Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: July 2014

BlogHer ’14

blogher14

First the positive.   The sessions were interesting.  The Voices of the Year reading was one of the best yet.   Standing ovation good.   This year honored 10 years of BlogHer, and the atmosphere was celebratory.  There was a feeling of nostalgia in the air, combined with an openness and hopefulness towards the future of the internet.

San Jose is a mellow city (even a little dull), but I liked it as a locale for a conference.   Sure, New York and Chicago are more exciting, but this year attendees stayed around and participated rather than running around town for sightseeing opportunities.   The final party, outside in the warm California sun, was fun, and felt like clubbing in the classiest McDonald’s in the world (they were the sponsor of the event).

I was honored to be part of a Pathfinder session on Becoming a Visual Artist. It was the fourth time that I had been involved in a session (Storytelling with Amy, Blogging with Elan and Laurie, Fiction Writing as a Writing Lab, and now photography with Lucrecer).

Now the negative.  No, let me rephrase it.  It isn’t negative. It is just change. And the change is not BlogHer, but ME.

I felt less personally invested in the blogging community than in previous years.  Is it the result of my interest in mobile photography?  Do photographers become aloof from the world, acting more as observers than participants? I didn’t even dance at the final party, always one of my highlights, instead choosing to photograph the OTHERS dancing.

Perhaps the disengagement is a natural reaction to a once small world that is now part of a bigger media world.  Everyone now has a reason for their blog, whether to “help others” or get on TV.   Whatever happened to just starting a blog because you are crazy, lonely, and neurotic?

I think back at how emotional unstable I WAS in the past, especially during previous BlogHers.

At my first conference, I tripped at the Chicago Sheraton registration line as I met Elan (Schmutzie) for the first time, tears in my eyes, as if she was some character I had been reading about in a book and had suddenly materialized as a living, breathing person.   As if she was Harry Potter, and Harry Potter wanted to meet too!

This year, at BlogHer,  Elan and I hugged on the last day, our suitcases trailing after us.   We apologized for hardly speaking during the entire conference. We were too busy with our own sessions.

“Eh, no big deal,” I said.   I’ll see you on Facebook later.”   This is not something I could… or would…. say eight years ago.

One of my highlights of BlogHer 2009 has nothing to do with the sessions.  It was me bitching to Jenny (the Bloggess) and Tanis (Redneck Mommy)  for what seemed like an hour about this “Blogging with Integrity” campaign started by the “evil” Liz (Mom 101) and others.   I have no idea why I was so passionate about this topic at the time, but I was sure that everyone putting side banners on their blog saying “I Blog With Integrity” would destroy Blogging as We Know It.   It was as if Joseph McCarthy had taken over the blogosphere.   Now, I just laugh at myself for acting so weird.

Tanis wasn’t at BlogHer this year, focusing on her family.   Liz wasn’t there either.   Jenny WAS there, but mostly in the capacity of the best-selling author of “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened.”

The line was so long to see her at the book-signing that I said, “Eh, I’ll just see her on Facebook later.”   This was becoming my motif.

Does the name BlogHer make sense anymore?   Maybe they should rename it FacebookHer. Or SocialMediaHer.

Sure, there were SESSIONS on blogging, but I had very few personal conversations about blogging.   I had interesting discussions about publishing, race in America,  using Pinterest, and the cheekbones of Kerry Washington, the TV actress who was also one of the keynotes. I think we still use blogs as a tool, but are frankly bored about talking about it.

OK, enough ranting.   My new aim in life is to become a positive person, like that woman I met at lunch who handed me her business card that read “Positivist Entrepreneur.”

I had a great time this year.   I met so many new people, not to win more “followers,” but to understand why the hell anyone would waste their time starting a blog in 2014 rather than just write for the Huffington Post.

A lot of the newbies I met were much younger than the typical mom blogger  (I mean, “they could be my daughter” young), and it made me feel kinda old. One kind woman in her early twenties came up to me and said that she was honored to meet me because “she was a big fan of my work on Instagram.”  She addressed me as Mr. Kramer.  I choked on my coffee.

I got many compliments on my new designer jeans that I bought two weeks ago at Nordstrom.  I wore them every day of the conference.   But I didn’t get laid.  San Jose is just too hot for any hanky panky.

I missed having a roommate.  I’m a yenta at heart.   I like gossiping until late night with Sarah or Marty.

As usual, I heard a lot of talk about hits and followers and platform.  I had a nice conversation with a popular fashion blogger until I mentioned that my comments and visits to my blog were half of what they were only three years ago, and she took off as fast as if I had just announced that I had syphilis.

There were whispers and rumors that this might be the last year of the big BlogHer conference, and that the organization would focus instead on the niche-conferences dedicated to food and business and politics. I hope it isn’t true. The annual BlogHer conference has become an important ritual for me.

But if the co-founders decide to change direction, I would understand.  A conference that appeals to personal writers, political activists, business women, and coupon moms ALL AT THE SAME TIME is hard to maintain forever.  Splitting up by tribe and demographic might be the way of future.

It might even be good for me.    BlogHer has been extremely kind to be, taking me into their, uh, bosom, as one of their own.   But it has never been my authentic “tribe.”   If the annual conference ends, it might feel to me like a parent kicking their deadbeat artist son out into the real world to get a job.  And maybe it is time to stop caring about BLOGGING as some sort of spiritual or personal journey, or as a social or radical act, and focus on it as a way to advance my career.   Because THAT is blogging 2014.

Thanks to everyone I met this year, both old and new friends.   And thank you for BlogHer for being such a class act.

Special thanks to JC and SueBob who made the long road trip back and forth from Los Angeles into one of the highlights of the weekend, even though we never sang any songs.

Fictional Characters of New York — #27

melting

It was eight months ago, on the way to work, during a unseasonably December morning in Soho, that Gretchen told me that she was pregnant.

“Pregnant.  But we’re gay,” I said.

“No, you’re a lesbian.  I’m bi-sexual.”

“Are we going to argue semantics again? I wish you never took that course at NYU.”

“I’m not talking about language. I’m talking about reality.”

“I know, I know.  Language is reality.”

“Laura, I’m pregnant.”

“How can you be pregnant?”

“It’s what happens sometimes when you fuck a guy.”

“You fucked a guy?”

“I’m in love with a guy.”

“You’re in love with a guy?”

“I’m bi-sexual.”

“What are you saying, Gretchen?”

“I’m moving out. I’m moving in with Ryan.  I’ve been seeing him for five months already.  I’m going to have a baby.”

We were crossing the street at the time. The snow from last week’s storm was melting, turning into mush.

“It’s betrayal,” I said, as we jumped over a puddle.

“I know this is hard to hear. It’s hard for me too.”

“It’s not just betrayal of me. It’s a betrayal of all lesbians. Of the entire community. You can’t fuck a guy and have his baby. Unless we do it together.”

“Ryan’s a gentle man.   An illustrator of children’s books.  The heart doesn’t know gender. It just knows love.”

“And what about me? What am I going to do?”

“We’ll always be friends.   I love you, too.   I want you in my life.  I want you to be the baby’s godmother.”

“I’m not going to be that baby’s godmother. I don’t give a shit about your shitty baby.”

That was eight months ago.   Since then, I have gone on a few dates with women I met online, but nothing interesting. No chemistry. Not like I had with Gretchen.

Today, I received an email to the baptism of her baby, (a baptism!?) but I deleted it.

Three Months Later

I was not surprised when she blocked me on Facebook and Twitter.   She TOLD me that she was going to do it.   But I figured it would be for a few days, and then she would be back.   It wasn’t the first time we went through this charade.

Juli and I met online.  We became immediate friends.  We were both going through a divorce, but as bloggers, we chatted mostly about writing.    Gradually this platonic friendship grew into something more — a long distance romance.

And it was definitely a LONG distance romance.  I lived in New York.  She lived in New Zealand. When we spoke on the phone, we were more than a day apart.   After a year of struggling with our schedules, chatting at inconvenient hours, we decide there was only one solution — I had to travel to New Zealand to see her.

For a month and a half, I had the most amazing time of my life. I spent Christmas and New Years with Juli and her young son.   It was summer in New Zealand!  We traveled around the South Island, and everywhere I went,  the beauty of the landscape blew me away.  I even learned how to camp… in a tent!   I found myself falling in love with a special woman.

The problems only started when I returned to the States.  Where do we go from here?  She was unable to leave the country because of her son.   We discussed my moving to New Zealand, but where would I work? Where would I stay? What if things didn’t work out?

There were no fights. Just a lot of unanswered questions. I was indecisive. I wanted baby steps. She wanted grand gestures. If I could go back in time, I might play my hand differently. Or I might not.

A long-distance relationship can be powerful, but it comes with it’s own set of strains. There were times when Juli would tell me that she needed to hide me on Facebook or Twitter, not out of anger, but because it brought up feelings of yearning and jealousy. I would laugh and tell her that she was being silly, but I understood exactly how she felt. It was difficult being separated from someone you cared about, and the breezy connections you have on social media can feel like an insult to the deep and honest love of a true relationship.

Three months ago, Juli went one step further.   She said that she needed to stop talking with me — for the sake of both of us.   Our long-distance relationship was holding us back from real life.

I laughed and told her to take her break. “I’ll be waiting for you when you come back,” I texted.

But she didn’t text back. And she didn’t answer any of my emails.

We haven’t interacted in three months.  She was serious this time.  Circumstances had changed and time had passed.   She had gone back to school and was searching for work.   She didn’t need me bogging her down, especially if our relationship wasn’t going anywhere.

Now the roles were now reversed.   She didn’t see my updates online, but I still saw hers.   I knew she got a new job from seeing her Twitter updates.   But I couldn’t talk to her about it.   The sight of her name brought up emotions that I’m not sure I wanted to feel anymore. So, after I write this post, I need to go on Twitter and Facebook, and block her too.   It just hurts too much.

Fictional Characters of New York — #26

bigbird

Like many children growing up in the 1960s, Ben learned his life skills by watching Sesame Street. By kindergarten, Ben could recite the alphabet and count to ten.  The moral philosophy of the PBS became Ben’s guiding principle of life — he believed that people of all races and backgrounds could live together in harmony, even if his own family couldn’t do the same.

In later life, Sesame Street never prepared Ben for unemployment at age 50, or for his divorce with Angela, his wife of 20 years. But through a set of circumstances that could only be described as ironic, Ben fell into a part-time job playing Big Bird in Central Park, hawking photos from tourists visiting the city.

Big Bird was never Ben’s favorite from the show.  He acted like a pussy.  He preferred Oscar the Grouch, who reminded him of his father, a gruff man who used to drink his beer from a can while watching his cop shows.

But needing the money, Ben faked a good Big Bird, nailing the speech and mannerisms, and the kids of Central Park — youth of all colors and creeds — loved him, tugging his feathers as if he was their long lost friend. He made a few good tips too; frantic parents shoved shriveled five dollar bills into his big bird hands. Ben hated his new job.  He felt deep deep shame.   But gradually, Ben learned to control his tears by reciting the alphabet and counting to ten.

 

Glass Half-Full

Here is a video of the piece I read at the “Listen to Your Mother” show at Symphony Space in NYC in May.   I met so many wonderful people because of that experience.    You can also see the other videos from the show on the same YouTube page.

Fictional Characters of New York — #25

walk

In her old life, Michelle used to walk past Cynthia, the mousy neighbor in apartment 3D, never uttering a word. Michelle had nothing in common with this shy librarian.

But six months after her accident, Michelle’s friends stopped calling, as did her boyfriend. She didn’t blame them; she knew the life of a high pressure career, having been a news director at CBS News. New York City is a race and there is no waiting for the fallen.

But when loneliness and deep depression became Michelle’s only visitors to her Manhattan apartment, it was Cynthia who brought books to read, food to share, and encouragement to heal.

Never had Michelle felt such warmth towards anyone as when Cynthia took her arm and said, “You will walk. You will work. You will find love again. Baby steps.”

Fictional Characters of New York — #24

father

The following flash fiction was inspired by the people of New York, and the street photography that captures the diversity and excitement of the city. The story, names, and situations are all 100% fictional.   Photo and story by Neil Kramer.

Don received an email this morning from his old friend, Gregory, who still worked the coat room at the Hilton. It read, “She’s checking out at noon and taking a car service to JFK.”

Emily was flying back to Northern California. Emily. Beautiful Emily. Don debated whether to rush over and make things right, but he was terrified of her reaction. Could he tell this glamorous young woman, with no cares in the world, that a man as unimportant as himself was her father?

Fictional Characters of New York — #23

flushing

The following flash fiction was inspired by the people of New York, and the street photography that captures the diversity and excitement of the city. The story, names, and situations are all 100% fictional.   Photo and story by Neil Kramer.

I proposed to Molly today. We’re a good match. We both went to Yale and wrote well-received debut novels. When our  engagement is announced tomorrow, I have no doubt there will be column in the Observer touting us as the next young literary powerhouse couple.

I also respect Molly’s parents.  My Chinese parents have a lot in common with Molly’s  Jewish heritage.   Both families believe in education and high achievement.  Molly and I will create some smart children with our combined Chinese-Jewish DNA.    But it’s too soon to talk about children just yet.  We’ve both heavily committed to our careers, and Molly isn’t sure how long she can keep teaching creative writing at NYU.

I hope Jailyn doesn’t take it hard. I owe so much to her. She was my muse. There would be no novel titled “Main Street, Flushing,” without her.  The character of Evelyn WAS Jailyn.

From the moment I moved into Molly’s Upper East Side condo, I knew the space was too stuffy and quiet for my temperament.  Whenever I hit a blank page in the story, I took the 7 train down to Flushing, and let the culture of my youth bombard my senses — the red ribbons and exotic fruits, the old men playing mahjong and the young women with their cheap pastel umbrellas shielding their eyes from the hot sun.

On the side street, right off the way from the market and herbal store, was a small massage studio.  It was only $15 a hour for a decent massage.  A perfectly legit place.   No hanky panky.   And that’s how I met Jailyn.

I took her for dinner at Liang’s Noodle King. She loved niu rou mian, a beef noodle soup known as a Taiwanese comfort food noodles, and she slurped it up with abandon. She wasn’t refined; she came from Taipei in 2010 with only a high school education, but her spirit was as old as that of the Empress Xuanzong.

She became my muse. We would fuck all night in her tiny apartment, every chance I could, and her lips would taste sweet and salty. When she would fall asleep, spent, I would quietly go to her kitchen table and write for the rest of the night, my creativity endless.

I wrote about Evelyn, a young orphan girl who moved from Taiwan to start a new life in Flushing, Queens.  After the novel was finished, it reached #7 on Amazon’s best-selling fiction of 2013.

Jailyn was proud of my success, and wanted to attend one of my public book readings — the big one at the Barnes and Noble in Union Square — but all my Yale and Manhattan friends were coming that day, and I didn’t think she would feel comfortable.  I was trying to protect her.

She will always be my muse. I will forever remember my time with her, and the way she felt in my arms. But now I’m ready for my literary life with Molly.   My second novel will come out in October, about a young Chinese-American politician and his struggle to become mayor.

I hope that Jailyn understands why it is important for my career that I marry Molly.   I explained it all in the letter I sent to her in the mail.   I’m sure she will. She’s strong. Like all Chinese women.

New NYC Photos for Sale — July 2014

Since a few of you have asked about it, I’m putting up a few more recent NYC photos for sale.   Thanks for all the positive comments.  For more information, or to buy a print, you can go to my online “store.”

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