I grew up in a small house. We raised much of our food in a nearby plot, which was undoubtedly healthier than most store options. If I wanted money, I earned it. I wanted a bicycle, so I babysat and sold excess produce door-to-door.
When I joined a 4-H club, I learned that I could also earn money with entries in the 4-H fair. Money was based on points. There were more points for winning a blue ribbon (best) than a red (good) or white (fair).
Points also varied by category; sewing a dress earned more points than growing a flower. I checked through the categories and chose entries that I could make or grow.
Then I planned a campaign to win enough money to buy my bike.
I worked on my entries during the entire year. I practiced to make perfectly even stitches. I sewed a dress, skirt, robe, doll (my own pattern), and more. I tried new recipes and tweaked them. Then I baked and froze a dozen types of cookies. I improved my drawing skills. I collected tree samples, pressed leaves, and made a fancy tree identification book that included detailed pen-and-ink illustrations.
I grew flowers, pinching off side buds to get the biggest blooms. I learned more about composition and lighting, and then took photos. I got scrap wood to make a lamp. I completed all the paperwork to enter my items in the county fair.
I really, really wanted a bike.
I had thirty entries. After the judging, I had won more than twenty blue ribbons. I knew that ribbons were just a symbol, soon forgotten by everyone. I had learned useful skills to make these entries, which I’m sure was the intent.
But, what I really wanted was a bicycle, and now I had won enough money. I eagerly awaited my check.
An official envelope arrived with a check for much less money than I won. An official letter explained that there was a dollar limit. I felt betrayed. There was no written rule stating a limit. So, they changed the rules after the judging to deny me my prize. I wondered what they did with the money they saved by not paying these awards.
Apparently, the officials never expected one person to win so much. But they had no idea how much I wanted a bicycle.
I worked hard and followed the rules. Then the people with power changed the rules to suppress a person without power. This was a potent lesson in abuse of power.
I never forgot this lesson. It was not a tragedy. People suffer far worse every day.
But it wasn't fair. I was a child, and I couldn't change what happened. So I decided that, in time, I would be able to change what happened to others.
I found alternate routes to power, beyond age and wealth. I learned the power of the pen and well written letters.
I’ve written letters to city and state organizations, to Representatives and Senators. I’ve organized successful letter campaigns. I’ve helped change communities, cities, and even state facilities. There's no money in this, no fame, but it provides quiet satisfaction.
Any person can use the power of the pen. And we change the world every time we interact with another person or being, every time we recycle or pre-cycle.
Scree, a shape-shifter in The Dragon Dreamer, says, “What will be, will be. And then I’ll fix it.” She tells Arak, a dragon misfit, “Change is seldom easy. But the ripples from a single stone can cross the sea.”
And my bicycle? I kept working until I could afford one. Then I rode miles through the countryside, alone. I learned the wildflowers and birds along old, seldom used roads. I pedaled to other cities and back again. This was Freedom.
POSTS ON MAKING CHANGES:
Use the Illusion of Power: http://www.jennysburke.com/blog/make-a-difference-with-the-illusion-of-power
Planning for Change: http://www.jennysburke.com/blog/speak-up-you-could-save-many-lives
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The Dragon Dreamer series is Science Fantasy Adventure for young adults 9 to 99.