Hard for me to believe it's been five years ago this month since, with some apprehension, I launched this column and sent it off unsolicited to about 500 unsuspecting contacts in my email database, hoping those original recipients wouldn't tag me as SPAM. They didn't, so 260 weekly columns have now flowed out and another 900 folks have let me add their names.
It was in April of 2008, almost exactly two years after my retirement from the Business Journal, where as publisher I wrote weekly columns or editorials, that I realized I missed writing and communicating. So I explored with friends the idea of doing a column and distributing it via e-mail or Internet blog, but what to call the column?
That was resolved pretty quickly as I shared a glass of wine and discussed the idea with a Spokane friend who almost instantly said: "You need to call it 'Flynn's Harp.'"
"The harp is a beautiful Irish instrument," she enthused. "And the name will allow your Irish to come out, whether just explaining ideas or 'harping' about things that bother you."
I had already been reflecting on the fact that election year 2008 was the 40th anniversary of the tumultuous 1968 presidential campaign that I had been fortunate enough, as a young political writer for UPI, to be immersed in. It was the '68 in which four Washington citizens had prominent roles, starting with then Gov. Dan Evans, who keynoted the Republican National Convention.
So I debuted "The Harp" with four successive columns, following Evans' with one on Jim Whittaker, the Everest conqueror who was a key figure in Sen. Robert Kennedy's ill-fated presidential campaign. Next was Egil Krogh, a young Seattle attorney who would become Richard Nixon's White House counsel, then Kitty Kelly, a friend from Spokane whose role as press assistant for Sen. Eugene McCarthy's quixotic presidential-race would launch her career as a controversial biographer.
Unfortunately, the four columns, which led to my moderating panels with Evans, Whittaker and Krogh before a couple of business groups, are lost somewhere beyond the Cloud. But a portion of the reflection on that campaign is contained in one I did a year ago (Flynn's Harp: Some positives in long political campaigns).
Finding the original material to bring readers information they didn't already have has been satisfying. But even more so have been the responses, some moving, some laudatory, some critical, from many of the now-1,400 or so who receive the column each Wednesday evening.
I'm sometimes asked by people who are being exposed to the column for the first time, What do you write about?" to which I respond: "I write about whatever strikes my interest."
I once called my son, Michael, to ask "Do you think it would seem strange if I wrote about Gonzaga football?" and he replied: "Since people don't pay you for it, write about whatever you want." So I did (Flynn's Harp: When football was king at Gonzaga).
The column that perhaps most tugged at my heartstrings was one I did first in 2010 after learning about it from my friend, Spokane magazine editor Blythe Thimsen. It's the until-then untold story of the unusual North Pole Fantasy Flight that Alaska Airlines creates for disadvantaged kids in the Spokane area (Flynn's Harp: Alaska fantasy flight to the North Pole).
The love affair of a man and his car is a timeless story and recurring theme. So the column that resulted from memories of my youthful romance with a '55 T-Bird ranks atop my favorites.
It began: "As summer gives way to autumn, longings for the long ago can creep into the days for the sentimental among us and so it is that I sometimes find myself revisiting the days of youth when, somewhere between girlfriends, I fell in love with a '55 Thunderbird." (Flynn's Harp: a youthful love affair with a '55 T-Bird).
My family was much aware of the role the T-Bird had in my memories so on a birthday sometime in the late '90s, my son gave me a copy of Marc Cohn's "Silver Thunderbird." I played the tape constantly on a business trip until I knew the words and could sing along as I drove.
I closed the column with the admission that "growing older had brought the slow realization that the longing that stirred occasionally wasn't just about a car, it was also about a time. "I could own a T-Bird again, but I couldn't drive it back. My wife and family understood that a long time ago."
The T-Bird column sparked several responses from readers who'd had one. But the most memorable was from Joe Galloway, a long-ago UPI colleague who was likely the best correspondent of the Vietnam War and whose book, "We Were Soldiers Once..and Young," later became a movie. He's kind enough to let my weekly email in, and after this one, he emailed back:
"Ah Mike. I somehow knew we were blood brothers. My second car in this life was, yep, a 1955 white Thunderbird with soft and hard tops. I was just 19, working my first newspaper job at the Victoria TX advocate... not long after that I was hired by UPI for the Kansas City bureau and I loaded the T-Bird up with all my earthly possessions in the trunk and passenger seat and headed north. It was Jan. 1961 and the No. 1 song blaring on the radio was Wilburt Harrison's Goin' To Kansas City! I howled right along with him.Those were the days, my friend, we thought they'd never end......"
Galloway, in fact, has been quoted in several pieces I've done on wars and veterans of wars, columns that have always been the most satisfying because of their focus. AndThe column on Galloway reflecting on what was, in reality, the decisive battle of the Vietnam war, five years before the American people were told the war was unwinnable, stands out for me.
The column that sparked perhaps the most touching responses was one I did on my mom, reflecting five years after her death in 2004 on the fact she was a "boys' mom" through and through (Flynn's Harp: Reflecting on column on boys' mom five years on). She impacted a lot of young men, including her three sons, in Spokane's St. Aloysius neighborhood where she helped guide them all on the road to manhood.
I wrote: "She was pretty hard-nosed about teaching us to be the best we could be. Thus, on occasions in my early years, when I'd come home crying from being struck or harassed by neighborhood kids, she'd march me back to the scene and force me to have a proper fistfight with the offending kid. I can't remember ever losing one of those mom-spurred fistfights."
I noted that "Even from the perspective of more than six decades, I still view that 'battlefield education' by my mother as a remarkable, perhaps even unique, chapter in my early development. And many who have heard the story have remarked cryptically: 'That explains a lot, Flynn.'"
With the idea of perhaps doing a book at some point on "Memorable Notes from Flynn's Harp." I've divided the now-260 columns into groups of topics, including personal, sports, politics, interesting people.
And a topic that has become one of my more informative is angel investing (search Flynn's Harp: Angel Investing, and a group of columns comes up). Part of the satisfaction is that writing on that topic has allowed me to get to know "angel" leaders from Montana to California and write about things important to entrepreneurs that never get much general media coverage because angels don't go seeking coverage.
The weekly columns have perhaps been of more value to me in the doing than to the business and media people and elected officials who permit me into their mailbox each Wednesday evening. So to those of you who frequently, or even occasionally, open the email to view the column: "See" you next Wednesday.