L10: Bootcamp
March 5, 2021 11:22 PM   Subscribe

L10: Bootcamp
I wrote about becoming a coder after a decade of scraping by off the proceeds of writing, even after essays gone viral, publishing a book, landing a creative writing "Professor" gig, & well-compensated and prestigious grants. Ironically, this letter, the 10th in my memoir-y newsletter, has been unusually well-received. I got a lot of "this struck a chord" from other artists and writers who've been trying to make it work. Maybe it will resonate if you're an artist/writer, or for non-artists, it might be of interest to see how the sausage is made--I discuss exact $ amounts of what my books, grants, jobs, contracts paid me.

For context of who I am, if you're a MeFi regular, you might have seen some of my essays on the blue:
- https://hazlitt.net/longreads/internets-first-family on Metafilter itself (MeTa post), and
- https://hazlitt.net/longreads/legion-lonely on lonely men (MeFi post).
- more info in my profile

Here's the opening:


Hi,

I would like to say I have a simple goal, but it seems I’m pretty flexible in practice. I think of all the dabblers down through time, Da Vinci inventing the helicopter on the back of a piece of paper where he records an anecdote of himself filling up a room at a party with a room-sized balloon and laughing his ass off. Sure.

So in that spirit I’m going to tell you the story of how I went to coding bootcamp. It’s going to be kind of long. Here it is.

1. “Why not make $50 an hour?”

In 2012 I was in a relationship with a woman named Emma from Evanston, IL, on Chicago’s North Shore. This is a wealthy part of America and her family was wealthy. Her dad had gone to Harvard and made a lot of money on the stock market, then retired in his fifties. This is when I met him. At this point his main occupation was visiting every Major League Baseball stadium in the U.S., and living in his big beautiful house with a wraparound porch with his wife, visited frequently by his four adult children, who were all charming, troubled artists who seemed to be very fond of him, and who he doted on. In fact every night he sent out an email calculating the geographical mean center-point of everyone in the nuclear family. I remember thinking he was one of the happiest people I had ever met. I was at their house for passover in 2012, which lasted two fulls days, two full like 8-hour dinners, and to which about 20-25 friends and relatives were present, fluidly, coming and going, gefilte fish and apple sauce, and at one point he gave a toast. He said the secret to happiness was two things: one, “marrying well,” and two, not thirsting too desperately to be number one. “Being number two is good,” he said. “What’s wrong with number two?” I was at Emma’s wedding in 2019, in Evanston, and in a huge crowd of people he was crying with happiness.

I spent 10 days in that huge home at the beginning of the summer after my 2nd MFA year. Emma was despairing about her future, sort of moping around the house. Her dad took this as an opportunity to lecture her. One thing about Emma’s dad is that he used to say all the doors that had ever opened to him in his life had opened because of the name “Harvard.” Emma had been accepted to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, by far the most famous MFA program in the world, but had turned it down in favor of the University of Alabama, where we had met, because, she said, she liked the look of UA’s program better. Her dad, by this fact, was consternated. His whole life was testimony to the power of elite U.S. college brand recognition. But since Emma was now committed to studying the poetic arts at Bama, which would likely yield little profit, he thought she should learn a marketable skill. And since she’d have to work regardless, she may as well work for the highest amount per hour. This is where we join him, pacing his living room, gripping a can of PBR, his daughter half-hiding under the couch cushions: “Why not make $50 an hour, if you have to work 8 hours a day?” he said. “Learn to code, that’s a skill in demand. Why sit at a desk making $15 an hour when you could be making $50 an hour sitting at the same desk?”

When Emma and I broke up seven months later, I wrote a draft of a novel about our relationship in my $380/mo 1-bedroom apartment on 7th Street in Tuscaloosa, AL, while listening to Jessie Ware’s Devotion, on my desk that was a single sheet of 4’x8’ Home Depot plywood, and in this novel I had this recurring motif where people would offer other people life advice, and Emma’s dad’s harangue was one of them. I was basically mocking his simplistic logic—or, more generously, ‘ironizing’ it—in favor of the more pure life of the artist.

2. The Pure Life of the Artist
Role: Writer
posted by skwt (2 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

I enjoyed this, and related.
posted by Orlop at 6:53 AM on March 12


Hey, this is really great - especially part 6, Apostasy, which feels very right and true.

You are a terrific writer.

I wonder if time might bring your defection around to more of a personal practice - not so much that you have left the religion of literature, but more that you are making your own path there. You're still a writer - becoming a coder hasn't lopped that off of you - and it's possible that the change in circumstances, your new choices, will be inviting and nourishing to that little green worm.

Thank you for writing this, and for sharing it with us here, skwt. I'm looking forward to reading more of your words.
posted by kristi at 7:05 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


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