I'm home from NYC - a whirlwind trip full of new experiences, capped off by attending BlogHer, an annual conference of bloggers, most of them women. I went there knowing about five out of approximately 3,000 attendees.
I spent the past four days carefully crafting a post about my impressions of the conference. Ordinarily I write and publish a post in a few hours. This time, though, I sat down each night to review and edit, honing my observations and opinions down to a fine point.
I re-read it again last night, and it hit me: I got it wrong.
There was a lot about the conference that overwhelmed me. I knew there would be networking, pressing of flesh and small talk. What I didn't expect was the cut-throat social hierarchy, the emphasis on who do you know instead of what do you write about. The blogosphere contains its own version of abbreviated celebrity, popular bloggers with huge followings who moved through the conference like royalty.
It is darkly alluring, this form of celebrity. The gravitational pull around the popular bloggers was impossible to ignore. It all made me feel very small.
Arriving at the conference I didn't care about how many Twitter followers I had or how many people read my blog. I naively thought that most bloggers write to build a community, to be change agents for something they are passionate about. By the end of the first day, though, as I stood on the periphery and observed, it seemed like one giant popularity contest. I morphed into the tall, awkward 13 year old girl who was fearful of being picked last for the kickball team.
It occurred to me, then, that writers write to be read. Many bloggers, it appeared, write to be seen.
It was enough to make a girl want to fold up shop. I felt so tiny, so insignificant. I introduced myself to people and watched the realization dawn in their eyes that they don't know me, I'm not influential, I can't do anything to further their popularity. They would politely hand me their blogging card and move on.
It made me angry.
So I spent four days writing and re-writing a post that highlighted the worst of it all - the dark underbelly of blogging. It was a good post, if I do say so myself. A poignant essay about the worst of the worst. I was drawn to negativity like a moth to a flame, letting my anger and resentment towards these people consume me.
It's not even close to the real story, though.
I realized last night that I'm leaving BlogHer not chock full of resentment and anger, but full of validation and love. The connections I made with the people I knew going in took root and blossomed. I made new connections with people whose talent astounds me, whose grounded approach to blogging inspires me. I leave there with a renewed sense of purpose, of hope.
Away from all the craziness, all the networking, I realize I know why I'm here. I don't want to be the bright spotlight in the center of it all. I want to be a warm campfire, a quiet place for people to find each other, share joys and struggles, swap stories. A place of comfort, laughter and peace.
I believe people create their own light, their own warmth. It comes from within, not from the admiration of thousands.
Insecurity and negativity were tethered to me, like an overflowing bag of garbage. I was hauling the heavy bag around resentfully, unable to let it go. Last night, thinking through everything, I mentally dropped the tether, turned my back and walked away.
There will be more to come on the trip: the 5k for Tutus for Tanner, the hysterical laughter, the power of being in the middle of the crazy with my sober sisters, how we propped each other up, cheered each other on, what it felt like to be at this conference sober.
How meeting my friends in person felt like coming home.
For now, though, I'm turning these memories over and over in my head, savoring each and every one of them. I'm grateful - so, so grateful - to have met these amazing, strong, inspiring women. And to call them friends.
Tutus for Tanner 5k in Central Park
5k Tutus for Tanner with Heather
Maggie and Heather
With Corinne at Rockefeller Center
Heather, Corinne and Me