Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "The Passport to the Future"

This poem came out of the March 1, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] dialecticdreamer and [personal profile] technoshaman. It also fills the "rebel" square in my 2-29-16 card for the Villain Bingo fest and the "candy" square in my 7-1-15 card for the Winter Fest in July Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by EdorFaus. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains some intense topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. There is tension due to external demands, angst and confusion over the future, more angst over the past, and also the present, because the inside of Shiv's head is always a warning, stress over educational experiences and expectations, Shiv asking for help and then freaking out over what he gets, struggles to communicate very different perspectives and needs, floundering with paperwork, emotionally complex reactions, a very fraught bet, and other stress. It's nice of Dr. G to try, and he does his best to be supportive, but there is no way in hell for Shiv to be comfortable with this stuff. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


"The Passport to the Future"


Shiv stared glumly at the forms
on his tablet computer, and realized
that he was in over his head.

Sure, his early release was in progress,
but they kept nagging him to make plans,
and what the hell did he know about that?

You didn't plan for a future,
when you didn't expect to have one.

Now they wanted him to talk about
his education and his goals for the future,
and Shiv didn't think they'd be satisfied with
the truth, which was that he hated school
and his plan was to avoid it.

I am so screwed, he thought.

So when his next session with Dr. G
rolled around, Shiv brought along his tablet.

Dr. G had helped him figure out
how to milk the system for points
by reading bedtime stories, so
maybe he'd have some ideas
on how to handle this too.

"Good morning, Shiv,"
said Dr. G. "Would you like
to play the marshmallow game?"

After a considerable amount of practice,
Shiv had realized that playing along was
a good way to get extra treats, even if
he still wasn't completely sure that
Dr. G. wasn't setting him up.

"I'll play for two," Shiv said.

"Three minutes," said Dr. G,
setting the timer robot on the table
and then leaving the room.

Shiv spent his time sketching the robot.

When Dr. G returned after three minutes,
grinning as if Shiv had won a gold medal,
he held out a bag of licorice allsorts
and said, "Pick any two."

Shiv chose a striped one and
and a solid black one, then
sat back to enjoy his winnings.

Yay, candy! he thought.

Then he pushed the tablet forward,
scraping against the tabletop.

"What's this?" Dr. G asked.

"People keep pestering me
to make plans, and I got no clue
where to start," Shiv grumbled.
"I don't even like school, and they
want me to sign up for more of it."

"Are you sure that's what you want
to talk about today?" Dr. G said delicately.
"The last time I raised the matter of
education, it didn't go very well."

That was a candy-ass way of saying that
Shiv had a major meltdown over finding out
that people had been lying to him for
years and that the state actually
owed him money for school.

"Sure," he said, fingernails
digging into his palms.

Dr. G reached out and gently
uncurled Shiv's hands, then said,
"Here, try this instead."

"This" turned out to be some kind of
funny pointed ball in six different colors,
made of a firm, rubbery material.

"It's a puzzle eraser," Dr. G said.
"If you twist it right, it comes apart."

Shiv twisted and tugged.
Sure enough, the whole thing
unraveled into a handful of
pointy little pieces.

He moved them around,
squeezed them in his fist, and
then put them back together.

He liked the way that the eraser ball
felt in his hand, its points pressing
into the soft spaces between bones.
The sensation helped him relax.

"Anyway, they want me to do
these forms about school, and I don't
like school, so I need a way to snow them,"
Shiv said, rolling the ball in his hands.

"Imagine if you were going to take classes,
what kinds would you consider?" said Dr. G.

"I dunno, I hated all of them," Shiv said.
"Even for the stuff I enjoyed, like art,
the classes in it always sucked."

"Okay, let's try a different angle,"
said Dr. G. "Where do you expect to be
in a year? What about five years?"

In a grave.

Well, he couldn't say that out loud,
or he'd get that kicked-puppy look again
and probably another grilling over
why he was suicidal.

It wasn't suicidal if you expected
someone else to kill you.
It was just logic.

Gangsters didn't exactly have a long lifespan.

"I dunno," Shiv said again, hunching
lower into his seat. This was usually
when people started yelling at him.

"Maybe it would help to have
a starting place," said Dr. G.

He shuffled through some pages
and then offered Shiv a couple of
worksheets, one for drawing
the future and another for
what he wanted to be.

Then Dr. G ignored him,
tapping away at his own tablet.

It was too hard to think of himself,
so instead Shiv drew a fat cat
gorging himself on fish beside
a spilled garbage can.

Then he thought that maybe he
could get away with drawing himself,
just a little fancier than now.

So he sketched his slim form
leaning against a brick wall, smoking
a cigarette, with a fat wallet making
a line in his pocket. He put himself
in a nicer suit and good boots, too.

"That looks promising," said Dr. G.

It does? Shiv wondered.

"It seems like you have an interest
in food, which is good," said Dr. G.
"Do you know how to cook?"

"God, no," Shiv said.
"Where would I even learn?"

"Any community center should have
classes in basic to intermediate cooking,"
said Dr. G. He wrote that down.

Shiv couldn't imagine himself
in an apron, learning to cook.

"Maybe something else?" he pleaded.

"That's a handsome suit, too," said Dr. G.
"Dressing well is the first step toward
getting a good job. There are classes
on how to dress up and do interviews."

Oh, kill me now, thought Shiv.
If this is my future, I don't want any.

He was too much of a rebel
to want any job that required
him to dress up. He just thought
that his boss looked smart in a suit.

"I can dress already," Shiv said,
then plucked at his prison uniform.
"When I'm allowed to, anyway."

"Then let's see if I did any better
with my brainstorming," said Dr. G,
and turned his tablet so that
Shiv could see the screen.

"What brainstorming?" Shiv asked.

"I looked for classes in things that
I already know you like," said Dr. G.
"Here's a sketching class that's free
if you bring your own charcoals."

"That doesn't suck," Shiv admitted.
Well, art classes usually did, but
it was better than interviewing.

"This lecture covers superpowers
in history," said Dr. G. "I know
that you aren't in the fuse box,
so it's safe enough to attend."

That was true, and even interesting.
Shiv leaned forward in spite of himself.

"Looks like a hit, I'll make a note,"
said Dr. G. "Here's one for sleight of hand;
I'm sure you could think of something
work-related to do with that."
He winked at Shiv.

"Yeah, but don't you think
people would object to that?"
Shiv drawled. "If I learn better
sleights, I'm harder to catch."

"Keeping you out of jail is actually
a goal here," Dr. G said. "Of course I'd
prefer that you use the material responsibly,
for entertainment, but I would settle for
harm reduction in the course of crime."

"I like sleight of hand," Shiv said,
and Dr. G wrote it down.

"There's a community center in Omaha
offering classes in art pastels," said Dr. G.
"It has a fee, but you go home with a basic set
of chalk pastels, creme pastels, and oil pastels."

"I don't have any money," Shiv said.

Dr. G tapped the stylus briskly against
the tablet. "For this you do," he said.

Oh, that's right, Shiv remembered.
The state owes me a buttload of dough.

"Maybe?" he said.

"The University of Nebraska
right here in Lincoln has
some metallurgy classes,"
Dr. G suggested next.

"But I'm learning from Tolli,"
Shiv said. At least those lessons
tended to make sense to him.

"So you are," said Dr. G.
"You might wind up needing
to buy extra materials, though,
or eventually learn something
that he can't teach you."

"Is this really going anywhere?"
Shiv wondered. "You're not
filling out any of the forms."

"If you look at these examples, we have
the beginning of what would be an art major
in college," said Dr. G. "You don't have to
go to college, but it's a good pattern for
the kind of educational plan that you need
in order to access your funds. You could
choose trade school or apprenticeship
instead, or miscellaneous lessons."

"I guess," Shiv said.

"So that's one possibility, but
it helps to have choices," Dr. G said.
"I know you have a boss already.
Let's look at some ways of making
you more useful to him."

Shiv didn't think there were lessons
in how to be a better supervillain,
and it probably wasn't good to put
martial arts on a prison program.

"Like what?" he hedged.

"Basic business classes,"
said Dr. G. "You might look at
classes in typing, bookkeeping,
or other office skills. There are
organizational courses too, for
administrative assistants in
charge of schedules."

Shit shit shit, thought Shiv.
What if he suggests that
and Boss White likes it?


Dr. G blithely made another list.

Shiv was silently panicking inside,
because this was turning into
a clusterfuck and he didn't
know how to stop it.

He put the ball between his hands
and his hands between his knees,
then squeezed as hard as he could.

"Now you have two options,
or examples if you'd rather
come up with a different plan,"
Dr. G said, showing Shiv the notes.

There was a worksheet labeled
Art and Business to help compare
the two courses of study.

There were more worksheets
on educational programs and goals.

There were even a couple
with big blanks for drawing
the present and the future,
and steps for getting there.

Shiv thought he might manage
to get a handle on those two,
but the others were beyond him.

"Why don't you choose a few of these?"
Dr. G invited. "If you can make a start,
then I can help you fill in the forms
for the prison later on. You don't
have to do everything today."

Shiv grabbed the before-and-after page
and the matching one that only asked
him to fill in five lines of writing. "These."

It could be worse, he reminded himself.
It could be so fucking much worse.

At least Dr. G wasn't yelling at Shiv,
and was trying to be helpful.

"A good education is
the passport to the future,"
said Dr. G. "In order to end up
where you want, you need to do
some advance planning."

"I suck at plans," Shiv said.
"I don't make plans. I follow them."

"Ah," said Dr. G, brightening.
"Your boss makes the plans for you?
How far ahead does he work?"

"I dunno," Shiv said. "A long time,
I guess. That's boss work though."

"All right, how far ahead does
he give you plans?" said Dr. G.

Shiv had to stop and think about that.
Hit plans didn't have much lead time,
and he definitely didn't want to talk
about fighting or vandalism. But
there were task lists and chores
for punishment and other stuff
that people did around the lair.

"Maybe a month?" Shiv said.

"Excellent," said Dr. G. "How about
on your own? Grocery shopping,
or making time to watch a movie?
You have to think ahead a little bit
just for everyday things."

Yeah, right, Shiv thought.

He usually went shopping when he
ran out of something, but he did like going
to movies. He flashed on the page that he
used to tape on his door for listing upcoming shows
at the theater, and how he'd trade with other guys
so that he could catch the ones he wanted.

"About a week," he said.

It was hard to think ahead when
just surviving from one day to the next
took up all his energy. It was easier
to let someone else do it for him.

Well, I've got someone right here,
but I'm not sure I want the same things
from my future that he does,
Shiv thought.

"Then take a sheet for a smaller goal
and pick something you can do within
the next few days," said Dr. G. "It can
be anything you want to accomplish."

Shiv took the simplest of the goal sheets.
"I have to do the safety lecture thing before
I can work in the shop room," he said.

"That's an excellent goal," said Dr. G.
"It supports some other things that
you might work on later."

"I still don't see how this helps me
to fill out those forms," Shiv said.

"Once I have a clearer idea what
you want, then I'll fill in what I know,
and ask you questions to figure out
the blanks," said Dr. G. "You don't
have to struggle through this alone."

I'm always alone, Shiv thought,
but it wasn't as true as it used to be.

He wondered if the class plans
would clash with the Finns' plans for
vacation and holidays and all that jazz.

God, now they had him thinking about that too.

"That's good, because I suck at this,"
Shiv reminded him. "If you want it
done right, you'll have to do it yourself."

"You know, if you're not sure how
to hope for a brighter future, you can
always borrow someone else's," said Dr. G.
"I've got enough hope for both of us."

"That's because you're an idiot," Shiv said.
"I've heard you talk about how much
the world has knocked you around.
If you haven't learned from that,
it's your own dumb fault."

"No," Dr. G said with a glint
in his eye. "That doesn't mean
I'm dumb ... just stubborn."

Shiv thought about the world
trying to run over Dr. G and
imagined it getting a flat tire.

The image made him laugh.

Dr. G, spike line, he thought,
remembering the gizmos used
to shred the tires of getaway cars.

The counselor just smiled back.
"Now, since you're not used to making
plans very far in advance, I suggest
a little more practice," he said. Then
he put the bag of allsorts on the table.

"What kind of practice?" Shiv asked.
The two he'd already tried had been
delicious, and he wondered what
the other kinds would taste like.

"Two more pieces of this now --"

Shiv reached for the bag.

"Or a whole bag at our next visit."

"But that's two days from now!"
Shiv protested. "I can barely
make it three minutes."

"That's when I'm right outside the door,
and you have little to do but wait,"
Dr. G pointed out. "You're busier
now than when we first met."

That was true. Shiv had counseling
with Dr. G, but sometimes he talked with
Ambrose too. He had gym and yard time,
plus the craft room, and now he was
going to add shop on top of that.

Maybe I could do it, he thought.

"I believe you can do it," said Dr. G,
rustling the bag of candy.

"Yeah, but you thought I could
win the marshmallow game first time,"
Shiv said. The whole first session
had been a disaster of him watching
Mr. Vanburen get twice as much candy.

"I did overestimate you a bit,"
Dr. G said. "Which would you
rather have: prove me wrong again,
or get a whole bag of candy?"

Gah, Shiv moaned inwardly,
slumping onto the table.

But in the end, he took the bet.

He might be no good at classes,
but he could sure imagine a future
in which he got more candy.

* * *

Notes:

"Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today."
-- Malcolm X

The life expectancy of gang members is low, so they expect to die young. Similarly it's almost impossible for poor people to escape poverty. That's not pessimism; it's statistics. This makes it overwhelming for vulnerable youth to think about the future. It makes poor Shiv's brain go blue screen of death.

Planning ahead is a valuable life skill that people should know how to do. However, it doesn't always work. There are disadvantages, especially for people with neurovariant brains. So consider the advantages of planning ahead vs. winging it and then do what works better for you.

Licorice allsorts are, as the name implies, a mix of slightly different candies flavored with licorice. Here is a nice batch. You can also make your own licorice candy and licorice caramels.

Puzzle erasers are fun fidget toys. Here is one assembled and disassembled.

Acupressure provides relaxation through pressure points. Hand reflexology has mapped points for the palm and back of hands. Shiv enjoys intense stimulation, and this is one of the things that really works for him.

There are worksheets for drawing your future or how you see yourself grown up. And if it is not a happy picture, adults will freak the fuck out about that, no matter how accurate it may be.

Education worksheets cover things like career activities, development of an education plan, career planning, choosing a major, pros and cons of different courses, action plans, and academic goals. The prison doesn't require making an educational plan, but they do prefer it and keep asking. Shiv hasn't quite figured out how to articulate "this is breaking my brain and making it harder to do anything" let alone realize that if he could communicate that, Dr. G would help him get people off his back about it. Shiv doesn't quite have the foundation in place to make this kind of planning really feasible yet. Dr. G will probably figure that out on his own from observing the effects.

Continuing education has many benefits. In T-America it is popular to the point of ubiquitous. There are free or cheap classes everywhere, and many of them offer either a certificate of completion (if they don't test) or actual certification (if they do test). Many jobs and other positions look at someone's recorded accomplishments to identify their skills, make assignments, and/or set pay rates. Employers frequently pay part or all of employees' costs for continuing education -- even some of the better gangs do it. Community centers, community colleges, and bench schools are all options. Larger universities such as the University of Nebraska in Lincoln may also offer continuing education.

When faced with a large problem, it helps to break it down into smaller problems. Follow the same steps to break a large goal into smaller subgoals. This is another life skill that Shiv hasn't learned much about.

Similarly, it's a good idea to think about the spectrum of short-term to long-term goals. This is where Shiv keeps crashing, and Dr. G helps by cutting off the longer goals to focus on something soon enough that Shiv can actually grasp it. Goals can be sorted into a matrix or timeline to lay them out. This page talks about short and long goals. See worksheets for long-term goals with subgoals, short-term goals with steps, and both paired to break down a large goal into smaller ones. Here is a goal sheet typical of grade school. This one explains SMART goals. This two-page spread has room for art or writing. This organizer sorts steps visually.

Professional development may include laying out education options and career SMART goals. Here is a plan for further education on the job.

Individualized majors help if there is not already a major for your career. In L-America, these programs are often bait-and-switch where colleges promise this option but rarely or never deliver it. T-America does somewhat better. Here is a plan for one. This worksheet covers financing.

"In the fuse box" -- someone not openly acknowledging their own superpower(s); i.e. where the power is hidden. Equivalent of "in the closet" for homosexuals. Crickets are almost always in the fuse box. Someone who reveals their superpowers is said to "come out of the fuse box."

Followship is the counterpoint to leadership, as I discussed in an article about balancing powers. Shiv actually has some of the followship skills. It may be damn hard to earn his respect, but once given, it's worth something. He's willing and able to follow someone he's chosen to follow.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, education, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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