Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: March 2013

One Thing a Day — What Happened?

flatiron

After my birthday and my eighth blogiversary, I had this brilliant idea in which to re-energize my blog. I would sit down every night at midnight and write the first thing that came to my mind, no matter how short a piece, like an old-fashioned personal diary.  It seemed like an effective and simple concept, and I promoted it to others.

It was a very very very bad idea.

Most of my friends are full of compassion and dedicated to social justice, using their online influence to better the world. They share their “secrets to success.” They rally their followers against what is wrong in our society — from income inequality to gaining universal acceptance of gay marriage. Or they make us laugh, to ease the pain.

But when I sit down to write, at least at the midnight hour, when the night goes silent, and the city settles into bed, there is nothing more fearful than the voice of my honest heart. I hear the cries of disappointment and anger, lust and shame, jealousy and tears. I bully myself for my lack of courage, and then I turn to you, the reader, with my index finger shaking in your face, mocking your hypocrisy, blindness, and pettiness. And then, when guilt sets in, I apologize, begging for forgiveness.

“It is love talking,” I say. “I love you too much. And you don’t love me enough.”

It’s partly true.   No, it’s mostly bullshit.   I don’t know what I’m saying.  And that’s the problem.  At midnight, when thoughts arise, they bounce around in unexpected ways, like a rubber ball in a racquetball court. Stories of love and friendship warp into tales of yearning and abandonment.

Writing takes discipline and intelligence. There is none of that at midnight in my house. Now you know why I abandoned this “write every day” project after day four.

It would kill me.  I need to go back to writing during the day, when the sun is out.  Maybe once a week.

One Thing a Day #4 – Changes

me

One Thing a Day #3 – High Finance

train

My grandparents were socialist-leaning Democrats who kept a photo of Eleanor Roosevelt in their hallway, next to the family photos.  My father worked in a city hospital, and received a city pension.  He bought New York City bonds, the safest bet at the time, which had the lowest interest.  We never talked about money or finance.   The business section of the Sunday newspaper was the one we always tossed aside.   “People like us” didn’t have anything to do with Wall Street or the business world.

I became an English major in college.  A film student in graduate school. A writer. A blogger. An instagram photographer. To this day, I remain a financial idiot. I don’t own any real estate or stock.  Doing my income taxes gives me anxiety.   There’s no one else to blame.  I am to blame.   I’m certainly smart enough to open a book on investing or use google to search “mutual funds.” It just never seemed like something that I should do.  Thinking too much about money was wrong.  I should rather worry about the wealth inequalities in American life than selfishly grab my share of it.

I’ve been blogging for nine years now, and I’ve met many people.  I can categorize everyone I know into two camps — those who understand the business side of life AND those who are clueless.

Most of my friends tend to lean towards the artistic side, and for many of those who don’t have a working spouse or a trust fund,  they are hurting financially. Freelance jobs have disappeared, and the publishing, film, academic, and music worlds are shrinking.  Years ago, our parents worked for the same firm for decades.   You could live a comfortable life, even if you weren’t a self-starter.  We are not as lucky.

My advice to you.   Forget BlogHer this year.  Attend a personal finance class instead.  Some of have started online courses. Others have bought real estate, renting it out to students.  The key to survival is KNOWLEDGE.  Most who make money found a mentor, or have a relative, who showed them the ropes.

We feel uncomfortable talking about money.   We say platitudes like “there is enough for everyone,” when we know this isn’t true.  There aren’t unlimited opportunities.  Luck comes from the whispers in a room, and not everyone is invited.

If times are tough for artists and writers, imagine the difficulties of the hard-working individual, stuck in a low-paying job.  We’ve heard many reports about the vast inequality of wealth in America, where the richest 1% of Americans own 40% of the country’s total wealth.  In an article in The Atlantic, Noah Smith, an assistant professor of finance at Stony Brook University, says that while income is important, we should not forget the importance of finance and savings.  It is through saving and investing that the wealthy STAY wealthy. He goes as far as suggesting that public schools TEACH financial education as a way to prepare students for life.

Financial education in public schools is a must. I’m not talking about teaching kids the Capital Asset Pricing Model. I mean what Bob Shiller calls “basic Suze Orman stuff.” How to make a monthly budget. What “saving” and “borrowing” mean. How wealth builds over time. How to avoid borrowing lots of money at high interest rates (e.g. credit cards and payday loans). Etc. The new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can help a lot with this too, by preventing companies from tricking poor people into taking out high-interest debt.

I think this is a great idea, even if all this money talk seems like a foreign language to the disenfranchised.   It will demystify the concept of wealth and money.   I have two advanced degrees — and I need help with the basics of saving, borrowing, assets and mutual funds.

In addition to “nudging” middle-class and poor Americans to save more, we can help them get a better return on their assets — the second thing that has a huge effect on wealth in the long run. This means helping middle-class people invest in stocks without paying high fees. The first part of this is teaching middle-class people to avoid making frequent changes in their stock portfolios. Studies show that individual investors consistently lose money when they try to buy and sell and buy and sell, mostly because they tend to ignore trading costs. So financial education should teach people to let their stock portfolios just sit there for decades, and ignore the ups and downs.

Last year, we wanted to Occupy Wall Street, but no one had a plan for what to do with it — once it was occupied.   Perhaps a better strategy is education, so everyone can be smarter with their money.    Those with money have created the game so they always win.  Everyone else is going to be left out, unless they study up.

One Thing a Day #2 – The Laundry

Boiler Room

Wise men say, “Don’t air your dirty laundry,” so I’m not going to do that. But that doesn’t mean I can’t tell you about the clean, but still very wet laundry that was spinning in the dryer in the garage when Sophia and I had our last fight in the house.

“I’ll take the Shuttle to the airport,” I said, grabbing the soggy clothes in mid-rotation and throwing them into my suitcase.

I walked to the laundromat by the post office, wheeling my luggage in like I was entering the marble lobby of the Four Seasons. A homeless man was washing himself in the sink. A grumpy African-American woman was reading Jet magazine; Fantasia was on the cover. I remembered when Sophia and I watched Fantasia win American Idol. How long ago was that? 2004?! Nine years ago!

I opened the suitcase on the cleanest linoleum counter, and tossed the damp clothes into the commercial drier. My brightly colored shorts and t-shirts — direct from summertime in New Zealand — created a colorful kaleidoscope as they spun, but they would do little to keep me warm during the cold gray wintery life of New York City.

In the front pocket of the suitcase was a New Zealand Paua shell that Juli gave me to take home. It was wrapped in a red towel. I carefully peeled the flaps of the flannel towel open, like a onion, or like a woman, to make sure that it was still in one piece.

Sophia called. We talked. We calmed down. She drove me to LAX. At the American Airlines terminal, I gave her my house key. In New Zealand, Juli gave me her house key, and I took it — a promise to return. And here I was, giving my other house key back to Sophia.

It was not the way I imagined leaving the house for the last time, wheeling out my wet clothes in a suitcase.

One Thing a Day #1

footsteps

I know I am generalizing, but it’s my blog, so I’ll do it anyway, but there is a certain “brand” of person — usually a woman, but not necessarily so — who is into creativity, art, yoga, progressive issue, spirituality — who, for some reason, never clicks with me, or my personality, either online or off, and I wonder why.   (there are exceptions, Kate).  It isn’t the biggest issue in my life, but I wonder if I am perceived as too negative, sarcastic, loud, or anxious for these caring folk, and I don’t meld well with their ideals of beauty and zen.   Like I am a can of Schlitz in a wine bar.   Even on Instagram, where I don’t say a word, when I get unfollowed by someone — chances are it is a woman who takes beautiful photos of the vegetable garden behind her Seattle loft.  I like vegetables, too!   I feel like I’m being misjudged.  Or do the truly spiritual and artistic souls of the world feel my angst and are afraid of it?

(note:  read the previous post where I explain what I am doing with this)

One Thing a Day – Intro

I’m trying an experiment.  The hope here, at the beginning of my ninth year of blogging,  is to take some of the enthusiasm that I bring to social media back to my blog.

I asked your advice on this subject a few weeks ago, and you overwhelmingly said that I should use my blog primarily as a writing platform, which means taking my time to craft quality essays that I would be proud to publish in a magazine.

Naturally, I heard what you said, and because I don’t respect you very much, I’m doing the opposite.

I’m going to write one thing on my blog every day.   At least until I decide this was a bad idea.  It will be random shit — something between a Facebook status update and a post. I will NOT be promoting it via social media.  It’s not fair to you to bug you every day with a new link.   I will simply make believe that I writing it for myself, even though — in all honesty — I do hope that you read it.

Don’t feel obligated to comment. I might even shut the comments off to discourage it. I realize that I risk alienating readers because of this, but frankly, since I make no money from this blog anyway, what have I got to lose?   Maybe I will start a revolution of us all returning back to our blogs and writing bad posts.   For ourselves.

I WILL be promoting my regular blog posts, which I hope will be more interesting that these asides.

Bear with me.  This is important to me.   I feel like a fraud moderating these BlogNow chats on Twitter where I talk about my love of blogging.

I’m taking my space back.

Warning: these asides will be random, usually whatever pops into my head before I go to sleep at night.  Like Doogie Howser.

Any suggestions are welcomed.

One Thing a Day #1 is up.

The Start of Year Nine

It was my birthday a few days ago.   It was also the anniversary of my blog, Citizen of the Month, which I started on March 7, 2005.   I can’t believe that I am entering my ninth year of blogging.  Back in 2005, I was so naive.  I was writing without pay, but I had a dream — that with hard work and focus, I could build this tiny space into a well-respected community of like-minded individuals, and that my unknown voice could be a bright beacon of inspiration to others.  Wait, I’m sorry.  I’m talking about Schmutzie‘s blog, not mine.  I sometimes get so confused.  But whatever my stats, I don’t care.   I have YOUR love, and that’s all that matter.   I love you all.  Except maybe for the ones who didn’t say “Happy Birthday” to me on Facebook this year.  Oh, yeah.  I made a list.   I know who’s who.

Anyway,  every year, on my blogiversary, rather than do a giveaway of some cool product, like a laptop or fancy new smartphone, which is too crass for my taste, I choose to celebrate in my own unique way — by boring you with my own analysis of the current blogging scene.

Some say blogging is dead.  I say hogwash!  (BTW — why do we say hogwash as a polite way of saying bullshit?)  This year, I present you with concrete evidence.  My friend Susan forwarded this email to me, proving that the personal blogging community is still as strong as ever!

Dear Susan,

You and I have been long-time online friends, ever since we first met on that “Mothers of Children With Peanut Allergies” forum back in 2007. We have watched our children grow and our lives change. More recently, we have supported our common business goals — you were my first commenter on my advocacy blog, “Peanut Allergy Shame No More!” and I have mentioned your blog, “The Peanut Allergy Resource Spot,” many times on Twitter. That’s why I was disturbed to see you on the Today show on Tuesday morning, introduced by Matt Lauer as the owner of the “premier blog on the net for mothers of children with peanut allergies.”

I sat through the interview waiting patiently for you to correct him, acknowledging that MY PEANUT ALLERGY BLOG was started a full three weeks before yours, and currently receives 23% more monthly traffic. I’m not even going to bring up the followers and engagement of our respective Facebook pages.

Strong leadership is essential for our community. We must pay honor to those who were there first. But nowadays, when I try to pitch a book on the subject, I’m always hearing, “Oh, we are already discussing that topic idea with Susan!”

You cannot be the “go-to” mother for mothers of children with peanut allergies. I AM the “go-to” mother for mothers of children with peanut allergies.

“Influence” has infected you, like a bad allergic reaction. You’ve even deleted my comments on your blog. For your information, I was NOT trying to “steal your brand,” as you insinuated in that email.  I was just suggesting to your readers that they read a more “authentic” version of the story at my blog.

Are we clear about this? If there are any other questions, just look at my blog header: it reads “THE blog for mothers with children who have peanut allergies.” Please notice that the THE is capitalized and bolded.

Thank you, Susan. Much love and continued success. Let’s get the message out in the “correct” way. Remember the truly important ones in our blogging community… are the children!

Bridget

Feeling Divorced

run

In 2005, I separated from my wife.

But it wasn’t a real separation because we still saw each other every day.

In 2010, we decided that it was time to file for divorce.

But her father-in-law became sick, so we had to help care for him, and then her mother died from all the stress, right before her stepfather died, so we never had a chance to get a divorce.

In 2011, we did file for divorce with California.

But we filed it incorrectly, and it got them returned to us, and we didn’t touch the paperwork for another eight months.

In 2012, we re-filed the paperwork.   And finally, we were divorced.  We got the notice in the mail.

But it didn’t feel like divorce.  I was still living in the same house for half of the year, and we shared all expenses.   And we were still arguing about the same issues.  It was as if we had tossed away all of the good parts of marriage, only to keep the negatives.  We treated the divorce notice as irrelevant,  as valid as Monopoly money.  It didn’t matter what California said.  We would keep working at this forever.

In 2013, I met another woman online and I traveled to New Zealand to see her.

But even during this budding international romance, I still never FELT completely divorced.  And Juli, the woman in New Zealand, told me so.  I hid from my ex-wife when she called me on the phone.  It was if I felt uncomfortable making a new life for myself without her approval.  I was tied to her, if not like husband and wife, at least like “brother and sister.” It was not healthy, and my ex and I, who once loved each other dearly, were beginning to hate each other.

My last month in Los Angeles was a traumatic one.  I turned in my key.  I removed myself from the phone “family plan.”  I moved my books into storage.  It was tense and awful month, especially coming immediately after the most beautiful one in New Zealand.

Today, I spoke on the phone with my ex-wife about some lingering issues. She is beginning to have her own life.  Her own hobbies and friends.   We argued about some money, of course,  just for old time’s sake, but it didn’t feel the same.  There have been so many changes down the road, that we are different people than when we first got married, wearing that tuxedo and white dress.  We are not husband and wife. We are not brother and sister. I’m not sure we are even friends. Not yet.  For now, it seemed more like a conversation between ex-business partners.

For better or for worse, for sickness or for health, eight years after our “separation” and two and a half years after we first filed the paperwork, I finally felt divorced — that is, emotionally.   And I don’t say that cruelly.  It is necessary.

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