Order of the Good Write

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

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Inspiration in the Bleak Mid-Winter

martha graham dance“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it.

It’s not your business to determine how good it is, not how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.

You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.”~~Martha Graham

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My Late Father as ‘Guest Writer’

Order of the Good Write

dadandunclecharles Bernard Rotmil (left) and his younger brother Charles in Brussels.

I’m currently reading the epic novel “All The Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr, a fascinating page turner that takes place during WWII. My father Bernard and his younger brother Charles endured similar circumstances as the young Marie-Laure, running from madness, trying to find their ground without parents nearby.

As I languish in the throes of a new year funk, unable to write, and losing touch with my goals, I turn to my late father to be my  guest writer for the day to describe the chaos he and my uncle Charles had to endure as children during this horrendous time in history. Pardon the typos, if there are any.

 “Is Austria Accomplice or Victim of Teutonmania?”
By Bernard Rotmil

I was twelve years old that day in March 1938 on that thoroughfare in Vienna. Excited by the cries…

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My Late Father as ‘Guest Writer’


Bernard Rotmil (left) and his younger brother Charles in Brussels.

I’m currently reading the epic novel “All The Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr, a fascinating page turner that takes place during WWII. My father Bernard and his younger brother Charles endured similar circumstances as the young Marie-Laure, running from madness, trying to find their ground without parents nearby.

As I languish in the throes of a new year funk, unable to write, and losing touch with my goals, I turn to my late father to be my  guest writer for the day to describe the chaos he and my uncle Charles had to endure as children during this horrendous time in history. Pardon the typos, if there are any.

 “Is Austria Accomplice or Victim of Teutonmania?”
By Bernard Rotmil

I was twelve years old that day in March 1938 on that thoroughfare in Vienna. Excited by the cries and shouting, I pushed myself through the thickly gathered crowd. Hitler’s caravan was already being sighted by those who managed to occupy high vantage points. They hovered and crowded open windows. The sight of the caravan caused them to point excitedly at the sharp bend in the wide tree lined avenue. Faces, young and old, were straining, not only out of curiosity, but obvious pride at the coming of the savior and leader of their race.

A burly, brown shirted Nazi saw me struggle through the crowd. His swastika armband loomed overhead as he saw me wiggle through. Desirous to leave an unforgettable impression of the moment on this young specimen of the German race, he grabbed me by the armpit and proudly deposited me unto a pedestal nearby, where I became a prop set for the Fuehrer’s arrival.
Little did this Nazi soldier suspect that this man-child was a Jewish mud lark, drawn by an overriding curiosity to view this historic spectacle.

I will never forget the roaring crowd, stiff arms raised as the impassive Moloch passed by, standing in his big shiny black limousine. They chanted and clapped in cadence, their hearts and minds delirious with the job of deliverance, dissolving the pent up frustration gathered since the melting away of their Austria-Hungarian empire, finalized by the defeat of World War I. He, almost oblivious to the tremulous mob about him, would deign raise his arm, bending it at the elbow, then let it slowly sink at his side. His eyes shone bright under the visor of his military cap. They were hard, these eyes, as his vaunted mustache twittered occasionally. I will never forget the immaculate light khaki raincoat he wore. Khaki raincoats were important to the Nazi psyche.

The next day, about two block up the same thoroughfare and within view of the famous wheel of the ‘Prater”, a famous ancient amusement park, I was almost overrun by a similar open limousine. Jumping aside, I recognized the mousy features and prominent Adam’s apple of Dr. Joseph Goebbels; the high priest. He came so close, I could have touched him, but he was instantly gone.

A few days later, during the infamous “Krystal Nacht”, a half dozen brown shirted SA men invaded our modest flat near Tabor Strasse and proceeded to mercilessly beat up my father, stopping only when his blood soiled one his attacker’s uniform. Tush started a long and often repeated series of episodes out of which remains only a certificate from a magistrate in Brussels stating that my father was part of the Railway Convoy XXI which departed from Malines, Belgium on July 31, 1943 under number 779. I understand its destination was the infamous concentration camp of Mathausen. I never saw him again.

Let me explain, first of all, we are not Austrians. My father was a native of Poland and an art broker who traveled intermittently between Germany, Austria and France. The onset of World War II found us in Brussels, Belgium, to which we had fled from the aforementioned. As for myself, I was born in Alsace and had spent my childhood in Strassbourg, Metz and Paris. At the Anschluss, we had been in Austria for about a year and my most vivid memories were of a vibrant Jewish Community with a touch of Sholom Aleichem’s “Shtetele”. My memories of Vienna and Leopoldstadt – the Jewish District – is as warm and kind as anyone might entertain of his childhood locale, anywhere. Although I did view the city as a foreigner, in no time at all, I was absorbed by the local sport scene and a Jewish Soccer team by the name of “Hakoah” and a tall, lanky and superb soccer player by the name of Schindler.

Not very religious, almost rebellious, I was sent to an orthodox Yeshiva run by Agudath Israel and got into occasional trouble in school. The reason, I am sure, was that my prior education was in Paris, whence we had come from, and I became somewhat turned off by this sudden change in language. My life became not unlike Tom Sawyers in Hannibal and who, by the way, was my favorite read at the time. For one, we went by the vast lumber yards by the railroad (or was it the river), to band on the wood and watch the rats scurry out of the pile. We loved to climb over the high wall in the back of an old bakery, climb atop the woodpile inside the woodshed adjacent to the baking workshop. There, we’d imitate animal sounds. The baker, a pious man with skullcap, roused from his nightly labor, would appear, lantern in had, to inspect the source of the noise. He never thought to look on top of the woodpile and never found us.

In an era when private bathrooms in apartments was a luxury, the “Mikva”, served as a convenient community bathhouse. By definition, a Mikvah is a ritual bath for women. This Mikvah, however, had an adjacent building for men. It being the best and most convenient place for my personal hygiene, and very cheap at that! I went there as often as I had to. There, immersed in the very hot and steaming pools of water, were the reddish and sweaty faces of bearded Orthodox Jews, sitting totally naked, indolently soaking in the penetrating and soothing heat. It was a quiet scene where no one moved except to get n or out of the water. It was at such a quiet moment that I heard a yell from upstairs. “Mir Shlught yidden” (They’re beating Jews). This wry joke, directed at people whose experience of the pogrom was very vivid, was supposed to rouse them into a panic and have them run off in their lobster red nakedness. It might have worked at one time, but these old Jews just smiled, appreciative of the humor; except for an old rabbi who clothed and ready to leave for home caught the prankster and let him verbally have it.

I also remember my friend Gunther whose mother made the best cookies and cakes. We both loved to build model airplanes – a hobby that was in vogue back then. My father’s penchant for gambling on horses did not leave much for the family table and to a large extent we were indigent. The support of the community was generous and my wealthier friends went to great length to have me at their Seder during Passover nights. I still remember the world famous Viennese Horse Academy building – which had burned down at the time – and the racetrack nearby, on which my father left goodly sums on many wasted afternoons. I have fond memories of the Prater, as most children would. It was then that I had my first contact with Zionism and first heard and sang “Havah Negilah”. As a member of Bethar, a militaristic branch, I had mock duels using broomsticks for swords.

But I must say, my fondest memories are of the Synagogue in Leopoldstadt. I went there every Sabbath and holidays, not out of parental, school or religious duty, but simply because it was an absolutely beautiful place to be and I loved it. In old Europe, Synagogues in large Metropolitan area were supported, as a matter of honor and privilege by the richer members of the community, and Vienna had quite few of them. It’s rich interior of luxuriant wooded balustrades and gold chandeliers, all highlighted the luminescent and ornate Ark containing the Torah.
But most of all, it had the finest young boys choir and the best cantorial tenor voice that I had ever heard or will hear again. I suspect that my love for music started then and there. I dreamt of belonging to this choir and would sing in my room ad practice in the hope that I might join it. In a pique of jealousy, I engaged into a fight with the lead singer, who really did rather well for himself. In the dark days of World War II, cut off from this sustaining force, I did drift towards Catholicism, as many Jewish children were wont to do. But when exposed to the cantorial songs and ancient liturgy, all the voices from the Synagogue at Leopoldstadt reawakened powerfully within me. Also within me forever, live the memories of these fine and good people of pre-war Vienna who, except for the fact they followed an ancient tradition, were as people are anywhere: they had the good and the bad, the thin and the fat, the saints and the sinners, the absurd and the sublime. That anyone should have intellectualized away their right to live is beyond comprehension; their innocent is so evident.

As a GI in post WWII, I was stationed hear Heidelberg Germany. I met with German youth and felt awkward as they did when advised of my background. But I tried to explain that, having had to live my youth under the accusation of decide, certainly I would be the last to place them the guilt of their parents. But, unlike the theological and apocryphal basis for the medieval accusation, this most heinous period in the history of man is the best documented and more irrevocable. I felt, and still do feel, a sympathy for anyone having to bear this awful burden; because carrying this historical burden they must.


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Lebenskünstler: Live is Art

boyhood“Lebenskünstler” is German for “Live Art”.  It’s one of those amazing words that lend general reference to a feeling or vibe. Like “schadenfreude” or “kvelling”, “chutzpah” or “zeitgeist”,   “Lebenskünstler” – captures a feeling a vision of being. To live in art. Become art. Live life as art.  “Live From Anywhere, it’s art live!”  It fits into that category.

Richard Linklater, the writer and director of the now Oscar nominated film “Boyhood” mentioned the word during an interview he did with Marc Maron’s podcast “WTF”.  “Boyhood” was created over a twelve year span and starred the same people, allowing the viewers to watch the same young boy (and the other kids and adults around him) grow up with the story. It’s an amazing feat. It’s an extraordinary film.

What if we could live our lives as art?  If we could delve into the day to day and transpost our every move into words and story. Of course, we all do that in some way. Writing our thoughts, tweeting our whereabouts, blogging our feelings on a day to day basis. Technology has given us the forum to allow our lives to become art. We photograph our surroundings and post them. This is art. We write about how much we love a film like “Boyhood” or “Birdman” and flesh out the experience by adding our story about when and where we saw the feature, whom we were with. If we saw the flick on our birthday. Was it a day out with the family. We can explore the concept of what we were feeling that day. If it rained while on line to buy a ticket> How did that make us feel? Live encompassed in a creative moment, encapsulated in written words, photos or a painting – if you so wish to present it that way. Our lives are Lebenskünstler,

It’s my believe that the human race and the universe we live in is one amazing accident. Let’s make it art.

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Remembering Those Who Inspire Us

Screenshot 2015-01-10 11.57.11Flipping through the internet, I randomly came across a picture of Jane Dornacker, the traffic reporter who died in a helicopter crash in 1986 and whom I briefly knew. The photo lead to a Pinterest site listing people who’ve died before the age of 50. So many losses there. Including Jane. The memory of her inspires me.   Indeed, it drove me to write my book of short stories “Hitting Water”.

I bring up Jane because she is the beckon in my book. She’s the goddess of mojo, the grand queen of inspiration. I really need it now. 2015 is starting off in a funk for me. Maybe a little JD will get me back on track.

Jane was a friend of Whoopi Goldberg, back when they performed on the San Francisco comedy circuit. I think of Whoopi because in the year that’s past, she’s lost some very well known friends: Mike Nichols and Robin Williams.  Within the sorrow, I wonder if she would like to read a person’s view of an old friend of hers, how in their loss, they have inspired others to live.  I feel that Jane has allowed me to do that this year (and the years ahead), even after all these years after the amazing memorial service for her at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. So, I’m thinking of sending Whoopi a copy of my book.

Here’s the thing about presenting my book to Ms. Goldberg (if she ever does receive it) : I mentioned her in my story “Jane in a Plane. And as the mighty hand of Thor has shown me, as my heart stopped beating upon noticing this – long after my book was officially published – I misspelled her name. Yes, I admit openly and wholeheartedly – that the one person whose name is mentioned in my book, a book that went through two passes by an editor and one go with a proofreader – has that one particular person’s name misspelled. Apparently, thirty years of seeing Whoopi’s name in lights in the entertainment industry didn’t sear into my brain well enough that her name is spelled “Whoopi” not “Whoopie”.  Yes, despite the edits – no one noticed. Except my comedian acquaintance Sharilyn Johnson who told me, “Ya might wanna spell her name right.”

What??!! Run off to find the chapter. There it is…”Whoopie.”

By the way, Sharilyn has written a phenomenal book book about The Colbert Report – “Bears & Balls: The Colbert Report A-Z”. Check it out!

So, perhaps in making this error in my book, it’s a great opening line on the note I plan to attach to a copy of “Hitting Water’.  Maybe it will show chuztpah. Yes, it could reveal the byproduct of do-it-yourself publishing, exposing cracks and dings that  go along with self publishing process. But if she does receive the book, it could show her that there is a little Jane Dornacker in all of us.

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“Dig Infinity”


The following is my lame attempt to slip into the lingo of Lord Buckley.


Can you feel the love in the new year? Can you dig it, feel the thunder rumbling from the distance?

Ladies and gentleman, this jive is about to happen. Slamming down on you from a bozo un-represented scribe, dreamer of juke joint, new comer of the pasty dry streets of Los Angeles, birthed in the green rolling fields of New York, slamming you down with the righteousness of a cat so cool he’s held like a beating heart in the hands of the hipsters, the dipsters, the old, dead and spliff smoking nipsters.

Lord Buckley, one and all.

Can you dig it?

This cat snarled and bee bopped, diddle boo dopped and shucked his words like cigar smoke in a spot light, like cool vodka against ice, hitting the reals in the feels until your wheels would spin off and scatter. He spoke of Jesus as “The Nazz”, Ghandi as “The Hip Gan” and the hipsters on the streets, scatting, dashing off their heels, hiding in dark corners, beating the Beat, snapping fingers in agreement lest the neighbors upstairs complain about the clapping. Cool babies. Tom Waits and Mr. Robin, Bob Dylan and the rest of the mondo bonzo freaks who ruled the tongue, Lord B scatted and preached and infused them. He swindled, he reached, he announced, he told tales and stories of the bible of great human beings, of monsters scattering in the dark, of train stations and dead on a single day. He wailed and spewed. He gave a big fuck you to the establishment – the man.

I’m still learning about this scoundrel, this wordsmith who lived before my time and threw words like jazz notes and beat smoky jives.

Mr. Williams honored him in the beauty of this:

And Lordy B vocalizing a daily commute gone and tragic.

So, I ask again. Can you dig it?

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Tights…A Way to Start Off the New Year

polkatightsBack at work. All dressed up. I’m wearing tights and they’re bugging the hell out of me. Gravity pulls them down to areas that are not comfy on my body. But boy, it’s chilly in Los Angeles, and I need the extra warmth.

First day back in the office, and I’m in a daze. I haven’t had much of my coffee yet. People are raring to go all around me, walking from office to office, getting things done, greeting each other with “Happy New Year!” I’m working quietly at my desk, as if I’m hung over from two weeks of pure comfort with my own time schedule. Two weeks of having my dog by my side, ready for a hike in the hills or a walk to the village.  When others gain weight during the holidays, I lose weight. I don’t sit in front of a computer for long, nor do I sit by someone’s phone. I get up and do stuff.  Shake off those calories. Shake up that metabolism.

During the break, I didn’t write much. I jotted down ideas for stories, wrote a first draft of a letter to a comedian I think would be curious to read my book “Hitting Water”. The book kicks off and is inspired by a mutual friend of ours who passed away years ago, and she may smile while reading it.  I read a book about Phil Hartman and have started Tony Robbins’ tome about money (which kind of depressed me). A bit thirsty for fiction, I cracked open Pulitzer prize winner “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt (whose book was featured in a clue on Jeopardy last week). This book is lovely, dense, and it’s my road map on WTF it takes to write a Pulitzer prize winning book.  Just reading Ms. Tartt’s biography, and I could see why. She has some pretty intense writing chops. Lots of literary weight there.

2015. You better be good to me. 2014 was a terrific year. I didn’t let life happen to me. I created the building blocks of making life happen.  My book “Hitting Water” was released in December – just when I was ready to shut down for the year. No major promotion has been made yet, but I’m getting there. It was one thing writing my own book. It’s quite another to get on one’s soapbox and promote it. That takes a whole different set of conjones to get that done. I’m mustering up the strength, the inner confidence and the ideas to get this done.

I’m still in a twilight. Last night’s dreams are still floating in my brain. I had a dream I was on a business trip to New York City and was staying in a cute studio apartment. Alec Baldwin entered my dream as Jack Donaghy from ’30 Rock’. He told me I must join a dinner that evening with a client and Liz Lemon. The evening came, and I totally forgot. I was so pissed that I was just lolling about, letting the evening go by, when it hit me that I was missing this dinner. Strange. I guess watching those episodes of ’30 Rock ‘ on my computer last night seeped in, coupled with the inner fear of letting responsibilities fall by the way side.  Because I’ve let them slide these past few weeks.

It’s just the first day back into the thick of things in a new year that shows promise. It’s just my tights are bugging me and I want to go back to sleep to apologize to Jack Donaghy for missing that dinner.

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The Glue: Phil Hartman

Screenshot 2015-01-02 17.30.53 Picture it. SNL’s 1987-1988 season. I was fresh out of college, had a perm and Madonna’s music on the brain as I carried myself in big shoulder pads and big dangly earrings.  After a few NBC internships, I found work within the network’s Program Standards department. Within a year and a half after getting that BA, I was the assistant to the censor of the show. His name was Bill Clotworthy. The entire staff called him “Dr. No” because, well – he was the guy who had to say “no” to stuff.

I was also lucky to be there because back then, I was slightly obsessed with SNL. I loved the cast at the time: Kevin Nealon, Nora Dunn, Dana Carvey, Jan Hooks, A. Whitney Brown, Jon Lovitz, Phil, Dennis Miller and Victoria Jackson.  Characters like the Sweeney Sisters, Hanz and Franz, The Church Lady were extremely popular with catch phrases that were on the lips of comedy fans everywhere. Among all these fun characters was Phil Hartman. I had a very big crush on the man. I don’t know when it happened, but I do know why. He was the most sophisticated, the most mature of the entire ensemble. Plus, he had the ability to melt into  roles seamlessly. They used to call him The Glue – because he was a utility player that held a sketch together with his chameleon-like talent. The job was really fun – at least for someone like me who claimed herself a writer, and a fan of this legendary show.

Bill would always attend the Wednesday script read-through that usually lasted late into the evening. Thursday morning, I’d find a pile of scripts on my desk, split into two categories – the scripts that were dumped, and the scripts they were going to use. I’d type up Bill’s notes and file away the discarded scripts – but still read through them with curiosity.

Back then, writers like Conan O’Brien, Robert Smigel and Bob Odenkirk graced the top page of various scripts, credited with sketches that were either accepted or rejected. I didn’t realize what a force they would become in the entertainment industry. Who knew that tall, lanky, weird looking red headed guy I’d see on his way to the Commissary would replace David Letterman on “Late Night”.  “That guy?!” I remembering saying when the network named Conan the new host of the post “Tonight Show” slot. “The guy I’d see in the hallways and elevators at 30 Rock who I would also see in my neighborhood?”  Yup. That guy. It was like hearing about that guy in Accounting you always run into whose name you never knew – suddenly get a big television show.  Who knew Odenkirk would be the dad of all alternative comedy with “Mr. Show”, “The Birthday Boys” and “Breaking Bad” (not to mention, “Better Call Saul”) ? And Smigel, the man who created Insult the Comic Dog and host of “TV Funhouse” cartoons for SNL?  He’s a legend.

Back to Phil. I’d see him from time to time walking around the building, or on the close circuit televisions where you could watch tech rehearsals Thursdays and Fridays while you were at work. During this time, I tried to keep a level of professionalism, curtailing from any kind of girlie fandom, or chatting on about how dreamy he was compared to the others. No. I kept it to myself, this lust for Phil. Yes, I knew he was married. In fact, he married his wife Brynn just as I started my job with Bill. In fact, it was Bill himself who mentioned that Hartman was on his honeymoon with his bride, and said so with an air of resignation, and a slight eye roll. Apparently, his wife was known to be difficult.

Perhaps my little secret was driving me crazy, but I spilled the beans to someone about my crush on Phil. Perhaps it was to another secretary I worked with – or maybe to Bill himself. Bill was (and is) a splendid, fair minded, personable man who, in addition to being a family man himself, was like a dad to us at work. So, I may have admitted it to him.

One day, Bill’s boss Rick called me into his office. I never really dealt with Rick, so this was out of the ordinary, but not particularly odd.

Rick said, “See that bag over there?”

I looked over and a Macy’s shopping bag was sitting there on the floor. There was a tennis racquet poking over the edge.  Rick was an avid tennis player.

“Can you please take this bag to Phil Hartman’s office?”

My heart skipped. What? I looked at Rick. He had a little twinkle in his eye. Oh, Bill told him. Definitely. Rick has his own assistant who could have done this. She sat right next to me. Yes. This task was deliberately assigned…to me.

Oh, hell yeah, I’ll take this down to Phil’s office.

The story goes – Rick was chatting with Phil at that previous Saturday’s SNL after party. Phil was an major hobbiest – always finding something new to do during his off time. Boating. Surfing…now it was tennis. Rick was there to supply him with some of his old equipment. So…off to the 17th Floor I went!

My stomach was churning. “It’s not a big deal, you idiot. Calm down!” I heard my inner voice say. “You’ve seen him so often in the elevators. He doesn’t give a damn about you. It’s not a big deal. You are just an assistant going into the office of your idol and handing him some tennis stuff. Don’t sweat it.”

I got off the elevators on 17, and walked through the dark, dingy lobby to the offices that were almost as dark and dingy – but more like a college dorm kind of dingy. Lots of weird posters all around.  Toys, boxes of goodies, food was layed out on tables in the main room where there was a big communal table where I guess all the writers and cast would work, riff, eat, bullshit until they could compile a decent show by Saturday night dress rehearsal.  I was familiar with the SNL offices. Many errands were run there – but not to Phil Hartman’s office.

There was the hallway – the one where all the offices were.  How would I address him? Phil? “Oh, Hi, Phil. I work with Bill, Phil. This is from Rick. Bye Phil. Thank you Phil. I love you Phil.”

And then – suddenly – there he was. I didn’t even had much time to think of more greetings. There he was, hanging at the doorway of someone else’s office I approached him.

“Phil?” He turned around and smiled. “This is from Rick Gitter.”

“Oh! Thank you!”

“Sure!” And that was it.

He walked into his office, and I turned around to head to the elevators with my ears burning from the aftermath of composed freak out simmering below the skin. It was one of the coolest moments of my life. That – and meeting Michael Palin of Monty Python in Hair and Makeup at Studio 6A before he went on to guest on Letterman.  But that’s another story. This is my story about Phil and that brief moment. Here’s hoping he’s acting like the glue in that great sketch with Jan Hooks in that great comedy show in the sky.