An excerpt of “Freezing Moon” (working title)
Wisconsin may be the land of dairy and beer and football, where you can drive for uninterrupted miles through corn rows and farmhouses and pickups hitched to fishing boats, but when you reach the Menominee tribe, the trees put a stop to all that. They form the literal border of the reservation, but also a border of ideas, between the Menominee way of life and the American way that’s as tangible and dramatic as the forest itself.
Reflections on the writing process and the fellowship project
I will always be grateful to CultureStrike for granting me the freedom, through this fellowship, to study and report on one story very deeply. It was a gift to have that time not only to find the particulars, but to write the piece and rewrite it, and then rewrite it again. It took this entire process to untangle all of the complex, intersecting issues at hand – pre-history, indigenous culture, colonialism, sovereignty, relationships with the Earth, forestry and climate change – into an unbroken thread that readers could connect to their own experience.
With the luxury of time to report on the ground and conduct interviews in person, the length of the story came together relatively easily. But finding the initial thread to pull was a great challenge. During most of my time reporting I had held onto a lede for the piece that just did not work – the character attached to it didn’t have a place in any other part of the story. My next attempt at opening the narrative was a scene that brought many of the issues together into a single anecdote – but it was dry and lacked much to hold onto. It became clear that something was missing, and one more visit to the reservation pulled everything neatly into place. At this final stage of rewriting, I used the technique of storyboarding, using Post-It notes and rearranging them to fit into the four sections of the piece. It helped tremendously to have a visual during the writing process, to see how it was coming together and to move one detail or another to fit my needs as I wrote.
I’ve previously churned out shorter pieces quickly and in more or less final form under news deadline pressure. But this fellowship has been an invaluable lesson in patience, in knowing that even after all the facts have been gathered, much of the story will remain a mystery.
I’ve just been hired as an Associate Editor at The Progressive magazine, a century-old publication based in Madison, WI, that has featured the likes of James Baldwin, Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy and Michelle Alexander. I’m looking forward to publishing more great writing and reporting on social and economic justice and grassroots power. I’ll continue my own writing and reporting in the vein of my fellowship story, on social justice issues at the intersection of climate, geography, environmental history, our sense of home and how this all fits into the mythic American dream and American way of life.