December 24, 2015
Next year should prove to be a very interesting one.
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Wow, some big changes afoot in my life for 2016, starting right at new Year's next week; on top of quitting Facebook for good, I'm also putting CCLaP essentially in shutdown mode for six months, so that we're doing nothing but the bare minimum to still be considered open for business (so that is, updating the blog, and publishing the magazine every Friday since I have an outside staff who does that, but no longer publishing any new books, accepting any submissions, or producing any live events, and with all ordering of our existing books going straight to Amazon instead of trying to fulfill them ourselves), all so that I'll finally have the time to do computer programming for eight hours a day and get my skills up to a hireable level. Which, yes, might very well mean that we're currently saying goodbye to CCLaP as it currently exists -- a place being pushed hard to become a full-time operation, in a physical space in the city, which would constitute my full-time job -- and will be saying hello next year to CCLaP as it will newly exist, as basically a weekend hobby, where I'll still occasionally get to publish books that tickle my fancy but with us no longer aiming to be a nationally recognized legitimate small press that gets carried in bookstores and reviewed at mainstream publications, and certainly with no more plans to expand beyond what we're currently doing, most likely in fact with those plans permanently shrinking some.

And I don't know how to feel about this; because on the one hand, in one form or another, I've been trying to make a living in the arts for literally 25 years now, and events these days sure do feel a lot like I'm finally giving up that ghost for good, and that's a legitimate grieving process that you go through in those circumstances, of finally letting go of something for good that you've unsuccessfully been trying to attain for a quarter of a century. In fact, I've come to realize that that's what this year has been all about for me, going through and finally exiting the "bargaining" stage of the grieving process -- back in January when I first signed up for DevBootcamp, I told myself that if I agreed to put CCLaP on hold for six months then as well, really buckle down and do as good a job as possible at coding bootcamp, then I could get that 9-to-5 job that DBC assured me I'd have by now, work hard and get CCLaP back up to speed too, then live a life where I'm spending half my time doing one and half doing the other.

What I realized, though, by the time I was done with DBC in August, is that it doesn't work that way; that the only way you can get skilled enough to get hired after a quick-and-dirty process like a bootcamp is to then eat, drink, sleep and shit coding 24 hours a day afterwards, to spend all your spare time coding and writing tests and attending Meetup events and participating in hack nights. And I haven't gotten to do that, and the results have been a disaster -- I'm one of only two people left in my graduating class of 12 who hasn't found a job yet, and I keep flunking all the code tests I take during job interviews because I have no working day-to-day knowledge yet of how coding works in the real world. And I have to admit, I feel like I've committed just too much time, energy and money at this point ($12,000 and counting) to give up on all this now; so if I really want to make a serious go at it all, I've come to realize that I'm simply going to have to give up on the idea of trying to run CCLaP at the same time, or at least in the manner I've been trying to run it up to now.

Plus, like I was ruminating to my therapist the other day, part of the problem is that my definition of how to consider myself a "success" in the arts has become a little too calcified recently, and this entire situation is bound to look a lot different once I start loosening up those terms and definitions again; just for one thing, I've come recently to realize what a fallacy it was to believe I could make an entrepreneurial living in a dying industry like paper novel publishing to begin with. (If a place like HarperCollins, which has been open over a century and has so many resources at its disposal, is losing millions of dollars a year, what chance do I have?) Or for another -- and I think maybe I've mentioned this here before -- it's my belief that the videogame industry as it currently eixsts right this moment, in the 2010s, is exactly like how the novel industry existed a hundred years ago in the 1910s; both were formerly known up to this point primarily as a delivery vehicle for blood and mayhem to overly excited children, but it was the birth of Modernism that brought experimental artists and the academic world to novels for the first time, and it's the explosion of indie and experimental game developers that is doing the exact same kind of boundary-pushing to videogames right now. The insane success of Minecraft* is as much of a shot across the bow of its industry as William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway and Henry Miller and Virginia Woolf were to its industry a century ago; so in another year or two, I may very well find myself saying something like, "Publishing a handful of paper novels a year is great for keeping up my cred as a public intellectual, but it's my videogame development company that's doing the truly cutting-edge and truly satisfying work, and by the way is selling a million copies of each of its titles versus the 600 copies I sold of all my paper books last year."

(*And let's not forget, Minecraft was essentially created by one single person during his spare time over the course of about two years, a huge change from what the industry standard has been for games like Grand Theft Auto, which required a team of 200 people, half a decade of development, and tens of millions of dollars in upfront investment money. It's not just the mainstream embrace of a weird little game like Minecraft that has signaled a sea change in the industry, but the fact that a billion-dollar game was made by one person with no money upfront, which completely changes the entire way we even think about how videogames are made in the first place.)

But still, it's a tough time for me; these are all guesses that haven't been proven yet, and it's frightening to let go of something you've been so doggedly pursuing for so long, especially while making other big decisions like my plan to start dating again next year, to start exercising my new Obamacare health insurance, etc. One thing is for sure, that I will have a fucking middle-class salaried computer programming job by the end of next year, come hell or high water -- I've come too far with all this stuff to just roll over at this point, so I will be doing whatever ends up being necessary to get that job next year. Everything I've ever set my mind to -- and I mean truly and sincerely have made the number-one priority in my life -- has been something I've succeeded at, so I'm confident that the same thing will happen with coding in 2016. It's just too bad that it takes such a herculean effort that you literally have to give up everything else.

- x -

So speaking of changing plans, one of the things my therapist has led me to realize is that my life has been nearly completely devoid of creativity and intellectualism for the last two years or so, as first CCLaP's new paperback publishing program overwhelmed me and then coding bootcamp did. And I've realized that this is one of the big things that's made me so crazy and unhappy over the last two years -- "art for art's sake" has been a regular part of my life all the way since I was six and used to put on puppet shows for the neighborhood kids -- so this is something else I'm instituting in my life next year, a "20 percent rule" like Google employees have, where I spend eight hours a week (either broken up or as one big day) doing nothing but fun personal projects that may or may not have an actual commercial application afterwards (although let's be clear, most will). It's a combination of half-finished lit and photo projects with brand-new coding projects, so I thought you might like to hear the breakdown...

--To begin with, I'm finally finishing up the CCLaP 100 next year, the project where I read a hundred so-called "classic" novels for the first time then write funny little reports on whether they still deserve the label. 70 of them are now done, so it's simply a matter of focusing and finishing those last 30.

--Then after that's done, I'm starting a new major reading project, where I finally read through all the titles in my rare book collection, both because so many of them seem so interesting and because this will give me an excuse to finally get each of them listed for sale at eBay. I'm already doing fairly well at eBay, relative to how much effort I put in (I make about one sale a month there, out of only 20 or 30 books listed at any given time), so I'd do even better if I could get more like 150 or 200 listings online.

--I'm also publishing my first full-color paperback photography book next year, as a test of sorts to see what such a thing looks like when printed by Amazon's CreateSpace service, in the hopes that CCLaP could start publishing photography books in 2017 if things work out. For mine I'm doing this interesting project -- I recently had a chance to do high-def scans of the 200 or so Ektachrome slides my dad and I both took at the 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee, and I'm going to try laying them out in a slick design and adding memoir-type mini-essays about all the things I still remember about the trip. (I was thirteen at the time, and the combination of all that science-fictiony stuff with my burgeoning puberty left a huge impression on me.) Once you have a CreateSpace account set up and a bunch of ISBN numbers pre-bought, there is literally no set-up fee for registering new books there, which means that time and effort are my only "costs" of making a book like this; so it'd be worth it even if I only run off a handful of copies to give to friends and family, and to see whether the quality is high enough for us to start publishing professional photographers through CCLaP in 2017.

--And speaking of unfinished photography projects, I'm finally going to finish up my attempt to shoot random shots around the historic Graceland Cemetery in my neighborhood during all four seasons of the year, then publish a book that mixes all the looks from one page to the next. Something merely for fun and to give me an excuse to be outside a lot this coming spring, summer and fall.

--And yes, this poor personal website you're at! There hasn't been a major change to its design since 2005; all my journal archives from my early "Geocities years" are still offline; and all my old self-published books of poetry and stories are hopelessly outdated (for God's sake, the main format still being offered for them is for the freaking Palm operating system). It'll be great to set aside some Saturday afternoons next year to just tinker around with all this for three or four hours at a time.

And as far as programming projects (which to be clear, will not just be free-time activities but also take up much of my 30 main hours a week I'll be coding), my hope is to have working versions of all the following by the time Independence Day rolls around next July...

--A hand-built shopping cart system for all the things CCLaP sells (our original books, our rare books, merchandise such as stickers and posters, etc), one that will hopefully look and work much like the commercial service Shopify, written in Ruby On Rails and incorporating the Square payment API. This is not just something that CCLaP has desperately needed for a long time, but will be a majorly impressive thing to show to coding employers; and as I've discovered this fall and winter, when coding supervisors are trying to decide on a new junior coder to hire, they tend almost 100 percent of the time to entirely skip resumes, LinkedIn profiles and even sit-down interviews, and instead judge you almost entirely on the quality of the code you've actually published at your Github account.

--My first-ever iOS/Android app -- a flashcard system for my dad's Political Science students, at the community college in Missouri where he teaches. I suspect I'll build this in Google's brand-new and now nicely cross-platform Angular 2, which they literally announced for the first time the same week I'm writing this.

--And my second-ever iOS/Android app -- a productivity app called "Game My Life!" which basically lets you do what I experimented with in my own life a few years ago, where you set different point levels for different chores you hate doing (1 point for doing the dishes, 2 points for taking out the trash, etc), then define a series of rewards you can cash in at different totals (every 25 points you can have a sugary drink at Starbucks, every 100 points you get to go out to a fancy restaurant, etc). I'm using this app as an excuse to learn Apple's programming language Swift next year, and will sell the finished app at the Apple Store for 99 cents.

--And my third-ever iOS/Android app -- an arcade game, something like a Frogger or Galaga clone, something like that. I'll be doing this through the open-source and cross-platform Phaser.js Javascript library, literally just for shits and grins. (I'm going to get my friend Carrie's twelve-year-old sons to make all the various pixel graphics.)

--And my FOURTH-ever iOS/Android app -- a more complicated game this time, done as "proof of knowledge" through the insanely complicated and powerful Unity game creation software that I'm in the middle of taking an online class on. (For fellow coders who are curious, Unity uses C# as its scripting language, so I'm in the middle of learning that too.)

--And then speaking of Unity, perhaps the most ambitious project I'll be attempting next year is to build my own procedurally generated universe through it, which is basically how Minecraft works too -- so in other words, the universe you explore is built differently and on the fly each time you play, using only a series of math equations, even though the resulting logical landscape looks like something a human visual artist deliberately created from scratch. And note that I didn't say "game" yet, because I'm taking a cue from Markus Persson, the inventor of Minecraft -- he spent an entire year and a half building that game's procedural universe before he ever invented even the very first thing to actually do while there, besides of course "walk around and look at shit." I'm convinced that this is a big part of the future of videogames -- algorithm-derived landscpaes that more and more look like something hand-designed by a human -- and writing such algorithms is a particularly complicated and rare skill among coders right now (and thus a very hireable one), so I thought I'd start by concentrating just on making an interesting universe, and can always bring on other pople and add some gameplay to it later.

--And finally, with all the things I'll be learning about HTML5- and Javascript-based front-end development next year (using things like Angular, Ember, Bootstrap, jQuery, Material Design, SASS and more), I'm going to be cranking out little hipster blog templates that people can buy at WordPress and Tumblr for 99 cents, hopefully just dozens of them that show off every trendy little fucking animated twirly little fucking thing I learn how to do (and let's be clear, this is one of the most explosive areas of code development these days, of organizations putting together fancy Javascript libraries that let you do every little fancy animated thing you've ever seen at a hipster website). This is one of the biggest chances I have at a salaried job next year, given how much time I spent in the visual arts before ever turning to coding, so mastery over trendy Javascript libraries is one of my biggest priorities in 2016. And hey, if I can make beer money along the way by selling my class assignments to hipster college students for a buck a pop, so much the better.

Wow, whew, so that's it -- that's what I'll be doing with my time next year instead of CCLaP, plus of course the usual activities of going on job interviews, informational coffees, Meetup.com tech events, and a likely stint volunteering at this great organization called CoderDojo which teaches kids how to code HTML through writing their own "Choose Your Own Adventure" stories. No matter what, it promises to be an event-filled 2016; and as always, I'll keep you apprised here of the latest, so that you can follow along via notifications at my Twitter account. Have a good holiday, and here's to a busy and productive new year!

Copyright 2015, Jason Pettus. Released under a Creative Commons license; some rights reserved. Contact: ilikejason [at] gmail.com. Powered by Movable Type 5.01. This site is graciously hosted for free by Jimi Sweet. Subscribe via RSS: summaries | full text