- How did you get the book done?
Everyone has a different motivation. Given my belief that I was on a fool’s mission trying to write the book, my motivation had to exist in near perfect—no interruptions, no computer issues, no guilt that I had more important things to do. It was a serious struggle for me. Normally I only found those conditions right one or two days a week for only about three or four hours a day.
And it became more difficult to finish sooner than later when I’d run into an issue with memory. Often I remembered the incident but I couldn’t verify the situation or condition or even the time of day.
For example, I spent several days at the Evanston Library looking through old issues of the Evanston Review from the early 60s trying to find mention of the accident where I was hit by a VW bus on Asbury. The memory of the accident is still so vividly etched in my mind but I wanted to be accurate on the date and time to give it context—and to fill in those bits of memory lacking in my recollection of the event.
I never did find the information as those issues of the Review were not on microfiche or easily searchable. I’d already gone to the Evanston Police to ask, but they said records from back then don’t exist.
- How did you figure out what to cut from the original manuscript?
Plus, now that the book was finished, I felt I now had a focus for the book—it wasn’t about me. It’s about a regular person who has gone through things everyone else has gone through.
The only difference, as I’ve mentioned, is that I’m on a pretty big radio station and more people know of me than they would some regular, everyday guy from Chicago.
That put the purpose of the book in perspective for me. So anything in the first draft that didn’t enhance that feeling, that emotion, that experience, had to go.
- Why did you decide to include Facebook posts instead of just writing a narrative?
I’ve used Facebook over the years to write lengthy expressions of my feelings and experiences and I felt I’d already written a book.
But when I had to actually sit down and start putting a book together, I felt that much of the context for those posts was missing. Plus, my publisher encouraged me to tell a fuller story than what I’d hinted at with those Facebook posts.
That’s why you see so many of them starting in the teaching chapter. I didn’t join Facebook until about 2009 and didn’t start posting on Facebook recollections of my earlier life until much later.
- I noticed that your writing style for much of the book is factual (recounting facts) more than reflecting or giving an assessment of the experiences; was that intentional?
I felt that the publisher wanted me to write about what I’d done in life—”you’ve had a very interesting life” is something he said and that I’ve heard from others over the years.
Again, I wasn’t convinced that it was anything more than interesting conversation. But then I went back and read the comments to many of my Facebook posts, especially those from when I was going through my cancer. And I think the tone of the book hits its peak in that section—I’d started to come in touch with my humanity, my purpose in life when I became a teacher.
That period of time found me suddenly learning more about myself than any other time of my life. I was using so much more of my experiences and thoughts about life with my students than I had in any other job.
I’m not sure if I adequately conveyed in the earlier chapters about how alone I felt growing up because I feel I embraced my “aloneness,” I accepted it, and learned how to live within it.
So, opening myself up to examination and judgement as a teacher as I tried to motivate my students was a huge moment in my growth as an individual. I think that’s why you notice a shift in tone in the book.
- Why did you feel alone?
In my case, as the youngest, with both parents working, with my brother being six years older than me, I always felt left to my own devices. Thinking about it now, all three of the kids were pretty much left "alone"—but not in a bad way.
Both of our parents worked after we moved to Evanston. To make sure the kids could carry on without constant supervision, we were taught (read: made to do) how to do everyday things: cook, clean, sew, yard work, fix things, and so on. I think (without any scientific evidence at all) that most of the "boomer" generation went through this—our parents wanted us to be able to be self-sufficient in order to better make our way in the world.
But I think being the youngest and with few friends, I felt more comfortable being alone—reading, hitting rocks in the alley with my White Sox baseball bat, skating at the neighborhood outdoor ice rink by myself instead of joining neighborhood kids in a hockey game, going to movies by myself instead of meeting up with friends. It was kind of a conscious choice as opposed to circumstances.
Those times when I was in groups I felt awkward, lacked self-confidence—to be able to carry on a conversation, share similar likes and dislikes, dance (if there was a dance party), speak my mind.
I think that for many young people those feelings exist as they make their way through life. But their feelings of "alone" may be triggered by other circumstances than what I experienced. Maybe my having gone through such feelings made me more empathetic to students I felt were going through similar things. While I had to teach an approved curriculum, I found it more important to make sure the student was in the right frame of mind to want to learn.
- What's your writing advice?
I know I can write, and I have a bunch of ideas. I have a couple of stories from several decades ago that I started, but I’ve lacked the confidence to complete them. Maybe in a few years, if I’m still alive, I’ll feel like I’m in a place in my life where I CAN just sit down anytime, anyplace and just write without self-judgement.
- Why weren't you a good student?
- Why did you feel like your dad didn't respect you?
- Sounds like you went with the flow in your life, in terms of career, and it worked out. Did you "plan" to go about work that way, or did you have professional goals?
- How did you get all those jobs? Seems like you went from one thing to another easily (eventually).
- Was there corruption in the City of Chicago departments when you worked there? Sounds like CPS (Chicago Public Schools) was more corrupt than the mayor's office.
- What was Mayor Washington's "kitchen cabinet;" what does that mean?
- Why did you still keep working for a toxic company and toxic school? Or was that common in your career?
- Did having cancer make you believe in God more? How have you stayed strong, including your wife's ordeal? She sounds incredible.
- How could you eat all the rich food when you were battling illness?