Wednesday, September 22, 2010

When the pool table tells you to END IT ALL

I was thinking of making this one of my Top Fives posts, but.... I fear there might be more than five items on this list.  I'll do my best to keep it within limits.

On Monday night, I suffered one of my most miserable experiences ever on the pool table.  The elusive 'mojo' - the knack, the inspiration, the confidence, the ready access to one's 'best game' - that had so emphatically returned a week ago, once again went AWOL.  Well, it wasn't completely absent - but that somehow made things even worse.

Here, then, is my list of...

Top Five things that can go disastrously wrong during a session of pool

5)  Your opponent patronises you
He keeps on 'throwing' shots, trying to give you a chance.  You are unable to take any advantage of this generosity, and just keep playing worse and worse.  Irritating.

4)  Your opponent is freakishly lucky
Even when he's trying to give you a chance, deliberately missing pots, he fails to leave you set up; instead, he inadvertently snookers you - or at least leaves you with no kind of a pot on - again and again and again and again.  Frustrating.

3)  You are freakishly unlucky
You manage to pocket the cue ball 3 or 4 times in every game, in the most unlikely and unforeseeable ways.  When you finally get a chance to win a game, you are forced to attempt a tight double on the black into the top corner, and it goes in on the treble - which, in strict Chinese rules, doesn't count, but rather is a game forfeit.

2)  You can't get off the table
The Pool Bar is nearly deserted on a rainy Monday night, and even the couple of regulars at the bar don't fancy a game (because you're playing so badly you wouldn't be a worthy opponent for them).  But one guy gives you a game.  And another.  And another and another.  For two hours.  Until the Pool Partner turns up.  And she, of course, wants to play all night.  So.... on an evening when your game just isn't coming together and Fate is treating you unbelievably harshly and you really just want to GO HOME AND CRY, you end up playing continuously for nearly 5 hours, and suffering existential torture for almost every second of it.

1)  The 'inner game' is mostly sound, but there's a 'disconnect' from the actual game, a tiny but unbridgeable gap between what the mind sees and what happens
You are - mostly - 'seeing' the shots, knowing the angles you have to make and how to strike the balls.  In a world of mathematical abstraction, you are playing darn near perfectly.  It's just not working on this table, in these conditions.  The table has got cranky.  Luke has refurbished it at some point fairly recently; well, he's re-covered it, anyway - the cloth is lush, but the cushions have gone very dead.  And the pockets always have been murderously tight.  It's getting a little uneven in places too.  And the drift of the 'nap', in the humid conditions caused by the rain outside, is, on occasions, quite huge (and, in other circumstances, bafflingly absent).  You're unfamiliar with these local quirks, haven't played enough on the table in recent months.  You know you ought to adjust something about your game, but you just can't figure out what.  You feel as though you're hitting the shots right, but they're just missing...... missing almost every time, missing by narrow margins, but missing - dammit! - missing.

And the combination of these various miseries eats away at your confidence like a worm in an apple.

And even meditation doesn't help.  Usually, if my game is just a little 'off', I can settle myself, work out what I'm doing wrong technically, or find a calmer, more focused, more determined mental state.... or just wait patiently for things to start clicking again, avoid getting rattled by a few bad shots or an unlucky run of the balls.

But the very worst of this Monday's experience was that meditation didn't work; it seemed to make things worse.  I looked inside for my pool-playing genius.... and it wasn't there.  And the superstition returned: the conviction that dismal form and dismal luck on the table are predictive of a wider trend in my life, a plunge in fortunes and biorhythms, the onset of a depressive slump.  And this sensation of gathering doom just kept on getting worse: there was no escaping from it.  Everything I tried to improve my game and my attitude, every attempt to become more confident and upbeat..... fizzled, faltered, FAILED.  But I was trapped there, in my little private Hell; I just couldn't get away; I had to keep sucking it up, had to keep enduring every shitty little trick that Fate could throw at me, had to keep on sucking at the game I so love, had to SUFFER wretchedly.... for FIVE LONG HOURSAaaargghh!

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