It was a stunning, book-lined office. Doctor Bellows had a grand view of the sea. He had been accused of living in an ivory tower, but it was more of a fortified castle. Sitting at his large antique desk, he could peer over his computer screen and through the triptych of deep-silled windows which made the landscape more dramatic. Hard work had staked his claim to this enviable refuge from the bickering of academic life. He had had original ideas, performed countless experiments all written up in high-impact journals to prove he deserved his leather bound desk chair and the brimming bookshelves.
Bellows was an academic superstar.
He excelled at systematizing. He had a range of measures for rating people and slotting them into categories. He was very fond of a structured questionnaire, coupled with ECGs and brain scans. His latest work had been cited in medical journals all over the world, as he purported to be able to determine in children as young as nine months, whether or not they would make cooperative co-workers or would be better suited to a life of solitude. It took the old categorization of introvert and extrovert to a new level. He was determined to show that not all people could develop empathy and he had prepared a range of tools which showed which children would struggle in a work place. Furthermore, he could predict who would have leadership skills and rise up the ranks, much like himself.
Of course, this drew in critics. What better way to rise to academic superstardom than to have adversaries. However, he stood by his data. And whilst few had managed to replicate his results, his arguments were compelling.
Having established the value of different humans, he found what was particularly lucrative, was his expertise in re-programming. He had a laboratory on campus where scared, competitive parents could place their children to un-learn their natal tendencies. Within six months to a year (for the more stubborn cases) he could provide a training programme to ensure that children from the lower ranks could mask their lack of empathy and in a few cases learn how to manipulate their peers to take up more dominant positions. These skills were of course necessary to survive the work place.
He also held that for some children, the creative arts were unnecessary. In fact, for the majority of children he had appropriately categorized as lacking in cooperation, he believed creativity would produce fractured and irreparable minds. Whilst initially this sounded cruel, to many it made sense when he used the language of science: of random control trials, of prenatal neuroendocrinology, of behavioral patterns or atypical development.
He had heard about the rebellion, those foolish children and their misguided parents. They thought they could make it on their own, without his certification to show they had completed the re-programming. He was impressed by their passion, but disappointed by their lack of understanding.
Jenny Wren appeared to be the leader. She was unusual. She was clearly in the D group, but exhibited unexpected skills. Much to his surprise, others found her quite appealing. Of course, she was good at logic, but he had not expected that she would also show such resilience in the face of her obvious disabilities. What an interesting case study – some PhD could write about her for a lower impact journal. For Jenny, he had coined the phrase ‘high-functioning’. So, whilst she was doomed to suffer from her extreme introversion, empathy deficit and lack of ability to read social cues, she had a magnificent intellect. She would excel at data analysis or librarianship, if only she could accept her lot.
Through the arched windows, he could see a storm brewing across the waves. The makeshift craft that the rebels had built could never survive it. The clouds gathered, the wind howled. The height of his office coupled with the descending gloom of the weather made him feel quite alone. Thank goodness he had the comfort of his real log fire, the whiskey in the hidden drawer and the comfort of all his published works.
He glanced back towards the window before settling into writing his next article about psychological experimentation. On the horizon he saw the ship. It had survived.
Jenny embraced her eccentricity. She had been called idiosyncratic from an early age and loved the feel of the word in her mouth. School had become increasingly concerned about her well-being when she started to refuse to wear the itchy uniform. It was not long after that, that her parents were advised to subject her to the Bellows test. She was a text book case, apparently. She had just been able to fudge fitting in for so long, because of her intelligence.
Her parents took the results with a pinch of salt. They were not keen on the idea of re-programming, but the family were all curious about what it might entail and that is how she ended up in Bellows laboratory.
Jenny would not stick to the programme and her family had to campaign to get her home. They were appalled by the holes in the support system that should be taking care of Jenny as a young woman who was struggling with the demands placed on her, her body shape and narratives of what a young woman should be like. With Jenny, they championed alternative approaches using support networks, peer group discussions and living in the community. The lofty heights of academics and medics disapproved.
Jenny diagnosed the academics as lacking an ethic of justice and incapable of creating understanding support, only misguided attempts at an unnecessary cure.
Jenny was all too aware of her limitations. She wasn’t arguing against her quirkiness, her single-minded focus, her awkwardness and anxiety. She wasn’t arguing against her loneliness. But she refused to a laboratory rat. She wouldn’t be someone’s decontextualized experiment.
All she really required to flourish was a space to be herself (and no itchy clothes), a space to breathe. She was tired of trying to close the gap between her experiences and their textbooks. She was tired of being called brave and then ignored. She didn’t want to get better. She wanted others to be better. She didn’t need to be productive on their terms. She had a work ethic of her own. She needed people to open doors to her, to give her opportunities.
Working in groups exhausted her, but it was with a group that she produced her best work. The group decided to build Dr Bellows a crows nest for his ship. They figured if he could be raised up and see a further horizon he would be able to readjust his understanding of the world, see the bigger picture and the joys of difference.
The small band of activists had gathered on the shore to watch Bellows set sail. They were determined to treat him with more dignity than he had afforded them. He would have creature comforts: books, warmth and even a little whiskey to see him on his journey.
They had meticulously checked the weather reports. Charting weather systems was one of their allowable strengths according to Bellows, so they put it to good use. Although it would be a stormy start, it would subside and become an excellent day for sailing.
By early evening, Jenny Wren stood on the shore with family, friends and comrades and watched the ship reach the horizon.
About the Creator
Writer-Performer based in the North of England. A joyous, flawed mess.
Please read my stories and enjoy. And if you can, please leave a tip. Money raised will be used towards funding a one-woman story-telling, comedy show.