The good doctor had been quiet over at Tao for the last three-and-a-half months or so, taking a much deserved break from the poker blogging grind. His last post of 2011 began with an admission he was “burned out beyond belief,” something we regular readers kept in mind as his early 2012 hiatus stretched all of the way into the spring.
In Monday’s post, Pauly writes “A Letter to Ndugu” in which he explains his recent silence while also ending with a suggestion that “this will probably be my last letter.” Textual evidence suggests Ndugu to be the overseer of a foster program in Tanzania which Pauly had supported with monetary donations in the past. However, knowing Pauly’s literary leanings, we know better than to take such statements literally.
“Ndugu” means “brother” or “comrade” or “friend.” Pauly goes on to say it has been 111 days since his last letter -- i.e., the span since his last new post on Tao. Doesn’t take a shamus to figure out who Pauly is really addressing. Us.
The themes emerging from what follows include self-loathing (“deep down we all know what we’re doing is complete bullshit anyway”), a lack of inspiration (“my schtick is nothing more than a derivative of something I already said much better years before”), and uncertainty about the worth of “promoting the genius of degenerate gambling” or “preaching salvation via online poker” or having “distracted the masses from the maelstrom of evil that has engulfed the world by churning out misogynist rhetoric about the glamorous rockstar lifestyle of a professional poker player.”
Pauly also discusses sin, and humans’ predilection toward such. In particular, greed. “Poker is a game of skill,” he writes, “but greed is a deadly drug.” From there, the hard-to-resist influences of capitalist thinking are explored, including the relentless nature of the quest to accumulate more, its lack of conclusion leading to thoughts of that other, inevitable conclusion -- death.
“What difference did I really make in this world? What have I contributed to this society?” Pauly asks Ndugu. He asks us. “Nothing,” he answers, not waiting for a reply. “I failed.”
Before signing off, though, Pauly admits to having enjoyed “the long strange trip,” noting that while it is hard -- maybe impossible -- to find meaning in what we do, that shouldn’t prevent us from enjoying ourselves while failing. He offers himself up as an object lesson to others not to be a “selfish tosser” like him but to “live a life of integrity” and “try to make a positive impact in this world.”
“Be good,” advises Pauly. “Do good. But most importantly... be yourself, Ndugu.”
If it is a goodbye, it is undoubtedly one in which Pauly has done precisely what he’s advising his reader. Been himself. Like most everything we’ve read on Tao of Poker since way back in early 2003, it’s unique. It’s inimitable. It’s Pauly.
I feel almost self-conscious using a word like “inimitable” here. After all, reading Tao of Poker essentially inspired me to start my own poker blog. As I’m sure it did others. To see if writing about poker might be as fun and interesting and maybe even enlightening as playing it. Or more so.
I think most of us reading “A Letter to Ndugu” also know better than to diminish Pauly’s poker writings as “bullshit” or “schtick” or a mere distraction from more important things. Good, solid, intelligent, reflective writing and storytelling about any aspect of human experience -- even the silly card games we play with each other -- is of value. And Dr. Pauly has generously supported us all with a plentiful supply.
I share many of the doubts Pauly expresses in his letter. Some of the cynicism, too. But I know there’s something worthwhile happening here. Something that matters.
I mentioned earlier this week how I’d found myself going back through Vladimir Nabokov’s books. I got distracted and wrote about something else, but the passage I was really searching for came from the opening to his 1966 memoir Speak, Memory, the first sentence of which goes “The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.”
From there Nabokov lyrically describes how we all fear death, but we often fail to consider with equal terror the time before our birth when the world existed without us. “Nature expects a full-grown man to accept two black voids, fore and aft, as stolidly as he accepts the extraordinary visions in between” he writes. “Imagination, the supreme delight of the immortal and the immature, should be limited. In order to enjoy life, we should not enjoy it too much.”
That is to say, it’s easy to think this business in between the beginning and the end -- this “brief crack of light” -- is not to be taken too seriously. But we do. We must. As does Nabokov. “I rebel against this state of affairs,” he says.
Sure, we’re all trapped in this “prison of time” (as Nabokov calls it). But we do what we can to endure. We enjoy ourselves and each other. We can’t help but marvel at all of these “extraordinary visions in between” the two voids, and some of us are inspired from time to time to share what we’ve seen.
This Pauly has done. With integrity, and in a way that has made a positive impact. He’s done good.