TITLE: Manhood, and Programming, for Amateurs AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: June 30, 2011 10:26 AM DESC: ----- BODY: A while back, I mentioned reading "Manhood for Amateurs". Like many of you, I collect quotes and passages. These days, I collect them in text files, a growing collection of digital commonplace books that I store in one of my folders of stuff. "Manhood for Amateurs" gave me many. Some seem as true about my life as programmer or teacher as they are about manhood or the world more generally.
... I never truly felt [the immensity of the universe] until I looked through a first-rate instrument at an unspoiled sky.
Call me crazy, but this brought to mind the summer I learned Smalltalk. I had been programming for ten years. When I first opened that Digitalk image and felt like I'd walked through the back of C.S. Lewis's wardrobe. After working through a simple tutorial from the manual, I was ready to explore. The whole world of computer science seemed to lie before me, written in simple sentences. Even arithmetic was implemented right there for me to read, to play with. Smalltalk was my first first-rate instrument. (Scheme was my second. There is nothing there! Just a few functions. The paucity of types, functions, objects, and libraries let me focus on what had to be there.)
the dark tide of magical boredom [... was ...] the source of all my inspiration
I wonder how much of my desire to program early on was driven by the stark fact that, if I wanted the computer to do anything, I had to teach it. There are so many distractions these days, on the computer and off. Will some possible future programmers never have a chance to create a desire out of their own bored minds' search?
If we are conducting our lives in the usual fashion, each of us serves as a constant source of embarrassment to his or her future self....
Spoken like a programmer. If you don't believe me, dig out some of your old code and read it.
Everything you love most is a lifelong focus of insufficiency.
Chabon is speaking as a man, a son, a husband, a father, and also, I presume, a writer. I feel this insufficiency as a teacher and as a programmer.
Every work of art is a secret handshake, a challenge that seeks the password, a heliograph flashed from a tower window, an act of hopeless optimism in the service of bottomless longing.
Okay, so this is more poetic than some of my programmer friends care to be, but it made me think of some of the little gems of code I have stumbled upon over the years. They were conceived in a programmer's mind and made real, then shared with the world. One of the great joys of living in this age is open-source software world and having the web and GitHub and CPAN available. It is so easy to find software created by a fellow artist out of love and hope and magic. It is so easy to share our own creations. That leads me to one last quote, which comes from an essay in which Chabon describes his experience as a member of writers' workshops in his MFA program. He was a young poseur, being as dishonest to himself as he was to the people around him. He began to grow up when he realized something:
Without taking themselves half as seriously as I did, they were all twice as serious about what they were doing.
Take a look at all the wonderful work being done in the software world and being shared and written about for us. Then see if you can look yourself in the mirror and pretend you are anything but just another beginner on a path to being better. Then, get serious. (Just don't mistake being serious with not having fun!) -----