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Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

I am an engineer and teacher of science and math, so this prompt really spoke to me.

The form my story takes is inspired firstly by Pascal's Triangle:

Pascal's Triangle is a triangular array of numbers named after the French mathematician Blaise Pascal, who studied its properties in the 17th century. It is created by starting with a row containing the number 1, and then constructing each subsequent row by adding adjacent pairs of numbers from the previous row and placing the sums in the new row, all beginning and ending in 1.

For example, the first 11 rows of Pascal's Triangle as used in my story look like this:

   1 =1 word used - line one

           1   1 = 2 words used - line two

          1   2   1 = 4 words used - line three

        1   3   3   1 = 8 words used and so on below.......

       1   4   6   4   1

     1   5  10  10   5   1

    1   6  15  20  15   6   1

  1   7  21  35  35  21   7   1

 1   8  28  56  70  56  28   8   1

1   9 36  84  126  126  84  36  9 1 

1 10  45  120  210  252 210 120 45 10 1 = 1024 words used in section

The context of my story also revolves around the number One. I added up the numbers in each row, only up to row 11 to formulate the exact number of words used on each line, or longer section, as formed in the triangle. The maximum number of words I could use for the story had to be 2047 up up line 11 in total because line 12 alone adds up to 2048 words and so took the story over the 3000 word count. Unfortunately although I wanted to physically write in a triangle, centred justified is the closest I could get! For ease of reading, I broke up the larger line word counts with line breaks and the individual numbered lines and sections with 3 stars but as you will see, the word numbers used are exact in each line or section. To add even further difficulty, I also used the triangular theme from Maslow's Hierarchy woven throughout the story. I love Maslow’s work. Although fiction, the story is drawn from personal experiences. I hope this is not too complex a mathematical form or a totally stupid idea, or irrelevant. This is my first ever story written since school and certainly ever published or shared anywhere on line. I am sure my writing is nowhere near good enough to win but as they say, 'you have to start somewhere, it's the taking part that matters, and this really is a leap of faith!! Thank you for reading.

Belinda's Journey to The Ones

Ones,

***

Self Actualisation:

***

Achieving One’s full potential,

***

Belinda had waited sixty four years for Oneness.

***

One person, on top of the stairs, behind one door to Ones she never knew existed.

***

According to Abraham Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’, it was possible to reach the top of the pyramid, or even maybe, the triangle, like Pascal’s Triangle of Numbers; composed of never ending Ones.

***

This One day had been coming for a long time but since March 2020, when most of the world had abruptly stopped, Belinda had no alternative but to stop too, stop and consider who she really was, where she had been, where she wanted to go next and how she was going to get there, or why indeed, did she want to get anywhere?

***

Belinda had attained level one of Maslow’s Hierarchy when very young; essential physiological needs of breathing, water, food, sleep, homeostasis, excretion, and sex, albeit these days the sex part was non-existent. Mainly by choice. She had also achieved security of body, employment, resources, family, health, and property for the second level, namely, Safety, so who needed sex anyway? These first two levels are basic human needs. Level three; the Belonging and Love needs, she considered trickier, whereby friendship and intimate relationships were cited as important and the first part of her psychological well-being. She had some close friends she valued and trusted, and that was plenty. She considered an occasional grunt from her husband of forty-seven years to be intimacy these days, so that One was dealt with.

***

The fourth level and part two of psychological needs are entitled Esteem, to include self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of others, respect by others, prestige, and a feeling of accomplishment. Belinda was quietly confident that she now deserved to be at this level, albeit the different qualities listed here had grown, shrunk, morphed, and varied over the years, dependent upon what life had thrown at her. According to Maslow, there are two levels of self-esteem: lower and higher. The lower level relates to ego and is met when an individual has established a level of status, recognition, reputation, and appreciation, and not only requires external validation, but takes constant work to maintain. Belinda considered she had worked hard at this lower level of esteem over the years, but now the external validation that she was used to was slipping away and appreciation at home was certainly thin on the ground. The higher form of self-esteem usually requires less work to maintain and is known as self-respect and once achieved, is usually retained. Belinda learned that people at the higher end of self-esteem generally like who they are because they have confidence in their abilities with a mastery and competence established in what they do that supports this level of self-esteem. Belinda thought she liked who she was. Clever, well-educated, hardworking, good at her job, respected as an engineer and teacher. Except now there was no job. Her normal world had gone. There was fear. Did Belinda really like, or even know, the One she thought she was?

***

As 2020 spluttered precariously on with the full horror of living through what seemed to be a never ending global pandemic, being confined to the house with only a sick husband and five cats, and except for disciplined supermarket visits; Belinda felt the compulsion to explode. So, she did what she had always done in times of crisis, closed down, read more, and learned more. There was only so much news on the pandemic she could take and so started to relish this blessing of spare time to deepen her knowledge of previously uncharted territories for her, such as psychology, quantum physics, neuroscience, spirituality, and astrology.

 She always loved exploring new subjects, especially in the sciences, and these topics really interested and intrigued her, as did, curiously, religion, albeit that felt too taboo to study as she had always considered herself an atheist. Oddly though, she had always loved hymns at school and also had a strange attraction to churches and cathedrals. Through the combination of all these topics, she absorbed so much information that she came to realise that there was so much more to being a human being on this earth and indeed to the life she had been leading and now had. After also watching umpteen YouTube videos and joining Zoom meetings to take part in discussions on the diverse topics, she gradually realised more about who she thought she was for the first time ever, where she had come from and why at times, she struggled with so much anger, doubt, guilt and hurt.

 Belinda also learned about the biological composition of the human brain, its functions and the difference between left and right brain thinking . She thought that as an engineer and a self-professed perfectionist, she must have certainly worn out her left brain by now! As for her right brain, she was supposed to use that to be spontaneous, creative, play and feel, or express love, which felt totally alien to her. These were the basic functions of her brain relating to her inner psyche or soul, as some put it, let alone the myriad of other scientific and magnificent functions these two separate brain regions performed for her whole body, without any conscious prompting from Belinda.

 And there it was. She had also learned about consciousness. The I am. Being in the flow. Being present. Being One with everything and every One. During one particular YouTube video she felt as if the spiritual teacher was actually speaking directly to her and the floodgates silently opened, spewing out what felt like a lifetime of pent up fears, emotions, regrets, shame, and immense sadness. She suddenly felt not only alone, but very lonely. Where were her two self-esteems now? Belinda now had to prove that she still deserved to be at level four of Maslow’s Hierarchy and that she would make it to the level five of self-actualisation by achieving her full potential. She now had to focus on what really mattered. Stop people pleasing. She knew this was not going to be an easy One.

 ***

 Belinda accepted that in order to achieve self-actualisation, she needed to let go of certain prejudices and accept many flaws and fears she had amassed and had painfully revealed through recent learning. She had learned about what some practitioners called: shadow work, where in order to achieve true happiness, peace, and joy, she would need to unearth and shine a light upon any known, and more importantly, unknown trauma that had brought her to this time in space. Then once found, she had to let it go. There seemed to be much discussion on childhood traumas affecting people in adult life, from apparently simple things such as falling off a swing, or being called names, to the complete horror of mental and physical child abuse.

 Belinda had not been the victim of physical child abuse but knew she was harbouring some key trials of life from her childhood, from being a mother of two and being a wife since she was seventeen. Had she shut away so many harmful things rather than confront them, labelling them in neat boxes behind the door to her brain so she could climb the other four levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy? Such that they could harm no one, or most importantly, not harm her. Yet clearly, they were harming her. Maybe the boxes were now leaking? Or the contents were trying to break free?

 From one eminent neuroscientist, Belinda learned that while we have distinct left and right brain regions, not only does each side have its own separate amygdala, but each side also has two different and unique functions. The front left brain is the organiser and planner. Fear lives in the back left brain and causes fight and flight responses. Creativity and play reside in the right front brain and the back right brain is apparently for pure love. The scientist conveyed a very convincing case for this argument evidenced through laboratory testing and having herself completely recovered from a major stroke some years before, and thus witnessing these profound findings. She even named each quarter of her brain so she could not only live a full life again but address them and their different behaviours and attributes to her benefit as and when necessary.

Belinda liked this analogy and knew it was something with which she could work. Her left front brain would be called Alison, after someone she had admired at senior school for being everything, she herself wasn’t back then and the name sounded like ‘All is One’ because she was so often only in planning and organising mode. Her left back brain would be called Chicken. The name she had called a very special rag doll that her mum had made for her when she was seven that was subsequently burned by an arsonist in a school fire. This was the Fearful One. Her right front brain would be called Petra, the only best friend she had ever had at school who was the epitome of fun and made her laugh, was good at art and always played. This was the Creative One. Mary, named after her Nana who was to her, pure love, was her right back brain. The Love One.

 Belinda decided she was now ready to open the door at the top of the stairs. She grabbed herself the biggest and brightest torchlight she could find, took one huge deep breath, and climbed the stairs. The stairs had no handrail to hold on to so she was worried she would fall. They creaked and moaned under her weight and the torch cast eerie shadows as if someone was following her. As she approached the door, she saw that it was old, faded, badly scuffed, with flaking paint and rusty hinges. ‘How had this happened’? she thought. She had always kept everything in her life in such good order.

 As she breathed deeply once more and grasped the door handle, she found it really stiff and reluctant to turn. She told herself the door was locked and as she didn’t have a key then she should just leave it and go back down. As she turned to descend, the door suddenly sprung open. Millions of dust particles, like tiny fireflies, suddenly flooded out of the dark space, making her cough and choke, all dancing brightly in the light of the torch. Now she had to be brave and face the shadows. Start the ‘shadow work.’

 As she warily climbed into the black, dark space, her eyes struggled to focus. Cold emanated from the space but there was a warmth coming from somewhere in a far, far corner. She could feel a warm sun shining on her face. She felt frightened in the space but at the same time she felt strangely supported by unseen hands gently guiding her further in. There was a familiar clutter and claustrophobia yet there was an organisation to the contents which she found comforting. All surfaces were dingy, grey, and beige, however there were wonderful artworks stretched across part of the floor and a far wall that made her want to explore them.

 You could hear a pin drop in the space with intense deathly quietness although wonderful music that she had once known embraced her ears and made her want to sing and dance. A musty damp smell invaded her nose but there was also a beautiful fresh scent of a pine forest. Whilst the atmosphere felt heavy and reflected fear, guilt, shame, and regrets and the floor was wet with salty tears, a thousand silken feathers of love stroked her cheeks and led her on.

 As the torch light lit up the whole space, she could now see four distinct sections and in the centre of each one was a box. There they were. Labelled, Alison, Chicken, Petra, and Mary. All waiting for her. Alison was packing paper brown, neat but bursting at the seams. Chicken was enormous, black, worn out, and battered. Petra was tiny, rainbow coloured, soft and furry. Mary was diminutive, transparent but filled with a bright white light. Belinda’s overdue journey to self-actualisation had begun. Here were all the Ones. 

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February 24, 2023 19:08

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13 comments

Michał Przywara
03:05 Mar 03, 2023

This is a challenging prompt, and I see you added extra constraints :) But challenge is good for growth - which is a theme in this story. I suspect a lot of people can relate to an external crisis, like the pandemic, causing an internal crisis - like Belinda losing her footing and everything she'd established throughout life. She had a goal in mind - the top of Maslow's hierarchy - and she had a set of assumptions, that she had already achieved several levels and was standing on a solid foundation. And these assumptions turned out questiona...

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Sally Jupe
19:46 Mar 03, 2023

Oh thank you Michal for taking the time to write such a lovely and understanding comment about my story! You are so correct on so many fronts. I am so pleased that someone understood what I was trying to portray. I m really looking forward to building now on Belinda's story as she not only grows but hopefully heals. And I know she will. You are very kind and YOUR stories are fabulous to read.

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21:00 Jun 09, 2023

Hi Sally, you commented on my story that you felt you didn't have great ideas for stories of your own so I am here you check out your writing and maybe leave some encouragement. Firstly - as I write this I have not actually started the story - I have only read your description of the form it takes. And that has already floored me! Its a really clever take on this prompt and it sounds like you made it as hard as you could for yourself and that gets a lot of points in my book. I also noted this line (and a couple more like it): "I hope this ...

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Sally Jupe
09:38 Dec 23, 2023

Thank you so very much Katharine for replying to my post and going to such great lengths to read my work and reply with a wonderful piece of inspiration for me! I am so sorry that it has taken me so long to be courteous enough to reply and thank you from June, but I had been away working for most of the year and as such not only had no internet or real time to write, other than journaling. I also didn't log in to Reedsy to see the notification. Of course now I have finished work for the holidays and can return to my writing and am excited...

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14:45 Dec 30, 2023

Hi Sally, I'm really glad to hear that you found my comments helpful. I totally understand the lack of time for writing - I haven't posted anything for months. I'm going to give it a go for this week and see if I can come up with anything worth submitting. I really like your idea of presenting left / right brain ideas to children - that could be a useful concept for many kids. I wish you the best of luck with it.

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Keith Maynard Jr
23:55 Mar 01, 2023

I can't say I liked your story. You lost me honestly. For the most part, the story felt like a biography of Belinda but you spent so much time on her history that I actually forgot the room aspect you started with. When the change happened to go back to the room it was jarring because it came out of nowhere for me. The Math you use would be complicated, just based on your opening explanation (I could be wrong). This complication though also felt needless. I will admit your explanation of the Math made it so that I gave up even trying to fi...

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Sally Jupe
20:11 Mar 02, 2023

Thanks for your comments Keith and I have literally only just read this before I commented a moment ago on your story. So touché really! Sorry. Maybe our styles of writing jar each other. I take all your points but this story was about Belinda's 'journey' TO the boxes in the room (Ones) not a story about the room throughout the whole story. The aim was to show what things in life had brought Belinda to the room. As for the math part and use of Pascals Triangle; the use of words constrained by the added up numbers in each line, or part of the...

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Keith Maynard Jr
21:07 Mar 02, 2023

I see your point.

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Jeannette Miller
22:53 Feb 27, 2023

Sally, Really fantastic! This prompt seemed a bit intimidating to me so it's super cool to read what direction you went with it. Some feedback: I like that you explained the math in the beginning; however, I felt like it ate up some of your precious word count. I would've like to know more about what Belinda did with those boxes! I've seen a couple of people put their notes about their stories in the comment section. Like, if you want people to know something (other than a trigger warning), you can put it there so you don't lose word count....

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Sally Jupe
08:00 Feb 28, 2023

Thank you so much for your kind comment and encouragement Jeannette! I had wondered where I could put the information about the actual thinking behind my prompt selection. I knew if I didn't say it before the story no one would know what I was talking about maybe. However, the math prompt that I selected to use would not have allowed me more than 2047 words in total anyway. That was the number of words that 11 different rows of Pascal's Triangle adds up to. Line 12 would have been 2048 words alone, so added to the 2047 from the 1 to 11 row...

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Jeannette Miller
22:00 Mar 02, 2023

Again, so well done. Writing is challenging enough without adding math to the equation :) Maybe you'll get to write Belinda's story a little deeper someday. That would be super cool.

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Sally Jupe
19:48 Mar 03, 2023

Thank you Jeanette, yes that's my plan now I started writing I don't want to stop!

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Jeannette Miller
19:37 Mar 04, 2023

Haha! That's great!

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