The Importance Of Seeing Myself In My Writing, Or, Doing Battle With An Overzealous Editor

A few weeks ago I queried the editor of an environmental journal with the idea of writing up a review of “The Descendants.” I felt that an important and intriguing part of the film’s message was being ignored: its environmental imperative. I wanted to write an ecocritical review, something about how the film uses human drama to bring attention to the importance of conservation, as opposed to showcasing human drama merely for its own sake. The idea was well suited for the journal and its mission.

The editor said yes, and I was thrilled. It was the first thing I’d written since I had my surgery, and it felt fantastic to be writing again. Not only that, I was guaranteed to have it published. And finally, it was a journal I’d wanted to get published in for awhile – I thought it’d be a nice stepping stone for getting published in bigger nature journals.

I saw the movie again, took notes in the theatre, wrote up the piece the same afternoon, and sent it to the editor, who through correspondence was very nice to me. And then, something totally unexpected.

The editor sent the tiny little essay of 640 words back to me with “mostly minor changes.” I opened up the file with the disposition to accept whatever adjustments had been made without question. What I found was a more mangled, hideous, and distorted version of my writing than I would have ever been comfortable publishing, complete with an entire column of red commentary on the right side of the page with the most asininely workshoppy comments imaginable, such as “needs verb variety here” in reference to when I used a ‘to be’ verb in a place where only a ‘to be’ was appropriate.

I was shellshocked. Every little bit of my own personality had been smothered and suffocated. Every edit except two had made the writing worse, changed the meaning to something I didn’t mean at all, or was simply wrong. For instance, I’d referenced that “The Descendants” the movie was based off a novel by the same title, The Descendants. A novel must be italicized, a movie is in quotes, but the editor had changed it so both were in quotes, which is wrong.

What pissed me off the most was that this editor deleted my last line, which was a reference to something that Clooney’s character had said during the movie and I’d quoted in the essay. I thought it resonated. Now my ending was totally blah, and good endings are something I take pride in.

I’d worked with a different editor before who would routinely make a few corrections to my writing that mostly just made it a little worse, but because they were always so few it didn’t bother me. I was happy to concede, especially in order to get my work published. I wrote a bunch of articles for that editor’s site, and for free.

This time I was also working for free. I’m more than eager to begin receiving compensation for my writing – I consider it a milestone, and a sign of respect – but I’ve published a lot of work for free because I want to build up my credentials and get experience. Most of all, I just want people to be reading my writing. I worry all the time that if I don’t start refusing to write without compensation – even if only a token amount – then the fantasy that editors will eventually start offering to pay will remain exactly that.

This time, the editor hadn’t even shown me a semblance of respect by allowing my words to actually be my own. If you’re paying me, fine, fidget with my words, but if not, let me have my voice at least.

After a sanity restoring consultation with my girlfriend, whose opinion I immensely respect because she’s, first, very smart, and second, happens to be a (get ready for it) editor, I decided what I would do. I would accept only the changes where I could still see myself in my writing, which was less than half. I sent it back to the editor with those changes. The whole exchange felt so absurdly passive-aggressive that even if it had ended right there I would’ve been uncomfortable. But it didn’t end like that. The editor took my changes, threw a bunch of garbage back in, and then published it.

For some, maybe the essay looks perfectly decent. But when I can’t even see myself in my writing, when I’m writing for free and my words can’t even be my own, then I don’t see the point anymore.

The experience was a major reason why I decided to create my own blog. If I’m going to write for free, it’ll be for my own website, and I’ll be in control. I don’t want to be doing others the favor of providing free content and drawing visits to their website, even if only a trickle, and be disrespected in return.

But in the end, I’m happy how it all went down. My site looks better than theirs.

A Real Travel Writer Is A Bigger Badass Than You

So far so good with the website. It’s a nice platform for my ideas and has been drawing in a humble but steady trickle of traffic. But I’m still working hard to get published in the major travel writing websites, and one of the things I’ve been checking out are the personal websites of some of their contributing writers. What I’ve found has been interesting.

In her “About Me” section, one travel writer boasts about illegally entering a country, being detained by the police, and getting kicked out of a famous landmark. Another boldly proclaims his mission to visit every country on the planet (possibly the most original idea I’ve ever heard), and is also immensely proud that he owns only a few things. A third is for some reason very eager to describe how readily he sunburns.

Is this impressive? If you try to get arrested, you can do it. It won’t be hard. What is difficult or cool about that? I am also still unclear on the literary merits of sunburning easily.

So I thought to myself: how can I leapfrog these people? There is of course only one answer. These travel writers are all such badasses, the only way is for me to out badass them. Hence, I have fashioned a new and improved mini-bio for myself, one that ranks me up there with the best of them. Enjoy:

Frank Izaguirre has been to more countries than any other travel writer ever, including all nine continents. He’s been arrested seven and a half times, abducted twice, auctioned off once, and there was this other time when he illegally crossed the border to go take a whiz real quick, which is also something definitely worth writing about. He has contracted five diseases while traveling, two of them venereal, and keeps all his worldly possessions in a fanny pack.

OK, looks good. Am I famous yet?

More Annoyance at the Hands of Eco-illiteracy

Yesterday I went to Fairchild, a botanical garden in Miami. This weekend they had an orchid festival which my parents planned on going to, and they invited me to join them. It was good for me to go get some sunshine, and I happen to be in one of the few places drenched in it while the rest of the country has spent months trying to remember what it’s like. The three of us walked around the grounds for awhile, but eventually I veered off, since I’m not much of an orchid enthusiast anyway.

I sat on a table by one of the garden’s small lagoons. A mother with her daughter, who was probably around 12, came and sat at the next one.

“Ooooohhh, Erica, look at the anhinga!”

There was a double-crested cormorant sunning itself across the lagoon.

“That’s an anhinga, Erica.”

Erica stared at the bird, possibly memorizing the features of double-crested cormorants so she can one day tell her own daughter they’re anhingas.

Then the dad showed up. He sat next to his wife. Erica walked up to the edge of the lagoon. I watched from behind the shield of my dark glasses.

“Oh my God, Mommy! There’s a turtle here!”

Dad got up to have a look.

In a surprisingly nasal voice for an older man, he said, “Oh, Erica, that’s an alligator snapping turtle.”

It was a Florida softshell turtle. There are many of them in Fairchild. They look absolutely nothing like alligator snapping turtles, which to my understanding remain completely hidden at the bottom of muddy waterbodies anyway. The softshell swam over to the edge of the lagoon, just a few feet away from Erica. She studied its features, memorizing them so she could one day pass on the information. Dad continued dropping the knowledge bomb.

“Erica, the alligator snapping turtle is the only turtle, eh, eh, that can, eh, you know, snap its mouth.”

Erica nodded as her father spoke to her.

“They are super, super dangerous.”

It almost seemed like he didn’t actually believe it was an alligator snapping turtle, because why else would he let his daughter stand right next to an animal that was so super, super dangerous? Softshells are completely harmless. Somewhere deep down inside, he must somehow know how much of an idiot he is.

I am of course also ignorant of what many, many animals are, including in my native South Florida. But when I claim to know the identity of an animal – bird, turtle, or anything else – I make sure I’m one hundred percent positive. If I’m not sure, then I say, “I think it’s a such and such. We’ll have to look it up later.”

If we believe ecoliteracy is important, as I assume even these folks do, since they were trying to teach their daughter the names of different animals, we have to treat it like it’s important and not claim to know something unless we are completely sure. There’s no shame in saying you think an animal is something, but are not absolutely positive. Checking the guidebook back home or in the field is gratifying in its own way, not to mention a nice bonding experience between parent and child.

Of course, if I was a true champion of ecoliteracy, I would’ve spoken up.

“Erica, don’t listen to your parents. That’s a cormorant and that’s a softshell. Seems mom and dad are wrong about everything.”

Maybe that would’ve gotten her ready to be a teenager.

So I’ve Decided I’m A Huge LeBron Fan

Sports? On a travel writing blog? Yes, because half the reason I started a blog was so I could rant about whatever topic has most recently moved my spirit. Besides, just wait for the end of the post, when I sneakingly (absurdly?) link my LeBron James opinion back to travel writing. Don’t skip ahead and spoil the surprise.

First, I need to disclose I’m from Miami, but since James joined the Heat, which I should also disclose have always been my favorite sports team (I grew up in the glory days of Alonzo and Timmy Hardaway), I’ve been reluctant to get behind him. Of course I was excited when he came to Miami, but I cringed at how he did it. When they fell apart in the finals last year, I was sad, but somehow a little relieved. Losing a championship meant they burned off their bad karma, and they didn’t deserve to win anyway based on how they played in the most important games of their lives.

This season I’ve been watching much more of their games. They’ve had a little time to come together as a team, and I love the additions they made, especially Shane Battier. Pretty much everyone’s playing great.

Somehow though, I’ve still been a little reluctant with James. Obviously, he’s an absolute joy to watch, and my Dad and I have had tons of fun together catching practically all the games this season. Despite that, I can’t help wonder if he’ll leave Miami the same way he left Cleveland. And as much as it seems he’s matured, why does he still say absurd things about possibly returning to Cleveland (even if he were secretly planning that), among other things? Can’t he see how badly he damages his recovering image and how much needless distress he causes people when he talks like that? Can’t he be just a little more careful with what he says?

But I see James differently now, and it’s largely because of the insight of an old high school friend of mine I recently met with for lunch. He told me how he considers ESPN the worst journalistic institution in the US because they essentially make and then report on their own stories. Example #1 is of course “The Decision,” which was something they totally set up, and then mercilessly used as an opportunity to trash him.

And by trashing him, they were also cashing in on him. Ratings soared. Everyone profitted from his missteps. It’s in every sports journalist’s best interest for LeBron to continue saying outrageous things and then not winning a title. They have more to comment on, more opportunity to make money for themselves by bad-mouthing him. The closer he comes without sealing it, the better.

Frankly, the whole thing kind of disgusts me. It disgusts me much more, in fact, than the naive arrogance of a young man who became very famous very quickly. Those people owe so much of their livelihoods to James. If sports journalism were the world, James would be Atlas.

So, in my view, by being the overdog, the absolute best player in the world today, and possibly ever, James has become in at least some sense the underdog. Nearly everyone wants him to fail, and to keep failing. Realizing that has made me respect him more. I want him to overcome and quiet the critics, who were all too quick to turn on him when it suited them. So when I begin my travels again, I look forward to proclaiming myself a huge LeBron fan.

Besides, a big part of the success of many of the most popular travel writers is having unpopular opinions. Just think of VS Naipaul and the absurd things he said last year about female writers.

So I’m definitely a huge LeBron fan. We’ll start with that.

About That Title

Welcome to my website, Curious Traveler, which I hope will be just as run-of-the-mill and forgettable as every other homepage designed by a travel writer who thinks he can somehow carve out a niche for himself in an absurdly bloated market. The idea behind Curious Traveler is that travel writers must be curious; that the world is interesting and therefore worth exploring must be a core belief. But almost by definition travel writers end up being just plain curious, by which I mean weird. That’s part of their glory.

I’ve got five basic categories:

“Diatribes” is my rants and raves section, a cocktail of intellectual inquiry, humor, and pretension.

“Mental Mastications” is for ruminations, meditations, contemplations, and stuff like that. The thing is I wanted to use a less commonly seen -tion word, hence mastications. I also like the image it gives me: a travel writer crouching in a pasture like a cow, endlessly chewing grass.

“Perils Averted” is for adventures and other outings. That’s what most travel writing is, I think: just another dangerous situation the writer inserts himself in, like the plucky protagonist he is, only to narrowly escape, totally unscathed.

“Profiles of Interest” is stuff about people whose stories are more interesting to write about than my own. There will be many.

And lastly, “The Catharsis of Wilderness and Corresponding Nonsense” is, of course, nature writing.

I’ll be updating the site a lot. Check back often, or, better yet, subscribe in the lower right corner.