Women Without Pants

July 29, 2009

It’s the kind of thing that happens in recurring nightmares: you’re standing on stage in front of a vast auditorium, a thousand expectant faces turned toward you, the lights burning your eyes, when you suddenly look down and realize that you’re naked. Nude. Starkers. Completely and totally sans pants. And although you want desperately, desperately, to flee the stage and cover yourself, you can’t, because for some reason your legs won’t move, and you’re stuck there, under the burning lights, under the gaze of the audience, terrified as shit, and you must, somehow, go on.

And then you pinch yourself and you wake up, the relief washing over you in cold sweat.

Or, if you’re me, you don’t wake up, you just look up and realize that, yes, this is really happening, and that although you are (small mercies) wearing pants, you are sobbing your heart out, on stage, in front of more than a thousand people, and that public emotional nakedness feels an awful lot like how you imagine public pantslessness to feel. Which is to say, scary, and more than a little embarrassing.

In hindsight, of course, it was a liberating and empowering experience. I feel courageous in a way that I didn’t before; I feel that I accomplished something important in having walked through the valley of fear and come out the other side, whole. It’s not unlike the feeling of accomplishment that I felt after having given birth to Jasper under such trying and terrifying circumstances: I didn’t expect to feel such fear during his birth (just as I didn’t expect, as an accomplished lecturer, to feel fear during my community keynote address), and so surviving that fear turned out to be something of a unexpected gift. I surprised myself with my own strength; I discovered that I could, as they say, feel the fear (and the parts tearing) and do it anyway. But just as with Jasper’s birth, although I was proud of myself, in doing the keynote, for getting through something that was unexpectedly frightening, I can’t say that I’d want to do it again.

Or maybe I would. I don’t know. Sharing the story that I did with the thousand-plus women in the Sheraton Ballroom was in many respects more intimate and personal than was sharing that story here – this surprised me, because although I know that more than a hundred times that number have read the story online, I had figured that speaking the story would be less intimate than writing the story. I sobbed my heart out when I wrote that story, both because it is a story that breaks my heart, but also because, in writing it, I felt as though I was whispering it to my dearest friends, inviting those friends to share my secret, my mother’s secret, and to pull closer to me, and to comfort me, and to urge me on. I did not expect when I read it aloud, in an auditorium, through a microphone, my head blown up a thousand times its size on giant flat-screen monitors, that I would feel that intimacy again. And that I would, again, cry.

and then I cried

And then I cried (photo courtesy Ree/The Pioneer Woman)

This, of course, is the beauty and magic of BlogHer: the feeling – almost always unexpected, for me, although you’d think that I’d learn by now – that you’ve wandered into a landscape filled almost entirely with friends and fellow-travellers (yes, even with all the sponsors, really), that although you believe that your most intimate moments in sharing your writing occur online, in the virtual space that has come to feel like a kind of home (it is, after all, where you wear your pajamas), that intimacy can be multiplied a thousand-fold, in real life, in a room where you are surrounded by people who understand, who even though they might not know you, the real you, the you that hides behind the screen, they know your stories and they love your stories (and even if they don’t know and love your stories, they know that you love storytelling, and you know that they love storytelling, and that matters) and that binds you in a way that you can’t imagine possible until you are there.

You simply can’t imagine until you are there.

Even sobbing your heart out upon the stage, even strumming your own pain with your own fingers, even killing yourself softly, publicly, with your very own song, even then, you feel the bond. Especially then. Because it’s then that you learn, or re-learn, that the community out there – that tribe of moms and foodies and fashionistas and bargainistas and techies and pundits and crafters, that tribe of women, that tribe of geeks, that tribe of storytellers – is your community, in all of its difference, because it is a community of people who understand why you are compelled to tell your stories, and how hard it can be sometimes to tell your stories, and how good the telling feels, even when it is hard. It is a community that shares its stories, that loves its stories, that honors its stories, and the tellers of those stories. Even when those tellers drop their figurative pants upon the stage and moon the audience with their souls. Especially then. So it’s my community, and I am honored to have had the opportunity to bare the ass-cheeks of my soul in its direction, and grateful to have felt the waves of love and encouragement in return.

Which is to say that, yes, maybe I would do it again. With or without pants.


Because many of you have been asking, yes, there has been progress in the search for my brother. It has been complicated and emotionally painful (for both myself and my mother), and so I have had moments of wanting to give up the search. (If you plug “Lost Boy” into my Lijit search widget you’ll get all the posts that I’ve written on the subject, most of which I’ve linked in the previous sentence.) But I have not given up and will not give up and I will keep you all posted, I promise. Thank you all, so much, for your love and support.

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    Momo Fali July 29, 2009 at 11:31 am

    You were beautiful up there. I was so proud of you. I AM so proud of you.
    .-= Momo Fali´s last blog ..Forget Cleveland…it’s Chicago that Rocks =-.

    jodifur July 29, 2009 at 11:37 am

    What you did and said and spoke was amazing. And I was honored to hug you after.
    .-= jodifur´s last blog ..The Hardest Part Is Over =-.

    Stefanie July 29, 2009 at 11:46 am

    Loved it. But you know that.
    .-= Stefanie´s last blog ..What I Learned at BlogHer =-.

    Bari July 29, 2009 at 11:54 am

    Wish I was there even more now! Must must must see a video. Please let us know when one is available.
    .-= Bari´s last blog ..Super "Secret" News Revealed! =-.

    Her Bad Mother July 29, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    Am waiting for video – BlogHer will, I think, be posting some. Will definitely let everyone know when they do (not least because my husband needs evidence that it was as epic as I claim.)

    Kathryn July 29, 2009 at 11:58 am

    I had to come stop by your blog to tell you how beautiful your words are – your keynote really touched me. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the ballroom.
    There are not many people who could take such a touching story and present it with such real and honest emotion. But you did and I’m so glad you were able to share it.


    Marinka July 29, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    I loved your reading. Loved it. I thought that it, along with many others that I heard that day should be anthologized for mandatory reading for college students.
    .-= Marinka´s last blog ..Remedial Blog School is on Break =-.

    Mom101 July 29, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    You sharing your story with us was emblematic of why I was there in the first place. Thank you thank you thank you from all of us.
    .-= Mom101´s last blog ..The Year that Shame Died =-.

    deb July 29, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    your words are beautiful on their own… that’s why i read you before blogher. but seeing you read them, and feeling your words resonate within me as you read them, was even more beautiful… that’s why i will continue to read you. (is “reading you” the correct term?)

    so anyway, thanks.

    Her Bad Mother July 29, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    “Reading you” seems perfect on so many levels ;)

    Colleen - Mommy Always Wins July 29, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    THIS is why the conference was so meaningful to so many…to hear stories like yours, meet the people who wrote them (and countless other stories who touched our souls online) and feel part of a sisterhood of people who just happen to share their lives on the Internet.
    .-= Colleen – Mommy Always Wins´s last blog ..A REAL BlogHer post (and then that’s all…I swear…I mean, maybe) =-.

    Karen Sugarpants July 29, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    I was so proud of you up there, so overcome with emotion…it’s hard to put into words – but you did an amazing job and I love you.
    .-= Karen Sugarpants´s last blog ..BlogHer. Aww Yeah. =-.

    Lara July 29, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    I just adore you, and I know you already know that, but I wanted to say it again. I feel, often, like as a 27-year-old girl who really knows nothing about anything, it’s not my place to be “proud” of anyone (except maybe my students, but that’s totally different), but I was proud of you for staying strong and sharing your story, even though it was so hard and scary. It just makes me admire you even more than I already did.
    .-= Lara´s last blog ..This Post Really Needs Images, But I Couldn’t Find BlowHer or Xenophobes on Google Images =-.

    Caryn July 29, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    You were very inspiring, to those who may be experiencing a similar situation or search as well as to those who might be intimidated to tell their story. We didn’t get a chance to meet, but I did want to thank you for sharing this with us and I am hoping for a happy next chapter for you, your mother and the lost boy.
    .-= Caryn´s last blog ..BlogHer Interlude =-.

    Martie July 29, 2009 at 5:20 pm

    Wow. You look gorgeous on the giant screen!!

    And…if it wasn’t important to you–you wouldn’t have cried. And reading your own material, if it causes you to cry or to laugh, well, that just means it’s REAL. You are real and gorgeous. Party on…
    .-= Martie´s last blog ..Oh, Cranberry, Please Cure Me… =-.

    Her Bad Mother July 31, 2009 at 8:29 pm

    Luckily, giant screens are kinda blurry. ‘Cause I was worried about my pores ;)

    BrandyS July 29, 2009 at 7:30 pm

    Your reading was beautiful and heartfelt and moving. thank you so much for sharing such an incredible and intimate part of your soul with us. We all cried with you.
    .-= BrandyS´s last blog ..CARS or Cash for Clunkers: A Personal Car-Buying Experience =-.

    Pauline July 29, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    Your words were beautiful… the room was silent when you spoke.
    .-= Pauline´s last blog ..All I really need to know about conferences I already learned in high school. =-.

    Her Bad Mother July 29, 2009 at 7:46 pm

    Ah, the silence – all the better to hear my heart pounding in my ears ;)

    Zoeyjane July 29, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    I was proud of you, too. Funny, since I don’t ‘know’ you – to the point of not even introducing myself and merely occasionally looking in your direction at the Sparklecorn party, thinking that I should introduce myself- but when you started to well up and your voice caught, I wanted nothing more then to rush onto the stage and rub your back.

    You did good, kid. More so, it seems like you feel you did – and that’s what’s most important of all.
    .-= Zoeyjane´s last blog ..On gasping for relief =-.

    Her Bad Mother July 29, 2009 at 7:45 pm

    I wish that you HAD introduced yourself! *pouts*

    (Also, thank you ;) )

    Cheryl July 29, 2009 at 7:41 pm

    Man, I wish I could have been there. Sounds like you did GREAT! Good job for being so brave. And inspiring. (((HUGS))) @Jasperblu
    .-= Cheryl´s last blog ..Counting, Always Counting =-.

    Tarrant July 29, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    My keynote was a different sort of post…but I worried I would sob through it. I did reading it to my mama. I got choked reading it to my kids. I even got choked in practice. I expected the nerves and flutters of previous presentations that I had given to far smaller audiences. I mean, this was far more intimate of a story…and odd in a way.

    Instead, I got backstage and found that wait a minute, this IS my community, these are women I know, these are women I read, this is the community that has heard bits and pieces of my love song for years. (some more than others.)

    The twirly dress was to remind me that this wasn’t really all of me but the audience reminded me that we are all a part of them somewhere, somehow…and they yes, know why we need to tell and do tell these stories.

    Thank you for sharing your story, for sharing your keynote experience, and for being you, every day.
    .-= Tarrant´s last blog ..Community, BlogHer and My Child =-.

    Her Bad Mother July 29, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    Your twirly dress was a source of much comfort to me – it was a reminder that this was FUN. (Also, your warm, calm presence, but still: THAT DRESS.)

    Tarrant July 30, 2009 at 9:52 am

    The dress was pretty darn special. As much as I wouldn’t have shelled out for it and my mother insisted that I needed it…so she did…it did make it fun or at least distracted me enough.
    .-= Tarrant´s last blog ..Community, BlogHer and My Child =-.

    Julie @ The Mom Slant July 29, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    Missed you, in many many ways, not the least of which being the opportunity to hear you read. Even if it meant I would have cried the ugly cry in public.
    .-= Julie @ The Mom Slant´s last blog ..Where it comes to technology, adoption is the only option =-.

    Her Bad Mother July 29, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    Still all weepy that you weren’t there. Really.

    katie ~ motherbumper July 29, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    So proud, so very proud.
    .-= katie ~ motherbumper´s last blog ..This isn’t a BlogHer Recap (alternate title: Viva La Siesta!) =-.

    Boston Mamas July 29, 2009 at 11:16 pm

    Catherine, I was so glad I had the chance to meet you at the CheeseburgHer party and tell you in person how moving your post was. Thank you for sharing it with all of us. It’s one thing to write it’ it’s another to stand up and read it.

    .-= Boston Mamas´s last blog ..Birthday Giveaway: Isis Maternity =-.

    Wendy July 30, 2009 at 12:24 am

    I love that you speak of storytelling here. Yes yes yes we are storytellers too. We are the digital bards. It’s apt, I think, that you use the word “tribe.” We aren’t sitting around a fire eating meat off the bone, but we are a tribe I think. With or without pants.
    .-= Wendy´s last blog ..Banana Cream Cheese Bread – Not the Recipe =-.

    Her Bad Mother July 30, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    We are the first pantsless tribe of wandering storytellers the world has ever know. Or would that be, the first tribe of wandering pantsless storytellers…?

    How ’bout just: PANTSLESS BARDS FTW!
    .-= Her Bad Mother´s last blog ..Women Without Pants =-.

    mo-wo July 30, 2009 at 1:27 am

    There is something so fundamentally emotional about these discourses. I thought of this when we last met. Not you but rather Redneck and her approach to visit.

    It is good I’m sure but I’m not exactly sure how just yet.
    .-= mo-wo´s last blog ..The Threat From Above =-.

    Her Bad Mother July 30, 2009 at 10:42 am

    It’s a mixed thing, for sure. Good, but in a challenging and complicated way. Anything that provokes this intensity of emotions is necessarily complicated.

    But, still: GOOD.

    Maggie May July 30, 2009 at 3:14 am

    I really wish I could have heard you speak. I wish I could have been at BlogHer! Maybe next year. I’m here, though.
    .-= Maggie May´s last blog ..written on my body =-.

    Assertagirl July 30, 2009 at 8:05 am

    I was so very upset that I had to leave the keynote early because it was YOUR story I was waiting to hear read most up there. Even though I wasn’t in the room, I was still proud of you and proud to call you my friend.

    Allison Worthington July 30, 2009 at 9:26 am

    I loves ya, Lady.
    .-= Allison Worthington ´s last blog ..BlogHer- What it was really about. =-.

    Cecily July 30, 2009 at 9:30 am

    You were amazing. And I cried, even though I’d read the piece before, more than once, because hearing you read it aloud and hearing your voice break made it OUR story too.

    Thank you.

    Also? This:

    “that tribe of moms and foodies and fashionistas and bargainistas and pundits and crafters, that tribe of women, that tribe of geeks, that tribe of storytellers – is your community”

    Should be BlogHer’s new tagline.
    .-= Cecily´s last blog ..And now, the photos… =-.

    Her Bad Mother July 31, 2009 at 8:30 pm

    Let’s lobby for that, or at least for a t-shirt ;)

    LAVENDULA July 30, 2009 at 10:25 am

    catherine your words always touch my heart so much…and we are a tribe…and you are so gifted at writing thank you for sharing the gift of words and stories with us

    Grace Davis July 30, 2009 at 10:57 am

    As we did for each other backstage, I would like to do again –

    wooooOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! Clap clap clap clap!!!!

    Catherine, it was an honor to share the stage with someone like you, a writer who has ably interpreted so much for us, most especially the utter suffering that Anne Sexton called “The Awful Rowing Toward God”. I speak for many when I say that your willingness to expose your private pain liberates and transforms. In turn, we are inspired to be just as brave, and find redemption and wholeness in that courage.

    If I can be of service to you, please do not hesitate to call on me. I would be grateful for the opportunity.

    Always your fan and friend,
    Grace xo
    .-= Grace Davis´s last blog ..BlogHer 09 – My Community Keynote Reading =-.

    Her Bad Mother July 30, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    Grace, as I said backstage, you’re a hero to me. Always.
    .-= Her Bad Mother´s last blog ..Women Without Pants =-.

    jaelithe July 30, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    I find it impossible to say which of the readings at the keynote was the best one, because they were all so different and so good for different reasons.

    But yours was the one I felt the most. You were the reader who seemed most able to be her naked self on the stage.

    It was incredibly generous of you, of all of the speakers, to let us as an audience in, even if only briefly, to feel the emotional world behind your words. Because it allowed us all to share viscerally in feelings of fear and sadness and joy and empathy we sometimes shut out in order to function in a daily world that frowns on women truly expressing ourselves. So thank you.
    .-= jaelithe´s last blog ..Still Recovering from BlogHer =-.

    Alana Kirk-Gillham July 30, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    you are an inspiration… have given you an award on my blog… keep it up.
    .-= Alana Kirk-Gillham´s last blog ..who me? =-.

    Aimee Greeblemonkey July 30, 2009 at 6:57 pm

    I am so sad I missed it.

    Mrs. Flinger July 30, 2009 at 9:09 pm

    I bawled along with you. I had read it here before but hearing it from your mouth was so powerful. Seeing your OWN tears spurred mine forward. I’m so glad I got to see you read this powerful post.

    I’m here for the journey with you. XOXO
    .-= Mrs. Flinger´s last blog ..My son will already make a wonderful husband. And he’s two. =-.

    Her Bad Mother July 30, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    I’m still mad that we barely got to speak to each other. I got no Flinger hug! *MADFACE*

    That said, I loved seeing you with that pregnancy glow.

    .-= Her Bad Mother´s last blog ..Women Without Pants =-.

    Angel Smith July 30, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    There is a verse in Anna Nalick’s song ‘Breathe (2am)’ that I had running through my head as I listened to your stories:

    “2 AM and I’m still awake, writing a song
    If I get it all down on paper, it’s no longer inside of me,
    Threatening the life it belongs to
    And I feel like I’m naked in front of the crowd
    Cause these words are my diary, screaming out loud
    And I know that you’ll use them, however you want to”

    I think those of us that really bare ourselves when we write, be it blogs or songs or books or poetry or whatever medium we gravitate toward, fear that vulnerability a bit, but as much as we fear it, we are drawn toward the honesty of it. I wrote about it in my BlogHer post a little. I could never say many of the things I write under usual circumstances, so I commend those of you who had the courage and the grace to share your hearts and souls in words with us.
    .-= Angel Smith´s last blog ..Sticky bras are falling down, falling down, falling down =-.

    Her Bad Mother July 31, 2009 at 10:57 am

    *clutches heart*

    Sarah, Goon Squad Sarah July 30, 2009 at 11:20 pm

    It was beautiful and moving. I tried to tell my own mother about it and I started sobbing so I have no idea how you held it together as well as you did.

    Thank you for sharing it with all of us.
    .-= Sarah, Goon Squad Sarah´s last blog ..…and THAT is how I ended up walking around with Hello Kitty underpants in my pocket. =-.

    georgie July 30, 2009 at 11:56 pm

    BRAVO! I don’t know you you dont know me but I can tell you that your keynote inspired me today in a way that was hard to put into words on my blog…not because I know what your going through(I dont and can not imagine) but because you are real…I would so love to meet you….thank you for sharing your story
    .-= georgie´s last blog ..Inspired =-.

    kay bryan August 1, 2009 at 10:31 am

    I truly hope that you find your brother soon. Please keep us advised. I am a researcher, and will be glad to help you if you would allow me to try.

    kdiddy August 2, 2009 at 12:42 am

    I really lost my shit during your reading. full on ugly cry.

    I’m really glad that we got to meet and hang out a little bit. and sincere SINCERE thank you for all of your hard work making the party so so perfect for us.
    .-= kdiddy´s last blog ..what would betty draper do? =-.

    Mammatalk August 2, 2009 at 11:36 am

    So wish I could have been there!

    Alas, my toddler was turning two that day. But, among the balloons and birthday cake, I thought of all of you!
    .-= Mammatalk´s last blog ..She was a granny of a cart…. =-.

    Issa August 3, 2009 at 11:20 am

    Catherine, you were phenomenal up there. Truly. I felt blessed to see you speak and honored be a part of that keynote.
    .-= Issa´s last blog ..Follow Friday, #1 – The Norwidians =-.

    D. August 3, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    I was sobbing right along with everyone else in the room (which leads me to believe waterproof mascara should be first on my list of things to pack for NY). I can’t thank you enough for sharing what you wrote, and words can’t express how powerful it was to hear the language and the emotions in your lovely voice. Thank you.

    Next year I’ll definitely work up the nerve to introduce myself. :)
    .-= D.´s last blog ..Letting it all hang out =-.

    Her Bad Mother August 4, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    Please, please do ;)

    Omnibus Driver August 4, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    Don’t ever give up. There’s always hope.

    Boy, there were a LOT of stories about the various perspectives of adoption that day, weren’t there? Little did I know, as the last one to grab the mike in your session earlier in the day, that you’d be speaking in the keynotes that evening. Synchronicity. It’s a beautiful thing.

    Her Bad Mother August 4, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    When you made your comment at the end of that session, it was all I could do to keep from bursting into tears. Really. And I was grateful to have your story in mind when I went on stage that evening.

    Thank you.

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