Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘inspiration

Sunday Thoughts: Be a Better Person (Starting Today)

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Former President Jimmy Carter is the inspiration for this blog post. Enjoy!

Have you ever felt like wishing that you could just start over? That you messed up something so bad, so vital to your well-being, and you have no way in the world to fix it?

We all have done things we’re not proud of, as there are very few saints walking the face of this Earth. (At least, saints the quality of Mother Teresa, or Father Damien the Leper-Priest.) So I’m guessing that at least a few of you know what I mean.

You’ve had a bad day. Or a bad succession of days. And you wonder what you can possibly do to redeem yourself. Or at least do better than you’ve been doing.

Jimmy Carter has the answer, and it’s surprisingly simple. Decide to be a better person. Starting today.

See, the first thing you have to do, if you feel like you’ve messed up in an irredeemable way, is to tell yourself, “No more. I will do better. I will be better.”

Then, of course, you have to do the work. You have to figure out what type of person you want to be. And do everything in your power to work toward what you see as your best self — a more generous person, perhaps. Or a wiser one. Or maybe even one that’s more self-forgiving…ahem.

But you first have to make up your mind that you are going to change for the better. And that you’ve had enough of the status quo, whatever it is that’s plaguing you; that, too, you have to decide to get past, because otherwise, you’re going to fall into the same old traps.

That said, every day is a new day. If you screwed up badly yesterday, today is a clean slate. You can still make it a worthwhile day full of laughter and love, or creativity and inspiration (or better yet, all of the above). You, too, can make a better life for yourself, brick by brick, resolution by resolution.

You do not have to be held back by your fears, or by your past mistakes. Not if you don’t wish to be.

No, you can’t change the past. But you can learn from it. And you can grow, and change, and deepen, and make yourself more interesting and empathetic and kinder if you truly wish.

So, what do you want to do? Stay in the same ever-changing rut? Or learn from your failures, and make a clean, fresh start?

Yes. You can be a better person. Believe in yourself, give yourself a chance, and go forward rather than reliving the past.

You can still change the future, if you act today. But ultimately, it is all up to you.

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 26, 2019 at 4:43 am

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!

Collaboration with a Purpose: Graduate School and One Step Toward the Impossible…

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Today’s theme for the group of bloggers I’m a part of known as Collaboration with a Purpose is “One Step Toward the Impossible.” And as such, I wracked my brains trying to find a topic.



Well, I actually had so many different ideas, I didn’t know which one to pick. (And yes, sometimes too many ideas is as much of a problem as too few.)

The three ideas were:

  1. My lengthy journey to get into graduate school
  2. The journey I’ve been forced to endure as a widow toward building a better and more fulfilling life
  3. The overall journey every person has in attempting to find himself/herself in a culture where many superficial things are celebrated to the detriment of what is true and real

So, what did I finally decide?

I thought discussing my journey to get into graduate school might be interesting. So, without further ado…

Graduate school was definitely a journey that started with a hesitant, single step. I remember going back to finish my Bachelor’s as a slightly older than average student, and telling my advisors that I wanted to go to grad school. That I’d always wanted to go. And what did I need to do so I could?

It turned out that first, I needed to clear up some old debts, so I could get my transcripts released from my undergrad work at another college. I needed to do this first, because until I did, I could not graduate with my Bachelor’s, much less aspire to anything else.

This seemed utterly impossible. First, I was flat broke. Second, I was getting a divorce. Third, I had so many bills that I didn’t have any idea how I was even going to live from day to day, much less anything else.

But I persevered. I took a single step of going back to school, first, even though I couldn’t officially become a degree-seeking student until I had fixed a certain amount of debt. Then, I took another step, and took lessons from probably my favorite overall clarinet and sax teacher, Tim Bell, one of the most encouraging and helpful people I’ve ever run across. Third, I took another single step by working on my music composition with Mark Eichner (who’s now my conductor in the Racine Concert Band)…I didn’t know how anything was going to shake out, but I was at least willing to try to put myself in a position to make it happen.

Then, one night, my mother and I were out at the old Dairyland Greyhound Park in Kenosha, Wisconsin. We liked to go watch the dogs run, and yes, we bet small amounts of money on them, too.

That night, I bet $2 on a superfecta — meaning I had to get four dogs in some sort of order — and my superfecta was what they call a “partial wheel,” meaning I had picked two of the dogs to finish in a particular order, but the other two could come in elsewise. (I know this is not an accurate description, but bogging down this blog with how to work a partial wheel on a superfecta is not my idea of a good time. All apologies if this disappoints you.) And at first, I thought I’d lost.

My Mom checked my ticket, and said, “But Barb, you’ve got the winning combo. At least go up and check the ticket.”

I did, hoping like fire that I did have it. Because the winning ticket paid enough for me to fix the transcript issue, and become a degree-seeking student…

Yes, I had the winner.

I can’t tell you what a relief it was to find out I did have it, mind, ’cause I had been working hard toward this particular end for nearly a year by this time. I was upset  earlier that day, I remember, because of the divorce proceedings, and I’d needed distraction — thus the dog track.

Mom and I had other bills to pay, mind, but I knew that if I didn’t pay this particular bill now, I was likely to not ever get another chance. So, I paid the bill, got my transcripts released, became an official, degree-seeking student, and then asked what else I could do to make things easier on me to getting my degree. (I had to do my last thirty credits in residence at Parkside, mind, and the twelve credits I could take as a non-degree seeking student were already in the can. That means I had eighteen credits yet to go.)

My advisors, Tim Bell and Mark Eichner, told me to try out for a music scholarship.

I did, and I won the best one they had, which knocked half off my tuition. The rest, I’d have to pay in installments, as I was out of financial aid…but I was working full-time as a cashier and stocker, so I vowed to do just that.

While it took me a bit of extra time to make those three payments, I managed it. But then, I had some health issues, and had to take an incomplete in my favorite class of my final semester: United States History, senior-level. (Did I mention yet that I have the equivalents of minors in history and English? No? Oops…) I had to write a couple of papers to finish that up, and I had until the following May to get that in, or my grade — which had been an A before the incomplete had to be taken — would turn into an F.

I wasn’t about to let this stop me, either. So I wrote the papers. Did all the research. Turned them in, and got complimented by my history professor for doing so much work as he’d expected four or five-page papers, not twenty-five to thirty page papers.

(Am I an overachiever? Well, yeah…)

So, my degree requirements had been completed. I had my BA in Music. And I started looking around for grad schools.

I did a couple of auditions in the next few months, helped along by my family — without them, I’d not have been able to get there, as the money was definitely not there for me to travel. (And really, you have to do auditions in person if you want to be a music performance major. A tape only gets you in the door. I am reasonably sure it’s still the same way, because a tape can be altered; performance, in person, can’t be faked.) And I settled on a school, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, because I liked the saxophone teacher, Robert Fought, and believed he’d be able to teach me a great deal. (He did, too, down the line. Good teacher, Dr. Fought.)

At this point, I was offered a full-tuition scholarship and a job as a graduate teaching assistant, meaning I’d be paid a small stipend. The two were a package deal, and I didn’t hesitate to take advantage of it.

But then, life threw me another curveball. As I was readying myself to go to graduate school, I injured my back at work. And this was no minor injury, either; somehow, I pulled nearly every single muscle in my back, and was off work for nearly three months.

By the time I was able to get around again, the first semester (fall) had started at Nebraska. I didn’t know if they’d hold my TAship until the spring or not, but I told Dr. Fought I really did want to go to Nebraska and learn from him.

A number of other difficult things happened, but finally, I managed to get to Nebraska and start my graduate school education.

Note that this journey, which had once seemed impossible, started with a single step. It took nearly four years of hard work, a couple of good breaks I immediately took advantage of, and overcoming at least five bad breaks in the process. But I got it done.

This, to my mind, is what this theme is all about. So I hope my journey will help you all realize that if you set your mind to it, and you do not waver, and you give it your best effort, you, too, can do whatever you put your mind to.

I firmly believe that.

Now, go check out my fellow bloggers and their takes on the subject (the quotes are from some of their best lines, as summarized by the inestimable Nicolle of Stories of a Highly Sensitive Introvert):


  • Addison D’Marko (“If you want to achieve complete happiness one of the things you are going to have to do is care less. By this I mean stop putting so much thought into the things that do not matter.”)
  • Ajibola Sunday @ Inspirational Motivation (“The true definition of success is being happy and living up to your potentials.”)
  • Camilla Motte @ Moms on the Go (“We want to be help to the helpless. We all need love and support and I pray this community will be that for you.”)
  • Divyang Shah @ i think my way (“If someone don’t speak much, don’t interpret as a dumb, their mind must be working on something very big or may be he is a writer and observing surrounding on which he would come with some deep write-ups.”)
  • Jothish Joseph @ TheJothishJosephBlog (“Anybody can write “Extra” before “ordinary” but only people of courage dare to earn it…”)
  • Ipuna Black (“None of us are perfect or come from perfect backgrounds, but this doesn’t mean we can’t aim for a positive and fulfilling life. The life we all deserve.”)
  • Jane Love @ Harmonious Joy (“People who have a genuine say and a true voice of their own… not just an echo of some celebrity they think they love.”)
  • Manal Ahmad a.k.a. iamthatgirl @ Sensible Nonsense (“Who says oblivion happens to all of us? A single act of kindness makes sure you live on in somebody’s heart.”)
  • Mylene C. Orillo (“Where I’m at right now is a testament that ‘Dreams really do come true.’”)
  • Sadaf Siddiqi (“The best thing about memories, is one doesn’t realise they are making memories but once recorded, it just rewinds and takes one back to the beautiful series of life.”)
  • Sonyo Estavillo @ ‘Lil Pick Me Up (“I am here to champion anyone from the successful and confident folks, to those that are clinically depressed.”)
  • Tajwar Fatma @ LifeAsWeHaveNeverKnownIt (“When life hits you hard, hit back harder!”)
  • And of course Nicolle K @ Stories of a Highly Sensitive Introvert! (“Success, for me, is when I spend my days feeling happy, peaceful, fulfilled and without fear of lack. 😊”)

Any questions? Tell me about ’em in the comments!


Written by Barb Caffrey

August 4, 2017 at 6:37 pm

Whither Writing, or, How to Stop Getting in Your Own Way

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Folks, I keep meaning to write this little bloglet about writing, and time keeps slipping away.

Why? Well, I’m still ensconced in my final edit of A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE. Were my hands a bit better — I’ve been dealing with a flare-up of my carpal tunnel syndrome for the past few months — it would’ve been done by now.

So I thought to myself today, “Why am I judging myself by other people’s standards?”

Writing is an individual pursuit. Anyone who writes knows this. We all have different styles of writing, different ways of writing, and different habits away from writing, all of which adds up to one thing: we are individuals, doing individual pursuits.

Before you say it…I know this is obvious. But sometimes, you must point out the obvious.

Especially when you tend to forget about it, as most of us do.

So here’s my thought: We are all individuals, right? So why do we try to judge our writing progress by anyone else’s standards?

I know, I know. There are some standards that seem irrefutable.

But if I try, say, to judge what I’m doing by what my friends are doing, I’m going to lose.

Then again, if they judge themselves by what I’m doing, they might lose, too. Especially as I don’t know what their standards are; only they do.

Look, folks. You have to judge yourself solely by what you do. And you have to allow yourself to be yourself: an individual voice doing individual things in an individual way.

That’s how you stop getting in your own way, as a writer or in life.

Think about it.

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 9, 2015 at 12:42 pm