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.