Harriet the Spy Grows Up with the Help of the Washington Post

When I was a little kid, I used to go all over my neighborhood pretending that I was Harriet the Spy (Thank you, Louise Fitzhugh, for making girlhood altogether more interesting than it would have been without you). I learned things by spying on neighbors and listening to my parents’ gossip at the dinner table and then typed up my findings and called them a newspaper (The Habersham Times).  The circulation of said paper was 2; my parents got one copy, Mr. Boyd next door got another.  

Everyone assumed I’d grow up and be a writer.  But for years assume was all I did, feeling (for some reason) equal parts certainty that it would come to pass and terror that it would come to pass.  

Monday my first piece appeared in the Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/11/16/AR2008111601384.html?referrer=emailarticle

And thus I took another step in becoming a “real writer” (only the circulation is closer to 5,000,000 this time).

Another difference since childhood is that I now live with a team of teenage encouragers. Let me tell you about one of them, my son:

I sold my first piece 14 years ago, and the acceptance and contract came in the mail while my son was at preschool.  When I picked him up, I started ranting to him, “I sold a story.  I’m a writer now.”  

He (at 4) replied, “You’ve always been a writer.”  

“An editor thinks I’m a writer; that’s different,” I said.  

“Mom, I always knew you were.  Didn’t you believe me?”

So Monday when the Post hit the doorstep and I could hardly believe that I was published there (one of my holy grails), my son did the big kid version of his 4-year-old encouragement 14 years ago.  I heard him emerge sleepily from his bedroom, and then out of the silence he yelled down the stairs, “Did the paper come?” And then “Is your story in there?”  And then “Holy Shit!”

And then I did what all normal, grown-up “Harriets” would do with their kids: we got on the subway and spied on people reading the paper to see if any of them were reading my article.  Yes, we did.

Harriet's Viewpoint

We went from Tenleytown to Farragut North and back, hopping from car to car at each stop hoping to find Style Plus readers.  The closest we got to a score was a woman who closed her paper (with a lovely smile on her face no less) one page away from my article. 

But my life came full circle as my son said to me, probably around Dupont Circle, “Mom, you look just like Harriet the Spy.”  Looking down at my high-tops and jeans, more modern versions of my 10-year-old spy route outfit 38 years ago, I realized that ever since I was little I’d been filling up notebooks with observations and then writing about them.  

And I realized that we can often figure out who we’ll be pretty early in life. The trick is paying attention and believing it.  

Thanks, Charlie!  And Harriet.  And Mr. Boyd, my first non-family reader.

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~ by Cary on November 20, 2008.

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