Seeing Past Failure

kid on pottery wheel

It is OK to fail.

I repeat: it is OK to fail.

This is not something we hear everyday, or something we ordinarily tell children. For most, we’re not looking for failure; we want success! But if thought about differently, this is advice we don’t hear enough. Getting that C on your math test or missing the bullseye in Archery may seem like the end of the world, but they don’t have to be.

I majored in Comedy Writing and Performing in college. Junior year, as part of my studies, I spent a semester at the Second City, a well known institute for comedy in Chicago famous for turning out comedic stars like Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert. An important lesson we were repeatedly taught during my time there was that not only is it OK to fail, but you have to fail. You have to go in front of an audience and try your stand-up or sketch act and it has to at least fail a few times so you can figure out what is funny and what is not. Failing, in comedy, is how you find your voice. As a self-proclaimed perfectionist, it was the most freeing thing for me to hear that failing now and then was a good thing.

The American composer and music theorist John Cage had this to say: “Nothing is a mistake. There is no win and no fail. There is only make.” For him, especially in creative endeavors, what seems like a failure in truth contains the seeds of learning as long as one is determined enough to “do the work.”

weaving on lap loom

That same lesson can be applied to camp. Accepting failure is especially important when, as a camper, you are learning new things all the time, whether it be in an activity or in learning to live within a community for the first time (communication! compromise!). Learning something new means expecting and accepting mistakes. It means you are going to fail once or twice or a few times before successful habits and skills come to be.

I teach Curosty, Rockbrook’s weaving activity, where girls are learning something new just about every time they enter the cabin door. For lots of campers, it’s their first time ever seeing a loom, let alone using one. For some, the act of weaving by hand is a new feeling completely. For them to expect to be perfect at it, not make a single mistake, from the get-go is a ridiculous expectation because they usually never are. They’ll have to tie and re-tie knots on their bookmarks a few times. All the potholder loops will pop out when they’re casting off their work. And there will usually be gaps in their first reed basket. But that’s the best way to learn: by failing. Correcting failure, seeing past it, always leads to growth. With the right attitude, moments of failure can blossom into real learning.

Camp is a safe place for this kind of learning too, because, no matter what, you know you are supported and encouraged by your friends and the entire Rockbrook community. Camp experiences keep us all experimenting, all discovering, and all failing now and then along the way. We’re all in it together. If there’s any place to fail and fail safely, it’s here.

girls summer camp campers

Lost and Found

Camp tetherball buddies

On the bulletin board where announcements are posted, you’ll see the lost and found list. As the name suggests, campers update the list about belongings they have lost or found while at camp. Sometimes the list gets pretty specific (“If anyone sees a sock that is blue with cooked pink shrimp on it, please return it to Middler 6!”), and we read the list aloud frequently to make sure that girls return with everything they came here with. When the list was read today, though, there wasn’t anything on the lost list. In fact, there were only items on the found list. I thought this was beautifully poetic—it represented the ways in which the community was looking out for each other, even before anyone realized they had lost something.

In many ways, this idea seeps into our everyday lives at camp. In coming to camp, we lose things, or more accurately, are without things. We have the basics in our trunk: a flashlight, a book, some clothes, and some friendship bracelet string, but we are without some of the more present items of our existence: our phones, our computers, the familiar environments we are used to. Yet camp girls come back every year, and daydream about it all throughout the year. I think that is because they have found so much more at camp than they have lost. They find strength in them that they never knew was there before, they find that they have a lot in common with people from different backgrounds, they find the capacity in them to be giving and authentic—the found list is much longer than the lost list.

zip line kid

Throughout camp, the exchange between lost and found is seen every day. Today, it was announced that there was going to be a trip on the camp zip-line course. The zip-line goes throughout the back side of camp, taking girls across waterfalls and through the trees. This trip is generally offered multiple times every day, and is always wildly popular. As this was the first activity day for many girls, today was a particularly popular day to sign up for the trip. Because the trip was so popular, it was impossible to get everyone who wanted to go today on the trip (they’ll definitely have more opportunities to go, though!). A trio of juniors who arrived yesterday were all in line for the trip. When two of them drew cards that meant that they could go, but one of them could not go, the two who were chosen to go on the trip gave up their spaces, saying that they would go another time when their friend could go. This beautifully exemplified this lost and found principle. Even though they lost going on the trip today, they found a way for them all to go together another time. More than that, though, they found a deeper sense of friendship and the joy that comes from being a loyal friend and the maturity that comes with compromising one’s own bliss for the good of others. They gained much more than they lost.

county costume kids

At camp, we see this in other ways too. Sometimes, what we lose is not as tangible as a sock or even a zip-line experience. A lot of the time, it’s our inhibitions and the things that prevent us from having fun and being our true selves. The other day, we were having an evening program called “Jug Band.” Jug Band is an old-fashioned campfire that incorporates Appalachian culture and silliness. Everyone brings an “instrument” (like rocks or brooms) and sings songs such as “Mountain Dew” and “Wagon Wheel.” Jug Band is incredibly fun, but is also incredibly silly. On the night of Jug Band, a middler cabin lacked their usual enthusiasm for the event. They were hesitant about going, and did not want to dress up. Their counselors, however, started playing on instruments (trunks and tennis rackets) and making up songs. Before long, the entire cabin was joining in the fun, creating their own band! By the time they showed up to Jug Band, they were some of the most enthusiastic and spirited campers at the fire.

In their cabin, the band kept practicing and writing new songs. The band’s name was “Saurkraut,” (the spelling is intentional) and tonight during twilight, Saurkraut had their first performance. They created tickets that they handed out to everyone (some of the tickets were even autographed: ‘Saurkraut! Rock out!’) and one of their hit songs was “Do You Jam, Bro?” The band was a hit, and the reviews were raving, “That’s the best thing that’s ever happened at twilight!” When inhibitions were lost, Saurkraut was found. Creativity, a greater sense of community, identity, and the ability to let our hair down—these are the things we find here at camp.

The other thing about lost and found at camp is that we learn to live without the things we have lost. We realize we can live without that sock, that we can thrive without our phones. But when things are found, we gain a new appreciation for them. We want to keep what we’ve found safe, we know it in an entirely different way. I think that’s how the intangibles at camp work, too. We find this authentic version of ourselves, someone who knows how to compromise and get along with others, who seeks the best in others, who isn’t afraid to get her hair wet. When we go home, we have a new appreciation for this version of ourselves, and we live differently, as we continue to stay found.

girls camp group

Better Together

Every Sunday, we attend chapel, which is not religious, but is more a conversation about a theme that relates to camp. This week, the camp mom Marie Brown wrote an incredible piece about community that was read aloud at chapel. It really captured the spirit of community at our camps. Here it is:

Camp Community

We live in a country, that loves to celebrate the individual. Its fun to idealize the greatness of the one. The wonder of their singular feats to seduces us. It’s exciting to see a human be remarkable. Serena Williams and her consistent prowess as a tennis giant is already amazing, and seeing her coming back to make it to the Wimbledon finals after a 13 month maternity leave…that is worthy of our attention. Simone Biles developing a gymnastics skill that no one had ever competed before and few fellow Olympic gymnasts can even do.  Of course she won a gold metal for that. Of course that’s incredible. In pop culture, we pay attention to the newest star, and the biggest star, we listen to the news on Justin Bieber or Beyoncé because they have talent, and fame and fortune enough to make them seriously stand above the crowd. There is something authentically compelling about these individuals and their successes that earns them the attention.

But the trouble is, it is easy to forget that not a single one of those winners, stars, or firsts got their on their own. And its easy to overlook that the amount of attention we love to give them is actually really hard for them to tolerate. Humans didn’t evolve to be the soaring eagle, rising and flying alone in the glaring sun of that much attention. It takes even more strength in some ways to live a healthy full life when you are watched that closely. But we ignore that. We love the symbolism of the bald eagle all alone. But in our poetic use of that image as our ideal, we really fail to tell the whole story. We are pack animals. And like Wendy shared with us last week, we need touch, and hugs. We can not survive without them. And when we paint the picture as if we can, we not only set ourselves up for intense disappointment, we also fail to acknowledge that for every individual phenomenal success we adore, there is a whole network of phenomenal successes making up the community that played a part in growing these stars into the stunning athletes, or artists, or astronauts they become. In our hunger to put the Neil Armstrong’s on a pedestal for being the first human to walk on the moon, we often fail to honor the teams of exceptionally brilliant, hardworking men…and women, who’s stunning demonstration of collaboration and idea sharing, knowledge and innovation, mentorship and support, care-giving and service it took to make that kind of impossible dream a reality.

water puring on heads skit

And so in our own lives and dreams, it is easy to feel like we must strive to be the One in order to be valued. And while that is wonderful to aspire to, it is good to remember to recognize even those idealized heroes are members of a community. The most astonishing of whom take their place in the spot-light to look back on their communities and give back, to lift up others, to serve one another, to collaborate and create more than any one alone could ever devise, to listen and empathize, to laugh, and to hug. My heroes are those who have the will to give, and the grace to receive love from a community that they both support and are supported by.

That is what is so refreshing about being here at Rockbrook. Lets take a moment to stop and recognize that we all are so privileged to share a brief time together in this magical place on the planet where being a part of the community is so easy. Where being a good community member is encouraged and celebrated. Where it is an honor to be given a task to give back to the group, or tasked with sometimes even really hard work. For example, the CA’s, High-Up, CIT, and counselors. I remember being a young camper how much we wanted nothing more than to get to be all of these respected roles. When what do they do? They work exceptionally hard to take care of their community. These are our Rockbrook heroes.

camp girls smile

So when I say it is so easy to be part of a community here it doesn’t mean it is always easy here. Do not let me take away the sense of real struggle we all can feel at times when we are trying to be our best here. But do remember that the habits of community spirit we practice here at Rockbrook are so much easier to build where we all live, eat, and play together, where we struggle up the mountainside together, and stifle our cries of fear together at the sight of a skunk, or tolerate cold showers after a long line, and laugh, and laugh, and laugh together. Here we are interconnected on everything. So being a part of a community is a natural state.

But that is not often true in our worlds back home where all the screens, and cars, and modern conveniences distract and diminish our natural skills to interconnect as living, breathing human beings. So take this time here to build the muscles of your community spirit–your Rockbrook spirit–so you can feel them and find them when you are a Rockbrook girl alone out the “real” world. So you can demonstrate them to the rest of the world, and can always remember that striving to be your best includes being a community hero who gives as much as she receives, and (perhaps can still feel the faint memory of a string of well-earned Bend-a-Back Spirit beads proudly displayed around her neck.)

camp girls together

Camp Days for Adults

whitewater rafting adventure

There’s a comment I hear fairly often, I’d say several times a year— “I wish Rockbrook had a summer camp for adults.” Sometimes moms, and more rarely dads, look fondly on the camp experience their daughters are having, and can imagine themselves enjoying it too. It’s remarkable that this adult desire to experience camp can arise simply by witnessing camp life from afar. The photo gallery, occasional highlights videos, our social media posts, and this blog all paint an attractive picture, one that proves camp is great for the girls themselves, but also somehow is evocative for adults too. So how about it mom and dad? Do you want to go to camp?

On one level, I suspect most adults would say no.  No thanks!  Living at camp is too difficult and requires too many compromises we grown ups have come to happily avoid. Sleeping in a room with nine or more people, having the weather as a constant personal companion, relinquishing all technology (no smart phones, television, or news updates!), accepting limited food options, and being physically active most of the day, all sound like “roughing it,” and would most likely be unpleasant for the average adult. In these ways and others, camp is fun for kids, but most adults won’t get a kick out of bug juice, so to speak.

camp girl pulling archery bow

Perhaps the activities are what make some adults yearn for camp. They too want to shoot an arrow and a real gun, climb the high ropes course tower and a real rock, swim in the chilly lake and fly high in the trees on the zipline course. Many of the activities at Rockbrook look intrinsically rewarding— throwing a pot on the potter’s wheel, finding a weaving rhythm on one of the vintage floor looms, tying and dying a t-shirt, for example. What a nice change it would be from our mundane 9-5, to raft the Nantahala River, backpack and camp in the Pisgah Forest, or simply enjoy the mountain view high up on Castle Rock. For some adults, camp looks enjoyable because they could try all these activities that are ordinarily difficult to experience otherwise.

That seems too simple though, too much like an amusing holiday. Rockbrook parents know that camp isn’t just entertainment. In fact, some of what we do here isn’t fun at all, and yet the girls will tell you they love camp despite the chores, the bugs, and the challenges of being away from the comforts of home. As we’ve said before, campers embrace the difficult aspects of camp life because they are strengthened by the positive community culture of Rockbrook. Being included in a community of kind, caring and generous people helps ignite confidence and nurture resilience in everyone. The scary stuff just gets easier when you are so constantly and genuinely supported for who you really are.

casual camp girls

Again, I believe it’s the special community here that explains why the girls at Rockbrook tend to feel so happy and relaxed throughout the day, breezily chatting and comfortably enjoying each other’s company. That’s why they make their best friends at camp. When you start with a collective spirit of positivity, and include regular moments of silliness and celebration, almost every day becomes a chance to laugh together, sing together, and grow closer no matter what the activities. There’s a certain presence that springs from all of this throughout the day.  Life at camp feels somehow more real and more meaningful, rich with opportunities. At Rockbrook, we spend our days in ways that are simply very, very good.

In some ways then, we adults long for camp days because we recognize their inherent good.  As the routine working world demands we maximize productivity and efficiency, camp represents a place where we can put our relationships with people first, a cultural haven defined by values that foster wonderful details and beautiful surprises. Just as it is for our children, we’d like to experience these same sorts of camp days.  After all, we know there’s a life well-lived to be found among camp days. A camp like this… for adults… that would be nice.

riding down sliding rock

Phenomenal First-Day Vibe

girls campers

Sometimes writing these blog posts about Rockbrook, I feel like I’m preaching to the choir, like most of the folks reading already believe. They already know there’s something special that happens at camp, that girls love it for all kinds of reasons, and that the social-emotional learning embedded in camp life is priceless for growing children.  But still, for the sake of those unfamiliar, let me preach a minute.

Today, as we opened our second session of camp, it was clear that this group of girls was already on their way to having a great time. There was certainly plenty of excitement and bubbling anticipation for their camp session to finally begin, but there was also a surprisingly immediate comfort, even contentment apparent when the cabin groups found each other. Maybe the amazing weather had something to do with it— sunny, breezy and warm —or perhaps the easy, relaxed pace of the opening day process, but right away everyone seemed to have a set of friends to run off with.  They were off for a quick tetherball game, the scavenger hunt around camp, adding beads to their name tags, and exploring the creek by Curosty. The cabin groupings, which are carefully assigned by Sarah, encourage that too, making sure new and returning campers alike felt included and welcomed by the grouping. Everyone will tell you that camp is mostly about the people, the friendships and positive relationships fostered between everyone here, so it was very gratifying to see how quickly the campers were bonding.

girl camp kids

The first all-camp event provided more opportunities for this. Just before lunch, we gathered under the big walnut tree on the hill (which provides a beautiful, long-distance view of the Blue Ridge Mountains) to meet some of the key people at camp, to learn and sing a few camp songs, and to be welcomed to Rockbrook by Sarah. The girls sat in their Crazy Creek chairs, sometimes laying them flat to share the seat, while the Hi-Ups led songs. One celebrity made his first appearance too, Felix the camp dog. You’re bound to see photos of him in the online gallery now and then, but he’s an abstract caramel/cream colored, one-year-old Australian Labradoodle with a very sweet disposition. He’s always happy to have a quick scratch on the back, even by six or eight hands at the same time!

The swimming demonstrations where the lifeguards assigned swim tags to everyone, the camp tours where the girls found the location of each activity (for example, the Alpine Climbing Tower and the Nature Nook, which are both hidden in the woods on opposite sides of camp), the activity skits where the instructors staged silly “commercials” about their plans for the session, the cabin meetings where the girls learned a few important safety rules for camp, and the evening program of name games and signing up for activities —filled the remainder of our day, all contributing to that phenomenal first-day vibe.

Tomorrow we’ll launch into all the activities, get out of camp for some adventure trips, clap and sing over some fantastic scratch-made meals, and continue banking experiences that define this unique community.  It really is true; “There’s no place like camp.”  We’re all excited to dig in, and show what that means!

teen campers

First Session Video Snapshot – 2

Robbie Francis, our amazing videographer, returned to camp this week to film another of his wonderful highlights videos. In just under two minutes, the video beautifully captures the feel of our days at camp. Each time you watch it, you’ll see something new— a new caring interaction, a genuinely happy and peaceful smile, or the simplest expression of friendship. It’s fascinating!

Take a look, and let us know what you think. …or use that share button! 🙂

First Session Highlights Video

We’re thrilled to have Robbie Francis of Go Swan Filmworks visiting camp again throughout the summer to film and present a series of highlights videos.

For three years now, we’ve had great feedback from parents about Robbie’s videos.  After filming for one day, it’s incredible how he captures all the action at camp, what life here sounds like, and a sense of how happy the girls are.  And all boiled down to just two minutes!

Robbie filmed on Wednesday and now we have his first video. As usual, it’s great fun and I think you’ll really enjoy it.

Little Paths at Twilight

My favorite part of everyday is Twilight– the time at camp between dinner and Evening Program. Our themed dinners, special trips, or crazy songs aside, dinnertime is pretty self-explanatory. At Evening Program, girls from different age groups retreat to their respective lodges to put on silly skits before ending the day with the traditional Goodnight Circle song and the Rockbrook Prayer.

view of NC mountains at sunset

While these other parts of the day are fun, I feel such a deep sense of love and appreciation for camp at Twilight. The day’s activities have brought the girls out of their shells: Juniors chase each other down the hill in front of their lodge; the tetherball pole hosts a crowd of audience members and competitors; and others enjoy quirky activities put on by counselors. Many times, Evening Program brings a special event that was announced during dinner and girls busily dress up accordingly during Twilight.

Camp girls lounging

Tonight’s Twilight was particularly wonderful. Everyone felt energized after our first full day of camp with the new group of mini-session campers, and the newly arrived campers clearly felt more settled in after an exciting day of trying new things and getting familiar with cabin mates and counselors.

One group of counselors brought biodegradable soap down to the creek for “Mermaid Baths.” Campers bounced down the hill in their bathing suits to soap up their hair, feet, and arms in the cold water. Note: We have made sure that campers know that these do not substitute actual bathing, no matter how much more fun the process!

outdoor yoga kids

Another group circled around one another to do yoga. I watched them take in the mountain view from the top of the hill as they practiced tree poses. They giggled as they tried to keep their balance, occasionally using each other to stay standing on one foot.

Two Junior cabins used Twilight to prepare for their Junior Overnight, which departed right as the bell rang for Evening Program. Most had finished packing early and sat enjoying the sunset for the second half of their free time. I spotted them at the ready, sitting among their sleeping bags, pillows, and stuffed animals.

Castle Rock at twlight

Everything stopped at a certain point during tonight’s Twilight, though. From the hill, we heard “Hello, Rockbrook!” and looked up to discover three or four little figures at the top Castle Rock, the rock face on camp that is a short hike away! Some Hi-Up campers have hiked to the top every single day this session with one of their counselors, and they provided us with a greeting to celebrate. We shouted back, “Hello, Castle Rock!” and girls on the hill waved their arms and delighted in being able to see them wave back.

If you ask me, the best place to enjoy Twilight’s cool golden glow and the merriment on the hill is from Hiker’s Rock. It’s this view of camp that I miss whenever I’m somewhere else, reciting a poem to myself in my head that we read at Spirit Fire.

“You may think my dear, when you grow quite old
you have left your camp days behind
but I know the scent of woodsmoke
will always call to mind
little paths at twilight
and trails you used to find.”
—Mary S. Edgars, To A Camper

Unbreakable Sisterhood

This Sunday’s chapel set the perfect tone going into the last week of camp for our Second Session campers. The theme was “We’re All in This Together.” Yes, it may sound like one of our favorite High School Musical songs (which was, indeed, performed during the service), but it was an opportunity to remind ourselves of the family that exists for us at camp even after we leave, as we get ready to say goodbye.

goofy teen girls
smiling teen girls
teen girls smile

Forever friendship is a an undeniably powerful, recurring aspect of camp. Just listen to a few of our songs: “And when we say farewell, it shall not mean goodbye. The spark we lit at Rockbrook we know in ages ne’er will die;” “Turn around and we are strangers, turn around and we are friends, turn around and we are sisters forever to be.”

An important part of this connection between Rockbrook girls that was talked about in chapel is that we don’t have to see each other that often to maintain this bond. Also, because of the shared treasured experiences that we’ve all had, sometimes we don’t need to know each other very well at first to feel like sisters. For instance, I’m thrilled to meet Rockbrook girls at reunions or run into them outside of camp, because I know that this person just gets it. Without being particularly similar at all, there’s a little spark when you’re together and you both know you’re on the same team. Like a camper said during chapel, “After you leave camp, you know there’s a Rockbrook family who’s always going to have your back.”

But don’t just take my word for it! Read a speech from one of our older campers, Annie, who was selected by her counselors to speak about the theme:

Hi. If you don’t already know me, my name is Annie and this is my 8th year at camp. When asked to speak today about the theme, “We’re all in this together,” I suppose you could say that I was hesitant. Not because I didn’t have anything to say or because I don’t believe this theme applies to camp, which I do by the way. The real reason I was hesitant is due to having too much to say and not enough time or courage to stand in front of you to recite the past 8 wonderful years to y’all.

When thinking about this theme though, I feel the necessity to look back to my first day as a Rockbrook girl and how I was embraced into the welcoming, compassionate, and completely understanding community. I was just another 7 year old who was afraid of her own shadow, a complete homebody, and was unwilling to personally embrace the change of environments away from all I knew. This all changed when I immediately entered a circle of friendship and all my doubts dissipated. I soon learned that my cabin mates were going through the same experiences as me of leaving home, being placed into new circumstances, as well as being taken in with open arms. That was my first realization at camp that I was not alone, but that we are all in this together.

When I think of camp, I think of a community and a family. We have an unspoken code between friends and family, through the thick and thin of life. Rockbrook girls have stuck together since 1921. Generations of girls connected spanning the globe. Remember to embrace one another, look at each other with compassion, and most importantly remember that we’re all in this together, whatever that may be. Rockbrook girls stick together.

Nick at Night

Nick at Night camp game

Who remembers watching Nickelodeon growing up? For many of us, thinking of the TV shows we watched when we were younger brings up nostalgia. This year, we decided to combine those nostalgic feelings with the pure fun and silliness that is Nickelodeon into a crazy surprise event! After lunch, we switched up our normal announcements routine and headed out to the hill to watch our lineheads get slimed! Everyone loved watching these special counselors get covered in Nickelodeon-style green slime, but that was only the beginning…

The dining hall was decorated for dinner with streamers and panels showcasing Nickelodeon’s greatest hits throughout the years. During the meal, we played a game of counselor musical chairs — while the music played, counselors roamed the dining hall, showing off their best costumes. When the music stopped, they sat at the nearest table and got to spend time getting to know campers from different cabins and age groups. I loved getting to see all the counselors interact with new campers!

slimed camp counselors

After dinner, we all headed to the gym for an evening program inspired by Nickelodeon’s Double Dare Challenges. We watched as campers and counselors participated in fun and messy challenges like “In Your Egg Hat” – a twist on a classic egg toss, but with a bucket attached to a helmet to catch each egg. However, many people’s favorite part of the evening was the final event. At dinner, each counselor’s chair had a number attached. Our game of musical chairs mixed up the numbers, and to end the night, we randomly selected a few counselor numbers to get slimed! All the campers cheered as counselors got covered in sticky green slime. After experiencing it myself, I can say that waiting for the slime to come was a little nerve-wracking, but the happiness on all the camper’s faces afterwards made it worth it. It was the perfect camp night, full of high energy and a little (lots of) messiness.