The awkwardness of swag

June 7, 2010

First, I know this is a terribly first world problem, and a first blogger world problem at that. I do realize that there are terrible things in the world today, especially on the Gulf Coast, near my hometown (oh, Ship Island, my heart hurts for you). I realize that people are sick and dying of cancer (1500 Americans a day) and other illnesses, and that we who have the luxury of blogging are the luckiest of the luckiest … but I simply must say something about swag.

Yes, swag. The “stuff we all get” at celebrity events as fancy as the Oscars and as homegrown as a blogger conference.  I get the point. I know that if companies encourage us to try their products, we’re likely to write about them, and they get huge “word of mouth” or “return on investment.” I get it. I do.  And I won’t go so far as to say I don’t like swag. I do! Who doesn’t? For me, I don’t get out much, so it’s my chance to finally try a Georgetown Cupcake, to learn about Bitdefender‘s antivirus package, or to see just how small the new iGo charger is (see what I did there? I’m not anti-swag).

But here’s the thing. I can’t carry it all. I’m starting to feel like a packhorse at these blogger meetups, and it’s counterproductive.  We have these blogger events to cement these relationships that we all have, and to make connections with each other, blogger to blogger at Momzshare, and brand to blogger, blogger to brand at events like SVMom’s D.C. Metro Brand/Blogger Symposium yesterday.  But if it really is all about relationships, then shouldn’t we be spending our time talking to each other?

Shouldn’t we be encouraged to spend our time talking to the vendors and talking with each other, making new connections or really catching up, rather than carrying around four or five big bags of stuff, which forces the conversations to the shallow end, as we ask each other how we’re holding up, or how we’ll possibly get all this home?  Shouldn’t the moms who are carrying babies, already laden down and with a body possibly stressed by nursing, not have to worry about also carrying bags of stuff?  Can’t they be full participants by simply talking, perhaps picking up a coupon or card, but not also worried about juggling the blue bag and the white bag and the red bag and the cream bag and the … well, I think you get my point.

If this sounds ungrateful (and it may), I’m sorry.  But here’s the thing.  I have a disability.  Because of all my treatment, and the giant (7 pound!) tumor I had in my breasts a few years ago, I have a great deal of trouble with my back.  I can’t open heavy doors by myself, or carry a purse that is more than 3 pounds.  I simply can’t.  If I do, my ribs pull out from behind my spine and I’m in a great deal of pain.  For days.  Those sleeves you see on my arms and hands?  Those are necessary to control my lymphedema.  If I carry more than a small purse, hang out outside in the summer, or even stand too close to a hot stove, my arms swell up like balloons, and I have to go back into lymphedema therapy.  For weeks.  So I protect my body, use push buttons for heavy doors (or wait for someone else to open them), and say no to events that I think will stress it.

I took steps to manage my disability yesterday.  I tried not to complain.  I smiled sweetly and said thank  you (as I know that marketing metrics include how many bags of swag are given away), and then walked back to a booth I had called my home base, depositing the box or bag behind a curtain, with the gracious permission of the Lawry’s seasoning folks.  But I know it wasn’t just me.  I know that other blogging mamas struggled, dumping their swag in various spots around the room, too, and it became an issue.  It became an issue for moms with babies, moms with bad backs, and moms who wanted to build relationships, without having to worry about where they left their stuff.

There are other events coming up, particularly at BlogHer 10, that will face the same problem, and they will decide to handle it in different ways.  Last year, the Blogalicious party organizers really made a good impression on me, as they encouraged us to talk to each other, to experience the brand (Lush), and to have a good time.  The swag wasn’t brought out until the end, as we were leaving, and it was a nice surprise.  The experience was about the experience.

In contrast, other parties had limited amounts of swag, tweeting and blogging and teasing about the fantastic swag (misnamed, if you ask me) that would be there for the first 50, 100, or 200 people, and that you better get there early to get their stuff.  What happened at these events?  People lined up early, as they were told, to get their stuff.  They stood in line instead of building solid relationships and planning partnerships around a table.  They angled to be one of the first, to get the goody bags, some of which had $500 and up of product for a select few.  Guests were encouraged in a “me first” mentality … and with predictable results.

How do we create a good atmosphere for brands without overloading the bloggers?  Not everyone will agree, but here are three suggestions to consider:  1) Bring coupons if you want us to try your product at home and write about it.  That totally worked for Trop50 and Ragu last year.  2) Put your product in the big bag that we all get at registration.  3) If you bring product to an event, and it truly is swag, stuff we all get, then let us pick it up as we’re leaving, so we can spend our time at the party building relationships.

When you make it all about swag, it becomes all about … swag.

Disclosure: All the brands mentioned in this post were sponsors of the respective parties, and sent me home with free samples of various kinds.  Oh, and my friend Jessica carried them home for me.

A sweet night out with friends

May 22, 2010

My second course of radiation started this week.  Every morning, I start my day with a quick stop in the radiation center for treatment, take a deep breath, and go on about my day.  It’s not quite as easy as all that, of course, but that’s the way I’m going to look at it, for as long as I can.

After a week, the left side of my chest and my armpit are tender to the touch.  I have sharpie marker stains outlining the treatment field in dashed lines, and I have a few new tattoos too (just dots, but I like to think of them as stars that are very far away).  The thick dashed lines bothered me at first (really, one day, I had red stains, black stains, blue tattoos, and yellow paint marking the treatment areas.  When they brought out the green marker, I  couldn’t decide whether I was an old-fashioned diagram for cutting up beef, or a piece of art.)

Cuts of Beef

If they bring out the barbecue sauce, I’m outta there!

I felt awkward. I felt more than awkward, really.  As the technicians pushed and pulled my body into position where the tattoos lined up exactly with the red beams (remember the security system in Ocean’s Twelve? Psych? Chuck? Dr. Who? White Collar? Ohgoodgrief, what tripe are you watching these days?  And when are they going to add a laser hallway protecting Sue Sylvester’s trophies on that other show we all watch, anyway?) — aw, heck, now I have other things to think about when they’re lining me up with the red “laser-like” beams.

Which is awesome.  It’s all about not getting bogged down in the cancer treatment these days.  Yes, cancer sucks, but I AM MORE THAN THAT.  My life is more than that.  And so, this week I was thrilled beyond belief to go out with my friends TWICE, to pitch new ideas back and forth across the table, to hug their necks and to ask about their kids, and to spend a day and a half working downtown with education and outreach professionals on NASA’s upcoming Year of the Solar System.  Really — does it get cooler than that?  (HEY! It’s cool, ok?)

Back to dinner.  The lovely Miss Jessica asked me to dinner at The Melting Pot in Gaithersburg on Tuesday, and we motored up to join our friends in the private dining room.  It was a good thing we had a room to ourselves, because if I’ve learned anything, I’ve learned that a room full of mombloggers can be ROWDY.  Oh, I kid.  We were perfectly well-behaved, if you don’t count a couple of extraneous squeals and overzealous hugs when a new friend or twelve walked in.

It was a wonderful night, gathering around the pots o’ cheese (I ate way too much fiesta cheese, but the Feng Shui melted cheese with white wine was awesomely delicious) with parenting expert and friend (lose the guilt!) Devra, Mother in Medicine KC, MamaLaw Justice Fergie (as seen in this month’s Southern Living!), and new friend (recently rediscovered?) Lindsay from RockandRollmama.  The brilliant TeachMama, techie TechSavvyMama, “it girl” Jessica, and I posed for a photo and hashed out a bit of our BlogHer ’10 session on resource blogging. We all tried the main course, cooking shrimp, beef, chicken, and veggie pasta, but we quickly agreed that if we were going to go out together?  We were much more interested in the cheese and chocolate.  Particularly since not a few of us had had to cook for our children before we left for our own dinner.  (Bygones.)

Between courses, I was thrilled to hug the neck of “Fried Apple Pies” Kristen; thoughtful Laurie Writes (who does, and who is available this summer if you need a writer); The Fabulous Miss S (who is, and I should visit her blog way more often!); Lara, who did not actually bring her Chicken Nuggets of Wisdom since dinner was being served, but who did tell me how she and Janine are starting to Bring it to Fruition; Jodifur, whose shoes I really should have noticed; neighbor and summerbuddy Stimey; and the sparkly Thien-Kim.

And then, the chocolate course.  I still have a gooey warm feeling about consuming strawberries and bananas dipped in cookies and cream dark chocolate while catching up with Janine/@Twincident and Urbanmama, although I could have easily been distracted by the brownies dipped in amaretto.  You know, since it was there and we mamas don’t like to waste  food and all.

Anyways.  This post is a shout-out to my blogging friends, who I had a lovely time with (if I didn’t mention you, please blame the chocolate), and something for me to remember:  If I lose a day (Hello, Wednesday) because I spent my spoons the night before, it’s totally worth it.

Disclosure: The Melting Pot D.C. hosted our band of mamas for dinner and dessert at no charge, with a take-home of white chocolate and spice; they’ve also set up a Girl’s Night Out package where you can enjoy exactly what we did, plus a salad I didn’t mention (because who mentions salad?), for $30/person.  Find them on Facebook.

Why we must keep writing.

October 18, 2009

Twitter is all a’twitter.  The blogosphere is buzzing.  It seems that nearly everyone online this weekend is upset over Nic White’s (@mybottlesup) allegations that TSA agents took her son during an airport screening, a response from Eye On Annapolis, the TSA blog, or both.

Readers feel let down.  Bloggers feel betrayed.  There’s more than a little uncertainty — how do we stop ourselves before we RT (retweet), spread information on our own blogs, and the like?  Maggie, Dammit reminds us all of a simple fact:  Check sources, and verify before reposting or retweeting.  Many of us have pledged to be cautious, to wait, to see how things shake out before we jump.

Those are all good things.

But remember, although we have incredible power to make mistakes online, we also have incredible power to make a difference.  Remember when 350 bloggers reposted a blog post about inflammatory breast cancer, calling themselves Team Whymommy?  Remember the bloggers that surrounded Heather Spohr with love, forming Friends of Maddie?  The support that bloggers have sent to Annissa, along with Hope for Peyton?  The goodness of the people who visit the Mothers With Cancer and offer encouraging words through tough times?  The love that has been extended to so, so many bloggers in times of sadness, grief, illness, loneliness, desperation and fear?  BlogHers Act, and BlogHers Act Canada?

These things made a difference.  These posts, these reposts, these tweets, and these donations of time and/or money made a difference in the lives of these families and so many more beyond them.  The blogosphere is full of good-hearted, well-intentioned writers who genuinely want to help and support each other.

As this story breaks in the mainstream media, I hope that they also hear about all the good that is being done online, and how bloggers pull together to support each other in times of crisis.

When we see a mother in need, we lend a hand.  When we see a child in trouble, we take action.  We trust, and we don’t always take the time (or know how to) verify.  We go with our instincts, and we rely on our fellow mothers/writers to be as honest with us as we have been with them.  And when reality turns out to match what we’ve been told, we mill around a bit, not knowing exactly how to act at this party.

For me, I’ve decided to just keep writing, trusting my fellow bloggers who I have built relationships with, reaching out to newer ones, and verifying where I can.  Working with known organizations.  Joining causes bigger than me.

That’s why I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve joined the American Cancer Society’s Blogger Advisory Council, working towards more birthdays by writing about cancer survivors that inspire us, and encouraging others to do the same. I encourage you to join me in this effort, by writing your own post like Julie Pippert, TechSavvyMama, Darryle P, Catherine Morgan, Morra Aarons-Mele, and many other bloggers did, telling your truth, and tagging your friends, or by sharing the information that I’ve posted about inflammatory breast cancer, information that many have never heard and that could save a life.

Lives are being changed because we are speaking out.  They are.  Julie had to remind me of that this week, but I’m forever grateful for the reminder — which Morra then shared in The Huffington Post.   It couldn’t have come at a better time, in the wake of the alleged balloon boy hoax and these TSA accusations, stories that make me cringe and wait for it to all blow over.  But we can’t wait.  We can’t be silent.  10,000 people will get inflammatory breast cancer each year.  Most will have absolutely no idea what’s happening to them, and neither will their doctors.  But by us speaking out, we’re getting the word out, and people are getting treatment.  300 women will be diagnosed with IBC today, and they will have a chance at beating this terrible disease and spending more of their lives loving their families, supporting their friends, contributing at work. We must keep speaking out, and supporting our friends in need.

Lives are being changed.