Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: November 2011

Announcing the Sixth Annual Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert!

It is Thanksgiving time, and you know what that means.   Santa arrives at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.   Boxes of ornaments appear from dusty basements. Even the 99% and the 1% put aside their differences, form a circle around the tree, and drink egg nog.

Yes, it is that time of the year again — the announcement of the Sixth Annual Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert!

The online concert this year will take place on December 18, 2011, right here.   Isn’t this the year when we finally hear YOU SING?!   Sign up in the comments today.

Concert FAQ:

1.  Create an audio file or a video file of you performing a holiday song.  If you need technical help, ask me.

2.  You must be performing in the audio or video.   Don’t cheat and have your cute kids doing all the work.

3.  You can sing, play an instrument, recite poetry, dance the Nutcracker, or create music on your iPhone.

4.  Once completed, you have the choice of posting it on your blog or YouTube and sending me the link, or emailing me the complete multimedia file.   Try to get me everything by Friday, December 16, 2010, two days before the concert!  That gives you plenty of time to be creative.

5.  If you don’t want to sing a song, send me a holiday photo for concert decoration.  It could be of your tree, menorah, or plain ol’ winter solstice if you are a heathen.

6.  The comment section is the sign-up sheet.    By signing up, we can see who is performing what, so we can avoid having ten versions of “Frosty the Snowman.”

7.  Most importantly — don’t be intimidated if you can’t sing.    We like to laugh at you.

8.  Here are the past blockbuster concerts —

2006  2007  2008  2009  2010

Join us in the longest-running holiday concert online — The Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert, now in it’s sixth season!

The Stamp on the Envelope

My friend, Veronica, is trying to single-handedly save the United States Postal Service by participating in Etsy’s 52 Weeks of Mail.

Each week she sends a handwritten note to a friend of family member.

Do you remember the last time you received a letter? Do you remember how exciting it was when personal mail arrived in the pre-e-mail days, before the arrival of the mailman just meant gas bills and fliers for Bed, Bath, and Beyond?

Veronica is the ideal person to be part of this project because she also designs beautiful handmade cards, such as this one —

Her interest in the postal service helped us discover a common childhood passion — stamp collecting! Although it now sounds like a dorky hobby, I was very passionate about my stamps.

I collected first day covers, new issues, and Christmas stamps. I was fascinated by international stamps. I learned much of my geography by connecting my foreign stamps to the home of origin on a world map. Every winter, I would go with my socialist-leaning, horse-race betting, stamp collecting-loving Aunt Ruthie to the big New York Stamp Expo at a hotel near Madison Square Garden.

I stopped stamp collecting when I reached puberty. I was surprised to hear that Veronica still kept up with the old-fashioned hobby.

“Sure, I go to the post office every week to see all the new stamps that are issued.”

I have been out of the stamp-collecting scene for so long that I didn’t realize they still issued new stamps. I figured everyone bought the boring “Forever” stamps that you can pick up at the supermarket — stamps so forgettable that I cannot recall the picture on the stamp, and I have used this one for years!

Despite the new stamps, Veronica told me that much of the old spirit had left the stamp-collecting world. And it wasn’t just the fault of technology. Much like blogging, the Post Office has gone corporate. Rather than issuing stamps that honor America’s great leaders, the Post Office has sold out to the highest bidder.

“Now they make stamps honoring crap, from cartoon characters to ketchup brands” said Veronica. “No one wants a stamp of Benjamin Franklin anymore.”

After hearing this, I am glad that I left stamp-collecting at it’s peak, like Jerry Seinfeld leaving his sitcom before it got stale.

But nothing prepared me for what happened a week later, when my mother called me on the phone. I had received a letter from Veronica in the mail. That I expected. I was anxious to see her handmade card, and the personal note.

“Is it a nice envelope?” I asked.

“Oh, very nice.” said my mother. “Very pretty blue. But just one thing. Unless I’m wrong… I think she put a Hitler stamp on the envelope.”

“A Hitler stamp? You must be wrong.”

“It looks just like Hitler. The mustache and everything.”

Had our Postal Service fallen so desperate that they were now producing new stamps honoring Hitler?!

My Life as a Short Man Fraud

The year was 2005. A female friend was dating a guy that she liked, but ended up breaking up with him.  Why?  Because he was short.   I called her an idiot for being so superficial, and wrote a post on my blog titled “What’s So Wrong with Dating Short Men?

I was a newbie blogger at the time.  I had no idea that a post could take off in unexpected ways.  My tongue-in-cheek rant turned into an online forum for short men looking to express their frustration with women in the dating world.  Six years and almost five hundred comments later, I still get at least two comments a week on this post.

This blog post also was my introduction to the concept of “branding,” even if I didn’t know what the term meant just yet.  Readers were making assumptions about me based on my writing and my subject matter.  I received emails from men applauding me for “coming out” as a short man.

When I attended the first BlogHer, several women were surprised when they met me.

“I thought you were going to be much shorter,” said The Redneck Mommy.

I didn’t understand why women assumed I was short.  Did I sound like a short person in my comments?

It took me several months to figure it all out.  A woman in the Midwest who I never met took a liking to me.   She texted me, wanting to meet in a hotel.   She confided that she preferred dating short men because they spent more time bringing her to orgasm.

“And short men like you can do things taller men cannot.”

My post was being read as a personal statement.   Why else would I care about this subject unless I was a short man?

But I was a short man fraud.   I’m really over six feet tall.

I turned to my childhood friend, Barry, for help.   He’s always been shorter than me, and it never stopped him from meeting women.

I told him about the post and that some of the men in the comments seemed to considered me a leader in the short men community.

“Should I tell them the truth about my height?” I asked.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “You are doing an important service for the community. You are giving these men confidence. If they learned that you are really six feet tall, their world will come crumbling down.  Stay short for them online. For short men everywhere.  They need you.”

I took my friend’s advice, and for years, I have been a blogging version of Tootsie — a tall man acting like a short man online, and playing it better than an actual short man.

Last week, I was feeling isolated in the blogging community. I’m not a daddy blogger.  I’m not a humorist. I have no niche.  And then, like manna from heaven, I received an email that would change everything.

It came from a extremely popular, well-established online site that focuses on relationships and sexuality.  Someone from this online magazine was impressed with one of my posts and wanted to do an exclusive interview with me.

I was thrilled by the offer. I had finally climbed the ladder of blogging success.

I emailed back, asking about the interview.

“What will the interview be about?” I wondered.

The response:

“”Sex Tips From a Short Man.”

Based on the your 2005 post “What’s So Wrong with Dating Short Men?,” we think you would be the PERFECT person to share sex tips with other short men.”

Yes, I have finally found my blogging niche.   I am a short man.

Editor’s Note:  I emailed them back and told them the truth — that I was really six feet tall.   They haven’t returned my email.

Paradigm Shift

I want you to read my post.

I want you to buy my book.

I want you to vote for me in a contest.

I want you to come to my seminar.

I want you to help my friend in need.

I want you to listen to my political beliefs.

But BEFORE you do any of these things, I want you to write something great. I want you to go outside and take some beautiful photographs.

Because I am touched and inspired by YOUR creativity. It is as important for me to partake of your work as it is knowing that you are spending time with mine. Your work feeds my soul and makes me a better person.

++++

I was chatting with Schmutzie on IM. It was a typical IM conversation. I was bitching about Twitter, and how it felt like there were a hundred voices shouting at me to read, listen, or do something.

“So ignore them,” she said. “Your priority is your own work.”

Schmutzie has a passion for quality work. It is why she started Five Star Friday as an outlet for the best posts of the week.

I had another question for her.

“If I truly focused on quality work, I will have less time for everyone else in the community, including READING YOUR POSTS. Does that bother you?”

“Not at all. I respect those that focus on their own work. I’d rather you write something of quality that enhances MY life than having YOU read one of my so-so posts.”

In my nearly seven years of blogging, no one has ever said anything like this to me. It was so counter-intuitive to the economic marketplace that we have created for ourselves.

It was as if Quality was the God, and was bigger than both of us, and it didn’t matter which one of us connected to it, because it was to everyone’s benefit when it was reached.

Can you imagine someone coming onto to Twitter and typing, “Hey folks, my post today is a rush job, so instead of you spending too much time reading it, why don’t you go focus on making YOUR post as good as possible!”

I’m not sure Schmutzie meant to be inspirational, but it felt as if there was a paradigm shift inside my head about the artist’s life, like Gallileo’s first sensing that the the planet revolved around the sun, and not the Earth.

The power of CREATIVITY was our God, and it was available to all..

Don’t bother to comment today. Spend that time writing your own post. Or, if you do want to comment, tell me about a creative act that you plan to do today, even if it is just making lunch.

The Shoulder

The shoulder is the Mason-Dixon line of a woman’s body. North and South. To the North are her wide eyes and the gentle face, as innocent as a child’s. To the South lies the lusty flesh that is only seen in private, at night, when the soulful music plays.

I think about her naked shoulder, about the smooth curve. I am a man obsessed, who cannot focus on food, writing, or sleep.

She was in my bed that night, and I felt every inch of her electricity for hours. So why does my mind only focus on the shoulder — a utilitarian section of the woman’s body, hardly mysterious or sung about in song? Do I need to Google “shoulder fetish” this afternoon online?

In the morning, when I woke up, she was asleep. I was not alone in my sensation of early morning male ardor. The sun was there too, greedily forcing his way in through the slats of the Venetian blinds. The mighty sun broke through, his goal the same as mine. He went straight for her bare shoulder, like a pulsated arrow searching for the bulls-eye.

Several strands of hair covered our object of affection, teasing us both like the feathers of a burlesque dancer. I brushed her hair aside and kissed the soft nakedness of my favorite spot. I was confident that I could compete with the sun. She awoke, like Sleeping Beauty, and I bit her shoulder hard. I shifted my body towards her, blocking the rays of the sun from view, vanquishing my competitor. Her shoulder was now mine, alone, as was the roadmap to North and South.

I think about her shoulder all day and all night. I am a man obsessed, who cannot focus on food, writing, or sleep.

Bad Timing

This morning, I wrote a post badmouthing Babble, the popular parenting site, saying that their controversial Babble Lists, which rank parent bloggers, was bad for the blogosphere.

This afternoon, Babble was bought by the Disney Corporation for 40 million dollars.  This Disney site is now poised to be an important and powerful site.

This brings up the essential issue in this discussion — my bad timing.

Did I had make a tactical error by posting this ranting blog post at the worst possible moment, on the morning before Babble’s greatest achievement in the afternoon, alienating my friends who work for Babble, and forever ruining my chances of ever selling a script to Disney?

Of course not.

My readers know who I am.   A little criticism never comes between friends.

And besides, my readers know that my timing is usually right on the money.   Go into my archive and see how many of my posts are published at the exact moment they should have been, before the pundits climbed aboard the bandwagon.    Today was just a fluke —

March 7, 2007 — “Why “Muslim” Obama is Going to Lose.”

August 3, 2008 — “I’m Investing with Bernie Madoff. You Should Too.”

December 22, 2008 — “Who the F**k is Going to Watch a Stupid Movie About a Teenage Vampire?”

April 1, 2010 — “The Year the Mets Will Take the Pennant”

October 4, 2011 — “Penn State Football: A Class Act”

Congrats to everyone involved at Babble.   Now you can stop with the lists.

Are Ranking Lists Bad for Blogging?

With so many writers and bloggers working online today, how do we identify the talent in the blogosphere?   Bonnie Stewart wrote an article in Salon yesterday, discussing the wrongness of using algorithms to identify social media Klout.

But because Klout rewards use-value networking over other forms of engagement, it fosters an increasingly use-value environment. The peer-to-peer relationality of social media is undermined by the kind of behavior that cultivates status over relationships. Status is part of the game. But when it becomes the whole game, the broad, rhizomatic networks get boxed in and wither, and then we’re back to something a lot less interesting than social media.

Even though the idea of quantifying influence in social media is rather ridiculous, I will admit that I have a soft spot for using numbers as standards.   There is a reason that SAT tests were created as a barometer for getting into college.  They helped undercut the human-based old-boy network of the past.   Standard enabled those outside the inner circle, such as women and minorities, to attend Harvard.   Standards help create diversity.

Bonnie seems to prefer a human-based system of our peers to identify influence, but who do we trust as an authority?  Should we even attempt to create a hierarchy in such a democratic medium such as blogging?

The editors of Babble, the online parenting magazine, are well-known in their community for making frequent lists promoting the Top Moms on Twitter, the Top Mom Bloggers, and now the Top Dad Blogs.   While these announcements create some buzz for those on the list, they also create controversy and hurt feelings in the parenting community.  I’ve seen this year in and year out.  So, last week, after a new controversy involving the Dad community, I commented on their site.

“If these lists always generate such animosity, why do you continue to have them? It certainly doesn’t seem to enhance the well-being of the community. What is the point? How does it help improve things? That seems to be the question no one answers.”

My blogging friend, Catherine Connors, who works with Babble, answered —

“Neil, relatively speaking, the amount of animosity generated is a fraction of the amount of excitement generated – but animosity tends to generate the more heated discussions, so that’s where a lot of the discussion goes.”

The lists matter because they make a statement about the degree to which parent blogs matter – these are content spaces and conversation drivers that matter just as much as, if not more than, the names that you see on the lists published by Time or Vanity Fair or the New Yorker or People. We’re asserting that this is a cultural domain, and an industry, and that its leaders and innovators deserve to be recognized.”

I appreciate her answer.   And I understand that we all want to be taken seriously, and to see the best of the best get the recognition they deserve.   And clearly there are important writers online who speak for many in their community as conversation drivers.  But surely we can’t we find a better way to promote the cultural domain of blogging than hierarchical LISTS that imitate mainstream old media?

I was a little afraid of writing that comment on Babble, since I am not a parent, and it would appear as if I was jealous of these lists.  There might be some truth to that.  We all want to be included and recognized, but there is something more personal at work here that strikes a nerve.   The compiling of lists, and the acceptance of them as authority, has been a thorn in my side from my first year of blogging.

In 2005, a few months after I started blogging, I was asked to write for this new site titled Blogebrity.  Blogebrity was a site where hip writers riffed on the new trend of blogger as celebrity. The site was notorious for the snark and particularly, their blogger lists. The editors ranked bloggers according to their status, placing them on A,B,C, and D-lists.

BlogHer had yet to come onto the scene in a big way, and the elite blogosphere was entirely male, guys who wrote about tech, gadgets, and sports.  You only had street cred if you were part of a advertising network.  There was a Wild West atmosphere to professional blogging.  Mommyblogging was hardly on the radar.  Even Dooce was on the C-list.

The writing style on Blogebrity was snarky; the writers used Gawker-type mockery to discuss the excesses and deals of the internet bigwigs.  Everyone had the feeling that there was a lot of money to be made in blogging.   It was the new Silicon Valley.

The editors of Blogebrity were under the assumption that I was a snarky writer.   My gig was to focus on the D-list bloggers, poking fun at them, as if they were a sideshow to the real industry.   What the editors didn’t realize was that I found the D-listers the most interesting of all the writers online; I was a D-lister myself who liked reading stories.  I loved that ordinary people AND weirdos had a voice online and were using blogging to express themselves.  To me, blogging was the greatest change in publishing since the printing press, and the “D” list bloggers were leading the revolution in the democratization of writing.  To paraphrase an early cry of the mommybloggers — blogging was a radical act.

While at Blogebrity, I wrote enthusiastic posts about personal bloggers.   I wrote about librarian bloggers, and how they were blowing away the myth away of the shy, reserved librarian.   I wrote about how sex bloggers were pushing the envelope of online-writing.  I was one of the first bloggers to introduce the newly-coined “daddy bloggers” to this audience. Within a few weeks, I had given up on watching TV because reading personal blogs were more fulfilling.

Because of Blogebrity’s snarky tone, the site created enemies with some of the bigger industry bloggers. One tough-talking business writer by the name of the Cowboy, decided to poke fun at the writers of Blogebrity.  Because I was the low man on the totem pole, he mocked my writing, calling my personal blog as irrelevant, and noting that I wasn’t even with an advertising network.    What irked me the most was when he called me a nobody.

I remember this online moment as rather traumatic, something that has colored my experience as a blogger ever since.   Another writer was trying to embarass me for doing something positive for the blogging community — which was introducing new bloggers to the community.

As a response, I wrote a long, crazy diatribe on the site that was 1/4 narcissim, 1/4 Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream speech, 1/4 Jimmy Stewart’s final speech in Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” and 1/4 a re-telling of my overblown elementary school valevictorian speech.

The post has since been deleted, but it was titled “Who Cares about Neil Kramer?” and went something like this, reconstructing it from memory  —

“Who Cares About Neil Kramer?   Hell, why should anyone care about any of those on the D-list?  Or care about any blogger not listed at all?  Well, I tell you one thing.   You should be careful what you say.  Because we are the ones who are YOUR readers!  And now we have a voice too.  Whether we have five million readers or five, we are just as important… I have a dream… blah blah blah….”

You get the point.  It was a bit melodramatic.   After I published it on Blogebrity, I was attacked in the comments by the Cowboy.   He called me a pussy for reacting so emotionally.   He then invited his friends to come by and bully me further — my first true encounter with how the world works — the higher your perceived power, the more your friends will take your side online, even if they are wrong.

I soon stopped writing for the site.

This bullying in 2005 molded my online persona for the next six years. I never monetized my blog. I remained stubborn in viewing blogging as something uniquely different than traditional publishing, and saw any attempt to build a hierarchy within the blogosphere as a spit in the face of the essence of blogging.

Blogging was not created to be a farm league for writers to get gigs with the New Yorker Magazine. Blogging was a living and breathing entity, a fluid community of professionals and amateurs connected through comments and links, ideas and humanity.

I complained when Guy Kawasaki creating AllTop.  Even though I was on one of his lists as a “Top Blog,” I was worried that he was creating a “velvet rope” of haves and have nots by the very act of making his lists.   Authority is powerful, especially when it becomes recognized as THE authority.

I remember how excited I was when advertised the Great Interview Experiment on my blog.  What could be more radical and truer to the essence of blogging than announcing that everyone had an important story to tell, and not just the same ten bloggers who are trotted out for every interview and conference talk?   Rather than wait for some authority figure to interview us as worthy to speak to, why not interview each other based on a random encounter on a blog comment page? Almost 1000 interviews were conducted during the experiment, random blogger meeting random blogger, and proving that blogging is unique, unlike any other medium.

It is almost 2012.  The landscape online has changed since 2005.  But I still feel the urge to codify any part of the blogosphere into a hierarchy is bad for the community at large, and goes against the essence of blogging.  We should be protecting the blogosphere as a democratic force, not creating another 1% vs. 99% that we are protesting on Wall Street.   Who needs a bland corporate retread of the world we already have on TV and magazines?

Why not have revolving lists,  constantly introducing new bloggers to the community, including those outside of the same group of friends?   I like the open model of Schmutzie’s Five Star Friday, with the weekly mix of new names and old favorites.

Catherine’s response makes me flash back to 2005 and my Blogebrity days.  Using her criteria about the importance of leadership and innovation in a cultural domain, were the editors of Blogebrity correct for focusing on the conversation drivers of the time — the old-boy school of A-listers?    And was I wasting my time back then introducing those less innovative and important bloggers who comprised the “D” list — like the parenting bloggers?

Klout?  Lists?  Why is there such a strong human need to organize the human spirit with numbers and rank?

Side note:  Total coincidence.  This afternoon.   The Disney Corporation bought Babble for 40 million dollars.

The Teaser

The Fifth Annual Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert! — December 18, 2011

Official sign-up begins on Thanksgiving Day.

Favorite NYC Instagram Photos – Oct. 2011


 

Ten Things Not to Say to Your Child-Free Blogging Friends

1.    Sure it is sad that your mother was just run over by a 25 ton truck, but always remember that there will never be anything as tragic in this world as a mother losing her baby.

2.    You’re so lucky that you don’t have to monetize your blog because you don’t have any family responsibilities.

3.    Believe me, those free, all-expense paid trips to Disney World are more work than fun.

4.    Of course you’re not selfish.  You have a cat.  At least you care about something other than yourself.

5.    I just don’t think your comment is appropriate on this post because there is no way you can ever have any insights into the mind of a child without any experience with children.

6.    I write my blog for my kids.  Who’s going to read your blog after you die?

7.    Don’t you think starting a twitter list of non-parents is being exclusionary?

8.    I would feel like a huge failure without my children.  I am in awe of your strength under these overwhelming odds against you ever finding any sort of happiness.

9.    Just so you know, drinking acai juice is known to increase your sperm count.

10.   This is not really your community of peers.   It’s like me trying to be a Jewish blogger.