Here’s the sentence: “She was a woman to admire and to desire, but the message in her eye and her bearing was unmistakable: offend or disesteem her at your peril.” I’m still reading Shantaram, written by Aussie Gregory David Roberts — it’s nine hundred pages and I’m not traveling with long stretches on airplanes and waiting areas to read. In fact, I think this is the longest stretch I have had in my writing career without travel. Ah, yes, travel. The part of the writing life that Annie Dilliard skipped over in her book. The part that for many of us keeps our computers and cars updated and our dogs in kibble. Well, anyway, I’ve been home and home means that the laundry calls out to me and the sun and the sidewalk, not to mention the dogs who are as I write this pulling at my chair leg and rolling around like animals, desperate to sniff their way around the block on the end of a leash. But, extra time on my hands also means that while I don’t have as much time to read without interruption, I do have more time to contemplate what I’m reading, even to think about select words, like disesteem.

Not the same as disrespect. Not a loss of esteem, low esteem or lack of esteem. I love a good word choice! I was writing to someone a couple weeks ago and she used the word wretched in an email. This is a word more familiar than disesteem, but not really common in usage anymore. I decided that week I was in love with the word wretched. I don’t feel wretched nor is my life wretched, I just like the word. Disesteem is more rare, its existence too wretched to earn a space in spell check, although it does own its own place in the dictionary. (Then again, how can anyone trust a spell check that wants to replace Annie Dilliard with Dullard.)

Choosing words is like shopping at the grocery. When you are in a hurry, you just run in and grab what you have always bought and race to the checkout line. But when you have extra time, you can read the packages, check the new products section, and taste the samples. Words like wretched and disesteem don’t hang out with the hamburger, they are in the gourmet section of the dictionary. The area that takes some time to prepare, to present, and ultimately, to savor.

‘Course the writer of this book was incarcerated during its writing, so presumably he had some time on his hands to shop for just the right word to describe this woman pulled from the shelf of his memory in his fictionalized autobiography (aren’t all of our autobiographies, even the unpublished recollections, fictionalized? Really? Although it was responsible of him to make note). Incarceration of an adventurer may well be why the book is 900 pages and rich with detailed observations, painting a panoramic picture of India that no reader could possibly view with disesteem.

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