I’ve always considered myself to be both a very independent person and a very introverted one.
When I was in my early-mid 20s I was especially entrenched in this view of myself, feeling like I needed to prove that I could handle everything on my own and that showing vulnerability to others was a weakness or at least something to be avoided if possible. I stayed reserved even with close friends and family and I viewed that as a strength. But it was lonely and as I entered my late 20s (which quickly turned into my 30s), I realized I needed to loosen up my view of myself and of how I interacted with people. I had learned early on in adulthood that life doesn’t always go the way you think it’s going to go, but it still took me a number of years to learn that putting rigid boundaries around identity and experience is usually more about control than about the truth. Becoming an adult was scary and feeling like I knew exactly who I was and how I should be interacting with the world gave me a way to deal with that fear and discomfort. But as I grew older, I started to be able to see that such rigid boundaries are more harmful than helpful, and that community and connection are both important and accessible to me.
I’m now 33 and, like all of us, coming up on the end of a very strange and difficult year. I have been working remotely since March and, while I spent the first half of quarantine living with a good friend, I moved to my own place in July and now live alone. I’m very lucky to still be able to see a couple of close friends who are in my quarantine pod, but I’m still struggling greatly with the isolation and I have to admit, it surprised me. Despite my lessons learned about identity and about myself, I still went into quarantine thinking things like “this won’t be that hard, I’m so introverted” and “well, it’s not like I had much of a social life to begin with.” I also intellectually know that being introverted doesn’t mean you don’t like people, it has to do with what draws on your energy versus what replenishes it (I highly recommend the book Quiet by Susan Cain for anyone interested in reading more about this). But I was still surprised by how difficult the past 9 months have been and how much I miss certain things and people.
The beginning of quarantine felt a bit novel and of course we had no idea at that point how long it would last, but as the weeks and then months dragged on, the novelty wore off and my mental health kept getting worse. I have been struggling with mental illness for many years so this was not a super surprising development, especially given the circumstances. But it still took me months to fully accept and acknowledge how difficult things were for me. I kept going back to the fact that I was lucky to still have a job, and I was lucky to not have the stress of childcare, and I was already super introverted and anti-social before COVID, so how bad could it really be for me? But as I grew more and more unhappy, I finally took stock of all the things I was now missing in my life and the connections were what stood out the most. I’m not able to see numerous friends, I’m not able to visit family members in other states, I’m not able to go on dates and meet new people, I even miss going into the office and seeing my coworkers every day. And even with the few people I am able to see, I’m constantly worried about not being careful enough and infecting someone I love with a deadly virus. Just writing those words out here makes me feel ridiculous for not allowing myself to admit how hard it has been. And once I allowed myself to fully acknowledge this fact, I was again forced to reevaluate my identity and the role connection and community play in my life. I knew that my close friends and family were an important part of my life, but I’ve been struck by the fact that I also clearly need new experiences and new connections, and that I greatly value connections with people outside of my close inner circle like my coworkers and neighbors. One of the biggest lessons I will take away from this experience is how much the threads of community and connection are woven into our society and our every day lives, even when we don’t realize it. Even when we consider ourselves introverts who don’t need lots of connections or social engagements or community ties.
Of course, even though 2020 is coming to an end, the pandemic is not and we’re facing a tough winter in so many different ways. Despite my struggles this year, I am immensely grateful for all the ways I am privileged, especially having a steady income, a safe place to live, and the ability to still connect with my loved ones, even if often it’s on a screen instead of in person. The upside of having our in-person social connections temporarily severed or limited is we get to be creative about how we create new and different kinds of community and connection. Getting to plan an all virtual Skill Set retreat has been a sometimes tough but also very exciting challenge. And knowing that I am working to keep that kind of community in my life is a huge comfort in this time of separation and loneliness.
Whether in person or online, Rowe has always been a place where I feel deeply connected to both myself and to others. And with an all virtual retreat, we’re excited to have an even more varied and diverse group of participants and facilitators. So, whether you consider yourself an introvert, extrovert, or somewhere in between, come join us in January to connect across screens and build a new community together!
This summer I’m celebrating the 20th anniversary of my first year as a camper at Rowe Camp. That kind of anniversary is often accompanied by nostalgia and “best of” memories, so I thank you in advance for indulging me. There is of course no shortage of stories to recount: like the time we filled hundreds of balloons with helium and tied them to a chair in an attempt to get the co-director’s child to fly (he lived to tell the tale and now, as a young adult, just so happens to work on my camp staff). Or the time we had a lengthy and ornate wedding ceremony between a staff person and a loaf of bread aka The Breading. The summer that always sticks out in my mind, though, is the summer of 2011 when I worked on Junior High Camp staff and which by all accounts should have been a terrible summer.
The first few days of any camp session are critical for helping campers feel comfortable with one another, acclimating campers to new routines and expectations and getting them excited about camp. So naturally, we had planned for the very first breakfast to be themed around jock jams, in which the counselors would be wearing neon colors and dancing around the Rec Hall to the best pump-up bangers as campers spooned cereal into their sleepy mouths. I, wanting to jump start that camp session with energy and excitement and fuelled by a cup and a half of Dean’s Beans Bird Watcher’s Blend, danced hard, jumped high, and promptly heard a distinct pop in my knee resulting in having to make my way around camp on crutches for the remainder of the session.
In the middle of the second week of camp, a time oft accompanied by interpersonal drama as the meeting-people-for-the-first-time pleasantries have worn away and the we-love-each-other-so-much-I-can’t-believe-camp-is-ending magic has yet to begin, I received a phone call from my dad. My grandfather had passed away and the funeral was in a few days. Attending the funeral meant leaving camp and with that, missing one of my favorite activities, a Rowe dance. Rowe dances are special. No one cares about what you look like while you are dancing, just that you are having a good time and are included in the fun. Seeing as this was an incredibly important time to be with my family and there would be no dancing for me anyway, I departed from camp and the community for a few days, something I’d never done before.
In the last week of camp, a staffer borrowed my car while on break so they could visit and enjoy exotic Greenfield, a time-off haven to many a camp staffer. Not an hour before they were supposed to return did I get a call from them on ye olde Rec Hall camp phone. I crammed myself into the stuffy phone booth and plugged one ear against the KP music joyfully blasting in the background only to hear that through no fault of my fellow staffer, my car was dead, had been towed to a nearby auto shop, and could someone please pick them up.
By the end of the session, I was out a knee, a grandfather, and a car. So how could this possibly be one of my favorite sessions? Well, a funny thing happens at Rowe when you are hurting, when you are feeling vulnerable, when you are downright sad. The community shows up.
Having to leave camp for doctor’s appointments and attending a funeral meant that I wasn’t able to fulfill some of my duties. The staff showed up. They took on more than their fair share to cover what I had to miss, often stepping up in ways that stretched their own comfort zones. Instead of being loud and using my body to be silly and excited around camp, I had to find a different niche to fill, thus giving someone else the opportunity to step in and try out being the loud person in front of camp. That staff of twenty-two, by the way, has so far yielded seven Rowe Camp directors. Now, I’m not saying that blowing out my knee led to the modern age of camp leadership (but totally will if you want to give me the credit), but that the people who make camp happen are dedicated not just for one summer, but as a legacy of compassion, care, and creativity, just as they had shown me that session. There was one staff person in particular who not only showed up for me, but made space for me to keep showing up for the campers, and together, we created a space for the campers to show up for each other. We paired up to create this silly on-going workshop in which we created a new nation. Each day the two of us and our cohort of campers would take steps for independence. We wrote a declaration of independence à la a break-up letter (way before Hamilton made it cool), named our mighty new nation Belldoor (two objects we could see in that moment), and sang traditional Belldoorian revolution songs (made-up tunes in which the lyrics had not been agreed upon beforehand, but would somehow come to all of us in the same moment as we tried to sing in unison). One day, everyone got a Belldorian driver’s license by taking a “road test” which involved sitting in a red flyer wagon and tapping a staff person pulling the wagon on the left or right shoulder to get them to turn. Another day we took our campers to nearby Shelburne Falls, pamphlets about Belldoor in hand, and visited a real estate agency where we asked about potential land we could acquire on which to settle our new nation.
It still makes me burst out laughing thinking about all the ridiculous, silly, hilarious experiences created with those campers. That staffer and I still keep in touch… in fact he’s in the next room as I write this… because I married him! While we did not get married in the chapel at Rowe (though we definitely considered it), we did have half of our wedding guest list taken up by people who we had worked with at camp or gone to camp with and you better believe we had one heck of a Rowe-style dance party. That’s the kind of result Rowe yields: lifelong love, friendship, and community.
So now I am in the summer of my 20th anniversary with Rowe about to lead another Junior High Camp session during another really hard time. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it many occasions to grieve, one, of course, being that for the first time in Rowe Camp’s almost 100 year history we won’t be able to hold camp in person. Instead of coming together in the beautiful woods of Rowe among the many buildings that have come to feel like a second home to so many, we will be connecting remotely from each of our own homes. For our virtual camps, we will be relying heavily on technology, a drastic change from the cell service-less and wifi-less campus of Rowe. There will be no hugs after chapel or snuggling in the Rug Room. It will be different, it will be unexpected– and we will show up.
While the Rowe campus is an extraordinary, magical vessel, Rowe’s heart is its community. Letting the community in, for me, during the summer of 2011 yielded completely surprising and unpredictable gifts. Faced with another summer that has by no means gone as planned, I can’t wait to see what gifts emerge from the power of our community
I turned 20 years old in October of 2007, the beginning of my sophomore year of college at Boston University. I was happily ensconced in college life, surrounded by great friends and interesting classes in a city that I loved. I felt very little sadness at leaving my teenage years behind; I was ready to be an adult.
Through a mix of pop culture, my family, my peers, and society as a whole, I had created an idea of what the next decade of my life was “supposed” to look like. I was still young enough to think that growth had a predictable order to it, that you moved through life on a linear path, each accomplishment or milestone then followed by the next logical step. There may have been pockets of truth to that belief, but overall it left me significantly unprepared for what society had told me would be the best years of my life.
My 20’s taught me the lesson that almost everyone learns at some point: life is not linear, and things rarely turn out how you thought they would or how you were told they would. Those 10 years were defined by amazing highs and some terrible lows. I experienced what felt like both ends of the spectrum and everything in between, from tragic loss and struggles with mental health to incredible academic achievements and amazing new friends. I struggled to build the life society had told me was “right” with the financial realities of being young and living in one of the most expensive cities in the country. I often felt adrift and alone, unable to open up and be vulnerable (which would have allowed me to hear stories from people struggling just like I was). I put too much value in appearance and romance, believing that finding someone to date and then marry and then procreate with was the only real way for a woman to happy. I learned the hard way that living is not linear and even after I had learned that lesson, I felt completely unprepared to deal with it.
I am now 32 and only a few years from the end of my 20’s. I still have a lot to learn. But looking back, I can see how unprepared many of my peers and I really were for the transition from teen to adult. And I am a very privileged cis-gender white woman who comes from a stable and loving family. Some people face challenges and obstacles that I can’t even imagine. I can see now how much those my age would have benefited from something like Skill Set. Age 20 was also the last year I worked at Rowe as a camp counselor and I deeply regret not working harder to keep Rowe in my life through my 20’s. The combination of community and education that Skill Set provides is critical for youth trying to navigate this new phase in their life, especially in today’s incredibly volatile and scary world.
Your 20s are always going to be tumultuous. It’s how you learn and grow. But a program like Skill Set can help you learn to ride that roller-coaster with a little more insight and stability, not to mention the support of a loving and accepting community. And I believe it will be a truly invaluable experience for all the young people who join us this year and in the future.
Skill Set co-directors, participants, facilitators and more!