The Chinese Armoury Shop

When I started this blog five years ago, the intention had always been to make it about photography: this was my passion and my way of sharing my ideas and my images and engaging with others who had similar interests.

But things change, and I have come to realise recently that the reason I have lost enthusiasm for blogging in recent months, years even, is because I lost my connection.

Just over two years ago I embarked on a journey to become a teacher. It seemed like a good idea at the time. And it was, for the most part; now that I am nearly out the other end I can see that it was good for me. But the problem was that it nearly submerged me completely: it was a dark, long, lonely tunnel which I inhabited for a very long time. Too long. I lost my connection to the things I love: nature, art, photography, even my friends and family. So I couldn’t blog, even though I did try sometimes; it didn’t come from the heart anymore.

But, there was one connection that I did manage to re-establish in that time. As a fledgling English teacher I found myself re-engaging in books, reading and writing; in words. I had forgotten how much I loved words and how much I loved writing. I revelled in words with my students as I taught them to write: vocabulary, punctuation, syntax, grammar, reading analysis. I loved it all! (That was the easy part!). When I was a child all I ever wanted to be was a writer; I wrote stories and poems and I read voraciously. I look back on my early childhood now as a kind of extended daydream: I was happy in my own way, in my shell. But I had to grow up, and growing up was hard and it brought challenges and conflicts which I wasn’t prepared to deal with. Along the way somehow I forgot about the writing; or maybe it just seemed like another one of my silly daydreams: childish and indulgent.

So whilst I have dealt with the challenges of teaching and life over the past two years and the dark road it took me down, I have started to read again, and I have started to write. It has kept me going and it kept me from going under completely.

And here I am. I find myself needing to blog again. To re-connect. But with words and not with pictures (although, there will still be pictures).

I don’t even know if any one of those 962 followers is still out there? But maybe it doesn’t matter, for now.

Here is a story I have written this week. I will publish it in three parts because it is too long for one post. It was written quickly. It pretty much wrote itself. Actually I didn’t set out to write it at all, it just happened. It is based on my experiences with depression and anxiety and learning, with help, to find a way through the mire. To find hope. The person who has helped me will probably never know how much he has helped me but I have tried to express my experiences and my emotions going through all of this in a way which makes sense to me. It is immensely personal but also entirely allegorical so I hope that makes it more readable and relatable. It’s also a bit silly. Ultimately it is an uplifting story of gratitude, written by someone who has found strength, courage and above all lightness.

Thank you.

And if you take the time to read it and comment, or even just read it, then thank you.

I have never posted a blog without a picture of mine before. It feels somehow naked. I feel nervous. I hope the words will stand up on their own.

(Edited to add: I have included this lovely Chinese night painting for context. It feels mystical and mysterious and full of symbolism).

Emilyx

 

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Ong Schan Tchow, Pine In Moonlight
An example of a Chinese Night Painting

 

The Chinese Armoury Shop: Part 1

… have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

– Rainer Maria Rilke

The wound is where the light enters you. – Rumi

 

I was broken.

‘I need to fix myself,’ I decided: ‘I can do this!’

I put in an order for a suit of armour; the kind that warriors or super-heroes might wear. I selected my armour carefully, although I didn’t have much money so it wasn’t all fancy with leather buckles and rivets; nor was it shiny high-polished steel. It wasn’t lightweight, or futuristic, and there was no cape or emblem emblazoned across my chest. It was simple. The most basic model I could afford. I made sure it was good and strong and heavy so that it would hold all the broken pieces in tight and protect my limping heart. I tried it on. It was awkward: a bit stiff and wobbly, but it felt like a kind of wholeness. Its snug weight was comforting, like a blanket.

It defended me well. I found I could walk around where I pleased and I was fully protected from harm.

I was invincible!

I was pleased, and so I kept it.

I was quite young when I put it on, this armour. I discovered though, with some delight, that it grew with me as I grew, so I didn’t have to keep on ordering new suits. It was always there for me, like a warm hug from an old friend.

In time though, it became heavy and cumbersome (it started to weigh like an anvil on my shoulders); it was also chunky and unwieldy (it restricted me and blocked out the light); it was even too strong at times (it deflected everything in its path); and because I couldn’t feel in the same way, because I was weighed down, in a place of darkness, surrounded by this lumbering husk, I didn’t know that sometimes it was so strong it wounded other people too. (It was invisible as well as invincible, you see, but I think maybe you guessed that already).

But it was warm and cosy; a place of refuge. It made me feel safe. And so I kept it.

Some people tried to penetrate the armour or make me take it off. I became angry with them and they saw my anger and my pain and my sadness written in my face and they were scared, so they ran away. They didn’t ask again.

Others didn’t know any differently. They shrugged their shoulders and just accepted the brittle casement as a part of me: a little dash of eccentricity, perhaps.

So, over time, the armour became quite useless, because the war I had waged was over. It had been over for the longest time.

I was alone.

But by then it was too late. I couldn’t remember how to take it off even if I wanted to. It was stuck fast, moulded to my body.

I tried everything I could think of: I tugged at it and tried to rip it off; I chipped away with a chisel; I beat it with my bare hands until they were bruised and bloody. Nothing worked. Eventually, I learned to ignore it and I became quite skilled at pretending it wasn’t there. I thought that if I told myself that it had gone enough times then it would be so. Just like that.

But it didn’t go.

Then one day someone told me that, in the end, you are always on your own. You are born alone; you die alone. And you deal with the pain life deals you alone. When I heard this I felt my armour clench my rib cage like an iron fist, squeezing me tightly.

‘No!’ I said, struggling to breathe as I felt my heart contract, “it can’t be so.”

After that I fought harder against my armour because I could feel it weakening me. My heart was fading. I missed the light. My joints and muscles were constantly aching from the burden of it.

I was tired of being invincible.

One ordinary day, as the rain fell in a curtain of drizzle from a grey sky onto a grey landscape below, I was walking down the street, wearily dragging one foot in front of the other when a small boy approached me, halting me in my path. He appeared so unexpectedly – almost as though he had stepped out of another world – that I stopped immediately. He had wide knowing eyes and a solemn look and looked like an extra from Oliver, with a jaunty flat cap and old-fashioned breeches. He appeared to be lost: he was standing, quite still, on a rather extensive crack which seemed to have just appeared in the grey pavement beneath him. Or at least, I had never noticed it before.

‘Hello. Um, are you lost?’ I said, looking around to see if his parents were nearby.

‘No. But I think you are, miss. ‘ere you go.’ And he held out a small, dog-eared business card to me. ‘Remember: don’t mind the gap.’ he added decisively, with a small curt nod.

Puzzled, I took the card and read the details:

Mr Sharp

Specialist in Traditional Chinese Armoury

No. 3 Curzon Street

‘Curzon Street,’ I wondered aloud and looked up, ‘but I don’t know—’

But the boy had disappeared mysteriously into the sheet of drizzle and I was quite alone again. I put the card in my pocket and shuffled on through the persistent rain.

When I got home, I pinned the card to the noticeboard in the kitchen and continued to puzzle over it. There was no website address, or telephone number.

Curzon Street.

I knew there wasn’t any Curzon street in this town. Even so, I googled it on my phone just to check and found the nearest one was some miles away. Then, I googled ‘Mr Sharp’ and ‘Traditional Chinese Armoury’. Nothing. Just some pictures of samurai swords and costumes which looked like they were straight out of Red Cliff. Nothing to link the three things together. Nothing that made any sense, anyway. I took myself off to bed, feeling suddenly weary.

The next day I came down to breakfast and looked at the card again, giving it a hard stare. I was tired, not having slept well; I’d had strange and vivid dreams about samurai warriors and epic battles all night.

And then I realised.

The crack in the pavement!

Don’t mind the gap,’ he had said. It seemed so obvious now!

And I smiled a broad smile, and laughed. Then I grabbed my coat and rushed outside, feeling suddenly lighter.

Outside the brilliant sun was shining in a bright blue cloudless sky. There was a nip in the air and the mellow must of autumn had begun to make way for the crisp chill of winter. It was the kind of day that pinched your cheeks and made you feel alive. The kind of day I hadn’t noticed in a long time.

I ran down the road to find the spot where I had encountered the small boy and discovered it straight away. The crack was still there.

At this point, I wasn’t really sure what to do. How do these things work? I wondered to myself. Are there magic words I need to whisper? An incantation perhaps? I decided that was a silly idea, so I tried just jumping up and down on the crack, but that did nothing. Then I tried sitting on it and screwing my eyes shut tight and wishing into oblivion. Still nothing. I was starting to get odd stares from passers-by so I stood up and leant against a nearby wall, feeling a bit dejected. I felt for the card in my pocket and pulled it out and looked at it, begging it for answers. Come on! Tell me how to do this! How do I get through the gap?

My frustration whipped up like a sandstorm inside me and I became angry.

‘How can you be so stupid!’ I scolded myself. ‘As if a piece of card is going to talk to me! As if it could give me the answers! As if a crack in the pavement could show me the way!’ And I threw the card down in a fit of rage.

But as it fluttered to the ground, I noticed that there was something written on the back of the card that I hadn’t noticed before. I picked it up and read it:

Live the questions and the answer will find you.

‘Live the questions? But what does that mean?’ At this point, I was getting more and more exasperated. My armour was starting to hurt, like a faint bruising sensation. I thought a bit more, even though it was making my brain and my body ache.

Maybe I could still work this one out.

So, if I live the questions to get to the answer, then by that logic in order to find the answer to all these questions I have to start asking some questions in the first place.

‘But what is the question?’

I asked it out loud. Simply. Bewildered. Confused. Staring at the crack in the pavement. I couldn’t quite believe I was talking to a pavement, and a broken one at that.

Then I waited.

And then, something started to shift.

I felt a low rumbling sensation beneath my feet and a groaning noise as if the earth was yawning; then there was a loud clunking which sounded like large hammer hitting the pavement. I looked around, but no-one else seemed to have noticed a thing. I looked down to see that the crack had indeed opened up. There was a dazzling white light radiating out from it and it was now wide enough to fit a slim adult-sized body (luckily I was fairly slim, even with my armour on).

I didn’t hesitate: I jumped in.

I felt like Alice and I wanted my Adventure in Wonderland to start right at that moment.

I slid through the gap (it was perfect – made to measure) and landed with a bump on a fairly unforgiving ground.

‘Oooof!’

Ok, so no floating daintily down a winsome tunnel of curiosities and landing on a soft bed of leaves for me I guess, I thought as I rubbed my bruised bum.

I looked around, trying to find a point of reference, but it was like midnight down there. The brilliant light had disappeared. Just as I was wondering what to do next, a quiet, gentle voice nuzzled through the void:

‘Are you ok?’

*******

© Emily Hughes, 2017

 

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silver and gold

 

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© images by Emily Hughes, 2017

inspire – respire

A few years ago my husband and I found ourselves with a day to ourselves and nothing to do, so we went about creating an inspiration wall in our study. It’s essentially a large handmade picture frame which hangs above the desk space with a criss-cross of metal wire where I hung various images, notes and keepsakes which inspired me for different reasons. I would look up occasionally whilst working, or writing on the computer and it would always give me pause, making me stop and smile. Reminding me to breathe, and what was important. After a while, I realised I wasn’t looking at it anymore, or at least I would look at it and see the same old thing. It had become wallpaper, essentially: the same old pictures, day after day. A bit of a jumble. Today, I pulled everything off it and packed all the pictures and postcards and scraps of paper away neatly in a drawer. Then, I hauled out a stack of images which I had been storing in a cupboard. They are all taken with my rollei which I barely use these days; it’s on its last legs, I think. Every time I take a roll of film I send it off to be processed and I get the images printed and scanned. Sometimes I post them on here and sometimes I use them for other artworks, layering them and manipulating them. But the photographs – the printed images – remained, stuck in a cupboard, languishing. They are pictures of my travels, my family, moments of beauty and grace; they are memories. Each one tells a story.

The physical image is still important, isn’t it? I’m glad I took them out; now I can stop and smile, and breathe again when I look up at that wall. And here I am, posting again, so that’s got to be good! I guess sometimes we all need to press the re-set button, mix things up a little, and change the background scenery.

 

Emilyx

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© words and images by Emily Hughes, 2017

salt water pastels

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I spent hours photographing these pretty coastal blooms with my macro lens (and no tripod!) on top of a windy Bodega head, captivated by their abundantly gorgeous array of pastel candy shades, like the tangy-sweet salt water taffy we gorged ourselves on. Up close they look like perfect wedding bouquets. Though I have searched I haven’t been able to locate their name, so I would love if someone could tell me what they are called.

 

© images by Emily Hughes, 2016

bleak fog

Last summer we visited Bodega Bay in California: such a quaint little picturesque seaside town, but who knew the weather would be worse than a British summer? We braved the pacific fog – in any case, it suited me fine and made for some nice lighting – taking lots of windswept walks along the deserted beaches and sampling the various clam chowder outlets. The sombre, brooding tone of these photographs belies the happy memories I have of this place. Perhaps next time we visit there’ll be blue skies.

 

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© images by Emily Hughes, 2016

to the shore (for my mum)

For those who seek strength at this time of year, Emily x

shore, 2013

She ran down to the seashore because he had told her to run, and she didn’t know where else to go. Her faithful chocolate lab, Chess, galloping at her side, long pink tongue flapping in the wind. It was cold – bitingly cold – so she pulled the hood of her fur-lined anorak tightly around her face, still smarting with indignation. At least she had had the foresight to grab her coat; silly she hadn’t thought to change her shoes, she scolded herself regretfully and rather pointlessly as she felt the wet sand squelch uncomfortably into her flimsy ballet slippers and between her toes. When she got there she didn’t know what to do so she stood and threw stones into the shallow water, watching the ripples expand and disappear. Through her tear-filled eyes the horizon looked pleasantly blurry. In fact, it was as if the whole world was out of focus, at that very moment. She watched the tide wrinkle in and out, gently, rhythmically, for some time. It was something she could rely on. As sure as her breath: in-out, in-out. She turned to look at Chess, whose eager brown eyes were fixed on her as he panted noisily, awaiting instruction it seemed. But she had none to give. Her frenzied gaze steadied, resting on the horizon ahead. As she looked on, she realised at that moment that she didn’t know what was coming next, but whatever it was, it didn’t scare her. Suddenly, decisively, she turned her sodden, sand-caked heels away from the shore and didn’t look back.

This image is available to buy in my artfinder shop.

© image and words by Emily Hughes, 2013 and 2016

 

banana leaves in paradise

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© images by Emily Hughes, 2016

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