Eat | Read with Kristen Iskandrian
What I’ve been eating:
The short answer is pasta. The longer answer has to do with neighbors, and being in an actual neighborhood at this point in my life. I lived on a cul-de-sac growing up and the street was devoid of viable playmates for most of my childhood. There was one boy, but he didn’t work out. Later, there were younger kids, whom I babysat. When I was eight or nine, a family moved into a house adjacent to mine, but not on my street—we got to one another’s houses by clearing a path in the woods that separated my backyard from hers. This was revelatory. We were close friends for an eternity in kid-years, until our different schools and school-friends and activities formed an isthmus between us that never eroded. There was no great falling-out, no drama. There was just time. I experienced the communal living of college and the baffling years after college, and then, during the grad school years, there was the newness of living with my boyfriend-then-husband. We lived in a college town and then in a rural town outside the college town, and then back in town, amidst retirees and student renters. Then we moved to a different state with two young kids, into my parents’ house in its gated community, and felt, for various reasons, like we’d landed on Mars. Then there was an apartment, where our upstairs neighbors let their Cerberean animal do sprints in the middle of the night that made our ceiling quake and the glassware in the cabinet clink together. Now we are here, in what I like to think of as a “real live” neighborhood, bordering on downtown Birmingham, with old trees and sidewalks and houses, and people who are our neighbors and also our friends, whose children are our children’s friends. I don’t get off on patriotism, and I, like any sentient being, feel beset by all of the problems we face as a culture, as a country, as a world—problems of empathy, problems of ignorance, problems of negligence—but this neighborhood gives me just enough of that FUCK YEAH AMERICA to make me feel like things are going to be okay, one day. Or just today. Or just this past Sunday, when we made pasta instead of watching the SuperBowl. Thank you, Elizabeth. Thank you, Chip. Thank you, Hannah. Thank you, Greg.
What I’ve been reading:
The collected stories of Angela Carter, Burning Your Boats. I’m having a thing with short stories again, after a long stint of having no thing. I find I read short stories when I’m writing short stories, and Carter’s are dizzying in their capacity to make me feel inadequate. It’s easy to see how she is—how she must be—the godmother to writers of the modern fable like Judy Budnitz and Kelly Link. [i love you momma love beatrice connell to mommy lkjhgfdsaiuytrewq–> o the sweet hazards of leaving your laptop open.] She conjures the fairy tale, the folktale, the legacies of Mary Shelley and Poe, and she keeps them around long enough to bottle up their essences, but what she cooks them into is darker, funnier, and more nuanced. She reminds us that it’s okay—necessary, even—to do something at the shrines of our heroes besides worship. Reading her after not having read her for some time, I find myself particularly in awe of her linguistic acrobatics—
And the black sky possessed no dimension of distance, nor gave none; it did not arch above us but looked as if it were pasted behind the flat outlines of the half ruinous house that now lay behind us, a shipwreck bearing a marvellous [sic] freight, the female man or virile woman clicking away at her needles in a visible silence. A visible silence, yes; for the dense fluidity of the atmosphere did not transmit sound to me as sound, but, instead, as irregular kinetic abstractions etched upon its interior, so that, once in the new wood, a sinister, mineral realm of undiminishable darkness, to listen to the blackbird was to watch a moving point inside a block of deliquescent glass.
—that somehow refuse to feel put-on. If she were on a tightrope, she would not be wobbling, nor would she be carrying two umbrellas and a flaming bowling pin. She would resolutely, slyly traverse. And how do you beat this, from the same story (“Reflections”), as a final line:
Full of self-confidence, I held out my hands to embrace my self, my antiself, my self not-self, my assassin, my death, the world’s death.
You don’t beat it, I guess. You try your best to join it.
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