The Reward in Going Away

When I was a child, I loved going to  summer camp.  Girl Scout camp in canvas tents with wooden floors, or much more often church camp (probably because it was very inexpensive and my parents had four kids) in cabins housing 20 girls.   It was the highlight of the summer—getting ready, gathering shampoo and following the list of “recommended” items to bring.   I always brought dark green Herbal Essence shampoo, a heady smelling liquid that’s nothing like the watered down version they sell now

Camp pic, circa mid70s. Author on far left.

We were only there for a week, Sunday to Saturday, but it seemed that entire lifetimes took place during those days.  Romances and friendships built and lost, discoveries about self and place uncovered, dreams forged and reinforced.  On the last day, we all had our group photo signed, and hugged each other as if all was lost, and cried our eyes out.   In the backseat on the way home, I was silent and distant, lost in memories, crushed that it was over for another year.

Back home, it was a slam back into everything ordinary.   The ordinary green telephone on the wall.  The ordinary food.  No singing.  No long deep discussions about…well, anything.  For days, I would be lost in mourning, sure I would never, ever have a good time again.

As an adult, I’ve come to appreciate coming home to ordinariness, but I still love getting ready for a trip, making a list, checking things off, packing special totems, creating rituals.   I learned during those weeks at camp that every journey was a lifetime and I was changed by each one.  Sitting in the meadow at La Foret Camp (which is, ironically, only about a ten minute drive from my current home—it wasn’t even very far away in those days), I dreamed a life for myself.  I learned to connect to other travelers—my fellow campers—and I learned to think outside of the box, challenged by counselors to make us do just that.  (I also learned just about every folk and bible and church song known to modern woman—and you would think that my fellow pilgrims would have appreciated that on the Camino.  Somehow, they liked listening to Bethany, the trained professional opera singer better.)


Before I left for Europe in June, my creative well was very low indeed.  I wouldn’t say dry, but a voice shouting down into it would echo for a long time before hitting water.  It’s a normal part of the process, and probably because of the loss of my Sasha and the long months nursing her, I was a little more weary than usual.  I also had that nagging knee injury, which is not terrible, but is sort of…annoying, you know?

Whatever the reason, I was empty and sick of working by June. The great luxury of a writing life is the time

to go wandering.  I went to camp, first with CR to England and then with a group of women on the Camino, and I still wasn’t finished, because then we went to Orlando, where I spent the first half with my dearest writing buddies, and the second half with CR, playing at Disneyland.

Not only did I wander and chat and think about life in small and large ways, I read like a junkie, popping one book after another in a wild lust for story.  Australian writers, English writers, a bunch of Americans.  Fiction and non-fiction.  Adult and young adult.  Spanish and English. Reading, reading, reading, reading.

What I did not do is write.  I kept a journal, as always, and I wrote the odd blog post or Facebook missive, but other than that, nothing. I didn’t think much about writing, either, and when ideas started pushing into my imagination, auditioning for the next spot, I shoved them away.  Once in awhile, I took a note or two on my phone. Once in awhile, I woke up and thought, “Hmm, that has some merit.”

Mostly, I ignored every single one of them.

The result?

The well is overflowing.  I’ve been in a working frenzy, sometimes working on two different things in a single day because when I’ve reached the end of the juiciness on one project, I find there is energy and excitement left for another bout, so I change locations and start work on the other one.   One morning, an idea I’ve been shoving away for about two years awakened me and dragged me to the computer and didn’t let me go until well after lunch.

It’s lovely.  It’s like going to camp and getting the good stuff afterward, too.  Filling the well is always, always worth it, and I haven’t been taking enough time to do that.  Not at all interested in travel for a little while, you understand, but I am going to go to movies a couple of times a month, and play with my collages (which I realized recently don’t have to be about books all the time) and water color pencils.  I’m taking cello lessons.

It’s all material, right?

Did you go to camp as a child?  Do you fill the well with travel or by some other means?  What hobbies give you that sense of exuberance, whether or not you are a writer?

7 thoughts on “The Reward in Going Away

  1. Kim

    Barbara, I definitely spent my share of time at Girl Scout camp (Camp Henry Kaufman!) and an academic camp at the little university close to my hometown. We got to stay in dorms at that one–imagine kids in fourth through sixth grade already dreaming about college! And when I came home I always wrote stories about what happened there. I think it’s part of how I still remember some of those girls’ names, twenty-five years later.

    Your working frenzy sounds like an amazing gift. Enjoy it, and all the well-filling, too.

  2. I never went to camp as a kid. The biggest thrill of my childhood was a day trip to an Amish farm.

    And maybe stuck with me because today when the well is sucking sand I spend time with the chickens and dogs. Animals revitalize me. I have no idea why.

  3. stephanie

    i didn’t actually go to camp as a child but i just got back from camp were dh was director and had the opportunity to hang out for the summer. some of it was nice – living where someone else took care of my basic necessities – and some of it was less than perfect. but it did allow for a change of scenery and i had a new experience. that’s never wasted on a writer.

  4. Barbara Samuel

    Oh, Kim, that would have been so much fun, staying in the dorms!

    Animals revive me, too, Maria. Dogs have an entire universe in their eyes.

  5. Barb

    I went to music camp, church camp and was a counselor at soccer camp. I also worked in the kitchen at our church’s camp, which was HARD work, but we had a lot of laughs and got the pool to ourselves after the kids were in their cabins for the night. One of my favorite memories is of the head cook, who weighed about 300 pounds, coming down the slide into the pool and causing a small tsunami. She’d do it at least once every night just to make us all laugh – and because it was hotter than hell and she wanted in.

  6. Didn’t much enjoy camp because I was so terribly shy and prone to painful blisters on my feet (and I bet La Foret might even have been one of them, though I remember Bluebell Shelter better near Boulder), but once I started high school I loved mission trips.

    Went on a two-week vacation to Colo this month and enjoyed it very much. Didn’t write a single word, and was ready to get home and write, but ended up seriously ill for a few days after I returned. NOW I’m ready and I sure hope the words flow and aren’t stuck up in the sinuses with all the rest of that junk. 😉 15K to go on a first draft and I’m ready to finish it and start the fun work of revisions!

  7. Gail Clark

    Just wanted to make a comment . . . ahhhhhh the smell of that heady dark green Herbal Essence shampoo. I had long hair, and sometimes I would wash it in the sink, and with my head bent over and washing my hair, I would just breathe in that smell. It was intoxicating, like being deep in a forest. Thanks for that little flash of memory.

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