Order of the Good Write

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


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‘Fun Home’: The Closing of a Show

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‘Fun Home’, Closing night. September 10, 2016. Photo by Monica Simoes.

The first Broadway show I ever went to was “Godspell”. It was the early seventies. I was so young, it didn’t matter that the musical was about the Gospel of Matthew. I didn’t know the bible from Adam and Eve at the time. I only knew I loved the music and the amazing sadness and joy intermixed with a terrific score. I imagined becoming an actor and performing it on stage, so I could make someone out there feel as expansive and tingly as I did when I saw it. (I never became an actor.)

Then came “A Chorus Line”. Just in time for middle school, where adolescence was breaking through. “Too young to take over. Too old to ignore. Gee, I’m almost ready! But…What..FOR?”  And don’t get me started about “Tits and ass.” Obsessed is the likely word for my love of this show. I was about to enter life and all its auditions. What better way than to dance in front of the mirror and practice piano to play for grandma because…”all those lessons.”

But then came ‘Fun Home’, the groundbreaking, Tony award winning  musical that started at The Public four years ago and ran on Broadway for over a year which closed on Saturday night after a successful run.

Back in May of 2015, when I was getting ready for a trip back home, a neighbor of mine in Los Angeles, a playwright herself, told me about this show called ‘Fun Home’. “Get your tickets now, because it will be sold out!”

I didn’t get tickets. I couldn’t. It was sold out.

But I was intrigued after the show won Tony for Best Musical, Actor, Composer, Writer…etc… to listen to the cast recording.  How good could this be? Even the biggest hits on Broadway sound so…boring to me. If it isn’t Sondheim, it’s nap time.

I bought the score on iTunes and listened. I was floored. It was charming, sweeping – a lovely chamber play of intimate memories and melodic hooks. Each track of the cast recording was a journey of memories, Jackson 5 and Partridge Family infused amazingness until ‘Telephone Wire” – the song that gutted me. The song that was the last car ride, the last moment to talk to your dad that one last time. When an opportunity missed leaves a big empty void of questions for you to figure out in time.

I was hooked. Completely. Indeed, I was obsessed with the story and the music. I was back in NYC a few months later with tickets.

‘Fun Home’ WAS home.

“Come to the Fun Home…the Bechdel Funeral Home, baby!”

And I did. Three times. I’ve never seen a show more than once – not even ‘Hedwig’ – my beautiful broken down rock goddess.

Three times. Some have visited Maple Avenue (the street where the Bechdel family lived in Beech Creek, Pennsylvania) even more.

For one year, ‘Fun Home’ was my New York home.  I’d prepare for a NYC trip and part of that prep was getting a seat at Circle in the Square to share time with the Bechdel family.

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Photo by (c) Tricia Baron for Theatermania.

The intimacy of the theater and the simple elements of this complicated story (based on the graphic novel of the same name by Alison Bechdel) revealed deep universal themes. It was about sexuality and repression. It was about a lesbian coming out and living her true identity when her father (closeted) became overwhelmed by living out his own truth.

But, the particulars and details don’t have to match the audience member’s personal story. They didn’t match mine.

Yet, the theme of family and memory in this show, which embarks on its national tour this Fall, matches everyone.

It’s the world of imagination you find in the midst of hearing your parents argue.

It’s the fun you seek despite the harsh reality of your family’s personal isolation and your folks’ own sacrifice.

It’s about the element of childhood, when you felt safe until you grew up and had to walk the tight rope of existence.

It’s about the joy of being authentic and the perils of not living your true self.

It’s about becoming an artist.

It’s about fathers and daughters.

It’s about memory and placing yourself in the shoes of your parents when they were the same age you are now.

It’s about love.

And it’s also, once again, about the music – gorgeously poignant. So many 11 o’clock numbers in this one, but the final rundown of ‘Days and Days’, ‘Telephone Wire, “Edges of the World’ and ‘Flying’ make it a veritable  ‘Abbey Road’ side two  rush of one song after another, racing with quiet urgency, until the final heart stopping goodbye for the night.

“Caption: Every so often there was a rare moment of  perfect balance, when I soared above you.”

And on Saturday, the cast took their final bows for real. It was the end of this contemplation – the end of mourning for lives that didn’t allow themselves to live and a celebration of those that did.

‘Godspell’ and ‘A Chorus Line’ never did that to me.

Thank you Alison Bechdel, Lisa Kron, Jeanine Tesori, Sam Gold, Michael Cerveris, Judy Kuhn, Beth Malone, Emily Skeggs, Joel Perez, Roberta Colindrez, Sydney Lucas, Gabby Pizzolo, Oscar Williams, Zell Steele Morrow, Lauren Patton, Jim Stanek, the talented orchestra, and all the swings and understudies I followed on social media and loved for their quiet stand-by devotion.  Thank you for being an inspiration, a warm blanket, a catharsis and a wonder. I won’t be able to go home the same way again.

And thank you sweet little Evangeline for being the back stage show mascot.

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Photo by Michael Cerveris

 

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For the Writer, Art is the Motivator

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Palm Trees. Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

(I wrote this post this morning on MarieForleo.com in reply to a discussion about the importance of art in our lives.  This comment felt like a blog post. I’d like to share it here. I hope you find some good in its message.)

Art is essential in allowing humanity to connect spiritually.

I use art to motivate my writing and the writing of others. Each facet of art, especially painting and sculpture (for me), can ignite a bevvy of stories for the world to see. It can inspires other and can change lives. It can shift a mind.

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Street Art/Berlin Wall. Wende Museum. Los Angeles.

Music is also a profound inspiration. Artists who write life affirming and soul searching lyrics have made me the writer I am today. They connect feelings into words. Music and art makes us feel less alone in this world.

I think the one piece of art that changed my life (other than music), was Georges Seurat’s painting “Sunday on the Island of Grande Jatte” and the musical play it inspired. James Lapine wrote the book for “Sunday in the Park with George” and Stephen Sondheim created the most glorious, heart wrenching, moving score to reflect the concept of how a painting can tell a story. How each visage, each person painted were really humans with beating hearts and broken lives painted in dabs of light. The way the painting comes to life with humanity and the love story woven in – showed me how art can be a powerful reflection of our lives. In fact, the entire show has specific lyrics that support this entire theme.

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‘Sunday in the Park with George’

 

Add the wonderful musical ‘Fun Home’ – which shows painful, universal themes in a beautiful, touching way – and we have continued proof that the arts tell the story of our lives.

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Cast of ‘Fun Home’. Photo by Christaan Felber. The New Yorker.

Don’t let anybody, or any negative voice in your head tell you otherwise. We need more art. We need creation.

As good ol’ Steve wrote in “Sunday…”

“Look at what you want,
Not at where you are,
Not at what you’ll be-
Look at all the things you’ve done for me
Opened up my eyes,
Taught me how to see,
Notice every tree…”

Just keep moving on. 🙂


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Wednesday Writing Prompt: Dreams Deferred

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‘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.

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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.

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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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World Series of Weekends

IloveNYCChelseaart

A few weeks ago, my uncle Charles – brother of my dad – called to say he was making the entire month of October his birthday celebration month. October 29th, 2015 would be his 83rd birthday. So, he spent the entire month traveling around New England and parts of Canada, finally landing in Brooklyn where he stayed with his friend Eleanor Kupencow in her glorious DUMBO apartment, and then off to spend another four or five days in Greenwich Village in another friend’s apartment (while they were off in Majorca building their dream home) where he and my aunt Cathryn would stay and apartment/dog sit.

I can’t remember if I invited myself or if they invited me. But there was a sofa with my name on it, and I grabbed the chance to get to NYC without having to pay for a hotel.

It turned out, the weekend of October 30th through November 1st was a perfect storm of New York City happenings. It was my uncle’s birthday. It was Halloween. It was the NYC Marathon. It was the end of Daylight Savings time. And then…my NY Mets were in the World Series and they were hosting the Royals at home.

Add the fact I have to see every off Broadway show I can in three days, and I had myself a jammed pack weekend of World Series proportions.

I can pontificate through literary prose how my weekend went, but I will list everything discovered and done:

Fell in LOVE with Maison Kayser on Bleecker and Christopher Street. It’s the Bakery from the fluffiest, wondrous part of heaven where the Brahma of baked goods smiles upon you. Croissants that are dense and gooey. Chocolate tarts are stacked with incredible chocolate surprises and a regular menu where you can eat breakfast lunch and dinner. We were only there for dessert, so please – go there – eat a meal and tell me what you had. I won’t be back until December.

Went to Morgan Library and viewed the Hemingway and Matisse exhibition.

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Ceiling at Morgan Library, Matisse and Hemingway exhibits. NYC.

Went to matinee of an adorable musical off-broadway at the small but big hearted Davenport Theater. “Daddy Long Legs”. So sweet, heartbreaking and the music is lovely and also available on iTunes.

Went to Greenwich Village Halloween Parade. Couldn’t see much, but what I saw was really cool. Crazy giant skeletons and a big old white spider hanging from the Six Avenue church. Wanted to see drag and basic lunacy, but really only saw suburban people dressed up like Heath Ledger’s joker.

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West 11th Street Halloween Association.

Went to Below 54 where I saw a Halloween Sondheim cabaret featuring the music of “Sweeney Todd” and “Into the Woods”. Lush. Spectacular. Food was yum, and they had this incredible Halloween drink that was tangy and had enough zoomph to make me forget the bitchy couple who sat next to me and gave me the stink eye because I had to share the high top bar with them. “Swing your razor high, Sweeney…” Oh, boo to you two.

Stopped by Circle in the Square on my way to 1 Train on 50th to bask in the happiness of the “Fun Home” marquis. Hello Bruce! Hello Alison! They keep welcoming me to their house on Maple Avenue and I can’t resist. They put the “Fun” in Dys-“fun”-ctional. See you again on my birthday in December.

Early Sunday. Can’t live without my spin class. 8:30am in the fucking morning, but wow it feels good to get it done early. Chelsea Flywheel on 17th. Took Zach’s class again! Had him over at Flatiron location in September. (Okay, that read like a girly diary entry.)

Tired of my iPhone5 battery dying every three hours, so I bit the bullet and bought a new iPhone6.

Matinee of my friend Diana’s show “Songbird: A Tennessee Story“. Great music! Story is based on Chekov’s “The Seagull”. The show is at 59E59 Theater

Walked through Marathon people covered in Marathon blankets before heading to the above.

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King Kitty, the royal cat of Greenwich Village. Adorable, regal and somewhat creepy on the side table where I slept.

Went to Citifield for game 5 of the World Series. Finishing off a championship weekend with my boys in the big show. The friend who offered them to me hates me because I accepted and then backed out because I didn’t want to spent $400 to watch the Mets possibly lose. Changed my mind again and went to the game. Walked around marathon people on Madison Avenue to get to Grand Central. Yes, I went to the game. Yes, I spent the $400 bucks. Yes, we lost the game. But I went home content – sad – but content. The Mets had a great season.

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I’ve walked through the closet door to Narnia. World Series. Mets Versus Royals. Game 5. The Royals won. My hat off to them. Worthy opponents. Mets 2016!

Early morning flight back to LAX, quivery at all the money I’m losing and trying to get the motivation and strength to start working for myself to earn self gratification in a job I love and is of my doing – plus make more money so I can finally move back to New York.

Throughout all of this, I saw my wonderful, crazy uncle and my aunt Cathryn. I spent time with my beautiful cousin Michele. And I am thoroughly exhausted. Plus, I spent lots of time falling in love with this lovely creature…

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Sasha, the abominable dog. White as snow. Black button eyes. Heart of gold. Gentle pup.

Time to get ready for another trip. Oh New York. I miss you so. Can I flip the table of the Joni Mitchell song “California”? New York…I’m coming home. Will you take me as I am?

As a true New Yorker (shut up Time Out. I’m a New Yorker)…I say….you fuckin’ better!


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A Crispy Realization…

balloonheartbwThis is the sound of the unlocking and lift away.+

I guess I wanted more. I wanted to speak with him, tell him things without the crush of a crowd waiting to talk to him. I can’t compete with the love and adulation of fans, their hearts aching from the show, waiting to tell him and the smiling cast what stirred in their hearts. They stand with anticipation outside the lobby, iPhones, selfie sticks, waiting with creased Playbills and markers, ready for an autograph or a photo cheek to cheek – so well deserved as the good people they are.

But I didn’t want an autograph or photo. I didn’t know what I wanted.

I walked around the theater, hoping to gain the courage to say something…anything. “Say something! Talk to him. Say something! Anything! … This can’t be our last…”*

And it was. I couldn’t connect. Why? He doesn’t bite. He’s human. He’s nice. What did I want?

Me, a little lost right now, clinging to anything wonderful to keep me going as I try to find the juice again. Just wanted to tell him how I’ve admired him since he played drag years before, how we have a mutual friend, how when I finally saw – after so many years of knowing him on the peripheral of actors and projects that swirl around me – that one interview he did that captivated me, where I saw his energy – a light – a gentleness and a lurking darkness. I saw a person beyond a role. At least a scratch of someone I don’t know at all. But something there seemed familiar.

I tried to write him a note on social media – only to delete it before he could see it. I tweeted, but wiped it clean.  He doesn’t need to see my obsession. I’m noise.

Unhinged and Uninhibited. Those words come to mind. Maybe the unhinging of the heart unburdens the soul and allows this stuck writer to create, to build something new. Let go of the fear that builds the wall.

Maybe Unhinged and Uninhibited make a good team.

So, I file him away with Bruce and Helen and with my Samuel French books. I imagine him reading this, but he will likely never come across it, never know this. But just the fantasy make things a little easier.

I make room on my iPhone playlist for new music, put away the singing pleas of Alison speaking of floating cars and telephone wires as her pained father tries to find her face yet looks away, unable to connect. Unable to say something…anything.

My summer on Maple Avenue has ended.  A virtual visit to Beech Creek with hills and valleys below. So much damage, broken windows…I didn’t realize I would end up like Bruce in that car ride. But maybe there will be other chances, more opportunities. Perhaps this wasn’t the right time. Yes, next time.

My stay made me want to come home to New York and face the memories – to build something new.

I’ll always remember moments with my dad when nothing went unsaid. There were grades and piano, television, screaming parents and me hiding, imagining pop songs that made things happy. And there was music, baseball, books and boys. The ever present actual Quixote my own dad sculpted out of clay and bronze that sat on the mantel. And my mother at the Steinway, playing perfect pitch, who let her days go by.

Either way, their love will be safe with me.


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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.