Order of the Good Write

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


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New York and Bowie

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I’m still reeling from the loss of David Bowie. The past week and a half has been spent re-listening to albums I’ve put aside, or cranking up my personal Bowie playlist lined up with my favorite songs – ‘Rebel Rebel’, ‘Starman’, ‘Moonage Daydream’…so many on the queue.

I came across a paparazzi photo taken within the past year or two of David Bowie hailing a cab on the streets of New York. Decked out in jeans, sweater, scarf, sunglasses and hat, he looked like any New Yorker hailing a cab. He blended in. He was anonymous in this vast island of tall buildings that sprout like canyons among the noise of traffic and ongoing construction. I miss New York terribly, but what makes it even harder is knowing that Bowie was part of the fabric of something I left five years ago and long to return to.

When you live in New York, you know that someone famous could live right across the street from you, down the road, over on the next avenue. They are living there – somewhere behind the thick concrete and brick walls that hide multitudes of small apartments, crammed with people – or large enough to house the most wealthy.

You never think about who is famous nearby. There isn’t a GPS or an app to tell you. Even if there was, it doesn’t matter.  The famous blend in with the grey and dark streets. The unexplained, spiritual energy of New York does something to disperse someone’s presence. You have to look thrice to notice someone. Probably because no one looks anyone in the eye – it’s easy for anyone – even the famous -to slip away when the city filled with eyes never meet the eyes of others.

But please know that in saying this – I’m speaking for my own perception. The idea of New York is subjective. The idea of New York is misunderstood. It’s a vision by own making. It’s a concept many love, hate or envy. It’s a concept of dreams and nightmares. Everyday hustle and romantic skyline vistas outside the window of a skyscraper at night.

In New York, there’s a need to flow with the slipstream of everyday humanity so one doesn’t drown in the crowded subway cars or tire of the energy, the vibration of human life staring you in the face as soon as you leave your building.

In order to survive, you stay within an invisible cocoon. You remain within your own mind space. You don’t let anyone in unless someone needs help. You don’t give yourself away lest you lose your self to the constant barrage of sound and visual stimulation.

In New York, you understand it when someone needs to be alone, especially those iconic faces that have been taken in by millions upon millions of eyes.

We place our idols – especially those who mold themselves into godly forms on stage – on such high pedestals. They seem otherworldly – especially Bowie. But he was a guy who did extraordinary things. Like any devoted writer, singer and performer,  Bowie had a line to a cosmic source. He used it to bring down an element of creation.

Yet, in the end…he was a husband, father, an artist and a New Yorker.


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The Smell of a Snow Day

I’m writing now in order to capture a moment I’m currently experiencing.

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The office days are dwindling down in my place of business. Two glorious weeks off as we scramble these last two days to get things done, send out client Christmas cards, give and receive little prezzies from our colleagues.

And someone in the pantry of our office has made toast. The golden warm aroma is floating past my nose and it brings me back to snow days.

Toast, coffee, bacon and baking cookies are my favorite smells in the world. They transport me to mornings waking up to the sound of parents in the kitchen, quiet weekends of freedom or, when I became an adult,  mornings in an office building in New York City or in Los Angeles where the day begins and so much is ahead.

Even though the lush aroma of toast is hitting me in the middle of a chilly Los Angeles studio office, the smell is the smell of snow days. The sight of thick, fluffy piled high snow mounting up. The thrash of ice flecks ramming into the window with waves of gale forced winds. The cozy warmth of home.  The thrill of the local radio or television station announcing school closures.

Sweet hot tea and the gold aroma of toasting bread for breakfast on those mornings. It makes me feel happy, carefree and brings me back to to the moments of putting on snow coats and pants, layered socks, boots, mittens, hats and bound into the fresh cold snow, breaking down a yet un- shoveled path with my legs until I made way to the road, where the plow truck barrel through, creating walls of snow drifts on both sides of the street.

One friend would come out of his house. Then another and another. A pow wow at the foot of my front path, now buried in two feet of snow. Sleds were fetched. Then an organized sleigh ride down the steepest driveway on Wilmoth Avenue would commence. That steepest driveway was my driveway.

Although the snow was high, we’d try to make our way down the winding drive to my backyard. We’d get stuck. With our bodies and legs, we’d pound the snow into a reasonably flat terrain, allowing our sleighs to get through the height.

It took a while. Our finger and toes went numb. We’d park our sleighs in front of my house. The snow would be lightening up by now. Not as windy. We’d break for a hot chocolate in my mother’s kitchen. Then – an hour later, pull on all our snow clothes and head out again for another round.

We’d sleigh one by one down the hill passing underneath the bending feather branches of our weeping willow, weighed down with the weight of snow. We stopped at the bottom where the untouched parameters of snow broke our speed.

After a while, we’d link our sled with our hands and feet, making a human sleigh ride chain. The excitement of creating a human train down the steep drive was like magic, a daisy chain of kids coming together to make a long locomotive.

On and on, the afternoon, as so many like these would, continued. With every turn of the rides, more snow was crushed and beaten down into tight, flat, slippery roadway.

A snow day was like a new project – a job. We Sleigh rode until our fingers grew numb or the white steely grey sky turned clear with blue and then grew into a sunset purples and shades of orange.

And it all started off with the aroma of toast, promising so much on this snow-free day. It takes me back to my home in Ardsley, NY.

 

Edited for tense.

 


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Lost in the Retrograde

Screenshot 2015-09-16 13.21.15Hey Mercury Retrograde and all things divine and spiritual. I believed in you. I believed in intention and clearing out space to make room for the next wondrous thing to come. I stayed full of intention with a dose of detachment, kept my mind to the point, left room for anything goes. I was open to the possibilities and the magic, the pain and the learning. The beauty of change and the openness to new beginnings. I did my work. I put my head down and kept plugging away, not concerned with the outcome.

But you lost me. My desire for writing and building my own create life has drifted and popped. I’m left gazing at the sky and listening to Bon Iver’s Re:Stacks until 2am, until my brain feels like it’s levitating from my head. I wander, listening to Spotify playlists lined up with songs that are cusp tunes – music that hits the twilight of the mind…that skips on the rim between thought and love. Yet…nothing stimulates the desire to do a damn thing about my life anymore.

I get it. You have to pull things into gear to align things, and it takes time. But is that what you really do? Or is this just a world filled with free will and no God/Universe – void of Mercury Retrograde excuses preventing us from working or making us not feel it.

Look at it all.  My New York ever changing, and me, in Los Angeles, going adrift, money rushing out of my accounts, pining for NYC home where I’m going to have to start all over again –  to find the key to this expensive place to let me back in again. Maybe I can fool it?

Me at NYC’s door: [knock…knock]

NYC:  Who’s there and how much money do you have?

Me: Umm…candygram.

NYC: Graham? Graham who?

Me: Uhhhhh….land shark.

Guess that old SNL trick isn’t going to work.

So, Mercury or whatever the hell you are. You go into retrograde today and all those things where electronics don’t work and things go wrong are supposed to take hold are swirling. But that happened to me weeks ago. I’m tired of the universe, and I’m shaking my fist in the air. Taking a cue from Trent Reznor, “There is no fucking YOU, there is only me. Only.”

Ayn Rand…let’s have a talk.


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“Moving On” Again

nora ephron

“When you give up your apartment in New York and move to another city, New York becomes the worst version of itself. Someone I know once wisely said that the expression “It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there” is completely wrong where New York is concerned; the opposite is true. New York is a very livable city. But when you move away and become a visitor the city seems to turn against you. It’s much more expensive (because you have to eat all your meals out and pay for a place to sleep) and more unfriendly. Things change in New York; things change all the time. You don’t mind this when you live here; it’s part of the caffeinated romance of the city that never sleeps. But when you leave you experience change as a betrayal. You walk up Third Avenue planning to buy a brownie at a bakery you’ve always been loyal to, and the bakery’s gone. Your dry cleaner moves to Florida; your dentist retires; the lady who made the pies on West Fourth Street vanishes; the maitre d’ at P.J. Clarke’s quits , and you realize you’re going to have to start from scratch tipping your way into the heart of the cold, chic young woman now at the door. You’ve turned your back for only a moment, and suddenly everything’s different. You were an insider, a native, a subway traveler, a purveyor of tips into the good stuff, and now you’re just another frequent flyer, stuck in a taxi on the Grand Central Parkway as you wing in and out of LaGuardia. Meanwhile, you read that Manhattan rents are going up, they’re climbing higher, they’ve reached the stratosphere. It seems that the moment you left town they put up a wall around the place, and you will never manage to vault over it and get back into the city again.”

-Excerpt from ‘New Yorker’ article by Nora Ephron, “Moving On”, June 5, 2006.

Yes. Every word of it.


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‘New Yorker’ Photo Essay: New Orleans “City of Water”

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Photo by Alec Soth / Magnum for The New Yorker. Caption: Sophie Borazanian and her dog, Joni, at Algiers Point, in the Fifteenth Ward.

“New Orleanians have always resembled New Yorkers; they tend to share the sense that to live anywhere else would lead inevitably to a stultifying and pitiable existence beyond the bounds of understanding.”

David Remnick, “City of Water”, The New Yorker >Photo Essay on New Orleans ten years after Katrina.  August 19, 2015. Check out photos at  http://www.newyorker.com/project/portfolio/katrina-photo-essay


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The Beat Goes On

Screenshot 2015-07-10 22.49.33I once saw Allen Ginsberg leaning on wall in front of Lincoln Center watching legendary jazz xylophonist Lionel Hampton’s apartment go up in flames.

It was January of 1997. My office colleagues and I were evacuated from the 3rd floor of the ASCAP Building, the location of my then job at The Children’s Television Workshop. There was a fire above in one of the luxury apartments and we were told to get the hell out. It was freezing cold that day. Grey skies. Post Christmas dead zone weather. We were stranded on the street for hours.

Looking up at the apartment window, I could see the ceiling of his home, the glow of the flames licked at the last of the white panes. I looked away for a few moments and then looked back to see the ceiling taken over by thick black oily smoke. The smell was an acrid, electric smell – one I had never whiffed before  but would again four years later on September 12th, 2001 –  the day after that horrible day when the winds shifted and the aroma of death and destruction fogged over my apartment and neighborhood near Riverside Park.

Mr. Hampton lost his awards. He lost his instruments, including a piano I could only imagine was a sleek black shiny Steinway. All gone. Poor man lost everything in that place.

Lionel Hampton

Lionel Hampton

In the midst of this chaos, I strolled across the street, past the Empire Hotel over to the bottom steps of Lincoln Center, and I saw him. The Beat Poet. That familiar Jewish bearded face – those doleful eyes I had seen in so many beat photos in books about the counter culture. Little did I know at the time – he was an ill man, under the throes of heart failure. It’s been reported that during this time, he was saying his goodbyes to friends through farewell phone calls (Johnny Depp apparently wept) and gifts of money to friends in need. * (Source: Wikipedia)

On this cold day, Ginsberg was looking up at the last billow of smoke rising. What was he thinking? Was this a pyre for the living, or a symbol of the end? Was he looking at the past going up in flames? Was he worried about a legendary genius with whom he may have shared late night discussions in the glow of candle light in dark clubs downtown?  Did he remember the cool wooden succession of notes and scales playing off a turntable on days when he made love to his lover, or wrote “Howl”?  Was he infused with the muse while under the spell of a Hampton track the day or night  he wrote, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked…”?

Hampton lost everything.  But dignity doesn’t go up in flames.

Ginsberg died about four months later.

Hampton followed in 2002. What he lost in that fire doesn’t matter now.

What he and Ginsberg left behind – does.


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This Wicked Little Town

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Photo by Matthew Wiebe – https://unsplash.com/matthewwiebe

Oh, New York – I miss your heat and your humidity, your snowstorms and sub-degree temps. I miss rainfall and clouds, grass that really grows from the ground, not installed like living carpet on the dry and barren patch of front lawn, sucking up water from sprinklers that shouldn’t be on because of the drought, creating a modern day dust bowl.

I miss Riverside Park and Union Square. University Place and Bleecker. The City Bakery. ABC Home. Chelsea Market. UCBNY on 26th and 8th. Broadway.

I miss your weird smells and pungent odors. You pace, your energy.

I miss my trigger fast pace of filling my Metrocard with money as I hear the train roar into the station, and swipe it at the turnstile, just crossing over to make it through the closing door before the “ding dong”.

LA – nice try on public transport, but your buses need bus lanes. Your drivers need to know the right of way and that the stick attached to their steering wheel is a directional, telling the drivers yonder if they’re making a left of a right. Oh, and how they love to speed up alongside you to pass you. Ah, the competition, the lack of consideration, getting ahead and not letting others know where you’re going. Driving here is like a casting call. Bless the kind drivers who do exist. And they do.

Five years ago, when NYC burned me out and I set my radar for LA,  I used to constantly quote James Murphy, who sang, “New York I love you, but you’re bringing me Down”.

It’s now the other way around.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to be in LA. I love my pretty apartment and my nice car, my peace and quiet, my lovely red headed hound dog.

LA’s skies are always deep blue, turning into dark dreamy skies at night. Skies where Venus shines so bright next to Jupiter I thought it was a man-made satellite until I Googled, “What is the brightest star on the western horizon?”

I open my blinds at night to gaze at that sky where “stars hang like grapes”, as the great Woody Guthrie once wrote in “California Skies”.  Woody – he wasn’t fooling.

My LA life is blessed with wonderful friends I’ve made for life. Neighbors who’ve brought me joy, and taught me lessons about adversity and happiness.

Five years of no winter provided a perfect respite from 46 years of frozen fingers,  icy slush, shoveling, sweating, bad hair and deeply depressing late winter low light.

Yet, I miss the gorgeous feeling of winter turning to spring and then summer and then fall. When you handle such contrasts – you’re more grateful and more in the moment when a crocus comes fighting through the thawing earth.

While I’ve been gone, the new World Trade Center was built. As a very young child, I saw the old one go up and in adulthood, saw them come crashing down on a Diamondvision board in Times Square, as I was running home that horrible day.

While I’ve been gone, Hurricane Sandy roared through, destroying my home town and bringing folks together in ways not seen by outsiders of this city.

I think of California in song. Jackson Browne, Joni MitchelI singing about California and their lives defined by the landscape, the mythology of this western plane. I may have driven through Laurel Canyon many times, and rolled down the Sunset Strip – but I never really drove up the 101 without someone else at the wheel.

I never really called the road my own.

California,  I’ll never “kiss a Sunset pig” and it’s okay if you don’t “take me as I am”.

I am grateful for everything in my life.  I live in the moment, never running from the present, always keeping the faith that I’ll be back in New York permanently at the right time in the right way with grace and purpose.

I love you LA, and will one day be a visitor again, but at least I’ll be able to go back home to New York – where I can watch my beloved NY Mets lose on east coast time.

New York, you are a wicked little town. I’ve used two wishes like a fool, and I’m going to be very careful how I use the third.