Third article for WIRED

This article was going to be a triumph for me, for many different reasons. First, because it was about Sweden, pretty much. Second, because all the instagram/twitter/blog/facebook stalking I’ve done over the years came into handy. No one can say all of that was a waste of time any more. I went from a random Twitter post, to a Twitter account; then hunted up an Instagram account, which was all in Swedish, and figured out what blog I needed to follow, which was also all in Swedish, and found the email to get in contact with the girl on the cargo ship. I could not have been more proud, I could not imagined that I could ever, ever get a chance to write something like this!!

But then, when the story actually came out, I was super upset. I felt this weird sense of loss that I maybe shouldn’t try to explain. And I was also sad because some of my descriptions had been taken out of the story. Like, I had mentioned the Swedish midsummer beckoning for Kajsa to come home. And I had used the description “sunrise-bound” in the paragraph talking about the ship gliding over the Atlantic.

It was a little hard and mournful to see those killed off.

Here’s the article.

I actually have since also written my fourth article, but there was no big to-do about that. It was just a short little thing. I mean, I should have been really excited, because this one was in Greenland, so there was a chance I could talk to a Danish person. But I don’t know, that didn’t appeal too much for some reason.

Maybe I thought I was pushing my luck with too many stories from Scandinavia, even though this Greenland story was assigned to me. It wasn’t me that chased it down.

Well, I regret to say that I didn’t actually fulfill the original purpose of the Greenland story. I was supposed to find out: are big icebergs like the one described going to get stuck by villages and force evacuations from villages frequently from here on out, because of climate change? Or was this just a freak accident, due to some combination of the depth of the water, or the size of that iceberg, or the elevation of that island? No one that I spoke to actually knew. My interview-people were all researchers who have been to Greenland, and know a lot about glaciers and icebergs; but none of them had seen that particular iceberg, and they couldn’t say anything definite merely through looking at the pictures of it.

I contacted people in Denmark and Greenland, but they all got back to me too late. Or, they just told me, “no, can’t help,” and then when I emailed back, “do you know anyone who can help,” the reply was “unfortunately not.” Well.

In other news, I found out today from a lady called Therese Øvergård that my bristlecone pine film was not chosen to be played at the Fredrikstad animation festival. I thought it would because I had an idea that all student films are chosen! But I guess not. I got a similar email from Therese two years ago when I’d entered the film, “Who’s cutting down Yusuf’s trees?”. She always ends the email with, “Thank you for submitting your film!” I think you should leave off the exclamation points at moments like this. I’m going to check the YouTube stats. I give it 50-50 that no one from Norway has watched the film in the first place. Not to say if they’d watched it they would have picked it. But you at least would hope that they’d watch.

And this was the most carefully prepared animation I’d ever made. I was a little sad this morning. Good-bye to the bristlecone pine. It’s sunset-time.




Second article for WIRED

I wrote about people taking trains, instead of planes, to lower their carbon emissions. I try to do the same thing whenever possible. Last year, I went to a conference in Boston, and I took a bus and overnight train from North Carolina; and I also went to New Orleans for another conference, this time nearly a full day on the train.

Just by coincidence, one of the people I interviewed in my article was on that very same train! I have never met her, and I didn’t know she’d been on that very same train until I had done some research, tracked her down, and was talking to her.

Being a journalist means I can finally put my online-stalking abilities to good use – abilities that I have carefully crafted and improved upon by 10 years of steady and completely legal spying on people’s lives. My family always made fun of me with me giving them updates of strangers’ lives, and told me I was weird; but see what’s come of it!

New University Rules Encourage Scientists to Avoid Air Travel

As far as I can tell, apart from some essays or personal blogs people have written, mine is the very first news article about this topic 🙂 And, it’s been shared on Twitter and Facebook a lot, which is very exciting, and people have left comments and everything.

I was a little sad, and at times heart-broken, during the editing, because I interviewed a lot of scientists, and they told me the coolest stories about their trips by train/bus. And I wanted to include all the information, all the cool details. But instead, the word count didn’t even let me include all those scientists. The final article is less than 1/3 the size of what I’d originally written. Oh dear. And me and the editors and fact-checkers went back and forth so many times, trying to pinpoint the exact correct meaning. So by the time we were editing the same paragraph the 30th time, I wanted to toss of my hands in despair. But in the end, I think – I hope – it turned out alright. Of course, I am sad that not all the nuances are there, but I guess I’ll just keep learning how to make the best of the word count limits I have.

Smarmy in the interview

I was interviewing these people.  I should have known they would turn out to be annoying because they were the only ones who had a secretary set the call up. And they’re honestly not such important people anyways. Now you know where administrator fees go at a public university!

They had an edge in their voice the whole time: why are you so stupid to be asking these questions, and why are you so unsophisticated, why are you so prone to splashing about in fallacies?

Every time I go back and read the interview notes, they sound ruder and ruder.

That kind of put me off my week.

Also, I don’t know what I’m doing after this fellowship. It is just now starting to be of some concern, because everything I applied to seems to have fallen through in the last two weeks. And some of the things I applied to were easy-peasy jobs, but I never even heard back.

My fall-back plan is just to go to Sweden. But I’m applying for things – very simple things – that would at least let me go there without starving and becoming homeless. And even those don’t work out. Not a single thing that has to do with Sweden works out for me, did anyone else notice?

I don’t ever quite get there, do I?




My first article

I feel a little unreasonably proud at the moment. I really wasn’t expecting to, because this is simply not a story I think I would click on and bother to read even though I’m the one who wrote it:

wired story 1

I was assigned to write this story.

When stories like this pop up, I just think: I know all the ice is melting, the details are not necessary in order to be miserable about it. Had I clicked on it, I suspect I would have stopped reading after, I don’t know, the second line, maybe?

I think with stories like this, it works better as a photo essay. So you write a short paragraph, and then there’s either a pretty drawing or a picture that keeps you engaged. Otherwise, my mind just glazes over, unless the writing is like Harry Potter, or like Charlotte Bronte.

But when my editor was editing it, she told me the sentences were beautiful. I thought: oh! There’d only been a single sentence whose symmetry and rhythm I’d been especially pleased with.

I had tried to brace myself for quick, brusque editing: that maybe my editor is busy, and maybe the standard newsroom etiquette is to allot time only for negative feedback, and not waste time on anything positive. When my editor told me about “beautiful sentences,” it was a really nice compliment.

WIRED articles very often begin sentence after sentence with the word ‘and’. It’s some kind of style that’s just not me. My editor added some of those ‘ands’ into my story, but then I took most of them out, and she didn’t say anything. That made me really happy, too – that hopefully, the voice in my stories will sound as much as possible as the voice of the person who wrote Daily Tar Heel opinion pieces!

She also put in the word ‘blockbuster’, which I didn’t like, and I removed it without push-back, too. But she made other changes that I did like. She kind of drew the strings so that the story was tighter. In the opening paragraph, I had included the image of “a watery grave”, and my editor added “walking the plank” to that. The back-and-forth was a good partnership.

I finished the article early this morning, before we all got to the office; the work-day passed in a blur of edits, calling some of my sources back to get clarifications, having to re-write the whole introduction – painstakingly, piecing together ideas from my editor and reviewing my interview notes – and then getting everything fact-checked.

At last, the article went live.

Because I had stayed up really late last night, and then gotten up at dawn this morning to finish the article in time, I got to leave early. So I walked out of the dim playground that is the WIRED main offices on the third floor of a restored warehouse, and into the bustle of downtown San Francisco, where everything around me seemed to want to tickle my fancy. A museum of some sort appeared before me;  I wandered into the spacious gift shop, full of books and pictures to examine. Further along the street, there appeared a Ghirardelli chocolate shop, and I thought it was time for a celebration. The brownie I got wasn’t really that good, though I don’t think that will stop me from going back for a sundae some day.

I went home on a quiet, empty train, before the rush of 5 pm.

Walking from my exit stop to my place where I live, the wind was waving against my face with the touch that reminds me of the last two times I went to Sweden in the summer. Along the road, spilling out of the front yards of all the houses, flowers lifted their pretty faces. In all colors – snowdrifts of white petals; roses flushed with pink or cream; buds wrapped against themselves, slightly yellow, whose scent was like the southern magnolias back in North Carolina. Riots of orange and lemony stems, and whole fences shrugged over with a shawl of bright violet. In the distance, the solemn green hills.

I had thought I was really going to hate it here.


Working on my first article

My inbox was not empty … I had almost everyone respond to my requests for interviews. So I spoke with five people on the phone yesterday, sometimes back to back. The longest interview was 50 minutes.

Since I am writing about a journal paper, that like I said seems quite easy to sensationalize, I can’t call this my favorite type of science writing. But, it was rather flattering to get to talk to so many scientists nevertheless. And, one of the people I talked to was Swedish. I’ll let you guess if that was an accident or not.

I wrote up the article – I’ve never had to write something so fast – and I’m not sure what I think about it, or whether I would read past line three, or whether I would even click on the article in the first. Oh well. Today, I fact-check it.

First day at WIRED Science

I was apprehensive, but I liked it. I met my editor and the rest of the science team.

There were five stories that I “pitched” to my editor, and she was really nice about it. She didn’t immediately toss them out the window. Instead, we “workshopped” them, meaning we talked about what kind of information I would need to gather to make it a viable story. I have permission to go ahead and research the top two ideas for now. I hope they’ll end up making me proud!

Then, I was assigned a story. This was a science journal paper. I was not super crazy about it. The topic is interesting, but I think it is one of those papers that comes out sounding really sensational, but really, it’s just same old, same old. You’ll see what I mean when/if it gets published.

But, I think it’s a good article for me to get myself started with – more or less straightforward.As long as the people I emailed to set up interviews with have answered me. I’m kind of worried I’ll arrive to an empty inbox!

After that’s done, I’m looking forward to working again on my own pet stories.