On growing up, but not completely.
By Alisha Giampola (Actor)
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a lot of things when I grew up. Which is why I became an actor. Hypothetically, the plan was to get to vicariously be all those things I wanted to be while I was growing up, but never actually have to get a degree that specialized in any of them. This seemed like a great plan, although I think I forgot that REAL lawyers and princesses actually make a lot more money than most actors.
Mostly, what I wanted to be for most of my childhood, was Harriet The Spy.
I mean, look at her. She just oozes cool. This is a girl that sees everything and then writes it down in her notebook. She has SPY TOOLS. She loves tomato sandwiches, just like me!! She hates math, just like me!!! And best of all: she actually sneaks into other people's houses and spies on them.
That is what I liked best about Harriet...her audaciousness. And, of course, that she was as interested in other people as I was. She watched ordinary people doing ordinary things in their everyday lives and wondered why they were doing them- and if, perhaps there were sinister or criminal motives behind their actions.
People-watching became my new favorite sport. I actually asked my mother to buy me a composition book, just like the kind Harriet used, so I could write down everything I saw in block letters, like she did. I decided I needed to follow a "spy route", just like Harriet, but I was only allowed to walk by myself in our neighborhood as far as the road that interesected with the entrance to the subdivision. This enormously limited the amount of people for me to spy on, and I longed to live in Manhattan, like Harriet, where interesting people lived with 26 cats or dumbwaiters. No one in my neighborhood seemed to have anything even remotely that fascinating, but I dutifully wrote down everything I saw in my notebook: "CURTAINS CLOSED IN ALL WINDOWS OF GREEN HOUSE NEXT DOOR. WHAT ARE THEY HIDING?"
I was determined to discover something exciting about the people who lived in my small, boring neighborhood, but I never did. The only thing the notebook revealed, upon later readings, was that I had a slightly overactive imagination: "ONE CAR MISSING FROM DRIVEWAY OF BROWN-AND-WHITE HOUSE. POSSIBLY SOLD TO PAY GAMBLING DEBTS?"
As I grew out of my Harriet The Spy phase, I realized that it was still fun to watch people and imagine what might be going on in their lives; where they were going in such a hurry, and why they were carrying two umbrellas even though it's not raining. Making up stories about the people around me was one of my first experiences with writing, with developing a character.
Teaching kids is this big new adventure for me, but because I am teaching theatre, and telling stories, the process feels easy and fun, like how I always imagined I would feel when I was a professional spy. Kids aren't too self-conscious to participate in the most extreme or ridiculous exercises of imagination. If you suggest to a small child that possibly this table is the castle and you are a dragon, they will immediately begin creating the story with you: "I am also a dragon! We're going to burn down the castle!" And that is awesome.
Some days, I forget to listen to my inner Harriet The Spy and I walk eyes-down, looking at my phone, as fast as I can to the train. But recently, spending time with these kids has reminded me that you have to be careful not to grow up so much that you forget to look and see that woman with the empty bird cage and crazy fur coat. That's a story right there...and I almost missed it.