Friday, June 3, 2011

Camp, week 1

My friend Allen, one of the directors at camp, has encouraged me to write about my experiences this summer - and here is as good a place as any. I'm not really sure how to organize my thoughts, so tonight's will likely be a bit scattered.

A week ago, I put all my belongings except for my piano into storage, signed a contract on a house where I'm moving, and drove to camp - the same camp I attended as a camper and was a counselor at 21 years ago. This journey started back in October, and I wrote about it here, although then it was just a possibility. Now, it's a reality.

How lucky am I to be able to stop the normal flow of life as I've created it [which isn't entirely true - I have work that I'm doing while I'm at camp, too], and step back? How many people can structure their lives in such a way to be able to return to and work at a camp for six weeks? I know of very few others who can do this.

Now that I'm here, though, I find myself in a very surreal place, which I expected and prepared myself for, doing pretty much exactly the same job I did 21 years ago. So much has changed, yet so much is the same, too. The part that has changed is a bit of a learning curve, which I admit has been fun. I find myself challenged - not in a hard or bad way, but in one that is intriguing to me. The teachers in this case are my coworkers... which leads me to an entirely different train of thought:

One of the interesting places I find myself is simply in finding a place. I'm a senior counselor, in charge of arts & crafts, the canteen, and doing whatever other odd job I'm asked to do. My senior counselor coworkers range in age from 19-22, while the directors of the camp programs are all about my age or older that I am. So in some ways, I have no place that is mine. There's not exactly a peer group I can just hang with all the time.

At the same time, that allows me a freedom that is a bit different. I am able to float in and out of groups and belong, yet not belong. In some ways, it's refreshing. While I have my duties here, I'm not totally and completely "in charge" of the program like I am in so many other areas of my life. I'm not the one making the "big" decisions, but certainly small decisions that impact the quality of camp life from my corners of the program. I'm obviously invested in the camp - my children go here, and I want camp to be a special place for so many others.

Which leads me back to that sense of place. The other senior counselors have had a bit of a time figuring out what to do with/around me. How much should they trust me? Should they let me in? What exactly am I doing here? How do you work with someone who is also a parent? I know this only because of how I read people, and glimmers of conversations here and there.

I've tried to put those questions aside, and just be who I am. Not worry about how others look at me - just do my job, talk with people and learn from them, and enjoy being here. And for the most part, I'm succeeding. I did have a night off tonight, went into town and got a pedicure, went to Mellow Mushroom for dinner. I brought the leftovers back to the senior staff lounge where a good number of them were hanging out and they were eaten pretty quickly. Had I been thinking, I would have put in an order to bring back to them - I will next time. Sitting in there with them was the most relaxed I've felt any of them around me, and a willingness to let me into some of the conversations that occur when it's just staff. Having been staff, I know what those are and what they look and feel like. The feeling doesn't change, regardless of the players. I wondered when that beginning to relax would occur, and I have to say the fact that I felt it more tonight than previously causes me to breathe a small sigh of relief. I wanted to feel that prior to my children arriving. I wanted to sense that I was a part of the rhythm of camp.

And that thought leads me to one of the truths about camp:

There is a rhythm here that feels timeless. I experienced it for the first time the summer of 1983. Today, in the canteen, one of the songs on the radio was "Sunglasses at night," which was played a lot at camp during the summer of 1984, and just hearing that song made me think, as it always does, of being out at the lake skiing. So much of what I'm doing and experiencing feels almost innately familiar. The routines, the ringing of the bell to wake us up and at meals, the chimes played at more reflective parts of the day, vespers and talking ceasing at the "line of silence," the break midday at the canteen, the sounds of campers in the cabins and talking at arts and crafts.... Walking through camp, retracing steps I first took nearly 30 years ago, I find myself sinking back into that surprisingly familiar rhythm.

More than that, though. I find that rhythm wrapping its arms around me.

When I first thought of working at camp, I had no idea how much I would need this rhythm at this point in my life.

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