Faye Rapoport DesPres


It’s May. How did May get here? I spent four hours today trying to catch up on yard work by digging in our small patch of front garden with a pitchfork. I turned over dirt and sprinkled grass seed and something called “lawn builder” (I think) among the weeds. My lofty goal is to have more grass than weeds. I don’t use pesticides, so the weeds are likely to stick around.

After I attacked the yard in front of the house, I cleaned the small area behind our Cambridge home, removing small fallen branches and sweeping up dried leaves and empty sunflower seed shells that had sneaked into corners and under the outdoor “carpet” during winter and early spring. Once I was done, my husband and I walked up the street and bought some perennials from a 4-H seed sale. Into the dirt the plants went.

The truth is, I know very little about creating nice lawns and planting flower gardens, but my hope is that my enthusiasm will overcome this lack of knowledge, so that something nice might result from all that hard work.

Tomorrow I meet with my senior fiction student for the last time, and on Tuesday I wrap up my second-semester freshman writing class, “The Art of Life Writing.” The papers are all graded, the lesson plans are finished, and another semester is nearly done.

I envy the writer/teachers I know who have cleared the summer for their own creative work. I certainly hope to focus on my current project, a fiction novel (I’m re-writing the first chapter for the third time after getting valuable insight from two readers). Unfortunately, I have a few other things to juggle; in early June I will complete a faculty training program I’ve been taking part in that will qualify me to teach a section of a co-taught Ethics course. I also will teach two courses next fall (Creative Nonfiction Writing Workshop and Intro to Creative Writing) that require some pre-planning. Although I’ve taught the CNF workshop before, I’m re-designing the course so it can be offered as a hybrid, with one weekly session taking place in the classroom and the second taking place online. As for Intro to Creative Writing, I’ve never taught that course before, so I have some lesson planning to do (poetry writing, fiction writing, a truncated introduction to CNF).

I have to put a note in here to acknowledge how tough it is to be an adjunct college instructor. Although I am grateful that I will receive a stipend for the Ethics training and that the college may compensate me with a small amount for developing the hybrid course, I receive no compensation for the hours I put in designing the syllabus and lesson plans (and doing the reading) for any regular course I agree to teach and must therefore develop — and I’ve been developing new courses almost every semester since I started teaching college. I mention this because there is a movement in many colleges and universities to boost the standing and compensation for adjuncts (some adjunct instructors have even unionized) and I would be amiss to not voice my support for such efforts. I am lucky, however, in having a wonderful department head who supports me and my teaching in every way she can, and who has given me opportunities to teach creative writing courses as an adjunct (these opportunities are not easy to find). Money aside, there is joy involved in teaching and in helping to make a difference in the life and work of at least some students.

In the end, though, I’m probably as relieved when each semester ends as my students are. College semesters are exhausting for teachers and students alike, and the summer offers preciously needed time to regroup.

I have already been getting back to my morning writing schedule, and I would love to finish a first draft of my book before the fall. We’ll see.

One door is closing, and I’m running straight through the next one to discover what awaits.