Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Look, Ma, I'm going to BlogHer

Here it is, finally, my (obligatory) BlogHer Conference post. (It seems like everyone is doing one and I hate to be left out.) 

If you’re not a blogger and are just reading me because you’re my friend, or you really care about Autism or you are caring for old/dying people, you might want to skip the rest of this as it will probably bore you to tears. (Then again I might tell the tale of nearly puking in James Caan’s lap, so maybe you'll skim through looking for the juicy parts instead.)

If you want my best post about Autism go here, saying goodbye to my dying father go here. If you’re up for a ramble through my mind as I ponder the upcoming BlogHer 10 conference, being held right here in my hometown (NYC), then stay on board.

First let me say that this is not a “how to” for BlogHer. This is my first BlogHer conference, and while I’m a terrible know it all, capable of spouting off expertise like an expert when I’ve barely scratched the surface, that would be even too much hubris for me. 

Hell, I’ve only been Blogging for 6 months making me a complete newbie about this in every sense of the word except, well, except that I have been writing my whole life, even if sometimes just in my head, like my friend Kirsten from Nilsen Life has been recently. 

And that other type of BlogHer post about anticipatory anxiety, well I’m not there, either. Much. I’ve been thinking about why I’m so calm when others quake and realize it’s for a number of reasons.

First is that this has been such a crap year with my father dying and all, (and my mother such a wreck, and needing to find a new special ed school for Jacob) that I just can’t take the small stuff seriously right now.  And while I’m not downplaying social anxiety, know it can be horribly debilitating for some (and perhaps for a disproportional percentage of bloggers, who have been known to spend more time with their computers than with their friends), Death is a big wake up call, as it were, sorting the wheat from the chaff in my life in so many ways. 

Also, while this may be my first BlogHer, I am not new to conferences, having spent years attending them or working them behind the scenes. Once you’ve been on the other side and hung out with the man behind the curtain, when you’re the puppetmaster putting on the big head and flames show, there’s not much there to angst about. 

It’s going to be a bunch of people, mostly, but not all, women. Some I will know for real, others I know via their words. Some I have such an intense connection to from our reading each other’s blogs, tweets, emails and back and forth, comments on each others posts that I consider them my friends and feel it is astonishing that I will be seeing them in real life, hearing the timbre of their voices, finding out they are taller shorter, rounder, scrawnier than I had pictured, for the first time, this week.

I am so sad, devastated really, that Kirsten won’t be able to be there (you can read about her fatal scheduling fail here) because her words and spirit move me so.

I’m sure there will be “famous” bloggers I sit next to and talk with and fail to recognize, gabbing away at them, possible even name dropping in a completely embarrassing manner (because that is one of my glaring flaws, in fact I can promise that I will shamelessly name drop at least once in this post, just keep reading) only to afterward look them up and realize I should have known who they were, should have listened more and talked less (another personality flaw.)

And yes this has already happened at a pre-BlogHer meet up. Should have paid attention to clues like, oh, that she’s speaking at the conference even though she’s not primarily a blogger (just a media uber-professional, a verbose & funny social satirist tweeter, and oh, called a “well connected” member of NYC’s cultural elite in this week’s New York Magazine.) Doh!

My years of painful gaffes at Sundance, SXSW, The Toronto Film Festival, and the Edinburgh Theater Festival should have either cured or inured me to these embarrassing moments, but I am sure they will come again and again. Like the time I nearly puked in James Caan’s lap. But more on that later (will I stop at nothing to tease my readers and keep them reading? No, it seems, not at all.)

I am also remembering the magic that can happen at conferences when you meet strangers and become instant compadres, tumbling together into all sorts of adventures and misadventures because, well, why not? 

All this from my pre-children glory days of course, when I was up until dawn many nights, something I just don’t do anymore, unless it’s momsomnia or I am up at dawn with an early waking child. And my tales have a long ago and far away feel to them, even to me who was there (was I really? It barely seems possible now that my world has contracted so.)

My last conference before this was Sundance in 2002, and I gotta tell you, 3 months pregnant with twins at 7,000 feet was perhaps not my most brilliant decision. 

I went with my husband for the very first time because I thought I might need a caretaker. Um, that would be yes. He held my hair back as I puked into a garbage can at JFK airport, mouthing “pregnant” to the security guards so they wouldn’t think “drunk and disorderly” in their immediately post 9/11 jitteryness. 

I mostly kept it together in Park City, moving slowly, forgoing late, late nights, but there was one evening at a fancy restaurant when my delicious scallops suddenly decided they were on a round trip trajectory.

James Caan was seated at a table directly between me and the rather distant ladies room. He looked up and smiled at me as I lurched by, will never know how close his lap came to being the repository for my violently rejected dinner.  

Also at this last Sundance I finally had the good fortune to have a personal connection at one of those “guest list” only sponsored  chalets: a restauranteur friend of mine was the private chef at “Reebok House.”  I could really have cared less about the prime swag or the shoulder rubbing with medium size celebrities, it had all a pregnant woman in her second trimester needed: a peaceful atmosphere and abundant healthy food that didn’t nauseate me.

I did however, have one encounter that tickled my fancy: Julie Benz (who I knew as Darla, the pregnant vampire on the TV series Angel) chatting me up about babies and rubbing my pregnant belly for good luck. And yes, she was very polite and asked first.

If I can squeeze in one more name dropping story, before I hit the bitter end here: one night at the Toronto Film Festival I somehow got myself invited to one of the tonier sunset cocktail parties at a lovely outdoor café. I found myself plopped down next to legendary French film director Agnes Varda, whose film “The Gleaners and I” was premiering there. 

I speak no French, and she not much English but a friend at the table was happy to translate so we could carry on a delightful conversation about how my first name was the same as her last name, a situation neither of us had ever encountered before. I told her that the evening I had met my husband, upon being introduced to me he had quipped “Not the filmmaker Agnes Varda?” 

This probably sealed my fate: witty and knowledgeable of French independent film – perfect for each other (little did I know he was semi serious; he knew her name vaguely, but not her work, had no idea she was a French woman of some years.)

But I digress… Agnes told me her father was a Jew from Greece, and I told her my name meant “wild rose” in Hebrew. We talked a while about this and that, and I am sure I was swept from her mind five minutes after she passed on to another conversation. For me however, our time together is a sparkly trinket in my memory cache.

But this has now gone on and on, way past the length a proper post aught to be. But perhaps that’s all for the good, as it will properly prepare you to meet me at BlogHer, where I am likely to go on and on too, way past the point where I should stop, and start to listen. You can step on my foot, gently, to remind me to shut up, if need be. It’s alright, I give you permission. 

And in spite of all this “been there done that” talk, I’m really, excitedly, looking forward to this conference: to finally meet up with women I have read and admired; to those serendipitous moments when the magic happens, and I find myself engrossed in life changing conversations with people I have never met or imagined before; and to finding new ways to embarrass myself in public.

Maybe I’ll even get to spill a glass of wine on Jenny, The Bloggess’s red dress, you never know ….


  1. Awesome post, Varda! Particularly enjoyed you yakking into a trash can in JFK. Can't wait to see you this weekend!

  2. oh please tell me if you spill wine on The Bloggess. That would make feel so much better about my many fails. ;) Thanks for your lovely compliment, and can I just say that the sting of a major and public fail is nothing in comparison to the sting of not seeing & connecting with my people.


  3. It was so great to meet you this weekend! And you didn't once name drop while we were chatting. But I could tell you weren't nervous at all, which was refreshing. There were a lot of nerves flying around there!

    Take care of yourself, and I'm looking forward to reading more of your stuff.

  4. Am here from BlogGems -- nice choice for a learn-about-you post! I would love to attend BlogHer someday, but don't see it in the cards any time soon (am half-way across the country, for starters.) Ah well!

  5. Varda,
    I found you through Jen's blog hop. I wish I could have attended that conference. I totally get why your life now revolves around your boys instead of your interesting career.

  6. It reminds me of the time that Hugh Grant smiled at me, for no other reason than I like name-dropping too! BlogHer sounded awesome, I read a lot of posts about it.

  7. Wonderful post...I am here from blog gems but happy to get to know you better. I know I would have been anxious.

  8. Blogher sounds brilliant, must check to see if you wrote a follow up post, the blogging conferences fascinate me :) Jen

  9. Socially awkward?

    Public faux pas?

    Talk too much listen too little?

    We have WAAAAAY much in common, Varda.



I am so sorry to have to turn word verification back on, but the spam-bots have found me - yikes!