From 1991 to 2003, I ran, with other co-teachers, a week-long writers camp for kids between the ages of 14 to 18. It was one of the best experiences of my life. Each summer was different. Each group of kids was different. Each week had its high points and low points, its conflict and resolutions, and its intense joys.
This week I have had the chance to spend some time with one of my former campers, now in her 30’s who has come back to town for a few weeks. Being with M has made me reflect where my former campers are now. M has had a career as an exotic dancer in a unionized, employee –owned co-op theater, and she is now completing college with a plan to go to medical school. She was always an interesting kid, and I knew that her creative mind and sharp intelligence would take her places she couldn’t even imagine at 15. What’s wonderful for me, now, 15 years later, is that M, as an adult, is still as much fun to be with as she was then, and she is living a life she is happy with and proud of.
I think about R who went off to college as an art major, and now, runs a ranch with her cowboy husband. She writes a blog about the outdoors, about raising kids and about her ranch life, which is not much different from the ranch life of 50 years ago. (Except, of course, for the Internet.) She writes about cow camp in the summer, and about blizzards in the winter. Like M, the life she is leading is not the life she expected when she was 16, but it’s a life she wants now, and a life she deeply appreciates.
When B was 15, he told me that until he was about 13, he thought everyone grew up to be a poet. Now, B lives in England, has two children, and is working on PhD’s in media and communications, and in digital economics. He writes an occasional poem, and recently was asked to do a writing workshop at a local museum. Not the life he thought he would have, but one that is exciting and one that stretches him in ways he hadn’t expected to be.
G first came to Writers Camp just a few days shy of his 14th birthday. He attended camp for 5 summers. Now G is writing professionally for a Wyoming news service. He sees the inner workings of the state government. His writing is balanced and interesting. Several years ago, G attended a writing workshop that I facilitated and during that workshop wrote eloquently about a guest ranch where he had spent a great deal of time both as a guest and as an employee. I hope that G will write the history of this place that meant so much to him.
D was a camper for three summers. Her last summer, she wrote some wonderful poetry but struggled, at the same time, with where she was going to college. In the end, some weeks after camp was over, she came to me and told me that because she could not decide where she wanted to go, she was not ready to go to college. She went off to be a nanny in New York for a year. Over the next several years, she became a certified massage therapist, and then a CNA and then finally went to college and majored in physics. She has gone on to get a PhD in physics. She has worked at the Max Plank Institute in Germany and do very interesting research. D had no idea where her life would take her when she was 18, but she was willing to take chances and think about what she wanted.
When I think about these extraordinary young people, I realize what an honor it was to work with them. I have only given a few examples here. There are many more campers who now live very interesting lives. However, I also think of my college students, many of whom have limited vision about what they can do and where they can go, and I wonder how we can create educational experiences that expand students’ horizons, so that they can find the lives that they want but never knew they wanted.