Cris Beam

Cris Beam

In tonight’s Actual Wisdom, Cris Beam is a synchronized swimming rock star and resists anxiety and frustration.

1. Justify your existence in 30 words or fewer.

Wow, you’re really hitting on a core anxiety for your first question; you really ask people to justify their very existence? Well, I guess I’d say that aside from being a pretty bossy prototype, human beings have just as much justification for being here as other animals on the planet. And I’m a human.

2. Your claim to fame (what makes you special?):

I don’t know what makes me special exactly, but I feel very lucky to be able to write and teach, earning a living doing the things I love. I jump genres which is a little unusual. For example, right now, I’m working on my fifth book, which is a novel, though I’ve written a memoir, literary nonfiction, and young adult fiction. Then again, these books all circle around the same themes (madness, urban poverty, gender expression and loss) so they’re not so different after all.

Also, once I convinced a bunch of uncoordinated writers and filmmakers to join a synchronized swimming team I made. I choreographed a routine to ACDC’s “Back in Black” and we performed it at a large artists’ retreat. You will never ever see that tape.

3. What’s your most valuable or unexpected college experience?

I learned to type really really fast.

4. What’s the craziest student excuse/extension story you’ve heard?

At another university, I had a student who could only think while walking in circles. This made writing painstakingly slow, even though she’d rigged some sort of laptop that hung from her neck. At every missed deadline, she’d prepare an elaborate explanation and I’d just grant her whatever she wanted. Argument was futile.

5. Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese? *in the spirit of discretion, you can instead answer: “Would you rather give up tenure or cheese?”*

I’d actually rather have tenure than either oral sex or cheese. On second thought, that would make me a pretty frustrated tenured professor, so I’d need a lot of cake to compensate.

6. Back in my day…

When I was in college, identity politics were running at full volume. This was before the internet, so we forged alliances based on who we thought we were rather than what we liked or friended. There are problems with both paradigms of course, but there used to be a lot more parentheses in our paper titles.

7. Three things you learned at Columbia:

1. There are some really gifted writers in the undergraduate creative writing program.
2. They could be even better if they didn’t feel so worried about their grades. I don’t know how to fix this problem exactly.
3. Columbia’s libraries, and librarians, never cease to amaze.

8. What’s your advice to students/academics/the human race in general?

Love and work. In that order.