2014 MS Blogger Summit, Day 1

When the marketing folks at Novartis (makers of Gilenya) conjured up an MS Blogger Summit, inviting a group of nine diverse posters for an all-expenses paid trip to the sleepy climes of Morristown, NJ, they probably had a preconceived idea of how the event would unfold--engaging in discussions about the communication needs of the MS online community while getting candid feedback on some of their social media efforts. And it would all start with a casual, friendly welcome dinner the night before, just steps away from the hotel. However, they didn’t count on a few things: single digit temperatures, piles of snow, icy sidewalks and a certain smartass blogger.

“I sure hope the newspaper headline tomorrow doesn’t read ‘Bloggers with MS Tragically Perish on Icy Jersey Streets. Novartis Reps: Our Bad.’”
Dave expresses concern, while Nicole smiles in the face of danger.

I often voice my opinion with tongue firmly in cheek, but there is usually just enough truth for one to take pause. And after meeting me only minutes earlier, and not fully adjusted to my candor, the representatives from Novartis likely were mortified. A gaggle of MSers, including one using a scooter and another forearm crutches (yours truly), were trying to walk to a restaurant a scant 269 feet away from the hotel. The problem? Our path was blocked by berms of fresh snow, requiring us to walk down the street to the crosswalk ... that was still chockfull of snow. (For the record, the temperature that night plummeted to a low of one degree, and let’s not even discuss the wind chill.) I was merely pointing out the obvious, and it wasn’t going to get any safer. Wine and beer was going to be served with dinner. To people with MS. Who may have balance issues. A perfect storm was brewing.

Around the dinner table were individuals with a delightful mix of talent: blogger superstars Nicole Lemelle (www.mynewnormals.com) and Lisa Emrich (www.brassandivory.org and www.msbloggers.com), author Jon Chandonnet (http://jonchandonnet.com/blog/), clinical trial advocate Jeri Burtchell (www.partnersinresearch.org), longtime poster Joan Wheeler (www.shortinthecord.blogspot.com), community advocate Jodi (www.jodibeansblog.com), and wise-cracking, heal-wearing Jamia Crockett (www.mymsheels.com). My wife Laura and Nicole’s engaging husband Tommy joined in as well. Only 23-year old Matt Allen (www.mattsms.com), who was arriving later that night, was absent.

To say we all bonded was an understatement. After all, each of us realized this may be our final meal given the conditions outside. At least I would have an opportunity to toast one last year of marriage to my wife Laura; it was our 21st anniversary that night. And with the New York/New Jersey area trailing only the West Coast in wineries, it was bound to to be a special toast.

“We have red--and we have white.” Our waiter was holding up two magnums... of Yellow Tail. Many New Jersey restaurants have a BYOB policy and Novartis, in a clear effort to wow bloggers with frugality, procured the Australian wine best known for being served free at office get-togethers. It’s not to say I won’t drink YT, and indeed I even have a special bottle in my closet. From 2006. I haven’t found anyone to take it off my hands in eight years. I suddenly felt more in a beer mood, and I wasn’t shy about saying so. About this time the poor folks at Novartis were no doubt rethinking the wisdom of inviting me.

They shouldn’t have. I give everyone I like personally a hard time, even folks I’ve barely met. To their credit, it was because of their efforts and careful vetting of bloggers that the evening unfolded enchantingly (complete, yes, with Hopfish IPA from New Jersey’s own Flying Fish Brewery). Indeed, we were all having such a wonderful time, none of us wanted the evening to end, and not just because of the impending harrowing walk home.

We needn’t have worried. Safety being a (newfound) priority, a warm ride was waiting for us in front of the restaurant. Due to liability reasons, Novartis had to use a car service--no personal chauffeuring allowed--and there were few options available at a moment’s notice. So a stretch limousine drove us the .05 miles to the hotel front entrance. Fourteen seconds. Novartis wanted to make sure that their first-ever MS blogger summit the following day was going to go off without a hitch ... and with all attendees fully, and safely, accounted for. Spoiler alert: they succeeded.


Keeping Your Resolutions

For most people, New Year’s resolutions go the way of fleeting fame, re: the Man with the Golden Voice. (Forgot him already? Rewatch his viral video from 2011 here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6rPFvLUWkzs). Resolutions start out with the best of intentions and then after a few weeks (which as the formerly homeless radio announcer discovered may or may not include a visit to Dr. Phil and a trip to rehab) they crumble into fine dust and skitter away in chilly late January winds. There has to be a better way.

It turns out there may be: announce your intentions, say researchers. In particular, tell strangers, like those on an internet forum, about your designs for a better you. Studies have found that the more folks who know about your resolutions, the more folks you’ll have in your corner to root you on to accomplish your goals… and the more pressure you’ll put on yourself to make good on your commitments. And why strangers? Unlike a skinny family member who might relish being “the thin one,” compatriots like those on the messageboard of ActiveMSers (http://forums.activemsers.org/index.php) don’t have hidden agendas. Better yet, you share that common bond of having multiple sclerosis and understanding the daily challenges involved in fighting a chronic disease.
So you might not know me, and your resolutions might have already moved back to a shelter in Ohio by the time you read this, but know this: I believe in you. After all, you’re here, right? Sometimes that first step in turning a new leaf is more of a shove from behind. So get your a$$ in gear! You can do this. Absolutely you can. Just let me and your virtual friends help you out.

Oh, and how do I guarantee my resolutions stay intact every year? Easy. I always make a resolution not to make any more resolutions other than the one resolution not to make any more resolutions. Works like a charm every January 1st.
Originally published January 25, 2011. Edited and expanded for clarity.