Created Bill in ’88, Met Him in ’99

Here’s a funny thing about these B.Y.O.E. events, that is, Bring Your Own Eulogy: So much of the time those anecdotes are maybe a bit more about the speakers than the, er, guest of honor. If you’re in a down mood today — and a memorial generally is NOT a happy hour — you could say that once again here’s another example of the me-me-me 21st century. Yet, how can you tell stories about another person without you as the narrator, you as the re-actor or even you as the “inciting incident”?

Perhaps more than other people, one part of William Mayes Flanagan‘s artistry is how he brought out the life spirit in others. This Happy Hour has begun.

In 1988 I created Bill Flanagan. In 1999 I met Bill.

In 1988 I was in Little Rock, responsible for national and international news at the Arkansas Democrat. On the side, I began a humor column. It was published in a weekly mailed edition of the newspaper. Being a student of the genre, my humor pieces went all over the map — essay, satire and narrative. The last really is a form of “flash fiction,” as in ultra-short made-up stories.

Illustration by Vic Harville of "End Time Finally Comes for Mister Hapgood," a Mirthology column by Ben Pollock, published Sept. 21, 1988, in Mid Week Magazine, a publication of the Arkansas Democrat.
Illustration by Vic Harville of “End Time Finally Comes for Mister Hapgood,” a Mirthology column by Ben Pollock, published Sept. 21, 1988, in Mid Week Magazine, a publication of the Arkansas Democrat.

That fall 29 years ago I introduced a character who was middle-aged; opinionated; encouraging and happy; a groundskeeper and a watercolor painter. Indeed!

Now, a few weeks ago, days after Bill passed, I ran into Emily Kaitz in the parking lot of Ozark Natural Foods. I told her this anecdote, that it was not authentically, obviously about our friend Bill Flanagan. Also, this has a clairvoyant, ESP quality to it, and we’re rationalists. But Emily disagreed. She advised that this is the story I need to tell. Because she feels it. She can empathize with the deja-vu-ness of it. Continue reading

Basket of Responsibles

“Bushel picking basket from the book: Vegetable Gardening by Ralph L. Watts, 1919

It’s only Oct. 1, and my prescription for Damnitol is nearly out. I may not have any more refills authorized. Dr. O’Connell probably thinks I’m popping them like peppermints.

Maybe I am.

This week, though, I’ve figured out a drug-free solution, maybe even drub free: Form a club: the Basket of Responsibles.

This is a third American basket. The first this election season is the “basket of deplorables,” coined by 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton. The second is HRC’s “Other Basket.” Many people in the GOP “Other Basket” would be proud to be with the Responsibles.

First we have to define my basket a little. It’s tough, because I’m not gray enough to proclaim “being responsible” as groovy. (And groovy was nearly before my time.)  Continue reading

Buy Low Sell High

This column first was published as the “President’s Message” in the April 2012 newsletter of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists

It must have been this time of year in 1999, I was on the phone with my mom about soon flying to Louisville, Ky., for that year’s NSNC conference.

“You go there and ‘network’ your heart out. That’s what they call it now, right? Chat people up and see if any of them will hire you.”

“Mom, that’s not how it works.”

“You always say that. Get over your shyness.”

“No, Mom. They’re all people like me, new columnists or seasoned columnists. None of them do hiring.”

“Maybe they can put in a good word for you.”

This was to be my second conference. I had a vision of Mike Leonard. We met at the 1991 conference and in early 1992 I interviewed at his newspaper in Bloomington, when my then-fiance was considering a master’s at Indiana University in the fall. We talked copy editing and reporting jobs. I liked the editors, but my beloved decided to go to grad school in a few years, and elsewhere.

“Look at your paper, Mom. Most dailies already have their columnists settled, and they tend not to leave plum jobs like that. Then I’m just a jerk to these great people.”

“I’m sure you know best.”

We repeated that conversation every spring until she passed in 2004.

So my advice to new and seasoned conference goers?

Don’t network, party.

I don’t think I’m tempering that when I elaborate: Party like a nerd, party like a geek, party like a writer: Observe, take lots of notes, get to know interesting people in the same or similar professions, share meals, hang out afterward in the hospitality suite.

If you are by nature a traveler you’ll love how every year the NSNC ends up in a new place, and usually not a conventional convention site. Continue reading