Karen Lincoln Michel

Michel: Rekindling a love of storytelling

An unexpected gift revitalizes a fascination

My friend and colleague Neil Heinen gave me a book for Christmas that rekindled my fascination with storytelling. At first, this short novel about a seriously ill man’s recollections of his past seemed to have little connection to me, but it kept reminding me of my work as well as my family.

Beautifully written by the late actor and playwright Sam Shepard, “Spy of the First Person” is elegant in its simplicity and vivid in its descriptions. Shepard, who died last July at 73, drew me in with his choice of words, gained my trust and kept me wondering where I would be taken next. That’s the kind of reader experience I strive for each month as I edit this magazine. 

Although journalistic writing is more conventional than a novel’s literary style, I believe great storytelling can be achieved in many forms. Look no further than our cover story about efforts to legalize medical marijuana in Wisconsin for an example of how to navigate a complicated issue. In contrast, our feature story on dating in Madison is told in an entertaining and conversational tone. These stories and the dozens more we tell each month make me appreciate the quality of our editors and contributors.

Shepard, a Pulitzer-prize winning author who acted in more than 60 films, made final edits to his 82-page book a week before he lost his battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. According to his book, Shepard wrote the first drafts by hand and later dictated sections into a recorder. In the story, a man whose health is deteriorating is sitting on a porch while he glimpses such simple pleasures as birds in flight. It made me think of my brother, Jeffrey Lincoln, who passed away in November of cancer.

My brother enjoyed nature. In his final weeks, he said he thanked God for being able to see the sunrise over the home where he and I grew up. Just seeing the sunlight streaming through the trees that our father planted decades ago was a great blessing for him to behold. I thought of his words shortly after he took his last breath, surrounded by loved ones inside his childhood home. The pre-dawn horizon was giving a faint light that would later become a brilliant sunrise.

It’s amazing how the written word, even in its purest and simplest forms, has the power to take us to unexpected places. I hope you’ll feel that same way as you read our February issue.

Karen Lincoln Michel is editor of Madison Magazine.


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