Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: blogging (page 1 of 11)

Ten Years of Citizen of the Month – A Dedication

It was March 2005, and my first two weeks of blogging.  No one was reading Citizen of the Month, my “blog” named after a award that I frequently won in grade school for being such a goody-two-shoes. And without any comments, the idea of writing a blog seemed like a waste of time.

Then, a woman named Mary commented on several posts, writing notes such as “great post” and “you are a talented writer.” I was so excited; I was connecting with a stranger through my writing! This type of immediate feedback more satisfying that writing scripts for soulless Hollywood.

But then I noticed an oddness in the “IP address” of this Mary person. It was the same IP address as mine — not similar, but exactly the same.

This was because “Mary” was my wife at the time, Sophia, encouraging me under a false alias, not wanting me to quit.

This is a dedication to my first ten years of blogging.

I started my blog on March 7, 2005, on my birthday.

There are so many people to thank. Citizen of the Month has been a personal journey of my last ten years, and I have made countless friends along the way, like Frodo meeting the dwarves and elves while heading to Mount Doom. But there is only one person who truly deserves a special dedication to my first ten years of blogging — and that is Sophia.

If Citizen of the Month were a novel, it would start with my marriage to Sophia, proceed to my on-and-off separation with Sophia, my on-and-off divorce from my Sophia, and finally to the aftermath of my marriage, from my chapter with Juli in New Zealand, to therapy, to my first stabs at online dating.  Even my topical posts were filled with secret messages and personal details.

Even when Sophia wasn’t present in the online story, she was somehow in the background, such as when she hacked into my blogger address book and secretly arranged a virtual birthday party for me (with Danny‘s help) in 2007.

birthday1

My second decade of blogging will be a different story, one that I haven’t written yet, because I am not in complete control of the plot. My divorce is now further in the past and I live in another city. I haven’t been the greatest blogger of late, spreading myself thin on social media, but in my mind, everything I do online is a continuation of the personal journey that I started here on this space.

Thank you to everyone who ever stopped by, commented, or argued with me here on Citizen of the Month during the last ten years.  I promise to try to put the shine back on to my space.  Thanks to my mom, who has always been the most popular “character” on my blog, even back in 2005 when I got some laughs at her calling Citizen of the Month a “blodge.”   To Elan, who taught me everything.    To Martin, the best and most intelligent commenter that ever appeared on this blog.  Bon, Jana, Juli, Sizzle, Josette, Lotus, Megan, Pearl, Tamar, Sarah, Jenn — jeez, you know who you are.   Those names just came popping out and I apologize if I don’t mention you personally.  I even apologize again to  Liz from Mom 101 for calling her a Mussolini-type dictator for her “blogging with integrity” movement from years ago.

Throughout the years, I’ve always had an eccentric definition of a “blog.” I don’t see this space as writing or photography or a business. I’ve seen it as an extension of my life, as a living and breathing entity that expresses my inner soul, writing to myself, the wind, and sometimes just for Tanis, simply to annoy her.

And thank you, Sophia for always being supportive of my online life (except for the one time you called my favorite blogging friend, Veronica, on the phone and yelled at her for that one comment, but I promised I would never mention that), and for being my muse during the Golden Age years of my blog.

Now on to my second decade of blogging.

Singing Cabaret

I’m not big on crowds.  My experiences with conferences tend to revolve around hanging with one or two people who I strongly connect with for one reason or another.   This year, at BlogHer, that person was JC, the Animated Woman.  Besides driving with her to San Jose from Los Angeles, we did a little sightseeing in LA after the conference, including a visit to this weird Hollywood store filled with old Hollywood props.  Last night, I made this appropriately weird little slideshow movie for her to watch on her flight back to Montreal.

What is Blogging?

I had no idea anyone would watch this video outside of my Facebook friends, so I didn’t put it on my blog,  which means, of course, that YouTube and Facebook got all the traffic instead.  If there is one thing I’m not, it’s a marketing genius.

I also never bothered to credit the fine cast, so I blew it for them, too.   So, thank you, wonderful actresses.  You played pretentious bloggers so well you’d think that it wasn’t acting at all.

Suzan from The Suniverse

Tracy from Sellabit Mum

Jenny from Oh, Jenny Mae

Wendi from They’re Not all Gems

Marinka from Marinka NYC

Val from Bonbon Break

Alexandra from Good Day, Regular People

Arnebya from What Now and Why

And best of luck to those involved in the American Blogger project.   Seriously.  I know how difficult it is to get an independent film made.

Who is My Audience?

In July, I received an email from an online editor asking me if she could include one of my NYC Instagram photos in a post about “the best Instagram shots of the month.”

“Sure,” I said. “Why not?”

A few days later, I received another email rescinding the offer. The editor politely explained that the full title of the post was “The Best Instagram Shots of the Month Taken by Parents,” and as a non-parent, I was ineligible.

I suppose you expect me to be outraged.  Nah.  Maybe if this happened a few years ago when I was obsessed about the community of the blogosphere.   But now I’m older and wiser, and I just shrug.  It was nothing personal.   There is no community.   Or more accurately, there are many and many communities.  It is all about each person connecting with an audience.   The editor of this blog, like most network, film, and publishing executives today, understood the importance of reaching a targeted demographic. A parenting blog wants to connect with other parents, in the same way that a Jewish magazine wants Jewish writers to connect with a Jewish audience, or a LGBT website asks a gay novelist to share his experiences with a gay readership.

From the Ladders blog —

The starting point for all communication is becoming aware of the intended audience and approaching them on an appropriate level…

To ensure successful written communication, first think about the people who will read it. By putting yourself in their shoes, you will gain insight into what they want to know and how they want to be addressed. The Temple of Apollo at Delphi in Greece has an inscription that cautions each person to “know yourself.” Improving communications encourages people to know thy audience.

Knowing your audience is not an easy task.

Earlier this week,  I wrote on Facebook:

I seem to have an ongoing struggle with my writing voice in relation to the audience. I write for myself, challenging myself to find some inner truth worth discussing, as if I’m in a therapist’s office. I write for a select group of long-time friends like Veronica and Schmutzie, because our entire friendship is based on our blogging, and it feels as if there is an obligation, almost a duty, to continue our online pen-pal relationship by writing. I write for a general audience of bloggers who might discover me through social media. And sometimes I think about writing for a complete outsider, maybe someone influential, like an editor, who will give me money to do something. And I don’t feel any of these audiences are the same, or expect the same voice. I’m not going to talk to myself, Veronica, the general blogosphere, or some editor in New York exactly the same.

But then, today, after much reading and thinking, I wrote another update —

Aha! It’s suddenly so clear. I was so blind. It isn’t about knowing who you are. We all know who we are. It’s about knowing who you’re talking to.

The audience.  You NEED to know your audience.   Or else you’re flailing.

Some of you misinterpreted my update.

From Danny Miller

Yes, but demographics are mostly used to make crazy-ass stupid decisions. “OK, we’ve got to reach 18-24 year-old males, so we’ll make these God-awful shitty movies because that’s what they want.” Sure, being able to “read the room” is a very helpful skill in life, but don’t start changing your message or presentation in any kind of artificial way because of some perceived notion of who your “audience” is. It’ll never work and you’ll end up as clueless as a network executive.

But I think Michele Kosboth said it best, in her comment.

I think you are totally spot on. Knowing who you are talking to makes that feeling of detachment, of talking into the wind go away.

Michele understood that I wasn’t talking about changing myself or my writing style to cater to a demographic.  I was looking for a way to escape the loneliness of “talking into the wind.”  I wanted to know who I was addressing.

Part of creating community is inclusion AND exclusion. We can’t just talk to everyone.   You make the decision to either talk to other writers or established journalists or other celebrities or other parents or other Jews, etc.  I assume that if you are reading this right now that you are an upper-middle class, married, 35-55, (probably a woman), liberal-oriented, and a college graduate who understands insider jokes about Twitter, watches HBO, and has a creative streak.   While I try to connect with as many people as possible, I also exclude 99% of the world population just with that one statement.

Some of you are under 35 or over 70, or a man, or have never watched Breaking Bad, and that’s OK (I haven’t watched it myself), but at least I know that you — most of my imagined readers — ARE watching it.

Why is this important to me?   It all depends on what type of community you want to build.  It’s difficult building an audience that completely revolves around your personal life.    Why should anyone care?   Asking the question, “Who am I?” has never resulted in any concrete answers.   Maybe it is time to ask a different question.  By discovering you, I will be better able to understand myself.

Of course, no one has one audience.   I find that I’m able to connect with a very different audience on Instagram than say, Facebook.  On Instagram I am “artistic product.”  On Facebook I am “personal.”   I know quite a few people who like my photos as creative work on Instagram, but cannot endure my endless kvetching on Facebook about my life.  I have blogging friends who never interact with me on Twitter.   It’s taken me a long time to figure this out.   Each location is a different community with different rules and hierarchies.  You cannot be the same person everywhere.

The typical question I get asked by friends of friends is “What is your blog about?”   An equally tough question, one that I am asking myself right now, is”Who is this blog for?”

The Golden Era of Advertising

cigarette

I didn’t read many blogs when I started Citizen of the Month in March, 2005.  My initial model for my blog was the late Andy Rooney of “60 Minutes.”  Every day I would write a short post based on some personal off-kilter observation such as, “Why do we still lick envelopes in the 20th Century?”  It’s a tried and true comedic technique.

Seven years ago this week, my father died.   I was blogging for a little over a year.  Sophia, my wife at the time, sent a message to my blog readers that I was called back to New York.  There was no Twitter or Facebook at the time, so I used my blog as my diary, writing about my emotional state at the time, detailing all the chaos, the sadness, and even the frequent bittersweet humor of dealing with a parent’s death.

My father’s passing completely transformed my view of blogging.  Writing a personal blog was not the same as writing a short story or a magazine article.  It certainly was not like Andy Rooney doing his shtick on “60 Minutes.”  For one thing, blogs had comments, and the feedback from others were frequently more interesting than the original post.  Readers also CARED about me in a way that I never cared about Andy Rooney.   And I CARED about my readers.  Blogging was something revolutionary — a hybrid of writing, community forum, therapy, and friendship.

Life continued on, as did my blog.  My writing changed in tone to reflect my experiences.    Sophia dealt with breast cancer.  Sophia’s mother passed away.  Sophia’s step-father passed away.  Sophia and I divorced.  I moved back and forth between Los Angeles and New York.  I flew to New Zealand to meet a new woman.  Life.

Last night, I put an advertisement onto the sidebar of my blog, or more accurately,  I installed a Javascript “advertising-tag” into the code which sends you creepy Big Brother-like advertisements tailored JUST for you, based on the cookies in your browser.    At first, I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong with the code, because the advertisements didn’t show up in my browser.  I realized that I was using the Chrome Extension, Ad Blocker, to hide YOUR advertisements, so I was blocking my own ads!  I turned off Ad Blocker, and BOOM, it appeared — a 160×600 banner ad for Buick.

I glanced over at my last few posts.  One was a mediation on happiness.   Another was a photo essay.  The third was a conversation with my cock.   I turned to the Flashy Buick ad and… I started to cry.  It wasn’t an unhappy cry.   It wasn’t a happy cry.   It was just an emotional release, of what I can’t tell you.

Placing this advertisement on my blog is a very big deal to me.  It scares me, but it also gives me a slight thrill, like I’m losing my virginity to a prostitute or going bungee jumping.  Will I keep the advertisement on my sidebar?   It depends on how much money I can earn by keeping it there.  If we are talking less than ten bucks a month, it’s not worth it.

I know my eight year obsession over putting advertising on my blog is crazy, and has annoyed the shit out of some of you.   I realize that most of you couldn’t care less what I do.  But I’m pretentious.   It’s one little secret that I try to keep to myself.  My blog is powerful… to me.  It is a reflection of my life, my manhood, my attitudes towards money and ambition, and an expression of sex and desire.   My blog is also about my father, the kind man who died seven years ago this week.   And my father would never put advertising on his blog.   So, it’s a big change.

Blogging Thoughts – August

1) THE PANEL

During the BlogHer conference, I participated in a panel about blogging with my friends Schmutzie and Laurie.   The session was supposed to be a conversation, not a lecture, so we kept the pre-planning to a minimum, hoping to let a series of questions lead the discussion about the current state of blogging.   While it wasn’t planned as such, I found myself as the bad cop in opposition to the optimism of of the other two panelists. I even suggested that traditional blogging is on life support.

“Blogging isn’t dead,” said Schmutzie, to much applause. “A whole medium doesn’t die. Media evolve.”

That’s why she is more beloved than I am.

+++

2) ROI

After every big blogging conference, there are countless recap posts written up.   After BlogHer 12, of them was by Jean Parks of The Shopping Queen.  She is a professional blogger, and her discussion on the ROI (return on investment) of going to a big conference struck a nerve with me.

In 2005 the first BlogHer conference event in San Jose, California opened & had 300 attendees, flash forward to 2012, this year’s event had over 4,000 bloggers in attendance. Phenomenal growth, particularly when you consider that that the vast majority of conference goers are not sponsored & are dipping into the family budget to attend. BlogHer has become like a yearly pilgrimage that many view as a “must do” if they are to achieve recognition in social media. Criticisms of the event & discussions about ROI are met with unease. Women, raised to “be nice” inadvertently silencing other women by encouraging them to “focus on the positive’ or gushing about the emotional “connections” we will all be making, the implication being that a complaining woman only values money or things.

I found this paragraph utterly fascinating, because although I am not a woman, I tend to value emotional connections over money.  When I first read this statement concerning ROI, I found it as utterly crass. Can you quantify an experience by something tangible, like the receiving of a job offer?  It seemed so…. wrong.   But after some thought, I saw the practical wisdom in her view.   How many of us spend our lives on activities and relationships that don’t offer us a “return on our investment?”   What if we lived our entire lives using ROI as a decision-making tool, from dating to business-deals, always asking ourselves “what do I get out of this?”  Would we all be happier and more self-sufficient if we overcame the feeling of this being a “selfish” question and instead, saw it as very smart.

Of course, any wise man knows that fate always gets in the way of our plans. We think we chose the right path when we are suddenly hit by a speeding bus.

I touched on this theme of fate in my recent post, Trucker Bob From Nashville, a true story about my flight from Los Angeles.  Because I was trying to be”nice,” I gave up my seat next to a hot babe so a husband and wife could sit near each other.   I ended up stuck near the restroom, sharing an armrest with a sweaty overly-talkative middle-aged Southern man.  My story had a happy ending because the bad decision  (sitting with the guy) ended up having a positive ROI (we struck up a friendship).

Still, one of my friends criticized that post as being phony and too “Hollywood happy ending.”

“If you were honest with yourself,” he said.  “You would realize that it was a negative story, and that you were a wimp for changing seats. No matter how you fool yourself into thinking this chat with the guy was a positive pay-off, you missed a bigger opportunity with the woman.”

What he means to say is that I traded in a low ROI (a friendly chat) for a potentially bigger ROI  (a date with the woman).

All this ROI talk makes me so uncomfortable that I feel the urge to come back to it in the future.  That’s how I roll.

+++

3) WHAT IS BLOGGING?

The other BlogHer post that struck a nerve with me came from Liz at Mom 101.  As always, she is super sharp, and in this post, she smartly advises her readers to spend less time worrying about SEO, and to WRITE more.   If you want to be a writer, act like one.

This paragraph made me ponder my own relationship to blogging, writing, and reading.

“If you are a blogger, don’t just follow the blogs of the people you like. Follow the blogs of the writers you like. Read a lot of great writing. Read Harper Lee and Zora Neal Hurston. Read Kate Inglis and Eden Kennedy. Read Jim Griffoen and read McSweeney’s.”

This is a powerful message. To be a great writer or photographer, you must read great writing and study great photography.

But how does blogging fit into this?

How many of us in the blogging world fit into the canon of the great books and important artistic and philosophical movements of Human Civilization?  Is consuming blogs just one step above reading Snooki’s book?

I always read Kate’s blog, but a lot of it has to do with the fact that I know and like her.  Would I be so eager to read her blog, and follow her personal story, if I didn’t feel that personal connection?

I love blogging.  Some of you seem to be embarrassed about blogging, as if it is not “real” writing.   Let’s put this to rest.   Blogging is real writing.   But it is a different type of writing, because it usually involves socializing in some form.   I care about Kate’s life.  I do not care about the personal life of Stephen King.   I do not send him comments after reading one of his books.  I do not expect to ever dance with him at a writing conference.  I do not DM him with gossip about who said what.

For better or worse, blogging doesn’t feel like traditional reading and writing.  I mostly follow the stories of my friends.  Or strangers who I feel are my friends, even if I hardly know them.    I get a kick out of seeing baby photos on Instagram.  I would not feel the same way if I saw the same quality work in a museum.  The quality of the art is not the main selling point in whether I interact with you online.   If I was purely motivated by great art,  I would read Tolstoy or study Anselm Adams.  To me the ROI of blogging IS the social aspect.   There is always a hidden social element in my blogging.   I’m always hoping you follow me back on Twitter, or come read MY BLOG.   Or acknowledge my existence.   Sorry, but that’s the truth.   Can any of you honestly say that you only read the “best” that is out there?   If anything, we spend time nurturing and supporting the creativity of our friends.   That’s because blogging is social.   It is not just writing.

Blogging will die a painful death if we tout it as just “great writing or photography,” because so few of us are the great writers and photographers of the world.   What makes blogging a thriving place, and what makes it so powerful, is that the core of blogging, even the soul of it… are not the visions of the super-talented, but the voices of the amateur.

{{hugs}}

Facebook Chat from last week with my blogging friend, Jill, mother of three.

++++

Neil:  Hi, Jill.

Jill:  Hey, Neil! What’s up?

Neil:   Can I talk to you about personal stuff?

Jill:  Sure.

Neil:  Sophia and I got our papers back from the court today. We are officially divorced. We went out to Yogurtland for some peanut butter frozen yogurt. And that’s that.

Jill:  Wow.

Neil:  I haven’t told anyone. Not my friends. Not my mother. But I need to tell someone. And I saw you on Facebook chat.

Jill:  Wow. That’s some news.

Neil:  I know. Bombshell. Biggest personal news ever.

Jill:  But to be honest. I thought you were already divorced.

Neil:  No, we were just separated.

Jill:  I see.

Neil:  I know.  My personal life is confusing.

Jill:  Are you absolutely sure that you and Sophia weren’t divorced already?

Neil:  No.  No divorce.

Jill:  I could have sworn you were already divorced.   I’ve been reading your blog for a long time.

Neil:  No, just separated.

Jill:  Separated.   So all this time — for the last seven years — you’ve been separated?

Neil:  Something like that. On and off.  Even though we lived together.

Jill:  Wait a minute. I thought you live in New York now.

Neil:  No, now I’m in Los Angeles again.

Jill:  With Sophia?

Neil:  With Sophia.

Jill:  So you live together now?

Neil:  For now.

Jill:  Call me crazy, but I could have sworn I remember you writing a post saying you got divorced and then you threw up outside the court?

Neil:  No, that was when I filed the papers. That’s when I threw up.

Jill:  You’re right. It’s all very confusing. But maybe it’s for the best.

Neil:  Sure. It’s still sad.

Jill:  I can imagine. I’m not really sure what to say.

Neil:  Maybe you can give me one of your famous vitual {{hugs}} that you always give online to people in need.

Jill:  You want me to give you virtual {{hugs}}?

Neil:  Well, I am feeling a little sad.

Jill:  Hmm. I’m not sure I feel comfortable giving you {{hugs}}.

Neil:  Why not?

Jill:  I’m a married woman. And you’re a divorced man.

Neil:  But you’ve given me {{hugs}} before! Remember when I accidently deleted all those instagram photos! You gave me {{hugs}} then.

Jill:  Yeah, never with a man who JUST got divorced. I know how men get after they are divorced. I don’t want to lead you on or for you to think I’m available to you with my {{hugs}}.

Neil:  I don’t want to date you. I just want one of your comforting internet {{hugs}}!

Jill:  Just the {{hugs}}? That’s all? Are you sure that’s all you want. Nothing more?

Neil:  I’m depressed. I just experience one of the most dramatic moments of my life! You’re the first person I’ve talked to all day. You’re my lifeline.

Jill:  Oh wait. My husband just walked in. He’s crying over the news.

Neil:  Over my divorce?

Jill:  No, they just traded Jeremy Lin to the Houston Rockets. Let me ask him if I can give you {{hugs}}.

Jill’s Husband:  Hello.

Neil:  Jill?

Jill’s Husband:  No, this is Jill’s husband.

Neil:  Hi.

Jill’s Husband:  Don’t hi me.  Are you trying to f**k my wife?

Neil:  What?!

Jill’s Husband:  Just answer. Are you trying to f**k my wife?

Neil:  I have no interest in your wife. She’s just a friend. I’m just trying to get a little ol’ internet {{hugs}} from her?

Jill’s Husband:  Internet {{hugs}}? What is that, hipster slang for a blowjob?

Neil:  No! It’s just a virtual {{hugs}}.  You know, with the brackets standing in as as the arms doing the hug.   An emoticon.

Jill’s Husband:  What are you talking about?  Has Jill given you these {{hugs}} before?

Neil:  Jill gives {{hugs}} to everyone. She is a freaking {{hugs}} machine. It means nothing.

Jill’s Husband:  So you don’t want to f**k her?

Neil:  No!

Jill’s Husband:  You don’t find her attractive?

Neil:  Of course she’s attractive. But she’s just a friend. A mom who I’ve met at BlogHer a couple of times.

Jill’s Husband:  OK, then. Fine. Here’s Jill.

Jill:  Hi, Neil. It’s me.   My husband said it was OK to give you {{hugs}}.

Neil:  Thanks.  So, he understands that we’re just friends.

Jill:  No, it wasn’t that.  When he heard that you’ve attended BlogHer a few times, he assumed you’re gay.

Neil:  Fine. Just do it already.

Jill:  {{hugs}}

Truth Quotient:  25%

Three Attempts at Writing the About Page

I’ve been blogging since 2005 without an “about page.” I was advised by a close friend that I NEED ONE before BlogHer.

“It is even more important that having pretty business cards and comfortable shoes,” she said.

I’m terrible at writing about myself.

My right brain tells me that “I am superior to most of humanity.”

My left brain says, “You’re the same as everyone else.  No better, no worse… OK, probably worse.”

My solution to this dilemma — get someone else to write my “about page.”   I know that I could hire someone to do it, but yes, I’m too cheap.   Instead, I asked a family member and two close friends to write it for me.

Which “about page” would best entice new readers to come to this blog, or interest corporate sponsorship?

1)

Neil Kramer
About Page
(written by Neil’s mother)

Neil was a frequent “citizen of the month” throughout grade school. He continues that fine tradition today by always helping the elderly across the street and rarely using filthy language in public discourse.  He believes in diversity,  liberal ideology, and he befriends all, no matter what the race, religion, or class.  He respects women.  He loves his mother. He’s a real mensch.  If you are on Twitter, you should follow him.  If you are a big company which offers good medical insurance, you should hire him.  If you a nice girl, you should date him.  Jewish preferred.  He is a good writer.  I still have the robot story he wrote in eight grade!

2)

Neil Kramer
About Page
(written by Rhonda, VP, Anderson Public Relations, Santa Monica)

Neil is a brilliant writer and iphoneographer. He went to TWO prestigious and very expensive private universities and has worked at some pretty cool media-oriented companies that will make you go, “Whoa, he is someone worth knowing on Twitter”  He has written for television, and frequently jets back and forth between New York and Los Angeles, like a bigshot.  He is the blogosphere’s equivalent of Mr. Big.  His world-famous blog is immensely popular, and is visited by some of the most influential people online.  At BlogHer 2011, The Pioneer Woman came up and said hello TO HIM, not the other way around, and he then told her, “I’ve never read your blog.  What’s the link?” Now that’s cool!  What confidence!   Neil is six feet tall, still has his hair, and was once told by someone online that he gives “the best sext on Gtalk EVER.”

3)

Neil Kramer
About Page
(written by Jennifer, PhD Candidate, Feminist Theory and Media Studies, McGill University)

Neil is a heterosexual white male who owes all of his accomplishments to his excessive privilege, the only true hardship he ever encountered being his barbaric circumcision. As an only child, his parents pampered him and paid for his education, his sole financial contribution during college being a work/study job as a stockboy at the university library, where he goofed off in the stacks and read political science books, taking the position away from marginalized students of color who truly needed it. Most of his future jobs were attained either through nepotism or connections within the “old-boy” power structure.  Blind to his own sexism and racism, his frequent use of the obsessive “male gaze” in his iphoneography adds fuel to our society’s repression and violence towards women.  Despite his frequent calls for diversity in the blogosphere, his blogroll does not contain a single link to a transgender writer, nor has he ever dated one.  Neil’s yearly presence at a conference geared for the advancement of women signals a continued need for male domination and female subordination in the cultural realm of creativity and intellectualism.  He has been heard, more than once, arrogantly calling American’s Native Americans as “Indians.”

The End of Blog Niches as We Know It

Hi. Today is Wednesday, May 23, 2012. It is a sunny day in California. Today is also the day I have decided to end the personal writing blogosphere as we know it.

Sure, it will continue on in the same way for most of you — business as usual. But it will change for me, and once you see my paradigm shift, many of you will see the wisdom here.
Change is the future.

Blogging, once a radical act, has become pedestrian.  But I’m not going to take the obvious route, and rant about monetization.  Making money is good.  I want to discuss the concept of niche.

Bon Stewart recently wrote a brilliant post about niche from an academic point of view, and came down hard on the concept.

Every group within society has its markers, its distinctions. We think of them as our tastes, but they are – says Bourdieu – markers of our class identities, internalized and usually invisible to us. (Or they were until the hipsters started drinking Pabst, at least.)

Distinction says “I am not that. I am this.”

Unlike Bon, I’ve given up fighting against niches.  There will always be niches.  Even those who feel trapped in their niche are afraid to leave it.

In my view, the problem lies in one simple fact: we are not the master of our own niches. These categories have been created by others, usually marketers who want to sell us things.   We need to fit into a box to be acceptable.   Food bloggers. Craft bloggers. Mom bloggers. Dad bloggers.  Self-Help “You are Beautiful and Be Happy” Bloggers.

This does not work for me. There is a talent to writing for a niche, but it is not a universal one. It doesn’t mean that we are talentless. It means that we don’t have children. Or aren’t married. Or aren’t close to being experts in cooking or knitting or celebrity gossip.  Or we are just weird.

And frankly, a system which categorizes writers by personal lifestyles is extremely crude. Do you read Charles Dickens because of his parenthood?

The dominance of this rigid, superficial system of inclusion — created by the market — is something frequently discussed offline. Some of my friends have simply stopped blogging because of it, feeling as if they don’t belong in the market.  Others have become defiant, shouting to the world that they don’t need any niche; they can march to their own drummer.

I used to be the latter, wanting to go it alone.  But it is a lonely road.  A niche offers more than just monetization or categorization. It offers companionship in a group.  And having a “tribe” creates confidence and power.

I have decided to embrace the niche. Embrace the friendship and power in order to combat the pressures of this lonely and difficult profession.

The difference with my niche system is that I don’t want to follow what the market has decided is right for me.  That boots me to the back of the bus, because that is where the market thinks I belong.  I want to create a niche that works and empowers me.

There is historical precedents for creating your own niche.   There have been countless artistic and literary movements throughout the ages — Cubism, the Bloomsbury Group, the Beat Movement, Impressionism, Romanticism, Social Realism, Neo-realism, etc.  Many of our favorite artists and writers from the 17th to 20th Century were members of these niches. They were creative individuals — yes, but they also teamed with others to nurture their creativity. Was it exclusionary?  Yes.  Was it focusing on distinction?  Of course.   But it was a far less primitive system than separating the world by lifestyle, marital status, and gender.

I’m done trying to figure out whether I am a humor blogger, a memorist, or a diarist.  I would love to be a member — at least of a while — of a group of Humorous Surrealists. Many of my favorite posts involve hyper-realism where I talk to my dead father or get berated by my own penis. I would love to read more writers who write in this style.   What do our styles have in common?  What is different?  When does the surrealism overcome the artistic point of the piece? What are we both trying to say about the current world?

I presented this idea to Sarah Gilbert of Cafe Mama, a writer I greatly respect. She said that she wished she could be in a movement titled “Domestic Realism.”  I loved it!   How much more empowering to be in a movement titled “Domestic Realism” than being seen as a bland “mommyblogger.” A “Domestic Realism” movement would be committed to viewing the world of the parent, warts and all, showing the dirty dishes in the sink rather than the Architectural Digest view of things.  It would be a distinction based on artistic temperament rather than social status.

I believe that drama is good for the creative spirit, so I can imagine having fun artistic conflicts, like in Paris of the 1920’s.  I would write a post accusing Sarah and her “domestic realism” friends of missing the point of the spiritual in art. She would strike back, accusing “the surrealists” as being immature frat boys, going for cheap bathroom humor.  Of course, when we met up at some conference, we would all laugh together, knowing that our arguments were part of necessary artistic growth, not personal nonsense over who breastfed and who used formula.  The Golden Age of Blogging would begin.

A bit crazy? Maybe. I love writing online, and it makes me sad to see so many of my friends give up.  When did the marketers, PR people, and sponsored posts start dominating the field and setting the agenda?  The current niche system only works for those who fit in.

My idea is simple: don’t quit. Let’s create our own artistic niches.  I’ll see you at the virtual Parisian cafe at night (uh, Twitter) where we can argue about writing.

(note:  this post was sitting in my draft file for a week until I read this post from Helen Jane: Know What You Want)

The Start of Year Eight

Yesterday, I was the David against a villainous Goliath, and I lost. But sometimes you need to be pushed around a little so you can awaken you from your own passivity. And this is what happened today.

It all started when Time Warner, a company that controls my cable, internet, and phone service, didn’t show up for their service call after I waited around all morning yesterday. They said they had to reschedule their arrival until the next day.

“Tomorrow is my birthday.” I said. “I’m not sitting around all day waiting for Time Warner on my birthday!”

The duel had begun.

“OK, then we will come on Thursday.”

“At what time.”

“Between 9AM and noon.”

“Can you be any more specific?” I asked.

“No.”

“OK.”

I hung up the phone dissatisfied. I lost the battle. This defeat felt symbolic, and it came at the wrong time. Today is my birthday. It is also the seventh anniversary of my blog. I had been waiting for this day for weeks, because I had hoped to write an inspiring blog post for you. I wanted to wow you with my confidence, to share with you my hopes and dreams that I was going to realize this year.

But based on my timid response yesterday to Time Warner, I lost my mojo. It seemed as if this new year of my life was going to be pretty much the same as the year before. I had been knocked down in the ring too many times, and my once youthful cockiness had faded.

I’d become superstitious, fearful, like my great-grandmother who grew up in a shtetl in Eastern Europe. I was looking at events as if the Universe was sending me messages about my life, and the world was saying that I was a speck of dust compared to the iron fist of Time Warner.

This made me sad. Once upon a time, I was the type of man that spit in the face of superstition. If there was a ladder on the street, I walked under it, gleefully, just to tempt the fates.

“Don’t open your umbrella inside the house,” my great-grandmother use to say, and I would open up my umbrella like an indoors Mary Poppins, just to be contrary.

I would chase the black cat, would say God’s name in vein, and would laugh when a mirror would crack during an earthquake. Sophia and I got married on October 13th. I was not afraid of lightening or thunder, tarot cards or palm readers.

“Come on, death,” I would yell at the guy in the robe with the sickle. “Challenge me to a game of chess, you bony loser.”

I believed in science and reason, not old wives’ tales.

But as the years passed by and I became older, I met the real enemy, and his name was Time.

Time is not a metaphor or a superstition. It is real, like a river that will never run dry, or a heavy grey cloud that descends, slowly, until the mist embraces you like a shroud, and you cannot see anymore.

You can not ignore Time. You hear the clock and see the scrolling numbers on the screen as the seconds tick away. You feel it in your bones as you try to run to catch the bus but your feet drag. Time deserves respect. Time flies. And it’s scary.

Naturally, when fear arises, so does a belief in superstition. My great-grandmother believed in “knocking on wood” and wearing amulets. The smart pray and follow the rules, and are rewarded. The foolish walk under the ladder, snubbing the Gods, and get what they deserve.

The flow of time makes us desperate to control it, even when we know that no amount of make-up or plastic surgery can stop it. I, too, embraced superstition. I folded up my umbrellas and said “God Bless You,” at every sneeze. I avoided ladders. I bowed in the synagogue, kneeled at the mosque, and crossed myself at church. I wondered if my marital problems were all based on our decision to get married on the 13th of October.

But after I lost to Time Warner, it was enough. It is not worth living at all if you are going to be fearful of your own shadow. I was done being a welcome mat to the Goliath. I would believe in myself, not superstition, or authority. That would be my birthday present to myself.

I decided to take a walk and announce this important piece of personal news to the world. My body was eager to move, my shoulders pulled back, my back stretched. I wanted to send my positive energy into the air, lighting up the city.

I left my house. It was a beautiful Southern California day, with temperatures in the upper 70s. I headed for the nearby dog park, taking a shortcut through the alleyway. I always enjoyed watching the energetic dogs running wild in the park, off their leashes, without a care in the world.

As I opened the back gate, I found my path blocked. A bunch of scavenger birds on the garbage bin, munching on the crumbs on some leftover pizza boxes. The birds were all black crows, and they were shrieking in some Devil’s language, staring at me with their glassy dead eyes.

I think they were crows. They could have also been ravens. I don’t know my birds very well. All I know is that my great-grandmother would not cross their black magic path. I’ve read enough books as an English Major in college to know the literary symbolism of crows and ravens. Evil. Death. Misery. Bad luck. Not the type of sign you want to see before your birthday.

A month ago, I might have turned and gone the other way. But I had already been screwed once today by a Goliath — by Time Warner — and it was not going to happen again. These were just birds. I was a man. Any meaning these birds had came from my weak, frightened human mind, not reality.

Edgar Allen Poe once wrote:

“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

Nevermore. Indeed.

“Get the fuck out of here, you fucking raven/crows,” I yelled at the group of filthy birds. “I don’t believe in your symbolism and I don’t want you eating any leftover pizza in my fucking alley.”

I bent down, grabbed some pebbles and tossed it at them. The leader of the birds, the one darkest and bulkiest, glared at me with his freaky eyes, saliva dripping down from his mouth, but I didn’t look away. Not for a second.

I put up my middle finger at showed the bird MY BIRD.

“Eat shit, you winged pussy” I said.

The Queen of the ravens/crows let out an ear-piercing yelp, then flitted away in shame. The bird had lost to a man.

And like the hunter who mounts the deer head over his fireplace, I took at instagram photo of the defeated raven/crow. It was my prize. My birthday card.

Today is my birthday. Today is the seventh anniversary of my blog. Today is a new day. Today I live without superstition or fear. Today I write with confidence. Today I have a voice. Watch out, Time Warner. I am not David to your Goliath anymore.

Happy Birthday to Me
Happy Birthday to Me
Happy Birthday…

(the rest of this song has been deleted due to a cease and desist letter).

This song, written by two sisters from Kentucky, Mildred J. Hill and Patty Smith Hill, was copyrighted for 75 years in 1935 by the Chicago music publisher Clayton F. Summy Company, which later became Summy-Birchard Music, which is now owned by TIME WARNER!!!

Fuck you, Time Warner! But this battle doesn’t end here. Your media empire is no match for one man’s voice. This blog continues now for an eighth year, longer than some of your TV shows. So, YOU better watch out.

Truth Quotient: 68%

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