Like many of you, my first experience with the hilarious Jen Mann was her brilliant post about the Elf on Shelf and the overachieving moms that come along with that damn thing. This now famous post of hers came out right as I was dipping my toes back into writing again, as well as anxiously awaiting the arrival of our son. I was automatically nerd-smitten with this lady.
After the arrival of Ferris I followed Jen even closer as she wrote at great length about douchey dads, annoying overachieving moms, her husband’s odd idiosyncrasies, and the ever growing list of people she wanted to punch in the throat. Seeing how I spend most days thinking the same thing about most people, Jen quickly became my writing idol, as I wish I had the stories and the comedic acumen to describe my distaste for mankind only the way she does.
Fast forward to 2014. I was in a kind of low place with everything, and had written anything in a good while. My Wife somehow found out that there was a writing conference called BlogU being held in Baltimore, and encouraged me to attend. I checked out the conference, and in my typical fashion tried to find every reason to NOT go; it’s only for women; they’re not going to want me there; it’s too expensive, and so on and so on. Of course the Wife did her typical thing, which is to be the voice of reason and poke holes in all my complaints and point out I was just making excuses to not go. Damn, she knows me too well.
Finally, in a last ditch effort to get me to see the error of my way, the Wife said, “Hey look! That lady you like; the one who talks about punching people in the throat; she’s gonna be there too.” I think my ticket was purchased mere seconds after she said that. I usually, don’t fan boy people to the point that I ever try to see them, or meet them, or even talk to them if I see them in public, but I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. But, you know what they say about meeting your idols right; don’t do it, because it most likely won’t turn out the way you thought.
Like every other conference I’ve attended, I was added to a Facebook group upon purchasing my ticket. This is designed to get to know the other attendees and staff, making for a smooth transition when we see each other in real life. During this time I was on a self-imposed 30 day Facebook hiatus, but couldn’t wait to get back and interact with the other writers in the group. With about a week to go I noticed an email notification from Facebook that alerted me that none other then Jen Mann had commented on a thread I was following in the group…THE JEN MANN!! Are you fucking kidding me?!? Well, like a fat kid walking by a candy store, I broke that hiatus in a heartbeat to see what she said…maybe it was about me. Maybe she read one of my posts. Maybe she was interested in meeting me, maybe “SHE” thought “I” was a good writer! And you know what, it was about me…but not any of the scenarios I envisioned. I think her exact quote was, “Who is this dude in here? Is he legit?” I was crushed.
The one person I wanted to meet didn’t sound like she wanted me in the group. Had I made a mistake? Was going to this conference that was clearly created for women writers the wrong decision?
The day finally arrive to go to the conference. My excitement had once again turned to dread. It turned out I was the only guy who signed up to attend, so over the past few months, I had become somewhat of the token person. The ladies were overall friendly, and many said the looked forward to meeting me, but all I could think about was the one interaction with Jen.
At the opening keynote session I attempted to slip in and hide in the crowd and go unnoticed, because that was totally going to happen with me being the only guy among 200 women. But most of all, I wanted to go unnoticed by Jen, as she was one of the keynote speakers. Worse off, I had no idea what she looked like, as she had not yet shown her identity online. But, as my luck would have it, none of my plans worked out the way I wanted; and that’s a good thing.
Jen gave an awesome speech about being all the attendees being kick ass writers and finding our voice online, among all the assholes and trolls that rule the internet. She went on to encourage all creators to help each other, and said there was room enough for all of us; even using the rising tides raise all ships analogy. Then she stopped and scanned the crowd and said, “Where’s the dude? Where’s the one guy who decided to come here?” FUCK…my cover was about to be blown. As a handful of fingers raised and pointed at me, I felt exposed, even naked, which was troubling on several fronts. Here it comes…she’s about to say none of her encouragement applied to me, that I shouldn’t even be there. My world was about to come crumbling down around me…goodbye cruel world. Then she spoke, “You too! I’m glad you’re here. You’re brave for stepping into the den with all these ladies. Glad you’re here.”
Did I hear that right? Did I have this whole thing all wrong? Did I somehow interpret her words of asking if I was legit completely wrong? Well, yes and no. I summoned up the courage to speak with Jen at the party on the final night, and she apologized for coming off harsh because it wasn’t her intent, but I was too busy being a total fan boy again to even care. While she was talking, I was too busy re-pinning all my fan posters back on the walls in my mind, like a 12 year old girl cutting out pictures from her Tiger Beat magazine.
Since that time, Jen has become more a peer than an ideology figure. Don’t get me wrong, I still fan boy every now and again, like when she requested me as a friend on Facebook (I can neither confirm or deny squealing when I saw her request), or when she said shared my comedy post about vaginas telling me it was “fucking hilarious” (her words!!). But none more that recently when she asked me to submit to her new book coming out this May, and then choosing me to be part of the awesome group of writers that will be featured.
So, how does this really long (longer than I had intended) story equate to admiring her? Much like I said about my friend Elizabeth, Jen is fucking hilarious. But more than that, she’s brilliant in every move she’s made since the Elf on the Shelf post blew her life wide open. With all attention, recognition, book sales, and projects in the works we probably don’t even know about yet, she has remained true to herself. She continues to encourage writers to improve, to be seen, to stand up for themselves, and constantly shows that no matter how big we get, never take yourself too fucking seriously. And I admire that.
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