Wednesday, January 25, 2012

After two weeks in Florida, I was ready for a change of scenery. Luckily Alt Summit was on the books, and after a heinous and uncomfortable series of flights through Phoenix, Arizona, I landed in the mountainous bowl that is Salt Lake City, Utah.

If you've never been, the initial reaction to this town in January might be something like, "Huh." Aside from the beauty of being cradled by gorgeous mountains, the place is dry and grey. Not entirely awe-inspiring if your plane happens to land at night. But then, of course, you see snow-capped peaks and think, for a half-second, "Maybe there is a God." before you regain your senses and remember Pangaea and the beautiful, cataclysmic collision that brought these beauties up out of the earth.

But I digress.

I left Orlando and headed west. I'd arranged to bunk with über-blogger Morgan Satterfield (of The Brick House) and her friend (and now mine, too!) fabulous photographer Laure Joliet. Although Morgan and I had become friends over the internet, we'd never met in real life. The whole thing was a summercamp-blogger-adventure, so I threw caution (and social anxiety) to the wind and dove in. I had no idea that I'd meet two of the most-excellent humans and have the greatest/grossest pillow talk sessions ever. But seriously: The three of us settled into an easy rapport and comfort that doesn't come around all that often. They made the trip for me. Déclassé Alert: I slept on a series of foam pads on the floor of the hotel room, happily-so, just to share in their company.

And then came a series of days I can't quite put into words. Alt Summit (and blogging conferences in general) attract a certain audience. Of the 500 attendees, I was one of (maybe) 20 men. And while I'm a famous lover of women, the whole thing was lacking a certain . . . balance. Lunch time in the ballroom sounded like all the TV's in Best Buy blaring the different episodes of The View (no offence) and it was bizarre to spend 5 days with so few dudes. But the quality of the speakers (Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge, Maggie Mason of Mighty Girl, Jordan Ferney of Oh Happy Day and Kate Woodrow of Chronicle Books, in particular) and with terrific keynotes by the likes of Pilar Guzman of Martha Stewart Magazine ("The proliferation of blogs have demanded a certain authenticity from us.") and Ben Silberman (the founder of Pinterest) made the whole thing totally inspiring.

The flood of information and stimulation meant off-site breaks were necessary to process all that energy. Among many excellent adventures, I had a wonderful dinner with Jory Dayne and his boyfriend Dave. Jory was one of my very original readers, and we've been internet pals for years. Finally meeting him in real life was a pure pleasure and we had a great time. He gave me the low-down on Salt Lake City creative culture and we gossiped like school girls. My favourite pastime. After all these online years, it's great to finally call him a friend.

We also met (finally!) Nathan (Editor of Kinfolk Magazine) and Amanda (their talented Art Director) for a great dinner. (Joined by Volume II cover girl Sarah Winward and her charm-city boyfriend!) As always, it's so strange to put a voice and a manner-of-speaking to someone you feel like you know. Nathan is as quiet and sweet as you might imagine, perhaps moreso. I was my typical brash self, treating the dinner table like an open-mic night at a small-town comedy club. But that's how I deal with awkward social situations. I say vaguely-offensive things and aim to keep everybody laughing. It usually works.

And a few more quick shout-outs to my new real-life-pals - the internet come to life!

Kathleen, in all her tall glory.
Jennifer Flores from super-Canadian-famous blog Rambling Renovators and her cohort Lindsay.
Lisa CongdonVictoria Smith, and Rena Tom - the west coast lady brigade.
Gabrielle Blair, one of the Sisters Stanley who creates this entire event.
Two super-fun chicks I met while wandering the hotel, Megan Gilger of Hitch Design Studio and Amy Anderson over at Parker, etc.
And the wonderful and effervescent Erin Loechner of Design for Mankind.
And the best little southern belle in the universe, Emily Thompson.

Really super to hang out with all of you.

(Photo by some lady at the party, though through Jennifer's camera.)

(Photo by Laure Joliet.)

My friends Ryan and Cole stayed with Heather Armstrong (Dooce), who is one of the very first bloggers to ever exist, and an all-around terrific woman. She very generously trusted Ryan and Cole to bring me around her house and her kids, and her "Recent Happenings", as they were anxious to spend time with me, and her, and Maggie, too. To combine efforts (and dance moves) under one roof was a real blessing. 

At first it felt a bit like high school, when one friend wants to bring an outsider into the fray. Awkward introductions and careful integration. Soon, after lunch and a kick-in-the-balls-anecdote from elementary school, Heather and I appeared to be fast friends.

She's warm and kind, but in a Canadian sorta way. I like to point out that Canadians almost always maintain their reputation as being "polite" and "kind", but that doesn't mean we're saccharine-sweet or overly nice. To put it simply: We behave ourselves. Heather is lovely and funny and polite. She's sarcastic and she teases and she says it like it is. She plays nicely, but she doesn't blow smoke or put it on: A woman after my own heart. 

I'll let Heather describe the last day of my trip to Utah, the "pasty" descriptor my only objection. And that banana photo. Jesus

We boozed and we talked and we just fuckin' laughed. I can't think of a better way to end my trip. A million thanks to Heather for her hospitality and her kindness. 

(Me and Ryan. Photo by Heather Armstrong. Used without permission, but that banana photo is payment enough. Bitch!)

PS: Would you believe I didn't take a single photo with my own camera? After shooting a million in Orlando, I just couldn't get it up to drag that sucker around for 5 days in Utah. Thanks to friends above for letting me snag yours. 

Real-Life Friends: (August 11, 2010)
Family Dinner - Pork Tenderloin with Apple Ginger Mash (September 9, 2010)
Kinfolk: Volume II (December 12, 2011)
A State of Bliss | Speaking at the Blissdom Conference (January 14, 2011)


  1. Fun! I really want to go to Alt after seeing all the posts about it the last few days.

  2. you're too funny - enjoyed meeting you at lunch!

  3. Aw, I love that photo of us. Life would be nice if I was constantly surrounded by my favorite Canadians. It was nice meeting you, friend. I hope next time we cross paths it will be under less hectic circumstances.

  4. I think I'll cringe at "southern belle" just as you do "pasty." It was so wonderful meeting you, drinking with you, and sharing snarkiness. Until next time!

  5. Oh you! Lets share cupcakes again some time. K? K


  6. I'm happy to call you a new friend and even happier we live in the same city. You look so dapper in our photo but that one with the banana is SO much more memorable. See you in two days!!

  7. Hmm, is one person really a cohort? :) I was so happy to have met you at Alt. And now that I know you live here, we need to hang out more! See you tomorrow! Lindsey

  8. I'M FANCY.

    hey so that was incredibly fun and I am still tired?
    Oh man, I need to do a wrap all this still relevant in a month?

  9. Yeah, so... the "banana" photo. Yeah, that's gonna stick for a while. ;) Don't worry, Jason, I have "those" kind of photos to. Fortunately, I'm unaware of where they may be published and I'll just keep it that way. I'm sure my psychologist is keeping tabs.

    Nice wrap up of your Alt experience! And, the guest list at Heather's house? HEATHER?!! And, all y'all?! Well, come on! Who wouldn't steal a kid's puppy to get on that invite list? Oh, and take the kid's candy.

    *Love* all the ladies you mentioned, glad you & Ryan were on hand to help represent the boy brigade, and nice to be introduced to Jory's work.

    See you next year! :)