The omens didn’t start auspicious. First, I got lost around LAX trying to find the parking lot where I was fixated my Jemima would spend a couple of nights. It turned out there was no need to hurry to the terminal, as President Obama was leaving at the same time as my flight – guess who won that runway battle?
Once I got to sweltering San Jose, in the heart of Silicon Valley, I engaged in a fight with the air conditioning panel in the room of my charming, if slightly dilapidated, 1920s hotel. First rule of attending conferences: do not stay at the conference hotel if at all possible. I have been to enough of them to know you need to allow for some breathing room, that meeting the same faces over the space of 48 hours, throngs of them, can become claustrophobic. Hence, I eschewed the Hilton for the faded St. Claire. I was on Campari and Sofa dime, which meant the Fairmont was out of the question and the charming if slightly dilapidated one was the next best option.
The decision to attend BlogHer 2014 snowballed from our submission of the “Doing more only to do less” piece to their Voices of the Year awards, a spur of the moment decision promptly forgotten until, three months later, we were notified the piece was a finalist in the Op-Ed category, and would we like to attend the conference at half price? As hard as I tried to convince sofagirl to join me (she did write the post after all), I could see that travelling around half the world for two days in San Jose was a bit of a stretch. So there I was, alone, representing our efforts of the last 22 months. Not quite sure what to expect, or what I would get out of it, wholly unprepared and certain I would not know a single soul. It turned out I didn’t indeed know a single soul but serendipity has a way of working itself through our lives, even the lives of introverted people like me, who would rather commit hara-kiri than schmoozing a room with more than 8 other humans in it, let alone a few thousands.
The first person I met, bleary eyed at 8 am after having spent half the night listening to the sexual acrobatics of the couple next door, forcing me to watch back to back episodes of House, was a lady from the Philippines. “You came this far?” I asked. Apparently so, and she was not alone as I met women from Turkey and Ireland, Kentucky and New Jersey: thousands of women bloggers.
Cold chit-chatting with complete strangers is not exactly my specialty, although I reach stages of acquired brilliance at times, hard-won after years of having been paid just for that – it turned out that all I needed, in this instance, was a couple of opening lines: where are you from and what do you blog about? and we were off. The three founders of BlogHer, a conference that has been taking place for 10 years and a blogging community that reaches over 100 million people, did make an enormous effort to ensure everyone would feel included: a newbie welcome breakfast, mentoring volunteers, panels to satisfy new and old bloggers alike, and it wasn’t that hard to blend in quickly. Most of the women I met, hundreds of them, were open and friendly and eager to know who you were and how they could help.
At the Voices of the Year award, on my left was the mother of a former school friend of my stepson, and on the right the woman whose essay was the only one I had actually read – how is that for the universe extending a helping hand?
The following morning, faced with the prospect of more Starbucks coffee and rubbery eggs, I wandered, literally in my pjs, into an old-fashioned patisserie where I ran into Cindy, a speaker who was running a panel for midlife bloggers I had totally overlooked. I decided to attend based on Cindy’s personality and I ended up meeting a bunch of interesting women that gave me pause as to who makes up this demographic and how Sue and I fit, and don’t, within it. Uncharacteristically, at that same panel, I didn’t hesitate to pick up a microphone and address the crowd to speak my piece. Not bad for the old introvert with the funny accent.
I am glad I went for a number of reasons: yes, I did spread the word about our fabulous little corner of the web (I had indeed practiced a 20 second spiel on what the blog was about); yes, I did feel part of a much wider than expected female community that felt welcoming and supportive; yes, I did have some fun in the process and came home with all kinds of free products, from skin lotions to wood polish (got that for my mom); I even did get to boycott Arianna Huffington’s speech – not that anyone noticed my absence but it did make me feel very politically correct (as fellow blogger Carol Cassara pointed out, it’s like having a secessionist at a NAACP conference); and yes, I did learn all kinds of technical and marketing strategies that might prove useful in the long run.
Most of all, though, I felt validated. I felt that what Sue and I do in our respective corners of the world, from our houses, is bigger than we give it credit to, that it does matter and that, in the cacophony of the internet, our little voices have found a home, and we can be part of a bigger conversation. We can laugh and commiserate and speak our truth and dream, big and small. Because we can and there is nothing to stop us, if not the boxes we sometimes put ourselves in. And because you, lovely readers, take the time to read and engage.
The final act of serendipity happened when I walked out of Kerry Washington’s interview, not that she is not a wonderful woman, but I don’t watch Scandal and had no clue what was being discussed, and went to have my nails done instead inside the Expo Hall. The 20-year-old girl, Perla, who painted my nails an unlikely coral, peppered me with a million questions about myself. Talking about myself is also not my strong suit but she was insistent. At one point, she looked up and said “you are so interesting!” I don’t think I am particularly interesting, if not to myself, my dogs and my husband (some of the time), but it made me realize we all have an interesting story to tell, or a truth to share and we are lucky that, in 2014, blogging has made it so easy.
“Who knew that, from that day in Rome when Campari and Sofa came about, you would end up in San Jose?” sofagirl mused. Proof that life is always stranger than fiction, that once you get a ball rolling, it keeps on going. May this be a very long run. And a big thank you to all those who have been tagging along.
All images C&S