A Whirlwind BlogHer Conference In Chicago

BlogHer 2009, the quintessential gathering of women who blog, is over for another year. It was my first time at BlogHer and I was extremely impressed, although the whirlwind of keynote sessions, breakout panels, geek labs, leadership track training, exhibitions, and private parties left me exhausted.

Welcome session

The undisputed highlight of the conference was the Community Keynote, where 21 chosen BlogHer bloggers read their work. I laughed out loud as Danielle from KnottyYarn.com told us about forgetting to remove her tampon before having sex with her husband and then, when she couldn’t “find” the tampon, living in fear that she would die of toxic shock syndrome for five days before going to the doctor. It was especially amusing to me because the same thing happened to me, oh so many years ago, and it took me three days to “fish it out,” as Danielle’s doctor referred to the process.

Issa from Issa’s Crazy World stepped to the mike and, with wavering voice, related the story of her beloved uncle Marky, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and lived most of his life as a mentally unstable homeless person. Tears flowed down my cheeks she described watching him descend into a private hell where he lived under a freeway ramp because it was the only place he felt safe and refused to wash because the soap was poisoning him. During his final years, Marky move into a small one-bedroom apartment that he filled with seven sofas because “they” needed a place to sit – “they “being the people inside his head. But the one constant was his love for his family; despite his affliction Marky never missed Issa’s birthday and when her father remarried Marky asked his brother and father to hold him down and wash him in the shower because he knew that being clean was the requirement for attending the wedding. This issue was so timely for me. Since I live half a block from a Salvation Army shelter, I interact with homeless people on a daily basis whenever I am home in Sarasota, and I am completely conflicted about the issue. If I give them money, will they use it to buy drugs or alcohol? I never know what to do. Issa’s story did not provided me with any answers but it certainly reinforced my belief that we must do something about this severe, growing problem.

Julie from I Do Things So You Don’t Have To stepped up to the mike and proclaimed, “I’m JD and when I was a kid – I faked a concussion so that you don’t have to.” This self-proclaimed “lying, faking, selfish monster of a child who needlessly worried her parents and spent innocent taxpayer’s money, just for a little attention,” reminded me that I screamed for attention as a child of nine or ten with a pretend illness. It started as a bad bellyache, but when my Dad grew concerned that the pains could be appendicitis, I milked it for all it was worth. I moaned , I groaned, I writhed on my parents’ bed, curling up in a fetal position. I eavesdropped as Dad called Mom at work: “If she has one more bad pain, I’m going to take her to the hospital.” He hung up the phone and I let out a master moan. That was all it took – off to the hospital I went. We were not rich. My Dad worked two jobs most of the time to make ends meet and I’m sure that hospital stay set him back a wad. Not to upstage JD, but she had it easy. All she had to endure was a scary night in unfamiliar hospital surroundings. In my case, once they determined I did not have appendicitis, they gave me a water ENEMA! Served me right.

Read more of the presentations on BlogHer’s Community Keynote summary page.

Speed dating

Some fascinating facts were presented during the conference. For example:

  • More than 50% of women are now reporting that they are using the Blogosphere as their primary source of news
  • Women who blog are significantly more active across all forms of social media
    • 80% read blogs daily
    • 57% write blogs daily
    • 80% use social networks

Women also control the majority of the purchasing power in this country, a fact that was not lost on BlogHer’s corporate sponsors. Every time I turned around, someone was shoving another bag of freebies at me; granola bars and flavored waters from Pepsico, thumb drives loaded with corporate propaganda from Michelin and Ragu, and travel packets of detergent from Tide, among varioous and sundry other merchandise (I have no idea who donated the brownie mix, frosting, shaving cream, peanut butter, raspberry jam, or Mr. Potato Head). One of the best things to come my way was a sample of Starbucks new VIA Ready Brew instant coffee. VIA is fabulous for travel – just rip open one of the small vacuum-sealed sticks, pour into a cup, and add hot water for coffee that is so much better than the horrible stuff provided at hotels and motels.

BlogHer 2009 was surprisingly emotionally charged for me. I was elated when I handed my business card to anther attendee and she said, “Oh, Hole In The Donut, I know your blog.” It’s one thing to read comments on my blog but quite another to meet someone in person who is a devoted reader. My elation was short-lived, however. Depression bordering on despair set in after attending a couple of break-out sessions. There is so much more work to do on my blog; I need to incorporate podcasts and videos, set up a Google profile, open a Flickr account for my photos, and perhaps even start a newsletter. The most important task ahead of me is to further refine the focus for my blog. In the past I have simply described it as a travel blog. But with the number of blogs growing at an exponential rate, it is no longer enough to be a generic travel blog. I was repeatedly advised to figure out my blog’s niche. When I started the blog nearly three years ago, it was a narrative about my escape from corporate life to pursue a new life doing the only things I have ever wanted to do – travel, write, and be a photographer. But now, what is it about? Travel for seniors? Budget travel? The spiritual lessons that come from travel? Off the beaten track travel? Travel beyond the normal tourist experience? Armchair travel for people who won’t or can’t travel?

Admittedly, I do not have a proper grasp on how to describe Hole In The Donut, and I suspect the only way to find out is to ask my readers. And so I am asking for your input. How do you think of Hole In The Donut? Is there a general theme that runs through the blog? I would really appreciate any feedback you can give me in the comments below. And as always, thanks for stopping by. I couldn’t do it without you.

8 thoughts on “A Whirlwind BlogHer Conference In Chicago”

  1. Girl, you’ve been writing up a storm. (So have I, which is why I haven’t e-visited anyone lately.) Good stuff here, very good. As far as what this blog is about — I heartily second darrelyn Saloom. Happy trails…

  2. It’s my first time here, so I can’t help, sorry. (Came to you by way of NYCMama, whom I “met” via Weaselmomma.) I do know already, though, that I like you, because of the way you helped NYCMama come to her ephiphany. Well done.
    .-= Mrs4444´s last blog ..Be Bright Pink Giveaway =-.

  3. Hi, Barbara! Thanks so much for the shout-out AND for seeking me out to let you know you enjoyed my reading. I don’t feel upstaged one bit: an enema DEFINITELY trumps an overnight in the hospital! That’s a hilarious story, and I’m glad you shared it here.

  4. I can’t answer your question, as I haven’t read much (YET). I did want to stop by to let you know I’ve added you to my feed after meeting you at the “Owning Your Expertise” panel – and that I will be going back and reading your archives soon!

  5. You are an escape for me, a writer and editor who rarely travels and spends a great deal of time in front of a computer screen. Your words and photography transport me into the diversity and beauty of your life-journey and travels.


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