That’s Me In The Corner

July 23, 2008

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?

Thank you.

Grover knows. He did the whole conference with a hand up his ass. He gets us.

(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?

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    { 105 comments }

    Jenifer July 24, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    I think I might be speechless. This was brilliant and from the heart in a way that screams I get this and I want to scream right back, you are so right.

    Janet July 24, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    I think the fact that you, were even willing to come with a baby so small and wanting, is amazing. That extends to all the women I met there with little ones. I think I would have stayed home and pouted, were it me.

    I spoke to you, ever so briefly, when Mimi was soothing young Jasper to sleep in the lobby and I asked you a stupid question, something like, “What’s is like being here with a baby this year?” You responded that it wasn’t like not being there with a baby, which was an apt response because, yeah, that makes perfect sense.

    Issas Crazy World July 24, 2008 at 4:23 pm

    You, HBM, are on of the most eloquent writers that I’ve ever been privileged to read. Seriously. I super heart you and I truly hope I can go to BlogHer next year and possibly meet you.

    Am still jealous that you met Grover. He’s my hero.

    sweetney July 24, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    there are so many reasons why i love you, why i’m proud to call you one of my closest friends. in this single post you manage to crystallize so many of them, and with such grace, it leaves me speechless. awe. xoxo

    Carmen July 24, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    You are the most amazing writer I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting and talking with.

    You were grace and elegance personified this weekend.

    Jozet at Halushki July 24, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    xxxoo

    Just that.

    Amanda July 24, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    Oh, but we wanted to sit with you. Closer, one set of pudgy legs against another (and of course I refer to Jasper and Fin, because we, we are ravishing). It was the hardest and easiest thing I have ever done, venturing out, but knowing always that I could retreat into her silky head.

    I did ache to run, to laugh and cavort without worry, but I think we all did. You and I had our babies, sleeping and screaming, lovely and messy – a hot dollup of honey mustard shit literally splat on my foot during the morning keynote, you didn’t see that- but we weren’t alone in our aloneness.

    And now I am blathering.

    Just know that I saw you in a special light, before the conference and evermore. Remember, you taught me that the heart is a muscle.

    Sweet feather kisses to that sweet little man of yours.

    Schmutzie July 24, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    This is an incredible piece. Thank you so much for writing it.

    Oh, The Joys July 24, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    This you is impossible not to love. BIG LOVE. The biggest.

    xo,
    J

    Assertagirl July 24, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    And now I’m sitting in Palo Alto with the tears. You are such a beautiful person, Catherine, and I’m so thrilled to know you, to call you my friend. Hugs.

    Maggie, Dammit July 24, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    You know that short list of people who start to speak and the whole world goes into a hush, like, even the bunnies and they’re already quiet anyway but it’s like GOD, even the bunnies shut up for this, because it’s so great, it’s just so great?

    You have been at the top of that short list for me for a long, long time.

    Wonderful post.

    Jessica July 24, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    Beautiful simply beautiful.

    IRISHKAT July 24, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    Wow! I too am left speechless and in tears and I wasn’t even there. But do understand all that ‘is’ – when trying to be a Mom and you and they don’t always fit together the way you would like. I am glad you had so many fantastic women around to luv up on you!

    kerrianne.org July 24, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    You! are the Catherine that so many over the course of the weekend talked about (in great ways!) and asked if I had met you, had I met Catherine yet? I unfortunately left without introducing myself, but I did see you, and your little one, and smiled at you from over the top of a room filled with happy McDonald’s hats.

    This was lovely. Thank you for it.

    Her Bad Mother July 24, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    I don’t even know what to say to all of you. *TEARS STREAMING DOWN FACE*

    Glennia July 24, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    So, so beautiful, just like you are, my dear. Just like you.

    I’m sorry I didn’t have a chance to meet your baby. I only saw you in passing, and there was always a crowd of baby-adorers there (at least in my head there were, because who would not adore such a baby?).

    xoxo

    Immoral Matriarch July 24, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    “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?”

    Gladly.

    This post brought me to tears.
    It was wonderful to have met you and I hope this is the start of a beautiful friendship. :)

    Wannabe Hippie July 24, 2008 at 4:51 pm

    A seriously heart wrenchingly beautiful post. Thank you for this little gift.

    Beck July 24, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    I’ve been toying with whether or not I even want to go to BlogHer this year and this post cinched it: OH, I DO.

    Mr Lady July 24, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    Can I tell you that I stood in a room and listened to you talk into a microphone with your baby in your arms and I was in totally awe? In awe of how you glowed with momminess, and how you beamed with passion about blogging, and how I stared at you the whole rest of the weekend? I didn’t know who you were, but now I do, and yeah, I totally wanted to kiss your baby, but was too nervous to ask.

    Thanks for writing this. Thanks for being there.

    Christina July 24, 2008 at 4:59 pm

    “We’re complicated.”

    Truer words have never been written.

    It was a wonderful, loving, heartbreaking, fulfilling and empowering weekend, filled with both extremes of belonging and the occasional isolation, real or perceived.

    At one panel I became overwhelmed at the topic, so I hurried to my room to cry. I didn’t want anyone to see me cry. But my roommates were there and went above and beyond what I would expect someone to do. Everyone who saw me after that, still with my red eyes, all understood and provided so much empathy and compassion.

    Wish I could have spent more time with you. Toronto-area road trip will be planned soon, I think.

    Backpacking Dad July 24, 2008 at 4:59 pm

    A short list of the failed comment-starts I’ve tried to write here today:

    “If I had a uterus, I’d be pregnant now….”

    “Arms are better now, but my heart is sore…”

    “I have a picture of you and everyone else tweeting during a panel…”

    “You inspired…”

    Katie Kat July 24, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    WOW, I wasn’t there, nor am I even a blogger (just a blog hag), and I was so moved by your post. I’ve read everyone’s updates and so many of them express the overwhelming experience they had, but yours is soul-bearingly deep.

    It sort of amazes me that all these completely awesome ladies that I read (and secretly wish I was, or at the very least had as best friends) are so anxious and insecure and feel unpopular and lost in the world. But that’s how I feel! And knowing that each of us uses that to come together somehow and DEAL, or get a reminder of our own worth, or find new ways to cope and laugh and grow… that is what’s so good about all this.

    I commend you ladies. What you do on the internet is raw, open and brave. Getting all together and bearing your true selves is even moreso.

    Thank you HBM!

    Alli ~Mrs. Fussypants July 24, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Beautiful words. So loving. Amazingly well written as usual.

    Julie Pippert July 24, 2008 at 5:03 pm

    It wasn’t the interaction I’d *planned* with you, but still, there’s something to be said about bonding over a dirty diaper. I hope I will always be to you the kind of friend who you know is willing to take shit for you. :)

    This was lovely.

    And BlogHer for me was so much on many sides of what you describe here, even though my “baby” was a loss of voice at times, but a finding of kindred spirits who could fill in my words for me.

    Kyran July 24, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    i’ve had so many thoughts about that hard moment in the center of this. i’ve been waiting to get quiet enough to express them in a way that is empathetic to everyone of us who is making this thing up as we go along. you may have beat me to it.

    a rose at your feet.

    xo.

    Jaelithe July 24, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    You are awesome.

    And I so wish I had been in that session where you were nursing. Because I would have given you a standing ovation afterwards just for that.

    You know, every time I saw you while we were there I tried to say hello. But you always looked so busy, and surrounded by other people, that I was afraid to try to really talk to you. I was afraid I would be interrupting something, or adding to your stress by seeming one more person you had to talk to. I just wanted to tell you that I thought it was very brave of you to come bringing Jasper, especially after all the hassle you had trying to get him permission to come here. I also wanted to offer you some help if you wanted it..

    I’m sorry now that I didn’t cut through the crowd and just say those things to you. But at least I can say it now. I was proud of you, and I thought you were brave. And if you ever need help, and I’m around, I’d like to help you.

    Anissa@Hope4Peyton July 24, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    You have beautifully universal emotional moments and you express them with so much honesty. I have so much respect for what you set out to do, what you ended up doing and what that taught you. No shame in that.

    Really thoughtful.

    Jaelithe July 24, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    (BTW everyone that was me with the deleted comment; the end of my comment got cut off for some reason so I had to retype it.)

    Redneck Mommy July 24, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    Damn it Catherine.

    It’s becoming exceedingly more difficult to read your beautiful words because I miss you so.

    You’re in my heart. Wrapped up tight around it. Always.

    Now I’ve got something in my eye and don’t you have a baby to feed or something?

    Kiki July 24, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    Wow.

    Amalah July 24, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    “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?”

    GAH, yes. It’s so sad, that it seems so inevitable, every year. Everybody becomes so quick to judge and think the worst, based on one encounter or something they saw from across the room, everybody blaming everybody else for their discomfort, NOBODY willing to give each other the benefit of the doubt that really, we were all flipping terrified and nervous and overwhelmed and bound to commit at least one boneheaded social faux pas, mostly likely right in front of the largest group possible.

    And you! HBM! Probably one of the women I actually got to spend the most time with (which still wasn’t a lot)…I had no idea about what had happened at Guy’s house and had no idea you felt so alone and nervous because you were just beautiful and sweet and funny, even if your brain was telling you something very different.

    I tried really hard to meet as many people as possible, to be as friendly and outgoing as I could force myself to be, until I completely wore myself out, and was forced to do the absolute hardest thing of the weekend: admit that I needed help, and wasn’t doing okay, and I needed some water and someone to stay by my side and keep me from crashing into things. (And that sounds like a metaphor, but it’s not.) And instantly I was surrounded by love and support and wee little cups of water and I couldn’t stop laughing and thinking about what amazing friends I have.

    Babybloomr July 24, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    What a gift you are.

    I sat behind you, beside BPDad as he rendered Jasper comatose with the endless swinging of the car seat. I tentatively reached out one finger and petted him, (Jasper, not BPD), but I was afraid that I would seem too forward, or too jump on the bandwagon-y or too.. something. If I had only known that inside your uber-earthmother exterior there beat the heart of a fellow trying-to-look-more-calm-and-confident-than-I’m-feeling-right-now woman, I would have kissed you and your sweet baby right on the mouth. Which would have totally blown the moment and caused you to grab Jasper and run, so it’s just as well.

    But next year? Bet on it.

    (OK, not really, I was just channeling some Bloggess energy just then– but I DO plan on stammering an awkward hello and handing you one of my cool-kids Moo cards.)

    Kyran July 24, 2008 at 5:15 pm

    p.s. I made this my Kirtsy pick today.

    HBM fans, you know what to do.

    Heidi July 24, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    Can it be next year already so I can come to BlogHer and try to meet you?

    This made me cry.

    I’m pretty sure if I had come this year, I would have behaved EXACTLY the same way (even down to the small, needy person in the sling and big, sloppy boobs).

    Thanks for making me feel less alone. The love is good.

    Dana July 24, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    I adore the suspension of distance between your heart and your mouth. Just adore it.

    I took you, Tracey, Amy, and so many others straight to my heart after this weekend. Thank you for your friendship.

    Ali July 24, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    wow.
    this is the best thing i’ve read in a long time.
    thank you for this.

    Miscellaneous-Mum July 24, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    One word: bravo.

    (I’m so there next year.)

    Miscellaneous-Mum July 24, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    Sorry, that was me, it double posted for some reason

    Cagey July 24, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    Thank you for putting into words some of same feelings I experienced this past weekend. I also missed the Big Dramatic Moment this year because I was feverishly trying to get my own baby calmed down so that I could attend the book signing. *sigh*

    The irony was not lost upon me that being a mother got me to where I am, in some respects. But being a mother kept me from fully enjoying the conference. Life is humbling.

    maybaby July 24, 2008 at 6:21 pm

    Gee. Now I’ve finally read something that makes we *want* to go to BlogHer next year.

    So far I’ve studiously avoided it. However, if there will be even a handful of women there with this sense of community…I might go.

    Thanks for a lovely post.

    Motherhood Uncensored July 24, 2008 at 6:40 pm

    I think what I was in awe of the most (other than the fact that you made the trek so bravely with Jasper, alone) was the sense of strong community — the hands outreached when you needed them most — running to hold the babies and tend to them (and us mothers) without any question.

    It was a true reflection of how it feels to be part of the mom blog community online.

    Hands outstretched and holding us up when we can all but flop down on the floor.

    xo

    the weirdgirl July 24, 2008 at 6:45 pm

    “So please, can we be gentle with each other…?”

    Always.

    Crunchy Domestic Goddess July 24, 2008 at 6:49 pm

    what an amazing post. you are truly such a talented writer.
    i hope to have the privilege of meeting you in person next year.
    hugs.

    Stefanie July 24, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    That was a beautiful post. I don’t know if you should be so hard on yourself for not feeling on the inside. You have a new baby for crying out loud. It is the biological imperative that you prioritize that over drinking, hanging out and socializing constantly. It becomes less important and then more important again. It wanes and surges and wanes again depending on our life’s circumstances. I know I had the same problem and my twins were miles away. Maybe next year…But so well said.

    Karen Sugarpants July 24, 2008 at 7:06 pm

    “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?”

    So well said. Beautiful post Catherine.

    capperoo July 24, 2008 at 7:11 pm

    That was lovely. I wasn’t there. I’m not in this group, but that was lovely.

    Mocha July 24, 2008 at 7:17 pm

    …being a mother in real life is not the same thing as playing one on the Internet

    Man. Doesn’t that sum up everything about our online/offline persona? We’re on our best behavior, but we hope that the true “us” comes out. For certain, mine did. When you teared up to know that I, too, brought my child it was ever so natural to embrace and weep as mothers, friends, women. I love you FOR REALS.

    Sometime this weekend when I wonder why I’m singing “Losing My Religion” and hoping for a beer bong and needing to get in touch with my college friends, I will blame you for the title of this post, Catherine. Then, I will smile again that a thought of your beauty even passed through my brain.

    Heather July 24, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    Wow. First reading your post, then all the comments. This stuff makes a girl a bit misty-eyed.

    All the recap posts I’ve read until this one made me sure I didn’t want to go to BlogHer because I’m so shy. This one makes me wish I could justify spending that money on me and not the rest of my family.

    This year I would have been another mommy with a babe in arms (D was born May 22) and I think I’m also sort of sad that I didn’t go to show her off.

    But I’m not as brave as you.

    Kyla July 24, 2008 at 7:30 pm

    Oh HBM. This was gorgeous. You have such a way with words.

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