I’ve returned from my first blog conference and my first sleepaway camp. Although I’m a nature lover, I can do without the camp bit. I’m too old to sleep on a thin, dorm-style mattress and too private to share a room with three other (admittedly wonderful) women and way too high-maintenance to share two toilets and two showers with 23 other ladies. And I’m too cranky to be stuck miles from the nearest bar with over 200 chatty gals. But the conference thing is worth doing again.
I attended Texas Style Council because (1) Indiana asked me to do so and (2) I was curious. Curious about the business blogging. Curious about the structure of such an event. Curious about the real life presence behind the internet avatars. Curious about where I want to take my blog. Consider my curiosity satisfied!
The event was attended by bloggers, entrepreneurs, and representatives from social media agencies and large brands. I was fascinated to learn how these groups work together. Honestly, I had no idea that a third party existed to serve as the link between bloggers and brands, but it makes sense that agencies like Hello Society were created as a connection between the two. I must admit that the more I learned about the business of blogging, the less I wanted anything to do with it. But, I appreciate the powerful networking opportunity an event like this offers to all players.
I’ve attended many business conferences and the basic format was similar for CAMP: group meals, keynote speakers, breakout sessions, and networking events. The similarities ended there. Most of the “speeches” or sessions were interview style or simply open discussion. No talking head bellowed from a podium while the rest of us sat straight upright and nodded in rhythm. Meals were better attended than at any of my business meetings, but that was probably because there was nowhere else to eat. The networking events were so much more imaginative than any corporate party I’ve ever attended. We were taking photobooth pictures, painting jewelry, making friendship bracelets, decorating bags, shopping boutiques, all while engaged in natural conversation. The single most effective tool that drove engagement in CAMP versus any other conference I’ve attended was the badges. Campers could earn charmingly designed badges for engaging in almost every activity and the excitement of the competition or simply the mania to collect kept us motivated. Our final activity, one that forever bonded us as sisters and capped the event, could never have worked in a ballroom. We divided into three groups and each group formed two lines, facing one another. One by one, we walked between the lines with our eyes closed as the women on either side of us guided our progress and whispered single-word affirmations into our ears. We each left the experience grateful, connected, and empowered.
Seven of the Camp Counselors have blogs I’ve followed for years, so I was beyond curious to see what they were like In Real Life. Jentine (My Edit) is just as statuesque as she appears in pictures and Liz (Delightfully Tacky) is just as elfin. Andrea (Blonde Bedhead) was surprisingly tall. (Her photos must be taken from an odd angle.) Her midsection, though, is just as amazing as it appears in pictures. Jen (Jen Loves Kev) indeed possesses the most adorable snub nose and Jessie (Style and Pepper) has the most compelling eyes. Tieka (Selective Potential) was instantly recognizable as the girl next door you see on her blog. The biggest surprise was probably Julie (Orchid Grey). A still photo could never capture her aura. She glides through a room like a ballerina with impeccable posture and liquid grace. She’s definitely a woman who gets second glances as she passes by. Caroline (Unfancy) was a keynote speaker and a more recent follow of mine. I wasn’t prepared for how absolutely tiny she is. (She makes up for her small size with an outsized sense of adventure, though.)
I only spent time with three of my follows. Tieka was my roommate and bunkmate. She was sweet, genuine, and unassuming. I think she could put anyone at ease. Jentine made me feel special by seeking me out to chat and get to know one another. I loved her Dutch pragmatism. Liz and I were in the same groups for the high ropes course and horseback riding during the TxSC field day on Friday. I asked for a preview of her upcoming burlesque solo, but she demurred. (Thinking about it now, I may have come off as a little creepy.)
As exciting as spotting my internet crushes may have been, I learned the most from the bloggers and creatives I hadn’t followed before TxSC. They, unwittingly or not, helped me make some decisions on where I want to progress with this blog.
I spent a lot of time with Chastity (Garner Style). We were roommates and leaders of the Style session (with Laurel Kinney). I started following Chastity’s blog after making the decision to attend the conference and, although impressed with her confidence, thought she was just another style blogger. I couldn’t have been more wrong. She is a savvy business woman, a feminist, and a model for Target’s new plus-size line: Ava and Viv. She’s the real deal pro-blogger with contracts, an assistant, and a lawyer. The more I got to know her, the more I was impressed by her acumen, but also overwhelmed by the business of pro blogging. It’s more than prancing around in cute clothes and posing for pics. I felt like such an amateur next to her that I actually considered quitting my blog after we talked. I went on a long, rainy walk on Saturday morning and contemplated a final post on my 10th anniversary.
I’m not prone to melancholy, so my spirits picked up as the day progressed. I had a lovely talk with Carli (Inked Fingers) about the links between photography, our individual perspectives, and storytelling. After lunch, Chastity, Laurel, and I led the Style session. I left the session inspired by Laurel’s story of transitioning from blogger to stylist and having promised our attendees that I would continue blogging indefinitely as a representative of stylish, aging women. Afterwards, I attended the Kickstart session with Cyndie Spiegel, Marisa (New Dress a Day), and Kelly (Design Crush). There couldn’t have been a better way to end things. Their stories, and the comments from the audience, encouraged me to go my own way - pursuing writing, speaking, and photography instead of brand partnerships. This decision was further solidified by Jess Lively’s advice in the capstone keynote on Saturday night. When faced with a choice, she encouraged us to acknowledge the wants and desires in our brains, but make the final decision based on our gut feelings. While my ego would love a wardrobe of free clothing, a profile in Lucky, and a sponsored trip to the Caribbean, my soul would rather create than consume. My blog has always been my creative outlet and I have new inspiration to continue to create original content.
While I’ll consider attending another blogging conference, I don’t know if any could compete with my first. Try as I might to maintain my distance, Indiana pulled me in at the start with her enthusiastic hug upon my arrival. My detached curiosity eroded as I fan-girled all over the Bloggess, took time for self-reflection, and listened to the stories around me. Maybe the “camp” part wasn’t so bad after all; it forced us to stay present and engaged. This was a special experience and I am so glad that I got to be a part of it, sleep deprivation and all. Just let me stay in my own room, next time.