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Pierre-Auguste Renoir: Self-Portrait (1876)

"Hackcess ever only happens once …"

I admit that I've mostly lived outside the boundaries of propriety. I didn't seek an advanced degree before practicing my professions but made up my approaches as I went along. I experienced at least my fair share of Success, but perhaps by unfair means. I dropped out of my high school typing class rather than flunk it, but I still went on to become a best-selling author, though I'm still an absolute hack typist. I present my two and a half typing fingers as prima facie evidence, along with my bestseller and the second dozen manuscripts I will have finished by this Summer's solstice. I garden, but not according to anyone's rules, not even my own, since I seem to continue making up my practice as I go along. I'm always learning but never learnéd. Forever the hacker.

One way to most reliably fail seems to me to be to hold oneself to someone else's recipe, the way things are supposed to be done.
One can pretty much perfectly accomplish something without even reading the directions, without even finding the instructions so cleverly hidden in the bottom of the packaging. However, some would never think of even starting, let alone finishing, without first relinquishing their intuitive grasp. They seem to need to know the designer's intention before getting on with the business, and I admit that this tactic might well yield fewer catastrophes, though I submit that the Success it produces might well lack in how it feels. Successfully arriving at the bottom of some instructions rarely trumps the feeling of emerging from narrowly escaping catastrophe. So I tend to wend my way along the riskier routes.

My failures might well be more common than others. I'm not counting. I approach my world as I've chosen to approach it, how I decided I would have to approach it after early disappointing results from the 'normal' practices. I think that many hackers would have preferred to operate according to the rules but found that they could not. Often, the rules were withheld from them without their knowledge. There seemed to be a secret to the standard Successes, like some subtle means by which one passed tests never passed down to us, so we, by necessity, became life hackers. We eventually learned to avoid the classroom, the scene of so many baffling rituals, in favor of more wide-open spaces. Through trial and error, we came to experience Successes. Yes, even the errors contributed to the Successes; some of the greatest would have been deemed utter failures by the original recipe writers.

The early works of many great masters reek of hacking. None of those artists began their careers as masters or artists, and the path to mastery rarely manages to stay in the established ruts. It's no excuse, of course, to ignore or insist upon the studied ignorance the ignorant insist upon. We're each situated precisely where we are, not necessarily where anybody thought we should be. We each face choices, some better formed than others, but we're each more or less hacking, whether or not we recognize it. We each must find our own way, however many road maps we borrow or how much advice we absorb. We're not precisely faking whatever's making us Succeed, but we could not have mastered that yet, either. Skill seems emergent wherever it comes from, intuition or formal instruction. Both sources require considerable practice before becoming fully accessible. We hack until.

It might be that all Success can only properly be considered Hackcess, and almost none of it ever comes from simply following instructions. Even when the recipe gets followed perfectly, the result rarely very closely resembles the photograph in the cookbook. Many cookbooks have taken to illustrating their recipes with impressionistic line drawings, perhaps to match better the fuzzy results their followers will likely produce. It probably doesn't pay to pay too close attention. In the unlikely event that the recipe writer fully understood each of their target cook's initial conditions, even then, they'd observe a fairly wide variation. Ask The Gods why. Sometimes the yeast just seems to have a mind all its own, so the dough behaves differently than it ever had before. Sometimes this change produces failure, and sometimes it yields the most profound Success, the sort that our baker will never manage to reproduce even once. Fortunately, Hackcess only ever happens once (or needs to) before morphing into one of an infinite number of alternative forms, repeatability not very high on the list of necessary attributes for any individual Success.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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