Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Harriet the Spy Syndrome

One of my favorite childhood books was "Harriet the Spy." Of course. She was a writer, creative, daring, misunderstood. I loved all the details of the neighbors she spied on and wrote about in her notebook, and saw that the creation of vivid interesting characters was a skill I needed to develop. But each time I read it, I'd be struck by the terrible situation Harriet would find herself in near the end of the book, when her notebook is discovered and circulated and each of her classmates, including her close friends, is hurt and offended by what she's written about them.

This is the fear that gets in the way of my writing anything too personal in this blog, of truly opening up. It's not just that I am reluctant to give personal information that would clearly identify me (although I am), but more that if a friend or relative were to stumble on this and read something I wrote about them, they'd be hurt. I'd be Harriet, suddenly sitting alone on a schoolyard bench, cut out of the club.

Speaking of Harriet, I once tutored a young Bronx girl who had to read the book for school. She didn't like it, and as I tried to share with her my own fascination with the book, I realized that her ability to enjoy the fun of Harriet's spy adventures was overwhelmed by her inability to relate to the trappings of her life. Harriet's biggest trauma is that her nanny, who has been her primary caretaker/confidante since she was born, is leaving her. Harriet has two wealthy parents who love her, but it's "Ole Golly" who she fights losing. How could an impoverished inner city girl who has never had the luxury of two parents understand that? Rich white girls and their problems aren't exactly going to resonate when you're wondering if your mom will be sober when you get home or when your brother is getting out of jail.

In the movie "Harriet the Spy," Rosie O'Donnell played Ole Golly. This disturbed me greatly, as the Ole Golly in my mind was a tall skinny wrinkly old woman. I think it may have been the illustrations of the original version of the book I owned, or maybe the way I interpreted her, but she wasn't anything like Rosie O'Donnell.

* * *

On the way back from an upstate family visit yesterday, I had three or four blog entries dancing in my head. I can't find them now, my brain is slowly moving through its caffeine-free wake up, but today promises to be a quiet day at work so maybe I'll return with something incredibly fascinating for you.

[Gerald Ford has passed away. Forgive me if I admit I thought he already had. I can't be alone in that, can I?]


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