 

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Written by Barb Caffrey

July 28, 2018 at 6:47 pm

Try, Try, Try Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 8, 2018 at 1:43 am

When Creativity (Temporarily) Dries Up

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As I’ve said for a few weeks now on my blog, I’ve been dealing with a family health issue that has pushed almost everything else to the back of the line. As that seems to be resolving, my creative life is re-emerging…and as such, I thought I’d write a blog about why I think my creativity (save my editing work) more or less dried up during the recent emergency.

You see, we all have so much energy. (I’ve heard this called “spoon theory” or even “so many f**ks to give,” so whatever terminology works for you.) And when most of it is going to manage an emergency of some sort, there’s just not a lot left.

As there are probably more people out there who have to deal with this sort of thing, or maybe have dealt with it in the past, I know I’m not alone in dealing with the lack of energy or utter exhaustion that dealing with a crisis (along with continuing to do as much of your own work as humanly possible without collapse). But it is difficult, while you’re in the midst of it, to remember that…you feel isolated, almost the loneliest person in the world, and your own needs go to the back burner while you take care of someone else.

This has been called “caregiver fatigue,” and is a known phenomenon.

What makes me feel like myself, more than anything, is to create, whether it’s words, music, or a combination of the two. (That’s how I saw my work on CHANGING FACES, at any rate. I still intend to cut a companion CD of some sort down the line, if I can raise the money for such and regain the energy and strength to play my clarinet at top form.) But I can’t create like this, or at least can’t create very much.

No one can.

You just don’t have enough spoons to play with, as creativity takes a lot of spoons — far more than it seems at the time.

I know, from past experience with traumatic events, that my creative impulses will come back online after I’ve regained strength, rest, and health again. (As dealing with the crisis, especially coming out of two full months of illness, wasn’t easy.) And I look forward to the day I can wake up with a story idea, happily write it down, and think hard about what I’m going to do next without exhausting myself even further.

However, I’m not there yet. And admitting that isn’t easy, because I want to be known as a strong person, someone who can do anything she puts her mind to…someone who writes ten thousand words a week, maybe, as I did while my late husband Michael was alive, and haven’t managed to do consistently ever since.

I think overall that the important thing to remember, if you’re in a situation like I’ve been, is that so long as you’re still alive, and so long as you are doing your best, your talents will re-emerge once there’s sufficient energy for them.

And as a persistent person (I’ve sometimes been called almost pathologically persistent, which I don’t think is exactly a compliment), it’s all I can do now to remember that, and trust — as my niece, Jenni, also a writer, told me — that my creativity isn’t absent. It’s just brooding, waiting, and will burst out of me again once the energy has been restored to allow it to flourish.

What have you done in similar situations to nurture your creativity? Tell me about it in the comments!

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 17, 2018 at 2:30 pm

Resist the Echo Chamber (AKA Negativity)

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Folks, I’ve heard a lot recently about negative reinforcement, which from here on out I’ll call “the echo chamber.” And it needs to be discussed, because too many of us never think about it.

Whether your echo chamber is from a person or from the news (as the news tends to repeat negativity over and over and over again, as that’s what many viewers seem to want), or even from your own past experiences, you need to throw it off.

Why?

Let’s put it this way: If you are inundated by negativity, it’s hard to create. It’s also hard to believe that anything will be any better than it is today.

(Which probably is why it’s so hard to create, if you think about it. Anything worth creating takes time, and if you are worrying yourself into a frenzy all the time due to the negativity you see around you, you can’t believe that time will be well-spent. Which is a lie, but I digress.)

One of the hardest things in this world to do is to throw off that echo chamber. It is liberating to do, once you realize you need to do it, but just getting to the point you can even have that thought is hard.

Some of you may be going, “Barb, what on Earth are you talking about this time?”

Simply this: If you live your life defined by negativity, you can’t help but be weighed down.

But if you see your life as full of possibilities, as best you can, you have a better shot at throwing off that echo chamber and doing whatever it was you were meant to do.

(In my case, it’s creating. I love to create, whether it’s music, words, cooking…it gives me fulfillment and peace, when I can do that. But since you’re here at my blog, you may have realized this already…)

You must throw the echo chamber away, and with great force, and lose those weights that confine you. Because they do not — I repeat, do not — define you.

How do you resist the negativity in your life? Tell me about it in the comments!

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 11, 2017 at 12:09 pm

Work/Life Balance: Is it Achievable?

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Folks, lately I’ve been wondering about the above title — is work/life balance achievable? And if so, how do you go about it?

See, over the past week or so, I’ve been dealing with family health issues. I’ve also been working on my writing, editing, and staying in contact with a few friends here and there in order to remind myself there are good things in the world.

In short, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed.

There are so many things in this world I can’t do much about. And when I’m confronted with those things, I sometimes forget about the things I can do something about — that is, take care of myself; get adequate rest; remember to eat properly; get a little exercise here and there; enjoy the scenery; work for positive changes wherever possible, but try not to completely exhaust myself in the process.

And I can’t believe I’m the only one to ever feel this way.

It’s sometimes easier to focus on what we can’t do, because we’re often taught that it’s wrong to focus on ourselves. Even in a good, positive, healthy sense, where we’re trying to create something or help others or do the best work we can, it’s hard to stay focused on that when everything else seems to be falling apart.

So, is work/life balance achievable?

I think it is, but it’s a tough go sometimes. It’s like running into a headwind; you have to remind yourself that you’re doing your level best, and it has to be good enough. Just keep trying, refuse to let the despair win, refuse to let the exhaustion win, and keep going long enough so it becomes an ingrained habit…then, maybe, it will give you peace of mind to know that you’ve done everything you can on your own behalf.

It’s important to do what you can for yourself.

But how do I put that into practice, under the circumstances? Mostly, I try to remind myself often that it’s perfectly OK for me to put myself first and get the rest, food, and time I need to do what I have to do in order to feel like a fulfilled person even as these other things aren’t working out no matter how hard I try and no matter how much effort I put into it.

Just remember that while you do need to work on controlling what you can control, it’s really hard to do. We’re taught to be rugged individualists, mostly, and having to leave so much up to the Higher Power is difficult. (It really is.)

But don’t stop trying. Definitely don’t stop believing that better things are possible.

Because they are. Even when you can’t see them.

So yes, I do think work/life balance is achievable. And I’ll keep working on it. (How about you? Tell me in the comments!)

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 16, 2017 at 3:13 pm

Mozart, and Persistence

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Folks, what comes to mind when you think about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart?

Is it the fact that he was a gifted composer?

Is it that he was considered a virtuoso before the age of fifteen or so?

Is it that his father, Leopold, was also a composer and conductor?

Or is it that Mozart, like every other creative person on the face of this Earth (past or present), had to struggle at times, and not everyone liked what he was doing, or cared about it either?

Yes, Mozart was famous during his own lifetime. But he had struggles, too. (My conductor for the Racine Concert Band, Mark Eichner, pointed this out earlier this evening during his remarks.) For example, Mozart desperately wanted to break into the Paris opera scene; it was considered the “happening place,” back in the 1770s or so, and every composer who was anyone wanted to be known there.

So, he went to Paris. Taught some students, probably played some gigs here and there (as Mozart played any number of instruments, though he was known most for strings and piano), and managed to get a gig composing an overture for a ballet, “La Petite Riens.” (We played this piece tonight, hence Mr. Eichner’s remarks about Mozart. But I digress.) He thought that this would be his big break, as anyone who heard his music tended to adore it…but when he read the papers the next day after the ballet was premiered, he found out that his name wasn’t mentioned in the review. Nor was it mentioned in the concert’s program…

Yes, even W. A. Mozart could get treated badly, folks.

Anyway, the point here is that Mozart didn’t give up on his dreams after this setback. (It must’ve really smarted, too, considering.) He kept going. While it must’ve felt like a retreat, he went back to Germany, then to Italy, and elsewhere in Europe, and did what he needed to do in order to get his music played and published.

It may seem odd, that Mozart — the great Mozart — ran into problems. (This wasn’t his only problem, mind. He suffered money woes, health problems, problems with his kids and their health, difficulties with his wife’s family, and goodness knows what else.) But he was a human being, and as such, he had to deal with the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” like anyone else.

And it’s not like the man couldn’t compose. Anyone who’s heard any of his symphonies, or better yet, any of “The Magic Flute” (perhaps his best-known opera), knows that Mozart was an incredibly gifted and prolific composer…the large amount of music Mozart left behind, considering he died before the age of forty, testifies to that.

So, if you’ve run into problems with your creative pursuits, because you don’t think anyone cares, or you wonder what the point is, or you even wonder why you try so hard for so little of a result, remember what happened to Mozart.

Whatever has gone wrong this time, it is temporary. It doesn’t have to stop you if you refuse to let it do so.

So, remember this story…and don’t give up.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 31, 2017 at 12:08 am

#MondayInspiration: Be Your Best Self

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Folks, I continue to struggle with the housing crisis. But I wanted to make sure I wrote a blog today, as it’s Monday…we all need inspiration, and Monday seems to be the best day to put something up that might help someone, somewhere.

“But why, Barb, do you say I should be my best self? How is that inspirational in any way?” you ask.

Um, because being your best self isn’t always easy. Things happen, like my current housing crisis, that can throw you off your game. That makes it harder for you to tap into your creativity, and harder to do anything positive, because it doesn’t seem to matter much anyway.

But it truly does.

When you think your creativity doesn’t matter is precisely when it does. It’s your way of striking back against the darkness in your life. Against the stuff that’s going wrong, that maybe you can’t fix, that maybe you can’t even fathom…it’s your way of saying, “Hey, universe, you may have me by the throat, but you can’t break me.”

Look, folks. The courage to create is often tied up in two things: being willing to look stupid for a teensy bit (in order to get something important out), and knowing that you might well fail time and time again (because only in failure can you find your way through to success). These two things seem antithetical to creativity, but for some reason, they can also be a catalyst if you work it just right.

Yes, it’s paradoxical, that you can use these two things to fuel your creativity and fuel yourself during difficult and stressful times. But it works…it allows you to keep trying, because you aren’t as afraid to look stupid. And it allows you to keep working hard, even knowing that your first, second, third, or even sixty-first attempt might not be what you want…but the sixty-second just might be.

The main thing I want to impress upon you, readers, is this: You have to keep trying. Whatever creative spark that is in you, you need to encourage it to flower. You can’t give up, just because times are hard and bad…you have to do whatever you can, even if it’s very small, even if it seems unimportant, because that’s your way of being your best self.

Or at least your best creative self.

Anyway, what do you do when you feel up against it, and need to create? (Watch cat GIFs?) I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 24, 2016 at 2:51 pm