Pamela Harris

Posts in the Writing Category

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.


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.


Uncle Lorrie September 19, 2014

Last week I finally found my way into a project I've been writing. It feels good to be working steadily again. I've been doing this long enough to know that when I'm fumbling around it'll change and I'll break through, so I keep fumbling. Being in a groove feels easier than not being in a groove, yet then my brain buzzes with low level story distraction and I become bad company. I have to make sure I get out enough to keep air moving between my ears.

I've also been a bit of a weepy mess. Each morning as I go about my routine tears inevitably come. Granted - maybe I should have led with this - my uncle Lorrie died last week. The week before was the anniversary of my mother's death. And the week before that was the anniversary of losing our sweet Opal. Most of my family is dead and the only immediate family left is a sister I haven't spoken with since my mother's funeral four years ago. I feel too young to not have a family, so there's definitely grief in the tears. But in there somewhere is also a kind of intuitive knowledge that change is coming. I don't know what it is or what it looks like, but I can feel it.



(photo by and miniature set by Charles Brogdon, On the Set)

When I was 22 I had my first revelation that I might have a drug problem. At the time I was trying to kick a coke habit, so I tried crack. After that first hit - I had never felt anything like it - something deep down said this is the drug that will kill me. I made a deal with myself: if I never smoke crack again I can keep snorting cocaine. I never smoked crack again, but a piece of me knew that negotiating one for the other probably wasn't good thinking.

Some time later I went to a party and a friend was there with his girlfriend. Someone offered her a drink and she took water. When someone handed her a mirror with a line on it she casually passed. She didn't smoke cigarettes either; though I had told everyone I quit I was sneaking onto roofs and hanging out windows to steal puffs off a Marlboro Light when I thought I could get away with it. I was intrigued by this girl and tried to imagine what it would be like to not drink or do drugs or smoke cigarettes. I couldn't imagine it, but wanted to.

Over the years if someone mentioned 'spiritual life' or 'higher power' the words would catch in my ear. Same with 'meditation.' For all of it I pictured gurus with long beards and people chanting so I'd cancel the idea of it out. The last ten years of using I was a pothead and every night (and eventually every day) I'd get high and trace figure-eights around my apartment. I'd listen to music and have moments of awareness of how I was getting in my own way, or what patterns I was repeating and how they weren't working for me. Then the next morning would come and the button would reset and I'd start all over again doing what I was doing.

My mind is like a wood chipper in that it takes everything in and frantically chews the shit out of it. I used to grind life up to try to make sense of it. I'm curious about the world around me, so a sense of wonder would pepper the sawdust, too. When I got clean I tried to meditate but my head was a pinball. After a couple years I started going to a once a week meditation group a friend led. It took a year before I could actually quiet my mind for a few minutes out of 20. Now I try to meditate regularly and when I do my head might still monkey around, but I'm sitting.

This morning I was meditating and suddenly realized how powerless I am over what's going on right now. A few months back I wrote about how it doesn't go the way I think it's gonna and at the end that of the post I mentioned that I wrote a new pilot and it had changed everything. It's true - I got the pilot to a production co., a studio came on board and they took the project to a premium cable network. Premium cable loved it, then passed and everyone dropped out. I got the project back and got it to a writer/producer who at the time was with the tv show JUSTIFIED. He loved it, and though he couldn't take it to FX he wanted to help me get a manager, which he did. I love my manager. And the writer/producer.

When I create a show I write the pilot and also create a whole platform for it including ways to maximize the business end of it. The shows I create become very real for me - I see that world in 3D and see how it fits into this one. When I get a pass I get blue and frustrated and pissed, but passes have no effect on how I feel about the project. If anything it makes me more ambitious. Going through that process showed me it isn't personal when I get a pass. Plus, new people read my work and all want to read what I do next.

Recently I finished a new project, a half-hour comedy (the other pilot is a one-hour comedic drama) and my manager is just starting to take it out. I wrote the best pilot I could and I'm so ready to get a show on the air, yet I'm powerless over what happens next. I've done everything I can to try to make this happen, and what I do now is start a new project. Writer/producers keep telling me that's how it's done. Faith tells me the same. So that's what I'm doing.


Spring Dog May 6, 2013

On Tuesday I met a friend uptown and she took me through Shakespeare's Garden in Central Park. What a beauty that garden is. There were Robins everywhere and I mentioned that I don't see them often downtown.

On Wednesday I was walking the dog and she dove for something on the sidewalk. It was a dead baby Robin, not yet 2 inches long, almost featureless. I pulled the dog away, we kept walking, and I started seeing blue egg shell pieces on almost every block. Maybe Robins like all the scaffolding, maybe they like the eaves, maybe old predators are gone or all the recent construction has shaken everything up. We're Starlings, Pigeons, Sparrows, the occasional hawk or rogue Yellow or Red Finch, but rarely Robins.

Thursday and Friday I saw another dead baby Robin, same on Saturday. Walking the dog home this morning from the park I saw another, but it was more fully developed. It's beak was yellow, it's body plumper. I don't know if a nest mate is kicking these birds to the ground or if they're falling. I've never seen a baby Robin that close, but I'd rather watch them develop live versus, well, dead. Any naturalists out there who can fill me in on why Robins now?





Pitbull Monday on Tuesday April 23, 2013

I'm very happy that people are signing up to follow my blog. Yesterday's post took precedence over Pitbull Mondays; it was hard to write and when I finished it I just wanted to get it up there. For quite a few years I've been working on a book about my past and addiction and getting clean, and quite a few people in my life, especially some of my professional relationships, don't know my history. Or I don't think they do, yet I could be way off since they know my work and the themes that run through it. Yesterday's post put it out there and what was nice was, after I posted it I didn't think much about it. I've come to accept my history for what it is - simply my history - and I'm no longer attached to the story of my past. My past is the past, my present the present and I wouldn't have what I have today if I hadn't had what I had then.

Everyone thinks their dog is the prettiest and greatest and will get into the best kindergarden and maybe be president but mine really is and will be. She'll chase a ball now and a week ago wouldn't. She learned big dog moves by playing with big dogs and is trying them out now at the dog park. The weather is warm and she won't come in the house, so getting her upstairs has become a royal tug o'war. Our next door neighbor is Claus Oldenburg, the artist who has a show up at MoMA, and his front door and garage has become her favorite poop spot. It's like the dog is leaving him a congratulatory gift and all I can say is Mr. Oldenburg is very cool when he sees me bent over cleaning his driveway.



Neighbors March 12, 2013

Yesterday Joe came in from Opal's first walk around 6:45 a.m. "Number 2 is getting laid," he said. Our building only has 4 apartments to a floor and we pass all of them multiple times a day. Number 2 recently got new tenants - 2 women and a guy - and this was something we hadn't heard coming from there yet. The women are big partiers and I hear glasses clinking and slurred laughing most nights I pass their door. The guy is a pothead, or my guess says it's the guy since we never see or hear him and only smell pot when the apartment is silent. Whenever we walk the dog past the second floor she wags her tail at the sounds of fun but this morning she cocked her head, confused. "I thought Opal let out a weird bark then realized it was a female, moaning."

The front door in that apartment line opens in the kitchen so I figured she was having kitchen table sex. Maybe stove sex. This apartment has a super high rent and super high turnover, so we never get to know who lives here.

Opal's favorite dog in the world lives on the same floor two doors over. Relic, a 100-pound 9 month-old Rottweiller, is owned by a gay couple and of everyone in the building we're the friendliest with them. They're ready for Number 2 to move out. For them, today would be nice.

The next floor up houses mostly professionals who leave early in the morning and come home in the evening with dry cleaning. There's a Maltese named Hercules who lives above Number 2, but Hercules doesn't get long walks so we don't see him much. This floor used to be the home of a star chef on the rise who was also a pot dealer. He couldn't keep a job and eventually bottomed out. He moved home to his mother's and got clean and now runs a restaurant in Chicago. Though we never met while he lived here, I know all this because we ended up meeting through mutual friends. We're now Facebook friends.

The next floor has a Miniature Australian Shephard owned by a fashionable Aussie who travels a lot. She has a 7 y.o. son and until recently she had an English manny. Who may have been her ball buddy. That's me making that up and not just because they looked good together. Whatever it was it's kaput since the manny is gone and a babysitter/dog walker with a great looking pocketbook is now in.

Up a flight is Duke, a rescue adopted 7 years ago when his 83 y.o. owner became widowed. Duke vacuums the streets while walking and yesterday scored a bagel, a slice of pizza and a mitten. He also knows what doormen give out treats and when his owner takes him swimming in a hotel in Tribeca Duke drags her doorman to doorman as they make their way to the pool.

Our floor has Opal's other favorite dog, Bowser, a Boxer/mutt blend who is also a rescue. Before Bowser and owner moved in the apartment was a brothel, or where pros would take their clients. This arrangement was short lived since within a month the whole building knew what was up with the 6 ft. glamour girls and their 5 ft. dates and someone complained. Like the tenants before them, they disappeared overnight.

The tenants before them were two runway models, a male and female. Both were gorgeous and I'd catch glimpses of them coming and going during fashion week. The rest of the year I'd never see them and figured they were away walking a runway somewhere. The super must have thought the same thing because he went into their apartment one day to check a leak and there they were in bed, freebasing heroin. A day later they were gone.

The apartment next to them used to house two men, one of whom was a big EDM DJ. Late one night the DJ knocked on my door and I when I opened it he calmly stood there wearing two sleeves of tattoos and a skimpy red metallic thong. "Will you call the police?" he asked. Behind him his boyfriend was casually throwing crate after crate of albums down the stairs, along with bits of clothing and a bong. Mirroring his calm I said "I'll call the police for you," and reached for my phone. He was high, his eyes looked dreamy and there was no urgency, no sign of physical fighting. He thought about it for a few moments and his eyes focused a little. "No," he said. "I don't think I want you to." Shortly after both moved out.

The neighbor I remember most was a white 20-something guy who lived across the street from me when I lived around the corner. I had a loft on Wooster Street and my studio and bedroom looked into his floor-thru apartment. Or really, the front half of his floor-thru. (A floor-thru runs from the front of the building to the back.) If I left my apartment, walked down hall and around the corner to the elevator, I could look into the back half, which I did when I came and went.

I first noticed the apartment because three of the windows in the living room/bedroom had the backs of large stretched canvases leaning against them. They never moved nor were any added to the pile. Next to them was a tv and at night I could see it glow. All of this faced a bed, where most days and nights this 20-something good looking guy laid either on the phone, eating or watching tv. He'd get high, too, but I couldn't tell what he was smoking. He'd sometimes get off the bed and disappear down the hall where there was a bathroom, and if he continued walking down the hall, which I never saw him do, he'd enter his kitchen. Waiting for the elevator, this is the room I looked into.

One day I saw a beautiful black woman about his age wearing nothing but rubber gloves doing dishes at the sink. I had seen her around the neighborhood; she had an afro-style head of hair and was at least 6 ft. tall. Over a few months only once did I see her in the bedroom with him watching tv. Most of the time she was compulsively cleaning the kitchen, always in rubber gloves, her eyes dreaming away.

This was how it went for a while then I saw new movement in the bedroom. I went to the window and there he was getting it on with a man. Hmmm, what happened to the girlfriend? The kitchen was spotless and a few days later she was back, scrubbing away. Did she know? Did she care?

A week later I saw more movement, but this time the apartment was crowded. I put my brush down and went to the window and saw police, maybe five of them. They were circling something on the floor and I couldn't see what it was. Or who it was. A few hours later a coroner's van showed. Though I looked into his windows for days after I never saw him.

My neighbor had died and I didn't know how. The apartment started getting emptied and what was left was a beautiful, richly upholstered custom white loveseat. I obsessed for a day over that loveseat - a guy died, but damn I want that - and then two top of the line Mercedes pulled up. His girlfriend got out of the back seat of one and what could only be his parents got out of the other. All were dressed impeccably, Greenwich Connecticut-style and they went up into the apartment. His girlfriend came out with a sheath of drawings and waited awkwardly by the car and it struck me how final death is. His parents came out empty-handed and as I watched the cars drive away I felt that even though I never knew him, in a way I knew him well.

There was an old kook who roamed the neighborhood and if you gave him a dollar he'd tell you anything you wanted to know. I saw him ambling up Wooster Street and ran out with a buck. I stopped him and pointed up to my neighbor's windows. "About a month ago someone died up there. Know anything about it?"

He waited for the dollar and I gave it to him. "Choked to death," he said. "Puked, and choked."

My neighbor had OD'd. I felt awful, sad, his parents would never understand and his girlfriend would move on. She must have, since I didn't see her for a whole decade. Then one day there she was, around the corner, homeless on the street. She was still a beauty, but her eyes were dead. The next day I went back to where I saw her and she was gone. I never saw her again.


A Real Simulation February 7, 2013

(photo is from Area's photobooth)

I love seeing patterns on the street. Not in the design sense (I do, but that's not what this post is about) but in the people sense.

I've always seen patterns and started noting them a few years ago when the tranny hookers at Christopher Street and Hudson began to look like they had just gotten the baby to sleep and were dashing out to pick up a jug of laundry detergent. They'd be wearing gray collegiate sweatshirts that read Dartmouth or Yale, beat up pale pink sweat pants, and their hair was haphazardly tied up in a scrunchie. The kicker was they wore no make-up. I loved it, found it conceptually fascinating, and then poof! Make-up and size 12 stiletto's were back on the corner.

Then it was blind people. I saw them everywhere, for three days. Then people missing a limb; an arm, one leg, a hand. I'd see them all over town so it wasn't like there was a prosthetic convention going on in the neighborhood.

One of my favorite things to see is a tourist window shopping around the corner on Prince St., say - maybe their bag or coat caught my eye - then six hours later I'll see them in Chelsea. Sticking with tourists, I've had a week where all I saw were tourist couples arguing loudly. No-one swears like the French and I don't need to speak it to know that.

Occasionally the patterns show me things. This summer I was walking through Tribeca late at night and passed a woman outside Nobu wearing a micro mini paired with red-soled 8-inch heels. This isn't unusual to see since it's everywhere, all the time. This night though it hit me that she couldn't run if she had to. 8-inch heels and cobblestone streets don't mix well and if she was chased she'd surely be caught. Maybe New York is getting safer.

The pattern I see now is a broader one, not yet defined. It mostly involves people in their late 20's to mid-30's and it has to do with a desire for an '80's kind of decadence. Desire is the key word, since what really seems to be desired is a simulated decadence, a decadence that's safe and without an edge. Granted, I'm talking about a sliver of this age group: the sliver with money. Interestingly, in the actual 1980's this group made a bundle of money on Wall St. With this new faux '80's sliver, their parents - youth of the '80's? - make the money and support them.

What fascinates me is how accepting and even hopeful this group seems to be about being part of the status quo, the mass appeal. Even the hipsters, moneyed or not, seem eager to define their personalities through fashion that advertises brands from the 1970's, or their clothes co-op an entire ethos and lifestyle of a past generation -- any generation -- except their own. Their clothing choices isn't political: it's as if commercialism and identity have happily merged. The individual is no more.

Over the last five or so years a private club scene has blossomed here. The application process to join paints a picture of exclusivity, one where artists and creative types romp freely, yet this isn't the clientele and members know it. Anyone can join these clubs, something also known by members. The decor is simulated chic, the art offends or excites no-one, and even the personality of the crowd has a consistently homogenized tone. (Soho House is the one private club I've been to that has personality, plus they throw fun parties and from what I hear have a great breakfast scene.) These clubs do reach out to creatives with free memberships, but the comps I know are home watching Netflix or getting ready to take the dog out. (The art world has been turned inside out and culturally neutered, too, but that's a longer discussion.)

In the east village I'm seeing '80's hairstyles and dye jobs; fur is back on the street; drugs are being sold openly; there's a pile of new shows and movies in production that take place in the '80's; and music, even some EDM has hints of a Flock of Seagulls. All this isn't the point I'm writing about. What is, or what congealed all of this and turned an intuitive 'is it the '80's?' cog inside me was a company called Reviv.

A close friend spent the New Year at a fancy hotel in South Beach and one afternoon around the pool he noticed men and a couple of women sporting colored arm bands. Some had more than one arm band on. He asked his date what they were and she told him they had seen 'the doctor.' The doctor?

My friend wanted to better understand what she meant so his date took him upstairs to a lavish suite. Inside it had been turned into a spa, or more appropriately, a med-spa, called Reviv. Every bed and chair had a (mostly male) 30-something hooked up to an IV. Hot nurses tended them while a doctor casually roamed the room. Each client was receiving a personally tailored infusion, a doctor-concocted blend of saline and multivitamins and medications - some were getting oxygen - for whatever ailed them. All ailments were gotten by partying too hard.

Run by an ex ER doctor who threw around terms like 'Hydrating therapy' and 'MegaBoost' and 'UltraVive,' this was the womb you went to if you drank too much or snorted too much cocaine or needed to sober up so you could start drinking again. This struck me as real decadence, nothing simulated about it.

My friend isn't much of a partier and back down at the pool his date called over some of the armband wearers. This crew -- all trust funders -- ignored my friend and spoke to his date of how they wanted to start their own Reviv and make it global. My friend listened quietly, since he recently helped build a global brand which he sold for a huge chunk (and now heads another global brand). It was like this crew was playing at business, acting out what they'd do knowing full on they never would. And it wasn't because they didn't have to; talking about it was satisfying enough. Fantasy success has a built in safety net -- you never have to lose or fight for something. What struck my friend was that this crew showed no desire to go for the real thing. Simulation is sufficient.

I find it all disturbing. I know that change, ultimately, is good and I love when I see signs that we're moving into the future. Right now I can't understand or find purpose in how this sliver moves our evolution forward. Sometimes we gotta go back to move forward, so I'm hoping this sliver is the equivalent of an algae bloom, one that will eventually block its own sunlight and cut itself off at the legs.



(photo by Christopher Payne)

When the prod. co. with the first look with Sony showed interest (please see post behind this one, 'Starting Out') I thought Yay! I've made it! They introduced me to five agents and I picked one. I started looking at houses to buy. Four months in the prod. co. disbanded and I got the script back. I stopped looking at houses.

My agent sent the script around and suddenly it was hot. Aents at William Morris and CAA called - I went back to the real estate listings. My home would have at least three bedrooms.

Then just like that my script got cold.

I had been writing a new script, JOYVILLE, a dark comedy about competition. I gave it to my agent and she took it out. A V.P. at a dream production company loved it. He nurtured the project through the gears of his co. and at the top it came down to my script and an action pic. Action won. The V.P. called my agent and said,"I'm going to fuck my boss for not making this. I'm giving it to the competition." He gave it to a producer at Brillstein Gray. She read it and loved it. I was back to four bedrooms.

Two weeks later she left on maternity leave.

A manager liked my first script and wanted to rep me. "What can you bring to the table?" I asked. He brought me an Oscar winner. The Oscar winner's current movie opened and bombed. She got into bed and wouldn't get out. The manager vanished. My script , again, was cold.

My agent sent JOYVILLE to Howard Stern's production co. His head of development loved it, but not for Howard Stern. I told him I had another script and pitched the project the Sony group liked. There was a great part for Howard Stern in it, too. The HoD read it, thought the part was too small for Howard Stern, but was I interested in TV? I was very interested in TV. The HoD gave me a headline he saw on CNN that he thought was interesting. Could I do anything with it? I took the headline, blew it up into a show and when I finished we were happy with it. Finally, I had something moving in the pipe.

I saw a contest in The New Yorker in collaboration with HBO: write an episode idea for THE SOPRANOS. There would be five winners and I ended up being one of them. I turned the idea into a spec script and my agent gave it to a TV agent at her agency. Suddenly I had meetings with Dick Wolf's guy (LAW AND ORDER) for a new show they just shot a pilot for. The meeting went well, the show was something I could definitely write for, when would I move to LA? NBC dropped the pilot. The show was now dead. I met Sydney Lumet's showrunner/TV guy. We clicked, it was great, then his show didn't get picked up. Goddamn.

My TV agent came to New York, we had a strategy meeting, then he vanished. Literally. Rumor had it he had two wives and one of them found out about it. He was in Spain, Portugal, maybe South America. I was on Shit Street heading toward Fuck-You-ville.

I wrote a horror movie. Even for me it was a little too far out.

Painting and drawing had been going well and I got into a big show. This would be the one that would catapult me into the world. The show opened, my phone started ringing, I got reviewed well, it even sold okay. When the show came down and it got quiet again. Very quiet.

I had a studio visit with a major museum here. It was the worst studio visit I ever had. (Two months later the curator came back and bought a painting, for herself, not the museum. I still didn't get in the show.)

Part of my agreement with Howard Stern's production company was I would get the TV series back, sole owner, if it didn't go into production in three years. I got it back. Because I was focusing almost exclusively on TV, my relationship with my film agent ended.

I was brought in to adapt an Elmore Leonard short story for a TV director. A month later the financing fell out.

I could go on. There's a lot I'm forgetting, blips I'm leaving out, grants I was short-listed on, etc. Every time I got something I was sure it would rocket me into stratosphere, it would be the one. Instead it was just a baby step. I kept telling myself no matter what, keep going. So that's what I did.

Then then three years ago I didn't want to anymore. I'm hardy, a New Englander by birth annealed by New York City. I've been mugged at knifepoint by a tranny (she was better dressed than me); chased by a machete-wielding crackhead; was wrong time/wrong place for a suicide (he jumped in front of a subway); and had a neighbor hang himself from a landing above my door. I've seen things I wished I never saw and have done things I wished I never did. I've had as much inside chaos as outside, then seven years ago I punctured an artery cutting a bagel. Sitting in the trauma unit at St. Vincents pushed me to a bottom, which slowed me down enough to peer inside. I started sorting through the past and present and two years later my mother was diagnosed with lung, brain and bone cancer.

Two years into her illness was three years ago. If you've ever been close to someone with an illness like this there's a moment that gets crossed when you know they're going to die, for real, no matter what. Not next week, not next month, but this year will most likely be your last together. When I saw that point I was traveling nonstop to be with her, my career was stalled, I was stalled. One day I came back from visiting her and sat down in the middle of the path. That's how I pictured it, my life as a pine needle path through trees. I sat down and didn't want to get up. Wasn't going to get up. I felt done, with what I didn't know. Whatever it was, I was quitting.

I had never, ever done that. To sit down meant I was a failure, a loser, someone who had lost the fight. I sat there not caring. It was like I emptied out: worry, concern, care, angst, passion, fear and joy - it all became inert. I sat there feeling nothing.

Two days later Diane called. "What are you going to do about it?" she said, tough friend she is, then added "Get up and get going." I put my feet under me and stood up. I wasn't relieved or happy or sad or optimistic. There was no cheerleader saying This is good! You're back on your feet! I was still empty, simply up.

I roamed aimlessly around my house and the next day I roamed in a muttering, puttering and scratching kind of way. Which meant there was life brewing. I cooked dinner, put one foot in front of the other, watched traffic. I got an idea for a new project, a one-hour pilot about a group of teens that would be fiction, but personal. Very personal. Personal would be new for me. What was strange was how calm I felt even though I had just done the worst thing I could ever do, give up. The calm gave me a moment of objectively and I asked myself why it was the worst thing, why quitting scared the shit out of me. And it hit me that the calm I was feeling was lack of fear. I had given up, done the one thing I swore I'd never do, and now I was on the other side of it.

I wrote the pilot and a new world opened, personally and professionally. A head fuck got replaced with faith. I didn't see it coming. It so wasn't how I thought things went.