person_pin Why I Never Learned How to Play Chess

by Emily Stewart

Published in Issue No. 6 ~ January, 1997

Good story. True story.

A world-class chess champion is in the middle of a tournament. He is playing forty (40) games at once. He goes from table to table making one move at each. After some time he approaches a table, observes the move his opponent has made, pulls out his penis, pisses on the board, and walks out of the tournament.

The rise and fall of good taste.

Christmas, 1980. Mesa, Arizona. My grandmother stands facing my sister (17) and me (12). “Emily, you are the smart one. Beth, you are the pretty one.” Suddenly, I am ugly.

Journal. May 13, 1990: Just because someone has wings doesn’t mean they can fly.

Five-years-old. I am at my grandmother’s house (the other one). There is a tree out back. Big. My mother was never able to climb it. Challenge? I am climbing … and climbing … I am wearing my Sunday shoes but I am climbing … don’t look down … climbing … the tree is one big shaft … no branches just stubs … climbing … hey. Hey! “Hey, Mom! Look where I am!” “Come down!” Pause. “I can’t!” Ten minutes later the fire engine arrives.

Letter to Lorenzo (the drummer): The downbeat – conception and fulfillment all in one. Where birth and death shake hands and do the hokey pokey – the downbeat. Now, what do you do when you find the downbeat and you realize that, because you’ve found it, there’s nothing to say … I’m wearing your nightshirt.


My first kiss is in Jamaica. Delroy, a Jamaican. I am twelve-years-old. Summertime. I am not ugly yet.

The Tao of Love and Sex. “All history’s greatest issues paled by comparison with these two quintessential objects: the eternal woman and the limp prick.”

Journal. January 17, 1990: Jeff is magic.

Journal. January 24, 1990: Jeff is so cute.

Journal. February 5, 1990: Jeff is a dick.

Life. Today. Jeff is gay.

Our Discipline has been taken out of our hands.

I am eighteen-years-old. I am suspended from high school for one week for saying the word “no.”

It is my fourth birthday. My mother sits me down and tells me that it is time for me to be potty-trained. I agree. A few months later she tells me it is time for me to stop sucking my fingers. I agree. That night I have the worst nightmare of my life (it remains the worst). Technicolor. I am walking with my mother and my sister up a hill of green green grass. The sky is blue blue. Suddenly, a tiger appears and starts beating my mother on the back with pots and pans. I am screaming. A few months later my mother has her first attack of Multiple Sclerosis. Nine years later it is diagnosed. My first thought:

“Is it hereditary?”

Coming of age?

Fourth grade. I am not liked. Too loud. Too awkward. Too something. Gina, the most liked, befriends me for a few hours. I spend the entire time curled up in a ball on the floor. I tell her I’m having a “dull spell.” (I still have them and I still call them that.)

Summer after high school. My fourth grade teacher is shot to death by her son-all-American ex-boyfriend of mine.

Sixth grade. I.Q. tests. I am the only girl to go on for further testing. That cinches it. I am really not liked.

1981. My sister becomes a professional model. I give her chocolates for her birthday.

1987. I become a professional model. She gives me sexy underwear for my birthday. I am in an international magazine and feel vindicated. I still feel ugly. Does she still feel stupid?

In Swimming to Cambodia, Spalding Gray talks of “perfect moments” in a person’s life.

A warm evening. May. No. Not evening. Dead of night. Alive. That moment when, no, life will not be any better than this-ever. Middle of nowhere. South of Bloomington in the heart of one of the seven hills. A night when memories are of worms and cosmic explosions. A night when my future merges with Dionysian past. A night not to remember but to confront in my ensuing nightmares. The demons are awakened. And I cry out. I drink the wine offered by the boy in the hat. The boy I have seen in visions for months now. I meet him across the fire. He has seen me, too. Five-ten-seventeen drums. A few distant flutes. I am handed a stick. My body emulates the fire. I lose my shoes. My mind drifts to thoughts of cannibalism. More wine.

So. This is it. I am no longer ugly.

A man approaches me at dawn saying I dance beautifully. Have I been dancing?

What is beautiful?

Civilization ==> a necessary evil.

I paraphrase George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff: We must learn to view ourselves as we view the world – i.e. see ourselves as scaled-down models of the globe …
The East lacks energy and the West lacks wisdom.

Journal. October 17, 1991: I am incapable of keeping a clean room. I forget to brush my teeth. I use knowledge as power. I don’t fear death.

The battle against disillusionment and boredom. The battle against anxiety and paranoia. The struggle to keep the demons at bay. We see the order of things in brief flashes of blinding light. Then. Gone.

Ten-years-old. My father and I get together and play Gin. About once a week. We listen to music-country music. He always wins-slaughters me. One night we are playing and listening, not to country music, but to a university radio station. They are playing very skeletal, fragmented modern piano music. I have developed a new strategy which involves getting rid of all my high-scoring cards so I won’t have so many points in my hands when he calls, “gin.” Suddenly, I am ahead. I am winning. I comment on how creepy the music is. My father jokes that, if I win, he will record it and make me listen to it every night before bed. I win the game. Suddenly, we are playing every night. No music. I win every game. After about a week, when we are in the middle of a game, I call, “gin.” He throws his cards across the living room.

We never played again.

The order? The significance of all these pieces?

I search for the patterns, the repetitions, not to change them but to understand them. Individual incidents, though timeless and vivid, become frozen and remote with time. The patterns, however, remain kinetic and vital. A beautiful sunset may change my outlook for a day, but it is the repetition of this event that means the difference between life and death. What I find interesting are the lines connecting the dots.

They say that great chess players always play at least ten to twelve moves ahead. With each individual move the developing patterns become clearer and clearer. However, one false move and the pattern is broken – someone will lose.

If life were a game, who would lose? The one who broke the pattern or the one who pissed all over it and walked out?