I knew it because I had stopped taking pleasure in my friends' success. Instead, I felt a nagging envy that set my mind wandering to places it shouldn't be. In the past, friends' success would be cause for celebration, a mutual endorphin rush that comes from the home team winning. My feelings had started to become the equivalent of the former leadoff hitter watching his replacement steal another base. The home team may be headed to the playoffs, but for the guy on the bench, it's just another reminder that he won't ever have a chance at being in the Hall of Fame.
I knew it because my heart had shifted. I'd never embraced schadenfreude before. Now, I was taking immense pleasure in watching people fail. If not pleasure, I at least found some sort of sick comfort in watch my enemies implode at the tables. And what was that? I'd never before had enemies. I never actively disliked anyone before. Now, I did.
Each of these things started to manifest themselves into misplaced anger. I wasn't merely feeling sorry for myself. I was starting to get mad at other people for failing to see how miserable I really was. I was feeling unappreciated. I felt like I was giving more than I was getting back. They were never feelings I would express, mostly because I knew how fucked in the head I really was. However, it was all there and I couldn't deny I was feeling it.
It occurred to me in mid-May as I stared at the digital clock on my nightstand: I wasn't me anymore. The guy I always loved to be--was proud to be--was missing. My patience had eroded and now sat like an exposed nerve in an abcessed tooth. My ability to enjoy anyone's company was usually short-lived. I didn't like myself and I couldn't see how anyone could like me either. Once trusting to a fault, I looked at 98% percent of people with a suspicious eye.
When I was thinking reasonably, I realized it was a question of whether I was gone or merely lost. If gone, it was a question of whether I could survive as this new person. If lost, it was a question of along which path I lost myself. Was it the road to attempted poker success? Was it the road to being a good family provider? Was it the road away from traditional career? There had been so many paths I'd traveled in the past four years, it was impossible to say. I could've slipped away on any of them.
"Your mood is not in a good place," my wife said one night over dinner.
"No, it's not," I said, and left it at that. I was unwilling--no, unable--to tell her the truth.
I was lost and had no idea where to start looking.
The only thing that was at all certain was that I was not succeeding anywhere. I hadn't failed yet, but I felt like I was close. I wasn't even sure how to define failure. It would've been easy if failure had a finish line, some easily discernable point at which I could just say, "Well, I guess that's it, then." It wasn't like that, though. Failure seemed to be a slow process, one that didn't kill with a shot to the head. It was a misquito that was never full and always awake.
I wasn't broke financially or morally. Emotionally, though, I was like that old bluegrass song. "I ain't broke, but brother, I'm badly bent."
In short, I was functioning. Getting by. It was stasis in some sort of death embrace with stagnation. I awoke most days--and went to bed each night--with the same overwhelming feeling. It whispered, "You're doing nobody any good. And for no good reason."
What in the hell did that mean? "For no good reason?"
I had the feeling that my attempts to succeed on all fronts was contributing to my slow failure in each of them. If I had any talent in any of the arenas I loved, I was allowing each one to waste away.
That night, over dinner, I must have had that far-off look on my face, because my wife said, "Where did you go?"
After some prodding, I said, "I'm thinking about going to Vegas a few days early."
In the run-up to the European Poker Tour's Grand Final in Monte Carlo, Pauly had e-mailed me and asked if I wanted to go to Amsterdam with him after we finished up in Monaco. I felt the selfish twitch and thought about long days spent with Pauly in the coffee shops. I considered it for about ten seconds, before reminding myself I am a man with responsibilities. Leaving the family to go to Monte Carlo for the third time in three years was bad enough. Taking a week on to the trip to go hang out in Amsterdam would've been a bit too much to ask. In fact, at the time, I didn't even bring it up with the wife. She would've thought I was looking for a Responsibility Medal.
One night in Monte Carlo, Pauly and I stood in the middle of the media room and chatted about his upcoming trip. He talked about the various people he might see there, but said, "Man, I just need to be alone for a while."
And that's when I realize his invitation to me was one he probably wanted to make, but deep down he knew it would be better if he just had a few days to get his head together.
I thought about that for a while. Every man needs some alone time. It's not for a lack of love for the people around him. It's just time to be Away. I'd actually planned for it a couple of years back. It was supposed to be a secret trip to Tunica to be alone and test my mettle. Instead, I decided I'd rather spend time with my friends. We went and turned it into a little tradition.
Since then, apart from one day in tired Milan, I hadn't spent one day alone.
And so, the plan was to go to Vegas alone before the start of the World Series. At the time, I had no intention of being in Las Vegas for the whole Series. I had many a grand plan. And then everything changed and I became a seasonsal resident of Las Vegas.
And here I am.
I've struggled to find a way to express everything that's been happening here. Between the Eskimo Clark stories, Vinnie Vinh stories, and all the other seedy news going on here, there's not been any time for reflection. I say all this because I get the sense a lot of people are searching here, but it's such a hard place to search, like trying to find a needle in a stack of needles.
So, here we are, and I've offered nothing yet in terms of good writing on Up For Poker. I've been working hard to make my paid gig better than it has been in the past. I've succeeded a few times and turned out three or four pieces--out of about 70--that I really like.
The good thing is that, even though this grind is not as enjoyable as it used to be, I get the sense I'm on the cusp of something. It may not be anything resembling success, but at least it will be something resembling peace.
Because of all that, a lot of what I had been feeling for many months is gone. I'm turning back into the guy I like, for better or worse. And if I can find that guy again, I'll be one step toward getting where I need to be.
A couple nights ago, I had the pleasure of having a couple of drinks with Jim McManus and something he said turned a little light on in my head.
He said that he had made more money writing in the past year than he had playing poker.
I'm not exactly sure what, if anything, that will end up meaning as I try to get this soul searching off the ground.
But, it has to mean something.