Tag Archives: BlogHer13

A singular sensation

A strange thing happened when I came back from BlogHer. I felt very small.

Not that I go around feeling like a great lumbering giant every day, but I usually feel comfortably right-sized in my space. But at the start of last week I found myself looking in the mirror and thinking I was a mere wisp of a thing; that a breath of air would knock me over; that I was lacking weight, significance, heft.

Small in a not-good way, then. Maybe it was the exhaustion that hit me when I got home, a combination of post-excitement, post-travel tiredness and a bit of an extended hangover. Maybe it was because I’d hung out with some women who were taller and bigger than me – but that was by no means the majority. At 5’4 and a US size 8, I’m pretty much average, and certainly not tiny. I am not a wisp.

I think perhaps it was a physical manifestation of the fact that I’d been such a small fish in such a huge pond at the blogging conference. I don’t mind not being in the limelight; I don’t want to be top of the heap. I have very little ambition, and I’m fine with that. I have no illusions that my blog is secretly a Big Deal. I don’t think anyone’s going to jump out of the alcove and present me with a trophy for being the biggest little blogger that could, I really don’t.

So I don’t know why, honestly. It was an odd and unsettling sensation. But I’m happy to say it’s wearing off, and I’m feeling pretty much normal again.

Which probably means I should get back to that 30-day shred thing if I want to keep fitting into my size 6 Gap jeans. (Which we all know are just like size 8s anywhere else.)

BlogHer ’13: But Maud, how did you FEEL about it all?

Chicago view
View from my room on the 21st floor

Can I squeeze one more post out of the BlogHer experience before you’re all sick to death of the subject? It’s just that I have more things to say about it. I’m still processing the whole weekend, but I also want to write it all down before I forget.

When people in Chicago heard it was my first BlogHer conference, they would say, sympathetically, “It’s all a bit overwhelming, isn’t it?” But honestly, I didn’t feel overwhelmed. It was exhausting, but I didn’t realise that till I came home. I did burn out a bit on sessions, but I could cope with that by simply not attending the last one I’d tentatively put on my schedule for the day.

When I went to University College Dublin (17,000 students) from my high school of 300 (which is a normal/medium size in Ireland but tiny by American standards) the same thing should have happened: I should have been intimidated and overwhelmed by the size of the place and all those people. But I wasn’t. I found my place and I slotted in, and it felt right straight away.

Maybe it’s because I like big cities or maybe it’s because I’m halfway between intro- and extravert, or maybe it’s because as an only child you’re often plonked into situations among many adults you don’t know and expected to just entertain yourself quietly until everyone’s ready to go… or maybe it’s just me. I’m generally content to quietly put myself somewhere and watch what’s going on, even if what’s going on is positively enormous.

Maud in a bathroom
Day one: Not overwhelmed

And BlogHer is pretty enormous. There were about six thousand attendees this year, I was told. The giant hall at the conference center in Chicago full of round tables did elicit a small gasp when I saw it on the first morning, while juggling breakfast plate and coffee cup and quasimodoed by my laptop in my shoulder bag. Imagine your debs (if you’re Irish), or a sit-down dinner at a wedding, and then multiply by a couple of hundred, and you have some idea of the scale.

But after breakfast and the keynote speeches, we all broke off to go to our sessions, as if after an English lecture in Theatre L you went to a Spanish tutorial (if I may continue with my UCD reminiscences), and then you were in a room with only fifty or a hundred or maybe ten other people, depending on what you chose to attend. In fact, the whole experience was a little like university, distilled and then concentrated and then scrunched up into two very fast days.

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I may have arrived with some notion that all the business cards I handed out would translate instantly into new loyal readers, perhaps catapulting me into fame and fortune; but the sad truth is that the “big” bloggers, even the ones who might have my card now, are too busy tending to their own empires, and their own real lives, to take the time to read and love and then blogroll little ol’ me.

That’s okay. I can’t please all the people all the time, so I’d better just please myself. That’s why I went to the session called The UnMarketing Manifesto, why I went to the writing panels. My blog’s purpose is to make me a better writer; that’s why I started it, and I don’t want to lose sight of that in all this friend-making kerfuffle.

The truth is that I probably won’t end up adding all the cards I got to my blog reader, even though I’m following everyone I met on Twitter. And they won’t all add mine. And while it’s nice to be told that I’m a nice person, or that I’m fun to hang out with, what I really want is to hear that someone enjoys reading my blog.

Am I weird? Is that not, um, normal? Oh well. Thanks for being one of the ones who’s reading.

Chicago River at night


What I Wore: BlogHer ’13

Seriously, it is utterly unimportant what you wear to a BlogHer conference (unless it is). I get it now. There is no dress code. Whatever you wear, there will be people who are more stylishly dressed, more formally dressed, more dressily dressed, more quirky, more queer, more basic, more elaborate, or more schlumpy than you. But people tried to tell me this and I studiously ignored them, because planning my wardrobe for the conference was the one area I could have control over in this whole crazy unknown future.
So I feel a bit embarrassed to even share this post, but I’m doing it anyway, precisely because I’m not a fashion blogger or a style blogger or an arty crafty person or anyone with an agenda about what she wears. When I was searching for guidance on this area before I went, I wanted to know what the regular conference-goers wore, not what the style bloggers were showcasing. I’m not saying I’m particularly representative of anything, but I’d say I didn’t stand out as over or underdressed, if that’s what you are going for. And I was comfortable and happy about how I looked, which was the aim of the game. 
My one caveat is that it really is COLD in conference centers, and my thin summer cardigans weren’t quite up to the job, for me. Next time, whenever, if-ever, I’ll bring something a little more substantial. A full-body fleece wouldn’t go amiss. Maybe a Snuggie.
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So this was day one. Apologies for the badly lit bathroom selfie. I think my top looks like a sofa, but I hope in a good way. I usually shy away from prints, but this one is so delicate and pretty that I was happy in it. It’s a sleeveless top in a very light chiffony fabric, which would have been perfect in the July weather I was envisaging. In the event, we had an oddly cool few days and I don’t think I removed the cardigan at all. I forgot to wear earrings and thus had a short identity crisis during breakfast, but I got over it.
Top: Marshalls. Khakis: Old Navy. Cardigan: Gap, I think. Sandals: Naot.

On Friday night I got dressed up, but you don’t need to even do that, depending on what parties you might be attending. Again, some did, some didn’t. I didn’t feel overdressed but I was chilly waiting for Voices of the Year to get started. (That’s a polite understatement. Also, they kept turning up the music because Queen Latifah was stuck in traffic, so I couldn’t even chat to my friends without screaming.) The dress looks odd because you can’t see the length, but it’s just to my knee. Both knees, actually. If you were around for the belt discussion, I asked my roomie for her opinion and went without the belt at the last minute. In hindsight, still not sure about that.

Dress: Nine West from Macy’s. Cardigan: Gap, as before. Jewelry: Old Navy. Sandals (not visible, obvs, but I am wearing some): dull gold slingbacks from Softspots with a fairly low heel.

On Saturday morning I was a little hung-over and feeling I’d lived several lifetimes since I’d arrived in Chicago. I already understood about it not mattering what I wore, but I’d packed the clothes so I had to put them on. (See, I didn’t even bother with a selfie, so this is that picture of me and Stacey again.)

Saturday: Green cowl t-shirt, Marshall’s. Cropped stretch denim trousers, New York & Co. Cardigan: Old Navy. Shoes: Naots again, which are incredibly comfortable and well worth the investment.

These trousers (which you can’t see very well) were inexpensive, fit nicely, and are very comfortable thanks to the stretch. I wore this all day, from conference to airport to home at midnight, so I guess it was a good choice. The green and orchid were more vibrant together in real life than they look here, so it wasn’t a day for feeling like blending into the background. It’s good to wear something a little bright or otherwise distinctive, so that if you’re trying to meet up with a stranger you don’t have to tell them you’re the one on the jeans and the black top.

Now I look at it, I really did have the green and purple theme going throughout, which is only because apparently everything I own is either green or purple. When I got to the airport and realised my suitcase was purple and my carry-on backpack was green, it was not really a proud moment. More of a sigh, really.

Greens and purples
See what I mean?

BlogHer ’13: The one with all the links

I don’t want to just name-check a bunch of people I met at BlogHer. I’d prefer to list them logically, both as a reminder for myself and also to help you find new blogs that interest you. So here we go: hold onto your hats for a whistle-stop tour.

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My BlogHer family came ready-made for me by my wonderful and open-hearted roommates, who – like the best of parents – gave me both a safe space to come back to and the freedom to roam and have my own crazy BlogHer experience. I am more grateful to them than I can say. They just happen to be a thematic group as well, as they came together a long time ago and bonded over infertility, pregnancy loss, and adoption. They blog the hard topics with more courage, grace, and good humor than I could ever hope to have.

ALI bloggers
Justine of A Half-Baked Life
Kathy of Bereaved and Blessed
Erin of Will Carry On
Mel of Stirrup Queens
Amy of Life According to Johnny
Jamie of Sticky Feet

My crazy-night-out accomplices, who let me crash their gang at the Voices of the Year reception and sit on the floor with them; and if nobody sang karaoke, never let it be said that it was for want of my encouragement or enabling. They just happen to all be autism parenting bloggers.

Autism bloggers
Jean at Stimeyland
JennyAlice at Into the Woods, Living Deliberately
Kim at Autism Twins
Mir at Woulda Shoulda

(That night I also met a barman from Galway who’s been in Chicago twenty years. But I don’t think he blogs.) 

People I sat beside at lunch, or on the bus, or even on my flight home. They don’t really fall into a single handy category.

Parenting
Cheryl of Busy Since Birth
Kimberly from Red Shutters
Jolawn from Spelhouse Love 
Gina from Mom Psych
Ruby of Growing Up Blaxican
Louise of Single With
Allison of SilverSpiral
Melissa Langsam Braunstein, who I was standing right beside on the first morning, but didn’t end up introducing myself to until we turned out to be sitting beside each other on the flight home to DC.

Personal
Emily at Zweber Farms, who has the moo-est Moo cards ever.
Kailynn of Ginger Sass
Sarah of Bluegrass Redhead

Food
Stephie of Eat Your Heart Out
Stephanie of Sarcastic Cooking
Mary Fran of Franny Cakes, who filled me in on the vital difference between a macaron and a macaroon.

Style/fashion
Alice of Practically Stylish

Useful stuff
Sarah from USA Love List
Stephanie of SuperMom Tested
Kim and Lisa of Bliss-Chicks
Shannon of Social Moms
Kyle of ShopGab (Hey! You’re a guy!)

Everyone else
Joyce of The Voice of Joyce
Margaret of Nestache
Jenny of Jenny on the Spot
Jo of Media Mum
Kim of Save My Sunshine
Javacia of See Jane Write
Julie Danis
Blondie of Tales from Clark Street

Very important speaker-type people. I went to some really great conference sessions, but my favourites were the writing round-tables. Inspiration and entertainment in one great package. These gals are the pros, and I look forward to learning from their writing.

Turning a blogpost into an essay
Rita Arens at Surrender, Dorothy

The UnMarketing Manifesto
Veronica Arreola of Viva la Feminista
Jenna Hatfield of Stop Drop and Blog
Dresden of Creating Motherhood
Michelle of Burgh Baby

Humor bloggers
Pat Dunnigan of Suburban Kamikaze
Georgia Getz of Bossy
Krista of Effing Dykes
Elizabeth of Flourish in Progress

Anatomy of a story
Vikki of Up Popped A Fox
Jenny Chiu of Mommy Nani Booboo  
Nicole Blades of Ms. Mary Mack
Tanis Miller

Finally, I did manage to meet up with one blog crush. I was thrilled and delighted to meet Stacey of Is there Any Mommy Out There?, who was gracious and sweet and instead of running away when I twitter-stalked her, arranged to meet me in the lobby and let me yammer on at her for far too long. If you don’t already read Stacey’s beautiful, hilarious, eviscerating blog, please proceed directly there. She’s a writer who inspires me. Thank you, Stacey.

Maud and Stacey
I never know what to do with my hands, and it shows.

Expectations and exhortations: the BlogHer advice post

Blogging has suddenly gone from something I do on my own to a serious group activity. Blogging isn’t writing at my kitchen table any more, it’s going to roundtable discussions where great writers and hilarious women talk about what they do; it’s eating breakfast with a thousand other women; it’s hugging someone I just met and meeting people I’ve only ever read about (and hugging them too). It’s like work, when work is fun and you get to meet your co-workers from all the other offices and finally put names to faces.

I expected to make connections and I hoped to grow my readership. I thought I would meet like-minded people and learn more about the technologies and techniques of blogging. I didn’t expect to make friends. I thought you couldn’t make friends instantly like that; friends take time and serendipity and are not just the people you sat at lunch with.

They’re not, but actually, it turns out they are. What did I do at BlogHer? I made new friends.

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But if you’re looking for actual useful information because perhaps you’re going next year, and perhaps it already is next year, or perhaps you’re me in the future and I’ve forgotten all the things I think right now I couldn’t possibly forget, here are some weighty words of wisdom for you.

  • Conference centers are cold. People said “Bring a scarf or a wrap or a light cardigan,” but they forgot to say “Bring a full-body fleece”.
  • Don’t get 500 business cards even if they are only a couple of dollars more than 250. At least, not if you think you might want to change the design in the next couple of years. But do get business cards, and it’s a good idea to have your photo on them if you can bear it. Definitely put your Twitter handle on them as well as your blog URL.
  • If you can, have a family. I mean, a friend family, a safe space to return to, and people who will save you a seat even as they set you free to go a little crazy having your own experience.
  • Obsess over what to wear if it helps you feel prepared, but know that you don’t have to. You can wear jeans every day. There is no dress code. I didn’t see anyone in sweats, but I wouldn’t call it “business casual” or “dressy” or anything at all. If I go again I don’t think I’ll feel the need to put so much thought or preparation into my wardrobe.
  • A smartphone is pretty handy for keeping in touch with people. My phone is not very smart and decided not to work for Twitter or Facebook even though the wi-fi at the conference was just fine. So I was reduced to old-school texting, which only works if you have had the forethought to get actual phone numbers from the people you intended to twitter-stalk, or taking out my laptop to communicate, which was not so handy if I wanted to find out where my friends were sitting while on my way from the buffet to the tables. Still, it sufficed. Don’t feel you can’t go because you don’t have the technology.
  • While I’m on the subject, do use Twitter at the conference. I’ve only been on it since earlier this year, but I found it invaluable for following people as soon as I’d got their card or sat in the session they were chairing, and becoming part of the conversation instantly. I only realised towards the end that every session has its own hashtag, so if you follow that you can see what everyone’s saying about it while you’re in the room. Which is quite cool. 
  • Comfortable shoes. You know that, right?

And do be prepared to have your entire view of what blogging is turned upside down. Because that will probably happen.

Notes on re-entry

O’Hare airport, Saturday afternoon.


I feel as if when I get back to my kids, they might have aged ten years in my absence. I can’t be sure time was passing at the same rate where they were. It probably wasn’t.

Talking to the kids on the phone is a disembodied experience. Their voices don’t even sound the same, and they don’t know what to say to me and they nod or shrug and forget that I can’t tell. Talking to them on Skype is even odder because I can see them, but only in two dimensions. My children are a 360-degree experience, a full-body contact sport, an assault on all the senses. Being at a remove changes them and I don’t know who they are, those flat noisy beings who flit in and out of view.

On our first Skype call, on Thursday, Mabel looked at me and said, “I’m thirsty.” She clearly expected me to do something about it.

I am a woman with children, almost always. Can’t you tell by looking at me? Isn’t it obvious? Don’t I have it tattooed on my face (in lines) and streaked through my hair (in grey) and written in braille all over my body? Apparently not; I couldn’t tell whether anyone else at BlogHer was a mother just by looking at her (unless she had a baby with her, as some did). We were all singular. 

I am
at a remove from them, not just physically, but mentally too. Not simply that I’m not thinking about them, but that I’m some other version of myself who leads a parallel life without children. How can they exist if I’m not there with them? It’s a little lonely, but I don’t feel a void. If I think about them a lot, if I tried to, or if I see other children the right age, I could miss them plenty bad. But mostly they are existing in their universe and I in mine. Our universes will align again and return to their rightful place soon. I’m not ready for more time in this one yet, but it was interesting to visit.

Of course, nothing exists if when I’m not there in it, observing it, with it. It all leaps into being from its flat-pack life as I walk into the room, as my train approaches the station, or my plane flies over the pop-up trees and houses, as we slowly round the curve of the globe. Isn’t that true for you too? Isn’t that how life works?

I trusted, and my trust has not been misplaced. I had faith that they would be returned to me in the condition I left them, plus or minus a few meals, a few ice creams, a few squabbles and scraps and scrapes; and they will be. I believe it. I believe in them. I didn’t invent them; though I did conjure them into being, once upon a time.

View of greater Chicago from the air