Order of the Good Write

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


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Storytellers in the Arts: Ralph Fasanella

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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

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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:


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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:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/12/education/edlife/12edl-12mfa.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=mini-moth&region=top-stories-below&WT.nav=top-stories-below&_r=0


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New York-Los Angeles Bicoastal Serenade

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Right now, I’m sitting in the heart of Hollywood, in the middle of one of the most storied studios in Los Angeles, taking a break from a morning deluge of work. The latest edition of the Hollywood Reporter is on my desk – the New York Issue. Just seeing it makes my heart ache.  Louis CK is on the cover, the consummate poster boy of New York entertainment. Receding red hair, bundled in a black coat, the photo shows him crossing a Manhattan street, looking at the camera with a stoic CK smirk – as if he’s saying, “Yup. I’m home. I belong here.”

The entire issue is a portfolio of famous New York talent and creators who’ve chosen to stay in the Big Apple over moving to the drought stricken sunny land of Los Angeles. They’ll endure the constant barrage of horrendous winter weather and frigid cold temps to stay where the rubber meets the road, where the energy of NYC lives in their blood. Even though I left for warmer climes – I don’t blame them.

I was in love with New York City all my adult life. I grew up in what they call a “bedroom community or suburb” of New York City. Westchester County.  When I was a child, New York City was bankrupt, crime was everywhere, and you couldn’t go into town without some scary dude trying to squeegee your windshield while you were held prisoner at a stop light. It was bedraggled, dirty and mean. It scared the hell out of me. But it was thrilling. Especially when I reached high school and was old enought to train it down with my friends Gina and Laura so we could walk Greenwich Village and absorb the funk coolness of it all.

Still, New York City was the heartbeat of my town. You could feel its pull. It was palpable – that living, breathing organism of energy sizzled twenty minutes south. The gritty streets. The cool and scary people. The humming of Time Square. Broadway. Media. Food. Art. Knowledge. Many people feel this. Ricky Gervais has often mentioned that when he comes to New York (he’s made it his second home), he always feels a catch in his throat. It’s visceral. Perhaps the Native Americans who first inhabited the island placed a spiritual blessing on the place, ultimately making it the touchstone for many wayward people. The hearth where distant travelers come to find a new life of peace and freedom. “Give me your tired, your poor”. The place where artists long to create, or the weary find solace in its crumbling buildings.  It’s like a calm in the midst of a global storm. The vortex or force field to where everyone eventually gravitates, until it sucks them in, saps their energy, and spits them out.

Then you fall out of love with New York.

Being inside the energy field of New York City makes one realize that the awesome thrill is good in doses.

When you’re young, you come to New York City to have your New York City days. Not many people stay. They marry or grow up a little and move on to spacious homesteads. Only the very wealthy or well tuned New Yorker stays a lifetime. But when you’re the intrepid NY dweller, you tend to leave.  You’ve had enough of scraping by in a studio apartment – or slumming with roommates.

The high rent. The small apartments. You sacrificed space and civility to have your own spot on the island – where you “stuff” is – where you lay your head. You got into the groove – as you make your way through the masses, getting so good in catching the subway, you time the rumble of a distant train perfectly as you run down the stairs, add money to your Metrocard in time to jump on the train moments before the doors slide shut. But you get to a point when you want your own space when you travel. You’re tired of breathing a stranger’s breath.

I fell out of love with NYC several years ago when I couldn’t stand waiting for the 6 Train anymore. I fell out of love when CBGB’s closed and The Bottom Line shut down. The energy of NYC that once filled me up with positivity – got to me. It was in my face everyday – from the moment I walked out the door. I’d step on the sidewalk to join the parade of pedestrians walking from York to Lexington just to get the train. I was just another ant marching.

I used to leave NYC on weekends and head to my folks house up in Rockland County, and then again in Westchester when they moved back. They both passed away within the same year, and the virtual umbilical cord from NYC to the leafy homestead up north was now severed. No more breathers from the stifling New York existence.  No more home cooked meals and family connection. I was free to the wind, but left with no outlet out of the city.

I needed green patches of peace – where I could swing my arms around and not hit a wall or knock off a book from a shelf. Space.  I wanted space. I wanted sunshine. I wanted…no more winters. I wanted more than just one room to live in.

I fell in love with Los Angeles. The comedy scene, the media, the hullabaloo, the underground world of vintage bohemian beauty hidden away from the glitz of Kardashian type shallowness. There’s a ragged beauty to LA that you really fall in love with.

It’s been almost five years, and my life in Los Angeles has been a remarkable one. I’ve worked for an entertainment database company – then for an Oscar/Emmy nominated production company – temped at a major studio in Culver City – and now at this amazing studio in the heart of Hollywoodland. I have a gorgeous hound who makes my heart sing. I’ve made friends with more neighbors  than I ever did in New York. My mindset has shifted with positive action steps toward productivity and creativity. My life is changing for the better here.

Yet, I dream of NYC. I sense the spiritual changes being sculpted in LA are preparing me for returning to New York a better person. I don’t want to leave LA, but I want to live in New York too. There will soon come a time when I will be fully bi-coastal – where I will live my dream of having the best of both worlds.

So, I sit and read the New York issue of The Hollywood Reporter and I live my NY life vicariously through the talent featured: Diane Sawyer looking out her CBS office at the familiar view.  Gayle King and Robin Roberts with the Manhattan Bridge (or is it the Queensboro? I’m never sure) in the background, and Larry Wilmore striking a Statue of Liberty pose with an ice cream cone as his torch – it’s all bringing me back home. All that good stuff still humming back home. Yes. Home. I’ll always call New York home. In fact, I’m going back next month.

Hopefully one day soon – I’ll be like Louis CK – living back in NYC, bundled against the cold with a smirk on my face that says, “Yup. I’m here in New York City and I belong here.”


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Inspiration Monday

Dame Stephanie Shirley is a pioneer in the world of technology, and the sad thing is – you’ve never heard of her. After viewing last night’s premiere episode of Mad Men, and suffering through the infuriating depiction of how men treated women who lead in the world of advertising (if you saw it, Joan and Peggy were treated with no respect from a trio of knucklheads), you can understand why amazing women like Shirley had to hide behind a man’s name and deal with not even being able to open a bank account without her husband’s permission.

I encourage you to listen to her story. After all, story telling is what makes our mark in this world live on long after we as individuals are gone. It offers food for thought, and fuel to life’s burning fire.


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The Church of Subconscious

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I’m learning about the subconscious lately. The subconscious is the undertow of beliefs that lurk beneath the surface of your mind, running congruent with your conscious. Strangely enough, the sub-c (as I’m calling it) can aid in manifesting the good and bad things that enter your life.

I’m at constant war with my subconscious, but I unknowingly dip into like it’s the bible of my life. Although my conscious wants expansive and successful new outcomes as it strives for positive change – the subconscious still holds a blueprint of negativity potentially attracting the very things I fear.

If I try to live in the present my subconscious immediately wants to worry about the future, and reminds me of the past.

If I try to block negative thoughts floating through my mind, the subconscious will allow them to linger, hold them up as an illustration of what could happen when the very opposite is true.

If I worry about money,  the subconscious is happy to wallow in that concern. Even if there really isn’t anything to be fearing, such as security, business ventures going bad and more dollars in the bank.  Perhaps a good dose of worry and concern is needed in order to avert problems that could arise. After all, you shouldn’t always have your head in the clouds, going blissfully along in life until you realize you weren’t keeping your eyes on your spending habits, or the level of life you can afford. But to practice the belief that fear is the be all of everything – well, the more fear you entertain, the more fearful things will crop up in your life.

Sometimes the subconscious will convince you that you’re not worthy. Your conscious will say, I’m pretty cool – but your subconscious runs on the same DOS format built by your childhood. Yeah – you’re awesome, but you’re not attractive enough to find love or a well paying job. You think you’re the bomb, but your sub-c is still saying that no man will want you.  It convinces you that men are more interested in crazy women, and that’s why you attract men who leave you and take up with a crazy lady. Or maybe you’re the crazy one? (You can see I’m talking to myself here – a known form of insanity.)

It’s like Culture Club once sang, “Love is hard to find in  the church of the Poison Mind”.

As Cathy Collaut, PH.D discusses in her practice, you are the CEO of your life. Your conscious wants to succeed and in ways your subconscious will be happy to sabotage.  She explains how to treat you sub-c as an employee, where you ask it questions, such as  – why it’s creating these underlying feelings?  What is the source of the fear, anger and bitter feelings towards what the conscious is trying to achieve? Once we are aware of wayward thoughts in the undertow of our mind, will we be able to shatter self sabotage and run a successful business called life.

Then we can give our sub-c a pay raise and go on vacation.