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 💞
When I was a child I had a fever
My hands felt just like two balloons 🎈 🎈
Now I've got that feeling once again
I can't explain, you would not understand👻 👻
This is not how I am
I have become comfortably numb 💭 💭
~ 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 💔 🌱 🌿 🌻
~ Kahlil Gibran (From The Prophet)
She had lost the art of conversation, but not, unfortunately, the power of speech 💋 🍯
~ 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 🌾 🌾 🌾 🌾
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (From The Slave's Dream)
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 🐣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…
~ Stephen King (On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft — Scribner)
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]: 💭 💭 💭
- First Reader: "On the first day we got comatose drivel—On Writing: Or Why I Write?" 💭
- Second Reader: "On the second day, moribund trash—On Writing: Or How I Write?" 💭
- Third Reader: "And on the third day, yet more junk—On Writing: Or, Wow I Write?" 💭
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: "Exactically! Ahem, 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 😢
A Guide To The Fun Which Lies Ahead 🏁
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 💑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 🌹
~ John Updike (in "Interview with John Updike" by Ian Mcewan)
Pit Stops (aka Sojourns) On Our JourneySo let's get started with a bird's eye view of the sojourns we'll hit during the upcoming excursion ⛷
- Rewrite Down The Bones 💀
- Become A Chaser-of-Ideas 🏄
- Ride The Unicorn Of Your Imagination 🎠
- Ponder On How Art Follows Life 🎭
- Hitch Your (Writing) Wagon To A Star 🌟
- Sprinkle Your Writing With The Pixie Dust Of (Kaleidoscopic) Music 🎊
- Lose Yourself In The Immortal Quest For True Art (In Writing) 🎨
- Write With The Abundance Of Devotion 🌎
- Write With Valor: No Guts, No Glory 🐎
Receding Like The Distant Ship Smoke On The HorizonOkay, 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? 🎒
Great, let's start our journey with that crucial first step🚶
A Pattern Language 🎲
Brief BackgroundMuch 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 😴
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… 🔪
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... 📐 📏 📌 📑 📒 📎
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! 👴
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 SoftwareAnd 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 🌊
(Addison Wesley) by Gamma, E., R. Helm, R. Johnson, and J. Vlissides
The Pattern Language: AnnotatedHere, 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!) 🎯
- My two cents' worth: My editorial "wisdom" (You back there, stop snickering. Now!) 🎤
- Quotation: A quotation to lend texture to the discussion (We play with word-painting) 🎨
- Picture: A picture with which to ground the narrative (This will be your ticket) 🎫
- Poem: A poem to wrap it all up into a unified whole (Big gifts come in small packages) 🎁
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 😹
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 👺
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 💀
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 Michener! 🎤
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... 🎨~ Michael Crichton
The wastepaper basket is the writer's best friend 🎨~ 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)
2. Become A Chaser-of-Ideas 🏄
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 🎤
What's hard, in hacking as in fiction, is not writing, it's deciding what to write 🎨~ Neal Stephenson
There are thousands of thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up the pen and writes 🎨~ 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)
3. Ride The Unicorn Of Your Imagination 🎠
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! 🎤
Most writers regard the truth as their most valuable possession, and therefore are most economical in its use 🎨~ 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 🎨~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)
4. Ponder On How Art Follows Life 🎭
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? 🎤
I write for the same reason I breathe—because if I didn’t, I would die 🎨~ Isaac Asimov
How vain it is to sit down to write if you have not stood up to live 🎨~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)
5. Hitch Your (Writing) Wagon To A Star 🌟
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! 🎤
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 🎨~ 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 🎨~ Ernest Hemingway
Each life converges to some centre
Expressed or still;
Exists in every human nature
Admitted scarcely to itself,
it may be,
For credibility’s temerity
Adored with caution, as a brittle heaven,
Were hopeless as the rainbow’s raiment
Yet persevered toward, surer for the distance;
Unto the saints' slow diligence
Ungained, it may be, by a life's low venture,
Eternity enables the endeavoring
~ Emily Dickinson (In "XXXV: THE GOAL", from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson)
6. Sprinkle Your Writing With The Pixie Dust Of (Kaleidoscopic) Music 🎊
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... 🎤
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 🎨~ 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 🎨~ 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)
7. Lose Yourself In The Immortal Quest For True Art (In Writing) 🎨
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? 🎤
Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth 🎨~ 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 🎨~ 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)
8. Write With The Abundance Of Devotion 🌎
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 🎤
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 🎨~ 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 🎨~ 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)
9. Write With Valor: No Guts, No Glory 🐎
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 🎤
It's better to write about things you feel than about things you know about 🎨~ 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 🎨~ 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
~ Jelaluddin Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi—HarperCollins)
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..." 💰
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... 💋
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) 🎃
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" 😙
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" 🏃
Yep, I've been totally winging it: Obviously, the results—the essays that you read here—speak for themselves, wingdings and all 😉