Summer Writing Camp & The Fish Horse

I’m so good at maintaining a blog. To the three readers I have out there (dare I make it 4? I’m dreaming big today, so yea, 4), I’m sorry I abandoned you. It’s been a whirlwind past few weeks, but don’t worry, Erin’s back people and it’s time to discuss Summer Writing Camp!

Two weeks ago I volunteered to be a writing mentor at UW-Eau Claire’s Summer Writing Camp for 7th-10th graders. This was a BIG DEAL for me and I was REALLY EXCITED for no reason other than it was CAMP. Sure there was writing involved, which basically meant I was in nerd heaven, and I could openly discuss “Plot lines,” and “writing with detail,” with kids without being judged (and if they did judge me, what did I care if a bratty 9th grader thought I was a weird and nerdy… embrace who you are, readers!).

8th grade Erin, MVP bench rider, braces-wearer, and summer basketball camp free-throw champion. AKA THE NEXT LISA LESLIE.

8th grade Erin, MVP bench rider, braces-wearer, and summer basketball camp free-throw champion. AKA THE NEXT LISA LESLIE.

More importantly it was CAMP. Why is this important? Because I’ve never really done the whole CAMP thing. I never did the week/weeks long, overnight, let’s make a million friendship bracelets type of camp. My extensive CAMPing history includes only two experiences. One was going to an overnight YMCA camp for two nights in the 6th grade with the rest of my prepubescent classmates (a more detailed post on this experience will surface later). The other occurred for 5 years when I attended summer basketball camp, where I channeled my inner Lisa Leslie and plotted the inevitable take-off of my basketball career. (I’m still waiting. It’s only a matter of time, though, so stay tuned!)

Suffice it to say, I’m low on CAMP memories, so I’m taking what I can get now.  This time I wasn’t a camper, though, but someone who has some level of authority, which was weird for me. I was READY for my new CAMP experience, helping kids each morning for 5 days with their creative writing projects.

So there I was on Day 1, hanging out with all the other cool mentors and trying not to show my fear after I realized just how out numbered I was by tweens, teens, and orthodontia. That, and I’d never taught before. So all those kidlets were expecting me to shower them with my copious amounts of creative writing knowledge, and I was just going to stand up there and st-st-stutter my way through talking about how to write humorously (which isn’t as funny as it sounds, let me tell ya).

It ended up going okay, but I learned quite a few lessons along the way:

1.) You’re only as good as the team you work with, and I was part of a SOLID team. Thankfully, the rest of the group was comprised of English Education majors, so they filled me in on the do’s and don’ts of working with students. For example, I learned that while you can’t call students “little shits” while you’re working with them, you can say it inside your head, where no one else can hear it. They seemed pleased that I learned that lesson prior to CAMP starting, so I felt like the world’s most accomplished human being.

If the writing mentors were a band... Mary (modeling on grass) would be the bass player, Alex and Anthony (bottom, outside peeps) would be guitarists. Kristina (bottom middle) would be lead singer. Christine (blonde hair, middle row) would be on drums. Kolleen (top of pyramid) would break out the banjo. And then I would play a nice harmonica or tambourine. Not pictured: Prof. Carey Applegate, AKA Band Manager and makes an appearance on the triangle and cow bell.

If the writing mentors were a band… Mary (modeling on grass) would be the bass player, Alex and Anthony (bottom, outside peeps) would be guitarists. Kristina (bottom middle) would be lead singer. Christine (blonde hair, middle row) would be on drums. Kolleen (top of pyramid) would break out the banjo. And then I would play a nice harmonica or tambourine. Not pictured: Prof. Carey Applegate, AKA Band Manager and makes an appearance on the triangle and cow bell.

2.) Eighth/Ninth grade girls are mean creatures that get perverse pleasure from excluding others. This isn’t exactly new to me (I encountered my fair share of mean, troll-like girls in seventh grade), but it’s something I’d forgotten about until I watched two girls in particular in action. They created their own word that no one else knew the meaning of, and they wouldn’t talk to anyone but each other, even when others tried to join their little group. It’s important to note that it was VERY DIFFICULT for me to refrain from calling THESE TWO little shits, little shits (or something much stronger and meaner because their behavior made me THAT MAD). But I kept it cool, so that might be my biggest CAMP ACCOMPLISHMENT.

3.) Middle and High Schoolers don’t understand sass or sarcasm. Which is unfortunate for me because that’s my native tongue. Some people are fluent in Spanish, or Swahili, or Portuguese, but me? Nope, fluent in American English, sarcasm and straight-up sass. So when I’d make a joke, I was greeted by blank stares and “is-she-kidding?” stares, and uncomfortable laughter. SUPER FUN.

4.) You become instant best friends with middle girls when you casually slip a One Direction reference into conversation. #imcoolstill #thatswhatmakesyoubeautiful

5.) I’ve been told before that I should be a teacher. I’ve always responded with “Thank you, maybe I’ll teach high school someday.” And I learned from Summer Writing Camp that I’VE BEEN LYING TO PEOPLE. Because I now know that I NEVER WANT TO TEACH HIGH SCHOOL EVER. My reasoning before was that it’s easier to converse with high school kids than middle school kids. What I didn’t know was how UNRESPONSIVE high school students can be when they don’t want to answer something. Or their “I’m-too-cool-for-this-shit” attitudes. Or how self-conscious they get when it comes to putting themselves out there. I’d always respected my former high school teachers, but I give my high school teachers (and I guess high school teachers everywhere, for that matter) SO MUCH CREDIT and I tip my hat to them because it’s HARD.

6.) I learned that I would want to teach middle schoolers. I might be 22, but my dear 3 readers I enjoy being weird way too much, and so do middle school kids. They, for the most part, are so FEARLESSLY WEIRD and it’s hilarious. I think it’s also because I’ve gotten to this point in my life where I just enjoy being weird. Because weird is usually funny, and making people laugh is the best thing I could possible do with my time. Case in point,  I helped 7th grade boys look up pick-up lines for their stories, and we found the fart pick-up lines especially hilarious. So the fact that I find myself identifying with the maturity level of 12 year old boys is something I probably shouldn’t be proud of, but #YOLO. I did give them some wisdom though–  if they EVER WANT GIRLFRIENDS, fart pick-up lines will get them no where. So I was able to be a voice of reason and regain credibility in the end.

7.) I was helping this one girl with revision and talking about how she can completely change a story. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: “Have you ever revised a story before?”

7th grade girl: “Yes.”

Me: “Yeah? What did you change?”

Girl: “Well. My character started out as a horse. And then I decided she should be a Fish Horse.”

Me: “Oh, cool. Like a sea horse?”

Girl: *gives Erin a, you’re an idiot look* “No… like a fish that’s a horse. Duh.”

Silly me, right? But my conversation with this girl made me realize, again, how fearless middle school kids are. They’re fearless in their creativity, in their weirdness, in their confidence, and in their writing. It makes me envious because I’m pretty guarded when it comes to my own writing. Like, if someone asks me what a story or essay is about, I usually turn an unflattering shade of red, mumble an answer that may or may not be considered English, and change the subject. When did I become self-conscious about the things that are important to me, namely my writing? So my new goal is to be less self-conscious with my writing. And to also be open to trying new things in my stories. And to be more accepting of the Fish Horse. The Fish Horse is here to stay– it’s a thing now, people!!

So before this post gets ANY LONGER, I’m gonna end it here. If any one of your readers made it this far, kudos. If none of you did, I don’t blame ya. 😉

-e

6 thoughts on “Summer Writing Camp & The Fish Horse

  1. Sounds like it was a fulfilling experience. Perhaps you have a future as a camp director or counselor?
    The reasons you give for enjoying middle school are the same I hear from other folks who adore working with that age group. And if you think the girls are a riot, try the BOYS.

    • I can only imagine. I had a few girls more or less attach themselves to me by the time the camp ended. And once I got used to the fart jokes, the guys grew on my, too. This would definitely be a fun age group to teach! Maybe someday….

  2. Props for even considering teaching below college. I’ve thought about the rambunctiousness and feral-ity of those days and wouldn’t even consider it (unless I was desperate…maybe). I do appreciate their originality and creativity, though and wonder when that leaves us… Who knows. Thanks for the humor, Erin!

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