BlogHer and Susan

in: Uncategorized with 49 comments

Every time I attend BlogHer I am asked, “Is it worth it? Should I go?”

Here’s my short answer: Sure! A friend of mine convinced me to go the first time, so if you want to come with me next time, I’m your gal.

Now, here’s my long-winded answer.

I have attended the BlogHer conference three times: San Francisco 2008, NYC 2010 and last week, NYC 2012. (Apparently I need a full two years to recover each time I attend.)

While BlogHer can be wonderful and wild and incredible, it is at first invigorating and then exhausting. I attend to see hundreds of friends I normally only get to hang out with on the Internet, to meet writers I admire and to connect with more women who do what I do. I am also there to learn from leaders in social media and maybe even garner a professional opportunity or two.

I believe BlogHer is worth the time and monetary investment. I do not believe that every female blogger needs to attend BlogHer in order to find success online, but I do firmly believe that if you go, go with the intention to learn and connect with others. Don’t go to party (oh, how I despise the use of “party” as a verb) or grab for free stuff. The parties are fabulous, sure, but they are foremost a unique and fun forum for meeting more great people. Do go to bond with women in your pajamas over wine or fancy flavored Pellegrino in hotel bathroom glasses and croon the intro to DeGrassi Junior High with people who make your heart sing. Do go to see your sisters, grow your business and hone your writing craft.

I also attend conferences, and occasionally speak at them, to spread the word about blogs which aim to strengthen and inform communities, the goal of my very first blog for DC-area families, A Parent in Silver Spring. In 2010 I was a Room of Your Own panel moderator on Resource Blogging, and my co-panelists were three of the women I love most in this world…and the next: Leticia Barr, Amy Mascott and the late, oh so beloved, Susan Niebur. The process of planning our presentation and the challenge of providing to attendees tangible help for improving or beginning their own resource blogs brought us closer together. (We also worked with the beautiful Jean Winegardner, but she was already booked to speak in an autism session panel and BlogHer didn’t let her double dip.) Hopefully, we assisted other resource bloggers in their journeys.

It was really, really, really hard to attend this year’s BlogHer conference without Susan. In 2008 she urged me to go, gently but persistently. We were new friends, I was a new blogger, and she promised that it would be a wonderful time. She roomed with Stimey, I bunked with Tech Savvy Mama, and the four of us had a stupendous time.

In 2010, the four of us again attended together, requesting rooms side-by-side. We presented our ROYO together. And many of us DC Moms who consider Susan our sister sat in the front table to cheer her on as she was honored for her writing and selected as one of the Voices of the Year. (Please read her honored essay, In the name of awareness, if you have not already.) It was a moment of triumph for Susan, and all of us who love her wept with love and pride. She was tired, so tired on that evening, after pulling a long BlogHer day in the midst of treatment, but she rallied and made it and she was magnificent.

She also looked radiant. The week before BlogHer 2010 Susan and I were on the phone talking packing and dresses, and when she expressed worry over what to wear I filled my minivan with dresses that I thought would look pretty on her punk rock, post-op, brave figure and drove over. When she put on the royal blue silk trapeze-style 3.1 Phillip Lim dress, we knew it was the one.

That dress again hangs in my closet. Her husband Curt and her mother Pat gave it back to me after she died.

I didn’t attend BlogHer 2011 because Alice was too little and Susan was too sick to go. Last summer I couldn’t imagine attending BlogHer without Susan and instead of flying to San Diego we spent a ton of time together during the summer months. Kristen also sat out BlogHer in sisterhood and solidarity. We talked about things big and small, gave our kids water pistols, ate bacon and watermelon, cooed over baby Alice, and tried to strengthen our faith in God, even as we knew Susan’s days were winding down.

This spring Susan’s best friend Marty asked if I was thinking of going. Marty had submitted another beautiful post that Susan wrote at the end of her life, “It’s Not Fair!”, and it was chosen as a Voices of the Year honoree. Leticia and Amy and Jean and Kristen asked if I was going. Again, I said that I couldn’t do it without Susan. How could I go without her when she was the one who always urged me to go?

But then Susan’s husband Curt (WhyDaddy, although Susan often referred to him as WonderDaddy) called. He had two tickets that he and Susan had bought back in 2011 for this year’s BlogHer…did I want one?

And so I went. Because another Niebur gave me the nudge.

The first day of BlogHer I was honored to receive an invitation (along with Marty and other blogger friends of Susan) to an event hosted by the American Cancer Society and their Blogger Advisory Council, of which Susan was a member, along with Leticia and Elena. We met at Hope Lodge, a warm home away from home for cancer patients receiving treatment when in New York. There, led by survivor and artist Darryle Pollack, we painted individual tiles which Darryle will assemble afterwards in a piece in Susan’s memory. The completed mosaic of love will decorate either Hope Lodge in NYC or the ACS headquarters in Atlanta.

Later that evening I volunteered in the Serenity Suite at BlogHer, a place where Susan was able to catch some important rest and quiet in 2010. I was so grateful to meet my co-volunteer Annette and the Serenity Suite rock stars Maggie, Heather and Ellie. Those women are angels (and crazy-smart devils) for creating a haven of peace and sanity, in addition to serenity, within the hectic BlogHer bubble.

The next day I thought I would skip the Voices of the Year community keynote. It was being held in the exact same room where Susan gave her own community keynote. Although I felt better after the ACS and Serenity Suite experiences, I was still missing Susan so much. I tramped through the streets of New York, filled with anger that she was no longer there with us.

But then I received texts from Marty and Jean and Amy and Stacey and Sandie and Sue and J.J. that they had the table, they were saving a seat for me. Where was I?

Again, those loving nudges reminded me so much of our friend. Those other women loved her just as much as me, and they were bravely sitting there in the front, right where Susan would be sitting (or more likely, looking down at us from the stage) if she were here. So I came in late, crouching down M*A*S*H helicopter style to get that seat with our DC Moms crew, Susan’s girls, right in front. They had hugs and cupcakes and tears in their own eyes.

And we listed to this year’s Voices of the Year. We clapped and cheered and laughed and bawled our eyes out.

Susan’s spirit was with us after all.

That was my BlogHer.

BlogHer 2008

BlogHer 2010 (Photo credit: Stimey)

BlogHer 2012 (Photo credit: Marty)

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