This morning I was half asleep in Heathrow airport, with snow swirling wildly around the planes outside the windows, huddling in my thin jacket that I never had any business thinking would suffice for a trip to Europe in the middle of winter, my shoulders frozen stiffly in place from cold and smarting from my two overloaded carry-ons, which contained both my shitty laptops and an art book weighing a full 2 kilograms from the Max Ernst retrospective in Vienna for my sister the artist. I feel like Max Ernst is one of those artists who would occasionally come up in offhand conversation with art people in LA and I’d always feign familiarity with his work. It was also snowing in Vienna. I’ll be glad not to see snow for a while.
But what was random about this instance of freezing my ass off in the airport at an ungodly hour of the morning, was that all of a sudden a very verbal dialogue of memories started flooding my half-consciousness, almost like excerpts of blog entries or snippets from a memoir. These self-narratives were so detailed and persistent that I thought they had to be premonitions of my death. That’s what they say, that your life and your memories all flash before your eyes when you’re about to die. I’m on the airplane now and I haven’t died yet, but I suppose it’s still possible so I’ll try not to jinx this by thinking I’m out of the woods yet. If this plane goes down and the cheapest rinky-dink laptop of all time somehow manages to survive the crash, someone can marvel at my supernatural macabre foresight.
This thing my delirious mind was writing even already had a name: What I learned in London.
The thoughts weren’t about London at all, but for some reason that was the title. But I suppose maybe they began with the Pokerstars blog report that was published when I was playing the UKIPT in London. This is the first time my real name has been printed in conjunction with my online screenname, so it was sort of this weird merger of two identities that I’ve been doing my best to keep separate. When I realized it had happened, I immediately panicked and my first impulse was to email them asking to take it down. Instead I did nothing, but worried about the consequences if someone happens to google my name and come across it. But then I started asking myself, what was I really afraid of? One of my delinquent or disgruntled students coming across my twitter account? Someone from the administration finding it and firing me? They can’t fire me unless they want to find someone else to teach the most boring class on their curriculum for a joke salary. Being an adjunct professor is almost as big a scam as research science, it’s just slightly less time consuming.
But back to the things my brain seems to think I learned. The initial ideas in my mind were about what would happen if I went ahead and posted a blog post outing my ‘true’ identity and linked it on Facebook for all my limited world of acquaintances to see. Maybe having to defend the meaning of a jokey provocative nickname I gave myself 13 years ago that has somehow persisted until the present day. How I’ve lived this divided life for so long, taking great pains to never associate my ‘real life’ identity with my online persona.
I remember when Facebook first started allowing people with non-university accounts to sign up to the site. My account had as little information as possible on there so that none of my students or professors would inadvertently find out anything about my personal life. But when everyone started flocking onto Facebook, I realized I couldn’t hide everything about these dual sides of my life. I had to merge them in some way. So I did, sort of. But not fully. I still had me the grad student and thegroupie the party girl, and thegroupie took care not to post anything too revealing on my facebook page. Thegroupie says what she wants, does what she wants, and doesn’t give a fuck what you think about it. But she knew that “I” kind of still gave a fuck. Even now.
When I finished my Ph.D. I wanted nothing more to do with academia, but at the same time there seems to be a part of me that can’t let it go. Or can’t let go of caring what they think. I’m not sure who “they” even are. The adults, maybe; for some reason I am still terrified of adults, worried about getting in trouble, worried that they are going to find out what I’ve really been up to. I know most of this is in my head, but there is also real and distinct disapproval for my lifestyle from some factions of the people in my life.
When I took up poker I latched onto it as my new identity. Then Black Friday happened and the whole tower of cards (oh brother!) collapsed. I’m still not sure whether it was ever real. I know I made the majority of my income in 2012 playing poker, even with the limited options available to US players. I did better than I ever thought would be possible. But I spent that money paying for life and shit, and there was no way to maintain or grow my bankroll. I am no closer to any sort of financial stability or security. I am still saddled in credit card debt with no clear plan for the future, and am currently on my way back to a country where my options for playing online are more or less nonexistent.
I keep feeling like my life is a neverending version of one of the boring scenes in ‘Girls’ where someone is having an existential crisis. Who am I, why am I living in this expensive apartment, what do I want to be when I grow up, boo hoo. The problem is, I am grown up, I’m like ten years older than those people are supposed to be and this is still my life. The other problem is, Elizabeth Wurtzel already wrote this same stupid fucking essay a few weeks ago, so now my life is just one big hipsterific Girls/Elizabeth Wurtzel shit sandwich. How am I this much of a cliche? How did I get this old without learning anything about what I want from my life?
I frequently have the self-indulgent impulse to blame a lot of stuff on what I would term “unfulfilled expectations.” When I was a child I was told my IQ was in the 99th percentile, and I was taken out of school and transferred to a special school with other budding geniuses. We all learned probably the same stuff that other kids learned, but felt a bit smarter and smugger while we were doing it. And after that there was always an intangible pressure behind everything, because of all the 9-year-olds, WE were the ones who were going to do great things with our lives. Life went on and I continued to do well in things. I went to a relatively elite university for college. I got a fucking Ph.D. for fuck’s sake. When am I going to be fucking done trying to live up to some ridiculous child-prodigy narrative?
I find myself wishing for some fairytale infusion of success, some perfect made-for-Facebook story complete with plenty of photos of my shining accomplishments, where I prove to all the naysayers that I didn’t need academia. Some objective evidence that I found a more fun career and became wildly successful at it and went on to achieve great things. And then of course I start feeling like it’s sad that I crave that fantasy success in order to validate my life choices to the people who I perceive to be skeptical or disdainful of my lifestyle. Do I really need that moment when I get to “show” everybody, to prove them all wrong? Why do I even fucking care about the people who doubted me? Aren’t those people pathetic that they don’t have better shit to do than sitting around doubting people?
I think one reason I still can’t find my direction is because graduate school destroyed my confidence, my ambition, and most aspects of my personality. My life went from an awkward dichotomy of school-all-day/party-all-night 23-year-old energy during the first couple of years, to barely being a shell of a person by the time it was over. As the years went by I gradually became more and more isolated, both from my school life and my personal life, until there was basically nothing left of either. I developed depression that at times was so bad I believed I was permanently lost in the cloud of hopelessness and despair that was occupying the space between my ears. There were long stretches of time when I saw no way out, but I forced myself to believe that there was a way out, that I would regain control of my thoughts one day, that I wouldn’t be shrouded behind this fog of apathy that was currently driving the ship.
I tried my hardest to succeed in graduate school. I thought that if I worked hard enough I would succeed, because that’s how life is supposed to work. If you do a lot of work and put in a lot of effort and are a smart person, someone should care and there should be some reward. Based on all my prior experience, I thought I was supposed to be good at the things that were valued in the academic world. I didn’t yet understand that I was never going to be good enough, because graduate school is a problem that doesn’t have a solution. We always felt that we were somehow superior to the regular workforce, but the lofty enterprises of the ivory tower can be boiled down to a pure issue of supply and demand. Nowadays there are just too many “geniuses” trying to do very special esoteric things that no one cares about and no one cares to pay them to do.
I finished grad school, and that was an accomplishment. But the entire ordeal left me shattered, and I had no idea how to put the pieces back together into something meaningful or productive. It’s hard to shift to thinking about what you want out of life when for the past few years you have been mostly just focusing on getting through each miserable day and occasionally trying not to die. People sometimes ask me if I regret going to grad school, and it’s sort of an irrelevant question. Of course if I knew in advance what I would be put through I would not have dreamed of going. But at the time I made the decision, it appeared to be a great option.
I remember when New Order did a reunion album sometime in the early 2000s, one of the songs was called ‘Regret is a Useless Emotion.’ I can’t remember how the song even went, it wasn’t particularly memorable, but I like that sentence and that sentiment. I think people who waste time regretting the past are some of the most pathetic life forms of all time. If you wish you had done something differently, too fucking bad. Just because you can’t go back to the point at which you think you made a bad decision, that doesn’t mean that bad decision has ruined your life forever. If you are unhappy with a choice you made, learn from the mistake and make a different choice next time. For any decision, all you can do is make the best choice you can given the information at your disposal. You can always make more decisions if you are unhappy with a previous decision, but what is the use in fretting about something that has already happened that cannot be undone?
I have no patience for people who let life happen to them. If you spend your time sitting around wondering about ‘what could have been,’ you’re a fucking miserable idiot. People who don’t understand this concept do not fit into my world.
Nevertheless, I wish I could be more assertive in crafting my own destiny. I want to go after what I want, but the problem is I don’t really know what I want. I thought it was poker, but I wanted poker when it was something I could do from my home, in America. I don’t know if I want it if it means having to uproot everything again and move to another country. I love the idea of living abroad for several months, but I don’t know if I have the means to make it work. It would be a huge gamble. During my time in London grinding on Pokerstars I ended up with a small profit, but it could have just as easily been a small loss. Poker is not a guaranteed salary, and I’m not in a position where I can just move to a different country for several months with no assurance that I’ll make enough to live on. My options really suck right now.
So many people live their lives in pursuit of money. Acquiring and hoarding currency is a completely pointless exercise to me. I don’t give a fuck about buying shit or saving for the future, all I want is enough money that I don’t have to worry about money all the time. It’s so frustrating that while money is one of the things in life that is really NOT important to me, it is the only thing I am missing in order to secure my freedom. And I can’t seem to figure out how to get money in a manner that doesn’t petrify and disgust me (i.e. working in an office from 9-5).
In the coming months I hope I’ll have some more clarity on what to do about everything. I hate this feeling that everything about my life is up in the air. I do know I’ll be in the US through the WSOP, so at least that’s something I can be certain of.