Do You Believe in Magic?

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“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.

The Game of Love

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“Do you have any trips planned?” he asked after describing his upcoming adventure. It was an excellent question, but I didn’t want to discuss the plans I can’t afford to put into action, so I pretended they didn’t exist and told him about my last big vacation instead. It was only after I finished writing my last blog post and poked fun at men’s inability to make conversation with me that I looked back and realized that I might have a similar problem. When a different friend offered some unsolicited advice about why I can’t get/keep a man, the issue at hand started to become clear. I defended myself against his opinion that I have some pent-up rage and/or sadness which I need to get out by saying that he has a very limited view of who I am. In the end, I realized that might be true for virtually every person I know.

“Rachel” as seen in Frederique Crestin-Billet’s book Collectible Playing Cards

Imagine that each of us is represented by a card in the standard deck and I am the Queen of Diamonds. While playing my life like a game of No Limit Hold’em, I will only be part of a premium starting hand around 2% of the time. Looking at it this way, I can easily understand why most of the people I meet don’t hold the potential to improve my game. Once I consider the fact that each of you is represented by a particular card, it makes some sense why we end up in similar situations over and over and have limited views of each other’s lives.

The friend I accused of misjudging me might be best represented by a three of clubs. I nearly always see him when I’m feeling down and wishing for someone to talk to. Unfortunately, he’s the type to get angry if you try to discuss anything negative because he believes it’s best to stay focused on the positive and let the rest go. Loving a hand of life with him as my partner is just as improbable as being dealt a win while holding Queen-Three off suit at the table.

The friend who asked about my vacation plans made me want to appear strong, as if a King of Diamonds was at my side. I wanted to tell him that I had hoped and dreamt of returning every year since I last visited the World Series of Poker in 2015. Not knowing how to make it possible, I kept that dream to myself. If he truly was a King of Diamonds and we were meant to win many hands together, then he would be there when the cards were dealt and could see it play out. Perhaps we would find ourselves joined by a Jack and Ten of diamonds on the flop… and perhaps then I would have felt brave enough to hypothesize about future wins rather than discuss past triumphs… but how wise is it to wait until you flop an open ended straight flush draw before facing your fears?

Most of the time, I believe I try to behave as if one of my fellow Queens is at my side… and speak optimistically about the ways I’ve battled superior hands. I talk about what I’m doing and dreaming about now (my art and entrepreneurial endeavors), highlighting the wins and ignoring the losses. I try to appear like someone who is capable and content to face whatever battles may come… but I have often failed to offer the information needed to know why. Every time I sell a candle, painting, or vintage find; Every time a stranger who asks my story leaves me a generous tip; Every time I spend my free time writing, painting, or otherwise working on my career, I am inching closer to my dream.

I want to play in the World Series of Poker Main Event despite the fact my odds of doing so are akin to those for completing a Royal Flush. It would require weeks of (unpaid) time off work in order to attend, months of practice and preparation, and (most importantly) a large bankroll. I believe these to be experiences that I am destined to have so that I can finish the novel I began writing in 2013. That is the part of my dream that’s fairly easy to explain. Why I need to play poker and work as a writer, artist, server, and bartender to earn my way there is much harder to put into words. I know that there are “easier” ways to earn a living, just as I know that Ace-Two is unlikely to be the winning hand when the board shows King, two, seven, Jack, four… but I also know I’ve won pots by trusting my gut and not folding that pair of two’s. So, while I could berate myself for not being willing to go all-in on every conversation, perhaps the truth is that my gut is in control of what I say or don’t say about my dreams whether I like it or not.

Great poker players can win with any two cards because they’re playing the player, not the cards. I suppose I’ve been playing the game of love that way without realizing it. I’ve never limited my desires for romance to men with Ace or King status. I’ve played as many hands as my heart could afford to invest in and always been willing to go all-in whenever my gut said it was time. I can analyze the past forever, wondering why I played with or against the odds, or I can just trust my gut on the fact that each hand has played out exactly how it was meant to… and my jackpot will come at the opportune moment.

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Bluff YOU, Love!

“Man. You must turn down a lot of guys,” he said as I crawled into his cab to head home from karaoke. I’ve been calling this same cab driver about once every month or two for a few years and never had a companion so, knowing that the world thinks I could get any guy I want and that there have technically been opportunities, I just laughed and replied, “Well, sort of. You could say that.” I was fairly certain he was implying that I was too pretty and interesting to go home alone so frequently and didn’t want him to think I didn’t appreciate the unspoken compliment… so, I bluffed. The full truth is quite similar to the range of hands you might be dealt at a poker table. Taken at face value, most of them aren’t worth playing.

The only man who actually, literally asked me out anytime recently was a drunk old rich man who wandered into the restaurant where I work. He was sitting at the bar when I came over to ring in an order for one of my tables. (Normally I’m the bartender, but I was only serving tables that night.) The bartender asked me to ring in his order and he took that opportunity to flirt. He asked to take me to dinner in Beverly Hills (1.5+ hours away, depending on traffic) before telling me a single thing about himself. I asked his name and what he was interested in. He told me where he owned real estate (multiple cities) and dropped the fact that he had a driver into the story somehow. When I discovered that he left without signing the credit card slip, despite the fact I told him I couldn’t add on the 20% tip he claimed he wanted to leave multiple times unless he signed, I was glad I had (strangely) decided to give him my actual phone number. Unfortunately, he never contacted me and gave me a chance to ask why he was too busy and important to sign off on his own expenses. Although that was an extreme example, many of the men I meet seem that poorly suited to stand at my side. Meeting them is about as exciting as finding an eight of spades and three of hearts in the hole. The only ways to win with such a hand are to bluff and/or get really lucky.

There have been a few guys at karaoke who have shown a tiny bit of interest. Not one of them has offered to buy me a drink. Some of them attempt a conversation. Even fewer have any questions beyond, “Are you going to sing?” and “What are you going to sing?” Sometimes guys merely stare at me from across the room all night… often in a corner behind a crowd of people. I feel like these guys want me to play with them, but they rarely make any actual moves. (Side note: it’s the lack of actual conversation that bothers me the most.) To me, these guys are like being dealt a hand with moderate odds of success i.e. ten-eight suited. They only really look interesting when you haven’t seen a great hand in a long time. Their odds of winning don’t change over time – you do. You get desperate and decide it’s time to bluff. While this strategy can work in poker, it’s not one I want to utilize to find love.

Finally, I’ll admit that there have been a few moments where I enjoyed the company of someone who showed the potential to be the King perfectly suited for this Queen. Unfortunately, all of those candidates did things that showed they weren’t interested in spending more time with me… and while I might defend that hand against a poker table bully, I unwillingly fold when someone pushes me out of their romantic game.

I don’t want to spend so many days and nights alone, but I know that you have to fold a lot of bad hands and face some bad beats in most poker tournaments and feel it is no different in my love life.  I peek at a lot of hands and fold because it seems the wisest choice. In romance, it’s too easy to become attached to a bad hand once you’re invested in the pot. I’d rather wait around for the hand that feels incredibly valuable before I invest a single embrace. Life’s too short to spend it bluffing about how much you love your partner. I’d rather spend it bluffing about how much I love being alone.


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Gratitude Season

He said Christmas is the one time of year that everyone puts others first and that it was the fact that this couldn’t happen at any other time of year that made the season so special. I tried to debate him on the “couldn’t” portion of the statement but gave up on changing his mind before picking on his reference to “everyone”. Having recently decided that the purpose of life is to add meaning to the world, I was gravely disappointed that someone who cherishes the giving spirit which the holiday season bolsters would be convinced it must be confined to one time of year. I believe that giving for the sake of giving puts you outside yourself and creates meaningful moments which explain and sometimes expand your purpose in life.

When the Thomas Fire rolled into Santa Barbara a few weeks prior, everyone wanted to thank the firefighters for their hard work. Signs proclaiming things like, “Keep Kicking Ash!” appeared all over town, restaurants offered discounts and free meals, and most posts about the fire on social media included a thank you to the men and women fighting the blaze. It wouldn’t have mattered if the fire hadn’t happened near Christmas. It alone was enough reason for a “season” of gratitude. So, while I might agree that most people wait for a reason and season to show gratitude, I refuse to believe it must be that way. Should we be (are we) really any less grateful for a firefighter when there isn’t a fire burning nearby?

When I worked as a barista, I didn’t enjoy the duties my job consisted of very much, but I did like the customers… because they were (for the most part) extremely grateful for people who remember their name, serve their favorite drink(s) promptly, and sometimes ask a few questions about their day, offer a compliment, or tell a story – things it was fairly easy for me to do. Somewhat like the firefighters, all I had to do was show up, be nice, do my job well, and reap the gratitude. I’m not perfect and didn’t always accomplish my goal, but I tried to show the fact I was grateful to have a job serving those people every day. They noticed. At this point, I’ve been served a dose of thanks in the form of peanut butter chocolate chip cookies (my favorite), pot stickers, pizza, job referrals, a lot of cash tips, and probably many other ways I’m forgetting to list. The funny thing is that the mere fact they were so grateful for my existence made me all the more grateful to share this planet with them.

I never gave away any free food or unwarranted discounts when I worked as a barista. I simply strove to be the kindest version of myself which I could muster each day and show gratitude for the customers who were keeping me employed… especially those who had ways of making my day nicer. I created my own reason for a season of gratitude and my world became a much lovelier place because of it. I was (and am) genuinely grateful for those customers and it showed in my actions and was reciprocated. The way I see it, I may have proven that love actually does make the world go ‘round… or it can if you want it to. The choice is yours. Do you want to be the type of person who confines their giving spirit to one season or do you want to try to spread kindness and love every moment of every day in 2018? After all, this isn’t a hand of poker we are talking about, so it just might be possible for everyone involved to win.

Lucky Or Unlucky To Be Forty?

As I approached my fortieth birthday, I began to believe more firmly than ever that we are all both lucky and unlucky all the time – feeling lucky is merely a matter of perspective. Both the Chinese and Japanese detest the number four because the word for death in their languages sounds quite similar, while the Pythagoreans believed the number four to be perfect. Some focus on the one terrible association with the number while others take note of the many wonderful things which come in fours: phases of the moon, seasons, elements (earth, air, fire, water), directions (north, south, east, west), and even the leaves of a lucky clover. Knowing all this, as my annual dose of holiday gloom latched onto me like a lead vest days before my fourth decade on the planet would be complete, I vowed that this year would be different. This year I would successfully bluff away my gloom.

Then, like anyone who’s prone to reminding others that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results, I began my quest to forget the things that make me blue by opening a few of my birthday presents early (aka the same thing I’ve done every other year). Not being completely insane myself, I wasn’t surprised when the joy of opening one present early merely made me want to open a second… and was extremely grateful when doing so led to an even better plan.

The second gift was a ring from my twin sister which we like to say has twinning powers. Not long after I slipped it on my finger I realized that what would really make my holiday season sparkle with happiness is to create a memory with my twin. Within 24 hours, we were picking a date to meet at Disneyland. I realized that while my new job would keep me away from family and working on the holidays, it was also stabilizing my income enough that I could afford a memorable excursion with my twin… and that having something to look forward to was the best gift I could give myself.  Just as I’d hoped, the delight of anticipation promptly rebalanced my mood and enabled me to respond to my holiday gloom differently.

I can’t change the fact that I find myself having to explain why I haven’t found someone special yet and whether or not I want to have children far more frequently during the holidays, but thanks to a speech by Tracee Ellis Ross, I knew there were far more successful women than I who were equally bothered by this conversational phenomena. What I could do was to take advantage of all the advantages which being single and childless can offer. I could enjoy the peace and quiet of my apartment or plan an excursion anywhere I want, whenever I decide to do so. Most importantly, I could dream big knowing that only I could hold myself back.

In the final hours of our thirties, my twin and I divulged what birthday miracle we were wishing for to each other via text. Before I awoke, my twin’s wish came true. She had discovered that her employer was sending her to work at their Menlo Park location on the same day which the Pac-12 Championship would take place nearby – USC (her alma matter) vs. Stanford. Dressed in Trojans gear to taunt her coworkers (many of whom had attended Stanford), she attracted the attention of a family waiting to board the same flight for the game. When my twin told them she wasn’t going to be able to attend the game unless she somehow got a free ticket, the family happily handed her the extra they had on hand. Better still, it turned out to be in the club lounge seats. That is what I call a birthday miracle. She got the best seat she could possibly have wished for.

When we talked on the phone mid-day, I was ecstatic. “See!?! If you don’t believe in fairytales and birthday miracles, they will never come true,” I squealed, certain her experiences that day had confirmed this fact and increased the possibility my wish would also come true. By the time I was driving home from the casino that evening (a little poorer), I was a little less certain. My desired birthday miracle had not occurred, but I had a fabulous day nonetheless. As I navigated that familiar road feeling unusually content, I remembered that a far bigger wish I’d wished many years prior had finally come true.

Once upon a time, I was living a life I thought I wanted, feeling afraid, restless, unhappy, and uncertain of what I truly wanted in life. I got divorced knowing only one thing – I didn’t want that life – and wished to figure out who I wanted to be and become that woman.  About a month ago, I’d articulated exactly what I wanted in life (right now) to a new friend and he had helped make it happen. I have a new job as a bartender and server at a nice restaurant – precisely the type of job and schedule I wished to juggle my art and writing career around. I had figured out what type of woman I wanted to be and become her. What more could/should a gal wish for than that?

Perhaps 4 is an unlucky number for some, but I believe my forties will be spectacular. With a bit of twinning power, faith, trust, and pixie dust, I will continue to dream big and strive to achieve, knowing I’ve already accomplished the most important goal of all. Being conscious of your wants and needs is the key to everything. It’s the reason why you play the game of life the way you do and the ultimate source of personal empowerment. Perhaps wishes don’t always come true, at least not when you want them to, but the fact remains that if you don’t wish them and seek them out, they will never come true… and, when it comes to wishes, late is always better than never.