I’m obsessed with chess. No other way to put it. My youngest son taught me to play about ten years ago. Beat him once. A fluke. Our daily competitions were fun, but I never imagined mastering the game was doable for me. When he moved to Asia my interest went with him. But over the last year my need for, what Nora Ephron called “the Google moment,” escalated, and my panic along with it. Something needed to be done.
Hello Chess— Hand on the bible, my mind immediately danced a jig and let go of the fear of contracting Alzheimer’s. Victory. But now I’m obsessed. Particularly addicted to the puzzles on lichess.org. Just typing the website made me click over and shuffle a few end-game pieces around the board. Super distracting, but oh, so necessary if you want to play well. The best move only arrives after careful deliberation over how your opponent might counter. Sacrificing pieces is often needed to get the advantage, but again, each sacrifice needs to be thought through to determine if it’s worth the immediate loss. It’s all about calculating and recalculating.
I could chastise myself for sacrificing potential progress on the page for the thrill of a win on the chess board. My obsession could also be categorized as Resistance blocking me from the next phase of my writing journey. But that’s not what’s going on between me and chess. My understanding of the situation percolated while rereading, via audiobook, The Art of Learning: an inner journey to optimal performance by Josh Waitzkin.
As I tried to play in the style that pleased my coach, chess began to feel alien. At times I felt as though my head was in a thick cloud and I couldn’t see the variations. My strengths as a young champion— consistency, competitive presence, focus drive, passion, creativity— were elusive and moving out of reach. I still loved chess, but it no longer felt like an extension of my being.
Okay, I’ve never been a champion writer, and I’ve only recently contemplated that I might have strengths in storytelling. But the thickheaded cloud Josh talks about is exactly how I’ve felt over the last few weeks wrangling with the query and synopsis. The more I dove into the industry’s standards about how to write each document, the less connected I felt to the heart of the story. But I had a deadline. I promised Lisa— my accountability partner— that a working draft of the query and synopsis would be finished by June 11th. No, she won’t flog me for not completing my self-imposed deadline. But what’s the point of having an accountability partner if you’re not going to rise to the challenge. And so, I wrote and rewrote bad imitations of pitches based on trailers for movies and back cover copy for books, which could work as comps for Kaitlyn’s story. Hating each moment of the process and hopping over to lichess.org whenever I got stuck because I needed to feel good about something.
One of the most critical factors in the transition to becoming a conscious high performer is the degree to which your relationship to your pursuit stays in harmony with your unique disposition. There will inevitably be times when we need to try new ideas, release our current knowledge to take in new information— but it is critical to integrate this new information in a manner that does not violate who we are.
Jump Back— to my desire to figure out how to love myself unconditionally. Following my lightbulb therapy session, I thought about ways to nurture myself and dancing popped up. Dancing was always a part of my life until an exercise injury left me in constant pain. I spent a year seeing specialists. No one was able to help. Then I found Kundalini yoga and within one week, my body began to heal. I never intended to stop dancing, it just happened because of the injury and my joy of practicing kundalini kriyas. But as soon as dancing popped into my head, I realized ever since my injury a part of me has been dormant. And so, I’ve integrated dance aerobics into my morning Sadhana. The way the endgame chess puzzles invigorate my mind, dancing energizes my body.
Tap dance into my writing life. Starting over the past weekend, I devoted all my writing time— more or less— to the query and synopsis. My writing sessions flowed like this. Query time, obstacle, synopsis, obstacle, endgame chess, synopsis, chess, query, chess, synopsis, query, synopsis, chess etc. Crazy, right? I’ve never worked in such an unfocused way. But it really wasn’t. Once I fell into the rhythm, the fun I was having on the chessboard started to spill over onto the page. Sentences bounced back to me with clarity and led me to rewrite them with a tighter focus and more urgency. And by the time each rough draft was finished, I saw, or rather, I actually felt how moving the pieces on the chessboard was a kind of choreography.
One of the most critical factors in the transition to becoming a conscious high performer is the degree to which your relationship to your pursuit stays in harmony with your unique disposition.
When I reviewed the sequence I used during the three rounds of revision— Yowza— it was exactly like a dance class. A slow and deliberate dabbling with the parts to construct a cohesive whole. The warm up— the analysis of what is and isn’t working, the deleting of darlings and the brainstorming for solutions; the floor or barre work— where the easy fix sections of the story are addressed and prompt additional options for the bigger problem areas; combinations— the overhaul of all chapters in need to deepen their relevance: and the dance— a finetuning of the story in sequence to build the proper momentum and escalation of the emotional journey.
Jump back— to my theatre days when a director said, “You’re a dancer. Turn the monologue into a dance. Get it into your body then add the words.” His advice was a turning point for me as an actress.
Isn’t it delicious how the answers to all our problems lie within us. Victory!