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:
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.
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.
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.”)
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!
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?
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.
You are always searching for something that is somewhere in your small house: your keys, your cell phone, the other shoe, the cap to the marker, the library book, the salt. You spend so much time guiding your children—to wipe their mouths with napkins and not sleeves, to not write on their foreheads with Sharpies, to wear underwear (We always wear our underwear, you hear yourself saying singsongily)—that you are feeling a bit lost yourself. It is a rare day when you don’t wonder if it was dumb to quit your job.
It turns out, you are not so great at householding. The dust, the cobwebs, the splatters, a losing battle. The canning of summer’s bounty, time consuming and scary. The sewing of buttons and minor repairs to clothes? You are ill-equipped for this, let alone for teaching these skills to your daughters. Wouldn’t you rather read the New Yorker with a late-afternoon glass of wine while they build a fort out of toilet paper?
You have the garden, but more and more it seems a weedy embarrassment. With help from friends and cheered on by Michael Pollan, you and your husband tore up the tiny front yard and put in raised beds. It looked like you knew what you were doing, but you hadn’t much practice, hadn’t grown up the way some people do, these people who seem to have it in their DNA when to prune the blueberries and what to add to the soil to make it less cloddy. That first year, the garden was a beauty. It must have been all that fresh compost, all that weedcloth under the pea gravel surrounding the raised beds; it was all so tidy. The kale grew waist-high and stayed on through the winter. The basil—you couldn’t give enough away. Every year since then, you’ve had diminishing returns. Year five brought tomato plants with fungus, lettuce and kale and chard starts mowed down by snails at every turn. The kale that did grow was gray with aphids. Weeds busted through the weedcloth, more plentiful than anything, so many you could mow them. And it’s all on display, right there in the front yard!
You find a blob of peanut butter on your watchband. You have memorized the bulk food code for lentils at your grocery store. In other situations, words waver on the tip of your tongue. The name of one of your favorite actors? Gone the other day in an ordinary conversation. Later you Google the names of his films to get it back.
The newly scuffed-up back-to-school shoe. The My Little Pony you actually threw in the garbage because you were tired of stepping over it on the front porch. The crescent of blood on your husband’s nose from where he picked at a piece of peeling skin. In the morning rush, you forgot to tell him it was there. The autumn light is so perfect, it puts a little catch in your throat. Your fortieth trip around the sun.
You are a consumer of something that you like to call magic but is really just the suspension of effort. These small, unexpected moments. The conversation with a stranger in the produce department. The cigarette shared with a friend while your children sleep in your minivan at the trailhead to a hike you will not take. Riding your bike across the Ferry Street bridge on the Fourth of July, the warm night air on your bare arms while fireworks crackle in the distance. That was years ago. The magic, it’s getting rarer and rarer, you think. Your therapist says that you are getting in the way. It’s probably true.
Thus is your mood when your mother-in-law comes for a visit during the last week before school starts. Your mother-in-law is a cheerful and sprightly eighty-three, a member of the Tea Party, an attendee of the same Methodist church as Dick Cheney’s sister. She’s an expert knitter and is knitting a prayer scarf to donate to a hospital. Dick Cheney’s sister taught her the technique.
Your mother-in-law’s visits always remind you of how bad you are at talking—small talk or big talk. You are more a listener and a nodder, more of a spend-time-in-your-head-so-you-can-think-about-the-thing-you-said-yesterday kind of person. You are in awe of people who can talk at length about anything. The other day you heard someone give specific directions to a complicated destination, and it actually gave you a shiver.
Your mother-in-law is losing her short-term memory. Your husband’s brother has phoned ahead to let you know. In the first two hours of her visit, you talk about the weather six times. Yes, it’s usually this hot at the end of August in Eugene, you hear yourself saying again and again in the same voice you use with your children. You are exhausted already. And sad.
The plan is that your mother-in-law will move from her home in Boise into an assisted living facility that’s across the street from her church. She seems to be on board with this, and you talk about it many times during your visit. A part of you thinks that it’s heartbreaking to spend the last years of your life with strangers and that it would be much better to have her move in with your family, but another part of you knows that this would be difficult for you. You know you’re going to feel bad either way.
You’re meeting a friend for a coffee date while your kids are at a morning camp. You feel reluctant to leave your mother-in-law alone, but you need time with your friend. As you leave, you tell her that you’ll see her in a few hours and then you have a worry in the back of your head the whole time that she has slipped on a colored pencil and broken her hip. You hurry back home and it’s like you’ve been gone five minutes. How was the drop-off? she asks. It’s so hot outside, she says. Is it always so hot here?
Your daughter has been promised a kitten for her eighth birthday. And so on a Saturday during your mother-in-law’s visit, you all go to the local humane society to pick out the pet. The cat room manager takes one look at you all—ages five, eight, thirty-nine, forty-nine, and eighty-three—and directs you toward a room of energetic but tolerant kittens. Your daughter picks out a black and white four-month-old named Tia, and you receive the half-off senior discount because of your mother-in-law. She keeps referring to the cat as a dog, probably because your family has always had dogs for pets.
You decide to throw a small potluck for a few neighbors for Labor Day. It is something that your mother-in-law will enjoy. News of the potluck spreads and it becomes six-family affair. Your husband moves the grill and the picnic table into the front yard and your next-door neighbor does the same. You put out all of your silverware, all of your plates. You bring out the old crank ice cream maker and then make the same joke to different groups of neighbors: We’ve got a kitten and home-made ice cream; we’re running for the neighborhood association!
The neighbor children parade in the house to meet the kitten, who has already worn a dress, already been given a bath. She lets them cart her around like a baby. She lets them hold her up so she can walk on two legs. Sometimes she lets out a mew, but she never scratches.
There is watermelon and Caprese salad and Caesar salad and artichoke dip and lots of beer and wine. The grills are cranking out sausage and veggies. Everyone is talking happily in the front yard, drinking beer and wine from plastic cups. Your mother-in-law is re-meeting everyone she has already met, asking them where they’re from and where they live and what they do. She looks happy and you bring her a glass of the rosé she likes.
Into the chaos, your daughters appear on the front porch wearing the new roller blades that their aunt bought them recently. They’ve not yet mastered the roller blades, and for a moment you shake your head, No. But something, maybe the wine, lets you let them. Their dad helps them down the porch stairs and they make their way through the crowd to the sidewalk, your five-year-old in a kind of crawl-walk. Everyone is cracking up and saying thank goodness for the kneepads and watch out for the grill. Your next-door neighbor, who’s in law enforcement and is an overcautious dad, is cringing; he actually can’t look at them. His wife jokes that we should give them hot sharp sticks, or maybe the kitten. And you let go and laugh harder than you have in a while.
In the middle of the party, you notice that the doors to the room where you have been keeping the kitten are wide open. The kitten is … gone. You alert your husband and he searches the house, confirms that, yes, the kitten is gone. One by one, the kids find out. Two of them are in tears. The adults start searching, drinks in hand. Your party has turned into a search party, and the neighbors are parting through the weeds in the garden and are inside on their hands and knees shining tiny flashlights into the very dusty areas under the couches and beds. Here, kitty, kitty. Your mother-in-law is wondering if we might hear her bark.
Two neighbors have made their way to the kitchen, where the sink is piled with dishes, the counters cluttered with bottles and miscellaneous bags, caps, and lids. They are doing the dishes and you are grateful. You must continue the search, but you’ve run out of places to look. You walk around with your flashlight and a worried look on your face. She’ll turn up, the neighbors say as they leave in small groups. She’s probably curled up in a ball asleep somewhere. You agree, but you also wonder how you could have allowed this to happen. Maybe not such a great idea to have a party the day after you got a new kitten.
Everyone is gone by ten and the kitten is still not found. Your husband puts the reluctant girls to bed. You remember that the kitten is wearing a bell around its neck. In the quiet, maybe you will be able to hear it tinkle. You sit cross-legged in a patch of weeds in the garden. It’s the most still you have been while awake for as long as you can remember. You hear the snails munching, the crickets chirping, the pea gravel shifting under your weight. Every few minutes, a car roars by on the street and you worry again about the kitten. But you look up at the stars and feel lucky that this is your task tonight.
After ten minutes of your quiet vigil, you start calling again for the kitten. You hear a vague tinkling from the backyard and tiptoe around to the side gate. Kitty? The bell again, in the makeshift wood pile. You shine your flashlight back there behind it and see a flash of green eyes. She tries to squirm away, but you’re able to grab her. At first she wants to get back to the woodpile, get on with her outdoor adventure, but then maybe she realizes you are not one of the mauling children and she stops squirming away. She nestles into you. The two of you sit in the moonlight on the back porch. Her purring is the only sound you hear.
JAMIE PASSARO’s articles, interviews and essays have been published in The Sun, Utne Magazine, Oregon Humanities Magazine, Oregon Quarterly, Forest Magazine, Culinate.com, and NWBookLovers.org, among other places. She’s at work on a collection of essays.
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.
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.
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.
• 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.