Eat | Read with Kristen Iskandrian
In this space, we’re going to tell you what we’ve been reading and what we’ve been eating, and we’re going to ask other people what they’ve been reading and eating, and we might, from time to time, include a recipe or a meditation or a grocery list. On most days, the only thing I like more than food is books, and on other days, the only thing I like more than books is food. But on all days, I ingest a lot of words and a lot of calories. We at Real Pants are eager to explore the wide and always-changing intersection where we find ourselves ever-hungry, never full.
What I’ve been eating:
This week, I binged on impatience. I ate prayers for good health and no pain. With my friends I drank wine. On a pillow next to my daughter I ate bad dreams and hurt feelings. I went hard on a can of Pringles. I gorged myself on humility but did it in front of a mirror which means it had no calories. I drank black coffee and served my children frozen waffles, like a grumpy TV mother. I ate some ambition and threw it up and then ate it again, like a cat. I put one daughter to bed and with the other daughter mixed flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder, milk, vanilla, and coconut oil in a mug, and microwaved it, and we ate it silently with two spoons, and it was she who said, immediately after, I guess this means I have to brush my teeth again. I tasted a little jealousy and it was good but not that good. One day the smaller daughter took something out of her mouth and very sweetly put it into mine, and I was too tired to reject her, and I was grateful for her sweetness. I nibbled on a lot of low-sodium quiet and then I had to eat a pound of salt. I have been thirsty more than hungry and I drink water all week long out of this yuppie-ass jar with a glass straw I bought on Amazon. Every day I re-start my internet diet and every day I cheat, not eleven M&Ms cheat but drive-thru-Taco-Bell cheat. I had chicken for dinner two nights in a row.
What I’ve been reading:
You guys ever read William Steig’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble? It was one of my favorites as a kid and these days we read it pretty regularly. Spoiler alert: Sylvester Duncan is a rock-collecting donkey, and he discovers a magic pebble that will grant whatever wish he wishes, as long as he is holding the pebble while he wishes it. Soon after finding the pebble, he is startled by a lion, and, in a panic, wishes himself turned into a rock. He remains a rock for a long time, and the description of his agony—the pebble is right next to him, on the ground—is better than what I read in a fair amount of non-picture-book fiction. We know by now that the “show don’t tell” mantra is a hackneyed and lazy cliche of the workshop, and in this book, it’s precisely the plain telling that I love. There is a wonderful lack of simile/metaphor/gussied up language, as though it is, through the bulk of the book, the rock telling the story:
Night followed day and day followed night over and over again. Sylvester on the hill woke up less and less often. When he was awake, he was only hopeless and unhappy. He felt he would be a rock forever and he tried to get used to it. He went into an endless sleep. The days grew colder. Fall came with the leaves changing color. Then the leaves fell and the grass bent to the ground.
The heartbreak here, recognizable by kids, too, is to be so close to something, but not to possess it. The heartbreak is having the moment of wish fulfillment turn against you and leave you inert, degraded, “stone-dumb.” His parents’ grief is also similarly underwritten and riotously sad. And the joy at their reunion–the parents, trying to break their sorrowful stupor over their son’s disappearance, picnicking atop Sylvester-the-rock, Mr. Duncan having spotted the pebble and set it on the rock as a sort of totem, and Sylvester, alert to his parents’ voices, “the warmth of his own mother sitting on him,” wishing himself himself again, and being granted, finally, the only wish we ever really want, to be real and alive and ourselves and loved—is so right, surprising even as it is inevitable, that each time, even after so many readings, I rejoice a little with the Duncan family.