Tuesday, August 5, 2014

10 Minutes on 10 Years: BlogHer14 's 10x10 Project

As part of BlogHer's 10th Anniversary celebration, 13 bloggers were invited to present their perspective on what the last ten years of blogging have been, as well as what they think the next 10 years in blogging will bring. This celebration will honor a group of bloggers who represent so many of our community members, our goals, and our successes. I was incredibly honored to be considered as a BlogHer 10x10 presenter. The following is the text of my presentation. I am forever indebted to my readers, my blogging community, and to BlogHer for this opportunity. I take no part of this journey, especially the amazing people I've met through blogging, for granted.
It is an honor to be here as part of BlogHer's 10x10 initiative with the extraordinary bloggers celebrating BlogHer's 10th anniversary. Thank you.

When I was in the first grade, while my sister was at school, I took one of her English books and wrote my name under "author" in black crayon. So the cover of the book read Tales From Shakespeare by Alexandra. I had no idea who Shakespeare was -- all I knew is that I wanted to be the one who told the stories that went with the pictures inside the pages of this book.
I have always wished to be a storyteller.
One morning in January 2010, my life was about to change. I started a blog, Good Day Regular People. I began typing my first post but right before I hit publish, my palms grew sweaty. Would there be flashing lights, would sirens blare: Imposter Alert! You're not a writer! I pushed publish anyway, and surprise! No computer explosion. Instead, just my first post. I have been blogging and in love with it for close to five years now.
I'd rather not tell you everything but the buzz word these days is “authentic.” So, I am “authentically” sharing here about my blog's first header, or “the top part” as I called it, it was a stock photo of a carp. For carpe diem. Let me just sum everything up this way: ANYONE can start a blog.

That first year of blogging I was like a wobbly legged toddler. Some days I pulled myself along with the help of others, other days it was a lone stagger to independence. Struggling to figure out how to link to other sites, brought to tears because I couldn't get an image to center. And the worst, heart failure after receiving an email about a photo that I used from google images because someone told me that a photo without a watermark meant it was free. It doesn't. A bill for $800 clarified that.
My blog archives house the infamous Week #3 on my blog, where within the span of seven days, I published a nut-free recipe, a self appointed book review, a not so wordless Wednesday, a sonnet, and a post by my then seven year old son. I gave myself Sunday off. I was in a love affair with the publish button. My dashboard had 36 posts lined up and ready to go. Thank God I had the sanity left to know that posting every two hours would have turned me into an blogging urban legend.

But there was something else I learned that first year. The more time you spend with something, the more familiar it becomes and I was learning my way around the dashboard. In my second year, I had a style that was emerging. And as much as looking back on old posts makes me cringe, it also shows me how much I've learned.

I started blogging to tell my stories. What I never expected, was the community of support and encouragement. I have met the best people on the planet. I love these people and if I talk about them anymore, I'll cry.

One day, a reader left a comment on one of my posts, “You should submit this to BlogHer.” I thought, First, How nice are you?? Second, I'm not a writer. And third, I don't know how to submit anything online. But I had to try. Without knowing what uploading a post was, I did it. This was a huge lesson: Don't let lack of technical knowledge hold you back from opportunity - you can learn how to do anything in the world with google. Besides, an afternoon spent in HTML hell just leaves you stronger.

A week later, I received an email from Rita Arens, BlogHer's deputy editor, she said, “We'd like to syndicate your post.” NEVER in a million years, did I think this would happen. I knew Rita from following her on her blog, Surrender, Dorothy. She's a talented, gifted writer. And no push over. On my blog, I didn't even know how to hyperlink yet, but I had done something of my own, and it felt good.

Syndication on BlogHer was the first time that I had been published and the first time someone paid me for my words. It was also the first time that I started to think of myself as a writer. When BlogHer's check came in the mail with their logo up on the left I took it to the bank. Like drove it in my car like a passenger. Again, claiming authenticity, I'll share that I had no choice but to let the teller know that this was a payment for my writing. Because I wrote. Because I was a writer. Who wrote things. And got paid.

On BlogHer's About Page, you'll see this, “... to facilitate and curate a community that empowers our members and creates value for all.” That part “ ...to empower our members. “ BlogHer had just done that for me and I could feel it in my bones. Being syndicated had blown the doors wide open to my life by showing me my value.

BlogHer gave me courage, and I began to write for the purpose of submitting. I sent in my syndicated essay for consideration in a women's anthology, The HerStories Project. This is something far beyond anything I had ever had the confidence to do before BlogHer. My essay was accepted for the anthology and I was now a published author.

In 2011, there was an email in my inbox from BlogHer congratulating me for being chosen to read as a Voice of The Year. I was to present in front of the world's largest social media conference for women. Could I do this? Could I really do this? I opened that email at 7 a.m and I had to spend the rest of the morning at the book fair acting normal when my brain was screaming holy cow I'M BLOGHER VOTY COMMUNITY KEYNOTE! I felt something I hadn't felt in a long time: PRIDE.

San Diego 2011 was my first BlogHer conference. When I arrived my heart was pounding like a rabbit's. I entered the conference hotel lobby and was knocked back by what I saw: so many bloggers! You hear about the numbers that attend BlogHer, but it's not until your first conference that the count becomes real. I froze in the midst of it all. That pesky voice from 2010 came back, Imposter Alert! You don't belong here! I wanted to run for the door and catch the cab back to the airport but when I turned toward the lobby exit, I saw Polly Pagenhart of LesbianDad.

It may have been the early evening sun setting behind her, but I swear there was a halo of light around her head. I recognized Polly, and she recognized me and in a Mother Theresa act of kindness, she stood in front of me and just opened her arms, grinning. Yes, I ran to her. And BlogHer has been like that for me since. Welcoming, enveloping, supportive.

Up until 2011, I had been telling people that all of this good stuff with BlogHer was luck. But that's a disservice to BlogHer. BlogHer is a network of women who offer their knowledge, experience and support. I couldn't keep saying coincidence. It was time to change how I thought about myself.

In 2012, inspired by BlogHer, I took a huge leap. I proposed a panel for BlogHer. It was accepted. In 2013, I got even braver, and co-hosted a BlogHer Room of Your Own. I now had the experience of speaking in front of people several times, so I reached for another mountain. I auditioned to read in a show sponsored by BlogHer called Listen To Your Mother. I made the cast.

Fueled by the experience of working and presenting with BlogHer and Listen To Your Mother, I pushed my limits once more. My passion has always been storytelling and I have long been a fan of TheMoth, the New York-based non-profit organization dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling. I pitched a story to them and two months later, I heard back. They wanted to talk. It's been two years now that I've toured with them as a mainstage storyteller.
I've always felt out of my place in my life, but when I'm on stage, telling a story it feels more like home than anywhere else. Feeling confident from storytelling on stage, I took a deep breath and reached for the stars: I applied to bring Listen To Your Mother to my city. I heard the voice of 2010 again Imposter! but at the same time... I had been taking leaps of faith since I began blogging. And I have been surprising myself since. I was doing things I had never done before. I began reading my essays on our local public radio station. All of this, is something I never would have seen for myself before BlogHer.

I'm NOT going to say I was lucky because that would exclude all of you from the process, and it would negate my part in promoting my work.

But I know that I am here because of support.

I am here because of possibility.

I am here because of opportunity.

I am every blogger who has dreamed bigger things for themselves.

I am what can happen when you plug into the powerful resource that BlogHer is.

Four years ago, I taught myself how to blog because I didn't want to sit and wait for something to happen. Since then, I have entered arenas unfamiliar and daunting, with all of the uncomfortable feelings of doubt that come with growth. I submit my work regularly now, and experience rejection, along with accomplishment. When someone replies to my writing with, “No thank you,” I write them something else. And while I was the one who first put my work where it could be seen, it was through community and support that I now have the life of storytelling that I dreamed of that afternoon forty years ago when I tried to be Shakespeare.

Before BlogHer, I had never been published, nor auditioned, nor presented on stage. BlogHer gave me the opportunity for all of those things. I am doing more than I ever thought I could, and the hugeness of that is bigger than how hard anything is to learn.

BlogHer has been the force behind me. And not just me, but everyone here today. This amazing group of women provide me with opportunity and experience, they've given me community, and resources. I owe them for introducing me, to me. The more I write, the more I get to know myself.

Today, BlogHer asks, What will the next ten years of blogging bring? That answer depends on what we say yes to.

Submit your writing for Voices of the Year, send your posts for BlogHer syndication, propose your ideas for BlogHer panels and a Room of Your Own. Reach out and connect -- you have an incredible opportunity while you're here at this conference. And if you don't find what you're looking for, create it.

Continue to work and to get your work in front of people.

The 10x10 presenters are here today because they are extraordinary people with extraordinary stories.

I'm not extraordinary as much as I am someone who represents the possibilities in all of us to do things we've never done. I rode the wave of confidence that BlogHer instilled in me, their acknowledgment and recognition of my work translated into powerful belief in my ability.

Ten years ago, Elisa, Lisa, and Jory, set into motion a world of community and opportunity for women in social media. They have encouraged and supported me and thousands of others, and because of that, lives have changed.

BlogHer, you taught me that just because I haven't done something before doesn't mean I can't learn how to do it now. As a little girl who wished with all her heart to one day be someone who told stories, my life is like a dream. To not only have that, but to also stand before you today, and tell of the journey leaves me overcome, and grateful. I am living my passion.

THANK YOU, BlogHer, for a decade of empowerment, opportunity, deep friendships, and your support. 

You made me believe in myself, and you helped me find my people.  
I am indebted, and I wish you a very Happy 10th Anniversary.
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  1. i started blogging because a co-worker said i had too...through it i found my stories again...and then the community...the first 9 months i had no clue what i was doing...and then i started to find people to walk with...and we did...and that is the history....

    cool project....and cool story...we are not that much different....

  2. I am so proud of all you've done, Alexandra. And I'm even prouder that I've walked with you as you accomplished all these amazing things. Thank you for letting me into your blogging (and real) world.

  3. Thank you, Alison and Brian. Blogging has been one of the most important and life changing decisions I've ever made.

  4. I don't remember who first introduced us..I know that you introduced me to Suniverse and it's been a love fest with her ever since but I can't remember who told me about this space and you. I want to hug them and tell them it was a life changing email because instead of standing in your presence and gawking with pride love and respect for you, instead I got to walk up to you, hug you and tell you I LOVE YOU in person.

    The blogging world wouldn't be the same without you..but then again neither would be my life. XO

  5. When I started blogging in the fall of 2010, you were one of the first people I absolutely idolized. No joke.

    You followed me on Twitter and read one of my posts and told me I knew how to write.

    YOU were that person for me, who supported, gave me hope, boosted my confidence when I didn't know how to do a thing besides push publish.

    And hope.
    Always hope.

    Thank you for being that person for me.



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