During our last Joshua Tree session, alumni retreat member Celeste Cote put together a comic about her experience.
Hi, my name is Jahsaia, aka Jay. And this is my second year at NBTSC. I didn’t really make any friends my first year because of how unsocial I was. I was a sad little kid with nowhere to go in life, but after that first year I acted like nothing had changed because I was so scared of change and I never wanted people to see me as weak. Now, nearing the end of my second year, I am glad that I came back and that I let myself open up to the people around me. I feel way more comfortable around people that I now know. The people that you meet here are friends for life and some of the best people I’ve ever met. If I could go back and tell myself one thing I would only – well, I don’t know what I would say. The people, the staff, everything – I’ve grown to love everything about this camp. I’m glad I came back. My life has gotten so much better after being able to express how I really feel without being scared of everyone judging me. Being able to be myself has changed my life and having people around me that were the same has only made me better. I’ve grown to love camp and wouldn’t want to change anything about it. I wish that last year I could have talked to more people and wasn’t so scared.
Sitting here, writing this, drinking tea, feeling the wind on my face, thinking back … I don’t have the words to explain how much I’ve grown at this camp. I’m glad that at some level I was able to make friends this year and the only thing I would say to a new camper is have fun and be yourself.
Today is slow but good. [ed note: it’s a “rest day.”] Not much is or is going to happen but it’s good having the time to just relax. I always love talking to my friends and hanging out as we all play games and climb the tree or hike to the top of Vista Point. I love the people I’ve met at camp. But I also love just sitting here in the open field and enjoying the winds.
I am a seventeen year old unschooler, from Wisconsin, that traveled through seven states by train to come to my first ever session of NBTSC, and it has been an adventure to say the least. All the days seem to blend together, and as they go by, I feel more inspired by all the ridiculously creative and unique individuals that I get to spend two awesome weeks with!
Going into camp, I felt pretty confident and excited for new friendships and lasting memories, but I do have to admit when I first got here there were just so many people I didn’t know, and everyone definitely was super intimidating the first few days. I was a little bit worried that everyone was just going to connect with the people they know, but that’s not the kind of place NBTSC is. I honestly have been able to connect with people in ways I haven’t before, and I feel like I’ve known them for years when it has been not even two weeks.
The last two weeks have blended together, but as I type, my definite favorite moments and things pop into my mind.
I love cuddle puddles of all types and it makes me super happy that cuddling and hugs are such a big part of NBTSC!
The food also makes me super happy here! My favorite meals definitely have to be the Indian curry and sushi.
I love the spontaneous parter dancing that happens on some nights and that Milla leads! I did blues dancing twice which is something I haven’t done before, but now I’m inspired to try more partner dancing!
A few days ago I went up to Vista Point for the first time, with Anika and Matt. I didn’t really know what was at the top, so after a very steep hike I was surprised and in love with the gorgeous view of mountains and treetops that were as far as the eye can see.
One on one conversations are, I think, a very important part of camp. Usually they tend to be more deep and honest, and I feel like they not only open my feelings to the person I’m talking to, but they also make me understand my own feelings more. Plus focusing in on one person is just a good way of getting to know someone better!
Workshops are super great. I wish I could go to all of them, and I just really appreciate all the campers and staffers that showcase and teach their passions! My favorites have been the dream boards workshop that Milla led, the tea workshop that J led, and the environmental climate change workshop that Andy led!
Sleeping outside has been one of my favorite parts of camp! I have only done it three times which were in the first week, but I will never forget all the amazing stars and the feeling of waking up outside in the morning air. I really want to do it at least one more night before I leave.
I got to be the MC for our second talent show which was pretty cool because I got to announce a bunch of really talented people on the stage, and I had to think of things to say on the spot.
I really loved going to the ocean field trip because of awesome caves and going into town and buying candy!
I have a lot of inspiration and time for all kinds art forms here. I have been able to write, dance, sketch, friendship bracelet, play music, sing, embroider, collage, and water color at least once each all week!
Having all-gender bathrooms is really unique, I feel, to this camp, and it really makes you realize how much it’s not that big of a deal. I really appreciate that.
TEA! the kitchen staff is super cool about always having two large communal pots of tea available for everyone’s health and happiness, which I love!
Like I said before, it has all been a blur of amazing memories, and I’m sure I’m missing some but it has been a life changing experience and although I’ll miss it a lot I’m super excited to bring all the things I’ve learned here, back home. Like all the love and passion I have for everything I do, just like your typical unschooler.
Awakening to the assurance that there WILL be potatoes at breakfast I drag myself out of the cozy cocoon that is my sleeping bag and into the chilly morning air.
Following the hearty breakfast I speedily transform into an apron clad dishwashing superhero, saving the masses from the mounds of dishes piling up in the kitchen. Once my mission is complete I join the check-in line so that the staff may make sure we’re all still alive. As I get checked in I am alerted to an instance of lice at camp. A staffer marks my name and I join the multitudes queuing up to receive a head check. I come up clean and lice-free! A couple others are not so lucky and are sent to Mama Bear’s cave for treatment. The remaining campers gather in the lodge for morning meeting which begins with announcements by junior staff and dedications from Fairy Godparents to their Fairy Godchildren – dedications of the daily quote, and the hug number. My Fairy Godparent gifts me with the opportunity to end a round of applause.
With the conclusion of morning meeting we disperse into our advisee groups.
The Lodge, softly lit, is a creative space. Danielle guides her project through releasing Art from its confines and into the air. Today we explore drawing as a form of expressing thoughts and feelings to others. I am challenged to draw what fear feels like to me. It is hard but once I start, the symbolism and colors create that emotion on paper.
As we work, Danielle notices my tendency to draw objects – and that I struggle to let go of my preconceived visualizations and just draw with colors and motions that reflect my subconscious inklings. She again challenges me, this time to work through my discomfort and just draw. It is difficult and causes slight anxiety but as I mark the page my thoughts slow down. I worry less about what the drawing looks like and more about how it feels. It feels calm.
In other news a delicious lunch is served and soon after, the siesta bell is rung. This hour is filled with napping, creating, reading, and quiet conversations. I spend my time writing with friends as they drew and talked. The bell rings again to signal the end of siesta and commencement of workshops.
John Jones, a retired camp manager, leads a walk through the Camp Myrtlewood property while presenting information and the history of the ecological forestry management utilized on this land. The beauty of the surroundings enhance his message with a tangible example of the successes and failures of various practices.
As we near his house and homestead, his dog Marley runs out to greet us and escort us directly through the gates and into a garden full of delicious fresh fruits. The apples are ripe and the plums luscious. The blackberries alternate between tart and sweet, the juice making our hands and faces sticky. After filling our tummies with fruit, minds with knowledge, and hearts full of joy we walk across his homemade bridge to the road that leads us back to the Lodge and dinner.
After dinner the lodge transforms magically into a theater. Couches and chairs pulled close around the makeshift stage. Spotlighted and backdropped with a green cloth, this is the place for young poets and singers, musicians, and dancers to perform. The crowd of peers seated on cushions around the room watch with rapture and listen attentively to the stars onstage.
As each take a bow, our M.C. for the evening beckons the next to the spotlight to bring a delightful diversion to our night.
“My day has been goooOOd. I’ve gotten kind of sick, but I’m doing a good job at nipping it in the bud before it gets worse. Especially since it’s been a rest day. That’s helpful. I’m excited for the art show tonight. Gonna dress up to the 9s ya know? Anyway. That’s about it. I’m doing great. Happy to be here. Check.”
Wednesday, August 31. Starting off the day with check ins as usual. My advisory meets at a lovely clearing in the middle of the forest. Sitting in the grass and moss every morning is really calming. Look up, you see a patch of sky, enclosed by the towering trees that surround us. Look down, you see little bugs crawling through the grass. It’s great. I love starting off my day with being comforted by nature.
Since today has been a rest day, I don’t have any super fantastic, out of this world adventures to share with you. The majority of my day was spent on a couch drinking Effer C and eating vegan ramen noodles. However, something very exciting has appeared at camp. Lice! That’s right. And the best part? Most people that have lice are in my cabin. So I had many lice checks today. It’s a good thing I like people playing with my hair.
So after my exciting and CLEARLY physically exhausting day, I started preparing for the evening event. The art show! A lot of people dress up for this event. The best part is being able to walk around the lodge like an art critic with your nose stuck up. Not that I was judging people’s art, but I had huge heels, so what can I say. After I took a good look at everyone’s art, Jasper and I headed to Forest Dell since I still wasn’t feeling good. After a few minutes, a fun group of people showed up. They were playing a game of Slap or Kiss. Almost like spin the bottle, but better! Not much to explain there. I didn’t participate, but Jasper and I had a fun time watching from afar. I must say, it warmed my heart to see how consensual it was. I love camp. No matter where you go, everyone is asking for consent.
To end off my day, what better way to do so than a good game of Jack Seat? A version of NBTSC’s beloved Hot Seat, except where the time is infinite, and it’s only questions for Jack. Really fun. Really inclusive. Love it.
Overall today has been really great. Everyday I have moments during meeting, or when I hug someone, or I’m just laying in the field, where I just think about how grateful I am to actually be here. Ever since last year, I’ve been anticipating these 2 weeks over everything else, and they certainly are not letting me down. I feel at home. I feel loved. I feel accepted. And I feel awfully in love with Not Back To School Camp. I love every tree, every strand of grass, and every single little thing that makes camp what it is. So that’s been my day. Thank you for reading.
Day seven started off with me being woken by, like always, another camper who has graciously volunteered to provided us with our wakeup call for the day. Opening my eyes to the world once more, I was greeted by the ambient sounds of camp and the miscellaneous smells that accompanied them.
I could see my cabin mates preparing themselves. Getting dressed, grabbing supplies, and preforming their morning routines. All with the intent of securing themselves for the oncoming onslaught of compassion, joy, fatigue and wonder. I personally found the morning to be presenting its own challenges that I alone was made to combat. Namely, my own ensnaring mind. Which held me to my sleeping place as I contemplated the various arduous facets of the world I existed in.
After I had freed myself from the impound of my own making, I made my way to the washrooms. While bathing I was once again helplessly held captive by my own daydreams. An impound I’m too often made to face.
As I finally entered myself into the lodge, our common room, I became aware that I had missed check in. And thus, I had broken our admittedly feeble streak of perfection. And in addition, missed the presentation of the song I was to help lead. So I hastily made my way to the front of the room and thankfully managed to make it in time to sing the song to which I had been tasked.
After check in, I walked over to Forest Dell to meet with my advisee group. Whilst with my group, I spoke to them about how I had been feeling lonely. About how I had been feeling as though I was alone in my singular need for companionship. And in addition to this, I proposed a theory. The theory was that I was not alone in my loneliness. That I was not the only one seeking more meaningful connections. Not just with the other campers, but in my life outside of camp. I talked about how in the past, camp events like trust circle and bonding night had created this environment of friendship that I’d been seeking ever after. And that my feelings of loneliness did not stem from me simply needing more companionship than others of my kind, but from the fact that those around me had not allowed themselves the vulnerability normally experienced at those events. So it was then I came to the conclusion that those around me were also feeling the same loneliness I was, but were not able to show it. It then dawned on me, like it had so many times before, the importance of humility. And the ability to bare one’s own soul.
After advisee, I continued to the project I was assigned to. We were crafting “Tape torsos”. Or “Duct tape maché” as I like to call them. We were recreating our own torsos with duct tape. So that we could sew clothes onto a model of ourselves to get accurate measurements. But alas, I was stuck in my own imaginings. The song I was earlier tasked with singing had resonated with me. It played a large part in my being late to check in. I kept imagining a sort of ‘re telling’ of the song. One supposedly sung from the perspective of slaves.
The lyrics were taken from a Leonard Cohen song, but with a different melody. The words were “Forget your perfect offering. Just ring that bell that you can ring. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” In my my daydreams, “Forget your perfect offerings” represented the grim realization slaves were made to face. Giving up on the hope of an easy way out. “Just ring that bell that you can ring.” To me that sounded like someone just doing whatever they can to keep their head up. Also the slamming of mallets on the bolts that held down train tracks. “There is a crack in everything.” No system is perfect. The institution of slavery will end if you keep fighting. “That’s how the light gets in.” We will prevail. In my version it was to be sung in the style of the late Michael Jackson.
I do not remember much of what happened during lunch and siesta so it is beyond my abilities to give an accurate recollection of them.
The next period was the workshop previews. I presented to the group my workshop which was a lesson in music theory. All levels welcome.
The next period was a workshop slot. During which I attended a workshop led by a friend of mine. “Heart Healing,” it was called. We discussed different types of stones and their connection to specific chakras. Wether I believe in such things I cannot say. I am certain there is an infinite amount of knowledge that is unavailable to me. What I am not certain of however, is whether or not any of that knowledge contains proof of the validity of such things.
The next period was dinner. After giving advice to one of the camp leaders about the presentation of the Seeing seen circle, I contemplated my own sense of superiority. It isn’t uncommon for me to begin to see those around me as inferior. What with my musical, physical, and linguistic talents. So I did my best to remind myself of my numerous shortcomings.
While presenting Seeing Seen Circle Grace, the camp leader, stressed that we should primarily share things that we believe could benefit others or ourselves by being shared. Or that we sincerely want people to know about us. So I thought a lot about what I would share. And whether or not I should share at all. And I eventually came to the conclusion that sharing would fit with my philosophies of openness. And that in the spirit of furthering the bonds and understanding between myself others, I sincerely wanted the other campers attending Seeing Seen Circle to learn what they could about me during this event.
During the first portion of Seeing seen, I stepped into the center of the circle for every statement I empathized with. And during the second, where we were supposed to make our own statements, I let everyone know how much I loved them. And how much they meant to me. I let them all know that I am always open to this level of openness and vulnerability.
After hearing the other campers confess their various secret feelings, my theories on the emotional hiddenness of those around me were confirmed. I firmly believe, that with complete understanding, conflict in the world can melt away.
I feel an immense amount of love. For everyone and everything. I believe that a summarization of this day illustrates well these feelings. I very much hope that anyone needing a voice to lift them up can find one in this blog post. And I hope that this was at least somewhat thought provoking. And resonant with you. So to finally close this post I ask, please see camp as the loving place that it is. Please see the potential it has. Please know that the world is not without hope, and please know you are loved.