I watched the Netflix film Mank recently, the story of Citizen Kane co-screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, a former member of the famed Algonquin Roundtable. Mank in his prime was once called “the funniest man in New York” by Alexander Woollcott. Yet, this same Mankiewicz was quoted years later as saying: “I don’t know how it is that you start working at something you don’t like, and before you know it, you’re an old man.”
Mank’s dyspeptic conclusion about life’s path formed as death hovered nearby. He died of alcoholism in 1953 at the age of 55 years. Perhaps this perception is shared by others whose sustenance (and addiction) comes from a bottle, notwithstanding real successes like writing for the New Yorker or co-penning Citizen Kane with Orson Welles.
But in passing yet another birthday as the new year begins, I am provided with a double reflective impulse. Being an older man myself now (carrying many more years than Mank ever did), I can state categorically through hard-earned experience the corollary to Mank’s dysphoria, affirming the (mostly) uplifting nature of a life spent exploring a path you actually enjoy.
For me, the world of running was that path. Though it may not pay as well as work in Hollywood or on Wall Street, to toil along the roads, tracks, and fields in an enterprise where people discover deep truths and possibilities in themselves while forming abiding friendships with like-minded folks from across the planet with whom they may share very little else cannot be easily reduced to the ledger of a financial balance sheet.
The fact that my now 73 years remains only relatively old after a life in running makes its own point, too. A strongly beating heart, evenly heaving chest, and genuine interest in the future of those both old and young alike are only a few of the benefits that accrue beyond the self-opiated sense of well-being that attends repeatedly placing one foot in fronting another at (whatever) speed over distance.
But we must tread warily when making any such definitive conclusions, too, because there’s also mystery here, along with zero guarantees. As such, we must remain humble, recalling that exploration is the lure, not any single epiphany or arrival.
And so as we set off on another calendar’s turn, though the world before us may seem more contentious than ever, let’s lift a glass to that endless, open road, and to those who share a lane with us for however long.
In that spirit, may 2021 lead you to places that bring peace, harmony, and a sense of purpose and well-being, remembering that this life is a series of self-fulfilling prophecies not fixed certainties – It isn’t it, it’s what you make of it. So let’s make the most of what we have while the time is still ours at hand. Then, let’s meet up a year from now to compare journeys and, hopefully, maybe have a laugh or two about what idiots we’ve been along the way.
And, not to worry, Mank. You’ll find it next time around, wait and see.
2 thoughts on “TAKING ON 2021”
Thanks for such a perceptive piece, Toni. I don’t know how many or few people do work which gives them satisfaction. This isn’t about fame or big monetary reward, though the latter can increase in societies where materialism is highly prized and those who, for example, teach at any level are regarded as lesser achievers but their impact is not shown in a strict, black and white numbers balance sheet. The ideal is to have a balance, I believe. The fine American journalist Michael Goldfarb, a longtime resident here in the UK and also a former bureau chief for NPR, describes journalism as both a “Calling and a Business.” Exactly right in my view, if you think it is lalaland you are either going to go bust or have a big private income.
Two last reminiscences: a manager at a media company who hired me to commentate on TV feeds of international athletics made a chance remark to me: “You’re a lucky man, Andy, because you get satisfaction from your work. Most people hate their work.” His words, not mine, and he is very successful in his field and, presumably, gets satisfaction from it.
Lastly, a good journalist in a longtime staff job once accused me of “Only doing work which I enjoyed and walking away from that which I didn’t enjoy.” Interesting and it made me out to be far more devil-may-care than I am, in fact, hardly at all. On reflection, the other journalist’s comments, stemming from an innocent remark of mine, may well have arisen from longstanding grievances they felt and they needed to vent them.
I try to remind myself often to not take this running thing for granted. When I see folks my age swimming, biking, walking (not that there’s anything wrong with that!)….I think, there but for the grace of God go I. What a gift. And when my day of reckoning arrives, and I can no longer lace ’em up, I pray I have plenty of those abiding friendships intact so we can sit around and relive races run.