A Baby Boomer Goes To Camp

A Baby Boomer Goes To Camp

By: Beth Lawrence, copyright 2005

As I look around the dining commons on my first day at camp, I'm struck by all the shining faces, the effortless smiles and easy laughter. I'm also comforted by the sight of so much…grey hair! No, there are no children in sight, only 140 or so baby boomers giddy from the idea that their cell phone won't be ringing for a full week. Okay, for the first day you feel an uncomfortable twinge as you think about checking your messages. Then you realize you don't have to, and a heavy burden drops from your shoulders. And you don't have to cook, either; or take a shower if you don't want to. You can go swimming in the lake without asking permission, and can even take a nap whenever you feel like it. But who wants to nap when there's non-stop music everywhere you turn. Bluegrass in the dining hall, Blues by the lake; a ukulele jam in Cabin 5!

From all walks of life, adults leave their harried lives to take part in an emerging ritual…going back to camp. Some of these folks have long since chucked the Caribbean resort vacation for a week of Spartan living at camp. The pay off is a truly transformative experience that begs to be repeated year after year. Who wants the French Riviera when you can share a rustic cabin with six other campers!

For the last two summers I've had the extraordinary experience of going back to camp teaching voice and performance skills at the Puget Sound Guitar Workshop in Port Orchard, Washington. When I was first approached to teach at PSGW, I was filled with a vague apprehension. Camp? What kinds of people go to Camp? As I settled in on my first day, I found that there was a definite structure that you had to adhere to if you wanted to eat, get to class and take part in jams and workshops, but that structure blended seamlessly with an ‘anything goes' undercurrent. I was still getting the feel of things when on my second day a miraculous thing happened. After teaching my second class of the day I wandered down to a pristine lake, upon which the camp rests. Here I witnessed grown adults sunning on the raft about 50 feet from shore; others laughing and talking about life and the glories of ageing; and yet others invited me to swim out to the half submerged log in the middle of the lake. “Okay, why not', I thought, so we all swam out like a pod of dolphins, laughing and cajoling each other along. Obviously, these were camp veterans, for they all soon piled onto the old log, standing towards one end, with the appointed ‘diver' at the other. On the count of three we all jumped off the log, sending our ungraceful diver shooting out of the water, thrown up by the flailing log. Each in turn got their chance to be flung off the log while adopting some silly pose, much to the delight of all. Delight. Did I say delight? It was then that I felt the first, delicious wave of pure joy sweep over me, right then and there, surrounded by naturally crinkled, round-bellied and raucous middle-agers like myself. No one cared that we were a bit saggy; that we needed our glasses to see the shore, or that we didn't look like Demi Moore at 40. We were just ourselves. No judgment, no illusions, just the blissful freedom of being. Our culture is one of façade and false impressions. We spend most of our time being someone, or something we're not, and suffering from the anxiety of keeping up those appearances. One thing I preach to my voice students is that it's essential to reveal your authentic self when on stage. That's the only real way to connect with someone emotionally. And so, to finally be surrounded by a collection of adults who suddenly had no responsibilities, no hidden agendas, nothing to do but live in the moment and immerse them selves in music, was, in a word, liberating. And then in a flash of irrepressible joy, I remembered. I remembered what it was like to be a kid again. A kid at camp. And on that day, my life changed.

I discovered firsthand what the camp experience could do for an adult who has little time in life to indulge in creative passions. It reawakens the soul. It opens the mind to think in expanding and unexpected ways. It allows you to drop your inflated ego at the door. No one cares what your zip code is or what your portfolio is worth. You're just a camper who loves music, and for this one week, gets to stay up all night playing guitar, if it suits your fancy. Everyone should have the camp experience. It shakes you out of your ‘reality' based world and reminds you what's really important. Living today. Living spontaneously. Being silly. Laughing too much. Feeling validated and supported. Accepting your fellow man for what he is inside, and ultimately, just accepting. And when you adopt this new camp reality, something inside you opens up, like a lotus. Your layers of fear, of hiding, of not feeling good enough, just drop away. And when you're not afraid, you become empowered. You try, you dare, you awaken a warrior inside yourself that says ‘Yes! I can!'

Yes, you become exposed at camp because you've thankfully dropped all those age-old defenses. You don't need to protect yourself anymore, because with all the good vibes swirling around, you are safe. It's in those moments of raw exposure that miracles happen. The greatest, most fulfilling experiences of my life as a ‘teacher' have come in helping a camper strip away years of crap, as they literally find their voice . It's not unusual for them to burst into tears, grown men included. One beautiful woman broke down, saying ‘I haven't heard that voice in 20 years. I stopped singing when my Choir teacher humiliated me in front of the class for not blending. I've hidden that voice all these years.' And it's not just her voice she was hiding. It was years of grief and longing at putting aside something she loved, something that gave her joy. In one fell swoop, a part of her died. But that day in camp, that part of her came alive again. That voice that had so long been denied burst out, gloriously, loudly, and without guilt or shame. She became free, and I was there to help her get free. It couldn't have happened without the dynamics of camp, where your muse can come out to play without reproach. Everyone should have that opportunity to let their muse stand proudly beside them, declaring that they will never again deny their passions, demanding that their artistic soul be honored and cherished and nurtured. We are all creative creatures yearning to dance, sing, and play through life. Camp helps you remember that. I have seen scores of campers experience remarkable breakthroughs that affect every area of their lives. I've had many people tell me in complete earnestness, ‘you have changed my life!' If I've done nothing else on this earth, perhaps that should be enough, for just one person to feel that I have opened a chink in the wall they have built around their hearts, and helped have them to escape. Camp can do that. Camp can help you get free.

Then, when your glorious week ends and you have to turn on your phone, drive your car to the ferry and say goodbye to people who just might know you better than anyone else in the world, you feel adrift. The sun is glary, the muszak harsh. People aren't very friendly. That old cloak of responsibility creeps upon your shoulders, and you sigh. But then, a seabird passes overhead, calling you to remember what you've just experienced, and you vow to live more authentically, more simply, more in tune with your own internal compass, more in harmony with your ever patient muse. Why can't life be more like camp? It can. It's all a matter of choice.

Beth Lawrence is the only expert in the country teaching The Lawrence Vocal System; a holistic approach to voice coaching and therapy honoring the connection of body, mind and spirit. Beth is the CEO of Viva La Voice!, a company offering private coaching, classes/workshops in the performing arts, and music camps for women. To learn more: www.VivaLaVoice.com

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