the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: June 2012

Books and Remembrances of Women Past

This was a difficult week. I started packing, initiating the process of leaving the house I have shared with Sophia for so many years. Sure, it’s only taken me six years to get this point of taking action, but I like to take my time.

Holy crap, I didn’t realize that I had accumulated so many books since college. I ended up with twenty boxes of books. And as for the question that V-grrrl snarkily asked me on Twitter, “Have you actually READ them all?” my answer is, “Have you worn ALL of the shoes in your closet?”

I recently bought a Kindle, and proudly announced to the world the end of the physical book. Who needs the physical book anymore? Let’s save the trees! Words are words, whether on paper or e-ink. But as I went through my books this week, in an attempt to weed out those that I wanted to give away, I reconnected with so many of these books, some which I haven’t looked at since college, as if they were old friends I just rediscovered on Facebook.

For me, the relationship of man and book has less to do with the content of the book, or even whether I bothered to read it. It is the living and breathing book itself. The physical book could light a memory that has nothing to do with the story, but about carrying the book in the subway in 1988, and the nodding agreement of the older gentleman carrying the same tome, and feeling as if I was in a private club.

As I prepared my moving boxes, my aim was to give away half of my old books, but after sorting through them, one by one, chatting to each about “old times,” I reduced my giveaway to only three boxes. There was no reason to hold on to “Tasty Oriental Dishes in Five Minutes? After really, after twelve years of owning SQL for Dummies, shouldn’t I just accept that I will always be a DUMMY with SQL?

As a self-diagnosed co-dependent, it didn’t surprise me to discover that many of the books in my collection, even the most unlikely of the bunch, are connected to different women from the past, imaginary and real girlfriends, unrequited love, lucky nights, and utter disasters.

The Whole PC Family Encyclopedia

Amy showed me how to use Compuserve, and then promptly flirted with me online. I was as slow to warming up to this modern form of sexual relationship as was my dial-up modem to connecting to the Internet. She soon found another guy to message, and we lost touch.

History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics

Do I remember anything about this book from college? No. Do I remember this Marxism course or the pretentious professor’s name? No. Do I remember my first experience with getting oral sex during that study session with Hannah after we talked about Marxist Dialectics? Yes. Will I ever read this book again? No. Will I ever give it away? Absolutely not. Never.

To Be a Jew

Michaela was religious. Because of her, I went bonkers and immediately decided to become a rabbi. I ended up going to film school in Los Angeles instead.  Mistake.

Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party

I wrote a play that was performed at a small theater. The play was awful, a ripoff of Harold Pinter’s style.  No one sleeps with the writer in Hollywood. Except Margaret.

Mad Libs

Shari was crazy, but her dirty word suggestions when we played Mad Libs made our short-lived friendship oh-so-worthwhile. I think she is now a Scientologist.

Selling Your Screenplay

Writing Class. Nothing ever happened with Karen. I just fantasized about her all the time in class and never wrote anything.  She is now very successful, married to a woman.

Erotic Arts

This is a very boring book about sexuality in the arts, but when Jamie came to visit for the weekend, I placed this book (along with some cheesy “Book of the Month Club” selection titled “Sensual Massage”) in the center of my bookcase, hoping that she would notice them while checking out my books (something I always do when I go visit someone) and say to me, “Ooh, what interesting books you have, Neil. How would you like to give me a sensual massage and then we fuck like wild beasts?” Sadly, we spent the night sitting on the couch, fully clothed, eating Pop Tarts, and watching a Twilight Zone marathon on TV.

Curious George

I met Sophia online. Our first conversation online was about our favorite books. She said hers was “The Little Prince.” I said, half-jokingly, that it was “Curious George.” This became a personal running gag for years. We even had a large Curious George doll sitting nearby at our wedding. Oddly, someone stole it during the reception.

Books are not about reading. They are about women.

Watching the Fishermen

I’m not a fan of the ocean.  It is too big, vast, dark, and scary.  The tide will come in and swallow you up like a shark.  But I am a Pisces.  Two fishes swimming in opposite directions.  I am drawn to the water.  The grubby little pier in Redondo Harbor is so small that it feels like it belongs in some run-down New England seaside resort that has seen better days.  Hollywood is far away.  The celebrities go to Malibu, the tourists to Santa Monica.  I like to watch the lazy fisherman, who spend the day dreaming of nothing, and catching even less, waiting for the sun to set.

Los Angeles Traffic – Instagram

If New York is symbolized by the Empire State Building, the iconic image of Los Angeles is… traffic.  Sure, the Los Angeles Kings just won the Stanley Cup, the supermodels are at the private beaches of Malibu, and the Hollywood sign beckons from Rodeo Drive, but when it comes down to our daily conversation, it is all about, “Jesus, avoid the 405 today.”

I took some traffic shots today.  One of them, taken on the freeway, could have earned me a hefty traffic ticket.  Look what I do for you, dear reader.  And for ART.


Rocket Man

Today, I was reading about self-acceptance.

Wikipedia definition: Self-acceptance is defined as affirmation or acceptance of self in spite of weaknesses or deficiencies.

The power of this concept is striking, but how does this affect the way we thing about our hopes and dreams?   And if we do have certain weaknesses and deficiencies, does this there are some things we can do and some that we cannot do.    If we know we are terrified of snakes, should we try to conquer the fear and become a zookeeper, or just say no to that trip to the Amazon?  We tell our children that they can do anything if they dream hard enough, but at what point do we stop telling ourselves the same thing, and accept our position in society?  Do we give ourselves to a certain age, say 35, to achieve all of our dreams, and if not, should we just accept our lot, and be happy be with it.

It amused me that the first thought to came to mind when thinking about self-acceptance was my own childhood dream — to become an astronaut. You know the story — child of the 1970’s, Apollo, Star Wars, Star Trek, Ray Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles.”  Who is the most important Neil in world history? No, not Neil Sedaka.   It’s Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon. When I would hear his name in elementary school, I would feel a tinge of pride.

My Facebook update this morning: What do people think of the term “self-acceptance? New Age BS or the key to it all? Does it mean accepting your limitations? Don’t we live in a culture that says we can do it and have it ALL if we believe in it?

After receiving a number of intelligent (and not so intelligent) comments, I wrote:

Should I give up my dream of ever being an astronaut, considering my allergies?

Judy replied:

I think that sounds like a plan, but allergies don’t factor into it – unless you majored in aeronautical engineering and became a pilot recently.

She was right.  Tough love.  I will never become an astronaut.

Did this realization make me make me sad?

Not really.  To the adult-self, being an astronaut seems boring.  My interest in space has lessened over the years.  I ignored last week’s Venus passing the sun for the last time in our lifetime so I could watch “The Bachelorette” on TV instead.   Our interests change over time.

Before I sat down to write this post, I create two lists on my laptop:

List #1 –Dreams and Follies that I Still Hope to Achieve

List #2 — Accepting the Limitations of Who I Am and What I Should Give Up as a Dream

LIST #1 was easy.

1) I can write a best-selling book. Didn’t Jenny Lawson just do that? Why not me?

2) I can run a marathon. If I wanted to, I could train hard enough.  Of course I am lazy and unmotivated.  But if I WANTED TO —

3)  I can have a three-some with two hot babes. Why not?

The list of  possible dreams came flowing from my brain right to the keyboard –from being a father to ringing the bell at NASDAQ.

And then it was time for the list of my limitations.  What are my faults?  What will I never be able to do?   Can I still be happy accepting myself as an imperfect person who is just not good enough in so many ways?  Does accepting my foibles mean not trying to change them?

This is where the trouble began.  It was impossible to write this list.

1) Because of my physical and educational and emotional limitations, I will never be an…

I wanted to write… astronaut, but I just couldn’t do it. Maybe Ray Bradbury, RIP, would understand how I felt.   If I wrote it out, it would become a reality, and that would mean killing some childish fantasy, one that I don’t even want to achieve anymore. The “I CAN DO ANYTHING” mentality of American culture is so ingrained in my blood, that making a list of my limitations seemed almost… well, anti-American!

“Why can’t I be an astronaut?” I asked myself.

I immediately came up with several ways that I could become an astronaut.  I could buckle down and get a Masters in Astrophysics. I could move to Houston and get a job with SpaceCamp. I could become a traitor to my country and become Iran’s first astronaut, pissing on the American flag from space as a publicity stunt in support of the Iranian regime. I could focus on making A LOT of money for the next twenty years — I would need BILLIONS of $$$ — so I could buy my way into one of those Russian space trips for hire.   These scenarios are unlikely, but they are POSSIBLE.  There was no reason to kill my dream.

Will I ever become an astronaut, the Rocket Man of my childhood, the second most famous Neil in space history?! Probably not.   Perhaps my biggest limitation, the area of self-acceptance that I need the most work in, is about my own lack of self-acceptance.

If I were smarter, I would remember my first trip to Denver, Colorado — the Mile High city, and how I ended up spending all day in an “oxygen bar” because of my inability to deal with the high altitude.

Do I really want to go into Space?  Do I want to pee in my suit and drink that awful Tang?

Perhaps I am still a child at heart, not ready for adult self-acceptance.

I still believe that one day I will be an astronaut.

Or at least write a story about it.

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!

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