Book Camp 2020, Day 6

Some camps must adhere strictly to schedules. Not Book Camp.

Some camps force you to bottle in all the outside emotions and top it off with all the new camp emotions, tightening the lid day by day. Not Book Camp.

Some camps take themselves too seriously, making everything competition or goal-oriented. Not Book Camp.

At Book Camp, you can pour all your outside emotions on the floor. You can throw your new emotions in the air. And you can trust the people with you will help you sort through it, if that’s what you want, or let them lie, if that’s what you need.

Then comes the morning that codependency must be addressed head-on. I explained it this way: Empathy is seeing another person and their feelings and aiming your Self in their direction, while codependency is seeing another person having emotions and aiming your Self at picking up those emotions. With codependency, you end up carrying a bunch of feelings that aren’t even yours. With empathy, you contain your Self and focus on the Other.

We’ve had a lot of emotion laid down in the last six days. And most of it has been picked up by others. As you might imagine, that makes for a toxic mixture of human angst (this is not unique to teenagers).

This morning, we spent about three hours in the fort together, breaking it down, throwing the emotions down, and leaving them in a pile on the floor. It was a deeply uncomfortable experience. What kept them in the fort? Well, either they see me as that big of an authority figure, or they found some small value in the exercise.

Grievances were aired. Knots were unraveled. Conflict abated.

And we got to the bottom of the problem. Well, several bottoms.

1. Coronavirus.

That’s the real bottom line right now. Kids already feel like they have little control over their lives. But now? They cannot decide when or how to see friends, how to spend the summer, whether to go to school in a month, whether to wear a face covering some places, whether to go to church, whether to have weekends with loved ones, or who makes all the decisions. That’s on top of having no say over who the leaders are, what the leaders decide, how the decisions are made, or when the decisions are made. The kids feel powerless. Voiceless. Isolated. Uncertain. Scared.

Sounds about right to me.

2. Book Camp is different this year.

They went on to explicate the ways in which Book Camp is different and that some differences are good, while others are less than good.

I agree. We are all much more straightforward this year. We are willing to be vocal about conflict. We are willing to stand up for our own perspectives. We are willing to say what’s working and what isn’t. That difference is trust. You cannot do those things with people you do not trust.

But when you trust and when you are more authentic and when you open yourself up in a compact two-week all-in setting, well, feelings will be had.

3. —Wait for it—

Now we’ve come to it. The real and present stressor of the day. The thing no one really wants to bring up but everyone feels. The singular thing that can change the course of the whole conversation.

The Group Write.

All else was angsty and tense. But the Group Write? Ooo-wee. Did we hit a nerve, central to the group, running like lightning.

And I told them, “This is fantastic! You’re right on time!”

And they looked at me with horror in their faces and said, “So you want us to fight?!”

No. Of course not. But I knew they would. I didn’t want it, but I laid the foundation for it. This story of theirs—it is better with ideas from them all. It is stronger with writing from them all. It is more of everything good when they’re together.

You don’t get that for free.

It takes working through the conflicts and disagreements. Cheeze Ball said, “Once when the story was changed I thought I might die. I actually thought, I’m going to die if it’s not fixed.” I said, “Did you die?” She answered, “No.”

When we are passionate, we can feel like things must be one particular way or we might die. Parents may think if their child misses an academic milestone or accomplishment or ceremony they might die. But they don’t. Employers may think if they allow teleworking during a pandemic they might die. But they didn’t. And a group of five kids telling a story may think they might die if the story isn’t told to their own specifications. But they won’t.

Is this the sort of lesson we’d have at Book Camp in a “normal” year? I don’t think so. Certainly not overtly. The pandemic changes the equation. We must learn to coexist with a small set of people with little change for a long while. We must learn to deal with conflict authentically with those people. We must learn that doing old things in new ways will not kill us.

It’s magical thinking to imagine that the pandemic will simply *poof* disappear one day. It’s magical thinking to imagine we can live intra-pandemic as we did pre-pandemic. I’m a fan of magical thinking and imagination. In fiction. But this is real life.

What does any of that have to do with five kids doing a Group Write at a Book Camp in Oklahoma?

They feel all that pressure. And they control none of the outcomes.

They feel the pressure of writing this story. And they do not fully control the outcomes.

And they are frustrated. And that’s okay. As long as it leads to growth. Which, arguably, it is.

As we sat in the fort counseling through the frustration, the conflict turned to harmony as the five began to spill forth ideas that built quickly onto one another. In this, this Group Write, they each have more power than they realized. Their power is only brightened by sharing it with the others. Because that is how the thing will get done. Together is how they will get to “The End.”

I canceled today’s assignments. Figgy said, “But then we will miss the important stuff we will need!” I encouraged him to do the assignments on his own if he wanted. Twiz was unappreciative, as he had already begun. Cheese Ball, Cheeze Ball, and Wasabi clapped.

We ate cantaloupe with cottage cheese for lunch before heading outside for a water war. I washed the dog and slipped inside for a shower. They came in soaked in water, sun, and fun. They showered and put on pajamas and we’ve lazed about the remainder of the day.

We have firm intentions of screaming into the Icelandic wilderness. Hopefully it won’t have any untoward ecological effects. Hopefully it will empty us of some measure of angst in the age of coronavirus.

Tonight we’re finally having shepherd’s pie, bubbling in the oven with potatoes crisping on top. Tonight we’re finally having our game night. Tonight, perhaps, our minds are emptier, in a good way, than they’ve been in a while. Tonight we are all possibility.

Book Camp 2020, Day 5

We had a visitor mid-day! My sister and her husband arrived in time to visit with campers and feed us lunch. Then we topped it off with a short video and cake and ice cream. A celebration!

I may have cried.

The body knows certain dates without a calendar. Tuesday was one. The 14th. The day was my grandfather’s birthday; one hundred and eleven years since his birth. He has been gone now many years. But I remember it. I feel it creep over me, a mixture of joy and sorrow.

Today is one of those kinds of days, too. The 17th of July. The date I first became an aunt. Way back in the nineteen hundreds, as my kids say. My eldest nephew–Andy–was so…much. He was funny and set the standard in our family for grandchildren. He could be very serious with his blonde hair and chocolate-brown eyes.

As a youngster, he liked brown M&Ms the best; they tasted most like chocolate. As a great big teenager, he ran the gamut of teenagerness, I suppose. But he loved his family. And he loved a special person. And he joined the army. And all was supposed to grow and grow and grow.

My sister, Andy, and me at Andy’s high school graduation, 2010

He went to boot camp, not yet 18. He turned that magical age while away. Then, he died.

Leukemia took him in three weeks’ time.

His brother was 12. His cousins, the ones book camping now were 5, 5, 3, 3, and 2.

The five-year-olds have a couple of concrete memories. I’m not sure about the three-year-olds, scraps if anything. The two-year-old remembers nothing of him, save for our family stories.

In a few weeks it will have been ten years since Andy’s death. I feel it wash over me, hot and acidic.

But days like today come. And we are intentional. And we eat birthday cake and we look at pictures of Andy and we take more pictures.

Because I promised Andy near the very end. I promised him I would stay for the hard stuff. I had no idea how hard some of that stuff would be.

And then 2020. The campers feel the weight of lost seasons, lost school, lost friend time. They bear that on their backs as they try to find some shred of normalcy. But the news isn’t getting much better. It’s just not getting too much worse for them.

Over breakfast, a discussion of Halloween arose. I can’t imagine there being a Halloween this year. “As long as it’s all over by Thanksgiving,” Wasabi said. I tempered their enthusiasm.

Now is the time to live in the now. Maybe more than any other moment in my lifetime. We cannot live for the start of a sports season or the start of school. Not for Halloween or Thanksgiving. Not for the weekend even. We have to live for right now. We have to make this moment count, whatever that means to us.

Yes, we mourn the social losses. We allow ourselves to say how much this whole Covid-19 thing sucks. And it does.

But then we remember that we are more than football and school and holidays and movie theatres. We remember that we are here with purpose. We remember we are here at all.

And we eat our cake and carry on with book camp and make tentative tangible plans for the future we hope exists in some form.

Today was also the first day of C is for Character, and the campers completed a worksheet called the tabula rasa, the clean slate, to intentionally inform their main character. Today in B is for Business, the campers learned about publishers and printers, and they put together a publication schedule.

They wrote six-sentence stories with the other parents who came to visit. They played in the morning rain. They hooted and howled as the X-Box heated up with their play. They tucked away their hurts and their worries and held onto the day. I can ask no more than that.