I Occupied Wall Street, Yo! My Weekend in Manhattan for the Blogher ~ Penguin Writer’s Conference

I Occupied Wall Street, Yo! My Weekend in Manhattan for the Blogher ~ Penguin Writer’s Conference November 22, 2011

I was super-duper geeked to attend my first-ever blogging/writing conference hosted by the Mac Daddy/Daddy Mac’s of (mostly) women bloggers: Blogher AND the Mother (and Father) of all Publishers: Penguin.  Killer combo if ya ask me.

I live to experience.

Being Miss Experiential meant I needed to book the earliest possible flight, wake up at 4:30am & land in Manhattan by 10:45am in order to have a FULL a 9 hours before the conference for some glorious solo adventures! (I am SOOOO a Mom of 2 young spawn desperately-seeking-free-time-and-out-of-body-mind-boggling-escapades).

The day started off other-worldly: while in the Detroit airport, I saw a man have a heart attack, fall to the ground, blood splatter across the concrete floor and die after paramedics tried and failed to revive him.  When they covered him, he was alone.  He was traveling alone and he died alone.

  He was a 55ish year old black man, not very heavy, and died at the airport by himself.  I wanted to go over there to pray with him/for him/about him/next to him but –in the moment– I just didn’t know what to do so I just watched in horror as everyone else did.

That was a rough start for just 6:30am.  I got on the plane, journaled, prayed some more and submitted my day to the Lord.  As we taxied the runway, our plane was briefly delayed while we watched an ambulance come retrieve the body.  Not the man, but the body.  Little did I know, that would be only the first of two more other-worldly experiences of the day.

First things first. I headed to InterVarsity’s New York office’s to drop off my luggage with my co-worker, Greg.  From the minute I saw that bright red door with our familiar InterVarsity logo, my heart was full.  I sappily tweeted that working for InterVarsity means I always have a home no matter where I go.

Second thing I did was —of course— start snapping iphoneography shots of everything from the white business man getting his behind kicked out of him by a street chess player to a giant sun-dial beautifully displayed on a Subway wall.

And wouldn’t I be amiss not to take a photo of the many inconceivably tall structures that daily kiss clouds?

The only thing that managed to damper my mood in the tiniest way was the fact that New Yorker’s WAIT.  IN. LINE. FOR. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G.  I simply have no paradigm for waiting in line for 25 minutes –no exaggeration– to use a ladies restroom at a Starbucks.  That experience was almost other worldly.

Between waiting in line to pee, for coffee, for the subway, for cabs, for food and then trucking up and down the stairs for Subways I was frequently out of breath and deeply annoyed.  At one point, even thanking my lucky stars to live in a smallish town.  But, those were my only low points.  Aside from that I was ready to pack my bags and move to NYC permanently!

On the one hand I was spellbound by the madness, and on the other hand I didn’t know if I would buckle in the near constant temptation to look or even BE a certain thing.  The sad truth is, I don’t know if living in New York city would ever be healthy for me.  I am so bent by peer pressure, y’all!

All day, and I mean ALL BLASTED DAY I was being spoken to in Spanish, even reprimanded by my Dominican Rebublican Cabbie for not speaking Spanish because I am so clearly from the Dominican Republic.  I’ve rarely been one to complain about the mistaken identity I often face, but for some reason on this day I couldn’t give two flying fat cows what or who anyone thought I was, so convinced was I that my new life in New York would be absolutely perfect in every way.  In hindsight, that would just make me insane.  (Not because I wouldn’t want to be perceived as Latina, but because I have A LOT of issues surrounding being Italian & African-American.  Especially when I’m perceived as other or *gasp* white).  I digress.

Just take a look at this beautifully colorful lunch spread accompanied by five or so dozen vendors baking fresh bread and other goodies for thousands of multi-colored, multi-lingual, hungry New Yorker’s & tourists alike.

So many reasons to love this city!

With the sun shining down my back I was caught up in the energy of it all, drunk on the sights: Union Square Park, Staten Island and Zucotti Park graciously hosting the ever-trendy Occupy Wall Street movement, breathtaking cathedrals, shiny buildings where I could take pictures of myself looking giddy and pleased with my overly-thought-through-AND-blogged-about-outfit-choice.

I did the typical tourist haunts: a self-portrait on the subway, I peered into the CBS Late Show facilities, I stopped to pray in a gloriously quiet and serene Church, I building-gazed…

…I went to see the Statue of Liberty and asked a stranger to take a picture of me in front of a tall building…

…I occupied wall street, albeit for about 10 minutes.  There was a good 700 people doin’ their peaceful protest thang with signs and live music and coffee sharing…another couple hundred cops on constant patrol.

At one point I stopped to take pictures and a cop said to me, “you can either be a part of the protest or you can keep walking!”  I took that as a very nice way of saying, “can you please stop being such a tourist and taking pictures of every doggone thing for crying out loud?  You are blocking up the sidewalk you nutter.”  So I moved on…

…I “joined the protest” for a while just so I could sit & listen to the live music.  I wondered how much of the 99%  I am but honestly didn’t think much more deeply about it. I tried to get a picture of myself picking the nose of the bull on Wall St….

Finally, I moved on to ground zero.  There’s a memorial center with a time-line of events, a miniature plan of what the new Trade Center will look like and other 9/11 paraphernalia.

 I got caught up in a video they had on loop of wives and children of fallen fire-fighters sharing their angle of the 9/11 attacks.  Everyone who stopped to watch the video was crying.  It wasn’t long before I, too was crying.  There were hundreds of people speaking many different languages coming through the memorial center.  It was very crowded even after waiting in a long line to get in.  I wanted to purchase a postcard for Ransom, but alas I couldn’t stomach the 45 minute wait in another line.

It was really something to people watch, to see how this tragedy has affected so many people over the years.  It was powerful to watch the tourists respond, as a tourist myself.

On the above left is what the new site will look like: 7 new buildings surrounding a park like area.  Two ginormous fountains will fit exactly over the area where the towers once stood.  The fountains will flow down into a pond like area and then shoot up the middle.  The outer steel layer of the fountains will hold the name of every soul lost as a result of the attacks.  They plan to use some of the steel from the old towers to decorate the fountain.

When it’s finished, it will be stunning.  I hope to go back and see it.

I stopped to read the notes and pictures left for the missing and cried a bit more.  The tears were good for me.  Watching others cry was good for me.  Seeing how others have responded through art was good for me.

If you’re a regular gabbingwithgrace.com bleader (blog + reader) you know that I had a very difficult time feeling bad for America during the 9/11 attacks and for many years after that as well.

I have since come to terms, but allowing myself to enter into the pain of others at the 9/11 Memorial Center was healing.   In fact, I think it brought some helpful closure.

The pics below are buildings 3 and 5 under construction…and under HEAVY security.

After trudging all over Manhattan for 9 hours, getting on the wrong Subway –twice– I finally arrived at the Hilton, Bridges Bar for a very beautiful candle-lit hor dourves reception.  While I was waiting in the lobby area an older Italian, wealthy business man type had a glass of wine sent over to me.  I was uncomfortable.  I didn’t know what to do so I drank the wine even though I HATE wine and if fact repulse wine.  As a whole, it seems like a pretty lame drink option.  Kind of like 7-Up.

But this wine was actually good.  Which taught me two very important life lessons:

#1.  Never drink the wine sent over to you by a 60-ish year old Italian Business man creepily smiling at you, dressed in an Armani three-piece suit & Christian Louboutin’s more expensive than my entire wardrobe who is clearly looking looking to get laid.  Ugh AND eck.

#2.   If you must drink wine, drink expensive wine, the cheap stuff has thrown you for a loop.

I guess living in a place where I VERY RARELY GET HIT ON except by 17 year old lame high school students, almost made me forget that these kinds of things happen every day all over the world and some really broken women sleep with slimeballs like him.  I couldn’t figure out which reality made me more sad: the 60ish slimeball hitting on me or the 55ish man I watched die.

It was just A LOT, y’all.

Despite my uncomfortability, I went over to kindly thank him and left abruptly as he was looking to create further conversation in his old man creepy way.  When I shook his hand he caressed my hand with his other hand and offered me another glass!  (Seriously).  The only thoughts going through my head were, “Come on!  Do I really look like I can be bought with a glass of expensive wine???”  And then I wondered how many women he brings up to a fancy-schmancy room at the Hilton off a glass of wine.

You may be wondering, “did she slink her chunky butt into a too-small LBD (little black dress) & throw on some sensational heels even though her feet must have been killing her after walking app. 5-7 miles?”

The answer is a firm no (though at one point I wish I had brought that elusive 3rd outfit).  I was still wearing a bright red Everybody Talks about My Blog tee, skinny jeans & red gym shoes for crying out loud.  In short, I looked about 15 years old & I have no idea what this man was thinking.

Chalk it up in just another other-worldly experience to add to the day.

Once inside, everything was absolutely fab.

It was sooooooooooooooo nice to have time to just socialize with all these amazing women and hear of their bold, brave, creative & genius book ideas.  We were given 2-3 hours to mingle amidst a dimly lit beautiful (open) bar. =)

Coming from an occupation where I attend conferences about seven to eight times a year I was flabbergasted considering the idea that we don’t give more time for peer-to-peer networking.  Christians like to call this “fellowship,” or “community.”  Whatever you call it,  in an IV setting we rely mainly on meals to connect with one another OR after 10pm.  The problem is during meals you sort of want to ya know, eat.  For those of us with kids (whether the kids are with me or not) after 10pm I AM DONE.  Done.  Finished.  No talking, not even to the hubs.

I guess I could go on and on with all my comparisons to InterVarsity Conferences but I’ll stop. Promise!  I am planning  a conference for Feb. and I’m hoping to incorporate some of the great ideas I picked up.

I got a lot of asks about my Everybody Talks About My Blog! tee which I got for $5 on a T.J. Maxx clearance rack.  In this pic, I’m pretty sure this was the moment when someone asked if I’d made it myself.  I think I was saying, “No.  I am not crafty, y’all!”

 Have you ever noticed that you make the CRAZIEST faces when someone you’ve never met before is taking the pics?

Yes.  I did take a pic of the amazing chandeliers.  They were quite stunning!

The next morning.  Arriving…

Asking (hopefully) good questions…

I made new friends like, Jessica!

Oh, you don’t know Jessica?  We go way back.

To the night before…

I’m convinced, my weekend in Manhattan was one of those key moments in life.

In fact, ever since I laid eyes on the banner ad for the conference, which read “Do You Have A Book In You?” I knew I had to be there.  I KNEW it was the next step in getting my book finished, edited & published.

It was as if Tim Gunn were in my ear saying, “make it work, Grace.  Make it work.”  Well, Tim Gunn or the Holy Spirit.  Or maybe the Holy Spirit in the voice of Tim Gunn.

Once I was there, I realized I all ready knew about 85% of all the content being presented because for 1.5 yrs. –at least– I’ve been doing my homework, researching EVERYTHING about writing memoirs & getting published.

So. I felt smart, empowered & confident.  Here’s how…

#1.  Knowing exactly what real “industry people” knew made me feel smart. I don’t often feel smart, but I felt like a regular Bill Nye the science guy.

#2.  I felt like I had some sort of competitive edge by knowing more than most other attendee’s which was oddly empowering.

#3. I felt confident knowing that I “deserved” my spot because I knew I had SO MUCH MORE to learn.

What made this conference feel so important to me is what it gave me that cannot be replaced with book knowledge.  For example, relationships with actual people who look you in your eyes and say, “you have to publish your book.  It will mean something to me and many other sexual abuse survivors if you make your story available.”

There is no amount of research I could have done in the last two years to receive the type of encouragement, partnership and insight that I got from the actual people at the conference.  People are priceless.

But they weren’t just any people.  No warm body will do.  They were other writers, other mothers, other abuse survivors, etc.  These amazing women all have stories to tell that will bless others.  I stood in camaraderie with 200ish women (and three very brave men) trying to “make it” in a tempestuous and fast evolving industry.

These were women WHO LOVE SOCIAL NETWORKING.  If you haven’t noticed I freaking love social networking.  Blogging, myspace, facebook, pinterest, twitter is seriously the most fun you can have in 4-5 hour blocks.  In my InterVarsity world, in my home, amongst my closest friends and my family I DON’T FIT IN.  No one that I know and love personally loves social networking NEARLY as much as I do.  I’m sort of the one weirdo amidst all of my inner circle.  And then BAM all of a sudden I’m sitting in a giant room with all these women who –even more than me!— have built their entire lives and careers around social networking.  THAT WAS FLIPPING AMAZING, Y’ALL! Ahhhhh, I am still relishing it.

I felt lucky to be there.  Privileged.

As a bunch of us were wrapping up a session and heading off to lunch a woman at my table declared how all of us are “going to be published authors”.  She sounded so sure of herself yet I felt fearful that I wouldn’t be able to hold up my end of the bargain.  What I wanted to say was, “Are you sure?” or “How do you know?” or “Even me?” Instead, I gave her a blank empty stare until it got weird and then I tacked on a fake smile.

It wasn’t until three days later when I processed why her comment freaked me the freak out.  It’s because, well, I think she’s probably right.  If I am going to write and publish this story it means I have a lot of hard work to do and a lot of vulnerability to release out into this cold, cruel world.  Not to mention the many rejection letters littered across the path of every successful author.

What I heard her say was “we are going to climb a very steep mountain without a map.  It’s going to be very cold, some of us will starve and some will fall off and never recover.  But some of us will make it to the top after we’ve cried ourselves to sleep about 10 times.  Hurrah!”

It’s as if she injected me with heroine –terrifying and thrilling all bundled up into one wild night! (Well, so I hear)

I could write pages more about how the conference put me 10 steps closer to an actual finished manuscript, but I’d rather show you by finishing the doggone thang.

After the conference I had the BEST time hanging out with one of my besties from Detroit that I hadn’t seen in forever.  She’s a big dawg fashion designer for Macy’s where we went straight to the gorgeous corporate offices to drop off my luggage & into the beautiful 9 story heaven where we shopped and talked, talked and shopped to our lil’ hearts content.

We ended the night with a walk on the Jersey side perusing the Manhattan skyline…

Reconnecting with Sharry amidst the triumph of the conference and the sorrow that this year has brought was SO SO SO GOOD for my soul.

All in all, definitely going down as one of my fave weekends ever: an experience I fought hard to be able to take but was worth every sacrifice.

Any one else have a good story about fighting for an adventure you just knew had to be yours?

GIVEAWAY TIME! I’d love to pass on one or two of the awesome books Penguin gifted us.  Just leave me a comment about… anything you want. =)

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