Sorry for being slow to update this blog. It’s somewhat lame of me, I know, but I’ve been tremendously busy this last month. I was slogging through finals and finally finished this first semester, was working through the month of free mental coaching, and a slew of other things in my personal life – I started working with Habitat for Humanity (it’s a volunteer construction gig, which is pretty brutal in the summer Texas sun… but it’s good for the soul), I started doing podcasts interviewing poets for Jane Crown Poetry Radio, have been training JKD (I got my younger brother to start working out with me!), I’ve been trying to eat a Paleo diet, and have been working hard on writing. My life has been full and challenging.
The month of mental coaching went really well. At first I was nervous and uncertain as to whether I’d really be able to help people, but the more hours I put in, the more I realized just how capable I am and how much my students were improving. After all, I’d taught hundreds of poker players before, and getting into a student’s mind was always an integral part of coaching. I had to deal with all sorts of issues – tilt, motivation, creativity, study habits, playing habits, and overall lifestyle. It was a fascinating and edifying experience, and I’m happy that I genuinely helped everyone I coached.
It’s strange though, when I compare my life to what it was before. I don’t really to talk to many people from the poker world anymore. Even this mental coaching was strange for how much it brought me back into the world of poker. Using the lingo, getting into their minds, remembering what it’s like to be a grinder. Just the other day, one of my students asked me if I missed the game.
If I missed the game? Man. It’s a good question. Do I miss poker, you ask?
I don’t have a desire to play the game, if that’s what you’re asking. The love I once had for poker is gone. I don’t want it back. And yet – I remember a couple months ago, I was driving to school, not focused on anything in particular. I was just being lost in my own thoughts, daydreaming, zoning out. The car in front of me was a black Dodge Durango. I read its license plate “C3Y J98” – and all of a sudden J98 appeared to me like a poker board. I found myself wishing I had QT, thinking about check/raising this board – the letters became like a landscape; I could see the small but treacherous valley between the J and the 9 that made that board so vicious.Once again I was face to face with the cards, as if the entire world was comprised only of this moment, of my hand, of J98.
It was only when the light turned green and the car receded from me that I realized what was had happened. It was like an acid flashback. As I drove on, trailing behind this car, I wasn’t sure what to make of that experience. I hadn’t played a single hand of poker since I quit poker all those months ago; almost 9 months now. I had left all that behind. And yet, here it was again. I realized my heart was pounding. I didn’t know what it meant. Was it nostalgia? Or was it just some proof of how deeply poker has penetrated into me; how the patterns of behavior and perception are so inextricably wired into my brain, and maybe all this will never go away, not even when I’m an old and decrepit?
Five years I spent as a poker player. Eating, living, breathing poker. Why would I think I could get away from it?
I have spent the last five months in school, just being a student again. I’ve managed to get all A’s my first semester, which is an accomplishment for me, since in the past I never bothered much about university while playing poker. Not that it matters really, and it’s doubtful I’ll ever be getting a job that particularly cares about my GPA. But it matters to me. I want to prove to myself that I’m capable of more than poker.
For a long time, I was scared of TwoPlusTwo. It’s hard to even admit that to myself even now, and it feels silly to say. But it was true. I still remember when I was traveling through Europe, I was terrified of it. The URL would be poised there on my browser, like an old door waiting to be opened. It was a door full of hatred, teeming with rancor and judgment. I would look at it and I would feel my body tighten up like a fist. I knew that beyond the door were people talking about me like I was a piece of shit. Cursing my name into the ground. Calling me and everything I’ve done a sham.
I had admitted to the wrongs I had done. I knew that people were making up things. Saying that I’m a scammer, saying that I’m a con artist, saying that I’m a sociopath, that I don’t care for my friends, that all I care about is money. What did any of them know? I was the only one who knew all the people involved, only I lived through it, only I knew the lived truth of what I did. Hadn’t I already answered to everyone I needed to answer to? Hadn’t I been tasked with making sense of it all, with moving on? So why should I care what these people were saying?
The fear took hold of me. I didn’t want to know what people were saying about me anymore. And when you’re told so many times, by so many people who were part of your community, that you’re a piece of shit – how could you not come to believe them? How could you not wonder that maybe they were right, that you’re garbage after all, and everything you believed about yourself was somehow a lie?
As I traveled, I searched myself, trying to find the failure that they said I was. While sitting in trains across Europe, while working on the farm in the south of France, while meditating for ten days in Gloucester – I scoured myself for every failing I could find. But when you start looking, who doesn’t find failings inside them? Who isn’t self-interested? Who doesn’t have an ego? Who doesn’t recoil from fear?
I have thought long and hard about what it means to be a good person. I have wondered if it really is true that I didn’t care for anyone. If there’s just something about me that’s wrong, that’s unsalvageable, something that makes me some kind of moral miscreant. I had read this so many times, in truth, I started to believe it. When I came home, I started volunteering teaching English to refugees. I began working volunteer construction. I started hosting people passing through Austin from Couchsurfing, trying to take care of young travelers. I started living more simply, hoping perhaps it would get to the root of things. I kept hoping in all of it to finally find some revelation, believing that it would bubble up to me if I worked hard enough.
But the real world has less to say. No one cares that I used to be a poker player. People smile at me. They tell me that I am a promising young man. They tell me to come back again next week. That they can use the help.
My story is mine alone. And that has been lonely, but it is probably the way it should be.
In a way – and perhaps it is a cliche to say, but I will say it nevertheless – I am grateful it all happened. I am grateful that I made the mistakes I did. I am grateful that I was ostracized, decried, hated. I am grateful too that people even accused me of things I didn’t do. I am grateful that I left the poker world. I am grateful that I felt alone, that I questioned myself, that it all forced me to invent myself all over again. I am grateful that I couldn’t rely on anyone else to figure out who I am, to learn how to live, to learn how to grow. It is all good for me. It will all make me stronger.
The poker world, in the end, is a community like any other. It has its own hierarchy, its own rules, its own communal philosophy. But in membership in any artificial community, you cease to simply be yourself. Your identity is accorded to its rules. You become your poker identity – nothing else is of value in that world. But in being part of that, you forget the place where poker ends and where real life begins. And the truth is, there is no such place. Poker is just a part of life – and in the business of personhood and making one’s way on this planet, trying to live well and be good to people, trying to simply be human – well, it’s a relatively small part of it all. That seems obvious, but it’s easy to forget. I forgot it often. I still forget it sometimes.
Today I was reading through TwoPlusTwo for the first time in a long time. I read all of the things people say about me. It’s pretty bad. People think I’m worthless, they think I’m trash. That’s okay. It’s hard to read that stuff, but it’s okay. I can’t blame them. In that world I am just an image; a résumé of sins. That’s alright. In a way, that’s how it should be.
Some people think I’m going to play poker again. It has even been suggested that I am playing poker now. The truth is, I haven’t played a hand of poker since I left all those months ago. In fact, I made a bet with somebody that if I ever became a professional poker player again I would pay that person $50,000. I know I can make money at poker. I know that poker will always be there. I know that it is lucrative. I know I can go back if I want.
But I don’t want to do that to myself. I don’t want to become that. I want to grow and evolve as a person. What more could I learn from making money again as a poker player? I have done it long enough to know that there is nothing more in that world for me. I want to struggle. I want to feel anxiety. I want to be lost, confused, and to be forced to start over. Fear is the only way forward.
I used to think when I was younger that I wasn’t meant to be a gambler. I was always nitty with my bankroll; I never played Blackjack or craps, or spent much money on anything frivolous, really, and I loathed casinos. I always found it odd that I had become a professional poker player when I hated the notion of gambling.
I realize now that I was right; I wasn’t meant to be a gambler. But I needed to try it and learn that for myself.
The world is so big! I forget it sometimes. I have met so many people since I left poker, and I have grazed against so many worlds. It really is amazing how big it is, and how small I am. I want to be impoverished. I want to be stupidly in love with it all.
I really have no idea what I’m supposed to be! But this is a good place to start. I want to use the skills I have learned in my career as a poker player to help people. It feels good to be put to work again, and to be able to use all of my faculties to help someone move through obstacles I’ve moved through in the past.
I’ll write something more substantive about my mental coaching, but I probably won’t be able to take on many clients for a while. I’ll be swamped taking two full summer terms and a full fall term, all while working on writing these book projects. So I only want to take on as many people as I can be fully devoted to. If you’re possibly interested in working with me on your mental poker game – to break through any weaknesses in tilt, motivation, or learning – e-mail me at haseebcoach at gmail dot com. After consulting some of the clients I’ve worked with, I’ve set my rate at $125/hr.
I’ve included in this blog post a reprise of my favorite photos that I took through my journey across Europe. I hope that you enjoyed them. Sorry if this blog post was rather desultory; I just had a lot on my mind that I needed to get out. I feel a bit better now.
I know it’s cheesy, but I’ve been reading some Mary Oliver lately, and I wanted to end this blog with a poem that has stuck in my mind. I hope it speaks to you as it spoke to me.
When Death Comes
by Mary Oliver
When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.