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.


Double Butter November 8, 2013

"How about I make you something in double butter?"

This was 2008 and my mother was in the thick of undergoing chemo. She had been a great cook yet a terrible eater; obsessively watching her weight meant some days all she'd allow herself was a slice of raw tomato on half a plain bagel. And three vodka martinis. With her weight dropping steadily, however, I managed to get her hooked on French toast that I grilled in double butter, a butter that had twice the fat and a super rich taste. I'd add almonds to the pan near the end of cooking and sprinkle the whole thing with confectionary sugar and I loved watching her eagerly dig in. I was even making her bacon to go with it and the second the bacon would hit a perfect crisp she'd demand it on a plate so she could eat it before her French toast cooled.

Our mealtime routine had finally gotten some rhythm: she'd sit at the kitchen table swinging her feet while she called out what she wanted, and then she'd stare out the window while I cooked. I loved cooking for her and would cart linguini or spaghetti from Rafetto's and homemade mozzarella from Joe's Dairy with me every few weeks I went up to be with her. I'd saute peppers and onions and bits of bacon in a kind of fake carbonara sauce and watch her devour it. If she ate half the plate I was thrilled, given her lack of appetite. To get even a few bites into her felt like a success.

This evening she didn't want pasta or French toast or roast chicken or even ice cream. "I want ..." She looked out the window at the townhouse condo across the road from hers. "A black family just moved in there. The son is handsome." She looked at me and wiggled her eyes. "Maybe we'll see some good action."

Her small condo complex was a typical middle class complex with short streets named Fox Run Road and Pheasant Hill Lane where everyone speed walked in pastel sweatpants before the cocktail hour began. A few townhouses made a 'unit' and a handful of units sat around a pond while the rest sat around each other on curvy little streets. In the middle of it all was a pool, tennis court and clubhouse.

The people across the street were actually Ethiopian and my gut said they were wealthy and were living there temporarily. (Which it turned out, they were. Living in New York has taught me well.) When I told my mother what their ethnicity was she just stared at me, confused. "I want to eat something different. Go look at my cookbooks."

She had a shelf of them under a desk and as I called out each title -- "Not that one, not that one, not that one" -- she yelled "That one!" when I got to The Sisterhood Cook Book from Temple Beth El in Swampscott, Massachusetts. She was going back to her roots.

This was a benefit cookbook where the ladies of the sisterhood solicited everyone they knew to include their favorite recipes and then sold the book to benefit the temple. This version had last been updated in 1975 and when I opened it to a random page I read cream 1 lb. lard and 1 lb. butter. Flipping through it quickly - the biggest section was for desserts - I found the main courses and began to call out recipes. "Hamburg Noodle Bake. Quick and Easy Stuffed Cabbage. Sweet and Sour Tongue. Meat Blintzes."

"No no no. Read me the names. I'll know what I want to eat by who wrote the recipe."

I went to the casserole section of the book. "Carrot Tsimis and Knadle, by Rose Silberstien." No response. "Sweet Potato Pudding, by Ruth Goodstein." Silence. "Potato Knadle, by Helen Harburg." I flipped a few more pages and got to Meats. "Beef With Horseradish Sauce, by Ruth Solar. New England Boiled Dinner, by Hope Gushen. "

"We went to a Bat Mizvah for someone's kid and Mitzy Fleggand - she was Hope Kutcher's cousin - "

"Hope Gushen."

"Hope had on a dress from Saks that was so beautiful. She paid full price and didn't tell her husband. He would've died! Her daughter -- she's either a Catholic or a lesbian -- there he is!" My mother started to frantically wave. I looked out the window and her Ethiopian neighbor was walking to his car. He waved back, friendly, and got in his car. "He is so handsome."

"He's about twenty-five mom."

"Like Don was. Do you remember my Donny?"

My father died when I was fourteen and soon after she had a new boyfriend, Don. She was 39 and he was 22. Don started staying over a lot until my sister Rachel attacked him with a can of peas and then they started going away. "I remember Don well," I said. "Two weeks after dad died he came downstairs in dad's bathrobe. What were you thinking?"

"He was a looker. He looked good in your father's robe."

"You'd go away and leave me with Rachel. You know how many times I had to sleep at a friend's or pull an all nighter somewhere - I slept in a church once to get away from her. Meat-Filled Mashed Fucking Potatoes, by Helen Younger."

"Oh - Helen is Mortie's cousin. You know Mortie, he was Norma's ... or was it Franny's ... Franny hates her daughter-in-law. Can't stand her. Says she's fat and ugly and is a terrible cook." It would be another year before we could talk about the past.

"If my mother-in-law thought I was fat and ugly and a terrible cook I wouldn't be nice, either."

"You don't have a mother-in-law. Can't you find a man anywhere?"

"No, but thank god I found an excellent therapist. Beef Stroganoff, Kosher Style, by Doris Finberg."

"Doris was lovely. Her mother was married to Mitzy Feinstein's uncle who had a sister ..." I watched her face quickly consider all her Jewish geography pairings and then she went blank. She looked at me, suddenly near tears, and her face filled with remorse. My heart started pounding and just as quickly her face changed. "Look for recipes by Hope Langbird. She's a wonderful cook."

"Is that his sister?"

"Who's sister?"

"How'd you like French Toast in Double Butter with Lightly Fried Almonds, by Pamela Harris?"

"That sounds good. And I want bacon, too." She started waving at the window again. "There goes Bill walking his dog! Wave to Bill!"

I waved to Bill and kissed the top of her head. Then I got out the double butter.



(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.


Master of Reality May 12, 2013

(Photo by Joseph Szabo)

“Get your shit.”

Shelley was yelling at me because our parents left for the weekend and she was stuck baby-sitting even though I was almost thirteen. We were going to New Hampshire and her boyfriend, Bruce, was picking us up any minute.

I ran upstairs and pulled out my psychedelic suitcase, the one printed with ‘Tiptoe through the nasturtiums” and ‘Make love not war.” I didn’t know what either meant but the suitcase colors matched my wallpaper and I wanted it. I threw a Black Sabbath eight track in – what do you pack for the weekend? What had I brought to my dads? I added pajamas, Frye boots and a troll, just in case. As I ran downstairs with it, Bruce pulled into the driveway.

Shelley glared at me. “Why do you have a suitcase?”

“I thought we were going to New Hampshire.”

“For an hour you stupid shit.”

Bruce honked and I followed Shelley out, suitcase in tow. New Hampshire was only a half-hour away, but when I left what I knew I had anxiety. With my suitcase I was ready for anything.

“Hey little Pammy,” Bruce said as he pulled the passenger seat forward so I could climb in the back. “Nice suitcase.”

“Thank you,” I said, and put it on the seat next to me. I took my cigarettes out of my sock and lit one.

Shelley stared at me. “Since when do you smoke? It’ll stunt your growth.” She cared. I sat back, happy.

Bruce drove fast and we were at a state liquor store in New Hampshire in twenty minutes. I smoked two cigarettes in the parking lot while he and Shelley went in. They came out carrying two cases of beer, two cartons of Marlboro's, a bottle of Kahlua, a bottle of vodka and a bottle of something that made my heart plip because I knew it came in a purple bag. My dad drank the same stuff and had given me the bag, which at the moment I kept polished rocks in. Excited, I leaned out the window. “Can I have the purple bag?” I had a homeless Spanish coin collection stuffed in the toe of a sock.

Bruce nodded as he put everything in the trunk then got into the car. He turned to me and asked, “Are you hungry?” I shook my head as my sister got in the car. “We’ll get a pizza after one more errand.”

Twenty minutes later we were back in Danvers and we got off the highway near the mall. This was the historic part of town where houses wore plaques that said ‘1776’ or ‘The Parker House, 1795.’ My new friend Leah lived on this street and her house had a secret staircase behind the kitchen that was tiny and twisty. We drove past her house and pulled up three houses down.

“I’ll be right out,” Bruce said and Shelley and I watched him stroll up the walk of a little white house with blue shutters. Someone must have seen us because Bruce didn’t have to knock – the front door opened as he approached. Shelley and I smoked a cigarette as she stared at the windows then absently looked around. “What do you want on your pizza?” she asked.

“Plain.”

“We like mushrooms. We’ll get two.” She looked at the house again and Bruce came down the steps. She looked relieved.

Bruce got into the car and handed me a present about the size of a Grape Nuts cereal box. It was wrapped in hot pink paper. “Don’t open it until we get home,” he said. I love presents and I turned it over and over, dying to know what it was. The wrapping paper was thick, slick and shiny, perfectly taped and smooth. I smelled the box but there was no scent. We got pizzas and hurried home and when we pulled into our driveway I grabbed my suitcase and the pink box. “Hang on a minute,” Bruce said as I headed for the house and he opened the car’s trunk. “Can you carry this?” He held out a three-foot square plastic tray that had a small lip all the way around. I added it to my stuff and brought everything into the kitchen. Seconds later Bruce and Shelley came in carrying the liquor and a large duffel bag. Bruce made two drinks out of Kahlua, cream and vodka that were foamy and rich and smelled like chocolate molasses. Shelley saw me smelling them and said, “White Russians and you can’t have one.” I didn’t care. What was in the present box?

Bruce put the tray in the middle of the kitchen table. He held his hand out for the pink present and I gave it to him. “Sit back,” he said to Shelley and me, then he raised the present and whacked it hard on the edge of the table. There was a loud crack as the box slightly split and he gently placed it in the middle of the tray. Slowly, the present began to crackle, then it began to grow. Sticks and leaves were unfolding out of it as it split apart more and more – it was like those animal sponges that were flat and tiny until you dropped them in water and they puffed up into dinosaurs. This smelled rich and sweet and was turning into a large pile of dried green leaves. Bruce helped the box away from the pile and untangled a branch out. “What you do is pull the leaves off against the way they grow, like this." He stripped the branch of leaves and put them on a clean part of the tray. He then swept a bunch of seeds off the tray into his hand and tossed them into a clean ashtray. "Put loose seeds here.” He reached into the pile and held up a dense cluster that looked like a cocoon made out of leaves and yellow or reddish swirly things. “This is a bud. Don’t break it.”

I was mesmerized as I pointed at the pile. "What is that?"

"A pound of pot. Good stuff, not that five-finger an ounce shit.” Bruce pulled a pack of rolling papers from his pocket and laid a creased paper open in the palm of his hand. With his other hand he teased a shriveled clump of leaves out of the pile and crumbled them into the paper's crease. The paper had a thin shiny strip on its top and he licked it, then with only one hand's fingers and thumb he carefully rolled the paper back and forth, massaging the pot into a log shape. He then rolled the paper all the way up into a joint.

I hadn’t ever smoked pot. Snorting speed was becoming my favorite after school activity and I had even begun breaking the bridge on my cello so I could skip orchestra and hit the woods with Suzy, Leah and Cindy. Bruce took two hits off the joint, passed it to Shelley and she took a hit. He exhaled and gestured the pot wasn’t bad. I reached for the joint and Shelley held it back.

“I’ve snorted speed.” I stared at her, matter of fact.

“When?”

“With my friends.”

“I better not catch you doing that,” she said and took a long sip of her drink. She finally passed me the joint and I took a hit. It did nothing and I took another. Still nothing. Pot sucked. Bruce laughed, then finished the joint the way I would a cigarette.

Shelley went into her bedroom and put on Mountain's Nantucket Sleighride, a record I knew because I had recently begun sneaking into her room to listen to her albums when she went out. For the next hour we worked quietly breaking up the pound and getting the sticks and loose seeds out. We took a pizza break then Bruce pulled a box of baggies and a scale out of the duffel bag. The scale came with little gram weights, just like the one in the science lab at school, and Bruce used them to balance the scale. He set it exactly to one ounce and I watched as he filled a baggie with a couple inches of pot, weighed it, licked the baggie flap and sealed it closed. He was precise to the midge.

After watching him weigh out half a pound I got bored and started fidgeting. “You can leave,” Shelley said, and I scampered upstairs, put on a sweater, and went out and stood on the lawn. I suddenly giggled, I don't know why. Maybe the pot was kicking in. The sun was going down and I lit a cigarette and looked around my neighborhood. I hadn't seen Janet Craft in a while and I headed toward her house, hoping she was home.


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.




The morning after I met Janet Craft I took the long way to school. The air was crisp, the leaves crunched underfoot and I was restless, out of sorts. As a sixth grader I was supposed to use the side doors of the Junior High, but I went around to the back doors, not ready to go in. These were the doors the seventh and eighth graders used and in the mix of them I saw my friend Brendan, a sixth grader like me. A week earlier Brendan has asked me if I wanted to go outside and smoke pot but I told him I wasn't stupid enough to do drugs. I think I even stuck my nose up in the air when I said it.

This morning Brendan looked as out of sorts as I did. He came over and we stood there, aimless, then my eyes roamed a playing field and noticed a familiar face in the woods beyond it. It was Amy, my best friend's older sister, standing with Cindy and Leah, two girls I knew by sight. They were smoking cigarettes, huddled close. Cindy said something and they all laughed. A pang ripped through me. I wanted a group like that, a close world I could feel part of.

A few teachers walked toward Brendan and I but they didn't seem to see us. A Checker cab pulled in carrying the special-ed kids -- their bus must have broken down -- and the teachers flitted around the cab, helping these special needs kids into the school. The now empty cab sat there, the driver filling out his log. Brendan turned to me. "Want to go to my house? We can play bumper pool." I shrugged and nodded. He opened the cab door and scooted over. I got in and closed the door.

The cab driver looked at us, as surprised to see us as I was to see him. I had never done anything like this, had never skipped school. Why I was I had no idea. Brendan gave him his address and looked at me. We were leaving school, not going in, but it wasn't thrilling or a secret we were trying to hide. It's just what we were doing, a whole lot of nothing that felt like something. The driver eyed us then hit the meter and we drove away from school.

My mother always packed my lunch so I had 50 cents in my pocket for milk and juice, but Brendan had lunch money and between us we could cover the cab. He didn't live far from the school and five minutes later we entered his front door and walked through the living room into the kitchen. His older brother was there with two friends, one of whom was bent over a mirror that said Budweiser on it. A small pile of bluish-white rocky powder was on the mirror and next to it was a bluish-white thin line that looked like a two-inch gash. The friend over the mirror had a rolled-up twenty dollar bill in his nose and was snorting the line through it. When he finished Brendan's brother took a single-edge razor blade and caressed another line of powder out of the pile. He took the twenty from his friend and snorted the line. He then looked at Brendan. "Want one? It's speed." Brendan nodded and his brother cut a line for him. Brendan snorted it like a natural.

Brendan's brother turned to me. His held up the rolled twenty nonchalantly, not caring either way. My sister's boyfriend sold pot and other drugs but I was never interested. I looked at the Budweiser mirror, at the way that blue crackly powder sat on it, at how the light went through it. Brendan's brother and his friends seemed like they were joined by electricity; they were all doing the same thing and wanted to do more together. My brain turned the way it did in the cab: one part curiosity and six parts dead air. I took the twenty.

Brendan's brother had exhaled before snorting so I did the same thing. I stuck the twenty in my nose and bent over the mirror. It felt easy - almost too easy - to block one nostril and maneuver the twenty over the speed. Brendan's brother had snorted his line quickly and I did the same then I straightened up and waited. What should I expect? The back of my throat started to burn and Brendan cut more lines out. There was a glass of water on the table and Brendan's friend dipped his fingers in it and snorted water off his fingers. "For the burn," he said. We each did another line and Brendan's brother suddenly turned to the living room windows. I watched him cross to them, over the living room's wall-to-wall baby blue carpeting. As the burn worked down my throat the blue got bluer and bluer. Tires on gravel ricocheted around my head and I realized a car was pulling in. The couch was gold velvet - Sears would advertise it that way - but it was really burnt orange, a deep brownish reddish burnt orange made of thin strands of velvet wisp. "Oh shit," Brendan's brother said as he looked out the window. He turned to Brendan with a grin. "You're busted." His grin quickly faded. "He can't come in here. You gotta go out the front door."

Brendan and I walked to the window as someone knocked on the front door. I looked out and saw the truant officer's station wagon. The next thing I knew Brendan and I were out the front door and getting into the back seat of it, behind a mesh metal barrier that protected the driver. I felt like a stray dog, shamed for being caught and not understanding why I was. The truant officer was gaunt, angry, silent and he got in the front seat. He started the car. "You two are idiots" was all he said, then put it in reverse.

Not much happened next and I didn't feel high. We drove to school, got a minor scolding, then went to geography class to learn about Massachusetts pilgrims. If my parents were called they never mentioned it. The next day I went through the routine of school then after, loitered on the playground with my best friend Honor, more restless than the day before. Usually we waited for her sister Amy to come out of the woods and we'd walk to their house and play Monopoly. This afternoon we stared at the woods and watched Amy smoke, huddled close with Cindy and Leah. Suddenly they all laughed and huddled closer. I turned to Honor and nodded at them. "Want to go smoke with your sister?" Honor looked at me, shocked. "Yes!" We headed for the woods.

Janet Craft was down by a stream. She was flirting with two eighth graders and I was relieved we weren't joining her. She was way too fast for me, but these girls welcomed us like we were friends forever. Cindy offered us cigarettes and we took one. "I live around the corner from you,” she said to me. “Come over." Honor had been sneaking Newport's out of Amy’s pack and we lit up like pros. Two cigarettes later Leah took a small leather notepad out of her purse. She flipped it open and instead of paper it held a mirror. The side loop that would hold a pencil held a straw. From behind the mirror she pulled a two-inch packet, folded from a torn page of Seventeen Magazine. I watched her open it; it was chunky powder, blue like the day before.

Leah rhythmically cut lines out of it with the edge of a guitar pick (her boyfriend played). Huddled close with my new friends I watched each of them snort a line and pass the straw. When Amy finished she handed the straw to Honor with a question mark and no pressure. Honor took it, bent forward and awkwardly stuck the straw up her nose. She snorted a line and grimaced. Honor handed me the straw, I bent over the mirror and snorted the last line.

Leah cut five more lines out as bitter and numb dripped down the back of my throat. I began to hear mud sucking at rocks in a stream and realized I was hearing mud sucking at rocks. I had never heard the stream before. "Can you hear that?" I said and Cindy laughed. We lit cigarettes off the same match and shared a bottle of coke. A glimmer through the trees caught my eye and I saw the stream quiver and shimmer in the sun. Cindy's faded Levi's jacket, Mary Lee's red shoes, Amy's silver bracelet -- I had never seen so clearly, felt so purified. This wasn't like yesterday; a new world had opened. Standing in those woods with my best new friends, I felt alive.