Pamela Harris

Master Class April 9, 2015

I teach screenwriting and TV writing through a program, I teach privately, I consult on projects and I'm in a writing group where most of the writers are working writers. It means that a lot of writers cross my path and what surprises me is how many don't finish projects. Some writers have made features and have gotten into Sundance and have producers attached and have written for existing series, and even some of these writers get stuck.

I get it. Desire has to turn into perseverance to sit in a chair, alone, day after day and finish something that, for a good amount of time, threatens to seep through your hands and disappear into the dirt. Bad habits are easy to slip into and the line between writing and not writing can creep up on you.

My habits are pretty good. I know my head f*cks, I know what draft I hit my stride in, I know my process. Recently, however, I finished writing a feature and for the first time ever found myself paralyzed when it came to getting it out into the world. The script is a modern fairy tale and the scope of it is bigger than what I've written in the past. I didn't have immediate contacts for it, but I didn't have contacts when I finished my first TV project either. After slowly and consistently knocking cold on TV doors, things started happening. With this new script, I kept seeing Sisyphis and his rock and couldn't move.

I decided to write to big producers, so called A-list, for advice on how I might try to package it. I was stunned when they wrote back. Each one told me I'm at the edge of breaking through, that it sounds like it's been going great, that it's only a matter of time before I get something into production with my name on it. It was so nice and affirming to hear, but my sense of being at sea didn't lift. When I create something I have a very clear vision for it, and then it hit me: I'm writing in a medium that isn't a writers medium. What am I doing?

That realization got me motivated. I researched, sent emails, talked to people, talked to more people, and now my feature is out there. I'm waiting on a producer, waiting on an agent, and I'm done waiting. I've started writing a play. Theatre is a writers medium.

With my writing group I bring in pages, cast them with whomever is there (actors come), give brief direction and we jump into a table read. Each week I see my shortcomings when it comes to directing actors, and I've been working on this. A close actor friend studies with Wynn Handman, a well-known NYC acting coach, and she recently told me that he'll sometimes take on a sit-in director to mentor in his classes. I contacted him, went in for an interview, and this week became his new sit-in director.

His classes are master classes and I recognized a few faces from TV and movies. I was awed by how good everyone is, and how diverse. The room is set up like a small theatre and each actor gets up and performs a scene, usually from a play, sometimes from audition material. I sit with Wynn and watch. He'll work with them as they do their scene and he'll occasionally whisper to me what he's thinking and why he's saying what he's saying. Actor after actor comes alive and it's fascinating and exciting and visceral. The last few months I've been tangled up and rudderless and I walked in to my first class scared shitless and shy. Seeing the risks this class takes has made fearlessness infectious. Being in that room is thrilling.


House Hunting March 30, 2015

I never thought trying to find a house to buy would be this tough.

The most recent place we found was a barn that had been partially converted for living. It needed a lot of work, but it was affordable. Joe reached out to the broker, the work it needed wasn't daunting, and we started talking about going upstate to see it. Then, in an aerial view, I saw a large installation of buildings a quarter-mile up the road. Streetview revealed nothing, so I started researching what the buildings might be. It turned out to be a 'bionics' laboratory, which means lots of testing on rats and mice. We're leaving NY to get away from the rats, not to live amongst nuclear ones that may have escaped. The barn went off our list.

I fell in love with a late 1800's Italianate with a giant porch. It's in the middle of a charming village in the Catskills, in a quiet town an artist I know lives in. I called her and we spoke for almost an hour about how great the area is, how brutal the winters, hows it's easy to get to NYC, about the theatre and creative community. At the end of our conversation she casually mentioned how "the downtown area floods every five years or so and it's still a mess from the last flood." Poof went the Italianate.

In the same town was an amazing old Federal style brick commercial building. It sits where the floods roar in.

It's not that we're not aware of flooding. Our house hunting trip to Catskill made us very aware of flooding and we now check everything against FEMA floodmaps to see what's in the flood zone. What we're finding, though, is water doesn't always go where it has in the past. Even though new maps are being drawn up, not everything that floods shows up as being in the flood zone. (During Hurricane Sandy, the water came exactly to where the New York City flood map showed it would. We watched the whitecaps wave across Hudson Street from our living room.)

Over the last few months we found a house that had a massive power station hidden just up the road, and another house that turned out to be near land that may become a giant wind farm. I started reading the notes from the town council meetings and discovered projects for a pipeline and an even bigger power station that are in the works, though these could take years. Friends who bought a house in a town I love said they can hear farm turbines and other machinery from half a mile away. When the wind blows a certain way they can even smell it. They don't mind, though, and rack it up to country living.

NYC is loud and ripe and lately all I can hear are sirens and horns. When I ask friends upstate about quiet they laugh and say nothing's as noisy as the quiet. But it's a great quiet: the birds wake them at 4:30 and when the volunteer fire dept. horn blares at noon it's a unifiying sound, not an intrusion. We're getting to the point where we have to do our due diligence and then hope for the best. But I'm cutting and running at rats. Especially bionic ones.


Green and White March 16, 2015

What a difference a week makes.


Ginger Warm February 12, 2015

Randee Sue Phillips is an amazing knitter. She's also an amazing friend. When I mentioned Ginger's ears got cold on these freezing days she whipped up a little ear warmer for her.

Up north is getting astounding amounts of snow, but we're getting more of a slushy ice mix. Which then freezes. The sidewalks are covered in chemicals to melt the ice and the streets are filled with salt, and all of it burns paws. We tried the blue balloon booties, which are good for two or three wearings. We then went hardcore with real boots, but once she got used to them and started prancing around they came right off. She can feel the ground through the balloon booties and they stay put, so we're back to those for now. What do you use for your pup's feet in salt?



Rat Chips February 2, 2015

What are rat chips, you ask?

Take one large rat, preferably the size of a cat. Hit it with a car then run it over 30 or 40 times until it's nice and flat. Let it freeze completely and get buried under snow. Then walk Ginger.

We were walking, enjoying the fresh snow, then bam! Her face was in and out of the snow, rat chip clenched in her jaws. We start rolling on the snow, I'm fighting to take my mittens off so I can grab at the rat chip with my bare hands, Ginger's prancing the length of the leash just out of reach. Neighbors with cats are horrified. Neighbors with dogs nod knowingly. I eventually won and got the chip, but what exactly did I win.


Facebook and Birthdays January 27, 2015

I love birthdays and Facebook.

I'm rarely on FB, and every time my birthday rolls around I wonder why I'm not. The generous culture of it floors me - happy birthday, like like like! But I also love how technocellular is it, i.e. I may see the guts and string of my life, but I also get to see yours.

This year the first birthday wishes came from friends far away, friends who live in time zones where their tomorrow is still our today. My Aussie friend is a newer friend and work acquaintance who posts pics with his boyfriend, his dog and the design work he does for a magazine. He's a screenwriter, a good one, but he posts nothing about that ever.

An old friend now lives in Zurich. I say now because I consider her a good friend, yet she moved there over twenty years ago and I've seen her maybe twice since. Seeing her online makes me go to her homepage and holy sh!t there's her brother! A flash of a vague memory erupts, we're in our twenties, maybe at The Ballroom, maybe it was Area. Her daughters are close to twenty and look at them! They're gorgeous!

High school FB friends start posting birthday wishes, the early risers first. Most of them I barely knew in high school - I was a burn out and they weren't, but my town was small and I've known most of this group since kindergarten. I feel a swell of love for them, as I do every year. One always posted about her husband and kids, then about two years ago her posts went through a one day at a time feel, a today is the first day of the rest of your life vibe. Divorce? AA? I look at her homepage and take a closer look. She looks good. She looks clean and sober. I hear you on that one, sister who I don't know, but do.

I get a private happy birthday message from another acquaintance from way back when, someone who lives in a small New England town and always has. Small Town Guy is married, but has been in the closet forever. I know this because a close friend here in NYC (and FB) who's far out of the closet emailed me some time ago and asked why my Small Town Guy who he doesn't know and never met is trying to friend him. That's when I realize that Small Town Guy has a secret life and must be trying to find a community he can be less secret in, albeit online. I feel a pang of sadness for him. Then I think damn, you're hiding in the LGBTQ (is for questioning) world of today? But, see, lately I've become aware of just how much angst I have over how others see me, how I sand down my aggressive corners or how I have a moment of panic when someone posts a photo I'm in where I don't look great.

That thought pinballs me to, do my business acquaintances and friends know how old I am?! I go to my FB account and there's my birthday date. With the year I was born. Does the year show?! Fu@k it. Does the year show? Fu@k it.

I get a post from a high school acquaintance - she's a grandmother?! How old am I? Soon after there's a post from a friend the same age who has a six-week old baby. How relieved am I?

I start scrolling my general feed. There's a post from the first studio visit I ever had. This guy posts everything - nothing is off limits - which I love. Small Town Guy should definitely friend him. There's a post from the first curator who put me in a show. You never forget your first. Oh! My work has gone up at auction (it sold well, thank you very much) and I've shown in non-profits. Those fu@kers always post the year. My birthday is out there.

Egad. Get off the age thing. Look at these people I went to high school with. We look great!

Scrolling more, there's the guy I lost my virginity to. When FB was a novelty we said hello! Hello! I lost my virginity at the Swiss Chalet attached to a Denny's. The following morning there was a knock at the door from the chambermaid. Being polite I opened the door and the chambermaid was the guy who sat behind me in homeroom. I screamed and slammed the door shut. I think I'm FB friends with that chambermaid ...

Right after I see my de-virginizer's post I get birthday wishes from the girl I met him through. Her mother and mine were great friends. And that sends me down the rabbit hole of remembrance: This girl's best friend ended up working for my stepfather, Nachum, a Holocaust survivor. He was much older than my mother and they were opposites in every way, except when it came to feeling feelings. Which was don't. My stepfather had a factory that blew up - oh my god she looks amazing! A post shows a picture of a woman I went to high school with who was a quiet little wallflower. Sh!t did she blossom.

Posts are like shiny objects - I look at that and that, then jump the tracks to that. My friends are interesting and funny and are in the world, so I read the articles you post, I look at your pictures. Yet all that bouncing around makes a piece of me click off and I need to step away. It's why I'm not on FB much.

When I'm in the studio working, whether writing or drawing or handling the business of writing and drawing, I'm all in, distractions off. When I'm not working I need time to stare off and do nothing. Living in New York City with its constant hum contributes to this need for pause, but living here also lets me spontaneously meet friends for coffee and lunch and stuff going on locally. If we move out of New York City my relationship to FB will change for sure. Maybe then my post-birthday like of Facebook will sustain itself for longer than a week. I hope so. I really do.


In and Out December 31, 2014

What I want to bring into the new year with me and what I want to leave behind:

In: The HBO series 'Getting On.'

No-one seems to have heard of it, yet it's one of the best shows on TV right now. It's a comedy and a drama, often at the same time, and I've never seen anything like it. I've wept watching this show, both from laughing so hard and from, well, crying.

Out: I pray to be less neurotic about Ginger.

Oh my god her toe is red. Oh my god she's making a hacking sound. Is she peeing more than usual? She's shaking her head funny - does she have a head cold? Is that a limp; does she look sad right now; she has gas - did she eat something off the street? Losing Opal has made me desperate to not lose this one. Ginger is a happy dog, a well cared for dog, a healthy dog. Chances are she'll be waking us up at 5:30 every morning for many years to come.

In: Trust my gut more.

I have an uncanny gut. I'll know things. I'll see things that may not be there, but are there. It's time to accept it and trust it more than I currently do. I'm quick to know I can be way off or totally wrong. Usually though, my crazy thoughts bear some truth. Go with them.

In: I'm very grateful that my home life of Joe, Ginger, what I do for a living and how we live, is solid. My friends, too, are very meaningful to me. This year I became more aware of how lucky I am.

Out: Fury and hurt and grief over my sister.

I have an older sister. She's my last immediate family member still alive. For context, my grandparents, uncles and almost everyone else except a few cousins and favorite auntie are also dead. (I feel too young to have no family, but it's how it went.)

The last time I saw my sister was four years ago, at our mother's funeral. It was also the last time we spoke. We never had a time where we were close, but in the three years taking care of our mother I harbored hope that we'd get through our differences. My sister still lived in the area we were born in, and from frequently going back to see my mother I got to know my sister very well. We are extremely different, opposites even, and not in the cute way that opposites can compliment each other. I tried to get closer to her, but she didn't want a friendship. I kept thinking she's my sister, so no matter what keep hoping we'll work it out.

Then, I started to change shortly before my mother passed. It was so hard for me to even think that I may not like her, or that it was okay that we weren't going to have a relationship. It was also hard to feel the hurt that she wanted nothing with me. She was my big sister, yet I always saw her as fragile and felt maternal toward her, protective. Yet at the end my mother took all my focus and my sister simply became a person in my life. I didn't feel good or bad about her; she registered, but no longer in a fraught or emotional way. Driving back to New York from the funeral with my friends, I felt okay that I wouldn't see her again. I even felt relief.

Five months later, the fury started. It'd come from nowhere, being so fuck*ng angry at her. It'd dissipate, come back, vanish for months at a time, suddenly show it's head then vanish again. This time when the anger came up it briefly shifted to hurt, which shifted to sadness. It bounced around there for a few months, then last week it hit me that it is what it is and it's time to find acceptance with it. Seeing this has let the rage go and with it, I will say sadly, thinking about her. Something has shifted and it feels like I'm moving on.

In: I want to go to the movies more instead of streaming everything on the box. Going to the movies alone in the middle of the day is a decadent joy. There's a great theater near me that is clean and has stadium seating and the crowds tend to be light and respectful of whatever is showing. Seeing a movie on a huge screen is incomparable. I want to put my shoes on and go go go.

Everything else in my life, i.e. art and writing and teaching and consulting and my writing group and greenmarkets and this blog and you dear readers and Netflix and Joe's family and all the stuff that makes my world spin is coming with me. And the meatballs Joe's about to make. This was a good eating year and starting a new one with meatballs sets it up well.

The happiest New Year to all. May you bring good things into the new year with you.


Ye Olde Holiday Frog December 24, 2014

Ginger does love her Fluff And Tuff stuffies. That line-up of carcasses above may look wretched, yet there's still plenty of tug-o-war and ripping to be had.

We just got her two new stuffies for the holiday and the kind commandant of Fluff And Tuff sent our little Ginger extras. It means Ginger will be in the disembowel business well into January.

I want to thank you all for reading and for commenting. I love reading your comments and hopefully soon we'll tweak the design so I can comment on your comments in a more streamlined way than I do now.

The happiest holidays to all. I still think it's March and can't believe we're barreling toward the end of 2014. Was this the quickest year ever?





Hack December 19, 2014

(photo by AFP)

Last weekend's protest filled twenty blocks. That's a mile-deep group of people that marched up Fifth Avenue, over to Sixth Avenue, up to Thirty-Second Street, and then down Broadway for over thirty blocks. Yet the mainstream press barely covered it. When they did they wrote about a handful of arrests that occurred at the end of the day by a splinter group. That wasn't the real story. It was the gossipy part of the story.

Similar reportage has been playing out regarding the Sony hack. I can't stop reading about it, but not because of the personal details released - these fritter into the air and are done. (This said, I do find interesting the details of men's pay versus women's, and how certain projects come together and fall apart.) It's, an email threat to a movie studio demands the studio pull a movie because it makes fun of the North Korean president, and the movie studio pulls the movie right before its release. What does this mean for freedom of speech? (This story is starting to get traction. I read a great quote by George Clooney: "We cannot be told we can’t see something by Kim Jong-un, of all f*cking people.")

Most of the coverage concerning the hack has focused on how embarrassing the leaked emails have been for those who wrote them. Yet right now, in front of the whole world, a new kind of war is being waged: A cyber war. We have no context for this, since we've never been here before. It's taken almost a month for this aspect of the story to show up on some front pages of mainstream press.

The Sony hack has moved us into the future. We don't know how to fight this war, what the end of it might look like, who else might get yanked into it, or how it might resonate on a global scale. The world we know has changed.


One Year December 7, 2014

(top photo by Joe Villari)

A year ago today, we adopted Ginger. I remember holding her in my lap as we drove down the FDR, her little head pivoting to see all the buildings, the cars, us. She came into our apartment and jumped right on her bed, but it took her a few months before she knew for sure she was home.

She still follows Joe around the house, she often wakes us up in the dead of night to get a pet of reassurance, and she still likes to come down the stairs with her nose wedged against the back of my knee. She's a toucher, this one, which I love. Sometimes I look at her and can't imagine all those years I didn't have a dog.

                                ***

Joe's niece was in town from LI today to visit Santa at Macy's. It was a two hour wait to get in his lap. I said, "Convert to Judaism and go sit on Hannukah Harry's lap. He's giving out Dreidels. There'll be no wait." She said, "I'm asking Santa for big stuff. Get me Jenga."

A few nights ago there was a staged 'Die-In' at Macy's to protest police brutality and I was relieved nothing happened while the little one was there. However, her older sister went to the Wax Museum with a friend and I thought it would be great if she saw some kind of action or protest. They're from a sheltered area and although the city is a quick train ride away it's a continent away. Chances are they don't know what a Dreidel is. I know the little one would've converted if she did.