FGP’s Virtual Holiday Party

By Jennifer Niesslein

I wish I could bring all of us together for a holiday party. The last time I got together with some FGP people, some things that you just can’t through reading and emailing. For instance, I learned that Kim Kankiewicz once gave a voice lesson to Emily Kinney, the actress who played Beth in The Walking Dead—you know, the character known for her singing!

It’s why I love parties, but until I become a deranged millionaire, it can’t happen. Instead, welcome to the virtual one, where you bring your own everything, yet still can attend any time and wherever you are. No dress code whatsoever!

But here’s where we’ll divulge fun facts that you don’t know about Full Grown People’s contributors. Our chit-chat, if you will. Add your own to join the pah-tay!

Katy Read: My grandma dated Johnny Carson’s dad.

William Bradley: On the first day of school, I told my first grade teacher that I had been practicing becoming invisible, so she shouldn’t be alarmed if I seemed to disappear. My mom learned of this when it was written up in the weekly newsletter the school sent to all of the parents.

Jen Maher: I sold candy to Michael Jackson.

Sue Sanders: When I was a kid and lived in Jakarta, I met Muhammad Ali. He (lightly) punched my arm. It kinda hurt.

Meredith Fein Lichtenberg: When I was pregnant with my younger kid, a friend who is a producer needed ultrasound footage for a movie she was making, so she called me to the set and I had the ultrasound they used in the film. (In the film, you see Helen Hunt getting the wand on her belly, but the fetus on the screen is my daughter.) And the OB was played by Salman Rushdie, and we rode in the van together to the set and I could not come up with anything clever to say to him.

Deesha Philyaw: I was born with six fingers—an extra pinky—on my right hand. They lopped it off by wrapping a horsehair stitch tightly around it. I still have a little wart-sized thing where the finger used to be. So I was a polydactyl—not to be confused with pteradactyl.

Sonya Huber: I punched my best friend in the face in first grade as we were standing by our coat hooks, for no reason I can remember, and gave her a nosebleed. I said something that must have been out of a western movie like, “I’ll give you five reasons!” and held up my fingers and then curled them into a fist. Wtf? And sorry, Sarah, I love you!

Rae Pagliarulo: In high school I was suspended (and asked to consult with the school’s head priest privately) after my Religion teacher found me rewriting all the most popular Christmas songs so they featured satanic details. Aka: Here comes Lucifer, here comes Lucifer, right down 666 Lane….

Dina Strasser: I performed as a stand up comic in London in 1993.

Reyna Eisenstark: When I worked as a producer on a public radio show in NYC in, like, 1995, the amazing gay Spanish director Pedro Almodovar was one of the guests. As he was talking to me he could not take his eyes off my boobs. Literally talked to them. Of course I found this hilarious.

Carolyn Edgar: A hotel bellman once tried to pimp me out to Shaquille O’Neal. I was in Chicago on a business trip. Shaq’s team was in town to play the Bulls and they were staying at the same hotel as me. The bellman told me Shaq had asked him to be on the lookout for pretty girls in the hotel. Apparently I fit the bill, so the bellman offered to take me up to Shaq’s room. I had dinner plans that evening, plus I’m nearly two feet shorter than Shaq, so I declined. But sometimes, when I’m trying to read my fellow grad student workshop pieces plus write plus make sure my son is doing his homework plus do a little work for my day job, all before bedtime, I wonder…

Karen Dempsey: As a kid, I wrote a fan letter to OJ SImpson. He didn’t write back.

Kris Guay: I put thousands of dollars on a credit card in my twenties to fly to California to do Werner Erhard’s EST six day course.

Amy Robillard: My second job was at a pretzel place in the middle of the mall, where I would uncurl the frozen pretzels and reshape them into the first letters of my friends’ names. Literacy pretzels, I called them.

Randy Osborne: Rick Bass once let me use his computer to send a freelance piece to my editor from Bass’s home in Yak Valley, Idaho. This was in the days of those plastic mini-disks with the sliding metal piece. Well, when I pulled the disk out of his computer, the metal thing came off and stayed inside! I feared I had ruined his computer. We spent the afternoon on the floor, dismantling it and tweezing out the obstruction. One way to get to know somebody. (Still remember his shocked face when I told him, and the first thing he said: “You didn’t lose your work, did you?”)

Barbara Allen Clarke: I met Fidel Castro in Cuba—almost—since his bodyguard stood between us, but I shook his hand. He said “thank you” for bringing two freighters full of hospital supplies to the people.

Jacob Margolies: I worked one summer selling ice cream as a Good Humor man.

Kristin Wagner: I have synesthesia, where I see numbers as colors. I was angry doing multiplication tables in school because I couldn’t remember 7×4 was 28. I kept thinking, “Green times orange does not equal yellow-blue!”

Gina Easley, our amazing photographer!: I got to meet and hang out with Jeff Buckley a few times in San Francisco. One of those times I asked if I could get a picture with him. My (then) boyfriend took the picture but he was having trouble with the camera, so it took a while to get the shot. The whole time, as we waited for our picture to be taken, Jeff was rubbing my back seductively, without my boyfriend or anyone knowing. I was having trouble containing myself—ha! I told my Boyfriend afterward and he got angry and jealous, but years later I thought it made for a good story.

Nikki Schulak: I used to handle alligators and pull pythons out of pillow cases in the name of environmental education.

Jody Mace: I was thrown off the junior high newspaper staff because I wrote satire when I wasn’t supposed to, which was bullshit. Also, I’m the co-inventor on two patents.

Cindy Price: I drank beers with Jimmy (and Rosalynn) Carter in a remote Florida panhandle town while discussing boiled peanuts. At length.

Sarah Einstein: I’m an actual princess, because my husband, Dominik, is a bona fide prince (from the Shaumburg line).

Cathy Bell: My great-grandparents ran the animal shelter in Canon City, Colorado, when my dad was a boy (and up until I was two). One day Johnny Cash came in looking to adopt a dog. My grandma asked Johnny to wait until my dad got home from school so he could meet him. My dad says Johnny’s parting words were, “Never get into the music business, son.” (And I know this isn’t really about me, so here’s one. I hate my ears. They stick out. I’ve heard every joke, so I keep them hidden if possible. Ha.)

Jena Schwartz: My first boyfriend was Eric Mabius, of “L-Word” fame. We went out for three weeks when I was in ninth grade and he was a junior. (Ironically, it would be close to twenty-five years before I came out!)

Kate Haas: During Christmas breaks from college, I used to work at Lord and Taylor’s at the Garden State Plaza in New Jersey. Alone in a dingy little back room, I would box up gifts people had bought to have shipped and get them ready to mail out. It was extremely boring. So I would write little notes to the giftees and slip them in the box, like: “I bet Jane Austen would have loved this nightgown!” or “Red red wine makes you feel so fine…” Never got caught.

Antonia Malchik: I have minor prosopagnosia (face-blindness). If someone’s face is really distinctive, I can recognize them years after I last saw them, but for most people I can’t recognize them from one day to the next if I see them out of context and often not even in context. This manifests depressingly often at my kids’ preschool, when I panic and try to remember everyone’s names and stories/families in the morning. These are people I’ve known for years.

Joelle Renstrom: I had a pint of Guinness with Seamus Heaney in a pub in Dublin. Totally starstruck. Also, I’m afraid of clowns. And spiders.

Tamiko Nimura: I’m half Japanese American, half-Filipina, with a Scottish middle name after a character in a Broadway musical.

Renee Simms: On a flight to San Francisco I once sat next to singer and bassist Meshell Ndegeocello. “I have every album you’ve ever made,” I blurted as my creepy introduction. We talked about books and writers the entire flight.

Sarah Buttenwieser: I was on Oprah with my mother; we were a mother and daughter against parental consent for abortion—because I’d had an abortion at seventeen. What the audience did not know was that I was twenty-three or twenty-four and an abortion counselor and my mother ran a pro-choice social service agency. The next day, back at work, I counseled a teenager the cllinic with her parents—and they recognized me from Oprah!

Zahie El Kouri: I once cooked dinner for the bassist of Radiohead in George Plimpton ‘s apartment.

Laurence Dumortier: I lost my virginity in the Paris catacombs.

Lesléa Newman: I have a green belt in Shuri-Ryu Okinawan Karate and during my test, I knocked a woman over solely by using my voice.

Jane Eaton Hamilton: I used to fly glider planes.

Lisa Romeo: I once hired a nobody comedian named Ray Romano to entertain at a New Jersey charity dinner, cost: $300. Circa 1990.

Anjali Enjeti: When I was in my mid-twenties, I was a guest on Oprah’s Book Club, you know, one of the five other people who talk with Oprah and the author. The book was Melinda Haynes’s Mother of Pearl. I had gone through this really rigorous phone interview process with the producers, was picked, flown to Chicago, put up in a hotel, taken to the studio in a limo. Of the other women selected, I was the only person who had mixed feelings about the book. During the conversation with Oprah and the author, when I finally got an opportunity to speak, Oprah interrupted me and changed the subject. That’s pretty much all you see in the episode, me, having spent weeks carefully formulating opinions, only to be shut out. So much for my fifteen minutes of fame!

Wendy Wisner: My first memory is when John Lennon died (I was two, almost three). When I was little, we lived on Martha’s Vineyard and I used to play with Carly Simon’s kids. I went to Wavy Gravy’s hippie camp. My husband was born in a barn, and lived in a teepee when he was a baby. Bottom line: raised by hippies and married one.

Rebecca Altman: I. Hate. Buttons. Deeply. Won’t wear them. Ever.

McKel Jensen: I gag at wet paper towels or tissue. I also can’t stand the feeling of raw wood (like on a #2 pencil or a popsicle stick). It’s like nails on a chalkboard.

Jennifer D. Munro: In one day, I sold the world’s known supply of organic miso and umeboshi paste to a heavily armed, end-of the-world cult. I had to give them a guarantee it would last forever. “Sure,” I assured my contact, who disappeared soon after. “Of course it does!” What are they gonna do, climb out of their underground cement bunkers after the apocalypse to hunt me down when they find mold in their 55-gallon drums of fermented beans and pickled, unripe prunes (seriously, how would they even know it had gone bad, especially with the flavor enhancer of nuclear fallout)? I like miso and ume as much as the next person, but I hope they packed some chocolate, too.

Jennifer Richardson: I once bummed a cigarette off of Johnny Rotten then proceeded to smoke with him outside a Santa Monica record store. I had no idea who he was. British husband put me up to it.

Susan McCulley: I played in the scrum of a couple of women’s rugby teams.

Sara Bir: I just joined the local roller derby team.

Linda Crowe: I once nailed my own hand to a tree by accident. On the darker side, a cousin of mine was executed on Virginia’s death row.

Abbie Gascho Landis: I spent a summer in college farming with nuns. Milked cows by hand. Made hay. Transported a llama to the vet in a VW van with Mother Hildegard driving in full habit (on a ferry between the San Juan Islands).

Melissa Ballard: My grandpa was a dog warden, and when I visited my grandparents during summer vacations, I went to work with him. I love dogs, but have a healthy respect for the ones I don’t know!

Sara Marchant: My paternal grandmother tattooed my shoulder when I was six weeks old (without my mother’s knowledge) knowing I was going to be raised away from my biological father’s family. When I was growing up I was told it was a “birthmark.” I’ve never covered it up because it is all I have of my father.

Jane Hammons: I’ve had really bad migraines for most of my life. When I was in second grade I discovered that putting a wire hanger on my head (hook at the back) somehow made them better. I boarded the school bus wearing this self-styled headgear, and no one said a word, which should have been my first clue. Not until my teacher asked me to take it off, did anyone make a comment. When I refused, I was sent to the office where my mother picked me up and I explained about the headaches. She said it was okay to wear at home but not to school. The next day when I got on the bus without the hanger, kids started calling me hanger head. All was back to normal.

Carol Paik: Massages make me tense.

Catherine Newman: I have two, unrelated, both from when I was sixteen: I shoplifted a Minnie Mouse ring from Disneyland, and it is the only material object I have ever stolen. That same year, my family was eating dinner at a cafe in NYC, and we watched Madonna and Sean Penn have a huge fight outside the window. They were both shorter than we’d imagined.

Joyce Tomlinson: My grandfather was the illegitimate grandson of Queen Victoria.

Shuly Cawood: I have double-first cousins. And yes, we look like we are siblings.

Brooke Ferguson: I have a fear of fruit that borders on a phobia. With some work it’s gotten better over the last five years or so — I can eat fruits like apples and oranges, but super squishy things, like berries or bananas, are out of the question. I can’t eat them without thinking that I am eating something alive.

Terry Barr: Saw Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson at a phone booth on a New York street once. Laurie smiled at me, and Lou looked wise as always.

Andrea Jarrell: My grandparents were rodeo riders. I didn’t meet my dad until I was seventeen but watched him on TV throughout my childhood on shows like Charlie’s Angels and Rockford Files. When I did meet him, he regaled me with stories of sleeping on Sammy Davis, Jr.’s couch and partying with the Beatles. In Paris, while studying abroad, goody-goody me ditched all my classes to teach aerobics in the Marais and I had to make up every class senior year.

Allison Green: I’ve never been a mother, but I have thirteen grandchildren. My wife had three children, and they have all had children. My own mother, who has no grandchildren (I’ve tried to invite her to see mine as hers; she doesn’t), thinks this is profoundly unfair.

And, me, Jennifer Niesslein: I don’t know how to make a pot of coffee.

What about you? Add your own in the comments! I’ll be reading them all until our next essay, out in 2016.

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Mwah!

Ah. That time of year again when I reflect on the Thanksgiving when, inexplicably, my child said at the extended family dinner table that he was thankful for George W. Bush.

I kid. It’s the time of year that I think about what I’m thankful for. And it includes you all, my kindred souls who’re interested in the literature and messiness and dissection of adulthood. If I were a deranged millionaire, I’d fly you all here for a gigantic party.

I’m going up to cook my part of Thanksgiving dinner for my people, so there won’t be any new essays this week, but this is also the time of year that Pushcart Prize nominations are due. This year’s are:

Jennifer D. Munro’s “Leftovers”

Antonia Malchik’s “Writ in Water”

Jody Mace’s “The Population of Me”

Amy Robillard’s “The Bridge”

Deesha Philyaw’s “How Can You Be Mad at Someone Dying of Cancer?”

Zsofi McMullin’s “This Body”

Zsofi’s essay comes out the first week of December, so you’ll have to wait until then.

It’s getting harder each year to make my six nominations out of the nearly hundred essays FGP publishes, and my short list included every damn one of them, so peruse the archives if you find yourself waiting for the turkey to be done or needing some down time away from the loved (or tolerated) ones.

Until December, dahlinks!

Jennifer

Choose Your Own Adventure

Hey everyone,

I’m spending this week on my own adventure at the NonFictionNOW conference, so there there won’t be any new posts this week. (Who has two thumbs and made a reservation for a 5:38 a.m. flight? This idiot.)

In the meanwhile, I hope you’ll choose your own FGP adventure, either by catching up on essays or getting your spooky on by reading some of my favorite Halloween ones: Jody Mace’s “Haunted Wedding” and William Bradley’s “Fear.”

If, by any chance, you’ll actually be at the conference, I hope we cross paths! I’ll be the zombie on east coast time, fretting about the high elevation and what time it is really.

xo,

Jennifer

Intro to Soul Mate 101

petals hi-res
By Gina Easley www.GinaEasley.com

By Jennifer Niesslein

I’m an unlikely editor for this anthology about love and sex among people well into adulthood. The only adult love and sex I’ve been wrapped up in started twenty-four years ago when two drunk nineteen-year-olds hooked up at a fraternity house. (If there are any younger readers here, a word of advice: We are what you call a statistical anomaly.)

So, outside of my own marriage, I live adult romance vicariously. I’ve edited many a Match profile, once saving my youngest sister from the possibility of suggesting that she’s all about the back door, if you catch my meaning. I’ve engaged in some Facebook-spying to catch evidence of a friend’s husband’s affair, my screen saves entered into their real-life divorce proceedings. I’ve read Biblical verse at my cousin’s wedding, winking at my own beloved sitting in the pew with our son.

And I’m a sucker for a love story because every love story is a story of risk, the plot already built in. The stakes are high, as they always are when you invite someone into your heart. You hope she’ll take her shoes off. You hope he’ll be mindful that some of the furniture is rickety—the End Table of Body Image with its one wobbly leg, the Curtains of Trust held up by a rod that someone else bent long ago, the Armchair of Hope slightly worn, but still pretty damned comfortable. You hope that she won’t care that it’s a little messy in there; hey, the music is still good.

When you look at your lover and growl, I want you inside of me, this is what you mean, this metaphor made into flesh. Well, that and an orgasm.

•••

The risk doesn’t go away. Brandon and I got married in our early twenties, much earlier than any of our friends. We’d been together four-and-a-half years at that point, and we’d already become linked to each other, which is what happens when you meet when you’re still forming your identities. We literally wouldn’t be the same people without each other, then or now.

Like everyone else, I didn’t know, on our wedding day, a lot about what could happen. I couldn’t have known then that someday, a few of my friends’ marriages would break under the weight of infertility. I didn’t know that, years from this day, my own brother-in-law would be dead at forty-two, leaving my sister with an implosion in her heart. I didn’t know that some marriages are subject to a gazillion paper cuts of resentment or that “for worse” includes some unimaginable shit. I didn’t know if we’d escape these and a thousand other fates.

But, as someone who lived through her parents’ divorce, I knew that people change. As two pragmatic romantics, Brandon and I chose Elizabeth Bishop’s “It Is Marvellous to Wake Up Together” as the reading on our clear, spring wedding day. Brandon stood there up front in his finery, our grandfathers both alive and healthy and beaming from the front row, my dad marching me down the aisle before the song even began. We looked into each other’s eyes as our friend read the poem that ends:

The world might change to something quite different,
As the air changes or the lightning comes without our blinking,
Change as our kisses are changing without our thinking.

•••

Why do we do it? Risk all this vulnerability and potential heartache? I think you already know what the answer is for you.

This anthology is the answer to why other people do it, whether they’re single, married, divorced, or widowed. The answers are universal and varied. Maybe you’ll see yourself in some of them. I didn’t arrange the essays by whether the relationships depicted therein worked out or not because it’s just not how life works.

I have to say that I’m blown away at how each writer depicts love-and-sex and all that it entails. These are some majorly talented people giving their takes on a subject that’s been tackled since time began. I hope it’s as good for you as it was for me. Hand me my water glass, would you, baby?

•••

JENNIFER NIESSLEIN is the founder and editor of Full Grown People.

This is the introduction to Soul Mate 101 and Other Essays on Love and Sex.

Reasons you probably want to pre-order it:

• It’s a fantastic read. Click on the link above to see the feedback from the likes of Jill Talbot and Sue William Silverman, and see who the writers are. I was damn lucky to get them for this book.

It’s a great way to support Full Grown People. I don’t have any institutional support in the way of a university or a corporation or grants, so this and the tip jar are it, bebbies.

• Over half of the essays are brand-new. If you’re a sucker for work about truck-stop loving (Deesha Philyaw), a break-up and a brain injury (Louise Sloan), snapshots of people who seem indispensable to one’s life (Elissa Wald), or the allure of redheads and the mixed emotions it raises in a Black woman (Dionne Ford)—just to name a few—this is a book for you.

Happy Fourth of July

fireworks
By Mike Boening Photography/ Flickr

No new essay today since I bet a lot of you are scurrying around, getting ready for Independence Day, but for the rest of us, stuck inside with allergies or on hugging-the-shivering-dog duty or what have you, I thought I’d make a sort of FGP mixtape from the archives, on this, the summeriest weekend of the summer.

Nicole Walker’s “Persuasion” for those of us about to get our BBQ on.

Kate Haas’s “Out in the Woods, Away Out There” for campers and the people who love them (anyway).

Rebecca Altman’s “The Homes We Drove Past” for those of us feeling a little nostalgic for childhood memories. (For example, that one Fourth when a certain uncle who was in charge of the fireworks got a little, uh, tipsy and said, “This next one is Golden Flowers. Not Golden Showers, kids. Golden Flowers.”)

Zsofi McMullin’s “The Accidental Immigrant” for those of us thinking of immigration and how we, or the particular huddled masses that came before us, got here.

Carol Paik’s “Running Commentary” for those marathon-running folk out there and the rest of us who will be waiting with a watermelon mojito for them at home.

Jamie Passaro’s “A Mild Suspension of Effort” for the neighborhood potluckers and everyone who enjoys the nice quiet of a summer night.

Jenny Poore’s “I Will Put Your Poem on My Wall” for everyone out there who needs a little pick-me-up because this year in the United States, like every year, great things have happened and horrifying things have happened and it’s easy to feel powerless and small, but your actions matter. They really do.

•••

If you haven’t heard about the amazing new FGP anthology Soul Mate 101 and Other Essays on Love and Sex, read all about it. Hey, get a little crazy and pre-order it! I won’t stop you!

Soul Mate 101 and Other Essays on Love and Sex

Soul Mate 101 coverthumbnail

By Jennifer Niesslein

Hi everyone,

I’m working on the new anthology (pictured above, featuring a glorious photo by Gina Easley.) This time, I’m switching things up a bit.

The theme of Soul Mate 101 is love and sex, all done up in the FGP way. About half the essays are brand-spanking new work; the other half are some gems from the site. I’m already so thrilled about it that I can’t imagine the state I’ll be worked up into by the time the book actually is published—I’m shooting for mid-September.

Who are writers in this latest one?

Why, none other than Sara Bir, William Bradley, Gayle Brandeis, Glendaliz Camacho, Carolyn Edgar, Sarah Einstein, Reyna Eisenstark, Dionne Ford, McKel Jensen, Jean Kim, Antonia Malchik, Zsofi McMullin, Catherine Newman, Deesha Philyaw, Browning Porter, Susan Kushner Resnick, Natasha Saje, Tracy Sutton Schorn, Louise Sloan, Megan Stielstra, and Elissa Wald.

I’ll be introducing them in the notifications letter in the coming months. (Some of them have books coming out or out already. Some good, good stuff.)

I hope you’ll preorder now. I’m the only one who has read this whole collection so far, but all of these true tales of love in the time of adulthood have me swooning. I think you’re going to love the book—and, hey, I haven’t steered you wrong before, have I?

xxoo,

Jennifer

Gone Fishing (for new software)

I’m taking the week off to play catch-up. Replacing ancient versions of software, reading submissions, climbing Mount Laundry—that kind of scintillating stuff.

In the meanwhile, maybe you want to look at some essays that FGP ran earlier? I recommend the stuff from last December (those essays sometimes get overlooked with the holidays and all).

Thanks for being part of the community, peeps. See you next week, with fresh pants.

xo,

Jennifer

A Little Help from FGP Friends

I’ve taken the week off to catch up on reading submissions and to do a little book promotion. I’ve been getting some messages from many of you (okay, like, seven people), wondering how they can help with Full Grown People: Greatest Hits, Volume One. I’m extremely grateful for the offer (because, like a toddler, I’m weirdly averse to asking for help), and I brainstormed a few ways.

As I think I’ve said before, it’s still a little experiment for me to see if this is a viable business model. Full Grown People is a little more than halfway sold out of the first edition of the first anthology. I hope to come out with another anthology, tentatively titled Soul Mate 101 and Other True Tales of Love and Sex, next spring. It’ll include both work from the site and new essays.

If you’ve ever read anything on FGP that made you think, Boy howdy, I’m glad I read that essay, or love the site, or want to see the next book come to fruition, maybe you want to help. Here are some ways:

Buy the book. If not for yourself, as a gift. You know those times when you’re never quite sure if someone’s going to give you a present over the holidays or not? Buy a small stack, stuff them into gift bags, and, boom, insta-gift. If it doesn’t happen, hey, birthday presents! Teacher gift! Raffle giveaway! (The book is a beauty to behold, thanks to the design work of Anne Hilton and the photography of Gina Easley.)

• If you’re a Goodreads participant, consider reviewing the book. It’s hard out there for indie publishers to get a rep, and I’d be ever so grateful.

• Tell your friends. Good taste runs in flocks.

• Ask your library to stock it and give your librarian our website. Librarians are some of the smartest cookies around.

And if all you’re equipped to do is wish FGP well, I’ll take that, too! Thanks to all of you wonderful people who have supported us so far by reading, sharing the word, buying the book, and generally being awesome members of this community. It means a lot to me.

xo,

Jennifer

Sneak Peek

FGP GH1 coverthumb
The back cover is really cool, too.

So, maybe you’ve seen something announcing the first FGP anthology? (Oh, like the huge purple banner above?) The book is at the printer right now. Thanks to the graphic design of Anne Hilton and the cover photo by Gina Easley, it’s a beautiful thing to behold. And thanks to the writers, it’s an amazing book to read. I’m extremely grateful for all of you who ordered it, and your faith and support. Fingers crossed that this anthology will be the first of many. What follows is my introduction to Full Grown People: Greatest Hits, Volume 1. —Jennifer Niesslein, ed.

The book you’re about to read grew out of the Full Grown People website, which grew out of my own existential crisis. This is something of a professional pattern for me.

When I was in my late twenties, my friend Stephanie Wilkinson and I started a literary magazine about motherhood, in part, because I was freaked out about motherhood culture at the time. (These were the olden days, when magazines aimed at mothers were still the kingdom of professional nags.)

When I was in my thirties, I worried that I wasn’t as happy as I might be. I wrote a book about it.

And the year I was to turn forty, Stephanie and I decided to shut down that literary magazine that had become part of my identity. I realized, after the fact, that I’d done something kind of stupid: I linked my personal life (the new motherhood crisis) to my professional life (the magazine about motherhood). By 2012, I was adrift. My kiddo was beyond the age where he needed me in the intensive way he had when he was younger, and I no longer had a job.

I wasn’t alone. I looked around at my friends, and I saw that so many of them were going through some life-changing stuff. A couple of them were going back to school for new careers. A couple of others were either divorcing or getting into new romances. Plenty of them began shouldering responsibility for their own parents. Others, like my own sister, found themselves wondering what the hell to do now that the children were off on their own.

Perhaps like Chaka Khan before me, I’m every woman. In any case, I yearned for stories about how other people weathered this awkward age. And, boom: this is it.

•••

Full Grown People is about transitional moments in adulthood. You might think that this is a coy way of saying “mid-life crisis,” but it isn’t. I don’t ask the writers how old they are, but I know that some essays on the site have been penned by people twenty years younger than I am, others by people twenty years older, give or take. That’s the thing about awkward ages—they can blow up on you at any time.

And yet. Sometime after the site launched, I was driving my teenage son somewhere—another awkward age, when the boy has so many commitments but no license—and I was listening to a story on the radio. It was about a woman named Pia Farrenkopf, who was found mummified in her Jeep, after dying some years before. No one suspected a thing until the bills that she’d been paying automatically ran her account dry. I’m paraphrasing the soothing voice of the commentator, but he said something like, “It was astounding to find out who she was. You’d think she was elderly, a recluse, but here Farrenkopf was, in the thick of life.” She’d traveled the world; she’d created a career in finance; she was from a big family, although she was often out of the country. When she was found, it was the year she would have turned fifty.

“The thick of life” stuck with me. Because that’s really what those decades between being truly young and truly old are, aren’t they? They’re not the thin broth of youth, waiting for ingredients; yet our lives aren’t solidified, either. We’re getting more acquainted with the hard stuff—the deaths, the limitations, the realizations that we can’t make people be who we want them to be—but we also have the hope, the smarts, and the gumption to take what we’ve created of our lives so far and evolve.

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This collection of essays is a sampling from the website, fullgrownpeople.com. (You can sign up for updates at the site that come with little intros that I write.) There are way more gems on the site than I could fit in here, but I have to say that this anthology just straight-up delights me. The writers here bring all the stuff that gets my heart pounding: the funny, the smart, the poignant.

The topics here run the whole gamut: romance, family, health, career, dealing with aging loved ones, and more. But what draws everything together is the sense that we’re all feeling our way along.

And we’ll continue to feel our way along because, hey, that’s life, right? No matter where we are, we’re going to keep encountering stuff that we know, intellectually, others have dealt with already, but it still doesn’t mitigate the feeling that we’re winging it. “Oh, Jenny,” my gram said when we talked last week, “how did I get to be old?” We laughed, but if I had my guess, I’d say the answer is just like this: one new befuddling, challenging, soul-stretching experience at a time.

Sounds good? If you’d like to get your very own, you can order here.

Big News

Today is Full Grown People’s one-year anniversary, and I have to say, it’s only because of the awesome community you’ve established here. I wish so very much that I could go around and thank each of you. But please pat yourself on the back. No—hug yourself. No—kiss your own shoulder.

That was from me.

There are no new essays up this week because I took last week off to work on the first FGP anthology. It should be out in October, and it’s amazing. You can pre-order it now, and I hope you do so that I can figure out how many copies I should print.

Why would you want it?

•  You can’t keep up with the twice-a-week essays.

•  You’ve discovered the site in the past six months and want a big old gulp of the goodness here.

•  You like FGP and hope that it succeeds financially so that you can keep getting your fix.

•  You’re a hard copy person, damn it!

I’m planning on publishing more—both Greatest Hits and themed issues with new content. But this one will knock some socks off, with writing by Marcia Aldrich, Shaun Anzaldua, Sara Bir, William Bradley, Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser, Michele Coppola, Zahie El Kouri, Jessica Handler, Karrie Higgins, Sonya Huber, Jennifer James, Kim Kankiewicz, Kristin Kovacic, Meredith Fein Lichtenberg, Jody Mace, Jon Magidsohn, Antonia Malchik, Jennifer Maher, Catherine Newman, Randy Osborne, Carol Paik, Sarah Pape, Katy Read, Robin Schoenthaler, Amber Stevens, Dina Strasser, Jill Talbot, Suzanne Van Atten, Rebecca Stetson Werner, and Susan Rebecca White, plus cover photography by Gina Easley.

Thank you again, lovelies. As someone wise once said, you make-a my dreams come true.

xo,

Jennifer