In the early sixties, when my father hauled trash, he would bring me gifts which were cast-offs from other people. One time he brought me a large carton of textbooks from the 1940s, which an elementary school had thrown away. They were primarily English and social studies texts, and in these books I discovered a wide variety of stories which my brain played like a never-ending movie projector in my head.
One of my favorites was the Japanese folk tale, “The Stonecutter.” In this story, the protagonist is a laborer who cuts rock out of the mountainside. The man doesn’t realize it, but a spirit lives inside the mountain. This spirit has the power to grant wishes. The man wishes to become a rich man so he doesn’t have to labor so hard, and he becomes one. Later, he sees that the prince has power over the rich man and wishes to become a prince. You know what happens. He becomes a prince, of course.
In his quest for something more, he hadn’t realized that even a prince has his limitations until he discovers that the sun has more power. He wishes to become the sun. As he continues his quest, he becomes a cloud and then a rock, which is the rock of the mountain. The most powerful of all.
As a rock, he suddenly feels pain and discovers that a man is chipping away at him. He wishes once again for power over his own life and becomes a man–a stonecutter cutting away at the mountain. He’s right back where he started before he wished his life away.
I’ve never forgotten this story, although sometimes I move too far from the lesson itself. The power is mine to live my own authentic life, even if I am the stonecutter, chipping away at the mountain in front of me.
Writing, though, is not always like life. As a writer, I believe that it’s possible to do more than live my own life.
Mindful of my work, by some miraculous force, I can be the stonecutter and the mountain at the same time.
Have you ever had that feeling when you were involved in the process of writing?