Wood Shavings

Once there was an old woman who swept the wood shavings from the floor of a young carpenter.  She brushed the shavings aside into a pile before scooping the pile into a basket. The floor had not one shaving left on it for the next day.

In the morning, the young carpenter would come in and work all day and not think about the shavings spilling all over the floor because they would disappear by tomorrow.  The old woman thought nothing of what the carpenter made because every day new shavings would appear for her to sweep.

The young carpenter saw people as wood for the making, but the old woman had already been made long ago and now saw people as they were: not as the woodwork but the shavings from the woodwork meant to be swept away.

The Queen's Tapestry

Once there was a queen who had some trouble ruling her kingdom.  One day whilst walking through the market, the queen came upon a poor old woman who made tapestries with intricate images that nobody could decipher. 

When the queen insisted that she tell her what her tapestries meant, somebody had to tell her that the poor old woman had lost her ability to speak long ago.  The queen pitied her for this and wondered what tragedy she must’ve suffered in order to never speak again. And the details of these fascinating scenes in the tapestries transfixed the queen and she saw how others scratched their heads when they looked at these mysterious things.  

The queen took the poor old woman and gave her a place to live where she would be taken care of for the rest of her life in exchange for her tapestries.  The queen had them burned without the old woman’s knowledge, and had her make a single giant tapestry for her. And she put it up in her court.

The queen had subjects who thought they could better rule the kingdom and this had plagued her for years with constant second-guessing.  So she challenged them to decipher her tapestry and whoever could tell her the exact meaning would gain the power of the throne.

Her subjects, of course, could not guess the meaning of the tapestry and so it left them feeling as if she knew something they didn’t.  And this feeling grew into an obedience. So the tapestry worked in getting her subjects to stop challenging her.

Until, the good fortune of the old woman somehow returned her speech to her.  And she rushed to the queen to tell her how grateful she was to the only person who showed her kindness since she stopped speaking and to tell her what the tapestry really meant.  And she told the queen in front of her subjects what the ornate images in her tapestry stood for and the subjects could see that the queen herself had not known all along. Now that her plan had backfired, even the queen had to admit that this old woman was far greater in mind.

The poor old woman became their new queen. She ruled the kingdom as she made her tapestries, with rich detail and meaningful acts whose images sat in her subjects’ minds like perfect orbs in the sky.

A Sliver of Truth

Once there was a girl who knew every nook and cranny from which to spy on her folk.  And she spied on everyone. She spied so much that she rarely spoke because she felt she knew too much about everyone else and it made it difficult to speak without accidentally spilling the beans.  

One day she spied on a girl who she hadn’t seen before because all she did was stay in her room and talk to herself.  She looked so lonely that it made her really sad. She might as well have stayed in her room too since she’s always hiding to eavesdrop on people.  She tried to stop spying but she couldn’t resist knowing a sliver of the truth about anyone she tried to befriend.  

Eventually, the whole village knew about her habit and didn’t care about what she heard for they were good people and felt they had nothing to hide, so they decided to play a trick on her.  They told each other tall tales and stretched the truth as far as it would go. And one villager told another that the girl was going to have both her eyes poked out for peeping and her ears plugged up for good but they weren’t going to cut out her tongue because she needed to start spilling her own beans.

She peeped through a hole in her imagination and saw herself wandering through the village blind and deaf and spilling beans everywhere.  This was not just a sliver of truth. It felt more like a spear straight through her ears. How could they want to do such a thing to someone as innocent as her?  Off to the rival village she went and told them everything she knew about her village in exchange for a place in theirs.

While she told stories about her folk, they heard what it said about her.  The slivers of truth had gathered into a jagged mass of exaggerations and loose connections. In fact, to their ears, it was difficult to distinguish even a grain of truth in what she had to say let alone a sliver.  The rival village quickly told her that they would rather she go back and stay in her village and not live with them.  

With nowhere else to go, she returned home and begged that they show mercy for what she had tried to do.  And they told her that they were never going to harm her, but they were trying to scare her into doing something better with herself than spying on them. 

Finally, this sliver of truth struck into her heart. They actually cared about her. She saw how she had taken what she thought was a sliver of truth and ran with it when it was not the truth at all.  And this thought reverberated through all the other times she spied on them. The slivers of truth appeared differently to her now. Less about them and more about her fantasies. From then on, she stopped spying and began to understand more about her folk by interacting directly with them.

The King's Stone

Once there was an old storyteller who became one of the most powerful people in the kingdom.  He had found a way to tell stories so that anyone who listened could accept them as the absolute truth.  Except those who the stories were intended to harm, of course.

The old man never forgot anything. That is partially why he was such a convincing storyteller. But it was also why he was so spiteful about any offense he suffered, like a village he visited once. In his eye, the people were not polite enough to him by the way they served him food and put him up for the night in an uncomfortable bed. All of which he thought was done on purpose. So he told a story many decades later and the king increased their taxes, and when they rebelled, their village was burned to the ground.

One day, the king’s spy overheard the storyteller boasting about his power. He found it amazing that people took his words as if they were written in stone and were so willing to act upon something as fleeting as a hot wind. But his real mistake was when he boasted that if he wished, he could spill into the king’s ear at the perfect moment the right combination of words about a hidden betrayal of his trust that would send the queen to her doom.

That night, the old storyteller awoke from a frantic nightmare – running from village to village with no clothes on while people hurled rocks and mud at him – to a wet bed.  He got mad at himself for pissing in his bed again until he heard the voice of the king sitting in a chair across the room.

As the king told him why his wife would never betray him for she had sacrificed her own traitorous brother, the storyteller realized that it was not his urine that soiled the sheets; he was bleeding from a mortal neck wound. When he tried to utter a word, liquid sounds sputtered out.

The old storyteller’s mind wandered in his last fleeting moments.

He remembered a fountain from his youth where the folk used to throw stones into it for good luck. And it was there that his storytelling began at a single question: what was the story of each stone? And he pulled them out one by one. Followed their stories wherever they led him. Afterward, the heft of each stone seemed to increase in weight with its story.

At that time, he used to say that everybody had a heavy stone in their heart. A stone so heavy that it settled in the fountain of their chest. But he had forgotten that sentiment. And lost himself in the power of stories to influence others. He had taken all the stones out and learned how to rearrange them to convince by spectacle instead of seeing their worth and unlocking their heft.

And so the king’s heaviest stone, the story of his wife’s sacrifice for his sake, sank deeply in the king’s chest. Something never to be pulled out. Sacred to him.

Watery Windows

Once there was a hermit who had watery windows in her home.  Whatever she looked at through those windows had ripples flowing around it that told her everything she thought she needed to know.  The watery windows magnified anything small or far that she wished to see.   

One day, the hermit wondered if it was only she who saw the ripples in her watery windows, feared that it might be a curse forbidding her from leaving her home, and so she invited some people over.  But when she opened her door to let them in, there were no people at all, but a raging sea, instead, with treacherous currents and ominous waves. 

Her home was a ship and her sea legs wobbled at the realization that she had been out to sea so long that she was seeing ripples around everything. 

Back in her warm cabin, she pulled the shades over the windows. She made a pot of tea. And formed a cave with a blanket for her cat to purr in. Soon her mind came to a rest. And she became the calm in the eye of her storm.

Toy, Caca, Magic

Once there was a queen who visited a village known for three kinds of art.  And she went in order to choose one to lend her support.

First, the queen was taken to a studio which was also a toy store where an old man made the most incredibly inventive toys.  His craft was unparalleled and his toys intricate and full of tricks. He also made silly toys and stupid toys for whoever played with such things.  None of the toys elicited from the Queen more than slight amusement for there was nothing in it but craft. This was fine but not interesting enough to be deemed art in her mind because the toy maker had nothing meaningful to say about his work.

So the Queen went to the second studio.  And it was a barn. And in the barn there were mounds of dung.  And the artist explained many things about the mounds that he called natural sculptures in the barn that he called his studio and gallery all the same.  The queen watched others, a sampling of some common folk from the village, as they stared at the poop. And never had she heard someone speak so artfully about such common waste.  He said weird things like all excrement has been excreted before so best not to utilize anything else but that which already was and never will be anymore except as fertilizer for the mental terrain.  It was plain to see that the others didn’t get what he was talking about at all, partially because of the smell of his work was so strong.

The queen visited the third studio.  It was small and meager and in the back of a hotel where the artist also had to work.  She was dressed in plain clothes and painted miracles of vision and wonder and talked to the queen and the others about the nature of seeing and showed them another way of looking that felt enriching to them.  As the queen left through the hotel, she saw her paintings everywhere with people blabbing and stuffing their faces while paying not a lick of attention to the amazing work hanging right over their heads.

The queen went back to her castle and mulled it over.  The toymaker was great but it was mere craft and not art.  And clearly the painter made the best work of all and really opened her eyes to how the artistic process can be an investigation.  It was magic.

But she chose the dung maker or poop proliferator or whatever it twas that he called himself simply because anything could be said about his work and the common folk who cherish what little wealth comes their way could never develop such a taste for his style of caca.  It was clearly the most elite of all because of the power it let her keep.  

And the winner gave his speech at the ceremony where he said that kids play with caca, and artists are kids, so artists need to only concern themselves with the emptiness of the most fundamental movements.  The audience looked at him in utter confusion but they saw the queen nod with approval, so they applauded the new standard of what could be called the art of the kingdom.

The Cheese Sculpture

Once there was a kingdom of cheese makers.  These cheese makers knew everything about any kind of milk and knew how to make any kind of cheese.  They held festivals of cheese for which people pilgrimaged. They even built a house of cheese once a year for kids to eat through the walls and floors.  Not one of these cheese makers had any muscle tone. All of them looked like balls of cheese with legs and arms like toothpicks and little round balls of cheese for heads.  

Other kingdoms traded with them except one.  This one kingdom was made of people who thought of nothing but hunting and war.  They spent all their time making blades of every kind. And this kingdom loved to eat so much that they had become cannibals.  And they had tasted the meat of the cheesemakers and it was like a steak marbled with a cheesy fat. Only the other kingdoms held them back from destroying the cheesemakers because they loved their cheese so much.

Whenever a cannibal carved through a cheesemaker, it was as satisfying to watch how the blade sliced through them as eating them.  But whenever a cheesemaker was cut, the smell that was released could knock a cannibal out with one whiff. In time, though, the cannibals could not be held back nor could they resist the idea of feasting on the cheese makers.  So they did attempt to attack the kingdom of the cheese once.  

The Great Cheese War, as the cheese makers called it, was won by hot liquid sticky cheese that the cheesemakers dumped on the cannibals.  The cheese cooled and solidified them wherever they stood. The cannibals could not eat their way out of that much solidified fondue and had to surrender under the stench of all the cheese they had cut.  After this, it was common for people to ask “who cut the cheese?” when someone passed away.

One year, as any other, there was a cheese carving competition.  And one cheese maker, Klaus, was an excellent cheese sculptor. He had won year after year.  But this year he concocted the wildest vision in a dream the night before. And so he chased after that dream and made a cheese sculpture that went beyond what he had ever done.  The attention to detail was mind-boggling. It was the most elaborate miniature cheese castle anyone had ever seen. There were aged Gouda curtains and Feta rugs. Brie beds and Roquefort chandeliers.

Of course, he won the competition but after that he never made another sculpture again.  Instead, he spent most of his time staring at his cheese sculpture. And he would bring it to the competitions year after year as it got moldier and moldier but nobody had the heart to tell him to stop.  The moldy clump, that was a Käseschloss, was still a brilliant castle to the cheese maker.  

Eventually uninvited from the competition, Klaus kept it at home and stared at it all alone.  Long after Klaus died, or cut the cheese, his story was told by the cheese makers as a lesson to not hold onto any achievement no matter how rich and cheesy.  And it became common for people to say to others “stop holding your cheese” whenever they needed to move on to making something new.