Monday, January 07, 2008

Art and Masturbation

By Pauly
Melbourne, Australia

Much like 2007, I begin the new year hung over down under while on assignment covering the Aussie Millions for Poker News. If you were to ask me about my game plan for 2007... exactly one year ago... what I wanted to achieve and accomplish didn't exactly match up to what really happened. Life is funny like that. You can make plans and goals and commence on a journey with an intended destination, yet you always seem to get blown off course. Like John Lennon said, "Life is what happens when you are busy making plans."

Sweden is the perfect example. A year ago, if you said that I'd go to Sweden in August and end up working for a Swedish client (and getting paid in the almighty Euro after the US Dollar sunk to the equivalent of a third world currency and got smoked like a bag of cheap ditch weed), I would have told you that you were fuckin' nuts. That was not in my plans for 2007. It wasn't even on the radar, yet that's exactly happened.

So if you told me right now, that by the end of the summer Tony G and I will open up three fast food chicken franchises in Moscow, I might believe you since that's the last thing I have on my list of things to do in 2008.

The last decade or so of my life has been filled with a lot of reactionary living. I have been reacting to the atmosphere around me and making decisions on the fly and adjusting accordingly. Five years ago in a galaxy far far away, I wore a dark Brooks Brothers suit with freshly shined shoes as I reluctantly rode the downtown subway to Wall Street six days a week. I was a miserable 30-year old barely holding onto the last threads of humanity. When I prayed, I used to pray to God to send a deranged homeless man to shove me onto the train tracks, so I would die because I was so fuckin' depressed and caught up in a rueful rut, yet too chicken-shit to kill myself because suicide is a very un-Catholic thing to do. Like the majority of the herd, I was too confused and scared to make the necessary changes in my life which would put me onto a path of self-fulfillment and happiness. However, when I left Wall Street behind in the Spring of 2003 (for the second time in less than a decade), I had no idea what would happen to me but deep inside I felt alive for the first time since before 9.11. I embraced the unknown, because I was content on choosing an artistic life of constant struggle than a safer and more comfortable path.

Some days, I reflect upon a decade ago when I was in my mid-20s and living on the fringe of society in Seattle. I was flat broke and worked four jobs just to pay rent and have enough herb for my pipe and enough beer for my belly. I achieved a semblance of happiness then even though I wasn't living what my family considered a productive and fruitful life. Alas, my thoughts often drift to those foggy days. I'm confident that they were 100% necessary because I never would have gotten to where I am today, if I didn't migrate to the West Coast and live among the hippies and embark upon the necessary steps to find my voice as a writer. In Seattle, I was exposed to alternative artistic pursuits and immersed myself in books, films, music, and philosophy that I never would have pursued if I continued to live with the hipsters in Brooklyn.

It's weird how I'm constantly looking back at my life around a decade ago. I can't explain it, but for some reason I have been writing a lot about my time living in Seattle or being on the road at the end of the 1990s following Phish all over North America. I guess that something clicked in my head and there's a flashlight scouring the darkest corners of my mind where those memories have been tucked away. I can finally understand what was going on with me then... which at the time which I couldn't comprehend. It's a perfect example of what Kierkegaard said that... "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards."

In short, it's easier for me to write about stuff that happened ten years ago than it is for me to write about stuff ten days ago. I guess that's why I think I won't write a great book about the poker scene or Las Vegas until 2015... if I make it that far. By then I'll have a decade of life in between me and my first leap into the poker world. I'll be a little older and wiser then, and a more concise writer. Someday, I'll write that book although I dunno if I or anyone else can wait seven years for that to happen. Who knows if poker will fade away or be more popular than ever? I can't even tell you what poker will be like in America six months from now, let alone six years.

Like I stated earlier, I have ideas and goals for 2008, but I also know at this point that my hopes and expectations often dissolve into thin air. Fate often throws you a curveball when you least expect it. You actually have no control over how things transpire, and the illusion of control is one of the most dangerous things I have encountered in my short life.

It's important to have an intended destination in life and it's even more important to have the flexibility and patience in getting there. But the most vital aspect to living, is to allow yourself to leap into the unknown, because that's where the biggest mysteries of life are hidden.

There were days, weeks, and months in 2007 when I had almost every minute of my life mapped out, and then there were weeks where I refused to commit to anything and I lived life without any direction and boundaries. I seemed to have the most fun during my blocks of unstructured and unfettered time because my writing flourishes while the creative juices intoxicate and inspire me. What I'm really trying to say is that I thrive on chaos, while structure makes me despondent.

2007 was a banner year despite the ups and downs. My closest friends knew about the private struggles with accepting the mood swings that accompany a grumpy artist, or battling with addiction (pick any four), or overcoming multiple health issues which may or may have not been triggered by my addictions or the intense travel and unhealthy work schedule (like getting 15 hours of sleep per week during the WSOP). I would often say things to my friends like, "I'm burnt out and I'm so sick of poker."

Like the Kurgan mentioned in the Highlander movie, "It's better burn out, than to fade away!"

After a long and intense three years covering the poker scene, I am more than burnt out. The novelty of spanning the globe has worn out and I waste weeks of my life standing in airport security lines or waiting for another delayed flight or finding myself getting issued another bad beat by JetBlue when I get seated next to another crying baby on my flight from JFK to Burbank. I have been living the majority of the last 1,000 days of my life in hotels and hate having to worry if a horde of illegal immigrant maids with sticky fingers will steal my iPod or a wad of $100 bills that I have hidden somewhere in the room. Or worse, a maid will burst into my hotel room at 8am (even though I have the "Do Not Disturb" sign in full view) just so she can refold my toilet paper into that nifty little triangle.

My worst fears have become a reality. My immersion into poker is no longer cool and exciting. It has become a job instead of a lifestyle choice, and by definition, all jobs suck.

I knew it was a problem when I found myself being evasive when strangers ask, "What do you write about?"

I hate saying "poker" because it gets such an unusual reaction and then people (not in the industry) start asking me a million and one questions, or want to discuss poker strategy, or worse... they tell me a bad beat story. Poker is my job. It's not something I actively seek to discuss while bumping into old friends on cold street corners in New York City. That's why I respond, "I write freelance for a bunch of magazines and websites. Boring stuff. So how are your kids?"

It's time for a break. That's why I'm taking off several months in between the Aussie Millions and the 2008 WSOP. I had taken off the final two months of 2007 to write and relax, so in essence, I'm on the cusp of a hiatus where I would have only worked a 15 day assignment over a stretch of seven months. I figured that by the time I arrive at the 2008 WSOP, I will be refreshed and rejuvenated and ready to cover my fourth WSOP in a row. That time off will allow me to be in much better head space and I'll finally have that time to improve as a writer and hone my craft and then if I decide to choose to return to covering poker tournaments, I can easily do another year or so. I want to be prepared to be able to handle a couple of more years on the road... and I can't do that without taking some time off right now.

Of course, I have no idea what will happen in 2008. Opening up that chicken shack in Moscow with Tony G sounds pretty enticing the more that I think about it. But if I had any advice to give you... it's this... enjoy the Tao of Poker while you can. It might not be here in 2009.

Maybe I should walk away from poker right now? Cash out. Sell the Tao. I have a big stack in life thanks to my tremendous good luck in poker. I should quit while I'm ahead and use the money I earned to fund my personal projects. I have seen poker's ugly side and many of my friends have gotten their collective asses kicked by poker. They have left empty-handed.

Maybe I should just quit after the 2008 WSOP?

At the end of the 2008 WSOP, I'll make that tough decision. If I choose to walk away from poker entirely, well then that's what's going to happen.

I'm at a crossroads. I have grown bored with poker when there's so much other interesting and compelling stuff going on in the world right now. I could take an assignment to cover the Olympics in Beijing, or hit the campaign trail and follow the leading candidates on their run for the White House, or I could venture into one of the world's hot zones and become a combat correspondent, or most likely, I'll head for the plastic hills of Hollyweird and churn out mindless static for the motion picture industry (once the writer's strike is over).

As much as poker has given me more financial freedom (i.e. I'm out of debt), I have also found it suffocating me artistically. I have all these gestating ideas and my inability to follow through on them due to time or work constraints has been extremely frustrating to endure.

I have a personal writing project that I started in November. I'd like to finish that in the months leading up to the WSOP. That would require me to spend a lot more time in Hollyweird working out logistics and research. It also means more time in NYC because I seem to write my best stuff there. If I gave myself four months to write and create and have huge chunk of unstructured time, I know that I'll achieve a semblance of happiness that had been missing from my life in 2007. Sure, I made more money than I could have ever dreamed of in 2007, but money is not important to me. If it was, I'd still be the monkey with the grinder getting irrelevant chip counts on another young internet multi-accounting hot shot that will be broke in six months time.

As much as it's important for me to write, I also want to devote more time to the amazing people in my life. I have neglected a lot of older friendships and it is important to me to reconnect with a lot of people in my life that I respect and admire.

I also have a slew of other side projects like LasVegasVegas and Fantasy Sports Live. I'd like to get more involved in those sites and continue on with my other blogs like Tao of Pauly, Truckin', and my music blog. And you should keep your eye out on those sites over the next twelve months.

By eliminating the grueling travel schedule and scaling back on my freelance work (aside from my columns in Bluff and Poker Player Newspaper, but I can handle a mere three deadlines a month) and focusing more on living than working, I will have more time for my personal projects. I can finally rest up and get healthy and find more time to write on my blogs and sites, which means more stuff for you to read to distract and entertain you.

I guess to sum up...

I'm taking time off (around four months) after the Aussie Millions to regain control of my life. I'm back to my old self where I'm living life on my terms and ignoring what the brainwashed masses think. I have no idea if I can pull it off, but I'm gonna do my best to write a screenplay, travel for myself (like a trip to New Zealand with Change100 at the end of the month), listen to more live music, spend time with new friends and reconnect with old friends. I also have a pile a books that I want to read and I'll be constantly thinking about Johnny Hughes' advice about having just one girl, one drug, and one gambling vice.

In Stardust Memories, a 1980 film by Woody Allen, there's a quote from a character named Sandy Bates played by Allen. It goes something like, "You can't control life. It doesn't wind up perfectly. Only art you can control. Art and masturbation. Two areas in which I am an absolute expert."

Original content written and provided by Pauly from Tao of Poker at All rights reserved. RSS feeds are for non-commercial use only.

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