Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Between Carefree and Careless"

This poem is spillover from the November 8, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] sweet_sparrow. It also fills the "angst" square in my 8-1-16 card for the Survival Bingo fest. Based on an audience poll, this is the free epic for the January 3, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl reaching its $200 goal. It belongs to the Cassandra thread of the Polychrome Heroics series, and follows "To Keep Your Balance" so read that first.

"Between Carefree and Careless"

Cassandra loved her new bike,
really she did, even though it was
a bit heavier than her old one and
the value still made her squeak.

She was getting better,
though, as Gyre taught her
about exercises and diet and
other things that improved
her strength and stamina.

Cassandra also loved
the biking clothes that
Groundhog had given her,
light and slick and comfortable.

Most often she wore the tank top
that read, Life is a beautiful ride,
matching it with the black shorts
in Onion City's summer weather.

Groundhog smiled every time he
saw her wear it. "I'm glad you like
that," he said when she came home.

"I really do," Cassandra said.
"It's cute, and it's also true."
Her hands fluttered in midair.
"It's all just ... so much."

"You're still freaked out about
the bike because it would've been
expensive to buy," he said.

"Yeah, kind of," she said.
It felt good, but also scary.

"I freaked out too, at first,
when Aidan gave me gifts
way out of my usual range,"
Groundhog said. "He does
that. If you stick around, then
you get used to it eventually."

"I'm having a hard time imagining
that," Cassandra admitted as
she sat down on the couch.

"He does it with everyone that he
cares about, or who helps someone
he cares about," Groundhog said.
"Remember his daughter Saraphina?
She's a refugee. Aidan's idea of
an appropriate thank-you for
the hospital that took care of her
was suggesting a new wing."

"That's crazy!" Cassandra said.

"That's Aidan," Groundhog said.
"Piotr talked him into waiting, just like
I talked him into holding off on bartering
for a trailer to go with the bike, until
you're ready for that sort of thing."

"I read about that in the study materials
that Gyre assigned me," said Cassandra.
"You can actually move house with
a bike and a heavy-duty trailer!"

"Aidan's done it," Groundhog said.
"Emerico makes all kinds of trailers,
so he keeps them in stock. They can
carry ludicrous amounts of stuff."
He showed her a snapshot.

"Why am I not surprised,"
Cassandra said wryly.

"The thing about Aidan is,
he isn't like most people,"
Groundhog said gently.
"He can use money, but he
doesn't really understand
why it matters so much to us."

"Money matters to everyone,"
Cassandra said, frowning.
"You can't live without it."

"Aidan can," said Groundhog.
He tilted his hands back and forth.
"He's been rich and poor. He doesn't
get it on a fundamental level that sets
him aside from everyone else."

"He is different," she mused.
"I like him a lot, but he's ...
really in a class of his own."

"Aidan thinks in terms of tribe
rather than individual, and wealth
as generosity rather than savings,"
Groundhog said. "Whatever he has
or can do, he shares freely, and he
likes best those who do likewise.
Consider that you're not just biking
for fun, but helping your neighbors."

"So he wasn't just giving a bike to me,
he was upping the quality of vehicle for
the whole building -- he sees us kind of
like a tribe," Cassandra said thoughtfully.
"It's like having the shuttlebus."

"I think so, yes," Groundhog said.

"I still don't get how that works, though,"
she replied, tapping her fingers as she
tried to count all the essentials to buy.
"You need money for everything."

"Most people do, but there are others
who have gone without it by choice,"
Groundhog said. "Aidan knows how
to get by with very little and how to do
almost everything for himself. He
has skills that he can barter, and
he also excels at trading favors."

"Like the planter he built for
his friend's wife, in exchange
for the bike," Cassandra said.

"Exactly," said Groundhog. "Just ...
try not to hold it against him."

She sighed. "I'll try," she said.
"It's hard, though, because I have
so little and extravagant gifts
feel like too much, too soon."

"Tell him that," Groundhog said.
"Explain your feelings, and he'll
understand that part just fine. If
you give him clear rules, he's
pretty good at following them."

"Like what?" Cassandra asked.

"Well, one of mine is no more
than a cartful of groceries at a time,"
said Groundhog. "I live in an apartment,
I don't have room for more than that."

Cassandra thought about all the bags
Aidan had brought, and she realized
that yes, they did add up to about
a cartful of groceries per delivery.

"I guess that makes sense," she said.
"I still don't understand why Aidan is
doing this, or why you're joining in."

"Cassandra, someone has to invest in
teens to get healthy adults," he said.
"Your parents didn't, so we are."

"But I'm not ..." She picked at
a hangnail. "I mean, there is
no reason for you two to bother
with me, I'm nobody important."

Groundhog grumbled. "I really
do not like your parents, and I
haven't even met them yet,"
he said. "Try to set aside
that nonsense. Everyone is
important, and we care about
you, so we want to help."

"I know that, but I don't know
how to deal with it," she said.
"I thought growing up would fix
everything, but it hasn't. I thought
I could be carefree, but I'm not,
I keep making awful mistakes."

"It's hard, isn't it?" Groundhog said.
“You're not old enough to feel like an adult,
really, but you're old enough to look like one,
and to know the distinction between being
carefree and careless. You're struggling
to create yourself, your grownup self, and
sometimes people just make it harder."

Cassandra often felt torn between those points.

"Yeah," she said. "I don't want to seem
ungrateful, but everything is so confusing,
I'm not sure what to do about this stuff."

"Okay, let's try something else,"
Groundhog said. "How about
if I invested time and energy
in you, instead of cash? Would
that seem any less scary to you?"

Cassandra measured a bit
of air between her fingers.
"Maybe a little," she said.

"Then let's both ride down to
the community center," he said.

"What for?" she wondered,
although she liked the idea of
going out with Groundhog.

"You can check about bike classes,"
he said. "Remember earlier, we talked
about patchwork testing to see how good
your life skills are? You could do that
there too, the community counselor
has all kinds of helpful resources."

"Do you even have a bike?"
Cassandra said, rolling her eyes.

"No, but I know how to ride,"
Groundhog said. "I could
borrow one from a friend."

"All right," Cassandra said
as she stood up. "I'll loan you
my old bike. Let's go see
what you're made of."

* * *


Skylark Apartment Building in Onion City is old and full of character. Its advantages and disadvantages balance out to a rate that is neither bargain nor extravagant.

The basement
is the recreational floor with the more physically active function spaces. The exercise room has treadmills, free weights, punching bags, and assorted bodybuilding machines. The auxiliary gym is subdivided into two 40x20 courts for handball, racquetball, and related games. The game room includes shuffleboard, several dart boards, pool tables, air hockey, foosball, ping-pong, and a few pinball tables. The small yellow room at the end of the hall is used for yoga, aerobics, dance practice, and other freestyle activities. Social dances usually take place in either the main gym or the social hall. The kitchen is used to bake pastries for Jack's Magic Beans, which has no kitchen of its own, just a basic coffee bar and display cabinets. The side entrance is actually the main entrance for this floor, and the handicap-accessible entrance for the whole building, whose smaller front entrance to the ground floor has steps. The side entrance is convenient to the building management office in the center; to the computer lab, locker rooms, and the building's sole elevator to the right; and to the classroom and social hall on the left. The small gray square immediately to the left of the elevator has indoor bike storage that residents can rent.

“Not old enough to feel like an adult , really, but old enough to look like one, and to know the distinction between being carefree and careless.”
Gregory Maguire

This is Cassandra's new cargo bike.

Among the points of bicyclist health are proper diet and exercise such as strength training. Explore a 3-month training plan for bikers and tips for biking fitness.

See Cassandra's "Life Is a Beautiful Ride" top. She typically wears it with these biking shorts.

Bike trailers really can be used for moving. This page shows some examples of a heavy-duty hybrid cargo trailer. These can be lined with removable panels. The ones shown here are made from plywood. Cassandra's will be metal. The tailgate of the liner can drop down to form a ramp on backless models. These things can carry a ludicrous amount of cargo.

The human brain is actually a layered nest of related organs which creates a layered mental structure. For modern people, money registers as "Survival Tickets" and loss of money triggers a deep existential fear. This is not universal across all cultures, and in fact, some outsiders think that money makes people crazy, which is beautifully illustrated in the story "Green Frog Skin." That is not far from how Aidan views it; although he does recognize it as a useful convenience, he is intimately, painfully familiar with how it can screw people up. Tribal cultures customarily function on a gift economy, and these are some common virtues. A hunter's first kill is often distributed among the tribe so that everyone sits around talking about how good it is and how generous the hunter is. I have written more about gift economies here. Because Aidan grew up without money, it never was a fundamental part of his mental development; it's always going to be like a second language to him.

It is possible to live without money. People may do this for a short or long time. Learn how to live without money.

Among the many unwritten rules about giving gifts are the ones regarding how much money to spend on them. In general, it is best to be flexible about giving and receiving, but take other people's opinions into account so that you do not make them uncomfortable. Cassandra is adaptable enough to adjust to Aidan's habits, but she need time and explanations in order to do so.

Parents customarily invest in children and teens. These factors then help young people build up the resources they need in order to succeed. When parents fail in this responsibility, that often causes damage. It is essential for society to invest in youth, especially where parents can't or won't. From Groundhog's perspective, he and Aidan are simply picking up the ball that Cassandra's parents dropped. While not universal, this is pretty typical of Terramagne-America. There are tips on connecting with teens and even a whole program to foster teen-adult communication.

Self-worth is essential to mental wellness, but difficult to attain for survivors of neglect or abuse. Groundhog has struggled through some of this himself due to his difficult childhood. His parents love and support him, but his superpower made life really rough for everyone, and little kids tend to interpret that as being "bad." So he can recognize the problem in Cassandra. Understand how to build self-worth for yourself or for someone else.

Influence spreads out through circles based on how much change you can make and how close your relationship is. Your circle of concern defines the people you care about and wish to help; when you do this, it tends to raise your influence among the people you assist. Influence is a crucial part of the social glue that holds people together and makes it possible for them to live in a culture instead of alone. Among the most essential interpersonal skills is simply imagining that everyone wears a sign reading "Make me feel important." As a dispatcher, Groundhog excels at focusing his attention on people and making them feel that they matter. He's also terrific at solving problems. Consequently, he has a great deal of influence, even though he doesn't occupy a position of high authority. Think about ways to make people feel special and expand your influence.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, economics, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, history, life lessons, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing

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