I wasn’t forced to go to a summer camp as a kid and won’t have a chance to do it before I am old and crabby. I feel like I really missed out on a sweet experience. Is there some way I can attempt to recreate the ~magic~ of camp in my own backyard? —Natalie, MI
Hee, I love that, in lamenting your campless existence, you say you weren’t “forced” to go. Though I AM old and, on occasion, crabby, I am an ardent believer in organized aestive festivities, which seems to be what camp is all about (that, and inadvertently huffing bug repellent, and getting felt up over your shirt sometimes, from what I can tell). The great thing about not being relegated to the woods by your parents is that you can design your own idea of what activities during which you and your friends will get all woozy from Off! fumes and also have an excellent time.
Camp seems to thrive on team-based competitive games, like color wars. Since I have no idea what that is or means and, though it’s probably fun and lovely, it sounds dicey as fuck from where I type this to you on the sidewalk, here are some other suggestions for groups of four-plus summerscouts! As a teenager, my friends and I liked to play neighborhood-wide games of Manhunt (OK, I concede that this is just as questionable-sounding, but whatevaire). My squad and I played the “jailbreak” variant. It’s like broad-scale tag hybridized with capture the flag, except YOUR BODIES are the flag!! This game, at its best, usually involves trespassing, but I think that kind of harmless rule-breaking is also HIGH CAMP, don’t you?
An every-person-for-themselves game of Frisbee dodgeball is great, too. My friends and I play with a rule in place that when the person who gets you out is nabbed, you’re back in the game, and I have seen matches last two hours or more! Even those who turn up their noses at the chill-ass stigmas often assigned to Frisbee (me, pleased to meet ya) will find themselves utterly absorbed. The summer after my senior year, I also started a tiny all-girl-mostly-queer pick-up street hockey league, though that requires some equipment—although why not jam on this idea with a classic-ass game of kickball? Kickball is the best when you’re not doing it in gym class—surprising, I know, but trust! If you can afford it, do like your girl and get pairs of your friends on opposite sides of a badminton league—this is another of my favorite low-key team sports because all you have to do is wave your arm around a little and talk smack a lot. Naming your teams is a must, and extra points (figuratively, not in the actual games!) for blaring a parental-feeling classic-rock radio station as you play. The more terrible, the better. IT’S A VIBE, FRIEND.
If you are like. “Ugh, ARS, but sports make me die,” fine! Get thee to a swimming hole, tulip! Pack a car with friends, a station tuned to guitar-based “hits from the ’80s, ’90s, and today” even though that last time period is usually a lie, and find a pond or lake near you—or whatever body of water is available, though it’s most fun to go somewhere that’s kind of secluded. (The only caveat: Be safe, since there’s not likely a lifeguard on duty. Obviously, NEVER drink/get high and swim in strange waters, despite what classic rock might try to tell you.) You don’t even have to get in if you don’t want—play cards on the rocks, grass, or beach, and bring big Thermoses of punch or lemonade! You will love it. City kids: Depending on where you live, you can still find access to a swimmin’ hole—you can reach mad beaches in Brooklyn via subway, for example—but if not? You can still enjoy swimsuit-based camp-esque merriment!!! Have a water-balloon fight in the park, or on someone’s roof! Just make sure your friendly fire doesn’t accidentally drench an old man or something.
On a crafting tip, why not amass a bunch of pals in a park and spread the picnic tables thickly with materials for pressing flowers, smearing denim shorts with paint, or concocting a Secret to bury together? Or you can always involve yourselves in making camp’s number-one export, the humble lanyard. (Like color wars, I will never fully understand what the purpose of these are. Keychains? Jewelry? Costume dental braces? They look like costume dental braces. YOU MAKE THE CALL!) You can also DIY getting felt up over your shirt by inviting a cuteness to join you for any of the above pastimes, though, sadly, you may not have the luxury of getting discovered and yelled at by some college kid with a flashlight. Wait, no. That’s actually a huge plus. In any case: HAGS, my dude! And don’t skimp on that bug spray! —Amy Rose
I have HUGE aspirations, but the problem is, I don’t know what to do with them. I feel angry, excited, and sad when I see people make cool projects. I don’t know how to explain the way I’m feeling. I guess jealous is the best word, but not the bitter kind? I wanna create something beautiful and influential, but where do I start? I feel like I need to know everything now—my time as a young girl is diminishing. —Delia, 16, Dallas, TX
If I could list all the times I’ve felt the same way, this response would be so long that you would probably get bored and look for something more interesting to do. There’s such a strange expectation for people to be accomplished, which totally discounts the whole process of actually doing the thing that becomes an accomplishment. This isn’t the truth of things at all, but it can feel like it when you see the seemingly abundant supply of wunderkinds and kid geniuses that are being written about all the time. As someone who is completely obsessed with Lorde, I totally get what you mean when you say you feel jealous: Any time I listen to her music, no matter how much I adore it and support her, there’s always a hint of resentment in me. Because we are the same age, after all, so why couldn’t I have done this first?
I’ve always wanted to publish my own magazine, and I’ve also felt super intimidated by what everyone else was doing, but after years of languishing the fact that I wasn’t doing anything, I realized my self-chiding was only serving to keep me from doing what I wanted to do in the first place. No matter how much you are doing, there will always be one person doing more, and if you focus on that other person you will drive yourself crazy. Jealousy over other people’s accomplishments is the very thing that keeps us from accomplishing stuff ourselves. Even though it seems like everyone else is getting so much more done than you are, try to understand that most other teenagers are in the same boat as you. It’s good to feel driven to do and make things, but the pressure you are feeling is more of a hindrance than a catalyst for action, because it is basically rooted in a feeling of inadequacy in comparison to other people. There’s no age limit for success (just look at people like Kim Gordon and Iris Apfel, who didn’t become famous until later in their lives).
It’s like school: If we could all graduate in first grade, you better believe we’d all be out of there, but it takes time and work to get to the point where you can get your diploma. No quality project exists without hard work, trial and error, and the dedication of the people who wanted to see it in the world, and certainly not without time and mistakes. It’s fantastic that your aspirations are so high, so do something with them! If you are thinking of publishing something, start consolidating your ideas in a journal, and write down everything you are interested in. Once you’ve done the brainstorming, your apprehensiveness about making something will feel less like a hovering fog of doom and more like a tangible set of logistics to tackle. Promote and post about it online, and find the people who feel as passionate about your idea as you do (I assure you there are people out there who will). Pretty soon, you’ll find everything falling into place, and then, who knows? You may not achieve success right away, or you might become an overnight star—regardless, get out there and start doing stuff that you love, because I personally can’t wait to see what you come up with! —Lucy
Two of my very best friends are struggling with VERY severe bulimia. They realize completely what they are doing to themselves, but just can’t stop. I prize these friendships more than anything, so I really don’t want to ruin our relationships by telling somebody. My friends would never ever talk to me again, and I mean that. But they are also slowly killing themselves, and I can’t stand by and let that happen, either. This keeps me up at night. Please help. —Calliope, 14, NYC
This is a tough spot to be in. I’m sorry, both for you and your friends, who are dealing with a predatory and tricky illness. It is clear that you love your friends very much, and your instinct to help them is correct. I also know, however, how controlling an eating disorder can be, and what a tough place you’re in—you want to help them, but you don’t want to lose them. What you have to realize is that any anger coming from them, in terms of your being concerned about their health and well-being, is really stemming from their eating disorders’ need to stay in control.
I was horrible to people who tried to help me when I was sick because I wasn’t prepared to deal with the reality of it, and because I was so far gone and obsessive that I was genuinely threatened by anyone’s attempts to get in my way. But that’s how an eating disorder gets you: It convinces you that it must take first priority, over friends, over health, over life itself, and sometimes you can’t even recognize how bad things are because you’re completely consumed with numbers and weight and destructive behaviors.
What I’m trying to tell you is this: It is not up to you to “save” your friends, but you shouldn’t be afraid to confront them about what’s going on. Come from a place of love and concern. Try to encourage them to seek help on their own. If they refuse (and keep threatening you with the loss of their friendship), it might be time to talk to a trusted adult about the situation (you could even ask to remain anonymous). Will your friends be mad at you? Possibly. But, with time, they’ll understand that you love them, and that you don’t want to lose them to their eating disorders. —Pixie
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