A Cup of Water

Events early in my childhood left me with certain personality traits regarding food insecurity. I think of those traits as scars. Talking about them is intensely emotional, the memories bringing tears to my eyes.

So many memories. I’ll describe one. I remember being very hungry, sitting at the kitchen table, and being given a bowl of broken pieces of stale bread with a small amount of Karo Syrup poured over them. The bread was hard, but the syrup softened it. I vividly remember picking up the bread pieces with a fork and enjoying them greatly. I enjoyed it so much, as an adult I tried to recreate the meal. It’s not as good if you’re not famished.

I learned not to waste food. I learned to worry about not having food. I learned to take advantage of every opportunity I had to access food because I never knew when food would again be available. I learned that starving people do not waste food. I learned that starving people dig in the dirt for every last spilled grain of rice.

Where I live, the September 2016 report on food insecurity indicated 42 million people in my country were living in food insecure households with 13 million of those being children. With the political climate as it is now, I don’t know if that report will be produced again because it’s the kind of information the current administration does not want known. And when those same politicians talk about letting children go hungry because it ennobles them and makes them work harder, I become incensed.

These experiences inform my writing. All of my stories are touched. In one story about surviving the end of civilization the plot is driven by food acquisition. It’s a part of me I can’t escape.

Brandon Sanderson, in his September 16, 2017, blog post, “Robert Jordan Tenth Year Commemoration,” refers to Robert Jordan as the mentor he never met and how Jordan taught him how to describe a cup of water: “…a cup of water can be a cultural dividing line — the difference between someone who grew up between two rivers, and someone who’d never seen a river before a few weeks ago. A cup of water can be an offhand show of wealth, in the shape of an ornamented cup. It can be a mark of traveling hard, with nothing better to drink. It can be a symbol of better times, when you had something clean and pure. A cup of water isn’t just a cup of water, it’s a means of expressing character.”

This touched me deeply and expanded my horizons. The lesson about a cup of water applies to food insecurity. The difference between someone who grew up often being hungry and someone who never missed a plentiful meal can be significant: I see the difference between my son, who I never let go hungry while growing up, and me. Attitudes toward food are a means of expressing and exploring characters.

But it goes beyond a cup of water and a meal. It applies to everything in life. The haves versus the have-nots. Variations on life experiences and expectations. Different interests, wants, and needs. I passively apply these things to my characters now, but the lesson is to actively include these character defining moments.

I am applying this lesson to my writing, expanding how I deepen characters to give them their personalities. Thanks to Sanderson’s blog post and the lesson Jordan taught him, I have grown.

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