After more than a decade of being married to a web designer, I finally became interested in learning about hand-coding. Last night, Steve showed me the rudimentary skills of how to construct tags, with their corresponding end tags, then opened the text in Firefox to see how it looked, and voilà! it struck me that coding was very much like knitting.
In knitting, every stitch must be correctly formed and integrally linked to the adjacent stitches, or else the fabric will unravel. It’s a methodical crafting process in which every detail is important–any pattern mistakes will show up in the finished piece. Likewise, in coding, one has to pay attention to every keystroke so as not to screw up the web page.
Then I thought of math–say, geometry or algebra or calculus–where each symbol is a vital part of the solution. For every problem, there’s an elaborate system that must be taught step-by-step in order for a person to grasp what is happening in the mathematical system.
Music, too. While anyone can listen to and appreciate music (I’ve even heard a deaf person sing), it takes a slow accumulation of details for someone to grasp music theory, which is like a universe unto itself, to create meaningful harmonies and musical structures.
Suddenly each of these different systems of thought struck me as separate worlds, each constructed slowly over hundreds of years by different people dedicated to mastering the details, building on previous knowledge, whiling away hours in an abstract place of the imagination, somewhat separate from the ordinary, animal things of life–cooking, eating, sleeping, fighting, sex.
Each of these systems converge somewhere in “real life,” as when building with wood, or using Facebook, or singing, yet those practical uses represent only tiny points contained in the giant universes that exist as systems of thought, whether in music theory, programming, geometry or calculus.
As I lay in bed trying to fall asleep, each of these different intellectual pursuits seemed to me like parallel universes, ever-expanding, strange places to those who haven’t spent a lifetime of study learning to navigate their vast territories.
It occurs to me that written language–even spoken language–is yet another of these vast universes. People talk about literature taking you to another world, putting it metaphorically. But language itself, a pattern of syllables and symbols, is its own universe, too–a system of thought that exists parallel to the bodily one in which we live.
Somehow, this all seemed very deep as I was falling asleep, which is probably why I’ve never felt a need to experiment with marijuana. Suddenly I got a little silly, and started singing, “A Whole New World,” and told Steven that he and I had been like Aladdin and Princess Jasmine on the magic carpet, when he was showing me about coding. (Again, no need for mind-altering substances here.)
Today, as I spend the day alone in my old farmhouse, practicing scales on the piano, blogging, drawing, and writing, it’s as though I’m traveling between different universes, trying to learn the languages, taste the cultures, wondering how long it will take to feel like a resident in one of these places instead of a hitchhiker.
A quiet day alone can sometimes feel like rush hour in Union Station.