interview

TQL Interviews: In Conversation with Pam Munter

Theme : Questionnaire Interview (Open / Closed Format)

Prelude
1. Hello Pam. How are you?
I’m fine, thanks. Hope you are, too.

2. How is the weather?
Beautiful – in the 80s here today.

3.What time is it?
It was early afternoon when I began but early
morning the next day as I’m finishing it.

4. Are you busy with something?
This, fully engaged in the process.

Lead

TQL: Pam, what colour is your mental shelf? (Influence of Books, Visuals, Music)

Pam Munter copy

Pam Munter: I’m not in an office, but in my home with filled floor-to-ceiling bookshelves adorning nearly every room. The titles are varied but almost all nonfiction. My favorites involve the lives of others, complex and layered, much the way I see myself.

TQL: What led you to arrive at a point to contribute now as a psychologist, Becoming a Legend while tracing your history in this memoir piece charting out personal dreams against the era of 1950s hollywood? What is with the title of the piece?

Pam Munter: After many years of writing biographical pieces about other people, I decided it was my turn. “Becoming A Legend” is one of 21 in a memoir (to be published, I hope) and one of my personal favorites. The title’s intention is to blend the young Pam with the more informed one, putting myself back into childhood while adding the perspective that only comes with age. Much of my work blends a seriousness of purpose with a tongue-in-cheek approach. I wanted to memorialize a bygone era, both in society and in my own history. It meant something different to be a child and a teenager then than it does now. I would like to think there’s a universality in memoir, which can apply to any life, any generation. We all have secret fantasies as children but not many write about them much less act upon them.

TQL: You live in New York, United States. How long have you been living here and how have you been able to adjust and experience different shades of America, from a coastal town of Los Angeles to several rural and urban counties as a performer and finally to a major cosmopolitan city as a clinical psychologist? Moving through colourful fabrics of America, how do you see America now?

Pam Munter: I have lived in many places but only in New York for months at a time, when I performed there. For nearly 30 years, I lived in Portland, Oregon before moving to my current home in Palm Desert, California in 2002, a return to my Southern California roots. Palm Desert is a suburban oasis, its beauty, peacefulness and contemporary architecture serving as a soporific alternative to the chaos that seems to be enveloping our national political landscape just now. I travel often to urban environs, though, – to New York but more frequently to Los Angeles, just a few hours away. You can’t take the girl out of the city for long.

TQL: Consider, America which was predominantly welcoming for many different migrants and which is closing its borders by creating different geopolitical stereotypes against few middle east nations, while also burning out an issue with its neighbor downwards in regard with boundaries? You have explored breadth and depth of America. Following your answers on the demographic make-up and its diverse experiences as the most modern democracy in the world, I would like to know more as I too arrive from an oldest democracy in the world that is India. Let us observe cinema, the show business around which you were brought up in a coastal town Pacific Palisades and which leads you and me here for this interview. In 2001, there arrived a movie Crazy / Beautiful shot in your hometown, starring Kirsten Dunst and Jay Hernandez. It showed dynamics of racial and dominant white experiences building up tragically triggered, romantic and realist frames with ambitions, aspritations, love of a mexican youth Carlos (Hernandez), sub-culture of drugs, alcoholism, and alienation of a white american youth Nicole (Dunst), political power and real societal battle of individualism of Nicole’s white father. Drawing back to a recent exposure of similar themes of racial tensions and sub-cultures of addiction leading to an investigative crime miniseries The Night Of in 2016 starring John Turturro, Riz Ahmed, Bill Camp, Michael K. Williams, we saw how the problems pertaining to racial discriminations in a dominant narrative leads us back to what America is as a super image in the world countries that is unable to deal with colour, even though it has better and advanced methodologies to embrace others in respect of other world countries like England, South Africa, and Australia while having an embracing attitude of plurality like India and Canada. In your immediate environment in New York, how do you see diversity moving in lanes and bends from your window office? How and what America is looking at you if you would press upon your diverse experiences through rural America which is now the heat of the contemporary politics that changed the narrative bringing Trump in White House while showing us how you grew up in your childhood years to become a legend in your own way later through failures, mistakes, and learning? This is a shade we haven’t read in your memoir piece, hence an elaboration would do justice to the later parts too.

Bay_Theater_1948
Bay Theatre, 1948

Pam Munter: You’ve set out a huge landscape to traverse here! First, the Pacific Palisades of my youth was much different that it seems to be today. In my public schools, it was unusual to find a person of color. I didn’t realize the inequity of this until I went away to college, fracturing the cocoon. I’ve long been a member of the ACLU, which advocates very strongly for inclusion, civil liberties and now against the provincial and cruel policies of the current administration in Washington. Immigrants have been responsible for the growth of America, allowing it to flourish providing progress and innovation. It both saddens and angers me that parts of our society live in fear and paranoia. In the Palm Desert area, there is more diversity and acceptance since a large percentage of our population is Hispanic and another large percentage are gay and lesbian. This brings a plethora of ideas, beliefs and cultures to the table, a feast, really. I haven’t seen the films to which you refer. The Palisades today is more diverse, as I understand it. I still read the hometown paper and even wrote an essay last year about visiting my childhood home. Some connections never die. My essays seldom deal with political issues, which is ironic given how involved I have been in politics and social justice since my teenage years. Perhaps I’ll write something at some point. It’s a crowded field in the literary world.

bob bailey
Bob Bailey

TQL: Do you think surrounded by people from different walks of show business somehow curtailed your dreams in-between like an over exposure to events and people related to it? Could it have thwarted your dreams indirectly if you were to remember your short and cold visit to CBS Studio with a radio actor, Bob Bailey as your neighbour where you performed off his traditional script to other actors present there?
PM: I opted to write about the show bizzy aspects of my childhood in this essay because that was the most magical part. But our neighborhood was populated mostly by blue collar families much like my own, completely outside the sphere of the entertainment industry. Few had education beyond high school, the women didn’t work, the men carried lunch pails every day. My dreams were fueled in part by the celebrities with whom I came in contact. As I said in the essay, I was surrounded by possibility even if one step removed. The Bob Bailey episode points out what I thought was true – that all I would have to do is read for a part and I’d be “discovered.” Of course, that didn’t happen but it didn’t stop me. It was exciting just to be in a radio studio.

TQL: In another incident later, a neighbour called Pete allowed your family to visit Oscar winner Edmond O’Brien’s dark woody home from where you found and copied Ida Lupino’s number off a Rolodex device when you could not find Doris Day’s number. You were young enough to have been exposed to such a larger-than-life setting. Is it around this time, the lifelong affectation for Doris Day started for you while your own dreams were moving in a backseat as a quirky adolescent teen?

Doris Day
Doris Day

PM: I still can’t believe I had the nerve to do all the things I wrote about in the essay. I became enamored with Doris Day very early, probably under the age of 8. She was a role model, for the career I envisioned, a way to escape my quotidian life. Of course, I had no idea who she was, only who she seemed to be. My own dreams were never far away. I imagined myself in her roles on the screen, singing the same songs. As a “quirky teen,” my dreams were often all I had to believe in. Adolescence is such a time of loneliness and alienation. I’m aware that my strong belief in myself, a conviction that I could accomplish most anything with hard work, was most unusual at that time of my life.
TQL: Consider if you were the Pam, dreaming about a career in movies living in a different neighbourhood without any people from show business, then it would have led you to see things from outside because here you were near to inside and yet remained on the fringe which is always the case that we see in different world industries of entertainment business, where such people who are surrounded by these industries, are subdued and their dreams thwarted while making them strugglers forever in their lives. It is true from Hollywood to Bollywood and other such industries. The opposite is also true considering your career. Your case is substantial enough for a teenager who would look for advice and run here to there with no ease. You made your own path through mistakes which many cannot do and it is great that you took a different turn after many stumbling blocks of career aspirations at such a perplexing age as a teenager, checking one thing out of another from the list of show business at a very early age. What would you tell them now, if you were to go back into your shoes and offer them light and perspective about making right and wrong choices while steering the wheel of life one one’s own?
PM: Life is one big, grand experiment. Following one’s dreams is one way to discover who we are. For me, the key to living a creative, productive life has been to develop a strong sense of myself, knowing what matters and what I’m willing to do (or not do) to get it. It’s my life and my responsibility. Sometimes the only way to learn about oneself is to risk making a mistake – learning from that mistake and moving on. My life has been diverse and multi-faceted and there’s little, if anything, I wanted to do that I haven’t been able to do through planning and perseverance. Living around show biz people played a minor but supporting role in my fantasy life. It would have happened anyway because it truly all came from the movies, where I spent so much time. It was a different life than I saw around me and I wanted to be a part of it. Today’s teens need to know it takes a long time to find the right place where they can be congruent and comfortable and to be patient with themselves during that quest.
TQL: In an earlier incident when you had crossed your fourteenth year in life, there arrived a small event which is an event of your look-alike photo arriving in an issue of Screen Stories matched with Doris Day. Does it effect you somehow when you think back on it? Do you think your friend Jacquie did the right thing by inflaming Doris Day affectation which was at its infancy like a crush and did the event really came on to your life “like a fireman shoveling coal in a speeding train?” at that moment? We would like you to answer this as a clinical psychologist, offering your thoughts to our new millenial readers while exploring themes of adolescent psychology and experiential learning mechanism.
PM: Jacquie and I shared an admiration for Doris Day and we encouraged each other, as friends do. An essential part of finding oneself is climbing on the backs of role models. As I said in the essay, there were few adults in my real world with whom I could identify. Movie stars gave me identity fragments I could try on, like a garment. Some of them fit, most did not. Developing an identity is a trial-and-error process but there have to be people present (even fictional ones) against which to measure oneself. One of the subtexts in the essay is the presence as well as the importance of having a passion, something that “inflames” one from within. It was a harmless passion, but one that made me feel truly alive, creating positive aspirations. Today, the mystery and ability to project ourselves upon celebrities is much more difficult. If we want to know something about a famous person, we can Google them. All we knew then was what we read in the movie magazines. It was a different world. And, by the way, I still have that magazine.johari-window.png

TQL: Pam, we would like you to explain a bit more about it, letting our readers know how Johari Window with its four quadrants are helpful for them to negotiate life choices through reflective learning practices. Offer us your experience and allow our readers to know how to deal with it so that they can know learning is an experience of three dimensional aspect where learning, unlearning, and relearning are intertwined together to make them whole from chunks and that they can and must learn to fail while exploring their career aspirations and dreams.
PM: When I was a practicing clinical psychologist, I did not use self-help mechanisms like the Johari Window, Myers-Briggs and such. I find them at best of transient value, merely scratching the surface. “Tests” that categorize personality into boxes tend to trivialize the complexity of the human personality, denying its fluidity, providing meaningless templates and false reassurances. There is no substitute for time alone, reflection and frequent journaling toward self-discovery. Throughout my life, I have also found it helpful to engage in honest, mutually disclosive conversations with a trusted friend. No outside pop-psych tests can truly tell you who you are.
TQL: Our millenial readers would surely imbibe the message you are sending when they are at crossroads to choose which career to follow while being hesitant to take a plunge in the unknown. Now coming back to your early adolescent life when, you wrote film reviews for school magazine and decided to major in music and later as the show business world rubbed itself against you like salt, you did theme-based jazz/cabaret performances with a jazz trio about which we would like to know more as you left us amazed just at the end of the memoir piece. How many years you did theatre performances and what influenced you back then?
PM: I’ve always had an indomitable creative drive. It has taken many paths, some of which I discussed in the essay. I’ve written elsewhere about the questions you raise – the how, why and where of performing. But the concept of performance can take many shapes, not merely the conventional ones. I was a university professor for almost 15 years (teaching political science and psychology), certainly a kind of performance. Readings from my essays in public are another form. And, of course, responding to your marvelously complicated interview questions is still another. It’s important to take an experimental view of life, especially in one’s 20s. Careers selected during that time of life are seldom a good fit because we don’t know ourselves very well yet. We’re still emerging. I would encourage people to lighten up, commit to the tasks in the moment but know when to let go and move on. My goal at this point is to use myself up, to tap every creative facet of myself that is available to me so that when I die, I won’t say, “I wish I had tried to…”
TQL: As we came to read your standalone piece of life experiences, we would like to know how you are working upon this whole memoir project and what a reader can further look towards, if you were to give a glimpse of performances you did and the cultural change that was going around you which later ended as you became a clinical psychologist? You surely have led an interesting life filled with uncertain road map and it would be a pleasure to know more about it.pam doris day

PM: Thank you. Over the past 18 months or so, more than 70 of my essays and short stories have been published., many internationally. I’ve completed a memoir—AS ALONE AS I WANT TO BE—containing 21 stand-alone essays, including “Becoming A Legend” that you were kind enough to publish. It’s possible to parcel out several dominant themes in the memoir, such as that creative drive, the persistent return to music, and a near compulsion to write. Yes, the “road map” has been an uncertain one but there are patterns that make sense and provide a unity of purpose, revealing resilience and calculated risk. Many of the essays are available on my website, www.pammunter.com. There you’ll find writing specific to some of the adventures—attending Doris Day’s 92nd birthday party, recording at Capitol Records using Frank Sinatra’s microphone and sitting in a crowded theatre watching the first movie in which I appeared. Looking back, I can say my intent has been to live a life that both interested and challenged me. As for becoming a clinical psychologist, that’s a whole other story! The decision was made in my mid 20s, a period in which I was surrounded by academics, a world where creativity was more elusive. Perhaps it was an awareness there was more out there, a restlessness that caused me to obtain the necessary university degrees to become a clinical psychologist. That profession was an ideal combination of intellect and emotion and required all of me to be fully present every single day, in many ways a perfect fit.
TQL: Now that you are retired, how do you spend your time?The Bees' Knees Dixieland Band, 2009

PM: The word “retired” always makes me laugh a little. In my parents’ generation, that meant playing golf, going fishing, traveling, doing…well, nothing. The big, energetic push in the show biz career came after I left the practice—the movies, the CDs, the live performances around the country. And all the writing, including obtaining my sixth college degree (an MFA granted just last year), came long after the “retirement” from clinical psychology. Now my days are full of writing along with the business tasks that requires. In fact, I just finished a play, four stories about women “of a certain age” in Hollywood. As with my other paths, I have no idea where this one will take me, but the journey has been a lot of fun. After all, it’s the process that matters more than the outcome.
TQL: We will take a different route to understand show business and we would like to know how you see things in present. Hollywood in contemporary period is dealing with a new digital media where artists have to be self promotional to gain a viewership before charting out to work with Hollywood and it is a platform of diverse cacophony and chaos. Times are changing but back then, Hollywood used to discover, discover in a sense Lana Turner, Clark Gable, Debbie Reynolds, and Janet Leigh among others as you describe early in your short memoir piece while pointing out your own sense of wonder as a plump kid with androgynous characteristics and a different eye sight to look at the world back then among your peers. These actors came from a poor background and were raised around the period of Great Depression and came of age with emergence of new media, do you think such a thing in our post-internet information world has blurred the real cost of struggle, privilege and misplaced identity which back then helped these actors in their popular careers to move away from their traditional familial background considering their parents usually came from working class background?
PM: That’s a great question. In the Hollywood of my day, everything was controlled by the four or five studios run by largely uneducated white men. Today, as you know, it’s no longer centralized. A kid can upload a two-minute spot on YouTube and be famous, at least for a while. Many of today’s actors have more education but less training. The nature of music has morphed into small niches as has entertainment in general, levelling the playing field to all comers. There was a time when we all listened to the same music, went to the same movies. Studios no longer concoct biographies or control the flow of publicity because everyone is on their own and there are few real studios left. The collective attention span is short; we seem to be living in an ADD society. If you’re not a hit right now, there are no second chances, no places to learn one’s craft. The danger is that with the massive corporate consolidation going on, the content will become more homogenized. It has certainly grown more polemical, fractionating the audiences even further. I’ve been told by agents that I need a “platform,” thousands of Twitter followers, to be commercially viable. I have to admit I long for those days when a studio executive could have done all that work for me!
TQL: In a similar vein, Netflix is taking over the traditional spaces of entertainment while also opening doors for new age people from millenial generation and older generation to work together on web based series and movies. It is moving with a global gaze like a multinational uber service or amazon for that matter to move into different cultural entertainment spaces. Would we see more of cross cultural experiences or would the mainstream essence of Hollywood still find an upper hand with closed cultural cues to enlarge and bet upon such a global audience which is primarily hooked on to Hollywood mainstream culture for long with its action-based, dystopian, and rom-com films or would they change the gaze and provide new air to breathe while allowing cross cultural references from one country to another thereby opening the subtle world of art and cinema to come out with new ideas?
PM: Hollywood will be open to new ideas if they bring financial reward. That’s a reality that hasn’t changed. I am encouraged by the fact there are more films starring and/or featuring people of color and more foreign language films reaching our shores. As society becomes more diverse, so will the nature of entertainment. I am also heartened by current social and political movements that cry out where there is injustice, whether it’s “OscarsSoWhite” or the recent controversy over men dominating the Grammys. While there is still a vocal, pathological part of society that wants to return to the “good old days” of white supremacy, it seems to me there’s a strong gravitational pull toward inclusiveness and justice.
TQL: What is Education?
PM: To begin with, it needs to be thought of as a verb, not a noun. To educate is to learn, in every sense of that word, an active process. While I’m very much a believer in formal education, I understand that much of what we learn is from experience and interactions with others. I would encourage anyone who can, however, to go as far as he/she can with formal education. It’s something no one can ever take away from you and it can help build a strong foundation for the rest of your life, both internally and externally.
TQL: What magical thing can you do for another person that would take no more than one minute of your life and which would change something in both for a lifetime to see?
PM: Ah, I wish such a thing were possible. Magic is no substitute for the hard work of developing one’s identity and the capacity for making good choices. Living life authentically takes time and effort.
TQL: Thank you for giving your time for the interview. Have a great day, Pam!
PM: It is my pleasure. Thank you. You too have a great day!Scan 1.jpeg
Pam Munter is a writer, dramatist, clinical psychologist, and former performer from New York, United States. Her memoir excerpt, Becoming a Legend was published in April Edition, 2017. You can know more about her books and her life over here: www.pammunter.com

This interview appears in our March 2018, Edition, TQL. Stay Tuned. For interviews, drop us an email at: editorialquietletter@gmail.com.

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