What I wanted was the beautiful, and the beautiful is what I received. "Ask," as they say. "And you shall."
I asked. God, hope, the winged deliverers of what's right, flew along with me to New York City. They knew to wake me up for the sunrise. They knew to sit me down on the southeast end of Central Park, painting my toes the color of the benches. They knew to have me walk when I walked and tweet when I tweeted and soon I was standing in line behind Adam, whose name I knew how to pronounce, and who went to my small Virginia college too. Soon I was having lunch at my favorite old-neighborhood sandwich shop with Jen, who I have loved as long as I've been tweeting to other mamas on the 'net. Soon I was walking to coffee with Kay Gardiner, whose washcloths I have admired and even knitted for half-a-decade.
"This is beautiful," they would say, and others newly met would say, picking up the magazine and turning it over to the back, turning it over again and opening it. They would read a poem or a pull-quote. "This is you?" They might say. Or, "did you take these photographs?" Or, "how long did this take you?
And there is always Cheryl. How does she do it? She weaves her way everywhere and into everything and I listen to her voice, sometimes, in that undercurrent of my nighttime thoughts or my wavering-skipping-zipping inner voice while I run. Cheryl Strayed, who is now possessed of publicists and people to usher her in and out and a selection of ever-more-vibrant jewel-toned dresses, was reading at Borders Union Square that night and I would go.
I should have arrived more early, earli-er, but I am who I am and I was already blistering from too many miles in strappy sandals and kicking myself for not being more forceful with the taxi driver to whom I resorted. But still. Still I was lucky enough to be given, with serendipity I could not yet know, a seat next to the mother of Cheryl's publicist. A woman full of talent and heart and skill and smarts quite apart from those of her daughter. Soon we were friends and we were talking about her daughters and the magazine and I had that feeling of just-so-ness, here we have insisted upon our raison d'etre, to serve parents not just of the small spitting and spewing and toddling and fat-cheeked ones, but all parents and those who admire or only just watch parenting from afar. Parents of adults too. And she, the mother of the professional and sparkling architect of this amazing structure around my amazing friend, was as much a kindred spirit as any mother-blogger might be.
There on the fourth floor of Borders, we were a radio audience and we applauded on cue and stood and sat on cue, there was music that was both ludicrously strange and strangely entrancing, and we listened to another version of the story Cheryl has always told (if I had to sum it up in seven words, "we need the love of our mothers"), we heard her read of kittens in closet walls and I wanted to ask the question I have had all along, what happened to the kittens? but the end of the story was that I said goodbye and rode down the escalator in my strappy sandals and walked uptown to a subway stop and to Blogher, contemplating, contemplative.
So there was a party. At Blogher, there are always parties and sometimes they are different and wonderful and weird but here, at the Hilton, they were all alike even down to the terrible chafing trays heaped with terrible processed food. No. Pizza margherita does not result from the combination of mini-quiche dough, Sysco pizza sauce and two long licks of shredded monterey jack. Did it matter? Old friends were there and they were sights, for my sore eyes, for my feet. Aurelia was striking in yellow. I handed them magazines and they turned them over. Over and over. "This is beautiful."
I danced and I walked home and I slept what little I could in my unhampered bed and I woke up and I ran.
I ran into the park, again, and I did as I do whenever I come here and I felt it all, back to my bones and my blood and my flesh, back to 2000, back to 1999, back to 1998, earlier. This is where I ran to escape, to get away, to break out of that old life that had so much discovery and hope and ultimately so much wrong, in it, the life with my ex-boyfriend, he-who-must-not-be-named, he-whose-name-must-not-be-clicked-on-in-LinkedIn. I never know if it is the jetlag or the humidity or the feeling that overcomes me, floods my belly and pushes against my ribs, but I run slow in Central Park.
I return past the tourist-ready carriage horses whose eyes I forget to look into until too late; I look into their eyes a few feet away, up close; and it hurts, past the sharp smell of piss and labor, and I shower and I go to the show.
I have and still do blog for money but what I blog for, more than that, is for love and so this is the one I have marked, the only session to which I Must Go. I have read Bon Stewart for so many years, I have loved her writing, since her Crib Chronicles were about children young enough to be housed in cribs, and younger. She presents from beyond the blog; she has given up her space and still we all leap into the conversation that feels like the revolution. We are the insurgents and I hear statements that seem like infamy but also like the One True Religion. I want to follow everyone who gets up to speak, no, not just follow, reach out to and grab by the wrists and look into their eyes, tell them, "you are my people."
What is there to say about this? That here, at the blogging conference made enormous by the tribal beat of Brand, stomping and singing and paying for breakfast to the base drum boom of Brand, here what I care most for is the discovery of the heart of another woman who writes her story into square white text boxes and publishes it to the world for nothing more than the sake of the story, revealed.
I stand up and I say my piece, such as it is; that I have been blogging for years and the people, they keep coming and reading about my miscarriage, my birth meditation, and they would send me emails saying, "I read your story and it moved me," and this was payment enough.
I wish I had a flag to carry with me to lunch. I imagined my flag; it would have something brief and unbranded, text, Courier type. "I blog to share my story." I can see myself, waving a flag with both my arms. The staff is heavy and the canvas is long; it waves, back and forth, back and forth, over the lunchroom tables, for everyone to know, to take up flags, too.
Martha is (if one is to be honest) more of a draw than Katie. I hear one woman say, "and to think! She's done time!" and I am fairly sure this is a point of honor and respect. Bad ass. The lines for the lunch tables wind up and down the atrium past the escalators, around the escalators, so that it takes me five minutes to find the end. I stand in line and I push my magazine at people and they say, "this is beautiful."
But I am going into the presence of the doyenne of magazines, the stunning magazine that has so often filled my idle hours, and she presents herself like a picture on the cover of a magazine: winking, lovely, the aspirational impossible everywoman, flawless. I love her and still; she is asked what she cannot do well, and she says, "things I haven't tried." It is past interview-pat answer, past belief, and she goes and finds something she is bad at really and it is not a bad thing.
I honor her and her desire to reach out to us -- I see her authenticity in her own ways, her groundbreaking, her early adoption -- but I also feel how much anger and fear there is in the aspirational impossible. We have all heard the stories, how she built her empire, how she created her One True Original Brand. There is no Brand without Martha; Martha is the Brand Beginning and End. There are no other Brands before Her.
Thump Thump Thump, goes the beat of brand. And lunch is over, but for the shaking of tablecloths, but for the spilling of used ice water into bus tubs. G-o-o-o-nn-gggg!
I go to workshops. I go to workshops where I sit at a long table and I drink water from my banged-around bobblehead of a Klean Kanteen and I listen to laughter and questions and answers and dry but searchingly informative PowerPoint presentations. I contemplate the nature of these conferences, the repetition, and also the honing of knowledge and skills. Where once there was energy and enthusiasm and anecdotal evidence, now there are enthusiasm and best practices and a decade of experience.
I go to dinner. I pick Chez Josephine, a place out of my past -- I had picked this place to bring my ex-boyfriend a dozen years ago, and he immediately claimed it as his -- and our collective past but mostly out of my sophomore year in college, when I read too much Ralph Ellison and could have seen myself, hips swinging, wrist twirling, saucy as I walked the dark tables. Now I am here but with Mary Lauren, who immediately reminds me how much I love the gentle women of the South and, more than that, how much I love seeing my own loves, pains, triumphs reflected back at me from another's eyes, through another's experiences and contexts. Lauren is another kindred spirit, and she weaves me story after story that I want to wrap up in grape leaves and foil and take home for sustenance, later. I hope that she will put these stories into their rightful context, one day, for us all at Stealing Time.
We get a cab back to the hotel. It is time for the parties.
Last year it was so much the parties, I enjoyed them past abandon, but these ones seem desultory and anxious, the wines half sugar and the vodka cranberry -- I hear muttered -- is watery cranberry. No one has gotten drunk and the lights are more high school reunion than Sparklecorn! and the dance floor is too small and the music rote. When I feel I have done enough, I leave and instead of walking east toward my hotel I turn and walk west.
I know where I am going. It is the wrong place to be but I cannot ever forget it, here, 54th and 6th, how many times did I walk past this corner on my way to my once-upon-a-time home? I walk west, to 8th Street, past the darkened theatres and the up-gazing tourists and the tripping couples who giggle as they fall one into the other on their walks to and from the Chilean restaurant, the Italian bistro, the Irish pub. I walk to 8th Street and 50th and I walk into the square behind the movie theater and I sit and think of who I was then and who I am now and I look up at our old window and I worry, again, about another woman and her baby girls.
I wait long enough to get a clarity that is not epiphany, a peacefulness that is not healing, a sense of where I am going but not even a destination, and I stand up again in my pretty pants and my Brooks racing flats and I walk slowly across the square, again, I walk slowly back east to the hotel, searching myself for that bit more of clarity, peacefulness, destination.
Of course it is still swirling above my head like cartoon steam when I come into my room to see Josette. She is spending the night with us and instead of finding a place to sleep she sits on the floor and we talk about the universe and everything and blogging and Brand and our kids -- hers, luminous, serious, ice skaters and gymnasts and book lovers -- mine, wrestling and anxious and marked by joy. To say "I love her instantly" is obvious and redundant. This is my epiphany, this other woman who I did not know until now but wish I always had.
We sleep, we wake, I wake as early as I can.
This is the New York I know; the hot sluggish morning, 7:40 a.m. and I cannot push my mental snooze button again, I swing from bed hung with talk and music and emotion, I pull on my running skirt and drink as much water as I can and my running shoes and run.
It is Saturday, and there is something on Park Avenue, a race perhaps, or a grand training run, or a Sunday Parkways (but on Saturday) and I watch the odd spectacle of this; bored policemen waving cars through and large groups in Team in Training shirts stopping for water or Gatorade. I run to Columbus Circle, and I walk with my son's friend's mom, and we chat through the now, just, bearing-down heat and we prepare for this day.
The day is long, and though I want to write it all I see it now, from a distance, an undulation: a staring-at, a watching, then a sudden leap into the shocking cold of it. The good cold of a clear lake on a too-sunny day in the mountains, 99 degrees and you blink your eyes to the heat and you blink away sunspots and then suddenly, with a terrifying last breath, you jump -- and indeed. Your breath is taken from you, replaced with that perfect chill.
Such a leap is Micky, a 'Fit Mama' who walks the walk and is lovely besides. Such a leap is Jenifer, an old old friend from whom I had been so separated and had no inkling of how much I missed her. When we were friends at first, none of us used Facebook. How far life has come.
Such a leap is Sarah Piazza, whose poetry I read first and then I found how much she was, much love, much kindred. Such a leap is Jean, who I sit next to at dinner without really knowing at all and walk away knowing so, so well (and wanting to).
Such a long and bracing leap is Isabel Kallman, into whom I can walk after years of not seeing face-to-face and be instantly back where we were, who has more ideas for me than I can (delightedly) comprehend, who I always wish I could take home with me, to have coffee three times a week and for whom I would most certainly bake cupcakes.
I say goodbye to Blogher in this way: in this intense exchange of ideas and stories with Isabel, and in that 20 minutes everything goes between us, and I both treasure and miss it as it happens. I hope that I can take something away: the moment, the intensity, the memory of this energy, the connection -- strained as it will be through time and distance.
I return, I sleep, I wake and run again, I wander through Eastside Manhattan with Neil, who is always more generous and cerebral and introspective than he seems, and who has an amazing eye.
And so I go home with this beautiful thing, and it is at once celebratory and melancholy, surreal and solid, tangible, absolute. I take my beautiful thing to the airport with me and I take it across the continent with me and I am so late home, I walk through the darkened, quieted Portland airport on the whispering carpet and into my father's car and my children's many arms and I have this magazine and I am pleased, and proud, and full of a deadly terror. This thing: what will it be?