Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Hump-day ruminations.

I haven't yet jumped on the Game of Thrones bandwagon--I'm usually a little slow to accept entertainments that are so resoundingly popular. I suppose it's a holdover from my days as an incipient scholar of English and American literature when I was taught it made sense to wait a few decades, if not half a century, before declaring something a work of art.

It takes that long, really, for things to settle. It's too soon to weigh an author's place in history, or in the canon, or whether or not her work will endure. These things take time.

That's why I can never quite accept naming things like bridges or airports or tunnels or anything, really, for the recently deceased. It only leaves you vulnerable to having to rename them sometime in the future when a historical assessment deems that the person once honored is really some kind of miscreant. (My guess is if the Catholic Church, for instance, had a conscience, they'll someday regret canonizing Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII, but I'll leave why to your own googleifying.)

All that being said, way back in 1979, 40 years ago if you're counting, the BBC produced a seven-part mini-series based on a novel of John Le Carre's, called "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy." Three years later, they followed up with a six-part mini-series based on another Le Carre novel, with roughly the same set of characters, called "Smiley's People."

If you like intricate plotting, intrigue and acting like only the British can pull off (or only Alec Guinness) you oughta take a look. 

Guinness plays a master-spy called George Smiley. (You only need to know me a little to understand how funny that name strikes me.) 

In one episode of "Smiley's People," an associate of Smiley's gives him some advice. He cautions the dogged Smiley to drop a case and go back into retirement. 

"George," he says "it's time to live off your hump."

In other words, it's time to sustain yourself, like a camel in the desert, off of all you have done, accumulated and accomplished.

Smiley is tired. Standing up straight after sitting in a chair takes him some moments. As a viewer, you can fairly hear Smiley's joints crack like dry wood in a fireplace. At other times Smiley seems to question why he works so hard--why he still believes, why he has to dot his eyes and cross his tees. Why he has to tie up loose ends.

There are days at work where I feel like people are hinting that I should, like Smiley, live off my hump. Maybe having someone of my vintage about scares people into thinking that they'll someday be 61 as well. Nobody invites mortality over for the weekend.

But like Smiley, living off my hump is not for me. It's not that I don't have a hump, it's that I am blessed somehow to still love what I do.

I'm not using the word love lightly, like teenagers, cheerleaders and game-show contestants do. 

I mean, I really love what I do.

There's little I enjoy more than being given a client's toughest problems and being left alone for the usual too-short a period of time to solve them. There's little I enjoy more than finding out how something works and explaining it in simple, human terms. There's little I enjoy more than making things work.

As I've grown older, there's also little I enjoy more than working with younger people. Of going over things with them, and trying to help them make things better. Even if those things are as seemingly inconsequential as a 30-second radio spot or a banner ad.

I like seeing people learn, and grow, and, yes, move on. Move on, to in-turn, start teaching younger people themselves.

About 97 years ago when I worked at Ally & Gargano, I came upon a type-written sheet of paper that had the agency's mission statement typed on it in that old-fashioned courier typeface. At that point, well-after Ally's glory days, probably everyone else had forgotten the agency's creed, but I memorized it then, and remember it today so many decades after the fact.

"Impart useful consumer information in an executionally brilliant way."

That's really what I love to do. Whether it's in the service of clients or to help people learn our craft--a craft that's in danger of dying. Dying not because it's not needed, but because no one seems to care anymore.

But I care. And that's why I love what I do. And will continue to do it.

And I won't, for the foreseeable future, be living off my hump.

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