Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it.
~ David Foster Wallace
Last year I wanted a new bowl to eat soup and salads out of, and I had in my mind exactly the shape, size and colour I might’ve liked. By some crazy stroke of luck I found it, at a little Japanese grocer near the Prahran market. A beautiful green, deep but not gaping, attractive and only eight dollars. Without hesitation I picked it up and made my approach to the counter, but I stopped short: what kind of person buys only one bowl?
I went back to the shelf and picked up another. Two would make sense, I thought, for the times I entertained a singular guest, which was most times. But then two more remained on the shelf and they said to me: most people would get all four. I thought about it for a long time, standing, staring. And eventually I decided to get all four.
For the rest of the day I lugged the bowls around Chapel Street, sitting snug in my canvas tote, wrapped in newspaper. By the time I made it back to Brunswick my shoulder was tiring and as I rounded my apartment building I clipped my bag against the brick wall. I heard a little crack and my head said something very rude.
When I got inside I pulled out the bowls and found, to my surprise, only one was broken. Better than all four, I thought.
That night a bowl slipped, in a spectacular, extremely unlikely fashion, off the sink and onto the floor, smashing beyond repair. I looked at it, spread across the tiles. Two makes more sense than three, I thought.
Two nights later a third bowl fell onto the kitchen floor, again in spectacular fashion and when I was using extreme care. It also smashed everywhere. I couldn’t believe it. I picked up my keys, left my apartment and didn’t clean up the mess on the floor for the next three days later.
I was back to the singular bowl that I had initially wanted, before my head chimed in with all of society’s ideas of what’s normal and acceptable and, above all, simply the way things are done, without question.
A few months later a friend visited my apartment for the first time. He walked from room to room, looking at my things, a little perplexed, a little like something was missing. I didn’t have a microwave or a TV or a bed base and my decorating efforts were few. He said the place had a transient feel and he hadn’t even seen the boxes in the cupboard, still waiting to be unpacked. Eventually he stopped in the middle of the kitchen and turned to look at me: You don’t even have a dish rack, he said.
And perhaps that’s what I needed all along, not an extra three bowls but a dish rack. But perhaps I didn’t need an extra three bowls, a dish rack or anything else.
I still have the fourth bowl, packed away in storage, unbroken, in one piece, perfect in every way. The remaining bowl. It is a reminder of a very deliberate lesson the world gifted me. I often think about its symbolism. Because the kind of person who buys only one bowl is the kind of person who only needs one bowl. There is nothing more to it than that.