You'd think that someone who has lived less than an hour from New York City for most of her life would go there once in a while. And as you've read here before, I do occasionally venture in for a foodie tour. But when I was growing up, our twice-yearly trips to the city involved a lot of stress and swearing (at least, in the way my parents would swear, not using four letter words). My father hated driving there, but would drop us off on a street corner, urging us to sightsee while he circled the block. My mother hated my father driving there, and hated being dropped off at said street corner in an era before cell phones, not knowing when we would see my father again. I would sit in the back seat, gripping my door handle and my seat, white-knuckled, sure that this time we were GOING. TO. DIE., and once outside, I'd cower in my mother's shadow, certain that my father would be swallowed up by the traffic at Rockefeller Center, and that we would be trampled by the fashionable crowd. To this day, I mentally prepare for a trip to the city as if preparing to do battle.
So it spoke volumes about how I felt on Thursday, after braving the drive through the Lincoln Tunnel and across town, that I checked in, got my badge, and ducked back outside into the city to breathe for another hour, and to wrap myself in a sense of ... safety and security? Laptop clutched to my side, I was surprised to find I felt more calm in the visual noise of Times Square than I did in front of the Grand Ballroom on that first day at BlogHer.
It's not that I haven't been to big conferences before. But something about BlogHer is different. Because not only have you just walked into a "wall of estrogen," as Katie Workman put it on that first day when I was trying to get a handle on lightning-fast #blogher12 twitter feed, but you've walked into wall of estrogen where everyone, it seems, has been reading everyone else's most intimate thoughts for years. People were squealing at the sight of each other in the lobby on that first day, and I started to wonder if I'd made a mistake. Did I mention I'm still recovering from going to an all-girls Catholic high school?
But soon enough, I found my tribe, too. I met up for dinner that night with some of the bloggers I admire most (Stirrup Queens, Too Many Fish to Fry, Write Mind Open Heart, Bereaved and Blessed, Dragondreamer's Lair, A Blanket to Keep and Kir Corner), and though I'd worried that might be all I'd see of them at the conference, it turned out that I got to bask in their company a lot throughout the weekend, at meals, in sessions, at parties. Being with them was like coming home. I felt grateful to be there with them in person, to touch them, to know that they were real. I felt embraced.
As much as BlogHer is a place to find your tribe, it's also incredibly diverse, and it's a good opportunity to move outside of your comfort zone. I had breakfast with some self-described "slice of life" bloggers (hello, Linda and Wendy!); laughed out loud at Shari Simpson and wept listening to Susan Goldman and Barbara Becker read at Voices of the Year; danced with an expat Wellesley grad who lives in Turkey (hi Jules!); exchanged cards in speed dating with a nurse who gives advice to teens girls about sex (hi, Elaine!) and a woman who interviews people about their neighborhoods (hi, Kate!); repeatedly stood in line for the bathroom with a mother of triplets (hi, Kristin!); ran part of the psuedo 5K with the race director and founder of the Rose Run (hi, Jessica!); sat in a Writing Lab next to a woman who lives in the woods and cooks on a hot plate (hi, Ally!); mingled at a party with someone who has been doing NaBloPoMo since January (hi, Dawn!) ... you get the idea.
And I rubbed elbows with fame: Katie Couric gave a fabulous down-to-earth keynote, and Martha Stewart practically made me pee myself when she said that the only things she wasn't good at were things she hadn't yet tried. (Oh, Martha. I'll have what you're having.) As I passed by the Land O Lakes booth at the Expo, there was Ree Drummond, smiling and shaking hands. Unfortunately, I don't think I won her cookbook. Oh, well.
BlogHer is known for its parties, swag, and offsite events. You could spend all weekend just attending these things (and some people did). Jjiraffe and I couldn't stop laughing when someone approached us at the Expo, asking if we wanted to have our picture taken in toilet paper. (Why, yes! Yes, I do want my picture taken in toilet paper! However did you know?) I confess I visited the Starbucks suite for a cake pop and a demo of their new coffeemaker. And somewhere, there are pictures of me at Sparklecorn, wearing glow sticks on my arms. But you could also spend your weekend talking about writing and technology and social media, which is mostly what I did. I came away, I think, with some new ideas, with a more sophisticated approach to blogging, and with a willingness to be both more experimental and more critical towards my own work.
Wait a minute. Did I just call blogging my work?
Um. I did.
I lingered longer than I had intended over a walk and coffee on Saturday night with Stirrup Queens and Bereaved and Blessed and Write Mind Open Heart (and her amazing daughter who melted my heart by holding my hand as we walked up Broadway), not wanting to leave, not wanting the experience to end. When I finally couldn't stay any longer, knowing that I had a long drive ahead of me, I said my tearful goodbyes (sappy, sappy, sappy, but true), collected my bag, claimed my car and turned right onto 53rd st., flipping on the radio to keep me company through the madness of Times Square on a Saturday night. This time, the city felt less like the retreat that it had been on Thursday; now I'd left that place behind me. And I kid you not, the station in my car came on in the middle of the Beatles' "Yesterday": "Why ... she ... had to go, I don't know ... she wouldn't say ... I .... said ... something wrong ... now I long ... for yesterda-a-a-ay..."
Of course, like the retreats I went on in high school, the afterglow of BlogHer only lasts for so long. Then it's up to us to do the hard work. Time is never on my side, it seems, but I'm rolling up my sleeves nonetheless.