December 6, 2022

The Life You Mark All as Read Might Be Your Own

Flannery O'Connor's Traffic

I didn’t know Flannery O’Connor had the nickname cartoon girl in school. She outgrew it. Cartoon girl’s writing, with stories like The Life You Save Might Be Your Own, has better shelf life than even the master Hemingway.  The Paris Review has this about Flannery O’Connor and her time at Georgia State College for Women:

“In her three years at GSCW, she earned a reputation among the students and alumnae as the ‘cartoon girl.’ The staff members of the 1944 Spectrum yearbook gave her special recognition, publishing this acknowledgment for her in the yearbook: ‘Mary Flannery O’Connor, of cartoon fame, was the bright spot of our existence. There was always a smile in the Spectrum office on the days when her linoleum cuts came in’.”

There was always a smile…That has to be the nicest compliment you can get. I prefer using the Flannery O’Connor algorithms for driving traffic across my eyeballs. Everything else is scanned fast and marked all as read.  It’s too late for this year but whoever created the “mark all as read” button should be considered for next year’s Time 100 Most Influential list. Either that, or Google can name its next change in algorithms after the writers, beginning with Flannery O’Connor. Either that, or they can put me on the list and I’ll make the change.

The billboard was once a big deal way back in the old school days, like about five years ago. A friend since college was a columnist for his local paper and the marketing people recognize his ability to make readers love or hate him. He showed me several letters to the editors and I would have to classify majority as hate. A rather vocal hate compared to the other writers toiling away for years with stirring columns about the grand opening of some buffet franchise as a celebration of commerce over the communists.

His coverage of the local beauty contests were classics. Parents were puffed up with pride that their little girls showed potential to be a future trophy wife of a construction tycoon. Parents paraded kids across the stage and in front of adoring judges and reporters. Except one. The one writer with the big billboard overlooking a bowling alley in a demographically challenged neighborhood that hated his guts. The billboard reminded me of one of Saddam’s billboards. I was impressed. Parents and the poor girls would get the newspaper anticipating   fawning coverage that they could clip and save for the future tycoon, maybe even Donald Trump’s Miss America Contest if they played their cards right and limited time at the all you can eat buffets going up around town. What they read instead could have come from the pages of a Flannery O’Connor short story. Angry moms stormed the newsroom to protest in a scene like Flannery O’Connor’s Traffic cartoon.  JonBenét Ramsey’s family spent their summers in northern Michigan. She won the Little Miss Charlevoix pageant in 1995. A few miles south and a Flannery O’Connor kind of judge might have rewritten the story.

Frank Deford has just published his autobiography Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter. Deford was a judge for the Miss America Pageant, writing a book about it in the early seventies that according to the Atlantic, still retains a cult following. I didn’t know it. The Deford article in the Atlantic is also great stuff, like the Paris Review article on Flannery O’Connor’s comic talents. They’re the kind of articles that keep the clicker off the mark all as read button. The writing has soul. Deford criticizes ESPN for lacking soul. The business model that follows the algorithms is too contrived.

Deford says in the Atlantic interview that his all time favorite scene is when eighty year old baseball legend Ted Williams, using a walker, lifts himself up for an introduction. Williams, also a military hero, is to speak at the Society for American Baseball Research. Williams “thrusts out his chest and in that great bombastic voice” shouts out, “Are there any fucking Marines in here?”

Deford has some great advice. “Don’t always aim. Sometimes just throw the sonuvabitch.” Over time your life is going to be marked all as read, anyway.


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