We’re in session at Camp Myrtlewood in Oregon – NBTSC’s home since 1996. This is a guest post by long time staffer and former camper Dandy Denial.
My eyes snap open to the sounds of some obnoxious, tinny tune filling the air. Who, what, where…? my mind spins, trying to make sense of my surroundings. A dark room, filled with the scattered contents of multiple suitcases, dim sunlight filtering through faded curtains. Oh, right. NBTSC. Day Two. My brain boots up, shifts into gear. I awkwardly get dressed, pull my boots on, and head out the door. Stumbling over tree roots and anxiously giving the wasp nest a wide berth, I make my way to the washroom, and try to scrub the scum off of my teeth. Campers are milling to and fro, greeting each other as they pass. By now the awkward attempts to pretend they remember each others names are few and far between, and the salutations are as warm and kind as can be expected before breakfast.
Desperately clutching my coffee mug, I begin the long journey towards the lodge, passing groggy clumps of campers staggering to their feet, damp with dew, trying to calculate the number of hours they actually slept, and whether or not they can be counted on one hand. I blearily return the waves I receive, trying to hide my disbelief at how chipper they are. “they must have modified their brains to transform cuddles into REM sleep”, I mutter to myself, feeling old. As I approach the lodge, caffeine first and foremost on my mind, I become aware of a pounding beat, and looking up from my feet, I glimpse a bizarre sight: spread out at arms length, a cluster of folks appear to be experiencing a group possession? They’re shaking and leaping and twitching, and I’ve half decided to run to get an exorcist when it clicks: morning aerobics! Every day before breakfast, the widely renown and highly acclaimed Vanessa Filkins, AKA The Troublesome Texan (via the marvels of modern technology), has been leading willing victims through an agonizing routine of shimmies and stretches, to the tune of the latest pop jams. Some of them even seem to enjoy it! Scowling, I make a beeline for the coffee. Lifting the mug to my lips is exercise enough for me.
During breakfast, I am joined by a fellow weirdo, and we have a lively discussion about tattoos. I have them, they want them, and we confer about designs for future ideas and potential placement. I am reminded of how it’s been years since I last went under the gun, and I again grapple with self doubt, questioning whether or not I am truly as punk as I think I am. Perhaps I should pull out my pen right now and begin jabbing myself in the arm…? No, that’s a terrible example to set, I decide. Best to wait on that one.
The morning passes, with me continuing the charade that I have a clue what I’m doing, when it comes to leading my advisee group. Fortunately they’re a compassionate bunch, and while it’s doubtful they’re at all fooled, they all encourage my efforts, and in the end we have a great time. This is assisted by the fact that one of them has brought their bagpipes with them! My efforts to play it cool are a dismal failure, and my enthusiasm gushes everywhere as he proceeds to obliterate the forest sounds with the awe-inspiring music he plays, his face turning beet-red from the process.
Heading into lunch, my esteemed colleague asked if I will sit on the healthy sexuality panel. My heart immediately begins to pound, and a litany of flimsy excuses begin to parade through my head. I could claim that I have an important appointment with an aardvark…? But no, I’d already decided that I refuse to be the most shy person on the staff here. So I agree, swallowing down my panic best I can. And speaking of shy people, Jane Bender, AKA The Crimson Cook and I have agreed to lead the shy person’s lunch, and so we settle down together, the unspoken hope that no one else will show up hovering between us. However, other campers do arrive, and we in fact have a pleasant conversation about the ways in which we are shy, and how we feel it adds and subtracts from our experience with the rest of the world. It’s a lovely experience, worth the anxiety of inviting social interaction upon myself.
The rest of the afternoon blurs together as the panel approaches, with a notable highlight that sticks out being the chess workshop that I attend. I consider myself a capable player, and am ashamed when I am battered in my first match, distracted by a neat film camera, as I often am. Determined to do better, I narrow my focus, and devastate my next opponent, not once, but twice. Self esteem restored, I awkwardly gather my things, and hurry onward, as the panel is approaching.
Soon the moment arrives, and I find myself seated in a row with my fellow panelists. Doing my best (and no doubt failing miserably) to appear calm and collected, I gamely translate my thoughts into words, and fumble them out of my mouth in a way that approximates my intended meaning. I am sure that my words are falling in a twisted heap on the floor in front of me, but others seem to appreciate them, and my fellow panelists refer to and build on them, so I must be doing something right. Before long, it’s over, and we are late for dinner and meeting, as we sit and decompress for a few moments.
Later in the evening there is Bonding Night, and we all have the privilege of concluding our day with a plethora of hugs and unconditional affection. Worn out and jittery, I sit in a quite corner, and messily scrawl in my journal, reflecting on how wonderful it is to be here, and how grateful I am for the opportunities this place provides for me to expand beyond my introvert shell.
All photos by Dandy