Julie Guyot Studio

The Assignment

Julie Guyot

At the beginning of 2017 I decided that I was going to get out my dad’s notebooks from his English teaching days with all of his daily assignments, some typed and some handwritten, all taped down onto the lined paper pages. This is how he spent his summers. We would go on a family vacation for a week, right after the high school graduation and then the rest of his summer was spent doing a bit of relaxing and a lot of reading but always, always planning for the next school year. He would buy the new notebooks and pick some assignments from previous years to copy and tape down again but then there were new assignments to keep things fresh. They were always numbered at the top of the page. In January, I set a goal for myself to complete one of these assignments a day for a year. Out of the few notebooks that I took from his classroom that week in 1997, I chose Rhetoric to work out of and I bought my new notebook to write all of my assignments in, just like I had to do in Dad’s class all those years ago. When I was a teenager I was so excited to go to high school because then I would just be another student in his classroom. He’d have to take me seriously and he’d have to pay attention to me like he did with his students. He would have to grade my papers and I would have to take his advice.

It’s April already and I wish I could say that I followed through on my daily assignments. The truth is that it proved much harder than I had expected. First off, the assignments weren’t easy for a 40-something who has been out of school for a long time. They were really pretty difficult. Secondly, something else happened that I hadn’t anticipated. I realized that I couldn’t get any clarification on the assignments or feedback on my work. This was paralyzing. It was also ironic.

When I was in junior high I didn’t see my dad a lot and when he was home he was often in his basement grading papers in front of a game on t.v. One morning I went to pack my homework in my school bag and I found that he had corrected my math paper. His handwriting was in pencil and it read, “Julie-you might want to check #14.” This made me really angry. He couldn’t be bothered to spend time with me during the day but when I was sleeping he graded my homework and left me a note. I didn’t correct #14 and obviously I got it wrong. Out of spite. So, I showed him.

A couple of years after college I moved to California and wrote these really long letters home to my best friend. She told me that my stories about my adventures were really good and so when I temporarily moved back in with my parents I asked my dad if he would read one. He told me he would right after he finished grading his students’ papers. Needless to say, I never let him read it and that was probably for the best. I wouldn’t have wanted to hear anything constructive that he had to say, I was just looking for validation.

But now, I genuinely would love to get some constructive feedback on his assignments. Am I on the right track with the word replacements in these sentences? Is this what he had in mind when he wrote these questions? A little nudge in the right direction would be helpful. But then I realize that this is the reason I’ll never complete the year-long assignment that I gave myself. Working in the notebooks is just a constant reminder of what I’m missing out on. I’d like to think that if he were still here, he’d be reading my writings and I’d like to think that I’d take another look at #14 but if I’m being honest, I still don't know if I would change the answer.