Revelations of a Brain Plagued with a Quirk

The poems, short stories, musings and ramblings of J. Scott Smith


 

Confession

I will be the first to admit, I am not a poet or writer by trade. What I do can best be described as dabbling... when the mood strikes. As you can see, the mood doesn't strike often. When it does, it is therapy more than composition, exorcism more than exposition. I write for my own pleasure, but if it speaks to you, then I'm okay with that. If it doesn't, I'm okay with that, too.

Expression

Poetry, in particular, seems most often to be a medicinal form of writing. It is the outlet for what's in my head that refuses to come out in normal words, the stream on which I can float the mishmash of mingle-mangle out into the open and free the space in my brain. It is often a closer expression of my thoughts, of the way they structure themselves and simultaneously pool and flow. It is the dialog between head and heart, feelings and fact, logic and desire.

When these conflicts boil up and threaten to overflow what my poor head can handle, which is fortunately not the most common of occurances, it is by poetry that I often find release.

Usually, it is by reading. The web has made that so much easier!

But sometimes it is by writing.

Considering my long love affair with computers and the many tools and conveniences they afford us, you'd rightly expect I would write with one. For conventional prose that is true. I find poetry, however, requires a bit of a personal touch. I typically draft the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper, and then finish with keyboard.

A Little Biography, Starting with Geography

I was born in Oregon to dislocated Texan parents of modest means. We lived in Oregon, Washington and Texas before my parents settled in southeast Tennessee, where I spent my teen years in a very rural setting. We lived 60 miles from where I went to school, so I neither experienced nor had to endure most of the American-normal teenage drama. There were times, when living through it, that this bit of isolation felt like deprivation; however, I have since come to understand it was in fact an extreme priviledge.

During my sophomore year, we had a field trip to the American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge, TN. There were a few displays using the new personal computers, and I was fascinated by them. My junior year, a neighbor got a Radio Shack TRS-80 and he would let me play a few of the games on it. Again, fascinated. At 19, my girlfriend's sister and her husband owned a computer company and built a bread-boarded kit computer. They let me play an ASCII-character graphics version of Star Trek on it. Fascinating. My first computer, three years later, was the Sharp PC-1500 pocket computer with the four-color pen plotter. I was hooked.

It was also during my sophomore year that I got into a little academic trouble, the "failure to do homework" variety. That was, unfortunately, nothing new and the result of being under-challenged and bored. This time, in English, my penance from Mrs. Dick (her real name, not a slur - although in true juvenile fashion those certainly existed - and as it turned out one of my favorite teachers) was to write poetry. Most of the very early work here came from that period, and almost all of it is due to her encouragement. Only a portion, however, was for penance.

The punishment turned out to be the catalyst that fueled both an appreciation for Edgar Allen Poe and a desire to form words into thoughts. Where writers such as novelists and biographers strive to use words to convey thoughts and paint picutures and create a reality to share with the reader, the poet uses words to alter the reader and open the door to a previously undiscovered reality. Other writers want you to know what they were thinking when they were writing, to take you there with them; poets want you to become what they were thinking, to unlock your personal rendition of some reality hidden in their words. As a poet, it is therefore less important to say what you mean, but of utmost importance to mean what you say.

The poetic fire was not dominant, though, and it, along with my then life-long love of mechanics and carpentry, gave way to my adolescent and since then life-long fascination with the computing machine. I attended college to study biomedical electronics, but ended up discovering the computer room and teaching myself computers. Well enough that I worked only two months in the biomedical electronics department at the hospital that was affiliated with the college, before being asked to join the data processing department. (That was, I believe, an attempt to reign in my youthful jousts with authority, but that's another story.)

The poet's joy of making words sing and dance to a tune of his own imagination, was overpowered by the programmer's conceit of molding an infinitely variable machine to his will. Writing poetry is an immersive experience, to be sure, but nothing compares to the utter submersion that accompanies the programming experience. Both are like a drug, but for me poetry was aspirin to programming's opiate.

The computing machine also trumped my urges for both mechanics and construction. The information technology arena affords plenty of alternatives to satisfy the needs met in both classic fields. As with writing poetry, they soon receded and became things I know how to do, but do not often practice.

I'd like to say I set the IT world on fire, but I am no Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or Larry Ellison. (Interestingly, it was the marketing genius of these men, far more than their technical prowess, that drove them to the pinnacle of the IT domain. There's a lesson in there for all you aspiring giants, no matter the field.) I can say that I managed to make several big splashes in some relatively small and medium sized ponds. Having never done so on a global scale, all I can do is speculate, but I think the satisfaction of a job well done may be the same, regardless of scale. I'm also mindful that many people now deemed extraordinary were in fact extra-ordinary until late in life... so there may be hope for me yet!

Most men, it seems, reach mid-life and acquire a desire to retire. Perhaps not to the sedentary life, although golf is in no danger of falling out of favor, but to a life altered from its former state. I am not exempt from this stage of life. Just as a mechanic eventually aspires to own his own shop and get his hands out of the grease, and a carpenter turns contractor and puts his hammer away, and both dream of the freedom this will give them to spend time on other interests, I yearn to leave the mental mud of the technical trenches behind and instead marshall the troops from higher ground, which I pretend to myself will give me time to do other things - like write poetry and (re)learn to golf.

So I find myself, perhaps as a result of weaning myself somewhat from the intoxicating ambrosia of coding, more interested in a dormant love. I sense the desire to code being supplanted by a growing desire to rhyme. So, who knows? This site may see progressively longer chapters for a few more decades.

October 16, 2011

 


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