The Matchbook Diaries

In the Shower

Wisdom I happened across years and years ago has proven to be priceless.  I love Texas holdem.  Back in the US, I could watch the World Series of Poker for hours and hours on television and I can’t sit through most 90-minute movies, never mind even 5 minutes of TV. When we lived on the islands we played many games of poker every night, and I was a good player there because I played against Chamorro men who are God’s gamblers, taking huge risks for the occasional payoff whilst I sat for hours and accumulated chips using a completely different, very conservative, rule-based playbook. I thought, “Well, I’m pretty good at this!  I’ll go online in my spare time and see how it goes.”

That’s when I realized that beyond the 1 dollar games, I suck.  I don’t do the odds correctly.  I overthink shit and blow my chances of bluffing; I play too predictably to ever collect a big payoff.  I studied poker a bit, kind of haphazardly, but I just didn’t care enough to follow it through.  That’s when I came across priceless wisdom out of the mouth of one of the best poker players in history. Phil Ivey has a net worth of 100 million, at least 10 World Series bracelets, and a staggering record of success.  Someone asked him how he knew he was a poker player, as opposed to being someone like me, who is, at best, a poker fan.  He said something like, “I think about poker in the shower.  I think about it in my sleep.  I play out hands in my head when I’m eating breakfast, when I’m brushing my teeth….”

God made Phil Ivey a poker player.   There are only two things I think about incessantly – how to make use of the random beauty I see and how to understand redemption.  It was my insistence on accessing the beauty of matchbooks that resulted in the GyspyFaith Matchbook Company.  When those matchbooks spilt into my hands I loved everything about them, but I knew that what I could never do was pin them into a book.  That would be like capturing a cheetah and putting it in a cage – it’s lost its Cheetah-ness then.

Whenever we are on safari here in Africa I often find myself saying, “Look!  A real zebra!  A real warthog!”  What I mean is that when you see a lion here, it still has all of its lion-ness inside.   I wanted my matchbooks to enjoy liberty, to shake their gorgeous tailfeathers at the world proudly.  So back then I dumped the first pile on the corner in the office where I study Scripture, and I looked at that pile for months and months.  Every few hours I’d tried to resolve the puzzle.  Ultimately I landed on fridge magnets.

Like pretty shells from the beach, great clothes, cool objects, if you stuff things in a jar in the basement, or a closet, they lose their muchness.  Beauty’s power is visual.  What you love has to be what you see everywhere, everyday.  There is so much power in what you love, but if you never do, see, use, touch what you love, you’ve cut yourself off from fuel that catalyzes and drives your life.

I collect lots of things I find beautiful- used shaving brushes, children’s slippers, fabric scraps, and, right now, used perfume bottles from the massive volume of sewage soaked garbage that runs down the rivers here in Dar.  Those bottles, along with loads of trash, leave the rivers and are heaped onto the beaches along the Indian Ocean. I collected perfume bottles here right after we arrived.  I lined my windows with them, but now there were several thousand, they needed a new way to be visible in my life.  For months I rolled the problem around in my heart, flipping through hundreds of iterations – “What if I did this?  No..ok.. this?  Or this?”  I hung them like dried flowers, on beaded chains, in clumps, but that wasn’t cool enough.  I ran lines of metal along the ceiling and draped clusters of them from the lines, and considered stuffing fairy lights into empty bottles.  In the end, I wasn’t happy with any of these solutions, so they were not solutions.

I manipulated, spun the problem in my heart constantly, wondering how to accommodate my need to enjoy these little things.  Then I knew –  I would drill a small hole in the base of each bottle and string them, with colored beads running right up the inside of the bottle.  It took me a week to drill one hole, and I shattered several bottles.  I realized a dollop of glue gun glue the glue would keep the glass from shattering, but I didn’t have enough strength to drill for that long per bottle.  I asked my driver to go to the massive Tanzanian market, Kariako, and find me a diamond drill bit.  He brought me three.  I was in heaven.  I drilled the holes, cleaned each bottle until it twinkled, and then strung them on very heavy fishing line, with crystal beads all through the strand.

I do not know how many people would pull a bottle from sewage, hand carry heavy bags of filthy crap to their porch, don rubber gloves and wrench the metal caps off the bottles,  pour out the sewage trapped inside, then reach in a pull out the plastic straw and spring with a needle nose plier, then drop the bottle into three different solutions of Dettol before washing and drying it.  Maybe other people love perfume bottles too, or maybe I’m alone.

I collect something worthless and then spend enormous time and quite a bit of money to redeem it.  I have a similar relationship with bottle caps.  I take a screw driver and go out to the small bar that is at the head of the dirt road on which our compound sits then I pry the colored caps from the mud near the fetid garbage cans and carry them home to use for my metal flowers and metal tiles.  Each cap must be disinfected, flattened by hand, trimmed, and varnished before it gets used.

I discovered that there are marbles in spray paint cans and embedded in some liquor bottles.  I began to disgorge those marbles in a long, difficult process.  These kinds of collections are absurd, perhaps.  But they are essential for me.  What I love tends to be something that must undergo redemption.  I like to save things that the world hates, trivializes, abandons, or abuses.  I love things like me.

Without faith there is no true north, no way to navigate life, no way to avoid believing that what the world determines is all that’s valuable.  If you fall into the world’s trap, then you spend all your time trying to get money to buy shit, shit that you don’t love, shit that doesn’t love you.  Phil Ivey plays poker for love, not money.  The money may follow, but it can’t be the bedrock.

What is in my house has a reciprocal relationship with me – I love it, and it loves me.  I decide what has value.  I don’t care what the world says.   I know God, so I know me.  I am not ashamed about my love affair with ridiculous things.  I told my therapist that years ago I shipped 1200 squid floaties home from the beach in Thailand to our house in China.  That process was a great expense and a pain in the ass.  She said, “For once, I’m speechless.”  I still have those floaties hanging up all over the place – those floaties are well traveled floaties: from Thai waters and squid lures to the China and the Middle East to Africa.

Money is never, ever, ever the solution.  We are not made to be buyers.  We are made to be lovers.  Once you know that you are a beloved child of God, a priceless wonder, you can relax, wander, and your heart will direct your gaze into the world and you’ll determine value where the world can’t see it.  You’ll know that you love – dominoes, eyebrows, taffeta, blue footed boobies, gourds…..and you’ll not be a victim of the world.  You’ll have found your niche, your nest in the leafy realm of God, and you can use your fine mind and powerful heart to celebrate the piece of this world that was made for you to know, to treasure, and to love.