Book Camp Life

Book Camp 2019, Day 5

Content warning: Discussion of former suicidal ideation and plan.

Today was our last full day together, so we did things a little differently. First, no critiques! Second, no chores or curriculum like instruments, typing, or math.

Our theme today is cookbook poetry. Each kid brought a recipe from which to write a poem. Before we tackled our own odes to recipes, we worked on a group-written poem. We also traded prompts and wrote poems about such excellent topics as feet and toothbrushes.

Then a joke about a sex talk turned into an actual sex talk, which was essentially this: Sex is good not bad. It’s not a milestone but a relationship. Sex is most definitely not a bad word or embarrassing but must be approached safely and with consent. They can come to me any time about anything and find listening ears and nonjudgment, as well as care when they need it.

This morphed into a suicide talk. Because I’m just that talented and fun.

They said they all knew about my previous battle againt suicidal ideation. I told them that my foiled almost-attempt was the best thing that has happened to me, because it clarified that I want to be here, on this plane of existence, for the hard stuff. My eldest nephew died two years after that foiling. I sat in his hospital room and told him that I survived for just that moment. For all the hard moments. And the great ones. And the ordinary ones.

I have this theory that adults begin to self reject when it comes to adolescents. We tend to feel like maybe they are disinterested in us. So we back off. I’ve made that mistake, and I don’t intend to repeat it with these nieces and sons of mine. The output they demonstrate changes. The interests shift. Their individual ecosystems grow. But I intend to stay planted within those ecosystems. I will not self reject when it comes to them. So far, at 11-14, they insist they will be doing book camp until they are 80 (my intervening death from old age notwithstanding) and want to know whether future spouses marry in to the camp. I’ll keep planning them until they stop coming. And we’ll continue to have interesting, complicated, sometimes difficult conversations during book camp and other times.

Why am I sharing any of this? Because my theme this year is planting and watering. That’s what book camp is. It’s planting. Love, memories, friendship, knowledge, tradition, trust. And watering them year after year.

So, that was ten minutes they’d never get back, and they dissolved into giggles when it was over. We still had a full day of work ahead. But first, we wanted to make our own treat for the day. After much discussion, we all agreed on lemon cake balls and set out to hunt down the ingredients. Two grocery stores later and we returned home to start cake baking. While the first cake cooled, four kids took a walk and the fifth stayed home.

When we finally started our recipe poems, everyone was ready to settle in again. Poem forms included: acrostic, haiku, limerick, AABB rhyming, and free verse. They were silly and wonderful and made us hungry.

After completing our cake balls, we ate some as a reward, of course. A few of the kids still had some work to do on an opus or two, but then the kids scattered to devices until supper. We rounded out the day with mangoes, watermelon, and Captain Marvel.

Here are some of the suggestions for Book Camp 2020: character development all week; movie adaptations; publishing process simulation; group opus; picture books; adapting short stories from original screenplays; and cookbook camp. We had one valiant recommendation for a two-week book camp. And they want to make the prompt jars and group writes permanent. The fort has to be permanent, obviously. When I asked them about tours in the future, they enthusiastically affirmed their interest to visit both publishers and academicians to discuss writing across the disciplines. See? Just when I think they’re not into something, they tell my how very wrong I am.

Book Camp Life

Book Camp, Day 3

Something entirely new. That was today’s lesson. An adaptation seeks to create something entirely new–not out of nothing but out of things that already exist.


We can make apples into virtually anything: pie, cobbler, cake, cookies, sauce, jelly, butter, tart, bread, sausage, juice, smoothies, and on and on. Can you leap to something entirely new?

As I prepared for book camp, I searched the web for novel apple foods. Listen, y’all make apples into e-ve-ry-thing. I downloaded a recipe for chilled apple soup and one for creamy pumpkin apple pasta sauce. Both would at least be new to us. But what could we possibly make that might be truly new?

I searched for apple pasta. My search returned spiralized apples, apple-pumpkin sauces, and apple-tomato sauces. But I did not find a flour-based pasta made with apples.* There were recipes galore for adding herbs, spinach, beet or carrot juice, or squid ink. So, of course, we tried.And we asked ourselves a question: What might we have to deal with as artists when we break the mold and make something entirely new? Here are some of the kids’ answers:

  • judgment
  • criticism
  • and failure.

I agreed. We might get pushback from others. Critics saying we didn’t know what to do or how to do it. People telling us to stay in our own lanes. But there are other things too:

  • critics wowed by something unexpected
  • greater demand for our work
  • people copying the work in admiration
  • and people seeing themselves represented for the first time in a meaningful way.

Risking failure and criticism opens the door to…more.

We made that pumpkin-apple pasta sauce with great ingredients. As one thirteen-year-old put it, “It tastes like vomit. It is vomit!” Perhaps in other hands the recipe could work well, but we found only criticism and failure and waste of ingredients.**

That apple pasta, though. It is less than perfect and more than beautiful. So many hands kneaded the dough. We rolled it. Little hands folded the dough and cut it into long strips. Some narrow, almost broken. Others wide and sturdy. Patted with flour and curled into a nest. It was a risk. Five young artists, young bakers, had never before made pasta and emerged from the day with apple-flavored lengths of delight.


I asked the kids, is Hamilton: An American Musical a brand new thing or not? They answered as I would. Yes. And no.

Musical theatre is not new. Hip hop and rap are not new. Using hip hop and rap in musical theatre is not new. Alexander Hamilton himself–definitely not new.

But Hamilton used hip hop and rap to tell a story about something other than hip hop and rap. It employed performers of colors to portray historical figures who were white.

Hamilton was not a brand new thing. But it so was. Miranda faced all the risks and rewards incident to doing a brand new thing.

What each of us must decide for ourselves is whether to create something conventional or something out of the box. Do we want to accept the risks of the brand new thing or tell the same stories in the same ways, bake the same pies with the same apples, sing the same love songs with the same beats.


Today the kids began their adaptations in earnest. They had chosen their source materials and their formats. Today they worked on core story elements–the ones they need to keep–and the elements they would distort, change, rearrange, or introduce.

Not every creator wants the brand new. For those who do, the risks can be enormous or may be tiny. But the risks ought never be the deciding factor for the creator who seeks a new creation.

Apple Pasta

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup applesauce

Whisk together wet ingredients. Mix in flour with hands. Form into a soft ball. Knead  vigorously 12 minutes on a floured surface. Let rest 30 minutes. Divide the ball into quarters. Roll out one quarter to your desired thickness, then fold and cut in strips. Flour each strip to prevent sticking. Repeat with the other three quarters of dough.

If using immediately, boil for 2-3 minutes. Drain. Enjoy!

If saving for a later time, flatten the noodles and stack them. Seal the bunch in an airtight container. When ready to use, boil for 10-12 minutes or until cooked to desired doneness. Enjoy!

*Please do not send me to all the sites you happen to know with perfect apple pasta recipes. It’s too late. We already finished. Plus, you missed the point.

**Please do not offer helpful hints to improve the pumpkin-apple pasta sauce. It tastes like vomit. It is vomit.

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