Order of the Good Write

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


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Reality Check: The World is Big and We Are Small

I really think it’s cool that my old school friend Gina’s cousin is Astronaut Ron Garan. What a noble profession. What a trippy, awesome career. Back in 2011, he participated in a five and a half month program on the International Space Station. Alongside a Russian crew, he watched our fragile planet from above. On their last day in space, Garan took time lapsed video footage of Earth as the crew made their final orbit before touching down. It was edited along with the music of Peter Gabriel.

As the they rotate over oceans, and land mass, it’s hard to believe that in the peaceful, gravity free nothingness of space, this beautiful world has so much war, horror and unrest down below. But there is also love and understanding between the folds,  “vast edges drear, and naked shingles of the world” – as Matthew Arnold once wrote.

Goodnight bloggers and readers of WordPress. I encourage you to view this video. It’s beautiful. Perspective. It’s all perspective.


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Cosmic Anesthesia

Screenshot 2015-01-25 11.11.03When I was a very young child, I used to walk out of the house and wander around the neighborhood alone.  I was so young I wasn’t even in school yet.  It was somewhere in the 1960’s, the decade where kids ate paint, breathed asbestos and played with plastic dry cleaning bags before the printed warnings became mandatory. I hardly understood the 60’s. They were my Landing-on-Earth years. Like an astronaut who just touched down, I was getting my wobbly legs used to gravity and time. I don’t know where I came from. All I know is I left a warm, comfortable limbo and slowly woke up to the bright, loud reality of this planet.

My mom said I hardly cried as a child. I didn’t talk much. It’s probably because I was taking it all in. Each moment held dreamy images and curious exploration. In hindsight, being a toddler turning into a young tike was like waking up from deep sleep – or coming out of cosmic anesthesia. Flashes of ceiling and light beamed over my crib.  I remember nothing but images, tastes and sounds. Songs on the radio, “Close to You, “Happy Together”, “Mrs. Robinson” filled the audible space. The first nauseating taste of morning eggs in my mouth. Blossoms from the Japanese Cherry tree in our backyard danced outside my nursery window. There’s an out of body memory in my head of me clinging to my mother’s hip. Since I was born in the wake of JFK’s assassination, vague faces of the Kennedy clan floated by, black and white and grainy, likely from the TV news in the background.

As I was saying, I used to open the door to our house when my mother wasn’t looking. I’d stroll down the street, and enter backyards. This young wanderlust is likely inside all children; yet, mothers of today would be sent to jail for neglect if a little girl under the age of five is found wandering the neighborhood, splashing in the Bilquin’s pond, or playing with ornamental ceramic garden ducks. My vague memories are mostly scenes where I walk through gardens and feel a deep, innate, ancient sense of peace and zen. Perhaps young children are still fresh with the spirit of heaven. We tend to loose that feeling through the years, reaching for meditation, yoga and self help books on inner tranquility.  My mother did the best she could despite my periodic escapes. Neighbors and their older kids would find me, take me by the hand, and bring me back to my house. My mother would be thankful, and try to keep her eye on me, but I’d always get out.

One memory is of a spring day. I opened the door, walked up our path to the street and wandered beyond an empty lot at the end of Wilmoth Avenue through a small thicket of woods to the Wilson’s backyard. The family had an acre or two of land that seemed like an open field.

On this day, my attention was struck by a single red deflating balloon that appeared out of nowhere.  It had a long white string tied to the loosening knot with a post card dangling at the end. The wind pushed it forward over the grass, bouncing away from me, dragging the string as I chased this ethereal little rubber fellow around like we were in a ballet. It was a living dream, as if I was following a note from God with a message someone could read to me, like a story my dad told me before bedtime. Maybe it would reveal that everything was going to be okay in this life. Or perhaps it was a game?

I finally grabbed the string and held this precious sagging sphere, my reward for winning the chase.  I took the postcard and looked at its’ hand written content, a scribble with loopy flourishes laced on one side. The feeling of success and elation turned to confusion.  I was a least three or four years old. I didn’t know how to read.  I brought the balloon and the note back home with me, and hid it somewhere in our house. I was suddenly nervous to have anyone read the postcard out loud. I felt the message and the balloon didn’t really belong to me, and I’d be in trouble for having chased it down in a place I shouldn’t have been in the first place. Who knows? I was so very young.

I never found the note inside my old house again. It was likely lost in accumulated clutter, gained after years of growing up.

This story struck me as an interesting tale to write for children. It swirled in my mind – the balloon, the mysterious message. It all felt like the game ‘Myst’, where I was alone in a silent surreal world known as early childhood, dancing with a balloon that held a message. Then, I realized, in today’s world of “Political Correctness”, there would be cries of “How could your mother let you wander off alone?”  or  “Oh My God, you could have been abducted!” or “Poor parenting.”  Believe me, my half older brother has born it into me how embarrassing it was to have a mother who had moments of irresponsibility. But I don’t care. It was a different time. I was safe and watched by kind neighbors who only shook their heads knowing my mom held a touch of the flake. I cherish those moments of heaven, a child trying to find a little of the mystical world she left behind.

Last year, I was on Facebook and came across a school alumni forum for my old high school. Someone from my hometown who graduated about 15 years before I did posted the following. (I changed the name, and I’m paraphrasing, but the message was indeed this…)

Jenna MacDougal: Hi Guys!  Class of 68 here!  Remember when we did that project where we let go of all those balloons with postcards praising peace and love? How cool was that!?

After all these years, I finally have it confirmed. It was a note from God after all, sent through the hand of a teenager who wanted to spread the word.


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Inspiration in the Bleak Mid-Winter

martha graham dance“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it.

It’s not your business to determine how good it is, not how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.

You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.”~~Martha Graham


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“Dig Infinity”

LordBuckley

The following is my lame attempt to slip into the lingo of Lord Buckley.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Can you feel the love in the new year? Can you dig it, feel the thunder rumbling from the distance?

Ladies and gentleman, this jive is about to happen. Slamming down on you from a bozo un-represented scribe, dreamer of juke joint, new comer of the pasty dry streets of Los Angeles, birthed in the green rolling fields of New York, slamming you down with the righteousness of a cat so cool he’s held like a beating heart in the hands of the hipsters, the dipsters, the old, dead and spliff smoking nipsters.

Lord Buckley, one and all.

Can you dig it?

This cat snarled and bee bopped, diddle boo dopped and shucked his words like cigar smoke in a spot light, like cool vodka against ice, hitting the reals in the feels until your wheels would spin off and scatter. He spoke of Jesus as “The Nazz”, Ghandi as “The Hip Gan” and the hipsters on the streets, scatting, dashing off their heels, hiding in dark corners, beating the Beat, snapping fingers in agreement lest the neighbors upstairs complain about the clapping. Cool babies. Tom Waits and Mr. Robin, Bob Dylan and the rest of the mondo bonzo freaks who ruled the tongue, Lord B scatted and preached and infused them. He swindled, he reached, he announced, he told tales and stories of the bible of great human beings, of monsters scattering in the dark, of train stations and dead on a single day. He wailed and spewed. He gave a big fuck you to the establishment – the man.

I’m still learning about this scoundrel, this wordsmith who lived before my time and threw words like jazz notes and beat smoky jives.

Mr. Williams honored him in the beauty of this:

And Lordy B vocalizing a daily commute gone and tragic.

So, I ask again. Can you dig it?


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Synchronicity

Screenshot 2014-12-22 18.20.02My friend Joyce had foot surgery this morning at UCLA Medical Center. Somehow, between leaving the outpatient recovery room and getting to her apartment, she lost her iPhone. She tracked it and found it was in downtown Los Angeles – on 6th Street and Spring Street. Curious to see what neighborhood is hiding this hideous person who took her phone (or found it and pocketed it), I Google Mapped it. I came upon this amazing mural.

The lady in the mural looks exactly like my friend Heather. Terrific black hair, self assured strength, artistic and strong.  I did a screenshot and started to put it up on Facebook with the intent of tagging her. Once it populated my status box, the strangest thing happened. Without even typing her name or even approaching an “H” to get started, her name immediately tagged to the photo.  It kind of blew my mind. Then, once I posted it – within seconds, Heather “Liked” it and commented  she loved it.

I’m not mentioning the concept of synchronicity because in some glorious fusion of chance this instance reunited Joyce with her phone. (Nope. Her phone is gone, walking around LA’s downtown about to be disabled.)  I bring it up because synchronicity at any random moment is such a strange and lovely thing. As lovely as this surprising beauty of art on the wall of a building I discovered on Google Maps, and as neat as my friend Heather.


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Hollywood Forever

cemetery beautyWith Halloween just a few days away, thoughts turn to the dead. And when I turn to the dead, I look no further than the backyard of Paramount Studios over at our friendly neighbor The Hollywood Forever Cemetery. It’s the final resting place for Hollywood legends and entertainers alike. The vacated remains of Cecil B. DeMille, Don Adams, Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, Mickey Rooney, Dee Dee Ramone (“I gotta go now…”) and Johnny Ramone. Apparently, Morrissey wants to be buried there.  I spent a lunch hour several months ago walking through the grounds.  I marveled at the mausoleum filled with dead actors with jaunty epitaphs. “Leave me alone, I’m sleeping” (Joan Hackett) and felt the chill given off by the very solid marble walls were everyone is interred. Not to be disrespective, but considering the lives that were once lead, laying behind those walls – well, there must be a hell of a party going on in there.

As I wandered around this strange and final resting place, an overwhelming sense of sadness came over me. It permeated the air. Perhaps I’m sensitive to it, but I could feel the sorrow of families and the many people who’ve come here to say goodbye. Perhaps I was feeling the melancholia of those who lay in graves below? There were so many of them. And not only famous people. A large Russian community exists in Los Angeles. When their loved one dies, they bring them to Hollywood Forever. Stacks and stacks of graves stones with ghostly in scripted likeness of their grandmothers and grandfathers, uncles and aunts. Some were young a pretty, others were dour and a little frightening. Their faces rise one above the other like a sea of ghosts. Russian. Many who look like Bresniv. Hopefully, they all rest in peace – and not get too bothered by the movies and concerts that are given on the grounds.

 

I'm ready for my close up. Guess I'm too late.

I’m ready for my close up. Guess I’m too late.

 

And speaking of party – there ain’t no party like a Day of the Dead party ’cause the Día de Muertos party don’t stop – until November 1st ends. The day after Halloween is the Day of the Dead, a major holiday that takes place more here on the west coast, me thinks. I can’t recall ever doing it up that mightily in New York since the Mexican population isn’t as big as it is here. Dia de Muertos is a gorgeous, spooky, creepy celebration – the Hollywood Forever is the place to be for people with painted skeleton faces. Me? I’ll be at home recovering from my Snickers induced coma.

Dia de Muertos

Dia de Muertos

Even though the Hollywood Forever Cemetery is right behind the place where I work, it’s unlikely I will spend my lunch hours dwelling within the crowded grounds, marked with mostly Russian gravestones with engraved faces peering at me disdainfully as if I don’t belong. (Not yet, anyway – but I’m not going to be buried – I’m going to be cremated and have my ashes scattered in the same bay in Sag Harbor where we laid my parents ashes. No dark, creepy cemetery for eternity for this moi).  The place was peaceful but disturbing. As much as I love the macabre and the sweet, strange morbidity of death, trodding around these grounds made me feel disrespectful. And very sad.

Screenshot 2014-10-28 21.07.33


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I Left My Ovary…. in West Hollywood

The view from my hospital room, September 26th, 2013

The view from my hospital room, September 26th, 2013

This evening, Pacific Coast Time,  marks the one year anniversary of finding out I did not have ovarian cancer. One year ago today, at this very time of writing this very blog – I was wheeled out of surgery. Major surgery. I was barely conscious when I heard a voice say “benign”.

I’m one of the lucky ones.

On July 12th of last year, I decided to go in for an exam. Something wasn’t right. My belly was swollen, I couldn’t eat much without getting full fast, and I found myself getting out of breath while walking.  After finding the right doctor (I didn’t have a Gyno in LA), I made an appointment. I was seen immediately.

A technician did a thorough ultra sound, wrote down some notes, and left the room. My doctor called me into her office to tell me I had an 18 cm mass on my ovary. It was the size of a small watermelon, and surgery was required.  I felt my insides cave inside with the weight of terror. I looked out the window at the Hollywood Hills in the distance, LACMA was beyond her window, the Miracle Mile spread out below the building. I was transported from the land of the living – to the land of people with a mass the size of a human head growing in their belly. I was a carnival act, the sychophantic twin I always thought I had inside, was now groaning to come out. Yes, the movie Alien entered my mind.

“I can tell by the ultra sound pictures that it’s likely benign,” my lovely Russian Gynecologist said.  This doctor assists women giving birth, and here she is telling me that I’m pregnant with a mass of mucus, that is likely benign, but one can’t be sure until blood tests are made, and pathology confirms it during surgery.

“You’re not overweight. How did you feel when things weren’t fitting you?” She asked.

“Because I’m getting into that time of life when a woman’s torso turns into a bread basket – so I thought it was middle age.”

She laughed, agreeing that in middle age, everyone’s midriff tends to thicken without actually gaining fat. It’s just the normal process. But this? This was different..

She wrote down the diagnosis: Ovarian Cystadenoma. She encouraged me to Google it.  I didn’t.  I waited until after surgery to face what was in me.

When my appointment was over, she stopped at her assistant’s desk to order up lab work. I had to go straight to the blood lab and spill some plasma, but not before she rattled off a few tests, none I can remember since I don’t know what they were.  Nevertheless –  one stood out. She asked that they do a CA-125 test on me.

CA-125. I read about that in Gilda Radner’s book. It’s the test they do when they want to see the protein levels that mark ovarian cancer. Now I thought I was in cancer territory.

It took two weeks for the test results to come in. Low CA-125 numbers. Phew.  But still – nothing was 100% until surgery.

Two months went by before I could get a surgery date at Cedars Sinai, the famous hospital where all the celebrities go to give birth, to have plastic surgery or to die. They have the best medical care on the west coast, a terrific progressive staff, and every room is private – you didn’t have to share with anyone. Score.

I finally got my surgery date: Friday, September 13th. Yes, I was supposed to have surgery on Friday the 13th. I took it as a gift. I just wanted to get this fucking thing over with already. I had spent the entire summer hunched over with an alien inside me. Whenever I’d go into Gelson’s, I’d look at the baby watermelons piled at the front door with scorn. Besides, Friday the 13th are lucky days for me.

The week of my surgery was upon me. I had a pre-op exam with my new GP. Then I had a consult with my gyno, who was originally going to do the surgery laproscopically. However, I was concerned about my legs. They were really swollen, especially my left ankle. Gone were my bony feet and lower legs, now expanding to canckle proportions. My gyno took one look and said,  “I’d like you to have an ultra sound on your leg to make sure there isn’t a blood clot or something there.”
Another ultra sound?

I went across the street to a lab where they gelled up my leg and dug a nubby thing up and down my thigh and calve.

After thirty minutes, the tech said, “Okay, you can go now.”

Her assistant told me, “Good for you! If you can go, you’re okay. It’s when they tell you to wait – that’s something else.”

I walked out the door to go the other building to get my car and go home. Within ten seconds, the same technician came out and called after me, “Excuse me! I’m sorry, but you must come back.”

I had a blood clot just below my left knee.. Well that put the kabosh on the whole surgery I was supposed to have done the next day.

I walked back into my Gyno’s office, where her assistant and surgery coordinator looked at me with sad eyes. I heard someone on the phone with Cedars canceling my surgery.

“We cannot do surgery without doing something about the blood clot, ” my gyno said.

“Also, your cyst has grown larger since I first saw you.  It’s like your five months pregnanet. You will need open surgery – not laproscopic as originally planned. You will have to see your GP to talk about getting you on blood thinners and to get an IVC filter placed in your vena cava so if the clot dislodges it will capture it before hitting your heart and lungs. With all that medication flowing through you during surgery, we don’t want to have you get an embolism.”

Really? What? Now I have a cyst the size of Gigantor in my pelvis AND a blood clot in my leg?

“And…she continued. I can’t do the surgery. This is beyond my expertise since it’s getting complicated.”

COMPLICATED?! I’m now a complicated physical specimen? I’m being invaded by foreign bodies! A blood clot in my leg is a ticking time bomb waiting to run up my leg into my lungs! I’m a freak, with a sycophantic twin clinging to my ovary!

I will never joke about my ovaries exploding when I see cute puppies on the internet again. Never.

“So, I’m going to send you to Dr. Cass at Cedars Sinai. She’s a gynecological oncologist, and an expert who can deal with this. She’s also a resident, and can get you a surgery date faster.”

I’m now going to a cancer doctor.  I almost pooped out this ovarian cyst, I was so scared.

It was arranged. I had to see Dr. Cass at the Samuel Oschin Cancer Center at Cedars Sinai.  But first, I had to get an IVC filter in my main artery – that little vena cava thing – the vein that helps pump blood from your lower extremities to your heart.

Dr. Van Allen was the radiologist who did the deed. He had a voice like an actor, and a warm sense of humor. I fell in love with him immediately – especially after he noticed that I was born in White Plains, NY.

“White Plains? Do you know Central Avenue?”

Wow!  Yes! Central Avenue was the main commercial area where my family did the majority of our shopping.

“Do you remember Nathan’s in Yonkers?”

“YES!  My dad used to take me there as a kid!”

“Mine too! I used to walk from my home in Yonkers, and spend my afternoons after school there!” he exclaimed.

Wow, this doctor who was about to insert a doohickey that looked like an upside umbrella in my neck down to my artery, was from my neck of the woods. Not only that – but we shared the same comforting memory of a place that no longer exists 3000 miles away, back home, back in a place I miss so much.

I closed my eyes. I opened my eyes.”You’re done!” He said.

The IVC filter was in. I felt like nothing happened, like I had fallen asleep during a commercial.

Now, I have to meet doctor Cass. Or maybe I already met her – I can’t remember. The mind plays tricks when you’re scared shitless for your life.

I entered the Samuel Ochin Cancer Center, and I was immediately struck by the zen-ness of it all. Fish tanks are everywhere, and the whole level is below ground, like an underground bunker where a really big war is being waged.

Everyone who takes that elevator downstairs is dealing with life threatening cancers. Some are there for chemo. Some are there for transfusions or tests. There are people there who have cancer. There are people there who find out they don’t have cancer. Dichotomies everywhere. A cancer ward isn’t always awful. But it frightened me. I didn’t want to be in the cancer arena. I wanted to flee.

The exam room was quiet. I waited about twenty minutes. Then, the door burst open, and this woman with thick wavy hair came through with an entourage of young doctors – I swear – as good looking and sexy as the ones you see on Grey’s Anatomy.

“I know what you’re thinking!!” She shouted, “What the hell am I doing here?”

Um, yeah.

“The reason why Dr. Preys wanted me to see you is because with the clot and the cyst and all the mishigaz, I have the skill to handle all these things at once. And…I can get you a surgery date immediately.”

Okay.

“Now here are the scenarios we have to tell you, just so you know because we’re required to.”

She pulled out a chart and started to write.

“Okay. We go in – take out the cyst. Pathology is in the OR with us. They take a sample – here’s what we have. Scenario one: We scrape your uterus, test your ovary cells, if you have a malignancy – we do a hysterectomy and you go on chemo.”

Fuck. Are you kidding me? I’m hearing the world chemo today? I disconnected from my body thinking I’m in a dream.

“Second scenario. We do a test for pre-cancerous cells. We scrap a sample from your uterus, cervix, the good ovary. It takes two weeks for the results, but if there are pre-cancerous cells, we have to go back in – give you a hysterctomy. No chemo.”

For the love of God.

“Third scenario – we go in – you’re benign, pre-cancer test comes out clean – we just take out your inflated ovary, your tube – and you go home with all your parts. You still get your period.”

I vote for scenario three please.

“Your blood work is perfection. You’re a very healthy girl. Your CA-125 levels are incredibly low, so there’s no cancer to be expected. But we have to hold out that there’s a 5% chance there’s something going on there.”

Let’s just do this.

So, they did. At 11am on Wednesday, September 25th, I checked into Cedars Sinai in West Hollywood/Beverly Hills adjacent and got prepped for surgery that was scheduled for 2:00pm. They wheeled me into the OR where I saw Dr. Cass all suited up. Ironcially, just like Dr. Van Allen, she comes from Westchester County, NY by way of Larchmont. (I happen to live in an area of L.A. called Larchmont as well). As the drugs began to pump into my veins, she told me to think of Fall back home, how the leaves were changing yellow and orange. how the smell of hickory and chimneys filled the air….

The next thing, I woke up to someone saying the word “Benign”.

Day two at Cedars, Dr. Cass comes in to tell me that not only was the cyst benign, but the third and best scenario she described came true. Nothing precancerous.

“I left everything in – except the effected ovary and fallopian tube. Those guys are out.”

For the next two days, morphine was my friend.

For the next two days, I watched TV and tried to pee.

My voice was hoarse since they intabated me during surgery, a common practice when conducting surgery under major anesthesia. If I had know beforehand, I would have been quaking with fear. Just the thought…

I went home, thanks to a lovely friend of mine who picked me up, and spent the next few days dealing with staples and pain.

Two weeks later, during another follow up exam, the final pathology tests came in to confirm that I didn’t have a per-cancerous cell in my lady area.

I got through it. My oncologist had a gorgeous young doctor from Texas remove the staples that held me together, and I was told I didn’t have to see her anymore.

Medical leave from work was incredible. Languishing on my sofa, waiting for those lovely early fall evenings – it was a joy.  But I was itching to get back to the real world, and came back to work raring to go. It would be another month or two of monitoring my blood clot (which didn’t shift at all – and was in fact determined to have been provoke by the cyst since it was crushing my blood flow), before I visited the awesome Dr. Van Allen again to have the IVC filter removed.

Back in the saddle again most of my lady junk in tact – and one ovary left at Cedars Sinai for research. I’m still uncomfortable wearing jeans, but I’m back in the land of the living with all this behind me.