I just flew back from the BlogHer 2012 conference in New York, and boy, are my arms tired. Nah, I’m kidding. My arms are fine. It’s my back and abdominals that are aching with exhaustion, overworked from a particularly nasty bout of food poisoning.
Yep, in true FFF fashion, I managed to get struck down by a few bites of cheese. There I was, scared of an angry mob of haters storming my hotel room, when really what I should have been suspicious of was the ricotta crepes at Bar Americain. Somewhere, there is a lactating bovine (or sheep. Isn’t ricotta sometimes made from sheep’s milk?) with a vendetta against me. Serves me right for breaking my two-month vegan streak.
The silver lining of my having my stomach contents expelled for nearly 24 hours straight was that, when the time came to read my piece about why lactivism and feminism have a dysfunctional relationship at the annual BlogHer Voices of the Year keynote, I wasn’t even worried about the crowd. On Thursday afternoon, when I’d met with the other 14 Voices of the Year readers for a walk-through, I’d been nervous enough to ask if anyone had ever actually been booed at a VOTY keynote. By the time I took my place backstage, the question in my mind was “has anyone ever projectile vomited over the audienceat a VOTY keynote?” (For the record, I’m pretty sure the answer is “no” to both those quandaries.)
Listening to the other VOTY readers, I came to a rather disturbing revelation, one that had been percolating in the French press of my brain since I’d entered the cliquey atmosphere of the conference: I wasn’t sure I was really a blogger. This was troubling, as I was about to read in a ceremony intended to honor blogging voices; a ceremony that the community takes seriously, and for good reason. I didn’t feel I belonged in this group of infinitely lovable, immensely popular individuals. Bloggers write unbelievably beautiful pieces about dying friends and food-pushing grandparents. Bloggers compose eloquent essays about how your identity is defined (or not defined) through attire. Bloggers make you pee yourself laughing over recollections of writing trite love poems on the iPhone or having unexpected liaisons with Aunt Flo on Aaron Spelling’s overpriced white chairs. Bloggers write in ways that make you want to be their best friend, ways that inspire you, and ways that make you worship them.
What bloggers don’t do is announce to a room full of some of the most powerful parenting voices in the Western hemisphere that they write something called the Fearless Formula Feeder. The silence after my introduction was deafening. Or would have been, were it not for the ringing in my ears. Thank god for e-coli.
Anyway, there must’ve been a few FFFs in the audience (thank you, Ivy, Shannon, and Kim, and anyone else who was there who I don’t know about) because a few folks were sweet enough to cheer for me when I made potentially offensive statements. Despite one strong wave of nausea that I managed to, um, swallow (sorry if that sounds gross, but trust me, it was far grosser actually doing it), I got through the speech. And then I ran, quick as my sensible Naturalizer shoes could carry me, back up to my hotel room to pass out.
The next day, after choking down a few saltines, some Gatorade, and a bite of a waffle, I sat in on some conference sessions. The nagging feeling from the night before returned. I couldn’t relate to conversations about leveraging Pinterest and Instagram to popularize my blog. I attended a fascinating talk about the state of blogging in 2012, but felt more like an interested outsider than a participant. I don’t typically write about products, so I felt like an impostor wasting the time of the vendors in the Expo hall (although I did manage to get some fun samples from a sex toy company. See, now that is the kind of company that should be advertising on FFF. There’s no WHO Code against sex toys.) Networking sort of fell flat, as anytime someone asked me, “What do you blog about?” I would mutter “Cough…Infant feeding and support for formula feeders…cough” and typically be met by a) a blank stare, because the person was a 20-something fashion blogger who had no idea what that meant or b) a suspicious glare, because the person was a parenting blogger and knew exactly what that meant.
Before I knew it, the conference was over (time flies when you’re stuck in the hotel bathroom for half of the scheduled events). I met up for a few minutes with a blogger I adore, and while we were chatting, a colleague of hers came over. “You know, when they announced your post last night, I braced myself,” she said, rather suddenly. “I’m very pro-breastfeeding.” This was when I braced myself, for the inevitable conversation where I would try in vain to convince her that I was pro-breastfeeding as well, and that my point was merely we should have equal support for all moms, etc, etc, I’m boring myself, etc., but then she continued: “I was surprised, though, because I ended up agreeing with every single thing you said.”
Now, I’d met a few folks over the weekend who’d offered some amazingly sweet comments about my VOTY reading that made me feel like a million bucks, and were far less backhanded than this. Yet, this was the comment which meant the most. This woman had been willing to listen with open ears, and allowed herself to have a subliminal dialogue with me. She was willing to consider another side of the issue; to allow herself to be changed in some small way.
And that is when I realized that I was, indeed, a blogger. Because unlike static forms of writing, bloggers care about the conversation. It’s about a give and take, a trust between blogger and reader which means we can allow each other in on a regular basis; we can agree on some days, and disagree on others. Bloggers are deeply affected by their readers, by their comments and criticism. It’s a symbiotic relationship.
There are times I’ve worried that other popular mediums have made this blog irrelevant; that now that the book is coming out, I’ve said all there is to be said. But this weekend, despite feeling like a bit of an outsider at BlogHer, I finally feel confident in defining myself by this particular platform. I may not do product reviews, or make people laugh or cry, but my blog allows me to work out my thoughts in long form; it allows me to learn from every one of you, the open-minded and the intolerant, the unbearably mean and the unbelievably kind. My twitter feed is shallow and undeveloped; my Facebook page is somewhat out of my control, and belongs primarily to the community; but this space – this blog – remains mine, in the sense that I get to drive the conversation, and learn from you all on a deeper, more reflective level. And that is something worth celebrating. Once I fully recover from food poisoning.