Order of the Good Write

That Magic Feeling When the Words Flow. A Blog by Debi Rotmil

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Friday Dream Journal

Perhaps it was the late night viewing of the 1998 film “What Dreams May Come” that put my mind in the motion of turning back time. After the last of the end credits rolled, I fell asleep fast, landing head first into a dream that lead me back to my childhood house. It’s been a recurring theme my entire life since we moved out if our little Cape Cod Colonial grey aluminum sided home in Ardsley, New York. My sleeping ghost has wandered the memory of this home in recurring dreams. This is the home I was brought back to after my birth. This is the house I grew up in, gazing out the window toward the Sprain Brook Parkway, getting up early for school to watch the sun come up over the line of trees on the hill in the distance from our backyard. This is were my budding feelings of life grew. This is where moments of pain and happiness were first felt.

Although I have an older half brother, I was raised as an only child. Our house was a four bedroom home, and with the exception of my parent’s master, I lived in each room throughout my childhood. The first one was my nursery, next door to my parents’ bedroom. Outside my window was a Japanese Cherry Tree that would blossom beautiful pink florals in the spring. It would fill the room up with glowing pink. It became known as my tree.

Then, as I grew to older childhood, I moved upstairs to the room used as a guest room. I fell in love with the Beatles there, who had long since broken up by the time I slapped eyes on George Harrison’s cheek bones in the photo from the inner sleeve of the blue Beatles Greatest Hits 1967 – 1970 album. The room had air space inside the walls used for storage, with little doors in the wall would lead you in there. I used to pretend that Narnia existed in the dim air space.  You could climb inside,  smelling the dust of the wood, feeling your way in the dark and dirty floor until you made your way to the other end of the wall where the other door lead you out – near the window.

I dream of that room often.  I envisioned it the other night during sleep, when I floated about the old place with a phantom current owner who showed how they built out the walls to make the room bigger, giving it a modern boxy feel with clean lines and ceiling to floor windows, eliminating the old wood of this 1947 house. The light airy glass  revealed a view I had never seen before. But in the prism surreal dream land, the vista resembled a Los Angeles mountain – the vision I often seen here in Southern California – with a rocky high altitude mountain range you don’t see in New York – and certainly don’t see from any part of my old house in reality.

The third bedroom used to belong to that older half brother before he high tailed his way out of Ardsley with a ticket to college and immediate marriage after graduation. I moved in while in high school, another fully formed teenager with mood swings and self righteous indignation. Yet, his presence was felt in the storage behind the wall that contained his old muscle ointment, his athletic cup, and a few packets of old, expired condoms. Moving into his old space meant that he handed down to me his old varsity letters in football, baseball and wrestling, that were still pinned to the wall. I inherited his weird wall paper patterned with the United States Presidential seal, the smell of his left his over male teenage musk, and a hole in the wall, strategically place by his hurling fist during a moment of anger.

Last night, with the memory of “What Dreams May Come” swimming in my mind, I dreamt of this room. Once again, I floated about it with a woman who apparently owned the place. The entire house was re-constructed. The bedrooms were no longer where they used to be. The little kitchen in the middle of the house, was opened up to make a giant staircase that stood in the middle of a vast living area. Going upstairs to the level that used to be the bedrooms I inhabited at some point in my life, revealed an entirely different layout. It was discombobulating. My head felt light, my stomach in knots. The entire top floor was punched out to make a big gymnastic-like space. I noticed people coming in an out of this giant room that turned out to be a recording studio. Trumpets and French horns were sitting in their stands. Guitars were on the floor. Amps were buzzing with life. The grey pot marked foamy isolation material used to muffle extraneous noises was on the walls. My old teenage bedrooms were converted into a recording studio at Abbey Road. There was a sky light. A baby grand piano, the little Steinway we used to own that took up the entire living room, was in the corner – looking small and beautiful.

There’s nothing to glean from such a dream. There is always a sad feeling in the pit of my stomach that this place, so integral to my rearing and memory, is in my past. I’ve always said that when I die, I’ll likely haunt this place.




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Praying Mantis on the 46th Floor

It was an ordinary Wednesday morning, and I was running late for work per usual.  There I was, juggling bags near my car while keeping an eye on my hound, who usually wanders toward the food bowl of our neighborhood cat to see if he can scrounge a second breakfast. 

I lifted the hatchback and piled my bags in. My eyes were immediately struck by a giant green stick figure on the stubby antenna of my Prius C.  There is was in all it’s green, graceful glory: A Praying Mantis. Delighted, I rummaged for my iPhone to take the picture you see above. Coming upon such an exotic entity is very rare, having only come across one once before. Surely, this random sighting of this glorious creature is a symbol from somewhere?

Ever since my parents died, I keep looking for signs and messages in this world. A Monarch Butterfly makes me feel like a loved one from above is looking out for me. A series of tear jerking songs on Pandora can send me into a trance where everything around me folds into meaningful moments of strange coincidences and connected visuals. Surely these moments mean my dad is trying to comfort me? Or maybe the brush of wind on my shoulder is my Mom trying to give me a kiss? So seeing this lovely creature sitting so still and serene gave me pause. It also brought me back twenty years.

In the late 1980’s, I was fresh out of college and working at NBC Affiliate Relations as a Coordinator. I shared an office on the forty six floor at 30 Rockefeller Plaza with my colleague Daniel. The office had a small terrace outside our triple windows. It wasn’t really a terrace you used for sitting and staring at the downtown view of the Empire State Building and the old World Trade Center towers in a distance. It was windy up there. We weren’t allowed to have furniture lest a heavy current would lift and hurl them down forty six flights onto 50th street. Who knows why there was even a balcony out there? A entry door didn’t exist. To go onto the terrace would mean climbing over our desks, lifting the old heavy glass panes, and climbing out the window. (One Friday evening, we forgot to close our windows before a major weekend storm moved through. Come Monday morning, we walked into the site of a paper war zone – Nielsen computer ratings wallpapered to the wall and press releases carpeted the floor.)

One ordinary day – perhaps it was a Wednesday – in summer, Dan had noticed a green stick figure outside on the railing of the terrace. It was a Praying Mantis. Damn. In the middle of Manhattan, thousands of feet high. We were gobsmacked.

Our incredulous office mates joined in, and the rush of questions began:

“How did she get all the way up here? This insect doesn’t really fly.”

“Did someone accidentally bring her in from the suburbs?”

“How? In someone’s purse or something?”

“Would she would have survived a train ride?”

Dan climbed out through the window with a shoe box he found under his desk, next to the sleeping bag he kept under there (don’t ask), and brought her back inside. She wasn’t afraid. Her lovely green prayerful front limbs held on to Dan’s finger as her heart shaped head slowly moved left to right.

We observed her little details: Her little pinpoint eyes, her antennae, her long graceful legs that remained still. She was meditative, peaceful…beautiful. When you gaze upon a Praying Mantis, there is something about her presence that calls for an otherworldly meaning. Some people just see an insect. But their sightings seem so rare in the U.S. and in my life, that the surprise of coming upon one leads me to explore its symbolism.

I came upon this quote today:

“The mantis never makes a move unless she is 100% positive it is the right thing for her to do. This is a message to us to contemplate and be sure our minds and souls all agree together about the choices we are making in our lives.

Overwhelmingly in most cultures the mantis is a symbol of stillness. As such, she is an ambassador from the animal kingdom (*Note: I’m pretty sure they’re insects – not “animals”) giving testimony to the benefits of meditation, and calming our minds.

An appearance from the mantis is a message to be still, go within, meditate, get quiet and reach a place of calm. It may also a sign for you to be more mindful of the choices you are making and confirm that these choices are congruent.”

On that day, many years ago, my friend Dan took the Praying Mantis and laid her out within the green plant life surrounding the restaurant summer garden, beneath the statue of Prometheus. We hoped she find safety and peace as she turned her head 180 degrees to watch the surrounding diners. My sense is that this creature lived out her summer well, fading among the dieing plants that gave way to the ice skating rink in the fall.

This morning, while in the midst of trying to carry on with the day, I got in my car and hoped this lovely creature would fly off my hatchback and find a safe place to nestle. I’m sure she did. I drove off slowly in hopes that she would gently take off. The message she gave me – fully taken in.

Perhaps I’ll find her when I get home, munching on a palm leave next to the garage?

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The Emmys and Baseball Collide

Billy Crystal’s tribute to his friend Robin Williams was the highlight of last night’s Prime Time Emmys. What makes me proud is that Crystal’s memory of Robin was in my home baseball stadium, Shea Stadium. I’m a Mets fan, so it hit me right in the gooey part of my heart.  The tribute segment is above.  The Shea Stadium moment that Crystal refers to is below.

 It has recently come to my attention that Mork and Mindy was filmed in Stages 26 and 27 on the Paramount Studio lot, only a holler away from the building where I currently work. I’m sitting there now, writing on the sly, banging out these words during a few moments of down time. Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley were also filmed here – shows that are part an echo, lost in time. Back then, I was in middle school three thousand miles away in New York learning about earthworms in science class. I had a mad crush on John Ritter, and religiously watched Three’s Company, daydreaming of a life where I could move to Hollywood and walk along the sandy sunny beach of Santa Monica. That dream has come true, but it took a long time getting here. Sadly, John Ritter had departed by the time I arrived.

Last night’s tribute to Mr. Williams at the Prime Time Emmy Awards brought back more pain over the loss of this sweet, funny soul. As a fan of alternative comedy, and a past student at the New York training center of the Upright Citizens Brigade, I grew snobbish over the old guard of comedian who once inspired me: David Letterman, Billy Crystal, Jerry Seinfeld…Robin Williams. My turmoil over Robin’s death is complicated for me. You see, in the last several years, just hearing that Robin would be a guest on a talk show would make my eyes roll. Yes, I’m terrible sad in this admission. The frenetic, one hundred miles an hour speed of his speech, once exhilarating, was now exhausting.  I’ve come close to the world of comedians, and easily realized that depression and insecurity runs their lives amok. It exists with comedian’s Twitter feeds that are mostly snarky quips in the guise of another persona, and it’s palpable in interviews where personal, hard-hitting questions get diverted with jokes and characters. The funny  is that crunchy hard shell comedians in which they swath themselves. It keeps people from getting too close, and from getting inside. Robin seemed to have that hard protective coating for days. It was hard to get answers from him; yet, when you did, it was a glorious, sweet realization about life shining with lovely pearls of wisdom. “Ah…”, I thought. “That’s the Robin I would love to see more.” He even said himself that his recent heart surgery made him depressed because they literary cracked him open and opened up his heart. That must have been horrendous for someone whose soul was in pain.

I took him for granted when he was on this earth. I forgot the joy he gave me in The Fisher King and Hook. I forgot the life changing moments in Dead Poet’s Society. I forgot the wonderful evening I spent so many years ago when I attended a Saturday Night Live Dress rehearsal when he was host.  (He was always on – even during the commercial breaks).

There’s this old song entitled For a Dancer by Jackson Browne that says it best:

“You were always dancing in and out of view. I must have always thought you’d be around. Always keeping things real by playing the clown. Now you’re nowhere to be found.”


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Beta Readers Wanted

Not sure who’ll see this, but what the hell…

Looking for some trusted Beta Readers to read my book “Exits & Entrances: A Short Book of Short Stories”.  Will be published this October, so there’s a limited time frame. It’s seven stories with approximately 20,000 words. Looking for kind-hearted souls who just love to read this stuff for free. In lieu of money, I can give you credit in the book.

No plagiarists need apply. This content will be copyrighted.  Please comment below.  Thank you!!




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Miramar, Havana and Hancock Park, Los Angeles

The Friday writing fairy is being stingy once again, and finding words for my book is like swatting a fly: I aim, but they buzz away. However, the day is still young here on the west coast of the United States. So, to fill the absence of words, I turn to YouTube and Wikipedia to gain more inspiration on the Havana, Cuba of my mother’s young life.

I want to understand the geography of this Caribbean island. Through travelog videos of Havana, I find interesting realizations about my mother’s Cuba, and the sadness of her having to leave. It picks up on my theme from yesterday, on how home is everywhere. Vast distances between locations still conjure feelings of sameness — a sense of having been there before. A small square in Leningrad feels like that small park down the road from your house in Cleveland. The pier at Carbon Beach in Malibu could make you feel like you’re back home on the Jersey Shore.

My mother lived in the The Miramar district. It is an upscale area of Havana marked with big mansions and homes, mostly occupied by the upper class before the revolution. There are government offices and embassies throughout this region, which explains why my mother was fascinated by dignitaries and ambassadors. She loved her life in Miramar from childhood until her late twenties, when a member of Castro’s guard, an acquaintance, told her personally to get the hell out.

I live in the The Hancock Park district. It is an upscale area of Los Angeles marked with big mansions and homes, and mostly occupied by wealthy entertainment lawyers, producers and film mavens. The Mayor of Los Angeles lives within a two minute walk from my home. There are some embassies and official offices scattered around this lush green region. I live among this wealth, but on a street less ostentatious. I am not rolling in the dough. I can see the Hollywood sign from my street; yet, I’m far away from the madness of Hollywood. As the years have passed, I’ve made friends with my neighbors, and enjoy the camaraderie I never had with my neighbors in New York City. My rent is a bit high for what I can afford, and I’m nervous about my cash flow, so the idea of moving to a less expensive place has been weighing on me. But to even look for another place, somewhere more affordable, makes me sick. It makes me sad, depressed — lost.

I weigh this against my mother’s history. She longed for the Cuban beaches, byways, streets and the Malecon. Whenever we discussed summer vacations, Washington DC would be her main choice. The Capitol building always reminded her of the Capitolio Nacional. Everything from the Mall to the Treasury reminded her of Havana.  Washington held the pomp and circumstance, the familiar visuals she craved. Although the closest thing to a beach was The Potomac River, it was almost like  home.

It occurred to me while wading through videos and articles about my mother’s country, that her leaving Miramar Havana was in some small modicum of a way, like me having to leave Hancock Park — times one hundred. To have the world that sustained your emotional well being,  that provided your security,  that held your common ground be ripped from under you, to be forced to leave the only home you’ve ever known,  must feel like death.

As I struggle to find the next step in my mother’s story, I tap into her pain.  America is my home, yet she never seemed to feel it was hers. The United States. How could anyone not see it as the final destination, the triumph, the land of opportunity? How arrogant of me to judge my mother’s unhappiness. Her vision of home was shattered fragments of Havana, like glass on the floor, reflecting moments long gone. She settled into a life with me and my father, stuck in a suburban landscape, so far away from home.

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What Dreams May Come, When We Have Shuffled Off This Mortal Coil…

I encourage anyone who reads this post to share your feelings about Robin Williams, depression and loss in the comments section. Let’s have a conversation.

It’s been over a week since the loss of Robin Williams. As one day moves forward into the next, turning that sad day to dust in our rear view mirror, the sadness overwhelms me now more than ever. My Netflix account has been busy, streaming his films: The Fisher King, Hook, The Birdcage. These are films I had seen years ago, but it was like viewing them for the first time. Each moment of the master gave me pause – each conversation and reaction. I drink in his presence, and cling to a beauty I’ve never noticed so acutely before. That’s all we have left of him. His films. The twinkle in his eye. The shazbots and the nanu’s, the “Oh Captain, my captains”… His talent was like a taste of God touching down on Earth. A little heaven. At least he gave us light for a little while. He’s not of this world anymore.

Trying to make sense of the whys of his situation is a tough one. We’re strangers to the man. He gave so much to us, that his own mind and sanity is private – something only he and his family will and should know. Yet, how many of us have fallen into the hole? How many of us have wanted to walk off the precipice of this world, and take a dive to nowhere. I’m trying to make sense of it. He didn’t die from an illness like cancer or was killed in a car or airplane crash. He died from an illness that lead him to take his own life. It was preventable. Only one phone call, or just taking stock and stepping away from that room to slip under the covers with his wife on an ordinary night, sleeping an ordinary sleep, waking up on an ordinary day . But no.

My heart sinks just trying to imagine those last moments. I flush from my mind all the graphic details the Marin County police department released. Yet, I still cannot imagine, someone so intent on dieing, that when one method didn’t work, he went for something else to take him out.

What could have been in his mind to let him make the final decision? Did he feel he was a failure? Did he feel alone in a world of so many people who loved him? Did he justify his decision to end it all by convincing himself that his wife and kids would be better off without him?

Shut the door on this sadness. Remember his laughter. And if you are depressed and are thinking of suicide, please don’t…don’t…don’t do it. Know that someone loves you. Know that you will get out of this. Know that if you decide to leap from that precipice, you will create a hole in the lives of many. And you don’t have to be as famous as Robin to do that.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255

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That Feeling of Deja Vu on a Thursday

Thursday. It’s the Thursday of a slow and difficult week in terms of accomplishing my writing goals. Perhaps it’s the late summer doldrums. My body is still stuck in childhood, when summers were spent watching morning television, reading books from the library, discovering music, playing with friends and going to the local public pool. As an adult, I’m stuck in a routine of office work, and trying to get a Friday or Monday off during the hot months to keep my sanity.

Sticking to my writing goals. Trying to write at least 1000 usable words for the book inspired by my mother’s life in Cuba called “The Sea Around”. It will be part one of a trilogy inspired by the stories of, not only my mother, but my father’s life as well.

But first, Havana. My mother’s voice is over my shoulder. It feels like she’s saying, “You have to tell my story first! Write a book about me!” So, I spend some time each today writing about, and researching a country I’ve never been to.

In recent years, Cuba has slowly opened its doors to tourists from America. It’s quite tempting to sign up for a tour of Havana, my mother’s home city. My intent would be to absorb the culture, the heat, the energy, the despair – to follow the footsteps of my mother’s life told in darkened rooms during her depressed evenings, stories that hang like myths in my imagination. Yet, the prices for tours are expensive. For a country so poor, I have to wonder where all that money is going. Ethics win out over financial draw backs for me. I decide to stay put in my current home of Los Angeles, and live vicariously and without abandon on Google Maps. Tourist shots of calles and avenidas paint a picture of my mother’s neighborhood in Miramar. The map gives me a vision of her landscape.

While coming across various street shots of the shabby Victorian buildings, mixed with shattered shacks and contemporary apartments, some crumbling, others well maintained, it struck me how much Havana looks like Echo Park in Los Angeles. The blue skies and open horizons beyond the shallow rooftops. Tired palm trees line the streets. Some of them pop up in random places. Run down cars and jalopy pick up trucks so old and rusted, I can practically hear the music from ‘Sanford and Son’ playing as I imagine the sound of creaking shock absorbers crying for help while holding together bouncing bald tires.

It reminds me of how pockets of Los Angeles remind me of New York – my home state. Just like a residential street in Havana looks like a side street near Elysian Park, L.A., there is a corner north west of La Brea and Beverly Boulevard that makes me feel like I’m back on Central Avenue in Hartsdale, New York, near what is know as “The Four Corners”. Both locations have a brick apartment building in the same spot. Both have gas stations nearby. Hartsdale’s corner has a Dunkin Donuts to it’s right, followed by the famous Hartsdale Pet Cemetery. The corner in Los Angeles has a strip mall with a major Kosher store that caters to the large Hasidim community that surrounds the region. Slightly altered specifics, but it still embodies the same energy – the same feeling – like I’m back home where my parents lived before they died four years ago. Back in familiar territory, where only a decade ago, my adult summers were enjoyed on weekends, away from my place in the city, back in Westchester County. That’s  where I hung out by my parents’ condo pool, and befriended my now distant friend Marie. It’s where I found out about the local condo politics and listened to family stories spoken by neighbors with open hearts. It’s where I met my sweet, disturbed friend Eamonn (who inspired some of the stories in my forthcoming October book), who calls me once in a while to tell me about his progress in life.

Different places in separate states or countries – yet they conjure the same feeling. Home is everywhere.

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Wednesday’s Middle Mid-Week Post

“Gotta a good reason for taking the easy way out?”

Writers, have you ever thought The Beatles had days when they didn’t want be The Beatles?

Any person with even a minimal amount of Beatles knowledge would answer, “Shut up, of course! Didn’t George Harrison and John Lennon bemoan the whole Beatles existence a few year years before they broke up?”

Well, yes, of course. But did they ever wake up in the morning and say, I don’t want to create today? I’m tired? I’m drawn and quartered. Another girl peered through my bedroom window again. Two girls were under my bed last week. My girlfriend had to leave a hotel in a laundry bin while wearing a wig. Gig to gig, screaming fan to judgmental journalist. And we have to sit and write “Day Tripper”?

Yes, Beatles. You still have to write “Day Tripper” and “A Day in the Life” and a whole catalog of songs that will change the world. Why? Because you love it. Because it’s your living. Because you have the power to create something spectacular.

And you know what writers? So do you. You may not have a publishing deal yet. You likely don’t have a Brian Epstein in your life. So what? Just do it.

Now go out and get those words on paper. Get down with the boogie of the word muse. Hail to the chief of creative flow and get jiggy with it.

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Whalebone Landing Road, Sag Harbor, NY, August, 2010

“It was a chilly April afternoon when my brother Jacques threw the last handful of my ashes in the Portuguese Jewish Cemetery on 11th Street, east of Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village. Just a handful. Most of me went floating out to sea a few weeks earlier, off an inlet bay at the end of Whalebone Landing Road in Sag Harbor. My wife’s ashes were also placed near mine. Our daughter took the plastic bag containing her mother, and spread the chalky leftovers on top of the waves, where they dispersed in a milky form, flowing slowly with the swells, hovering for a while like an aquatic ghost as the water carried her out in laps, back to the shores of Havana where she was born.”

“I’ll Be Around”, excerpt from the upcoming book “Entrances & Exits: A Book of Short Stories”, to be published October 2014.

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“Never was a Cornflake Girl…”

“…Thought it was a good solution, hanging with the raisin girls.

~Tori Amos

“Hey! Guess what I have!”

Samantha dipped her hand inside a duffel bag and pulled out an old Thom McCann shoe box. She shook it over her head, then held it like the Lion King revealing the new baby cub. She placed it on the picnic table, opened the top and dove her hand beyond the frayed edges of cardboard, bringing forth a stack of old Polaroid and Kodachrome in different shapes and sizes. A mischievous smile splashed across her face.

“This is us.” She said.

We gathered around her as she shuffled the photos like a deck of cards. One by one, we saw frozen moments in time long forgotten. Our pimply past of lost after school afternoons in sepia shades of faded hues.

There we were on Laura’s bedroom floor listening to her older brother’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” album.  There’s the Halloween when Samantha dressed like a leather chick hooker. Here’s the eighth grade picnic when it snowed. There’s Little League practice on the fields of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic School. Our young years before Samantha slipped away from us, lured by another set of friends who brought her to the dark side, away from the innocence, the cereal and milk –  toward the vodka and meth.  Her thumbs fanned out our days together, cornflake girls swimming in suburbia   This was before she disappeared from our lives before senior year.  She slipped into our peripheral view as we funneled through a rite of passage, moving on to the next step in life,  when we looked in the side view mirror and wondered if we left her by the side of the road.

“Raisin Girl”. Excerpt from “Entrances & Exits: A Book of Short Stories” to be published on Amazon,  October 2014.