Behind the brilliance of every writer, photographer or editor ...is a different kind of ‘personality’. My co-workers and I work from home and we never see each other unless we sometimes are out and about running in the same circles.
Some of us will socialize on Facebook at times and after I had written a story about office humor of how writer Robert Tamasy would start a game of puns, one of our editors, Jenny Gienapp – also a good friend - saw that story and began brainstorming for us all to get together in person.
This is not an easy task. Not all of our staff and contributors live in Chattanooga (the beauty of working from home for an online publication) and Jenny probably lived the farthest – WYOMING!
She was planning an August trip to Chattanooga to bring her oldest daughter to Covenant to attend college. Jenny’s family is not only Covenant alumni, but her grandfather, Max Belz, was an original board member for whom Belz Hall was named in 1972.
Emptying the nest is hard anyway, but to have your adult children attend a college so far away could only be comforting if it is Covenant – her heart. As she prepared for the bittersweet trip, she planned a Chattanoogan.com picnic at John C. Wilson Park for all of us to gather – and some of us to meet for the first time.
With all the rain we had been having, it was looking ‘iffy’ but I hoped we would all finally get together. Most of my summer plans have gotten rained out, allowing very little adventure to write about. I needed to get out and to do something fun! All work and no play makes a person dull - so they say.
I had not thought about this, but if I were Jenny’s 10-year-old twins, I would have thought a picnic with a bunch or writers, photographers and editors would be pretty boring. Knowing co-workers through Facebook or having met some, I knew they were not boring people but I had not thought of them in a stereotypical way of how fun writers and editors might be at a social function. Maybe the photogs were a little more fun and adventurous, depending on what type of photography they do, but writers and editors…wouldn’t they be about as fun as accountants?
I say this tongue and cheek - I know a few accountants who have wonderful personalities as well as many of our writers. When I have seen ol’ Roy at church and will get a hearty “Hey Jen!” with a hug, or I have heart-to-hearts or laugh with Jenny on Facebook or have lunch with Ferris and have fun girl chats, I never really thought of this gathering as a ‘nerd-fest’.
As Brian and I headed toward the park, I was looking forward to introducing him to everyone, seeing Jenny and also to meet those I had not yet met. I was so excited about the picnic that I think I was bouncing up and down when I walked up to the pavilion.
First, I saw my boss (now he can be quiet at times) and I gave him a hug. I had never done that before, because he is a sort of reserved fellow, but I love my job so much I just felt so much gratitude and I think the world of him. It was great to see his wife Pat and I gave her a hug too – she has such joy in her smile and is a genuine person.
Then I saw Jenny and we ran to each other for a ‘long-time-no-see’ hug. It was good to see photographer Wesley Shultz who I had been on a couple of hikes with and I got to meet photographer Lawson Whitaker. We are Facebook friends and have talked on the phone some. I am a fan of all our photographers. I finally got to meet writer (and the Facebook punster) Bob Tamasy and I ‘re-met’ writer Jim Ashley, who was my Papa’s dear friend. I had met him at Papa’s 95th birthday celebration, but didn’t really know him as much until being Facebook friends this year.
When I first sought to write for Chattanoogan.com, I had emailed Jim to ask who it was that I would need to talk to. He was on vacation and didn’t get my email so I had read a story that writer John Shearer had written and I emailed him. He had given me John Wilson’s name and contact info and when I started writing, John S. and I had written a few emails. It was good to finally meet him and his sweet dad too.
I was disappointed that Ferris Robinson wasn’t there. We later found out that she thought it was another night. Quite a few were not able to make it, being on vacation or having prior commitments. We missed John’s daughter Marcy, too.
Knowing I would meet others who worked for our publication, I found them on Facebook and got to meet new friends Sara Davick and her husband Greg. I also got to meet Tamela Wykoff Bacon. I think these were mostly editors and Greg wrote/photog sports.
I got a good squeeze from Roy and was glad to see him looking well after many health procedures. Of course, he had to light up his ol’ stogy and I fussed at him a little. I got to meet writers Ann Yungmeyer, Bob Payne and Harmon Jolley and photographer John Shackleford. I had seen Harmon’s name on a few things but thought he was a female because I went to school with a girl named Harmon. Not many people notice our names anyway, unless they are in the business and think to look for it. I am always interested in the writer’s name. There were a few people I didn’t get around to meeting, so these are the only ones I got to talk to.
Everyone brought food and I had slow-cooked a ham, but I wasn’t really hungry so I didn’t eat. I think mostly, I was just like a kid in a toy shop. I was too excited to eat. As I flitted and floated around like a social butterfly, meeting and greeting people I was enjoying chatting with everyone and taking pictures.
And then it happened.
After everyone had arrived and gotten a plate of food, the excitement began to die down. I began to notice the cast I was surrounded by. Most of the Chattanoogan.com staff are those who sit at a computer most of the time and most likely not extroverts.
Though I have been writing since Mama had put a pencil in my hand, I had never thought of myself as that type of personality. I am a born writer – I love it! I have written poetry, stories and songs all my life. I had even written a couple of non-published books that I ended up losing in a fire. If I were identified by one thing, it would have to be that I write, yet… I am not an introvert like a lot of writers are.
Looking around at everyone there, I realized that these were not boring people, but they were just not outgoing people. I think being with my co-workers “one on one” or in a small group – they probably show more personality, but to get them in a large group … well, let’s just say that I could understand the twins' Cullen and Emma’s bored little faces when they asked their mom, “How much longer?”
I didn’t care to leave, but the party just needed a little oomph. In talking with Bob Payne, I found out it was his birthday and I thought of having everyone sing Happy Birthday to him… but we were dispersed along the three picnic tables and I am not sure Bob wanted the attention. I would tease people asking when the karaoke was going to get started and if they were going to sing.
My bounce in my walk became a little less bouncy when I realized that no one was going to tell jokes, no one was going to sing and no one was going to grab their guitar. I had to tell myself “this isn’t a party, it’s a picnic…a grown up picnic.” When Bob Tamasey admitted to being an introvert – I was almost speechless! This guy is so witty and fun on Facebook and all of a sudden… he was quiet and reserved. Part of me wanted to get with the kids and play freeze tag.
One thing I observed was how well Brian did while I was constantly moving from one person to another. Some couples are opposites and when one person is outgoing the other may be shy. Not Brian - he could hold his own. He found interesting conversation and made new friends.
When you get a bunch of people from a news publication together, I guess maybe we can seem nerdy or boring. Even if I am more of an extrovert who sees the world as a playground I have to say that I felt very much a part of these people. We were family. I was surrounded by such talent and educated people whom I respected. There were smiles and laughter even though we didn’t sing Kum Ba Yah.
Yes, these were my people. If they accepted my jovial personality and hugs, I could accept their quiet nature. We all have something in common – we love our job.
Jen Jeffrey and Jenny Gienapp