BlogHer Surprise, or How I Misunderstood Almost Everything

BlogHer 2013, one of the most eventful weekends of my life, presented in 1600 words and 10 pictures. “Just the facts, ma’am,” as the saying is.

Queen Latifah at BlogHer VOTY

I almost never write about blogging/writing because I know that most of my readers aren’t bloggers or writers, but I really wanted to tell you this story. If you are one of those non-blogging readers, a bit of background: BlogHer is a social media company that does all kinds of things (and maybe everything), including hosting several conferences. Their flagship event is a blogging conference every summer, and it is mammoth, one of the largest social media gatherings in the world. Last weekend I flew to Chicago and attended their 9th annual conference.

My language for the past few months has gone something like this: Yes, I’m going to BlogHer, but it’s not quite the right conference for me. BlogHer is really for blogger bloggers, the ones who work with brands and write reviews and all that, and I’m not that kind of writer. I’m going to meet my friends and next year I’ll find a conference that suits me better.


I was wrong.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Yes, BlogHer conferences do connect bloggers with brands (I am in no way critical of that; it just isn’t my aim right now, and besides, I’m pretty sure I misunderstood exactly how that works, too), but there is so much more. I met people—hundreds and hundreds of them—who are brilliant, funny, creative, energetic, talented, and fierce. I talked with knock-you-out writers and change-the-world activists. I heard talks by Guy Kawasaki (Read his book Enchantment today.) and Sheryl Sandberg (Read her book Lean In the very instant you finish Kawasaki’s book.). I talked and talked and talked (and talked) and heard stories that had me alternately laughing until my guts ached and scrambling in my bag for tissues.

Of course, some of the emotionality is just about exhaustion (4-5 hours of sleep a night 3 nights in a row? I’m way too old for that shit.), but most of it is about the energy of the people and the being-togetherness. I am every bit as close and connected to some of my online friends as I am to my local friends, and to be together in the same place for the first time is a powerful thing.

Case in point:

That’s Jen, also known as @TheNextMartha, but for me, she’ll always be my Internet Fairy Godmother. She came to the airport to meet me and share a cab to the airport, and it was so fitting, since she was my very first internet friend, way back when we both had fewer than 100 Twitter followers (You know, back in the day. 2009, I believe.).

Then there’s this one:

Can I just say, photography is kind of a big deal in the blogosphere, and we are probably a very rare pair of bloggers in that neither of us can take a photo to save our lives. But that’s Alex, my hero, my Wonder Woman, the Southeastern US version of Southwestern US me (It probably says bad things about me that I admire her so much since we’re so similar.). We roomed together, and the first night we decided to hit it early because we were both tired, and proceeded to flap our gums until after 1 am. I could have kept talking with her for days and never gotten bored.

I never took a picture with Katie, which was seriously stupid (see above about how I am photographically challenged; not only am I bad at taking pictures, but also bad at remembering even to try) because I love her like wildfire, but I squeezed her no less than 15 times, and maybe sometime I’ll edit a couple of photos of us to make it look like we’re together.

I spent some time with Abigail:

I have loved her like a younger sister for a long time, but did I recognize her when I met her? No, I did not (I plead exhaustion.). Did she hold it against me? Not a bit. She even let me play with her baby later in the day. (Cute? Oh, yes. Painfully cute.)

We laughed and laughed at lunch. I was holding that baby over there on the right and I was laughing so hard I had to pass him back because I was afraid I would bonk his head on the table.

I met new people, so many new people, and thank goodness they were all passing out business cards because my head was swimming after the first hour. For a person whose work life is spent at a desk in a little office next to the kitchen, with music and occasionally (OK, maybe more than occasionally) MSNBC to keep her company, that was a whole lot of people. An avalanche of humanity. I met a tiny fraction of the people in attendance, and still, it was more faces and voices than I can possibly keep track of.

These are not new people. These are people who’ve been blowing my mind with their words for years. If it seems like I was a little starstruck, it’s only because I was. From left to right, me, Varda, Michelle, Jean (Stimey), Jennifer, and Mir. If there is a brawl in an alley, these are probably the women who started it. Don’t let their beauty fool you; they are badass in the extreme.

The highlight of my weekend was Voices of the Year, which is the big event on Friday night every year at BlogHer. Nominations for blog posts open every spring, and the BlogHer team of readers chooses 100 posts to honor, and from among those, they choose 12 and invite those writers to read them onstage. When I got the email inviting me to read A Dislocation of Mind I was honored, but I had no idea what it really meant.

This is the space at the Chicago Sheraton where they had Voices of the Year, before the people came. It’s hard to tell because of my lousy photography skills, but I think the room had a capacity of something like a half a million people. (Perhaps a little less? Who can tell.)

We twelve readers, plus hosts, were tucked into a backstage space to await the beginning of the show. I peeked out around the curtain from the far side of the room and snapped this not too long before we started, in between two of my half dozen trips to the bathroom to stress-pee.

Whoa. No less amazing than the audience were the other writers. I took this backstage, when Lisa StoneElisa Camahort Page and Jory Des Jardins (BlogHer co-founders) were introducing the evening’s emcee.

I wish I’d managed to get a picture with all the readers in it. In between trips to the bathroom, I kept thinking, “I could sit at a table with these women and we wouldn’t run out of things to talk about for months.” The intelligence, passion, and hilarity among them is epic.

Oh, and the emcee?

Yes, that’s Queen Latifah, who liked my triskele tattoo and who is even more beautiful and gracious in person than she is on screen.

I managed to take the stage without falling down, and then there was magic. I’ve made the joke a thousand times: there are few things I like more than an audience. Ask my mom and she’ll tell you that from the instant I figured out how to use my mouth to form words, no one has been able to get me to shut up. But this? This was something different. Extraordinary. People told me that they really enjoyed it, but I have a hard time imagining that anyone was having a better time than I was. To have people hear my words, to understand my daughter’s story, gives me real hope. Many people don’t get what’s happening with mental health in our country, but here was a group of powerful, passionate people, many of whom have their own experience of mental illness and the mental health system, who care.

And then I went backstage and my phone exploded with encouraging, celebratory tweets, and I won’t lie. That was fun. When BlogHer posts the event on YouTube, I’ll link to it because if you weren’t there you’ll want to watch the whole thing. It will blow your mind, from laughing about intestinal worms to weeping over the injustice of poverty to raging because the Christian church is so often outrageously un-Christ-like, and so much more.

BlogHer had one of these boards made for each of the 100 winning Voices of the Year posts, and the reception room after the event was gorgeous, filled up with all those words. Alas, I couldn’t figure out how to get mine home on Southwest Airlines.

On Saturday afternoon, I spoke on a panel with Alex Iwashyna and Cora Harrington called Blogging the Unbloggable: Writing About Hard Topics Without Being Hated. I hope the people who attended the session enjoyed it, and maybe even learned something, because for me it was important. In preparing for the panel I had to really examine myself and my blog, and I’m asking some questions, namely, why am I taking so few risks? I don’t know the answers, but I don’t think it’s a bell I’ll be able to un-ring.

I kind of hate uncomfortable, un-ringable bells.

But what the hell, right? A life without surprises and risks is hardly worth the effort. I came home with a new understanding of the power and limitations of this medium and I’m excited to find out what will happen next.

Next week, I mean. After I sleep. A lot.

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41 thoughts on “BlogHer Surprise, or How I Misunderstood Almost Everything”

  1. AW MAN! We didn’t get a picture together! POOP ON A STICK! (I also suck at taking pictures and just sort of rely on other people to do it for me and then send them to me somehow).

    So we shall take a picture NEXT TIME we are together. Because now that we have finally met? There HAS TO BE a next time.

    Love you hard.

  2. I always say that attending a BlogHer conference is like falling in love with 5000 people in one night.

    I was one of the people applauding your VOTY reading and thinking about mental health care here in the city we share. Powerful stuff.

  3. I love your piece…I didn’t even think of going to BlogHer this year for various reasons…I’m a newbie blogger, it is expensive. And I am absolutely terrified of flying and I live across the US!

    I have to say though I loved the twitter fees and your piece makes me think maybe next time! 🙂

    1. Thanks. You know, the funny thing is, I said for 3 years that I would never go, partly because of the negative things I’d heard, but the fact is, it’s just like the internet: you get to choose which people you run with. Obviously, that’s not always true, and I’m sure there were people who were on the whip-crack end of some bad behavior, but for the most part, I avoided all that. Think about going. You might enjoy it as much as I did!

  4. The folks attending your session on Blogging the Unbloggable DID enjoy it! At least this folk did. After hearing you read your Voices post, I had made a mental note to meet you before the end of BlogHer but attended your panel based on the title alone. How cool to find you there and to have time to chat with you and Alex afterward!

    Looking forward to a year of great conversation via social media until next BlogHer!

  5. Congratulations Adrienne! What an extraordinary honor, and I’m so glad you were able to bask in it a little. Well deserved! Thank you so much for sharing the experience. Hoping I make it into next year’s group shot. 🙂

  6. I LOVED listening to you read. I kept saying “yes, yes, YES!” in my head, ok, maybe outloud a tiny bit too. 🙂 and you know? I had all the similar feelings you had, and I ended up saying “yes, yes, YES!” to all of Friday. I was on the fence until I got the VOTY e-mail, and knew I needed to experience it in person… I am so glad I did. I’m so glad I get to keep your reading tucked up all deep in my heart.

  7. Adrienne, It was so nice to meet you & hang w/with you at the “awesome” breakfast that tried to starve you:) I was one of the people you touched w/your post that you read.I say in the audience failing to hold back my tears.I have my own diagnosis I live with and your piece touched my heart.I shared my story, to help bring attention to mental health.The care not gotten and stigmas that come with these diagnoses kill people & people need to know this.I will never forget your piece.
    I too am not a blogger who writes solely for brands.I write because I am compelled to write; it’s the only way that I know how to process my emotions. It was truly my pleasure to meet you .

    1. Thank you, Debi. That breakfast was one for the record books, right? I have my own diagnosis, too, and that is an added layer of pain. To watch my daughter get beat down by both the illness and the denial of care….it was almost more than I could bear. It was my pleasure to meet you, too. I had a wonderful time talking with you!

  8. I’m glad that you had such a good time. I know that I was thrilled to meet you, listen to you speak at VOTY, and sit in your session. If I ever get a chance to brawl next to you, I will consider it an honor.

  9. I have the “better” picture of us that we took a minute later, but that one is just captured the misfits that we are. I already miss you and I’m so glad you Facebook messaged me back in the fall about rooming together. I can’t say enough about the wonderful person, writer and friend that you are. No matter what happens with blogging and social media and everything else, I will always be grateful it brought you into my life. {sniff} Okay STOP IT.

  10. You know how much I adore you. And when you read your VOTY piece… was amazing. I felt it with every cell. Beautiful. As are you.

    1. Thanks, Jen. For all things, across 4 years, but especially last weekend. I had just as much fun with you IRL as I do online, and even a little more (which I wouldn’t have imagined was possible).

  11. I can’t believe I got to meet you. And hug you. And why is there NEVER enough time at these things?? How I would have LOVED to sit and tell you what your stories have done for me, on many a lost night.

    THANK YOU, for writing.

    1. You’re right. Not enough time. I wish I had spent a whole evening with you, but there are only so many hours. We would have plenty to say, for sure. Next time!

      And THANK YOU for writing. Always, and for being so completely yourself.

  12. Congratulations on the wonderful honor and recognition for your stellar blogs!!! So glad you found a community of the like-hearted. Very comforting and deserved!
    Best always

  13. I am still laughing just looking at the picture of you laughing.
    And I loved your reading.
    It was one of the readings that made me cry.

  14. I love Lisa’s last sentence. Back in 2006 when I wanted to fly away to attend my first Internet marketing conference, I talked to my husband about why I wanted to go. At first, neither he nor I really got why it made that much sense. Then I talked to a friend who was also interested in going. We strategized together and that’s how I came up with idea to produce a virtual PR event. When I got there, I found the speakers.

  15. Heya my business is to the principal moment here. I discovered that board so i locating It truly useful & that helped me away considerably. I am hoping offer one thing again as well as assistance other folks that you made it simpler for us.

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