One of the best bits of advice I’ve ever encountered is the idea that writers should draw inspiration from everything around them. Not just other writers, but all sorts of strange and varied places–and I couldn’t agree more. Sometimes, I read amazing things in novels that hit me hard…but just as often, if not more so, I watch a scene in a television show or listen to a lyric that does the same thing.
Today I was reading Flash Boys by Michael Lewis, which is teaching me more about the stock market than I really ever need to know, but which is also a pretty straightforward book. It’s nonfiction, so it’s not as though it overflows with lyrical prose. But there was a part that really struck me as one of those things that explains me better than I could, and finding it in a book about stock trading was a wonderful surprise.
“He had pale skin and narrow, stooped shoulders, and the uneasy caution of a man who has survived one potato famine and is expecting another.” (pg. 56.)
I’ve never read anything that so simply explains my worldview before. I consider myself a hopeful and optimistic person, but I grew up poor, hungry all the time. Even though my adult life has had some periods of safety and prosperity, it has always also swung back around to “food insecurity” and struggling to pay basic bills. So when we have money, I’m very grateful, but I’m also just waiting for things to be hard again, to wake up and wonder if we’re going to make it.
My older brother had a son who came to live with him after several unstable years with his mother. I was there one night when my nephew was rushing madly through his dinner. “You eat like there won’t be another meal,” my brother said, and I thought at the time, “Of course he does. So do I, because maybe there won’t be.” I have never outgrown the fear, and the quote above about an Irish Wall Street employee was the best comparison I’ve ever found.