Here and Back Again

My most recent piece was about many things, but among its themes, finding a path to sanity in the chaotic world of poker was principle. I don’t find it particularly ironic, but perhaps I should, that going back to Las Vegas should aid me in this modest search.

Family is good, maybe even strengthening, but not easy. I have learned to push myself, to find patience I did not think I had anymore, in supporting, looking after, and just plain being around family members, especially ones with extremely strong claims about life, the universe, everything. You can’t just laugh away your family; they are part of you and even the craziest thing they think can follow you deep into the mental sanctum. When pushed to believe incredible things, it can be difficult even just being kind to them while maintaining what integrity must. I suppose this is why, though I have nearly forgotten as it has been so long, why one wants true friends around.

Otherwise, everything is a test and everything is a conflict. This must be what they mean by that enigmatic complaint – “surrounded by people who make you feel alone.”

That’s what family has often felt like most of my life. (Of course, it could be my fault – when all the dwarves show up to sing and eat and plan, it should be a good time, they say.) Now, I won’t let important people around me fail, but all of it has been rough in two specific areas: on my physical health and on my wallet.

My latest return to Sin City’s theme is about fixing both of those concerns: I’m certainly not going to upgrade my family and friends here. Finding good people in Las Vegas, home and beacon to fools and grifters, is a thin bet. (I’ve been luckier than most so far because of teaching and hosting games.) It often seems everyone is on the make – and why shouldn’t they be, this is the home of the make, the dodge, the skim.

So, instead of focusing on relationships, I have been determined to ride it and my mission here out, to lie in my bed like the cinema nouveau Samurai, rising only to carry out my task before returning to the literal darkness of my dwelling. I’d also hoped to leave sometime soon, to not commit, and that half-measure has influenced me, but a feeling has been coming over me that my life elsewhere is over. I dream constantly of my past, of my home, my friends and enemies, not as if beckoning a happy return but as if they have been sublimated into the challenges of the present. I almost fear sleep, knowing it comes at the cost of nightmares and memories I’d rather forget. It sometimes seems that I am always awake, always sore, and always tired.

I like the morning far more. When day breaks, there and here, I tend to shake off these concerns and instead focus on making good moral choices; I suppose it is inevitable that as we age this becomes more and more important, or maybe is all that I really can do without a clear vision of what I should be doing long-term. One choice I made a while back, after some regrettable alcohol-fueled outbursts, was not to engage on social media except in the most limited ways, but I’m tempted to come out of my shell. I know objectively that Twitter and such are not really for arguing – the format is against coming to logical conclusions and seems to worsen conflict.

However, dumpster fires like the “PokerKaren” account and the fool behind it make me and probably at least a few others want to lean in, however useless it is without the power of fame. As I will point out in a coming podcast, while I am not really a friend of Billy’s and rarely hear from him, that feeling of needing to right an obvious injustice to someone you know is very strong. I’m not just frustrated with myself for doggedly continuing to implement my code of silence in social media, I’m frustrated by the others who relish and actually do lead the poker scene’s social media but are mysteriously not defending him against such thin and vaporous charges. I’m constantly reminded how selfish and self-interested many of my opponents at the table and in the media are; they are mostly disappointing and uninteresting, features of the desert rather than its conquerors. I don’t “look up” to anyone – I’m a well-past grown man – but somehow, I had bought in to the reputations of certain poker figures without knowing the cost of my expenditure.

One of my worst hobbies is a bit of a disappointment, too, but inexplicably funny as well. To a great extent the political and sociological and commentary scene online works the same way as poker social media. The natural instinct is to take an interest in the polis at some point in your life, and to leave the world a better place than you found it, but frankly, I’m not sure we deserve it. The endless bad ideas of the endless pied pipers are sore tests on restraint. There is no argument to win, of course, and I know the deck is stacked. You can point out a very simple, almost humble kernel of a thing, but it is nearly always taken as simply an opportunity for some moron and his but-actually-whadabbout-this song and dance. So, who would I want to engage? Reading what people think makes you realize your fellow man is often not your fellow at all, not an adversary exactly but something approaching it, a competitor for grass and sunlight here on the pampas, one whose culling just might not be so bad for the herd. Sure sounds depressing, but why am I somehow so amused by it all?

Still, the samurai code keeps me mostly quiet on this, too, leaving some essays and blogs as my only scratches on the cave wall. Maybe that is changing? I may be closer to reengaging and feeling good about it, or maybe there is just a better way than bluster. Maybe I shouldn’t overstate this new indifference: I’m already settling into my dark and empty apartment, my Vegas hobbit-hole. Going out seems silly with Second Breakfast coming up and Elevensies after.

In any case, I return to “the meadow” having been through a self-created crucible. Some small, dense thing had to be wrestled within my mind and conquered on paper, all while also passing the familial test of patience and resolve. I’m not well or happy or particularly hopeful, still out of position, but I return undeniably freed of some of my burdens. Maybe they were never there, maybe they were just illusions. Maybe they were just the clutter of a foolish mind, now briefly ordered.

Either way, I’m not used to the feeling but I’m not imagining it. I’m just a little, well, lighter, somehow.

See you in the games.

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