cyle talley

An Epic Entreaty

Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very’; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.
– C.S. Lewis

Let me first acknowledge that I understand I am alone. I know, deeply and without doubt, that I am the only one who feels this way and, if I am not, then those who would also say what I am about to have been remarkably circumspect and I dearly wish they’d be a little more forthcoming.

Callan Wink is an enviable writer. His short story, “Breatharians”, was featured in last year’s “Best American Short Stories” for good reason. Jealous as I am of his abilities, I sought out his other writings and came across “Fly Fishing Confidential”, a contribution to Men’s Journal magazine, in which he describes taking two literary giants out to fly fish as their guide for the day. It is the latter piece of writing that I’ve taken umbrage with.

He begins the piece with this sentence: “During the dog days of summer in Livingston, Montana, at the Murray Bar in the evening, there is a faint air of shared chagrin.” Say that sentence out loud. More specifically, say the words “shared chagrin” out loud.

It’s a beautiful sound.

The extent of his powers is not what irks me. “Shared chagrin” is my latest favorite two word phrase. What gets me is that the same man who came up with that phrase, also wrote this one: “What made it [the day] epic was the company.” And here we’ve reached what is making me upset- the thing that really chafes my hide.

Can we PLEASE stop using the word “epic”?

As tasty as that grass-fed hunk of beef may have been, that hamburger was not epic. As loud and flashy as that action movie may have been, it likewise was not epic. Epic connotes majesty and grandeur. It should be used when your breath is taken away. When you cannot speak, much less think of the words to say. Like awesome before it, epic now means everything- and absolutely nothing.

Let me tell you about the only time that I’ve seen something that was epic:
My friends and I travelled to New Zealand last November on a whim (and I fully realize just how haughty “New Zealand on a whim” sounds- I might as well be using “summer” as a verb) and drove the extent of the two islands that comprise it. I’ll be honest- New Zealand is everything that you think it is, and I will leave it at that.

Although our itinerary for the trip was loose at best, the one locale all four of us agreed we ABSOLUTELY MUST SEE was the Milford Sound. We camped in a national forest campground the evening before (the night before Thanksgiving, as it happens) and enjoyed hot dogs and beer to celebrate the holiday. Waking early the next morning (I was traveling with three professional photographers and I learned again and again that photographers are totally, completely and mercilessly beholden to light), we drove the 40-some odd kilometers to get the the Sound.

Clouds draped themselves like silk scarves atop the mountains in shades of gray that I had not known existed. Warm lusters with hints of blues and browns that made the mountains like a grandfather- somehow equal parts formidable and intimidating, and also warm, resplendent and welcoming.

And that was just the drive to the Sound.

Once there, we took a ferry and the water alone was dazzling. Jade blue, teal and occasionally purple when the still emerging morning light hit it correctly. Of course, then we would look up at mountains that we honestly expected would soon wake up and dole out grizzled sage advice on where we ought to head next. Waterfalls cascading down like silk spiderwebs and trees clinging precariously to the mountainsides. It was The Princess Bride inside The Neverending Story inside The Chronicles of Narnia inside The Lord of the Rings.

I’d never seen trees vibrate color before. And then the sun came out.

A day later, we were in Queenstown, staying in a hostel and in the common room, my friend, Jake and I were talking to a native Kiwi about our age. He asked where we were coming from and we told him about the Sound.

“Aw yeah,” he said. “You know, as a Kiwi, you sorta get used ta all the beauty like, you know? It’s just sorta there? But man, I went to the Sound and even I was like, ‘Maaaaan, this is fuckin’ mean right here!'”

So I ask you, I urge you, I beg of you- do as C.S. Lewis urges and remember that if this is “epic”, then what word is left for this?

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