Archive: Dec 2017

Queen’s Gambit Declined


My problem is that I’m always too many steps ahead. I know that sounds like a humble-brag that’s light on the humble,  but it’s a real problem.  I can’t be here while I’m absorbed in potential futures. My fixation with efficiency and preparedness paralyzes me from doing anything noteworthy. I get overwhelmed by too many variables.

Imagine a world class chess player sits down for a fresh game at a tournament. She surveys her options and starts to reach for her white king’s pawn to move it to e4. It’s a completely standard opening move — more games start with it than don’t.  It allows you to free your queen and bishop and gives you control of the middle of the board. She of course knows all of this, and she knows that her opponent is likely to march his own king’s pawn down to e5 in response. Or possibly his bishop’s pawn in the Sicilian defense. That would be tricky of him. He could even pull out his knight and go with the Nimzowitsch Defense if he’s crazy. He looks kind of crazy, she decides, so she pulls her hand away from the king’s pawn. Better to think this all the way through.

The next option would be to open the game by moving her knight to f3, the good old Zukertort Opening. Of the twenty legal moves on this opening turn it’s one of the most popular, the strategy being to maintain flexibility and get the powerful pieces out early. And what would happen then? In response, the black player may play it safe by moving his knight in a mirrored response or go for a power grab in the center of the board with his queen’s pawn — or even move his bishop’s pawn in an attempt to shoehorn her back into the Sicilian Defense after all. But what kind of Sicilian, open or Najdorf? Fischer and Kasparov built empires on the Najdorf, an unstoppable chain of attacks and reprisals. How many pieces would she lose? What if she lost this tournament using the same opening as Bobby Fischer? Would that mean she’s not as good? Could she face coming home with nothing to show for it?

Suddenly everything on the board is not so black and white. Better to just walk away without making a move at all. This is exactly why I don’t play chess.



I really like the word ‘woke’ as people use it today. It’s a relatively new slang- it couldn’t be more than five years since I first heard it. People who use it knows what it means, but I’d have a hard time describing it clearly. The closest synonym is probably enlightened, which is itself a word that is difficult to define. If you know, you know.

I had a conversation recently with a college student who came into the gallery to see my wife’s art. He was one of the ones who “got” her work, if that makes sense. They are the ones who stand for minutes in front of the same painting while everyone else is milling through the room around them. They find themselves speechless with a lump in their throat or they explode with a million questions or look for someone to hug. It’s amazing to watch- they recognize something magical and powerful in her art as it reaches in and triggers their emotional centers. This guy was one of the talkers.

Being an artist himself he marveled at the craft, recognizing that each of these pieces must have taken months, if not years, to create. He peppered me with technical questions about her process and technique that I could only answer with a shrug and a blank stare (“Black magic, maybe?”). He gaped at that painting for a good ten or fifteen minutes as we talked about art and my job and his school work. He wasn’t in a hurry, didn’t think about whether he was bothering me or taking up too much of my time, wasn’t looking for anything more than the experience of standing right there, right then. He even shared with me a very personal story about his family that the painting had made him think of before he hugged me and moved on.

That dude was woke.

Year After Year


I live in a state of disbelief. Year after year I convince myself, in the absence of any evidence whatsoever, that the Cleveland Browns have finally turned it around and could make the playoffs. I did it last year, I did it this year. I promise I’ll do it again next year, reality be damned.

We finally have a quarterback, I say. The offensive line was vastly improved this offseason. We’ve piled up valuable draft picks- that rookie is the real deal! The schedule looks easy. The division looks weak. The fans are thirsty. We finally have a quarterback (for real this time)!

And year after year I sit in stunned disbelief as my optimistic dreams crumble before me, one interception at a time. The rose colored glasses turn a depressing brown and orange as the losses continue to stack up. We haven’t sniffed the playoffs in a decade and a half. We haven’t celebrated a single victory since last Christmas. As of this writing, the team has lost 37 of the past 39 games with no predictable end in sight. This level of ineptitude is frankly unheard of outside of federal bureaucracy or a Three Stooges marathon.

But it will work this time. If Corey Coleman can stay on the field and Josh Gordon can stay off of drugs we’ll have a shot. If Joe Thomas doesn’t retire and Brian Sipe suits up and Lou Groza comes back from the dead. History gives me absolutely no reason to believe, but that just means we’re due. Right?? Hand me my rose colored glasses!

In the scientific world, this behavior is known as confirmation bias- the tendency to interpret information in a way that backs up what you already believe (or desperately want) to be true. You notice all the things that confirm your predetermined hypothesis while simultaneously refusing to see anything that refutes it. It’s honestly not all that different from today’s political discourse, where we fault the “other guys” for acting a certain way but then act oblivious when a member of our chosen team commits the same sin. We make excuses, we grasp for any reasonably logical explanation of why it’s different this time. We don’t notice how our attitudes depend so much on whether there’s an ‘R’ or a ‘D’ next to a name. We just know that our team is the one who will make the world a better place if we can get them in office and keep them there, reality be damned.

But let’s face it. The Browns suck.