The Fish who Didn’t Want to be a Fish

An Ocean of Possibilities, pastel on paper, 2022 – 10×13 cm

There are moments in life where we encounter curious signs and experience situations that can’t be simple coincidences. Maybe it will be expressed through a déjà vu, repeated encounters, or the sudden clarity that two separate events are in fact related. In any form, these little mysteries are worth noticing. Indeed, the universe may wink and nod at us for a reason.

For example, in the last week, several people – unrelated to each other – mentioned the same children’s book. I don’t have children and apart from working in art camps with kids during holidays, I mostly meet grown-ups on a daily-basis. Curious by this coincidence, I bought the book immediately, believing in some kind of personal message from above.

First, the title is fantastic: “The Fish who Didn’t Want to be a Fish” and the drawings are delightful. The book was written by Paul Kor and published in 1985. Kor wrote many children’s books and was very popular among his young readers, as this message from a ten-year old girl puts it out: “I love macaroni and Paul Kor”.

“The Fish who Didn’t Want to be a Fish” is the story of a transformation. It follows a little fish who’s tired of being wet and singing songs made of bubbles that no one will hear. This fish is special though and by counting to three, she turns into a bird. But the pleasure is short, she quickly realizes that being a bird is tough: flying requires a lot of effort — though the clouds help her — yet, our little bird feels wrecked and craves to touch the ground. Soon enough, she transforms into a mouse too happy to dive into a long and well-deserved sleep. This would have been possible in a world without those hungry cats eying on her, waiting for her to let her guard down. Our little mouse’s disappointment is huge, being a mouse isn’t restful after all. She can only dream at that stage, of having the strength and thick skin of an elephant. 

In less than a few seconds, the mouse transforms herself again. Yet, just turned into an elephant, everything quickly gets on her nerves: having a long trunk in the middle of the face is far from being practical, the tusks are so heavy that she’ll develop a neck-ache each time she lifts her head to say hello to someone if she doesn’t watch out. If to be a strong and imposing animal, then being a bear sounds like a better plan. In her new costume now, our bear salivates in front of the beehive, reaching with her pawns for honey. But though honey is sweet and delicious to her tongue, her belly doesn’t seem to agree and she quickly develops a high fever. Lying down on the ground, cold and sweaty, she asks to be a fish again… 

All in all, being a fish may very well be the best for this little fish. 

Bestiaire, pastel on paper, 2022 – 10×14.5 cm

It always surprises me how children’s books are so simple and yet so deep. As if, when addressing children, we manage better to shed the heavy layers or filters that we would use for ourselves. In this book, there is also a simplicity to the drawings of Paul Kor, which serve the story perfectly. The pages don’t have the same width, so a segment of the drawing of the mouse’s tail, for example, re-appears on the next page, but this time as the trunk of the elephant. As a result, a part of each animal remains in the next one. It’s visually very clever. And this illustrated thread evokes for me a continuity that we should all look for on our path. 

I feel that many options are being offered to us in life; yet changes, decisions and transformations can be experienced with certain difficulties and confusion. Having lived all our life in water and expecting that flying will be an easy-peasy task, is slightly over-optimistic. But there is nothing wrong in trying. Quite the opposite, we’ll learn something important on the way. Whether it is the realization that water is far more suited for us, or that we want to be flying with more ease, and therefore, a lot of patience and flying lessons will be needed. As long as a choice will bring us forward on our path, it’s a choice that matters. 

At the end of Kor’s story, the fish goes back to being a fish — but a different one. Physically, she needed to embody other animals in order to understand something about herself. Her many metamorphoses are engraved in her body, as well as the traces of the journey she went through. It’s actually thanks to her experience of being other animals, that being a fish becomes her true desire.

If I connect this story to me, why I felt attracted to it and why now specifically — after tough months of dealing with unpleasant news and experiencing losses— I would say that I learned a good and useful lesson from it: experiences give more body to our souls, and now I want to swim, to fly, to run, to live and eat honey, lots of it. But that’s me, I hope you’ll find this little jewel of a book – or another one – and be able to interpret it in a way that warms your heart. 

Love, Ethel

2 thoughts on “The Fish who Didn’t Want to be a Fish”

  1. Ton évolution, dear Ethel, vers une sorte de réalisme teinté d’optimisme fécond me plait bien.
    Pourvu qu’elle te convienne à toi durablement et que tu puisses construire à partir de là maintenant que tu es lancée !
    Nic supporter

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