I am a technologist...
That's a thing?
Yeah it's... I know... Whenever I use the term people ask--
"So what does that mean?"
Exactly. And I say "I teach journalists how to code at a school."
I thought simplification bugged you.
Still does. All these "what do you do", "what's your line of work", "where do you work"...
All these demands for an elevator pitch of who I am!
If you, um, despise it so much--
Despise... Damn. That's actually accurate.
--Why putting a label on yourself in the first place?
Not subjecting to labels, check. Demanding a convenient way to present yourself, check. Paradox -- check.
It's my defense mechanism in a world filled with small talks.
Joe throws his hands up in the air.
You are right. It contributes to the very problem I'm battling with.
Don't agree so that you can escape.
What do you want?
Why the label if you have problems with it?
It's what's "professional".
That's not even an excuse.
It's paying my bills.
So I feel obligated to frame--
If you ain't honest with yourself, nobody will do it for you.
Why do you want the truth?
'cause that is what's interesting! The real deal! Not some fluffy elevated political correctness that drags us to the same argument again and again and again. Or the same shade of grey the same brunch spot the same web-site template with that fancy header image--
--That's a good one--
It's provocative. It makes you think. It makes me think. It makes waking up in the morning not some dredgery of coffee-making, email-answering, subway-riding, NPR-listening--
I get it. I get it!
It's not other people's fault if you don't know who you are.
I wanted to be an architect a few year ago. Studied it. Didn't sleep much but I was so damn happy. The mentors, the books, the idol I had at the time -- they all told me that I should live! And do so with humility...
SO. I. LIVED. I lived and lived and what do I know... I actually learned something that I never thought I'd touch.
I learned to code.
Yes. I have become rational, efficient, pragmatic and... proud -- in a non-egoistic way of course...I'm proud of the possiblities I've discovered.
Understandable. America does that to you.
Time does that to me. I made websites, constructed information architecture, geo-located ideas and patterns.
...I let the unforeseen opportunities shape my trajectory.
I didn't want to preordain my experiences just because I knew how to draw a section plan.
I trusted spontaneity and I was humbled by technology.
Let's go with that.
Spontaneity. Yet spontaneity led to a routine. I did more of the same thing. More and more and more until nothing was tangible but the keyboard, nothing was visible but the glowing screen. I kept going because I believed whatever knowledge I gained -- however irrelavant they seemed -- would add up to something. SOMETHING.
And it led to this: I've refused to call myself an artist.
What's wrong with calling yourself an artist?
It's the antithesis of pragmatism. You make things for yourself. And that's selfish.
Says the person who detests simplification.
You live in your head. You are protective of what you created. You don't think about the real world -- the business of living. You romanticize being broke.
What are you afraid of?
An artist doesn't have to have any traits you mentioned.
She can be as selfless or narcissistic as she wants to, collaborate with as many or as few people as she wants to, have as much or as little social impact as she wants to.
That's a lot of "wants to".
Exactly! You gotta want it. You must want it.
What are you afraid of?
(as she looks for something on the bookshelf)
It's the desire to dedicate myself while I am and have been doing something totally, seemingly irrelevant. This pursuit of something pure, the craft of that something pure... It's far and daunting and I don't know what is the right thing to do. I don't know how to be in two realities at the same time.
If you say so.
Do you believe it?
"Embrace uncertainty." "Do not fear failure."...
These are things I say to others when I teach them how to program.
Bingo! Here you are setting up an arbituary binary for yourself -- artist or not artist. You pine for the former. You tiptoe around it. And you begrudge others the work they've created.
(beat, maybe in British accent)
Such nonsense of ill-defined duality must come to an end.
The Newtonian explaination of the world no longer serves...
(finds the sketchbook she was looking for, pulls it out from the bookshelf and flips to a page)
Found it! This was at an architecture critique. One of my studio mates was presenting, but I couldn't process anything he was talking about. I was deep, deep in thought and all of a sudden -- like my brain just turned into a screen and the camera that was very close up to the words and the images and the sketches -- the camera started to pull away. Away and away until all those letters and drawings became a square. One. Single. Square. Dense with information, yet unintelligible. The camera moved on to a different block of words and images, close up at first, and the same thing happened --
(points to a place on the page)
I ended up with all these neatly organized squares. It was synthesis. (And perhaps sleep deprevation...) I remember thinking, is this what abstraction is? Is this how my brain organizes chaos? Is this, actually, how the human mind works???
I thought by living -- by learning things that I would not have dreamed of being capable of -- I would endure the chaos and reach that level of clarity again, with even more materials.
The first time I organized a bunch of code into objects -- this programming paradigm -- I had a flashback of just that: the camera zooming out. The synthesis. Later I learned more vocabularies in programming: functions, patterns, modules... I have finally found the precise words to describe that moment of epiphany. My metaphors expanded: data structure, building structure; binding data to a node, associating meaning with a name. I was able to understand both worlds. And I was able to decode and encrypt at the same time. It felt as though I was learning a new language and doing standup comedy in that language and people actually laughed. And they laughed really hard, and they smiled, and they nodded and--
I felt understood. I felt more understood than when I spoke in my native tongue.
I'll ride with that metaphor. So are you -- but you are losing your mother tongue. You are losing the writing, the sketching, the painting, those means you used to create--
It's not just metaphorical. I am forgetting Chinese, too. You should listen to my conversations with my parents--
Joe pulls out a piece of paper in his pocket and reads.
"Please keep writing. As you continue, keep that purity of heart and that purity of language -- wherever your poetry make take you."
Garrett, my poetry teacher.
"I know your eye/mind will continue to sharpen and will perceive much. May you, like Sargent, always see light in the shadows."
(looks up and straight into the playwright's eyes)
Ha. John. Nature writing, or as he called it, "creative non-fiction with an alertness to the environment".
You won't forget these. You won't forget Chinese. You're just looking away. You're deliberately neglecting them.
I'm -- I just don't want to deprive myself from learning --
You are not!
-- I have earned these metaphors for my life because I have experienced the unfamliar.
Metaphors! You keep calling them metaphors! What are metaphors good for when they are just alluding to something that's not the thing itself?
What is the thing of your life?
You are afraid to admit it. You are afraid that when you get to the bottom of it you are acutally not going to be that good. That you will fail. So you keep it at a safe distance. Something framed. Something nostalgic. Something warm and fuzzy to dig up on a cold winter night...
(throws PLAYWRIGHT a pen)
Tell the truth.
Playwright picks up the pen, hesitates. She starts to write, for a long time. When she is done, she tears off the pages. She puts the pages down at her feet. She finds a bottle of ink, pours the ink over her hands, onto the pages.
Her hands covered in the dark blueness, She gathers the pages. She folds them carefully. Once, twice... until she has only a small square in her hand. One. Single. Square. She puts it in her palm and clenches her hand. Something illuminating happens. With or without tears, she says
I am an artist.