“Some of these stories are closer to my own life than others are, but not one of them is as close as people seem to think.” Alice Murno, from the intro to Moons of Jupiter

"Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see." Arthur Schopenhauer

“Why does everything you know, and everything you’ve learned, confirm you in what you believed before? Whereas in my case, what I grew up with, and what I thought I believed, is chipped away a little and a little, a fragment then a piece and then a piece more. With every month that passes, the corners are knocked off the certainties of this world: and the next world too. Show me where it says, in the Bible, ‘Purgatory.’ Show me where it says ‘relics, monks, nuns.’ Show me where it says ‘Pope.’” –Thomas Cromwell imagines asking Thomas More—Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

My favorite posts to get started: The Self-Righteousness Instinct, Sabbath Says, Encounters, Inc., and What Makes "Wolf Hall" so Great?.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

New Scene for Ch.3 of "The Music Box Routine"

“It seems like every guy in the game has something they’re really good at, something they’re really passionate about besides game. They’re actors or musicians or comedians—or you, you’re a writer and you’re into science and you can go on about it for hours on end.”

Will was talking and at the same time lifting tuna from a can to his mouth with a fork. I’d dropped by his apartment to discuss the arrangements for our trip the coming weekend, but the habit of talking game was ingrained. Since Will is so extraverted, not particularly given to self-reflection, it took me a minute to switch gears and realize he wasn’t just talking about the mechanics of his seduction process; he’d broached the topic by complaining about how lame his grounding sequence was. He’d never even bothered to go into it with Stacy. She must’ve been okay with him not having a career picked out.

“I get into stuff,” he said, chewing, “like football when we were in high school, but it never leads anywhere. I thought maybe I could go into sports psychology or something. But I just can’t sit in a room with a book like you can. My mind starts to drift as soon as I start reading.”

“That sounds like a lot of business people I know. Maybe you should be trying to get into sales.”

“Why? So I can make a bunch of money and turn into a total schmuck? Money’s cool and all, but look around—you see plenty of people selling out and they end up at least as depressed as anyone else. You were the one who told me that once you have enough to meet your basic needs more money doesn’t make you any happier. So what would be the point of getting on the phone or going to meetings, putting on a fake smile and making deals with a bunch of total douches?”

“It might not have to be like that. It might be more like game.”

“Man, I don’t think about game like that. When I’m in the field, I’m not selling a damn thing. I’m being me. Because going out and having a good time and meeting people, meeting beautiful women, showing everyone a good time—that’s what I want to do. That’s what I love most about life. That and the way you and I coordinate so well sometimes that it’s like the two of us can run the whole world, like no one can imagine we know each other’s game so well, so we can bounce routines off each other and they think it would be totally impossible to do on purpose. It’s like we’re taking it to some new level—almost like some out-of-body experience.”

I know the feeling he was talking about. I’ve read similar accounts by dancers and guys describing their marches in military formation. It might be similar to what some people get from religious ceremonies, a sense that you’ve transcended your individual existence and become part of something greater. But those experiences are all choreographed. Will and I rely on routines, but we also improvise—and we play off each other, like jazz musicians. It really is kind of glorious.

“But what am I going to say?” Will went on, setting the empty tuna can on the coffee table with the fork balancing on the rim. “‘I knew from a young age I wanted to be a pick-up artist’? That’s never going to play well. I actually envy you—even though you have all these issues with pick-up. The truth is you probably wouldn’t be talking to these people if you weren’t running game. And I know you don’t feel like you’re genuinely expressing yourself when you are. But you’ve got something else going on and I don’t. I get home from work and I’m jumping out of my skin I’m so bored. But you—I’ve seen you—you pick up a book or a magazine and you just get lost. I wish I could be that fascinated by something, even if it did sort of alienate me.”

“You shouldn’t envy me. I look at people and all I see is rot. I see people brutalizing their own sense of reality so they can convince themselves they’re the shit, that they and theirs are the only ones truly deserving to inherit the world. I see us-and-them and to hell with them, no one giving a damn about anything that goes on unless it’s going on right in front of their faces. I see people either so completely fucking oblivious or so thoroughly deluded that they wear clothes manufactured by people in some far-off country under conditions they’d literally kill to keep their own kids safe from—and it gets chalked up to the wonders of the modern world. I see the promise of the Enlightenment squandered for a bunch of bullshit fairytales and fistfuls of French fries.”

I was losing him. He sat in his recliner looking at me over the coffee table, feeling sorry for me. And what had I wanted him to feel for me? I pushed out a laugh and shook my head, determined to get the conversation back on topic, back on to what Will might do with his life, and on to how he could make a grounding sequence out of it. “Grownups are a bunch of goddam phonies,” I joked, even as I realized he probably wouldn’t catch the allusion. “You know, my grounding sequence has me being a science writer, starting from when we were in second grade and Mrs. Gulius had us reading about dinosaurs and going out to look for Haley’s comet. So from the time I’m 23 I’m writing a blog about science and how it relates to things like politics and world hunger. And you can track your traffic on those blogs. Most of my pages after a while got like ten hits. After two years, my site totaled like two hundred and fifty visitors. I bet half of those were just searching for pictures or something. Then I start talking to Anton and getting into game. I read and post on the forums. Then I start a new blog of my own, all about seduction. It had two hundred and fifty hits after the first month. Every time I post something now I can wait about a week and check the stats—most of them will already have like a hundred hits. The game blog gets as many hits every week as the science one got in two years.”

Will was leaning forward, his elbows on his knees, his hands folded. He looked at me, furrowed his brown, half-frowned, at a loss, wondering what he could do about his friend, the tortured soul. I hate that look of his, that bafflement as to why I’d insist on doing anything but enjoying myself as much as possible. And he’s right. There is no reason. You can’t take life that seriously because you’ll only make yourself miserable and because you have so little influence on the world anyway. But once in a while I slip.

“Well, that’s not the catastrophe you’re making out,” he said. “People search blogs for pick-up routines—I bet three quarters of your traffic is for either the Alpha Test of the In-Love Test. I wish I could pull stuff half that good out of my ass. And you weren’t even running game when you first did the In-Love Test; you were getting revenge or something.”

“What? I wasn’t getting revenge. I was…” What was I doing?

“It doesn’t matter. My point is that blogs are where you go for game stuff. But if you want science stuff I’d guess that’s the last place you’d look. You’d want a site with more authority that not just any jackhole can post on. So, you can’t let that discourage you. And if you’re not thinking about making a career out of game you should probably stop letting it be such a huge distraction. Seriously, if you’re going to be a science writer, what’s the next step?”

“Okay, you’re right. Don’t start running that self-help crap on me. Besides, we’re talking about what you want to do—aside from game.”

He stood up with a sigh and I leaned back into the couch, draped my arm over the top and watched him take up his pacing track, marveling all the while that he hadn’t yet worn a discernable pattern in the carpet.

“I hate to say it, but every time I try to think about it I feel old. It’s too late to start directing movies, or writing screenplays, or—hell, I don’t even know what I’d start doing. I hate this feeling. It makes me avoid thinking about it and that makes it impossible to come up with any good solutions for it.”

“Will, I can’t believe this. I’ve never seen you struggle with anything like this before. Breathe. Now, freaking out’s going to make it harder to think flexibly. So think about something that makes you laugh. –Seriously, think about a good time you’ve had that makes you laugh. That’s how you get a good baseline for your mood, so you can be creative under stress. Now, there are at least ten different angles we can look at this from. For instance, instead of trying to come up with things you’re interested in other than game, try thinking about what you love so much about game and then see if there’s anything else that’s similar. Or—”

“That’s really how you do it? You think of something funny and then you start coming up with different ways of looking at it. I think you should write a book on that. I’d fucking read it. What do I love about the game? Well, people automatically assume it’s just so sinister but how many people—male and female—struggle with meeting people and struggle with relationships? We’re just supposed to leave it to chance, or leave it in God’s hands. Fuck that. People don’t leave their careers to chance—actually, way too many people probably do just leave their careers to chance. But it’s not considered immoral to think strategically about what kind of job you want to spend the rest of your life doing.

“This may sound cheesy, but I want to teach game and help guys perfect their routines because I actually believe it’ll make everyone involved happier. I think of the guys in high school, the ones who look at the quarterback and the cheerleader, and resent the shit out of him just because he has what they want. I want to take those kids aside and be like, ‘You don’t have to be the quarterback, and you don’t have to have rich parents and drive an expensive car.’ They say it’s dishonest or some bullshit. But what’s really dishonest is that poor kid sitting there pining for his high school sweetheart and being fucking paralyzed because he has no idea what to do about it. He’s not being pure and honest. He’s hurting. That’s not innocent. It’s fucking sad. And as kids, boys especially, spend more time playing videogames and looking at porn it’s only going to get worse.

“I know wires get crossed sometimes and people’s feelings get hurt. But maybe we can come up with strategies to avoid that too. I mean, it’s so fun—when it’s going right, it’s so fun. It breaks my heart to see guys walking into the bar with a scowl on their face trying to look tough because they think that’s what women want and because they’re pissed off everybody seems to be getting laid but them.”

“Did you just use the expression, ‘It breaks my heart’? I don’t know how seriously to take you when you’re talking like this.”

“I’m completely serious. Do you ever see me getting into those super alpha matches some pick-up guys are obsessed with? I’m not about proving I can snatch your girl away from you. It’s not necessary. I believe there’s a way to do this stuff and have everyone enjoying themselves. And I don’t look at Mr. Scowl Face and think, you know, ‘What a tool.’ I think, ‘Damn dude, you’re doing it wrong.’ I want to go over and help him.”

“I have to admit, I remember a couple of times when you basically bailed on a set to coach young guys with no self-esteem.”

“I’d do it more often if I thought it would help. Scowly faces won’t let you coach them because they’re afraid you’re trying to tool them out. But I got more joy out of watching that one dude—Sam was his name—open a two-set after I talked to him for like twenty minutes than I got out of closing with that woman later the same night. I actually wonder what Sam’s doing now. Anyway, imagine how great it would be to run a bootcamp for guys and watch them use the stuff you teach—just a little bit of game and your confidence soars. You’re changing their lives, making their lives better.”

“Now, I envy you. Only you could make pick-up into a public service.”

“Hey, that’s how I look at it. And we both know stories about women who ended up freaking out and crying, but those are by far the minority. I know for a fact the girls we game end up having a good time. That’s my point: you can do it right and it’s fun for everyone. The women are going out hoping that—desperate that some guy runs good game on them. They love it. They get hurt when you fuck it up. And one of the things I learned from you is that you can even hurt them a bit and that can just mean even more pleasure later.”

Will broke off, leaving me to turn over what he said about hurting women, while he looked at his phone. “Stacy’s been sending me messages. I have to call her back. Hold on a sec.” It’s true, I thought, he really is going to be an instructor. And he’s going to be fucking good at it. And he’s exactly the type of guy you’d want helping clueless kids figure out how to talk to women they like—unless of course he keeps learning from me.

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