Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking at the latest Cybermummy conference, a key social-media event that attracted over 400 parent bloggers from the UK as well as some who flew in especially for the event from far flung corners around the world.
It was a great opportunity to catch up with old friends, many of whom I realise I have now known for over four years. It was also a chance to meet lots of new faces too, a treasured moment for someone like me, whose amount of personal time spent blogging has ironically diminished gradually year-on-year since I started in 1997.
When I began blogging, for me it was all about fun. It was a hobby that combined a need for self-expression, sharing experiences, having a giggle about my family, my misadventures and reaching out to a community of new friends. I certainly come from that quarter who considered blogging to be cheap therapy.
Then along came that rubbish challenge, and gawd knows how I got from there to here, but somehow blogging got repositioned. Instead of daily updates it became a repository for heavily-edited highlights, while other activities took over elsewhere.
Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love all the other stuff I do and it's brought fantastic opportunities.
So as a blogger, I really, really, really can't complain! However, yesterday highlighted just how much I miss the regular connections hat I used to have with my favourite blogs and the opportunity to be inspired by their stories.
This is why it was so brilliant to be part of this year's Cybermummy. The key highlight for me was to catch up with old friends and meet new bloggers. There were also so many people there whom I didn't get to meet but dearly wanted to, and am now waving from my little corner of Suffolk in hope that there will be another occasion to do so, even if I have to wait another year.
Moving onto more formal matters, I also really enjoyed listening to Sarah Brown, who helped launch the event with her keynote speech, giving credit to blogging as a means of helping to drive change. This theme was reinforced later in the programme by activist bloggers, Sian To, Rosie Scribble and Josie George, who along with Save the Children's Liz Scarff, highlighted the vital role that bloggers have in raising awareness of life-changing campaigns, such as the successful Blogladesh and Pampers Unicef projects that were promoted last year.
When it comes to blogging, it really is an activity that can be life-changing in many ways, whether you're fighting passionately for an important issue, connecting with a community of new friends, developing your creativity or supporting your new business venture.
Bloggers can make you laugh as well as cry. Some can inspire you to try something new. Others help you think differently about something that you've always taken for granted. Some bloggers touch a raw nerve, while others have the ability to help heal wounds. Delving into blogposts is like having a real-time library in your living room, that's full of drama, tragedy, comedy, practical tips and inspiration.
And this is why the closing section of Cybermummy is fast becoming a personal highlight of mine, packed with crowdsourced blogposts that are read by the bloggers themselves, swinging the audience between tearjerking tales in one moment to stories that bring tears of laughter the next. It's really hard to pick out specific blogposts from yesterday's session as they were all brilliant, but the ones that moved me most were those that represented the extremes of emotion, including Nickie from Typecast's story of her baby daughter being diagnosed with cancer and the personal journey through her illness and remission. I really don't think there was a dry eye anywhere and even now as I recount the day, it's hard not to get emotional again. Elsewhere, it was also great to hear Fi's (Childcare is fun) unusual story about her Twitter birth and the reaction from the press, who misreported the big event with a bucketload of wrong assumptions. And as for Emily's (More than just a mother) dilemma of how to recycle a vibrator, that was hysterically funny on more than one occasion.
My own contribution to the event was sharing ideas during the Marketing your blog workshop, based on my experience of marketing my Rubbish Diet blog offline. Oh my word, doesn't that sound dry by comparison. For anyone who may have missed that, it was about engaging with community magazines, promoting your work on local radio, pitching your ideas as a speaker for the WI and other local or national industry related events. I just hope it made sense and that my nerves didn't get the better of me. I must admit, not being able to find my presentation on the Cybermummy 1 laptop threw me off guard, as did the positioning of the lighting, which meant I couldn't see the audience. I'd never realised how disconcerting it would be talking to a dark room.
But what an incredible day. Not even the technical hitch, or the train breaking down en route, could have spoiled it and I have such a long list of fantastic memories thanks to everyone I caught up with.
I'd just like to say a huge 'thank you' to the organisers of Cybermummy for having me, both as a blogger and speaker, and to everyone in the audience who listened as part of the 'marketing your blog' session. I also want to shout 'hello' to all the bloggers who I caught up with through the day and 'sorry' to my pals whom I missed.
And finally, I would like to say a thank you to Kylie from "Not even a bag of sugar" who let me take a photo of her rather notable notebook, which I've used as the photo header of this post. For me, of all the things you could say about the power of blogging, this captures it in one quick sentence.
As for now, I'm off to pinch myself that I really did share the stage with Sarah Brown, not at the same time of course, but even during the same morning is good enough for me. And did I really have my hair ju-juued by Michael Douglas? That was unexpected too. If I had the money, I'd hire that man as my hair stylist every day...yes it's this Michael Douglas, aka the One Show's very own Street Barber...he did wonders to the mop that I'd dragged all the way to London from Suffolk. Just a shame I didn't get to him sooner.
(More updates about Cybermummy will be posted on my main blog The Rubbish Diet very soon and I promise to add some of the funnier photos I took to the Facebook page for 1000bins)