Colleen O'Brien  Clopton
Joined WSI in August 2022
Colleen O'Brien Clopton

When a fellow told me I talked like a columnist, I was thirty-five years old and writing short stories that to date had earned me enough rejection slips to paper my bathroom.

These futile endeavors ending in rejection somehow had not prompted me to try something else, but my friend's suggestion congealed something in my brain. Why wouldn't I talk like a columnist? My regular reading demanded that I include two witty and inspiring columnists -- Ellen Goodman of the "Boston Globe" and Russell Baker, syndicated in 200 dailies – and any columnist I ran across in random reading of newspapers and magazines.

"Duh," I said to myself, and set off with two bona fide professionals as prototypes on a path that made me very observant.

I wrote six 750-word columns (what I thought "sounded like"), dropped them at the Post Office and went home and back to bed.

Two days later the editor called and said, "I need a bio." "A bio? You want me to write my own biography? Isn't that an autobiography?" He sighed and said, "Just come on down. We'll talk."

I raced down the hill to the newspaper office, feeling foolish but elated. I soon learned that writing for a newspaper often places you in one of these two modes: reading the foolishness of your column in print for the first time and cringing; and receiving kudos for the same column from a reader and busting your buttons. The editor didn't ask about my "career" at all, he just said, "Sit still, Joseph is drawing you for your column head. We'll call it 'O'Brien.' And I'll want six ahead at all times."

That was a lifetime ago, and I'm still "colyumning," as a friend calls my professional life. My datelines have been at Lake Tahoe, in Ireland, the American Midwest, Russia, Mexico, Italy, Florida, Canada, Hawai'i. It turned out I never really got a vacation, just an assignment when I told my editor I'd be gone for a week or two. "Call 'em in,” says he. I want them here before you return."

This is what made me observant. I never got a chance to be a vague tourist, I was always jotting things down.

Mine did not prove a lucrative career, like Russel Baker's, but I have loved it. And now I get to do it for "Meer.”

Articles by Colleen O'Brien Clopton

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