I know, I know, it's been a few weeks. I've been busy. At least it's still August, for a few hours anyway. This will also be the longest post I've likely written for this website. That's just how it turned out, because it's been a long time coming, I guess.
(It's not even August anymore. Oh well. The perils of working in education at the end of the summer.)
I got on a plane to San Jose, California, in July, 2006. It was my first trip to the state. I had written for BlogHer.com for six months -- my first online writing job, and my first paid gig anywhere in awhile. I loved the concept. The people seemed great. What they were doing was very exciting, and I just felt like I wanted to be a part of it.
The truth was I hadn't felt like being a part of much of anything for a year, since the only thing I had planned on being a part of with any enthusiasm had said see ya bye and moved 1,000 miles away. Also, when I turned 35 I decided that as part of my recovery plan from this hellish breakup I would travel somewhere new every month. I'd been to Arizona and Nevada already, so California seemed reasonable. I told my family and friends that I was going to a women's writing conference, which they probably interpreted as "that terrible boy turned her lesbian and she's going to hang with the ladies," which was really fine with me. Then I booked a couple of days on the end to go to Santa Cruz, and I left.
I wasn't nervous. I don't get anxious in groups until the first time I'm standing by a bar by a pool and I'm looking at someone in a "Writing Well Is the Best Revenge" t-shirt and I feel like an inarticulate fool with nothing of any consequence to say except maybe "Hey I have that shirt in red and black too the red has the long sleeves for when it is chilly like it sort of is now isn't this California what the hell is up with that so wine now yeah?" For an extrovert I'm not really one to mosey up to strangers or invite myself to sit at tables. I like to hover on the fringes and case the joint, actually, until someone takes pity on me or a less than excruciating conversation presents itself.
I was a little concerned that I had maybe presented myself as more competent at audio recording than I really was, since I had volunteered to be on the conference podcasting team so I could score a free ticket. I think that when someone asks you if you can do something that you're fairly sure you can handle you should say yes. I'm not going to volunteer to perform surgery or solve equations because I don't want to kill people and I suck at math, but I can press buttons and understand recording equipment. I figured I could swing it and if I couldn't I deserved the embarrassment.
I ended up so grateful for this job. It made the conference smaller and more manageable for me. It gave me a task to focus on if the effort of talking to hundreds of strangers with cameras got to be too much, and it was also really fun.
These are a few of the podcasting ladies. My hair was extremely red verging on purple here, I have an ungodly number of drink tickets left and I appear to be wearing a prairie skirt. I don't understand those last two things at all.
When I wasn't working on that or in other sessions, I did get a chance to meet people. Sitting by the pool watching mom bloggers knock things over,
Lauren gets the quote of that year for saying "This is like their Burning Man."
I met Genie, who would become my roommate for the next three BlogHers.
Here she is on the far right with her husband in a not-great but nonetheless the only photo I have of her from that conference and a couple of other girls we hung out with that weekend. Also there is a person in the background of this picture who should have looked right instead of running her mouth. Bygones.
I met other friends, some I'm still in touch with and others I am not. There were other people in that strange little complex who are central to my life now, but if we crossed paths at that gathering I have no memory of it.
After the conference my red hair and I spent a great day in San Francisco where I immediately fell in love with the city,
then I rented a car and drove to Santa Cruz.
I saw the California version of a beach for the first time. I took a train up through a redwood forest. I bought a suitcase at a Ross on the outskirts of town so I could lug all of my extra stuff home, and then I left.
It was a good trip, and I was really glad I went. I had no expectations and a mere hope of not embarrassing myself before I went. I came home with a head full of ideas and my pride intact, so that was good.
I have gone back to BlogHer every year since then. I've been to Chicago, to San Francisco and back to Chicago (my tie for favorite with this year.) I spoke on a panel in 2008 with Suebob and read at the first community keynote, an experience that brought so much good stuff my way that it was totally worth the raging nausea and anxiety of standing on a stage and reading a blog post about one of the most traumatic aspects of my life in front of hundreds of writers.
My blog stayed small but I didn't care. I went to regional gatherings in Boston and DC (where they also let me open my mouth again), and connected with a community here at home that although it focused mostly on mom bloggers was okay with me, because the people are nice and generous, and I've never been so hung up on who has kids and doesn't anyway.
That's my Shannon in Boston, 2008. She lives in Canada. I wish, as I say in the comments on this photo, that she lived up the street.
Some of my D.C. ladies, plus Kim visiting from Pittsburgh, Reach Out D.C., 2008.I didn't know these women when I took this picture. I talk to the three in the middle daily. I catch up with Joanne when I can. I've never seen Colleen again, but she's nice to me on Twitter.
The lines began to blur between blog and not-blog, online and real life, which makes sense when real live people are involved. My family came to understand that these were not lesbian creative writing gatherings, although it was still fine with me if that's what they thought. The older I get, the more it's fine to keep them guessing.
My life changed several times over. My heart healed over and broke again for other reasons.
My photos improved. My friendships with people I'd met through blogging and who I continued to connect with got deeper.
I came perilously close to a new decade. And then it was somehow 2010.
I went to New York for BlogHer in August because there was just nowhere else I could be that week. It was a hard summer financially (haha, that is such an understatement. Haha. Har. STUPID! Almost entirely unbloggable!) but I scrounged the money to go and to stay in my own room, which was something I'd planned on since I learned that Genie and her new baby were going to stay outside of the hotel.
I had an absolutely wonderful time. It was just what I needed at just the right time. Saved my emotional ass, it did.
I spent the four days before the conference at Suzanne's place, rabbit-sitting. She was the first person I wrote with in travel on BlogHer.com back in 2005. I got to pretend I lived in a funky apartment on the Upper West Side. I walked until I wrecked my feet, ate Crumbs Squiggle cupcakes for breakfast when I felt like it, and saw Rock of Ages on Broadway, where I paid for a glass of wine and got a sippy cup to take to my seat.
That's Suzanne and me, on the Sunday after the conference. I am Sparklecorn hungover. She is just nice and funny and brilliant like usual.
True story? Suzanne is one of the most outstanding women you will ever meet. She is a powerhouse. She is but one example of the greatness this gig has brought into my life. And she lets me stay in her house, for free. She trusts me with her key and her stuff.
I got to go see American Idiot with Heather. Heather and I have some stuff in common that no one else can understand. Heather took over photo from me on BlogHer at a time when it needed to happen. Heather is fascinating and hilarious. Heather is gorgeous. Heather kicks my ass on Gchat. She said things to me at dinner after the show that I should have written down because I could probably stand to read it right now.
I got to hang out in New York. It's my happy place and I loved spending this time up there. It's never enough for me. I walked through street fairs and burned some remaining credit on a good seafood dinner. I window shopped and daydreamed. I got a precious evening with Elisa, at a vegan restaurant that could convert this carnivore. I enjoyed every last second.
Then I went home for a day (don't ask, I needed dresses, and thank God the Bolt Bus is $17) and caught the train back with some D.C. friends.
I went on a Kodak bus and to a Nikon party. I had the most fun night of burritos and karaoke with my friends from MamaPop. I had dinner with my fellow editors from BlogHer, which is always fun. I had a photo in the Kirtsy exhibit that went with this great post by R.J. at Vampire Vocab. I had my picture taken with it like a big dork because it was the first time I'd had a photo displayed like that and it made me happy.
I sang and danced a lot.
The first day, Friday, I stopped mid-day, and thought how amazing it was that I was in a space with 2,400 people and in every single room there was someone there who was happy to see me and who I was happy to see. I kept feeling like that, all weekend, so that by the time Sarah, Kim and I went to the Yankees game on Sunday night I was that familiar combination of exhausted yet deeply content that I am every single year when it's all over.
This conference is my favorite thing I do all year. It's been true when I've been inspired and productive and when I've been barely eking out words in this space and where I've been paid to do it. My writing has suffered in consistency and volume over the past couple of years, it's true. I wish I was more focused. I continue to struggle with where I should be in lots of ways versus where I am.
But it's just true that without BlogHer I would lack so much that matters to me. I don't know what I would have in its place but I can't help but think that it would be something so much less than what it's given me.
I have creative and professional mentors.
I have friends like Sue and Maria, who have sat up late and chatted me through crises from a continent away, and Karen and Karen who make me look at the best version of myself whether I feel like it or not.
I have a place that was willing to give me a place to share my voice and my point of view at a point in my life where I valued neither very much, or at the very least was struggling to find a place to put them.
I don't know why anyone else goes to BlogHer. I don't know what they expect from it or what they think it means for their lives online or off. I'm not a mom blogger, a coupon blogger, a marketer's dream or a person with a true agenda. I don't care about fistfuls of swag, except for my Mr. Potato Head which you'll pry out of my warm, live hands and those little slippers I got at Nikon were nice.
I go to see my friends and I go to reassure myself that no matter how small some people say it's become, that there is a group of people I came to know through their words and pictures who are still out there, no matter what they're working on now. I count myself lucky that there are people in this crowd who will get in my face in person like they can usually only do in e-mail and ask me why I'm not writing, why I'm not owning my power? (Hi, Denise. Hi, Rita. Hi, Julie.)
I can have a ridiculous sandwich episode with a friend who knows my soundtrack and my heart, who is my wide receiver, left tackle or quarterback depending on the day (I told you I was learning football) who I simply would not have were it not for this web site and this conference.
No, not THAT one.
This one. (This alone? Worth the price of every single admission. I love you the most.)
I am reminded very distinctly how I best like to see myself.
And I guess it's a place where it's okay that who that is is someone who closes the bar with a bunch of brilliant people, then sits in the sink and shoots self-indulgent semi-hoochie pictures in a mirror because the light is pretty.
And I don't really know what a gift horse is but I've never been one to look them in the mouth, so I'm not starting now.
I open my arms to these three days every year and get roses every time. I still have very few specific expectations and I pray not to embarrass myself, and it mostly works out. Sure, there are some bumps in the road, sessions that leave me cold and pr people who don't get it that I still wash my clothes even though I'm not a mom. I smack down my hindbrain when it worries a little bit that I'm not getting invited to this or that overrated party or that I'm not doing enough or that I'm doing too much. I don't get enough sleep and I miss things here and there that I really wanted to do.
But what I worry about the most is a sin of riches, really. I want to be in three sessions at once. I worry that I won't see all of the people who I have made connections with -- small and very big -- through the years. There are so many of us now and so many ways that I've been in touch with people on blogs, Twitter and in real life, that it's almost impossible to keep track. So there is a lot of frenzied hugging in hallways and plans to meet up and quick picture taking, but this year I felt like in spite of the chaos that it went as well as it possibly could in a city and a conference of this size.
Anyway, this is stupid long, but this year required it and this post is really for me and my friends to whom it is a five-year love letter. So I'll just end with this.
When I first pitched BlogHer in 2006, I hadn't been blogging very long, and I knew no one in the larger blogging world personally. I responded to a call for writers on Lisa Stone's Surfette site, convinced I'd hear nothing, which proves that sometimes when I'm wrong it's the best possible thing. Lisa shocked me by writing me back almost immediately to tell me that she'd love for me to be a part of this.
She has since developed great taste in bag hats.
Lisa -- and by association Elisa and Jory too -- helped me to change my life. She opened the door for all of these other people -- the ones who I have named and the countless ones I haven't -- to grace me with their presence as well. I just had to ask, and that simple act helped me to resurrect the writer I had always been. It gave me the confidence to go back to grad school and get a degree in journalism that I'd abandoned 20 years ago, an experience that took me to Vietnam to write a story and landed me in a stadium in Denver when a certain man who I strongly believe is changing the world in spite of great difficulty accepted the Democratic nomination for president.
It gave me the confidence to believe that I could do things that I had started to think I wasn't capable of doing.
It gave me friends who are my family and a much clearer view of who I am and what I want to do.
I'll be in San Diego next year, because that's just where I'll need to be. And if you go, I really hope that you'll have a wonderful time too.