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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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Poem: "Condensed Soup"
Based on an audience poll, this is the free epic for the September 3, 2019 Poetry Fishbowl reaching its $200 goal. It's spillover from the July 16, 2019 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] peoriapeoriawhereart. It also fills the "Secret Exposed" square in my 2-28-19 Words and Phrases card for the Meet Ugly Bingo fest. This poem belongs to the Polychrome Heroics series.


"Condensed Soup"

[Saturday, June 20, 2015]

Shan managed to hide his problems
for months before they all came out.

He had never liked his classmates much,
preferring his own company to that of others,
which made him a target for bullies.

They made fun of Shan for
the way he looked and
the way he talked and
for joining a club for
student authors.

The cyberbullying
was the worst, because
whenever he checked
his vmail, it would
hit him in the face.

Shan wished he could
just shrink and disappear.

Then it actually happened.

At first, it only occurred when
he read messages online.

He learned not to do that
with other people around,
and kept his secret.

He didn't want anyone
to know that he was
flickering out of fear.

Shan could focus on
other things, such as
the summer program
for young writers that
ran at the library.

Then one day he
was going to meet
his parents in the park
when he walked past
Bogart from school.

The other boy was
taking a class in
vertical gardening
at the park, which
made Shan want
to avoid the place.

"Hey, Shanton,"
said Bogart, putting
a sneer into his voice.
"Trying to write a world
where you imagine that
you're actually good enough?"

And just like that, Shan
was shrinking away, right
in front of his parents.

His brothers and sisters
laughed, thinking it was a joke.

His mother shrieked and ran
toward him, but fortunately
his father caught her before
she could step on Shan.

"Hello?" his father called.
"Shan, are you still here?
Holler if you can hear me!"

No amount of shouting
at ant size would be audible
over the sounds of birdsong
and sprinklers, so Shan
willed himself larger.

It was hard to be big when
he didn't want to be, though,
and he only made it up to a foot.

"Well ... that's new," his mother said.

She picked him up and put him
on the nearest picnic table,
then corralled his siblings
and made them sit down.

She settled more slowly,
arranging his baby brother Arti
under a lace nursing wrap. "Are
you all right, Shan?" she said.

"I don't know," Shan said.
"It's just ... some guys have
been picking on me, and
sometimes that happens."

"This isn't the first time
that Bogart has been mean
to you?" his mother said.

"No, but usually it's online,
and I can work around it,"
Shan said. He managed
to stretch another inch.

"Go, Shan!" said Lilavati.
"I know you can do it."

Their father stormed off
to confront the head of
the gardening program
about Bogart's bullying.

Shan sat on the picnic table
and put his face in his hands.

"I'm so ashamed," he said.
"I should be handling this better."

"Shan, nobody handles bullying well,"
his mother said. "It's horrid behavior,
and we will just have to find ways
to cope with it as best we can."

"I guess so," Shan said glumly.

"There's programs at school,"
his brother Jayesh said, then
slumped. "Only we're not in
school during the summer."

"Maybe we can find something
that is open now," their mother said.
"I know some Sankofa programs
happen during the summer --
it's how I met your father."

They'd all heard the story of how
their parents met in a program
to promote tolerance between
people who liked dating and
people who liked matchmaking,
where they got paired in both rounds
and later wound up falling in love.

"It's not that simple, Mom," said Shan,
but he grew a few more inches.

"I know it's not," she said. "We'll
get you some help. There must be
something for boys who are --"

"I don't even know what
I am anymore," Shan wailed.

"I know what you are!"
crowed his sister Nalini,
who was only four.

"Okay, what am I?"
Shan asked her.

"Condensed soup!"
she said, and burst
into a fit of giggles.

Little sisters.

Even when your life
was imploding, they could
still find a way to make you laugh.

* * *

Notes:

Shantam "Shan" Sullivan -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and short brown hair. His heritage is Britannian, Indian, and American. He speaks English and Hindi. He is 16 years old. Shan is the son of Barney and Priya, and the older brother of sister Lilavati (12), brother Jayesh (8), sister Nalini (4), and brother Arti (newborn). Shan is nimble and graceful. He is a good student who enjoys school, especially writing classes. He knows himself well and prefers his own company to that of others. However, this makes him a target of bullies, and Shan is not handling that very well.
Origin: In high school, cyberbullying made him wish that he could shrink and disappear. Then it really happened. At first, he only shrank when he read bullying messages online, so he could keep it a secret. But then someone bullied him in person and it happened in public, outing him.
Uniform: Casual boy clothes. He likes denim and dark neutrals, which make it easy to blend in.
Qualities: Good (+2) Agility, Good (+2) High School Student, Good (+2) Imagination, Good (+2) Intrapersonal Intelligence, Good (+2) Introvert
Poor (-2) Bullying Victim
Powers: Average (0) Shrinking
Shan can shrink down to about ant size. He can adjust his mass.
Motivation: To avoid conflict.

Yuba City, California is one of oldest Indian-American communities.

Average shrinking gets down to ant size. Good is microscopic. Expert is nanite size. Master is subatomic. Mass Manipulation is a related superpower.


Barney Sullivan -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and short brown hair. He is 38 years old. He is the husband of Priya and father of a son Shantam (16), daughter Lilavati (12), son Jayesh (8), daughter Nalini (4), and son Arti (newborn). Barney and Priya met in a Sankofa event designed to encourage mutual respect and understanding between people who choose dating and people who choose matchmaking. By happenstance, the two of them got paired in both rounds, decided to explore further -- using aspects of both methods -- and fell in love. Barney runs a local nonprofit organization to help people in need. He is tolerant of just about everything except people picking on each other.
Qualities: Good (+2) Family Man, Good (+2) Logical-Mathematical Ingelligence, Good (+2) Nonprofit Leader, Good (+2) Sankofa, Good (+2) Strength
Poor (-2) Tolerating Abuse

Priya Sullivan -- She has tinted skin, brown eyes, and long brown hair. She is 36 years old. She is the wife of Barney and mother of a son Shantam (16), daughter Lilavati (12), son Jayesh (8), daughter Nalini (4), and son Arti (newborn). Barney and Priya met in a Sankofa event designed to encourage mutual respect and understanding between people who choose dating and people who choose matchmaking. By happenstance, the two of them got paired in both rounds, decided to explore further -- using aspects of both methods -- and fell in love. Priya enjoys taking care of her family and other relationships. She learns much better from other people than from books.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Mother, Good (+2) Emotional Intelligence, Good (+2) Graceful, Good (+2) Sankofa
Poor (-2) Book Learning

Bogart Arnolds -- He has fair skin, brown hair that bleaches almost white in the sun, and blue eyes. He is tall and strong. Bogart enjoys gardening and does it well. However, he also likes picking on people, and he uses his influence to escape the consequences.
Qualities: Good (+2) Gardening, Good (+2) Influential, Good (+2) Naturalistic Intelligence, Good (+2) Strength
Poor (-2) Bully

* * *

Bullying can cause serious harm. In theory, there are ways to stop bullying in person and online. In practice, all those methods almost always fail. The most successful -- hiring a lawyer -- has a dismal 16% success rate. Adult victims with the power to leave most often escape the bully by quitting their job or wherever else the bully is. Victims without this avenue of escape usually continue to be bullied. Hence the strong links between bullying and mental illness, physical complaints, suicide, and other problems. There are many reasons why people don't report bullying, but the main one I've observed was not listed: because they know it's a waste of time, having tried all the recommended steps before only to see them fail. The most efficient way to stop bullying -- firing or expelling the bully -- is one that people don't want to use. But if you are in a position with that power, it will totally solve bullying at your organization.

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