Author: Rachel Brown

A Letter Unwritten

Author’s note: This entry is long. But you should read to the end. Honest!

Rowyn, Rachel, and Esther “Sure, I would love to blog for Go Girls!” That’s what I said when Lynn asked me about the writing component of this gig. I love to write, I love Go Girls!, I feel lucky to be part of this glorious, dynamic team and the work it does.

But blogging is hard for me, I’ve discovered. Bloggers write about all of their own stuff, from their own lives. They put their personal opinions out there. They share the bits that hurt them and scared them and scarred them and forced them to grow. Blog posts are like intimate letters you write to everybody. And I’m not gregarious like that (if you don’t count my career as a performer. But that’s different—really!) I am deeply ambivalent about these love letters to the world. I’ll send you one, and you alone, or maybe you. But to everybody? I just don’t know…

Which is why I am not yet ready to write what I want to write about Mother’s Day, what I need to write. Alexis wrote so wonderfully about the day in her blog, and my reaction was one big “Yes!” But a day devoted to mothers still presses on a bruise so purple and deep that I know I don’t yet have much clarity or wisdom around it. I still just keep banging the bruise against the edge of the couch, and yowling

But the writer Anne Lamott has written something sharp and subversive and loving about Mother’s Day. Can you keep reading for awhile longer? Her words cradle and sooth me and perk me up, and I read them even when it’s not the month of May. You should read them, too… (P.S. I do not, like her, hate Valentine’s Day, so keep those cards and chocolates comin’!)

Here’s her piece “Why I hate Mother’s Day,” originally published by Salon:

“I did not raise my son, Sam, to celebrate Mother’s Day. I didn’t want him to feel some obligation to buy me pricey lunches or flowers, some annual display of gratitude that you have to grit your teeth and endure. Perhaps Mother’s Day will come to mean something to me as I grow even dottier in my dotage, and I will find myself bitter and distressed when Sam dutifully ignores the holiday. Then he will feel ambushed by my expectations, and he will retaliate by putting me away even sooner than he was planning to — which, come to think of it, would be even more reason to hate Mother’s Day.María with Mommy

But Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path. Ha! Every woman’s path is difficult, and many mothers were as equipped to raise children as wire monkey mothers. I say that without judgment: It is, sadly, true. An unhealthy mother’s love is withering.

The illusion is that mothers are automatically happier, more fulfilled and complete. But the craziest, grimmest people this Sunday will be the mothers themselves, stuck herding their own mothers and weeping children and husbands’ mothers into seats at restaurants. These mothers do not want a box of chocolate. These mothers are on a diet.

I hate the way the holiday makes all non-mothers, and the daughters of dead mothers, and the mothers of dead or severely damaged children, feel the deepest kind of grief and failure. The non-mothers must sit in their churches, temples, mosques, recovery rooms and pretend to feel good about the day while they are excluded from a holiday that benefits no one but Hallmark and See’s. There is no refuge — not at the horse races, movies, malls, museums. Even the turn-off-your-cellphone announcer is going to open by saying, “Happy Mother’s Day!” You could always hide in a nice seedy bar, I suppose. Or an ER.

It should go without saying that I also hate Valentine’s Day.

Mothering has been the richest experience of my life, but I am still opposed to Mother’s Day. It perpetuates the dangerous idea that all parents are somehow superior to non-parents. (Meanwhile, we know the worst, skeeviest, most evil people in the world are CEOs and politicians who are proud parents.)

Rachel with MommyDon’t get me wrong: There were times I could have literally died of love for my son, and I’ve felt stoned on his rich, desperate love for me. But I bristle at the whispered lie that you can know this level of love and self-sacrifice only if you are a parent. We talk about ‘loving one’s child’ as if a child were a mystical unicorn. Ninety-eight percent of American parents secretly feel that if you have not had and raised a child, your capacity for love is somehow diminished. Ninety-eight percent of American parents secretly believe that non-parents cannot possibly know what it is to love unconditionally, to be selfless, to put yourself at risk for the gravest loss. But in my experience, it’s parents who are prone to exhibit terrible self-satisfaction and selfishness, who can raise children as adjuncts, like rooms added on in a remodel. Their children’s value and achievements in the world are reflected glory, necessary for these parents’ self-esteem, and sometimes, for the family’s survival. This is how children’s souls are destroyed.

But my main gripe about Mother’s Day is that it feels incomplete and imprecise. The main thing that ever helped mothers was other people mothering them; a chain of mothering that keeps the whole shebang afloat. I am the woman I grew to be partly in spite of my mother, and partly because of the extraordinary love of her best friends, and my own best friends’ mothers, and from surrogates, many of whom were not women at all but gay men. I have loved them my entire life, even after their passing.

No one is more sentimentalized in America than mothers on Mother’s Day, but no one is more often blamed for the culture’s bad people and behavior. You want to give me chocolate and flowers? That would be great. I love them both. I just don’t want them out of guilt, and I don’t want them if you’re not going to give them to all the people who helped mother our children. But if you are going to include everyone, then make mine something like M&M’s, and maybe flowers you picked yourself, even from my own garden, the cut stems wrapped in wet paper towels, then tin foil and a waxed-paper bag from my kitchen drawers. I don’t want something special. I want something beautifully plain. Like everything else, it can fill me only if it is ordinary and available to all.”


The Land of Counterpane

minnie-dibdin-spooner-the-land-of-counterpane-the-golden-staircase-1906-1I was sick all of last week, only I didn’t know it. I kept thinking I was getting better, but I kept on getting worse. It wasn’t until Friday when I had an actual t e m p e r a t u r e that I realized maaaaybe I shouldn’t go to work, and maaaaybe I would have to buy something other than allergy pills to see me through.

I can’t remember the last time I had a fever. It must’ve been around the same time I bought my old-fashioned glass thermometer. You know, the kind with m e r c u r y in it. The kind that I couldn’t read when I was little, but my parents, miraculously, could, another confirmation of adulthood’s otherworldly status.

Being sick meant several things when I was a girl: dry toast for breakfast, regular mini-glasses of orange juice, St. Joseph’s Children’s Aspirin in those tiny pink tablets, no tv, cool washrag compresses on my forehead, and lots of books. And one of my favorite books was A Child’s Garden of Verses (do kids still read this?).

Why? Because in the book itself there was a little boy who was sick, too! Just like I was. And just like I was doing, he was making up games to amuse himself, creating hills with his knees and covers, pretending he was a giant. Stuff like that. I surrounded myself with my dolls and stuffed animals and we would have tremendous adventures, building forts and hiking long distances, all without leaving my crib (I slept in a crib for a long time, but that’s another story).

Because I live alone, last week I did have to rouse myself to eat and drink and tend to Misha, my cat. But that delicious feeling of being half awake, half asleep, lying in bed and seeing pictures through a fuzzy haze and at odd angles? That reaching for any one of a number of books or magazines and diving in? Snuggling with a sympathetic pet? It was just like being four again, just as novel—slightly magical, slightly special. And while I don’t relish coughing and sneezing and sweating it out, it comforts me to know that I can still provide myself the best entertainment, when the chips are down. My odd little brain hasn’t failed me yet…

When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay
To keep me happy all the day.


Ranging and Roaming

two young boys walking together down a path towards the setting sunOne of my favorite Facebook friends is a guy I went to grammar school with. Favorite because he’s a kind and sensitive soul, and favorite because he is one of the best “post-ers” I know. This is what caught my eye today:

“I shudder to think of what I would have missed were I not told to ‘go out and play’ and be back for dinner. How many fewer friends, interesting and caring adults, and even the random ‘job.’ I also learned how to read and handle people…It’s a sad thing to go through a residential neighborhood these days, with tricycles in the driveways but not a single kid in the street.”

Some parents have recently been arrested for letting their kids roam freely, or be “free-range,” as it has been termed. The only sort-of equivalent I can think of from my own childhood was being a latchkey kid. That meant I wore a key around my neck on a string. Both my parents worked, and I would be able to let myself into our apartment when they weren’t there. But that was not separate from roaming the neighborhood and the city. Roaming was a given. In fact, most of us felt a little sorry for the kids who were kept at home “for safety.” As if they were in prison, and missing out on all the life that was to be had outside: fort-building, hide-and-seek, riding the bus to see a double feature, roller-skating to a friends house, hiking to the creek, walking to buy an ice cream cone or check out books from the library.

We didn’t feel afraid, and the things we felt afraid about we knew how to handle, such as strangers offering candy or rides and crossing streets at crosswalks and with traffic signals. And we knew we could ask people for help if we needed. Doug is so right. Being out in the world taught us how to read people, it made us part of a wide community filled with all different kinds of people, it required that we learn first-hand how to navigate streets and situations. It was better than being coddled like infants, protected like precious objects. Being a citizen is what it meant, with agency and standing, and the means to travel.

Statistics seem to bear out that our communities are no more dangerous than they were 20, 30, or 40 years ago. And yet parents’ concern for their children’s safety has increased, along with a sense that children need scheduled, organized enrichment, in order to get ahead and experience a fulfilling childhood. Yet I wouldn’t trade my ability to walk by myself to Doug’s house for anything, when we were both 9 years old. The enrichment discovered in those several blocks was limitless, and I feel it still.

Children Caring for Animals

unnamedI have almost always lived with animals—primarily cats, but dogs, too, and hamsters, gerbils, fish, birds, and a most social tortoise named Miss Speedy. During those times in my life when I didn’t live with an animal I was always planning about how I would get one. Early diagnoses of asthma and allergies were no deterrent. There is no question that I am a far happier person and a far better person loving and caring for an animal than I would be otherwise.

There is tons of evidence that children benefit from interacting with animals. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology writes on its website, “Positive relationships with pets can aid in the development of trusting relationships with others. A good relationship with a pet can also help in developing non-verbal communication, compassion, and empathy.”

A recent One Green Planet article focuses on some powerful women doing extraordinary work in the U.S. animal rescue and sanctuary movement. Ellie Laks, the founder of The Gentle Barn in Tarzana, CA, makes it part of her mission to teach children from all walks of life, socio-economic backgrounds, and children with differing physical abilities.

Hundreds of children have learned kindness and compassion through interacting with the animals there. To this end, she and her team have developed amazing programs to give these children opportunities to spend time with and care for a variety of animals at the Gentle Barn. This nurturing haven is the result of a dream Laks herself dreamed when she was just 7 years old.unnamed-3

Even if your family can’t house an animal in your home, your community provides many ways for children to care for, educate themselves about, and become empowered for our fellow creatures. Check out these tips from Natural Resources Defense Council. Call your local animal shelter and ask how kids can help the rescued animals there. Help your children learn how to responsibly pet-sit for neighbors. Google the day and summer camps offered by your local zoo. Check out books from the library on a wide variety of animals and their habitats. Make a point to research the particular wildlife living in the region where your family likes to camp or hike. The more children are offered such opportunities, the more their hearts expand. The knowledge they gain will keep them curious about, and invested in, the lives and environments of all of us who call this sweet old world Home.

When I Was a Boy

I hurt my knees three weeks ago doing something in a movement class I knew I shouldn’t. I’ve never had any trouble with my knees, even after years of running, dancing, and tumbling. So I’m icing them like a fiend, popping ibuprofen at regular intervals, and switching over to swimming.

Sitting with ice packs a few nights ago, I had a good look at my knees. I noticed a scar on my left one I got while riding a bike down Oriole Street. I was five and didn’t yet have a two-wheeler of my own. I didn’t know the bike couldn’t brake and, trying to stop, I flew over the handlebars. The bloody knee hurt like anything, but I was okay. I think I got back on the bike. I also have a faint white scar on the top of one of my ankles. It’s from when I lay stomach-down on the seat of a swing, twisted myself up as tight as I could and let go. I spun at light speed, only stopping when my ankles skidded across the concrete gouge where sand should’ve been. The instep of my left foot bears a purple mark I got from a piece of glass. Nobody ever wore shoes during the summer. We were tanned on top and callused on the bottom. All the boys and girls were a fierce and merry little band of men, raising polliwogs, visiting the bulldog family in the alley, checking on the decay of a dead black cat.

We were girls and we were boys and we were the same.Rachel Brown, age 4

When I was a boy I seldom had long hair, and a new set of sneakers could set me running faster than anybody.

When I was a boy I rode my Big Wheels tricycle all the way to Richard’s house, before I turned 6 and got my yellow Schwinn Fair Lady. Then I was flying to 7-11 for Big Daddy bubble gum and Tootsie Rolls.

When I was a boy I painted masterpieces at a huge easel, and dug for gold with my sister in our sliver of a backyard, next to the sunflowers. When I was a boy I wore Toughskins jeans, and played with a Tonka jeep and a Fischer-Price airport. I piloted a jetliner! I could climb to the top of the hanging ropes faster than the twins, Kyle and Carl, when I was a boy…

…Except I was a girl, and didn’t have to pretend, then, that all of it belonged to me. It just did. When did we all have to begin to choose a side? Maybe at 12 when my light had to be refracted through separate lenses, and only select rays could fall. Resisting this half-life, I brushed my hair down over my eyes, covered my body in shapeless clothes, wore my eyeglasses like a disguise. The boy and the girl partially smothered, partially tapping out an S-O-S in Morse code: Save Our Self! we said. We’re saying it still, pulsing the message into the palm of each other’s hand…

The Radical ______’s Aim to Empower Oakland Girls, One Badge at a Time

imgres-1My sister was a Brownie in the mid 1970s, a Girl Scout Brownie that is. She loved it. She loved her uniform and her troop leader and the activities they did. I don’t think they focused on nature, and I know they never went camping. Still, she wore her brown uniform all the time, even on days when her troop didn’t meet. Brownies wasn’t school and it didn’t involve her little sister at home. It was her own thing: it was social, the people were kind, and she got to do lots of arts and crafts.

While I confess my favorite kind of brownie is “a small square or rectangle of rich, usually chocolate, cake, often containing nuts,” I did covet my sister’s experience. I was a Campfire Girl Bluebird for a brief time. While I loved the red and blue dress, and the wind chime I painted, I only attended for a few months, never really felt a part of something, a movement.

In folklore, brownies are helpful elves, whether indoors or outdoors, who don’t generally interact with humans, but aid them in various tasks.

Adopting the Brownie name for a Girl Scouts age group seems fitting, in terms of the Girl Scout dedication to, “build[ing] girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.” It’s commitment to diversity is in marked contrast to that of the Boy Scouts of America.

Another group of Brownies has sprung up in Oakland, California, the Radical Brownies. Not affiliated with the Girls Scouts, and soon to change their name to The Radical _____, this sisterhood also fosters unity. Started in December 2014 by Anayvette Martinez and Marilyn Hollinquest, a community organizer and an educator, respectively, the two leaders aim to foster social change in their group of 12 girl-identifying troupe members. The girls can earn merit badges in such areas as Black Lives Matter, Radical Beauty, Food Justice, Social Justice, and Environmental Justice.

Ms. Martinez explains the group’s beginnings on its Facebook page: “Last year, my 4th grade daughter desperately wanted to join a young girl’s troop. …I saw the need for a group that would empower and encourage her to form bonds of sisterhood with other girls in her community. I began to imagine what a radical young girl’s social justice troop looked like; a group that centered and affirmed her experiences as a beautiful and brilliant brown girl against so many societal pressures to conform to mainstream ideals of girlhood.”

The troupe has its detractors—some decrying single-gender clubs, some suggesting the leaders are indoctrinating the girls, and some accusing them of child abuse and racism through politicization, and allowing only girls-of-color. Martinez and Hollinquest insist the girls have minds of their own, and don’t all agree on every issue. Martinez also says the members of the small group right now simply reflect their own community and that, as they expand, any girl who loves The Radical ______’s mission will be able to join, “These girls are active and want to be out there, having their voices heard. We are just getting started.”







What’s in a Name?

If you have spent time with a toddler you will know that much of their developing speech manifests in their dedication to naming things: cat, shoe, fish, ball, star, sky, mama. Every time the child says a word, a kaleidoscope of discoveries explodes and delights him. The tangible sense of the word in the mouth, the connection of the sound with a thing or an idea, the realization that that thing or idea belongs in his own world, the way he can point to the object or the person with his hand.

Naming the members of his family creates a sense of connection to, and belonging with, those people. Later, when the child is older and can spell or read his own name, he learns that his family members, too, have whole names that can be spelled, and read, and spoken aloud. Just as he was given a name that belongs to him, his parents have their own monikers that carry an individual identity.

In contemporary Egypt it is considered shameful for Egyptian men and boys to say their mothers’ names in public. This taboo, purported to promote respect for Egyptian mothers, is currently being challenged via social media through a United Nations Women Egypt’s campaign entitled #MyMothersNameIs.

Fadi Yaish, Regional Executive Creative Director of the ad agency behind the UN’s moving campaign video, responds in an interview on BBC radio, “[Egyptian men] are very much confusing respect with disrespect. Why? Because simply it is the man who is denying to say the mother’s name, so they don’t feel the disrespect, while women, they are the one[s] [who have been] compromised.”

As former American football pro-turned-actor and feminist Terry Crews said in a DAME magazine article, “The smartest, most wonderful people in my life have been women. They’ve always shown me things that I never saw before…”

At a What Makes a Man White Ribbon Campaign event Crews said, “What it is that we’re talking about is gender equality, true gender equality… but the problem is that men have always felt like they’re more valuable… I have been that guy where I felt I was more valuable than my wife and kids.”

The damage done to men’s psyches and souls by denying the autonomy and humanity of the person who perhaps gave them the greatest care and love they’ve ever known is too awful to fathom.

What could be more devastating than erasing a person’s value by simply refusing to acknowledge that she has a name? And what could be simpler and more restorative than speaking that name out loud? #MyMothersNameIs is fostering this healing right now. And now. And this second, too. You can hear it… my name is Rachel, and my mother’s name is Evangeline, and her mother’s name is also Evangeline, and her mother’s name was Florinda, and her mother’s name was Feliciana, which means good fortune, happiness.






Finding a Space of One’s Own

036-virginia-woolf-theredlistLate, that’s the kind of writer I am today. Even blogs have deadlines, and the kind colleague who gets my entries posted doesn’t complain that this will arrive in her inbox well past her bedtime. And still I sit here, taking my time, trying to turn thoughts and words over in my mind…

When I type I sit at a slim, navy blue desk with two shelves attached. A cream-colored bulletin board covered in fabric and crisscrossed with grosgrain ribbon claims a collection of artifacts. A small crowd of dishes waits for my attention just through the door to the kitchen. A plump Siamese purrs and dozes in my lap.

And as I sit at my computer, typing this, I think again and again of Virginia Woolf.

Okay, my BA in English might give me away, but I love Virginia Woolf. Not only because of her writing, which has pinned me down and laid me bare with it’s devastating, passionate precision on many a night. But also for how, in A Room of One’s Own, she gave me permission to work toward something that belongs to me.

Her slim volume addressed the specifics of writing fiction, but I believe that her creed, “a woman must have money and a room of her own,” is true. In order to work and create something, anything, that is important to you, there must be some space, actual and psychic, in which to do it, and an income to keep your tummy filled and your PG&E bill paid.What astonishes me is that women continue to create and achieve, even without such a personal environment, however humble. And continue to suffer from the lack of that space and those means, too.

And I have this now, space to call my own, this apartment. It’s tiny by some standards, just two rooms. The kitchen is spacious though, and contains my very first breakfast nook, filled with sunshine most days. It could be argued that, being an introvert, my temperament demands this retreat, and that more social creatures don’t need it. What I would say is that being able to acknowledge what one needs to move in the world, and then assuming the freedom to attain and use those prescriptions, is what is important.

I trust Ms. Woolf would agree. Solitude, community, a room of one’s own, a garden, a kitchen table. That we as women can say it, and own it, and achieve it without apology or fear or undue hardship. “So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.” What matters is that you can do the things that you desire, and that you do. “Anything can happen when womanhood ceases to be a protected occupation”…

Princess Awesome Redefines What it Means to “Dress Like a Girl”

pa_logo_20141029_1414630274__78282If you click over to you won’t be able to purchase any of the clothing items the company sells. This is because it has completely sold out of all of its merchandise. In fact, it’s launched a Kickstarter campaign in order to get the funds to create more of its product.

And what is the product? Girly dresses. We all know what those are, right? Dresses that are cute and feminine, made of soft, pliable fabrics, in almost exclusively pastel or hot colors, and decorated with, you know, girly things: flowers, ribbons, sparkles, hearts, unicorns, ponies, rainbows, kittens… need I say more?

However, the question this company asks, among other questions, is, “What exactly is a girly dress?” And the answer Rebecca Melsky and Eva St. Clair, the Princess Awesome founders, give is that they’re interested in,

“…making clothes for girls that really reflect the range of interests that girls have, and the range of interests that parents want to encourage and support for their girls. We know that girls like lots of things—they like dresses and trucks—and they should have clothes that reflect that. …We feel strongly that girls should not have to decide between wearing girly things and wearing math-y things, or pirate-y things, or dinosaur-y things.”

dfff6b8740528be04cfe956852d72edc_originalThis means that the rainbow graphic on one dress is the jumbled repetition of the mathematical symbol “π.” It means one circle-skirted frock is printed with a train track at the waist and a train circling the skirt’s hem. It means that when you are four years old and want to dress up for a special occasion, the thing that makes your dress fancy is Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” image illuminating its fabric, or the vibration of Monet’s “Water Lilies.” All done in durable, play-resistant fabrics.

I spent my young childhood in the ‘70s. It is safe to say that clothes for both kids and adults existed on a slippery slope of weirdness, sliding into itchiness, sliding into ugliness. And I mean that in a good way. That is, there was a new fluidity in what we deemed an acceptable children’s wardrobe. And the boundaries of what constituted dressy clothes or casual clothes or play clothes often blurred. The sixties were right behind us, and the hippies were still with us. Back-to-nature-let-your-hair-down allowed for greater degrees of choice, messiness, earthiness. The Women’s Movement liberated children, too. Free to Be You and Me was the anthem of a generation. It was ok to wear clothes that could get dirty—and it was ok for girls to get dirty! Not all girls, of course. But I think more than before. My rainbow-checked, bell-bottomed, frayed-at-the-hem pants, coupled with my Welcome Back Kotter t-shirt was the height of chic, in my book. Girly colors, Television shows, T-shirts, all one big prét-a-porter of personal fabulousness. I could be all these parts of me at the same time. All of my selves did not have to be divvied up and limited to certain discreet occasions.

Ms. Melman and Ms. St. Clair trust they are creating the same kind of multiplicity, “…girls are awesome and girls decide what it means to be girly.” As more parents buy these clothes for their kids I will be curious to read whether the children have a different experience wearing them, a richer experience, than they might have limited to the hearts and flowers variety. In the theatre, when an actor finally dons her completed costume, the costume acts a mask of revelation, yet another way for character to reveal itself, express itself. Does the substitution of a daisy for a dinosaur have the same effect? Does the hat indeed make the man or, in this case, the robot dress makes the girl?…



Finding Empowerment in To Kill a Mockingbird


131019015912-harper-lee-story-topWith the publication this July of Harper Lee’s lost novel Go Set a Watchman, I’ve found myself talking with both friends and strangers about Miss Lee and her classic, To Kill a Mockingbird. These discussions often begin with a, “Did you hear?” People feel both excited and nervous. They want the new book to be as good as the first one, or at least not an embarrassment. A new novel from a writer happy to have only published one book, more than fifty years ago? Can it be?

I love To Kill a Mockingbird. This publishing buzz got me thinking about why this is so. The character Scout and I share a few key things: A parent who is a public defender, representing society’s ignored, crushed, and thrown away? Check. A childhood spent mostly outside, free to follow my senses and my curiosity? Check. In possession of one brave and compassionate older sibling? Check. Long, hot childhood summers filled with quick friendships, tree houses, and dares to travel beyond the fence? Check! Check! Check!

But mostly it is because of Scout herself, the story’s narrator. Harper Lee created her as a whole person with faults, uncertainty, and wonder. A woman remembering her childhood, with awe for the riches that childhood gave her, as well as for what that early life taught her about justice, equality, poverty, gender, and family. The girl is allowed her anger and her questions, questions that the adults in her life respect her enough to answer, as best they can.

Harper Lee wrote a novel in which a young girl is a complete human being. She struggles to embody those same values Go Girls! camp holds dear: honesty, courage, joy, pro-action, appreciation, and inclusiveness. And Lee does this not through sentimentality or condescension, a “through the mouths of babes” tale, but by allowing the main character of her novel to radically experience life and have it change her for the better. We witness the girl’s evolution into someone with a point-of-view. And this child, the protagonist of one of our Greatest American Novels, is a girl in elementary school.

When I read the book as a girl, I always wanted to live up to Scout’s standards, to be as compassionate as she becomes by the end of the novel. Scout is the girl I was, and the woman I still hope to be. Whatever this new manuscript is, it feels like I will get a chance to tell Scout and Harper Lee what I always meant to: “Thank you.”