Order of the Good Write

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

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‘Rectify’: A Side Trip From the Side Trip to ‘The Source’

rectify - the source1

Photos courtesy of Sundance.tv.  ‘Rectify’ “The Source”.

 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

The Parable of the Lost Son – Luke 15:11-32

Mothers and sons. Fathers and daughters. For me, this has been the summer of parental relationships. ‘Fun Home’ has been on my brain, with the lives of cartoonist Alison Bechdel and her father Bruce swimming in song. Now, it’s ‘Recitfy’, with its emotional twists and character upheaval, I find the lovely pearl that is the mom and son chemistry between Janet and Daniel, so gorgeously defined in the final episode of season three entitled “The Source”.

I’m not a religious or biblical person, but when watching (or reading) a story unfold about human conflict, I admire the use of age-old archetypes and subtext from the bible peppered throughout the telling. ‘Rectify’ has something holy about it. The steady, prayerful pace is sometimes interrupted by outbursts of human anguish and hateful behavior that stirs heartache or disgust.

It’s visual poetry, sacred in the telling, poetic like scripture.

Daniel Holden, the wayward son in this tale, is a convicted murderer released back to his hometown of Paulie, Georgia after twenty years on death row. His presence in the land of the living is like a bull in a china shop. He knocks over emotions, crashes plate glass feelings, holds up a shard of broken mirror to the faces of those who see a bit of themselves in him. Marriages fail. Relationships break up. They blame Daniel. But Daniel is only the catalyst to the underbelly of problems his family and the townspeople never wanted to face. Problems caused by bias, faith, dependency, cover-ups, stories told through the filter of gossip – lies.  Through it all is Janet,  whose son Daniel is cut directly from the same worn cloth.

Daniel’s homecoming is like the Prodigal Son, a story I conjured in the last blog post about ‘Rectify’.  When mocked by the Pharisees for sitting and eating with sinners, Jesus tells them a series of stories, the last of them being the tale of the Prodigal Son, who left town with an early inheritance, only to squander it all on foolish things. After a period of famine and destitution, he returns home humbled. His father celebrates his return by killing a fatted calf and fetching for the best robe for his attire. His older son, who has been loyal and tended to his father’s needs, is angry. How could he treat this wayward son better than he after all he’s done?  The father in essence says lets be glad. He was lost and now he is found. Let’s treasure the person we’ve been given. He’s a gift. Life…is a gift.

Let’s apply this to mother Janet. As her stepson Teddy Jr. stirs in bitterness for the return of this ghostly brother. In fact, in the wake of Daniel’s return, Teddy’s bitterness and suspicion over his wife’s attention to her lost brother-in-law, compounded by a violent act of control bestowed upon him by Daniel – he has become undone. He loses everything.

And Janet is there is help Teddy Jr.. She placates her stepson. Apologizes for not being there for him as usual, a stepmother who raised a son my marriage, whose own mother left him and his father for the world.

Daniel is her blood.  They have a deeper connection that goes beyond kin. It’s ripe with philosophy and literature.They speak their own special language. One can only wonder the beauty they shared when he was a little boy – swapping simple observations and reading stories by Harper and O’Connor or poignant morality tales for children they understood in depth.

Rectify the source2Creator Ray McKinnon is an inspiration to all writers.  In ‘Rectify’ he’s created simple and complicated relationships between brother and sister – father and son, the law and government officials. He pulls apart the intricacies of cold cases, revenge, violence, angels and unconscionable devils with delicacy.

In the final episode of season three, McKinnon brings Daniel to the ocean with his mother. A side trip from the side trip to ‘The Source’ – the ocean where Daniel is baptized and washed of the past – ready to begin anew.

And his mother brings him to the next chapter, waves goodbye, and begins the wait for her son to come back home again.

Amen, brother McKinnon. Amen.


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The Prodigal Son Returns: ‘Rectify’


Aden Young in ‘Rectify’.

I am intoxicated by ‘Rectify’, the Sundance Channel’s original series (also streaming on Netflix).  I am dumbfounded, slightly dazed and catatonic from the spell it has me under. Why did it take me so long to watch this remarkable drama?

Hauntingly portrayed by Aden Young, Daniel Holden is the center of this story. Sprung from prison after spending almost 20 years on death row, he returns to a family that has moved on, a world that has changed, and a town that will never forget the murder and rape of a young girl for which he was convicted.

Also in the mix is his sister Amantha, who was twelve years old when her brother went to prison and spent her entire adulthood fighting to get him out. (Amantha is played with force and conviction by the stunning Abigail Spencer.)

The plight of Daniel is biblical, mythological and ingrained with spiritual philosophy. His given name “Daniel” is not an accident. Translated from Hebrew, Daniel means “God will be my judge.” In viewing him walk through a reign of stones cast his way, one imagines the sins of others exposed and swirling around Daniel’s turbulent yet seemingly calm orbit. He’s the Prodigal Son returning home to those who want him locked back up – especially a jealous step-brother who has lost everything (his wife, his business, his big brother status, his dignity) since Daniel came home.

There is so much more to this show I’d rather not get into since it could hinge on spoiler territory. There is still an investigation of his innocence conducted by an ambitious and sleazy state senator that may put him back in prison, plus a host of other complications caused by those involved with the case. Besides, I still have season three, which just ended last week, to get through.

Ray McKinnon is the creator of this remarkable work. This unique storytelling is food for the writer and actor. This morning, I researched some press behind the show, and came upon this terrific quote, so in tune with my own personal writing project – my own story burning a hole in my pocket.

When asked how he was able to sell a slow moving, somber show to a network, McKinnon replied:

“… usually if a person has a hunger or desire to tell a story, that also means that they have a desire to see a story like that. You have to think that you’re not the only person in the world that is thinking that way, and if you are, then you’re really in a lot of trouble. So other people were attracted to it and had a hunger for this kind of storytelling, and it’s certainly not a lot of people, but I’m gratified for the ones that do have hunger for it.

The music selected for “Rectify” is also gorgeous. Bon Iver’s ‘Flume’ and Mazzy Star’s “Into Dust” float by along with so many others. Cracker’s “Low” brought me back to some old memories. They all hit you in the gut.

Yet, the quote above is music to my writer’s heart. I’m going to live in this quote for a while.


“Bang…Zoom!” Using What I’ve Learned in Improv to Write


Any lovers of comedy improv out there? Maybe you know the concept of word association (or A thru C) – the technique improvisors use when a suggestion is shouted from the audience. If anyone here has ever gone to ASSSSCAT 3000, a popular show at he Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York (where I studied a few levels of improv) and L.A. – you know the drill. Someone shouts out a suggestion, and a monologist takes it, thinks of what it reminds them of and breaks it down with story telling, allowing the group of improvisors to capture elements of a story to create totally out of the blue scenes.

This is how I write on days when my day job is out of control, and I just need to convert my thoughts through the creative portal to my fingertips so I can write. I look at interesting items on the web or ideas that come into my head and do an A thru C: Where This…reminds me of This…which brings me to This…which starts a story based on what I’ve whittled down from that idea.

So…The internet universe has given me a suggestion – The New Yorker cartoon you see before you.  And here I go.

Alice Kramden reminds me of “Bang, Zoom” the comment Ralph Kramden would shout on The Honeymooners to Alice when she really burned him. This reminds me of old timely television, black and white with a dial you had to get up and turn in order to get one of the seven channels available for viewing. Pre-cable. Pre-satellite. Pre-DVR. Pre-Streaming. Pre-anything. Okay – maybe not pre-anything. There was FM radio back then, after all.

It reminds me of the old basement in our old house in Ardsley, New York – fully furnished with a mid-century flair (as we now know it), some old furniture, a bar for cocktails and the lingering smell of mildew. It’s where I watched old re-runs of The Honeymooners with my dad on a Zenith color television that resembled a piece of furniture. It’s likely my father purchased it back in the early 60’s long before I was born because there was never time before 1983 that it didn’t exist in my life. That old wooden thing with the dial and the coffee ring stains and the rough speaker cover with straw and silver threads was a mainstay in our household. It was the kind of old television that would blow a bulb (just like a lamp would blow a light bulb), meaning my dad who have to take it to our backyard neighbor – who happened to be a television repairman – to replace it.

As television advanced, and cable television gave humans more choice to fry their brains on any given night, my dad was hesitant to let go of the old Zenith. It cranked out a lot of hours of reruns of the Honeymooners, or original airings of CBS Saturday night shows like All in The Family, The Jeffersons, The Mary Tyler Moore Show (I still feel the cool chill of the basement when I hear the first moments of “Love is All Around”), The Bob Newhart Show or Carol Burnett.  After a while, I defied my 11pm Saturday bedtime and snuck out of bed to watch Saturday Night Live to laugh at John Belushi flipping burgers (“cheeze boiger!”) and marvel at Gilda Radner’s character creations, Lisa Loopner and Rosanne Rosanna Danna.

I remember watching that TV one evening in 1982 when a special report broke into regular programing to announce Belushi was found dead at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood. Damn. John Lennon had died only two years before. It was rough to see another bad boy John leave the planet. When Beatle John died, I was devastated. When SNL John died, I was really pissed off.

The television set and the basement reminds me of Saturday afternoons watching  The Wonderful World of Disney and NY Mets baseball. I can’t remember what I saw during the Disney hour, but I remember the lull of the Shea crowd putting me to sleep.

I can remember the days when my dad still smoked cigarettes in a red pack that were not Marlboro. To me, the smell of the sixties (which I barely remember) and the seventies is a mixture of cigarettes and toast – old car smell that has the fragrance of a thousand old smokes permeated in the threads. It’s not a bad aroma.  In fact, it’s a comforting one. Although my dad quit the habit when I was still quite young, I can still see the swirl of the smoke streaming from the smoldering cigarette waiting in the ashtray as he took out his guitar to play House of the Rising Sun or his favorite Spanish classical piece Romanza.

But it all comes back to the television. As we entered the eighties, and that old TV set started to lose color, contrast, horizontal and vertical strength, I pleaded with my dad to get a new one. Finally, finally – he broke down and purchase a brand new color  set (now long since thrown out) to replace the old Zenith.

“Why, why do you want to hold on to that old television”? I asked him the day before he walked into Crazy Eddie’s to buy that brand new fancy one.

“The memories!” he’d say. “The Saturday night television. The baseball games. Jack Parr. Laugh In. I watched all those damn shows.  But most of all…I watched a man walk on the moon for the first time. And then a second time. And then I’d watch the the rest of the Apollo mission. This television showed me outer space.”

“Bang-Zoom….to da moon, Alice!”

He must have heard Ralph Kramden say that a million times on that old television. And then he watched a man actually walk on the moon.

Yeah. That television was a keeper. Sorry dad.


Maybe That’s the Last Thing I Want

rw maybethatsthelastthingiwant

As Robin Williams became more and more famous in the late 70’s and early 80’s, it was getting obvious that he became a victim of his own fame. (Hello, cocaine and booze anyone? How about depression? Magazine publicity, fans tearing at him, comedy specials, parties, Belushi, parties, Belushi, parties. )  Trying to deal with the recent death of John Lennon, plus the trappings of celebrity he endured, Williams pitched an idea to Gary Marshall on how he – Robin Williams – meets Mork in a psychological meta situation were the actor playing the character opens up to the world about his personal struggle with fame. In turn, Mork learns about the trappings of celebrity public adulation.  Very quirky and heady at the time, but in retrospect, shockingly sad and quite intelligent.

Some background on the premise:

Mindy is struggling to keep her job as a television reporter at a local news program. Robin Williams, the famous comedian is in town to perform and has been seen around visiting coffee shops, appearing at clubs and school functions. Everyone has met him, except Mindy – the one person who really needs to get to him for a featured interview or else she will be fired.

Luckily, Mork happens to look EXACTLY like Robin Williams. (Duh.) With Williams-fever hitting its peak with the famous star in town, everyone keeps mistaking Mork for the big guy.  Williams is due to perform at a local theater. Hoping to run into him at the stage door, M&M wait it out until Mork is mistaken for the star and allowed in. Boom! Mindy gets to interview RW, and Mork gets to meet his alter-ego doppleganger. (I’ve cut out some dialogue just to tighten it up since the scene is very conversational.)

From Mork and Mindy, 1981:  Mork Meets Robin Williams


How do you keep up the pace? You arrive from Hawaii, fly all night, then go straight to the university and go lecture for three hours. Then after the lecture – you performed until 3am at the Comedy Cabaret,  and now you’re doing two shows tonight.

Well, two reasons. You see I’m a performing addict. I can’t get enough. Also the owner of the Comedy Cabaret is a friend of a cousin and a friend of a friend, so, I couldn’t say no.

Gee – that’s a great angle for my story: ‘Robin Williams, the Comedian Who Can’t Say No’

I don’t know why I can’t say no. I guess I want people to like me. (I hate myself for that). But, I used to be able to say no. Before all this craziness started, my friends used to call up and go “Come on..we’re all going outside, there’ some gnarly waves, and we’re all going to hang out”, and I’d have to go “No my Mama say I have to stay inside and read Nietzsche tonight.” Later on, I guess I was afraid to say no because then they’d all say, like, “Oh…Robin William. Mr. Smarty Pants Big Shot. Oh, you forgot your old friends. Then, ‘lend me $10,000 for a new car’  when you tell them you won’t do the ‘shrimp’ benefit.


This is none of my business but it seems that if they’re really your friends they’d understand. But it seems to me you can’t say no to a total stranger.

Well. You’re right. 


It also looks like you’re probably taken advantage of a lot. You know if you learn how to say no, you’ll probably have a lot more time to yourself.

Maybe that’s the last thing I want.

[Security guard comes in for the two minute warning. They’re ready to start the show]


(Getting up to leave. To Mindy)

Well, I hope I didn’t disappoint you.


Disappoint her? Are you kidding? You’re breaking her perky little heart.


I was always being the new kid in the neighborhood. Since I was suffering a case of the terminally shy, I couldn’t make friends that easily. I always spent a lot of time in my room and — I created my own little world. With all these little characters that had strange, unusual qualities.

After a while, I realized that well, people found these characters funny and outrageous, then I got to the point where the characters could say and do the things that I was afraid to do myself.

And, after a little while – here I am.


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Lord, What Lovable Fools These Non-Orkins Be!

Nanu Nanu, Earthlings.

I’ve been binge watching old episodes of Mork and Mindy on YouTube like it’s the second coming of Orange is the New Black, so please accept this greeting. The phase of Ork flows through me.

Having been a teenager during the original ABC-TV airing of Mork and Mindy, I ignored the sensation that was the ‘Man from Ork’. In my pimply view, Mork was a show for children, and I had just completed my hard earned years of childhood, ready to shed all things babyish for other things – like The Clash, REM, boys and makeup.

Having turned my nose up at the Mork phenomenon in the past, I’m stunned by how sweet and funny I find it today. Yes, the show fell into the network television trappings of triteness, but it was also light fluffy fun mixed with some tear jerking moments.

What can you say about Robin Williams that hasn’t already been said?  It’s no surprise that this otherworldly talent crashed onto the scene portraying an innocent alien.  He was sharp, physically quick as lightening, athletic, mentally agile, handsome, achingly sweet, and he exploded forth with hilarious outbursts obviously unscripted.

Williams was also surrounded with an extraordinary cast. Tom Poston, who dutifully played M&M’s downstairs neighbor Franklin Delano Bickley, has always been a welcomed addition to any sitcom. His timing and sardonic wit felt comfortable, like bedroom slippers. Pam Dawber, forever the all American girl (with the enviable hair and figure) was so lovely, warm and happily receptive to Williams’ maniacal pace, you have to give her mad props while witnessing her Mindy keeping up with his Mork. Dawber and Williams also had a warm, close friendship and their admiration for each other clearly shows. That alone makes me go all syrupy inside, knowing how Hollywood egos (I’m looking at you, Laverne and Shirley) can make for juicy stories in the whose-trailer-is-bigger-than-mine category.

My personal favorite is Robert Donner, who portrayed their eccentric friend Exidor. The writers on staff must have had a blast coming up with incredibly funny lines and insanely wild situations for him. Exidor made Mork’s strange behavior seem normal, perhaps even symbolizing the insanity of earth and its inhabitants. It’s obvious Exidor was a mentally ill man, and one has to wonder if his character could be written as well today with the PC police in full force.

The show was also heart warming. Mork’s innocence allows him to be a sensitive receptor to the human experience, fumbling his way through various emotional channels and situations that make up mankind. In the end, he connects with his big fat commander Orson (a dig on Orson Wells?) to tell him what he’s learned about our species. Falling in love, kissing, running away, feeling inadequate, loneliness, death and loss – he covers all the bases as the spaceman on the outside looking in, no matter how odd the circumstance may be.  And there are plenty of crazy odd things he encountered.

Last night, I stumbled upon the weirdest episode of M&M ever. It was the season premiere of season two entitled “Mork in Wonderland”.  Mork ends up taking cold medication that makes him shrink and disappear into another strange world where no laughter is allowed. All the characters are parallel opposites of familiar celebrities and people Mork knows in Boulder, Colorado, especially Mindy – who is now a more subdued version of herself named Mandy. Mork tries to get to the big bad dictator/king (an evil version of Exidor) who has put a ban laughter, by playing the fool in his court. After painfully dealing with the death of Mandy, he returns to earth to reconnect with Mindy, who was mourning what she thought was the death of Mork.  With his experience earned, the show ends with another cosmic commentary by Mork to Orson about life and death that made me a bit weepy.

Orson:  Mork, I know this may be painful, but tell me exactly how you felt when Mandy…passed on.
Mork:  Hmm. Well? I felt anger at first. Then anguish. And a sense of deep loneliness.
Orson: I can’t even fully comprehend one emotion. All those emotions at once. It must cause insanity.
Mork: Well it does, at first sir. Then you have time to think and you realize the good side. You realize that love can extend beyond universes, and even beyond death.

Until next time, this is Order of the Good Write, signing off.

Nanu Nanu!