Sometimes, the Beginning is the best place to Continue

I’ve been taking an online course on CSS that starts from the basics.

My original ‘course’ in CSS was on the job training as we converted a site from tables to CSS divs somewhere in the summer of 2000.

A lot has changed in the world of web programming since the dot-com boom when I was doing it professionally (well, as professionally as any of us were, I suppose), and while I still make web things, from WordPress plugins and themes to even dabbling in React.js and Svelte, it’s not my profession anymore. This means that while I’m dipping my toes back in everyone in a while—scraping through Google searches to find the answers to my questions—I’m not active enough in the space to catch up by working.

That was how I learned these things, programming Perl, then PHP, adding JavaScript to have mouse-overs. Tables for layout, and I’m going to admit here, in public, that there are days I wish we went back to tables for layout. I learned CSS ‘real-time’ as we updated the site from tables, hard coded styles and background images to a more fluid CSS layout over the summer.

The thing is this: sometimes the best way to learn is to start from the beginning. Sure, I know everything in the first couple lessons, but it wasn’t long before something new came out. A new term, a new phrase, a new best practice.

I know CSS. But I learned it then and patch-worked myself through updates and improvements throughout these years. I knew CSS, and even though I still use it often, the foundation is based on the lessons learned, right and wrong, all those years ago. At some point… at this point, the best way to continue learning is to start over.

Because it is not just specs and code that has changed over the years, but vocabulary, best practices, formatting and naming conventions (not that we had naming conventions in 1999).

This makes a basic course a refresher and a new foundation to build on from here. Don’t be afraid or prideful to take a step back and go over the basics once again.

What’s in a So?

iA Writer recently had an update where they allowed for custom style check filters in addition to the cliches, fillers and redundancies filters the app possessed.

This coincided with me reading Dreyer’s English. In the opening chapter Dreyer gives a list of words to stop using for a week.

One of which—so—is one that I knew I used too much.

It was straight forward to add in the words to iA Writer’s pattern list—the only catch being that since I wanted words, and not letter combinations, I had to add spaces before and after.

Otherwise, “so” would mark “personal” since it contained “so”.

Has it helped? That’s to be decided. The intent is not to exclude these words from my prose, poetry, or blog ramblings, but to be more conscious of the construction of those writings.

So when I drop a “so”, it feels fluid, not repetitive.

Practice, not Pain

The tortured artist trope is one I don’t agree with. The idea is simple: with great pain comes great art.

The thing is this, we get better at what we practice. To take myself for example, I am good at writing post-break-up poems, because for a long time that is what I wrote.

The ‘tortured artist’ didn’t make those poems better—the artist did. I worked on them, over and over, crafting good, if not limited, poems. They were the ones I edited, the ones I work shopped, the ones I gave at readings.

The pain provided influence, perhaps motivation. I used it as focal point to create.

But this created a new problem where I had to learn to write non-post-break-up poems, or even wider, non-personal-relationship poems—because that is was all I was practicing.

I played rugby for a half-minute (another post-break-up choice) and Coach would say to to us:

Practice makes permanent.

Didn’t me mean ‘perfect’? No. Perfect practice makes perfect. How you practice reflects on how you perform.

And ‘practice’ is something we do as writers. (Something I recommend doing consciously.)

When you only make art when you are in the dark places of life of it is going to be better than when you try elsewhere. You have to learn, to practice.

The thing is, the best poems I write are about breakup and heartache, not because of my pain, but because these are the ones I’ve written the most.

More practice = better art.

If I put the time into love poems or springtime poems that would be as good.

No, there is no special insight a tortured artist has, only focus that drives creation, specific creation. You can write, create, paint without the pain. You need practice.

Do you know how many happy horror writers I know? A lot. Because what we write doesn’t need to reflect on who we are when we write it.

Sure you pull from experience, but we are not bound to it. I don’t need to be going through a loss to write about loss.

And we shouldn’t think that either