Pamela Harris

I’ve started this three times over the last month, but each draft was bumpy and lumpy. So, the first thing I want to bring into the new year with me is a smaller need to be perfect on the page. With my projects I aim for great, not good enough. But this blog was meant to be breezy and easy. It hasn’t been.

Neither has this year. My long term relationship ended. Then the owner of the NYC building I live in filed paperwork to try to evict all the tenants and tear it down.

A horror movie I wrote got a huge producer attached. Then the writer’s strike hit. It all fell apart.

I consult on tv pilots and features. The strike killed my income.

But back to my relationship ending. When it did, what I thought would come up didn’t. Instead, the foundation I’m built on cracked open. For ten months it was a rock by rock excavation. There were things I had thought my way through in the past, but never really felt my way through. Shame, fear, rage, grief, terror - it all came up.

The biggest surprise was how freeing it's turned out to be.

My friendships have shifted. Some are deeper, some friends I speak with less. My ex and I own a house together (he’s lived in it full time since the pandemic and I’ve mostly been in the city), and we have a dog who’s ten and can’t handle the city. I still go up monthly for a week or so, and after a tense start it’s gotten mostly easy.

I’m consulting again, teaching, and I sold a few drawings.

My projects are getting looser on the page. I wrote a new pilot that's nothing like anything I've ever written. The horror I wrote, Caligari, is part of a trilogy and the storylines felt like they wrote themselves.

Two weeks ago I said to a friend, ‘I’m thinking about producing my horror movie myself.’ I mentioned this to others and immediately started running into a slew of people who have produced their own work. I’m getting advice, contacts and more.

This morning a close friend mentioned that, instead of thinking about what she wanted to have happen in the new year or what she wanted to leave behind, she was making a list of what she accomplished this year. This struck me. The world outside spun further out of control, my world changed from the foundation up, and what I’ve personally accomplished hasn’t been at the front of my thoughts. But thinking about it, it's a great way to bring in 2024.

The first thing on my list is how I got way out of my comfort zone and stayed there. Today I'm going to get quiet and write a full list for myself.

Last night I went to a fantastic NYE party. It was filled with people I know really well, people who know me very well. There was a Vasilopita cake, a Greek New Year cake that has a hidden gold coin in it. Whoever gets the slice with the coin has a years worth of blessings. I got the coin.

There's more I want to say to make this essay feel more resonant. I want to finesse it, shape it, cut this, add that. Instead, I wish you the happiest New Year and all kinds of blessings in 2024. May you even have some good discomfort.

If you’re on IG, I’m @pamelaharris339. I’d love to see you there.

A Crack in Con Edison August 23, 2023

A few weeks ago I got a letter from Con Edison. ConEd provides gas to over a million customers in NYC. I’m one of them. They have $62 billion in assets and are one of the largest gas distribution companies in the US.

My apartment has a gas meter in the kitchen. Up until a few years ago, a ConEd meter reader came by monthly to record my usage. ConEd swapped this meter out for a smart meter. It meant no more visits.

The letter they sent began, “We’re asking for your help.” It went on to say that ConEd needed to inspect my smart meter. I was to call the number provided and set up an appointment. The letter noted it was the second inspection request sent to me. If I didn’t arrange an inspection by September 10 I’d be fined $100. And, I would run the risk of having my gas turned off.

I couldn’t remember receiving the first letter, but I called the number to arrange an appointment. I was put on hold by a bot, and remained on hold for over 20 minutes until the bot hit a glitch and hung up on me. I called back and got a different recording where a bot suggested I leave a call back number. My call would be returned within 48 hours. I left my number but never heard back.

The next day I tried the number again. This time the bot gave an email address and suggested I email ConEd to request an inspection. I did this and never got a reply.

A day or two later I called back and got caught in a bot loop that insisted I leave a call back number, but never gave me an option to. I called back, a bot put me on hold, and after 30 minutes of a nonstop recording requesting I leave a call back I hung up.

I went online to see if there was another number connected to ‘gas inspection’ or ‘meter reading.’ There wasn’t, but what I did find were pending lawsuits against ConEd that were connected to this letter. Law firms stated their clients were being fined $100 monthly, they never received a first letter, etc.

There was a general number for ConEd online and I eventually got through to a nice rep. She couldn’t help me since gas inspections were a different department, but she passed my information to a supervisor in gas inspections and said I’d hear back by end of day. The supervisor never called.

I went back online, tried different variations of ‘ConEd gas inspections,’ and a link came up for DPS Office of Consumer Services, a gov’t agency. Maybe filing a complaint would get my phone call or email returned. It wasn’t about the fine or ConEd’s threat to turn off my gas. It was, I had done everything and more that ConEd asked from me to resolve this problem. Yet the lone option ConEd gave to fix this didn’t work. I filed, and quickly got a response from DPS stating my complaint was forwarded to ConEd. The speed of this suggested I wasn’t the first person to file.

After two more days of silence I shared my frustration with a close friend. She knew an exec who once worked for ConEd. The person she knew emailed me and requested a copy of the ConEd letter. I sent it, and when this person tried to call the number — twice — they had the same experience I had. They must have made some calls, and soon after I heard from ConEd’s Customer Service.

The woman I spoke with was knowledgable, kind, and efficient. She said the phone number created an overwhelming amount of calls and they didn’t have enough reps to handle the volume. When I asked if I could have expected a call back, she got quiet. I told her I tried to reach ConEd through the general number, but was told the phone number in the letter was the only way to schedule an inspection. I had tried every option — email, call back, sitting on hold for 30 minutes and there was no way through. She murmured understanding. The chance of getting anyone on the phone to schedule an inspection was nil, if not impossible. ConEd had to be aware of this. Were they doing anything to remedy it? She murmured more understanding.

The first appointment she could give me was November. But the letter stated that an inspection needed to happen by September 10 or I’d be fined. I asked, “Would I still be fined?” She couldn’t promise I wouldn’t be charged. If I was, all I had to do was call and the charge would be taken off my bill. “Did I have to call the same number in that letter?” I did. She quickly emailed me her personal phone number in case I got charged.

The following day a senior ConEd customer service rep called about my complaint lodged with the DPS. He was empathetic. He said that the letter I received misstated a prior letter had been sent. This was the first letter sent and he apologized for the misinformation. I asked how many complaints were filed through DSA. 4000. I asked how many ConEd customers got the letter. He said all of them. (ConEd has over a million users in Manhattan, which is only one of five boroughs. I don’t know how many smart meters there are.)

He said the office was trying to get back to customers but it was going slowly. “What if someone didn’t work for themselves like I do, and didn’t have time to deal with this?”

“I know,” the rep said, understanding.

“So there’s basically no way to get in touch with ConEd about this.” The rep was empathetic. “The letter threatens to turn gas off. I don’t know how many buildings are heated with gas, but it would mean no heat for these customers. NYC winters are frigid. And, stoves are gas, so it would mean no cooking.” I know. “What if a customer has young kids? What if they can’t afford to eat out? Will ConEd turn off the gas if someone can’t get through on that number, the only number provided?”

“Yes, they probably will,” the rep replied.

A customer can’t quit ConEd. There might be one other option for gas and electric, but they use ConEd gas lines. I only solved this because I had a personal contact. Without one, there’s no workaround.

Years ago I worked for People Magazine in ad production. We received an ad from a brand that wanted to advertise a new product. The brand would run this ad across the country, except for the St. Louis metro area. The brand wanted to test their new product in the St. Louis area only. This version of the ad had special copy, a phone number a reader could call to get a free sample. But what happened was, the national ad ran in St. Louis and the number offering a free sample ran everywhere else. People Magazine had to hire hundreds of operators to deal with this. I don’t know how the financial costs were remedied, but People must have done the right thing because they didn’t lose that advertiser.

I understand corporations exist to make money. But what ConEd is doing isn’t your basic greed or malfeasance. It feels much worse. Friends in lofts that would sell for millions have smart meters in their kitchens, so I can’t say if ConEd’s lack of action is socio-economically motivated. But I keep asking myself why I’m so bothered by this. This morning, it hit me: The recent indictments of Trump and Republicans has yet again illuminated behavior that has spread since 2016: take zero responsibility with actions that cause harm, and practice a voracious right to ignore accountability. With ConEd, I didn’t experience the avid righteousness that Trump and his fellow Republicans spew when their choices benefit only their needs. Every employee I spoke with shared a sense of powerlessness over being able to take any actions to change this. But ConEd represents security, conscientiousness, they’re a company that has withstood time and change. I need reminders of these qualities to see that all is not bad in the world, that a population both corporate and private can still be depended upon. I can’t bear another crack in this, and ConEd has created one.

On Saturday I was getting ready to upload this post and my phone chimed with a voice message. My phone hadn’t rung; it was one of those callbacks you can leave when you don’t want to speak with the person who called or don’t have time to. The message was from a ConEd rep calling to arrange an inspection. He left me a number to call, the same number in the letter. I called, hoping to see this black hole was resolved. I got a message saying the office was closed and to call back on Monday. I tried, but never got through.

(First two photos by me, third is a Bruce Nauman drawing)

In March, an agent read a query and five pages of my memoir, HOW I LEARNED TO SWEAR. She liked the 5 pages and sent me a list of questions: why does my book matter; what are the comps (comparative titles that show the potential audience for my book); how does my book fit into the current conversation; what am I working on now; what’s my platform (how many people I might be able to get word of its existence to, which for me is about 250,000 unique views), and more. I took two days to answer her questions and wrote her back.

Meanwhile, a friend met a fantastic producer for JOYVILLE, the speculative feature I wrote that got me into the Writers Lab. The script is about a scientist who’s devoted her life to making sure humanity survives, and when she makes a spectacular discovery in the woods she now has to decide if we’re worth it. The producer was perfect, so my friend got wheels moving to get the script to them.

This year I finished a play, POLITE, a tragedy disguised as a comedy about the value of women’s work. I did a partial reading with the Inkwell Theater in LA, and after, I gave it to my auntie. My auntie worked on the business side of Broadway musicals and is mostly retired. She read POLITE, loved it and asked how she could help. I gave her a list of readings in NYC. She didn’t know anyone on the list (musicals and straight plays often occupy different worlds), but put out feelers out to someone who might.

Someone else knew someone who knew Mary Kay Place, who was perfect for the lead in POLITE. Did I want them to try to get the script to her? Definitely.

Another person knew a producer at my dream theater. They offered to pass it to him.

Two months passed, and the agent reached out. She had Covid, hence the long silence, but she liked my responses and requested the full manuscript. Two weeks later she got in touch. She loved the book. She loved the story, the pacing, the subject, she could connect with it, and thought it was unique enough to sell. And then she passed. In the two months since I first contacted her she had taken two other memoirs out on sub and not a single editor made an offer. She couldn’t take the disappointment, and didn’t want to cause any for me. She decided to take a break from repping memoir, and wasn’t going to take me or my book on.

Right after, my friend who met the producer who was right for JOYVILLE came back to say that the producer wasn’t going to produce scripted anymore and was only interested in docs.

The contact to Mary Kay Place left the job they had and that contact dried up.

The producer at my dream theater got ill. Terminally ill. I wanted to leave him in peace so didn’t send him my play.

Another agent found my book riveting - she read it in less than two days - and passed since she was also taking a break from repping memoir.

My auntie couldn’t find a contact to anyone on the list except one person, and he is awol.

I was still querying, getting people to read the book, read a script, read a play. I was submitting to fellowships, labs, becoming a finalist but not getting the workshop, getting nominated for things and waiting, waiting, sitting with a lot of silence, getting rejections - great rejections, everyone kept telling me. It’s just a matter of time. Then, I got an email from the head of a major festival who loved my play and said that even though it didn’t win, they considered it for the top prize. And right after that I had a crisis of faith.

I mean, WTF you know? I know that this is how it goes, because I have a great community of fellow writers, directors, filmmakers, playwrights. Rejection comes with the job. And, whether I like it or not, luck plays a huge role in getting work seen and made. Not as much as connections - the right school, the right family, the right stuff will catapult work to the top of the pile. But luck matters. Some great rock bands formed because 4 idiots happened to get on the same elevator at the same time, or were in the same store or on the same bus.

With luck, though, you have to be prepared. I got my first big show because I was at a baby shower in the loft above mine and met a curator. He was putting a show together and wanted to see work right then. I had the work, had enough experience with studio visits to be able to talk about it, knew how to present it in what order, and — this is key — my work fit into the theme of his show.

But this crisis of faith — it was brutal. I’ve worked so hard, steadily, I’ve shoved my work out there, I don’t cut corners, I bust my ass, I’m a good collaborator, people seem to love what I do, I’ve gotten things, I get emails, still, about the book from people who read it months ago - I’m confident in my work. Cracking through to that next level, however, no matter how I’ve come at it I couldn’t crack that ceiling. When I reread the email from the head of that festival I realized it wasn’t a crisis of faith, but a crisis of fear. Would I get my work into the world, get my voice into the conversation before I die?

Right after that I stepped back. The only way for me to work through that fear, to neuter it, to find satisfaction in what I was doing and have that be enough was to stop what was making me miserable. The hustle comes with the job, but it had become so emotionally unsatisfying, spiritually unsatisfying, that I knew I had to figure out how to do it in a way that felt more like … me. I didn’t know what that meant, or what that would look like. So I took a leap of faith and stopped querying, stopped hustling and started enjoying the smaller moments that make up my life. I cooked. I pet the dog. I walked around the city. I walked in the woods.

I also started meditating with a little more regularity. What kept coming up when I meditated was ‘waiting.’ I waited through the summer, I waited into the fall and oddly, I felt better. I didn’t know what was next, but it was okay. I felt ripe to start a new project and knew it would be a horror movie. Why, I didn’t know and didn’t care.

I started going out a lot, socializing, seeing friends, meeting new people. Walking home one night, it hit me that I don’t have to be great for you to like me. My shit had gotten so tangled up in getting a yes and getting the star that comes with it that it triggered some loop of need that didn’t serve me at all. I looked around and realized I have a great community, we’re making work, sharing work, doing it our own way. Now, I may still want that yes, but it’s not so precious. It’s not the end all.

Somehow, some way, all of this put me into a new kind of flow. Whatever fear was lurking has mostly quieted. It’s still there, but I don’t give it much screen time anymore. Things are happening organically - I’ll be talking about a project and the person I’m speaking with says hey, I know a producer for you to reach out to. This has happened repeatedly over the last month. Recently, a friend, Stephanie, said an acquaintance of hers, an artist named Joyce was new to the NY area and would I meet with her? I did, we talked for hours, and then she asked me if I knew the book ‘Group.’ Not only do I know it, it’s one of my comps. Funny enough, Joyce is close with the author, and two days later I had a zoom meeting with the author. I asked f I could use her name and reach out to her agent, she said absolutely, and I got the fastest rejection I’ve ever gotten for a query letter. I laughed, then thought, okay, next.

I just finished that horror movie, btw - fastest project I’ve written yet. That’s the other great side effect, that it feels so right to be writing about what I’m writing about. This year was about fear and acceptance in a way that was new, deep and potent. Fear doesn’t go away, but there’s nothing like coming out of a fire to really know what confidence feels like. It adds up to knowing in my bones that this path I’m on is the path I’m supposed to be on.

There was also an incident with birds. I shared about it in this podcast. The creator of the podcast is an artist and writer like me, Juliana Roth Juliana Roth, and our episode is here.

Someone asked me what word I want to bring into the new year with me, and funny enough we both had the same word: trust. But I had a second word, too: autonomy. I’m bringing both words with me.

Leaving behind? Fear is too broad and it isn’t something I can leave behind or even want to. Last January, a close friend, Jennifer, bought me a reading for my birthday. The woman who did the reading said I have to look at what I take for granted about myself. That resonated. It’s what I want to leave behind.

I have a really good feeling about 2023. May we all see the brilliance that is our life.

The Stuff of Life December 26, 2021

(Image credit: NASA)

I love stuff. My stuff, your stuff—have me over for the first time and I’ll be half listening as I ogle your walls and shelves and table tops.

It started when I was little and took a painting class with Mrs. Matsubara in Danvers, Massachusetts. Her art studio smelled like turpentine and woodsy oil, and had a sink, a table, and five or six big easels. These stood around a pedestal that held a still life of a plate, a curvy candlestick and a bunch of grapes. I had no interest in drawing that but didn’t care; I was much more interested in the still life around me. Paintings of landscapes, portraits and flowers were stacked side by side or leaning against every wall, done in the same style. Coffee cans were filled with paintbrushes, wooden boxes were piled with tubes of paint, ceramic egg cups were stacked near the sink. A rear corner of the room was cordoned off with a rope, so I walked back there and stared at a jumble of delicate glass balls, carved sticks, red and yellow dragon heads, a violin, wooden fish, more candlesticks, a bowling ball. All this stuff was hers. She was all her stuff.

Up until this summer I had two storage units. One was near Salem, Mass, and the other was across the street from where I live in NYC. Since we got the house upstate I wanted to empty both. I've never lived under one roof with all my stuff. I still don’t since I live in the city and visit upstate, but closing out the units meant it would all be under two roofs instead of four.

I started with the NYC storage space. It was filled with paintings, drawings, art I’ve collected, college stuff, a large movie collection on video, and assorted dead tech. There was a mahogany easel from the 1800s with hand-carved heads that I traded a five-dollar bag of weed for when I was fifteen. An old Russian religious icon bought off a street in Moscow that a friend gave me in 1991. My painting cart from 1999, a Victorian feather duster, lamps I bought at a Ralph Lauren sample sale.

The Salem unit was gotten hastily when my mother was dying in 2010. It held a lot of large paintings, plus furniture I grew up with but never lived with: my grandmother’s Victorian love seat, a funky formica Parsons table my mother had made in the 1970s, a gate leg table from the 1960s, an Ampeg Superjet amp I got in high school and 5 boxes, some packed so long ago I didn’t know what was in them.

Once I moved all of it to the house I began sorting it. There were paintings and drawings that came straight from shows that I never uncrated. I hadn’t seen some of this work since the 90s and early 2000s, and though I wasn’t sure how I’d feel unwrapping each painting, it turned out to be thrilling. I remembered making every mark, every stroke, I was awed by how macho I was painting seven-foot high canvases. Two went up on walls at the house, as did two very large framed drawings. I cleaned the furniture and odds and ends, then opened the boxes last.

I got weepy when I unpacked my father’s bowling trophy. It was from before I was born and I barely remember ever seeing it. There was a heavy acrylic trivet my mother had forever that was filled with petrified marigolds. There were ceramics I made in a YMCA day camp, a yellow and brown sweater my grandmother knit that personifies the 1970s. A tiny white porcelain bud vase sprouting a delicate white rose from its side was the first thing I ever bought, from a yard sale when I was seven. If I saw it today I’d buy it again.

In a huge box I found Transformers transfer-tones (they’re like an animation cel, but for a comic book) that I made at my second job in NYC. A painting my father did. A painting my mother did. A book of cartoons a friend made in college, old art books, my patched jeans from high school, a jean jacket I embroidered. There were bowls, plates, some of my mother’s kitchen things—it’s shocking how happy it makes me to use her dented colander.

Emptying the units was the perfect coda to the book I wrote. Early this year I handed it off to a freelance editor to see if it worked. The book shuffles the past and near present into a nonlinear story about the power of forgiveness, and her notes helped me get to a draft that’s ready to show. I’m slowly looking for a book agent, and though it seems to be going okay it’ll be a long haul. It’s all right. I’m up for it. Writing the book changed me. There’s my story, and then there’s my story. I no longer seem to be attached to either.

Last month I met a cousin I hadn’t seen since I was twelve. We zoomed once and hope to again. I barely knew my father’s side of the family or his parents, and meeting her has been one of those great surprises you don’t see coming.

This year, or this upside down motherf!cker of a year—the year Roe v Wade was gutted, humanity was set back a few hundred years, there was death all around us—my favorite coping skill became talking about what I want for dinner while I’m eating breakfast. I got so easily overwhelmed—I don’t know if I need a bag Trader Joe!—that cooking dinner made me hopeful, almost as much as reading Heather Cox Richardson. She’s clear, concise, and no bullshit. It’s the only way I can take my politics these days.

It’s funny how this year of scaling back has also been a year of constant change. What helped me deal with the uncertainty and stress was-and is-friends. I do a Sunday zoom every week with a small group of women where we talk about anything we need to. Those I don’t see on zoom I speak with regularly. Work—art, books, film and tv—has always been about a larger community, but sticking to my immediate community is where it’s at. It’s even brought up a desire to collaborate closer to home.

I appreciate every comment, note, and email I receive from this blog. Community matters more than ever. You’re mine.

The happiest New Year to you all. May you find buckets of kindness in 2022.

In The Hall December 29, 2020

(Above: photo of Dawn at the Oculus by me. Below: Owl Wing is by Julie Zickefoose)

I’m looking out the kitchen window onto deep snow, studying animal paths. You can see what hopped, strode, or scurried out of the woods, through our yard, and onto the street. Their tracks make me think of ancient trade routes, who went where to stock up on urns, dried olives, gold. Studying these animal footprints is my favorite thing to do since it lets my mind roam.

This year, my head hasn’t had a lot of roaming room. Nor have the heads of most of the people I know. Despite this, coming out the other side of this year, there’s been some real grace. And real grief.

My mentor died of COVID. He taught me so much about directing, and got me past my cluelessness over how to work with actors. A large swath of older creative New York City died, too.

The homeless population in NYC exploded. Or, their visibility did. A lot of mental illness has fallen through the widening cracks. The streets have gotten violent.

I still go out after breakfast to feed the birds. No matter what I wear, if I’m late, if I come up a different block, if I hide my hair under a cap, flocks come charging over from half a block away. I have to dump food and run, or the birds follow me home, squawking and dancing, sure I’m holding out on them. From my upstate perch I miss my morning routine, but when we head back to the city I’ll need to rethink my feeding strategy.

Many of our local restaurants closed for good. I go out for my walk and notice the missing delivery guys, busboys, managers and owners hanging around their front doors for a smoke, to get deliveries, to get air. We’d always say hello, how are you, did you see the blah blah? Our two local delis are gone, too. Our old super hung around the deli on the corner, but now that he no longer has a perch, we don’t get to catch up.

The surviving restaurants have taken over a lane in the streets and constructed large outdoor dining structures. They’ve been enclosed for winter, many are heated, some have multiple private pods. The whole visual landscape of New York has changed. The soundscape, too.

The election and the post election tsoris laid my fury bare. I voted early this year. So early, I was on line since 2016.

Last year I mentioned I wanted to write a book. I got earnest in March, and did. The daily process grounded me, rooted me to the chair, gave me a routine. I can’t talk about the book, but not because I’m cryptic; I’m wrapping it up now and don’t yet know how to talk about it. It’s deeply personal and has bones I never, ever considered putting on the page. Actually, this is a good segue into what I’m bringing into the year with me.

Writing this book, I got to see my walls. Where do I keep you out, me in, what old beliefs about myself am I still holding on to. By doing something I thought I’d never do—I got bald on the page—a kind of alchemy happened. It’s like I burned out the dead wood and came out the other side changed.

Every year has a facet of being a ‘deal with my shit’ year, but this one dug up the roots of those old beliefs. My art and writing always has elements of my family dynamic, my past, but this book went straight to the soul of things. I got to see so that’s what I do, that’s how I react, that’s an old knee-jerk. It was freedom, I tell you.

I’m bringing my family, my crew, you, and my work into the new year, but I’m bringing it in with a whole new appreciation for it. That’s what coming out the other side has given me: more gratitude for what I have and less yearning over what I don’t.

I’m also bringing uncertainty into the new year with me, and for the first time, I’m okay with it. Every time I finish a project, I know what’s next. This book has completed a cycle, of what I don’t know. Whatever I do next creatively will be new for me.

Every year I say how much I appreciate the readers of this blog, your emails, and comments. I genuinely mean it. Last year I ended my post hoping this year knocked you sideways, in the best way possible. I’ll imagine over the last twelve months, you got knocked somewhere.

May 2021 set you down on softer ground. The happiest new year to all of you.

Enough Is Enough June 8, 2020

(All photos by Pamela Harris, except Muriel Bowser photo by Reuters.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about my mother. When the virus hit, I wondered how she would’ve survived it. I don’t mean actually getting the virus. I mean not being able to shop.

Browsing a clothing rack for a bargain was my mother’s lifeblood. Almost every day she hit Syms, TJ Maxx, Loehmann’s, Marshall’s, the flea markets in Florida over the winter, Home Goods—any store that carried a potential designer bargain.

She visited NYC twice after I moved here, and one of those times we window shopped in Soho before any stores were open. It took an hour to walk three blocks. She’d press her nose to the glass and cup her hands around her eyes to shut out the light, to get a better look. “Oooooh,” she’d sing at every window, this particular one a bag store. “Think they have a sale on?”

“We’ll come back,” I answered, knowing that even on sale, even though she could afford it, she’d never spend what those pocketbooks cost.

Last year I passed a store on Wooster Street that had a sign, ‘Sale On Sale.’ I could feel my mother’s ghost twitch and shimmer next to me as she rolled her sleeves, ready to shop. A lot of the mid-priced stores were having out of season sales, private sample sales, Buy One Get One 50 Percent Off. The high end stores such as Balenciaga, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Dior, had full-price merchandise, but the only people I’d see milling in them were sales people and private security guards. I felt like I was witnessing the end of retail.

After the virus hit, a handful of stores boarded their windows or emptied them of merchandise. Would these stores come back? What would our neighborhood look like post-Covid?

(The top photo is our neighborhood at dawn in April. The bottom photos are from today and yesterday. Boarded up, but opening.)

For much of April, every morning I went out and fed the birds, then walked the empty streets through Soho and into the west village. Many restaurants that tried to do take out or delivery closed, since it cost too much to stay open. None emptied, giving hope they’d reopen once the city opened.

Over and over I’d think, the whole world is going through this! What an opportunity to see how alike we all are. I loved how some countries embraced their scientists (ours didn’t), what PM’s and presidents had compassion (ours didn’t), how many women broke out as leaders. Cuomo transformed and became a voice of sanity. I loved seeing countries offer help to others, countries that had never done this in the past. This is a role America always played due to our financial might, our brilliant minds, and our history of humanity and philanthropy. It’s been wildly depressing witnessing how we’ve offered worse than nothing. Rome is burning.

And then the protests began. (There is a huge difference between protesters and looters. There is a huge difference between protesters and looters. I’m saying it twice.)

The message of the protests gives me a moment of hope. The protests have gone global. The world is hearing enough is enough. The only way forward is through change.

My new hero is the Mayor of DC, Muriel Bowser. She’s gracious, smart, and she’s doing it her way with a whole lot of heart. (She oversaw the giant yellow ‘Black Lives Matter’ painted down the middle of a DC street near the White House.) My mother wasn’t interested in politics, but I wonder what she’d think of all this. Would she feel the possibility for change that’s in the air, or would she shrug and keep dancing while Rome burned around her.

We’ve been staying in the city vs going upstate since all of this began. Partly because it’s more comfortable here. Partly because our friends are here, and even though we don’t see them we’re close enough to use cans and string to chat. We’re taking it week by week.

Yesterday we went out for a late morning walk and threw the ball at Ginger’s favorite place on earth. The dog run belongs to the Soho Grand Hotel, and both closed last night.

I’ve been on social media more. Every day something new trends:

DJ D-Nice hosted ‘Club Quarantine’ and thousands of people danced in their own living rooms.

Parents homeschooling their kids post things like, “Wondering how I can get this kid transferred out of my class.”

Jokes about exponential functions and algebra, with captions such as “Like we’ll ever use this crap.”

“Your grandparents were called to fight in world wars. You’re being called to wash your hands and sit on the couch. Don’t fuc! this up.”

“Weekend Travel Plans” shows a map blueprint of an apartment, with footsteps going from kitchen to living room to bedroom.

There’s fake news about dolphins in the canals of Venice, real news about the penguins at Shedd Aquarium being let out to roam through exhibits to look at fish.

There are (rightful) slams on the current administration. Love for Cuomo.

I then hit the wall with all of it and close Instagram (I'm @pamelaharris339). I've had days where I obsessively read news. I've snacked days away, something I've never done. Lately, or finally, I'm getting back to a routine of work and limiting all the aforementioned.

Joe’s back working from home full time. What I really want to do when he’s on a Zoom meeting is to put the oven mitt on and stealthily enter the side of his screen, bite bite biting at the air.

Imagine being a teenager during this?

I’ve become aware of just how much I touch my face. I’ve been a compulsive hand washer since I moved to NYC, so that part of this I have down.

Ginger doesn’t understand why she can’t play with her pals in the rare times we run into them on the street. Joe is still doing all the walks. My knee is great, but not great enough yet to walk her on my own. We all miss that.

The other morning I headed to the river to take a walk. I didn’t see anyone on the way over, then I crossed the West Side Highway and entered Hudson River Park. Families were walking together, little kids were zigzagging on scooters, bikes, skateboards, ricocheting off people. There were tennis games going on, groups walking together. I got off the river fast.

I don’t have fear about the virus. But I am being practical.

What’s emerging for me right now is, the streets outside may be empty, but our hearts aren’t. People in our building left notes offering help to anyone homebound. Online, people are checking in on people, acknowleging the importance of grocery clerks, cashiers, nurses, doctors, all other frontliners. People are donating medical supplies, sewing facemasks, donating to restaurant funds, fostering animals.

The entire world is going through this. I think we will be for a while. It’s a spectacular opportunity to see all the ways we’re alike, not different.

The Kindness of Strangers December 20, 2019

I’m a sucker for a good fart joke. Poop, pratfalls, a pratfall where someone poops - poop fart poop fart fart. I never realized just how many poop and fart jokes "30 Rock" has. So many I’ve spit water all over my keyboard laughing out loud.

I’ve been living on "30 Rock." In October I broke my knee. I was walking down the sidewalk in the rain. Nothing unusual about it. At most intersections in NYC where the sidewalk meets the street there are ADA tactile pads, a composite pad that looks like rubber covered in raised dots. They let the blind know they’re at an intersection and provide a slight slope for those in wheelchairs. I was five blocks from my house and when my sneaker hit the wet pad I went down so fast I didn’t know I was falling. My knee hit one of the raised dots perfectly and broke in two.

The amazing thing about NYC is people came running. A truck stopped and wouldn’t move until I said I was okay. An owner of the Greenwich Sports Tavern came out with an umbrella, cardboard and tape, to keep me dry and make a splint. Two chemical engineering students having lunch helped him and stayed with me. You could see through my pants that my knee was in two pieces, and the pieces had migrated over a finger’s width apart. I kept staring at it, stunned.

In the ER they said I had a displaced transverse fracture. I came home, then six days later I had surgery and my knee was wired together. For a month I couldn’t stand or sit on my own because of a rigid hip to ankle brace. I slept in it, too, or really, laid there and stared at the ceiling.

During the day I’d hobble on crutches to the couch and Ginger would sit near me, staring, confused why I wasn’t walking her but knowing something was wrong. Friends came by, I ate a lot of scones, I researched broken patella obsessively.

Only 1% of bone breaks are broken knee caps. It’s a rare thing. Every surgeon seems to have their own protocol and three weeks in I started PT. My range of movement (ROM) was barely 5 degrees, or straight and stiff, and from here I started the very slow, tediously slow, paint dries faster slow process of pushing my knee to bend to its limit to gain degrees.

I’m a motherf!cker when it comes to focusing my mind and getting done what needs to get done. I have fantastic perseverance. Never in my life, though, have I had to physically take myself to the edge, to spontaneously burst into tears while my PT tries to bend me another degree, to scream out loud as she tries to break up scar tissue by bending to what feels like a bone breaking point. Some sessions I’d get crazy body tremors and turn whiter than white. Or we’d watch my knee grow and swell, or see a bruise bloom across the top of it. Through it all we’d bend. It's a very slow process.

As is seeing how this is bending me. I’ve never had physical pain before, not like this. At first some of my tears were fear my knee would break from the pressure. Then it was other fear, not knowing what my body was capable of. But I’ve come to see it’s more like I’m emptying out or letting go of something I didn’t know I was holding on to. Last week during PT a ripple of terror shot through me, a terror from long ago. I grew up with a sister who constantly threatened to beat the crap out of me and though my head had moved on, there was that fear fresh as day, still lodged in my bones. My whole life I’ve been slightly coiled, tense, something I attributed simply to how I’m built. It’s a shock to discover I’m not.

My PT, Helen, is an assassin I’ve nicknamed Hellbend (I suggested she write a book titled ‘I’ve Been Called Worse”). In between PT sessions she's given me a lot of exercises to build back quad strength and to bend, bend, bend. I’ll do heel slides down the wall or dangle my leg over the side of the bed and push it down with my good leg for twenty minutes, the length of a "30 Rock" episode. I do this three to five times a day. Some days I get dizzy and woozy, but then on 30 Rock Jack Donaghy or Liz Lemon will say something funny and I’ll forget it hurts. I’ll marvel at how Tina Fey writes, produces and stars in a show that never loses momentum.

Which brings me to thinking about writing and painting and the reality that I spend a lot of time in my head. My work demands it, it’s good. But despite how active I am outside of work, it hit me how I’ve never fully inhabited my body. This is shock number two. I don’t mean I’m cut off from the neck down. It’s, being in my body has pushed me into the present more than I’ve ever been. It’s a whole new layer to being alive.

Surgery and post recovery have tinges of the barbaric. At times I feel like an experimental meat stick. When my surgeon was unhappy with my ROM and wanted to do a procedure (some consider controversial) called an MUA, I had to really dig deep into why I didn't want it. My surgeon knows about busted knees and I needed to trust him. Plus, not wanting the procedure wasn’t a good enough reason not to do it. But when I did heavy research into it, my gut said don't do it. Despite my surgeon pushing me to do otherwise, I called off the procedure. I had to trust myself. I’ve been doing PT for six weeks now and am at 50 degrees ROM. Was my decision the right one? Who knows, but it was the right one for me.

The theme here is fear. Going into the next year I can feel I’m going in with less of it. Yowza it feels good.

This was a good writing year. I was a screener for a major film festival, read for a great writing lab, finished writing the feature I took to The Writers Lab and also created a new pilot. With both projects I was selected to apply to fellowships and labs, and found that in the essay portion - I had to write a lot of essays for each application - I rewrote so much that writing became tedious. While bending it hit me what I was really doing was smoothing me out on the page, sometimes writing me off the page. It’s time to slim down the hypercritical voice in my head. My last essay, I banged it out and didn't look back, and writing it was much more fun.

My next writing project is a book. It'll be my first. I’m excited.

Up until two weeks ago Joe had to do everything, including cook, clean, walk the dog, get me on and off the couch, help me stand, sit. The first two weeks I started bending he had to help raise and lower my knee three times a day. He’s still cooking, cleaning, walking the dog, and a host of other things. These last few months have made me so grateful for him, for Ginger, for our small pack.

We love our house, though with PT in the city we won’t make it up there as much over the winter. Here in the city the construction around us has finished, so being here full time is easy. Though there seems to be something going on with our building, either a sale or impending change. It’s in the air, the way the owners are acting.

A lot of this year was about acceptance amid uncertainty. Maybe that’s what it means to be human. To love.

I got a few emails this year asking if I’d be writing an end of year post. Your emails mean so much to me, so please know that. The happiest new year to you. May next year knock you sideways, in the best way possible.

Our New House July 18, 2019

We bought a house.

It’s charming and adorable and a red fox and deer like to sleep at the edge of the yard. They come for the Mulberry trees and stay for the quiet.

We’re at the edge of a small town that sits on the Hudson River, directly across from the town of Hudson. An eight minute walk takes us to an amazing bakery and a quart of milk. With warm chocolate or almond croissants fresh from the oven, what else do I need?

Not much, but the house needs everything. It was built by hand in 1962 and has been in the same family since. They took great care of it—it’s rock solid—but everything needs updating. This week we had a new roof put on, trees got trimmed. Next week new gutters will hopefully be up, and then a new sewer line.

It’s a weekend place, a perfect size for not too much maintenance, and big enough to not be cramped. Our second weekend up the refrigerator died, then the kitchen lights blew. It’s as if the house is happy to know it’ll be lived in, and its leap of joy has shaken things loose.

The photos are of the kitchen cabinets. They’re a little wonky and need shoring up, but for now, they’re kind of perfect.

It’s interesting living in a time warp. The bathroom is wrapped in marbled Formica, the kitchen and sun porch floors have classic fake brick linoleum. The rest of the house has gorgeous oak floors, but it’s the yard I’m nuts for. Half an acre, untouched and wildly overgrown. I’ll spend this summer watching how the light moves through it, what might grow where.

We’ll fix it up slowly, over time. Chances are good the boiler’s going to go. Next up is a new heating system.

Ginger saw her first deer and bolted for the house. She’s still getting grounded. It’s fascinating to see her instincts kick in; she saw deer poop and dropped to roll in it. At night she slowly walks the house, on patrol, and is up at 3:45 when the birds start. She sits and listens, processing the sounds, the smell, the quiet.

That’s the amazing thing about this house. Inside, with the windows closed, it’s stone silent. I haven’t had this in over thirty years. Outside it’s birds and the occasional boat on the river, and the Amtrak train in Hudson pulling out. We hear mowers, and renovators, too. The town we’re in has incredible architecture from the 1800s, and many of the houses are loved and constantly maintained or fixed up.

Our neighbors are close, but not on top of us. At night Joe, myself and the dog walk to the river and sit and watch the action. There’s a large restaurant and hotel, and a ferry from Hudson carries people back and forth to eat, drink, listen to live music. It’s a very cool little town, quirky, arty, classic Hudson Valley. For now it’ll be weekends, but it already feels like home.

Coming and Going December 22, 2018

Photograph by Christopher Payne

On Monday I took the dog for an early walk and babbled to myself like a lunatic the whole time. It was five am and we were out for over an hour. Construction workers are plentiful at that time, but they’re yelling with each other or half asleep in their cars waiting to get a legal parking spot.

I wasn’t yelling or screaming, just quietly blasting profanity onto the sidewalk. I don’t even know what I was falling apart about: the non-stop noise from one construction site that pours concrete at three am and another that grinds garbage at two, that my go to restaurant for meetings closed, the way it feels like the whole world is at the edge of no return.

The day before I had finished writing Joyville. It’s the project I took to The Writers Lab last September. Since then I’ve written and rewritten it, put it down to work on something else then picked it up to try again. It had so many moving parts I wasn’t sure I could get them all facing the same direction.

The story is set in the near future and is about a scientist and her ass of a neighbor who she develops a strange, psychic connection to. This leads her to discover an even more spectacular connection to a trio of wildlife that live in the woods nearby. There’s an ecological and moral collapse occurring the whole while, and the script fundamentally questions whether humans are worth saving.

As I wrote my way through drafts I got closer and closer to the finish, but something was missing. As a woman from the Lab put it, the script wasn’t fully cooked. I did another draft, another woman from the Lab read it and she described it as a beautiful tragedy. That’s what I was going for, but there was still something missing. She casually asked how it was personal, and I surprisingly burst into tears. In that second I knew I was writing about grief.

In the past I’ve felt rage, loss, emptiness, resentment, but all of it was a cover for something deeper. I’d glimpse the grief of finality, I’d have a passing bone-deep sadness, but I never had hopelessness.

It started creeping in a few weeks ago. A hopelessness for not just my future but the squandered potential of humanity. Are we worth saving?

I went back to the Joyville rewrite and knew I had to answer that vs leave it hanging. I let myself really feel the hopelessness, the absolute tragedy of it all. A few days later I came out the other side in a simmering babbling fury. I finally had a fully cooked draft.

Earlier this week I had a breakfast with a good friend and told him about my dog walk rant, how I can’t fully shake this rage. He had an interesting take on it, since he’s been here in the past. He equated it to a fighter in the ring waiting on the bell. It’s exactly how I feel.

This is the year the fight woke in me. I’m bringing it into the new year with me.

With work, I’m done waiting. I’ve always been proactive, but the urgency I have about getting Joyville made is new. Instead of picking off contacts, I’m going wide.

We’re buying a place out of the city this year. We haven’t found a house yet, we have no plans to go see any particular house yet, but I’m making that declaration. I need to feel grass under my feet. No sleep has been brutal, and it’s now within our means to change this.

I want to meditate more this year, develop a practice. When I meditate regularly I’m more grateful, and when I’m more grateful I’m not a lunatic ranting on dog walks. Looked at another way, I’m hopeful.

This last year I’ve rewritten a ton of projects, wrote a new pilot, was invited to Stowe Labs in May with a pilot, and had my short film play all over the festival circuit. It was a great year in terms of expanding my network and making work. I got quite a few gigs consulting and coaching on pilots and a feature being created by really good writers. This year I want to keep the momentum going and write a musical. But I also want to focus more on life. I want to take a class, maybe ceramics or dance. Get back to going to galleries regularly. Try a less rushed rhythm, live a little less hurried.

Joe got a great job this year. Ginger is still the king of her domain, but she’s sleeping less at night. Which means we are, too. Please let this change.

What I’m bringing with me front and center is my community, which includes all of you. I was on Instagram a lot more this year because it’s faster.

Lastly, faith not fear. Bringing the former in, leaving the latter behind.

Thank you all for reading this year. The happiest New Year and holiday to you.