[ Adventures ]
All you can do—all you can ever do—is keep playing
I guess it’s official: I seem to be bringing my A-game to the table with sufficient regularity that I can actually count on it. The immediate, mundane results are that I’ve started cashing and in some cases even winning tournaments on a far more regular basis. Which of course is nice. But there’s a more profound—and oddly, more unsettling—result, which is that now, when I come to the table, I feel I can trust myself.
There are so many areas of my life, where I feel I can’t. I have a terrible time sticking to plans, I can’t pay my bills on time even when I have the money, I’m almost always late. I change appointments, put off calling people I need to talk with, lose control of my schedule, and keep revising my to-do lists. Eventually, of course, the bills get paid, the work gets done, the friendships are maintained. Somehow, I wrote a 950-page novel over the last 10 years, and although revisions on it have stalled for a combination of my-fault and not-my-fault reasons, I suppose I will eventually revise and therefore complete it, though at the moment that seems unimaginable.
But perhaps that is the point. I don’t trust myself to finish the novel, though it seems even more unimaginable that I won’t. When I look at the situation from this moment in time and space, I feel only my incapacity. To believe in my ability—or rather, to believe that the book will somehow get done, entirely apart from my ability to finish it—I have to think outside myself, almost in fictional terms. Am I the kind of character who would write a 950-page first draft and then leave the work unfinished? Does it make narrative sense that this work, whose potential greatness I and my friends have glimpsed in sparks and slivers, will die stillborn rather than be delivered into the life it deserves? I am the kind of person who finishes great novels; the story of this novel’s arduous creation demands fulfillment—and so it makes more sense to me that I’ll finish the book than that I’ll let it die. But that’s different from trusting myself to finish it.
Or is it? When I sit down at the poker table, there are two elements that guarantee success—yes, of course, success in the long run; we’ve already established that the immediate results are all random acts of variance. Still, in the long run, I can guarantee success, partly because of what I know. I can follow the system that the Numbrist has taught me; apply the principles that I’ve learned from him; calculate odds and outs and equity; put my opponent on a range of hands; and then calibrate my actions accordingly. That’s knowledge, or maybe even skill, and it’s been steadily growing since I met the Numbrist, but the breakthrough there happened about a year ago. I’ve known for a while how I was supposed to play a tournament; I just didn’t always do it.
So the other element, the one I’ve been lacking and now have finally found, is execution. A word which apparently carries such an enormous burden that when I reached the end of that sentence and typed in those nine letters, I immediately found a reason to stop writing and do something else. (Significantly, to take the new set of supplements my naturopath has prescribed for me, which I had forgotten to take with my meal: apparently that’s yet another thing I can’t trust myself to do.)
What, exactly, is that burden? It’s the idea of having to keep delivering, again and again, no way out—is it that I can’t trust myself to do that or that I don’t want to? Although skill and knowledge are important in all areas of endeavor—novel-writing as well as poker—what really counts, ultimately, is execution: not what you know, but what you can actually do. Not even what you can do: what you can count on yourself to do. Can the athlete make the jump shot or sink the putt while the game is actually on; can the actor turn in the performance while the audience is there or the cameras are running; can the therapist come up with the insight, the intervention, when the client is in the room; can the surgeon cut what she’s supposed to and miss what she’s not; can the parent translate hope, love, and theory into an actual relationship with a child—that, in the end, is what counts, right? What counts is what you can count on.