"Well, wish her good luck for me."

"Oh. It's none of it luck. She's got the Lord's blessing, and she's all right with that. There's no luck involved."

I muttered a reply and walked away. Grandmothers. You just can't say anything to shake their confidence in their grandchildren. This one was trying to get to band camp by selling her artwork. It was clearly work by a fourteen-year-old, but it showed talent and promise. At five dollars a print, it wasn't too expensive. Of course, I can get a print of Escher for five dollars. She clearly likes flowers, that's for sure. She must have painted these in art class; there is a definite progression in her skill. The lumpily-colored frog looks pretty sad, but the lighthouse painting displays detail and careful effort in the lighting.

Oh. there's her picture. Nice smile. This average-looking fourteen year old girl expects to pay for band camp by selling five dollar prints of amateur artwork. Wow. They were out of prints of several paintings already. If I wanted one that wasn't in the box, I could special order one. Five dollars. She plays multiple band instruments, with names Grandma doesn't remember.

Talent and promise. I know what those are. I once showed talent and promise, back when I was fourteen. I played the trumpet, but I never went to band camp. I was too busy cultivating my stage magic and juggling skills, showing first hints of competence in computer programming, and letting go of my obesity through rigorous physical exercise. I wonder what my Grandma said back then.

There was a time that I said "opportunity is my currency." Although I started out at a hardware store, I picked up a few programming jobs, started an Internet publication, and began and independent consultant programming job. Talent was my middle name, and Promise was the name of the pen I signed it with. I was going to live comfortably, maybe even have enough money to help my brother out; his medical costs are very high. I joined a local community band.

She wants to become a forensic scientist. There you go, folks. Kids watch a television show about forensic scientists, and suddenly everyone wants to lead the exciting life of sorting through the physical remains of dead people and writing reports about it. On the other hand, maybe she can use her future skills to figure out what ever happened to me; by the time she graduates, I might well be dead.

If I'm still alive. My career probably won't be. Not that you can say it ever had much life to it. A few years as a computer programmer doesn't constitute a career; I'm simply too young to have much of anything under my belt. But now I'm throwing even that away, though my choice was more earth-shattering before the dot com bust. Now I don't even have to throw my career out; it has thrown me out. Not by choice, not even because I'm incompetent. There are thousands of well-employed programmers less competent than I. There's just one difference. They have a job and I don't. I can't say if they like their jobs. Do the things on my resume matter? Do the years mean anything, the years of writing tech articles, programming a variety of software, giving seminars on advanced programming and administration to computer professionals? No.

"Sorry Nate, there just isn't enough work right now. Maybe if things pick up in a few weeks, but there's no guarantee. Hey, did you know? Stas is working at a publishing company now. Yeah, they're giving him $12 an hour. Of course, a lot of that is lifestyle choices, but he's just one of many. The market is really tough right now. After you left for college, things just fizzled. "

Thanks. And I should be thankful, too. If I hadn't gone to college, I probably still would have lost my job. But mine was a lifestyle decision too. I wanted to get out of computing. I wanted to stop the endless hours of insanity, escape the stress of deadlines, flee the mental kryptonite of computer programming. The problem, of course, was the trumpet, the art, the writing. Computer programming is an art more than a science, but it is one of the most grueling; most put up with the brutality for their just reward in dazzling paychecks. Others, like me, were happy to find something that was fun and paid only slightly less well. But even that wasn't enough. No paycheck is enough to offset the dehumanization. The screen just ain't the real world. So I went to college to study writing. Good move maybe; there are no more dazzling paychecks for anyone.

College is a blast. I have been able to study computer science to keep up the enjoyment of a casual addict while still focusing on writing. The music is great. I have never excelled so much in my musical ability as I have at college. But something weird has happened, something that I knew was coming. I dreaded it like the plague. No. I dreaded it like I dreaded the loss of opportunity, because that's exactly what it was.

I'm not in the Grandma leagues anymore.