Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

BlogHer ’14

blogher14

First the positive.   The sessions were interesting.  The Voices of the Year reading was one of the best yet.   Standing ovation good.   This year honored 10 years of BlogHer, and the atmosphere was celebratory.  There was a feeling of nostalgia in the air, combined with an openness and hopefulness towards the future of the internet.

San Jose is a mellow city (even a little dull), but I liked it as a locale for a conference.   Sure, New York and Chicago are more exciting, but this year attendees stayed around and participated rather than running around town for sightseeing opportunities.   The final party, outside in the warm California sun, was fun, and felt like clubbing in the classiest McDonald’s in the world (they were the sponsor of the event).

I was honored to be part of a Pathfinder session on Becoming a Visual Artist. It was the fourth time that I had been involved in a session (Storytelling with Amy, Blogging with Elan and Laurie, Fiction Writing as a Writing Lab, and now photography with Lucrecer).

Now the negative.  No, let me rephrase it.  It isn’t negative. It is just change. And the change is not BlogHer, but ME.

I felt less personally invested in the blogging community than in previous years.  Is it the result of my interest in mobile photography?  Do photographers become aloof from the world, acting more as observers than participants? I didn’t even dance at the final party, always one of my highlights, instead choosing to photograph the OTHERS dancing.

Perhaps the disengagement is a natural reaction to a once small world that is now part of a bigger media world.  Everyone now has a reason for their blog, whether to “help others” or get on TV.   Whatever happened to just starting a blog because you are crazy, lonely, and neurotic?

I think back at how emotional unstable I WAS in the past, especially during previous BlogHers.

At my first conference, I tripped at the Chicago Sheraton registration line as I met Elan (Schmutzie) for the first time, tears in my eyes, as if she was some character I had been reading about in a book and had suddenly materialized as a living, breathing person.   As if she was Harry Potter, and Harry Potter wanted to meet too!

This year, at BlogHer,  Elan and I hugged on the last day, our suitcases trailing after us.   We apologized for hardly speaking during the entire conference. We were too busy with our own sessions.

“Eh, no big deal,” I said.   I’ll see you on Facebook later.”   This is not something I could… or would…. say eight years ago.

One of my highlights of BlogHer 2009 has nothing to do with the sessions.  It was me bitching to Jenny (the Bloggess) and Tanis (Redneck Mommy)  for what seemed like an hour about this “Blogging with Integrity” campaign started by the “evil” Liz (Mom 101) and others.   I have no idea why I was so passionate about this topic at the time, but I was sure that everyone putting side banners on their blog saying “I Blog With Integrity” would destroy Blogging as We Know It.   It was as if Joseph McCarthy had taken over the blogosphere.   Now, I just laugh at myself for acting so weird.

Tanis wasn’t at BlogHer this year, focusing on her family.   Liz wasn’t there either.   Jenny WAS there, but mostly in the capacity of the best-selling author of “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened.”

The line was so long to see her at the book-signing that I said, “Eh, I’ll just see her on Facebook later.”   This was becoming my motif.

Does the name BlogHer make sense anymore?   Maybe they should rename it FacebookHer. Or SocialMediaHer.

Sure, there were SESSIONS on blogging, but I had very few personal conversations about blogging.   I had interesting discussions about publishing, race in America,  using Pinterest, and the cheekbones of Kerry Washington, the TV actress who was also one of the keynotes. I think we still use blogs as a tool, but are frankly bored about talking about it.

OK, enough ranting.   My new aim in life is to become a positive person, like that woman I met at lunch who handed me her business card that read “Positivist Entrepreneur.”

I had a great time this year.   I met so many new people, not to win more “followers,” but to understand why the hell anyone would waste their time starting a blog in 2014 rather than just write for the Huffington Post.

A lot of the newbies I met were much younger than the typical mom blogger  (I mean, “they could be my daughter” young), and it made me feel kinda old. One kind woman in her early twenties came up to me and said that she was honored to meet me because “she was a big fan of my work on Instagram.”  She addressed me as Mr. Kramer.  I choked on my coffee.

I got many compliments on my new designer jeans that I bought two weeks ago at Nordstrom.  I wore them every day of the conference.   But I didn’t get laid.  San Jose is just too hot for any hanky panky.

I missed having a roommate.  I’m a yenta at heart.   I like gossiping until late night with Sarah or Marty.

As usual, I heard a lot of talk about hits and followers and platform.  I had a nice conversation with a popular fashion blogger until I mentioned that my comments and visits to my blog were half of what they were only three years ago, and she took off as fast as if I had just announced that I had syphilis.

There were whispers and rumors that this might be the last year of the big BlogHer conference, and that the organization would focus instead on the niche-conferences dedicated to food and business and politics. I hope it isn’t true. The annual BlogHer conference has become an important ritual for me.

But if the co-founders decide to change direction, I would understand.  A conference that appeals to personal writers, political activists, business women, and coupon moms ALL AT THE SAME TIME is hard to maintain forever.  Splitting up by tribe and demographic might be the way of future.

It might even be good for me.    BlogHer has been extremely kind to be, taking me into their, uh, bosom, as one of their own.   But it has never been my authentic “tribe.”   If the annual conference ends, it might feel to me like a parent kicking their deadbeat artist son out into the real world to get a job.  And maybe it is time to stop caring about BLOGGING as some sort of spiritual or personal journey, or as a social or radical act, and focus on it as a way to advance my career.   Because THAT is blogging 2014.

Thanks to everyone I met this year, both old and new friends.   And thank you for BlogHer for being such a class act.

Special thanks to JC and SueBob who made the long road trip back and forth from Los Angeles into one of the highlights of the weekend, even though we never sang any songs.

60 Comments

  1. Thoughtful recap, thanks.

  2. Great summary. I think you might be onto something – if BlogHer was to go and focus on more niche/smaller conferences, that would make a LOT of sense. Blogging is so diverse now, which I think the 10x10s and keynotes illlustrated well (even if I didn’t enjoy them all). I had been thinking that BlogHer seemed…LESS…something but couldn’t put my finger on it. I noticed what was lacking/different from previous years and I couldn’t decide if it was a conscious decision on the organization’s part, a result of having the conference in California (which tends to be cost-prohibitive to conferences), or just dwindling interest in the community as a whole.

    I’m interested to see what happens next year.

    • I think also San Jose is somewhat of a sleepy town, and gave the conference a mellow flavor that didn’t quite fit in the way it did ten years ago.

  3. I guess we have all matured along with the BlogHer community. I know I enjoyed this lower key BlogHer (which reminded me of the last time the conference was in the Bay Area – maybe it’s just a mellower locale). I truly enjoyed getting to chat with you.

    • Yes, loved our chat together. Hope Blogher helped you focus more on what you want to do with your blog this year. I still think politics is YOU — especially with an election coming soon.

  4. I have to admit, I wasn’t wowed by San Jose as a destination, but then I found myself enjoying it. I’m appreciating the quieter parts of life these days. Apparently.

    It was great seeing you again, Mr. Kramer.

    • Always a pleasure, Whit. I’ve greatly enjoyed reading your writing this year. (except maybe for some of the uh, disney stuff, but, yeah….)

  5. Since I was a rookie, my experience was totally different, and very positive. I loved meeting you. I know I geeked out on you at first but it’s because I’m a genuine fan of you as an artist and a person. Thank you for being so nice to my wife.

    I found BlogHer sessions to be an intervention for me personally and professionally. I’m so glad I went.

    Thanks again for being such a great person. I look forward to crossing paths, maybe in NYC, in the future.

    • I definitely hear what you are saying about being a rookie. I was blown away by my first blogging conference and seeing that these people are REAL. Hope I don’t sound jaded. I love blogging, BlogHer, and meeting people like you. It’s just after awhile, the community discussions become repetitive. I look forward to reading your personal work and that on Lefty Pop.

  6. Every BlogHer is a different conference for me. Because I’ve changed. I am sincere when I say I was looking for you every day. You are one of the ones I consider a vital part of my daily life. I love blogher because i get to see the people that have made it so that I dont even remember what it was like being lonely.

  7. One of my highlights was you telling me I did a good job.

    Blogging still matters, Neil. Because we all crave that connection. Conferences like this one just give it to us in person.

  8. I missed seeing you.

  9. I’m keeping my non-attendance at conferences alive.

  10. Dude. I just had a blogging-with-integrity flashback. God, we’re old. And still devoid of integrity. 🙂

    • Yay, I got both you AND Mom 101 to respond. I’m finally understanding how this Internet thing works. 10 Years! (By the way, you were just great, and charming, as the keynote speaker at breakfast. I didn’t like my eggs though. Too runny.)

  11. I’ve never been to a Blogher conference. I used to want to go–my friends are there–but money, time, feelings of inadequacy have kept me home. I did go to a smaller conference last year. It was there that I realized I’m not so much a blogger as I am an occaissional online writer. Branding? Sponsored posts? Good for many, not right for me. I’m grateful for the Blogher foundation but change is afoot.

  12. Now that you mention it, I didn’t do a lot of talking about the technical blogging stuff either. I go to BlogHer mainly to see people who live long distances from me. I came away from this year’s conference feeling good about my blogging community, and the Fairmont was amazing.

    I was up close and personal with Kerry Washington and her cheekbones are to die for.

    • Sharon — I know this sounds weird, but I think what hotel you stay in can totally change the perspective. Most of my friends were at the Fairmont, and I was at the Hyatt, and just walking that two blocks made me feel a little alienated from the action. From now, I always stay at the main hotel.

  13. The road trip was memorable.

  14. I’ve been to the last three BlogHers (not this one) and at each of them, several of the “old-timers” remarked that the conference had gotten “too big.” That blogging is now an industry of it’s own is not entirely a bad thing; it has afforded a level of respect that was hard to come by in earlier days, but there’s no question that it’s not the same as before brands and journalists got into the game. As you well know, a lot of people who have been blogging for a long time are having blog-life crises of one form or another. I count myself among them. A lot of us are saying “now what?”

    It might not be such a bad thing to split up into niches, but I don’t know how well it will work for the vendors. Maybe it will be better and many of them will not have to waste their time with people like me who write mostly politics these days. Not that I’ve entirely given up, if the conference comes back to the East Coast, I would probably go again, but the regret at not having been to this one, has been fleeting

    • I think the blog-life crises are coming out of the blog being too connected to our lives. Maybe if we start to think of our work more as writing rather than diary, it might be easier to adjust to the current online world.

  15. Neil, I’m so sorry I missed hugging you (or sitting with you at a table and having no idea who you were ..like BlogHer12. LOL)

    Hoping I get to hug you in NYC soon! 🙂

    • WTF! You were there?! What the hell’s the matter with you? I would have love to talk with you, as long as you addressed me as Mr. How could you not see me? There were only like ten guys.

      • WTF? 🙂
        No, I wasn’t at BlogHer Neil, if I had been I would have sat at your table, hugged you more than once and laughed at inappropriate things with you.

        I was just saying I was sorry I didn’t get to see you this year (because I wasn’t there).

        However, you promised me a afternoon of walking, talking and coffee the next time we come to NYC and I’m not letting you forget it.

  16. If so much has changed, then it seems like our evil plan may have worked after all. Score!

  17. I came home with a different feeling. No more worrying about hits or community or whatever the next buzzword is. I just want to tell my story because it is important to me, and maybe, just maybe, parts of it might be important to someone else.

  18. I have also heard from veteran Bloghers that they get dismayed by the size of the annual conference. So I can see why they might decide to move to smaller, more focused conferences. The one thing I can think off of the top of my head that would be a loss because of that particular change would be VOTY. There probably isn’t any more unifying event sponsored by this group.

  19. Lovely wrap-up! I so enjoyed my first (of MANY, I suspect), BlogHer experiences. I met so many wonderful people, had countless inspiring, goofy and thought-provoking conversations and still can’t get over the sense of empowering inclusiveness.

  20. Let me go on record as saying, I’d be bummed if you didn’t show up. But I totally hear where you’re coming from. Thoughtful recap – and I’ll see you on Facebook and Instagram, buddy.

  21. I think blogging is still important, although I think the same thing: Who starts a blog NOW?

    As a first timer, I loved the conference. In years past I’ve been so focused on how overwhelming many people said it was, so I was glad it was smaller and more intimate. I felt at home there. But I always regret not going up and saying hi to people I follow, and you are no exception.

  22. Blogging with integrity is exactly what I considered doing yesterday when I sat down to try and write about BlogHer14. But then I changed my mind, so no worries.

    This made me laugh: “Whatever happened to just starting a blog because you are crazy, lonely, and neurotic?”

    Well I was a “newbie” but I definitely enjoyed meeting you– which I remember through a haze of champagne, as you grabbed my badge and said “Oh yes, hooker, ninja, yes, I just followed you on twitter.”

    I can understand if this memory is not at the top of your “must-recall” moments of BlogHer.

  23. I loved this year. That is all. I keep typing and deleting things to say, but really that’s all it comes down to.

  24. Nice getting to dine with you on Saturday evening and chat about social media earlier that day.

  25. I never understood the point of saying you blog with integrity, always seemed to me like the people who had to say it didn’t have it.

  26. I’m so glad you got this picture. Talking with you guys that night on the bed was one of my best memories.

  27. So, I saw you half a dozen times before I had the nerve to say hi. Which is ridiculous, I know. It was my first Blogher and I actually really enjoyed it: the community, the diversity, the keynotes, meeting so many “old” friends for the first time.

  28. What I didn’t admit before we began talking last week was that I used to follow you, years ago, when you were much chattier on Twitter with many of the other people I followed at the time. It got a bit chaotic for me and I trimmed back who I was following, thinking you would never bother connecting with someone like me, that I was just a baby fish. Perhaps enough has changed in recent years that I now consider myself to be someone you should feel worth knowing.

    I’m still thinking through everything BlogHer brought me this year, but I hope it brought me the start of a friendship with you. Thanks for your very thoughtful recap.

  29. What I love most about BlogHer conferences is coming away with a different experience from different people. I’ve only been to three, but this was my favorite by far. FOR ME, it was the knowledge that I was there for purposes that are more related to my writing and while I hope it helps me grow my following, I don’t really care if it does or not (meaning I’m going to keep writing and if it happens, it happens). I left with the usual sense of renewed interest in being a novelist (and knowing I can be if I sit my ass down and do it and possibly also stop enjoying allthemargaritas). I like seeing you there, even though our experiences change each year. (PS — you’re the third person who’s hinted what’s been in my mind: was this the last one?).

  30. I’m pretty sure we sat at the same table three years ago at the Pathfinder workshop on publishing. I remember you were funny. And all my friends say you’re the cool kid, even though your stats have taken a plunge. Say whaaa? Just kidding.

    I’m not sure what I would do if there were niche conferences because I’m pretty niche- less. I mean, I cook, travel, parent, write about faith, and write books. Where would I go?

    But BlogHer is mostly about the fun and the friends anyway.

  31. I do feel like times are a changin’ a bit after this year’s conference. I liked it though. And I do hope it continues. There’s no better place to find you, taking your photos (for me anyway, since I don’t live in NY). Thanks for including me in one (the one at top! YAY!)

    Hope to see you again next year… 🙂

  32. Thanks for the honest look back on your BlogHer14 experience, Mr. Kramer. 😉 You are so right about how things change. It does seem like every blog has a purpose now. Rest assured, mine never will! 😀

    I have no doubt that your presence added to the BlogHer conference in ways you might never know. Not everyone has the courage to come up to you and tell you. Due to the change in size and venue, I’m also wondering what the future holds for BlogHer conventions. If it is divided up into niches, that would be disasterous for someone like me who fits in *nowhere* & has no tribe. Just stating a fact. If & when it comes back to Chicago, I hope to make an appearance again. In the meantime, I have to live vicariously through you and your Nordstrom jeans.

  33. Neil, I so enjoyed meeting you at the VOTY reception! I have loved following your photography work, and now your blog. See you on Facebook.

  34. I was really tempted to go to BlogHer this year, mainly because I only just moved back to the bay area a few weeks ago and the coincidence of having it just *right there* in San Jose was sooo tempting… But when I looked into it I got the dates mixed up and thought it was a weekend I’d be out of town. I don’t think I would have gotten up the guts to go anyway… It was cool/weird seeing all these bloggers I like talk about coming here and I really wanted to go meet them, but I still kinda feel like a blogging poser, what with my little half-maintained blog that’s not in any way tied to any professional work.

  35. I love this line – “Whatever happened to just starting a blog because you are crazy, lonely, and neurotic?”

    I feel like stealing it for my about page.

    I’ve been focused on using my blog to advance my career for the past year. It’s kind of tough. After going to the conference I feel as if I just want to get back to writing about being crazy, lonely, and neurotic.

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