Hunger (Part 1)

(Preface)

What is hunger? Recently, this word has enthralled me because of its different meanings. Webster’s defines it as: 1) “a craving or urgent need for a specific food or nutrient,” and 2) “a strong desire, craving.” Craving, urgent, strong: the words themselves gnaw you.

Craving implies insatiability. My main character’s (Fineena) defining trait is her insatiability, her unceasing drive for existence. She lives in a period characterized by this hunger, both literally and figuratively. The Potato Famine of 1845-50 wiped out at least one million Irish, and 1840s Ireland was marked by a coursing hunger for justice—Repeal, O’Connell, Davis and the Nation, the Young Irelanders. Fineena erupts into this world like Vesuvius in all its glory. Her essence ravishes existence.

In this blog, my goal is to portray this enticing period, and my characters and plot, in snippets. Much like my soul-searching revelation earlier this summer, I began this by exploring my novel’s essentiality. Hunger emerged as the cohesive concept. The past several days, I’ve peeled hunger like an onion, my eyes and soul watering from its pungent potential: thus, my upcoming series of blog posts on what is hunger?

(I)

Two days ago, I explored hunger’s physical side. If I’m writing about a famine, I thought, I need to savor hunger to glean its essence. I turned a bad situation (my mom forbidding me from taking dinner to work: long story) into a useful one. I explored my pangs, my frustrations, in this journal entry:

“I’m at work today, and all I’ve eaten is a peanut butter sandwich. I was going to raid the vending machine or grab a cereal bar from the car, but then I thought, This is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for. I’ve been putting off consciously authenticating a hunger experience. I’m writing a book during a famine—how the hell can I wax poetic about something so striking, so vital as hunger, if I don’t take the time to really feel it?

I always have the comfort of food within reach. This past year, I’ve especially grown accustomed to having prepared meals and raiding the fridge late at night. I’m fat on comfort, satiated with my own privilege. These couple hours alone that I’ve consciously been without food, I’ve already become more aware of my visceral needs, as well as acutely remembering the others’ existential plights. My body has wallowed while my mind has electrified. But, when my body sinks, my mind does, too. I find myself oozing into a lethargic essence, vaporously moving from one day to the next. Hence, the TV marathons for some sort of push, challenge, excitement.

So, right now, and for the rest of the evening, I’m not eating. I’m focusing on my hunger, really feeling it, analyzing it, trying to place myself in the Famine.

So far, I’ve been going through stages. When I first made the decision not to eat, I immediately felt my stomach grumble. Hunger is definitely a conscious thing. If your mind’s not on it, your pain (at first) isn’t as acute. But then, a rumble, an intestinal protest, and your mind must focus on the pangs, make more of them than they deserve. Hunger consumes your thoughts, consciousness. I can only imagine how tiring, how pressing and hurting it would be to exist like that everyday, with nothing to think about but rotting potatoes and the impossibility of your next meal. To think consciously about your welfare beyond that must have required a herculanean effort.

My stomach is still growling obsessively (it’s about 5:30 PM now). It makes so much of a difference when you’re consciously thinking about it. I feel like every fiber inside of me is screaming to GO GET FOOD, and the only thing limiting me is my own self-imposed restriction. I can go downstairs to the vending machine, go out and get any type of food I want. But those in a famine—they’re helpless. They have no options, except to steal, sell themselves or their possessions, manipulate, hurt. Their only blaring thought is survive, food, I must survive, and they can’t do anything about it. Good God—the frustration, the hopelessness.

I have gum and water. But to have nothing, absolutely nothing?

I keep going through little, circuitous phases. Go, get food; no, don’t, you can hold out; no, really, GET it, you’ll starve—but I’ve just eaten five hours ago—exactly, but for over twelve hours more? It hurts. I. WANT. FOOD.

It’s strange. My mouth, my cheekbones feel tighter, and I’m more conscious of the contours of my face and body. I’m also much more aware of my physicality—my muscles, my pulsing heart, my abilities to walk and speak and chew.

My emotions are also manipulated. Normally, when I talk with people, I’m obliging, smiling, aware. But, just a few minutes ago, I was talking with a friend, and I felt snippy, because all I could think about was food and my “inability” to eat. Hunger messes with your ability to function as a fully satiated being.

I’ve noticed I don’t think about it as much if I’m moving, even if it’s as minute as writing these thoughts. If I’m sitting down, doing nothing or something that involves low intellectual involvement, my mind wanders from my task, and all I can think about are my stomach pains.

It’s 6:12 PM. I caved and went downstairs and bought some Poptarts. I’m not eating them yet, because I want to feel what it’s like to want food so badly when it’s in front of you and you know you have to restrain yourself. Fineena would be angry, so angry about her helplessness that she wouldn’t’ care about the consequences. She’d respond to her body’s natural urges and go with what her gut (literally) is telling her to do: Eat. Satisfy. Live. This is both a pro and a con in the book.

God, when you think about hunger it’s consuming. Fineena puts off thinking about it so pungently by recalling the stories of Irish heroes and repeating them over and over to herself and others. The stories become her food; they become the only sustenance she can glean from death. They slake her indomitable spirit, fortifying her struggle to be one of those larger-than-life greats that do something in adversity when others deem survival hopeless.

I think survival brings out the best and worst in people. Your personality is tested to its limits: how willing you are to sacrifice for others, and how willing you are to cast them aside for yourself. Who you help can be a gray area, but there are certain things that are black and white: you either eat, or you don’t. You either love, or you don’t. You either help, or you don’t. When your survival (whether emotional, physical, or mental) is at stake, things become crystal clear: you either fight, or you give up. Survivors fight; losers don’t. Survival makes everything a choice.

In a famine, your life is an all-or-nothing survival. This novel is an all-or-nothing book.”

I know one thing: my soul hungers to write. I’m in this, for all or nothing.

Conscious Choice

I love this quote: “What we call the secret of happiness is no more a secret than our willingness to choose life.” To be honest, I just googled “quotes on choice” so I could sound well-rounded, but, because I chose to search for and tell you about this Leo Buscaglia quote, I found a saying that both encompassed my inspiration for this post and made me sound smart.

Since this quote truly comprises my current feelings, I restate it: “What we call the secret of happiness is no more a secret than our willingness to choose life.”

So, what lies at the crux of happiness? Choosing it. Choosing life. When we skydive into being, we fling our arms out, tip our head back, and launch into oblivion, trusting that the potential rough landing is worth the midair exhilaration. If we focus too much on the end, we won’t glory in the moment. Me, I want to glory in the moment. I want to feel deeply—not just feel, but feel, live in italics—so my vitality becomes an entity in itself. My choice to exist without boundaries becomes an unconscious eagle’s wings. I want to span the breadth of life and screech into the night and exult in my metaphysicality.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve tried to choose this elation every day.  I have a propensity towards laziness, though; this occurs all too often, and I swoop into a vicious cycle—stay up till 8 AM, watch episode after episode of Godknowswhat on Hulu, cop out of daytime existence—where I loathe my being. Stop it, Mary! I cry. Good God, you have dreams, such dreams, and you’re wasting it. You’re wasting those moments where you could be living to the tips of your toes, and you know what you’re shortchanging them for? Law and Order: SVU. Rock of Love. Good God.

You are more than this. You are more than this.

I woke up this morning acutely aware of my conscious suspension of reality. I have reaffirmed, embraced, rejected myself, but it’s only been passive. I need to act, to do, to be a choice instead of a mangled marionette. My existence is a validated selection.

A sampling: I choose to make this novel a priority. I choose to claw through this vast research like a falcon. I choose to record my search for Great Love more faithfully. I choose to fully prepare for Ireland.  I choose to let my unconscious take the lead. I choose to be and to love without reserve.

I choose to be me.

Embrace

So, it’s been awhile (three months much?) since I posted last. Let’s not mince words: I slacked off with my writing (albeit, I had school), but that’s no excuse for not chasing my dreams.

Thank GOD it’s summer. The moment I finished that last take-home exam, I tasted, imbibed my freedom. I could write again, not always worrying about the next paper, the next all-nighter. My world, my creativity could flourish.

I promptly sat down and watched Law and Order: SVU for five days straight.

I had another one of those relaxation “binges” this past weekend. My family went to Wisconsin on a religious pilgrimage, so I had the entire house to myself. After some Friday night hookah with high school friends, I got home around midnight and didn’t leave again until Monday morning. I ensconced myself in our worn, navy recliner with my laptop and “A Passion Denied” by Julie Lessman (shameless plug: her books are amazing and heartfelt). I read her book in one sitting and gorged myself on Rice Krispies and apples. It was marvelous. And, then–the pull, the mesmerizing, tech-lime Hulu. [cue Phantom of the Opera music…] I watched the entire latest season of Project Runway in a day and a half.

Was there a point? No. Was it inspiring? Surprisingly, yes. It was great to see heightened mainstream creativity and immerse myself in another artist’s visceral process, but I enshrouded myself in someone else’s muse instead of cultivating my own. I remember walking in the door Friday night and being so excited to wake up Saturday with the sole purpose of drinking endless cups of coffee and creating till I burst. Instead, I woke up today with a metaphysical hangover, and I hated it.

Fast forward to this afternoon. I’m working full-time at my university library this summer to earn money for studying abroad, so noonish found me outside oozing up the sun, with a lukewarm salad, Gala apple, and my looseleaf flapping in the wind, just begging to be covered in ink. I spewed my frustration with myself onto the page—God, why do I keep losing myself in laziness, promising myself that this is the day, this is when I’m going to apply bum glue and embed my soul onto that crisp paper. I stall, I conceive excuses, and nothing emerges.

But then the breeze caressed my hair and whispered indistinguishable intonations. My soul half-turned, closed her eyes, tipped her head back, and just…was. She embraced the calm, made me let everything, everything seep into being, the unbearable lightness and the poignant weight, whole, hypostatic. She held out her arms, a Mother Nature fertilizing my consciousness, made me embrace my glorious complete. I always claim to live without regrets, but today, in that thirty minute lunch break, I embraced myself like a long-lost sister. I welcome my imperfect, raw beauty. I welcome my binges. I don’t condone them or want them, but if (and when) they do happen, I feather them over with my lightness and beauty and love and hope, and nothing, nothing can prevent their fusion into a more heightened glory.

I wish for the cloths of heaven

I want to start out this blog with a poem that makes my soul ping:

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

 

Wow, right? He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven by W.B. Yeats encapsulates my feelings toward novel writing. I’m taking that soul-wrenching leap and actually pouring out a story of many hungers–love, starvation, passion, power, justice, truth, hope. I want my readers to devour this story, to love Fineena, Peter, Patrick, all of them, with the same intensity I do. I have the paradoxical urge to charge at my story, pen scribbling furiously away, and yet tread softly, knowing my readers are “treading on my dreams” after it is [hopefully] released to the world.

It’s such a delicate thing, writing. I see my story as a caterpillar right now–young, plump on ideas, nibbling on leaves of literary possibility until it cocoons itself in an editorial chrysalis, suspended in draft after draft after draft until BOOM, the butterfly breaks free as a vibrant resonance, and people read it, by God, they read it.

I’ve been dreaming of this novel since I was fourteen. I decided one day I wanted to write about a foreign country, so I went to the top of my subdivision, sat on one of the curved brick pillars that flanked the asphalt entranceway, and wrote out a list of every country I could think of. I pretended to do “elimination rounds,” crossing out country after country (too boring, too far away, nah, just don’t care), but always inherently nurturing the notion that I would somehow end up with Ireland. I suspended my “decision” until I had justified to myself that every other country just wouldn’t work, that Ireland really was the only one I could write about and believe in enough to dedicate an entire book to. I circled it, over and over, embedding the ink into the page until it almost bled through to the next sheet of looseleaf. and I knew right then and there that I was in for the journey of a lifetime.

I’ve gone through various spurts of novel writing since that moment on the pillar, but it wasn’t until this past winter break that I decided to seriously focus on my book. I couldn’t tell you the exact moments Fineena and Peter, the heroes, began coagulating in my mind, but they’ve formed and stayed along my entire journey thus far, and even when I merely think about them, I feel this vibrating possibility they contain. It’s like, good God, when they come to life, they’re going to come to life.  I have half-baked scribbles about them, a few scenes here, a few scenes there, but my journey has lacked true orientation so far.  During winter break, however, something inside of me snapped; I couldn’t find any more reasons to keep holding back, keep putting the novel writing off, and I researched and thought and developed my story every day. I was on a sweeping path, not constantly glancing over my shoulder anymore with doubts, but just go go go, full speed ahead.

Life has gotten in the way several times in this current semester (taking five Russian classes, working twenty-five hours a week, planning for study abroad, dealing with corporate stress, looking for a full time job and scholarships, and attempting a smidgeon of a social life will do that to you), but what it boils down to is that this project is my great hunger. I have chosen to spread my dreams under readers’ feet and subject them to my trials, tribulations, hopes, successes, failures–every grimy detail. Call it a story soul spillage. I pledge, hear and now, to believe in this book every day, to not give up, to dream, and, most importantly, to write.

I have no doubt this book will be great–not because of my own efforts, but because it’s a story that needs to be told, one of those that my soul can’t contain anymore and I need to share with the rest of the world’s consciousness.

Tread softly, cause here I go.