Monday, December 26, 2011

Chess and Writing: They are Very Similar

I relate everything to chess; I always have. Those of you as obsessed with the game as I am understand such an oddity. Bobby Fischer once said, “Chess is life,” and while that may sound insane to someone who isn’t addicted to the game, it sounds perfectly clear to me; in fact, it sounds reasonable. I suppose that’s a tad scary, but we’ll leave that dog lie for another blog post.

Lately, I have noticed a strong correlation between chess and writing, especially when it comes to fiction. I do write articles and other web content, but fiction is my passion as well as, of course, chess. The two seem to walk hand-in-hand like lovers on a moonlit beach. I’ll try to explain what I mean.

In a chess game, we can make quick and ‘obvious’ moves that may or may not be blunders, may or may not better our position, and may or may not be winning or losing. They are just moves that bounce out of the board to us immediately. Many times, we act on our first-sight moves in blitz, or rapid, chess. That is why it isn’t good to play blitz exclusively; we’ll ever learn much or improve if we always make the first move that jumps out at us. That’s a fact.

It’s much the same with writing. The first draft of our stories can be related to blitz chess: there are glaring errors, it isn’t organized well, people in the story do things that are way out of character, etcetera. Ernest Hemmingway literally said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” I have always liked and respected that sentence. It’s so simple, and yet says so much – like a good chess move.

As a general rule, we get better at something the more we learn about and practice it; chess and writing are no different. However, in order to learn about them, to really learn about them, we have to put in the work. Chess requires many hours of hard study and play if you wish to be competitive, and writing requires hard-core, honest editing and rewriting if you want the story to be excellent, and not just good. A good story is easy to tell, but an excellent one takes work. That’s just the way it is.

What if, in a chess game that we lost, we were able to slowly review each move we made and change any and all moves that we wished? Well, we would win a lot of games, wouldn’t we? So, why not completely review and then rewrite a story that you’ve written? It can only be beneficial, both to you and the reader. Chess and writing are not things that should be cheapened. They are arts in their own right, and should be treated as such.

In the past, I had only heavily edited stories, not rewritten them completely. However, my most recent piece felt disjointed and scattered, like trying to find Waldo in a crowd. Characters were acting in ways they would not, some of the settings weren’t at all what I wanted, and I didn’t shape the personalities and relationships of the people well enough. Oh, sure, it was still a good story, I think, but it wasn’t great. If I’m going to put the time and effort forth to write a tale, I want it to be great, not good.

So, I embarked in a total rewrite. I first made a chronological timeline of events as they should happen, I made character sketches, and I wrote down small reminders of things that I wanted to strengthen or that I had missed completely, and then I opened a blank document. The second time around is a ton more fun than the first, I’m finding. Not only do I get to visit all my characters again, but in a much more personal, real way. I’m doing them justice. The writing is stronger. The flow is nicer. The story itself is much more believable and the ending will be far more intense.

Blitz chess is shit, and first drafts are shit. If you are a chess player or a writer, do yourself a favor and put a little time into your passion; you won’t believe the rewards.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

An Iowa Winter

One year – it was probably 1983 or so – we went back to Iowa for the holidays, to spend time with my grandparents. They lived in a lake community, and I spent all my childhood summers there. I learned to swim there, I learned to drive a boat there, I learned to water ski there; one experience, though, had eluded me: driving on an icy lake.

We had a great big Olds Delta 88 diesel at the time, and my mom drove right onto the lake and yanked the wheel hard. The car spun and spun and she gave it more gas and more wheel turns. I couldn’t believe that Mom was doing that! She was a very reserved woman until she got a big car onto a frozen lake.

Anyhow, we drove from the boat launch all the way across the lake to my grandma’s dock. It was so weird driving over the exact spot that I was diving into just that summer. It was definitely an awesome experience for eight-year-old me.

So, I felt the car slowing and I told my mom she had better punch it because we were going to get stuck. Fifteen seconds later, the big car just sat there, spinning the tires. Of course, my mother believed until the day she died that I was the cause of it, and not the fact that she was going slow.

Anyhow, we had to go get my uncle, who knew a few good ole boys with four-wheel drives, and they came and gave us a yank. The whole experience was so cool and surreal to me; it’s definitely something that will stay with me all my days.

Every season, a few trucks to through the ice. You can watch the big water crane extract them in the summertime.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Mama Kitty

At about six P.M. Wednesday, we put our eldest cat to sleep. She had some weird growth in her belly that had gotten progressively worse, and she was in pain. We’d had her for a decade, and wouldn’t stand to see her suffer, so we took her in.

We are not your average pet owners. We do not have kids, and so our animals are literally our family. Eliza and I have been together for ten years, and that means that every time we’ve come home, Mama has been there, waiting for us.

Not only had we had her the longest of all our cats, but she also had a very quirky and unique personality. We were able to clearly see, with just a glance, if she was grumpy, happy, mischievous, etcetera. The other cats are pretty predictable as far as how they’ll react to attention, but one never knew how Mama was going to receive you. It was hilarious.

Her name was literally Mama. I know, I know, not very original, but she was the mama of a few litters of cats and, throughout the years, we’ve kept some of her kids, who also have very quirky, but less defined, personalities. She was also a very good mama. In fact, she and one of her daughters, Fat-Fat, were very close right up until the end. They were always hanging out together.

Mama had a bunch of specific games she’d play with us that the other cats do not. For instance, if I put a hat on she wasn’t happy unless she got to rub her cheeks along the bill. She used to visit me almost every day at my desk, making it impossible to type or move the mouse. She was the type of cat that figured the world should stop if she entered a room.

She was quite the scrapper back in the day. We lived in a small apartment for quite a while, and she got fussy from time to time, so we’d let her out. The other cats knew it. I’m not sure she ever lost a fight. We would always hear the horrible screams and moans as Mama and another cat fought, but Mama would always come back to the apartment without a mark. She was a tough old girl.

That is why I’ve always thought this was weird: When she was hungry or thirsty and there was another cat by the food and water dishes, she would gingerly sit down and wait her turn. What a strange thing to do for such a wise, tough animal. I will definitely miss watching her do that. The other cats will just shove their way in so they can eat, too, but not her; she far preferred a table for one.

Heck, as you pet owners out there already know, I could literally go on and on for pages about the little things I’ll miss. For as long as Eliza and I have had a home, she’s been a part of it, and now she’s gone. We can definitely feel the empty spot that used to be her. I just hope she was happy and that we gave her the best life we possibly could.

We’ll miss you, Mama Kitty. :)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Handel's Messiah

Yesterday, the honey and I ventured into Orange County to see George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah”, live and in person, complete with solo singers and a full choir. It was really something else. Words cannot convey how happy I am that we were able to see that.

With concert tickets soaring into the stratosphere, it’s nice to know that we still have options. We paid $25 a ticket to see a wonderful performance and hear music that has been loved by people for almost three centuries. If I want to see a new rock group, the tickets start somewhere around $65 and go way, way up from there. Thanks, pop-culture, but I’ll stick with symphonies and plays from now on.

The performance was given without having used a single microphone. I’m sure when many of us think “concert”, we think of stacks and stacks of speakers, amplifiers, and more speakers. It was a refreshing change to hear natural music in its natural form. There were no explosions, no light shows, no gimmicks; the music spoke for itself.

Also, unlike many of today’s artists who somehow get away with performing a hack tune with a half-assed voice, the performers in Messiah were very, very talented. The notes those singers can hit are staggering, and the dynamics were nothing short of awe-inspiring. Sorry, Avenged Sevenfold, you can’t touch that one.

I was also surprised and pleased to randomly recognize many, many popular Christmas songs in Handel’s mix. I have an odd ear for that kind of thing, and I could find them immediately, even though the lyrics and music in general were different. It was definitely a cool history lesson.

I liked last night’s performance so much, in fact, that we are going back to the venue to hear classical piano for my birthday in January. Do you think Tchaikovsky’s Fifth will feature a mosh pit and security guards who make you throw out lighters, pens, and pocket knives before they let you in?

Me either.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Bullies Beware: The Internet is Here

So, we have heard a lot about cyber-bullying these past few years. We have also seen how Facebook and other social sites can put us in touch with old friends, family, loved ones, teachers, and anyone else; including bullies of years gone by.

Yes, the tides may be turning, and dangerously, in favor of the picked-on kids. In generations past, if a kid bullied us in school, we eventually grew up, moved away, our appearances and lives changed, and that was that. The bully was nothing more than a memory which leaves a bad taste in our mouths. Today, however, just about everyone is a mere Google search away. And that is very, very bad for schoolyard bullies.

Here’s the scenario: You are sitting home alone one night, bored out of your mind. Suddenly, and for no particular reason, the kid who used to beat you up on a bi-weekly basis in Junior High comes to mind. After some thought, you remember the asshole’s name.

A quick Facebook search tells you that he’s still in the same town where the two of you went to school. Just a little more digging, and you have his home and work addresses, and you aren’t thirteen anymore. Revenge plans swirl through your mind like a dust-devil in a summertime breeze.

Does this happen? You bet it does. Fake temporary accounts are easily made, and can net great results in something like the above situation. Bullies are not nearly as safe today as they were just ten years ago. Be careful how you treat others because, as with a serious crime, wronging the nerdy kid in school can come back to bite you many, many years later.

Please, just be nice to each other. It’s all fun and games when you shove around the 90-pound kid with glasses but twenty years later, after that kid has received his black belt in Tae Kwon Do and holds a hell of a grudge, things could get a little dicey. Just saying.