It was after Mother’s Day passed with nary an acknowledgement — other than my daughter adding me to her dad’s birthday card and saying, “We should do something for you for Mother’s Day” — that I decided to register for the BlogU Conference in Baltimore in early June.
My husband, who’d been playing in Ultimate Frisbee tournaments all day (and the previous day), offered a “Mother’s Day Observed” to take place the following weekend when he could take the kids out on Sunday. I countered: How about I go away a few weeks later for the weekend conference? So thank you, my children’s father, for falling down on the job of honoring me and all I do for our family so that I could, without guilt, leave for 43 hours and get me some professional development.
As the conference approached, it was a help just to know I was going. I started to think more seriously about where to take my website, Mindful Healthy Life.
When I realized I’d been jumped into a private Facebook group for attendees, I was initially overwhelmed. Everyone had so much to say! How could I ever prepare myself adequately for this weekend? I knew no one attending except blogger extraordinaire and Scary Mommy founder Jill Smokler, who was kind enough to publish a piece of mine last fall even though it was probably the busiest time of year for her with an e-book and charity drive. It was from a post on her Facebook page that I learned about the conference. But what about the other 200 attendees? Here they all were chatting away like old friends. OMG, it was just like middle school!
That’s really an inside joke (if such a thing existed anymore), because the Saturday night party sponsored by Nickelodeon was all about #MiddleSchoolAwkward. It was fun and freeing to think about dressing up like my most angsty, confused self and dancing equally enthusiastically to the Violent Femmes and Debbie Gibson.
But that wasn’t until Saturday night. Back to Friday, I spent the early afternoon networking at the DC Green Festival, which is kind of one of the events of the year for a green lifestyle blogger. I stayed longer than I should have an underestimated Friday traffic so missed the first session and made it just as the second was starting.
Later, I came in partway through the Friday evening event and stood on the sidelines, or, rather, the dance floor. I felt a little lonely.
After the first part of the program ended, I was first in line to take dress-up photos.
Then I stood around for a while until I accosted the one person who wasn’t coupled up by introducing myself as someone who knew no one in the room. The very wonderful Christi Sue Campbell immediately shared with me about her life and blog, Ditching the Masks. I was so grateful for her kindness and for so many others all weekend who suggested people I talk to or gave me advice.
With Christi’s encouragement, I took a seat for the second half of the Friday night performance and was moved to tears – for laughter and for pain – reading the four essays that had been chosen by the Huffington Post in the “term paper” contest. You know that dream people have about not showing up for an exam? That was me wondering how I had missed a call for submissions. But it was probably just as well so I could simply enjoy the winners and not stew about why I hadn’t been chosen.
I was too chicken to go to the open mic in the dorms, which I wrote about here. But I got a lot of good thinking and writing done. That night and in the morning, I skipped the cafeteria and ate the food I’d brought because of the ridiculously strict diet I’m undertaking to try to figure out what might be contributing to chronic health issues. But boy, were things frosty on Saturday morning, thanks to a dorm fridge with a testy thermostat. My organic lettuce was stiff with ice. Grain-free plantain muffins and some leftover squash got me through until lunch. I don’t do microwaves and am honestly glad the rest was inedible because it was important for me to get my ass into lunch and actually talk to people!
Oh, but even before breakfast, I joined Quirky Chrissy (one of the term paper winners) outside for yoga. She was leading a great sequence, which I joined in on after warming up. After a cold and drizzly week, it was blissful to be outside in the morning. I was so grateful she’d posted, otherwise I would have likely just practiced in my room, if at all. It was so lovely, I went out again on Sunday. (Alas, I’m still not on Instagram and cannot find the photo that was posted of us practicing on Saturday. Obviously I still need some schooling!)
The sessions were all great. I learned about Pinterest from Anna Luther, Online Communities from Honest Mom‘s JD Bailey and author People I Want to Punch in the Throat‘s Jen Mann, Collaborative Blogging from Julie Nowell of Blunt Moms and 3 Chickens and a Boat, making (real) money as a writer from JD Bailey, Four Plus an Angel‘s Jessica Watson and Robyn Welling of Hollow Tree Ventures (also with Beyond Your Blog founder Susan Lee Maccarelli in the house), and I closed out the day with the session I’d missed on Friday, SEO 101 with Lynn Morrison of The Nomad Mom Diary.
I could go on about all I learned, but it’s only been 10 days, and I’m still a work in progress. Plus I could never give everyone her due! Suffice it to say that I have a clearer vision and a lot more confidence in what I’m doing. And I’m relieved to know where I can find support!
At dinner, I met a lot of great women and got the nerve to say hello to Science of Parenthood‘s Norine Dworkin-McDaniel. She had an essay in the Demeter Press anthology Have Milk, Will Travel: Adventures in Breastfeeding, a collection of humorous stories about nursing, including two of mine. She was so warm, and I hope to see her in the fall or winter during her next book tour.
After dinner, I tried to get ready for the middle school party while attempting to figure out from my husband how we would work the following morning with conflicting places to be. It sounded like it would be prudent for me to head back before the closing session. But for the moment, I vowed to try to enjoy myself, even if I was (as I must be or risk further slides down the health scale) totally sober.
I was almost startled at how like my old self I looked once the hair expanded and the eyeliner came on.
Shortly after arriving at the party, I found Anna Whiston-Donaldson, author of the best-selling book Rare Bird and An Inch of Gray blog. She had given such a moving reading last fall, and I was thrilled to see her again and talk about our respective losses.
Finally, I danced. When you’re trying to look like an adolescent dork, it doesn’t really matter how you move.
I took some photos with my new friends and left feeling happy, just a little before the party wound down.
Back in my dorm room, I posted my throwback-look photos on Facebook. Who knew so many people who knew me when I looked like that the first time would be online at midnight on a Saturday and would take the time to comment! It was actually a really nice surprise. Most of these people I have not seen in 20 years or more, so it was wild to then get in a message conversation about how one is separating from her husband. Her own parent’s divorce was one of the first I remember, and here we are now 30 years later. What a trip.
I managed to have a few good conversations at the end of breakfast, and I got home in time to take my daughter to one of the more enjoyable birthday parties I’ve been to. It’s nice when the other parents are either your friends or just interesting people to talk to! And when you’re on a high from getting so much inspiration and time to reflect.
The conference is still alive in the private Facebook group. I feel like I stumbled into a treasure trove and just want to find the time to comb through all the opportunities.
Thank you, BlogU!