I have been grouchy today: and all because I cannot be perfect.
Again and again, during the day, compromise was necessary. There was not enough time to be perfect, the way I might have been had I no children and no family to preoccupy me. I know the theory behind this: I am lucky to have my life and my family, and sacrificing the ability to be artistically excellent is a small price to pay.
Yet still it smarts.
And this evening I stumbled upon a beautiful rejoinder which gently admonished me without ill-feeling.
And so, I am sharing it with you.
Our story today is set in the wild wastes of the Ural Mountains: one of the most ancient mountain ranges in the world which runs from North to South across Western Russia. A vast band of stone, it has both a polar region and a southern region, coniferous forests and deciduous, underground streams and rivers which freeze for large parts of the year.
It has great black mountains, vast crags of snow capped rock, and deep lakes.
And precious stones.
It was here, in the city of Sysert, that revolutionary and writer Pavel Bazhov collected tales from the miners of the Ural mountains, and put them into a book called The Malachite Casket.
And this is one of the tales.
Once upon a time there was an artist-daydreamer named Danila. No-one thought he would amount to much but he had the luck to be apprenticed to a prominent stone mason called Prokopych.
Danila began to show unusual promise. Unlike most masons thereabouts, who had a man-made idea and imposed it on the stone, he seemed to be able to see what lay within the stone and bring it to life. He had an eye for everything that was breathtakingly beautiful.
The business thrived under the mason and his talented apprentice, and life was good.
Yet, Danila still cursed the imperfection of his work. Even his most intuitive efforts to realise the stone’s spirit seemed to him clumsy and lacking in perception. He longed for an extra sight which would let the shapes step out of the stone towards him.
One day, he heard about The Stone Flower.
The Stone Flower was somewhere within Copper Mountain, under the dominion of a sprite known as its Mistress. She alone engendered perfection in the craftsmen who pledged alleigance to her, and set eyes on the Flower. No other craftsman could hope to come close.
Poor Danila: he became obsessed. He would never have perfection, he knew, until he had seen the Stone Flower. His boss told him to marry a pretty woman and forget. He followed Prokopych’s advice, and Katya was all a man could wish for, a second self.
But on the eve of his wedding he could not help himself. He went looking for the Mistress of Copper Mountain. The rocks, so often working partners and friends, had no answers today, and Danila sank down onto one and cried. “Oh, I wish I could see the Flower!” he wept.
And he looked up to see the Mistress. She told him he could see the Flower: but he must leave all his loved ones and never set eyes on them again. He accepted immediately, with no thought for Katya: “There is no life for me without it!” he exclaimed.
He came home that night in a strange mood: and on the morning of their wedding, he vanished without a trace.
Three years passed, and they were monochrome for Katya. Prokopych and her parents died, and she eked a small living carving little pieces of stone and setting them into brooches.
One day she went wondering and came to the same place Danila had wept, years before. She came face to face with the Mistress herself.
“What do you want?” asked the Mistress.
“My Danila back,” Katya replied.
And so the Mistress summoned Danila. She warned him that if he returned to those he loved, he would forget the perfection he had learned, there on Copper Mountain.
Danila sighed a heavy sigh. “I think about Katya every minute of every day,” he said. “I can bear it no longer.” and he walked to Katya’s side.
They walked away, hand in hand, and never looked back at Copper Mountain.
But when Danila began to turn stone in the little workshop which was the hub of the couple’s business, he found his skills were unblemished. He had put his second self first, and been accorded the ability to create perfection in partnership with her.
And that is where we leave them, carving stone together in the distant mountains of a slightly enchanted mountain range.
I would like to learn secondhand what Danila took three harsh lonely years to learn: that perfection is hollow without those we love.