Last night I went to a tiny vegan cafe for plates of brown and odd-looking but tasty food with Elisa Camahort Page, one of the founders of BlogHer, and Cecily Kellogg of Uppercase Woman. (Cecily didn’t eat vegan food. She had had a steak earlier, being more of a meat-and-potatoes and less of a “something sort of made to resemble beef” type girl).
We’re in San Jose, the heart of Silicon Valley, at BlogHer, a tech conference. The motherland. I feel right at home. Here in the valley, I am kind of tech-lite, where in normal life I am more techy than 90 percent of the people I meet.
We talked and ate and then walked through downtown San Jose in the golden twilight to the Fairmont Hotel.
As we stood in the elegant lobby next to dueling grand pianos, we were approached by a woman in a maxi dress who was practically jumping with excitement.
“Are you bloggers?” she asked. “I’m at BlogHer and I’m looking for bloggers and just getting a little drunk!” she said.
She told us her name was Misty and she was from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. We told her our names. Elisa modestly held back from telling Misty that she was the COO of BlogHer.
We listened as she told us the story. How she felt alone and had been a new mom and overwhelmed and how she just fell into blogging and found her tribe and her voice and now here she was, taking a risk and away from home and so, so excited about meeting everyone she loved and the whole big experience of a conference and and and…
It was like peering through the looking glass backward to nine years ago, to my first BlogHer, and it was so cute and so dear that I got a catch in my throat to see it all over again.
Misty’s blog is lovely – Life Where We Are. And she is the subject of the first Red Stapler photo this year:
Before Misty had approached us, I had been trying to tell Elisa thanks for BlogHer and to express my admiration for this remarkable thing. Of course I ended up getting teary and not expressing myself well. It’s hard to express everything BlogHer is to me and the gratitude I have.
I just remember that second year (the first year I went), with 300 people, sitting around the pool. At the book sale, there were one or two books people had written. There were mmmmmmaybe a couple bloggers in business with one another.
Now I look over the past 10 years and see the successes. How many businesses has BlogHer launched? How many books have been written? How many creative projects have taken off? And all because of this remarkable container where brave, smart, enthusiastic women (and a few cool men) meet to encourage each other and to learn from one another.
This is an amazing event. No wonder I’m verklempt. So welcome to all the enthusiastic newbies like Misty. And thanks again to Elisa, Jory and Lisa. I’m, for the seventh time, thrilled to be here.
I turned 53 the other day, which seems fairly horrifying to the 20-year-old who lives inside my brain. High school was more than 30 years ago.
I am, however, encouraged by something I heard the other day.
Some senior citizens were asked what surprised them most about aging. They said that they were amazed at how much they keep learning as they get older – that their new knowledge builds on all that had come before, in an exponential manner.
I thought about it. From 40 to 53, I grew and stretched in ways that would have been unimaginable to myself at age 20. At times, I even feel like a fairly functional adult human being.
It has been humid lately, the kind of warm damp that makes the bedsheets stick to your legs and get all wound up. The late sunsets make me never want to sleep.
I’m full of nervous energy all night and drowsy during the day. My dreams are about traveling, looping back again and again over the same old familiar territories that exist nowhere but there – the dream lake, the dream bridge, the dream island where the airport is, where I’m always missing my flight.
My birthday brought back memories. One night I had dinner with old friends and a woman who asked uncomfortable questions that made me laugh to try and keep from answering. The next I ate fancy tapas with newer old friends and held a study group during my birthday meal. We stopped studying long enough to eat chocolate souffle, though.
My birthday is over but I still have memories buzzing around my head. I try to wave them away, but they come back again and again.
Sheryl Sandberg, the author of “Lean In” and Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, says she wants to improve the lives of girls. She has gotten a lot of people on board with her – Beyonce, Condoleeza Rice, Jennifer Garner, Jane Lynch – and even the Girl Scouts.
So what are this illustrious collection of people up to? They have a website with some resources for leadership, but their main campaign – their raison d’etre – is a campaign to ban the word bossy.
Whaaat? You have the power of Facebook behind you, Sheryl. You have important friends. You have one zillion Girl Scouts. And your Big Idea is “Ban Bossy”?
Help me. Is it getting hot in here, and not in a “so take off all your clothes” kind of way? I mean seriously. This whole thing is making me talk like a parakeet.
This makes girls look weak, like they can’t handle a little word. You know how you handle girls being called “bossy”?
Say “It’s ok if people call you bossy. Being bossy is fine.”
Then you’ll have to have other talks about boundaries and taking people’s feelings and needs into account and so on but yeesh. It’s nothing to base a movement on.
How about fighting for educational opportunities? Or equal pay? Or better representation in legislatures? There are lots of things you can do for girls, Sheryl. Banning a word isn’t one of them.
I don’t know how to explain it. It just happened, and it is like nothing else.
I don’t know Stephen’s last name. I only have the vaguest idea where he lives.
About 6 or 7 years ago, I was doing the grocery shopping for my folks early one Sunday morning. I almost bumped into this guy wearing a Dodgers hat, and I said something about the Dodgers, and he said “Oh, I don’t like baseball. But the hat was free.”
And that was it. From the very first moment we started talking, he was like the oldest friend. We talked for about 20 minutes and then parted ways.
About six months later, I saw him again, and after a brief moment of surprise, took up right where we left off.
It has been that way ever since. Every six to nine months, I run into him somewhere and we catch up with each other’s lives. It’s almost never the same place. I have seen him at Farmer’s Market once, at restaurants, stores…today was in the Lowe’s Hardware parking lot.
We talked about my work, his wife’s cancer (serious), how we had both lost weight, anger management, parents dying…like the oldest of friends.
We have a connection, forged from…what? Merely the thinnest of threads – the willingness to speak to a stranger and the miracle of finding out another person who will stop and let words flow between you for a few minutes. It’s the rarest of relationships. I don’t want anything from him, and he doesn’t want anything from me, other than these few minutes that happen without a plan.
After about 15 minutes, we parted again. I still don’t know his last name. I don’t have his phone number. I don’t know when or where I will see him, but I’m pretty sure we will meet again.
“I’ll see you in another six months or so in a parking lot,” I called to him.
A guy in a pickup truck regarded us curiously. Yeah, buddy, I thought. It is curious, isn’t it?
25 years ago today, I was with Laura. For me, Tiananmen Square will always be tied up with these memories.
I had come to Chicago for an Amnesty International conference, and, of course, to see my sister. She went to the conference with me. It was held at Loyola University Chicago on a humid early summer weekend. We stayed in single beds in shabby high-rise dorms that were absent of students for the summer.
I remember being cross with her because she seemed so, so out of shape. Just walking three blocks to a nearby restaurant wore her out. That made me a little crazy – she wasn’t even 40 at the time. I chastised her to get more exercise, to go swimming, to do more. I thought she was just lazy.
What neither of us knew back then was that multiple sclerosis was already damaging her nerves and that there would never be a way to get back to her former physical condition. Within a few years, she would be unsteadily walking 25 or 30 feet and falling along the way.
That’s not to say she didn’t have a great time at the conference.
A famed Chinese human rights lawyer spoke at the event. He had just come to the United States for a fellowship at Columbia University, and of course, with Tiananmen Square in the news, he was the star of the show. Everyone mobbed him with questions and concerns. Furrowed brows were the de rigueur facial expression when addressing him.
Laura, of course, was different. She sat next to him on the lawn at lunch, telling him hilarious stories about American life and making him laugh uproariously. I could see people giving her the side-eye – how dare she be so unserious at such a serious time? But she was at her best, there in the sunshine on the green lawn, eating her box lunch and making a new friend. He didn’t mind, either. He smiled and his shoulders relaxed as they talked.
To provide those moments of connection and fun in such a tense time was a true public service, even if she never would have thought of it that way. It’s just what she did for people – let them know, even in the worst times, that we’re all in this together, humans, muddling through as best we can with some dignity and grace.
We never called it by its name, only the initials: I.V.
It was a place divorced from reality, a town populated by a narrow demographic segment, our people – college students, smarties, kids mostly from California, crowded together in a half-mile square. It was our place.
The town itself is wedged between the university and the ocean in an area sometimes called the American Riviera, a place that mingles Mediterranean and surfer vibes. It’s warm, breezy, the scent of black sage and dried grasses rising on the salt breeze, afternoon shadows turning the mountains blue and purple and pink.
When we were there, the last bad thing that had happened was the 1968 Bank of America riot, and even that was kind of a lark, a hippie fevered-dream.
We went there to see our friends who were studying at UCSB – Keller, Spike, Johnny-Boy – to party and to lay around and to tell stories on rump-sprung couches before heading out to pick up another 12-pack of Miller and a pizza.
Everyone rode cruiser bikes around the streets, Embarcadero del this and Camino del that. The buddy boys even lived on the street with the best street name in the world – Sabado Tarde, Saturday Afternoon Street.
But that was 30 years ago. That was before Friday. Now people are posting on Facebook “Did you hear about this story?” Of course we heard. Seven people dead. 13 more injured. One narcissistic madman. 400 rounds of ammo.
Now it’s Isla Vista, not IV. Now it’s a place of tragedy and horror. Life will go on, but now students will ride their cruiser bikes past murder scenes.
A friend left me a voice mail yesterday. “I was just thinking about you because you know…all those times we spent in Isla Vista.” He gave one of those cough-laughs that happen involuntarily to hide the weight of emotion. “I mean, I know all those places.”
I’m so unspeakably angry.
I’m angry on behalf of the parents of those kids. Those kids who were doing everything right. Those kids who had studied and had excitedly ripped open the acceptance envelope from UCSB and who had found apartments they could almost afford with a couple friends, kids who were getting ready for a three-day weekend, a perfect weekend, a weekend like we used to have.