There is a community living among us that few outside observers have successfully documented, let alone infiltrated. It is a collective of beings who organize themselves in complex social networks based upon tribes and niches. They frolic on Pandora, but can also be found on Twitter, Facebook , Flickr and other imaginary worlds. And their lifeblood is a seemingly infinite energy source called comments and connection. This community I speak of is the world of women bloggers. And I ran among them for three days.
This is my story.
You can say I was recruited for this mission four months ago. Selected by the US Potato Board to participate in the Tastemaker Challenge, I was the sole male representative out of nine contestants pitted against each other to do creative things with potatoes and put them on YouTube. After I had accepted the assignment, there was a conference call.
“And for the final challenge, we’re sending you all to cook live. At Blissdom.”
Before I knew it, I was placed into a metal sleep chamber with the words Southwest painted on the side. When I awoke, I found myself in Nashville, TN, carrying a swag bag containing a “smoky eyes” kit, facemask creams, binkies and bling. My mission had begun. As I explored this new world called the Opryland Resort, I couldn’t help but notice how sharp the color-coded rugs were, and how 3-D the vegetation looked under the resort’s bio-domed enclosure.
I knew I had little time to waste, but was hesitant to just jump feet-first into this community. Sure, my feet were sporting new shoes I bought just for Blissdom, but just because you look the part, doesn’t mean the tribe will accept you.
Luckily this acclimation period was made a lot easier by friends I had on the inside. Julie made the cross-country journey with me, and I had Tanis, Rachel and Melanie on speed dial. No matter how confident, one must never step into a conference full of women bloggers without someone to vouch that you're a "friend of ours." It worked for Donnie Brasco, it works for BusyDad.
My first day was spent simply adjusting to the environment. Diving right into an estrogen fueled crowd has seriously scarred brave predecessors of mine. And like the bends, it can mess with your blood. By the late evening, however, I had taken a good dose of Jack Daniel's magic elixir and thus began my night of exploration. To my pleasant surprise, the crowd was very friendly. And I never once had to dig into my aresnal of secret ninja moves from the government.
But they did make me learn their ways. My mind was an empty vessel. I was thirsty for knowledge. And, as it turns out, not at all allergic to feathers.
Here's one of me just having a great time with the natives. I don't remember when this was taken. I don't really remember taking it. The official reason on the post-mission brief is: the oxygen on that planet is too thin and I was lightheaded. Go with it.
(Mishi, Rachel, Melanie and me. Because everyone celebrates the unveiling of Google Buzz by getting...)
The next day, I was feeling a lot more comfortable in my new skin. Mostly because I got to do what I came to do: cook. The Tastemaker Challenge finals took place Friday night and it was everything you'd ever want in a cooking showdown. An array of ingredients, fanfare, drink tickets and my very own Team Jim cheerleading squad.
(Lotus, Tanis and Mishi. I had to beg them repeatedly not to kneecap the other contestants. Especially Tanis, who was weilding a bedazzled pimp cane all weekend. I still have welts.
Not pictured, Vodkamom... and my welts.)
(My assignment was to use feta cheese in a potato salad. Note exasperation on face and 3rd vodka gimlet next to small bowl. Pic courtesy of Secret Agent Mama.)
When the dust settled, I was waist-deep in random chopped up items. I figured if my dish wasn't going to win, I would at least have fun with the fact that I didn't have to clean up my mess. Plus, I have this thing for blades.
Even though I didn't win, the victories went to two very deserving competitors: Jo Lynne won in the video category, racking up the most votes over the past three months, and Rachel won the evening's judging with this dish.
[insert more random stuff in here so that people don't realize that you don't remember much between that and the next picture.]
The next day can be summed up with one word: Karaoke
If you couldn't tell from this post, I had an amazing time mixing and mingling with the women of Blissdom. Admittedly, I was very apprehensive going into it. While I had been to Blogher before, there is a growing male contingent at that conference, so at least you have your school of fish to hide in if needed. This time, however, I was literally the only male on the registration list of 500. While I knew that my closer friends would be ok with this, I really wasn't sure how the others would take to my crashing the party. On the final evening, I shared this sentiment with a small group who had assembled in Blissdom founders Alli Worthington and Barbara Jones' suite.
"I wasn't sure if I'd be accepted here..." I muttered.
"We don't just accept you, we welcome you, Jim" Alli responded.
This blue facepaint? I'm totally keeping it.