On Writing: Or A Row With How I Write

1 d

Ember by ember, bit by bit,
Things warmed up, the fire was lit

Seared in the pit,
The words were writ  

Bit by bit
Wit by wit  

Slowly, mitt by mitt,
The essays were knit  

Bit by bit,
Fit by fit  

Essays saved and archived, hit by hit,
Pushed to Git, commit by commit 

Missives undelivered or intercepted, chit by chit
So who subjugated who, Brit by Brit?  

Brick upon brick, grit by grit,
The gleaming edifice was built 

The rocket was readied for takeoff, bit by bit
The literature was assembled, DIY-kit by DIY-kit 

Aha, this must be the house that Peterbilt,
Wait! No! This is the house that Akram built 

Don Quixote sure had at the windmill, tilt by tilt,
So did Milton in his own way, I suppose “Milt” by “Milt” 

So let the bits fly, Akram, you twit
Let ’em fly (like a snitch), wit by wit  

Bit by bit,
Lit by lit  

All the world’s but a stage, with men and women engaged in some bizarre skit,
Where tweets alight from the sky like bird-poop, aerial s**t by aerial s**t  

What is this thing with feathers that seems to dart about and flit?,
Builds our dreams, yet goes for the throat, slit by slit 

All the same, hit by hit,
The essays became fit  

Every single essay I ever wrote, I winged it,
Every song that arose in my heart, I singed it 

Ember unto ember, hilt unto hilt,
The embers glowed, the fire had been lit  

Sit back and watch the embers show their glow; sit now sit,
Bask in the glowing edifice that’s been rewrit; it’s been lit

~ Akram Ahmad (“Ember by Ember” ⛽ — another random poem by a writer, blogger, software craftsman, son, husband, father, brother, and friend)

The Definitions 🔦

row (noun): a noisy quarrel or dispute (Pronounced so as to rhyme with, um, “pow”) 👊
daguerreotype (noun): (a picture made by) an obsolete photographic process, invented in 1839, in which a picture made on a silver surface sensitized with iodine was developed by exposure to mercury vapor 📷

The Quotes 📟

It’s a question that people ask in different ways—sometimes it comes out polite and sometimes it comes out rough, but it always amounts to the same: Do you do it for the money, honey? The answer is no. Don’t now and never did 💰
~  Stephen King (On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft — Scribner)    

Preamble 🎈

I’m not asking you to come reverently or unquestioningly; I’m not asking you to be politically correct or cast aside your sense of humor (please God you have one). This isn’t a popularity contest, it’s not the moral Olympics, and it’s not church. But it’s writing, damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can’t or won’t, it’s time for you to close the book and do something else. 
Wash the car, maybe 🚘  
(The bold above was added by your blogger for emphasis. Loved it!) 

~ Stephen King (On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft — Scribner)

A Harbinger Of Things To Come 🐱

Grappling With A (Hitherto) Latent Journey

I would like to share with you—take you along with me, in fact—on a journey of sorts 🚶

So I have lately been reckoning with certain themes, not at one level but two (micro and macro), just to make things more interesting:

  • Micro-cosmic: The first theme touches on an internal debate, almost a quarrel—hence my use of the word “row” in the name of this essay—about how to reorient myself in my writing style to serve you better. This is about the ever-evolving writing style that I bring to the essays you read.
  • Macro-cosmic: As for the second theme, it’s tinged by the yearning for a search, one fueled by magic: You know how sometimes we are looking for things and all the while we’re not even aware of the deep yearning to find what was lost or maybe not even ours to begin with; yep, these are telltale signs of confabulation writ large in a discursive foray into dissimulation. Hey, something like that, anyway!

Good enough? Great, let’s get going! (Not to worry; no New Age hand-waving going on either above or in what follows) 👘

Your Blogger Is Awestruck

I was petrified as I read the book. Yes, petrified, and terrified: I was unnerved as I turned its pages, riveted—more like transfixed—by the story which the author was telling!

I felt terrified because I was witnessing phenomenal writing talent on display, a talent raw yet immensely well-trained at the same time, feral yet phenomenally-tamed at the same time; writing talent quite unlike anything I had seen before. If anyone remembers the classic movie Chariots of Fire: It’s like when Harold Abraham, watching the 400 meters dash from the bleachers, clenches the paper flyer—which has the schedule of the races for the day—into a crumpled ball in his big fist as he witnesses the ferocity with which Eric Liddell runs, and wins, the race!

And I felt unnerved because I could scarcely believe that anyone could write with such conviction, with such clarity, with such passion; this was writing magnificence writ large.

Oh. My. God.

Clearly, I was moved by the book’s message on an approach to the craft of writing, made all the more memorable by the riveting prose in which it was delivered. This coming from a fan boy of Professor John Trimble’s inimitable gem entitled Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing—long-time readers know full well that I fondly refer to that gem simply by its initials, WWS—and which I’ve asked of you (in the past) to commit to memory. No doubt, WWS came first and it will never be supplanted. All the same, the new book I’m raving about is a rather special bird; it’s not a bird-by-bird chronicle—awesome though that chronicle is in its own right—but a unique bird all right 🐓

So I surreptitious kept turning its pages, all the while telling myself that the magic that was engulfing me—leaping out at me as it was from the pages of this new book—was bound to wear off in a few pages. But that was not to be, I am delighted to report! The magic in the writing was showing no signs of wearing off: woohoo! And I kept reading, transfixed by what I was reading. Yay!

Unnerved by the ferocity of the writing, I kept turning its pages; it was the kind of rawness with which I want to write.

A Book On Writing That…

itself is a remarkable example of riveting prose. How about that? 😎

The riveting prose in the new page-turner knocked my socks off; it was the kind of prose that I had always wanted to be able to write. Not only was I reading a master lesson in the craft of writing, I was also reading a sterling example of masterful writing from a writer at the peak of his career ⛰

Here, then, was a book that practiced what it preached: delivering the message in harmony with its goals by serving as an excellent example itself of what riveting prose can look like. Yep, the whole notion of leading by example. Or to use an analogy from computer science—imprecisely so, by my own admission—here, then, was a book that could rightly claim to be an exegesis of the metacircular interpreter (which, in a nutshell, defines each feature of the interpreted language using a similar facility of the interpreter’s host language) 💻

Had I Finally Met My Implacable Nemesis?

I had met my implacable nemesis; the kind of spur with which to leaven—not goad, mind you, but leaven—my overvaulting ambition to write like nobody in the world has written before. Before I get a millions comments accusing me of having let all this writing go to my head, allow me to add (parenthetically) that writers do not compete with one another; we compete with ourselves. It’s a meritocracy of one: E pluribus unum 💵

Then again, allow me to drive the point home that I’m not some arrogant prissy—people who know me have a slightly loftier view of me, at least they did, last time I checked what people have been writing about me. Anyhow, all that I had in mind in what I said above—”to write like nobody in the world has written before”—is wholly informed (neither more nor less) by the advice to

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.
~ Oscar Wilde

Cool? 👻

Relax. We’re all geeks and stuff over here, proletarians at heart (neither more nor less) 👕 👖

Having Made My Case…

All the same, I’ve made my case: should anyone catch me wringing my hands in the fashion of Lady Macbeth’s hand-washing—look, did anyone ever catch me saying: Out, damned spot?—we can certainly chat more at that time. Till then, I bide my time. Tick, tock… More fashionably, think the hourglass: yep, these sure are the days of our lives

Anyhow, anyhow

The more I read my newly-discovered prize-of-a-book, the more I was convinced that I was beholding writing greatness; the more I dug into the captivating narrative, the more I was drawn in—deeper by the sentence, by the paragraph, by the chapter—increasingly assured that this was not a fluke 💹

The more I turned the pages of the book, the more I was impressed. I was witnessing writing awesomeness: clean, unencumbered, and unaffected prose that purred to me (Insert one “meow” here) 🐈

Writing Awesomeness

I felt as if I was in the presence of awesomeness that was at once benevolent and didactic!

Loved it 💋

This is greatness to which I aspire, notwithstanding that I’ve fondly been called a sprezzatura by well-wishers; more on that million dollar word (sprezzatura) later, so not to worry (Till recently, I, too, didn’t have a clue either as to what that word meant—it sure sounds like the name of a carbonated drink now, doesn’t it?—until some events unfolded over the past several months) 🍹

2 d

It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around 🎨

~ Stephen King (On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft — Scribner)


So You’ve Found Your Spark: What Do We Do Next? 💥

Something Of Themes & Memes

Lately, the theme foremost in my mind has been: What do you after you have discovered your spark, after you’ve discovered your muse? Indeed, what do you do? Do you wring your hands in despair and wait for inspiration to strike? I’m not a fatalist—far from it, I’m a card-carrying member of the (apocryphal?) alive pragmatists society—so that strategy (if fatalism can be glorified by calling it a “strategy”) wasn’t going to fly: no way, José. Or do I jump over a cliff like lemmings do? Nope, way too painful: uh-uh 🐁 🐀 🐁 🐀 🐁 🐀

Oh, so in my parenthetical observation above about my having discovered my spark—many of my regular readers likely are already on to it—I was, of course, referring to the gem which got its very own handful of essays on our blog here, the following three to be precise:

  1. Plato And The Nerd 👓
  2. Return of Plato And The Nerd 👖
  3. Plato And The Nerd Strikes Back 👕

I was also—in making mention of discovering one’s muse—referring to someone I revere, someone…🐱

Anyhow… Yes, while I do of course freely share with you all the themes currently on my mind, sometimes even to the point of stream-of-consciousness narrative—look, you all are simply the best, I love you all—one can divulge only so much. So whether one’s life should be considered an open book will remain an open question: fair enough? 📖

Your Vienna Waits For You

Basically, having discovered your spark and found your muse, you go about whichever way you can to hone your writing skills. You knew where this was going, didn’t you?

One more time, how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Yep: Practice, practice, practice! 

🎶 🎶 🎶

Much like computer programming—at least the way I see it—writing is not a spectator sport 🏀 🎾 🏈  You learn (and improve) by doing, not by merely watching (I firmly believe in the criticality of mentoring, which is basically showing-others-how-things-are-done, so don’t get me wrong). At any rate, the analog (of the take above on getting to Carnegie Hall) in the writing world might be something like

One more time, how do you get your very own Pulitzer Prize? Yep: Write, write, write! 📓 📓 📓

Here’s the deal: some are born with those skills, and some without. In full candor, your blogger finds himself squarely in the latter camp. Curiously enough, though, some have tried to convince me otherwise; that I’m actually in the former camp even as I remain firmly unconvinced by their kind conviction, incredibly kind—even humbling—and deeply appreciated though their gestures truly are ⛺

You all, do please remind me to chat some about the time when I was moved to grab my copy of the new John McPhee book entitled Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process. In passing, here’s the scoop: So I had grabbed my copy of McPhee’s Draft No. 4—I had begun reading it fairly recently, not too long after diving into Isaacson’s big new biography of Leonardo da Vinci—and couldn’t help but get a kick out of McPhee’s own run in with the whole sprezzatura deal 😙

But I digress.
3 d

I have written because it fulfilled me. Maybe it paid off the mortgage on the house and got the kids through college, but those things were on the side—I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever 🎡

~ Stephen King (On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft — Scribner) 

Another (Fellow) Writer Who Writes For The Buzz 🏄


He Verily Speaks My Language, Woohoo!

Let me put it this way: this guy speaks my language, woohoo!

Look, I’m a stickler for details: If anything brings about my downfall—other than, of course, my penchant for digressing—it will be my fanatical devotion to details. With that, I now share with you the very first time that I came upon the word “row”… Not the pedestrian, “row” as in “row, row, row your boat” but as in the seldom-used variant, “a noisy quarrel or dispute (Pronounced so as to rhyme with, um, “cow”). Cowabunga 🐄  And cows galore for sure 🐄 🐄 🐄 🐄

The Loss Of Innocence

So this is my loss of innocence as far as the word “row” is concerned—in Chapter XI of a slim book that was assigned reading in high school—as I encountered it in these opening words from Chapter XI of the Hilton book. And mind you, not the hotel, the book lol:

AND THEN THE ROW with Ralston. Funny thing, Chips had never liked him; he was efficient, ruthless, ambitious, but not, somehow, very likable. He had, admittedly, raised the status of Brookfield as a school, and for the first time in memory there was a longish waiting list. Ralston was a live wire; a fine power transmitter, but you had to beware of him 🎓

~ James Hilton (Goodbye, Mr. Chips: A Novel)

I will add only this much: This was made all the more interesting—as if there were a shortage of interesting things on my grubby hand in those days—by the fact that one of my classmates was named Rao! (Rhymes with the word “Dow” from the finance world, and not with the word “DAO” from the software world, at least not the pronunciation variant I’m familiar with which, by the way, rhymes with “mayo”). I leave it to your imagination—after all, as a reader, you’ve got to do some work—to conjure up some irreverent word-playing fun we high schoolers had around that time in our lives. Ah, when we all felt invincible, with scarcely a worry on our mind other than what we would have for lunch, when we were young and free, when…

Um, I do digress at times, don’t I? 😙 (Hint: You’re supposed to reply with an emphatic No here)

Okay, what you got above was a taste of the fruits from my fanatical devotion to details. How about a dose of an innocuous digression such as the one coming up next? Ready? And please—puh-leezedo please tell me that my essays don’t taste like Robitussin!

So my encounter—think Close Encounters of the Third Kind—with that malfeasant scumbag of a word (“row”) was from Goodbye, Mr. Chips: A Novel. Yep, since it was assigned reading in high school, it obviously tasted like medicine at that time 👹

Enough. We’re Not Taking Any More Medicine

Enough talk of cough medicine. Let’s bring some medicine-free joy back with some impenitent verses of rhyme, shall we? Here we go!

Watch the writer precariously perched atop a turret, hopelessly in love with words,
See the improbable poetpoised on a tuffet, eating his own words and curds 🐞 

Watch as a software craftsman revels in the trenches where code is made in the shade,See him pushing back derelict fronds and fern glades with the gentle nudge of a blade 🌿 

Watch as his implacable foe—the bard—bends to erect a laughable house of cards,
He, meanwhile—jujitsu-style—blithely tend to his distributed computing shards

 ~ Akram Ahmad (“Pushing the Envelope” 📜  — yet another random poem by a writer, blogger, software craftsman, son, husband, father, brother, and friend)

Since we are on the subject of schooldays, I might as well mention that—and this is going way down memory lane—I attended Aitchison College (a high school, really, but the word “college” somehow stuck, so there you have it). Aitchison is modeled after Eton and Harrow in England. We did some pretty cool stuff there while I was a student; in brief, taking part in any and all essay-writing competitions that I could barge my way into is one memory that pops into my head. But I digress.

Oh, one other memory that I’d like to wedge in—especially since we were talking about Eton and Harrow above—is that of a brilliant essay written by a fellow Aitchisonian (a classmate in fact, who went on to attend the University of Cambridge) that was entitled Why Aitchison? That essay explored, among other things, the theme of how

The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton 👦

Uh-oh, Here Comes The Stickler For Detail

Once again, being the stickler for details that I am, I did some investigation and found that the quotation above is actually a misquote. It’s no big deal; the correct quotation is the following one:

Probably the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton, but the opening battles of all subsequent wars have been lost there 

Allow me just one more digression: won’t you please indulge me? Look up the first year (of an education) at Harrow—pretty cool stuff—as made memorable by Winston Churchill.

Having said all that about Harrow and Churchill, I must hasten to emphasize—lest anyone jump to the totally wrong conclusion that I’m some prissy aristocrat—that I have always, and will always, strongly identify with the proletariat. I say so unabashedly, and not with a little vehemence; I wouldn’t have it any other way. Oh no!

With that, let’s bring it the Mr. Cool of writing, the king who shall pontificate on the craft of writing awesomeness: Stephen King.
4 d
I tell you: When it comes to the craft of writing and stuff, it’s in King that I’ve found a kindred soul of a fellow proletariat! 👕

5 d

Then There Was A Search (One Fueled by Magic)

Consider these magical words from a memoir which I’ve recently started reading only recently 🏉

When I was growing up in Hobart, I had a map of India on my bedroom wall. My mum—my adoptive mother—had put it there to help me feel at home when I arrived from that country at the age of six to live with them in 1987. She had to teach me what the map represented—I was completely uneducated. I didn’t even know what a map was, let alone the shape of India. Mum had decorated the house with Indian objects—there were some Hindu statues, brass ornaments and bells, and lots of little elephant figurines. I didn’t know then that these weren’t normal objects to have in an Australian house. She had also put some Indian printed fabric in my room, across the dresser, and a carved wooden puppet in a brightly colored outfit. All these things seemed sort of familiar, even if I hadn’t seen anything exactly like them before 🐨
~ Saroo Brierley (A Long Way Home: A Memoir — Penguin Publishing Group)

I want it to be known that there are individuals in my life whom I revere; when they read this, they’ll know who I have in mind as I write this 🐱 There are, also, individuals in my life who keep me turned on to the joy of crafting prose; they bring the feeling, they bring the fire and I know that they, too, will know who I have in mind as I write this 💝

Lyrics Follow In The Trail Of The Announcement…

With that, shall we take in some lyrics from a couple of songs since they seem to be coming our way anyway? The first set of lyrics are from Elton John’s timeless Your Song:

And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple but now that it’s done
I hope you don’t mind
I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you’re in the world 🌻 🌻 🌻 🌻

And the second of the two sets of lyrics is from music group U2’s angst-ridden song called With Or Without You:

See the stone set in your eyes
See the thorn twist in your side
I wait for you 
Sleight of hand and twist of fate
On a bed of nails she makes me wait
And I wait without you 
With or without you
With or without you 
Through the storm we reach the shore
You give it all but I want more
And I’m waiting for you 
With or without you
With or without you
I can’t live
With or without you 
And you give yourself away
And you give yourself away
And you give
And you give
And you give yourself away 
My hands are tied
My body bruised, she’s got me with
Nothing to win and
Nothing left to lose 
🏆 🏆 🏆 🏆
6 d
 What do we have here, perched atop a random bookshelf in my home? 📦
Aha, my copy of Practical Probabilistic Programming (Manning Publications) by Avi Pfeffer… 🔮
What gives? Why is it propped up at the top? Why? 📈
Read on to find out! 📕

Parting Thoughts 👣

What Did Make It Into This Essay…

There was so much more I had wished to add, but… Yep, time and space constraints raise their heads—goodness, don’t I know all about it, being the engineer and computer scientist that I am! Take heart: there will be another time, there will be another essay.

I promise I’ll be back to tie in several loose threads next time; can’t leave you all hanging like that, now can I?

…And What Couldn’t Make It

  • Exploring the connection—concord as well as dissonance, at least as I see it—between the themes each in King’s advice on writing and McPhee’s advice on the same 👬
  • More—much more, I promise you—on that tantalizing sprezzatura accolade from well-wishers; once again, it’s not a carbonated drink, okay? Um, I think not. Lemme double-check, though, for good measure 🍹
  • I need to commune with code—not always but more often than not in the Scala and Java programming languages—so maybe I’ll tie that in as well; how? I myself don’t know at this point, but we’ll figure it out together. Remember what I once said about how I cannot not write (prose)? Ditto for writing (computer code). So there, dear Reader 👰
  • A unique dialog—in the style of The Matrix trilogy—in which The Oracle and your blogger will be engaged face-to-face. It will be rather intense (just a fair warning for the faint of heart; that’s not you, though, right?) 🚛
  • A dive, or two, into Saroo Brierley’s captivating book entitled A Long Way Home: A Memoir… I’ve only begun reading it but it’s looking terrific already! ⛵
  • Some new thoughts on the practice of Reactive Programming—built atop my existing understanding—as inspired by my mentor Jonas Boner; my assessment so far of the terrain, should you wish to look it up, can meanwhile be found by way of my recommendation for Jonas 🚀
  • As Americans, we recently celebrated Thanksgiving. It’s the traditional time of the year for families to come together yet again, partaking of each other’s company—hey, let’s not forget the delicious food either—thereby reaffirming the ties that bind. Importantly, Thanksgiving is also a time to reach out to neighbors and strengthen the bonds of kinship: the picture below (which I selected from the public domain and subsequently transformed to daguerreotype) of pilgrims in New England reaching to their American Indian neighbors perfectly illustrates this point 🐓
  • Last, but certainly not the least, we will—again, this, too, in a future essay—also chat some about a remarkable book called Practical Probabilistic Programming (Manning Publications) by Avi Pfeffer, with a Foreword by Stuart Russell (co-author, with Peter Norvig, of my all-time favorite text on Artificial Intelligence). It has some of the slickest code in the Scala programming language that I have set my eyes on; much more to follow, in fact, on Practical Probabilistic Programming so stay tuned 📺
You can win the fight, you can grab a piece of the sky
You can break the rules but before you try
You gotta love someone
You gotta love someone
You can stop the world, steal the face from the moon
You can beat the clock, but before high noon
You gotta love someone
You gotta love someone
You’ve got one life with a reason
You need two hearts on one side
When you stand alone and there’s no one there
To share the way it feels inside and baby 💝
~ Elton John (Lyrics from You Gotta Love Someone)

Thanksgiving d


  1. Hear ye, hear ye,
    Yo, FWIW!

    – This essay was fueled in equal parts by the comfort of sleep and the pensiveness of insomnia.

    – It was powered in more or less equal parts by the music of Mark Knopfler and the sound of silence.

    – It was galvanized into being in (somewhat) equal parts by the mirth of friendship and the remonstrance of mortality.

    – It was informed in (wholly) unequal parts by insouciance toward routine and the eternal vigilance which—at least as I understand it—is the price of liberty.

    – Finally, this essay was infused in greater part by the awe and reverence that certain loved ones inspire and to a lesser extent by the disdain and flippancy that drags its sorry ass along in the invidious wake of the foolishness I see taking place in the world around us.

    – When will the world comes to its senses? And when will I come to my senses? Meanwhile, I take comfort in reminding myself of the wisdom in these words: Be in the world but be not of the world…

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