This is the year of the conference for me. For the past few years I’ve sat by either unable or uninterested in attending, wondering just how a conference would help me. Yes, I wanted to grow my blog, but I honestly had never considered how a conference could help (especially when more than maintaining the blog (page views, stats, etc.), I just want to write. I started this blog in 2008. Last year was the first time I read posts and tweets regarding conferences and thought “I should be there. I want to be there.”
I knew early on I’d go to BlogHer this year, but I wanted to start with a smaller conference, a “get your feet wet” experience. So, I chose Bloggy Boot Camp. It was informative, but I didn’t feel like I fit in. I don’t like feeling like race plays a large factor in my comfort, but I must admit that with only a handful of people of color in attendance, I simply felt out of place. I decided at the last minute to go to Blogging While Brown.
First, my travels. The night before the conference, my husband told me to call two cabs just to be sure. I called only one because there was that one time, in 1997, that I called two from the mall because the first hadn’t shown in 30 minutes so I called another. They arrived at the same time, the first one angry that I’d called another and the second refusing to ”steal” the fare of the first. The morning of the conference, the cab was due at 5:30; my train left at 6:20. At 5:50, I called another cab company. It was there before 6:00 and I was at Union Station in less than 15 minutes.
On the train, I remembered that I hadn’t yet determined my route to the conference from the train station (the venue’s site said it was close to the train station). As I checked my map, I found out it was more than a mile away. Even though I’d have preferred to walk, this was still easy enough. I’d used most of my cash on the first cab, but I could get money when I got off to pay the fare to the conference.
But. The week before the conference, I’d opened a new bank account. When I arrived in Philly I realized I had no idea what the pin number for the new card was. I tried twice before I remembered that the card may be frozen if there are too many attempts to enter the incorrect pin number. It was 8:30. I sat down to think. What would I have chosen as the pin number? Something similar to other numbers but different enough to not be easily guessed. An address? A phone number? A birth date? I coudn’t remember.*
A person able to think on her feet would have said, “Duh, find a cab that takes cards and pay that way.” I am not that person. Before it dawned on me to use the card, I’d tried a third unsuccessful time to get money from the ATM. Now I didn’t know if the card had been flagged and would even work if I tried it in a cab. I had $4 in cash and 30 minutes, so I decided to walk. I’d get there after the opening and maybe the first speaker, but I would get there. Once outside, though, survival mode kicked in. I asked two women if they knew where the venue was and if there was a bus that went near it. They showed me the bus stop, but 20 minutes I was still standing there. I started walking.
On Twitter, when @afrobella said she was on her way, I responded “Still en route too since my card won’t work, too little cash for a cab from @Amtrak, so I’m hoofing it.” Five minutes and $2 later I was on the bus when she tweeted back, “:( hope you get here soon!”. That made my lateness much more tolerable.
Later, when I tweeted “Does anyone have a safety pin? The snap on my jeans decided it hates its life and left”, @drgoddess responded only with “Girl…”. I knew I was with my people. The amount of comfort and style and blackness and naturals in that room had me speechless. I’d been questioning where the black bloggers were. Clearly I’d been looking in the wrong places.
I learned about taking my blog offline into the community, getting to meet face to face with people who are interested in similar issues. We talked about where social media and technology are headed, how both are headliners in nearly every aspect of our lives: Twitter, Facebook, magazines, the internet, email, cell phones. We talked about branding and how, for instance, social media can affect one’s image. For example, if you have more than one website with wholly different topics, what happens when they overlap? Will you lose the interest of one group of people over another? And we discussed urgent issues affecting the black community like HIV and hazing. My main takeaway, though, came during the Next Level Sister Bloggers panel with Patrice Grell Yursik of Afrobella, Kathryn Finney of The Budget Fashionista, Maria Niles, Client Services Director of BlogHer, and Elisa Camahort Page, co-founder of BlogHer. When Patrice talked about owning who we are, staying true to ourselves, and surrounding ourselves with people who had our best interests at heart.
Later, I introduced myself to Patrice and was pleasantly surprised that she stood and talked to me about why this conference experience was different from Bloggy Boot Camp and why it’d be different from BlogHer as well.
Heading home, I knew I’d simply walk (unless a bus happened by) because I had over an hour and a half before my train left. But when you aren’t paying attention when you leave an inspiring conference, you turn down wrong streets and realize damn, “Where are @questlove and Jill Scott? Where is Aja from Kindred the Family Soul? Somebody help me out of Philly.” I stopped a passerby and she said it’d be easier to hop on the subway than to explain how to walk to the train station. I walked halfway down the subway stairs and turned around. It took me 35 minutes, but I used my own two feet and managed not to be kidnapped by that man waving at me from INSIDE THE TRASHCAN on the subway platform. The reason why he was inside the trashcan isn’t even worth trying to figure out.
On the heels of these two conferences, I was nominated as a BlogHer Voice of the Year for 2012. This solidified that my conference-going was just getting started. I see many years ahead of my attending various conferences, even eventually sharing my views with the audience as a panelist.
*I found out the following week that the pin number was manually generated and mailed to me. I never chose it.