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Courtesy of Belester Benitez

Last Wednesday I was able to sit down with Jami Bartlett, one of our English professors here at UC Irvine and recipient of the 2011 Humanities Teaching Award. I was to conduct a fun 15-minute interview. While our conversation was enjoyable, I have found it also a great learning experience. Our talk lasted 50 minutes, 23 seconds and covered subjects such as wax museums, horror films and even the meaning of life.

Belester Benitez: What’s your favorite movie?

Jami Bartlett: “I think I would say, In a Lonely Place. It’s an older movie, underappreciated and really powerful. I would also say under horror films — my current passion — the one that I’ve seen recently that was pretty devastating is called Martyrs. I would probably put that at the top of that category.”

BB: What about favorite book?

JB: “Favorite book. Vanity Fair, by Thackeray.”

BB: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

JB: “That’s a good one. A fiction writer.”

BB: What’s your favorite word?

JB: “I’m sort of torn, I mean I really love ‘shush’ because it’s hard to say. I grew up with a lisp and so there was a whole problem around ‘s’ sounds and even ‘s-h’ sounds. And so ‘shush’ was a big triumph. I’m a habitual user of the f-word, but that’s just rhythm. A fancier choice would be ‘eleemosynary’, which means charitable. I also like ‘defenestrate’, which means to throw out a window.”

BB: What’s your favorite food?

JB: “Favorite food? Pizza. I’m a sucker for Pizza-Hut, which we do not have around here, and which I miss terribly. … Pizza-Hut is what I want to say. Deep dish. Totally.”

BB: Besides teaching is there any other occupation you’d like to pursue in the future?

JB: “Let me think. I would like to write fiction. … I’m trying to think if there’s anything more interesting to explore than that. Yeah, no.”

BB: What’s the most exciting experience you’ve ever had?

JB: “Oh man, probably the most exciting, and one of the dumbest, was when I decided in high school − when I was on a trip with some friends in London, some school trip − I decided that it would be really awesome to stand on the rooftops of London, as in Mary Poppins, and so we made a rope out of bed sheets, like you do in the movies, and we crawled out of our hotel room, which was kind of high up, onto the roof of the neighboring building, so that we could stand there and feel like gods. And it was then that I realized that I have a severe, and acute fear of heights. So it was an incredibly exciting moment, but it was also one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done. And then of course we had to haul ourselves back up the rope, which was especially challenging, given said fear of heights and low upper-body strength. The other thing I did was jump off a waterfall in Tennessee, and since I was a kid it was probably not as high as I thought that it was, but I hit the water like a bullet, and I couldn’t actually get back up for a while, so I’d gone in with this velocity, and when I finally surfaced, I remember thinking ‘I will never do that again. Never, ever, do that again.’ So basically jumping from a great height seems to be the thing that I’ve done. More than once.”

BB: What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?

JB: “Has to be coffee. Anything coffee is pretty much cool by me, smoky and rich.”

BB: Where were you in life 10 years ago, and where do you want to be 10 years from now?

JB: “So ten years ago I was in graduate school at Berkeley. And I was so broke, that I was getting rice through Craigslist, off the internet, like frecycling rice, like people who had rice and canned goods to get rid of, I would eat it because I was so broke. I think that was where I was ten years ago, writing and starving. Ten years from now, I would like to have written a novel and hopefully my first two, academic books.”

BB: Sound you love?

JB: “This is a little bit creepy, but I really like white noise − just static. It’s the only thing I can listen to when I write. I can’t listen to music when I write. I can only listen to a kind of neutral buzz. It’s focusing, and I have to block out other things when I’m writing, otherwise I feel too distracted.”

BB: Philosophy on life?

JB: “I would say make it count, right? And I think that it has to do with being attuned and sensitive to all forms of text around you. Close reading, close living, paying attention, that feeling generated by minute detail, when you are touched by something that pulls focus and nobody else sees it − allows you a deeper experience. So being a sensitive observer, not a compulsive participant, is, I think, a gift … Also, get a pet. You’ve got to have, you’ve just got to have that perspective. Best thing I ever did. Ever, ever, ever.”

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