Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: art

The Story of the Birthday Selfie


This morning, someone asked me how I took this “birthday” photo of myself that I posted on Facebook — not the baby one, but the one where I am on my bed, stretched out like a sexy male model in some underwear ad.

Here’s the story:

I woke up with the idea of taking a photo of myself “in my birthday suit,” in honor of my upcoming birthday. But how to do it? My arm is just not long enough to capture myself in full glory. But like they say, “necessity is the mother of invention.”

I found a roll of scotch tape and used it to tape my iPhone to the ceiling. I then set up a photo app on my phone to take a photo every ten seconds, giving me a chance to pose in various positions while I faked sleeping (forgetting – of course – to take off my glasses).

I let the photo shoot begin. I felt a sense of pride. I had moved from photographer to subject. It was my moment to shine in the ultimate selfie! I moved to the right, to the left, smiling, scowling, putting my arm up, putting my arm down, waiting for the next click of the phone. This was going to turn out great!  I was going to turn myself into an object of desire!

But, suddenly I heard a crunchy, tearing sound, a tone of danger. My eyes were closed, faking sleep, and when I opened them, I saw the clear imminent threat. It was my iPhone. The weight of the phone had loosened the scotch tape, and my trusty iPhone 4S had broken from it’s sticky prison, and it was heading straight towards my head, flying through the air like the H-bomb. I jolted to my right, and the iphone passed by my ear, the case whipping by the tips of my graying hair. If I had been a second slower, the iPhone would have slammed into my glasses, possibly cracking my lens, or worse — making me go blind in one eye.

But I survived. I had escaped from what could have been a tragedy. I would have had to post a birthday selfie of me wearing a black eye patch with cracked eyeglasses, like a nerdy Jewish pirate.

Which brings me to my birthday, and what lessons I learned from this experience. We all take chances in life. We make art. We do stupid things. We risk danger by taking selfies. But as long as a person embraces his goals, his dreams, no matter how ridiculous they may be, and is able to survive with minimum physical harm, he is leading a good life.

Happiness and Gumballs


It was the day before the annual BlogHer conference in Chicago.   JC and I made plans to stroll down Michigan Avenue and explore the city.  If you don’t know JC Little (The Animated Woman), take a look at her delightful and somewhat repulsive presentation about pinworms at the Voices of the Year ceremony.  She’s my kind of person.


During our walk, we found ourselves in the architecturally-interesting Chicago Cultural Center, and noticed that there was an art show on the fourth floor gallery.  It was titled “The Happy Show” and the installation was by Stefan Sagmeister, a prominent designer from New York.

The Happy Show offers visitors the experience of walking into the designer’s mind as he attempts to increase his happiness via meditation, cognitive therapy and mood-altering pharmaceuticals. “I am usually rather bored with definitions,” Sagmeister says. “Happiness, however, is just such a big subject that it might be worth a try to pin it down.” Centered around the designer’s ten-year exploration of happiness, this exhibition presents typographic investigations of a series of maxims, or rules to live by, originally culled from Sagmeister’s diary, manifested in a variety of imaginative and interactive forms.  — from the city of Chicago website.

The exhibit was fantastic, and we spent over an hour enjoying the unique infographics and interactive displays, all relating the concept of happiness.


The most provocative art piece was Sagmeister’s attempt to show a graphical representation  of the happiness of the visitors to the show.  He did this based on the amount of gumballs that were taken from a row of ten old-fashioned gumball machines standing against the wall, numbered from 1-10, each machine signifying one higher level of individual happiness.

I thought about my level of personal happiness before I approached the gumball machines. I decided that I was relatively happy.  Even with some bumps in the proverbial road, I had my health, good friends, my hair, and I wasn’t bored yet with my existence.  I took a gumball from machine #7.  That put me in the top 25% of happiness.

As I put the gumball into my mouth, JC said, “That’s bad for your teeth.”

I laughed.  It’s the little joys of life that enable a person to be happy.

“It’s your turn,” I said, almost a dare.

JC walked to the row of gumball machines and turned the handle of machine #10.  A bright yellow gumball dropped out.


“#10?” I shouted, rather stunned.

Maybe she was confused by the instructions.  She was Canadian, after all.

“You realize that #10 means #10 in happiness.” I mansplained.

“I know,” she said.

I left it at that, but by the time we were back on the street, at “the Bean” in Grant Park, I couldn’t hold it in any longer.  Her choice had annoyed me.


“How can you put yourself as #10 in happy?” I pushed again.

“Because I’m happy.”

“That’s great.  I’m glad you’re happy.  But #10 happy?  What about #9 happy?  Then you would have something to look forward to!”

“I think you can be #10 happy all the time, if you are happy at the moment.”

“Are you saying that nothing bad has ever happened to you?  No one you cared about ever got sick or went bankrupt?”

“Of course bad things happen.  I can be upset, but still happy and content.”

“This makes no LOGICAL SENSE.  #10 means the IDEAL.  The Platonic ideal.  Heaven is #10.  No one ever gets to be #10 in this world.  If I thought I was #10 in happiness, I would just kill myself because it’s all downhill.”

“That’s because we have different views of happiness.”


Two days later, I met JC during one of the keynotes.  It was the day after her presentation at the Voices of the Year.

“You were great last night,” I said.

“Thank you.”

“Anyway, enough about that.  Have you changed your mind about what number happy you are?”

“Are you still obsessing over this?”

“Are you feeling #10 right now?”


“Ok, let’s make up a hypothetical situation.  Imagine, last night your presentation was a total disaster.  Everything went wrong.”

“Nice.  OK.”

“The microphone didn’t work.  The crowd was booing.  Today, you’re being ostracized by everyone you know.”

“Are they throwing things at me?”



“So, what number happiness are you now?”



“Like I told you ten times before.  I can be upset.  But still happy.  Because I know who I am.”

“OK, what if your pants fell down during your presentation last night, and you weren’t wearing any underwear and everyone saw your privates?  What then?  How would you feel today?”

“That would be quite memorable.  It would probably make me more happy.”

“Aha, GOTCHA!  You are already #10!  You can’t become MORE HAPPY!”

It’s been a month since BlogHer.  Last night, I had a dream.  I was standing in front of the row of gumballs in Chicago, ready to make another choice.  I gazed at the yellow balls of sugary gum enclosed in reflective glass tubes, and then I went for it.  But this time, rather than taking a gumball from machine #7, I turned the lever of machine #6.

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 First Annual Blogger Holiday Online Arts and Crafts Fair

Arts and Crafts Fair Poster Girl Villanovababy

Welcome to the first ever Blogger Holiday Online Arts and Crafts Fair. 

This is your opportunity to be introduced to the artistic work of some of your favorite bloggers.  It’s the holiday season… the time for gift-giving.  Why not give a unique and handmade gift to your loved ones and friends this year — and support a fellow blogger at the same time?  I think you’ll find a varied group of artists, photograhers, and crafty folk represented here on this page.

Feel free to browse, both here and on the participants’ shopping pages.  You don’t have to buy.  Just enjoy looking at the work of those who are more talented than you, artistic geniuses who make you feel like an uncreative loser.  Ha Ha, of course that is a joke.  You don’t feel bad at all.  They’re ARTISTS.  Chances are that you drive a much nicer car. You get the last laugh!  Thank god for business school!

Of course no arts and craft fair would be complete without some food and entertainment.  Please nosh on our delicious homemade bagels, courtesy of Deb from Smitten Kitchen and Ari from Baking and Books

The Battle of the Homemade Bagels —

Deb’s Homemade Bagels

Ari’s Homemade Bagels

Sure, they’re only virtual bagels, but they’re COMPLIMENTARY.  That means they are free!  Woo-hoo! 

There are also two concert areas on the fairgrounds, keeping you entertained as you shop. On STAGE ONE, rock out with British indie band Arctic Monkeys, as they stop by the arts and crafts fair during their west coast tour.  On STAGE TWO, our more intimate staging area, we are proud to present one of America’s finest songwriters, Mr. James Taylor.

I hope you enjoy the Arts and Crafts Fair.  The doors are now open!

Gemstone necklaces from Gillian   
(blog — Tiddleywinks)

Photography from Lisa Duvall
(blog — Fat Chick Running)

Artwork by Kyra
(blog — Shaping My Way)

Photography by Schmutzie
(blog — Milk Money or Not)

Gift Tags by SAJ
(blog — Secret Agent Josephine)

Photography by Leesa
(blog — Piece of My Mind)

Artwork by Angie
(blog — Evangelinethan)

Photography by Susannah
(blog — Ink on my Fingers)

CONCERT STAGE ONE – Arctic Monkeys

Work by Liz Elayne
(blog — Be Present, Be Here)

Photography by Mary
(blog — Maliavale)

T-shirt by Dave
(blog — Blogography)

Jewelry by Sara
(blog — Moving Right Along)

Photography by Stacy
(blog — Jurgen Nation)

Gumball the Kitten Magnets by Bethany
(blog — Bethany Actually)

Artwork by Ellen Bloom
(blog — Los Angeles is my Beat)

Photography by Heather
(blog — Nabbalicious)


Purse by Abigail
(blog — Abigail’s Road to Nowhere)

Photography by 180/360
(blog — 180/360)

Custom Made Felt Pins by Ms. Sizzle
($5 plus shipping – email her at sizzlesays at gmail dot com)
(blog — Sizzle Says)

Photography by Sarah
(blog — Sad and Beautiful)

Baby/Toddler Clothes by Sarah
(blog — Susu g)

Photography by Di Mackey
(blog — Woman Wandering)

Fiber Quilts by Caron
(blogs — All and Nothing, And Still Counting)

Painting by Stacy Elaine
(blog — Pudgy Pigeon Enterprises)

Handmade Hats and Aprons by Leahpeah
(blog — Leahpeah)

Artwork by AscenderRises
(blog — Ascender Rises Above)

Photography by Aimee
(blog — Greeblemonkey)

Art Journal by V-Grrrl
(email her at veronica at v-grrrl dot com for prices)
(blog — V-grrrl in the Middle)

Baby Clothes by Jen Lemen
(blog — Jen Lemen)

Purses by Jaynette

And for those who would rather donate money as a gift, how about getting a cow or a water buffalo for a needy family via The Heifer Project? (thanks Not Fainthearted!)