the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: February 2013

You Call This Art?

taken in Queens today

I don’t know how to define art. Some say it is all in the intention of the artist. Others say it is whatever elicits a response.  I googled “What is art?” but Google, being a prankster,  instead showed me the search results for “What is arthritis?” Considering that it is my birthday in March, I wonder if the search engine was making a snide remark about aging.

Ha Ha, I just told you a little story.  Is that art?

Many have attempted to define art.   Here are two famous folk quoted on the subject

Thomas Merton:

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.

Charles Eames:

Art resides in the quality of doing; process is not magic.

Not very satisfying quotes, are they?

My favorite statement on art comes from the Italian director Frederico Fellini:

All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.

I take that as a big fuck you to the idea of defining art.


I’m in Queens now.  Not in New Zealand or Los Angeles.  I’ll talk more about my life soon, but not today.  Right now, it is more life, less art.

It is rainy and cold today in NYC.  California has made me soft; I’m not as used to the dreary weather.   Looking for some comfort, I took a walk to a nearby Chinese restaurant to get some won ton soup.

As I meandered along Kissena Boulevard, I passed this garden apartment with an old-fashioned black metal fire escape.   Perched on one of the levels was a red ball.  It sat brazenly, his arms were crossed, peering down at me like that drunk former Merchant Marine who was neighbor back in 1988, feeling disdain at all of the yuppie neighbors moving in.


Red is an evocative color.   Images of Love.  Passion.  Cherries.  “The Red Balloon.”  And my former neighbor.

“But is the red ball on the fire escape “art?” I thought.


No.   Not unless an clever performance artist placed it there on purpose.  In all probability, it was simply left there in August by George Lanza, age 6, a playful but forgetful, brown-haired little boy, who was called in for dinner (meatballs and spaghetti, of course, since it was Tuesday) by his single mother, Juanita Lanza,  age 42, a United States postal worker.

I just made that up.   But something like that.


I took some photos of the red ball.  So, now — is it art?  Maybe.  Who knows?   Who cares? Fellini would say that the photos have less to do with the red ball, than they do with me.

The Thomas Edison of Twitter Mute Filters

I’ll admit it. The torrent of information online wrecks havoc on my anxiety level. While most writers worry about getting more “hits,” I am consumed with filtering you out. I say this with love because I care about you. And if I care too much, I start to flounder. Everyone seems to have a blog, or at least a Facebook page. Who should I deem most important to me? I follow terrible writers who are amazing individuals. I follow amazing writers who are terrible individuals. I follow college friends, homeschooling Moms, Orthodox rabbis, Wiccans, and journalists with the New York Times. Sometimes I just need a rest, or at least to make my online world a smaller village.

I use Social Fixer for Facebook. It is a free browser extension that helps me hide things like your annoying games. Do what you want in the privacy of your own home. I don’t not need to know who you killed in Mafia Wars. I’m also a big fan of the Facebook “Close Friends” list. I’m constantly switching it up, depending on how I feel about you at the moment. So, be careful! No one is safe.

My Google Reader is a perpetually mess. I open it up, see 10,000 unread items and want to vomit. There are just too many choices. On days when my anxiety level is high, I borrow a technique I first encountered on Backpacking Dad three years ago — I use the Next Reader Bookmark in my browser. My system — I create a folder of personal favorites on Google Reader, no more than 20 blogs at a time. I then install the Next Reader Bookmark, but only for this specific folder. Now, when I am in the mood for some reading, I simply press the button and a blog boots up. I’m never sure which blogger will show up next, since it is ordered by publication date, but that’s part of the fun, like playing the slot machine in Vegas. But since the twenty-five reading choices in the folder are special to me, I’m usually happy with what shows up.

Do I use this Next folder all the time? No. I like to read new material. But on those days when life is stressful, my Next button is comforting, like a mother spoon-feeding a baby information.

Twitter is my true nemesis. Even in my private lists, I feel like I am constantly being bombarded by links. Do this. Read this. Vote for me. I know social media is all about promotion, but sometimes I just like the conversation. Tweetbot, my mobile Twitter app, and Tweetdeck, my web app, offer filters to help mute certain keywords or hashtags.

I hadn’t explored these mute filters very closely, until last night. I cleared my desk, opened up my Twitter apps, and spent some time experimenting with different words and phrases as mute filters. I wanted to create a better Twitter experience for myself. And that’s when the Eureka moment occurred — I typed the term “/” into the mute filter form box, pressed enter, and suddenly, every single tweet containing any link disappeared from my view — all of them, from the newbie blogger to Mashable. All that was left was conversation and status updates. It was as if I had inadvertently discovered the common denominator of ever link. If an update had a “/” it was muted. Again, I wouldn’t do this most of the time. I like having Twitter as an RSS feed. But I had just created a choice for myself.

I immediately called Juli in New Zealand. I told her the story, trying to impress her, as men are apt to do with women.

“That’s nice,” she said.

“I don’t think you get how significant this discovery is to the online world. I even googled this “/” thing as a Twitter mute filter, and found no references at all. It’s like I’m the Thomas Edison of Twitter Mute Filters!”

Last week, Juli’s mother had discovered my blog and read the post where I discussed the terms “pussy” and “dick.”

“He’s uh, certainly different,” she told Juli. “But what has he accomplished?”

So, HERE YOU GO, Juli’s Mother! I know you are reading this post. Here’s your answer — I am THE THOMAS EDISON OF TWITTER MUTE FILTERS!

You’re daughter is lucky to know such a genius.

Our Genitalia are our Friends


I kvetched about my current man cold on Facebook, and how I was stuck in bed sick, and then felt embarrassed about it. What kind of wimpy image am I presenting to others? So, I updated my status and said that I wasn’t going to be a “pussy” anymore. I was going to get out of bed, go to the Chinese restaurant, and get myself some soup. I didn’t need NO WOMAN to take care of me when I have a cold.

The comments were supportive, but one online friend, Maddie, had this to say —

While not offended I often wonder why being weak is associated with the word “pussy”… which of course is slang for female genitalia… I mean if anything that word should be a sign of strength… not many things can push out a 8-11 pound little human and be ready for use again a couple of days/weeks later!”

He comment blew me away. She was right! I immediately apologized and said I would never use the word “pussy” as a synonym for weakness again. After all, it is woman, not the man, who pushes past the cold and doesn’t cry over a few sniffles. It is the woman who is usually the stronger sex, juggling work and family. Besides, what man in his right mind wants to associate the word “pussy” with a negative trait? Is there anything more gorgeous than a woman’s Holy Grail? Men bow before a woman’s pussy. Men have launched a thousand ships for a woman’s pussy. The most ardent atheist has yelled “Thank you, God Almighty,” when his dreams of a woman’s pussy come true.

Pussies are beautiful and strong. Pussies are LIFE.

When someone holds the door for me when I walk into a supermarket and gives me a smile that warms the very center of my soul, I should be able to say “You, kind soul, are a Pussy,” and both of us understand it as the ultimate compliment of gratitude.

Pussies rock, and we should stop using this word as an expression of weakness or incompetence.


But let’s turn to a more controversial subject — and his name is Dick. We all agree that pussy represents goodness and Life. So why do we continue to continue to associate “dick” with the most vilest of human beings. If a guy is arrogant, he is a dick. If he a cheat, a two-timer, a philanderer, obnoxious, a back-stabber, or just plain unpleasant — we think of him as a dick. Javet in Les Miserable is a dick. That crazy anti-gay pastor is a dick. Lance Armstrong was a dick. Why such hatred for the poor Dick? Isn’t he important too? Why not off-Broadway shows for him on Valentine’s Day?

Much like the female genitalia, the male version is an amazing work of heavenly architecture. It grows. It moves. It does tricks. It impregnates. There are a million dildos and sex toys on the market, but most women would still prefer the human dick. Just like the pussy, the dick SHOULD represent love and affection and procreation — everything that makes life worthwhile.

If we want our boys to grow up to be respectful and loving, especially when it comes to their relationships with women, why continue to see their sex organs as aggressive and hateful jerks rather than George Clooney-types — fun-loving, happy-go-lucky and extremely handsome gifts from Mother Nature?

Let’s embrace our genitalia and see them as friends. Let’s turn our pussies and dicks from insults into expressions of joy and love!

“Thank you, for holding the door for me. You are a real pussy.”

“Oh, no problem. I love that shirt you wearing. It makes you look like a total dick.”

“Really, I’m glad you like it. I bought it at Nordstrom’s, you asshole.”

“Oh, really. They have such nice stuff. Have a nice day, you fucker.”

Now imagine that as beautiful. That is the world I want to live in.

21st Century Romance


Neil:  So, what do you think?

J:  I, uh, like the idea.

Neil:  You don’t like it. I can hear it in your voice.

J:   No, it is a clever idea. It might even work.

Neil:  So, what’s the problem?

J:   I’m just not sure it’s the WAY I visualized you coming back. I thought it would be more romantic.

Neil:  This IS romantic. This is 21st Century romance!

J:  Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but is it really THAT romantic if Air New Zealand only sends you back because you promised to put their hashtags on your Instagram photos?

Neil:  We’re not just offering them hashtags on Instagram.  We’re offering them Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.  We’re offering them to be part of a real life love story. Imagine the campaign “New Zealand is for Lovers!”

J:   I think the State of Virginia already has that one copyrighted.

Neil:  How about, “When in Love, Fly Kiwi!”

J:   Yeah, but the name of the airline is Air New Zealand, not Kiwi.”

Neil:  I’m sure they’ll figure it out. They have a big marketing department.

J:   So, let me understand it — you want us to email Air New Zealand and offer them that we we will hashtag everything we do while we travel around the South Island if only they sponsor it?

Neil:  Well, we have to offer them more than that.   We need to tell them that we will convince all of our readers that THEY should come to New Zealand and find love THEMSELVES — while flying Air New Zealand, of course — the airline of Romance.

J:  But what does this have to do about us?

Neil:  This is all about us!

J:  It makes me feel as if you are only coming back to see me if you get a free ticket.

Neil:   A ticket is $2000!

J:  Well, I suppose this IS who you are.  I think the first post I ever read of yours was about you taking Sophia out to dinner to the Olive Garden, using a coupon.

Neil:  That’s being frugal.

J:   Maybe I’m just worried about what happens if this plan falls through?   Will you still come back to see me as soon as possible?

Neil:   Of course I will.  Soon.   But maybe not as soon as if we were sponsored by Air New Zealand.

J:  That’s not a very romantic thing to say.  Imagine telling your blog readers that’s how you feel.  They all peg you as super sweet.

Neil:  Screw them.   And, believe me,  they LOVE to get free stuff.  You should see them pushing each other and grabbing things at BlogHer.

J:  But imagine this is one of your screenplays. Wouldn’t you want the hero of the story to return to his love interest, no matter what, even if he was so poor that he couldn’t afford a ticket? Wouldn’t he find a way, legal or illegal,  because if he didn’t see her soon, he would die from heartbreak?

Neil:  Exactly, that’s how I feel!  If this was a screenplay, the clever hero — a George Clooney type — would come up with this amazing social media campaign, and get an airline to sponsor him to see her again! Happy ending!

J:  And then what — at the very end of the movie, one of the pilots would do the wedding ceremony at the airport terminal?

Neil:   That’s not a bad idea. Let’s put that down.

J:   I don’t like this idea.  It’s like exploiting our relationship.  Not everything has to be sold through “social media.”  I’d rather you were so desperate to come here, that you became a stowaway on a ocean liner.

Neil:   Sure, I would rather do that too.   But do you know how difficult it is to be a stowaway on an ocean liner nowadays? It just doesn’t happen anymore. They have security, and besides, I don’t like cruising. Too much food.

J:  OK, write to Air New Zealand.  Let’s see what happens.   I’m just happy you want to see me again.  Do you want me to help you write the letter?  I used to work in marketing.

Neil:   Sure. But I’m not ready yet for that.   First, I need to get myself prepared. I read a tutorial on pitching to a brand, and there are a number of steps involved. I have to create a media kit, gather my daily page views on my blog from Google Analytics and Quantcast, chart my daily influence on Twitter, create a Facebook page, map out my Facebook statistics in order to show reader engagement, and lastly, convince all of my friends to give me a +New Zealand on Klout to cement my role as a leadership role on this subject in my community.

J:  That sounds like a pain in the ass. Are you sure it’s worth all that trouble just for trip to New Zealand?

Neil:   Hmm, maybe you’re right. Let me go to the Princess Cruises forum and research “How to Become a Stowaway.”

The Key


If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll notice that I haven’t uploaded a single photos in the last two weeks. It’s as if I’ve lost interest in photography. After shooting 3,000 photos over the last two years, I’ve discovered the most beautiful image in the face of one woman, and there’s no reason to look at anything else.

Juli and I speak late at night, when our time zones align, and after her son is asleep. We have conversations like whether or not we should change our Facebook relationship status. We decided against it; it serves us no purpose other than adding pressure. Last night, we searched the internet for the most current definition of “boyfriend” and “girlfriend,” to see if we would quality, but sadly, we did not. Labels always fail me, just like the do in blogging. I never quite fit in.

Readers of this blog are a sappy bunch, and I know you enjoy a good love story, especially before Valentine’s Day, but I’m going to disappoint you. I’m not jumping on a plane and moving to New Zealand just yet. I realize that this is what happens in the movies, but let’s be real– the filmmakers never show you what happens after the plane takes off and the credits roll. I have a mother and friends in the United States. I know very few people in New Zealand.

“Do you believe in soulmates?” she asked me.

We both were unsure. We both were married, in love with other people. This can only mean one thing — there is no such thing as one “soulmate.” A person can have many soulmates in life. The idea of a soulmate is another myth perpetuated by sappy movies.

There is also the delicate issue of her son. I’m more understanding now about the issues surrounding a single mom. To “date” a single mom means — in many ways — dating her child. It is a package deal. I enjoyed playing with Juli’s son. We played Battleship, flew kites, went camping. Juli was very careful that her son knew that I was just a visiting friend, and that HE always came first.

I will return to New Zealand, at least for another visit. This year. But when? It is painful to talk to her on Skype and be separated by wireless data. But a flight to New Zealand is expensive. I need to search for a few more freelance gigs.

Thousands of miles away, in New Zealand, there is a house with a beautiful wooden door. It is a strong and colorful door, lit by the sun, emboldened by the salty sea air. I have the key that opens this door.

“Take it,” she told me at the airport terminal before I left, gently placing it into my right hand.

I keep this key with me all the time now — in my front pocket, in my back pocket, in my shirt pocket — only taking it out before sleep, where I place it on my night stand, next to her photo, and then I dream.

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