Order of the Good Write

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


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The Freeway Ain’t Free

QAdTsSj8TOOWzlyLn3Rg_14248396556_aefcd9a926_oI have a fear of the freeway. I’ve lived in Los Angeles for almost five years now, and I will not drive on the 101 or the 5 or the 10. I fear them. They are hissing snakes of crazy cars – a whirlpool of drivers who go fast – who hate you – who will ride up your ass when you’re going 70 miles an hour. I can drive the New York State Thruway and every Parkway across the New York Trii-State area – but I will not drive the Freeways of California. It’s like taking one’s life in your hand and then smashing it alongside a guard rail.

Oh – I’ll let someone else drive me. But I cannot handle the speed as I take the wheel, the wayward highway to nowhere – the fear of not knowing an exit. A lack of direction. I still can’t find north. My compass has changed since my move from the east coast. It’s direction now spinning, confused. The ocean is on the other side of my brain.

I hate the Freeway. If I have to go to the Valley, I will take the surface streets. I’ll take Cahuenga to Barham. I’ll wait in traffic. I’ll take Laurel Canyon, where the twisting turns of backed up cars leave you unable to see what’s ahead. You are the snake that’s hissing, the long bending road lined with rocks and houses, buildings on stilts and memories of Charles Manson, Mickey Dolenz, Jim Morrison, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Mitchell. If I go up this rock and roll mountain to the flats of the other side, I’ll start off seeing the old Country Store, and think of crystal beads and mobiles, incense and Indica, naked groupies and lone stoners looking for home. Where are those burned out babes and washed out music god wanna be’s today? Pushing a cart down a street? Running a bank? Bouncing a grandchild on their knee? Dead?

I always thought living in Manhattan was a grind. The subway, the dirt, the crush of the morning commute. When I moved to Los Angeles, I wasn’t seeking any fortune or fame. I was looking for Spring, Summer and Fall – no winter. I was looking for a a new way of life, where I could take my car and go anywhere – despite never wanting to drive on the freeway. Now – even the pretty weather is tiring. The heat – relentless. The people – deep, thoughtful- all out of towners like me who just wanted a new life in the sun.

Now, I envy the folks back home, shedding the dreary winter for that wonderful feeling of spring as it stirs. The feeling of warmth breaking through the cold. I’ll take spring after a bad winter any day over a spring after a season of drought and summer-like heat.

mtNrf7oxS4uSxTzMBWfQ_DSC_0043Tomorrow, I go to the other side – Sherman Oaks. I’m not used to the valley and the mysterious oasis of the other side – over the mountain. I only know Burbank and Toluca Lake, yet my car is set for whichever way is best along the Google Map warnings and the way I feel. I leave myself a lot of time.

The Freeway isn’t so free. It’s backed up for miles. So maybe the hissing snake will be quiet with the bumper to bumper traffic – but I won’t give in. I’m a New Yorker in Los Angeles and frankly – I want to go home. I love the beautiful weather in the dead of winter, and I want to go home. I love the friends who greet me like nobody does in New York, yet I want to go home. I love the incredible Southern California skies that turn baby blue and pink at twilight, and I want to go home. The stars aren’t as plentiful as in other less dense places, but the ones you can see – they hang like diamonds. The crescent moon is sharp, like the charm on those bracelets I used to wear as a child, the northern star perches nearby – almost like that second earring in your second piercing on your lobe. The Pacific Ocean is blue like heaven, whereas the Atlantic is green like life. I want to go home.

All this lamenting doesn’t mean much. I miss New York, and plan on moving back in a few years. I miss living in a place where I’m from. But I’ll never leave Los Angeles. I’m working on a life where I can live – somehow- in both places. New York – Los Angeles. A little of the milk and honey, dipping into the best of both worlds.

Dreams are like those hissing cars on the 101 – they’re scary. But in pursuing them, I’m not going to take the surface roads. I’ll forge ahead until I’m up the ass of someone going 70, and go around, much like the BMW’s and Mercedes driven by those who don’t know what a left or right hand signal is.

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Resistance Rules The Day: Call in Your Superhero

superheroes

In Steven Pressfield’s famous book “War of Art”, resistance is the common enemy of the artist and writer.  It makes you sleepy. It tells you to skip the work for today or not go to the gym (Yes, resistance is the enemy to your body.)  If you ever feel it, here’s what you do. Call in your personal superhero.

If you need to sit down and write that essay, the chapter of your book, or a blog post – like this – resistance will tell you to sit on your butt and surf the net. It will tell you to daydream or focus on what you’re going to do tonight. It will beat you up every time you succumb, leaving you unproductive and making you feel like you just ate a bucket of fried chicken – sluggish and ready to hate yourself.  Don’t let this happen. Teleport your own inner Captain America.

Today is one of those days for me. All week, and earlier today, I was revved up, getting my words into gear, studying and researching while keeping my eyes on the prize. Yet, now I’m burned to the core. Ready for a nap, drinking coffee in the late afternoon so I can go to the gym and at least use the elliptical. (No spin for me – not until I get my bike shoes.)

I’ve done a little work. For instance, I’ve researched the writer’s market. I’ve added more names to an email list I’m devising – so I can connect with like minded writers who can give me the low down on how they conduct their business so I can gather wisdom from the wise.

Meanwhile, I have actual office work to do – expense reports, travel plans for my bosses. It will get done. It always does.

But I’m run down today, folks. The writing was sparse. It happens. Best not beat myself up about it (nor you – if you’re going through the same struggle).

Nevertheless, here is an example of showing up.  My inside Wonder Woman just got really pissed off at being held in a closet with duct tape and a scarf around her mouth.  She just took the hard end of her boot and kicked down the door. I decided it felt better to get online and blog something – anything – then to dwell in the darkness and not do it at all.

You over there. Conjure up your Spiderman and scale the walls toward your Word document and write the thoughts drifting in your head. You’re wrapping old man “resistance” in your web, flinging the middle finger at his face. Tell that sucker – okay – I may not get the most done today, but I’m showing up. I’m writing the blog post. I’m adding a paragraph to a chapter in that book.

And you know what, old man resistance? I’m coming back for you tomorrow. Watch out for my tapping fingers and my productive brain. Look out for my bon mots or lousy first draft thoughts, soon to be honed into a usable piece of work. Screw you. You may rule today, but you won’t get the holy grail of my dead mind.

I’ve got my Terminator eye on you. You are in my crosshairs, dusty devil.

I will be back.


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Lebenskünstler: Live is Art

boyhood“Lebenskünstler” is German for “Live Art”.  It’s one of those amazing words that lend general reference to a feeling or vibe. Like “schadenfreude” or “kvelling”, “chutzpah” or “zeitgeist”,   “Lebenskünstler” – captures a feeling a vision of being. To live in art. Become art. Live life as art.  “Live From Anywhere, it’s art live!”  It fits into that category.

Richard Linklater, the writer and director of the now Oscar nominated film “Boyhood” mentioned the word during an interview he did with Marc Maron’s podcast “WTF”.  “Boyhood” was created over a twelve year span and starred the same people, allowing the viewers to watch the same young boy (and the other kids and adults around him) grow up with the story. It’s an amazing feat. It’s an extraordinary film.

What if we could live our lives as art?  If we could delve into the day to day and transpost our every move into words and story. Of course, we all do that in some way. Writing our thoughts, tweeting our whereabouts, blogging our feelings on a day to day basis. Technology has given us the forum to allow our lives to become art. We photograph our surroundings and post them. This is art. We write about how much we love a film like “Boyhood” or “Birdman” and flesh out the experience by adding our story about when and where we saw the feature, whom we were with. If we saw the flick on our birthday. Was it a day out with the family. We can explore the concept of what we were feeling that day. If it rained while on line to buy a ticket> How did that make us feel? Live encompassed in a creative moment, encapsulated in written words, photos or a painting – if you so wish to present it that way. Our lives are Lebenskünstler,

It’s my believe that the human race and the universe we live in is one amazing accident. Let’s make it art.


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Dear Writing Muse

cemetery beautyIt’s the end of the year. I just wrote a small lovely book that I’m proud of. I have stock piled a wonderful set of short stories that I plan to compile into another anthology (this one bigger) of story collections that will be out in the spring, while I write my novel. But please don’t hate me because I haven’t written in the past week or so. Please don’t think I’ve abandoned you. I’m tired. My mind is a bit burned out from the thought process and the edits and the book covers and the back cover blurbs the low sales on Amazon the non-existent downloads on Kindle.

Perhaps this is one to chalk up as the first baby step, allowing another book or two to solidify my foothold, give me more to promote in the coming year. Maybe the compilation of my first quiet book along with my second semi-loud book will herald in the hella happy world of my novel about pianos and breakdowns and people looking for the lost folks of their past.

But right now, all I want to do is search the internet for movie times of films I want to see tomorrow (my birthday) and during the Christmas break.  Will it be “Birdman” at the Pacific Cinema in The Grove? Or will it be “The Theory of Everything”?  “Birdman” it is!  “Theory” will be for next week. Perhaps a spot of lunch at Morells?  Have a lovely holiday cocktail before going off for a little shopping?  Pick up some Cupcakes for birthday treats along with a little doggie cupcake for The Baxter Hound.

And all I want to do is finish Amy Poehler’s book and go on a binge reading spree on Lena Dunham’s and Andrea Martin’s and John Cleese’s autobiographies. I want to read Tony Robbin’s book about Money because I want to be independently wealthy. This is not a pipe dream. I want to find a groove where I earn money helping people write books. This is a serious goal for next year.

And all I want to do is think about redecorating my apartment – or taking my bike out and riding – or doing a little shopping – or toasting my dad’s memory tonight with a home made martini (it would have been is 88th birthday today – his b’day was the day before mine and we celebrated together), or shop online and look for that cool, dreamy purple lacy bra Jennifer Coolidge wears that peaks over her dresses on “2 Broke Girls”. I want to re-watch “White Christmas” and wonder why the hell Rosemary Clooney is always pissed at Bing Crosby? I want to see how long I can endure the military love in that film that boarders on cloying and sappy. I want to watch “Meet Me in St. Louis” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Merry Christmas Charlie Brown” and “Elf”.  Perhaps watch a few DVR’d episodes of “The Chew” where I can live vicariously through the cookings of Mario Batali and Michael Symon since I no longer eat food, but exist on jogging, working out, hard boiled eggs, water and oatmeal because I’m thick and nothing is going to change that – not even malnutrition.

So, don’t be angry dear writing muse. I love you. Look – I’m writing now!  No, it’s not the kind of useful writing that builds a new project and is contributing toward actual publishable work – nevertheless –  I’m using you, see?  And I’ll get back to you during the holiday break, and go gang busters in the new year.  But it’s December. It the birthday weekend. I’m thinking of my dad in heaven and my mother’s Cuba – now open to the world – and the brand new 100 pound rolled up rug I’ve ordered from Overstock that is sitting in the lobby of my building until I get home and find my neighbors to help me lug it up the stairs.

I just want to have fun, muse. Okay?

That’s all I want to do.  I’ll see you soon.


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To The Conductor on the 5:19pm Train to Southeast…

…that took off from Grand Central Station on November 10th, 2010.  I stopped at White Plains. You gave me a dirty look because I was a little too anxious to get through the doors leading to the platform. I wasn’t being rude to others. I wasn’t rushing. I was waiting, with eyes cast down, struggling to not burst through the doors to get to the hospital as fast as I could.

whiteplaintrainstaThis isn’t supposed to make you feel bad. It’s just to make you more aware of the people who are riding your train on a daily basis. As I think back on that fateful day, I remember that quick ‘fuck you’ look you gave me because I was trying to get past people on the train to place my feet on the platform.

Just a little note, Mr. Conductor, in which I’m sure you’re aware, yet it’s worth reminding – there are people who sit in your seats everyday who are walking, talking beings dealing with personal catastrophes they can’t reveal. That is – unless they explode in screams of agony until the men in white coats come to get them. Most of us carry around a heavy load. Some people may be stressed from the work day that has ended. Some have a load of problems at home. Some of us may have just heard their mother had died via a voicemail message that was left while we were in the dead wifi-less ionosphere of the 125 tunnel.

That was my situation that day. I received a call at my desk at the New York Times. My mother was dying. I left the office and grabbed your train.  The 5:19pm train to Southeast, possibly even Chappaqua. I retrieved two voicemail messages – one from my 1/2 brother, another from my uncle telling me my mother had indeed died. This was when we were whizzing by Bronxville. I think. Let’s just say it was Bronxville. It’s a pretty town. I can’t remember because I was in shock. And I was stuck on your train with a bunch of strangers, ready to burst in sobs.

When you give a double bitch look to a customer who is in deep thought, whose body is floating in unconscious mode for sheer survival under the weight of massive shock, anxious to move, just move out that door – it’s not about you. It’s not about me having to get to someplace before anyone else, or just another moody commuter giving you grief.

And having said that, I hope that bitch take you gave me when I was looking at my phone and waiting for the doors to open, wasn’t because someone had just yelled at you, or gave you a problem. Perhaps you had a loved one at the time who was ill, or your home was being taken away, or your parent was in a hospital bed dying. If that’s the case, I’m sorry.  But four years later, and despite knowing there were bigger things to deal with that evening – I can’t seem to get your nasty look out of my mind.  You didn’t know it, but you were damning someone in the early, mind numbing, heart breaking throes of grief.

In the four years since, I hope you’ve opened your heart about the people whose commuter passes you view in passing, or tickets you tick off.  Take a moment to understand there are walking, talking dramas all around you. Because one nasty look to someone could mean you’ve added your negative face to the memory of the day her mother died. And that isn’t good.

To all the other conductors at Metro North, I think you’re awesome. Despite this one unfortunate moment with this particular conductor, you’ve all provided good humor and kindness.

Let’s all be careful. You never know what someone is going through.

Inspired by the human stories over at Humans of New York.

This story, in particular.


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Rest in Peace, Mike Nichols

graduate last scene

lastscenegraduate

The first adult film I ever saw as a child was “The Graduate”. It had a profound affect on me. Although I was too young to understand the nuance and meaning of what was going on, I was emotionally taken by the beauty of Dustin Hoffman’s turmoil, the sun baked 60’s dream of California and the Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack. It wasn’t until I was in college when I understood the meaning of the film to its fullest. As college students, standing on the threshold between childhood and adulthood, where do we go? Here we are – some of us all stars in school, track phenoms, valedictorians, big man/lady on campus (others not) until we turn the tassel of our caps to the other side on commencement day (“commencement”= the beginning of something), and then the real work starts. A little hot-shot fish in a big, giant paranah eating world. So much pressure is on our shoulders. What are we supposed to bring to the world? Do we live our dreams, or place ourselves in boxes, allowing the conventional constraints our families and society impose to stifle us? Or do we break the pattern of living unconsciously, day by day.

My heart still aches at the site of Benjamin screaming from the window door atop the church, crying, screaming “Elaine!” just in the nick of time, just before she was about to make the biggest mistake of her life.

Then, the astounding, groundbreaking last scene. Two young people having just fought off an army of tight jawed, bigoted, good-ol-boy, country club robots, locking them into the church – a clan of hypocrites in their house of God (which in some cases, is known for its hypocrisy).  The getaway…a bride, breaking the cycle of her mother’s deadness. The bus. The laughs. The looks. The realization of…”Now what?”. The fear, as the confused couple rides into the sunset. This was never done before in film.   The anti-happy ending.

Although the screenplay of “The Graduate” was written by the fantastic Buck Henry, Mike Nichols had the vision that brought this story to life in a way no other director could. His intelligence and sensitivity to the characters, plus his humorous view of the world, as per his legendary comedy career with Elaine May,  made this story a voice for a generation.

Some other favorite Mike Nichols films for me are: “Heartburn”, “Working Girl”, “The Birdcage”, and “Angels in America”. Brilliant projects that have stayed with me for years. I plan on viewing more of his work this weekend.

There are just too many amazing people passing away this year.  Some before their time – others whose time was up. Sad to end a year this way.

Rest in peace, Mr. Nichols.


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Throwback Thursday in Disneyland

dad&meinDisney

The author and her father in Disney World, 1974.

I remember waking up in the middle of the night, excited yet sleepy. Our luggage was packed and loaded in the car from the night before. We bid adieu to our house in Westchester County for two weeks, and drove toward the city, heading to the George Washington Bridge. Route 80 would lead us south to Florida. Still dark, I marveled at the pre-dawn beauty and crisp feel of a summer night as it was about to become a new day. Streaks of orange and periwinkle blue slowly streaked across the sky. We had WNBC AM Radio on and I remember hearing, Maureen McGovern’s “The Morning After”  (not the pill) playing over the small speakers in our Buick Century station wagon. There we were – my dad, my mom and me -finally riding down the NJ Turnpike in the “lonely cool before dawn”.

Sometime after this song played, the DJ, inspired by the idea of ‘morning’, put on Diana Ross’ “Touch Me in the Morning”.  The music continued on during that long drive down to Kissemee, with many stops along the way: Savannah GA,  St. Augustine, Orlando to name a few.  When we got down into the Carolinas, and the thrill of counting down the next Stuckey’s and miles until “South of the Border” became monotonous, the one song I remember the most was The Raspberries’ “Go All The Way”. It  has always brought me back to that first trip down to Disney World. Even today, when I hear the song, I get that sweet, sickly feeling of being in a new, exciting place – away from the sameness of home – ready to see Mickey Mouse and go on plenty of E Ticket rides.

We stayed in the Americana Hotel which had the first atrium styled hotel I’ve ever seen in my life.  The Monorail ran right through it – like you could just step onto a train that brought you to Fantasy Land, Tomorrow Land, Whatever Land…Never Never Land…(I can’t remember all those “Lands” or was it “Worlds”?) within a minute or two.

“Peter Pan’s Flight” (my bright blue shirt glowed in the dark)  and “Pirates of the Caribbean” were my favorites – but the one ride I loved the most was sponsored by the now defunct Eastern Airlines called “The Wings of Man”. I only seem to remember loving it; I don’t remember why.

I have this photo of my dad and me in front of Cinderella’s Castle. I remember that trip, and I’m grateful he took me to the “Happiest Place on Earth”. These are the Throwback Thursdays that memories of made of. I never realized, that despite being teased as a fat kid, I wasn’t really that fat – just bigger than the other children, who would ultimately grow up around me, some in grand proportions.

I never remembered my father looking so young.  I’m a few years older than he was in this picture. That’s a strange concept, especially if you watched a parent grow old and pass away. It makes you value life more than you ever did.