Sidelines and Sessions

2009/05/28

Sorry, Abe.

Filed under: UCLA life — spsukaton @ 9:22 am

“Don’t Switch Horses in Mid-Stream.”

-Abraham Lincoln’s 1864 campaign slogan.

I thought that would be an apt introduction, since 2009 is the Lincoln Bicentennial. While I adore the man and myth of Father Abraham like every red-blooded American, that early GOP slogan brings up all sorts of questions.

It’s Wednesday of 9th week, spring quarter of sophomore year. I am, quite literally, halfway done with college.  What do I do with my summer? Where did the time go? What am I going to do with my life?

The first two questions have easy answers. This summer, I’m going to see my friend get married, study history in Hawaii,  get a job, learn how to interview, write every day, read every day, and run every day. Duh.

The time went by because I wasn’t disciplined. I frittered my time away living like a typical college student – vacillating rather than deciding, sampling rather than eating. While I’m definitely more sedate and bookish than the rest of the college-age population, I didn’t get nearly as much done as I wanted these last two years. I had a list of everything I wanted to get done in college. Half of those things are now impossible, and another eighth are no longer interesting. While some of the detours were pretty awesome, (SPCN) most weren’t (skipping out on DB News freshman year, not playing as much saxophone, not writing every day.)

While I’ve made noises about being “undisciplined” and “wasteful” before, it didn’t hit me until Monday, when I tried to run a mile with Arkae. I finished it – and took an extra lap as well! – but I felt weaksauce. No joke. Weak. Sauce.

I realized that I’ve been playing fast and loose in college – with my body, with my mind, with my time and my talents. That’s going to stop now. While finals are pretty much a done deal (and on the real, I think I have them sewn up) I start living with more restraint and direction this summer in Michigan, Hawaii, and Los Angeles.

Let’s be real – I’m not mentally or physically healthy. I’m lazy, I tend to eat wrong, work too little, sleep too much. I’ve been getting by on the seat of my pants – writing first drafts at 4am the day they’re due, cramming on tests, BSing the book I didn’t read. That needs to stop. I’m not a schoolboy working for the “oh, you’re so smart” and the award. I’m a grown-ass man working on his passions, looking for his vocation, discerning his calling.

In reference to the horse-and-stream metaphor, I’ve been riding a parade-ground horse. It has a lovely coat, glittering saddle and gilded accessories. This was fine, as most of my life has consisted of riding down Colorado Boulevard. While I’ve never been the parental conversation piece many kids are, I grew up with enormous privilege. Having a library card and a Ph.D father in the house are worth as much (if not more) than a nanny and a trust fund. I got by on smarts, without regard to work. Work was easy.

What happens when I enter a job market with a history degree and not much else? Do I have the ability to survive on my own? Can I find work? Can I find meaningful work? Will I be able to get my own bread and roses?

Not if I ride the parade horse. I’ll need a horse that can run distances, that doesn’t need too much upkeep, that’s well-bred, well-trained, and well-disciplined.

So, while I worship the memory of Lincoln, I need to switch horses in the middle of this stream because the one I’m on gets winded awful fast. I’d rather let it go in the middle of the river that is college. I may have to tread water until I can get on the other one, but that’s okay. I’d rather fight with the flow now than ride a tired nag through the brambles of a bad job market or into the desert of middle age.

I’m discipling myself, starting today. Sleeping less, working more, caring for my body. It’s not like I don’t have the resources, or the knowledge – Pathfinders taught me the basics, and UCLA is geared to the active life as much as it is to the life of the mind (if not more.)

Pray for me.

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” 1 Corinthians 13:11, Am. KJV

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2009/05/26

On 8

Filed under: Uncategorized — spsukaton @ 8:02 pm

I’m totally down for a majority’s will being respected, but isn’t a constitutional amendment two-thirds? (EDIT: My bad. I didn’t know the different between a revision and an amendment in CA state law.) I’m glad that the voters’ will is being respected – when a court overturns a vote, however necessary, it creates the idea that votes don’t matter because courts rule. That’s dangerous – if people don’t think their voices are being heard, they’ll express their political opinions in other ways, perhaps violently.

But while I’m very much a straight man and personally conservative, this whole business has troubled me. Take me as an example:

I’m brown. Not necessarily Filipino, but I look it, so much so that it’s the first question anyone asks me. I think that’s part of why I identify with Fil-Am culture so much. Go figure.

Anyway, I’m reading Carlos Bulosan’s America is in the Heart for class, and I’m disgusted by what Bulosan saw – a Filipino man beaten for saying “I love my (white) wife and (mixed) child.”

If I had been seen in public with a white woman seventy or eighty years ago, the good people of Los Angeles would have called me a “sex-crazed monkey” and ran me out of town on a rail.

Even if I had married that woman, had a child by her, Angelenos (and most everyone in general) would have called me a pervert, a stealer of women, an overturner of morality. The police would have beaten me black and blue, arrested me for attacking them, and I’d never see my wife and child again.

Forget seventy years ago – how about forty? In South Africa, I, as a Malay, wouldn’t have been able to marry an Afrikaner woman because of the Biblical injunction against “whoring after the heathen” – even if I was a Christian!

Now I have friends, relatives, people I love who voted Yes on 8 and who are happy that the Court has upheld their will. I don’t begrudge them that. The Court, as the saying goes, has spoken, and, like I said earlier, courts overturning votes creates dangerous precedents and can breed resentments fatal to a democratic society.

But I have to ask those loved ones, those friends – would you have stood with me in the LA of the 1920s and 30s, when the law said I couldn’t own land, couldn’t marry, couldn’t be a human being? Or would you have stood by, because the people had voted and courts had decided that it was a crime to be Asian in California?

Just wondering.

2009/05/25

Post-paper manic episode.

Filed under: UCLA life — spsukaton @ 10:21 am

It’s supposed to be a witty inversion of ‘post-partum depression.’ Late night blogging FAIL.

I always get a rush after finishing a paper, regardless of my physical state. For example, it’s 3am, I need to be in Kerckhoff for budget at 11, and I really need to pee. However, I feel particularly good. I just knocked out a 5-pager on Marx, Nietzsche, Hegel, and historiography. It’s not a topic I’m particularly strong in, but reading and writing is fun. And if I’m having this much fun writing about something I don’t feel an affinity for, can you imagine what I feel like after finishing something I like?

As Marielle would say: Oh, dang.
All signs point to write after college, sucka!

But they point away from grad school – my interests are far too broad for dissertation, seminar, and thesis committee. I suspect that I’ll feel the same why while researching and writing my thesis. Intellectual wanderlust has always landed me in trouble (usually in overcommitting myself) so I suspect that grad school will be a nightmare.

Maybe I should take the Nick Joaquin/Pramoedya route, play autodidact, and make a name for myself by writing in every medium possible while holding it down as a journalist? But newspapers are dying, and the American economy isn’t kind to autodidacts. The Third World is both kinder and crueler to its writers.

I mean, the whole “independent writer” gig is pretty cool, but can I pull it off, journalism becoming as professional and stratified as it is?

Maybe I should go to grad school. Ph.D status would drive me up the wall, law school would kill my writing, and J-school would cripple my credit.

But this is hella fun. Who needs school? I think I’ll try the Nick Joaquin newspaper/magazine gig after school. Or better…why wait? Land an internship and start now!

2009/05/23

Good morning.

Filed under: Uncategorized — spsukaton @ 10:22 am

It is half past two on a Saturday, three weeks left in school, four papers due within the next two weeks, and what am I doing? Blogging, of course.

I can’t believe that in three weeks, I will be 20 years old and halfway done with college. I’m still declared officially as pre-history (that is, finishing the prerequisites for history, not studying cavemen) and I just realized that whatever I came to UCLA to do needs to be done in two years.

I don’t know what that is, though the questions on the orientation survey offer an interesting guide.

Develop a meaningful philosophy of life?

I’m staying up when I should be going to church! If I can’t be rigorous about the faith that’s a primary part of my identity, what does that say about the rest of my life?

Gain valuable career experience?

I’m doing a little better here. An assistant editorship on the Daily Bruin’s opinion page puts me ahead of the game as writers go – but student editors in the journalism world are a dime a dozen, and plenty of them went to bigger-named schools or actually majored in journalism. I’m still in the pack, rather than ahead of it.

Develop intellectual interests?

Here’s something that works. It took me two years to get most of the wanderlust out of my system and settle down on what I should have done in the first place, but the years were well worth it. Ethnography, oral history, historiography…my mind live in a shack on the border of anthropology, history, and religion, and I plan to build a mansion where that shack is.

That makes sense. Studying history has affected my career goals and my personal philosophy as well. Remember when I used to be so confident about everything? I was smart, Sundaykeeping was shady, and all’s right with the world. The last two years have shifted the ground under me. Not in an earthquake sense…but I think I might have to get new shoes.

(Actually, I’ve had these gray NBs I’m wearing now since high school. Metaphor meeting reality for the win.)

Did you ever read “Tell all the truth but tell it slant” when you were in high school? It’s a poem by Emily Dickinson:
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind—

I’m not a liar. I never want to be a liar. I feel hurt when you call me a liar. But…

I won’t go into any great assumptions about God or whatever, but as a historian and a journalist, “Or every man be blind” is pretty accurate. Historians write to a goal, conscious or not.  So do journalists, especially columnists. Facts can be reported, in chronological order – but once we impose narratives on them, we lose a certain accuracy to gain meaning. And ultimate truth about anything escapes us, laughing merrily as it skips off into the fog. I’m not a relativist – I just think the world is bigger than I am.

Stories are my intellectual interest, specifically real stories about real people, ideas, places, and times. I suppose that’s my philosophy of life – to find narratives, but remember their place and mine. I suppose that’s my career – to record stories, play with them, make judgments about them and write them and tell them to others.

And yet, old storytelling mediums are dying fast. The newspaper is, as magazines are trumpeting, bleeding to death like Caesar, stabbed from all directions by the market. Magazines forget that the web takes from them, too. And I don’t know how to work the web to talk for me – yet. Part of me wishes I was born in 1904. I’d be 30 during the New Deal’s Federal One – the Federal Writers’ Project and Historical Records Survey would be perfect for me. Maybe Obama will do that again.

Whatever. But for now, what do I do?

What any writer should: keep reading, writing, eating, sleeping, talking, listening, living.

I need to go recharge. Talk again soon.

I bet you this won’t make any sense at all when I wake up.

EDIT: Upon re-reading (and a glance at my bookshelf) I think I just want to be a 21st-century James Agee.

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