BlogHer ’08: Part 1: The Big Fail.

07/21/2008 By Shawn Burns

I’m going to begin in the middle, proceed to 16 years before the middle, continue to the beginning, and then get to the end. I’ve been told that sometimes it helps to give your readers a little introductory topic sentence that lays out the roadmap. So there’s mine. Do you also want a compass?

The Middle

After the first full day of BlogHer ended there was a big party at a club behind the hotel. I was eventually convinced to get over my shyness and just get the introduction over with, even though in 24 hours it had been built up way out of proportion for me by someone who shall remain nameless and deserves to be flicked in the nose a few times, and it had become more of an obstacle than something I was looking forward to. So I cashed in my first drink ticket and wandered up to her as she was speaking with a couple of other people.

The Prologue

When I was 15 I spent a week visiting my cousin Michael in Barrie, Ontario. Set two 15 year old boys loose on a town like Barrie and hijinks ensue. Boring hijinks, really. We mostly just walked around, trying to buy cigarettes (which I was totally successful at even though I stammered the entire way out of the store), and smoking down on one of the baseball fields. We were joined in our delinquency by a third boy, Michael’s friend. And he and Michael spent a lot of their time talking about a girl they knew: Lisa. She was gorgeous, and cool, and, well, that’s as far as the descriptions went because that’s as far as their attention span lasted and I didn’t mind at all because I was also 15 and interested in hearing about gorgeous, cool girls.

We ran into Lisa one night, while we were walking around smoking, and my cousin’s friend pointed her out, called her over, and started talking to her. Michael joined in. I stayed a little out of the way, nursing my cigarette; I had nothing to say to her, so no reason to interject myself into the conversation. Plus, she was gorgeous, and that made me nervous. She asked for a cigarette, and wham! I was in the conversation (because I was the one who had the guts to try to buy them earlier, so I was the keeper of the smokes).

I was so cool. I slid the Export A box open and eased one of the white sticks of awesomeness out, then offered it up. Because 15 year old girls never have their own damn lighters, she asked for a light, and all of a sudden I had no idea who the other two guys with me were: strangers? shadows? The Competition?.

Yeah. Someone was going to be lighting that cigarette, and we all had our own lighters. Michael had a Zippo, because Zippos were cool back then. His friend had a plain black Bic, the tall functional, unimposing utility lighter.

I had also picked up a Bic, at the store when I bought the Export A’s. And I was so focused on what was going to go wrong with that purchase at the time that I let the clerk pick the colour of the lighter I asked him for. So he tossed a short, pink, Bic, onto the cigarette pack and I didn’t have the guts to ask him for a different colour.

We weren’t completely dumb, so we knew she was going to ask. We were also competing a little bit, and it was only upon whipping out my short pink Bic that I remembered that I had a short pink Bic and that there is nothing less impressive than a short pink Bic.

So, now what? How do you patch over the hole in coolness that carrying a short pink Bic around leaves? If you are me, you open your mouth and reveal all of the amazing wit and intelligence you have hidden within your soul.

You say: “Here. Use mine. It matches your eyes.”



I stood there, hand outstretched in front of me, as all three of them turned to look at my little pink Bic.

Later, my aunt would put it best: “You really have a way with words, Shawn. No girl can resist a man who calls her an albino to her face.”

The Beginning

I spent the first night of BlogHer meeting an insane number of people at a pre-party and being made to feel, over and over again, like a goddamned rockstar. People were that cool. Afterward, I went to bed at 1:30am and then let Erin wake me up at 3:30 and 6:30. I caught the 7:30am train back to SF and arrived for the first day very, very tired. I missed breakfast, and picked at lunch, and tried some coffee in the afternoon that just made me jittery, anxious, nauseated, and eventually even more tired.

I was not a rockstar that night. I didn’t have the energy to hold up conversations. I was lame and emo and if it weren’t for a few ladies who really propped me up all night I doubt I would have stayed very long.

So, it was the perfect time to go introduce myself to someone. It occurs to me now that I may not have taken the initiative in introductions until that moment, and it shied me enough that I had to work really hard to try it with other people, even when I wasn’t exhausted, sick, emo, and anxious.

The End

“Hi.” I was all smiles, hovering beside her for a few moments while awaiting a gap in the conversation.

What have my eyes looked like when I have turned to look at people I don’t know? Have they been so appraising?

“I’m _______,” she said, politely.

“I’m Shawn,” said I.

Now what, genius? Oh, right. Why would she know “Shawn”?

I pointed down to my namebadge, so artfully printed with “Backpacking Dad” (while every other person I met had filled that space with their actual name).

Whoops! Nothing. Maybe a flicker of recognition. Maybe annoyance.

“Oh, hi. I’ve seen you around but I didn’t know who you were.”

“Yeah.” Nerves again? “I’m, uh, easy to pick out and tough to recognize.”

Complete and total confusion. Man, you should have just gone with calling her an albino to her face. At least that provoked a smile once.

“So, how are you enjoying the conference so far?” She remained polite, but any conversation we were going to have would never ever recover.

“Have you met anyone you’d been looking forward to meeting?” she offered, professionally.

“Yes, [she who deserves to be flicked in the nose] has kind of adopted me so I’ve been talking with her a lot.”

“Oh, she’s great. Are you having a good time?”

A smart person would have ended this conversation with “I’m Shawn” and walked away. But you have other plans, don’t you Bic-boy?

“It’s a little overwhelming.” What was the plan, dude? Did it tank when you realized she barely knew who you were? What, did you think you were going to walk up to someone and they would Of Course know who you were? You conceited ass. You have nothing, now, right? I’ll remind you later that you could have brought up War & Peace, had a one minute conversation about it, and then left. I’d remind you now, but I really want to see what you are going to come up with here.

Polite nod.

“Plus,” No, dude. Stop. Stop stop stop stop, “I’ve been feeling really anxious,” please stop, “and nauseated all day.”

Wow. I didn’t think you could top the albino-compliment, but telling a writer you interact with online that, basically, you want to go throw up, is BRILLIANT.

She had nothing to say in response to my absolutely charming confession. And I didn’t have the energy to put anything else into this moment. There was no saving it.

“Well, I’ll let you get back to your conversation.”

She looked a bit confused and relieved.

I retreated, went upstairs, and used the “I feel nauseated” line on some other women. It seemed to work.

You can’t win them all. Or I can’t.

After the albino-pickup-line of 1992 I always carried a little pink Bic with me to light my death-sticks; it reminded me to just take a couple of seconds to put my thoughts together.

Never should have quit smoking. Maybe I’ll start carrying around one of those airplane barf-bags instead.