Over the Summer, both Justin and Garrett attended their first sleep-away camp. It lasted for two weeks and allowed GWE and I just enough time to leave town, get drunk while wine tasting, act like adults again, and then return to Los Angeles as if nothing happened. When we returned, we were met with multiple letters from both boys. Garrett was having the greatest experience of his life and was considering relocating to the woods of Sanger, California full time…at the age of 7. Justin had a different experience. He was not having a good time. He wanted to make it abundantly clear to us that he was having such a terrible time that he never wanted to go back to camp ever again.
Part of me wanted to yell at him and tell him that he better start having fun because this camp was f@#$&%g expensive! But, I decided to take a different route. I didn’t have the greatest camp experiences either when I was a kid. So, I sympathized with his situation and decided to send him this note instead:
Hi Justin –
I saw the letter you mailed home and I’m sorry to hear that you’re not having a good time. I want to tell you about my experiences at camp and give you some advice on what you should think about doing. You’ve got five days left and I think you can find a way to have a great experience there, but it takes a little bit of work and you have to be willing to do things that aren’t in your comfort zone.
Grandma and Papa sent me to a four-week, sleep-away camp starting at your age. I had a miserable experience. I had a very hard time making a connection with anyone. It felt like most of the kids already knew each other or they had more in common with each other than I did. To make matters worse, my cousins were at the same camp. I think it was Grandma and Papa’s hope that (at the very least) my cousins would be friends with me and show me around. They did not. They completely ignored me. I spent the first year alone and I hated every minute of it.
And, it was hot. If you think California is hot, you haven’t felt the humidity of a HOT Georgia Summer. It was so hot on the first year that we couldn’t do any of the lake activities because they lake had dried out. You could walk out on the dock, but it was 10 feet above dry soil. Half the camp’s activities were supposed to be on the lake. But that year, there was no swimming, canoeing, fishing, etc. (Somehow the lake dried up, but Poo Pond was always full. I never understood that.)
Yes, there were activities that I didn’t want to do and thought they were beneath me. I didn’t want to sing songs and I didn’t want to dance around and I really, really hated “Color Wars.” (If they don’t do that, I’ll explain it to you later.) I disliked anything that required running or getting dirty. Just like you, I loved everything tech…and there was little to none of it at camp.
If you ask Grandma, I’m sure she remembers me sending her a note that basically said, “If you loved me, you’d get me out of here.” I’m sure she wasn’t thrilled to get it and she did not come to get me. I felt like I was alone in a place that I didn’t want to be. I was stuck.
That may have been the moment that I realized, it wasn’t up to anyone else to provide me with a good time…or provide me with friends…or make sure I was having a good experience. The truth is, it was completely up to me. So, I’m imparting this (hard-earned) wisdom onto you: Your experiences in camp (and in life) are entirely up to you. If you don’t want to participate and you don’t want to have a good time, you don’t have to. But, if you give a shit 😊 (like I tell you in golf), you may be surprised by the wonderful experiences you end up having by accident.
As I often tell writers, “Bad Decisions lead to Good Stories.” Don’t think going down the waterslide is a good idea? Try doing it anyway. You may get a good story out of it. Don’t think that trying the ropes course seems safe? Try it…you will definitely have a good story. Don’t want to ride the ATV? A good crash will always lead to a good story. Don’t want to fish? Go fishing…and then tell everyone about how the BIG one got away. Good stories and weird experiences are the things that help us create friendships. “You think you had a weird experience on the lake, let me tell you about mine….”
When it came to camp, I made 1 friend. His name was Shlomo. I’m not kidding. He was an exchange student from Israel. He was a weird kid, but my kind of weird. And, then we met a kid named Billy Mitchell. He, too, was weird. He wasn’t Jewish, but his parents sent him to a Jewish camp anyway. And finally, there was “Ice” – the only African American kid in an entirely Jewish camp. Slowly, and by participating, I found friends and we were weird together.
Buddy – it’s up to you. I’m glad you love your art, but it’s sometimes hard to make friends with your nose buried in your sketchbook.
Please try to have a good time. Do something new, something you’ve never done before. And, when you come home, you can tell me how your bad decision led to a great story.