Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: September 2012

The Five Ways To Make Yourself Interesting Online.

Who is inherently interesting?  Who is worth following online?  This is something that has been on my mind lately.

In 2008, during my days of The Great Interview Experiment of 2008, my mantra was, “Everyone is Interesting.”

Did you ever notice that whenever some expert is being interviewed on Oprah or the Today show, the person just happens to have a book coming out the following week? It’s as if it wasn’t important to tell us the cure for cancer until the guy’s book comes out, and then they don’t even tell you the cure so you have to buy the book.

Last month, after reading this comment by Karen Maezen Miller, I flirted with the idea that it doesn’t matter who is interesting, since everyone is mostly just talking about themselves.

Once you realize that everyone is simply talking to themselves about themselves you can learn a lot about yourself and nothing about anyone else.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to reach a compromise between my interest in others and fixating on my own needs.  I started to filter my online experience. I downloaded “Social Fixer” to hide content on Facebook. I discovered that by filtering the terms “http” and “RT” in Tweetdeck, I could eliminate excessive links and retweets.

I feel bad hiding content from my friends, but I’m accepting the fact that my relationship with you cannot be based solely on your social media output.   Just because you are a dear friend doesn’t mean I am required to listen your sales pitch about baby strollers.  We can develop our friendship offline.   In real life, I go to the movies with my friends.  I don’t sit around listening to their work-related pitches.

This was my last status update on Facebook —

I authentically believe that everyone is interesting. And I love to hear about your passions. But at some point in your life you have to stand up and ask yourself, “Forget the others. What is truly interesting to me?”

Response by V-Grrrl:

“I don’t think everyone is interesting.  That said, you don’t have to be “interesting” (to me) to have value and worth.”

The idea that everyone is interesting is ingrained into my psyche. To speak the words “not everyone is interesting” sounds like heresy, like the Pope refuting the Virgin Birth.  We are all human beings.   We HAVE TO BE INTERESTING.

Yes, more and more I understand that there are only so many hours in a day.   And time is passing.   We all have needs that must be met.   And our different needs require us to focus on differently.


artwork by Erica Glasier

Some of us struggle to make ends meet. Others seek love. A financially secure SAHM might be seeking self-actualization through a career in art.  A divorced woman might be battling depression.  Our interests change depending on the current chapter of our lives.  This doesn’t refute the idea that everyone is interesting.  If you sat down with a stranger and learned his “story,” I guarantee that you would eventually find him interesting.  Most of us just don’t have the time, or are too focused on our own needs.

So what do you do as a content provider, knowing that there are millions of readers out there, each with a different agenda?  How do you make yourself interesting to others online? How do you become “influential?”  Isn’t that what so many of you crave online? (self-esteem issues.  see above)

I sat in McDonald’s this morning with my free cup of coffee for National Coffee Day, and came up with — The Five Ways To Make Yourself Interesting Online. Ha Ha. I’m going to use that crass, attention-grabbing statement as this post’s title, just to prove my point.

And I’m writing this somewhat seriously.

The Five Ways To Make Yourself Interesting Online.

1) Say something interesting.

Content is King. Write Well. Blah Blah Blah.   My blog crushes are almost ALWAYS solely based on an individual’s writing or photography.

2) Do something interesting.

We like people who do interesting things. Sell a book. Finance a movie. Climb a mountain. Become a CEO.  Have twenty children.   Successful people and risk-takers are interesting. We even excuse your lack of talent if you grab life and live it well.

3) Have something interesting happen to you.

It is the oldest story in the book (hello, Joseph Campbell!). A Regular Joe is confronted by Fate, and is forced to become a hero. We instantly root for anyone who confronts death, health issues, or a tornado sending their home into the next township.  But beware — the mob turns on you if you remain a victim too long. We like our narratives with happy endings, and our heroes overcoming their tragedies, turning them into successes.

4) Look interesting.

I hate to bring this up, but there must be a psychological reason that 99.9% of all spokespeople, actors, and models are youthful and attractive-looking, from those sexist  American Apparel ads to the most angry feminist blog.   And now that Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook have made the visual more important than writing, the Golden Age of text-based internet is over.  Pretty people get an advantage in the media world. For the rest of us, we need to show off our cool haircuts and tattoos.

5) Become friends with interesting people.

Most of us are insecure, weak, and confused. We do not know our own true interests. We looks for authority figures to guide us. That is why there are so many lists of the “Best Writers” or “Top Bloggers,” and we follow them like sheep.  We crave to know who is interesting. And if someone is deemed interesting, then by definition, everyone they know must also be interesting. This is how #FF works on Twitter. You assume that someone of interest would only recommend someone worth following. Unfortunately, in a world where a mention means a personal validation of interest, a system is created where friendship become a commodity.   But maybe it has always been that way.

So, there you go — the five ways to become interesting online.

Say something interesting.

Do something interesting.

Have something interesting happen to you.

Look interesting.

Become friends with interesting people.

Of course, only an idiot would truly follow my advice.

Yom Kippur, the NY Mets, and the Rally Towel

I have a rotator cuff injury on my right shoulder, and the discomfort has made me grouchy and depressed. Earlier this week, on Yom Kippur eve, I didn’t feel like going to temple, so I did the next best thing —

Yes, I went to a NY Mets game on Yom Kippur eve.

Is this sacrilegious? Of course. Even Sandy Koufax didn’t PLAY on Yom Kippur.

But in many ways, coming to CitiField and watching a terrible team eliminated from the playoffs three months ago, get routed by the Pittsburgh Pirates, was a potentially more painful experience to atone for your sins than attending a religious service in a modern, comfortable, air-conditioned synagogue.

During the endless game, the evening air caressed my skin, and my mind drifted off into deep thoughts. I thought about the Holiest day in the Jewish year.

“What is the meaning of life,” I asked myself.

I also had other, more secular questions. Like —

1) What ever happened to the Wave? Why did everyone stop doing it at sporting events? Did it run its course, like the Macarena?

2) What do outfielders think about during the game? I played in the outfield during Little League; it was boring. I frequently prayed to God that the ball didn’t come towards me, fearful I would drop the ball. I always dropped the ball. I was also scared of the ball hitting me in the head and splitting my skull open like a watermelon. Perhaps professional outfielders, standing alone, isolated from the others, also think about God. In their freshly-laundered white uniforms, they appeared as much a sign of purity as the white cloth that covered the Torah.

3) During the fifth inning, the “kissing cam” appeared on the giant screen. Couples were picked out and urged to kiss. But how do the Mets cameramen know who is a couple and who isn’t? If I went to a Mets game with my female boss, would I be obligated to give her a French kiss? Do gays and lesbians get pissed off that they are never chosen for the kissing cam at the Mets game? I hope there is a lawsuit. There should be no kissing in baseball.

Throughout the evening, the Mets Organization used all sorts of gimmicks to keep us amused during a boring game. Imagine how many more Jews would go to High Holiday services if there were trivial contests, a Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee Cup mascot shlepping through the aisles, and sexy girls shooting “free” t-shirts out of scary bazooka air-guns.

During the seventh inning, a cute girl in a Mets jacket roamed into our section, trying to rev us up, even though the Mets were getting their ass kicked by the Pittsburgh Pirates. She was carrying a large pile of — what seemed to me — dish rags for the kitchen.

But they weren’t dish rags. They were “rally towels.”

“Rally towels! Rally towels!” she screamed. I’m giving away free rally towels!”

Some kids in our section screamed in excitement.

“Over here! Over here!” yelled a little boy behind me.

“How naive is youth,” I thought, as she threw a towel at the boy. AS IF the rally towels would ever help the Mets win this game.

Just then, the Rally Towel girl turned her penetrating eyes towards me. It was like she could “feel” my sarcasm in the air.

“Hey, you with the glasses?” she yelled. “Why aren’t you cheering for the Mets tonight? C’mon, let’s HEAR IT?! Let’s go Mets! Let’s go Mets! Do you want a rally towel?”

“No, thanks,” I said, suddenly wishing I had gone to temple for Yom Kippur. I was also hungry, the only one in CitiField fasting.

“Sure you want a rally towel!” she said. “You gotta have a rally towel!”

She grabbed a towel from the top of her pile and tossed it at me. Her aim was as accurate as any ace pitcher. Out of instinct, I raised by right arm to catch the towel. Memories of Little League came alive, and I was back in the outfield. It was my big chance to redeem myself for missing the ball during that big game, causing our team to lose the Playoffs.

My arm shot back. The t-shirt flew into my hand. I caught it! I was redeemed! I also threw back my shoulder, and the pain was so intense in my rotator cuff that my cry reached the infield, my vision went black, and this became the first Yom Kippur where I felt as if I met God.

Typical Middle East News Story Comment Section

@David Gold, Queens, NYC

Why should we prosecute the filmmaker simply for making a film, even if it is a badly produced one about Islam? Don’t we have free speech in this country? Do we want to throw the makers of South Park in prison for making fun of Mormons. The Muslims needs to grow up and not act like a bunch of babies when their prophet is mocked in a stupid movie.

@Ahmad Khan, Beirut, Lebanon

When you say “The Muslims,” David, who exactly are you referring to? Don’t you realize that accounts put active participation in the anti-film protests at between 0.001 and 0.007% of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims – a tiny fraction of those who marched for democracy in the Arab spring. Most Muslims are peace-loving and have no interest in this stupidity. The Newsweek cover story on “Muslim Rage” was pandering to the lowest common denominator. The Muslim world does not hold the American government or its citizens responsible for acts of ONE irresponsible Israeli filmmaker, and the super-rich Jewish financiers who helped back the project.

@David Gold, Queens, NYC

You should know, Ahmad, that despite your glee in pinning this on the Jews, that the filmmaker was actually an Egyptian-born Christian, and was not financed by any “super-rich” Jewish financiers. Sorry.

@Matt Rallington, Waco, Texas

Oh, so it is the fault of the Christians, David! So typical of a Jew to turn in his Christian brother as the guilty party. It has been that way since Judas pointed his finger at Jesus, the Lord, Our God.

@Ahmad Khan, Beirut, Lebanon

I so agree with you, Matt, my Christian friend. Never trust a Jew. Look at how they stole the land from the Palestinians.

@Matt Rallington, Waco, Texas

Actually, Ahmed, I am a firm supporter of the State of Israel. The Bible says that only through the Hebrews will there be a War to End All Wars, causing the End of Days and the return of our Savior, who will then destroy all who don’t believe in him.

@David Gold, Queens, NYC

Including the Jews, Matt?

@Matt Rallington, Waco, Texas

Oh, definitely the Jews, David. You will live in Hell forever.

@David Gold, Queens, NYC

I see. Well, even though you hate the Jewish people, Matt, I respect your support of the State of Israel.

@Rivers Stillman-Thompson, Berkeley, CA

I’m an atheist, David, and I can’t understand how Jews can circumcise their sons like savages. This primitive practice should be banned.

@Ahmad Khan, Beirut, Lebanon

Actually, Rivers, Muslims also circumcise their boys and I find your views abhorent.

@David Gold, Queens, NYC

Right on, Ahmed. We agree on one thing. Oh, and our love of falafel.

@Rivers Stillman-Thompson, Berkeley, CA

I like falafel, also, David, but only if it is organic.

@Matt Rallington, Waco, Texas

WTF kind of name is Rivers, Rivers? Are you a dude or a chick?

@Rivers Stillman-Thompson, Berkeley, CA

Gender has no meaning to me, Matt. Every individual contain both genders.

@David Gold, Queens, NYC

What a fruitcake! Right, Ahmad?

@Ahmad Khan, Beirut, Lebanon

Yes, David. Definitely. 🙂

@Father Brian McMasters, Cleveland, Ohio

Hey, everyone! Are there any young boys on here?

@Matt Rallington, Waco, Texas

Father Brian, you are on the WRONG FORUM!

@David Gold, Queens, NYC

Neil, that was a really inappropriate punch line for this blog post.

@Ahmad Khan, Beirut, Lebanon

I don’t know about that, David. At least it wasn’t about Mohammed!

Online Life and the Golden Rule

Despite what some might say, there are no definitive rules for how to act online.  Every individual must find his way.   To guide my own personal morality, I simply use the Golden Rule, both offline and online: Do unto others…

I share too much of myself online.  Do I feel guilty about this?   No. Because I respect it when you share your life with me.  Do unto others…

I do not like the constant pimping or self-boasting that occurs on social media.  I cannot control what you do, but I try hard not to do it myself.  Do unto others….

I love when you debate, so I debate with you.

Since I am bored by too many empty, positive affirmations, you won’t see me forcing them on you.

I like it when you are empathetic, so I return the favor.

I view trolls as mean-spirited assholes, so why in the world would I become a troll?  Fair is fair.   The only truly honest trolls are the ones who enjoy getting trolled themselves. More power to them!

If I think, “Why doesn’t Susan stop writing about **** all the time on Facebook,” I ask myself, “How much do I write about **** on Facebook?”

This morning, on Instagram, a guy in Sweden was posting tons of photos. He was on a trip to a local goat farm with his wife and kids, and he must be having one helluva time, or really love goats.  He is a talented guy, and I respect his work.  But enough photos already. Leave some room for the others, buddy!

After thinking this, I paused and acknowledged that I do the same. I have a bad habit of using social media too much, posting ten Instagram photos in ten minutes, drowning out the voices of others.

This might not bother you at all. But if it annoys me when others do it, it is an essential part of my moral code to question myself.

When someone annoys the hell out of you, rather than going into attack mode, ask yourself, “Do I do the same?” Chances are you do.  And as any good therapist will tell you, you can only change your actions.

The name of the month Twitter chat group I moderate with Schmutzie and Laurie White has been changed from #Blog2012 to the more sexier #BlogNow. Our first post-BlogHer meeting will take place tomorrow, September 11 at 9PM EST. Discussion topic: Do you write for the love of writing itself, or is it a means to an end for you? Does the quality of blogging suffer if the love of writing isn’t there?

 

IPhoneography and the Soul

Photography has changed my life.   During my seven years of blogging, the so-called “real writers” of the internet looked down at my writing, thinking my silly posts as unworthy of true art.  But today, there is a new freedom of expression in the air.  And I can honestly say that in 2012, I don’t worry about my status as a writer anymore.    Now it is the “real photographers” who look down at me, thinking my instagram photos of hot chicks crossing the street as unworthy of true art.

Of course, being an artist has always been tough.  Creative skills are rarely transferable from one art form to another. The essential tool of the great poet — the French beret — merely conveys amateur status when worn as a photographer’s hat, since most professional photographers wear fedoras.

The writer shows a disdain for the physical world.   He walks the streets of the city, scribbling in his notebook, forgetting to tie his own shoelaces.    He is a man of words and ideas.   But the photographer must take an interest in the physical beauty of life, because most paying gigs require him to make something ordinary — a hamburger, a baby, a wedding, some crappy couch at IKEA — into glossy eye candy the consumer will envy.  Different hats, different skill sets.

Next month, at the Aiming Low Non-Conference, I will be leading a Camera Phone Photowalk.  I can’t wait to meet up with you and talk about iphoneography. Let’s trade photo tricks, and have some fun taking photos.

Several attendees have already emailed me with suggested topics of discussion.   One personal question seems to be number one on that list  –“Neil, how are you able to get so many photos of strangers without them noticing you in the street?”

Let me answer this question for you right now.

Despite what you may think, anyone can become a iPhone street photographer. There are no special requirements.  Nothing needs to be learned about composition or lighting.  The only way to truly achieve a completely spontaneous photograph of a complete stranger is to accomplish, what I like to call — “stealing his soul.”

According to most religious beliefs, each individual has a unique “soul.”

The LORD God formed man [of] the dust of the ground,
and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life;
and man became a living soul.
—Genesis 2:7

The soul exists outside of the body. It is immaterial and eternal.   When a photographer sets his eye on his subject, using his iPhone to take a photo, the true artist steals the stranger’s consciousness (his soul), and embeds this energy life-force onto the memory card of the phone.  Once this soul has been sucked in through the iPhone camera aperture, the stranger will continue to exist as a living being in the physical world, but merely as an empty vessel.   His soul will now be held safely at the Instagram host company’s storage facility, along with the photo that was taken by the artist.

Those without photographic experience frequently make comments on Instagram, writing nonsense such as “great color” or “love the angle,” but 95% of the effectiveness of any one photo is the life-force of the stolen soul.

We can discuss more about this fascinating artistic subject during next month’s photowalk. I hope you’ll come.

Perhaps I’ll even take a photo of YOU.

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