ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
"The Purpose of Power" won the 2017 Rose and Bay Award in the Poetry category.

This poem is spillover from the July 5, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] librarygeek and [personal profile] technoshaman. It also fills the "be here now" square in my 5-1-16 card for the Solo Celebration Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series, and comes after "Calming the Agitations."

Warning: This poem contains some intense topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes introversion, feeling drained and irritated, anxiety over the future, solution-caused problems, deep philosophical discussions which are needful but Shiv is in no way prepared for, confusion, reference to past injuries and almost dying, followed by past medical abuse, cape politics, fate and free will, self-blame, self-hate, discussion of zetetic terror weapons, past traumatic amputation, the difference between legality and morality, purpose, existential angst, and other challenges. On the whole, it's pretty positive, just overwhelming for Shiv. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before moving onward.


"The Purpose of Power"


Shiv was pushing himself,
trying to get ready for the move
by spending more time in public --
taking most of his meals in the cafeteria,
joining small groups in the gym, and
even visiting the social room.

It wore on his nerves, and
before long, Rosie noticed.

The chaplain pulled Shiv aside,
commandeering one of the quiet rooms.

"Would you like to tell me what is
bothering you so much, or shall we
sit quietly for a while?" Rosie asked.

"People," Shiv said as they sat down.
"I am not a people person, and I've
figured out I do better when I'm alone."

"I'm glad you learned something
about yourself," Rosie said. "So why
are you spending way too much time
hanging out with other people?"

"I have to move back into
the standard wing before I
get out," Shiv said. "I'm trying
to ramp up the contact for that."

"Not a bad idea, but pushing
yourself too hard can make you
miserable," Rosie said. "Try
to set aside tomorrow and
just be here now."

Shiv put his face in his hands.
"I can't," he said. "I keep worrying
that I'll lose my grip and get into
even worse trouble."

"You've been in trouble before."

"Yeah, but I had my superpower
completely under control before,"
said Shiv. "The new exercises ...
I'm learning a lot, but I'm not sure
that my control is what it used to be."

Rosie smiled at him. "Ah, so that's
where it goes," he said, as if that was
supposed to make any kind of sense.
"Shiv, what is your superpower for?"

"Cutting things," Shiv said.
"You already know that."

"No, that's what it does,"
Rosie said. "What is it for?"

"I dunno," Shiv said.

Rosie looked at the ceiling.
"All right, we'll come back to that,"
he said. "Let me try another way:
Why do you have it?"

"I got stabbed," Shiv said,
one hand scratching the scar
on his belly. "Not a little nick,
either, it almost killed me and
Juvenile Hall had to send me
to a regular hospital for a week."

He remembered the brightness
of the pain, and thinking that
he was about to die.

He hadn't died, though.

"Then after I healed, things just ...
started happening," Shiv said.
"I think it was the knife, or maybe
something on the knife, but I don't
know for sure. Dr. G says that
sometimes just a major stress is
enough to trigger superpowers."

"That's how you got yours,"
Rosie said, clearly still fishing for
something that Shiv wasn't putting out.
"What is the purpose of power? Why
does it exist? Why do you have it?
What does it make you think about?
Come on, Shiv, what is it for?"

The questions made his head spin,
but the more Rosie talked, the more
his words got under Shiv's skin.

He remembered the first faint sense
of metal, of glass, of sharp things
appearing in his mind like
bright lights through fog.

When he could feel them,
then he could avoid them;
when he could touch them,
then he could push them away.

"Keeping me safe," Shiv said slowly.
"I was going crazy in the hospital,
trying to sleep behind a door that
wouldn't lock. The staff were ... awful."

"I'm listening," Rosie said, and there
was something about him that seemed
to cup the air, as if the silence was
waiting for Shiv to pour words into it,
almost pulling them out of him.

"The first thing I really did with
my superpower was to knock away
a scalpel," Shiv said. "There was
this doctor who got all curious about
what was happening to me, and he
wanted a piece of me to see if he
could figure out what was going on.
I didn't want to let him, so I just ...
stopped the blade, turned it aside."

"Impressive," Rosie said.
"Then what happened?"

Shiv smirked. "He yelled and
ran out of the room. I still had
the knife, so I used it to pop
the window open and get
the hell out of there."

"So the first things you did with
your superpower were defensive,
not offensive," Rosie said. "I'm
guessing that using it in a fight
must have come later?"

"Yeah," Shiv said. He kicked
his feet against his chair. "I
got to where I could pick up
anything sharp, or throw it,
and then I learned how
to make things sharp."

"Now you're learning how
to make things dull, or stick
them together, and all kinds
of new skills," Rosie said.
"Those are good things.
What will you do with them?"

"I dunno," Shiv said, wondering
why Rosie kept harping on this.

"Well, will you use them to keep
yourself safe? You could quit
breaking the law; you certainly
have plenty of potential for
other jobs now," Rosie said.

Shiv shook his head sharply.
"I'm a supervillain," he said.

"All right," said Rosie. "Why?
What are supervillains for?"

Shiv's brain just about bent.

"The hell is that supposed
to mean?" he said.

"Think about it," Rosie said.
"People who get special powers
don't have to get into cape politics
at all. They can be crickets, or
blue-plate specials, or whatever.
Why do some people become
supervillains, or superheroes?"

"I dunno, fate maybe?" Shiv said.
SPOON was all about destiny and
how superpowers meant you were
chosen to make the world a better place,
which fuck that noise, but it still seemed
to be a pretty popular opinion.

"No, people have choices," Rosie said.
He opened one hand and then the other.
"We have free will, otherwise we'd
just be glorified puppets."

"There are worse things to be,"
Shiv said, thinking about some of
the people higher up the food chain
than even his boss who held the whole
of the Greater Omaha Metropolitan Area.

"I doubt you're that compliant," Rosie said,
which made Shiv bristle, because he surely
wasn't that. "So why are you a supervillain?"

"Because I'm nobody's easy meat," Shiv said.
"After this --" He wiggled his fingers, twirling
the little blob of metal play-putty that Mr. Lincoln
had given him. "-- I got a lot better at stopping
people from hurting me. A guy saw that in action
and offered me a job. I was hungry so I took it."

Rosie sighed. "I really need to look into
ways of preventing people from getting
into supervillainy just to get by," he said.
"But that can't be why you're still doing it
now that you have other options."

"This is who I am," Shiv said
with a shrug. "I've been told often
enough what a fuckup I am --"

"You are not a fuckup," Rosie said,
clapping his hands as if swatting a fly
between them. "You have survived
some terrible experiences and made
a number of unfortunate choices."

"Whatever," Shiv said. The play-putty
stretched from a blob into a hollow circle,
then a square, and then a diamond. "This
is something I'm actually good at, so I'm
sticking with it. Nothing fancy about that,
Rosie, I'm just in it for myself, is all."

"Now that I don't believe," Rosie said.
"If you were only in it for yourself, then you
wouldn't have risked your life to save Ragno."

"I'm not a superhero," Shiv said uneasily.

"That's true," Rosie said, looking thoughtful.
"You did something heroic, though. Why?
What's the point of a supervillain doing that?"

"Ragno and me not dying," Shiv said.
He filled in the hollow of the diamond,
changed it to a square, then rounded
the corners until it became a disc.

"That brings us back to your superpower
as a force of safety," said Rosie. "Given that
as a core feature of it, I don't think you have
too much to worry about it running wild."

"I slip sometimes, but it's more
like dropping things," Shiv said.
"Not like some tweaks animating
everything that isn't nailed down."

The circle was difficult to grip,
but he could do it as long as he
kept the edges sharp enough.
He pulled points out to make
a flat star, then bent it into angles
until it looked like an ornament
he'd seen on a Christmas tree.

"That's useful to know," Rosie said.
"But why is it so important for you
to have powers, to be a supervillain?"

The guy was like a dog with one bone.

"It isn't, really," Shiv said. He changed
the star back into a square, bent the corners
down until it collapsed into a sphere, and
caught the ball in his hand just as it
slipped his mind. "I'm nobody."

"That was very beautiful, Shiv,"
said Rosie. "Thank you for sharing
your superpower with me. You really
like that play-putty, don't you?"

Shiv could hardly keep his hands
off it, is what, but he had to put it down
sometimes or it gave him headaches.
"Yeah, it was really nice of Mr. Lincoln
to let me carry it around like this so
that I can practice more often."

"It looks like you've been diligent
about that," said Rosie. "Your ability
is really amazing, Shiv. Do you
still think you're 'nobody' after
saving someone's life with it?"

"Anyone with powers could've done
the same thing," Shiv said as he tucked
the ball in his pocket. "I just was there.
A superhero would've done better."

"You were there, and you chose to act,"
said Rosie. "Let's look closer at what you
claimed, though, about you not being very
important. Do you know any superheroes?"

"Yeah, a few," Shiv said, thinking
about Stalwart Stan and some others
he'd tangled with over time. They
tended to be goody-two-shoes.

"How do you think they would
have handled the chayne incident?"
Rosie asked. "The same, different,
better or worse outcomes?"

It was like ice water sloshing over him.

"He couldn't have done it," Shiv said,
thinking out loud. "Stalwart Stan ...
even if he knew what to do, he
wouldn't have had the guts for it.
Because what needed doing was
horrible, and he's too nice of a guy."

"What about other people you know?"
Rosie said. "Superheroes, supervillains,
random acquaintances -- the field is open."

"I know a few who might," Shiv said.
"Most either wouldn't do it, or couldn't."

"All the same reasons, or different ones?"

"Some of each," Shiv said. "Like Antimatter,
he could've figured out a way, but not in time.
That's the hell of it with chayne, there's no time.
Antimatter has power out the wazoo, but he
doesn't love pain. He would've hesitated."

Rosie, thank god, did not ask if Shiv had
enjoyed hacking Ragno's arm off. He hadn't,
but neither did he want to talk about it.

"Then how did you know what to do, and
what drove you to do it?" Rosie asked.

Shiv struggled with the questions,
trying to feel his way through them.
"The first time, I didn't," he admitted.
"I just ... froze. We all did. It was ..."

"What happens to most people when
faced with atrocities," Rose said gently.

"Yeah, right," Shiv said, looking away.

"Even first responders can freeze if
the situation exceeds their training,"
Rosie said. "You know, if you want
to reach out to Mr. Vanburen, it would
be kind of you to share that with him. He
still blames himself for responding badly."

"Maybe," Shiv said. "I wasn't trying
to be a hero, though, I just couldn't
go through that again. I couldn't.
So yeah, I used my power to stop it,
because that was something I could do."

"And there we have it," Rosie said,
lighting up like a sunrise. "We need
supervillains because some of the things
that have to be done are ugly, awful things
which the superheroes can't or won't do.
We need people who've seen terrible stuff
so they won't be shocked by it and freeze.
You expect the world to be a mess; that
gives you a certain advantage."

Shiv's jaw dropped. As much as
he took pride in being a supervillain,
he'd never seen it in that light before.

"You mean like ... keeping a lid on it,"
Shiv said. "Everybody knows that
the really powerful supervillains
watch out to make sure the nutjobs
don't make it too high up the ladder."

"If that's how you like to put it,"
Rosie said with a nod. "I'd prefer
that everything get solved peacefully,
but the world doesn't always give us
that option. So it's best if we have
other tools in the box for those times."

"But I broke the rules," Shiv said softly.
"I'm not supposed to do things with
my superpower, it gets me in trouble."

"Are you in trouble now?" Rosie asked,
flicking a hand at the pocket full of metal.

"No, but ... what happened in the cafeteria
is pretty typical of when I use my power
in front of people, especially guards or cops."

Rosie's face fell. "I'm sorry to hear that,"
he said. "You know, sometimes we need
people who break the rules, too."

Shiv scoffed at him. "Tell that to the judge."

"I do believe I will," Rosie said with a glint
in his eye that made Shiv nervous again.
"Slavery was legal. Colonialism was legal.
The Holocaust was legal. There are even
places where murdering soups still is legal."

Shiv shuddered. He'd heard horror stories
about the bottom-ten countries. Everyone had.
"What's that supposed to mean?" he said.

"It means that legality is a matter of power,
not justice," said Rosie. "If you try to use
the government as a metric of ethics,
you'll end up disappointed."

"But everyone keeps telling me
to follow the rules," Shiv whined.
"Make up your mind already!"

"I want you to follow your ethics,
to be the kind of person that you
want to be," said Rosie. "I would
prefer that you follow the rules and
laws of civilized society. But sometimes,
society is wrong, and then it needs people
who aren't so susceptible to peer pressure."

Shiv wasn't accustomed to being useful
to anyone but himself and his gangmates,
let alone anything that felt as ... big as this.

"My brain is full," he said abruptly.
He took out his play-putty again, and
sent it dancing through the shapes.
"Can we just ... stop talking for a while?"

"Any time," Rosie said with a smile.

Then he just sat there, watching the metal
go through its paces, and waiting patiently
while Shiv's brain spun slowly to a stop
like a top winding down after it was let go.

For once, Shiv didn't find that creepy.

* * *

Notes:

Ambrose Farrington -- He has ruddy skin, brown eyes, and brown hair with red highlights especially in the beard and mustache. His interests in history include religion, correctional systems, and the state of Pennsylvania. Ambrose lives in a small house with his queerplatonic roommate, Garry Albright. Both of them had tried romance and found the drama too much of a distraction; they are happier with a quiet, steady friendship as their primary relationship.
Ambrose works as a chaplain at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln. He also volunteers in the community on weekends. His mellow, happy personality makes him an effective counselor. He tends to poke into other people's business, though, which annoys some folks. Shiv calls him "Rosie." Various of the inmates call him "the Ninja of Silence."
Qualities: Master (+6) Quaker, Expert (+4) Chaplain, Expert (+4) Counselor, Expert (+4) Equanimity, Good (+2) Body Language, Good (+2) Constitution, Good (+2) Coping Skills, Good (+2) Emotional First Aid, Good (+2) Hiking, Good (+2) History, Good (+2) Listener, Good (+2) Rock Balancing
Poor (-2) Nosy

* * *

Introversion and extroversion are two ends of a personality spectrum. Know the signs of being an introvert and how to be a healthy introvert. Shiv is just starting to learn these things about himself, and hasn't really figured out how to meet his own needs yet. Caring for introverts and extroverts requires different techniques. Here's an illustrated guide to introverts.

There are many reasons why someone might feel drained by other people. Happiness requires finding a balance between socializing and solitude.

Fidgets are small objects for manipulation, sold as therapy tools for children or office toys for adults. They have many benefits, including mental focus and hand health. People with superpowers often fidget with their ability. Shiv carries a piece of metal to play with, and has devised a variety of patterns to practice his control, such as the one shown here: hollow circle, hollow square, hollow diamond, solid diamond, solid square with sharp corners, solid square with rounded corners, solid circle, flat star, folded star, bent square, and sphere.

Self-hate and self-blame often come from child abuse, which warps perception of the self. Shiv is just repeating what he's been told over and over again. Recovery requires survivors to remind themselves of positive things that they didn't learn growing up, and turn self-blame into self-compassion. When dealing with someone else's self-blame, you can interrupt negative self-talk and reframe it in more constructive ways.

Quakers have a deep history of activism. You may as well not bother arguing with them, because once God has suggested that they address a particular problem, they will not quit and you will not talk them out of it. Peace activists have observed that many heinous things have been legal, and the government is not a good standard for morality.

Ethics is a set of laudable beliefs and practices. Various theories of ethics have been proposed. Think about how to discover your personal ethics and live by them. Here is a lesson about developing a code of ethics.

A theory of moral development describes a set of stages through which most people progress. Ambrose is talking about post-conventional concepts, which are way of Shiv's head because he barely grasps pre-conventional concepts. But don't blame Ambrose, it was God's idea to ask the poor kid what superpowers are for. I imagine God has the same hard time as other smart people when it comes to figuring out what other folks will understand.

Not all supervillains are necessarily unethical. Examples such as the Noble Demon and Anti-Villain may have their own sense of honor. When organized, they may even have their own laws. Sometimes they'll display valor under the least likely circumstances. It's not that they lack ethics; they just don't share the same set as the hero.

Thinking too hard can deplete energy and cause headaches. Shiv is prone to both of these problems. When your brain is full, you should stop working and take a break. Shiv is slowly learning this part.

Quaker worship centers around silence. It progresses from relaxation through letting go of concerns and expectant waiting to listening to God. If you're not used to the numinous, then suddenly having an open line like that can be very disconcerting, and even hair-raising. Shiv describes it as "creepy" because he is unaccustomed to numinous energy so it feels weird to him. But he has also figured out that Ambrose is good for shutting up unwanted thoughts. There are meditations and steps for practicing silence.

Thanks and suggestion

Date: 2016-12-01 03:17 pm (UTC)
librarygeek: cute cartoon fox with nose in book (Default)
From: [personal profile] librarygeek
Please, thank your parents for me. The prompter copy is good for soothing the initial discomfort, but when it's posted, the extra links help for follow-up emotional bandage changes. :-D

One suggestion I have is to have a line in the introduction that this poem follows this, with Ambrose home. http://ysabetwordsmith.dreamwidth.org/10670924.html

(no subject)

Date: 2016-12-02 01:46 am (UTC)
thnidu: "ND" disarmament symbol, and "Fiat Pax" (let there be peace) (peace)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
• "I'm listening," Rosie said, and there was something about him that seemed to cup the air, as if the silence was waiting for Shiv to pour words into it, almost pulling them out of him.
> A rich, powerful image. I can *feel* it.

• Quakers have a deep history of activism. You may as well not bother arguing with them, because once God has suggested that they address a particular problem, they will not quit and you will not talk them out of it.
> The second sentence also holds of individuals and subgroups of many other religions; not only rabble-rousers and terrorists, but [insert plural noun here] such as the late unlamented Jack Chick. But I have deep respect for the Friends, for their consistent dedication to doing good peacefully and not evangelizing -- at least, not evangelizing the unwilling.
Edited Date: 2016-12-02 01:48 am (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2016-12-02 06:35 am (UTC)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alatefeline
Wow.

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2016-12-03 01:49 am (UTC)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alatefeline
It waaaaaaas. And I may be able to words *why* eventually, but right now ... wowness.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-12-02 06:57 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I want to squeeze the stuffing out of Ambrose, because YES, Shiv needs to hear this! -kellyc

(no subject)

Date: 2016-12-01 02:09 pm (UTC)
ext_3294: Tux (tux)
From: [identity profile] technoshaman.livejournal.com
Ooooh. A Quaker who's not afraid of breaking rules. I *like* him.

Yay!

Date: 2016-12-01 06:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
I'm happy to hear that.

What I have observed of Quakers, both in history and in person, is that they tend to operate very much like this:

“I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.”
― Robert A. Heinlein

Which is to say, if you put Quakers in an ethical society, they will help you make it better; and if you put them in an unethical society, they will do exactly the same thing whether you like it or not. Historic example: the Abolition movement. Personal example: silent vigil for peace during the first Gulf War. It was amusing watching the campus cops try to argue with people who wouldn't argue back, weren't disturbing the peace or disrupting traffic, and would not go away. After a few weeks, the cops gave up. I think it made them uncomfortable trying to break up a peace demonstration when God was standing right there in the middle of the circle. They really didn't have a script for that.

Interestingly, when I looked at Terramagne, I discovered that their Quakers had rather better luck with some applications than ours did, so they're a bit larger and more active group there. Ours tried to launch a progressive penal system way too early, botched horribly, and bailed out. Theirs went to work cleaning up the mess and tried new solutions. So T-America has a better penal system, which is much more suited to reformation, and there's a steady trickle of Friends volunteering or working in it. :D Which is how they came to have one at the forefront of correctional theory, trying to figure out what to do with supervillains. Periodically I look into Quaker culture, beliefs, and practices for inspiration to reflect that.

Profile

ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
ysabetwordsmith

April 2017

S M T W T F S
       1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30      

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags