Saturday, July 19, 2008

Rowe Jr. High Camp: Week 3 and Post-Camp

Throughout all of camp, I wore a button on my backpack, which I'd made in the art room on one of the first days. It had a picture of a fishnet leg and the phrase: "The Shakers Brief Eternity." I'd taken the phrase from a National Geographic, the picture from some bad fashion rag, and the sentiment is one of my favorites about camp. The "shakers" of course are not the religious group, but the campers and staff, people who are bouncing around in their greatness, trying everything they can think of to expand and explode into something new. The "brief eternity" is camp. When camp is happening, it feels as though it's the only thing that has ever happened. It feels as though it could never end. What is scheduled to occur after camp is ludicrous, unreal, unimportant. Then, like a dream, it's over, and trying to explain it to anyone is the most daunting task in the world. (Pic is me and Kelsey at Pelham Lake, looking like sisters).

During the last few days of camp, we had to send two campers home for physical violence. I've been percolating on this issue for some time--we had to do the same thing last year--and I will likely write a great deal more about the issue of how to deal with physical aggression in a staunchly non-violent community like Rowe. Suffice it to say that right now, our systems are paltry and unhelpful to kids who live in a violent world. "Don't do that here," we say, and they do their best to comply, usually. This time it was complicated by the fact that the two involved were a boy and a girl. The girl hit the boy because he pushed her, and in her mind, no man should ever "lay a hand" on a girl. However, she'd been as involved in the provocation as he had--many nasty words exchanged between them. In his mind, she was as culpable as he--and then when she punched in response to his push, she became the aggressor. They both believed themselves to be making a point and defending themselves. They left camp without expressing any remorse. It's incredibly befuddling, and an almost perfectly microcosmic example of the confused state of feminism: does a "strong" woman assert her right not to ever be victimized physically by showing physical force? does a "strong" woman avoid all violence? does a "strong" woman have the right to get just as scrappy as the boys? I invite your feelings here--I'm torn between thinking that violence from 14-year-olds can't have the reflective, deliberate social implications as violence from a 30-year old woman in the middle of an attack (and so we were right to condemn it on both sides) and thinking that anyone who feels physically threatened gets to fight back, period. I certainly have thrown my share of elbows, smacks, and pushes when a man has tried to intimidate me--and I do believe that the revolution against senseless violence has to come from those who have traditionally been "victims" refusing to be so. But this was no cut-and-dry victim/aggressor situation, as both participants had been talking shit for days and days. What then?

But of course that wasn't the only salient bit of the end of camp. Our last dance, called the "Hyphy Cotillion" (in reference to the fashion/music movement in Oakland, CA) was transcendent, with all 100 people jumping in the air in unison, running in a huge circle, and singing the "oh-oh-oh-oh's" in U2's Pride (in the Name of Love). During our Closing on the day camp ended, Ben and I gave each camper and staff a red glass bead on a hemp string, and told them to attach some of their camp memories to it, so that they could take Rowe with them back into their daily lives and continue to feel supported in their efforts to be unique, honest, whole people.

Then, it was over, and a very strange psychological effect occurred--which I don't remember from last year. I became primed for mischief. It was as if spending a month feeling so responsible had left me craving irresponsibility. I stayed at Rowe for two extra days in order to attend a Director's meeting with the heads of the other camps. I had nothing in particular to do until the meeting, which meant that all I wanted to do was stay up late, laugh my head off, drink a Red Stripe in the back of a new friend's truck, turn purple in the sauna, and sneak around being a bad girl. I had a perfect little post-camp vacation, and was reminded that ultimately I am able to carry it all: the grand responsibility of important work and a riotous desire to shake it all up. I was reminded that, in essence, at least for MY work, these are the same activity, even if it doesn't seem so when I'm wearing the camp director hat.

Now I am in Seattle, drinking coffee by the window at the Green Tortise hostel, one day away from pushing north into Alaska on a cruise ship with godmomma Susan. I'm so grateful for what's happening I can barely understand it.

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