Julie Guyot Studio

Where Books Go To Die (originally published July, 2017)

Julie Guyot

The last book I read was culturally significant but certainly not a page-turner. It was not light summer reading and now that we’re in the throes of summer in North Florida, I need something fun and familiar to read at night. It is about this time every year that I grow extremely homesick for Illinois and I was feeling a bit nostalgic so I picked a book that I’ve already read several times and one that reminds me of home. “Straight Man” by Richard Russo. The reason I get homesick at this time of year is mostly due to the extreme humidity coupled with the heat. As we say in the Midwest, “It’s not so much the heat as the humidity.” I feel like a fish out of water or more accurately, a human in water. It’s something I’ll never get used to and for about five months out of the year I feel that it’s best to stay indoors as I long for the cool breezes that are generated after a Midwestern rainstorm. After it rains in Tallahassee you can see the steam rise up from the pavement and things go from bad to worse.  I still see people mowing their lawns at noon or jogging at 3:00 in the afternoon when the heat index is 105 and I just don’t understand this species of humans called Southerners. Short of moving back home, I’ll just curl up in the air conditioning with a good book and long for days gone by.  

 Illinois cornfield near my hometown

Illinois cornfield near my hometown

During my first semester at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, I showed up for Freshman Composition just like every other student. I was greeted by a particularly angry graduate student who seemed to hate our very existence every day of the week, or at least the three days a week that we were in his classroom. There was a lot of yelling and a fair amount of belittling. I just accepted this as the way things were but someone else (or several someone elses) must’ve complained because one day about seven weeks into the semester we showed up to class and he wasn’t there anymore. In his place stood Beckie Hendrick with her southern accent and her Sigourney Weaver hair and she was telling us that she was now our instructor and that we were starting the semester over. Our grades were being thrown out and we were getting a do-over with her. Needless to say, I liked her so much that I signed up for her American Literature class the next semester. She showed up as Beckie Flannagan as she’d gotten married since I had seen her last but otherwise, she was the same.

On the first day of American Literature, Beckie asked us to turn in a piece of paper with our name and what kinds of things we liked to read, and then she said the most amazing thing. She said it could be a comic book or the newspaper or whatever we really enjoyed reading. She wasn’t looking for the classics, just honesty. Since I had been sneaking into my dad’s room when he wasn’t home and reading his books chapter by chapter since I was nine years old, I wrote down Stephen King.

One day Beckie Flannagan brought in a novel called “The Risk Pool” by Richard Russo and she told us that her professor had written it and that we were going to be reading and discussing this book. Outside of my own dad’s high school rhetoric classes where we dissected mostly ancient writings such as “Beowulf,” and maybe “The Great Gatsby” in another high school class, I had never discussed a book before. I had only read them. Here we were talking about characters and plot and writing and all things pertaining to a book that was not only set in my lifetime but was also written right there at my university by my instructor’s professor. Everything felt so accessible. And then there was Beckie Flannagan herself. Isn’t that just the greatest literary name you’ve ever heard? She was smart and kind and funny and maybe I’m reading too much into this but I think she may have been the first feminist that I knew. She never told me that she was a feminist but just the fact that she had taken over the classroom from this horrible man my freshman year and turned everything around pretty much sealed the deal for me. I loved her.

I never saw her again after that semester but when I went home that summer with “The Risk Pool” in hand, my dad saw it and showed me that he had Russo’s first and third novels and so we exchanged them and each read the books we hadn’t previously read. He told me the third book was being made into a movie with Paul Newman and I really felt this was a rare moment of connection between my dad and I, standing in his basement of books, discussing books. I remember going to see the movie with him and we both left mumbling the age-old, “wasn’t as good as the book.” Dad died in 1997 before “Straight Man” came out in paperback, which means he never got a chance to read it unless he borrowed the hardcover from the library as he rarely spent the money on hardcover editions. It definitely wasn’t in his collection when he died. I know he would’ve loved it. Even though he was a high school teacher in rural Illinois, I know he would’ve related to the main character’s dry humor and his struggle with academic life at a small college in Pennsylvania.

Richard Russo had moved on from SIU-C when I was still in attendance there and long before “Straight Man” was written but this passage from the book always stops me in my tracks when I come upon it.

        “On my way back across campus, I see Bodie Pie slip into Social Sciences via the back door and remember she wanted to talk to me, so I follow, risking the possibility that I’ll get lost in the building’s legendary labyrinths. Social Sciences, the newest building on campus, was built in the midseventies, when there was money for both buildings and faculty. According to myth, the structure was designed to prevent student takeovers, and this may be true. A series of pods, it’s all zigzagging corridors and abrupt mezzanines that make it impossible to walk from one end of the building to another. At one point, if you’re on the first floor, either you have to go up two floors, over, and down again or you have to go outside the building and then in again in order to arrive at an office you can see from where you’re standing. The campus joke is that Lou Steinmetz has an office in the building but no one knows where.”

It is obvious to me that he is writing about Faner Hall at SIU-C. This is where the English department was housed and probably where Russo’s office was located. This is the building where the previous classes that I wrote about took place. As a student, if you received your schedule and you had a class in Faner Hall, you always went the day before classes began and tried to find your classroom. It usually took about 30 minutes to figure out which door you should enter and which stairway you needed to take even if you’d had multiple classes there before. We usually went in groups so no one got lost, as if we were on a dangerous hiking expedition. We were also told that it was built after the Vietnam War protests in the 1970’s that burned down the old campus. There was a monument next to the building in homage to Old Main. It was considered a “riot proof” building. Russo describes it perfectly. We HATED it. I wonder if Russo had become nostalgic about that building as he writes about it and about the hilarity of the tensions and hierarchy of academic life.

During my junior year at my summer job at the university library, I would see the graduate student from my class who lost his teaching job. We were both working on the 7th floor in the archives, or as the long term employees called it, “where the books go to die.” He seemed the same to me although to be fair, no one who worked on the 7th floor seemed happy. The students weren’t allowed to talk to each other and we had to ask to use the restroom. I thought it was the perfect place for him to live out his days.

After having been to graduate school myself and briefly teaching as an adjunct instructor, I start to think maybe there was more to that angry graduate student than I was aware of. Having spent a small amount of time in Academia, I am now aware that removing a graduate student from a teaching assignment is no small feat. We never asked any questions about where he went or what had prompted his removal. We just didn’t care. We were happy about who The Universe and the English department had plopped down in his place and we didn’t rock the boat with questions for fear that things could change again.

God help anyone who ever had to grade anything that I wrote. I once took an honors class where all we did was read Tennessee Williams plays and then watch them in movie form and then we had to write a couple of papers. The only reason I was in the honors program is because I was an art major and got really good grades in all my art classes. The other students in class were science majors who were taking a break by being in this honors class. They thought I was inferior and they certainly let me know. I remember the professor used to give my papers back with comments such as, “Your writing is awful” written in red ink. I know that I overuse commas and sometimes change tenses mid-sentence. I am aware that art is my strength. Out of all of the classes outside of the art department that I ever took as an undergraduate student, Beckie Hendrick Flannagan is the only instructor’s name that I still remember these 27 years later and I only remember one thing she told me and it was on that very first day of American Literature. It doesn’t matter what you’re reading as long as you’re reading. I can still hear her voice in my head with every page I turn. 

-Julie

This Is Not Us

Julie Guyot
ThisIsUsPhoto.jpg

My therapist likes to use T.V. shows and movies as therapeutic tools, using certain scenarios to compare them to what we’re talking about. They might include some family dynamic or friendship or social situation that can be used as a teaching tool. Since I was raised on television and movies, I totally love this about her. The only problem is that we do not have the same taste in movies or television shows. It usually goes something like this:

Her: Did you ever watch Star Trek?

Me: Nope. Did you ever watch Madmen?

Her: No.

Her: Did you watch Friends?

Me: I’ve seen it before but I’m certainly not a fan. Have you seen The Leftovers?

Her: No. Did you ever read or watch Harry Potter?

Me: Definitely not.

We finally found common ground with the only network show that I’ve watched in years when she asked me if I was watching “This Is Us.” Yes! As a therapist, she kind of geeks out over the complete therapeutic package that this show can provide for both a viewer and a therapist. One can choose from topics such as adoption, eating disorder, alcoholism, abusive father/husband, drug addiction, death, racial and cultural discussions and of course, lots of love. She’s in heaven. If you’re caught up on the show you know about the culmination of the entire show’s emotional roller coaster that was finally shown this season in the form of a crockpot shorting out and ruining everyone’s life thereafter.

So you can imagine my terror when in the middle of the night before my 47th birthday, I was awoken by a slightly digitized female voice calmly saying, “There is smoke in the hallway.” This wasn’t enough to fully bring me out of my slumber but the ear piercing beeping that followed and my husband shooting out of bed slowly brought me around. There she was again, “There is smoke in the hallway.” This time I got up and put my shoes on, thankful that I had left them near the bed the night before. As my husband was putting on his pants I thought to myself how my reoccurring irrational fear of ending up on my neighbors’ lawn completely naked, asking them to call the fire department (and also can I borrow some pants) was totally paying off as I was already wearing pajamas. I immediately thought of the crockpot but ours was safely unplugged and tucked away in a cabinet as it’s only used once a year to make hot cider at the holidays.

I imagined that I’d go out into the hallway and the entire house would be on fire, “This Is Us” style. My husband had already tested the doorknob for heat and opened the bedroom door by the time I was up so I went to let the dogs out of their room. I still wasn’t awake. By the time I got into the living room, my husband was already telling me there was no smoke. He went outside and walked around the house. No smoke. He went up in the attic. No smoke.

There is no smoke in the hallway.

I looked at the clock and it read 4:00 and I said, “I thought it was later, I never would’ve let the dogs out if I knew it was 4:00.” My husband said, “Are you still asleep because you’re not making any sense.” By the time he came back to bed I was fully awake, on my phone, googling “Nest smart smoke detector malfunction” because I knew I wouldn’t go back to sleep if there was a remote chance that there was real smoke in the hallway. It turns out that this is a thing that happens with the first-generation Nest “smart” smoke detector. One man wrote a whole blog post about it (go figure) and it happened to him at exactly 4:00 a.m. as well. Unfortunately for him it continued to happen randomly over the next few weeks. You have to contact the Nest company and ask them to replace it with a second-generation model. Needless to say, this did nothing for my sleep that night.

I recently had to switch my business bookkeeping system over from my Mac computer to a cheap little P.C. My bookkeeper is very happy about it. I am not. In the process, she gave me a flash drive to save my files onto and told me I must keep it in a location that was separate from my computer in case of a fire. I put it in my workbag thinking that if there were a fire at home I would obviously be grabbing my bag on the way out the door. I can tell you for a fact that the last thing on my mind the night of the false smoke alarm was that flash drive.

I’m not sure what it means to have such an abrupt and panicked beginning to my 47th year. I know that it means I still have my husband and my stuff and my dogs and my house and my second-generation Nest smoke detector. I know that it means that I’m still here and I’m alive enough to have panic attacks to warrant a therapist where we can sit and compare real life to television shows and if that’s what I have, it’s enough. But I'm telling you right now, if I have to completely re-build my business books from scratch on a P.C. with no receipts and no backup, I’m retiring. 

The Whole 4 Hour Diet

Julie Guyot

Last Christmas my four year old niece, Scarlett, was making out her list for Santa by using the weekly toy store flyer. She circled the items she wanted with a crayon. There was a picture of a giant stuffed unicorn with a little girl standing behind it. Scarlet circled the unicorn and then put an X over the face of the little girl. After laughing until I cried, I realized that Scarlett was an expert at setting goals. According to the *S.M.A.R.T. goals setting acronym, the S stands for be specific. I don’t know how much more specific she could get. There was no way she was going to wake up on Christmas morning with another child playing with HER giant stuffed unicorn! 

unicorn.jpg

I didn’t fare so well this January while setting my New Year’s Resolutions. I was neither specific, nor did I have any goals of my own in mind when I was scrolling through Instagram on January 2nd and noticed that an acquaintance was doing this thing called The Whole 30 Program and I thought, okay, I’ll do that too. I had no idea what it was but I was in! I gained 15 pounds last year so whatever it takes, right? After a quick google search I found The Whole 30 website but decided to skip reading about the science behind it and just got right down to the "what I can’t eat" list. It turned out to be pretty extensive but I looked for some recipes, made out a grocery list and headed to Whole Foods. I came home with pounds of cauliflower and after hours of trying to rice it without the proper equipment, I put together a broccoli and cauliflower “rice” casserole for dinner. (According to The Whole 30 Program-do not consume: any sugars, grains, alcohol, beans, dairy and anything baked even if it’s lies within the parameters of these ingredients.)

I am married to a man who hates casseroles. In fact, he hates them so much that when speaking about them he drops the first letter off the word. I wait until he’s on a business trip and make a batch of Tuna Noodle Asserole for myself. Why I would choose to start a seriously restrictive diet with something that he didn’t like even in its non-diet form is beyond me. Have I mentioned that I hadn’t even consulted him about this Whole 30 thing? He just came home from work and I announced that I was doing it. I rolled my eyes when he asked me what the science behind it was.

When I first met my husband I was a vegetarian and sometimes vegan. I’ve been around the block when it comes to cooking with restrictions. One Christmas I gave my entire family sour dough starter in jars and these vegan cookies that I had made that basically tasted like sand. I know. But at the time I thought it was really great. Don’t worry, this year my sister got me back by giving us all cans of jackfruit from Trader Joe’s. It’s kind of ironic because apparently, jackfruit is highly sought after by people on The Whole 30 Program. They claim it can be doctored up to pass as a substitute for pulled pork. If you believe that, I’ve got a really good vegan cookie recipe for you.

In addition to 7 previous years of vegetarianism, I’ve been gluten free for the last 6 years for health reasons. I’m such a picky eater that I didn’t eat a vegetable until I was 25 years old. So my husband looked at me when I showed him the list of foods that I couldn’t eat on The Whole 30 Program and he said, “There is so much you already can’t or won’t eat so you picked the most restrictive diet ever? This seems unattainable.” Ahhh...the A in the S.M.A.R.T. goal setting acronym.

I dished us both out some Broccoli and “Cheddar” Cauliflower “Rice" Asserole and rolled my eyes at him again. Then I proceeded to hold back my tears as I tried to eat that crap. “Rice” my asserole. There was nothing about this dish that resembled rice or cheddar. It was watery and the broccoli was mushy and I suddenly remembered from my vegan days that on no planet does nutritional yeast resemble cheese. In the end I had lasted four hours from grocery shopping to quitting The Whole 30 Program.

So, my husband asked me, “Exactly what is it that you want to get out of this?” After I had a slight meltdown, we both decided that the goal this year is to eat more vegetables, cook at home more often and make better food choices when we go out to eat. So, I threw out the rest of the coconut oil, chia seed, almond butter and unsweetened cocoa bites I had made earlier in the day and then once again on Instagram I came across a glorious vegetarian website that has recipes that actually taste good. I used the leftover cauliflower to make these amazing tacos and we both agreed that we didn’t miss the meat a bit and that they tasted great and filled us up at the same time.

Sometimes we jump into things without thinking first, without doing the research, without asking ourselves what we really want to get out of it and definitely without a plan. But there is always room to fail and to start over. Even if you’re only four hours in.

(*SMART goal setting acronym: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time sensitive)

May all your goals this year be SMART!

-Julie