My Gram’s not doing well and I need to be with my people. We’ll be back.
By Jennifer Niesslein
I don’t know about you, but I’m in a much different place than I was last year when we did the first virtual FGP holiday party. But I’m still down for a come-as-you-are party at home because life without silliness is a life only partially lived.
Big hugs to all of you. And without further ado, get your laugh on:
Sue Granzella: I was taught by nuns from Ireland, and they were EXTREMELY competitive about winning the “School Spirit” competition at the town’s yearly basketball tournament. Our poor cheerleaders had to do strange routines to music. (E.g., instead of dancing to music, they spun umbrellas in unison [umbrellas decorated with blue and gold shamrocks for our team name]). I provided the musical accompaniment, playing pop songs on my accordion, with lyrics rewritten by the nuns to fit with the basketball team theme. (I played “Raindrops Are Falling on My Head” while the student body screamed the lyrics “Shamrocks are always out ahead!”)
Kristin Wagner: I applied for our town’s pageant (you got a sponsor so your prom dress was paid for—hell yeah, I’m in) and my application was returned to me for revisions because it was “too militant.” I may have said something about our town being clueless about helping poor people because we were richer than other suburbs. Ended up 2nd runner-up, still got to wave from a float in our town parade. I believe I sang a song from Chicago for my talent and dressed as a pool sharp for my sportswear.
Sunanda Vaidheesh: My best friend and I have attended the world’s largest Harry Potter convention. Twice.
Amy Robillard: I lived in Alaska for a year and worked as a legal secretary full time while I wrote for the weekly alternative newspaper part time. I was the play reviewer despite knowing next-to-nothing about reviewing plays.
Naomi Shulman: I have never liked popcorn. Something about the texture, I think. When I was a kid this always got lots of questions and incredulous responses, and many people would try to get me to try some of their popcorn to see if I liked it the way they made it, so I eventually started telling people I was allergic. For many years my friends accepted I was allergic to popcorn, but not to any other corn products.
Sarah Buttenwieser: I may seem pretty nice. If you want to see my less kind side, wait until I’m tired. I get much cattier then and some of my friends prefer this tired version better. [I’ve met Sarah in person—I’d be delighted to see this side of her. —ed.]
Reyna Eisenstark: The summer when I was 19 I worked as a costumer/dresser on a production of La Cage Aux Folles at the Bucks County Playhouse, which involved ironing 22 men’s shirts every morning and zipping and unzipping gorgeous men out of evening dresses every night.
Carol Paik: I was once a hand model. The technology depicted here will give a clue to how long ago.
Janet Skeslien Charles: My first job out of college was teaching English at a high school in Odessa, Ukraine. I loved it even though I worked full-time and only earned $25 per month.
Ona Gritz: When I was 16, I met Evil Knievel at a casino during a family trip to Las Vegas. He was very chatty and insisted on getting my mailing address. After I got home, he sent me a signed poster.
Katie Rose Guest Pryal: I used to knit, design knitting patterns, dye wool, and spin my own yarn. I was a veritable cottage industry in my little NC cottage. You can still see my knit patterns online. But once I had kids, I somehow didn’t have the time any more.
McKel Jensen: I met Jude Law once while standing in line at an aquarium. He was with his kid who had beautiful curly hair. After I told myself to “play cool” and talk to him, the only word that came out of my mouth was “curls.”
Deesha Philyaw: I was a Congressional page (U.S. House of Representatives) during the first half of my junior year in high school. I lived in the page dorm 2 blocks away from the Capitol and went to school from 6 am to 9 am every morning in the attic of one of the Library of Congress buildings. In the course of my tenure on Capitol Hill, I met Johnny Depp (then a 21 Jump Street hearththrob shooting a PSA at the Department of Health and Human Services) and attended Reagan’s last State of the Union address. He really did wear rouge.
Gina Easley [our amazing staff photographer]: I have a rare phobia: leguminophobia—fear of beans. Like most people with leguminophobia, the sight of beans makes feel like I’m going to be sick and I try to avoid seeing or being near them as much as I’m able. Most people think this is weird and hilarious, and it is! But also very real.
Jennifer Munro: I once split my pants open while bowling. Brown corduroys. In college. This tells you a lot about me.
Jennifer Niesslein: I haven’t had business cards in many years. I once offered my contact information to the acclaimed cartoonist Roz Chast on the back of an old grocery list in my purse that almost certainly read something like, “Bananas, Beer, Tampons.”
And we’re out for 2016! Please leave your own in the comments—we could all use some levity.
By Jennifer Niesslein
Around this time every year, I do two things:
- Make sure the elastic waistband leggings are clean for Thursday.
- Pick six essays to nominate for the Pushcart Prize.
The second task is insanely hard. The Pushcart folks ask small-press editors (and past winners) to nominate six pieces, and the editors of the annual Pushcart anthology choose from those works of nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. Six pieces, people. My long list is really long.
This year’s nominees!
Give them a read!
P.S. I’m grateful for all of you—readers, writers, and my dear Gina Easley.
If you haven’t already done it, please vote today. And if you know someone who’s having trouble getting to their polling station, help them out if you can.
By Jennifer Niesslein
I’m taking the week off to spend some quality time with my allergies.
But you know how, sometimes, you comment that you’d like to read a whole book by an essayist? Well, here you go!
Terry Barr: Don’t Date Baptists and Other Warning Labels from My Alabama Mother reflects on the life of a boy growing up in 1960’s small town Alabama. Negotiating racial, religious, and social conflict, author Terry Barr also faces witches, swimming pool dead men, and red crosses in his neighborhood.
Penny Guisinger: Postcards from Here is a capturing of community, a harsh and beautiful place, a family, and the internal experience of its author in the form of micro-essays. It tells stories that are both intensely personal and entirely communal, and create a portrait of one person’s attempt to do a good job at this business of being human.
Catherine Newman: Catastrophic Happiness is a book about being crazy in love, and also just kind of crazy, while your kids are that weird, long age between toddlers and teenagers. The mundane heartbreak of it.
Seema Reza: When the World Breaks Open is a non-linear narrative memoir that traces Seema Reza’s journey from being a suburban mom to using her own lessons to build a unique writing and art program in military hospitals. Reza exposes her triumphs and fears and regret through the dissolution of a dysfunctional marriage, and investigates her own experiences and societal attitudes towards loss, love, motherhood and community, undermining the idea that strength requires silence.
Tracy Sutton Schorn: Leave a Cheater, Gain a Life—The Chump Lady’s Survival Guide (Running Press). Snark, gallows humor, cartoons, and real advice about how to keep your sanity after infidelity.
And, in case you missed it, Full Grown People has two collections out: Greatest Hits, Volume 1 and Soul Mate 101 and Other Essays on Love and Sex, both edited by yours truly. If you like FGP, you’ll love the anthologies.
JENNIFER NIESSLEIN is the editor of Full Grown People. You might have known that already.
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.
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!
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.
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!
By Jennifer Niesslein
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?