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Poem: "Zee" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Zee"
Here is the linkback perk poem from yesterday, originally appearing thanks to aldersprig on LiveJournal and on Dreamwidth.  "Zee" is part of the Monster House series; you can find the other poems via the Serial Poetry page.  This poem was written outside of the fishbowls, substantially inspired by aldersprig's stories of home renovation and the giraffe carpet.

It's finished now! Linkluv from: wyld_dandelyon, marina_bonomi, thesilentpoet, janetmiles, meeksp, kelkyag, rix_scaeduthe_vulture, aldersprig, fayanora


Zee


When our daughter outgrew her crib,
we decided that it was time to redecorate the nursery.
Given her blindness, there wasn't much point
in covering the walls with cartoons,
but we thought she might like a big fluffy rug
and some toddler furniture,
and maybe one of those musical night-lights.

At the carpet store, however,
she soon abandoned the deep-shag section
in favor of climbing over the huge rolls of artificial grass
and tugging at the corners of the Persian rugs
stacked on the floor.

Then she found the stack of wildlife rugs.
"Zee!  Zee!" she squealed, tugging my hand
and pointing at the garish black-and-white stripes.
She couldn't say zebra  yet
but clearly remembered the herd of Grant's zebras
from her birthday trip to the zoo.

"Well, the eye doctor did  say
that she might be able to distinguish bold contrasts,"
my wife pointed out.

"It certainly is that," I said,
eyeing the rug a bit dubiously.
It was difficult to make the mental switch.
We had originally done up the nursery 
in soft baby shades of yellow and green and lavender.
Catalogs of children's furniture ran to bright primaries
of red and blue and yellow.
Black and white conjured visions of noir films
and ultra-modern yuppie apartments,
not the cozy bedroom of a little girl.
"I'm not sure we'll have much luck matching that rug,"
I said to my wife.

She gave a philosophical shrug
and tipped her head at our daughter
who was crouched beside the zebra print,
petting it.
"It's her  room," said my wife.
"We can always buy unfinished furniture
and paint it ourselves."

So we bought the zebra rug
and some fresh paint.
Then we spent the weekend
taking up the butter-yellow carpet and
sanding the floorboards underneath.
We rolled white paint over the floorboards
and the mint-green walls with lavender trim.
The zebra rug did have a smart black border
that contrasted sharply with the white boards beneath.

We found a white toddler bed,
then an unfinished dresser
and a table-and-chair set
that we painted white.
We added dainty black rings
on all the legs and rungs,
carefully following patterns
on the lathe-turned wood.
The ends of the bed and top of the table
were overlain with broad black stripes,
their patterns carefully copied
from pictures in National Geographic.

My mother sent us a carousel lamp
that projected its painted ponies onto the walls
and played the Brahms lullaby.
It was a total failure.
Our daughter hated the music,
and the finicky mechanism kept failing
so that the rotating carousel jammed
or the whole thing simply turned itself off.

Getting a toddler to sleep
proved a lot more difficult
than getting a baby to sleep.
She could stay awake longer, howl louder,
and demand yet another storybook.

In the interest of somebody getting at least some  sleep,
we finally set a bedtime and a limit of one book.
Then we would leave her to fall asleep on her own,
eventually, hopefully.

After a week of that,
we were all tired and grouchy
and beginning to think
that neither grandparents nor parenting books
had any idea what they were talking about.

Then one evening,
my wife said suddenly,
"What's that smell?"
I lifted my head and sniffed,
wondering if mold had gotten into a wall
or the toddler had messed the bed.

The smell was there, all right,
but nothing like what I expected.
This was a hot, dry smell
drifting faintly down the stairs:
sun-baked earth and dusty grass,
mingling with fur and sweat.
I glanced at the window;
it was still streaked with the recent rain,
and the radiators smelled only
of dust and metal, not hay.

Curious, I climbed the stairs,
and as I climbed I began to hear sounds
softly spilling from the nursery:
the swish of wind in grass, distant hoofbeats,
a low chuckling whicker.

Silently I opened the door and peeked inside.
The carousel lamp had conked out again,
leaving the room dark but for the slatted moonlight
falling through the blinds on the window.
Our daughter lay curled on her side, in her striped footie pajamas,
one hand in her mouth, eyes closed and smiling,
in a room that smelled of savannah and whispered of zebras.

Then I realized the truth:
the house was telling her a bedtime story
about Africa.

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Current Mood: busy busy

42 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
fayanora From: fayanora Date: January 5th, 2012 03:24 am (UTC) (Link)
Wow. I greedily anticipate more!

Glad to know this character isn't 100% blind. It's more realistic this way, since most blind people do have *some* sight.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 5th, 2012 03:29 am (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

A person without eyes will have no sight, and there are a few conditions that can damage eyeballs to that degree. But a lot of legally blind people can distinguish light from dark, or colors, or vague shapes -- but can't recognize faces or read or most other things people use sight for. It's why adaptive equipment for the blind is often black/white or bold colors. I came across some of this stuff when I was researching Rai for Torn World.
(Deleted comment)
fayanora From: fayanora Date: January 5th, 2012 04:46 am (UTC) (Link)
I figured it might be going towards some kind of magic something. :-)
fayanora From: fayanora Date: January 5th, 2012 05:49 am (UTC) (Link)
The house itself is alive! Awesome!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 5th, 2012 05:55 am (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

In a sense, it is. It has some awareness and ability to respond. It's not made of flesh the way some of the monsters are, though. It can perceive but I don't believe it thinks quiet the way humans -- or even the other monsters -- think.
fayanora From: fayanora Date: January 5th, 2012 06:06 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

Reminds me of Lyria's fortress, a little. She learned from a Fae friend how to make her fortress into a knowe. As a knowe, it is MUCH bigger on the inside than it seems to be on the outside, and is alive. It also has a variability of size and dimensions, internally; it can expand, contract, and rearrange things without disrupting other areas.

In fact, there's a throwaway line in one chapter where Lyria mentions that they found a dead body in a closet once, the remains of someone who tried to break in and somehow succeeded (but also failed, obviously). I haven't written the story from the dead person's perspective yet, but I got parts of it in my mind. However he managed to get in... once he got in, the fortress kept messing with its own internal geometry around him until it tricked him into walking into a closet, where it then made the door disappear behind him. Poor fool must have died of dehydration.

But on the other end of the spectrum from that, one of the floors of the fortress is basically this several dozen square mile village and farmland, where her servants grow all the food. So that one floor on its own is at least half a dozen or a dozen times larger than the outside of the fortress. (This, and the fotrtress's water recycling, also means they can withstand a siege indefinitely.)
From: rhodielady_47 Date: January 5th, 2012 01:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Speaking of short stories about people with disabilities:
I remember reading a short story about a small group of kids who were of normal intelligence in a world where everyone else had genius level IQ's.
This came about via genetic engineering however it wasn't 100% reliable and the result was this small group of kids.
Life was difficult for them. Acquiring an education was difficult, jobs were hard to come by and they only had each other for friendship. Then life got even harder: The Govt decided to start testing every pregnancy and terminating any pregnancy whose fetus was found to only be of normal intelligence.
This group of normal kids decide to immigrate to a newly found inhabitable planet but then they have to argue in court for the right to do so!
The story ends with them having won the right.
Very good story but I don't remember who wrote it as it's easily been 30+ years ago now that I read it.
:)

lb_lee From: lb_lee Date: January 5th, 2012 06:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
That actually sounds familiar to a short story I read a good few years ago. (Long since forgotten the title, but it was in an anthology called "Why I Left Harry's All-Night Hamburgers," or something close to that.) It was a story where everyone could just have anything they wanted downloaded into their head--skills, mainly. You'd just say, "I want to learn X today," and bam! Insta-learn.

The tale concerned one guy who the insta-learn didn't work for. He went into a sculpting contest, and was really upset that he couldn't download the style for, so he had to learn it the old-fashioned way. It was a huge pain in the ass, but he realized it was actually quite rewarding, and found that because of the insta-learn, a lot of people had forgotten how to learn any other way... so if it wasn't in the insta-learn, it wasn't worth knowing.

I remember very little about it (like I said, AGES ago) but it was pretty interesting idea.

--Rogan
lb_lee From: lb_lee Date: January 5th, 2012 06:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Am I weird for disliking the "disabilities into superpowers" trope? Maybe I'm too fond of the reverse, turning superpowers into liabilities...

I do more fantasy than sci-fi, and I don't feel like I'm GREAT at using disability, but yeesh, at least I use it. I've got a deaf sexton with a mute golem (they use sign language with each other), a horse-man thing that's under a geas not to use any form of linguistic communication (verbal OR sign) so has to communicate purely symbolically, a stone guy with peripheral neuropathy that combined with supernatural strength makes him into walking property damage. And there are a fair few folks with mental issues--the guy who has communication and sensory processing issues, the massively dyslexic.

Huh. Guess I have a few. I'm just not used to classifying it as "disability" so much as "thing that causes problems but can be adapated to," in the same ballpark as, "has an incompetent vampire randomly wrangling to control her mind at times" or, "allergic to magic." I mean, in spec fic, there's so many ways to toy with what it means to have a disability... are vampires disabled because they explode in sunlight?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 7th, 2012 05:21 am (UTC) (Link)

No...

>>Am I weird for disliking the "disabilities into superpowers" trope?<<

Based on my observation of this topic, dislike is the prevailing opinion. I'm in the minority for liking that trope. As long as you're polite about it like this, I'm cool with that; people are entitled to have different tastes. I just get annoyed when people are snarky about it, and that's very common with these issues.

>> Maybe I'm too fond of the reverse, turning superpowers into liabilities...<<

I really like that one too.

I like both, because they speak to different aspects of my own experiences and my observations of other people's experiences with abilities that are above or below average. Sometimes a limitation in one area pushes you to develop something else a lot more than usual. Sometimes a gift comes with a very costly drawback. To me, those are interesting stories.

I very frequently do this with gaming characters, and I will never understand why gaming companies always give in and nerf the super-powered races because dumb game masters don't understand the built-in drawbacks well enough to compensate for the advantages. I love playing, or GMing, characters with very strong strength and weakness peaks. It's just more exciting.

Thing is, when you're dealing with a topic like this, you have to know what you're doing. If you screw up the practical details, people will justifiably complain. If you trivialize the gravity of the situation, people will justifiably complain. Sometimes writers flub this stuff awfully, and I don't like that at all. But I wish that people would not assume it's always going to be a botch-up in some way.

I believe that a good story about a handicapped hero is one where the flaw matters -- you can see how it affects the character's worldview, actions, other people's behavior, etc. -- yet that isn't necessarily the only thing going on in the plot, there is also some other concern.

Some of the stories I write are 'about' disability, and how people deal with it, like "Clouds in the Morning," where Rai struggles with a visual handicap in a school system that makes no accommodations for it. Others are just stories about people going about their lives, and it happens that they have a disability; "These Teeth, Like Stars" is about Marai celebrating Raiser Day, and how she experiences it as a deaf woman. I developed both of those Torn World characters, and for each of them I did research on what their handicap is and how people with that handicap function. Marai is actually an adoptable character, shared by contributors, and several other folks have also done research on deaf people so her stories are really good at conveying that experience. Now it happens that Rai has an ability he doesn't know about yet, but I as an author do: he can see the Others. That's not exactly a superpower, but could be construed as such in the South, although it's the norm for Northerners. Marai on the other hand is pretty ordinary. Then if you look at the daughter of Monster House, she is blind, just barely able to distinguish stark constrasts. But she's got a seeing-eye gremlin, and later on, the Eye of Fate. There are things she can see and things she can't, which affects how she moves through the world and how she interacts with people. She's never all one thing or all the other, always in-between. And her poems often focus on her perceptions of the world, especially the difference between eyesight and visionary awareness. Those are just a few examples of exploring different aspects of ability and disability, worldviews, how other people react, etc.

ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 7th, 2012 05:22 am (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts


>>I do more fantasy than sci-fi, and I don't feel like I'm GREAT at using disability, but yeesh, at least I use it.<<

You know, that's another reason why I dislike it when people attack stories or writers. It discourages writers from trying -- and the only way to get good at something is to go do it, sometimes over and over again before you get it right.

Your characters sound relatively awesome to me.

>>And there are a fair few folks with mental issues--the guy who has communication and sensory processing issues, the massively dyslexic.<<

One of the Torn World ethnic groups is prone to dyslexia, which is a SERIOUS handicap in the Empire because the whole culture basically runs on paperwork. So they developed a profession of people who fill out licenses and do other paperwork for the folks who can't or just want to hire an expert.

>>I'm just not used to classifying it as "disability" so much as "thing that causes problems but can be adapated to," in the same ballpark as, "has an incompetent vampire randomly wrangling to control her mind at times" or, "allergic to magic." <<

There are a lot of different ways to count it, including these useful options:

1) A disability is a limitation. It prevents the character from doing things, or requires them to do things, that cause challenges in everyday life. A character who is very big will encounter certain problems, like bumping into low-hanging objects or breaking thing, even if perfectly healthy.

2) A disability is a significant drop below what is average for a given species. So the expectations are set by what is common physically or mentally within that species -- which can change over time. Human-normal hearing would be nearly deaf for a canine species.

3) A disability is a significant variation from what is socially expected. Dyslexia is a great example, because it's trivial or irrelevant in a nonliterate society, but a moderate to devastating problem in a literate society depending on how much emphasis they put on reading and writing. In the Empire, the Unlettered are shut out of much of the society.

>>I mean, in spec fic, there's so many ways to toy with what it means to have a disability... are vampires disabled because they explode in sunlight?<<

Oh hell yes. I have that one. I don't explode, but in full summer sun I start to turn pink after 5 minutes, with sunscreen; though with some cloud cover or low angle I'll last longer. I just never go out in full sun if I can avoid it, I stay in the shade. And I have had people throw an absolute fit over that. Dietary restrictions also count.

Note that in almost all vampire fiction, the vampires and the humans are separate in some way, not fully integrated. It just takes different forms in different worlds. That is heavily influenced by the differences between humans and vampires. Seriously, try concentrating on "catching fire in sunlight is a disability, being a liquivore is a disability" ... and then reread some vampire stories, watching for discrimination. It pops right out. For a really awesome look at some decent vampires trying to learn how to live with humans, despite a largely segregated and hostile history, see the Donor House series by kajones_writing.
whuffle From: whuffle Date: January 5th, 2012 08:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
*grins*

Sometimes I have middle-of-the-night or morning-wakeup conversations with my preschooler that make me think he experiences something akin to this when he's falling asleep.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 6th, 2012 03:13 am (UTC) (Link)

Yay!

I'm glad that managed toddler plausibility here.
wyld_dandelyon From: wyld_dandelyon Date: January 7th, 2012 04:04 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks! This was fun.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 7th, 2012 09:15 am (UTC) (Link)

You're welcome!

I'm glad you like it.
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