Tuesday, October 21, 2014

On being a failure in poker and life

Failure is relative. That's the first thing. I mean, take any ten people at random, including me, and I'm the best poker player among them. The chances of your picking a better player are low enough that I can say that.

See, that's something I've learnt. How chance works. I am saying I failed, not that I learnt nothing.

But mostly I learnt how to fail.

I was aiming at being good enough to make a living. And if I was Romanian, I would have made it. And was close to making it but I lacked some elements that you need for success: not least, ruthlessness. And any aptitude for hard work, let's face it.

But it is like so much in life. I understand the game. I know what it takes. And I know every excuse I can use to avoid doing what it takes. In the end, I had to quit because I am not a gambler. I know that seems weird when we're talking about a gambling game but you can play poker without loving to gamble (I don't think you can be very good at it though: again, it's the ruthlessness -- not just with others but with yourself). I had good offers for staking and that could, should have been enough to see me through a bad patch in freelance work but I realised I could not risk my kids' wellbeing. A steady income, even if it was unglamorous gave me the ability to know I could provide.

So failure is relative. I failed as a baller but I succeeded as a dad. At least in that way.

But of course you think what if. What if my backer's offer of coaching had been a bit firmer and I'd have taken more of a chance? What if I had spent a hundred hours learning push/fold so that my game was strong enough to switch to games where the edge is all in push/fold and not so much the all-round game that's my strength now? What if I wasn't a pussy?

Well, what if I wasn't is meaningless. I am. That's the thing with failure. It's relative. If you're who you are, you can only do what you are capable of. I learnt this about other people long ago. I am deeply forgiving of others for being limited. Yet still I hate myself for it.


So am I too cowardly or too lazy to write a novel? I am hoping the answer is neither. Paul Valery went something like twenty years without writing. It happens. Other shit gets in the way. When a plant isn't watered, it doesn't grow. Right? But I hope I am a cactus. That I am tough in some way and will still flourish when given the chance. I know I must create the chance myself. I'm not a good schmoozer. I don't have connections or friends in useful places. That's not the fault of my friends. I certainly know people who would do anything they could for me. But they can't do anything for me.

I have not given up on me. I mean, we all have bad days, bad weeks, when we think we will amount to nothing (unless you've amounted to something). That doesn't mean we are nothing.

You know, pick ten people at random, including me, good chance I am the richest among them. I have not forgotten that I am fortunate. I am smart. I am a damned good writer. And I see what it is and that's something you can turn into money if the chance comes. It'll come. I mean, here's where I should say money doesn't matter to me. But I chose to be a poker player, where success and failure are measured in dollars and no excuses. So in some ways it matters. But only as the way we keep score, right?

This is how I will be successful: you take ten people, me among them, and I am the happiest.  It's not impossible. That's something else poker has taught me. The worst among us have a lucky day sometimes and if that day coincides with the Sunday Million... well...

Saturday, October 18, 2014


I feel like there is a huge howling void in me because my mum, so vivid, so real, was here with us when I went home in June, and she was a bit coughy and a bit weak, but she was the same madcap, wonderful beast as ever, but her flame was just snuffed, just like that, and now I can't believe there will ever be any justice or right in the world because how can my beautiful mum have been just the same as ever one day and dead the next? I have suffered a bit in this life, I have been divorced, I have felt bitter bitter failure but I have never ever been hurt like this, never.


I have been feeling guilty recently because I have been, from time to time, hoping I will share in whatever money my mum left behind. (And I know it isn't much -- a small life insurance policy and some bits, whatever.) It feels like I am ready to loot the corpse.

It's not that I have money troubles particularly. I have a relatively small credit card debt and I'm a bit worried about paying for moving home, which I will have to do shortly, and I suppose I'd like to take my kids to the UK next year so they can spend time with my family there. But I live within my means more or less, and I can cope with what's upcoming.

And not even that I feel entitled. I don't. I want my dad to be able to enjoy his retirement. I hope he will sell his house and use the money maybe to buy somewhere smaller, maybe to do some of the things he had hoped to do with mum -- whatever brings him joy and comfort. Whatever his failings  -- and the apple has not fallen that far from the tree, they are no worse than my own -- he has always taken the responsibility to provide for the people he loves seriously, and it did not end when I (finally) left home. He has often supported me and bailed me out. I wish I was able to return the favour now he is older, although I don't think he needs it at all.

But I have never been particularly good at acquiring wealth. I am content with what I have. Like everyone, I have stuff. Way too much of it. I have not had a hungry day for many years. I have a drink when I want one, a pack of smokes from time to time, a pipe of weed. I know that we can always spend more if we have more but I do not yearn for more. I have always thought the things that are really worth something are not measured in money.

Yesterday was Zenella's birthday and Zenita was upset because she thought Zenella had had more than her. I said to her, But I took you and your friends to the cinema and to Max Brenner's for deluxe chocolate, you have forgotten. I said, What I bought you, just you, in Max Brenner's cost more than the little things I got for Zenella and we spent pretty much the same on your big present. I told her about my childhood, when I would have one thing for my birthday, just one, and I was never discontent with that. I had everything I needed.

I said to her, Stuff doesn't matter. I would give up all my stuff, everything, and every spare dollar I have for the next 20 years to have Granny for those years.

But I cannot. There is no god for me to bargain with. I could not do anything to give her even one more day. And nor could anyone else. A pulmonary embolism cannot be bargained with. That is how life, and death, is.


I could write a tribute to my mum. She was a beautiful woman: not just physically but spiritually too (and I don't mind using that word when I talk about her -- I don't mean that angel bollocks she indulged in; I mean that whatever we consist of, whether we are souls in corruptible bodies or machines that think we are something special, she exuded the human spirit). Only after having my own kids did I start to understand the patience and kindness that lay at her core, that I cannot begin to match, although I do try, I do.

But I won't. My tribute to my mum will be to try to become the man she thought I was. I know that my dad, if he reads this, will tell me how proud she was of me. I know she was. I know she loved me more than she loved anyone or anything else in this world. That is why it is so hard to live without her. You cannot lose that much love and shrug it off.

And I know I am doomed to fail. Because I have never been worthy of much love and I have never been much to be proud of. But I have to try. Because ultimately I do not want anything from Mum. She already gave me everything she had. She doesn't owe me anything now. But I owe her.

Saturday, October 11, 2014


How then is it possible to count from one to two, when between them lies an infinity of infinities? How can there be a road that does not end; but if it does not lead to God, where else could it lead?

When we find that space is served up in discrete chunks, the continuum is dead forever. The real numbers become another irreality and we will have to tell ourselves that we have once more proved bigger than the world we inhabit.

How then is it possible to step down a path of innumerable steps, that once we have begun we can never find an end? How many steps would we be willing to march before we are able to say that we were wrong -- sometimes even if you have the unshakeable conviction that you are right, it is better to accept wrongness and be content.

Do you ever feel that if you cannot know you would rather be dead? Is this why -- if you dove deep into whatever makes them -- young men are willing to die? Or do they simply fear that the endless procession of empty days may never end?

One, two... one, two... you can do it if you pretend the world is simple, that it has no hidden depths, that there are no secrets to be revealed; you can step over the countless count of the abyss.

When you are young, they tell you that pi is 22 divided by 7. Which almost makes sense and you can find comfort in such a sensible ratio. Then one day you learn that pi never ends, that if the universe existed for a trillion trillion years, pi would not have ended, that there could be a trillion trillion universes of a trillion trillion years, and still the countless count would march on.

But you can take pi and times it by the diameter of a circle and get the circumference. Somehow the unending digits of a number that cannot be contained in a trillion trillion universes of unimaginable age can be contained in the ring of the smallest circle.

Yet the circle too is uncountable. Each, regardless whether it measures an inch across or a lightyear, has the same number of points within it. Each portion cut from it, be it however small, the same number.


Perhaps a cruel god, knowing that his creation would wish to know itself, punished the vanity he himself created by making creation divisible into eternity, so that nothing was ever truly knowable, and we, driven always to know more, would become insane as our finite brains tried to contain an infinitude that even he, himself infinite, had been driven mad in trying to contain.

Friday, July 04, 2014

When you hit a queen

Winning is not everything but it sure beats losing.

Sometimes I think that is fundamental, like, it's true whether you like it or not, and you either accept it or deny it or try to hide it, but it happens all the same.

So four, five times in a row, I get the money in and meh, it doesn't work out. And I'm not saying I should have won, because I was probably behind all five times, but you know what, a 40/60 means that if you ran it a hundred times, you expect to win 40.

Expect to win.

So I'm the kind of person who when they play computer games, they play a level below what's possible so that they win. I accept the idea that I do that because I do not win in life (except for the whole you're a white man thing, which means, strictly relatively speaking you understand, I win just by being me) but you know, I've always thought it was just part of my psychology: I like to win. I don't care that it's meaningless, that I was destined to win if I played something easy. I mean, that holds you back if you're a poker player, because yes, poker is about managing risk but you have to take risks. And I've always preferred to just win at the level I'm safe at than to step up and take real risks. So I never get any better but I excel where I am.

Is it actually better to be king among bottom feeders than just getting by in the more rarefied air?


So I get it in the sixth time and he hits on the flop and I'm like let a queen come, and a queen comes, and you know, when you hit a queen in a spot like that you forget it's a $7 tourney and you want to yell.

I am winning.


Sometimes I feel the blood course in my veins -- not often but often enough -- and I feel like, I am alive, I am real, and even if I'm not real, I'm here.

There are so many ways to win and lose. And mostly, we get to decide for ourselves what the score was. That's the one good thing about being little people. We don't have to care about status. We don't have to care about money in the bank.

I figured out, my "net worth" is in the minus thousands. That's the sum of 47 years. A handful of friends. Some memories. A few aches. Yearning. Children who love me.

A soft kiss.

The smell of cut grass.

Laughter in the night.

A warm blanket.

The belief that tomorrow we will hit every queen and the sun will inexorably rise on another beautiful day

We must all one day lose everything. But not today. Not today.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

About yoking with commas

This is wrong but why?

No, the answer is not simply that it is another example of a pedant inventing reasons for pedantry that isn't based in anything real, although that's true. It's not even that the Oxford comma is an archaism that most writers in English no longer use (I'll have more to say about that later).

It's this. With one exemption, you may not yoke two items (or if there are more than two items yoked, the last two) in English with a comma. You must use "and".

Here are some examples of incorrect yoking:

"I like to eat fish, meat."

This is just not grammatical in English and you must write "I like to eat fish and meat.". It's more clearly seen in:

"I like to play football, rugby and watch television."

This is common but "and" is needed between "football" and "rugby" because otherwise you are saying that you like to "play watch television".

"I hit him, he fell over."

This is a runon sentence because you must yoke coordinate clauses with "and".

"I fucked her long, hard."

I think you're getting the idea by now.

In the example given, for the sentence without the Oxford comma to be wrong, we would have to be yoking "eggs" and "toast and orange juice". This is not allowed because this is a parallel to "I like to eat fish, meat".

To make the sentence grammatical you must write "I had eggs and toast and orange juice." In written English this can only mean that you had two items. Why? Because not only must you use "and" to yoke the last item in a list, you may only use it to do that. Unless you are five years old.

As for the Oxford comma, it is simply an archaism from a time when English used a comma before every conjunction. On the whole, Americans still do. They probably should use serial commas because they use a comma before "and" in a sentence such as "I kicked him, and he didn't like it." or "I went to the shops, but I didn't see him." where an English writer would not (should not, in case any English writers read this and do use it). There are occasions for an English writer to use a comma before a conjunction but when you're conjoining simple clauses isn't one of them.

But didn't I say there was an exception? Yes. You do not always yoke adverbs with "and". In lyrical writing of the kind that mostly bad writers indulge in, you can see things such as "it fell to the ground slowly, softly, relentlessly". Although a good writer eschews this sort of thing, it's not strictly incorrect. Triads are a common device in writing, which are useful but should be deployed with care. "He's mad, bad, dangerous to know" just doesn't read well even if you want to argue that it's not strictly incorrect. Indeed, this is an example I would certainly correct, although I wouldn't go to the mat for the correction.

How about "Men, and women too, dislike eating snails."? Here we are using a parenthesis. When we do this, we must close the parenthesis with a second comma. "Men, and women too dislike eating snails." is not grammatical. "Men and women too dislike eating snails." is grammatical but reads a little awkwardly. BTW, do not parenthesise or use a comma before "too". People do, I know, but they are wrong to.

Friday, February 28, 2014

About at about

One thing I enjoy when thinking about the English language is the unwillingness of pedants simply to say "I enjoy and apply arbitrary rules" and to insist on inventing justifications for rules that are of course arbitrary.

But Monkey, I hear you cry, are not all rules of grammar somewhat arbitrary. Well yes, possibly -- Chomskian minimal project aside. They are at least conventional. But of course they do generally obey the internal logic of the language.

So a rule we often see is that one may not write "at about 8pm" in sentences like "The car crashed into the wall at about 8pm". One must write "The car crashed into the wall about 8pm". This sentence reads awkwardly. I'm not going to go into a huge digression on why it does, but certainly English prefers adverbial phrases of time to be fronted, so "About 8pm, the car crashed into the wall" reads much more comfortably.

So the reason given for the rule is that "at" is specific and "about" is vague. When we say "at an hour" we mean "precisely at that hour". The first is simply incorrect. "At" is a preposition that indicates position exclusive of other positions. It doesn't have to be specific or accurate. Nothing about it suggests that. It's in the nature of most phrases it is used in that it seems binary: "at home" means at home and not "not at home". However, "at home" actually means at home and nowhere else; "at work" means at work and nowhere else. "At work" in particular is quite a vague sort of concept. We do not mean it to say "at my workplace". We mean it to say "at the doing of my work and not doing anything else".

So "at about 7pm" means "at about 7pm and at no other time". "At" is not specific; it is exclusive. Compare "you or some other person". This is perfectly acceptable in English.

You're not convinced, I know. So let's look at a perfectly acceptable English sentence: "I will come at sevenish." No one will argue this is ungrammatical, because it plainly is. Yet the time specified is not pinpoint, is it?

Let's try another: "he killed her at some time after 9pm". Again, the time is not pinpoint. Indeed, it's a much broader sweep of time than we generally mean by "about". It's "the entire time after 9pm until now". But we can still use "at" (although it's not obligatory, of course).

Here's the killer though. You're going to like this.

Let's say you bring a lamb to the Ekka and it's weighed. The weigh-in dude says to you "that lamb is roughly 9kg". All good, right? We use "roughly" in this instance as precisely a synonym for "about".

"That lamb weighed in at roughly 9kg." is perfectly grammatical. Wait, hell no! That's "at" with a nonpinpoint measure. That surely cannot be.

But it can. And it is. And yes, I did just begin three sentences with conjunctions. Dealwithit.jpg.

Indeed, you cannot say "*That lamb weighed in roughly 9kg".

Okay, it's at about this time that the most diehard pedant will be gnashing their (or his or her, whatever you prefer) teeth because you can't really use "roughly" in the sentence I began with, so "about" and "roughly" are not perfect substitutes. But really, they don't have to be. The pedant claims that "at" cannot be used with imprecise terms. I just showed it can. So now the pedant is left with "at" cannot be used with imprecise terms to do with time, except, erm, "sevenish" and the like. Or that whole "after 9pm" thing. And I just say bullshit, take my bow and adieu, dear friends.