Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Get in shape, GRRRL: or, Rock Camp, Session II

When I last posted, I was dealing with an unfortunate combination of what one might call post-(camp) partum depression and very real, very serious distress over unrelated, un-processed emotional traumas. So I'm happy to report that, while I currently have a bit of post second-session-of-camp partum depression (which is really 'ugh, summer is over?!' bummedness), I've spent the time between sessions thinking a lot and working hard, and I feel much better than I did then. Camp was much less draining this time around, and I was able to enjoy it a lot more than I did in July.


A fellow volunteer celebrates a victory. Credit: Kate Milford.

I'm sure that the intervening weeks of reflection on my feelings had a lot to do with this, but I can't take all of the credit. Camp was a bit easier for practical reasons: I taught the advanced guitar section, which meant a smaller class, older campers, and some repeat students from previous summers. We also had the indispensable enthusiasm and assistance of our intern, Sophie, to whom I feel indebted.

Less classroom-related anxiety made it easier for me to socialize, as did the return of favorite volunteers from previous summers. Band coach and camp devotee Sarah made hours of kitchen drudgery go by quickly, while many hilarious counselors, both new and old, kept downtime in the volunteer lounge entertaining.

One day while I was in the lounge checking my e-mail, I overheard volunteers Vaughn and Jayne indulging in some bicker-y bantering (you know, the type that only seems to happen between bandmates). "You need to get in shape, girl!" Jayne snapped. Vaughn responded by singing the same thing back, "Get in shape, GIRL…" So of course, I had to butt in, and ask what they were talking about. "Youtube it," Jayne instructed. "Trust me, it's worth it."

I was expecting the line to be a reference to some really inappropriate SNL digital skit or something. Instead, it turned out to be from this:

In true rock camp fashion, Vaughn and Jayne discovered this kind of ridiculous, kind of really offensive, unbearably '80s attempt to capitalize on the health of young girls and set about reclaiming it, and I was there to support them. "It's like saying 'Get it together!'" Jayne explained, a kind of funny, colloquial way to express both concern and support, with both caring and a smidge of irony. We agreed that it's the sort of thing that clearly needs to be said "like, 20,000 times a day", and we got close. By the end of the week, the versatile and humorous Get in Shape! had become camp's new unofficial mantra, and sort of my own personal affirmation, as well.

Good times, for sure, but camp certainly wasn't without its difficulties. It was, as always, exhausting. There were the usual creative differences within the campers' bands, which mediating can be trying for volunteers and staff. And we had a few natural disasters, as well: first there was the earthquake, and then there was the threat of Hurricane Irene, and the transit system shutdown planned for the day of the showcase.


These alerts were all over the electronic highway signs that day. via

August 26, 2011, the Friday of camp week, dawned with the usual combination of excitement, tired, and premature nostalgia, as well as a hint of worry about the predicted widespread flooding of all of New York City. I was on site and multitasking by 8:15, somehow helping to set up breakfast, eat something myself, and help with reception all at once. I remember that day being humid and dreary, and I also remember that I was worrying about what to do about the showcase: I wanted to go, but knew that between the weather and lack of public transport, I probably shouldn't risk going into Brooklyn for it if I didn't have to be there.

Fortunately, I was spared this gutwrenching decision; in a typically bold move, the camp staff decided to hold the showcase not on that Saturday, but to instead have it that Friday, at 5pm, at camp. E-mails were sent to parents and caretakers, and the announcement was officially made at lunchtime, around 1pm.

I doubt I'm doing a good job of conveying it here, but, it was kind of nuts, to show up at camp expecting a normal Friday, and then end up staying for a two hour show, not to mention the volunteer after party. It was a long-ass day; many snacks and great amounts of coffee were consumed. But somehow we all soldiered through it.

We rallied, we had the showcase, and then we partied like the next day a hurricane might wipe us all out. I was a bit disappointed that the campers didn't get to have their day at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, where the showcase is usually held, but I'm also grateful that the campers had their showcase at all, and that I got to be there. One of the staff drew a comparison between our camp cafeteria showcase and a massive house show, which is sort of how it felt, and that's definitely not a bad thing.

I think that there was a general and shared sense of disbelief at the after party. A little disbelief that we'd decided to do things differently, that we'd actually made it work, and that we were all somehow still standing. There was also the usual sense of camaraderie that comes with a week of talking, laughing, and working closely with a small group of people, no doubt intensified by a literally incredible day and the expectation of real catastrophe that same weekend.

I eventually got over the shock though, and at that point, it was hard to be anything but inspired. Camp usually manages to expand your notion of what's possible, of the potential of both individuals and collectives, of how much we can both give and accept in return, of how different the world could look and be (far-flung as that may sound). This time around, camp helped me realize that, within the realm of possibility is my own survival, and maybe even my ability to 'get in shape', so to speak.