Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Tale of Two Cell Phones

I touched down at O'Hare with two phones in my purse.

That's how I roll these days: my spiffy work iPhone and my old scuffed andriod with no data plan, jostling each other, jockeying for space in a purse that was never meant to carry more than a slim credit card sleeve.  It's only been three weeks, but I've accustomed myself to this life, to trying to remember to charge not one but two devices, to the different beeps and tweets and hiccups and burps, like two children.

On the train towards downtown, I texted from my android with Kathy from Bereaved and Blessed, who managed to pick up my BlogHer conference pass and bag by showing them my texts in real time.  Then I swapped phones, replying to a few more work email messages that had come in since I'd landed, swaying, becoming more accurate with my pointer-finger aim.

By Thursday night I conceded: it would be easier to manage the conference by downloading Facebook and Twitter to my work phone.  And I would eventually use them for work anyway, wouldn't I?  The conference app was easier to manage from my iPhone, too.  But I could delete that later.  Besides, that was how I'd gotten here, two and a half weeks into a new job: my supervisor generously reassured me that I would be learning things that would apply to work.  And so began the blurring of boundaries, personal and professional, work responsibilities, and responsibilities to myself.

On Thursday before bed I pored over the conference program, trying to balance participation in sessions I imagined I should attend "for work," versus the sessions I really wanted to attend.  They were definitely different things: I found myself circling the writing track, but thought that for work, the marketing and technology tracks would probably be more important.  (Part of my job entails helping students with their writing, but I conveniently decided that was not applicable.  This becomes important later.)  I bookmarked several sessions in each breakout, figuring that maybe I could session-hop a little, and satisfy all of the responsibilities I thought I had.

On Friday, I juggled the two phones and my laptop, trying to keep up with the conference tweet stream (which, by then, was trending nationally), respond to student email and do work things, and touch base with my blogging friends so we could find each other for meals.  By late afternoon, as I rode down the escalator, watching some of my favorite bloggers go to the sessions that I'd sort of wanted to attend, too, I became acutely aware of trying to do two things at the same time, and doing neither of them particularly well.

Working parents in the audience ... sound familiar?

I session-hopped, trying to get as much as I could of everything.  Or maybe more of the social media and marketing skills than the essay and memoir writing.

And finally, on that last day, before the lights dimmed for the introduction of Gale Anne Hurd, I broke.

Maybe it was the leave-taking, saying good bye to the bloggers who continue to seek out my work and encourage me to write, even when I don't post anything consistently for weeks.  Maybe it was sleep deprivation, even though I didn't go to a single late-night party.  Or maybe it really was the realization that I am first and foremost a writer, and the fear that I'd been given an opportunity to interact with some of the most talented writers I know, and I'd squandered it.  Depending on the path my life takes, I may not be able to go to BlogHer again for a long, long time.

I felt ridiculous, because I'd tried to imagine what my supervisor would want, knowing that she didn't actually have any expectations of me, that she trusted me to go learn something useful.  I tried to shove aside the thoughts that I'd done myself a disservice, that somehow I'd cheated myself, for no reason at all.

Don't get me wrong.  BlogHer '13 was wonderful, just at BlogHer '12 was wonderful.  I spent some intense connection time with bloggers I love and admire, people whom I count among my dearest friends.  I got to attend some inspiring writing sessions.  I got to sit right there with Sheryl Sandberg and Guy Kawasaki and Ree Drummond and Randi Zuckerberg.  I brought home some cool swag for my kids, who love pens and flashlights and stickers (anything else is icing on the cake).  But most of all, I was reminded that I am a writer, and that I need to be true to my heart; whether that means really not worrying about marketing and monetizing my blog, or quantifying my success by the number of followers I have, or by being gentle enough with myself to allow myself to write the crap that needs to come first before I produce something really good.

As I boarded the plane on Saturday, I powered down.  Just me, and my pen, and a pad of paper.  Because sometimes, two cell phones is two too many.
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  1. Oh, yeah. This resonates with me on so many levels.

    (I just turned my computer back on. Actually finding I need to edit longhand these days to get anything done.)

  2. What an interesting tale, especially knowing I was with you for so much of your experience this year. But I didn't fully realize how hard it was for you to try to juggle both phones, interests (blog and job related) and responsibilities (as you perceived them).

    I am grateful to have shared my first and second BlogHer annual conferences with you. You are a dear friend and writing mentor to me. I am sorry that certain aspects of BlogHer`13 did not play out as you hoped or wished they would have or could have. Hindsight can be frustrating and helpful to learn from.

    Thank you all you are and did to help make BlogHer`12 & BlogHer`13 so awesome for me and so many others who crossed your path there. xoxo

  3. I meant "Thank you FOR all you are and did..."

  4. I've attended conferences that were relevant on both a personal and a professional level, and it is difficult to juggle. I'm sorry you weren't able to attend the sessions your heart wanted to attend. Hugs, Justine.

  5. Oh. Ohhhhh. Maybe what you were there to learn was not what they said at the sessions but that you're a writer. (As if we haven't all told you that already. But maybe now you believe it.)

    My biggest regret is possibly that I didn't spend enough time hanging out with you, becuase apparently sleeping one bed over from someone and having your toothbrush in the same bathroom does not magically equal getting to know them better. But I am so grateful for having had you there.

  6. I can SO relate to this post: wanting to be all things to all people; wanting to do what's right from all perspectives and then regretting not following my heart. You're not alone (is that too cliche?) I DO feel like a jerk though for saying, oooh, two cell phones! ;)

    What I love about this post is your realization that it is OK to put yourself first, and tune out the outside noise, and your "discovery" that yes, you're a writer.

    I so enjoyed meeting you and being introduced to your writing. You made my first BlogHer experience so wonderful and less scary. (And thanks for the kind shout out too!)

  7. I struggled with my workshop choices as well. I stuck with what I really wanted to do, even if it seemed redundant. I still ended up learning.

    It was really nice meeting you! I hope you got some good old fashioned writing in at the end. :)

  8. I can see how it would be difficult to attend BlogHer both for work and for your writing. And I'm so sorry you won't be able to attend next year.

    You're one of the best writers I know. The best assvice I can give you is to keep writing. I'll be here to read.

  9. I didn't realize you had work obligations at BlogHer. That would make things way more complicated.

    I'm sorry you felt like you had to make different decisions that you would have because of that. It must have been hard. It does sound like you learned a lot of great stuff though. Maybe you can focus on that? I hate feeling like I made the wrong choices when I won't have those same choices again. I also know that the regret fades over time. I hope that is the case for you, and that you can instead remember all the amazing things you did do and did learn.

    I'm most sorry to hear that you probably won't be going again. I guess we'll never get a chance to meet face to face. I'm so bummed I missed BlogHer for two years. Talk about regret... :(

  10. I am SO feeling this post. Every now and then I struggle with "should I monetize?" "Should I grow my readership?" And I get all type A about blogging which is my happy place and then I start to put all this pressure on how i should carry on in my happy place. And I'm a writer first too - and I scheduled day 2 much differently than Day 1 because I had that aha moment about it all. And running into you outside of the hotel and as I was arriving was such a happy moment for me. I was like, "Justine is here! It's all good!"

  11. I got anxious just reading about all the juggling and trying to keep up on tweets. Ack!

  12. Part of me wants to say, "DUH." Of course you are a writer. You are an exquisite writer. You are a deep thinker. I always leave your space more thoughtful than I came to it.

    Pen and paper -- whoa. I read that writing that way engages a different part of the brain If that's your secret, maybe I should give it a try, too.

    P.S. Miss you.

  13. I can so relate to this. I was also carrying two phones - and missed the lunch on Friday to hurry back to the hotel to submit work. It's a tough balance - especially when fraternizing with so many where their blog is their job.


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