Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "To Change the Audience"

This poem came out of the November 2015 [community profile] crowdfunding Creative Jam. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] capriuni. It also fills the "identity crisis" square in my 11-3-15 card for the Disaster Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by EdorFaus. It belongs to the Antimatter & Stalwart Stan thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

"To Change the Audience"

The cell was a little dimmer without
any extra light from the viewscreen,
and Shiv stared at the ceiling while
his thoughts ran in circles.

His foot began tapping against
the bed frame, and soon he
gave in to the urge to pace.

He pulled the balls off his target
and threw them back at it, one at a time,
but he was so shook up that he kept missing.

None of it helped anyhow.

Shiv flopped back onto his bed
and picked up the tablet in hope
that snipping a few snowflakes
would make him feel better.

It didn't turn on.

Disgusted with himself
for forgetting the punishment,
Shiv chucked it on the bed.

Well, fuck.

He stared at the ceiling
again, trying not to --

-- trying not to lose control of himself.

He rubbed his cheek where
the guard's sleeve had itched against it,
keeping his face off of the floor.

Then Shiv rolled over
to face the wall, curling
around his pillow.

He didn't know how long he lay there,
because the clock display was turned off too.

Eventually he got bored enough
to remember the one book he had
that wasn't stored on the tablet:
the metallurgy text that Tolliver
had given him with the scraps.

It was one of the hardest books
that Shiv had actually tried to read,
not just glanced at and dropped
as too confusing. It helped that
there were plenty of pictures
to break up all the words.

One picture explained how
a blast furnace could turn rock into
workable iron, with all the parts labeled.
Shiv couldn't really imagine how hot it got,
but he understood that higher numbers
were hotter than the lower ones.

Another page showed how metals were
made of stacked bits way down inside, which
reminded Shiv of something that he had seen in
a science textbook about different gemstones.

Maybe the structure had something to do
with why crystals wanted to snap from
one shape to another, while metals
tended to flow under his talent.

It was kind of like how some art programs
would drag your lines onto a grid and
others would let you draw any old way.

The door rattled, startling Shiv into
dropping the book on his lap.

"Shiv, I'm coming in," Rosie said
as the door swung open.

The guard still had that flat, disappointed look
on his face that made something inside Shiv
crumple to see it, and he hated feeling that way.
Rosie just looked quiet and patient.

Oh, this was going to suck so much.

Rosie slipped into the cell and
waited for the door to lock behind him.
"May I take a seat?" he asked.
"We're going to be a while."

Shiv struggled with the options,
not wanting to give in, but also
not wanting to have Rosie just
hovering over him for however
long he felt like harassing Shiv.

"Chair's under the desk," he muttered,
hoping that would be enough.

Rosie walked to the end of the cell,
retrieved the chair, and sat down
facing the bed where Shiv lay.
"Thank you for your hospitality."

"So how much trouble am I in?" Shiv said.
Might as well just get it over with.

"Mr. Vanburen and I talked about your outburst
and decided that conventional discipline
would be less effective than a chance
to talk about your feelings," Rosie said.
"Clearly you need something that
you're not getting, or you wouldn't
be acting up the way you did."

Shiv bit his lip to avoid whimpering.

He'd been prepared to lose all his privileges
for a while -- of which an hour was laughably low --
but he hadn't counted on anything like this.

"After that, I want to try something
a little different," Rosie said.

"Whatever," Shiv said.

He'd gotten through Boss Batir
beating the shit out of him.
He could get through this too.

Rosie started out by talking about
how everyone needed to be touched --
which was obvious hogwash -- and
what bad things touch starvation
could do to a person.

Shiv tuned out as much as he could,
every word like sandpaper under his skin,
only answering when Rosie asked questions
a second or third time about how he felt
and whether anything had changed
over the last week or so.

Shiv hedged and hawed as much
as he could, but Rosie wasn't exactly
the easiest person to lie to.

Then came a long lecture about boundaries
and how people were supposed to respect
each other, which was utter bullshit.

It was all Shiv could do to keep from
rolling his eyes, but Rosie was looking
right at him, and that'd only make
for another repetition of the point.

"Come on, Shiv, look where I'm pointing,"
Rosie said, plainly not for the first time.

Shiv looked -- and there was a picture.
"Huh," he said, leaning forward to peer
at the tablet Rosie held out to him.

Different colored circles, one inside
the other, like a stack of them,
had little labels that read Family,
Friends, Acquaintances, Strangers

"The boundaries are lowest in the center,
where people are closest to you," Rosie said.
"They get higher the farther out they go,
so outsiders can't get into your head.
That affects how people interact,
and there's another diagram for
social influence, here."

A new picture appeared, about
sharing and responsibility and stuff.

Oh! So that's why the rules kept changing.
Nobody had ever explained that there
were whole different sets of rules.

Then Rosie talked about personal space
and why people getting all up in it was bad
and how you should be nice to everyone.

"Manners are stupid," Shiv said.
"Nobody really cares about them."

"Some people do, and when they do,
it makes life a little smoother," Rosie insisted.

Shiv shook his head. "Naw, I know
better than that," he said. "Being nice
just marks you out as easy meat."

"You feel like being polite makes you
more of a target," Rosie said.

"Well it does," Shiv said.
"Least if I stand up for myself,
people know I'm not safe to mess with."

"Ideally, people respect each other,"
Rosie said. "It's not all give and no take."

Shiv snorted. "Maybe for you."

"I think people have been giving you
the wrong impression, including here,"
Rosie said, frowning. "When they violate
your boundaries, that makes it harder for
you to learn where the lines should be
and how to respect other people's."

"If you say so," Shiv said,
looking away. "But it's the guards
in charge of things, not you."

"I can still speak to them about
the importance of not doing things that
make everyone's job harder," Rosie said.

"They're all the same, just you're
the one sticks out," Shiv said.

"They are not all the same," said Rosie.
"Take your mark from Mr. Vanburen,
he won't steer you wrong."

"He hates me," Shiv said.

"I wouldn't put it that way," Rosie said.
"He disapproves of your misbehavior."

"Everyone hates me," Shiv said.

"Even your friends back in Omaha?"
Rosie said. "You seem to have
some kind of connection there."

"I don't have friends," Shiv said.

"Do you want friends?" Rosie asked.

Friends were for idiots still in gradeschool,
but Shiv needed something to shut him up with.
"I have allies," he said. "Allies are useful."

"All right then, let's work with that,"
Rosie said with a satisfied smile
that made Shiv wonder what the hell
he'd just let slip without knowing it and
what the mistake would cost him.

"Uh huh," Shiv said.

"Sometimes the best way to change things
is to change the context around them,"
Rosie said. "So to change your behavior,
look for ways to change the audience that
you're playing to. You have different people
around you now than you used to -- is that
a good thing or a bad thing for you?"

"I dunno," Shiv said with a twitch of
his shoulder, but he couldn't help thinking
that getting away from Boss Batir
was definitely a good thing.

"May I come sit with you?" Rosie asked.
"This will be easier side-by-side."

Shiv looked at the chair and then
at his bed. "O ... kay ..."

Rosie sat down right beside him.
Shiv instantly leaned away.

"See, now you're uncomfortable
because I'm inside your space,"
Rosie said. "I'll move here --"
He shifted to the foot of the bed.
"-- and then you sit wherever
you feel comfortable."

Shiv moved all the way to the head.

"Okay, that's social distance," Rosie said.
"You're comfortable, but that makes it
harder for us to share a tablet."

Shiv sighed and inched closer.
"Why can't we just use the viewscreen?"

"Because that wouldn't give you
the experience you just had of
adjusting space," Rosie said.
"Besides, this way it's easier
for me to point at things so you
can see what I'm discussing."

Shiv was too busy watching
Rosie's hands -- to make sure
the other man wasn't about
to grab him -- to pay attention
to anything else, but whatever.

"I know that you don't like
talking about yourself, but
you're a lot more receptive
to observing other people,"
Rosie said. "So let's stop
trying to teach the goat
to sing, and just focus on
what you actually do well."

That startled Shiv into a laugh.
"Why the sudden change?"

"Because we aren't going to have
the kind of time I expected when
you first arrived here -- today's slip
notwithstanding -- and that means
we just have to make the best of
what we do have," Rosie said.

"You think they'll still let me out
early and all?" Shiv said.

"I think they know the difference
between acting out and active malice,"
Rosie said. "You could have killed
Mr. Vanburen if you wanted to,
but you chose not to."

"I'm not a fuckin' whackjob!" Shiv snapped.

"Exactly my point," said Rosie.
"So let's work on skills that match that.
You have the beginnings of good observation.
I think if we shore up your fundamental knowledge,
you'll understand people better and that will
help improve your interactions."

Shiv groaned. "I hate school."

"I'm pretty sure whatever schools you attended
did a poor job of meeting your needs," Rosie said.
"Let's see if I can do better than that. This is
a list of basic human emotions."

Shiv glanced at the list and said, "Yeah, so?"

"Now here's a picture of how they
appear at different intensities," Rosie said.

"It looks like a flower," Shiv said,
leaning forward so he could see better.

"Here's a similar picture with
cartoon people added," said Rosie.

"Look at that guy," Shiv said
as he pointed and snickered.
"He must have just eaten
the cafeteria food."

"That's disgust," Rosie said, touching
the picture to expand it. "You can see
his tongue sticking out. What do you think
he ate -- the tofu or the spinach pie?"

Shiv shuddered. "Don't remind me
about the spinach pie." He'd only
tasted it because he lost a bet.

"Okay," said Rosie. "Look at
this list of different emotion words."

"That's a lot of words," Shiv said.
He really hoped Rosie wasn't about
to try making him memorize that shit.
Shiv sucked at remembering things.

"It is a big list, but look what happens
when we put the words on a wheel,"
said Rosie. "Now you can see
how they go together."

"They're different colors ..."
Shiv leaned over so far that
their shoulders bumped together.
He jerked away. "Don't report me."

"I'm not going to report you," Rosie said.
"It's okay to brush against someone
when you're sharing a tablet like this."

"Yeah, right," Shiv muttered.

Rosie's finger traced a line on the screen.
"Look at how these go from a big category to
a smaller category to really specific ones," he said.
"Surprised goes to startled, amazed, confused,
and excited. Then confused breaks down
into disillusioned and perplexed."

Shiv still didn't know what most
of the words meant, but he knew
the first two layers -- and suddenly
realized that even if he didn't know
the other words, he could think of
them as 'surprised' or 'confused'
and at least get sort of close.

"Smooth," slipped out
before he could catch it.

"I'm happy to hear that this is working
for you," Rosie said. "Now let's try
that face exercise you're good at."

Shiv went through it fast, because
he had done this one plenty of times --
it was an easy way to rack up ten points.

"See, you've got that one down pat,"
Rosie said. "Now let's make it a little harder.
We'll go from the short list of emotions to
the medium list, so there are four versions
of 'surprised' faces. See how many you get."

It was harder to figure out which face
meant 'startled' and which meant 'amazed,'
although 'confused' was still easy and
that just left 'excited' by default.

No sooner had Shiv gotten the hang
of the surprised faces than Rosie
switched to the disgusted set,
which also had four versions.

The faces weren't even all the same,
a mix of men and women, light and dark.

By the time Shiv could pick out
disappointed, disapproving,
awful, and repelled -- the last
of which he'd had to ask about
because he'd never heard of it --
he was getting a headache.

Then when Shiv learned those,
Rosie mixed both sets together.

Now Shiv had to figure out
which category and which of
the littler boxes it went into.
The effort made his head worse.

Fuck, it hurt. Shiv felt like he'd
been rubbed raw from the inside out.
Maybe shoving that guard hadn't
been such a great idea after all.

"I think that's enough for today,"
Rosie said, and turned off the tablet.
"We'll pick up a new category next time.
Maybe I can even find you a book of pictures
so that you can practice offline too. It's not good
for your eyes to stare at a screen too much."

"I, I'm not that crazy about books,"
Shiv said, rubbing the bridge of his nose.

"Then maybe you haven't found the right kind,"
Rosie said. "Stories are to the mind as food is to the body.
Books are to stories as refrigerators are to food."

"Thought you meant to bring me
picture books," Shiv said.

"Yes, but pictures can tell stories
just as well as words," Rosie said.
"If you understand pictures better than
words, we can use the pictures, and
I'll show you how to make stories
out of them another time."

"... okay, I guess," said Shiv.

Rosie patted him on the knee,
and then stood up to leave.
"Thank you for visiting," he said.
"You worked hard today."

Shiv listened to the door open and
close, not bothering to get up
and put the chair away.

Why were they wasting so much time
and work on a dumb crook like him?

Shiv knew he was dumb --
everyone had said it often enough --
and he knew that he wasn't ever
going to get anywhere by trying
to think his way through it.

That was what knives and
superpowers were for, after all.

He knew who he was.
He knew what he was for.
He knew where that all went.
He had known those things for years.

So why did he keep flashing on all the confused faces?

* * *


"To change man, the audience by which he judges himself must be changed. A man is defined by his audience: by the people, institutions, authors, magazines, movie heroes, philosophers by whom he pictures himself being cheered and booed. Major psychological disturbances, 'identity crises', are caused when an individual begins to change the audience for whom he plays: from parents to peers; from peers to the works of Albert Camus; from the Bible to Hugh Hefner."
-- Luke Rhinehart

is unpleasant, but it has some benefits. Intelligent and/or creative people tend to get bored much faster, and tolerate it much less well. Learn how to cope with boredom and find things to do.

An identity crisis happens when a person starts questioning who they are. Here are some questions that may determine identity phases. Shiv is struggling because recent changes in his environment and audience have disrupted his former sense of self, leaving him confused and uncomfortable. Therapy for identity issues can help people overcome an identity crisis.

Metallurgy can show things like how a blast furnace works, and explain what gives metals their strength. Gems have different structures in comparison to metals. This kind of information will help Shiv understand his superpower better, and thus learn new ways to use it.

People misbehave for specific reasons. Figure out the unmet need and address that as part of the process for handling misbehavior.

Humans have a general need for healthy touch, but some people avoid contact. Understand how to deal with tactile defensiveness and sensory-seeking. Some people, like Shiv, hit both extremes in different areas. Notice in particular that he's more willing to touch other people, especially roughly, than to be touched -- which happens with some abuse survivors.

Setting healthy boundaries helps people overcome past violations and makes it possible to interact in positive ways. The basics of boundaries are pretty consistent. Compare healthy and unhealthy boundaries. Here is a worksheet on setting boundaries. This one makes a grid of different factors. Learn how to communicate your boundaries. Of course, none of this matters much if other people have more power than you do and don't care about your boundaries, another common issue for abuse survivors. That's why Shiv has trouble identifying boundaries, his own or anyone else's -- other people routinely violate his. He can recognize that it's unpleasant but not that it's wrong.

Personal boundaries may be simplified into the idea of social circles. Here is a slightly more complex version with more circles. This one illustrates some of the different things that people do in each circle. This worksheet uses four circles.
Here you write about each of the circles. Now explore actions and boundaries for each circle. Some people can learn this stuff by osmosis. Shiv is not one of them, nor has he had many good examples until recently.

Circles of influence, commonality, and information all help determine who can move people. Self-defense is a way to protect yourself against unwanted manipulation or threats -- and it works in concentric circles too.

This brings us to proxemics and kinesics, the distance and motion in human interactions. These show how people stand in relation to each other. Look at the spatial map of distances. Compare space protectors and space invaders.

Good manners can help people get along. However, this really can make you a target. Respect must be mutual. This diagram shows different facets of respect. Teamwork, friendship, and romance all require respect. Learn how to get along with other people.

People may feel like everyone hates them, especially if they have anxiety. Sometimes this is an illusion; other times it is much more accurate. Since Shiv is an irritating little beast, not many people will put up with him at all, let alone like him. This is beginning to change, but he has trouble seeing that or knowing how to handle it. Here are some tips on how to deal with feeling like everyone hates you.

Emotional intelligence is a combination of two aspects (intrapersonal and interpersonal) and various skills. Learn how to develop your emotional intelligence.

Social awareness comes from observing people. Explore the people around you.

Emotions come in sets of different sizes. People not fluent with emotions should start with a basic set before tackling longer lists or intensity ranges.

Here is a flower chart of emotions, and here's the same one with cartoon people added. This chart breaks down broad categories of feeling into smaller ones.

Identifying emotions in others takes practice. It helps to have some good reference photos. Here are some flashcards and a quiz on reading emotions.

Thinking is hard work and too much can cause headaches.

Social stories are used to help neurovariant people understand others' expectations of them. Comic strip conversations are similar. Here are guidelines and resources for writing social stories. Bear in mind that, as presented, these are almost entirely instructions on how to please neurotypical people who have power over you; they are almost never used to help people remember parts of a favorite task or pursue their own goals. But this type of step-by-step picture-and-text storytelling would work very well for that. Some neurovariant people like social stories because they make explicit the rules that neurotypical people learn by osmosis but are confusing to many neurovariant folks. There are programs for making social stories. See some sample social stories, such as this one on dealing with tragedies.

Dismissive-avoidant people have learned to push others away because their experiences indicate that people are useless and/or dangerous to them. This kind of attachment problem often appears in abuse survivors. There are tips on how to stop pushing people away.

Everyone feels stupid sometimes, but that does not mean you actually are stupid. It is abusive to call a child stupid, but it happens quite frequently, most of all to children whose strengths appear in areas not valued by the people around them. Then this happens. Shiv is not good at reading or math, which are valued; he is much better at kinesthetic and spatial awareness, which are less valued in school. Fortunately Boss White does value his skills, although it is a pity that the only acceptance Shiv has gotten until recently comes from criminals. Follow the steps to become more mindful so you feel less stupid.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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