Order of the Good Write

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


The Upright Citizens Brigade Saved My Life

Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, New York. Photo by Debi Rotmil

Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, New York. Photo by Debi Rotmil

I was listening to The Nerdist podcast, hosted by Chris Hardwicke this morning. The guest was John Cleese, whose account of life seems full of spiritual vision now that he’s 75 years old. The concept of why we need comedy came up. After all, as Mr. Cleese professed, “I didn’t cure cancer”. So why the bowing down to this Python great? The accolades? Why should he feel so accomplished? The conversation quickly steered (thanks to Chris) to the fact that comedy makes human beings, struggling through the horrors of this world, happy. Laughter makes life tolerable. It puts a smile on your face, and allows you to push through the terror without always needing to medicate, drink or smoke weed to get you through. (Although, those things do tend to help – in moderation.)

It’s true. Comedy does help the human spirit march on, especially when one is faced with tremendous, harrowing challenges. That is when, at the age of 46, I became a member of the Upright Citizen Brigade training center as an improv student. 46 years old. The one person in a sea of late teens, 20’s and 30-somethings, all welcoming me with open arms as I left my temporary home filled with despair and illness to spend Sunday afternoons of “zip, zop, zap”, trust games, listening training, eye contact and just having a blast while finding “The Game”. All in the name of “Yes, And…”

It seems the founders, as much as I love them, have their heads up their asses when it comes to understanding HOW MUCH THEY AFFECT THE LIVES OF PEOPLE. I say this in caps because in the accolades and the network deals and the sitcom successes and failures Matt Besser, Matt Walsh, Ian Roberts and Amy Poehler have see their graduates pursue – there are regular people who immerse themselves in the UCB culture – not so they’d be discovered by Tina Fey or Lorne Michaels. They did it because their lives sucked at the time, and they needed to participate in the welcoming, comforting hand of comedy in order to get through their despair.

The phrase “comedy nerd” has become incredibly cliche, but I can’t avoid the fact that I have been a comedy nerd since the day I discovered “SCTV” and “Saturday Night Live” (the original) in the mid-70’s. I was about 10 years old. I wanted to be Gilda. I crushed hard for Bill Murray. In New York, “SCTV” used to air at 11pm on Saturday nights on Channel 9 – which gave me a comedy appetizer before SNL started on the other side of the dial on NBC. (Yes…the dial). Catherine O’Hara and Andrea Martin were my goddesses. I wanted to invite Gilda to my pretend tea party and laugh over bits with my two new make believe Canadian comedian friends.

As SNL continued, I fell in love with Monty Python, taping every episode that aired on MTV, memorizing bits, worshipping these men like The Beatles, with Michael Palin my fave.

Then, the floodgates opened. The HA! Channel started up on cable, and I could see Python and stand up and various funny people until my eyes watered. “Whose Line Is It Anyway” came directly from Britain, and it wasn’t long before I knew the names of Stephen Fry, Tony Slattery, Josie Lawrence, John Sessions or Colin Maukery. “French And Saunders” was another revelation, straight from England, these two hilarious ladies cut a swath through all boys comedy with goofiness and deep hilarity.

I even went to London on various trips and saw a taping of “A Bit of Fry and Laurie”, plus I went to see The Comedy Store Players on Leistershire Square. Back home, I was a fanatic of “Late Night With David Letterman” and “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson”. When I was in college, I used to get tickets every month to see Letterman at NBC. Alan Havey had a terrific talkshow on HA! (the channel would become Comedy Central) called “Night after Night” that became an addiction.

So, in the world of alternative comedy, my age has allowed me a long, earned history of loving comedy since I was a babe.

I used to walk past the old UCB theatre on West 22nd street while going to my job on west 18th. I always meant to go in, but never did – not until 2009 after they moved to West 26th. I saw “Let’s Have a Ball”, a Saturday night show featuring Kay Cannon and Scott Adsit – two members of “30 Rock’s” crew. After that show, I was hooked. The warm, cosy, intimate space reminded me of the furnished basement in my childhood home. The interaction, the beauty of the improv, the structure and pace. I was done for – watching the bare bones of comedy. This is the kitchen of funny. This is how Del Close- who trained the minds of John Belushi, Mike Myers, Bill Murray and Gilda created the kind of comedy I’ve devoured all my life. It was all cooking down there, in the basement of a Gristedes supermarket with pipes that dripped and a mildew odor that smelled like my dad’s old bar downstairs near the washroom. Home. I was home.

I am the only child of two parents, who by 2009 were both in failing health. My dad had a stroke two days after Christmas in 2006. The next few years were spent in sheer terror of losing my father, fighting insurance companies that refused to pay for his sub-accute nursing, all while trying to maintain my job at the New York Times. It devastated my mother and me. After a few stints in nursing homes, my dad came back to his condo, where my mother cared for him. However, in time, she became quite ill herself. She refused medical treatment, and refused my help. During this time, I moved in with them temporarily to assist when I could. But it was a depressing home.

Screenshot 2014-11-28 15.07.06

On line at the Del Close Marathon, August 2009. Photo by Debi Rotmil.

In August of 2009, I spent a weekend in Manhattan to attend the Del Close Marathon. It was there that I had a life changing experience. Non-stop comedy. Gonzo crazy bozo ass comedy all in the name of Mr. Close and his spirit. I spent the weekend watching – in close quarters and in front rows – Jack McBrayer, Rob Huebel, Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas, Scott Adsit, Nick Kroll, Bobby Moynihan, Shasheer Zamatta, Horatio Sanz, Sarah Silverman, Brett Gelman and so many rising new comedians, who went crazy for about 54 hours straight of insane mondo improv comedy. If you don’t know these names – look them up. You will recognize them in shows like “Transparent”, “The Office”, “30 Rock”, “The League”, “Marry Me”, “Community”, “Happy Endings”, “The Mindy Project”, “New Girl”and in films like “The Descendants”, “Piranha”, “The Dictator”.

During that weekend, I waited on lines and met young people who were students of the UCB training center. The discussion often turned to why they were there, and why they were taking improv classes. One girl told me it was because she left her family home due to abuse, and was never allowed to come back. She found a home in improv theater, with supportive friends who were better than her own family. Another girl told me she was taking puppet improv, and found solace creating characters in this medium after her little sister was killed in an accident. I was in my mid-40’s. I wasn’t married. (Still not.) I didn’t have kids. (Still don’t.) But I had two parents dealing with the end of their lives, and I had to come home to that everyday. These young people saw me – this older lady – and THEY encouraged me to join improv, get into a class – lose myself.

And so I did. I started level 101 Improv with Rebecca Drysdale (“Key and Peele”, “Orange is the New Black”), where I became friends with a group of supportive, funny people who were all learning how to step up and create stories on their feet. We did monologues. We played tag outs. We played classic improv games. We performed on the stage at UCBNYC. We became members of this society. I continued to level 201 where I kept learning process – this time with edits, beats, analogous take overs. It was a relief to leave the sadness of my parents dark home – the fading embers of their life where I feared their impending deaths, where I couldn’t face their weaknesses, and where I always felt I failed them during this time. UCB was my haven. I was able to take the train from White Plains, and as the train cars moved closer to Grand Central, the worries faded until I got to the training center and started becoming someone else, thinking on my feet, writing in the now. We, as student, were required to go to shows. No problem! Then we’d connect the next weekend in class about what we saw, the techniques of an Asssscat, or how he structure of Kay Cannon’s scene at “Let’s Have A Ball” was similar to what we learned a few weeks before.

After years of SCTV, SNL, Monty Python, Letterman, Carson, Whose Line, The Comedy Store Players and UCB shows, I was finally inside comedy, cooking with the ingredients I had often seen. It was a revelation.

I was going to continue on to level 301 (I did receive approval to move on to the next phase), but sometime after I completed level 101, my mother died. I continued on to 201 to try and find the laughter in life and immerse myself with new classmates and scene partners. Then, my dad died after I completed level 201. Suddenly, my energy and desire to go into classes had waned. By now, I was back living in NYC, but I never did continue. Yet, I kept going to shows – until I moved to LA, where I grew tired of the disconnected irony and the easy dick jokes, and the boys club, and the spotty somewhat cute boy comedians talk about their crappy relationships with woman who were clearly out of their league. I got tired of waiting in crowded lines for shows, getting bumped off the street curb by young UCBLA improv students were were doing casual bits and trying to out-funny each other. I caught myself thinking – doesn’t anyone want to be a doctor around here? We could sure use a few of those in the world. There are enough improvisers to go around. Suddenly, I felt a little too old for this gig.

But in the end, UCB saved my life. It allowed me to smile when things were dismal. I only wish Amy Poehler and the founders I admire so well could understand how their venture isn’t only for young people who are trying to be the next John Mulaney or Kate McKinnon. It’s also for someone nearing AARP age who really needed a good soulful laugh to make it through.

Some of my writing from TVBlogster, my old comedy blog about the Upright Citizens Brigade. Plus coverage of the Del Close Marathons I’ve attended:


http://tvblogster.blogspot.com/search/label/Night%20of%20140%20TweetsScreenshot 2014-11-28 15.07.32


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Thankful for Thanksgiving

thanksgiving peanutsThanksgiving is all about counting your blessings. I’m all for that. It’s so easy to get caught up in negative thoughts, and the coulda shoulda woulda’s of life. Last year, I went through a medical ordeal that taught me a thing to two about life and the quality of how we live it.  I’ve been slogging way at a job that wasn’t challenging. Fear over money ruled my life. Anger over how I felt stifled with my job, only to come home and not do a damn thing about changing my life for the better.

As a writer, I’ve put my passion on the shelf, living in Passive Action, writing blogs no one saw, writing music reviews and interviews very few people have seen. My writing was sporadic, relegated to an actual hobby.  That changed in 2014.

This was the year I challenged myself to write at least a 1000 words everyday. It occurred to me that if I did at least 1000 or even 500, I would be one step closer to actually writing a book.  Imagine, writing 1000 words each day – or even more? It would mean at the end of 365 days, I’d have the first draft of a book.

So, I got down to business. I wrote 1000 or more words a day. Some days I could only write 500 words feeling absolutely unaccomplished and unsatisfied. Then, the next day, I’d take those 500 words and realize that it was the start of a full fledged short story.  Thus began the work. I wrote short story upon short story. I didn’t judge my work. I didn’t care about what teachers had to say, or any old lessons about short story structure. I just did it. It’s not to say that basic English and structure isn’t important, but I’ve read enough essays and stories to know what works.  From J.D. Salinger to David Sedaris to Flannery O’Connor – each writer has their own voice, their own structure. As long as you tell a story with the who, what and whys…you’ll find your audience.

Why am I saying this?  Because my book of stories is coming out in December. I’ve just approved the final draft and it will be ready for upload to Amazon later this week, and then Kindle in the coming weeks. Publication date will come. And why am I mentioning this? Because a year ago today – these stories – plus dozens of other essays and novels I have in the works – did not exist. With the help of a great life coach, and the goal of getting my writing out there in a goal of Massive Action – this book is happening, folks!


And there’s more to come!

Not only that – I want to coach people to do the same thing. If you have a talent in writing you feel is just sitting on a shelf because you’re so tired after a long day at work – know that you can still get work done.  If you set a fun challenge for yourself, you will accomplish a terrific project. When “Hitting Water” is published in December, as I’ve mentioned, there will be more books to follow. As I learn the publishing world with each novel or story collection, I hope to gather the wisdom to help others who want to get their writing out there by helping them with the lessons I’ve learned.

And I will be truly grateful for being able to do that.

For now, I’m just grateful for everything.

And for turkey – I’m grateful for those critters giving up their lives so we can have a delicious harvest dinner. (Seriously, I can’t tell you the guilt I have over eating animals. My dogs have given me this profound empathy for living creatures. Maybe next year I’ll be thankful for going vegetarian.)

Happy Thanksgiving!!


Finding the Piano in Again

playingpianoLast week, I wrote a blog post about my piano teacher entitled “Looking For Mr. Weiss.”  The story touched a nerve with me. As it unfolded through memory and emotion, I realized my years of learning how to read music and to play the instrument was one of the most valuable lessons of my life. It was ten years of exasperating practice, fumbling fingers while fighting youthful distractions like TV, playing with friends, or listening to records all for the purpose of completing a piece without error. I didn’t know it as a spotty kid, but now I value this gift of music like it’s precious gold. This – despite enduring living room recitals for company, encouraged by my dad, where certain members of my distended family would roll their eyes. Riiiggghhht…because I loved playing for this group as much as they loved listening. The feeling was mutual.

My ten years as a student of Mr. Weiss affected me deeply.  The very fact  I can play an instrument is extraordinary. No, I can’t just sit down and play “Summer Highland Falls” or gather a group of cocktail addled friends around the old piano for an impromptu rendition of “Fame” nor do I take requests. But I can sit down and plunk away a mean sonata – after many days of rehearsal – with the music sheet in front of me. It’s even cooler to know how to read music, as if it’s a secret language that is communicated through melody, beats, rhythm and sound.  To be able to create it, is just as satisfying and mystically compelling as writing a book or a satisfying blog post.

Sadly, my father sold our Steinway and Sons piano when I left for college. Yet, I’ve picked up the piano here and there over the years. About 15 years ago, I had a small Yamaha electric keyboard I laid on top of a desk on which I played simple sonatinas, since there were only about 70 keys on the thing. Playing as an adult is a different experience. I have a deeper understanding of life and how music folds personal emotion into the flow of a piece. My brain finds a beautiful, peaceful portal where you can capture a deep, focused, meditative state when you’re really playing something you like well. After a work week filled with business and responsibilities, being able to play an instrument such as the piano, allows a certain cleasning of the mind. It’s time well spent, beating TV, Internet and video gaming. I long to return to this amazing practice.

When my little Yamaha keyboard broke, my reacquaintance with the piano was shelved. Life took over. I kept my music sheets handy in case I was able to find the room for a piano. A real one. As an apartment dweller – I’m still holding out for an actual piano. However, I do have some space in the corner of my home office which has prompted my decision to purchase a digital piano complete with perfect key action and pedals. There will be a headphone jack so I can play in silence, and a volume button, so when I’m not using “cans”,  I can crank it up to show my neighbors during reasonable hours, what this student of Mr. Weiss can do.

It’s time to return to my music. Time to put all the money my father paid to provide lessons to good use.  Time to honor Mr. Weiss.

(And by the way – Looking for Mr. Weiss has inspired a book I’m currently outlining.)

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End of Week Friday Musing

lucyandaroseI don’t know what it is about Lucille Ball that reminds me of my mother. Maybe it’s her chin and lips, her short hair or  the way she exuded  glamor, even if she was in the supermarket. One time, I told my mother she reminded me of Lucy, and she looked at me like my head exploded. And the fact my  mother was Cuban – her accent was so much like Desi Arnaz’ and the rest of my family – I thought he was a distant relative.

When my mother was nineteen, she married an older man, had a son, and was quickly divorced. This was back in Havana, Cuba. Every photo of her ex-husband was banished, except one family group gathering that included my mother, her brother, his wife, my abuela and my half brother when he was a little boy. Right at the edge of the picture is a be-headed man, whose face was ripped off in the shape of someone’s mouth – like someone took one big bite of him, chewed him up, and allowed him to disappear by act of mastication and digestion. Only his surname remained through legal documents, since my brother still held his last name – until my mom moved to New York, met my dad – and had me. Then it was changed.

I always used to fantasize that my half brother’s real dad was Desi Arnaz.  In his old photos, he looked like little Ricky and the real little Desi. As a teenager and man in his twenties, he so reminded me of Desi Arnaz, Jr. that I felt, deep down in my soul, that he was love child of my mom and the king of Babbaloo. One time, I asked my mother if she ever met Arnaz, trying to get a hint about the first husband she never, ever wanted to talk about. She said Arnaz left for Hollywood when she was a little girl, so she never did.  There went my theory.

But I still live the fantasy. It just feels like the whole Lucy universe swirled around my mom and her image. From looks, spirit and son…the Ball/Arnaz vibe moves on.

Just for context – this is my stunning, gorgeous mother below. Real ‘Mad Men’ days.

My Mother - Ana from Havana - at her wedding reception - 1962.

My Mother – Ana from Havana – at her wedding reception – 1962.

Happy Friday!

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Rest in Peace, Mike Nichols

graduate last scene


The first adult film I ever saw as a child was “The Graduate”. It had a profound affect on me. Although I was too young to understand the nuance and meaning of what was going on, I was emotionally taken by the beauty of Dustin Hoffman’s turmoil, the sun baked 60’s dream of California and the Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack. It wasn’t until I was in college when I understood the meaning of the film to its fullest. As college students, standing on the threshold between childhood and adulthood, where do we go? Here we are – some of us all stars in school, track phenoms, valedictorians, big man/lady on campus (others not) until we turn the tassel of our caps to the other side on commencement day (“commencement”= the beginning of something), and then the real work starts. A little hot-shot fish in a big, giant paranah eating world. So much pressure is on our shoulders. What are we supposed to bring to the world? Do we live our dreams, or place ourselves in boxes, allowing the conventional constraints our families and society impose to stifle us? Or do we break the pattern of living unconsciously, day by day.

My heart still aches at the site of Benjamin screaming from the window door atop the church, crying, screaming “Elaine!” just in the nick of time, just before she was about to make the biggest mistake of her life.

Then, the astounding, groundbreaking last scene. Two young people having just fought off an army of tight jawed, bigoted, good-ol-boy, country club robots, locking them into the church – a clan of hypocrites in their house of God (which in some cases, is known for its hypocrisy).  The getaway…a bride, breaking the cycle of her mother’s deadness. The bus. The laughs. The looks. The realization of…”Now what?”. The fear, as the confused couple rides into the sunset. This was never done before in film.   The anti-happy ending.

Although the screenplay of “The Graduate” was written by the fantastic Buck Henry, Mike Nichols had the vision that brought this story to life in a way no other director could. His intelligence and sensitivity to the characters, plus his humorous view of the world, as per his legendary comedy career with Elaine May,  made this story a voice for a generation.

Some other favorite Mike Nichols films for me are: “Heartburn”, “Working Girl”, “The Birdcage”, and “Angels in America”. Brilliant projects that have stayed with me for years. I plan on viewing more of his work this weekend.

There are just too many amazing people passing away this year.  Some before their time – others whose time was up. Sad to end a year this way.

Rest in peace, Mr. Nichols.

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The Great ‘I Am’

The Great 'I AM'

“Be impeccable with your word.”

I’m re-reading “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz, a spiritual book that speaks of the practices of the Toltec – a society of men and women once known in ancient Southern Mexico to be spiritualists, scientists and seekers of truth in the human spirit.  The first “agreement” is the aformentioned sentence: “Be Impeccable with your word.”

It’s so easy to forget the things we say and how we talk about ourselves and other people. The concept of being impeccable with one’s word is to not gossip, be negative on others or one’s self, or to believe the words that other people place on you (like: You ugly!) or others (like: She’s ugly!).  Be careful with words. This concept is a building block to help the mind reset and focus on positives so your life will follow. It’s sounds all “airy fairy” but it’s not. The mind is a powerful element, and the energy of the universe is something we will never understand unless we open our minds to the flow of life. Don’t judge it – or else you stop the flow.

These words have been coming to mind lately. I’ve just witnessed the end of a professional relationship that I found to be negative. Dark energy, gossip, anger towards other people I hardly knew, and chatter on how I should be just as angry as she about her situation. This person’s behavior was unfolded before me at my desk. I never asked for it. It was presented by her almost daily.  Sadly, her negativity and poor words spread like wildfire to the point where no one had a good word about her. So sad to see how someone is mired in the depths of their own hell, trying to pull everyone down with them so they are not alone.

It’s my hope she will find light out there.

We become the people we think we are. If we believe we are crap and everyone around us is crap, then people will see us as crap. Imagine what our lives would be if we take one step toward the light and tell ourselves how totally cool we are and how cool everyone else is? Not to live in a fantasy world, of course. It’s obvious everything is not awesome and perfect. But if we approach the negatives in life with faith and good vibes, maybe things will work out best after all.

And maybe then, we won’t attract negative people who invite us to join in on their self imposed misery?  It’s up to us to RSVP “no” to that party.


Looking for Mr. Weiss

Mystery piano under the Brooklyn Bridge, June 2014. Photo by Richard Corman: http://www.richardcorman.com/

Mystery piano under the Brooklyn Bridge, June 2014. Photo by Richard Corman: http://www.richardcorman.com/

When I was a child, we had a neighbor who was a flutist for the New York Philharmonic. His name was Mr. Morris. His home was behind ours.  It’s possible my father called him Sam, but my memory is fuzzy. I was so incredibly young at the time. His backyard was large and unruly. An old collapsed greenhouse was buried beneath overgrown brush and small trees that had given up years before I was born.

Although Mr. Morris and the state of his backyard is a faint, early memory,I remember in summertime, when his windows were open, I could hear him practicing his flute. His instrument was part of the atmosphere. The sound of his practice floated through the air, mixing with the hiss of passing cars, birds chirping and children playing. Years later, when I moved into Manhattan, where you could throw a penny and it could land on a creative’s doorstep, the sound of vibrato voices practicing scales in the building next door, or the rehearsal of a lone french horn through a window would bring me back to Mr. Morris. Today, when I listen to the gorgeous recording of Aaron Copeland’s, “Appalachian Spring” performed by the New York Philharmonic with Leonard Bernstein conducting, I think of him lending his flute to the cacophony of beauty in a grand recording studio somewhere with Lenny himself.

When I was eight years old, my father (a music lover much like my mother and myself) wanted me to learn piano. When he started looking for a teacher, he consulted Mr. Morris, whose work within the Lincoln Center community could offer some names. It just so happened, that an acquaintance of his – a Mr. Allen Weiss – was a prominent piano instructor who happened to live in our small little town. He was a graduate of Julliard, had a very progressive way of instructing young people in piano, and was a mentor to gifted students who were on the path to being accepted into the very institution from which he graduated. He also hosted a show on WQXR called The Midnight Showcase, where those gifted, classically trained proteges would be presented.  Let it be known that I wasn’t one of them, nor ever was. He also took on regular kids who just wanted to learn piano – like me.

When I attended my first lesson in his home, I entered a separate door to a side room in his house, so small, it barely fit the two giant pianos that lived there: one baby Baldwin piano, and one Steinway grand piano. They slipped side by side,  their Lima bean shaped bodies on opposite ends, fitting like puzzle pieces, with the keyboards opposite so two pianists playing at the same time could face each other.  The walls were lined with brown cork, and gave off a sweet smell that lingered with the wood of the piano and mixed with the fluid aroma of cherry tobacco drifting from Mr. Weiss’ pipe.

Mr. Weiss appeared to be in his early to mid-thirties,  and was married with two little children.  This was 1972, and he was a young man of the time – raffish, hippy-like, curly longish red hair. His limbs were long and lanky. There was an ease and elegance to him as he sat cross legged with worn out corduroys, well worn suede Earth shoes, a pipe between his teeth, listening to me play scales and fumbling over fingering. It was ever thus, as the years went by, and my books like “Teaching Little Fingers to Play” morphed into sonatinas, sonatas, Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn and the various classical pantheon of old music I hardly cared about, but enjoyed playing – once I got it right.  Remember, I wasn’t one of those gifted students Mr. Weiss mentored.  I also remember I was so painfully shy that I’d just sit in silence for months of lessons. Then, one day, I just opened up and responded to a question he raised, delighting him, as if he just found gold in a ditch.  I don’t remember why I shed that wall of shyness. It’s likely the more confident I became with the piano, the more comfortable I was with him.

He was a teacher with a dream, creating cutting edge ways to teach kids about piano and music. Within the first two years of lessons, the small little room that barely fit two pianos, was bulldozed to make way for a giant solarium type studio. Floor to ceiling windows let in natural light. The space was modern and open. He graced his layers of shelves with instruments for students to explore, opening our vision on music that went beyond the acoustic keyboard. Synthesizers, electronic pianos, drums, dulcimers, and percussion accessories were everything, a virtual wonderland of music exploration for kids and teens.

The two pianos could now spread out comfortably with enough space to accommodate audience chairs for our quarterly class lessons and recitals where individual students gathered for one interactive meet up. These classes were split up and held on various weekends according to level (beginners, intermediate, advanced, uber-advanced-Julliard-bound) and touched upon various topics of music theory. Each session focused on new concepts, such as early renaissance music, or choir, African beat or sound vibrations.  He’d use his instrument collection to demonstrate degrees of sound. One time, he wove nails and metallic objects inside his Steinway piano strings, making the key hammers pound against an altered wire, producing a foreign sound as he began to play a tonal, avant garde piece. The one constant was that each class would end with the dreaded recital, where each member got up to perform a piece they slaved over since the last group class.

This must have been Mr. Weiss’ glory days. His radio show continued to attract respect from the Lincoln Center crowd, and he even performed in concert at Alice Tully Hall, headlining an evening of complicated classical pieces that blew my mind. (Yes, my family attended). Back at Chez Weiss, he had a school of teachers who worked for him. As I grew into a teenager, I wanted to play more contemporary music;  plus, I wasn’t growing into an elite student, a special unit of gifted teens who became his main priority. So, he assigned a new teacher who worked under him to come to my house for instruction. His last name was Dunn, and he wore a toupee, which I could see him pat in place from time to time in the mirror above our piano. I still attended Mr. Weiss’ quarterly classes. I may have given up Chopin for Elton John, and wasn’t playing Liszt’s ‘Leibestram’ from memory, but I was still rehearsing classical music, and I was still part of his school.

Then came the day I graduated high school and moved on to college. I bid adieu to my piano school days and moved into a dorm, embarking on adulthood, sadly leaving the keyboard behind.

I wasn’t the only one growing up and moving on. As the years went by, I figured Mr. Weiss he still lived in that beautifully renovated house on Beacon Hill Road in Ardsley with more young students showing up at his door. That wasn’t the case.

One day, years after my last lesson,my father ran into him at an gas station auto repair shop*. He was pumping gas.  Apparently, he sold off his instruments to enter into a partnership to co-own the repair station** It’s possible he may have been divorced, and his young family was torn apart in some way.  (Or is that just a sad romantic notion? Or my own father’s view of the situation?) Yet, the stark contrast in circumstance was troubling. Indeed, owning a gas station is a noble profession, but it’s a long way from a career as a respected piano teacher, mentor and concert pianist within the world of Lincoln Center (which my father sensed, via mutual friends, harbored an internal cut throat atmosphere that possibly lead to Mr. W’s decline). (Update: I’m sad to say it was a “decline”. Just a very sharp turn on his path in life.)

Today, I hopelessly search the internet, looking for Mr. Alan Weiss (or is it spelled ‘Allen?), only to find another Alan Weiss, a pianist who trained through Julliard and is teaching students to become professional concert pianists. Very odd. Very coincidental. However, one look at his photo and I can attest – that’s not my Allen Weiss.

This past weekend, the memory of Mr. Weiss invaded my mind along with all the remembrances above. I searched and searched the internet, trying to see if I could find him – his whereabouts. Not much was found, except an excerpt from an old newspaper article reading more into his mind than I – the young student – ever realized.

Strangely enough – an article appeared in the Milwaukee Journal, “In New York, Thousands Play Waiting Game”, dated December 24th, 1978 (when I was his student) where he is quoted discussing the high expectations a Julliard student carries with him/her:

“You walk out the door of Julliard and say ‘Here I am!’ and nobody is listening. So you teach. But it isn’t what you though of when you were in there. A lot of people do it with bitterness. But I had no choice. I practically retired as a performer the day I walked out of school. I don’t, you see, have a family with millions of dollars behind me. I was a good pianist. Respected, generally. I mean, nobody thought I was crazy to want to be a pianist or anything. But you are faced with such competition that it is very difficult to sit back and look at yourself and ask ‘who am I, how do I play and how do I wish to play?’.  There simply isn’t time to question anything. Your whole pursuit is giving the perfect performance, playing your octaves faster than anybody else, and getting management, getting the right people to hear you. And winning competitions.”

I hadn’t realized the struggle Mr. Weiss was going through until my father ran into him all those years ago at that autobody shop. As a young child, he loomed over me as a piano god, a young, enthusiastic educator who taught kids to appreciate the profound meaning of music rather than just merely learning to play it. His inner turmoil never showed. To me, he arrived at a perfect destination,  but he was really lost in the midst of grasping hold of a dream that was slipping away.

There was another item I found online. It was from Julliard’s alumni newsletter dated September 2009.

“Allen Weiss, Piano, graduate 1962. Deceased.”

I’m hoping it’s the wrong Allen Weiss.

I’m still looking.

*Revisions thanks to Debra Weiss Barrett.


Friday “Hitting Water” Milestone

hittingwaterprintedIt’s the end of the week, and another opportunity to look back on some accomplishments regarding my forthcoming book of stories, “Hitting Water”. Above this blog post, you will find a print out of the mock cover, all bent in the shape of what will be an actual 3-D book (in addition to the Kindle version). The computer-to-print conversion is not exactly what it should be here – but it’s quite close – and will look much better when officially printed.

I love it!   It’s my hope that many people read it and find some beauty wrapped within the words. The memory of the late, great Jane Dornacker was the driving force behind these stories, weaving the concept of life’s brevity and how various spirits who enter our world lend out lessons about life and death.   Jane’s story is the only autobiographical one in the collection. The rest are fiction, yet inspired by people I’ve known and re-imagined in fantasy pieces about life, the chaos of mental illness, death and a little of the afterlife. It’s a short read, and I hope it inspires people to think about life a little differently.

As someone who has lived a conventional path in the name of security – writing this book is a big step for me. It’s the first in many I plan to write, as I fulfill my love for writing and getting it out for all to see. In that regard – I hope I inspire those who are stuck in a rut and feel they are destined for something else – whether it’s writing, painting, singing or building a house.

The book is currently in that limbo phase – where the edits, re-writes and proofs are done and the manuscript is being formatted for book and digital. So, I wait it out until the final version is done for uploading.  Although there is no publication date yet, the book should drop on Amazon by mid December, followed by Kindle sometime thereafter.  Once I know the date – it will be announced.

So, while I wait – it’s on to the next book!  I’m currently outlining a book about my life as an Administrative Assistant and brainstorming a SciFi book along the lines of “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. Fingers are cross that creative flow will happen and thy work will be done!

Happy Weekend Everybody!