“If you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you,” said the famed 17th Century German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. I was first introduced to Nietzsche, and this quote, in an elective Philosophy course I took at Muhlenberg College back in 1980. In one of the earlier classes of the fall semester the professor gave the class an assignment to pen an interpretive essay in regard to Nietzsche’s meaning in his prose. When I was a 20 year old sophomore in college I barely knew what the word interpretive meant, leaving me to agonize for the two weeks we had to turn our analysis in. I searched hard, but there was no where for me to copy the answer out of some encyclopedia or microfiche. There was no google search back then, only your own original thought. I was rewarded with a D for my efforts on this task which, at least, gave me a very good idea how little I understood about Nietzsche or his philosophies on life. Despite my unimaginative self, and the grade I received, I had discovered a healthy curiosity about different philosophies the class had exposed me to. It was rare for me to save my notes or tests after a course was over, especially ones that I struggled with, but for this class I made an exception. As the years grew between my bad start in “Philosophy 101” and the present I have referred back to the quotes we dissected back in the halls of academia, always with the intent of inspiring my personal evolvement.
“Life is more fun if you can treat the entire process as a game.” This is a simple philosophical quote that I am sure some great mind has uttered before, but for now I am attributing it to myself. It was approximately 25 years ago that I developed a strategy of turning in-cumbersome challenges into a game. Whenever I got myself into a jam, or was getting prepared for an adjustment in business, I turned the situation into some sort of contest played between myself and me. I played games and gave tests, all organized by me with the strict intention of a rewarding outcome for myself in the long run. Most recently my challenges and goals are centered around making a concerted effort to implement life style changes that are appropriate for my age and health status. The adjustments include; less alcohol input, more family time, better diet, and more of a focus at work. The light and optimistic side of myself says the motivation for these changes is preparatory work to be in my best possible condition entering the golden years. The darker and more tainted side of myself was bitching about the purpose, if there was any at all, for me making changes. ‘What do these doctors know? I’m in great shape for my age, I only need to keep doing things my way like I have always. Regardless of purpose, my future was in the balance and I felt an urgency to give myself a self examination of the most difficult magnitude.
“If you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” Songs, quotes, books and our personel history take on different perspectives and meaning as we grow older. Today, my interpretation of the Nietzsche quote is totally different than the garbage I wrote back in college. Nietzsche could have meant that we can only overcome our most harrowing fears, we can only defeat the demons that torment us by staring directly at them. A high percentage of us spend a lifetime slaying personal dragons, no matter how often we put the fires out, a tiny spark seems to find a way to remain. Last week I went on a mission to administer a self exam that included a trip to a land where my dragons live. There I could face my opponents eye ball to eye ball on their turf. I was partaking on a four day, three night excursion to Hollywood Florida’s Hard Rock Guitar Casino. Being a person who has, at times, fought to control a gambling problem and more immediately has put himself on a strict non alcoholic diet since the turn of the new year, a gambling joint in South Florida can be an extremely dangerous place. A fair analogy would be offering a person with a fear of heights $5,000,000 to rescue Faye Ray in the grips of the mighty Kong from the top of the Empire State Building. The odds are slim that a person who panics at high altitudes could save beauty from the beast. Last Monday I arrived at the Hard Rock to spend some quality time with my favorite person. The test was for me to ask myself two questions at the end of the trip. 1. Did you consume any booze? 2. Did you gamble?
From the moment I put my suitcase down inside the big guitar….the game was on. I thought Ft. Lauderdale Florida was the right location for me to find out if I could regain control. The many compulsions that had gotten the best of me were never going to completely disappear, but for now, I needed to stand up to them. The mission was to send my demons a reminder that I was the commander of my ship, not them. After checking in Monday night I made a bee line to the bar in the Sushi Restaurant where I ordered a club Soda and the short ribs, sushi style. There is no doubt that I was craving a good steak and martini, but I was not on a vacation of the usual sort and I don’t like starting out behind when I am wrestling myself. In a past time I would have hurried my dinner only so I could spend the next 24 hours watching my beard grow in the mirror as I grinded away at a green felt table. In more recent years I would have passed on the gambling for a couple of Cosmos, and then a couple more Coronas. But those were the days when I didn’t have a game plan to protect me from the self inflicted pain of booze and betting (laughing at myself). This trip I was alone, the only game of chance I was going to play was going to have nothing to do with the exchange of C-notes. I grabbed a chocolate milk shake at the snack shop, purchased an expensive cigar, and proceeded to the 24th floor to think things over. I put in a wake up call for 8:00am to be prepared to get a good seat poolside. By 11:00 pm not a creature was stirring in room 2414.
“There are two great pleasures in gambling, that of winning and that of losing.” I was having less anxiety about the not drinking part of my plan than the not gambling part. By late Tuesday night I developed an urge to play some blackjack. I have done limited gambling in casinos or sports betting parlors in the past 20 years. By the time I decided on comfortable gaming table it was about 10:30 in the evening. I choose a seat that was on the main floor where the minimum limits were 4 times less than what I normally wagered. I bought into the game for $1,000 and asked the one other player sitting alone on first base if it was O.K. to join him mid shoot. “Come on in, you’ll be sorry,” he chuckled. I pushed my first two chips on the board as the pit boss made his way over to me. “Do you have your players card sir,” I was hesitant realizing I didn’t bring the card I had. ‘I haven’t been here in a while, I forgot my card,’ I said meekly. “No worries give me your license and I’ll print you a new one.” The Hard Rock has three classes of gamblers with three different player cards so the suckers can be clearly identified: Black is for “high rollers”, Silver for “almost high rollers,” and Red is for “average schmuck.” I was involved in two hands, which both caused havoc with numerous splits and double downs. The two hands probably took 10 minutes as the dealer made change, welcomed a new player, and told me to pull my mask up through the barrier between us. Truth was I felt bored, impatient, tentative, and reluctant. The pit boss handed me a red players card and said “Good luck” Although I said nothing, I must have worn a bewildered look. “I guess you’ve been downgraded,” smirked the pit boss. I stayed quiet as a new player showed up on my left. That was my cue to call it night. I pushed my chips forward which were cashed with one $1,000 chip and one 100 dollar chip. I was content to accept my new “regular schmuck” status so myself and my new red player’s card headed upstairs to my room for another good night’s rest.
“Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster.” Correct. That is Nietzsche again bringing me back my personal War. Last week’s battle was a premeditated test, a check-up to find out who was in control of my soul. I had traveled into my personal abyss. Like a dragon slayer in mythical times I went into the beast’s belly. I willingly entered the abyss, it was my decision (part of me says courageous, part of me says far too brazen). I faced off with the monsters that I believe have gotten in the way of me reaching my maximum potential. To have goals is a positive thing, but to predict the future is something I leave to the soothsayers. An old college friend of mine talks often of the skeletons he hears rattling around in his closet. He told me he freezes when he thinks of addressing the past and the discomfort it causes him. Over the years he is usually the one who offers me advice, but in regard to my dilemmas and his skeletons it was me with the recommendation for him. “The only way your monsters can defeat you is if you do nothing.” Isn’t the essence of what Nietzsche was trying to teach us about ourselves? The easiest route in this life is to ignore your demons, to keep moving as if they do not exist, hoping that someday they will go away and die. It is urgent we come to terms with the fact that as long as we live our skeletons live. I went down to Hollywood Fl. to see if I have the fortitude, determination, and ambition left in myself to fight the final battles of my life. I arrived home last Thursday night. “How did you make out,” Donna inquired upon my arrival home. “It absolutely sucked, but I think I won.”