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Thoughts on BlogHer ’11: in Snippets

I wrote the bulk of this post on the floor of an airport, and now I’m finishing it up back at home on very little sleep.  The rational part of me is whispering that I just might want to wait to post until I’ve sat on it for a bit.  The sleepy part of me is telling me to just post it already so I can move down my to-do list and get back into bed.


Every time I see Eden I end up crying. There is something about that woman that can bring people to catharsis. Someone should bottle her and sell her to therapists.


Wait. I should back up.


I had a hard time leaving for the conference this year, as many suspected from my morose posts preceding the conference. It was a combination of not being emotionally in a good space to be that far away from home coupled with a somewhat chaotic exit complete with a tech fail and the ChickieNob crying as Josh put her in grandma’s car with this look of terror on her sobbing face. I had this mantra running through my head: I can’t do this I can’t do this I can’t do this. Which is bizarre because I have traveled the world. I have traveled alone. I have gone to BlogHer 4 times. But I think we all know that our heart doesn’t always listen to the facts our rational brain spits out.

Feeling lost was a theme for the weekend, and I want to preface this by saying it was me — not the conference.


As I got on the plane, the couple sharing the row with me leaned forward as I dropped my bag onto my seat.

“Oh, thank G-d. We were so worried you’d be someone who’s 500 pounds, but you’re so little.”

I just stared at them without saying anything until they looked supremely uncomfortable. Then I sat down and cried through most of the flight because I missed Josh and the kids.

So really, you’d rather have a very mucous-y crier than someone within a certain weight? Poor choice, I think, poor choice. I didn’t even want to be around me.


I spent the first night feeling very alone. I took a small walk and thought I saw Briar. Relieved that I had finally bumped into someone I knew, I threw my arms around her. And as I pulled away, I realized that it wasn’t Briar at all. It looked like Briar if someone had taken Briar’s face and melted it a bit.

Before I could give my embarrassed apology, the woman beamed and said, “I know you! You’re Melissa Ford! It’s true what people say about you being very friendly!”  I didn’t have the heart to tell her my mistake.

And her words made me feel supremely self-conscious because, internally, I saw myself as anything but friendly. I saw myself as someone who wanted to hide away in her hotel room and stress-read Harry Potter rather than get lost in the conference; that thing I had flown across America to be at.

I seriously didn’t know what was wrong with me.


Pathfinder Day was such a great day. I had a wonderful time with Carleen and Colleen and 40 or so people talking about books. I love to talk about publishing. I connected with so many people that day and took so many business cards, which translates into new blogs to read. I left it feeling full.

And then it was over, and I wandered aimlessly all night. I sat near the bar and cried into my telephone to Josh. The people at the next table over stared at me, but no one said anything. It was like when you hear someone got food poisoning and you’re eating at the same event. No one wanted to come near my bummer-of-a-time in case they caught a case of my emotional vomiting too.


Cali talked me down to breakfast, but when I reached the hall, I knew I was in the wrong space for me. It was the right space for so many people at the conference, but I felt like the place I was supposed to be was home. Someone commented that they had never seen me so sad.

I can’t stress enough that it wasn’t the conference itself. BlogHer in and of itself was lovely.  The panels were well curated.  The food was so thoughtful (vegan options AND gluten-free options?). At its core, the conference was the same as it had always been, but it was as if someone was playing a lilting Mozart concerto and we were all enjoying it, and then someone else started playing the Beastie Boys next to it. And I’m sorry, but few in our generation are going to listen to the concerto when they can dance their ass off to the Hot Sauce Committee.

Competing with the actual conference were private events scheduled during the panels. Which meant the panels were sometimes semi-empty (or at least it felt that way when you knew that there were 3600 people at the event), with the exception being the ones talking about brands and pitching companies. The classical topic of the conference — writing — was being edged out by the rock and roll of monetization.

I know there were those of us who were there because we love blogging, and the blogging we love is synonymous with writing. That it is a writing form just as novel writing or journalism or poetry is a writing form. But it was hard to find one another. And it felt very lonely to be thinking about writing, to be caring about community, to be talking about the blogosphrere, when right next to you the majority of people are talking about how they need to leave the conference to attend a private event. As much as I love classical music, it’s hard to listen to it when everyone around you is grooving to hip hop. It makes what you love look awfully boring. Like work. Like unpaid, unappreciated work.

And who really wanted to stand there awkwardly admitting they want to do unpaid, unappreciated work when the people around them are going to glittery events and walking away with iPads to boot?


But I want to do unpaid, unappreciated work.

Well, the unpaid part.

I’d like to be a little appreciated. Or at least have my words resonate with someone.  I’m willing to work for comments.


My entire experience could have been changed if I had just changed my outlook.  If I had agreed to go to the parties or the private events.  But I was so entrenched on remembering BlogHer’s past, where I was able to just connect one-on-one with someone over a quiet meal or grab a few people together to get dessert.  I remembered years past where we spent the bulk of our time during the day in the various panels or keynotes.  I wouldn’t have been lonely if I had just thrown my hands in the air and said, “fuck it, I will go to that brand’s little champagne party with you.”  So I own it; my mood was entirely on me.  And yet I couldn’t seem to shake it.  To get over myself and have a good time, because it sure as hell seemed as if everyone else was having a good time.


What turned it around for me was the Voices of the Year keynote. I took a seat smack in the front so I could videotape Cecily. I was so proud of her for getting up there and reading, and I wanted to cheer her on because she has always had my back.

I also knew Eden was reading, but I didn’t know what it would be about. She started her presentation with a picture of Max, and I suddenly knew exactly which piece it would be. And it was like someone had punched me straight in the chest, finally giving me the jolt that brought me back into my community. She was telling this room of people about one of our own; about one of the first bloggers I ever read. My children still sleep with the stuffed koalas Vee and Max sent them (though Barbie co-opted the mini Australian flag). She was talking about his art, and my mind was on the piece they sent us before he died to fill our blank wall.

After Eden was done reading, I emailed Vee. And that is why I blog. Because it makes the world smaller. Because I met two people across the world via our words and struck up a friendship because of our shared interest in writing and art. In expressing ourselves. Eden read a piece that is essentially about the connections forged by blogging, and in that moment, hearing about one of our own, and being in a room with people I read and care deeply about, and being able to email a woman halfway across the world to bring her into the moment; this moving moment about her husband…

That is what blogging is to me.

That is why I do it. I don’t do it to make money or get free iPads or meet celebrities. I do the unpaid, sometimes unappreciated work for the human connection. Because without it, we wander around aimlessly, lonely even though we’re in a sea of 3600 people.


Afterwards, I met up with Magpie. We talked about the strangeness that is a blogging conference. It sort of has the same emotional feel as a high school reunion, where you’re seeing these people you sort of know, at least you know some aspect about them, but you realize at the same time that there is so much that you also don’t know. That there is a whole life beyond the sliver you know and you want to figure it out. And you’re so happy to see them. Some of them mean a great deal to you, even if you’ve never told them that.

As I stood there, I reminded myself that not one post in the community keynote had been a sponsored review or an ode to a brand. Those posts may exist, but they’re not celebrated.

She said, “I go to BlogHer to see my tribe.”

And that is when you realize the brands and private parties and holier than thou attitudes are just noise. They’re not music. People think they’re music because they see people dancing, but if you actually listen closely, you’ll notice that it doesn’t have a beat. How can it when it has no heart?

Humans have hearts — not brands.

You can with bummed out by the brands and barrage of product reviews, thinking that it’s the new permanent state of the blogosphere. Or you can choose to ignore it and go out to dinner with friends, eating quesadillas at a lovely little outdoor bar by the harbour. You can just be thankful that you get to be in that moment, having that experience. And you can realize that as long as those moments exist, blogging will also be about writing and community. And, like Magpie says, you’ll find your tribe.


I am glad I stayed. I had considered changing my ticket on Friday morning and leaving as soon as possible. I am so glad that I stayed. It would have been terrible to miss the community keynote and leave with this very skewed image of the state of things.

I spent most of Saturday with Eden, and it was divine. She is so funny and honest and introspective. Being with her is like drinking water. She is like perfect temperature water.

I left San Diego the exact inverse of how I arrived. I walked through the hotel beaming. I went through security with a huge smile plastered across my face. I am glad that I went and stayed, but moreso, in the moment, I was just glad to be going home to Josh and the twins.

I got to the airport early for my flight and sat on the floor typing this on a mobile device. Because that is what blogging is about. It is about recording a moment, acknowledging our thoughts and the state of things, of shooting into the atmosphere an enormous, indelible sign proclaiming: I was here. I exist. I have ideas and opinions. I am part of this huge, crazy thing we call life.

And I have to do it. I have to do it badly enough that it can’t wait until I’m in front of a proper computer. I need to type this enormous post on a mobile device and save it until I can upload it once I’m back into the land of wifi.

It’s my fucking music.


That was BlogHer for me this year.  I have shaken whatever mood I arrived with and left feeling energized again about the state of blogging, about the need to connect with community, about the love I feel for all of you, on the other side of the computer, reading my words and letting me know and sharing your own.  Thank you for sticking around while I mentally muddled through that.


1 jodifur { 08.07.11 at 12:59 pm }

I’ve been thinking a lot about you, ever since we emailed Thursday morning and you said you were having a hard time. BlogHer is a weird animal, and it it can be hard and fantastic all at the same time.

Sat night I had a bunch of dc bloggers over for our own little homeher party and it was fabulous. And what made it fabulous was the company. And I think the same can be said for BlogHer. It is who you surround yourself with.

I love you so, and I wish I was there to hug you, or you were here to hang out with us on Saturday.

2 Anna { 08.07.11 at 2:24 pm }

It is my (and our) pleasure to stick around and hear about how you got on. I’m so sorry that you had those difficult times to get through, it sounds like a lot of upheaval. I am so glad that you are home and that you are feeling reinvigorated. You may be unpaid but you are certainly appreciated, greatly, by so many, I wish we had been able to go with you and sit at your table, hundreds and thousands of us. Sleep well, for some reason I feel so relieved that you’re home!

3 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 08.07.11 at 3:32 pm }

I’m glad to hear that you found your bloggy center before it was over.

Welcome home!

4 coffeegrljp { 08.07.11 at 5:28 pm }

I’m not sure what I’d do without this community of bloggers. I take you all with me wherever I go (esp. when I go to Japan and I’m just so, so very happy to have you all talking to me and listening to me in English!). But I’m mostly just happy to know that you’re all out there for me to lean on when I need it and that hopefully, I can be a cheerleader and lend some support to others in their time of need as well. That’s huge. I’m glad you found some peace amidst the chaos.

5 a { 08.07.11 at 5:42 pm }

First, why are you sitting on the floor in the airport?!? I’m not even the clean freak in my family, and that grosses me out! 😉

Conferences are hard – and it’s not just blogging conferences. I’ve only been to professional conferences in my field. In my first one, I came face-to-face with the fact that I was actually in a male dominated field (you couldn’t tell by my work environment). At subsequent conferences, all I learned is that people go to conferences and treat them like a vacation or a moment out of time. In other words, they seldom act like themselves.

Anyway, I’m glad you finally caught up with your own people and enjoyed that concerto. Stay off the airport floors, though.

6 It Is What It Is { 08.07.11 at 7:28 pm }

Now I really wish I had gone. Since it would have been my first BlogHer, you could have been my concierge and that might have taken the load of you as you focused on me 🙂

I’m glad you went, glad you stayed and glad you posted this honest account.

7 Meim { 08.07.11 at 7:38 pm }

You make me want to go to BlogHer! I love the sense of “togetherness” that I have found through blogging. A large part of that is your fault. I blame you completely for bringing me in touch with so many amazing people, some of which I can’t imagine my life without.

I will be forever grateful for you and the blogroll! Love you, Mel!

8 Justine { 08.07.11 at 8:05 pm }

I’m glad that this is what you found, despite all of the other stuff that was in the air. I was thinking about you, wondering how it would go. You’re so right; this is what blogging is about. I’ve been stuck and unable to write lately … I need to remember that it’s more about this, and less about presenting something to my “audience.” You SO rock, Mel.

9 Meghan { 08.07.11 at 8:42 pm }

I’m glad you’re home and ended on a good note. Mostly i’m glad you’re you and you do what you do

10 Kate (Bee In The Bonnet) { 08.07.11 at 9:05 pm }

I think I can relate to your feelings re. branding and swag and all the metaphorical hip-hop parties in the midst of the quietly sighing string quartet…

When I read a blog regularly, I begin to form an emotional connection with the author and sometimes in turn with others in the author’s audience. I, like you, think of them as my “tribe”. Being so far from my historical tribe-lands, I often find myself turning to the internet to fulfill that need, and I find that the relationships I develop here are just as (if not sometimes more) valid as my IRL “tribe” relationships.

Which is why, when out of nowhere, one of my “tribe” suddenly starts making plays toward increasing their audience in a atypical way (er, meaning when people suddenly start self-consciously posting things that are clearly trying to grab attention, or otherwise outside of their typical posts), or trying to garner more favor or just generally seeming to lean towards the monetizing thing, I feel like a little piece of me is dying. Not to be all dramatic about it, and hey, more power to those who are able to make their blog a business, but I feel like the person I thought I was connecting with is no longer a real person and rather has become a business entity (or almost worse, is trying to *become* a business entity). It hurts because I feel like it’s fake or forced and that’s annoying, but also because I feel kind of used, like my attention and comments were just a means to an end. The very real personal connections I make sometimes end up going sour because I’m left feeling as though what was once genuine is tainted by the need to have me counted as a marketing number.

So, all of that is a long way of saying Kate:Monetizing-Blogging-Friends :: Mel:BlogHer’11. Though you ultimately had a good experience (and I have several blog friendships that have survived a transition to being a more popular blogger, or whatever…), on the whole, it can suck to feel like something you really cherished has become a platform for marketing, instead of just… being.

I don’t know. I feel like this comment doesn’t make much sense. I just wanted to say that I’m sorry that it felt like everyone was busy socializing at brand parties instead of enjoying the meat (er, tofu) and potatoes of the actual conference. It would hurt my feelings and I would feel lonely, too.

11 edenland { 08.07.11 at 10:33 pm }

When I get back home I will be able to list all the adjectives needed to express how much I love you. Right now I’m in my hotel room, reading your words, and you were just here yesterday. Right here, telling me your stories.

Thank you for letting yourself be real – I doubt you could live any other way. xox

12 A Field of Dreams { 08.07.11 at 11:31 pm }

Thank you Mel for reminding me why I started blogging in the first place! I also recently found Eden and her blog and absolutely love it.

13 alexandra { 08.08.11 at 12:51 am }

Friday was something quite beyond words, wasn’t it? It takes a cyber village. It really does.

14 Lori Lavender Luz { 08.08.11 at 1:08 am }

“the human connection. Because without it, we wander around aimlessly, lonely even though we’re in a sea of 3600 people.”

And the heart beat, too. Once again, you are brilliant with the metaphors.

I’m so glad it turned around for you. I wish I could have been with you and Eden.

15 Mali { 08.08.11 at 1:13 am }

I loved this. Both the honesty of your emotions, AND your conclusion about why you blog. That’s why I do it too. I talk to people from all over the world, and find we have so much in common, find that we can nurture each other, find that just a few right words can make us (or someone else) smile for the rest of the day.

Oh … and I’m sure your work here is NEVER unappreciated.

16 Vee { 08.08.11 at 4:08 am }

Eden makes you cry. YOU make me cry!

I so wish I was there I would have held your hand and been your Blogher companion through out the entire time. We could have laughed and cried together.
This truly is an amazing community we are part of.

Max would be SO happy to hear that the twins are still sleeping with the koalas we sent them. It certainly puts a smile on my face 🙂

17 Elizabeth { 08.08.11 at 6:58 am }

reading through tears in my eyes. Love you.

18 Bea { 08.08.11 at 8:11 am }

I am typing this comment on a mobile device. Huge chunks of a post – that’s commitment. And you said it so well.


19 {sue} { 08.08.11 at 10:39 am }

Your image about music is so right on. I was on Twitter, trying to follow the Voices of the Year excitement and I was completely annoyed by trying to filter out the #BlogHer11 traffic that was coming from private parties and the Expo Hall during that time. Sad for them though, because in my mind, they were missing the point entirely. Everything I believe and love about blogging comes together in that celebration.

So glad it all ended well.

20 Kathy { 08.08.11 at 2:07 pm }

Thank you for such a candid, open and honest account of your BlogHer conference experience this year. I was anxious to read your perspective on how things were and wasn’t disappointed. I am sorry that things got off to a down and melancholy start for you. (((HUGS))) It’s hard enough to feel that way at home, let alone in a strange place with a lot of people you don’t know and when you don’t even feel like being around those you do know and care about.

I would love to experience a BlogHer conference for myself someday. However I am much more interested in the sessions, panels and keynotes, than the other stuff. After blogging all these years and only recently becoming more aware of the monetizing side of things (such as joining the BlogHer Publishing Network), I appreciate how hard it is to try to find a happy medium.

As as a stay at home mom, I have always blogged first and foremost for me. However, more recently I have wanted to see if there was a way for me to make a little money through my writing, so that my husband would feel like all the time I devote to it gives our family more than just my sanity (which is of course very important and can’t be monetized). So I am exploring the possibilities, while still trying to be true to myself, my blog and my tribe.

I am so glad that the Voices of the Year turned things around for you. I can only imagine through your description and other’s that I have read, how powerful and moving it must have been to be in that room, hearing those voices in person. WOW! It must have been truly awesome to get to spend quality time with the people who wrote those posts and were there to share their stories.

Thank you for being one of many who helped me to feel like I too got to experience some of BlogHer `11 myself, even though I was so many miles away here in Chicago. I am contemplating trying to make it to NYC next summer and hope that if I do, that I will get to spend more time with you. As I have such good memories of our first meeting for lunch in Chicago in `09.

I am glad that you made it home safely and that you are back with Josh and the twins. I am sure you helped to inform and inspire so many writes through Pathfinder Day and their encounters with you in San Diego. Thanks again for sharing all of this. I seriously have been looking forward to your BlogHer synopsis all weekend! I hope that you have a good week. xoxo

21 susan { 08.08.11 at 4:25 pm }

Hi Melissa, I bumped into you a couple of times at BlogHer and I said hi but we were probably both exhausted. As trying as the situation was for you I hope this might help – I was in your pathfinder day writing workshop and I was so thrilled to be meeting you – a real live author. I got so much information from you and the panel that I can’t even begin to say thank you but I will – thankyou. Thanks for taking the time away from your family to help out bloggers like me who do this unpaid – because yes, we love it. – Susan aka @kungfupussy

22 Katherine @ Postpartum Progress { 08.08.11 at 4:35 pm }

I’m so glad you were there and that I got to talk with you in person at dinner on Friday night! And I’m happy you left with a smile.

23 Elisa Camahort Page { 08.08.11 at 4:41 pm }

Melissa, I’m sorry I really saw you only so briefly at Pathfinder Day, and thank you again for being a part of it.

What’s interesting is that I got the clicker numbers from our door staff at the programming, and honestly while the Business track is indeed the most consistently well-attended (which makes sense given the investment people make in coming) the writing track was consistently the second-most attended track this year, and not by a wide margin either.

it is our goal to be able to continue to feel smaller as we get bigger, and I think having many things going on at once, including 10 tracks of programming, helps do that…because you’ll always be with the 200 or 100 or 50 or 10 people who ***really care*** about the topic at hand. That’s the goal anyway, and it’s interesting to hear what everyone’s perspective is on that.

Thanks again, for everything. I’m glad the Keynote turned it around… that’s its unique power 🙂

24 Julia Roberts { 08.08.11 at 4:47 pm }

This is exactly how I was feeling for part of it too, but I swore off all private invites and I’m glad I did. I didn’t long for where I wasn’t and enjoyed where I was. Like you, for a time, I felt lonely and then I stepped outside of it and found a new tribe.

25 Annie { 08.08.11 at 4:52 pm }

I am very thankful that I saw Cecily link to this post. I am a relatively new blogger (April 2010) and love the writing and the reading/connecting. I have been to two BlogHers now and have felt a bit lost and confused at both. I could write a much longer comment, but at the moment have two gooey, loving beings pulling at me that I need to squeeze some more. So I will just say that even as a new blogger, this entire post resonated with me. I wish I had met you this weekend and I am excited to have a new blog to read that seems to have a thoughtful, friendly and raw author. Thank you.
PS. Loving the pomegranates. 🙂

26 luna { 08.08.11 at 4:56 pm }

it does seem like total overload, dominated by monetization and branding.

but I’m glad you had the chance to make those connections that mean everything.

27 annettealaine { 08.08.11 at 5:00 pm }

Your last bit (in boldface) hit the nail on the head.
I am just entering the blogging world after years of journaling. I write things on scraps of paper; have little notebooks strewn around my car, the house and at work. It’s hard to explain to someone else what compels me to record a moment. To write about all those thoughts that bounce off of each other in my brain like Pong.
It’s my fucking music as well.

Thanks for putting into words exactly what I was feeling.

28 Gina aka Slappy { 08.08.11 at 5:03 pm }

Thank you so much for writing this. If I ever get the chance to go to Blogher, I am going to remember to look for the trees through the forest and not forget why I do this.

29 MrsLaLa { 08.08.11 at 5:06 pm }

Fantastic post! I wish I had known you were there! I would have loved to say “hi”, maybe next year. And also? This: “She said, “I go to BlogHer to see my tribe.” ‘ (Exactly.)

Glad you’re feeling a bit better. ((hugs))

30 Siobhan Wolf { 08.08.11 at 5:23 pm }

I relate so much to your words and am glad to find more who write target than promote. Wish we’d met. Btw, I read this on a tiny mobile device. Glad you wrote it.

31 Neil { 08.08.11 at 5:31 pm }

As an example of how spread out and hard it was to connect, I spent four days on the lookout for you, and we never crossed paths.

32 Betty M { 08.08.11 at 5:43 pm }

I am glad it came good in the end. I’m not sure I understand why people go to a conference just to go to a bunch of parties and not listen to their friends and potential friends in sessions and keynotes. Why aren’t the parties scheduled outside the conference hours?

33 Dana { 08.08.11 at 5:54 pm }

I’ve read a lot of BlogHer rundowns today and this is, by far, my favorite.

34 Caryn B { 08.08.11 at 6:02 pm }

This is the very first time I’ve visited your site but I just loved this post….wow….I have much to think about for next year…So beautifully written….

35 Dead Cow Girl { 08.09.11 at 7:14 pm }

It was great to meet you – and thank you very much for the fabulous advice at our Pathfinder Day. Also? Thank you for using the word fucking.

I had a great time. I have to say I planned on going to all the writing panels, but ended up going to other panels and running into friends and basically screwing around. I am not In The Know enough to know about any private parties, especially ones giving away iPads. I had a hard time with the writing panels because they were so long, and I felt I had a handle on much of what was being said when I was there. It would have been great if they had been shorter, more precise panels instead of longer ones. Geek Writers Bar? That would work well for me.

So yes. I relived my high school year in which I went to class, then snuck out to hang with my friends.

I do wish though, that more people would write to write – not to attract sponsorship.

36 Calliope { 08.09.11 at 7:14 pm }

I am so so so so glad that we got to spend time together at the conference. One of my favorite photos is one of you, Cecily & Briar grinning from the warmth of the fire pit after dinner on Friday. The Keynote is the key, lady. You have always said that. xo

37 magpie { 08.10.11 at 2:55 pm }

Big hug, member of my tribe. 🙂

38 Kristin { 08.12.11 at 10:02 pm }

I <3 you Mel. Getting that wonderful hug from you right near the beginning was one of the highlights of the conference for me.

PS…I went to one private party and, while it was fun, it wasn't any better than the actual conference events.

39 Battynurse { 09.01.11 at 3:32 am }

I was so disappointed that I couldn’t get down there to see some people at least even if I didn’t go to the conference. Maybe next year I’ll be able to get past my dread of conference type events and go.

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