Category Archives: Public Health

How to Write Fast

I wrote my new article on the dangers of indoor air in ten days, because I had to.

Last June 13, Meg Merrick, editor-in-chief of Metroscape, sent me a frantic email:

Merilee,

I don’t know how quickly you can turn your article around but we have run into a crisis with our lead article and need to come up with a new article for our upcoming issue. Would you be willing to do the article you pitched now instead of later? Unfortunately, we will need a quick turnaround.

Let me know.

Thanks!

Meg

By “quick turnaround,” she meant “in about ten days.” Normally I would budget six to eight weeks to research, construct, and polish a major feature article, the kind I had been expecting to produce for Meg’s Winter issue.

Ten days? That’s crazy. Could I do it? Continue reading How to Write Fast

Looking for the Hook, Dramatically

Part 1 of Constructing a Pitch – Dramatic Structure

What’s the problem with the “Indoor Air is Bad For You” story? I’ve pitched it several places, with no takers. The angle with which I’ve shot it over the transoms is

The emerging discovery that it’s cheaper to treat asthma by fixing people’s homes than by prescribing them asthma drugs.

Let’s take the story apart, as a dramaturg would take apart a play, to see how it works. Or, in this case, how it fails to work. Continue reading Looking for the Hook, Dramatically

Coming Soon: December Portland Monthly

The December issue of Portland Monthly is always the History issue. The theme of this year’s History issue is Heroes.

I will have an article in it about Dr. Esther Pohl, who led the successful campaign to prevent San Francisco’s 1907 bubonic plague epidemic from reaching Portland. No other city on the West Coast managed it.

Esther Pohl pulled it off by yoking science and politics. By politics, I mean leadership, not back room deals.

The science that made it possible was the recent discovery that the plague bacillus was carried not by rats, but by fleas riding on rats. Until that connection was made, no city in all of human history had a chance against plague. Continue reading Coming Soon: December Portland Monthly

Twitter, here I am!

Wow, Twitter is a parallel Earth, miniaturized. I should have joined a long time ago. Mea culpa idiotica.

It’s great that there no slow talkers to endure, no meandering, no lugubriousness. The exclamation points are a chuckle – they’re as thick as the hair on a dog’s back.

Twitter search results are both concise and comprehensive. By ‘comprehensive’ I mean that the result of searching on ‘X’ is a kind of map, to scale, of common knowledge about X. Continue reading Twitter, here I am!

Who Do You Call? Part 1

Suppose the practical questions of how to make a home healthy are solved. Suppose we do untangle the science of houses and indoor air, and how they make people sick. Fantastic.

Then what? Who will you call to figure out whether your home is making you sick, and what can be done about it? You’ll call an HVAC contractor, or some other kind of building contractor. It’s your house you want fixed, and they fix houses. Continue reading Who Do You Call? Part 1

What Obstacles?

From my last post, a couple days ago:

The obstacles to treating asthma this way are numerous, complex, and mutually reinforcing, like the obstacles to anything new. Fascinating villains, at least to me. And if I tell this story right, also troubling to any reader who might stand to benefit from this idea that she’ll never get a chance at.

So, what obstacles?

Obstacle 1. We don’t even know if this works for more than a few people.
There are a few heartwarming anecdotes, but no denominator. To find out how many people might benefit, someone’s going to have to spend money to collect careful data. Continue reading What Obstacles?