Order of the Good Write

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

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Autumn Writing Music Monday: All the Trees

“You will live in joy and peace. The mountains and hills will burst into song, and the trees of the field will clap their hands!”  Isiah 55:12

With the last few days of official summer drifting closer to the autumnal equinox, I think of fall and all its “mellow fruitfulness”*  I’m not religious, nor am I a bible reader. Yet, I do believe there are written passages in the ‘Good Book’ that reflect a lovely soulful connection to the earth and all its godly goodness.

(Writing Prompt: What does Autumn mean to you in your part of the world? Write about it!)

After the barefoot freedom and long days of summer, when green leaves so hard earned after a cold brutal winter begin their cycle of goodbyes in a glory of golds and color, soft lights, smokey rotten aromas and crisp chilly air….we drift into soulful introspection following the season of fun in the sun.

Trees are life. They are compelling. Not only am I taken by them being a metaphor for family and various generations and cycles of life, I’m mainly fascinated by their growth, their size, their variety and their majesty.

I feel safe under their branches, yet frightened by their towering height. In their bare state in winter, their trunks, branches and twigs look like human arteries, veins and vessels clustered like an x-ray of the human cardiovascular system. They are the living, breathing nervous system of this planet, allowing oxygen and soil to work cohesively to sustain life and to filter out impurities.

I love trees so much, I often wonder why I never studied Dendrology.

The trees of Autumn invite us outside for a celebration of color before bidding farewell for the winter.  The colors bring about new wardrobe, holiday preparations kicked off by the first sign of pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns before we see turkeys, pilgrims and Santa Claus.

It’s the parade of trees. This beautiful fall foliage reminds me of the woods behind the condo where my parents used to live. Forty years before they lived there, that backyard area of woodland used to be a small house-less street,  disused and left to the overgrowth of nature.

The wide path, once road, was no longer concrete, but packed with years of fallen leaves mulched into wide and winding beaten path. Various old telephone poles that had old rusted metal badges marked ‘Bell Telephone’ were still hanging on the dark, rotten wood, old electric cables were still strung from pole to pole leading to the active street beyond the stretch of woods.  A small forgotten fire hydrant sat there, ready in case of danger.

Far off, you could hear the babbling brook that turned rainwater from the hills into a splashing falls near the edges of the land that bordered the parking lot of the condos nearby. There was an old rusted plow with wagon wheels disintegrating into the dead, dry branches. A relic of another time.

Photos like the one above take me back to this memory. Back to when I walked our hound Baldrick under a canopy of yellow and red trees in November. The chill hitting my nose, the smell of hickory smoke from chimney bringing in a feeling of warmth and peace.  We’d walk down that old forgotten wide beaten path and jump over fallen trees – both thin and thick, while Baldrick sniffed and shuffled to bring up scent on an animal that danced by earlier

I’m aiming to return for good. If not this season, then in time to be back and settled by next Fall with my hound Baxter. We will take the train up north, back to those woods, where he can waddle and sniff in the footpath of his predecessor – his late brother Baldrick. Back to that part of the east coast where I felt nature, with cool earth, wet leaves and mellow fruitfulness.

“All the Trees in the Field Will Clap Their Hands”

If I am alive this time next year,
Will I have arrived in time to share?
Mine is about as good this far.
I’m still applied to what you are.
And I am joining all my thoughts to you.
And I’m preparing every part for you.
I heard from the trees a great parade.
And I heard from the hills a band was made.
Will I be invited to the sound?
Will I be a part of what you’ve made?
And I am throwing all my thoughts away.
And I’m destroying every bet I’ve made.
And I am joining all my thoughts to you.
And I’m preparing every part for you.
Words and Lyrics: Sufjan Stevens



*From ‘Jeeves & Wooster’ by PG Wodehouse











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Storytellers in the Arts: Music

Screenshot 2015-04-13 18.17.44

Singer/Songwriter Sufjan Stevens

Back in 2004 I came upon a New York Times magazine article mentioning the musical artist Sufjan Stevens. His album “Michigan: The Great Lake State” had been out for a while, and radio airplay had been plentiful on the college and NPR based stations on the dial. (Or digital dial if you want to be more specific. Internet Radio, that is.)

“Michigan” was a revelation. A bittersweet, emotionally sweeping look into hearts of mid-western defeat, family trouble, painful partings and lost dreams. Sufjan was a storyteller, illustrating the difficult pattern of hearts and minds blown asunder, but through the rubble of economic breakdowns and family upheaval, the tender vocals, the sensitive banjos and charming effects lay a bit of sunshine and hope – where deep in the greatest loss, one finds redemption. Spiritual strength is woven dearly throughout this work. Stevens is a devout Christian who never preaches, but sings of how his faith is applied to challenges. He questions God, himself and everything around him without judging the characters he creates to tell the story, without bible thumping.  Stevens’ faith is of a zen like nature.

In 2005, Stevens’ follow up album “Illinois” was in the same vein – this time an ode to the great state that was a virtual operetta of bustling rhythms and marching band inflections. There was a mixture of laughter and sadness. Funny songs about  UFO’s, Zombies, or towns like Jacksonville and Decatur, where step moms show kids the coolest things and Abraham Lincoln deserved a big pat on the back. Then, there were songs dark songs like “Casimir Pulaski Day” where a young love dies of cancer, or , “John Wayne Gacy” with lyrics peeking into the life of this demonic clown serial killer, his life and the people who knew him.

Although Stevens has a large discography of major work “Seven Swans”, The Age of Adz” and a prolific set of Christmas albums originally created for friends and family – then released to the public – I chose the two albums above because they show Stevens as his true self – a musician with a remarkable gift to tell a story.

In his latest album “Carrie & Lowell” he continues to paint a picture of his life in lyrics touching upon the universal human issue we all must face some time in our life. The death of a loved one.

Sufjan’s mother Carrie was mentally ill and a substance abuser who left Sufjan and his siblings when he was only one – seeing her from time to time throughout his childhood, flashes of memory that has come up in Stevens’ songs for years. As a listener, you knew something was up. He never revealed the details until now. “Carrie & Lowell” was created after his mother died in 2012 of stomach cancer. As the son of a mother who held a vast chasm of problems, this album not only defines the story we barely made out in his previous work, but it shines a bright light on the sadness he endured as a child who not only lost his mother when she was alive – but lost her entirely.

All songwriters are storytellers. The open source of creativity flows through them as their lives unfold and deciphered into words fit for a listeners looking to find common ground. But Sufjan Stevens’ is a story teller of every generation of lost souls whose family life never found a solid foundation until they grew up and realized how it made them an artist.

“Carrie & Lowell” is out now on iTunes or the online website of your choice. Why not sample it via Sufjan’s record company website AsthmaticKitty.com.

Sufjan shared his personal story in depth here in an interview with Pitchfork Media:

The Most played Sufjan Stevens song on my music library:

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“On The First of March, On the Holiday…”

To those who celebrate, Happy Casimir Pulaski Day.

Sufjan Stevens wrote a song about a friend who passed away on this day, but in creating the story, he brought forth a holiday that goes unnoticed for some in the U.S.A.  We never celebrate it in New York or California. Do you? (A little ditty about Jacksonville is also included.) Enjoy it on a Sunday!

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Inspiration in the Bleak Mid-Winter, Day 5 (Blizzard Edition)


(Nothing deep. I just love this song about an emotional Christmas day in the snow. Besides, it’s Sufjan Stevens and it’s pretty, wintery, melancholic snow day music.)

Going outside
Shoveling snow in the driveway, driveway
Taking our shoes
Riding a sled down the hillside, hillside
Can you say what you want?
Can you say what you want to be?
Can you be what you want?
Can you be what you want?

Our father yells
Throwing the gifts in the wood stove, wood stove
My sister runs away
Taking her books to the schoolyard, schoolyard
In time the snow will rise
In time the snow will rise…

“That Was The Worst Christmas Ever”

Words & Music by Sufjan Stevens from Songs for Christmas (p)2006 Asthmatic Kitty Records