I’m back from BlogHer’14, where I was given a really cool opportunity to give a short talk on the main stage about any topic relating to the last ten years and next ten years of blogging. I was deeply honored to be asked, and I was really excited to do it for many reasons, including my deep affection and appreciation for the blogging community and including how exciting it is to do something new. I love new. I love meta. So lucky to be asked.
I was also terrified because of the same reasons that made it an honor to be included. The stage involved. The big audience. The attention in the moment, and the cameras. I fell for blogging because I love writing and in particular the ability to connect with others from the body-lessness of the page. Taking words to real life through a speech to hundreds or thousands, and the longtail of photos and videos has been a challenge. It's not my first rodeo, but it is hard everytime, and this 10x10 would be my biggest/hardest opportunity yet.
Video killed the radio star, all of that.
But that’s not the full story. I like being public, too. I like using my body, for better or worse. I like being known, as I am. I liked being pushed. I wanted to do this 10 x 10 thing, for many reasons. But the other thoughts traveled along, as they always do. How we feel about who we are, how we look, and how this does and doesn't matter is the toughest of algebras, much harder than finding the answer to 10 x 10 because there is no X to solve for. I like who I am and I need a lot to change. All of it is true.
For the talk, I wanted to honor one of the things that I think is most exciting about social media: that one voice can make a difference by calling out things that need attention or presenting solutions or alternate viewpoints. I love the democratic beauty of that. The simple empowerment. And I love bloggers because they are drawn to that function of social media, they are willing to be known and to make their voice heard. They make the world better by being public with their stories and points of view. I love them for this.
I wanted the bloggers in the audience to feel the full awesomeness of that power and all of the hope it gives us for the future. I truly believe blogging and Internet communities have accelerated our societal progress in so many ways, and I wanted to celebrate the call-out culture that is such a change catalyst. I wanted to have both a humourous and reverent tone, because that’s the Internet to me. And I wanted to talk about how all sides of the call-out culture, including being the one one called-out, or including being silent, contribute to our personal growth and capacity for compassion and equality.
I thought about it a lot. I landed on focusing on social media as the contemporary 24/7 parade of our times, which let me weave in the fairytale of The Emperor’s New Clothes as the predictor of call-out culture. It’s our industry’s guiding tale.
(In that great Hans Christian Anderson story a vain and vengeful ruler was taken to the cleaners by two con men posing as tailors. They sold him “new clothes” which of course were nothingness, but neither his yes-men nor his cowering townspeople clued him in to this fact when he pranced around bragging about his New Clothes. They let him parade through town as a live-action Weinergate Dick Pix, supporting his delusion with their silence, until one child in the audience broke through that complicity and spoke the truth. That one voice changed everything for everyone. )
I love that fairytale and think it’s the perfect story to celebrate the power of one voice. I played around with imagining how we would handle it if that nudie manbit parade had happened in the era of social media. I liked all of the layers I had to work with and I think it all worked well in a ten-minute talk.
I was invited to talk months ago, and while working on the talk I also realized that in advance of this big opportunity, knowing the audience would be large, some number ending in “K,” and that it might be filmed or photographed, and knowing I would need all available confidence to pull it off, that I wanted to lose weight. It wasn’t the reason I have wanted to lose weight (I have plenty of important reasons for that, all of the time, including a need to relieve a super painful right knee situation, including ongoing work on core issues, and more) and I was already working on achieving a few health goals, but the conference date gave me a good target for celebrating some specific outcomes, you know? And all of those goals got tied up into prep. Into when I would shop for new clothes to wear for being ready for my closeup Mr. DeMille, into envisioning how it would all go down.
The 10x10 talks were scattered throughout the conference, attached to the keynote sessions. Kerry Washington. Tig Notaro. Kara Swisher. Arianna Huffington. Jennifer Lawson. And a long list of other accomplished leaders and notable bloggers. Pretty heady stuff.
I’ve managed to lose about 30 pounds in the last year. Which is great in some ways, it’s in the right direction, anyway. It’s also not a big deal on someone my size. Not enough to need new clothes. maybe enough to let some buttons close a bit more easily, maybe make some clothes a little baggy, but not a lot. Not enough to necessitate a new wardrobe. Not enough to make days of airport and conference hall walking easier on my ripped knee. Not enough to boost my confidence.
In fact, it was just enough to nick my confidence, confidence in my whole self as I am, which I have and I don’t have. The funny thing about looking outside of what you are used to and don’t scrutinize every day, about setting a goal for something different, about wanting change, is that it puts it under a microscope that can become a bell jar. The goal can swallow the process. Losing some weight was enough to put a bad focus on all I haven’t changed. Enough to view my weight as a problem in need of a solution and to see the small weight loss by that target date as not enough. Enough to see part instead of whole, to feel that I failed instead of as something in process. That’s all pretty heady, and not in a good way.
One thing that was really fun about my 10x10 speaking slot is that it was scheduled for right before Tig Notaro was going to do a set and then be interviewed. Tig Fucking Notaro. I deeply admire her work. The other fun thing about BlogHer’s keynotes is that they are a really pro production. I knew that from last year when I got to share a stage for a few moments with Queen Latifah, a similarly awesome and horrifying spectacle. That event in 2013 was awesome. Seeing the photos afterwards were horrifying. Photos are hard anyway--super round faces and bodies aren’t loved by light and lens, we are collapsed into no-angle balls. Put that next to a super sonic star like La and it’s triple hard, really bad math. Not to mention that seeing what you don’t see everyday is awkward. I look at photos sideways while squinting.
The main stage at BlogHer was something. The staging backdrop was massive and gorgeous, with complex illumination and flanked by two riduclously huge Jumbotron high-definition screens. In the audience was a riser for two videographers and another bank of sound techs. Behind the scenes was a mass of wires and equipment, banks of laptops running the media and serving as homebase for several techs – at least a dozen people were required to produce the whole-audience sessions in the Grand Ballroom.
Several of us were mic’ed for the session and then we waited in draped area that served as a Green Room. I walked back to a hair and makeup ladies’ lair. The amazing Elise Bauer, who was leading a 10x10 talk before mine, was in there with me, and we called it our Beyoncé Moment.
It took a village. At at one point one stylist was ironing my hair while another consulted about product use while scuttling powder in valiant war against my shine and a third applied mascara. No one has ever applied mascara to me before, neither a lover nor an enemy. My lashes must have been very confused. The mascara stylist is the person who told me the screens were high-def. She said they see everything! This was not comforting, to say the least. I do not have Beyoncé pores. I obviously do not have Beyonce thighs. I asked if they happened to have a Confidence Wig (Patent Pending The Bloggess) available and they did not. I also don’t have photos of any of these impressive backstage shenanigans because I am a dreadful visual blogger and also because I was in a state of mild shock.
So back in December when I was invited to perform when I was thinking I could lose 60 pounds or so by the confererence target date, I was going to have a new outfit to wear on stage (or #alphet, as another 10x10 speaker, the hilarious Luvvie, would say.) But since I didn’t get there, I went with one of my four black button downs and black pants. I added a black tie because: special day.
This meant that for my lunchtime-scheduled talk, I was wearing, down to the tie, the conference center catering staff uniform. This is the second time in my life I have done this. Once in my twenties I won a big publishing award, and I wore a white tuxedo shirt and black vest combo. As did the banquet waiters. We all have our gifts and this is one of mine.
Oh, this is important about the set, too: for some of the speakers, there was no podium. I would have no podium.
Back in our little Green Room, where I intended to live and never go on stage or leave at all, Tig sat on a couch and worked on her Mac and ate lunch. (We had a video monitor, power, water bottles and a couch. We really could have lived there for a long time.) We chatted briefly and I mentioned being nervous and she said she waits until right before going on stage to get nervous. That sounded like an efficient approach. Too late for me, but efficient. She is amazing and very, very cool. All of the founders – Lisa Stone, Elisa Camahort-Page and Jory Des Jardins – were there at different times, and they are just amazing, funny, smart and radiate confidence on stage. So very impressive and unfailingly inclusive and accepting.
Elise gave her talk, and we watched her on the monitor in my new home, so very impressed by her genuiness, her vulnerability and her accomplishments. Then the fantastic Doug French gave his. They were both so good and are each such impressive, focused, accomplished people. I was lost in their words and totally forgot I soon needed mine to say to some xK amount of people.
Elisa Camahort-Page, always so generous to me with opportunities and kindness, introduced me, and then it was time. I had a clicker in my hand and a deck to roll through. There was musical entry music almost like The Roots playing Jimmy Fallon on. I looked out and felt the love of friends and of a incredibly accepting community and in the sea of that cameras loomed like predators. I felt fantastic and foolish. The stage is a high. I had no podium or notes. I started talking and heard my own voice and willed it away to be in the moment. I talked. I made a few jokes and hoped all of the metaphors, images and ideas worked. People laughed at the right times. I dropped a few lines, forgetting one of my favorite lines and landing others. Hearing a big audience laugh is the first hit of a strong drug.
I went off script at time because the whole thing had a flow of its own and was in the flow mostly, but then something turned, I caught someone’s eye in the audience and all of a sudden I had this flash of too much self-awareness. I felt two large versions of myself, high-def and imposing, behind me on the screens. I felt the absence of a podium, no place to hide. I was exposed, and not wearing new clothes at all, just my same clothes that still fit me because I hadn’t lost enough weight yet which might be worse than fake new clothes. I felt very ADD, wondered why my interests and work was all over the place and what I was even trying to say with all of these words. I was aware of the lip gloss from the stylists and the photographers in the audience and the piece of duct tape a show producer had given me to help keep my tie from moving and bumping his microphone. I wanted Beyoncé or Tig or both to come rescue me.
It all caught me and I stumbled. I knew that part of the speech really well, by heart – I wanted to say that the way social media helps us define problems and rally people towards solutions was bringing us to a better world, to better policies, better government, better media (the cadence should have carried it at this point but it didn't) better food…and I stumbled right when I said “food” and all of those thoughts flooded in. Who am I to talk about better food? Who am I to talk at all? I had to repeat myself (better food…) to finish the line and then I was back and I finished the speech.
People were so good to me, in applause and on Twitter and in person, all the rest of the weekend. People quoted me and said I nailed it. No one spoke ill of the 30+ (+,+) pounds that didn't get lost by the deadline. So much is good. Thank you, if you were there or rooting me on in any way, then or now, thank you. I can’t express the meaningfulness of the opportunity or of the acceptance. We carry so many thoughts with us all of the time and they are all true but this one is the truest: thank you
It was excruciating and wonderful. It felt big, bigger even than me, and I’ll never forget it. The moments of flow when it felt like my ideas were connecting, when my mind and my whole large body and all of me for better or worse were there, saying things I wanted to say, and it was worth it. I have confidence and I don’t. Maybe we all in different ways have confidence and we don’t. I’m going to have to pretend video doesn’t exist, but I am glad there was no podium and that I had no notes and even that I stumbled because in the space between those words I was there. To be naked and then be held in kindness and esteem is affirming like nothing else. I’m glad I had no new clothes.
Then Tig went on and performed this amazing set where she just dove into awkwardness. She held an incredible amount of space for awkward silence at the end of her phrases. She pushed jokes an extra line, extra gulp of silence, creating extra space to let the audiences feel all that awkwardness and then let us laugh in relief. It was an amazing lesson and I wished I could have heard her set before mine, but maybe it’s better I didn’t. Maybe it’s better I learned it this way.
Midway through Tig's interview Doug sweetly helped me sneak away from our little Green Room house and into the audience where food had been reserved for us and we could sit back and watch the rest of the show. I was still in a bit of shock but was beginning to come back into myself. Two members of the catering staff, wearing my exact same clothes down to the tie, stood behind me and together we all marveled at the show. I ate a sandwich, including some forbidden carbs that came with it, and I ate the lip gloss off of my face, and then after a few more minutes it was all over and I was in the company of this K number of brilliant and kind people, friends old and new. Blogging and BlogHer have given me all of that, the challenge and the welcome, and I’m so lucky.
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