Tina K. Russell

January 28, 2009

Who are you?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 9:55 pm

David Brooks:

What Life Asks of Us – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com
In 2005, Ryne Sandberg was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame. [Political scientist Hugh] Heclo cites his speech as an example of how people talk when they are defined by their devotion to an institution:

“I was in awe every time I walked onto the field. That’s respect. I was taught you never, ever disrespect your opponents or your teammates or your organization or your manager and never, ever your uniform. You make a great play, act like you’ve done it before; get a big hit, look for the third base coach and get ready to run the bases.”

Sandberg motioned to those inducted before him, “These guys sitting up here did not pave the way for the rest of us so that players could swing for the fences every time up and forget how to move a runner over to third. It’s disrespectful to them, to you and to the game of baseball that we all played growing up.

“Respect. A lot of people say this honor validates my career, but I didn’t work hard for validation. I didn’t play the game right because I saw a reward at the end of the tunnel. I played it right because that’s what you’re supposed to do, play it right and with respect … . If this validates anything, it’s that guys who taught me the game … did what they were supposed to do, and I did what I was supposed to do.”

That is really wonderful. It reminds me of the philosophy of ubuntu, that “I am what I am because of what we all are.” If you live only for yourself, you’re just a sack of meat sliding towards death. If you learn to live for yourself and those around you, you can be part of something much more amazing and gratifying.

I don’t think I’m there yet, but I’ll keep you posted.

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This might take you a moment

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:18 pm

A Day of Layoffs, Across Industries and Continents – NYTimes.com
And Texas Instruments said after the market closed on Monday that it would cut 3,400 jobs or 12 percent of its work force through 1,800 layoffs and 1,600 buyouts or retirements.

Surely it should be 58,008 jobs cut, right? After all, to reduce costs, sometimes you need to turn the company upside-down.

January 21, 2009

The Mobile Oval Office

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tina Russell @ 11:06 am

John D. Podesta, co-chairman of the Obama-Biden transition team:

Obama’s link to America: his BlackBerry – Los Angeles Times
‘Let the man have his BlackBerry.”

I said that to a meeting of senior transition staffers in Washington last week. I’ve been working with Barack Obama since before the election, and I know that without his virtual connection to old friends and trusted confidants beyond the bubble that seals off every president from the people who elected him, he’d be like a caged lion padding restlessly around the West Wing, wondering what’s happening on the other side of the iron bars that surround the People’s House.

An off-line Obama isn’t just bad for Barack. It’s bad for all of us.

The president’s ability to reach outside his inner circle gives him access to fresh ideas and constructive critics; it underscores the difference between political “victories” and actual solutions; and it brings the American people into a battle we can only win by working together.

The bad thing about PDAs is that they let people do a million things at once. The good thing about PDAs is that they let people do a million things at once.

The President of the United States _has_ to do a million things at once. Let the man have his BlackBerry! I don’t care if they have to commission a special one for the Presdient. Call it the “BarackBerry.” Just do it!

January 16, 2009

Oppression: Gotta catch ’em all!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 2:23 pm

The Way We Live Now – The Edge of the Mystery – Will Barack Obama’s Aura Fade? – NYTimes.com
Already, in the weeks since the election, Obama has endured the moans of disgruntled constituencies in his own party whose ideal of the outsider is difficult for any breathing politician to fulfill. Progressive activists online and inside the party have complained bitterly about Obama’s turning to so many pragmatic insiders — that is, public servants who ran Washington in the Clinton years — to populate his cabinet, rather than reaching out to more academics or state-level politicians whose political instincts have not yet been corroded by Washington’s penchant for incrementalism. Then, too, have come the inevitable protests from identity-based interest groups: Latinos and African-Americans in Congress who weren’t satisfied with the number of senior appointments, as well as gay activists lamenting the omission of a gay cabinet nominee. That sound you hear is the last wheezing gasp of boomer-age politics, the cataloging of individuals according to their areas of oppression, the endless process of tallying cultural differences rather than aggregating common objectives. It is a political philosophy that probably made sense 30 years ago but that seems sort of baffling at the dawn of the Obama era, when such interest groups are among the most powerful in the Washington establishment — and when the Man himself is black.

At the risk of alienating every single one of my friends, where the hell have you been?! Have you been to a college lately? Sometimes I feel like all I ever hear about are intersecting identities and oppressions and blah, blah, blah. Sometimes I wonder if I’m really a person, or if I’m just a cascade of labels.

I’m a little afraid to talk about this, because I do know oppression exists (I’m not naïve), and I do strongly support affirmative action (as large groups of similar people tend to make bad decisions). Plus, after all, I possess an alienating medical condition (transsexuality) and a learning disability (ADD), and when these are taken into account by those above me I feel marvelous. I’m just a little sick of the culture around me of amassing identity tags like trading cards.

Once, an event at my school was promoted by a Facebook page waxing poetic about the speaker’s “intersecting identities,” and not a word was given to what she actually does (and for all I know, she does it very well). I’ve had dear friends publish articles ending with self-summaries that begin with a list of countercultural credentials (“Jane is a radical, kinky, queerspawn,” etc.) that reduce us to shipping labels. I’ve heard spoken-word performances consisting entirely of espousing irritation at white people for our stupid white mistakes, recorded solely for the benefit of white people to listen to not as entertainment (I do love a good bit of light-hearted debasement), but as an act of righteous self-flagellation.

And, I’m afraid of this because now I’ve just bestowed myself with yet another label that I can use to cry oppression: tokenization, the process of making someone into a novelty barganing chip, or a trophy of liberal achievement. I’m essentially decrying an act of self-obsession, and obsessing over that sounds even worse; it sounds like an easy way to restart the cycle of self-imposed, righteous, perpetual victimhood. We whine and moan about how oppressed we are, or we boast about how radical and different we are, and none of it gets us any closer to what we want. It’s vain, it’s annoying, it’s shallow, and it’s disgusting. I’m proud of being transsexual; I’m proud of being intelligent; I’m proud of being part Norwegian. I can wrap more into myself, though, than any pompous list by using just one label: Tina.

Perhaps I’m grousing because I feel I don’t fit in; I’ve never found a single community that I feel I adhere most closely to, and so to the time of this writing my blog’s header still simply says “Tina K. Russell, writer and artist.” (Edit: whoops, I forgot that my blog’s current theme doesn’t use a subtitle. Never mind…)  There’s a lot more to me than that, but… I don’t believe that because I hang in young liberal circles that I’m somehow “more unique” (not a valid phrase!) than others. We all have our inner beauty and splendor, and more than I want someone I’ve just met to be impressed by a boastful list of Oppression Achievements, I want them to trust me due to my warmth and candor. I don’t want to limit myself to communities where it’s cool to be a victim. I just want to be… me, and I want other people to see me for me.

I once went to a queer-themed summer camp, as a teenager, hoping that this would be my “back to Africa” moment, where maybe I’d feel normal for being surrounded for people like me. Instead, I was the transsexual on display. I even had a camp counselor tell me “I think it’s great what you’re doing!”, referring to my transsexuality and not to any personal achievement. That is the sort of person, the token, that everybody wants to be seen next to but no one wants to get close to. To be a label is to be an unperson, and if my fellow college liberals (I’m one, I should say) think that amassing labels will bring them closer to happiness, they’re in for brutal, crushing disappointment.

January 13, 2009

Moyers on Middle East violence

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 6:57 pm

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Please watch.

Don’t you know that overambition is waaaaaaay uncool?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 11:16 am

Crispy Gamer – Feature: Critic in Exile: Is It OK to Finally Admit That I Didn’t Really Like Fallout 3 All That Much?
I recently threw caution to the wind and whispered my anti-Fallout 3 sentiment to a fellow game journalist who edits a competing Web site. I was worried for a moment that this journalist would report me to the Fallout 3 Crusaders. I saw pitchforks and lit torches in my future. To my surprise, this journalist’s eyes got wide. She whispered, “You too? Man, I can’t play that shit, either; it just depresses me too much.”

That’s how I learned that I wasn’t alone.

I know of a least a half-dozen writers who included Fallout 3 in their top-10 lists who, I know for a fact, didn’t invest more than three or four hours in the game if that, and still felt compelled to vote for Fallout 3 — let’s go ahead and say it — because it felt like the right thing to do. In the end, it seems it’s not a question of how much critics liked or disliked the game, but rather an issue of not being able to argue with 1. the developers Bethesda proved with the Elder Scrolls series that they know what they’re doing, and 2. the game’s pedigree the first two Fallout games are already well-ensconced in the canon.

As someone who hated Shenmue, I feel this man’s pain. Shenmue was so profoundly overambitious, its gameplay ended up consisting mainly of talking to scores of fake people with dry and absurd dialogue. (“Hey, Mister!” and “I’m looking for sailors” are its legacy.) Shenmue was was so thoroughly saturated with hype and pretense at its release that the press honeymoon and fans’ cognitive dissonance formed an impenetrable shield against anyone who would impugn its “quality.” Shenmue’s action scenes, when present, were clunky. The mystery, such as it was, was thin, and the game was essentially a big-budget, next-gen, ultra-realistic episode of Blue’s Clues wrapped in layers of fluff about searching for your father’s killer (which somehow involves walking around the city asking about calligraphers). It was essentially an unprecedentedly realistic simulation of being bored, which is something I can already do for free. (Plus, the graphics are better.) It wasn’t until the series got an Xbox sequel with a wider audience that game publications woke up and started admitting the game was beautiful and empty. (EGM memorably gave Shenmue II the year’s “Shut Up and Hit Somebody” award, which they made up for the occasion.)

You may remember that my opinions about Fable are similar, but I played that game four years after it came out, so instead of going against the crowd by saying it was disappointing I went against the crowd by saying no, it’s not disappointing, it’s just bad. (It really was.)

All the time I see games try to be ambitious, be movies, be visual novels, be worlds, and I wonder when games will ever try to be games. (Jet Grind Radio and Katamari Damacy come to mind for me as games that relish in being games, as well as Crazy Taxi, Advance Wars… okay, all the games I like, basically. I hear Gears of War makes a similar accomplishment in form, by making the fine details as fun as the broad strokes.) When we try to cover up that aspect, the core gameplay of a work, we’re essentially being ashamed of the medium; if we try to “make games art” by making them more like other media, we’re essentially saying (against our intentions!) that games aren’t art. Games have story, games have visuals, games have voice, games have music, that’s all wonderful. Games do have expansive and beautiful worlds, and that shouldn’t change. Games are art, and that raises the standards we should all have for the medium: that the unique quality of gameplay, what only games have, should be used to tie all those disparate parts together into something greater than their sum.

January 8, 2009

A surge for every occasion

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 5:34 pm

U.S. Plans Border ‘Surge’ Against Any Drug Wars – NYTimes.com
The soaring level of violence in Mexico resulting from the drug wars there has led the United States to develop plans for a “surge” of civilian and perhaps even military law enforcement should the bloodshed spread across the border, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Wednesday.

Mr. Chertoff said the criminal activity in Mexico, which has caused more than 5,300 deaths in the last year, had long troubled American authorities. But it reached a point last summer, he said, where he ordered specific plans to confront in this country the kind of shootouts and other mayhem that in Mexico have killed members of warring drug cartels, law enforcement officials and bystanders, often not far from the border.

“We completed a contingency plan for border violence, so if we did get a significant spillover, we have a surge — if I may use that word — capability to bring in not only our own assets but even to work with” the Defense Department, Mr. Chertoff said in a telephone interview.

Welcome to a world where absolutely any problem can be solved with a “surge.”

I’ve got an idea. Why not cut off the cartels’ supply lines? It’s a threat to our security that drug cartels in Mexico have become powerful enough to challenge the police force in all-out war. Why not address the fact that 9 out of 10 of their guns come from the United States, thanks to our insanely liberal gun laws? Why not address that assault rifles are not used for self-defense, are not used for hunting, and are instead used to kill Mexican cops in a destabilizing situation that could spill into the United States?

The Long War of Genaro García Luna – NYTimes.com
[Mexican police chief Genaro] García Luna was in Washington to make the rounds of U.S. government agencies and Congressional offices … García Luna met with government officials and diplomats and gave a stilted power-point presentation to policy experts. He seemed more interested in the photographs he had brought, his way of making a blunt point about a touchy aspect of U.S.-Mexican relations: the vast majority of weapons in the cartel’s arsenals (80 to 90 percent, according to the Mexican government’s figures) are purchased in the United States, often at loosely regulated gun shows, and smuggled into Mexico by the same networks that smuggle drugs the opposite direction. García Luna has a hard time concealing his anger about the fact that U.S. laws make it difficult to do much about this “brutal flow” of firepower. “How is it possible,” he asked me, “that a person is allowed to go buy a hundred cuernos de chivo” — AK-47’s — “for himself?” In the United States, he said, “there was a lot of indifference.”

Why not address that this kind of madness might be why people want to leave Mexico for our border so badly?

January 7, 2009

Remembering EGM

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 3:46 pm

EGM Closed; 1Up Sold | Edge Online
Ziff Davis, a veteran player in games magazine and website publishing, has quit the business, closing long-running consumer mag EGM and selling its games web properties to UGO Entertainment and its parent Hearst.

EGM has been published for 20 years. In the 1990s it increased frequency to twice a month, via EGM2, and has been publishing online sites since the early 1990s. In the last few years, debt-stricken Ziff has closed numerous games pubs including Games for Windows.

This breaks my heart. I knew EGM was in trouble, and that a gaming news outlet that operates but once a month is hardly tenable these days, but… I’ve heard many stories of “I can’t believe this cultural institution I’ve grown up with is gone after 20 good years,” but I never prepared to say goodbye to mine.

I read my first issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly back when I was a little kid. Back then, I only played videogames twice a year; my parents would rent a Genesis and some Sonic games for my birthday, and for my brother’s birthday (which was, fortunately, sufficiently far apart).

You can imagine, of course, that this elevated the Sega Genesis to an almost mythical status for us, a kind of legendary civilization that rises from the water but twice a year. So, if I saw an issue of EGM (especially if it had Sonic on the cover, which was often) on a grocery store shelf, I’d plead with my mom for it. Every once in a while, she’d grant my wish (despite thinking of EGM, with its raunchy game ads and occasional sexy rendered ladies, doubtlessly as part of the American institution of the too-short childhood), and I’d walk home with a cherished knickknack, a kind of souvenir from this legendary civilization.

Actually, first it wasn’t EGM, it was GamePro, and later an issue or two of GameFan. (I still have that issue of GamePro; it was their famous Sonic 2 preview issue, featuring screenshots of several levels that were eventually scrapped. Also, in the pictorials, I wondered who that raccoon next to Sonic was. Even after learning he was a fox, I resolutely refused to believe he had two tails. That’s just silly.) In time, it was all EGM.

EGM had the right balance of snark and professionalism. Unlike other game mags, which featured a colorful cast of fantasy creatures as their supposed editors (GameFan actually did a regular comic feature on the adventures of their intrepid reviewers; barf), EGM used real faces and names… mostly. (When a reader suspected them of being too good-looking, an editor responded, “trust me, if our pictures were fake, we would have found better-looking models.”) They had one exception to keep the fantasy alive: the mysterious, fighting-game-obsessed ninja from parts unknown: Sushi-X.

EGM gave each game four scores instead of one, and you could read what each reviewer thought. The reviewers had their own profiles and short messages in each issue, so you could pick whichever one you felt the most kinship with. EGM ran editorials on the maturing of the games industry, the introduction of violence and sex into the mix, and the undue influence of advertising dollars. (EGM‘s editorials in recent years have been one of the last bastions of defense against the widescale selling-out of the enthusiast press, and its reviews have been refreshingly harsh, refusing to hand out the all-too-common “courtesy sevens” for games that should have tried harder.) You also, as I remember, grew fond of the magazine’s editors, who were all good writers. You felt like you were hanging out at the arcade with them. (In fact, they were the first generation of great game writers, having started at the industry’s outset and laying claim to having played nearly every release “from Pong on.”) I was suddenly interested in playing the incomprehensibly named Super Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyperfighting, despite not having heard of it before. (I did play it eventually, and I just didn’t get it; those who did can now enjoy the acclaimed remake, lovingly monikered with the equally, endearingly absurd name of Super Street Fighter II Turbo: HD Remix.) I wanted to discuss with them why I thought the hero I grew up with (Sonic) was better than the hero they grew up with (some plumber who stomps on turtles). I wanted to sit around with them with pizza, Cherry Coke, and a few rounds of Saturn Bomberman. I was unsurprised when they reported that a sick child, through the Make-a-Wish foundation, chose to spend a day hanging out with the EGM crew. It was a sound choice.

They were heroes to me, breaking through the pomp of day-to-day videogame blather to reveal the creamy insides of compelling gameplay and fascinating, real-time stories. In issue #100, which I think was 1996, they presented a “top 100 games of all time” list, giving recognition to a wide array of games in many genres, all ranked with the rule that no points are awarded for fondness or historical importance; these are the game’s we’d take with us “if we were abducted by aliens.” This was the master list of pure fun, and at the top sat none other than Alexei Pajitnov’s Tetris. (Modern top-100 lists tend to guage subjectively, based on when the games came out; this inevitably results in a useless list topped every time by Super Mario Bros., for its yet-unmatched leap into the future of gaming. Still, Super Mario Bros. came out when the game market had crashed after being flooded by terrible Atari knock-off cartridges from companies desperate to cash in on what they saw as a fad; it’s hard to compete with Super Mario Bros. when it’s being contrasted with the crap that immediately preceeded it.)

The top 100 list gave slots to Sonic 2 and Sonic CD, to my pleasure, and also gave a joint entry to Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine and Kirby’s Avalanche. It noted that both these titles were localizations of the popular Japanese puzzle game Puyo Puyo, beginning my childhood fascination with the series that would surprise and confuse my schoolmates. The list, to my dismay, included Blast Corps, a game that my brother liked but I did not; he relished the challenge, while I felt it was simply issuing you nearly impossible and uniformly boring challenges, and then rewarding you with even more difficult and boring challenges. (Little did I know that developer Rare’s games would only become even more so over time.) I could win the argument, though: the list also included Ms. Pac-Man, a a pizza-parlor favorite of me and kids everywhere, giving it a better spot.

Issue #102, which I recieved that Christmas in my stocking, introduced me to the world of videogame history; despite some inaccuracy, it was a fascinating look into the formative story of our industry, and it began my interest in the topic. Another issue had the Sonic Adventure cover story, which I pleaded with my mom for, and I then brought it to summer camp to flip through occasionally to comfort myself as well as to use it to inform my fellow campers how awesome the next year would be for Sega, defending the corporate giant from those who thought its hardware days were over following the Saturn’s woes. The story had many odd mistakes, such as saying that the game take place “on Earth, not Sonic’s homeworld of Mobius” (this sort of thing stokes an enormous fan debate, but the long and short of it is that Sonic and friends live on Earth, and it’s called “Earth,” but it’s different from our Earth), and that it took place in South America (really, it contained “the Mystic Ruins,” inspired by a trip to Aztec, Maya, and Inca ruins that the developers took before ever revealing the project). But, I forgave the mistakes, on account of the awesome visual spreads and the fact that I now had something to put under my pillow as I slept, something to remind me of my fandom back home.

Eventually, EGM‘s intrepid marketers selected me to recieve a free subscription (I don’t know what I did!), and so I have many issues saved up from the late 90s and early 2000s, for about two years or so. I fell in love with the “Hsu and Chan” comics that poked fun at the industry’s odd habits and shortcomings. (In one, our heroes, small-time game developers, try to upstage Gran Turismo 2 with an “ultra-realistic driving game” of their own: it includes such realistic touches as the “pounding on the hood and swearing” mini-game and the “try to get one last ride to Vegas outta this jalopy” challenge.) I cherished looks at games like Jet Grind Radio and Skies of Arcadia that would live on to be under-appreciated classics.

I’m sure if I went back and looked at my old issues of EGM, today, my fawning wouldn’t gush quite so freely. The rose-tinted specs would be off, and I’d see the relentless assault of immature ads, the even flow of courtesy sevens, and the excessive lightness of their approach to a serious (and seriously entertaining) medium. In retrospect, and I’ve known this for only a few years now, the real gift that EGM passed onto me was its gift of words.

EGM taught me to talk. It tought me to be snarky. It taught me to be unrelenting in my criticism but forgiving in my outlook. It taught me to laugh at the bad and see through to the good. It taught me to use big words in elegant ways that imply what they mean. It taught me the most important lesson of all: never forget, even and especially when your health is running low, your last save point was an hour back, and you’re about to fight the toughest end boss so far, that it’s all just a game.

Thanks, EGM. In my book, you’ve earned a perfect 10.

January 3, 2009

What inclusion really means

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 10:01 pm

Aleisha Cuff of Vancouver, BC:

A transsexual woman’s perspective
As a transsexual woman myself, especially one who considers herself a feminist, I often feel scrutinized by cisgendered feminists in ways that other women are not.

Trans women are in a tremendously difficult position: if we’re too feminine we’re acting as sexist caricatures, whereas if we’re too masculine that just proves we’re not women in the first place. If we speak up, we’re aggressively grabbing the microphone, and if we don’t we’re supporting the premise that women are meek and submissive.

The most troubling part, though, is that often in the middle of a screed against trans women the ‘trans’ part begins to feel secondary, and the focus of the anger becomes femaleness or femininity itself.

It is of great concern to me, then, and should be of concern to all women that the community in which I have experienced the most anger and bigotry for being a transsexual woman has been the community of cisgendered queer women.

Eventually I found a community of my own, although it was largely made up of people far from Vancouver.

In blogs and on message boards I began to find other trans women who felt like I did, frustrated with being excluded from the community of queer women. It was a place in which I could discover myself and begin to tell my story in ways I could feel proud of, the place I had hoped the LGBT community would be.

I didn’t just find other trans women, I found a host of queers who had become disaffected in one way or another with LGBT.

Most importantly, I found a place where I could meet women and it didn’t matter if I was trans or not, or if they were trans or not, we just got up to what queer women will get up to.

How often we’re seen as desirable is a fairly accurate measure of a community’s relationship with trans people. Inclusion isn’t inclusion if it stops at the bedroom door.

This brings me close to tears. It’s brilliant. I have nothing to add, other than that I’ve lived—and felt—every word.

January 2, 2009

Serving your sentence

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tina Russell @ 1:46 pm

You may have noticed that I’m something of a grammar nut. It’s true; if you’re going to break a rule, have a reason, and it’d better be good. Here’s a good example of how to break a rule:

Bobby Fischer – b. 1943 – The Wonder Match – Chess – The Lives They Lived – Obituaries – NYTimes.com
Before he was secretly buried on a dark winter morning in a lonely Icelandic churchyard at the age of 64 (there were only four people in attendance at the hastily arranged funeral) . . . before his last ailing days of bad kidneys and rotting teeth (he had all of his fillings removed, convinced that U.S. and Russian agents would otherwise send radio signals to his brain) . . . before the long hours whiled away at a Reykjavik bookstore, a place that vaguely reminded him of one from his Brooklyn youth (in both, he read comic books and studied chess) . . . and before his decades of ghostly peregrinations through the world, like a profane monk or an idiot savant searching for perfect exile (from Pasadena to Hungary to the Philippines, where he supposedly had a child, and on to Japan, where he supposedly married and was arrested and imprisoned for a passport violation) . . . before his bizarre eruptions (he applauded the events of 9/11 as “wonderful news” and believed, among other defamations, that the Jews wanted to eradicate the African elephant because its trunk was a reminder of an uncircumcised penis) . . . and before the spectacle of meeting his one-time nemesis, the former world-champion chess player Boris Spassky, for an anticlimactic 1992 rematch in war-torn Yugoslavia despite U.N. sanctions against it (in front of whirring cameras, he spat on the U.S. order forbidding him to play) . . . even way back before their original 1972 meeting, called the Match of the Century, when the eyes of the world were riveted on him as a shining emblem of American will, innovation and brilliance (the match in which he took on the Soviet chess machine and single-handedly crushed it, but not before the fabled call from Henry Kissinger, urging him to put aside his jumbled demands and just play) . . . even before his brazen, almost obnoxious deconstruction of a cavalcade of grandmasters who stood in his path to Spassky (he won 20 games in a row, the longest winning streak in modern chess) . . . before he traded the rags of his youth for his new wardrobe of expensive suits . . . before his mind slowly unhinged and he became a walking paradox (the anti-Semitic Jew; the anti-American national hero, the wastrel-wizard of his craft) . . . yes, before the whole circus of his life unfolded, he was a 13-year-old kid in the first flush of the thing he most loved in the world: chess.

Usually, I cut off a sentence after it has included maybe two or three big concepts (rather, I’ll rewrite the sentence as two or more sentences). Run-on sentences are a pain, because they take a while to read and confuse you with several nesting levels of subject matter. (They also break the natural flow of a paragraph.) In time, I’ve tamed my run-on sentences, the void filled by my other bad habits (for instance, my overuse of segues and parentheses). (I think those are my worst habits. Opinions?)

Here, however, is an example of a sentence that fills a whole paragraph, contains hundreds of words, summarizes an entire life story, jumps from place to place throughout, and uses so many ellipses you’d think the writer were jockeying to write the next Star Wars opening crawl. It’s not a run-on sentence, it’s a marathon sentence. Yet, the writer justifies it—as I always heard in my (good) writing classes, “it works”—because the structure is sensible and consistent, the language easy to follow, and the punctuation is used to set you up for something weird and different. New concepts are traded for old, ensuring that you won’t have to hold a million different ideas in your head before the sentence’s end. Ellipses, rather than commas or semicolons, clue you in that this is a different kind of sentence containing a world of its own little stories, while parentheses are used for routine and expected elaboration. And, the structure is consistent, ensuring that you never forget that what you’re reading is essentially a human life presented as a parenthetical phrase.

Remember the old saw: to break the rules successfully, you need to have learned them perfectly. Also, your natural tendency as a human being is to be a daredevil with your words, so rein yourself in as much as you can so that your words don’t distract from your content. This person seems to have learned how to do it, though; if you’re going to use any tricks (and first, consider: don’t), make sure they embellish your content, not take away from it.

You get a gold star!

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