The Girl Scout Promise

I got my “Daisy Girl’s Guide to Girl Scouting” in the mail yesterday, a thick blue fancy looking binder with a magnetized closure flap on the side and a space to print out my name underneath the “This book belongs to:” tag. This binder is pretty much everything my 33 and 7 year old selves could have hoped for, although the 33 year old has a deep appreciation for the fact that this binder isn’t bright pink. Line drawings of butterflies, birds, flowers and fruit decorate the side flap, and when you open it up, the other side has big bright letters that read “Get ready to grow!” underneath a daisy with mascara on her eyelashes.

I wonder if there is a make-up application badge.

Written on the inside cover: “Girl Scouting builds girls of COURAGE, CONFIDENCE, and CHARACTER, who make the world a better place.”

I LOVE this sentence! These simple tenets, so obviously necessary for the development of a well rounded child, are the parts that seem to lose their import as we get older. Straightforward goals of having courage, confidence and character end up getting replaced by mantras like “don’t drive drunk”, “use condoms”, “contribute to a 401K”, and “remember that Hot Pockets are not a food group”. In some ways the adult credos are distant relatives to the kid ones, but they are much more distinct, more strict, more self serving than what we were taught as kids. Many of us won’t drive drunk because we don’t want to get in trouble with the law, but what about not wanting to endanger our life and the lives of others? Refraining from drunk driving should come from having integrity, not having a fear of a suspended license. And avoiding the Hot Pocket shelf in the freezer section shouldn’t just be about steering clear of bubble guts, it should also be about having the courage to make good decisions about our bodies. I wonder if a Girl Scout understand the difference.


I can totally do this.

Next, I read The Girl Scout Promise posted on the inside front cover.

On my honor I will try: To serve God…”



I haven’t even turned an actual page of my guide book and I am already stuck.


On my honor I will try…to…serve…God.


I have never really known how to explain how I felt about God, not now, nor when I was a little girl, even though I grew up right in the middle of the bible belt.

So how will I know how to “serve God”? I ‘m not even sure of what that means exactly. Which God is the Girl Scout Guide referring to? There are a lot to choose from. I didn’t realize that the Girl Scouts were affiliated with any religious group.

Although growing up I was surrounded on all sides by churches, I was able to successfully finish my 18 years in Birmingham without ever actually being a member of one. Which is not to say that I didn’t know how to play the system. In middle school, in order to spend more hang-out time with my best friends., I started joining them at the gigantic Baptist church down the street from our school on Wednesday nights. We hung out and gossiped and acted silly as always, just within the confines of stained glass windows and the expensive perfume of the church’s patrons. Little did I know at the time that the cheap hot dog and hamburger suppers they always served on these nights were an attempt to snare church-less young individuals like myself into their grasp, the young parishioners of the church having been encouraged to invite outside guests on Wednesday nights.

When I was five years old and my single mother moved us to Homewood, a small, middle class, comparatively colorless suburb of Birmingham, we were struggling, big time. My Mom found us a small, unimpressive apartment she could barely afford in this neighborhood because it had one of the best public school systems that the county had to offer. So what if she had to work her ass off 12 hours a day and I had to come home to an empty house after school and we had to survive on food stamps and endure relentless racism from everyone in the neighborhood (“Are you one of those people that adopts those kind of children? Bless your heart!” and “My goodness, this little girl is SO clean and well spoken!“)! Upon our arrival in Homewood, my Mom went to this very same gigantic church down the street from what would eventually become my middle school, and she asked for help. She needed resources, assistance in whatever way the church could provide. My mother had absolutely no family to ask for help, since they had estranged themselves from her when they found out she had fallen in love and given birth to a brown baby. Now my Mom and Dad were separated and she had no one else to turn to. The church said they couldn’t help her unless she became a member of their congregation, and would she like to fill out an information form and attend services on Sunday to pray with the parishioners?

No, my mother would NOT, thank you very much, and she walked out of the gigantic doors of the gigantic church, crying and I imagine feeling quite lonely.

My mother had grown up very content in the church, had been the star of every choir she had ever joined, but she became increasingly aware as she grew older the incongruities of what the followers preached and how the followers acted. She didn’t want to get help from an organization whose charity was based on stipulations and judgements of who she was and how she lived her life (she had too many things stacked up against her already in this conservative southern town: young single parent, unmarried, biracial child, no college education, un-apologetically high heels). I think she was also weary of bringing me into an environment where every single person around was white. It just didn’t sit well with her.

But it didn’t keep her from walking through the doors on Christmas Eve every year with throngs of other churchgoers for Midnight Mass. We would sit in one of the rows furthest to the back while tears streamed down my mother’s cheeks, her voice joining the congregation’s to sing every song by heart. I wonder if the person my mother asked for help from the church ever recognized us on those chilly nights, scurrying out of the pew before Mass was over to avoid the crowd, and more importantly the stares.


I knew this sad tale about my Mom’s plea to the church for help, so I side-eyed the constant invites I would get from my friends, pretty much all of whom attended this church. But one day I found out that this church served food on Wednesday nights to everyone who attended youth services.

I came for the hot dogs.

But I stayed for the choir.

I guess it’s genetic. I have always been a sucker for a choir, just like my mom, and this church did not disappoint; behind it’s gigantic doors lay a gigantic stage with a booming piano and a microphone. “Oh, Jessica!,” they would say (you know they couldn’t pronounce my name correctly), “you are such a gorgeous soprano! Would you like to sing a solo in our next youth choir concert?”

Of course I did! Even if it meant grinning and bearing through 45 minutes of talking about Jesus with popular kids who ignored me every day at school (I was never bullied; I was just invisible). The bible study section of my Wednesday nights at church played out like an episode of Peanuts, with an adult “womp womp womping” in the background while I doodled on any scrap pieces of paper I could find. I can’t remember learning anything about God, or myself in those classes. But I can remember the lyrics and choreography to the Christian rap we performed at my final youth concert.

Eventually I stopped going to youth services on Wednesday nights. The sacrifices I had to make in order to sing solos had become too great. Talking about Jesus all the time was exhausting considering how much real life drama I was experiencing (nasty stepdad, mentally unwell stepmom, bills not getting paid, Mom working way too hard, Mom not quitting smoking like she promised, Mom is going to die one day, what will I do when my Mom dies one day, etc., etc.) and I found no solace or comfort in the myth of a Lord and Savior whose goodness I never saw bestowed upon the people who seemed to need it the most. I found my relief in books. In drawing. In creating things that made people smile. In finding friends who were every bit as irreverent as I was. In the belief that my grown up life didn’t have to look like the one I was living if I didn’t want it to.


I have no idea how to “serve God” since God hasn’t ever been anything I actually believed in with all my heart. I definitely went through a period in high school where I tried desperately to attach myself to some kind of glorious faith, like all my peers seemed to have done so effortlessly, and I have the diary entries to prove it: “I just wish E- would stop ACTING like he likes me and ACTUALLY like me! Why does he put me through this??? But whatever, cause I know that the Lord is my shepherd and I will totally get through this!” is, embarrassingly enough, an actual line from a diary entry I wrote when I was a teenager. In all my years of living a life surrounded by churches and church going folk, a shepherding Lord is pretty much the only thing that I could remember from the handful of sermons I had been forced to listen to, and I referenced it like a Jewel lyric. When I was younger, I wanted very badly to have my heart filled up with the idea of this perfect thing that would comfort me in my times of need, but I felt like a phony, like I was going through the motions of a dance I needed to learn.

I could not articulate this then, but looking back, I realize that I have always felt full, even when I was incredibly sad, or mad, or angry, or confused. It doesn’t feel like there is enough room in my heart for some foreign, uncompromising and undefined force when that space is already filled so deeply with my passion for all the people in this world, the beautiful ideas that exist around us, and my growing acceptance of all my parts, both good and bad. Maybe that’s what people mean when they say that God is in us and all around us. Maybe it’s just the concept of God that feels unsatisfying to me, but that feeling that God is supposed to elicit in you, that wonder and that drive to be good and to ignite love in every single thing you do, that power to feel whole even when you are in a dark place, maybe THAT is the feeling that people experience when they have faith in God. Maybe it’s not about a white man in the sky, which is all that my young mind could understand when I learned about God as a child; maybe it’s just about semantics.

Okay, so let me do a little revision:

The Girl Scout Promise:

On my honor, I will try:
To serve God [the world, all the curious things in it, along with the safe parts and the scary parts about myself and others, and every single little thing in between] and my country,
To help people at all times,
And to live by the Girl Scout law.

I doubt that The Girl Scout Promise allows for compromise; as far as I know, this promise has been written since the beginning of Scout-dom and has remained unchanged for all these decades. But, it says, right there on the inside cover, that “Girl Scouting builds girls of Courage, Confidence, and Character, who make the world a better place“. Well, my world would be a better place if I could redefine the Promise to better fit my understanding of it. And how much confidence does it take to stand tall, proud and unashamed for not having the same belief systems that everyone else around you seem to have?

Maybe just enough to make me good Girl Scout material?

Fingers crossed.

girl scout promise. jpeg


An Idea.

I wont lie to you; this did not start out innocently.

This, like many successful things that exist in our society at present, started out as a joke-slash-dare-slash-get-rich-quick scheme.

I was noticing a real trend in the popular media that I was consuming (or rather, being forced to consume). First there was Julie, the lady who started a blog detailing the remarkable act of cooking all of Julia Child’s grueling recipes. She documented the experience for a growing number of devout readers and got a book deal, which eventually became a movie (a movie telling a story that I was not particularly interested in, but who can resist Meryl Streep?)

There is also Gertie, the sewing enthusiast and vintage clothing lover who blogged her way through the tedious effort of making most of the garments from the 1952 “Vogue’s New Book for Better Sewing”. Her blog also procured a substantial number of avid readers, which eventually led to her publishing not one but two books (the second to be published next year), both instructional texts with gorgeous patterns for Gertie’s take on some of Vogue’s most iconoclastic ensembles. There’s the guy who started a tumblr blog chronicling the misadventures of his toddler son who, regardless of the circumstances (or perhaps in spite  of them), is always, always crying. I assume that his new book, “Reasons My Son is Crying”, will be stocked on all the shelves of Urban Outfitters just in time for Christmas, right next to “Sh*it My Dad Says”, another project which began as a twitter feed and was magically transformed into a book deal even before the twitter account gained over 3 million followers.

The list of blog turned books goes on and on: “Stuff White People Like”, which is pretty self explanatory (and which consequently serves as more race-inspired fodder for me to agonize over (“Am I too white? Not white enough?! WHAT DOES IT MEAN THAT MY MOM DOESN’T LIKE ANY OF THESE THINGS!?!!”), “I Can Has A Cheezburger?”, a collection of internet memes starring barely literate cats, “This Is Why You’re Fat”, a blog-turned-book of pictures showing ridiculously unhealthy edible concoctions (all of which I would have eaten ate in college), and “The Joys of Engrish”, an astoundingly racist publication that makes fun of English translations from mostly Asian languages (for the record, I get the general joke, and I can see the humor in cultural misunderstandings based on dialect and language, but devoting an entire book to this subject matter is just another example of elitism; it seems unfair to poke fun of a specific group of people without turning the finger around on ourselves, in which case it just turns into bullying for profit. Which I suppose is the American way. But I digress).

As a consumer, experiencing the initial shift in the publishing market was notable, but it also seemed understandable when compared with the state of other media outlets, specifically TV. A small handful of reality shows that were originally groundbreaking and inventive had been saturated by networks wanting to create more revenue, in turn casting participants willing to do any and everything to have their 15 minutes (sometimes, sadly, an hour) of fame. So the first few brilliant seasons of MTV’s The Real World begot Big Brother, which begot Survivor, and then a bunch of weird, unintelligible stuff happened behind closed doors, and we ended up with Long Island Medium and that show about the Amish gang members. The same thing, on a smaller scale, seems to be happening with books. You don’t really have to write about anything NEW now; you only have to take an idea that someone else came up with it and do it again, or talk about it, or mimic it, or do it wrong, or gather a collection of things that someone else has done that you have witnessed, and package it up nice and neatly. Outside of fiction books, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of original content being generated.

I actually don’t think this is all bad.

I am a proud lover of DIY, and any book, website, blog or tutorial that can lay out, in easy, understandable terms, how to do something that I didn’t know how to do before is right up my alley. I have purchased (and benefited greatly from) a few of these books that began as blogs; “Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing” has added several gorgeous items of handmade clothing to my closet and taught me all kinds of fascinating haute couture and alteration techniques that I never used in my previous sewing projects. Obviously Gertie didn’t create the techniques used in the original Vogue publication, but she translated the language into something comprehensible, giving readers like me a brand new appreciation for vintage design. And Ana White’s book “The Handbuilt Home” which began as a blog to detail her journey in teaching herself the art of woodworking, inspired me to start building my own furniture. Ana White of course didn’t invent the hammer or the nail, but she provided an example of a capable woman using power tools and lumber to construct functional and beautiful furniture for her home, and reading her book made me want to be just as accomplished. And now I am.

Several years ago my online comic “High Yella Magic” received the attention of some reputable publishers and literary agents. Although I had never seriously thought of turning my comic into a book because I was still figuring out my style and learning how to draw and write stories proficiently, the idea appealed to me, and I took a couple of meetings to discuss the comic’s potential. I was pretty astonished to find out how sleazy the publishing field could be. The agent I met with told me in no uncertain terms that my stories, which were all honest retellings of my own experiences, needed to focus either on the fact that I was a biracial woman of color, or that I was queer. She told me I couldn’t write about both, because those two demographics were incompatible, too exclusive, impractical. Maybe she was referring more to money, rationalizing that the group of readers my stories would attract was not big enough to capitalize on.

But that’s not what I heard from her.

What I heard from her was “You can’t exist.”

I don’t exist.

I am not here. My stories don’t matter, therefore I didn’t matter.

I sat before her with several sheets of expensive card-stock paper onto which I had meticulously penciled, drawn, erased, sketched, penned and lettered over many, many hours the details of some of the most memorable events of my life. And with a quick toss of her hair, this agent told me that I needed to pick a side of who I was, and try and sell that, but not both sides. Not the actual truth. Just a thin version of the truth.

I walked out of the agency feeling a little numb and a little relieved. I felt like I had dodged a bullet. Because I don’t want to pick and choose the aspects of myself that seem profitable in order to get a book deal. Because my skin is brown and because my partner is a woman and because both of those things define me, neither of them completely, but neither without the other. Because being brown and being queer to me are valuable. Because who cares about a book deal when you have websites and blogs where you can essentially “publish” anything you want to anyone who cares to read it?

So like I said, this did not start out innocently.

I had some history. What would it take, I wondered, if not a decently written documentation of an interesting life lived, to get a book published?

Well, a blog of course!

At first my partner and I just brainstormed to come up with the most ridiculous ideas that what would attract the biggest audience.

“I want to start a blog about __________ so that I can get a book deal and a movie deal starring the most prolific actors of our time”.

Scrapped Ideas:

  • Adopting a bunch of cats despite my intense allergies, journaling about the daily doses of Claritin and furballs and pondering the deeper implications of loving something that causes me so much pain. (Starring Glenn Close)
  • Gardening with a black thumb; one woman’s attempt to defy her murderous hands. (cast: the brilliant actor who plays Michonne from Walking Dead as the protagonist AND the plant).
  • How To Renovate An Old Home With Absolutely And Unequivocably No Understanding Of How To Renovate An Old Home (Viola Davis, maybe?).

Our joke got old, and was mostly forgotten, until one day we were with some friends outside in the backyard looking at the night sky and talking about our childhoods. The major theme of my youth was the fact that I grew up poor and biracial in a mostly white, mostly wealthy southern town. The things that my partner and so many of my friends took for granted as kids, things like taking dance classes and going to camp and bringing their own lunch to school and learning piano, were things that I coveted, things that I STILL covet. I wanted nothing more than to spend my time after school learning ballet techniques in front of a mirror, making new friends from new places, not having to announce to the cashier that I qualified for a reduced-price lunch in the cafeteria every single day (she either had short term memory loss or took some sick pleasure in making me say those dreaded words out loud day after day). Instead I came home from school alone every afternoon and watched “Square One” on PBS, waiting for my Mom to get home from the hair salon where she worked. I supplemented my boredom by writing commercial jingles accompanied by my electric ORGAN, which I did not know how to play. I wanted to learn how to play a keyboard and instead I got an instructional pamphlet with a heavy 16-key organ that sounded like the longest, softest fart when you played a note. That’s all my Mom could afford, and I didn’t complain.

That night in the backyard, the subject of Girl Scouts came up. Unlike most adults, I don’t equate Girl Scouts with cookies at all; I sometimes forget that cookies are even a part of the organization. All I think about when I hear the words Girl Scout is how much I wanted to be a Scout when I was a kid. I always imagined that I would have excelled in it. I was a painfully polite little girl, eager to listen and eager to learn, enthused by the idea of community and leadership and thirsty for a chance to show off my talents to anyone who would appreciate them, even though I did not know the extent of my talents because I didn’t have many opportunities to explore them, at least not with the guidance of others. But my Mom couldn’t afford those things and I, of course, never complained. I remember going to day camp in the park during the summer when school was out, an expense my Mom struggled to pay for only because I was too young to stay home by myself. The Girl Scouts had come to the park to see if any of the day camp kids wanted to sign up to become a part of the organization, and they handed us a sheet of paper with contact information that mapped out everything the Girl Scouts would learn and achieve as members of the group. My heart beat fast as I imagined all the fun things I would get to do because of my involvement with the organization, all the badges I would get to wear and show off, which I only knew about because I saw it in a movie once. But then I read the included price breakdown for uniforms, badges, materials and activities required of all the Scouts. I squashed my hope down real quick.

That evening I handed my mom the sheet of paper with my eyes downcast and no hint of expectation in my face. I knew we couldn’t afford it. My Mom read over the information and commented on how it was so ridiculous that something like this should cost so much money (to be fair, anything that didn’t have a layaway option was considered expensive to my single parent mother), and eventually the paper found a home amidst others on our dining room table, covered in coffee rings and crumbs.

“I think I would make a fantastic Girl Scout” I joked to my friends, and they all nodded in agreement. Who else did they know who exhibited so much enthusiasm for learning new things, whose instagram page was overflowing with images of homemade marshmallows and handmade quilts?

I asked, “What else do Girl Scouts do, besides make things? What do those badges mean?”, but no one knew the answer. They, unlike myself, had not wanted to be Girl Scouts when they were younger. Maybe they had schedules too jam-packed with soccer practices and guitar lessons to have room for Girl Scouts. Maybe the good deeds and volunteer work required by the Scouts was uninteresting to them. Maybe they weren’t Girl Scout material, not like me. But then again, I had no idea what the Girl Scouts actually did, so I wasn’t quite sure if I really WAS Girl Scout material or if I just wanted to BE Girl Scout material.

“This,” I said to Claire, “is exactly the blog-to-book idea I am looking for.”

I laughed, but only for a moment, as I slowly realized that, unlike “Gardening with a Black Thumb”, I was actually kind of serious about this idea. The book part of the concept was the silly part, the part meant to illicit laughter and an eye-roll, but the blog part, the part where I really do learn and then write about what it means to be a Girl Scout and examine, publicly, how to navigate the gap between being a little girl who wants things she cannot have and a woman who has things she doesn’t need? That part was for real. Would I make a good Girl Scout now, as an adult? Would I have made a good Girl Scout way back then, as a kid? Will it be easy now with all I have learned and experienced as a grown woman, or will it be more difficult? Where will I fit in as a queer woman of color emulating the ideals of an organization that has always poised itself in my mind to be mostly white and almost always straight? Are Girl Scouts even still relevant today, given our current environment which seems to prize individuality and uniqueness rather than community-driven work and citizenry?

These are all absolutely genuine questions that I want to know the answers to, and since I don’t have a daughter that I can force to join on my behalf, I think I am just going to have to figure it out for myself. Of course, I could figure all of this out for myself BY myself. If this is all about personal growth, about relearning and revising the ideas I have about who I am vs who I was under the guise of “becoming” a Girl Scout, why not just do it on my own? Why blog about it? Why share it with anyone on the internet at all? I think I have to do it this way because my story does matter. Because there are not enough voices like mine in the world that are ever heard, and I can’t complain about the lack of representation that exists in the world if I am not willing to add perspective to the mix. I exist, and other people just like me exist, and it doesn’t matter how we share our stories, whether they are on TV or in books or in comics or in stories told by friends outside at night in the backyard. It just matters that they are heard.

Despite the (embarrassing) breadth of this blog post, I am not actually committing myself to “becoming” a Girl Scout just yet. I still have a bit to learn about being a Girl Scout, and I have to see if it’s even something that is doable for me as a 33 year old woman operating rogue, since I am unsure of how big a role the Scout leader plays in moving up the ranks. My fantasy of being a Girl Scout simply requires me to make some brownies and be nice to people for a few of months, and then I imagine that I will move up the ladder from Daisy Scout to…well, whatever type of Scout is next (Brownie, I think? Oh, how fitting!), and then I will get a bunch of badges, and then I will have learned a bunch of life lessons! Or not. I don’t really know what I am expecting to happen. But I want it to be genuine. If it isn’t serving me, if it ceases to be fun or interesting, then I won’t move forward with it. I have better things to do with my time than work on something that has lost it’s luster. But right now, I am intrigued.

At it’s best, this is an opportunity for a grown woman to make one of her childhood wishes come true. One major difference between Grown Jasika and Girl Jasika is that I went to the Girl Scouts of America webpage last night to see what materials were required to begin the process of becoming a Daisy Scout, and upon discovering that “The Daisy Girl’s Guide to Girl Scouting” handbook, a requirement for all girls interested in becoming a Scout, cost $22.50, I didn’t lower my eyes and feel ashamed.

I bought the damn book. Because I can afford it.

The Daisy Girl Guide To Girl Scouting