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, Day 1

Missed Day 0? Check it out here!

Well, day 1 came in like a lion. Hopefully, it goes out like a lamb.

Thunderstorm. No water access to the house. A dog who wouldn’t brave the elements. Alarms sounding at 5:45 am. These are the hallmarks of a first day at camp, clearly.

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Yet at five minutes to seven we sat around the fort, journals and notebooks in hand, ready to overview the day and write our six-sentence stories. The words pulled from the jar: union, lose, acid. The rules: Nouns can become plural but cannot become adjectives or adverbs; verbs can take any form of the verb; the story must have a beginning, middle, and end; the story must have exactly six sentences. Commas and semicolons will be accepted.

Upon finishing the brief exercise, Cheeze Ball said, “Mine took a bit of a dark turn at the end,” to the surprise of absolutely no one in the room.

The rain cleared up enough for 45 minutes outdoors for campers while I turned to my work. Then the campers decamped in the fort to work on assignments, peeling off one or two at a time to fulfill their group write contribution, play an instrument (viola, trombone, baritone, bass, saxophone), do some meal prep or chore, or complete some other task, eventually running out of assigned duties and devolving into cheery, screen-loving, game-playing, fort-sharing teenagers. But first, they had seven documents to turn in at seven pm, so there was no time to lose.

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A is for Adapt. We all adapt all the time–to people, circumstances, settings, changes in schedule. Knowing that is half the battle. The other half is knowing how to adapt. Understanding how fluid life really is or can be. Book Camp lessons are about story and craft, but they are also about life. Not overtly. Kids hate that. But seeds planted or tender shoots watered and tended. With humor. With love. With intentionality.

Starting softly, today’s A assignment was an easy one. The campers each examined three works of published fiction, filled out a worksheet about the setting, world, protagonist, antagonist, inciting incident, climax, and resolution. Then they filled in little comments in the margins about where the story could be adapted–the word used very loosely here to mean any change. Because if you cannot imagine how a fictional story might be different, you’ll never be able to imagine your own story as different.

This year, we have two tracks in camp for the first time: SIM and FUN. SIM stands for Story In Mind. FUN is a word meaning, well, you know. Those campers who chose to be SIM have certain optional assignments to expand the stories of their hearts. Today, the optional assignment was to fill out the A1 worksheet for their own fictional story and then jot some possible adaptations in the margins. There was a good deal of moaning over this. The story of the heart or mind does not easily adapt. And what is life but a story of heart and mind?

B is for Business. The first six days of Book Camp, campers are learning about jobs in writing and publishing. Not because I expect them all (or any) to choose a job in that vein but because it is useful for young people to learn that all kinds of jobs exist and those jobs have all kinds of needs: creativity, math skills, solitude, people skills, self-discipline, and on and on. What applies to publishing applies elsewhere. The point isn’t these specific job titles but that adults have jobs, those jobs pay different median amounts, have different tasks, and require different knowledge, skills, and abilities.

Today’s B1 worksheet: writers and editors. They practice writing daily, so the exercise on the worksheet was to practice editing. They used a critique form to gather their thoughts about the six-sentence story I wrote today. Then they each wrote an edit letter to me.

(Don’t tell. The last six days of Book Camp, the campers will do a practicum of sorts. Each camper will assume the role of someone in book publishing and perform that role as it pertains to the group writing project they have been working on all camp.)

As I write this, the last of the X-Box turns is being had and dinner is quietly baking in a hot oven. I hear the campers conversing, half playing a card game, half watching the X-Box play. The day has gotten bright and hot, and the dog has overtaken the fort. Assignments are in neat little folders, each with a camper’s name, in a file stand. More than 1000 words have been generated on the group writing assignment.

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The campers and assistant director face a cool inning. I face a lot of reading and giving of feedback. But that’s okay. It’s what I signed up for with this whole book camp thing. And I wouldn’t trade it for a thing.