Last night my wife and the cool teen from across the street made gingerbread cookies, while I, being accorded the deference of an ill semi-invalid, got to watch television. My aunt and uncle from Tulsa had sent a box of chocolate bark, and I helped out the discussion in significant ways through the power of summary pontification ("Slayer? Not worth the time. Metallica? Pretty good. Nirvana? Pretty good. In every generation there is a Marilyn Manson, but nothing shocking is shocking"). I restrained myself in my pontification. I did not launch into a long lecture on ambient music, or do my customary "deconstruction of the 1960s". I did not pull out the only joke that Roseanne Barr told that I ever thought truly funny, back in her halcyon, pre-TV days: "Want to talk about living on the edge? Try a thirty year mortgage!". Who will Watch the Watchmen? Why, they watch their own ps and qs.
I opened a holiday card from a cool cousin, who thanked us for some English muffins my wife shipped her from the English muffin place Wolferman's. I personally cannot imagine being pleased with receiving a tin of English muffins, as I would much prefer to tin of Danish muffins. But my own tastes in appropriate gifting are much more unimpressive than my wife's, and the thank you cards have read as if they were heartfelt.
Today we head out for some shopping, and then we dine with my brother's family. Christmas Eve dinner is the important meal in my family, as Santa Claus always makes his rounds on 12/24 in my family, just after dinner and after a drive to see the Christmas lights. I grew up believing it was a German tradition that this is true, although on each side of my family, the German strain is only a small part of the picture. When I tried to research the tradition, I was left with the impression that it is a Sudeten Deutsch tradition, but I need to do more reading. My own personal feeling is that it may stem from my Scots Irish heritage, because I find it is the vogue now to blame everything from red states to
NASCAR racing upon the rich Scots Irish background. My actual surname is English, and has to do with the fellow who gardens in the convent fields.
Our family has a lot of oral history and a bit of written history, which is pretty impressive considering they comprise untold generations of very ordinary farmers, telegraph operators and general "jacks of all trades". But they always talk about things like "funny things we heard in the lines during the Civil War" and not "here is how we celebrated Christmas". I'd love to be able to travel in time and see Christmas kept through the generations of the family. I'd love to see my wife's family, in Sweden and Ireland, keeping their Christmasses, too.
Last night I played a lot of blitz chess. When one takes a hiatus from blitz chess of several months' duration, one has the assurance that upon a return, one's opponents will knock one about a bit. Last night I finally began winning against some opponents some good bit of the time, but I am still having very indifferent results against very indifferent competition. My blitz chess rating is always very low, because I must admit that at 45 one's blitz reaction time is slower than at 24. This, of course, is a cause for concern, because I really have never seen any point in worrying about things which are simply physical deterioration, but I do like to imagine my mind is as sharp as ever.
The reality, though, is that as one ages, one becomes a bit smarter overall, but not quicker or cleverer. As I am not a smart person but a clever person, this takes some of my edge off.
I decided that this year I plan to set lots of goals. I'm going to depart from my normal "resolutions are futile" agenda, and instead set actual resolutions and then strive to keep them. One such is my belief that I should play in at least four chess tournaments next year, including one major tournament.
I want to get my chess back in shape. My "real chess", as opposed to my blitz chess, is not that much weaker than when I was 24, as my rating is less than a hundred points from my age 24 rating, and less than a hundred points from my highest rating ever.
I get into a bit of a dilemma on the ratings front, because I am never quite sure if I want to play for pure fun, or if I want to play for improvement. I play a lot of an opening system called the Small Center System, in which one moves one's e pawns and d pawns one step forward, and then spends the rest of the game trying to impose a baroque blockade on the position. It's an old system, originally called the Lengfellner System, after a German fellow who thought it was the ideal way to make sure that one was beaten slowly rather than swifty when one was outclassed. I'm very good in cramped positions, and it transposes a lot into things like the Philidor and the Old Indian that I know really well, but it's not exactly a blistering attack machine. Yet I have much fun playing it.
One odd thing is that when I play it, my results do not differ that much from when I play a good "book" opening. I scored one of my biggest upsets in my chess career with it, years ago, when some 1960 player though that flinging all his pawns at it as if a mating attach would automatically result led him to discover instead my own mating attack when my position proved more solid. But I know, deep down, that if I played a sensible Colle/Caro-Kann/Slav system, as I did when I was really a goodish player, I'd probably be able to work up to 1900, while the e3.d3 or e6.d6 system is more apt to keep me at my present 1700 levels, but in a way that could be more fun.
I still want to write my parody of chess opening books, which I'll call the Small Center System. I love chess books, but so often they're written quickly by lesser players who love to quote their own games and make sweeping generalizations that aren't accurate. Sometimes the more intellectually honest instead set forth all these variations of the chess opening, and then, wonder of wonders, admit on page 73 of the book you've paid 25 dollars for to change your chess life (though the cheap production values suggests it should have cost 7) that "oh, by the way, this whole system doesn't work, and here's how to bust it".
My book would feature tons of my games, as well as the very few grandmaster games in the system, but instead of master commentary, I'd put in silly commentary like "if you squint your eyes, the pieces look like a big reptile on the desert!" and then admit on page 73 that I don't know what I'm talking about.
I'm still a bit under the weather, although I see the end in sight in another couple of days. I am able to function when ill, so I'm hanging in there.
My other goals for 2005 include a visit to the Johnson Space Center near Houston, which I have not seen since I was a boy, to ride a long rail trail somewhere exotic and remote, and to spend three whole hours in the local park on a warm night during a meteor shower.