Skip to content

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and you will receive our stories in your inbox.

Notes on a conference, if not much of a scandal – BlogHer ’14

Posted in Life & Love, and Women's issues

oh, we do exist
oh, we do exist

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.

St Claire Hotel
The lobby of my sort of charming hotel

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.

Sue's post, blown up and conveniently located by the buffet
Sue’s post, blown up and conveniently located by the buffet

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?

San Jose CA
Just outside the Convention Center – it was hotter than hell

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.

BlogHer Main Hall
A room full of women and one lone man – probably a technician

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

Share on Facebook

15 Comments

  1. I loved your take on the conference; it was so small when I started going that it’s hard to imagine starting out now. I have to tell you you do NOT come across as what my mom used to call a “shrinking violet!” You’re easy to meet, interesting to talk with and generally cool. Seriously!

    August 4, 2014
    |Reply
    • Thank you Cindy! I might not be a “shrinking violet” (definitely not actually) but my apparent openess has been achieved after years of trying…and faking…I think not caring anymore what people think goes a long way.

      August 4, 2014
      |Reply
  2. Huff po’s business model is not to pay their writers, unless they are big names. Our experience was rather miserable. We were so thrilled when we got accepted, although my husband did warn me, and it was such a letdown. A piece on the choice of not having children received hundreds of comments, many of them beyond negative (I hope you get AIDS and die stuck in my mind). Frankly, if we are asked to write, edit, reply to comments and give a 24 hour exclusivity, we would like to be paid. Incidentally, the number of people who clicked through our site could be counted on one hand. Huff Po populates their sites on the back of people like us and it is not right

    July 30, 2014
    |Reply
    • winston moreton
      winston moreton

      It’s called “using your air”
      I thought Woulda Coulda was ‘t beste blog to date and didn’t know about Doing More to do Less. Brava Sofagirl. BTW. Trudeau did a series on sweating for Huff Po.

      July 30, 2014
      |Reply
      • Trudeau would, wouldn’t he? Right up his alley.

        July 30, 2014
        |Reply
  3. Good job!
    The closest I have been to such a situation: I met my first blogging friend in person a few months ago which was an interesting experience. To reconcile the words we read with the person who writes those words is an unusual meet and greet situation, I found.
    Now, why are we all avoiding Huff? Am I missing something important? (Usually, yes.)

    July 30, 2014
    |Reply
    • She doesn’t pay any bloggers, even the regular ones … which we think is unfair. But, a choice on both side. However …. the kind of responses we got to the Post about childless women choosing/preferring/having childlessness forced upon them seemed to have come from the lowest depths of the primordial swamp, made us wonder who really reads HP

      August 4, 2014
      |Reply
  4. silvia
    silvia

    And your little voices are so very much loved. Keep rolling girls, keep rolling

    July 29, 2014
    |Reply
  5. As a fellow introvert, I can relate to not enjoying the process of trying to engage with scads of strangers at a conference. Just thinking about it makes me shudder. Kudos to you for finding the positive and making the most out of it. Bravo!

    July 29, 2014
    |Reply
    • First came the battle with shyness, then the one with the introversion. Never ending, if you ask me!

      July 29, 2014
      |Reply
  6. Very interesting. I have thought about going to one of these events, but since my blog isn’t specifically about women’s issues – it just happens to be written by a woman – I’m not sure how useful it would be for me. But congrats on the award! (And good on you for boycotting Arianna Huffington.)

    July 28, 2014
    |Reply
    • What attending the conference did for me, besides giving me an inside look into some technical aspects which we can improve on, was giving me perspective and context. Sometimes, writing in front of a laptop, in the comfort of my office, is hard to see where one fits in. This one was sort of close to home – not sure I would have flown to Chicago – but you might want to get your feet wet at some point, especially if you are thinking of using your blog alongside your day job more and more.

      July 28, 2014
      |Reply
  7. Bobby
    Bobby

    In the last two years, I, too, have made more of an effort to “do more.” While I’m not the target demographic of your blog, I enjoy reading it, and I am always happy to read stories of the “can you believe that one little decision so long ago led us to this place” variety.

    Congrats on the award!

    July 28, 2014
    |Reply
    • Thank you! And you are one of our favourite male readers…surprisingly, we have more than we ever expected. And you are a nice boss to boot!

      July 28, 2014
      |Reply

Got some thoughts? We would love to hear what you think

%d bloggers like this: