Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: July 2013

BlogHer ’13 – Chicago – In Photos

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Short Fiction Writing Lab at BlogHer ’13

Storytelling

One of the most exciting changes at the BlogHer conference over the years has been the increasing focus on writing. It is an acknowledgement by the powers-that-be that the core of blogging is not just about SEO or branding, but writing.

Not “content,” but WRITING.

This year, the Writing Lab at BlogHer ‘13 offers two 90-minute sessions each day on various subjects. I will be leading the writing lab in Short Form Fiction. The meeting times will be —

Friday afternoon from 2:30 – 4:00 PM

AND

Saturday morning 10:30 – noon.

Come prepared with your questions and your laptop or tablet (or come old school with a notebook).

Here’s a short syllabus of the Short Fiction Writing Lab. I put it up, hoping for some feedback, especially by anyone who is interested in attending. After all, writing is all about editing. Would you like me to add or change anything about the writing lab? It’s supposed to be a discussion for YOU.

0-45 MinutesDoes Short Fiction Have a Role in Mainstream Blogging?

1. Journalism, Opinion, and Memoir are accepted forms of blogging, but is fiction?

2. What makes short fiction different than a novel?

3. Does the main character have to be likeable?

4. The importance of drama. Why we hate it in real life, but must embrace it in our creative writing.

5. What reading 400 posts for the VOTY competition this year taught me about short fiction writing.

6. Using fiction to fictionalize your online blog persona. How creating a somewhat fictional first-person “YOU” can allow you to be more honest and authentic as a blogger? Is David Sedaris really “David Sedaris?” Narrarators — reliable or unreliable?

7. How far can you go in fictionalizing your life on your personal blog? Is anything off-limits? Do we judge a person’s imaginary life as harshly as we do their real life? Would you be afraid to have dinner with a fiction writer like Stephen King?

8. How do you communicate to your audience what is fiction and what is real? Did you really sleep with that hunky Fed-Ex delivery guy, or was it just a good story?

9. Remembering James Frey. When is it fiction and when is it lying? Are we hiding from ourselves when we fictionalize?

45-90 Minutes Let’s Write –The Truth Quotient Writing Assignment.

1. Write a one paragraph 100% true story based on an assigned topic.

2. Now write two more one paragraph stories based on the first, but with the second story being 50% true and the third story being 75% fiction.

3. Discussion. Which of the three stories best captures the original intention of the writer. Which of these three stories is the most “honest.” Which best engages the reader? Which is the most “authentic?”

4. Can there ever be a 100% true story?

5. The purpose of fiction.

Understanding my Privilege

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I took this photo of some man sweltering in the New York City heatwave, and when I looked at it later, I suddenly understood the concept of “privilege.”

I know this will make no sense to you right now.  But it was an “aha” moment for myself, brought upon by all the discussion about the Zimmerman trial in Florida, and what his acquittal tells us about America.

I’m privileged as a straight, white male — because I’m born as “the norm.”  I could have been a perfect home run if I was also born as a “Christian.”  You would think being born privileged in America is good, and we would want to proudly announce it to the world, but in today’s culture, no one wants to admit that they were given a head start in the race to the finish line.  So, we tend to avoid the conversation.

But as a “Citizen of the Month,” [see blog title], I believe it is important to acknowledge my privilege, because if I don’t, I can’t even begin to understand the struggles of my fellow citizens who weren’t born into the norm.   I have an important role in making things better for everyone, since I am the one with the advantages.

Now, let’s go back to the photo of this man.  He is in a wheelchair.  He looks miserable. Perhaps he is even hit hard times.  He is still a privileged straight white male.

That was the aha moment.

Just imagine how the scenario and context of the photo would change if he were a black man sitting on the street like this.  Would we assume a certain life history that would be different because of his race?   All things aren’t equal.

This man is privileged.  That does not mean he is lucky.  Or even happy.  If I told you that this straight white man was born a multi-millionaire, lost it all to a drug addiction, and is now homeless, would you lose all empathy for him because of his privilege?  Of course not.

A privileged person can have a life of tragedy through illness, broken relationships, bad luck, or plain stupidity.  A non-privileged person can go to one of our nation’s top private university and become President of the United States.  Individuals rise and fall despite of their privilege and lack of privilege for many reasons — psychological, economic, good looks, parental guidance, experience with bullying in school, and even a natural ability to juggle.  This doesn’t change the fact of privilege.

The concept of privilege is a sociological one, and revolves around issues of group identity and social biases.    This does not take away from free will or just plain luck.  A black man could have a life of ease, and be born of wealthy parents, and still lack the privilege of the white man of going to the supermarket wearing a hoodie.

That is what we are talking about.  Not the ups and downs of life that everyone, privileged or not, will have to deal with over their lifetime.

Thinking of this issue as two separate entities  — privilege and free will — makes it easier for me to accept my privilege as a straight white male.  I was born with advantages.    On the other hand, the world is not an academic exercise in sociology.   Life will always be a game of high stakes poker, no matter what cards you are dealt.   Accepting your privilege just means that you believe in making sure the card game of American life as run as fairly as possible for all.   It cannot predict the outcome of every individual’s hand.

Last post:  Owning my Racism

Owning My Racism

In ten days, thousands of bloggers, mostly smart and saavy women, will be heading into the beautiful city of Chicago for the annual BlogHer conference.

Another fun fact: Chicago is also the murder capitol of the nation.

In fact, at the same time as BlogHer, there will be another conference in town — an important emergency national summit on urban violence at Chicago State University, led by the Congressional Black Caucus.

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The Sheraton, the BlogHer host hotel, has a special conference rate of $199 a night. Before I found roommates, I searched the Internet for less expensive alternatives. I discovered a good deal at a chain hotel a train-ride away. I DM-ed one of my friends in Chicago to ask about this hotel.

“You know anything about it?” I asked.

“Oh, you don’t want to go there. It’s in a very bad neighborhood.”

A very bad neighborhood. Chicago. I bet you are having the same images in your mind that I do — liquor stores, pawn shops, Fried Chicken places, unemployed men, gangs, and mostly black faces. And gun violence.

Poor. Black. Crime. Violence. Fear. The words easily come together in urban America.

“Better you stay at the Sheraton,” said my friend. “Why tempt fate?”

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What does this have to do with the Trayvon Martin shooting or the George Zimmerman trial in Florida?

Nothing. But everything. I live in America. I am part of the problem.

The Three Types of Personal Blogging Posts

I’m giving a little talk to a group in New York this afternoon on the “art of blogging” and it got me asking the question, “What is the essential core of personal blogging?”

After much pondering on the question, I whittled the entire art form — every single blog post ever written — down to three basic topics, or themes, and the typical responses to these posts from the readership-at-large.

Blog Post Theme #1 —

“This is why the OTHERS are WRONG.”   They act, speak, or think incorrectly, and I will tell you why.

Response from Readers to Blog Post Theme #1 —

“You nailed it. I’m sharing this on Facebook.”

Blog Post Theme #2 —

“This is why I am RIGHT.”  I work hard. I play hard. I am blessed with good luck.

Response from Readers to Blog Post Theme #2 —

You are AWESOME. I’m sharing this on Twitter.

Blog Post Theme #3 —

“This is my real life, unfiltered, warts and all.”

Response from Readers to Blog Post Theme #3 —

1)  “Crickets.”

2)  [HUGS]

3)  You’re one fucked up asshole.

4)  I am so proud of your strength and bravery in being so vulnerable online.  Unfortunately, I need to only surround myself with positive people, so I am unfollowing you everywhere.   Namaste.

5)  Thanks for voting for me for my 2013 BlogHer Voice of the Year blog post this year, which I will be reading in front of thousands, assuming you DID vote for me.  And even if you didn’t, it doesn’t really matter.  I can’t wait to see you and have you hear me read my post out loud! It’s so exciting, right?!  Check out my other blog posts at —

6)  Venetian blinds are an excellent addition to any abode. Your information adds much insight into my glorified research. Thank you for your good work! What is your favorite travel software to Belirus?