BlogHer 2006: In the glomming

Posted by jdg | Monday, July 31, 2006 | ,

I spent the weekend standing around a lemniscated pool of lukewarm water at the center of an architecturally-confused Hyatt filled with 17 acres worth of scattered beaux-arts fountains and statutary, buddhist bas reliefs, bird engravings from the nineteenth century, and, on this particular occasion, hundreds of brilliant and gorgeous women. I have had worse weekends.

And it's a good thing that as a result of frantic packing on Friday afternoon, I forgot my stash of potent opium, because I just know I would have had a bad trip, perhaps imagining myself as a lowly eunuch confined to childcare duties or fanning Ariana Huffington in the stately pleasure dome of Kubla Khan's court, while laid-off dad frolicked among the Abyssinian maids and damsels with dulcimers and I just stood there with the dour, bitter countenance expected from my detesticled kind; so, instead, after snarfing down two bottles' worth of free wine, I found myself at my lowest point, elbows on the bar telling the perverted bartender in my drunk's voice: "just mix whatever combination of reds and whites you got left, bub." In such a state, I'm sure I offended in both conversation and odor, speaking wild-eyed and belligerently to whoever was kind enough to engage me in a drunken colloquy. So I begin this post with an apology to all the fine women bloggers who tolerated my crashing of the pool party at their postmodern Mediterranean hotel.

In ancient Rome every year the mysteries and secret rites of the Bona Dea (the "good goddess" of both chastity and fertility) were held and men were not allowed. During the rites, even paintings or drawings of men or male animals were forbidden in the rooms. The secret rites became the subject of widespread speculation among Roman men, who imagined it to be something along the lines of Roman Matrons Gone Wild, with the lifted togas and woo-hooing and all that. The mystery became too great a temptation for the patrician demagogue Publius Clodius Pulcher, who dressed up like a woman and snuck into the rites in 62 BC, which were being held in the home of Julius Caesar (think of John Belushi right before the ladder fell from the sorority's window in Animal House). The outrage of a man seeing the rites in Caesar's home grew to rumors that his wife had arranged it in order to sleep with him, so Caesar divorced her outright, responding to all the evidence that his wife was innocent by saying, "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion." What a dick.

Any illusions I had of kinship with Pulcher in drag, despite all the boob cupping, butt smacking, crotch grabbing, and face licking going on under the palm trees in San Jose, were dashed when I saw how many other men were at BlogHer. Dozens and dozens of dudes. I had believed this was going to be a space for women, free from the burning evil of the male gaze, and I was prepared for my presence there to be brief and limited, respectful of a space that was clearly not designed for the likes of me. Partly, though, I had also hoped to use the lack of other men as a crutch for my shyness, for my intense social awkwardness, and as a reason to walk away from a crowd rather than joining it, as I have always done at events like this, listening with immediate regret to the sound of laughter slowly evaporate behind me.

It turns out I didn't need that crutch.

For much of the day on Saturday, while Wood was attending the sessions I sat with Juniper by the edge of the swimming pool trying to coax her into the water. Early that morning, she pointed out of our hotel window towards the pool and said "wa wa!" and I asked her if she wanted to go swimming and she responded, "yeah." I put on our swimsuits and carried her into the cool morning water of the outdoor pool. She dug her fingers into my flesh and started screaming as soon as her toes struck cold. I could not calm her until we were back in our room.

Later that morning, while Sarah Gilbert's sweet little Truman splashed on the steps of the pool, Juniper again expressed a sincere interest in the water. This time I let her approach it at her own glacial pace, shifting towards Truman, taking a step back for every two forward. I asked her now if she wanted to go in the water but her response was a singsongy "Nooooo." For hours she looked at the pool and pointed at the other "babies" who were swimming, and a yearning to join them was clear in her brown eyes. And yet, even after Wood got in the pool, and we sat on the edge together and showed her how her doll could swim, Juniper's reticence eclipsed the allure of the water. She never swam that day.

I see so much of me in her, from the sometimes-crippling shyness, to the eons it takes for her to warm up to something she knows she's supposed to love. I feel a strange compulsion to try to help her overcome these things I've struggled with my entire life. It seems absurd that I'm still trying to overcome them myself.

On Friday night, Wood and I spent an hour by ourselves, drunk, talking with our feet in the pool. Saturday night somehow found us joining multiple conversations that the previous evening I had been too nervous to jump into. Melissa has described some of her relationships as "friends with training wheels" and over the weekend I was unable to shake that idea from my head. To pilfer her metaphor gayly, it felt like having water wings in a tumultuous sea of strangers, some of whom weren't strangers at all but faces you recognized from the flicker of 1s and 0s through a series of tubes, and hearts and minds you partly understood from having read thousands of their words and thoughts.

But God, it is so eerie to look across a pool and see a face and read its eyes which seem to say, "I know you."