Earlier this week, I wrote on CardSquad that other than my Tuesday and Thursday games at PokerStars, I’m taking a serious break from playing poker. I have been running so bad lately, and I’ve been so consistently unlucky, it’s just not fun. So while I’ll continue to write about it, and I’ll continue to enjoy watching it on TV, my own play will be limited for the near future.
This pays off, I promise. So don’t think this is another one of those poker stories and skip over it, okay?
I also have to take a break, because losing in poker games has struck a very raw and very exposed emotional nerve with me: I’ve felt like a complete and total loser the last few weeks, and not just because I’m not winning at cards. In real life, I’ve been withdrawn and depressed, even (especially) around my wife and kids. So yesterday, when I walked to the bookstore, I was honest with myself about why I feel so lousy: I am still hurt, and angry, and disappointed with the way O’Reilly completely fucked up Just A Geek. More than that, I’m hurt, and angry, and disappointed at the way I was treated, as a person and as an author. It’s completely out of my hands, now, and I’ve learned an awful lot from the experience about the vast gulf between what people say and what people do, and the importance of getting things in writing, but it still makes me want to alternately break things and cry when I think about the totally wasted opportunity, and how mislead I was during the whole thing.
I worked hard on Just A Geek, and I put my faith and trust into other people to help me share it with the world. At the end of the day, I just feel like I worked real hard so I could get a miniscule cut of the profits, and my work wasn’t even shared with anyone I couldn’t have reached on my own. The fact that they insisted on promoting it as a Star Trek book, which I correctly warned them would severely limit its audience and appeal, after I was promised that they wouldn’t, just adds to the feeling of betrayal and disappointment. It’s very hard for me to even look at the book on my bookshelf and feel good about it, and I hate that. I know that there’s nothing to be gained from wallowing about it, but it’s there. I guess I just have to accept that I was mislead and taken advantage of, and never let that happen again. Taking control of future publishing is easy — I already proved that with Dancing Barefoot. But getting over that sense of betrayal anddisappointment . . . well, it’s not as easy. But at least I’ve honestly identified it, and maybe I’ll be able to move on from it now. I feel like a loser because I wanted so badly to believe everything they said, that I ignored my instincts when my instincts told me it was too good to be true.
In Radio Free Burrito Episode Zero, I talked about an audition I had for a sitcom, where I totally nailed it. I left feeling better than I’ve ever felt about an audition in my life, and I knew that I was, as they say, "The Guy." The casting people, producers, writers, and everyone else felt the same way, and I was one callback away from booking an awesome job, on a hilarious show, with all the freedom, success, and opportunity being on the next Friends would bring.
The callback happened while I was out of the country for the poker tournament in the Bahamas, and there was no way at all to make the schedules work out. I told myself that if I was meant to get the job, they’d find a way to reschedule, but that was incredibly unlikely since it would be over ten days until I’d be back. Of course, they couldn’t reschedule, and I lost the job. Actors spend their entire careers trying to get an opportunity like that one, and when I finally got it, I lost it. I feel like a complete loser because I don’t know when another opportunity like it will come along, or if I’ll ever have another chance like that in my career, where I pretty much just have to show up to get the gig.
I understand that by any rational metric, I have a fucking great life, and I’m not going to pretend that I don’t, or be ungrateful for the things I have. But the fact is, I’ve felt frustrated, tired, and depressed for weeks.
So what? What am I going to do? Sit in the corner and feel sorry for myself? That’s not going to do anyone any good. Go on a raging bender, crash my car, pick up some tabloid press and get my own reality TV program? That is so 2002.
Aware of the reasons I have felt unhappy, I decided to spend some time thinking about what makes me happy. What makes me feel good about myself? What do I look forward to, everyday? It should come as no surprise to anyone (myself included) that the answer is my family. The very people I’ve been so withdrawn from while I’ve felt like shit about myself for things that are totally out of my control. It’s put me on this downward spiral of idiotic self-loathing and self-pity, where I’ve asked myself on an almost-daily basis, "Why am I doing any of this? What’s the point in even trying?"
"Well, stupid, the answer is right in front of you. You work hard to support your family because you love them. You try hard to write good stuff and get acting jobs because you’re an artist and nobody ever said that any of this would be easy. In fact, if it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth doing. You can’t change any of these things that have already happened, and you’ll never be able to control how many acting opportunities you get. But you can control how much time you spend with your family. You can choose to make an effort to play games with the kids, take walks with Anne, and be present and involved in their lives. Or you can be a whiny little bitch and boo-hoo-hoo your way into misery. But take responsibility for your choice, whatever it is, especially since you’re now aware of why you feel shitty, and how to not feel shitty any more. No excuses, Wil."
No excuses. I take responsibility for my choices, and I accept that there are things I just can’t change that are beyond my control. I also resolve to embrace the things that are within my control, and not take my family for granted. If I’m completely honest with myself, the brutal truth is: I feel like a loser because I haven’t been there for my family. That has to change.
Yeah, it was a pretty good walk. Two big things, both essentially opportunities that missed after I’d worked so very hard to get there. And poker? I play tournament-style poker, which means that most of the time, I’m going to work very hard to get there, miss the money, and have nothing to show for my efforts. When I made that connection, I understood why I was getting so irrationally angry when I took a bad beat, or finished in 19th when 18 places paid. But my family is entirely different. I don’t have to work very hard to get there, because there is here. Somehow, I’d lost that forest because of the trees.
So last night, I grabbed the Whole Foods Cookbook — which I can’t endorse strongly enough — and made dinner for all of us: borracho beans, cilantro and lime rice, plus grilled tequila-marinated chicken breasts. It reminded me of how much fun it was when I made The Chicken Soup last year. My family sat together at the dinner table and I knew why I am doing any of this. I understood the point in even trying.
When dinner was done, I had about 90 minutes until my Thursday night poker tournament began, so Nolan and I played Dungeon. We played three games, and we realized that there is a tiny bit of unbalance in a two player game: If you play the Wizard, and take two teleport spells, you can poof down to level 5 right away, cast your other spells into rooms without risking death if you miss, and collect treasure fairly safely if you hit. When you run out of spells, you just poof back to the main staircase, reload, and head back to level 5 or 6. Since the Wizard needs 30,000 to win, you can get it in eight or nine turns at the lower levels, and easily win against the Paladin or Warrior. Interestingly, though, if a Wizard is playing against a Dwarf, it’s a much closer race, since the Dwarf only needs 5,000 to win and can pull that off without ever going deeper than level three.
We played three games to test these hypotheses out. During the second game, Ferris grabbed one of the Dwarf figures out of the box and chomped on it before we could do stop her, so I played the last game as two little feet. When Nolan won, I said, "In my defense, getting 7,000 when you’re just a pair of shoes is pretty good."
"Yeah," he said, "You have mad kicking skills."
After we were done, I sat down to play my poker tournament. It was really fun to play with my friends from the WPBT, especially when my friend Chris was moved to my table a few hands into the tourney. Chris is a well-known aggressive player, and I knew that he’d be picking on my blinds whenever he got the chance.
The third hand after Chris came to my table: I am dealt pocket aces in the big blind. I am confident that I can goad Chris into making a play at stealing my blind, so I type, "I dare you to raise." Of course he does, and I re-raise him. I hope he thinks I’m just trying to steal from him, and I’m thrilled when he pushes all his chips in. I insta-call, and he turns over two queens.
The flop comes K-T-x, and I type, "oh crap, you just picked up some outs."
The turn is a queen, and my only hope is an ace on the river. Instead, another queen comes out, and I lose to quads. I think I was the second or third player to go out.
"It’s Groundhog day . . . again." I thought. "I was only an 82% favorite on the flop. Of course I lost."
If I hadn’t taken that walk yesterday, if I hadn’t spent the entire evening with my family, goofing off with Ryan while I prepared dinner, playing nerdy games with Nolan after, enjoying and appreciating the love that fills my house, I probably would have gone head first out the office window. Instead, I cussed like crazy in irc, sent Chris an e-mail that said, "nice hand, fucker. now go win this thing," closed the office door behind me, and watched CSI with my family.
"I thought you were playing poker," Nolan said, when I sat down next to him on the couch.
"I was." I said.
"Did you get knocked out already?"
"It’s not important," I said. Then, "this is important."
"This. Us. Family. Together." I pointed around the living room.
"Uh . . . okay, Wil." He said in the "my stepdad is nuts" voice.
"What I mean is," I said, "I love you."
"I . . . love you too, Wil." He said, in the "it’s real good that you did that, now please don’t wish me into the cornfield" voice.
I smiled at him.
"You’re kind of creeping me out," he said with a smile of his own. "No offense."
"None taken," I said. "I understand."
Yeah. I understand.