Discovering a treasure by
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In 2017, I was busy writing a book called, The 1960s Counterculture for Greenwood publishers. It’s an anecdote-driven book full of individual stories about how those of us who lived through that era, coped with it. I was looking for stories from fellow Baby Boomers, and boy did I find them when I discovered a site called Retrospect!

Retrospect made a journalist realize it's okay to write about his own stories and not just the stories of others.

That was my first introduction to this wonderful writers site that has contributed so positively to my own writing experience. Not only did a half-dozen of the very talented Retrospect writers allow me to publish their stories in the book that came off the press in 2019, but I began writing my own stories for the site on December 24, 2017.

My first submission was called A Christmas (Eve) Story. It focused on how my dad had nearly broken a leg one year to make that night even more magical for my sister and me.

I remained busy with my books until I retired from college teaching in 2020, and I strayed from Retrospect until returning as a contributor in 2021, always intending to come back and add my voice fo those other wonderful voices on the site.

Finally, on December 24 of that year — seven years to the night of my very first post — I did return with a story called, School, Swamps, and Salvation. It focused on the lengths I had gone to in junior high school to quit school, only to wind up years later with a Ph.D.

Since then, I have written and submitted 15 other stories, and each one has taken me back to key turning points in my life that carry cherished memories for me (well, okay … some I’ve tried to forget), and I’ve always been grateful for the founders and administrators of Retrospect for giving me a chance to do that.

A home for gifted writers

It has been a marvelous experience for me both as a writer and as a reader of memoirs, because each week has produced so many fine essays from other Retrospect writers. I have loved the exchanges with these people whom I’ve never met in person, yet feel as though I’ve come to know as friends.

Although I’ve spent a lifetime as a writer, nearly all my adult years were spent writing as a journalist. In so doing, I was always reporting and writing on people and events out there. A cardinal rule of journalism is to keep yourself out of the story: you’re not shooting a selfie, and the subject is in front of the camera; not behind it. So, writing about myself and my own experiences has been a new venture for me. In reading and writing Retrospect stories, I’ve learned that we are all drawn to good stories, no matter who lived them or who they are about. This has freed me to tell my own stories and not worry about breaking the rules.

The next level

About a year ago, I decided to take this selfie business to the next level and begin writing a larger memoir of my life that I’m now calling The Year of Pivoting. It begins in my watershed year of 1995, but moves on until New Year’s Eve, 1999, which formed the other bookend to a tumultuous personal era. I’ve just passed the 75,000-word mark and, should this book ever see the light of day, I have Retrospect to thank for opening up this new literary genre for me.

Filling a hole

In short, this site has filled a need in my life that I wasn’t even fully aware was there. Retirement can be a lonely station in life, and Retrospect has removed much of that loneliness. I hope that will continue to be the case in the months and years ahead, although I understand the challenges of keeping the site up and running.

I know it’s been a labor of love for the administrators from the very beginning. For writers like me, it has been a welcome and fruitful one.

Profile photo of Jim Willis Jim Willis
I am a writer, college professor, and author of several nonfiction books, including three on the decade of the 1960s. Several wonderful essays of gifted Retrospect authors appear in my book, "Daily Life in the 1960s."

Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written


  1. Thank you Jim for your Retro stories over the years, always written with your professional hand, and for your comments on my stories and those of our fellow Retro writers.

    And thanx for your tribute to this wonderful storytelling website, you speak for us all when you say how Retro has drawn our your own life stories, and how you’ve formed connections with folks across the country you’ve never met. .I I can say unabashedly I’ve come to know and love so many of you’

    Best of luck Jim on The Year of Pivoting, keep us posted with publication news!

    Happy, healthy 2023!

    Bless our admins and bless you all!

  2. I have, regrettably, bad news to inform you about: If one googles, one finds a guy who has the same name as you, who has published a whole bunch of books, mostly on spirituality and religion. I say bad news, because people looking for your work will probably get sidetracked if doing an Internet search, and end up on his page.
    Just kidding! I don’t know that I managed to catch the submissions you’ve made in the two to three years that I’ve been on the site. But I plan to look further into those books you’ve written. Knowing you’ve been a Retro writer makes me all the more interested. Maybe even that volume in which you incorporated the narratives of other Retro sisters and brothers.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Jim, your stories have been a wonderful compliment to all the others on this site. Suzy was so excited when you came back to us. You have such a unique voice and each story gives an interesting perspective on your own journey. Thank you for sharing that rich history with us. We’ve so enjoyed it! Good luck with all future endeavors. Hope we continue to cross paths.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    Please let us know when your memoir is published. I would love to read it and thank you for your contributions to this community.

  5. Suzy says:

    Jim, thanks so much for this story of how Retrospect looks from your perspective. I’m delighted that we were the ones who showed you that it was okay, and even gratifying, to write about yourself. And you have so many good stories, some of which you have already shared with us, and many more that we can look forward to reading about in your book.

    I treasure my copy of “The 1960s Counterculture,” and not just because it has five of my stories in it (although only four are listed in the index). Glad you found our site in the early days, and also that you came back in the past year. We’ll see what the next chapter looks like.

    • Jim Willis says:

      Thank you, Suzy, for your comments and for all your hard work in administering Retrospect. I’m sure everyone who has contributed to this site has found it a meaningful experience. I’m so pleased you agreed to contribute to my book, and your stories added so much to the entire project! (Didn’t know we missed referencing one in the index! Sorry about that.)

  6. Dave Ventre says:

    I second the opinion that you have brought a unique voice and style to this community.

    As for Dale’s news, I once shared my name on-line with both a male fashion model and some guy in Ohio who seems obsessed with annoying everyone at town meetings.

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    Your writing has been a wonderful contribution to the Retrospect site–always thoughtful and, as one might expect, well-written. So glad you found this place where you had the opportunity to break the rules and write about yourself; it is interesting to read, but it also gives contributors license to do some reflection and make sense of our own histories. So glad you have shared so generously.

  8. John Shutkin says:

    Let me add my thanks for your terrific stories over the years. And I was delighted to learn that your “Daily Life in the 1960’s” has, in fact, been published. I’ve already placed my order for it , but, in the meantime, I read online your lovely acknowledgement in it to Retro and some of us Retro writers and, most especially (and deservedly) to John Z and Patti for “birthing” Retro.

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