Two years ago, after BlogHer ’06, I wrote this:
“I left behind something that I think that I am going to miss… the me who was happy and fulfilled in the absence of the loves of my life. The me who could assimilate the quiet ache that is that absence, the pressing ache of those missing limbs, into another kind of energy and move, happily, despite that ache. The me who felt both quieted and stimulated alone (sans child, sans spouse) in the company of other women, other writers, other mothers who, for a moment, put the activity of motherhood or whateverhood aside and said, now, what about me? What about us?”
That experience? That was missing for me, this year. Because I did not and could not put those other parts of me aside. I did not attend BlogHer this year as the me who has a passion that extends beyond and away from her family, the writer, the friend, the woman who can compartmentalize her manifold selves and carry on, and flourish. I attended BlogHer as a mother, with babe-in-arms and lactating boobs and head fuzzy from lack of sleep and heart sore from guilt and anxiety and all that tremendous and challenging mother stuff that distracts one from the business of being anything other than a mother, full stop. And that was hard. Really hard.
And so I felt, for much of the conference, as though I was watching from the sidelines, from the other side of the curtain, from behind my locker door, my baby clutched like so many books – my vulnerability, my shield – to my chest. Which is to say that, yes, there were moments, some moments, when my experience reminded me a little bit of high school, albeit the kind of high school experience that you see in low-budget after-school specials about how having a baby at sixteen means that you’ll be left out of all the parties and your cute-girl clothes won’t fit and you will feel like an outsider and omg why did you not cross your legs like your mother told you?
But those were only moments, and they had nothing to do with anyone or anything other than me and my own issues and insecurities. It was hard for me to expose myself as a mother at BlogHer, because being a mother in real life is not the same thing as playing one on the Internet, and all of the vulnerabilities that roll onto the screen so easily don’t play so comfortably on a real life stage. No matter how exposed we are on that screen, no matter how bravely, fiercely naked we allow ourselves to be, we are still, end of day, behind the screen, sharing fragments of our whole selves, preserving whatever other parts need to be preserved as private in order to protect our self-regard. So while it was one thing for me to bare my breast and nurse my child in front of the audience attending my panel – because, of course, I knew that everyone would be glad to see it – it was quite another to attempt and fail to soothe my child in public spaces, or succumb to a panic attack in the presence of friends and strangers, or to admit to exhaustion and frustration and sadness when everyone else was trying to party. And so I kept, mostly, to the sidelines, and observed.
And what I saw was this: friendships being formed, friendships being renewed, friendships being celebrated and revelled in and enjoyed. I saw love and tenderness and warmth; I saw women cheering each other on, and men cheering the cheering. I saw all of the things that I’d seen that first year – “women who are, like me, trying to use found moments of lived fearlessness to navigate the murky waters, the frightening waters, of womanhood and motherhood and writerhood (here be monsters, here be monsters. We know this. Still we fly our sails). Among women who are willing to say, out loud, that they don’t know how to always be fearless. Among women who walk with fear, but who carry wit and intelligence and charm and strength as rods and staffs for comfort” – and more.
But I also saw insecurity and anxiety and nervousness and reserve. I saw another mom with babe-in-arms keep to the sidelines, like me. I wish that I’d done more to connect with her, beyond waggling my baby at her baby (an effort that made her baby scream, which, you know, can really make someone feel like a fuck-up), because I wanted to ask her, is this as hard for you as it is for me? I heard a woman crying in the bathroom, and another woman soothing her, and wanted to say something, but I didn’t, because I was embarrassed, having been soothed myself the night before, and still feeling awkward about it. I saw, many times, women sitting by themselves, and sometimes I approached them, and sometimes I didn’t, because I didn’t want anyone to think that I was working the room – don’t laugh, it happens – or demanding attention (oh mah gahd have you seen mah BAYBEE?!?!) or, sometimes, just because I felt stupid and awkward and who knew when the baby was going to start crying again or the front of my blouse go wet and what would I say then (oh, hai, I’m HBM, pleez to excuse the sloppy mammaries and squalling infant)?
I saw a wonderful woman, anxious and hurting, defending herself in front of a crowd of a thousand. I saw a crowd of a thousand wonder, some of them – wrongly, wrongly, so wrongly – whether it was all an act. Actually, I didn’t see this, because I was on the other side of the doors, tending to my baby, my heart, wondering what was up, what was going on, what was I missing now? only hearing the details after the fact, and watching the video, and wanting to wrap virtual arms around my hurt friend, too late to help her in the moment that mattered, because my attention was divided, and while one hurt woman stood up to another (because, yes, it all had to have come from a place of hurt, it just did, and that sucks for everybody, for real) and the conference fell into a hush I was outside the room, in the corner, ruminating on being on the outside, lost in myself.
We all feel on the outside, all of us, sometimes; even the biggest and brightest of our stars feel their distance (let’s mix metaphors and wonder whether, if you prick them, stars bleed their brilliant light and burn holes in the sky. Is this what happened?) Whether we know a hundred people in the room, or one, or none, we feel, in certain moments, lonely. Misunderstood. Lost. Alone. We’re women, we’re human. We can be surrounded by love and still feel isolated. We can project love and still feel empty. We can be friends and make friends and still yearn for friendship. We can be inside and still feel completely outside. We’re internet geeks, girly ones, some with babies, some without, most with vaginas, all with hearts. We’re complicated.
I love us for that. I love this weekend for that. I love BlogHer, and BlogHers, for that. But there is still the ache. So please, can we be gentle with each other, forgiving of each other, this week, next week, and in all the weeks and months to come?
(THE LOVE. I do not do this exclude. I really, truly, do not. But I can’t and won’t censor my impulse to send warm hugs to the people who really took care of me this weekend, and/or who just added a special degree of awesomeness and oh god I am going to forget somebody really important I just know it but here goes: the spectacular lady who offered the loveliest, most welcome haven from the fray, the wonderful, baby-whispery heart-breakingly sweet man who snuggled J and cuddled J and crooned him to sleep with baseball stats, the lovely, lovely guy who stretched his arm to the breaking point swinging an infant-laden car seat on multiple occasions, the gorgeous young woman who snuggled the babe until his need for boob overwhelmed my entire session, the beautiful pregnant lady who stole my son’s heart – while he was still on the tit oh god – I may now have to call him Jasperalah – and who I was unable to rescue from partum faintage because I have no life skills – and who always makes me laugh even when my head is about to burst from anxiety, THIS beautiful woman whose very presence with her even-more-beautiful daughter made me cry, and the amazing, truly amazingly big-hearted woman who rescued me from my corner and insisted that it was okay for me to cry it out and OH GOD I cannot even refer to her in the third person without tearing up, and this super-smart chick who I wish I could spend way more time with in Canadaland and the amazing women that I hadn’t met before but now will be stalking relentlessly and her and her and her and her and her, oh lord, my girls, my bosom buddies, my heart-friends, my (oh sob) total BFF comrades-in-arms, my hearts… *collapses in tears and smiles*)
Let’s just all cling to the love, kay?