Order of the Good Write

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


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For Lovers of Dylan and Hounds

It’s Monday and I need a diversion.

This is a lyric set to the tune of Bob Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry.”  Because I need a hound fix and I’m becoming a ridiculous dog person.

baxterblues1

“Well, I howl in the living room, babe…
Can’t buy a thrill.
I’ve been nudging that red rubber Kong,
..around for treats but I get nil.
Oh, if I howl like a bluesy hound shill….
Maybe she’ll come home, and hug me ‘til I’m chill.

These ears are dragging low, babe,
My belly needs a scrub.
The television’s on, but I do not give a blub.
I wanna be your buddy, babe – I don’t wanna be your schlub…
Awww, come home now, momma, come home and give me a tummy rub.

Well, I give up waiting on you,
Think I’ll jump on the couch.
I wanted to tell everybody that,
alone watching “The View” ain’t much.
If I die while viewing “The Chew”….
Then tell my buddies playing at day care – aww… FU…”

Here’s the original tune if you’ve read this far and need the tune in your head:


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Sunday Puddles Pity Party

It’s a beautiful early spring Sunday, and my ears want to hear a good song. What better way to treat my tender lobes (and yours) than post a video from my favorite troubadour Puddles the Clown…?

He’s the traveling Pagliacci, the dour, sweet, torch toting, bedraggled clown with 40 miles of hard road in his eyes and a voice like silk. Puddles is a character created by the incomparable singer Big Mike Geier.   He brings performance art to a higher standard of awe.

This is a truly a profound rendition of the song “You Don’t Know Me”, and it’s sure to stir a chill in your spine and a tear in your eye. Please watch it straight through. His silence at the start is very much part of the performance. It weighs the moment with depth.


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The Tension is Thick in Rye, NY

Screenshot 2015-03-14 10.14.54

Photo courtesy of AMC

The final season of “Mad Men” is around the corner, with a premiere date of April 5th. I’m a big fan. Super big. As a babe of the 60’s and child of the 70’s raised in the leafy suburbs of Westchester County, NY – this show slips into my mind like a glove.

Of course the heated, alcoholic haze and adulterous Don Draper world wasn’t in my purview – the style, the emotions and the nostalgic fashion brings me back to a time when I was safe, secure – and with the exception of being brutally teased by the big bully at our bus stop during my elementary school days – had no care in the world.

So, when I see the latest sneak peak photos from AMC on the next fashion phase of the Mad Men crew, I get a little warm and fuzzy inside. Not just because I can’t wait to see Don’s world as it closes in around him (still sporting the “wet” look – he is a man of out time), but to see the fashion – which is now closing in on the 70’s – the decade I really remember.

Yesterday was my mom’s birthday (in heaven, as the classified ads would say), and the latest publicity stills unveiling Don’s world really struck me hard. It’s all in the fashion. From Harry Crane to Henry Francis from Joan Holloway to Peggy Olsen – I’m seeing dresses worn by teachers and substitutes and fathers and businessmen of my childhood.

The one thing that struck me was Betty’s dress. The flowery chiffon – screaming ladies -who- lunch ease.  Her demeanor and regal beauty – the cold stare of a women who has been screwed around long enough. A dame whose intelligence has been pushed aside. A proper lass who loves propriety and manners. Yes. Betty is a stoic one, lost in her dark mansion in Rye.

This reminds me of my mom.  She lost herself in the leafy world of suburbia. She was much like Betty, She longed for glamor on a political scale, the grandeur, the promise of good etiquette and the high life of Manhattan, whose gravitational pull was a constant in the metropolitan area of NYC.

All that promise, all that fun and excitement – just a car ride away. Bright lights in exchange for PTA meetings. Charlotte Russe at Delmonico in exchange for Girl Scout cookies and Hawaiian Punch. Thinking about what might have been while watching a spring rain dampen the newly grown leaves on the cherry tree outside the window, longing for a view of lower Manhattan and “a matinee, a Pinter play”* on Broadway.

Betty’s dress in the photo above looks like a gown my mother bought for my cousin Burt’s bar mitzvah in 1973. The only exception was that mom’s dress had long flowing sleeves. She painstakingly picked that frock after browsing various racks at Wannamakers, Gimbels and Alexanders – departments stores that were in their last gasp of life back then.  Trying on one after the other until she found the perfect one – a floral mass of chiffon.

In choosing this perfect dress, she could live out the persona of the perfect aunt – the fancy relative who’d step up to light the candles on behalf of her nephew, stylish and affluent.  In her mind, she’d step out of the day to day life she led to live a brief moment of glamor within the excess and gaudy display of this over the top bar mitzvah. It’s a moment where I remember trying to fit in but feeling left out.

After the last hora was danced, and the final floral centerpiece was taken home by a lucky friend who had the winning ticket under her plate – after the kisses and the gifts and my mother’s quest for the perfect dress, hairdo and girdle – I wonder if she went home feeling as left out of the family hoopla as I did.

Betty Draper Francis would just light a cigarette, drink a scotch and look out the window at her Rye, New York acreage.  Standing within the white bred opulence of dark mahogany and velvet wallpaper surrounding her pretty teased up head, swirling that drink – thinking of what might have been.

*”The Ladies Who Lunch” from the musical “Company”.  Words and music by Stephen Sondheim


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Ana From Havana

Ana

My mother at her wedding reception, 1962.

On this day back in 1928 in Havana, Cuba – my  mother was born.  She was born to a father from Poland (with Bosnian roots) and a mother from Russia (Ottoman Empire).   My grandparents were Jews whose path to Cuba happened when the United States quota of the early 1900’s delayed the immigration of various refugees from certain countries. Those with their sails set for America, were diverted to Cuba to wait it out. When the quotas were lifted, some moved on to the United States, while others – who adored the heat and sun of their pit stop – did not. What became known as “Hotel Cuba” – coined due to the refugees temporary status in a sun drenched country – became home.

My mother loved Cuba. She was born and raised within its steamy palm trees, and the splashing waves over El Malecon. If anyone watched Conan O’Brien’s special on his trip to Havana – you’d have seen the beauty of the island. The people, the ragged charm, the sun baked streets and the nostalgic remnants of the past. A country frozen in time.  That’s the country my mother called home – even as she made her life in America – after Castro kicked out capitalists and those who didn’t follow his socialist revolution.

The only thing my mother was passionate about was Cuba and open relations with the United States. She imagined going back and meeting her neighbors who were holding on to her clothes and perfume. She wanted to visit her father’s grave. She wanted to be Ana from Havana again.  Cuba was always in my house. WADO, the Latin radio station in New York was constantly on – the background music of my life.

When President Obama opened relations with Cuba recently – it was one of the most mind blown days for me. Just thinking about what my mother would have said and done if she were still alive on that day. This was her dream. This was the news report she was dreaming to hear after she moved to the United States in 1959.

I plan on traveling to Cuba in the next few years. As I’ve mentioned on this blog before – it’s my intention to visit her neighborhood in the Miramar district, and perhaps connect with the families of those who remember her and my family.  I want to see the streets my mother walked, the atmosphere she fell in love with, the home where she lived and the grave where my grandfather was buried. Most of all, I want to get splashed by the torrid waves splashing over the sea all of El Malecon.

Happy Birthday Mom!  Cuba está abierta!


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Whither MFA?

mastersdegreeSo my mind is crackling with ideas and plans for the future. As someone who loves the craft of writing and hopes to parlay it into a career as a writing coach (with some cool ideas up my sleeve), I’m considering entering a low residency program with the goal of earning an MFA in Creative Writing. (My research revealed a low residency is one where I can actually acquire a degree while keeping my job. Other MFA programs don’t do that.)

On one hand, there are many writers and coaches who’ve never gained an MFA in writing.  As a successful applicant, embarking on a campus with my new sneakers and fresh binder – my concern is that I’ll be thrown into a bevvy of workshops where everyone criticizes everyone’s work until you just want to throw your fresh binder out the window. Workshops are useful. Hell, I love them and hope to create a website with webinars and virtual writing workshops. Yet, if you’re not in group of supportive writers, their critiques can be unnecessarily scorching, damaging a writer’s ability, planting a constant voice of self doubt in one’s head. We’re a sensitive bunch, although we shouldn’t be. You’re always putting yourself out their in the written word, and not everyone is going to agree with your voice or style. You can’t take it personal. Yet, we  don’t need negative throwing stars hurled at our confidence.  Of course, we don’t accept coddling either.

There is also the competition of getting into these programs. I’m not interested in Iowa’s Writing Program. I know it’s prestigious, but it’s doubtful if I’ll ever get in, and if the thunder of god came crashing through my roof and I was accepted, I really don’t want to live in Iowa.  Yeah – I’m really into location. It rules my equilibrium. (I even felt sad for Hannah on “Girls” that she had to leave Brooklyn for the leafy world of IA. When she (**Spoiler Alert**) dropped out and returned home, seeing her riding in the back set of a NYC cab felt like a homecoming with butterflies in the belly).

So, I’m starting the inquiry. Should I try NYU?  The New School? UCLA? USC?  Local colleges that would be gentler and kinder to this old writer who is a late bloomer in the world of creative purpose?  We’ll see. So far, the schools I’ve mentioned have full time programs – something I cannot afford to do. I need my job right now. And having noticed this – I remembered why I didn’t go for a Masters earlier in my life. No job. Just school. Some have the funds to do it. I do not.

Is there anyone out there who has an MFA in writing?  If not – did you ever want to earn one?  It’s a writer’s big question for anyone who has obtained a Bachelor’s Degree.  Is higher learning after undergraduate work really worth the bother? Will people take you seriously in your field as a leader and doer if you don’t have this under your belt?

Whither MFA?


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Alam Sim Sim – Sesame Street in Egypt

alam simsim

The Muppet cast of Alam Sim Sim – Egypt’s local Co-Production of Sesame Street.

I used to work at Sesame Workshop many years ago. Just being part of this company – even as an assistant – was one of the most gratifying experiences I’ve ever had within many years spent working in media.  My department was responsible for distributing “Sesame Street” to stations around the world as well as creating local co-productions of the format, tailored for the culture and climate of children’s education in a given country.

One of the co-productions I remember is “Alam SimSim”, the version of Sesame Street created for the children and families of Egypt. Each international version of Sesame Street followed a curriculum, much like a faculty in a school would devise the curriculum of a class for the semester of a school year.  Local issues would always be folded into the live action films and in studio scenes with the localized versions of Muppet characters created especially for the likability factor within the culture.

Girls education was one of the main initiatives of “Alam SimSim”. When it comes to family needs, Egyptian girls are the ones who tend to be pulled out of school over boys to help out with the family if someone dies, or if help is needed to maintain a household. Of course, this happens everyone in the world. Yet, it’s more prevalent within the Egyptian culture. Sadly, in trying to help keep family together during a difficult time, the education so needed to enhance and empower the mind of young girls can be placed in jeopardy.

When we hear about the atrocities in countries like Nigeria and the kidnapping of over 200 girls in a school at the hands of Boko Haram, who remain missing today. Girls who are not allowed to go to school. Girls who are treated as pawns in a violent, bloody game.  Just look at the remarkable Milala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was shot in the face by the Taliban over her rights to go to school.

Thoughts of these young women come to mind when I remember “Alam SimSim” and its initiative. Much like “Rechov SumSum” and “Shara’a SimSim” – The Workshop’s Israeli/Palestinian co-production whose hope was to show peace and common ground among Palestinian and Israeli children, I’m always amazed at the incredible dedication creative people with a mission have in enhancing the lives of children around the world. Whether it’s Michele Obama’s organization “Let Girls Learn” or Sesame Workshop – who was met with de-funding of the “Shara’a SimSim” due to a fight between the UN and Palestinian leaders.

That is why I hope to coach writers who never thought they have a voice to speak up and write their story – all in the name of Malala and the girls who disappeared from a classroom at the Government Secondary School in the town of Chibok in Borno State, Nigeria.  We all have a voice and a vision. We all have the freedom to write our words. In doing so, we can lead by example. We can help those who cannot write or creative – those who do not have freedom to learn, to grown, to be empowered by education.

I’m hoping to take this initiative and bring it all home soon.


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A Song to Move You From the Grind: The Alternate Routes

This song changed my life.

I heard it on KCRW one Saturday afternoon. It was beautiful. The guitar strings and floating chord lifted my mood, subconsciously worming its way through my mind and taking hold of my heart.

Maybe I did hear the words that day, but I didn’t listen.  Yet, the distressed subject and her Shakespearean name came through loud and clear. Desdemona – of “Othello”.  A symbol.  In the play, Desdemona was an innocent woman found in treacherous conditions by the confident of her husband – Iago – whose desire for revenge moved him to plant the seed of doubt within the ear of her husband the Moor, the false idea that his wife was a cheating whore. She wasn’t. Desdemona was forever true. Yet, she was a pawn in a game of power, innocently standing by as two forces beyond her control held her down with false beliefs, painted a picture that wasn’t here, ultimately leading to Othello strangling her.

One Monday morning, I was walking around the neighborhood near the studio where I work. It was lunch time and I wanted to get in some steps to keep my fitness going. But most of all, I just wanted to get out of the office, away from the grind of routine, the giant thumb I chose to hold me to a desk. I was in emotional pain. I relished the fresh air and the birds and the green trees and nature. It was horrible to think I had to return to the useless world I was living in behind that office gate.  The pay is below average. I worry about money. I was stuck, trying desperately to see the good in all this as I listened to my iPhone’s playlist on shuffle.

Then, this song came up. The intro transcended me like it did the first time I heard it on that Saturday, when I was free – when I was home with my dog drawing or writing. It put me back in the place in the middle of a Monday afternoon.

For the first time – I didn’t just hear the words – I listened to them.

Desdemona, help yourself
I hear you mourning at the dawn
Desdemona, ask which side
Of all this lying are you on

Did you build yourself a runway?
Did you tell yourself tomorrow?
Did you cry?
And are you dressed in hesitation
when you tell yourself that everything’s alright?

Cause I see a distance in your smile
And what your Mondays have become
could be the rest of your life
Desdemona, you’re not dead yet
No it’s not wrong
If you want everything in life under the sun
Under the sun*

It hit me like a brick to the head. I had to sit down and listen. These words weren’t just to a friend who was in despair over her choices, this was a plea for her to break free. Desdemona was me.
‘Cause everybody’s out there killing time
And I will be damned to let you stand here killing mine.
Don’t you know we’re gonna change a whole world today
We stop waiting on the world to change*
We always think that something is going to shift for us next year, in five years, in ten. One day, something will change. We sit back and wait until that happens. But we have to step into the moment and change the world instead of waiting for it to change for us.
Desdemona, we are not so very different
Do you see?
And at the moment braver still
Than what our minds let us believe*
The mind is a strong force. We have the power to break through and build the road to a happier world in our lives – to get up every morning and love what we do. You can apply the mind toward positive open possibilities, or you can allow the fat lard of doubt stifle us.   Even George Harrison wrote:
Watch out now,
Take care, beware of the thoughts that linger,
Winding up inside your head,
The hopeless surrounds you in the dead of night,
Beware of Darkness.**
Our minds should be refocused to harness the things you want to bring into your life. Freedom. Creating. Giving back. Helping others find their way.
Back to “Desdemona”:
Even the walls that will surround you
Somehow steady by your very own hands
I don’t know just how to change you
All I know is how to tell you that you can*
We do it to ourselves. We create the barriers, believing in struggle and work we hate to get by. Letting fear give us the false sense of purpose and survival.  There are people who wake up every day and don’t go to a job. Their minds are programmed to create, allowing their survival to be dependent on music or words or helping others in a particular field. You can change. I can change.
Cause I’ll never tell you how to live
But you keep on telling me
That’s just the way it is
Desdemona more then anything I know
Never tell yourself that’s just the way it goes
I know it goes
But what do I know*
We don’t want to preach this mindset to those who aren’t used to it.  But it’s worth telling a human in pain that there is a way out. It’s like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.  Our happiness (or “home”) is one thought away.  We can change. We shouldn’t settle for the path fear leads us through.  It’s not the way it goes.
Tim Warren, one of the writers of this song, speaks of how he wrote it for his older sister, whom he saw as his hero. He found her crying late one Sunday over having to go back to the reality of her job on Monday. Meanwhile, he was free doing what he loves – creating, playing music, recording, traveling and performing. It broke him to see his sister devise a hard worn path to the same routine, when in contrast, he could wake up every day and live his passion.
I can only offer this to people like me – who are writers and artists in their own right – to change you mind about life. I’m working on it everyday, shedding my “Desdemona”.
But what do I know?  I’m learning it these days.
“Desdemona”, words and music by Tim Warren & Eric Donnelly*
“Beware of Darkness”, words and music by George Harrison.**