Sometimes I want to retreat into hermit mode and not bothered by external forces. It was easier to seek the refuge of hermitdom when I was totally broke, without TV, very few friends, limited to dial-up internet access, and isolated in my dingy studio. I had nothing except to be entertained by my freakish thoughts and delve deep into a kaleidoscope of books while listening to my extensive music collection on worn-out cassette tapes and scratchy CDs.
My technical writing skills are better today, but my imagination was richer and more exuberant then. Deeper. Vivacious. The creative juices raged through me as I would barely sleep for several days straight. I had high-concept ideas for hundreds of paintings, but could not even afford to buy acrylic and canvas.
For most of last week, I grew ill and unable to write. I glanced through old files and word documents as I backed up two laptops (six years worth of writing) onto a new external hard drive. I sat in awe, part astonished and shrouded in jealousy, because those words were powerful. They were mine. The sentences were thickly layered with my voice and my personality.
The words I wrote in anger in a poorly lit studio pre-9.11 as I lived on the fringe of society are the ghosts that I've been chasing for a few years. I get paid to write now and those words which I'm compensated for have never come close to what I wrote during that blue period or even during the last days I worked on Wall Street when I was overworked, pissed off, emotionally jilted after a tempestuous relationship, and completely lost in the early days of the 21st century.
While walking along the beach in the middle of the night in Australia, I gazed up at the Southern Cross and was blindsided by a realization that I while I have improved in some areas of writing, I have grown stagnant in other areas. Part of the reason is that I simply have less time to hone my craft, write creatively, and read books. I can barely get a few days alone to myself these days. Even this past week in NYC has been ruined as I picked up a nasty head-cold that has lingered for several days, killing four full days of precious writing time as I floated around in a daze of generic Vicodin, over-the-counter flu medication, and cheap marijauna.
There were times in my late 20s when friends would not hear from me for days or weeks at a time. I was living off of Snapple and tea biscuits and jacked up on painkillers writing for hours on end or painting over old paintings. That solitary time was crucial for my development as a writer. There were moments of sheer depression and desolation, but that's what drove me to write and create. I pushed myself because I knew that the only way out of that spot was to... write my way out. Since then, I've been able to write myself out of debt and into the spotlight.
With email, a cellphone, and updating several blogs... a complete withdrawal from society is impossible these days. Throw in maintaining a relationship, business obligations, columns and deadlines, a healthy travel and work schedule, cultivating new work projects, and finding time for friends and family... I have less control over my life than ever before. Sure, I can kinda steer the ship in a specific direction, but I'm still unable to create my own personal utopia.
I'm 34 years old and if I could go anywhere in the world... it would be back to that shitty ass studio. I can afford to fly anywhere I want to right now. Paris. Antarctica. Portland. Dubai. But the one thing I cannot buy... is alone time. If I were to shut out everything and everyone in my life for a couple of months... a lot of things that I worked hard to build up would come crashing down. The websites. The blogs. The business relationships. The friendships. My mind has been racing to find a solution where I could do both.
Like many others before me, I figured that making some money would alleviate many of my problems, especially creatively. Some older problems have disappeared, but new ones have popped up like asstards stealing my content and passing it of as thier own to make money. With more income being generated, more responsibilities have popped up (like higher taxes) and it's tougher to find a healthy balance of work and fun. The money I've made allowed me to take several months off at the end of the year to rewrite Jack Tripper Stole My Dog and to make amazing trips to Vegoose and Amsterdam. But I was unable to fully unconnect.
I'm a very fortunate person and things are much better today than they were one year ago. I have a better semblance of who I am and where I want to go. Although, I still find myself handcuffed from time to time... wanting to either lock myself in a room for a few months to become a better writer and read about a hundred or so books that I've never had the time to read. I have dozens of short stories and a couple of screenplays and book ideas inside of me and I wonder if I'll ever find the time to get them out. Or will they just die in the conceptual stage inside my brain?
After being in Australia for a month, I caught the travel bug again. I finally have money to travel, but no time to visit the places I'd like to see. It's when you are in a different place, thousands of miles away from home that you find out who your truly are. The one thing that was an interesting topic of conversation with Aussies that I met was... "Where do you live?"
I always gave a complicated answer because for the last three years I have never spent more than 2-3 months in one place without traveling somewhere else. And that does not look like it's going to change in the next six months. I'd say, "I'm from NYC originally but due to work, I've been traveling a lot and spend most of my time in Las Vegas and LA."
That's when I realized there was a direct correlation between my stagnation as a writer and my lack of a specific place to call home. I need to find a new studio again.
My in-the-field writing skills have vastly improved in the last 12 months. I can sit in a room with thirty other people yelling and yapping and crank out 1,500 words for a deadline for a magazine or Fox Sports, which I was forced to do in the WSOP media room last summer. I've been able to complete rush assignments (or last minute pieces) where I have less than 24 hours to write on a topic that I don't get to choose. I never went to school to learn those tricks of the trade. The eventually evolved by getting thrown into the mix.
My journalistic skills might be below average when compared to mainstream writers, but that has not mattered to the people who regularly read what I write and more importantly, that does not seem to bother the folks who sign my paychecks. I often get notes from those who do pay me to "write more like you do on your blogs" and less like a journalist or established writer.
Sloppy and raw is what they want instead of polished prose. And that demand is something that I'm constantly trying to rediscover. The sloppy and raw writer within. Maybe if I had more time to myself, devoid of the world, I can start writing like that again.
Overall, I'm proud of my accomplishments and could not be happier knowing that I finally got paid to write after a decade of despair. However, I know I can do a better job. The last year or so I struggled to gain my sanity back while I focused on the business-aspects of my sites and my writing. The only real improvements I made came in late 2006 when I made a concentrated effort to lose weight, get in shape, and take more time to mediate. The results were staggering because I wrote with more ease and I was able to endure several major party situations without getting sick or majorly hungover. With Amsterdam, Vegoose, Bloggers Gathering in Vegas, NYE in SF, and a month of drinking non-stop in OZ... my body survived all that travel, lack of sleep, and partying all because of the major overall I put myself through.
I hope to continue that healthy trend as soon as the weather improves. When I am unable to exercise regularly, that I need to eat smaller portions and avoid certain foods. I've lost a few freelance clients in the last few weeks and I vowed myself to use that time to find new work and take that time to hone the craft.
The entire poker industry is at a crossroads with the recent monkey wrench thrown into the mix by the US government as they have a hard-on for keeping online poker in the dark. I have no idea what the future is going to be after the 2007 WSOP. I've adopted a wait and see approach. Even in a world where the poker media is reduced to the bare bones, I can still envision myself among the few writers who are still around. I know that I will not make anything what I did the last two years, but I could still find some work if necessary.
In some ways, there's a part of me that welcomed the recent poker mess. Poker pulled me out of debt and made me recognizable, but it had be pushing me away from the creative outlet of writing as I thrust on a path of business-related writing. The money was too good to leave and the government cock-blocking online poker in America might actually give me a chance to settle down and find that unfettered amount of time where I can sit alone and write and read. Like I used to.
I'm in the process of trying to work out a budget where I take off five months at the end of the year to write and travel. I'd travel in August and hunker down in the fall to work on a book about Las Vegas. If I don't get to go back to Australia, I'll pen a screenplay next winter. Of course that's what I want to do today. In three months my priorities might change after new job offers or I might end up still working and traveling around covering poker tournaments.
I'm waiting for poker's popularity to die down so I can start writing about other things. While it's still alive, I stuck chasing that dragon while gobbling up as many crumbs as possible. For now, I'm longing for a time when I can ignore the outside world and not have to think about firing up blogger or picking up my cell phone and answering emails, when the only thing that matters is a pile of books, pen & paper, and an empty MWord file.