For the most part, I love speaking at conferences.
For the most part, I love being the person who encourages people to dig deep and share their Truths, to talk about the difficult – from money to grief to racism to sex – and to share their stories with the world. I love when someone runs up to me after I speak and says that I’ve given them the permission they needed to take on a passionate endeavor, the motivation they needed to keep going along a bumpy path, or the vibrator suggestion they needed to finally come.
For the most part, I am fueled by their excitement, pushed further along my path by their passion. The people that I meet are the reasons I attend conferences. I love being surrounded by their energy.
For the most part.
This weekend at Catalyst Con, things were drastically different. This weekend, I broke.
On Friday night – sixteen hours after flying from San Diego to DC and one hour before I had to be put together and on camera – I finally finished the website and guides for Frisky Feminist Press, the exciting new business endeavor on which I’ve been working for months. One quick nap, shower and a smudging of rouge on my lips later, I was gathering sex educators in front of a camera and answering questions from people all around the world.
Two hours after that, I was a part of the opening keynote plenary for Catalyst Con, on stage in front of a group of my peers, answering questions thrown at me by the formidable Tristan Taormino, attempting to match the wit, intelligence and articulation of my fellow panelists Melissa Gira Grant, Mo Beasley and Del Tashlin.
Twelve hours after that, I was teaching a workshop on the business of blogging with Epiphora and Mona Darling. Two hours after that, I was moderating a conversation about the legal atmosphere for queer people in the United States.
And two hours after that, I was curled in a ball on my hotel room bed, cuddling my pillow, crying.
I wanted to stay downstairs. I wanted to look everyone in the eye and listen to their stories. I wanted to brainstorm and collaborate, mix and mingle.
But all I could do was lie in bed and cry.
Something in my broke, and I could no longer be the put together, professional, friendly, motivating woman that Queerie Bradshaw is in the public light. I needed to be Lauren Marie Fleming, the broken girl who battles depression and is stricken by grief.
At one point, I got up, put on my bathing suit and headed to the pool, which was luckily empty except for two energetic young girls who stared at me for awhile until they decided they liked my buzzed hair and asked if I wanted to play “floating on water” with them.
I did. And it was nice to just float on the surface, letting the water hold the weight of my grief.
But all too soon, the pool closed, and I had to hold my own weight once more.
In the shower, I wept again. And again. And again.
I needed to get up, get dressed and go out to meet people with whom I had plans, but all I could do was drag my naked body into bed and stay there all evening.
That’s the thing with grief, it doesn’t care about timing. The higher you are, the farther you have to fall into the all too familiar pit of despair. The more I want to shout my monumental moments from the rooftops, the more I wish I could still text my brother about the little, minuscule things.
I remember when I spoke at an Ivy-League school for the first time (an accomplishment I was so damn proud of) and I didn’t heard a word from him about it. Sometimes, when I’m going, going, going, it just feels like that again. Like my brother is too self-centered and immersed in his own world to call and congratulate me on the accomplishments in mine.
Then the realization hits that he is not the asshole brother who forgot about my big day, he is the asshole brother who went and died (literally) on me.
As moderator, I started our blogging as a business panel with the question “describe what your blog was like when you started, what it is now, and what contributed to that change.”
I don’t know why I asked that question, when I never know how to answer it myself. It’s one thing to slip in the mention of a dead brother, it’s another thing to explain that watching him bleed to death in your mother’s arms after fighting for his life against a vicious cancer changed everything about your being, from blogging to social interactions.
I chose to go with the “I was superficial and SEO-focused when I started and then my brother got cancer and died, and now I am deeper and more soul-searching on my site” route.
But that just skims the surface of my transformation. It completely leaves out the deaths of my grandmother and grandfather, both of which I cared for during the last days of their lives. It leaves out moving from my chosen home of Oregon back to a place that wasn’t all that safe for me as a kid, and the emotional reconciliation my inner child has had to work through. It leaves out my sister almost dying having her second child and the year we spent holding each other on her couch, taking turns building up the energy to put another Disney movie in for her kids and us.
All of that is left out because this microphone on this stage is not the place to divulge all of that information. People are not here to be my therapist, and while the room is full of wonderful people that I love, I am not their friend right now, I am their instructor.
So I instruct, and leave the deconstruction until later, when it can be just me and my computer in a bed alone, typing my feelings into this blog, this place that has turned from a way to get free sex toys, to a way to express my Truth and connect with my readers (and occasionally still get free sex toys).
I made it through my engagements, and then retreated; back to my bed, back into my head, where the only person I have to make time for is myself.
I spent all night Saturday and most of the morning Sunday lying in bed crying, reading my new YA book (the best escape ever for me), and taking some much needed down time. Across the hall, my very sexy friends were having an all girls play party. Upstairs, some other friends were playing hilarious sex games. But all I wanted to do was lie in the dark and listen to my thoughts.
This is not the way I wanted my Catalyst Conference to end, but we don’t always get to decide what happens to us in life. Sometimes we just have to go along for the ride.
This weekend, it felt good to just let myself be present with my feelings, take some time off and do what my body needed, knowing that all the things I missed out on – meeting new friends, engaging in compelling conversations, connecting with important professional contacts, having wild sex – will be there when I am able and ready to return.
Until then, I’m going to stay inside these big fluffy white sheets and enjoy being alive.