#93 Summer camp
Aged 40, I went on a summer camp that felt like a summer camp afterward. On drives, walks, and rides since, I’ve oscillated between the joy of having been to camp and the sadness of it being over. Aged 40. A few months ago, looking at my sons, I felt sorry never to have this feeling — camp sickness? — again. And there I am.
The undisputed high point of Buitenkunst (the camp I visited for the second time this year) was the soirée we performed with 150-200 other participants. I sang Beyoncé and Bruno Mars as part of a remix choir. We were mixed with a Moroccan folk song and My Shot from the Hamilton Musical. All set to 90bpm, we danced and sang for over an hour and were merry and together and world peace.
Hamilton soundtrack uploaded to my Garmin, and I’ve been running through Alexander’s life in the miles since. What a remarkable artistic achievement (the soundtrack).
I also marched theatrically, played with audience responses, acted as a statesman, did not perform the other song from Frozen (stage fright), and, uhm… danced and danced when others performed.
Aged 40 and on holiday, I’m pleasantly surprised to have rediscovered the joy of being utterly rubbish at something, trying it, learning it, and enjoying it. For instance, I had played padel for a full hour before I arrived at our current campsite. My wife had gifted us a lesson for our anniversary (great idea). But when I found our campsite friends playing after a run, I jumped in and filled their empty fourth spot. Rubbish, learning, enjoying.
A man at art camp managed to end up in all the great shows. He’s been many, many times, so I asked him for the trick to end up in the great performances. The trick: go to where most people are. You do not have to be good at whatever the others are doing, as long as you enjoy it profoundly.
It’s been, as promised, two months since my last update. All the time in between, I’ve been learning and been rubbish and enjoyed it thoroughly. I like my new job. Next week’s update is all about that. This one’s about summer camp.
I’ve been a leader of summer camps at university. All in all, I did some nine or ten camps. Each camp was entirely different, and each camp was perfectly predictable. From the careful welcome to the dramatic goodbyes, through all the drama and inspiration and serendipity of a group of n 14-18-year-olds, a summer camp follows a classic dramatic structure. What is, after all, the final party but the dénouement, the tragic fall of the week you created together?
As students, we spent a ton of time debriefing each camp, participant, and event. We learned to identify the heroes and antiheroes, the all-important supporting characters. We experimented with crafting the climax to change everyone’s fate for the better, turning the camp into a tragedy for some and a comedy for others. DIY drama school. Rubbish, but learning and enjoying.
Later during the holidays, we took the kids to the Efteling, the Netherlands’ premier amusement park. It was a beautiful summer day, and we could enjoy it fully. It struck me that, while an amusement park is essentially a space full of people making independent choices, the management had crafted an overall narrative for the day. The climax (or denouement) is the Aquanara water show which concluded our day, musically tying the day together. Conveniently located at the exit, what comes after is the drive back home.
Now I’m seeing the summer camp narrative everywhere.
Hamilton’s life, in the way his story is crafted in the Broadway musical and the biographies based on Eliza’s half-century of work, also neatly follows the summer camp curve. A tragedy. I listened to everything after the climax in one long run on a summer’s day through the magnificent nature reserve of the dunes of North Holland, which felt like a bleak New York City that day. First is the Reynolds affair, in which he loses the love of his wife. Then the loss of his son. The promised relief in finding Eliza again, before the denouement in New Jersey, after which only the ‘drive’ home remained.
Thanks for staying with me throughout the two months of silence. If you’re new to this newsletter, I’ve been quiet because of my new job. Next week, I’ll write about the first two months on the job, after which the newsletter will return to being regularly irregular. Thanks again, see you soon!
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