Last year, I won the Women’s U.S. Amateur Championship. It was nice. Then Life resumed and consumed everything.
Earlier this year, I accepted an exciting new job at a different department within my organization and became a salaried employee with the promise of a flexible schedule. I had spent half my life trying to be some sort of pool player while having some sort of a career so this felt like Real Success™ and I felt like a Real Adult™.
After I started, I learned I was actually replacing two employees rather than one, and there was far more work for this position than I had anticipated. I was expected to be available to work at all times, including during vacation and sick days. They had given me the impression everyone often left early after completing their work and multiple two-week vacations per year were the norm. Alas, the flexible schedule did not apply to me. I was told I would never be able complete my work, and that if I did, they could always give me more. My flexible schedule was this: If I did not take an hour lunch I could leave an hour early.
I wandered through most of the year highly stressed and weirdly disgruntled. I liked this job less and less but did not feel I could leave and did not know what else to do about it. Unlike my previous jobs, the people I worked with now I felt were, at heart, good people and they were so very nice. The niceness of the people just seemed so discordant with the less-than-nice work environment.
I still tried to compete in pool, but without the time or energy to practice and focus, I lost. I spent all year losing. Just loss after loss after loss. I had landed a dream job that allowed me to play more bad pool than I could ever have imagined.
The memory of my win last year sometimes kept me afloat as I blindly sailed the seas of my crappy existence. Occasionally, people congratulated me on last year’s win and that was nice, too, until some felt the need to vomit out the following caveats:
* It had been a small field
* Not many former champions had been present
* I did not play as well as former champions
* I had gotten lucky to win
These caveats piqued me but I quickly realized it was easier to get people to stop talking if I just agreed with them. I got used to it and would preemptively throw in the caveats to save everybody some time and effort.
At a tournament I did absolutely no good in, a guy congratulated me and I automatically said I had gotten lucky to win and did not really deserve it.
He said, “But, you’ll win it again.”
This unexpected positivity warranted instant suspicion. “Why would you say that?”
“You’ve won it, so you already know you can do it.” I stared at him. I had spent 7,303 days in pursuit of a major national title and I never thought about what would happen after. He shrugged. “So just do it again.”
A welding arc cut through the haze of this awful, blundering year and lit up clearly what I really wanted. I really wanted to win. I really wanted to win again.
Wise hamster Cuddlywhiskers once said:
“It takes a long time to realize how truly miserable you are, and even longer to see that it doesn’t have to be that way.”
I got hustled by my job. Actually, I hustled myself. It had sounded too good to be true, and it was. I should have asked more questions. I should have been more specific in the questions I did ask. I knew that for next time, but it was too late for now. Misunderstandings, misrepresentations, and mistakes—without them, how else could I learn?
I gathered those clouds of indecisive discontent and distilled them into single question: Could I leave my job?
Not at this time.
All right, then.
I went to work.
I doubled down and worked longer and longer days. I went the extra mile. I went the extra smile. I ground down the shards of innumerable broken-glass hours between my teeth because being an actual Real Adult™ means doing what has to be done.
I never live so well as when I have a goal. Clear purpose and focus make the repeated, uncelebrated, mundane drudgery of the lowest sort bearable because the work is not for nothing, and genuine effort is the only alchemy that can turn shit into gold.
I received permission to take the week of the tournament off, with no expectations to work during that time, provided the majority of my projects were completed.
After some high-strung months, I asked for, and received, permission to leave two hours early on the last three Fridays in October.
An extra six hours is not a lot but it is all in how you spend it.
I am a self-taught pool player. I got to a decent level after twenty years of learning on my own, but as more women play pool, the level of play rises, and it becomes increasingly harder to keep up. This year, I did not have enough time to practice. I had to find another way to get better. I had to find a faster way to get better. I left early on the first Friday to take a pool lesson.
Having been hustled at least once this year, you bet I fucking did my research when looking for an instructor. I asked around, considered a few, and decided on the instructor five-time U.S. Amateur Champion Brian Parks was taking lessons from, Daniel Joe Baker (Facebook | email). In particular, Brian believed I would benefit from SightRight®, a sighting and alignment system of which Mr. Baker is a certified coach.
SightRight® is not an aiming system, it is a sighting and alignment method based around how you see straight, and we all see “straight” differently due to many factors (dominant eye, body position, height, etc.). The dominant eyeline is not based on the dominant eye—the eye we often think of as the “stronger” eye—but on the strength of both eyes. For me, my eyes were of equal strength so my dominant eyeline was straight down the middle. Over the years, my cue had drifted from that center line of aim far over to the right. As a result, I was no longer hitting exactly where I was aiming. After the eye and alignment tests, I moved my cue back and the change was dramatic. I was so impressed with the improvement I made the decision to keep this change even though I was just three weeks out from the tournament.
You have to give any fundamental change at least three to six months to establish permanence and reap benefits. During that time, you will miss and you will lose. Pressure situations will feel a thousand times heavier. You will overwhelmingly want return to what is familiar and comfortable and ineffective. When implementing drastic change, the hardest struggle is against yourself and the only solution is time and persistence. I did not have that kind of time.
I needed affordable, uninterrupted hours in long stretches on good equipment. I worked too many hours to take advantage of the day rate at my local pool hall. I did not make enough money to afford the night rate. So it goes in the City of Angels.
I left two hours early on the second Friday to catch a bus to Las Vegas where Mr. Baker had kindly asked Mr. Gary Onomura, the owner of Good Timez Billiards, if I could pay the locals-only day rate of $8 for pool from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., just for practice for the tournament. He had said yes. I arrived late Friday evening, practiced all of Saturday, all of Sunday, and then took the bus back to Los Angeles.
Lather, rinse, repeat for the following Friday.
Then it was time for the tournament.
As I did the previous year, I flew out early to practice. Instead of being relaxed like last year, this year I was very much on edge. I fully expected to be contacted and told to work through my time off. It had already happened multiple times this year during other tournaments and action, but I really, really did not want it to happen this time. This was the last tournament and the only tournament I wanted to win.
At the tournament, I stuck, as much as possible, to the new changes. I veered back and forth between old and new, and the instability of my game was obvious. I bricked enough easy shots and hangers to build a greater wall than that of my ancestors. I would get down, get back up to adjust, get down, and then fire a ball into a rail. I was perpetually out of line because I was too unsure to hit the ball with my usual stroke. Thankfully, there were people there to remind me I was playing worse than last year, as if I was somehow not aware I had become a gold-studded dumpster fire fueled by chalk dust and low-deflection shafts.
Missing easy shots was bad enough, but then there were the shots I loathed and because of the loathing, had no confidence and no chance of making them. I would fight my internal battle, bolt my stance into the new position while hating the shot and telling myself I wouldn’t make it, and then—make it. Making a shot when I had convinced myself I wouldn’t make it? That is something else. And making those shots, even just the few of them, forgave every rattled hanger and pushed me forward, all the way to the finals…
accurate representation of my performance in the finals
…where I lost hill-hill.
I’m all right with the loss. Considering the circumstances, I went surprisingly far although, of course, I do indulge in the occasional what if. In both long practice sessions, I didn’t hit that magical zone of effortless execution until the last hour before I had to get on the bus. Oh, that was some goddamn pain, let me tell you, to have to stop right when I found what I had been looking for. Had I been younger and full of fire I would have called in sick and played another day. But, I am older with a retirement account that needs contributions, so I got on the bus and went home. Still, what if I had had another two hours? What if, indeed.
I have 282 days until the U.S. Amateur Qualifier and 328 days until the U.S. Amateur Championships. It is both a lot of time and far too little. My current job and my hobby are not compatible, and only one of them pays for the other. Yet the pull of pool—of excellence and challenges overcome, of a vivid life full of wins and losses and adrenaline—is a powerful thing. I don’t know how I’m going to balance the two, or if they can be balanced at all.
Right now, I have to choose work and I tell myself that—although it certainly feels like it—it isn’t losing.
It’s just life.
🥈 🥈 🏆 🥈