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

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

A Mild Suspension of Effort

By Gina Easley www.GinaEasley.com
By Gina Easley www.GinaEasley.com

By Jamie Passaro

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.

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.

•••

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