"I don't merely want to survive. I want to live..."~ Society's Foundlings, Ellie Lieberman
Survival vs. living is a theme commonly found in my books, including Society's Foundlings when resources and finances are limited or Solving for X when fear rules the world. It can also be found in my upcoming books, like Be (a prequel short story can be found in The Playlist Anthology).
When we first think survival, we often think Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. In a nice, geometrically organized pyramid, it lays the foundation for the necessities in life. First and foremost are the physical needs in this structure. Food, water, rest, etc. Next are the psychological, going in order of safety, social interactions, self-esteem, and the such. The idea is you can't get to the more complex psychological levels until the physical needs are met.
There is a truth to this. My grandfather always said, "Feed them first." Whenever anyone came to the door in need, the first thing he would do is offer them food, because it's easier to come up with solutions on a full stomach. Child Development shows this, too. If a child hasn't eaten breakfast before class starts, there is more difficulty learning. When one level is achieved it is easier to move up the hierarchy.
That being said, we often forget that we need all of it. If a physical need is not met due to poverty, for example, or a safe environment is not or has not been provided, whether through abuse or war or natural disaster or what have you, as human beings we crave all aspect of the pyramid, still.
There is often the idea that people who are missing one of these levels need solely that level. Kids in poverty just need food, often forgetting they are still kids. Yes, they need food for breakfast before class, but they are also kids who see their friends at school getting bags of chips and cookies with their lunches or coloring with sparkly crayons during free time. If you donate to charities or gift drives for kids in need, yes, necessities are essential (underwear, socks, toothbrushes), but also realize they need the magic of holidays and special events, too (toys, games, candy, things that allow them to be a kid despite limiting circumstance).
When a fire burned down my mother's house when she was younger, a friend of the family made shoe boxes of toiletries. It had tooth brushes, deodorant, etc, but it also had perfume and little extras that weren't necessarily a necessity. There's a reason why there are hairstylists that spend their free time offering free services to people who are homeless.
Sometimes what is needed when a lower level isn't achieved is what Maslow considered a higher level. Often times, Maslow's pyramid is the wrong shape. Like life, it cannot be so easily organized. Often times, what is needed is not survival, but living.
Recently, someone I follow on twitter observed they do not include their characters eating at all in their writing. This made me think of my own writing and made me think of my old blog, Popcorn: More Than Just A Minor Detail.
Sometimes in books, details are just details. Blue curtains could just happen to be blue and the meaning we take from these details are often what we ourselves, as readers, read into the books. But, sometimes, as authors we intend these details to carry more weight.
I can't say I always intend for food to be important to the characters and my books, but food tends to be very important to me. A lot of this is family traditions, like Prime Rib, Yorkshire Pudding, and Green Beans Amadine on Christmas Eve and Chinese Food on Christmas. Some of this could also be influenced by my Jewish background, like Latkas on Hanukkah or Matzoh on Passover. Outside of traditions and holidays, it's the slice and bake cookie dough or mom's mac and cheese.
It's no wonder then that food shows up frequently in my writing, whether it's the popcorn in Society's Foundlings, baking birthday butter biscuits in The Butter Thief, growing tomatoes in Ben's Little Tomato, imagining different uses of pumpkins in Peggy's Little Pumpkin, or drinking hot chocolate in The Memory Tree.
There's traditions, memories, and connection tied to the food in The Butter Thief, Ben's Little Tomato, Peggy's Little Pumpkin, and The Memory Tree. In Society's Foundlings, popcorn is lack of money and resources. It is a dividing line, the feeling of being an outsider, a reminder of all the goals and dreams that are still out of reach, friendship, and feelings of belonging and security depending on the character.
In an upcoming WIP, food is always a source of tension between siblings. There's frustration in lack of resources, but also frustration in what has and has not changed from the past. There is still that feeling of belonging or exclusion.
What does food mean to you? How do you use food in your own writing?
Home and belonging is a common theme in my books. Whether it's the dragon from A Dragon's Treasure in A Horde of Dragons. or it's Math from Society's Foundlings wondering why what feels like home can't be where he rests his head at night.
For the dragon, belonging is a chain around his neck until a friend tells him, "There's a difference between being someone's treasure and being treasured by someone." For Math, home transforms from a brick-stepped, light-flickering sanctuary where no one can trespass to a hand that catches you when you fall.
Home, what it is and how we define it, changes as we do. It doesn't always look the same, but there are common elements. As Billy Joel sings, "Home is just another word for you." One constant is the people. Those you've known all your life who become more than just family, and communities, no matter how big or small, who become more than just friends. These Shadows, as I like to call them, like Shadow from The Treasure of Ravenwood. Those bosom friends and kindred spirits as Anne of Green Gables called it.
For Jenna from Solving for X it was the memories within the place or the person. The plaid blanket where she and Erik watched fireworks. It was the line of photos. For Erik, it was the smell of salt water and the old basketball courts.
Sometimes home is in the traditions. Mom's coffee in the mornings. Jenna's painting. Decorating for the holidays or Friday night dinners with the grandparents.
And, home can be a place. Where love abounds and there lies a type of safety one can only find in those four walls.
Home for me is a lot of things. It is paint and pencils, notebooks and sketchpads. It is an orange, furry hug. It is a steaming cup of tea.
It is laughter and kisses goodnight by a porch light and under stars. It is a hand on my knee, fingers that tickle mercilessly, and his hat that I wear like a crown.
It is smiles and shared dreams and a hand to hold and a hug I've known since birth. It is my mom. It is a Christmas tree decorated the day after the turkey is cooked. It's dancing and singing Ten Minutes Ago from Roger and Hammerstein's Cinderella. It's Chinese Food for Christmas. It's stories I now know by heart.
It's a neighbor who I count as family. A blessing in the form of fabulousness. Another Pheonix- I am so fortunate to be surrounded by so many!
My Fairy Godmother! Filled with as much wisdom as magic. Who could touch dust and turn it to gold. Whose sparkle always makes the day brighter.
It is a goddamn masterpiece. A modge podge worth of 21 years. Home is where I rest my head at night.
I think Sally Fingerette said it best, "Home is where the heart is. No matter how the heart lives. In your heart where love is, that's where you've got to make yourself a home."
What do you consider home?
Gathering dust in the depths of my mind, random thoughts dusted off and put out there for the world to see...