Why do I even bother?
Penmanship and me.
Or, Why do I even bother?

Penmanship and me, or,
Why do I even bother?



O God, O Venus, O Mercury, patron of thieves,
Lend me a little tobacco-shop,
Or install me in any profession,
Save this damn'd profession of writing,
Where one needs one's brains all the time.
--Ezra Pound



So.

Why do I even bother? Why do I take the trouble to sit down and write, of all things!, knowing fully well that what I articulate will probably not be as ground-breaking or as eloquent or even as sensible as I would like it to be? What do I get out of it? What do I want out of it? What drives me? What drives writers in general?

Why do I even bother?

Frankly, I don't know. These essays are an attempt (or attempts, plural, if you like) to try and understand (and if possible, justify) this particular propensity I have for writing. Whether I'm any good at it is for you to decide[1]. So allow me to throw in a few words your way, a few analogies, and even a few footnotes while I'm at it; and then ask your better judgement to decide for you.



Knitting together a kaleidoscope
Music is much like
written language.

The process of writing is, essentially, one of multidimensional sequencing--like playing a raaga[2] on the violin. And the effect is somewhat similar. A raaga, like language, has a definite structure, mood and theme: yet, within these confines, one can find boundless scope for creative improvisation. Music is much like written language. A fluent player will glide through the maze of notes, stepping in and out like a bamboo dancer, flowing like a trapeze artist, accenting what is significant and downplaying what is incongruous--all for the simple and perhaps otherwise unttainable end--that of clarity. Clarity of thought.

And so it is, that I write for clarity of thought.

To delineate my thoughts--to crystallize them, to stare at it from another man's eyes. To try and ferret out what is latent. To move, one step at a time; from seeing the vertices, to seeing the edges, to seeing the lattice.



The reverse consequent[3]

If one likes what is being put down on paper, then, maybe, one must like putting things down on paper too?

I like writing, because, well, as I now realize, I like reading too. I'm a decent reader, though not necessarily a good writer. My guess is that since I understand the power of words and the beauty of the literature that I read, I feel empowered enough to create something equally powerful and beautiful. Oddly, the ability to do it comes a distant second. (Yes, I know. No, it's not logical. It doesn't work that way in any system of logic.) But I still say anyone who reads Emerson's `History' and is not electrified by the sheer wonderment of the prose within has no sense of the beautiful. Writing is, therefore, aesthetic.

And so it is, that I write for beauty.

Writing is an instrument that has uncommon powers. It can move nations. It can tip empires. It can make fortunes. Under the printed word, religions could reel, and all the king's men and all the king's weapons can be laid mute before it. Language is not merely a channel for expression, it is a mechanism for rationality and knowledge and who knows--even enlightenment.

And so it is, that I write for rationality, knowledge and enlightenment.



Writing vis-a-vis Coding

Thinking about this got me wondering about another not unrelated question: why do I code? Why do I like coding? Why do I like both coding and writing? Perhaps a coincidence? What is being an author (of an essay or of a software program) all about? What are the joys and woes of the craft? Is it just a torrent of ideas swirling into one giant tornado?

To wit:

As lookers-on feel most delight,
That least perceive a juggler's sleight,
And still the less they understand,
The more they admire his sleight of hand.[4]

Which is a very sophisticaed way of saying that I don't know; but I sure as hell admire it, and whatever it is that makes me not understand it.

I have been drawn to writing and coding the very first time I ever did either of them--like a seasoned traveller being drawn to the untravelled mountain yonder. And both invole the same actions at so many levels that there HAD to be a connection.

Of course! there is.

Both programming and
writing are very structured.

Both programming and writing are very structured, or at the very least, more structured than the other arts. The only coupling between adjacent lines in a software program or in a written monograph is the logic that moves silently beneath--a purpose to fulfill--a problem to be solved or a point to be made. Both arts contrive their contributing patterns primarily in time; they are temporal arts.

And, both acts generate something that is meant to be read. Writing generates literature that disseminates knowledge, thought, wisdom; and it is read (and enjoyed) by humans. Programming also generates literature, albeit of an altogether different variety, that is also read by an altogether different entity: computers. In both cases, writing is just little more than a facilitatory step towards reading. Writing is the means, reading is the end.

Economy inspires elegance.
Constraint ignites creativity.

Writers and programmers are condemned to use stubborny rigid structures to achieve their (similar) ends. Both forms demand rigorous structural thinking as well as, ironically, an almost antithetical imagination. This is all the less obvious for programmers. Economy inspires elegance[5]. Constraint ignites creativity. Like collagists trying to recreate the Mona Lisa, they try to wrest fluid creativity from the clutches of an insurgent medium. Which seems, prima facie, to be hopeless; but, all is not lost, as the hours of history proudly prove.

Writers have no other motive than just that; writing. They do not always conceive their books as products that serve a particular need[6]. Programmers almost always code because the code they write has a particular purpose. (Programming is a more exact science than writing, in that sense.) But both enjoy the covetous luxury of personal omnipotence--words are their only master, or, they are slaves only of words.



Playing God

Both forms of writing involve creating something. Writers rejoice in the aesthetic appeal of words arranged in pattern. Programmers revel in watching complexity arise out of simplicity: in watching the heterogenous components of a system coalesce into one integral whole; the joy akin to a 10-year-old watching his first system of toy trains run through his newly built city.

It is about harmony;
concinnity in a crafted
world.

Every word, phrase, sentence, and paragraph must move in a logical progression, must carry a motif faithfully, and convey a definite import. Just like every byte of code must play in tune with the others in a subroutine; and together, this orchestra must produce a symphony which cannot be derived from a cursory examination of its constituent parts. The violin and the oboe must play in such and such a manner; either alone will not do; and mere togetherness will not achieve synchronicity. It is about harmony--a balance of ideas made manifest by a marshalling of words--concinnity in a crafted world.

Heck, I say this is the closest you can get to playing God. To conceive, design and implement something never created before has an impish thrill to it that draws legions of faithful devotees into its lair. Why do kids like Lego blocks? It is, as they say, One Point Oh[7]--pioneering something totally new, something totally `cool'. An ability to spawn anything at all from nothingness. It is discovery, it is exploration, it is science, it is philosophy, and--more than anything else--it is fun.

Amen.



(In case you're wondering why the original question hasn't been answered, why do I bother?; here goes: Because, above all else, I have something to say. I don't know what it is, but I want to say it nevertheless. And writing tends to bring out more than mere thought. For example, I see billboards every single day. But if I wanted to write an essay about them, I'd learn a lot more and think a lot more about them--like the number of billboards that have celebrities on them, how effective they are, whether people actually notice them and are influenced by them, about what kind of products I see on billboards, their positioning, about how some billboards are so attention-grabbing to the point of causing accidents, and so on and so forth--none of which I'd have thought about just watching them zoom past on a bus ride. Billboards aren't a particularly convincing example, but you get the drift.)


NOTES

[1] Do you think I'm just sound and fury, signifying nothing? Or am I worse? Don't wait-- Tell me. (See my note on criticism before you send me anything, though.)

[2] In Indian music: a pattern of notes used as a basis for melodies and improvisations. (from the OED.) Sometimes spelt raga (incorrectly, it seems to me--the Carnatic raaga has a longer initial syllable raa than the English ra. And, it's a softer `r' too.).

[3] No reference to Aristotle's Posterior Analytics is intended.

[4] Samuel Butler: Hudibras

[5] The classic example cited in the literature is that of UNIX, an operating system designed to run on the relatively slow and small hardware of the times.

[6] Except technical articles that do serve a VERY specific need.

[7] An allusion to software development, where the first `version' of a major new product is given a version number of 1.0, and subsequent versions are given incremental numbers. However, the real allusion is to be read as `the first version of a software application (or program) that gets widespread attention and (media) coverage, especially because of its novelty'.