Pamela Harris

New Show July 12, 2015

It's been going well in the studio. I go through spurts where every drawing works out and I've been in that process.

It actually never goes not well. My attitude is however it's going is how it's going. I've been doing it long enough to get satisfaction from it, no matter what. Writing is much more frustrating. Though also immensely satisfying.

Over the last few months I've had some new people coming through my studio. I'm in a show that opened yesterday at the Amy Simon Gallery and it seems to be going well so far. I like showing and it's nice to be back out there. The show will be up through August.




Wynn Handman July 9, 2015

The acting coach and all around extraordinary human being I studied with this spring, Wynn Handman, was recently interviewed for Theatre Talk. The interview appeared on Channel 13 and CUNY/TV last week, and in case you're curious about him or want to get a sense of him, you can see the interview here.


The East Village July 5, 2015

I miss seeing the old punks around.

Up until maybe five years ago, I could walk through the East Village and see some elder wreck coming up the street, hair akimbo, make-up a mess. I loved it, since they were often the original squatters, the souls living in rotting apartments who brought an organized lawlessness to the East Village back when you could still be lawless in New York City.

That's when I came to NYC, in the '80s, when the East Village had a punk music and heroin and an established personality. Walking near Avenue A to get my hair cut back then I'd pass broken buildings with fronts covered in plywood. Junkies and crackheads would slip in and out from behind the plywood, which meant a shooting gallery or cop spot was back there.

At night I'd head east to visit friends, to see music or art, to find trouble, and I'd pass Keith Haring graffiti mixed with 'Die Yuppie Scum.' Galleries would open on blocks that were totally blown out, wastelands of broken glass, dead couches, an occasional torched car. Openings would be packed, people in the streets all through the night, the same faces showing up for whatever art thing was going on night after night.

The first apartment I ever looked at was a little south of there, just below East Houston Street. I got chased north by a crackhead with a machete. A homeless woman spit in my face on Avenue C. I didn't want to live in the East Village.

Then, like slow motion, Christodora House, on Avenue B near Thompson Square Park, was converted to high-end residential living. The Thompson Square Park riots came. Gentrification became real.

For a few months in the mid-90s I lived on First Street near Avenue A. Though east of me wasn't the safest place at night, change was coming swiftly from the west. Mostly in the form of bulldozers, since everything that surrounded me there is now gone.

I've almost always lived downtown and west, in places zoned more for commercial than residential. Once in a while I'll see a few old punks over here, maybe Patti Smith, maybe a Talking Head or two. My favorite is a tall, gaunt man, 60-ish, always in a black suit with a blue button-down shirt. He wears pancake make-up that's perfectly applied and has the face of a saint framed by long dark hair. He's quite stooped and now uses a cane, and he looks right out of an Edward Gorey cartoon. My heart always warms when I see him coming.

Change is inevitable and when it's from within it always takes me to a better place. I don't know what's next for this city given how now one neighborhood blends into the next with a bank on every corner, a chain restaurant mid-block and a new high rise residential complex that no one seems to live in. I'm glad I got to experience NYC as where you had to be if you wanted to do anything creative.

There is one change happening that's a throwback with a twist: when Joe takes Ginger out in the middle of the night they walk past a park in Soho. In it, nodding on benches are clean cut 20-something white men who, in the '80s, you'd say look like yuppies. Junkies? Homeless? Evicted from Christodora House?


WTC Revisited June 25, 2015

I was downtown yesterday and revisited the construction pit at the World Trade Center. I had written about it in the past, citing how over budget it was. Now, those numbers sound quaint.

I think in the long haul, when all the construction has finished and the buildings have found their feet, it'll be worth it. The hub looks like a giant Brontosaurus, especially if you stand right in front of it. It is truly awesome.



Malcolm Miller May 15, 2015

My mother had three older brothers. The one closest in age to her was a poet, Malcolm Miller. I started to write this post last year, but trying to describe him with words felt like trapping smoke in a net.

When Malcolm was in high school he felt he wasn't learning anything and opened the window and jumped out. He then got a full scholarship to St. John's Prep, an interesting education for a Jewish boy. He went to college at McGill in Montreal, and in the '60's and '70's wrote three poetry books, 'The Summer of the True Gods', 'The Kings Have Donned Their Final Masks' and 'The Emperor of Massachusetts.' Tundra Books published them.

In the '60's he married Sandra, a Canadian Indian, and they rented a house in Rockport, Mass. Sandra had miles long black hair and wore suede, fringed, beaded clothes. I'd gaze up at her and wonder if she was Cher. They had a beagle, Joey, and one of my earliest memories ever is walking Joey with Mal while everyone else is back at their house. Sandra is there making a salad.

This memory then shifts to a horror wax museum in Salem. I'm looking at a woman suspended by a giant hook through her gut, arced backward over a stone slab covered with blood. I try to bury my eyes in his jacket pocket, but his pocket is too high. I only come up to his thigh. His told me there was beauty in everything and I had to learn to see it. He knew I'd be an artist.

Sandra got sick and went back to Montreal for the healthcare. She died and I remember being about 8, in the car with my mother, driving Malcolm to Boston, to get on a ship. He was headed for England, to get away. He traveled to Barcelona, through Europe, back to Spain. He'd send me matches and spare change from around the world. His postcard from Fez said, 'I must confez that Fez is fezinating.'

He went to Canada for a while and lived on Leonard Cohen's couch. He asked Leonard Cohen to write my grandmother letters and he would, the dryest things I've seen.

I turned 9, 10, 11 and in the summers my mother would drive me to the train station in Salem to meet Mal. He and I would train to Gloucester, we'd walk a few miles to Good Harbor Beach then walk back to town. I'd be tired, whining and he'd be talking, oblivious to me. Mal never talked about himself and he didn't tell stories, but he did all the talking. Beauty, sex, the world, in a New England drawl that had a rhythm and rumble like nothing I'd heard. I'd listen, most of it going over my head. In town we'd hit a fisherman's bar, his favorite, and he'd drink cognac and I'd drink fake coffee, lots of milk and a little caffeine. By his eighth cognac I'd be shaking, afraid to use the bathroom, the little bits of coffee adding up to a blood running jolt, and he'd still be talking. "There's a big difference between being bright and being smart," he'd say. My feet would throb. He'd check out the waitress and her ass, then any female ass that passed by the bar, talking, talking, talking.

He'd disappear again, back to Montreal, to Barcelona. He was always writing. Malcolm never stopped writing.

When I was 13 I came home from school and saw a tent pitched in the backyard. Mal was staying there with his new girlfriend. Two days later they were gone; a year later he was back in the tent with a new girlfriend. He wouldn't stay in the house, but would come in to eat. He was like a wild animal, never to be tamed by normal.

My mother and her brothers, they were all a little wacky. A little nuts. Maybe one or two could even be diagnosed as having a touch of mental illness. Each had their eccentricities, all contained under the umbrella of their equally eccentric mother, my grandmother. There were no father figures. All the husbands and fathers, including mine, died young.

When I was a full on teenager, sitting at a drive-in high with my friends, screaming my head off as Jason slashed his way down Elm Street, the ballet of blood flying two stories high, I remembered that woman with the hook through her gut and saw he was right.

I went away to college. His brothers and sister didn't see him that much. Malcolm now lived with his mother, on her couch, and if they came to visit he'd be sure to be gone. He was the favorite and I sensed they envied Mal. Their mother, my grandmother, was one of those women who you could never really know, her self-sufficiency was so thick. Maybe they thought he finally broke through her crust, but the way I saw it, there wasn't a crust to break through. It's hard for me to say this, why I'm not sure, but my mother, her brothers and mother had a narcissism so encompassing, so complete, that in time it became almost became endearing. Almost.

He loved that I went to art school. I knew this because he started stealing art books and sending them to me. About five years after I moved here he came to visit. It was another ten years before I saw him again.

All our family except me thought he was crazy. He didn't work, had no money, no phone number, and the few clothes he had were my father's, given to Mal after my father died. All Mal had was a typewriter, which he wrote on daily. He'd still travel now and then, moving through the world alone. He still lived at his mother's and was supposedly using a room at Salem State University to write in.

From the late '80s to mid '90s I called my grandmother every Sunday. Only once in a great while would Mal get on the phone. He didn't like talking on one, and instead he would sometimes loudly comment on whatever she said to me, then I'd comment back and she'd pass what I said to him. My grandmother would end up in the middle of this abstract phone call, her sense of practicality up in arms.

Mal was robust and his walk was an inch from swagger. When he wasn't writing, he was walking. Occasionally, people my mother knew would see him. A friend of her's saw him walking down Lafeyette Street in a lab coat with a doctor's name stitched on the pocket. He probably stole it out of a science lab at the college. Mal was handsome, doubly so in a crisp white lab jacket, and as women smiled hello he'd nod back, then gesture as if he had rounds to get to.

He was self publishing at this point, printing typed copies of books and selling them to libraries, universities, McGill. I think he was starting to feel troubled inside. I got a call that he disappeared from his mother's house, no one could find him. Two weeks later he showed up after living on the streets in Boston. My uncle Harvey drove down and put him in the Danvers State Hospital, an asylum in my hometown that was a Gothic terror, all spires and gargoyles. I knew it well; when my friends and I were teenagers we used to eat mescalin and sneak in at night to scare the shit out of ourselves.

He checked himself out of Danvers State after six weeks and told me he was doing research for a play. He seemed normal as sunshine, at least to me.

My grandmother eventually went into a nursing home and Mal would sleep in a chair in her room during the day. When they reno'd the nursing home and had to move her he was found living in the construction trailer. When she died he needed help and my mother and uncles wouldn't help him. Granted, he was so far off the grid it took chance to find him. Once when I was up there visiting from NY my mother and I drove around Salem looking everywhere, without luck.

I started Googling him, trying to find him. There'd be occasional sightings in Salem -- he'd be seen rolling up Essex Street or somewhere in Salem center. Supposedly he looked okay, like he was staying somewhere.

There was a rumor he had a girlfriend and lived with her.

The next few years my mother got sick, I started going up there a lot, she got sicker and in 2010 died. Shortly after, I resumed looking for him online, then started looking online in the local Salem papers. He was once donned the 'Poet of Salem' and maybe he'd be donned something else in print. Over the next couple of months I kept searching, and then I found a letter to the editor of the Salem News. It was signed Malcolm Miller:

February 28, 2011

To the Editor:

Salem's new motto, "still making history," is brilliantly puzzling. Opening a new yarn shop or restaurant is not exactly making history. While tourism dollars exist, so do people's sense of the mystery of being alive moment by moment without having to "make history."

Malcolm Miller Salem

There he was! I still couldn't find an address for him, but every few months there'd be a new letter published. It's how I tracked him. A few favorites:

February 20, 2013

To the Editor:

Is there anything sadder than talk shows? Is there anything more revealing of the banality of opinions? Silence, you are an improvement.

Malcolm Miller Salem

March 29, 2013

To the Editor:

Despite the media trying like anything to declare a great reckoning and powerful moment in church history, the truth is somewhat different and intrudes awkwardly as we pass closed churches. We have come to a historical crossroad at which the presence of God will rise in a new, greater way or disappear forever. The official church is not as alive as the sunlight tingling the late-winter air with gold. The poetry of being alive has won out over doctrine.

Malcolm Miller Salem

His letters also started showing up in the Jewish Journal, otherwise known as 'Your Community Newspaper.' My favorite of all, dated January 30, 2014:

MY COMMUNITY NEWSPAPER?

I have read the entire January 16 edition of the Journal and found no mention of me. Something is wrong. Please correct this shortcoming.

I got into a bi-monthly rhythm where I'd look for him and his letters. Reading his words I could hear his voice; he was as alive on the page as he had been in the flesh. He had such an influence on me; I'd be so excited to find a letter. I was looking for a clue to where he might be, I so wanted to see him. In November I did my usual search and instead I found his obituary. He had died in September.

Stunned, shocked - I was sure I'd see him again. Malcolm was invulnerable, to the world around him, to poverty, to what I imagined was a lack of love. I always thought Sandra dying made him eternally restless. He never spoke of it. I had hoped to sit with him with my own presence fully emerged, to be with Mal as Mal was, as I was. The enormity of his death also drove home that he was the last of my mother's immediate family. Now they were all gone.

A memorial was happening a few days after I found his obit, and I wasn't able to go. A week later I looked online for any record of it and found something written by a retired English professor from Salem State College, Rod Kessler. I found an address for him and reached out. Rod wrote back and we started writing.

Mal had been self-publishing books - hand writing poems and making copies of them, then dropping them off in mail slots to English professors at a local community college. He'd include a note: if you like the poems, please send $5 to a PO Box. Rod was one of the professors. He didn't read the poems, but over the years sent $5 whenever he received a booklet. Then Mal wrote a note to all that he was 80 (he was 83 when he died) and the booklet of poems they were receiving may be his last.

This spurred Rod to read them and when he did he was impressed. He started reading all of them, then asked Mal to come and speak at the college. Mal wouldn't, citing his health, but I imagine Mal wouldn't do this anyway. Rod visited him once, I believe they stayed in touch via letters, and then Rod got the call that Mal was found dead by his Meals on Wheels person. Rod was one of his emergency contacts.

Mal's other emergency contact, Peter Urkowitz, worked in the library at Salem State. Mal lived in public housing the last few years of his life (the same housing my grandmother lived in), but I learned that prior to this Mal would write all night in a coffee shop, then sleep in the library at Salem State. When Mal burned out his typewriter and couldn't afford a new one, Peter lent Mal his apartment every morning so Mal could go in and use his typewriter.

Two weeks ago there was a huge poetry festival in Salem and Rod wanted to do a panel on Malcolm. He asked me to come and speak, and I did. Joe and Ginger came with me and came to the panel, and it was so meaningful to see Mal celebrated, to hear people read his poetry, to see him loved. I don't know how he would have felt about it. Chances are he wouldn't have shown up.

Prior to the festival Joe and I and Ginger went to the cemetery and for the first time I saw my parents graves side by side. I have enough grief writing this one, so I'll save that story for another time.

A few of Mal's poems, from an anthology Rod Kessler put together for the panel:

dilemma

a lousy soul has just chucked

a stupid bottle that once held

a soft drink onto a perfect

beautiful grass lawn

I am at first startled

and angered by this and almost

blame the bottle

then I grow aware it is also

has a certain beautiful

shapely existence

I gaze at it with pleasure

strangely I can’t retain now

my rage at the piggish lout

who threw the bottle

I should and I am unsteadied

by this whole experience

        Your Life is Over, 2007, p. 12




crimes

a little old lady in Boston

town had her hand

bag torn away from her shoulder

the culprit made

off down back alleys

all she had in it was a small

new testament

the culprit out of curiosity

read it over and over

now he does more damage

as a preacher man

than he did on the streets

of Boston

robbing and hitting

how about that

Poems, July 2012, p. 31


the rice

I saw a just married couple emerging

from a church on a beautiful sunny day

and friends threw rice

you know

to ensure fertility or something

but the rice got in the groom's eye

he had to be rushed to the hospital

the honeymoon was called off

he was lucky not to lose the eye

now a year later the divorce is underway

I am plagued by thoughts

the rice did it

I want to find out

my curiosity is almost painful

how can I find out?

No Dust Can Gather on the Mouths of Women, 2009, p. 54


some things

are too

true to

be right

once it took meaning

to stop despair

now a tree will do

a flash of sun on water

at times nothing

is better than something

most people are not serious

only careful

instead of winning 8

straight why don't

the boston red sox

read my poetry

 No Dust Can Gather on the Mouths of Women, 2009, p.6



BUT

there is a speck

of gold in all

that sand

but you have to spend

so much of your life

failing grain

by grain to find it

the River of Muddied Water Bears Gold, 1994, p. 50


letter to the world

I am spending a day

of beautiful indolence

at home alone

the fan is whirring

I am in this heat bereft

of duds and duties

a beachcomber under a palm

tree who catches

a falling coconut

splits it neatly and drinks

the cool milky beverage

outside it is sun

struck and clammy

as I spend a day of beautiful

indolence gazing

at my little sky

I have removed the smoke

detector from the ceiling

a criminally expensive

cigar is being patiently

destroyed by a gentleman

within me who writes poems and hopes

you are well

The Good Rain of Canada, 1994, p.30


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.