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”!