Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "A Living Element"

This poem came out of the May 5, 2020 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired and sponsored by Shirley Barrette. It also fills the "Eldership" square in my 5-1-20 card for the Sumerian Me Bingo fest. This poem belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series. It is the fourth in the set, after "The Truest Writers," "Those Who See Language," and "A Linguistic Process," and before "Based on the Mistake" and "The Professor's Keychain."


"A Living Element"

[Friday, July 26, 2013]

"Congratulate me," said Professor Burr.
"I just talked the University of Nebraska
and the Nebraska Community Colleges into
allowing inmates to complete online degrees
using courses offered by their systems,
prison courses, or a combination of those."

"Wow, that's impressive," said Everett.
"They were really dragging their feet.
What did they want in return for it?"

Professor Burr gave an utterly smug look.
"They demanded the right for their students
to take our online classes," he announced.

"They want to fob off the remedial students
on us," Everett guessed, then laughed.
"Little do they know how hard we work
to find anyone from outside willing
to interact with the inmates here."

"We'll need to draft a release for
the outside students to sign, but we
can base that on the volunteer forms
we already have," said Professor Burr.

"Honestly, the lowest-performing students
from the colleges will probably come from
similar backgrounds as our students,"
Everett said. "They should get along."

"That's my hope," said Professor Burr.
"I'd like to introduce some new classes
and at least one extracurricular."

"Oh, I know just the thing!" said Everett.
"Let me introduce a literary analysis of
The Blue Collar Boys. Everyone loves
watching television in class, and they'll
have no trouble relating to that one.
Besides, it's a terrific history show."

"Sold," said Professor Burr.
"Who do you think we should
approach about extracurriculars?"

"I thought you expected me
to do that," said Everett.

"You've got your hands full
with all those Book Clubs, and
I heard the Creative Writing Club
wants to split into separate groups,"
Professor Burr pointed out.

"Nah, I can hand off all of
the Book Clubs to the inmates,"
said Everett. "Every group includes
two or three diehards, a handful of
regular attendees, and one to three
dozen guys who show up when
they like that week's selection."

"How many of those clubs do you
have now?" asked Professor Burr.

"Black Lit, Latino Lit, College Classics,
Phantasmagoria, Hearts and Flowers,
Poets' Garret, and Beach Books,"
Everett counted on his fingers.
"One for each day of the week,
weekend sessions online only."

Professor Burr chuckled. "I
still can't believe you got them
to read romance," he said.

"It wasn't even my idea, I just
agreed to supervise it," Everett said.
"Wade pitched a proposal to study
famous romances for inspiration on
how to treat a real-life love interest. I
can tap him to manage the clubs."

"Okay, let's say that you hand off
the Book Clubs. What kind of
extracurricular would you add?"
Professor Burr asked him.

"Storytelling," said Everett.
"So far, I've led all kinds of
reading and writing activities,
but I want to try performance.
There's more to the Liberal Arts
than just literature and rhetoric."

"You think you can get the guys into
telling stories?" said Professor Burr.

"Storytelling is a living element,"
said Everett. "You can record it,
but those stories aren't alive
anymore, they're just fossils.
In order for a story to live,
you have to perform it."

"True, but will they see
that?" said Professor Burr.

"I think so," said Everett.
"Oral tradition is a huge part
of African-American culture, and
no small part of Hispanic culture.
Storytelling is a mark of eldership
across both of those societies."

"Good point," said Professor Burr.
"Come to think of it, this might also
appeal to the less-literate inmates."

"I can advertise that," Everett said.
"I'll make sure everyone knows that
they can learn stories from audio,
video, or other storytellers and not
just by reading the text out of books."

"All right, this club has potential,"
said Professor Burr. "Recidivism is
down by a third; let's aim for half."

"Besides, like writing, storytelling
can lead to gainful employment,"
said Everett. "That's always a draw,
and it keeps people out of trouble."

"Agreed," said Professor Burr.
"Let's see what you can do
with the living element."

So Everett went off to find
some stories to tell.

* * *

Notes:

[Character by Dialecticdreamer]
Wade Clarent -- He has tinted skin, brown eyes, and nappy black hair worn in zig-zag cornrows.

(First appearance in “A Smooth Discussion” part one and part two.)

Appearance: only noted that he's several inches taller than Doctor G, which puts him roughly 6'1” tall. Other details could be anything.

Background: Wade is twenty-six, but has rapidly become a 'steady' in the prison where he was sent four years ago for grand theft auto. He was tossed out of his home in the Chicago area when he was fifteen, caught
messing around with another teen...boy. His run of couch-surfing put him, almost accidentally, in a position to help his hosting family evade an eviction notice, and commit his first felony.

A year later, he had found a gang that did not discriminate based on his orientation (pansexual, but his
current romantic partner is male, making him appear homosexual), and began adding other skills to his repertoire. Busted a few weeks after his twenty-first birthday, the legal process took over a year to get from
arraignment to sentencing, which led to accusations that the court was trying to prolong the pre-trial process to guarantee that the trial would be highly public during the local elections. In actual fact, his pre-existing and rather long history of kleptomania was causing a great deal of concern among the prosecutors on the case, and led to a plea deal.

Qualities:
Good (+2) Impersonator (approaches the level of Vocal Mimic, not quite at superpower level). This quality will be Expert (+4) by the time he's thirty. Good (+2) Bookworm, Good (+2) Easygoing Good, (+2) Pansexual, Good (+2) Sleight of Hand, Good (+2) Soap Carving
Poor (-2) Mild Kleptomania

Wade was under treatment for kleptomania in prison, but with Warden Daley in charge, visits were too widely spaced and too constrained by inane restrictions to be fully effective. Guard Lincoln, among others, took action early on, and worked out a compromise with Sanquez and Kincaid that allowed Wade's soap carvings to be used as reparations for his “un-resisted urges to acquire items,” which did tend to limit Wade to no more than he could carve in a period of two weeks, since Daley limited the prisoners' access to the commissary to once every two weeks. (Hula girls and sports cars were popular from whole bars of soap, and Wade carefully saved the scraps to craft soap roses, petal by petal.)

Wade's boyfriend Miquon is a frequent visitor, and started ordering gifts through Wade's commissary account -- mostly foods that Wade had wondered about, but not tried, but Daley's idiotic restrictions made that less popular than ordering graphic novels through a bookstore with a shipping service. Wade has kept all but two of
those, carefully mailing them back to Miquon when he finished reading them.

* * *

Online degrees in Nebraska include offerings from Central Community College, Northeast Community College, Southeast Community College, and the University of Nebraska. Some colleges make their online classes available to everyone, while others restrict enrollment as closely as for campus classes, so it varies whether inmates have access to such opportunities.

The Blue Collar Boys is a 1950s soap opera about working-class men and their families during the industrial revolution. Set in Chicago, it captures the tensions that erupt when some households catch the rising tide of prosperity while others get left behind.

Storytelling is a performing art of narrative with many benefits. Here is a learning library. There are lesson plans and storytelling resources for teachers and other storytellers. Consider the importance of black storytellers and Hispanic storytellers. You can take free online lessons in storytelling. Learn how to become a storyteller and read an assessment of performance criteria.

Oral tradition is a vital part of African-American culture and Hispanic culture.

In local-America, illiteracy makes it difficult if not impossible to get a job, even though some jobs require little or no reading. Much the same is true for people with learning disabilities, a population that largely overlaps the illiterate. Terramagne-America makes an effort to match jobs to everyone who is willing and able to work, so it's a little better there, but the situation is still limiting. It becomes much easier if people compensate for each other's strengths and weaknesses, such as a slender construction worker doing the paperwork while brawnier ones do the heavy lifting. Consider careers for low writing/reading levels and high-paying jobs with little or no education. Work-at-home jobs often involve working by hand, such as crafts. Jobs for blind people necessarily require no reading or writing of flat text. Jobs for immigrant workers may require minimal language skills of any kind.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, education, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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