the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: BlogHer (Page 1 of 4)

BlogHer ’14


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.

Short Fiction Writing Lab at BlogHer ’13


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


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.

BlogHer ’12

I was dancing at one of those loud, overcrowded parties on Saturday night at the yearly BlogHer Conference, when I ran into Josette. Her lodging plans for the night had fallen through, and she had no place to stay in the city. I invited her to stay in the hotel suite that I was sharing with Sarah. Josette, a woman comfortable with going camping with her family, said she had no problem sleeping on the hotel suite floor.

Around 1AM, Josette and I took a cab to the the hotel. Sarah had just returned herself from a night out. I introduced them to each other. I have known Josette and Sarah for years, but they didn’t know each other.

I was exhausted. I stretched out on the couch, eavesdropping on the women chatting about their husbands, their children, and their career goals. I was amused that two mothers asked each other questions that would have never occurred to me, paticularly about their children.

“Which is the oldest?”
“Do the brothers get along?”
“How does he do in school?”

I smiled as I dozed off; I enjoyed seeing two friends connecting.

This was the fourth BlogHer Conference that I have attended, and this year, my role was more important than usual. I read one of my blog posts to a large crowd on Friday afternoon as part of The Voices of the Year Keynote. I presented a session on blogging with Schmutzie and Laurie. I participated in an Instagram photowalk.  I was a mild celebrity for three days.

But the most iconic moment of the weekend was the sleepy moment of listening to Josette and Sarah chatting about their lives.  To me, even more so than the writing tools, social media, and commerce that we all discussed this weekend, it is these little moments that are the core of blogging, the conversation that continues on even when you are not there.

Nice seeing so many of you.

If you want to see a bit of personal history — on how my views on this conference have matured and changed over the years, from making fun of it like a spoiled brat to embracing and respecting it as an important part of my online life, you can do so here —

BlogHer 2006 – BlogHim 06 and To All My Friends at BlogHer

BlogHer 2007 — BlogHim 07 – Who Needs Women?

BlogHer 2008 —  My Conversation with TLC Marketing Customer Service, The Circle of Life — My Final Mention of BlogHer in 2008, and  Sex in the Male City — In Honor of BlogHim 08

BlogHer 2009 —BlogHer 09 Recap, with Photos and My Last BlogHer 09 Post

BlogHer 2010 —BlogHer 2010

BlogHer 2011 —The Music Conference and BlogHer 11 Recap

BlogHer 2012 — Trucker Bob From Nashville, BlogHer ’12

Trucker Bob from Nashville

I had pre-booked my American Airlines seat for the aisle seat, row 17, seat D.  When I arrived at it, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I was seated next to an attractive woman in her thirties in middle seat E. She was reading a fashion magazine, and dressed in a funky blue and white striped cotton dress. I imagined her to be a model travelling to Nashville to star in a country music video.

“I should strike up a conversation with her,” I thought.

This was surely a bright spot in what was the worst scheduled flight of my life – leaving LAX at 11PM, a stopover in Nashville at 4AM, and arriving at LGA at 9AM. American AAdvantage Frequent Flier Program, what has become of you? Was this the only available flight that I can take on the most travelled route in your system, Los Angeles to New York? Did you give away too many free miles, and now, after years of excess, are you punishing your own customers?

I glanced over to see if the woman in seat E was wearing a ring. She was not.

The window seat to her left, seat F, was for now, empty.   Across the center aisle, there were another three seats in the row.  In window seat A was a young college male college student.  In middle seat B, was his girlfriend.   In aisle seat C, directly across from mine, sat a gentleman with a grey beard.

The center aisle was busy with boarding passengers.  An older woman with dyed-red hair appeared from nowhere.

“Are you here alone?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“My husband and I were split up into different rows,” she sputtered, pointing to the bearded gentleman across the center aisle. “There were no seats together,”

The bearded man smiled at me, shyly.

“I have an aisle seat a few rows backs,” continued the wife. “Would you mind if we switched so I can be closer to my husband?  It’s another aisle seat.  It shouldn’t make any difference to you.”

I glanced over at the beautiful woman to my left.  She was reading some article in her fashion magazine about “Pleasing Your Man in Bed.” I did NOT want to move my seat. No, not at all.

The wife hovered over me and I started to cave.

“Let’s be honest,” I thought. “You’re never going to talk to this beautiful woman sitting next to you. What does it really matter where you sit?”

“Fine,” I told the wife. “I’ll switch with you.”

“Thank you so much! You’re so nice!” she said.

I grabbed my black Everlast carry-on bag from overhead, took one more quick glance at the beautiful woman, and retreated to the back of the plane, passing the restless, angry, bitter, sleepy coach travelers, all vainly struggling to shove their too-large carry-ons into the too-small overhead compartments.

It wasn’t until I reached my new seat that I understand my horrible, terrible mistake. I had just traded in my perfect aisle seat next to the hottest woman on the flight for an aisle seat in the back, one row in front of the bathroom. My seatmate was a sweaty, overweight man, barely able to contain his hefty body in his narrow seat.

“How ya doin’?” he asked in a Southern accent. His arm completely extended over the common arm rest and his elbow practically poked me in the ribs.

“I’m Bob!” he said.

Let me be perfectly clear. I don’t believe that larger-sized people should be penalized for their weight, or be forced to pay for two seats on an airplane. No, the villain is the airline industry. Airline seats are designed to fit twelve year old Japanese girls, forcing Americans to buy business class. I’m thin, and I can hardly fit comfortably in my coach seat. And God help me if the person in front of me slides his seat back. Flying coach today is reminiscent of how my poor European immigrant family came to this country by ship in 1917.

Bob was not only a big man. He was a garrulous Southerner, way too friendly for my East Coast self.

“You flying home?” he asked, eating some peanuts he had hidden in his pocket. Bob was about fifty, with thinning black hair and a tiny nose like a rabbit.

“Yeah,” I said, limiting myself to one syllable.

“Me too,” he said. “Just came to LA to attend my Grandma’s birthday party at the nursing home by my sister’s house in Reseda. Of course, my sister said it wasn’t necessary for me to come. But I told her, this is my beloved grandma too! I’m coming faster than a Navy private in a hooker’s hooch!”

I reached into my lime green khakis and took out my iPhone. I made believe that I was sending important messages back to my office. In truth, I was on Twitter, asking for advice on how to survive this flight.

I stood up to stretch, and looked over at my old God-given seat, the one that I had reserved weeks earlier, and was now occupied by the red-haired woman.

There was now a passenger in row 17, seat A, the window seat next to the beautiful woman with the fashion magazine. He was a strong-jawed man with a cowboy hat. He was confidently chatting it up with her. I could hear her laughing.

“I see you’re using one of those new phones,” said Bob, jolting me out of my thoughts. “You should save the battery until the flight.”

“I’ll be OK,” I said.

“Are you sure?” he replied. “I work as a trucker. So recently, I’m driving with my buddy, Duke, who is always playing these games on his phone. One day, he’s playing so much that his battery runs out. And it just happens that on that day, his wife calls him and can’t reach him, so she gets all freaked out, thinking the truck crashed and he got killed. So when we get back home, his wife is waiting for him, and whoa, did she kick his ass that night!”

“Uh, yeah, those mobile games are pretty popular,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

“You play these games on the phone?” he asked.

“Not really. I mostly read stuff on the phone.”

“Yeah. I like reading. You ever read “In Cold Blood?”

“No, but I know what it is. I saw the movie.”

“Read the book.”

“I’ll check it out,” I said, hoping that this conversation was reaching the end.

I closed my eyes, and faked that I was asleep. The plane departed LAX.  Bob really fell asleep, his head resting on my shoulder.

“Why am I such a sucker?” I asked myself as we flew over Nevada. “Why did I switch my perfectly good seat for this awful one? Sure, I was being nice. But “nice” is now the biggest insult in the word, according to some article I recently read, worse being called an asshole. At least an asshole “knows what he wants.  Soon, the beautiful woman and the cowboy will be sneaking off back here, into the bathroom together, having mile high sex, and I’ll be hearing it all from my seat!  And if I wasn’t such a fool, that could have been ME!  Instead, I am stuck with… Bob.”

Bob woke up from his nap, drooling on my shirt. He saw that I was awake, and was in a talkative mood.

“Hey, where in Nashville do you live?”

“I live in New York. I’m just stopping over in Nashville.”

“Oh. New York. New York. If you can’t make it there, you can’t make it anywhere. Except it is a bad place to drive a truck.”

I closed my eyes and faked sleeping for a second time.

We landed in Nashville. The moment the light flashed green, I was up, the seatbelt flying open. I grabbed my black Everlast carry-on bag from the overhead compartment.

“See ya, “ I told Bob, and ran like hell, pushing aside old and pregnant women to exit first.

I had ninety minutes to kill in the Nashville airport, so I did a little exploring. It was a nice airport, making LGA look like a Greyhound terminal. It was clean, bright, and country music stars like Randy Travis greeted you on the loudspeaker, suggesting you visit the local tourist spots, like the zoo.

I thought about my experience with Bob on the plane, and how I frequently sabotage my own potential. I was about to attend a blogging conference in a few days. I promised myself not to make the same mistake that I just did on the plane when I attended this conference. I needed to focus on networking with the right people, those who can get me work, success, or advancement, the beautiful and talented artists and entrepreneurs of the world — not the Trucker Bobs of the world, those who offer me nothing but useless conversation, wasting my precious time.   If the beautiful woman on the plane symbolized success and power, Trucker Bob represented despair.

There was an announcement on the speaker system, interrupting Shania Twain talking about Nashville’s famous music clubs. It was a voice from American Airlines.

“Would the passenger who just flew in from Los Angeles, flight 17, and who has the black Everlast carry-on bag, please come to Gate 2. You have the wrong bag.”

I looked down at my bag. This WAS my bag. Or at least I thought so, until I opened it. Inside, I found an assortment of XL tank-tops, dirty crew socks, a razor, and a copy of “In Cold Blood.”

When I arrived at Gate 2, I saw Bob standing with an American Airlines attendant. I handed him his bag.

“I’m so sorry,” I said, blushing, worried that Bob would think I stole his bag. “Who would guess that we would have identical carry-on bags?”

“No problem,” he laughed, smiling goofily. “Honest mistake.”

The attendant said my bag was already in the lost and found. I should wait there while she retrieved my bag. Bob remained behind, standing at my side.

“You don’t have to wait for me,” I told Bob.

“No problem,” he said. “I just want to make sure you get your bag, like I got mine.”

“Thank you,” I replied.

“It’s such a weird mistake,” I said, trying to be friendly.

“Yeah, like one of those Alfred Hitchcock films where there are switched suitcases, and one of them is from a spy.”

“Exactly!” I laughed, surprised that Bob knew that reference. “Do you like Hitchcock films?”

“Of course,” he said, and told me his favorites. “Rear Window. Strangers on a Train. Psycho.”

“Which is the movie with the mixed up suitcases?” I asked, not remembering.

“North by Northwest?” he asked.

“No, definitely not,” I said. “I’m not even sure it happened in a Hitchcock film. Maybe we are thinking of Charade, which wasn’t by Hitchcock.”


I glanced at the overhead clock to make sure I was doing OK with time. I still had 45 minutes.

“Hey, you want to grab a cup of coffee and apple fritter before you take off for New York?” asked Bob. “I know a good place in the terminal.”


Bob and I went to have a cup of coffee and apple fritter.

“Why’d you take such a bad flight to New York? Nashville at 4AM?” he asked, munching on his treat.

“Stupid American Airlines frequent flier program. This was the only flight I can get.”

He understood. It was the same reason he was taking the flight.

“I can’t believe how bad American Airlines has become,” said Bob. “They used to be the best!”

“The reason I still fly American is that my father would ONLY take American Airlines when he flew. He thought they were a class act.”

“Mine too!”

“We’re American Airlines…. Doing what we do best.”

We both sang the long-running commercial jingle from American Airlines. We laughed. We bonded by mocking American Airlines, and how far they’ve fallen, suggesting that their only hope was to be bought by some Chinese airline. We talked about our fathers. I learned that Bob was divorced in 2000. I promised him that I would read “In Cold Blood.” I showed him how to use Twitter.

It was the best forty-five minutes I’ve ever had in the Nashville airport.

The Board Meeting in Queens

On Friday, I learned that one of my blog posts has been chosen to be part of the keynote Voices of the Year reading at BlogHer ’12 in New York.  I am delighted to be included with so many talented writers.

The announcement couldn’t happen at a better time.  After all my fretting over my lack of niche and tribe, the choice has been made for me.  My category is humor, and my tribe is… women.

I take all ceremony with a grain of salt.  It is part of being a humor writer.  I know that in August, a whole bunch of new people will discover my blog for the first time, read it once, then say to themselves, “Jesus, this guy isn’t that funny,” and never come return.

I look forward to the experience.

The honor is most meaningful in that it is nice to feel accepted, especially by a group where I don’t quite fit in for a number or reasons.   I’m not a woman or even a daddy blogger.   I’m just a guy , a straight man, who — for various reasons that need to be discussed in therapy some day — has a sensibility that connects him with female writers.

I know for a fact that some women don’t appreciate the presence of men (the marketers excepted) at the BlogHer conference.  I’m sorry for that.   If you can’t see the feminism of men befriending women, learning from women, and discussing writing with women, with no clear business agenda other than friendship and creative inspiration, than it is YOUR problem.

For better or worse, the annual Blogher conference has collided with real events in my life, connecting with me on a personal level, like a secular Yom Kippur.

In 2009, in Chicago, I met so many bloggers for the first time.  I cried with joy when I finally met Schmutzie.  I introduced myself to Kate Inglis.   Amy Turn Sharp and I did a session on writing, which went on to influence a whole writing track.  A woman hit on me at bar, which was both flattering and scary.

In 2010, I attended BlogHer ’10 in New York.  It was a traumatic time for me.  Sophia’s parents had just passed away, one after another.  On Saturday night, I walked around the city all night, by myself, in a daze.

In 2011, Sophia and I handed in our divorce papers and then I drove to San Diego to attend BlogHer ’11.

It’s now 2012.  Time for some positive energy.

Being honored by BlogHer has had another unexpected result — a brand new writing gig!  Yesterday, my mother called me with the news.   Here’s the story —

One of the apartments in my mother’s apartment building in Queens was vandalized recently.  After much hand-wringing, a “Board of Directors” meeting was called, to be held in the board room (the former laundry room).   All residents were invited to discuss the matter.  The topic at hand:  too many strangers were coming in and out of the building.

The residents of my mother’s building are a polite group, and therein lies the problem.   They hold the door open for everyone approaching the front door.  There is no doorman, so the tenants are the only security system.

The meeting started with a stern announcement from the Board of Directors:  tenants shouldn’t hold the front door open for strangers.  If a person doesn’t have a key to the front door in the lobby,  the visitor should be required to ring the tenant on the intercom system.

Simple enough, right?  But if you know anything about the residents of a Queens apartment building, you know that they LOVE to argue, the more mundane the subject the better.

Two camps formed that at the meeting.  One was the “law and order” group.  They were gung-ho about protecting the tenants from the outsiders.  The progressives, including my mother, were more concerned about hurting the feelings of the strangers.

“How can we just close the door on people?” she asked. “We will look so impolite.”

David Feingold, the President of the Board, rubbed his beard like a Talmudic rabbi.  He was the building’s King Solomon and came up with a compromise.   The Board of Directors would tape a note to the front door, informing outsiders that the residents of the building were not trying to be impolite by closing the door on them.  The residents were just trying to be safe.

Betty Langer, a retired school teacher, and former civil rights advocate, brought up the elephant in the room, the racial overtones of the problem.

“I don’t believe that this will be treated fairly!” she said.  “Wouldn’t you all pick and choose who you let in?  Wouldn’t you refuse entry to the black boy in the hoodie, but hold the door open for the elderly white woman with a walker?”

The progressive tenants held their head down in shame.  No one likes to be confronted by their own racism.   But the members of the Board of Directors were adamant about taking action.   Something had to be done.

“Let’s get a doorman!” yelled Lillian Vanelli from the back row, who always felt inferior to her sister, who married well and now lives in an exclusive building on the Upper East Side, with a doorman.

“Oh yeah? And who’s going to pay for it?” said Russell Ross, the cheapskate tax attorney on the third floor, who was once caught stealing the Sunday New York Times from the front door of a neighbor, rather than paying for it himself.

A vote was taken and it was agreed that a note would be placed on the door.   But who would write it?   Who dare undertake such a dangerous task?

Most of the residents of my mother’s building are hard-working men and women, but inexperienced in the creative art of persuasion.

“I know who can write it for us!” said my mother. “My son is a writer!”

“What kind of writer is he?” sneared Lillian Vanelli.  “He’s been in Los Angeles for years? When is THAT movie coming out anyway?”

“Hey, Charles Dickens was rejected a 100 times before they published “A Tale of Two Cities.”

My mother, who worked in publishing for forty years, knew this wasn’t true, but is quick-witted, and knew that Lillian was clueless about literature.

There had been tension between my mother and Lillian for years, ever since Lillian was booted out of my mother’s mah jongg group for playing too slow.

“And besides,” added my mother.  “Neil  is going to one of the keynote speakers at BlogHer this year, along with other talented women.”

“Ha, ha.  I always knew Neil was gay,” replied Lillian, chuckling.

“He may be gay, but I love him no matter WHAT he is!” said my mother.

(note: my mother didn’t really say that, but I wanted to add a positive pro-gay message to this post in case I want to submit this post to BlogHer next year.  They LOVE THAT STUFF!)

After the Board of Directors meeting concluded, my mother called me up on the iPhone I bought her that she still doesn’t know how to use.

“Neil, I have a writing assigment for you,” she said. “There is no pay, but it will be seen by a lot of people.  In fact, everyone who walks into our apartment building.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“We need a note that says something like this, but written in your own unique style  — “I am sorry that I am slamming the door in your face, whether you are a black boy with a hoodie or an old white lady with a cane.  It doesn’t matter.  I slam the door on everyone who is a stranger.   This does not mean I am impolite.  I like you.   Maybe one day, you will live here, and I will hold the door for you.  But right now, I am closing the door on you, for your own protection.  But have a nice day.”

Yes!  Thank you BlogHer.   Can’t wait for the conference.  I feel this is going to be MY YEAR!

BlogHer ’11 Recap

This year, my experience with the BlogHer conference was all about the individual conversations and connections.  Held in beautiful, sunny San Diego, the conference was as mellow and inviting as the host city.   The weekend gave me an opportunity to meet up with some of my closest friends, and bond with a few of my personal idols of the blogosphere.


In the Lobby, by Starbucks, Thursday Night

I am sitting at a table, drinking coffee.  My head is tiled down, my face reflected on my iPhone screen.  I am on Twitter, avoiding real people.

An attractive, confident woman approaches, her hand outstretched.

“Hi there, just wanted to say hello.  Love your instagram photos.”

“Hi. uh, do we know each other?”

“I’m Ree.”


“The Pioneer Woman.”

I stand up, being polite.

“Oh, wow.  The Pioneer Woman,” I say.   “You’re big….”

I pause for a moment, slowing down my thought process.

“…I don’t mean big in size.  I mean big in popularity,  It would be stupid to call a woman “big” at a woman’s conference, knowing how body image problems is such an issue nowadays. Even though, quite frankly, I like a woman with a little meat on her. Some curves.  Again, I’m not saying you are too thin. You are naturally thin. You look great.”

It was time to change the topic of the conversation.

“Oh, my friend Diane invited me for dinner recently and she tried out one of your recipes from your blog!”

“Which recipe?”

“I don’t remember.  But she didn’t have any rice in the house, so she substituted Ritz crackers, and it came out awful.  But of course, that isn’t your fault.”


Another awkward pause.   She extends her hand again.

“Uh, well, it was great meeting you, Neil.”

“Yes.  See you at your session.  I’m looking forward to it.”

“It is over already.”

“Oh.  OK, take care.”


Outside the Lobby, by the Valet, Thursday Night

I pass by “The Bloggess,” one of the funniest women online.  She is sitting on a bench, her suitcase standing in front of her.  I seem a whole lot more excited to see her, than vice versa.

“Hey, it’s Jenny, the famous Bloggess!”

“Uh, hello, Neil.”

I point at the suitcase.

“Where you going?”

“I’m going home early.  I’m exhausted after the People’s Party.”

“I can imagine.  Hey, when is the book coming out?  I’m so excited.”

“I’m not sure yet.”

“Why don’t you sent me an advanced copy?  I’d love to read it.”

Jenny pauses for a moment.

“My publisher decided not to send out advanced copies,” she says.

“You mean when the book comes out, you want me to BUY the book?  It’s going to be like $25 dollars in stores!”

“That’s how much books cost, Neil.”

“C’mon, Jenny.   Surely your old blogging friends will get a reader’s copy in the mail.”

“No, sorry.”

“Not even Laura?”

“Well, Laura read it already.  But she’s more of a real friend than a blogging friend.”

“What is this shit? I’m not going to pay $25 bucks on your book when I can read your blog for free.”

“The book is going to be very different than the blog.  It is about my real life.”

“I see.  So the plan was to put your shitty superficial material online, and then force us to buy your f*cking book?”

“Well, I do have a family to feed.”

“You’ve changed, Jenny.  You come off as a sweet cutesy Texan mom, but you are a fucking shark.  I bet Willian Shatner was part of your marketing plan all along.”

You know, f*ck you , little man.  I could destroy you in a second with my Twitter followers.

“Suck my c*ck, Jenny.”

“Yeah, I already saw your tiny c*ck in that photo you sent me last year. Don’t make me laugh.  Be happy I didn’t put it on Flickr.”

“Go to hell.”


In the Hallway, Convention Center, Friday Afternoon

I sit on the floor, in the corner by the men’s room, hidden from view, playing on Twitter rather than talking to real people, as usual.

Tanis, the Redneck Mommy, notices me.  She is one of my favorites from Twitter.   She approaches, a smile on her face.

“Hi, Neil.”

I don’t bother to look up from my iPhone screen, trying to show my disapproval.

“Well, LOOK who’s coming to talk to me TWO DAYS after the conference has started.”

“I’ve been busy, Neil.”

“Oh yeah, BUSY chatting with Backpacking Dad.”

“You are such a passive aggressive asshole.  Maybe if you didn’t hide in the corner like a p*ssy”

“You know my Klout score is higher than his.”

“Not everything is about Klout scores,” she says.  “I’ve been friends with him a lot longer than you.”

“You know, I was just talking with Jenny the Bloggess, and we both agree that your blog has gone downhill. You used to be funny, but you’ve LOST IT.”

“Bullshit.  She would never say that.   And by the way, she showed me the photo of your tiny dick.  Pathetic.”

“Have a nice conference, fake “redneck” with your expensive iPad2 and expensive shoes!”

Tanis walks off.  After a moment, I tweet her with an apology.


Expo, Convention Center, Saturday Afternoon

I reluctantly enter the expo center, crowded with companies selling products and women with overflowing swag bags.  It is chaotic and I feel an anxiety attack coming on.   I pass by the large booth sponsored by Hillcrest Farms lunch meats.  There is a staff of smiling young spokespeople manning the booth, all with the energetic look of  cheerleaders from a Midwestern high school.  A blonde young man of about 25, with the whitest of teeth, beckons me over to the booth.

“Hello, would you like to try a Hillcrest Farms sandwich, made of only the freshest ingredients?”

There are two silver trays on a display table, with signs reading turkey and ham.   There are only 4″ sandwiches on the ham tray.

“You only have ham?”

“The turkey is out.”

“Eh.  Don’t like ham.”

The spokesguy doesn’t give up easily.

“Our ham is USDA…” he continues.

“Nah, it is just a weird thing of mine,” I explain.  “I’m not kosher, but for some reason I don’t like the look of ham.  I’ll eat pork if it is hidden in a Chinese soup, or bacon, but ham just seems so goyish.”


“Not kosher.”

“Kosher what?”

“It’s a Jewish thing.”

The spokesguy cups his hands in joy.

“Ooh.  I’ve never met a Jew before.

“No?  Where are you from?” I ask.


“Is that where Hillcrest Farms is located?”

“No.  I don’t know where they are located.   Just got this job online at   But it’s so cool meeting a Jewish person.”

“Thanks,” I sheepishly reply.

“I appreciate you because Jesus was Jewish too.”

“Yes, he was.  He probably wouldn’t eat Hillcrest Farms anything.”

“He wouldn’t?”

“No, Hillcrest Farms isn’t kosher.”

“You mean Jesus wouldn’t be promoting Hillcrest Farms?”

“Probably not.”

“Holy Lord of Lords.” cries the spokesguy.  “Should I quit?  What would Jesus do?”

“Well, take it easy.  This is just a job.  I’m sure Jesus will understand.  You have a family?”

“A wife and two kids.”

“So, you are doing good.,” trying to ease his guilt.  “You are helping your family.”

“I always heard that Jews are smart. Are you a rabbi?”

“No, just a blogger.”

The spokesguy looks down at the badge on my shirt to read my name.

“Bless you, uh, Citizen of the Month.  It was as if Jesus himself spoke through you.”

I notice that the other spokespeople are handing out bags filled with swag to the other attendees that are passing by.

“Can I have one of those Hillcrest Farms bags?”

“Oh, sorry. I was told I can only give our swag bags to moms who fit our demographic audience of 25-35.  But nice to meet you, Jewish man.”


SeaView Room, Marriot Hotel, Aiming Low Party, Saturday Night

I’m on the patio with seven of the most prominent Daddy Bloggers.  We stand in a circle of brotherhood, each drinking a beer.  It is so great to finally bond with men.  I spend way too much time chatting with women online, and although I love my female friends, there are issues and choices that are unique to our gender.

A young female coupon blogger walks by, wearing high heels and short skirt.

Jake:  “She’s a 10.”

Sean:   “Nah.  Only a 7.5.”

Another woman passes, on her way to the Latina party.

Sean:   “Now SHE’S a 10.”

Afro-Dad:  “What?!”

Sean:  “I’m a Latino. I like big asses.”

I look over at the Latino woman.

Neil:   “Forget her. She’s crazy. I know. I once sent her a photo of my c*ck and she went nuts.”

Warren, a Mormon father of six,  is mesmerized by one of the HOT keynote speakers.

Warren:  “Man, can you imagine taking her on that Sabra Hummus sponsored appetizer table right now.”

Jake:   “So, any of you guys get lucky yet?”

We all look around, embarrassed with our lack of success.

Stephan:   “Not me. Brought the ball and chain along.  And my stupid step-kids.”

Stephan gives me a caring nod, and pats my arm in a paternal manner.

Stephan:  “Take my advice, Neil.  If you ever get remarried, don’t marry a chick with young kids.  It’ll ruin your life.”

Neil:   “C’mon, Stephan.  You’re a lucky man.  Susan has a great rack.”

Stephan:  “I’ll give you that.  But she’s like a helicopter, always hovering around. And she has a spidey-sense when it comes to me f*cking other women at work.  She just knows.”

Jake:  “Women know that shit.”

Warren:  “You see all the sex toys the women got from Eden’s Fantasies this year in their swag bags?  No wonder we ain’t getting lucky.”

Neil:  “Exactly.  Why bother with us when the women can just go to their rooms and use vibrators on each other.”

Sean:  “It’s a sad commentary on modern technology.   Some things ARE better old school.”

Jake:  “Damn right.  No vibrator, even the most technologically advanced, will ever replace our real life hard-ons!”

Neil:  “You said it, brother.  I love you guys.”

We all have a group hug.  I have finally found my “tribe.”

Austin Mom of Twins, well-know with all the men for her “Boobie-fest” October photos, goes to the bar for a drink.

Afro-Dad:   “Whoa.   There’s “Austin Mom of Twins.”  I’d like to hit her stat counter, if you know what I mean.”

Truth Quotient:  12%  (Honestly, it was a great experience, and loved speaking with so many intelligent, passionate, and funny women… and men.  Believe me, I’m not sure you want to read my heartfelt, overly-emotional authentic reaction to meeting so many cool people during the last few days, because it would just sound very corny).

The Music Conference

As a professional musician, I am excited about attending this music conference next week in San Diego. It gives me a chance to meet my peers.

A friend is going for the first time. She is excited about meeting a certain rockstar, and can’t stop talking about her. I shrugged when she mentioned the rockstar’s name. I’ve never been much into her music. Her songs are OK, but she’s too commercial for my taste.

I do like pop music. I even downloaded the latest song by a popular boy band. But I don’t use fame or money as a deciding factor in what artist to buy on iTunes.

I’m a fan of indie bands, some unknown. One of my faves is a band that only plays small clubs in Brooklyn.

I listen to different music depending on my mood. When I get angry, I blast this guy from Spokane who is keeping Punk alive. During one concert in Phoenix, he smashed his guitar on his head and vomited on the audience. He is wild!

I seem to best relate to the folksy female singer-songwriters who create introspective songs about motherhood and marriage. Some of my own songs have that “sensitive guy” quality. My hipster friends find this type of music overly-precious, as if you need to commit suicide to be a real artist, but I find honest storytelling so much better than the manufactured corporate rock you hear on the radio.

Sadly, the music industry has become all about money. Even this music conference I’m attending has changed throughout the years. The conference is less about the music than the product placement. All the big record companies and talent agencies show up, and much of the community spirit has been shattered by envy and jealousy.

When I started playing music, I promised myself that I would never sell out to the “man,” but it is getting harder and harder to resist the corporate sponsorship that has infected the music industry.

All I know is that when I read someone talking about a “rockstar” online, I tend to shrug.

I like country music. I like rap. I like Barry Manilow. If you go to a music conference just to talk to the rockstars, that tells me that you’re not really into the music.

A Mini Writing and Blogging Retreat Idea Before BlogHer

This is an idea for a mini writing and blogging retreat that I had yesterday, and I think it could work on the day before BlogHer, since so many bloggers are converging on San Diego anyway.    This is just an idea.   It is not happening… as of yet.   But like everything else, I like to float ideas to see what others think.  The aim here is not to make money or sell anything, but to come up with an idea to make these yearly conferences more constructive creatively.

The mini-writing/blogging “retreat” in San Diego would take place on Thursday, August 4, 2011 — the day before BlogHer officially begins.  It would meet at a cheaper San Diego hotel, like a Hampton Inn, to make it reasonable for the participants to stay on Wednesday night, if they so choose.

There would be NO COST for this retreat — yes, NO COST — other than your hotel room if you need one.  This is a completely grassroots event.  It is up to the participants who choose to do it to make it work.  My role is to create a few groundrules, make sure the groups are on schedule, and then be a participant myself.   The hotel itself would hardly be involved.

Participants would come to the Hampton Inn, for example, on Wednesday night, August 3rd, or just show up on Thursday morning, August 4th at 9AM.  The event would run from 9AM to 5PM, giving you enough time to change for the People’s Party at the San Diego Marriot, the traditional beginning of BlogHer.

The mini-retreat would offer people an opportunity for some real brainstorming and workshopping of whatever project they were dreaming about BEFORE the chaos of the big conference.  This would be a full day — 8 hours — of workshopping your ideas, writing it out, and presenting it to the others.

Here’s how it would work —

Make believe 50 people sign up for the mini-retreat. I would create TEN groups of FIVE people each.  One in each group will be considered the MODERATOR.  The moderator is a participant as well, with no special credentials or awards. Her only role is to make sure everyone gets an equal chance to talk about their project.

I will choose all the moderators and create all the groups in order to avoid conflict.

Each group meets from 9AM to 5PM.  You decide where you want to meet, whether in a hotel room, the hotel lounge, an adjacent Starbucks, or a combination of them all.

Everyone must commit to a full day at the mini-retreat, because the others are depending on you.  You will be working all day, pitching a website, a book, or a blog re-branding — a project that you have been struggling with on your own.  The others will help guide you, giving feedback and honest critiques.

The moderator’s main responsibility is to keep things organized.  In the afternoon, everyone will write up a short outline based on the suggestions of the others, and later on, discuss it with the other members of the group.  Since there is no salary for the moderator, you can thank her by chipping in for her lunch.

If, by chance, your group sucks and it falls apart, or if there are other issues, such as hurt feelings over a critique, and there WILL be, tough luck.  We’re all adults, and you can handle it on your own.  You didn’t pay for the retreat other than a one night hotel room, and besides, you were coming to San Diego anyway, so you didn’t lose much.

I think it can work.

Anyone see any holes in this scenario?  Does it seem realistic or worthwhile?

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