Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A Rain Gently Falls

Since the inception of the written word and filmmaking, writers and directors have been using a shift in weather and/or the seasons to reflect the change in mood for a particular scene or character. The other morning, as most New Yorkers were still asleep or pulling themselves out of bed, I found myself jogging through a light rain as I admired the foliage of the empty tree lined streets that I ran down. The dual alliteration of a rainy autumn day summed up my cliche of a life. Those happy sunny summer days of poker are over for now as the winter of discontent approaches. And eventually the bitter winter freeze ends in a thaw and those warm halcyon days quickly return. But not for a while. The cycle has to run it's course and when those days return, I'll be a slightly different person.

My iPod had died the night before and all I had were my thoughts to keep me entertained as I shrugged off the subtle pain in my right knee that crept up somewhere during the second mile of my morning run. I convinced myself that working out would be more beneficial in the long term that satisfying any of three urges that kept flashing through my head. Instead of running through puddles, I longed to sleep in a warm bed with a blonde du jour or to write with music blasting at top volume under a thick cloud of marijuana smoke or to eat a huge platter of crispy bacon with a side order of bacon. Anything seemed better than plodding through the wet streets and avoiding the slippery multicolored leaves.

I originally chose to pursue my inner calling as a writer for three specific reasons. I wanted to take alternative path in life. I wanted to challenge myself and see if I'm just a shit talker or someone who actually accomplishes things. And the third is one that seems to motivate the masses... I did it to get chicks.

I started a blog by the recommendation of my old college roommate who happened to write for a newspaper in Florida. He said it would be good outlet for me when I was on Wall Street. Eventually my original blog became a conversation with my friend Senor who had quit his job in NYC and moved to Southeast Asia shortly prior to 9.11. We barely had any contact then, so I would write stuff out that I would normally tell him and he'd go to an internet cafe once a week and catch up. I've taken that philosophy to my other blogs. Although I write mainly for myself, I'm also writing to an audience of one... Senor. I guess that's been my secret to blogging and why my words seem so personal at times. You're reading transcripts of conversations that I wanted to have but never got a chance to. And today, Senor is married with kids in Rhode Island. Although we're in closer geographically these days, he's so busy and we're living worlds apart that my only contact with him is when he reads my blogs.

I chose the poker path a few years ago because I was looking for a shortcut. Life is tough enough and the highway to all destinations pointing to the American Dream are congested due to road work with too many detours and alternative routes that lead nowhere. Poker was a way to get some quick cash. Then there's a deeper sense of satisfaction that you feel when win money at a poker table than if you earn it slinging beers behind a bar. I was willing to put my balls and money on the line, and the payoff was exhilarating and intoxicating. Part of it was a sense of smugness and sense of self-accomplishment that makes you walk tall because you had the testicular fortitude to take a shot by gambling on yourself instead of having to put on a suit and tie and take guff from an inept boss.

The risks were greater and so were the payoffs. That's the attraction of living the bohemian lifestyle or becoming a professional poker player. But the illusion and myth are much different from the reality. As I stated earlier, I got into poker and writing because I wanted to shy away from responsibility, yet here I am today bombarded with a longer list of responsibilities then when I had during my Wall Street days.

"It must be great to sleep in everyday," a friend recently wrote me. She had a misconception of my life.

"If I'm sleeping until noon, it's because I went to bed at 8am. Most days I'm up by 6 or 7am. I haven't been able to sleep in in months."

What the hell happened? I relished the outlaw lifestyle and now my days are filled with conference calls and meetings. I can't tell my bosses and peers what I really think about them and I have to play office politics in the poker industry even though I don't have an office. I have to censor myself all the time because there's that adage in the business world... if you are going to stab someone in the back, make sure they're on their way down the ladder and not up it. For now, I'm saving those juicy nuggets on the inbred dipshits of poker for a future book.

I knew I was in trouble when I went to take time off to write in September. In the past, my writing time became a sacred ritual and I retreated into seclusion and no one saw or heard from me until weeks later when I emerged with a manuscript. Although I skipped gigs at the Borgata and Aruba, I did not completely unplug myself. It was virtually impossible. My life had become a 24/7/365 business.

I couldn't even take a vacation away from poker without the shit smashing into the fan with the UIGEA. It could not have come at a worst time for me. All I wanted to do was write and not think about poker. No such luck. The emails started piling up. Then the calls, first from my baffled friends. Then freaked out bloggers. Then the confused people I work for. Then the press starting calling. Mainstream press too like the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, and Business Week calling me wanting to get my reaction and a quote.

I admit that selfishly at first I didn't care. I started to care a little bit when my friends started losing their jobs and sources of income and now I'm back in that I don't give a shit mode. As a writer, I secretly wanted to get out of the poker industry ever since I started it. I've been suffocating creatively for over a year due to the constraining nature of poker writing. And working in the same industry as my hobby made it tougher for me to enjoy poker when I wasn't working. Alas, the money involved was too good for me to walk away. Actually I tried to walk away earlier this year when I nearly pulled my blogs but cooler heads pointed out how much money I'd lose if I exited the industry and how I could use that to self-publish my own books or use the cash to travel.

Poker is either a distraction, a hobby, or a vehicle that some people use to unleash their personal shortcomings, addictions, and behavioral deficiencies. Simply put, poker is a game and if it's not fun anymore (like it had gotten for me on many instances) then you have to rediscover that jovial quality of poker.

I took a break and redefined my primary objective in poker before I returned to cover the WPT Championship. I cut a deal with myself that ended up coming up with a worthy compromise. I'd work for five months straight and then take the rest of the year off to write. My goal was to travel and write for the rest of 2006 before I went back to work in Jan 2007. Then I'd work through the end of the WSOP before I took another few months off to write for myself before I returned to poker in Jan 2008 to repeat the cycle. I discovered a way to still do poker and still keep my creative juices flowing with other non-poker projects.

In a positive light, this shake up might be just what I needed. I'm taking a hit in the wallet with the closure of Party Poker. That's where I made my most money playing online poker but some of those players have already emerged on Full Tilt and Poker Stars. I'll be losing a percentage of income with affiliates and ads, but I made the majority of my living as a freelance writer. Although I lost a few freelance clients and had to take a paycut at some places, I'm still writing with some of the majors. With several of my clients paying me less, there's less pressure per assignment. And with less clients, I regained some of my time back. My time is priceless so the more I thought about it, losing clients was the best thing for me.

It is going to take a few months before the entire poker industry will be in a better place to assess the damage. The poker expansion had gotten out of control and it was gaining momentum and speed faster than any of us could keep up. Now that's it's come to a halt and started to nose dive, we'll all have to see where it plateaus out.

As the poker machine swelled, it all of a sudden took on an ultra serious quality. In the media room at the Rio this past summer, we'd all laugh at the suits at Harrah's who walked around all smug because they honestly thought that the World Series of Poker was an actual sport. Or how some of us in media row make fun of the some of the arrogant attitudes of the WPT staff and crew because they act like they created poker. Although both the WSOP and WPT play a substantial role within the poker world, in the bigger picture they're insignificant in the real world.

I always thought we were one big scandal away from having the bubble burst. If poker takes a turn for the worst, I won't be shilling BoDog, Poker Stars, and Full Tilt anymore. I'll be standing on a milk crate and selling hair tonic in Times Square on Broadway and 43rd St. to tourists from Albania and Alabama.

The one good result of the IUGEA is that it lit a fire under the ass of some bloggers. For the first time in months, they were inspired to write and voice their opinion on matters that they were passionate about. Sadly, it wasn't the torture doctrines or other shady things our leaders are doing behind closed doors that got people up in arms. But at the least, people were writing from the heart and gut.

As an artist, I encourage (poker) bloggers to write what they want and when they want, because that's how they'll find their voice and become their own person. Without a voice, a blog is dead. You have to allow that evolution and metamorphosis to take shape. Once a person has an understanding of their ability and voice, then those blogs become a pleasure to read no matter if they are talking about bad beats, playing in Las Vegas, or mowing their lawn.

Some people that were bothered (shakes head) by the Spice Girls contest just didn't get it. If you want to be a better writer, you have to express yourself creatively and write about different things in order to grow. That contest and future ones are an exercise for people who were stuck or needed "the writer's shove" as my friend Jessica calls it.

And the contest also served a greater philosophical purpose. If you come to the understanding that writing about the Spice Girls is as meaningless as writing up how you played online last night, then you achieved a level of existentialist thinking that most bloggers cannot grasp.

In the end, none of this matters.

I don't know about you, but I'm bored with writing about life. Time to go live it.

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