Writing Is Like Exfoliating From The Inside

Jose Vilson Jose, Writing

Friday Kahlo, <i>Roots</i>

Frida Kahlo, Roots

A few months ago, I had the opportunity of meeting Kilian Betlach, writer, former teacher, and present administrator. As most of you have seen on my sidebar, I feature his book This Feels Like a Riot Looks. John Norton and Barnett Berry helped bring us and 10 other teachers together this summer as part of a larger Teacher Leaders Network project, and they’re men who believe people like me and Kilian will be the new wave of teacher book writers. While I’ve never actually written a book, I’ve had visions of doing so for years now, and everyday forms another chapter that inspires me in that direction. Kilian advised me indirectly to proceed with caution:

“I think writing [blog] posts ruined my book voice.”

Say what?

“Well, I got in the habit of writing these posts that were a few paragraphs long, and now I don’t think I even have the stamina to go much further than that.”

Whoa. These thoughts and more have lingered in my mind as I write up draft after draft. Lately, I’ve had to take a day of rest on Thursdays, leaving only 3 posts a week for  my 350+ readers. It’s cool since at least people realize I’m working harder at everything than ever before (while my waistline slowly expands and contracts). Still, I’m stuck in a conundrum. Do I write more often just so I can pick up the pace on the actual writing, or write less on the blog to concentrate on other writing forms? Do I try longer form in hopes that I’ll have the stamina to crank out more thorough essays or get shorter so the actual “book” gets the best material possible?

Furthermore, I’m also struggling with not just the act of writing itself but also delving too deeply into my personal life and trying to make this book unlike any I’ve ever read before. There’s an element to my writing that I’d like to say differs from practically anyone else in the blogosphere and maybe even in education: my unabashed willingness to lay everything out there about myself when it comes to certain topics. It’s in line with the motto “Go hard or go home,” and while it’s great for an audience that we’ve built together, I wonder how that’ll translate out there in a less familiar world where the contact is a little less intimate and instantaneous but also more grateful when the product is well worth it.

A friend of mine wrote to me the other day, “I don’t think I’ve met a person as warm and yet so personally guarded as you since I stopped talking to myself. There’s always so much more in what you don’t say … Damn, you’re such an Aquarius person. Get out of your own head for a minute …” Hovering over some of the notes I’ve made in my mind regarding this upcoming project, and how difficult it’s been to extract that writer voice, the one that wants to discuss topics like suicide, poverty, depression / oppression, religion, race, the failure of one’s nostalgia, and the promulgation of secrecy in the name of bureaucracy in a personal and effective tone.

The same one I use to write many of the blogs written here.

Just having to read about those very experiences and rehash some of the grimmer and even the rhapsodic moments in my life ushers in a rush of feelings that, although familiar, clench at my gut. Thus, my writing becomes a sort of exfoliation from within, where I shed that inner skin bit by bit. For my readers who’ve been on this journey since 2003-4, those pieces I’ve shed here and other venues made it easier to write this now. It’s a funky process, and that can only grow exponentially in the face of 200+ pages of my rawest and decidedly more personal material, but it’s a process I’m willing to take in this path of personal growth.

The friend continues, “[this] probably explains why you’re such a phenomenal writer and thinker.”

So it’s either I go hard or I go home. I’m already home, so there may not be anywhere else to go …

Jose, who relishes a good challenge, even when it’s risking a lot of himself …