Getting Personal: Christine Catanzarite

Getting Personal is an email Q&A with a local personality. Here, a chat with Christine Catanzarite, the director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Illinois. In the Nov. 18 newspaper, we'll have a chat with Kevin Kelly, conductor of The Prairie Ensemble, who also leads the East Central Illinois Youth Orchestra and the choir at Emmanuel Memorial Episcopal Church in Champaign. Kelly also hosts “Live and Local” on WILL-FM 90.9.

What time do you typically get up? What do you do the first hour of the morning?

I am not naturally a morning person, but it's an occupational hazard, so my alarm goes off at 6 every morning. I hit the snooze button as many times as I can, and then the next hour is a mad race against the clock.

What did you have for lunch today? Where? With whom?

I grabbed a quick sandwich at my desk while I answered email.

Best high school memory?

Any time spent on stage in a play or in the office of the student newspaper.

Tell me about your favorite pair of shoes.

In junior high school, I had a fabulous pair of platform shoes that were covered entirely in silver glitter. I wore them everywhere, and I loved them because they were outrageous and funky and really, really sparkly. I felt like Dorothy in them, like I could click my heels and go anywhere.

What does a perfect Sunday afternoon include?

Pasta and a Steelers game. (Any native Pittsburgher would say the same!)

Was there one book you read as a child that you still cherish? Own? Read?

E.L. Konigsburg's "From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler." It was the first young-adult book I read as a girl in which the heroine wasn't searching for a boyfriend or a prom date. She wanted grand adventure and a sense of specialness, and I appreciated that. I still re-read it every year, and I always come away from it with the urge to run away to New York in search of my own adventure.

Where on Earth are you dying to go? Why?

I never have the time or patience for long trips, but I would love to spend a summer in Tuscany doing nothing more than cooking, eating, drinking wine and reading.

Tell me about your favorite pet.

It's a tie between my two beloved cats, Max and Leo, who were with me through graduate school, my first job as a professor at Illinois State University and my first decade in Champaign. Max loved the water, and Leo had a taste for spicy ethnic foods. They were lovely.

Have you discovered that you are becoming like one of your parents? Which one and how?

Oh, I am definitely becoming more like my mother. She has always been an organizer, a planner, calm in the face of a crisis — and I find that those qualities are becoming more pronounced in me. (Ironically, my mother is becoming more impulsive with age, so I assume that will be the next phase for me!)

What would you order for your last meal?

Tapas, paella, big pitchers of sangria.

What can you not live without?

A spiral notepad and a pen. Yes, I have all of the electronic devices that should liberate me from these humble tools, but I am still resolutely low-tech when it comes to writing.

Who do you have on your iPod?

Lots of late '70s and early '80s punk and new wave, smatterings of most other genres — and a ridiculous number of show tunes.

What's the happiest memory of your life?

My family and friends have managed to surprise me with a big, raucous party for every milestone birthday from my 16th to my 50th. And I never see it coming, which is part of the fun.

If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite?

Bill Clinton, David Sedaris and Elvis Costello. Imagine the conversation!

What's the best advice you've ever been given?

When your life doesn't fit your plan, change your plan.

What's your best piece of advice?

Always look on the bright side of life.

What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?

Santa's elf at a shopping mall during the holidays when I was in high school; I made $6 an hour and all the candy canes I could eat.

What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at that decision?

The decision to go to graduate school to study popular culture was somewhat impulsive and ended up changing my life — and, appropriately, I made up my mind after watching Johnny Carson interview a guest who had graduated from the department I ultimately attended. You should always choose a graduate program based on a recommendation from a legendary talk show host!

Do you have a bad habit? What is it?

I am a classic procrastinator. It drives me batty, but I also enjoy the exhilaration of working on a project while a deadline is looming.

How do you handle a stressful situation?

I tend to worry and dither about low-grade stresses, the minutiae of everyday life. But, in a truly serious and stressful situation where the stakes are high, I become strangely calm and methodical in my examination of the problem and its various solutions.

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