Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: April 2011

Deleting Posts

I have an idea that I think will re-energize personal blogging for many of us, but could also be controversial with the traditionalists, because the idea goes against the established rules. The concept is called “deleting posts.”

Here is what I visualize. Each of our blogs will consist of two very different types of posts. One is for the public record, linked on Google for all eternity. The other will be published, and then, because of the lesser content, deleted three days, disappearing into the fog.

The idea came to me while watching the royal wedding. It was a beautiful ceremony, but like many weddings, it seemed more emotionally satisfying to the onlookers than the marrying couple. The entire ceremony was precisely planned. Even the famous “kiss” was scheduled in at a specific minute. I don’t find that sexy. I find that a timed sporting event.

As blogging becomes more about ceremony, presenting ourselves as writers and businessmen for our “followers,” our writing becomes planned. We wear our military uniforms and our designer gowns in order to establish our reputations. We are told to write well, because it is our writing that represents us. It has taken me a long time to accept this philosophy. But it makes sense. We are judging each other on our words, not our character. We are writers. You don’t know whether I kick small dogs as a fun hobby. And if I did, I certainly wouldn’t tell you about it on the page, so it doesn’t exist.

The royal wedding was beautiful. The couple was happy. Or at least that is what we saw on TV. It was part of the script.

I want you to like me. I want you to see me as a future King in military uniform. But I don’t want to kiss on schedule. My favorite posts are where I write about feeling lonely or sad or that I got a boner while waiting in line at the bank, stuff that will never enhance my reputation as a writer or as a role model for today’s children. But I’m not sure that, in this current blogging environment, I want that shit on my blog forever, especially now that I’m dealing with trolls and judgemental readers coming out of the woodwork. I’d to share some nonsense, because this is first and foremost, my space, not yours, and then ERASE it from view. Is that so wrong?

I know a few of you will think this is a pussy approach to blogging. And that we should “own our words.” But is owning our words worth it if we have to turn our blog into a dull royal wedding, or use a fake name, hiding behind anonymity? Better to sometimes do a mob killing of an incriminating post, and then dump it into the East River. That’s how we do it in Queens.

I might delete this in three days. Or I might not.

Fighting Procrastination with “The 100 Method”

There are chores that give me anxiety.   Some that give me the most trouble are quite simple on the surface, like making a phone call or renewing a gym membership.   But indecision creeps in and I end up procrastinating, finding actions that help me avoid doing my To Do list.  I probably should go into therapy for help with this, but this week I needed a quick fix to help me get over a few hurdles.   After giving the matter some thought, I pieced together a technique of my own creation that worked fairly well.  The technique combines a bit of meditation and the old method of “counting to ten,” except in my idea, I count to 100.

In order to explain it better, let me use an real example of a stressful situation —

I need to write an email to a producer in LA. It is freaking me out. I am insecure. My internal “selves” are fighting with each other over the content of the email.  One self says the email is too wimpy; another that it reads too arrogant. The nasty self, a perennial bully, calls me a loser and announces the situation as hopeless. My head is spinning and I am hyperventilating from thinking too much about all of the options available to me.  There are too many voices and too many choices.

What do I do in this situation?   Well, I might go onto Twitter, for one.   I can chat with friendly women with smiling avatars.  This will help me relax.    Soon, I will forget all about the email until it is too late to send it, and I will make the executive decision of putting it off until tomorrow.

Now, let’s see an example of  Neilochka’s “100 Method” in action, helping me to stay on task:

First, I need to acknowledge to myself that I’m a cool guy with the minor problem of having a screwed up mind.  That is why I want to procrastinate.  My brain is fighting with me because I am neurotic, and this is painful, which causes me to avoid whatever task is at hand.

Since I have accepted myself as a cool, but screwed up, I choose to be nice to myself. Rather than berating myself, I will give myself the gift of procrastination.

But I will control it with a time limit of 100 counts.

So, I give myself permission to lie down on the bed or sit at my chair with my eyes closed and start counting to 100 in my head.   The numbers are my internal mantra, so by the count of “25,” I have forgotten everything about my inner turmoil concerning the task.   The voices have been silenced.  My only focus is on the counting, like Zen meditation.

By number “50” I start thinking about my task again.  Clearly, I’m not very good at meditation.  But I know that already.  And I accept that.   But I feel the anxiety already returning.  What should I do?

“Relax,” I tell myself.  “You’re only at number “50.” There is plenty of time left to relax and procrastinate. Why worry when you are only half way there?”

This works surprisingly well,  until I hit number “75.”   Now, at 3/4 in, I am smart enough to know that my procrastination window is quickly getting closed shut.   My brain reverts to that of an eight year old bratty child.  I start crying, yelling and pounding the table, all in my head of course.  I will do anything to keep my procrastination from ending.

But throughout this all, I continue counting.  “76.”  “77.”

I become Machivellian in my methods, dragging each syllable out, so the word “Seventy-seven” takes up to fives seconds in my head. I realize that I am cheating myself, but who’s going to know, other than myself?

By number “85” in the count, there is an all-out war raging in my brain, with tanks and hand grenades and atomic bombs.  This is very different than the genteel neurotic indecision from earlier, where multiple selves debated in a civilized court.  This is a knock-em, sock-em primal battle between two opposing forces.   The choices are clear as good and evil —

1)   Do I keep my promise of doing the task now that my procrastination time is over, like an honorable man —

2) — or do I blow it off like a lazy sloth?

By number “90,” this tough question stares at me, waiting for a reply.  I can see nothing else but black and white, no shades of gray, no typical insecurities; the choices are “keep your own promise” or “be an asshole.”

By number “95” I realize that I have set myself up in a trap of my own making.  I know that even if I was so devious to extend the count from 100 to 200 or even 1000,  at a certain point, the bell will ring.

The Bell Always Rings.  It is the fate of humanity.

By number “98” I am a man who has seen his own mortality.  I live in a finite world and I must conquer it, despite my fears.

At number “99” I say goodbye to all of my procrastinating on this particular task, and as number “100” forms on my tongue and my eyes open, I can hear a marching band in my playing a personal fight song in my brain, inspiring me to act… and to act now.

“Now Get Up And Do That Task, You Motherf*cker!” the band plays hard, the trumpets blaring, the drums a-knocking, as I sit down to do the task.

Until the next task.

Dinner in D.C.

“I’m visiting Maryland next week” I emailed Laurie eight days before my trip. “You want to get together on Friday?”

“Sure. You want me to round up everyone who lives in the area?”

“Nah.”

I said “nah,” not because I didn’t want to see other people, but because I didn’t want to put Laurie out or appear rude to her, as if I was contacting her to be my social director.

But Laurie was insistent on inviting Sarah.

“She’d like to see you.”

“Sure!  I love Sarah!”

Later that afternoon, it was Sarah who contacted me, this time on Facebook.

“I just want to make sure that it is OK that I come see you too. I don’t want to be a party crasher.”

“Of course. I always like to see you.”

“I just heard that you didn’t want to tell other people that you were in town.”

“That’s not true.  “Please come!”

My message to Laurie was getting lost in translation.   I was being perceived as a snooty anti-social scrooge who hates humanity.

“And can I bring my husband too?” asked Sarah.

“Yes!”

“I won’t tell anyone else about it.”

“No, go ahead. Tell anyone you want!”

My trip was already beginning to freak me out.

I emailed Kris and told her that I was coming to town.   While on the bus to Maryland, I noticed Heather was on Gtalk.

“Where do you live now? Do you live in Washington?”

“Yeah. Why?”

I told her about our get-together.

“Why didn’t anyone tell me about this?” Heather wrote. I could sense her steaming on the other side.

“I forgot that you lived in Washington!”

“And why didn’t Laurie tell me?”

“I think I gave her the impression that I didn’t want her to tell anyone else.”

“So, are you saying that you DON’T want me there?”

“No. No. That’s not it at all.”

I quickly resolved the matter with Heather. I clicked onto Facebook to count how many other people I knew in the Washington D.C./Maryland area who I didn’t tell about my arrival in town, as if it was the second coming of Christ. I certainly couldn’t contact them NOW, only a few hours before the meet-up, because it would look like a last minute invitation, as if someone more important has cancelled and I was pulling out my “B-list.”

But this wasn’t a public meet-up!  I was just hoping to have a cup of coffee with Laurie after I arrived in town. Now I was in the middle of an event that would be TWEETED for all to see. Devra and Amie and John and Amy and twenty other online people from Twitter and Facebook who lived in the immediate area were going to wonder why I didn’t invite them to this amazing shindig.

“But no one cares, right?” I asked myself.  “How many times had there been blogger dinners in LA or NY where I haven’t been invited? Did I sit home and cry? (Don’t answer that)”

Anyway, the final group was small: Neil, Laurie, Kris, Sarah, her husband, Gabe, and Heather. The plan was to meet at Jaleo, a popular tapas bar in D.C. The restaurant didn’t take reservations, so whoever got there first, would make reservations for six.

I was the first to arrive, at 7PM.   The restaurant was already jammed. The bar area was overflowing with young single Washingtonians.

“I’d like to make a reservation,” I said.

I was told that we couldn’t get a table until 10:30PM, three and a half hours away!

I texted the others and said that we would have to make other plans.

The others arrived. There was much hugging.  I was ecstatic to meet the amazing Kris, who I have never met in person.   As I talked with her, Sarah went into the restaurant. When she returned, she told us that it would only be fifteen minutes until we would get seated.

I was dumbfounded. Why did we get such a drastically different answer? Was it because I looked a little ragged and unshaven from my long day?  Or was it because Sarah looked polished and upscale, someone who fit in with the restaurant’s demographic?

My thoughts quickly faded as I sat down with the others for an enjoyable meal, filled with great conversation and too much sangria. It was the perfect way to start my week long Maryland vacation, amongst friends (even thought I felt bad for Gabe, Sarah’s husband who was stuck there listening to bloggers gossip for several hours.  Luckily there was a lot of sangria for him to drink and ease his pain.)

Later in the week, I would recall that experience making the restaurant reservation.   While there is a good chance that Sarah got the table simply because one opened up, I also imagined the reason involving other issues such as class, gender, identity, pigeonholing, profiling, and our need to categorize each other (branding!), something that would be discussed over and over at the Theory of the Web conference at the University of Maryland. I would talk about this would Bon after the conference. I would also confront it — head on — particularly my own racial biases — as I switched buses several days later in Baltimore, home of some of the worst burnt-out, crime-ridden areas that I have ever seen.

More later.

The Planning of Maryland

Is there any cliche more annoying than “Life happens when you are making other plans?  I hate this expression for the obvious reason —  because it speaks the truth.

My father planned family vacations three years ahead of time.  No joke.  I have tried desperately to rid myself of this ignoble inheritance.  But it is stuck in my brain like the writing on my father’s calendars hanging over his desk.

I recently took a trip to Maryland to visit some friends.  I spent a week planning it out beforehand, like my father might have done, mapping it out as precisely as the storming of Normandy, or more accurately, a housewife on that Extreme Couponing show looking to buy $2000 worth of pasta and Ivory Soap for $1.59.  I wanted to go as inexpensively as possible, another trait I inherited from my father; I splurge on others more than myself.

Using my advanced Google research skills, honed from years of looking up my own name on search engines, I accumulated the data that I needed and created the ultimate cheapskate’s road trip from New York to Maryland.

I would take the Bolt Bus from NYC, a bus line familiar more to college students than myself.  I could go round-trip to the Washington D.C. area for a mere $30 round trip.  While not the most glamorous methods of travel, seeing that it picked up passengers in New York a block away from Penn Station, in between a Sbarro pizza restaurant and a XXX Peep Store, it was only $30!

Next, I needed a nice hotel for two nights in the D.C./College Park, Maryland area.  I found it in Greenbelt, Maryland, via Priceline bidding, for $50 a night.   After those two nights, I would head east towards the coast and stay with my friend Jennifer, which would cost me nothing.

My best deal connected with my trip was for the rental car.  I discovered a weekend deal with a Maryland Enterprise Rental Car for only $9.99 a night!  Woo-hoo.  My father would have been proud.

The Bolt bus was surprising comfortable.  I leaned back in my chair, proud of my perfect planning.  I thought about applying for a job with Arthur Frommer Travel Guides as a consultant.  I am a traveling God.

“Smooth sailing,” I said to the college dude sitting next to me in his Columbia University hoodie.  “I went to Columbia, too, you know!” I added.

He didn’t seem to care.  He was listening to music on his iPhone.  But I didn’t mind his rudeness.  I was in a good mood because of my perfect travel plans.  I just wouldn’t donate to the alumni fund this year.

After two hours of traveling, we stopped in Wilmington, Delaware at a food court.  I knew about this, as any seasoned travel expert would, from reading the Bolt Bus Forum online ahead of time.

The bus driver bellowed into his microphone, “If you need to use the restroom, go fast, because I’m leaving in ten minutes, with you or without you.”

On the Bolt bus forum, there were several stories of passengers left behind in the food court in Wilmington, Delaware.

But I was relaxed, even as I strolled into the food court to stretch my legs.  Our affable bus driver, a middle-aged African-American with a deep voice like Isaac Hayes, would never leave anyone at the food court.  He was just too nice of a guy.   I had read on the Bolt Bus Forum that the company had improved their hiring process ever since one of their passengers had videotaped a driver nodding off at the wheel, and promptly posted it on YouTube.   Yay, social media!   Our bus driver rocked!

Here is a photo I took in the food court and posted on Twitter,  providing proof to the world, that yes, I have now peed in Delaware!  Add it to my list.

After arriving in Maryland, exactly on schedule, as I expected, I called Enterprise Rental Car to pick me up at the station, just like I had pre-arranged with the office.  Within ten minutes, an SUV appeared in the terminal pick-up area, driven by a young Enterprise employee wearing a snazzy green tie.

The rental office was a few minutes away.  As he drove, we discussed Washington politics.  He knew way more insider gossip than I did.  I wondered if everyone in the DC area followed the latest federal government news, much like every supermarket checkout girl in Los Angeles knew the latest Hollywood box-office numbers.

“Let’s get you in and out,” he said as we stepped into the office, which was located behind a Cadillac dealership.  “By the way, we have a few extra Cadillacs available to rent.  If you want, I’ll give you one for the same price that you have now.”

$9.99 a day for a Cadillac?

“No, thank you,” I said.  “It will be easier for me to park a smaller car.”

He seemed surprised by my refusal, even a little disappointed, but he shrugged it off.

My reason for not wanting the car was a white lie.  I didn’t want the Cadillac because I had already ordered a compact car, not a Cadillac.  The compact car was pre-ordained, like the visions of Nostradamus.   Everything was proceeding on schedule, and I worried that one slight change in the stacking of the dominos could cause them all to collapse.  Since I ordered a compact car online, it would BE a compact car.  There would be no dreaming big when I have a plan.

“Whatever you want,” he said, stepping behind his computer system.  “I’m here to make your experience with Enterprise a superior one.”

I made a note to myself to commend this employee, even filling out one of those “How Did We Do?” cards before I left, giving him a “helpful” score of “10.”

I handed him my California Driver’s License and my Mastercard, even before he had the chance to ask me for them.  I knew the rules.  And I was on a schedule.   Soon, I would be relaxing in my non-smoking with a King bed and free wi-fi hotel room, taking a breather before I headed out to a tapas bar in D.C. to meet some friends.

“There’s a little problem,” said the Enterprise guy, as he handed me back my driver’s license.

My California driver’s license had expired on my birthday, a month ago.  My new card was apparently 3000 miles away, on Sophia’s kitchen table in Los Angeles.  I called her and she wasn’t home.   Enterprise wouldn’t allow me to rent me a car.

I didn’t know how to get to my hotel from the rental car office.  Or into Washington D.C. for dinner that night.  Or to the University of Maryland for a web conference the next day.  I also knew that Jennifer was busy cleaning her house on the Maryland shore, awaiting my arrival in two days.   My perfect plan was crumbling like stale coffee cake.

Is there any cliche more annoying than “Life happens when you are making other plans?  Yes! It is annoying.

But we have no choice but to accept this as reality.

After all, when we later sit down and tell our stories, it is never the planning that holds any interest to the listener.  It is the life that seeps into the cracks.  That is the story.   My Maryland trip ultimately became more interesting and fulfilling without a car as I scrambled from one location to the next, like a contestant on “The Amazing Race,” jumping from buses to taxis to shuttles to trains to subways to boats.  It was only when I was rushing to catch a connection, frantically reaching it within seconds, that my heart would race and my mind would spin like a top, and I would understand, finally, in some metaphysical way, what absolutely unbridled passion must feel like when making love to a woman with complete abandon, not knowing where or why or when.

The whole week in Maryland was a gift to me.  It became a lesson that I had never received from my dear father, as wonderful a man as he was, because he was so rooted in the planning the journey rather than the embracing it.

Life has very little to do with the plans.

Blog Held Hostage: Third Update

1) I have set up a date for when I am traveling to Los Angeles, and moving my stuff from Sophia’s place.

2)  Sat across from an available woman, for at least an hour in real life, and flirted with her.

3) Decided in which city I’m going to live.

4) Made a decision on my next writing project.

5) Exercised for at least three days in a row.

Next Stop, Maryland

If you remember, in the beginning of March, I took at bus trip to the Berkshires to visit Jenn.  The bus trip was like therapy, pushing me to change.  It was the open road — the moving landscape, the assortment of characters sitting across from me.  Who are they? Why are they taking the bus?  What is their story?  Are they in transition?  Divorced?  On the run?  Starting a new life in another state?  Is everyone in America escaping from someone or running toward something?

But I needed more.  I wanted new insights into life.  And there is even one journey better than a bus trip to Massachusetts.  A bus trip to Maryland.

Bloggers I’ve known for years.  Cyborgology conferences.  A long-time online friend that I have never met.

Blue Crabs.

Baltimore Whores.

Let’s Remake Arthur Again

If I know my movie-buff friend, Danny, he has already complained about the remake of the perfectly fine 1981 comedy, Arthur, one of the most popular films from that decade.  The story, about a happy drunk who stands to lose a wealthy inheritance when he falls for the wrong woman, originally starred Dudley Moore, Liza Minelli, and John Gielgud.

The 2011 remake of Arthur stars Russell Brand, Jennifer Garner, and Helen Mirren.  I know it’s crazy, but it’s true.

Danny is what film critics call a “purist.”  He clearly doesn’t understand that time moves on, and the original Arthur is now 30 years old!  I’m sure his own teenage daughter is as unfamiliar with the late Dudley Moore as he is with forgotten silent film star Francis Lederer.  A new generation deserves a new Arthur.

And what is so wrong with Hollywood remaking Arthur 1981 into Arthur 2011?  Would we want Hamlet to only be performed once at Stratford-upon-Avon during the time of Shakespeare, never to be appreciated again by future generations?  There have been countless interpretations of Hamlet.  Just look at this list of well-known actors who have played Hamlet through the years —

Mel Gibson, David Tennant, Richard Burton, Kenneth Branagh, Sir Laurence Olivier, Richard Burbage, Thomas Betterton, Lewis Hallam. Jr., Edwin Booth (John Wilkes Booth’s brother), Asta Nielsen, Ethan Hawke, Kevin Kline, Sir Henry Irving, John Philip Kemble, Sir Ian McKellen, Edmund Kean, Sir John Gielgud, Sarah Bernhardt, Sir Derek Jacobi, Johnston Forbes-Robertson, Campbell Scott, William Charles Macready, Richard Chamberlain, Christopher Plummer, Nicol Williamson, John Barrymore, David Garrick

Russell Brand is not re-doing Arthur.  He is recreating the brilliant character developed by the Oscar-nominated writer/director Steve Gordon, who sadly passed away immediately after the release of the film.

Why should Hollywood waste time and energy searching for new ideas, when it can stick with the classics, such as Arthur?

In fact, Hollywood shouldn’t just stop with a Dudley Moore “Arthur” and a Russell Brand “Arthur.”  There should be a black “Arthur.”  An Asian “Arthur.”  An “Arthur” all in Spanish.  A “gay” Arthur.  An “Arthur” where the roles are reversed and Arthur is a woman.  A transexual “Arthur.”  A Pixar animated “Arthur” — in 3D Imax — where “Arthur” is a irresponsible racoon who is a glutton with his acorns rather than am alcoholic, in order to keep it G-rated.  I think there should be a new big budget “Arthur” produced EVERY 30 years.  Ten year old Raymond Ochoa of the children’s TV show “Drake and Josh” will be perfect in thirty years time as the womanizing drunk in the new new Arthur, released in 2041.

Hopefully, in thirty years, science will have perfected a time machine, so Hollywood studios, still hoping to recreate the success of the first “Arthur,” will go back in time to 1951, creating an “Arthur” appropriate for that era, starring Orson Welles, Deborah Kerr, and Spencer Tracy.

Why should Hollywood executives be caught between the moon and New York City every time they need to produce a movie?  I applaud the creativity of Hollywood, with their unique ability to be Green and recycle ideas as easily as Ed Begley Jr. does with his paper towels.  In the next few years, I hope to see “Arthur” remade as many times as humanly possible!

My Media Diet: What I Read

One of my guilty pleasures on the web is The Atlantic Magazine’s online “Media Diet.” This is not the typical online venue where someone goes to”goof off.”  There are no songs about “Friday” here.   The column views itself as a respectable destination to help others overcome the information overload of modern times., with responses from such media heavy-hitters ranging such as Joseph Epstein and Peggy Noonan.

How do other people deal with the torrent of information that pours down on us all? Do they have some secret? Perhaps. We are asking various people who seem well-informed to describe their media diets.

This is the stated mission of the column, but I’m sure most readers come to see what media bigwigs do online, so they can flagellate themselves for being losers laughing at LOL Cats rather than reading the latest update from the New York Review of Books.

If a tech-savvy statistician created a graph analyzing the data from this site, he would conclude that what separates a media industry success story from the common man is his better daily reading list.

Is it my imagination, but does everyone who contributes to this “Media Diet” column only read the other contributors?  I’m sad to announce this, but I did not see one mention from any of these columnists about them reading a personal blogger!  Although it makes me sad that the editors of Mother Jones and Vanity Fair are not regular readers of Citizen of the Month, I understand that these are busy people.  They look for information that matters to them, which doesn’t include caring about my mother returning from Boca Raton.

But don’t any of these media bigwigs HAVE a mother, or at least family members or online friends who don’t work in the media?  Doesn’t the editor of Harper’s Magazine ever receive corny email jokes from his Aunt Mildred about “this rabbi from Cleveland who was having an affair with his secretary?”  These are part of my media diet.  Unfortunately.   And as much as I find these emails annoying, I might even respond to one.  “That cracked me up, Aunt Mildred!  I love being on your “joke list” so much, please unsubscribe me from this email account and send it to my main, more important “hotmail account” instead, spam_crap@hotmail.com!  Love you.”

Does David Brooks of the New York Times consume anything other than “the Weekly Standard, The New Republic, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The Claremont Review, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, and National Affairs?”

For another example, here is a section of Media Diet:  What I Read by Emily Yoffe, a Slate contributor who writes their “Human Guinea Pig” and “Dear Prudence” features.  She is a writer I really like.

I look at Real Clear Politics, Politico, The Atlantic (Goldblog first), Politics Daily, Romenesko. I mostly see stuff on The Daily Beast or Huffington Post because someone sent it to me. The columnists I always read are Ruth Marcus, Bret Stephens, David Brooks, Charles Krauthammer, Mark Steyn, Michael Kinsley. (I owe my career to Mike – although please don’t pin the blame on him.) I appreciate the reporting and analysis of Claudia Rosett at Pajamas Media, and Anne Bayefsky at National Review Online.

Should I feel ashamed of my own media diet — which consists of mommybloggers, Facebook updates from overly depressed writers, vicious Twitter fights over whether or not “raisins are disgusting,” and blogs about women accidentally coloring their pubic hair to the color blue?

Are we what we eat, both in what we put into our mouths AND into our minds?

Have you seen the commercial for Pediasure “Sidekicks” for children?  Two soccer moms are watching their daughters playing in a soccer game.  One of the daughters drinks Pediasure before the game.  You know this because she is the superstar scoring goal after goal.  The other girls, who don’t drink Pediasure, are sluggish and poor athletes.  They are “what they eat.”  You know this because the advertisers portray these girls as mutant children shaped like French Fries and frosted donuts.

You ARE what you eat.  At least in our consumer society where the aim is to make you insecure about who you are, and what you read (or the music you listen to).

The Atlantic Magazine Media Diet column has made me think about my own daily online diet.  I’m not being judgmental about myself (OK, I am a little), but analyzing myself, and maybe prompting myself to adjust how I spend my time online.   Currently, I am trying to write more AND read more books, giving me less time to read YOU.  And I like YOU.  I really do.   But you don’t pay the bills.

So, how do I juggle all of this?  Does it really matter who I read?   During my years online, my struggles with knowing what to do with YOU has bothered me more than how you felt about ME.  Am I talking about “branding” again?  Perhaps the editors of The Economist also read the personal blogs of their friends, but just don’t say so publicly, wanting to keep a professional image?  Perhaps they are on LOL Cats every day and then fake a list for the Atlantic?!  Does anyone judge me on what I read, or am I judging myself?

The following is my current “media diet.”  It is a typical online day in April 2011.  I tried to be honest about my day.   Believe me, I am the first to notice that I spend too time online, and not always in the most productive way.

Feel free to write about your “media diet” on your own blog.  I bet it will be eye-opening.

Media Diet
by Neil Kramer
writer of the blog Citizen of the Month

Once upon a time, the first thing I did upon waking up, was to drag myself to the bathroom, eyes still half sleepily shut, and pee, frequently missing the bowl itself.

Those days are long gone, almost quaint in my mind.

Today, the first action of the day is to grab my iphone, which is usually sitting on the pillow next to me, like a loyal lover, or a eager pet puppy, and going online.

The mornings before breakfast, are all about ME.  I check my email.  I go to my blog to see if I received any more comments, and delete the spam uncaught by Akismet.  I go on Facebook to see if there were any responses to my updates or comments. And lastly, I go on Twitter, to see if I got any mentions or DMs.

My only focus on the outside world is that I wish happy birthday to my friends on Facebook!  It is almost a habit.

I don’t check the news before breakfast, so if World War III had started, I would be unaware of it.  I might make a joke on Facebook to a blogger in St. Louis while I was still in bed, not even realizing that St. Louis had been destroyed the evening before.

It is not until breakfast that I focus on the “real world.”  I juice up my laptop and turn to Google News.  I find this site ugly in design, but it is still the best place to get a quick glance of what is going on in the world.

I used to be a news junkie, but blogging has changed me.  I now feel — and I say this in all seriousness — that I learn more about the human condition and life from reading personal blogs.  This might change soon, as my life — and the blogging world — changes.

Breakfast is over.  It is now the “work day.”  I struggle with an internet habit.  I have not been shy about mentioning this on my blog.  I am tempted to stay online, particularly on Twitter, and I succumb often.  I have tried many different methods to battle this, from using alarms to pulling the plug out of the router.  The best thing for my work is to avoid Twitter during the day.  Or set an alarm which promptly sends electrical jolts to my testicles if I don’t get offline immediately.

I follow over 3000 people on Twitter.  One solution that works well for me in cutting out some of the chaos is the use of Twitter lists.  I have two lists, ALWAYS READ and SOMETIMES READ.  I try to keep the ALWAYS READ column very short, 150 people, the number associated with Dunbar’s Number.

If I do go on Twitter during the morning, it is usually to scan the ALWAYS READ column, those who I consider closest in friendship.  I also respond to those who send messages to me.  Sometimes.

The morning is all Twitter, which is dangerous to my work.  At some point, I finally get offline to do something constructive.  Like I said, I am working on this.

It is not until lunchtime that I read any blog posts.  My days of reading hundreds of blogs a day are long gone.  I can’t handle it.   I usually go onto my Google Reader (or Feedly, which I love), where I have another ALWAYS READ column.  As a creature of habit, this column also contains Dunbar’s number of 150.  I rarely get through more than five blog posts during lunch, particularly if they are emotional or well-written. After you read something that touches you or makes you laugh, who wants to skip to another piece?  I like to let the writing sit with me as I eat my turkey sandwich.

Who do I read every day?  It’s not a big secret, although I feel uncomfortable posting it on a blogroll.  It is mostly a collection of people I have connected with throughout the years for one reason or another.  Danny and Schmutzie and V-grrrl and Tanis and Jane, and others who you see me talking about more than others.  Relationships change and sometimes I stop reading one of these people for a month or so.   You can grow apart.  You can get too close.  It’s all rather personal to me.

I catch up on most of my blog reading at night or on weekends.  In complete honesty, there are about ten of you who I read every single post you write, fifty of you who I read once a week, and others who I catch when I can, usually following a link from Twitter or Facebook.

During the afternoons, I find it much easier to concentrate on my work.  Although there are countless examples of me doing the opposite, I try not to go on Twitter.  If I do take a break during the afternoon, I tend to reach for Facebook.  I am not a Facebook addict, so I find it safer.  Some of my closest online friends are on Facebook rather than Twitter.  Twitter attracts the loud mouths and those who like to be the center of attention.  Twitter is like the cafeteria at NBC in Rockefeller Center, where clever people like to show off to each other.  Facebook is taking a trip to small-town USA, where people know everything about you.  I find Twitter relaxing.  I know that this isn’t the typical view, but this is how I perceive things, based on who I follow.  I look at your funny photos and learn about your new jobs and child’s birthday party.  I’ve accepted commerce and pimping as an essential part of Twitter.  I do not ALLOW it on my Facebook stream.

Each day, around 6PM – 7:30PM, a synapse clicks in my brain telling me that it is “serious news time.”  This probably has something to do with me being born before CNN, when the nightly news was an important TV event.  When I was a child, one of my daily joys was watching the local daily news with my father.  My family was a CBS news family, formed during the era of Walter Cronkite.  It is around this time that I indulge in my serious online time.  I have four major news/opinion sources in my Google Reader:  The New York Times, Slate, Salon, and the Atlantic.  If I am not in the mood to read at the moment, I use Read it Later to bookmark the article.

At night, if I am not going out, the internet has replaced television as my main source of “entertainment.”  If I am not writing my own blog post, I usually return to my blog reading.  I use Commentluv on my blogposts, so I can see the titles of the posts of those who recently commented.  I like to go through YOUR posts, one by one, curious what you are saying, or learning about the newcomers to my blog.  I don’t always comment back, but it is a ritual I enjoy.

After 8PM, I have no specific online routine.   I like to talk to people on IM, especially Juli, Jennifer, Marinka, or Schmutzie.   We sometimes gossip about some online drama of the day.  I then go back to Google Reader to continue with my ALWAYS READ group of 150.   I often return to Twitter until I get burned out or start ranting about some issue.   I’m sometimes online, reading Lifehacker, which gives me a geek thrill, or screenwriting blogs such as that of John August, until I fall asleep, which is why my phone is sitting on my pillow the next morning, where I start all over again.

I have no problem with my early morning Twitter/Facebook/blog rituals, my lunch-time blog reading, or my dinner-time news update.  It is the rest of the day that I would like to change.   I want to eliminate a good deal of my time wasting during the work day.  I would like to drastically reduce my nighttime online life so I can read more books, or socialize.  I’m sure these are issues that all of you deal with on a daily basis, including those media bigshots who write these “Media Diet” columns for the Atlantic.  People are people.

Would I be a better person if I consumed more of the quality media diet that these well-known media personalities do?  I doubt it.  It might help me career wise, but is knowing who got fired at Conde Nast today really more important than which personal blogger bought a new house?  The one big difference that is essential to remember is that those who contribute to the Atlantic “Media Diet” column never let their media consumption take over their lives.   They use it to enhance their own product.  They are producers before being consumers.  They do not read personal blogs or acknowledge Aunt Mildred’s joke emails because it is not related to their work.

Or else they just don’t talk about it online.

The Master Advice-Giver

This might surprise you, but others come to me seeking advice on life issues, and I am known to be “brilliant” in helping people make decisions.  That is odd, isn’t it?  It makes me wonder about the personal lives of those who write advice columns.  Or even more so, therapists.

It is so much easier to fix the problems of others. The fixer is dispassionate, and approaches the issues with common sense, like a Mr. Spock.   He is not fighting with himself.

Probably my greatest skill as advice-giver is that I don’t belittle your indecisiveness. I might laugh at you, but it is one of recognition, like the klutz guffawing at the clumsy person tripping over his own shoelaces.  I am fully aware that you will listen to whatever I say with confidence, nod you head, then immediately do something different.  It is the absurdity of this fucked up cat and mouse game that makes me laugh.   It is so human.    You will eventually get it.   Or die trying.

If you ever need advice, come to me.  I’m a master advice-giver.  Which should tell you a lot about my own personal life.

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