Editor's Note: Exceprts of this originally appeared on my poker blog yesterday.
In 1968, artist Andy Warhol said that, "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes."
He didn't mean that literally. He used that phrase to pinpoint the absurdity of fame and the media's relentless pursuit of it. Famous one minute. Banished into obscurity the next. Just ask anyone who participated in the Surreal Life. They can better explain to you the existentialist rollercoaster of fame more so that I can.
Every month, a new alumni magazine from my high school or college arrives in my mail box. It's peppered with pleas for donations and updates on how famous alums are doing. In the most recent issue, one alumni designed a video game and now he's a billionaire. In another issue, the editors highlighted a profile with an Oscar winning writer despite the fact he's openly gay and graduated from a stuffy and rigid all-boys Catholic high school.
I got an email from a friend who is the Alumni Liaison for my graduation year. It's his job to collect information on our classmates and forward it over to the editor for publication. He wanted to know if I had any updates or news to share.
This is the post-modern version of Andy Warhol's fifteen minutes of fame quote. In the future, everyone will get their one or two sentence mentioning in their alumni magazines. And that's it.
The scary thing is that I know people who live their lives just so they have a good sentence to tell. Female friends from college have been waiting years for the moment when they get to announce their recent nuptials. Some of them diligently worked on possible names for the children for endless hours hoping that their peers won't laugh at their name of choice upon reading it in the latest issue.
"Myles? With a Y?"
Probably the most embarrassing moment any one of my friends had involved a wedding announcement. A buddy got married in the fall and by the time he submitted his update, it was almost nine months after the fact. For some reason it didn't get published to almost a year after his original wedding date. Here's the fucked up part... one month before the alumni magazine was published... his wife filed for divorce.
Talk about getting kicked in the junk. Moral of that story... make sure your marriage last long enough to get recognition in your alumni magazine.
Back to that email my former classmate sent me. He basically wanted me to sum up my life in a sentence, no more than two. Like I said some guys live their lives and are motivated just so they can have a sentence in the alumni magazine that says... Joe Mullen was recently named partner in the Roscoe, Green, and Moore law firm. Or Suzy Greenberg has been named Associate Editor of In Style Magazine.
These mentionings are as much for bragging rights as they are ego boosts. In some way, those sentences can neatly sum up the skewed perception of your life. Of course, your complex life cannot be summed up in one sentence or twenty sentences.
For most of us, that's what we want our peers to see us as... a successful venture capitalist, a bubbly soccer mom of two, or a recent Ph.D. candidate. That's a way for people to justify their existence. They might struggle internally on the meaning of their specific life, but when you see yourself doing better than your peers... it's hard not to feel good about yourself and you cling to that notion of existence.
I am... somebody.
Alumni updates are a form of propaganda set forth by your former schools. It's necessary for them to brag about their most successful alumni because they want to be associated with success and accomplishment. Just ask Derek who got a fraternity alumni magazine last year with Fossilman on the front cover. He quickly noted, "Hey, Greg Raymer and I were in the same fraternity!"
Alumni updates are also a sick and twisted way of your alumni department using deeply rooted psychological tactics to get you to donate more money. When you see and read announcements about your peers becoming more successful than you, the alumni big wigs hope that jealousy will make you work harder in order to show them up. More success equals bigger paychecks. Bigger paychecks equals more alumni donations to your schools.
So the next time you get an alumni magazine and you get pissed off that a dumb ass moron that couldn't even jerk off properly who is all of a sudden a real estate mogul in Macau with a modelesque wife and a private jet, remind yourself that none of this matters.
Like David Mamet said in his play Edmond, "No one is keeping score. No one cares."
Actually he's wrong on that. There is someone keeping score and there is someone that cares... and it's you. And unless you let those notions go, you are going to be living your life in a way that's not your own. You'd be living a life that is motivated by getting a blurb in your alumni magazine. In short, that's pathetic.
You cannot read other people's minds, so stop worrying about what other people may or might not think about you. Most of the time we're way off base and if someone thinks you're a loser or asshole... then so what?
I have interviewed several big-time poker pros and always asked them about their motivation to play. Most of them quickly say... "I play for the money." Fairly simple reasoning. They want to be rich. A few of them lied to me because they want the fame but are too embarassed to tell someone in the media. For them, the money is not as important as being recognized. While some of them are addicted to gambling while others are genuinely in it for the challenge.
So what is your motivation to play poker?
Are you playing for that one sentence blurb in your alumni magazine?
Are you blowing through your bankroll playing MTTs and satellites to WSOP, WPT, and EPT event for the sole purpose to get on TV and show up your friends and family?
Are you trying to get back at an ex-girlfriend, former spouse, or one of your parents? And think that poker is your shortcut to happiness, revenge, and self-fulfillment?
It's OK if you don't know why you play. Your reasons to play and your inner motivation shifts every day. That's why you need consistently question yourself why you play. But never sit down to play unless you have a clear objective.
I have an old friend that I'll call Stephanie. She's a total hipster and scenester. She's never done anything original in her life and she's part of that first wave of invaders whenever a new trend is set. She's a nice girl but is totally misguided. She lacks originality and is programmed by trends life a zombie consumer pissing away her money on the trend du jour.
In college, she was totally into Seattle grunge bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden. Then as soon as their hype boiled down she got really hard-core into Dave Matthews Band just when he got really famous and mainstream. Now 10-14 years later I can guarantee that none of those bands are on her iPod today.
Stephanie has lived in happening places like San Francisco and Williamsburg but if you told her that Rolling Stone announced that Toledo or Des Moines were the coolest cities in America, she would have moved there.
When Old Navy commercials said she should be wearing vests, she bought one. Now, The Gap is telling her to buy a hoodie. She just bought two. After 9.11, no one was a bigger flag waver than Stephanie. Now, she openly attacks George Bush because everyone else is doing it.
Stephanie traveled to places that used to be cool two years before she showed up. Remember when Prague was the place to be in Europe? She organized a big trip just after college. At some point she got into Swing Dancing in the late 1990s and even tried to drag me to one of her events. Since then, Stephanie has been involved with e-dating, yoga, speed dating, Friendster, pilates, Kabbalah, picking up strangers off of Craigslist, knitting, Feng Shui, MySpace, Sodoku, blogging, and now poker.
Yes, she asked me for lessons during the WSOP and I blew her off because I'd be wasting my time. In a few months she'd be into something else like Keno, Scientology, or Hula Hooping.
Stephanie represents the traditional American scenester. She adds virtually nothing to the scene and is takes more away than she gives back. If anything, Stephanie and the millions of people like her are a cancerous affliction set upon this earth to gobble up everything that is cool and by their mere presence... make it virtually uncool.
Is her appearance on the poker scene a sign of the apocalypse? I don't want to say she's a jinx... but a few months after she wanted to get into poker... the UIGEA happened. Coincidence?
Stephanie is the grim reaper of pop culture. The good news is that if she is a jinx, then we're experiencing the last three or four minutes of Andy Warhol's fifteen minutes of fame.
The reason I wrote this post was not to trash an acquaintance but to give you a clear example about how innocent and semi-intelligent people succumb to the persuasive powers of the mass media. It's hard to go against the flow. That's why highschool is usually the worst four years of anyone's life.
What motivates me to play poker?
Some days the empiricist in me takes over as I approach poker like a new subject and I'm the student. When I sat down at the Triple Draw tables this past week, that's what went through my mind... the learning process and gaining education through experience. I paid attention to the little things and the freshness of the game reinvigorated the simple love for poker and attaining knowledge.
Some sessions I'm motivated specifically by the urge to make money. The more money I can make through playing poker means that I do not have to implement traditional ways of earning income (that dreaded 9 to 5 gig), the majority of which would hinder the artistic process and suppress my individuality and creativity. That's why I grind it out at the 5/10 and 10/20 Limit tables because I know I can beat that level over the long haul. The more money I can earn at the tables means that I can continue to cherish my freedom and live my life the way I want to... for one more day.
Some days I play poker as a form of escapism and for social enjoyment. I love playing poker for fun with friends in blogger tournaments and messing around at the micro tables. When I play in someone's homegame, I'm there to drink, smoke, tell dirty jokes, blow off steam and have fun. The harsh brutality and uncertainty of every day life often evaporates when we all share in a good laugh.
And some days, I'm simply a stone cold junkie. I crave the rush. I need the excitement. I fire up those PLO tables because there are no airplanes for me to jump out of, or there are no race cars to drive, and because I don't do heroin. I need the rush somehow that reminder why I'm alive and once in a while poker fills that void.
If you can walk away from this post understanding the following two statements, then I effectively got my point across:
1. Know why you play poker before you play it.Life is too short to worry about what other people are thinking. Most of the people in my life are confused, completely lost, unhappy, and self-consumed.
2. Don't live your life to impress your peers.
In the end, that girl who I fooled around with for two weeks sophomore year really doesn't care about if I lost a $400 prop bet with Otis or did shots at the Playboy Mansion with AlCantHang.
In case you were wondering, what did I send my Alumni Liaison?
If my former classmates really want to see how I'm doing, they can always Google my ass.