With this issue’s submissions, there’s no mistaking that Dead Week is upon us. Thomas Browning’s take on the infamous Evil Hangman is a perfect representation of the gnawing feeling of playing an academic game rigged to humiliate and we’re also pleased to present a handy classifier of the wild-eyed mania of the sleep deprived hordes you’ll soon see surrounding you. The tenth week of Winter Quarter will take no prisoners. Fear not, however, for the darkest hour is just before the dawn, and even the worst cases of despair will be melting away with the brooding clouds of winter. In between finishing those final projects and getting into the zone for exams, one of the most important things to do is maintain some broader perspective. That’s why we’re especially honored to publish the remainder of our conversation with Curtis Hisayasu about his life as an academic, an instructor, and, no less importantly, a counselor to all of the students at the RC. Without further ado, we present these three works as our final publication of the quarter.
Happy Dead Week!
You may notice students stumbling through their week with bloodshot eyes, sallow skin, unkempt hair and an unshaven face, and sporting a great, cheek-splitting grin revealing unbrushed espresso-stained teeth. Do not approach these students. Do not ask them how finals are going. Do not feed them after midnight. Some number of them may even be bio-engineering majors, in which case the safest course of action is to back away slowly, making soft reassuring thrumming noises from the base of the throat.
If you get a hankering for a sense of accomplishment that doesn’t require that you finish any of your work, follow this link to download and play Thomas Browning’s rendition of Evil Hangman. You may change the words.txt file if you wish.
Finally, we interviewed Curtis, asking him to share his thoughts on everything ranging from stigma toward the humanities, to the importance of art as a site of critical engagement with the world, to how Curtis takes his down time when he puts aside the spinning plates of all of his duties at the RC. The full interview can be accessed here, but we’ve included some excerpts below.
We asked Curtis about what drove him to become an English academic, and his response was: “when I was coming out of high school, there was a thought that I was going to go to art school; I wouldn’t have even gotten a B.A., I would have gotten an arts degree. I was always more humanities based, English, Art History, these were things that I explored a lot in college. When I got to UCSB, I loved my classes, my GPA shot through the roof because all of a sudden I was super engaged. And it was also the college-level version of that material, so it wasn’t sitting around sitting around talking about, you know, what kind of ‘moral message’ Hawthorne was trying to teach us, and a lot more of a critical engagement with the concept of ‘art,’ and social/cultural conflicts happening in and through art and literature. I was really inspired by that kind of stuff. I think that was what made me want to go to grad school, wanting to be a professor, wanting to teach those classes, wanting to continue to have those conversations that drove me to grad school. I think my motivations changed a little bit there. I’ve learned a little bit more about what the challenges that were faced in the discipline, and got a little bit more about the stakes of the work. I think there, I became a little bit more acquainted with and inspired by the sociopolitical stakes, what kind of stuff the discipline had to teach, the ways in which it could illuminate some of the struggles that we’re facing out there, in the real world. What most people consider relatively esoteric concerns, about culture, representation, language, identity, race, gender, these things… you know, none of those things are “as important as terrorism” [laughs]. But of course, there’s a way that those questions are absolutely relevant to what’s going on in everything, economic and political, around our world. The more I was able to realize that, the more I felt almost an ethical imperative to bring these questions to the table, to get smart students thinking about them and invested in them, if possible.”
Curtis weighed in on the institution of gifted programming as well, saying “there is a risk there, in the programs that we put together and the expertise that we produce. It’s actually about the challenges that our students face, the barriers to their success, that other students may have, and that’s the kind of thinking that you direct at at-risk populations. You try to meet those needs. Interestingly enough, except to say that, (and I’m still not much of an expert in gifted education), I think the other thing that I’ve learned is that there’s a way in which giftedness can be really an albatross around a student’s neck. That when students identify as gifted, any evidence to the contrary, say a particularly hard English class, which is a subject that they’ve never struggled in before, all of a sudden comes not just as a challenge to their ability to do well, but a challenge to their very identity. And I’ve watched students (not all, a lot of this has to do with the way students kind of get this in the way that their parents deal with this and all those other things) really struggle with this before. They knew how to be successful, and their identity was based off of that success. The minute there was any kind of struggles, suddenly, they didn’t know who they were anymore, and the parents didn’t know who they were anymore. And that’s tragic, because they are who they always were. That’s the answer to that question. That’s one of the things that I’ve seen as the strengths and weaknesses of gifted education as a model.”
When we asked Curtis about how he balances work with the rest of his life, he laughed and said, “Poorly. Anybody who gets as far as I have either has realized this or is living some kind of weird lie. Teaching is always going to be a lot of work, it’s always going to be bringing homework home with you. I am very fortunate to have a partner who is also an academic, also a grad student, so we understand each other’s lives. She’s dissertating now, and I’m doing that delicate balance of trying to be supportive and also trying to stay out of her way because that’s exactly when I would have wanted. She has her own students. It is a little all-consuming in that sense, not in a bad way necessarily. Part of the reward of teaching is getting to do things like go to Camp Casey, guests over a weekend, but there is that kind of stuff; I wouldn’t trade any of that out. I think another thing that’s inherent to the question you asked is about what it’s like to be somebody that’s both – as a humanities instructor, it’s not like the things that I study are totally different from the things that compose more of the “fun” parts of my life. I study movies, and I write deep papers about movies, I talk about movies in my class, then on the weekend I go see movies. That’s a line that a lot of us in cultural work have to manage. I wish I had more time to do more, with this job in particular, because it’s not a research job, really. Anything that I want to do either for my own scholarship or for fun has to happen after the grading is done on the weekend. So it’s tough. It’s a balancing act. I’m getting better at it over time. So it’s another thing that you just have to work at, you know? I think I’m always a student also of various things.”
One of the last things we asked Curtis to give his thoughts on was the importance of creative work as a shared forum. “Culture and art,” he mused, “these things are always about struggle. They’re always about interfacing with the world. Art is not something that takes you out of this world, it should ultimately get you in it. As a kind of expression of a small community, art is going to be one of the places where we engage with each other. That was the hope, goal, for Chimera itself early on, just to create another venue where Robinson Center students can be talking about themselves to each other. It wasn’t like you could just pick up the journal and say “This is the Robinson Center”. Because there is no Robinson Center in that sense. All there is is difference. All there is is this one guy who’s totally invested in the ethics of cloning and another person who’s writing poetry about fishing with their dad. It’s the dissonance that is worth preserving.”
It is with those last thoughts that we wish you all an excellent end of the quarter, a well-earned break, and a bright return in the spring to all of the things which compose the RC’s vibrant culture, which we are proud to continue to curate and showcase.