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 | 3 Comments

2016 Gift Suggestion List

Just in time for your last-minute shopping plans, Languishing returns triumphantly with things you only WISH you’d thought of. I’m sure you’ve already got piles of delights under your tree, but in case you’re not quite done, read on.

Everyone’s got that difficult friend who buys herself everything she wants well into December: how on earth can you get her something special? One way is to buy her something she didn’t know she needed: a new waffle iron, perhaps. Or a cake pop maker. Another is to donate to a charity in her name. The World Wildlife Federation has some cool adoption options that come with photos and even plush toys. May I recommend the three-toed sloth?  Hurry, though. You have to order by the 15th for Christmas delivery. (If you’re shopping for me, I’m quite fond of narwhals).

Did you know you can give memberships to other people? Costco memberships, gym memberships (how rude!)…and in our current political quagmire, the ACLU. The American Civil Liberties Union is an organization worth supporting at any time, but we are going to need it so terribly much in the upcoming months and years. This is a marvelous gift for someone who shares your political views, and a hilarious one for someone who doesn’t. Memberships start at just $35.

Perhaps you’d like a more traditional gift. A book, perhaps? We, along with much of America, are big fans of the musical Hamilton these days. Now, we will not likely see a live version of the show before V gets herself a job and starts earning her keep, so we bought this lovely text at Costco (where it was $26.99, I believe). It means we can follow along with the soundtrack more easily, and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s notes are fascinating and often hilarious.

Another book I recommend is by a woman I met in grad school in the mid-90s. Liz Kisacky Severn has written a lovely novel full of the kind of details that will make you feel like you’re standing alongside her characters. I really liked this book, and I think you would, too. Plus it takes place in Minnesota, on our very own Highway 10.

Are the above gifts just too mainstream for you? I know, I know. How about an accordion? I loved the accordion even before I knew about Weird Al Yankovic. If you are an aunt or uncle, consider this toy version for your niece or nephew:  their parents may hate you, but if the kid gets really good, think of all the credit you’ll get! (again, if shopping for me, I’ve not had a chance to explore my accordion fascination. Yet).

Since we’re talking about musical instruments, what child wouldn’t love her own Glockenspiel? I mean, seriously. It even has a carrying case. Look how happy the children are in the photos! Isn’t it time America had more gifted Glockenspiel players?

After all that music-making, perhaps you’d like to relax with a card game. V got Sushi Go while out shopping with her dad on Free Comic Book Day, and it’s a dang fun game, we’ve discovered. It’s cute and easy to play, but there are cool strategic elements too that make it just compelling enough to keep everyone interested, at least through a few hands.

Meine Liebchens, that’s all I have for this round of gift ideas. My grades are due in a week, so it may well come to pass that I have many more compelling recommendations for you in the days to come. What’s the best Christmas gift you ever got, gentle readers? What’re you most hoping for this year? Do tell.



Posted in Books, Music, Play, Read, Toys | Leave a comment

Master Homemaker

Ah, moving. It’s a little astounding to me, this practice of just up and moving to a different house. It didn’t take long at all for this to be our place. We did, though, have lots of marvelous help. Photographic proof, you say?

All right.

First, a couple of befores:

living room before

The living room carpet, above, which has held up pretty good for the last 50 years. It’s what we tore out that led to the floor pictured in the last post.

into kitchen before

And the kitchen before, above. Look at all those cupboards! And the windows!

house clutter

And the kitchen/hall today: you’d think with all those cupboards, I’d have plenty of room for everything. And I do, but I have a bit more everything than I need. (I’m working on it. Thanks for your concern). Special thanks above go out to Ms. O’Brien, who helped me hang dozens of shelves and pictures, and to Colleen and Jon, who gave me the picture above the trash can. And apologies to Jen Patrick, who, when she left, had helped me clear all the kitchen counters completely. And very special thanks to Steve and Kathy, without whom my beautiful floors would still not be installed.


This picture is supposed to show the entire hallway, but instead just shows the floor. The bathroom is the first door on the left; V’s room is just past it, and my room is the far one on the right. I’m so glad you’ll all know your way around now, when you come to visit.

family feud corner

Finally, a rarely photographed corner of the living room, because there are no sofas or chairs to hold the people I love. Credits here are numerous: to Meagan, who helped move that shelf (twice); to Shannon, from whom I bought that lovely shelf; to KC and Crystal, who helped move that shelf originally; to my Grandpa Art, who made the elephant; to Tami, for the ceramic panda bear; to Crystal, for the Jen Sock Monkey; to Jess and Brad, for my niece and nephew; to Beth, for my other nephew; to Auntie Bev for the Dala horse; to Mildred K for the best. lamp. ever; to Myra and Dewey for the small but mighty record collection. And to the inventor of air conditioning, because summertime.

We’re still working out the kinks, here and there: I just found my alarm clock today (whoo!) and those neat but persistent piles in the kitchen will be moving on shortly. Plus, V starts 5th grade on Tuesday (go Panthers!) and I’ve already served 2 weeks of my 17 week sentence…er, semester. Plus, I have to invent a new system for recycling, because no one will come pick it up for me. I have to drive it to the dumpster myself.

And there’s a whole basement, none of which is prepared for photographing, really, but which V and I are looking forward to setting up to our liking as autumn begins. Please come and visit us! We have a guest bed, plus two comfy couches, plus two dogs who need extra petting. Think of the fun we’ll have!

I’m not an expert homemaker, but it’s fun to pretend.

Posted in Hendrum, Love, V (potato) | Leave a comment


Mercy, moving is terribly hard work. I know that this will pass, and eventually I’ll figure out where my salt and pepper shakers went, and the three dozen bruises on my arms and hips will heal. I hope V will love her new school, and make some lifelong friends. And I hope my dogs stop barking maniacally at the bulldog next door.

We’re here! To get here, though, we bought a house, and then we tore up some fifty year old carpet (which, to be fair, didn’t look a day over 35). That brought us to this stage.

floor 1

This stage was the ickiest. But Jess and Brad came and helped and we got up all the staples and carpet strips and most of the gunk.

Then, the man I hired to lay laminate during the first week in August came to measure the room and get things squared away. He said I needed 650 square feet of flooring (my measurements were just under 550, but I’ve never laid laminate before), and he’d be ready to start on August 19th. I pointed out that August 19th was not the first week in August, and he shrugged and said “It’s as close as I’ve got.” So I gently asked/begged my dear friend Steven if he could help, and though he’d never laid laminate before, he said “Sure!”

Steve and his wife Kathy (who became my mother’s dearest friend in 1961, when they were both freshmen at Moorhead State, living in Dahl Hall) came up last week, the day after I closed on the house, and got to work.

Kathy washed all the interior windows, then painted V’s bedroom (three different colors!) and the bathroom vanity. In the meantime, Steven laid a new subfloor, to bring the living room and hallway up to the same level of the dining room, kitchen, bedrooms, and bathrooms.

floor 1 point five

It was a huge job, and wasn’t even the main event. 10 sheets of plywood (delivered with the kind and generous help of Crystal and Todd, one of the dear friends with a pick up truck I mentioned here). I’m not making Steve stand in a corner here, for the record. He’s starting the first row of laminate over there.

Anyway, after many days of hard work, with a trip back to their home in Minneapolis over the weekend, Steven finished the floor (including mop boards, quarter round, and threshold transitions) yesterday. He used 550 square feet of flooring. And it’s so marvelous.

floor 2

See? Even Seven can’t take his eyes off it.

I will post better photos, I promise, when more things and totes and bags have been tucked away into their new homes. And you really have to see V’s room! Now I’m mostly just looking at my new floors, and my dear family in this new house. Move 1

And also looking for my salt and pepper shakers.


Posted in Excellence, Family, Hendrum, Seven, V (potato) | 1 Comment

Golly, I miss her.

We’ve always marked anniversaries in our family, happy or sad. My mother’s father died on November 19, 1979, and though we never had cake or anything, I remember November 19, 1991, my first year away at college, I thought of how across the Midwest I had aunts, uncles, and cousins who were likely cognizant of the importance of this day, in our family history. It brought me great comfort.

As death moves closer in, though, I find the anniversaries less comforting, overall. Or maybe two years is just not far enough away. I think about how two years ago today, I was teaching summer classes. I called my mom from my office phone, and when she didn’t answer I assumed she was uptown having coffee with her friends. I think about how Shaun and I were in marriage therapy that afternoon, and my sister called my cell phone so many times I finally turned it off, because the vibrating was getting annoying, and I thought to myself, “How rude! Nothing is so important you have to call me over and over again like that.” How naive I was. How stupid. (I’m sorry I didn’t answer, Sissy, though I know it wouldn’t’ve changed the outcome, for either our mother or my marriage).

I recall how in the lobby after therapy, I checked my messages to find one from Bev K., in her kind voice, telling me to call Jess at either my Mom’s or Jess’s cell phone. Right then, I knew something wasn’t right, because why wouldn’t Jess have left the message? I love Beverly like an aunt, but she never had reason to call me. I said to Shaun: “I think something’s wrong.”

And just like that the whole world fell away, and V started screaming because I was crying, and Jess said “Just come.” So, as Shaun took V home, I drove from West Fargo to Hendrum, alternating between screaming in grief or staring at the highway through tears. I desperately wanted to wake up in my bed. Somehow this couldn’t be true.

I parked outside my mom’s apartment building and Mike, Hendrum’s police officer, was there with several`other, younger officers. He did not smile when I arrived. “She’s still upstairs?” I asked, and he nodded. “I’m so sorry,” he said. If Mike says it’s true, it must be true. The other officers, so awkwardly, muttered “Yeah, sorry,” as I took a deep breath and walked past them.

And so it came to pass that I became a grown up, sort of, and these are the things I think about today: the raw shock of losing my mama when we did not expect it; the visceral, furious, heart-split-open grief response. Bits of songs and movie dialogue played over and over in my head for weeks, trying to help me understand.

I don’t have anything new to say, today, really. My grief is still suffocating at times, and I still feel the sting of loss every day. The platitudes do help, some, sometimes, a little. When I was 16, my mother’s mother died, and I remember telling Myra after the funeral, “But, Mom, at least Grandma Beulah’s at peace now. And she will never have any pain again.” Myra sighed, deeply, and said, “I know, Jenny, I do. But golly, I miss her.”

I know, now, exactly how she felt.


Posted in Grief, Mama | 4 Comments