BlogHer '11 Conference: A Report on Mommyblogging, 2011
I have been a "professional blogger" since before that was really a thing, starting out making $3 a post in 2004 at BloggingBaby.com. I wanted to go to the Very First Blogher conference, in 2005, but was a bit hampered by an infant baby (Truman) and no money. In 2006, I managed to get a spot on one of the panels and a roommate -- Asha from Parenthacks -- and brought my infant along. Jonathan and Everett drove down to San Jose in a Flexcar minivan and the boys hung by the pool with other daddybloggers while we women browsed the casual panels. Arianna Huffington was there. Dooce was there! So were all the OMB's, Original MommyBloggers. Even then, though I knew almost everyone, I felt like a bit of an outsider, not as famous as Dooce or even Melissa Summers; not as commercial, not as edgy as just about anyone. Since then, Blogher either didn't fit into my career (the finance management I was working for by then at Aol wasn't really interesting in me writing about a bunch of women bloggers) or my family.
This year, I knew it was time to reinvest. I bought my ticket back in February when I had extra cash and was planning my year. I booked a room at a hostel and, after much debate, a flight by myself, no family at all, to San Diego for Blogher '11. As both an insider and a decided outsider -- I don't really get involved in the same communities as the OMBs, even though I do enjoy reading their work and think they're brilliant and lovely women, I don't do giveaways or participate in the more commercial social networks of the new crop of MBaB (MommyBloggers as Businesses) -- I wasn't sure. Would I have a blast? Would I feel left out? Would I learn a lot? Would I roll my eyes?
As with anything, it's all about who you spend your time with. On the second day, I walked past a woman in the hall on her phone. It was in the middle of a panel session -- I'd ducked out in the middle to switch sessions -- so it was quiet. "It's like being with 3,000 babies who only want to talk about themselves," she said. I thought about some of the questioners at the sessions -- those who preambled their queries with a 60-second (or more) bio in which they list their dotcoms and economic interests. Yes, some of them just wanted to talk about themselves and their own unique concerns (I'm sure I've said things that could be construed as such). But most of the women I was encountering were just as eager to talk about us. Issues we have in common; how we can make a difference using social media (blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and the rest of it); who we are and how sharing that is making our lives better.
the wonderful Jessica and the lovely Charlene. you know, they're both lovely AND wonderful.
The first two sessions I attended had me in tears, rolling-down-my-face sniffling tears. The first one, Blogging Your Way to Self-Acceptance, talked about so many things I feel that the OMBs were all about: finding your own truth, telling a story that speaks to the universal, being true to yourself. Brené Brown started, taking us all outside the hustle and bustle of sponsors and products for a beautiful hour-and-a-half. She said, "one of the things that I have come to learn is that our worthiness, our ability to really engage with the world from a place of I am enough, that worthiness lives inside of our story. ...we have two choices and that's own our story and share our story or stay outside of your story and kind of hustle for our worthiness, which I have done a lot of in my own life, perfecting, pleasing, performing, proving, and it's just exhausting and I don't think it's sustainable." The way I heard her was this: believing that our own truth is worth sharing -- and doing so in a personal, authentic way -- is not just an exercise in self-worth but also a necessary and world-changing act.
Shauna James Ahern, the Gluten-Free Girl, was someone I already knew I loved through Twitter. I wasn't sure if I knew what she was doing on this panel, though -- until she started talking (oh!).
And my takeaway from Shauna's comments was that the story we have to tell -- yes, even in these "mommy blogs" -- is a story that uncovers itself as we are writing it, and that once it has been published it can live as its own shimmering or dull, flinty thing, outside of us.
There was another panel that went somewhere different, and in this one I was one of the people getting up and saying things that made me cry. One of my dearest dear friends on Twitter -- Aurelia Cotta -- was on the panel, and meeting her in person was so like opening a door (by the end of the conference, we were doing embarrassing things together and committing it to photographic record) (and I was sober). Julia Roberts (not that Julia Roberts) had organized the mini-conference, a lunch session and a panel afterward, for parents of special needs kids. Though all my boys have, one way or another, been diagnosed with disorders that stick them in "special needs" category, I'm not like a lot of the special needs parents; my kids can and already do play football. They're very smart, they can talk, they likely will do fine holding down a job at some point in their lives. They're not the sort of kids about whose challenges one might get up at a conference and call the problems unspeakable blessings. They're not the kind of kids about whom you tell touching stories about their unmatchable angelic spirit, about the perfect sweetness that comes out of every pore. Nope. Not those kids.
So I went in wondering if I would have anything in common with these people. My special needs do not require surgery; we never go to therapy and have breakthroughs (Everett usually refuses to speak in therapy, except the occasional grunt or yes/no answer); you can't tell by looking at my kids that they're "special." And sure: there were people there whose daily lives and mine do not just not overlap, they have absolutely nothing to do with one another. But by the end, our agreement was that -- despite our differences and own experiences and challanges and solutions -- we had more in common than we thought. (We even made it a Twitter hashtag.)
And the rest of the conference was this: heartfelt talks with people I discovered were deeply like me. New discoveries of other people's truths. Silly dancing and displays of outrageous hair-letting-down behavior. Going up to another woman after a session and saying, "I know that pain too!" and having there be so much comfort in that (even if the pain is only one's husband's complete disgust with organic food). Truly ridiculous bags full of conference swag. (I got a $55 gift certificate to a cupcake bakery in Washington, D.C. -- what will I do with it? But I adored the cool bangly bracelet from Ann Taylor Loft. I felt cheap and pretty at once.) My eyes lighting up at an amazing and beautiful company that makes "social stories" like this gorgeous DVD. My head shaking at the CEO of Pepsi -- Indra Nooyi -- energetic, feminist, yet utterly dismissive of those who suggest a soda tax or a reduction in the share of unhealthy products might be a good idea (she toed the company line). Watching women eagerly tweeting whatever it was they were instructed to tweet in order to win something -- free Hillshire Farms grilled chicken, or a gift certificate to Lowe's, or whatever. Meeting woman after woman with whom I was happy to share ideas or an impossible moment (like cooking risotto with Marco White and the most famous Canadian blogger, incongruously sponsored by Knorr chicken stock).
I promised in my title to reveal the state of mommyblogging 2011. It's become something like the state of the publishing world 1981 (or so I imagine): there are some mother-bloggers out there who are blogging and tweeting for nothing more than to get their story out into the world and let it wend its way, helping others deeply or simply existing as itself. There are some who have committed to this as a career about which they care -- but on some level, it is just a job, and the weekends and intimate times need to be apart from the online world. There are some who are writing about whatever they believe someone will pay for -- cheerfully checking their personal beliefs and values at the door (or, in this case, perhaps, at their dining room table). There are others who only come for the brushes with minor fame and the free stuff. There are others who are ordered to do so and make lists like this, neatly summing up the "Blogher types" (I didn't find myself on any list at all -- sadly, I do dance with a bag on my head). Perhaps there are others, too, who have made up their business and personal life into a cohesive and mask-like "brand," who either are fulfilled by this or are losing themselves in it. But everyone can find a community if they look for it hard enough; and even, if they are lucky, fall into it by accident and feel they are at home.
I'll go to Blogher next year; I feel, though, that I'm taking it with me and not just in the bangly bracelet and the pretty feathers in my hair (thanks belong to Plum District for those).