I just got home from camp. I’m exhausted, I’m hyper emotional. I’m burnt and bruised from being out of kitchen practice and a klutz in general. But I’m also happy, refreshed and grateful once again for the experience of community.
Going to camp at 13 is hard. Going to camp at 32 is harder. The stakes are higher, the emotions are deeper and the ripple effect is much longer. At 32, all of a sudden, it feels like everything, even camp, is more serious. I think perhaps it’s because camp at 32 is intentional, whereas camp as 13 is expected. And even though I’ve been going back to camp for almost my entire adult life, this year felt specifically unique to me. Like I have aged out of being young and beautiful and exciting but am too easily flustered to be confident in my own self, firm and knowledgable. My guess is that a lot of these feelings are just a buildup from the year I’ve had. My camp self has had to evolve and like my everyday self, I haven’t emotionally quite caught up yet. I imagine that this is not unique to me, and that as a woman, every year wedges a wider divide between who you were and who you are and how long it’s appropriate to pretend the former. I know this is potentially hyperbolic, but at 32, I’m still living a full catastrophe life and with that comes the idea that people will stop wanting to be around me because my skin is not as smooth as it was, I’m more serious than I used to be and I haven’t worn a sequin in a few years. And when the setting is a room full of 250 people you admire and find to be interesting and beautiful, it’s easier to regress into feeling less than than it is to remember that maybe those people feel the same way about you. Some of them, maybe.
That being said, I could probably talk forever about how much I think about emotional neutrality – this desire to live a life void of all of these neurosis, to be at ease with who I am and how I think that people see me. Because I live in a state of constant battle of not caring what other people think and caring to the point of anxiety, the idea of neutrality sounds like heaven. But emotional neutrality to counterbalance an inferiority complex seems like it would take all the excitement out of life. I might think of it like “Brave New World.” Does the idea of a Soma-like pill excite me with it’s ability to quell all anxiety and deploy rose colored glasses for every situation? Of course. Do I think that I’d chose it over my own personal brand of anxiety? Probably not.
In my experience, when I think about neutrality, it’s almost an ethereal idea. Something that isn’t real, that could never be real. The other thing about neutrality is that I never seem to put myself in positions where I can expect neutrality either in my behaviors or in the the position in which I put myself for others to see me.
I take high stakes, high stress positions at work. I do more than I should and I always raise my hand to do more. I put myself out there in a way that I don’t need to, in a way that someone seeking any kind of emotional neutrality wouldn’t. And of course, going to camp at 32, to cook for a lodge full of people, something truly outside of my daily comfort zone, is opening myself up to not only the polars of emotion on either side of neutrality, but also the distinct vulnerability that comes with putting yourself in a position of power when it comes to something as personal as food.
Camp for me has always been an exercise in seeking centeredness, if not truly neutrality. A place where I alternately was able to learn to grow into myself when I was young, grow into some type of feigned confidence as a young adult and to find some Walden-esque peacefulness as an adult.
But I can’t pretend that I thought that camp this year would bring any peacefulness, Walden-esque or otherwise.
So I guess all of this becomes a question of why I keep going back if there’s even a part of me that wants even a little neutrality to my emotions.
It’s a question that other people have – “Why would a straight* woman go to gay camp to work your ass off all week as your vacation?”
And it’s a question that I ask myself all the time “Why would I do something that puts me in such a vulnerable emotional position when I probably should spend the week at a meditation retreat or some other bougie self care situation to try to rid myself of the daily evils of anxiety?”
I think the answer to the emotional question is that I truly believe that the more stress I put myself through, the less I will ultimately feel it. This has proven to be true for the more tangible anxieties of my day job and so I imagine the more overarching anxieties will have to break at some point too. I would not suggest you try this at home, but I like to think it might be working for me.
But really I go to camp because there are all of these things that override my own emotional fragility and all of these things that pull me in, year after year.
I think the true answer is that I go to camp because it’s my spiritual home.
I go to camp because it’s so hard. It’s hard to be on my feet for 16 hours a day, it’s hard to know how much to order, it’s hard to remember everything and everyone and do it all well. It’s important to do things that are hard. It’s easy to become complacent.
I go to camp because I’ve never experienced community like it.
I go to camp because the sky over the lake reminds me that change makes the world go round. That life, like the clouds, is always moving, always changing. and that change is sometimes swift and sometimes stale, but it happens. And while everyone can see the beauty in a Magritte sky, it’s seeing the beauty in the rain clouds that is what’s truly important.
I go to camp because the physical space holds more memories for me than any other place in the universe. And as much as we have the embrace the change of a fast moving rain cloud, we also have to reflect on where that rain cloud has been already.
I go to camp because somehow they haven’t caught on to the fact that I have no idea what I’m doing and they let me unleash my inner Bubby to feed a lot of people a lot of food. And nothing makes me feel better than feeding people.
I go to camp because in my day job, I am a strategist, not a creative. At camp, I get to be a creative.
I go to camp because I love to dance.
I go to camp because it challenges my physical being as much as it does my emotional being. Solving branding challenges and feeding a large crowd are extremely different. The pivot gives me a jump start and re-calibrates my perspective.
I go to camp because I love watching people find their own fearlessness.
I go to camp because it gives me a place to find my fearlessness.
I go to camp for the hugs.
I go to camp for the sound of rain on my cabin’s tin roof.
I go to camp because no makeup makes me feel as beautiful as I feel covered in lake.
I go to camp because the smell of a fireplace at dawn is the greatest smell in the world.
I go to camp because are you really living if you aren’t skinny dipping under the moon annually?
I go to camp because it’s important to remember the good guys still exist.
I go to camp because I like to remind myself that I can still surprise myself.
I go to camp because when the nucleus of something is love, love is always present.
I go to camp because crying is a welcome form of expression and I really like to cry.
I go to camp because even when you can’t quite articulate your feelings, someone knows exactly what you need.
I go to camp because as self conscious as I feel, I also never feel more like my true self.
And finally, I go to camp because when you find a good tribe, it’s impossible to stay away for too long. In fact, it’s detrimental to stay away for too long.
Darlings, I guess this was a long winded way of saying that nothing in life is easy. And that even the things that you think you want are far more convoluted than they appear to be. And that nobody is normal and everybody is normal. And that I worry too much about the way I look or the way I present. And that 32 is young. And that it’s an honor and a privilege to get to turn on the ovens once a year in a place that means so much to me. And that I can’t think of anything that should make me happier. And that I miss it so much. And that I’m happy right now, writing this weird thing about how I can’t seem to get life right, but can anybody really? And is getting life right a thing that ever happens? And is getting life right more fun than getting it wrong? And is it ok that I use this forum to lay it all out there? Or does that just feed into the vulnerability I already feel? And that maybe I go to camp as an emotional cleansing because it does bring out all of these questions and emotions and they are different from the things I think about everyday and sometimes new anxieties can be exciting and terrifying at the same time.
Darlings, I don’t know.
*I don’t really think straight is the right way to describe my own orientation. But it’s always seemed to be the easiest for both myself and others, especially considering I’m in a long term heterosexual relationship. It’s not that I’m bothered by it, necessarily, it just feels a little too inflexible for me.