It’s been a time of reclaiming older works, revisiting them, and shining them up. A couple of my early publications haven’t been read very widely, and that’s a darn shame because they’re pretty spectacular if I do say so myself!
One of those books is called A. Seeker’s Storybook. It’s a collection of stories presented by the fictional (yet oh, so real) character, Albert Seeker. As he goes through a difficult time at work, he keeps finding mythical stories, and every time he reads one of them, he thinks, Wow, that’s exactly where I am right now!
Because he likes to “doodle,” Albert draws out the scene in the story that speaks to him, and then he spends a little time reflecting on it. As he does so, a deeper part of himself awakens and he gradually realizes what he truly wants to do in the world.
I wrote all the mythic stories in the book, along with Albert Seeker’s story, and artist Richard Leach drew Albert’s pictures. When the book was first published by the Canadian Career Development Foundation back in 2000, the pictures were published in black and white, but Richard’s illustrations were done in full colour and they are magnificent.
The full colour book is now available for purchase here at lulu.com. Meanwhile, here’s a peek at one of the mythic stories that Albert finds. He’s gone back to a working as a waiter at a restaurant called Silvano’s when he encounters “The Broken Pot.” At this point, he’s been feeling like he’s not very much value to anyone….
The Broken Pot
A plain old pot, that’s me. A black lacquered, fat-bellied pottery pitcher, useful for pouring milk into cereal dishes or water into house plants. No, not very impressive. Not something you would want to put on display or use to pour a very fine wine.
In fact, you can’t find a more ordinary chap than me. I’m not even sure I am a chap. I might be a gal for all I know. I have very little personality, really.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not putting myself down. I did that once, and I’ll never do it again. On the days when I sat on a shelf in the kitchen, I used to stare out at the china cabinet in the dining room. My mistress had a marvelous collection of porcelain and crystal from all over the world. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. My eyes were always over there. At night I would dream of being a porcelain vase, of holding roses, orchids or gladiolas with everybody’s eyes on me. When I woke, I would remind myself that I had some worth too. I might not have beauty but I have a function in the household and that’s got to be worth something, surely. But my value seemed so lowly next to theirs that all my little attempts to argue myself into a feeling of self-worth didn’t amount to a hill of beans in the end.
My eyes were so often over there on the display case that one day I ended up quite beside myself and I don’t mean in a figurative way. Quite suddenly, I found myself standing OUTSIDE my own fat pitcher body. I couldn’t get back in. It was as though my body had said, “Okay, you don’t like being in here, then you stay out there.” Now I wanted back in. “Hey, let me in!” I cried, knocking at my pottery walls, but all gates were closed to me. I watched as my beautiful black glaze lost its luster and fire. Eventually, my mistress stopped noticing me. She would just grab me unconsciously, shove me under the tap with her eyes out the window, dump water on her plants, and have done with me. Things being what they are, our combined lack of care inevitably met one day. I slipped out of her hand and shattered at her feet.
It was terrible. I don’t like even thinking about it, really I don’t. There I was, outside myself, looking down at the shattered pieces that had been me. I was suddenly so confused. Where was I? Who was I? Just a bunch of shards, getting swept into a bag with fish skins and chicken bones.
I floated around, a detached pitcher soul, going from vase to vase, trying to get inside them and being refused, over and over again. Finally, one vase did let me in—an old oriental urn who stood poised on her own carved table in the corner. I had admired her more than all the other porcelain. She was the queen of vases, an old and stately grandmother. She invited me to come and stay inside her, which wasn’t an easy feat. Imagine me trying to squeeze my poor, fat pitcher spirit down through her thin, fragile neck! Well, for once I didn’t break anything, and I curled up in her warm recesses; got set for a little sleep.
“My dear, what have you done with yourself?” she asked in her husky, craquelure voice. “You’re welcome to stay of course, but you do know, I hope, that this isn’t where you belong.”
“Yes, I know,” I said. I was too tired to make up any excuses for myself; only relieved to find a place to stay. I admitted to her that I had once had a perfectly good body, but I abandoned it because it was so ugly, plain, and functional.
Did she ever laugh! She laughed so hard I thought she was going to crack, and she did just a little. New sepia lines ran down the inside of her body, which was so fragile you could see the warm, golden light coming in from outside.
“Why are you laughing?” I asked.
“Because my dear, all my life I’ve wanted a function! I never had one, though I must admit, I never thought I’d get one this way!”
“You have no function at all?”
“No, my dear. I’m purely ornamental.”
I was a bit horrified. “Why were you made then?”
Well now, that put me into quite a spin. Why would anyone go to so much trouble to make a perfectly useless vase into such an exquisite work of art? Wouldn’t their time have been better spent on something a bit more FUNCTIONAL?
“Doesn’t it bother you that you have no function? Don’t you feel kind of … worthless?”
“My dear young pitcher, I will have you know that I am the most valuable vase in this whole collection. You cannot even possibly conceive of my worth.” Her tone had acquired a sharp edge, and I realized that I had put her quite off.
I fell silent. I felt small. I felt hard. I grew angry. I wanted to shout, “How did you get to be so valuable? What did you ever do to deserve becoming such an objét d’art? I did nothing but work my whole life and nobody decorated me. I’ve got no value at all!” My poor spirit began to twitch, flinging itself this way and that inside the vase.
“Young fellow,” she said finally, “You are giving me a stomach ache. I would like to tell you to leave, but I feel sorry for you because you have no place in this world, no place at all. Not only are you without a function, but you have no place to dwell—neither in the past nor the future. Your only hope is here in the present, in me. If you are going to stay I must insist that you relax.”
With that, she turned her attention away from me. I wasn’t at all comfortable in her pear-shaped belly. It was too confining and delicate a space. Oh, how I longed to be back in my old fat pitcher shape. How wretched I was in there! She was right, though. I had no other place to go.
So I did something that is not worthy of me, I know, but I couldn’t help it. I mean, you have to do something when you’re all holed up in a place where even dying is out of the question. I got to feeling that this old lady had some nerve talking to me like that. Who did she think she was, anyway? A basically useless ornament who had no right to enjoy the attention that flowed to her from everyone. “There is no justice in this world,” I growled. “Why should a useless vase have everything, and a hardworking, functional pitcher like me have nothing? I spent my whole life working—for what?” As I ground on, I noticed that I had started to chip away at a little sepia vein running down the side of one wall. It felt good to get inside her cracks, and after a while it became an occupation to see if I could actually make a fissure wide enough to slip through. I tried one crack, then another, and then I got the idea that maybe I would go all the way around and collapse her from the inside. Haha!
The fateful day arrived when my mistress came along and reached for her precious old vase. I watched as the shadow of the dust cloth ever so gently caressed the outer surface of the ornament. She shifted it a little to the left in order to dust the table, and to her horror, the vase fell apart, just disintegrated right there and then on the display table.
Suddenly both our spirits were released. I couldn’t see the old lady when she departed, but I felt her relief. It expanded through the room and settled on everything like sparkling snow. I realized what an extraordinary effort it had been for her to hold her fragile self together all those years, and now that she was released she could finally get that bit of rest she needed before going on to the next accomplishment.
She flew off happily, I don’t know where. As for me, I was made of denser stuff. I went from place to place in the house, settling in this or that corner—an ashtray, a candy-dish, a plant pot. Needless to say, if I had any worth before, I had none now. I was nothing but spirit sludge, old jug sludge, completely undeserving of any notice whatsoever.
Then one day, from my seat in a candle holder, I noticed that the mistress of the house had taken out her paints and her canvasses. She hadn’t painted for some time, years perhaps, but she had become inspired again. She took out her oils and her palette, and began to mix the colors, and all at once I got the strangest sensation, just the strangest sensation, like I was being drawn into something more powerful than me. I spiraled around and around, carried by the force of a current. It was a happy sensation, and a welcome one—an ecstatic and painful pulling in.
When I came to my senses, I found myself looking out from a place that I couldn’t quite capture entirely. I could see my mistress scrutinizing me. She studied me from every angle and I must say I felt quite exposed. I had never been looked at that way, and I was quite in love with her when it was all over. A devoted dog of a pitcher was I! Then other people came and looked at me, and after that, I was put in the dark. Some time later, the light returned and I found myself in the hall. To my great good fortune, a mirror hung opposite me, so I could see what I had become.
There I was, back in my old fat pitcher body, captured in a painting where I had been fondly placed on a table full of pitchers—large and small pitchers, pitchers holding flowers and water and ashes, pitchers plain and decorated, ornamental and functional, with and without apparent worth … all crowded together … and in our center, shining like a light and speaking for pitchers everywhere, stood the old oriental vase—the very soul of refreshment!
“If I had any worth before, I had none now. I was nothing but spirit sludge, old jug sludge, completely undeserving of any notice whatsoever.”
Lately I’ve been fighting the feeling that I’m totally useless, just like the discarnate pitcher spirit, without value of any kind. This state of uselessness seems to be going on forever. I’m earning a living, but I don’t have a life. Like the jug, I don’t identify with my functional self, the one who goes to work every day. Being a waiter doesn’t have any worth for me. I’m neither here nor there, just lying around in an ashtray. Ha!
The story suggests that the quest will eventually lead to some larger purpose. It’s interesting that when the pitcher makes the transition to the canvas, he remains an ordinary pitcher. The only thing that’s changed is that he has been appreciated by someone with an artistic eye. I’m reminded of Tony, the owner of Silvano’s. He’s not doing anything extraordinary in running a restaurant, but the guy is passionate about what he’s doing. He sounds like a priest when he talks about Silvano’s. “When the people come here, it’s like a communion, no? We give them a little bread, a little wine, a little music … we make them happy … no?”
Back in the ashtray … I have to believe that I will eventually be drawn into some greater purpose. But so far, I don’t see any artist coming along with her paints …. So I wait. Maybe I’ll be never be anything more than a waiter. Waiting forever. I’m trying to arrive at some peace with that.