Tuesday, July 28, 2009

BlogHer in Chicago

The purpose of my trip to the BlogHer Conference in Chicago was three-fold. One, I wanted to help promote Mom Writer's Literary Magazine, which I love, two, I wanted to connect with other writers, but most of all, I wanted to overcome some fears and negative perceptions I have of myself.

Addressing the last reason first, I'll start off by saying that I have an unhealthy fear of being lost which probably stems from the fact that I have lived a pretty sheltered life. Last year I traveled to Chicago to meet my friend K, and she showed me around the city. However, I have never really traveled out of New York completely alone. I have never had to read a map and figure my way out of a place without help. Friends, my spouse or relatives have always taken charge in these situations, with good intentions of course, and in my laziness, I have let them. As a result, my insecurity is bolstered and I feel limited. I find myself glued to the GPS sometimes when I get lost locally looking for an address. Drive out of state completely alone? This seems terrifying.

It should be no surprise that I also hate flying. I do it, but my anxiety level is high throughout a flight. I didn't feel this way as a child, but somehow, in my adulthood I seemed to take a step backwards, realizing what was at stake if I died suddenly. I wouldn't want to hurt anyone by stepping out of the world abruptly, and flying feels like a real loss of control over one's safety. Since I know that when I leave this Earth is not up to me and my schedule will not be taken into account in this matter, I really think I should get over this irrational fear so I can move about the planet freely. So this weekend I secretly sweat my way through another take-off and landing knowing that for the first time, there was no one meeting me at the airport upon arrival. The ride was as smooth as I could hope for. Luckily, I was wearing ample deodorant, having remembered an old commercial. :) To my surprise, not only did I appear calm, but I even helped diffuse a rude exchange between two passengers who were in an argument by helping one to find a place to store her bag.

Having made it through the flight in one piece my next task was to locate my luggage, then find a cost-effective ride to the hotel. All of these little goals I took in steps, feeling better and better after accomplishing each one with more ease than I had anticipated. After checking in I got a map and walked down town Chicago by myself. I spent about 10 minutes just getting a sense of direction. After that I was relaxed enough to remember how much I like shopping, (sorry Milk Man). All of these small tasks made me feel joyful. As funny as it might sound, this was a liberating day for me.

The best thing on this particular trip that happened to me, in regard to my fear of traveling alone, was on Saturday. Paula Schmitt, the editor of Mom Writer's Literary Magazine, and I had some down time before a product swap meet, so we browsed the Expo Hall on the lower floor of the Sheraton. Paula turned out to be even sweeter than I expected, and I felt very comfortable spending the day with her. Chevrolet was in the Expo with new cars. The next thing I know, we were in a brand new Chevy Traverse, and I was driving the streets of Chicago. Poor Paula was my passenger. Then we got lost. There was no car salesman with us, but we did have a map. Paula was video taping the whole thing for The Momma Vlogs, and I felt really nervous. So we both started laughing, since there wasn't anything else we could do. After 25 minutes of driving around in circles, we made it back to the parking garage, the vehicle unscathed. I can't tell you how great I felt after stepping out of that car. I got lost in an unfamiliar place, in a car that was not mine, and nothing happened. I lived and found my way back to where I was supposed to be. This was a colossal event for Loren, as simple as it might seem to those of you who are well-traveled.

The networking part of the trip I enjoyed very much, since I am a social girl. On Friday night I met three women in the elevator, Deb Williams from Washington D.C., Lee Vandeman from L.A who invented Mom’s Without Blogs and Kate Zuber who said she was on her way to New Mexico and stopped here to see blogging friends. The ladies were so friendly and warm. We talked about writing, blogging and life. From a distance I bet we all looked like old friends.

Then we went to a party together and it was wall-to-wall people. I discovered that some bloggers who have written books and have lots of web traffic are famous, or think they are. This puzzled and amused me slightly. The sides of the room were filled with booths showing off products of interest mostly to mothers/women in general. I met Nina from the Sprout Goodnight Show and she autographed a picture for the kids. I told her that she is in my den every night, and her face lit up.

At another table a woman with a camera stuck a white board in front of my legs, wrote my twitter ID next to them and took a picture for a contest. Well, I did not win anything, and I’m wondering where the image of my legs is now.

The whole social aspect of my trip made me start to wonder why I blog in the first place, and there were times that I was asked to describe Dude, Where Am I?

"Well, it's about everything," I said, thinking the description was pretty lame.

The truth is that blogging is good for me. I decided that I write Dude, Where Am I? for myself. It's a totally healthy selfish endeavour, if that makes sense. It forces me to take breaks from daily tasks and reflect. It requires bravery to write how I really feel, considering the possibility of receiving criticism, or the thought that a relative, friend, co-worker, student, parent of a student, neighbor, old teacher, ex-boyfriend etc, from Facebook might see it. Thinking about all of that can cripple me before I even start typing. I do it anyway because I have to put it somewhere and I feel compelled to write. Plus, I like the honest feedback, the networking with professional writers, and the discussions on writing, especially on the fiction ideas.

Overall the conference sessions were interesting in that they made me think about why I write so publicly, and what good can come from it. There was one session that highlighted bloggers from around the world who have changed policy and created a voice for social justice in their countries. This idea fascinated me. The blogs of Toyin Ajao, Annie Zaidi, Cristina Quisbert, Pirlirani Semu-Banda and Anita Doberman Tedaldi were highlighted. Imagine using your single voice to rally others and bring about social change. How heroic.

In addition to "Why do you blog?" another theme that came up frequently in the sessions was the idea of the Internet's affect on the written word. Remember that song that went

"Video killed the radio star...?"

There seemed to be a lot of talk in regard to print journalism becoming obsolete because of the Internet. Meanwhile, I kept asking myself, if e-zines are killing print, then why is everyone scrambling to publish a book? Why do writers seek to establish legitimacy in their trade by being published in print? I know I like to have a physical copy of my work, and I am in love with antique books. Call me old-fashioned, (which I am) but I hope that I am not alive to see the day when books die to the Internet because I think that will be very tragic.

I felt crummy earlier this week before my trip, just completely off-balance, and out of grace.

My daughter, when she wants to compliment me, says:

“Mommy, you’re so beautiful and kind and graceful.”

Then I ask her what the word graceful means, because honestly, half the time I have to remind myself. After two or three minutes of "Um, Err...," she usually decides it means kind.

I think grace means a sense of peace that comes from God. A person can be in a state of grace or out of a state of grace. When I let mean comments and situations that I perceive to be hurtful to me throw me out of whack emotionally, and my actions reflect my negative feelings, then I am out of grace. When I am in grace situations and people cannot pull me down.

Even a person who reads the lives of the saints, the Bible and tries diligently to know God can mess up and behave badly. Last week in my post “Driveway Rage” I asked myself why I had freaked out over the truck blocking my driveway, and I had trouble understanding my actions. The more I thought about how angry and ungraceful I was at that moment, the worse I felt about it.

On the plane to Chicago I was thinking about the way I felt while reading a book I had to review for The Catholic Company called Hunting for God, Fishing for the Lord. The author, Rev. Joseph Classen writes about how we can recognize and grow closer to God through nature. One line in particular really struck me.

“Peace and quiet is the heart of prayer.” Rev. Classen writes.

I realized that I don’t do that kind of praying. Most of my prayer is spent in the form of thoughts all day, formal thanksgiving at meals, or thoughtless recitation while I fold laundry and write a grocery list. I don’t really do Adoration. I don’t just sit in silence, unless I’m in church, and these days, that’s not so peaceful.

Rev. Classen goes on to point out that there were times in Jesus’ life when he went into a place of complete solitude, like a desert. So when I settled in the hotel room I did that for a few hours. I took a half hour long shower and spent time in silence sitting in an armchair staring down at the red, yellow green and white lights flashing in the road fourteen floors below. Later, on my adventures around the city I sat watching birds play in a fountain for a while in the courtyard of a famous Presbyterian Church on N. Michigan Avenue. For the first time in several weeks, I felt truly relaxed. I made some great connections on this trip and learned a bit about blogging, but most importantly, I returned home feeling a little bit more confident, having stolen some quiet time to get reacquainted with myself.
Pictures: Statue near the Chicago Tribune building. Chicago River behind the Sheraton, with Paula Schmitt (editor of MWLM), the view from my hotel room window, the fountain in the church courtyard off of N. Michigan Ave.


Sandra said...

This is a very thought-provoking post. I, too, throw up prayers, but lately have been seriously lacking in my alone time God.

I wish I could have gone to Blogher. Maybe one day it will be closer to where I live, and I can meet the people that I read everyday.

Thanks for sharing...and no, I never got around to reading that book!! (Shame on me!)

Loren Christie said...

Hi Sandra. It's great to hear from you. Next year this particular conference will be in Manhattan at the Hilton. Don't worry about the book! I never finished Les Miserables and with Brideshead Revisited I could not even get past the first six pages.

Caity said...

Wow it looks like it was a fantastic experience for you! I'm glad that you had a nice time!

Putz said...

alone on a plane, alone you say, you are so luckey the gods of the airport din't send you to atlantais....and it is new york i have a fear of.... TWICE i have been scared in new york, not sleepless in seattle

Deb said...

i do like the idea of using my space to bring about change or for a cause i believe in. i don't know if i would know where to begin. i am kicking myself that i missed that panel.

i guess for now, i will stick to writing about my life... my fears, my hopes and all that boring stuff.

jenX said...

Judging from news reports about the swag controversy that ensued at Blogher, I think you had a wonderful, even rare experience. Wonderful to read about your journey, Loren.

Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller said...

I am so glad you had such a great time! You look so happy and independent in the pictures! I remember those days before kids when I would be happy to travel by myself. I too am a little fearful now of getting around by myself - and can hardly remember what that is like. Manhattan? I am so there! We can go by train together, if they don't do it on the same weekend as my wedding anniversary and daughter's birthday again. Which book are you talking about? I picked up Flannery O'Connor's "Everything that rises must converge" and am enjoying it, although every story is extremely sad. You didn't miss anything if you didn't read Brideshead but I still think you should put it in your life's to do list to read the end of Les Mis.

Milk Man said...

Yes, my experience was as liberating. My day began between 1:25 and 1:30 when Baby Big Foots alarm woke me up. We shared my room together the rest of the evening. Steel cage matches between all three kids began promptly at sun-up. I am a whiz in the kitchen as I cooked up three four piece happy meals and a number six for Milk Man more than once. Loren has the most difficult job in the world and and as the Princess stated Loren does it with beauty, kindness, and grace.

Loren Christie said...

Deb, Start by writing about policy or social issues that you feel strongly about. The risk is that you may lose some readers who do not agree with you, or you may get some cutting comments. From there you can take part in petitions, etc. On this site I have a petition that urges the FDA test Gardasil further, a link to Spirit Jump which provides gifts for people undergoing Cancer treatment, and various pro-life posts. I have lost popularity because of my strong conservative views, but it makes me feel good to be brave and say them anyway.

Jen, What swag controversy? I got some nice free gifts, like jump drives.

Elizabeth, I'm reading Wise Blood, since I have read most of F. O'Connor's short stories.I love her because she is a shockingly talented writer, one of the few that always grips me on the first page. I remember a story she began by describing the mundane task of wiping crumbs off of a table cloth. It was so ordinary, but underneath so brilliant.
I'll take the train into Penn whenever you want. I'll have the kids and one umbrella stroller. If C is reading this, I'd love for you to join us. Sounds fun.

Milk Man, Thank you and I love you.

Loren Christie said...

Hello Caity and Mr. Putz.
I left out of Islip, Mr. Putz, and i think that is the easiest airport in the country. I always try to fly out from there. I checked my bag on the sidewalk in front of the airport. LaGuardia and Kennedy are overwhelming, I agree.

Brenda Jean said...

I would love to go to Blog Her one year, but it's so hard to travel with Chuck working 12 hour days. Maybe one year though:) It sounds like fun, and I'm sure you made a great impression on people!

Loren Christie said...

Hi Brenda,
Well next year it's in Manhattan, so I can just take the train in. I'd really love to meet you. If, by chance, you and the family could arrange to visit NY, I could help you work that out.

Dear Internet Traveler,

Welcome to my writer's blog, started about six years ago for fun. Over time, the writing I have posted has ranged from personal reflection, to Long Island history research, to tall tales for my own amusement, to feature articles for local newspapers. As you can see from topics listed here, I travel in many mental directions in regard to interests. Click on the tabs and labels to explore my strange mind which senses that you may be having a criss-cross day. If so, perhaps this blog will distract you. However, please note that if you tell me my blog is beautiful just to get me to advertise rhinoplasty surgery and cheap drugs from Canada in your comment, I will ask the gods to give you a tail that cannot be concealed.


Loren Christie

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