Tag Archives: money

What I Said Tonight

Every spring, the APU School of Music faculty sits down for dinner with the students who are graduating. Toward the end of the evening, the floor is open for students to talk to share about their experiences here, and for faculty to give a few words for the road ahead. Tonight, I said two things:

First, one of the hardest things about graduating is the collapse of structure. For the past 4 years, every minute of your day has been accounted for, you have to know certain things by certain dates, you have to show up once a week and play for someone who intimidates you just a little, you have been forced into some very good habits. The day after graduation, all of that goes away. No more juries, recitals, exams, no more weekly lessons. The collapse of structure can be devastating. Figure out how to build that structure back into your life, so that you continue the good habits that are part of being a good musician.

The second thing is this: you have a power and a freedom that many of us no longer have. You have the freedom to be poor (lots of laughs, most of them from faculty members who are pretty convinced they are still living with this freedom). There is a real freedom in that. If you can live poorly, you can make creative decisions for creative reasons, without having to worry about how much money the gig pays. Don’t trade that freedom away too soon.

Don’t buy a new car. Don’t take on debt. Find roommates, eat at home, don’t buy things you don’t need. The less money you HAVE to make each month, the less time you have to trade away for that money. You don’t want to live this way forever, but for these first few years, embrace the freedom of being poor. You may not ever have a time like this again.

I don’t mean to romanticize poverty, at all. I do, however, think that I started worrying about making money earlier in my career than I should have, and passed up on the chance to do some really great projects because they didn’t tally up on the bottom line.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts. I know as a group we’re all over the map in terms of both income and creative choices, I wonder how often we stop to think about the particular blessings of whatever situation we are in at the moment.

Sappho 31

My God, how incredible is it that we get to simply pick up a pen, or click open a file, and out of nothing but hubris and time create something that didn’t exist just a few hours, or days, or months before? How fantastic is this soul that hums along beneath the surface of our human machine!

But enough of that crap. Yes, I’m composing again. Or still. Whatever. I am making notes go. I am writing for a young (Ha!) composers competition, where the prize is cash money and a debut of the piece by a pretty kick-ass professional choir.

The theme is “Romantic Love”, and I thought, what better place to start than with the dawning of fiercely bitter lesbian political love-hate poetry, Sappho. If you don’t know about her, go check it out. Awesome stuff. If you really want to get into it, check out Anne Carson’s fantastic new translation, “If Not, Winter“.

So, I settled on one of the best known fragments from Sappho, Parchment 31, sometimes called the Poem of Jealousy. Sappho is watching another man woo her beloved, and she is jealous not of her attention to him (much), but of his ability to just sit calmly in her beloved’s presence, just sit! and not be utterly consumed with desire.

The last line of the poem is tantalizing – it is cutoff, but the fragment that remains seems oddly appropriate. It is, in various versions, either “But I endure” or “But even in poverty” … you can see below how I chose to render it, but that’s almost certainly not what was intended. As I said, tantalizing.

If you’d like to see just a sampling of how people have reconstructed this poem, you can check it out here. Below is my own translation, with little attempt to be literal to the original:

Sappho 31:
He is as a god to me
That man
who sits to face you and
simply listens to
your sweet speaking

and your sweet laughter
makes my heart pound
hovering in my chest
for when I look at you
my words are fleet and away
and away

my tongue breaks
and thin fire runs beneath my skin
and eyes lose sight
and I hear nothing but
this
this
pounding heart

and cold sweat grips
and shaking grips
and pale as the summer grass
I pass
from life
to death

bereft of you
I endure

It’s Better to Be Lucky Than Good…

…and it’s better to be hated with $650 in your pocket then loved and broke.

So… let’s talk poker.  I learned poker from Mike, Rosy, Matty, Ben, Zack, really a little from everyone.  We get together every few months for a “Friendly” game.  The stakes are low ($20 typically lasts the whole night) but the game is deadly serious.  All these guys like poker, and they like to win, and more importantly, they don’t like to lose to their friends. 

I’ve played at a casino a few times.  Casino games are fast and furious.  Even at a $1-3 table (more on that in a minute) the cash starts flying.  No one is amused if the action is on you and you’re chatting up a friend about the last movie you saw.  No one wants go get you a beer.  I remember the summer of ’05, when Mike, Rosy, Ash, and I took Rosy to Vegas for his birthday.  I was baptized by fire in that poker room.  I won more then I lost, and I played for several hours on end.  It was a blast.

So… we’re in San Diego, right?  Erica’s folks live out here in beautiful Alpine, CA, a very quiet community where the Coyotes have as much night life action as the humans.  After spending the day with the kids, doing dinner and the whole she-bang.  Erica went to hang out with her friend from high school days. 

“Do you want me to come,” I asked. 

“Not really.”  She’s honest.  I love that. 

So I was fine with the idea of putting the kids down, and getting cozy with the in-laws.  I mean… they have Rocky 1-5 on Tivo, what more can a guy ask for on a friday night?

Then I remembered…  wait a second…  Viejas is two exits up the freeway.  What’s more… I have cash already on me as I cashed a gig check to pay for our weekend (thanks Stick!).  And…  I mean… my lovely wife is going out with her girlfriend… and I have built in child care!  This is the part where my start twiddling my mustache and fingers like an evil genius.  It’s a poker night if there ever was one.  

Now, before I get any further, let’s just deal with one thing: some Christians really hate gambling, and some of you reading this are wondering what in the world I think I’m doing going to a casino on a friday night.  A den of iniquity!  A veritable lair of wickedness!

I see your point.  I really do.  Here’s my thing, and although I’m not going to get into a theological argument, but I think it’s pretty much supported in Christ’s teachings, if you’re an alcoholic, you can’t go to a bar.  If you’re a sex addict, you can’t have the interwebs.  If you’re a food addict, don’t go to fast food restaurants.  Everyone has their weaknesses, and part of being a grown up (of any creed) is owning your demons and knowing which limbs to cut off.

I have many weaknesses.  Gambling’s just not one of them.  It’s entertainment for me.  I put a dollar value on how much I think the fun time is worth, and that’s it.  There are no sweaty runs to the ATM after a big loss.  There are no three day sessions.  There are no lost weekends.  It’s just not my thing. 

Ok… so with that said, I sat down at a $1-3 no limit hold-em table.  As I said, I had gig money already in my hot little hand.  I took a look at what the other guys were playing with stack-wise, and then made a choice to put $200 on the table.  Now… that’s quite a bit more then I usually feel comfortable gambling with, to be completely honest.  $200 is a gig.  It represents anywhere between 1-4 hours of my time, depending on the gig.  I don’t throw that kind of cash around.  However, I can tell you that at a poker table, the dude who sits down and plunks a $20 down when everyone else has a few hundred is just screaming, “I PLAY ONLINE!!!!!!!!!!! PLEASE TAKE MY MONEY!!!!”

$200.  I can live with that.  Perhaps it was because I got a fun phone call earlier that day booking a vocal session for both Erica and myself for Tuesday.  I don’t know.  I was just feeling… lucky.

So…  I can still hold my own at a casino table, even though I had to go through my usual early heart palpitations.  It’s strange to see people toss $20 around like it’s nothing, and I’m still not used to it.  I play it cool, and slow.  I took a pot early on with cards that deserved to win, and that felt good.  I spent about an hour after that watching lousy cards come my way, and tossing them for free.  I pay my blinds, hoping to get lucky, make friends (later to be lost) and do my best to observe the table.

Down at the other end is a college guy with a half gotee (chin fuzz, no stache).  He’s swinging hard, bullying people.  He likes poker slang.  He’s got plenty of drunk friends coming by and saying hi, it’s clear that he plays there a lot.  He’s got either the 2nd or 3rd highest stack on the table, looks like about $350. 

We change dealers at the same time as we get a new player, a married guy, really funny and nice, about my age.  Just as he’s sitting, the dealer looks over to college gotee man and says, “Hey!  You look like that guy from American Idol!”  Funny married guy looks at him and says the funniest thing of the night, “Oh yeah… what’s his name?  Sunspot Sandalface?”  I erupted with peals of laughter.  For some reason, I just got tickled. 

Ok, so about three hands later it becomes clear that Funny Married Guy is just killing time trying to get to another table.  A hand comes down and I have 7-5 of clubs and I’m on the big blind, meaning that I have to ante no matter what.  I kind of like my hand, so I call the raise and I’m in for $6 at this point.  The flop comes, and it’s 6,8,A, and I think the Ace and the 8 were clubs, so all of a sudden I’m on a flush draw, and a straight draw where I have all kinds of cards to choose from.  Someone bets $10 or so, 3-4 people call, and I stay in.  The next card is a 5, so I have a pair and I’ve still got a bunch of outs.  Funny married guy sees a possible straight draw, doesn’t like it, and bets about 30.  This clears everyone out and I don’t know why, but I just get… The Feeling.  I know he’s got 2 pair, but I’ve got about 14 ways out there to beat him, and all of a sudden this is looking like a $75 pot.  I need to see if he’s really got 2 pair…  “Raise.”

$60.  I remember the first time Ben bet $2 against me and I though he had lost his mind.  I just put $60 on the table against a made hand. 

He calls.  Another 5 falls.  He assumes (correctly) that I didn’t make my straight.  He doesn’t know that I didn’t make my flush either, and he really doesn’t see that I’ve made trips.  Hehe. 

At just that moment, the pit boss calls his name.  His seat is open at the other table with his friends, and he wants to be a big man when he gets there.  Poor sucker.  “All in.”  

It’s now a $150 pot, and it’s mine.  He’s not pleased.  I’d rather not win on a draw on the river… but a win’s a win. 

So, now I’m playing with other people’s money.  I like playing with other people’s money.  You start feeling manly.  You start tossing out $20 bets with more authority.  You don’t hesitate to make bigger calls.  It’s scary to other players, upsets their statistics and strategies.  I only have one piece of poker advice, and it’s this: don’t care about the money.  Decide what you’re willing to lose, and play.  Most people are there trying to prove something, and they assume you do as well.  I’m not dangerous because I’m a great poker player.  I’m dangerous because I don’t care about the money. 

Of course… that is… until I go on a run.  I took two big pots in a about 10 minutes from Sunspot Sandalface, and he was not a happy camper.  I outplayed him on the first one, and that frustrated him.  By this point, I was up about $300 and really swinging like a fool.  I had already decided that $200 was a great take for the night, and I was gonna play fast and loose with the other $100. 

So…  I get Ace two suited.  Not a lot of action before the flop, and the flop comes and it’s queen, nine, ace.  I think the nine was spade which I had.  So, I’ve got top pair, and an outside shot at a flush.  Sandalface likes the flop a lot, bet’s $50, clearing out the field. 

Now….  I read him on either 2 pair or an ace with a decent kicker.  Either way, he’s got me, and I shouldn’t call.  But… it’s just… not my money… see… and… CALL!

He’s pissed.  He’s seen me on a run.

Seven falls, spade.  I have top pair and I’m one step closer to my flush.  Sandalface takes one of his two large stacks and pushes it in.  “$140″, the dealer says.  Don’t call, Chad.  He’s got you.  But he’s kind of a jerk!  He’ll be a jerk with your money, don’t call.  He’s got hubris… CALL!

He’s pissed. 

River comes, it’s another 7.  I have 2 pair, and I don’t think he has the ace.  He pushes his other stack in, clearly angry with me and pretty much screaming “I’m BUYING THIS POT.”  

“$140 more,” the dealer says.  I look at my stack and the decision is made.  I have about $140 in chips before I get back to my original $200 that I put in. 

Call.

He turns over Queen Nine.  He has two pair, and mine are better.  There was only two cards on the river that could have helped me, and I got one of them.

He was not pleased. 

I asked the pit boss for larger chips, as at this point my chip stack was literally too large for my place at the table.  Sandalface got up, literally yelling the whole time, to get more cash.  By the time he had returned, he was still yelling at me, “Enjoy that luck money you…@@##$%^%” and the pit boss had brought me $500 in $25 dollar chips. 

Remember how I said not to care about the money?  Forget it.  I started casually checking my stacks and realizing that I had upwards of $900 on the table.  It was approaching midnight, I had been playing for four hours, I was tired, and I had just funded our entire weekend plus some.  I stayed for about a half hour more, sipping Dr. Pepper, and purposefully losing about $50, some back to Sandalface, who was still breaking down the hand with the two guys next to him at the end of the table.

I walked with $650 in profit.  I’m not a very good poker player, really.  I don’t do stats.  I have a lousy poker face.  My hands shake when I win a big pot.  I have but one advantage:

I don’t care about the money.

Stay in school, kids!       

The best of intentions …

Some kids got off a plane last night and stumbled into our church at midnight. They had just flown back from New Orleans, and in the midst of the ongoing reconstruction efforts, these kids were there to help host a summer camp for the children of displaced families. They were led by Nick and Marisa Dyson, our youth pastors. I’m a pretty big fan of just about everything they do.

As the announcement was made this morning about their safe return, I felt a pang of sorrow. See, when the announcement was made a few months ago that they were planning the trip, Gretchen and I decided that we wanted to give some financial support to the team. Nothing big, just a few thousand dollars out of the petty cash fund we keep lying around the house as “mad money”. I realize this means one less week of lounging around by the pool in Cabo, but sometimes kingdom work requires sacrifice.

Then, a few weeks ago, when they announced that they were in the final stages of their fundraising push, I had that forehead-smack moment of forgetfulness as I realized that we hadn’t made our donation yet. I reminded myself to do that right away.

Then, this morning, when they announced that team was back, I had that huge “Dooh!” moment. The best of intentions … the poorest of followthrough.

It wasn’t my forgetfulness that caused me grief this morning though – believe me, if I got upset every time my brain sprung a leak, I’d be perpetually goth. And I don’t look good in black eyeshadow. Trust me on this.

On some level, it didn’t make much of a difference. The team hit their fundraising goal, they made the trip, the kids in New Orleans had a great week, and I’m sure our kids walked away with some new green shoots on the growing sapling of their spiritual … Ok, I kind of lost myself in that metaphor somewhere. The point is, my lack of participation didn’t really impact the work that was done.

My sorrow this morning wasn’t that the team didn’t have our $100. It was that something good was done this week, and we weren’t a part of it. We wanted to be, felt the tug of God to be, intended to be, but we weren’t. We missed out on a chance to participate in mission. It reminded me all over again of something that I say often, but rarely acknowledge in actual practice – the act of giving is an expression of our need, not a fulfillment of God’s need.

We need to give, because it reminds us that we are stewards and not owners.

We need to give, because it makes us participants with those who go.

We need to give, because it is the most immanently practical way to break our slavish devotion to materialism, to consumerism, even if only for a moment.

We need to give, because it is an expression of faith in the providence of God.

We need to give, because the rallying sign of the kingdom is not a clenched fist, but an open hand.