Thursday, November 30, 2017

What is Isaacson's Leonardo da Vinci About?

1 f
Ann wrote it, bird by bird,
Akram read it, word by word 
And here I share, county by county
All that I discovered, bounty by bounty
 
Come, follow me, tweet by tweet,
Wonders await you, retreat by retreat
 
Let's rejoice in our friendship, song by song
Let's gather in our unity, throng by throng
 
Don’t fear as we take it on, nerve by nerve
We'll take the world on together, verve by verve
 
Working with passion, line-of-code by line-of-code
Our software will power the world, road by road
 
As chariots hug the road, curve by curve
I'll be there for you, helping, serve by serve
 
Mark what I say, word for word
We are in this together, herd by herd
 
~ Akram Ahmad (* "United We Rejoice", yet another random poem by a writer, blogger, software craftsman, son, husband, father, brother, and friend)
* The title of this poem—with its undertones suggesting that "together we stand, divided we fall"—is inspired by the Pink Floyd song "Hey You"

The Quotes ๐Ÿ“ฌ

I'm not your lover
I'm not your friend
I am something that you'll never comprehend
No need 2 worry
No need 2 cry
I'm your messiah and you're the reason why
'Cuz U - I would die 4 u, yeah
Darling if u want me 2
U - I would die 4 u
~ Prince And The Revolution (Lyrics from I Would Die 4 U
What is art? Nature concentrated.
~ Honorรฉ de Balzac (French novelist and playwright) 
As he aged, he pursued his scientific inquiries not just to serve his art but out of a joyful instinct to fathom the profound beauties of creation. When he groped for a theory of why the sky appears blue, it was not simply to inform his paintings. His curiosity was pure, personal, and delightfully obsessive.
~ Walter Isaacson (Leonardo da Vinci — Simon & Schuster) 
Aasha key choatee si nuyya
(It’s but a small boat of hope)
Laykay chulli purawuyya
(Drifting about in the Eastern wind)
Dolay dolay, jhumakaa bolay
(Swaying about, my earring speaks to me)
Chupakay say ye bhaid kholay
(Revealing a secret, ever so slowly...)
Aajaegaa Aajaegaa, pyaar say tum bula’ana!
(Your beloved will return if only you call to him... Lovingly!)
~ Lata Mangeshkar (Lyrics in Hindi / Urdu—along with my ad hoc translation in parentheses—from the extraordinary 1977 Indian movie Swami, starring Shabana Azmi)

 

Preamble ๐ŸŽˆ

O young artist, you search for a subject—everything is a subject. Your subject is yourself, your impressions, your emotions in the presence of nature
~ Eugรจne Delacroix 1798–1863 ("On Painting", from Oeuvres Littรฉraires [1829–1863], pt. II, ch. 2)

The Short Answer

The short answer to the question, What is Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci About?—which also happens to be the title of this essay—is simply this: something really important.

The Longer Answer

The longer answer requires some explanation; that’s what the rest of this essay is all about. As they say, there is no royal road to geometry. This book by Walter Isaacson is a work of art and we will gradually peel away the layers of artistry, one layer of pastel at a time. 

Of Artists and Patrons

But I would be remiss in my duty as a writer if I didn’t share how I came to find out about this book in the first place: the honor goes to an esteemed friend who is not only a brilliant thinker but also a world-class man of action. Even more significantly, in my mind anyway, is the fact that he is one of the most gracious individuals you will ever know.  This is all the more meaningful because—when viewed through the lens of context and juxtaposition—you don’t go any higher in an organization than he has. Enough said.

Craftsmanship

Look, I am merely a craftsman and an artist who just happens to paint with prose. Okay, okay, I 'fess up: I’m really a software craftsman who loves what he does for a living, "painting" his designs (on the canvas of the compiler), one line of code at a time ๐Ÿ‘•

Frankly, though, I can make a strong case—and demonstrate it while I'm at it—that software craftsmanship is truly an art unto itself. But that would take us far afield. I do wish to add, though, that I remain mindful of how artists like me—I think of writers as artists—and also painters, sculptors, musicians (you name it), would not be around were it not for gracious and discerning patrons…

I’m immensely grateful for that.

So it is only fitting—remember how we all recently celebrated Thanksgiving?—that I give thanks for this work of art (which Isaacson’s new book Leonardo daVinci really is) and with which my friend has put me in touch!

A Guide To The Fun Which Lies Ahead ๐Ÿ 

I'm afraid of losing my obscurity. Genuineness only thrives in the dark. Like celery ๐ŸŒพ
~ Aldous Huxley (1894 - 1963)

Pit Stops (aka Sojourns) On Our Journey 

We have some ground to cover in this essay since we will be looking at a multi-layered individual—an incredible polymath if ever there was one—because the life of Leonardo da Vinci is itself a work of art ๐ŸŒน

So let's get started with a bird's eye view of the sojourns we'll hit during the upcoming excursion ⛷
  1. Learn How to Defy Expectations ๐ŸŽช
  2. Allow Your Inner Genius to Inspire You (and then, Others) ๐ŸŽˆ
  3. Seek Your Creative Partnership with Technology ๐Ÿ’‘
  4. Combine Theory, Experiment, and Knowledge ♨
  5. Find the Poetry in Design ๐Ÿš‚
  6. Find the Design in Poetry ๐Ÿš€
  7. Probe the Infinite Works of Nature ๐ŸŒณ
  8. Simplify Your Design ๐Ÿ 
  9. Make Each (Algorithmic) Step of The Journey Matter ๐Ÿšถ
  10. Find Unity in Marvelous Patterns ๐Ÿฐ

 

Receding Like The Distant Ship Smoke On The Horizon

Okay, so what you see above is the itinerary for the sojourns receding from us—excuse me there, I had meant to say—coming our way: So I wasn't joking when I noted above that we have some ground to cover; not anywhere near what we had in the past couple of essays, but substantial enough, nonetheless, to warrant your packing at least some gear for the journey that lies ahead ⛰

Ready? Got that trusty rucksack slung across your shoulder? ๐ŸŽ’

Great, let's start our journey with that crucial first step๐Ÿšถ

 

A Pattern Language ๐ŸŽฒ


Brief Background

Much as I had said in the last essay, having enjoyed working in the trenches of software design and development for over two decades now—and getting a kick out of it every single day still when I wake up and launch into my work—I dream in software design patterns even when I'm awake. Is that paradoxical or what? You go figure that one out; I've already got a boatload of metaphysics on my hands ๐Ÿ˜ด

No doubt about it: the genesis of the notion of a pattern language, inasmuch as it applies to software design—rest assured that I'll be introducing it shortly—can be traced back to the seminal book that rocked our industry a bit over two decades ago:
Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software
 (Addison Wesley) by Gamma, E., R. Helm, R. Johnson, and J. Vlissides
And the way it rocked our software industry was right up there with a tsunami, albeit a benign one; a tsunami that nourished rather than demolished on whichever shores its waves crashed. In other words, it was a rising tide—albeit a massive one—that had lifted all boats unlike any other that our industry had seen before ๐ŸŒŠ

The Pattern Language: Annotated

Here, then, is the pattern language—note the color-coding below, starting with blackpurpleblue, and even some green making an appearance—in which I've cast each of the 10 pieces that make up the bulk of this essay:
  • Heading: A short description of what a given piece is about (Precisely so, yay!) ๐ŸŽฏ
  • An Aspect of Leonardo da Vinci: My editorial "wisdom" (You back there, stop snickering. Now!๐Ÿ’Ž
  • Related Book: Something to lend texture to the discussion (We play with word-painting) ๐ŸŽจ
  • Picture: A picture with which to ground the narrative in a corporeal way (This will be your ticket to the piece) ๐ŸŽซ 
  • Quotation: A quote selected to wrap it all up into a unified whole (Big gifts often come in small packages) ๐ŸŽ
In the end, I hope you will agree that there is a method to this madness… With that, let’s embark on our journey!

The Picture: Annotated

I owe you an annotated version of the picture atop this essay. This is the picture with Walter Isaacson's book—the centerpiece of this essay—sitting (actually, standing upright) atop one of the innumerable bookshelves strewn throughout my house. I suspect that the thematic picture, which portrays a handful of mementos that I had lovingly arranged into a collage of sorts, might have come across (at least as it appears atop the essay, sans annotations) as a jumbled mess ๐Ÿ’ 

So to set the record straight, and also help you appreciate the juxtaposition, here, then is an annotated version of the same picture:

Legend to the Picture Above

Clockwise, starting from the top-left, we have:
  1. Standing erect is the book Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster) ⚓
  2. Here we've got painting virtuosity on display ("The Reading Room", a prized possession) ๐ŸŽจ
  3. Some random books—mostly computer science—which just happened to be lying around ๐Ÿ“•
  4. A memento from one of my trips to Chicago (USA) ๐Ÿš•
  5. A memento somebody brought from their trip to Sydney (Australia) ๐Ÿซ

 

1. Learn How to Defy Expectations ๐ŸŽช


An Aspect of Leonardo da Vinci: Now try this on for size…  As I learned from the pages of Walter Isaacson’s eponymously named book, Leonardo da Vinci could well have, after his birth, gone on to become a notary! But guess what? Fate had more— much more—in store for da Vinci. As they say, the rest is history ๐Ÿ’Ž
Related Book: The Soul of A New Machine (Back Bay Book) by Tracy Kidder ๐ŸŽจ 

This Pulitzer prize-winning book chronicles how a team came together and—defying all expectations—created a quality product, faster then anyone had imagined. Put simply, it was an amazing feat which that being accomplished!
Expect the best. Prepare for the worst. Capitalize on what comes.
~ Zig Ziglar (1928 - 2012)
๐ŸŽ

2. Allow Your Inner Genius to Inspire You (and then, Others) ๐ŸŽˆ


An Aspect of Leonardo da Vinci: The polymath and Renaissance Man that da Vinci was, one of his truly remarkable contributions to all that came after him—to all those who came after him— is the boundless inspiration and the lasting impact off his work ๐Ÿ’Ž
Related Book: Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (Pantheon) by James Gleick ๐ŸŽจ 
This delightful book should not be missed by fans of Nobel laureate Richard Feynman! It really deserves an essay of its own. Maybe one day I will write one… Meanwhile, think of Leonardo da Vinci as the precursor to Feynman.
3 f
A man of genius is not a man who sees more than other men do. On the contrary, it is very often found that he is absentminded and observes much less than other people. . . Why is it that the public have such an exaggerated respect for him—after he is dead? The reason is that the man of genius understands the importance of the few things he sees.
~ George Bernard Shaw ๐ŸŽ


3. Seek Your Creative Partnership with Technology ๐Ÿ’‘


An Aspect of Leonardo da Vinci: Isaacson, with his characteristic clarity, notes how, when he “…embarked on this book because Leonardo da Vinci is the ultimate example of the main theme of my previous biographies: how the ability to make connections across disciplines—arts and sciences, humanities and technology—is a key to innovation, imagination, and genius.” I’m not sure what else I could add to that succinct and comprehensive observation which lies at the heart of the partnership between human creativity and technology ๐Ÿ’Ž
Related Book: Plato and the Nerd: The Creative Partnership of Humans and Technology (The MIT Press) by Edward Ashford Lee ๐ŸŽจ 
Let’s not beat about the bush: this book happens to be my “spark”. Period. 
If Leonardo da Vinci was a wellspring of creativity, then this book has the roadmap for synthesizing the admixture of creativity and modern technology. In the brief space here, I simply cannot do justice to this gem, and how it relates to the life of Leonardo da Vinci. But not to worry. I have already done much of that in an earlier series of essays. So my job here is quite simple in that I can point you in that direction…

So, having discovered my spark—many of my regular readers likely are already on to it—I was, of course, referring to the gem which got its very own handful of essays on our blog here, the following three to be precise:
 All I can say is: go forth, explore, and find out what's got your blogger so excited!
5 f
The physical world was real, and the mathematics, I had become enthralled with, but not for itself, really—you know what I mean? It was fascinating, but my real heart was somewhere else. So I decided, I have to get my hands dirty, I can’t stand these abstract things. So I changed to electrical engineering, because there was something that was real. But then some few months later, I realized I’d gone too far, and that somewhere in between—that physics was the right place. So I moved around a little bit at the beginning, and ended up with the physics course.
~ Richard P. Feynman, in The Quotable Feynman (Princeton University Press)
๐ŸŽ

4. Combine Theory, Experiment, and Knowledge ♨


An Aspect of Leonardo da Vinci: Isaacson rightly notes that Leonardo da Vinci made mighty contributions to our understanding of the scientific method. How did da Vinci do this? He did so by combining theory, experiment, and received knowledge. We  did all this asDesign nowadays. But not so back then… Yep, da Vinci sure was way ahead of his times ๐Ÿ’Ž
Related Book: Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach, 2nd Edition (Prentice Hall) by Stuart Russell and Peter Norvig ๐ŸŽจ 
Before I say a single word about this stellar book, it would be remiss of me if I didn’t tell you that there is a newer edition—a third edition—available as well. I mention the second edition simply because that’s the one I happened to have read. It is the one that made me fall in love with the subject of artificial intelligence (AI). No doubt, there are other excellent books on AI, but nothing comes close to this one by Russell and Norvig. 

So what does AI have to do with the life of Leonardo da Vinci? Nothing, and everything: “nothing” because not even the faintest inkling existed during the time of da Vinci resembling AI; “everything” because da Vinci blazed the path of intellectual virtuosity which shone the light on all that was to come after him, notably including algorithmic virtuosity.
16 f
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part,
And each particular hair to stand an end,
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine.
~ William Shakespeare (The one-and-only, my implacable nemesis: the Bard) ๐ŸŽ

5. Find the Poetry in Design ๐Ÿš‚


An Aspect of Leonardo da Vinci: For a lot of folks, da Vinci is the quintessential designer. Just like poetry is the essence— distillation, if you will—of prose, so was his work the essence of design: poetry in design ๐Ÿ’Ž
Related Book: The Essential Rumi (HarperCollins) by Jelaluddin Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks ๐ŸŽจ 
You will find—and regular readers are already quite familiar with this the phenomenon—references to the poetry of Rumi liberally sprinkled across the essays around here. And what is it that makes Rumi's poetry so special? It is simply this:  it is replete with intricate designs and elegant variations.
6 f
There's no money in poetry, but then there's no poetry in money either.
~ Robert Graves ๐ŸŽ

6. Find the Design in Poetry ๐Ÿš€


An Aspect of Leonardo da Vinci: Isaacson perceptively notes how the city of Florence was becoming a hub for the discourse of literature, poetry, and humanist philosophy. And there you have it: design in poetry ๐Ÿ’Ž
Related Book: Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Barnes & Noble Omnibus Leatherbound Classics) by William Shakespeare ๐ŸŽจ 
The Bard—the name by which Shakespeare is fondly known—sure had a way with words. Dare I say that words never had it so good as when the Bard was using them to craft his poems and plays!
7 f
I heard someone tried the monkeys-on-typewriters bit trying for the plays of W. Shakespeare, but all they got was the collected works of Francis Bacon.
~ Bill Hirst
๐ŸŽ

7. Probe the Infinite Works of Nature ๐ŸŒณ


An Aspect of Leonardo da Vinci: When it comes to probing the infinite works of nature, there is so much that Isaacson covers so nicely that I am unsure of where to even begin… I recommend picking up a copy of the book from your local, brick-and-mortar bookstore. How about that now?  ๐Ÿ’Ž
Related Book: Nano Nature (Metro Books) by Richard Jones ๐ŸŽจ 
This book takes you on a spectacular journey into the realm of the invisible. I haven’t seen another one quite like it…
8 f
I am among those who think that science has great beauty. A scientist in his laboratory is not only a technician: he is also a child placed before natural phenomena which impress him like a fairy tale.
~ Marie Curie (1867-1934) ๐ŸŽ

8. Simplify Your Design ๐Ÿ 


An Aspect of Leonardo da Vinci: In so many words, Isaacson remarks how Leonardo da Vinci was the genius’ genius!  I would not argue with that, notwithstanding my longstanding appreciation and admiration of both Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman are. Read this book and be regaled in delicious details ๐Ÿ’Ž
Related Book: Object Design: Roles, Responsibilities, and Collaborations (Addison-Wesley Professional) by Rebecca Wirfs-Brock and Alan McKean ๐ŸŽจ 
It has been observed, and very rightly so, that it takes a genius to simplify things. Harkening back to the advice by Henry David Thoreau—to “Simplify, simplify, simplify”—this gem of a book takes you deep into the heart of software design. The preface to this book by one of my all time programming heroes (John Vlissides) alone is worth the price of this book!
9 f
The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility.
~ Oscar Wilde (in The Importance of Being Earnest) ๐ŸŽ

9. Make Each (Algorithmic) Step of The Journey Matter ๐Ÿšถ


An Aspect of Leonardo da Vinci: Although I don’t call Isaacson using the word algorithm anywhere in his book, I think that a case can be made that stepwise, methodical—think pause-and-deliberation—attacks on the problem space had a lot to do with da Vinci’s unprecedented success in a ton of disparate fields… ๐Ÿ’Ž
Related Book: Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions (Henry Holt and Co.) by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths ๐ŸŽจ 
The book is 100% addictive reading. Since I have already written quite a bit about it, my job here is simple in that I'll point you in that direction… All the good stuff is  waiting there for you. Simply look for it in the fifth spot in the following essay:
10 f
The veil of illusion cannot be lifted by a mere decision of reason, but demands the most thoroughgoing and persevering preparation consisting in the full payment of all debts to life.
~ C. G. Jung (1875-1961) ๐ŸŽ

10. Find Unity in Marvelous Patterns ๐Ÿฐ


An Aspect of Leonardo da Vinci: Isaacson has noted in at least a few spots in his book that viewed nature as a holistic whole, and with a great deal of reverence for its unifying patterns ๐Ÿ’Ž
Related Book: Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software (Addison Wesley) by Gamma, E., R. Helm, R. Johnson, and J. Vlissides ๐ŸŽจ 
Not sure what I can add to all that’s already been said about the book that rocked our (software design and development) industry in a sea changing way…
11 f
We sleep, but the loom of life never stops and the pattern which was weaving when the sun went down is weaving when it comes up tomorrow.
~ Beecher (1813-1878) ๐ŸŽ

Epilogue ๐ŸŽˆ


Aha, Ten More Pieces!

I hope you enjoyed this essay, made up as it was—the bulk of it anyway—of 10 pieces. And if you did, I’ve got good news for you: you can look forward to a set of 10 (brand) new pieces in the follow-up essay which should hit this blog next Sunday.

Pit Stops (aka Sojourns) For Our Next Journey 

As for a bird's eye view of the sojourns we'll hit in our next excursion, this is roughly what you can expect ⛷
  1. It's OK to be Fascinated by Math ๐Ÿ‘’
  2. Spot the Hidden Treasures ๐Ÿ‘‘
  3. Rekindle Your Passion for Probing Origins ๐Ÿ”ญ
  4. Hunt for the Big, Timeless Ideas ๐ŸŽป
  5. Cultivate a Deep Feel for Learning ๐ŸŒŠ
  6. Pack Information as Densely as Possible ๐Ÿ‘œ
  7. Allow Your Art to be Informed by (the Analysis of) Nature ๐ŸŽƒ
  8. Distribute Evenly (or at Least as Evenly as Possible) ๐Ÿ‘ 
  9. Should You Chance Upon a Dark Cave… ๐ŸŒ
  10. Take it to the Limit ๐Ÿ
Then we swirled around each other and the thread was spun
to some Arcadian band
I would stop it from swinging like a pendulum 
Just to hold time in my hand 
And you shot me with a cannonball of history 
And long forgotten art 
I'd be turning it over as our words ran free 
I'd hold your Golden Heart 
I'd hold your Golden Heart 
Nothing in the world prepared me for, your heart, your heart 
Nothing in the world that I love more, your heart, your heart 
Your Golden Heart 
~ Mark Knopfler (Lyrics from Golden Heart)



Sunday, November 26, 2017

On Writing: Or A Row With How I Write

1 d
Ember by ember, bit by bit,
Things warmed up, the fire was lit
Seared in the pit,
The words were writ  
Bit by bit
Wit by wit  
Slowly, mitt by mitt,
The essays were knit  
Bit by bit,
Fit by fit  
Essays saved and archived, hit by hit,
Pushed to Git, commit by commit 

Missives undelivered or intercepted, chit by chit
So who subjugated who, Brit by Brit?  
Brick upon brick, grit by grit,
The gleaming edifice was built 

The rocket was readied for takeoff, bit by bit
The literature was assembled, DIY-kit by DIY-kit 
Aha, this must be the house that Peterbilt,
Wait! No! This is the house that Akram built 

Don Quixote sure had at the windmill, tilt by tilt,
So did Milton in his own way, I suppose "Milt" by "Milt" 
So let the bits fly, Akram, you twit
Let 'em fly (like a snitch), wit by wit  
Bit by bit,
Lit by lit  
All the world’s but a stage, with men and women engaged in some bizarre skit,
Where tweets alight from the sky like bird-poop, aerial s**t by aerial s**t  
What is this thing with feathers that seems to dart about and flit?,
Builds our dreams, yet goes for the throat, slit by slit 
All the same, hit by hit,
The essays became fit  
Every single essay I ever wrote, I winged it,
Every song that arose in my heart, I singed it 

Ember unto ember, hilt unto hilt,
The embers glowed, the fire had been lit  
Sit back and watch the embers show their glow; sit now sit,
Bask in the glowing edifice that's been rewrit; it's been lit
๐Ÿฐ  
~ Akram Ahmad ("Ember by Ember" ⛽ — another random poem by a writer, blogger, software craftsman, son, husband, father, brother, and friend)

The Definitions ๐Ÿ”ฆ

row (noun): a noisy quarrel or dispute (Pronounced so as to rhyme with, um, "pow") ๐Ÿ‘Š 
daguerreotype (noun): (a picture made by) an obsolete photographic process, invented in 1839, in which a picture made on a silver surface sensitized with iodine was developed by exposure to mercury vapor ๐Ÿ“ท

The Quotes ๐Ÿ“Ÿ

It’s a question that people ask in different ways—sometimes it comes out polite and sometimes it comes out rough, but it always amounts to the same: Do you do it for the money, honey? The answer is no. Don’t now and never did ๐Ÿ’ฐ
~  Stephen King (On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft — Scribner) 
Oceans apart, day after day
And I slowly go insane
I hear your voice, on the line
But it doesn't stop the pain
If I see you next to never
How can we say "forever" 
~ Richard Marx (Lyrics from Right Here Waiting
There's no time for us,
There's no place for us,
What is this thing that builds our dreams,
Yet slips away from us?
๐Ÿ˜ด

~ Queen (Lyrics from Who Wants To Live Forever)

   

Preamble ๐ŸŽˆ

I’m not asking you to come reverently or unquestioningly; I’m not asking you to be politically correct or cast aside your sense of humor (please God you have one). This isn’t a popularity contest, it’s not the moral Olympics, and it’s not church. But it’s writing, damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can’t or won’t, it’s time for you to close the book and do something else. 
Wash the car, maybe ๐Ÿš˜  
(The bold above was added by your blogger for emphasis. Loved it!) 
~ Stephen King (On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft — Scribner)

A Harbinger Of Things To Come ๐Ÿฑ

 

Grappling With A (Hitherto) Latent Journey

I would like to share with you—take you along with me, in fact—on a journey of sorts ๐Ÿšถ

So I have lately been reckoning with certain themes, not at one level but two (micro and macro), just to make things more interesting:
  • Micro-cosmic: The first theme touches on an internal debate, almost a quarrel—hence my use of the word “row” in the name of this essay—about how to reorient myself in my writing style to serve you better. This is about the ever-evolving writing style that I bring to the essays you read.
  • Macro-cosmic: As for the second theme, it's tinged by the yearning for a search, one fueled by magic: You know how sometimes we are looking for things and all the while we're not even aware of the deep yearning to find what was lost or maybe not even ours to begin with; yep, these are telltale signs of confabulation writ large in a discursive foray into dissimulation. Hey, something like that, anyway!
Good enough? Great, let’s get going! (Not to worry; no New Age hand-waving going on either above or in what follows) ๐Ÿ‘˜

Your Blogger Is Awestruck

I was petrified as I read the book. Yes, petrified, and terrified: I was unnerved as I turned its pages, riveted—more like transfixed—by the story which the author was telling!

I felt terrified because I was witnessing phenomenal writing talent on display, a talent raw yet immensely well-trained at the same time, feral yet phenomenally-tamed at the same time; writing talent quite unlike anything I had seen before. If anyone remembers the classic movie Chariots of Fire: It’s like when Harold Abraham, watching the 400 meters dash from the bleachers, clenches the paper flyer—which has the schedule of the races for the day—into a crumpled ball in his big fist as he witnesses the ferocity with which Eric Liddell runs, and wins, the race!

And I felt unnerved because I could scarcely believe that anyone could write with such conviction, with such clarity, with such passion; this was writing magnificence writ large.

Oh. My. God.

Clearly, I was moved by the book's message on an approach to the craft of writing, made all the more memorable by the riveting prose in which it was delivered. This coming from a fan boy of Professor John Trimble’s inimitable gem entitled Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing—long-time readers know full well that I fondly refer to that gem simply by its initials, WWS—and which I've asked of you (in the past) to commit to memory. No doubt, WWS came first and it will never be supplanted. All the same, the new book I'm raving about is a rather special bird; it's not a bird-by-bird chronicle—awesome though that chronicle is in its own right—but a unique bird all right ๐Ÿ“

So I surreptitious kept turning its pages, all the while telling myself that the magic that was engulfing me—leaping out at me as it was from the pages of this new book—was bound to wear off in a few pages. But that was not to be, I am delighted to report! The magic in the writing was showing no signs of wearing off: woohoo! And I kept reading, transfixed by what I was reading. Yay!

Unnerved by the ferocity of the writing, I kept turning its pages; it was the kind of rawness with which I want to write.

A Book On Writing That...

...itself is a remarkable example of riveting prose. How about that? ๐Ÿ˜Ž

The riveting prose in the new page-turner knocked my socks off; it was the kind of prose that I had always wanted to be able to write. Not only was I reading a master lesson in the craft of writing, I was also reading a sterling example of masterful writing from a writer at the peak of his career ⛰

Here, then, was a book that practiced what it preached: delivering the message in harmony with its goals by serving as an excellent example itself of what riveting prose can look like. Yep, the whole notion of leading by example. Or to use an analogy from computer science—imprecisely so, by my own admission—here, then, was a book that could rightly claim to be an exegesis of the metacircular interpreter (which, in a nutshell, defines each feature of the interpreted language using a similar facility of the interpreter's host language) ๐Ÿ’ป

Had I Finally Met My Implacable Nemesis?

I had met my implacable nemesis; the kind of spur with which to leaven—not goad, mind you, but leaven—my overvaulting ambition to write like nobody in the world has written before. Before I get a millions comments accusing me of having let all this writing go to my head, allow me to add (parenthetically) that writers do not compete with one another; we compete with ourselves. It's a meritocracy of one: E pluribus unum ๐Ÿ’ต

Then again, allow me to drive the point home that I'm not some arrogant prissy—people who know me have a slightly loftier view of me, at least they did, last time I checked what people have been writing about me. Anyhow, all that I had in mind in what I said above—"to write like nobody in the world has written before"—is wholly informed (neither more nor less) by the advice to
Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.
~ Oscar Wilde
Cool? ๐Ÿ‘ป

Relax. We're all geeks and stuff over here, proletarians at heart (neither more nor less) ๐Ÿ‘• ๐Ÿ‘–

Having Made My Case...

All the same, I've made my case: should anyone catch me wringing my hands in the fashion of Lady Macbeth’s hand-washing—look, did anyone ever catch me saying: Out, damned spot?—we can certainly chat more at that time. Till then, I bide my time. Tick, tock... More fashionably, think the hourglass: yep, these sure are the days of our lives

Anyhow, anyhow...

The more I read my newly-discovered prize-of-a-book, the more I was convinced that I was beholding writing greatness; the more I dug into the captivating narrative, the more I was drawn in—deeper by the sentence, by the paragraph, by the chapter—increasingly assured that this was not a fluke ๐Ÿ’น

The more I turned the pages of the book, the more I was impressed. I was witnessing writing awesomeness: clean, unencumbered, and unaffected prose that purred to me (Insert one "meow" here) ๐Ÿˆ

Writing Awesomeness

I felt as if I was in the presence of awesomeness that was at once benevolent and didactic!

Loved it ๐Ÿ’‹
This is greatness to which I aspire, notwithstanding that I’ve fondly been called a sprezzatura by well-wishers; more on that million dollar word (sprezzatura) later, so not to worry (Till recently, I, too, didn’t have a clue either as to what that word meant—it sure sounds like the name of a carbonated drink now, doesn’t it?—until some events unfolded over the past several months) ๐Ÿน

2 d
It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around ๐ŸŽจ
~ Stephen King (On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft — Scribner)

So You’ve Found Your Spark: What Do We Do Next? ๐Ÿ’ฅ 


Something Of Themes & Memes

Lately, the theme foremost in my mind has been: What do you after you have discovered your spark, after you’ve discovered your muse? Indeed, what do you do? Do you wring your hands in despair and wait for inspiration to strike? I’m not a fatalist—far from it, I’m a card-carrying member of the (apocryphal?) alive pragmatists society—so that strategy (if fatalism can be glorified by calling it a “strategy”) wasn’t going to fly: no way, Josรฉ. Or do I jump over a cliff like lemmings do? Nope, way too painful: uh-uh ๐Ÿ ๐Ÿ€ ๐Ÿ ๐Ÿ€ ๐Ÿ ๐Ÿ€

Oh, so in my parenthetical observation above about my having discovered my spark—many of my regular readers likely are already on to it—I was, of course, referring to the gem which got its very own handful of essays on our blog here, the following three to be precise:
  1. Plato And The Nerd ๐Ÿ‘“
  2. Return of Plato And The Nerd ๐Ÿ‘–
  3. Plato And The Nerd Strikes Back ๐Ÿ‘•
I was also—in making mention of discovering one’s muse—referring to someone I revere, someone…๐Ÿฑ

Anyhow... Yes, while I do of course freely share with you all the themes currently on my mind, sometimes even to the point of stream-of-consciousness narrative—look, you all are simply the best, I love you all—one can divulge only so much. So whether one's life should be considered an open book will remain an open question: fair enough? ๐Ÿ“–

Your Vienna Waits For You

Basically, having discovered your spark and found your muse, you go about whichever way you can to hone your writing skills. You knew where this was going, didn't you?
One more time, how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Yep: Practice, practice, practice! 
๐ŸŽถ ๐ŸŽถ ๐ŸŽถ
Much like computer programming—at least the way I see it—writing is not a spectator sport ๐Ÿ€ ๐ŸŽพ ๐Ÿˆ  You learn (and improve) by doing, not by merely watching (I firmly believe in the criticality of mentoring, which is basically showing-others-how-things-are-done, so don't get me wrong). At any rate, the analog (of the take above on getting to Carnegie Hall) in the writing world might be something like
One more time, how do you get your very own Pulitzer Prize? Yep: Write, write, write! ๐Ÿ““ ๐Ÿ““ ๐Ÿ““
Here's the deal: some are born with those skills, and some without. In full candor, your blogger finds himself squarely in the latter camp. Curiously enough, though, some have tried to convince me otherwise; that I'm actually in the former camp even as I remain firmly unconvinced by their kind conviction, incredibly kind—even humbling—and deeply appreciated though their gestures truly are ⛺

You all, do please remind me to chat some about the time when I was moved to grab my copy of the new John McPhee book entitled Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process. In passing, here's the scoop: So I had grabbed my copy of McPhee's Draft No. 4—I had begun reading it fairly recently, not too long after diving into Isaacson's big new biography of Leonardo da Vinci—and couldn’t help but get a kick out of McPhee’s own run in with the whole sprezzatura deal ๐Ÿ˜™

But I digress.
3 d
I have written because it fulfilled me. Maybe it paid off the mortgage on the house and got the kids through college, but those things were on the side—I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever ๐ŸŽก
~ Stephen King (On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft — Scribner) 

Another (Fellow) Writer Who Writes For The Buzz ๐Ÿ„


He Verily Speaks My Language, Woohoo!

Let me put it this way: this guy speaks my language, woohoo!

Look, I’m a stickler for details: If anything brings about my downfall—other than, of course, my penchant for digressing—it will be my fanatical devotion to details. With that, I now share with you the very first time that I came upon the word “row”… Not the pedestrian, “row” as in “row, row, row your boat” but as in the seldom-used variant, "a noisy quarrel or dispute (Pronounced so as to rhyme with, um, “cow”). Cowabunga ๐Ÿ„  And cows galore for sure ๐Ÿ„ ๐Ÿ„ ๐Ÿ„ ๐Ÿ„

The Loss Of Innocence

So this is my loss of innocence as far as the word “row” is concerned—in Chapter XI of a slim book that was assigned reading in high school—as I encountered it in these opening words from Chapter XI of the Hilton book. And mind you, not the hotel, the book lol:
AND THEN THE ROW with Ralston. Funny thing, Chips had never liked him; he was efficient, ruthless, ambitious, but not, somehow, very likable. He had, admittedly, raised the status of Brookfield as a school, and for the first time in memory there was a longish waiting list. Ralston was a live wire; a fine power transmitter, but you had to beware of him ๐ŸŽ“
~ James Hilton (Goodbye, Mr. Chips: A Novel)
I will add only this much: This was made all the more interesting—as if there were a shortage of interesting things on my grubby hand in those days—by the fact that one of my classmates was named Rao! (Rhymes with the word "Dow" from the finance world, and not with the word "DAO" from the software world, at least not the pronunciation variant I'm familiar with which, by the way, rhymes with "mayo"). I leave it to your imagination—after all, as a reader, you've got to do some work—to conjure up some irreverent word-playing fun we high schoolers had around that time in our lives. Ah, when we all felt invincible, with scarcely a worry on our mind other than what we would have for lunch, when we were young and free, when...

Um, I do digress at times, don't I? ๐Ÿ˜™ (Hint: You're supposed to reply with an emphatic No here)

Okay, what you got above was a taste of the fruits from my fanatical devotion to details. How about a dose of an innocuous digression such as the one coming up next? Ready? And please—puh-leezedo please tell me that my essays don’t taste like Robitussin!

So my encounter—think Close Encounters of the Third Kind—with that malfeasant scumbag of a word (“row”) was from Goodbye, Mr. Chips: A Novel. Yep, since it was assigned reading in high school, it obviously tasted like medicine at that time ๐Ÿ‘น

Enough. We're Not Taking Any More Medicine

Enough talk of cough medicine. Let’s bring some medicine-free joy back with some impenitent verses of rhyme, shall we? Here we go!
Watch the writer precariously perched atop a turret, hopelessly in love with words,
See the improbable poetpoised on a tuffet, eating his own words and curds ๐Ÿž 
Watch as a software craftsman revels in the trenches where code is made in the shade,See him pushing back derelict fronds and fern glades with the gentle nudge of a blade ๐ŸŒฟ 
Watch as his implacable foe—the bard—bends to erect a laughable house of cards,
He, meanwhile—jujitsu-style—blithely tend to his distributed computing shards
๐Ÿƒ˜
 ~ Akram Ahmad ("Pushing the Envelope" ๐Ÿ“œ  — yet another random poem by a writer, blogger, software craftsman, son, husband, father, brother, and friend)
Since we are on the subject of schooldays, I might as well mention that—and this is going way down memory lane—I attended Aitchison College (a high school, really, but the word "college” somehow stuck, so there you have it). Aitchison is modeled after Eton and Harrow in England. We did some pretty cool stuff there while I was a student; in brief, taking part in any and all essay-writing competitions that I could barge my way into is one memory that pops into my head. But I digress.

Oh, one other memory that I’d like to wedge in—especially since we were talking about Eton and Harrow above—is that of a brilliant essay written by a fellow Aitchisonian (a classmate in fact, who went on to attend the University of Cambridge) that was entitled Why Aitchison? That essay explored, among other things, the theme of how
The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton ๐Ÿ‘ฆ

Uh-oh, Here Comes The Stickler For Detail

Once again, being the stickler for details that I am, I did some investigation and found that the quotation above is actually a misquote. It's no big deal; the correct quotation is the following one:
Probably the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton, but the opening battles of all subsequent wars have been lost there 
Allow me just one more digression: won’t you please indulge me? Look up the first year (of an education) at Harrow—pretty cool stuff—as made memorable by Winston Churchill.

Having said all that about Harrow and Churchill, I must hasten to emphasize—lest anyone jump to the totally wrong conclusion that I’m some prissy aristocrat—that I have always, and will always, strongly identify with the proletariat. I say so unabashedly, and not with a little vehemence; I wouldn’t have it any other way. Oh no!

With that, let’s bring it the Mr. Cool of writing, the king who shall pontificate on the craft of writing awesomeness: Stephen King.
4 d
I tell you: When it comes to the craft of writing and stuff, it's in King that I’ve found a kindred soul of a fellow proletariat! ๐Ÿ‘•

5 d

Then There Was A Search (One Fueled by Magic)

Consider these magical words from a memoir which I’ve recently started reading only recently ๐Ÿ‰
When I was growing up in Hobart, I had a map of India on my bedroom wall. My mum—my adoptive mother—had put it there to help me feel at home when I arrived from that country at the age of six to live with them in 1987. She had to teach me what the map represented—I was completely uneducated. I didn’t even know what a map was, let alone the shape of India. Mum had decorated the house with Indian objects—there were some Hindu statues, brass ornaments and bells, and lots of little elephant figurines. I didn’t know then that these weren’t normal objects to have in an Australian house. She had also put some Indian printed fabric in my room, across the dresser, and a carved wooden puppet in a brightly colored outfit. All these things seemed sort of familiar, even if I hadn’t seen anything exactly like them before ๐Ÿจ
~ Saroo Brierley (A Long Way Home: A Memoir — Penguin Publishing Group)
I want it to be known that there are individuals in my life whom I revere; when they read this, they’ll know who I have in mind as I write this ๐Ÿฑ There are, also, individuals in my life who keep me turned on to the joy of crafting prose; they bring the feeling, they bring the fire and I know that they, too, will know who I have in mind as I write this ๐Ÿ’

Lyrics Follow In The Trail Of The Announcement...

With that, shall we take in some lyrics from a couple of songs since they seem to be coming our way anyway? The first set of lyrics are from Elton John’s timeless Your Song:
And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple but now that it's done
I hope you don't mind
I hope you don't mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you're in the world ๐ŸŒป ๐ŸŒป ๐ŸŒป ๐ŸŒป
And the second of the two sets of lyrics is from music group U2’s angst-ridden song called With Or Without You:
See the stone set in your eyes
See the thorn twist in your side
I wait for you 
Sleight of hand and twist of fate
On a bed of nails she makes me wait
And I wait without you 
With or without you
With or without you 
Through the storm we reach the shore
You give it all but I want more
And I'm waiting for you 
With or without you
With or without you
I can't live
With or without you 
And you give yourself away
And you give yourself away
And you give
And you give
And you give yourself away 
My hands are tied
My body bruised, she's got me with
Nothing to win and
Nothing left to lose 
๐Ÿ† ๐Ÿ† ๐Ÿ† ๐Ÿ†
6 d
 What do we have here, perched atop a random bookshelf in my home? ๐Ÿ“ฆ
Aha, my copy of Practical Probabilistic Programming (Manning Publications) by Avi Pfeffer… ๐Ÿ”ฎ
What gives? Why is it propped up at the top? Why? ๐Ÿ“ˆ
Read on to find out! ๐Ÿ“•

Parting Thoughts ๐Ÿ‘ฃ

What Did Make It Into This Essay...

There was so much more I had wished to add, but… Yep, time and space constraints raise their heads—goodness, don’t I know all about it, being the engineer and computer scientist that I am! Take heart: there will be another time, there will be another essay.
I promise I’ll be back to tie in several loose threads next time; can’t leave you all hanging like that, now can I?

…And What Couldn’t Make It

  • Exploring the connection—concord as well as dissonance, at least as I see it—between the themes each in King’s advice on writing and McPhee’s advice on the same ๐Ÿ‘ฌ
  • More—much more, I promise you—on that tantalizing sprezzatura accolade from well-wishers; once again, it’s not a carbonated drink, okay? Um, I think not. Lemme double-check, though, for good measure ๐Ÿน 
  • I need to commune with code—not always but more often than not in the Scala and Java programming languages—so maybe I’ll tie that in as well; how? I myself don't know at this point, but we'll figure it out together. Remember what I once said about how I cannot not write (prose)? Ditto for writing (computer code). So there, dear Reader ๐Ÿ‘ฐ
  • A unique dialog—in the style of The Matrix trilogy—in which The Oracle and your blogger will be engaged face-to-face. It will be rather intense (just a fair warning for the faint of heart; that’s not you, though, right?) ๐Ÿš›
  • A dive, or two, into Saroo Brierley’s captivating book entitled A Long Way Home: A Memoir… I've only begun reading it but it's looking terrific already! ⛵
  • Some new thoughts on the practice of Reactive Programming—built atop my existing understanding—as inspired by my mentor Jonas Boner; my assessment so far of the terrain, should you wish to look it up, can meanwhile be found by way of my recommendation for Jonas ๐Ÿš€
  • As Americans, we recently celebrated Thanksgiving. It's the traditional time of the year for families to come together yet again, partaking of each other's company—hey, let's not forget the delicious food either—thereby reaffirming the ties that bind. Importantly, Thanksgiving is also a time to reach out to neighbors and strengthen the bonds of kinship: the picture below (which I selected from the public domain and subsequently transformed to daguerreotype) of pilgrims in New England reaching to their American Indian neighbors perfectly illustrates this point ๐Ÿ“
  • Last, but certainly not the least, we will—again, this, too, in a future essay—also chat some about a remarkable book called Practical Probabilistic Programming (Manning Publications) by Avi Pfeffer, with a Foreword by Stuart Russell (co-author, with Peter Norvig, of my all-time favorite text on Artificial Intelligence). It has some of the slickest code in the Scala programming language that I have set my eyes on; much more to follow, in fact, on Practical Probabilistic Programming so stay tuned ๐Ÿ“บ
You can win the fight, you can grab a piece of the sky
You can break the rules but before you try
You gotta love someone
You gotta love someone
 
You can stop the world, steal the face from the moon
You can beat the clock, but before high noon
You gotta love someone
You gotta love someone
 
You've got one life with a reason
You need two hearts on one side
When you stand alone and there's no one there
To share the way it feels inside and baby ๐Ÿ’
~ Elton John (Lyrics from You Gotta Love Someone)
Thanksgiving d


Sunday, November 19, 2017

On Writing: Or Now I Write

So that was then; my life was mostly about reading... It just was, somehow,
Then something happened: things changed and I; I mostly write now
 
Yes, this is now; acres of books having been dutifully culled and harvested,
Something lingered, though: the readings, of their meaning, had not been divested
 
And of everything that I managed to digest,
Emily, your peerless poetry is simply the best
 
Your eloquence is the quintessence,
Of everything I aspire to in essence
 
You showed us how to make immortal sentences breathe
—in the first place, showed us indeed what they look like,

What you chiseled in crimson granite—liberating sentences that would've otherwise suffocated—we have since not seen their like 
Loved ones who have left Earth, and whom we have unwittingly outlived,
Their mortality and their lives—in our minds—
are indelibly etched; limned
One by one—all of us on the face of Earth—we will perish, but not the human soul,
Like your poetry, Emily, the 
soul has been vouchsafed to remain inviolable; whole 
So that was then, we sowed the seeds of reading; crops grew, harvesting was done, and this is now
We are engulfed by fields of gold; the farmer hangs his hat, and into the sunset walks the very last cow
 
~ Akram Ahmad ("Lit", a random poem by a writer, blogger, software craftsman, son, husband, father, brother, and friend)

The Quotes ๐Ÿ’ž

When I was a child I had a fever
My hands felt just like two balloons ๐ŸŽˆ ๐ŸŽˆ
Now I've got that feeling once again
I can't explain, you would not understand๐Ÿ‘ป ๐Ÿ‘ป
This is not how I am
I have become comfortably numb ๐Ÿ’ญ ๐Ÿ’ญ
Pink Floyd (Lyrics from Comfortably Numb)
AND a woman spoke, saying, Tell us of Pain.
And he said:
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields ๐Ÿ’” ๐ŸŒฑ ๐ŸŒฟ ๐ŸŒป
Kahlil Gibran (From The Prophet)
She had lost the art of conversation, but not, unfortunately, the power of speech ๐Ÿ’‹ ๐Ÿฏ
~ George Bernard Shaw
Beside the ungathered rice he lay,
        His sickle in his hand;
His breast was bare, his matted hair
        Was buried in the sand.
Again, in the mist and shadow of sleep,
        He saw his Native Land ๐ŸŒพ ๐ŸŒพ ๐ŸŒพ ๐ŸŒพ
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (From The Slave's Dream)

Preamble ๐ŸŽˆ

Colonel Sanders sold a hell of a lot of fried chicken, but I’m not sure anyone wants to know how he made it. If I was going to be presumptuous enough to tell people how to write, I felt there had to be a better reason than my popular success ๐Ÿฃ
Stephen King (On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft — Scribner)
As your callow blogger sits kneeling at the edge of a pond—the full moon gleaming like a big white disc in the shimmering waters—he finds himself casting furtive glances at his own image being reflected back… Evidently, some moments of reflection are afoot. Let's eavesdrop to find out what's up…
Blogger [speaking to himself, soliloquy-style]: "Whatever happened to make my readers so disenchanted with my essays? Whatever, oh goodness, whatever?"
Blogger [now recalling the conversation which he had overheard taking place between a handful of his readers, and not too long ago either]
A Thought Balloon, or two, or three [Inserted here as the Blogger recalls that conversation, part of which was as follows]: ๐Ÿ’ญ ๐Ÿ’ญ ๐Ÿ’ญ   
Blogger: "Gulp. And here I am, contemplating the submission of a new essay to tack on to that series of essays, one which I'm going to call On Writing: Or Now I Write"

[Visualize this: Unbeknownst to the Blogger—as he continued to ruefully glance at his somber reflection being cast in the shimmering waters—a handful of his readers had stealthily crept up to the edge of the pond where he sat kneeling. The were listening to every word of his soliloquy...] 
First Reader: "Oh. My. God."
Second Reader: "Did you, like, hear what the Blogger just said?!"
Third Reader: "Aye, we did... So we had never got around to rallying more troops and showing up in numbers when we had contemplated getting a hold of this persnickety pest of a blogger, and teaching him a lesson." 
First Reader: "Yeah, now is our chance. Let's use the element of surprise and waylay him real good. Yeah!"
Second Reader: "Right. I mean, did you, like, follow what he [Blogger] just said?"
Third Reader: "Right, right... He plans on sending yet another trashy essay our way—the misguided soul wants to call this one On Writing: Or Now I Write, or something if I heard him right."  
First Reader: "Yeah, let's fix up this persnickety pest, shall we?"
Second Reader: "Right. Let's do it before this irascible urchin writes up even more trash."
Third Reader: "ExacticallyAhem, I mean exactly... Dude, looks like he's going for it! This blogger's got yet another garbage essay—this one called, like you said On Writing: Or Now I Write up his sleeve, if I, too, heard him right." 
First Reader: "Yeah, let's fix him up real, real good this time!"
Second Reader: "Oh yeah! Next thing you know, he'll write up something even more outlandish and call it something like On Writing: Or Kapow I Write."
Third Reader: "Oh no he won't. We'll make his next essay—should he dare to write another one—sound mournful all right, something like... On Writing: Ow Ow I Had Dared To Write." 
Blogger [still speaking to himself, soliloquy-style—goodness, it's rightly been said that ignorance is bliss]: "To be, or not to be... Whoah! What's going on here? Egads! I'm overcome by... Prose Ruffians!"
Omitting a bunch of painful happenings that ensue next: a melee ๐Ÿ˜ข


A Guide To The Fun Which Lies Ahead ๐Ÿ 

I was a married senior at Harvard, and probably not a very good student as a result; my academic career peaked in my junior year. I know it sounds bizarre in today’s world and it was a little bizarre even then ๐Ÿ’‘
~ John Updike (in "Interview with John Updike" by Ian Mcewan)
We have some ground to cover here—albeit to a lesser degree than the previous three essays in this grand series—because this essay is all about the sweet joy and gestalt of writing ๐ŸŒน

Pit Stops (aka Sojourns) On Our Journey 

So let's get started with a bird's eye view of the sojourns we'll hit during the upcoming excursion ⛷
  1. Rewrite Down The Bones ๐Ÿ’€
  2. Become A Chaser-of-Ideas ๐Ÿ„
  3. Ride The Unicorn Of Your Imagination ๐ŸŽ 
  4. Ponder On How Art Follows Life ๐ŸŽญ
  5. Hitch Your (Writing) Wagon To A Star ๐ŸŒŸ
  6. Sprinkle Your Writing With The Pixie Dust Of (Kaleidoscopic) Music ๐ŸŽŠ
  7. Lose Yourself In The Immortal Quest For True Art (In Writing) ๐ŸŽจ
  8. Write With The Abundance Of Devotion ๐ŸŒŽ
  9. Write With Valor: No Guts, No Glory ๐ŸŽ

Receding Like The Distant Ship Smoke On The Horizon

Okay, so what you see above is the itinerary for the sojourns receding from us—excuse me there, I had meant to say—coming our way: So I wasn't joking when I noted above that we have some ground to cover; not anywhere near what we had in the past couple of essays, but substantial enough, nonetheless, to warrant your packing at least some gear for the journey ahead ⛰

Ready? Got that trusty backpack slung across your shoulder? ๐ŸŽ’

Great, let's start our journey with that crucial first step๐Ÿšถ

 

A Pattern Language ๐ŸŽฒ


Brief Background

Much as I had said in the last essay, having enjoyed working in the trenches of software design and development for over two decades now—and getting a kick out of it every single day still when I wake up and launch into my work—I dream in software design patterns even when I'm awake. Is that paradoxical or what? You go figure that one out; I've already got a boatload of metaphysics on my hands ๐Ÿ˜ด

Yep, you knew where this is going, don't you? So we're veering toward an introduction of sorts to a pattern language, that being the language in which I'm going to mold and dissect—nay, gently vivisect—all that which will follow the intro… ๐Ÿ”ช

Still got those hoary geometry boxes from your high school days around? Now would be a good time to rummage for them, brush off the funk of forty thousand years deposited on their crusty exterior, and... ๐Ÿ“ ๐Ÿ“ ๐Ÿ“Œ ๐Ÿ“‘ ๐Ÿ“’ ๐Ÿ“Ž

Ow, ow! Stop jabbing me! Hey, I give up; you're not that old. I was just kidding about your wizened look. In fact, methinks you're not old at all! ๐Ÿ‘ด

Ahem, no doubt, the genesis of the notion of a pattern language, inasmuch as it applies to software design—rest assured that I'll be introducing it shortly—can be traced back to the seminal book that rocked our industry a bit over two decades ago:
Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software
 (Addison Wesley) by Gamma, E., R. Helm, R. Johnson, and J. Vlissides
And the way it rocked our software industry was right up there with a tsunami, albeit a benign one; a tsunami that nourished rather than demolished on whichever shores its waves crashed. In other words, it was a rising tide—albeit a massive one—that had lifted all boats unlike any other that our industry had seen before ๐ŸŒŠ

The Pattern Language: Annotated

Here, then, is the pattern language—note the color-coding below, starting with black, purple, blue, and even some green making an appearance—in which I've cast each of the nine pieces (the nine pit stops) that make up the bulk of this essay:
  • Heading: A short description of what any given piece is about (Precisely so, yay!) ๐ŸŽฏ
  • My two cents' worth: My editorial "wisdom" (You back there, stop snickering. Now!) ๐ŸŽค
  • Quotation: A quotation to lend texture to the discussion (We play with word-painting) ๐ŸŽจ
  • Picture: A picture with which to ground the narrative (This will be your ticket) ๐ŸŽซ
  • Poem: A poem to wrap it all up into a unified whole (Big gifts come in small packages) ๐ŸŽ
In the end, I hope you will agree that there is a method to this madness!

Revisiting A Theme...

So I wish to talk some—though considerations of time and space forever seem to interfere with this particular goal of mine—about the utterly misguided notion that writing is somehow painful; nothing could be farther from the truth ⛵

Much as I've said elsewhere, writing is anything but about pain. It is, truth be told, far closer to everything that I could've ever imagined the state of euphoria to be; and then some ๐Ÿ˜น

If you look for one recurring theme in this essay, I sure hope it will be this one: writing is all about joy, sharing, caring, and daring. Yes, writing is also about passion. It surely is. But writing has nothing to do with pain. Nothing whatsoever! Yes, that's how strongly I feel about this subject ๐Ÿ‘บ

With that, we're now finally ready to dive into the essay proper. Having said that—"that what follows next is the essay proper"—does not, by the same token, relegate what came earlier to a state of being improper. At least I hope not!


1. Rewrite Down The Bones ๐Ÿ’€


My two cents' worth: Yet another recurring theme pervades the writing life… If I could point to an especially pervasive theme permeating the writer's life, my finger would point in this direction: writing is all about rewriting. Think James Michener๐ŸŽค
Books aren't written, they're rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn't quite done it... ๐ŸŽจ
~ Michael Crichton 
The wastepaper basket is the writer's best friend ๐ŸŽจ
~ Isaac Bashevis Singer
Going to him! Happy letter! Tell him—
Tell him the page I didn’t write;
Tell him I only said the syntax,
And left the verb and the pronoun out.
Tell him just how the fingers hurried,
Then how they waded, slow, slow, slow;
And then you wished you had eyes in your pages,
So you could see what moved them so.
 
"Tell him it wasn’t a practised writer,
You guessed, from the way the sentence toiled;
You could hear the bodice tug, behind you,
As if it held but the might of a child;
You almost pitied it, you, it worked so.
Tell him—No, you may quibble there,
For it would split his heart to know it,
And then you and I were silenter.
 
"Tell him night finished before we finished,
And the old clock kept neighing 'day!'
And you got sleepy and begged to be ended—
What could it hinder so, to say?
Tell him just how she sealed you, cautious,
But if he ask where you are hid
Until to-morrow,—happy letter!
Gesture, coquette, and shake your head!"
 
~ Emily Dickinson (In "V: THE LETTER", from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
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2. Become A Chaser-of-Ideas ๐Ÿ„


My two cents' worth: Be on the look out for ideas like the surfer lying in wait for the perfect wave to crest and pounce on—surfboard and all—riding it to glorious joy. You will, of course, weave a  narrative out of those ideas, crafting an essay, a memoir,  a story, or whatever you wish to. Or perhaps be like the anglers along the edge of a pond, eagerly poised with rod and reel in hand, seeing what you can fish out from what lies without, or—when so moved by the mood of contemplation—what lies within. In that there is no sin; you will hopefully fish out lots of ideas, and maybe even a fish fin ๐ŸŽค
What's hard, in hacking as in fiction, is not writing, it's deciding what to write ๐ŸŽจ
~ Neal Stephenson 
There are thousands of thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up the pen and writes ๐ŸŽจ
~ William Makepeace Thackeray 
A certain man asks an eloquent teacher,
"What is true and what false?" "This is false:
a bat hides from the sun, not from the idea of the sun.
It’s the idea that puts fear in the bat and leads it
deeper into the cave. You have an idea
of an enemy that attaches you to certain companions.
 
Moses, the inner light of revelation,
lit up the top of Sinai, but the mountain
could not hold that light.
 
Don’t deceive yourself that way!
Having the idea is not living
the reality, of anything.
 
There’s no courage in the idea of battle.
The bathhouse wall is covered with pictures
and much talk of heroism. Try to make an idea move
from ear to eye. Then your woolly ears
become as subtle as fibers of light.
 
Your whole body becomes a mirror,
all eye and spiritual breathing.
Let your ear lead you to your lover."
 
~ Jelaluddin Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi—HarperCollins) 
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3. Ride The Unicorn Of Your Imagination ๐ŸŽ 


My two cents' worth: There is freedom within, there is freedom without, try to catch the deluge in a paper cup... Torrents of creativity within, torrents of creativity without, it's all waiting there for you. Yes, you! ๐ŸŽค
Most writers regard the truth as their most valuable possession, and therefore are most economical in its use ๐ŸŽจ
~ Mark Twain 
Only in men's imagination does every truth find an effective and undeniable existence. Imagination, not invention, is the supreme master of art as of life ๐ŸŽจ
~Joseph Conrad
Don’t wait till you die to see this.
Recognize that your imagination and your thinking
and your sense perception are reed canes
that children cut and pretend are horsies.
 
The knowing of mystic lovers is different.
The empirical, sensory, sciences
are like a donkey loaded with books,
or like the makeup woman’s makeup.
       It washes off.
But if you lift the baggage rightly, it will give joy.
Don’t carry your knowledge-load for some selfish reason.
Deny your desires and willfulness,
and a real mount may appear under you.
 
Don’t be satisfied with the name of HU,
with just words about it.
 
Experience that breathing.
From books and words come fantasy,
and sometimes, from fantasy comes union.
 
~ Jelaluddin Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi—HarperCollins) 
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4. Ponder On How Art Follows Life ๐ŸŽญ


My two cents' worth: I can but speak for myself in saying—much as I've said in an earlier essay—that I cannot not write. It is not pain that compels me to write; it is joy that does. It's not breathing which leads me to write; it's the urgency to avoid suffocation that does. At the end of the day, all such considerations—whether life follow art or art follows life—may come down to semantic hair-splitting. What matters is simply this: the world needs to see your art; please don't keep them waiting much longer, okay? ๐ŸŽค
I write for the same reason I breathe—because if I didn’t, I would die ๐ŸŽจ
~ Isaac Asimov 
How vain it is to sit down to write if you have not stood up to live ๐ŸŽจ
~Henry David Thoreau
THEN a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.
And he answered:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
 
~ Kahlil Gibran (in "On Joy & Sorrow", from The Prophet
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5. Hitch Your (Writing) Wagon To A Star ๐ŸŒŸ


My two cents' worth: Things which are both important and urgent always seem to get our full attention; things that are important but not urgent, on the other hand, seem to ever fall by the wayside. You have to change that because that's not how a writer lives her life. Gaze heavenward, would you please? Find the most beautiful star that gets your fancy… Hitch your wagon to that star and you'll be all good! ๐ŸŽค
The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true ๐ŸŽจ
~ John Steinbeck 
The most essential gift for a writer is a built-in, shockproof sh*t-detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have it ๐ŸŽจ
~ Ernest Hemingway
Each life converges to some centre
Expressed or still;
Exists in every human nature
A goal,
 
Admitted scarcely to itself,
it may be,
Too fair
For credibility’s temerity
To dare.
 
Adored with caution, as a brittle heaven,
To reach
Were hopeless as the rainbow’s raiment
To touch,
 
Yet persevered toward, surer for the distance;
How high
Unto the saints' slow diligence
The sky!
 
Ungained, it may be, by a life's low venture,
But then,
Eternity enables the endeavoring
Again.
 
~ Emily Dickinson (In "XXXV: THE GOAL", from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
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6. Sprinkle Your Writing With The Pixie Dust Of (Kaleidoscopic) Music ๐ŸŽŠ


My two cents' worth: Some are born with it, some without. If you are in the former camp, rejoice. Remember, too, that you owe it to yourself—more importantly, you owe it to the world—to share your gift of writing in all its glory. Think noblesse oblige. And should you find yourself in the latter camp (and I'm right there with you), take heart: writing is an eminently learnable skill. We are all in this together, so read on... ๐ŸŽค
Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade, just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself ๐ŸŽจ
~ Truman Capote 
At one time I thought the most important thing was talent. I think now that the young man or the young woman must possess or teach himself, training himself, in infinite patience, which is to try and to try until it comes right. He must train himself in ruthless intolerance—that is to throw away anything that is false no matter how much he might love that page or that paragraph. The most important thing is insight, that is to be—curiosity—to wonder, to mull, and to muse why it is that man does what he does, and if you have that, then I don't think the talent makes much difference, whether you've got it or not ๐ŸŽจ
~ William Faulkner
From breakfast on through all the day
At home among my friends I stay,
 
But every night I go abroad
Afar into the land of Nod.
 
All by myself I have to go,
With none to tell me what to do—
 
All alone beside the streams
And up the mountain-sides of dreams.
 
The strangest things are there for me,
Both things to eat and things to see,
 
And many frightening sights abroad
Till morning in the land of Nod.
 
Try as I like to find the way,
I never can get back by day,
 
Nor can remember plain and clear
The curious music that I hear.
 
~ Robert Louis Stevenson (in "The Land of Nod" from A Child's Garden Of Verses (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) 
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7. Lose Yourself In The Immortal Quest For True Art (In Writing) ๐ŸŽจ


My two cents' worth: It all comes down to this: In your losing yourself lies your victory. Be selfless as you immerse yourself in the search for true grace. Wield the pen and put it to paper to serve others; true art is selfless, infinitely deep in compassion, and immeasurably warm in reception. My promise to you all is but this: I will write down the bones. I will weep till my tears drench the words I write, in the hope that the moisture will revive those words and make them sing. Should you find melody in what you read here, please pass it along so that others—and I know that thousands out there lead lives of quiet desperation—can also take comfort in the knowledge that if an unknown like your blogger can make prose sing, so can anyone! Yes, anyone. Once and for all, I want to obliterate the myth that writing is somehow reserved for some highfalutin writing priesthood. It simply is not. Writing is for all of us. Yes, including us commoners. For crying out loud, it's in our DNA. Don't you let anyone convince you otherwise, okay? ๐ŸŽค
Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth ๐ŸŽจ
~ Pablo Picasso 
The artist is not a person endowed with free will who seeks his own ends, but one who allows art to realize its supreme purpose through him ๐ŸŽจ
~ Carl Jung
Mute and amazed was Alden; and listened and looked at Priscilla, 
Thinking he never had seen her more fair, more divine in her beauty.
He who but yesterday pleaded so glibly the cause of another,
Stood there embarrassed and silent, and seeking in vain for an answer.
So the maiden went on, and little divined or imagined
What was at work in his heart, that made him so awkward and speechless.
"Let us then, be what we are, and speak what we think, and in all things
Keep ourselves loyal to truth, and the sacred professions of friendship.
It is no secret I tell you, nor am I ashamed to declare it:
I have liked to be with you, to see you, to speak with you always.
So I was hurt at your words, and a little affronted to hear you
Urge me to marry your friend, though he were the Captain Miles Standish.
For I must tell you the truth: much more to me is your friendship
Than all the love he could give, were he twice the hero you think him."
Then she extended her hand, and Alden, who eagerly grasped it,
Felt all the wounds in his heart, that were aching and bleeding so sorely,
Healed by the touch of that hand, and he said, with a voice full of feeling:
"Yes, we must ever be friends; and of all who offer you friendship
Let me be ever the first, the truest, the nearest and dearest!"
 
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (in "Priscilla" from Selected Poems—Penguin Classics) 
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8. Write With The Abundance Of Devotion ๐ŸŒŽ


My two cents' worth: Even if you forget everything else that I have said up to this point, remember this: writing is not about money; it is not about  hand; it's all about putting the abundance of your devotion to the service of your readers. Money and fame are but baubles and trinkets; Dave will never be the source of true satisfaction. Service to others is. Write prose to serve others. Of course, take joy and pride in what you do ๐ŸŽค
Writers get exactly the right amount of fame: just enough to get a good table in a restaurant but not enough so that people are constantly interrupting you while you’re eating dinner ๐ŸŽจ
~ Fran Lebowitz 
It is advantageous to an author that his book should be attacked as well as praised. Fame is a shuttlecock. If it be struck at one end of the room, it will soon fall to the ground. To keep it up, it must be struck at both ends ๐ŸŽจ
~ Samuel Johnson
Superfluous were the sun
When excellence is dead;
He were superfluous every day,
For every day is said
 
That syllable whose faith
Just saves it from despair,
And whose 'I'll meet you' hesitates
If love inquire, 'Where?'
 
Upon his dateless fame
Our periods may lie,
As stars that drop anonymous
From an abundant sky.
 
~ Emily Dickinson (In XXXIV, from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
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9. Write With Valor: No Guts, No Glory ๐ŸŽ


My two cents' worth: Insipid writing does not leap from the page because it hasn't yet been animated by the spark of your imagination. It just lies there, moribund, curled up like lethargic looms of fog in the streets of London town at midnight. But that will not be your writing. You will write fearlessly; there is none to stop you. Should anyone demur, would you politely inform them that they will have to go through me? Yes, they will have to go through your blogger. Thank you ๐ŸŽค
It's better to write about things you feel than about things you know about ๐ŸŽจ
~ L. P. Hartley 
If you can tell stories, create characters, devise incidents, and have sincerity and passion, it doesn't matter a damn how you write ๐ŸŽจ
~ Somerset Maugham
Humble living does not diminish. It fills.
Going back to a simpler self gives wisdom.
When a man makes up a story for his child,
he becomes a father and a child
together, listening.

~ Jelaluddin Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi—HarperCollins) 

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Epilogue ๐ŸŽˆ

A Collage Reappears

As I was writing this essay, I shared an early draft with a dear friend (my brother, in fact) who pointed out something intriguing: In his beautifully wrought description (and he was referring to the picture of the collage which had appeared in the previous essay), he said in part that, "...it [the collage] recognizes the deep intellectual heritage that any piece of writing has..." ๐Ÿ’ฐ

By the way, I touched up that collage with some admittedly jaundiced arrows—as it appears above—to better bring out the inter-connectedness of it all: how all that we read and write today is linked to all that we've read and written before. Now is that tenderness or is that nostalgia or is that... ๐Ÿ’‹
 
And yes, I found myself in full agreement with my brother's assessment: everything that I know, and will ever come to know, will—much as it already has—lean on someone else's work that came before. It surely has; it surely will, just as surely as the day follows the night.

It's Only Together That We Can Make It Happen!

As a matter of fact, I lean on you, my reader, to keep me educated and informed. So you all, don't you be shy. Please allow yourself to feel emboldened in sharing your thoughts via the comments which you will (surely) be posting here, and elsewhere, on other essays which have appeared previously in this blog (Programming Digressions) ๐ŸŽƒ

I Grab My Copy Of The New John McPhee Book

Oh, to complete the thought above—recognizing the deep intellectual heritage that any piece of writing has—my brother pointed me in the direction of the new John McPhee book entitled Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process. There appears in McPhee's Draft No. 4 a marvelous illustration of "Xs and Os", he pointed out, which is symbolism-writ-large of the structural aspects of the writing process.
So I grabbed my own copy of McPhee's Draft No. 4—I started reading it fairly recently, along with Isaacson's big new biography of Leonardo da Vinci—and sure enough, there it was: the deliciously congruent vivification of the structural aspects of the writing process, those naughty "Xs and Os" ๐Ÿ˜™

A Parting Thought...

The only other thing I wish to add is this: When it comes to advice on writing style, or the writing process in general, most all the writing that I do—notwithstanding Professor Trimble's inimitable book on the subject as my trusty guide—and in fact most all the writing that I've done to date, I just "wing it" ๐Ÿƒ
Yep, I've been totally winging it: Obviously, the results—the essays that you read here—speak for themselves, wingdings and all ๐Ÿ˜‰