Rooks all the way down

A tortured and unimaginative title given that I’ve just finished reading Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. I picked it up out of a nostalgia for the feeling of reading Looking for Alaska fourteen years ago and, sure enough, Green plays the heart better than ever. With fourteen years in between, this one feels a lot more young adult than LFA did to ten year old me, but that was bound to be the case. I’ve had to remind myself a few times that that’s okay – that pretending something is any less beautiful in service of so-called maturity is as juvenile as it is tragic. Green is a brilliant writer and the book is sublime.

It started with chess. Not yet two weeks ago I played my very first1 game of chess. Benn from the hostel – who has a tiny little travel chessboard, not more than five inches across – asked me if I played, I said no, he offered to teach me. He showed himself to be a good and patient teacher, careful not to overload me but thorough in his explanations, pointing out my larger follies ahead of time but not being so soft as to let me win. We played several games and I was hooked, not in a my life is chess now! way but more in a chess is in my life now, and it is welcome, way.

The arrival of the Captain M. J. Souza2 down at the wharf put my new pastime on ice for the week – six days of backbreaking toil from before sunup to well after sundown left little time for recreation – but even in the relentless cycle of long shifts, hurried meals, soothing of torn muscles, and never quite enough sleep, I did find the time to think about chess. Down in the belly of the boat I bumped my head against the ceiling of my ignorance about the game, puzzling over my known unknowns, and trying hopelessly to imagine my unknown unknowns. Somewhere in that week I squeezed in a game against Brendan, who proved as methodical in chess as I knew him to be in all other things. Our game lasted an hour and a half, most of it spent watching Brendan scratch his chin and pour over every angle until he was certain he was putting his best rook forward. He was certainly a good player, but his snail-like pace wasn’t half as enjoyable as playing Benn had been, and took a sizeable chunk out of my window for sleep that night.

We finished unloading the Souza on Saturday and I’ve now played half a dozen people here at the hostel. So now I play chess, and in this new hobby I have found relief from the cyclical torment that has been with me since I ended Rose and I’s relationship of three years. I’m not one to shy away from uncomfortable thoughts, but here I think diversion is appropriate. Playing chess has forged new connections, neural and social, I needed both.

  1. I remember playing chess with my grandpa a couple of times but that was probably fifteen years ago now and I didn’t know how to play even then, so I’m calling this my first game of chess as it’s the first time I’ve tried to understand the game.↩︎︎

  2. A fishing vessel carrying 1000 tonnes of wild-caught tuna frozen solid in its holds.↩︎︎