Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "My Responsibility to Make It Better"

This poem came out of the March 2019 [community profile] crowdfunding Creative Jam. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] alexseanchai and [personal profile] librarygeek. It also fills the "mistake" square in my 2-28-19 Words and Phrases card for the Meet Ugly Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] janetmiles. It belongs to the Polychrome Heroics series.


"My Responsibility to Make It Better"

[Saturday, March 1, 2014]

Vance Miller had been
flickering for a year.

It had settled primarily into
the psychic range, usually
Empathy or Telepathy now,
but occasionally something
related like Energy Manipulation.

He had diligently attended
the workshops held by SPOON,
and they did help him control
his powers when he had some,
but that wasn't enough for him.

"Mom, I'm tired of waiting,"
Vance said. "I want to do
something with my powers."

"Okay," said his mother Charmaine.
"What would you like to do?"

"Be a hero!" Vance said.

"What kind of hero?"
his mother asked.

"I dunno," Vance said.
"The kind that saves the day?"

"Well then, your first step will be
to decide what kind of hero you are
and just how you will save the day,"
she said. "Go start. If you get stuck,
you can ask me for help. We'll go
to the library if that's what it takes."

That's what it took.

Vance managed to list
several possibilities, but
his mother shook her head.

"These are all jobs for grownups,"
she said. "You're twelve. You need
to find something heroic that you can
do now, not six years from now."

So they went to the Scottsdale Branch
of the public library and explored
valiant things that kids could do.

Aside from the racks of information
and the books, there was a presentation
about endangered animals and how
people could help them survive.

"Protecting animals is a heroic cause,"
Charmaine said. "You could do that."

Vance looked at the crowd of kids.
"Yeah, but everybody's doing that.
How did you pick your cause?"

She chuckled. "I looked around
for one that nobody was doing much,"
his mother said. "Community art centers
were closing in other places, and I wanted
to make sure that ours stayed open."

"I want to something like that,
not just join a crowd," Vance said.

"Let's dig some more," Charmaine said,
and so they did. They piled up brochures and
books, newspapers and magazines, looking
for inspiration among the colorful pages.

"I'd like to be a lifeguard, because this says
they don't have enough, but I'm too little,"
Vance said with a sigh. He had flyers for
Chicago beaches spread out in front of him.

"Well, that's a good goal for later," she said.
"Roll it back. What could you do now
that would lead up to it someday?"

"Swimming lessons," Vance said,
scrabbling through his brochures.
"But those don't start until April."

"It's still a good idea," Charmaine said.
"Lifeguards absolutely need to know
how to swim. You're drownproofed but
not much more. What else can you find?
Is there a first aid class available?"

"Yeah, here's one," Vance said.
"I already got my booboo card, though."

"Let me go ask a librarian," she said.
A few minutes later, Charmaine returned
with a fresh page. "Here you go. They offer
classes designed for tweens. There's one
for intermediate first aid, for babysitting, and
you should definitely take the CPR class."

"Will they fit in my schedule?" Vance said.

"Check your calendar, but they should,"
Charmaine said. "They're all on weekends."

The babysitting class clashed with Tai Chi, but
the other two fit, offered Saturday-Sunday.
They put the classes on their calendars.

"This is better than nothing, but it doesn't
really feel all that heroic," Vance said.

"Sweetie, being a hero isn't about
doing exciting things or attracting
attention," Charmaine said. "Most
of the time it's pretty quiet. What
can you think of that would
feel more heroic to you?"

Vance thought about that.

"I know!" he said. "Remember
when we went to the beach
but we forgot the beach bag?"

"Yes," said Charmaine. "It was
awful, and the littler kids cried."

"If someone had given us beach stuff,
then that would have saved the day,"
Vance said. "So maybe I could do that."

"Well, you would definitely need
to take that first aid class if you
want to hand out supplies," she said.
"People always need sunscreen or
bandaids and stuff. You could carry
a few snacks, maybe some toys.
Let's make a list of possibilities."

So they wrote down first aid supplies,
travel supplies, beach toys, snacks,
and home repair items, along with
a backpack to carry it all in.

Vance looked at the list and sighed.
"It's too much," he said. "This is
all great stuff, but I know that
we can't afford everything."

"We can make a start on it,
and you can do a fundraiser,"
Charmaine said. "It'll work."

"Maybe this is too big an idea
for a little kid, though," Vance said.

"No, I think it's exactly the right size,"
Charmaine said. "Heroes are not
giant statues framed against a red sky,
sweetie. They are people who say:
This is my community, and it is
my responsibility to make it better."

Vance lifted his chin. "Okay, then,"
he said. "Let's sign me up for classes,
and then start collecting stuff. Can we
go to the Greenbucks store? They
have decent stuff for cheap."

"We sure can," Charmaine said.


[Saturday, May 3, 2014]

Vance felt nervous but determined
as he packed for his first adventure.

He had a large red backpack
for carrying the bulky supplies, and
a utility belt for smaller high-use items.

Most of the toys, travel games, and
spare clothes went inside the backpack.
Water bottles filled the outside pockets.

The first aid supplies, repair kit, and
snacks went in the utility belt. Most of
those came in little travel packets like
you could find at a gas station, only it
was a lot cheaper to buy them by the box.

Vance also carried a stack of maps for
today's beach and its service locations;
Onion City, its park system, mass transit,
and local attractions; phone numbers
for emergencies and local resources;
and flyers for outdoor games.

People had been delighted
to give him bundles of those
to hand out as needed.

He'd made his own vidwatch
from a kit, with a yellow case held
by a blue-and-orange paracord band,
because the neighborhood fundraiser
for his supplies had gone so well.

He had passed his Level 3 swim test,
so he wasn't worried about being
near the water all morning.

He had passed the classes
on first aid and CPR too, and
had the cards to prove it.

"Don't be insulted if anyone
asks you to show your cards,"
his mother advised. "They're
not required, but they're a way
to prove what people know, and
if folks don't know you, then
some of them will ask."

"That's okay, I don't mind,"
Vance said. He had gotten
a card wallet for his new certs,
a spiffy red one with a wire on
one end so that he could clip it
to his belt loop for safekeeping.

His siblings teased him a little
as they rode the bus, but it was
friendly teasing, not mean,
and Vance didn't mind it.

When they arrived, Charmaine
set up the family beach mats with
matching tents -- her green set,
blue for the boys to share,
and pink for the girls.

"If you need anything,
I'll be right here," she said.
"Now go be a hero."

His blue t-shirt, in fact,
said Beach Hero in
bright red letters.

So he shouldered
his backpack and
set off in search of
someone who needed
a helping hand today.

It didn't take long.

There was the family
whose map blew away
and needed a new one.

A little girl had popped
her beach ball and
stopped crying when
Beach Hero replaced it.

He handed out sunscreen to
more people than he could count,
although the beach had a dispenser.

Sunburns and bug bites were
easily handled with what supplies
Beach Hero carried, but the guy
who stepped on a broken bottle
was firmly directed toward
the official first aid booth.

All day long, people made
mistakes and he fixed them.

Only a few of them asked
to see his cards, and then he
proudly showed them off.

From time to time, he
felt a flicker of Empathy
or Telepathy guiding him to
where he was needed, but
mostly he just watched
and listened for trouble.

By the time his vidwatch
jingled a triangle sound
to summon him for lunch,
Beach Hero was exhausted.

All that hiking around through
the sand had worn him out
more than his swim classes.

Shrugging off his backpack
and utility belt, Vance flopped
onto the blue beach mat by
his little brother Winton.

"You worked hard today,"
their mother said. "I am
so proud of you, Vance."

"Did it work?" said Winton.

"Yeah, it worked. Funny thing,
though, I hardly needed superpowers
at all," said Vance. "I'm starving.
Pass me some sandwiches."

They were salami, with
kale instead of lettuce, and
his mother's white bean spread.

His big sister Karah handed out
raspberry-peach iced tea to go
along with the sandwiches, and
chocolate-chip cookies for dessert.

Vance's little sister Leesha managed
to drip white bean spread all down her front,
and he was right there with the napkins
and wet wipes to clean up the mess.

"My hero," she said, hugging him.

* * *

Notes:

Beach Hero (Vance Miller) -- He has toffee skin, black eyes, and nappy brown hair buzzed short. He is the son of Charmaine, younger brother of Karah, older brother of Leesha and Winton. They live in the Chicago suburb of Onion City. Vance just turned 12 years old on February 1, 2014. He is studying Tai Chi and swimming as part of his hero training. He has already passed an intermediate first aid class and looks forward to taking more. As Beach Hero, he hands out practical items and toys at the beach.
Origin: He began flickering at age 11.
Uniform: On duty, Beach Hero wears shorts and a t-shirt that says Beach Hero, with beach shoes. He has a large red backpack for carrying bulky supplies, and a utility belt for smaller high-use items. He made his own vidwatch with a yellow case held by a blue-and-orange paracord band. Off duty, he wears boy's clothes in playful colors, and he particularly likes plaid.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Compassion, Good (+2) Responsibility, Good (+2) Smart, Good (+2) Stamina
Poor (-2) Letting Things Slide
Powers: (flickering)
He has been flickering for a year, and it has settled primarily into the psychic range, usually Empathy or Telepathy now, occasionally related things like Energy Manipulation.
Motivation: To make a difference.

Why are some superheroes so good at escaping desperate situations? Because they know how to be prepared. Learn to pack like a superhero. Dollar Tree carries travel-size products such as lotion, wet wipes, body powder, hand sanitizer, and travel games. Minimum stocks first aid supplies like sunscreen lip balm, reflective blankets, and instant cold packs along with personal health items such as burn gel, socks, sunscreen, insect repellent, and itch relief. Know what to pack in a beach bag first aid kit. Energy bars, energy gels, electrolyte mix, and bottled water are useful too. Beach balls, sun hats, t-shirts, and many other items can be bought in bulk. A basic repair kit should include essentials such as duct tape, superglue, chip clips, string, shoelaces, hair ties, and a pocket knife with scissors. Teach preparation skills to other people.

Beach Hero also carries maps of Onion City, its park system, mass transit, and local attractions; and Onion City numbers for emergencies and local resources. He has flyers for outdoor games, backyard games, and scavenger hunts.


Charmaine Miller -- She has caramel skin, black eyes, and long straightened black hair usually pulled back in a ponytail. She is the mother of Karah (14), Beach Hero / Vance (12), Leesha (9), and Winton (7). Charmaine has been married and divorced twice; Karah and Vance share one father, while Leesha and Winton share another. Charmaine is looking for another husband since divorcing her second three years ago, but has yet to find anyone. She works at the South Side Community Art Center in the Chicago neighborhood of Onion City. Since Vance started flickering, she has supported him in developing heroic skills.
Qualities: Good (+2) Citizen, Good (+2) Community Art Teacher, Good (+2) Emotional Intelligence, Good (+2) Energetic, Good (+2) Mother
Poor (-2) Love Life

The South Side Community Art Center in Chicago dates from 1940.


Karah Miller -- She has milk chocolate skin, black eyes, and short straightened brown hair. She is sturdy and already developing large curves. She is 14 years old. Karah is the daughter of Charmaine, older sister of Vance / Beach Hero, Leesha, and Winton. They live in the Chicago suburb of Onion City. Precocious and quick to learn, Karah enjoys studying African history. She is better at taking care of other people than herself, though.
Qualities: Good (+2) African History, Good (+2) Precocious, Good (+2) Nurturing
Poor (-2) Self-Preservation

Leesha Miller -- She has caramel skin, black eyes, and short straightened brown hair. She is slim and graceful. She is 9 years old. Leesha is the daughter of Charmaine, younger sister of Karah and Vance / Beach Hero, older sister of Winton. They live in the Chicago suburb of Onion City. Cheerful and easygoing, Leesha gets along well with other girls. She hates getting messy, though.
Qualities: Good (+2) Cheerful, Good (+2) Girl Stuff
Poor (-2) Dealing with Messiness

Winton Miller -- He has milk chocolate skin, black eyes, and nappy black hair. His head is shaved. He is small and wiry. He is 7 years old. Winton is the son of Charmaine, younger brother of Karah, Vance / Beach Hero, and Leesha. They live in the Chicago suburb of Onion City. Fast on his feet, Winton loves playing outside, but he can't sit still for long. He is devoted to his family.
Qualities: Good (+2) Fast, Good (+2) Loyal
Poor (-2) Sitting Still

* * *

"Heroes are not giant statues framed against a red sky. They are people who say: This is my community, and it's my responsibility to make it better."
-- Tom McCall

Here are maps of Chicago neighborhoods, ethnic distribution, and libraries. Read about the Scottsdale Branch, Chicago Public Library. See the exterior, fiction section, multipurpose room, women's support group, and endangered animals presentation.

Young heroes used to be a mainstay of comic books. They are often treated abominably by older characters, which is one factor in their disappearance. However, this is not a good solution to the problem, as infantilization is destructive and spreading throughout much of western culture.

Children need real-world experience in order to learn life skills, build resilience, take initiative, manage risks, and accomplish great things. Neither reckless endangerment nor infantilization will produce heroes, or even healthy citizens; they need a stairstep approach and good coaching. Most especially, young heroes need help in finding age-appropriate heroics suited to their personality and ways they can chain up to adult ones.

Everyday heroes are ordinary people who do extraordinary things to make the world a better place. Here's a lesson about heroic figures in history. You can develop a heroic code and learn how to be a hero in real life by developing skills as well as imagery.

T-America offers a wide range of training in first aid. The most basic level covers common complaints like scrapes, bruises, sniffles, and when to call an expert. Most children earn theirs around age 7-8. The certification for it is nicknamed a "booboo card."

Lifeguard training is typically the highest level of swimming lessons. Most T-American kids get lessons in water safety and basic swimming, nicknamed "drownproofing," which are widely offered for free. Intermediate lessons usually cost money, and not everyone has the funds or interest for those.

Greenbucks are prepaid cash cards, an answer to travelers' checks. They can be purchased with a set value printed on the front ($10, $20, $50) or a value customized at point of sale (no cash amount listed). A Greenbucks store carries bargain goods and offers a discount for shopping with a Greenbucks card.

T-America offers wallet-sized certification cards for many skills. Beach Hero has a fan-style wallet for his.

Sand-free beach mats make beach trips more comfortable. The boys share a blue mat, the girls share a pink one, and their mother has a green one. Beach tents provide shade.

T-American beaches, playgrounds, parks, and other outdoor facilities often have sunscreen dispensers. These may be funded by government programs, health boards, local health organizations, the community park service, etc.

Walking on sand requires 2-3 times as much energy (about 480-720 calories/hour) as walking on a solid surface (about 240 calories/hour). In swimming, basic strokes like the front crawl or backstroke burn about 588 calories/hour.

Picnic sandwiches include the Make-Ahead Salami Sub with White Bean Spread and Kale-Slaw. Other picnic recipes include Raspberry-Peach Iced Tea and Skinny Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies.
Tags: community, cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, writing
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