Thursday, August 11, 2011

Don’t just write…live!

Me and two of my fellow Jr. High Councilors
 on theme day.
Between spending eight days in Washington with my youth group and coming home to help my best friend and partner in youth ministry hurriedly sort, decide what to toss and keep, and then load up a truck and trailer before heading off to Moody Bible Institute to begin his Masters program, it’s been a busy two weeks. And writing just wasn’t in the mix.

But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t filing things away for later use. One thing I’ve always been able to do is capture images and stories and store them for later. My above-mentioned friend likes to joke that I have a steel trap for a brain so I remember everything, including what he was wearing the first time we met at a summer camp in high school (which for the record, I couldn’t tell you if my life depended on it!). That said, working as a councilor for summer camp comprised of over a hundred kids from various churches across the Pacific Northwest gave me quite a bit of new material to work with…such as the women sitting behind us at the Mariner’s game who lamented their single status with more and more fervor with every sip of beer to the point that a couple of my high school boys leaned over to me and said “It’s no wonder they’ll never get more than a first date! Make them shut up!”

And there was the middle school girl in my cabin who was quite the tomboy — stocky in build, frizzy of hair, and an absolute hoot who loved to run around the camp yelling out a rooster’s “Caw-Caw” as her battle cry. This young lady went on to out belly flop the boys in our belly flopping competition and her victory plunge consisted of the loudest “Caw-Caw” of all…followed by a slap that echoed across the campground.

I also discovered how strong she was when I startled her while silently following her through the dungeon of the dragon’s lair (an obstacle course with unseen booby traps — we had a medieval theme this year) and wacked her on the leg with a foam pool toy when she “tripped” when of the traps. She spun on me quicker than I expected with her PVC pipe flag and wacked me in the face twice and another councilor once before I managed to grab the weapon from her hand. Let’s just say that as the other campers began their journey the first thing they were warned was that no matter what happened, they were not to hit councilors in the face.

Intermixed with the fun and games, however, I was also reminded how hard life can be for some of these young people. Sitting and listening to some of the girls as they broke down and shared their fears, the lies they believed about themselves, and revealed a glimpse into the difficult home lives they had to return to was one of the most heartbreaking experiences I’ve had in a long time. There were several times I could only sit in silence and be there for them.

If anything, these past two weeks have served as a lesson that writing isn’t just about sitting in front of the computer pounding out a set number of words each day. It’s an organic process that requires listening and empathizing with the world around us. It involves seemingly unrelated day-to-day activities. It includes cataloging personality traits and allowing memories to trigger other memories. It necessitates interacting with strangers and forming new ties of friendship. And it means always being open to trying something new.

My schedule doesn’t show any signs of clearing up again anytime soon, in fact I’ll be more busy in the weeks ahead than I have been, but I am excited to start squeezing in my writing time again. I can already feel the germs of some new ideas beginning to sprout.

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