On the Intersection Between Love, Words, and Code

A series of meta-sketches

1. I am not good with words. I realized this when I was talking to my high school sweetheart over the phone. When he told me the truth of what had happened that night, and instead of an eloquent, mature response, an impromptu eulogy with all the finality of stamping out a used cigarette, I cursed him out. Fuck you. The dirt rained from my mouth. Fuck her, fuck you, fuck me for being a stupid fool in love. And then I hung up and for the next seven months, I failed to utter any words of substance. The ellipsis became an idle squatter on my tongue. My creative productivity staved off because I would not, could not, articulate him into existence.

2. Ex. E-X. [eks]. Two letters. One syllable. A short e sound clipped by a hard x. Terse and abrupt, signalling rupture. Baggage.

The word ex was born when some genius realized what a mouthful it was to say “ex-boyfriend” whenever the occasion rose to drudge up the past. So at its essence, it is the prefix ex- reincarnated and then situated, grounded in the bitter history of petty squabbles and love letters laid to waste. If you search for the meaning of ex- in the dictionary, you will see that its Latin roots have carried over to modern definitions: out of, from, beyond. How fitting. Words that suggest that there used to be a whole when now there are only parts.

3. This happens whenever I get tired of the blinking cursor: I press my palms against the blank screen. As if I can physically pull out the bits and pieces that comprise the digital ink of my solipsistic life. Even my fingerprints mock me — a Rorschach of a donkey mounting a butterfly before fading into the white pixels of writer’s block.

4. Speaking of solipsism — despite the countless books I’ve read, annotated, and drooled upon, the scope of my own writing remains painfully narrow. The words somehow always wander back to the material of my painfully average life. The wells of the mirror seem to be a practice in recursion rather than perspective and insight.

I’d like to think that my contemplative nature means that I’m more in tune with my feelings. That it is natural to write about what you know best and what the hell, if Sylvia Plath can do it then why can’t I? Sometimes I like to fancy myself a writer — especially after I’ve penned down a particularly satisfying line. After all, what is writing but an exploration of the human condition? And what is the human condition but human cravings that are universal to us all?

5. I am simply another English major traversing the canyons of my own past, sitting around spitting out words and calling the result art.

6. I am learning how to code. Every other hour I exchange words for character arrays, pointers, and while loops — a new language I must master with the added intimidation of my being a woman, a humanities major, and a beginner with the experience of a toddler shoving square blocks into circle holes. Some days the logic in my brain flows seamlessly and the complier almost purrs in response to my haphazard inputs. Other days I am reminded that I am completely out of my element and maybe they’re right — maybe you do need to just get it and what if women can’t code and so what if these words can be twisted into poetry when the computer has the literary insight of a potato until you program it otherwise?

Programming is hard. But then again, so is writing. I am reminded of this when my writing becomes incoherent and needs a debugger of its own, when my program resembles a stylistic mess, a conglomerate of redundancies and hasty indentations so that I can’t tell one infinite loop from the next. I can sit in front of my computer paralyzed by my need to pursue perfection at all cost, or I can just do it — write until a segmentation fault forces me to go back and parse through the rough draft. I am lucky that I take after my mother when it comes to pushing large objects up steep hills. And so I continue to grind away at the keyboard, eating words disguised as binary strings.

This is what I’ve found so far: writing and programming are not so different. They are both generative processes based on the building blocks of logic and creativity. The writer-programmer formulizes these abstractions using syntactical structures governed by a given set of rules, the grammar of said language, to piece together thoughts and concepts into a coherent beginning, middle, and end. The result is a body of work subject to reinterpretation and revision by other writer-programmers, an iterative practice that feeds upon itself in the quest for constant self-improvement.

7. A writer-programmer. Is that what I aim to be? The synthesis of two seemingly opposite magnets that chase each other around on the surface of a refrigerator. A clunky neologism that people can choke on.

Is a writer-programmer more writer than programmer? Is the soul of the poet composing with the machine or despite it? How to split the psyche of a writer-programmer — in half? In alternating sixths? A modular expression that spits out the remaining bits of his or her sanity? And what to do with the chunks that overlap — in which Fitzgerald balances on top of a typewriter mapping diphthongs to zeros and ones, a drink in one hand, a pen in the other?

8. When it rains I feel the urge to press my face against the window pane. As if I can find the solution to my problems in the wetness of the gravel, the muddy puddles swimming with homeless earthworms. The murmur of the rain is a welcome break from the imperceptible buzz of a computer screen. I can stay that way for hours, fingertips tapping out half-formed lines of narrative and code until my brain turns into primordial soup.

What do love, words, and code have in common, anyway? My cell phone screen lights up with an inquiry from my now ex. I think back to the moment when I cursed him out, the profanities raining from my mouth. Words had failed me then. Or perhaps it was I who had failed — the words I could not say weighing down my bones until months later, I released them on my own terms.

I put away my phone — one more question to ponder for another time.

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