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Star of the show

He’d always been the rock our universes revolved around. He must’ve known it, it definitely got to him sometimes, but he never failed. There was never a chink in his armour, we wanted to be like him so badly. 

Lily was always his favourite. She had the magic. It was her programs that he kept saved on his personal USB. He had everything of hers, her first little Hello World script, her first game where a penguin learned to fly, even her inane algorithm to figure out if a boy liked her. But, that was only natural, she told me, she was there first. 

I didn’t have it though, I could do the numbers and the logic — sorta — but my code was never elegant. Dad always said, “don’t just make the computer work, make poetry, good code should rhyme, have a meter and read like Shakespeare.”

I never made poetry, it just wasn’t in me. 

All of my hackathons were supremely average, I qualified but never won. Lily flew past them, her shelf was filled with trophies and all my shelf had was group photos of all the contestants. 

However, Lily was always on my side. She liked my dancing duck (she even thought that “DeeDee.exe” was clever) and my cat feeder. 

Dad said they were fun toys. Always toys though, when Lily was making tools. “It would be a shame to deprive the human race of this code, work like this, is our next step in evolution.” 

Really? Even the Love-O-Matic? 

“Kid, these few little lines of code solved the great human equation, why stay awake at night pining when the computer can tell you if they feel the same way? Now that that’s solved, we have more focus for more tools!”. Stupid Dad.

I remember that hackathon though, the one in Roncesvalles. 

Getting out of the subway at Dundas West, Dad promised we could go to the McDonalds that was attached to the TTC stop if we won. I knew I wasn’t going to win but Dad would still get me a “participation trophy.” 

“Wozniak never worked on an empty stomach!” he’d say. I concocted my order relentlessly while we walked to the Makerspace. 

Lily was busy running through possible solutions to the last-minute problems she came up with for her tweet impersonator, “Dad, what characteristics should I be targeting with my histograms? Daaad, who should I use for my test case? Daaaaad, how can I account for typos?” On and on and on. Lily knew she was going to win. 

I, on the other hand, had finally narrowed it down to a double quarter-pounder meal with a side of nuggets and a large root beer. 

* * * * * 

The Ronceys Makerspace Hackathon! Highlight of my month. Lily had swung for the big money in the Big Data for a Big Internet category, I went for the much more fun Creative Focus category. Lily was placed with all the soon-to-be Waterloo, MIT and Berkeley kids. I had the girls with fluorescent hair colours, the boys with hand-painted Chucks and the kids who fell in between — but managed to walk the line so fine that I couldn’t tear my eyes off of them. My people, the Revolutionaries

Dad followed Lily, supposedly to go see work friends but I knew it was because the Revolutionaries made him feel old. He was old. 

I didn’t really know anyone, but these were the people I wanted to know. 

The lights dimmed, and the director of the Makerspace gave a speech, followed by some speeches from “community partners”, BigBuy, AllMart, and FauxFrills — but nobody interesting. Then we were told to get to work. 

Headphones on, lo-fi girl in my ears, hood up, vibes immaculate. 

I knew Lily was making her code rhyme, analyzing tweets, compiling patterns and generating slightly misspelled Twitter handles that could fool a human who didn’t pay attention. 

I was making my own thing though, with a “Creative Focus!

* * * * * 

And then it happened, in a moment of what seemed like pure magic, the code started to leap from me to the computer. The bugs sorted themselves out, there was style. My lights worked the way I wanted them to, my stitches stayed in and my soldering held together. 

I had lo-fi in my head, but my project was jazzy and I was jamming. I saw my hands type and the lines fly onto the screen. I began to feel it!

This wasn’t poetry, it wasn’t rehearsed like Lily and Dad’s code was. This was spunky and I didn’t totally know where it was going. It flowed, twirled, jived, and weaved; it danced!

Once the mic was attached, Shazam’s API was in, it meshed with the lights, and I felt like fucking Duke Ellington. Now, this was jazz, baby!

The timer counted down, I used my last seconds to tighten stitches and add comments to my scripts. Then we were all assembled so we could demonstrate one at a time on the big screen.

I found Lily and Dad. “Creative Focus” went first (let the dorks go, warm up for the audience). One girl had a program that analyzed handwriting and graffitied it. One dude had code turning your face into a Kiss-style demon. 

Then my turn. I turned the speakers up to full blast, dimmed the lights, threw up my hood, switched on and danced. 

The lights worked perfectly! When the bass dropped, so did my lights. And when I moved hard and fast, I was a kaleidoscope of colour. When the guitar ripped, I flashed like a strobe. I was the CN Tower, I was Paris, I was a Goddamned Firework, baby!

I also only won third place — “Creative Focus.” What a scam.

Lily won first prize and the director made a joke about using her superpowers for good. 

The part that stuck with me wasn’t my third-place medal ( just heavy enough that my neck never got tired, but I wouldn’t forget it was there) and it wasn’t that Dad finally took a picture of me on the podium. 

What stuck with me was Lily’s video of my work. I was a streak of flame, a supernova, starlight. My code and I danced and we were unstoppable.

COVER PHOTO: (Ilya Pavlov/Unsplash)

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