I did a weird thing I haven’t done before which was to mix a long-awaited week of vacation with a self-imposed writing/reporting assignment. While traveling.
I do not advise it.
We went to New York City, which I love, my wife, our good friend Jessica (of last year’s super fun Vegas trip) and I.
The timing of the trip was for the big BlogHer conference, a convention for women bloggers, which I decided I should attend. And here’s where things get complicated.
I work for a newspaper and do freelance stuff for other outlets but the decision to go to BlogHer and write about it (without even knowing for sure whom I’d be writing for in the short term) was entirely my own. And here’s where we need to discuss something I’ve intentionally not talked about here or anywhere else publicly. I feel like I’ve told many of my friends, my family, some of my co-workers and pretty much every person I met at BlogHer, when they would inevitably ask, “Wait, why are you here?”
And that thing is this: I was at BlogHer because I was doing research for a writing project. If it were finished or much further along, I would call it a “book,” but it has been such a struggle and there are not nearly enough pages yet to call it a book, so it is a “project” until it gains some respectable paper weight. It’s about mom bloggers.
The other part of this thing is that it’s actually been something I’ve been working on for a while. A long while. So long that I don’t even want to say how long it’s been given how little progress I feel has actually occurred, writing-wise.
But, and this is the part that’s been keeping me sane, I’m not doing it alone. A while back, when this whole idea started, I approached a good friend of mine, Tracy O’Connor, a woman I’ve known and been penpals with since I was 15, about working with me on this. She’s a great writer, she’s very funny, she ran a message board with lots of proto-mom bloggers on it, and as a mom of five boys, she knows a lot about culture of these online groups. Together, we’ve had lots and lots of conversations, done research until our eyes were ready to fall out and have done quite a bit of actual writing. Unfortunately, we had to put aside a lot of it when we realized we were going to have to start over due to some plotting issues. This happened earlier in the summer. It was a bit of a confidence rattler.
This summer in particular, as I’ve watched several friends go through the process of completing and publishing books, has been tough. I keep screaming in my own head, “Why can’t you do this? What the Hell? What’s stopping you?” And the only answer I have is that it scares me. A lot. The bigger the writing assignment, the more I freak myself out about the scale and scope of it and the less I end up just enjoying the process and letting the good vibes and word counts flow. It’s started to affect my other writing, where I just want to avoid the keyboard altogether (like this delayed blog post, for instance) when the thought of writing in general begins to fill me with anxiety. Which it shouldn’t. I mean, come on. I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve written millions of words. But I was unprepared, probably, for what a different beast something like The Project could be and how much you have to commit. I’m used to writing things, sending them out and moving on to the next thing. When the things I write are done, they are done. Living with one piece of work for so long has really messed with my head in unexpected ways.
But I’m also filled with determination to see this through and to do my best writing (and self-editing) with Tracy and see what we end up with. The earlier draft we did, the one that ended up pointing in the wrong direction plot-wise, I actually really liked. We were writing at a good clip and more than 100 pages were produced, pages that we were genuinely proud of. I know we can do it again and push it through the right way.
So that’s what’s been in the works: a “project” about mom bloggers. It’s fiction and we think we know where we’re going, but boy have there been setbacks and writer’s block (which I used to say I never got; ha ha, good one, brain) and frustration, but also in many ways it’s been very fun and challenging to get into someone else’s head and explore a world that is in very few ways my own.
Tracy has kept my spirits up at times when I would have just packed it in and moved on to something else and my wife at one point asked, “Isn’t rewriting and starting over normal for something like this?” I had to confess to her that I had no idea. I guess? Yeah. Probably. Damn.
I’m glad we’re sticking with it and I’m glad I went to BlogHer. It was a huge help seeing for myself a lot of what’s at the heart of what we’re trying to write.
But trying to balance a for-fun trip with a for-work conference that I was already really nervous about attending completely wiped me out. I was stressed and not sleeping well and came back from the trip more exhausted than when I left.
That’s even with eating lots of fantastic bagels, going to the Top of the Rock for the first time and doing some enjoyable Times Square people watching when I did have time to go out and enjoy myself.
Tell me this doesn’t look like fun:
OK, it wasn’t all nearly naked guys in Times Square. We did have time for a little sightseeing and delicious pies from Pie Face.
As for the conference itself, I laid out most of my official thoughts and observations in this week’s Digital Savant column, where I discuss the state of blogging through the prism of the conference.
I could have written a lot more (hey, maybe a book’s worth!) about the conference, really. There were lots of great insights in the panels I attended, a frenzy over products and swag I couldn’t quite get my brain around, and many good conversations I had with women who — when they learned what I was working on — offered not only great advice and stories, but who pointed me in the right direction to other bloggers, websites and events that I should look into.
The organizers of the conference allowed me to attend as press, which made the whole venture much more official for me and allowed me to go into work mode while I was there. I took lots of notes, shot photos and tried to remember as much as I could so I could share with Tracy later (she was unable to attend).
As much as I tried to blend in and observe, it was never far from the surface that I was one of the few men attending the conference. There were others, of course; BlogHer has more than 5,000 attendees, including expo exhibitors and they’re not all women. But I was so in the minority that my presence itself became a topic of conversations I had. I kept getting asked how it felt to be there with so many women, jokes were made (not by me!) about the estrogen levels in the rooms and, especially at the evening party events, I became very aware of how outside I was of these groups of bloggers who have made a pretty large, diverse community for themselves.
I can sit in a panel and absorb presented information like anybody else, but I can’t go to a party and pretend that I don’t know a single person there.
I had been warned by friends who’d attended before that the conference would be overwhelming and that the parties and swag are out of control. I’m not sure if that’s true since I wasn’t invited to some of the more private events, but I did witness an awful lot of grabby-grabby at the one swag event I was able to crash and in the expo halls, where everything from health supplements to iPhone cases to brightly colored dildos were being given out like Halloween candy.
It was fun to see some of the veteran bloggers react incredulously when bloggers who haven’t even been writing for more than six months asked why they don’t yet have a big audience or sponsors. The stories of successful bloggers who’ve quit their day jobs to do it full time have become so typical that everybody thinks they can do it. I’ve been getting paid to write for going on 20 years and I still don’t have the guts to do that. It’s hard out there and even the pro bloggers are killing themselves trying to keep the money coming. Yes, they get free trips and lots of product samples and ads on their sites, but my sense is that even for that top tier of bloggers, the money is not nearly as plentiful and the lifestyle as carefree for them as people might think.
Like I said in the column, it was a really well-run, well-structured, professional conference. I’m glad I was there and when I returned, I felt a rush of confidence for The Project. We have a lot more material to work with now.
A few other things: the column the week before the BlogHer thing was a collection of reviews, one of the Telltale “Walking Dead” video game (really good, surprising and well-written) and Sphero, a robotic toy ball.
Before we left, we had a small, early birthday party for Lilly. Weeks later, this last Monday, she turned 5.
It’s been easy to get distracted parenting her because she has a younger sister and the two of them have built their own little world of playtime and fights and giggly jokes. Unless we physically separate them, it’s sometimes hard to remember what it was like when it was just Lilly and how laser-focused we were on her, on every little milestone of growth and development.
With two kids, it now feels like those things just fly by as we’re barely able to keep up with each new thing. It seems so recent that Lilly wouldn’t give up the green plastic pacifier or that we were still struggling with potty training, but when I look at the calendar I realize that was actually a lot longer ago than I remember and that her sister dealt with those things on a completely different timetable (longer on the potty training, much shorter time with the paci).
Time seems so short that we rarely even have time to look back on our family photos and videos and see what has changed. I’ll admit that sometimes I don’t like to do that. It just reminds me how quickly it’s happening, how many stages the girls area already past (Lilly was a newborn, then an infant, then a long stretch where she was a toddler; now she’s 5. She’s not a baby, a toddler, any of that anymore. And I miss it.)
I see in comparing the pictures that even her face has changed. I have to just marvel at how cruel it is that these changes pass right in front our eyes in ways that we can’t even see as they happen.