Packing Party

Our Moldova mission team had a packing party tonight. No band, no party favors—not that kind of party, though we did eat some tacos. Tonight was our last chance to get together before we depart to divvy out supplies we’ll need to complete our mission. We are saving shipping charges by packing supplies in our personal luggage. Crazy things like heavy VGA power cords, silk fern leaves, fabric, lightbulbs, even a projector. If the TSA opens Erin’s bag, an entire jungle could pop out. The challenge is in equalizing the weight of the bags so that none of them goes over the 50 pound limit.

Over dinner I had an opportunity to vent my anxieties to the team. Today was spent reading countless horror stories of pickpockets and purse snatchers and other professional scammers. Yesterday I spent over an hour at Mori Luggage trying out every combo of purse, wallet, money belt, lanyard style passport holders, totes—you name it. Some with anti-theft wires, some with locks, and inflatable neck pillows for the plane ride. I bought one of each for my family to try.

Then on to buy ugly black shoes so that I won’t look like a typical American in white athletic shoes, because word on the street is that only we true red, white and blue patriots wear white sneakers, and that equals target for criminals. I picked up a pair of the ugliest shoes I’ve ever had—a cross between baseball cleats and bowling shoes. With the elastic waist traveler’s pants and those on my peds, I’ll look like Broom Hilda circa 1946 in a war-torn village. I think we agreed to throw fashion out the window. It’s a mission trip, we keep reminding ourselves, not a European vacation.

With that reminder, we discussed packing, and I’m pretty sure Super Stuffer Susan will fit her week’s worth of wear in a shoebox-size backpack, because her carry-on will be stocked with snacks. If she needs any shoes (besides her AMERICAN WHITE ONES), she can hit Erin up for some, because Erin’s making room for several styles amidst all the ferns—just in case.

One highlight of the night was resizing and packaging six-foot long bamboo screens, but the guys managed to find a saw at the church, reducing it by half, rolling it in brown paper and taping the daylights out of it. We dare TSA to tear that apart to see what’s inside. (I’ll probably regret that dare later.)

With all hands on deck, Michael logged on a spreadsheet who took what so that everything will be accounted and hopefully show up together at Meteora where we’ll fashion these odds and ends into something wonderful.

After circling up and praying together, we went our separate ways until we meet at the Atlanta airport three days from now. I expect a barrage of emails with last-minute ideas, information and questions, but I’m happy to report that much of the stress I felt earlier today subsided as a result of meeting together with the team.

GAYA Hangover

I’m basking in memories from last night’s 47th GAYA (Georgia Author of the Year Awards) ceremony, not because I was an award recipient (Oh, that my manuscript somehow transformed into a winning novel), but because of the feelings I brought home. Though I’ve been a member of GWA for a few years, I’d never attended the annual ceremony. Frankly, at the time I wasn’t thrilled about going last night. I attended alone, which didn’t bother me; I no longer find walking into a room full of strangers intimidating. It’s that my head was divided into two other places—the funeral I’d left where I hugged the necks of old friends I’d not seen in eight years—not yet ready to leave—and my rising-senior son’s tournament baseball game, where every at-bat matters. Not to mention that I was literally driving into a storm. If I’d not committed to the dinner reservation, I might have skipped out. But the man who was to receive the Life Time Achievement award was my dear friend, and more than anything, I wanted to witness that portion.

A couple U-turns later, I found the KSU Center, parked, wiped the last of the exequies from my brow, and marched in to the hubbub towards the gathering of people. Scanning over the crowd, I saw the honoree, Terry Kay, wearing a grin and walking towards me with outstretched arms. “Why did you come to this?” he asked, downplaying his upcoming award. He led me to the registration table and went back to other admirers, all wanting a word, a glimpse, a picture with the man-of-the night, though I assumed he’d be more comfortable in an easy chair sipping a Scotch.

The overpowering nose of fish told me beef wasn’t on the menu.The buffet line stretched across the room, and I took a spot in line checking my email and Twitter feed on my iPhone. Another baseball mom sent me updates from the game I was missing. A rain delay kept that urgency at bay for a while, so I engaged fully into the event at hand. Once reaching the chafing dishes, my eyes widened at the food selection; it looked better than it smelled—a dressed salad, scrumptious mini-twice baked red potatoes, veggie medley, strips of chicken, salmon (thus the aroma), and bite-size desserts. With a glass of lemon-topped ice water in hand and a full plate in the other, I juggled through the room to find a place to sit.

I asked those seated at a half-filled table if I could join them, and they dutifully accepted this newcomer to their evening. Little did I know that I’d joined a couple of the evening’s hopefuls—entrants in first novel and memoir categories. Friendly conversations emerged with an exchange of cards, discussion of our work, and a guess about how the Terry Kay novels on the table would be divvied out. I’d made it clear that I REALLY wanted the thin Christmas book, To Whom an Angel Spoke, because obtaining it would complete my collection of all Terry’s books. As luck would have it, I had the necessary sticker on the left leg of my chair indicating I was one of the winners. Happiness. My only credential was that I’d copyedited his latest novel, Bogmeadow’s Wish, and he’d mentioned me on the acknowledgements page. I joked that I had my name in a novel one way or another.

Terry brought his daughter Terri over to meet me and talk about my family’s upcoming mission trip to Moldova. I scanned her beautiful face to see any similarities with her father. I hoped to meet her sister and mother while we were there too and wondered if her brothers were at the table. Terry had told me that a couple tables of folks from Athens would be in attendance. I also heard the name Grady Thrasher, TK’s best bud, and I wanted to meet him as well.

Lisa Russell, the administrative wheel behind Georgia Writers Association kicked off the evening with quite a funny bone. She must be quite a hoot to work with on the Owls’ campus at KSU. Next the emcee took the stage. Jessica Handler’s own resume intrigued me enough to buy her novel, Invisible Sisters, at the close of the evening and get an autograph. I admit that I read the first chapter this morning and hated that I had to put it down to eat breakfast. She delivered the program with professional air, moving through the lists of nominees at an even pace (unlike the protracted MLB draft earlier this week) and pronouncing unusual names fluidly as if they were poetry in her native language.

Though neither of my table-mates won in their categories, I was happy for the other winners. I imagined how rewarding it would feel to walk up front, receive the award and smile for the photographer. I also imagined the loud “WOO HOO!” I would certainly shout if my name were called. It wouldn’t be planned but rather a natural reflex of enthusiasm, similar to my kindergarten graduation four decades ago. When 5-year-old Denise Jordan heard her name called, I yelled out, “That’s me!” And so it continues.

Next came the introduction of Terry Kay by Dana Wildsmith, another of his friends and finalist in the creative nonfiction essay category. She gave a lovely set-up for Terry quoting from one of his best novels, The Book of Marie. When Mr. Kay took the stage, the room fell silent. He congratulated the evening’s winners and made all the writers in the room feel accomplished for their work.

When he spoke of writing as the reader and who all he has been able to become, to do, to have, to explore, to love, to achieve through the words of other authors, it was liquid silk to the audience’s ears. A room filled with people who put one word after another for themselves or for others, maybe to be recognized, noticed, confirmed, or maybe to fill their spirit. They write, not because they’re made to, but because to deny it would be to deny their gift. Not writing would be like trying not to scratch a nagging itch. Terry Kay lifted the audience of writers to an almost spiritual level, and we felt satisfied.

At the close of the ceremony, I traipsed back over to Terri to ask if her sister Heather were here. Right next to her she sat. An adorable, tall, spunky younger sister popped up from her chair, and I asked her about her recent back surgery—a topic I know too well. I told the girls I hoped to meet their mother too. We turned around as she was approaching me. With her hand extended, Mrs. Kay said, “Hello, Denise.” She knew who I was! “Yes, I know who you are,” she told me. These Kay women were delightful, and finally having the chance to meet them glittered my day.

I looked at his daughters and marveled. I wondered what they thought of their father. I’m always envious of people with fathers. I lost mine at 18. But Terry Kay isn’t a father figure to me. He’s something in a category of its own—mystical and lyrical, yet tangible. He’s believed in me and invested time in me. For what, I don’t know, but I’m grateful. I’m just one of many whom Terry has surely mentored along the way, and I aim to make him proud as I move through the revision stage of my manuscript. Who knows? Maybe one day I might have an entry in GAYA. At least I can move in that direction.

And yes, I did get to meet Grady Thrasher, and for some unspoken reason, I felt Bogmeadow wink in approval.