Better than Swag: The Impact of Blogher ’09 In Real Life Part 2

blogher09chicago1As Part 1 of this post discussed, I was touched by this year’s Blogher theme of “In Real Life”.  But I wasn’t the only one.  And it wasn’t all smiles and feather boas either.

The first night of parties was good.   Gwynne was recognized by more people than I was.  That was okay, though.  I drank more vodka and cranberry than she did. I believe I had just as much fun!  :-)  I met many interesting people but the one who stood out that evening was a very artsy, cool looking woman who won my heart by offering me a drink ticket. The means to my first and much needed cocktail.  The next day I recognized her as a speaker in one of my sessions, Melissa Lion, author and social media whatchamacallher. I went to the bookstore that day to return the drink ticket favor and buy her book.  I read 6 pages of “Upstream” and was already choked up and in love with my new writer/blogger friend.  By the time I finished the uncluttered, straight to the heart 150 pages I was fully completely attached to all the characters, had laughed and cried, and been left with a feeling of hope and optimism. Two thumbs and big toes up.   Turns out the book is under movie option.  So you should visit her website or read the book right now so you can say you knew of her when. Thank goodness I didn’t know all that BEFORE I stalked her a lil bit and finally worked up the nerve to ask her to autograph my book after lunch. 

The second night of conference I was completely on my own and, you guessed it, ended up  crying in my room too afraid to go to the big parties alone.  I had returned to the hotel room after sessions and started getting ready.  I was all excited and looking in the mirror curling my hair and I literally saw the change in my face as I realized, “Whoa, I am headed out alone”.  Now I like to be alone for sure, but not GOING OUT alone in CHICAGO alone.  I texted my family and they couldn’t be found. I Facebooked. I texted a few friends to try and nonchalantly suck some of their good energy.  In the end, it was the sucking dry of the vodka in the mini bar that turned my frown upside down and got me out the door. Thank goodness because had I not gone out that night, I would not have received my tiara or had my first experience with a chocolate fountain.  Vodka, chocolate, and a tiara. Every girl’s dream. 

The natural buzz I picked up from daily sessions was made of the same stuff that gave me the energy to stay up too late and show up early to breakfast networking and each day’s classes. Women continued to recognize, hug, and support one another. We did networking speed dating which was exhausting and fun. We learned tips, teckie stuff, and held Q&As.   Then it was time for Community keynote speakers. That’s when I realized.  It wasn’t just me whose life had been enriched by involvement in the blogging community and by this remarkable event, but community wide, people’s lives were changing for the better.   Gathered in the ballroom 1500 deep, we all laughed and cried together as winning blog authors read for us their favorite posts.  I would challenge any woman to try and NOT be touched in some way by the presentation of each and every blogger that read to us, regardless of whether or not you could relate to the topic.  There were a few, though, that spoke most directly to me.

As a woman torn every moment of every day between the beauty and the pain of the world as well as my own community,  I cheered the testimony of one blogger’s Obama election reflections as she taught me about “racial skepticism” and related it to the barriers and stereotypes suffered by many groups.  She touched us with hope that these issues would one day soon be distant memories.  A blogging mommy made a change in me as she told me how my life time practice of using the word “retard” hurts her, her family, the precious son she lost, and the sweet child she later CHOSE to make part of her family. And as an adoptive mother of 2 I  lost my breath as the story unfolded of the blogger on a quest to find the brother she didn’t know she had, who was given up by her mother all those years ago because she didn’t know she had a choice. If you are reading these posts as you go and could use a laugh (and a tissue?) right about now I will also share the story of this hilarious blogger as she chronicles her relationship with Diet Coke.  Still others shared intensely personal stories ranging from hilarious to heart wrenching and as they laughed and cried during the presentation of their blogs you could see and feel the joy, the therapy, the pain, and the relief that their posts had brought them through not only the writing, but the posting, the community response, and the public presentation.  Powerful stories, incredibly talented writers.

At Blogher ’09  we had the opportunity to interact with high profile women in entertainment, communications,  and publishing.  We picked their brains and they picked ours.  We learned tips and strategies to get just what we wanted out of our blogging experience be it socializing, informing, or monetizing.  We were treated to incredible food, samples, gifts, and rewards, feather boas and tiaras, celebrity guests and entertainment.  Yet all that pales in comparison to the knowledge that soon our odd and misunderstood hobbies and businesses would one day, sooner than later, be mainstream “in real life”.  And most of all we were able to meet the incredible women and feel the blogosphere’s electric vibe as we brought that amazing community into OUR REAL LIVES.

Better than Swag; The Impact of Blogher ’09 In Real Life Part 1 It’s All About Me

The theme of Blogher ’09 was  “In Real Life”.  When I first stumbled upon it in December and spontaneously decided to use the early Christmas money I had received to buy my ticket, I thought “In Real Life” made perfect sense.  Although my “real life” was not very aware of my blogging friends and family, my blogging community had made a huge impact on MY REAL LIFE over the last year or so.  Having now had a couple of days to reflect and review my notes, it is clear that this is a strong feeling among the 1500 Blogher attendees.

But for now, it’s all about me.

I had been feeling bad for a few years when I stumbled upon blogging.  Having been accessing the blogosphere since 2003 when I adopted my two children, I researched every lump, bump, rash, sob, and thought that my kids had and shared.  Most of the time I knew there was nothing to be concerned about, but I found reassurance anonymously reading stories of moms just like me who were experiencing the same things I was without having to confess to friends and fam in my REAL LIFE that I was paranoid and worried and lonely.

Bonding in the Blogosphere

Sometime between 2003 and 2007 things got wonky.  By the end of 2006 I was in full on depression, but didn’t know it.  Everybody has their “stuff” and mine is not really important to the story except to say that one day in February 2008 I woke up enough to look around and realize that things were not right. I knew I was lethargic, lacking my usual vibrance, and my pants were getting tight!, but I didn’t really REALIZE what was happening. Something made me look online for SOMETHING to do. A change to make.  I took surveys, I participated in panels, and socialized for points.  Then I met up with a fantastic woman named Summer who hired me to do some freelance writing.  We became fast friends.  It wasn’t long before I met another bad ass woman writer named Robin.  We were many states apart, shared interesting common thoughts, and kept each other  motivated, shared family life, set goals together and worked on projects together.  Last in my blogosphere BFF trio was Cindy, a hard working, beat the odds tough chick who reminded me through example to always get back up.    The three of us have run around online together together ever since.  Even though I have never met any of them, they are as real to me as anyone I know “in real life”.

You see in my “real life” I don’t know one single blogger or freelance writer.  In my lifetime of wanting to be a writer I finally found a group who UNDERSTOOD a passion that no one else did.  They knew the longing in my heart to put my words out there and we all worked and wished and dreamed and grew together.  Although our projects have taken us in different directions, we still support and take interest in one another’s work AND life.

Since that time, along with the encouragement of my online family, I went to the doctor, pursued therapy and learned of my clinical depression.  Like many in my community, writing is therapeutic for me so I found healing in my posts. (and comments and crazy emails — thanks to you few who have endured them!)  I was able to keep the darkness there for the most part and tried to keep the “crazy” on the down low in my “real life”.  At Blogher ’09 I learned I wasn’t alone.

Recluse Today, Solo in the Big City Tomorrow

Unfortunately, none of my Internet BFFs were able to make it to Blogher this year.  I was on my own and nervous, but knew it would be okay because in addition to my Internet BFFs, I had been welcomed into and supported by the blogging community in general.  And as a bonus, thanks to the power of TWITTER I found “Aranarose“of Lemonade Mama who lives less than ten minutes from me and in a last minute collision of events she and I made the trek from Flint to Chicago together where we roomed with a blogger/Twitter friend of hers whom neither of us had yet met “in real life”. Thanks again MEL!

As exciting as it was for me to see technology and community in action as my conference plans come together, I kept it on the down low in my “real life”. A common conversation at Blogher was the dreaded funny looks and confusion we often meet when we try and bring our two worlds together.  Remember the George Costanza theory of the dangers of allowing one of his worlds to infiltrate the other?  I think we all carry a bit of that fear around! Ha!  So I kept it mainly to myself as I rode the rollercoaster of one day thinking I am going to conference and the next day not.

For the entire month before conference I debated the practical against the possibilities. Two days before leaving “practical” had won out. I am a wife and a mom with responsibilities and obligations.  There was no time for dreaming and exploring possibilities.  One day before conference I received the email equivalent of a smack in the face.  The details are private but the meaning was clear, “Snap out of it! Quit being a chicken shit! Education is good! (and even) You deserve a mamatini.”

Having been spared my  30 day internal struggle, my husband was free to sweat the important stuff.  “You’re going to be in an entirely different state than us?” “You. Are driving. To Chicago?” “You have never met one single person involved?” “You are picking up a stranger, and driving 5 hours alone with her headed to you’re not sure where and staying in you’re not sure what room?” “Why are you packing your feather boas?” And lastly, upon my tearful departure, “If you come up missing Nancy Grace is coming after me so would you mind leaving a note  with the conference info and any other pertinent info for when she gets here?”

So that’s how it came to be that I,  recluse in recovery, pulled out of the driveway alone, armed with nothing but a feather boa and a smart phone, headed for the most social event I ever feared attending.  What happened? Was it worth it? What did I learn? Was the community as fabulous as I imagined?  Do you think I shook my bootie at the bowling alley or cried alone in my room draining the mini bar? Watch for part 2 to find out!

Let’s Talk About Swag, Baby!

The drive from Flint to Chicago last Thursday was an odd one.  I had picked up a woman I had never met in person and barely knew from Twitter, helped her get her bags into the car, and together we rode for 5+ hours.  Just like the changing dynamic between Gwyn & myself, the mood bounced around between nervous to thrilled and everything in between.  We were both in disbelief we were actually attending the blogging and social media conference and although we both knew we were in store for something special, we did not really know what was in store for us.  Unfortunately, neither will you.  Yet anyway. I will fill you in on Paula Deen, the future of social technology, and the amazing women I met later.  The topic today is freebies. Samples.  Swag, if you will.

The return trip on Sunday was not so different from Thursday’s drive, maybe a little quieter, and we were definitely much more exhausted.  The excitement was still there, though.  Gwyn and I alternated between enthusiastic conversations, our life’s philosophies, conference recaps & plans for the future, and quiet thoughtful moments where we held similar conversations with ourselves, contemplating what we had done and what we plan to do.  Today, though, I am distracted from my locked up genius busting out of my brain seams by some negative Blogher chatter that I would like to purge so I can move on.

Free stuff! As with any conference or exposition, there were vendors on hand: Folks who took their time and loaded up their products to present to us in fun and educational ways.  You know what else they did?  They brought us samples! Yummy treats to try, the latest beverages to hydrate us, and household & technological diddies to add fun and convenience to our lives.  If we like a particular product we may buy it, tell our family about it or even better yet, blog about it! That’s what the advertiser is hoping for.  And why not?  After feeding, entertaining, and educating us all weekend is it too much for them to be able to ask us to TRY their new snack cracker?  There were some comments questioning this practice, but I am going to answer “no. there is nothing wrong with this. It actually makes sense.” Now moving on.

To Swag or not to Swag? That is the real issue.

Ladies I understand that it is exciting to get stuff.  To try new things. To be ahead of the technology and cleaning product curve.  But is it cool to steal?  Would it make you proud to see your children bombard the other children to get to the front of the line where Santa Claus is passing out toys?  Did you really pay hundreds of dollars to mainly show up and score shit?

Not everyone behaved this way of course, but enough that I over heard vendors discussing not wanting to provide swag anymore because they don’t enjoy being attacked and pressured for more.

My thought on the matter is this.  Although I didn’t know anything about free goodies in the expo hall or swag bags at parties at the time that I signed up, I liked it.  It made me feel giddy like a kid.  I can no more speak for the blogher population than I can the entire mom population, but here’s my thing.  I don’t get out much and most of my cash goes to food and kids.  I haven’t been to the mall in years.  “Splurges” for me have come to be things like Mr. Clean sponges, a pretty new pen to journal with, and a full tank of gas all at once.  These things make me smile.  So for someone to walk up and hand me a bag filled with nail polish, glitter, lip gloss,  chocolate AND a not yet released doll for my daughter, I am delighted and touched.

Delighted to have a new lip gloss which is an unexpected bonus for me, and touched that the angels behind the scenese “get” me.  They know that even in this circumstance I feel selfish to receive bags of goodies and munch on chocolate and wine while my daughter is home watching out the window for me.  So they give me something for her, as well.  Several somethings in fact, so that I will allow myself to be treated well and enjoy some much needed adult time, getting educated and bonding with my sisters.

So please party planners and PR people:  Don’t let the immature greedy acts of a few ruin the swagsational spoiling of the appreciative majority.  Instead, feel free to get tougher on the offenders.  Taze them bitches if you have to.   But let the rest of us feel like rock stars for a couple days. :-)