Order of the Good Write

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


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My Father’s American Adventure

dad's yearbook

A kick start to the new week, I’m handing out some praise for my father.

As a child, he endured the chaos of World War II, running from the Nazis and seeing his family unit brutally disbanded. He experienced situations and sadness no child should ever have to see; yet, it gave him the fortitude to immigrate to America, be an upstanding individual, a dedicated Brooklyn Dodgers fans, a life-long IBM’er, a devoted husband to a mentally ill wife, a talented sculptor and a terrific father.  Thankfully, his German aunt and uncle, who immigrated to the U.S. years before, were on hand to give him and his brother a home in which to grow.

My dad wasn’t in the American school system long before he faced graduation, where he was the handsome “Frenchie” everyone loved.  Here’s an excerpt from the local newspaper back in June 1947:

“One of the features of this year’s commencement was the citation to Bernard Rotmil, formerly of France, who came to Peekskill in December of last year and not only mastered the English language, but proceeded to earn a full year’s 16 school units in a half year’s time.

‘In less than one year’s time, you have mastered the language of your adopted country, in which you have mastered the course of study of this institution which tonight has awarded you a diploma. You have passed the full state examinations with high grades to achieve the right to that diploma,” stated Dr. J. E. Scott, superintendent of schools, in making the presentation of the citation.’

Rotmil had been routed from his native city of Strasbourg in France, where his educational career halted and his family ties broken and destroyed by action of the enemy in the recent war. [sic]”

So, as the week begins, hats off my father.  In his retirement years he delved more into his exceptional talent for sculpture. He was also a writer, who wrote two novels, poems and plays. I hope to publish them one day.

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A Palette Cleanser for the Weekend

With all this talk of lady parts and hospital stuff, I end the week with a picture of my hound Baxter to clear the air. Baxter is the seer of all things awesome with the world. He looks straight into the weekend with determination, knowledge and lots of napping time on my couch. The bones of wisdom are marked in the very palm of his paw. He’s a most assured hound, ready to take on the garbage trucks and postal workers of our time with grit, heroism and a grumbling, low guttural growl before rounding out into a fetal position to sleep for hours until he hears his kibble pouring into a bowl in the kitchen.

I’m grateful for this hound. He give me smiles and warmth. He’s helped me make friends and protects me from weird noises –  that turn out to be nothing – but at least he’s on the case.


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Missing Cancer By an Inch: Lessons I Learned One Year After

My personal Oophorectomy ordeal that spawned my long post last night entitled I Left My Ovary…In West Hollywood  was a doozy. I wanted to thank anyone who got through that extensive account about my medical drama. It was a long one, and I know better than to post a blow by blow account of my situation. However, as the last few hours of September 25th were winding down, there was a burning need to commemorate this episode from last September by reliving it in the relief of hindsight. That way, I could tell the tale with some humor,  major gratitude and make sense of it all. I understand if readers looked at the word count and went, “Ugh…what the hell?” and clicked on by. This was something I needed to get out. If one person going though the same thing reads it and feels consolation, then I’ve done my job.

One year ago today, I was still at Cedars Sinai recuperating from giving birth to a cyst the size of a giant gourd. I remember taking pictures like the one posted with the long article last night. I also had a photo of the macaroni and cheese dinner I requested, and could not finish because my appetite was gone. I can’t post it. It still makes me queasy.

I was discharged from the hospital a year ago tomorrow to recuperate at home, where my stomach felt like someone had sliced it open, punched all my insides with a boxing glove, and closed me up again.

The past year has been one of healing – physically and mentally. First of all, I haven’t been able to wear fitting clothes or blue jeans since I’m still rather tender. But most importantly, what did I get out of this experience? How could a cyst so big grow inside me?

I have noticed that when I get stressed, I feel it right in the lady parts, where cramps get defined and feelings of being faint occur. Five years of change have passed through me, and with that came the death of two parents, estate closure, a cross country move and a series of jobs in order to find myself. The cyst went unnoticed because I was a bundle of nerves and anguish, emotions that probably fed into this monster.

Also, it may have defined the fact that I’ve been holding in my passions. All my adult life, I’ve been working in jobs that I can barely handle. I’ve fooled myself by thinking I’m just an Executive Assistant. I’ve been told by recruiters to tell perspective employees on interviews that I love to assist, I don’t do anything else. My creative passions were nothing – do not mention them. Although I can understand that – if you’re going for a job as an assistant – the potential boss doesn’t care about your extra stuff. They don’t want a Hemingway on their hands, they want a secretary. But I was placing myself in a position to lie. I’m okay with assisting, but my true love is writing. And having to bundle that up for all these years while smiling and doing work I didn’t want to do, has festered like a big ball of anger and frustration. Perhaps the cyst was a symbol of this, how it’s time to be authentic with myself and shoot for a freelance career in writing.

Self publishing my book “Hitting the Water” is my first step. And now I have to get it out there. This is tough for me. I’ve lived in my own head for so long with my writing, and having it read on a bigger forum is daunting. But I’ll do it. If there’s anything last year’s ordeal has taught me is this: Life happens. And life can happen fast and furious. Life will then hold a mirror to your face and force you to scrape your self pitying unconscious ass off the floor and do something – before you end up in a hospital at the end of your life sorry you did nothing.


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I Left My Ovary…. in West Hollywood

The view from my hospital room, September 26th, 2013

The view from my hospital room, September 26th, 2013

This evening, Pacific Coast Time,  marks the one year anniversary of finding out I did not have ovarian cancer. One year ago today, at this very time of writing this very blog – I was wheeled out of surgery. Major surgery. I was barely conscious when I heard a voice say “benign”.

I’m one of the lucky ones.

On July 12th of last year, I decided to go in for an exam. Something wasn’t right. My belly was swollen, I couldn’t eat much without getting full fast, and I found myself getting out of breath while walking.  After finding the right doctor (I didn’t have a Gyno in LA), I made an appointment. I was seen immediately.

A technician did a thorough ultra sound, wrote down some notes, and left the room. My doctor called me into her office to tell me I had an 18 cm mass on my ovary. It was the size of a small watermelon, and surgery was required.  I felt my insides cave inside with the weight of terror. I looked out the window at the Hollywood Hills in the distance, LACMA was beyond her window, the Miracle Mile spread out below the building. I was transported from the land of the living – to the land of people with a mass the size of a human head growing in their belly. I was a carnival act, the sychophantic twin I always thought I had inside, was now groaning to come out. Yes, the movie Alien entered my mind.

“I can tell by the ultra sound pictures that it’s likely benign,” my lovely Russian Gynecologist said.  This doctor assists women giving birth, and here she is telling me that I’m pregnant with a mass of mucus, that is likely benign, but one can’t be sure until blood tests are made, and pathology confirms it during surgery.

“You’re not overweight. How did you feel when things weren’t fitting you?” She asked.

“Because I’m getting into that time of life when a woman’s torso turns into a bread basket – so I thought it was middle age.”

She laughed, agreeing that in middle age, everyone’s midriff tends to thicken without actually gaining fat. It’s just the normal process. But this? This was different..

She wrote down the diagnosis: Ovarian Cystadenoma. She encouraged me to Google it.  I didn’t.  I waited until after surgery to face what was in me.

When my appointment was over, she stopped at her assistant’s desk to order up lab work. I had to go straight to the blood lab and spill some plasma, but not before she rattled off a few tests, none I can remember since I don’t know what they were.  Nevertheless –  one stood out. She asked that they do a CA-125 test on me.

CA-125. I read about that in Gilda Radner’s book. It’s the test they do when they want to see the protein levels that mark ovarian cancer. Now I thought I was in cancer territory.

It took two weeks for the test results to come in. Low CA-125 numbers. Phew.  But still – nothing was 100% until surgery.

Two months went by before I could get a surgery date at Cedars Sinai, the famous hospital where all the celebrities go to give birth, to have plastic surgery or to die. They have the best medical care on the west coast, a terrific progressive staff, and every room is private – you didn’t have to share with anyone. Score.

I finally got my surgery date: Friday, September 13th. Yes, I was supposed to have surgery on Friday the 13th. I took it as a gift. I just wanted to get this fucking thing over with already. I had spent the entire summer hunched over with an alien inside me. Whenever I’d go into Gelson’s, I’d look at the baby watermelons piled at the front door with scorn. Besides, Friday the 13th are lucky days for me.

The week of my surgery was upon me. I had a pre-op exam with my new GP. Then I had a consult with my gyno, who was originally going to do the surgery laproscopically. However, I was concerned about my legs. They were really swollen, especially my left ankle. Gone were my bony feet and lower legs, now expanding to canckle proportions. My gyno took one look and said,  “I’d like you to have an ultra sound on your leg to make sure there isn’t a blood clot or something there.”
Another ultra sound?

I went across the street to a lab where they gelled up my leg and dug a nubby thing up and down my thigh and calve.

After thirty minutes, the tech said, “Okay, you can go now.”

Her assistant told me, “Good for you! If you can go, you’re okay. It’s when they tell you to wait – that’s something else.”

I walked out the door to go the other building to get my car and go home. Within ten seconds, the same technician came out and called after me, “Excuse me! I’m sorry, but you must come back.”

I had a blood clot just below my left knee.. Well that put the kabosh on the whole surgery I was supposed to have done the next day.

I walked back into my Gyno’s office, where her assistant and surgery coordinator looked at me with sad eyes. I heard someone on the phone with Cedars canceling my surgery.

“We cannot do surgery without doing something about the blood clot, ” my gyno said.

“Also, your cyst has grown larger since I first saw you.  It’s like your five months pregnanet. You will need open surgery – not laproscopic as originally planned. You will have to see your GP to talk about getting you on blood thinners and to get an IVC filter placed in your vena cava so if the clot dislodges it will capture it before hitting your heart and lungs. With all that medication flowing through you during surgery, we don’t want to have you get an embolism.”

Really? What? Now I have a cyst the size of Gigantor in my pelvis AND a blood clot in my leg?

“And…she continued. I can’t do the surgery. This is beyond my expertise since it’s getting complicated.”

COMPLICATED?! I’m now a complicated physical specimen? I’m being invaded by foreign bodies! A blood clot in my leg is a ticking time bomb waiting to run up my leg into my lungs! I’m a freak, with a sycophantic twin clinging to my ovary!

I will never joke about my ovaries exploding when I see cute puppies on the internet again. Never.

“So, I’m going to send you to Dr. Cass at Cedars Sinai. She’s a gynecological oncologist, and an expert who can deal with this. She’s also a resident, and can get you a surgery date faster.”

I’m now going to a cancer doctor.  I almost pooped out this ovarian cyst, I was so scared.

It was arranged. I had to see Dr. Cass at the Samuel Oschin Cancer Center at Cedars Sinai.  But first, I had to get an IVC filter in my main artery – that little vena cava thing – the vein that helps pump blood from your lower extremities to your heart.

Dr. Van Allen was the radiologist who did the deed. He had a voice like an actor, and a warm sense of humor. I fell in love with him immediately – especially after he noticed that I was born in White Plains, NY.

“White Plains? Do you know Central Avenue?”

Wow!  Yes! Central Avenue was the main commercial area where my family did the majority of our shopping.

“Do you remember Nathan’s in Yonkers?”

“YES!  My dad used to take me there as a kid!”

“Mine too! I used to walk from my home in Yonkers, and spend my afternoons after school there!” he exclaimed.

Wow, this doctor who was about to insert a doohickey that looked like an upside umbrella in my neck down to my artery, was from my neck of the woods. Not only that – but we shared the same comforting memory of a place that no longer exists 3000 miles away, back home, back in a place I miss so much.

I closed my eyes. I opened my eyes.”You’re done!” He said.

The IVC filter was in. I felt like nothing happened, like I had fallen asleep during a commercial.

Now, I have to meet doctor Cass. Or maybe I already met her – I can’t remember. The mind plays tricks when you’re scared shitless for your life.

I entered the Samuel Ochin Cancer Center, and I was immediately struck by the zen-ness of it all. Fish tanks are everywhere, and the whole level is below ground, like an underground bunker where a really big war is being waged.

Everyone who takes that elevator downstairs is dealing with life threatening cancers. Some are there for chemo. Some are there for transfusions or tests. There are people there who have cancer. There are people there who find out they don’t have cancer. Dichotomies everywhere. A cancer ward isn’t always awful. But it frightened me. I didn’t want to be in the cancer arena. I wanted to flee.

The exam room was quiet. I waited about twenty minutes. Then, the door burst open, and this woman with thick wavy hair came through with an entourage of young doctors – I swear – as good looking and sexy as the ones you see on Grey’s Anatomy.

“I know what you’re thinking!!” She shouted, “What the hell am I doing here?”

Um, yeah.

“The reason why Dr. Preys wanted me to see you is because with the clot and the cyst and all the mishigaz, I have the skill to handle all these things at once. And…I can get you a surgery date immediately.”

Okay.

“Now here are the scenarios we have to tell you, just so you know because we’re required to.”

She pulled out a chart and started to write.

“Okay. We go in – take out the cyst. Pathology is in the OR with us. They take a sample – here’s what we have. Scenario one: We scrape your uterus, test your ovary cells, if you have a malignancy – we do a hysterectomy and you go on chemo.”

Fuck. Are you kidding me? I’m hearing the world chemo today? I disconnected from my body thinking I’m in a dream.

“Second scenario. We do a test for pre-cancerous cells. We scrap a sample from your uterus, cervix, the good ovary. It takes two weeks for the results, but if there are pre-cancerous cells, we have to go back in – give you a hysterctomy. No chemo.”

For the love of God.

“Third scenario – we go in – you’re benign, pre-cancer test comes out clean – we just take out your inflated ovary, your tube – and you go home with all your parts. You still get your period.”

I vote for scenario three please.

“Your blood work is perfection. You’re a very healthy girl. Your CA-125 levels are incredibly low, so there’s no cancer to be expected. But we have to hold out that there’s a 5% chance there’s something going on there.”

Let’s just do this.

So, they did. At 11am on Wednesday, September 25th, I checked into Cedars Sinai in West Hollywood/Beverly Hills adjacent and got prepped for surgery that was scheduled for 2:00pm. They wheeled me into the OR where I saw Dr. Cass all suited up. Ironcially, just like Dr. Van Allen, she comes from Westchester County, NY by way of Larchmont. (I happen to live in an area of L.A. called Larchmont as well). As the drugs began to pump into my veins, she told me to think of Fall back home, how the leaves were changing yellow and orange. how the smell of hickory and chimneys filled the air….

The next thing, I woke up to someone saying the word “Benign”.

Day two at Cedars, Dr. Cass comes in to tell me that not only was the cyst benign, but the third and best scenario she described came true. Nothing precancerous.

“I left everything in – except the effected ovary and fallopian tube. Those guys are out.”

For the next two days, morphine was my friend.

For the next two days, I watched TV and tried to pee.

My voice was hoarse since they intabated me during surgery, a common practice when conducting surgery under major anesthesia. If I had know beforehand, I would have been quaking with fear. Just the thought…

I went home, thanks to a lovely friend of mine who picked me up, and spent the next few days dealing with staples and pain.

Two weeks later, during another follow up exam, the final pathology tests came in to confirm that I didn’t have a per-cancerous cell in my lady area.

I got through it. My oncologist had a gorgeous young doctor from Texas remove the staples that held me together, and I was told I didn’t have to see her anymore.

Medical leave from work was incredible. Languishing on my sofa, waiting for those lovely early fall evenings – it was a joy.  But I was itching to get back to the real world, and came back to work raring to go. It would be another month or two of monitoring my blood clot (which didn’t shift at all – and was in fact determined to have been provoke by the cyst since it was crushing my blood flow), before I visited the awesome Dr. Van Allen again to have the IVC filter removed.

Back in the saddle again most of my lady junk in tact – and one ovary left at Cedars Sinai for research. I’m still uncomfortable wearing jeans, but I’m back in the land of the living with all this behind me.


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Those Happy Days….

GaryMarshallgang

I came across this picture while doing research on some of the blog posts I’ve been working on lately. I’ve always been a snob about the Gary Marshall franchise of 70’s comedy sitcoms, but I guess I’m feeling a little nostalgic. I’m writing on the Paramount lot now, since my day job is here – and kind of my night job as well, since I write when I can. I’m going to search for this doorway. It has to be somewhere on the premises.


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My First Time: How This Newbie is Getting Her Book “Hitting the Water” Self Published

I’ve written a book. Yes, readers of WordPress! Yes people of the internet universe! This administrative assistant who has hidden behind the coat tails of executives in the media industry all in the name of a paycheck, this retiring cubicle dweller who has been a prisoner of the nine to five (make that nine to six) – has decided to finally – publish a book. To be specific – self publish a book.  It’s a collection of short stories entitled Hitting the Water. I’ll be discussing it and providing excerpts in the weeks to come.

Why am I self publishing? I have to. It’s time to start charting a course that will get me out of the day to day grind of the corporate world. It’s been over two decades of being tied to a desk, being responsible for work I barely care about, and stop being an assistant to someone elses’ career. I can’t wait for a publisher to pass my work along while my life span is ticking away.

Of course, I’d love the financial backing and marketing team of a legit publisher, where my work can be formatted correctly for press, where a cover will be designed hitting the reader’s eye on the shelf of the only Barnes and Noble that still lives in a mall somewhere, and where marketing will be handled by pros. But having dealt with the rejection of many publishers, magazine and websites before – I’ve decided to pack up my pencils and laptop, and go it alone. If a publisher notices my work online – fine. But I’m ready to write everyday and parlay it as an entrepreneurial venture. As Johnny, Dave and Sean say in their Self-Publishing Podcast: “If you can’t get it done right, you do it yourself.”

So, after a year of writing dozens and dozens of stories and setting the groundwork for various novels (one a trilogy), I’m ready to forge ahead on the self publication of my book for paperback and digital download on Amazon. I have my manuscript, and will be sending into my editor for final edits. A friend of mine will design the cover – a tricky project considering there are requirements and templates we need. There’s the ISBN, LCCN assignment, copyrights , marketing and a whole mixture of technical stuff I need to handle via Createspace,   

For those just learning (like me!), Createspace is the platform self publishers use to get their books physically ready and available for distribution when readers click to purchase your work. They also do digital uploads so your book can be purchased and downloaded to Kindle. What’s interesting is that Createspace provides a whole list of offers to help the self publisher get their books done without the toil of dealing with various venders. Kind of a one-stop-shopping for the publisher on the go. All great! However, with services like formatting at $349 and book design at $599, you know what I’m finding? That’s hella expensive! Will I recoup this money once the book is released?  Likely not. Yes, I have faith in this book, but I’m aware that this is just the first seed I’m planting as part of a garden of books I hope will sell. I’m not going to recoup this amount at this stage.

So here I go, making the passive act of writing and living in my head, into an active action by laying the actual business groundwork to make this book a tangible thing.  Of course, it’s just the first book I’m getting out there. I don’t expect it to change the world. But, in publishing it, I’m changing mine.

Anyone out there going through this self publishing process? Anyone ever think of self publishing that novel or article you have on a self somewhere? Please share your thoughts. I’ve been on various forums, but I’d love to get a conversation started here.

And you don’t just have to be a writer. Are you living a life that you don’t want?  What is your passion?


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Lord, What Lovable Fools These Non-Orkins Be!

Nanu Nanu, Earthlings.

I’ve been binge watching old episodes of Mork and Mindy on YouTube like it’s the second coming of Orange is the New Black, so please accept this greeting. The phase of Ork flows through me.

Having been a teenager during the original ABC-TV airing of Mork and Mindy, I ignored the sensation that was the ‘Man from Ork’. In my pimply view, Mork was a show for children, and I had just completed my hard earned years of childhood, ready to shed all things babyish for other things – like The Clash, REM, boys and makeup.

Having turned my nose up at the Mork phenomenon in the past, I’m stunned by how sweet and funny I find it today. Yes, the show fell into the network television trappings of triteness, but it was also light fluffy fun mixed with some tear jerking moments.

What can you say about Robin Williams that hasn’t already been said?  It’s no surprise that this otherworldly talent crashed onto the scene portraying an innocent alien.  He was sharp, physically quick as lightening, athletic, mentally agile, handsome, achingly sweet, and he exploded forth with hilarious outbursts obviously unscripted.

Williams was also surrounded with an extraordinary cast. Tom Poston, who dutifully played M&M’s downstairs neighbor Franklin Delano Bickley, has always been a welcomed addition to any sitcom. His timing and sardonic wit felt comfortable, like bedroom slippers. Pam Dawber, forever the all American girl (with the enviable hair and figure) was so lovely, warm and happily receptive to Williams’ maniacal pace, you have to give her mad props while witnessing her Mindy keeping up with his Mork. Dawber and Williams also had a warm, close friendship and their admiration for each other clearly shows. That alone makes me go all syrupy inside, knowing how Hollywood egos (I’m looking at you, Laverne and Shirley) can make for juicy stories in the whose-trailer-is-bigger-than-mine category.

My personal favorite is Robert Donner, who portrayed their eccentric friend Exidor. The writers on staff must have had a blast coming up with incredibly funny lines and insanely wild situations for him. Exidor made Mork’s strange behavior seem normal, perhaps even symbolizing the insanity of earth and its inhabitants. It’s obvious Exidor was a mentally ill man, and one has to wonder if his character could be written as well today with the PC police in full force.

The show was also heart warming. Mork’s innocence allows him to be a sensitive receptor to the human experience, fumbling his way through various emotional channels and situations that make up mankind. In the end, he connects with his big fat commander Orson (a dig on Orson Wells?) to tell him what he’s learned about our species. Falling in love, kissing, running away, feeling inadequate, loneliness, death and loss – he covers all the bases as the spaceman on the outside looking in, no matter how odd the circumstance may be.  And there are plenty of crazy odd things he encountered.

Last night, I stumbled upon the weirdest episode of M&M ever. It was the season premiere of season two entitled “Mork in Wonderland”.  Mork ends up taking cold medication that makes him shrink and disappear into another strange world where no laughter is allowed. All the characters are parallel opposites of familiar celebrities and people Mork knows in Boulder, Colorado, especially Mindy – who is now a more subdued version of herself named Mandy. Mork tries to get to the big bad dictator/king (an evil version of Exidor) who has put a ban laughter, by playing the fool in his court. After painfully dealing with the death of Mandy, he returns to earth to reconnect with Mindy, who was mourning what she thought was the death of Mork.  With his experience earned, the show ends with another cosmic commentary by Mork to Orson about life and death that made me a bit weepy.

Orson:  Mork, I know this may be painful, but tell me exactly how you felt when Mandy…passed on.
Mork:  Hmm. Well? I felt anger at first. Then anguish. And a sense of deep loneliness.
Orson: I can’t even fully comprehend one emotion. All those emotions at once. It must cause insanity.
Mork: Well it does, at first sir. Then you have time to think and you realize the good side. You realize that love can extend beyond universes, and even beyond death.

Until next time, this is Order of the Good Write, signing off.

Nanu Nanu!

(Bows)