Syntax Error: Troubleshooting Failures in Coding and Language

By | 15 May 2023

Trying to communicate means moving within the inherent failures of language. I’m always striving for perfection but am often able to trick myself by making a piece so many things that it can’t be any one thing. If it’s just poetry I feel I’ll fail because I’m not intellectual enough or brave enough or can’t adhere to a form. If it’s just coding I feel I’ll fail because of a lack of understanding of the logic. If it’s multilingual writing/translations I’m afraid of the spotlight it will shine on my weak grasp of languages. Pursuing all three at once has allowed me a safety net and an excuse.

The first long poetry project I worked on started as a short story but it was so lyrical that everyone around me was questioning why it wasn’t already a poem. I already knew it was a poem too but I didn’t want it to be. I was scared that it had to be. A lot of paper was printed and pushed across my apartment floor, and it was decently written, but the poems in it were unpublishable elsewhere because they only made sense within the context of the collection as a whole. They blended all my languages and my interest in prosody, satisfying my desire to experiment with these obsessions.

I always want my poems to say everything. Most of my poems begin as three poems in a long trench coat and I have to topple them over until it’s clear who is present and which of them should remain. Coding is similar in that I start with an idea but then another idea comes along and takes over, or I can’t achieve the original idea, so I have to try a new approach that gives a similar result. I want to share this troubleshooting with you, the way an hour spent moving a line of code back and forth or reading it from beginning to end, the attempt to see which lines are speaking to each other and which lines are yet to learn how. I am learning now that coding is all about context, and that there is an order that each line hinges on. With poetry, there are rules and critics that abhor those who break them but the poetry I’ve found the most joy and feeling in is the kind that holds its own rules.

The more I code the more I appreciate that there is no right way to code. If you manage to make it do a thing you’ve already achieved something incredible, even if it’s a mess only you can understand. I think coding is learning to communicate with your computer using the language of fixed quantities whereas poetry is communicating with the big feelings and the obsessions and the little nothings you collect and weave together. I value the digital space that allows for both forms to grow together.

function setup( ) {
createCanvas(myWidth, myHeight);
languages = loadSound(“https://my.bubble.of.languages/1996-se09-08ht/
firstlangu–ages.m4a?v= 1676092059313”);
writing = loadStrings(“poetry.txt”);
newSkill = loadStrings(“learntocode.txt”);

//Maybe the variables I’ve greyed out still hold potential 
//Maybe tomorrow I will understand which values to feed them

Poetry nourishes me because it broke my understanding of what language can be and do – it let me play with failures in language and translation. Coding enchanted me because it is another language I can use in my game of failure. When you start writing or submitting your work people tell you that failure is inevitable and often has nothing to do with you. But as a baby writer, you believe your words are precious. The only way to detach yourself from the feeling is to fail so many times that it becomes a game, one worth celebrating because it’s a sign you are still doing something. This is what coding is, this is what applying to jobs is, and this is what submitting poems is. But out of all my failures, the ways I’ve failed my code are my proudest, most shiny failures. Every error is an opportunity to look at my code from another angle. This might sound like a nightmare, but for me, these errors and the process of resolving them are reassuring. There are so many things in life that evade resolution but so far coding has not been one of them. There is always another method I can learn, another reference I can use, or another tutorial I can follow that gets me to the end of my project.

Communication isn’t just speaking at something or someone – it’s an exchange, it’s your words being understood and holding the meaning you wanted them to hold. If you look at my code I think these struggles show, just as they show in my poetry. My never-ending challenge has always been with the failures of language, and the way we fail each other. One of my biggest regrets is not being confident enough to talk to my grandparents properly once I was old enough to be curious about them and our family’s past. I relate to Eda Gunaydin as she writes in Root & Branch ‘I feel instant paranoid shame and exposure about my accent, having read a passage in Turkish on-stage moments before: I’ll never sound native.’ The moment I meet anyone that knows my first languages, or similar languages, I am filled with an intense fear of disappointing them. The narrow vocabulary I have still makes me worry I’m incapable of holding meaningful conversations.

Among family, friends and neighbours in Eastern Europe, as in other parts of the world, stories are currency. I can’t count the number of tales I’ve been told: lore, traditions, family histories and secrets. I want to recreate this storytelling and sharing culture but I’ve always been critical of my voice, and my right to tell stories that are not solely my own across languages I have at times been ashamed of knowing. When I was sixteen a guitar teacher told me he could hear the pain of my people in my accent when I sang. I was writing lyrics that had nothing to do with war but this man was telling me it was connected to me regardless of the words I chose to share. Soon after I started saying ‘people tell me I have a non-accent’ every time the topic came up in conversations. This response was a performance of nowhere in the same way my poetry is now a performance of here.

Click and move cursor to interact with the code sketch. This is best viewed on desktop.

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