Order of the Good Write

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


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Wednesday Writing Prompt: Dreams Deferred

green dangling beaded dress

‘Ana La Habana’ Fashion

My mother came from Havana Cuba after a member of Castro’s staff told her to take her son and leave the country. This was 1959.

Ana Srebrenik was a single mother and shop owner. She ran a little lingerie store in the lobby of, what was then, the Havana Hilton. Castro and his team had their offices in the building, and every day (as I remember her telling me), she’d see he and his minions walk through the hotel after their day in the mountains.

She got to know his side men casually. One of them gave her the heads up about the revolution and how her capitalist ways were no longer going to cut it in post Revolution Cuba.

My mother immigrated to the US and settled in New York and built another business. This time it was a dress shop in White Plains. This time she designed some of the clothes and hired a tailor to run them up for her store. I believe she had a partner in this venture because I used to hear about a couple with whom she had to settle  when the store closed. Their names are forgotten.

Ana placed her career on a shelf, met my father, got married and had me. Maybe it wasn’t all in that order. I’m never sure. Details got fuzzy. When she was alive, she wouldn’t go into detail. I only knew she always thought she’d get back into her own store again. But she never did.

When she passed away unexpectedly in November of 2009, I had to do what we all have to do once in our lives: clean out the family home, send things to donation, organize estate sales, sell off property.

Among her things, I came upon a portfolio of her fashion sketchings.  They were likely done after she gave up her store. She always loved clothes and good fashion although she never allowed herself to buy many things. Mom would re-purpose old clothes, re-design a skirt, or use a scarf as a belt. Like Little Edie Beale of ‘Grey Gardens’, she’d find a perfect outfit for the day.

fitted orange dress

Smart business attire for the day. ‘Ana La Habana’

While going through these drawings, I see a creative side to my mother I had never explored. To me, she was the mom in the kitchen, the mom in the car driving me to school or to the store, the mom in the dark room. Her dreams stunted by responsibility placed upon her as a woman of a certain generation.

bluedrapeddress

Cocktails? ‘Ana La Habana’

Each dressed devised by her hand evoked glamour and chance situations. There was a bit of glory and opportunity with each sash and button. The lines and shading promoted a dream world she wish she could step into, or to allow a potential customer to live empowered through a frock devised by her own vision.

Yet, those ideas were left frozen on a page, hidden in a binder sitting at the bottom of a trunk. So many years ago, measured by the passage of time where she wouldn’t allow her true creative self to flourish. That it was her duty as a wife and mother at the time. That her way of handling a career and motherhood as a young single mother in Cuba caused a riff between her and her son.

Not this time, she likely thought when she had me. So she shut the dream down.

She encouraged me to be successful.

She was proud of my athleticism and independence.

I think back at the times she never brought up marriage and grandchildren. Never guilted me about it.

She once even told me I should run my own business.  But the everyday corporate life seemed like a societal obligation, having seen my father find security at IBM for entire career.

How wrong I was. The world isn’t the same.

I think of the song *”Days and Days” from the musical “Fun Home”.  It’s sung by Helen Bechdel to her daughter Alison after dealing with her husband Bruce’s closeted life for so many years. She had just asked him for a divorce.

Although the family circumstances are not the same as mine, the feeling of wasted days due to what was expected of her comes to light.

She sings of the ordinary, mundane things, “…lunches and car rides and shirts and socks. And grades and piano…and no one clocks the day you disappear,” and “bargains I made because as a wife I was meant to, and now my life is shattered and made bare.”

Days and days and days. Just like my  mother, married to a very nice, sweet, adorable man whom I worshiped, but held her to what was expected of her. He was likely resentful of her depression, not understanding what she needed.

There is no one to blame really. But lessons are learned. Parents strive for their children to have a better life than the one they leave behind.

I can hear my own mother say it in my ear.

“Don’t you come back here. I didn’t raise you to give away your days…like me.”

Writing Prompt:

What are your dreams? What have you sacrificed in order to live a certain way? What creative activity have you allowed to sit on the shelf?  And if you brought it out of the darkness to make it a part of your livelihood or your hobby, how will you continue to use that talent and never give up?

 

‘Days and Days’, from the musical ‘Fun Home’. Music by Jeanine Tesori. Words by Lisa Kron.

 

 


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How To Not Care About What Others Think

MC as Bruce FH

Trust your instincts, Kid.  You don’t need to twist yourself in knots trying to impress people who are not worthy of you. Got it?”

~ Bruce Bechdel,  Fun Home The Musical

I’ve just had a little shade thrown my way today from someone I see everyday yet don’t have much interaction with.

The fact I’m writing about this would imply that I’m bothered by it. Of course it irks me. But it’s not my problem.

Yet, I find this weirdness prompts a really good opportunity for a writer’s pep talk.

(See how strange energy inspires some good?)

I don’t twist myself into knots to please. I pay respect to those around me and do my best despite how people perceive it. Their perception is their choice, not mine.

When you’re writing and feeling stuck, these thoughts tend to pervade our minds and halt the creative flow.

What will my family think if I write this?

Do these passages read well?

Who will give a damn about what I have to say?

Who will throw me shade by not buying my work or acknowledging it some way – not because I want self gratification or praise – but because I want to know I’m reaching people?

If you want to keep writing – don’t care what others are going to think.

Don’t twist yourself into knots giving a damn how your work is being perceived.

It doesn’t matter if your writing is going to disturb someone in the marketplace. Think of the iconoclasts who paved the way for incredible creation: David Bowie, The Beatles, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, The Ramones, Martin Luther King, Jr, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs or Nina Simone.

They rattled walls. They pissed off people who didn’t matter. They inspired and fortified the ones who do.

For me, this person doesn’t matter, despite the momentary bother I feel. One day soon, I will move on to another experience, another opportunity, and she will only matter in the lesson I obtain from her.

She will have taught me not care when I have so much more going for me. My world doesn’t align with hers. That doesn’t make me less than her.

You aren’t tied down to anything or anyone who isn’t a loved one.

People like this teach you to keep creating your life. And if you’re a writer, they teach you to write without judging your work, without letting weird vibes and self doubt deter you from what really matters to you – your goal, whatever that may be.

Keep writing despite the negativity you think you feel. It’s not your business to listen. It’s your business to go with your gut instinct. It’s your duty to bring something exceptionally and amazingly cool into the world.

Don’t be in the shade of someone that doesn’t give you power. Let them deal with their lives, and allow yourself to flourish in yours. Listen to Lisa Kron’s words through the voice of Bruce Bechdel in ‘Fun Home’. Be true to yourself – not others.

If you know the story of Bruce, you’ll know he sadly didn’t take his own advice.  He did not live in his authenticity and suffered greatly with the notion of how people would think of him if he lived in his truth. (Although, to be fair, he may not have understood what that truth was.)  His suffering and hiding became his undoing. He died never knowing how to be himself. His story is also a lesson to us all.

Don’t try to impress people who are not worthy of you.

Be a Bowie. Break down a wall.


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Fathers and Goodbyes

robinw1yrI don’t like to celebrate death days. Birthdays of the deceased are to be cheered as the day a particular soul we loved was given to us. But on this day last year, a person we admired did something some of us – especially in the comedy world – have contemplated. It’s a seed in the human mind – the idea of taking one’s own life – that has made Hamlet and Macbeth wonder aloud if this fucking life is worth living. “Life’s but a walking shadow…”

But the truth is – I’ve already written more on this post on Williams’ one year anniversary of shuffling off this mortal coil than I did on his birthday. The fact he took his own life made us face suicide directly and the pain that lurks beyond a person’s persona.

One year ago today, a man who was a dad and a famous comedian, took his own life. He made us laugh. He made us weep. Mr. Robin was the clown who danced on the edges of the world, lived in the side vision of many who thought he’d always be there…dancing…riffing…twinkling.

Williams’ death also makes me think of Bruce Bechdel, the father of Alison Bechdel, writer of the graphic novel “Fun Home” – now a remarkable musical on Broadway. One month from today,  I will  see it in person on Circle in the Square after a summer of listening to the score and immersing myself in the story of a cartoonist stuck in her craft, looking backwards to the relationship with her father and his death, likely by suicide, or “an accident waiting to happen”.

Although my father died of natural causes at 83, the musical will undoubtedly bring me to my knees. Fathers and daughters. Our stories are never told like this.

Also, one month from today is September 11th, and I don’ t have to tell you what that anniversary entails.

Here’s to the Bruces and the Robins of the world –  dads who lived in very different worlds, yet suffered horrendous internal conflicts.

Fathers and goodbyes. To all the dads we’ve lost, rest in peace.