Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Best Kind of Camp

One summer when I was about seven or eight, my parents sent me to camp. Every morning I’d board a bus full of kids I didn’t know and hunker down for the long ride (made longer by the fact that I always got carsick). Each day was filled with activities that seemed—even then—to be designed to kill as much time as possible. Then we’d all climb back on the bus for the long, hot, queasy ride home.

I was not a happy camper.

The highlight of the summer was supposed to be the overnight stay, where we’d get to sleep in tents without our parents and have lots of fun.

I quietly confessed to the bus driver—a guy in his thirties who seemed to be having as lousy a time as I was, but at least he was getting paid—that I didn’t want to go.

Why, he asked.

I didn’t like bugs, I explained.

At which point, in front of the whole bus full of kids, he whipped out a can of bug spray, said something snarky, and all the kids laughed.

And so, I did the overnight stay. I don’t remember the ‘lots of fun’ part, but do vividly remember the tick check we all had to submit to the next morning.

That may have been the worst kind of camp, but I’ve just returned from the best kind—a retreat, really, where I felt pampered and cared for, met great people, and spent days engaged in activities so interesting it made me wish the days were longer. Plus, there were no bugs!

I joined my buddy Kim T. Griswell, an editor for Highlights, Inc. and Boyds Mills Press, to teach a four-day workshop on narrative nonfiction. The workshop was held in a beautiful old farmhouse near Honesdale, PA (home of the Highlights editorial offices.) The participants stayed in cute private cabins with lovely wood floors and cozy quilts on the beds. The food was wonderful—fresh and healthy and delicious.

Best of all, everyone there was really into nonfiction. We had participants from Alaska to Texas to New York and all spots in between. We tackled issues big (theme, voice, character) and small (at one point, I shared a sentence from my current project and moaned about the stupid pronoun that refuses to work, no matter how hard I revise.)

There was time for discussion, time for work, and time for hanging out with a glass of wine or a warm cup of tea. We even had guest authors and editors who came for dinner and shared their thoughts on writing. I loved meeting so many people who are as passionate about writing nonfiction as I am, and I left Honesdale already looking forward to going to ‘camp’ again.

Kim and I won’t be teaching our class again until 2011, but there are plenty of other workshops offered next year, including two on writing nonfiction. Check ‘em out. Best. Camp. Ever.


Linda Zajac said...

You brought back memories of my miserable camp experience as a very shy kid and not having anyone to share my poptart with. But you also reminded me of a wonderful memorable time in Honesdale at a nature writing workshop.

Barbara Kerley said...

Pop tarts! Waa. The ironic thing is that your camp was probably full of other shy kids wishing that someone would come sit by them at lunch...

Glad you've already been to a workshop. I heard that the nature writing one is really cool.


Cheryl Harness said...

Barbara Kerley, how I wish that nonfiction-mongers camp HAD been bugged then we all could have listened!

Anonymous said...

The 4 days zoomed by like we were riding a roller coaster and left us with an infinite high! I'm still reeling from the thrill of that weekend and I can't wait until I can return for another one but first I've got to go on a diet :)


Wendie O said...

My co-author went to your 'camp' this fall. She came back so inspired and so full of the new ways of thinking and writing that she is busily producing screens and screens of words. (We can't say 'pages and pages' anymore, can we?)

She keeps telling me that I 'must' go next time. Maybe I will. It sounded fantastic. -wendieOld