the writing and photography of Neil Kramer


This is going to be an odd post. I’m going to mention some blog posts that I have read recently, but what I am writing about is not these posts, but my REACTION to these posts.  Right off the back, I want to make sure you know that I don’t think these bloggers are doing anything “wrong” in my eyes.  In fact, I think they are touching me in an unique way.  These posts all exude positive energy — inspiration, gratitude, giving thanks.   They also make me feel somewhat uncomfortable when I read them.  This bothers me.  Is the “negative side” of my personality so strong that I rebel against a loving way of looking at the world.  I am far from a Scrooge or a Grinch.  I actually see myself as a positive person.  So why do some of your posts confuse me?   Why do I find it so difficult — in my own writing — conveying something containing 100% positive energy?   Why don’t I want to inspire anyone?  Is this another case of me looking outward rather than within myself?

Schmutzie just started writing 365 Days of Grace in Small Things.  I told her that I might try doing this on my own blog, but just sitting down at my desk to come up with an “I am grateful for” list gave me an anxiety attack.  It seemed soooo phony.  Am I really grateful for that slice of pizza I had for lunch?

Last week, was the birthday of Kyran from Notes to Self.  Here is the beginning of her birthday post —

My birthday gift to myself this year was to celebrate over brunch with a few of my favorite people, who each went home with a little symbol of the sparkle they bring to my life.

It’s a wonderful thing to look around a room, and realize you can die anytime with the certainty that you will have a splendid funeral with charming guests, plenty of food, an abundance of kindness and wit, and buckets of flowers. Everything after that is icing and sprinkles.

Wow, she is such a good writer.  And what a lovely expression of love for her friends!  So why do I feel like writing a dirty joke in her comments?  My mind does not know how to respond to such pretty words.  I feel like the boy who only knows how to pull the hair of the cute girl in the second grade.

I remember Sophia used to complain that I was portraying myself as too “nice” on my blog.

“You’re not that nice,” she would say.

I think she’s right.  I’m noticing that I have an argumentative side.  Or at least I am acknowledging it as a part of my personality.

A few days ago, I wrote a post about “Buy Nothing Day,” on Black Friday.   I made fun of the idea, calling it performance art over substance.  I first heard about “Buy Nothing Day” from the blogger Gwen Bell on Twitter.  Now, Gwen seems to be a super-nice, caring person, but the minute I saw her mention this on Twitter, I immediately started to argue with her, saying it was bad for the economy.  I don’t think I debated with her in a mean way, but I’m not sure she expected someone to grill her over something that seems — to most people — to be a good cause.   Just look at what happened in that Walmart on Long Island, where an employee was trampled by customers out to get some cheap TVs.   Who likes rampant consumerism?   But I just felt like addressing the other side of the story — the economy.  And I like when people disagree with me.  I sometimes argue the other side, just for the fun of it.  That’s how you learn things.   Remember, I married a Republican wife.  I hope I didn’t come off as aggressive to her.  I’m still relatively “nice.”  I just come from a talkative family.  I have family members who can argue for hours over which deli makes the better corned beef sandwich.

Doobleh-vey is running a series called “Inspire Me,” where she talks with other bloggers about their inspirations.   It occurred to me that I rarely use the word, “inspiration,” and that’s sort of sad.  “Tale of Two Cities” inspired me.   “It’s a Wonderful Life” inspires me.   My mother inspires me.  There are many blogs that I love, but I’m not sure I have found one that truly inspires me.  Am I afraid of “letting myself go,” so I can be inspired by another writer online?

I hope I don’t want to come off as a grouchy stick-in-the-mud.  Like most of you, I struggle with marriage, work, money, family health issues — the typical stuff.  I try to stay positive and have a sense of humor about life, but how far should I go in focusing on the good and inspirational?

Yesterday, I came across this post, written by a blogger/entrepreneur named Patricia, expressing her thankfulness during the Holiday season.  I hope she doesn’t mind me showing you what she wrote.  My intention is not to make fun of it, but to soak in her inspiration.

My life is honestly wonderful. I have an incredible family that loves the daylights out of me, who I get along with so well as a group or individually – each person is like a best friend, a mentor, and a role model. Our holidays are full of kids running around, traditions and good times, and every single person is giving and caring. I live in an amazing life in Los Angeles – I couldn’t ask for better, cooler friends. They are driven, smart, classy and charitable, among some of the best people I know. My apartment is warm and has everything I need. My work and social life are full of things that some people only dream to experience, and believe me, every time I speak on a panel, walk across the lot at a studio, or meet with a CEO or VP I admire, I am so incredibly thankful. My dating life has been nothing short of awesome in the past three years I’ve been single, full of strong, smart, and successful guys I admire so much (including one I’ve never stopped being grateful for). Then, this week, I reconnected with one of the single most important people in my world. If I were to somehow die tomorrow, I would have absolutely no complaints. I am truly, honestly, insanely blessed in every way. It’s incredible.

My mom once said, “Patricia, every time God blesses you, you give it away.” I answered, “It’s because I have so much.” I mean it. If you want to know why I’ve dedicated my life to trying to make the world a better place, this is why. Maybe this is what holidays are all about, to remind you of what you have. Without question, I am so incredibly thankful.

This post really blew me away.  I had to read it twice, just to make sure it wasn’t a parody.  Several thoughts crossed my mind at that time.  “Good for her.”  “What an idiot.”  “I could never write this post in a million years.”  “Why is my life so lame compared to hers?”  “Does she really believe this or is she trying to present a positive face for business reasons (she is an entrepreneur)?”  “Does this inspire me or piss me off?” “What would my readers think if I wrote this post?”  “Why am I so negative?”  “Could I inspire others?”  “Should I inspire others?”  “What the hell would I inspire them to do?”

Patricia, if you come to this blog, I would love to hear how you came to this point in your life.  Was it always like this for you?  Or did you need to focus your energy on positive, inspiring things to get here?

I’ll probably be back on Monday with something sarcastic.  Sigh.


  1. Ariel

    Neil, google sth called the Go Gratitude experiment then try it! Everything in life is a matter of perception and we all create our own reality. Put plainly, it all boils down to a choice between love and fear. Be thankful for small mercies, be clear in your intentions and all else will follow. I am grateful for having had a chance to share that with you, eh… Oh, and without negativity, we couldn’t know positivity – so without you, we wouldn’t appreciate Patricia for example, or without Patricia, we wouldn’t appreciate you. The divine dichotomy is everywhere! I’m not fond of the jargon mind you, sounds new agey but it’s common sense really.

  2. La Framéricaine

    Good afternoon, Neil.

    Your post today sounds a bit like a discussion with yourself, with us allowed to eavesdrop, about several different subjects, including, but not limited to concerns about:

    –being a killjoy

    –having a finely developed sarcastic reflex that will not be denied

    –being skeptical of totally positive self-expression

    –questioning positivity vs negativity

    –reflecting upon exactly what “inspiration” means to you vs what it means to others

    I feel your pain.

    Casting no aspersions whatsoever upon your quoted bloggers, I have a friend, the Stickup Artist, who would say, after reading such glowing posts, “Yeah, and she dates five times a week!” That has been our tag line response to relentless positivity and high achievement for time out of mind now.

    I have always wondered if I was a pessimistic optimist or an optimistic pessimist. Either way, I surely have a sturdy aversion to relentless cheerfulness and what Barbara Ehrenreich calls “the cult of cheerfulness” — in this excerpt from her blog:

    I’m now researching for a book on what I call “the cult of cheerfulness,” which requires Americans to “think positively” rather than to take positive action for change.

    So, I can at least say that I am inspired by your sticktoitiveness as concerns the full reading and rereading of posts such as the ones you chose to illustrate your philosophical discussion with yourself about having a positive attitude, being grateful, being thankful, being inspired and inspiring, and having a life full of realized potential and imaginings of a well-attended funeral. I could never have done it myself. I would have given up. My Grinchy mind would have clicked off.

    I figure I’ll have zero attendees at my funeral, which won’t even occur because I’m going to be cremated. And if I did, I would hope that they told wild and rowdy stories about what a twisted sister I was!!!

  3. V-Grrrl

    I am frequently inspired by other bloggers and their writing. Jane Devin frequently inspires me–to think, to question, to be a better writer and a better citizen. Annie H’s showcase of art and poetry often inspires me. I did the 29-Day Giving Challenge after reading about it on Andie’s blog. Kate McLaughlin’s positive attitude and outreach make me long to be a better person. And Linda Woods inspires me just by being who she is. She isn’t relentlessly positive but she’s consistently authentic and I like that. Di pushes forward as an artist and a human being and inspires me to be more open to the world and its possibilities. These are just a few people off the top of my head who inspire me online, and that doesn’t even include some of my commenters.

    You, Neil, inspire me to laugh. Even when you’re not trying. : ) That is a good thing.

  4. Neil

    V-grrl and La Framericane — Maybe I need to clarify what inspiration means to me. I have met people in my life — friends and colleagues who have inspired me to grow as a person in one way or another. I just find it hard to know anyone online to the extent that I can call them inspirational. For someone who loves words, I don’t trust words alone. I respect Jane and Annie and Di and your creative output, but how would it inspire me in the way that I would define as “inspired,” a truly worthy event? I’m more inspired by someone’s actions, like a passerby who rescued a child from a flaming building.

  5. AnnieH(the other Annie)

    Neilochka, are you sure you’re not Catholic? Ask your mom if there aren’t some closet mackeral-snappers in your lineage. Listing the things in my life I am grateful for makes me feel very nervous fearing some harm might come to them and guilty for feeling “too full of myself” when others are suffering. That and my list never got much farther than “1. Morning cup of coffee 2. Puffs–the ones with aloe added for extra softness…” Not everyone is comfortable making public those things held close to the heart, and that’s okay. I hope. I write what I write on my blog simply to keep the demons at bay. I know what lies over the abyss and it’s quite enough to be there when it’s necessary. I need to remind myself about hope and resilience and the silliness that life has also to offer. And so I come to your blog site for a different dish of reality. Extra sarcasm is just fine with me:>)

  6. Geoff

    I laughed so hard at this, Neil. It was spot-on.

    I think of myself as a realist, but I know I have a “positive” mindset that drives others to distraction, at times (though I never blather on about it). I do think, if we curl ourselves into a self-absorbed ball and decide it can’t be done, then it won’t get done. At the same time, I am realistic. I know what CAN be done, and set about to do it, damn the torpedoes. And I’ll be the first person to yell “Change course!’ when we’re heading for the rocks. But that bullshit in “The Secret”? It’s bullshit. It’s also crap.

    But can you accomplish a lot by believing in yourself? Heck, yeah. I hope that doesn’t make me a pollyanna. Maybe I just have two personalities.

  7. schmutzie

    My project is a difficult one for me to pursue, too, because preciousness is like knife wounds to my soul, but it doesn’t have to be precious.

    That said, I completely get your conflicted feelings about these blog entries. They are good entries by good writers, but, nonetheless, my cynical side flares.

  8. Danny

    Very interesting. I have the same reaction to those posts. They’re lovely and well written but I could never have written such things in a million years. I think it’s because we’re Jewish. Cynicism and fear of the Evil Eye (bad things will happen if you are too blatantly positive) are built into our DNA. As far as Patricia’s post, I almost wonder if she wrote that more as a positive affirmation rather than as a serious description of her life. Surely she has plenty of demons and difficult people and challenges that she’s dealing with, but I read it as an exercise in focusing on the positive.

    As for inspiration, I am inspired in different ways by all the blogs I read regularly (otherwise I’d never read them). You inspire me to try new and creative things on my own blog, I really admire the risks that you take in your writing.

  9. Neil

    Danny — Well, from what Annie said, it is a Catholic trait, too. I’m wondering if there is a gender difference, too. All of the bloggers I quoted are women, and in my eyes, rightly or wrongly, I see “counting your blessings” as a feminine trait.

    And I guess I do see other writers as influencing me. I clearly wouldn’t have started writing some of my fact-based posts if I first didn’t see you, Danny, write them so successfully. But I don’t know if I would call anyone inspirational, as if giving me a reason for writing. Probably the one who has been most inspirational to me while writing this blog is Sophia herself, because until a year ago, ever other post seemed to be about her.

  10. Patricia

    Your post on my post turned up in my Google analytics 🙂 Thank you for visiting my blog. To answer your question, I guess I’m just generally really happy. I always feel so thankful for what I have. I think it’s in part because I’m aware of what others do not, like when I travel or go outside the country, and then also, I really am thankful. I didn’t focus necessarily on being positive or inspiring things (though it helps) so much as I focused on living my dreams and trying to make my life mirror all that I hope it could be as much as possible. I’m not always happy, and my life is definitely often very, very difficult. But, every day’s kind of a new one, another shot. I think that alone is alot to be happy about 🙂

  11. Neil

    Thanks, Patricia! I am envious of your attitude about life.

  12. sassy

    I was feeling kinda weird about so many of my post being a downer lately. Funnu, as for myself I think I come across as sad and whatnot in my blog when in real life poeple don’t usually see me that way. Isn’t the internet conducive to schizophrenia?

  13. sassy

    Did I mention that I have a hard time spelling after four a.m. when I’m drinking wine empt to fall asleep? (:

  14. Annie

    Neil, in case you have not noticed, everyone is different. We love you for who you are. Just as you are. Thanks for sharing Patricia, I am a positive person, but I want we she has :-). Off to read her blog :-).

  15. Wendy

    When I read a blog like the ones you quoted it usually makes me feel bad about myself. Most of the time it happens when I’ve been acting whiney and bitchy. But they do make me try to pull my shit together and act right.

    I argue with people, too. I realized it at the gym the other day. It was quite the epiphany. Then, the next day my soon to be former landlord told me that Thomas may put up with it for a little while longer, but he wouldn’t. This was all because I asked him to prorate our rent because we’re moving on the 15th.

    Anyway, the point is, don’t worry about trying to inspire others. Just be yourself! Most of my posts are complaining about something or joking about something. That’s just me, and this is just you (what you show us, anyway). Your writing is original and genuine. I’d rather read that kind over fake gratitude any day.

    Thanks for making me your Blog Crush of the Day! It was the sex post, wasn’t it? lol

  16. amy

    you know I love you babe- but you also know that I keep it pretty real on my blog and some days are not so swoony and perfect with inspiration flowing…BUT. I think it is a choice. I try and find the good in each day and am so inspired byt his online place I come each day. It fuels me and pushes me harder in all that I do. I find inspiration in you too my dear. often. xo

  17. Mocha

    Inspiration eludes me at the moment, but joy and happiness do not. At the risk of sounding like a douche, I have to tell you this little secret I am learning: you have to CHOOSE J-O-Y. It’s an idea that’s been coming to me for some time now and all I can say is that when I came to the realization that it’s a verb TO CHOOSE, then I also realized my own responsibility in it.

    But you always give me a laugh, Neil, and this one made me smile and cock my head to the side and wish for you: “I hope he finds what he’s looking for.”

    Then, I read Danny’s comment above about your Jewish DNA. Perhaps you’re choosing OY instead of JOY?

  18. Patricia

    @Wendy, my gratitude is definitely not fake.

    Happiness is a choice.

  19. Jozet at Halushki

    I generally enjoy reading those kinds of posts – even to the point of crying – and am genuinely surprised when I stumble into writing one of them myself.

    I think what gets me the most about the Thankful posts is simply, as a writer, the cliches bug me. Everyone is thankful for the good stuff and babies and family and warm houses and jobs.

    I’m drawn to the posts where someone starts off by saying that they are thankful for the smell of pot roast or diesel. Or the posts in which people attempt to express their sort of ironic but sincere thankfulness for the tough things. Like Republicans. Or pages stuck together in a book.

    Anyway…I like you even with all your rough edges and sarcasm, Mr. Darcy. But even that doesn’t completely cover up the virtue beneath. You scoundrel.

  20. Neil

    I wonder if my fear of inspiration is somehow related to fear of religion/spirituality, as if it isn’t rooted in reality.

  21. Neil

    Mocha, Patricia — this “joy is a choice” statement is exactly what I am talking about. While I believe this is true, I don’t exactly understand it yet — and the concept makes me a bit nervous.

  22. Gwen Bell

    Today is the anniversary of my mom’s death and probably the lowest day of the year for me so let me tell you my take on the happiness “issue.”

    I see happiness as a practice, a muscle you have to work over the years to keep it strong. I’m a melancholy type with tendencies (strong tendencies) to go dark for hours or days at a time. During those days I tend not to write – and they really make me appreciate the days I’m not down. (The way you don’t appreciate not having a toothache until after you’ve had a toothache and it goes away.)

    I went to my first mindfulness retreat when I was 20. It was with Thich Nhat Hanh up in the mountains of Massachusetts. TNH was “inspiring” without meaning to be. He had a quiet way about him and his goodness shone through each time he half-smiled. His words, deeds and books over the years have taught me that it’s not about faking to get by, it’s about half-smiling at the world all the time. In other words, be _prepared_ to be happy. And when you touch happiness, be prepared to share it with others.

    Oh, there is suffering. There is Mumbai today, there will be another country next week. I’m not oblivious to the suffering in others. At times I’m hyper-aware of it and choose to cultivate the good I see in others, while recognizing the “seeds” of ill-will reside within me as they do in you. I get angry, I am mean sometimes. If I chose to focus on that anger and meanness it will multiply. Sarcasm, to me, is meanness draped in a sheer veil.

    I’m not deranged happy, but realize that what I put out is what I get back. The same is true for you and for all the commenters visiting this blog today. We cultivate happiness, we become happiness. We become happiness, we help others on their journey to become happy.

    There are other ways to go through life and this is the way I’ve chosen to live it.

    May you find what makes you happy and take joy in it, share it.

    – @gwenbell

    A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.
    -John Barrymore

  23. Jozet at Halushki

    BTW, I don’t think of you as sarcastic. Maybe sardonic. I think you poke fun of yourself or the world at large on some trip toward universal self-awareness – or forced elf-awareness – and that’s a good thing, if you’re asking me.

    You were asking me, weren’t you?

  24. Neil

    Thanks, Gwen. I think I might be getting inspired already.

    Jozet – I am always asking you.

  25. Wendy

    @Patricia- I never meant to imply that your (or any of the writers mentioned) gratitude or happiness is fake. However, there are some posts by some people that I’ve read that seem forced. As if there’s a lot more going on in their lives that they *need* to get out, but are instead forcing themselves to write something happy.

    Again, I’m not talking about you or the other writers Neil quoted.

    I choose to be happy and I am happy. I just don’t seem to write happy.

  26. Christine

    Well, as a female who was raised Catholic, I will tell you that I vacillate between cringing with embarrassment and wallowing in envy when I read a “gratitude” post such as these.

    I also consider myself a pretty happy person, and I have really been fighting my tendency towards seeing the glass as half full. I don’t know why that is, and frankly I wish it weren’t so, but there you go. I think it is somehow related to my issues with organized religion.

    One thing I noticed is that two of the posts that you quoted mentioned that they would die happy. *shudder* Several years ago a couple of friends of mine were skiing…the weather was perfect, the snow ideal, it couldn’t get any better. One of my friends turned to the other and said, “This has been the best day. If I died today, I’d die happy.”

    A few hours later he was dead of a bizarre, unknown heart condition. He was in his late 20’s.

    So there’s that aspect of my reaction as well…I know it’s illogical, but a part of me doesn’t want to tempt fate. Which makes no sense and flies in the face of what I see sometimes propels voicing gratitude…put good stuff out there, draw it back to you.

    So how’s that for messed up? I roll my eyes at (and am envious of) the positive being put out there, but get the heebie-jeebies when “fate is tempted.”

    Right now I’m rolling my eyes at myself.

  27. Gwen Bell

    Christine, I wouldn’t call referencing death “tempting fate” I’d call it “getting comfortable with uncertainty” – and, for lack of a more squishy term – reality.

  28. Lucy

    Not everyone needs magical thinking. Some of us need mystical hats, potions and blessed Spanx.

  29. better safe than sorry

    i find this very sad. happiness/joy is a choice, sometimes a difficult choice, but still, a choice. that you think of it as a concept you don’t understand, i don’t get that? i think what would make you happy would be to be with your beloved sophia, but on your terms, not hers, which would make her into a person she’s not, so would you still be happy with her? this post and these comments, it just breaks my heart that someone is struggling so much.

  30. churlita

    My mom died at the age I am now. I think growing up, thinking I could die young like my mom, has made me appreciate and love my life while I have it. I never feel guilty about having fun. I’m also such a dork, I don’t feel weird about being grateful, out loud, in front of god and everybody. I’m sure plenty of people find that very annoying about me.

  31. sarah g

    wow. firstly as a catholic, I tend to see things as ‘half full”. Always. I dont believe that denomination is a factor; but I do think faith helps. To believe in something ‘unseen’ or rather, to see what others dont; can help to see the silver linings in the dark clouds.

    I wrote a post once, about how I can see the angels painting the silver linings on the storm clouds. You remarked then about it.

    My grandfather told me many times, we have the choice of how we will feel that day. we are the only ones allowed to make that decision for us. He chose to be splendid. Regardless of what the day dealt. You play the cards you have; its your choice to play or to bail.

    By focusing on the light, the good and the blessing. Every single day, has a blessing. Find one a day, and soon you wont be able to help but see them.

    So, may your day be full of unicorns and rainbows, skittles and moonbeams and whatever happy silver linings you need!

    As for inspiration; inspire yourself.

  32. mommyknows

    Wow! A blogger after my own heart. I think I am positive too, but I am NOT sweet. Filling a post with sweetness and blessings really isn’t in me. I’m nicer on my blog than I am in real life too. I don’t think people would come back if I wasn’t.

  33. Christine

    Thanks, Gwen. That’s the kind of reality check I need when I start letting that magical thinking (especially now that I’ve quit Zoloft) creep in.

    You know what’s weird (well, to me)…when I wrote, “I have really been fighting my tendency towards seeing the glass as half full.” I meant half empty. I’m a happy pessimist at heart, and I want to be a happy optimist.

  34. Astrogirl

    My response to this post is too long to put in a comment, but if you’re on IM later I’ll tell you.

    I’ll say this – the day you are able to cast off your doubts and over-thinking, and just do, and be, and live, is the day that we are all going to be absolutely blown away. I know that day will come.

  35. Kyran

    I *thought* I felt a tug on my pigtails 🙂 Hi, Neil!

    I’ve often wondered if blogging is slanted toward the negative side of life. Traffic and comments spike when bloggers are in a bad place, and while sometimes that’s an honest offshoot of human empathy, there is also a baser, come-and-look-at-the-train-wreck aspect to it that dismays me.

    But if you think of blogging as an emerging genre of literature, which I do, it only makes sense that it becomes a bit dull when there is no drama or conflict.

    It’s nice to be in a good place at the moment, especially after a hard year. If blogging about it triggers yawns or eye-rolling, well, there is plenty of drama and wreckage elsewhere.

    How funny would it be to just put up a shop closed sign on the blog, saying, “sorry, all out of pain, check back later”? 😉

    Thanks for the interesting thoughts and the great compliment!


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