Okay, so I found this story while doing some research today for the novel I’m working on. It’s a bona fide fairy tale – read to the end for the credibility part…
There was a young man who was studying to be a writer. He wanted to become one by Easter, get married, and live by his writing. He knew it was just a question of hitting on something. But he couldn’t think of anything. He was born too late. Everything had been examined before he was born. Everything had been written about.
“Those lucky people who were born a thousand years ago!” he said. “They could become immortal! Even those born a hundred years ago were lucky. There was still something to write about then. Now there’s nothing in the world left to write about, so what can I write about?”
He mulled and stewed over it to the point that he became ill, the miserable fellow. No doctor could help him, but maybe the wise woman could. She lived in a little house by the gate that she opened up for those driving or riding on the road. But she was able to open much more than the gate. She was wiser than the doctor, who drove in his own coach and paid a tax because of his rank.
“I must go out and see her,” said the young man.
The house she lived in was small and neat, but drab to look at. There wasn’t a tree or flower. There was a beehive outside the door – very useful! There was a little potato patch – very useful! There was also a ditch with blackthorn bushes that had flowered and set berries – bitter berries that purse the lips if they’re tasted before the frost.
“It’s like an image of our prosaic times, I see here,” thought the young man, and that was a thought. A pearl he found by the wise woman’s door.
“Write it up!” she said. “Half a loaf is better than no bread. I know why you’re here. You can’t think of anything, but you want to be a writer by Easter.”
“Everything’s been written!” he said. “Our times aren’t like the old days.”
“No!” said the woman. “In the old days wise women were burned at the stake, and poets walked around with shrunken bellies and holes in their sleeves. Our times are good times – they’re the very best! But you aren’t looking at it the right way, nor have you sharpened your hearing. I’m sure you never say the Lord’s prayer in the evening, either. There are all sorts of things to write and tell about here for those who are able. You can take stories from the earth’s plants and crops, scoop them up from the running and standing water, but you have to understand, understand how to catch sunbeam! Now try on my glasses, put my hearing trumpet in your ear, pray to God, and stop thinking about yourself.”
The last part was very hard, and more than a wise woman could ask for.
He got the glasses and the ear trumpet and was positioned in the middle of the potato patch. She put a big potato in his hand. It was ringing. It rang out a song with the words – the potato’s history – interesting. An everyday story in ten parts. Ten lines would have been enough .
And what did the potato sing about?
It sang about itself and its family – the potato’s arrival in Europe, and the lack of appreciation they had experienced and suffered before they, like now, were recognized as a bigger blessing than a nugget of gold.
“We were distributed at the city hall in all cities by order of the King. Our great importance was proclaimed, but people didn’t believe it and didn’t even understand how to plant us. One man dug a hole and threw a whole half bushel of potatoes into it. Another stuck a potato into the ground here and there and waited for them to shoot up like a tree that he could shake potatoes from. And there was growth, flowers, and watery fruit, but everything withered away. No one thought that the blessing lay under the ground – the potatoes. Well, we have had our trials and sufferings, that is to say, our ancestors – they and us, it makes no difference. What stories!”
“Well, that’s enough,” said the woman. “Look at the blackthorn!”
“We also have close relatives in the potato’s homeland,” said the blackthorn bushes, “further north than they grew. Norwegians from Norway sailed west through fogs and storms to an unknown land where under the ice and snow, they found herbs and greenery and bushes with wine’s dark blue berries – sloeberries. They froze to ripe grapes, and so do we. And that country was called Vineland, Greenland, Sloethornland.”
“That’s a very romantic story,” said the young man.
“Come along,” said the wise woman and led him over to the beehive. He looked into it. What a hustle and bustle! There were bees in all the hallways beating their wings to bring a healthy breeze into the entire big factory. That was their job. From outside bees born with baskets on their legs came bringing flower pollen. It was shaken off, sorted, and made into honey and wax. They came and went. The Queen bee wanted to fly, too, but then they would all have to fly along, and it wasn’t time for that yet. But since she wanted to fly, they bit the wings from her majesty, and then she had to stay put.
“Climb up on the embankment,” said the wise woman. “Take a look at the road, and all the forks there!”
“What a swarming throng!” said the young man. “Story upon story! Humming and buzzing! It’s too much for me! I’m going back!”
“No, go straight ahead!” said the woman. “Go right into the teeming crowd. Have an eye for them, and an ear – and yes – a heart too. Then you’ll soon think of something. But before you go, I must have my glasses and ear trumpet back.” And she took both of them.
“Now I can’t see anything,” said the young man, “and I can’t hear any longer.”
“Well, then you can’t be a writer by Easter,” said the wise woman.
“But when then?” he asked.
“Neither by Easter nor Pentecost! You can’t learn imagination.”
“But what shall I do to make my living by writing?”
“Oh, you can manage that by Shrove Tuesday! Become a critic! Knock down the poets. Knock down their writings – that’s just like knocking them. Just don’t be over-awed. Hit at them without ceremony. You’ll get enough dough to support both yourself and a wife!”
“You’ve hit upon the very thing!” said the young man, and he knocked down all the poets because he couldn’t become one himself.
We heard this from the wise woman. She knows what people can think up.
(“What One Can Think Up,” written by Hans Christian Andersen in the mid 1800s!!!)