By Laura D. Testino
Three soft notebook pages of fading pencil and block letters spelled wrong, a sliver of carefully removed pages, and a half-page titled “2001 OF The Day That I get Marriea Maryreud” in blue and then black pen, because there’s no erasing marriage but just adding on husbands (or “cute and Nice” preschool boyfriends with “Bulind Heair and green blue eye’s”). That’s it for the content in the pages of my first black composition book.
Most of what I talk about is how much I am a SPY., though the cover of the book is less inconspicuous and more inviting, with “PRIVATE” scratched out in blue pen, though originally written in blue marker between a bottom border of green grass and a top border of red and blue sky and yellow sun. I was at least aware enough to write over the spots for “Name” and “School” instead of filling them out.
“I Would PicK SPY. AND THAT IS / MY JOB foR live AS A SPY’S.”
The inspiration for filling these pages – sketching out my observations and brief thoughts via seven words to a wide-ruled line – was none other than Michelle Trachtenberg as a young Harriet M. Welsch in Harriet the Spy. I still haven’t read the book because I love the story of the movie so incredibly much. I liked my hair in a braid down the center of my back, furiously requested a yellow rain coat, and my personal grocery list included a pair of rubber gloves for when a SPY. time involved pulling the ropes of a dumbwaiter. After graduating from the fairytale of bibliophilic royalty Belle, I elected to instead watch Harriet the Spy every afternoon.
My relationship with the movie is one of those correlative-only ones, because I’m not sure whether I am the way I am at 21 years old because of this movie or whether I love the movie because of who I am. Either way, this notebook is my favorite token from childhood, and it’s always a treat when my Mom unearths it from various storage spaces when I am home.
Since packing up my apartment and moving home, I have not been moved to write, even though I’ve wanted to. Shoving my belongings into boxes and canvas totes didn’t do it, nor did finishing the hardest semester of my life, cleaning out my childhood room, or updating my business-casual wardrobe for a magazine internship in Manhattan. It was the Harriet-inspired “PRIVATE” composition book.
“We / Are GoING TO The PooL / AND WON’T THAT RocK / NoW We Are HOMe / FROM The PooL / AND NoW IT IS / SPY. TIMe”
My SPY. time included insightful observations, like that my dad was napping or that my 2-year-old brother was small. I also discussed the 8 miles of traffic that happens on I-85 heading out of Atlanta during weekday afternoon rush hour. Really riveting subjects for a 5-and-a-half-year-old.
Harriet’s nanny, Ole Golly (Rosie O’Donnell), instilled in her ideas like: “You’re an individual, and that makes people nervous. And it’s gonna keep making people nervous for the rest of your life.” and “There are as many ways to live in this world as there are people in this world, and each one deserves a closer look.” Reflecting on the latter clues me in to why I may love journalism and interviewing people and writing profiles so much. The former reminds me that I wore the quite fashionable homemade hair accessory of pony beads on a pipecleaner to preschool and kindergarten and that having thick skin and a resilience for who you are and what you love is an absolutely necessary life skill.
A line in Harriet’s notebook is my favorite.
“I want to learn everything I can, and I write down everything I see. Golly says if I want to be a write someday, I better start now, and that is why I am a spy.”
Keeping a journal is sort of like sleeping or exercising or cooking dinner and is one of those healthy habits – life skills – that are first to disappear when I’m running out of time to get things done. Attending classes or rehearsals and meetings, doing homework, writing – articles, essays, emails – and studying climb to the top of the list and the remaining few minutes are lost to phone calls – of fun, conversation (pleas for assistance in finding my sanity) back to Atlanta or to Brooklyn.
I want to keep a journal, I want to be a writer, I want to to learn – so maybe I want to be a sort of spy. The kind that eventually discloses selective thoughts, crafted much more clearly and prettily than my natural stream of consciousness.
So here’s to that, I guess. No better time than when you’re heading to Manhattan for the summer and have a clean slate. Harriet and her SPY. time hail from the Upper East Side, after all.