Order of the Good Write

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


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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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Writing, Creating – and the Question of ‘Why?’

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Steven Pressfield, author of “The War of Art” and “Turning Pro”

“WHO IS ALL THIS FOR?

In the end, the enterprise and the sacrifice are all about the audience.

They’re about readers, the movie goers, the site visitors, the listeners, the concergoers, the gamers, the gallery goers – a group which, by the way, includes you and me.

We’re the audience.

In the hero’s journey, the wanderer returns home after years of exile, struggle and suffering. He brings a gift for the people. That gift arises from what the hero has seen, what he has endured, what he has learned.  But he girt is not that raw material alone. It is the ore refined into gold by the hero/wanderer/artist’s skilled and loving hands.

You are that artist.

I will gladly shell out $24.95 or $9.99 or .99 cents on iTunes to read or see or listen to the 24-karat treasure that you have refined from your pain and your vision and your imagination. I need it. We all do. We’re struggling here in the trenches. That beauty, the wisdom, those thrills and chills, even that mindless escape on a rainy October afternoon – I want it.

Put me down for it.

The hero wanders. The hero suffers. The hero returns.

You are that hero.”

~Steven Pressfield, from his book, ‘Turning Pro’


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Shouting to the Void: The Matter of Blogging

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Photo By Caleb Morris. http://caleb-morris.com/

If a blog is on the internet, does it exist if no one reads it?

I’ll answer this now.

Yes.

We, as bloggers and writers who are not frequently read, exist. We work on thoughts, ideas and distill concepts into digital reading despite not being seen. So there.

The blogosphere is a flea market of ideas, a Bazaar filled with barkers promoting thoughts and business. A blog exists if people know about it. If a blog is not on the minds or interest of wandering readers, then in essence – it doesn’t exist despite its existence.

The web is also a virtual city filled with thriving sites where people park their browsers in front of bright, shiny buildings like NYTimes.com, Reddit, YouTube, Gawker, Vulture –  sites and blogs alive with fertile content, updated visions and passionate comments.

But on the route to a destination, we navigate along sites left abandoned on the side of the road, rusting in the darkness of no clicks or views, flashing old HTLM code, “404 File Not Found” signs, or final notes from webmasters dated 2002 or 2004 that say, “I’m not able to keep up with TonySopranoIsAPsycho.com because my personal life is so busy”.

Blogs by the writers,  artists, and people is the digital megaphone used to shout into the void, hoping someone will hear them through the white noise of online society.  We write hoping that someone out there will listen. Someone out there will share our feelings, and share our link to others so our voices will grow louder and louder with each click.

And in doing so, we pay it forward by doing the same for other writers out there – who feel just as useless as I do right now – shouting into the hum of internet clicks and chitter chatter of commentary boards filled with trolls who have nothing in their lives but a keyboard and anonymity.

The pretty girls who need to know they exist by posting constant selfies of themselves in their bathroom mirror, their lips purse like a sucking fish, gasping for air.

Or the pediatric nurse who doesn’t get any attention at home, flooding her Facebook account with selfies to show her former classmates from 30 years ago how young she still looks.  She wants to matter, yet is clueless from knowing that everyday she goes to work and holds a newborn child – she matters more than the entire internet.

Does a blog exist if it’s not read?  Yes. It matters to us – the writer, the blogger. We write into the void hoping a browser, like a digital vehicle, will stop by and connect with our words. Someone out there will find us within this web of satellite connection, wireless networks, and various WW3 links verified into the electronic universe.

Writers and bloggers found the electronic soap box to stand upon and shout to world, “I matter!”

Yet, in the end, despite all the mutter and white noise of voices and written words, we are alone – writing into a vast nothingness, hoping for more than just one person to go – “I understand.”

Happy Sunday.


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Happy Mother’s Day

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My mother as a young woman, Ana Srebrenic Rotmil.

It’s been five Mother’s Days since the last one I celebrated with my mom.  Each Mother’s Day passes, and I feel the loss even more.  Not a day goes by when I don’t think of her in some way. After a mom dies, everyday is a kind of a Mother’s Day of remembrance.

Mom never seemed to care much about mothers day until the day it arrived.

“Tell your father I don’t want anything for Mother’s Day!”

A beat. Then…

“Oh, tell him I need some dish towels!” she would shout from the kitchen as the faucet was running.

We’d always get her the usual.

1) Whatever household product she realized she needed two minutes after she said she didn’t need anything.

2) Flowers

3) Russell Stovers Ambassador Chocolate Assortments, followed by  a brunch at Restaurant X – Also known as the Bully Boy in Congers, NY.

As a young Jewish first generation Cuban female in a household of east European and Russia Jews who were of the old world of religion and social mores, it was likely marriage and children were a must. Add that to the times the whole world was living in, and it was a done deal – you got married, you had kids. If you didn’t -you were a spinster without a home.

I wonder if my mom really wanted to be a mother.  With all the Jewish yentas and the 1950’s breathing down her neck, my mother’s desires seemed to lean more toward a career. She was an enterprising woman with her own store in a hotel yet found suddenly married, a mother to a baby son and divorced – by the age of 20. The reasons behind such a quick decision so young in her life was never made clear to me. She wouldn’t talk about her marriage, but to the anger of my now 64 year old older half brother.

She threw herself into her work and the freedom is seemed to give her, at the expense of her growing boy – who was raised by a grandmother. Years between mother and son would grow cold. Sfter Castro kicked out the capitalists in Cuba, my mother went to New York and opened a dress boutique. She met and married my father – then had me. When a Sears moved in across the street, the writing was on the wall: Her business was doomed, and indeed, she lost customers. So, she closed up shop and ended her business life. Then, she made up for all her lost time with her son on me. She was very loving. But, after a succession of changes and life’s left hand turns, she was also handling mental illness.

Instead of the mom on the go with the career and the friends, I got the mom who was scared and isolated. Although I got the attentive loving mother my brother didn’t get –  I also got the mom with the nervous breakdown and in constant state of crisis.

But, I also had a mother who had long periods of lucidity. I got the mom who encouraged me to be successful, to never depend on a man (despite she now had to), and to be free to be a business owner who lives like on her own terms.  She never poured on the old jewish guilt she got from the old world family expectations. Never once did she push me to find a man and get married. Never once felt disappointment because I could never find a guy and settle down. Never really cared that I didn’t give her grandchildren. And thought it’s wonderful to want these things for a daughter – she just wanted me to be what she couldn’t find herself to be: Free.

I understand this now.  Every since my mother passed in November 2010, I seem to understand her – as if her emotions, now floating in the ether – are speaking in my subconscious.

Mom – I will change the pattern. I will be successful and be live life asleep at the wheel as I go to a job I no longer love, and rage with anger over being stuck in a 9 to 6 world.  I will be what you had hoped you could have been because I know I want it too. I will be what you once were before life took you in a direction, before your traded your freedom for security.  Even though you’ve alienated certain people, I see it was due to them making you feel less than your true worth. You didn’t have to say anything. I saw it myself.

I love you mom. Happy mother’s day.


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Finding a Well Lit Shed

shedideasI’m  obsessed with the idea of a home office.  A well lit space with tranquility and calm, yet enough creative energy where ideas and stories can be harnessed.

Imagine the concept of turning your tool shed into a beautiful little work space in your backyard. Leave the house and commute ten feet to your office where it’s business as usual – whether it’s the written word, or a conference call with a client. This is my focus right now; however, logistics are not clear in my mind. Will I be in an apartment in the future? Why not have a house with a backyard for the dogs?  And if I do have a backyard – this well lighted, bright and airy little space beyond the backdoor would be just the spot for prosperity and creation.

That’s my dream. How about you?


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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