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

I’d been a copy editor forever, it seemed; mostly for college textbooks, eventually for memoirs and novels. I loved the work for it satisfied my need to correct misuses of the language. It paid well. It was varied.

It was not my writing, however. My life was concentrated on making other writers look as good as I could without changing their voice.

When a fellow told me I talked like a columnist, I was 35 years old and writing short stories that to date had earned me enough rejection slips to paper my bathroom walls. I never got to the interior décor with that large collection of rejection slips but carried the box of them with each move. Now and then I would look through them, none so succinct as Snoopy’s: Dear Author: Thank you for not sending us anything. From, The Editors. But all of them definitely hinting at it.

These futile endeavors somehow had not prompted me to try something else, but my friend's suggestion that I become a columnist congealed 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.

"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 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. "Just come on in. 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 a person in one of these two modes: when you read the foolishness of your column in print for the first time; and then when a reader gives you kudos for the same column.

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 it. 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 or show up with 'em when you return," said the Ed.

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 have a wider audience; I get to “colyumn” for "Meer."

Articles by Colleen O'Brien Clopton

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