Order of the Good Write

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


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Vast Edges…Furled

Henri Rousseau: A Carnival Evening 1886

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Agaean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.”

Dover Beach – by Matthew Arnold

It’s perhaps a cop out to just add a poem instead of posting something original on this blog. Lately, I’ve been finding inspiration in the words of others and trying to let things settle. Words are everywhere like summer fireflies. I only need to find a good jar.


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The Art of Solitude

New Orleans. Balcony. My mind has been switched into meditation mode. A summer weekend of heat and California sunshine and my mind is baked. Five years of no definable seasonal change. I no longer relish long summer days. Saturdays and Sundays sweating out chores and walks, spin class and cleaning house, emptying closets and collecting for donation to clear space for the next thing, the next move, the next bend in the journey – I wait for that blazing ball to go down. Long lights against my wall followed by night.  Long, late nights creating visions and writing words about the future. Long hours of quiet music, pretty songs of heartbreak and longing.

Starting from Friday evening until last night, I’ve been thinking of plans and trying to let go.  I pulled together inspirational visuals from the internet and I gazed at possibilities until I almost feel as if I could go mad. And maybe I have. A little. But as Mr. Robin once said, “You’re only given a little spark of madness. You  mustn’t lose it.”

Monday. Summer, Monday. Lack of sleep – self induced. I’m paying the price. Ideas are hatching, and plans are in the oven.

But one thing I have from the weekend that I hold dear. This song, which keeps flowing through my head like a mantra. (Excluding the obligatory commercial that will likely break up the peace.)


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Celebrating a Python Anniversary

Screenshot 2015-07-19 13.46.37July 19th, 1988 is a day that will live in infamy. My personal infamy. It’s a day buried in my heart forever and annually celebrated like Christmas.

For it was on this day that I met comedian, documentarian, wanderlust traveler and Monty Python member Michael Palin in the makeup room of studio 6A –  the then home of Late Night with David Letterman.

On that momentous hot July day, Michael was in town promoting ‘A Fish Called Wanda’.  I was working at Program Standards and became friends with Late Night’s receptionist who told me that Palin would be in town within three weeks as one of Dave’s guests.

My stomach dropped to the ground floor of 30 Rock. My world spun. Monty Python were and still are – my Beatles of comedy. In fact, the Beatles themselves likely admitted as much. George Harrison, my favorite Beatle and lifelong idol worshiped them, befriended them, financed them and produced them for years to come, creating Handmade Films to justify the investment money for the production on “Life of Brian”.  Of all the Pythons – Michael was my George. He was the one I studied and admired. I still do today.

So when my friend dropped that lovely bombshell, wheels were set into motion. I spoke to Jane, my boss responsible for cutting out bad words and actions from David Letterman’s script, about having a personal meeting with my Python god. Jane Crowley was a difficult lady, but she was always nice to me. I guess I understood her or felt sorry for her enough to let her transgressions go. She liked me. So, she did me a solid and spoke to Late Night’s talent coordinator to see if a special meeting could be arranged.

It was. Since the coordinator knew Palin as a friend, I was assured that Michael, being a notorious mensch and basic lovely person, it would not be a problem.  In fact, he knew Michael would be delighted.

Yaaayyy!!

With three weeks to prepare, I got my letter writing going. I wrote to Nancy Lewis,  manager of Monty Python’s US properties based in New York, asking if she had some amazing photos I could use so I could chose one for Michael to sign.

Now, you have to understand. I’m not an autograph person. I don’t care that much about getting signatures. Being someone who came up through the NBC Talent Relations intern ringer, I was conditioned to not be star struck. I was to always be professional and low key with stars. I had witnessed enough television groupies who hung out daily in the lobby of 30 Rock collecting photos and signatures from famous people. They seemed so sad. Didn’t they have anything better to do?  I didn’t want to be like that.

But once…just this once…I had to succumb. I had to have a tangible resource to remember this meeting. I wore the suit of total fan wanking nerd. I was comfortable with that. For now.

Ms. Lewis contacted me. She was gloriously sweet. In fact, she found out I also worked with the VP of Standards, who was a dear friend. (He never told me that! Such coincidence.)

She gave me a folder of photos, small head shots, postcard sized beauties. Yet, I chose this picture…

Michael Palin SNL bumper slide I used for his signature. July 19, 1988.

Michael Palin SNL bumper slide I used for his signature. July 19, 1988.

Meeting Michael was a blur. I walked into the make up room and politely said, “Hello, Michael. So sorry to trouble you..” and was immediately interrupted by him swinging into  full Gumby mode (look it up), feigning a fake rant, “How dare you enter…!”

I can’t remember what we said. But all I remember was how incredibly sweet and nice he was. He’s famous for being nice. John Cleese hates him for it apparently…in a frenemy kind of cranky Cleese way.

What I do remember Michael telling me was that the photo I chose was from the week he was in NYC to do SNL. It was from the photo shoot they did to produce the commercial bumper slides aired during commercial breaks. You know the ones. He mentioned there was a big snow storm that week, and he brought his mum along on the trip. She even appeared on the show.  I told him I loved the picture. It was a quintessential NYC photo for such a British man.

Although the ink is fading, he wrote:

“To the One and Only ‘DEBBIE’:

With lots of best wishes, your greatest fan….Michael Palin”

On this Michael Palin Day, I still treasure this. And it’s nice knowing I have perhaps the greatest fan in the world.


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Great Lake Swimmers’ Musical Monday Interlude

I have seen you in various stages of undress.
I have seen you through various states of madness.
I have seen your refractions and I did not recognize you.
I have seen you in various states of madness.

How high your highest of heights? How low are your lows?
How high your highest of heights? How low are your lows?

I am sorry I had nothing left for you.
My mind was willing and my spirit was strong.
My lips were tired and tightened from singing along.
My eyelids are heavy as anchors thrown over.

How high your highest of heights? How low are your lows?
How high your highest of heights? How low are your lows?

I have seen you in the eyes of a hundred thousand 
 other stranger faces.
I have seen you in unlikely and unfamiliar places.
I have seen you be reckless in matters of love.
I have seen by degrees the boiling point come and go.

How high your highest of heights? How low are your lows?
How high your highest of heights? How low are your lows?
What lies at the end of this long and dark and twisted road?
How high your highest of heights? How low are your lows?

I have seen you in various stages of undress.
I have seen you through various states of madness.

Music and Lyrics by Anthony Dekker


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The Beat Goes On

Screenshot 2015-07-10 22.49.33I once saw Allen Ginsberg leaning on wall in front of Lincoln Center watching legendary jazz xylophonist Lionel Hampton’s apartment go up in flames.

It was January of 1997. My office colleagues and I were evacuated from the 3rd floor of the ASCAP Building, the location of my then job at The Children’s Television Workshop. There was a fire above in one of the luxury apartments and we were told to get the hell out. It was freezing cold that day. Grey skies. Post Christmas dead zone weather. We were stranded on the street for hours.

Looking up at the apartment window, I could see the ceiling of his home, the glow of the flames licked at the last of the white panes. I looked away for a few moments and then looked back to see the ceiling taken over by thick black oily smoke. The smell was an acrid, electric smell – one I had never whiffed before  but would again four years later on September 12th, 2001 –  the day after that horrible day when the winds shifted and the aroma of death and destruction fogged over my apartment and neighborhood near Riverside Park.

Mr. Hampton lost his awards. He lost his instruments, including a piano I could only imagine was a sleek black shiny Steinway. All gone. Poor man lost everything in that place.

Lionel Hampton

Lionel Hampton

In the midst of this chaos, I strolled across the street, past the Empire Hotel over to the bottom steps of Lincoln Center, and I saw him. The Beat Poet. That familiar Jewish bearded face – those doleful eyes I had seen in so many beat photos in books about the counter culture. Little did I know at the time – he was an ill man, under the throes of heart failure. It’s been reported that during this time, he was saying his goodbyes to friends through farewell phone calls (Johnny Depp apparently wept) and gifts of money to friends in need. * (Source: Wikipedia)

On this cold day, Ginsberg was looking up at the last billow of smoke rising. What was he thinking? Was this a pyre for the living, or a symbol of the end? Was he looking at the past going up in flames? Was he worried about a legendary genius with whom he may have shared late night discussions in the glow of candle light in dark clubs downtown?  Did he remember the cool wooden succession of notes and scales playing off a turntable on days when he made love to his lover, or wrote “Howl”?  Was he infused with the muse while under the spell of a Hampton track the day or night  he wrote, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked…”?

Hampton lost everything.  But dignity doesn’t go up in flames.

Ginsberg died about four months later.

Hampton followed in 2002. What he lost in that fire doesn’t matter now.

What he and Ginsberg left behind – does.


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This Wicked Little Town

Janestreetstation

Photo by Matthew Wiebe – https://unsplash.com/matthewwiebe

Oh, New York – I miss your heat and your humidity, your snowstorms and sub-degree temps. I miss rainfall and clouds, grass that really grows from the ground, not installed like living carpet on the dry and barren patch of front lawn, sucking up water from sprinklers that shouldn’t be on because of the drought, creating a modern day dust bowl.

I miss Riverside Park and Union Square. University Place and Bleecker. The City Bakery. ABC Home. Chelsea Market. UCBNY on 26th and 8th. Broadway.

I miss your weird smells and pungent odors. You pace, your energy.

I miss my trigger fast pace of filling my Metrocard with money as I hear the train roar into the station, and swipe it at the turnstile, just crossing over to make it through the closing door before the “ding dong”.

LA – nice try on public transport, but your buses need bus lanes. Your drivers need to know the right of way and that the stick attached to their steering wheel is a directional, telling the drivers yonder if they’re making a left of a right. Oh, and how they love to speed up alongside you to pass you. Ah, the competition, the lack of consideration, getting ahead and not letting others know where you’re going. Driving here is like a casting call. Bless the kind drivers who do exist. And they do.

Five years ago, when NYC burned me out and I set my radar for LA,  I used to constantly quote James Murphy, who sang, “New York I love you, but you’re bringing me Down”.

It’s now the other way around.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to be in LA. I love my pretty apartment and my nice car, my peace and quiet, my lovely red headed hound dog.

LA’s skies are always deep blue, turning into dark dreamy skies at night. Skies where Venus shines so bright next to Jupiter I thought it was a man-made satellite until I Googled, “What is the brightest star on the western horizon?”

I open my blinds at night to gaze at that sky where “stars hang like grapes”, as the great Woody Guthrie once wrote in “California Skies”.  Woody – he wasn’t fooling.

My LA life is blessed with wonderful friends I’ve made for life. Neighbors who’ve brought me joy, and taught me lessons about adversity and happiness.

Five years of no winter provided a perfect respite from 46 years of frozen fingers,  icy slush, shoveling, sweating, bad hair and deeply depressing late winter low light.

Yet, I miss the gorgeous feeling of winter turning to spring and then summer and then fall. When you handle such contrasts – you’re more grateful and more in the moment when a crocus comes fighting through the thawing earth.

While I’ve been gone, the new World Trade Center was built. As a very young child, I saw the old one go up and in adulthood, saw them come crashing down on a Diamondvision board in Times Square, as I was running home that horrible day.

While I’ve been gone, Hurricane Sandy roared through, destroying my home town and bringing folks together in ways not seen by outsiders of this city.

I think of California in song. Jackson Browne, Joni MitchelI singing about California and their lives defined by the landscape, the mythology of this western plane. I may have driven through Laurel Canyon many times, and rolled down the Sunset Strip – but I never really drove up the 101 without someone else at the wheel.

I never really called the road my own.

California,  I’ll never “kiss a Sunset pig” and it’s okay if you don’t “take me as I am”.

I am grateful for everything in my life.  I live in the moment, never running from the present, always keeping the faith that I’ll be back in New York permanently at the right time in the right way with grace and purpose.

I love you LA, and will one day be a visitor again, but at least I’ll be able to go back home to New York – where I can watch my beloved NY Mets lose on east coast time.

New York, you are a wicked little town. I’ve used two wishes like a fool, and I’m going to be very careful how I use the third.


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Before The Deluge: New Orleans on My Mind

Photo by Mick Bradley,

Photo by Mick Bradley, “New Orleans Before the Flood, Decatur Street”

As the ten year anniversary of Katrina approaches, New Orleans has been on my mind.

I was in New Orleans in 1999. That was the first, and so far, only time I stepped foot in the Crescent City. I worked at Sesame Street, and was in town for a television conference. It was January, and the weather was mild, sticky. I remember the smell of truffle oil and Cajun spice sitting in the still air of the French Quarter. I went for early morning runs in vacant streets that reeked of the previous night’s revelry.

Nola was a blur. Being there on business, I was stressed out, preoccupied, nerves shaking at the weight of responsibility. I look back now and find that stupid. It was just a television market. I thought I had so much to prove in this job, but really never proved anything at all.

And I wasted it. I wasted my time in New Orleans, running to restaurants, greeting clients, having meals with staff, only seeing the beauty, the spirit, the air thick with ghosts in my peripheral vision.

In Nola,  I saw folk impoverished in ways I never knew existed in this country. Not urban poor. Dirt poor. We were marching through in our smart cosmopolitan clothes while locals looked at us like we were mad. And they were right. We were stark raving bonkers because we were blind. Blind to the world past our upper west side apartments and offices overlooking the glorious Metropolitan Opera and Philharmonic fountains.

There was one night in town when Kerry, my boss at the time, and I some down time. We hit Bourbon street looking for New Orleans’ musical home cooking. R&B. Zydeco, plain old bayou blues – anything on this spectrum. We wanted to hear it badly.

A doorman from one of clubs saw us wandering the street on our musical quest. Without even a thought, came over to me, grabbed me by the hand and lead me into his cool, dark and loud club.  Kerry followed. Within moments,  jello shots in test tubes were handed out in laboratory trays, which we happily accepted and downed. We noticed a band on a stage in the back getting ready to perform.

It was thrilling. What would they play?  Would it be a Cajun frolic, or a country twangy tune? I was ready to shed the blinders of my urban life and start feeling the voodoo and blues of Nola. I wanted to go past the tourist parties and absorb R&B pulsating through floor boards. I wanted songs sung in French patois – the kind of French my Alsatian born dad wouldn’t even understand.  Voodoo and ghouls. I wanted the backwater blues, the darkness and the pain. I wanted to feel the flames of the devil nipping at my heels. Let’s hear it band.  I’d repent tomorrow. Hail Mary’s for all, and holy water on the sink. Amen. I swear.

But in New Orleans, I didn’t want to hear The Eagles’ “Hotel California”. I just didn’t.  And that’s what the cover band played.

“On a dark desert highway….cool wind in my hair…”

She was a young chick with a cut off t-shirt with a mic in her hand. I bet she was amazing, and her band rocked the house when they made the music they loved. But on this night, they did a top forty song from my childhood that bored the living hell out of me.

“I didn’t come all this way to Nola to hear a cover band sing “Hotel California”, I said to Kerry.

She agreed. This ain’t no party. This ain’t no Nola. This ain’t no fooling around.

We stepped back out to the ruckus of Bourbon Street, and within moments found our destination. It was a dark club – it’s name totally unknown to me to this day – where the blues flowed like bourbon – easy, powerful, sweaty. The sound styles of Muddy Waters, Big Momma Thornton, and the sweet, heavy delicious longing music of the mouth organ – like Butterfield at the microphone – wailed in our ears like a soulful locomotive train in the night.

I can’t remember what they played. I don’t remember the name of the band – hard working sons of bitches they were. I only recall the feeling, the vibe and the emotion, the thrust and the pull, the pain and the god damn ever loving fun we had, downing shots of scotch while swinging our bodies to the New Orleans dance.

It may not have been Cajun or zydeco. There may not have been local french patois coming from the lips of these bluesy singers, but this club at this moment –  it was a mighty find. It gave us a taste of a little voodoo. We harnessed the demon flames, and shed the corporate life that brought us to this amazing city to begin with.

I long to go back. I haven’t been there since, and during that absence Katrina hurled through. Watching the wreckage on television, I remember seeing the places Katrina  devoured – places we walked through several years before. The convention center where I ran around in my smartass New York high octane goals, were now filled with displaced people, lost, longing for answers – grieving.

And I was on dry land, by now working within the brand new Time Warner Center with Central Park beyond my window,  remembering how this wrecked, soulful city, now submerged in death, flood and unimaginable devastation, gave me such life and profound happiness that night.

Yet, through the rubble and death – I saw so much strength and resilience. The power of the human spirit was and is still – alive and fearless.

Yes. I want to go back and feel the voodoo, the beauty and the flavors. I also want to bask in the strength, the morning light, the resolve of human determination. I also want to hear a hardcore, mouth organ wail soulfully in the night – like the moaning horn of a lone train.


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Looking for Mr. Weiss

Thinking about this story and planning on making this into an awesome project.

Order of the Good Write

Mystery piano under the Brooklyn Bridge, June 2014. Photo by Richard Corman: http://www.richardcorman.com/ Mystery piano under the Brooklyn Bridge, June 2014. Photo by Richard Corman: http://www.richardcorman.com/

When I was a child, our backyard neighbor was a flutist for the New York Philharmonic. His name was Mr. Morris. It’s possible my father called him Sam, but my memory is fuzzy. I was so incredibly young at the time. His backyard was large and unruly. An old collapsed greenhouse was buried beneath overgrown brush and small trees that had given up years before I was born.

Mr. Morris and the state of his backyard is a faint, early memory. Yet,I remember in summertime, when his windows were open, you could hear him practicing his flute. His instrument was part of the atmosphere. The sound of his practice floated through the air, mixing with the hiss of passing cars, birds chirping and children playing. Years later, when I moved into Manhattan, where you could throw a…

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