Sidelines and Sessions

2010/07/27

Eternal Return.

Filed under: Uncategorized — spsukaton @ 6:56 am

I’m a predictable creature.  Everything comes back to writing and reading with me. Always.

Such was the feeling after the shock from winning a Jim Murray Memorial Foundation scholarship wore off.

Jim Murray was a legendary sports columnist for the LA Times before his death in 1998. His wife, Linda McCoy-Murray, established the scholarship foundation that bears his name; she was also the bearer of good tidings for me today.

I was as surprised as I am overjoyed now. I found the application on a bulletin board in the Daily Bruin office, applied on a lark (a week or so before a deadline) and went through a couple rounds of edits with the scholarship counselors (who are wonderful human beings) and completely forgot about the application.

I mean, I was going through some things – all of which boiled down to not knowing what do with my life and leaning towards hipsterdom. And it’s ironic that I was awarded a scholarship tailored to aspiring journalists a month after I resigned from a newspaper I spent three years either idolizing, working for, or both.

Let’s get one thing straight, though. I am still a journalist and writer (as if that wasn’t obvious to my dear friends!) albeit one who’s taking a (much-anticipated) sojourn through student political life. Consider Carey McWilliams or Taylor Branch and you’ll see what I’m shooting for.

But that’s the point, really – whatever I do or have done, luck or fate or God or my subconscious or whatever keeps pulling me back to storytelling and truthtelling.

I am, beneath my politicking and my organizing and my activisting and my student advocating, a craftsman telling truths and spinning stories from sentences. The Adventist preacher in me, the historian, the theologian, the organizer, the chant leader even the saxophonist and singer – every other rushing current of my personality flows into the ocean of ink at the center of my being.

I am a writer, of a specific type. And I continuously return to that, no matter where I go – hence the title of this blog.

Religious scholar Mircea Eliade posited that archaic human religion consisted of returning to the origin of things, as the virtue or power of things lies in their origin. Huston Smith emphasizes this in The World’s Religions, pointing to how animistic traditions’ rituals have people performing “reenactments” – every hunter is a re-enactment of the original Hunter, ever killed beast is the same the the prototypical hunter killed.

If that’s true at all, then I am, at bedrock, a writer. I return again – to observation, to wordsmithery, to this blog. I circle, hopefully spiraling upward. Care to join me?

2010/06/21

Direction

Filed under: Uncategorized — spsukaton @ 9:59 am

I haz it. Or doez I?

“Purpose,” “direction,” and “vocation” have been all up in my face recently, for a variety of reasons – Avenue Q on my iPod on repeat, for one. But seriously…

My dad confronted me on my occasional laziness, saying “you need to light a fire under your own ass now.” While I know I come off as one of the scrappier, more ambitious collegians in my friends’ lives, it’s times and talk like the previous one that scare me – am I really ready for the world?

I’m 21 and (if I wanted) 2 classes away from graduation. Being at an age where I could possible slip into venality, obscurity, or starvation by my own stupidity has also sobered me. Adventists combine the Protestant work ethic with an occasionally terrifying awareness of a final reckoning, and the thought that my life may not be righteous (not glorious, not famous, not even useful, but righteous) gives me serious pause.

Finally, the passing of a mentor has also shaken me, particularly after all that I’ve learned about his life and how he found his calling so young. What the hell am I doing? I don’t know how much sand I left in my hourglass, and, deep down, I still believe (and probably always will) in the Last Judgment.

What’s a man to do? I kind of stop in shock in realizing that, in the eyes of God and Caesar, that’s what I am.

I pray for work – meaningful work, work with a purpose and with integrity.

A freelance writer (and starve?)

A journalist (with Bagdikian and Moyers’s comments about the brokenness of contemporary media in mind?)

A saxophonist? (Is that even still possible?)

A minister/theologian/evangelist (even with my life and lifestyle? Do I want to put my family through that?)

A professor? (Can I even wait that long?!)

A political activist or organizer (even if that may lead me away from the anti-union, apolitical church I love?)

What is to be done?

I feel like an amateur poker player who’s been dealt two aces, but doesn’t have anything else on the table – but has just been pushed to go all in.

I need to spend summer and fall sorting my cards out. Heaven help me.

Summer ’10 with friends

Filed under: Uncategorized — spsukaton @ 9:34 am

A week of exile does wonders.

After finals, I retreated to my “country estate” in the hills near the county line and did absolutely nothing, save a column and a handful of e-mails. While I like to play off my seemingly endless energy, I was done by Tuesday of finals week. The shock over John’s passing, finals, and other projects left me an absolute nervous wreck the last two weeks of school. I’m astonished I got away as composed as I did.

This will not be a busy summer. I need to back up, breathe, and plan my senior year. I say it every year,  but this whole not-planning, not-sleeping, half-assed, half-cocked, eventually totally-panicked way of life is beginning to show cracks here and there – and I don’t feel like having an actual breakdown.

I have two major trips this summer, both to Los Angeles in July. I’m taking a new job and need to check how much work I’ll be doing, and I might Rosetta Stone Indonesian now that I have the software (thanks, Shuchita!)

I want to spend this summer with friends, as much of it as I can. We’re not getting any younger, and I’ll be in DC in the fall. So, e-mail/Facebook/call me when you want to hang out. I miss you, and I want to see you – for company, for bowling, for reminiscing, for advice.

2010/06/05

John Delloro

Filed under: Uncategorized — spsukaton @ 9:36 pm

I cannot and will not write about the death of Coach John Wooden, as better and more eloquent men and women than I have said everything that can be said about him across the years. I’ll tell you about another John, a man who I was blessed enough to sit at the feet of (literally – his classes were wildly popular and I usually ended up sitting on the floor) learn from, and know personally – John Delloro, who passed away of a heart attack last night/this morning.

For those of you that don’t know him, John was a teacher, political activist, and community leader. He grew up in Southern California, went to Bishop Alemany for high school, transferred to UCLA from College of the Canyons in 1991, and graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and an MA in Asian-American Studies in 1996. For those of you who are alumni and were active in the Asian-American student orgs, you might remember John as working on behalf of sweatshop workers in his time at UCLA and working at KIWA (the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance) and helping found the Pilipino Workers’ Center of Southern California.

He worked as a labor organizer for UNITE and SEIU, eventually becoming a lead organizer for SEIU 1000. He weathered a heart attack in 2006, after which he moved into labor education at the Dolores Huerta Labor Institute of the Los Angeles Community College District, and later became a lecturer at UCLA in Asian American Studies and Labor and Workplace Studies.

Besides all this, John was a father, a husband, and a dear friend. I can’t think of anybody who he hated, or who hated him, even with all the arguments and polemics I’ve seen him in. Rather, he hated oppression, he hated ignorance, and he hated the foolishness that turns people against each other. For him serving the people and loving people were wrapped up – and it showed in his classes.

I met John earlier this year. I was frustrated. I wrote something about my burning need to do something meaningful, that built up justice and mercy and integrity, and I got an e-mail. An e-mail led to another e-mail, and I found myself on a bus to MacArthur Park. I walked into the UCLA Downtown Labor Center, felt awkward as hell, and met John. He was a prince among men – he apologized, since the screening I had gone to was for people looking for a job, but he told me to take his class in the winter. I did. It was probably one of the best I’ve ever taken – who, after all, can teach you how to build a campaign, talk to people, analyze power structures and then manipulate them? John was as brilliant as he was good, and all of us – every single student he had that I know – adored him, and rightly so.

When in that class, John told us about his 2006 heart attack – and how he learned the hard way that working for social justice was as much about taking care of yourself and those you loved than standing up to the principalities and powers. He had a scar running along his arm where the surgeons had taken nerves out to fix his heart, and he used it as a reminder of how to live. I never knew that his heart would turn on him again. For my part, John brought back to politics, to community activism, to something I had always dreamed about doing but didn’t over my years at UCLA. When I was ready, fate or God or whatever brought me to him, and he sent me on my way. I just wish I had more time to ask him how to walk that road.

For those of you that don’t know him, he was a great and good man.

For those of you that did know John…no words can express anything right now. I ache for and with you because you all know, as well or better than I, John’s dedication to his work, love for those around him, and passion for building a better, more righteous world.

For now, there will be a vigil at Royce quad (between Royce and Powell) tonight at 7pm. Please come.

My family brought me up Seventh-day Adventist. Consequently, I’m a believer in the Resurrection; I’ve believed, since I was a child, that the righteous dead (and I include John here) will awake at the sound of Gabriel’s horn and see the world they fought for made new. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there’s nothing. On the flip, perhaps John’s sitting in heaven right now with Tam, Cinthya, and Coach Wooden. I’d hate for them to see all the people they love torn up like this.

But until I find out or meet him on the other side of the Jordan, I’ll keep fighting for truth, justice, relevant education, a just and multicultural society, civil and human rights, and all power to the people.

I hope all of you do, too, dear friends, gentle hearts, and committed souls – it’s what John taught us all to do, after all.

2010/05/16

Fight On.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — spsukaton @ 2:39 am

I never thought I’d begin a post with a Trojan cheer, but you’ll see why later.

Two young immigration reform activists, both UCLA alumnae, were killed in a car crash in Trenton, Maine early this morning.

Cinthya Felix graduated from UCLA in 2007 with a degree in English and Spanish literature  and the first undocumented student to attend Columbia’s School of Public Health. She was obligated to defer her admission to 2008 because undocumented students aren’t allowed to receive financial aid, and she established a website to raise money. She wanted to become a physician and serve her community.

Tam graduated from UCLA in 2006 and was pursuing a Ph.D at Brown. Tam’s family, refugees from Vietnam who had moved from Germany to the US, had been refused political asylum and was living in the US without documents; immigration agents raided her house and arrested her family after she spoke out for immigration reform. Tam was also a talented filmmaker, and her documentary about the plight of undocumented students, “Lost and Found“, has gone viral throughout the immigrant-rights community and among immigrant allies.

Tam’s documentary about the DREAM Act and undocumented college students,was my introduction to immigration reform – I saw it at a Bruin Democrats meeting my sophomore year, then again in class my junior year. While I never met either Cinthya or Tam, I’m deeply saddened by their passing, and I pray  for their families and friends.

There’s not much I can say about this – two brilliant, talented, and principled young women died in a horrible accident. The best way to honor their memory is to fight for the cause they were working for when they died.

Let’s pass immigration reform. Let’s bring undocumented students the same opportunities other Americans have. Let’s make sure that other, equally brilliant young people don’t have to fight uphill to get their degrees or skulk in the underground economy, ashamed and silent and uncounted by no fault of their own. Let’s make sure people don’t have to die waiting – or fighting for – education.

President Obama has claimed “there may not be an appetite” for immigration reform. He says that “it’s a matter of political will” and that immigration “is a difficult issue.”

No appetite? These two young women were starving for reform – and they died hungry. That leaves Boyle Heights without a doctor – Cinthya dreamed of going back and working as a community health physician. That leaves some university somewhere without a brilliant scholar with a deep knowledge and deep appreciation of this country – Tam’s father did time in a Vietnamese “re-education” camp and Tam herself was a doctoral student in American Studies at Brown.

No political will? Let’s talk will – the will of young people dropping out for a quarter or two to work sketchy jobs (because they’re not allowed to work normally) to save money to go to school. Their will makes me sick at my own indolence as a student, and it makes me sicker when I think of people who don’t have the will to straighten out their backbones and back these young people up.

Getting an education as an undocumented student is difficult. Graduating with honors and going to Ivy League grad schools with the terror of the INS and despair of finding a decent job because of having no papers is difficult. Standing up for your rights while federal agents round up your family is difficult.

And feel free to find me an issue more difficult than not having a country – than being forced into illegality, silence, and shame by a country that prides itself on taking in the world’s refugees and creating a city on a hill to arouse the world’s envy.

How many more people have to wait, or die waiting, for the chance to learn in and serve a country they were brought to too young to object, but which they have thrown their lots in with?

So, as this post begins – fight on. Fight on for education. Fight on for an open America. Fight on for your friends, classmates, and lovers who keep their status on the downlow, hustling double overtime to get a degree they can’t afford  to enter an economy that refuses to take them.

But most of all, fight on in the memory of these two brave young women, both credits to every community and school that they’ve passed through, held back by borders on a map and lines on a page.

“No appetite”? Stay hungry, dear friends and gentle hearts –  hunger for those who never got the chance to be filled with “liberty and justice for all.”

2010/03/16

College Letters

Filed under: Uncategorized — spsukaton @ 8:09 am

Congratulations to all of you pulling out acceptance letters from your dream schools; may your next four years be charmed and joyful. I hope you fall in love at least once, stay up at least two nights talking with someone (sober or not) and you find vocation, discipline, and satisfaction beyond imagination and matriculation. May you escape with many memories and minimal loan debt.

To those of you who were rejected but are going to other, acceptable fallbacks: It’s all good. I was where you were three years ago and I’m glad I decided on UCLA.

To those of you marking time at a community college, fear not: Harvard has started taking transfers again. Seriously. Why not strive for the utmost?

In any case, I pray you remember that these are not the best years of your lives. But, they should be the best years of your lives thus far, so live them up. You’ll miss high school, eventually. But don’t let that bug you too much.

Love,

Samuel

2010/01/27

Just me and the horn

Filed under: Uncategorized — spsukaton @ 6:14 am

“And she’ll promise you more/Than the Garden of Eden
Then she’ll carelessly cut you/And laugh while you’re bleedin’
But she’ll bring out the best/And the worst you can be
Blame it all on yourself/Cause she’s always a woman to me.”

-Billy Joel

I used that stanza as a metaphor for my relationship with music on college applications. It’s funny – none of the schools I used that essay for let me in, except Loyola New Orleans (and I had just met one of their admissions officers the year before, so maybe they just felt sorry for me.)

It wasn’t my best piece of writing – which is probably why I didn’t get in to any of my Common App schools. Truth can be masked by inept craftsmanship, though.

My musical life was a pretty stormy one – if it were a two-person kind of thing, my friends would hate her because of our on-again, off-again thing. I turned my back on church for competitions, then decided not to audition for any music schools. I refused to play solos for friends, but I played other people’s parts in class when I was bored. My family dropped thousands on my “habit” – until I got to college and picked up new ones.

Rapture City Philharmonic reminded me how much I miss saxophone. The ease I had, the control, the simple pleasure of hearing it and knowing it was an extension of what I heard in my head, the feeling that everything just fell together in this sound that I made with others around me.

Not that I regret my choices at all – for once. (Bitching about the past is a nasty habit I can fall into sometimes.) I read Mozart in the Jungle and cringed – classical or not, I don’t think I could earn a living in an occupation that is less satisfying that guarding prisons. I looked at the collegiate and adult professional musicians where I grew up and I didn’t want that life for myself. I didn’t like teaching, wasn’t sure about gigging, and didn’t think I was good enough for studio work, on the side or not – I’m no John Legend.

But with all that, I’m glad I’ve had eleven years with saxophone. It’s shaped my preferences, my prejudices, and my behavior.

Music stripped me of my illusions about the creative class, and left me with appreciation.

Music, most importantly, trained me to be a working artist. Music taught me that art isn’t waiting for inspiration, or “for the right moment” – it’s preparing for the right moment and making it come to you. Too many writers I know don’t spend time practicing their craft and building a repertoire – they don’t read – and consequently their writing is unreadable or powerless when they do write. Music’s the same – technique drills, scales, and practice to perfect form, listening and playing constantly to perfect content. Art’s working day in and day out, training your craft diligently and carefully – so when the day comes and you have to perform, your mind can hold the reins of your skill lightly, whether it’s a pen, a horn, a voice, or an ice skate.

Music taught me how to deal with people. If it wasn’t for band, all my friends would have been college-driven would-be professionals and scholars. I’d have missed out on most of the world. Band didn’t care about grades or tracks – but about ability and work ethic. And when it didn’t, it taught me how to brush off discouragement and swollen egos – useful at UCLA, and probably later.

And band took me a lot of places a typical Berdoo kid wouldn’t go – nicer schools, nicer parts of the county, the Rose Parade. Even around the insanely brilliant, insanely diverse people I’ve met at UCLA, there’s something about that commitment and its fruits that lingers a little, even when I’m taking a year or two off from playing. By Southern Californian standards, I’m a small-town and small-time type, but band (and books) helped me get out and on my way.

All it took was an hour with my old tenor to bring all that back into perspective.

I suppose, Spring Sing or not, I should start practicing again. Just for the joy of it, now that there’s nothing forcing me to do it and hate it.

No classes.

No band.

No ambitions no neuroses, no grudges.

Just me and the horn.

2010/01/20

Idolatry

Filed under: Uncategorized — spsukaton @ 7:11 am

A man I respect once preached me a one-sentence on idolatry – and he didn’t even know it. In fact, he’s not even a pastor. Well, he’s trained as one, but he works as a history professor.

He said that “idolatry is the mistaking of the relative for the absolute.” A little abstract, but it makes a lot of sense.

Idolatry isn’t about statues or bizarre sexual practices. It’s about priorities. Do you peg your self-identity on something that peaks at 19? Or 30? Or 65? Do you live your life for something that dies? Or, more simply (and more verbosely)

“Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshiping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it JC or Allah, bet it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.”
– David Foster Wallace

So, what’s your idol?

2010/01/01

Reflect, Resolve, Restart

Filed under: Uncategorized — spsukaton @ 12:31 am

I’ve never been too hyped-up about New Year’s. It’s generally been an excuse drink cider, wake up the neighborhood with a saxophone version of “Auld Lang Syne” at midnight and watch the Rose Parade – or be in it, if I’m particularly lucky.

I’m not too big on resolutions, since I tend to forget them by my cousin’s birthday (January 30th) and out of the 10 I wrote last year, I only kept two. I’m proud of those two, though. I now drink 5 glasses of water for every glass of soda and I’ve finally declared my history major.

It’s better to write resolutions, at least – there’s something to hope for. And my mom’s writing some serious ones (this is the year she wants to quit smoking) so I think I should step up. I’m not going to be cute like last year (no “10 for ’09);  rather, I’m going to write out a few things I’ve been wanting to do for years and get them done.

School

4.0 until I graduate. No more excuses.

Go to every class this year – on time.

Pick up a minor by winter 2011.

Back to my old fluency in Spanish by Fall 2010. I should be able to read La Opinion by this time next year.

Work

Do at least 15 hours a week for Arvli.

Get to work at or before 10 am, every day.

Get an internship with the Santa Monica Daily Press for spring and summer (contingent on the bicycle.)

Personal – Physical

Get a bike – and learn to ride it.

Run at least one mile a day, three days a week.

Weights with Andy, at least once a week.

Visit doctors, dentists, optometrists and psychologists more. I’m too cavalier about my health, and I have USHIP, so I should use it.

Personal – Mental

Read 400 pages a month outside of school. I can do that, right?

Personal – Religious

Do a baptismal study @ Hollywood or Santa Monica.

Find a group on campus.

Read through my Bible in a year.

Stop being so mean.

Pay my tithe.

Personal – Other

Write 2000 words a week outside of school – and preferably, outside this blog. And Facebook doesn’t count!

Bring a saxophone to LA. Practice 150 minutes a week.

Look for piano lessons.

Get my driver’s license.

Audition for Company.

Save 10 percent of every paycheck, tithe 10, use 50, hold 30.

2009/12/18

Glad I

Filed under: Uncategorized — spsukaton @ 3:35 pm

grew up the way I did

I’m comfortable enough with the idea of the world ending (and the idea that my part to play in it is to not hurt people) that I’m not too shocked by this.

That said, every elected official, cookie pusher, and spythat’s awake right now must be going freaking out. Iranian troops in Iraq? Remember the last time that happened?

“May you live in interesting times.”

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