Finding Your People

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As a self-professed Camp Geek, I’ve grown to embrace my title. There were years in my 20’s where I would try to explain the Wonder of Camp People to non-camp folk. But it is hard to explain what it is like to feel so connected to someone that you can meet them on a Friday and leave on Monday with a sneaking suspicion that you just met your best friend. In fact, I’m aware that even writing that sounds crazy, but there it is, so what can you do? It is daunting to explain what it is like to push yourself out of your comfort zone and share your fears and struggles with total strangers. You’d be surprised that it is almost easier with strangers than when your friends are in the group.

Like I said, I’ve tried to explain it to people, but I’ve mostly given up.

I turned 43 yesterday. The 40’s have been weird for me. I think that’s primarily because I got sick when I was 36 so the latter half of my 30’s was spent seeing doctors, taking drugs, gaining weight from those drugs and carting around an oxygen tank. My friends were hiking, dating and most definitely NOT going to the doctors enough to know their dogs’ names.   Now I’m in the 40’s and sans oxygen tank, way less doctor drama and I feel like I fell asleep for a few years and suddenly now I’m 43.

This afternoon I read Pamela Druckerman’s article in the New York Times What You Learn in Your 40’s (link below.) The line that resonated with me was, “By your 40s, you don’t want to be with the cool people; you want to be with your people.”

I think I might have to worship at the alter of Ms. Druckerman for a moment. You see, Friday I had 3 friends over—three Camp People—to be specific. They came over for about 20 hours. We are Camp People after all, there needed to be sleeping bags. And after the pleasantries of “How was your day?” and “How’s work?” we shifted gears and got down to business. We’d planned a number of activities, fun, sharing and deep to be Camp People together.

Just as a joke and for the sake of tradition we started with a name game.

Me: Ok, we all know them, who has a name game? (keep in mind, we all know each other’s names)

K: I’ve got one. Ok…we’re all on a ship together. My name is K and I’m going to bring a……

It went on from there. I lit up a little. Where else could I say, “Who has a name game?” and have the group effortlessly flow into the activity?

We shared the last photo we’d taken on our phones and the story behind it. We shared the song on our phone we are currently most obsessed with. We shared the photo we are currently obsessed with. We were easing into this—light and breezy—every good cabin session needs to start like this. Low risk.

We went on from there, answering questions, laughing and accumulating inside jokes on the carpet and couch. Just like camp, suddenly the phrase Schmidt Fingers made us all giggle like kids and sent K into a mock-band intro, “Let’s give it up for Schmidt Fingers!” Or when asked why farts smell (it was one of the questions in the box) somehow the phrase Poop Toxins—also an excellent name for a band—came into the conversation and we referenced it repeatedly.

And in the accumulated stories and sharings, there was the activity of sharing a memory, not as the way it occurred but as how you WISH it happened. Memories were shared but tweaked. Other memories of things that never happened were shared as if they had happened. The energy of the room shifted into serious and quiet.

It was an excellent way to start a birthday weekend.

And when I think of these people, ages 24, 32. 39 and 43. I think of how we are a varied group of women. Various levels of education, varying life experience, various families etc. We are still Camp People. It is our common language.

Druckerman is right. “By your 40s, you don’t want to be with the cool people; you want to be with your people.”

Here’s to finding your people.

Link to Druckerman’s article

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/01/opinion/sunday/what-you-learn-in-your-40s.html?WT.mc_id=2015-Q1-KWP-AUD_DEV-0101-0331&WT.mc_ev=click&bicmp=AD&bicmlukp=WT.mc_id&bicmst=1420088400&bicmet=1451624400&ad-keywords=AUDDEVMAR&kwp_0=10646

Some days I’m just not as cool as I would like to be…a patient’s guide.

I’ve been poked, prodded, xrayed, cat scanned, operated on, radiated, examined and infused. I am guinea pig. I am a patient.

Once a month I spend a couple hours sitting in a foam green reclining chair having an immunosuppressant shot through my veins. The nurses find a vein, we both hope for a one-poke success rate and we get to the business of giving me a—wait for it—$14,000 medication in a small baggy the size of a sandwich Ziploc.   Like having a Hyundai for your veins. It chills me a little so I take advantage of the warm blankets they have, open some carefully chosen snacks and entertain myself for the next 2 hours.

Sometime a close friend comes. A small, selective group of individuals have been allowed to observe this, to be welcomed into that part of my life. I like it when they come.   I like pulling back the curtain on that part of my life. It is the part they have only heard me reference in conversation. I like when they hear one of the nurses walk by and yell, “Hey Hot Pants!” to me.

Today I was solo. Solitude in the hospital is often interrupted by bells in the hallways, nurses conversations at the stations outside my room door and the alarm bells that go off on the IV machine’s mechanics. That’ll give you a jolt. When people say, “I’m so sorry you have to do that.” I point out that I get to sit quietly in a chair for 2 hours and pretty much not move.

Forced Be Still time.

And then there are days like today.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have someone ram a bar of soap under the surface of your forearm? Ever wondered what it would feel like to notice that your wrist was suddenly aching more than the typical irritation of where the IV goes in? I know.

I pulled the gauze and tape back, trying to get the tug and pull on my skin to ease, hoping that would help the ache. When I pulled it back, there sat a lump on my forearm, right near my wrist. It was the size of a bar of soap. My eyes bugged and seen it been there me quickly turned to freaked out me.

I grabbed the button to call the nurses and pressed, hearing the beep start outside my door. 2 nurses came in and saw the enormous lump on my arm. They seemed unfazed by it, calling it an infiltration and explaining that the medication apparently had escaped my veins and was now making the lump in my arm. Did they not see the grotesque bulge? Would it have killed them to summon some horror or gasp at the weirdness? Something? Something to act like it was a little bit worthy of a small freak out?

Next time I’m going to heed the self-help books and ask for what I need. It will sound something like this, “Nurse…I need you to say, ‘Holy crap, that’s a biggie. No wonder you panicked and knocked the empty Coke can off the chair’s tray. Let’s just put some heat on that and give it some time to go down.’”

Either that or they could have opened with, “That is an alien baby inside there so we’re going to need you to put this heat on it to make the birth easier.”

Why We Write it Down…stories we forget

Last night, I needed to find some photos of a dear friend.  It was the kind of urgency that comes with the dying, the definitive timeline, and has no wiggle room.  If only I could find the photos, maybe there would be one I had forgotten about, one that would make me say out loud in the quiet of my home, “Oh my gosh, I forgot about that one…”  That photo would carry a balm, a sense of You are losing that person, but not really, because you still have this..  

Would there be any pictures of us?  You know the ones.  Those photos where you can tell how well the friends connect from their comfort in the frame.  You can see the ease, the banter, the unapologetic mutual adoration, and silliness.

Pulling the cardboard box off the steel shelving in my guest room closet, I bent the folding flaps in my hurry to get to the albums.  Grabbing inside I tugged at the first of 3 small albums and opened it flat on my lap.  After only a couple of pages, there they were, pictures from conference.  One in particular had Dear Friend with a grin–not unusual–standing outside with my friend Nicole.

hannah nic YLD

Then I remembered what I didn’t know I had forgotten.

Nicole and I had been in charge of a cabin of seniors in high school.  DF was 18 and was in the cabin (DF is now an adult by the way) and Nicole and I had discovered–as you do at camp–that we connected.  We told the girls we were going for a quick walk while they finished getting ready for bed.  Our group was mellow and they’d likely chat a little and go to sleep.

We wandered the camp and even up to the edge of camp property–talking constantly–and eventually came back….MUCH later than planned.  I imagine we were easily an hour later than we’d planned.  Shameful, I know.  They were fine, by the way.

As we walked up the wooden steps of the cabin we noticed a piece of paper attached to the door.  Our names were on it.  It said, WHERE have you BEEN?  We have been worried SICK.  You said you would be gone for a little bit and it has been over an HOUR.  Sincerely, your CABIN.  

It is possible they grounded us.

We burst out laughing.   I couldn’t have felt more busted than if I had broken curfew as a teenager with my own parents.  We quietly opened the door, unsure of who was still awake.  One foot in the cabin and Dear Friend’s voice nailed us.  “Well look who decided to come back!”   She was clearly enjoying this, this role-reversal.  A teenage fantasy to put the adult in their life on the other end of a reprimand.  Except Dear Friend was trying very hard to keep a straight face.

The photo had brought it all back.  I’d forgotten this.  I thought it had been about the pictures, but the pictures were what brought back the story.  A story that now feels as needed as the photos of my Dear Friend.

And when I wonder if this text will be the last one she sends me, when impending and current sadness hides around the corner, I think I’ll say those same words in my mind and reprimand her.  “Where have you been?  I have been worried sick.”  I will flip it right back at her.

She’ll get it.

Lessons from a Camp Counselor

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Do you need a life boost?  Want to giggle more?  Want to catch yourself smiling?  Below is a list of my top 10 lessons on how to be happier from a seasoned camp counselor.  

Why should you listen to a camp counselor?  Because if you have ever been to camp or around camp people you would know that we are another breed.  Everything we do is heightened.  Bigger laughs.  Longer hugs.  Deeper tears.  Monumentally silly.

Camp people won’t bullshit you.  Camp is a short time in the summer.  We work on a deadline.  None of this Take As Many Years As You Need nonsense.  Honey, when we  go to camp, we go big.  It is why, after a summer of intense experiences, we are often tongue-tied when people ask us how it was.

“How was my life changing time???” We think.

“Um…amazing” is usually all we can come up with.  There are rarely adequate words.

So whether you miss your camp days or are new to this and just want to find out what the fuss is about….this is my gift to you.

10.  Pay attention.

The other day I was driving to the ferry after hiking in the rainforest.  I stopped in Port Gamble (a quaint, if not a bit too Stepford for my tastes, town) to stop at this general store I like.  Instead, there was a thriving public garden with many Dahlias throughout it.  I got out my camera (see the photos) and my macro lens and went at it.  Never even went in the store.

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9.  Be silly. 

At camp we have a Prop Shed.  This is the shed back behind the stage at campfire.  It is filled with the most outstanding combinations of old dresses, funny hats, orange life vests, and oversized men’s blazers.  There is a dark green terry cloth bathrobe.  There is a football helmet.  I’m just getting started.  We argue over who gets to get the most outrageous outfit.  The goofier the better.

One of the dangers of becoming an adult is you forget this side of yourself.  You forget that pink feather boas (yes, I have one) can be fun.  You forget that sometimes wearing goggles and a Marilyn Monroe wig with swim flippers on your feet is the best way to not take yourself seriously.

8.  Sing.  Camp folk excel at this.  We know songs with great titles like  Albert the Camel. We Come From the Mountains and Chicken.  We know actions to songs, when to sway and when to clap.  We know that there are sometimes dirty versions of clean songs.  We embrace it all.  If you are not a camp person you may think all we do is sing Kumbaya.

We do sing it, but we also know the hand motions and all the verses.  BOOM.

7.  If you see something amazing in someone, say it.   Before your Grown-Up Self gets all I don’t do that  on me, hear me out.  People NEED this.  People don’t see the good in themselves nearly as easily as they see the bad.  They need you to point it out.  They may not be ready to believe you, but you should still say it.  You planted the seed.  And then maybe one day they start to think, “Maybe so-and-so is right….”

6.  Be ready for Burrito Night.  The dining hall kitchen has a schedule.  Burrito night is going to happen every Tuesday.   You’re sick of them.  It is fine.  Life goes on.  Be glad you have something to eat.  But stay away from the cheese.  Camp cheese gives you gas.

5.  Ask questions. Get tremendously curious about other people’s lives.  You will be surprised what people will tell you when you ask.  Here are some good starters.

Tell me your life story.

What do you do for fun?

What’s something you wouldn’t normally tell me?

If you were a medication, what would your side effects be?

HINT:  You will need to really listen for these to work.  They will lead to other questions.

4.  Show up.

When people are going through the darkness, show up.  Say, “I’m not going anywhere.” Then mean it.  If they want to talk, show them you can handle it (you can handle it by the way.)

3.  Stop wasting time acting like you think you’re supposed to act and just ACT LIKE YOURSELF.  If your next thought is, But I don’t know who that is...get busy figuring that out.

2.  Geek out about something.  Be shameless about it.  Think of those people who are obsessed with Star Trek.  The general public mocks them.  I admire them.  Be into what you’re into.  If something rev’s your engine, who cares what anyone thinks.  Fear usually sits in the space between “normal” and where you are terrified to go for it and just shamelessly be obsessed with something.

Geek out suggestions- TV shows, the history of basket weaving, Val Kilmer movies, the scientific names of plants, kitchen gadgets and my personal favorite…Broadway musicals.

1.  Love more generously.  Let the people you love know it.  This is too important a matter to leave it to chance, to hope that they will pick up on it.  Be generous with this. I have had camp friends run toward me as we bashed together in a great big hug followed by a sincere, “Love you.”  It is the greatest thing to hear and I am grateful they were courageous enough to say it.

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What is summer to you?

photo (10) water sunset self-portrait sunset boatSummer has a way of sliding over me like my favorite t-shirt. It takes a little while for me to settle into my summer stride.  Maybe you relate. You know, first I have to fight off the nagging feeling that I should use my vacation to be productive, that I should EARN my vacation by a lot of work.  But then I went camping recently (and totally lacking anything productive) and suddenly it felt real.  There was a precise moment (sitting in the camp chair, feet on the picnic bench, joking about our state park neighbors) when I actually said, “This feels like summer.”

I have a long and meaningful relationship with this season.  I went to camp as a kid and then worked at a camp for 19 years.  I GET summer.  It is a magical time for me. Summer isn’t about weather for me. It is about 5 simple things.  What about you?

1) Being outside.  Getting my nature on.  Wandering into the woods or out on a dock and enjoying not being surrounded by people.  Having the view–the extraordinary view–be enough.  Be MORE than enough.

2) Relaxing.  Not I’ve got 15 minutes to sit down relaxing. I’m talking FORGETTING YOU HAVE A JOB relaxing.  This is the moment where your biggest decision is Should I make more tea or finish off the Doritos first?  It isn’t necessarily laziness–though Lord knows that’s an art form–it is about enjoying the pace of right now.  Nowhere to be.

3) Camping.  Now I know this might be sketchy territory for some folks, but hear me out.  Camping (or hiking even) gets you out of your space.  Gets you out of your home.  Gets you out of your parking spot.  It makes you small in the world.  Bye bye TV.  Hello, JUST SIT THERE.  Watch the way the fire licks the sides of the log you just turned over.  Stare up and actually notice that there are stars in the sky.  Stare long enough that you can’t count them.  Sip a cup of tea, tilt back in the chair and balance a book on your knee.  A BOOK.  Remember those? Heaven.

4) Laughter, preferably about something ridiculous and unimportant.  My friend and I, while polishing off cheese quesadillas, killed a good 1/2 hour discussing whether we could buy green vests and pretend to be the volunteer campground hosts.  We talked about what our duties would be and how we would hide the evidence if the real hosts came around in their golf carts.

5)  Being with kindred spirits.  My favorite people on the planet are kindred spirits.  They know me, they get me, they have no desire to change me, they banter, you get the idea.  True summer to me is saying to them,”I want to spend time with you” and their response is “Me too.”

What about you?  What makes your summer magical?

Is That a Bear on the Trail? Today’s Life Lesson…

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Facing a black bear in the middle of the forest never plays out like you think it will.  It is a lot like life that way.  I mean you can prepare and plan and make lists but the reality is it rarely ever happens the way you planned. 

We were stomping along the trail, the familiar rhythm that develops when you’ve been hiking for almost 4 hours and you’re almost back to the car.  It’s when your legs are on auto-pilot, when you have to pee but you’re going to hold it because you’re almost to the privy at the trailhead.  This is the part of the hike when you start to allow your brain to wander to what you really want to eat right now.

Burger…  Pizza….

Your trail mix and granola bar suddenly seem like the boring date you’ve put up with, but certainly don’t want to spend any more time with.

So yesterday, while hiking with K and her dog—only 10 minutes from ending a gorgeous hike in the Olympic National Forest—I glanced uphill in the forest about 50 feet away and thought I saw something…a black blob behind a tree.

I know, you want it to be more glamorous than that.  You want to me regale you with something Hollywood, but it wasn’t like that.

Then I thought I saw the blob move.

“K…stop walking.” I said in the same tone I might say, “K…I like your car.”

She didn’t stop.

“K…stop walking.”  I immediately said again.  This time, my tone was more I mean it.

“Stop.”  She did.  And I pointed out Bear.

She came over next to me, put her hand on my shoulder and said, “We need to look BIG.”  Yes, big is scary.  Let’s look big.

Then I’m almost positive K stood next to me, BUT a little behind me.  As if to say to Bear, “We’re both here, but if you have to chose, take her first.”

“What do we do?” she asked.

Being the experienced backpack trip leader I was suddenly the bear guru.

“We need to make noise to make him go away, let him know we are here.”

Then K started singing “Jingle Bells” at the top of her lungs.

That got his attention.   He looked at us.

I yelled out at him. “Go away bear!  Get out of here.  Move along!  Nothing to see here.”  Stuff like that.

He didn’t move much.

K switched it up in her No No Bear Medley to “Oh Susanna!  Oh don’t you cry for me!”

I whacked my trekking poles together to make more noise and waved them in the air to make us seem big.  Big, with long pokey weapons.

This would have been a great place for a cartoon thinking bubble to appear over Bear’s head.  I would have paid to find out what he thought right then..or if he enjoyed it when K changed to “Oh my darlin’, Oh my darlin’, Oh my darlin’ Clementine!”

He stood still, looking down at us for a minute—time moves slowly in these situations—and eventually moved a little up the hill and stopped.

“What should we do?” K asked before starting her next song.

“Let’s keep going since we know where he is and we can keep making noise.”  I said.

So we got out of there.  Mountain bikers who showed up about 5 minutes after us at the car said the bear had come back down to the trail…probably only minutes after we were gone.

Here is what I learned when faced with a bear.  This is by no means meant to be an authoritative guide.  Just one dufus hiker to another.  Hopefully the lesson will apply to your life as well.

  1. Pay attention to the little stuff.  Not all big furry problems announce themselves at the beginning.  Notice the dark blobs in the woods.
  2. Stop.  Don’t keep barreling down the trail when something is wrong, that can make it worse.
  3. Panic…later.   Right now, face it.  You’ll have plenty of time later to talk about all the ways it could have gone wrong.
  4. Stick together.  Lordy it sound cheesy but seriously, I hiked that trail ALONE last week.  Stand over here and let’s look big together.
  5. There’s no shame in hiding behind a friend.  Sometimes you’ll be the hider and sometimes you’ll be the hidee.  I mean why have friends if your only thought is, “Go deal with it on your own.”  Come stand by me.  Let’s see what happens.
  6. Wave your poles.  Use what you have.  Don’t worry about looking stupid.  If all else fails, you entertained the hell out of a bear.  That’s something to be proud of.
  7. Sing.  K has quite a vast repertoire of songs in her head.  I’m pretty sure she never imagined those songs would be the ones to come to mind.  I’m also sure that at some time in the future I might start humming them around her just to give her a hard time.
  8. When it is time, move on…even if it scares you.

You are braver than you think.

I fought the Ape Caves and the Ape Caves won…

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When Don invited me to go to the Ape Caves, I thought he was joking.

Did you say Ape Caves?

Ape Caves are the “longest continuous lava tube in the continental U.S.” (thank you very much Wikipedia) and are located in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Southwest-ish Washington. They are a balmy 42 degrees year round.   He thought we should hike it.

Hiking in the dark didn’t seem like the smartest idea, but it had been so long since I had hiked anywhere—sans oxygen tank—I was anxious to prove myself. There were times I was constantly trying to prove that I could handle things.

Traveling alone.

Getting a disease.

Carting an oxygen tank around at 36.

Friends getting cancer at an exceptionally high rate and especially young ages.

I wanted others to believe that I could handle it. I wanted to believe it myself, that I have somehow “got this.” I wanted to think that what drops other people to the floor would not drop me. I would be the exception. I wanted to believe that I would not be disarmed by tests, by drugs, by side effects, by the anticipation of massive loss.

So—hiking boots firmly tied, flashlight and headlamp at the ready—we descended into the cave.   Its walls damp and green further and further down until they were bare and almost entirely dark. The floor was uneven and rough. I wanted my stride to be confident, handling each up and down of natural steps with agility and comfort.

Instead I was awkward. My arms stretched to the side at times, ready to catch myself with each unseen crack and drop of the floor beneath me. My headlamp—which seemed just fine when I’d checked it above ground, was less beacon, more tealight down here.

It’s tough to prove yourself when you look as if you might land on your butt at any moment.

About a mile into the cave Don and I waited till we were alone and shut off our lights. No one else was around as we put our hands in front of our faces—totally unable to see them—and marveled at our own blindness.

Further in the tunnel—in a moment we will call Ultimate Graceful Essence—I bought it. A sideways falling with my hands smashing awkwardly onto the rocky floor, my right hip smacked the pumpkin-size rock with all my body weight and my knees scraped along the calloused surface of the lava tube.

I’m not sure which happened first, the bleeding or the swearing.

Bleeding hand with peeled back skin like chipped paint and blood mixed with dirt and stinging. My knees—bleeding—looked like a 8 year old who had fallen off their bike and wanders into the house with dripped blood down the shins. Genius. Could you pick a little less convenient place to bite it? My hip ached. For a moment I was afraid to move out of fear I had really hurt myself and moving would make it worse.

There was something a little embarrassing about having a place called Ape Caves kick my ass. Had they had a more intimidating name it might have been a point of pride for me. I wish I could have impressed people with things like….

Dragon’s Gauntlet showed me who’s boss.

Or

Satan’s Wall really schooled me.

Instead, the truth of it was The Ape Caves—named after a Boy Scout troop by the way—bullied me.

Still, there was something about it. Getting up—battle wounds still bleeding—and continuing on. There was something bold about it for me. If it hadn’t hurt so much I might have sat down on the ground and laughed about it. Those caves were a physical manifestation of the butt kicking I had taken for the last 4 years. But you get up. Why? Because really, what is the alternative?

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