The Huntress, the Goal and the Dragon
Once upon a time there was a girl who knew what she wanted and she went after it with great aplomb. Diana on the hunt, the girl channeled all her energy into hunting and capturing goals she knew belonged to her, even the ones that seemed too big to capture, and throwing them in her sack slung across her back. Those big goals were her favorite goals to acquire, the ones that made the moon look like a white pebble and the ocean like a single drop of dew sitting on a leaf.
The girl chased goals, even though every goal came with a companion: a problem. To get the goal, the girl had to figure out how to also wrangle and possess its accompanying problem. A wayward problem out in the world would never leave her alone, that was the rule of the universe. So she had to also figure out how to capture the problem and make it less. Sometimes the problem came before the goal, sometimes with the goal, and sometimes the after the goal, but the problem always came.
The girl was good at figuring things out. She liked looking at a problem — big ones, little ones, complex ones, simple ones — and seeing it from all its angles, until she knew the problem better than it knew itself. People called the girl a problem solver, but she preferred to think of herself as a problem hunter.
She was quite good at seeing a problem coming her way, a problem beyond the distance, nothing more that a dot on the horizon, a pirate ship too far away to spot its skull-and-crossboned flag. Sometimes, the girl sat quietly on the shore, looking out beyond the waves for a dot. She was one of few people who could see the dot, and that was one of her gifts. She would sit on the sand, eat a perfectly ripe peach, and wait patiently for the dot to grow closer, magnify in size and speed, a problem making its way to her shore. She didn’t run away from the shore, much preferring for the problem to prove itself by leaving the ship and looking for her. She was never hard to find. When the problem walked down the gang plank, big and bold and bad, she would hunt it down and throw it the sack on her back.
She was good at knowing a problem was coming.
The girl hunted problems and goals. They always came together, but she never thought about that. She hunted them both with vim and vigor, precision and preparation.
Once, she chased a goal for months. It was a very big goal, and very slippery. Every time she thought she had it in her fingers, it slid out and ran away. She kept chasing until she got it. Well, she got part of it. That frustrated the girl. She snatched the goal in her hands and was ready to put it in her sack when half of it broke off and ran away, slipping from her fingers once again. The girl was perplexed. She had never had a goal run away before. She had never lost a goal. A lost, runaway goal was not in The Book of Plans. The girl had fifty percent of a goal and one hundred percent of a problem coming her way.
She did what she did best. She thought about it. She pulled out The Book of Plans and got to work: she made diagrams and charts and conducted research and got a new bow-and-arrow and then she went deep into the forest to hunt her runaway goal. “Goal!” she said, “Who said you could run away from me? Don’t you know who I am?”
The goal did not answer.
The girl crouched low and climbed high and sought the goal all over the forest. Sometimes she could see it, but she couldn’t quite angle herself to capture it. “Tricky goal,” the girl thought to herself.
Sometimes she got discouraged.
But she never got defeated.
Every day she would hunt her goal, because she’d already decided it was hers. Every morning she reminded herself that she was a hunter, and she pat her sack carrying her already captured hunted goals and problems.
Seasons changed. The girl got tired. And cold. And hot. And discouraged.
But not defeated.
She kept hunting.
One morning she sat up and said to herself, “Aha! I know what I need to do. I have been chasing the tricky, slippery goal but I have not been successful — yet. I need to get the goal to understand that it belongs to me so it comes to me. Then I can put it in my sack.”
She went back to her book and found the page “100% Perfect, Foolproof, Guaranteed Instructions to Get a Tricky, Slippery Goal to Come to You — Complete with Very Important Algebraic Equations”
She read the instructions. The first said:
1. Clear your mind.
She followed the instruction.
She cleared her mind. She stopped thinking about the goal and the problems. She thought about, well, nothing. She wandered throughout the forest. She listened to birds singing and woodland creatures scurrying. She was gentle with the flowers. She felt soft mounds of moss under her feet. She saw everything and she paid attention to nothing.
Then she saw the goal resting, leaning against the trunk of a large tree. It was tired of running from her. She sat down on the woodland floor next to the goal and said, “Hello, I think we’ve been looking for each other.”
The goal nodded.
“You’ve been running from me because you’re afraid of being captured and living in my sack on my back until forever, haven’t you?”
The goal nodded.
“But if you agree to let me capture you and put you in my sack, you will always have a home. You will want for nothing because my job is to take care of the goals once I capture them, to protect them, to love them and to maintain them — because I wanted them.”
“It’s true you can never leave my sack, but how do you know my sack isn’t somewhere you want to be?” the girl asked the goal. “It’s not that you can’t leave my sack as much as you won’t want to leave my sack. Ultimately, you decide to stay with me once you’ve been captured. I’ve never had a goal even ask to leave my sack. Would you like to let me capture you so you can have a home with me?”
The goal said the only thing it would ever say “Yes, I am tired of running from you. I want to be captured by you but I’m afraid.”
The girl said, “I understand fear.” Then she opened her sack. None of the captured goals climbed out.
The goal sighed. Then smiled. Then climbed into her sack.
The girl smiled and tied her sack.
The girl slung the sack over her shoulder and a shiver ran down her spine. She remembered the rule of the universe: with every captured goal came a problem comparable to the magnitude of the hunt.
This goal had been the girl’s biggest capture; it had taken her many seasons and many moons and many tears and many nights. She didn’t know what kind of problem would come with this goal.
She had faced and fought many problems — pirates and krakens and griffins and basilisks. She’d fought them and flung them in her sack. Those had ranged from minor annoyances to major irritations, but all surrendered at the tip of her arrow.
She didn’t know what kind of problem this goal was going to bring her.
Sophilistic, she listened quietly to the rustling of the trees, her ears keenly tuned to any sibilant noise coming by land, sky or the distant sea. She was patient. While she waited, she took out her book and reviewed her notes in the chapter, “Hunting and Capturing The Biggest Problem You Will Ever Face Until the Next One.” She made new diagrams and equations and flow charts, preparing to meet a problem she knew was coming but she couldn’t see yet.
She armed herself. She sharpened her arrows every day and she tightened the string on her bow.
She felt it before she saw it. Hot, heavy air dropped like a blanket around her. Birds stopped flying and landed noiselessly on trees whose branches knew enough to stay still in the breeze. Land creatures strained their necks up before their brains told their bodies to burrow underground and stay there.
The girl stayed where she was and kept sharpening her arrows, flint on the tips.
She neither wavered nor faltered.
She stood up.
Its wings flapped in the sky, darkening the sun, raising its immense body at every downstroke and lowering it at every upstroke. It opened its mouth and rows of daggered teeth filled the space. Its claws curled at the end of its feet. Its neck, the width of an oak, body filling expanding to the size of the forest. And it was loud. When it roared, the girl felt her body lose its grip on the earth and her temperature rise from the heat coming out of its furnace of a mouth.
She neither wavered nor faltered.
“Hello,” she said, “I’ve been waiting for you. I’ve never hunted a dragon before, and I’m pleased to make your acquaintance. You will join my sack and I will carry you on my back, because that is what I do.”
The girl was scared. She’d never faced a dragon before. Her notes were good but couldn’t capture the terror of standing before a dragon.
The dragon flew off.
The girl sat down and trembled. “Shit.” she thought. “A dragon.” She also knew that problems always come back until they’re properly captured.
She patted the sack on her back.
Every night the dragon would come back and do the same thing. Hover, breathe hot air, make a lot of scary, unsettling noise, then fly off. It tried really hard to get her to give up, to go home. But she did not. She stayed in the forest and figured out how to hunt a dragon. She knew the other rule of the universe: if she left the dragon without hunting it, it would stay and grow bigger and stronger and then it would find her when she was too tired to hunt a dragon. And it would harass and sadden and frustrate her.
And every night the girl would look at the dragon and try to figure out where she could pierce its thick, leathery skin with her bow and arrow.
They did this for months.
She reviewed her book and found one the chapter titled “Why Are You Afraid of the Dragon?”
The girl thought back over the past few months. The dragon came and made a lot of noise and was hot and ugly and loud — but it never breathed fire. She had been too afraid to attack it because she didn’t want it to unleash an inferno over the forest. She had not been bold. She had been afraid.
“Aha!” the girl thought to herself, “This dragon has no fire. He is making me afraid with its heat, but I have not yet seen fire.”
With this realization, she sat down on a cool patch of land and got a peach to eat from her sack. When the dragon came that night, as it had come every night, she stayed on the ground. She said, “Dragon, you are loud and hot and you scare me. But you don’t have any fire. So you don’t have any power. As long as I remember that, I will be fine and you will end up in my sack.”
And then it breathed a terrible breath and roared its terrible roar and its claws scraped the air while it hovered over her.
And she was utterly fucking terrified. It’s one thing to know the logic of dragons. It’s another to face on and have to capture it. But she reminded herself that she was a problem catcher and the dragon was her problem to catch.
When the dragon came the next night, she addressed it but did not let it dictate her movements. She brewed and drank tea. She read a book. She did yoga. She facetimed her mom and told her she was hunting a dragon.
She learned that this problem needed her attention. The dragon was needy. So, she decided to come up with a plan to deal with an impotent, non-fire-breathing dragon.
While she figured out her plan, she learned to live with the dragon. Sometimes she even thanked the dragon for the hot air because the forest got chilly at night. Over time she realized he wasn’t as big or as loud or as hot as she first thought.
He always came at night. And as she dealt with him in her own way, he got smaller and smaller. He made less noise. His claws dulled. One night he came and she didn’t even notice him, he was so tiny. He flew to the palm of her hand and warmed her fingertips. Then, she put him in her sack. She had captured the problem so it could not bother her again.
He was never mute — he really was a needy thing — but he was muffled. The girl could live with that.
Every night she sat with her dragon in her sack. He was hers and he knew she was in charge.
Over time she loved her dragon, because he taught her how to catch a dragon, but she never let him out the sack.