A lot of my friends are posting about summer camps for their kids. I started thinking, how cool would it be to have a summer camp where kids who love to write could come and do writing exercises, share work, and feel accomplished at the end of the summer program? Kind of made me wish I had a place and insurance and all the practical stuff to go along with “Hey, let’s take some teen writers and collect them for a couple of hours a day for a few weeks and see what comes out of it!”
And that reminded me of one summer, I believe it was the summer between 5th and 6th grades, the transition between elementary and middle school. My parents sent my brother and me to the city-sponsored camp, held at my elementary school. It was a fairly standard camp, I guess, that allowed a lot of freedom to play with adult supervision. And I remember meeting a couple of girls my age with whom I would sit down for a little while each day, and we wrote “our books.” We brought notebook paper from home and made “book covers” with construction paper and crayons. I was ever the hopeless romantic then, and my two “books” that summer were called True Love and Love’s Arrow. I still have them. They are prime examples of Anne Lamott’s “shitty first drafts.”
Something else happened that summer. I’d just come off a really bad year of being what we would now call bullied, but back then, “picked on” would have been the phrase of choice. In our summer camp was a boy who had been in my 5th grade class. I remember at the end of the summer he came up to me and apologized for treating me badly. He said I was really nice and he was sorry he hadn’t gotten the chance to know me better. It didn’t make up for his climbing on the bandwagon with the kids who teased me mercilessly, but it was proof, even for a minute, that I was NOT as worthless as I’d felt.
And for me, those two things combined compelled me to go on writing. It started out as company when I had no friends to speak of, then morphed into catharsis when I’d put mean people into my books and give them horrible deaths, disfigurements, or teen pregnancies. (Yes, I watched soap operas as a young person. What gave it away?) Now, writing is so ingrained in me that even if I’m not actively writing, I’m still thinking about writing in some way. It’s a blessing and a curse. But I wouldn’t give it up for the world.