Harriet the Writer


Harriet the Spy was the first book I read to myself. I was seven years old, and so relieved and excited to be reading about a girl, with glasses, who noticed everything and put it down in her notebook. I realize now, 43 years later, that she wasn’t a spy. She was a writer.

It’s been a difficult week. I spent several days away from home, first in NYC and then taking care of a friend. Then I was plunked back into my own life of unopened mail, kitty litter, dirty dishes and unwritten stories. An old boyfriend from a thousand years ago has been in touch. We’ve remained friends (sort of), but he still has the capacity to torture me. Get this, he asked to read something I wrote and hasn’t responded in two months. This is the kind of thing that populates a writer’s nightmares. This is how my week has been.

This depth of feeling, though, is the province of writers. We over-think. We over-feel.We are probably (ok definitely) annoying as children. And we are forever in the process of balancing things out. How much introspection is too much introspection? If I’m isolated for too long, my work dies on the vine, and so I venture out into the world. But if I am in the world too much, I find it hard to re-locate my creative self. One feeds the other, but one also kills the other. And so back and forth I go from social butterfly to hermit.

I don’t know if all writers are over-feeling messes. But writing is how I cope. I never forget anything. I remember that kid who was cruel to me in fourth grade. I remember that boyfriend who told me he loved me and then married someone else. I remember that thing that I said at a party that might have been the wrong thing, but I’m not sure exactly how I said it, or if anyone even heard it, but still I’ll think about it for forever.  I remember the shoes that I wore on my first date with my husband, how pretty they were, how much they hurt my feet. It all ends up in my writing eventually, because it’s through my writing that I attempt to make sense of it all.

I assume there are people out there who are like Teflon pans, with life just rolling off of them, and with no rear view mirrors. Lucky bastards. I was at the library the other day. It was twenty degrees out and there was a very old man standing in the parking lot in front of a snow drift. I watched three people walk past him. Not me. I had to stop on my way in, and then again on my way out, and now I’ve visited him in his nursing home and brought him ginger cookies. We writers are like giant, static-y lint balls, collecting everything we roll past, never letting anything go, God help us all.

When I have friends who tell me their children are “difficult,” I think, “writer.” When an old student reaches out to me to say she can’t face me because she is humiliated to have dropped out of college (like I’m one to judge), I think “writer.” When I am sure someone I barely know is mad at me, and there is no good reason for them to be mad at me, and still I’m fairly certain, I’m reminded in those moments that I am a writer.


2 thoughts on “Harriet the Writer

  1. I think you are over-thinking. To be successful at anything requires that a person persevere through rejection and thoughts of rejection, the fears and fears of fears. You can’t be a restaurateur or a fashion designer without standing perpetually on the abyss where the temptation lies to spend all your money, move somewhere else, give up, or sacrifice your loved ones in service of success.

    Imagine being a mathematician or a physicist when nobody would ever know what you were talking about, or being a doctor, when you would see those terrible things that the rest of us are shielded from.

    And just FYI, I have no idea what shoes I wore on my first date with Terry. Your fabulous observational memory makes it possible for you to write fiction.

    And further FYI — did you see the cartoon on Facebook showing four little girls standing at the ballet bar, labeled “lawyer, doctor, CEO, and writer?” The lawyer, doctor, and CEO were standing in a perfect fifth position; the writer was hanging upside down on the barre. Which of these little girls do you like the best?


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