Saturday, October 23, 2010

Truth and Consequences

It's not an easy decision to become a writer. First there's the whole vow of poverty thing, the decision to live without a solid net; without the safety of regular paychecks, and an employer that provides health benefits, makes matching 401(k) contributions, and covers half your Social Security and Medicare taxes (in case you didn't know, the self-employed have to pick that whole tab up themselves). Freelancing is a daily struggle. Writing well, even more so. And it's something I'm working on every day.

To really write well you have to put yourself out there. Use your own history and experiences to create characters, to tell a story, to satirize, to meditate on a theme, to tell the truth. It's something I struggle with, especially after my parents decided to dig deep enough into the internet, find my blog and Twitter account, and tell me how much I'd offended them. The first incident was more than three years ago and I'd really hoped they'd just moved on from it and realized that this is just the way it is if you daughter chooses to be a writer. The second was this morning.

Initially, I panicked. Would I have to go deep underground? Start another blog under yet another new identity? Start censoring myself on Twitter? But thankfully, it took me only about thirty minutes to calm down, respond to my parents in a measured, rational fashion, and get right back on the horse. I can't be a writer if I have to stop and consider what my parents will think of my subject matter or me every time I hit publish. Letting go of that need for approval is one more step toward being an artist. It's also another sacrifice and one I need to make immediately.

My parents can respect my choice, or they can keep wishing I was more like them. I've decided to embrace who I am.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Setlist: Dinner with My Parents

Dinner with My Parents - 10/21/10 - Los Angeles, CA

Set 1: You Put On Makeup, Is Something Wrong?, C.C. Sabathia is a Fat Colored Man>Theme from The Archie Bunker Show>The Dodgers Hold the Moral High Ground, How Many Phish Shows Are Enough?, Your Car Insurance Costs...What?

Set 2: A Photo of You at Ellie's Wedding>Were You Really That Drunk>Why Do You Always Bring Up Weddings?, It's My Life*, How is Work>Unemployment Lies>How is Work, Let's Take Your Blood Pressure**, Won't You Please Get Health Insurance?

Encore: Dad Would Sleep Better if He Smoked Weed***

*Bon Jovi Cover
** 104/73
*** Solo acoustic

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Nugs from the Road: Denver

Yeah, I get that the unemployed probably shouldn't be taking trips halfway across the country to watch their favorite band perform, but the train had already left the station when it came to last week's excursion to Colorado for Phish's three-night run in Broomfield. Pauly scored us face-value tickets, we had a free place to crash in the joker's basement, and thanks to the combination of a $300 voucher from Great Lakes airlines that I earned during our Telluride travel debacle this summer and my obscene frequent-flyer mile balance on American, I had free transportation.

A few short thoughts/reflections:
  • Colorado's medicinal marijuana is not only extremely effective but also unbelievably inexpensive. Stuff that goes for $40-45 an eighth in Denver could be sold for $70 in West L.A. I tasted some beautifully cultivated Golden Goat, Sno Cap, White Widow, OG Kush, and a bright, racy sativa called Durban Poison that I'd never experienced before.
  • Every time we set foot in Colorado, I can feel how badly my boyfriend wants us to move there. Los Angeles is becoming unsustainably expensive and while we'll probably stick around the west coast for a while longer, moving to Denver would save us about 30% on rent and more than 75% on car insurance. It's extremely tempting; there's a great music scene and we have a lot of friends in the area, but it's difficult for me to imagine living there. I am not an outdoorsy person. I don't ski, snowboard, climb, camp or ride a bike. And I will never, ever wear Tevas. Still, I told him at one point on the trip that I'd be willing to live there for one year. I don't know what the fuck has gotten in to me.
  • The Phish shows themselves were a mixed bag. I had a great time with the Coventry crew (our stretch Escalade party limo was off the hook), but in terms of song selection it was touch & go. Pauly wrote up some excellent reviews on Coventry: Ten Ten Ten, Eurotrash Night, and Off-Kilter in Colorado.
  • I flew home while Pauly stayed on the road for the remainder of Phish fall tour, including their three-night Halloween run in Atlantic City, which I am so bummed to miss, especially after experiencing Festival 8 last year. I haven't written a lick about poker in 14 days, which is some sort of record for me when it comes to the last four years. I've certainly played some poker during that time and managed to grind up a few hundred bucks, but my creative juices are turning toward other writing projects.
  • When I got home, a copy of the new Phish DVD Coral Sky was waiting in my mailbox. I wrote up a mini-review for Coventry then got accused of homophobia in the comments, which is pretty damned hilarious. I'm probably the only Phish fan on earth who owns over a dozen Barbra Streisand albums and five cast recordings of Gypsy.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Exit Interview

In my heart of hearts I knew what was happening from the moment I opened the email. Meeting tomorrow, over the phone. The wording was clinical, the usually friendly, jovial tone nowhere to be found. I tried to convince myself otherwise, awarding percentages to what it could really be about. But I knew. That's why I wasn't too surprised when the words finally landed in my ear.

In late 2006, at a Mexican restaurant in Studio City, John Caldwell hired me to write for PokerNews. Four years, four WSOPs, and three editors later, I was relieved of my duties, a rare L.A. rainstorm pounding the hood of my Mazda as I sat pulled over on a side street six blocks from my apartment.

In the years that passed between those two conversations, the poker industry changed radically. It's no secret that PokerNews (as well as many of their direct competitors) operate on an affiliate model. In layman's terms, the vast majority of the money they make comes from the referral fees online poker sites give them for each person who signs up for an account by clicking on one of their banners. That used to be a lot of money per player. Now, things are different. The money isn't rolling in like it used to, and it's an industry-wide trend.

PokerNews let me go for reasons that had a lot more to do with dollars and cents than anything else. I was one of their higher-paid employees. That's not to say I was making a fortune-- in order to get by I had to supplement my income with freelance work for other clients-- but it was more than a lot of people earn in the poker media. I think I earned every cent I made there and then some. Of course some pieces were better than others, but I know I'm a good writer. In the moments before being terminated from my job, I was called the "best in the industry." But in the New World Order of cost-cutting and downsizing, it is now more valuable for outlets to hire younger, more inexperienced people to write for them rather than paying more money to a veteran who knows what his or her talent is worth.

I will always be grateful to John Caldwell for bringing me into the PokerNews fold and to Jonno Pittock who showed me what it really takes to cover the World Series of Poker. When I think about the proverbial "jerseys on the wall" at PokerNews, I think about folks like Amy Calistri, Tim Lavalli, Martin Harris, Haley Hintze, Michael Friedman, John Hartness, Gene Bromberg, and my own beloved Dr. Pauly (who even came out of retirement for a few months to assist in last year's editorial transition). That's an extremely talented group right there and I'm honored to have worked with each one of them. I also have to thank Dr. Ken Friedman for being a brilliant editor over the last 14 months. He made me a better writer and I'll never forget it.

Although I am now without full-time employment, I will still be covering LAPT and NAPT events for the PokerStars Blog. And maybe you'll get a bit more of me here again. I can only think of one one strong female voice who is still drawing a full-time editorial paycheck in this industry (that's you, Jess Welman) and I still have a lot to say. In my time at PokerNews I hope I informed you, I hope I entertained you, and moreover, I hope I made you think. Some may call me cynical, some might call me jaded. All I did was try to tell the truth.

As a small parting gift, here's what I thought were my five best op-eds for PN this year: