Chess, Infinity, and the Abyss

Chess was the first love of my life and my first encounter with the daunting abyss of infinite choices, infinite cause and effect. An important strategy of the game is to analyze the possible outcomes before making one’s move. Carelessness with even the simplest piece could open an advantage for the opponent and alter the course of the game. But as most matches are timed, there must be a limit to the analyzing: the predicting and planning. Every move has a number of outcomes that branch into more outcomes, so the possibilities multiply exponentially and it becomes dangerous to ponder, to let time tick by as one tries to map out the infinite intricacies of possible futures.

I learned how to play in 3rd grade and almost instantly fell in love with the methodical chaos. For most of the day I was a normal 7 year old girl, trading Hello Kitty stickers with Tracy and Sabrina and giggling over Zac Efron. But by the time Chess Club began I was completely transformed. I was Napoleon, setting traps and feeling fiery satisfaction as my victims fell into them.

One late spring afternoon towards the end of 5th grade, my teammates and I were on a bus to the state championships. My school had been reigning as the #1 elementary school for years. We rode into the venue with our black team visors and sponsorship Clif Bar t-shirts, ready to continue the reign of the Cherrywood Charger as well as setting our own rankings on the state ladder. I crushed my first two matches, fueling the fire with Hot Cheetos and Gatorade.

My third match was different. A typical strategy, a no-brainer, is to gain control of the center of the board by moving the center pawns early in the game: this allows the stronger pieces, such as the knight, queen, or bishop to come out and take positions in or around the middle. Pawn to E4 is ingrained into every chess player’s mind. But my third opponent that day, a scrawny boy with silver wiry glasses and a furrowed brow, did not follow the silent rule. Instead, he opened the game with his peripheral pawns. They stood at A4 and H4, taunting me, daring me.

At first I dismissed his choices as that of someone with no skill.  I figured it would be an easy victory. But by the time he had developed his other pieces’ positions, it was clear that he knew what he was doing. I was losing, and with a tightness in my gut I began to scrutinize every single moment, considering at least five different ways he could go for every one move I made. I could no longer map out different strategies; there were far too many, and I was running out of time. Our tournament clocks kept track of how much time we each had: he was still at 4:32 when I realized mine read 0:30. And I froze, staring at the ticking second hand, too paralyzed to even lift my my own.

“Hey, are you gonna go?” He asked, nodding at my diminishing time. I was at 0:12.

At 0:07 I realized the match was over. I let it go to 0:00 and watched him raise his hand. The volunteer judge came and wrote Forfeit on my chart, Victory on his. We shook hands, exchanging a polite “Good game” and went our separate ways.

Thought had gotten the best of me in a game that was supposed to revolve around thoughtfulness and deliberation. I had gone too far in my mind and lost myself in the labyrinth of What Could Be’s and What Could Happen’s. The maze of outcomes that had previously been my joy and solace had betrayed me.

There is a line between thoughtfulness and rationality, and instinct and spontaneity. The missing strategy of chess that I never quite grasped during my competitive days was to plan one’s course of moves, but to also embrace the infinite void as just that. We could all sit there and plan out every outcome and every outcome of that outcome; it’ll make us feel secure in our decision making but it’ll also eat away at time. It’s taken me eleven years, but I finally understand the courage and insanity of that furrow-browed kid’s opening moves. He rejected rational strategy and instead embraced the infinite future that had paralyzed me, trusting instinctual skill over careful deliberation. He stared into the abyss square in the face and laughed as it stared back. 

We can all sit here and deliberate every single move and plan out every outcome, but our clocks are ticking. Some decisions need that extra contemplation and planning out, but sometimes you just have to trust yourself and go headfirst into the darkness.

red dust into sky

Vermillion and crimson emerge around me

With an unceremonious grandeur

Some like daggers, jutting into tumultuous sky

Others stay flat, the tabletop mesas

That had invited thousands of lives before mine.

Those who left behind their homes for me

to contemplate, centuries later.

 

The sun makes her way west,

illuminating the peaks and ridges.

Flares of gold strike through red dust.

A storm lingers on the other side

And I hear thunder and see streaks

of lightning and rain.

Clouds and the sun battle over the canyon bed,

the aftermath of war a spinning array of color.

 

Below me the canyon lays vast and deep

as it has for millions of years before any of us

and as it will when we are gone.

When we are ashes and dust and forgotten

the red will remain and still reach for the sky.

 

The Places I’ve Slept

If there’s one thing to know about what kind of person I am, it’s that I love to sleep. From four-minute power naps to ten hour hibernation periods, I appreciate every moment of shut-eye that I can get. And I’m not really that picky. I could lounge and stretch around on a California king in a beautiful villa on the Tuscan country side, or I could curl up with my sleeping bag in the back of my car, parked in the back of Love’s Travel Stop on the side of I-5.

A little tip I learned early on as a traveler is to travel at night. Especially if you’re going on a long distance trip, those 6-10 hours will be a waste if you decide to travel during daytime. Also, tickets tend to be a little cheaper then. So you’re saving money and also utilizing precious travel time by combining sleep and covering distance!

During my year abroad in Florence, my friends and I often found ourselves at train stations and airports in the very late hours of night that stretched into early morning. The comfortable public place I’ve slept –surprise– was the marble floor of Bolgona Airport, in front of a closed Victoria’s Secret. Just remember to wear a good amount of layers (comfy top, sweater, jacket, poofy scarf) for padding and use your backpack as a pillow. Who needs a Hilton?

Now this is a little different when you’re driving, which I do a lot now that I’m back in the states and have a car. But still, my boyfriend and I definitely still prefer the black coat of PM hours to hit the big miles. Less traffic (a HUGE deal in the Bay Area, home of asshole Priuses) and honestly, it’s a lot more peaceful. That being said, I definitely recommend having a good stock of energy-rich snacks and drinks to fuel you for your big drive. We usually have some low-sugar Rockstars or Monsters and some fruit or chips to munch on while we power through the endless highway. But we are human. And once your human brain decides it needs rest, then it needs rest.

So you’re in some unknown town in the middle of butthole nowhere and the nearest rest stop is 145 miles away? Have no fear! These are some places that I’ve tested out and have worked for me:

  1. 24-Hr Gas Stations, especially those with designated truck stops. These are great because you know there will be a bathroom and maybe some coffee for the morning.
  2. K-Mart. At corporate level, the company allows RV and overnight parking in their lots. They might not be 24 hours so you won’t have a bathroom but it’s a sure place to sleep without being bothered.
  3. 24-Hr grocery stores. Now some of these places have signs up against overnight parking, but that’s usually because they share a lot with other stores and want to reserve the main parking lot for customers. Something you can do is drive around to the back and sides of the parking lot. I’ve seen RVs and 18-wheelers parked in the back of these kinds of lots, and no one has ever been bothered there.
  4. Quiet Neighborhoods. Now these are iffy, and my last resort for overnight parking. Just be smart about where you park, try to be as far away from main driveways as possible and make sure you leave early in the morning.

In addition, here are some things you keep stashed to make car camping easy and comfortable:

  1. A bed! A big reason as to why we chose our Honda Fit was the space; our backseats come all the way down, which makes about the same room as an SUV. We bought a folding twin mattress that fits perfectly and it is perhaps the greatest decision we have ever made in our lives. It’s great for car camping, but it’s also useful for napping between work and school.
  2. A portable fan. Even during the winter, the car tends to get stuffy so we have a small, battery operated fan to keep in the front. Something I’ll probably do in the future when this one has run its course is to invest in a fan with charging batteries.
  3. Sun shade and/or Tinted Windows. We have all of our windows tinted because it helps keep the inside cool and also feels safer when we sleep in public places. This can get pretty expensive, so something we did is buy the tints ourselves and just pay the installation fee at a tinting service. The sunshade is great for the same reasons.

When traveling overnight and car camping, just remember to stay safe and trust your instincts. You don’t have to bust out hella cash on roadside motels but just know your surroundings. We have had trips where we planned on car camping, and ended up booking rooms last minute because I felt weird about the street parking and/or we just wanted a big bed and a shower. Remember this is about saving cash and having fun!

Thanks for reading

Dina Klarisse

Folding mattress:

https://www.amazon.com/Folding-Mattress-Removable-Indoor-Outdoor/dp/B01MDQHQRU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1499912900&sr=8-1&keywords=Lucid%2Bfoldable%2Bmattress&th=1

Portable Fan:

https://www.amazon.com/O2COOL-10-inch-Portable-Fan-Adapter/dp/B00ATSHMIQ/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1499913104&sr=8-6&keywords=portable+fan+battery+operated