It’s easy to fool yourself into thinking that city life is superior to smaller town life, to rural life. In “Surrender,” Maso describes how she had been hired to teach at Illinois State University, and how low her expectations were of living and working there, but also how her feelings shifted:
I was expecting nothing. Then, after a while I was expecting an extreme provinciality from my Central Illinois. But finally I came to realize that it is not more provincial than one of the minor cities: Pittsburgh or Milwaukee, say.
Maso’s eventual openness allowed her to see the Midwest’s beauty:
This land of stark miracle springing from the extraordinarily fertile earth. Flat earth. Where each night on the flatlands I dream of a curvaceous woman. She cups water in her hands. And I marvel at the beauty of the cornfields and the sky. Count pheasants. Visit what I’ve dubbed the Beckett tree, straight out of Godot. The land is breathtaking in its austerity, in its uncompromising forever, as gorgeous as anything I’ve ever seen. A different sort of ocean.
She also developed a real love for her students and wanted to “celebrate their instincts, their feeling for language, their willingness to try anything” with her:
Writing classes are about trust, of course, and after a while, in the safe place that we have created together they begin writing their dreams, their fantasies, their desires. What many of them write about again and again is a thing they have never seen—the ocean. I am moved by their longing—these children of the Midwest, these children of ISU—cinder-blocked, landlocked. They swim in high water. They never tire. They begin to learn how to write themselves free.
Imagine a classroom built not on stranglehold notions of discipline, of policies and procedures, but on trust, on reciprocity, on freedom, a classroom that’s a safe haven for, as Maso writes, dreams, fantasies, and desires.
My experiences in the classroom have rarely felt that way. More often, it was structured around fulfilling requirements, about having to prove acquisition of key concepts, about putting my guard up rather than being encouraged, and given a safe space, to be vulnerable. So, have you ever had an experience in the classroom where you were free to dream, to fantasize, to express your desires? Have you ever been in a classroom where you felt you could try anything as a student? as a teacher?
John Madera is the author of Nervosities (Anti-Oedipus Press, 2024). His other fiction is published in Conjunctions, Salt Hill, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His nonfiction is published in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, New York State Council on the Arts awardee John Madera lives in New York City, Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.