University of Minnesota Alumni Association

The Last Word

My Third Act

Illustration credit: Karlotta Freier

It’s one of those incomparable warm September evenings in Minneapolis. I’m about to turn 60. To celebrate, I rented the outside venue at the Hook and Ladder night club and hired my favorite local superstar-studded cover band, Zeppo. I invited people from all strands of my mostly wonderful life. There were rocker friends from the decade when I played guitar and sang in the band Zuzu’s Petals, and coworkers from my hash-slinging days at Al’s Breakfast. There were neighbors and graduate school friends from the U of M, writer friends, Wisconsin friends, teacher friends, mom friends, family. After so many months cooped up during our
Covid chaos, I wanted all of us to gather for a night of fun and freedom. If ever there was a perfect night, that was it.

If you had told me that in four months’ time, my partner Jim and I would be leaving Minneapolis in a stuffed-to-the-gills U-Haul in January, I would have said you were dreaming.

Which lands us here, on Martha’s Vineyard, where I have relocated after living in Minneapolis for 35 years. This is something I have wanted to do my entire adult life, and after Covid, online teaching, losing my best friend suddenly to heart failure, followed by the decline and deaths of my mother and my best dog, I decided to take a leap of faith and move toward a meaningful and courageous Act Three of my life.

I began my new adventure working part-time in a charming independent bookstore while I gained my sea legs. Neither Jim nor I have the incomes and savings that would warrant a move to an island where a rotisserie chicken costs $26. What we do have is the burning desire to make the last third of our lives meaningful, beauty-filled, and adventurous. Jim grew up in Maryland and yearned for the Atlantic Coast when he lived in Minnesota. I have been coming to this island since I was a girl. Martha’s Vineyard is our happy place.

And yet, I feel my age. I have less ambition, energy, and overall fire in my belly. But our finances demand that I keep working, so I am wading through the current of my professional life for job ideas and possibilities. It’s been 27 years since I was a touring musician. After that, I became a mother, a graduate student, and an author, before settling into 15 years as an English professor and essayist who spent summers assisting high school students with their college entrance essays.

I had not worked a retail job since I was 17, and the bookstore job I found here and its dreamy promise couldn’t sustain me financially. Nor could I keep up with the technological or seasonal demands of bookselling on Martha’s Vineyard, which requires all hands-on-deck until Labor Day. I miss working with young people and sharing my love of reading and writing. Teaching, for me, is a calling—the first time I found myself in a classroom of undergraduates as a teaching assistant at the U of M, I immediately felt at home. Figuring out who was in front of me and the best way to get through to them was a challenge that yielded countless success stories for my students.

I have an interview to be an English teacher at the local charter school coming up.

Wish me luck.

Laurie Lindeen (M.F.A ’04) is the author of the memoir Petal Pusher (Atria/ Simon & Schuster 2007). Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, HuffPo, and elsewhere. She founded and led the Minneapolis-based band Zuzu’s Petals before becoming a mother and professor of writing and literature at the University of St. Thomas. She now lives on Martha’s Vineyard.