“You are my sun, my moon, and all of my stars.” –EECummings

Yeah, last time I wrote, I know I said I didn’t know about happily ever after. But to be honest, I knew even then, after ten weeks. I knew after two, really. Not that I have those pesky, youthful illusions of a Disney-style ending, mind you. But love? Life-changing, bone-melting, holy-shit-this-is-fun love? We’re full on in it, ladies and gentlemen.


Oh, it’s complicated. We both have, like, separate, complete lives that somehow are going to be stitched together. Somehow we have to figure out how to share space with both lots of comic books and lots of fabric and doll heads. We’re keeping V in the forefront, because she’s important to both of us, and we want especially to do this right, for her as well as for us. Plus, she’s twelve. She didn’t ask for this excitement, but she’s along for the ride just the same.

I have been hesitant to write about it, actually. Not because I don’t think it’s real (because sweet holy moses it’s real). And not because I’m superstitious I might somehow jinx things (we’re way past jinxing, y’all). But I fancy myself a bit of a cynic. Or at least a supporter of cynics. Frankly, I expected to just get more crotchety in time: I didn’t think I’d be all giggling, hand-holding, adorably in love in my mid 40s. But here we are.


He threw me a surprise party for my birthday. He introduced me to his friends and acquaintances, and I swear he knows 90% of Fargo. He makes me eggs & tells me terrible puns & walks my dogs & holds me when I cry sometimes because that still happens, even in the midst of all this love.


He likes how I sing, and didn’t flinch much at all when I played “The Edmund Fitzgerald” three times on our summer trip to Duluth. He loves my daughter, and she thinks he’s funny and nice and weird, which, in our family, is a ringing endorsement. He and I don’t agree on politics, in many ways, but we’ve found enough common ground that we both feel comfortable in those disagreements, and he listens and respects my perspective. He thinks I’m smart and beautiful. I think he is too.


I know dating is scary as hell, and I really believe that we can have lovely, happy lives without romantic love. But damn, I am having so very much fun.


I’ll probably blog about us more, you know. I’ll try real hard to not turn this into the Jen and Richard Love Blog, but I’m not making any promises. Besides, we are freaking adorable.

Posted in Love, Photography, Richard, Universe, V (potato) | 1 Comment

Ten weeks and two days

Mercy, dear readers. Dating is labor-intensive! So is parenting. And work. And home keeping. And blogging. And, well, you get the idea.

When we last discussed my love life, I was again single after a brief but lovely foray into the dating world. It was exciting and fun until it was painful and awful, and I spent several days trying to decide whether it was worth the potential cost: my life is full and beautiful already, as a single woman: I have a daughter, delightful friends and family, a job I usually love….in short, a good life. Why risk mucking it up again, risk having my heart broken, when I already had so much to enjoy?

To answer that, I have to tell you more of the story. I recounted my most memorable OKCupid encounters in my story about Dan, but I left out an important one. The only other fella who appeared to have read my actual profile first wrote to me a few days after Dan did: he was funny, and kind, and we exchanged a couple of messages before Dan and I decided to date exclusively. I logged in to OKCupid to deactivate my profile, actually, to find another message from this fella (his name is Richard, so I don’t have to keep saying “this fella”). I hadn’t responded to his earlier message, and he was afraid he’d offended me or misstepped in some way. I assured him that was not that case, and wrote “I think you’re charming and funny, but I’m not looking to date anyone right now. Best of luck.” Richard graciously responded, saying “Best of luck to you, too. I find that the universe brings us what we need when we need it.”

I smiled at the sentiment, clicked “deactivate,” and went on to have a four week whirlwind of romance and heartbreak. Y’all remember that part, I hope.

Anyway, after the (considerable) sting of heartbreak wore off, I had to contemplate a lot of things. Dating had been fun, but disruptive. And the cost was very dear. Maybe a quiet, single life raising V and growing peonies was a better fit for me, after all.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about Richard. “The universe brings us what we need when we need it.” Maybe, I thought, I should try again. Just one more time. So on 10 March, I reactivated OKCupid, and wrote to Richard, saying “The universe has brought me back here. How’re you?”

We wrote and then texted each other pretty much nonstop for three days. On Tuesday, 14 March, we had our first date. He is funny, kind, and smart. He owns his own business. He met V on 10 April, and the three of us have gone to the movies, played several different games, and even traveled to Sioux Falls for a weekend.

To be honest, we’re pretty adorable. And though I still don’t know about “happily ever after,” I definitely know that the universe has brought me exactly who I needed.


Posted in Family, Love, Richard, Universe | Leave a comment

Podcast Bandwagon

I know most of you are already familiar with the wonderful world of podcasts.  Serial, Mark Maron, Welcome to Nightvale…And if you don’t know them personally, you’ve heard talk of such things. I’ve been listening to a variety of them since my divorce, and have been meaning to write a post about them for awhile now. If you DON’T know what they are, or don’t think you can find a way to listen to them, you’re wrong, and should go here. For the rest of you, let’s get up on this bandwagon, shall we?

I was going to organize this list in the order I encountered each podcast, but I found this new one that I think each and every reader of Languishing  needs to listen to. It’s Nora McInerny’s new podcast, Terrible, Thanks for Asking. If I were to be reincarnated as a podcast, this would be it: McInerney and her guests tell the very worst stories of our everyday lives: miscarriage, suicide, cancer, death of a spouse. She pulls it all together with such grace and humor, though, that it’s not nearly as awful as it sounds. I’ve listened to nine episodes so far, and cried at seven of them. I’ve also laughed at all of them. These are the stories, the small comforts, we have to talk about just to make it through this world together. We are not alone in our suffering, and we can endure much more than we think we can. If you only have time in your life for one episode, I suggest you start with number eight, unless you are an unwavering atheist, in which case start with number one. She’s based in Minneapolis, and she is my people. Maybe she’s yours too.

Stuff You Missed in History Class was, I think, the first podcast I ever stumbled upon. This is a calm, largely family-friendly podcast about all kinds of lesser known stories from history. This series goes back several years, with several hosts, but some of my favorite episodes include the Princess who Swallowed a Glass Piano and the recent two part episode on the Japanese Interment Camps of WWII.

In Sawbones, a goofy couple presents information on medical history. She’s a doctor, he’s a doctor’s husband, and they talk about fascinating things like trepanation, bloodletting, and hiccups. They are both smart and funny, and who doesn’t want to know more about trepanation??

My Favorite Murder is a podcast I’ve been following since about episode 7: it’s been fun to watch it grow in popularity. Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark will make you feel like you’re just hanging out on a couch, chatting with friends. Yes, the topic is dark, but they handle the darkness with grace and hilarity.

Do you have favorites yourselves, loves? Leave comments, if’n you like.

Posted in Blogland, Grow, Listen | Leave a comment



On my way to pick V up from her weekend with her father, I pulled over to take some pictures of the sunset. Every time I see an especially lovely sunset, I think of this book, Never Miss a Sunset, which Myra owned throughout my childhood, and which she and Dewey may have actually read to us: I can’t quite remember. I do recall that the book was about a pioneer family, the patriarch of which insisted that, no matter how busy they were, they should always appreciate the beauty of a sunset, preferably together.  (I may have figured all of that out from the cover, though, to be honest). 030

When V got in the car, I told her that I had almost fixed the shower (which was broken when she left on Friday), but in doing so had discovered our hot water heater was kaput. Her response?

“Everything’s breaking! Including your heart.”

Someone should really start writing down the things this girl says.

Posted in Daughter, Grief, Love, Photography, Read, V (potato) | Leave a comment

This old world must still be spinnin’ round


I try to take a picture most mornings during my commute. I usually post it to Facebook. Early on, someone mentioned I’d have a hard time keeping it up, because the drive is flat and fairly dull. But I find it’s been a rather lovely, meditative challenge, to come up with new ways to look at the same space. I’m enjoying it.

What I’m not enjoying, right now, though, is the sting of heart break. Dating after divorce is complicated indeed, and breaking up, it turns out, still hurts. We only dated for four weeks, and there were certainly some clear markers that we were not for each other, but I was still surprised by the suddenness of it.  They were four good, love-filled weeks, though, and I hope before too long they will be fond memories, and not the fresh wound they are right now.

I mostly wanted to post because it felt disingenuous to leave the last post on top, when things have shifted significantly. I’ll be okay, gentle readers. I have a wide net of incredibly loving friends and have had several offers from people willing to buy me drinks (which I will accept in moderation, I promise). My heart hurts, but it’s a great big, super strong heart. It will get better.

And so the world keeps spinning; I get new sunrises to share with you. Thanks for reading, loves. It’s good to have you along for this ride.



Posted in Grow, Love, Universe | 3 Comments

Love changes everything

Hi, everyone. How’s 2017 treatin’ you? Yeah, I know. A lot of it is too much to bear. I find myself oscillating between outrage and despondency, lately, with an undercurrent of terror throughout.  I’m working on being as kind as I can to everyone I meet, and being as active as I can in letting our politicians know how much we’re depending on them to not drive this ship any deeper onto the iceberg. I’ll admit that my timing of what I’m about to tell you is a bit odd, given the state of our Union right now. But what is Languishing if not odd? It’s a long story, and I totally understand if you’re too distraught to read. But there’s a cute photo at the end.

The day before the inauguration, I was out with my friends, Sara and Diana, and decided the time had come to finally put my okCupid profile online. I’d been working on it in the months before, but was pretty frightened to go live with it: as you know, Languishing’s life is full of teaching and parenting and dogs and root beer floats. Who has time for more than that? But I remember my friend Tyler saying years ago, at Chad and Rachel’s wedding, that online dating was really pretty great, and he thought everyone should try it. Plus, I was feeling a little, well, lonesome on my weekends without V. Finding myself a gentleman caller with whom to attend movies or have an occasional dinner seemed like an okay idea.

So on January 19, okCupid lit up with my adorable photos and a carefully worded introduction. They have a feature sort of like Tinder (the swipe left/right thing), so once it was live, we could look at the matches the site suggested for me.

My third match was the ex-Mr. Languishing.

How awkward, right? Plus I was having serious doubts about whatever algorithm was being used, since he and I clearly were not 81% compatible, or we wouldn’t’ve divorced each other. But we pressed on, read a few profiles, gasped at a few terrible photos, and enjoyed the rest of our evening.

That night I found I had about fifteen messages from interested fellas. Most of them said things like “Hi” or “Hello.” A few went further, with “Your pretty” or “Nice picture.”  If I had hoped to attract poets, I clearly was failing. Several others got right to the point, including the charming “Hook up?” I looked through their profiles, responded to any that looked remotely interesting, and wondered what on earth I’d gotten myself into.

The next morning I had seven more messages. They included similar themes from the love letters the night before, but also included a couple guys who are in open marriages, and one 20 year old who looks young enough to be my son. One guy from the night before had written back to me. He listed “music” as all six of the things he couldn’t live without, so I asked him what he loved most right now. He said “I can’t answer that. But ask me what I hate, then we’ve got a discussion.” I was game, since he had written two complete sentences. So I said “Okay. What do you hate?” He wrote back “GnR. God, I hate them.” Okay. Way to open up the floodgates of communication, fella.

Now I know not everyone is a communication or writing instructor, but these guys were making it really, really difficult. One guy, who had answered 1200 of the questions (you don’t have to answer them all. In fact, I think the minimum is something like 20). He looked promising, with a big beard (Shut up. I have a type) and a wide smile. I wrote him a thoughtful, funny message, and he said “Wanna come over and fool around?” Um, no.

After the first two days it started to feel like I was volunteering for catcalling. A lot of the men on okCupid seemed to like my boobs, which, while flattering, wasn’t enough to get me companionship to the movies.

On the 21st, I got a brief, sweet message from someone who had clearly read my profile. He even quoted me back to myself, and his punctuation was perfect. His name was Dan. I looked at his profile photo, and thought he was kinda cute, for a non-bearded, not-my-type, kinda-looks-like-a-jock sort. He hadn’t answered many questions, though, and mentioned, among other things, that he enjoyed sex in his profile. While I appreciated his honesty, and actually enjoy sex myself, as far as I can remember, I was beginning to suspect sex was already foremost in the mind of every other guy who had written to me: I didn’t need someone who came right out and said it in his profile, for crying out loud. Why does no one say “I wanna take you to dinner and a movie”?

One guy played a long game and sent me a message four mornings in a row that said “Hi.” Then, despite me not having answered him at all, he mixed it up on the fifth morning and said “Sex.”

By this time, I was getting a little weary. If I tried to engage men in conversation, most of them just wrote like 14 year old boys. One guy sent me three different phone numbers where I could reach him, but two of them weren’t actually phone numbers: 45-87623987,  for example. A man from Egypt told me he thought I was his soul mate. A guy in New Zealand called me a beautiful goddess. And a man in Italy asked if I liked to travel. Which is all very sweet, but none of this is getting me a date to the movies!

I reconvened with Sara. She said I was being too picky, and should write to the fellow from the 21st who had mentioned sex in his profile. “At least you know he can write a few sentences,” she pointed out. So on January 25, I wrote a short response. I said “Thanks for your thoughtful message. and for reading my profile. I read yours, too… Are you just here for sex?” He wrote back several hours later, with “In large part, yes. Does that interest you?” So I said “Not really. But best of luck to you!” And thought that was that. I was on my way to tell Sara she’d been wrong, when I got another message from Dan.”Thank you. I’d like to get to know you a little, anyway. I’m also just looking to meet interesting women.” Sara pointed out that while he had said “sex” in his profile, he’d also said “conversation.” The other 60 or so men who’d written to me had all had typical profiles (85% listed “cuddling” as a favorite activity), but could only message about sex. This guy had an unusually straightforward profile, but seemed to be coherent enough to at least hold a conversation. Still, I was feeling a bit superior, what with my not-only-looking-for-sex moral high ground. So I wrote back what I was certain would be our last message. I said “Sure. I’ve been divorced for two years, and I have a collection of various doll heads from which I occasionally make sculptures.”

You know, gentle readers, that both those things are true.

To my astonishment, he didn’t appear to blink an eye, and wrote to tell me that he’s written two novels and some poems….and I told him I have an MFA….and we talked about movies and gender studies. We didn’t talk about sex, but instead about all sorts of other things, albeit in a flirty manner;  before I knew it, we’d scheduled to meet at a coffee shop in Moorhead. Monday the 30th, just five days after I first wrote to him, I waited nervously in Starbucks.

Those of you who’ve never done online dating, this is how it goes, people. I mean, you can keep writing to people online indefinitely, but the best use of online dating sites is to get out into the world, meet people face to face, and see if there’s a connection there. You can get some sense of a person through online chatting or talking on the phone, but it’s just best to meet. If there’s no chemistry, you haven’t wasted weeks or months building a dream date that doesn’t exist.

Lucky for me, he was right on time, he smelled really good, and I liked him instantly. I brought him a copy of As I Lay Dying, my favorite Faulkner novel. He brought me a copy of his first book. We were both shy and awkward, clearly a first date in a coffee shop full of college-aged people.

But we definitely clicked. Later, we exchanged a few kisses in my car, and planned to have a second date the following week. That date, too, was fun, and tender, and very good. I called my sister to tell her I’d met someone who thinks I’m beautiful and brilliant. “He obviously has mental health issues,” she said. Because she is my sister and she is mean, and thinks anyone who thinks I’m awesome must be a little crazy. He has two kids, younger than V, who stay with him every other weekend. He likes dogs.

Most evenings in between dates we chat online for at least an hour or two. Sometimes more. V knows I’m seeing a guy named Dan, but we are still months away from a “meet the kids” sort of date. Dating with kids is complicated, y’all. We are taking it slow, enjoying lovely moments together, getting to know each other.

I have no illusion of happily ever afters outside of Disney movies, nor do I pretend to know the future. But I am having so much fun getting to know this smart, funny, kind man. He makes me want to read poetry again, and listen to music I forgot I loved. We haven’t even been to the movies together yet, but I can hardly wait.


Posted in Love | 5 Comments

Stories I tell my students: Is that a tattoo on your forearm or are you just happy to see me?

In December of 2014, Jess and I were grieving so hard we could barely breathe, so we decided we needed new tattoos. We made a shared Pinterest board to share ideas; she already has a butterfly on her back for Dad, so chose hummingbirds for Mom. I decided to do a monarch, for both Myra and Dewey. I chose a photo I had taken a few years earlier of V holding a monarch we’d watch transform in our little bug cage. Myra had it blown up to an 8×10 and it was hanging in her apartment when she died.

Here’s mine, 14 months after initial ink:


We went to Libby at 46 and Tattoo, and were both pleased with our results (sorry I don’t have a photo of Jess handy. Take her out to lunch and maybe she’ll show you).

I have tenure in my Instructor position, so I wasn’t worried about causing too much kerfuffle at work; I did not anticipate, though, how much student interest there would be. Most of the time, on day one, someone in each class asks about my tattoo and what it means.

Now I’m no tattoo purist: I think you should ink your body if you feel like it (so long as it’s not hateful), and not everything has to be a metaphor. But this one does have significance for me. So I tell them this story.

When I was a little girl, my dad built big wire mesh cages for my mom to take monarch caterpillars to school, so her kindergartners could watch the transformation from caterpillar to chrysalis to monarch. All summer long, he’d bring back caterpillars he’d found out in the field and Jess and I were charged with replacing the milkweed every day until they hung from the top of the cage. It was always magical, even after watching hundreds of butterflies emerge, to get to witness this metamorphosis up close.

When my dad died in July of 2002, my mom, sister, and I were on our way to the funeral home in Ada and pulled off onto a dirt road near a particularly promising looking clump of milkweed. In the late 70s and early 80s, we just had to look and caterpillars would practically fall into our laps, but on this day in late July, we found none. Literally none. We stopped 3 times, and each time turned over leaf after leaf. It added to our heartbreak and felt natural at the same time: of course there are no more caterpillars, with Dad gone.

A few days later, at the graveside service after his funeral, Mom and I and Jess stood nearest the grave while the rest of our friends and family stood a little way behind us. Our cemetery is out in the country, and the day was bright and lovely. Pastor Tim said soothing things and as he spoke, a monarch butterfly flew over to my mom and swirled around all of us, flying in lazy loops, then flying away.

You think I’m making that up, but it really happened.

I don’t know that I believe in an afterlife at all, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t sure Dewey Johnson was in that butterfly that day.

(at this point in the story, students tend to shift, and smile gently, and sigh, because it’s sad and lovely. But it’s not over, gentle readers).

For years when we saw a monarch, we would all say “Hi Dad,” or “Hello, Dewey.” It was our good luck charm, one thin thread that kept us from despair.

When our mother died unexpectedly in July of 2014, Jess and I were awash in grief again. With no grown-up to guide us through this, we spent the days before the funeral weeping, and raging, and sorting Myra’s things. The day after she died, Jess had gone to Halstad and texted me on her way home.

“You won’t believe what I just saw,” she said, laughing. “Two monarchs, flying and mating, right along the highway.”

That’s right. My parents couldn’t even wait until Myra was in her grave to get it on again.

So, dear students: My tattoo is about a love so big that death couldn’t stop it. It’s about ghostly reincarnation sex. Aren’t you glad you asked?

Posted in Dad, Grief, Mama, Teach, Universe | 2 Comments