SLOG #2: Ack! Abstract Constructs are Kooky!

This week, we were introduced to designing and implementing abstract data classes of containers that operated upon the traditionally accounting/inventory-related concepts of First-In-Last-Out and First-In-First-Out. Specifically, stacks, sacks, and queues!

I’m finding that the hardest thing about computer science is wrapping one’s mind around concepts in the right shape. Much as a baseball can be thrown in a number of different ways, some of which are more useful or less useful for a particular pitcher to hit a target with the ball, programming involves such a a range of abstraction that there are many ways to pitch a programming concept in order to understand, implement, and apply it.

For example, upon first encountering the idea of stacks, the concept is intuitively understandable: it is a sequential collection of items where the addition/access/removal of items occurs in a designed, algorithmic way. But how does one create a stack in Python code with functions and class definitions? In what ways can a stack be useful when solving programming problems (or modelling real life)? How are the class definitions then used to solve a more complex problem? The transformation from an abstract, intuitive concept to a concrete, useful program requires an immeasurable amount of mental legwork.

The legwork is immeasurable because of how abstract it is. With the little we know about human cognition, all we can say about what occurs in the moments before and after understanding is that some “connections” are made between concepts as we somehow realize to find certain aspects relevant – or, something “lit up” like a lightbulb. Yet even these are still abstract representations. In much the same way that we cannot describe how we know how to pitch a ball with any level of replicable accuracy (i.e. as far as our descriptions can be used to program a robot to throw a ball), we cannot describe the cognitive process of understanding.

There are many ways to understand a programming problem or concept. But only one way that works for a particular individual at a particular instance in pursuing a particular goal in a particular context. The challenge, then, I suppose, is finding the meta-method that works best for me in order to pick up these concepts, with the meta-goal of successfully entering the CS minor POSt.

SLOG #1: Intro to ADT

Series 3: CSC148 / SLOG #1

Hello, world!

This is my first message to the great wide beyond on a topic that, up until about four months ago, was utterly foreign to me: Object-Oriented Programming!

So far, the course material is very interesting. The concept of modelling concepts within a computational framework by pinning attributes and methods to an object under an abstract class seems revolutionary. Memories of the frame stack and object heap from CSC 108 come to mind, as classes were introduced shortly before the end of the course.

Having mostly dealt with front-end web development, the core concept of OOP – manipulating abstract objects in computer memory, rather than relying on a DOM or constantly calling up new variables – open ups so many new possibilities I’d never really thought about before. What could I model? Rather, what couldn’t I model?

Simply exposure to the pre-written APIs for Assignment 1 has already set sparks flying in my mind – is this how Uber works? – and I feel as though the mechanisms underlying software operation and development are slyly opening before me like a timid oyster.

Curiously, I should note, these concepts remind me of semantic networks invoked in computational approaches to human cognition. Just as OOP is based in abstract objects tied to attributes and methods (let’s say, “nouns”, “adjectives”, and “actions” for a linguistic analog), human categorization is modelled by these networks of abstract concepts:

A Semantic Network (WikiMedia)

Likewise, taking the linguistic analog as the exemplar, a similar parallel can be found in sentence diagrams:

Sentence Diagram (WikiMedia)

I don’t yet know how much referring to these other examples of conceptual maps will help with program design, if at all, but I hope I will find out by the end of this term!

 

Kindness Kills

Artwork from: http://www.deviantart.com/art/Hazy-Winter-Sun-163454825

“Hazy Winter Sun” by Flingling. Watercolour on coldpressed paper. Source: http://www.deviantart.com/art/Hazy-Winter-Sun-163454825

Kindness kills with the calm of winter.
It freezes my fist in its fetal form,
it steals the heat from my words, vapour ghosts gone mid-air,
it gathers my thoughts under its gracious light
and reveals the skeletal bark I have donned
in the mirror-pools of your frozen lake-face.

Kindness brings more pain than steel swords ever could,
because it cuts deeper than steel ever could,
past cloth, skin, character-mould
into the soft flesh of ego,
because it lances open questions of “Who could ever deserve kindness?”

Kindness hurts the way pity does,
when a tender touch or gentle word
speaks only of stinging generosity.
Kindness bridges the chasm we left between us
and its soft warmth only reminds me of the coldness I was prepared for.

Your kindness leaves me bereft of myself.

Kindness is passion distilled in the afterglow of sunset
when all light has faded except that which we hold in our souls.
And yet kindness feels like all passion diluted
in a single timid cup afraid to spill over.

I do not know how to deal with kindness.
It is too much, or too little
and never enough.

It leaves me with a longing for the winter sun
and wary of its light.

Your kindness makes me unkind.
I wish I could destroy it, discard it,
spit the bitter pomegranate seed at you, devoid of sweet juice–
Or return it to you with the grace of my own kindness
but your kindness wakens my fears.
And fear makes me less hopeful, more hateful.

Your kindness kills.
It kills me in imagined conversations and illusory fates
It kills me though my pettiness, your guilt, our falsehood,
It kills me that you only ever show kindness instead of the love I was always looking for.

The Pen and the Sword

This dull blade on gentle skin:
is this what love feels like?
To smooth the downy hairs, open the tender flesh, and let sweet juice run down the blade.

It would be release:
the pressure
gone
in the instant the the pain drains from the wound,
but it would be release:
all my thoughts would vanish
my strategy
my skill
any poem i could ever write.

We do not write poems about happiness;
          at least not memorable ones.

But there is pressure within me
and this dull blade would be easy, so easy
to rend the flesh / soothe the spirit
bring this moment into sudden clarity
and destroy all your ghosts

at least, that is the hope.

Instead, I sit here and stare at this page
wondering where or who you are
and what you might be thinking
and these symbols spill as I tap out my woes and the ghosts,
They feel welcome to stay.

Moment II: Narcissism?

There is a moment
as pen touches paper
and thoughts become words,
when the truth is as clear as day.
And as much as
shades cloud your mind,
you now know, with ball-point certainty,
which way your soul lay.

Journalling, like autobiographies, is narcissistic–no.
It is the most private–most honest and personal.
It is beyond reproach.

Fact: When the words (imperfect as they are) penetrate the paper, they divulge the self’s conception of the self (imperfect as it is).

It is as much a challenge
(a self-condemnation, an improbable mission, a retort)
as it is a warm embrace
(empathy, a kindness, a calming of the ego)

Finally, it is the truth–
about as truthful and accurate as words can be about feelings,
the autobiography and letters-to-self are about the self.

And I can know that now.
I, the ultimate admission.
I can relinquish an ounce of shame.

I am writing to and for me.
So that me can see a path to a better me.

Strip/Exhibition

Under the wide gaze of the open window, I strip.

I undo my buttons as the night breeze fingers its way under the cloth of my blouse and across my skin. I unclasp my bra and peel the moist cups off my breasts, sighing as the breeze caresses my chest. I curl the waist of my jeans over the crest of my hips, across the rise of my ass, and over the top of my pubic mound.

Reborn as naked as a newly-hulled grain of wheat, my body breathes in the night air. It smoothes over my skin, kissing away the day’s heat and harrows.

I strip away excess: I unclasp my watch, no longer necessary for counting the hours now that they had all been expended. With a moistened cotton pad, I shed my cosmetic mask, battle-weary war paint obsolete. I pluck the pliant plastic scales from my eyes, clarity unneeded in the familiar confines of my home.

I stripped each item away, welcoming the city’s eyes. I don’t know why.

Perhaps the thought that someone might have been startled or even provoked by the sight of my nudity excited me.

Perhaps I wanted someone, anyone’s attention.

Perhaps I just wanted to see the sky and the city, the great infinite blackness and the human constellations, to see evidence of both space and connection for myself.

And perhaps that was comforting—I wasn’t as trapped and alone as I felt.

Colossus Winter

Shannon tells me she thinks it is the ghosts of them that trail my mind, turning over stones to unveil the squirming doubts and insecurities beneath. She’s right. My mind is a coin caught in a carnival collector’s bowl, circling the sides in a circadian spiral that never seems to cease.

I miss the colossus. I miss lying in the coolness of his shadow and the roughness of his skin. I want to lay like a beautiful, precious seashell in the palm of his overgrown hand and be held, remembered if possible. But despite his immense size, I am never able to see him clearly. Maybe because of his immense size.

A transparent film binds my mind. I see images of possibilities but there are wrinkles in every scene and sometimes, where a face or hand might be, there is instead a flesh-coloured blur, plastic and immaterial.

I feel through this film: misty love and a kind of liquid pain that collects with the condensation of hopes and doubts against the coolness of plastic-wrapped reality.

I want to have a heart cushioned in shrink-wrap and styrofoam. Non-microwaveable, of course. Where the countours of the ripe, uncooked flesh can be traced as it presses against the plastic. Where the delicate veins can pause their pulsing, removed from my thirsty body.

Where, unconsumed, it can be safely tucked into the ice to bide away another winter.

Catharsis

It’s hard to work on a bike when you’re crying. The task is simple: unscrew the bolt, pop off the nut, take off the clasp, slip in a shim, reassemble. A child could do it. But then tears get in the way and you can’t seem to get the wrench around the bolt. And the times when you do, turning the wrench is harder than it usually is, what with your muscles being too busy keeping your rib cage in place while your lungs are heaving. Then you realize you had popped the nut out and dropped it while the wrench was holding your attention. (And you’re starting to hate the sound of your crying.) So you start looking for the nut but the damned tears get in the way again and it’s even harder to breathe when you’re crouched over and you wipe your face and smear grease all across it (somehow you managed to get grease on your fingers even though you never touched the chains) and you end up sitting on the ground, dirty and wretched.

It’s hard to work on a bike when you’re crying. It’s hard to do almost anything.

It’s much easier to be okay. You can even be okay “for the most part” if that’s too difficult. Annie, are you okay? Yes. Yes, I am.

People who are okay go through their week and get their tasks done. They follow the agenda and meet deadlines. They make progress in a timely manner. They are productive and useful and reliable. They don’t have time to cry.

It’s better that way.

Because when you can’t be okay, when you lose your grip and drown in the implications of the situation, you can’t do anything and you let everyone down.

Worst of all, you let yourself down. You aren’t capable or reliable. You aren’t responsible or helpful. You are horrid and selfish and pathetic.

And then you have to vanquish the demons, separate liability from responsibility, retaliation from reaction, tendencies from innate traits. You have to talk to people, you have to be honest, you have to swallow your pride and naivety and guilt and frustration, you have to face the truth, you have to let go and cry, cry, cry. And you can’t do anything else.

It feels so tiring and pointless.

Some days, it’s a mountain I just don’t want to climb. So I take a different path, the quieter path. I go places where I can smile and wave and talk about the weather. I read and draw and feel whatever the characters need to feel. I breathe because it requires little thought.

I do what is necessary for daily life and things are not so hard.

Except when the numbness fades. Suddenly, I’m lost and the tears rise and I flounder. What do I tell them? I can’t function because I’m getting emotional because the worst happened because I made mistakes and I never get emotional so I can’t deal with anything right now?

It’s hard to speak, (even to write). So I’d rather not, thank you.

It’s just a little easier to swallow the tears and finish working on my bike.

Exposition: Mending

Ten fingers and ten toes, and you’re okay
Yeah, I think that’s what they say
Well, how about today?

–Laurent O’Connell, “1988”

Amazing that the longer you go without upheaval, the more striking it is when it happens. There’s surprise when there really shouldn’t be–you’re human after all, is it odd that you should have feelings?

I was steady for so long, careful, composed, content and okay with everything. I felt capable of letting things happen as they did and when my hopes were unfulfilled or the unsightly inevitable occurred, it simply passed over me. I was fine.

I don’t get upset easily. Onstage, it is easy–faking tears comes as naturally as closing my eyes at bedtime. Getting truly emotional though (emphatically or empathetically) was as foreign to me as trying on a stranger’s clothes. Perhaps it was my upbringing–perhaps a defense mechanism.

So on those rare occasions when something twists inside and some sharp spear of daily occurrence hits home, it hits hard.

I had a real cry today. One of those rare, quiet, tensely personal cries that you clench to yourself, maybe because you can’t help it and maybe because if you hold it closer, it will make peace with you and leave you alone.

There were the usual culprits: pain, fear, guilt. It is, in part, undeniably my fault. But the more agonizing was the frustration I felt at a situation I could not, or strongly felt I could not control–the circumstances and commitments and congruence of events that led to that kneeling pilgrim, Helplessness.

But, of course, being an Atheist I had no Higher Being to plead alms from.

Yet this is no complaint. As unsettling, painful, and goddamn uncontrollable that moment was, it refocused me. Like how shaking a jar settles its contents by size and density, my moments of weakness reorder my strength.

I cannot deny that I am as fearful as I’ve ever been in childhood. The old fears are still there but since they surfaced, they’ve been pinned, sliced, and autopsied. I know I can’t be fearless. I can’t right the past. I can’t control everything (clearly, not even myself). But I can start mending the broken things. And I can take the first fragile steps to banish my fears from my future.