Order of the Good Write

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


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The Writer’s View & Everyone Else: Two Sides To A Story

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When I was at the AWP conference last week, I attended a panel entitled “The Ethics of the Artist: Writing About Family in Essay and Memoir. The panel of authors comprised of top authors of memoir: Alice Eve Cohen, Julie Metz, Aspen Matis, and Honor Moore, moderated by Laura Cronk of The New School.

Alice Eve Cohen, author of “What I Thought I Knew: A Memoir”  answered a question posed to the entire panel by Ms. Cronk.  The question was – who do family members of a memoir deal with being part of an experience reiterated through the filter and subjective view of the author. What about their side of the story? How about what they perceived? Ms. Cohen said this (and I’m paraphrasing):

“You know, my husband and daughter (who are very much part of this memoir) told me before coming here that they were going to set up a panel of family members featured in best selling memoirs over on the other side of the convention center hallway at the same time I’m scheduled on this panel and call it “The Family of the Best Selling Memoirists: Our Side of the Story”.

Perception. If a story you write belongs to you, then what does it mean for the people who are part of your story?  What was their concept of the experiences at hand?  Would the story be a drastically different one if they told it?

There are two sides to the coin of personal auto-biographical storytelling. There’s your side, the one of the writer telling the succession of events either through linear or non-linear telling, and the view of those on the other side.

When I think of this two way concept of literature or memorization, I often think of the 1986 New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox  World Series outcome.

mets 86 win ws

As a Mets fan, the 1986 post season was a miraculous roller coaster ride of deadly lows and euphoric highs. They overcame losses with luck and good timing to win improbably time and again. When you thought they were done. They weren’t. Especially during the World Series when in game six that ball drifted between Bruckner’s legs and Mookie Wilson helped propel the Mets to a win. They went on to game 7 and took the whole thing.

As a Boston Reds Sox fan, 1986 was just another historical disappointment in a long time history of no championship wins. For them, our celebration was their classic and profound loss, another kick in the gut. The video would play out again and again in Red Sox history as a moment of lost opportunity, a low, disgusting point, a potential win that was so heartlessly and devastatingly taken away from them – again. It was cruel.

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While we celebrated for thirty years, Red Sox fans mourned until 2004 when they finally won the World Series. While we were on the right side of history, with photos of the celebration hanging on the walls of Shea and Citifield, Sox fans wrestled with the torturous pain and vast disappointment. While replays of that moment were and are played on the Diamondvision in Flushing, Red Sox fans had to re-live the loss in their minds while family members who never lived to see the Sox win a World Series, passed away.

I was on the right side of history. My Red Sox fan friends were on the wrong side. We each came away with two different tellings of that World Series, two different feelings, two different views of what that one story and outcome of events meant to us.

In 2004, I paid it back and rooted for the Red Sox to win the whole thing. And they did with a repeat in 2007, while my Mets sank into mediocrity and a longer off season vacation.

Two sides of a story produced two different stories.

The one thing that was discussed by the authors at AWP was how to deal with the reaction of those who are part of the story and have their side to tell. Some family members in their book were horrified or indifferent to the publishing of these books. One family member wrote a book to David Remnick of ‘The New Yorker’ pleading with him to not publish an excerpt from her book “The Bishop’s Daughter”, to which Remnick went ahead and published it anyway. Honor is estranged from that brother, along with other siblings who took offense to her telling the story of their father.

It was mentioned strongly, that as long as you write your truth and represent those in your history with compassion – not hate, you will honor their side with grace, especially if you’ve brought the other members of the story in on what you’re writing. Let them have their say, but stay strong in your veracity. They are free to write their side any time. In fact, what an interesting thing for readers to read: Two sides of a story!

Always be brave in telling your story. Even though there are two sides to every one of them, it’s our right to show our fairness and our strength in the telling.

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Post Baseball Season Blues

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A certain kind of melancholy hits this time of year. Summer is done. The days are getting shorter. Halloween candy is available in barrels at your local supermarket. Even Jack-o-lanterns and skeletons are beginning to show up on the front doors of houses as the leaves turn from green to orange to yellow to red to brown. (Here in L.A., it’s mostly just brown.)

Don’t get me wrong. I love autumn. In fact, it’s probably my favorite time of year. Yet, baseball is one of the many symbols of summer, along with beach balls, picnics and pool wear that disappears along with those lazy hazy days.  So, the one thing that puts the cherry on top of the autumnal blues before I forge ahead to the doldrums of winter – is the end of baseball.  Not the post season play, where all the hot shot winners of spring and summer win enough games to get into October ball. No. I’m speaking of the actual official baseball season.

You see, the post season doesn’t matter much to me.  I’m a New York Mets fan. We don’t see the post season very much. In my world of orange and blue (Giants orange and Dodger blue – colors that commemorate those teams when they were in New York), baseball usually ends when the schedule closes in on game 162.

Last weekend marked the end of the Mets 2014 season. It completed on a high note. They ended up tied for second place in the National League East alongside their rivals the Atlanta Braves. But who’s a rival to them in that division anyway?  The entire NL East was as limp as a noodle average-wise. The only team that went above .500 was the Washington Nationals and they turned out to be the best team in the National League with a .593 winning average, thus clinching the NL East Title and entry to the post game party.  They helped get there on the sagging backs of the Mets, who lost time and time again to those gnatty Gnats and their DC energy.

But my Mets quietly folded up their tent and headed into the off season on Sunday by completing a sweep of the Houston Astros and bidding adieu to Bobby Abreu, a player who has likely been on every team I’ve ever hated.

We can take away some nice memories of some solid performances by Jakob DeGrom, Lucas Duda, Bartolo Colon, Travis D’arnaud, Daniel Murphy. Oh, and holy cow, with Matt Harvey coming back next year, perhaps we can build on the momentum of the team’s late season play and be a contender in 2015? Maybe be an elite team that all the current elites shutter to face?

Once again – I’m exercising my right as a Mets fan – by going into the hot stove season with “wait until next year” on the brain.

As the sun sets earlier with those warm, low lights and as the nights get cooler, I bid goodnight to my Mets until they fire up the lights of Citifield again in April.