My favorite poem is the one that starts “Thirty days hath September” because it actually tells you something 😉
~ Groucho Marx
Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary 😯
~ Khalil Gibran
First Things, Well, First
So what’s up with that, Akram? Yeah, what’s up with that dashing sprinter lunging forward, not to mention the mystifying quotes you’ve slapped up atop, presumably for our edification, or maybe for our viewing pleasure, or something? What is it, then? 😡
Hey, relax. Feeling weighed down just a bit by how we’ve lately been treating ourselves to hefty doses of tech-heavy musings (stuff on Go programming, on Reactive Programming, on Domain-Driven Design aka DDD, etc.), I figured we could lighten things up a bit. So there. With that, let’s check out a sage remark about how
The average college student isn’t ready for semicolons. She hasn’t discerned any need for them, nor is she eager to. They look forbiddingly exotic—about as tempting as a plate of snails 🐌
~ John R. Trimble (in his timeless book entitled Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing)
Feeling better already eh?
By The Way
I hope I’m not dashing your hopes by telling you that this essay has nothing (whatsoever) to do with the Olympics; there’s no 100 meters dash to be found around here. Sorry, that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Rejoice, though, in knowing that what is on our plate (and think of the em-dash as a not-too-distant cousin of the semicolon) is way more manageable because it’s definitely smaller in dimensions—way smaller than 100 meters—as the seemingly-lowly em-dash is no wider (and no narrower) than the width of the letter m (which is where this critter gets its name.)
Guess what? There’s this other critter in the wild that’s known as the en-dash; given our recent skirmish with its brethren the em-dash, though, we would be narrowing our dimensions further still—this en-dash critter being the width of the petite letter n —so let’s not go there. Oh, and guess how the en-dash got its name? 😉
Akram, stop! We’d all rather be at the Olympics, and not chatting about these weird critters (in your menagerie of exotic creatures like em-dashes, snails, slugs, and now you’re bringing in yet another bizarre critter which you claim, in all seriousness, is called an en-dash or something. Sheesh!) 😳
Oh my, haven’t we seen you before! But let us check this magnificent critter in full glory this time: We had seen him—or her, it’s a coin-toss—but for a fleeting moment in his (or her) guest cameo above. Revealing, in full candor now, we have…
One Winter’s Morning (in Minnesota)
Yo, let’s focus on the narrative proper instead of getting distracted…. 😐
This is how it happened. One especially blustery day during wintertime in wintry Minnesota, in a suburb far, far away, it was a freezing morning as I vividly recall—all mornings are like that during wintertimes in Minnesota—when I opened the door to my house, only to discover a parcel that had apparently been left at the doorsteps the previous evening. I eagerly opened the parcel, which was to change my (writing) life…
Ah yes, a mint-condition, burgundy-colored copy of Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing by John R. Trimble emerged from the innocent-looking shreds of the parcel whose remnants were now falling to the wayside. Starting from that very moment, the book grew on me; it just grew and grew and grew and…
Eventually, I would come to fondly call it WWS (short for Writing with Style.) And let me tell you about the time when… Akram, stop!—Ah yes, I do get carried away on occasion, don’t I? But hey, we are talking about the heady stuff of inspiration! Hey, whoah, can I, like, get just one more word in edgewise before you come for me with a mallet? Sheesh, some people…
Anyhow, suffice it to say my writing life can be cleanly divided—much as the two World Wars (WW) divided history into pre- and post-WW—into pre- and post-WWS 🚑
So the quote atop this essay comes from—you guessed it!—WWS. Enough said. More, should you wish for more, can be found here.
Oh, Those Pixie-dust Em-dashes!
And yes, I got smitten by the magical, pixie-dust qualities 💥 of em-dashes, which I alluded to earlier, directly as a result of reading Professor Trimble’s classic and ever-sparkling WWW. Why don’t we try this on for size, a few verses of rhyme right here that I whipped up early one warm morning in Austin—all mornings are like that most all the time in Texas— inspired by all this talk of magical em-dash?
Cool. OK, here goes. And nobody smirk, at least not quite yet. Yo, I know thee full well—and while clairvoyant I am not—I bet you’re thinking this very moment: “Yeah, yeah, we’re looking. Your fabled verses of rhyme will one day become eventually consistent. Can you, like, instead go back and focus on what you’re actually good at: Writing eventually-consistent software?”
Darn. Some people… 🙄
Undeterred, though, your intrepid blogger starts waxing wee lyrical (cue to expect verses of rhyme.) With that, behold this.
Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder
Oh wait! Let’s first do away with a disclaimer, especially for those of you not inclined to deep-sea diving: Not heeding the stark observation made by Groucho Marx, the one we saw up atop this essay—where he opines that “My favorite poem is the one that starts Thirty days hath September because it actually tells you something”—we’re going to dive feet-first into the ocean of rhyme 😀
Lest this be a bit much for your senses, I’m going to make life easy—well, at least easier—for you by sharing some artwork (mixed right in with the prose and verse) in the hopes of staving off the bends. Now how about that?
Hey, is anyone even noticing my thematic artwork—the painstakingly-selected pictures that I endearingly framed in delicate borders after running each one through a raindrops-filter—or will I again find myself tracing (yet again) the tracks of my tears? 😥
So get into your deep-sea diving suit or jump into your little red Corvette. Do whatever it takes to strap yourself for a wildly untethered ode to the em-dash.
An Ode To The Em-dash
Yo, first things first, okay, strap yourself for a wild ride;
I don’t want anyone getting a Corvette whiplash
You know the sort of thing that happens to rubber-neckers;
Who blithely enjoy the scenery (while driving) until their car doth crash
So you ask me, Where, oh where can we spot it?;
You know, spot that magical, wee pixie em-dash!
I’m so glad that you asked, and surely I was coming to that;
What?! No, no, no: Keep the faith ‘cuz this ain’t no balderdash
Remember, good things come to those who wait;
Things left behind by those who hustle like a thunder-flash
Anyhow, should you ever feel that your writing is losing luster;
Don’t fear; I will help you restore its glory with self-styled panache
So don’t you worry, and don’t you cry;
And for heaven’s sake, sheesh, please don’t look so abash!
All you have to do is sprinkle some of that fabulous pixie-dust;
On your writing and it will—it must—magically transform ala the em-dash
But whatever you do, should you even wear a dental retainer or two;
Do not—I repeat—do not grind your teeth in an angst-ridden gnash
For one, it would not be a pretty sight, and you might;
Even be accused of doing a monster-mash
Yo, much-maligned and grossly-underused punctuation mark that it is;
We’ll liberally use the em-dash without so much as batting an eyelash
Lusterless writing begone, I say, weeds begone;
The em-dash is poised to dispel all that mishmash
No more comma-clogged sentences, no Sir, and no Madam!;
And my name ain’t Adam, it’s Akram, and now we’re done with that news-flash
Clarity be thine nature, O writing, sweet as honey;
Unwittingly inebriated by a serendipitous nectar-splash
Get our of here, you tell me, to avoid a gash or two;
Hey, easy now, I’m outta here in a flash
Mark my words, though, to thine own em-dash be true;
For, should you not—wedged like so—we might come gatecrash
Ow, ow, that’ll teach you a lesson;
Darn, some people can be oh-so brash!
Hey, Come Back!
If you haven’t run—dare I say, dashed—away by now, yelping an existentialist scream (or two), allow me to share merely a single excerpt (and a single sentence at that) from the works of one of the most elegant and precise writers the world has known: the British mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell 💡
As I share this, I can’t help but pause and reflect on the current affairs of our world, and the irony of it all as Russell looked to “men who were deeply imbued with a respect for law“. Anyhow, he remarked—in the essay “Individual and Social Ethics” which appeared in The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell (1961)—with not a little wow and zing how
It is noteworthy that the most successful revolutions—that of England in 1688 and that of America in 1776—were carried out by men who were deeply imbued with a respect for law.
Whoah! Prose doesn’t get any more elegant, powerful, and riveting than that, now does it? 🏰
And to really get these lovely interlopers—those em-dashes—out of my system, let’s together look at what lawyer and prose-pro Bryan Garner, whom we met earlier, has to say about them in his magisterial volume entitled Garner’s Modern American Usage (Oxford University Press)
The em-dash is perhaps the most underused punctuation mark in American writing. Whatever the type of writing, dashes can often clarify a sentence that is clogged up with commas—or even one that’s otherwise lusterless… 🎯
Yo, while on the subject of dashes—and the chances of you still being with getting slimmer by the minute—allow me this confessional, one having to do with the places (oh, the places) where I’ve managed to sneak in a lovely em-dash or two, starting with, but of course, our blogging digs right here:
- The essays on our digs at Programming Digressions of course
- Posts on LinkedIn (Hey, why not?)
- My occasional tweets on Twitter (yes, even the 120-word-limit won’t deter me from the swift completion of my appointed rounds)
- My Github stuff (Wait! How did I miss this one?! And while I’m unsure about how I’m going to pull this one off, I do need to sneak in an em-dash in there, too)
- The (very) occasional posts on my Fakebook, um, my Facebook page (Oh well…)
Did I miss anything else? Anyone ❓
About To Sail Away… ❗
In a rather contemplative mood, with roaring thunder-claps and a lightning-lit night sky to boot…
There’s no time for us.
There’s no place for us.
What is this thing that builds our dreams, yet slips away from us?
~ Queen (Lyrics from Who Wants To Live Forever)
…and now we’re ready to start rowing our blueish boat, with a pair of oars in hand ➡
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
~ W. B. Yeats (from his poem The Lake Isle of Innisfree)