Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "The Shapes of Trees, the Movement of Rivers"

This is the free epic for the March 6, 2018 Poetry Fishbowl, selected in an audience poll. This poem came out of the February 6, 2018 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] gingicat, [personal profile] librarygeek, and [personal profile] chanter_greenie. It also fills the "mind games" square in my 1-3-18 card for the [community profile] trope_bingo fest. This poem belongs to the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains some controversial topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features identity issues, therapeutic abuse, making mistakes, awkward topics of conversation, human trafficking, and other challenges. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


"The Shapes of Trees, the Movement of Rivers"


Blocks liked SplatChat because
it let him interact with people
who thought the way he did.

There was Persia, a budding activist
with interests in gender diversity
and mental health rights.

There was Anfisa Chorny,
an artist who was born in Russia
but immigrated to America as a girl.

They talked about Persia's campaigns
for autistic tolerance in Omaha and
his funny new friend named Shiv and
how hard it was to get a decent haircut.

They talked about Anfisa's artwork
and the show she had coming up
in the Gallery Shop alongside
a display of Salish art.

"If you ever make a puzzle,
I want one," Blocks wrote,
and sent a puzzle icon.

One day, Anfisa brought in
her friend Locke Emerson,
a skilled mechanic who
had Asperger's syndrome.

He was asexual and hated it,
believing that everything was
malleable and so he should be
able to change his orientation.

It hadn't worked yet,
but he kept trying.

Anfisa got worried when
Locke's latest therapist
seemed to be doing
more harm than good.

"You can't put us in boxes,"
she wrote. "We contain
the shapes of trees and
the movement of rivers
and stars within us."

The conversation made
Blocks tense and unhappy.

Ever since Dr. Stoker had
driven him into manifesting
superpowers, Blocks was
sensitive about therapists
who played mind games.

From what Locke said,
Dr. Hauer was a lot
like Dr. Stoker.

"Something's wrong,"
Persia wrote, flicking
unhappy icons across
the screen. "Therapists
shouldn't treat us like that."

"I agree," Blocks wrote.

"I don't like it either, but
Locke wants to change
his orientation," said Anfisa.
"We have a right to make
our own mistakes."

Well, that was true too,
so Blocks let it go, but
he didn't have to like it.

For a while, things
went back to usual.

Locke found a newspaper
with a philosophy column,
and Persia discovered
a new restaurant.

Then Locke and Anfisa
introduced Gilly Whippletree,
who was only thirteen and
had her mother Keren
chatting alongside her.

Gilly was completely nonverbal,
but good with the SplatChat icons.
Keren preferred the text function.

Gilly also loved social insects,
spending hours watching them,
and she stuck icons of bees
on everything she posted.

Her mother said she would make
a good entomologist someday,
or maybe a beekeeper.

Gilly wouldn't shut up about
the berettaflies, which made
some people uneasy.

Blocks pointed them to
the If I'd Known Then forum
which had a page on how to cope
when your favorite thing was something
that almost nobody else liked.

The real problem, though,
was Gilly's new therapist.

She didn't like Dr. Hauer
trying to make her act "normal"
or telling her how she should feel.

Between Gilly's nonverbal nature
and her asthma, it was difficult
for her to explain what was wrong
or ask her therapist to change
what he was doing with her.

Her mother didn't like that either,
but it was her father's idea.

"Some of the children who
used to attend group therapy
don't show up anymore,"
Keren worried one day.
"It's like they disappeared."

"I heard something like that,"
Locke replied. "I thought
it was just a rumor, though.
Maybe there's more to it."

That was the last straw
for Blocks. He sent a note
to the Analyst and asked her
to look into Dr. Hauer.

Some of his patients
really did seem to be
missing, but nobody
could prove that he had
anything to do with that.

He had an influential family,
too, which made it even harder
to level accusations that would stick.

"It's like he's up in a tower,"
Keren wrote, "and nothing
we do can reach him."

"Then we come at him
like Ents," wrote Persia.
"We have the shapes of trees
and the movement of rivers.
We'll tear him apart."

He networked with
activist friends from
all over, and they sent
what data they could find.

Anfisa talked with artists
and immigrants. Locke
reached out to philosophers
and even a few other asexuals.

Blocks piled up the information
and looked for patterns in it.

It was the Analyst who
finally found enough bits
of evidence for the board
to suspend Dr. Hauer's license
pending an investigation.

It was Blocks who put
the word out through SPOON
to watch for human trafficking
among Dr. Hauer's former patients.

But it was Gilly who convinced
a hacker friend to write a program
that pasted a picture of an Asian hornet
right over Dr. Hauer's face every time
his picture appeared on the internet.

Sometimes being nonverbal
wasn't much of a barrier at all.

* * *

Notes:

Blocks (Augustine Taft) -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and short black hair. He has long, gangly limbs and wiry muscles. After meeting the Analyst, he developed an intense crush on her, but has yet to say anything about it because he gets completely tongue-tied in her presence. Instead he gives her puzzles. She loves puzzles, so is becoming quite fond of him.
Blocks is autistic and finds it difficult to interact in neurotypical ways. He has some serious psychological damage from various therapists' attempts to make him act 'normal,' which in fact made it harder for him to cope with the massive data overload and the shear between his mental speed and his expression speed. This finally came to a head when his latest therapist, Dr. Norman Stoker, drove him into a meltdown that broke containment, so that he broadcast his thoughts outward. The resulting mental blast covered several blocks, rendering people unconscious at close range or causing severe distress farther out. All of the 2,031 confirmed victims refused to press charges against Blocks, and instead formed a class-action lawsuit for mental damages charged against his therapist.
Several years of mindhealing later, he has recovered much of his functionality but still struggles to appreciate his distinct mindset instead of considering himself broken. Now he uses repetitive action to organize his thought processes. He favors building blocks, which are easy to stack and sort. It looks like he's playing monotonously, but at the same time he is thinking over complex problems. He works for the Rain City SPOON base as an analyst. His skills and generosity have made him popular there, although that still confuses him because he's not used to people liking him.
Origin: He was born with Super-Intellect, and developed the Telepathy due to therapeutic abuse.
Uniform: Rain City SPOON uniform consisting of a gray shirt and pants with the SPOON logo embroidered in silver on the chest pocket. His are made special-order without seams or tags. He loves the consistency, so he rarely wears anything else, even when off duty.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Spatial Awareness, Good (+2) Generous, Good (+2) Soup Friends, Good (+2) Zetetics
Poor (-2) Internalized Oppression
Powers: Master (+6) Super-Intellect, Good (+2) Telepath
Motivation: To make things fit.

Persia (Garrett Rector) -- He has light copper skin and brown eyes. His hair is short and black on the left, longer on the right with a base color of Persian blue streaked with lighter and darker blues. A drawback of the vivid hair is that it attracts girls, and sometimes boys; but Persia finds the whole topic of sex awkward and confusing. His heritage includes American, Iranian, and Otoe. He is 17 and a senior in high school. He wants to attend college, but isn't sure whether he wants to become a social worker or a professional activist. Persia is autistic, and has learned how to make that work for him. He is genderqueer, and equally comfortable with that. As an activist, he advocates for better accommodations for people with differences.
Origin: When Garrett was young, he had sensory processing disorder that was worst in the visual range and aggravating everywhere else. His mother got him into a program to test out a promising new medication that was mostly intended to reduce autistic behavior, but also seemed to help SPD. They were nervous about it, but hopeful. It fixed the visual problem, reduced the other SPD symptoms to a level manageable with other coping skills, but didn't affect his autistic traits. It also gave him superpowers.
Uniform: Persia dresses for comfort, not for fashion. He's quite fond of several clothing lines that cater to autistic people. His favorite color is red, and he won't wear blue. He customarily wears a chewable pendant around his neck.
Qualities: Good (+2) Activist, Good (+2) Autistic, Good (+2) Genderqueer, Good (+2) Stamina
Poor (-2) Sexy
Powers: Good (+2) Crayon Soup
Like some crayon soups, Persia can see into the ultraviolet.
Motivation: Making the world more inclusive.

Iran and Persia overlap.

Nonverbal autism may include going nonverbal under stress or not thinking in words, although people often understand more than they can say.


Anfisa Chorny -- She has pale skin, brown eyes, and long wavy black hair. Her family moved from Russia to America when she was a little girl. She speaks both Russian and English fluently. She is nebularomantic. A talented artist, Anfisa incorporates many aspects of popular culture and classic art in her works. Her strong orientation toward visual communication makes it difficult for her to read and write. Although she is neurovariant, it does not bother her, and she conceals it successfully from most other people. She enjoys socializing with other neurovariant people.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Artist, Good (+2) Asperger's Syndrome, Good (+2) Beautiful, Good (+2) Visual-Spatial Intelligence
Poor (-2) Literacy

Nebularomantic -- Is someone who has a hard time or cannot tell romantic attraction apart from platonic due to being quoiroromantic or due to their neurodivergency.


Locke Emerson -- He has fair skin, gray eyes, and short wavy brown hair with a scruffy beard and mustache. He is tall and muscular, brilliant at working with his hands. He has Asperger's syndrome. He is asexual, but hates it, and keeps trying to change it. Locke believes devoutly that people are born with complete potential and shaped by their environment, and that everything is malleable. So it frustrates him no end that he has not succeeded in changing his sexual orientation no matter how much therapy he has gone through.
Qualities: Master (+6) Mechanic, Good (+2) Existential Intelligence, Good (+2) Strength
Poor (-2) Asexual

Gilly Whippletree -- She has fair skin, brown eyes, and straight brown hair to her shoulders. She has a pear-shaped face and a little extra padding on her body. She is heterosexual, but too shy to approach boys yet. Gilly is nonverbal autistic, but fairly good at communicating. She also has asthma, which limits her ability to do things; and her nonverbal nature makes it harder to get accommodations for the asthma. She is currently 13 years old. Gilly is fascinated by social insects and spends hours observing them. Her mother encourages this and uses it to teach other subjects, figuring that her daughter would make a good entomologist or beekeeper someday. Gilly dislikes conflict and prefers peacemaking. Her best social skill is honeybumping, the use of nonsequiturs to disrupt trolling. However, she is a preferred target for bullies.
Qualities: Good (+2) Expressive, Good (+2) Honeybumping, Good (+2) Observer of Social Insects, Good (+2) Sturdy
Poor (-2) Preferred Target

Honeybumping -- actions meant to discourage trolling by interrupting the negativity with more positive material. This includes everything from interrupting a creeper to start a fun conversation with his victim, to replying to rude messages with recipes in a chatroom. It derives from the use of headbutting for making decisions in honeybee hives.


Dr. Alastor Hauer -- He has tinted skin and brown eyes. He used to have dark hair, but what little is left is going gray. Dr. Hauer is a psychotherapist who specializes in removing undesirable traits. He's not actually very good at it, but he excels at convincing people that he can change what they want changed. He doesn't care if his victim wants to be changed, or if someone requests an inadvisable course of treatment, only that he gets paid. He does long-distance counseling as well as office sessions, which spreads the damage farther.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Charisma, Good (+2) Influential Family, Good (+2) Logical-Mathematical Ingelligence, Good (+2) Stamina
Poor (-2) Psychotherapist

The Analyst (Josephine Turner) -- She is average height and full-figured. She keeps her blonde hair cut short for convenience. Her father is a policeman; her mother is a librarian. Her childhood role model was Velma from Scooby-Doo, who also could not see without her glasses but did not let that stop her from solving mysteries. Now she works for SPOON out of the Westbord base, specializing in the analysis of incidents involving superpowers. She uses her skills as much for pleasure as business, enjoying such things as brainteasers and puzzles.
Origin: Her powers grew in slowly over time.
Uniform: She dresses in a version of the Westbord SPOON uniform: a brown shirt and pants with the SPOON logo embroidered in gold on the chest pocket. Hers has lots of pockets in her pants and vest, plus a toolbelt.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Deduction, Expert (+4) Know-It-All, Good (+2) Determination, Good (+2) Dexterity, Good (+2) Friends on the Force
Poor (-2) Runner
Powers: Expert (+4) Super-Gizmology, Expert (+4) Super-Intellect
Expert (+4) Spic-n-Spanner: a portable super-gizmo with a vast array of scanning and analytical equipment.
Good (+2) Utility Belt: a compact way to carry many ordinary tools and small super-gizmos, thus ensuring she usually has the right tool for the job. Any job.
Vulnerability: Her eyesight is so bad that she is legally blind without her glasses. Her combat glasses have an elastic strap, and her everyday glasses have a jeweled chain, to reduce the chance of losing them.
Motivation: To find out what happened.

* * *

"We contain the shapes of trees and the movement of rivers and stars within us."
-- Patrick Jasper Lee

This is the exterior of the Gallery Shop. The interior has rooms for paintings and pots, Salish art, and Russian art.

Speech icons can be used to make a speech board on various topics. This icon shows a bee.

Part of equality includes the right to make mistakes.
Tags: activism, cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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