an uncommon request

She was serious as she approached the counter. Her voice was soft and low. “I need to know”, she said.  Then, hesitating a little, she asked if I could tell her about the dragon. Her eyes never met mine.

I know dragons, and I know people, but once in a while, they both surprise me.

She entered my shop during the winter slump, the week after all the tourists had gone, and the locals were at home preparing for the ill weather. She took a small flask from the shelf and filled it halfway with dragon tears from the spigot in the back.

Dragons don’t cry, making this a rare and expensive item. I watched her. I know every customer by name. She was new.

It was an uncommon request. No one cares about dragons. People think they know everything they need to know about dragons. Most of what they know is wrong, and when you try to tell them differently, they get angry. They stop listening. They walk away and never return.

“This one lived alone, as most do,” I told her. “The tears were extracted while he slept. He was suffering from allergies, which meant a runny nose, and tears.” I found her curiosity refreshing.

“Thank you,” she replied. “This will be put to good use,” she assured me.

I was silent. She continued, still staring somewhere behind my left ear, “Did this dragon have a hoard? He must have. How much were they able to take, seeing that he was sleeping?”

I was beginning to get nervous. Shop owners are sworn to secrecy. Was she a spy? Was this a test?

Something about the way she stared deeply into the space behind my head, and the way her eyes were puffed and pinkish around the edges, softened me.

“He had a hoard of books,” I said. I explained how unusual this was, and how unappreciated. Unrewarding for dragon hunters, except for the tears.

She straightened, seemed taller. I wouldn’t dare ask why she needed dragon tears, and it turns out I didn’t have to. She began describing her life. Her loves and her fears. And how the one item she was forbidden to truly enjoy as she wished was a good book.

I had heard of forbidden dancing, forbidden drinking, forbidden love, but I had never heard this in all my years.

But then, no one had heard of dragon tears either. Or a dragon that hoarded books. That was more odd than the tears themselves. Odd, and, to most, disappointing.

“These will be put to good use. I promise.” She smiled. It was barely a half-smile, but a smile nonetheless.

hidden

Magic could be defined as a sort of knowledge. It’s knowledge that is unknown. Or not understood. Or unseen. Hidden.

It also has certain connotations, both good and bad, depending on what perspective you are coming from. I’m a writer, and a Christian. As a human I find the concept of magic to be be morally neutral. It’s just is an aspect of existence in our universe. You can’t see it, or measure it, or prove it, but it’s real. However, I also believe that certain expressions and manifestations of it in this world ought to be treated with caution, and even avoided. Maybe when you see it the way I see it you’ll understand why.

A nightmare I had last night is a good illustration of this concept. At the time I woke, I had some nausea and was frightened. I recorded it immediately. This is what I wrote:

General folk wisdom recommends that you don’t draw faces, especially certain faces. If you do, it conjures evil spirits. Everyone knew this in my dreamworld. I didn’t.

There were rules too. Certain things you could not talk about. Or think.

Mother breaks one of these rules. I try to warn her, but it’s too late. A mysterious stranger appears.

A conflict ensues. She is knocked unconscious.

I must fight off the stranger alone. I manage to elude him. I hide.

The rule is: I must not think about my hiding place, or I will no longer remain hidden.

The trouble with magic is that even when you don’t know the rules, they still affect you. Life is all about these hidden rules. Some are called science. Others are called morality. True magic is not created by humans. It is discovered. Harnessed.

Gravity is a hidden rule. So is falling in love. And also unconditional love.

Just as ignorance of the rules cannot save you, knowledge of them is no guarantee of safety either.

{goals and habits} from drowning to drifting

This morning I had a dream. More like a nightmare. I was drifting in the middle of the open ocean, clinging to a small, black inner tube.

It looked like a scene from the movie The Perfect Storm, except there was no storm. The waves were like tall buildings surrounding me because that’s just how big waves are when you’re Way Out There.

I wondered which would happen first–drowning, or sharks. I didn’t see any sharks, but I knew they were there somewhere. Each time a wave towered over me, I would brace myself, suck air into my lungs and hope for the best.

I think this dream signifies how I feel about my life right now, especially as it relates to goals and habits. I had spent the prior evening making lists and planning for the upcoming year.

I’m a planner. I like to know where I’m headed, and how I’m going to get there. I’ve always liked creating to-do lists and working on goals and habits. Up until now, however, I’ve had difficulty with fully achieving my goals and developing strong, consistent habits. Every year I’ve run into resistance and ended up either compromising what I planned or abandoning it altogether. You might say that when it comes to goals and habits I’ve been kind of landlocked.

At the end of 2016, I launched myself into the great big ocean of life, with the vague hope of reaching an unknown, idyllic shore. I began 2017 choking and coughing up saltwater, and I am now ending it holding on tight, but drifting and mostly directionless. I will begin 2018 with a new home. I’ve never lived on my own before, and I know I have quite a lot of planning to do.

what I’m reading

It’s day sixteen of my 21 Day Writing Challenge. Today’s prompt is reading, specifically, what am I reading right now. In the past month, I haven’t done much actual reading, but I have given it more serious thought than ever before.

My typical method of reading has always been to pick up whatever book interested me in the moment. I would get up early in the morning, to avoid disturbing anyone. In those days, reading or writing was not an activity I was encouraged to do. It wouldn’t be far from the truth to say it was forbidden.

I kept most of my books in my closet. Occasionally, when my interests or focus would change, I would spend several hours, sometimes little by little over the course of several days, ordering and arranging them in a kind of system.

Since then, circumstances have changed, and I once again have the opportunity to read as freely as I did in college. There are only two differences: time (a newfound awareness of its brevity, and the management of this limited resource) and direction (the simple complex decision of what to read).

Most of my reading lately is focused on spirituality, psychology, and self-help. It’s been a difficult year. My choices these days are Psalms and Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton.

I spent some time this month organizing my books on Goodreads. It’s daunting to see people with hundreds and even thousands of titles on their virtual shelves. I also created a system for intentional reading and learning. It’s part book queue and part note-taking system on Evernote.

Last night I spent hours rereading my personal journals for this year, reflecting on what I’ve learned and on my progress.

In the upcoming year, I hope to read more poetry, memoir, and certain books in the magical realism genre.

Other books I’m slowly but surely working my way through: Necessary Losses by Judith Viorst, The New Diary: How to use a journal for self-guidance and expanded creativity by Tristine Rainer.

Books I’ll most likely read next will be No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters by Ursula K. Le Guin, and The Penguin Book of the Sonnet.

I also read articles and blogs daily in my Feedly and on my Flipboard apps and organize them on Pocket.

It can be a little overwhelming, and I’m still in the process of creating a working system to read more in general (going to try a 20 pages a day habit) and to read more efficiently and effectively, as a writer.

a {quick write} fairy tale

One step-sister convinced me to put aside my writing, pointing out that I would never amount to anything if I kept that nonsense up. So I stopped, for many years. She and step-mother were alike, always reminding me how clumsy and foolish and worthless I was. They each conspired, in their own way, to conceal me, I think, because I was an embarrassment and a burden to them. The voice inside my head, my other step-sister, echoed their voices, and spoke the words that kept the door locked all those years.

I wish I knew back then that I didn’t need magic or a fairy godmother to unlock it. All I needed was a little confidence. But when you don’t know what confidence looks like or feels like, when you couldn’t recognize it even if it was a monstrous, pumpkin-shaped, mouse-driven vehicle appearing right in front of you out of nowhere, it might as well be magic.