Order of the Good Write

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


Finding a Well Lit Shed

shedideasI’m  obsessed with the idea of a home office.  A well lit space with tranquility and calm, yet enough creative energy where ideas and stories can be harnessed.

Imagine the concept of turning your tool shed into a beautiful little work space in your backyard. Leave the house and commute ten feet to your office where it’s business as usual – whether it’s the written word, or a conference call with a client. This is my focus right now; however, logistics are not clear in my mind. Will I be in an apartment in the future? Why not have a house with a backyard for the dogs?  And if I do have a backyard – this well lighted, bright and airy little space beyond the backdoor would be just the spot for prosperity and creation.

That’s my dream. How about you?


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New York Dreamin’

Hellow UWSOh, Los Angeles – I really love you. I do. But I think we’re nearing the end of this relationship. Maybe not yet, but soon.

Don’t be pissed off. You’re amazing.

When I wake up in the morning, I see your bright sunny face in the window. You never turn off that blue sky and sunshine. All year round, it’s sunny and pleasant on your side of the bed, and for that – I am forever grateful.

You  gave me warmth during the winter when I used to shutter from the bitter cold blowing off the Hudson River.

You smell like hickory chimney smoke almost every night when the temperatures dip into the 50’s, coming from the fireplaces of houses near by. It mixes with the aroma of Night Blooming Jasmine and the fragrance from those trees that sprout yellow blossoms smelling like heavenly perfume.

The skies are dark blue at night, with a moon rising and hanging above more vibrant and closer to Earth than it appears in New York.

It’s weird. Everyone has the moon in their eyes here – with stars on the brain. The sun bleached sidewalks and the sharp sun dried walls of California houses, cutting sharp against the angle of blue against a daylight sky.  Purple prose for a very yellow sunshiny life.

Your sunshine brings people outside. Dogs, cats and people.  We all converge on the sidewalks, chatting and befriending in ways one hardly does in New York. I’m grateful for that.

Your glamor brings out the dreamers with baggage – lots of baggage. Samsonite. Moving vans. Old cars packed with personal belongings, sometimes used as makeshift homes parked by the curb.  Litter, mostly comprised of take out remains, are left on the street in the gutter for our dogs to sniff through when we’re not looking.

Some bring brain baggage – a different type than the New York style (which is in your face, with a big side of fuck you).  Daddy issues, mother complexes, narcissism, defensiveness, aloofness, the need to transfer personal problems on to you when you’re just minding your business.

Traffic and vehicular etiquette is a culmination of this, where left hand turns are impossible. Where people don’t let you go because they need to go first. Where drivers don’t even put their directional blinkers on because they aren’t thinking about you, nor do they care to show you the consideration. Not everyone is like this. And I’m no angel. But the behavior behind the wheel pervades here – and that sparks the road rage we all hear about.

Pedestrians  don’t even know how to walk here. They enter crosswalks like they are entering the red carpet. Strutting purposefully slow, talking to their equally slow partner or reading a text on their phone. Oh, are is there a line of cars waiting to make a turn before the red light goes on? Who the fuck cares? I’m walking and you must wait and watch me.

You may laugh, but I’m beginning to believe the collective personality of a given society can be measured in how they drive and how they walk in traffic. Slow. Thoughtless. Only they exist. Not you.

Everyday, your sunshine, once warm and beautiful, now blinds me.  I can’t have a quiet Sunday indoors to decompress without the sun shining, taunting me to go outside and drive somewhere. Hike somewhere. Do this. Enjoy that. Bask in the glory of this gorgeous day. This introvert is exhausted. I just want a cozy, rainy day.

But everyday is gorgeous. Almost every. Single. Day.

No rain.

Well, hardly any – with a short sprinkling from the sky, or perhaps a day of soaking rain that does not make up for four years of dry weather.

California’s perfect weather hides a dirty secret – and it’s not a sex scandal in a Beverly Hills mansions somewhere. It’s drought.

The drought began a few months after moving here over four years ago.  Within the first month, I was soaked to the bone, everyday pour rain with an intensity I’ve only seen on the east coast in the form of late day summer thunder drenchings. For a while there, I thought I had moved to Seattle.  But then it all stopped.

Oh Los Angeles, you took my money and a little bit of my old New York rhythm and blues.

I want to quote Billy Joel here, and claim I’m in a New York state of mind. Because I am.

So, don’t be sad, L.A.  I’ll be back. I left New York four and a half years ago when I was low and on my knees. It’s time to get my NY residency back. But I’ll return every year when the winter starts to kill me.

In the words of Paul McCartney, I want to “get back to where I once belonged.”

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“Ya Gotta Believe”

TugThere is a strange psychological phenomenon that takes place when the subconscious is in sync with one’s personal conscious beliefs.  We attract positive outcomes. As mentioned in yesterday’s blog about the Mets, Baseball is rife with life metaphors we can apply to our own aspirations.

Tug McGraw was the guru of belief. His mantra, “Ya Gotta Believe” was more than just a call to action – it was a chant to the inner most crevices of our minds. You can’t just think it – you’ve gotta believe it.  It helped the lowly 1973 Mets come from last place in August straight through to the playoffs and world series. Although they didn’t win the big show, they found themselves where they knew they should be – despite the incredible odds.

We can say we believe in something,  but if there are traces of doubt on a subconscious level, it may bring forth a vague outcome. That’s why in baseball, you’ll see inexplicable outcomes for teams you never expect to become winners. When players truly know they can do the job, they come to the ballpark with confidence and an air that manifests good things. Even in loss, they are resilient enough to come back again with the knowledge that they are unbeatable.

If you believe in your success with ever fiber of your being and in every corner of your mind – you can turn out wins.

This applies to writers and people of all walks of life. If your conscious and sub-conscious minds agree with your desire in life,  then it’s likely you will attract things in your world to make it happen.  If your two minds are not on the same page, you’ll find yourself attracting vague signs and people who are just as vague as you are.

So, as the Mets embark on a subway series with the Yankees, I say in the name of Tug… “BELIEVE”.   Believe in yourself the way these young Mets do. Even if your winning streak ends. You’ll keep going until the big picture is revealed.

Happy Friday!


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The New York Mets: The Meaning of Winning

mrmetThere are so many people in the world who really hate baseball because they think it’s a boring sport. Sitting around watching players throw around a ball without a timer or constant play, well it’s just damn unexciting for them. They’d rather watch paint dry or the grass grow.

I say the same thing about football, soccer, hockey and basketball.  Sports on the clock, despite having more action, bores the bajeebus out of me. Stops and starts, flags on the play, out of bounds. It’s a little difficult for me to keep up. I just don’t get football. I look at the New Orleans Saints to teach me to love the sport somehow. We’ll see.

Baseball isn’t boring to me. It’s suspenseful, methodical and life affirming. Time is not a factor. Every element of baseball depends on physics and statistics.  The way the ball carries, the velocity of a pitch, the timing of a sprint around the bases, the photo finish conundrum if a man is safe or out because his foot touched the bag the same time the ball fell into the baseman’s mitt. It’s science, something godly.

Even scoring a game is a thing of beauty. Each player has a position number, and each play has a symbol. If you keep a score card as a game unfolds, you could frame it as a cryptic story of nine innings of baseball. An entire game’s story can live forever in a score card.

Baseball is a metaphor for life. If you follow the game, you know this. It’s almost a cliche. A player will “sacrifice” himself in order to move up a runner or send him home. “Covering the bases”, “Touch Base”, “Dropping the Ball”, “Play hardball”, “Three strikes and you’re out!”…it mirrors a pattern for life’s road map. We’re all in a game we call life. Baseball just makes the elements of the human spirit into a fun way to spend an afternoon near a green field with a lot of screaming people and beer. If the screaming people are on your side, you’re good. If you like beer – even better.harvey

When a team, like the Mets, have had fruitless seasons, dashed hopes and long stretches of losing, you learn to take it in stride. You understand how you don’t always win in life, and you know that despite a serious loss, the world will continue to spin, and there will be another day (or game) tomorrow (or next year).

Losing creates character in human beings who don’t really win in life, but know how to appreciate what matters: Their family, their home, their friends, and their sanity.

Losing strengthens your resolve when real challenge and adversity hits.

Losing makes one feel lousy, yet empathetic to other losers in the world.

Losing makes the winning even sweeter.

As a person used to seeing her team lose again and again in a town where the Yankees win and win so much, the Mets’ current winning streak is …mind blowing. I don’t know how to take it in.

Maybe I should talk to a Yankee fan who knows how it feels. They always bring up their world series rings. (Rings they aren’t wearing, but their millionaire heroes are wearing for them.)

Yet, I don’t want to be told how to win by fans who’ve had it easy for so long. They don’t know how to win because most Yankee fans haven’t understood the pain of losing.   Even when they lost against the Red Sox in the ALCS in 2004, or did not come in first in the AL East, nor made it to a post season, they were and are…winners.

The Yanks are an older organization. They are a storied team. They have Babe Ruth, Yogi’s malpropisms, and Lou Gerhig’s speech (man, he’s even MY hero).  In a baseball market like New York, Mets fans have been growing mushrooms under the shade of this Bronx team.The Mets are 54 years young and still trying to fill the shoes the Dodgers and Giants left behind decades ago –  while the Yankees take on their white toothed prom kings who turn into stars when the pinstripes touch their skin.

The fact the Yankees are fading right now, means you’ll see who their true fans are, and who were just along for the winning ride. Will the hot, pretty girls who longed for Jeter still come to the ballpark now that #2 is retired? Will they be keeping track of trades and who plays shortstop? Will the Donald Trumps and Lorne Michaels still show up to the park or decide to go the Hamptons instead?

Local media loves the Yankees. The NY Post editorial placement will focus on the Yankees when they lose, and place the Mets second when they win. Average people anywhere in the world wear the interlocking NY baseball caps and jerseys. You don’t even have to be a fan. Wearing Yankee gear is a fashion statement. You’re just a guy wearing a Yankee hat that means nothing to you.

This isn’t belly aching. This is loyalty.

When someone wears a Mets cap, it usually means they are a true fan. That cap has suffered the agony and the pleasure of a hard luck team. It’s likely that cap has been turned  inside out and worn on that head during a rally.  Its fabric is dry soaked with sweat from that fan’s brow after a close shave win. That cap has been thrown into the air after a startling walk off home run, and cried into after a major loss. Nobody wears a Mets hat unless they are in the tribe. (Or, unless you really don’t care and you’re only wearing because your cousin from New York gave it to you, like the valet parking guy told me last Saturday in West Hollywood who said he was a Dodgers fan. Okay – I’ll give him that.)

When the losing streak ends, and you begin to see some wins, you take it in stride. Your sense of entitlement is earned, hard worn, and will quiet those who mocked you. Maybe in “1 A.D” (2015 is year one “After Derek”), the Bronx “aura & mystique” will stand aside and let the under dogs win for once.

metsfan dugout

Photo by Piotr Redlinski for The New York Times

There’s feeling in my bones –  this team may make it. They are young, hungry, having fun. We have half the team out on injuries, but the bench is deep with great talent picking up the job. There’s our pitching phenom – Jacob de Grom – rookie of the year. And Matt Harvey’s back – the Dark Knight. People show up to the stadium with Batman masks. When Harvey debuted at home last week, the crowd was so electric and loud, it was as if their collective shouts swirled and rumbled to create another beast, growling, roaring.

I’m in tears thinking about it.

The Mets have won ten games in a row at Citifield.  As I write this, they are playing a day game. The score says they are ahead. But past losses have instilled that good old fan superstition to say absolutely nothing and pretend it’s not happening. Because if we claim it, if we shout it before the ninth, if we pronounce it – we could lose it all.

It’s only April. There is so much baseball ahead. So many opportunities to win and to fail.

So for this New Yorker, I have to live in the moment.  I say it loud, and I say it proud:


UPDATE: The Mets swept the Braves today – making it 11 consecutive wins. A franchise record.

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Kate Mulgrew: The Funny with a Side of “Teeth”


In August 2012, I interviewed actress Kate Mulgrew for my television/comedy blog TVBlogster.  Back then, she was promoting NTSF:SD:SUV, an outlandish comedy series on Adult Swim that spoofed TV network and cable police procedural dramas.  Kate portrayed the forceful yet sensitive Detective Kove, and she was hilarious.

While interviewing Kate, I realized I was speaking with a true professional with a warm heart and the most wicked sense of humor.  Our conversation touched upon some interesting stories about her life and her creative process. It was a great phone call, my favorite interview ever conducted. She’s a goddess.

Since then, Kate has found continued success as part of the cast ensemble on Orange is the New Black where she plays Red, a Russian cook who will starve your ass you if you cross her.

In honor of her recently published memoir Born with Teeth, I’d like to share my interview with you here on “Order…”. I had a devil of a time trying to post this on WP yesterday. Hopefully the text alignment will read clear on this site, but if not – the original version can be found on TVBlogster.com

Exclusive Interview: Kate Mulgrew Finds Her Funny Side

(originally published August 28,2012)

The day Kate Mulgrew returned to her hometown of Dubuque, Iowa to receive the Pioneer Spirit Award at the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival in April, it was almost her last day on Earth. After a calm takeoff out of Chicago O’Hare, the weather took a turn for the worst as the plane approached her destination.
“We were flying in a soup!” the co-star of Adult Swim’s NTSF:SD:SUV  recalls, the memory of this harrowing experience still fresh in her mind. “Dubuque is in a valley. But when we got close to the landing strip, there was zero visibility. The pilot tried to land and he couldn’t get the nose down. We hit the tarmac, but we then went straight up like a rocket with the plane shaking side to side.”One can imagine how Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Starfleet Starship USS Voyager on Star Trek: Voyager, a role Mulgrew inhabited to much acclaim, would have handled such hideous turbulence: With steely eyed determination? Perhaps. But this was real life in the face of a massive storm, and the real Kate, who wasn’t the Captain on this flight, was ready to meet her maker until the pilot gained control of the aircraft and landed safely. “Ten  minutes after landing, I was on stage getting this award! But, then to add insult to injury, I told the whole audience the story and said, ‘Can you
believe it? I almost crashed on American Airlines!'”.Why “insult to injury?”  The whole evening was  sponsored by  American Airlines. “Comedy of errors!” laughs Kate, obviously still shaken, but never stirred. (More on the Bond reference later.)
With forty years of hard earned stage and television work under her belt, (some viewers may remember her as Mary Ryan in the soap Ryan’s Hope), it’s a curious turn to see her join the ranks of alternative comedy on NTSF:SD:SUV, where she plays Kove, the eyeball challenged head honcho of the National Terrorist Strike Force in San Diego, a fun send up of the plethora of cop procedural shows that infest the network airways.
 I spoke to Kate about working on NTSF and this new genre of niche comedy Adult Swim is championing. She was charming, hilarious, charismatic and open to the world of the absurd.
Paul Scheer and Kate Mulgrew in NTSF:SD:SUV

  • You’ve done everything from Shakespeare to Star Trek Voyager to portraying Katherine Hepburn on stage. What made you join the NTSF team at Adult Swim?

Paul Scheer. He’s beyond wonderful. I keep saying it, and I can’t say it often enough or emphatically enough. He’s a singular human being in Hollywood. Kind, generous, funny. He called me, and I had no idea who he was. He watched me on Star Trek and had this idea that I would be “M” 007, and he said “What do you think?”, and I said “Is it lunacy?”, and he said “Complete lunacy”, and I said “I’m in.”

  • Alternative comedians have such a sense of the absurd, which opens an outlet of creativity that doesn’t fit within the boundaries of mainstream entertainment.
Well, I think Paul is held in great regard because every time I turned around in the second season, there was another terrific comedian. Everyone wants to work with him and for him.
  • Is there a little Captain Janeway in Kove?
No. Paul was thinking of Judy Dench in the James Bond movies. He was thinking of a serious female figure, so of course, he put an eyepatch on me.(Laughs)
  • Is there a back story on how Kove got the eyepatch? I don’t remember anything eluding to the reason why she has one.
We haven’t examined the back story, but Paul and I are always laughing about it. I think that I should switch the eye patch to the other eye! Maybe we’ll have an episode about the history of the eyepatch!
  • Does Scheer keep the door open for you to contribute to a scene?
Oh yes, he’s collaborative. He knows the best work must be collective. He listens to you with every part of his being. He uses what he can use. Never once does anyone feel less than necessary. He has that fantastic gift.
  • Does the cast come to you for acting advice, or how they should approach their character?
No, but they often look at me and say “does anybody know you’re funny?” (laughs) because they know I’ve had a 40 year career as a legitimate actress, and it’s so much fun to play with them and be, in their eyes, a comedian.  It’s very freeing.
  • The show is so kooky, was there ever a time or a scene that was so over the top that you had to say, “Oh no, Paul I can’t do this?”
I’ve never said I can’t do it. I don’t know how to say those words, but the chopping off of thumbs and appendages with a machete last season – that was very challenging. I did look at Paul and thought “Arrrgggh!” But you have to let it go. There is nothing precious. Nothing.
  • Trent and Kove have been married and divorced twice…
Right!  And we have two children Jericho and Cherokee. Neither of them speak, but they are karate champions.
  • Of course!  What else would they be? Do you think Trent and Kove will get married and divorced twice again?
Well, hope springs eternal! I think it would be brilliant, don’t you? To be married and divorced twice in the same season – it would be brilliant. Someone actually does get married this season. But it doesn’t last.
  • I hear that Kove now has a podcast? What kind of guests will she invite in for an up-close-and-personal interview?
We’ll, she’s less interested in sane people than she is in bizarre people. But Kove wants to be highly regarded by the team. She would give anything, her right hand and her left eye – her only remaining eye – to be part of the group. But she’s so un-hip, and Kove is so desperate to be hip.
  • It’s the whole aspect of her character, that off-center pattern of characteristics that make her so funny.
Right! And it’s her self-importance. She just knows that she’s never going to be invited to the party. Just like that whole episode in last season when they wouldn’t invite her to a birthday party. She’s obssessed.
  • Since NTSF and Childrens’ Hospital pool of talent and producers are intertwined, has Rob Corddry ever asked you to make a guest appearance as Kove at Childrens? Perhaps in a NTSF/Childrens’ Hospital crossover?
I don’t know anything about that, but it sounds intriguing. It’s the new wave, but I think Adult Swim has a pretty good idea what’s amusing to every demographic. You should suggest that! (TVBlogster: If anyone in power is reading this…hint, hint.)
  • Any plans on returning to Broadway or the off-Broadway stage in the near future?
Yes, I’m doing a play in the Spring called Somewhere Fun, written by the very gifted playwright Jenny Schwartz, directed by Ann Kaufman. We go into rehearsals in April in New York. I’ve been working on this play, workshopped for them and with them, the last two years, and now we’re going into the theater. I’m very excited. It’s a dark comedy, but it’s brilliant. The playwright is truly magnificent – a great, great mind. So come and see it if you can.
  • I would love to get back to New York to see it!

Well, Get your buddy pass and get on Jet Blue now!For more on Kate Mulgrew and for updates on her upcoming projects, please check out her Twitter feed @TotallyKate (and @TheKateMulgrew) and her official website www.KateMulgrew.wordpress.com

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“The Wind’s Blowing Warm from Africa…and We Are Happy…”

Happy Friday to you all. Fridays are slow on WordPress, but I’ll give this one a go – even if it falls under the radar.

The song above ear-wormed its way into my head this morning and won’t let go. I discovered the track, and the album from whence it came, in London back in 1995.

The album is “Dream of 100 Nations”, and moments after purchasing it (on cassette), I immediately immersed my ear holes in the multi-cultural musical flavors that melted with techno hypnotic rhythms.  In the evenings, I’d fast foward to the track above, “I Voyager”, and walk through Hyde Park at twilight. Do you know about sundown in Europe in the month of June? They last late into the evening – past 9pm. I remember listening to this song while watching Arab women in the distance, slowly walk behind their heavily cologned husbands, as their black flowing burkas floated dreamily in the breeze in the dimming light.

I thought of myself as a voyager. There I was in my late twenties, unattached, spending summers in the UK alone. The voyage was beginning.

A memory also wormed its way through my twilight sleep this morning.  My awakening mind thought of a home in Sag Harbor. It was the house my uncle, aunt and I stayed in almost five years ago, the weekend we spread my parents ashes in the water of Little Peconic Bay.

The house belonged (and still belongs) to artist Eleanor Kupencow, a renown artist whose colorful modern paintings are created in this very contemporary well lit house. Each room is open space with the bare basic furniture. Studio lights flash on each canvas. One room opened into another with no doors marking closed in territory. There was no television, no internet – only radio. This was her getaway home – her place of solitude to do her work. Her work house. She has other homes.

I slept on an IKEA futon below a giant mural of geometric shapes and crayon bright colors. I felt as if I were sleeping on the floors of MOMA. The serenity was profound. The peace well curated and handled with white gloves. I loved the energy of the place. Its white walls and high skylight ceiling gave me warmth and solace as my parents remains sat in paint can canisters, waiting to be released into the waterways down the street.

The street stretched and turned down until it ended with beach sand and a long bed of smooth stones that made walking barefoot uncomfortable. What continues from there will be left for another day.

Today – I think of Eleanor’s house. I didn’t meet her that weekend. She left town to tend to a family matter, and allowed us to stay for those few days. It was the house where I truly said goodbye to my parents. It was the house where I made my decision for the future. It was the also the weekend I decided to move to California.

Five years on and I’m dreaming of moving back to New York when the time is right. And the right time is coming soon. Although I may never stay in this house again, I will be back in Sag Harbor to honor the day of the ashes, the pretty house on Whalebone Landing Road, and the warm New York summer, usually thick with heat and humidity.

Here in California, the wind blows warm from the Santa Ana mountains; yet, the thought of the wind blowing warm off the coast of Long Island makes me happy.

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Storytellers in the Arts: Ralph Fasanella


Painting of Triangle Shirtwaist Factory by Ralph Fasanella

Ralph Fasanella (1914 – 1997) was a self taught American artist whose creations depicted the struggles, strife and triumph of the working class. Born in Bronx, NY to Italian immigrant parents, Fasanella’s political activism was harvested by his mother – who took him to union meetings instilling a strong connection to labor workers and ant-Facist causes.  During the Depression, Fasanella found employment as a textile worker and a truck driver. Sensitive to the plight and committed to the rights of the hard working class, he volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War, and returned to the U.S. after the conflict to organize labor unions.

It wasn’t until he developed arthritis in his hands when a union colleague suggested he try painting to ease the pain. This is where his art life began.

Fasanella paintings have the purity of color and structure, depicting the lives of everyday hard working people. An painting on Yankee Stadium is colorized and enlivened with every ounce of human kind and commercial atmosphere. Not a space is wasted as humanity is illustrated – the story of a day in the ballpark – mid-century –  forever painted on canvas. Think of the lives each painted character represents, their history and their day at the park. Where the Yankees winning?  Did Mickey drive home a run to win the game? Your imagination runs wild with possibilities.

Take the painting that is the header of this blog. It shows a landscape of a bustling city. The bridges over the East River and beyond to the skyscrapers giving way to green pastures of the suburbs in the distance – the suburb where Fasanella settled down to raise children late in his life. Far away from the rattling ice trucks and the pumping iron of everyday life. Far away from woefully dangerous pre-labor forced laws that came too late for the women of the Triangle Waistshirt Factory depicted during an ordinary day in the painting above – before the catastrophic fire that forced new safety laws for workers in this country.

Fasanella was a storyteller in painting. The colors created the words. The brushstrokes enlivened people long lost in the passage of time, their memories and minds lost forever, yet brought forth in brushstrokes controlled by a man who knew their struggle.

For more on Ralph Fasanella – please check out the American Smithsonian Art Museum’s retrospect of the man and his work entitled “Lest We Forget”. 

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Storytellers in the Arts: Music

Screenshot 2015-04-13 18.17.44

Singer/Songwriter Sufjan Stevens

Back in 2004 I came upon a New York Times magazine article mentioning the musical artist Sufjan Stevens. His album “Michigan: The Great Lake State” had been out for a while, and radio airplay had been plentiful on the college and NPR based stations on the dial. (Or digital dial if you want to be more specific. Internet Radio, that is.)

“Michigan” was a revelation. A bittersweet, emotionally sweeping look into hearts of mid-western defeat, family trouble, painful partings and lost dreams. Sufjan was a storyteller, illustrating the difficult pattern of hearts and minds blown asunder, but through the rubble of economic breakdowns and family upheaval, the tender vocals, the sensitive banjos and charming effects lay a bit of sunshine and hope – where deep in the greatest loss, one finds redemption. Spiritual strength is woven dearly throughout this work. Stevens is a devout Christian who never preaches, but sings of how his faith is applied to challenges. He questions God, himself and everything around him without judging the characters he creates to tell the story, without bible thumping.  Stevens’ faith is of a zen like nature.

In 2005, Stevens’ follow up album “Illinois” was in the same vein – this time an ode to the great state that was a virtual operetta of bustling rhythms and marching band inflections. There was a mixture of laughter and sadness. Funny songs about  UFO’s, Zombies, or towns like Jacksonville and Decatur, where step moms show kids the coolest things and Abraham Lincoln deserved a big pat on the back. Then, there were songs dark songs like “Casimir Pulaski Day” where a young love dies of cancer, or , “John Wayne Gacy” with lyrics peeking into the life of this demonic clown serial killer, his life and the people who knew him.

Although Stevens has a large discography of major work “Seven Swans”, The Age of Adz” and a prolific set of Christmas albums originally created for friends and family – then released to the public – I chose the two albums above because they show Stevens as his true self – a musician with a remarkable gift to tell a story.

In his latest album “Carrie & Lowell” he continues to paint a picture of his life in lyrics touching upon the universal human issue we all must face some time in our life. The death of a loved one.

Sufjan’s mother Carrie was mentally ill and a substance abuser who left Sufjan and his siblings when he was only one – seeing her from time to time throughout his childhood, flashes of memory that has come up in Stevens’ songs for years. As a listener, you knew something was up. He never revealed the details until now. “Carrie & Lowell” was created after his mother died in 2012 of stomach cancer. As the son of a mother who held a vast chasm of problems, this album not only defines the story we barely made out in his previous work, but it shines a bright light on the sadness he endured as a child who not only lost his mother when she was alive – but lost her entirely.

All songwriters are storytellers. The open source of creativity flows through them as their lives unfold and deciphered into words fit for a listeners looking to find common ground. But Sufjan Stevens’ is a story teller of every generation of lost souls whose family life never found a solid foundation until they grew up and realized how it made them an artist.

“Carrie & Lowell” is out now on iTunes or the online website of your choice. Why not sample it via Sufjan’s record company website AsthmaticKitty.com.

Sufjan shared his personal story in depth here in an interview with Pitchfork Media:

The Most played Sufjan Stevens song on my music library:


Whither MFA? Redux

hannahgriThe writer’s conundrum rises again!  Should writers go for an MFA in Creative Writing?

I wrote about my own quandry a few months ago entitled, “Whither MFA?” –>https://orderofthegoodwrite.com/2015/03/12/whither-mfa/   I’d love to think the NYTimes (my former employer) read my blog, because their website has just published  an article about the subject  (Hey – a lady can dream.)

I’ve decided to say – “never say never” to an MFA. I’m always open. Yet, there have been many people in the writing world who’ve come to me and said they don’t know anyone with an MFA.  Needless to say, many men and women of words weigh the pros and cons of taking two years off from a paying job and sinking almost $50,000 to further improve and enrich their writing talent.

In the end – you have a nice piece of paper to frame on your wall and credentials to add luster to your qualifications as freelance writer or coach.

Then, there are others (like me – for now) who feel their fresh, yet sometimes wobbly ability to express their experiences and subversive concepts of life are enough.

I’m on the fence.  I’m open to both possibilities.  But right now I’d rather use my personal experience to express my stories. Let me lead by example to help other everyday people who love to write – write.

I’ve been through the wringer of after work Non-Fiction and creative writing classes. Late evening workshops were spent with aspiring essayists who wanted to be David Sedaris, ultimately reading their work on NPR.  Other writers just want to write a book about their family – to galvanize proof of their existence on this earth so their vital memories and experiences live on.

Read more literature, join book clubs, attend writing forums, participate in Goodreads boards where you analyze the basics of Jane Austin?  Yes!  That replenishes the font with good thought and practice.

I applaud the MFA in Creative Writing. I think it adds depth to the writing experience, allows you to think about the social aspects of your work and provides an intense connection with other writers and mentors who can boost your network and fortify your expression.

Yet, I believe you can do this yourself. Look around on Google and take a proactive approach. Volunteer at social groups. Be persistent with editors on your new ideas. Travel and explore different cultures. Join groups in person and online where you are provided with opportunities to lean forward and step into your own MFA of Writing.

The education of life can be the best diploma of all. And you can still go to your full time job and save about $50K.

Here’s that NYTimes article: