Friday, May 8, 2015

The Star-Struck Nobody (or, That One Time I Went to a Blogging Conference)

I think I may be among the last to write this up, but I've had to take a lot of time thinking about it and processing and (as usual) second-guessing myself. 

A few weekends ago I did something daring and adventurous. It didn't involve sky diving or bull riding or mountain climbing or a crazy puzzle-solving chase around the world in 80 hours type thing.  It involved me getting into my car and driving to Northridge, CA to meet 27 other Catholic women bloggers for a weekend of fellowship, networking, and learning. 

I'm sure this post is going to be a little out of order because I'm still processing my reaction to all the amazing stuff that happened. It's an awful lot to make sense of! Also, this post is rather long. Sorry.

I told myself that I was going to do the weekend right. I wasn't going to stress myself out by trying to drive out there and back 4 times (the Valley is surprisingly far away from the Foothills, but of course nothing in Los Angeles can possibly be close to anything else) and get there early in the morning, so I booked a hotel room. This is what happened on Friday night. (Please note: I've watched this video about 6 times since I took it, and I think I'm hilarious. You might not. Clearly I do not stay in hotels very often.)

Of course the anxiety couldn't take a weekend off, so I had figurative bats flying around in my abdomen as I drove into Kendra's neighborhood on Saturday morning. (Did I mention it was hosted by Catholic mommy blogging royalty?) Lots of minivans. Tried to remember how to breathe as I walked towards the house and then, thank you, Jesus, I bumped into Maria of Sew Travel Inspired and we walked in together. It's an amazing thing for someone with social anxiety to have a person to walk somewhere with. If I could have a designated buddy to go grocery shopping with I'd seriously be so set for life.

There were blogging rockstars there, including the lovely Kendra from Catholic All Year who graciously opened her home to us, as well as Micaela from California to Korea who did all the things planning-wise. Jiza from Olive & Cypress photography captured the entire event on film (also her baby boy is super cute) and Jenna of Blessed Is She was also helping to run the show. Thankfully there were also some small time bloggers like me and a mix of ladies whose blogs varied from faith-based to fashion and had wide and varied readerships.

We opened with a rosary and let me tell you how marvelous it was to open my day like that - saying my favorite prayers with other women who love Our Lady. Of course there were those who were a little rusty but the feeling of grace and peace that seemed to surround our day after that point was so lovely and reassuring.

I was, of course, the only person there who was single. There were a couple of others who didn't have children or were younger than me (like Meaghan!) so I didn't feel completely left out. Also, Laura Rose let me hold her baby a lot, which was great. Sophie is so sweet

We did a round of introductions and then dove into our first session which was actually all about creating beautiful, pin-able images for blogs using PicMonkey (which I was already kind of familiar with) led by Kendra. (Her blog is known for her lovely, Pinterest-friendly images.) I used some of what I learned in my anxiety bats image. She talked about where to find good stock images and shared some really great tips and tricks of making the most out of what PicMonkey has to offer. Mostly it was fun to watch her play around on her computer and make some owls.

She also made these killer cookies with our names on them. Mine was attacked by a squirrel and then got a bit squished in my purse but I did have the headspace to take a picture of it before it became my midnight snack on Saturday night. The place settings for breakfast on Saturday morning were beautiful but because I really don't like taking pictures with my phone, I took about 2 total photos of the whole weekend. One was of my cookie. Then I eated it.
She made one of these for everyone. Wow.

Then we listened to Kristin of This Inspired Life talk about podcasting. She even had a handy handout with some useful resources. I doubt I'll be diving into the world of podcasting anytime soon because it sounds like it's not for the faint of heart, but it was fascinating to hear a little bit of what goes into the making of some of my favorite podcasts.

Micaela talked about blogging for the glory of God versus the glory of self and I have to admit, that really spoke to me. I get sucked in so often to checking my (honestly, quite pitiful) blog stats and reader hits and seeing the charted hills and valleys of readers. Her words about letting go of pride were great to hear, especially from a woman I so greatly admire.

Jenna talked about social media and creating a cohesive brand or presence on the internet. Her talk helped me get over some of my aversion to the Facebook. I'm not sure I'll start using Twitter (I honestly don't see the point for my purposes) but she was really informative and I love how she talked about creating a cohesive look using colors and fonts and avatar photos. She had some really great practical tips, and I may even start using Instagram. (No promises, but the possibility is definitely sitting in the back of my brain.)

Our keynote speaker was Andrea Boring (who is not at all boring but is in fact marvelous). Her story was really moving and I thought it was really beautiful that something as simple as a Facebook post brought her back to the Church. I didn't relate to it, though. I'm sure there were some people in the group who really needed to hear what she had to say and there were plenty of converts among us who probably got a lot out of hearing her speak, but it didn't really resonate with me. I'm glad she shared her story with us, though.

Twins! Photo credit Amber Esposito

I was delighted to hang out with Karianna (best dressed award, right there), Amber (whose blog is absolutely hilarious and moving and go read it right now; also we wore the same shirt on Saturday and clearly have impeccable taste), and Kristen - who lives in my hometown next door and is encouraging me to start going to mass at Sacred Heart. These women in particular made me feel welcome. Of course everyone was wonderful, but I really loved chatting with them.

We went to dinner and I got to ride with Kendra and the superbly sweet Veronica. I got to hear Kendra's thoughts on some Netflix shows and Catholicism and it just made my heart swell to have a conversation with a woman I admire so greatly. Life goals right there, man. (Why the heck am I tearing up thinking back to that conversation!? We were talking about superheroes for goodness' sake...)

At dinner on Saturday night, listening to Jennifer share about her kids and her husband, and listening to Kendra give her guidance and support, and listening to babies cry and women laugh and husbands call... My heart ached and my arms felt empty. When I finally went back to my hotel room I tried not to think of all the women who would be going home to husbands and children on Sunday afternoon, while I would be going home to a messy house and a neurotic feline. The loneliness is selfish, I know, and I know that God's timing is not mine and that I need to be patient and prayerful, but it is so, so frustrating sometimes. All the time. 

Anyway. At the end of the night it was nice to wander back into my hotel room, take a shower, and curl up and go to sleep. I missed Gatsby, though. Isn't it funny how we get so used to sharing certain things that having them to ourselves feels weird? Having a bed to myself is the weirdest thing; I'm so used to there being a soft and fuzzy little ball wedged between my ankles or snuggled in the crook of my arm.

Sunday morning was bright and beautiful. Kendra hosted brunch for all the families and it was so cool to see all the husbands hanging around holding babies. The most popular point of conversation was that there should be a community for Catholic men but there isn't. I have no idea how we would start something like that (Catholic dads don't strike me as the type to start their own Facebook groups, but I've been surprised before) but it was wonderful to see all those men hanging out together.

Sunday morning with Ronni, Amber, and Andrea
Photo credit Amber Esposito

Then dear Jenny Cook gave the final talk of the weekend. Jenny is a brand new convert (there were quite a few converts and one woman considering conversion at the conference! So exciting!) and part of her conversion came about from reading Catholic blogs. She talked about how reading about Catholic women and mothers just living their lives nudged her towards the Church. I guess the community of Catholic bloggers answered some of her burning questions and was very kind and supportive of her questioning, and the core of her message was: You never know who is reading. Not in a scary, "Be careful what you write," way, but in the sense that you never know when what you have to say might be read by someone who's on the fence.  It was a great reminder that while it very often feels like I'm just sending my tiny little voice out into the void, there are people out there reading my words.

After some last minutes of chatting and taking pictures and the discovery that the Tierneys also have a small tortoise wandering around in their backyard (!), it was time to start the process of saying goodbye. Also, I was reaching capacity in terms of how much social anxiety I can physically manage before I start to fall apart (anxiety seriously sucks) so I wandered through the crowd hugging people and saying the by then ubiquitous, "See you on the internet!" Then someone remembered the "What I Wore Sunday" linkup so Kendra's oldest daughter, Betty, took a picture of all of us.

Photo courtesy of Kendra (and Betty) of Catholic All Year

By the time I got home I had something like 18 friend requests on Facebook and a crazy number of hits on my blog. Bobbi jumped on setting up a mastermind group (basically blogger support) on Facebook for those interested and it's been so crazy wonderful to be part of it. Basically you can expect a lot of changes around this here blog while we put our pretty heads together to make our blogs the best they can be. 

In the two weeks since the conference I'm still blown away by this incredible community of women. They are so generous with themselves and so welcoming to even blogging nobodies like me. I'm realizing that this - this group of other women who are trying to walk the same road I am, helping to pick each other up when we inevitably stumble and fall - is what I've been longing for in the last few years. I want to continue to nurture these new found relationships and enjoy being part of a faith community for the first time in so long.

I signed up for this conference hoping for practical blogging advice, like coming up with new content and developing a loyal readership and maybe network with some of the bloggers whose writing I liked. Instead I got 2 dozen new friends and a vibrant community of women who really care about each other. Even the little star-struck nobodies. 

And there's already been some chatter about next year...



  1. I had fun reading this and watching the video (I laughed at the trap door and big scary knives.) :-) This also really made me miss everyone from the weekend. If there is not another conference next year then we will just have to do an anniversary meet up. LOL. As for the feeling alone, hang in there, friend. I haven't had those feelings in 15 years but I remember keenly how much my heart ACHED to find the right man and have children etc. All I can say is that it is was worth the agonizing wait. Keep yourself busy with God's plans for you now and He'll open the door when it is time, (I know you already know that but sometimes we all need reminders.) Like I need a reminder to get off the computer and get my work done. Grr. Have a great day, Willow! xoxo

    1. Bobbi, you are the best and sweetest. Glad you liked my video - my sisters (aka my biggest fans) loved it and insisted I put it up with this post. Seriously, if we don't have a proper conference next year we absolutely must have some kind of anniversary get-together! And yes, I definitely need the reminder. The wait is agonizing but I know someday it will be worth it. :) Thank you thank you!

    2. ANNIVERSARY WEEKEND!!! I. am. so. there. with wine and chocolate of course! :)

  2. Oops, I hit enter before I was done writing! I love your post, Willow! Bobbi is right... this made me miss everyone all back over again! Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your heart. We all need to know we are not alone in our struggles. Sharing our hard parts of life reminds us how God called us to help each other carry our crosses. Praying for you, friend. Big hugs and much love. <3

    1. Thanks, Amber! Part of why it took me so long to get this post up was because I was going back and forth with whether or not to share quite so much about the anxiety and loneliness of the weekend, but I figured there were plenty who also felt those twinges of nervousness so I might as well put it out there and be honest. Thanks for the comment-love. xoxo


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