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What Eggers and Obama Have in Common April 30, 2008

Posted by Jennifer in : books,politics , add a comment

I went to preschool at Trinity Church, the same place in which I voted for Hillary Clinton last week. Memories of forced naps and bananas swirled as I realized that I was still torn. My final choice was not only based on colorful blazers and gender; more importantly, I like Hillary’s chances against the vicious attacks that the Republicans will unleash against either candidate. I love Obama’s writing style and his ability to inspire and shake out apathy— I even have some regrets about casting my ballot for H.C. I still believe in my logic, but I worry that I’ve become part of the problem, the divisiveness that is dragging this race out, and will make it harder for either candidate to win against McCain.

To console myself, I thought about the positive side of the long drag. Perhaps the proximity of the result to the actual ballot-casting will allow the interest in the race to peak in the summer, and simmer until election day in November.

So, what do Barack Obama and Dave Eggers have in common? They both have terrible book titles. I know this is an easy criticism to mock, since both have written big bestsellers, but seriously, Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope? In a title-only book contest, those would be low on my list. I love Obama’s writing, but I hope he consults me on title #3.

 I resisted reading Eggers for years because of the annoying title, Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius and then also rejected What is the What? which sounds like a book that you can only read if you’re really smart. To me, that’s pretentious titling and also absurd, since the book is an accessible and soul-searing memoir of a boy’s walk through war-torn Sudan, and his eventual immigration to America.

I gave into What is the What?, because it was selected as the "One Book, One Philadelphia." I enjoyed it more than any book I’ve read this year. It’s beautifully written, brilliantly structured and the ending is sublime. The next book I read was of course, Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius, which was also great for the first 100-150 pages, but then became virtually unreadable in its self-obsessiveness. In his debut, Eggers failed to solve the problem of keeping first person narration interesting for 400+ pages, but in What is the What, he solved it in a brilliant way: although the narrative voice is always Valentino Achak Deng’s, the audience shifts. In one chapter, Deng directs his writing to his pious upstairs neighbors, and in the next, it’s a jogger that he checks in at the gym he works at.
After voting, I ate a Calamari Caesar salad (as good as it sounds) and gave up on Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius. On my way home, I ran into a black man, who was pushing a cart with a limp. He may have been homeless. He asked me "What is that, auburn hair?" I told him I’d call it red, and we both agreed that regardless of nomenclature, it was a great color. This type of exchange has become typical for me in the past few weeks: the number of black men who have hit on me since going redhead has gone through the roof, while white men flirt with me the same amount, maybe even less. For instance, today at the 7-11 I got: "I want to have a redheaded baby."


I asked the man on the street if he had voted yet, and he told me not yet, but that he was on his way to the polls. He looked at me, and said, "you’re voting for Hillary right?",  an annoying question because he was right but how did he know?  I avoided the question, and asked who he voted for. He said "Obama" and I said, "yeah, he’s great, good choice." So I wished him well and walked off but he asked louder, "So who did you vote for?" I waffled again and said, "Both good choices." When I was already on the other side of the street he shouted the question one more time. I didn’t want to admit to a probably homeless and definitely poor black man that I voted for H.C. But I couldn’t lie and could no longer escape his inquiry. I was already across the street when I finally yelled: "Hillary." Before walking away, he told me: "Good choice too."

Fires in Paradise April 11, 2008

Posted by Jennifer in : books,chess , 3 comments

Last weekend, I traveled to San Diego for "Disorderly Conduct", a program of video arts, conversations and installations at collector Eloisa Haudenschild’s 20-car garage, which she converted into a gallery and performance space. I had some insights and weird experiences that I’d like to share.

1. San Diego is stunning from every vista, almost too good to be true, so I asked around for ugly San Diego tours. The hotel’s shuttle bus drvier Freddy clued me into a  hidden dwarf city, but my answer came at a brunch that was part of the weekend’s decadent schedule of events. I met 15-time author Mike Davis, who co-wrote a book on precisely the topic of my curioisity, "Under the Perfect Sun: The San Diego Tourists Never See. " I’ll get back to you on the book, but here are some photos of beautiful San Diego and one that reminded me that there’s always an ugly side.

2.  The weekend’s headline event was a chess tournament with candles as pieces, Burning Boards by Glenn Kaino. The candles descended in height from king to pawn except the rooks, which despite being the second most powerful chess piece, were actually shorter than the bishops and knights. This,  together with the decision to not do anything about the fact that the black candles burned faster than the white demonstrated that aesthetics, not chess accuracy, was Glenn’s top priority. And he was successful; Burning Boards debuted last year at the Whitney Museum, but even that event couldn’t hold a candle to last weekend’s dramatic, stark installation. Thirty chessplayers and artists lit their pieces on fire and then the diaphanous curtain was drawn, revealing the action to dozens of spectators.

Can you recognize this position?

  I wrote about the chess in a uschess.org article, where you can play through my game with Liu.

I felt lucky to be in a home created out of passion for art. Books were stacked on tables because wall space was reserved for photographs and paintings. The house was so impressive that one probable millionaire from the area looked around and asked  me, "Is this how the other half lives?" but then soon admited that he really meant, "is this how the other .006% lives?"

3. In San Diego, I met my 9queens partner Jean Hoffman, who I email several times a day but haven’t seen since October. Jean has been amazing at promoting 9queens and getting it off the ground.

Jean Hoffman, my 9queens partner

Check out this article in a Tuscon paper, which both describes the organization and promotes the ChessFest benefit that I’ll be attending next month. If you happen to be in the vicinity of Tuscon in May 10, definitely register or come and say hi.

4. The Disorderly Conduct program included a lecture on the Aesthetics of Murder led by artist Daniel Martinez (pictured below playing against Glenn Kaino in Burning Boards) and writer Mike Davis.

The discussion explored whether the repetitive watching of the most disastrous events in our times makes audiences and the media complicit in creating heroes, even artists, out of villains. Another implied idea of the conversation was that you can understand evil better if you momentarily remove morality from consideration. The topic idea came from the 19th century British author Thomas De Quincey’s essay, "On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts." Honestly, I was not able to focus my ears, because images of Columbine, Abu Ghraib and 9/11 were projected and running on youtube loop. I purposely avoid those sorts of images as I think they are totally pointless unless educational or edifying. Why do I ever have to see Columbine? I feel that my life and the life of the victims would be ever so slightly better if I NEVER saw it. I felt attacked, which I suspect was part of the point . 

5. Since I was in California, I read the L.A. Times for a change. Of course the L.A. Times is a great paper, but I had to laugh at the front-page story, "Cosmetic Surgery Business Sags as Purse Strings Tighten"  I came up with even better headlines: "Plastic Surgery thins as recession pumps itself with collagen implants" or "Plastic Surgery wrinkles as Recession schedules yet another face-lift." In all seriousness, I found the article surprising; I’d think it would be even more important to look beautiful during a recession.

Burning Boards in San Diego April 4, 2008

Posted by Jennifer in : chess , add a comment

This weekend, I’m off to San Diego to participate in the West Coast edition of "Burning Boards." Artist and chessmasters will compete using candle pieces, forcing the chessplayers among us forgo deep analysis for exit strategy in case of fire. I’ll also meet my 9queens partner Jean Hoffman and my Chess Bitch publishers. Should be really fun so long as my unruly hair doesn’t go on fire.  I probably should have nixed my nail polish due to its flammability, but I couldn’t resist.