My father has always loved harness racing and has owned or partially owned many racing horses over the past several decades of his life. When we were little, he would take us to visit the horses at their farms and, on occasion, to watch them compete at the racetrack. The latter excursions were always indulgences for my siblings and I, as we’d be up well past our bedtimes, treated to any imaginable snack or confection we could possibly want, sitting in a box while my Dad — usually cool as a cucumber — went wild, smacking a rolled-up program on the railing and yelling, “C’mon, c’mon!” When things would get close in the last quarter mile, he’d usually rock back on his feet with his hand over his mouth, watching in tense silence, and on more than one occasion, I noticed that all my siblings and I would be staring at him in anxious anticipation rather than at the horses coming around the final bend. If his horse won, we’d go out on the track with my father to be photographed alongside the steed, enormous floodlights in our eyes, which were already as wide as saucers.
The entire thing was an alternity: a garishly-lit other-world that was at once magical and slightly seedy and in any case wholly distinct from the safe, clean, disciplined cocoon in which I lived at home, where my mother would routinely and firmly declare: “The kitchen is closed” if she found one of us rooting around in the snack cabinet after dinner.
I have long marveled over the seeming asymmetry of this pastime of my father’s with the rest of his interests. A fisherman, a devout Catholic, a daily runner, an avid golfer, a lawyer, a philanthropist, a prodigious reader, an investor, a hobbyist woodworker — and, at the end of all that, also a harness racing enthusiast.
I have come to admire the breadth of his interests, this last one easily the most far-flung. I think at least part of his genius must be the carryover of lessons and strategies across the range of his varied avocations. I am sure that golf and fishing cultivated a proclivity toward patience, for example, and a mounting comfort with “the long game,” something I would imagine helpful in pursuits like investing and philanthropy. Did harness racing help with risk assessment? Did those lessons run against or reify his experiences in practicing law?
As I get older, I am often surprised by the applicability of takeaways from other periods in my life to my current situation. For example, I wrote not long ago about the fact that I find myself allergic to making decisions based on short-term discomfort. Instinct is powerful but I find myself now pitting it against the weight of my past experiences. This is the kind of risk-intolerance earned only after taking a few direct hits to the gut. So too in, for example, the small-stakes moments I’ve navigated with botched customer service interactions: I find myself instinctively applying negotiation tactics learned the awkward, hard way in my former professional lives. Dicta like: “Never make the first offer” and “Everything is negotiable” work startlingly well in this arena. (You would be surprised at what you can get by asking — or by stating that you are unhappy with the service received and waiting for appropriate restitution.)
But do we develop these principles only with age? Are they amplified by the extent or diversity of our experiences? I look at my Dad and think: how can a single person cultivate prowess in so many different categories? He must know so much because of it. And then I look at myself and see only that I enjoy reading and writing, dabble in cooking/baking, and occasionally fall in and out of love with running. Like so many of you without childcare, I am ultra-short on time right now, but I feel motivated to hitch myself to another pursuit. Could I train myself to develop a green thumb, for example? Learn to sew or smock? Take up tennis after all? Try my hand at painting or calligraphy? Or is all of this too forced, almost like I am stacking my resume?
I don’t know. And, for now, I find myself unable to think beyond the narrow straits in which I currently swim. But on the heels of turning 36, it feels like something to consider.
What do you think, Magpies? Who has turned toward a new gambit in recent months? How has it cross-pollinated other areas of your life?
+Another book to add to your tsundoku: Becoming Duchess Goldblatt, which is — intriguingly — anonymously authored?! Description: “Part memoir and part joyful romp through the fields of imagination, the story behind a beloved pseudonymous Twitter account reveals how a writer deep in grief rebuilt a life worth living.” More on what to read this summer here.
+This adorable Reformation dress is on sale for under $100 for a limited time.
+Obsessed with this polished cobra bracelet. SO, so chic.
+We played a lot of this easy game while away. Perfect, low-commitment, brain-candy kind of way to pass a quiet afternoon.
+I think this might be my new phone case. Love.
+In love with La Double J’s prints — especially this lemon one and this poppy one. But how amazing is this chic satin pouch?! I feel like it’s a bargain compared to the price tag on the brand’s other items. (Also love their tableware — how gorgeous are these dessert plates?!)
+Big sale happening at Cushnie. Her designs are so sophisticated and minimalist — what I imagine Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy would wear nowadays. Imagine these trousers…!