|So little I need. 12"×12" (30.5×30.5cm). Oil on canvas panel. May 2013|
So little I need!A crust of bread,a drop of milk,and this sky,and these clouds!
Velemir KhlebnikovI remember vividly that day of my late childhood (I must have been about thirteen), when I decided that I had to learn to live on very little, preferably bread and water only. The idea wasn't inspired by any specific events "in real life", rather by reading and conversations, but I somehow had come to the conclusion that learning asceticism as a way of life would give me independence from the life's ups and downs and save me from the temptation of selling my mind and soul for the sake of earthly comforts, as so many have done before me.
The implementation of this idea (that is, restricting my diet to bread and water right there and then) wasn't successful at all; while I was eating my slice of bread in the kitchen (delicious bread, by the way, they don't make it like that anymore), my father managed to convince me that the point was not in doing it when it was not necessary, but to be genuinely prepared for this when the occasion arises. A stroke of parental genius, I believe: ensuring your teenager's healthy diet without undermining her higher aspirations for stoicism... And now, decades, oceans, and a couple of historical epochs later, and older than my father had ever been, I agree with him: for the explicit purpose of never selling your birthright for a bowl of lentil soup – there, I think, he was right: it's enough to be prepared, just to remember, always, how little you really need.
And yet, asceticism still feels like an alluring temptation rather than sacrifice. I have lived through some very, very lean times (not bread-and-water, exactly, but close to it on some days), and in contrast to most of my fellow travelers through these years, I rather enjoyed it. I love the overall lightness of being that comes with it, and the refreshing breeze of clarity, and that fleeting feeling of being slightly hungry when I am falling asleep.
I began writing this post just as a story for the painting, but the logic of the writing process returned me to that sunny day of my childhood, and I understood that, now, I want to return to this idea: I need and crave that ascetic life I envisioned so long ago. Not because I have to, and not as an insurance of independence, but for its own sake (and mine).