It’s always good at the beginning. You get over the shock of waking up early. You settle into the routine. You’re grateful to be out with the street cleaners. It feels good in the cool morning. You’re one of the first at the boulangerie, the pain aux raisins is still warm. Once you drag yourself out of bed, it’s good to be back.

All the plans you have. The changes you’ll make. You’re fresh, you’re brimming with enthusiasm, you’re like the kids with their new notebooks, their promises to be better.

Each September we all make the same promises.

You stand before your classes and tell them what you want. You speak seriously, earnestly, and you believe in what you’re saying. Or I did. It’s September and the year is just beginning.

If you’re soft at the start you’ll drown. So you charm them by being tough, by staring down the talkers, by cutting down the challengers. You give them responsibility and freedom. You show them that you care, that you love what you do. You show them that you love the books, the ideas, learning, philosophy, something. You wonder if the pleasure you feel upon returning to school lies exclusively in the performing, in being adored. You wonder if teaching, the kind of teaching you do, is just celebrity making. You know your audience. You know what you can do. You can’t help yourself.

You always begin the same way. You’re standing on stage presenting yourself, happy to be back. Which is not to say that you don’t believe in teaching, because you do. There are few things you believe in more and you want to do something good. But along with that comes the wonder of standing before a group of people who love you, who imagine that you are strong and wise.

All that attention, it’s hard to resist. And if you’re honest you acknowledge that before you ever became a teacher you imagined your students’ reverence, your ability to seduce, the stories you’d tell, the wisdom you’d impart. You know that teaching is the combination of theater and love, ego and belief. You know that the subject you teach isn’t nearly as important as how you use it.

ALEXANDER MAKSIK is the author of YOU DESERVE NOTHING (Europa Editions/John Murray Publishers). He is the recipient of a Truman Capote Fellowship and a Teaching/Writing Fellowship from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He’s presently the Provost’s Postgraduate Writing Fellow at the University of Iowa. He lives in Paris and Iowa City.  

For more: www.alexandermaksik.com.

4 responses to “Excerpt from You Deserve Nothing

  1. jonathan evison says:

    . . .okay, now i want more!

  2. […] week, Xander is also Featured on the Fiction Section, and you can learn more about his book there.  Meanwhile, Alice was kind enough to answer some of […]

  3. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    Me too. More please.

  4. Gloria says:

    I agree with all above.

    On another note, I love the juxtaposition of “he lives in Paris and Iowa City.” The mundane and the glamorous. For all I know, Iowa City could be paradise, but it still cracks me up.

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