A Chip and a Chair

“Hope to see you at the WSOP this fall,” he said. I was unemployed, had just received a (no fault) eviction notice days earlier, and was feeling overwhelmed by the million and one worries I had about what was to come next in life. Yet, wanting to sound as optimistic as possible, I replied, “No plans to attend WSOP right now, but if I can find a bankroll, you know I want to be there!” I felt crazy for attempting to think positive about my dismal odds of attending the Main Event (ever, much less this year), but I knew that the only way to achieve impossible dreams is to believe that they can come true. I doubt Jack “Treetop” Strauss would have won the 1982 WSOP Main Event after having his chip stack cut down to a single $500 chip early in the tournament if he had not fiercely believed that he could live the notorious comeback which led to the saying, “All you need is a chip and a chair.”

The problem for me was that I no longer felt like I had a chip and a chair. My unemployment benefits were inexplicably delayed for the third time. I didn’t have a place to live or a job to explain how I would afford the rent at my new location. My parents were worried I was engaged in occult practices thanks to the fact I had begun discussing my belief in fortune telling with playing cards online. There were a few jobs I was interested in which would cover the cost of renting a studio apartment in Santa Barbara, but I was tired of having so little space. I was concerned I didn’t have the stamina required to continue the daily grind required to build and advertise my Etsy shop and get a job that would cover my bills after packing up my life and moving it to a new apartment. I was beginning to feel a bit insane. The logical side of me said that it might be time to accept that I may never achieve my dream to be a full-time artist, writer, and fortune telling poker player, but the optimistic side of me didn’t want to give up.

Eventually I realized that, if I moved to Las Vegas, I could get a lot more space for the cost I was paying in California… plus I might meet a lot more people interested in my art and jewelry made with playing cards… and I would be there during the World Series of Poker. It was the first idea that made me smile about the potential outcome of my difficult situation. The thought of leaving all my friends brought new tidal waves of sadness, but the way I felt when I viewed one particular apartment online made me feel I had seen my new home. A sense of relief and renewed hope for the future had washed over me as I wandered the virtual tour of this two-bedroom Las Vegas abode. Wanting to be sure there was a lot of logic behind my gut reaction, I thoroughly weighed the pros and cons of several new city options before calling my dad to ask for help executing my plan. After explaining that Las Vegas has the lowest cost of living and more job options… and doing my best to convince him that fortune telling is my way of communicating with God – an addition to the faith he introduced me to as a child – my dad agreed to loan me the necessary funds and volunteered to fly out to help me drive my belongings to a new state.

The move didn’t pull me out of my COVID depression as quickly as I hoped. A tiny view of The Strip from my new apartment made me feel I was looking at the land of opportunity and the fact I was surrounded by streets that seemed named after my friends, family, and favorite places seemed like a sign I had made the right choice. Yet, one month after arriving, I still hadn’t received a single call for an interview, secured any locations to sell my art, or finished unpacking (thanks to the fact I had fallen and injured both hands on move-in day). I did as much as I could to improve my situation, all the while worrying that I would always feel days late and many dollars short.

The day I received word that the owner of the Gallery to Go wanted to include my Fortune Telling Tiny Art Playing Cards in her art vending machines, I felt I had officially become part of the Las Vegas community. The day my neighbor texted to make sure I was okay because they hadn’t bumped into me in a few days, I realized my new friends are watching out for me more than some whom I was sad to leave behind. The day I got a job in one of the best poker rooms in the world, I began to feel lighter; more certain I am going the right direction in life. The day I happily admitted to a poker player I had never met before (on the fly while working), “I’m pretty crazy,” I began to feel more like myself than I ever have before. A few weeks later, when I was happily welcomed into a poker tournament at the casino with my lucky cat in a stroller at my side, I felt truly joyful for the first time in a long time. I wasn’t a winner on the felt that night, but I had a lot of fun. As some of my new coworkers predicted, it’s possible I was the player most distracted by my cat’s cuteness. She gave me high-fives most of the times I requested them and sat sternly staring down my opponents when I was playing, occasionally tapping me on the arm as if trying to tell me to bet.

Rachel and Harry (Harriet) heading to the casino to play poker.

The World Series of Poker has officially begun in Las Vegas. I don’t know if I will play in any of the tournaments, but I do expect to see many of the greatest players in person and a lot of other interesting poker action. I’m not here in the way I once dreamt I would be, but I am here… and you never know what could happen. Maybe a bunch of people will purchase poker hats, shirts, and hoodies. Maybe some of the local chapels will decide to purchase my King and Queen resin playing card rings for their brides and grooms. Maybe… just maybe… some day (now or later) an unexpected turn of events will lead to an opportunity for me to play in the Main Event. For now, I am grateful to earn my chip and a chair in Las Vegas by bringing chips to your chair; content to wait for the opportune moment to arrive; happy that I’ve found my muchness; thrilled that I have renewed my hope of reaching Wonderland; certain I will never achieve my dreams unless I continue to believe.

King and Queen Resin Playing Card Rings from Homemade by Hoyt

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The Hand Less Played

“Aren’t you worried you’re under Satan’s influence? The Bible is very clear about the occult…” my dad said. I had been expecting one of my parents to ask this for quite some time, yet I still wasn’t ready to answer when he did. I was a devout Christian once, just like my parents. I stopped going to church around the time I got divorced but don’t feel I’ve strayed from God even though I no longer live by everything the Bible says. I wanted to give them an adequate explanation for how and why I’ve begun studying No Limit Hold’em poker using fortune telling with playing cards (and selling tarot transformation tools and decks). I wanted to explain why the Bible was wrong on this point but I couldn’t because it boils down to this: I am uncertain. I don’t think anyone really knows. Like Pascal’s wager says, we must choose to believe or not to believe. Faith is a gamble. 

I was skeptical and afraid I might be fed a pack of well packaged lies the day I got my first tarot card reading but her presence was anything but evil. The woman’s words were the most comforting things I’d heard in years. I left feeling God had spoken through her, though I wasn’t sure if it was because I wanted that to be true or because she really seemed to understand me better than I understood myself and knew things that I had not stated. One of the things she told me is that I was due for a creative explosion and would be a pathfinder of sorts. I never forgot the statement because “pathfinder” is a term my dad would use. 

About a week after I failed to calm my parents’ fears that I’m on the wrong path, I had a dream that a small spot of my roof was on fire. It was raging hot but not spreading. I stood directly beneath it holding my cat and staring in awe. The next night I dreamt we moved to a larger apartment where we were much happier. Two days later, I learned that I actually do need to find a new place to live by June 30th because my landlord has her own problems and is moving in to my studio.

There have been few dreams I have seen and remembered as vividly as the two I had right before receiving my eviction notice. The first time I had such a dream was the night I saw myself at the final table of the WSOP Main Event. The dream felt more like a vision from God, but I didn’t believe it could or would happen. I loved poker as much then as I do now, but I’m not the type to risk $10k. I couldn’t afford to then and I definitely can’t afford to now. Furthermore, I was just beginning to learn Texas Hold’em. In time, with practice, I came to believe that maybe someday I would possess the right combination of skill and luck needed to play in the WSOP and that perhaps the courage it took for me to embrace the dream could inspire others. 

I was a full time office manager and extremely part time candle maker and writer at the time. I wouldn’t have predicted that I would start making playing card collage paintings or resin jewelry… nor that I would start designing hats and shirts… and never would I ever ever ever have predicted I would try to read playing cards… especially to try to improve my poker game… because I do very much believe in the math of it all… but I had always felt there was something extra tricky about A♤9♤ when I played at the casino… and I stumbled upon a fortune telling with playing cards book at a thrift store one day, let my curiosity flip to the appropriate pages, and learned that A♤9♤ was likely the worst hole cards in the deck according to that system… and the fact I had felt strangely about those cards before learning that information felt significant. 

I bought the book but didn’t spend much time reading it over the years. I felt able to dream bigger after receiving my first Tarot card reading but still didn’t think I had any similar gifts. One random dark and lonely day during COVID times I got to wondering if poker could be used to prove whether or not fortune telling is possible. I pulled up some videos of memorable pro poker hands, wrote down the details, looked up the card meanings in my book… and had my mind blown. Hand after hand, the cards were speaking – predicting player behavior and giving hints about who would win. I was shocked and excited. On the one hand I felt conflicted about learning how to read the cards, especially because the book says fortune telling decks should never be used for games, but on the other hand everything I have been working towards suddenly made more sense. I have long felt my spiritual journey, love of poker, and desire to be a writer and artist were intertwined, but couldn’t really explain why. 

Even now, I don’t truly know that what I’m doing is right. I believe it is what God wants for me. I believe God sent that random stranger who convinced me that there are plenty of rich people with money who would love to invest in a long shot like myself so they could say they helped a nobody take down the Main Event. I believe God sent the friends and strangers who popped up at various times since then, giving me money to gamble when I couldn’t afford to play. I believe God created the opportunity for me to meet Jennifer Harman, James McManus, and Johnny Chan (and many other non-poker celebrities) – interactions which made me feel like the unknown member of the 1% and helped me have faith in myself. I believe God made silly stories about my four-legged children flow out of me now because I really needed some laughs to maintain hope… because I have never felt so down to “a chip and a chair” in my life. Most importantly, I believe with every fiber of my being that none of this would have ever happened if I had not believed.

I have absolutely no idea what to do about my current problems because I think I’m exactly where God wants me. I have found only one full-time job to apply for so far that truly excites me, but it doesn’t start soon and I haven’t heard back. I might like to move out of the area to somewhere less expensive, but I don’t know how to get an apartment there without a new job… and I don’t think I could find employment there first unless I’m capable of locating a place to rent, packing, and moving there within a week to start working whatever job I get. Of course the harder part for me is that either scenario likely involves a vast reduction of time and energy available for all the endeavors I’m convinced are my intended life path… just as I was beginning to feel I had unlocked my full creative potential. 

I have been completely honest with EDD about my self-employment and had hoped to eventually inform them of a big jump in income – enough to replace one or both of the jobs I lost – because I don’t really know how to take a new full-time job without feeling like I’m giving up on my dream. I am looking for one. I know I must pay my bills. I want to feel like a successful adult who contributes to society. I don’t want anyone to ever have to help me out. I hate asking for help more than I can explain. In general, I only care what God thinks of me… which is probably why my heart feels shattered right now. I don’t want to give up on the things I believe God wants me to do, but the odds currently indicate that is exactly what comes next. So, with only a hope and a prayer left, I’m explaining every bit I can behind my madness. I’m turning over my cards because I’m already all-in. I have nothing left to lose. 

Though it feels like I need a miracle to stay in the game, I believe I must do all I can to have faith that everything will work out as it should. I must scour the job boards far and wide for gainful employment and affordable housing, work hard to sell the products I have created, remember that God’s ways are not our ways, and hope that putting this information about my dreams out in the universe will help me accept whatever comes next. Failure is hard to accept but uncertainty is infinitely more difficult. The poker table is where I began to see that we have no choice but to accept it. No matter how much you know about any poker hand or moment in life, there are always unseen forces in play, whether or not you use God and Satan to explain the good or bad “luck” they bring. The only thing I really know is that I want to be an example of good and am playing my cards the best I can.

If you wish to be my Patron Saint of Long Shots but can barely afford a shirt… why not buy this design or something else from my shop to show your support?

Duh Gambling Bizness

“We should do this for our business dope ass idea,” she said. It was a Facebook post in a group for small business owners. Someone had tweeted an idea. Others had taken a screenshot and shared, calling it genius. She had merely continued the trend. The idea was to randomly pick one person from the Facebook group each week and have everyone else Venmo that person $1 so that each week someone would be blessed with a windfall of approximately $10k. There were more than 50 comments already. All approved of the idea except one person who warned that it was a pyramid scheme. “No, it’s basically gambling (a lottery),” I wrote, “with a smaller prize pool and better odds (that are still terrible).” I was mind blown that no one seemed aware of that fact and felt obligated to illuminate the truth.

The man who had first called it a pyramid scheme responded: “If 10k enter and commit to play…and your not allowed to win twice….its possible you win 188 years later and break even.” I didn’t feel the need to double check his math since the point was valid (in my opinion) even if it would take as little as 10 years to win. I laugh-liked his comment and replied: ” Don’t forget that those who’ve already won must keep paying in for that to be true…” The original poster read our comments, agreed that those odds sounded terrible, and suggested the group size should be limited to a few hundred so the luck would roll around to everyone sooner.

I resisted the urge to point out that a few hundred dollar prize wouldn’t excite many and stated the more important thing. I wrote, “I’m pretty sure it’s not legal unless it’s for charity,” even though I was fairly certain I was right, because I didn’t want to be the only one pointing this out. The man who had pointed out it could take 188 years to break even had eventually told the original poster that the idea sounded fun and many others had left positive responses to the idea since I began shooting holes in it. Thankfully, someone else was offering similar advice at the same time. I added to her list of wise questions, “also, who is responsible for the money distribution and who checks whether or not they are being honest? What’s to stop them from saying only 9k of 10k put in their $1 though 10k actually did.” That’s when I realized the idea is actually to send the money direct to the winner; to have people pay after they know they haven’t won.

As of now, hundreds of people have left comments in support of the idea and/or asking to join such groups. They think those of us calling it illegal gambling do don’t know what we are talking about. They say we can’t understand that it’s just a fancy new type of crowdsourcing and that the winner is is simply the benefactor of a multi source donation… and that it’s 100% not taxable because it is a donation. A few people have shared links to groups offering this (apparently not that unique) opportunity. I rolled over the $10 I won on my Christmas scratchers I bought myself in honor of my Grandma Betty (who used to give us each a few tickets at the holidays) into two tickets for the Super Lotto and three for the Mega Millions… and left one more comment saying that, “Sending the money direct to the winner might create a helpful technicality for circumventing legal issues… but it opens up new issues of how to ensure that everyone who was involved in the drawing actually pays the winner.” I also left a link to an article about how to set up a legal raffle. I don’t think most of them noticed the girl who said she had already lost $1500 being part of this type of opportunity.

Continue reading “Duh Gambling Bizness”

You Have to Be Strong to Be Kind

All Up in the Club by Rachel Hoyt

“I’m going to burn these candles in your honor,” he said. “I think it will bring you good luck. This is karma insurance. ” I agreed with him and laughed because he seemed unaware of the fact he appeared content to personally incur bad karma and bad luck because our paths had collided. He had pulled out of a driveway without looking and driven straight into my car. Slamming on my breaks and swerving had made the candle inventory I had just removed from the pop up shop where I had sold handmade goods the previous two months (including several boxes without lids) fly through the car. Many candles bounced off the windshield and settled under my feet. It was extremely unnerving… but, once I calmed down, I shrugged my shoulders at the fairly large black mark he’d added to my hub cap and simply requested compensation for the damaged inventory (more than $200 in dented handmade candles). I only asked for $90 in exchange for about $110 of candles. I wanted to avoid the hassle of an insurance claim and help him avoid increased premiums. He wanted to either settle for the $61 cash he had on hand or make an insurance claim and try to get his entire front end fixed up through the claim. I chose the former because I felt it was the right thing to do. Poker has shown me over and over that holding the best starting hand (i.e. pocket Aces) does not guarantee a win. How I choose to play the game is what matters most.

Of course, I don’t feel the need to be kind at the felt, at least not in how I play the game. I think that even those who never play know that’s not what No Limit Hold’em is all about. For me, every hand I play is an opportunity to show my strength. The game has helped me learn how to spot a liar (a bluffer) and taught me a lot about just how strong I can be. My favorite poker memories are the times I called a giant river bet with nothing but a small pair (and won) because I knew the man who placed the bet thought he could scare me into believing my cards weren’t enough. Like most poker players, my least favorite memories are times I played well and lost… because the odds didn’t work out in my favor. Those days it took strength to walk away gracefully and accept the loss rather than risk more (which I couldn’t afford) to try to turn it into a win.

In my opinion, 2020 gave us all the opportunity to see just how unpleasant daily life can be when fear is a major factor in daily life like it is in poker. It made us ask ourselves how much we are willing to risk for the pleasure of human interaction. It highlighted the advantage that players with giant bankrolls have over those playing with cash they can barely afford to risk. Finally, it (and the first week of 2021) have shown us just how ugly things can get when people refuse to acknowledge that the odds are always against some and favor others; that often the underdog loses but sometimes he or she wins; that our democracy was designed with an intricate system of checks and balances to root out corruption the way shuffling and dealing a deck of cards evens the luck amongst players; that we all respond to fear differently and all desire to not be afraid; that the votes we cast with our money and at the polls don’t always have the effect we desire.

Each of us now has more power individually than we ever had before – the ability to control the number of people we are in contact with and our risk of spreading COVID (or not); the choice to buy local or support big business; the opportunity to take responsibility for whatever bankroll we do or don’t have and plan for the future; and, most importantly, the need to decide if we will support the system that has made our lives great so far and continue to push for alterations that make it even greater… or if will we join those who disrespect the system to (supposedly) root out corruption. Each of us needs to decide how we are going to play our hands in life and remember that the amount of fear that is or is not in our day to day life is greatly controlled by the way the players choose to play the game.

I plan to continue to play the game of life with as much kindness as I can muster and take my aggression out on my new punching bag and at the felt when I feel it is safe to return (both financially and for my the health of my weak lungs). I believe I didn’t merely save that man who crashed into me (and his insurance company) money by accepting less than I deserved for the situation. I showed someone inclined towards deception and taking advantage of a situation (possibly/probably due to his previous experiences) that there are still people in the world who do good just to do good… hoping that my choice to show kindness will make him do the same sometime (or many times) in the future.

Though we all respond to fear differently, we tend to respond to kindness the same. I want to be the change I want to see in the world – a light in these dark times – whether or not the darkness understands me (John 1:5). I will not shut out people who’s political views bother me because I know we are in the game of life together, whether we like it or not. I will stay strong and hopeful for a brighter future knowing I am trying to do my part to spread the light.


If you, like me, believe that it takes a strong person to be kind, that anger and agression are merely responses to fear which we must learn to control, and that the thing we need most in 2021 is to remember how to get along when we disagree, please share this post to encourage others to spread the light.

P.S. Did you know that Ghandi never actually said, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” though many have paired his name with those words? That’s what I call a successful life bluff. I had a coffee mug with that Ghandi quote for many years (until it broke).

Do You Believe in Magic?

Note: This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases made through these links.

“When I look to see what it is that you’re attached to here, I don’t really see anything that is concrete,” the Tarot Card reader said. “I see you floating over the ocean with all of these threads attached to you… and I’m not clear on exactly what that is.” She said success would come to me as a result of experiencing some very trying times and always watching myself come out in a way that is very positive. She said the threads represented some sense of obligation – perhaps the desire to feel connected – and that I needed to let that go so that my past self could come into the present. It was June 10, 2012 – the first time I had ever had my cards read in my life. My Christian upbringing said divination was wrong, but my Catholic friend had sought advice through this woman many times and felt her readings were accurate… so I decided to give it a try. I asked the woman about my love life and got a reading about my personal evolution – a future as an artist that I had hardly begun to imagine for myself. Although I left feeling God had just spoken to me through a fortune teller (and extremely grateful she allowed me to make an audio recording of our session), there was one thing on which we couldn’t agree. She was fairly certain I had always wanted to be an artist and that someone (my parents) had stopped me from pursuing it. I was fairly sure I hadn’t realized my creative aspirations until adulthood and that I had always been encouraged to be whoever I wanted to be.

As we entered COVID times in March, I found myself wondering if (and hoping that) I was snipping those metaphorical threads the tarot card reader saw tying me down to the world and nearing the end of the trying times that she said would lead to a “creative explosion” in my life. Months later, as I watched a video about “magical thinkers” and “evidence seekers” to try to learn more about what the Maskholes of the world believe, I realized that my dream to support myself as an artist, writer, and poker player probably sounds just as outlandish to some (or many) as the conspiracy theory beliefs of a Covidiot sound to me… especially now that I’ve already been gifted a lot of time to work on my art, my Federal Unemployment “bonus” has expired, my California Unemployment funds have almost run out, and I’m still spending more time working to build a creative career than I am looking for a “real job”, using the “diminished lung capacity” diagnosis I received in February to help justify my actions.

The video drew upon many of the concepts discussed in a book I read at the end of April in an attempt to regain control over the anxiety and depression flooding into my life – Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts by Annie Duke. The book taught me that it is human nature to defend our beliefs. Our egos are threatened by information that doesn’t agree with our self-narrative. Furthermore, “the smarter you are, the better you are at constructing a narrative that supports your beliefs, rationalizing and framing the data to fit your argument or point of view.” The same thought processes which have led me to believe I am destined to be a successful artist and writer are the ones that make my friends believe it’s dangerous to wear a facemask and/or that COVID-19 is no more dangerous than the flu. The book says I should be willing to give up feeling “right” to eliminate the consequences of feeling “wrong” – that because they feel like winning and losing it takes two of the former to balance out the emotional weight of the latter.

I’ve been trying to apply the ways the book described for embracing and utilizing uncertainty to help myself make wiser decisions ever since, but I’m not sure I’m succeeding. Thinking in Bets says we need at least a few close friends who will hold us accountable for our beliefs – people who challenge us to inventory the evidence that informed us. To ease our anxieties about life, we need friends who agree with us, but to make smarter decisions we need friends who don’t. At the moment, I don’t feel like I have many of either type. Since COVID hit, I’ve spent 90-95% of my time at home, with only my kitten and box turtle to talk to. I have the support of my family and a few friends, all of whom try to play devil’s advocate occasionally but mostly shower me with the encouragement my battered self-esteem needs. The main thing challenging my opinion about whether or not I should be an artist and writer is the approval I do or do not receive from the public – comments, likes, shares, and (most importantly) sales – and I hesitate to draw conclusions from that evidence because relatively few people have seen my work. Instead, I cling to the cosmic “evidence” for my art career as solid reasons I should continue to hope and have hired an Etsy coach (joined an online course) to try to figure out how to get seen by my target audience.

Annie Duke pointed out in her book that, “A great poker player who has a good-size advantage over the other players at the table, making significantly better strategic decisions, will still be losing over 40% of the time at the end of eight hours of play.” She gave several examples to prove this phenomena isn’t confined to poker… and I like to think the cosmic evidence has come into my life at times when I’ve been misinterpreting the raw data to remind me that, so long as I “win” more often than I “lose”, I can succeed. I told my mom a few months ago that, as much as I hate to admit it, I perform well under pressure. I said there were many times that I lost almost all of my chips very early in a poker tournament but managed to stay in the game long enough to make the money. A few weeks later, she came across a copy of a questionnaire I filled out at age 7 where I stated I wanted to “be an artest” when I grow up and emailed me right away. I was shocked. The tarot card reader was right. She knew something that neither I or my mother remembered.

Maybe it is ridiculous that I began my quest to become a full-time writer and artist because of a dream I had one night about sitting at the final table of the World Series of Poker. Perhaps it means nothing that I have since become friendly with the female poker pro who appeared in that dream. Maybe I’ll never really get to know the man who looked at me like he could see my full potential the moment we met and told me that if I came up with $5k he’d give me the other $5k and we would go play in the WSOP together. Then again, maybe someday soon all my dreams will come true. Whether or not anyone has seen it, I feel I have been experiencing the creative explosion the tarot card reader predicted. I more than doubled the number of items for sale in my Etsy shop in the past few months – creating printable collage art, playing card notecards, poker lifestyle gear (hats, shirts, phone cases, etc.), resin playing card rings, and many new collage paintings. I also made a few candles and wrote a few poems – the only two things I was doing at the time the tarot card reader made her prediction.

Maybe magic doesn’t exist the way we’ve been conditioned to imagine it, but magical things happen anyway because we make them come true. I believe magical moments gave me the hope and strength I needed to create the evidence of who I am and that I couldn’t have accomplished as much as I have without them. Maybe the only missing ingredient in the potion that will conjure my success is you. Determining the facts is difficult. Altering beliefs is next to impossible… but it can be done with a little help from your friends. 2012 me had no idea what I thought of the fact that tarot card reader also told me I was surrounded by faerie energy… or how to respond to the people who asked if I was a faerie in the years to come… but 2020 me feels quite magical when hiking with her kitten, surrounded by dragonflies, and figured out what to tell her past self: “The fact you don’t believe faeries exist doesn’t mean I can’t behave like they do.”

Believe in Faeries – PRINTABLE ART – For Sale on Etsy
Rachel and Harry (Harriet) on a Hike – July 2020

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A Wish for the World ~ 20″ x 20″ Painting with Tarot Cards ~ FOR SALE ON ETSY

Let The Cards Fall

“You write about your life on the internet,” he said, “but you don’t really want people to know about your life?” I explained that the image I’m portraying online isn’t fake, but it’s not a full picture either… and I immediately began wondering why I’ve been avoiding putting one particular thing about myself in writing because I haven’t hidden this “secret” from any friends, acquaintances, or even passersby for quite some time. One recent morning, after I spontaneously agreed to be photographed “at my worst” and told my secret to two strangers (including the director of a local nonprofit animal shelter) while explaining how I “trained” my kitten to go on walks and be nice to dogs, I knew I was no longer keeping my cards close to my chest in the game of life and had no good reason to keep from laying all my cards on the table here.

When I play poker, I almost never show my cards unless you’ve paid to see them. I realized that morning as I boldly discussed my life with two strangers on the street in my glasses, bathrobes (I had on three for warmth), and slippers, holding my cat and morning coffee, that my kitten had forced me to lay all my cards on the table in life. Before she came along, I didn’t discuss the fact that I smoke spliffs (rolled marijuana mixed with tobacco) several times per day to manage my anxiety and occasional depression with strangers. When the kitten accompanies me and attracts attention, I can’t help but explain.

I thought the reason I “trained” my kitten was obvious to my veterinarian neighbor who had observed us more than most. Yet, a few days after my no shame moment on the street, she said, “I know you work hard to get her to be like that.” I told her that I didn’t/don’t feel I’m working hard at it – I’m just making the kitten share the free time which I have available – and she looked surprised, which surprised me. The day Harry came into my life (a rescue kitten delivered to me from the streets of Arroyo Grande by an acquaintance) I’d retrieved the bag of cat stuff I had in storage and found a kitten harness inside which I didn’t recall purchasing (but assumed I had planned to try on my box turtle). The kitten was only about 7 weeks old (so tiny) and I only got to spend a few hours with her before heading out to work. I didn’t want her to sit alone any longer once I finished my five hour dinner shift, but I also needed my evening smoke. So, I put her in the harness and carried her out to sit in my parked car with me, doing my best to keep the toxic fumes away from her. The kitten fussed while I snapped it on, but wasn’t bothered by the harness once it was in place. From that day forth, she happily accompanied me anywhere and everywhere I took her to ensure we got enough bonding time in around my busy work schedule, including one karaoke night and a New Year’s Day poker tournament. The only thing I did to train my kitten was to love her with all my heart and make her a real part of my life.

Last Saturday, sometime between running my (now 5 months old) kitten Harry (short for Harriet) to the hospital for emergency stomach surgery and learning that the primary indigestible item filling her tiny six month old stomach was my long blonde hair, I realized the real reason I haven’t wanted to discuss my smoking habit. I’m not sure how I’d live with myself if my hair was the cause of my kitten’s demise… and I realized I’m not so much ashamed of my smoking habit as I am afraid of the fact that it could kill me. I realized I might have issues loving myself as I am… then quickly found myself showered with support which made me wonder why.

My coworkers braced themselves to cover for me on an already understaffed night, just in case I couldn’t get the kitten checked into the hospital fast enough or stop crying. My my dad got the bill paid when my credit card limit was a few hundred short, adding the gigantic sum to an already large personal loan I’d been paying off slower than we all desired for years without question. One friend helped me pick up Harry from the hospital Sunday afternoon, went with us to retrieve the rest of my handmade candle and art display from the pop up shop they’ve been in the past three months and deliver the items to my storage unit, let me do a free emergency load of laundry, then served me a home cooked dinner. Another friend created a Go Fund Me to “Help Harry” just hours after she learned all that I had been through that past week.

“I haven’t seen a light like this in Rachel in years,” she wrote, bringing to mind a song I sang as a toddler at church where you hold a finger up as your symbolic light. “This little light of mine… I’m gonna let it shine…” the song chimes, over and over and over. I loved the part at the end when we remove the cupped hand which we put over our ‘lights’ before singing, “Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine! Let it shine let it shine!” With that childhood memory in mind, I ended the week pledging to love myself despite my habit and trust that God is in control. My last cat lived a long, happy life as an indoor/outdoor cat before the same thing that killed the two cats I had before her at a much younger age (a car) took her too. I know better than some that you never know what cards you’re going to be dealt in life. Sometimes we reflect the odds and sometimes we defy them. The only way to find out what will happen is to brave the risks that surround you and let the cards fall.

Until next time, follow @rachel_hoyt_artist and @pokeyandharry on Instagram to see more.

Why the Bluff Not?

“You know who it is, don’t you?” a customer asked regarding the dragonflies that I’d admitted visit me regularly. I told her I thought it was my grandpa Hoyt, but really I hadn’t thought about it the way she was – as a soul that has already passed on who has come back to see me. My gut told me that my first dragonfly experience was a sign that my living, breathing Prince, whoever he is, was thinking of me and I’d stuck with the idea because it brought me comfort. A few days later, after summarizing the mess I’ve made of my love life for a friend, a (somewhat) off the wall question got me thinking about how often I bluff in real life: “But where does Dave Grohl stand in all this?” Ever since I had told this particular friend about the day I’d “met” Dave Grohl while playing poker through the WSOP app, he’d teased me by pretending Dave Grohl is my boyfriend. This time it got me thinking that there’s nothing quite like a great bluff, even if you’re bluffing yourself.

He said he was the real Dave Grohl when one of the other players asked and I said, “Hi Dave!” as if I believed him… because the person who asked seemed to believe he was playing poker with a rock legend and my gut reaction was that it would be fun to pretend I did too. Soon after, someone with a Black female avatar named Bubba joined the room and began begging for “[my] milk” and the rest of us stopped chatting. He might have said hi and told me I was cute first but I can’t really remember. The shock of the line he chose to repeat over and over, hand after hand, kept me quiet for quite some time. I rarely say anything in chat screens and didn’t want to encourage his sleazy behavior in any way. Eventually, Bubba typed, “I want your milk Rachel. Give me your milk,” so many times that Dave Grohl broke the silence.

“I’ll give you some milk!” he said just before I broke down and typed something about being sure as fuck I wasn’t giving him any milk, praying our one-two punch would do the trick. Unfortunately, Bubba was like a broken record that wouldn’t stop. He (eventually) held his tongue long enough for Dave to tell me I’ve ‘got snap’ and clumsily ask me to get a drink sometime.

I had no intention of going out with some stranger who pretends to be Dave Grohl online (nor did I desire to date the real Dave because he’s married), so I told him, “If you’re the real Dave Grohl… sure.” The fan who’d inquired if he was the real Dave promptly called me a gold digger, then didn’t respond when I asked if he’d go out with an imposter.

Dave said, “He’s my hero,” (admitting he isn’t the real Dave?) while I defended my actions to his crazed fan. He then tried to get me to join snapchat so we could talk privately. I offered my email or other social media accounts instead but he said he’d just find me in the WSOP app… and perhaps come visit me at one of the restaurants I work for the next time he’s in town. After that we stopped chatting and started buying each other gifts through the app – using our chips to send a virtual rose, drink, or kiss to sit beside the other’s avatar… and Bubba resumed his, “I want your milk,” rant. I smiled as Dave told Bubba to leave his girl alone… and laughed until I cried when they began competing to be the one who’s gift appeared beside my avatar. (Each player can only have one gift showing at a time. So, every time Bubba sent a rose, Dave covered it up with a kiss immediately… no less than a dozen times in a row.)

I decided to quit poker for the day not long after causing those shenanigans, figuring there wasn’t anything that could’ve made that moment more fun. I told Dave I’d see him around… and I did see him online once or twice after that… but I never asked his real identity… nor did I admit I never thought he was the real Dave Grohl.

I asked the first dragonfly that stared me down two questions. It happened about three years ago. He was firey red and perched in a tree at eye level, less than two feet away from where I stood in the garden where I worked at the time. I asked my coworker if she’d ever seen a dragonfly perch like that before. She said no and suggested it could be someone important. “Are you someone important?” I asked. It nodded… twice. “Are you a Prince?” I asked. It nodded twice again. If there hadn’t been a witness present to tell me that she’d also seen that dragonfly nod, I might not have believed what I saw with my own two eyes.

I caught that dragonfly staring at me many, many other times after that day and, since leaving that job, I see dragonflies (mostly fiery red ones) 100x more often than I ever did before. They fly near my windshield when I’m at stop signs, swoop down over my shoulder when I’m out on the street, and circle or hover around me on occasion. One time, when returning to a thrift store to purchase a dragonfly lampshade I’d seen there a few days prior, I looked up to find there was a giant swarm of dragonflies in the tree above me. I can’t help but think that they all mean something.

Because the first one ‘told’ me he was a Prince, I’ve taken the dragonfly appearances as signs that my Prince is watching, but when the stranger asked if I knew who my dragonfly is, I realized I was probably bluffing myself… just like I pretended I believed that Dave Grohl was the real Dave Grohl, just for fun. I hadn’t spent much time pondering what I should think or do in either case. I trusted my gut. That’s what I do. It’s my way. I simply hadn’t pondered until recently how many bluffs I had performed in life.

The very day I began to wonder if I bluff too often, especially in regards to romance, a friend told me they’d spent the prior evening pondering the meaning of the phrase “clouds in my coffee” from the song You’re So Vain by Carlie Simon. He reminded me that the song is about someone who is infatuated with a self-absorbed seducer and said he believed the clouds were her fantasies of what the relationship could be and the coffee was her awareness of what it actually was. I couldn’t help but note a striking similarity between the song and my life (save one or two details) and, after I summarized my personal romance dilemma for him, we had a good laugh about the fact that, according to his metaphor, I’ve had too much coffee… because he’s one who knows precisely how much I actually enjoy drinking java – morning, noon, and night. It reminded me that I was always aware when I was bluffing to some extent. So, deep down, I must’ve believed there was a method to my madness.

Maybe I got myself into my current situation by believing in fantasies – dreams with a low probability of becoming true. Yet, perhaps my life right now isn’t so different from all the times at the felt when I’ve momentarily wondered if my gut was wrong just before the card(s) fell that would prove my instincts spot on. Maybe I have been bluffing too much. Then again, perhaps the hand(s) that are bothering me haven’t finished playing out. It could be there are more cards to come or… perhaps I just need to turn mine over. Maybe it only looks like I’m not winning because I haven’t yet revealed my hand. Maybe it simply wasn’t yet the opportune moment.

Once upon a time, I told myself I might not find my Prince until I became a writer and artist – made my life what I wanted it to be. I’ve come a long way, but there’s one big piece of the puzzle that has been on hold for years because no further inspiration had come: my novel. Six years ago I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time. I completed the 50,000 word goal on the 30th day and called it a first draft though I wasn’t very happy with the content. In 2015, I tried again on a very different draft – one which took place in a fantasy world – and put down over 20,000 words trying to bring the idea to life. A few weeks ago, on October 15, 2019, I started over a third time as I found exciting scenes popping into my head which mimic my reality while taking me to places I’ve never been.

As I began writing and making plans to participate in NaNoWriMo again this November, I couldn’t help but wonder if all the bluffs I’ve performed thus far were my way of practicing for my main event: my novel. The first draft was too close to reality to be intriguing. The second was so far fetched I didn’t know where the story should go. This time, I am using bits of my real life to create a story I wish I could live. I figure since bluffing has brought me happiness thus far, I might as well see where it can take me. Why the bluff not?

NaNoWriMo Project Title: You Betcha

Novel Summary: Five Horsemen and two Madames make one big bet against the Billionaire Boys Club to prove that what you do with your money is far more valuable than the money itself.

Words Written: 1,500 (plus notes)

Words to Go: 50,000 (or more)

Crushing Hands

“I think maybe I can’t finish them because the story isn’t through,” I said. Like many friends I haven’t seen in a while, one of her first questions when we bumped into each other almost two months ago was if I’d written anything lately. I had started by saying, “No. Not really,” like I’d told nearly everyone else for quite some time, then revealed a truth I wasn’t cognizant of until the moment it came out of my mouth. My friend told me that night she had pondered applying for a job somewhere I once worked. She had her resume and cover letter ready to send when she realized that, if I hadn’t stayed there, something about the place must not be right for her either, and decided not to apply. I nearly burst into tears because I couldn’t remember the last time that I felt another player in the game of life blindly read my moves correctly.

My friend thought I had quit the job in question, but that employer had actually let me go; told me I didn’t fit in at a job where I’d felt right at home. I didn’t realize how much that rejection had hurt me until I told my friend what had happened and found myself fighting tears upon viewing her equal shock and awe. Last week I had a similarly touching moment with a much more dear friend I now rarely see. This time I couldn’t hold back the tears a single second. This time I realized it was time to admit my heart is still too injured for my a-game to come out.

A few months ago, the last time a recent love interest was at my apartment, he asked me something about how often I study the poker books on my shelf and if they are what make me a good player. I told him that, at least for me, there are two things that are much more important to playing a good game of poker than how much I know about what’s in those books: not risking money I can’t afford to lose and not playing when I’m feeling heartbroken. I told him the money part was slowly getting better (meaning I might soon have some money I could afford to risk) and flashed a hopeful smile as I strongly hinted that he was the one currently affecting the heartbreak factor the most. A few weeks later, as we began trying to be “just friends” and found ourselves discussing the idea that pain is growth, I shared a proverb I have kept on my refrigerator (a magnet) for as many years as I can remember: “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.”

There were countless times since I put that magnet on my fridge when I had wondered if my cocoon phase would soon end and the cards would beigin to fall in my favor. Often it was simply because I longed for it to be over, but sometimes I had reason to hope the end was nigh. One of those times was while working at the previously mentioned job, when a man brought me a few gifts to ensure I would go on a date with him – two pieces of jade (which he’d retrieved from the bottom of the ocean personally) and a chrysalis – a monarch still in it’s cocoon. It was just days after my butterfly hatched and I had the magical experience of holding him/her until he/she felt ready to take that first flight that my employer sent me on my way. A few weeks later that man proved those presents were the most special thing I would get from him and we parted ways as well. It felt like I’d been dealt pocket aces the first hand of the night and lost all my chips to a far inferior hand. Coincidentally, that literally happened one of the nights I decided to risk $20 I couldn’t really afford to lose at a local home game to cheer myself up. Lesson learned.

From the time I left that job until now, life has sometimes felt darker even when I know certain parts are improving. Approximately a year ago, the property where I have rented a studio for the past 15 years went up for sale because my beloved landlord passed away. I could hardly afford my below market rent at the time and felt powerless to do anything to prevent myself from facing disaster. I spent many days and nights worried I would have to move back to Arizona and live with my parents until I came up with a better plan for my life. Then, just when I was sure it was all falling apart, everything came together. I ended up with two new jobs I like, a reasonably priced “temporary” studio next door to my old place, and a new landlord who is remodeling my former/future apartment and wants me to move back in as soon as it’s ready. Having all of those worries work out without much effort on my part had been as surprising as being beat down to a chip and a chair multiple times in a poker tournament then going on to take first place.

The night I burst into tears unexpectedly, I began to wonder when I’ll next have the heart to play poker. I still don’t have a bankroll or all the funds I need to move back into my old place when the remodel is finished, but I was more concerned with what I can do to heal my heart. I mentioned what had made me distraught to a coworker and found my friend saying that women (i.e. me, myself, and I) are crazy. At the time, I focused on convincing him that men’s hearts are equally susceptible to feeling pain over long lost love. It didn’t dawn on me until later that my friend (a man) was probably laughing at me inside because I was forgetting that men think with their loins more often than they follow their hearts.

As this fact dawned on me while I reprocessed years of painful experiences, I realized I might finally know exactly why a girl like me would dream of making it to the final table of the World Series of Poker Main Event before ever having played No Limit Hold’em for real money. If an unknown, relatively inexperienced female could take down the big one (something no woman has ever achieved) it might prove that having heart is just as powerful as having balls. Maybe my heart revealed my desired destiny in a dream so I would find a way to make it come true.

It’s too soon to tell if the fact I’m finally concluding a blog post for the first time in more than a year indicates anything about whether or not my cocoon phase will soon be over. I didn’t even try to come up with a way to attend the World Series of Poker this year. I am too busy working my restaurant jobs, making acrylic collage art with playing cards, and searching for Prince Charming to find time or money for poker… but the burning desire to play still simmers inside… and the belief I can make my WSOP dream come true against all odds is still there. I don’t know when or how it could happen, but I can say that, if I take my seat in that tournament, the men better gird their loins, because my heart will be full and guarded by those who helped me get there. Perhaps now I’m feeling crushed by every hand I play in life so that, when the time comes, I’ll know I have the strength to endure. Maybe there’s nothing I can do to heal my heart but sit in my cocoon and wait until it is time to spread my wings and fly.

Stand Tall

“You know what you’ve got to do?” she said, pausing for dramatic effects. “Stand tall!!!” My friend was quoting some advice her mother had given her which had baffled and infuriated her to no end. For a while, it became a one line “joke” between us, utilized whenever we had little advice to offer and hoped a smile or laugh could be sufficient support. By the time she became one of the many friends who had disappeared into motherhood, virtually never to be heard from again, I was fairly sure I knew what it meant to stand tall… and more uncertain than ever that I had the self-confidence to do it. I knew then that I was playing the underdog hand in life, but I wasn’t sure how to do it successfully.

Like a child, I wanted “fun and games” to mean that everyone could be a winner. I had already begun to play poker at the casinos and knew that the phrase involved a lot of cut throat maneuvers on the felt, but I wanted to believe that life was different. I knew that poker players do not chop the pot (tie) frequently, but thought friends, family, and lovers should find a way to make life work out that way. I thought compromise was best when things were 50/50 all the time. I couldn’t see that, when playing the cards as they’re dealt, you’re lucky if a hundred hands averaged together work out so evenly.

Much more recently, one of my new regular customers was adding a generous tip on his credit card slip as I watched (per his request) and said, “Because you’re the best.” Intending to sound modest, I replied, “Well… I try.” He was extremely bothered by my response and scolded me in a way which (I told him) would have made Yoda proud. Neither of us quoted it correctly that day, but the message was clear: “Do or do not. There is no try.”

A few days later, I was at the doctor for my annual physical exam when I began to apply Yoda’s message to the poker game of life. It was the second time I measured in at a full 5’9” (one-half inch taller) and the first time ever that a medical professional told me my weight (145 lbs.) was absolutely perfect for my height. The night before that, a friend who is also a new mother had driven hundreds of miles to surprise “Aunt Rachel” with a visit from her seven-week-old “niece”. The day before my customer reminded me, “There is no try,” another friend and her two-year-old Prince Charming had taken me to the park to see the turtles… and then to retrieve my car from where I’d parked it the night before to go out drinking. I hadn’t done much beyond eating gradually smaller, healthier portions to go from borderline obese to perfectly healthy, nor had I done anything but be myself to retain the love of these two girlfriends and gain a relationship with their children. Perhaps, as adults, we are both more inclined to “do” than to just “try”.

Perhaps I’ve finally grown up and figured out how to play a friendly poker game in life. Perhaps my current friends are better at explaining why they’re making the moves they do so that I can respond with kindness (and vice versa). Perhaps many friends have disappeared into motherhood… but perhaps they aren’t lost forever. As long as we are both on this planet, we have a choice whether or not our game is through. A new hand is dealt every day. We can either lay our cards on the table and place our bets or sit around thinking about the cards we hold as the moments pass us by. Do or try. Bet or fold. Play or don’t play. The only real way to meet in the middle is to attempt to balance the wins and losses each party endures… and do everything you can to help keep your “opponent” standing tall when you are the one holding the cards that have the power to knock them down.

Play YOUR Hand

“You’re a great mother,” he said as he gazed at my cluttered, dirty apartment, insinuating that he could see something which even I could not. Until then, I thought the fact that I even attempt to be a good mother to my pets was hidden behind my mess. “I don’t know about that,” was all I recall saying in response. I’ve spent years arguing off and on with friends and strangers about whether or not I will ever be a mother. Never have I ever thought to fight for the fact that I am already a mother to one perky little box turtle and one adorable tabby cat. I wasn’t sure if he was being sincere or just trying to flatter me and I didn’t care. I had been given a new perspective. To win in poker, you must play the hand differently than what your opponents expect… and perhaps my life is the same.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that, although I do utilize my nurturing instincts primarily on myself, my career, and my pets, I have always tried to make time to utilize them in more traditional manners as well – babysitting friends’ children, offering advice to friends, etc. I didn’t plan to be single and childless at 40. It’s simply the hand I was dealt. Shortly thereafter, I was reminded of some of the benefits of being single and childless. I found myself with a decent excuse to visit the Chumash poker room for the first time in four months and only the second time in more than a year. I was scheduled for a catering shift not far away from the casino and asked to pick up an extra shift the following night at the restaurant (which could somewhat justify the cost). I couldn’t truly afford to play, but decided the risk was worth it. I would either leave richer in cash or life lessons. So be it.

I only brought $40 that night – the absolute bare minimum for the cash table – putting myself at a disadvantage from the start. Luck would have to help me double or triple my stack just to put me even with the 60% of the table that was buying in for the $100 maximum and give me a true fighting chance of going home a winner. Skills can only do so much with $40 when the blinds are $1 and $2. You might get to pay the bare minimum (or a little more) to see the flop and suddenly find yourself with a great hand… but if you don’t win each hand you play at the beginning, your stack will soon be too small to scare away any opponents (even if you go all-in)… and the more opponents you have, the lower your chance of winning any given hand.

I only saw three hands through to the river that night. First, I got slow rolled by the old timer and lost about 1/4th of my stack in a de ja vu experience which I immediately began attempting to erase from my memory. Shortly thereafter, I decided to defend my blind with eight-five off-suit to a straddle bet… either because I wanted to play differently than I normally play or because I was on tilt. I got lucky that hand and landed a gut shot straight draw on the river, winning a pot big enough to put me back above even. After that, I limped into a few hands that went nowhere, folded even more, and then… I found myself under the gun with pocket sevens. The betting went as I hoped. I called $2 along with four others before the big blind (the old timer) raised to $5. I then pushed all in with my remaining $30 knowing that all the others would call his silly $3 raise (but would likely fold to my re-raise) and I’d have far better odds of winning the pot if I could face only one of them. I got my wish and ended up head’s up with the old timer. He held ace king off-suit, giving me a 55% chance to win before the flop. Unfortunately for me, he quickly landed a pair of Kings, my hand never improved, and that was all it took to crush my dreams for the night.

I couldn’t help but notice that the one “big” hand I won was when I boldly played the underdog. Eight-five off-suit is what some might call a terrible hand. It’s not one that I would normally play, even when I’m in the blinds. Rarely have I folded it and wished I hadn’t after seeing the flop. While I’m not the type to only play the premium hands – AA, KK, QQ, AK, etc. – I may not have not been quite as brave as I might have liked to believe I whenever I’d played with similar starting hands in the past… because I believed them to be less than great. However, that night, I played that underdog hand just because I felt like it and bet on my gut shot straight draw just because I wanted to… and I won. The sass behind my actions that hand was akin to a mother’s, “because I said so,” and the determination I feel to become a full-time writer and artist, despite the odds against it.

Perhaps my problem isn’t the fact that I’m playing an underdog hand, but rather the fact that I was playing it while wishing I held better cards. Perhaps the only real difference between a winning and losing hand is the player’s perspective… and I can live my life wishing it looked like a pair of pocket Aces, or I can proudly explain why I love playing my underdog hand more… and stop expecting most to understand based on my words and stay focused on showing them the value of the hand I’m playing through my actions. Perhaps one day it will be clear to all that my life could mimic a Robert Frost poem:

Two hands were dealt on the felt, and I —

I played the hand ranked far less high,

And that has made all the difference.