In his last Idler essay (published in 1760), Samuel Johnson wrote about how humans are compelled to recognize milestones, to make mental notes that we’ve concluded a certain “stage” in our lives and are moving on to something new. He also points out how each time we reach the end of this or that phase in our existence, our thoughts invariably drift over to the big End with a capital “E” (what Raymond Chandler/Philip Marlowe wistfully refer to as “the big sleep”). As Johnson explains, “Succession is not perceived but by variation; he that lives today as he lived yesterday, and expects that, as the present day is, such will be the morrow, easily conceives time as running in a circle and returning to itself. The uncertainty of our duration is impressed commonly by dissimilitude of condition; it is only by finding life changeable that we are reminded of its shortness.”
Milestones force a kind of instant sobriety upon those who notice them. Happens at the poker table all the time. To me, anyway. I know, I know . . . too much fretting over how much one is up or down at any given moment in a particular session is negative EV. But I can’t help it. (And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one constantly marking how far up or down he or she is.) To be honest, I just about always know -- to the nickel -- precisely how much I’m ahead or stuck. Therefore I am usually keenly aware of the various benchmarks (upwards and downwards) I am passing through as I play.
I usually don’t go very long without reminding myself of the big picture, either. I’ve written about record-keeping before . . . I’m a bit maniacal about it, to be honest. Speaking of milestones, according to my little poker diary I’m just about a week away from the two-year anniversary of having made my first cash deposit into an online poker site. I also happen to be hovering around one of those satisfyingly-round numbers in terms of career winnings this week. I look forward to reaching that number . . . and moving comfortably past it. But I know that once I do that brief moment of exhilaration will be quickly replaced by that old familiar languor -- that sense of idling that inspired the name of Johnson’s essayist.
So the money is good. As is the competition, the thrill of risk, the intellectual stimulation, and even the simple pleasure of engaging with the world in a not unmeaningful way. That’s poker (as they say).
That’s also the poker blog, I suppose. Has to be. Like record-keeping, the blog helps document certain stages in the life of a poker player. At times the blog even helps foster the sense that he might actually be getting somewhere and not simply “running in a circle.” Or endlessly pushing that stone up the mountain like Sisyphus, only to have it roll back down again. Albert Camus describes Sisyphus as one who has, despite evidence to the contrary, somehow managed to create meaning from his plight. Rather than believe the godless world is “sterile or futile,” he knows that “each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world.”
Camus goes so far as to conclude we “must imagine Sisyphus as happy.” I think he’s right. As grave as such milestones might make us feel, they also go a long way toward helping us with the old problem of “meaning-making.” And that makes us happy for a while. And encourages us to keep going.
And so I will.
Image: Milestones (1958), Miles Davis.
Labels: *shots in the dark