ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem is spillover from the July 19, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from LJ user Paantha. It also fills the "forced to rely on enemy / rival" square in my 7-16-16 card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Calliope thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains some touchy topics. Highlight to read the spoilery warnings. It covers the aftermath of interpersonal violence, where Calliope and Vagary are trying to figure out what is going wrong with their interactions and how to change that to match their personal and surrounding cultural standards. This includes advance planning for couples therapy, with some very detailed examination of their own and each other's issues. At this point their feelings and responses are muddled, so beware of questionable reliability in the narrative and advisability of character actions. If these are sensitive spots for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


"Meaning Only in Relationship"


To Calliope's considerable surprise,
Vagary did all the work required for them
to start couples counseling. He identified
the community clinics and private offices,
browsed websites, checked references,
and ultimately presented her with a list
of the top three possibilities.

"These are in my order of preference,"
Vagary said. "If you hate them all,
try to tell me why and I'll redo it."

He'd found good ones, though,
so Calliope could simply approve
the top name on the list. "That one."

Vagary marked it, sorted pages carefully,
and filled out a few more boxes. Then
he opened a folder and handed her
a paperclipped sheaf of forms
and worksheets to fill out.

"This is the preview stuff for
the intake meeting," Vagary said.
"We each fill out the individual ones
and then we do the couples one together."

Calliope looked at the individual problems page
and checked off anxiety, not being able to relax,
avoiding thoughts, feeling guilty, detachment,
feeling hopeless about the future, resentment,
and aggression as emotional concerns.

There were a lot of intimate concerns from
not feeling close, not trusting, lack of respect,
trouble communicating, frequent arguments,
and trouble resolving conflicts to feeling
uncommitted and wanting to separate.

She drew a huge X through the sex stuff.
That was satisfying. For childhood she just
checked unhappy, not wanting to go into
the whole gender dysphoria thing.

Under recent stresses, she checked
natural disaster, although it had been
gaining superpowers that caused
the most upheaval in her life.

They'd have to tell the counselor that,
because it was the heart of everything
that was wrong between them; but
Calliope didn't want to do that
any sooner than necessary.

She left the goals blank, though.
This was all Vagary's idea, let him
figure out what to do with it.

Vagary handed her an envelope.
"Put yours in here, and after we
finish the couples page, seal it.
That way I can drop it off with
the rest and you won't have
to worry about me seeing it."

Calliope was startled all over again.
Usually he sucked at boundaries.
"Okay," she said, and slid her page
inside the waiting envelope.

"Here," said Vagary, handing her
the couples form. "I already filled in
my answers, so it's your turn next."

Under favorite parts of the relationship,
Vagary had cited her emotions when
he wasn't around. That was weird.
Calliope wrote that he saw her for who
she really was, which was not something
that she could get from everyone.

Under desired changes, he'd written
fighting; under how often, every time
they met; under topics, their connection.
For the last argument, he'd put down
that he provoked her and she hit him.

Those were all true, so Calliope
just echoed them in her own words.

It felt weird to agree with Vagary.

She had to admit, too, that he was
the first to try making up after a fight.
He'd left that part blank for some reason.

Calliope sealed the couples form
in the envelope and handed it to him.
"Thank you for making arrangements,"
she said. "You did a thorough job."

"Welcome," Vagary said, giving her
a sidelong look. The corner of his mouth
moved, where his tongue pushed against
the stitches from the inside. It was
turning into a nervous habit.

Looking at his reaction, Calliope
got the sinking sensation that she
had done a lot more damage than
just a row of stitches down his lip.

She hated being forced to rely on
her own nemesis like this, and she
hated the bond that tied them together,
but that didn't make it okay for her
to treat Vagary so roughly that he
watched her every move out of
fear instead of fascination.

Action did not exist in isolation, but
found meaning only in relationship;
and without understanding that
relationship, any action chosen
could only lead to conflict.

"Listen, I don't mean to be horrible,"
she said. "It's just that the bond is
more than I can deal with, and I'm
not handling it very well."

"Yeah, me neither," Vagary said.
"That's what counseling is for."

Yet another thing they agreed on.

* * *

Notes:

Calliope (Calvin Sanna) -- Calliope comes from Oklahoma; the father's family is Greek-American, while the mother's family is American. She lives in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Calliope has light olive skin with gray eyes and short hair in shades of lighter and darker blond. Cal is demiromantic demisexual. She speaks English, Greek, and Esperanto.
Origin: Sucked into a tornado.
Uniform: Feminine-styled costume of dexflan and capery in dusty shades of pink, blue, lavender, and cream.
Qualities: Good (+2) Consideration, Good (+2) Flexible, Good (+2) Handiwork, Good (+2) Listener, Good (+2) Word Puzzles
Poor (-2) Distractible
Powers: Expert (+4) Air Powers (meta-power including Flight, Phasing, Sonic Blast, Tornado Straws, Whirlwind, Windtalking), Average (0) Empathy, Average (0) Shapeshifting
Vulnerability: Air Powers are opposed by Earth Powers. Some Air abilities do not work on an Earth-powered opponent, and vice versa, typically those meant to affect a person directly. Others gain an upshift on damage, typically attacks.
Limitation: So far the Shapeshifting only works to switch between Calvin and Calliope. As the power improves, additional shapes may be gained.
Motivation: Self-discovery.

Vagary (Abelardo Bennett) -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and dark hair with a short beard and moustache. His very mixed heritage includes Jewish, Spanish, German, and Italian. He enjoys taking tours at museums, art galleries, caves, parks, monuments, anywhere he can be part of a group without people expecting him to be charming. He also loves strategy games, with a particular taste for area-control ones.
Vagary currently works for the supervillain organization Kraken. He is a competent spy, adept at both planting and stealing small items as well as eavesdropping. He specializes in fishing for information by hanging around places of power in semi-public or taking tours, and skimming for valuable thoughts. Kraken has considered him for officer training, held back primarily by his shyness and poor social skills; so far he has only taken the lead in a few small teams.
Origin: Abelardo was kicked out of his rather conservative home for "sexual confusion." A Kraken officer recruited him by providing acceptance of whatever he turned out to be. Abelardo never has really nailed down his sexual orientation or identity, but unlike his family, Kraken doesn't care. The organization offered him the gamble of taking a potent metagen; he accepted, and developed superpowers.
Uniform: Kraken uniform of dexflan and capery; the jumpsuits is sensibly designed with sleek fit, plenty of pockets and fasteners for equipment. It provides Expert (+4) Camouflage to a designated user, but if worn by anyone else, turns garish neon colors. The utility belt contains a multitude of small gizmos and other tools, along with a holster for the Confusticator zap gun which causes disorientation and short-term memory loss. Off-duty, Abelardo favors business casual, most often trousers and a polo shirt.
Qualities: Good (+2) Flexible, Good (+2) Gamer, Good (+2) Patience, Good (+2) Spy, Good (+2) Touring
Poor (-2) Social Skills
Powers: Average (0) Phase, Average (0) Telepathy
Limitation: His Telepathy is usually restricted to skimming strong signals from the ambient pitch pool, rather than reading another person directly. If he phases through someone, it functions at Good level and he can read them directly, but he feels very uncomfortable doing that.
Motivation: To explore while unobserved.

* * *

“Action has meaning only in relationship, and without understanding relationship, action on any level will only breed conflict. The understanding of relationship is infinitely more important than the search for any plan of action.”
Jiddu Krishnamurti

Relationship counseling spans a wide range from family therapy to marriage counseling, and couples therapy can apply to any two people having problems. The vast majority is aimed at married people, but if you look closely at counselor services, you'll see providers who list other specialities such as dating violence or sibling rivalry. Understand the purpose and process of couples therapy. While many people argue that counseling for abuse does not work, this is a little off-base. What doesn't work is forcing therapy on unwilling parties. Someone with crappy relationship habits and/or a hot temper who agrees it is a problem and chooses to work on it has a similar chance of improvement as anyone else going into therapy in hopes of fixing their shit. Know the warning signs of a troubled relationship that indicate you might benefit from couples therapy. Consider different types of therapy, how to find a therapist, and what to look for in a therapist. Despite Calliope and Vagary having individual issues, and worse ones together, they both agree that the situation is undesirable and are willing to do a share of the work to address that. This is more hopeful than situations where one or both parties are ignoring trouble.

Emotionally Focused Therapy deals in feelings and relationships, originally developed for adult romantic relationships but now extending into family therapy and other areas of interpersonal dynamics. Forms and questionnaires can help individuals and couples identify at least some of their issues before beginning therapy. Consider this individual problems checklist and this couples questionnaire.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-08-07 10:56 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] lone_cat
"handed it him" looks like it should be "handed it to him".

(no subject)

Date: 2016-08-08 02:35 am (UTC)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alatefeline
I found this interesting and thought it showed productive reasoning on the part of the characters.

You probably remember the issues I had with the last poem.

So I would also like to see another poem that flips the surprise that he handled boundaries and pulling things together well. Something that explores Calliope surprising Vagary with how much *she* gets something/is unexpectedly reliable, probably around gender and/or trans issues.

Maybe he finds *himself* forced to pick up the hero role when he intervenes in an assault or comes in or the aftermath. Maybe he doesn't understand why things happened the way they happen. Maybe it's time for Caliope to teach him to understand gender stuff a little bit, even though that would be hard for her because part of what she likes about him is the way he accepts her. But simple acceptance of people can coexist with acceptance of complexity in the world through willingness to let things be what they are when what they are is good and sufficient.

On a philosophical tangent... Vagary strikes me as someone who, with the right experiences, could make the leap from childish beginner (lack of complexity in worldview) to expert listener's beginner's mind (deliberate, mindful acceptance of complexity that still finds a simple stillness) precisely *because* of his eccentricity, without him having to spend forever in screwed-up-young-adult trying-to-control-the-world. While Calliope strikes me as the action hera who doesn't want to go the detached sage route but rather the activist, magician, or family-builder/home-defender route, of gaining wisdom/spiritual power through wise action and actively building a better world.

I do want to see Vagary learn why women, transfolk, and femmefolk *have to* have defensive reflexes, and be able to not fault Calliope for having them without putting infinite blame on himself. (For reference, the only people I know in the physical world who can fine-tune self-defense reflexes the way you described in comments before are athletes either physically or emotionally/spiritually. I can either be prepared to hit if needed or not hit, that's about all, and I have consciously chosen to accept the physical and moral risks of being emotionally prepared to fight back if assaulted.) Which also is to say that while Calliope may, as a superhera, have the *potential* to learn to make the fine judgments required to shake off, without injury, someone who grabs her, I don't blame her for not already having it. I feel very strongly that it is not her moral obligation as a *person* to be a better victim and do less damage to someone grabbing her. As a superhera she may choose to *assume* the obligation of treating capes and other threats with a measured spectrum of force. As a *representative character* of a group of people that are frequently criminalized for self defense and every choice they make criticized, I want to see her side of that discussed too. Thus my wish to see a situation in which Vagary is forced to consult *her* in order to effectively address a problem involving the needs of someone in a vulnerable situation and/or marginalized group.

I still find both of these characters compelling, and you mentioned that you wouldn't mind seeing back and forth reactions happening, so I'm bookmarking this comment to try to distill into a prompt for your next fishbowl.
Edited (clarification) Date: 2016-08-08 02:38 am (UTC)

detailed comments on this one poem

Date: 2016-08-08 02:58 am (UTC)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alatefeline
>> To Calliope's considerable surprise,
Vagary did all the work required for them
to start couples counseling. <<

Some surprises can be good! :)

I’m glad I came at this with the background knowledge that Terramagne encourages couples counseling in other contexts besides romantic/sexual couples. Otherwise it could be confusing.

>> "If you hate them all,
try to tell me why and I'll redo it.” <<

A wise thing to say, under the circumstances. He has some good ideas.

>> Calliope looked at the individual problems page
and checked off anxiety, not being able to relax,
avoiding thoughts, feeling guilty, detachment,
feeling hopeless about the future, resentment,
and aggression as emotional concerns.

There were a lot of intimate concerns from
not feeling close, not trusting, lack of respect,
trouble communicating, frequent arguments,
and trouble resolving conflicts to feeling
uncommitted and wanting to separate. <<

Yup, she’s a mess. They both are. I really really want to continue to follow the (hopefully upward) spiral now.

>> She drew a huge X through the sex stuff.
That was satisfying. <<

Kudos to her. Being able to say “screw that, not applicable” is a very satisfying feeling when it comes to problematic assumptions.

>> For childhood she just
checked unhappy, not wanting to go into
the whole gender dysphoria thing. <<

This makes sense but could be problematic down the line some ways. I really really really hope they get a good counselor because eventually it’s likely that they’ll need to bring in their other emotional issues in order to resolve very much, but being a bit reserved about this is very reasonable.

>> Under recent stresses, she checked
natural disaster, although it had been
gaining superpowers that caused
the most upheaval in her life.

They'd have to tell the counselor that,
because it was the heart of everything
that was wrong between them; but
Calliope didn't want to do that
any sooner than necessary. <<

Nodding. Sometimes one has to lay the groundwork to explain something effectively. Sometimes it’s information is important enough that one has to manage how one presents it. Sometimes trust is required to express oneself freely.

>> She left the goals blank, though. <<

She needs to get some goals, or the default goal will be “put up with this so I can move on” and they won’t accomplish much.

>> This was all Vagary's idea, let him
figure out what to do with it. <<

Tempting, yes. But when people are doing something *together*, whoever had the idea to start with, both/all people have to invest willingly in it to some extent (though necessarily the exact same extent, it’s okay to make a deal to do 75% and get 25% if one has more spoons/time/whatever) or it’ll just provoke another conflict about priorities and obligations. And couples counseling isn’t exactly something that can be done not-together, though they each might as well consider looking for individual counseling or another form of personal mental wellness/growth practice while they are at it.

>>Vagary handed her an envelope.
"Put yours in here, and after we
finish the couples page, seal it.
That way I can drop it off with
the rest and you won't have
to worry about me seeing it."

Calliope was startled all over again.
Usually he sucked at boundaries.<<

Hmmm. Wonder why he got this one? Is she missing it when he does get it right How much is she missing it when he does get it right? How much is this an exception to that tendency, and to what extent is it an exception because he’s trying harder and/or has learned more?

>> Under favorite parts of the relationship,
Vagary had cited her emotions when
he wasn't around. That was weird. <<

Yes. Wonder where that’ll go.

>> Calliope wrote that he saw her for who
she really was, which was not something
that she could get from everyone. <<

Extremely important. But people can always learn more about each other, and discovering/creating how to be better together is a great form of that. I think her fear of losing this might become a stumbling block in time, but it’s also a motivator to spend positive time together, which she desperately needs if they are going to *try* to be connected instead of fighting it.

>> Under desired changes, he'd written
fighting; under how often, every time
they met; under topics, their connection.
For the last argument, he'd put down
that he provoked her and she hit him.

Those were all true, so Calliope
just echoed them in her own words.

It felt weird to agree with Vagary. <<

Clear. As mud. Yup. They know what happened, what they did to each other, and some of why. But they don’t know what it *means* because they haven’t made a *usable* meaning out of it yet.

>> She had to admit, too, that he was
the first to try making up after a fight.
He'd left that part blank for some reason. <<

Because he’s down on himself to a dangerous extent. Reminds me of depression-brain the way someone I know gets it.

>> "Thank you for making arrangements,"
she said. "You did a thorough job."

"Welcome," Vagary said, giving her
a sidelong look.<<

Courtesy can be unexpectedly important.

>> Looking at his reaction, Calliope
got the sinking sensation that she
had done a lot more damage than
just a row of stitches down his lip. <<

>> that didn't make it okay for her
to treat Vagary so roughly that he
watched her every move out of
fear instead of fascination. <<

Yes.

>>nemesis<<

Hard to define what this means to them; it keeps changing in ways they aren’t fully aware of. I hope they decide to go for “best frenemies” if not outright “friends.”

>> Action did not exist in isolation, but
found meaning only in relationship;
and without understanding that
relationship, any action chosen
could only lead to conflict. <<

Yes. This is both a meaningful philosophy-fragment well illustrated by the poem, and a useful piece of built-in meta helping to explain the rest of the poem.

>> Yet another thing they agreed on. <<

Nods.

Re: detailed comments on this one poem

Date: 2016-08-08 01:37 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] lone_cat
Calliope hurt Vagary more from the location of the fight than by busting his lip. And conversely, he doesn't realize that he's been doing exactly the same thing to her. Classes notwithstanding, it doesn't register for him because the only functional socialization he's gotten has been from people who live together. He doesn't see the boundary, because he's not used to having one in that position, and the bond makes Calliope feel close even though they barely know each other.

Which means that once Vagary realizes that he's been making Calliope feel unsafe at home, their counselor is going to need a mop and bucket to scrape that poor boy off the floor. :/


Oh, dear. And Calliope not only didn't realize that Vagary was there, it looks like she didn't know that anyone was there until Vagary grabbed her. Talk about making someone feel unsafe at home!

(no subject)

Date: 2016-08-07 10:43 pm (UTC)
ext_3294: Tux (Default)
From: [identity profile] technoshaman.livejournal.com
♫ Well I said, what about
Breakfast at Tiffany's
She said "I think I remember the film
And as I recall, I think we both kinda liked it"
And I said "Well, that's the one thing we've got" ♪

(Although, according to Dad, the movie sucked; the only good thing about it, he said, was "Moon River", which won Best Song that year...)

It really says something when somebody as knocked-around as Vagary knows about boundaries, how to get counseling, and generally do a good job with a tough situation...

What's the word, Fernweh?

Yes...

Date: 2016-08-07 11:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
>> (Although, according to Dad, the movie sucked; the only good thing about it, he said, was "Moon River", which won Best Song that year...) <<

Yep.

>> It really says something when somebody as knocked-around as Vagary knows about boundaries, how to get counseling, and generally do a good job with a tough situation... <<

What it says is that Terramagne has built up layer upon layer of failsafes, such that people who fall through the first few cracks usually fetch up on a ledge lower down. They might or might not decide to climb back up.

Vagary belongs to Kraken, precisely because they scooped him out of freefall and started teaching him how to fill in skills that he missed. But Kraken's foundlings tend to be pretty wrecked to begin with, so it takes a long time to go from flailing to functional. Vagary is pretty typical of their young field agents: he can do his job, he's a lot happier than he used to be, but when it comes to interpersonal stuff he still has a lot of damage where someone can fall into a hole and break their neck. So he knows about healthy relationships because he's gotten some careful teaching on that topic -- Kraken is very thorough on the topic of what constitutes acceptable roughhousing, what constitutes abuse or excessive force, and the importance of not fighting at home -- it's just a matter of practicing until stuff he missed growing up will become second nature.

There's a lovely sequence of Officer Pink poems that haven't been sponsored yet, which deal with Kyle's college problems and show the layers of failsafes there.

As I've said before, T-American society works like a Tesla fluid valve, and I don't think I'll ever get tired of watching that.

>> What's the word, Fernweh? <<

Homesickness for a place you've never been. <3

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