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Andy Kirkpatrick


05 May 2015

The Code of Me


I love writing code; HTML, CSS, jQuery, PHP; adding tags and classes, conditionals and Id’s; watching blank screens pop into life; raw sterile code refreshing, again and again, slowly, slowly, bit by bit, into something beautiful and creative.  Every day I sit and tweak lines of code, for this site and others, to get words to appear where they should, or not appear where I don’t want them to, moving pixels, head full of Twitter cards, Google speed tests and validation.  I fiddle so you can read it on your phone on the train, or in the toilet on your iPad, work on browsers in Bristol, Brazil and Beijing.  I fiddle not because it’s my job, or because it actually matters, but because code offers that rare opportunity in my life - perfection.

I fiddle because code makes me happy to know that there exists something that can be perfect - something that can get a nice green tick to show it has been validated.

The other reason I love code is that unlike the other writing I do, creative stuff, like this, like the books I’m writing (‘The Bear Pit’, to be published by Vertebrate next year, and A Map of Scars, the follow up to Cold Wars and Psycovertical), with code there’s certainty.  X leads you Y or better still #x {color:fff200;}. 

With code you can usually see when something’s wrong, that something’s not working, or if it’s hidden deep in the code, it doesn’t validate - a list of angry warnings dashing you hope of perfection.  But this certainty means that if there is a problem, it’s not imagined, and that if you learn the language of that code, and learn how to hunt the errors, it can be fixed - and once fixed it’s as perfect as code can be.

Writing creatively is not like writing code.  Yes there are the rules of grammar and of the English language (few of which I know); the flow of words you learn over time, rhythmic as song, as subtle as a stream that flows close by, but that you don’t hear even though it is heard.  There is the ‘war against cliché’ and the hunt for dead words, and of course for me, the hunt for words misspelt, miswritten or simply left out. 

It’s strange to me that the letters used are the same as those used in code; cold, dead and flat on a screen or a sheet of printed paper, and yet they are different.

“I never sleep with a man on the first night” she said, matter of factly, brick wall certain.  “I fuck them, but I never sleep with them”.

These words, good or bad, have life - they live and breath, they beat, they enter you skull and cling; for a minute, a day, forever.  How do your validate a living thing such as this?  Even crippled by grammar or a twisted brain, were every word is a battle to conjurer, words still have life when the reader breaths into them.

I often wish that life was like code, could be ordered so easily, its complexity, the gobbledygook of script just a language like any other.  Think how nice it would be to have all experience ordered, indented, each action and reaction, every event captioned so as to be understood by anyone who takes the time to look, life a trillion lines long.  Maybe this is why people look for the secret manual to their coding, the Bible, the Koran, interesting fridge magnets. 

But life is not like code either, and living it is not an act of perfection or certainty, but imperfect and unknown and un-understood.

And yet we spend our lives trying don’t we?

“What is a truth that life has taught you then?” she asks me as we drive, her answer one I think many would have given, positive and hopeful.

“That we’re unreliable witness’s to our own lives, that everything we think or believe about ourselves is probably wrong”.

She is unconvinced.

Later I tell her I have low self esteem, something that has dogged me and held me back all my life.

“YOU!?” she blurts out, trying not to gag on her tea “You’re the most confident person I’ve ever met!”.

And just like that, 40 years of believing something to be so just disappears, like a bit block of invalidating code was selected and deleted, the man I thought I was no more, a man with doubt, but not low self esteem.

The same weekend I sit opposite a woman who tells me the secret of a long and healthy relationship.

“Think of it like you’re two boats going down a long river.  You’re alone but side by side.  The river goes left and right and you get eddies and flows but you stay close to each other, never pulling too far away or falling back.  Sometimes the river splits and you lose sight of each other, but when your rivers join you’re side by side again”.

There is wisdom, something for the manual.

I think about what she says a lot. Wonder why they don’t teach us the lessons of love at school, that all the data we are fed is wrong, as valid as believing a man could fly.

“The world is full of drains and radiators - ignore the drains”

We all think too much about the things we cannot control, other people’s emotions, what they did, not what they do, what they said, not what they say, judging them while knowing they should not be judged.

“There is no such thing as bad music”. 

Life is just one long set of questions without answers. Perhaps that’s why I work with code, because for every question there is an answer that kills the question dead.

But there are answers.

“You know what” I tell her, sat watching the tenth episode of Home and Away “this soap has no bad people in it, it’s all about people who fail to communicate” - and there I have it, a real truth, that the answer lies in-between what two people believe, neither right nor wrong.

“When you feel naked and exposed, you are finally becoming a writer”

“Beware of the audience”

“Your eyes are really sparkling”

“Backing down in braver than fighting sometimes”

“I’m am a very unhappy person”

You know it’s pointless but you work on the code of you, and in doing so you share the pain, unable to keep it in, because you think it will turn you to stone if you do.  When you do the pain slips out between the words and others gather it up, stare into it and see their own.  They begin to speak, normal at first, an intro into the past, a real life, a starter, and then you hear what you already sensed was there the moment they stop you to talk - gurgling deep down inside them, wanting to get out, close enough to hear. 
It comes. 
It bleeds. 
Too much.
Pain.
Anger.
Grief. 
Too much. 
Damage.

They talk about their wives and husbands, ex’s and lovers, words that they have rehearsed and spoken until there was nothing before their bitterness, words like a knife to the face - but they can’t help but stab.  They speak because they think maybe it will help, it will go away but most of all they just want to say “I miss them”.  They show their brave faces, pretend it all OK now, moved on, but it’s not, it doesn’t go away, it’s like death.  It only waits, their dark words, so used, so said, bent with a thousand sayings, sucked back in, not one drop less; and there they are again, the bitter tar that is who they have become, their skin just a shell to their sorrow.

I stand and I listen as others have stood and listened to me, wishing they’d not asked, seeing my medusa words, turns their warm faces cold. Each person who shares their tale of a broken heart wishes to impart on you a lesson that is meaningless to anyone who does not already know it in their own fractured heart.  But each time I hear their words all I can think is that this is a lesson, not in love, but in loss,  that I must never let this be me, overwhelmed by bitterness, dead from the inside out, too far down the road to hate to ever get back.

At Xmas this year I believe I went as far down as it is possible for a man to go and make it back to the surface.  I searched the code of myself to find the errors, to find my way back.  I thought I worked it out, that love and climbing were what ailed me, that they were destructive forces, that I was unable to love, or be loved, that climbing was all I had how it could only bring pain.  But again I was wrong.  I always am, the only certainty that my certainty is misplaced.  But how could you turn your back on such things?

Since xmas I have climbed more than I have for sixteen years, felt again what it felt like at the start at the beginning, felt my legs shake high above the gear, my spirit drop at the first drop of rain, the joy of going beyond what I though myself capable off, that surprise of finding yourself in a place you imagined beyond yourself.  I discovered I’d become a mountaineer, not a rock climber, which translates to ‘I was crap’.  But I didn’t care. I found new friends and rediscovered old ones. 

And four month up from the depths I climb beside the sea, the sun shining in between brief showers, the rock drying fast - but the climbing not so important as the company.  We sit below and overhang, boots off, sharing tea from a tiny Mickey Mouse flask. “This flask is bit Micky Mouse” I say, so stupid it’s funny.

“Dad you’re the happiest I’ve seen you since I was little”

There below the cliff, the smell of sea, the tingle of battered toes and scraped fingers I saw no need for code, I had been transformed, rendered, made real and whole by the nature, the nature of this place, of these people, of who I was.

As I stood to leave, a photo is snapped, and a day later it pops up on my screen after I slot in the SD card, that last shot on top of many shots of hard times, of snow and ice and cold.  It shocks me at first.  I’m smiling - like really smiling.  My skin is brown from being outside so much. I look healthy, eating right, going to bed early - and sleeping when I’m there, not laying awake decoding the last few years for an answer that never comes.  My eyes sparkle with real happiness. 

We are not code, we are not editable or understandable, and if some creator wrote our code, the second we opened our eyes that code began to fill with errors.  What we want more than anything in our lives is understanding and certainty, but our lives are acts of creation, of creativity.  The very essence of who we are and who we will become guided by these errors and uncertainties.  It’s these that breaths magic into us.

But sat there, looking at this picture on this computer, the same computer I sit and fiddle with code, looking for answers, I feel that if I uploaded this picture to some validating site for a life, right then, in that moment when that picture being taken, the code of me would validate.

Good or bad - this is me.

snickers

A Snicker's bar costs 60p. Were these words worth as much?

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