“It’s All About Me” Monday: The Book

I often refer to “my next life.”* I have plans for it. In my next life, I will start weaving sooner so I can learn more and be better at it. In my next life, I will study and work as an art conservator. And as an archaeologist. And I’ll write murder mysteries.

But I have a previous life, too.

And in my previous life, I made this:


My previous life was as an academic, a college professor, and I did what academics do. I did research and published my analysis.

My field was rhetorical criticism, the analysis of public persuasion. Think of it as literary criticism but, instead of turning my critiques to literature, I endeavored to understand how humans influence, or persuade, each other in more explicit and strategic ways.

My particular area of interest was protest rhetoric and, even more specific, protest song

In some ways, the making I did then was similar to the making I do now and in more ways it was really different.

I loved aspects of it. I loved the subject matter and feeling like I was solving a puzzle when I better understood why a song like “We Shall Overcome” struck so many chords with so many people when other, similar, songs were soon forgotten.

I enjoyed all aspects of the analysis and the learning but I did not enjoy this kind of writing. Once I had the insights, I didn’t care about sharing them, except maybe in class, with my students.

The pressure to “publish or perish” rubbed me entirely the wrong way; it seemed to strengthen my will to resist. And, back then, in the distant past of my previous life, things like footnotes and indexes had to be sorted out laboriously, without help from computer programs . . .


The whole time I was doing academic writing, I fantasized about writing murder mysteries. Murder mysteries set in an academic department at a comprehensive college in a Rust Belt city in the Northeast. Murder mysteries where the victims were pompous tenured professors . . .

The heroine of my never-to-be-written mysteries was a bright, untenured female assistant prof, super cute and stupendously popular with students, and with an incisive, agile mind, able to see patterns of speech and behavior that led to the murderers.


I hardly remember the me I was in this previous life, even though it’s only been 6 years since I retired and left it behind. Sometimes I come across the book and open it randomly and have no earthly memory of thinking those thoughts, let alone writing the words!

I guess it’s nice to know that this book is in reference libraries and people actually quote passages from it. I used to get a kick out of doing vanity searches in the Internet and seeing where the book showed up.

But I get much more of a kick out of the things I make now. They please me in a way my academic work never did. I’m not sure why that is, but it undeniably so.

So, it’s very clear to me what I need to be doing in my current life! Not what someone tells me I have to do, not what I am expected to do, but what I want and need and love to do.

But, enough about me! Let’s talk about you. How do you like my book?

And what about you? What will you do in your next life? Will it be the same as that which you’re doing now?

* A note—I don’t really think I get another life, as much as I love the idea. It’s more my way of saying “woulda, coulda, shoulda”!

76 thoughts on ““It’s All About Me” Monday: The Book

  1. I fondly remember the “murder mystery” that we were ALL working on during Basics at Vavstuga! I think you should get back to work on that, & if you want some help, let me know, LOL! It was fun!

  2. What a fun look at the “I wish I had” thought. Or “I wish I could” But then when you look at it, you have accomplish quite a lot in one lifetime. That’s an impressive list. Looking back, I probably wouldn’t do it any different. It took a lot of introspection to get to a place of no regrets.

    • Oh, I do feel like I’ve accomplished good things! There are just so many other directions I would like to go . . . It’s great that you have no regrets!

  3. I love your book! I highly suspect it is more interesting and more readable than academic books about finance or economics.

    I don’t miss my old life in investment management, either, and never did, from the moment I walked out the door. I also don’t miss teaching finance. Usually I’m pretty good at putting things behind me. That’s not to say there are no regrets — I’ve done plenty of stuff badly enough to have regrets! And not done other things I wish I had. But I’m happy with what I do now, and I think I’ve “matured” in how I deal with others. I don’t look forward much, and I don’t look back much. Guess I’m pretty content.

    • I hope my book is more interesting that finance! The subject matter is really cool, actually, and such a compelling era in American history. It’s nice to recognize that you’re content and at peace with the choices you’ve made !

  4. I don’t miss my old life as a reinsurance broker one bit. I fell into that line of work…certainly it wasn’t planned.

    Unlike you, I do believe in reincarnation. Maybe I should start thinking about what I want to be / do in my next life. But I think my higher self will take care of that when the time comes.

    Your plot for your mystery novel sounds fabulous. Write it now! Don’t wait!

    • I’d like to believe in reincarnation but I am not good at believing in things, I guess. I’m sure you’re right, though, that, if it exists, we don’t get to consciously plan the next steps!

  5. Have you read the Kate Fansler mysteries by “Amanda Cross” aka Caroline Heilbrun? Lots of insights into academia and the world’s most perfect husband. Like other commenters, I fell into what I did for a living, and mostly enjoyed it, though I wince now at some opportunities I missed. So, maybe I’d like to go back to certain points and try the other fork in the road.

  6. J > How wonderful of you to share these thoughts and reflections with us! There was no clean break with my previous ‘life’ as a Chartered Civil Engineer, I just gradually got to a place where I said, ‘that’s me done’. That was about two years ago. My professional legacy is not something I can get out from the attic and handle and reflect on, as they are things like roundabouts, city streets rigged up with tram lines and stops, bespoke houses, forest haul roads, landfill sites, shopping centre car parks … and some of these are showing their age even more than I am! (The travelling public have no respect for the skills of engineers that design and build the roads, railways etc that the public travel on.) However the way I see my current position seems to be pretty much the same as with you. I’m glad to be clear of those petty dictators and incompetent fools who strut around full of their own superiority and importance, and the petty-fogging blindness and utterly incomprehensible inefficiency of large organisations. Now D and I set our own goals and our own standards, and are answerable 100% to ourselves, taking the credit or the blame for ourselves accordingly. Our income may be much less doing small-scale farming, holiday lets, and spinning-dyeing-weaving etc (no pension for a few years yet!) but we are fulfilled and happy, and in a position where we can share what we do with others, especially those young people who love the idea of self-reliant living off the land just as we did when we were their ages. And by the way, we too would, in the ‘next life’, skip the corporate-world stage, and just ‘go for gold’ right at the outset.

    • What an interesting past you’ve had! I’m sure you’re right about civil engineers being underappreciated–we never think how those bridges and highways come to be! But your current life . . . well, that suits you so well and it would appeal to me much more, too.

  7. D > Well I’ve just found you in the Library of Congress! J’s equivalent is a report on proposals for car parking in the mediaeval town of Shrewsbury, which for some reason the National Library of Wales wrote to say that they were to be supplied with a copy for the National Archive! (Which we had to do by law – the NLW is a statutory body.)

  8. Like you I find it interesting that the teaching career I worked so hard to achieve and sustain for so many years is now mostly incomprehensible to me. It seems I bear no resemblance to that person at all and can no longer relate to much of what I once held so dear! I too wrote a tome, which I also found dryly exhausting to do and which is, I believe, still in print and doing the rounds and ‘sought after’ as one of my friends still inhabiting that world reported to me recently…… I don’t really care! I think that is because now my life is so different and being rather busy living IT and enjoying almost every single moment of it, the other has simply faded away into obscurity. It’s probably a good lesson for all over achievers, world changers and egoists, fanatics, corporates and potuses to learn now I think of it 🙂 Life changes and so do we – this is of course what makes it so very interesting and exciting. And liking best where we are now has to be a recipe for happiness right?

    • It is so important that we like what we’re doing right now. And I did like teaching, right then, when I was doing it, and I loved my field of study. But that was then! And this is now! And it’s time to weave and quilt and make cool stuff! Carry on!

    • Ah, yes. Those are regrets most of can relate to, I suspect. It seems we have to be older ourselves before we value our older family members and we have to have aches and pains to value our health . . .

  9. What a great post! It saddened me a little to think you were perhaps denigrating your academic achievements. You probably weren’t; I just read it that way. I suppose the theme of your words struck a chord in that I believe strongly in a time and a place. There’s a time and a place for the things that we do and experience – and perhaps you wouldn’t be so appreciative of the joy you now get from your wonderful creative pursuits had you been able to pursue them in earlier years. Did you even want to do them at that time? As for writing the murder mysteries – what’s stopping you!

    • I did want to do the creative things at that earlier stage–I thought about it all the time and fit in what I could. I liked being able to put my hands on something tangible that I had created and that was hard to come by with the academic work. Having said that, I think my published work is of good quality and, since that music has been studied little, I’m glad I gave it its due. And the thing stopping me from writing the mysteries is a lack of time and, probably, fear that I couldn’t actually pull it off!

    • Thanks, Cathy–the early me did her job as well as she could, and I loved the teaching part of being a prof! I doubt I’ll ever write the novel . . . but it’s fun to fantasize!

  10. Most interesting post!!!! The “publish or perish” mantra may be reworded to included so many vocations, professions, arts and, yes, even avocations. It, supposedly(?!) elevates the “worth” of what you do to the level of a credibility more widely accepted by the public at large. The same might be said of the art of quilting. It would be appreciated if merely a positive personal appraisal would be sufficient rather than a litany of show/event “wins” lending a type of credibility to the piece. But that is the place newer artforms, etc, find themselves on their road into the future. It must be. All must somehow “prove” themselves as ‘valid’ in others’ eyes and thus the publishing, entering, etc, serves as the portal of entry for anyone who has such motivations or dreams!! Enough! I think I shall go quilt……….or take the laundry out of the dryer!!!! LOL!!!!!!

    • I think maybe the reason I have NO interest in submitting to quilt shows or any other juried activity is that I have had enough of that, letting an editor or judge tell me everything that’s wrong with what I’ve done. It was unavoidable when I was writing for publication (and to be fair the editorial feedback was invaluable) but I can avoid it now, and intend to!

  11. I too have very definite plans for my next life. I am going to learn languages and at least one musical instrument, because, of course, my abilities in those areas will be far superior in my next life 😉I may even take up ballet! However, my retirement from teaching really is my next life, and I love, and try to use, every minute of it. Despite all the stresses,I loved my job and happily taught for 35 years, but I have not been back into a classroom and am quite happy with that!
    BTW, why did “We shall overcome” resonate so widely?

  12. my life has been so different from yours,as I have also been creative with my hands, and never in my life or after life would I wish to be a teacher or a professor. …..let me start all over as a mother of Seven… I have been a teacher, lawyer,nurse, Sergeant and a counselor,and yes I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.

  13. I bet your book beats many many many academic writings of any kind. And a next life: I just started a new one today! After 4 years of unemployment ..I have a job at the library again!!! Woohoo….xo Johanna

  14. Gosh, I haven’t thought much about it, but it’s a very attractive thing to think about. I would climb more mountains, play more music, have big garden and write fabulous articles and novels. Well, that’s about enough, huh? I like your academic study area.

    • It is fun to think about, isn’t it? I’d climb more mountains, too–that’s a good one. My field of study was fascinating! Don has his Ph.D. in the same field–we are quite a pair when we watch political speeches, etc!

  15. I don’t know what I did in my previous life but I suspect I had staff to do the house…

    I’m with you on starting earlier on the arts and crafts – I did have an interest as a child but not enough drive to really push me and nobody else did or taught me the value of practice.

    Holding out for a pill that will let me become fit for another 100 years or so.

    • P.S. Very impressed with the book. I’ve basically wasted most of my adult life trying to fit into a life and society that deep down didn’t really interest me much. Guess how much I accomplished.

    • If you find that pill, let the rest of us know! I did the art/crafts stuff when I was younger, too–my undergrad degree was in jewelrymaking/silversmithing. But I could never have supported myself–far too big a flake and too unfocused to be an independent artist! The profession I chose was actually very good to me.

  16. Your rhetorical ears must be wild at how our public discourse has declined over the past few decades. Today, our preseident can commit libel and slander with little consequences other than his press folks running damage control to say that he did not really say what he said because you all are just putting words into his mouth…

    I believe that language lost its meaning when the press forgot the difference between “who” and “whom” 25 years ago (that is when I noticed that editorials and articles in the Washington Post and New York Times left the “m” off). Now I can be the predicate to my own subject, and ne’er will the truth be known. – Oscar

    • I have to admit, I’ve always been bad at “who” and “whom” but I’m very good at “fewer” and “less” and at “which” and “that”! My husband’s Ph.D. is in rhetorical criticism, too, and, you’re right, we are constantly stupefied these days!

  17. Write the book, Kerry! Winter not over yet and I’ll be happy to have it on my nightstand! I don’t look back with too much would’ve- could’ve but would love to be granted another 100 years (or more) of living with a mind and body that can withstand it. Travel, service, learning, learning, learning, recording more oral histories, art, and making things every day! I am concentrating on going forward with more focus, mindfulness, and action. Deleting the things in my life that matter little and giving attention to the things that have a purpose and can make a difference….even when baking a loaf of bread or listening to a story told by an elder in the community. I’d like to go and live in the wilds of Labrador for a spell and maybe farm alongside some folks in Scandinavia…I think there’s still time! Great post and…great life ( yours), Kerry

  18. I am looking forward to your murder mystery! In my next life I would do more things because of I me liking them, and not doing things that I think are expected of me.

    • That’s a good goal! And a difficult one. You may find that you are already doing some of it and will do more as you grow older. I know that I care less, every day, what other think/expect of me!

  19. Your earlier posts on “We Shall Overcome” are fascinating (I imagine I would enjoy your book), and made me wonder if there will be any modern-day equivalent if a new resistance movement ever coalesces. I would love to spend an evening sitting on your couch in front of the TV listening to you and your husband analyze today’s political speech. Fertile ground, there!
    Funny, but I just mentioned to my husband yesterday that I never think about my previous career–at all, not even the slightest bit–even though it was all-consuming for over twenty years.
    I’ve never believed in an afterlife and have always believed this short time on earth is all we have. Therefore, I have always tried to make deliberate choices to make the most of it and not just let life happen to me. For most of my life, I have had the same interests and loves, but they unfolded in three distinct phases according to my age and needs. When I was young I really wanted to create things and farm, but–like you–couldn’t see a way to make a living at it. I married, raised children, worked many different odd jobs (waitress, post office, greenhouse, vet tech, book store, cook …), and we scraped by while my husband went back to school and then I did the same. Phase two was middle age–time to get serious about making a living. I chose the career I wanted–law–which required lots of brain work, analysis, and writing–all of which I also love. I worked my tail off to be the best lawyer that I could. And then I happily walked away. Phase three is “my next life,” the one I’m living now in retirement. I view it as my last opportunity to do all the things that I put off or dreamed of in the first two phases. Making things, having a little farm, sky-diving, sailing, languages — and on and on. Fortunately, I never dreamed of writing a mystery novel! You should go for it.

    • I keep reading about current marchers singing WSO and some other older protest songs, in these marches in Washington and elsewhere. It makes me wish Pete Seeger were alive to get us all singing along! Your history sounds fascinating and you’re very much in the same place as I am at this point–it’s a great place to be!!

  20. I think I would I would find writing a long thesis very difficult and I am in awe of anyone who has managed it. I am sure I would enjoy your book! I am one of those people who enjoy finicky, detailed work and compiling indexes would suit me very well! A missed opportunity perhaps? There have been plenty of those in my life and if I could, I would go back and take them.

  21. My only regret about my career is that I couldn’t decide earlier what I wanted to do when I grew up. When I eventually trained as a mediator, and later ran a mediation service, it did feel like the ‘right thing ‘. At the same time, I have no regrets about retiring. Unlike you, I don’t have a single consuming passion, but I do very much enjoy being a ‘Jack of all Trades'(and master of none). I’ve loved this glimpse into your biography.

    • I took forever to decide what I was going to do for a career, too–too many options open to me, and how is a 20-something supposed to know?? And I consider myself very much a Jack (Jill?) of All Trades–I mean, most of what I do has to do with textiles but I such of flutter around in that broad category.

  22. How fascinating to understand a bit more about you and your life, Kerry, thanks so much for sharing it. Reading your post and the input from other commentators, I am struck by the common theme of one’s ‘past life’ seeming to be so easily forgotten. I can relate to this. I worked in Government for nearly 30 years, taking an early exit two years ago. I can hardly remember now what it was like to be steeped in what appeared to be ‘vital matters of state’ – things that I could not care less about now! In my next life, I will be an artist, an art historian, a novelist, a music scholar, a mountain climber and Olympic gymnast. 🙂

  23. Kerry, I really enjoyed hearing a little bit about your past life. I admire your research subject as well. I would like to think that retirement is about doing what feeds our soul. Some are lucky enough to have that throughout their professional life, and others not so much. I’ve worked for myself as a professional organizer for a decade now and I LOVE what I do. When I worked as a costumer in my early twenties I enjoyed that too, but I couldn’t make even a basic living. A lot of mundane things came in between. I think that as we age, if we’re paying attention, we pare away the parts we don’t like, and put our energy towards the things that soothe us and make us whole. It’s nice to hear that you’ve arrived.

    In my “next life” I’ll be an accomplished tap dancer who also happens to be brilliant on the piano.

    • The entire time I was working at the university, I felt like all I wanted to do was make things! I daydreamed all the time about ways to support myself by being creative . . . but I knew I couldn’t. And I *did* like my job and it *has* provided me with the chance to retire early and indulge myself in what I enjoy most! In my next life, I will keep my eyes open for a tap-dancing piano player and know it must be you!

  24. I believe we have many lives simultaneously – somewhere in another plane I’m doing all the things I couldn’t do in this one! But even in this one, it’s interesting how many different lives we lead and that we still could in the future. Those murder mysteries might yet appear 🙂

  25. You have quite the interesting background, Kerry! I have changed disciplines and careers a number of times over the years, and am now living in “semi-retirement” as a musician and farmer. I do look back and think about the various things I have worked at, and learned, and regret none of the jobs, or changes. There is a time and place for everything, and no knowledge or skill ever goes to waste.

    • I agree completely, Lavinia! I don’t regret my academic career at all–I loved living the “life of the mind,” so to speak, and loved the students. And doing that for so many years let the desire to make things build within me, so now I really appreciate the time I have to do so!

  26. So how did I miss this post, kiddo? It’s fabulous. What an interesting professional life you’ve had. Marketers would give their eyeteeth for that kind of knowledge, right? I like your protagonist, and the idea of the murdered being pompous tenured professors is …. intriguing, to say the least. Couldn’t you write just a short story about it? Pretty please!

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