the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: August 2012

Advice to Children Going Back to School that Your Parents Won’t Tell You

Don’t be a bully. For purely selfish reasons. In the past, there were actually some advantages to being a bully.  You could get what you want, and after graduation, you would never encounter your victims again.  But  now, in the age of Facebook, these bitter adults will passive-aggressively “friend” you 25 years later just to torment you back, forcing you to listen to their endless updates about their therapy sessions on “self-esteem.”

It is only in porno films that the hot social studies teacher wants to have sex with any of her dorky male high school students. Don’t waste your time. Study for your SAT instead.

Here’s another lie.   You will NEVER use geometry in real life.   The whole subject is included in the curriculum because of a massive lobbying effort from the American Geometry Association.

Sure, dancing the “Tarentela” with Jamie Schwartz at the Third Grade Ethnic Dance festival will seem “gross” in third grade, but just wait until you see a photo of her in a bikini 30 years later.  Your perception of the event will change forever.

If you are going to skip a class to hang out a Dairy Queen, at least skip gym class.  No one really cares about gym class.

If you can afford it, do not take the school bus to school.   If you must use the school bus, good luck.  And also remember the words of Kelly Clarkson, “What Doesn’t Kill You, Makes You Stronger.”

Never say to yourself, “I can’t wait until I’m out of high school so I don’t have to deal with all these cliques and popularity contests.”  Ha, Ha.  That’s so funny, I don’t think I even have to explain this one.

Real adults don’t drink beer or smoke cigarettes to be cool.   Real adults drink coffee.

Your sex education teacher will never tell you the most important piece of information for your future sexual happiness — you and your sexual partner will mostly argue over the dishes.

If your mother gives you good cookies in your lunch box, share it with others. Friends are the most important part of school.

Don’t tell your parents EVERYTHING. It’s none of their business.

Enjoy playing with blocks in kindergarten.   It’s all downhill from there.

Become the editor of your yearbook. It will help you in the future.

If you cheat, you are only cheating yourself.  But if you cheat successful,  for a very long time, you become a CEO.

Your parents are hypocrites in everything they tell you, but listen to them anyway.

The school nutritionist is not paid by the school district.  She is an employee of the Monsanto Corporation. You will not understand the importance of this until you are older, but take note of it now.

Girls will always be two years ahead of boys in social maturity, and this will never change.

What sneaker you wear to school is more important than what car your parents drive.

When writing your report on the “People of Cuba,” remember to change every fifth word as you plagiarize Wikipedia.

Your teacher doesn’t like your parents any more than you do.

One day, in the future, you will meet a woman at a party. She will be drunk, her blouse open to her navel, and ranting about President Obama being a Muslim. She will tell you that she is a third grade teacher.  Your life will suddenly pass in front of your eyes. You will wonder about every single teacher who ever inspired you, and the fact that you never really “knew them” as individuals.  You will question the fundamental ideas of knowledge, education, and personal identity.

And finally, the hardest lesson for you to accept, so better you learn it now – School NEVER ENDS.


There was a story in the Wall Street Journal yesteday about Csanad Szegedi, a Hungarian politican with the extreme far-right Jobbik party, and known for his hate speech, who was forced to resign from his party position when it was discovered that his grandmother was Jewish.

Mr. Szegedi said his grandparents, who both survived Nazi terror in World War II, had chosen to remain silent about their Jewish heritage and he had only found out about his family’s religious background in December 2011.

Szegedi came to prominence as a founding member of the anti-Semitic Hungarian Guard, an organization that wore black uniforms similar to the Arrow Cross, a pro-Nazi party which governed Hungary at the end of World War II and killed thousands of Jews.

Now, Szegedi is apologetic about his former anti-Semitism.

“Had I made any comments in the past years that offended the Jewish community, I ask for forgiveness,” Mr. Szegedi told Rabbi Slomo Koves, according to Nepszabadsag. “Now that I have been faced with my Jewish roots, that I do not regret at all, keeping in touch with the leaders of the Hungarian Jewish community has become especially important for me,” he said.

A few commenters viewed this news story as a postitive story of a man’s redemption and change. I find the story depressing.

Does understanding and compassion only come into play when our own identity is directly involved? Wouldn’t Szegedi have remained an anti-Semite if the information about his grandmother didn’t go public?  This incident begs the question, does our identity come from someplace within, or is it forced on us from the outside, by our heritage and birth?


(note:  the following section has 0% truth quotient)  —

A few months ago, I had lunch with my mother.

“I have something serious to discuss with you,” she said. “Do you remember your Grandma Ida?”

“Of course I do,” I said, even though she passed away when I was young.  I have fond memories of this gentle woman’s  love for “prune compote” and the way her apartment always smelled like home-made Gefilte fish.”

“Well, Grandma Ida wasn’t Jewish. She was a Navajo Indian.”

“A Navajo Indian? That’s crazy. She had a completely Eastern European accent!”

“Oh, she was just faking it to fit in with the rest of her friends in the Bronx. She was born on a reservation in New Mexico.”

I was shocked, and intrigued by this news. If my grandmother was Navajo, that made me part Navajo. And I knew absolutely nothing about my heritage.

I went to the New York Public Library to begin my journey into my new heritage. I read about my history, my food, my storytelling. I took a trip to Colorado in order to experience my land. I learned to fish and hunt, and to make beautiful traditional jewelry and clay pottery.

Yesterday, I was having breakfast. I was wearing a breechcloths made of woven yucca fiber, moccassins, and a cloak of rabbit fur, my latest attempt to embrace my identity.

“I have something serious to discuss with you,” said my mother.

“What now?” I asked.

“I wasn’t wearing my glasses on that day I read Grandma Ida’s birth certificate. She wasn’t a Navajo Indian. She was a Nairobian Tribeswoman.”

I was shocked, and intrigued. I alway wanted to be black.

“Screw the Navajos,” I yelled, as tossed my itchy rabbit fur cloak onto the floor. After breakfast, I went to the New York Public Library to research my new heritage.


Who are we? Do our identities come from within or without? And do we get trapped in our identities, receiving our cues on behavior from the groups we join, or from those in which we are excluded?

I am a straight man.  How much of my behavior is part of my DNA and how much is it cultural?

I am an American. Yay, America. Why was I rooting for America during the Olympics? Do I really care that we received more medals than China?

I am Jewish. What does that mean? I know plenty of Hindus who like bagels.

I feel it necessary to be part of something. To associate with others.   A community.   The city I live in.   Other writers.   People who like coffee.   It helps me create my own identity.

We talk about fluidity in identity, within gender.  We want each generation to have less restriction than the one before, less trapped in their gender roles.

But how far do we want to go?  We applaud little girls who throw away their Barbies and playing with trucks, but how many parents are overjoyed when their young son expresses an interest in wearing mommy’s dress?

At the London Olympics opening ceremony, viewers cried when a youth choir sang a touching rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

But in reality, do we honestly wish for this type of faceless society where there are no countries or religions?  I think we prefer many of the restrictions and rules that separation and division creates.   We want differences in men and women.   We want differences in  countries and cultures.   How would we know who we are without these differences? Twitter rankings, perhaps? Blogging niches?

I’m actually surprised that the blogging world has become so niche-oriented.   If anything, the internet could have been the world that John Lennon visualized.   The potential was there — a world where your religion and country didn’t matter.   Friendships were based on one thing alone — the quality of your cat photos!  The internet was created to be the great equalizer.  But I think we like to retreat to those who are most like ourselves.

It’s taken me several years to feel comfortable with my identity online, simply because I am not a parent, and 98% of my online friends are parentbloggers.   Every time I read a post on a parenting blog, I feel a bit as if I am an outsider, like a Jew taking at a Catholic Mass. I might find the sermon fascinating, but I’m never quite sure if the others want me to stay for coffee and cake.

Of course, parentbloggers have the opposite problem.  Their identity online is defined by their parenting.   What do they do when their kids grow up?  What do they write about?  Do they have an identity — a brand online — outside of the parenting fold?

It is all about Identity.

Are we defined by our jobs?  Our POV?  Our marital status?  Our parenting status?  What we say?   What we do? And what if our perception of self are different than how others see us?  Should we always reveal our true identity, or is it better to create a branded version of it?  And what if we start to believe our own false identity?

Identity is also political.  The outing of the Hungarian politician was based on politics.  The Republican effort to name President Obama as a Muslim during the last campaign was purely political.

In America, sexual orientation is frequently a political statement. When someone “comes out,” the person is announcing that he is not fearful of his true “identity.”   But do we have the right to force people to be authentic in their identity?  Would you go on Twitter and write “Sally Jones said in her last post she lives in Dayton, but I know she really lives in Cleveland!”  Would you confront someone who has “fake Twitter followers?”

Recently, the actress Rashida Jones had to go on Twitter to apologize for an interview in which she discussed John Travolta.

She said: “Like John Travolta? Come out! Come on. How many masseurs have to come forward? Let’s do this.”

She later said it was John Travolta’s personal life was none of her business.

We will always struggle with our concept of identity.  Yes, it is personal, but it is also public.  Think about how much data about ourselves we put out into the world.   Why does the government need to know our marital status or age?    And do these pieces of data define us?  I know they define us according to marketers.  I was completely invisible when I walked through the Expo at BlogHer, because I was not part of the demographic that the advertisers were looking for at a woman’s conference.   But should we allow marketers — or pundits — determine how we view ourselves or live our lives?  Who says a “real mom” has to breastfeed has a child, or a mature woman can’t wear a mini-skirt, or a man can’t take up knitting?  Can we create our own identities?

We will join groups and leave groups, looking to find ourselves.  John Lennon’s world will never exits.   We like our differences too much.  The best we can do is create a world where no one is afraid of differences, or their expression of them.  We should hope for a world where the differences are inclusive, not exclusive; where our identities can be fluid, without pressure from those outside or inside our community.


Yesterday, I changed my Facebook relationship status to “single.” I was slightly embarrassed by this, berating myself for my obsessive need to over share. But t occurred to me that my motivation was not simply oversharing, or need for attention.  It’s not like I haven’t written about my marriage, separation, and divorce.  No, I felt the compulsion to press the button and see words “single” written in print. Not “divorced,” but “single,” as if it was time to embrace the reality, and see myself — identify with — my new status.   My identity.

Blogging Thoughts – August


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

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

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


2) ROI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

But how does blogging fit into this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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