Coming Back to Aalborg

I took down all of my postcards. All year, I’ve been collecting post cards both from the cities I visit as well as random free ones they give out at Aalborg’s studenterhus. After striping my walls of the 160 postcards I managed to collect, I decided to stop the packing process because it was too depressing and could be put off some more.
Diary Entry from June 14, 2014

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Postcards are fascinating.

Mail is mail, of course. There is nothing special about communicating through the written word today, although it is slightly more quaint and artificial (artifactual) to do so through paper moved across the physical space between one person and another. Postcards, though, are unique. They don’t just move through space but highlight it. This is where you are; this is where I am (temporarily). Here is a blurb worth half the space of a picture of where you are not–and may never be–held in mirror image to your address from Elsewhere.

I am fascinated by the pictures deemed twice as worthy as anything anybody has to say about them.  Monuments, cityscapes, national cultures, stock images of cats and dogs on vacation pasted over a beach. Postcards are an exercise in idealism, reduction, and symbolism. How do you diminish an entire city/country into instant recognition from a 5.8 by 4.1 inch rectangle?

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I, too, am always trying to evaluate and reduce cities. Specifically those making up my life in its past, present, and future incarnations. Since birth, I have lived in ten different cities, spanning three American states and four countries. I have fucking loved it, but it also complicates the cities’ definitions.

Aalborg, Denmark is one such city. My sophomore year of university, at the bidding of a friend, I studied abroad in Denmark’s fourth largest city (population 200,000). I was nineteen, and I absolutely loved my time there. Although I came from a metropolitan area of almost seven million people (Phoenix), the European city was so condensed that it felt like a living, bustling metropolis in a way that Phoenix’s stagnant freeways and isolated, spread-out homes never did. I had a group of three friends that felt like the greatest sense of family a friend group has ever resembled for me. It was the year I learned to cook (the first year I ever tried coffee, hamburgers, eggs, avocados, etc.). Learned to have an apartment. Learned to drink. Dipped my toes in adulthood one painful fuck-up at a time (lost and homeless with no money or communication in the Southern French countryside on the winter solstice for example).

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When I reduce Aalborg to a compartmentalized identity, it has always been metaphorically enormous, proportional to its place in making me me and the quantity of memories it gave me.

Recently, though, at the bidding of the same friend, I went back for a couple of days three and a half years later.

And Aalborg was fucking dinky. It was cold and run-down and small and borderline-lifeless. My friend, who also studied abroad there and had even returned several times since, felt the difference too.

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Obviously, it is my friend and I who have changed and not poor Aalborg, but the experience has me obsessing over how exactly we categorize and think about cities in general. I recently read this amazing article  by a former professor of mine about a (stupid) experimental community in the Arizona desert where I attended my first and only music festival two years ago because it was free, highlighting the space between a city’s potentially idealist invention and the realism of what life makes in its execution. The city as idealism comes up, too, in Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities and Brazil’s fascinating capital Brasilia (a city deliberately designed in the shape of a cross with zoning to encourage social blending but, ultimately, fostering strict ghetto and slum systems).

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What is the space between a city’s postcard image and its reality? How much of my memories actually reflect place and how much are associations with experience, people, and time in ways that do not allow physical return? Do others who stay put conflate this shifting sensation with time, and is this feeling the root of conservativism when we grow old?

Specifically, as I find myself at yet another crossroads of needing to decide what the fuck I’m doing with my life, this return to Aalborg has me wondering about my perceptions of every city I think I know. How have I drawn these postcards? What spaces must I travel between now and the future? Does space actually really matter at all in the end?

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A Guide to Resting your Tired Dogs whilst doing the Self-Discovery Thing: or, my February Vacation Travels to Stockholm, Amsterdam, and Brussels

[S]leeping can be a form of emotional escape and can with sustained effort be abused…[G]ambling can be an abusable escape, too, and work, shopping, and shoplifting, and sex, and masturbation, and food, and exercise…[A]nonymous generosity, too, can be abused. Having sex with someone you do not care for feels lonelier than not having sex in the first place afterward. It is permissible to want.

Infinite Jest
David Foster Wallace

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Brussels, Belgium

If, at some point, you find yourself in a position where you are Twenty-Two-Years-Old and Fresh-Out-Of-College and, on top of all that, say, an English teaching assistant in Middle of Nowhere, France, you may find yourself perpetually on two-week vacations from the usual grueling Twelve-Hour Work Week you normally have to endure of miming the English language at classrooms of bored French students while pretending you Didn’t Know You Weren’t Supposed to Give Political Standpoints in the French school system because your Académie never actually gave you any formal training anyway. Luckily, in Middle of Nowhere, France, you may also be that One Lucky Bastard in your Académie who lives in a high school without rent, and, since you are Young and wanting to do the whole Self Discovery Thing, you are now afforded to leave said high school in order to Travel Europe for the two week “Winter Break” period in February that is a thinly laïc-veiled disguise for Lent.

Because, I mean, the apartment in the high school in the Middle of Nowhere is great, and probably the best place you’ll get for some time, but you really have to ask yourself sometimes what the history of your current fucking mattress could be. How it could possibly be as lumpy and painfully uncomfortable as it is. Why there’s that one perfect, lipped canyon running right down its middle that, if you accidentally roll into, has you suddenly touching its back side. Why, if you put too much weight on one end, the whole thing completely flips over and throws you out. It smells bad; you know why, but it’s still disconcerting.

You want to escape from this mattress.

You want to escape from this Middle of Nowhere. Even if just for a little.

You start by escaping to Stockholm, Sweden where one of your friends from the aforementioned recently-left college back in the US has recently moved to start an internship. In Sweden, you may sleep on a twin-sized mattress that is more comfortable than a piggy-back ride on God’s fecklessly smooth back-skin. The sun is gone most of the time up there too, and your friend and yours’s version of tourism mostly consists of large consumptions of alcohol over gossip and bitching and, later, when you are both reasonably comfortable being bad tourists, The Bachelor. These factors help foster the deepest cocoon of sleep you’ve had in ages, and help you trudge around Sweden’s dark, snowy cold to look at palaces and fjords and squares that you’re sure must be quite pleasant in the summer. You will try to buy food in Swedish, but spoken with a Danish accent that makes them just give you meat regardless of what you tried to ask for. As a vegetarian, this will make you uncomfortable in an accepting, polite kind of way that rips apart your digestive system. Sweden will make you miss the year you studied abroad in Denmark. Not the country of Denmark itself, but the time itself. Europe is teaching you, this time around, that your obsession with place is a misconstrued projection of experience, and that the two are not necessarily the same.

Afterwards, you will go to Amsterdam, specifically for the Vincent van Gogh Museum, because you bought a book of his letters in London and they really fucking spoke to you, man. In trying to get to your Dutch mattress late the first night, you will realize that you booked a hostel an hour outside of Amsterdam itself and struggle to follow its directions to “go to the lighthouse” in a country whose language sounds like a Sims dialect. You will wander around in the snow for an hour with all your luggage until somebody at the gas station gives you directions. You will find that the tourists in the Netherlands really like their mattresses too: in an All Day Long kind of way that makes it so you don’t really make the normal hostel friends that you might otherwise. The beds, to be fair, are terribly comfortable, if a little smelly and rattled by club music all night long. But you are exhausted from Amsterdam anyway. You will lose your first day in the van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum in an engrossing, inspiring way that makes you forget that you only have two days there. Van Gogh will be crowded, and you will be more into watching the security guards fight the tourists to stop taking Selfies and try to teach them that Technology is an Affront to Art (actual security guard comments) than perhaps the paintings themselves, even if you cry at the crows (which you clearly remember described in the letters as “vast stretches of wheat under troubled skies, and I didn’t have to put myself out very much in order to try and express sadness and extreme loneliness.”) The second day, you will go on a walking tour in the pouring snow and feel ashamed for not being able to take anything away from it save the memory of being desperately cold and fighting off the advances of an Australian who really wanted to go on a canal tour with you. Afterwards, you will think about buying drugs, but go and read in the library where it is warm for hours and hours instead. In the end, Jean Tinguely from the Stedelijk is This Trip’s Discovery: an artist who focuses on machines, movement, and modernism. His letters, in French, are on display about how love is an act of movement, how life is an act of movement, and they are moving in a way that stays with you, even as you say Goodbye to Another City That Must Be Lovely In The Summer and move on to Brussels.

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Snow on the beach in Noordwijk, The Netherlands

Whose mattress is also quite nice, but whose pillow is of lesser quality than Amsterdam’s or Stockholm’s. You like Brussels immediately for being beautiful in a way you can tell doesn’t take itself too seriously. You will go to a Lenten church service in German for some familiar, High Mass Smells. You will be told “vous êtes belle” by a stranger who seemed sincere– and not drunk– on its steps outside. You will get film developed in what turns out to be a man’s living room. You will drink beer and eat chocolate. You will gawk at the beautiful Art Nouveau architecture everywhere. You will figure out why \it is an Art Nouveau City on a walking tour that teaches you that Belgium earned its wealth by killing half the population of The Congo at the turn of the century, when Art Nouveau was at its height. You will go to a Musical Instrument Museum that is actually not as good as the one in Phoenix. You will go to the Magritte Museum on surrealist painter René Magritte and realize that surrealism makes so much more sense when you read poetry, like you recently started regularly practicing. You will spend Valentine’s Day drinking alone, nostalgically, on the cold, hard cobblestones of Le Grand Place, and make a brief cameo on Brussels News for doing so.

In the Netherlands, you will subsist on Dutch Chocolate when you get hungry.

In Belgium, you will subsist on Belgian Waffles when you get hungry.

You will not feel very well.

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Brussels, Belgium

You will, most importantly, take a wide and varying combination of planes, trains, and God Awful Overnight Buses to traverse Europe, and will fall deeply asleep on every single one of them. You will practice finagling your body into contortions your mattress in Middle of Nowhere, France does not ask of you in order to sleep, and your Morning Body will come to grips with an ache it almost never knows. It will just want to get to a hostel’s bed, or, even, back to the Familiar Discomfort nestled in the Middle of Nowhere’s lumpy mattress.

You will learn, here, what it means to Rest. Learn what it means to live in this Work of Escaping from Work and Adulthood, from the Real World and Home and the USA, you Twenty-Two-Year-Old Self-Discovery Stuffer.  Learn that Escape gives you that ache that only comes with travel, the kind that wants nothing but Arrival.

If, at some point, you find yourself in this position, where you are Twenty-Two-Years-Old and Fresh-Out-Of-College doing the Whole Self-Discovery Thing, remember that life is an Act in Movement. When you are tired from travelling, ask what Rest you really get from your bed at home? The comfort you chose to leave because it was meant for leaving. Go. Travel.  Get Away from it. All of it. When you get tired, lay down. And see where you got.

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Stockholm, Sweden

Happy New Year from the Hangover

I got to have New Year’s Eve with some lovely Americans running through the streets of Paris in the snow, and here’s a poem that just wants to say happy new year to everybody.

The last time I had a hang
over this bad must have been six months ago in Portland.
When the summer camp counselors gathered together
in that beautiful craftsman home to hang
socks on each other
like wintertime Christmas trees under the blanket
of a slow summer’s night in the thick of the year, and I
woke up under the dining table with a stack of poetry
journals for a pillow, face
to face with a couple spooning against the china.

But poetry is more column than cuddle, a stack of sentences
divided, apart, one atop the other instead
of hooked up side by side.
A book is but a stack of pages bound together for strength.
A year is just a pile of days.
A tree a collection of rings
chasing renewal’s possibilities one year at a time.
Forests an anthology of trunks dizzying themselves with
growing fat round and round and around again the past
until man presses them skinny again
to stamp their faces with his poetry.

and all I see on Paris’s face are circles,
an agglomeration of arrondissements pirouetting around
each other to make a city in Spirograph,
one that is perfect for stumbling through, overjoyed
by the lightest of snows while the minute and second hand
circle around the watch’s face toward midnight to divide
one day from the next
in this business of making new, to say then
and there. Here
and now.

Those were socks
and this is snow.

 

Remembering to Romanticize Things A Little

I think, at some level, (almost?) all Americans hold some sort of a romanticized ideal in their head about Europe. It’s old. It’s beautiful. The people have accents. If not where “we” come from, it’s our closest cultural ancestor. Above all, it’s just a highly marketed tourist attraction.

Throughout my life, I have not been above this romanticization of the continent by any means. That’s why I studied abroad in Denmark for a year (the European country which holds that special lore as “the happiest country on Earth”); it’s why I’m working in France for a year now. It’s why I’m scheming up ways to get back to Ireland in the future.  Getting to study, work, and live in Europe is the redheaded cousin of The American Dream, in all its shiny, sparkly, just-out-of-reach-for-many glory.

And yet here I am. Getting to be paid to live in this romanticized space. The thing about obtaining a dream, though, is having to have it slapped around a little by reality.

Being in Southern France right now is full of real humans. Real humans who, on my first day of work, made snide comments at me about being there for “oral” practice. Real humans who harass me on the street for everything from eating my lunch to yawning. Real humans who ride around on bicycles and dump whole water bottles on me in the public square with other real humans watching and then ride away mocking my shocked English response of “what the fuck!” My tiny Southern French town doesn’t have anybody my age in it, and the loneliness I am experiencing is oppressive, difficult, and seemingly inescapable in a way that I haven’t experienced since high school (side note, I live in a high school right now, which is also overwhelming).

Yesterday, though, I was reminded a bit of the romanticized image of France I painted for myself throughout my francophile high school years. While visiting Montpellier, a man walked onto my tram and started to play the fiddle up and down the tram’s cars. While the French did not seem amused, it overwhelmingly affected me in the moment and reminded me of this video from La Blogotheque circa 2008:

When I was an insatiable French nerd in high school, I used to spend hours on La Blogotheque, watching their Concerts A Emporter and going back and forth between the English and French translations to keep teaching myself and practicing French outside of the classroom. As a lonely, angsty teenager in the middle of a Phoenix suburb completely void of anything to do, the Paris presented in these performances instilled in me the idea of a romanticized France that is, undoubtedly, what keeps bringing me back to this country today.

Even if things are hard right now, rewatching these videos and thinking back to a pure and unspoiled idea of Europe that has nothing to do with life is a nice, romantic break. Sometimes, I just need these remnants from the past to come and remind me to appreciate the present that I’m getting to live, even when it’s feeling dragged down by reality.

 

 

 

In Dublin’s Fair City…

Yes, the girls are so pretty, but also the boys, but also everybody, and the buildings too and the countryside and this is just a post of me gushing about having found another one of those places I consider “my kind of place.” (Past members have included, exclusively, Flagstaff, ArizonaAalborg, Denmark, London, and summer camps). Because I am working in France, I have a ridiculous amount of vacation time, and for the fall vacation–after a longstanding childhood obsession with Ireland (i.e. hours spent listening to Irish folk music and just Google Imaging pictures of Ireland)–I got to go to Dublin.

Arriving

I got up at 6:30am October 26th to go Dublin. I arrived around 5pm, after a train along the coast between Montpellier and Nice (would recommend) and then the actual flight itself (which was also quite nice. An elderly Irish woman next to me told me where the MeGees, my Irish relatives, would have come from in Ireland and kept telling me she really hoped I liked my visit. Unlike hers and her husband’s in Nice, because what is wrong with French men? Why are they so obnoxious? I had no answer).

I was a little shocked at first in Ireland because I’ve gotten so used to not really understanding what people are saying around me: humor, especially, is completely lost on me. But the first two people with whom I interacted, the man who stamped my passport and the bus driver, joked with me IN ENGLISH, and I cannot stress the gravity of an experience like that after a month of just smiling and nodding at most things strangers say to you. I almost cried on the bus into town.

When I actually got to my hostel, though, things just got better from there. A woman from Argentina made me a quesadilla, my first in Europe, and then a local who was looking for a new apartment took me to a pub from 1649 (!!!)  and read me Keats because, in his opinion, “he’s the closest thing Ireland with ever have to a Marvel Superhero.” I got to laugh. I got to make jokes that were appreciated linguistically and culturally.

I have never had such an instant connection with a place.

img_1149Guinness, By the Way…

tastes like dirty water.

Did you know that Ireland is in Europe and Europe has a Danish beer called Carlsberg? Wow. What fortune. You should do yourself a favor and drink Carlsberg at all those Irish pubs.

Trinity College, the Long Room, and the Book of Kells

img_1134As advised by my Keats Superhero friend, I paid the ridiculous nine euro entrance fee to go to Trinity College’s Long Room and Book of Kells for one of my first stops. Jesus Christ the Book of Kells was underwhelming with a whole two rooms of information leading up to it to, clearly, try to manage traffic and assure people that they were seeing something worth their money, only to then peek at it for approximately three seconds before the tourist who is bigger than you and has heavier breath than you and is better at politely shoving people than you politely shoves your small American self out of the way to check out for himself the history digz, man.

But The Long Room makes up for it completely. It smelled like old wood and books and just had a weight of the importance of reading hanging off of it. While everybody around me tried to tie down the effect of the place into pictures (okay, I did that too, but gave up), I just sat and did nothing, smelling it and letting it affect me for approximately fifteen minutes.

Merrion Square

is a cute lil’ park with a strange statue of Oscar Wilde. I came here for lunch the first day because my Keats friend served coffee at a donut food cart there. I got a lemon meringue donut while talking to the guy from the grilled cheese cart–again, getting to make jokes in English!!!–who then gave me a discount for “being a friend” (which would never happen in the US or France for me) on his goat cheese, rosemary, and walnut grilled cheese. Both were delicious, and I wish I’d just gone ahead and gone there for every subsequent lunch thereafter because nothing else was ever as good.

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The Museums

During my time in Dublin, I ended up wandering into the Gallery of Photographythe National Photographic Archive, and the Irish Museum of Modern Art (if it’s not obvious, I just really wanted a fucking art museum that wasn’t Jesus in his blond, ginger, and European incarnations). Paul Gaffney’s Perigee at the Gallery of Photography, a series of moonlit forest scenes displayed in a nearly pitch-black room, was breath-taking. The Irish Museum of Modern Art’s In Two Minds by Kevin Atherton, a recorded conversation between the artist and himself in 1978 and again in 2014, was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. While all three’s content was good, though, I would argue that they are surprisingly small for the only ones of their type in the capital city of a major country.

The Abbey Theatre

On Thursday, October 27th, driven by a Brian Friel obsession (my second-ever blog post was a poem about his death) and the never-ending hand that a Dr. Robert Canfield has on the decisions I make in this life, I went to see the play on at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, which, arbitrarily for me at the time, was The Remains of Maisie Duggan by Carmel Winters. This actually turned out to be one of the most significant things I ended up doing in Dublin, if not possibly in my life.

*spoilers*

Maybe it’s just because this was the first fully-professional theatre production I’ve ever been to (I say this to hedge what I am about to say with “plz dont take lil ole me as any kind of theatre critic”), but I was absolutely blown away. Going from layer to layer it’s a play that just gets thicker and thicker and better and better. At what you might consider the “surface,” the set was incredible in a dark, heavy, imposing kind of way, accompanied by a sound and lighting techniques to match (they changed scenes by blinding the audience with stage lights). The actors were incredible (I guess people use the word “captivating” for these things), especially Rachel O’Byrne who palyed Kathleen. The script was about family and the perpetuation of abuse from parent to child. Kathleen (Kitty), the daughter who has come home for her mother’s funeral (even though the mother only thinks she’s (and, really, wants to be) dead) has ran away from her abusive father to London, where she now abuses her female partner in an attempt to assert her own ability to possess and exercise power. She tells Maisie that the abuse in London is her fault because Kitty and her brother didn’t ask to be born. At the end of the play, though, the mother kills the father, telling her daughter that she’s free now: both from his physical abuse as well as the precedent he set for what she would grow to become herself. I think the spaces of Cork, Ireland and London cannot be ignored here, nor the characters’ genders, and I would argue that Maisie Duggan is a warning about the perpetuation of general systems of oppression. Whether through sexism–like Kitty experienced throughout her childhood– or colonialism or racism, these frustrations should not reenact themselves with any power that is regained. Ireland, for example, is free from England (where Kitty chooses to enact her abuse), but should not, for example, turn around and oppress its gay population (which Kitty, too, is apart of).  Instead, freedom, like that gained from the father in the play, is a space to write a new narrative for oneself.

Lit crit aside, experiencing The Remains of Maisie Duggan is honestly the biggest factor in why I am looking at going to graduate school in Dublin starting now. I need to connect with this city on an academic level not offered to passing tourists.

Killiney Hill

img_1168I didn’t spend all those hours Google Imaging the Irish countryside to sit in Dublin for four straight days!

The Cliffs of Moher were obvious, but they would have eaten up an entire day to get there. The Keats man tried to get me to go to Glendalough, but I couldn’t find any public transportation there. Trip Advisor pointed me to Killiney Hill instead, and it was perfect. About half an hour south of Dublin, it reeked of honey for whatever reason and had views of Dublin from above, the surrounding villages, the countryside, and the ocean. It was grand.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral Evensong

img_1143If you ever want to go into a beautiful church and don’t want to pay for a tour, why not go for what they were built for! I always like to go to Anglican evensongs to see churches because they’re basically just a free choir concert in a beautiful music hall (also, Jesus is my boyfriend of course)*. I tried to go to Christchurch Cathedral, because I am Episcopal, but their choir was on vacation, so I ended up at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, whose evensong I have to admit was not my favorite. It was an all male group who picked more chanting-style, unison choral pieces instead of those with some slightly more complex chords that I personally prefer. It was still beautiful, though.

*You cannot take pictures during services.

Temple Bar

A couple of lovely Australian girls from my hostel went out with me. I got drunk. I threw up.

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Next City Tours

If you want to do a walking tour of Dublin, take the Next City Tour. Take it with Keith. His name means wood in Irish. Keith is hilarious and knowledgeable and passionate and the type of Irishman that your Irish grandma probably wants you to marry. Befriend a wonderful hipster Australian girl on the tour moving to London because that’s just what you’re supposed to do when you’re twenty-three and in the fashion industry like her. Have three hours of history fun, so you can walk around the city and sound super smart and educated to your friends and, wow gee, are you an attractive, cultured human.

Conclusion

I’m sorry this post came out being so long, but I have so many good things to say about this wonderful city. Beyond all the tourist-y things and events and sights and, yes, even the theatre, what really made Dublin the experience that it was for me were the people. Although I have traveled and even moved to new countries alone, I’ve never had a solo vacation before, and I was worried I would just end up lonely and bored with no home or Netflix to retreat to. Despite being a generally quiet and reserved person, this city got me to make friends with somebody absolutely everywhere I went. The people were not only open and welcoming like those that (really, honestly) populate Southern France, but were the kind that have a sense of humor that welcomes you in, gives you a drink, wraps you in a blanket, and assures you you were always meant to be there laughing with them.

What I will remember from Dublin most of all is the man who read me Keats in a bar fresh off the plane, the old Norwegian woman who talked to me about what it means to be human through studying the Bronze Age (she kissed me on the cheek when I said good bye), the man who gave me a discount on his grilled cheese, the (in total) five Australian girls who welcomed me into their circle for a few days like I was one of their own, the fellas who gave me the best Tinder conversations I’ve had outside of America, the Norwegian guys who bought me those ill-fated Temple Bar beers, the Ginger who gave me my first kiss in this year abroad (complete asshole), the old man in the pub who told me it’s okay to like to be alone in public spaces sometimes, and the countless bus drivers, bar tenders, baristas, and food-service people I talked to for less than five minutes who still managed to make me laugh, joke back, talk, belong.

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“Camp Magic”

14063550_313580182322235_418209987_nAt the summer camp in Oregon where I’ve spent my last two summers, there’s a big, green bridge over the Sandy River that you cross just before getting to the camp. When we take kids over it, we count down from three and all say together “THE BIG GREEN BRIDGE!” When solely among counselors–crossing the bridge listening to blasting music and swerving around forest-highway corners in the fuck-all-invincible fashion of dealing with our own lives–we yell in unison “THE BIG GREEN FUCKING BRIDGE,” as an act of some sort of adult-y rebellion.

All of camp is kind of like that. Pure magic on the kids’ side of things. Something else for the counselors. Magical still, of course, but not in quite the same way.

I grew up going to a religious camp from when I was eight-years-old to eighteen. If the amount of time I spent there wasn’t an indicator, camp was my shit. I was a painfully shy kid growing up and didn’t have m(any) friends. Especially during Phoenix’s long, hot summer breaks, I was almost completely isolated and, even more, kept inside from the 100+ degree heat. Summer camp, for me, meant friends, belonging, sharing ideas in a safe space, getting to go outside. Camp, without even fully knowing it, was everything I would grow up to love in my post-Phoenix evolution into the trajectory of my adult-self. While I didn’t know this at the time, I knew that camp was right; camp was the week I was happiest all year.

Taking the next step into being a camp counselor was a transition, though, to say the least. My first summer as a counselor was not at the same camp where I was a camper because they considered nineteen too young there; I went to a YMCA camp with no standards instead. Really, laughably, no standards (I cooked meals for the camp sometimes without a food handlers card, etc., etc., etc.). Being a camp counselor–especially at this camp–was hard fucking work, the hardest I had ever yet experienced at that point in my life. Initially, it devastated me. I mean, not necessarily because it was hard, but because each struggle was an exposure to the cracks in the perfect camp picture I’d held in my head for the majority of my life. Over the course of the summer, though, I learned to get over these cracks and love being a camp counselor anyway, in an accepting an imperfect world and growing up kind of way. I learned that year that, as a grown up, magical moments have to be created a whole lot more often than they were received as a child.

I was a camp counselor for two more years after that, and I have loved spending my summers outside with kids perfecting (or at least trying to) that art of creating “camp magic” for others. This past summer, I moved up a bit in the camp world and became a Unit Director, or, as I’ve been telling my friends, a counselor for counselors. Unexpectedly, I have discovered that being one more level removed from camper, at least for me, actually takes away a considerable amount of even more magic. There are more cracks in the picture. The structure of things feels more real world. I am forced to be more like my school-y outside world self than the separate camp entity I seek to inhabit during my summers.

13597629_1744558289091897_1193940994_nIt is too recent for me to put my finger on what exactly it is, but I am stuck wondering how far this removal from magic will go? Is there a limit where camp doesn’t have any more joy? I remember Walrus, my boss’s boss’s boss, saying at the end of this summer that he tried to come to a closing campfire, where we were all crying and emoting like crazy, and he could only pay attention to the fact that a tree was going to fall on one of us and hurt somebody. He sees camp through a different lens now, he says.

I have, in the past, toyed with the idea of summer camp-ing forever and permanently existing in a world where my happiest week of the year can last for fifty-one more. But, after this summer, I know that I am done. Camp has made a world of difference in making the person I am today and I owe it more than I can articulate. But I do not want to enter a time where I’m far enough removed from a camper to loose all the magic. To overwhelm my bridge with a little too much of the FUCK.