I’m often asked to provide advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, which can be a comical experience – for me, if not them. After all, as with most other entrepreneurs, most of what I’ve managed to do while “in business” is to have created a job description that applies only to me, and to perform these tailor-made duties quite well, as there exists little basis for comparison. In short, after 30 years in beer, I’m absolutely unemployable.
Other tidbits of advice include being prepared to work quite a lot for remuneration that’s seldom adequate, have as much fun as possible in lieu of pay, and most importantly, know yourself, because if you don’t know yourself, there’s little chance of understanding anyone else (this also helps in case of marriage).
It strikes me that in this context, what I wrote in 2010 as slightly revised below helps to explain, at least in part, what has compelled me to do what I’ve been doing since my first day of package liquor store employment in 1982, and subsequently running through more than two decades at NABC. It’s all about rage, perhaps finally tamed at this late date, but never entirely quelled.
To be ancient is to be venerable. Ancient items are very old ones. In historical terms, ancient refers to dates and times long since passed. In short, there is nothing novel about being ancient.
However, when considering the very concept of the ancient, there are aspects of relativity and nebulousness. In the current era, ancient history generally is taken as describing periods in human civilization prior to the fall of Rome. Will this assumption still be accepted a thousand years from now?
Precisely when will our “here and now” become the ancient epochs of tomorrow?
It remains that an original Model-T is an ancient automobile, “Justified & Ancient” was a song performed by a defunct band called The KLF, and Ancient Age© was (and is) a Kentucky bourbon whisky, so called to imply its keepers spending more time aging in charred oak barrels than competing brands … although I tend to doubt it.
Long ago, during the remote, ancient history of my life, I was infatuated with Ancient Age©, although not the firewater itself. Back then, the merits of bourbon flavor mattered far less than the imperative of masking it with cola and quaffing huge quantities through inevitable grimacing. In this manner, Ancient Age© somewhat ironically became a rite of youthful passage.
Actually, it was the name itself that always appealed to me. Ancient Age© implied experience, dignity and respectability, but eventually I matured just enough to realize that while the words captivated me, the experience of consuming whisky did not. It’s probably been thirty years since I tasted Ancient Age© — although only thirty minutes since my last beer, which is where I stake my personal claim to knowledge.
But enough of that. It’s time to revert to the lower case in this quest for the higher ground.
Only one additional letter is required to render ancient age into ancient sage; no longer a trademarked bourbon, and passing well beyond mere chronology into the wider realm of pure wisdom. A sage is a practitioner of sagacity, the quality possessed by the impossibly gnarly old man atop the high mountain, greeting exhausted searchers with impenetrable quasi-Delphic instructions for living, commandments regarded as all the more brilliant for being utterly incomprehensible.
One might turn the page, earn a wage or rattle a cage, but take away the “s” from sage and insert instead the consonant coming just before it in the alphabet, and the game changes dramatically, from ancient sage into ancient rage. Did road rage exist in ancient times? Just ask Ben Hur.
As we commonly use it today, the word rage conjures images of furious anger, passionate intensity, and violent depth of emotional feeling. Rage comes from the same Latin root as rabies, not a condition to be confused with calm and deliberation. Whether enraged or outraged, we are primal.
Rage deriving from far-off places and times might legitimately be termed ancient rage, and for all the reasons listed here, NABC’s ex-brewer Jared Williamson (now happily brewing at Schlafly) created a special-edition, Smoked Baltic Porter called Ancient Rage for my 50th birthday in 2010. It was very good, and then it was gone … just like ancient history itself.
As a genial and generally trusting sort, I persist in believing that the half-century mark was a milestone more than a millstone. I’ll turn 52 this August. The same assumption goes for my business’s 25th anniversary this year. Just the same, there is the creeping perception of impending menace as calendar dates slip away and the actuarial tables inexorably turn against me … sadly, against us all.
At 40, there’s a plausible argument to be made that half your lifespan has yet to pass. At 50, that’s no longer the case. Throughout human history, life expectancy has been far shorter than today, and the age of 50 indeed often has qualified as ancient. Some days I feel that way myself, others not so much. Mostly, in a condition embracing both exhaustion and bemusement, I’d like to think of whatever length of time remains as a triumphant sprint to the finish, not a downward spiral.
What does ancient rage have to do with our 25th, my 50th, and 52nd, and beyond? Maybe it helps to explain a certain aspect of my motivation.
I concede to seldom being an exemplar of peace, love and understanding. Since childhood, prime drivers have been indignation, disgruntlement, exasperation and annoyance; it says something when one’s favorite writer is H. L. Mencken. I’m neither proud nor ashamed by this. It’s my psyche and my inner world, nothing more, nothing less.
During hormonal days of youth, I often felt consumed by anger to the exclusion of placidity and thoughtfulness. Mind you, these episodes never manifested in physical violence; rather, my verbal and written abilities evolved in accordance with a compelling need to express a previously inexpressible rage.
These outbursts have been manifested as shotgun blasts directed against stupidity and cupidity, naked power and destructive greed – against fascists and corporations, despoilers of the environment and enslavers of peasants, chain restaurants and nasty light beer, and the sadness, superstition and desperation in life itself – and maybe, on widely scattered occasions, against my own fear, impotence and inability to go a bit further than fulminate against injustice and actually offer something to the wider world in return.
Self-doubt and inner turmoil are pitiless taskmasters, and I suspect they’ll always be unwelcomed companions. Yet, there is considerable happiness in arriving at the dawn of my sixth decade in reasonably good health, working in a growing business that matters, enjoying the company of friends and family, and feeling a daily eagerness to give profuse thanks to Diana, my wife and partner in life, who has been both tenderly loving and unsparingly honest in helping guide me to a new place where the rage, while still present, seemingly recedes.
But elements of ancient rage still simmer within me even if they do not burn hot like before, and I can live with knowing this fact. To be honest, I revel in it, and readily concede that while “mad as hell” is a poor recipe for living, and on most days, I don’t look back in anger, it remains that ancient rage just might be another way of describing competitive edge.
Today is the best day, and tomorrow better still. Let’s have a beer, and see where it all goes … until it doesn’t.