Julie Guyot Studio

Humphrey Bogart 1945 Papua New Guinea

Julie GuyotComment

I used to perform on my high school forensics team, mostly in the Original Comedy category. I once competed against Anthony Rapp, of “Rent” fame. I’ll just leave his IMDB profile here. I’m not sure how he was allowed to participate in an amateur high school speech meet after appearing in “Adventures in Babysitting” the previous year. He got first place in that competition. I got third. Obviously, I asked him to autograph the back of my third place ribbon.

Speaking of “A Beautiful Mind”. (see Anthony Rapp’s IMDB profile above) Last Christmas, my mom and my husband and I, were going through a box of my dad’s things. I know it’s been 20 years but there are still some things that need sorting. We found a notebook with what seemed like some kind of list in it. Each item contained the following: the name of a celebrity, a year and the name of a country.

Humphrey Bogart

1945

Papua New Guinea

I know that my dad loved information and statistics but the whole notebook was filled with entries just like this and none of it seemed to make any sense.

Marilyn Monroe

1965

Australia

After a few minutes of trying to figure out what it meant I turned to my mom and said, “What if this is the moment we find out that dad was like that guy in ‘A Beautiful Mind’?” And then I found the corresponding stamp collection album. They were stamps! A stamp with Humphrey Bogart’s face, the year it was issued and the country it was issued in! Ahhhh! So, he wasn’t crazy, just a little bit nerdy.

My dad was a pretty good writer. Good enough to write a few short stories. Good enough to have an article published in a stamp collecting magazine. Good enough to write for the sports page of The Courier when it was still being published in Champaign-Urbana. He also wrote all of the newspaper articles about all of the sports teams that he coached, although I wouldn’t exactly call this creative writing. And then, in a manila envelope inside the box that contained the stamp notebook, I found something else that he had written.

I loved my dad dearly. I know it may seem like I have a lot of resentment toward him but I so loved him. Even though he drove me crazy. Even though I don’t think he spent enough time with his family. I loved him. I idolized him while being aware of his imperfections. I know that he was raised by a mother who spent all of her time as a social worker, helping out everyone and anyone in need but probably didn’t have the skills to nurture her own children properly. I know that when she was a child, her mother died and her father separated the children and sent them away to live with other people because he was a tobacco farmer and couldn’t afford to raise them. I know this history. I know I am cut from the same cloth. It is why I didn't want to have children.

Once when I was home from college my dad took me to the campus of his alma mater and we had pizza at his favorite pizza place, Papa Dels. If you’ve ever eaten Chicago style pizza, you know how long it takes to cook. About 10 minutes into waiting we had run out of conversation and things became a bit awkward. I looked at him and he looked away, painfully aware that we didn’t have anything else to talk about. I felt really sad. It was the first time I had ever gotten a sense that he was aware of the divide between us. Most of the time I just assumed that his time away from us was how he preferred things.

And then last year I found the manila envelope with the yellow lined legal paper folded up inside. I don’t know that my dad ever had one of his short stories published. I know he submitted them but I think that outside of his journalistic efforts, nothing ever made it out into the world. So, as much as he would hate it, I’m going to publish something of his now. It is as if he was answering what I wrote in 2011 even though he wrote this and put it away years earlier. It is sad and it is powerful and it is enough.

He wrote this 36 years ago when I was 10 years old and my sister was 12.

Legacy

What will you leave?

What hollow moments will your daughter glean from the half-started conversations?

Will she cower at the sight of your body-- fat neck constricted by striped tie-- straining to complete the unsaid thought?

Or will she accept the gift of being too much like her father and in tongue-tied silence let the moment serve as legacy?

A small boy taps the wood.

“Quiet, James,” she whispers. “Come away,” she commands the questioning eyes.

                         2/4/81

Written by my dad, James Frederick “Fred” Guyot

Father’s Day 2011: Lessons my dad taught me after his passing

Julie GuyotComment

(This was originally published as a Facebook note in 2011. I am re-posting in recognition of the 20th anniversary of my dad's passing.)

It occurs to me that I haven’t acknowledged Father’s Day since my dad passed away 14 years ago.  Actually, I probably didn’t really pay much attention to it before then either since I don’t really think my dad cared that much about it.

You see, my dad wasn’t really home much when I was growing up.  It wasn’t his fault.  He had another family.  A few months after my dad died, I was having a really bad day, emotionally, and I ran into a woman whom I didn’t know but who clearly knew me.  Of course.  I was Mr. Guyot’s Daughter.   Anyway, this woman could tell I was having a difficult time keeping things together so she grabbed my hands in hers and said, “I know how you feel.  He was my dad too.” 

So there it was.  She had said it.  If I hadn’t been crying so hard I would have punched her in the face.  But she was telling the truth.  It was no secret.  My mom knew.  The whole town knew.  My sister and I knew.  My dad had several other families.  Every year a new crop of high school Seniors arrived to take my dad’s Senior English class.  And every year he recruited students for the three extra-curriculars that he coached.  Cross-country, Speech and Drama Team, and Track.  My dad was a small-town celebrity.  My dad was one of the best high school teachers that ever lived.  My dad was a legend. 

It’s hard being the daughter of a legend.  You get called Mr. Guyot’s Daughter a lot and it starts to get really old.  In college I started saying things like, “I do have my own identity you know.”   You have to share a legend with a lot of other people who need him.  You start saying things like, “He may be a great teacher/coach but he’s not a great dad.”  I actually said these things to people!

I stopped acknowledging Father’s Day because it was too painful.  I thought that not only had my dad been taken away from me for the rest of my adult years but I had clearly been robbed of him as a child as well.  To be honest…I was really angry.  I thought that he had spent all of his time teaching lessons to other people’s kids instead of being a father to me.  What I can see now is that teaching all those other people’s kids actually made him a great dad.

My dad took a teaching job that was supposed to last a semester, just until his writing career took off.  Little did he know that teaching was not a job for him, it was a calling.  It sounds ridiculous but he was truly magnificent at it and although I considered him a workaholic, it was never really a job to him.  It was a way of life. 

But what I want to talk about was his coaching.  At the beginning of the year at registration, the coaches would set up tables to try and recruit Freshmen into going out for their sports.  Now, cross-country is clearly not the most popular sport so my dad took this recruiting very seriously.  Most boys and girls hurried over to the football or volleyball tables with the sporty, popular kids.  Although there were a few sporty, popular kids who wanted to be on the cross-country team, there were not enough to earn team points to win meets so my dad had to get smart.  He started looking for the kids who were scrawny or shy or didn’t make very good eye-contact.  In short, the awkward kids who might not have any other sporting options.  He recruited the kids that otherwise would not have participated in activities.  He gave them what they needed.  He believed in them until they believed in themselves.

He made them part of a team.  Most of my dad’s teams were like this.  They were made up of students from all of the groups in school.  Jocks, nerds, so called “burnouts”, and occasionally someone from the Special Education classes.  I’m sure he originally did this to have enough warm bodies to earn team points but what followed was a life philosophy. These students were no longer in separate cliques.  They were Runners and running is hard.  It hurts and there is sometimes puking and when you are in a group of people and you’re all in pain and all puking, you have a new clique.  Runners. 

It didn’t matter what happened at home or in school that day.  When the 3:30 bell rang, your team would be waiting for you out under the flagpole for practice.  There would be stretching and warm-ups and something called “hills” which was awful.  Individual goals would be set.  Just to try and get a better time at the next meet.  Each individual goal met meant that the team would earn more points.  Everyone bought into it.  Everyone supported and encouraged and cheered and helped out.  During meets the football team stopped their practices and cheered for our runners! (Thanks Coach Zim)

But it was more that just a cross-country team.  It spread into the hallways during school.  You wouldn’t just pass by a nerd and not say hello if they were a member of your team.  You wouldn’t let someone pick on someone else who was a member of your team.  Having something in common (pain, puking, goals) actually produced kindness, respect and friendship among students who wouldn’t ordinarily look in the general direction of someone outside of their social group. 

But it was even more than that.  My dad truly was a father to so many kids.  Once when I was in high school he bought a gently used pair of running shoes for someone on his team.  The student had been running in the only pair of shoes that she owned and they were not running shoes.  My dad said he was concerned that she would get injured in those shoes.  He told me not to say anything because he was going to tell her he found them in the locker room and that someone had left them there after last season.  He didn’t want her to know that he bought them.  At the time this happened I was mad.  I wanted a “new” pair of shoes.  I wanted him to pay attention to me.  I didn’t understand the impact of what he had done until years later.  It wasn’t about getting injured in those shoes.  It was about putting her on even playing ground in a social situation.  Anyone could take one look at the shoes she had been running in and know that her family couldn’t afford to buy her running shoes.  He saved her from the dirty looks and judgments at meets.  With the shoes he “found” she was just a Runner like everyone else.  She was a member of the team with her own personal goals to achieve while helping out her fellow teammates.

There are countless other stories like these which I won’t recall because I want to respect people’s privacy.  There were phone calls in the middle of the night, visits on Sundays to families, deaths, illnesses, abuse and shame that my dad helped kids and their families through.  I can only realize this now as I piece these things together because my dad never told us stories about these situations.  But I know they existed.  I am ashamed that I was ever jealous of these other kids. I don’t get called Mr. Guyot’s Daughter very often anymore.  I would be proud to wear that name.

Today we would call this “Building Community”.  The community that my dad built was huge.  There were so many people at his funeral that it was held in the high school gym in order to accommodate everyone.  The support was overwhelming and I am sad that I was too angry to receive any of it.

Occasionally, one of my dad’s really amazing runners would defect to the football team.  Although this was disappointing, my dad would let them know that there would always be a spot on the cross-country team for them if they ever decided to come back.  The team would always welcome them back. Sometimes I feel like I am one of my dad’s runners.  I don’t really fit into any group of people.  I’ve always been too nerdy for the cool kids and a little too weird for the straight-laced crowd. Sometimes I still wonder what my place in this world is.Although my dad taught me to find my voice through the Speech & Drama Team, and he taught me to respect others and to be generous with my time and efforts, today on Father’s Day I’m thinking of the big life lesson.  I think that when I’m having a day (or week or year) where I’m not quite sure where my place is, he would want me to know that my team is always waiting for me under the flagpole to start warming up so I can tackle those hills, reach my goals, and in turn, help out the rest of the members of my team.

Happy Father’s Day.

-Mr. Guyot’s Daughter

Soul Crusher: My WWF Wrestling Name?

Julie Guyot
One wall of my showroom

One wall of my showroom

Every time I have a college intern working with me in my studio for the semester, I ask them to come up with 3-5 things that they would like to learn or talk about during the semester. These are usually questions pertaining to business and marketing or even gallery application processes or packing and shipping information.  I keep the questions within reach and try to make sure that every student is getting what they need or want to know in exchange for helping me in my studio. Then there are the little questions that come up in conversation throughout the day. Questions such as “How do you figure out how to make what sells without it totally crushing your soul?” Just light little questions.

It really is a good question and probably one that I need to reflect on occasionally just to check in with myself, and my soul. The easy answer would be to just say that I enjoy every aspect of all of the work that I make but that’s not really the truth. So here is the truth. Four years ago a friend told me that I should make some spoon rests because she wanted one. I told her that I would NEVER be making spoon rests. Guess what? Yep. I do have a few spoon rests floating around the showroom. They aren’t something that is on the website and I haven’t even had them professionally photographed but they are available for purchase. I even own one and I have to say that I do love it.

So, what happened in the last four years? Well, I started paying rent on a studio space instead of working from home. When I made the decision to pay rent I made the decision to completely change the way that I work and the products that I make and also who is in control of selling them. I stopped making one of a kind pieces and now focus primarily on production style work that is more easily re-produced in small batches.  I also hired a professional photographer to take the photos that would showcase the work online. I had never taken good photographs of my work and decided to budget for this task to be delegated and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. When I was making one of a kind work, every single piece had to be photographed but production style work really only has to be photographed one time so this keeps my costs down. When I stopped making one of a kind work I knew that this meant pulling out of national galleries and making my work available to a larger audience. Not just collectors or other ceramic artists but regular people who are interested in giving a handmade gift or using a handmade object in their homes. Again, this shifted my focus to smaller, more gift-able items with color palettes that could work well in many different homes.

I also changed my price points. This is not to say that I lowered the price of my work. I changed the work and the prices reflect those changes. I offer a wide variety of price points that depend on the labor intensity of the piece. Since I no longer sell in galleries, I am in charge of selling my work. This might mean a bit more marketing and promoting on my part but I sell directly through my website and I like the control that I have in doing that. I also make a few products that I sell wholesale to a limited number of shops. I no longer enter exhibitions, as this wasn’t something that I really enjoyed and am certainly not making work that is appropriate for those opportunities anymore.

Lastly, I have a large enough studio space that allows me to have a showroom for my own ceramic work as well as the work of several other artisans. I offer a local shopping experience for people in my area to find handmade products. It is a chance for me to meet people and feel connected to my community. I can talk about the process that goes into my pottery and show people that there are still some of us out there who do this work.

Of course there are times when I can take a break from production and make something fun or silly or more conceptual that feeds my soul. But I can honestly say that there isn’t anything that I make that crushes my soul. Trust me, I have had a lot of jobs in my life that were soul crushing.  Receptionist in a construction trailer in the parking lot of a coal plant: Definitely soul crushing. Owning my own business is really, really hard. But it’s mine. I learn something new every day. There are ALWAYS problems to solve and obstacles to overcome. There are days when people are rude or thoughtless. There are days with no sales. But it is never soul crushing. If I make a spoon rest, I make sure it’s the best darn spoon rest that I can. It’s original and fun and funky and definitely usable and it looks really good on my counter when I’m cooking my dinner at the end of the day.