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Grad School Fantasies December 12, 2008

Posted by Jennifer in : books , 7 comments

On Chess Life Online, I just posted an essay on Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success I finally got a chance to voice my dissatisfaction with my birthday, December 31. As I elaborate on in the article, it prevented me from playing an extra year in World Youth Chess competitions. Now that I’m long ineligible for such events, I’m still annoyed by the birthday. I prefer partying on December 30 or January 1 to December 31. Too many crazy drunks on NYE and the prices for dinner, drinks, entry fees are inflated. This year, I’m going to dance my ass off at the Gogol Bordello and West Philadelphia Orchestra show, so I’m leaving my mind open: Maybe 2008 will be the year that everything changes and I learn to love the countdown.

Writing this review also reminded me how I miss the process of writing longer pieces, like Chess Bitch, or even college term-papers. One particularly memorable research experience was three years ago in the dead of winter when I visited the Cleveland Library, which has the largest chess book collection in the world. There I discovered a book by Sonja Graf, a woman’s chess professional and  rival of 7-time Women’s World Champion Vera Menchik. Sonja had a whirlwind of a life, residing in three different continents and pursuing love affairs with both genders. She also denounced the Nazis, and was lucky enough to find herself in Buenos Aires in the fall of 1939. Luckily, I studied Latin American literature in college so I was able to read Graf’s books, which were written in Spanish. I dived into the mostly forgotten books, written in a wild, passionate style, and I was so thrilled to uncover them that I felt as though I’d discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls! Later Sonja Graf co-starred in the second chapter of Chess Bitch, "War-Torn Pioneers." 

In the case of my Outliers Review, I acquired data on champion youth player birthdays, which are not available to the public anymore because of tightened anti-predatory laws. I wanted the birthdays to test whether a theory espoused in Gladwell’s book, the "Matthew Effect" would also hold true in chess. The Matthew Effect asserts that an age cut-off in sports will create a glut of athletes born just after the cut-off. I was really surprised to see that in a modest sample of 715 birthdays, the data was also tapered, with January being the most frequent month and December the least.

Finding and analyzing new sources makes me fantasize about going back to school, but I’m not even sure what for: Economics, Literature, Media Studies, Gender Studies, Art? My lack of focus is not the only reason I resist grad school- I’ve come to value public opinion. The writing I learned at NYU was based more on how to appeal to a professor rather than a typical reader. College was enormously helpful for my writing and thinking, but I have mixed feelings about ever returning.