the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: positive thinking

Not Upworthy


A few weeks ago, I told you a story about this woman who swept the floors in my local McDonalds, and how she hated the staff there, calling them “animals.” I told you how I befriended her and encouraged her to apply for this other job at a supermarket. I told you how she got the job and how we said good-bye one morning, with me giving her a vague promise to visit her someday at her new job.

What I didn’t tell you was that three days later, she was back at McDonald’s, cleaning out the trash receptacle. She couldn’t handle the job. She said the owners were crooked and sold rancid potato salad. The owner’s son yelled at her and called her stupid. So she left the job (or was fired) and was forced to beg the manager of the McDonald’s, a woman she completely despised, to give her the job back, even offering to work longer hours.

In three days, she aged ten years. Disappointment and failure were etched on her face.

It’s taken me two weeks to tell this story — because I was afraid. This story reeks of failure, of a woman accepting her limitations, of weakness, of bitterness. I do not see this story ending well.

I didn’t tell the story because I didn’t want it rubbing off on me, to have YOU associate with me with failure. After all, on the internet, all failure must be banished, like lepers to a solitary island of diseased misfits. The Army of Positiveness has won, not through any violent blitzkrieg, but by steady infiltration.

At first there were those kindly quotes on Twitter, misquoting Eleanor Roosevelt, urging us to never give up on our dreams.  Soon, these messages appeared on colorful graphics on Pinterest and Instagram.  Blame was placed on the individual’s own brain, with the difference between success and failure based on how you THINK.  Much of this advice was true. Scientists have shown that even smiling more often can enhance your mental health.  But as the positivist movement entered the video stage, the extremes went pushed into obsession, much like those Venezuelan female mannequins that presented “idea” womanhood as having enormous breasts that shoot out like the peaks of Machu Picchu.

Look at you. Sitting there with that dour face. How can you be so lazy when this paraplegic has not “given up” on life, participating in an iron man competition? Sure, you might be having a double mastectomy, but is that an excuse to not dance to a disco song with your medical staff right before surgery in a viral video? And what loser proposes to his girlfriend WITHOUT a flash mob?

It broke my heart to see this woman back in McDonald’s, at the job she hated, with the staff she felt were “animals.” I said, “I’m sorry,” and then finished my coffee. I then wondered if I should even write about this in my blog, fearing that it would affect my reputation.   After all, you are only as good as the upworthy ones who you keep in your life, not the wrong ones heading for disaster.

The Disappearing Video

I’m a cross between my mother and father.   My mother is optimistic, friendly, and efficient.   My late father was sarcastic, contemplative, overly-emotional, and somewhat negative.    I bounce back between my mother’s pollyannish attitude and my father’s cynicism, and for most of my life, this counterbalance in my brain has worked OK.

I think a positive attitude keep you happy and healthy, so I try to lean towards my mother’s direction, although I am stuck with my father’s chromosome.   I am not an advocate of those self-help books like “The Secret” that say positive thoughts are EVERYTHING.    I’ve seen too many happy people run over by a bus.     I do believe that your thoughts can help temper how you view the world.   We all have a soundtrack playing in our head that colors the action in front of us.   We’ve seen those YouTube videos where someone adds a new soundtrack to “The Shining” and makes it seem like a kid’s movie.   When I was in film school, I was blown away by the power of post-production.   So much of the emotional content is developed afterwards — in the sound, the cutting, the music.   This is where the director manipulates you into seeing things the way he wants you to see them.  POV is everything.

Point of view works the same in positive and negative thinking.   A butterfly comes into the house through the patio door.  Positive woman: “Oh look, a beautiful butterfly has visited us.   That must mean good luck!”   Negative guy: “Get that freakin’ insect out of here! Is there a hole in the screen AGAIN?!”

In my last post, I wrote about being discovered by old friends on Facebook during an inopportune moment in my life.

“Why couldn’t they find me on a day when I just got a promotion or a book deal?! ” I thought.

Of course, this is my father talking — the negative side.   I assume — wrongly — that everyone is doing wonderful, except me, and that all my old classmates, now smiling cheerfully on Facebook, are wondering what happened to me — (he’s living in the same apartment?!  he’s not with his wife?!)  — the guy who once gave the inspirational VALEDVICTORIAN SPEECH at our elementary school graduation, comparing our future to the NASA space program, with all of us reaching higher and higher in our goals and aspirations, until one day, we would meet again, all of us successful and happy, hand in hand with our spouses, watching OUR children graduate from their elementary school in 2009, at P.S. 1, the first elementary school on the outpost of Mars!

I was a nerdy kid.

My mother, the positive one, would say, “Perfect. What a wonderful time to reconnect with old friends!”

Negative is bad because it screws up the neurons in your brain and you start to see signs all around you that the world is against you, or laughing at you.   The black cat was MEANT for you.   It crossed the street, right in front of you, for a reason.   A positive person might not even notice the cat, or if it was black.   They would be too busy smiling at everyone passing by and enjoying the nice weather, even if the weather was crappy.  That’s what my mother would do.

I try hard to emulate my mother.

Today, I receive an email about the first ever blog proposal online!  Some male blogger was going to propose to a female blogger ONLINE!   I was invited to leave a link to one of my blog posts that related to love or marriage.  I thought it was a great idea and wanted to participate.  I love people falling in love.   I wanted to tell them that I love LOVE too.

I added a link from 2006.

At the time, I was in Los Angeles and Sophia was working on a movie in New York.   It was our anniversary.  I made my first (and only) video for the blog, where I recreated our first dance from our wedding while dancing with a mop.

Today, I started getting links from the proposal blog, and comments that read, “Where’s the video?” “No video” and “Where is it?”

“That’s weird,” I said to myself as I went to the post and clicked on the YouTube video that I had posted two years ago.

I received this message:

“This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by a third party.”

Now the only logical explanation is that the Andrew Sisters’ “Bei Mir Bist Du Schon,” the song we used for our first dance at the wedding, was playing in the background as I did my dancing with the mop, and someone from (the record company?) found this was a violation, which is odd, considering all the illegal crap that gets put on YouTube.

A negative person might see this as symbolic, like that black cat, or the broken mirror, as if YouTube was trying to send me a message that was more personal, less about the Andrew Sisters, and more about my marriage and my life.   Why else would this personal expression of love for my wife just go POOF, and disappear from the blogosphere?

“This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by a third party.”

Where is it?  What did YouTube do with it?   Is YouTube trying to tell me something?

I choose to go my mother’s route, the positive way, and just laugh at the irony.   I also have a copy of this video on my computer in Los Angeles, so try all you want, YouTube, but you cannot erase memories (or backups).


This is going to be an odd post. I’m going to mention some blog posts that I have read recently, but what I am writing about is not these posts, but my REACTION to these posts.  Right off the back, I want to make sure you know that I don’t think these bloggers are doing anything “wrong” in my eyes.  In fact, I think they are touching me in an unique way.  These posts all exude positive energy — inspiration, gratitude, giving thanks.   They also make me feel somewhat uncomfortable when I read them.  This bothers me.  Is the “negative side” of my personality so strong that I rebel against a loving way of looking at the world.  I am far from a Scrooge or a Grinch.  I actually see myself as a positive person.  So why do some of your posts confuse me?   Why do I find it so difficult — in my own writing — conveying something containing 100% positive energy?   Why don’t I want to inspire anyone?  Is this another case of me looking outward rather than within myself?

Schmutzie just started writing 365 Days of Grace in Small Things.  I told her that I might try doing this on my own blog, but just sitting down at my desk to come up with an “I am grateful for” list gave me an anxiety attack.  It seemed soooo phony.  Am I really grateful for that slice of pizza I had for lunch?

Last week, was the birthday of Kyran from Notes to Self.  Here is the beginning of her birthday post —

My birthday gift to myself this year was to celebrate over brunch with a few of my favorite people, who each went home with a little symbol of the sparkle they bring to my life.

It’s a wonderful thing to look around a room, and realize you can die anytime with the certainty that you will have a splendid funeral with charming guests, plenty of food, an abundance of kindness and wit, and buckets of flowers. Everything after that is icing and sprinkles.

Wow, she is such a good writer.  And what a lovely expression of love for her friends!  So why do I feel like writing a dirty joke in her comments?  My mind does not know how to respond to such pretty words.  I feel like the boy who only knows how to pull the hair of the cute girl in the second grade.

I remember Sophia used to complain that I was portraying myself as too “nice” on my blog.

“You’re not that nice,” she would say.

I think she’s right.  I’m noticing that I have an argumentative side.  Or at least I am acknowledging it as a part of my personality.

A few days ago, I wrote a post about “Buy Nothing Day,” on Black Friday.   I made fun of the idea, calling it performance art over substance.  I first heard about “Buy Nothing Day” from the blogger Gwen Bell on Twitter.  Now, Gwen seems to be a super-nice, caring person, but the minute I saw her mention this on Twitter, I immediately started to argue with her, saying it was bad for the economy.  I don’t think I debated with her in a mean way, but I’m not sure she expected someone to grill her over something that seems — to most people — to be a good cause.   Just look at what happened in that Walmart on Long Island, where an employee was trampled by customers out to get some cheap TVs.   Who likes rampant consumerism?   But I just felt like addressing the other side of the story — the economy.  And I like when people disagree with me.  I sometimes argue the other side, just for the fun of it.  That’s how you learn things.   Remember, I married a Republican wife.  I hope I didn’t come off as aggressive to her.  I’m still relatively “nice.”  I just come from a talkative family.  I have family members who can argue for hours over which deli makes the better corned beef sandwich.

Doobleh-vey is running a series called “Inspire Me,” where she talks with other bloggers about their inspirations.   It occurred to me that I rarely use the word, “inspiration,” and that’s sort of sad.  “Tale of Two Cities” inspired me.   “It’s a Wonderful Life” inspires me.   My mother inspires me.  There are many blogs that I love, but I’m not sure I have found one that truly inspires me.  Am I afraid of “letting myself go,” so I can be inspired by another writer online?

I hope I don’t want to come off as a grouchy stick-in-the-mud.  Like most of you, I struggle with marriage, work, money, family health issues — the typical stuff.  I try to stay positive and have a sense of humor about life, but how far should I go in focusing on the good and inspirational?

Yesterday, I came across this post, written by a blogger/entrepreneur named Patricia, expressing her thankfulness during the Holiday season.  I hope she doesn’t mind me showing you what she wrote.  My intention is not to make fun of it, but to soak in her inspiration.

My life is honestly wonderful. I have an incredible family that loves the daylights out of me, who I get along with so well as a group or individually – each person is like a best friend, a mentor, and a role model. Our holidays are full of kids running around, traditions and good times, and every single person is giving and caring. I live in an amazing life in Los Angeles – I couldn’t ask for better, cooler friends. They are driven, smart, classy and charitable, among some of the best people I know. My apartment is warm and has everything I need. My work and social life are full of things that some people only dream to experience, and believe me, every time I speak on a panel, walk across the lot at a studio, or meet with a CEO or VP I admire, I am so incredibly thankful. My dating life has been nothing short of awesome in the past three years I’ve been single, full of strong, smart, and successful guys I admire so much (including one I’ve never stopped being grateful for). Then, this week, I reconnected with one of the single most important people in my world. If I were to somehow die tomorrow, I would have absolutely no complaints. I am truly, honestly, insanely blessed in every way. It’s incredible.

My mom once said, “Patricia, every time God blesses you, you give it away.” I answered, “It’s because I have so much.” I mean it. If you want to know why I’ve dedicated my life to trying to make the world a better place, this is why. Maybe this is what holidays are all about, to remind you of what you have. Without question, I am so incredibly thankful.

This post really blew me away.  I had to read it twice, just to make sure it wasn’t a parody.  Several thoughts crossed my mind at that time.  “Good for her.”  “What an idiot.”  “I could never write this post in a million years.”  “Why is my life so lame compared to hers?”  “Does she really believe this or is she trying to present a positive face for business reasons (she is an entrepreneur)?”  “Does this inspire me or piss me off?” “What would my readers think if I wrote this post?”  “Why am I so negative?”  “Could I inspire others?”  “Should I inspire others?”  “What the hell would I inspire them to do?”

Patricia, if you come to this blog, I would love to hear how you came to this point in your life.  Was it always like this for you?  Or did you need to focus your energy on positive, inspiring things to get here?

I’ll probably be back on Monday with something sarcastic.  Sigh.

Never Let Them See You Sweat


Thanks to everyone who made such nice comments on my “friendship” post.  I almost deleted the post after I published it, since I thought it was too wimpy – but I’m glad I didn’t.  I’m especially pleased to learn that I got other bloggers to think about the subject, including JJ, Ashbloem, Nicole, and Ascesis.  Even though we all live in different parts of the country – and world – we all have similar experiences in life.

Not all the responses to the post were positive.  One of my film school friends said it was a terrible idea to make myself look “bad” (meaning needy).  He’s a big fan of the maxim, “Never let them see you sweat.”  One of his favorite books is a self-help book by a professional jury-picker who writes about the “secrets” of stacking the jury by reading people’s dress, posture, and mannerisms  The book offers advice on how you can manipulate the world by using your dress and body language.  In my friend’s view, each individual is a private business that needs to be successfully marketed to succeed.  It is essential to show yourself in a positive light and never say anything bad about yourself… including your need for more friends.   The best way to get friends is to become more successful.  Then, friends will be knocking at your door.  Not surprisingly, my friend works in the entertainment industry.  

I understand where my friend is coming from.  The entertainment industry can warp your mind.  Nothing turns my stomach more than having to go to a “Hollywood” party.  Fear and desperation permeate the air, no matter how successful the group.  The reason:

Careers in Hollywood rise and fall faster than Pamela Anderson’s boobs when she’s bouncing on top of Tommy Lee in that sex video. 

The worst possible thing to say at a Hollywood party is “I’m out of work."  Everyone is afraid of catching the disease, like leprosy.   So, everyone (and I mean everyone, including the waiter handing out the cocktail franks) is “in development.”  No one believes this, but as long as no negative energy is released, everyone is relaxed and the party can proceed normally.

Keeping positive in Hollywood is not easy, or cheap.  People try to fight negativity by spending tons of money at the Learning Annex and the Scientology center.  I understand the need for this.  It’s so easy to get down on yourself that you sometimes need an outside source to help you delude yourself.

When I first move to LA, my neighbor was a pretty red-haired actress.  I wanted to ask her out, but I was too shy.  She wasn’t getting the acting jobs she wanted, so she started going to this EST-Forum type group to bolster her self-esteem.  And it seemed to work.  She didn’t get any more work, but her positive attitude went through the roof.  All of a sudden, she “knew” she was going to succeed.  There was no room for doubt.  She stopped talking to her regular friends because they were a “negative influence” who didn’t “believe in her abundant potential.”

While I was glad she was happier, I found her attitude adjustment a little creepy.  I also was concerned about the cost of all these “seminars” she took.  There was a new seminar almost every week, each costing a couple of thousand dollars. After each seminar, she would ask me to attend her “graduation.”  I kept on finding excuses not to attend, but there was a new graduation after each seminar, and I was running out of reasons.  

Finally, I agreed to go to one of her graduations.  I had no interest in this group at all, but I figured if I went, it might help me in my quest to see her naked and – well, you get where my mind was at.   I knew this group was probably cult-like.  Someone even warned me that they would try to “brainwash” me.  But I wasn’t very worried.  While some cults might appeal to me, I’m way too cheap to actually pay thousands of dollars for one.

My neighbor and I went to the group’s headquarters in Westwood.  The minute we got there, they shuffled all the “guests” into another room totally separate from the graduating students.  The door was locked and we never saw them for the rest of the evening.  Some graduation! 

A young guy with a well-trimmed beard stood in front of the guests, waving his finger at all of us.

Bearded Guy:  “You… all of you…are fuck-ups.  Every single one of you… Fuck-ups.  You don’t know shit.  And if you think you know shit, you know even less shit.”

One of the guests giggled.

Bearded Guy:  “What the fuck is wrong with you, fuck-up?

This was so weird that I was actually intrigued, as if I had stepped into a real-life movie about crazy people in California. 

“Finally,” I said to myself, “I’m seeing the real Los Angeles.”

The bearded guy kept on ranting about how fucked we all were.  Two female assistants handed out sign-up sheets where we supposed to write down our addresses and phone numbers. 

My mind wandered to thoughts about my actress friend.   I guess I wasn’t going to see her naked, after all.   It was clear that one of the "graduation requirements” was to drag another clueless victim into this nonsense.  But what bugged me the most was – why me?  Did I really look like such a “lost soul” that she thought I would go for this?

I got up to leave.

Bearded Guy:  “Where are you going?”

Me:  “I’m leaving.”

Bearded Guy:  "You can’t leave until we’re done."

Me:  "I’m really not that interested.  I’m sorry."

Bearded Guy:  "You should be sorry, you no-nothing fuck-up.  You signed up to be at this graduation ceremony."

Me:  "What graduation ceremony?  This… this… is just an excuse to get new clients.  And stop calling me names.  You’re rude… and I know what you’re trying to do.  I took psychology."

Bearded Guy:  “You really are fucked up.  Sit down.”

Some burly bouncer type stood in front of the closed doors.  For the first time since arriving, I got nervous.  My mind raced, trying to figure out what to do next. 

Me:  (to myself)   Should I just sit down and listen?  What could happen in an hour or so?  Or could something happen… I can’t be brainwashed in an hour?  But, wait… maybe I’m being brainwashed already?  Maybe I’ll become like one of those prisoners in the Stanley Milgram experiment I wrote a paper about in college Psych class?

Suddenly, I stopped thinking of my college psych class and reached into school memories that went even further back —  to my sixth grade civics class.  I remembered some speech I gave about the Declaration of Independence when I was chosen as my school’s “Citizen of the Month.” 

I turned and faced the bearded guy as defiantly as Patrick Henry must have stared down the British.

Me:  “This is a free country.  I have rights.  Have you read the Declaration of Independence?  The Constitution?   In 1789, something was written called the Bill of Rights.  Have you heard of it?  In it, it says that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.  There is free speech in this country.  And there is the inalienable right for me to move freely throughout this country.  And if I want to walk out those doors right now, I WILL walk out those doors.”

I marched to the doors.  The bouncer moved aside.  I opened the handles to the door and left.

I never brought up this incident to my actress neighbor.   I never scolded her or blamed her.  I understood that this craziness was important to her.  She needed this boost of confidence to make it in the entertainment business, even if she had to pay thousands of dollars for it.   And several years later, after we lost contact with each other, I did see her in a small speaking role on “Will and Grace.” 

So, maybe my film school friend is right: “Never let them see you sweat.” 

Maybe next time I want to write about Sophia, or my sex life, or my friendships on my blog, I’ll just say, “It’s in development.”

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