getting to Blissdom

Last week I attended Blissdom, a conference for female bloggers, for the first time. I had been kind of on the fence about going until I heard that the opening keynote would be given by Brené Brown. Brown is a self-described “researcher/storyteller” who studies vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. I saw her talk on a few months back, and it floored me. So much that I grabbed my husband sat him down, and watched it again with him right then. If you haven’t seen it, check it out, I’ll wait here.

Brown speaks so clearly about our need for human connection and how it is stymied, for every single one of us, by shame— what Brown defines as our fear that we are not worthy of love and belonging. Walking into a conference where you know basically no one will certainly test your feelings of belonging. As I scanned the massive ballroom at breakfast on day one, looking for a friendly face not already engaged in conversation too animated to interrupt, the voice inside me said: Who do you think you are? Why did you come? You’re not a real blogger. You don’t belong here. 

Then Brené got up in front of all of us, and said she too felt like an imposter, like she didn’t belong up on stage, like she wanted to run. But at such moments, she argued, we need to be more authentically ourselves, not less, because the feeling of belonging can only come when we accept ourselves as we are. Because Brown’s presentation was the first thing we heard at the conference, all of us at Blissdom received a great gift: the freedom to be more honest, and authentic, and fully ourselves, for the rest of the conference, even when (especially when) we feared that vulnerability. I learned so much. I am so glad I went.

I came back from Blissdom just in time to attend my eight-year-old’s First Penance ceremony on Saturday morning. For you non-Catholics out there, this is the sacrament more popularly known as “Confession,” where you go into a small darkened room, kneel, and catalog your sins for the priest listening on the other side of the privacy-giving yet intimidating screen. When I was in Catholic school I went all the time, but it has been twenty years since I went to confession, and I have never missed it. The farther removed I became from it, the more archaic and unnecessary it seemed. Why say my sins out loud to some stranger?  Why not make my peace directly with my higher power, resolve to do better, and move on?

One has to have had First Penance in order to receive First Communion, and so I had no hesitation as to whether my son should take part—but I did fear that, sensitive soul that he is, the stress of having to admit his faults to a faceless authority figure, and then say a memorized prayer or two to boot, might take its toll on him. We drilled his Act of Contrition on the way over in the cab. I hoped it wouldn’t be too horrible.

And then, once we got to the actual ceremony, surprise after surprise:

  • a play about God’s joy when we return to God’s flock, acted out by twenty giggling second graders.
  • a homily from a kindly priest who explained that just like beautiful snow (of which we have seen a LOT lately) can become dirty and yucky, so can our souls, due to sin. But while snow cannot be made clean again, we can be– because God is our washing machine. 
I’m sitting there thinking: God is a washing machine?  My old-fashioned Catholic ideas of laundry tended more toward we poor humans attempting to scrub our dirty, dirty garments clean with a couple of rocks. And NEVER SUCCEEDING.  Because they—we—were stained beyond repair, and only God’s mercy could save us, despite our dirty, dirty clothes. Now I was hearing that I wasn’t the washerwoman—I was the clothes, and being set free of the things that weighed me down could be nearly pleasant. Gentle cycle.

I watched Connor as he sat on the bench, waiting his turn in the confessional. Maybe a little nervous, but not really. Then he was gone, for two minutes, and then he came out, bounding toward us, free of his burdens. Light.

Brené Brown says she has discovered three truths about shame:

  1. Everyone has it.
  2. No one wants to talk about it.
  3. The more you don’t talk about it, the more you have it.
The corollary is that there’s only one way to end shame: to speak it aloud.  Telling our story, bringing it to light, can make the darkness go away. Watching my son walk toward me, so happy and free, I saw what Brown meant. My tectonics shifted a bit.

After the First Penance, a few more surprises:
  • refreshments! Coffee! Cookies! Munchkins!
  • Kelly Ripa was there.
That’s the way life is in New York City: sometimes it’s a real pain in the ass, but it’s the only place to get really good black-and-whites, and maybe Kelly Ripa’s kid is in your kid’s First Penance class.

I actually talked to her for a few minutes. She is utterly lovely and approachable and authentic.  She said that this wasn’t at all how she remembered her First Penance being. “Mine either,” I said. We both grinned. We were both happy at how things have changed.

Then David and I took Connor home and our whole family changed into snow pants and went sledding in Riverside Park. The hill was steep– too steep, as far as this mother was concerned– and quite icy,  after the first few thousand toboggan runs. 

My children’s faces at the top: worried, vulnerable, not sure they were brave enough.
My children’s faces at the bottom: euphoric, joyful, full of love and belonging as they pulled their sleds back up to the top to try again.

Another lesson in facing your fears and being richly rewarded in return. 
Blissdom, indeed.