Camp friends

Here at the Glen I’m listening and talking all the time. In and out of class, particularly out of class. They’re the conversations one had at 3 a.m. in college, that shift from mysteries-of-the-universe profound, to profoundly silly, then over into practical problem-solving, and back around again. Except we have them all day… and into the night. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Bookstore, hallway, stairwell, koi pond. I turn to whomever is next to me and we’re off.

For me it’s one of the Glen’s great treasures—I love love love this kind of talking. I would do it all the time if I could, even if my brain melted every day the way it did after dinner yesterday.

Today’s been more quiet for me: I missed the boat (well, car caravan of buddies) heading to town after lunch, so instead I climbed back in my room and opened a copy of Elle. Yes, the fashion magazine… I figured a mental break might be wise.

Over the course of a few hours, our relationship plays out like a montage from a ’90s rom-com… . In reality, we’re two hetero women with dovetailing agendas that require fast-tracked friendship and shoehorned camaraderie. It’s not as calculated as it sounds. We like each other a lot, but we both know this will likely be a one-night stand. [The cinematographer Kirsten Johnson says,] “Look at us: We’re doing this, and then we never talk to each other again.”
—”Exposing Herself,” by Christine Spines, Elle Magazine Oct 2016, p276

Heeyyyyy. Wait a minute.

The situation for the article is different than mine: in the article a professional writer and a professional image-maker come into conjunction to create something together—that is, the magazine article. They’re skilled at their ways of making, so they set briskly to work. It just so happens that both their creative-forms operate better under trust and intimacy… so they’ve briskly built both. But when the work is over, they both know the implicit rules are that the intimacy is dropped. That continuing the connection is the thing that must be negotiated.

Like camp.

I first went to sleep-away camp, Girl Scout camp, in the summer I moved to Louisville. The summer I turned eight. I’d barely met anyone in my new neighborhood; we’d moved in June, and school was out. My mother decided that camp—and Girl Scout community—would build a good bridge from our move to the start of the school year. And I slipped under the age cutoff.

Camp life scratched itches I didn’t know I had; platform tents in the woods became my jam. Two weeks at a pop, as many pops each summer as I could fit in between my grandparent visits and art classes. But there was one aspect of camp life that, while I played along, never made any sense to me:

the last-day exchange of the addresses.

This may be a girl-thing, but at the end of two weeks of being in the same cluster of tents (a.k.a. “unit”), doing the same activities, and trailing behind the same teen mentor-catherders, the girls in each unit hug each other, often weepily, and swear they will keep in touch. We will write every day! We will be friends forever!

I never doubted the “friends forever” part. If Lauren from Uniontown walks up to me tonight, we’re going for coffee immediately. (What happened to that boyfriend?)

But even at age eight I never thought I would write. Not even once.
And I was correct, and not only on my end.

Building these deep friendships, then walking away, never bothered me. I delighted in the intensity and the intimacy such that I felt blessed no matter how ephemeral the connection. However, I quickly figured out that I shouldn’t mention my ease. Other girls weren’t okay with that—temporary was not allowed. It all had to be permanent, every day, forever, or it couldn’t (didn’t?) happen. Or at least we all had to pretend that, until we got home.


#Glenlife is, in part, #camplife. A collection of extremely like-minded folk (or why would one show up?) mingle on a small college campus for a week. We bring an assortment of preferred art-forms, but we’re all of us people deeply interested in artmaking and (Christian) faith. Few of us have access to much more than one or two colleagues like this at home; that’s a large part of what draws us here. So I, for one, am busily jamming fifty-one weeks of topical exploration into seven days: Sunday supper ’til Sunday lunch.

Intensity and brisk intimacy abound. But no one is making promises of undying correspondence.

Perhaps because we’re adults, we’re less caught by the childhood shibboleths. Perhaps because we’re artists, like the journalist and the cinematographer we understand how to fling ourselves into this intimacy with relatively little damage.

Who knows? Perhaps we would all exchange addresses, but social media buffers the edges of loss enough that we get by.

Whatever it is, I’m happy. Whether one-night stands or forever friends.

One thought on “Camp friends

  1. We spotted the ocean at the head of the trail
    Where are we going, so far away
    And somebody told me that this is the place
    Where everything’s better, everything’s safe

    And half an hour later we packed up our things
    We said we’d send letters and all those little things
    And they knew we were lying but they smiled just the same
    It seemed they’d already forgotten we’d came

    We don’t even have pictures
    Just memories to hold
    That grow sweeter each season
    As we slowly grow old

    -Walk on the Ocean, Toad the Wet Sprocket

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