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Weekly Wrap: A Community of Misfits

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My favorite thing about conversations (and about the comments section at LitPark) are the tangents. So this Weekly Wrap will be a follow-up to something in the comments thread that had nothing at all to do with writing communities and workshops. I want to talk about summer camp and lanyard.

When Lance mentioned how we should all go to summer camp together, I immediately remembered a picture of me wearing a red feather on my head. As I looked for the photo, I wondered if what I’d find would be too embarrassing to post.

It was.

But then, I thought it might illustrate something I do – and maybe you do it, too. I carry a very particular picture of myself in my head. Someone will tell me I’m pretty or sweet, and I’ll look in the mirror and see this kid:

This is me having a big old time at patrol camp. This is back in the days my dad still cut my hair on the kitchen stool, and obviously I did not bother to dry my hair for the photo. Maybe you can tell by the Billy Idol sneer how I take to dressing up in paper headbands and feathers.

I went to patrol camp the summer before sixth grade to become “an officer.” This selection means I was misunderstood to be a child who would not light her patrol post on fire or try to send the kids across the street when they were most likely to get run over.

But back to camp. In the mornings, the girls stood near the flag pole outside of our cabins to do exercises. All the excercises had accompanying chants, and the one I did with great seriousness was the “we must increase our bust” exercise, when we all stood with our arms like chicken wings and tried to touch our elbows behind our backs. “The bigger, the better, the tighter the sweater, the boys depend on us.”

When you look at least four years younger than your classmates and people regularly mistake you for being a boy, camp is just one more place to feel different and alone.

By the end of my week there, it seemed camp had improved some. I’d kissed and slow-danced with one of the camp counselors, and was glad to finally be noticed and included. Okay, sure, this sounds like pedophilia now, but I didn’t know better at the time and spent the rest of the summer searching for his phone number so I could hear his voice and then hang up.

All these years later, as I do readings and meet with agents and editors and marketing teams, I still feel like I’m the kid with the feather on her head, just wearing a nicer t-shirt. Maybe that’s why I like hanging out with other writers so much. I prefer to spend my time with fellow misfits.

When Lance brought up the idea of all of us going to summer camp together, I couldn’t help but imagine what a better summer that would have made. A community that works is where everyone can pretty much be themselves and where some within that community might dare to think more of you than you think of yourself. In the best of communities, you feel inspired, passionate. You dream bigger dreams, take risks, create bolder art, and start to care about others’ work and success as much as your own. Maybe talking about summer camp wasn’t off-topic after all.


Thanks to everyone who visited LitPark this week. And thank you to Karen Dionne and Backspace for showing a great example of how to build a community that will roll up its sleeves together.

A couple last things:

Have you visited Tommy Kane today? I love his blog so much, I actually go through withdrawal on days he doesn’t post.

And I just received the premier issue of The Noveltown Review, in which I appear with Brad Listi, Robin Slick and Lauren Baratz-Logsted. I can’t tell you how GORGEOUS the magazine is – absolutely striking, top quality work. I hope you’ll order a copy. Thanks to Nick Belardes for including me!

See you Monday. Lance is back next week!

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  • lance reynald
    May 4, 2007

    I have nothing but a big smile on this one.

    In case I don’t say it enough; I’m proud to be a part of this community with you Wondertwin.

    now lets go torch the patrol post!!


  • Nathalie
    May 4, 2007

    Lovely wrap up, full of smiles.
    And thanks for the posts this week.

    Of course I have visited Tommy Kane (I do so everyday).

  • Robin Slick
    May 4, 2007

    I haven’t thought about lanyards in years. Man, life used to be so simple. I’d ride my bike to the schoolyard in the summer…yep, back when public school offered crafts and stuff during July and August (now they don’t even offer the arts while school is in progress but you all knew that)…and the highlight was gaping at all the different colors of gymp (wow…haven’t thought of that word in years, either) and making something your mom would absolutely pretend to love and then when she didn’t wear it, you tried to strangle your kid sister with it.

    Oh. Right. We’re not talking about me here.

    Naturally, my lanyards were always black, but I still enjoyed looking at the rainbow of choices.

    I wonder if lanyards have gone the way of stovetop Jiffy Pop and Turkish Taffy…they probably teach kids how to build nuclear reactors at summer camp these days.

    Anyway, another fabulous week at LitPark and I’m still waiting to hear from Patry and Tish as to whether I can eat cupcakes with them at the Backspace Conference. I already know I’m drinking scotch with Susan.

    P.S. You are right – Noveltown is incredible and I’m thrilled to be a part of it. Nick? I just got my box full of many issues. I will call you later, but I’ll ask everyone here, too. What’s the best approach for distribution of a free lit magazine? Should I go to local coffeeshops or try for Borders and Barnes and Nobel, etc. and can you legally just leave them there or do you need express permission?

  • n.l. belardes
    May 4, 2007

    Thanks Susan for the mention. Your Lady Bug story rocks! Robin, I suggest making friends with local bookstores first. You can’t just leave the magazine, people might throw them away. Yikes! Think of this as a networking opportunity for yourself as a writer and us as a magazine. Let bookstores know that we will work with them, that we can blog about them; and you can plug yourself as a sexy author…

    It’s a win-win situation.

  • Aurelio
    May 4, 2007

    We can only do the LitPark camp thing if I get to be the crafts counselor. I did that job for two full summers when I was a college kid Рlanyards (I know several patterns), sand candles, leatherworking, macram̩, bead weaving, you name it. We even made pinhole cameras and I organized sketching hikes.

    I actually ATTENDED the Noveltown Mixer in Bakersfield when the review was launched, met Nick in person (and was very impressed), and read all of my LitPark friends’ wonderful contributions.

    I highly recommend everyone give The Noveltown Review a look.

    Anyway, I don’t know, Susan – you look like the perfect little camp girl to me. In my observation, the tom-boy gals always fared better by the end of the week than the prissy ones anyway.

    Happy Friday everyone!

  • n.l. belardes
    May 4, 2007

    I’ve never been to camp, though I love camping…

  • n.l. belardes
    May 4, 2007

    I wonder if Aurelio has seen photos of himself here

  • Julie Ann Shapiro
    May 4, 2007

    Oh, this post reminded me of camp and the ghost stories. I remember sneaking out of camp, crossing the rail road tracks and running to the beach in the middle of the night. I think we were camping in San Clemente not to far from Nixon’s old house. We looked for ghost ships in the waves and told stories scaring each other so much that when we raced back to bed, we couldn’t sleep convinced the ghosts came with us. I still think about how convinced we all were that we would see a ghost ship.

  • Jody Reale
    May 4, 2007

    Noveltown? Sweet!
    In other news, I was thinking about lanyards just the other day, as I was braiding one from my husband’s eyebrow hair. He went to camp from the time he was nine until his senior year, and hasn’t shut up about it since. I spent my summers at my Aunt Beenie’s pool, where I watched my aunts sit out in the sun with bottles of baby oil and a carton of Newports. Although writing an essay entitled Camp Envy was very therapeutic, I still can’t help but feel incomplete. Susan, is this your calling to found LitCamp? I would sign up, as they would say on Gray’s Anatomy, “stat.” I’ll bring my man–we’ll need material for those lanyards, right?

  • Aurelio
    May 4, 2007

    Just to clarify: In that picture on Nick’s blog, I’m pushing up my glasses, not shoving my entire hand up my nose.

    And shouldn’t Adrienne Brodeur be, like, the Activities Director or something of LitCamp, since she already wrote the book on Man Camp?

  • LaurenBaratz-Logsted
    May 4, 2007

    We can only do the LitPark camp thing if no one laughs at my crafts.

  • Susan Henderson
    May 4, 2007

    lance – I was hoping I’d get a smile out of you.

    Nathalie – So happy to know you’re visiting TK’s blog. He inspires me.

    Robin – I have to talk to you about the school of rock that’s opening in my neck of the woods but my new email program’s a pain (i.e. different than what I’m used to)and I’m putting it off. BTW, I couldn’t work with lanyard. I had pretty low frustration tolerance when I was a kid. Of course, if it was easier to catch fire, I would have been all about lanyard. Oh, and Rusty’s wife works pretty high up at B&N and could probably give you the answer, which I’d guess might be no. Still, it’s worth it to ask.

    Aurelio – I wonder if you could have talked me into making sand candles and such. I’m guessing I might have been the kid to make you want to quit working at summer camps.

    n.l. – I saw that photo of Aurelio the other day and thought it was mighty cute and nerdy of him.

    Julie – Sneaking out of camp sounds fun.

    Jody – You have another essay to write! I hear you loud and clear about the eyebrow business.

    Aurelio – When LitPark starts getting 100,000 visitors a day, I’ll give serious thought to LitCamp. You and Adrienne can certainly take those positions. Lance and I will do the pyrotechnics show.

    Lauren – I just read your news!!! Tell everyone, come on!

  • LaurenBaratz-Logsted
    May 4, 2007

    If you insist, Susan. (blushing) I think it’s OK for me to say that Houghton Mifflin offered on the first four books in a children’s series to be written by me with my husband and daughter, and we have happily accepted.

    Oh, and I just got my copies of Noveltown – cool!

  • Susan Henderson
    May 4, 2007

    Lauren – That’s so fantastic! And they’re the lucky ones to have snatched you up! (Anxiously awaiting comical tales from Co-writing Hell….)

  • Carolyn Burns Bass
    May 4, 2007

    The closest I came to summer camp was Vacation Bible School, a week of evening crafts and Bible stories put on at our neighbor’s church. My older sister got to make a very cool cross with burnt wooden matches; I didn’t. Sadly, that’s all I remember. Oh yeah, the big, old dilapidated church bus got lost in the hills of a very wealthy neighborhood while looking for a kid’s house. That was the most exciting part of the week.

    But I’d LOVE to go to LitCamp!

  • Robin Slick
    May 4, 2007

    Lauren! That’s amazing! Man, what I wouldn’t give to do a book with my family — this must be the most incredible dream come true ever.

    What will the books be about? Or…if you want…just shoot us all a link to the official news.

  • LaurenBaratz-Logsted
    May 4, 2007

    Thanks, Susan!

    Robin, THE SISTERS EIGHT is about a group of octulpets who will soon be eight years old and whose parents disappear one New Year’s Eve. I’m thinking Series of Unfortunate Events for a slightly younger audience. We originally came up with the concept while stranded in Colorado in December. My seven-year-old had an idea for me to do a book about eight sisters. She wanted them to be different ages at first, but then I suggested that rarest of things, octuplets. We just kept brainstorming from there. 🙂 After the first draft, since the missing mother is a scientist, my husband thought there should be all kinds of weird inventions all over the house so he dreamed up all these bizarre things for me – I swear, if not for that man, there would be no talking refrigerator in the Sisters Eight!

    That’s probably TMI, but…you did ask!

  • n.l. belardes
    May 4, 2007

    I want to go to LitPlanet and start a sushi bar and craft table in one. Books descend from the ceiling and people wear them in their hair.

  • Susan Henderson
    May 7, 2007

    Carolyn – Everyone remembers getting lost. I find that so interesting. I used to try to get lost. I liked the panic of it. Then again, I was an odd kid.

    Robin – Your family story would require several books.

    Lauren – I love the concept of the books. All the good children’s books get rid of those parents in the first chapter so the real adventure can begin.

    n.l. – LitPlanet will not have a crafts table.

Susan Henderson