Order of the Good Write

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


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The Voices Told Her So

patricemolinardphoto

Photo by Patrice Molinard

August 28th, 1965

Ana looked at her son’s white denim pants and wanted the grass and the blood to go away. No matter what the television commercials told her, no matter how many magazines advertised the wonders of laundry detergent, the grass stains created by a violent fall to the ground and the blood that came at the hands of other boys who didn’t understand her son’s pain made her freeze with anger.

The voices screamed in her head. They told her she couldn’t erase the hatred. They told her his anger was her fault. The voices shouted that his biological father was right to leave her for another woman, that he was  right to replace the clothes in her closet with the wardrobe of another woman’s.

The voices told her that being a single mother with a career and fulfilling her dreams of a store filled with her own fashion was selfish.

“Look at your son!”  The female voice said. “He hates you for not being there for him, back when you spent your days in a working in a store. He hates you for putting your dreams before him. He hates you for leaving Havana. He hates you for bringing him into a world where everyone hates him for his accent”.

The voices crowded her head. She told them to shut up, but they wouldn’t. The grass stains and the blood glared at her.

Then she heard the words, “Gasoline will take out those stains.”

It was a voice with a melodious tone, as if she heard it on the radio in between songs.  All the other voices stopped, letting this voice say it out loud, again and again. “Gasoline will take out those stains.” It grew louder and softer, as if the voice was teasing her. Then it became a jingle, sounding like the the Texaco commercials on the radio.

The black hole. The nothingness after an explosion. The silent black screen in between commercials. The gasket was blown, the fuse destroyed. After that moment, she was unaware of what she was doing.

She threw her daughters diapers into the machine. She threw back her son’s soiled wet jeans into the lid of the washing machine. The previous load filled with her husband’s shirts were turning and drying in the dryer. The hissing sound of the pilot light flame beneath the machine sounded off.

She thought of the plantains she had so longed to make, but the local store did not have plantains to buy. She longed for the soft, sweet corn flavor of a tamale in a banana leaf, and Arros Con Pollo, papaya shakes and Cuban steak sandwiches, pork marinaded in vinegar and garlic. He mouth watered for the kitchen of her childhood, the cool tiles on a hot day where she’s lay her head down. Her mother’s kosher work space, but her mother often turned a blind eye to tradition.

But now there’s  Rice a Roni and Julia Child recipes. She learned how to make ‘Chicken a la King’ from the Ladies Home Journal. She tried her hand at Cherry Rouss and Baked Alaska. Her new husband was delighted. They were made to perfection, but they weren’t as good a the caramel flan she made with dozens of eggs, condensed milk and burned sugar.

She didn’t remember going to the garage. She couldn’t recall the moment she saw the canister of gasoline her husband had bought earlier in the day to fuel the lawn mower for his afternoon of yard work. Her nose didn’t smell the acrid, dreamy smell of Sunoco’s premium regular as  she poured it on the stubborn grass marks and those pesky blood stains.

Anita had things to do. She had to wax the kitchen floor. She had to feed the baby. She had to wash the dirty grimy jeans off the knees of her growing son who was getting dirtier and smellier every day as hormones created a miniature version of the man she married when she was eighteen, whose face was ripped off of every old family photo, who name was erased from records and family mementos.  Anita had to erase the dirt because that’s what commercials said. That’s what the Readers Digest said.

She didn’t remember the moment the gas touched the white jeans. The dryer flashed the pilot flame as the gas touched the fabric. There was a quick roar and everything went white.

She wondered where the baby was.

In her cradle.

She wondered where her son was.

With the neighbors.

Her brother was with her husband, in a car following the ambulance.  Her sister in law took her own children and left the house, bound for Bay Ridge after the trucks left.

It ended there. The white jeans and the stains didn’t matter. Hospitals and skins graphs, insurance coverage and lives blown apart and put back together again all in the name of love.

And so it began. Life within the aftermath.

 

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Don’t Mind Me, I’m Just Procrastinating

bluewall and flowers

Look at the pretty blue wall. I think I’ll write something about it, but I’ll wait until tomorrow.  It just doesn’t feel right right now.

There’s a book I’m trying to write, but every time I look at what I’ve written, I can see the make believe literary agent in my head rolling her eyes and throwing the work on the slush pile.

There’s a little time to write this afternoon, but I’m going to wait until tomorrow until the muse shows ready to sit on down and start feeding me some good ideas.

Yeah, that can happen tomorrow.

I need to make sure my bank accounts are linked so I can work with PayPal payments, and all that complicated stuff I don’t want to think about now, so I’ll think about that on Thursday. Then I tell myself to think about it again for the next day and the next, and before I know it I won’t have a business and the IRS is asking why I’m sinking money into a company I’ve registered but haven’t made any income on.

I’ll think about that tomorrow. Maybe on Sunday.

I want to go back to New York for Memorial day weekend and also later in the summer for a longer stretch, but I can’t think about that right now because every time I want to do something so badly that requires money, I get sick to my stomach over the the ordeal of spending more money.

Maybe I’ll get over that feeling and set up a flight tomorrow?

Maybe I’ll finish that book next month because I’m not feeling it now and maybe there’s a reason why I’m not feeling it now.

Maybe there’s a full moon.

Maybe Mercury is in retrograde.

Maybe it’s my spirit guide telling me that now is not the right time.

Oh, Okay. Then I really don’t have to do this now.

I’m going to gaze at that beautiful blue wall and the flecks of yellow summer flowers on the glass that’s holding the little pile of soil and greenery and wonder when I’m going to get started.

When is the right time?  Why not now?

Maybe I’ll paint my apartment this weekend? Or, maybe I’ll go to the donation center and donate all those things I want to get rid of to make a move back east easier.

Nah. I’ll save that for next month.

 

 


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Dogs Stories

Happy Monday!

The NYTimes has a lovely feature today on dogs around the world who live on the street and are owned by no one.  The story behind each dog featured grabbed at my heart and stomped on it to bits. The one below really blew me away. This little Buddha of a dog makes me wonder if these creatures are reincarnated souls living life on earth before heading back “home.”

See the rest at NYTIMES: DOGS THAT BELONG TO NO ONE

nytimesdogs


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Suncups

Suncups

A climber descends the sun-cupped Coleman glacier after a climb of Mount Baker. AAI Collection (American Alpine Institute)

Suncups.

Lovely dollops of the effects the sun’s radiation on melting snow. Wikipedia describes them as “normally wider than they are deep”.

Endless suncups against an impossible blue sky. Impossible.

There’s lots of nothingness out there.

Wouldn’t it be nice to drink out of a suncup, in the middle of nowhere with no one watching. Cups of drink. Cups of rainwater and melting snow.

Is there one person out there? Anyone?


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The Writer’s View & Everyone Else: Two Sides To A Story

twowaystreet

When I was at the AWP conference last week, I attended a panel entitled “The Ethics of the Artist: Writing About Family in Essay and Memoir. The panel of authors comprised of top authors of memoir: Alice Eve Cohen, Julie Metz, Aspen Matis, and Honor Moore, moderated by Laura Cronk of The New School.

Alice Eve Cohen, author of “What I Thought I Knew: A Memoir”  answered a question posed to the entire panel by Ms. Cronk.  The question was – who do family members of a memoir deal with being part of an experience reiterated through the filter and subjective view of the author. What about their side of the story? How about what they perceived? Ms. Cohen said this (and I’m paraphrasing):

“You know, my husband and daughter (who are very much part of this memoir) told me before coming here that they were going to set up a panel of family members featured in best selling memoirs over on the other side of the convention center hallway at the same time I’m scheduled on this panel and call it “The Family of the Best Selling Memoirists: Our Side of the Story”.

Perception. If a story you write belongs to you, then what does it mean for the people who are part of your story?  What was their concept of the experiences at hand?  Would the story be a drastically different one if they told it?

There are two sides to the coin of personal auto-biographical storytelling. There’s your side, the one of the writer telling the succession of events either through linear or non-linear telling, and the view of those on the other side.

When I think of this two way concept of literature or memorization, I often think of the 1986 New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox  World Series outcome.

mets 86 win ws

As a Mets fan, the 1986 post season was a miraculous roller coaster ride of deadly lows and euphoric highs. They overcame losses with luck and good timing to win improbably time and again. When you thought they were done. They weren’t. Especially during the World Series when in game six that ball drifted between Bruckner’s legs and Mookie Wilson helped propel the Mets to a win. They went on to game 7 and took the whole thing.

As a Boston Reds Sox fan, 1986 was just another historical disappointment in a long time history of no championship wins. For them, our celebration was their classic and profound loss, another kick in the gut. The video would play out again and again in Red Sox history as a moment of lost opportunity, a low, disgusting point, a potential win that was so heartlessly and devastatingly taken away from them – again. It was cruel.

redsoxloss

While we celebrated for thirty years, Red Sox fans mourned until 2004 when they finally won the World Series. While we were on the right side of history, with photos of the celebration hanging on the walls of Shea and Citifield, Sox fans wrestled with the torturous pain and vast disappointment. While replays of that moment were and are played on the Diamondvision in Flushing, Red Sox fans had to re-live the loss in their minds while family members who never lived to see the Sox win a World Series, passed away.

I was on the right side of history. My Red Sox fan friends were on the wrong side. We each came away with two different tellings of that World Series, two different feelings, two different views of what that one story and outcome of events meant to us.

In 2004, I paid it back and rooted for the Red Sox to win the whole thing. And they did with a repeat in 2007, while my Mets sank into mediocrity and a longer off season vacation.

Two sides of a story produced two different stories.

The one thing that was discussed by the authors at AWP was how to deal with the reaction of those who are part of the story and have their side to tell. Some family members in their book were horrified or indifferent to the publishing of these books. One family member wrote a book to David Remnick of ‘The New Yorker’ pleading with him to not publish an excerpt from her book “The Bishop’s Daughter”, to which Remnick went ahead and published it anyway. Honor is estranged from that brother, along with other siblings who took offense to her telling the story of their father.

It was mentioned strongly, that as long as you write your truth and represent those in your history with compassion – not hate, you will honor their side with grace, especially if you’ve brought the other members of the story in on what you’re writing. Let them have their say, but stay strong in your veracity. They are free to write their side any time. In fact, what an interesting thing for readers to read: Two sides of a story!

Always be brave in telling your story. Even though there are two sides to every one of them, it’s our right to show our fairness and our strength in the telling.

If you liked this message, please click “like” and share with your friends. Thank you!

 

 

 

 


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Emptying Drawers, Clearing Shelves

clarkstreetmerchantile

Last week, I sold a beloved nine drawer Spanish dresser my parents bought for me as part of a matching bedroom set for the new house they moved into while I was in college. It was for my room, the one I’d stay in while visiting, or as life would have it, lived in  periodically throughout those years.

The dresser was hand carved, heavy oak wood, beautifully polished into a lustrous golden smooth shine. The knobs on each drawer were dark iron metal, fastened to square bevels carved into the front panels. The square motifs continued down the sides of the piece. It was the center piece of an ensemble: End tables, bed head board and an additional little side bureau that completed the delicate rustic uniform that contained the same bejeweled hand carve squares.

The thing about the lovely dresser is that it always remained at my parents home, even after I moved out. Living in NYC, my early days proved difficult in terms of finding a large enough apartment to accommodate furniture of this size to my new dwelling. In fact, earning enough to have a larger space and bringing all this furniture with me, to use (you know, like a civilized person, where you have drawers to keep your clothes rather than pile them up in a deep shelf in the one and only closet you have in your loft studio apartment) was to be an achievement worth striving for.

When I was able to afford a one bedroom, my father felt a sense of pride and accomplishment when I was able to bring my pretty bedroom furniture and that big dresser to my new place. It was as if I arrived. I grew up.

Then, something happened. My folks passed away and I saw how all their own heavy furniture was a burden I had to dispose of. How they cherished these things I could not use and were in need of being sold off, auctioned off, or sadly – left on the curb.

And I realized, as I moved from place to place, how cumbersome this giant dresser was to transport. It cost so much to move. There were hallways too narrow and ceilings too low to lift it and bring it into certain rooms.  When I moved to LA, this dresser – all 200 pounds of it – made relocation costs more expensive than I anticipated. It rolled across the country, waiting to meet me on the other side, ready with new intention and experiences, only to find it wouldn’t fit in the bedroom of my small one bedroom LA apartment. So, it lived in the living room until  I moved into a larger LA deco apartment, where I currently live.  It looked perfect, beautiful in this LA pad, perfect for the sunny weather and spanish feel of Los Angeles style. I’ve been in the LA area 5 1/2 years, and the dresser settled in.

Yet, here’s the rub.

I want to go home.

I want to move back to NYC soon. No real date, but soon. A goal post – by this autumn.

This dresser can’t come back with me. It’s too heavy. It’s too expensive to relocate with (as history has shown me) and I want to travel light, as unencumbered as possible without giving it all away.

So, I sold it last week. I let it go. Thirty years of memories, of homes and family experiences kissed goodbye and hopefully blessed over to the next owners.

I don’t feel lighter. I have boxes and boxes temporarily filled with what used to be the contents of those drawers.

Donate. Throw out. Keep. All categorized, yet I can’t think straight with each toss of an old tee-shirt.

The space looks like I’m in mid-packing mode, yet I haven’t locked down the destination of this end chapter of the journey.

After the delivery guys came to pick up the dresser – that night, I woke up from sleep (as I usually do) and laid awake until I could drift back to dreamland. In the middle of meditative state and twilight,  I thought I heard my father’s voice call my name through the din and electrical current of some cosmic frequency.

In my mind I could only tell him I love him, and that it was time to come back home, to the city that was the main pulse of the region where I was born, back to the familiar, back to east coast time, back to what I know. Not to move backwards, but to move forward with a new perspective back home.

And  I’ll return with a little less baggage.


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“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.” – Rumi #fineartphotography #blackandwhite #landscape #southaustralia #australia #visualartdiary_michmutters — Michelle Robinson

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via “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.” – Rumi #fineartphotography #blackandwhite #landscape #southaustralia #australia #visualartdiary_michmutters — Michelle Robinson