James Fitzpatrick is…Adult Ed Instructor!!!
A Short Story by Lukas Sherman
Written using the suggestion "Leather"
Originally featured on 03-01-2007
As part of our series "Anniversaries"

“Do you write short stories or novels in your spare time? Would you like to know what other writers think of your work?”

I look over the course description (S141) for the creative writing worship I teach every Wednesday night. I didn’t write it, merely modified it by substituting a few authors (O’Connor for Hemingway, Bukowski for Angelou) and dropping the lines about “you have story to tell” and “unleashing the creative spirit within you.” Frankly, I want to contain the spirit. With force if necessary. More damage has been done by telling people they have something within them to share when really they’d be better off taking a walk or eating a sandwich.

I’m at the Coolidge Corner branch library, where I often go to kill time before class. It’s a small, cozy library and like most libraries, it instills me with a sense of ease. Something about being surrounded by books, periodicals, movies, CDs, and both microfiche and microfilm comforts me; a library represents order and part of me is sorry that I didn’t 1) become a reference librarian at some old, tradition drenched research library or 2) go to law school and spend late nights in libraries, attended only by block-like stacks of books. Someone imagined heaven as a library, which seems about right.

I turn to the back of the catalogue, which has a John Singer Sargent painting of an orchestra on the cover. My name is between Maria Espinoza (ceramics) and Jacob Finn (journaling as self-discovery). There is something satisfying, albeit in a rather juvenile way, about seeing my name in print. My bio is shorter than most, which I think displays a certain self-deprecating concision. “James holds a BA in English literature from Williams College and a MA in creative writing from Boston University. A published poet, essayist, film critic, and short story writer, James has taught in Japan and for two years at Brookline. He is currently at work on his first story collection, tentatively entitled Unforced Errors.”

Despite the brevity of my bio, there are several errors. Not errors exactly, but fibs. I am published, but it is decidedly past tense and much of it was in college magazines and papers. My film criticism appeared in a now defunct, stapled, photocopied ‘zine published by a guy who called himself Blade Runner. My last “published” piece, an Italian sonnet about William Faulkner’s drinking problem (I rhymed “whiskey” with “frisky”), appeared in an online poetry site, which shortly after changed its content to soft-core lesbian erotica, some of which was pretty good. Although I received no compensation, I did get a bumper sticker.

And “at work” is only accurate if periodically looking in disgust at 4 or 5 rough draft stories that normally take up space in a duty free bag on a closet shelf is considered working. The tentative title is now more fitting for my proposed autobiography. Either that or Heart of Dorkness. I didn’t want to include the “at work” sentence, as I felt (feel) it was disingenuous, but I casually mentioned “Well, I’m working on something, on and off (emphasis on the off)” to the director, who pressed me for details I didn’t have. He then kindly insisted I include it in my bio. “The students like to know that their instructors are also pursuing a creative path,” he told me. “They find it both encouraging and reassuring.”

My whole role as an adult education instructor is and has been somewhat of a ruse, a sham, a confidence game. Even tonight, an hour before starting the sixth class of my tenure, I can’t help but feel I’m cheating these good folks out of their hard earned $75.00. I feel like the guy in the romantic comedy who wins the girl under false pretenses (he’s not really an astronaut or a flautist or whatever) and then has to confess to her and she’s initially upset and they split up (set to sad music). But they come back together (set to happy music). Except I’m not about to admit anything.

Louder Than Bombs suddenly stops. My gold discman’s out of batteries.

“Damn.”

I look at my watch. It’s 6:10. Class is at 6:30. I know I should prepare more. I have a brief, supposed to be inspiring introduction (called “Why we write”) written on the back of a credit card bill, in which I outline the course goals and objectives, such as they are. Since they are all supposed to bring in a poem or story, I won’t have to talk much. When I last checked, 9 were enrolled. I’ve had some difficulties keeping students in my class. Many tend to drop or, more commonly, simply stop coming. I am never sure if this is because of me or merely the caprices of adult education. At our annual picnic, I overheard a colleague refer to my course as “the leaky boat” of Brookline Adult and Community Education, which I thought was rather unprofessional. This from a man who teaches “The Democratic Spirit in the Films of Ron Howard.”

As I said, this is the sixth course I’ve helmed (4 creative writing, 2 essay classes). I took a little hiatus last spring because the director was concerned about the consistently low attendance. Marcie Burr-Jones’s “Sacred Experience: A Memoir Workshop” overflows every time, he told me. He was also concerned about a couple particularly uncharitable, if accurate, course evaluations. One sentence that jumped off the page was “I do not know where the instructor was during the two hours, but it certainly was not in the class helping us with our writing.” Touch

Read More By Lukas Sherman

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