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.