Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Merit Badges I

Sharon Wildwind

One of the few things I’ve bought on e-Bay is a ©1953 Girl Scout Handbook. For those of you who don’t remember those dim mists, the 1953 edition was the last handbook published before there were Juniors and Cadettes, each with her own handbook. Daisies and Ambassadors weren’t even a gleam of a thought. Nope, back in 1953 you were a Brownie, then a Scout, then a Senior Scout.

I went looking for this book because of the badges. I’d unearthed a denim jacket on which I’d sewn my badges and other awards; I blush to say I couldn’t remember what all of them were.

I loved merit badges. Not only was earning them fun, but it was neat, at the end of the school year, to hear my name called and receive the badges, a smile, and a Scout handshake from my leader. Then came the fun of sewing them on my sash. Long before there were sewing machines that embroidered for you while you did something else, these 1 1/2” green circles were miniature art.

A few designs, like Adventurer, were ambitious, the entire badge covered with pale blue thread over which a tent and two green trees were embroidered. Most were a colorful symbol on a green background: a telephone for Clerk, a winged ballet shoe for Dancer, or a tea cup for Hospitality. Since the tiny line drawings in the handbook were black-and-white, it was always a surprise to see what color the real badge would turn out to be.

Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas reclaimed the merit badge idea for adults. She began writing what would become the You-Can-Do-It!: The Merit Badge Handbook for Grown-Up Girls. Her idea was that women, particularly middle-aged women, should continue to explore the world in the same way girls explored it by earning merit badges. Lauren died in a plane crash before she finished the book; her two sisters collected her notes and got the book published.

They also founded the Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas Foundation to provide funding toward activities benefitting women and children’s health, education, and welfare.

I think Lauren was on to something. Goodness knows writers, who labor long hours in solitude, could use a few atta-girls. So this summer, I’m issuing a series of Merit Badges for Writers. My badges will have a purple background in honor of purple prose. Feel free to design and make yours any way you want. If you want some suggestions and instructions, go to the Merit Badge Page on my website.

Writers’ Merit Badge #1: Creativity

Award yourself this badge when you’ve learned to think about writing in a new way. Try keeping an idea journal with images instead of words. Take a creative class, maybe dance or pottery; make something that relates to the story you’re working on now. Play in water or with colors. Create an inspiration board. Hold a tea tasting. Do all you can to wake up your senses so you’re writing with your whole body, not just part of your brain.

Badge creation should be a fun, community effort. If you design your own badge or have an idea for one, email me. If we can work out a design, I'll display your badge on my web site.

Writing quote for the week:

Ours is a circle of friends united by ideals.
~Juliette Gordon Low, who brought scouting to the United States from Great Britian


Julia Buckley said...

How nostalgic we are this week, Sharon!

I love the idea of the badge. I'll make earning it one of my summer goals.

I was never a girl scout, but I was a 4H-er. :)

Lonnie Cruse said...


You sooo deserve a badge for your writing and your lessons on writing for others! Thanks!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I love this idea! I'm a Brownie scout leader and am now thinking about all the ways I could be earning badges as a grown-up! I like the idea of creativity badges (instead of dishwashing badges, dusting badges, and vaccuuming badges...which I have DEFINITELY earned!)

Mystery Writing is Murder

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Ohhh, so that's what all those cheering and supportive notes and cards and little scrapbooks you've sent me from time to time are. You've had the spirit for longer than you've had this form of the idea, and you've brought many a smile to my face after a bit of discouragement--or encouragement. I "flew up" from Brownies in 1953, because that was the first year I wore the green uniform with the yellow tie (how I learned to make a square knot) and shorts to Girl Scout camp. Scouting developed self-reliance and community in girls long before the women's movement. And in the decades since, I've met strong and wonderful women all over the world who were Girl Scouts in their younger days.

Sandra Parshall said...

I think we should have merit badges for readers -- any reader who continues to buy books in this economy deserves recognition!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, guys. It looks like we are all believe in the support one another and have fun at the same time theory.

I think all those groups---scouts, 4-H, Bluebirds (do Bluebirds still exist)---taught us a lof of skills we used when we got older.

Sandra, I love you idea for a reader's badge. I'll add that to the collection.