Lake Tahoe, Squaw Valley, Then Yosemite

I’m headed to Lake Tahoe then Squaw Valley tomorrow. So, instead of spending my Saturday nights on the computer visiting my favorite websites, playing roulette at Party Casino, I’ll be able to really hit it in Reno. Then for some hiking in Yosemite and then a nice drive across California to San Francisco for a few days! I can’t wait!


One of my first tasks starting next week when I leave The Agonist will be to go on a Dostoevsky binge of epic proportions.

Why Dictionaries Matter: Or, How To Make David Foster Wallace Smile

I’m far from the most prolific writer, travel or otherwise, that ever scribbled nonsense in a journal. Sure, I’ve blogged a lot, but that’s not what I call composition. And in the course of writing a few stories, I’ve worked with a handful of editors. Some of them have been fantastic and others have been terrible. My favorite editor was at the San Antonio Express-News. She never worked against me; and she was the kind of editor that made me sound much smarter than I actually am, working with me to hone and tighten up my prose. (My least favorite, you ask? I’m not ready to sever my relationship with that particular publication just yet so I’ll keep it to myself. The relationship is ongoing and not very edifying—for either of us.)

One thing that has always irked me to no end about almost every single editor I’ve ever worked with is a preternatural fear of any word that isn’t on a tenth grade high school English test. I’m not solely talking about the big Latinate or Greek multi-syllabic words—although those too at times—but good old active, descriptive words that are unusual, short and a tonic against the ordinary. Why not expand people’s vocabulary with a well placed unusual word on occasion? I, for one, take to the dictionary frequently. Here’s a sample of words I’ve looked up in the last eight weeks:

carunculated: like a toad, pock-marked

ebullition: the act or process of boiling up

shinnery: low, second growth oak brush

charked: to convert into charcoal

thanatoptic: relating to the study of death

soughed: to make a rustling sound

stridulous: characterized by making a shrill sound

vulpine: of or resembling a fox

stipple: to paint by means of dots or small strokes

murrain: a plague or pestilence

sere: being dried and withered

feldspar: a group of minerals consisting of aluminum silicate crystals

asseverate: to declare earnestly or solemnly

gelid: very icy or cold

begammoned: to have been deceived. (The root, to gammon, obviously comes from backgammon and has many different and wonderful permutations.)

analepsis: recovery of strength after an illness

wending: with an object, to pursue or direct; without an object, making one’s way or ambling

puncheon: a tool or instrument for punching holes in fabric or similar materials; a wooden cask measurement; a plank road

effictio: a verbal depiction of someone’s body, often from head to toe

ensorcelled: to become bewitched

heliotrope: reddish lavender

metaphrastic: having the quality of a translated literary work

Every single one of those words are delightful and would simply be awesome if used in the right context.

We all know this and it’s a cliche (as a side note: did you know a cliche was a common phrase in French that was given it’s own wooden cut out in the printing process so the type-setter wouldn’t have to arrange the letters over and over again? See! That’s what you learn in a dictionary!), but it’s no less true for it: words are important. They are the little conveyances we utter every second of every day in an attempt to give the raw material of thought, those ineffable spinning and caroming neurons, meaning and more importantly: life. I bring all this up because it’s good to know that I find myself in excellent company in my list making of unknown words. A good portion of the words David Foster Wallace lists here I know, but a good portion I don’t and should know.

The only reason I know such words is that I take the time to a.) look them up when I do not know them and then b.) write them down in my journal, definition included and finally c.) write them down in a sentence that day all Grammar school-like.

Sure, I understand that’s a lot of effort to ask from a non-writer. But really, why  use a dictionary? For starters, you might learn something and stimulate the economy in the process of buying one. Get a big one. And highlight every word you look up. After a few years you’ll be proud of your effort. Not only will  you know a host of new words, but you’ll be able to convey your thoughts, ideas and emotions with a greater facility than you previously had.

As for me I’m simply at a point in life where I’m one-hundred percent willing to go to the mat for a well-placed word that will make a reader reach for the dictionary. There is a reason I use such words—and no, it’s not self-aggrandizement or grandiloquence—it’s precision. It’s also a damn good reason to encourage editors to stop fearing words that are uncommon. Besides, David Foster Wallace will smile down on you from heaven if you do.

WoGE #300

Ron Schott’s Kerguelen Islands were full of strange south Atlantic colors, but today we have very little color if at all. Please included the latitude and longitude of the geologic activity and a brief description of what’s happening in the photo.
WoGE #300

Please click on the flickr link for a better view.

Schott’s rule does not apply. On your mark, get set go!

If you are unable to use the comments, please email me at spkelley-at-gmail-dot-com

On Journalism, And Journamalism

NYRBAll is right in my world this morning as I sit on the patio of my favorite coffee shop reading the most recent issue of the New York Review of Books. I only recently renewed my subscription, as I was uncertain how long I was going to remain in the US upon returning home in late June of last year. But here I am, and while I do hope to travel again in the near future, it’s strange to say this, but I think I’ve found a home in Austin–or at the very least, a home base.

In my opinion it is the single finest magazine in English. Where else can you get esssays on particle physics, Dickens, a detailed deconstruction of the baleful influence of Israel on US foreign policy, a lengthy exposition on the differences between Justices John Paul Stevens and Antonin Scalia? All of which are grounded in reality, not Fox News fantasy?

The New Yorker is a fine magazine as well. But my problem with it is that it’s not nearly as comprehensive, nor, in a sense, is it as curious. Generally speaking I think the flaw with the New Yorker is it sees the world from the prism of New York City (in itself not a bad prism, just limited.) It’s gravitas comes from the City, not the world, like the New York Review of Books.

Of course, the New York Review of Books is most certainly not a propaganda mouthpiece for the neocon/Likudniks like The New Republic is–and Walter Lippman is spinning in his grave, I tell you. I was a subscriber to the New Republic for ten years. It was the first serious magazine I read in college. It was hard to let it go, but by 2003 the magazine had changed so much it wasn’t worth my time or money only to read one or two essays an issue.

I also subscribed to the New Yorker for a few years, but canceled my subscription when I realized I was only reading one or two articles a week from it. Not a good return on my money. As a general rule I read the New York Review of Books from cover to cover every two weeks. And with that I don’t need to read the newspaper and all its attendant noise, daily. I get signal from the New York Review.

And that’s the beauty of The New York Review: I read it from cover to cover and I learn something new every two weeks. Where else would one read an essay on Tennesse Williams followed by an excellent essay on the emerging food movement? Or a long essay on biology, or the glaciers, or evolution, followed by an expose or sorts on George W. Bush? You don’t get anything like the intellectual diversity in the New York Times, much less the Austin American-Statesman.

And don’t get me started on McPaper: a simple paper for simple minds if ever there was one.

More Google Searches

Here’s one from today I liked: jobs that have to do with mountains. As long as you’r enot blowing them up, and you find one, please let me know. I love me some mountains. Preferably with a beach in front of them, but hey, as I am stuck in cubicle-land, I’m not picky these days.

Alas, sometimes the searches are very strange: compare and contrast Singapore and Somalia? Really? Really? Why? One’s in Africa, the other in Asia at the southernmost tip of the Malay Peninsula. One is highly organized and prosperous, the other is desperately poor and chaotic. Not to mention a failed state. And you needed google to tell you this?

Southward Bound

My good friend and former and sometimes editor Tracy Barnett is leaving today to travel for a year. She’s an exceptional writer, covering primarily the environment. I’m sure with a full year to travel she’ll have many misadventures and exciting things to write about. She’ll be spending most of her time in Latin America, so please do give her a read, and better yet, put her blog in your RSS feed.

Tiger Woods New Family Portrait

Montezuma Diario, September 21 2009

Montezuma DreamingNew photos here.

From the travel journal:

I feel like a wimp. The waves were huge in Santa Theresa and I didn’t surf much. Then again, I am not a big fan of the feel of a cement truck’s worth of water crashing atop me. No worries.

Lots of clouds, lots of waves. Not so much sun. But there is coffee and coffee is good. I woke up to the screech of parakeets in the treetops and the whisking of a broom on the porch below me. It’s nine in the morning and already the humidity and heat are tearing sweat from my pores. And although the Ticos (Costa Ricans) are Latin Americans, they aren’t like the Mexican’s at all. I don’t know why this surprises me, but it does. Growing up in Texas I usually associate Spanish speakers with Mexicans. The Ticos are much more laid back than the Mexicans. They also don’t have much indigenous blood in them, very Spanish looking. I asked someone if there was much of an native population left here. She said, “nope. Not much at all.”

The ferry collected me in a small bay beach, a bare-bones fiberglass fishing boat that sits eight. Three young Israeli surfers and a thirty-something couple from England are headed, like me, to Montezuma. The sky cleared for the entire journey. Clouds jogging along Pacific horizons, serrated mountains a pale emerald green in the distance. It’s the rainy season and I am grateful for the sun. I did get to chase an iguana the other day!

As I rode the ferry across the Gulfo De Nicoya to Montezuma Chris Cornell’s screeches were barely audible over the crashing of the waves and the din of the motor.

“You like Costa Rica,” the ferry man asked.

“Primero tiempo acqui,” I replied. “But I like what I see so far.”

It took about an hour to cross and the jarring of the boat left my back in a very unpleasant state.

“All in a days work,” I told myself.

And then I heard Lemmy of Motorhead wailing away over the ferryman’s voice. (Yes, I listen to Motorhead, you can listen to Jimmy Buffet on your own trip!) I should have worn more sunscreen. I’m burnt to a crisp.

Mangroves and palms creep up along the beach we ferry into. Silvery clouds dart across the skies, waves crash and the fine gauzy spray gets over everything.

Everything is so green here. Greener than Mexico. Again, I don’t know why I am surprised, but I am. Perhaps it’s the mangroves lining the beach that make it so much more tropical here. And the sunsets? The quality of light–orange and crimsony, the dark silhouettes of surfers racing across the waves, the crash of surf and spray refracting iridescent blue and green?

Montezuma is a sleepy village filled with pastel-colored haciendas, sketchy locals and a nice, if small, cobbled main street. This will be my base for the next few days as I explore the tip of the Nicoya Pensinsula, the Reserva Nicolas Wessberg and possibly the Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Curu.I don’t think it’s turtle season, although I would love to see some. Never have before.


Parrots chatter like schoolgirls in a hallway recess. The dogs are chilling. I want to be a Costa Rican dog when I come back for my next life. They have it good. They’re all fed and lackadaisical. They lack even the energy to sniff each others butts.

I stop to smell a gorgeous peachy pink flower. How often do we live that particular cliche? And of course, the flower didn’t smell at all. But the hills are lined with blues and reds, whites and yellows, fiery crimson bunches hanging like grapes and spider webs span across the canopy.

The waves are coming in and the locals are out surfing. How they surf the nasty point break with a reef of wicked looking black rocks is beyond me, but they do it well.

Then I sink into a moment of nostalgia. Two years ago today I wrote, “In that golden sunlight, on an Istanbul September day I grieved once more the life I left behind.”

Sometimes I thought my new life would end up a mirage, but it hasn’t.

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