Order of the Good Write

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


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New York-Los Angeles Bicoastal Serenade

louisckthr

Right now, I’m sitting in the heart of Hollywood, in the middle of one of the most storied studios in Los Angeles, taking a break from a morning deluge of work. The latest edition of the Hollywood Reporter is on my desk – the New York Issue. Just seeing it makes my heart ache.  Louis CK is on the cover, the consummate poster boy of New York entertainment. Receding red hair, bundled in a black coat, the photo shows him crossing a Manhattan street, looking at the camera with a stoic CK smirk – as if he’s saying, “Yup. I’m home. I belong here.”

The entire issue is a portfolio of famous New York talent and creators who’ve chosen to stay in the Big Apple over moving to the drought stricken sunny land of Los Angeles. They’ll endure the constant barrage of horrendous winter weather and frigid cold temps to stay where the rubber meets the road, where the energy of NYC lives in their blood. Even though I left for warmer climes – I don’t blame them.

I was in love with New York City all my adult life. I grew up in what they call a “bedroom community or suburb” of New York City. Westchester County.  When I was a child, New York City was bankrupt, crime was everywhere, and you couldn’t go into town without some scary dude trying to squeegee your windshield while you were held prisoner at a stop light. It was bedraggled, dirty and mean. It scared the hell out of me. But it was thrilling. Especially when I reached high school and was old enought to train it down with my friends Gina and Laura so we could walk Greenwich Village and absorb the funk coolness of it all.

Still, New York City was the heartbeat of my town. You could feel its pull. It was palpable – that living, breathing organism of energy sizzled twenty minutes south. The gritty streets. The cool and scary people. The humming of Time Square. Broadway. Media. Food. Art. Knowledge. Many people feel this. Ricky Gervais has often mentioned that when he comes to New York (he’s made it his second home), he always feels a catch in his throat. It’s visceral. Perhaps the Native Americans who first inhabited the island placed a spiritual blessing on the place, ultimately making it the touchstone for many wayward people. The hearth where distant travelers come to find a new life of peace and freedom. “Give me your tired, your poor”. The place where artists long to create, or the weary find solace in its crumbling buildings.  It’s like a calm in the midst of a global storm. The vortex or force field to where everyone eventually gravitates, until it sucks them in, saps their energy, and spits them out.

Then you fall out of love with New York.

Being inside the energy field of New York City makes one realize that the awesome thrill is good in doses.

When you’re young, you come to New York City to have your New York City days. Not many people stay. They marry or grow up a little and move on to spacious homesteads. Only the very wealthy or well tuned New Yorker stays a lifetime. But when you’re the intrepid NY dweller, you tend to leave.  You’ve had enough of scraping by in a studio apartment – or slumming with roommates.

The high rent. The small apartments. You sacrificed space and civility to have your own spot on the island – where you “stuff” is – where you lay your head. You got into the groove – as you make your way through the masses, getting so good in catching the subway, you time the rumble of a distant train perfectly as you run down the stairs, add money to your Metrocard in time to jump on the train moments before the doors slide shut. But you get to a point when you want your own space when you travel. You’re tired of breathing a stranger’s breath.

I fell out of love with NYC several years ago when I couldn’t stand waiting for the 6 Train anymore. I fell out of love when CBGB’s closed and The Bottom Line shut down. The energy of NYC that once filled me up with positivity – got to me. It was in my face everyday – from the moment I walked out the door. I’d step on the sidewalk to join the parade of pedestrians walking from York to Lexington just to get the train. I was just another ant marching.

I used to leave NYC on weekends and head to my folks house up in Rockland County, and then again in Westchester when they moved back. They both passed away within the same year, and the virtual umbilical cord from NYC to the leafy homestead up north was now severed. No more breathers from the stifling New York existence.  No more home cooked meals and family connection. I was free to the wind, but left with no outlet out of the city.

I needed green patches of peace – where I could swing my arms around and not hit a wall or knock off a book from a shelf. Space.  I wanted space. I wanted sunshine. I wanted…no more winters. I wanted more than just one room to live in.

I fell in love with Los Angeles. The comedy scene, the media, the hullabaloo, the underground world of vintage bohemian beauty hidden away from the glitz of Kardashian type shallowness. There’s a ragged beauty to LA that you really fall in love with.

It’s been almost five years, and my life in Los Angeles has been a remarkable one. I’ve worked for an entertainment database company – then for an Oscar/Emmy nominated production company – temped at a major studio in Culver City – and now at this amazing studio in the heart of Hollywoodland. I have a gorgeous hound who makes my heart sing. I’ve made friends with more neighbors  than I ever did in New York. My mindset has shifted with positive action steps toward productivity and creativity. My life is changing for the better here.

Yet, I dream of NYC. I sense the spiritual changes being sculpted in LA are preparing me for returning to New York a better person. I don’t want to leave LA, but I want to live in New York too. There will soon come a time when I will be fully bi-coastal – where I will live my dream of having the best of both worlds.

So, I sit and read the New York issue of The Hollywood Reporter and I live my NY life vicariously through the talent featured: Diane Sawyer looking out her CBS office at the familiar view.  Gayle King and Robin Roberts with the Manhattan Bridge (or is it the Queensboro? I’m never sure) in the background, and Larry Wilmore striking a Statue of Liberty pose with an ice cream cone as his torch – it’s all bringing me back home. All that good stuff still humming back home. Yes. Home. I’ll always call New York home. In fact, I’m going back next month.

Hopefully one day soon – I’ll be like Louis CK – living back in NYC, bundled against the cold with a smirk on my face that says, “Yup. I’m here in New York City and I belong here.”


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Landing on a Landing Page

launchpageI’m in the process of creating a website!  But first things first. I’m gearing up with one of those Landing Pages that say “Oh, hello! I’m not ready yet. I must powder my nose. Keep the car running while I get this site all dressed up!”

I’ve been involved in a program known as “B-School”. It’s an online business school for entrepreneurs. It’s exceptionally challenging, fun, exciting and amazing. There’s consistent  step by step information on how to build a business online, and how to create a business from a place of “Why”. B-School opens the mind to create a purpose driven business – coming from a good place of passion with the intent on helping. This isn’t an ad for B-School. Enrollment is closed and won’t be open for another year. But if you’ve stumbled onto this site with the hope of gaining some know-how in the world of online business – check it out.

So, I’m working hard in the background, gaining market focus and envisioning my customer and what he and she wants – in particular – with writing. What frustrates them. What are they looking to do when it comes to being creative and writing words that no only help them find accomplishment, but allows others to learn from them.

It’s been fun looking at templates for my website on WordPress – and all the cool landing page options I can go with. If anyone out there has any helpful advice on website design or development, let me know!

Anyone out there in B-School?  Any Marie Forleo disciples? We are surely a very enthusiastic bunch!  You have to be. When you get tired of the norm in life – it’s time to take it up a notch. A big giant old high rise notch.


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Whither MFA?

mastersdegreeSo my mind is crackling with ideas and plans for the future. As someone who loves the craft of writing and hopes to parlay it into a career as a writing coach (with some cool ideas up my sleeve), I’m considering entering a low residency program with the goal of earning an MFA in Creative Writing. (My research revealed a low residency is one where I can actually acquire a degree while keeping my job. Other MFA programs don’t do that.)

On one hand, there are many writers and coaches who’ve never gained an MFA in writing.  As a successful applicant, embarking on a campus with my new sneakers and fresh binder – my concern is that I’ll be thrown into a bevvy of workshops where everyone criticizes everyone’s work until you just want to throw your fresh binder out the window. Workshops are useful. Hell, I love them and hope to create a website with webinars and virtual writing workshops. Yet, if you’re not in group of supportive writers, their critiques can be unnecessarily scorching, damaging a writer’s ability, planting a constant voice of self doubt in one’s head. We’re a sensitive bunch, although we shouldn’t be. You’re always putting yourself out their in the written word, and not everyone is going to agree with your voice or style. You can’t take it personal. Yet, we  don’t need negative throwing stars hurled at our confidence.  Of course, we don’t accept coddling either.

There is also the competition of getting into these programs. I’m not interested in Iowa’s Writing Program. I know it’s prestigious, but it’s doubtful if I’ll ever get in, and if the thunder of god came crashing through my roof and I was accepted, I really don’t want to live in Iowa.  Yeah – I’m really into location. It rules my equilibrium. (I even felt sad for Hannah on “Girls” that she had to leave Brooklyn for the leafy world of IA. When she (**Spoiler Alert**) dropped out and returned home, seeing her riding in the back set of a NYC cab felt like a homecoming with butterflies in the belly).

So, I’m starting the inquiry. Should I try NYU?  The New School? UCLA? USC?  Local colleges that would be gentler and kinder to this old writer who is a late bloomer in the world of creative purpose?  We’ll see. So far, the schools I’ve mentioned have full time programs – something I cannot afford to do. I need my job right now. And having noticed this – I remembered why I didn’t go for a Masters earlier in my life. No job. Just school. Some have the funds to do it. I do not.

Is there anyone out there who has an MFA in writing?  If not – did you ever want to earn one?  It’s a writer’s big question for anyone who has obtained a Bachelor’s Degree.  Is higher learning after undergraduate work really worth the bother? Will people take you seriously in your field as a leader and doer if you don’t have this under your belt?

Whither MFA?


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The Lonely Hound

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Baxter singing the blues at day care. Photo courtesy of Lisa Lynn.

My hound Baxter has separation anxiety.

I’ve tried everything. Bark Collars. Kongs. Treats hidden around the house. Hollistic calming chews. Training. Getting him tired in the morning. Day Care. Dog tranquilizers. Thousands of dollars in daycare, just to keep him out of the house. I’m now going a bit broke, and can no longer do this.

So, I purchased a Dropcam to monitor Baxter hound during the day. Plus, we live seven minutes away my office, allowing me to come home during lunch hours to walk him and keep him company.

But as I view him from the “puppy cam” (as we like to call it at work), I’ll observe.  There’s some white noise. The TV is on. The fan is on. He calms down for long periods of time. He’ll sleep quietly until he wakes up randomly, realizing once again – he’s alone.

So, he’ll jump off the sofa and head to the window. Then he’ll sit by the kitchen door, waiting for me to come back.  In between, he’ll lift his head and howl. His howl is a sad, mournful moan. It bugged my former next door neighbor, who was more inclined to get pissed off than try to understand the situation. Which made him worse. My new neighbor loves him and says he just sounds so sad.

It’s only during the day. He’s not a barker. He doesn’t bark at anything that passes by our door or window, although if someone is in the hall, he will grumble and maintain a low, guttural growl that only I can hear. Nothing more.

He only howls. Like a lonely hound. He howls the first half hour of daycare with dozens of dogs all around him. He howls if I have friends dogs over and we leave for a moment to do something.

He won’t howl when there are humans around, or if I’m there. The hound’s devotion to me is limitless. He lives to be with me.

I can no longer afford constant daycare. So he has to stay at home more often.

He will howl.

He will cry.

He will stop and sleep on the sofa or by the door.

He’ll play with the Kong or the rubber disc filled with chopped up doggie treats – but he’ll save most of that playing for when I get home.

He’ll pace a bit.

He’ll listen to a noise that’s not the television, get up, go to the door, and the settle down until I see his head turn up and his muzzle/mouth turn into an “O”.

And then I come home and he squeals with delight.

He’s a lonely hound with an owner who has to leave him to earn a living. Who’s trying to build a business on the side so she won’t have to leave so much. Although today is a challenging one. I have so much work to do and concerned my business is not something that will allow me to exist as an independent earner.  But I see my poor ginger hound and hope my efforts will pay off somehow.

He’s a quiet hound when it counts – at night and most of the day.  He’s actually quieter than the dogs in the building next door, who bark and yelp at mailmen and UPS drivers.

He’s a lonely hound who makes noise intermittently, but compared to the constant terrier and Chihuahua screechers all around the block, he gets the brunt of it all.  A hounds life isn’t easy.

So, The Baxter boy has to stay home.  I wish I could do the same.


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A Beatle Thing – Happy Birthday George Harrison

   Beatle GeorgeWatch out now, take care
Beware of falling swingers
Dropping all around you
The pain that often mingles
In your fingertips, beware of darkness

Watch out now, take care
Beware of the thoughts that linger
Winding up inside your head
The hopelessness around you
In the dead of night

Beware of sadness
It can hit you, it can hurt you
Make you sore and what is more
That is not what you are here for

Watch out now, take care
Beware of soft shoe shufflers
Dancing down the sidewalks
As each unconscious sufferer
Wanders aimlessly, beware of Maya

Watch out now, take care
Beware of greedy leaders
They take you where you should not go
While weeping Atlas cedars
They just want to grow, grow and grow
Beware of darkness

“Beware of Darkness” words and music by George Harrison

atmpstandaloneumbHare Krishna, Hare Krishna, hare hare

Hare Rama, Hare Rama, rama rama

Hare hare….

Happy Birthday George Harrison, who would have been 72 earthly years today.


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This Changes Everything, A Little Too Late

cubaopenrelationswith USAI’m half Cuban. My mother was born in Havana, and lived in the Miramar district. It’s the middle class suburban part of the country. She was part of a community of Jewish Cubans whose ancestors settled there, thanks in part, to a US immigration quota imposed during the early 1920’s. Jews from the Ottoman Empire, Bosnia, Russia, etc – heading for US asylum were diverted to Cuba. “Hotel Cuba”.  It was their pit stop to wait it out until they could be allowed US entry. When it was lifted, some left Cuba. Others stayed. My family stayed. Ana, my mom, was born in 1928.

Although I always knew my mother as a stay at home mom in living in the suburbs of New York City, she had an entire history before I came along that in hindsight made her seem like another person. Married and divorce with a little son by the age of 21, she was a single mother and business woman in the 1950’s. Quite a pioneer. Although it’s not as glamorous as it seems. My mother’s relationship with her son dissolved over the years due. It’s not pretty.

During her store’s residency in the Havana Hilton, she became friendly with Fidel Castro’s sidemen.  They’d trek through the lobby on any given day, heading for their offices in the top floor of the hotel.  She’d often see Castro himself. It didn’t take long for one of his minions to tell her personally, “Take your son, and get out of Cuba.” This was 1959.

When my mother came to America via Miami, Florida, I presume,  (I hold a passport card of her’s from back then, her Havana address listed, her stamp of US residency marked Miami), she established a little shop in White Plains, NY. It wasn’t long before she met my father, got married, closed down her store and had me.  That’s the Ana I knew. The mother who stayed home and wrestled with her demons. The mother with the Cuban accent, lost and isolated among the American suburban mothers in the neighborhood. The mother who was determined to be there for her daughter so she wouldn’t make the mistakes she made with her son. The mother whose general obstinance and hard headed ideas made her family think she was impossible. The mother dealing with mental illness exacerbated by the sadness of leaving the country she loved – Cuba.

Cuba and its mysterious, enigmatic world hovered over my life.  It was the Berlin Wall of the Caribbean – a lost world faded with my mother’s aching. Instead of a wall, it was 90 miles of ocean.

“Do you see the Capitol in Washington DC? We have a buildings like that in my country.”

“When they open up relationships with Cuba, I’m going to show you where Iived.”

“In my country, it would get so hot, we’d sleep on the marble floors.”

The loss of Cuba caused her to bargain. She was diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia when I was a baby. When she was in the throes of  illness, she would write letters to President Nixon trying to convince him that if she was made Ambassador to Cuba, she would insure there would be better relationships between the two countries. Then, she’d spend the evening, listening to slow sons and Afro-Cuban music in the dark, coming in from WADO radio New York. During those evenings, you’d leave her alone. She was back in Cuba in her mind. It was a very strange childhood, judged by some members of my family to be difficult. To me, it was a lesson in understanding those in pain, coupled with the reason why my dad never left her. “Who would take care of her? You don’t leave someone when they are ill,” he once said.

My mother passed away in 2009. She was 81 at the time. Her mental illness mellowed out over the years. Yet, she had always hoped to see this day come. Just reading the headline from the New York Times sends tears to my eyes. I’m so sorry she’s not here. After a lifetime of hearing my mother pine for Cuba, pray for relations and pretend, in her own mentally distorted way, that she could make a difference – it’s all coming true.

I’m giving it a few more years. Let the dust settle a bit. I want to go to the country my mom always talked about, find her home and look for her father’s grave.

What a day.


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The Upright Citizen Brigade: Goodbye Roo Roo

 

UCB Improv Team: Death By Roo Roo - Brett Gelman, John Gemberling, Curtis Gwinn, Jackie Clarke, Anthony Atamanuik, Neal Casey

UCB Improv Team: Death By Roo Roo – Brett Gelman, John Gemberling, Curtis Gwinn, Jackie Clarke, Anthony Atamanuik, Neil Casey

Once upon a time, in a city known as New York, I used to spend many many hours in a little theater in the basement of a Gristedes super market.  For this was the place where wonderful things happened. Monologues were spoken and scenes were created out of thin air. This was the fortress of black painted walls and scuffed stage. This is where sweat and theater chairs all came together in the name of long form improv devised by the god Del Close.  Can I get a “Yes, And” and a “Don’t Think?” How about a suggestion?

The Upright Citizen Brigade Theater in New York (Chelsea to be exact) was my home for a few years.  The founders are Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, Matt Walsh and Amy Poehler, who in 1996 broke off from Second City in Chicago to build their own improv company in New York. Over time, it became the spawning station for writers and performers of SNL, 30 Rock, The Daily Show, Conan, Fallon – etc. You could mingle with people doing kicking comedy and then tune in NBC and watch them alongside Tina Fey or Lorne Michaels. I needed comedy back then. Badly. I was juggling the health and welfare of two ill and aging parents. I needed to dive into the happiness of the UCB. I went down to the basement to get over the darkness. The UCB saved my life. (A commentary I’m saving for another blog).

Walking down the long set of stairs to the lobby and box office was a little like heaven. The musty air smelled like my childhood home basement. The photos on the wall showed many comedians who were once part of the nightly fun, playing a game of improv in teams created in training classes or over massive amounts of beers at McManus.  I performed on the UCB stage as a student, having joined my class for graduation performances where we’d use the techniques taught over several weeks to make our friends and family laugh. It was the most terrifying and fun thing I’ve ever done. I miss it from time to time – having moved to Los Angeles where I didn’t get involved with the west coast theater (other than going to plenty of shows) as a student or volunteer. But the only thing I love remembering is the graffiti around the UCB NYC stage entrance, especially one very interesting reminder right near the entrance curtains: “Leave Your Farts Here.”  I only hope that comment was there when Robin Williams joined the Harold Team “Bang” back in 2008 for a show. It would be one thing we would share in the comedy universe.

One of the shows I used to see was “Death by Roo Roo: Your Fucked Up Family”. It’s been a staple Saturday night show at the UCB in New York for years and years – surviving the transfer of their original performers (as seen above) to the west coast where they are all guest starring in prime time comedies and/or writing on cutting edge  shows like “The Walking Dead”.  “Roo Roo’s premise: An audience member with a really screwed up family story comes up on stage to talk about their, well – fucked up family. The team of improvisors glean their improv from the stories told and hilarity ensues.  It’s a great show that would also be performed on the UCBLA stage.

December 13th will mean curtains for Death By Roo Roo. It was ground zero for some very talented people whose stars are on the rise. Time to make way for another generation of improv shows that will have people lining up down 26th street toward 9th avenue.