Plain Folks Revisited: What I Learned From BlogHer ’14

Seven summers ago, I was at a low point. I had just turned thirty and had just broken up with the man I had dared to hope might become my husband and rescue me from the sickening roller coaster of serial monogamy. And I had just realized that the writing career I’d always planned was…well, it didn’t exist.

I made attempts to study the market, looking at what young female authors were selling, but what I found only depressed me. Women who were younger than I were publishing not only their first, but also their second and third novels, and were already selling movie rights. I kept reading bios like this:

Kristin Gore was born in 1977 and graduated from Harvard, where she was an editor of the Harvard Lampoon. She has written for several television shows, including “Futurama” and “Saturday Night Live,” for which she received an Emmy nomination and a Writer’s Guild Award. Her first novel, Sammy’s Hill, was a New York Times bestseller and is currently being adapted for the screen by Columbia Pictures. Kristin lives with her husband in Los Angeles.

Which resulted only in bleak comparisons:

Abby Byrd was also born in 1977. She graduated from a small liberal arts college no one ever heard of, where she was editor of a literary magazine no one ever heard of either. She has written for no television shows and received no awards, but she does have a twenty-year-long collection of neurotic ramblings and fake newspaper articles, which will never be adapted for the screen by anybody. Abby recently escaped from a gay man’s basement and is on a lot of medication.

Well, I didn’t actually live in the basement; I lived in the guest room. And I lived there of my own accord. (The way I wrote it was funnier, but makes it sound like he kidnapped me.)

Of course Kristin Gore achieved a degree of eminence at 30, I thought. She comes from eminence. Both her father and grandfather were eminent. Don’t get me wrong; my parents are wonderful people. But we’re plain folks from a plain town. Neither of my grandfathers were senators. One was a semi-professional cab driver and a professional drunk; the other went AWOL from the army several times before going to work at a door factory—but only on days when my grandmother chased him out of bed with a butcher knife. Neither of my grandfathers went to school past sixth grade. They didn’t read or write in their spare time and they didn’t follow politics, unless you count what was going on down at the horse track. My paternal grandfather’s claim to fame was being able to piss all the way across the street; my maternal grandfather’s best stunt was getting roughed up at the corner tavern and returning home covered in footprints. So I ask you: HOW THE HELL WAS I SUPPOSED TO COMPETE WITH KRISTIN GORE?

My paternal grandfather and grandmother circa 1944. It is not known whether my grandmother knew of his long-distance pissing talent when this photo was taken.
My paternal grandfather and grandmother circa 1944. It is not known whether my grandmother knew of his long-distance pissing talent when this photo was taken.

For the last seven years, I’ve been angry and bitter and full of blame. It just wasn’t fair! Talent didn’t seem to matter. To get published, I’d have to work five times as hard as someone who was well-connected—and even then, it might never happen. Why keep trying?

I really needed the message I received again and again at BlogHer ’14: Relax. There’s room here for everyone.

I heard it at Ann Imig’s Open Mic Salon, where all I had to do was show up and write my name on a piece of paper to have an opportunity to be heard.

I heard it at Peg Fitzpatrick’s session on social media, where she reminded us that everyone—even people with huge numbers of followers—starts at zero.

I heard it from author Margaret Dilloway, who related her personal story full of obstacles and assured us that we could get published one day too. “I’m just like you,” she told us. “The only distinguishing thing about me is that I didn’t give up.”

I heard it from The Bloggess herself, Jenny Lawson, who confessed her struggle with “impostor syndrome.” I thought she was reading my mind when she said, “90% of you are sitting there thinking, I can’t be here…this isn’t supposed to happen…I’m not as good as this person or that person. You might be sitting next to somebody who’ll be bigger than anybody ever at BlogHer. You don’t know.”

I heard it from Cynthia Liu, founder of K-12NewsNetwork.com, who was pretty explicit: “You matter. Even when you think no one is listening. Your voices matter. Your stories matter.”

Thank you, BlogHer ’14, for renewing and inspiring me. The conference was like a big deep breath, the kind of breath you take before you shout to the world, I’m here. I’m the granddaughter of a champion street-pisser. And I have a voice.

7 thoughts on “Plain Folks Revisited: What I Learned From BlogHer ’14

  1. Thank God (or, aheam, Bloggess) that your inspiration has been renewed. Personally, selfishly, I have adored your charm, wit, and astonishing writing talent since we were 12 years-old. It is not a matter of IF you will appear on that coveted NY Times Bestseller List, it is a matter of WHEN. I love you.

  2. Hey, it’s difficult to pee all the way across the street. Some streets are like 5 lanes wide. That’s talent.

    Glad you took inspiration from my talk. Thank you for listening. And what I forgot to mention? My voice matters because all of ours does, together. Doesn’t matter if we agree. We all make a bigger space for each other. 🙂 Keep on with yo bad self.

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