Pamela Harris

Bringing and Leaving December 31, 2017

I want to post this before the end of the year, which is in a few hours. Right now I’m a little overwhelmed, distracted, because I’m wrapping up a project my head has been deep in for the last few weeks. There’s been very little socializing, lots of pastry and cake and coffee, and in the last few days I’ve realized that I still haven’t figured out how to work and live at the same time. It means the first thing I want to leave behind in 2017 is this urgent obsession I bring to work, since if anything it makes what I’m doing harder, not easier.

I’m writing this without editing. Warts and all are going on the page. That’s what I hope to bring in with me, acceptance of warts in all.

What a year it’s been. The election and the shitshow that followed feels like a culmination of sorts, yet the march and everything Weinstein cracked wide open feels like a new beginning. There’s a sense in all of it of ‘no going back,’ and I want to believe it’s good. I want to think of the current POTUS as the end of something that’s been building for decades. That gives me hope, which I’m definitely bringing into next year. Next year can’t be tougher than this one, right?

Last year I wanted to bring risk in with me. Not the reckless kind, but the capacity to be embarrassed kind. The be who I really am kind. That’s who I was at the Writers Lab. The Lab was a high point for many reasons, but that's a big one.

Last year I wanted to direct something. This year I did. Even when I didn’t know what I was doing, I loved doing it. We got into festivals and keep doing so, and seeing it play on a big screen in a theatre with an audience made me want to make a feature. That’s a future goal.

Between the Lab and making that short, I learned that I have a community around me. As a writer of specs - scripts that are written before they’re sold - I’m always reaching out, reaching far past my community. A major shift is happening where I don’t want to do that anymore. From now on I want to only write what I can make or produce. I have a nice body of work that’s ready to sell, but, just for today, writing on spec has zero appeal.

Money. This year I want to make more. Yeah, that may seem obvious, but I’m looking at money differently after this year. It's not that it hasn’t mattered to me in the past, because that’s not true. But money has always been this thing that exists out over there. This year I’ve been looking at how I see money. When I’ve tried to do this in the past white noise takes over. This year I swept my brain clean of that. I want to make more.

We’re still house hunting for a little country place with a tree. This year we put a few offers in, but for one reason or another the sale didn’t happen. May we find a house this year.

Ginger had a pretty good year. She’d like more of Joe’s meatballs and I bet he’ll oblige her. That right there, that’s what I’m definitely bringing in with me. Family and friends are what matter the most, no matter how obsessed I get with work. Some of my happiest nights are simply being on the couch, Ginger curled around Joe’s feet, watching GLOW (the Netflix series).

I say it every year, but the emails and comments I get here mean a lot. As do you. Thank you for all of it.

Change is coming in 2018. Everywhere. Brace yourself, Effie.

Where To Begin October 25, 2017

I've been mulling over a post about the new retail paradigm, how it's all changing.

Then I wanted to write about my experience at the Writers Lab, which was amazing. For real. Life changing in how I see my own work.

But right now I'm stunned, awed, hopeful and anxious over, as Lynda Obst perfectly put it, "a volcanic outrage that has erupted over the charred ground of the (Hollywood/Weinstein) business this week ... A long-suppressed fury has spread throughout the land."

From women joining the conversation with an effective 'Me, too" post on FB or Twitter, to the onslaught of words about it, it's exhilarating to see that fury.

And the unity. That's what the Writers Lab showed me, the power of unity.

Even if the outrage doesn't last - the headlines will be replaced in time - sexual assault and harassment has come out of the dark in a way that it can never go back in. May the effects of now crack foundations everywhere.

The Writers Lab August 7, 2017

For years I've had the fantasy of wallpapering my bathroom with rejection letters. Over time the amount of rejection necessitated growing that bathroom into a master en suite that comes with an airplane hangar. My rule for the Plastered Walls of Failure is I have to get some kind of correspondence, so there will be no silent responses included.

Rejection is what happens in the world of what I do. Though I feel it every time, the pain is usually fleeting. The times it’s harder to get over is when I get a pass from something I was sure I had a shot at. Or it was something I really wanted.

The Writers Lab is something I wanted to be a part of. It’s put on by New York Women in Film and TV (NYWIFT), IRIS and the WGA East. It’s funded by Meryl Streep and, this year, Oprah Winfrey. I got rejected last year and it was one of the harder emails to get over. Some rejections come with a moment of disbelief. How could they reject that project? I love these moments because they show me I believe in what I do. And they counter the moments of headf*ck I have, though these, mercifully, come less frequently than they used to.

A few weeks ago I got a ‘Dear Applicant’ email from the Lab and my heart froze. It wasn’t a rejection; it let me know I was a finalist. Up to this point the screenplays were read blind since the Lab wanted to go by what was on the page vs a resume. The email said we’d know in August. I’ve had a lot going on and am juggling this and that, but August kept coming into my head and it took effort to chase it out.

Last Monday I got a phone call instead of a letter from the Writers Lab. I was on foot, dodging Holland Tunnel traffic and all I heard was “blghblgh New York Women in Film and TV glhglg.” I immediately moved to the side of the road in time to hear the woman on the phone say, “How are you?”

“Holding my breath,” I blurted. I was. Phone calls are good, great, since I’ve never been called to be told I didn’t get whatever it was I applied for. When Terry, the woman on the phone, told me I got selected for the Lab I burst into tears and blubbered about how the last thing I won was a turkey when I was fifteen at a shooting range in Andover, Massachusetts. And then the disbelief hit, like, I really got this?

This year, I am honored and beyond thrilled to participate in the Writers Lab. If interested, you can read about it here The Lab environment is something I’ve craved and feel so ready for. I’m very, very excited.

En Route July 2, 2017

Last month I directed a short film called "En Route." I ended up co-writing, it, too. The photo above is a production still from the set, a car. That’s me in the way back, making notes. In front are the actors getting ready for the next take. The arm you see is the DP resetting the camera.

The opportunity came in the side door versus my trying to push through the front, which is how a lot of breaks happen in my life. An actor from Wynn’s asked me if I’d give her notes on a short film she was writing for herself and another actor (who was also the producer). The script was about estranged sisters, something I know a lot about. In the film, the sisters drive together to the one-year memorial of their deceased brother and need to find the connection they lost long ago. The story was extremely ambitious for a six-minute short film.

I gave notes, she did another draft, and I gave her notes on that. After the third draft the script got very interesting to me and I told her I’d love to direct it. She said there was already a director attached. We went another round on the script and then a few weeks later I got an email from her asking if I still wanted to direct the short. I immediately said yes.

Directing is a crazy amount of work. I loved almost every second of it. There are so many moving parts to making a film and I don’t know how I knew what to do but I did. Years ago I spent a lot of time crewing my way around the set and all that experience was right there with me. Working with cast I got to put into play what I learned from Wynn. From start to finish, even during very stressful or intense moments - bad weather, camera glitches, losing light, editing - I stayed in the flow of it all. We all did. What helped was I had a very clear vision for what I wanted (and made look books to share that vision). Our shoot was calm and even fun, despite how dramatic the script was and the emotional places the actors went. The whole project was so satisfying. Now I want to make a feature.

I don’t know what made me anxious whenever I thought about directing my own project. Maybe it was not wanting to embarrass myself. Maybe it was old shit. Whatever it was, I’m way over it.

The Lawsuit May 22, 2017

(I apologize for the resend. I got the lawsuits backward.)

I think when it began it was friendly. Friendly in the way new neighbors might be toward each other, before they get to know each other.

Back in 2007, a church near us, Our Lady of Vilnius, was shuttered. The supposedly dwindling population who went to that church tried to fight the closing, and lost. Around 2013 the church sold to developers, who then bought the brownstone next to it. The developers flipped both lots to a new owner and in 2015 the church got torn down. The lot sat empty for a year. In the photo above, the building that’s starting to rise is on these two lots.

The empty lot in front of that construction was a parking garage. This parcel sold, and it too may have been flipped, but at this point I can’t keep up. Half our block has sold, including our building. The buying frenzy has been relentless.

The parking lot was going to be a twenty-seven-story residential tower. The church lot was going to be a seventeen-story residential tower. We heard the church group bought air rights from the building next to their lot, which allowed them to build higher. They got a permit from the city to go to twenty-five stories. This meant the higher floors in the parking lot's new building, touted as having 365 degree views, would no longer have those views. So the parking lot group sued the church group, stating a di Blasio lobbyist helped sway the Dept. of Buildings in issuing that permit, air rights or no air rights. Or something like that, since suits are flying and I can't keep up.

These buildings are being sold as high luxury and they need the views to combat the reality that they overlook the Holland Tunnel. You can’t see it in the image above, but the trees in the left of the photo line a side street that is actually blocked off near the white van parked (left) near the middle of the picture. It means whomever buys here can only walk one way when they exit their building. They'll hit a major city street and will have to cross it to get anywhere. Traffic here is bumper to bumper as cars fight to get to the entrance to the tunnel. Drivers won't stop for traffic lights or pedestrians or a local trying to wrangle sweet Ginger to Ginger's favorite poop spot at the height of rush hour. When I have to cross this traffic mess I can out-swear Teamsters.

On another side of our building, the quiet side, the Renzo Piano residential tower is going to be thirty stories. The photo below is where it currently stands, roughly six stories. This tower is luxury squared and supposedly it’s almost sold out. Rumor says most of the buyers are those who want a place to stay in New York City when they visit. Our neighborhood has become so expensive the only people who can afford to live in it are those who won’t.

Between all the sites there is constant chaos, so much so the birds are discombobulated. I hear them singing at 3:30 in the morning. We’ve had a large exodus from our building, the most vacant apartments since September 11th. The new owners are doing major renovations to the empty apartments and are trying to rent them at much higher prices. Our building is decidedly non-luxury, and though the new owners have dropped hints at wanting to make improvements, the only way to make this building nicer is to tear it down and start over.

We don’t know what the new owners plan to do with our building. Chances are they’re waiting to see what happens when all these towers are complete. We’re now looking for a weekend place, since we’ve decided to keep our home here. It means our budget for a house has been slashed. Bring on all fixer-uppers. Kitchen hasn't been touched since 1910? No problem! Rotted joists? To the lumberyard we go!

Hope January 31, 2017

In December I like to think about what I want to bring into the new year and what I want to leave behind. This year I found myself thinking about risk.

I’ve always had a complicated relationship with risk. As a kid I took all kinds of bad risk, including using drugs and getting myself into awful situations with no plan for getting out. I went to art school versus studying something practical (I highly recommend doing this), and I move to NYC with $174 dollars in my pocket. When I came here I had no practical skills and barely knew anyone. While apartment hunting I got chased by a machete-wielding crack head when I fearlessly went into a rough neighborhood. All of it I took as part of being independent.

For the last twenty plus years I’ve mostly depended on art and writing to make my living. Financial vulnerability is a reality for me, and though I now accept it, it doesn’t mean I like it. Once in a great while I’ll still have a moment of panic, but mostly I get on with it. It’s taken me almost twenty years of living this way to get used to it.

The risk I’m looking at now isn’t external. I’m looking at the kind of risk I haven’t taken, risk that pushes me past what’s comfortable and into a place that scares the shit out of me. For instance, I really want to direct and produce a short film and just thinking about it, I quake. Why, I don’t know. Especially since I feel very confident and ready when it comes to directing a feature.

Whatever it is, it’s a symptom of something bigger that’s starting to play out in me. For a long while I’ve proceeded with caution when it came to certain parts of my personality. There’s been a quiet soundtrack telling me to not get too full of myself, and nobody needs to see my rough edges, and don’t be too unpleasant, and don’t do anything that seems needy, and keep my fury in check. Really, try not to offend people.

It’s all a lot of fear. Over the last decade I’ve been taking baby steps toward trying to move past these thoughts and the steps have added up to change. Now, I’m discovering a new layer in that soundtrack. Something is shifting and I’m putting more of me into the world than I ever have before. The fear is only now starting to lessen.

This political climate helps. A good friend, Cynthia, chartered a bus to DC and a bunch of us went to march. What stood out was the feeling of community, a sense of purpose that united a gigantic sea of humanity. It was hopeful, and hope was something I’d been struggling with.

Since the inauguration and the tsunami of tsoris that’s come with it, I keep seeing glimpses of hope in the global protests that have erupted and in the pushback. The size of the protest no longer matters. I keep remembering Rosa Parks was one woman who sat on a bus and didn’t budge.

The point of all this is, the number one thing I need to take into the new year is hope. With it, no matter what I see or how scared or grief-filled I might get, hope gives me purpose. Hope lets me take action.

I don’t write shorts and on the whole they don’t interest me, but directing something does. I want to try to write one, or write a web series, or find something to direct. The last few months I've been filming a lot of art and construction and maybe a story will arise from this.

Our sweet and spicy Ginger is still up in the middle of the night, and Joe is still up and out with her. Moving is on hold right now, so I’m looking to find a way to bring more sleep into this year. It may mean looking for ways out of the city now and then. Maybe we’ll rent a weekend place.

I’m keeping all my friends and the people I know because I feel very lucky and grateful for the people in my life. I want to bring risk in with me. These posts, starting with this one, I no longer want to edit and edit and edit some more. That’s a step toward taking risk.

It's time to leave as much fear as I can behind. Leave behind doubt. Franz Kline said, "The real thing about creating is to have the capacity to be embarrassed."

Every time I get a comment or email about this blog, a surge of gratitude goes through me. Every single one of you who reads this blog, you’re coming with me for sure. Maybe we can all be embarrassed together.

Christmas Eve December 24, 2016

Happy holidays to you! Thank you for continuing your support here with your comments and emails. I appreciate all of it. May you get a soft elephant this year.


We Are Sorry December 12, 2016

Crushed. Devastated. I went to bed the night of the election long before results were in. At 3:00 in the morning I woke up, or really, Ginger woke me up. When I checked the NY Times on my phone and saw all that red on the USA map, I waited for my phone to fully wake so the map would turn blue.

It’s a call to creative arms. I am not one of those saying, “Let’s see how he does.” He’s shown who he is and for me that’s enough. Oprah once said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.”

A surprising side effect is I feel reckless. Creatively, that’s good. Sometimes I wonder if I sand off the ragged bits in my work where an unfinished me lurks.

Over the years I’ve been working on a large installation and post-election I’ve discovered a fervor to continue it. In 1992, officials in Hannover, Germany, asked the artist Bruce Nauman to propose a Holocaust Memorial. His proposal was to create a sign that said, “We are sorry for what we did, and we promise not to do it again.” Nauman eventually decided against doing it, but his proposal stayed wth me. My stepfather is a Holocaust survivor, and that’s part of it, but so is the idea of remorse.

It’s too early to speak coherently about what I’m doing because a ton of images are flying around in my head. I do know it’s my way of protesting.

In 2008 I had an 11” x 17” tablet made (photo above) courtesy Dawn Carmilia and Visual Graphics Systems, and slightly changed the language Bruce Nauman proposed to make it mine. Then I made a maquette of what I want it to look like, did some drawings in Mr. Nauman’s style, and began amassing my own elements, i.e. paintings, drawings, word pieces, etc. The goal is to install it in a large gallery space, where I don’t know yet. I’m back working on it and that feels great.

The Funk October 18, 2016

Roger Ailes. Bill Cosby. The student from Stamford. A host of others. Almost every woman I know has dealt with assault or abuse, myself included. I don't know how or why, but Trump boasting about groping women has broken through what has regularly been there. And with it has come revolt.

"He doesn't mean anything by it," no longer cuts it. That's what I heard about Trump when he started his campaign and railed against Mexicans, Muslims, etc. Friends that dealt professionally with him, broker to broker, would say he doesn't mean half of what comes out of his mouth.

My friends don't say that any more.

This summer was rough. I was in a funk. For the first time in a very, very long time, I had moments where I felt hopeless.

Some of it was work related. When the rejections pile up they start to feel like a lack of connection. A lack of community. I always work at getting my work out there, and though I do get things it's been a while since I've worked this hard and met this much silence.That's really what it is: the silence, not the rejection.

I've been writing a new sci-fi feature. Which is another thing that had me down, since the script is about the beginning of the end of the world. The end end. It looks an awful lot like where we're at today.

Having that house fall through didn't help. We're ready to move and nothing is coming on the market.

Living in New York is a great opportunity to see incredible humanity on the street. But what I see is also rife with the opposite. And the news cycle has been running amok with the opposite. I kept reading versus stepping away. And no matter what Trump said, no matter how ugly or cruel, his fans didn't mind. They were a sizable amount of people, so there was no way to view it as an exceptional viewpoint. Sadly, they is us.

I started snapping out of it last week as stories appeared about Trump groping women. Republicans began distancing themselves from him, citing things like, 'As a husband and father ... As a father to three daughters ...' I felt fury reading that, though couldn't put into words why. Then Frank Bruni called them out for using their wives and daughters as props and bam! I felt connected. He had the words. The funk lifted.

The New York Times wrote an article about two women accosted by Trump. Trump's lawyers demanded a retraction and threatened to sue. The Times' lawyer responded with a great letter. This cheered me, as did Michelle Obama's speech.

In addition, I discovered #MuslimsReportStuff. Not much out there shows Muslims and irony together.

Who knows what's coming next. Whatever it is, this pause of sanity has let sunlight break through.

House Hunting 2 August 25, 2016

We went house hunting again last week. The plan was to take a quick look at four houses across the Hudson, near Woodstock. Then we'd take a second, longer look at the artists house I fell in love with.

A major rain storm started the day and we slogged our way up the Taconic and over the Rhinecliff Bridge. Woodstock is more expensive, more populated and has higher taxes than the east side of the Hudson, but it has great infrastructure and internet. The four houses were near each other and though each had something we liked, two got offers before we even walked up the driveway, and a third house got an offer right after we saw it. The fourth we didn't like enough to pursue.

It was still raining when we came back across the Hudson, but we were early so we went to a little lunch spot and sat in the car with Ginger to eat. Then the sun came out, and we went back to the artists house for a second look.

We had gotten a great lead for a contractor, and he was waiting when we pulled in. We were all early, as was the sellers broker. The driveway was muddy from the rains and while waiting for our broker to arrive the sellers broker and I began strolling the property. We walked past the garage, then walked out around the studio.

A quick layout of the house, left to right: studio, a double garage, an entry door to a mud room, then the main house. Inside the garage a half wall divides the space, with room for a car on the right and a small lawnmower storage area on the left. Here, two steps lead up to the studio. Once you enter through a door you come out onto a platform (I learned the family used it to put on plays) that's maybe a ten or twelve foot square, then across the platform, down a few steps, you're in the first of two main rooms of the studio. I don't know the history of the house except it was built in the 60s, but the architect and Waldorf School founder Rudolph Steiner had to be a major influence in the construction of the studio. It's very organic in how one room flows into the next, and many elements in it, such as window shape and even room shape, are all designed to integrate the structure seamlessly into nature.

In this first main room of the studio, there's a back door off to the right and big sliders to the left. It's very bright with lots of windows, maybe twelve by fourteen in size, maybe bigger. It takes a few minutes to realize the space isn't square, that the back door is somehow on its own wall. Imagine four and a third walls, the third wall being home to the door. This room then jogs a little to the left and connects to the larger room of the studio, which is maybe fifteen by eighteen. It could be bigger, it's hard to tell. Nothing is square once you cross into this room with its five walls and odd-shaped windows. The double front doors are large, heavy, handmade, and look like something that Fred and Wilma Flintstone might put on their house. The whole studio looks like something out of the stone age, but with a clapboard exterior and a concrete floor. It's funky and kind of amazing when you're standing in the middle of it. All you see is nature.

Outside, everything was wildly overgrown. The sellers broker and I started walking the property and the first thing I see is a giant black and yellow spider. It was drying on a web that was strung up between two large bushy flowers near the studio. I get the strongest pang when I see it - I haven't seen this kind of spider since I was six. Back then I watched a spider just like it guard an egg sack it had sewn onto a chain link fence. Floating up out of the sack were hundreds of tiny baby spiders, each attached to a single strand of silk. They drifted into the air and seemed to hover there, no rush to leave. Remembering them I can smell cattails and the stream that used to be there. For a second I'm home again, really home.

We walk two more feet and a garter snake whips past us and disappears into the garden the spider has also taken for home. I get another pang, this one as strong as the spider. The second house I grew up was surrounded by woods and when things got crazy in the house I'd run through the trees looking for garter snakes.

At this point I'm near tears, in love with this crazy artists house.

Our broker pulled in and we all entered the mud room and then the house. Straight ahead were basement stairs, but a quick left up two steps took us into the kitchen.

The kitchen was open to the living dining, there were three bedrooms and a bath, and a staircase that led upstairs (it was an attic that had been finished, sort of). Joe began walking the house with the contractor and I roamed room to room, getting a feel for the place. Then I went into the studio and stood there. It took four minutes to realize I wanted this house.

I went back inside and our broker was sitting at the kitchen table talking with the seller's broker. "Those specimens!" our broker kept saying. It was true; if you could untangle the landscape there were roses and lilies and big pink things and every other kind of flower. "You could put an island here," she said, gesturing the length of the kitchen. Though the kitchen is nice size, it feels small for an island.

As a workspace the kitchen is basically L-shaped. You enter the kitchen at the elbow of the L and there's a counter immediately to your left. Because of the entrance you're locked in to counter depth here, which houses the sink and dishwasher. A stove or refrigerator will be too deep and will block the entrance. These appliances are on a wall in the center of the house, which is kind of lousy. The other wall is floor to ceiling windows, so anything here means reconstruction. It's a tough space but I know I could make it work.

Joe had finished walking the house with the contractor and the three of us went into the studio. The contractor pointed out an interior wall that was damp to the touch and said the best way to fix it was to excavate the exterior garden and put down a moisture barrier. The roof of the studio had been slathered in tar many times, and it needed to be fixed for real. There were a few code violations in the house, and though most were straightforward fixes one called the wiring into question. The basement was wet, not just from the rain, the water heater needed to be replaced, the furnace was old and rusted, and twenty-six windows needed to be replaced. The contractor figured it'd be about $50,000-$65,000 to do a basic kitchen and make the house livable.

In this walk through you could see all the ways this house had been loved, but not maintained. A deep look into the corners showed that the major systems were nearing their end. We hadn't even gotten to the biggest concern, which was a cracked bathroom floor. It was a kind of crack that suggested the foundation was moving, or something worse. Plus, it looked like beadboard had been put up on the bathroom walls recently, as if to cover something. This unknown hadn't yet factored into the reno budget.

We came home and crunched numbers. There were things we could wait and do over time, like reno the upstairs, add a second bath, get rid of the woodstove in the living room and open the fireplace for an insert, etc. When you start to look at a reno, though, there are certain things not worth putting off. If we need to fix the plumbing in the kitchen we might as well put in plumbing for the upstairs bath since we'll already have the ceiling open. The house had oil and propane and was a mishmash of steam and propane heat, so if we wanted to get rid of the steam radiators and put in radiant heat or something energy efficient, we 'd want to do it now if walls and floors are opened. We'd get rid of the propane completely, but it meant the studio would need a new heating system. But wait - the heating system in the studio was shot, so we need to figure out how to heat it.

Will we run into asbestos? Lead paint? Probably. We need a contingency in our budget since this takes special tradespeople to remove. Going into an older house means dealing with older house problems. The more work we do, the more issues we'll find.

We did comps for the area, which were suprisingly low. Shockingly low. Not much has been selling, high or low. We worked out our numbers again, made an offer, they countered, we countered. We were still too far apart on the price.

I had a nagging feeling that the $10,000 fix for the wet studio wall and new studio roof was really a band-aid, since the whole structure's handmade quality was showing its age. I gave it a decade at most before it needed to be taken down to the studs and rebuilt. Given everything about it is custom, it would cost the equivalent of what it would cost to build a studio from scratch. A dream studio.

Joe had real concerns, too. We did one more round of offers and they met our price with a big contingency: the house would be sold as is, regardless of what a house and septic inspection might reveal. It meant no further negotiations, no matter what. This felt too risky, so we walked away given the condition of the house.

The artists house will now be someone else's house. It hurts, but onward we go.