I’ve exhausted myself trying to write without genre (quite conceitedly, trying to write above genre), and with the arrival of the flies, I can see this horse is certainly dead, so there is no more use in beating it. Fables, my first significant literary experience, is the natural choice for a last resort.
Where Art Comes From
When the creator makes forms of life, she pours each spirit into the myriad bodies from a big jug. The jug is never empty, and never entirely full. One day she was bored with her duties, and drank some of the spirit. It tasted good, so she drank some more. Soon she had had too much, and her work got sloppy. She poured too little spirit in some, and too much in others.
The ones who were given too much suffer from an overflowing spirit. That overflow is what we call art. The ones who were given too little, on the other hand, became rulers and clergymen. Like the seagull, the bird with too little spirit, they’re doomed to spend their lives squawking, shitting, and chasing after shiny things.
The Sapling and the Stone
A fall breeze blew a maple key far from the tree where it grew. After travelling for days, it landed in some rocky soil. It tried to grow roots, but was thwarted by a large stone. The maple key cursed the breeze and the stone, and most of all its bad luck. But with rain, sun and patience, it was able to grow its roots around the stone and reach the fertile soil below.
Then there was a flood. All the other saplings were washed away with the loose dirt, but the maple, anchored to its stone, did not budge in the deluge. Soon it was the only tree around, and enjoyed all the sun to itself.
Why People Walk on Two Legs
Before people were people, they walked on four legs. In those days the clouds never parted, so the nights were dark and starless, and the days were overcast and dreary. In other words, the heavens weren’t much to look at. It had been this way for as long as all the beasts of the world could remember. Sometimes the clouds would fall down over the land in grey flakes.
One day, the clouds mysteriously parted. The four legged people looked up and saw a blueness like nothing they had seen before. They couldn’t help themselves from looking up, and did so all day. They were sad when the blue began to fade, but their spirits lifted again when the tips of the stars poked through the ether. They couldn’t believe their eyes. What magic was this? Staring up at the sky, day and night, become their favourite pastime.
But, being four-legged creatures, looking up required them to lie down on their backs. They couldn’t pick fruit or hunt while lounging about, so they tilted their heads up while walking forward. Eventually they began walking on two legs, splitting their gaze between the sky above and the earth below.
They say when people stop looking up to admire the sky, their shoulders will begin to slouch, and after some time they will drop back down onto four legs.
There once was a boy who could do nothing to cure his boredom but skip stones into the sea. Every day he would return to the same spot on the same point, and skip stone after stone. After a while there were no more stones for him to skip by the point, so he’d wander about all day, collecting more. In the evenings he’d return to the point and carry on skipping.
After all the stones of the day had found their new home amongst the waves, he would stare out and imagine a new land where boredom couldn’t find him. He carried on like this for years.
Then one day he noticed the waves beginning to break offshore a ways. “Strange. Must be driftwood or something.” he thought.
Before long an island formed before him, made entirely from his skipping stones. Which each day of boredom the island grew higher and higher, until the day he swam out and climbed up on the stoney shore. It was on this island that he lived out his days, free from boredom.
The Lightbulb Behind the Wall
There is a lightbulb behind the wall. Some people say it’s on, shining its light. Others say that the bulb is off or broken, and it has always been this way. The two camps can’t agree on anything, because every topic boils down to whether the bulb is off or on.
Either way, some people like to poke holes in the wall. Even them, the hole pokers, can’t agree on what they see. Perhaps the lightbulb is flickering.
The Beautiful Box
Once there was an old and very poor man. While walking from one town to another, he found an ornate box. Thinking that it must have fallen off a cart travelling between towns, he began to examine it. Its handles were polished brass, its lid was inlayed with mother of pearl, even its corners were of the finest joinery and craftsmanship. “What luck!” he thought to himself. He couldn’t reign in his mind from galloping over all the unearthly treasures housed in a box so fine. Goblets of gold, fiery gemstones, priceless relics—but alas, it was locked and of very sturdy construction. He pulled and he pulled, pried and pried, but the lid didn’t relinquish a bit. Now consumed by the fire of his anticipation, he dragged the heavy box up a rocky hill to the edge of a cliff. From such a height, he kicked the box down onto the jagged valley below. With a crash that echoed through the canyon, the beautiful box broke. The old man climbed back down to collect his treasure, but found only the broken walls of the box and shards of mother of pearl, for the box had been empty the whole time.
The First Thought
Back before people were people as we know them today, they had three eyes. Two were in the familiar place, while the third was in the middle of the forehead. The two lower eyes saw the world for what it seemed to be, and the third saw it for what it really was. People were content to live out their days just like all the other animals of the world; drifting merrily along in their own stream, satisfied with their domain and aware of the way of people.
One night, when the stars had no veil, a comet passed over earth. It whizzed by so close that the earth’s waters bubbled and churned. People couldn’t help but watch as this celestial shot-put came soaring overhead, and their third eyes, tracing the comet’s flight, rolled back in their heads and became lodged. Since that day people lost their full vision of the world and spend all their time peering into their own minds.
The River and the Puddle
The river leaned over and scoffed at the puddle, “How small and insignificant you are! A day’s sunshine and you’ll be gone, while my torrents rage and will go on raging until the earth dries up.”
“I don’t mind coming and going,” said the puddle. “For unlike you, I don’t fear the day the earth dries up. I dry up and disappear almost every day.”
There was once a perfumer whose sole ambition was to collect and distill all the scents of the world. From the cedar’s cones to the fish’s guts, he wanted it all. It wasn’t easy, and it took many years, but eventually he distilled down and bottled up the whole world. “Now,” he thought, “I can lock myself in my workshop and retire. Should I miss anything from the outside world, I’ll simply open up a bottle.”.
He got on like this for a little while, sniffing rose essence when he missed the roses that grew outside his workshop, or spraying a bit of ocean essence to relieve his urge to visit the seaside. But eventually the scents became hard to distinguish, blurring into one aroma. It was familiar, a scent he had surely known all his life, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. He checked bottle after bottle—soon they all wreaked of this same smell and nothing else.
In desperation he stormed about smelling everything in his house, fearing that something had crawled inside and tainted every bottle. At last he lifted his own shirt to his nose and found the familiar aroma’s source.
A long time ago the sun simply slipped away behind the horizon, without making a big show of itself each night. But eventually night and day consummated their love and gave birth to two babes, Twilight and Dawn. Their father The Day and their mother The Night took turns looking after them. You can guess their schedule. The two children were kept hidden behind a curtain so they could not interfere with their parent’s work.
One night their father was utterly exhausted. He felt he had to work doubly hard because all the plants and animals of the world depended on him and were active and moving about while he was hard at work. In his state, he fell asleep, leaving young Twilight and Dawn unattended. The children continued their games by candlelight and paid no mind. But over time, without their father present to diffuse the arguments and bickering, games turned into squabbles and squabbles into fights. The Twilight shoved The Dawn, which knocked over the candle, and set the curtains behind her on fire. The Dawn burnt up in the blaze.
When The Day awoke, he was heartbroken to find his daughter burned to death. Soon his heartbreak turned to rage and he threw the other candle at The Twilight. She too burned up with the curtain she used to play behind.
Forever after, the ghosts of Dawn and Twilight light up the sky in a ghostly blaze, commemorating their fiery deaths.
The Leaning Beggar
A beggar found his spot leaning against a stone house. Passersby gave him the occasional coin or scrap of food, which he took gratefully. But no matter what happened on the city streets, he did not move from his post. After a few days the owner of the house stormed out and demanded the beggar find another house to loiter around and pester.
“You would be wise to let me lean here a little while longer,” replied the beggar imploringly.
“Is that so?” the man asked with a laugh, caught offguard by the beggar’s audacity.
“This wall would be a pile of rubble if I wasn’t leaning thus. And if this wall were to be destroyed, your whole house would collapse.”
The beggar said these words with such matter-of-factness that the owner of the house had a hard time doubting him.
“Nonsense!” he replied nonetheless.
Looking past the man, the beggar noticed a large cart making its way down the street.
“Watch,” he said, “I’ll take but one finger from your wall and you’ll see it tremble.”
As the heavy cart passed, he removed his finger from the wall and sure enough, it trembled with the reverberation of the passing cart.
The homeowner couldn’t afford to be proven wrong, so he left the beggar alone for one more day. One day turned into two, and two days became a week. Soon he got quite accustomed to having the beggar around. Sometimes he would drop extra food out the window down to the beggar; during the wet season he built a little overhang to keep the beggar dry; when frost crept up and down the streets, he installed a hearth beneath the beggar’s humble roof. The homeowner thought it was the least he could do considering he was holding his house together with his bare hands. Over time they became friendly like neighbours, and after years they shared meals together like friends—the beggar never leaving his post.
The Philosopher’s Birthday
It was a philosopher’s birthday. Her friends and family gathered round to celebrate, and a lovely cake, baked especially for the occasion, was brought out and put before the philosopher. After the candles were blown out, it came time to cut the cake. As is custom, the birthday girl wielded the knife. First she cut it into two pieces, then the two became four, the four became eight, and so on until the slices were as thin as the knife itself. She looked upon the fruits of her precision with great satisfaction. Revelling, she announced, “Each slice represents the essence of the entire cake; they can be reduced no further and so they are in their purest, most optimal form…now who wants a slice?” No one responded. A stomach was heard growling as her friends and family sauntered off, leaving both the mushed cake and the philosopher behind.
The Prudish Cherry Tree
There were two cherry trees in the garden. One was rather prudish and scolded the critters who played amongst its branches. “Off! Off! Get off!” it would cry. A monkey, at which one particular scolding was directed, just shrugged and continued its merrymaking in the other tree. As time went on, and spring nestled into the bosom of summer, no critter went near the prudish cherry tree, save for the bees.
Now the other cherry tree didn’t mind visitors at all. Even if the visiting got so raucous that a few of its delicate branches broke and fell to the ground. It thought, if branches weren’t for swinging on, and trunks not for climbing, and twigs not for snapping, then why did a cherry tree like me ever grow in a garden like this?
Meanwhile the branches of the prudish tree grew long, spindly, and delicate; princely fingernails ripe for the breaking. These ornate little branches produced tiny bitter cherries. The other tree, pruned by commotion and riotousness, produced big, juicy cherries by the hundreds.
That was the summer that the gardener found no more use in keeping two cherry trees and chopped the prudish one down.
The Spirit’s Luggage
Before we’re born, we carry our accumulative pasts on our backs like a tortoise’s shell or a traveller’s knapsack. We don’t check our luggage before we enter the womb. Nine centuries are spent looking through its contents. We examine each item, souvenirs of oblivion and its opposite. There are many to reflect upon, it’s a wonder we’re able to carry them all. When the nine years have passed, we pack everything up and head for the shores of light. To our dismay the opening is too small for both our bodies, which have grown and grown over the nine months, and our things. With broken hearts we leave our bag of souvenirs behind. Perhaps there’ll be a baggage carousel somewhere, circling expectantly, where our souvenirs are waiting for us. Maybe we’ll have one or two to add.
The Unbalanced Gift
There was a time (or perhaps there still is) when gifts were given with precision; in their value, beauty, and form they amounted to exactly what was appropriate. They corresponded quite rigorously to gifts received in previous years, including inflation. All to say, what was owed was paid, and nothing more or less. But one day an old woman, upon receiving a wonderfully appropriate gift from a visiting friend, gave him this prized procession in return: the north star. The friend was astounded, and only accepted the gift after much hounding and drinking. The next day he didn’t know what to do. He was haunted by the gift, and couldn’t bear looking upon it. To think, all he brought was a sack of potatoes, and his friend had not only lodged him, but had also given him this heirloom.
From then on, all his time was spent in pursuit of a most appropriate gift in return, but he could not find anything that would fit the bill; all were either too worthless or too worthy. A great length of time elapsed when, in desperation, wild-eyed and panting, he dropped in on his friend and brought with him a gift, the moon.
The old woman could hardly believe her eyes, but she accepted the gift, inappropriate as it was, with grace. As a parting gift, she gave the moon-giver the sun. This gift-giving never became appropriate nor balanced again. The gifts became more grand, intricate, and perfect; down to the grandest grain of sand and the most exalted droplet of water. The two still give gifts to this day, of which you and I might be two examples.
The Traveller’s Walking Stick
A traveller was on pilgrimage, crossing mountains, visiting sites with reverence, and pushing her endurance to almost holy heights. But one particular mountain seemed cloaked in winter, and the path was treacherously icy. After falling again and again, she decided it was time to stop and fashion herself a walking stick. She found a straight maple sapling, hacked it down, and sharpened one end into a point. With such a tool, she was able to make much headway over the ice. Eventually she reached a clearing, which she presumed to be the valley of the winter mountain. Here the ice gave way to winter-bested grasslands. Without trees shading the valley floor, the sun made short work of all the ice. The traveller, crossing the valley swiftly and easily, threw away her walking stick as it had merely become a burden to her—a hinderance to her free and careless gait. Just like that, what she could not do without one moment, became undeniably redundant the next. A good reader would presume that, now having forsake her walking stick, the traveller’s path became icy once again, and without a sapling in sight, she would pine after her old walking stick which she had thoughtlessly tossed away. But not so, dear reader.
There once was a wall in a desert. The surface was neither metal nor stone, and its size and construction was unlike anything I, or indeed you, have ever seen before. The wall seemed to span the entire desert and reach as high as the stars. There was a humble village that sprawled out from its base—little huts, fire circles and the like. The villagers themselves had no idea how or why they came to find themselves in the village, and felt utterly lost. Nightly debates raged by firelight: “Some evil demon brought us here, we were meant to be on the other side of the wall!” one elder would argue. Yet another: “That can’t be true, we were meant to suffer here because of our sins committed on the inside of the wall!”. Fatigue would eventually set in and engulf heated words in silence and darkness, just as the desert night slowly drowned the fire. By daylight the villagers took turns bashing the wall with rocks. This activity was considered both a duty and an honour. Once a villager came of age, they were given a rock. Each rock was specifically chosen for its robustness, and had to be gathered at a quarry three days walk from the village. Part of the ritual was the quest to find the rock, with the help of a village elder. Now one poor sap didn’t want to go on a three day hike through the desert just to find some stupid rock. Needless to say, none of the villagers liked our poor sap very much. He went along anyhow and grabbed the first rock he found. Three days later, once he got back to the wall, he was expected to begin his inaugural day of bashing. He tried to play along for a little while, but eventually his body followed his will, and he just sat down on his rock beside the wall and relaxed. The villagers were horrified. He watched as his peers ardently continued their bashing. One of them eventually asked the poor sap, “Why don’t you bash with us? Don’t you want to break through this wall so we can finally live with peace of mind?”. The poor sap shrugged uncomfortably and replied: “Look, we’ve been bashing this wall for generations now, and we haven’t made a dent. What gives you the idea that you’ll make any progress?”. Quite a few of the bashers had been listening, and chimed in, “I’m stronger than any basher before me,” “I have the right technique,” “I’m looking for a weak spot,” “It’s a numbers game: if we get enough bashers we’ll finally get through”. It didn’t matter what they said, the only thing that interested our poor sap about the wall was its use as a backrest. And so, instead of bashing, he’d find his shady spot each day and watch the day drift by, scored by the rhythm of the stones bashing against the great wall.
There were two brothers. They lived in the country and enjoyed the company of lakes, hills, and rivers. But the brothers were always in competition with each other. Every stone became a throwing contest, and each stream an obstacle to be leapt over. One day the older brother spotted a bird. As soon as he pointed it out, the competition was wordlessly established. The younger brother, smaller and daintier, was eager to best his brother in a game that didn’t come down to physical prowess. So he set off, running and leaping around the valley looking for more birds.
The older brother spied the remnants of an old fence, and sat down in the tall grass nearby. One after another, birds perched upon the fence. The brother stayed as still and rooted as an old stump. In mere minutes he had seen a dozen birds. Meantime, after finishing his rampage through the valley, with only fleeting glimpses of birds of a couple birds to boot, the younger brother rejoined the older.