the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: June 2013

One Friend

Jay was sick of the superficiality of his online life – the five thousand friends on Facebook, the ten thousand on Twitter, the seven thousand on Instagram. Others were envious of all these numbers, much in the same way that grade school friends were impressed with his large Topps baseball collection. But these were not baseball cards. Collecting acquaintances online made him feel stupid and lonely.

“It’s all an illusion – this internet friendship thing,” thought Jay.

Jay tried using Dunbar’s Theory as a basis of his online life. Dunbar was a famous sociologist popular in internet circles, who theorized that one can only maintain one hundred and fifty serious interpersonal relationships, whether the subject lived in a big city like Hong Kong or a small town like Podunk.

Jay created a list of only a hundred and fifty close friends and chose to only follow them online, but even the daily lives of a hundred and fifty were too much for him to handle. Every day, another friend’s child was getting bat mitzvahed or a beloved family dog grew ill, and Jay would sit by his laptop, tears in his eyes, needing to give someone a congratulating handshake or a hug. But before Jay would even get a chance to write a heartfelt response, the scrolling lifestream would flow on, like an endless river of pathos.

There was only one solution to all these meaningless connections. He would do Dunbar one step further. Jay made the decision to only follow ONE person on the internet. This way, Jay would finally be able to enjoy a true, satisfying bond with a single individual online.

Jay closed his eyes and picked a name off of his lengthy Facebook friend list. His finger randomly fell on the name of Karen Springer, an online friend that Jay didn’t know very well – she was the visiting sister of an acquaintance that he once met at a Twitter meet-up at a bar in the Village but never got a chance to say much to her other than, “Can you please pass the pretzels?”

Now was Jay’s opportunity to get to know Karen, as a friend.

Facebook gave all the necessary background for Jay to catch up with the basic details of her life.

Karen Springer.


Mother of two.

Dog Owner.

Resident of Nashua, New Hampshire.

Writer of the blog “The New Hampshire Momma.”

Monday, the first day of Jay’s social media experiment, was a joy. Unburdened by the useless links and demands of hundreds of needy “internet gurus” hawking their dull blog posts, Ted presentations, and artistically-bereft Kickstarter campaigns, Jay connected with Karen one-to-one, the way God intended — by reading her blog.

Jay didn’t just skim Karen’s latest blog post, spitting out some ass-kissing comment, but read Karen’s writing as if it was a prize-winning memoir. On Monday, he read the ENTIRE ARCHIVE, every post she wrote since 2007! In one swoop, Jay learned about Karen’s previous struggles with her infertility, her tense relationship with her overbearing mother-in-law, Rita, and even her favorite brand of vibrator, Doc Johnson’s Ultra-Realistic DM3 Dual Density Large-Sized Vibrating Cock, proving that a sponsored post CAN be written well.

On Tuesday, Jay explored Karen’s social media presence. Previously, his fast-moving Facebook and Twitter streams gave him anxiety, but now, by just following one person, it was as relaxing as a Zen Garden. Jay felt as if he was in an intimate conversation with a close friend. Jay dug deeper into Karen’s online life, even examining her well-organized Pinterest boards, which showcased her eclectic range of hobbies and interests, from “Retro Kitchen Appliances” to “Knitting Patterns” to “Sexy Firemen.”

The first bump in the road occurred on Wednesday. Jay expected Karen to be offline in the morning. After all, she did mention her busy day on Facebook the previous night – her daughter’s class trip, the extra shift at the hospital, and her early lunch with Barbara, an old friend from junior high, visiting from Cleveland. But by 2PM, when there was still no word from Karen, not even an Instagram photo of Barbara and Karen together at Applebee’s, Jay begin to worry.

Normally, Jay might have never noticed Karen’s absence. There would be others online screaming for his attention, as if each believed he was the sun in which the world revolved. Jay remembered that unfortunate incident last June when one of his Facebook friends DIED in a boating accident, and Jay didn’t notice this tragedy until five months after the funeral, and by that time, writing a “my condolences” update on his friend’s “In Memory Page “ seemed to be in bad taste.

But Jay was not following five thousand strangers anymore. Jay had a real friendship with Karen, one which involved concern for her safety and health.

By evening, Jay was deeply lonely. When you follow five thousand friends on Twitter, there’s always SOMEONE online with a witty comment about Kim Kardashian, even at 3AM when the Australians take over the airwaves, but when you’re following just ONE PERSON, if they aren’t online, that’s THAT. It’s only you, buddy. Jay’s social media stream was blank.

Jay thought about re-reading Karen’s blog archives, but since she rarely replied to outside comments, and the last comments were all his own, it seemed silly to reply back to his own self.

Jay grew despondent. He was about to shut off his laptop, the first time in a week, but then – Eureka! Is it possible….?

Yes, it was possible. Armed with Karen’s email address from Facebook, the name of the hospital where she worked in New Hampshire, and a few well-placed Google searches, Jay was able to pinpoint Karen’s home on Google Maps, and even determine how much the house was worth if put on the market today!

The next morning, Jay was on a Greyhound bus to Nashua, New Hampshire. If there was a problem, Jay could offer assistance. That is what friends are for, after all. And if his worry was misplaced, well, his arrival would just be a pleasant surprise!

Jay was relieved to meet Karen at the front door. She was looking happy and healthy, and wearing the same blue sundress that she wore in that Flickr photo as a volunteer at the hospital “fun run for childhood diabetes” in 2011.

“Surprise!” Jay said, one good friend to another.

Karen seemed rather shocked at Jay’s appearance, not rushing and hugging him as he expected. But then Jay remembered that he was in New Hampshire, and was reminded of the traditional stoic mannerisms of those born and bred in New England, such as his Aunt Mildred, who seemed stern and unfriendly on the outside, but was loving and fun once she let her guard down.

Jay learned that Karen had a good reason for not being online all day on Wednesday. Besides her chores, she was having a problem with her laptop’s battery. Jay immediately volunteered to come inside of the house and help her with the problem, being a amateur computer hobbyist, but she insisted that she didn’t want to impose on Jay’s time.

“Roger,” yelled Karen, calling for her husband.

Jay smiled. Karen was such a gracious host. She wanted her husband to meet her dear online friend.

The next day, Karen wrote a post saying that she was closing down her blog, and deleting all of her social media outlets. Jay saw this as a positive step for his friend, Karen. Clearly, over the last week, Karen discovered the true meaning of online friendship, and would NOT go back to the status quo – the superficial online life where numbers and influence were more important than a real relationship with another person. Karen had seen the light and for her — there was no turning back the clock

“More power to you, my friend!” Jay wrote to Karen on her feed, his last comment to her before she deleted her Facebook account.

Jay beamed, feeling a sense of accomplishment, as if in a small way, he had just started a revolution online, and then returned to his Facebook friend’s list, closing his eyes as he picked his next one friend.

The Instagram Video Trilogy

I hope you enjoyed my Instagram Video Trilogy this weekend, consisting of my first three fifteen second Instagram videos. It was quite cathartic, a personal passive-aggressive nod at how much I dislike the inclusion of video into the previously photo-only Instagram app.   Sadly, only I will truly understand my own joke.

Why am I so against it?  I know, I know.  I can shut off the auto-play of the videos in the stream.  But it has less to do with YOUR dull videos, than with my own temptation to use video for MY own nefarious purposes.

I could write you a long thesis, with quotes from famous authors such as Susan Sontag and Roland Barthes, explaining the differences between photography and “motion pictures,” but I’d rather be as concise as possible — in my opinion, photography and video go together as well as a corned beef sandwich and mayonnaise. A photo captures a moment in time. A video is about movement in time. What strikes me as interesting as a photo — a street scene, a skyline, a person smoking a cigarette on a park bench — is not what I look for in a video.  In one swoop, Instagram ruined the gentle creative flow of the photo stream.

What am I talking about?   Why do I care so much about this shit?  Am I just weird?

Yes, I am weird.  Case in point — the completely unexpected Instagram discussion on the first video about my life-long technique of taking a shower.

Great video but one question.  Who gets into a shower without turning it on first!

Really, @lillyhollow? I had to fake the washing a little so the iPhone didn’t get wet, but I ALWAYS go into the shower and then turn it on. Have I been doing it wrong all my life? I adjust the temperature from inside.

Yes @neilochka that’s wrong 🙂 In fact I hate hotels where the door is such that you have to get in to turn it on.

Others then jumped in, calling my shower technique a “troubling one.”

Yes, I am so WEIRD that I even take my showers WRONG.

That said, I will probably delete these videos from Instagram tomorrow.  The style of humor in the videos doesn’t blend in with what I have created on Instagram during the past few years.  I have been proud of finding a place online where I can be less a personality driven narcissist — always about me, me, me  — and focus on observing the outside world, like a bystander.   It’s been a very enriching experience that I would rather not destroy.

Life with Mother

The best lesson that I can teach you, after eight successful years in blogging and social media, is the supreme importance of communicating the positive message of your personal brand. Unfortunately, today is not the day for this lesson.

Today I want to remind you that I live with my mother.

Last night, I wrote this status update on Facebook —

“In October, my mother is having a big birthday and she was thinking of celebrating by going with her friend, another woman in her 70s, on some dull cruise, something they already did twice before.

“Forget the cruise,” I said. “Why don’t you go somewhere that you always wanted to go but never had a chance, and go there NOW, while you’re still healthy enough to travel?”

So, for ten days in October, I’ll be accompanying my mother and her friend — to — yes, Paris.

My mother is so excited. But she’s worried now that I won’t find us a place to stay and we’ll be wandering the streets. So, if anyone knows of a good apartment to rent in October for three adults, maybe two bedrooms, please tell me.”

People were very generous, sending me all sorts of links to apartment rental agencies and friends with apartments in France. But later that night, I thought to myself —

“I must be perceived as a very weird guy. I’m always talking about my mother. I am going to Paris with my mother. I am living with my mother in New York. When I think of men who live with their mothers, even on a temporary basis, I immediately think of Norman Bates in Psycho. I must really appear f*cked up. You know, maybe I am f*cked up.”

Now, some of you I have successfully fooled, especially those who follow me on Instagram. I post so many glamorous photos of New Yorkers on Fifth Avenue, that you’d think I spend my nights at parties with Gwyneth Paltrow and Sting.

No, I’m in Queens, with my mother.

If you met me, you would think I was fairly normal. Not completely normal, but mostly normal. At least, I don’t think I would scare you.

Here’s how it goes. I come and go from my mother’s apartment when I want. My mother has her life. I have mine. We treat each other like two adults. We’ve even watched R-rated movies on HBO together, and no one blinked an eye!

Of course, both my mother and I know that this arrangement is not healthy in the long run. She can’t wait until I leave and start a normal life again. And I can’t wait until I have a place of my own, living a normal life again. As much as we try to be “roommates” over the last few months, a mother and son will always be a mother and son.

If I am in Manhattan at midnight, I still call her up to say that I am not dead on the 14th Street subway platform, the same thing I would do at age thirteen, except back then, it was on a pay phone, not an iPhone. There are also some mornings where I wake up to discover an umbrella hanging on my doorknob, a reminder from my mother that Al Roker said it was going to rain today.

I know it’s all a little weird. I’m here to own it. I can’t be a personal blogger if I don’t talk about my personal life.

I’m an only son, and I’ve always been close to my mother, particularly after my father passed away. But I’ve never considered myself a typical momma’s boy, or my mother the type of overbearing Jewish mother you would see in sitcoms (even if I sometimes portray her that way on my blog).

The instability of my marriage with Sophia took a toll on me. Like a ping-pong ball, I went back and forth from Los Angeles to New York for the last two years, depending on the current state of our marital relationship. All this turmoil also had me wasting a lot of money, flying back and forth, and putting stuff into storage. And since I couldn’t afford two apartments in two cities, I stayed in my mother’s place, my childhood home, when I was in New York. It worked out well because during the winter, the apartment was empty while my mother rented a place in Boca Raton, Florida. She went to Florida. I stayed here.

In many ways, the experience of spending more time with my mother in New York has been an enriching one. Not many of you get to experience a truly honest and adult relationship with the woman who brought you into the world.

But there is also a darker side to this. I have been plagued with doubt and anxiety over the last few years, which makes it difficult for me to make a decision of where I want to go next. It’s not as if I don’t have confidence in what I do. I have strong writing and work experience, but most of my contacts are in Los Angeles, not New York. And I just feel happier in New York. But my bank account is getting in trouble, and it time to take action.

And then — the biggest question of them all — what about the beautiful, intelligent woman that I met in — of all places — New Zealand?

I am at a crossroads between divorce, starting over, career change, and the need for more money. I’m not even sure freelance writing is a sustainable job for me anymore. My health insurance alone is costing me $800 a month, and I’m thinking of taking on a paying job, with health insurance, just another one of my poorly timed decisions — looking for work during a terrible economy, while thousands of younger and cheaper recent graduates hit the streets. So, I sit here and think. And worry. Less about how you perceive me, than how I perceive myself.

I have a vague feeling that someone is going to hold me in disdain after reading this post. Or one of my old trolls will return, the one who usually reappears only when I seem vulnerable.

“Talk about first world problems,” she will say. “Who cares about your petty life when Turkish students are fighting for their democratic rights?!”

We tend to have sympathy for underdogs, except for when the villain is the main character’s own brain. And almost all of my issues are based on my own decision, action, or inaction.

Why did I move to Los Angeles and pursue the entertainment business if I didn’t intend to stick it out living in Los Angeles?

Why did I stay in such a a unsatisfying marriage for so long?

Why don’t I just shut up, get a normal paying job and move into your own apartment like a normal person?

Don’t you realize how much privilege you are squandering as a straight white male who has the world at his feet?

Why don’t I just get off Facebook and write a novel and sell it rather than talking about writing so much?

Why did I connect with Juli in New Zealand to only leave her stranded with your indecision?

Who goes to Paris with their mother?

Believe me, I ask these questions of myself. I’m hard on myself. But I’m OK with living in a world where my mind is in flux. I’ve been living with myself for a long time, so I know how I work. I’m living this life as best as I can. Eventually, I’ll figure it out. Even if it makes me seem a little weird. I am a little weird. I can’t change that. Better you know the real me than a fake one. I know, I know. Fake it Until you Make It. But not on my blog.

As I started saying in the beginning, I understand how “branding” works. I am suppose to appeal to your aspirations. To be influential. My aim is to make you want to “be” me — to inspire you! “Look at me. I’m having lunch with some popular person at a fancy restaurant!”

The internet is all about promoting success. I look forward to the day that I can write the tweet announcing the million dollar screenplay sale. I hope to wow you with more sexy stories about my adventures with Juli in New Zealand. I can’t wait to make you jealous with my Instagram photos of the party I attended at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with Gwenyth Paltrow and Sting. I know you want that for me. But right now, I can’t. This is how it is, right now, in June 2013.

Hang on while I try to figure out the next step. I’m sorry I can’t give you any more “added value” than I currently have.

But one thing I do know — and I say this with more pride than shame — in October, I will have photos of Paris with my mother.

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