I went to Baltimore. I went to BlogU. I had never been to Baltimore or a blogging conference before. I had no idea what to expect. I was terrified.
Before I got on the plane, before I bought the tickets and reserved the room, before I told Jill that maybe we needed to go to a blogging conference, I spent a lot of time trying to talk myself out of going.
Jill and I are a one-income show. That one income supports 3 children, I.5 adults, and countless bureaucrats. That one income loses its buying power quickly and airfare is expensive.
Our blog had been around for a while and readership hadn’t exactly exploded. Maybe that meant I’m just not that into blogging. Maybe the world didn’t want what I was serving. Maybe I shouldn’t put any more effort and money into blogging/writing/humoring. Maybe no one thinks I’m funny. Or even interesting.
The blog attendees would be almost exclusively women. I am not exclusively a woman. Would Jill go with and agree to be my buffer, my advocate, my gibberish-to-woman translator? I didn’t doubt she would. I also didn’t doubt that she’d roll her eyes at everything I said. She’d either die from embarrassment or blood loss from biting her tongue.
I asked anyway. It was January.
“I was thinking of going to BlogU. It’s in Baltimore in June. I know a lot of people who are going and they’re all raving about how awesome it will be. It could really do great things for the blog.”
“But the thing is, it’s all women and I don’t want to go alone. I’m afraid they might string me up and whack me like a pinata for all the shit men have put them through. Men are HORRIBLE. You know this, right? I mean, I don’t want to be an effigy. Or a Jeffigy. Will you go with me?”
“No. Why would I?”
“Well . . . ’cause it’s all women. Like I said. And I don’t speak woman. And I bruise easily.”
Julie is Jill’s sister. Julie is a master of socializing and small talk. She’s also extremely organized. She could cover classes I couldn’t attend, she’d force me to get on a writing schedule, she would be the perfect person to assist in goal-setting, and she might even help me escape when the pinata mob comes looking for man meat to rend. Maybe. Really, it was a great idea. I couldn’t argue. Even though I ached for an argument. I burned for an argument. Julie would be my babysitter-in-law.
“You still talking to me?”
So it was set.
Then months rolled by, as they do. I went back to ignoring this blog, my twitter account, my health, my sanity, my personal hygiene, and my writing responsibilities–deflecting the need to post with the handy phrase “I’m waiting till after BlogU. I want to be all strategic and shit.”
Before I knew it, it was June and Jill had just designed our very first business card–fully-loaded with a brand new email address all activated and what-not. Before I knew it, I was hurtling through the air, speeding off to meet people–mostly strangers that would hate me on sight as well as about a dozen bloggers I had gotten to know online who would immediately regret and eventually deny knowing me. Before I knew it, I was deeply regretting my decision.
Those bloggers had expectations of me. I would have to try to be funny. To their faces. To their flesh-faces. Immediately. I wouldn’t have the luxury of mulling over the best response and then safely, privately typing it into a small comment field. Now I’d have to consider my word choice, my body language, my tone. I’d have to worry about spittle flying from my clumsy lips and muscular tongue. Would I spit on them? Would I shower them in spittle? I’d get their reactions live. I’d see their eyes widen in horror, their lips curl in disgust. They’d bare their teeth at me in the most unsmilingest ways.
I’d breathe the same air as these People of the Computer. They’d hear my voice. And that damage could never be repaired. I knew without a doubt that every last person would mock me–I just didn’t know if they’d do it in their heads or right out loud.
We got the hotel around midnight. The online chatter told me that there would be a group of bloggers in the lobby having drinks and many laughs, probably at my expense. There were. They were talking and laughing. I hid. I scuttled to the elevator. I dreaded. I fled to the room. I fumbled with the key card. I pleaded with Julie to just “help me with this impossiblepieceofshitfuckingcard, fortheloveofGOD!” I avoided eye contact with her. I went to sleep. I snored (probably).
The next day, we went out for breakfast. It was the last time my life would resemble normal. We went to a place called Miss Shirley’s. If you’re ever in Baltimore and you don’t eat at Miss Shirley’s, you’ve failed at Baltimoring. And you run the risk of being labelled a Baltimoron.
The food was unexpectedly southern. The south is where delicious is served deep-fried. Julie and I actually had our very first fried green tomatoes. When I was halfway through my CRAB CAKE BREAKFAST SANDWICH (SO AWESOME), people began filling up a table right in front of me. Recognizable people. Worse yet, people who could recognize me. I was completely exposed. I couldn’t hide from them. They were between me and the door. I hadn’t paid or even finished my breakfast. A meeting was unavoidable. Over my pounding heart and against the demands of my parasympathetic nervous system telling me to “RUN, you worthless little fuck!” I decided that the power rested with the one who approached. I decided to be in power. I decided to be the APPROACHER.
I braced myself for abject humiliation and rejection and humiliation and pain and humiliation. I was approaching one of the funniest bloggers in the blogosphere. “Hi Sarah.”
“OH HI JEFF!!! SO GOOD TO SEE YOU!”
It’s a trick! She’s going to stab you! “So cool to see you here, I wasn’t expecting to see anyone until registration.” Get ready! Here comes the blade!
We hugged. I survived with no puncture wounds.
“Oh hi!” This was Aussa, another star blogger. We hugged before I could defend myself.
“OH MY GOD! HI JEFF!” I turned around and saw another familiar face.
“Thank you for all your help on the Big Book Of Parenting Tweets,” (readers, you can buy it here for an amazing low price! commercial’s over, now back to the post) “you were such a big help!”
SHE’S going to stab you! This is a restaurant, there are knives everywhere! One of them is in her hand! “Thanks. But really, you, Kate, and Jessica did all the hard work.” Mr. Back, meet Miss Blade! It’s stabbing time!
We hugged. “Great meeting you! See you at the conference.”
I walked back to my table. Alive. I sat down. I barely ate another bite when Jen FUCKING Mann walked in and took a seat. Do you know who she is? Of course you do, I won’t even entertain that question. I’m not sure she’d like to be called Jen FUCKING Mann but that’s how she lives in my cerebral filing system. Some bloggers get that treatment, like Jenny FUCKING Lawson and, well, Jen FUCKING Mann. So two bloggers get that treatment.
The thing with Jen FUCKING Mann is, she had just shared my Thanks a lot, RUINERS post giving me 5 consecutive days of record-breaking page views. I had to thank her because she was so clearly not a ruiner. But I had to wait. Jumping now while she was sitting down to a meal would be rude. I planned on taking two of her classes during the conference–oh yeah, she was teaching us shit!–and I thought it would be more appropriate to wait until then.
We finished our meals and Julie and I jumped into the rest of the weekend. And it went by fast. The sessions answered questions that I didn’t even have yet. It was overwhelming and exhilarating. The people were just as happy to meet me as I was to meet them. I’m still not convinced that they weren’t mocking me in their heads, but I’ll be forever grateful that they cared enough to hide it.
What did I learn?
I learned I haven’t been putting nearly enough effort into this blog.
I learned that this blogging community is made up of some unbelievably awesome people.
I learned that maybe I’m not alpha enough to lead a multi-author site.
I learned that maybe I’m not as big of a jackass as I think I am.
I learned that I love writing and blogging and I’m a million miles from quitting.
I learned that I have so much more to learn.
And I learned that I want to learn it all.
I passed through two of her classes without saying a word to Jen FUCKING Mann even though the only word I really needed to say was “Thanks.” Her Build Your Book class was the only class where I could visualize myself succeeding. The only one where I thought: This. This is what’s next.
The weekend was sliding by. We wouldn’t attend the closing ceremony on Sunday because our plane would be in the air. The only event left was the closing celebration: the Middle School to the Max party thrown by Nickelodeon. I dressed up in my middle school costume which, let’s be honest, probably represented High School Jeff a lot better than Middle School Jeff.
But whatever. I went with the determination to find Jen and say thanks and not hate myself forever for letting the chance slip by.
We got there and the gym was decked out. There were four different places for people to take photos, a dance floor, two bars, and a whole lot of bloggers. But no Jen.
I drank. I posed. I danced. The mysterious and hilarious Darcy had Julie pull me onto the dance floor. I laughed my ass off. I talked with bloggers–some of whom stopped ME to talk to ME. still can’t get over that. I was chatting with the incredible Chris Dean when I saw Jen walk in. Relief washed over me. Because often in life, it’s either relief or regret.
I was the Approacher again. The music was insanely loud. I was completely nervous. She was absolutely gracious. My respect for her only grew.
I got to say “thanks.”
On the other side of BlogU, I’m a different person. I have new goals and a clear vision. I’ve reset what I expect of myself and how I see this blog. When I go back next year, I will have met my goals. And when I’m there, I’ll make entirely new ones.
I had a weekend. And some weekends last a lifetime.
The only one who had a better weekend than me was my business card. Everyone loved it and decided to take it on adventures. All weekend, and even beyond BlogU, my friends have been sending me pictures of the things my card has done. So far, it has not committed any felonies. The best part in all of this–I can say these amazing people are my friends.