I was rummaging through old files on my computer and came across my primary college application essay, “Play like Picasso.” I remember staying up late one night in what must have been November 2010 and writing it in about an hour. Surprisingly, almost nothing was changed in the editing process.
Play like Picasso
I can’t draw. I really can’t draw. My drawing abilities haven’t changed since I was five years old; they consist of crudely constructed androgynous stick figures with smiling or frowning faces. My painting and sculpting abilities are equally uninspiring, and early childhood summers spent in weeklong art camps failed to improve my aptitude. Perhaps this early realization of my lack of artistic talent directed me to nontraditional avenues of creative expression, and it just so happened that one of these avenues was chess. I immediately took to the game, playing almost daily with my father when I was five years old, losing every time but entranced with its possibilities. I became more and more involved, joining my school chess club, playing on the internet and in tournaments, and excitedly bringing my chess set to sleepovers at my neighbor’s house. What was it about pushing those pieces of plastic that excited me so much? Maybe it was the feeling that every game I played was unique, the knowledge that every game I play has never been played before and will never be played again. Maybe it was going to a chess tournament and being able to see both a homeless man intently analyzing the chess board, unrestricted by the limitations life had placed on him, and a Mercedes-driving Cuban doctor wrestle with the fact that the very hands and mind that had saved hundreds of lives in decades past could not prevent an imminent defeat by his nine-year-old opponent.
Perhaps it was because, like an author with his characters or an artist with his subjects, I could empathize with my pieces. Maybe I was that lone piece, bravely yet recklessly straying into enemy territory on an all-or-nothing gamble to prove what I’m capable of to my opponent and to myself. Maybe I was one of the two Bishops working side-by-side, perfectly complementing my counterpart on the other color complex, realizing that in our differences lay our strength. Maybe I was a Knight, indecisive, hopping between dark and light squares and awkward in my irregular and idiosyncratic movements, yet capable of great beauty if given an opportunity to flourish. Maybe I was a lowly Pawn, jeered at by the other pieces for my limited powers yet containing the hidden potential to transform into a Queen, the most powerful and majestic piece on the board, and prove my worth. Maybe it was because I knew what it was like to be in zugzwang, a chess term that describes a situation where a player wishes he could freeze time, since every move he makes worsens his position. Maybe I wished life were like chess, because even though it would still be confusing, I could find beauty in every move. Maybe it was all of these things.
I see a chess position the way I see myself: an imperfect work of art, full of flaws and failures but also of hope and potential, viewed differently by each and every person yet unambiguous in its defining characteristics. It, like me, is a peculiar work of art I will never fully understand but will always strive to improve. Every time I sit down at the chess board, I’m creating art. And one day, maybe not too long from now, I will play like Picasso.