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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

Comet Party Summer School: the Vision Statement


What are the two most powerful words in this or any language?

I am.

I’ve been thinking about this ever since Jill Louise Busby dropped me a DM after reading Life Without Envy. Thank you for being a vessel, she wrote.

I am a vessel, I thought. I said it out loud. And the more I said it, the righter it felt.

In the beginning, I only wanted to tell stories. I wanted to be clever and I wanted to be recognized for my cleverness. The other day I cracked a journal I kept in 2007, scanned one entry, and felt a sweet surge of relief that I am not that person anymore. (This is why I keep my notebooks.)

The evolution out of a desire to prove oneself into a desire to contribute is the central tenet of Life Without Envy, and for me that first twinkling happened in the summer and early autumn of 2010 when I volunteered on my friends’ homestead farm in Vermont. I have never been quite so content as I was those days I spent planting and weeding and watering, sleeping in a platform tent, rising before six to watch the sun coming up over the treeline as the fog withdrew from the rolling meadow before me. Best of all were the people: Gail and Paul and their neighbors, their daughters, and my fellow volunteers. That summer we all felt like Gail and Paul’s brood. Nature + making myself useful + community as close as family, that’s all I need to be happy.

My experiences at Sadhana Forest and Squam Art Workshops the following year brought the new desire into focus: more nature, more community, plus ethical veganism, art, and handicrafts. At Sadhana Forest I helped with meal planning and prep for something like 35 to 45 people, and I became my grandmother’s granddaughter (more fully than ever before) even though the cuisine couldn’t have been more different than the lasagnas and salmon loaf of my childhood: food is one of my love languages. It’s how I love my family and friends, it’s how I love myself, and it’s how I express care and concern for people I don’t know all that well yet. And I loved the feeling of being at sleep-away camp and making beautiful things alongside new friends who had also come to make beautiful things and bask in the tranquility of Squam Lake.

I thought of how one of my grade-school friends had gone to music camp every summer; I remembered the name of the organization, so I Googled it, curious as to how much it cost. Well, I don’t know how much it was back in 1995, but in 2013 it was $8,000 for a six-week program. I started to think, wouldn’t it be great if kids (whose parents could never afford a typical sleep-away camp) could have an experience like Squam? And what about kids who didn’t have parents to come home to?

I’ve been to Squam many times now—as student, teacher, and staff—and each time it bothered me how white and upper-middle-class we were as a group. More recently, Elizabeth has done a wonderful job of highlighting and supporting the work of artists, artisans, and teachers of color, but the economic inequities remain; I’m sure many knitters would love to spend four days taking classes at a lakeside cabin but will likely never have that $1,400 to spare.

On one trip I stopped at the general store in Holderness and found a rack of greeting cards with quotes attributed to Rumi: “Live your life as if the universe is rigged in your favor…because it is.” I had a flashback to a church my family and I visited above Lake Kivu in Rwanda, where 11,000 people were murdered during the genocide. Slavery, lynchings, civilian casualties. I felt this fury any time somebody brought up the Law of Attraction. The universe is rigged in your favor: this was a message appropriated by and intended solely for privileged white women like me.

I met Rachael Rice at Squam in 2014, and I referenced her excellent blog post in Email Marketing and “Authenticity,” but the message is too important not to share again here:

“Can we imagine the impact of our work beyond those who can afford it?”

Nowadays the summer camp in my mind is primarily for grownups—at least to start with—purely for logistical reasons. During quiet afternoons at the Providence Athenaeum I would dream of a library in the forest with cozy carrels where writers of all stripes and sensibilities could focus on their manuscripts. Everyone would see themselves represented on the shelves in this library. Attendees who could afford to pay for their retreat-time would subsidize those who could not; or maybe it would be a pay-what-you-can model? Filling vegan lunches packed with care, just like the ones that fueled the Bones & All revision at Hawthornden. Childcare. Hammocks and more hammocks, hammocks everywhere, and a home-sewn quilt on every bed. Writing workshops, painting and drumming workshops, workshops on foraging and herbalism and anything else people want to learn about. Safe spaces for members of marginalized communities to come together (“safe” meaning that every soul in the place understands why “no white people in this room for the next two hours” is not racist). A food forest. A swimming pool. Campfires and jam sessions. Tiny houses, perhaps—though after reading Sunaura Taylor’s wonderful book Beasts of Burden, these spaces I was dreaming of became ADA-compliant. And because white saviorism is something else I’ve been thinking about a lot, I saw myself asking, What do you actually want and need? How can I help make it happen and then leave you to use and enjoy it?

Every day—up until just a few months ago—I’d been asking myself, how the heck am I going to get from here—making next to no money off my writing at the moment, without much saved—to there, that pretty plot of acres with architectural blueprints in hand? 

I’m not sure what’s shifted, exactly, I just know that I don’t need a bridge, I AM the bridge. I’ll bring this retreat into being one plank at a time. The workshops? I can make those happen now. That’s why I wanted to publish this post on the day I launch The Bright Idea Kit and finally hang my shingle as a writing coach. The course is a $200 investment and coaching is $100 an hour, perhaps a tad ironic given the vision I’ve just shared with you, but I’ve poured all of my twenty years of experience into this class and I’m feeling confident that it’s going to catalyze a lot of creative awakenings. In terms of walking my talk, I am making myself informally available for aspiring writers who can use the mentorship, and I’ll allot more bandwidth (creating an actual program, perhaps?) as I get myself sorted financially. I’ll also be hosting free workshops starting later on in 2021 (first up: the power and potential of private writing!)

I see myself—white hair, liver-spotted hands—working away in one of those carrels. I am a writer. But my greater work for this lifetime is to “take up space” by holding space for others, to create a warm, welcoming retreat and inhabit it for the rest of my life without ever claiming it as mine.

If you’d like to be a part of this community (virtually for now and eventually IRL), you can join my mailing list to watch it all unfold and participate as much as you feel like. Thank you for reading this, and I wish you a healthy, joyful, and fulfilling 2021! ✨

EDIT: Adding the link to Be Seen Project founder Mindy Tsonas Choi’s relevant and insightful piece from March 2021, “The Cost of Selling Belonging.”

1 Comment to Comet Party Summer School: the Vision Statement

  1. Jori Stern's Gravatar Jori Stern
    January 29, 2021 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much for giving people this opportunity. I’m a screenwriter myself and I often find the process a little difficult and sometimes by myself with writer’s block. hopefully to learn together and any ideas you might have be greatly appreciated

    I look forward to hearing from you and I wish you much luck in the future and look forward to seeing are books translate to the big screen.

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.