Rest in Peace, John Sweet

John Sweet wore cowboy boots to class and everyone teased him for it because who wears cowboy boots in Los Angeles? But he was from the south, and a real Southern gentleman at that, and I feel lucky to have had him as a teacher for one quarter.

A week and a half ago, through our program’s Facebook page, we found out that John had passed away during the holidays, right before the New Year. No further details are known at this time, but we know he was with family.

I debated writing this up for a while because to be completely honest, I didn’t feel justified in doing so. Others were closer to him, have known him longer and to a greater extent, and are feeling more pain than I am. They’ve been lucky enough to call themselves his colleagues or had the opportunity to take multiple classes with him. But the more I think about it, the fact that I’m heartbroken too is enough justification for me. At the very least, I needed to do this for myself. Writing is my catharsis, and anyone who knows me will agree.

Our Tuesday night classes, although long, were fun. I can’t stress that enough. John liked to keep the room loose, laughing, and supportive, and it helped that he had a witty sense of humor. In those ten weeks, I wrote a script about a pregnant nun, which he tentatively titled “Sister Naughty Ignatius.”

Writing a script is hard. Writing a script in ten weeks is even harder. Halfway through the quarter, I realized I had no idea where my story was going and freaked out. I was stuck between two genres and couldn’t move past the first twenty pages. John spent almost an hour before class with me, listening to my struggles with the character and her motivations and guiding me back to shore. The next morning, he followed up with me to check in on how I was feeling. Without a doubt, he was the reason I was able to complete that script in ten weeks, and the commitment to his students is what I’ll remember most about him.

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John’s follow-up email

John was extremely personable too, and I think anyone who has met him can agree. After we submitted our final scripts, he and I jumped on a call over the summer to discuss notes for my upcoming rewrites, but we spent the majority of the time talking about his trip to Vietnam in the coming weeks and the potential layover in Korea. We reminisced about the class for a bit, surprised at how quickly it zoomed by. He briefly touched on his experience visiting San Francisco because I was back at home in the Bay Area by then.

I think what this all comes down to is John’s keen ability to touch each and every student he has taught. Anyone who goes into teaching does it because they love the level of interaction and influence that is involved, and I definitely saw that firsthand with John. I came out of his class a stronger, more confident writer than before, which speaks volumes about him as a teacher. I’m just shattered that I won’t be able to share future successes with him.

Two nights ago, John showed up in my dream. In it, he had grown a mustache, so I was naturally making fun of him for it. He was laughing a lot, happy, in a good mood. I know it was just a dream, but I hope this means he’s in a good place now and that he’s making others laugh and smile wherever he is.

Rest in peace, John Sweet.

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