It’s almost cruel and unfair, the first few months after summer camp. I often found myself disoriented after camp, stripped of my freak-out and left to fend for myself. Days are now filled with artificial lighting and cubed rooms with few exit signs. I felt boxed into endless hours of power points, and irrelevant dense readings. But I’m being dramatic.
Camp represents the beautifully structured schedule that allows for creativity. There’s no rule without reason. It’s freedom and friendship. It’s natural and open. It’s the mud in between your toes before you hop in the lake that day. It’s a Cabin 4 boy telling a joke that doesn’t make an iota of sense, to a crowd of 100 people, and those very same 100 people clapping and laughing like hyenas, begging for more. It doesn’t hold to restrictive weirdness or arbitrary deadlines. Having experienced camp through middle school, high school, and college, I’ve had most of my epiphanies in life during the summer. And looking back, now more so than ever has it shaped the way I view my past decisions and future ones.
Growing up in the sheltered suburbs, I had it figured out. I did some sports, could play a few chords on guitar, got straight A’s, had an extensive social web, and had the best three friends a girl could ask for. A confident little lady in the eyes of many. But most importantly, I had a plan.
But then there were the few without them. I remember this one kid in our town who would wear old chucks and two dollar garage-sale-looking button downs. He had long hair that was slicked back behind one of his ears as he talked, and a stench of musty pants, or lack of bathing, or who knows, seemed to radiate unapologetically from him. He spoke as if it were the 60’s, always off to the next local music event, putting high school far at the end of his list. He seemed to float as he walked with long strides and would relaxingly hunch his lanky body slightly forward, as if he never had the nervousness to sit up straight before.
He’d pop up now and then downtown, never with a notice, never a call. Pretty sure he didn’t even have a phone. People couldn’t explain him. Why wouldn’t he finish high school? Why did he not have a phone? Why he didn’t seem to have a plan? Gossip blamed it on social weirdness or even the music scene, but evidence has it that he was as kind as a peach. His plan was music, though many reject something as unstructured as music to be one. Blues beats and old riffs would flood from his fingers with whatever instrument he touched. Whether it was his bass, guitar, keyboard, harmonica – give this kid a Q-tip, a wooden stick, and a doorknob and he’d make music.
Everyone knew him, and it being our last year of high school, everyone also knew the pressure of applying for the next step of education. Deadlines, applications, and endless recommendation letters were upon us. But these two pieces of knowledge, were held at opposite sides of the spectrum. Our options were clear: to stay trapped in the suburbs, as our musty panted friend had seemed to choose, or to move on out of our parents’ houses for a new start.
I of course supported and identified with our long haired friend’s blues background, having always wanted to be a front blues singer for a rock band, and found myself jealous and in awe of his natural talent. I could never relax my shoulders as he did, could never nonchalantly jam unannounced at a local show. But most importantly, I could never skip class the way he could, could never miss practice, get a C, the way he could. After all, I was working for something bigger- college, right?
As time went on we would still see him during breaks from college. My friends and I would playfully joke about him when we saw him riding his Schwinn with a ukulele on his back, or seeming to wander aimlessly downtown with a guitar. But the real joke was that we thought we had our lives figured out. Without even actively thinking about it, or being malicious, we elevated ourselves above him. His presence of not having a structured four year plan, somewhat reaffirmed our own nervous decisions of having one.
And of course with my three random switches in Majors later, the haunting realization had dawned on me: I had no plan. Just as he supposedly didn’t. But, this was okay. I will finish my two more semesters of overworked course loads and suffocated creativity, and renew myself with musty pants and camp spirit. Looking back on it, I wish I had the focus and gall to wear those musty pants, to fearlessly front bands and street corners, to pursue dreams of writing and music as our long haired friend did from the start of high school. He has camp in him. And this is not to say those with camp spirit are high school drop-outs. This is to say he did what he loved, and shared it with others with a big smile on his face. He has happiness. And that’s all we can search for right? Live and learn, and carry on with what you love.
Ready for more sap? Yes. I’m ready. So, with 2014 upon me, and my last two semesters, I feel the chains slowly loosen, and an awakening coming on. Arbitrary structure and higher education are like shooting sports for me. No matter how hard I attempted to align my shot, it always went a little to the left. At least I had the waterfront to splash freely. And so I did as a kid, and I will now. I will splash freely with the mustiest of pants and a renewed sense of camp spirit not just during my summer months, but all year round.--------------
Thanks to all those who sent thoughts our way. Happy Halloween, and we'll have more Camp News coming your way in November.