Order of the Good Write

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

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Ten Years After Katrina: No White Flags

Photo by Kathleen K. Parker. See her work at http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/kathleen-k-parker.html

Photo by Kathleen K. Parker. See her work at http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/kathleen-k-parker.html

I’ve always had a soft spot for New Orleans. Vibrant. Musical. Spiritual. I went once, many years ago, before Hurricane Katrina came tearing through the gulf ten years ago today. I’ve been trying to find the right time to go, and the right people who love this place to go with. Friends who can show me the Treme and the Bywater area – and the true New Orleans – away from the frat house party zone I was lured to back then.

I know I will be back. Somehow. It’s in my bones.

Words have always failed me. I can’t define this disaster because the horrors and human compassion so abundant, was also hideously scarce. I’ve been through 9-11, was stuck in a #1 Train while the planes hit the towers, saw the horror from the corner of Sixth Avenue and 18th Street, but the lack of concern by the government for NOLA’s poor and the weak infrastructure of the levies was something I’d never seen before.

Back then, my heart ached for those lost in the flood, the dead in streets, homes submerged, and neighborhoods swept away. We prayed. We donated. We sent love to those honorable people knowing they will rebuild, stronger than ever. I’ve tried to blog about it, and came up with prose and lyrical versions of a disaster from a distance. Rendered useless, I’ve always failed to express the profundity of this day ten years ago.

The best words found for this anniversary are in a letter by Steve Gleason, former player for the New Orleans Saints who was diagnosed with ALS in 2011. Sadly, there is no cure for ALS. There is no rebuilding or recovery. Not yet. A cure is still in the works, and you can head over to www.alsa.org to donate to get ourselves closer to that elusive cure. Yet, in the face of death, Steve lives life fully, intensely- like the good people of New Orleans.

Steve’s letter to New Orleans celebrates this city better than this Yankee could ever do. Please watch him read this inspirational, bracing letter in the video below. The letter will be displayed in Armstrong Park. Check out http://lightdat.org to find out more.


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“Moving On” Again

nora ephron

“When you give up your apartment in New York and move to another city, New York becomes the worst version of itself. Someone I know once wisely said that the expression “It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there” is completely wrong where New York is concerned; the opposite is true. New York is a very livable city. But when you move away and become a visitor the city seems to turn against you. It’s much more expensive (because you have to eat all your meals out and pay for a place to sleep) and more unfriendly. Things change in New York; things change all the time. You don’t mind this when you live here; it’s part of the caffeinated romance of the city that never sleeps. But when you leave you experience change as a betrayal. You walk up Third Avenue planning to buy a brownie at a bakery you’ve always been loyal to, and the bakery’s gone. Your dry cleaner moves to Florida; your dentist retires; the lady who made the pies on West Fourth Street vanishes; the maitre d’ at P.J. Clarke’s quits , and you realize you’re going to have to start from scratch tipping your way into the heart of the cold, chic young woman now at the door. You’ve turned your back for only a moment, and suddenly everything’s different. You were an insider, a native, a subway traveler, a purveyor of tips into the good stuff, and now you’re just another frequent flyer, stuck in a taxi on the Grand Central Parkway as you wing in and out of LaGuardia. Meanwhile, you read that Manhattan rents are going up, they’re climbing higher, they’ve reached the stratosphere. It seems that the moment you left town they put up a wall around the place, and you will never manage to vault over it and get back into the city again.”

-Excerpt from ‘New Yorker’ article by Nora Ephron, “Moving On”, June 5, 2006.

Yes. Every word of it.

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‘Rectify’: A Side Trip From the Side Trip to ‘The Source’

rectify - the source1

Photos courtesy of Sundance.tv.  ‘Rectify’ “The Source”.

 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

The Parable of the Lost Son – Luke 15:11-32

Mothers and sons. Fathers and daughters. For me, this has been the summer of parental relationships. ‘Fun Home’ has been on my brain, with the lives of cartoonist Alison Bechdel and her father Bruce swimming in song. Now, it’s ‘Recitfy’, with its emotional twists and character upheaval, I find the lovely pearl that is the mom and son chemistry between Janet and Daniel, so gorgeously defined in the final episode of season three entitled “The Source”.

I’m not a religious or biblical person, but when watching (or reading) a story unfold about human conflict, I admire the use of age-old archetypes and subtext from the bible peppered throughout the telling. ‘Rectify’ has something holy about it. The steady, prayerful pace is sometimes interrupted by outbursts of human anguish and hateful behavior that stirs heartache or disgust.

It’s visual poetry, sacred in the telling, poetic like scripture.

Daniel Holden, the wayward son in this tale, is a convicted murderer released back to his hometown of Paulie, Georgia after twenty years on death row. His presence in the land of the living is like a bull in a china shop. He knocks over emotions, crashes plate glass feelings, holds up a shard of broken mirror to the faces of those who see a bit of themselves in him. Marriages fail. Relationships break up. They blame Daniel. But Daniel is only the catalyst to the underbelly of problems his family and the townspeople never wanted to face. Problems caused by bias, faith, dependency, cover-ups, stories told through the filter of gossip – lies.  Through it all is Janet,  whose son Daniel is cut directly from the same worn cloth.

Daniel’s homecoming is like the Prodigal Son, a story I conjured in the last blog post about ‘Rectify’.  When mocked by the Pharisees for sitting and eating with sinners, Jesus tells them a series of stories, the last of them being the tale of the Prodigal Son, who left town with an early inheritance, only to squander it all on foolish things. After a period of famine and destitution, he returns home humbled. His father celebrates his return by killing a fatted calf and fetching for the best robe for his attire. His older son, who has been loyal and tended to his father’s needs, is angry. How could he treat this wayward son better than he after all he’s done?  The father in essence says lets be glad. He was lost and now he is found. Let’s treasure the person we’ve been given. He’s a gift. Life…is a gift.

Let’s apply this to mother Janet. As her stepson Teddy Jr. stirs in bitterness for the return of this ghostly brother. In fact, in the wake of Daniel’s return, Teddy’s bitterness and suspicion over his wife’s attention to her lost brother-in-law, compounded by a violent act of control bestowed upon him by Daniel – he has become undone. He loses everything.

And Janet is there is help Teddy Jr.. She placates her stepson. Apologizes for not being there for him as usual, a stepmother who raised a son my marriage, whose own mother left him and his father for the world.

Daniel is her blood.  They have a deeper connection that goes beyond kin. It’s ripe with philosophy and literature.They speak their own special language. One can only wonder the beauty they shared when he was a little boy – swapping simple observations and reading stories by Harper and O’Connor or poignant morality tales for children they understood in depth.

Rectify the source2Creator Ray McKinnon is an inspiration to all writers.  In ‘Rectify’ he’s created simple and complicated relationships between brother and sister – father and son, the law and government officials. He pulls apart the intricacies of cold cases, revenge, violence, angels and unconscionable devils with delicacy.

In the final episode of season three, McKinnon brings Daniel to the ocean with his mother. A side trip from the side trip to ‘The Source’ – the ocean where Daniel is baptized and washed of the past – ready to begin anew.

And his mother brings him to the next chapter, waves goodbye, and begins the wait for her son to come back home again.

Amen, brother McKinnon. Amen.


‘New Yorker’ Photo Essay: New Orleans “City of Water”


Photo by Alec Soth / Magnum for The New Yorker. Caption: Sophie Borazanian and her dog, Joni, at Algiers Point, in the Fifteenth Ward.

“New Orleanians have always resembled New Yorkers; they tend to share the sense that to live anywhere else would lead inevitably to a stultifying and pitiable existence beyond the bounds of understanding.”

David Remnick, “City of Water”, The New Yorker >Photo Essay on New Orleans ten years after Katrina.  August 19, 2015. Check out photos at  http://www.newyorker.com/project/portfolio/katrina-photo-essay


The Alpha and the Omega

balloons over NYC“Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge.”

-Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, from “The Omega”

(…the alpha and the omega = the beginning and the end.)


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The Prodigal Son Returns: ‘Rectify’


Aden Young in ‘Rectify’.

I am intoxicated by ‘Rectify’, the Sundance Channel’s original series (also streaming on Netflix).  I am dumbfounded, slightly dazed and catatonic from the spell it has me under. Why did it take me so long to watch this remarkable drama?

Hauntingly portrayed by Aden Young, Daniel Holden is the center of this story. Sprung from prison after spending almost 20 years on death row, he returns to a family that has moved on, a world that has changed, and a town that will never forget the murder and rape of a young girl for which he was convicted.

Also in the mix is his sister Amantha, who was twelve years old when her brother went to prison and spent her entire adulthood fighting to get him out. (Amantha is played with force and conviction by the stunning Abigail Spencer.)

The plight of Daniel is biblical, mythological and ingrained with spiritual philosophy. His given name “Daniel” is not an accident. Translated from Hebrew, Daniel means “God will be my judge.” In viewing him walk through a reign of stones cast his way, one imagines the sins of others exposed and swirling around Daniel’s turbulent yet seemingly calm orbit. He’s the Prodigal Son returning home to those who want him locked back up – especially a jealous step-brother who has lost everything (his wife, his business, his big brother status, his dignity) since Daniel came home.

There is so much more to this show I’d rather not get into since it could hinge on spoiler territory. There is still an investigation of his innocence conducted by an ambitious and sleazy state senator that may put him back in prison, plus a host of other complications caused by those involved with the case. Besides, I still have season three, which just ended last week, to get through.

Ray McKinnon is the creator of this remarkable work. This unique storytelling is food for the writer and actor. This morning, I researched some press behind the show, and came upon this terrific quote, so in tune with my own personal writing project – my own story burning a hole in my pocket.

When asked how he was able to sell a slow moving, somber show to a network, McKinnon replied:

“… usually if a person has a hunger or desire to tell a story, that also means that they have a desire to see a story like that. You have to think that you’re not the only person in the world that is thinking that way, and if you are, then you’re really in a lot of trouble. So other people were attracted to it and had a hunger for this kind of storytelling, and it’s certainly not a lot of people, but I’m gratified for the ones that do have hunger for it.

The music selected for “Rectify” is also gorgeous. Bon Iver’s ‘Flume’ and Mazzy Star’s “Into Dust” float by along with so many others. Cracker’s “Low” brought me back to some old memories. They all hit you in the gut.

Yet, the quote above is music to my writer’s heart. I’m going to live in this quote for a while.

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Be Still My Worn Out Heart (Purple Prose for a Steamy Friday)


Been sewn at the sleeves. Re-patched. Ripped again. Packed in a suitcase. Gone through the spin cycle. Tumbled in the dryer. Taken out with wrinkles and ironed.

Faded knees. Seams coming apart. You can’t take back a beaten heart with those scars. There are slashes forever until it grows harder with each slice. It develops a thick skin cage around that ruddy thing. There are no exchanges. You can’t re-stock a worn heart.

So, threaded and punctured by needlework, it’s kept locked in a drawer, only to be taken out to marvel at the patchwork craftsmanship placed over time. You beat the moths to it. You hold it down with cedar. The cross stitching and small drop of glue adhere damaged tissue marred by the last battle of wear.

Put it back. Let it rest. You’ve worn it out too much. You’ve let it dangle on a wash line like a dummy. You’ve lent it out to someone with heat. It’s too much.

Heart is folded in a mass tangle. Heart has gone fishing. Heart is out for repairs getting tailor made. Heart will only come back if he knocks on your door with the same eyes of your father and the voice that sounds like home.

He’s out there. His heart broken and out for repairs too. But beneath the avenue of veins and ventricle pulsations so vastly damaged by past ache, there is a crack of sunlight, golden, poking through the edges of his wounds.

Just you wait.

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Fathers and Goodbyes

robinw1yrI don’t like to celebrate death days. Birthdays of the deceased are to be cheered as the day a particular soul we loved was given to us. But on this day last year, a person we admired did something some of us – especially in the comedy world – have contemplated. It’s a seed in the human mind – the idea of taking one’s own life – that has made Hamlet and Macbeth wonder aloud if this fucking life is worth living. “Life’s but a walking shadow…”

But the truth is – I’ve already written more on this post on Williams’ one year anniversary of shuffling off this mortal coil than I did on his birthday. The fact he took his own life made us face suicide directly and the pain that lurks beyond a person’s persona.

One year ago today, a man who was a dad and a famous comedian, took his own life. He made us laugh. He made us weep. Mr. Robin was the clown who danced on the edges of the world, lived in the side vision of many who thought he’d always be there…dancing…riffing…twinkling.

Williams’ death also makes me think of Bruce Bechdel, the father of Alison Bechdel, writer of the graphic novel “Fun Home” – now a remarkable musical on Broadway. One month from today,  I will  see it in person on Circle in the Square after a summer of listening to the score and immersing myself in the story of a cartoonist stuck in her craft, looking backwards to the relationship with her father and his death, likely by suicide, or “an accident waiting to happen”.

Although my father died of natural causes at 83, the musical will undoubtedly bring me to my knees. Fathers and daughters. Our stories are never told like this.

Also, one month from today is September 11th, and I don’ t have to tell you what that anniversary entails.

Here’s to the Bruces and the Robins of the world –  dads who lived in very different worlds, yet suffered horrendous internal conflicts.

Fathers and goodbyes. To all the dads we’ve lost, rest in peace.

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A Gift for You, by Rumi

mirror childA Gift for You, by Rumi

You’ve no idea how hard I’ve looked for a gift to bring You.
Nothing seemed right.
What’s the point of bringing gold to the gold mine, or water to the Ocean.
Everything I came up with was like taking spices to the Orient.
It’s no good giving my heart and my soul because you already have these.
So- I’ve brought you a mirror.
Look at yourself and remember me.

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“I’ll Be Your Mirror”


LaLaLa Human Steps dance company performing “Amelia” to the  words and re-imagined music of Lou Reed.

I’ll be your mirror, reflect what you are
In case you don’t know, I’ll be the wind
The rain and the sunset
The light on your door to show that you’re home

When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you’re twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show you that you are blind
Please put down your hands ‘cause I see you

I find it hard to believe
You don’t know the beauty that you are
But if you don’t let me be your eyes
A hand in your darkness, so you won’t be afraid.

When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you’re twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands ‘cause I see you

I’ll be you mirror

Songwriter: Lou Reed
Published by © Sony ATV Music Pub LLC