Posted on March 1, 2018
‘But it is one thing to read about dragons and another to meet them.’
— Ursula Le Guin
The Girl and the Seven Dragons of the Deep
Once upon a time there was a girl. A girl whose heart was weighed down with a heavy cargo of sadness. One day, she found herself on a cliff edge with her heart screaming in her throat.
The water was still. A jewelled sheet of glass. The sun teased out diamonds on its surface which blinded her momentarily. She blinked and peered into it hopefully, thumbing the pebbles in her blue jean pockets. She had picked the smoothest ones she could find. Eventually, she reached her arms over her head and bent her legs slowly, purposefully, feeling the muscles tauten and engage. Then all of a sudden she sprung into the air with a neat cursive flourish. A small crown of ripples formed around her as her lithe body sliced through the cool icy water. A murmur.
Then it was still again.
With a dissonant heartbeat she had unlocked the secrets to the horizon; the place where the sky meets the surface of the sea. She swam, tugging herself down through the fickle currents which taunted her and tried to push her away. Finally she reached the abyss, where all around her was thick and velvet with profundity. There was no more after this — she had found the end — and she gasped, clamouring for air as her lungs filled up with water. But there was none.
As she drifted, one sly little current came across her and carried her to a place where seven dragons breathed the fire of eternal life. They had lived for thousands of years these dragons, undisturbed and peaceful, nestled in an underwater cave. The current left her at the entrance to the cave where her body settled on the sandy surface and then the jittery little thing swam off, restless to be away.
When the dragons awoke and saw her they were afraid, for they knew she was a sign.
Still, they could not reject a gift from the sea, so they took her in and tended to her, breathing life into her lungs with their fiery breath. Though they knew that this life would be their end and the knowledge of this made them weep with anguish. When the girl awoke and found herself tightly coiled in the tail of a dragon she was afraid, but they were so overjoyed to see her alive that they fussed around her, bringing trinkets of emerald sea glass to match her eyes and cockle shells to lace around her pretty neck. Her fears left her and she rejoiced with them in the life that they had breathed into her.
She lived with the dragons for many contented years. She grew to love them and they grew to love her. More than anything though she longed to be like them; she thought her own stumpy limbs awkward and cumbersome. She especially admired their supple tails which could propel them across the sea bed with one flick. She would spend many lazy hours polishing their smooth glistening scales which shimmered like opals and combing their long golden whiskers with her fingers, all the while singing to them a haunting song of the sea which told the story they knew so well.
One day the time came that the current returned to reclaim its gift (they knew it would come), but the dragons couldn’t relinquish her into its arms though it begged and solicited, using all of its powers of persuasion to beseech them to give her up. In the end they said their sad farewells and hugged her and went with the current in the place of the girl. The current wasn’t choosy and it didn’t hang around, scooping up its hefty prize and somersaulting away in one deft sinewed movement (for it had grown strong over the years).
The girl stood alone watching the magnificent creatures disappear into the abyss, one by one, until the very smallest dragon tussled and tugged and managed to struggle free for a brief moment, twisting its head around towards her for one last farewell. She reached her arms up, holding its muzzle in her hands, and gazed into its blazing auric eyes as they both wept for the life they had sacrificed. The dragon’s hot tears mingled with her own and she bathed in their warm salty solace.
At last, the little dragon was dragged back by the querulous current and the girl found herself alone again. But in its last moments it was able to bequeath one last gift to her. The dragon knew how much the girl admired its strong muscular tail and glimmering scales; as it disappeared into the surface it give an almighty shudder which rocked the sea, causing all who lived there to roll and reel about wildly. Then it whipped its tail into a spin, gathering up two passing currents and smacking them off course. Each was convinced the other had provoked them and they lurched towards one another furiously, ready to attack (for currents are burly and fearsome). As they chased each other, full of rancour, they span around snapping at each others’ heels faster and faster, creating a maelstrom which bore down into the centre of the ocean, towards the girl.
The girl was sucked into the vortex and as she too span — a giddy dervish — a cluster of shimmering dragon scales spiralled down through the water towards her like a blossom flurry caught on the wind. She saw them and laughed through her tears, reaching out her hands to touch them as they fell. Each one gleamed and shimmied with a luminescence which lit up the entire sea. The scales pressed against the whorl of her as she span, and span.
‘Goodby fair maiden of the sea!’ the little dragon rumbled out its last breath. And all the dragons roared in agreement, filling up the sea with their thunder.
At last the whirlpool released her, spitting her out onto the seabed where she lay, spent and exhausted. She remained there for several days, a shipwreck adorned with sea shells and silt until a slender crab, disguised as a rock, came across her and pinched her nose, mistaking it for some tasty morsel.
‘Ouch!’ she shouted loudly, annoyed. She had been exploring the watery depths of her dreams where she had found that she had access to things she had not known before: other worlds, new truths, ancient falsehoods. A rich, colourful scene like an underwater reef. She had explored the beauty of drowning. The seduction. The thick, opaque, shimmering allure of it. It all came back to her then, in the blurry gaps of consciousness: the rousing, the falling. She had felt a pleasant fog of sweetness blooming at the very edges of her skull. And in those shifting moments it was hard to tell what was real and what was fantasy.
It didn’t matter; she was not to remain there (after all, she had been there before). She was awake and once more had to teach her heart to beat out a new rhythm.
She tried to bend her legs to propel herself upright but found that she could not; instead she slipped and skidded uselessly on the sand. When she looked down she discovered that her legs had fused into a tail: a glittering dragon’s tail covered in thousands upon thousands of shining scales. She stared in awe, mesmerised by its scintillating brilliance. At first, she was scared. She could not believe the truth her eyes told her. Gradually though she grew braver and began tentatively to caress her new tail, exploring the thrill of its power with her fingers.
She marvelled at it: the way it twisted and turned and glistened; the way it tapered elegantly into a delicate quivering fin. She whipped it this way and that, testing its strength; writhing and tumbling; playfully batting the currents to and fro. Delighted, they responded to her teasing games, jostling with her and falling in love with her instantly (who wouldn’t?). Then, on her request, they carried her back to the dragons’ cave.
But when she arrived there and looked around the empty cave which had once been full of seven splendid, snorting dragons, she felt a shard of loneliness wedge in her heart. Try as she might, she couldn’t shake it free. She found she could no longer bear to remain inside the cave so she swam out and up, up, up, through the sea, her new tail pulsating swiftly through the water. Up towards the horizon. The currents willed her along, gently buoying her upwards with chiffon-light fingers. When she broke the surface she gasped, struggling for breath. She thought for a moment that she might be suffocating, but then her rasping accordion lungs snapped and wheezed into life, squeezing out a small jet of water as they slowly found their familiar ebb and flow.
The cave narrowed out into a rock which pierced the sky like a jagged knife. The girl grabbed the rock face with her hands and yanked herself up with all of her force, pulling and heaving, until finally she reached the very tip of it. The soft flesh on her palms and belly was shredded into tattered red ribbons by its craggy hull; her glossy scales, fine as fingernails, snagged on its jutting knuckles and scattered confetti showers, spiralling a serpentine trail of stray sea treasures which illuminated the twisting distance — like smiling splinters of the moon — up to her rugged throne.
And to this day she reclines there still, queen of the horizon world, keeping watch for her friends. They call her the fair maiden of the sea with the dragon’s tail and the currents are her willing servants. She sits, polishing her scales, combing her long golden hair with her fingers, singing her sad haunting song for the dragons, and for all who care to listen.
© story by Emily Hughes, 2018
I’m afraid I don’t know where the image is from although I have searched for it. It was borrowed from another friend’s page out there in the vast, deep ocean of the internet. I am happy that it found its way to me.
Posted on December 15, 2017
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 promise!)
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.
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).
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:
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.
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.
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
Category: creative writing Tagged: acupuncture, allegory, anxiety, blogging, chinese night painting, community, creative writing, dark humour, depression, fiction, letters to a young poet, lifewriting, photography, rainer maria rilke, Rilke, rumi, short story, symbolism, teaching, writing
Posted on January 22, 2013
He arrived home with two dead pheasants on his back, and thought it would be funny to dangle them in front of my face as I answered the door.
The boy was amused. The girl less so.
He hung them in the garden shed in the dense, bleak night, and after the snow had begun to fall, and a snowmen had been made [two hazelnuts for eyes; a jaunty snow hat, and an elephant for a companion], he began the long, diligent labour of preparing the birds with his strong, adept hands. The snow had created a perfectly crisp white work surface for the task. He plucked the feathers (taking care to put aside the two longest, most elegant), then they were gutted and washed, cleaned, and finally, pink, bald and dimpled, were ready for the pot.
The girl looked on in growing disgust.
“I’m not eating that!” she wailed.
But she kept on watching.
When the day came to cook them she quietly observed him as he worked in the kitchen. Slouching in the door frame.
“Want to cook with dada?”
“Okaaaay” she relented (she never can resist)
Later, I went outside. The air was cold. The sky was dense, bleached white. It felt close, as though I could reach up and touch the clouds, heavy with snow. I found the stray feathers from the birds cocooned in the snow. Left where they had been strewn. They were graceful with strong supple whiskers. They were bold and colourful in rich auburn shades and a fine tiger stripe print. But they were also little wisps of silky-soft fluffy down-like bristles. Almost invisible. As I photographed them the snow started to fall, slowly, and softly, executing perfect pirouettes downwards towards the waiting ground.
They were so fine and delicate. So fleeting.
How can something so fragile and insubstantial be also something so solid and dense, so substantial?
The glistening flakes clung to the waiting feathers and gave them new form. It seemed like a fitting tribute to those birds to capture them there somehow in that moment. In the snowfall. All that remained of the plump weight of those birds; of the blood and the guts and the organs and the flesh, was those feathers.
And soon the snow will melt as the air starts to thaw. The feathers will turn to sludge and join the mud of the earth. Their proud, shiny plumes; soft tufty barbs and fine opaque quills will wilt and fade to nothing, or maybe be carried away to nowhere, on the gust of the next windy day.
But there is still something.
There are still two.
One for a boy, one for a girl.
Strong and tall and vibrant.
The life, from the earth, which fed us.
A simple, hearty supper shared amongst friends.
And then, to the earth it returned.
[And the girl?
Well, she ate, and enjoyed her meal.]
© images and content Emily Hughes and searchingtosee, 2013