the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

One Word

David’s “The Anger of Achilles”

I’ve been upset the last few nights, sleepless over something rather innocuous — a writing prompt that I saw on someone’s blog:

“Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word.   Explain why you’re choosing that word.”

I saw a few of the responses from other writers, many which were about commercial success, accomplishment, or internal transformation towards a healthtier lifestyle or mindset.

When I tried to truthfully come up with my one word, all I could come up were words like illness, death, frustration, and loss.

This made me angry.  So much so, that I haven’t blogged in five days, not knowing what to do with this odd feeling sitting in my gut.  I’m not comfortable with the emotion of anger.  I’m also hosting The 2010 Blogger Christmalhijrahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert on December 15, and I was fearful of creating a negative vibe on this blog.   After all, what type of Holiday concert impresario feels, of all things, like a Scrooge?

Don’t get me wrong.  I love working with you on the concert.  Hearing your voices gives me immense joy.  But my negativity was scaring me.

Many of my friends are believers in positive thinking.   I tried to re-frame my relation to my past year by changing my one word to something more uplifting.   Rather than seeing 2010 as a year of death (both of my in-laws), I decided to use the word “strength.”  Sophia and I endured the year, despite the long hospital visits, the changing of the bed sheets, the decisions made, and the funerals attended.  I was “strong” enough to make it through the year in one piece, despite marital woes and graying hair.  It just seemed an insult to the memory of those that passed, to interpret the year in a positive light.

All year, I have been obsessed with the popularization of the word “branding.”  Perhaps branding should be the entire internet’s choice of one word to represents 2010.  While there are different interpretations of what this word “branding” means, I see it as more appropriate for consumer products like print cartridges than the world of living, breathing, human beings.   Once we sell ourselves like soap,  we are forced to be unrealistically upbeat, “inspirational,” and photoshopped.  I just cannot “market” 2010 as “strength,” even to myself.

So what should be my one word?  I’m afraid of telling you that 2010 — to me — was mostly about “death” and “anger.”  I know that sounds harsh, and it is embarrassing to admit.   We tout authenticity and honesty, but I have a feeling that we mostly day that to sell our seminars.

There is no post more symbolic to me on this theme than my very first post of 2010, written on January 3, 2010, titled “The Incident in the Car.”  I was still in New York at the time, not aware of what my year was going to present to me.  I decided to start my new blogging year with more focus on writing, more like a memoir, hoping to give my readers a fuller view of my life experiences.  Without my fanfare, I spun a small memory piece about high school-angst.  This short post caused a storm of outrage against me, with total strangers coming to my blog accusing me of crimes akin to kidnapping the Lindbergh baby.  I was also unfollowed on Twitter by several bloggers, including some who later touted “authenticity.”  Others were quick to comment on that day because of the “buzz,” but never once showed up on my blog for the rest of my difficult year, more concerned with a completely minor event from decades ago than anything to do with my current life.

Was I wrong to bring up this somewhat dramatized tale of overheated teenage frustration and insensitivity, especially to an audience of women?  In terms of blogging and branding, probably YES, that is if I see my blog’s goal as primarily a PR tool.

When I look back over my archives, I get angry over the experiences of my last year.  It wasn’t a good year, and maybe it is too soon to learn any “positive lessons.”

I tossed and turned the last few nights, not sure whether to talk about my negative emotions.  I was worried that you will brand me as “Neilochka, the angry guy,” or “Neilochka, the one associated with dead people.”  The biggest danger to this increasingly online world is that we easily mix up words and images with action and intent.  If I write a fantasy post about sleeping with ten women, you can not really judge my real-life actions, just my rather bizarre mind.  Even in my most lurid fantasies, I am always polite, even serving breakfast the next morning to all ten of these women.   If you want to judge me solely on my writing, that is your prerogative, just as it is your right to publicly praise another writer, when you know that he is — in reality — sending pornographic photos to all of your friends.  We live in a bizarre world where image is more important reality.

We should remember — as writers — that the first great book, if not the very first book of Western Civilization is Homer’s Illiad.  And the very first word of that book is “menis” — anger.

Menis means “anger, wrath, rage,” and the menis referred to here is specifically that of Achilles, the hero of the Iliad, Homer’s epic poem about the Trojan War. Achilles is enraged at Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek army, for taking one of Achilles’ hard-won prizes, a slave girl, Briseis; moreover, menis is what the entire Greek army is feeling, as the Iliad is set in the tenth year of the Trojan War. The Greeks have been away from home for all those years and are restless and uneasy about the outcome of the war, and about whether they will ever return hom; their rage simmers just below. Achilles’ anger over his slighted honor is so great that he almost kills Agamemnon and is stopped only when Athena, the goddess of wisdom, pulls him by the hair and stops him.

What I like about ancient literature, including the Greeks and the Hebrew Bible, is that the  writers don’t sugar coat human experience.  There is death and joy standing side by side, like Achilles and Agamemnon.   Anger and celebration.  War and love.  Writing is not only an imitation of a glossy Martha Stewart magazine.

I’m not the best person to be pontificating about writing the full range of human emotion.  I’m mostly a light, funny writer.  That is a large part of my personality.  But I would hate to shy away from dealing with my three-dimensional life, because I would be judged, or it didn’t fit my “brand.”

Which brings me back to the Holiday Concert.  I’ve been hosting this concert for five years, and this is the first year where I feel a bit disconnected.  I am trying hard to reconnect with my Holiday Spirit.  But it doesn’t really matter.  I enjoy participating, and I love to see YOUR  joy.

If I can attempt to be inspirational for a moment, I would like this year’s concert to be able to embrace our inner Scrooges.   Not everyone has large extended families, or colorful Christmas trees in their homes.  Christmas can also be a lonely time for many.  Why should we hide these feelings? I prefer — at least this year — to take my inspiration from Homer’s Illiad rather than some internet guru.  In Homer’s world, anger and frustration were allowed.  Anger is even the honor of being the first word.  As I reflect on 2010, it will be impossible for me to solely focus on joy, even during the concert.  I will be a bit of a Scrooge.  Shit happens.  There will be those that we have lost.  Opportunities missed.  Friendships broken.  We should be able to celebrate the good — and mourn at the same time, not hiding the “negativity” in the a locked closet like a batty uncle, but embracing it as the stuff that makes us human, like the Greeks would, soldiers away from home at war, restless and uneasy with the future.

Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word — Anger.


  1. Suebob

    Good post, Neil. I think about this all the time. Our culture seems to be pushing us to relentless positivity, even in the face of dire circumstances that would normally seem to require another reaction. Or maybe this is ancient – everyone in the Emperor’s New Clothes says how great he looks. I just know that, at work especially, I tend to say “Sounds great!” no matter what anyone says, because people just don’t want to hear anything else.

    I struggle with the same notion on my blog. Sometimes I think I want to talk about the aging process as I approach 50, and how awful and weird it is – but I wonder how many posts I can get away with before people quit reading me. I could make it funny, but a lot of it isn’t funny, and how real and authentic is it to try and make it comedy?

  2. Mir

    I think striving towards being more positive and happy is a good thing, but I also think it’s impossible to get there without acknowledging the crappy stuff for what it is, you know?

    You’re entitled to a year of anger, after all that’s happened this year. I, for one, won’t give you grief about it unless that becomes a multi-year theme. 😉 The nice thing about such a crappy 2010 is that 2011 is bound to be an improvement, right?

  3. Nat

    I am not a brand, any more than I am any of the labels people stick on me. I feel a manifesto coming on. Fuck this pisses me off.

    You know, there is nothing wrong with anger. I learned that this year. Sometimes life isn’t fair and there is no silver lining. It’s hard and it sucks. Some years will be about success. But if I have learned one thing this year, it’s that there is absolutely no point sugar coating the truth.

  4. Trish Smith

    Good post, Neil. I know I can be tough on you, but that’s because I won’t accept anything less from you than authenticity. The real you, as you learned many times this year (and as you explore in this post), is not always “pretty”, not always great PR, not always “brand-worthy”. But it’s always been my belief that the best thing you can do for yourself (and others) online (and offline, for that matter) is to be yourself, warts and all. “Selling” an inauthentic version of yourself will only make you unhappy, and will get you nowhere (people see through that shit in a second). Even when the real you is sad, frustrated, and yes, even angry, I think you’ll find more success online (and off) than if you try to present the always-positive “branded” Neil.

    Wishing you peace for the new year, kiddo.

  5. Shirl Grrrl

    Oh Neil… I can so relate to this post. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Maybe a mutual friend has shared some of my 2010 with you so you know that I understand a bit of your anger. I am also finding it hard to be positive about the holidays and am forcing myself to make the cookies and fudge, to act out our traditions for the sake of my kids. While the death in my life didn’t happen in 2010, but 2008, the holidays have a way of bringing that death to the forefront of my mind again. The sense of loss is just as fresh as it was the at the time it happened.
    Let us hang in there together, Neil, and pray that 2011 will bring us a new, more positive word that we can use next December!
    Peace, Sherry

  6. lisahgolden

    Just about any year can be boiled down to one year (if one must). Complex. Life, people situations – they all have good and bad and a lot of meh.

    This pernicious pushing of positivity denies and shames human nature. The oversimplification of everything feeds into this idea that we’re incapable of critical thinking and reflection. I get it as a writing prompt, but oversimplification has become the first tool we’re encouraged to reach for as we try to explain things that aren’t simple.

    Branding, for example, is oversimplification. And it works commercially, but it’s still not who we are, most of us can’t be reduced to a single word or simple phrase.

  7. Finn

    The thing about being positive and happy is not to be negative and shitty when there really is nothing wrong. Minor, everyday bullshit is nothing to get worked up over.

    But that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t experience grief, anger, frustration and pain over things that merit it – like the death of loved ones and the soul-draining days of a long, terminal illness.

    You earned your anger, Neil. Experience it fully, then find joy where you can. This too shall pass. You will be stronger for it.

  8. Tracy

    You write about whatever is in your head that day. All blogs that follow the branding mentality are not in my reader and if they are I don’t read them. HA!

    I love reading your blog even if I don’t always comment. Life is too short to worry about what others think of us. At 40, I finally am starting to figure that out. 😀

    BIG HUG. I read all that you went through and I think that strength is a good word to sum it all up but can totally see why you are going with anger. Life is life…it isn’t meant to be tied up into a little pretty bow unless you watch too much tv which I don’t. much. anymore.

  9. brandon

    it looks like agamemnon is pointing at achilles’ menis.

  10. Maggie, dammit

    Exactly just right, my friend. Well done.

  11. Michele

    I totally get it. I wrote about the pressure on singles during the holidays on my blog just last week –

    Hang in there, I know it’s tough right now. You don’t have to be perky if you don’t want to.

  12. ChiaLynn

    What they said, but especially what Finn said – being positive is not whining when things aren’t bad, not plastering on your “company smile” when things really are. This year’s been hard, and while you may eventually find something positive (like strength) in it, forcing yourself to view it through a positive lens now robs you of grief, mourning, loss. So-called negative emotions are as much a part of the human experience as joy and peace, and not allowing yourself to experience them is like shutting your eyes to three colors of the rainbow. “I look terrible in yellow, so from now on, I refuse to acknowledge yellow, orange or green. They don’t fit with my personal brand.”

  13. Jennifer

    Neil, for what it’s worth, I think this post is perfect. Honest. Legitimate. Authentic. And above all else, I think you needed to say it out loud in order to begin the process of maybe, just maybe, feeling entitled to letting some of it go.

    But I’d also like to remind you that there was a part 2 to this prompt: Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?

    Sometimes putting what you want out there, framing it in your terms, is a first step toward making it so. So, what say you? I’d love to know your desires for 2011 summed up with one word.

  14. Jack

    A friend of mine told me that negativity brings negativity and that I should focus on being positive. Well I am positive that there is a ton of negative shit weighing down upon me. I am positive that I am frustrated because this negative crap doesn’t just go away. I can dress it up with with sunshine and roses but it still looks like a bucket of crap, albeit one wearing pretty clothing.

    And while I am also positive that this negative shit will eventually fade into the rear view mirror I’m also positive that for now it is going to make life a bit more challenging.

    And not that it matters, but positive thinking in high school didn’t convince the famous Ann Stacey to go to prom with me either. Damn, I am positive that this positive thinking is good for motivational speakers, cheats, chances and other con artists.


    Scrooge and happy about it

  15. pia

    You lost both a marriage and Sophia’s parents this past year. That last is almost symbolic for your year. You have every right to not be positive all the time.
    Branding? I don’t think of you as a brand but as a complex straight male who can write on many many subjects, and has the nerve to show his neurosis’s. That takes chutzpah
    I don’t think this has been an easy year for most people. Yet when I read blogs which I do with less frequency most people are so peachy!!!!!!
    Personally I think you should be a bit less obsessed with branding and using your blog as a vehicle for promotion because you already accomplished that. I would love to see a book or movie with your name on the credits! But that’s just me

  16. NeCole

    If I were assigning you a word, it would be authentic. Using our “authentic voices” has been a popular blog buzz this year and you have succeeded in presenting yours. I much prefer your brutal honesty and willingness to put yourself under the microscope to any attempts to blow sunshine up my ass (not that you’ve done that but others have). As always, I remain inspired.

  17. Titanium

    Start where you are. Mostly because you can’t start where you aren’t. Anger is a perfectly legitimate emotion that should neither be ignore nor disguised with unicorns and pastel ribbons. This year happened to you. It’s your year. The corresponding emotions are yours, too. To own, to accept, to let go of (or not) when you are damn well good and ready.

    ‘Anger’ is your word for 2010. Just saying it out loud takes guts. You aren’t under any obligation to immediately begin looking at 2011 through a frosted-over window and trying to ascertain its portent, its looming good or bad.

    I’m glad you wrote this post. The world needs more of these kinds of words, rendered with the eloquence and calibrated simplicity you offer.

  18. slouchy

    If your word weren’t anger, I’d be surprised. And just because the word for this year is anger doesn’t mean that you are an angry person — that’s a leap of logic that’s entirely unwarranted. If someone chooses to make that leap, well, I guess I believe that that person is not a real friend.

  19. caron

    I wouldn’t wish upon anyone a life so monotone as to sum up an entire year with a single word. That’s just another gimmick, and you don’t really do gimmicks. No wonder this exercise caused you angst. You do a balance of silly and sincere and sarcastic – and that’s why I read your blog.

    I think that you are someone who sees and acknowledges not only the color in the world, but also the millions of shades of gray. Gimmicks and brands are the rainbow parts of the world. Angst and ennui, they are the muted shades of the rainbow colors. Nothing is more annoying to angst and ennui than being ignored. It’s the shadows that hold the most mystery and depth of beauty in the world, but, it’s hard to see the real beauty when you’re looking for over the glare of fake white teeth. And it’s easy to be angry at that glare when you’re trying to find your way through the shadows and it’s blinding you and making you see spots.

  20. terri

    Even as an incurable optimist, I have to admit that some years are just sad, no matter how many happy face stickers you try to slap over them. The holidays simply seem to contrast those personal blue tones against everyone else’s bright yellow happy face stickers with red Santa hats, all the more. If a green Grinch face feels more appropriate, then go with it. People will understand or not – and to paraphrase a much better writer’s words — those that matter will understand and those that don’t, don’t matter.
    I’m sorry for your (and Sophia’s) losses in 2010. Wishing you a brighter, happier 2011.
    p.s. Did you by chance read Patti Digh’s post for the Reverbio challenge (from yesterday), about ‘not striving?’ I think it might have some relevance to your thoughts on ‘un-branding.’

  21. rachel

    some years are a steaming pile of crap. the thing i value in people is the ability to grab a bag, shove their hand inside and reach down to clean up the shit. they are the ones that know the stain will soon fade and it can all be good again.

    i have got my Jingle Bells, Batman Smells trained backup singers ready to record our holiday post.

    i am glad you wrote this post.

  22. Juli

    The holidays are tough. I’m impressed that you are reaching out to people, going out, doing stuff. This is strength. You need to keep it up, right through New Year’s. Try not to worry about feeling disconnected. You are depressed (or angry) because 2010 sucked. So over the holidays, be realistic. Have low expectations. Let anger and death be in the back seat–just for now. Focus on coping.

  23. Gwen

    Neil, I’m sorry this has been such a difficult year for you. I think it probably deserves a good ass-kicking. Wishing you an easier 2011.

  24. Nancy Davis Kho

    Hi – just checking out your blog for the first time thanks to Marinka but was moved to comment. First, boiling down what sounds like was a trying and sad 12 months for you seems unfair and would necessarily end up at a one-trick-pony word like anger. Luckily as a writer you get to choose from a whole dictionary of words that give color to your experience – maybe even uncover some of the lessons and (dare we say it) blessings of such hardship? The year we lost my husband’s beloved dad was also a year in which we strengthened bonds with far flung relatives who came together to mourn him – hard to appreciate at the time, but a few years down the road I can see that as a good outcome of what we went through. But it took time, and the sometimes forced conviviality of the holiday season doesn’t want you to have time.

    I had a post on my blog at Thanksgiving called “Giving Thanks for Crud” which tried to speak to this – to acknowledging the crap in our lives and not pretending it away.

    At any rate – enjoyed your thoughts on the topic and hope that you get through the holidays however you need to, angry if need be. Next year will be better.

  25. subWOW

    I don’t trust people who always seem happy. Light and fluffy. There is just something off about them. Maybe I am simply envious of their outlooks but still I cannot bring myself to trust them. The same with blogs. I did not even realize that yours is “supposed to be” a funny blog until you said so in this post. Although I am naturally gravitated towards people with a great sense of humor (since I see it as a major sign of intelligence), I do not expect them to be always funny ha ha.

    By the way, I read the post that you mentioned, I have nothing intelligent to add other than that I don’t understand the venom towards you because of that post and that I like the comment by Christine the best.

    I find myself enjoy coming here even more now that you have come right out and admitted to yourself and the world what your true emotions are. Know thyself. Be thyself. This has always been the motto I strive for and I think, in some sense, it explains why I need to blog. I suspect that I am not alone.

    All this being said, happy holidays you scrooge. So now what holiday songs would you recommend us sing now?! Bah Humbug.

  26. heather

    So glad to see you put this out there.

  27. April

    At least anger is truthful.

    A rose-tinted, self-deceiving “one word” response would have been worse.

  28. Karen D

    I think that if anger and loss is what happened in the year for you then that you saying that instead of sugar coating it is telling the truth of your story, nothing wrong with that.
    My word for 2010 was BREAK, I had a lot of cracks and breaks to spirit this year and am just happy it is over and can only hope that 2011 will be better and I can look at this year and see the lessons some day, but today is not that day.

    My 2011 word is Open, I am trying not to rush to cover up or fill in those cracks, waiting to see where this expansion will take me.

    Also looking back at my post I guess it is no surprise that my 2 words together are: BREAK OPEN.


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