Order of the Good Write

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

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The Beauty of Neighborhood Walls

tattoo mural

Tattoo parlor – Wilton and Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood, CA.

A little over a year ago, the New York Times covered a story about the demise of 5 Pointz – the urban artist mecca, located on the outskirts of Queens, NY. Abandoned buildings clustered together like old dying New York, the owner of the abandoned warehouse allowed graffiti artists to take their spray cans and paint to create works of wonder.  Flashes of blues, blacks, browns, cartoon creations, classic portraiture, vast sprawls of glorious color like rainbows flourished the drab bland grey corner of the borough. If you rode the number 7 train (like I do – to Mets games at Willets Point), you could see the glory of artist creations – not produced under the cloak of nighttime, but living and creating in the bright light of day. It was a living, breathing cartoon of artistry – enlivening a bustling neighborhood that had a view of the Manhattan skyline rising above.

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5 Pointz, Queens. Before the fall. From “The Institute of Higher Burning”.

The building itself really wasn’t really abandoned. The company that existed in this warehouse decades ago, left behind an old space and remnants of whatever they did for commerce. (Who knows? I’m not really interested in researching that info.) Yet, the years since it was made a haven for urban creatives, the spaces had been rented out to artists as studios. It wasn’t just exterior world of gonzo artists spraying their imaginations and sociopolitical emotions on the wall – there were artists producing work from other mediums within.

Sadly, the owner of the building decided to fall way to the ever increasing need for the dollar. Greed, wealth and the promise of making millions upon millions in the real estate market made the promise of 5Pointz future cave in. The building was sold  in 2013 to a developer who will build unaffordable ultra expensive homes for the rich because there aren’t enough luxury apartments in NYC, and the need to increase rent is ever so important. (Sarcasm). So, while waiting for the wrecking ball, the soon- to- be- former owner white washed the artwork in a strange effort to make the impending demolition day less painful.

There are varying opinions. Some people thought the artwork itself was a blight – a defacement of a building. Then there were some artists who rationalized the whitewash as proof graffiti should never be permanent. It’s an ever changing form of art, painted over, Banksy-ied and mysterious. Here one day, gone the next.  It’s the basis of the medium.

Then, there are those like me who loved it. Who thought it added texture to the concrete, enlivened the spirit of those tired of streets and crumbling buildings. It wasn’t ugly, dirty graffiti – like the kind you’d see scribbled on the subway in the 70’s and 80’s. No. That was ugly. Useless tagging in a place that didn’t call for the aesthetic. Yet,  5Pointz celebrated free spirit and poetic street expression. The buildings provided the gift of an open canvas with the open invitation for thousands of possibilities. Damn. And now it’s all gone.

The photo of the beautiful Latina above is actually in Hollywood , and the gorgeous mural I posted from my last post can be seen on a building in downtown LA.  But it doesn’t matter where you find it. The luster of color on both LA based murals provokes realism in the features, much as it does in any urban frame.  Intricate patterns and shapes allow the light of day to create the vision of a realistic human being with emotions coming to the surface – against brick, mortar and greyness of a tired old building. This is in direct spirit with 5 Pointz.  Wall art, murals, graffiti, tags – are alive and well all over the world. But the heartbeat lives on in Queens, NY. Even if it’s only a memory now.

My comment on the white washing of 5Pointz  – in the New York Times, November 19, 2013:

The act of painting over the graffiti is bothersome. If the building is going to be erased, why erase the artwork on it? Why not embrace the artists who’ve created it – perhaps let them personally keep a reasonable piece of the facade of the building? Or keep well maintained slabs of the art to place in the lobby of this development (which will likely block out that last view of the NYC skyline before it disappears in the distance) as a dedication to 5Pointz. This puts another ding in an ever changing city – where starving artists are being priced out of the place and basically disrespected. From Soho to Brooklyn to L.I.C…gentrification has erased the beauty of grime. What was once affordable housing in scary hoods is now million dollar havens for the wealthy. I’m all for cleaning things up. I’m glad graffiti no long exists on subway cars (that was not a great medium for it – nor pleasant), but leave us some concrete and color. This action is part of the homogenization of NYC. It’s losing its texture, long upheld by artists who can’t even stay there anymore. As a lifelong New Yorker who currently lives 3000 miles away, and as a Mets fan who comes back home to ride the 7 and marvel at this stretch of artwork along the way – this news is a heart breaker.


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Screenshot 2014-12-22 18.20.02My friend Joyce had foot surgery this morning at UCLA Medical Center. Somehow, between leaving the outpatient recovery room and getting to her apartment, she lost her iPhone. She tracked it and found it was in downtown Los Angeles – on 6th Street and Spring Street. Curious to see what neighborhood is hiding this hideous person who took her phone (or found it and pocketed it), I Google Mapped it. I came upon this amazing mural.

The lady in the mural looks exactly like my friend Heather. Terrific black hair, self assured strength, artistic and strong.  I did a screenshot and started to put it up on Facebook with the intent of tagging her. Once it populated my status box, the strangest thing happened. Without even typing her name or even approaching an “H” to get started, her name immediately tagged to the photo.  It kind of blew my mind. Then, once I posted it – within seconds, Heather “Liked” it and commented  she loved it.

I’m not mentioning the concept of synchronicity because in some glorious fusion of chance this instance reunited Joyce with her phone. (Nope. Her phone is gone, walking around LA’s downtown about to be disabled.)  I bring it up because synchronicity at any random moment is such a strange and lovely thing. As lovely as this surprising beauty of art on the wall of a building I discovered on Google Maps, and as neat as my friend Heather.

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Quiet Days…

aloneinofficeI’m one of five people who are in the office today. Tomorrow will likely be the same. I’ve decided to bring in my dog tomorrow. Just to liven things up.  As the holidays approach, I find myself living in a lovely malaise. No writing. Trying to do on to others as I feel the warmth of friendships and the bittersweet feeling of turning the page on another year.  As mentioned, I’m stocking up on movie viewing and just saw “Birdman”, an exhilarating, bizarre movie starring the incredible Michael Keaton. (More to come – “The Theory of Everything”, “The Imitation Game”, “Inherit Vice”, “Into The Woods”) and books (Amy Poehler’s “Yes Please”, Tony Robbins’ “Money: Master the Game”, “The Goldfinch”, an autobiography on Phil Hartman and a spy story about a guy and his basset hound.)

I hope to write during the time off between Christmas and New Year, but until then – I’m hanging up the “Out For the Holidays” sign in my brain. It’s hard. I feel guilty not writing. It’s my passion. It’s the reason why I exist. I can’t keep going on like I have, working at another company’s job where my own boss, as lovely as she is, barely knows I exist.  Perhaps I can find a new job in the new year – that pays better. But until then, I’m working away at my writing, trying to build a new career – not just as an author, but as someone who wants to help others write too.

Something on tap for next year: Training my dog for film and television. I’d also like to train him to be a certified therapy dog so we can children’s hospitals and senior homes to put smiles on peoples’ faces. Perhaps keep a blog on Baxter’s do-goodness, write a series of children books, perhaps? There are so many children books out there – even with Basset Hounds. We’ll see. It could be an interesting side venture that will allow me to share the wonders that is Baxter the Basset Hound. He’s already famous in parts of Hollywood!

Now, back to reading Tony Robbins’ and figuring out how not to outlive my money.


Dear Writing Muse

cemetery beautyIt’s the end of the year. I just wrote a small lovely book that I’m proud of. I have stock piled a wonderful set of short stories that I plan to compile into another anthology (this one bigger) of story collections that will be out in the spring, while I write my novel. But please don’t hate me because I haven’t written in the past week or so. Please don’t think I’ve abandoned you. I’m tired. My mind is a bit burned out from the thought process and the edits and the book covers and the back cover blurbs the low sales on Amazon the non-existent downloads on Kindle.

Perhaps this is one to chalk up as the first baby step, allowing another book or two to solidify my foothold, give me more to promote in the coming year. Maybe the compilation of my first quiet book along with my second semi-loud book will herald in the hella happy world of my novel about pianos and breakdowns and people looking for the lost folks of their past.

But right now, all I want to do is search the internet for movie times of films I want to see tomorrow (my birthday) and during the Christmas break.  Will it be “Birdman” at the Pacific Cinema in The Grove? Or will it be “The Theory of Everything”?  “Birdman” it is!  “Theory” will be for next week. Perhaps a spot of lunch at Morells?  Have a lovely holiday cocktail before going off for a little shopping?  Pick up some Cupcakes for birthday treats along with a little doggie cupcake for The Baxter Hound.

And all I want to do is finish Amy Poehler’s book and go on a binge reading spree on Lena Dunham’s and Andrea Martin’s and John Cleese’s autobiographies. I want to read Tony Robbin’s book about Money because I want to be independently wealthy. This is not a pipe dream. I want to find a groove where I earn money helping people write books. This is a serious goal for next year.

And all I want to do is think about redecorating my apartment – or taking my bike out and riding – or doing a little shopping – or toasting my dad’s memory tonight with a home made martini (it would have been is 88th birthday today – his b’day was the day before mine and we celebrated together), or shop online and look for that cool, dreamy purple lacy bra Jennifer Coolidge wears that peaks over her dresses on “2 Broke Girls”. I want to re-watch “White Christmas” and wonder why the hell Rosemary Clooney is always pissed at Bing Crosby? I want to see how long I can endure the military love in that film that boarders on cloying and sappy. I want to watch “Meet Me in St. Louis” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Merry Christmas Charlie Brown” and “Elf”.  Perhaps watch a few DVR’d episodes of “The Chew” where I can live vicariously through the cookings of Mario Batali and Michael Symon since I no longer eat food, but exist on jogging, working out, hard boiled eggs, water and oatmeal because I’m thick and nothing is going to change that – not even malnutrition.

So, don’t be angry dear writing muse. I love you. Look – I’m writing now!  No, it’s not the kind of useful writing that builds a new project and is contributing toward actual publishable work – nevertheless –  I’m using you, see?  And I’ll get back to you during the holiday break, and go gang busters in the new year.  But it’s December. It the birthday weekend. I’m thinking of my dad in heaven and my mother’s Cuba – now open to the world – and the brand new 100 pound rolled up rug I’ve ordered from Overstock that is sitting in the lobby of my building until I get home and find my neighbors to help me lug it up the stairs.

I just want to have fun, muse. Okay?

That’s all I want to do.  I’ll see you soon.

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This Changes Everything, A Little Too Late

cubaopenrelationswith USAI’m half Cuban. My mother was born in Havana, and lived in the Miramar district. It’s the middle class suburban part of the country. She was part of a community of Jewish Cubans whose ancestors settled there, thanks in part, to a US immigration quota imposed during the early 1920’s. Jews from the Ottoman Empire, Bosnia, Russia, etc – heading for US asylum were diverted to Cuba. “Hotel Cuba”.  It was their pit stop to wait it out until they could be allowed US entry. When it was lifted, some left Cuba. Others stayed. My family stayed. Ana, my mom, was born in 1928.

Although I always knew my mother as a stay at home mom in living in the suburbs of New York City, she had an entire history before I came along that in hindsight made her seem like another person. Married and divorce with a little son by the age of 21, she was a single mother and business woman in the 1950’s. Quite a pioneer. Although it’s not as glamorous as it seems. My mother’s relationship with her son dissolved over the years due. It’s not pretty.

During her store’s residency in the Havana Hilton, she became friendly with Fidel Castro’s sidemen.  They’d trek through the lobby on any given day, heading for their offices in the top floor of the hotel.  She’d often see Castro himself. It didn’t take long for one of his minions to tell her personally, “Take your son, and get out of Cuba.” This was 1959.

When my mother came to America via Miami, Florida, I presume,  (I hold a passport card of her’s from back then, her Havana address listed, her stamp of US residency marked Miami), she established a little shop in White Plains, NY. It wasn’t long before she met my father, got married, closed down her store and had me.  That’s the Ana I knew. The mother who stayed home and wrestled with her demons. The mother with the Cuban accent, lost and isolated among the American suburban mothers in the neighborhood. The mother who was determined to be there for her daughter so she wouldn’t make the mistakes she made with her son. The mother whose general obstinance and hard headed ideas made her family think she was impossible. The mother dealing with mental illness exacerbated by the sadness of leaving the country she loved – Cuba.

Cuba and its mysterious, enigmatic world hovered over my life.  It was the Berlin Wall of the Caribbean – a lost world faded with my mother’s aching. Instead of a wall, it was 90 miles of ocean.

“Do you see the Capitol in Washington DC? We have a buildings like that in my country.”

“When they open up relationships with Cuba, I’m going to show you where Iived.”

“In my country, it would get so hot, we’d sleep on the marble floors.”

The loss of Cuba caused her to bargain. She was diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia when I was a baby. When she was in the throes of  illness, she would write letters to President Nixon trying to convince him that if she was made Ambassador to Cuba, she would insure there would be better relationships between the two countries. Then, she’d spend the evening, listening to slow sons and Afro-Cuban music in the dark, coming in from WADO radio New York. During those evenings, you’d leave her alone. She was back in Cuba in her mind. It was a very strange childhood, judged by some members of my family to be difficult. To me, it was a lesson in understanding those in pain, coupled with the reason why my dad never left her. “Who would take care of her? You don’t leave someone when they are ill,” he once said.

My mother passed away in 2009. She was 81 at the time. Her mental illness mellowed out over the years. Yet, she had always hoped to see this day come. Just reading the headline from the New York Times sends tears to my eyes. I’m so sorry she’s not here. After a lifetime of hearing my mother pine for Cuba, pray for relations and pretend, in her own mentally distorted way, that she could make a difference – it’s all coming true.

I’m giving it a few more years. Let the dust settle a bit. I want to go to the country my mom always talked about, find her home and look for her father’s grave.

What a day.

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“That Was Nasty Tricksies” But Still Awesome: SNL “Hobbit/Office” Parody

I will admit this now. I was and have always been an “Office” nerd. From the original UK series to the NBC America version, “The Office” has been one of my favorite shows of all time (next to “30 Rock”).  Whether it was David Brent, Gareth, Tim and Dawn, or it was Michael Scott, Dwight, Jim and Pam – I was there, every step of the way. (Except the last three seasons of the US version. Those weren’t so great).

So when the awesome amazing Martin Freeman (“Hitchhiker’s Guide”, “The Hobbit”, “Sherlock”) hosted SNL this weekend. I was pretty psyched to see which of my favorite characters he crafted would end up being satirized. It was beyond my belief the show would morph both Bilbo Baggins and Tim Canterberry in a Hobbit/Office send off, complete with Brent impersonation and Slough’s grey, sad atmosphere surrounding a soul deadening corporate office complex.

This is so good, I want to put someone’s stapler in jello!

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Yes! Amy Poehler’s Book is My New Bible

AP Yes PleaseI remember the first time I saw Amy Poehler in person. She was walking down the dark, shiny marbled floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza’s hushed lobby. It was during my lunch hour. It was 2003.  I was working next door at 75 Rock. It was a temporary pit stop. My team moved from our techno clean, hip, loft-like offices of AOL on West 18th Street, uptown to the corporate world of Time Warner, and were waiting out the final stages of construction on the new Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle before officially moving into our new digs. Glass shiny twin towers were going to be our new home. A strange architectural choice considering 9-11 happened only a few years before.

I digress with purpose. Nevertheless, I digress.

There was Amy. Walking fast, her bag on her back, zipping up her jacket as she moved. Her head was down. Her look… pensive. She was on SNL at the time (obviously), and you could tell she was in the middle of a show week. Marathon hours. She was so tiny and blonde. She radiated a tomboyish hustle. She was lady who wasn’t in the mood for nonsense that moment, but was capable of turning it on when it counted. At the time, I felt a sense of “wow, cool. Amy Poehler from SNL”, but I never realized what an impact she’d make on my life in the years to come.

As one of the co-founders of the Upright Citizens Brigade (at the time I was vaguely aware of her connection), she has helped girls and ladies as old as the sun like me –  find their power.  (“Smart Girls at the Party” anyone? Check it out.) During the hardest time of my life, the space she and her colleagues created at the UCB Training Center gave me a safe place. It’s where I escaped every Sunday for months on end, from the sadness and illness of home – to a room with chairs and windows and improv exercises.  I found The Game. I got to play. I got to be funny. I got to laugh. I pretended to be someone else. I created object work. Edited. Tagged out people. Turned beats of a scene into new ideas. I learned to trust people. Listen. To know when to step into a scene and when not to. I learned to look into the eyes of other people for long periods of time. I learned to get out of my head.I learned to scare the shit out of myself.

I’m reading Amy’s glorious autobiography right now. It’s not a detailed version of her life. It’s not a kiss and tell all book. No. This is a book of profound inspiration for women and men. But mostly – I would say – women. We have to navigate life differently than men. She encourages with tools from her own learning experiences.  Amy doesn’t talk about her divorce, but lends her personal experience to provide solace to anyone going through a breakup. She talks about being strong, giving a big “F U” to the demon inside. She also talks about struggle and working hard and being detached from the outcome of your work. For instance, I’ve just finished the chapter entitled, “Treat Your Career Like a Bad Boyfriend”, which offers wisdom on how to remove yourself from the outcome of your work. Don’t judge it. Don’t struggle with it. Don’t let it call you up for a bootie call in the middle of the night when your career has another piece of something on the side. Don’t let your career tell you what to do. Ignore it. Cultivate it. Love it. But don’t be desperate. Give it breathing room. Let it call you. I love this advice. It’s so real and funny and sage and gorgeous and encouraging and beautiful.  It’s just a morsel of kick ass advice Amy provides – given by a woman who was raised right. Seriously, her mom and dad must have ruled. They produced a terrific, strong woman who figured it out.

And that’s what this book is about. Figuring it out. Figuring out how to not beat yourself up for not being perfect. Realizing how strong those imperfections make you. Showing how smart you become when coming into your own skin and owning your life – rather than allowing someone or something or a company – to own you. Realizing that you should NOT live in fear. Screw fear. Fear can take a hike, or blow it out it’s ear. Yeah, we’ll feel it. Fear will pervade, but you’ve got to learn from it, heed to its concern and then say “See ya! Leave me alone now!”  And anger over situations and idiots in your life?  You let it wash over you. Your energy is better spent feeling something more positive.

So, I’m amazed at our Amy. I’m sorry I call her “our” Amy. Amy belongs to no one. But in my heart, she’s my Amy because she has lead by example for years now. Having studied at her school, having seen her do improv in person many times, and having watched her flourish along with Tina Fey as a strong, funny woman who owns her authenticity – this book is the cherry on top. I’m not even done with it yet. I’m sure I’m leaving out some more delicious goodies to come, but I can’t help myself. This book is the bomb and I gotta sing it now.

If you need some funny, down to earth inspiration from someone you will very likely relate to – pick this book up – “Yes, Please” over on Amazon. No really. Do it. The new year is coming up. Her book will rock your 2015. And if you had a great 2014 like I had – it will just continue to make it flow.