Professor J's Place

24 December, 2009

Merry Christmas from the Jensen Household!

I wish big love for all of my dear friends.

28 November, 2009

If you have twenty minutes, watch this man

22 October, 2009

The Wonder of It All

When I was returning to school, I took a Biology course just to get my science requirement out of the way. Little did I know that I would fall in love with life itself. Understanding the process of photosynthesis was like decoding a high modernist poem. It was complex and simple and glorious.

And then I took Geology. It wasn't just the nature of breathing things that was amazing--it was the rocks themselves. It was life itself.

"We are all connected," says Neil deGrasse Tyson, "To each other, biologically; to the earth, chemically; to the rest of the universe, atomically."

Yesterday, a friend of mine found out that her brother had died.

I do not know about god or the afterlife or anything of the sort. But I know that life is a miracle. I know that energy does not end. I know that we "are the stuff of stars."

And I thank these good men for reminding me.

25 September, 2009

Why Everything Sucks

14 September, 2009

Actual Student Sentence

Most of the time the female is insecure about herself and thinks having sex with the most popular guy in school will make her feel better about herself and will not make her feel like a social leopard.

--I cannot make this stuff up.

Actual Student Email

hey prof j here my essay

15 August, 2009

Happy Birthday to Bess!

Today is the day we celebrate Bess the wonder dog's first birthday. Here she is with her penguin.

Tonight we will watch The First Wives Club and eat brownies with cream cheese. Well, Bess, Dinah, and Alice will have Beggin' Strips; Wren and I will have brownies.


05 August, 2009

Fall Semester

I love the beginning of the Fall semester! This time of year has always felt like the New Year to me. This is the time of new beginnings, of clean slates, of promises and resolutions.

As I was looking for some ideas for new ways of approaching comp I, I ran across this video I've seen before. It is, of course, outdated already, but it is good for an idea or two.

I am up for any ideas about how to make Composition I relevant in my student's lives. Suggestions?


03 August, 2009

A Contest of Sorts

Well, while I was playing with my music tonight while saying goodbye to hopes for a friendship with someone I care about, and I came across three versions that I love of a song that I love. So I was thinking. . . what is your favorite version? Here we have Boots of Spanish Leather sung by Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Nanci Griffith.

It is hard not to love the original. Dylan's voice is so evocative.

Joan Baez did this song on a wonderful album of Dylan covers. I adore Baez, and while her voice is so much more refined than Dylan's, I think she understands him.

Finally, there is my lovely Nanci Griffith. What can I say about Nanci?

Vote early and vote often! I'd love to hear what you think.

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13 July, 2009

Why I love poetry

This week over on my facebook page, I've decided to post a new poem every day.

When I teach poetry, I always talk about how much we love rhythm and meter when we are children. How poems and songs shape our lives. And about how the way we teach poetry can kill that love.

As much as I believe that riff--as much as I know how my childish, nay child-like heart responds to doggerel, I know that my love of poetry goes deeper than that.

Poetry is the art of surprise. Like the cactus flower that seems to grow out of the pure rock in the photo above, a poem can offer a surprising flash of life, of beauty, of truth, in just a simple collection of precise words.

Today's poem, Reckless, by Mary Oliver, is a great example of what I mean. I am not going to repost the entire poem here, but allow me to share a verse that set me on fire.

Just yesterday I watched an ant crossing a path, through the
tumbled pine needles she toiled.
And I thought: she will never live another life but this one.
And I thought: if she lives her life with all her strength
is she not wonderful and wise?
And I continued this up the miraculous pyramid of everything
until I came to myself.

My mother's life was hard. Her mother took arsenic when she was thirty-three (my mother was just sixteen) and died a slow and painful death. Of course, my mom was there to witness the entire three day ordeal. Mom went on to raise three girls all by herself (often working several jobs to make ends meet) and face her own ordeal of depression, alcoholism, and rage until much later in life when they finally found the right medicine for her. She had some fun along the way. I don't mean to say it was all horrible. And later in life--after the work was over and the meds were stable--she had quite a bit of fun, I think. She loved art and music and poetry. She was
generous and funny and sweet.

I had the typical questions a person faces when a loved one dies. What does it all mean? What did her life mean after all? Did the last few years make up for all that work? All that pain? "And I thought: if she lives life with all her strength/is she not wonderful and wise?"

Poetry offers a glimpse at truth--a glimmer of understanding. That's why I love poetry.


25 June, 2009

Rest in Peace Michael

I don't know why Michael's death moves me so. Perhaps because we are the same age. Perhaps because I grew up watching him grow up. Whatever. He was a brilliant and talented and somehow damaged man, and I am sorry that he is gone.

08 June, 2009

As You Like It --in the park

15 May, 2009

Friday Music with scene from Spellbound

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10 May, 2009

I love you Mom. Miss you.

09 May, 2009

Undercover Cat


06 May, 2009

Actual Student Sentence

Working in a soup kitchen, donating to the poor, or servicing our nation's armed forces are all examples of different ways to impact our nation.


04 May, 2009

Kuan Yin, Avalokiteshvara

My friend Toby just told me the name of the goddess in my header. So, of course, I went to read about her. She is Kuan Yin, Avalokiteshvara, the goddess of compassion and healing. I had taken the photograph because I thought she was beautiful and because she brought me a sense of comfort--as many beautiful images do--and now I find that she is a healer.

I will have much more to write about this at a later time, but I did want to share the story of this little god with you.

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27 April, 2009

More End of the Semester Fun

I was feeling blue after meeting with a student this morning. "Sally* dear, when there are no words in the essay written by you, it is called plagiarism."

But then this got sent around.

I want to take this class. I would especially enjoy week one, "Reading is Stoopid," because reading essays is stoopid.

But it beats digging ditches for a living (as my friend Pat likes to say).


24 April, 2009

It is the end of the semester

If you're expecting insightful posts, you're out of luck!


21 April, 2009

Walk in the Park

Tanith, Susan, and I went for a walk today. I took seventy-one pictures, but I'm only going to share a few--for now.

The smell of cedar was overpowering. Not only were there many cedar trees in the park, but the park workers were spreading fresh cedar mulch over all of the paths.

The moth on these flowers would not open her wings--no matter how much I begged.

More sweet little flowers.

And here's a little guy who is fertilizing all those sweet little flowers.

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19 April, 2009

my man, again


17 April, 2009

The Cutest Puppy in the World

Bess has been having the time of her life lately. Tanith and Wren have been visiting, and, while she loves them both, Tanith is Bess' BFF.

Indeed, I am going to have to double check to make sure Bess is in the yard when Tanith drives off for Big Bend and points beyond. I wouldn't put it past either one of them to pull a fast one on me.

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15 April, 2009

Easter flowers


10 April, 2009

I Hope


09 April, 2009

Talking to the Dead

My mother died in February of 2004. I got a full time job at my alma mater shortly after that, and I know how much she would have enjoyed being a part of that transition.

One day, I was walking on campus and I came across a beautiful sight at one of the streams. I thought, "Oh, Mom would love this. I have to come back with my camera and take a picture so she can see it."

I knew right away how crazy that sounded. Indeed, I refrained from going back with a camera (something I'll always regret). But that was the beginning of a thought pattern that has become familiar to me. And shortly after that, I began to take pictures for Mamma.

This is actually a picture I took for her while she was alive. She loved West Texas and Big Bend national park in particular, and I knew this scene would thrill her. I guess I've been doing this all of my life--taking pictures of things that make me think of her--documenting my journeys for her.

Mamma always wanted to travel in the Southwest--go to Arizona and New Mexico--see the places Georgia O'Keeffe painted. So I thought of her quite a bit when I was driving through New Mexico and Arizona a couple of Thanksgivings ago.

And recently, I was driving down Austin Highway in San Antonio, and I noticed that the McNay had a new statue on its grounds. Immediately I thought of how much Mamma would have loved that statue. It took me two weeks to get myself to the grounds to take the picture, but I'm sure she appreciates it.

I don't know why the magic of saving an image in pixels or on film--and now the magic of being able to manipulate that image on my computer--seems to me very like the magic of communicating with the dead. It is something about holding an image as it was in the past--about freezing time--that works for me. At any rate, I do still take pictures for Mamma. And I know that much of my desire to learn about photography is connected with her. Just keepin' in touch.

How do you talk to the dead?

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08 April, 2009

I was sleeping until you pointed that camera at me


07 April, 2009

This Just In Too

I heart Vermont. And this time it WASN'T "activist judges;" it was the legislature! Yea Vermont!


Sometimes a picture tells a thousand lies

Okay. I love the photo I have for my new header--it's a statue on the grounds of the McNay Art Institute. Unfortunately, it's a lie.

I am not feeling at all spiritual and centered these days.

Let's just think of it as a positive affirmation, shall we? I am calm. I am centered. I am in touch with my divine nature.

Please send chocolate.


05 April, 2009

Sunday is Artday

Today was Family Day at my favorite museum!

Believe me, there was a great deal of beautiful art. We didn't see it all, but we left with our minds and our hearts full. But I'm not going to post any art because. . .

In addition to the art, there was fun!

And there was the making of art!

And then, of course, there was the obligatory posing.

And then we were off to Susan's reception. But I'll have to post about that another time; it's late, and I have to be at work early. Night, night!

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04 April, 2009

simple saturday

I took this photo last Saturday at Enchanted Rock, but it fits my mood today.

This Christmas I bought a nice camera for myself--I decided I really wanted to explore the artistic side of my nature, and I thought a camera was a good place to start. I've really enjoyed playing with it.


03 April, 2009

This Just in

I heart Iowa.


02 April, 2009

In Dogs I Trust

Years ago, when I worked at a long term care facility for the mentally ill, I had a patient who had severe bipolar disorder. Lorraine was sometimes severely depressed--sitting in a dark room peeling the paint off the wall--sometimes violently paranoid--restrained in a chair or a bed with locked leather restraints--and sometimes thoroughly delightful. I loved Lorraine. There was a time in Lorraine's cycle when she was just entering mania, when she was funny and sweet and sharp. I would get off the elevator at 11pm, and Lorraine would be sitting in the nurses station with her nightgown hitched up like a short skirt, her long legs crossed at the knee, and a cigarette dangling from her fingers like a wild, liquored up Lauren Bacall. "There she is!" She'd shout, "My little girl! My little darling!" And then an aside in a lower voice, "She's queer for dogs, you know."

I am, you know.

I know it seems silly to non-dog lovers, but dogs fill a primal need in my life. They are unconditional acceptance, consistent love, instant forgiveness, constant companions, and a presence of pure joy. What is not to love?

I know I'm not alone in this. When I studied Proto Indo-European linguistics, we talked about how the earliest Indo-European graves contain dogs and people buried together--companions in the afterlife. The history of humanity is the history of the dog.

And when my story is told, it will be the story of many dogs. Right now my story is the story of three dogs.

Yesterday was Dinah the yellow dog's 11th birthday. Since the doggies function as the court jesters in Casa de Jensen, I celebrate April first as the Day of the Dogs.

Dinah 11

As you can see by the eyes, Dinah is a sweet, sweet girl. She was a goofy puppy for the first six years of her life-- a slightly better behaved Marly. Once, when I was ill and she was bored, she ate my juice glass. Yes. She. ate. glass. We took her to the vet to be observed, and she became a legend at the clinic. Now an older and wiser doggie, she is still playful but much calmer.

Alice 13(ish)

Alice is the bipolar pup. She is quiet and sweet and loving. As long as you're not a cat. She has an advanced hunting instinct, and a compulsive need to chase cats. She has caught a few and even killed one, so I try to keep kitties far away from her.

Bess 7 mo.

And Bessie is just pure joy. While her puppy exuberance is sometimes a bit destructive, It is like taking a shot of happiness to watch her play.


01 April, 2009


The topic for the month is growth. I think it's an appropriate one for me, so I think I'm going to try NaBloPoMo this month.

My friends Tanith and Wren are visiting. It has been lots of fun--we've been eating a great deal and doing all of the fun tourist activities. Our visit to the missions and the riverwalk are in the slide viewer on your left (should you want to see our lovely missions).

Sunday, Tanith and I went to Enchanted Rock state natural area.

If you enlarge this photo you will see some dots on the top of the rock. That's people.

Anyway, Sunday was absolutely gorgeous. Tanith went on ahead because my knees were sore and I didn't feel up to climbing the rock. So I stayed on the lower trails and took lots of photos. It was really good for me to be outside and in the fresh air. I am most whole when I am walking in the woods or by a river or on a big rock.

The only thing that would have made the day better is my binoculars. I find that the camera does not enlarge enough for satisfactory bird watching.

Nevertheless, Idid see some neat birds.

I got to see some other animals as well.

Tanith and I have scads of photos of this lovely deer who posed for ten minutes for us, moving her head ever so slightly every few moments so we could take another shot.

There was, of course some flora.

It is quite a spiritual experience for me to think of how these plants, even trees for goodness' sake, manage to thrive in such a terrain. There is very little soil in this area, and the creek that passes through is often dry. And you can just imagine how hot that rock gets in the summer. . .

Speaking of spiritual experiences--I had a neat one while I was walking along slowly looking for good shots. Years ago I did a vision quest where I learned that my spirit animal was a bear. It is interesting in that my nickname was once Bear, and I had a lovely black lab named Ursula. Bears are just part of my life, I guess. Anyway, I looked to my right and saw this rock hiding behind another.

Is that not amazing? I spent some time in that area taking pictures of the rock and what surrounded it. Mostly, I just wanted to be with the bear.

I started Saturday feeling bereft and alone. But it was being alone on that great rock that made me feel connected again.

Nice, no?

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28 March, 2009

Motherscribe Interview

Jennifer over at Motherscribe has been doing an interview series. Here's her interview of me. Thanks, Jennifer for asking such good questions. I've enjoyed reading all of the responses.

02 March, 2009

Actual Student Sentence (with apologies to the Matron)

The pursuit of losing weight to achieve the ideal body image can be detrimental to death.

14 February, 2009

Reach out and touch faith

I know this seems an odd video for Valentine's day, but hear me out.

I was driving along the other day and listening to this song on my ipod. And I was thinking about my friends--the women who are on the other side of a phone or an email--the women who make it possible for me to reach out and touch faith. I'm really lucky, I think, although most of my dearest friends live a long distance from me. And so, today, I am going to introduce my blog friends to my BFF's.

I think the BFF I've known the longest (and someone who is familiar to many of you) is

Michelle (aka Sojourner).
Michelle and I have known each other since 1982, I think. 1981? While she lives in frigid Omaha, and it's been more than ten years since I've seen her, she and I still talk and instant message fairly frequently. This friend has the distinct honor of being the only friend I have who is actually shorter than me.

The next BFF disappeared from my life for a couple of years, but she recently emailed me and we've reconnected. This is an old picture of my friend Tanith at Big Bend National Park. We took a vacation there one very cold December (well, it was cold at night). When we spoke last week, I said, "I thought I'd lost you." "You can never lose me," she replied. It's a good thing.

BFF #3 (this is chronological, by the way, not in any order of importance--how can you rank the people you love?) is Gini.(pictured here with my dog Alice).
Gini lives in Joliet IL now, and I am horrible about keeping in touch with her, but I do love this woman. She has been a great friend and saved my life and my sanity more than a few times when I was taking care of Mom.

Of course, most of you know BFF#4


As with all the women above, Heidi has loved me through the best and the worst that life can bring. I cannot imagine life without my many best friends. I simply don't know that I could survive the slings and arrows without them.

Speaking of arrows, I would be remiss if I did not mention the BFF who was brought to me with cupid's arrow.
Susan and I have been together now for three years (with time off for bad behavior). She has been generous and loving to me and has been a "forgiver," as the song says. Life with her is often richer than I could possibly imagine. And when it's not? It's still rich. And we're never bored!

I have been blessed with many friends who make my life sweet. Many of you are reading this post. But these five women. . . well, these five women are my valentines.

With all of my heart, dears.

04 February, 2009

Inside These Walls

Biggest Loser is one of my not so guilty pleasures. When it first came out, I couldn't imagine why fat people would allow themselves to be humiliated on television for a few measly bucks. And then I started watching. Seriously. It has nothing to do with the money. These people are transforming their lives! Indeed, as I was telling Susan last night, I wish I could watch this show every night because it inspires me so.

But that's not what I want to write about. The beautiful woman pictured above is named Joelle. She had a lot of trouble on the show. She wasn't always sure she wanted to be there. She didn't really connect with any of the other participants; she rarely--if ever--gave it her all. At first it was a little irritating. After all, she had a wonderful opportunity and she was blowing it!

But then I started to watch her face and her body as other people were chastising her. I saw her when her weight loss was low. I saw her when she swore she was pushing herself, even though it was clear she was not. And I realized that she was afraid. I realized that there was some kind of big fear behind that wall of hers, and she was not about to let it out. She was not about to become vulnerable with those people.

I realized that in many ways I am Joelle.

In an earlier post I wrote about making some changes and stopping self destructive behavior. I have stopped over medicating myself with alcohol, I have been seeing a therapist, I have been exercising more, I've been working on my diet.

And life is better. I am down a clothing size, my weight loss is starting to show, my stomach and colon are in much better condition, and I'm doing better at work and in my relationship.

So what do I do? I have had several days this week when I just couldn't stop eating. I caught myself planning to drink the other night. I found myself wanting to hide away--skip work and stay at home (with food and alcohol, perhaps?). I forgot an important appointment with Susan. I mixed up the days for my therapist and missed that appointment. I am, in short, sabotaging myself.

Why? Am I afraid to be successful? attractive? happy? Yes, I think I am. I am also afraid that I will try my hardest and fail anyway.

I'm going to medicate myself with some Joy Harjo:

I take myself back, fear.
You are not my shadow any longer.
I won't take you in my hands.
You can't live in my eye, my ears, my voice,
my belly, or in my heart my heart
my heart my heart
But come here, fear
I am alive and you are so afraid
of dying.

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a place holder

Soon I will be posting a thoughtful post about self sabotage. At least that's what I'm thinking about today. . .

But in the meantime, please enjoy this lovely video:

28 January, 2009

My Man (I love him so)

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21 January, 2009


Dinah and Bess playing dinosaur (a favorite game).


Catching up

Hello, my darlings! First, I want to thank all of you for your sweet messages of concern and interest in my absence.

It has been an eventful month!

As most (all?) of you know, I moved out of Susan's house at the beginning of November. When people would ask me why, I had several answers, but it took me awhile to know why, myself.

I think I needed to get away to realize that Susan was not my problem. My problem was me. Within a week of leaving I had stopped some of my most self destructive behavior and I started some big work on me.

In the mean time, Susan and I started talking. And talking. I realized that if I wanted to learn how to love someone, it might be a good idea to work with the person I already loved.

And, though I don't want to speak for her, I think Susan decided that life with me was better than life without me.

So, we are together again, and I'm very happy. We are still living in our separate houses, and that may be the way it works for us. It's working now, anyway.

Heidi did come for Christmas, and it was a great visit. We had such fun hanging out and working out together.

And we have a new president!

Life is good.