Tuesday, April 18, 2006

April Sojourn

One of the first paid writing gigs came my way almost ten years ago when I lived on the fringe of society in Seattle. A ragtag music zine in Austin, Texas offered me $100 to write reviews of 5 CDs from random indie rock bands that you never heard of. That broke down to $20 per album review. The catch was that I had to buy the CDs myself so I only ended up making about $5 per review. But back then, I lived paycheck to paycheck so getting $25 for something I wrote was as epic as winning an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. I wrote because that's what I loved to do and getting paid to write about music was a bonus. I did that four or five times before the magazine folded when the owner went to jail for tax evasion. Although his last check bounced, I'm lucky that the other checks actually cleared. And if I ever run across that fucktard again, I'm gonna demand my $100 plus interest. It's never been about the money. It's all about principle.

It was almost 10pm last Thursday night as I walked past Union Square in downtown San Francisco. I spotted a Borders bookstore and went inside looking for a map. I planned on driving down Pacific Coast Highway back to Los Angeles and I wanted to verify the route. I've done it several times before, but I didn't have any atlases or maps with me this time. Plus, I like plotting out my trips on paper before I take them. As I searched each floor of the multifloor bookstore, I discovered the magazine section. I wandered by and found the poker section which was comprised of three magazines; All In, Bluff, and Poker Pro.

I grabbed Bluff. A few months ago, Amy Calistri told the editor that I'd be perfect for a specific assignment on poker blogs. I was supposed to have an article appear in the May issue but to my disappointment it had not been released yet. The editor of Bluff told me that the poker blogs article was bumped from the April issue to the May issue because Michael Craig wrote a piece about the heads-up matches between Andy Beal and the Corporation. That was added at the last minute. The editor wrote me to apologize and explain why I'd have to wait another month to see my piece. I told him that I understood completely. If I'm gonna get bumped by another writer, I was honored that it was author Michael Craig. He's a real writer, not like majority of the hacks that populate the poker publishing industry. I'm a fan of Craig's work and let's be honest, reading about Andy Beal and the Corporation is gonna sell more magazines that my piece about poker blogs. Keep your eyes out for the May issue. I mentioned a slew of poker blogs by name and I hope that the copy editor didn't cut down my piece for space.

I thumbed through the latest issue of Poker Pro magazine, the one with David Williams on the cover. Lou Krieger recommended me to the editors/owners last year. Lou's a big fan of my writing and admires my work ethic. I'm seriously thankful that I came across stand-up people like Amy and Lou in this brutal industry. He helped secure me a monthly tournament column. If you pick up a copy of any Poker Pro, you'll find some of my tournament coverage in there. The current issue has a piece on the Borgata Winter Open and features several of my photographs.

I went 1 for 2 at the Borders searching for my articles in major poker magazines. I eventually found the map of PCH that I was looking for and planned out my drive back to Hollyweird. I never went into Borders to look for any poker magazines. I was on vacation from all things poker. But when I spotted the magazine rack, I instantly recalled the Bluff article that I wrote and I wanted to see it in print. On a random sidenote, I haven't been paid for that article yet. Magazines wait until the issue hits the stands before they pay the writers so usually it's a six month gap from the day I get the assignment to the day I actually get the check.

As I walked out of Borders and back onto Powell Street, a one-legged panhandler sat in a wheelchair on the corner adjacent from Union Square. He held up a piece of paper. On one side it read, "Hi!" and on the other it said "Smile!"

Life can be a coinflip sometimes. I managed to get extremely lucky in life. One bad decision or a streak of misfortune and I could have been the homeless guy in the wheelchair. That eternal philosophical question popped up... "Why am I me instead of that guy?"

As I stood waiting for the light to change, the brisk evening San Francisco air made me shiver as a wave of humility fell over me. My life has been so hectic over the past year and a half that I've had very little time to enjoy the success I've had as a writer. In a blink, all of this can be all gone. I guess you can say that I stopped to smell the roses. Sometimes I focus too much on the past or the future that I forget to focus on the present.

I've been enjoying the "now" and been taking the last two weeks to fully soak up my accomplishments and trying to figure out the next step on my journey. One of the things I had to figure out is why am I writing and what I hope to accomplish in the future, as well as list four or five projects that I'd like to pursue. Part of my time in Hollyweird was trying to find a literary agent to help find me work and more importantly negotiate what I'm worth. For the past year I've been underpaid for everything I've written. Part of that was because I was a rookie and I didn't have a choice since I was unpublished and unknown. I also made several mistakes and got screwed over by people I thought I could trust and allowed myself and my writing to get exploited. Luckily I met people like the Poker Prof, Flipchip, and Lou. They all helped steer me in the right direction.

In my second year in his industry, I'm a little more wiser and I've taken Wil's advice and started declining work. I had over-extended myself and committed to too many things. Writing and working in the poker industry burnt me out. I tried my best to construct a lifestyle with a better balance of poker and non-poker things this year. It didn't work out and I had to step back and try again.

I've achieved several personal goals as a writer over the past few years. They were small goals like starting my own blogzine Truckin', completing a screenplay for Project Greenlight, finishing my first novel Jack Tripper Stole My Dog, completing NaNoWriMo (more than once), and getting published in a magazine. My next two goals are to sell a screenplay in Hollyweird and have one of my novels published.

Having a popular poker blog was never on my "To Do List." What's happened here has been a happy accident. Remember, I started this blog out of a mutiny from my friends who got sick of reading my poker exploits on the Tao of Pauly. To this day, I kick myself int he balls because I made a huge mistake. If I never started Tao of Poker, then my main blog would be the popular site and I'd only have to worry about keeping up one Tao a day instead of two.

But that was not the path I took. I split the Taos and the Tao of Poker has gotten me on the front page of Fox Sports and the cover story of Poker Player Newspaper. Twice. Inside of four weeks this year, I shook hands with Miss America and George Costanza from Seinfeld (played by actor Jason Alexander)... and both were in a poker room. I've also had hour long conversations with the CEO of a major casino and with the manager of one of the largest online poker rooms. Both were interested in hiring me for huge projects that would have paid me the equivalent of a NYC teacher's yearly salary for about two or three months of work. And you know what? I turned them both down.

Last month I turned down a free cruise to the Bahamas to cover a poker tournament. A few weeks ago, I almost turned down an invite to the Playboy Mansion. Wait, I did turn it down at first and changed my mind after I came to my senses.

Regardless, there's a pattern developing here. I wanted to discover the source of all this negativity that developed with me and poker. It turned into a bad marriage and didn't happen overnight. Over the past year I lost a passion for poker and that affected my writing, my blogs, my relationships, and most importantly... my bankroll. I guess I could blame poker as a whole, but that's not entirely accurate. I shoulder a large percentage of the blame if not most of it. I allowed all of this to happen and I'm glad I stopped to figure out what was going on before it got really ugly.

I love poker but it's not a "love" that lasts a 24 hour a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year kind of thing. I had to figure out what aspects of poker that I love the most and start from there.

I always had a desire to seek out a well-balanced and well-rounded life. And that's why I hit the wall with poker. My life over the past year has been consumed with poker. I can't think of a time where one thing has taken over all aspects of my life. I wrote in a post on the Tao of Pauly that poker was suffocating me as a person and as a writer. Unless I make time for other aspects of life, I'm never going to survive. I'm passionate about so many other things in life such as food, travel, women, live music, sports, and writing. I wish I had more time to experience my other passions.

I've cut back on the tournaments that I cover, skipping three WPT events; Reno, Foxwoods, and Bay 101. I've cut back several of my freelance gigs. I finally have breathing room for the first time in over a year. Yeah, too much of one thing is never good. I'm hoping that reducing the role of poker in my life by 27% (I totally made up that number) will allow me to rediscover the passion of poker, and most importantly the passion for writing again.

I've already burnt out as a tournament reporter and any of my close friends know about the "incidents" during the 2005 WSOP when I suffered a mental breakdown. On three separate instances I was ready to quit or was threatened to be fired. Working at the Rio for six straight weeks last summer really fucked me up. I guess you can say I burnt out before the main event even started.

This year, I'll be better prepared for the WSOP. I'm gonna be taking more breaks and will be resting more during the first four weeks instead of keeping up the frenetic pace that I endured last year. I had two instances were I slept less than 10 hours in a single week. Shit, I know people who sleep 10 hours a day and I got 10 hours of slumber during the entire main event last year.

Do you ever hear a song for the first time that you fall in love with right away? You buy the CD and you listen to it a million times. At some point, you stop listening to it. Heck, you might hear it out in a bar or even worse, it's been turned into elevator music or appears on a car commercial. You get to a boiling point and even say, "If I fuckin hear that song one more time I'm gonna explode!!"

That's how I felt about poker for the last couple of months. The major contributing factor is the depravity of the poker industry. That gets glossed over my the Travel Channel, ESPN, and all the poker publications. I really want to be honest about what I have seen in the poker industry. I can't and it's frustrating. It's hard to censor myself and keep quiet, yet I'm doing just that and it made me miserable. I've always been one to speak my mind, but in doing so, I would end up hurting friends, several pros, and would kill whatever writing career I have.

Gambling is a desperate act. Sure, I get off on it. We all do. But the reasons why we gamble are deeply rooted in self-esteem issues and obsessive compulsive behavior. I'm a known addict and action junkie. Poker is perfect for my degenerate personality because it has some intellectual aspects as much as "The Rush." Whose heart doesn't race when they are waiting for that river card to be dealt to seal our fate or save our ass? For some you lost in your life, the rush of poker is a real feeling. It makes you feel alive in the moment and that's why you do it.

Humans have always sought to get high in one form or another. For some people it's Christ. For others its cocaine. For anyone reading this post... it's poker.

I'm stuck $10K since Halloween and feel like a total loser. My losses spanned several months and included poker, sports betting, and the stock market. I got my ass handed to me during the March Madness tournament. I also have been taking a bath in a few stocks, in particular Brazil Telecom. I've been making plenty of poor decisions over the last few months and I think that the pressure of being in poker has affected me. I needed to step back an analyze why everything went wrong.

I didn't prep for this year's March Madness like I've done in the past watching hundreds of hours of games leading up to the tournament and crunching the numbers like defensive FG% and second-half FT%. I didn't have the time to fully analyze my stock picks and that hurt my retirement fund. I made money when I worked on Wall Street not because I could pick winners. I made money because I was a scumbag and churned your accounts.

Greg Raymer told me that "successful tournament players are able to make good decisions."

I've always reminded myself those words before I play in any poker tournament. I wish I did that before I bought that dogshit stock and made about ten or eleven horrible picks in the March Madness games.

I guess you can say that I got benched. The coach in me pulled me from the game and told me to sit down and think about my mistakes. I've spent many hours thinking and reflecting about the poor decisions and all the "inaction" that took place over the last year. Inaction is worse than a bad decision since it's not making a decision at all.

I feel a lot better knowing that I've been taking time out to reassess a lot of things in my life, especially with how poker relates to me. The "tao" represents "the way." I got lost and I'm finding my way back to the Tao.

It's hard for me to walk away from poker because I love playing it too much. Just the other night, I won a big pot playing $5/$10 on Party Poker. Nothing too special except that I had A-K and rivered two pair but the river card made a flush. I expected to lose the pot and made a crying call on the river only to see the pot shipped my way.

I had not been that excited about a hand in months and I screamed, "Thanks for calling with top pair dipshit!"

I guess it had been a while since I won something. I felt "the rush" playing poker for the first time in a very long time.

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