Remembering Professor Carolyn Handa

Carolyn Handa
Carolyn Handa

This memorial was written with the idea of fusion—something Carolyn not only wrote about in her scholarly work, but was also present in her eclectic personality. We’ve fused Carolyn’s words with her students’ and her colleague’s in an attempt to capture the many facets of her personality as both mentor and friend: funny, brilliant, and deeply caring. Rather than represent one voice, this memorial represents the many voices of those who loved and will miss her.

[Carolyn]“Truthfully, the concept of fusion occurred to me as the most appropriate metaphor on which to base my argument and analysis in this work.

Once we understand the spatial characteristics of fused texts, we can begin to consider collections of pages themselves as being akin to three-dimensional places through which we navigate.”

Carolyn was the first person I spoke to at the University.

She was my first contact with UA English and CRES. A voice on the phone calling with news of my acceptance before a letter even arrived. Congratulating. Hoping I’d choose UA. Can you imagine!? Her hoping I’d choose CRES when I’d prayed CRES (and she) would choose me!

Carolyn was the person who brought me into the Composition & Rhetoric fold when nothing about my MFA life made sense, and she sparked in me a deep desire to give my all to my own students. Carolyn helped me make sense of the world when everything seemed to be falling away.

My first interaction with Carolyn was through an email exchange in which I was asking her permission to take her “Computers and Writing” seminar. Carolyn enthusiastically agreed.

I had had no interaction with Carolyn prior to this exchange, but this email made me quickly realize that we would become great friends and academic partners.

We exchanged emails throughout the next year and I applied, was accepted, and immediately accepted admission into UA without having ever set foot on campus or in the state of Alabama. My sole reason for choosing UA was because of Carolyn.

“In what ways has your career turned out as you planned? What were some surprises?

Carolyn: “Ha! I am not trying to be flippant, but my entire career is a surprise.”

Carolyn is, without a doubt, why I am where I am today—both academically and personally. She was my teacher, my mentor, and my friend. She was my rock when I felt overwhelmed by the rapid changes happening in my life. She was a woman I admired deeply and always will.

Carolyn, while a private woman, gave her everything to her students. She was a tremendously smart and quietly funny woman who was fiercely supportive and protective of her students. She was a woman none of us wanted to disappoint because she always gave us so much of herself.

Carolyn had a way of making each student feel special, and she made me believe that I was capable of more than I gave myself credit for. It’s funny to think that I thought we had a special relationship, and we did, but the realization that she was so giving she somehow made each student feel that way.

I remember when I was an MA student Carolyn would, at the end of our short conferences, look at me and say, “That person who sent you to us–tell her we need more like you.” But now, I think we can all agree that we need more like Carolyn.

She is the person I most want to be like.

“My writing process is ultimately recursive. At first, however, I try to keep myself from looking back more than a page or so while I’m writing my initial draft. Otherwise, I am too tempted to start revising, and I would never finish the entire project. So I work hard to keep plowing ahead on a draft. I move on to revision only after I finish the draft, and when I revise, I’m sure I do so at least a dozen times or more, but even then, I’m never completely happy when I send something off. No writing is ever “done,” at least for me.”

Carolyn was my friend. She was my highway-69-south, two-subdivisions-over, office-right-next-door-to-mine, FRIEND. Our relationship was simple. It was not overly academic or glamorous in any way. It was about food and drink and conversation.

And our conversations–lots and lots of conversation. She was one of the few people with whom I still talked on the phone. She wasn’t much on texting, as she was really disturbed when her new android phone did not have a keyboard, but she called, and consequently I called, and so we talked, for real.

She supported me in a way that showed she genuinely thought I was smart and capable, and her reassurance helped to convince me that I was those things. She stayed on the phone with me for hours as I pondered over my options for PhD programs, and though I ultimately chose a different school than what Carolyn recommended, I could tell that she was proud of me and my accomplishments and had such confidence that I would succeed.

An email titled “Sad Sushi”

One time Carolyn and I were eating sushi and a small Japanese American toddler clumsily trotted up to Carolyn and looked up at her. She stopped eating, looked down, and said, as if talking to an adult, “Hi. Who are you?”

Carolyn was the best kind of person (and scholar). She knew so much but was never afraid to admit if she didn’t know something. Always learning.

Also, in an email to the class, Carolyn was commenting on some photographs uploaded to our class blogs and wrote, “Goodness! You are a bunch of handsome looking grad students so far!! Jennie, you look like a movie star. Michael, I love your tiny paw and big eyes. Keri, you look so cheerful and eager to get going. Me? Why, I look like a cartoon!!”

Carolyn clearly provided us with a lot of entertainment and opportunities to laugh, but these funny snapshots of our time together cannot tell our whole story. No words can capture that narrative.

Carolyn, I’ll carry you in my heart and in my classroom always.

I am sad, but eternally grateful for the opportunity to have known her, but more importantly, counted her among my friends. RIP my dear.

“Yes, it’s true: I am starting to get even crabbier than normal…”

I loved her laugh. I loved her crabbiness. I loved her frank advice and fierce support. I cannot express the ways that she changed my life, mind, and heart. Always Carolyn.

Carolyn once told me a story about being a teenager, she and her friend sat in the L.A. airport waiting for a baseball player to arrive, excited, waiting, happy, baseball cards and pens in hand, and for some reason, though I never knew her this way, this is how I remember Carolyn.

Some advice from Carolyn:

“Be sure you respect students and love working with them. No one, least of all students or tenure committees at places other than the few research universities at the top of the food chain, likes a hostile, crabby, arrogant, elitist professor. Always treat your students with respect. Never stereotype or underestimate them. Appreciate them; learn to talk and laugh with them if you don’t already. Your students will teach you more than you could ever imagine.”

She cared about us, her students. She expected a lot from us and our desire not to disappoint her came from respect, not fear. She wanted the best from us and for us. I am thankful beyond measure that I had many opportunities to talk with and learn from her. Always teaching.

She loved apology rolls and Team Margarita; she often spoke adoringly of her nieces.

We talked about CRES (a lot). She really cared about our program and everyone and everything associated with it.

She loved as powerfully as anyone I have ever known.

A few final words from Carolyn:

“The book’s title may have arisen because I watch far too much of the Food Network.”

“You have to drop all videos right now momentarily and watch the 12/13 episode of Hawaii Five-0.”

“I can’t remember if you like baseball or not—but hey!—UCLA won the NCAA national championship in baseball!! Yay!”

“I have been working on the scheduling all day at my kitchen table w/ hard chairs. My butt hurts…plus I’m getting cross-eyed and my neck is stiff. I think I might stop for today.”

from an email in reference to the schedule: “If I could afford to rent a place in Seattle and do this for a lark, I would. But I’m stuck with the you-know-what around my neck.”

“I guess I must have forgotten I had a copy and then ordered a second one. Or something else that I can no longer remember with my ancient brain.”

“And I have a crush on Daniel Dae Kim. The lab guy is also cute. Or as my high-school-age niece would say: they’re HOT!”